March 30, 2003

This Just In...

Tom needs a shave.
Percy Quote...from the verweile doch
He reminded the engineer of the graduates of Horace Mann, their faces quick and puddingish and acned, whose gift was the smart boy's knack of catching on, of hearkening: yes, I see. If Jamie could live, it was easy to imagine him for the next forty years engrossed and therefore dispensed and so at the end of the forty years still quick and puddingish and childlike. They were the lucky ones.
-- Walker Percy, The Last Gentleman
Well it’s spring and it must be time again for the annual shortenin' of the skirts. The magazine rack at Walden’s alone was enough to induce double-take. For someone who occasionally has eye custodial issues, it’s always something of a surprise. If blame can be assigned, I choose to blame part of it on increased sensitivity due to increased religious observance and fasting (the latter minimal but effective). These tend to make one more alive, more aware of sensations rather than jaded and sluggish. Okay, you're not buying that. Maybe it's simply the anachronistic fruits of an unchaste past.
Racing to Extremes

It seems as though polarization occurs in part because of our inability to detail with ambiguity. When faced with ambiguity, such as this war, there is a time of sorting out, of shifting, and if you lean to one side and are attacked for it (even called 'immoral') then you tend to not only continue to lean to that side but to race to the fringe of that side - to embrace it as a moral good though before you merely saw it as a necessary evil. I've felt this tendency in myself by moving from the idea of self-defense to Iraqi liberation & back again (revolutions must be internal, at least in the beginning).

I'm making no moral equivalency, but remember the issue w/r/to the Southern states? By the 1830s, the morality of slavery was ambiguous at best. The Virginia legislature met to decide if slavery should be abolished in that state, and the vote was close. But that ambiguity did not last; abolitionists demonized Southerns and by the 1850s slavery was no longer seen as ambiguous morally, but as an actual moral good as described by John Calhoun & others.
Interesting Comments from the NY Times

Kagan serves up an especially provocative image when he compares the United States and Europe to two men confronting a dangerous bear, one armed only with a knife and the other with a rifle. It is psychologically inevitable, he declares, that the one with the knife will choose to lie low, while the one with the gun will find greater security in trying to shoot the bear. ''This perfectly normal human psychology has driven a wedge between the United States and Europe,'' he asserts.

-Serge Schmenmann on Robert Kagan's "Of Paradise & Power"

''In the end,'' he writes, ''peoples cannot take responsibility for each other; but they serve each other when they take responsibility for themselves.'' Given the dangers we now face from international terrorism and nuclear proliferation, Purdy's stress on tending our own garden seems at least a little beside the point, and some of his readers may see in this a faint family resemblance to the ''blame America first'' mentality identified years ago by Jeane Kirkpatrick. But a closer relative is the strain of American Protestantism that in the face of external threats emphasizes personal purity and redemption from sin. When the towers fell, Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson looked inward for the cause. Purdy's impulse takes the same form; it's the content that differs. Where Falwell and Robertson worry about school prayer and sex, Purdy worries about poverty and trees.

--Barry Gewen, on Jedeiah Purdy's book "BEING AMERICA: Liberty, Commerce, and Violence in an American World"

March 29, 2003

The Wee Lass on the Brae
As I was a-walkin' one fine summer's day
Oh, the fields they were in blossom and the meadows were gay
I met a wee lassie trippin' over the green
I took her for Helen, the Grecian queen
The Grecian queen, the Grecian queen
I took her for Helen, the Grecian queen

Oh, me parents dote on me, and it's all for their sake
And its ofttimes it causes my poor heart to break
But the more I think on them, the more I'm inclined to say
There's no one will be mine but the wee lass on the brae
The wee lass on the brae, the wee lass on the brae
There's no one will be mine but the wee lass on the brae

--Irish folk song

March 28, 2003


Perpetua’s Felicity
The day of the martyr’s victory dawned
Marched from cell to theater
With cheerful look and graceful bearing
'To heav'n the deathblow sent
In silence received.

Taken from the Second Reading from the Office of Readings of the Liturgy of the Hours for March 7, the Commemoration of Perpetua and Felicity, martyrs, via Bill White
I’m greedy for the newly printed books that lay thick on my nightstand. They sit plump and erudite – Paul Elie’s “The Life You Save”, a biography of Walker Percy, Dorothy Day, Thomas Merton & Flannery O’Connor, and TC Boyle’s “Drop City”. The riches of the reading table do runneth over. I hesitate to start them, wanting to just revel in this era of good feeling. I also have a new found library book: Lorenzo Albacete’s “God at the Ritz”. I’m tanned, rested and ready for the long Sunday read.
Mainlinin’ Beauty
Been draggin’ my tired flesh to the Friday night Pre-Sanctified Gifts (aka Vespers) at St. John’s Byzantine Catholic Church during Lent, yet always come away with a renewed peace and sense of making a real connection with Christ as my Liberator. It is an ineffable sweetness to worship with our 76-year old warrior-priest, a liturgical “maximalist” who hasn’t lost his enthusiasm in lo these many years. In a world of cutting corners, he is a throwback. We recently had a visit from the bishop who attested to the latter.

The good Father carries on for nearly 2-hour Sunday divine liturgies, heroic Eastern Christian Lenten fasts, weekday liturgies that oft have 3 participants, and a hundred other things like the hassle of driving to homes for the annual blessing. The church itself is astonishingly beautiful; the Theotokos cradles her first born to her cheek and I tell myself I have the same privilege by adoption.

(The Virgin at St. John's is similar to this, although there is a less possessive and wary look on Mary's face.)

The encircling dome contains icons of the twelve apostles looking down with a certain expectancy. There is a glorious mosaic of Christ holding the letters Alpha and Omega, letters that communicate both reproach and goal.

The tranquility fostered at St. John’s is such that I wonder if I could do without it, which almost makes me wonder if I should.
Dylan ist back! I didn't know there was an option to call him but apparently a couple St. Blogger's did. I do admit an increasing curiousity about what my fellow blogland toilers look and sound like. But not enough to drive the 2 hours to Toledo on a work night to meet & greet Amy Welborn and her husband and some of the other Catlicker authors. I did read about Tom & Kathy's meeting with great interest, as well as little tidbits like Steven Riddle's voice is not as deep as the Kairos guy expected it.

March 27, 2003

"A mother's womb used to be the safest place in the world for a child; now it's the least."
-Fr. Apostoli on EWTN
Whew! But How Do You Really Feel?

Mark Shea writes passionately and very persuasively in a comment on Amy's blog:

I *hope* that a post-Saddam Iraq will be a better place (though judging from Afghanistan's progress that's not a guarantee by any stretch). My point is simply that the rhetoric employed by some pro-war Catholics is grotesque in its implication that the Pope is a wicked fool, that the Catholic Church is "morally bankrupt" because of Catholic opposition to the war and that America's extremely sudden compassion for Iraqi suffering makes America morally superior to our "clueless" (as Mark Sullivan calls him) Pope. I would have more ease following Mark Sullivan's script of America's Messianic Moral Role in the world if Salam Pax and lots of other Iraqis did. As it is, I think the bishop of Baghdad is cutting a much more noble figure than these suburban Pope bashers who seem so certain God is on Their Side. It may be that the Catholic Church in Iraq which has bled along with the Iraqis for two decades has just a slightly higher claim on moral superiority than some embittered sports writer in California who is medicating his rage at the Pope in a comments box, a guy who claims to be a "Real Christian" and a gaggle of people with keyboards who are ready to call the Pope an idiot on hair-trigger notice when he fails to endorse their jingoism.
Just Another Day in Paradise

My wife called me at work and asked:

"I'm ordering from Amazon. I need $1 more for free shipping - is there anything you want?"

I felt like my book manhood was being challenged.

"Uh...yeah...just a sec," though I knew I'd ordered from amazon less than a week ago and the book cart was empty. I looked through the old "Save For Later's", a motley crew of passed overs and close-but-unworthies.

"Well I don't see anything. I could order Scott Hahn's RSV commentary on St. John, but I'm not happy with the idea of buying these books separately at $9.95 a pop instead of waiting until they come out with a single volume, even though it'll be 2020."

"But don't you already have Matt, Mark & Luke?"

"Yeah I should have the full gospels shouldn't I?" (Talking me into buying a book is like talking Michael Moore into railing against white American males).

When I got home I told her that the next time she looks askance at one of my book purchases I'm going to tell her that I'm a "branch librarian for the Body of Christ"*. She laughed and said, "you know I don't give you any trouble about your books!", which is quite true. At least until the upstairs book room collapses into the living room.

No, we disagree about who does the dishes more. We both think we do it about 65% of the time, meaning that those dishes are 130% clean. Clean dishes, clean. As a Lenten "mortification", which insults the root from which that word was taken, I decided to do the dishes all the time without telling her. It's half-way through Lent and she hasn't noticed, strongly suggesting my 65% number might've been a bit low. :)

* - title borrowed from Tom of Disputations

Breaking News: Came downstairs this a.m. and the dishes were done.

March 26, 2003

Something I'd wondered is why the temple of Jerusalem was never rebuilt. This month's Magnificat mentions one attempt:

Emperor Julian 'the Apostate', who embraced paganism and felt he was destined to restore the old gods of Greco-Roman civilization, attempted to defy Christians by rebuilding the Temple of Jerusalem in 365 AD. St. Cyril is said to have prophesied that nothing would come of it. And it would seem that heaven itself backed him up. Just as work began, a series of earthquakes occurred. As workers cleared the site, gasses trapped in the subterranean passages below the ruins of the old Temple ignited. It caused balls of fire to emerge from crevices in the earth, scorching and killing some of the laborers. The plans were finally abandoned when the emperor himself died shortly afterward.

--Michael Morris, O.P.
Post from David Mills

Once you realize what an abortion really is, it is hard not to see it as Molochian. And the society in which it flourishes as it does in our society as equally Molochian.

I suppose this explains why, at the end of the day, Christians like me feel so ambiguous about our country. I despise the leftists and rightists who talk in hysterical terms about America as if it were actively malign and who seem to live fundamentally alienated from the nation, while enjoying all its benefits, such as the freedom to live in such alienation and encourage it in others.

They are at best simple-minded and ungrateful, and at worst blinded by their alienation and what seems in many cases to be hatred. I speak, I must admit, from experience, having felt this in my youth, but having eventually realized how childish and self-indulgent and, to the extent I cultivated the feelings of hatred (which one much enjoys), wicked.

But on the other hand, I cannot look at the number of abortions in this country and its legal protection, and feel unalienated myself. Patriotism is a good thing, and indeed as Chesterton argues elsewhere a godly thing, but not an easy thing for the Christian who loves his country not only because she is his country but for what she is and aspires to be, but must judge her by a higher standard and knows how badly she fails. And knows, in fact, how much she repudiates that standard.

What keeps me from feeling the alienation that others do is the knowledge that the religion of Moloch may be at least partly defeated, even after thirty years of legal establishment. No country can be considered lost to Moloch that has such a large pro-life movement, and that finds his religion defeated even in Congress and perhaps, someday, in the Supreme Court. I would not bet on it, but it may happen.

Concerning the Jesuit magazine America (May 15, 1999), an article on Peacemaking and "The Use of Force: Behind the Pope's Stringent Just-War Teaching"

A Catholic must wrestle with the teaching, and any other Christian should, but I think it suffers from a degree of abstraction, particularly in the repeated assertion that force solves nothing. This practical judgment turns a subtle understanding of war and just war thinking too far toward effective pacifism.

-- Read the whole thing here
Chesterton snippet...from Ad Orientem
"G. K. Chesterton, who deserves to be sainted, was a vigorous enemy of pacifism, the American Chesterton Society notes.

What he did believe in was the right, or the duty rather, of self-defense and the defense of others.

Chesterton was also a vigorous enemy of militarism. Both ideas, he argued, were really a single idea – that the strong must not be resisted. The militarist, he said, uses this idea aggressively as a conqueror, as a bully. The pacifist uses the idea passively by acquiescing to the conqueror and permitting himself and others around him to be bullied…

"The horror of war," Chesterton wrote, "is the sentiment of a Christian and even of a saint." But in refusing to strike any blow, pacifists announce their readiness to surrender the higher ideals of "liberty, self-government, justice, and religion."

More Chesterton
In chapter 6 of "The Everlasting Man" he mentions the "queer habit among the English of always siding against the Europeans, and representing the rival civilisation, in Swinburne's phrase, as sinless; when its sins were obviously crying or rather screaming to heaven."
But Occcifer...
He is calmly driving down the sidewalk at a reasonable speed while drinking an intoxicating beverage. Suddenly a police cruiser drives up along side on the road. He begins to panic, knowing he's had too much to drink and that he is now being watched. He begins to move more erratically across the sidewalk. The cop pulls him over while he attempts to hide "the evidence".

"Do you know why I pulled you over?"

"Because I was weaving?" (wondering if he could see the intoxicating beverage).

"You were driving on the sidewalk!"

He is shocked, wondering why this should be an injustice.

This analogy suggests that we will not be held accountable for our misjudgments as such - but for the wilful blindness which leads to our misjudgments. If I quit the intoxicating beverage of selfishness and pride, my judgment and vision will be restored. Instead of focusing on hiding beverages or worrying about weaving, I should aim at abstaining from the aforementioned liquors.

March 25, 2003

Miscellaneous Musing
Enjoyed the "dueling banjos" over at Tom & Steven's blogs concerning love versus and knowledge of God. I'm reminded of a conversation I once had with Al*. He thought religion was for old people who needed something to relieve the terror of impending death. I was taken aback, asking him "but doesn't it matter if it is true?"

But God has a way of wooing (I adore the "Hound of Heaven" imagery). He met a girl, fell in love, and she's a devout Christian. Her love and peacefulness brought something to the table that interested him even in his relative youth. He was attracted by love, others by truth. Viva l' difference.

* - fictitious name
William F. Buckley Quote
"But then we have always known, have we not?, that the day has never been when the sum total of man's available resources was insufficient to cope with skepticism, one of those resources, in the earliest days of our faith, having been an obligingly ubiquitous God. In respect of apologetics we are better off in the twentieth century than we were in the first. St. Peter would have had a more difficult time engaging a sophist than, say, John Courtney Murray would have today, replying to Bishop Pike. Even so, notwithstanding our intellectual resources, notwithstanding our moral and spiritual resources, we [Catholics] are on the defensive. And it is the excruciating irony that the more highly educated we are, the more keenly we tend to feel the pangs of exclusion from the dominant intellectual hustle and bustle of the age. Our faith is more severely buffeted, now that we move easily in the world of knowledge, than it was when we were illiterate.

One obvious cause is the interminable war between the self-justifying flesh and the forlorn spirit, a war in which all baptized human beings are eternally conscript as double agents. Another cause is the lure of rationalism: If we can perfectly understand how to split the atom, why can't we know how to fuse the Trinity?

Surely another cause is the friction between fundamentalist and transcendent understandings of scripture....The appeal of literalism has done much to shake the faith of the literate."

--William F. Buckley, "Let Us Talk Of Many Things"
Take me from war arguments...but not yet
Hall-of-famer Satchel Paige once said words to the effect of "avoid fried foods, which angry up the blood". I'm finding I have to avoid war commentary sites to avoid "angryin' up my blood". (My heart and mind tell me to be for the war, my pope something else; the disconnect is unpleasant). The old Soviet Union had almost no terrorist acts perpetrated against them because they reacted ruthlessly the few times it did occur. The terrorists understood - you don't mess with the USSR. Since we are much more sensitive to questions of right and wrong, we cannot, nor should, be as ruthless. Which means that we will necessarily be taken advantage of by terrorists at a higher rate. So it becomes - what is an acceptable rate of terrorism? What is proportional? Very difficult question. It's like mosquitos biting at an elephant - the elephant can let a certain percentage gnaw at him but given some point the loss of blood will cause him to begin taking measures that appear unreasonable because he causes collateral damage to the surrounding forest.
Deal Hudson's Conversion Story... in this week's "This Rock". His confirmation name became "Thomas". He explains:
"In the spring of the year I felt the need to start studying something entirely different. I perused my bookshelves for a title as yet unread and came across a paperback book containing the first question of the Summa Theologica by Thomas Aquinas. I took it out in the backyard along with a chair and sat under a tree and began reading....

I came to the article posing the question whether everything that exists is good. This question particularly intrigued me, in part because it bears upon the personal matter of my own moral status before God. To put it simply, if a person is sinful and evil is he in some way still good? As I read Aquinas's reply to the effect that everything that exists is good because God who is supremely good created it, I stopped reading and looked up. At that moment a redbird sitting in a birdfeeder above my head began to sing, and the words 'everything that exists is good' seemed to unite themselves with the bird's song. The song seemed to represent both the fact of God's creative act and its import, namely that nothing can be so damaged that its goodness can be completely removed from it."
--Deal Hudson
History & the Body
Could it be that the Church, as the Body of Christ, is re-creating Christ's life on earth? That just as in the beginning He could not find a home, having to settle for a manger, so too did the early Church struggle against persecution to find a home? And did not the killing of the Holy Innocents mirror the killing of the early saints, the virgins and martyrs? Is this the "Good Friday" of history, the time during which our society, our world cries out, "Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani..."?
Tortuous Indeed

More tortuous than all else is the human heart, beyond remedy; who can understand it? I, the Lord, alone probe the mind and test the heart. - Jeremiah 17:7-10

I've often thought that God effecting a single conversion is more impressive than His curing of an illness. An illness is purely material and is subject completely to Him, while in a conversion God moves around the obstacle of our free will.
Poetry Tuesday*
Half-moon shines sybilesque
against the pallorous night
Steals through a screen door at the foot of the bed
Into the night it beckons.
Birds sound in their idylls
beating the breath-beat of childhood,
Time stands at the window, past, passed by,
“Grow or die” built-in,
Natural as grace.


The screen door slams
Mary's dress waves
Like a vision she dances across the porch
As the radio plays...

-- Bruce Springsteen "Thunder Road" - one of the most evocative and moving of all Springsteen's songs.

* - There is no "Poetry Tuesday", there is simply "Poetry ---------", where --------- is the day of the week I happen to post some poetry. Just so you'll know. :)
Michael Moore
How bad do you have to be, to be a lefttist and get booed in Hollywood? I didn't think such a thing possible in the present universe. It's sort of like Kruschev being booed at the Politburo.

March 23, 2003

Sunday Read
Must read in today's NY Times - on the roots of Al Qaeda philosphy.

Interesting perspective. The article sort of implies that the Muslim heresy would not "have been necessary" if early Christianity had not dumped Jewish ritual, and that the current Muslim rage would've been lessened if the split in the Western mind between science and religion were not so profound, one that was arguably accelerated and deepened by the Reformation.
Pray for our soliders
"We sleep safely in our beds because rough men stand ready to visit violence on those who would do us harm."
--George Orwell

March 22, 2003

How enjoyable to think back at the long night of the 15th! A good St. Patrick’s Day celebration is an art and requires a bit of luck o' the Irish. It was a stroke of genius on my friend Bone's part to gravitate to the spot we did at AOH. We stood and could survey the band and the dancers and the crowd and we felt a part of it, standing more than half-way up, not loitering in back nor imprisoned in a seat. Location, location, location - so they cry that in the real-estate market and so it is at AOH where the fiddler player holds court. Oh Tireless Youth!

AOH has about it a flavor that is unrecreatable even compared to the Irish Festival in August. I can’t quite put my finger on it, though it has to do with Bone being there and the more intimate atmosphere that AOH inevitably supplies compared to the sterility of Dublin and its Coors sell-out. In the friendly confines of AOH we felt the longing of outsiders wishing to be insiders while getting “lost in the loop” of the repetitive Irish jigs and reels. The restroom was but a stone’s throw away and an agreeable segue between songs.

In my mind's eye I fade to old St. Patrick's at Tara Hall. We're all sitting awkwardly around a large round table eating fried fish in the Aquinas room - Victoria is there, with a child. We sit like knights of the round table with the unlikely accompaniment of women and children. Cal, I think, is there too, and Kindle. We wonder if the wives will leave or if they would follow us to the bar. They don't. We sit in the large heavy oaken barstools and caress a Guinness in front of a barkeep wearing a plastic green bowler hat. He furnishes stout for us at his convenience. A small window reveals Naghten street and in the middle distance the lit-up instrument of our collective torture appears - our workplace. Bu it looks impotent, impotent before our drinking. Not after a Jameson & Guinness! And not on the precious weekend. The sterile place loomed in the distance like a bully without recourse.

I recall the first time we saw the Irish dancers; there was the shock of the impromptu – thru the haze of my Guinness’d eyes there suddenly appeared waves of the most colorfully dressed girls all kicking at tempos I couldn’t keep up with. As I recall it, we were sitting in the front, on the floor, at old Tara Hall and legs kicked only a few feet from our disbelieving eyes. And here it is all these years later and the girls are as young as they were then and kicked just as high and my slo-ginned eye still couldn’t keep up…

Waves of Ireland’s finest
High-stepping weavers of the past
Black-hosed maidens of rural dowries
Garish in your Celtic shields
Holy in your innocence.

The potent opening shot of Jamieson was like Concord’s “shot heard round the world”! We’d walked up to the bar, Bone saying, “you get the Guinness and I’ll get the shots?” and we were suddenly holding the fruits of our labor. My ancestors spent a week's wages for such as these.
Losing Alternatives
The sad thing is that I think war is more likely in the future because we've lost one of the ways to prevent it - economic sanctions. Sanctions are heartless and immoral because most dictators simply don't care if people starve. There was a good article in the Wash. Post arguing that sanctions are simply war by another name, one that instead of affecting soldiers and dictators, kills children.

I think the answer, sadly, lies in the book of Genesis. Original sin. Just as thru one man, Adam, death can come into the world so too does this get replayed constantly. Thru the absolute intransigence and hatred of one man (Hitler or Saddam as examples), death rains down. An evil man has great power, unfortunately, and I don't know how we'll ever get around that in this world.

As far as this war, we see the great evil of the last 12 years - evil WE perpetrated in the form of sanctions and two wars. What we DON'T see is the millions of deaths we prevented in the form Saddam having Kuwaiti oil and WPM's and taking over Saudi Arabia and all the Middle East and having untold wealth, land and WPM. There's no reason he couldn't have been an Alexander the Great. We see the cost, but not the opportunity cost.

March 21, 2003

I slept and I dreamed that life is all joy. I woke and I saw that life is all service. I served and I saw that service is joy.
-Mother Teresa
Ratzinger Quote
"Heroic virtue does not mean that the saint performs a type of "gymnastics" of holiness, something that normal people do not dare to do. It means rather that in the life of a person God's presence is revealed -- something man could not do by himself and through himself. Perhaps in the final analysis we are rather dealing with a question of terminology, because the adjective "heroic" has been badly interpreted. Heroic virtue properly speaking does not mean that one has done great things by oneself, but rather that in one's life there appear realities which the person has not done himself, because he has been transparent and ready for the work of God. Or, in other words, to be a saint is nothing other than to speak with God as a friend speaks with a friend. This is holiness.

To be holy does not mean being superior to others; the saint can be very weak, with many mistakes in his life. Holiness is this profound contact with God, becoming a friend of God: it is letting the Other work, the Only One who can really make the world both good and happy."
-- From Letting God work, by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger
O blest unfabled Incense Tree
That burns in glorious Araby,
With red scent chalicing the air,
Till earth-life grow Elysian there!
--George Darley

I sat by Ballyshannon in the summer,
And saw the salmon leap;
And I said, as I beheld the gallant creatures
Spring glittering from the deep,
Thro' the spray, and throu' the prone heaps striving onward
To the clam clear streams above,
'So seekest thou thy native founts of freedom, Thomas Davis,
In thy brightness of strength and love!"
-Samuel Ferguson

March 20, 2003

"Respect and love ought to be extended also to those who think or act differently than we do in social, political and even religious matters. In fact, the more deeply we come to understand their ways of thinking through such courtesy and love, the more easily will we be able to enter into dialogue with them.

This love and good will, to be sure, must in no way render us indifferent to truth and goodness. Indeed love itself impels the disciples of Christ to speak the saving truth to all men. But it is necessary to distinguish between error, which always merits repudiation, and the person in error, who never loses the dignity of being a person even when he is flawed by false or inadequate religious notions. God alone is the judge and searcher of hearts; for that reason He forbids us to make judgments about the internal guilt of anyone.

Since all men possess a rational soul and are created in God's likeness, since they have the same nature and origin, have been redeemed by Christ and enjoy the same divine calling and destiny, the basic equality of all must receive increasingly greater recognition."
-from The Documents of Vatican II
Today's gospel (Luke 16:19-31) should give anyone with universalist tendencies pause. I remember as a child reading some of these harder-edged parables and much prefering the "after the Resurrection" Jesus, who seemed mellower and said "Peace" and "Do not be afraid" a lot.
I can't expect the Iraqis to welcome war even if it be in their own best interest. No one should expect another to be a martyr, which is basically what an Iraqi civilian is in the position of being (i.e. risking their life for a better future). If the U.S. is a physician, wishing to heal the body of their country via the purging of their cancer (Saddam), we still need the permission of the patient. This war truly must be about U.S. self-defense, not humanitarian reasons.

It is a shame that through one sinful man (a Hitler, Saddam, or Stalin) so many people must die. It is, in a sense, a re-enactment of Adam's sin. Since so much of what we experience has an equal and opposite counterpart, it should come as no surprise that life is given via one man, Jesus.
Uncanny, I Tell Ya
Amy's latest read is TC Boyle's "Drop City", one that I've been dying to read. It really is uncanny how similar my taste in books is to hers - her love of David Lodge for example. Plus her recent interest in Pope John XXIII is appropriate given the seeming abrupt turn toward pacifism the Church has made during his pontificate. Her recent read by Ruth Harris entitled "Lourdes: Body and Spirit in the Secular Age" is yet another book I've always wanted to read.

via Jeff Miller
There's a kind of hush....
Steven Riddle writes about the phenomenon of St. Blog's as ghost town. I think he is correct that numbers are way down during Lent and I certainly don't think that's a bad thing. In fact I think it's healthy, and I probably should do the same ('I see the good, I approve it, and I do the opposite' - although hopefully this tendency is being thwarted, especially during Lent). I emailed Amy when she decided to go into semi-retirement and said that in the long run she would never regret not posting something, while she would very much regret not writing that book she always wanted to write.

I have mixed emotions about it to be honest. Should you be reading this blog - or any of our blogs - when such manifest beauty exists in the pages of a Walker Percy novel or, spritually-speaking, in the words of Aquinas or Augustine? I realize it is not an either/or, but I can understand the need to make more space for the best. Blogging is also addictive, and addictions tends to offer less than they require. On the other hand, I think we risk becoming killjoys if we don't indulge in silliness now and then. Killjoys don't make the best witnesses for the faith, imho.

March 19, 2003

The Noive..or the sweetness of a warm March weekend
He appeared with the wings of Nike on a weekend no less. Sun and mid-70s, with the insouciance of a swaggering drunk. The breath of summer encamped, all hosanna’s and “glad to see ya’s” as if he'd not gone AWOL and left us to the ravages of a winter Verdun. Yea, I say, you drank with Falstaff in foreign climes and now return and expect our embrace?

Yes and yes.
Understanding Styles
The Europeans adored Bill Clinton. They abhore George Bush. Bush is the anti-Clinton in almost every measure, including diplomacy. Bill Clinton is a people-pleaser; he just wants to be loved. It's as if he doesn't feel God's love as powerfully as some and wants that human equivalent. As Shakespeare wrote:

My love is as a fever, longing still / For that which longer nurseth the disease, /Feeding on that which doth preserve the ill, /The uncertain sickly appetite to please.

Right and wrong can be negotiated; he cares (deeply) what others think of him. In that way the Europeans had some power over him - power they lack over Bush and it is infuriating since power lost is power desperately sought. Interestingly, St. Thomas once said something along the lines that those who care what others think about them are still far from the Kingdom spiritually-speaking. When Clinton wanted to help in Bosnia, the U.N. was not enthused and so he waited two years (while thousands died) and went the NATO route and gained that fig leaf. He did not want to urinate the U.N. off, or show up the leaders of Europe, and they liked him for it.

George W. Bush, more devout and purposeful, is less a people-pleaser and more focused simply on what he feels is right. Compromise on moral issues, therefore, is more difficult and he is less able to "fudge" just for someone's approval. He feels God's love fully and firmly and knows that millions are praying for him and he feeds off that knowledge, rather than the knowledge that he is approved of by the world community. By allowing God to be the main spring of his approval, he naturally lessens the power of foreign leaders. He is more likely to do the right thing and be unpopular for it (at least for a politician - a big caveat) than Clinton was. Bush is capable of compromise on lesser issues - like the education bill. But on war and peace he is firm as rock.
Critique of the Just War theory as it is being applied today.
But how do you really feel, Hilaire?

The industrial civilization, which, thank God, oppresses only the small part of the world in which we are most inextricably bound up, will break down and therefore end from its monstrous wickedness, folly, ineptitude, leading to a restoration of sane, ordinary human affairs, complicated but based as a whole upon the freedom of its citizens. Or it will break down and lead to nothing but desert. Or it will lead the mass of men to become contented slaves, with a few rich men controlling them. Take your choice. - H. Belloc in the 1920s
Good Point
Tom of Disputations asked a Dominican spirituality lecturer which fruit of the Spirit the American Church needed most. The friar answered, "Joy."

I think the Dominican hit the bull's eye. Orthodox Catholics in other countries frequently remark on the joyless, severe, constantly outraged attitude of so many orthodox American Catholics, like so many grinches with shoes that are always too tight, or people with way too much cheese in their diets.

--Fr. Jim of Dappled Things

My pizza-every-night thing is so over now. Whoda thunk that was it?!

Seriously, Kathy reports that one of the Dominicans said, "The first gift of the Holy Spirit we must seek is God Himself; He then provides the rest of the gifts." So instead of seeking after the spiritual gift of joy, I shall hope for it as a byproduct of seeking after God Himself.
In France I distrust...
What amazes me more than anything is not the Pope's stance on Iraq but Europe's. For them to allow Saddam Hussein....Saddam Hussein! damage our relationship is simply astonishing. The Kyoto Treaty? Maybe. A trade imbalance? Ok. But Saddam Hussein? The U.S. is actually doing them a favor (since he is a threat not just to the U.S. but to everyone). It is an amazing fact that the world is apparently more afraid of the U.S. than Iraq. If you're the pope, can't you ask, "if you are saving the world from terrorism, why isn't there a greater consensus?".

Just War Blackmail
Okay since proportionality is an ingredient, let's say Country A knows that Country B adheres to Just War Theory. Country A can announce "we will kill 100,000 of our own citizens if you cross the border." Now Country B cannot go to war because it knows that the number of saved lives may only be, say, 40,000. Does this mean that Country A can kill up to 40,000 of its own citizens and we can't prevent it? Since Saddam is grooming his sons to take over when he's gone, then I assume you can cumulate all the deaths that they would cause. I wonder if St. Thomas & St. Augustine thought there would be evil on the scale of Saddam - an evil willing to kill its own citizenry. And it's not hypothetical.
The Fragility of the Flesh
Kathy the cheerful Carmelite has offered a collection point for well wishes for Dylan, who is in the hospital. Ms. Knapp just returned from there and is healing.

March 18, 2003

Link from Amy on American arrogance.

The fact that an infinitely strong God would become infinitely weak (i.e. dead) should give us pause. There is no excuse for rude diplomacy. There is no cost to politeness, no cost to sparing another country from humiliation. Where we should be firm we must be, but where we can afford to be weak it seems we should be that.

(via Hernan Gonzalez)

March 17, 2003

Rome vs Washington
The Thomist definition of the necessary conditions for a just war is, like all his writing, admirably straightforward. War must be declared by a competent authority; the US president and Congress fulfil this requirement constitutionally in terms of self-defence, but not to cast America in the role of international policeman. There must be just cause, i.e. attack by an aggressor or a need to restore rights lost under aggression; this validated the 1991 Gulf war, provoked by the invasion of Kuwait. There must also be proportionality — the likely suffering and destruction caused by war must be outweighed by the just cause. Most of the world disputes this in the context of Iraq. The remaining stipulation is the right intention, meaning that the belligerent must intend to re-establish justice and a lasting peace. America clearly has the intention of affording Iraqis an opportunity to live under a more just regime; but the acute hazard of destabilising the Middle East, with the possibility of other governments falling to militant Islam and a massive resurgence of terrorism, could be held to cancel that out.

The descendants of Puritan settlers devised the Declaration of Independence, a document in conflict with Catholic doctrine, which was also the inspiration for the French Revolution. The high-water mark of hostility came in 1899 when Pope Leo XIII, in the Apostolic letter Testem Benevolentiae, formally condemned Americanism — the socially progressive errors espoused by such prominent American Catholics as Cardinal Gibbons of Baltimore, who had gone native in the pluralist atmosphere of the United States.

The Vatican’s true American allies are the cultural conservatives (to whom Dubya is ideologically closer than his father was) whose doyen the late Russell Kirk, an eminent Catholic, opposed even the 1991 Gulf war.

- Entire article here. Via Touchstone blog
Consoling thoughts from Kathy the Carmelite:
"Certain blogbuddies wonder if their blogs are getting too frivolous. I doubt it. I think we all go through cycles: holiness and backsliding; consolation and dryness; depth and shallowness; zeal and apathy.

Big deal."
"I bind to myself today
The virtue of the Incarnation of Christ with His Baptism,
The virtue of His crucifixion with His burial,
The virtue of His Resurrection with His Ascension,
The virtue of His coming on the Judgement Day.

I bind to myself today
The virtue of the love of seraphim,
In the obedience of angels,
In the hope of resurrection unto reward,
In prayers of Patriarchs,
In predictions of Prophets,
In preaching of Apostles,
In faith of Confessors,
In purity of holy Virgins,
In deeds of righteous men." --St. Patrick

March 16, 2003

Journal du jour
It’s appropriate, perhaps, that on a night that moved at warp speed I type the date of this journal entry as “03/15/01”. Perhaps my muscle memory has only caught up to 2001. Time moves at a much faster rate than I can absorb; my internal clock must be two years behind. Certainly today’s St. Patrick’s party, which was some seven hours, lasted only two hours internally.

We arrived at Dublin’s “Blarney Bash” by 4:30ish. After a beer & a quick trip to McDonald’s we were ready for the “main event’ as they say in boxing and wrestling circles. I was ill-prepared for quite the effect the Hooligans would have on me this day; in that sense it is like religious faith – you trust and then you receive. I trusted that I would have a good time, and went thru the requisite motions, but then I found the most marvelous thing! By the 3rd song I was utterly hooked, utterly convinced - their set was heaven-sent! That it was buffered by a beer and preceded by a bad band were perhaps helpful props, but still the Hooligans hit like a hurricane.

One surprise during the set was the Hooligan’s surprise. They were doing Finnigan’s Wake, and the line “Mrs. Finnigan called for lunch” is always echoed by the crowd saying “lunch!”. We did so and the Hooligan’s broke out in huge grins, as if this were in some way revelatory. I was delighted by their delightment. Apparently we had stepped on the line of the younger Keane singer, who had some sort of bon mot to deliver in that musical pause.

Their set was over in about 100 minutes, (20 minutes my time), and my only regret was being unable to convey the requests “Risin’ of the Moon” and “John Paul Polka” (we mis-yelled “John Paul Shuffle” at one point). They did sing “Four Green Fields” and “The Unicorn Song”, the latter twice.

We left by 8:00 and headed for the AOH (Ancient Order of Hibernians) celebration at St. Joseph Montessori. AOH fit us like a warm glove on a cold night! We walked into the more intimate gathering and they had Guinness, which was nectar after that horrible Coors & Killian Red.

The main act, Vinegar Hill, was okay. Though the singer had a rather high-pitched voice, he was tolerable, especially on songs I already knew. Goosebumps flourished during the last five minutes, all of us standing and singing at the top of our lungs:

Give Ireland Back To The Irish
Don't Make Them Have To Take It Away
Give Ireland Back To The Irish
Make Ireland Irish Today

March 14, 2003

Understanding the Pope
JPII said nice things about (and was very respectful towards) Islam in "Crossing the Threshold of Hope". He famously kissed the Koran. Couple that with the fact that due to declining birthrates, the future of the Church is in Africa and Asia, and voila we have:

"[The Pope] is looking ahead for the rest of this century where Christian-Muslim relations are key to peace and religious freedom in African and many parts of Asia." - Rev. Thomas Reese

The US-Iraq war will hurt Christian-Muslim relations for decades and derail the freedom to practice Christianity in Africa and Asia. I'm not sure that appeasement, however, is healthy in any relationship. A good end (good relations with Muslims) doesn't justify a bad means (giving Saddam room), but I better understand now why the Pope wants to distance himself from Bush.

Here's another reason for the Pope's solidarity with Muslims (email from a smarrt friend):
"Over the past twenty years, the Vatican has fought tirelessly at the UN and its conferences over abortion and family planning. Sometimes the US has been on its side (like now) and sometimes not (like with Clinton). Through that time, Muslim countries have been been (along with Ireland, I guess) the only nations that have stood with the Vatican on this. In fact, someone told me that if it weren't for the opposition of Muslim nations to abortion and state-mandated family planning (aka coercion), the results of all those meetings - Cairo, etc...would have been VERY different than they were."

Finally, here's a link on how the Pope views Islam. Interesting...via the wise Tom of Disputations
His enthusiasm is catching
Outside my friend's office there is a large whiteboard. In the southeast corner there is a shamrock drawn in green magic marker and below that 'the countdown'. Dave has been keeping track since somewhere north of 300 days. As the father of four children under 7, he rarely gets out of the house. In fact his wife allows it a couple times a year, and for no time longer than for the St. Patrick's Day celebration, which will begin for us at 4pm Saturday. God willing.

Of Irish interest - the USCCB has helpfully provided this Irish movie list.

March 13, 2003

Favorite Oxymorons

As an appreciator of oxymorons, especially biblical ones (such as 'Virgin Mother'), I glance around the Catlicker bloggers for inspiration:

Tenebrae et Lux: the sublime one from Dylan. The name has since been changed, natch.

Gospel Minefield: when I see the phrase "mine field" I think of landmines and the possibility of being blown up, which is not "good news" or gospel except in the sense of "dying to self". But if you take it as a gold mine that's a different story. Kathy gets extra credit for having her blog mean two different things at the same time.

Perpetual Ephemera - by Louder Fenn

Disordered Affections - as a fellow sufferer, I can relate. But in Reality (i.e. heaven) all affections are ordered.

Minute Particulae - Mark rarely if ever deals in minute particulars.

March 12, 2003

"I've been wanting to write a piece directly on the subject of how containment -- as a moral argument -- is morally offensive for quite a while. Walter Russel Meade does precisely that today in the Washington Post, and brilliantly so. If you want to argue that containment is preferable to war as a national security argument, that's intellectually acceptable. But if you want to make the moral argument that containment is better, you have to demonstrate why more pain and death over a long period is preferable to less pain and death over a short period. And that's a hard argument to make in moral terms."
- J. Goldberg
Times article describing the universe as a "doughnut". Homer Simpson would be pleased.
"[Bush] has more information than anyone else, he has people skilled in evaluating intelligence, he has the authority (granted by Congress) and the responsibility to make decisions. Can he err? Yes, alas. No one in the world is infallible, and American intelligence has had grievous failures.

Since he cannot be 100% certain, should he therefore do nothing until an attack occurs? But such an attack might leads hundreds of thousands, or even tens of millions, of Americans dead. How would the Untied Sates respond to a massive biological attack if it felt it had been betrayed by its allies and persuaded to do nothing while Hussein used terrorists to poison the United States? Do the Europeans really want the world’s most powerful nation wounded with millions of its citizens dying, and feeling betrayed by its allies and almost the whole world?

The United States has behaved with enormous restraint, but war brutalizes. We destroyed German and Japanese cities in our fury at being dragged into the war, even though our own civilian population was untouched. How would we respond with 20 million Americans dead? The rest of the world should contemplate that, and decide whether it wants to leave Hussein in power." -- L. Podles

March 11, 2003

Old Journal Entries Never Die.... (you know the rest)
I fondly recall the time spent on a cruise ship on the package Carribean tour, for the purpose (according to the brochure) of “demythologizing the Carribean for people who still have the mistaken notion that there is something exotic about a few sea islands a hop, skip & jump south of Florida”.

When I was younger I had a dream – I always wanted to go to a place that could be pronounced (correctly) two different ways (“Carry-be-in” and “Carib-ian”). True, Ohio was “O-HI-O” and “O-Hi-ya” but that didn’t count. I would practice prounouncing it both ways, trying to decide which was more sophisticated. As a child locked in land-locked Ohio, the notion of islands anywhere held a paradiscal quality that gave off imaginings of adventurers like Robinson Curoso, Lewis & Clark, the Professor & Skipper. I’d become intoxicated by “The Light in the Forest”, the story of a white boy raised by Indians who was convinced he was Indian. I always thought I was an Indian at heart, trapped in white skin and raised in this stiff-collared “civilization”.

But by ’87 I was traveling to debunk the idea that there is purity anywhere – I sought foreign climes where I might test my theory. My first cruise was two years out of college, upon a huge Carnival boat where we drank Bud Lights as St. Kitts floated by; we attempted to identify her as if by labeling her we could somehow brag that we’d seen (owned?) her. If it's Thursday it must be Dominica….

I stared morosely as the wake streamed away from the island of Dominica on the last day of the cruise. If ever there were an island where I could be the red man, it was there. Auden’s poem came to mind: we were that generation “neither happy nor good”. My friends and fellow disillusioners were grabbing cold pizza and stale cookies up on the promenade deck while I watched the generation of ceaseless white surf from the starboard side. I let myself into the cold salt water quietly, with nary a splash or a saynora; I swam in the bracing waters with my sneakers like tow-weights towards my green destination – friendly Dominica. I swam, swam like the wind, till I hit the muddy shores and ascended the hill where cannibals used to hold court and order white meat at a makeshift deli counter. How sweet it was! I would become the “noble savage”, the Mogli in Disney’s adaptation!

My first days on the island were idyllic; I read “Adrift”, the story of a survivor of a shipwreck who lived on a raft for 1,128 days. I noted that time held a quality it hadn’t since pre-college; it was as if the quality of time was directly proportional to the amount of time you could afford to waste.
Portions of the above, of course, are pure blarney.
“A flood of words is never without fault; whoever controls the lips is wise” --Prov 10:19

What if
words fail
my allotment of breath
falling quiet as my grandfather,
only the sound of scissors talking
to the beat of falling hair?

Worse, what if
the words turn cursive
biting at curds
and bitter herbs?

Antidote to Dullness
Down Naughten Street a stranger walks
the former “Irish Broadway”,
Now warehouses and non-descripts
Prosaic as the day.

What interest would he sure provoke
if this be eighteen-eight!
Fueled by Finney's "Time and Again"
I'd follow to know his fate.

Fast he walks to young St. Patrick's
Worshipping in Latin
Swimming in the dear old Faith
Chin above the patin.

The answer be if we could just
move faster than light's speed,
or see the world through eyes less blind
re-awakened by the Creed.
The Two Secrets of Dominican Contemplation

Keep at it.

-- via Disputations

Reminds me of the ol' shampoo bottle instructions: "Wash. Rinse. Repeat." An antidote to needless complexity.
Bad Catlickers?
One of the reasons Catholicism has survived for so long is because of its ability to bend without breaking, to encompass many different groups and sensibilities. The Pope, of course, has a free will, and infallibility is a negative charism, one that only prevents heresy, not bad judgments. Our very orthodox Dominican priest stresses the great freedom of belief – how wide the pasture of what one can believe is. The Church’s doctrine are fences on the far edges of the landscape pointing to the cliffs that have already been discovered. There are many theologies but one doctrine. Catholics can disagree on the war with Iraq and not be bad Catholics.
from the Catholic World Report

Percentage of College Students Answering "Yes" to These Questions
Abortion should be legal: 1997=61.1%, 2001=71.6%

If two people really like each other, it's all right for them to have sex even if they've known each other for only a very short time: 1997=40.2%, 2001=58.8%

Wow. I'm not so much surprised by the numbers as by the trend - four years is an amazingly short time to see the numbers change on that sort of scale. I'm beginning to wonder if the so-called trend towards greater orthodoxy of the young is just smoke & mirrors.

March 10, 2003

Saddam's soldiers attempt the soldierly equivalent of premature ejaculation - embarrassing for everyone involved.
Interesting commentary from Camilia Paglia:
Cults multiply when institutional religion has lost fervor and become distracted by empty ritual. Early Christianity, for example, began as a rural rebellion against the fossilized Temple bureaucracy in Jerusalem. In 1950s America, the political and professional elite were still heavily WASP. Prosperous congregations were overly concerned with social status at church or at its annex, the country club. Roman Catholicism, searching for social credibility, was steadily purging itself of immigrant working-class ethnicity, a process of genteel self-Protestantization in music, ceremony, and decor that in middle-class parishes is now virtually complete. Many of those attracted to cults in the sixties and early seventies were escaping mainline denominations where bland propriety was coupled with sexual repression. It is a striking fact that few young African-Americans joined cults: surely the reason was that the gospel tradition, rooted in the South, invited emotional and physical expressiveness, stimulated by strongly rhythmic music.

--via another controversialist, Rod Dreher
Winter, We Hardly Knew Ye
Old Man Winter sputtered & spat after the warmth of a 60 degree Saturday. But the ol' curmugeon must sense his time is nigh; he protests too much. I laughed at the 20s on Sunday, took the dog a walk and said to the ol' man, "you're just a paper tiger, a lame duck!". Courage is easy when the light at the end of the tunnel has been spotted.

March 09, 2003

Verweile Doch still in progress. "Verweile doch" is German for "linger awhile" which is the name I've given to long Sunday reads (truncated from: Verweile doch, du bist so schon meaning "linger awhile, you are so beautiful"). My stepson wanted his copy of CS Lewis' The Screwtape Letters back so I was able to fulfill my Lenten obligation early by finishing it this afternoon. It was excellent, as anyone who's read it knows. His insight into human nature is keen.

This got me to reading a Lewis biography by George Sayers called "Jack" which, in turn led me to the 'net to read about a particularly interesting tidbit about his take on Catholicism via a book by someone named Derrick, which led me to this, which I haven't read yet but plan to.

In George Sayer's biography he comments, "I agree with Derrick that Lewis was nearest to becoming a Catholic in about 1950, but I do not regret that he did not. I think that it would have limited his influence, especially among evangelical Christians." Perhaps God can work in the mysterious way such that the less good - my wife's nondenominationalism - be a positive, in the sense that it might have helped incline my (previously) agnostic stepson towards Christianity (given that his take on Catholicism is apparently it be too heavy on ritual and too light on biblical exposition).

Note to self: Now quit blogging & go back to reading!!
This Just In....
Guess I may as well jump in on this (minutiae) bandwagon:

1. What was the last song you heard?
Boulavogue off Tommy Makem's "Irish Revolutionary Songs".

2. What were the last two movies you saw?
"Heist" with Gene Hackman, "Rachel And the Stranger" - western from the 40s with Bill Holden & Loretta Young.

3. What were the last three things you purchased?
Shoelaces. Reds tickets to a game in June. Huizinga's "Waning of the Middle Ages".

4. What four things do you need to do this weekend?
Hike at least an hour at Darby Park. Pay bills. Go to Mass. Keep the Sabbath rest (I'm really good at that one). Complete my translation of the bible. (Just kidding).

5. Who are the last five people you talked to?
- Wife, stepson, stepson's girlfriend, friend Dave (aka "Hambone"), boss
The Daddy Country?
MSNBC's Chris Matthews (a Democrat) calls the Republican party the "daddy party" - i.e. the party more likely to make unpopular decisions and impose necessary discipline (not necessarily fiscal as we've seen of late, although one could argue that since a deficit is the only thing that constrains government tumescence it may be a necessary contrivance).

It seems America was thrust by the events of 9/11 into the role of "daddy country" - i.e. making unpopular decisions and imposing necessary discipline. An example? This Week reported today that many countries want the U.S. to unilaterally deal with the North Korea situation - the same countries attempting to block U.S. action w/r/t Iraq! This is the sort of thing a child wants - to have his cake and eat it too - and it is exhibited in spades by France, which signed a resolution (1441) it obviously never intended to honor.

The Pope has earned the moral authority and can call in his chits as he apparently is doing now. That I can respect. But France and the other comfortably numb "allies" seem to be simply shirking their responsibility.

March 08, 2003

Peggy Noonan brought up an interesting point on an interview show. She basically said why in the world should we have expected anything different from the U.N. than we've seen given that it was a huge struggle to get the coalition together for the first Gulf War? For then France couldn't argue that Iraq hadn't invaded Kuwait (as they argued that Iraq had no WMDs)...There is a certain clarity about a country marching over a border. And yet Sec of State Baker had to do a lot of cajoling then.

March 06, 2003

Thomas Hibbs has the winter blues:
We have discovered a type of despair that escaped the notice of Kierkegaard and Freud: an existential crisis prompted by geographical despair.

Walker Percy wisely noted that the hardest part of life is passing time with no diversion. For one of his characters, Lancelot, the worst time was between dinner and sleep. For us, during winter break, it was midafternoon.
I've gotten a couple more emails from Nigerian scammers and I'm not quite sure it's covered by the Geneva Conventions, but I've decided to respond with to them with my fictional forays! Yes, instead of inflicting them on you, my loyal if tiny reading public, I will inflict them on Nigerian scammers! Ingenious I'd say.
Steinbeck addresses a question that has been on my mind. Is it possible to let your beneficence blind you to certain realities?

I think your father has in him, magnified, the things his wife lacks. I think in him kindness and conscience are so large that they are almost faults. They trip him up and hinder him.

-- Steinbeck, East of Eden
Catholics Debating: Back President or Pope on Iraq?
Article in NY Times...
Oy vey...!
I misread Disordered Affections post about wanting to strangle people yesterday. Must. blog. while. fully. awake. I had an equal and opposite reaction. I distrust feelings, so feelings of holiness triggered by fasting I'm inclined to ignore. (In the past I've felt holy while being in the state of mortal sin; Gen'l Stonewall Jackson felt holy while fighting for slavery - but that's another issue. Besides he was probably invincibly ignorant). The result of the fast was undeniably a greater patience, coupled with a greater appreciation for those who are poor. Part of it was that I was just too damn tired to be tense with anyone. I had nothing but mellowness to give. (Reminds me of the old story about how someone goes out for an hour run after a fight with his wife and after 15 minutes he forgets what he was arguing about and after 30 minutes he forgot he had a wife). Finally, I woke up Wednesday knowing the day could be grim and so my expectations were lowered. I was unaccountably cheerful because the day would not disappoint me. And knowing that all the bloggers and other Catlickers were out there fasting gave me a sense of solidarity that was thrilling. Prayer is also much more intense during fasting, don't you think?
I was listening to the Teaching Company on the commute today and Prof. Peter Saccio made the point that you can tell a lot about a culture by its self-help books. The Victorians, having made a lot of money from the Industrial Revolution, were obsessed with class and so bought books dealing with etiquette and how to write letters...His [Saccio's] generation was into sex, so that begat a spate of books on achieving orgasm and the joy of sex. Our generation might be considered about money, how to make money in the stock market, how to get rich...Shakespeare's generation read books about death - how to die well. To them the most important moment of life was the moment of your death, for your eternity hinged upon it. Deaths in Shakespeare's time were public, not hidden in the hospital but at home with friends and family and neighbors. I fear that most self-help books concerning death for our generation deal with how to kill yourself.
Who Am I?
- brutal dictator
- violated the treaty of the previous war by re-arming
- was given the latitude to continue re-arming
- caused a holocaust, both figurative and literal

Answer: Adolf Hitler

Sound familiar? There are sins of comission and sins of omission; I wonder if Pres. Bush wouldn't be committing a sin of omission by not enforcing the Gulf War treaty. We know that little sins lead to bigger ones - Malcolm Gladwell in The Tipping Point explains that the reason crime in NYC dramatically fell during Mayor Guiliani's administration was that he "sweated the small stuff" - he no longer looked the other way for things like scrawling graffitti. It worked.
The Snow Will Continue until Morale Improves
Another beating of snow this morning, reaching the point of parody. It reminds me of a book I read as a teen - Harold Hill's How to Live Like a King's Kid, which said that God will give us a live-in mother-in-law until we stop 'needing her' - i.e. that until you are at peace with her. This analogy was lost to me then, since I didn't have a mother-in-law nor could I imagine my grandma being a burden to my dad...
Fascinating exchange of views last night on Bill O'Reilly's show. O'Reilly says the Pope is being naive and idealistic on the war. The guest says O'Reilly is being naive if he thinks violence will not beget more violence. He brings up the Israeli situation - is their situation any more secure after 40 years of giving tit for tat? O'Reilly shoots back that at least they're there, saying that if they didn't resort to violence they would be wiped off the face of the map, which is what their neighbors want. Compelling arguments on both sides.

George Weigel was on Pat Buchanan's show, still wearing the ashes he'd received. He argued that we are defending ourselves from an act of aggression if one defines aggression a bit more subtly, i.e. the nature of Saddam coupled with the gathering of weapons of mass destruction IS an act of aggression. I found it somewhat unconvincing. I never thought that the pre-emption argument was that good - I'm surprised that was the best Weigel could come up with. Saddam's weapon program is ultimately why we are going to war, but it's not the rationale - just as the feds got Al Capone on tax evasion.

March 05, 2003

The Blog-in News
Hernan Gonzalez is back from a month-long hiatus...
Lenten Reading
I'm starting with C.S. Lewis and The Screwtape Letters but hope to read Death on a Friday Afternoon later in Lent. But most of all I hope to follow Gerard Serafin's suggestion and simply read the bible.
Sampling Seamus
I'm sick, you're sick, we're all sick of....war talk. So let's cleanse the palate with a little Seamus Heaney:

The cold smell of potato mould, the squelch and slap
Of soggy peat, the curt cuts of an edge
Through living roots awaken in my head
But I've no spade to follow men like them.

All year the flex-dam festered in the heart
Of the townland; green and heavy-headed
Flax had rotted there, weighted down by huge sods.

As a child, they could not keep me from the wells
And old pumps with buckets and windlasses,
I loved the dark drop, the trapped sky, the smells
Of waterweed, fungus and dank moss.

Now to pry into roots, to finger slime,
To stare, big-eyed Narcissus, into some spring
Is beneath all human dignity. I rhyme
To see myself, to set the darkness echoing.

-excerpts from poems by Irish poet Seamus Heaney
Happy Lent!
As Yogi Berra might say, "90% of fasting is 75% mental". I recall that after a marathon most runners say they will never run another. Eventually that attitude wears off and they're enthusiastic again. So here's to another Lent! I am cheered by the notion that not only it is what I need but what our fractious, beleaguered world needs.

Also - here's an Ash Wednesday poem I posted a couple weeks ago.

Hymns in English & Gaelic! Via Dylan!

March 04, 2003

It's not about pre-emption
I've never thought the war could be validated by pre-emption. If that's what it's about, then my misgivings about the war will turn to anti-war protest (but I will skip the nude rallies). No, what I see is something similar to what U.S. marshalls faced back during the 30's - Al Capone robbed and killed until they got him - on a technicality. Income tax evasion. Now you can say that Pres. Bush has Saddam Hussein on a technicality - that he violated the Gulf War treaty and failed to disarm. But a technicality is still legal, and the fact that much suffering and death was prevented by locking up Al Capone (or Saddam Hussein) is icing on the cake.

I'm leaning towards John Paul on this one. I would not vote for the war in part because I'm too conservative (small 'c'), meaning that I don't relish a "big bet" - which this war certainly is. I also don't know what Iraqi civilian casualties would be, which seems to me a big unknown that would effect the justness of the war.
Interesting NY Times article on the perils of ignorning the Sabbath:

And not even our group leisure activities can do for us what Sabbath rituals could once be counted on to do. Religious rituals do not exist simply to promote togetherness. They're theater. They are designed to convey to us a certain story about who we are without our even quite noticing that they are doing so. (One defining feature of religious rituals, in fact, is that we often perform them for years before we come to understand what they mean; this is why ministers and rabbis are famously unsympathetic when congregants complain that worship services or holiday rites feel meaningless.)

--Judith Shulevitz
War commentary
Note to self: Read this this...via fructus ventris and this via Disordered Affections.

March 03, 2003

Riveting exchange between Disputations & Camassia on the opaque topic of who shall be saved.
Exercising Spiritual Muscle
One truism in the world of fitness is to "surprise" your muscles. Don't go through the same routine and allow your body to get too comfortable which will, at best, merely maintain current levels of fitness.

Our Byzantine priest had a surprise at Vespers yesterday, something to awaken us from our comfortable numbness. Nearing the end of the service, he said we should all come up (there were perhaps 20 of us), form a line and hug each other and offer the 'kiss of peace' which was of the European sort - a peck on each cheek. My immediate reaction was to gauge the distance between myself and the back door and to calculate the odds of being noticed leaving. But that was so patently outside the spirit of Lent that I couldn't pull the trigger. So the first person went up and gave the kiss of peace and then stood to the left of the priest. The next person offered the gesture to both the priest and that person and then stood to the left of them, and so on...It was all very sweet. Most of us seemed a little more enthusiasm when greeting the opposite sex, which I suppose is only natural.
Came across this on the web by Scott Steinkerchner OP:

William James' essay The Will to Believe brings this mindset to bear on the seminal religious question, "How is it that one can rightly have religious faith?" His answer is intriguing. First he puts forward a certain category of truth which can only be acknowledged if it is first believed provisionally in faith. For example, personal friendships cannot be established without first trusting a potential friend, a trust that as yet has no basis in absolute proof. If one trusts, proof can come and a friendship can be established. If one refuses to trust, no friendship is possible. James then suggests that religious affirmations are exactly of this sort. They cannot be decided beforehand, they can only be believed and then subsequently verified. Of course, an individual is free to not believe, but this is just as self-ratifying as believing and thus no more objective. As he says, "Skepticism, then, is no avoidance of option; it is option of a certain particular kind of risk. Better risk loss of truth than chance of error."
Thin Tuesday
I like Disputation's Lenten preparations. Coming off a sickness, I've not had a beer for almost two weeks and food has been very problematical due to a slight nausea. Drats! If not for this I coulda been a contenda'!

More seriously, on the way to church yesterday I pondered the fact that if you are obvious about your fasting and wear a scowl then you've already had your reward. But what if you are proud about keeping it to yourself? Snares everywhere! The devil makes me paranoid.
On the writer Tony Hillerman:
Hillerman learned to shun material wealth and to follow his dreams from his older brother, Barney. 'I was lucky in having a brother who is unusually wise," says Hillerman. "He asked what good is money when you've got your rent paid and you've got food and clothing. Beyond that, he said, what can you buy with it?"

Barney's point was that the only good about having money is 'that you can ransom yourself back from the system,' continues Hillerman. "What you've got to do, he said, is find a way to get your basic needs met doing something you like to do, so you don't have to buy your time back and thus don't have to have a lot of money."
--Catherine Walsh

March 02, 2003

The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius are customarily, and I think rightly, said to have contributed to the realistic quality of Baroque religious art... A particularly striking feature - and one that surely fired the imagination of artists - is what Ignatius calls 'compostion, seeing the place, the aim of which is 'to see with the eye of the imagination the corporeal place where the object one wishes to contemplate is found'. The 'secularization of the transcendental' (to use Friedlaender's term) was not long in manifesting itself in Spain, where painters and sculptors seized upon realism as a means of bringing the beholder into a state of mystical communion with the divine.

-- John Rupert Martin, If it ain't Baroque, don't fix Baroque
Blonde Moment
Stopping at a 7/11, I saw situated by the door a height chart. I thought, "how nice - they put that up for kids to measure themselves with." The cashier got quite a chuckle from that one. Obviously it was there so that when robbed they could provide a better description.
Very good homily from a visiting priest this weekend. He started the sermon by approvingly quoting Ben Franklin's line, "Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy." That got my attention! And then he described the phenomenon of "comfort" food and how odd a notion that is. He asked why we eat when we are not hungry, suggesting that we are looking for something from food that cannot be had.

The purpose of fasting, he says, to focus us on what it is we are really hungry for. He reminded how one cannot simply apply fasting over our old wineskin - how we have to be willing to be remade and be flexible enough to expand. The hope for our hopelessness is supplied by the First Reading today from the book Hosea, where God promises us to "lead us to the desert" and forgive and remake us.

Prayer, alms and fasting - the cure for what ails for twenty centuries.