August 30, 2003

Salvation and Atonement

Orthodox priest Fr. Theodore Pulicini writes that he always found the view of salvation that Christ paid the penalty for sin and removed a just sentence unsatisfying and legalistic. "Why would a loving God require such a price? Was the Father really so angry and vengeful that he would require the death of his own Son in order to be appeased?" he writes.

Way beyond my ken, obviously, and it is a mystery as to exactly how it works, but it is a fact that Christ reversed the disastrous sin of Adam. I accept it on faith. But I see it as love rather than appeasement. The study of anthropology (as well as any college fraternity) suggests that what binds humans is the presence of a scapegoat. God became the scapegoat in order that we might love each other (and not scapegoat each other) and that we might understand his tremendous love for us in dying for us.

The key loss over the past three hundred years might not so much be a loss of faith in a Divine intelligence but in a Divine intelligence that loves us. The 18th century Deists began a downward spiral from which we have not recovered. When I look at the Cross and understand that He would have done it for me alone (ala the parable of the good shepherd going in search of the one lost sheep), I am blown away at the extreme God would go to to show his love. How non-Christians believe in a loving God in a world of suffering is not something I fully comprehend.

Kathy has a wonderfully honest post about blogs and ego gratification. Just where is the line between ego gratification and affirmation that all humans need? We should seek our affirmation from God, or so I tell myself, while often doing the opposite. What percentage (to be coldly analytical) of our support should come from God, spouse, friends, etc..?

This was the question that had occurred to me while pondering Kathy's request for a friendly email. And then came this thought-provoking post, which provides nice in-roads towards the answer. Tolle, lege! Another nice thing about St. Blog's is that we can cross-pollinate our reading lists. I'd never read "The Four Loves" and now I'm tempted to.
Small World   (an act of fiction)

“What’s yore favorite ale?” I asked the Irishman.

“Ach, like I the (indescipherable), except on Friday’s when it’s (indescipherable)”.

I talked to his more sober friend, a younger man in his mid-30s whose hair was dark and had about him the manner of the manor. He explained that he liked to go to the States now & again. I asked whereabouts.

“I’ve been to New York, L.A., San Francisco. But my favorite city is Columbus, in Ohio”.

”I know where it is, I live there. How did you know I was from Columbus?”

“I didn’t!”

”Come on. Columbus can’t be your favorite city.”

“Why not? The sky is an azure hue between clouds that sit like pillows. There is a wonderous bronze statue of Christopher Columbus downtown. His jaw is set like a martial man, standing athwart history and yelling ‘Go!’. The Scioto river rushes like a colossus over the landscape, that great southern boundary that separates a Centre mall from “little Germany”. The city sits like a jewel in the middle of Cornfield, USA, a megapolis of ‘scrapers rising from the ground at sharp right-angles.”

“But plenty of cities rise out of cornfields at right-angles.”

“I don’t compare to Columbus to Kansas City or Sacramento. I compare her to the cities near the Yangtzee in 17th century China. Of course I’ve never been to China or lived in the 1600s, but I’ve seen pictures in Nat’l Geographic. If you compare fair Columbus to 17th century China, she looks positively other-worldly.”

“How is it that you chose China to compare her to?”

“China, schmina. You’re missing the point completely. Think not as man thinks but God. You measure everything, set up elaborate hierarchical models…you want to know if Ted Williams was a better hitter than Lou Gehrig and why. You’d date Jennifer Lopez and study her toenails and wonder if they are as fine as Sandra Bullock’s.”

“I would be happy with either Ms. Lopez’s toenails or Sandra F. Bullock's, thank you very much.”

”Ha, you say that now. It’s to the extent you see, you do not see. You look at Columbus, and Bullock, with your eyes, and jaundiced eyes at that. Sophistication is the paintin’ that learning puts on tin structures. Still tin underneath, like the lean-to I lived in outside Boone, North Carolina. Split an oak to put shingles on it; still tin underneath. Get it?”

“I think so.”

“The radical thing is divine innocence. God’s not parceling his love out based on the latest numbers manufactured by angels in the Division of Statistics. Yes, the hairs on your head are counted but that’s a different Bureau and is completely independent of the Quantity of Love Committee.”

“Since you brought up the subject of God, did not Jesus love John the most?”

“Yes, but that was with his human nature. Two natures, remember?”

“So what does all this have to do with the price of tea in 17th century China?”

August 29, 2003

Summer, R.I.P.

The summer, faithless hag, appears to be diminishing in her affection. Yellow school buses ominously portend the end. I sit at the corner waiting indefinitely to make a left turn as the buses relentlessly roll. The ease of the summer months is scandalous. The easy drives to work without the hassle of buses. The needlessness of hat, gloves or coat. The hot massage of the nylon lounge chair, baked to five degrees over body temp, against your skin. The vacations. The free days of Memorial Day-Independence Day-Labor Day.

Here it is a day shy of September and I haven’t spent one glorious day watching the Cincy Reds. Haven’t gone to one Shakespeare at Schiller Park. When I’m sitting in the sun in late August/early Sept it feels similar to the way I felt going to last couple college football games at my alma mater – spoiled by nostalgia. It was no longer about the moment – it was about something else. About remembrance of times past.

As a wiser self intuited: the summer wanes and wastes away, the tomatoes and peaches small recompense. Her last days feel strangely uncharismatic; we look forward already to autumn, not wishing to witness her long Roman decline and fall. The fruits fall from the vine, begging to be picked, the natural course of things goes on, and God, in his heaven, always manages to replace creation with greater creations, the old Law with the New in the unending march towards perfection.
“We, the Church, are the Bride; Christ is the Bridegroom….There is something odd, almost ugly, about the bride bragging about her own beauty and specialness, pointing to her own uniqueness or special relationship with the bridegroom. It should really be the bridegroom that speaks of his beloved, the Church, and he does, and he will. The Church, the Bride, should be speaking of her beloved, The Bridegroom: about how wonderful he is, about how she owes everything to him, about how good he is and how truthful and faithful.”

-- Ralph Martin
Around the Proverbial Horn

[Steven] Pinker strikes me as the kind of person who (like Conchis in The Magus if you know it) might say, "Why should I wade through a two-hundred page novel just to get a couple of notions that could be stated on one page?" There is a refusal to acknowledge that some aspects of the human condition lie just beyond formulation in crisp and concise algorithms. --Mark of Minute Particulars

From Jim on Kathy's blog:

Before my reversion, I was somewhat infatuated with Ayn Rand. Then I discovered that everything noble and admirable in Rand is already in Aristotle, and from there it moves into St. Thomas and is incorporated into Gospel ethics.

The best antidote to Nietzsche is to concede his main point, namely, to concede that the ethical experiment of Kant (which Nietszche inadvertently identifies with "morality" as such) is a radical failure. An ethics of pure obligation that does not have a robust moral psychology that accounts for the longings and restlessness of the heart is is deeply inhuman and dehumanizing. On that point, Nietzsche was right. However, it is not necessary to trace the failure of Kant through a geneology of morality. Such a method leaves the human being worse off than in the Kantian system. Everything that Nietzsche wants is available from Christ when the Holy Spirit is "poured forth into our hearts" and we progress developmentally through life in the Beatitudes.

I recommend the book "Morality: The Catholic View" by Servais Pinckaers. It gives a counter-narrative that is as deeply anti-Kantian as Nietszche, but without the conclusions that give cause for despair.

Carl Olsen has some good thoughts on Flannery O'Connor and Walker Percy.

"My doctor favors Tylenol 3, so named because if you take it with three glasses of wine, you might get to sleep through the night.--Nancy Nall. (I take them mainly for the placebo effect - although if you know you are taking something mainly for the placebo effect, does the placebo effect still work?)

Joke mined from Disputations:
Two Dominican friars, a novice and an old-timer, are out begging for food. As they walk along, they meet the local miser. The older friar calls out a greeting. "God be with you! In the name of our Master and yours, will you give us a coin or two that we may buy food for our convent?"

"Hmph!" the miser answers. "And supposing I don't?"

"Then we shall all grow another day thinner," replies the friar with a gentle smile.

"Look, if I did give you money," the miser says with a shudder, "how do I know you won't just spend it on more of your fancy books?"

At this, the novice pipes in, "Oh, we've got book money!"

August 28, 2003

All MBTI, All the Time

I don't see any grand Jungian conspiracy in the Myers-Briggs is a tool and a tool can be used for good or for ill. But the test is based on self-reported answers...(Disputations has a devastingly funny send-up here).

Fr. Jim finds it interesting that 6 of the 10 SJ'rs in St. Blog's have Latin names. I can't speak for the rest, but Latin isn't special to me other than it holds the otherness of a foreign language. I would be just as happy with a German title, for reasons of opacity. As a lover of mystery, I like trapdoors and hidden passages. How cool was it that a decorative bust at Wayne Manor hid a button that when pressed opened a wall to a pair of firehouse poles? I used to have an unlabeled asterisk on my blog which, when clicked, led you to my rather anemic website. Wouldn't it be fun to have a wall of books that when a certain book is removed you find it open into a secret passage to - where? A secret library of course.
Ham of Bone Update*

When last we saw our valiant hero, Bone was busy writing a screenplay while the birds sang and sun shone... His jaunt in out-of-work-dom reminds me of the ol' Saturday morning cartoon where Wile E. Coyote is suspended in mid-air, still running, not yet knowing the ground is no longer beneath him. Bone has all the sensations of full employment - i.e. a nice severance - without the actuality of it. But may he succeed in his venture and pessimism be d*mned! He writes:

   I am in the clutches of a stubborn screenplay that won't let me go. The creation has usurped its creator's authority and I can think about nothing else. To use a sports metaphor where the competition is so fierce that a difference of 1/100th of a second makes the difference between the amateurs and the pros, I am flexing and training my muscles (writing and rewriting) to eke out some advantage, with the help of some steroid juice (aka vodka) of course.

To further the sports analogy, sometimes it seems as though we who are living are watched and cheered by the dead, who graciously cheer for our salvation, hoping that we will run the race well. I feel that way watching Bone, as if I am on the sideline cheering he who is running this race against the clock that he might do what he loves.

* - "Bone" or "Ham of Bone" is my friend who prefers to remain anonymous. He lost his job due to corporate downsizing and is now writing screenplays.
Way Cool

I love it - the Mighty Barrister has his own gift shop! Hi-laire. Sharp design and graphics too:

Pope Leo XIII in Providentissimus Deus:
For the saving and for the perfection of ourselves and of others there is at hand the very best of help in the Holy Scriptures, as the Book of Psalms, among others, so constantly insists; but those only will find it who bring to this divine reading not only docility and attention, but also piety and an innocent life. For the Sacred Scripture is not like other books.
--via Disputations

August 27, 2003

Three Degrees of Separation

One of the joys of the internet is how close you can get to previously completely unavailable folks. (Another is its unpredictability - I recall that three years ago or so Shelby Foote commented on his Civil War triology on, complete with his email address and a misspelled word. Because he had mentioned money, it ran true. It was also removed, presumably by authorial request, a few months later. I like to think that ol' Shelby had knocked down a few too many whiskeys while compulsively checking his book rankings and had to add his two cents). Anyhow, I digress. No one can digress like the Irish...I recall stopping for a pint outside Sligo and-- nevermind.

So, with blogs, you may have someone read your blog who keeps a blog that is read by someone else who keeps a blog read by a third party - perhaps Kevin Bacon himself. For example, it is possible though unlikely that Mark Shea has read this blog. That's one degree of separation. And who has read his blog? The inestimable Fr. Richard Neuhaus. And who has read Fr. Neuhaus's writings?

Rod Dreher. I am only three degrees from Rod Dreher. Yippee! (Just teasing Rod, if you've Google-searched your way here).

Fructus Ventris has a post on how you know you've made it in blogdom. By her definition this blog hasn't (note that I separate myself from this blog, it's the blog's fault not mine). But I actually revel in the anonymity. I can be much more uninhibited although admittedly more self-indulgent. Hopefully there are posts which are of some value even if it not be this particular one...
Song long not heard    

Twenty-five years of water    
Rush headlong over rock,    
The pliant body bends    
At every fleshy shock.    
Cells replace, cilia strain    
To hear the music's sweet refrain.    

To listen again as he once did-    
That ancient air, that callow ear    
Innocence stiched in all his sinews    
Stretched but saved in attention dear.    

Watched with a watchman’s care until    
that fateful age his robe defiled    
Flung back at God for service ill-rendered    
But forged anew when Reconciled.    

The "robe defiled" describes an era in the past when I decided that God wasn't taking care of me and so I would take care of me.
Interesting comment on flos carmeli concerning truth and Revelation:
"Wesley Kort elaborates that certain specific types of beliefs are essential for 'an adequate, workable world to appear,' namely, beliefs about temporality, other people, borders, and norms and values. These types of beliefs, he asserts, are closely connected to languages and texts. In fact, in his estimation, they 'can be textually identified because they and their relations to one another are borne by language.' And this leads to the importance of 'scriptures.' Such texts, Kort adds, function by articulating 'the beliefs that go into the construction of a world.' For this reason, as Paul Ricoeur notes, the meaning of a text always points beyond itself - it is 'not behind the text, but in front of it' - for it projects a way of being in the world, a mode of existence, a pattern of life, and it 'points towards a possible world.'"

What this means - in clearer language - is that, when we read the Scriptures or hear our pastor preach on a text, the Holy Spirit speaks to us and is at work effecting our transformation (Rom 8.10, 2 Cor 3.1, constructing a new world in which we are to dwell (2 Cor 5.17). To say that Scripture is "inerrant" then means that no part of Scripture is an obstacle for this new creation - that all chapters and verses must be heard, read, marked, learned, and digested (as the Book of Common Prayer nicely puts it).

After all, very few people practice lectio divina or reread their favorite sermons to brush up on their archaeological knowledge. We do so for the Spirit to speak and give us a new mode of existence, a new pattern of life, in which, amazingly, becoming a monk or opening a Catholic Worker House just might make perfect sense. --Neil Dhingra
Light Begets Light

I was brushing my teeth when all went dark. The thunderstorm's apex shut off the music, the musing, and vision itself. I couldn't recall where the candles were - I would have to look, a power no longer available. But I remembered where my cheap cigar lighter was. And so that small flame led to a bigger flame which led to a heavenly host of flames such that I could say with the healed blind man, "I can see!"

August 26, 2003

Follow-up on McInerny Quote

Mr. McInerny writes: "Our daily problems are never enough. We always multiply them by imagining variations on them. What would we do if.... Very, very true. It is difficult at times to be thankful for our material good fortune when others have so little. We may wonder, "would I still be faithful to God under unpleasant circumstances? Would I have stood for God under the persecutions of the early Church?"

This may be part of the reason it is so difficult to focus on the gospel as it relates to us individually, in simply attempting to progress where we are deficient. Instead we worry about whether all will be saved, or what percentage will and all the variations of sin and obedience, of doctrinal flavoris and of doubt and faith.
Art is not optional

Nice post on art from Church of the Masses (via Disputations):

The notion that the arts are optional is absurd in the same way that the suggestion that making choices could be optional for human beings. We are constituted as a kind of being that chooses and a kind of being that decorates. Both things set us apart and define us.

Notre Dame professor and Catholic author Ralph McInerny writes:
Think of those prehistoric hunters, then, returned from the arduous pursuit of prey. They are weary, they have been, let us hope, successful. They are certainly very practical men. Yet some among them begin to draw on the walls representations of the animals they have hunted and will hunt again. The rest presumably marvel at the pictures. They let them be. They ponder and enjoy them.

The human need for art is present here. Man is a creature who not only lives, directs his choices rationally, pursues goals. He is also the only earthly being who reproduces the reality in which he is engaged. Our daily problems are never enough. We always multipy them by imagining variations on them. What would we do if...

If our doings were merely fugitive events, their meaning wholly exhausted by their occurrence, there would be no stories. But we know that what we do is decisive for who we are. The choices and decisions human agents make, particularly under great pressure, reveal what they are, they enforce or erode character.
From the Sacchio's Shakespeare Lectures

In Shakespeare's Julius Ceasar most of the characters have a tremendous self-consciousness and refer to themselves mostly in the third person. Professor Peter Sacchio found this off-putting and recalls telling his companion at a performance in London that "the problem with this play is everyone tells Brutus how wonderful he is and he is always agreeing." His friend, a British woman of the prior generation and still imbued with a whiff of British aristocracy, replied somewhat condescendingly, "Peter, you are the son of American democracy....There self-importance is the worst sin on the calendar".

Professor Sacchio said that in hindsight he was 10%....right. He could point to only one place in the play where it seemed Brutus was fatuous. It occurred to him that any other response from Brutus or the other characters would be mock-modesty.

August 25, 2003

Time is not a static variable

Written after surviving my wife's friend's 40th birthday party...

After the age of, say, 30, parties have a vestigial quality to them, much like male nipples. You can’t drink enough to make the small talk tolerable given the strict driving under the influence laws.

And although I'm not sure Chesterton addressed this problem specifically, he did argue for a “democracy of the dead”, meaning that we shouldn’t just assume that past cultures are foolish given that, over the course of millennia, they've often discerned what works and what doesn’t.

And ancient peoples had an intuitive wisdom such that they understood sitting around and struggling to find an interesting topic of conversation was not the best use of their time. Instead, they gathered and danced in circles around fires to the beat of a drum. They were enjoying the high of the endorphins of the dance or losing themselves in the beat of the drum. Gatherings were a vital part of the bonding of their communities, but let’s not kid ourselves - they were all getting something out of it.

The problem of parties past the age of 30 would hardly be worth mentioning but for the generally acknowledged fact that time accelerates as you get older. (Since I have experienced this myself, it must be true). This is both good and bad - good during work days, bad during vacations or weekends.

The “time inflation” coefficient might be assumed to be five percent a year, which means that the 48-hour weekend you get when you’re 20 years old is equivalent to a 30-hour weekend when you’re 35*. This is shown even more dramatically on vacation – a 3-day vacation at 23 is equivalent to a 5-day vacation at 37 years of age. Employers understand this, so they gradually bump up the vacation time available to you. But make no mistake – although you are gaining vacation time you are really barely staying even due to time inflation.

But to be serious for a moment, I do have to constantly remind myself that time is a gift and privilege - not a right - and that it is God's, not my own.

* -all figures extremely approximate. I don’t have time to figure present values.

August 24, 2003

Ways of Knowing

Interesting NY Times article about Lawrence Summers, president of Hah-vahd:
...The great universities have traditionally defined themselves as humanistic rather than scientific institutions. Summers's point is not so much that the balance should shift as that the distinctions between these modes of understanding have blurred, though clearly in a way that favors the analytic domains -- the soft has become harder, rather than the other way around.

Most faculty members at Harvard worry much more about this hard-soft spectrum than they do about the left-right one. ''By training and temperament, economists are intellectual imperialists,'' said the political theorist Michael Sandel. ''They believe their models of rational choice can explain all human behavior.'' Summers has, in fact, driven a wedge through the government department by appearing to favor rational-choice theorists over more traditional political scientists.... Summers [may] will be seen as the man who decisively moved those universities toward increasingly analytical, data-driven ways of knowing.
Visited by God

President Bush has never visited me. Nor Pope John Paul. Cardinal Ratzinger doesn't make house calls.

This is to say that it is typically not within our experience to be personally visited by important and powerful people, let alone the King of kings and Lord of lords. Anything not within our experience is more difficult to ascertain*, obviously. So it might be a stretch to believe that Jesus visits us, body, soul and divinity, in the Eucharist.

But another way to look at it is this: National Geographic once did a story on the unlikeliness of the universe not imploding immediately. It compared the odds of a stable universe such as the one we enjoy to a pencil standing upright perfectly balanced on its point. So if we can accept from this macro-level a micro-level of care and concern, we can believe that God holds each of us together literally, our every cell, at every moment. In this consciousness of God, it then becomes more understandable that he would visit us bodily in our Communions.

I once wondered how can God be ‘specially present’ – isn’t he present always? Can’t we call upon him anytime in prayer? But then: "why cut off any pathway to my Grace? Would you tear down a road and expect me to build another?". Indeed the men on the road to Emmaus didn’t realize he was Christ until the breaking of the bread and their hearts were enflamed... The Eucharist is a perfect example of God's simultaneous majesty, in effecting an impossibility, and humility, i.e. the God of the universe in a wafer of bread.

* - Another reason why it so crucial that we love. For if it is not in someone's experience to be loved, it will be harder from them to believe God loves them.

August 23, 2003

Bestill my heart!

It's been a long, long time since last I received a Nigerian scammer email. I was beginning to think they didn't want my prose. (Longtime readers know that I cherish Nigerian scammers because I figure if they can write some nice fiction for me, then I can return the favor). Fortunately, I believe I have something ready. I'll let you know what "Mr. Alabi" says in reply to Aunt Pixel's pickle.



This letter may come to you as a surprise but i have to write you because of the importance that that is demanded. The Niger Delta Development Commission(NDDC),the commission that has been given the responsiblities of building and developing all the crude...this is why i am contacting you.

Now I have to write up something new for the next Nigerian scammer since I don't believe in recycling Nigerian scammer replies. Hmm....
I want a recount

A reader confirmed my suspicion that ISTJs have a weak sense of humor. We must be the Germans of the Myers-Briggs world (expect more humor in this blog to counteract Myers and his associate Briggs).

Not that a sense of humor is so important, of course, but here's what she says:

As far as my husband goes ISTJ he's not a very joyful, happy person. And when someone tries to tell him jokes or reads a cartoon, he'll say "So?" Which makes no one want to tell him jokes especially if they have to be explained. I have a daughter who is ESTJ and she is a happy enough person, but her joke understanding is the same.

Even more enlightening was this:

We J's are pretty time-oriented and we don't flow very well. Things bother us more as our expectations are obligatory etc. But as an N I have a less of a problem with flow. SJ's are the tightest.

That rings true, I am time-oriented. Multi-tasking is an obsession. Thoreau said it important to have a "broad margin to life" which translated means lots of free time.

August 22, 2003

Beautiful image from Gerard's blog
Jaded at Nine Months Old
By six months of age, infants can perform as well as adults in distinguishing new faces from previously encountered faces. Intriguingly, at nine months, infants do even better than adults at identifying monkey faces they haven't seen before. Neuroscientists discovered this by observing six- and nine month-old infants while they looked at a picture of a new monkey face. The six-month infants looked longer at the new faces, implying that they recognized something new and novel. The nine-month infants, in contrast, looked at the new and the old faces for the same amount of time, a pattern best summed up as, 'If you've seen one monkey, you've seen them all.'
- Richard Restak, "The New Brain"
So Few

Bill of Summa Minutiae has a good Newman quote on the importance of the few:

As the physical universe is sustained and carried on in dependence on certain centres of power and laws of operation, so the course of the social and political world...Dogma runs along the line of Athanasius, Augustine, Thomas. The conversion of the heathen is ascribed, after the Apostles, to champions of the truth so few, that we may almost count them, such as Martin, Patrick, Augustine, Boniface.

A few years back, two co-workers and I received a visit from a corporate vice-president (of course, vice presidents in corporate America are as common as fake boobs in Hollywood). This rare visit was intended to inspire the troops (we call it the "Normandy speech" now, although "we" mostly don't work there anymore since one left for another job and the other, Ham of Bone, is happily writing screenplays off his severance).

"Never has so much depended on so few," he memorably said, while urging us to "storm the beaches". The feeling that much was riding on us felt true at the time.

But ultimately it didn't. And even though in corporate America everyone is replaceable, it isn't like that in the spiritual life. Certainly the penultimate example of this is Christ, who, by resisting the temptations of the devil and taunts of men to "come down from that cross", made possible our salvation. Moses interceeded on behalf of the Israelites to save them. And the Blessed Mother, in her free-will "yes" to God, made it possible that everyone thereafter might share of the fruit of her womb, just as everyone after Eve shared in her sin's misfortune.

Of them it could be truly said - "never had so much depended on so few".

August 21, 2003

Quotes from the Land of Blog

"Never mess around with breathing difficulty." - pediatrician to Nancy Nall

"California reminds me of Weimar Germany." - a friend of Rod Dreher's

Camassia lamented modernity's "unpleasant Star Trek-y condescension toward the past."

"They think they're going to save themselves, they think salvation must consist of some sort of deception." - Torgny Lindgren, via Steven Riddle's flos carmeli

"Her vituperation might be half-way to entertaining but, face it, if you raised yourself on Florence King’s invective, [Ann] Coulter is just sad." - Literarium
The Baptist Pastor on the local radio station had a poll question on his internet site (results included):

Evangelicals & Catholics:
 -The Difference Isn't Enough To Talk About -- 3%
 -There Are Big Differences -- 86%
 -To Discuss Differences Is To Cause Division -- 3%
 -I Don't Have A Clue As To The Real Differences -- 7%

He chuckled at and blasted the Catholics who had emailed him saying that the very question was anti-Catholic... I have to agree with him on that. Catlickers need to have a tougher skin, self included. Perhaps we're a little punch-drunk, since the pastor has proven himself to be egregiously anti-Catholic in the past. He once said that the only reason the Church is against artificial birth control is so that there will be more Catholics to further the Vatican's desire to dominate other denominations. He also posted on his website something headed "Catholic Curses" which listed the anathemnas from the Council of Trent.

His poll question is interesting and seems ripe for the classic "yes and no" answer. The Pope once said his papal office is as nothing compared to his role as a baptized Christian. On the other hand, doctrine matters, and Romano Guardini made the point that doctrinal truth and moral goodness are both obediences to the one God. Bishop Sheen once referred to the differences between Catholics and Protestants as a "lover's quarrel" which may support my "yes and no" answer.
Watched BookMark on EWTN last night and Doug Keck had on the author of a book about the Rapture (obviously contra-Rapture). The author made a fine point about how the heresy of Modernism, which does not allow for the supernatural to act on the natural, has attacked both components of the Mass - the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist. The latter is mere symbol, and the former has errors and is not inspired...
Hung over

I feel a little draggy today from the over-stimulation yesterday. Spent a lot of time working on the "de-nazification" process - removing the decals and insignias and jackets of the corporate library. I also began to address shelf-space issues by rooting out the books I think I can do without, at least in the book room.

Speaking of overstimulation, I recall one home librarian who installed curtains over his bookshelves so that he could read in his library without the cacophony of voices calling to him (in the form of the garish modern day dust covers). He marvels at how restful the books of the 18th century look, with their muted browns and reds and blues. Books today need to stand out in order to sell, and so they do. The 18th & 19th centuries did it right, no?

Given my love for melodrama, the decline and fall of the corporate library (in terms of its sale of all non-business related items) feels like fodder for indulging that side... And so I wrote:
Marilyn vos Savant, author of the "Ask Marilyn" column in Parade magazine and known for her exceptionally high IQ, was once asked what is the single thing we can do to improve our brain power. She advised the questionner to read a novel of some complexity - an opportunity once provided as a corporate benefit, a benefit that bespoke a civilized company. But now the Visigoths have come.

The library was a symbol - a chivalric nodding of the head to the liberal arts - of our inheritance from preceeding generations. I know not what rough beast, its hour come round at last, that slouches towards us with budgetary panic writ upon its face. But I am saddened that the library, which stood athwart the fortress of ignorance yelling "Stop!" is now defunct. As Shakespeare wrote: "Sir, those cold ways that seem like prudent helps, are very poisonous."

Completely unrelated, (blogging means never having to have a segue): Camassia, a pyschology major, weighs in with an interesting post on the Myers--Briggs types. She's right that Tom of Disputations fame is the pluperfect INTP. I like to think I have too much of a sense of humor to fit in with the typical ISTJs*, plus I can't decide if I'm all that decisive. Doing things the way they've always been done can be a form of laziness, something I've never denied having, rather than an anal-retentive brand of conservatism.** But my streak of Irish fatalism/pessimism is such that I can relate to St. Thomas the Apostle: "When told that Lazarus had died, Thomas said, "Let us go and die with him." (He could just as well have said something like, "I knew this was bound to happen sooner or later.")

* - Thomas (Christ's disciple), George Washington, Andrew Johnson, Benjamin Harrison, Herbert Hoover, George H. W. Bush, Paul Coverdale (U.S. Senator, R-GA), Jack Webb (Joe Friday). God love them all, but not much fun at a party.

** -One of the things I so adore about uber-conservative Russell Kirk was his ability to merge mysticism with practicality - to be simultaneously a dreamer (normally a left-wing characteristic) and a realist. He once said that conservatism is an "openness to reality...including transcendental reality".

August 20, 2003

Feeding Frenzy

Went to the so-called "mother of all booksales". There was a mini-Who concert at 8am when the doors opened to the selling off of the corporate library. Mild-looking bookworms thrust and jostled into tiny spaces, greed getting the better of etiquette.

All pre-2000 books were 50 cents, 2000 & after = $1. Needless to say, I was smitten by this unusual opportunity. It is with resignation and a touch of sadness that I realize that I will never, in my lifetime, be able to read all the books I own.

Some of the prizes? David Lodge's "Think...", Chesterton's Complete Fr. Brown mysteries, "Fear and Trembling" by Kierkegaard, a Tolstoy bio, two Updike novels, a Christopher Buckley comedy and some cheap fiction.

I was talking with a co-worker behind me in line and successfully avoided cringing at the Andrew Greeley novels in her arms.

the Full Monty
Horse Heaven - Jane Smiley
Latin/English Dictionary
Abracadever – Ralph McInerney
Class – Paul Fussell
She Stays – Bettye Shelton, story of Ricky Van Shelton & wife
Tolstoy – Henri Troyat
1916 – Morgan Llywelyn novel based on the events in Dublin
Ironweed – William Kennedy
Ways of Escape- memoir of Graham Greene
Isaac's Storm: A Man, a Time, and the Deadliest Hurricane in History – Erik Larsen
In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex - Nat Philbrick
Work and the Nature of Man – Frederick Herzberg
Discovering Britain and Ireland – National Geographic
The Metaphysical Club: A Story of Ideas in America - Louis Menand
Fear and Trembling - Soren Kierkegaard
Think... - David Lodge
Andrew Jackson and his Indian Wars - Robert V. Remini
Theodore Roosevelt: A Strenuous Life - Kathleen Dalton
Edge of Reason - Bridget Jones
No Way to Treat a First Lady: A Novel - Christopher Buckley
The Complete Father Brown - Chesterton
Sacred Clowns - Tony Hillerman
Basilica - William D. Montalbano
The Overworked American - Juliet Schor
Seek My Face - John Updike
Lincoln: The War Years (2 vols) - Carl Sandburg
Sex, Books and Dog Treats

My dear wife often mentions how dogs are "food motivated". She can get our dog to quit barking at other dogs, to come in when she calls, or raise a paw in a gesture of shaking hands - for a dog treat. Many men of the two-legged variety could be called "sex-motivated". (Surprise, surprise as Gomer would say). This can turn sex into a bargaining chip.

I appreciate Pope John Paul II's thoughts on love and sexual love, even if they seem a bit ethereal. Love-making, the mutual physical expression of wedded love, can look different closer to the ground. At our annual golf outing, one of the guys mentioned how 'quid-pro-quo' sex has become. You want sex? Okay, you have to do (fill in the blank). Sex can become a sort of currency, the equivalent of cigarettes in prison. Fortunately, and thank God, my wife does not look at it this way although the temptation is there given that many of her women friends do.

It is understandable that any time one party has a greater need or desire for something it puts the other party in a position of power. But power is obviously not what relationships are all about even if the world says it is. It also isn't what the Church is about - I'll quote Ratzinger:
There is an ideology that fundamentally traces all existing institutions back to power politics. And this ideology corrupts humanity and also destroys the Church. Here is a concrete example: If I see the Church only under the aspect of power, then it follows that everyone who doesn't hold an office is oppressed. And then the question of, for example, women's ordination, as an issue of power, becomes imperative. I think this ideology produces a totally false point of view, as if power were the only category for explaining the world and the communion present in it. If belonging to the Church has any meaning at all, then the meaning can only be that it gives us eternal life. We are not in the Church in order to exercise power as if in some kind of association.

August 19, 2003

Quotes from the ever-interesting Russell Kirk

President Nixon asked Kirk: "what one book I should read?" Kirk did not hesitate. "T.S. Eliot's Notes towards the Definition of Culture".
"Despite [Kirk's] activity in the Goldwater campaign, there had echoed in his mind Gissing's aphorism: politics is the preoccupation of the quarter-educated."

I came out ISTJ, although the "j" was only 55% (i.e. close to a "p")... Survey says:

"ISTJs are often called inspectors. They have a keen sense of right and wrong, especially in their area of interest and/or responsibility...ISTJs are most at home with "just the facts, Ma'am." They seem to perform at highest efficiency when employing a step-by-step approach... ISTJs are easily frustrated by the inconsistencies of others, especially when the second parties don't keep their commitments...SJ"s are traditional, practical people that keep the home fires burning. They are also great athletes. (Okay, the last sentence was a fib). Men are more likely to be ISTJ (19.4% of the male population), whereas women are more likely to be ESFJ (14.1% of the female population).

I'm a little skeptical about how few fellow ISTJ'rs among St. Blog's. It is one of the most common types and the description above doesn't sound all that rare. Looking at the Murderer's Row of INTPs (I mean that in a good sense), it must be the "desired" type:

Xavier+ INTP 3.3% of general population
Disputations INTP 3.3% of general population
SecretAgentMan INTP 3.3% of general population
Gospel Minefield INTP 3.3% of general population
Fructus Ventris INTP 3.3% of general population
Recovering Choir Director INTP 3.3% of general population

Them's some good apples! And very, very smart. (I wonder what ol' Hernan is?) I hope I haven't offended anyone - I'm not implying the other groups don't have great folks and, of course, and who am I to judge, but this group is jam-packed with people I'd like to emulate.
Current Read

Just started A.N. Wilson's, "The Victorians" with a tinge of concern over what his treatment of Cardinal Newman will be. I am far too sensitive on Newman's behalf. The introduction expresses the author's amazement that Newman is now more well-known that Cardinal Manning, which gives me pause.
Magnificent Magnificat Excerpt - St. Maximillian Kolbe
...the phrase "I am not able to correct myself" [is], in reality, only concealed pride. Why? Because people often admit they have the ability to do some things, but then they say they cannot repress a given fault, avoid a given circumstance. This only proves that they only count on their own strength to master their lives. But this is a false concept, since with our sole strength, just by ourselves, without God's help, we can do nothing, absolutely nothing (Jn 15:5)...In fact, we exist because God is giving and supporting our existence at every moment.
NRODT Excerpt

Michael Potermera reviews Peter Robinson's "How Ronald Reagan Changed My Life":
One important lesson Robinson learned from [Ronald] Reagan was that realism and optimism are not mutually contradictory; rather, both are essential. Here Robinson quotes Catholic priest Rev. Lorenzo Albacete:

"We all have to take reality as it comes to us. [The question is] what you choose to do with reality. Reagan never permitted his misfortunes to interfere with his development as a human person. Instead he used them...All his life Reagan exercised his free will by choosing to seek the good in reality as it came to him...Bringing good from bad. Why should that be possible? Because of the deep structure of creation. Because of the way God himself ordered the universe. Remember Genesis? 'And God saw that it was good.' What you have in Ronald Reagan is a man who has made contact of the most direct and intimate kind with divine Providence itself. That's why Reagan is so serene."

[Reagan] understood himself not as an angry Jeremiah fighting a doomed rearguard action, but as a man lucky to be living in God's own world...Reagan was able to balance the truths of predestination and free will - not, naturally, at the level of the discursive intellect, where it is probably impossible, but in the process of creative living. Reagan just knew that each life is the object of a personal God's benevolent plan, and this gave him peace of heart; but he also knew that he himself had a role to play and choices to make...

August 18, 2003


In the 60s it was William F. Buckley vs Gore Vidal. Now it's O'Reilly versus Franken. Draw your own conclusions.
There's a kind of hush...

It looks as though some sort of blogging exhaustion (aka "blogaustion") has set in. How else to explain the flaccidness of stalwart blogs like Disputations, Flos Carmeli, GospelMinefield and Minute Particulars? Actually, I'm happy for them. Real life is better than bloggin' and I think it a healthy thing, to have periods of down-time. My down times seem infrequent...see blog title for the explanation.
Vacational Thoughts Deux

The vacation is o'er. Back to reality.

My initial plan was to read the great works of literature. Dante, Shakespeare as well spiritual classics like Karol Wojtyla "Love & Responsibillity". And it started out that way, but by Tuesday afternoon I was becoming unloving and irresponsible.

I switched gears and went the more traditional way (for me): double the exercise and double the pint intake. I usually drink on Fridays, but extended the largesse. Besides, doubling the exercise without the beer usually just makes me sick. It's a joke around the family compound that I always get a cold or flu on vacations because I overdo it. I don't know why bike rides, long runs, roller-blading would cause that, but I inadvertently found the cure. Drinking two to three beers before bed works amazingly well. I rarely get colds on vacations now! For once the old saying "for medicinal purposes only" rings true.

But I have a new theory of beer imbibing. I'm not a mean drunk, just a mean 1-beer man.

Two recent trivial episodes expose this: I got urinated off, quite unnecessarily, by my stepson's death penalty views. This happened with one beer in me.

I also got peeved a couple months ago at a close relation and didn't slough it off. This also happened with one beer in me.

(Come to think of it, in both episodes the beer in question wasn't a Guinness...that could be the root cause).

Teetotaling is okay. So is having 3.5 beers. But one beer!? Watch out!

Remembrance of Bike Rides Past

Fêting the sun-gardens of the mind
poems broke and bled
unwound on transcendental rides
past the sweet-apple hay-thrown flower-frothing stumps
that appeared on those spark-lit August roadsides.

August 17, 2003

I seen it happen 'fore my very eyes

The sad tawdry-ization of country music.
Elderly journal entries never die...(they just get posted)

A Fishy Story

  Note: Our corporate office decided to purchase a $10,000 aquarium with 350 fish, one for every cent of earnings we were hoping for. At the unveiling, only two dozen were stocked. Our cubby reporter managed to eavesdrop on the fish themselves:

"What kind of dog and pony show is this Earl?"

"Dunno. Some kind of corporate @ss-ignment. I hear there were supposed to be 350 of us and we were downsized to 20 or so."

"Reeks if you ask me. Food sucks too - at least it's subsidized - it ain't for the cube jockeys who'll be coming to see us."

"Got that right, the poor schmucks. Didja hear that?"

"Yeah, sounds like the main blow-hard is blowin'. Must be close to our cue."

"It'll be good to get this black bunting off. Feels like a funeral. Speaking of funerals, check out at Jonesy - looks like he's assuming water temperature. Hope it ain't catchin'!"

The curtain opens, a jaded crowd half-heartedly applauds. The crowd's applause diminishes the farther afield they are from the epicenter, the CEO.

"Holy mackeral, on with the show this is it!"

"Break a fin buoys!"

"Man those lights are bright."

"Look at all the yuck-yucks out there fishin' for a little time away from their cube farms"

"Swim it boys! Remember what Jose the choreographer says - show some tail and work your caudals!"

And the rest, as they say, is fishst'ry...
Some funny P . G . Wodehouse quotes in today's paper:
"Some policemen are born grafters, some achieve graft and some have graft thrust upon them." —from Aunts Aren’t Gentlemen

"Chumps always make the best husbands. When you marry, Sally, grab a chump. Tap his forehead first, and if it rings solid, don’t hesitate. All the unhappy marriages come from the husbands having brains. What good are brains to a man? They only unsettle him." — from The Adventures of Sally
Welcome, welcome

To the soul who came via "supercalifragilisticexpialidocious orthodox" - you've come to the right place.

And as for the query "Thomas Aquinas Guinness record writing"? If he didn't, he should have.

August 16, 2003


Geez, who knew a Cleveland tour could be so interesting? I'm a sucker for exploring ethnic enclaves and Amy found a boat-load of them in the land of Cleve:
Michael had found a Byzantine Catholic Church in Parma that he decided we’d go to Assumption vigil Mass (or Dormition, if you’re talking Eastern Christianity, of course).

The liturgy was in English, and besides us, there were, I think, eight 75 year old Clevelandites in attendance. There were two books – one the regular aid for the liturgy, and the second, a mimeographed booklet for the Dormition. About five or ten minutes into the liturgy, the most astonishing thing happened. Evidently, one of the women was having a hard time figuring out where we were in the mimeographed booklet. Another lady said, loudly, “Father, wait,” and he stopped, his back to us in front of the iconostasis, while the women, in voices that edged up in volume with each exchange because the confused one was also rather deaf, straightened things out. “The first part.” “Where, on the first page?” “No, it’s on the fourth page.” “The fourth part?” “NO, the fourth PAGE!”

And I mean, they were yelling. Like they were haggling over a periogi recipe or something. So much for the organic structure of THAT liturgy…
The Uber-Discipline of Priestly Celibacy

Amy had a link to a book review that concluded, "the church will have to decide whether preserving a celibate male clergy is more important than offering the sacraments--it could be that simple".

I commented on Amy's blog that the question might be: when is the best time to lift a discipline - when it comes under attack by society or when it's not as needed (because society recognizes it as a value)?

I don't know whether or not the requirement should be lifted but I do see less a stubborn Church holding to antiquated celibacy rules than a Church, rather inspiringly, holding onto celibacy rules in an age that hates chastity. She takes her role as a "Sign of Contradiction" very seriously.

Selfishly, I think Humane Vitae and its emphasis on periodic chastity goes over a little better with a celibate priesthood. It's pretty hard to get upset about a lack of sexual license when you look up at the pulpit.

At least in theory.
Churchill anecdote

These sort of historical oddities fascinate me. Winston Churchill idolized his stern, harsh father. When asked who he would like to have dinner with if it could be anyone living or dead he said without hesitation, "My father of course".

Ten years before his death he mentioned that his father died on July 24th. (I think that was the date). And he said he would die on that same date.

Fast forward ten years. He lapsted into a coma ten days before his death - on July 24th.

Thomas Jefferson and John Adams both died on July 4th, but they were conscious of it being the 4th, leaving open some room for auto-suggestion possibilities. But apparently not Churchill.
Top 4 Reasons Why You Shouldn't Apologize for Sucking at Apologetics

1) God converts, not you.

2) Bishop Sheen said, "win an argument, lose a soul". Fortunately, should you inadvertently win an argument, you can pray God not let you be an obstacle to their conversion.

3) John Henry Newman wrote, "Men go by their sympathies, not by argument."

4) See number 1

August 15, 2003

'Round the Horn

Impressive list of influential books on Amy's blog.

Nice Mark Shea post on the Assumption. He can flat-out write.
Vacational Thoughts

Context, context, context! And associations. They enrich so much.

I played the “Hooligans” cd, and, like Bone, realized it not only paled before the original experience but in some way could damage future Hooligan experiences. Why? Because to “routinize” anything is to kill it. If I play those songs ad nauseum in the sterile Guinness-less, Bone-less, crowd-less environment of my living room, it seems the actual Hooligan experience might be enervated. Similarly if everyday were St. Patrick’s Day, would any day be St. Patrick’s Day?

I thought of this as I took a magnificent long bike ride into the country. I’d take such rides before, after work or on a weekend, but there is no comparison between the two. I wondered how to “unfragmentize” daily life such that I could not need vacations so much. That I could truly appreciate the bike ride outside a holiday....A book read in 10 minute intervals is a qualitatively different experience than one read in leisurely 1 or 2 hour clumps.

The six stages of a vacation are:

- Anticipation
- Fulfillment
- Early-onset nostalgia for vacation time past (Wednesday eve)
- Late-onset nostalgia for vacation time past (Friday)
- Grief at the loss (Sunday noon)
- Resignation (Sunday, midnight)

On Wednesday I visited the alma mater. Here is my journal entry: (nice segue, huh?)

In front of a vast expanse of lawn in front of MacCracken Hall, sans shoes, sans shirt. I’m just under the wall that overlooks a broad plain. For the past couple hours I’d been recording Miami with my camera via running and biking. Passed the stone-chisled poem marking site of the poet-in-residence almost a century ago:

Trees of Miami, Beautiful Trees…
Truth, Remembrance, Youth –
Of These You Brood
In Your Ancient Reveries.

--Percy MacKaye

How fine to have a poet-in-residence! Back then they appreciated poets, knowing they were not just aesthetic endearments but part of the soul of the university. Not to mention their utility.

I remember most of all the tremulous excitement of this place – the electrons and the electricity...College represented, somewhat oxymoronically, the hardest work and most leisure I ever had.

Out in the heat – maybe 84 – I’m reminded at how climactically-incorrect I am. Sweat pours off my body though I but sit and write and make hardly a movement. Shade seems a poor trade given that I will long for this hour in the sun come December. And so I spend this hour sweating to assuage a future self. God-willing.

MacCracken Hall sits in the middle distance as a kingdom unto herself. The “moat” is this large battlefield in front of me, visitors and trespassers would be spotted at once. A weather-vane tops her cupola as if by whimsy. The fjords and bays and hidden crevices delineate themselves in the cornices and pillars and patios. It’s sad that so much of modern architecture refuses to surprise. Modernism makes no concessions to mystery.

The 4pm sun mottles the landscape. She is so qualitatively different from her noon cousin; a difference I scarcely noted when I took the sun for granted, when it was ubiquitious as water.
Spiritual Directors

Kathy had a nice post on spiritual direction followed up by Fr. Jim:
Spiritual Direction -- Kathy the Carmelite has some very good words on spiritual direction. I'm of the opinion that most good, practicing Catholic people (not all, but most) can get nearly all the spiritual direction they really need in the course of their monthly confession. And in that context, there's no need to go into all the details of what made them sad that month, what they're upset about, what they thought in prayers, etc. Rather, get to the point and confess your sins. Then, if you have a specific question, ask it. That's all that most people need.

Read some good, spiritual books (including the Bible!!). Have a few sound, spiritual friends off whom you can bounce your ideas and concerns. Say your prayers, try to live right, do good works, and make it to confession regularly for your tune-up. Don't neglect your physical and mental health: many people confuse problems in these two areas with spiritual problems and think a priest can fix them. He usually can't. Another important tip to remember: your baptismal anointing as priest, prophet, and king is a powerful resource: use it.

August 14, 2003

Russell Kirk opines on socialist Norman Thomas:
It was to Thomas's credit that he did not profess "Christian socialism"; there was no humbug about him. He knew that Jesus meant to save sinners, not to give commands to the dominations and powers of this earth; Thomas understood that religion is a means for ordering the soul, not for ordering politics and economics.
Past Performance Does Not Guarantee Future Results

I understand the sentiment, "once burned, twice shy", but, as I commented on El Camino Real, given the rise of anti-Semitism in post-Christian Europe, why do some still see the connection between the Gospels and anti-Semitism?

I understand what happened in centuries past, but now Christians seem the most friendly to Jews (certainly compared to Muslims & secularists!). Why wouldn't Jews want this movie to get out and do it's part in possibly making more Christians! Is there anyone friendlier to Israel than American Christian evangelicals? Sixty Minutes did a segment on that very fact last year.

As a local radio talk show host put it: "Does anyone know a living, breathing soul who hates Jews because they think they killed Christ? They may dislike the Jews because they have money or they feel they have a disproportionate impact given their numbers, but almost nobody does because of a connection to the death of Christ."

My uninformed opinion is that "the Jews killed Christ" masks the sin of envy at their success.

August 13, 2003


I am deeply convinced that the Christian leader of the future is called to be completely irrelevant and to stand in this world with nothing to offer but his or her own vulnerable self. That is the way Jesus came to reveal God's love. --Henri J.M. Nouwen

We need to be open about our brokenness, our need for a savior. Why do so many who proclaim Jesus as their savior act like they do not need one?--Michael Bud Uzoras
Heard the following recently and I liked it, so I pass it along to you free of charge:

God doesn't go to all the trouble to convert us only to mince on the sanctification process.

Some conversions seem to have taken an embarrassing amount of trouble on God's part, such that we may want to, out of gratitude, say in effect, "Thank you - don't worry...I'll take it from here." Not consciously of course, but in attitude (which, I suppose, is everything). But it's not only not supposed to work that way, it doesn't. For best results, see John 15:5.
Good Point

Kathy the Carmelite writes:

I thought, AH, but I'm a bad housewife: I don't do my housework. And the thought occurred to me: "BEING A WIFE IS NOT A JOB."

My husband and children think of it as a job, and score it as if it were a job--but the greatest part of the contribution is not tangible in meals cooked or laundry folded. The wife is the heart of the home.

I like this in part because it suggests a role for the wife & mother, husband and father that is not solely functionary..i.e...just as we don't refer to God as the Creator in the sense that he is only God when he is creating, so too does the head and heart of a household have a special role outside of what they produce.
Excellent meditation from Kevin Miller concerning St. Dominic:
Perhaps I find Dominic an attractive figure in part because his personality may have been the opposite of mine in many ways, but in ways that constitute a welcome challenge...No one will ever say of me that I "spoke only with God or about God." Like Dominic, I love the Bible, but it is probably not at the heart of my intellectual life as it was of Dominic's.

Perhaps especially, I value an explicit intellectual life. Now, "Dominic has the reputation of having founded an Order of intellectuals. Though the expression may seem exaggerated, the affirmation is not false. ... St. Thomas Aquinas is in perfect accord with the intellectual ideal of the Founder of the Order he chose to join. ... As for Dominic ... he unequivocally commanded [his brethren] to study the truth of 'sacred doctrine,' all of them, whoever they might be ..." Yet, Bedouelle explains,

"But the noblest form of Dominic's audacity was his unbounded confidence in God, and consequently, in his brethren. It was this which moved him to send out the least clever of his sons to preach, saying to them, "Go in confidence, for the Lord will give you the gift of divine preaching. He will be with you; you will want for nothing." They went, and everything came out just as he had predicted ... There is a quality of daring discernible in all holiness, consisting in the special confidence displayed when the "gospel of God" is to be preached, so stressed by Paul (1 Th 2:2). Dominic possessed this on all occasions: in the initial organization of the Order; in the assurance that they would receive their daily bread ...; in his unfailing hope for the conversion of the brethren. In all these circumstances he had complete confidence in God's action, a full assurance that all would be achieved by divine will."

Do I, sometimes, trust scholarship more than God?
I'm not sure how much I agree, but I found the following quote fascinating. Seems a bit harsh at first glance but...It was from an "Ask Father" insert in our Byzantine Catholic Church bulliten and describes why the "orans" position (laity praying with their palms up) during the Our Father at Mass is nicht zu gut. First the author (Fr. Perricone) argues that the gesture is strictly a priestly one but then says the following: (which vaguely reminds me of the beauty of the Irish dancers, who, in their restraint - arms always pasted to their sides - dignify the dance):

[It also] conveys a disfigured idea of prayer. What always characterized the Latin Liturgy was a disciplined, ascetic and restrained ritual of adoration. Rubrics ...imposed uniformity so as to produce beauty, while also bridling the personal excesses of piety which can produce distraction (and vanity).

Prayer is a lifting of the mind and heart to God, an exercise of intellect (conversation) and will (love/heart). These profound movements of the soul to God never include emotions, though emotions are inevitably moved as the will moves. But this is prayer's accidental, and entirely secondary, effect....Emotion easily drags man from his properly human acts of communication and love and the saints universally inveigh against it. For instance, St. Cyprian, "When we pray, our words should be calm, modest, disciplined...The same modesty and discipline should characterize our liturgical prayer as well." And St. Teresa, "Those deceive themselves, who believe that union with God consists in ectasies and raptures, and in the enjoyment of Him. For it exists in nothing except the surrender of our the will of God.

Unsuspecting Catholics will unquestionably believe that the "orans" position enhances prayer's power. The writer Peggy Noonan suggests the orans want "to get more God on them." But this cannot be so, and it will not be long before the faithful equate a prayer's efficacy with the bombast of emotion. By that time they will not be speaking to God any longer, but only to themselves. -- Fr. John Perricone

August 12, 2003

Corralling Books

Been attempting to lasso my library into shape and finding delightful little surprises. I didn’t know I had Robert Louis Stevenson’s Collected Letters! Or Balzac’s “Droll Stories”! Sure, there's an infinitely small chance I'll actually read either of them but it could happen...besides, having unexplored books is a joy, just as knowing there are unexamined places on the planet and having a God not fully known.

How can one have books you don’t remember buying? Easy.

Every spring and summer, the mighty Ohio State University library has the mother of all book sales. Books abound; I once lugged two full encyclopedia sets home for $10 – one for me and one for my sister. Into the book sale womb I crawl and suckle at the great works! I recently found Edwin O'Connor’s ”The Last Hurrah” – a book I would’ve bought “retail”. The hardbacks are $1 and after a certain hour you get a grocery bagfull for $5.
Nice link from Two Sleepy Mommies entitled What Use Literature?:

What it means to be human, [Sophocles] shows us, is that you take responsibility for your actions. In a world of uncertainty and chance, where so much is out of our control, this is the only way we can assert that we are moral creatures with free will, whose doings have meaning, rather than being just part of the mere flux and confusion of brute creation. This is a hard doctrine, but one that has undiminished resonance for us in our own era, whose search for extenuation and victimization diminishes rather than ennobles all it touches. And it is this acceptance of responsibility that makes Oedipus truly a tragic hero, with equal emphasis on both those words.

Now flash forward two millennia to a dramatic world that seems as though it belongs on another planet, the world of Mozart’s magical comic opera Cos&#igrave; Fan Tutte—“They All Do It.” Its libretto, written by Lorenzo da Ponte, who also wrote the libretti for Don Giovanni and The Marriage of Figaro before ending up in New York as Columbia’s first professor of Italian, tells the wonderfully silly story of a bet two handsome young men make with their cynical older friend. Your two girlfriends, the older man says, whom you claim to be paragons of faithfulness, will not stay true to you if put to the test. Pretend to be called off to war, then come back disguised as noble Albanians, woo each other’s girls, and you’ll see.

Well, you know the result. But when the boys pretend to go off to war, the girls sing such a piercingly sweet lament of loss and farewell (for we are in a realm of literature-plus) that you know their love is real, even though they later fall for the supposed Albanians and so prove—temporarily—unfaithful. And the opera’s point is that, yes, from one point of view, one good-looking boy is much like another; still, from another point of view, the person we choose is unique and special and the only one for us. We are creatures of animal instinct; but as we marshal that indiscriminate instinct into an act of discriminating and binding choice, we transform the natural into the human and create a new realm of feeling and meaning in the process.
Undergrads & Teletubbies

Interesting article giving new meaning to the term "arrested development".

The pathology of adulthood was strikingly depicted through the lives of Jerry, George, Elaine and Kramer in Seinfeld. Disorientation, meaninglessness and stagnation were some of the defining features of adulthood on this programme. The characters revelled in their childish behaviour and continually strived to avoid any of the obligations conventionally associated with adulthood. With Seinfeld, the rejection of adulthood is absolute - it simply has no redeeming features.

The sense of despair that surrounds adult identity helps explain why contemporary culture finds it difficult to draw a line between adulthood and childhood. Childishness is idealised for the simple reason that we despair at the thought of living the alternative. The depreciation of adulthood is a result of the difficulty that our culture has in asserting the ideals usually associated with this stage in people's lives.

Maturity, responsibility and commitment are only feebly affirmed by contemporary culture.
--Frank Furedi

August 11, 2003

Must-read quote of Cardinal Newman's here via Bill of Summa Minutiae... (We trade Newman quotes).

Sort of answers my last post!
Lay Christian

I'll have to keep an eye on Integrity, who promises to explore the character and mission of the lay person.

I've long struggled with how to live like a Christian as a layman and how to make a valuable contribution without falling into the pernicious world view that "you are what you produce".

I fool myself into thinking that the jobs that *really* matter are doctor, lawyer and Indian Chief clergyman. Of course I would add Alicia's midwifery, nurses, stay-at-home mom & many others. They have vocations that scream "vocation". But paper-pushers? They need not apply.

But the reason I say I "fool myself" is for at least two reasons:

1) If I were a doctor, lawyer or clergyman I have the suspicion that I would begin, slowly and inexorably, to feel my job still wasn't of enough value. My general practictioner used to basically sublet any symptoms other than the common cold to other doctors. "You got arm troubles, you go to arm doc. You got eye troubles, you go to eye doc," he'd say. His specialty was apparently knowing who to refer you to. He was on the golf course every day by two o'clock. (Hmmm...sounds pretty good...).

2) All work is valuable. I've read Pope JPII on work, and labor, by virtue of being connected to the human person, is of great value. I realize this. I just sense that back when men were making horseshoes - i.e. they had a craft - they were better off. If you've seen the beginning of the movie Seabiscuit you'll know what I'm talking about.
Aquinas Wouldn't Use "Journal"* as a Verb

Tom of Disputations makes a good point about this post:

I can't picture Thomas Aquinas even keeping a journal. It seems a bit too inward-looking for the Thirteenth Century.

True. Harold Bloom seems to to date the modern uber-inwardness to Shakespeare, particularly the character of Hamlet. Of course, Harold Bloom attributes everything to Shakespeare.

Tom also says: "No Church that practices infant baptism can expect very much from its members."

* - Latin equivalent of course.
More on Cassian

For me, the nature of grace is the crack-cocaine of theology discussions. Eschatology leaves me bored. From the Catholic Encyclopedia:
Yet Cassian did not himself escape the suspicion of erroneous teaching; he is in fact regarded as the originator of what, since the Middle Ages, has been known as Semipelagianism. Views of this character attributed to him are found in his third and fifth, but especially in his thirteenth, "Conference". Preoccupied as he was with moral questions he exaggerated the rôle of free will by claiming that the initial steps to salvation were in the power of each individual, unaided by grace. The teaching of Cassian on this point was a reaction against what he regarded as the exaggerations of St. Augustine in his treatise "De correptione et gratia" as to the irresistible power of grace and predestination. Cassian saw in the doctrine of St. Augustine an element of fatalism, and while endeavouring to find a via media between the opinions of the great bishop of Hippo and Pelagius, he put forth views which were only less erroneous than those of the heresiarch himself.

He did not deny the doctrine of the Fall; he even admitted the existence and the necessity of an interior grace, which supports the will in resisting temptations and attaining sanctity. But he maintained that after the Fall there still remained in every soul "some seeds of goodness . . . implanted by the kindness of the Creator", which, however, must be "quickened by the assistance of God". Without this assistance "they will not be able to attain an increase of perfection" (Coll., XIII, 12).

Therefore, "we must take care not to refer all the merits of the saints to the Lord in such a way as to ascribe nothing but what is perverse to human nature". We must not hold that "God made man such that he can never will or be capable of what is good, or else he has not granted him a free will, if he has suffered him only to will or be capable of what is evil" (ibid.). The three opposing views have been summed up briefly as follows: St. Augustine regarded man in his natural state as dead, Pelagius as quite sound, Cassian as sick. The error of Cassian was to regard a purely natural act, proceeding from the exercise of free will, as the first step to salvation. In the controversy which, shortly before his death, arose over his teaching, Cassian took no part. His earliest opponent, Prosper of Aquitaine, without naming him, alludes to him with great respect as a man of more than ordinary virtues. Semipelagianism was finally condemned by the Council of Orange in 529.

As I've said before, in today's America you can be an adulterer, a liar, a sodomite or most anything really -- just not a hypocrite. So the lesson is, work to conform your conscience to your actions rather than the other way around. Life is so much easier that way.

--Mike Petrik

August 10, 2003

Chat Me Up

This particular Irish tradition seems more appealing in theory than in
(My hour hike at Darby Creek would last a half day)...

Allihies turned out to be a great base for hiking the Beara....While walking, I began to realize that the suggested hiking times in my guidebooks would have to be nudged upward. Not because the trail was difficult, but because local etiquette made it impossible - indeed, impolite - to pass any person without stopping for at least a four-minute chat. A simple hello would just not do. The first time I attempted the local pleasantries, encountering an ancient sheep farmer in a tweed coat pockmarked with holes, I froze, wondering what I could possibly say after "Good day."

But soon I caught on, as he was a pro: "Looks like we're getting a bit of sunshine. Could hold up, but you never know. Yesterday had a bit of fog in the morning. They say the same for the afternoon "

Irish weather was no longer a nuisance; it was a conversation starter. -- DAISANN MCLANE

Of course, it's easier to be garrulous with strangers when you spend the bulk of your days talking to sheep on a forlorn path in rural Ireland. Reminds me of what an old boss once said - you can tell who is single and who married by how much they talk during the work day (suggesting that singles, having less outlet, talk more).

August 09, 2003

Ham is a truthteller:

Thanks to last week, with universal cloud cover providing a gray cast, I have finally thrown in the towel on Ohio. Central Ohio only gets 75 sunny days a year and that has never bothered me until now.

Now that I am unemployed I actually pay some attention to the weather. Yuma, AZ gets almost 300 sunny days a year. At no additional cost I might add.

I'm trying to fend off vague sense of panic that it’s August 8th already. The fresh signs for the Labor Day Greek Festival look like tomb stones. The rains have come all week and the mosquitos are thick as Welbornian blog posts. The past week doesn’t count as summer; we got gypped. No sinking into the back porch furniture in sun so hot that it melts you into the fabric. Fencing with draculean mosquitos seems to defeat the purpose of summer. Hope the bastards like 0+.

Completely unrelated, one of the interesting notions about blogging is at what point you (I) don't post my poetry. If you have three visitors a day, you do. I'm right about at the line where there are too many. If blogging is the karaoke of writing, then posting bad poetry might be equivalent to passing gas in a crowded elevator.
Today's Thought

Husbands need to feel needed even if they don't want to be.

August 08, 2003

On the monk St. John Cassian*

Tom of Disputations points out that St. Dominic always had two books at his side: the Gospel of St. Matthew and the Conferences of John Cassian. Here is an excerpt from The Conferences:
AND when Christ in His own Person called and addressed Paul, although He might have opened out to him at once the way of perfection, yet He chose rather to direct him to Ananias and commanded him to learn the way of truth from him, saying: "Arise and go into the city and there it shall be told thee what thou oughtest to do." So He sends him to an older man, and thinks good to have him instructed by his teaching rather than His own, lest what might have been rightly done in the case of Paul might set a bad example of self-sufficiency, if each one were to persuade himself that he also ought in like manner to be trained by the government and teaching of God alone rather than by the instruction of the Elders.

And this self-sufficiency the apostle himself teaches, not only by his letters but by his acts and deeds, ought to be shunned with all possible care, as he says that he went up to Jerusalem solely for this reason; viz., to communicate in a private and informal conference with his co-apostles and those who were before him that Gospel which he preached to the Gentiles, the grace of the Holy Spirit accompanying him with powerful signs and wonders: as he says "And I communicated with them the Gospel which I preach among the Gentiles lest perhaps I had run or should run in vain."

Who then is so self-sufficient and blind as to dare to trust in his own judgment and discretion when the chosen vessel confesses that he had need of conference with his fellow apostles? Whence we clearly see that the Lord does not Himself show the way of perfection to anyone who having the opportunity of learning despises the teaching and training of the Elders, paying no heed to that saying which ought most carefully to be observed: "Ask thy father and he will show it to thee: thine Elders and they will tell thee." --From the Conferences of John Cassian

* - I had originally promoted him to sainthood. Thanks to Chris of Veritas for correcting me.

Update: Turns out Cassian is a saint in the Greek calendar, and honored as a saint in Marseilles....via Tom of Dispuations. As recently as May 21, the Pope referred to "St. John Cassian" in a general audience. Also, the Catechism footnotes note him as a saint, as well.
Patronal Thoughts

It's a deep, dark, closely-held secret that my wife is more handy at home repairs than me. My role is to stand by and ask, "How about if I just blam it?" - in other words apply brute force to a problem where intelligence and subtley might be more effective (if less satisfying). It's not that I couldn't be better at it*, it's that I don't want to. How something works is infinitely boring compared to why it works, just as how the world began is infinitely less interesting than why it did.

My desire to use force in home repairs occurred to me as I listened to the gentle voices of the Dominicans on their founder's feast day, singing a Latin hymn; as did Thomas Jefferson's advice to "take things always by their smooth handle".

Our infinitely strong God is a God of breathtaking gentleness. An oxymoron to ponder. "The Force be with you" gets it exactly wrong.

*Just unlikely.
Improving your Golf Confidence
The easy path to increasing your confidence is to decrease the competition. Instead of playing with guys who shoot in the 80s, I invited two co-workers who struggle to break bread, much less triple digits.

It took some coaxing to get Hack A. Way (his true name must be protected, for reasons that soon will become obvious) to tee it up at Mentel Memorial (the former Bolton Field). But he’s an intern, so he really had no choice. Hack and his game proved the perfect antidote for my foundering confidence.

At No. 12, a 161-yard par 3, Hack pulled driver. ’Nuff said. By the end of the first nine holes, Hack had inherited a new nickname, East, which describes his typical ball flight. After 18 holes, his game resembled Einstein’s theory — E=mc2, otherwise known as East=my confidence doubled.

And his scorecard was marked with more p.u.’s (picked ups) than at a Pepe Le Pew charity scramble.

The irony of the day was when I began teaching Hack how to hit the ball; kind of like Mo showing Curly how to toss cream pies.

The second playing partner, Bud Weiser, was another coworker who claimed to break 100 as often as he broke open beers. Considering he made the turn with a 53 in one hand and a six-pack in the other, it’s no wonder his game and vocabulary resulted in a back-nine brew ha-ha.

"(Bleep) the Little Red Book," was all he had to say about Harvey Penick’s golf instructional classic.

With Hack hitting it sideways — "It defies the law of physics," he moaned — and Bud belching his way around the track, my confidence soared. --Rob Oller, Columbus Dispatch
 Happy Feast of St. Dominic

  O lumen

  Light of the Church, Teacher of truth, Rose of patience, Ivory of
  chastity, You freely poured forth the waters of wisdom.
  Preacher of grace, Unite us with the blessed.

And when the prior and the other brothers had solemnly prepared themselves for the commendation of a soul and had gathered about him, Dominic said to the prior and brothers: "Wait a little while." While waiting, the prior said to him: "Father, you know how you leave us desolate and sad. Remember to pray for us to God." The blessed friar Dominic with hands raised to heaven, prayed: "Holy Father, Thou knowest how I have freely remained steadfast in Thy will, and have guarded and kept those whom Thou hast given me. I recommend them to Thee. Keep and guard them." And the witness said that he had heard from the brothers that when they asked him concerning themselves he answered them: "I will be more useful and fruitful to you after death than I was in life." Then, after a short interval, Dominic commanded the prior and brothers: "Begin." And they solemnly began the office for the commendation of a soul. And, as he believes, the brother, Blessed Dominic himself said the office with them, because he moved his lips. While the office was being said, he gave up the ghost.

-From the canonization process of St. Dominic via Disputations.

August 07, 2003

Home Runs

More proof from Cacciaguida that Belloc was right when he called Islam a Christian heresy. Via the effervescent Kathy the Carmelite.

Marvelous meditation by M. D. Molinié, O.P. (via Mark of Minute Particulars:)
We do not know how to love God because we don't know that God loves us. We don't know that he loves us because we don't love him. And that, in sum, is the vicious circle from which revelation tries to snatch us. . . .

There is no conflict -- but rather perfect continuity -- between the Old Covenant and the New. The education given the sons of Abraham had the sole purpose of plunging them into adoration, and adoration is indispensable to anyone wishing to encounter Jesus Christ. It is necessary to be a Jew -- that is, an adorer, a worshiper -- before one can become a Christian -- a friend and son. It was hard to initiate the best of the Jews into this secret, and it is even more difficult for us to learn it today. God was forced to prune and pummel the hearts of his adorers, polishing them to a high luster, down through a long and animated history in order that they could attain the high, subtle level of spirituality he required to prepare the way for his Son and for the unveiling of trinitarian life.

The extraordinary education given the Jewish people is much more important to us than their ethnic peculiarities. We need this same education, and we have to obtain it by following the same route if we wish to penetrate into the mystery of Christ. The history of the Jewish people remains the one and only model for initiation into the love of God.
Complaints about Complaining

I feel expertly able to discuss & recuss this particular issue.

I realize that complaining about complaining might be hypocritical, but... During the past year I bought two books by reknowned spiritual writers Thomas Merton & Henry Nouwen. They are both journals of their last year on earth, and I found them a bit depressing (I ended up returning the Nouwen book).

Why? Because here they are at the end of life's journey and they still don't seem to have much peace. After all those years Thomas Merton was stuck in the "what do I want to be when I grow up" phase - still struggling with where God wanted him to be and what his vocation really was. I'm not criticizing Merton, Lord knows I have much sympathy for him. I just wish he'd found peace, for him and the hope it'd bring to others. I can't help wondering if he was over-thinking things a bit. (I feel similarly towards Pope Paul VI, a very saintly man for whom peace was also elusive. Of course if you're the Pope, the pressure must be enormous).

Worse, Merton was very hard on his fellow monks, too. But of course these are journals, which by definition have a lot of vetching and complaining in them (like mine). I imagine St. Paul's journal, if he kept one, might've said something like, "those damn Corinthinians! I'm wasting my time with them...". Still, some saints it's almost impossible to imagine an unkind word from. I can't picture Thomas Aquinas' journal as anything but clear-headed and calm and full of peace.

Henry Nouwen was not harsh on others, just harsh on himself. Lots of self-flaggelation. Perhaps there was peace at the end, I didn't finish the book.

In the Book of Psalms, David often moves from whining and complaining to finish with good ol' fashioned praise by the end, putting the "alms" back in the Psalms. He gives his worries, fears, anxieties, and angers to God and then moves past them. In that sense, it's unfair to look at journals as anything other than the first part of some of the Psalms.

August 06, 2003

Contra the Utilitarian View of Conversions

An evangelical Christian once told me she needed to pray for this particular person because they could be a great witness. He was a good-looking, outgoing fellow. And I've found myself thinking similar things - like "wow, wouldn't it be great if Bill Mahrer became a Christian!". I would pray for somebody's conversion not for them per se but for what they could do for God. It seems an non-personalist approach, a utilitarian, means-to-an-end type of deal doesn't it? What about praying for the person who - on the outside at least - looks like a poor bet?
What about Andrew Sullivan?

Amy describes Ur-blogger Andrew Sullivan as "a life-long Roman Catholic and has some degree of attachment and self-identification wrapped up in - what? I'm not sure - perhaps the externals of Catholicism".

One of the characteristics of Catholicism is that it teaches that creation is good. Beauty is good. Art is good. The body is not something to be ashamed of. So the senses can be used as teaching tools rather than disparaged. The very stones of cathedrals catechize.

Another great facet of Catholicism is, of course, the sacraments, especially the Eucharist - the true Body & Blood of Christ. Once you go there, everything else pales.

I've commented in the past that given the hierarchical nature of Catholicism, it makes no more sense for the Catholic to ignore what the Church says on faith and morals as it would for an Amishman to have a microwave oven and a satellite dish. It's an oxymoron. But I realize now that there is so much richness to the Faith that some stay in the Church for different reasons. Maybe the sacraments, the beauty of the church, the peace of a Mass. No wonder there are so many so-called "cafeteria Catholics"! There are many reasons to be attracted to the Church, not just the beauty of its doctrine. So unless we want to hold our services in warehouses, smash all the icons and have a sacrament-less church in a vain search for "purity", there will be Catholics attracted for other reasons.

I never left the Church even though during stretches in my past I was mortally unfaithful to her teachings. Bottom line is that one can never know when a grievous sinner will change. The Church remains open 24/7. For Andrew Sullivan we can pray.

I don't mean to minimize the tremendous damage of "Catholic Lite", merely that I can understand it. As George Weigel wrote:
"The answer to the current crisis will not be found in Catholic Lite. It will only be found in a classic Catholicism--a Catholicism with the courage to be countercultural, a Catholicism that has reclaimed the wisdom of the past in order to face the corruption of the present and create a renewed future, a Catholicism that risks the high adventure of fidelity."