December 31, 2005


"One of the lessons of history is that we don't learn from history."
- Alice von Hildebrand

December 30, 2005

Fictional Friday
One spring day, John Johnson sat down to write the Great American Mid-Central States Novel, where the states in question, according to no less an authority than National Geographic, were Alabama, Kentucky and Tennessee. He lived in Lexington, Kentucky and mostly worried about competition from Alabama and Tennessee writers who might be thinking of doing the same. But doggedly he sat at the computer until the words came.

They didn’t come freely. He knew that you had to “write what you know” and to use the grist of daily life. So he briefly considered his world. He liked E.D. Hill of “Fox & Friends” fame though not enough to know what the “E” and “D” stood for. He'd seen co-host Brian doing finger-pushups recently on camera and was mildly amused by his energy and good-humored demeanour. But he couldn’t immediately see how to interweave E.D. & Brian and the smiling weather girl into a narrative, though he suspected novelistic gold. Still, writers read about deep things, listened to deep music and tasted exotic food and it seemed that hamburgers, Whitesnake, and Fox & Friends were thin gruel.

John liked to fly under the radar. Nothing pleased him more than obscurity, which he gathered about him like a warm cloak in deep winter. Obscurity was a fine companion because it kept demands and responsibilities at bay. The only problem with obscurity was obscurity, the lack of notice, which would seem a natural enough result but it wasn’t something he’d considered. As much as he enjoyed observing he also liked to be recognized. He wrote frequent letters to the editor of the local paper and sent submissions to Reader's Digest’s famous Life in these United States but they always went unpublished. He dated women in a serial fashion. He half-hoped people would take little notice because then he could get lost in Wagnerian operas and red wine, though the comfort of Wagner and wine would inevitably result in putting himself forward. He tended not to push himself during the summer because it was summer and the livin' was supposed to be easy. He also didn't push himself during the winter because it was a season hard enough on its own. This left remarkably little opportunity to push himself.

All that he could write of Kentucky seemed exhausted within ten minutes. Why? Oh sure there were the white fences that held beautiful race horses within, but horses never much interested him because they were “local”, in the same way that New Yorkers wouldn’t bother with visiting the Statue of Liberty or the Empire State building. Too close to home.

Yes, he would write about what he saw on television. It’s what he knew, even if he didn’t know what “E. D.” in “E.D. Hill” stood for. He pondered the sonorous voice of CNN's Lou Dobbs and felt sure there was a novel there. The very name reeked of poetry.
Prayers of Petition

Praying for a non-Christian’s conversion to Christianity is a no-brainer. But praying for a fellow Christian’s deeper conversion seems like dirty pool. A Christian's initial conversion is typically joy and sweetness but further conversions seem to require suffering to a greater or lesser degree. I recall a priest once saying that if you pray for patience God will answer by giving you more opportunities to practice it -- not exactly what we might've had in mind. In other words, He's not going to magically implant virtue without any effort on our part. So by praying for someone’s deeper conversion it seems we are praying that they suffer. It’s good for them, of course, but since I tend to shy from praying for my own suffering it hardly seems fair to pray that others suffer.

Now in the case that prompted this post, the friend who hates her husband, I'm not praying for her suffering but a true release from suffering because to forgive is a weight lifted. In that situation, holding a grudge is the suffering. So I feel no guilt in asking for prayers for her.
My Natural Cure

So my mom and I went to the bookstore the other day and she's looking at this book called "Natural Cures" (my aunt has cancer and is on the fence regarding chemo...your prayers* always gratefully received) and the book is off the charts radical. The author (not an M.D.) is like a Baptist preacher: "agin it". Against everything I like. Pork, he says, is an abomination. Pigs eat their to put this delicately....waste product, so eating pork is a major assault on your body. Similar tap water, flouride, chlorine, pop/soda, sunglasses, SPF lotion, etc.., etc... He said that you should never bathe or shower in tap water nor have anything come in contact with your skin that which you would not consume. (Perhaps it escapes the author's notice that no one gets out of this world alive.) But at least he has the good sense to realize that beer and wine are better for you than pop.

So what is good for you? He says walking and laughter. So I told my mom to go walk to the humor section and get a Dave Barry book and maybe it'll conteract all that tap water she drinks.

* - while on the subject, if you could pray for a dear friend who hates her dying husband and withholds forgiveness, I'd appreciate it.
Speaking of Catholic Education...

Some excerpts from the Thomas Woods' book about Catholic intellectuals and the Progressive Era:

Aware of both the enormity of the task and of the opposition they had faced, American Catholics took considerable pride in the educational system they had erected...Paul Blakely called the Catholic school "the most splendid monument ever reared by any people to testify to their belief in God, and their unswerving devotion to His Son."

A striking proof, according to Edward Pace, that there could be nothing inherently radical or undesirable about integrating sound modern pyschological principles into Catholic education was that the Church's liturgy itself, which served a didactic as well as devotional purpose, had from the beginning employed these very principles. Each item of the Mass, Pace explained, "conveys a lesson through eye and ear" to the highest reaches of the soul. "Sense, memory, imagination, and feeling are thus aroused, not simply as aesthetic activities, but as a support of intellect and will, which thereupon issue in adoration and thanksgiving for the 'mystery of faith'"...The findings of modern psychology related to the use of imagery and sensory activities were vindicating the Church's approach. "Sensory perception, image, pleasurable feeling and idea must all grow into unity, and this must form, not a package of knowledge that the mind lays by for future use, but a living element in the living mind, a part of the mental tissue."

"The Church, in her teaching, reaches the whole man: his intellect, his will, his emotions, his senses, his imagination, his aesthetic sensibilities, his memory, his muscles, and his powers of expression. She neglects nothing in him: she lifts up his whole being and strengthens and cultivates all his faculties in their interdependence."

December 29, 2005

Need Music?

Some alums from my high school have a band and their own CD, with a portion of the proceeds (if purchased before 12/31) going towards Catholic education (i.e. my high school).

December 28, 2005


Ah but it's got to be tough to be in the political commentary business these days given that every tom, dick and harry blogger is out there word-tossing. But National Review shows itself a cut above the rest with amusements like this, regarding the late Eugene McCarthy: "As an amateur poet, he pursued the muse gallantly despite her evident reluctance to be courted by him."

And something from Dickens in Bleak House: "...a bundle of pawnbrokers' duplicates, those turnpike tickets on the road of Poverty"...elsewhere, "...and even its painted ceilings, where Allegory, in Roman helmet and celestial linen, sprawls among balustrades and pillars, flowers, clouds, and big-legged boys, and makes the head ache -- as would seem to be Allegory's object always, more or less."
Strom des Bewußtseins

Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery but it's not a good practice in blogging. Whenever I try to write like Lileks or Luse it I end up not sounding like Lileks or Luse at all. But there's something oddly compelling about Bill's stream o' conscious posts, so I'll try one too. (Bill writes, "If it’s becoming obvious I don’t have much to say, well, hang in there; I’m just getting started." [Emphasis mine.] Funny, when I don't have much to say I normally don't have much to say though I hope this post proves the exception.)

So I was out running yesterday, trying to shed holiday excesses, when my iPod played this song which, of course, I've been unable to eradicate from my head ever since. They don't call them "catchy" tunes for nothing. But the thought occurs: aren't the lyrics more influenced by American individualism than Scripture?

(It's surely too cutesy to say 'insert segue here', a gimmicky way to announce the lack of segue by way of a joke. But insert segue here.)

For someone who doesn't know beans about Aquinas or Augustine, let alone Plato or Aristotle, I'm mesmerized by the differences of their acolytes. I've finally hit upon the ultimate dumbed-down impression: if you scored higher on your math S.A.T, you'll like systemizer Aquinas. Higher on verbal S.A.T., the personalist Augustine. If you scored about the same on both, you're torn between the two. Unfortunately I can already think of several examples where this doesn't really hold true so I ask you to consider what you paid for it.

~ <- segue character (with this magic delimiter, you'll never have to segue again!)

I shared my Bad Catholic's Guide to Life with my mom and her reaction was that her friend Carol was right - many of the saints were plumb crazy. I told her that I'm just glad to know - finally - who is depicted in that statue in the Boston church, the woman holding an unappetizing platter of eyeballs. ('Twas St. Lucy.) Mom said there's a saint who holds a platter of breasts. Ouch. Don't need to see that one.
I think we've achieved the complete depletion of my social energies. This time of year usually does it, and I'm always impressed by how efficiently it does so. I naively think there'll be something left in the tank but...
Drove past a Lutheran church advertising a traditional service and an "Emerging Style" service. The word "contemporary" must not be contemporary enough. I guess even the name of the newest service has to be constantly changed.

December 27, 2005

Thinking vs Assent & Faith

Fascinating little graph from Disputations. "Thinking" is the y-axis, "Assent" the x-axis, with faith as the diagonal.

In those days, when Caesar Augustus decided to tax the whole world, that the wealth of the nations might flow to him, the true Lord of the universe chose to give Himself to mankind, that the wealth of His grace might flow to the nations. Caesar’s decree went out with great pomp, pressed upon the world by his legions. The gift of almighty God came quietly in the night, though the stars in their courses and the legions of the heavenly angels could not be restrained from proclaiming it. Though His birthplace was chosen by the decree of a tyrant, He is the One before Whom all the tyrants of the earth will bow. The King comes as a spy; the Word comes as an infant. - Henry Dieterich of "Plumbline in the Wind"

We need to distinguish between those things which help us understand a mystery and the mystery itself. Without Limbo, we may not understand how God resolves the problem of the final destination of aborted babies for example-but it isn't critical to our salvation that we understand it. God takes care of these things for us. - Jim Curley of "Bethune Catholic"

Priests serve as icons of Christ and pastors to their flocks. It's not for nothing that an old adage teaches, "priests and bishops take a thousand of their flock with them to heaven or hell." For far too long, priestly formation has been influenced by the prevailing cultural zeitgeist, which these days is reflective of self-assertion and narcissism in all matters, sexuality included. In the wake of the church's latest instruction, many self-identified "gay priests" took to the airwaves to denounce it. Suffice it to say that a man who feels compelled to do such a thing on national television is putting the zeitgeist, not Christ, at the center of his identity. --Rich Leonardi of "Ten Reasons"

"Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me." Peter Howell, in his commentary (London, 1980) on book one of Martial (at 1.25.5), writes: "The idea of a benevolent deity waiting outside the house to be let in is both ancient and widespread." Howell doesn't mention Rev. 3.20, but he does cite some more or less apposite classical parallels. Here they are, with translations. Plautus, Aulularia 98-100 (tr. Robert Allison):
"No one's to enter, while I am away. These are my orders; if Good Fortune comes, please say I am not at home." Martial 1.25.5-6 (tr. anon. from Bohn's Classical Library): "Do you hesitate to admit Fame, who is standing before your door; and does it displease you to receive the reward of your labour?" Dio Cassius 64.1.2 (tr. Earnest Cary) repeats the story of Galba: "For it seemed to him in a vision that Fortune told him that she had now remained by him for a long time, yet no one would grant her admission into his house, and that, if she should be barred out much longer, she would take up her abode with somebody else." - some long Latin name'd blog (oh, yeah, "Laudator Temporis Acti")

I think I’d rather hang out with a gang of aggressive homosexuals than with these people. I can think of many reasons to abstain from alcohol altogether–a zealous pursuit of high holiness is among them, depending on the person. But don’t abstain to give yourself the competitive edge, to further your ambition, to make yourself a hard body, whatever. That’s just nauseating. Give me the company of a simple and humble drunk for an evening before forcing me to have dinner with one of these self-obsessed folks. - Eric Scheske on group who forswears alcohol in pursuit of fitness goals

We could say the same of us Catholics, who ran to rip the corpus off the crucifix because, you know, we are an Easter People, forgetting that Good Friday awaits all of us, no matter how much we would like to deny it. - Amy Welborn

The more one drones on about how orderly, complex, and intelligently designed all things are, the more one has to ignore the obvious absurdity and violence in this beautifully synchronized garden. Indeed, ‘Intelligent Design’ is really the latest manifestation of that quaint, eighteenth century species of degenerate Christianity known as Deism, and it therefore has a peculiar quality - I have yet to hear an ID argument that doesn’t inevitably lead to the dead end of theodicy. - Thomas of "Endlessly Rocking"

One of the saddest things a good Catholic friend said to me last week was that he did not pray as often as before because it did not make him feel good anymore and he was not getting anything out of it ... I told him that was an indication that he needed to pray all the more. All too often our consumerist mentalities reduce God to a commodity -- we "buy into" Him if it makes us feel good, if we can gain something from Him, if He or Church is "relevant" ... And yet, God, who is wholly Other, is God. He may not be reduced to a commodity, traded on feelings. - "Contemplata aliis Tradere" via Julie of "Happy Catholic" I think

My love for [C.S.] Lewis covers a multitude of sins and love for the Catholic faith supplies what is wanting in the various odd expectations and fears that surround the release of the film. It is, at bottom, a corking good story that has nourished people's souls for 50 years. It's certainly done me good on more than one ocassion and I look forward to it. As a Catholic, I'm comfy with Lewis habit of talking about Christ in pictures rather than abstractions like "justification by faith". As a non-Pacifist, I don't much sweat the idea of portraying Yahweh Sabaoth as a God of Armies in the battle with principalities and powers. As somebody who hold the shallow self-regard of the Chattering Classes in contempt, I have no problem with Lewis' clear Christian faith. As a non-tribal Catholic, I have no problem with benefiting from Christian writers who aren't part of the Tribe (though Lewis is a profoundly Catholic thinker). And, finally, I'm not much troubled by the failure of the Chronicles of Narnia to map perfectly to Catholic soteriology, Christology, and ecclesiology. - Mark Shea

I prefer the depictions of Heaven in Catholic art: the martyrs in red, the virgins in white, the Benedictines in black, the Franciscans in brown, the kings in purple, the beggars in gold . . . and crowns, palms, flowers and more "accessories" than you could possibly imagine just so no two saints end up looking alike. In two words: colour and variety. A new creation. What a sight! Let Hollywood's red carpet fashionistas eat their hearts out: "But if at the Oscars Versace, Vera Wang and Donna Karan so clothe the stars who are hot today and who are featured in E! True Hollywood Story tomorrow, how much more will the Heavenly Father clothe you, people of little grace?" - Sancta Sanctis
Found Humor

I've recently moved office spaces and came across one of my beloved artifacts - a "Bomb Threat Checklist", or what to do in case you or someone else plants a bomb in the workplace. This pre-9/11 document triggers loads of gallows humor:
Bomb Threat Checklist

1. When is the bomb going to explode?
2. Where is the bomb?
3. What does it look like?
4. What kind of bomb is it?
5. What will cause it to explode?
6. Did you place the bomb?
7. Why?
8. What is your address?
9. What is your name?

Circle All Applicable Items:

Voice: Calm, Angry, Excited, Cracking, Disguised, Familiar, Deep Breathing, Stutter, Lisp, Normal, Slurred

Background Noise
: Street, Automobiles, Extra quiet, Crockery, Echo, Animal noises, Music

Language: Well Spoken, Irrational, Taped, Foul, Incoherent
And of course by the time you finish this comprehensive inventory, the bomb has gone off and you are dead. (From the obit: 'He died doing his job, filling out the bomb threat checklist.') Imagine getting the phone call and saying to the bomber, "Not so fast bucko. We've got some red tape here. I'm required to fill out a bomb threat checklist and need to know if that is crockery I hear in the background. Also, do you always stutter or are you nervous because this is your first bomb?"
Christmas Meme

I got meme'd by Elena so don't blame me! :)
1. Hot chocolate or apple cider?
Chocolate apples.
2. Turkey or Ham?
Turkey. It's not just a country in the Middle East.
3. Do you get a Fake or Real you cut it yourself Christmas tree?
Fake, but it's my Grandma's and I've been using it for 15 yrs.
4. Decorations on the outside of your house?
Christmas Wreath and a few lights 'round the door.
5. Snowball fights or sledding?
Snowball fights while sledding
6. Do you enjoy going downtown shopping?
Like a root canal
7. Favorite Christmas song?
The last one I've heard. Which is probably Hark the Herald Angels Sing. They don't write 'em like this anymore:
Mild He lays His glory by
Born that man no more may die
Born to raise the sons of earth
Born to give them second birth
8. How do you feel about Christmas movies?
Not into them.
9. When is it too early to start listening to Christmas music?
Dec. 17th, 9:48pm (E.S.T.)
11. Carolers, do you or do you not watch and listen to them?
12. Go to someone else's house or they come to you?
Going to church count?
13. Do you read the Christmas Story?
Not that I know of. Unless you mean the gospel account.
14. What do you do after presents and dinner?
15. What is your favorite holiday smell?
Christmas cookies baking
16. Ice skating or walking around the mall?
"Mall" is a four-letter word.
17. Do you open a present or presents on Christmas Eve, or wait until Christmas day?
Christmas Eve. The German side of the family won. In assimilation battles, the earlier celebration usually wins.
18. Favorite Christmas memory?
The anticipation (sing like Carly Simon).
19. Favorite Part about winter?
Um...the beer?
20. Ever been kissed under mistletoe?
a long time ago.
I hereby meme the unlikely soul who both wants to be meme'd and was not yet was not meme'd.

December 26, 2005

Overheard Lyrics....

How Can Love Survive?
Lyrics by: Oscar Hammerstein II / Music by: Richard Rodgers
From: The Sound Of Music 1959 (S)
In all the famous love affairs
The lovers have to struggle.
In garret rooms away upstairs
The lovers starve and snugggle.
They're famous for misfortune which
They seem to have no fear of,
While lovers who are very rich
You very seldom hear of.

No little shack do you share with me,
We do not flee from a mortgagee,
Nary a care in the world have we,

How can love survive?

You're fond of bonds and you own a lot.
I have a plane and a diesel yacht,

Plenty of nothing you haven't got!

How can love survive?

No rides for us on the top of a bus
In the face of the freezing breezes

You reach your goals in your comfy old Rolls
Or in one of your Mercedes-es!

Far, very far off the beam are we,
Quaint and bizarre as a team are we,
Two millionaires with a dream are we,
We're keeping romance alive.

Two millionaries with a dream are we,
We'll make our love survive...

No little cold water flat have we,
Warmed by the glow of insolvency,

Up to your necks in security.
How can love survive?

How can I show what I feel for you?
I cannot go out and steal for you.
I cannot die like Camille for you.
How can love survive?

You millionaires with financial affairs
Are too busy for simple pleasure.
When you are poor it is toujours l'amour,
For l'amour all the poor have leisure!

Caught in our gold platted chains are we,
Lost in our wealthy domains are we.
Trapped by our capital gains are we,
But we'll keep romaince alive.

Trapped by our capital gains are we,

We'll make our love survive!
Packin' Heat in the Bible Belt

It's nice to know that the homogenizing effects of modernity haven't quite reached every nook & hollow of the good ol' U.S. of A.. This was recently confirmed by my brother's experiences with his in-laws, who live on the other side of civilization in Tennessee not far from the Kentucky border in a town with a population in the hundreds. As my sister-in-law says, "you have to want to get there".

I was jealous of his visit because of the trip log it would've sparked but his offer to trade places fell, I thought anyway, way too discordantly on my sister-in-law's ears.

To give you an example of the culture shock, one of our family Christmas parties this year will be held at a local racetrack where drinking and gambling will ensue -- two absolute no-no's in my sister-in-law's hamlet in the bible belt. But my brother's experience of being a fish out of water story swam much deeper than that...

The roomfull of factory workers weren't watching football. On Thanksgiving. This was his first clue that he wasn't in Kansas anymore. The next was when they began pulling out weaponry and passing it along in a quaint version of show 'n tell. One guy thoughtfully unloaded the bullets which made my sister-in-law nervous in the re-telling: she said she'd never again allow him to hold her infant with a loaded weapon in his pocket. Later one of them went and got his banjo and played really well. Scenes from "Deliverance" flashed through my head.

They regaled tales of giving knives to near infants. "Yeah I gave my nephew a switchblade when he was three." Something like that. They talked of the fine points (pun intended of course) of knives. Uncle Ernie shoots bumblebees. And it turns out some of them were inveterate preachers who had contests that sounded like the rap battle - they would make up endless prayers on the spot and whoever held on the longest without stumbling for words won. My sister-in-law said it made her ears hurt.

I’m way too fussy when it comes to fiction. I read the first couple paragraphs of a novel and it was poetic until an abrupt “her mother died last Tuesday” or something like that. Lines like that seem contrived; you become conscious that you’re reading a Novel and that the author is recalling to you that he is in the Great Writer phase of his life. On the other hand the novel, and the poetic flourish in general, is a much higher risk operation than anything non-fictional. The writer puts himself out on a limb in a way the no-nonsense chronicler doesn't. He wears no figleaf of information or polemic (though any wag can wave the non-utilitarian flag).

There is something so wholesome in Dickens or Shakespeare where the seams don’t show. They have the lighter touch that makes you think they're having fun or at least feel passionately - it’s not a set-piece with mood music set up to woo the reader, like the bachelor who presses a button and a bed comes down from the ceiling while Mancini plays. It’s somehow important that the author be having fun and it not be a work to impress people. With Updike there’s great word play but he’s uneven. His stories can't have a happy ending because for the moderns redemption is embarrassing, like laughing at a corny joke.
"At first God was the God for us, our protector and shield. Then, when Jesus came, God became the God with us, our companion and friend. Finally, when Jesus sent his Spirit, God was revealed to us as the God within us, our very breath and heartbeat." -Henry J. Nouwen


(images via John)

December 23, 2005

Man Bites Dog Story

From our 'man bites dog' file of unusual news items, a downtown parish has the problem of too many people wanting to go to Confession. The pastor writes:
After much thought and prayer I have decided to make a commentary on the Sacrament of Confession. The Dominican friars make a valiant effort of being available for the Sacrament of Confession...I recommend a monthly confession unless you are in the state of mortal sin. Most venial sins simply need a perfect Act of Contrition or the reception of Holy Communion.

December 22, 2005

St. Therese & the Bard

Death seems a natural subject of interest in sunless late December, despite the counterpull of the coming Nativity. So I read the last days of Shakespeare (what little we know) and St. Therese of Lisieux (what lot we know).

King Lear, for Shakespeare, was art serving as a palliative. The theory is that if you can name it, it seems less terrifying. Greenblatt writes:
Shakespeare seems to have begun contemplating the possibility of retirement - not so much planning for it as brooding about its perils - as wearly as 1604, when he sat down to write King Lear.
Retirement was obviously far more a focus of anxiety for that period than ours, but the principle of stories as ameliorative interests me. Greenblatt continues:
Retelling the Leir story was one way that Shakespeare and his contemporaries articulated their anxiety.
St. Therese didn't use art to relieve anxiety, she prayed and seemed to just live with the knowledge. Perhaps there is little way to prepare for the unimaginable. Two days before her death she still asked, "What should I do to prepare for death? Never will I know how to die!" Which for her also meant to "die of love" like the Savior. She admitted
I am afraid I have feared death. I am not afraid of what happens after death; that is certain! I don't regret giving up my life; but I ask myself: What is this mysterious separation of the soul from the body?
Earlier she'd said to another sister,
The words of Job: 'Even though he should kill me, yet I will trust him,' always fascinated me in my childhood days. It took me a long time, however, to reach that degree of surrender.
That a spiritual giant would say such and would require time to surrender is instructive for an age that demands immediate gratification. There is also a failure of the imagination, meaning you can't really "name it" - St. Therese was constantly surprised by how brutal her last months were, a torture that she says her fellow sisters could not imagine.

Westward, westward till the barbarous brine
Whelms us to the tired land where tasseling corn,
Fat beans, grapes sweeter than muscadine
Rot on the vine: in that land were we born.

-from "The Mediterranean" by Allen Tate

December 21, 2005

Tempted By the Book of Another

Library Things allows all the sensations of being nosy without any of the discomfort of being observed being nosy. Which reminds me: I often wish I'd paid more notice to the books of my great aunt and uncle when I was a kid. I wonder where their books are now.

30% of my books have yet to be listed by anyone else. I except that to drop and it'll be interesting to see which 10 or 5% will be left.

One wag writes humorously says
"I joined LibraryThing for the chicks."
Another writes:
"The books in my house have now been catalogued (barring the possible discovery of a few forgotten here and there, lost among my wife's books or behind bookcases), for a provisional total of 3,978. Don't weep for my not reaching the 4,000 mark..."
I won't.

One guy had the bright idea of adding books he wants, thus presumably preventing his save list from overflowing.

Another quotes his daughter:
This is the last paragraph from an essay my 12 year old daughter Beth wrote on "What I Am Thankful For".
"Last, but not by any means whatsoever least, I am thankful for books. Not only my books, any books. Reading is magical. When I read a book, I am taken from my own little world and plunged into someone else’s. I forget all my problems, so absorbed am I in someone else’s. Many times am I reminded that you can’t judge a book by it’s cover. A book is often better than the cover reveals, like expecting vanilla and getting chocolate. Sometimes, I am swept away into the book. I can see the diamond dragon burst through the waterfall, aim my arrows at invading Calormenes, and see for myself Aslan the Great Lion."
I'm Dreaming of a Tuba Christmas
At the sound of the horns
I came running
like a call in the blood
From the somber "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel" to the serene "Silent Night", there is nothing quite like a tuba Christmas. The bass instrument of my youth takes enough of the saccharine as well as the overly familiar out of the songs, making them sound newly sublime.

Kudos to innskeeper John for the reminder.
Apolytikion & Quote
  Be thou ready, Bethlehem, Eden hath opened unto all. Ephratha, prepare thyself, for now, behold, the Tree of life hath blossomed forth in the cave from the Holy Virgin. Her womb hath proved a true spiritual Paradise, wherein the divine and saving Tree is found, and as we eat thereof we shall all live, and shall not die as did Adam. For Christ is born now to raise the image that had fallen aforetime. -link
Christ assumed a human nature in order to show us how much he loves the human family. By becoming human, he could suffer; and by suffering, he could die; and by dying, he redeemed; and by rising from the dead, he became the source of our grace. - Fr. John Hardon
Dec. 21st...

was traditionally the feast of St. Thomas the Apostle, and in fact still is in my ancient Butler's Lives of Saints in which no saint's feast day ever changes. Now it is celebrated on July 3rd, which, being so close to an American holiday, tends to get sucked into the general fog that secular holidays produce.

As a Thomas, I'm always struck by how few of my fellow so-named consider St. Thomas the Apostle their patronal saint. Thomas has stiff competition given Thomas Aquinas and Thomas More, to name two. But it's very American to like the underdog and St. Thomas the Apostle feels more accessible than Aquinas, (though Thomas More has over the past decade mushroomed in personal significance).

St. Thomas is famous, of course, for not believing when the others said Christ had risen. But I like what Dom Orchard offers in his Scriptural commentary:
A blend of scepticism and pessimism goes with a melancholic temperament, such as seems to have been that of Thomas...The case of Thomas, in whom John [the Evangelist] took a special interest, is very important because, as St. Gregory remarks, the slow surrender of Thomas is of more advantage to strengthen our faith than the more ready faith of all the believing Apostles. Besides, the act of faith made by the believing Thomas is the fullest and most explicit of all the confessions of faith recorded in the Gospels.

December 20, 2005

Ross Douthat writes:
...while there isn't a war against Christmas, there is a significant chunk of this country - the most educated chunk, the chunk that runs the high-minded magazines and writes for the big newspapers and makes most of the movies...and teaches at the major universities and generally controls the commanding heights of the culture - that doesn't much care for Christianity, at least if it's practiced seriously and its basic dogmas are left intact. This reality is what drives the siege mentality among many Christians, and the popularity of O'Reilly-style conspiracy theorizing - the awareness that our majority-Christian country is saddled, for some reason, with an elite that approaches religious belief with a mix of bemusement, ignorance, and fear.

Of course the other side, the secular elite, feels under siege as well - they're in the minority, they don't control the the government, they thought we were past all that Christianity stuff, and they can't quite understand why a twenty-first century educated class should have to put up with a bunch of benighted yahoos who buy tickets to The Passion of the Christ and elect Presidents like George W. Bush. (The Europeans don't have to deal with this kind of nonsense, after all . . .) So everybody feels disempowered, and everybody has a point - which is why the Christmas wars are fake, but the culture war is real.
Were the Abominable Snow Man and Shelby Foote Ever Seen Together?


And a short parody:
Abominable Snow Man Objects to "Abominable"
Near Land of Misfit Toys--The Abominable Snow Man said today that he objects to the adjective "abominable", calling it a word rife with negative connotations.

"I've been greatly misunderstood. It's not my fault. I was an altar boy when I was kid. My dog ate my home work. God made me this way. I'm personally opposed to attacking people. My behavior has been inbred by evolution."

Americans are practical, we hate symbolism or anything even close...Yet beginning tomorrow, the Octave preceeding Christmas, truly though all throughout Advent, symbolism abounds. Many bloggers have already noted that tomorrow begins the Greater Antiphons, called the 'O' Antiphons, sung at Vespers each of the seven days preceeding the Nativity of Our Lord. Each Antiphon give us one of the very ancient titles of Our Lord and begs Him, under that title to help us poor sinners. When He is called Wisdom (Dec 17), we beg him to teach us prudence; when He is called Adonai -- My Lord (Dec 18), we beg Him rule us; Root of Jesse (Dec 19), deliver us; Key of David (Dec 20), unlock the prison of those in darkness; Daystar (Dec 21), enlighten; King of the Nations (Dec 22), save mankind; Emmanuel -- God with us (Dec 23), Save us. Then on Christmas Eve, Christmastide begins with the First Vespers of the Nativity. - Andrew of "Nobis Quoque Peccatoribus"

It wasn't for her. - Tom of Disputations, responding to a comment asking why if God allowed Mary to be born without original sin, then why not all of us

This painting by a third grader pretty much sums up the joy of blogging.

Flying, originally uploaded by Pumpkin Chief.

Like the child with a paintbrush, we blog primarily because self-expression is a satisfying and necessary human activity. Or as Debra said, we blog "because it's fun." More fun than shopping or watching TV or cleaning the house or any number of other things we might otherwise be doing. And sometimes, dangerously more fun than communicating with the person in the room with us--or (gasp!) reading a book. As the painting also depicts, we blog to soar over the planet and pick up a few friends along the way. For many of us, the joy of feedback and blog relationships are benefits we didn't expect, but soon learn to relish. - blogger at "The Marvelous Garden"

To equate not seeing that the minimum wage is not a prudential act in helping the poor with not knowing the meaning of Christmas is simply ridiculous. Granted many Republicans are at ease with using Christian terminology and having their acts show that it is empty. But it is almost comical to hear Democrats try to do the same thing. I lived in Japan for a couple of years and they loved English words on products, but the way they put them together showed they had no idea what they meant (see Engrish). Many Democrats have exactly the same problem. They want to use the wording, but they have no idea how it goes together - maybe this could be called Religrish. Now I admit to being a pretty partisan conservative, but I am not blind to the myriad faults of the modern Republican Party. I am Catholic first and cringe when reading/hearing torture apologists just as much or maybe even more than when I hear the abortion apologists on the left. No this isn't one of the both parties suck posts - instead I say "A Pax on both houses." That is the peace of Christ. "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased!" Though of course as this passage from the Gospel of Luke denotes that peace is conditional. - Curt Jester

We continue to be religious, largely Christian nation, but our elites tend to look down on ordinary religious sentiment. That analysis seemed so true this past weekend. While Narnia overwhelmed the box office, The Golden Globe awards went to movies of questionable moral value. One, for example, was a “love story” between two men. It is very unfortunate if a movie like that becomes “mainstream.” Besides the obvious immorality, it has the effect of casting suspicion over all male friendships. When we downgrade marriage, friendship also has a way of getting lost in the shuffle. - Fr. Phil Bloom on Mark Shea's blog

The fiasco surrounding the review of Brokeback Mountain is simply the most egregious example of a problem that has been building for some time at the OFB. When I first encountered their reviews a number of years ago, I was very impressed with how well they were done and how successfully they brought balanced Catholic sensibilities to the field of film criticism. But in recent years the quality of the reviews and ratings has declined—to the point that I no longer consult them as they are of little use. In the case of Brokeback Mountain, though, the OFB has gone beyond mere uselessness. - Jimmy Akin

The film office has long worried more about violence on screen than sex. I ignore their advice. - Sandra Miesel on Mark Shea's blog

I am weary of the dynamic of this new Christian market - what Barbara Nicolosi calls the Passion Dollars. I am tired of the film producers and distributors using (some) Christian churches and organizations to market their films and tired of (some) Christians clinging on to these cultural products in the hopes that they will evangelize. It all comes out seeming rather sad in the end. It is this web of mystery we are caught in. Art is a fundamental part of life, and people see glimpses of the transcendent through it, which has the power to open their hearts to God. But in the crush of the marketplace, where everyone is exploiting everyone else, authenticity gets drained, even just a little bit, out of the moment. - Amy Welborn

While [Rodney] Stark's premise that reason is the primary guide to religious truth is overbroad -- God's existence and actions can be observed from His creation, but Christianity is still a revealed religion the last time I checked -- his thesis concerning the culturally decisive intra-Christian embrace of Aristotle and reason is sound. It's noteworthy that Islam's Aristotelian scholars, e.g., Averroes, found it necessary to become atheists, while Christians did not. - Rich Leonardi on Rodney Stark's latest book

I personally knew the late Francis A. Schaeffer -- the Protestant cultural critic and Christian apologist who lived in the L'Abri community in Switzerland... Once when I visited Francis there, he took me to his new office... [and] we talked there over tea, and part way through our visit he opened the pine-paneled door of a closet adjacent to us to show me that he had covered the reverse side of the door with hideous photographs and magazine pictures of starving and crippled children, war wounded, lepers, amputees, bloated bodies of flood casualties and massacre victims ... I felt a wave of nausea. He explained that sometimes amidst the natural beauty of these Swiss alpine surroundings, it was easy to forget the reason Christ had come, and he needed to be reminded of the reality of the human condition, the reason Christ had come. - Michael Rose, via the Pertnacious Papist

So many little unfairnesses scrape at that raw, angry place in the heart. Money, looks, fame, intelligence. The effortless drape of my neighbor’s elegant overcoat, the easy seductive patter of the man at a nearby restaurant table, the cool grace of some winning stranger’s smile. All the luck that smoothes the way for others and not for me—not for me, not for me: that’s the small, irritating noise our fingernails make as they rasp at a scabby wound. And still, we are all equal in this, at least: that we must suffer death, and in those deaths there is an injustice so huge, so gross, so unjust it fills the cosmos—the enormous pain that swamps all the little ones. The universe has the justice, at least, to apply its greatest unfairness with a great impartial fairness. “This time, for the first time, I don’t feel special,” the author Susan Sontag told her son a few months before she died from blood cancer at age seventy-one. - J. Bottum of "First Things"

Mark Stricherz notes how the decline of blue-collar comedy and drama coincides with the shift of the Democratic party away from labor and towards cultural liberalism. On a related note, I've worried a bit about the takeover of the professional class in American Catholicism, a takeover which Eugene McCarraher denounced in his polemic "Smile When You Say Laity". Even the seminaries, it seems, manifest a professionalist ethos with their emphasis on study, study, study. On a vocation discernment retreat a few years back, I met a fire chief who was applying for the seminary but viewed the rigorous academic requirements with much trepidation. I think I've only met one priest who could honestly be somebody "Archie Bunker" could have a beer with...This structural orientation towards the professional class seems to account for the American Catholic Church's weakness in ministering to Latin American immigrants and the Latin American Church's weaknesses towards the rural poor. The Tridentine seminary regimen itself, I am told, didn't effectively preserve the faith of Europe's urban working class once the Industrial revolution took hold. Perhaps the "worker priest" needs to be revisited. - Kevin Jones of "Philokalia Republic"

Speaking of childhood misunderstandings of electronics, I would promptly get up and stand beside the TV when the station had technical problems and posted the "Please Stand By" screen. - Bill of "Summa Minutiae"

"Love your Neighbor as Yourself" is a Trinitarian ethic. In the Holy Trinity, neighbor *is* self. - Kevin Jones
Christmas Tree Lollapalooza
a bell ~ a powdery church ~ a horse ~ a ferrier's carriage ~ the Abominable Snow Man ~ an angel with glassine wings ~ the Holy Family in a luminous globe ~ a mouse beside a new house ~ the White House ~lights ~ bluepurpleredgreenyellow ~ bulbous reds and smashing silvers ~ crashing greens and crinkled golds!
Blogger Wakes to Find He's the "New Gay"

LOGAN, OH-- Blogger T.S. O'Rama woke up this morning and learned that he's the 'new gay', meaning hip and fashionable.

"I'm a middle-aged white heterosexual male, which is four strikes against me. But now I'm hip because I have a blog. My children even look up to me despite all the brainwashing of movies and TV shows that show middle-aged white fathers as bumbling idiots. But now I'm cool because I have a blog!"

Some cool people would beg to differ.

Fashion designer John Stevens says that bloggers are "introverted nerds" and that blogging is already past its prime.

"The notice of the mainstream media was the kiss of death for blogging, just like when the fat guy at high school gets the earring in his left ear and goes around reciting 'right is wrong, left is right!'"

But Hollywood star Holly Huntress said that bloggers are so uncool they might be cool, in the same way those with far right politics tend to look almost leftist.

December 19, 2005

Would Kierkegaard Blog?
Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and....Shredded Hundred Dollar Bills?

The Daily Eudemon reports:
The U.S. mass upperclass is taking ostentatious consumption to new levels: eating gold and silver. They’re shavings that are sprinkled on top of food and in drinks. The purpose? Pure show, like parsley, but about 1,000 times more expensive. They say it was popular in Renaissance Italy, which is hardly an endorsement. “Borgia me with some of that gold spray.”

Can this garnishment be far behind? (Call it 'expensive roughage'.)
Contra Snideness

Snidely Whiplash

"Still, we aren't going to be snide here and say, 'Oh, so what?' about the fact that our separated brethren want to stop going to church on Christmas, as though because they did not have the Mass anyway, they were just going through meaningless motions. Every step away from Catholic practice that our Protestant brothers and sisters take just widens the already sad division in the Body of Christ. The Catholic Church rejoices with every piece of Catholic truth and remnant of Catholic practice that remains within the Protestant faith communities, seeing those things as areas of agreement in a common heritage of faith upon which we can build greater unity. So this development, which I think will spread, is an unhappy one. If they can close the church on a day when Christmas falls on Sunday, they are unlikely to open the doors when Christmas falls on another day of the week." - Mary Kochan
(Via Ten Reasons)
News You Can't Use has been updated with an illegal war parody.
Meme, Meme on the Range

Bill of Summa Minutiae asks what, in history, happened on your birthday?

For me:

St. John Fisher was martyred on this date in 1535.

And on my exact birthday Pope Paul VI was elected pope. Mom was surely distracted from the white smoke by my birth. This wouldn't be the last time I'd be a distraction.
Corporation Observations

It's part of our shared creatureliness that everybody at Modern Corp Inc. would love to have a window in their cube or office. It's funny how regardless of nationality or religion or politics or gender, the one universal is we'd all like to have window. We all like natural light. (Though not necessarily this Natural Light.)

Speaking of beers, I think I insulted the cafeteria cashier. Every Friday they offer beer-battered cod and I would ask for the fish with the beer on the side. Over time it's morphed to just asking for "beer". One day they suggested "Old Milwaukee's Best" so I began asking for that, though last week I asked for "Old Mil-yuck-ee's Best". A slip o' the tongue. The guy wasn't happy. I'm not a beer snob, I don't think, it was just something we used to call it back in college. This post is making me thirsty.

Line overheard at work last week: "Well, I've beat that one with a dead horse".

Cringe. That's so not the line.

In the annals of history, this might have never occurred before: at a White Elephant swap, someone actually stole a Chia Pet.

December 18, 2005

Seasonal Thoughts
A Woman for All Seasons

"Why me?" never escaped her lips
not with Gabriel's gladsome tidings
nor Simeon's grim prophecy.

Love Waits

Eve grasped the forbidden fruit;
the new Eve patiently received it.*

Nature Rules the Hoop

The net hangs morose in mid-December
mutely 'minding of mid-summer
when I was shirtless and barefoot
dancing on the hot black asphalt
to the swish of net till retreat to shade.

Now the snow makes the swishes
and the asphalt burns
but holds no sun and affords no retreat.
* - In the Old Testament, to touch the Holy of Holies (except the High Priest) meant death. In the New, it's the opposite with Mary's fiat as the bridge.
Smashing the Iconoclasts

Bill Luse offers a potent and marvelously argued rejoinder to a St. Thomas More naysayer. On the line "the man for all season" being a poetic liberty, written long before Thomas More was martyred, Bill writes:
O'Connell admits that "the poet's ecstasy is infinitely more valuable than fastidious chronology...and yet the poet's method in this instance has its difficulties." In other words, what the professor cedes with one hand he will take away with the other. For one who pays apparent homage more than once to the "poetic experience," he seems immune to the poet's almost biblical sense that things are revealed in the fullness of time, that the martyr of More's end is to be found in the seed of his beginning.
On the difference perspective makes:
O’Connell has read the same biography as I, and concedes in his notes that it remains the best extant (and, I predict, shall remain so). So we both read it and come away with two different men as its subject. I saw the film first, and upon picking up the book had expected that my admiration for Thomas would have to be brought down to earth somewhat. This did not happen. I know more about him – his family, his professional life, the breadth of his learning, the regard of his fellows both at home and abroad, the incredible consistency of his character, and most especially about the depth of his faith, one in which he fancied that the dead, as our fellow citizens in God’s polity, prance about and move among us daily, interceding for us, though invisible to the human eye, a faith by which even Erasmus seemed greatly edified: "He talks with his friends in such a way about the world to come that you can see that he is speaking from his heart, not without good hope." How fitting that More laid his head down not merely for his own soul’s sake, nor as a witness to those still living, but that the voice of the dead might still be heard among us.

No, I will not be of those who bring him down to earth, but rather one (as unlikely as it seems) who would rise to the level of another in whom the perfection of God’s grace ran its course. There are Christian scholars in abundance who will perform the former duty; may they find much joy in the endeavor.
God of the Philosophers?

It's no wonder Pope John Paul II, in his encylical Fides et Ratio, urged a return to philosophy that took reason seriously. If Augustine christened Plato and Aquinas did the same with Aristotle, modern thelogians are left with nothing, literally.

December 17, 2005

Afterlife of Song in our Grade School Hymnal

From the funny and sad dep't: This song used to be one of the standbys in our Catholic grade school in the '70s. Now it's being used by Reverend Sun Myung Moon's group and the Unification Church.

Never a good sign when a "Christian hymn" is easily assimiliated by the Moonies!
Test Your Knowledge of the Catechism

December 16, 2005

Fictional Friday
Let no foreigner who has attached himself to the Lord say, ‘The Lord will surely exclude me from his people’. Let no eunuch say, ‘And I, I am a dried-up tree’. (Is 53:2-4)
The trees - the trees! - wagged their skeltal winter fingers but we huddled against them and each other for warmth, the warmth of companionship and bonhomie against the frigid wind. Responsibility was a small herb in the kitchen garden then, not the huge shade tree it is now, now that we're battling demons both real and imagined.

We dabbled at irresponsibility beside the Village Green while our elders went about their bustle, their hustle, and you and I wanted to figure it all out beforehand, to walk into it prepared, with all of our equipment on, while never realizing for a moment that to wait to be prepared would be to wait forever.

The words of Isaiah sang to us, the scripture cribbed itself in our blood for we were foreigners in a foreign land and this was the first crack of sunlight. Youth we extended as far as we could, like gamblers who played till the money ran out. We never bought into the system because the system was flawed. How could we feel responsibility when the system was flawed? It never occurred to us that Someone bought into a flawed system. He didn’t wash His hands.

We tramped from Maine to California looking for authenticity while taking care not to infect it with our lack thereof. Wherever we found it we ran from it quickly less we corrupt it, but we saved the sliver we caught and had it laminated at the nearest Kinkos and carried it with us like a totem. We planned on collecting authenticities till we had a "set" although how do you collect a set that was limitless?


I once haunted the rail cars outside Kansas City looking for hobos since I'd read that such folks once existed and I wanted to meet the very last hobo if I could. And I came across an Irish troubador named Makem and I asked for some sort of proof, some sort of Hobo's Union card, and I wasn't sure if he was real shanty Irish. What if his brogue was affected and I didn't know it? How would I know it?

But he sang and talked, and talked and sang, and carried on deep into the night until a convergence of things made me think him real. There were echoes of the hard-living actor Peter O'Toole in his earthy blend of honesty and poetry. It didn't hurt that he was older than the hills since there is something authentic in someone so old, so close to the exit door.

He sang simple songs because he said God was simple and people were complex and he'd rather be close to God than people. I pondered that for a moment, pondered if I much liked simplicity. I thought if I'd had my druthers I'd druther God be complicated. But Makem said that once you go simple, you don't go back. I eventually agreed only because complicated wasn't much working...
Elusive Balance

Excerpts from Fr. Benedict Groeschel's A Still, Small Voice
None of us has a completely accurate picture of Christ; it is not possible. But the Christian Faith and the Scriptures present all that is necessary. The kindly, luminous, and airy picture of the Christ of the [New Age book] A Course in Miracles is only half the picture. One may be so attached to this consoling vision that one may forget the Christ who preached the Sermon on the Mount and who warned of eternal loss; the Christ who in agony sacrificed his life on the Cross for the salvation of the world.
The opposite...
The incredible blend of saccharine images of the Blessed Mother and the dire warnings that all but a few are going plumb to hell are the obverse of the New Age's false Christ. The one thing that they have over the New Age is a very powerful countercultural criticism which makes them a bit more interesting than the mawkish disciples of Mother Earth...It must be said for the disciples of the angry God and the anguished Virgin that they are Christians in the sense that they believe in all the doctrines of the Church. But they have an incomplete vision of Christ, an angry one which reflects their frustrations and desperation. Forgiveness is not their strong suit, and some followers of these angry people have moved away from them because of their complete ignoring of the counsel of Christ: "Judge not, and you shall not be judged" (Mt 7:1). Like the disciples of the New Age and many followers of A Course in Miracles, angry visionaries and their disciples have a problem way down inside with accepting leadership.
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Cat Actions

I make no apologies for this post since, as you know, the quality of posts at VMPDS decreases as the week wears on. Call it entropy but don't call me late to to dinner (rimshot!). But my wife has such a rich vocabulary when it comes to describing the actions and reactions of our cat that I'm sure you'll agree it deserves to be recorded for posterity's sake:
Head butt - cats, like high school football players, go around head-butting humans and various pieces of furniture for no apparent reason

Breadmaker - this is when they knead dough with their front paws, where the "dough" is a blanket, a pillow, or your groin

Long paw - this is when the cat lays down but has one paw lazily distended

Winky eyes - when they close their eyes and slowly re-open them in a sign that they approve of you and will let you keep them. For now.

Newspaper Assistant - this is the uncanny ability of cats to find the newspaper article you're reading at the breakfast table and set up camp there

Spleen - aka 'kitty spleen', this is when they make a sudden, inexplicable dash ending in a madcap Kramer-like "ta - da!" pose

Sabing - etymological root is 'saber saw', this when the cat drags its saber (canine) tooth against you

Commando puss - this is when you pet the cat and it dips low to avoid the petting, like a commando action figure

December 15, 2005

Hotmail ist Kaputt

Further confirmation of missed emails has gotten on my last nerve. I'll continue to monitor tdsorama -at-- but will change the template to reflect the alternative preferred email address danieloconnaughton - at - , where, of course, " - at - " is replaced by "@". I apologize for the inconvenience.

December 14, 2005

The Past As Foreign Country

Erasmus D. MacMaster

From the story of a 19th century college president:
In addition to a dramatically expanded curriculum and higher academic standards, MacMaster called for renewed emphasis on both moral and intellectual training of students. Instruction was not complete until the teacher had led his charges “to the confines of his science, and at least pointed out its connection with the great terminating science of Religion….” Although Miami was a state institution, MacMaster made it clear that some of her moral education should be overtly sectarian, proudly pronouncing that “God gave me birth as a Presbyterian; and I am not ashamed at my ecclesiastical lineage.”
Now we have the opposite extreme - secular presidents at Catholic institutions, promoting nonsense like the "Vagina Monologues". What a difference a hundred and fifty years makes. History seems a pendulum; we go from one extreme to another*. * - Credit: my dad.
You Might've Thunk...

...that the stork brings us memes, but Gregg the Obscure has created this one ex nihilo. The one thing that I'd like for Christmas from the Church is an encyclical from Pope Benedict XVI.
Discount Items

There are some thoughts hanging around that aren't good enough to make the majors as stand-alone posts but have spent enough time in double A ball to warrant a cup o' coffee. Though you can be the judge of that:
There wasn't anything like this when I lived in that dorm, and I went to a conservative Midwestern school. The poster also supplied condoms, which reportedly disappeared from the board quickly. What does it profit a man to prevent disease of his body while propagating disease of his soul?

When I was a child of four or five, stereos were the size of small boxcars and I thought midgets performed inside. Now, with iPods, the midgets must be the Honey, I Shrunk the Kid size.

I hope country singer Martina McBride is doing well despite having uncharacteristically recorded an album of cheatin', crying-in-your-beer songs. Ever since Springsteen divorced shortly after his "Tunnel of Love" cd came out, you have to wonder at the connection between an artist's personal and professional life.

I wondered if I might be able to tell whether I was a Thomist or an Augustinian by how many times I've mentioned each on this blog. According to the Google search Aquinas won 36-33. I was relieved by the other results: Christ 127, Jesus 117, Mary 30 (after weeding out non-Blessed Mother "Marys"), John Paul II 24, John Henry Newman 24, Mother Teresa 21, Padre Pio 17, Fulton Sheen 15, Thomas More 13

In a celebrity-obsessed culture it's odd that the foreigner is rarely seen as a natural celebrity. I see them so, even if it be an exercise in romanticism. I always want to ask the Hispanic roofers and fast food cashiers inappropriate questions like if they are legal, if not, how did they make it over the border, whether coyotes involved, did they swim the Rio Grande, what's it like to be Catlick in a Catholic culture...

The pentential aspect of Advent is ably enforced by the proliferation of Christmas parties my wife drags me to.

Posting what you dreamt last night is so bloggishly "jumping the shark" that is almost spectrally beautiful in its purity of shark jumping-ness. So...I dreamt last night that I was hiking and a gigantic white bear happened in my path and my instinct was to run but the only avenue of escape was uphill so I didn't move and the bear came up to me and...licked me. Like a dog would.

Exercise in the morning and your metabolism will be higher throughout the day. Pray in the morning and your spiritual metabolism will be higher throughout the day.
Ch-Ch-Cha-Changes... (sing to David Bowie tune)

It's interesting how the personalities or roles of the apostles and saints changed after their conversions.

Paul, having been a Pharisee, becomes the anti-Pharisee, preaching faith instead of the works of Torah.

Peter, having been given tremendous authority but having failed to be a leader during the crucifixion by his betrayal of Christ, took such care not to lord it over his flock that one Baptist pastor told me that Peter didn't have authority since he so exercised it so sparingly.

Augustine, having been sexually promiscuous, became the champion of chastity, such that some think he went too far.

John, the apostle who wants to bring down fire from heaven for smote-ing purposes, becomes the apostle of love.

Mary and John the Baptist both seem to have had nothing to react against. One conceived without sin and the other gifted with the Spirit while in the womb, there seems a sublime consistency.

December 13, 2005

Read of the Perils...

...of putting off for tomorrow what you could do after you get done blogging. Btw, these are the sort of lines I would write if'n I could:
Scarlett O'Hara, who smashed hearts like pomegranetes,...

...wanting nothing but a Tangueray martini and a valium chaser.
Nice. Nothing spices up writing like interesting food and exotic drinks. "Scarlett O'Hara, who smashed hearts like grapes...wanting nothing but a Guinness and a valium chaser" doesn't have quite the same panache.

"The funny thing about lottery tickets," Mary mused as we waited in line at the cash register, "is that people keep buying them even if they never win. Week after week, month after month, year after year, still they never give up hope. But if they pray for something two or three times, they expect immediate results, and if it doesn't happen, then they say that God is unfair, disinterested, or dead. Why is it easier to keep believing in the lottery than in God?" - Diane Schoemperlen, via Julie of "Happy Catholic"

I went to Confession today and got a surprise. After confessing my sins, I told the priest: "I want to make a good Advent." And this 80+ priest gave me a good suggestion. He called it: "Filling Mary's basket"..." Picture yourself helping Mary on her way to Bethlehem... Fill it with stuff that will please both Our Lady, her husband...and most importantly, her Son! Write it down, said my confessor! What can you pack up for Mary as she's on her way to Bethlehem? A vow to avoid altogether those near occasions of sin? A plan to pray the Angelus every day? How about a promise to never gossip about another? The gifts we can put in our "Basket to Bethlehem" are endless. And fun! - The Pew Lady

I've really been avoiding most controversy or comment on controversies. They damage my weltanschauung to such an extent that all my zeitgeist is weltschmerz. - Steven Riddle, who also eschews schadenfreude

It does seem reasonable to think that the fact that women go through a physical change when they have children would change them in some way. When I was a child I watched our cat have kittens, and act a lot like my mom in some ways, with no socialization at all. I think that this goes with my observation of women I know (including my mom) being surprised by the impact motherhood has on them. Yet whether this change should be properly characterized as love, is an interesting question. The fact that Christians and Jews have traditionally identified God as Father suggests that they see paternal love as somehow more congruent with agape, maybe precisely because it’s less of an animal instinct …? Hmmm. - Camassia

So, today's [ten best things to buy] list was about DVDs--and it was broken down into...different categories. Want to know what was listed first under romantic? Sex and the City first four seasons DVD collection. Sex and the City? I can think of nothing less romantic than that. Has it come to this? A corruption of romance to the point where romance = sex? Bleah. - MamaT of Summa Mamas

The core of Christian remembrance is not individual prayer at home, is not a family meal, but joining oneself to the prayer of the Church. - Amy Welborn

The term "conservative Catholic" makes my teeth hurt. You're either a faithful Roman Catholic or you're not. This isn't a political's essentially a moral one. The rules are clear. The notion that following the rules makes one a "conservative" is as absurd as is the notion of breaking them makes one a "liberal." - The Pew Lady

He said: "I don’t know why you wear a bra…not like you have anything." She said: "Well, you wear pants don’t you?" Poor lad, didn’t stand a chance after that. - High school teacher Cowpi, reporting overheard conversation in lunch line

The Catholic rejects the doctrine of sola scriptura because it is contrary to God's word. To embrace it would, on the Catholic view, amount to subordinating God's word (what God has revealed about his truth and how it is presented in the Church) to what the Catholic regards as a human idea. This is also exactly why the traditional Protestant affirms sola scriptura and rejects Tradition and the Magisterium: he thinks that they elevate a merely human word over the divine word. Thus, the opposite positions Catholics and Protestants take on Scripture, Tradition, and Magisterium are based on the same underlying principle, the supremacy of the divine word over the merely human word. The disagreement is over exactly how God intends the supremacy to be upheld. - Mark Brumley

I remember a few years ago, in one of the annual “consumerist Christmas” discussions, Richard Hall remarked that there’s nothing wrong in principle with celebrating Christmas somewhat carnally, since it is after all the feast of the Incarnation. The problem, he said, is the rest of the year — we indulge so much the rest of the time that Christmas turns into an orgy. Which I think is why I’ve found that as a grownup, Christmas is less and less about gifts and more and more about family. We mobile coastal Americans are to a great extent in the reverse position of our forbears. The premoderns were with their families all the time, but only on special occasions did they get to indulge in big meals and new possessions. People like me are drowning in stuff, but we only get to see our families once in a while. (Hell, this can be sort of true even when you live with them.) So holidays have, to a great extent, become occasions to see family — interruptions in all those other factors that keep families apart. There is, in fact, a great need for Get Together With Family occasions. But since that need is only recent, there are no new calendrical institutions for it, so they take over the old ones as the liturgical calendar recedes. I hope someday I can work out space in my life for both, but as it is, I make my choices. - Camassia

There are certainly risks in this Catholic imagination, superstition and idolatry among others -- though it does make the world a warmer and a more human place. Gibson's imagination is certainly Catholic, though perhaps with a certain masochistic twist. In his retelling of the Gospel in allegorical form, C.S. Lewis goes back to the miracle and morality plays of the Middle Ages, in a sense as if the Reformation never happened. However, I think someone should warn the evangelicals that they are playing with, one should excuse the expression, fire. They are drifting into an imaginative world where the Whore of Babylon lives and dominates. - Andrew Greeley

Actually, if I read "scratch an atheist and find a fundamentalist", I'd be thinking, "Yes, most of the atheists I know seem to interpret the Bible in a literal way." Which is odd, because most of them aren't from fundamentalist backgrounds. But most of them also don't seem to have gotten much in the way of Biblical or religious instruction in their youth, or they've ignored it in favor of some kind of science-based literalism. So perhaps the literal reading (a more literal one than most fundamentalists', since they really don't understand what the Bible's getting at) is the only one they have. - Maureen of Suburban Banshee

A true anti-liberal has to pretty well forswear the internet, as I do. Remember, these messages are all keyed in by Smogarian peasants and others who recieve my ink-bespattered parchments via carrier-pigeon. (The peasants are spared contamination as they cannot read in any language, and their keyboards have been alterred to harness the energy of their typing to power their community's hydroponic barley-farm.) - The New Pantagruel
Brumley's Quote

Elena brings news of harsh words directed at a Mormon blogger for no apparent reason. The attackee writes:
You can rip on my writing all you want and it won’t make me cry. But there are two things I must ask you never to do, post angry hateful things about my most sacred core beliefs or say horrible nasty things about my family.
Most of us can relate to her moving cri de coeur. I'm sympathetic and find her request reasonable. But in Mark Brumley's book about apologetics he says we shouldn't get defensive even though that is easier said than done:
Defending the faith is not supposed to be about us but about God and his truth. We should not defend Catholicism because our Church is being attacked; that is the attitude of the nationalist or sectarian. Still less should we be defensive because our personal beliefs are challenged - as if the Catholic faith were merely a matter of our private philosophy of life or personal theology. No, we should defend the Church because we love God and the Church belongs to him, and because we love our neighbors, and the Church - on the Catholic view - is the God-given means of bringing people into full communion with Christ, the only Savior.
The context suggests that those who attacked the Mormon blogger's beliefs were not doing so out of love.
Save "Rookie" Williams!
"You Can Live if it Costs Me Nothing"

One might ask why the death of over one million babies a year commands far less attention than the death of a score of death row inmates.

And that's easy: Because it's easy on us. And it's all about us after all.

To be against the death penalty costs me - and society - nothing. "Tookie" Williams wasn't going to get out of jail. He wasn't going to kill again. And the cost of his trials and appeals far exceeded the cost of feeding and clothing him at state expense. This was easy. The protestors knew that neither their behavior or money was on the line. And so they ignore the innocent million and have a media circus over the guilty few. By all means let's end the death penalty, but let's not kid ourselves where the real problem lies.

To be against abortion costs. It costs men who want sex without consequences because if abortion were prohibited women would be less likely to take chances. It costs the young mother who has to deal with nine months of pregnancy followed by either years of care or the unnatural pain of separation in the form of an adoption. Homes for unwed mothers cost. Foster care costs. Yet abortion is far more expensive. It robs the woman of her conscience and her peace of mind, having to always live with the knowledge that she killed her own child. And most of all it costs a person their entire life.

Protestors outside courtrooms who think that holding candle-lit vigils are effective are fooling themselves because we see that it costs them little. So too the blogger who posts this post, because this costs me nothing. People are only influenced by the example of someone's privation for another, which is why Christ had to come to earth and die. The lack of that example - of our example - is why over a million children who live in a geographically dangerous place called the 'womb' are killed.

December 12, 2005

Gift Book Buyin' Blues

I buy a book for you, but then I want it too,
Said I buy a book for you, but thens I want it too.
I got the book-buyin' blues
Two for you and one for me,
I got the book-buyin' blues.
I read a book I have, but you'll need it for your lav.
I read a book I have and ya know you'll need it for your lav.
(That's lavatory, man)
I got de book-buyin' blues
One for you and two for me,
I got dem book-buyin' blues....
I get home late one evenin'
and our Visa bill is max'd,
she tells me no more books
so I play this mournful sax...
I got de book-buyin' blues
One for you and one for me,
I got dem book-buyin' blues....
From the Weekend's Reading

John Updike writes shrewdly of a character wooing his wife in a short story called, appropriately enough, "Wife-Wooing":
There is no more praise of my heroism in fetching Sunday supper, saving you labor. Cunning, you sense, and sense that I sense your knowledge, that I had hoped to hoard your energy toward a more primal spending. We sense everything between us, every ripple, existent and nonexistent; it is tiring. Courting a wife takes tenfold the strength of winning an ignorant girl...

I lie against your filmy convex back. You read sideways, a sleepy trick. I see the page through the fringe of your hair, sharp and white as a wedge of crystal. Suddenly it slips. The book has slipped from your hand. You are asleep. Oh, cunning trick, cunning. In the darkness I consider...

[The next evening] I am taken by surprise...when at the meaningful hour of ten you come with a kiss of toothpaste to me moist and girlish and quick; an expected gift is not worth giving.
Jesus Yes, But Hold the Miracles

Amy writes about a Harper's article portraying a man who's lost his faith. She asks why those who don't believe in Christ feel the need to fabricate a version that is so banal and contra-historical?

It's a good question. What's in it for them? And why is it so predictable that Harper's would publish an article like this? Why is it unthinkable that they would publish an article promoting faith in Christ?

Perhaps because if Christ performed miracles then He has power. If He has power, then he might have power over us. It's in the interest of stridently secular publications to weaken faith in a powerful Christ because that has political ramifications, which, in the absence of God, is all they've got. Undermining Christian faith is a way to eliminate an argument in the public square, therefore having one less voice (that of Christ) to contend with. If God offers only fortune cookie bromides then it would seem we're in control.
Interesting Posts

Post from Amy regarding church services on Christmas.

Also, contrarian Tom objects to the theology behind the Narnia tales, saying that the Trinitarian aspect is lost, Aslan's death afforded only natural (not eternal) life, and there appeared to be no reason for the lion's incarnation. Explanatory posts here, here, and here.
A PSA for Swisher Sweet Smokers

I'm always surprised at being surprised. Afterwards I ask myself how to have not been surprised, as if surprise is something you can anticipate. But that's sort of oxymoronic. But there it was. I was driving home from work like any other night, smoking a cigar while listening to the cheerful Irish chunes. A little bit o' heaven.

A few minutes later I notice an odor, like someone's burning leaves. I check the ash tray and there's nothing happening there. I figure it's coming from outside. I open the window a little wider, sniffing. Next thing I know my eyes are burning and the darkened car is filled with smoke. Dang nab, the car's afire! She could blow! Scottie what'll I do? How long can I ride 'er?

And yet why isn't there any smoke coming out the hood? It appeared to be coming from the steering wheel column.

I opened the window even wider but the smoke became heavier so I pulled over and took the keys out of the ignition. I try several times to call the local Ford dealer, to see what they think it might be (low on steering wheel fluid cause this?). Meanwhile the cab of the truck continues to huff and puff.

They tell me to bring her in and so I reluctantly re-enter. By this time it's not too bad. Two minutes and I'm at the dealership getting out of the truck when I notice...a pile of ash...a nearly burnt-up CD...

Yes a cigar ember hit some paper and the rest was history. Embarrassing.
Happy Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe

See posts by Julie, Josue, and Daniel Vitz.

December 11, 2005

Luse Posts Again!
From It's an Odd World Dep't

Many retail stores are avoiding the C-word (Christmas) even though the bulk of their clientele are Christians. Meanwhile the local stripjoint on Cleveland Ave., whose clientele is presumably not primarily composed of devout Christians, advertises a VIP Christmas (not holiday) party tonight. Purveyers of porn apparently desire the imprimatur of respectability, while the respectable desire the imprimatur of secularity.
Genesis and Gravity and Original Sin

There was a line in John Allen's book about how some at the Vatican were surprised that Americans were surprised by the priest abuse scandal: "What, many Vatican officials wondered, is the revelation? Are Americans just discovering in 2002 that priests too are marred by Original Sin?"

Original sin is difficult to understand in light of the regeneration of Baptism. The effects linger though the sin is cured? And then an analogy occured. In Genesis, after the Fall, the effects of Adam's sin lingered but God did not forsake them. Adam and Eve recognized they were naked, i.e. vulnerable. Before the Fall they thought themselves to be invulnerable for they walked with God and obeyed God and we are invulnerable when we are with God. But when they sinned they immediately understood they were vulnerable to death. But when God clothed them in leather (I'm trying hard to avoid a Ricardo Montalban reference here), he made them less vulnerable to the elements. And though life was hard, the garment and toil required for food allowed them a physical life where an immediate physical death was justified. Similarly we are clothed by God in Baptism and given a chance at eternal life that would otherwise be unattainable. We are also made less vulnerable to the earthly elements of Satan and death.

I recall someone saying that if gravity were intermittent we would complain about it constantly. It weighs us down and makes movement harder. And yet no one complains about it because it's a given, a constant. (And without struggling against gravity our muscles atrophy.) Similarly original sin is for us a given. It is part of the climate like gravity.
The Other Definition of Holy

Somewhere in my early religious ed I recall the word "holy" meaning "set apart". It's only of late that I've learned it also means the slightly different (rimshot!) connotation of "other" or "different". And occasionally I catch glimpse of just how other other can be.

I think I was ten or eleven days into my career when I put up a sign in my cubical that said, "Only 10,282 days till retirement!". That sentiment is pretty much antithetical to Christ's view of his mission in saving souls. Jesus wasn't clicking off days until he could get back to his "real life" with the Father. St. Alphonsus Liguori writes:
The love of Jesus Christ for human beings was so great that it made him long for the hour of his death so that he might show the tenderness of his love for them. During his life, he said, "There is a baptism with which I must be baptized, and how great is my anguish until it is accomplished!" (Lk 12:40).
St. Térèse of Lisieux wrote that she would "spend Heaven doing good upon the earth". Very other. (I was thinking more along the lines of heading for the beer tent.) And country crooner Patty Loveless recorded a song that illustrates another aspect of God's otherness - his willingness to constantly let us try again:
Who keeps on trusting you
When you been cheating
Spending your nights on the town
Who keeps on saying
That she still wants you
When you're through runnin' around
Who keeps on lovin' you
When you been lyin'
Sayin' things that ain't what they seem...
Well God does
But I don't
God will
But I won't
And that's the difference
Between God and me

December 09, 2005

I really shouldn't... reading this. It defines the phrase "guilty pleasure". It's the sort of book you don't want to give to those more or less pious than yourself, which tends to narrow the field. I had resisted buying it for several months because I thought the book would be too jejune and sophomoric for me. What did Emerson say about knowing thyself?
On the Carmelite Order: "The order's initials are O.C.D. That's Providence, not coincidence."

On John of the Cross: "John doesn't even address the soul steeped in worldliness and struggling with ordinary sins; he assumes that his readers are already pious, devout and perfectly orthodox. Having narrowed his audience down to a sliver, he proceeds to warn them of all the further dangers they'll face on the road to God..."

On St. Joseph: "the Rodney Dangerfield of saints"

Regarding Our Lady of Guadalupe feast: "The religious dogmas of the Aztecs were so dark and pessimistic, they make the Left Behind books seem appealing."

      Jim Borgman, Cincinnati Enquirer
Dec. 9 - Archbishop Fulton Sheen

The great evangelist died twenty-six years ago today. From the Archbishop Sheen Foundation website:
Only God can bring about the canonization of a saint. As St. Anthony of Padua once put it, “Saints are like the stars: they shine when God wants them to!” Every newly canonized saint is a great gift of grace to the Catholic Church and the world. But God wants us to ask Him for this grace. This is why all the prayers petitioning Almighty God to raise His servant, Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen, to the honor of the altar become a powerful spiritual force that will move the Heart of God to grant the fervent request of His People.
Intercessory prayer:
Eternal Father, You alone grant us every blessing in Heaven and on earth, through the redemptive mission of Your Divine Son, Jesus Christ, by the working of the Holy Spirit.

If it be according to Your Will, Eternal Father, glorify Your servant, Archbishop Fulton John Sheen, by granting the favor I now request through his prayerful intercession (mention your request here). I make this prayer confidently in Jesus' Name, through the merits of His Passion, Death and Resurrection. Amen.