December 30, 2006

Excerpt from Ratzinger's Truth and Tolerance

Along with GK Chesterton, Cardinal Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict) is the author I'd most like to have read all of without having actually to read it all. How could anyone anyway given his prodigious output? (Here insert Jackie Mason shrug & hopeless look.) But one can dabble, so I checked Truth & Tolerance out of the library. Here's a nugget:
If we set the principal actors in the covenant-event of Israel against the religious personalities of Asia, then first of all we feel remarkably uncomfortable. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Moses, with all their wiles and tricks, with their ill-temper and their inclination to violence, seem at least quite mediocre and pathetic next to someone like Buddha, Confucius, or Lao-tzu, but even such great prophetic characters as Hosea, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel are not entirely persuasive in such a comparison...

Disputing about the "scandal" makes no sense here; it merely opens the way to the real question. From the point of view of the history of religions, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob really are not 'great religious personalities'...For here, in contrast to mysticism, God is the one who acts, and it is he who brings salvation to man. Once again, it was Jean Danielou who astutely perceived this. What he has to say about this deserves to be quoted at length. "For syncretism," he says,
Those who are saved are the inward-looking souls, whatever the religion they profess. For Christianity, they are the believers, whatever level of inwardness they may have achieved. A little child, an overworked workman, if they believe, stand at a higher level than the greatest ascetics. "We are not great religious personalities", Guardini once said; "we are servants of the Word." Christ himself had said that St. John the Baptist might well be "the greatest among the children of men", but that "the least among the sons of the kingdom is greater than he" (see Lk 7:28). It is possible for there to be great religious personalities in the world even outside of Christianity; it is indeed very possible for the greatest religious personalities to be found outside Christianity; but that means nothing; what counts is obedience to the Word of Christ.
It could be at once objected that in Christianity, too, there is a distinction between the saint and the ordinary worshipper, between the mystic and the ordinary believer, for whom the direct experience of God is inaccessible. There is no doubt that this distinction exists, but it is secondary. It does not distinguish between two kind of religion, between the possession of religious reality and mere borrowed piety that has to make do with symbols because the power of mystical absorption is lacking...If the decisive thing is, not one's own religious experience, but the divine call, then in the last resort everyone who believes in that call is in the same situation: each is being called in the same way. While in mystical religion the mystic has "firsthand" and the believer "secondhand" religion, here just God alone deals at "first hand". All men without exception are dealing at second hand: servants of the divine call.

December 29, 2006

The Week in Review, Coupled With Various Comments & Asides of (Greatly) Varying Worth.

Wednesday morning found me in full hustle-bustle mode, wanting to make the family room pluperfect. Yet the old TV was deceptively heavy as I moved it outside to the trash; it's objectively heavy weight was coupled with, what, poor technique? A lack of bent knees? Age, heaven forfend? Afterwards I had plenty of time to try to figure out what I did wrong because it takes only a moment to ruin your day with a crippling pain in the lower back. Sin is like that too isn't it? For the rest of Wednesday and most of Thursday I would not be able to move without pain although the recovery time was shortened by Advil, ice packs and that a magnet belt I wore so tightly around my waste during that it acted like a tourniquet cutting off the blood flow. (I briefly worried about its longterm effect on...nevermind.) I used the injury as an excuse to read long and languidly of “Shadowplay” by Clare Asquith, the author having a particularly patrician-sounding name for one making the argument that Shakespeare was a recusant. (I'd always thought if Shakespeare was a Catholic it was beside the point since contemporary lit crits deem him a nihilist; Joseph Pearce sees reports of the Bard's nihilism a case of lit crits projecting their (lack of) belief on him.)

Thursday after breakfast we hit the road for a quick stop at Walmart and bought a replacement for the bathroom caddy that had ingloriously collapsed after 8 years. It had slowly rusted and for the past year had rested on a very slender reed indeed, a fraction of its former self. I thought it almost a miracle the way it hung on, something destined for Ripley's Believe it or Not! fame. Of course I was proud that I was alert enough to catch it when it fell and was glad it happened while on vacation with leisure to buy a new one. (One that won’t rust.) Then it was on to Barnes & Noble’s for a marathon session to determine which books to buy in lieu of the gift books I'd received but already had. Hours later I’d chosen "Elizabeth: The Struggle for the Throne" by David Starkey, “Paris to the Moon" by Adam Gopnik, and “The Politically Incorrect Guide to American & British Literature”. Back home on this sun-gilt day I worked on the new bathroom caddy after which we walked around the block a few times, my bad back semi-restored. I'd thought that my back pain was my "get-out-of-Bingo free" card, where bingo is synonymous with jail, but the team leader called with an emergency -- too many people wanted to throw away their money to too few people. That happens. So I went in, wishing I'd hurt my back on Thursday morn instead of Wednesday...

Friday came and I felt underread given the splendor of books surrounding me, yet I picked out a sleeper: “American Brew”, the story of American beer, and I read it outside, if you can believe it, outside in the warm sunshine of a Dec. 28th day. If this isn't global warming then it felt close enough for guvmint work. My wife and I had started the day with a simultaneous idea: let’s check out the new Donut shop. (Great minds...) And so we there we went and I was immediately disappointed. The cupboard was bare as old mother hubbard would say. We settled for what few donuts they had, which were uncommonly good. Bad donuts at this mom & pop were better than good donuts elsewhere. Or maybe I was just hungry. We had coffee as the owners told us of their struggle to make it a going concern. He’d been there since 10pm the previous night, which beggars the imagination and certainly puts the lack of donuts at 10am in perspective. One can’t fault the fact that someone who hand-makes every donut can’t have enough donuts at any given moment. He'd gone the corporate route before as an accountant and was distressed by the lack of interaction with other people; said that he could go two days without a phone call or visit. I thought that was…shall we say…less than horrific. I did find horrific, by contrast, the hours he works.

It’s the 29th of December -- do you know where your Christmas lights are? Too many in our neighborhood have packed it in and called it a holiday. Apparently the “twelve days of Christmas” have been been truncated to four on account of I don’t know what. If our ancestors celebrated Christmas from the 24th into January it appears Americans tend to celebrate it Thanksgiving-to-Dec. 26.

Having taken in most of the books recently print, I noticed Jonathon Franzen wrote a memoir. Isn’t that sort of like taking a full-page ad in the NY Times saying “I have writer’s block?”. I mean the guy hasn’t lived long enough for a memoir has he? This has the scent of fulfilling a book contract about it.

I was reading a Bill White post regarding his superior odoration dectection skills and it prompted a recall of picking up Diane Ackerman’s “A Natural History of the Senses” but being unable to read it due to an inability to get past the fine scent of the pages and binding.

December 28, 2006


"She prayed the rosary when times were bad. She prayed the rosary when times were good."
  --Fr. Jim
Now her long slog of ninety-five years has ended, and the constant passing of rosary beads through her hands has passed. Who will take her place? The world exists on the back of pray-ers. Did I not pray the rosary more fervently when I knew that she, in a stupor of sleep the past two weeks, could not? It always got me that we could interrupt her rosary with a visit and she’d smile and greet us with joy. Ironically (given the activity), to be interrupted during prayer tends to irritate me.

The poignant part was remembering how hard it was to have six children far from her own family clan. She lived almost always as the outsider, an in-law, an Irish among the Germans back when there was a difference. She gave up her family but for once or twice a year, like the nun who goes to cloister. Six children and no vacations took its toll, and her descendents perhaps couldn’t help but learn the wrong message. Reading the suffering lives of the saints, one might be tempted that the lesson is “don’t get close to God for look what happens!”. Yet the apostles saw Jesus die a horrible death and still lined up for horrible deaths of their own. The bible does say “what’s impossible for men is possible with God”.

Grandma had her prejudices, which I've always longed to share. A German relative said Grandma would’ve preferred my father to have been of Irish heritage, and there’s something funny about that since the Germans generally have more reason for pride than the Irish, given that the Irish tend to be lazier and drunker. But ethnicity is a thing that is going the way of all flesh. Soon we’ll all be so blended that it’ll be beside the point. Grandma might not be the last 100% Irish in America, but she was in a small group. The irony is that she had a hand in further diversifying the melting pot when she married a man who was half-German.

I sometimes thought of how she never read the bible that much (of course, you get a huge dollop at the daily Masses she attended) and how that seems a deficiency (St. Jerome said "ignorance of Scriptures is ignorance of Christ"), and yet her simplicity and faith and her fifteen decades a day suggests she knew God better than most bible scholars.

I thought her a stoic when she really had a very tender heart. What a testimony that her professional caregivers loved her and one of them cried at her death. Nor was her constant light, smiling presence a stoical one. Nor was the fact that K. loved Grandma despite the rebuke-ful letter Grandma once wrote concerning her having children outside of marriage. To rebuke and still be loved is quite an accomplishment. Surely only someone born in 1911 would have the guts to write her granddaughter and express strong disapproval. Perhaps only someone who lived an exemplary life and would not feel hypocritical in doing so?

Uncle T., who always seemed so unsentimental, told his daughter to save the reading (second reading) she did. He wanted a copy. Who saves the readings from funerals? He's a softy after all. The presiding priest said that Grandma’s living monument is not made of stone or anything that can weather but was right here in church – her children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren. And I did get a sense of having been bequeathed a gift through her. That that fragile thing called faith was strengthened in me by her existence. A grandmother is a very special person with a great influence on kids, and fate gave me only one since my other one died before I was born.

My wife said something the night before the funeral, the words a confirmation of what I already knew. That of a small cross I would need to carry, tiny as it was. It was the right thing. Grandma would want it. It was time to leave my comfort zone. I found solace in God. My prayer was often scatter-brained and distracted, not surprisingly, but I knew that God knew I was trying and that’s all he asks. I looked up afterwards at His face on the Crucifix just above the altar and I thanked Him, thanked Him even for this chance to get closer to Him. Don’t you get closer to him only when you walk the tight rope trusting him to see you through (or catching you if you don't)? If one always avoids tight ropes, how does one get closer?

The celebrant preached about how his favorite chalice began to show signs of wear and how he took it to a man who promised to fix it, and how that man tore it apart – only to eventually remake it with a double-plating that would make it last far longer than it did originally. A metaphor for how our bodies are broken down only to be re-made into glorious ones. He also emphasized how this earthly life is like the preface to a book. Not the whole story or even the first chapter. The preface!
The Reality of Flowers

Modern movies are so different from the 1940s/1950s movies. Just watched the 1950 film “The Flowers of St. Francis” (hat tip to Ham of Bone). A lot of people tend to think one age is the same as another, proclaiming there was no “golden age of piety“ but you can’t help but get a sense of how different our time is by watching The Flowers of St. Francis and considering how unlikely something like that would be produced now by someone of the talent of Roberto Rossellini.

Roberto's daughter Isabella (isn't it fun to say 'Isabella', drawing out the syllables Italian style?) says that her father and Italian filmmaker Fellini were at one time close but disagreed profoundly concerning art. Fellini was of course a surrealist and Rossellini a realist and Rossellini thought that fantasy was narcissistic in the protrayal of what you imagine only you have could've thought up. Rossellini, by contrast, wanted to portray what the bulk of humanity was thinking. (I recall writing letters to my grandmother a few years ago and how it eventually dawned on me that I was narcissistically writing for myself, not her, by the use of obscure words and engaging in poetical flights of fancy. She liked to get letters and I liked to write so it seemed like a fine match, but it was only when I started writing more prosaic letters that I think she really appreciated them.)

Isabella said that The Flowers of St. Francis was as close to Fellini's style as her father could could come since there is something very fantastic about St. Francis. That would be God, who is Reality, but who so transcends our limited thinking.

December 24, 2006

Beer Review

AO redeemed himself ten-fold by recommending (and better yet buying for me) something called Old Rasputin, an unbelievably delectable Russian stout. Hoegaarden (aka Woe-be-gaarden) has now been forgotten in Rasputin’s utterly pleasing, rich, dark wake. One instantaneously recognizes its superiority to most beers athough its heaviness and high alcohol content mean it’s not a really a “multi-beer beer”. Still, it’s nice that there is something out there that is both critically acclaimed by beerlovers (and AO) that I can likewise appreciate.

Merry Christmas to all!

December 22, 2006

From Our Bulletin

FROM BISHOP CAMPBELL: Public comment for FDA Guidelines to the pharmaceutical industry for the development of vaccines which treat and prevent the spread of viral diseases. The public comment period for Docket Number 2006D-0383 ends December 28th, 2006.

BACKGROUND: On June 5th, 2005, the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy for Life issued a declaration titled, “Moral Reflections on Vaccines Prepared from Cells Derived from Aborted Human Fetuses.” In the document, the Pontifical Academy urges people of good will to write letters requesting that the pharmaceutical industry produce vaccines that are not connected with cell lines derived from aborted human fetuses.

MESSAGE: Please urge the FDA to implement policies that promote the advancement of morally acceptable alternative vaccines as well as rigorous legal oversight of pharmaceutical industry producers.

To submit comments online, go to here. To email comments, send to
10/23/1911 - 12/22/2006

Requiescat In Pace

December 21, 2006

A Gaudete Sunday Healing

Wow, Kevin Jones has experienced three years of chronic nausea , but appears to have been healed Sunday!
First Things...

From Fr. Neuhaus:

“I don’t know why he has to spoil the season by bringing that up. For him every day is Good Friday.” Her complaint was against Father’s homily, which underscored that the baby Jesus was born to die. Yes, Good Friday, but Easter, too. Although Father insisted that we should not rush to Easter.

In the daily office, the reading for March 25, the Annunciation, exactly nine months before Christmas, is from Leo the Great. “Lowliness is assured by majesty, weakness by power, mortality by eternity. To pay the debt of our sinful state, a nature that is incapable of suffering, was joined to one that could suffer. Thus, in keeping with the healing that we needed, one and the same mediator between God and men, the man Jesus Christ, was able to die in one nature, and unable to die in the other.”
Letters...We Get Letters...

Every once in awhile I like to open up the ol' mailbag, to publish some of the highlights. Call it my way of 'giving back' to the blogging community. (I give and I give.)

  • I received this link, a survey of Christian authors from an evangelical perspective.

  • This came in the form of spam:
    Preface to the 1970 Edition

    To listen, by the sputtering, smoking fire,
    As if your human shape were what the storm
    Thinking of your abiding spirit brings
    And then I go on until I am beneath an archway,
    "Be off!" say Winter's snows;
    —The place the road ends, that patch of white paint
    Over the chilly dale.
    Yes. You'd want that said, (if you
    Brush the lone giant in that somber pall.
    To watch me watch drowned snow lift from the lake.
    Right, and appears from here to be overcome
    Alberti, Brunelleschi
  • [Mr.?] sent a thoughtful missive:
    "Thanks for your order, T. S. O'Rama!

    Want to manage your order online?
    If you need to check the status of your order or make changes, please visit our home page at and click on Your Account at the top of any page."
  • Brother-in-law Greg (the socialist) responded to brother-in-law Chris (the conservative) and cc'd the whole family: "Shhh..Kimberle. don't tell a Republican they are wrong. They may invade another country..."

    Of course, it helps if you've started three wars, gassed your own people, and guffawed at years of U.N. sanctions. Details, schmetails, I know.

  • And finally, Christmas cheer in the form of singing via the inimitable Mr. Luse.
  • The God-Given Brain

    Many years ago, when I was still skeptical of my father's skepticism concerning books ("Don't believe everything you read son" he said, which I merely attributed to his being a non-reader), I read that your afterlife is whatever you think it will be.

    In other words those who believe they'll go to a blissful Heaven will go to a blissful Heaven. Those who believe they'll be reincarnated as slugs will be reincarnated as slugs. Those with a fetish for Purgatory will be purged. In other words, God will fulfil your expectations of truth, although "God" in that sense is too personal. He's not into decision-making; that doesn't have that 'elegant simplicity' to it, so rather you will go where you want to go as designed by that "Force" or "Power" of the universe.

    This is Relativism run amuck but a perfectly modern heresy. It's probably an outgrowth of learning so much about the power of our own brains. From nature to nuture - from John Derbyshire to Norman Vincent Peale - we've learned how extraordinary the brain's influence is upon us and thus have begun to raise it to the level of a deity. Man will worship and attribute supernatural powers to that which heavily influences his natural life as was done with the sun in ancient times. Given this, Terri Schiavo didn't have a chance.

    The cumulative impact of science, including much junk science, can't be neglected. It's said that cancer doctors are more likely to get cancer because they think about it all the time (i.e. you are what you think). And was it Heisenberg who wrote that observation alone (i.e. sentience; brain function) can change an outcome? Derbyshire believes everything is heritable including the "National Review" gene, identified by the geno project as meaning you'll be likely to read NR. (Ok I jest. But slightly.)

    The Judeo-Christian revelation is exactly the opposite of the what the world tells us. That God is personal. That God loves us. That God judges us. And that He rescues us from 'outside the system'. The idea of rescue is especially foreign to those who believe in the deity of the Brain since they look over the vast sum of history and imagine the only moments of salvation were scientific in nature. They see only the ameliorative interventions of science ('...and then the cause of cholera was discovered...') not the interventions of God. They see only the material, not the spiritual. And whenever we choose to sin we too are sharing in that heresy.

    December 20, 2006

    My Ratings Ploy

    I heard that Donald Trump, after a multi-day waiting period during which he solomonically considered whether or not to fire Miss USA for conduct unbecoming, announced at a press conference yesterday that the young miss will be allowed to continue her reign.

    Is that not perfect? This is why Trump gets paid the big bucks. Now instead of five people paying attention to the pageant you have at least twenty.

    So, taking a page out of the Trump marketing book, I will announce next Tuesday whether or not I will fire myself as a blogger. Should I be fact fired, the second in command, Ham o' Bone, will take over.

    Stay tuned!

    Update: Doh! I just ruined my ratings ploy by the title of this post. You can't tell everyone it's a marketing ploy and expect the number of viewers/readers to spike!

    When The Lord of the Rings came out, I spoke at secular universities around the United States and we'd have a talk - the "Tolkien Code" or "Unlocking The Lord of the Rings" - and there'd be 250 or 300 people who would turn up and they would get unadulterated, undiluted Catholic theology for an hour and they would nearly all stay after, agog and amazed. If you put out "Come & Learn About the Catholic Church" twenty would turn up, nineteen of whom would be committed Catholics. So you see the power of the culture to evangelize the culture. If it's true of Tolkien it's certainly true of Shakespeare. People aren't going to stop reading Shakespeare. Now if we can prove and show that Shakespeare was a militant Catholic it forces us to re-read the plays from that perspective. It forces the academy, all over the world, to look at Catholicism in order to understand Shakespeare...Shakespeare, in the culture war, is a weapon of mass reconstruction.

    - author Joseph Pearce, at a talk at the Coming Home Conference
    Another Catlick Reading List
    A Christocentric Moment

    You've heard Pope John Paul II mention how the Marian doctrines are Christ-centric, and here's an illustration of how that is demonstrated. Link here, (via Curt Jester):
    Back when I was in my 20s, I read How Then Shall We Live by Francis Schaeffer. He lays the blame for the fires of the Reformation at the feet of Thomas Aquinas. I had also been taught that to include Mary in the equation any more than two weeks around Christmas was idolatrous.

    Right around February and March of 2005 as we were starting to “nibble” at Mass, I went to a Border’s bookstore in the Hamilton mall near Atlantic City. And I love photography.

    Well, right next to P for Photography is R for Religion. I saw a book of sermonettes by Thomas Aquinas from Sophia Press. I pulled it out, popped it open to his teaching on “Hail Mary, full of grace.” And he asked the question, “How full of grace would the mother of Jesus Christ be?” This is the only time an angel has accorded a human being this kind of honor. I found it such a poignant, thoughtful question, beautifully stated and in no way idolatrous.

    It was completely, profoundly Christ-centered. And it made me consider Mary as the singularly most Christ-centered person who has ever lived. Not just in her head and in her heart, but literally, in her womb.

    I just grabbed the book, I bought it, and went out and read it to my wife in the car, and we both looked at each other … We had just gone to Mass a couple times … and now this was Aquinas, the guy who was to blame for the Reformation … I find out that he’s not an idolater. This guy is truly a Church father. And what he had to say about Mary, well, I devoured it.
    The 411 on the 419s

    One of the hats I wear is 'scholar of 419 scammer emails', mostly those originating from Nigeria and West Africa. You can watch their evolution as they slowly market themselves to an American audience.

    Only a couple years ago there was never a spiritual or Christian reference to be found. It was strictly a business transaction. Now more than half come titled "Beloved in Christ" or something like and are sprinkled throughout with "give God the glory", only to meander to the familiar "xx Million in U.S. Dollars" punchline. I don't much like the Christian references and the scholarly work has lost its flavor (on the bedpost over night). It feels like a sacrilege.

    One can always tell a scammer mail by that tell-tale verbiage but how long before that goes? They must know that we know what are the dead giveaways in the scams, and how long will it be that their scams evolve to a point of much greater subtly?

    A friend has a problem with depression, and it seems inherited given his family history. He just lost his job and thus seems doubly vulnerable. And yet medicine isn't his priority - God's healing is. He goes to faith healing services in part because he doesn't want to have to ask his doctor for free samples of Zoloft. He's understandably tired of begging. It's easier to beg God for something than other human beings.

    One can look at it in two ways. One is that it doesn't hurt to ask God for the favor. But one can also look at it as likely that God will expect us to use the help of other humans, ala the famous joke. Jean Caussade in Abandonment to Divine Providence wrote: "When...without good reason, we wish to dispense with external help, God tells us that such help is an instrument which must be neither casually used nor rejected, but employed sincerely and naturally to serve his designs."

    He says his medicines are the least of his concerns (he also has high blood pressure) and that's what worries me. Isn't this a catch-22? When you're depressed you're not thinking clearly and if you're not thinking clearly you're not liable to take care of yourself or assign the right priorities? Wouldn't the anti-depression medicine help him during the process to find work? Easy for me to say it.

    Judgments can be clouded through no fault of our own but, we can minimize the damage through our will (as the protagonist in the film A Beautiful Mind demonstrated) and with God's help. Mostly we tend to maximize the damage. When I read the Psalms I often have a hard time relating to the many lines that reference the slaying of enemies because aren't we are own worst enemy? I mentally substitute 'save me from myself' rather than 'save me from my enemies' because although I have unseen spiritual enemies, sins are almost definitionally self-inflicted.

    December 19, 2006


    Compassio, which literally means 'suffering with', is another Catholic concept that has undergone a metamorphosis...The main culprit behind the modern retooling of the concept is Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Rather than see compassion as a selfless, even painful habit of goodness, Rousseau praised it as a sweet and essentially onanistic feeling or emotion. Compassion for Rousseau brings with it a sense of elation that we are not the ones who are suffering. Those of us who have been properly reared in the sublimination of our emotions can then demonstrate our own superiority by helping the suffering person, an act that gives us even more pleasure and satisfaction and verifies our natural goodness...As Allan Bloom notes, "Rousseau's teaching on compassion fostered a revolution in democratic politics, one with which we live today." Almost single-handedly Rousseau was able to make his retooled understanding of compassion the benchmark of what it means to be decent. - Michael Foley of "Why Do Catholics Eat Fish on Friday?"

    A grave should have a certain...gravitas, so to speak...and not be tainted by amusement park attractions... When the time comes for me, I hope I can trust my children not to get an animatronic cow involved. - Ellyn of "Oblique House" on Billy Graham's son's plan to bury his father at a museum with a talking cow

    Even the winter solstice celebration gets shifted to a Sunday. - Terrence Berres on news that Bishop Sklba will Celebrate Winter Solstice with Congregation of the Great Spirit, Milwaukee on Dec. 17th

    Not one of the philosophers or systems before him [Christ] had effectually escaped falling either into pessimism, seeing the end of life as trouble and weariness, and seeking to escape from it into some aloofness or some Nirvana; or into optimism, ignoring or explaining away the suffering and trial which, as our first experience and as our last, surround us on every side. But with him, and alone with him and those who still learn and live from and by him, there is the union of the clearest, keenest sense of all the mysterious depth and breadth and length and height of human sadness, suffering, and sin, and, in spite of this and through this, a note of conquest and of triumphant joy. - Friederich von Hugel

    If you look at a majority of Catholic blogs, people simply aren't terribly interested in improving spirituality. They like to argue a lot and speculate and theologize...People just don't want to deal with it because they feel they have nothing to contribute. And THAT is one consequence of poor catechesis. We walk better when we walk together, when we talk and share and try to understand together, when we pray together and when we share the deep spiritual things of our lives. - Steven Riddle of "Flos Carmeli"

    How does a person know if a time of spiritual darkness and dryness is a trial permitted by God or more the result of infidelity to grace? - Sr. Lorraine on Annunciations, suggesting a question for Fr. Benedict Groeschel

    'Power' and 'authority': Pilate and Jesus. Even if, in the short term, power prevails. - dot.commonweal, via Patrick of Orthonormal

    The social gospel and the state cannot be married because the government cannot love you. This is not a metaphysical point but a practical one. States cannot love individuals in much the same way deck furniture cannot write poetry: it is not in their nature. It cannot be done. And when people attempt otherwise, horrible folly ensues. Gerson thinks the victims of Katrina got that way because of the indifference of the State. I would argue that a more likely culprit (or at least accomplice) was a State that tried to love them and hurt them in the process. - Jonah Goldberg of NRO

    My father...gave me a "pep talk" after I had just lost a fight. I had to box the same fighter again two or three days later, and I was despairing. He found me in the bathroom retching, seemingly ruined. This was at a time when we barely spoke, and if we did, it was usually in pursuit of an argument. How easy it would have been for him not to mount those stairs to the second floor. Or to simply walk on by when he heard me inside. Or to think, "I'll just pray for him; he needs to go through this alone." But he didn't do that. He knocked on the door, scooped me up in his arms with words of comfort and inspiration, and changed my life. Winning that second match changed everything. It just did. School was always easy, but sports never was. For the first time in my life I had faced a true challenge and overcome it. "So this is confidence," I thought. And he helped give it to me. - Rich Leonardi of "Ten Things"

    -Christmas novena from "Nunblog"(

    Keep the Mass in Christmas: We may be overly familiar with this Christmas story to notice what it might be telling us. What exactly is a sign? It is not an end in and of itself but rather points to a greater reality. What is the sign the shepherds are told they will witness? They are told that they will find an "infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger." A manger is a feeding box for animals. We are told that it is a "sign", what they witness points to something beyond the experience of the birth of Christ to something else. When the angels leave, the shepherds say, "Let us go, then, to Bethlehem to see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us." The key phrase here is "Bethlehem" which literally means "house of bread". "Let us go to the House of Bread to see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us." All of this is how the Gospel of Luke begins, but how does it end?... He takes bread, says the blessing, breaks it, gives it to them, then physically vanishes from their site. Luke tells us quite blatantly, for the really dense reader, that they recognized Him in the "breaking of the bread". - Michael of Annunciations

    Adam! Adam, look up!
    Your Maker has become your son.
    Adam, blush with shame at the extremity to which your sin has brought Him!
    Your fall brought death and the bondage to death for all who followed you. His descent and willing acceptance of death will bring freedom for you and all who follow Him....When He comes to where you lie, then He will take your hand and lead you forth.
    See Him now as He comes to set you free.
    Adam, look up!
    Your deliverance is now at hand.
    Adam, rejoice at the love He shows to all your race!
    - Henry of "A Plumbline in the Wind"

    December 18, 2006

    Oh Time, You Love Me, You Really Love Me!

    Inspired by this, which parodies this.

    Literature Map!
    Today's Grab Bag

    FYI: just two copies of The Two Towers remain - get 'em while they're hot!

    Politicians are in a tough spot.

    If they're poll-driven and flip-floppy, we see them as without principle, ambitious for themselves, and generally useless, since you or I or anyone else can simply lead by giving people what they want.

    If they're not flip-floppy, then we see them as stubborn, wrong, and perhaps disconnected from reality or not in touch. It's rare we find a politician with principles who is often right. Ronald Reagan was perhaps the last one.

    So I suppose it's not suprising there's a possibility the '08 Republican primary will come down between someone mostly principled (McCain) and someone mostly poll-driven (Romney), the latter whom in a 1994 letter promised that he would be more aggressive than Senator Kennedy in pushing for gay rights and now is supposedly the social conservative's doyen. Guiliani has said that he's not going to bend to the will of Republican primary voters on the social issues, so that puts him in the McCain camp -wrong, but principled.

    What does it mean that Christmas has begotten scores of some of the most beautiful lyrics and melodies while Easter has so relatively few? As a child I could perhaps be excused for thinking Christmas more important than Easter.

    One thinks of poets and songwriters as canaries in coal mines, prophets as it were, perceiving the real truth of things. But are they wrong? Are all the songs of the child Jesus rather than the adult Jesus a sign of wanting a Christ we can conform in our own image?

    And why was Plato so against poetry again?

    (Here I just conflated poetry, a literary genre, with poetry in the larger sense, the "rightness" or "justness" of a thing. I recall Malcolm Muggeridge had difficulty believing in the virginity of Mary but he admitted the essential rightness of it, the poetry of it. But it's not either/or. I believe in "the myth that came true", God being born as a man to a virgin.)

    The 1962 Missale came and was a disappointment, two thousand pages but mostly a museum piece and not easily integrated into daily life. The Liturgy of the Hours was golden though; I got the Advent edition, and I can see I’ll need Lent's edition for sure. Prayers aplenty, they even have readings from Church Fathers on Advent weekdays, and St. Ignatius compared Mary & Eve and it was edifying such that I read it will walking into work. Both Mary & Eve were born without sin – why was one obedient & the other not? Mary had one advantage – she could see the effect of sin via observation of others. She knew the downside of sin. It plays out in our own lives when so often we rebel for a period of our lives before returning to God. We learn the downside of sin – that there’s no 'there' there – and then are converted (though still sinful).

    If it takes money to make money, it takes faith to have a lot more faith. Witness what Jesus said about more will be given to those who have much and what little will be taken from those who have little. But our Lord also said, “if you have faith of a mustard seed…” which is extremely consoling. It always feels cheap to 'cherry-pick' the verses you like and emphasize those in your mind, but we all do it.

    If I didn't know her past (the Columbus Dispatch), it would be easier to swallow her present. Today's front page article was typical of her under new management, an editorial masquerading as a news item while missing a key point along the way.

    For example, how could anyone write a long article about Gov. Bob Taft without mentioning he raised taxes? That's like writing about Castro without mentioning Communism.

    He raised taxes on beer
    he raised taxes all year,
    he raised taxes on boats,
    he raised taxes on floats.
    He raised taxes on internet sales,
    he raised taxes on hardware nails,
    he raised taxes on massages,
    he raised taxes on corsages.

    I suggest that part of Governor Taft's unpopularity was due to his tax-raising. Certainly the reason the Cato Insitute gave him an "F" wasn't due to scandals. He signed the largest tax hike in state history, reneging on a campaign promise not to raise taxes without a vote by the people. The Dispatch says that history will treat him better and that's likely true because historians are academics, and academics live off the public teat and thus vested to Big Gov't, so broken campaign promises are seen approvingly as evidence of "evolving in office" if the evolving is done towards big gov't.

    Yes history may well judge him kindly because it's hard to measure what might have been - how much better off Ohio economy's would've been - had he not put he brakes on with taxes. A sluggish economy is not without longterm impact, in the form of the "brain drain" of recent college graduates. Once grads become established elsewhere they're unlikely to come back. It's impossible to measure the longterm loss to Ohio of smart kids who left the state to find jobs elsewhere because of the poor economy.

    In his infrastructure-intensive solution to the problems of education, it's as if Taft was busy building bird houses while at the same time bringing in a large number of cats. One wishes he was more solicitous of human capital by promoting a more business-friendly environment in Ohio for a change.

    From time to time I check in on (i.e. google) Robert McLiam Wilson since I'm worried for him. His Eureka Street was a great success ten years ago but his latest novel was due in 2003. Has his cat neutered the muse? This seems a clear case of writer's block, something I experienced before I wrote my first novel. Call it anticipatory writer's block. I was merely ahead of my time and yes I do feel precocious.

    December 15, 2006


  • I never see In Conversation with God and not momentarily confuse it with the '90s hit Conversations with God. Very different conversations.

  • Haven't read this Calvin & industrial revolution post yet, but it looks interesting. If I had more of that Protestant work ethic I might actually read it.

  • There's something pathetically hilarious about this email offer:
    Last Minute Gifts Ideas from

  • Must I be a curmudgeon? Yes I must. New biblezine via Amy Welborn. What does one notice? Well, numbers. Lots of numbers. 25, 35 and 70+. Everybody likes formulas & surefire scientific methods and numbers convey that. The word "secrets" grabs one's attention because everyone's a closet gnostic these days. "Guys" in bold print. No surprise, the opp sex sells. "Radical". Because traditional is old, and old is bad. "New!" (see previous).

  • Someone should start a betting pool: will Jonah Goldberg or Mark Shea first publish their long-awaited books? Goldberg is writing about the Progressive Era and Shea a book about Mary.
  • Humbling...

    December 14, 2006

    Through the Bloglands*

    In the beginning, there were 1s and 0s, on and offs, bytes blaring their clarity like the trumpets of Jericho. Strung together they represented a single character, neutral in itself, a symbol of sounds or notes: "Let's start at the very beginning, a very good place to start. When you read you begin with A, B, C." The characters arranged formed a word, which conveyed meaning, and the words formed sentences, conveying more meaning.

    And meaning they did -- oh how glorious was that first website! Like a large net it caught all manner of word, their backs gleaming like marlin under the sun. There were jokes, asides, photos, boasts, poems, quotes, Hibernianisms, Romanisms, Holy Writ, evocations of trips, juvenilia and paraphernalia. Basking in the daring public privacy of anonymity I swam like a dolphin through the sea-tossed bits and bytes and 1s and 0s. I liked riddles and hidden doors, so I created nearly unmarked links leading to arched garden paths which in turn led to Poe's poems, linkways discernible only to the most observant which would likely only be me: "It was many and many a year ago / In a kingdom by the sea / that a maiden there lived whom you may know / By the name of Annabel Lee."

    But was it good that man should be alone and his words unshared? If God should take a rib while I wrote I'd not object, and I pseudonymously added my URL to a high school alumni list. Keen was the shock when my identity was uncovered, a fellow grad emailed asking, "are you Stephen Colbert?" by the clues I'd left concerning my name. Vanity thy name is writer! I could not tell a lie and hoped that the forceful ringtones of the gospel didn't turn her off, and truth be told there were visions of conversions dancing in my head.

    I soon happened across - I know not how - the web of a stranger (an heir to Belloc) which was updated often and I fed on it, checked it daily, liked the liveliness of it, her capacity to surprise and the fresh, born-on dating aspect of it. She called it a "blog", an immediate turn-off, for I distrusted any newly coined words that I hadn't coined, thinking them otherwise trendy and I loathed all things trendy.

    She responded to my query explaining that "blog" was a contraction of "web" and "log" and I felt better about it, seeing how two proper Anglo-Saxon words had mated and likely married first. She told me it was reading Andrew Sullivan's blog that inspired her to start her own, and she, in turn, became my own blogmère.

    Soon after I met (virtually) a poet and an engineer. The poet spoke of love and dark nights while the engineer spoke of knowledge and the Cross. How to marry the heart of the poet and the mind of the engineer? ? ...

    * - self-indulgent post alert!
    Premature Giftulation?

    In the annals of blogdom this post might rank with the most trivial, but my wife recently bought me a Christmas present that she can't wait to give me. She says it's the best ever and that I'll never guess what it is and I can really use it and.... She wanted to give it to me immediately, but I refused, traditionalist that I am. (When we were first married, in '99, we always seemed to give gifts weeks ahead of the birthday or event, so I suppose it's semi-traditional to give early.) But I said: "We have to wait till Christmas!" I have the proverbial mixed emotions because who wants to spoil or delay the joy of the giver? On the other hand, shouldn't we recall that gift-giving is about celebrating Jesus's birthday and thus should be on Christmas? On the third hand, how linked is gift-giving with Jesus anyway these days? Ponderous. Trivial, but ponderous.
    Free Books!

    Tom got me in the Christmas spirit with his book offer. (Our Lady and the Church looks especially interesting.)

    Similarly inspired, anyone interested in John Meehan's Two Towers from Requiem Press need only email me for a free copy. Offer good through Dec. 23rd or funds depleted, whichever comes first!

    More info about the book here and here.

    December 13, 2006

    Want to Get This in the Archives

    Or better yet I should put it on my sidebar. This is remarkable - perhaps the world's largest digital image on the web?

    Here are a few amazing details:

    An Examined Life...

    ...examines the Fall, and compares and contrasts Orthodox & Catholic views concerning Original Sin.
    Putting aside the useless ideas of Calvin and the antiquated ideas of the Thirty-nine Articles, we are left with those aspects of Augustinianism that are alleged to be a part of the Magisterium. It seems to me that there is very little, if anything, in [Orthodox] Bishop Ware's account of Original Sin that I, myself, disagree with, and I find myself wondering what it is, precisely, that he has in mind here, other than the traces of Augustinianism that are undeniably a part of many a theological Weltanschauung, when he writes that east and west do not entirely concur on the doctrine.
    Powerful Antidote

    It would seem today's First Reading is an antidote to two of the most prevalent views of God today: 1) that He is distant and aloof ("We are all living in an atmosphere of deism." - Cardinal Ratzinger) or 2) that He is loving but ineffective:

    Isaiah 40:25 - 31

    ‘To whom could you liken me
    and who could be my equal?’ says the Holy One.
    Lift up your eyes on high
    and see who has created these things:
    He leads out their army and numbers them,
    calling them all by name.
    By his great might and the strength of his power
    not one of them is missing!
    Why, O Jacob, do you say,
    and declare, O Israel,
    'My way is hidden from the Lord,
    and my right is disregarded by my God?'

    Did you not know?
    Had you not heard?

    The Lord is an everlasting God,
    he created the boundaries of the earth.
    He does not grow tired or weary,
    his understanding is beyond fathoming.
    He gives strength to the wearied,
    he strengthens the powerless.
    Young men may grow tired and weary,
    youths may stumble,
    but those who hope in the Lord renew their strength,
    they put out wings like eagles.
    They run and do not grow weary,
    walk and never tire.
    Deja Vu

    "Calling George Bush shallow is like calling a dwarf short...Part of Bush's problem is that he is not a well-educated man - he just went to good schools." - Molly Ivins

    "George Bush's success in leading the American public into war might never have been possible without the energetic cooperation of the punditocracy." - Eric Alterman

    "Bush has been so clumsy in advancing his case [for war] as to nearly have discredited it." - Charles Krauthammer

    All of the above refer to George Bush the Elder, #41.
    Islam Fatigue?

    From a Nicholas Kristof column:
    After I wrote recently about reform elements in Islam, I received a long note from a 24-year old Chicagoan, Paul Williams, who ventured what many people feel: "I went to school in Macalester College and the whole time there I wrote paper after paper defending Islam," he told me. Now, he says, after reading the Quran cover to cover and living in Turkey, he has lapsed into political incorrectness. "The more I'm here the more I'm beginning to think that there's just something wrong with Islam," he said.
    Blog Coach Tells Team to 'Blog One for the Gipper'

    <- Coach McNally with oddly clad blogger

    MADISON, WI--Personal blogging trainer/coach John McNally gathered his proteges and urged them to "blog one for the Gipper".

    "I want to see you tackle those arguments, blast through that porous MSM line, go to your adverbs when your main verbs are covered. Remember the fundamentals, men! Noun, verb, noun! Don't get fancy out there.

    "Think about how all those readers up in the stands are cheering for you and would like to be you right now. Well, they're all bloggers too, but you get the idea. Attention to detail! Use that ABC up there, that spell checker. The ref might still blow a whistle but one of the keys to victory is limiting penalties. I want to start the half with a XYZ-Carmeli slant pass to Riddle with an option 30WideDomni to Kreitz. And I want to see more pet posts this half! Don't leave Max as a 'saved draft'.

    "So blog, men! Blog for the shut-ins. Blog for the neighbor who is too busy to blog. Blog for those who through no fault of their own lack opinions or the ability to air them!"

    December 12, 2006

    Honest Listener

    I blogged the other day about how I was blown away in the late '90s by then-Cardinal Ratzinger's honesty, but I think Amy Welborn puts it well today, how he seems more honest because he perceives the root problems:
    One of the points that Michael makes about [Pope] Benedict is this: One of his qualities that really sets him apart, that really lends power to his words is that he gets what the problems are. It's sort of amazing, and it's something that has struck me from the homily at his inauguration Mass, when he spoke of the "deserts" of contemporary life. He gets the big picture. He sees the problems on the ground.

    And perhaps not every one of us would agree with every one of his assessments or solutions. But you have to admit that he's not making stuff up. He's not operating out of a disengaged idealism or a concern about presenting a nice picture of life on the ground so we can look good. It confirms what those who know him have said: he's a listener.
    Open Thread

    Chat away!

    Things Political

  • From the Washington Post!!:
    The contrast between Cuba and Chile more than 30 years after Mr. Pinochet's coup is a reminder of a famous essay written by Jeane J. Kirkpatrick, the provocative and energetic scholar and U.S. ambassador to the United Nations who died Thursday. In "Dictatorships and Double Standards," a work that caught the eye of President Ronald Reagan, Ms. Kirkpatrick argued that right-wing dictators such as Mr. Pinochet were ultimately less malign than communist rulers, in part because their regimes were more likely to pave the way for liberal democracies. She, too, was vilified by the left. Yet by now it should be obvious: She was right.
  • Over at The Corner, Charles Murray says: "Milton Friedman was right: You can't have both open immigration and a welfare state. The tension between the two is inescapable."

  • It's way too early looks like the vote I'll cast in the '08 Republican Primary will likely be the most unenthusiastic primary vote ever in my history. Brownback can't win (and besides he's no Alan Keyes anyway). The only ones who have a shot at beating Hillary or Obama are Guilliani, McCain & Romney. Maybe Southern governor Huckabee, but I've heard he's a tax lover/hiker. I'm leaning McCain. He says he's pro-life and he seems more legitmately pro-life than Romney, who's flipped flop now three times on the issue. But McCain is a maverick, and we've had enough maverickism lately (at least foreign policy-wise). He wants to send more troops to Iraq, which is a complete head-scratcher. Wouldn't it secure Baghdad only as long as those troops were there? I should read his explanation, maybe it'll make sense. Regardless, the McCain-Feingold thing was a joke. He seems like a decent guy if he didn't have these hobbyhorses. If you have hobbyhorses you should at least have the decency to be right about them, and McCain seems to be wrong an awful lot. But I'll probably hold my nose.
  • Our Lady of Guadalupe

    Meditation from The Word Among Us:
    One of the most amazing truths that we are celebrating this Advent is the simple statement that God wants to dwell among his people. It’s a desire of his that echoes through the Scriptures and throughout all of salvation history. The prophets and angelic messengers in Scriptures often reminded God’s people of this foundational truth, and every saint who has come after them testifies to it in his or her life. So why is it that we can feel alone at times—and even more so as the holidays approach?

    At Guadalupe, Mary asked St. Juan Diego: Am I not with you, I who am your mother? While the words at first seem to be a simple message of comfort and encouragement, Mary was also communicating something far more important for the whole church: Each of us is a part of the people of God! In her special role as mother of the church, Mary is telling us what each and every saint in heaven longs for us to grasp—we are not alone! When God sent Mary tell this to the native Americans in Mexico, his love reached through cultural and historical barriers to speak to his people in a language they could understand.

    What about us? No matter where we live, no matter what our family history, we are part of God’s family, with very real connections to heaven. The entire heavenly chorus claims us as their own and rejoices whenever we claim them as our own. We are bound to one another, simply because we are all bound to Christ in baptism. Secure in our heritage, we can walk with our heads held high, knowing that we are children of heaven. We are part of a huge spiritual family!

    Jesus does not expect us to be strong but weak. In our weakness His power reaches perfection (2 Cor 12:9). He does not expect us to be independent and self-sufficient, but rather childlike (Mt 18:3). We don’t need will-power, just willingness. He’ll provide the power and “authority to expel unclean spirits and to cure sickness and disease of every kind” (Mt 10:1). All He expects is that we give as a gift what has been given us (Mt 10:8) by laboring in His harvest (Mt 9:38). Jesus simply expects us to try and keep trying, to believe and receive, to pray and obey. - meditation via Eric Scheske

    My son and I see the Cross of Jesus differently. We both see a hero, someone who loved us so much to die for us. Although my son does not have a true concept of death yet, he does understand in his own way the importance of the Sacrifice. My son sees the Cross with the eyes of a child as something beautiful, something colorful and glorious, something joyful, honorable, and holy. I see the Cross as glorious and holy too, but through the eyes of sorrow, suffering, and sacrifice. The paradox is that both of these views are right. I think know the deeper insight belongs to my son. - Cowpi Journal

    [C.S.] Lewis states in his book The Four Loves: "We shall draw nearer to God, not by trying to avoid the sufferings inherent in all loves, but by accepting them and offering them to Him, throwing away all defensive armour. If our hearts need to be broken, and if He chooses this as the way in which they should break, so be it." That view is drastically changed when he writes Grief. In A Grief Observed we have a very different approach. Lewis presents a very visceral response to the loss of his wife. An example of this is that Lewis states at the beginning of the book: "No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear. I am not afraid, but the sensation is like being afraid. The same fluttering in the stomach, the same restlessness, the yawning. I keep on swallowing." This book shows us more of Lewis's own heart and life than almost anything else he wrote. It is a great book for those dealing with loss - either for yourself or for someone you know and love. It is often used in grief counseling, and one of the courses I read it for was on the spirituality of death and dying. This book is a gem in the cannon of Lewis literature. It will not disappoint. - SRMcEvoy of "Book Reviews & More"

    I am amazed at all the crap Padre Pio had to put up with. Not just cluelessness from superiors which often thinly disguised malice, but physical and spiritual ailments. But through it all, that is how he functioned. Because He believed that God would deliver him, any problem and strife was tolerable. It simply had to be offered up. - Fr. S.T. of "Catholic RageMonkey"

    I once joked to a priest friend, "You say you took Holy Orders as a celibate. As a married man I have to take holy orders everyday. My wife orders me to do this and orders me to do that...' - Dwight Longenecker who was ordanied as a deacon

    Maybe in the future, when it looks like all the stunts are over and they can’t go any further, maybe one of them will pull off a real stunner and enter a convent...That’d be news. - Eric of "The Daily Eudemon" on celebrity bimbos

    According to Adam Nagourney, if I understand the gist of his story, the 2008 election will be a referendum on whether America is sexist or racist. It cannot be a referendum on both pathologies, since Senator Clinton is white and Senator Obama is male, and that probably can’t be rearranged. But the editors no doubt feel it was a sound decision to take the front page of the “Week in Review” to alert their highly educated readership to the previously undiscerned pattern of electing white males as president. It is, I would go so far as to suggest, even more than a pattern. There it is, in boldface, under every one of the forty-three pictures: White Male. The format is that of a rogue’s gallery, and under each mug shot the designated offense—Robbery, Rape, Embezzlement, Drug Smuggling, Extortion, etc. Except, in this case, it is the same offense forty-three times over: White Male. - Richard Neuhaus of "First Things" on NY Times article

    I don't know if you've encountered it, but there's a curious idea running around that victoriously struggling with a temptation is more virtuous than never having had the temptation in the first place. It's as if being difficult is better than being good. The emphasis on struggle seems vaguely Darwinian to me. - Kevin Jones on "Flos Carmeli"

    This is an absolute respository of all things Catholic. Wow. Its absolutely wonderful and every person in the Church should own one. Regardless of whether you live within 500 miles of a Tridentine parish, get this missal. It even includes a mini-catechism. Literally, if for some reason the world blew up and an alien race came to earth 10,000 years from now only to find ruins of a long lost civilization, they could accurately recreate the entire Catholic faith if they found just one copy of the missal. In a way it kind of makes me sad...because I look at this and think "This is what the Church gave up after Vatican II?" Its really quite beautiful and includes so much more than modern missals. I'm not knocking the new mass, but I am going to wait to buy one of those missals until the new translations (and perhaps B16 changes?) are published. - Matt of 'absolutely no spin' on the arrival of his 1962 Roman Missale

    Not only was Mary predestined to be the Mother of the Savior, whose consent to the incarnation would inaugurate the drama of our redemption, she would do so entirely by the power of the grace of God. Only this realization, enshrined in the infallibly defined dogma of the Immaculate Conception, can preserve the essential feature of our theodramatic redemption: that God has in his infinite freedom decided to save us in a way that respects our finite freedom but which also demands his infinite power of grace to fulfill. - Edward T. Oakes, SJ via Kevin Jones
    Thoughts Sparked by AH

    The Christian, who is doing it right, ought be more composed and at peace than the non-Christian, and sometimes I wonder if that in itself is not part of secular society's disdain for Christians. (Ned Flanders?) My sister and I fought a lot when were children, and what bothered me most was that she seemed to rebound so quickly. Whether she was acting or not, her post-fight composure made me mad.

    In Artificial Happiness, Dworkin mentions the case of a couple who continually fought and then made up again and then things changed after she went on Paxil. Her composure made him angrier:
    "Fortified with Paxil, she no longer felt the sting of her husband's behavior. On the contrary, whenever conflict looked she just sat in her chair unmoved. Her husband couldn't help but notice this seemingly odd composure, which made him even angrier. The cycle of attack, guilt, and reunion ended..."
    Is there a taste of that jealousy today on Annunciations, where someone said:
    I get annoyed by people "speaking in tongues," who claim to be "slain by the Holy Spirit," and those who insist on having the so-called "Baptism by the Holy Spirit." Am I, in anyway, offending God for feeling this way toward the charismatics?
    More Links...

  • Above the fold, front page Dispatch article on Our Lady of Guadalupe Procession (in Monday's edition)...

    Pretty cool and a pleasant surprise! I assume multiculturalism gives them "street cred" - the Dispatch can put a religion story on the front page since it's a facet of the growing Latino community in town. Story here.

  • A friend sent this link, concerning the belated signing of an ol' baseball card.

  • The blogger at Compostela linked to me a couple times lately and is a reminder of my own Yankee provincialism - I call Tuesday's feature "Spanning the Globe" but "Spanning a Handful of English Written Blogs" sounds unromantical. Meanwhile Deutsche blogger Scipio is giving up the drink for Advent.

  • "Benny and the Jets" - funny Jeff Miller line upon seeing picture of pope singing with a few cardinals

  • Chilling interview with an executioner. Just another day at the office...
  • Victorian Art

    I was looking for a biography of French painter Bouguereau and came across this "true confession" from art expert Edward Winkleman:
    No one who loves Bouguereau, in my opinion, should apologize for it. Again, taste is subjective. I'd have one if it were available (of course I'd install it as part of some ironic juxtaposition just to maintain my street cred, but I'd admire it secretly when no one was looking...William-Adolphe Bouguereau could paint).

    Victorians were said to be prudes and yet "Victorian nude" is hardly an oxymoron. Why the disconnect? According to this Forbes column, there was a lot of hypocrisy, of artists wanting to paint nudes and did so under the guise of high and noble purpose: "A statue of a naked woman with a shovel becomes a symbol of agriculture, a painting of a naked youths an illustration from classical mythology." Perhaps it was naivety, but I have tended to think of Bouguereau as a spiritual giant, thinking no one could lust while painting such innocence.

    December 11, 2006

    Stop Me Before I Warhol Again

    Amy Welborn linked to this, and I got carried away:

    My great-grandfather; may he forgive me.

    You've heard of "Girl, Interrupted"? Call this "Girl, Drinking". (Dedicated to Bill Luse.)

    Amy Welborn, after a DVC lecture in Columbus

    Da Bard

    Andy, Barney & Otis Campbel
    From Ronald Dworkin's Artificial Happiness

    In the 1950s religion stopped being the determinant factor in the American character. Religion just followed the popular culture. Whatever the popular culture preached, so, too, did the churches and synagogues. Clergymen conformed as eagerly as everyone else. Writing in 1958, C. Wright Mills, sociologist and author of "White Collar" and "The Power Elite", noted, "If there is a safe prediction about religion in this society, it would seem that if tomorrow official spokesmen were to proclaim XYZ-ism, next week 90% of religious declaration would be XYX-ist...As a social and as a personal force, religion has become a dependent variable. It does not originate: it reacts."

    Because religion stayed popular, the change was subtle. Like the America that preceded it, 1950s America was still Christian America...What changed was why people worshipped. Rather than to fulfill some holy duty, many Americans went to church to relieve themselves of anxiety, whatever the anxiety's cause - a crumbling marriage, loneliness, a lost job, or the looming Communist threat. Popular clergymen told people how to find happiness, or at least reassured them that things would go well. Norman Vincent Peale declared, "Our happiness depends on the habit we cultivate. So practice happy thinking every day. Cultivate the merry heart, develop the happiness habit, and life will become a continual feast."...For organized religion this was a fatal error - an error from which it never fully recovered. During this period the medical profession also entered the unhappiness field, through psychotherapy, causing organized religion and the medical profession to converge on a common mission: happiness...Once [they] embarked on a common mission, it was only a matter of time before people started asking which discipline did the better job and researchers crunched the numbers to prove it. Suddenly, religion's value depended on outcomes. Although religion soared high in the 1950s, it could also sink low. The medical profession only had to work a little harder at making people happy.
    Jeanne, the Chinese Gal

    My wife was relaying some amusing anecdotes the other day regarding her international work group, including a new hire from Bejing.

    Jeanne doesn't know colloquialisms or even many non-colloquialisms. For example, two of the guys were reading aloud portions of the company's handbook on sexual harrassment and she says "what are butt ox?". She asked if you could touch someone's buttocks if you were wearing those long clown gloves they apparently have in China. The guys said that she could touch their buttocks with or without gloves. One of the guys continued reading from the manual: "you can accidently brush up against someone in the hallway twice but not three times consecutively," so he made plans to make a mental note to only brush up against the same girl twice in a row...

    Jeanne said when she first come to America she worked in New York and in her first task had to work closely with a New Yorker (a fate worse than death?). He had a mustache and was "mean", so she said that when she flew to Columbus and met Andre she assumed he was mean because he had a mustache. But then he shaved it off, she said, so that must explain why he was nice!
    Recent Reads

    Ah yes…a good long dollop of reading yesterday. Many fat pages of “The Thought of Pope Benedict”, a dose of Mark Steyn’s “America Alone”, a smidgeon of fiction and more of the very readable “The Thrill of the Chaste” by Dawn Eden. Some of Dworkin’s “Artificial Happiness”. A few pages the night previous of “Ambitous Brew: the Story of American Beer”. Then, too, a half-hour reading Scott Hahn on Pope Benedict’s theology in his latest “Letter & Spirit”.

    The problem with modern fiction is that it's just so cheerful. In "Talk, Talk" by TC Boyle, we have a sweet deaf girl who is falsely imprisoned and it's not a pleasant prison (if that's not an oxymoron). In "Terrorist" Updike displays a future suicide bomber's hatred of...well just about everything. In "Grapes of Wrath" Grampa just died of a stroke. Give me Walker Percy and his underlying humor any day of the week.

    December 10, 2006

    Weekend Fiction

    From the journal of DR:

    Oh the Middle East--
    Fertile crescent of humanity!
    Your sands pile curvaceously
    To the clip-clop of donkey rhythms,
    From you comes the rich arterial reds of Persian carpets--
    Is that the Angelus you recite so piously five times a day?


    October 21st of 1995 found David Richardson mentally inventorying his fantasy vacation to Damascus. Nothing quite transfixed him like a foreign environment coupled with the sweet scent of danger. There America was called "The Great Satan", and he considered this quaint in the same way bovine have the run of the place in India.

    Part of the attraction was going where Westerners were forbidden. Iran was his first choice but the State Department warned against it so Syria seemed a safer simulacron. “Iran on training wheels,” he called it. He’d heard non-Muslims weren’t allowed to go in mosques and that made the holy places instantly appealing in the way that being photographed just beyond a sign that said No Trespassing Beyond This Point was. There would also be antique Persian rugs and large bazaares where you could engage in authentic Middle East haggling, not the ersatz American garage sale equivalent: “Would you take a quarter for the Bronco's clock?” There it was in their blood. He thought of them as nomads, lean & swarthy Monty Hall’s who carried their wares on camels’ backs and knew how to make a deal.

    He found the lack of interest in friends and family members surprising.

    “Syria?” they’d say, “Why do you want to go to the crazy Middle East?”

    “Am I the only one who finds the scent of danger intoxicating?” he replied.

    He leaped at danger as only the comfortably secure do, incarnating those of whom one of Henry VIII’s martyrs spoke: “Some brave champions have taken the initiative by publicly professing their Christianity, though no one was trying to discover it, and by freely exposing themselves to death, though no one was demanding it.”

    Deep down he knew there was little danger. Westerners traveled there all the time without incident. He wondered what was driving his interest because he thought of Islamicists as little different than himself, really, though with odd notions: “Those poor benighted people!", he thought, "believing the U.S. the Great Satan! They’d be afraid of a lamb!” He wanted to go there and laugh at them until they realized their error and then they'd all laugh together. He felt little fear because he was an American citizen, backed by a government steeled by the Reagan Era. The U.S. passport gleamed in his hand and it amazed him to think of all those who longed for this small square of blue and gold leaf. The only time he appreciated America was when he left it, when he saw other people coveting what he had. The trip remained in an embryonic stage for more than half a decade.

    He was taking a smoke break, the first of the day, when he heard the news. Two planes hit the World Trade Center. Islamic terrorists. Potentially thousands killed. His jaw dropped and he burnt his thumb retrieving the cigarette. After the shock had begun to wore off he remembered a trip to Florida in his youth. An alligator farm. “Aren’t those adorable? Can we pet one?” he recalled his sister saying.

    “The gators have grown up,” he now muttered bitterly to himself, “and have become crocodiles.”

    December 09, 2006

    The Office...

    Interesting New Yorker piece on the differences between the BBC's version of television show "The Office" and America's:
    Referring to such differences, Kevin Reilly, the president of NBC Entertainment, has remarked that “Americans need a little bit more hope than the British.”...What distinguishes Dunder-Mifflin from Wernham Hogg is not hope but consolation. In the British “Office,” we never learned most people’s names; the American version lovingly anatomizes everyone and takes advantage of the long-take documentary format to reveal the full complexity of everyone’s feelings (we glean, for instance, that Toby has an unspoken crush on Pam, and therefore resents Jim). Lost is the condemnatory power of the anonymous British chorus; gained are both a standard American melting pot and a commedia-dell’arte stock company, featuring Kelly the Yakker, Meredith the Lush, Kevin the Letch, and Creed the Cantankerous Freak, who is just a possession or two away from being a hobo.

    How this matter plays out will define the show’s view of office life. Is this “Office” a romance, a place to find your soul’s counterpoint? Or is it a comedy of consolation, a place where dreams of love and Costa Rica gradually slip away? Michael, at least, would argue for the romance. Last season, he urged Jim to “never, ever, ever give up” his pursuit of Pam. It helped, somehow, that Michael uttered this Churchillian sentiment while wearing plastic handcuffs and shivering in the makeshift brig of a booze-cruise boat on Scranton’s Lake Wallenpaupack. The frigid weather and the correctional setting were straight out of the British original; the unlooked-for kindness was a local contribution. The BBC and NBC are two offices separated by a common language.
    Disney & Dickens

    In later years, according to Gabler, “[Disney] talked of how the [paper] route and its demands—the unyielding routine, the snow, the fatigue, the lost papers—traumatized and haunted him.” One thinks instantly of Dickens, and of his toils in the blacking factory. In each case, what scarred them was not pain—a job is a job, after all, and there were children everywhere subsisting in more brutal conditions—but sameness, without the prospect of relief. A thin-skinned, fanciful child will remember as torment what tougher spirits would regard as routine. Both Dickens and Disney came to believe, with a kind of humiliated pride, that their sufferings placed them in good stead with the travails of ordinary folk, who would henceforth be diverted by entertainments that would never lack for incident—that would, whatever their other qualities, swarm with animation. As G. K. Chesterton wrote, irrefutably, “Dickens did not write what the people wanted. Dickens wanted what the people wanted.”

    December 08, 2006

    Around the World in Eighty Sites

  • The "Lego Church"!

  • I learned today, via a link from Rich Leonardi's site, that I share the exact same birthday as wrestler John Tenta:

    He has more chest hair but I have more up top.

  • This site is extremely impressive for its combination of voluminousness and lack of sense. It's replicated in two languages, which is two too many.
  • Week in Review

    The film "Stranger than Fiction" is about death and I realized anew after seeing it how unbelievably hard to accept death even for Christians. Let alone to volunteer for it as this fictional character did, or as Jesus did.

    Part of the thing that I think I sometimes missed when I was younger was how Jesus avoided escaping despite having the means to escape. He could’ve avoided the Cross. Or the Incarnation itself. (I used to imagine a conference between the Trinity: “Someone’s gotta go down there…Who’s it gonna be?” says the Father, and the Son volunteers.) I've always been overly fond of a means of escape. I imagined that if I did something wrong, I’d jump bail and flee to another country. (I was surprised in my youth by the seeming nobility of criminals: they so infrequently jumped the bail their loved ones had put up.) I couldn’t understand the concept of suicide because I thought when I was young, “why don’t they just run away?”. I’d tied the impulse of suicide not to self, but to others. I couldn’t imagine a circumstance where one’s own self, and not other people, was the source of problems.

    The gospels speak a lot of inescapability. Jesus prays to the Father that this cup might pass, but it doesn’t. He couldn’t escape it. The means of death was telling -- is there an instrument more binding than a crucifixion, in which you are literally nailed to wood while slowly dying? Even in His birth, “swaddling” clothes are often depicted in Eastern iconography as being tightly bound. We say that within our tabernacles Jesus willingly imprisons Himself.

    Thursday night was a godsend. I decided to go to the Immaculate Conception Mass on the eve before, rather than the day of, Dec. 8. The music was spectacular: “Immaculate Mary”, a beautiful solo of “Ave Maria” at the offertory, and “Hail Holy Queen”. For years I’d been going to noon Mass on Dec. 8th at St. Pat’s and it’s always musically uninspired, being as it is a workday noon Mass and thus sans choirs or singers. But I always have a preference for the actual feast day though the night of the actual day we always celebrate my wife's birthday. But not this time, and I got there early and prayed the indulgenced Poor Clare’s Adoration prayer, said every hour of every day by the cloistered nuns in Portsmouth, Ohio.

    Grandma almost died this week. At 95 I really thought this was her time since even the experienced hostice workers were saying that her organs were failing. I had romantic notions that she’d die on Dec. 9th – the same day as both her husband and Fulton J. Sheen, the latter whom I’d been praying to so much lately for her situation. Grandma prays for only two modest things: to die before her beloved 94-year old cousin Fr. Jim (so that he can attend her funeral) and to die before she runs out of money and has to go to a Medicaid-supported facility. It seemed her prayers were being answered this week but Mom called tonite and said she made a remarkable recovery.

    Work was a joy this week, where joy is defined by its lack. I didn’t have much to do – first time in quite some time – and I was surprised how quickly the days passed despite that lack. When I had brain-numbing work to do I listened to Willie Cunningham on WLW via Internet streaming or Ave Maria radio. Bought a couple things I’d wanted for a long, long time: the first volume of the Liturgy of the Hours, and, even more so, the famous 1962 Roman Missale. Giddy, me, at the prospect of holding that old war horse and praying those antique prayers and seeing the Victorian-era illustrations that rend your heart. The leather-bound missale, published by the euphoniously-named Baronius press, has that same glowing association in memory that “Strange but True Baseball Stories” held in 1973 and “The Complete Works of Shakespeare” held in 1985. A good trend I suppose, a "trading up", though service to neighbor seems a far more accurate leading indicator of one’s spiritual temperature.

    Jesus said not to let the anxieties of this world distract us from Him and yet I seem to violate this every ten minutes or so. For example, I read of a Christian blogger saying that he “no longer thinks of swimming the Tiber” and began to conjure up responses of varying usefulness (mostly approaching zero) even though no response was called or asked for. Thomas really opened my eyes to the fact that being theologically and historically well-read is no guarantee of becoming Catholic, notwithstanding Newman’s line that to become deeply immersed in history is to to cease being Protestant. He seems to have that combination of keen intelligence and ecclesiastical rootlessness – a combination I imagined was an engraved invitation from the Mother Kirche. And yet there he is in his rootlessness and I’m struck yet again by how elusive unity is and how so much depends on God, not intelligence or anything else.

    AO wanted to talk about the train wreck that C. is participating in and it felt close to gossip. I sense that if we made it a rule to pray for someone as much as we talked about them we’d pray a lot more and talk a lot less. Economically AO believes as you sow as you should reap but as Christians we hope that we reap what we did not sow since salvation is impossible without God. So our economic system is to some extent the opposite of our spiritual system; we rely completely on God’s welfare while eschewing the idea of persistent governmental welfare, though St. Paul said that if you don’t work you don’t eat so it’s not counter-Scriptural. But part of what bothers me about my wife's niece's situation is its very predictability. She got pregnant in October, met another guy in November and quit her job, moved into his mother's garage. Married him last week. He's 18, she's 21. It seems you might be successful in America at least in earthly terms if you’re smart or you’re ambitious, but if you’re neither than you seem doomed to a life of stress and poverty. And what if you had non-churchgoing high-school educated parents who acrimoniously divorce – what chance do the children have? Slim? And yet the first reaction is that it seems a lack of human dignity that we should be so predictable. Predictability suggests a lack of free will and part of our dignity is our free will, much as we might disparage it. Isn't the phrase "the apple doesn't fall far from the tree" a denial of our free will? Of course it is a truth of the faith that we are fallen, that our free will is far more limited than our first parent's and is then additionally limited by our immediate parents.

    Update: Steven emails a much better take on our "predictability" and free will:
    I would say rather the predicatbility is the accumulation of circumstance and probability and that we are so much alike that we can know within limits what the likely reaction is. That's why we're always so pleased and gratified by someone who "beats the odds." I think I'd look at it as demonstrating the perfect equality of humankind. We're predictable because no matter what the outer accidents the inner processes and spiritual realities are the same...I wonder if what you are observing isn't a kind of "spiritual law?" That is, if you break certain "rules" or ways of being, they carry with them certain consequences.
    R-rated Icon!

    (Made ya look.)
    Artist of Divine Mercy

    Tommy Channing writes:
    In our secularised culture of today saturated by images of every kind, the term ‘Beauty’ and ‘Image’ are sometimes very nebulous words meaning different things to different people. Due to the advent of the entertainment industry, music, movies, T.V. and magazines, advertising and the Internet, we are seeing a bombardment of images on a daily basis. Many of which promote models of life without God. It has had the cumulative effect of averting our eyes away from the purpose and beauty for which they were created and the One who created them. The images we see can form our attitudes and shape our culture. The advertising industry, mindful of the power of imagery tries to define what is our correct image and what is truly beautiful. But have we become de-sensitised in the process, especially our young people? What about the sense of the Eternal?
    Here is his sketch page including one depicting Mary.