February 28, 2003

Poetry Friday

Ascetic
That in the end
I may find
Something not sold for a penny
In the slums of Mind.

That I may break
With these hands
The bread that wisdom grows
In the other lands.

For this, for this
I do wear
The rags of hunger and climb
The unending stair.

To a Blackbird
O pagan poet you
And I are one
In this we lose our god
-at the set of the sun.

We dream while earth's sad children
Go slowly by
Pleading for our conversion
With the Most High.


-- Patrick Kavanagh
Mohandas Gandhi, who was a Hindu, called 'worship without sacrifice' an absurdity of the modern age.
--Scott Hahn, The Lamb's Supper
My Nigerian scammer email got bounced because his inbox was too full. Perhaps others are trying to scam the scammers.

Old Oligarch sez:
Apparently, 16 dolts lost $345,000 last year, and a few have even been whacked in Nigeria, according to this Wired article.
  --via a sharp-eyed Kathy at Gospel Minefield
A reading list for every young woman. But applicable to everyone. Scroll down a ways for comments on Augustine.

February 27, 2003

More possibilities on the Pope's perspective:

- Given the spotty record of Catholic monarchies and theocracies, why would he bet the farm (long-term) that the thoroughly secularized U.S. would be a benevolent power? Indeed, don't we capitalists loathe unregulated monopolies? What is the U.S. military but an unregulated monopoly?

- Perhaps the Pope believes we are in the end times and that there may only be a couple successors to the chair of Peter left. If the war goes awry, does he really want to meet the Lord having blessed what led to the final conflagration?
Amy Welborn ruminates about the war and asks the reasonable questions "Why Iraq? Why now?". My guesses:

1) Saddam's impotent militarily. China? North Korea? Gain a clue, we're not suicidal.

2) He is, or should be, a viable target from a United Nations perspective (if, perhaps, not from a 'Just War' perspective). Saddam's constantly violated U.N. resolutions for 12 years. For the U.N. to resist the war is nonsensical and most likely naked anti-Americanism. It's like asking someone who is pounding you on the head to keep on pounding.

3) To fight terrorism. If you win the war, you now have a base right in the middle of that putrid nest of terrorism, the Middle East. You can set up an intelligence operation. You have a place to land planes and troops without getting Turkey's or Saudi Arabia's permission. In the best case scenerio, you have a democracy that might lead to other democracies.

4) Partially personal. Someone trying to kill your father isn't something easily forgotten.

So, this matrix means you get a lot of bang for your buck if you're President Bush. I'm not justifying the war, I'm just saying that I think I understand why he's doing it.

One thing is for sure - I can certainly understand why the Pope doesn't approve. If he didn't approve of the Gulf War with the whole U.N. behind us and clearer justification, he certainly isn't going to approve of this war. On the bright side, at least the Church isn't alienating hundreds of millions of non-Americans by coming out for it.
Kudos to St. Blog's
It's really amazing to me how good the writing is around the parish. I just read a piece from the Pew Lady on hell (via Disordered Affections) and it was impressive.

What is it about this connection between literacy and orthodox Catholicism? I realize there is self-selecting going on and that you don't have a blog unless you care about writing, but gee whiz....When I saw some of the scores from that vocabulary test I was a little stunned. Y'all shouldn't be getting over 170 so easily, should you?

The pew lady is not alone. Professional writers like Karen Hall are, of course, the real thing, but look at how some of the amateurs write! I'd rather not mention favorites since my tour of St. Blog's isn't comprehensive.

My point is that it is very consoling to be ensconced in my day job when I see the talent of my fellow amateurs have. My dream job would be the buyer at a publishing house, but tis odd that in writing (not just reading) I find out things. Sometimes I begin writing in my journal or blog and I think, "I didn't know I thought that.."

February 26, 2003

More Byzantine Bowlin' Fun!

Jeff Miller adds:
It also depends if they are Byzantine in union with Rome. The Byzantine Orthodox bowling league is a little different.

* They believe that the bowling ball proceeds from the chute only and reject any modification made to the bowling creed.
* They believe that all bowling leagues are equal and that the bowling league from Rome does not have authority over the other leagues.
Musings on Peale
The Thomas a Kempis quote reminded me of a time, years ago, when I was perusing Norman V. Peale's The Power of Positive Thinking. I was struck by how mechanistic it was; the mind a computer to be programmed with Pauline verses like, "I can do all things through Christ which strengthen me". At the time I thought: wouldn't it be better if we let God inspire us with those thoughts? Peale's approach, perversely, seemed to be taking God out of the picture - we shall simply program ourselves for love and confidence in God.

Now I see that what is needed is not "either/or" but "and/both". It's a microcosm of the endless mystery of cooperation between man and God - a symbiosis where one never quite can tell where man ends and God begins, where the natural is left behind and grace is added. This reprogramming might be a purely human activity, but the richness of the Word has within itself the seeds of divine activity. The successful Pealite might be successful partially due to the programming and partially due to the grace of the God, which does accomplish all things which strengthen us. One could say that it is merely programming reality into oneself, like constantly repeating, "the grass is green...the earth is round..."
What if U.S. Grant were fighting the Civil War today…
...& imagine that before the war Grant was the head of a shoelace manufacturing company:

Dan Rather live from somewhere just outside the Wilderness:
"Day 1072 of this terrible civil war, and I am live outside the tented headquarters of U.S. Grant where a group of protestors have gathered." (Cut to montage of seven protestors, one with sign "GRANT us Peace!", another with "Save the Horses - End this War").

"The White House today denied any connection between the war and the revived shoelace manufacturing industry, an industry which contributed heavily to Lincoln's election coffers and which, I don't need to remind you, was Grant's source of income prior to the war."

"Let's go to Mike outside Spotslvania. Mike?"

"Yes Dan. There is no known link so far - and again I want to emphasize that the link could be there but we just haven't found it yet - between the Big Shoelace campaign contributers and the way this war is being prosecuted. There are confirmed reports that shoes left on the battlefield often have perfectly fine shoelaces, presumably requiring new government contracts for the shoelace concerns. One must ask if this is a payback for the Big Shoelace companies. Dan?"

"Thank you Mike for that fine report. Now we go to Sherrie Rice in Atlanta, Sherrie?"

"Yes Dan, there are reports that the Sherman's army is heading this way. I'm standing outside the southeast's biggest shoelace company, a company becoming rich due to this war by supplying--
The one thing that the God beats us with a megaphone with, over and over, is that he is to be found in unlikely places, like a manger, a burning bush, a piece of bread, a stranger. How elusive is God! How could the innkeepers who rejected Mary & Joseph know who they were rejecting? Or the high priests of Jerusalem when they found a suffering Messiah not a good fit for that role? David’s father, who presumably knew him best, couldn’t see David as annointed. “Couldn’t see” – that’s the point isn’t it? That is the blindness Jesus mentions over and over.

February 25, 2003

Thomas a Kempis:
The wise lover regards not so much the gift of Him Who loves as the love of Him Who gives. He regards the affection of the Giver rather than the value of the gift, and sets his Beloved above all gifts. The noble lover does not rest in the gift but in Me Who am above every gift.

To fight against evil thoughts which attack you is a sign of virtue and great merit. It is not an illusion that you are sometimes rapt in ecstasy and then quickly returned to the usual follies of your heart. For these are evils which you suffer rather than commit;and so long as they displease you and you struggle against them, it is a matter of merit and not a loss.
Bowling For Pirohi
You can imagine my surprise when an insert in the church bulliten read:

"WANTED! - Byzantine Bowlers for the 48th National Byzantine Bowling Tournament"

I'm wondering how a Byzantine bowler differs from a regular bowler...some possibilities (with affection):

* Bowling balls, shoes, gloves, lane, pins blessed
* Sign of the Cross (three times) before every roll
* Pirohi with beer between games
* Reverend Father has an icon on his bowling ball
* Instead of 10 frames, there are 12 (for the apostles - plus they are maximalists, allergic to Jesuitical minimums - if the Latins do ten, we shall do more!)
Old Journal Entries Never Die...they just get replanted.

Saw this while going thru my journal, from three years ago this week. The occasion was my niece's baptism. My evangelical wife was present, hence the cringe-factor was higher than it otherwise would have been. (Since, of course, I would that she convert and would prefer the style of the liturgy not be an obstacle).

I do seem extremely "holier-than-thou" in this entry.

Church at St. Jude’s seemed almost like a spiritual vacuum, sucking the salt from me in the vapid liturgy. I cringed at the priest referring to the martyr-soaked privilege of offering Holy Eucharist as “work”, as in “I had to work all morning because the other priest is sick”, and then preceeding to offer a “sermon” that, as near as I could tell, was a recap of his moving and living arrangements. I suppose for the parish who had him as a priest for awhile would feel sufficient shock and curiousity to warrant some of the talk, but the spiritual sustenance given was woefully low. One got the impression that the priesthood was just another job. Leave us our illusions! Even if be that way, need they strive to prove to every non-Catholic in the audience that Catholicism is just another Moosehead Lodge club? The musicians tried to cover up the embarrassing lack of fervor by long musical selections, but it was to little avail. It was all a bit disspiriting. At least Dad was singing, dependable as a Tiger Woods’ drive, bringing some life to the old joint.

But the worst was yet to come. Arguably the most important sacrament of all, the one that must come before all the others, was embarrassing to the point of parody. Baptism, that noble sacrament that Jesus took pains to start and end his ministry with – beginning with John in the Jordan and ending in his final words before the Ascension – was turned into some kind of side-show. I suddenly longed to be a Southern Baptist. The jocular deacon would be fine as the color man at a sporting event, but here the sports reports just seemed jarring. I cringed right from the very beginning, and cringed right to the very end. As we were walking out the door he said, "twelve babies baptized in one hour! Call the Guinness book of World Records!". As if! As if this were a contest or a game! Did he not for a minute pause and consider the significance of what he was doing? Has he not read the portion on Baptism in the Catechism of the Catholic Church? Has he not any consideration of the emptiness of ritual without the underlying love and meaning? A body without a soul is dead. God made us, gave us bodies, for which we don't have to be embarrassed about using literally as prayer, number one because Jesus had a body and exercised it in a prayerful way by receiving water in the Jordan. Why should we be sheepish about doing His will, are we afraid to look foolish in the eyes of the world for believing that what we do in concert with Him has eternal consequences? Would that self-same deacon be disturbed if his wife were fooling around on him and told him, "well I'm just cheating on you with my body, I am still pledged to you in my heart and spirit". I think he might not take that so well. Did the deacon treat these Baptisms with more care and reverence than a waiter brings food in a fine restaurant? The great consolation, of course, is that God is not limited by our weakness or lack of awareness and that He gave each infant's soul a mark that cannot be erased today. That He can work through us, such flawed instruments, is truly a wonder and my appreciation for Him grows.


Whew! Reading this reminds me of an anecdote from Frank McCourt's life. It's been a long time since I've read his books, but either him or his brother made fun of their mother for going to great lengths to self-baptize her grandchildren against her son's wishes. Maybe it was that she baptized them multiple times in case one of the times didn't "take"; memory fails. I guess she was at one extreme - i.e. baptize the child and they're bound for heaven. The old school mechanical Catholic where the sacraments work like levers. But today there is an almost opposite zeitgeist - the outward sacraments don't much matter, you don't have to go to church or go to confession - it's what's in your heart.

Balance, where art thou?
Never Gets Old
I've been offered an urgent business arrangement with a Dr. Yetunde Bassey. Apparently he's a bank manager at the Diamond Bank of Nigeria, Lagos branch. I've been offered an opportunity to make some money by helping him out of some sort of bureaucratic difficulty. I replied with an email of pilfered Greek - Iô ouk oid' hopôs humin apistêsai me chrê, saphei de muthôi pan hoper proschrêizete peusesthe: kaitoi kai legous!' (exclamation point mine).

What's the similarity between a Nigerian scammer and Saddam Hussein? Both have lost the benefit of the doubt.

So....will the last person scammed by a Nigerian scammer please stand up? Can there really be someone out there left? Sure people are always getting computers for the first time, but isn't the market for these guys is dwindling? If everyone replied to every Nigerian scammer, wouldn't it be less profitable for them since they'd be inundated by emails?
Been reading the Pope's opinion of the original Gulf War in Weigel's biography Witness to Hope. The Holy Father's thoughts about the war were almost "apocalyptic" according to Weigel, quoting him as saying, "the imminence of an armed confrontation with unforeseeable but certainly disastrous consequences."

In the flush of success the Gulf War seemed, at least in the early 90s, an unqualified success. But the lasting effect feels sinister and vaguely disastrous. Perhaps the developments would've happened anyway, but Bin Laden might not have started his jihad. (Everything points to his enragement beginning the minute U.S. troops landed in his holy land, Saudi Arabia). The World Trade Center bombing might not have happened. Millions of Iraqis suffered from sanctions. Many of our veterans suffer from exposure to chemical weapons, aka the Gulf War syndrome. A second war looms with apocalyptically. At least some of these disasters could've been prevented by finishing the first Gulf War. Best to cut off the king's head rather than wound him.

It ultimately shows the power of one evil individual to wreck sheer unadulterated havoc. If you saw the "60 Minutes" piece Sunday night, you'll know what I'm talking about. A very respected and credible Iraqi defector said that Hussein wants to re-make the map of the Middle East. From the attack on Iran to the attack on Kuwait, it is war that he lives for. I suppose it is war he shall have.

The author Robert Kagan says that you can live in a Kantian, peaceful world and not a brutal Hobbesian one if....a big if...all the other players agree to it. That has been achieved in Western Europe, where they live in this protected sphere of peace because none of the nations of Europe are Hobbesian. But it all it takes is one rogue leader...

From Weigel's bio:
John Paul did not believe that the Pope's role in such a crisis was to conduct a public review of the classic criteria legitimating a just war; and then give a pontifical blessing to the use of armed force if those criteria had been met. The Church's mission in world politics was to teach the relevant moral principles that ought to guide international statecraft. Beyond that, it was the responsibility of the statesman to make prudential judgements on the question of when nonviolent means of resolving a conflict and restoring order had been exhausted.

Just-war reasoning involves rigorous empirical analysis, which was sometimes lacking in the Holy See's approach to the Gulf crisis.The assumption that more dialogue could coax Saddam Hussein into withdrawing from Kuwait and making restitution for the wreckage he had caused was never very persuasive, given what was already known...Nor did Holy See proposals for negotiation seem to take sufficient account of the likelihood that delays in military action heightened the chance that Iraq could deploy weapons of mass destruction.
The Long Loneliness of Tony Blair
Riveting read on Tony Blair's conundrum. How lonesome it must be to be where he is, having access to the highest religious authority on earth and finding no solace. It can only come from his own conscience.
At last it can be told - Nihil's identity. Nice going Gregg the Obscure! Everyone loves a good mystery solved.

February 24, 2003

Bill O'Reilly Opines on Religion

People say, “Why do you go to church?” I say, “Why not? What is a better use of my time? For an hour a week, I can think about things of a spiritual nature in a nice church with beautiful sculptures and stained-glass windows and a 2,000-year-old tradition that makes sense. Why would I not go?”

What’s the downside of going? What if there is no God? Well, so what? If there is no God, I’m dead. It doesn’t matter, OK? I’m looking at it like, “What’s to lose? What’s the problem here?”


This sounds like a version of Pascal's Wager, which always sounded to me a bit cold and calculating. (But then I could be ridiculous or a hypocrite; heaven is not earned and I'm not above hedging my bets). I just feels like he's minimizing what we must give to God - which is more than just going to church. Going to church for moi is the fun part, the less easy is fasting from sin or food, becoming charitable to the point of a cost to self, etc...But my wife points out that he is reaching the unsaved in this way, trying to get them not to be so viciously anti-religion. A spoonful of sugar... Full article is here
I Wish I Was In Dixie...
Disputations is a bit peppery today with many piquant posts. He writes about the fascinating contradiction about some of the Confederate generals, holy men fighting for an unholy cause:

"People are complex," as they say, and complexity makes for both good story-telling and fruitful meditation. How can honor and nobility co-exist with a willingness to kill to preserve slavery? That's an important question without a simple answer.

One way to come to terms with the likes of Lee and Jackson is to remember that they were not members of the one holy Catholic Church. Thus they really didn't believe in the development of doctrine. Thus because slavery is condoned by St. Paul ('slaves, obey your masters') then Lee might seem able to justify it. Still that doesn't explain the fact that the Spirit blows where it will and that the guidance of the Holy Spirit in these prayerful men would seemingly have given the sufficient light to understand the evil of slavery. And thus the mystery. (I understand that the issue might be framed as state's rights and not slavery, but I also understand that slavery typically was considered a moral evil after it became economically unviable. How con-veeen-ient. This somewhat undermines Northern 'righteousness' but also, in my mind, undermines some of the Southerner's 'state's rights' claims).

I read a great biography of Stonewall Jackson, a very fervent, devout Christian. He had not the slightest doubt about the rightness of his cause, but this in a way makes him more interesting. They say that evil is banal and that goodness is the opposite, but the admixture, at least in this life, often seems most interesting given that our minds like complexity. One of Russell Kirk's six "principles that have endured" was an "affection for variety and mystery over uniformity." Still, heaven will be infinitely interesting I'm sure, so the lack is on this side.
Ponderable
Adrienne von Speyr is excerpted today in Magnificat concerning a monk (perhaps Anthony) who went through a period of time during which he did not pray well. He was an experienced Christian who was in an active ministry. He eventually went to the desert to pray in solitude, recognizing that his desire to give up praying was a temptation from the devil, and in the desert spent years praying well off and on, depending on the circumstances (i.e. distractions) like the weather, or his hunger, etc...

Finally he realized that there lurked in him a self-love that made him seek desperately after any attraction, just to be freed from prayer.

From the moment he cut his own self out, he received an understanding of God's Trinity. For the truth is, he said, that as long as in prayer man experiences his own personality, he cannot come to know the threefold personal being of God. As long as the ego lives...God cannot then be more differentiated in relation to man than man is himself.

I am way too American in my thinking - I want instant success. I want to "fix something". I loathe, most of all, inefficiency. And so I think, "wow that was inefficient for that monk to spend twenty years to discover the problem in his prayer...I wonder what I shortcut I can find." But it doesn't work that way for at least a couple reasons. One is that the 'pearl of great price' is worth everything whatever the inconveniences, whatever the pain, however seeming inefficient. Secondly, man cooperates with God. It is a partnership, and it certainly isn't a sole proprietorship. I can no more build a tower to God than those poor unfortunates at Babel. Third, we simply don't appreciate what is not attained with difficulty. I would that I be more happy for that person rather than focusing on my lack.
Psalm-aid
Lord, your mercy is my hope, my heart rejoices in your saving power. I will sing to the Lord for his goodness to me."
--Ps 12:6

The beauty of the above psalm reminded me of what Kathleen Norris wrote in one of her books concerning her mild-to-moderate depression. She found that the two things that made the most difference for her was daily exercise (in the form of a walk), and a daily reading of some of the Psalms. Medicine for body and soul.

February 23, 2003

Dear checker-work of woods, the Sussex Weald!
If a name thrills me yet of things of earth,
That name is thine. How often have I fled
To thy deep hedgerows and embraced each field,
Each lag, each pasture - fields which gave me birth
And saw my youth, and which most hold me dead.
]

--Wilfrid Blunt

February 21, 2003

You may want to say a prayer for Natalie, who is going through a trial of illness.
Reminder to Self
Caption to man being given medical attention:
More common is the tendency to mentally exaggerate the consequences of keeping the fast, but with time and experience, this too will come under control of the will. - Disputations

One aspect of fasting is that it is not an even playing field and should be individually-gauged or tuned. My 92-year old grandmother, God bless her - her only joy in life is food. She is house-bound, can't travel, can't do many of the things I have the luxury of doing (I shan't name them but you get the drift). So for her to give up food is necessarily a greater trial than for me to give up food because it is a sacrifice of a greater percentage of what makes her happy, at least in an earthly sense. I understand that pleasure does not equal happiness, but sometimes the perception of lack, of dearth, contributes to a sense of unhappiness when the lack is not joined properly with God.

I remember one time a friend asking me why selfishness was so hard to eradicate in oneself and I said unselfishness typically involves a sacrifice of temporal personal happiness. If it were easy, everyone would do it. It's the delaying of personal gratification towards the laying up of treasure in heaven. It's the same reason the savings rate for Americans is so abysmal. Unselfishness on the order of Mother Teresa is an astonishing example of delayed gratification.
Dependence
I know I'm beating a dead post here, but I was watching C-Span's Booknotes (yeah, I was the one) and the guest was Robert Kagan, author of the book Europeans are from Mars, Americans from Venus, (actually The Paradise and the Power), and he made the comment that "dependency usually leads to resentment." There it was again, the third time I'd heard that in a week.

I've been mulling this over as it relates to God. I don't consciously feel any resentment towards my dependence on Him, in fact I feel a sense of relief when awareness of my dependence on Him is realized (coupled, of course, with the fact of his love). I suppose that part of the reason dependence breeds resentment is that the dependent country feels a loss of autonomy; perhaps that is why God gives us this gift of free will, a will so free that it has resulted in outrages like my mediocrity. But this free will enables us to never feel resentment because of His lack of coercion.

February 20, 2003

Me Being Nosy
My Dominican parish has recently finished a major parish annex, including a nice library. I've been checking the perenially locked door and finally today was rewarded and able to check out the goodies. Most of the boxes haven't been unpacked yet, but I did notice two marked "Rahner" and "Kung" (excuse me for not having an umlaut handy). It'll be interesting how much from the TAN set will make it. Maybe an Incorruptibles or two? Or perhaps a better radical equivalent would be something by Lefebvre? (Pardon all you Rahner fans, I realize he's no Lefebvre. Supply your own equivalent).

It is amazing how much your library says about you, be it parish or an individual. It's a small thing, but I remember one of my aunt's favorite books was Trinity by Leon Uris which I understand isn't very friendly to the faith. I've only read a smidgeon of it, but perhaps it simply reflects the faith as was lived which is not always pretty (i.e. 'the Situation'). Anyway, she was a 'liberal' Catholic if we can use those coarse labels and I always thought that maybe book reflected that, just as the 'conservative' Catholic might be a fan of J.F. Powers or Flannery O'.
Another Belloc Quote
He is a thoroughly good man...he has something like Holiness in his expression and an intense anxious sincerity. He spoke of individual conversion as opposed to political Catholicism in a way which - with my termperament all for the Collective Church - profoundly impressed me....

--H. Belloc, on his audience with Pope Benedict XV
Unmerited Grace
Thanks go to Karen at Disordered Affections for our recent after-ad existence! And for her willingness to dispense free advice here.
Hey Tim Drake's back (via Kat). His final missive back a half-year or more ago was a shot across the blogging bow, making the case that blogging was clique-ish and a vanity press. I'm not so sure he's not right. I recall that St. Thérèse of Lisieux had to be forced to write her "Story of a Soul" under the pain of obedience. Something tells me she'd not be a blogger. I think the saint most likely to be a blogger would be St. Augustine who poignantly wrote about his spiritual journey.
Where's the justice in that?
Nihil Obstat is ad-free.

*grin*
Further sleuthing
My guess is that the next time Disputations posts, it will remove said ad. It appears to be a St. Blog's phenomenon - I checked Tightly Wound (no salvation outside the church, or St. Blog's apparently) and his ad is still tightly attached.

I feel very sheepish if someone spent their hard-earned money on keeping this lame site ad-free. I'm still not sure it's not a Blogger glitch though...
Did I miss something? Blogger isn't putting at an ad at the top of my site, at least at this particular moment in time. I checked Dylan and he doesn't have an ad but Disputations does. No time now to further explore this improbability.

February 19, 2003



Man Protected by the Shield of Faith
Maarten van Heemskerck (Netherlandish, 1498–1574)
Kirk could flat out write
Some years ago, I was in Europe participating in two international conferences... Between sessions, I tramped about England and Scotland with an American friend, an executive in a great industrial corporation. Being something of a classical scholar, my friend collects sixteenth- and seventeenth-century editions of Latin works -- particularly Cicero and Seneca -- and pokes happily about Roman remains.

We found for his library, in the dusty caverns of Scottish secondhand bookshops, a number of admirable things at trifling prices. There lay the noble elephant folio of Strabo, in two immense volumes, at a mere thirty-five shillings; and the Strawberry Hill edition of Lucan, beautifully bound, at five guineas; and a twelve-volume set of Cicero for a pound. In an age of progressive inflation, one commodity alone remains stable, or increases little in price: classical works. At the devil's booth in Vanity Fair, every cup of dross may find its ounce of gold; but the one thing which Lucifer can't sell nowadays is classical learning. Who wants Latin texts? No twentieth-century Faustus disposes of his immortal soul for mere abstract knowledge. The copies of Strabo and Lucan and Cicero for which a Schoolman might have risked his life ten times over are now a drug on the market. As my friend remarked to me, "These things are cultural debris. It's as if a great ship had sunk, but a few trifles of flotsam had bubbled up from the hulk and were drifting on the surface of the great deep. Who wants this sea drift? Not the sharks. You and I are rowing about in a small boat, collecting the bits of debris."

-Russell Kirk, excerpt via Summa minutiae
Excerpts from Letter 1
of Letters to a Soul by Dom Hubert van Zeller, OSB

You mention your discouragement and the sense of failure. You say you are trying to resist the obvious temptation to be discontented and bitter, and that everything you attempt only increases your feeling of inadequacy. But isn't this because you expected a certain kind of success and have not found it? Wouldn't it be better to accept your limitations and be content within them? It is an art in life to put up with being second best. I don't mean that we must make compromises with our weaknesses, but I do think that we have to admit we are mediocrities. To accept the role we have to play, even if it's a small part when we have the talent to play the more important and successful one, is not to invite failure or frustration. It is to submit to the condition of life that God has planned for us. Once we have made this submission -- which is not a lowering of an ideal but on the contrary, because it essentially involves humility, is a raising of the ideal of serving God in truth -- we are less disappointed at the evidence of our inadequacy. Accepting our mediocrity, while all the time trying to make the most of our opportunity, not only brings a certain peace but is what the parable of the talents is all about. So long as we don't bury the insignificant talent, and put the blame on God for its insignificance, we can go on trading with it as effectively as the more talented.


This via Dylan. I'm sure you've all seen it already but I keep my blog also as a repository of impactful quotes for reference purposes. Good gracious, did I just say "impactful"? Even worse, did I just say "good gracious"?
5 Innies & Outies
The outer-directed blog is communistic in spirit - nothing is privately owned, all is public domain. This blog links to news of the day that the blogger thinks will be of interest to the reader. It is often a series of links to depressing church news, and it sometimes has the grimness about it that Eastern Germany did before the curtain came down. This is a necessary service though, so the communist analogy breaks down somewhat.

The inner-directed blog is capitalistic in spirit. The blogger is writing mostly for himself or herself and may have a small or non-existent audience, but in the sharing of private things they may find greater solidarity with those who can relate than the outer-directed blog. Thus as in the capitalist system where everyone works toward their self-interest which often (not always of course) results in the greatest good to the greatest number of people, so too in blogging. Enlightened selfishness, you might call it. Like capitalism, it can be carried too far.

Some blogs are hybrids of both categories and others fit neither category. Some blogs address the big issues of the day while trying to think with the mind of the Church. Or provide spiritual encouragement of one sort or another. These are perhaps the most valuable services blogs can provide.

February 18, 2003

I used to view British Prime Minister Tony Blair with suspicion, as if he were a Anglo Bill Clinton. But he is no Bill Clinton. Whatever you think about the war, you've got to admire the guy's convictions.
Top 5 Fav Male Saints

(1) St. Thomas Aquinas - not for his writing, but his humility. I can't get the image out of my head of his perfect acceptance at being called the "Dumb Ox".

(2) St. Pio of Petrelcina - a saint of the confessional, his ability to diagnose spiritual faults was unparalleled in modern times.

(3) St. Paul - for sheer impact on daily life, few have had as much effect as the chief writer of the New Testament.

(4) St. Patrick - converter of fair Eire.

(5) St. Anthony - a favorite childhood saint, he saved my arse many a time when I was young and lost something valuable.

Honorable Mention: St. Joseph, foster father extraordinaire whose star seems to pale beside the Blessed Mother's and yet who showed tremendous obedience to God's will.

Ultimately, my favorite saint is any who would claim the likes of me. Saints? Any out there listening?

I was fortunate to have received the name "Thomas", given the plethora of possible patron saints. (I'm sure Tom of Disputations can relate).

I can easily identify with Thomas the Apostle, the pragmatist who wanted to see our Lord post-Resurrection before saying "My Lord and My God". I was delighted when I discovered that St. Thomas More's feast day happens to coincide with my birthday so he's another patron saint of special order. And of course the great St. Thomas Aquinas, whose Summa the Fathers of Trent made it part of the order of the conclave to lay upon the altar, and whose combination of sweetness of disposition with scholarly intelligence are an otherworldly mix.

February 17, 2003

Precisely
Through the efforts of post-Marxists, radical Islamists, anti-Semites, and an array of old-fashioned authoritarians in the General Assembly and the Security Council, the U.N. now unfortunately reflects the aggregate amorality of so many of it members.

We built the arena, the players came — and, for many Americans, it now seems almost time to leave: Syria on the Security Council; Iran and Iraq overseeing the spread of dangerous weapons; Libya a caretaker of human rights. How about a simple law to preserve a once hallowed institution: To join the U.N.'s democratic assembly, a country must first be democratic? Why should a U.N. diplomat be allowed to demand from foreigners the very privileges that his government denies to its own people?

--Victor D. Hanson
I worry about this country breaking the thin strand of international law....If this country decides to go it alone and basically make Resolution 1441 meaningless, then what will prevent other countries from breaking similar agreements? If this country is unable to (in the fashion of Clinton's "it depends on what 'is' is") stand by the clear meaning of words then they are a threat to international peace.

This country I'm speaking of? France.

February 16, 2003

He can flat-out write
Just began The Path to Rome by Belloc and in the preface alone there are riches!

* And was it not his loneliness that enabled him to see it?

* Let us suffer absurdities, for that is only to suffer one another.

* Rabelais! Master of all happy men! Are you sleeping there pressed into desecrated earth under the doss-house of the Rue St. Paul, or do you not rather drink cool wine in some elysian Chinon looking on the Vienne where it rises in Paradise? Are you sleeping or drinking that you will not lend us the staff of Friar John wherewith he slaughtered and bashed the invaders of the vineyards, who are but a parable for the mincing pendants and blood-less thin-faced rogues of the world?


Here is a link to the poems of Hilaire Belloc

February 15, 2003

Interesting Historical Perspective
Britain and France united to oppose the American approach of 'lift and strike' - i.e. lift the U.N. arms embargo that effectively favored the Serb aggressors over the Bosnian victims, and strike by assisting the outgunned Bosnian forces with U.S. air sorties. Their opposition was based originally on a crude but understandable calculation that since the Serbs were bound to win anyway, we should not prolong the war by giving false hope to the Bosnians that the West would come to their aid.

London and Paris did all they could to prevent the Americans from assisting Bosnia - until their calculations were devastatingly rebuked by the course of the war itself, in which the modest U.S. and NATO intervention reversed Bosnian losses and forced the Serbs to negotiate.

The Bosnian crisis teaches a number of lessons. It casts a harsh light on the argument that the Europeans have adopted an enlightened international ethic of rules over military force. As the bloody corpse of Bosnia circa 1994 demonstrated, pacific multilateralism can be at least as brutal as intervention - without being as likely to attain its objective. Furthermore, the fact that Anglo-French opposition deterred Washington from its successful intervention for more than two years shows the degree to which U.S. policy can be distorted by a failure to play alliance politics effectively.

Iraq is now a crisis because Bush decide to remove Saddam Hussein before the dictator could acquire and perhaps use weapons of mass destruction. Bush's boldness may be justified - I think it is - but it is also bound to be questioned by those who prefer peace at any price, by those who think arms-control procedures superior to military force, and by the broad Left.


--J. O'Sullivan, National Review
Haven't read this yet but it looks interesting: the pious and the war
Good morrow, Benedick. Why, what's the matter,
That you have such a February face,
So full of frost, of storm and cloudiness?


--Shakespeare, Much Ado About Nothing
As Gaeilge

A quarto of drawn-Guinness
gentle with a barber’s care-
the clanking of the glasses, the craick
of cloistered hospitality
    in an inhospital clime
muddied they trundle accented paths
    the essence of the particular.

He drank till he remembered himself--
in the bogland his trouser cuffs dirty,
collecting peat for fires lit by progeny
the rousing of the fiddle the flurry of feet
shamans and charlatans and shape-shifters all;
a fleet of Children of Lir

Ar Dheis Dé go raibh a anam

February 14, 2003

Vanilla Sky
One of my friend's favorite movies is Vanilla Sky, starring Tom Cruise. He gave me the VHS tape last night and while it's not my favorite I can say that it was a very Christian movie (despite the nudity, but that's what a fast-forward button is for). It is the pluperfect antidote to the thinking that actions don't have consequences. For me, the exceedingly haunting scene (this led to reflection on some of the wrong paths I took in the late 80s) was the palpable sense of regret when they both realize how things would be different if he had just not gotten into his ex-girlfriend's car (presumably for one last 'ride', sexually speaking, for which he got more than he bargained for). The hope though that 'good can come of bad' was expressed by her saying they will be together again (though it be delayed) which seems to me a supremely Christian message.

The movie reminds me of a bit Dicken's "Christmas Carol" in its effect, in its warning that bad behavior has eternal consequences and in its prodding to leave behind selfishness. I also liked how even though Cruise's character imagined the worst of his friend though it turned out his friend had stood by him...Cruise thought he didn't have friends but both his Sophia and his writer friend and the family friend at work showed his suspicions were unfounded, much as any suspicions of God's love are unfounded.

The flick sent an electric shock to the heart like Scrooge & Marley did. The character played by Cruise had his face and manner eventually match the ugliness of his heart; you saw his hidden inner repulsiveness on full sacramental display, a crooked smile of half-humanity - what our souls must look like to God.
Desperately Seeking the Meaning of Nugatory
I got a 169 on the vocabulary quiz. I blame the sad score on my misspent youth.

That baby was tailor-made for Dylan. Can't say I'm surprised by his 189.

February 13, 2003

Humorous Mark Shea post
Jesus said unto them, "Who do you say I am?"

And Peter answered him, saying, "You are the eschatological manifestation of the ground of our being, the kerygma in which we find the ultimate meaning of our interpersonal relationships."

And Jesus said, "Huh?"
Cyril of Jerusalem
Reading Kathy the Carmelite's post on Cyril of Jerusalem makes me feel severely under-catechized (regular readers probably already assumed that). But that is in some sense is a blessing because of the ocean of riches still awaitin'. I don't like the idea of the sea being exhaustable.

In an un-put-downable Christianity Today article the author says:
*
Yes, those four [Merton, O'Connor, Day & Percy] were great. Yet for the Catholic writer their greatness is cold comfort, even a reproach. It compounds your isolation. It suggests what you are not. If you try to identify with them, claim them, write the way they did, it just doesn't work.

Why? One reason, of course, is that the times were different. When you read their books you confront this again and again. Merton's autobiography implied that there was no salvation outside the church. O'Connor asked a priest for permission to read Madame Bovary. And here is Dorothy Day, in the confession scene at the beginning of The Long Loneliness:

'"Bless me father, for I have sinned," is the way you begin. "I made my last confession a week ago, and since then…." Properly, one should say the Confiteor, but the priest has no time for that, what with the long lines of penitents on a Saturday night, so you are supposed to say it outside the confessional as you kneel in a pew, or as you stand in line with others.'

That might as well be the week after Trent. Times have changed. So has the church.

We don't like to acknowledge it, but what we admire in them is not their books alone but the whole package—the books and the lives all together. We'd like to have them as companions. We'd like to be like them. We'd like to efface ourselves in them, to bury our unbelief in their belief, and in fact many of their readers have lost themselves in this sort of veneration.

*
When Paul Elie says "times have changed, so has the church" and quotes Day on confession and how Merton's autobiography implied a belief in no salvation outside the Church, he is expressing a subterranean longing for Catholic fundamentalism. Elie writes about Catholicism in an elegiac, romantic "Lost Cause" sort of way... But I wonder how much that lack of faith is due to the Church changing (i.e. extra ecclesiam nulla salus) versus a general lack of proper catechization. Are we "depraved because we are deprived" as the line from West Side Story's "Gee, Officer Krupke" goes? That alienation he writes about is real though. Many of us live far from the Catholic ghettos are parents lived in, ghettos in which faith was already given in the sacrament of Baptism and watered and fed with the Baltimore Catechism. You were Catholic in the same way you were Irish or Italian. It was merely how, not whether, to live it.

Perhaps that is all nostalgic hooey though. Anyway David Mills writes in Touchstone about a bishop in England: "Self-identification equals faith, he thinks. Gosh. I would have thought Jesus' warnings to the Pharisees and others would have taught the man that this is not true, but apparently not. Surely he's known men who thought they were the life of the party when they were really drunken boors.

Anyway, on catechizing Cyril of Jerusalem comes to the rescue:

He is the all-time King of Catechesis. In his day (347), he delivered his "Catechetical Lectures", about which I'll post more in the future. These are the prototype for today's RCIA programs. If more RCIA presentations were as interesting and meaty as Cyril's, and more presenters as knowledgeable about the faith, our new converts might help us grow into something that looks a lot more like the Church Militant. Cyril was witty, succinct, and able to think on his feet. He could illuminate six or seven different aspects of one doctrine without confusing or boring a listener (or, in my case, a reader). Every other sentence in his lectures seems to be an allusion to Scripture.

(Incidentally, some of the Old Testament references astound me, especially the ones to books like Judges and Ezekiel. From the context, it appears that he expected his catechumens to understand exactly what and whom he was referring to! And there were no printed Bibles back then--there was not yet even one set Canon agreed upon, and probably not many copies of Old and New Testaments in one place. Not like today, when catechumens are mechanically issued red paperback NABs from the RE office. These people must've scrounged far and wide, and maybe even hand-copied their own Bibles.) -- Kathy Swistock
Ten Great Magazines via Fructus Ventris. I can certainly vouch for numbers 2, 5, 6 and 7, which I either read or subscribe to.
Ash Wednesday in a Hard Winter
Milkwhite in his alb and still as this temple,
The priest waits with the stone patience of a heron.
I approach in the deadfall of midafternoon,
Flotsam blown in out of the snow-harrowed day.
He stabs once, twice, raking my cold brow
With the stiff bill of his ash-black thumb.
"Remember, man, thou art dust . . ."
His cello voice, half altar, half mountain,
Groans more than speaks my name and blame.
Stabbed and marked, I make my way to a back pew.
Here, the act seems mere calligraphy-
Cross and death and their one-day shadow.
Meanwhile I relax, regarding the solemnities
Of stained glass and enjoying the hearth-fire warmth.
Oh yes, a fierce winter for us and worse for the beasts.
Where is the mercy, I ask, in this season
Of bird-killing ice and tree-snapping wind,
This bitter winter made by the Maker of All Things?
But the heron priest has pressed the answer
Onto and into my everyman brow.
Murmur as I may, I know that this bitter time,
As all bitter things, was made by me
When I walked, winter innocent, in the old garden
And plucked in summer joy the ash-bearing fruit.

--John Martin
One of my favorite scenes in the bible is where Martha and Jesus exchange words after Lazarus' death. Martha shows tremendous faith by saying "I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask." When Jesus says "Your brother will rise again", Martha knows the plan and is docile to it. "I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day." But then comes the shattering reply, "I am the resurrection and the life..."
There is something very beautiful about orthodox icons. At the Byzantine church I frequent there is a gigantic one of the Theotokos behind the altar. No matter what side of church I sit on it's as if she is looking at me and it is comforting.

Many of the figures on icons have a stern look about them, like the one below. When you walk into a Byzantine church you realize that your own sinfulness and unworthiness just by looking at the icons.

February 12, 2003

Greatest Hits

Moreover - and this is less often noticed - "as a very frequent historical phenomenon, through a fresh application, a new verification, of the very ancient law of antinomies," the very conflict between two doctrines nearly always implies certain presuppositions common to both. Whence arises another danger for the theologian who makes too many concessions to the demands of controversy. In his struggle against heresy he always sees the question, more or less, willingly or unwillingly, from the heretic's point of view. He often accepts questions in the form in which the heretic propounds them, so that without sharing the error he may make implicit concessions to his opponent, which are the more serious the more explicit are his refutations... - Kevin Miller

On The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity...By Philip Jenkins
One issue that Jenkins fails to address in depth is the future of Christianity in Europe and North America. A reader might easily conclude that Christianity is strongest among people who have experienced poverty and persecution. The Gospel is, indeed, “good news for the poor.” Does this mean that Christianity has no future in the peaceful and prosperous West? Although he does not go that far, Jenkins suggests that it does become harder for the faith to prosper in such settings—“as hard as passing through the eye of a needle.” --J. Peter Nixon

I think the problem lies in radically disconnecting this life with the next life, as if they were two acts of a play. But life eternal has already begun in us. That's what baptism is, that's the meaning of Easter, that's the good news. Baptism isn't something we get now to use later, like a pair of skis during a summer sale. It is a participation, right now, in eternity. Jesus came in the flesh and died on the Cross to "free those who through fear of death had been subject to slavery all their life," as the Letter to the Hebrews says. I don't know how many evangelical pacifist Catholics think death is the worst thing that can happen to us, but if any do, I hope they will realize that death has already happened to us, and that we won. -Disputations

What is interesting about Kathy's initial point is that it only became in some degree true with the Reformation. At that point and almost Manichean element entered certain branches of the Protestant Reformation. The metaphysical poets are remarkable for their retention of the Catholic intergration of physical/mental/spiritual. But in Bunyan, and even to a certain degree Milton, you begin to see the separation of heart and head, physical/spiritual/ and mental. - Steven Riddle

I read recently (in the book of Kreeft on Pascal): "It is necessary to love our soul, but to despise oursekves; the modern world pushes us the opposite: to love ourselves and to be not worried us by our soul "... - Hernan Gonzalez

Do not despair, child. Lawd gonna gitcha. Caint hide from the Lawd. Sneak right up on yo sorry butt and BAM! Th' Lawd done gotcha! - father of the Barrister
Nancy Nall's Blissful over "Joe Millionaire"
I've never been keen on watching car chases, explosions or train wrecks on the glass teat. Why, then, this itchy curiosity to see "Joe Millionaire"? I've watched only part of one episode, but this human-train-wreck-waiting-to-happen would be must-see TV if I could in any way rationalize my viewing. Perhaps I'm being needlessly puritanical, but to watch it would only reward the network for putting it on. Not only does if fail the test of "good use of time" but also of good taste... and it's exploitive and ..(help me here).

Okay, I've talked myself into not watching it again.
Disputations discusses the United Nations....a few questions:

How do we reconcile our democracy - the notion of representational gov't - with that of a non-representational gov't (the U.N.)? Can our elected leaders cede their authority without our permission? Reminds me of the ol' Protestant issue with St. Peter. Some say "the Lord gave Peter authority, but Peter did not have the right to cede that authority to the next pope."

Can the U.S. be "Cafeteria Catholics" when it comes to the U.N., i.e. pick and choose when we will submit to it, or will that cost the U.N. too much in terms of credibility?

Just as a democracies are only as good as the people they are composed of, international bodies are only as good as the represented national bodies. Most of the nations in the U.N. are either non-Christian, anti-Christian, or post-Christian. Thus I wonder at how that model can hold up.

February 11, 2003

Now That is Old
...the universe according to WMAP is 13.7 billion years old, plus or minus one percent.
--NY Times article
Why They Hate Us - Part 2
Astonishing 60 Minutes piece this past weekend on South Korea, bastion of anti-American sentiment. Despite three billion a year in the form of military protection, the South Korean gov't had to send out troops to protect the U.S. Embassy from its citizens. They routinely burn the American flag. The correspondent asked an expert there why they hate us - they are not Islamic extremists. He said, "we've had a relationship of dependency for 50 years now and dependency leads to resentment." Maybe Pat Buchanan was right. Is it proper to help someone who doesn't want your help?
Dust Carrying Precious Cargo
One of the reasons I so like Cardinal Ratzinger is his honesty, even when it's not something I'd prefer to hear. If the Irish are dreamers, then the Germans live much closer to the ground and are a necessary antidote to excess.

I was thinking this while reading about his view of the Eucharist in God and the World. My view has always been a John 6 sort of view, that the Eucharist is life giving, that after receiving I am dust carrying precious cargo. My view tends toward a medicinal one, like the woman seeking to touch the hem of His garment. Or as the spiritual equivalent of liquorous spirits, giving you the courage to do what you wouldn't normally do.

But this is unsatisfying; it doesn't explain why I am not better, or why priests and religious often aren't much better people.

But Ratzinger, who is allergic to sentiment and superstition, writes:

In any case, if we look at the sacraments too much from the viewpoint of efficiency and regard them as a means to impart miraculous powers to man and fundamentally change him, then, as it were, they fail the test. Here we are concerned with something different. Faith is not something that exists in a vacuum; rather, it enters into the material world. And it is through signs from the material world that we are, in turn, brought into contact with God.

The Risen One, who is now present [in the Eucharist] is not a thing. I don't receive a piece of Christ. That would indeed be an absurdity, but this is a personal process. He himself is giving himself to me and wants to assimilate me into himself....Once, in a sort of vision, Augustine thought he heard these words: 'Eat me; I am the bread of the strong." Jesus is saying here that it is the opposite to how it is with ordinary food that your body assimilates. That food is lesser than you, so that it becomes part of your body. And in my case, it is the other way around: I assimilate you into me. I am the stronger; you will be assimilated into me. This is, as we said, a personal process. Man, if he abadons himself in receiving this, is in his turn received.


The Cardinal On Mary:
The figure of Mary has touched the hearts of men in a special way. On one hand, the hearts of women, who see themselves in this and feel very close to Mary, but also the hearts of those men who have not lost their appreciation for mother and maiden...through the Mother they find God so close that religion is no longer a burden, but a matter of trust and a help in coping with life.

There is, on the other side, a kind of purist Christianity, a rationalizing, that can seem a bit cold. Of course the feelings - and we must allow this to be the task of the professors- have to be scrutinized and purified, again and again. This must not deteriorate into mere sentimentality, which no longer keeps in touch with reality, which can no longer acknowledge the greatness of God. But since the time of the Enlightenment- and we are now involved in another enlightenment- we have experienced such an enormous trend toward rationalizing and puritanism, if I may so express it, that the heart of man sets itself against this development and holds tight to Mariology.
--Cardinal Ratzinger, God and the World

February 10, 2003

What if Great Writers Were Infected with Corporate Buzzword-Speak?
(Definition of stovepipe)
Homer: The rosy fingers of dawn did appear beyond the horizon, as the Sirens, thinking out of the box, gave Odysseus some real "opportunities" when trying to ramp up his synergy after his descent into the maelstrom...

Lewis Carroll: 'Twas brillig, and the stuffy suits did gyre and gimbol in the wabe all drilled down were the stovey pipes as the mome raths outgrabe...

James Whitcomb Riley: When the frost is on the punkin and yer rampin' up yer synergy an' the stovepipe refrences has drained you of all energy, 'Bout the time you hear tell of a new verb what's called "lev'rage", Then's the time to slam a jug o' some white lightnin' beverage.

Dashiel Hammet: "The jig is up, dollface. We found the joker who pumped your old man full a' hot lead, and it looks like you were the only one in the solarium during the timebox of his death" "Well, with our new paperless environment you got nothin' to pin on me" "I've curtailed your scope creep through iterative processing, sugar, and by matrixing with the state cops we got all exit routes surrounded" "Does this mean I'll be deployed via a fast-track methodology to the state pen?" "You know I can't crystal ball what the judge will say when you're transitioning from citizen to criminal to inmate, sweetcakes. I hope for your sake he leverages some time off for good behavior."

Anonymous: On the first day God put a hard stake in the ground and said, "Let us take a buy vs. build strategy, with an out of the box, vanilla implementation, and after we get our arms around it we will drill down from the 50,000 foot view to where the rubber meets the road." And then there were "some opportunities".


--friend & colleague & raconteur, J. Dyer
Michael Novak claims the war is just.
Man Bites Dog
The glass teat actually offered something interesting last week - a show called Miracles on ABC. At least the pilot was good; can't vouch for upcoming episodes.
Yesterday's Reading:
Cardinal Ratzinger's, "God and the World"
Paul Theroux's "Hotel Honolulu"
John Updike's "Seek My Face"
Still pondering Golda Mier's comment about how "Israel is the only country who still likes America despite having received her aid". In the Russell Kirk book, there was an anecdote (which I'll paraphrase badly), about a potential employee who went to interview and said self-righteously that he would never take a loan because he did not want to be beholden to anyone. The man didn't hire him because he did not want somebody who would never allow himself to be beholden. The point is that mindset of self-reliance seems to be totally opposed to the gospel. We are the welfare recipients in the spiritual sense.
Congratulations to Ellyn vonHuben, who knew that the Pogues took their name from the Gaelic phrase "Pogue Mahone" which means "kiss my ass". My what an edifying blog this is.

February 09, 2003

Notes on EWTN's Show
Franciscan University's latest show had Dr. Ralph McInerny as guest on the topic, "A Catholic View of the Arts". Much food for thought. McInerny, interestingly, compared the Holy Father's Letter to Artists to his earlier Fides et Ratio. He said that just as philosophy and faith need to co-exist despite a certain tension, so does humanistic art and sacred art. Both philosophy and art can "go off the rail" but that both are necessary; reason and beauty being divine attributes. Scott Hahn even went a step further in suggesting that Rudolf Otto hijacked a notion of holiness in portraying it as 'absolutely other', as if the Holy Spirit was wholly other than God - and then went on to praise beauty as a reflection of holiness. Christ, in the incarnation, became the mediator between the sacred and secular, human and divine.

Lots of good bon mots - Regis Martin quoted somebody as saying, "what would the devil have to do without God?" in suggesting that nihilistic art in its efforts to be profane is paying an indirect homage to the sacred. It has to have something to "bounce off of".

Another: Hemingway said, "if you want a message, call Western Union" in emphasizing his desire not to write tracts of any sort, only the truth (which McInerny said he did successfully for the first 2/3rds of his career).

Dr. Martin also mentioned that beauty is the "forgotten transcendental" and that Dostoyevsky said that the world would be saved by it. Beauty, Hahn said, is like morality not relativistic, something Flannery O'Connor learned from Art & Scholasticism.

They touched briefly on the paradox of how horrible people can write brilliant books and vice versa and McInery argued that no one completely decadent ever produced great art - good art, but not great. Hahn spiritualized it by comparing it to those who do great spiritual works - like curing people or prophesizing - and yet will have God say to them "I do not know you" because of the lack of interior holiness.

As for what is art? McInerny quoted C.S. Lewis as saying literature is that which is read more than once. He also said that art is a continuum and said positive things about even popular fiction, remarking on the puzzling fact that that we should be interested in what fictional characters say or do - there is something inherent within us that wants to ascribe in a linear fashion meaning in events of fictional characters that will help us in our own search.
Kudos to Dylan for catching the Pogue miscue. Extra credit: Why are the Pogues so-named?
Penance
"Some may ask, 'What is the fruit of penance?' The answer to this is quite simple - the fruit is the changing of the heart, the turning back with our whole mind and heart to the true meaning of life..God Himself. In order for penance to bear good fruit in the soul, though, it can't just be a half turn away from self (just an insistent NO), it must be a full turn away from self and toward God (an insistent NO to self and insistent YES to God). It is only a half turn then we will feel the void of our denial and the end will more than likely be discouragement or pride."
--Deacon Bill Steltemeier of EWTN

February 08, 2003

Good Point
"The first time I visited San Marco an art critic pointed out to me the plan of Fra Giovanni's work: scenes from the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary in the cells of the young Dominicans.; the Sorrowful Mysteries in the cells of middle aged, and for the old, the Glorious Mysteries. My friend laughed when I asked how they coaxed the young ones to move into the cells with the sorrowful mysteries and the middle aged to admit they were old enough for the Glorious!"
--Sister Juliana D'Amato, O.P., pastoral associate at St. Margaret's in Columbus
Rare Old Mountain Dew
Let grasses grow and waters flow
in a free and easy way
But give me enough of the rare old stuff
that is made near Galway bay
Come gangers all from Donegal, Sligo and Leitrim too
Oh well give them the slip and well take a sip
Of the rare old Mountain dew

There's a neat little still at the foot of the hill,
Where the smoke curls up to the sky;
By a whiff of the smell you can plainly tell
That there's poitin, boys, close by.
For it fills the air with a perfume rare,
And betwixt both me and you,
As home we roll, we can drink a bowl,
Or a bucketful of mountain dew.

Now learned men as use the pen,
Have writ the praises high
Of the rare poitin from Ireland green,
Distilled from wheat and rye...

--Traditional
**

The Pogues - Celtic Rock
It was Christmas Eve babe
In the drunk tank
An old man said to me, won't see another one
And then he sang a song
The Rare Old Mountain Dew
And I turned my face away
And dreamed about you

Got on a lucky one
Came in eighteen to one
I've got a feeling
This year's for me and you
So happy Christmas
I love you baby
I can see a better time
When all our dreams come true...

- Shane McGowan, "The Pogues"
Vacational Flashbacks
Mirage-like it floats into my consciousness; there I am endorphined on Bowman’s beach with a houseboat sitting big as life just offshore, some fellow alone with the golden sunlight split between the rudders. Life as a solitude, he fishes in the reflected glory of God’s creation, putting out in the great 75% of the earth. Worries there dissolve like selzers, cast like dead mollusks on the shoreline, gleaming gleams of embarrassed delight, embarrassed that worries ever saw the light of day. Oh sailorman, in your life less traveled, what did you catch today? What briny fish of unblinking eye hath caught your eye?

        
          ain't it purty?

Along this coast I cast a cold eye on life, on death; only the fish heads remain from the work of seabirds. Before lay the reality of sand, of chilled water and generous horizon, the broad tame bank of water. Numbness falls, another week I stand with the net over the side catching water. Hoist ye anchor! Brim up to the hull of life, seek ye what can't be grasped.

The ocean’s saline personality extrudes on my Midwestern life. I recall the little Sanibel bookstore and her eagerly provincial myopism filled with shell-collecting books and Travis McGee fiction. On a wall of used books, all ten dollars, I found a Camilia Paglia volume and watched her crack the whip on progressive Presbyterianism. A lesbian agnostic defending orthodox Christianity from Presbyterians – surely the end is nigh!
Fictional Foray on Sisters
Ah, the grand experiment! Start out with siblings, one or two or three or more and grow up with similar genetics and environments. Nature and nuture, exploring different paths as if to better the chances of finding the right one.

“You go that way, and I’ll go this!”

And so one impregnates with movies, with pop tunes and popular culture. Another finds books and runs down alleys blind and otherwise. Another goes family, finds the answers within her own womb. Each imagine their sibling's version of faith to be fragile or flawed; they don’t ask nor tell thinking the topic taboo.

February 07, 2003

The Real World
It's hard to keep up with the blogs I frequent, but I thought I'd pluck the magic twanger and choose one at random from the huge cacophony of Blogroll. I assumed I would get something light; Catlicker blogs tend to be weightier. Instead I got something I didn't bargain for. A blog of a guy who lost his wife at the age of 25, after six years of marriage. How sad.
Rod Dreher weighs in on the war, pretty even handedly (more fairly than I would've suspected):
Does anybody want ordained men and women uncritically baptizing war? The pope was right to call war, even just war, a "defeat for humanity".
You are Irish
You are a Dubliner.

What's your Inner European? brought to you by Quizilla (via Flos Carmeli)
Interesting Exchange On Crossfire Last Night

CARLSON: Tariq Aziz knows what he's doing for Valentine's Day. On February 14 the deputy prime minister of Iraq will meet with Pope John Paul II....Aziz is hoping for a useful photo-op. As a top aide to Saddam Hussein for 40 years, Aziz is an architect of modern Iraq and it's police state. And he's complicit in its many crimes. Will the pope publicly scold him for enslaving millions of people and murdering tens of thousands more? Probably not.

On the other hand the pope had no trouble scolding the United States recently for being mean to Iraq. "War against Iraq," he said last month, would like all wars, be, quote, "a defeat for humanity."

Really? Is humanity worse off now that the Nazis are gone, that the Soviet Union has collapsed and Baby Doc, Pol Pot and Idi Amin have been swept away by all force? Of course not. Their defeats were victories for humanity and Saddam's will be as well.

BEGALA: Oh now where do I begin on this? First, let me correct your history. The Soviet Union fell without a war. It fell because of containment. Now let me correct you...

CARLSON: Actually there were dozens of little wars all around the world during the Cold War.

BEGALA: We never marched on Moscow. Now let me correct your reporting. The Holy Father gave a speech on January 1 of 2000 where he called for world day of prayer for peace. And he did say that a war is a defeat for humanity. You know what else he said? An I'm quoting...

CARLSON: (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

BEGALA: And I'm quoting from the Holy Father. He said, "At times brutal and systemic violence has to be countered by armed resistance." He said, "There is a duty in some cases of humanitarian intervention," and he listed when, Just War Doctrine of the Catholic Church goes back to St. Thomas Aquinas. War has to be a last resort and many people wonder if...

CARLSON: Yes, no, I am familiar with this.

BEGALA: ... you should address a wrong, not be preemptive. It should be proportional. We don't know if it will be in the violence. And we should protect non-combatants, which I know the American military will do to the best of our ability. But you ought to be fair to the Holy Father, Tucker. This is not just a political speech.

CARLSON: Actually, I think I am being fair...

BEGALA: You were massively unfair.

CARLSON: I think it's quite unfair of the Pope to be used as a propaganda tool by Tariq Aziz is on the very day that that report goes to the U.N. It's a shame.

BEGALA: Tucker, with all due respect, I don't think the Pope needs to take lessons from you on standing for human rights. He's one of the great men.
I couldn't agree mo' with this post from Minute Particulae on the reaction to the Columbia.
Breaking Points
I've had a disagreement with someone who flatly disbelieves that God never gives us more than we can handle. She points to suicides and insanity as examples. I point out the verse where St. Paul says that God never gives us more than we can take but that is not persuasive, she apparently thinks it an overly enthusiastic embellishment.

One thing to think about is this: if you accept that God came to earth in the person of Jesus, then how can you possibly accept that He would go back to the Father without giving us everything that we need? In other words, would someone die on the Cross for you and then calmly ascend to heaven without giving you the grace needed? It would make no sense. He would stay on the earth forever if that is what was required.

And in one sense he has. In the Eucharist. Here is commentary on John chapter 6:

In verse 10, Jesus tells the people to sit down (literally 'recline') on the green grass before distributing the bread. What is signified by the posture of reclining? Does one work to earn God's grace or is it freely given? (Eph 2:8-9) How could this be described as the real Sabbath rest (CCC 624)? How is this different from Numbers 11, where the Jews had to get up early and go out to gather the manna from the ground (EX 16:14-18)? Under the New Covenant, how is the eating and gathering different from the gathering and eating of the Old Covenant (notice the different sequence of actions)?

In the Old Testament, men worked for six days, then rested on the seventh. In the New Testament, we start the week with rest and then work for six days (CCC 2175, 2190). Regarding salvation, this change in the work week is an example of 'work' versus 'grace' (Jn 1:17;CCC 2025). We must first receive the free gift of God, by resting in Christ by faith, and then go out to serve him and do the good works of charity and sanctification required of us (Eph 2:8-10,; Tit 2:14, 3-8). In the OT, the people of Isreal worked -gathering with their hands; by contrast in the NT, Christ does the work and then gives bountifully into our hands with basketfuls left over.

How might it be significant that there was no surplus with the manna in the wilderness (Ex 16:16-21), yet there is an abundant surplus with Jesus' provision? How does the Eucharist help us understand the great generosity of God?

--Stephen Ray, St. John's Gospel
Blogging from the Other Side
Amy terminated her blog, but thankfully still can say meaningful things via a link on Mark Shea's blog. Her html on the Vatican and New Age statement was fine reading.

This was especially interesting, first a quote from the document, then her commentary:
"The techniques and methods offered in this immanentist religious system, which has no concept of God as person, proceed 'from below'. Although they involve a descent into the depths of one's own heart or soul, they constitute an essentially human enterprise on the part of a person who seeks to rise towards divinity by his or her own efforts. It is often an “ascent” on the level of consciousness to what is understood to be a liberating awareness of “the god within”. Not everyone has access to these techniques, whose benefits are restricted to a privileged spiritual 'aristocracy'.

The essential element in Christian faith, however, is God's descent towards his creatures, particularly towards the humblest, those who are weakest and least gifted according to the values of the “world”. There are spiritual techniques which it is useful to learn, but God is able to by-pass them or do without them. A Christian's “method of getting closer to God is not based on any technique in the strict sense of the word. That would contradict the spirit of childhood called for by the Gospel. The heart of genuine Christian mysticism is not technique: it is always a gift of God; and the one who benefits from it knows himself to be unworthy”

…..All meditation techniques need to be purged of presumption and pretentiousness. Christian prayer is not an exercise in self-contemplation, stillness and self-emptying, but a dialogue of love, one which “implies an attitude of conversion, a flight from 'self' to the 'You' of God”. It leads to an increasingly complete surrender to God's will, whereby we are invited to a deep, genuine solidarity with our brothers and sisters. (3.4)

An invitation to meet Jesus Christ, the bearer of the water of life, will carry more weight if it is made by someone who has clearly been profoundly affected by his or her own encounter with Jesus, because it is made not by someone who has simply heard about him, but by someone who can be sure “that he really is the saviour of the world” (verse 42). It is a matter of letting people react in their own way, at their own pace, and letting God do the rest. (5)"

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Now, those who have no real engagement with the world and with the faith of others but through the pages of books and internet websites won’t like this. But those who actually live and minister in a world populated by real human beings on real journeys know how true it is.
I've been invited to hear Medjugorje visionary Ivan speak who is coming to a city near me - Cleveland. I'm not a big fan of Medjugorje (see Garabandal comment below), especially after reading E. Michael Jones's book "Medjugorje Deception". Also my hero Cardinal Ratzinger dissed it as I recall. But I suppose I am curious enough to dirve a couple hours and witness this talk. If anyone has already been to see him, I would appreciate an email on whether it is worthwhile.
So That's Why They Hate Us
"Israel is the only country that still likes the US despite having received aid from them." - Golda Meir

I guess it is a burden to be beholden to another country.

February 06, 2003

Ambrose of Milan taught that it has not pleased God to save men through logic. Richard Weaver assented to this, knowing as he did the nature of the average sensual man and the limits of pure rationality. Yet with a high logical power, Weaver undertook an intellectual defense of inherited culture, and of order and justice and freedom.

-Russell Kirk, "The Sword of Imagination"
Miracles
Nothing minute at Minute Particulae - his latest discussion on miracles with this quote from Stanley Jaki is interesting:

They [miracles] represent the challenge of external reality, not of axioms of logic. That true miracles are never coercive, whatever their occasional impact on skeptics and scoffers, is their chief recommendation. A dispensation would never be truly divine that would take man's freedom away because such a dispensation would not also be fully human...

Jaki appears to imply that the impact of miracles on skeptics and scoffers is a secondary effect, but I thought it was the effect in the Old & New Testaments. Miracles in the bible were accepted as proof of authority. The test of prophets in the OT was, well, prophecy and miracles. Jesus said, "believe because of the signs and wonders" if you must. And more to the point, St. Paul certainly would seem to have had his freedom impinged upon, as did Jonah, and numerous others. I'm okay with saying that "human freedom will NORMALLY not be compromised". Of course the way around it is that Jaki could mean it as an "all or none" - either we have no freedom or all freedom, which is not the way I thought it worked. (Not that I'm arguing with Jaki; he's brilliant and I'm not. I'm just trying to understand that statement).
I concur with Dylan's sentiments the ultimate sin is to be boring, but almost immediately realized, alas, that my foray into the blogging equivalent of vacation slides forfeited that high moral ground...
Quick follow-up to the Irish/German post...I'll never forget Peggy Noonan's spin on the fact that the Irish attention to housecleaning is..shall we say...light, such that spiderwebs are referred to as "Irish lace". Peggy opined that this was merely a rational choice - when faced with whether to read Joyce or Pearse or dust, the Irish understood priorities.

February 05, 2003

Washington Post's best fiction of 2002 list. I've read some Murakami when I was younger and liked his off-beat style. Much of the rest appears to be Flotsam and Jetsam...
On the Difficulties of being Half-Irish, Half-German
Perpetually at war with self, the German's love of order, discipline and punctuality married with the Irish love for drink, laziness and chaos results in, at the very least, a punctual drinker...I'm never late for happy hour.

The so-called "English" frequently played a key role in mediating between the Scotch-Irish and the Germans, who often did not mix together in backwoods society. The Scotch-Irish had a reputation for impulsiveness, were very politically active, and were fierce Indian fighters. The Germans, on the other hand, were sober and perhaps the best farmers in colonial America, but they were generally politically apathetic. -- Richard Drake, A History of Appalachia
Garabandal
The history of all approved apparitions shows that the Church requires unequivocal evidence of supernaturality. This can be cures, as at Lourdes and Beauraing, or a supernatural prodigy, as at Fátima. The reason from the Church's mystical theology is that most mysticism (as both St. Thomas Aquinas and St. John of the Cross teach) is mediated by the angels (who have a created angelic nature). What the good angels can do the bad angels can imitate, so that many so-called "supernatural" phenomena are merely preternatural (above human nature, but not above the angelic nature). - EWTN - C. Donovan
Powell Post-Mortem
It appears as though France and the other security council members boxed themselves into a corner by agreeing to a resolution last November that invoked 'serious consequences' if Iraq failed. Apparently this is a case of words having no meaning to the French, who consider the word 'serious' to mean 'let's allow the inspection team more time'. Why couldn't the French have been more honest and simply said they didn't want war?

France and Germany should've had the cahoonies to stand up from the beginning and simply say, "we can live with the risk Saddam affords, we lived with it for 40 years with the Soviet Union, we can live with it now." That would be far more persuasive than playing the inspections charade and expecting different results from the same actions.

You can say that they didn't want to telegraph that sentiment and thus give Saddam comfort in the unlikely event he would have a sudden conversion and comply, but it just seems like now they are in a position of breaking their word by not respecting the November resolution.
The world seen, as it were, flat, with no associations, none of the subtle hints of other things, no correspondence with ideas and experiences that link us to the first great history of mankind, would be dull and meaningless, hardly sensuous at all.
--George Scott-Moncrieff
(Lines on the loss of the "Titanic")

And as the smart ship grew
In stature, grace, and hue,
In shadowy silent distance grew the Iceberg too.

Alien they seemed to be;
No mortal eye could see
The intimate welding of their later history,

Or sign that they were bent
By paths coincident
On being anon twin halves of one august event,

Till the Spinner of the Years
Said "Now!" And each one hears,
And consummation comes, and jars two hemispheres.

--
Thomas Hardy, excerpts of Convergence of the Twain
Exactly
He's not always right; it only seems so. Very convincing post. I wonder what Mr. Dreher would say.

Not to imply that this period is nearly as bad as the time just before the Reformation, but I do wonder what could've been done in the Church to prevent the splitting of Christendom. If there were more like St. Thomas More, medievals who employed prayers, fasting, and maybe writing letters and sit-in's, would it have been enough to reform the Church from within instead of having it reformed by necessity? Faith says 'yes'.

February 04, 2003

I'm in awe of anyone who makes a living writing, so you can imagine my immediate affection for Disordered Affections, whose blogmistress is a screenwriter. My best friend is among Thoreau's mass of desperate men and is attempting to escape the corporation by writing a screenplay. I am surprised at his dilligence; he's read five books on screenplays, he's read at least four or five actual screen plays and he is now on his second revision (he says he will give it to me after this revision, for help in making the third). It is a sequel to a well-known comedy - I had originally blogged the title of only to receive a panicked visit asking that I remove it:

"Remember Shawshank Redemption? If anyone had said anything--" (He compares his eventual escape with the prisoner in Shawshank Redemption)

"Shawshank Redemption is (say it with me) ff-ff-ffiction".

Anyway, the hilarious thing is that after the first revision he said,

"It's pretty good, although it's not funny."

"Let me get this straight. You wrote a comedy that's not funny?"

"Yeah, that'll come with the second revision."
Nancy Nall gives Amy a proper send-off, and in doing so says:

Of course, journalism generally does a fairly piss-poor job covering religion in general, for reasons that don't bear much resemblance to the ones usually trotted out by pissed-off religious people -- mostly ignorance, and also because we're perhaps a little uncomfortable quoting people who claim prayer cured their cancer, and the chemotherapy had nothing to do with it.

There's often a backlash to sentiments attributing everything to God, even though everything is ultimately attributable to God. Protestants are especially prone to it. I've cringed at hearing my mother-in-law express sentiments that rain is literally angel's tears, or something to that effect. I fall prey to it at times. When I took food too late before Mass, I attributed my being able to receive due to God having arranged it - i.e. the priest starting Mass late and the homilist going long. That was no doubt narcissistic and probably false in attributing supernatural agencies to that which perhaps was purely coincidental or natural. It certainly drives non-believer Bill Mahrer crazy; he slams football players for thanking God for catching a pass. But it seems better to error on the side of attributing too much to God than too little.
Slightly irreverent...

I have found when I am sodden
All my sins are fast forgodden,
But when I put the gin away
My sinful thoughts they stick and stay.
So to a man of sinful thinking
I say there is no sin in drinking.
For such a man the only sin
Is to hide away the fifth of gin.
--Max Sparber
Today's Irish Lesson
St. Patrick did his job - the Irish were a holy folk. Where else do you say hello by saying "God to you?". There is no word for "hello" in the Irish language - "dia duit" meant "God to you". The reply would be "Dia is Muire duit" meaning "God and Mary to you.". The reply to that (if starved for conversation) was "God and Mary and Joseph to you". I'm not sure who the next saint in line would be should it be carried farther. Hear it here.
Fat, drunk & stupid no way to go thru life*
Interesting anecdote in Kirk's Sword of Imagination. At this time Kirk is living in suburbia, the intellectual tundra of Central Michigan, and William F. Buckley visits him and his first question is, "What do you do for friendship here?" (Implying that hobnobbing with the proles would be a non-starter). Kirk merely swung his arms around his vast library of books and said, "here are my friends!".

* -although you may have more company

February 03, 2003

God be with Jeff Miller, who is also ending his blog. I love that picture of the Holy Father he has in the upper left corner, I've been meaning to steal it.
Posts, we've got posts, we've got lots and lots of...
I must be going thru the manic blogging phase, but I was struck earlier today by the anamoly of praying for our spiritual betters. From the earliest times it was understood that some pray-ers have more "success" than other pray-ers. Perhaps for reasons of closeness to God, greater fervency, greater faith, greater willingness to sacrifice, I don't know.

So intercessory prayer for my betters has been problematic. My praying for the Pope is like someone on a respirator praying for an Olympic marathon runner. Feels sort of presumptuous at the least. But now I'm beginning to understand it - and this will probably be obvious to you spiritual gurus - that it is Jesus praying in me. If I can accept (no easy task given my sinfulness) the presence of God within me, then I can accept His presence praying for and through me.

This still does not quite answer the greater efficacy great saints have. I read the inspiring story of Maria Goretti the other day; she prayed for her assassin and eventually he became a monk. I hope this isn't too facetious but it just goes to show if you're going to kill someone, make it a saint.
Post-vacation Euphoria
My mood is inversely proportional to:

(length of time since my last vacation) + (time since last quality prayer session*)

* - perhaps ill-defined as prayer leaving me faithfilled rather than faithless

It is proportional to the number of beers I've had.

I'm reminded of a cartoon I once came across:
Brandy co-worker Bill to another co-worker: "What's up with Brandy?" (Brandy looks pained).
Co-worker: "Her post-vacation euphoria just dried up."
Bill: "How long did it take this time?"
Co-worker: "About 15 minutes."
Bill: "Wow, that has to be a new record."
More Pondering
Kathy the spirited Carmelite suspects on Disputations that some of the vehemence that denies the possiblity of a just war is actually a function of unbelief in life eternal.

I've often thought that this is how the Church could defend its persections of heresy. I'm no Church history expert, and I know that persecutions have been greatly exaggerated and/or have been state-sponsored and not Church-sanctioned, but if the Church did okay persecutions of the Albigensians you could see why if you consider the soul to be immortal and that hell is a worse result than death. Is there a greater causa belli than this? To save others from hell? Killing to prevent greater casualties (as Truman did with the A-bomb in WWII to prevent the loss of tens of thousand of additional casualties) seems morally small potatoes by comparison. The documents of Vatican II on Religious Freedom and others have spelled out the development that those in the state of invincible ignorance can be saved, and thus now it is a moot point. But if in the past they believed that the killing of some heretics was justified, by the souls they were saving of countless others who would have been damned.