February 28, 2004

Passion Review

I went into the movie thinking the "passion" referred to his death and agony, I left the movie thinking it meant his passion (love) for us. Don Imus asked Sen. Santorum if God might've found a less bloody way to say that but is there a more convincing way? That He would surrender himself to his creatures?

One of the most moving scenes was when Mary met Jesus while he was carrying His cross and he said, "See Mother, I make all things new." Suffering is now redemptive, enemies are to be loved. Also particularly memorable was Mary, always a step ahead of the curve, wiping up the blood of Jesus, aware of its preciousness. Effective too was a flashback of Jesus saying, "No servant is greater than his master. If they persecute me, they will persecute you" and just as he says this Caviezel looks into the camera - at us.

Gibson's take on Simon of Cyrene was interesting. Simon encourages Jesus by telling him "not much farther", and it is as if Jesus draws strength from Simon, an odd thought at first given the role-reversal of the human being encouraging the divine. Similarly, the body language of Jesus when the thief on the cross believes in him. But of course, Jesus was also fully human and this film really expores Jesus's full humanity even though there is a supernatural aspect to the suffering. Gibson seems to say Jesus took on superhuman physical suffering, enduring a blood loss that would render a human body unable to function, symbolic of His taking on an impossible burden of sin. This "impossibility" meant Jesus had to trust the Father in a new, even more extraordinary way, and Gibson suggests the Father provided invaluable relief in the form of Simon and the thief on the cross. I was also struck by the truth of the verse "the Spirit blows where it will" because even for Jesus the moments of Fatherly affirmation in His life (such as occurred at His baptism) happened when the Father willed it. On the cross, despite His feeling of forsakenness, the affirmation didn't come, perhaps so that we feel solidarity with Him when we feel forsaken.

I don't think the movie will be as evangelistic as I'd once thought. To give a personal example, my non-Christian brother-in-law has refused to ever see it. The movie has an aspect of "preaching to the choir", but the choir is always in need of preaching.

The USCCB reviewer thought there was too much emphasis on the "how" of the Crucifixion rather than the "why"...I wish the reviewer would've "said more words" and explained what more he wanted. I'm honestly curious. Atonement theories? Another review, from Todd McCarthy in Variety, particularly caught my attention: "If an age produces the renditions of classic stories that reflect those times, then The Passion of the Christ - which is violent, contentious, emotional, extreme and highly proficient - must be the Jesus movie for this era."
A good idea here at Christopher's blog - a clearinghouse of opinions on the Passion. We'll be seeing it tonight at 7.
The Rose Tree

"O words are lightly spoken,"
Said Pearse to Connolly,
"Maybe a breath of politic words
Has withered our Rose Tree;
Or maybe but a wind that blows
Across the bitter sea."

"It needs to be but watered,"
James Connolly replied,
"To make the green come out again
And spread on every side,
And shake the blossom from the bud
To be the garden's pride."

"But where can we draw water,"
Said Pearse to Connolly,
"When all the wells are parched away?
O plain as plain can be
There's nothing but our own red blood
Can make a right Rose Tree."     --W. B. Yeats

February 27, 2004

Letters by Dom Hubert van Zeller, OSB
Since you say in your letter that you are feeling sorry for yourself while you are writing I suggest that, without putting it into words, you know the answer to your problem. 'I have given God so much more' is your complaint, 'than he has given me. I accepted the grace of conversion from sin and worldliness and all the old life, and what have I got in return? Nothing but loneliness, alienation, non-comprehension.' Well, if religion is essentially the life of faith, what did you expect? You see only what you have given to God, not what he has given to you. When you accepted the grace of conversion you didn't haggle. You didn't say 'I'll alter my way of life provided you make it worth my while. In return for the renunciations it is only fair to expect something back.' You cannot strike a bargain with God. 'Seek first the kingdom of God' and to seek first the privileges of belonging to that kingdom is to get the order wrong. If you are deprived of the 'consolations of religion' you should remember that it was religion and not consolation that was the object of your conversion. You have not chosen the good and rejected the bad because the good is beautiful and the bad is ugly; you do not pray because prayer attracted you and sin disgusted you; you have not given yourself to the service of God for what you can get out of it but for what you can give to it.
...of course my definition of "saying what needs sayin'" might be a little loose*

I got to the quarterly meeting early so as to secure a coveted last-row seat. Early in, early out as they say. Quick escape to the door.

Every three months we sit through the driest of presentations imaginable, a PowerPoint presentation of financial statements, something irrelevant to my job in a practical sense.

I bring a folder to the meeting, ostensibly for note-taking but actually because it contains printouts of NY Times First Chapters, such as Cathleen Medwick's "Teresa of Avila" and David Cannadine's "The Rise and Fall of Class in Britain".

But something happened on the way to Cannadine's torpid prose. The VP caught me zoning out and asked if I could hear him. "Oh, yes, yes." Being called upon concentrates the mind wonderfully.

Suitably chastized, I listened and became amazed, as I often am in these situations, by his untrammelled enthusiasm. I get a similar feeling when I see a mature man bidding on toy train sets on Ebay. He works eighty hours a week and appears to live for the job. He mentioned he had worked on a key budget issue on Christmas Day. In an emotional moment at the end of the meeting he said how fondly he will look back at his working here. Needless to say, I'm at the other extreme. Surely due to sloth. Hence the fascination.

I don't have any great insights other than how difficult it is to find balance. Another blogger wrote, "I can easily fall into treating God as a drug, focusing on the high rather than on Him. And then I'm upset if/when the buzz isn't big enough." True words. Even Moses had to come down from the mountaintop.

The temptation is to see the earthly world as small and foolish in comparison to heavenly things, even though the earthly world is our time of probation and even the seeming insignificant is chockful of meaning. Christ embraced the purely natural (i.e. a body and a death) despite all the supernaturality of heaven at his fingertips.

Akim once blogged that "once you go metaphysical you don't go back", or words to that effect. In other words, once you've tasted the nectar of the truly important, it's a bit difficult to get truly worked up over sports or politics (other than when the latter touches on issues of morality). I don't know how true it is, since Tom of Disputations gets pretty excited over his Philadelphia Eagles. I can certainly see why sports analogies are so popular in board rooms. The corporate world is a huge sporting event, with competitors trying to steal the football (i.e. market share). The scorecard is your earnings per share number, hence there is great despair in Mudville if your EPS is $5.12 instead of $5.17.

* - At the risk of sounding like Casey Kasem, this post goes out to Bill Luse, who complained about the wrongness of both Jeff Culbreath and myself blogging infrequently during Lent.

Update: I should be more Benedictine and long to make toast well. How appropriate I read that today huh?

February 26, 2004

  Spanning the Globe to Bring You the Constant Variety of Posts

One of the meanings of penitential fasting is to help us recover an interior life. The effort of moderation in food also extends to other things that are not necessary, and this is a great help to the spiritual life. Moderation, recollection and prayer go hand in hand. -Pope John Paul II via Amy

Let us also pray in the words of Psalms 102 - "I have eaten ashes as if it were bread" and 103 - " The merciful goodness of the Lord endures forever". Wear your ashes with humility, and remember that they are made from the Palms of last years triumph and celebration. --via Alicia of Fructis Ventris

I can't stand it when people appear not to "think"... or just to spout off without doing any apparent analysis or research...like that it's horrible to have abortions "as birth control" but not as backup birth control -- it's not your fault the contraceptives haven't been perfected yet! - Davey's Mommy

The unintentionally funny part of [Bruce] Bawer's book was that he accused other Christians of not being real Christians because, among other things, they accuse other Christians of not being real Christians.-Camassia of Camassia

The 8 cylinder turbo-charged traditionalist will not be seen with anything other than the Douay-Rheims. And for some few this will have to be the original, pre-Challoner version, poor old Bishop Challoner bearing the taint of having lived at the height of the 18th century enlightenment. The thin end of the wedge, doncha know. The Challoner Douay is met with in all categories once in a great while. But the pre-Challoner is a dead giveaway. This is your hard-core, not to be trifled with traditionalist. The somewhat less-earnest traditionalist is well-satisfied not only with the Douay, but also occasionally with the old Confraternity version or once in a while even the RSV-CE....The conservative seems to be married to the RSV-CE. Since it has not only the common-or-garden variety imprimatur of a bishop but also the more significant, albeit canonically unrecognized, imprimatur of Scott Hahn there is no gainsaying the RSV-CE to the conservative. The conservative views Scott Hahn with something only slightly less than hyperdulia and faces Steubenville to pray. The liberal in his various places along the left side of the right/left number line has no particular version with which to categorize him. But whatever version he does use must be a "New" version. Not a Jerusalem Bible or a Revised Standard for our free-thinking friend. Oh, no. A New Jerusalem or a New Revised Standard it must needs be. This way the existence of the masculine sex will in no way interfere with his devotions. -John of Inn at the End of the World on bibles

"Almsgiving saves one from death and expiates every sin," Tobit told his son. We have no such guarantee about giving money to the local orchestra...When he heard Jonah's prophecy, the King of Nineveh did not proclaim, "Neither man nor beast, neither cattle nor sheep, shall watch television." Jesus did not go into the desert to fast from chocolate and Starbucks. We should not begin building a tower we can't complete, but neither should we call the hut we do build a tower. As with almsgiving, the concept of fasting has been diluted. As with almsgiving, as a consequence of this dilution, people aren't fasting but think they are. As with almsgiving, people are missing out on the graces available through fasting. -Tom of Disputations

Garrigou-Lagrange says that to combat pride, the first step that must be done is that we must constantly remind ourselves that we are nothing without God...that we do not exist because of ourselves, and that "we have been saved from nothing by a pure act of Love on the part of God." --jesus Gil of Santificarnos

Bad taste makes the day go by faster. -- Andy Warhol

But shall we prepare ourselves, and encourage each other, for Lent? I want this to be a great, deeply meaningful, kind of difficult Lent for me. I want to suffer a little, read a little, pray a lot, submit and shut up a lot...I need something more active, as it were. Letting two cars merge in front of me on the expressway (although I don't know if that wouldn't incite Therese-i-cide by the drivers behind me)...I won't report on my final list, maybe, because pride might seep in there. Unless I can do it in real humility . -Therese Z of Santificarnos

To Contact Antony: Ask your own Guardian Angel for help - Enbrethiliel of Sancta Sanctis

But you gotta read de Lubac as an antidote to Garrigou-Lagrange's one most unfortunate mistake (on nature-grace). --Kevin Miller on Disputations

I want to say I stand in awe of those of you who are able to follow the story, remember the names of villages and kingdoms and shires, the inter-relations between them, what each is meant to stand for, and their relative positions on the map of Middle Earth...I did somewhat better at remembering the names this time because I made a point of it. Frodo, Sam, Rohan, Gandalf…and that's about it. There was someone named Erewhon or Earhorn or something like that, maybe someone else named Algore (but I’m not sure), and a shriveled homunculus named Speedle or Wheedle or Dopey or Sneezy, but after that it's all a fog. I can't remember the name of our warrior hero (the one who became King of Gondor), our elf warrior hero, our dwarf warrior hero, or why it's even important to become King of Gondor, and, worse, I'm not even sure I'm spelling it right. -Bill Luse of Apologia on the latest LOTR epic. I can relate.
Switching the Default

I'm going to try to join fellow bloggers Jeff and Robert on their "listening tour"... i.e. blogging less and listening more.
In many Westerns there's a character who'll say, "I only kilt what needed killin'". I'd like for this blog to only say what needs sayin', unlikely as that may turn out to be.

What I love about this time of year is that the "default" mode is penitential. During other liturgical seasons, I guard a principle of fairness. I don't want to be taken advantage of, even in the relatively minute way of doing more of the chores around the house than anyone else. But at least during this season I feel no sense of entitlement when it comes to fairness. Perhaps Lent shouldn't be the only season this attitude takes root, or more accurately tentatively puts down feelers. But it is liberating not to mentally play the game of measurements.

I echo Bill's sentiments on Ash Wednesday. I almost wish the Church would extend the fast to every Wednesday and Friday. You might say, "what's to stop you?" and you'd be right. But there is something enormously different about the whole Church going through it together. It really takes the "choice" out of it and makes the penance relatively painless (not that the latter should be the goal). You know you are refraining from something not by personal edict but by rule from something outside yourself. I trust the Church more than I trust myself with regard to most everything, although I realize the Church's rules are MDRs - Minimum Daily Requirements - and should be seen as such.

February 25, 2004

Quotables
In Prayer, Richard Foster observes that, "the contemplation of one's own death is among the most time-honored approaches to personal transformation."
*
Guess I'm an armchair Carmelite, more attracted to Lent's austerity, discipline and high drama as only a lazy coward could be.
--Kathy Shaidle, God Rides a Yamaha

February 24, 2004

Various & Sundry

You've all seen this, but I wanted to get this link into my archives. Amy talks facts about the fictional Da Vinci Code.

Also, concerning the movie: someone's saying what I've been thinking. But we've got fifteen tickets (my wife's family) for a Saturday matinee.
Fasting

Inspiring post on fasting from Tom of Disputations, suggesting we not deny ourselves the graces that come from denying ourselves food. John Updike once memorably described a character as "a stomach with legs"....The famous saying goes, "the way to a man's heart is through his stomach." Maybe a way to a man's soul is through the interruption of that connection.
Cardinal Ratzinger Quote
The purpose of the Church's year is continually to rehearse her great history of memories, to awaken the heart's memory so that it can discern the star of hope. All the feasts in the Church's calendar are events of remembrance and hence events of hope. These events, of such great significance for mankind, which are preserved and opened up by faith's calendar, are intended to become personal memories of our own life history through the celebration of holy seasons by means of liturgy and custom. Our personal memories are nourished by mankind's great memories; in turn, it is only by translating them into personal terms that these great memories are kept alive. Man's ability to believe always depends in part on faith having become dear on the path of life, on the humanity of God having manifested itself through the humanity of men.

-- from"Seek That Which Is Above" via Christopher of Ratzinger Fan Club Blog
Today's Thoughts

Some say the faults of others that are most aggravating to you are really your own. Others say it is the sin you don't have a problem with - such as homosexual behavior - that most aggravates.

This suggests the universe of unaggravating faults is rather small.
Ham of Bone Update

Chris Matthews, in order to emphasize how far off the election is, mentioned that you could have sex tonight and you'd still have the baby before the election.

Similarly for my friend Ham of Bone - if he'd had sex on his last day of employment, he'd have a child now while still living in the sweaty palm'd freedom of unemployment. But he realizes the jig is nearly up and means to start looking for a 'real job' next week.

Long-time aficionados know that Ham of Bone is my unemployed screenwriting friend. He called last night from a Marriott suite a mile from his house. In his most Quixote-like move yet, he's staying at a hotel for a week in an attempt to write a screenplay for a horror movie.

Two weeks ago he found out about a screenwriting contest. I said, "Good, that'll be something you can enter next year." Wrong-o. He's now 45 pages into a planned 80+ page screenplay. I asked how he expected to make something of quality in two weeks but I guess windmills are meant to be tilted at.

The fact that his back is against the wall is certainly part of it. Better to burn out than rust out I suppose. Say a prayer for Bone as he pursues his dream.
Go Figure

I recently received a piece of spamazoidal with the subject header:

"paratroop selkirk gumption mila bimolecular congenital colon legato historiography dot combatted kept brookside berlin crag beaujolais neologism jerky brushlike cromwellian razzle volkswagen standish victrola cowherd chant althea"

...which begs the point doesn't it? That title may evade some spam protection but who would open it? It gives itself away as spam - the definition of a hollow victory - like the man who gains the world but loses his immortal soul.
The Eighteen State, 10% Rule

Tim Russert mentioned this morning that 32 states are locked up for the Nov. '04 election. If Bush doesn't win Utah, for example, he won't win anywhere. Of the eighteen, Russert specifically mentioned Ohio, the pluperfect battleground state. Of the eighteen, 90% have their mind made up. That leaves 10% undecided in eighteen states. A billion dollars in campaign money to sway those 10% in those eighteen states.

Meanwhile the quixotic campaign of Ralph Nader has begun again. Amid the sound of popping corks, one hears the plainsong Bush campaign chant: "Ralph Nader, he's our man! If he can't help us, no one can!"

Saw Governor Ahnold on "Meet the Press" Sunday and detected a strong whiff of "I vants to be President" about his person. I hope the bill allowing foreign-born citizens to run for president doesn't pass. Schwarzneggar would not only be of no use on the pro-life issue but would dwarf, literally and symbolically, any other Republican primary candidate. The more successful he is, the more his socially liberal views will become popular within the party, which means the more his views will predominate in American politics, since the Democrats have abdicated reason as well as responsibility. Guiliani is the same. All the charismatics in the Republican party are pro-abort. I hope I'm wrong, but President Bush has the scent of "Our Last Stand" about him, politically-speaking.

February 23, 2004

Tenacity, thy name is Lewis

One has to admire the tireless devotion of the blogger at Quenta Nârwenion to Cardinal John Henry Newman. I just opened my Barnes & Noble Desk Diary and saw that Newman's birthday was Saturday. I clicked over to Quenta to see if she'd missed it, but it'd be easier to slip a camel through the eye of a needle.

On the Fr. Groeschel tape I've mentioned before, he quotes a lengthy, riveting passage from Cardinal Newman and says that he should be proclaimed a saint, as well as a Doctor of the Church.
Chesterton Book

The downside of borrowing a book from the library is that parting with it is such sweet sorrow. I've already renewed "Varied Types" but now tis time to return it...and yet ...I've grown accustomed to it. [Cue music].
I've grown accustomed to its face
It almost makes the day begin
I've grown accustomed to the binding and the pages quaintly old
Its heft, its type, its chapters, its words

Are second nature to me now
Like breathing out and breathing in
I was serenely independent and content before we met
Surely I could always be that way again and yet
I've grown accustomed to this book, accustomed to this wit
Accustomed to this book.
Oh let's not go quietly into that good night - how about some last excerpts for olde time's sake?
The centre of every man's existence is a dream. Death, disease, insanity, are merely material accidents, like toothache or a twisted ankle. That these brutal forces always besiege and often capture the citadel does not prove that they are the citadel. The boast of the realist is that he cuts into the heart of life; but he makes a very shallow incision...
*
One of the values we have really lost in recent fiction is the value of eloquence. The modern literary artist is compounded of almost every man except the orator...The ancient sea of human passion upon which high words and great phrases are the resplendent foam is just now at a low ebb. We have even gone the length of congratulating ourselves because we can see the mud and the monsters at the bottom...

In another age...prose [rose] into a chant...[as] Meg Merrilies hurled at Ellangowan, at the rulers of Britain:

"Ride your ways, Laird of Ellangowan; ride your ways, Godfrey Bertram --this day have ye quenched seven smoking hearths. See if the fire in your ain parlour burns the blyther for that. Ye have riven the thack of seven cottar houses. Look if your ain roof-tree stands the faster for that. Ye may stable your stirks in the sheilings of Dern-cleugh. See that the hare does not couch on the hearthstone of Ellangowan. Ride your ways, Godfrey Bertrain."

A man will not reach eloquence if he is afraid of bombast, just as a man will not jump a hedge if he is afraid of a ditch...Scott's bombast, therefore, will always be stirring to anyone who approaches it, as he should approach all of literature, as a little child. An appreciation of Scott might be made almost a test of decadence. If ever we lose touch with this one most reckless and defective writer, it will be a proof to us that we have erected round ourselves a false cosmos, a world of lying and horrible perfection, leaving outside of it Walter Scott and that strange old world which is as confused and as indefensible and as inspiring and as healthy as he. --Chesterton's "Varied Types"
Not Much Spiritual Benefit...

The Columbus Dispatch recently ran a piece on Shrove Tuesday which ends with an unintentionally funny thought:
In terms of today’s Catholic calendar, Shrove Tuesday has no significance, said the Rev. Shawn McKnight, professor of liturgy at the Pontifical College Josephinum. Shrove Tuesday to Lent is like Halloween to All Saints’ Day.

‘‘It’s simply a cultural creation," McKnight said. ‘‘It’s a good example of the interplay of ritual faith tradition and existing culture."

Even though he’ll seek a little extra pre-Lent dessert, possibly something chocolate, he cautions against overdoing.

‘‘There’s not much spiritual benefit to one who indulges in appetites excessively in anticipation of Lent," McKnight said. ‘‘We would not advocate that."

February 22, 2004

Grim NY Times article on the effect of a society not having enough children, as well as the harshness of old age:
For Laurence Kotlikoff, a Boston University professor who pioneered an economic analysis known as generational accounting, some aspects of the future have little to do with feats of the imagination and everything to do with the certainties of addition (how much the country will earn in the future) and subtraction (how much we will spend). ''You know what Florida looks like?'' he said. ''The whole country's going to look a lot older than that.'' His soon-to-be-published book, ''The Coming Generational Storm,'' predicts that the average American will be crippled by skyrocketing taxes imposed to balance an already outsize fiscal gap, as well as by the inevitable crush of health care costs coming down the pipeline for such an enormous aging population. In 2030, he maintains, the number of retirees will have doubled, but based on current birthrates, the number of people working -- the ones who pay payroll taxes -- will have increased by only 18 percent. Kotlikoff estimates that the fiscal gap will be $51 trillion, most of which will result from the high costs of Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security.

Rectifying the situation would be so painful that it's almost impossible to imagine the politician who could start trying. If both personal and corporate federal income taxes were increased permanently by 78 percent, maybe -- only maybe, Kotlikoff says -- we could close the gap. Otherwise, he foresees a black market tax-evading economy, widespread poverty, slow business development (with high taxes, there's low incentive), as well as potential social tensions between the old, which would be mostly white and relatively wealthy, and the young -- mostly poor blacks and Hispanics, heavily burdened with the financial cost of caring for a class of people to whom they have little allegiance.
*
More recently, Audry has been harder to get off the phone, either missing the cues of a conversation or ignoring them deliberately. She seems afraid of finalities, whether it's ending a phone call or a finishing a book. For months, she has been lingering over the best-seller ''The Lovely Bones,'' which is told from the vantage point of a young woman in heaven -- only she keeps calling it, mistakenly, ''The Lonely Bones.'' ''It's taking me a long time to read it,'' Audry said during one of our many phone catch-ups, ''because I tend to read a page, and then I have to put it down and think about it.'' The lonely bones: loneliness, it turns out, is the only thing Audry has ever really feared. ''When my husband died, I was terrified of being alone, and all my children wanted me to come stay with them,'' she said. ''But I said, no, let me face it right away, don't put it off.'' Particularly reflective that afternoon, Audry shared a point of wisdom she picked up over the course of her unusually lengthy, happy life. ''The longer you put something off,'' she said, ''the harder it is to face it.''
Trip to Cincy

On Saturday we toured the papal exhibit in Cincinnati. The crowds were large but the art and artifacts were edifying. The Vatican seems bold in making these available for viewing given that for some the wealth of the Church is off-putting. The explanation and replicas of St. Peter's tomb would've been more dramatic for us if we'd not already had the great fortune of visiting it three years ago. Of great interest to me were the Mandylion of Edessa and a relic - a piece of his scull - of Pope St. Gregory the Great, always sort of a murky historical figure to me but now here I was viewing the sheer tangibleness of part of his head.

Despite the crowds, one person stood out. I found myself a few feet from a parish priest whom I'd served as an altar boy in the late '70s. He looked at me, but I'm sure he didn't recognize me. I didn't say anything to him. He's no longer a priest. He started molesting boys a few years after I graduated and has since gone to prison twice for sex with a minor. The irony was standing next to him reading while about the Pope who had instituted the celibacy requirement. I thought how sad it was, how powerful the sexual drive is and how potentially ruinous even when given all the advantages of grace.

Cooperation with grace was more evident on the way home. I looked through the car window at a huge edifice and saw the words "Sisters of Mercy" and the tangibleness of women's religious orders, something now sadly almost intangible. I hadn't heard of the order even though it turns out I was born in one of their hospitals. Coincidentally, not having mentioned seeing the building, I was visiting my grandmother the next morning she insisted I take a copy of a 1958 book entitled, "The Spirit is Mercy: The Sisters of Mercy in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati 1958-1958" by Mary Ellen Evans. "Throw it away if you don't want it," she said. She mustn't know me very well. I haven't thrown out a book since the Ford administration.

I started to read it and my crypto-longing for the '50s was exposed. I've been told about how the city of Hamilton used to have a Holy Name Parade in which nearly every Catholic man, even the gamblers and ne'er do wells, lustily sang hymns while marching miles down the city streets. I guess the city must've closed some of the streets for the marchers. Now we do that for athletic events like 10K runs.

Older books like Evans's are chockful of little surprises. She quotes one of the sisters on the enthusiasm of the convent in Ireland just after its founding:
"Everyone mismanaged her own spiritualities in her own way" --mainly, it seems, by "remaining up half the night at their prayers."...they could not expect God to suspend the laws of nature for even so important a cause.
Imagine mismanaging your spirituality by attempting to pray half the night! Their religious constitution mentions this tension between contemplation and service:
The spirit of the Institute is Mercy toward those who are afflicted with ignorance, suffering and other like miseries. This requires such a combination of spirit of Mary and of Martha that the one does not hinder the other.
Later Evans addresses the incoming of German-Americans into the Sisters of Mercy in Cincinnati:
...from this time forward the Sisters of Mercy enjoyed a healthy infusion of German blood, which, as with the German-Irish marriages that have so stabilized and invigorated the life of the city, may have produced a like fortifying influence when coursing the conventual veins of the Celtic community.
Where there's a will...

I'm perhaps enjoying the President's move a little too much:
President Bush on Friday used a weeklong Congressional recess to install William H. Pryor Jr., the Alabama attorney general, in a federal appeals court seat to get around a Democratic filibuster that had blocked the nomination.

It was the second time in the last five weeks that Mr. Bush used a president's power to make appointments when Congress is not in session to name judges directly to the bench and thus skirt the Senate confirmation process.

The debate in the Judiciary Committee last year over the Pryor nomination was perhaps the most contentious and abrasive in years. Democrats complained that their Republican counterparts were complicit in efforts to paint their opposition as anti-Catholic.

The Democrats assailed a television campaign by a group supporting the Pryor nomination that showed a locked courthouse door with a sign reading, "Catholics need not apply." The advertisements were run by the Committee for Justice, a group led by C. Boyden Gray, White House counsel to the first President Bush.

Senator Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont, the ranking committee Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, said the commercials were a despicable smear. But Senator Jeff Sessions, an Alabama Republican and Mr. Pryor's principal supporter, called him "this solid Catholic individual" and said that his opposition to abortion, for example, in cases of rape and incest, was good Catholic doctrine. Therefore, he said, if someone is opposed for holding that position, "Are we not saying that good Catholics need not apply?"

February 20, 2004

A Look-What-I-Found Rebound

Via a bit of fortuitousness (thanks to my benefactor!), I received an advance copy of a book called The Miracle Detective : An Investigation of Holy Visions by Randall Sullivan. This type of book is crack-cocaine to my mother, and since I'll be seeing her tomorrow in conjunction with a visit here, I thought I'd read some of it before letting her borrow it.

In it Sullivan attempts to discern the authenticity of various Marian apparations, which is sort of like watching a train wreck. The collision of the scientific, rationalist, non-believing mind with He who will not be nailed down is riveting. The irony is that Sullivan, the Rolling Stone editor and God-haunted skeptic, believes it more than Fr. Groeschel. Not to say Fr. Groeschel disbelieves; he calls the happenings at Medjugorje most perplexing and thinks God is using it. He says the most amazing thing about the apparition is the surreal devotion of the people resident. Something happened.

I couldn't put it down. Partly because it's so readable and partly because of the prominence of Fr. Groeschel, for whom my respect just grows and grows and grows. Not just for his piety and charitable works and great learning, but because of his off-handed, almost casual, honesty. He calls the seers of the La Salette apparation ne'er do wells. No white-washing, he's allergic to hagiographies and worries about the Church post-JPII given the weakness of faith at the highest levels of the hierarchy. His blend of scientific and psychiatric and theological knowledge is extremely attractive. I now read Chesterton and Groeschel with similar enthusiasm and reverence.

The author wants clarity on Medjugorje, but Fr. Groeschel advises him to "tread lightly" and not come to a conclusion in the book because it is unknowable. Where God begins and we end is something we'll never know but something we must be content with. I won't give away the ending, but the author's spiritual journey is in some ways more interesting than his conclusions on Medjugorje. I would love to read about the author's spiritual journey post-book.
Handy Guide to the 2004 Election

Q: Why vote for you?

A: John Edwards: "I was born a poor white child in rural South Carolina and now I'm a millionaire trail lawyer. You schmucks can't do the same without the guvmint's - and most especially my - help. Bwahahaha!"

Campaign slogan: "Don't hate me because I'm beautiful."


A: John Kerry: "Vote for me because I can beat those wascally Wepublicans. I beat Bill Weld, I can beat George Double-U. Bring. It. On. Bwahahaha!"


Campaign slogan: "Don't hate me because I'm liberal."


A: George W. Bush: "Earth to my base: I'm in a war on Tara, I cut your taxes, and you expect me to worry about spending? You wanna see another conservative judge in your lifetime you'll stick with me. Bwahahahaha!"

Campaign slogan: "Don't hate me."


American voter: "I want lots of government services, low taxes and a small deficit."


Campaign slogan: "These are our choices?"
Drawing Lines

...post on Touchstone's blog:
If, over the past 50 years, TV had kept up the fiction that humans never need to use the toilet, it would have been rather odd, but just how much truth would we have lost? I’d say we could have gotten along without it.
But I Don't Know Nuthin' 'Bout Birthin' Babies!

Took the Yankee or Dixie challenge and came up:

66% (Dixie). A definitive Southern score!

I can only attibute it to growing up along the Mason-Dixon line (Cincinnati). Link via the real McCoy's, the Summa Mommas.
Remember You Are Dust....

Two sad deaths this week. One was our local diocesan newspaper editor. He died just two weeks after retiring. His friend said at the eulogy that one of the first times they got together he brought a pint of Irish whiskey and recited - from memory - pages of Joyce's "Finnegans Wake".

With the other case there was a feeling of dread when I saw young people packed outside St. Patrick's on a weekday. It was as I suspected, a funeral. Inside were the harsh dates 1986-2004 on his Mass card and on the internet were both obituaries. One gets the sense that both were well-lived lives:
COLLINS Michael E. Collins, age 65, of Columbus, died Wednesday, February 11, 2004 at home. Retired Editor of The Catholic Times where he worked for 42 years. Member of Holy Name Parish. Past President of the Central Ohio Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. Member of Press Club, Catholic Press Association, Catholic Men's Luncheon Club, Knights of Columbus and Mensa.

REED Sean P. Reed, age 18, Monday, February 16, 2004 at his residence. Senior at St. Charles Preparatory School where he was a 2 year letter winner on the Football Team. He was accepted and planned to attend Ohio Dominican University. Black Belt in Tae Kwon Do at 9 years old. Volunteer with Mt. Carmel Medical Center and Adena Regional Medical Center. Camp Counselor with the Catholic Summer Camp.
26 days...... but who's counting?

Stereotypes, schmereotypes, I thought the Guinness St. Patrick's Day commercial was hi-larious. I taped it for my wife. The kicker was where the guy slides past the upstairs staircase because of those footsies that pajamas (used to?) have. I think we've all been there, at least if you had wood floors and footsie pajamas.

It looks like the potential for another gigantic good time - the Hooligans are coming back to the Ancient Order of Hibernian party, although I don't want to jinx it. (Though I recall what John at the Inn wrote: Remember, it's bad luck to be superstitious.) Ham of Bone is primed and ready, having gone liquor-free for a few months due to dedicated screenwriting.

There might be the concern of secularization of another religious holiday, but I (conveniently no doubt), see it not as an "either/or" but "and/also".

Chris Parsons, the Guinness brand director, states the obvious in a news release: "St. Patrick's Day represents a wonderful time of year for our Guinness drinkers.". Reminds me of a recent local newspaper heading concerning a woman who lied in order to try to claim the lottery prize. Her priceless quote when asked why she did it? "I wanted to win."
Excerptable

Okay, so most of you are going to have a sense of deja vu. That's okay. I found it compelling.
The Gospel is not, "Love your neighbor as yourself." That's a commandment. The Gospel is news, and news is telling someone something he doesn't already know, not telling him to do something he doesn't already do.

The first three words of the good news Christians have for the world are, "God loves you." As mind-blowing as those words are (God loves you, God loves you, God loves you!), it gets better: "And God's Son was born, died, rose, and returned to Him so that we can love Him back."

Now, however briefly you want to express this good news, there remain significant facets that cannot be conveyed by smiling at the cashier in the grocery store. Do not the Gentiles do as much?

Let me suggest that the Franciscan ideal behind the "if necessary, use words" saying assumes a society in which Christianity has been found difficult and left untried. A bad Christian is far more likely to understand the good example of a good Christian to be an example of Christianity than is a bad non-Christian; for that matter, a good Muslim, say, might understand it to be an example of Islam!

So what am I saying? Only that showing love for another, even if it can be an expression of the Gospel, is not necessarily preaching the Gospel. As a lay member of the Order of Preachers, that's something I need to remind myself of from time to time. --Tom of Disputations

February 19, 2004

A Curmudgeon Speaks of Baseball

I got my Reds tickets order form in the mail yesterday. The July 4th date immediately caught my eye. We play the Indians, and it's asterisked: "The charge is $5 more because it's the Indians." Intra-state rivalry and all.

It saddened me. First, because it's a disgrace to be playing an American Leauge club at all before the World Series. The National League is Adam, and from his rib came the A.L. Eve, and their mating culminates in the vast orgasmic spectacle we call the World Series. Now they give us cheap one-night stands and charge us an extra five-spot. It's the usual modern lack of restraint, the killing off of mystery. Lord knows we wouldn't want to imagine how the teams would fare against each other.

The extra charge is a good metaphor for baseball in its current incarnation - pure business. The game of the '70s looks so naive in retrospect, so underexploited. Now every dime has to be squeezed from every pocket. The owners would say the game of the '70s was inefficient, meaning still on the left side of the Laffer Curve. They definitely understand the lesson of Big Gov't -- nickle and dime us to death so we don't know how much we're paying.

The "Hot Stove League" used to be a time of hope. You hoped your GM, through skill or luck, could pull off a trade or two to make you competitive. Now the die is cast; your payroll number is your defining statistic. But what thrill can the Yankees have if they win? It's the triumph of wallet over wit.
Frodo the Ring-Bearer

Is there anything more romantic than the possibility that our cat, bearing the carrot'd diamond engagement ring our son planned to give to our future daughter-in-law, might make a pit stop at the kitty litter box? Or better yet make one of his patented Tommy-Lee-Jones-in-the-Fugitive escapes out the back door and apply eau de opossum to self and ring?

Fortunately that was averted and the feline, known variously as "Lil' Puss", "Lil' Putsch", "El Pussiente", "Deedle", "Mr. Deeds", "Deedleschnitzel" and "Lazurus", delivered the goods and all went swimmingly.

Oh, btw, she said 'yes' and Lil' Puss was relieved to be relieved of his burden.
Doesn't he know he can't take it with him?
Michael Novak....

....makes the moral case for capitalism.
Envy is the most characteristic vice of all the long centuries of zero-sum economies, in which no one can win unless others lose. A capitalist system defeats envy, and promotes in its place the personal pursuit of happiness. It does this by generating invention, discovery, and economic growth. Its ideal is win-win, a situation in which everyone wins. In a dynamic world, with open horizons for all, life itself encourages people to attend to their own self-discovery and to pursue their own personal form of happiness, rather than to live a false life envying others.
I used to think it nearly diabolical, a plot, a conspiracy, that most employers seem to pay just enough to allow you to make a living, with a tuppence left for retirement purposes (i.e. when you are elderly and no longer productive enough for them). But I see a rough justice for the average income earner who lives comfortably to have to work till 60. Superachievers, either on the income side or the savings side, earn their early retirement option. That's what I tell myself.

Ham of Bone wants to drastically lower expenses by moving to a trailer in the Arizona desert or living the ex-pat life in sunny Mexico. Not surprisingly, his wife ain't buying what he's selling.

February 18, 2004

A Book Recommendation from Fr. Groeschel:
There was a great German priest in the diocese of Cologne, a professor in the seminary and a wonderful pastor. A man that we don't know well but I'm trying to make him famous. One of his books is published by Tan, "The Glories of Divine Grace", and soon his great book will be out, "The Mysteries of Christianity". His name is Fr. Matthias J. Scheeben. He's mentioned in the Catechism because Cardinal Schonborn likes him...
Spanning the Globe to Bring You the Constant Variety of Posts

My current preferred epitaph: "You Pray, I'm Fasting." -Tom of Disputations. (Not to brag, but I fast up to eight hours every night).

Leave it to a libertarian to have the psychic ability to go back 1700 years and determine what the 'true' Jesus said, all the while saying it was done through 'reason.' --Eric Czarnik on Jefferson's Christ

When it comes to Jesus, different Christians tend to focus on different things. Some, like Gibson, seem to think of his story mainly in terms of what he went through for us, the punishment that he took on our behalf, etc., so that makes the suffering the main event. Others, like Telford, focus on the resurrection, and its message of victory and hope. Still others, like Kynn, prefer not to think about either but focus on Jesus' life and teachings, with its strong ethical messages. I imagine a lot of this depends on what you want and need out of God. In my experience, the death-focused Christians often are carrying around a load of guilt about something, and I gather that the extremity of Jesus' sufferings reminds them that he really did take all the punishment that they deserve. From what I recall, Gibson's motivations for making the movie had a lot to do with this. Like most people, I feel guilty about some things, but finding hope has definitely been a bigger issue for me; so it's not surprising that Telford's optimistic Easter-oriented theology was what drew me into church. --Camassia

I cannot detach from things around me by my own will. Even the notion of detachment, of leaving behind, of moving upward becomes in its own way an attachment. So I must look at the Father with the intensity of love that I have for the son He gave me and receive that love back. -Steven of Flos Carmeli

Don't worry: the Lord manages to humble us if we can't humble ourselves! -Kathy Swistock, commenting on Tom the MP's blog

The only real issue I have with [Harold] Bloom, as I understand his position, is that he's stomping around in the shallow water that results from a refusal to acknowledge the deeper sources of inspiration for Shakespeare, the impact Revelation had on shaping Shakespeare's understanding and "invention" of the human being. Bloom seems to consider the Bible just another work of literature. He's certainly welcome to do that, but Shakespeare certainly didn't. - Mark of Minute Particulars

Unlike many who reason their way into the Catholic Church, or others who seek Authority Transcendent that will make Everything All Right, I’m just taking a leap of folly here. --Tom the MP

My spiritual director assigned me the reading of THE THREE AGES OF THE INTERIOR LIFE, by Rev. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P. It was a fascinating book, dealing with identifying our primary defects, the need for mortification, etc. When my spiritual director asked my thoughts on the reading, though, I told him that I thought it was very close to a "terror novel" and that it shouldn´t be read at night. Why? Well, because it all to easily opens up that inner self of ourselves that isn´t pretty. And when coupled with the prospect of purgatory, it´s not a pretty picture. Can there be any other more horrific image than that of knowing that while our sins are forgiven, we still need to pay for them in some sense...i.e. from either the consequence of those various acts, or of old ingrained habits that not only are bringing ourselves down, but others as well.-jesus gil of Santificarnos

This is really wierd for me, I'm still not sure what order yet that I would enter, but it is almost scary how much Dominican has crept into me. I am much more obsessed about learning than I have ever been before. But nevertheless my time here has fostered a hunger for the Truth in the Dominican tradition. very neat. Another wierd thing: when I read theology books, or think of people, I now think of them in two categories: Those Who Are Dominican, and Those Who Are Not Dominican! - Alyssa of Random Hug Patrol

Jeers, jeers for old Notre Dame --commentator CS on Amy's blog, concerning the recent decisions to host a "Queer Film Festival".

I grew up with those who had been catechized via the Baltimore catechism and who lived the universal latin mass - and that group is the very group that fought the hardest to bring in some of the quasi-heresies that we are fighting now....The truly important thing about the Sacrament of the Eucharist as that it does not depend upon what humans do or what humans perceive to be effective. And the thing that keeps me Catholic is that I have access to the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Christ in the Eucharist even if the priest is a horrible sinner and the (valid) liturgy is an affront to my aesthetic sense. - Alicia of Fructus Ventris

My theory is that the preconciliar Church had become lukewarm, and the subsequent revolution was a punishment. Catholics failed to love their precious inheritance, and so it was all taken away. - Jeff of El Camino Real's response

Do types--general categories of things--really exist (realism) or are they mere names (nominalism) arbitrarily abstracted from individual entities? To put the question a bit more broadly, does the universe have an inherent organization, or is the organization of things into categories merely human convention? Philosophers have come down on either side of the question, and indeed in various places in between. In the later Middle Ages, the fashion in philosophy ran to extreme nominalism, regarding the moderate realism of Thomas Aquinas as old-fashioned. Scholars like the late Heiko Obermann have traced the origins of the issues that brought on the Protestant Reformation to the nominalist training of such early Protestants as Martin Luther. Although I was disabused of nominalism many years ago now, most of modern thought is awash in it. - Henry Dieterich

She seems to be a girl that knows that underwear means under something else. - commenter Christian concerning singer Amy Lee from Evanescence on Summa Mommas blog

February 17, 2004

Regarding Divertisement

Interesting and ambitious attempt at navigating the murky waters of Christians and entertainment: (PDF here)
Neil Postman ( Amusing Ourselves to Death) denounces entertainment as a new slavery. Church leaders perceive entertainment as a danger (as Forrest explained). For example: "Entertainment does not tolerate silence" so important for spirituality (Jim Taylor). "Entertainment is not serious, is too superficial." Is it true? Are theatre, movies, dances etc. only superficial? If not, how could they be spiritually meaningful?

*
Postman denounces media entertainment as being a non-sense situation, applying superficiality and triviality to any topics it touches: culture, education, politics, morality and most of all, religion. Jacques Ellul argues the same way (in The Humiliation of the Word), particularly when he denounces audiovisual media as incapable of transmitting any coherent religious message and, worse, opening wide the doors to idolatry. In England, a very brilliant and famous journalist, Malcolm Muggeridge (in his book Christ and the Media) compared media entertainment to pure "fantasy", opposed to the reality represented by Jesus. For his demonstration, Muggeridge uses Pascal's approach to divertissement: to make a diversion, that is, to escape from the main questions of life to engage in distraction, entertainment and amusement.

*
Is entertainment a new slavery? Entertainment looks like a danger to Church leaders (as Forrest explained well). It does not tolerate silence - silence and stillness - which are essential to spirituality. For sure, we remain ill at ease with some goals of divertissement: how to spend one's free time, how to avoid facing hard facts of life, evil and death, suffering and destiny? These are the preoccupations we try to escape by mean of entertainment. As Pascal believed, the depth of the infinite would leave us in terrible distress, or our finitude would kill us prematurely or would paralyse us. So we enjoy entertainment, we appreciate divertissement because it gives us the opportunity to take a short break from our human and daily situation. But the Church was feeling more ill at ease yet with fun and amusement. Why? One can think that it is due particularly to feasts, masquerades, popular carnivals and so on. All kinds of situations leading to drinking, and worse - to sex. (In French Canada, a few preachers used to say that we should watch out for three dangers: religious swearing, drunkenness and females.) That gives a warped idea of entertainment!

*
What is play?... When we play, we live a double -level situation: we know that we are playing (that creates a distance), but at the same time we agree to play fairly and seriously. "The most sublime then can happen..." This appears to be a very good approach to explain that fun can also be serious.

The German philosopher Eugen Fink, taking Huizinga's intuition further, insists on the fact that play should be received as an extremely serious behaviour, because it is giving - as in a mirror - the meaning of the world we are living in. The Greek philosophers (e.g. Plato) disregarded poetry as a danger, because poetry (through mythology) gave to gods power over humans, who were treated as slaves subjected to them and acting out that submission in rituals. Plato represents a first step to "disenchantment" of the world. Modernity achieved the second step of "disenchantment": relegating all spirituality to the domain of myths, continues Fink. Meanwhile, we have accepted to repatriate - from the gods to history - the control of what is happening to humans. This is why play today has never been more important: to express who we are and what our cosmos is about, even at the spiritual level. This approach complements Huizinga's. These authors shed more light on the power of imagination and representation. But, is it really applicable to spirituality and to religious questions? Caillois refutes Huizinga's point of view that play was used as dramaturgy in rituals, even in Christian liturgy; he opposes Huizinga, saying that precisely those rituals were no more a play, but vital gestures to save one's own life and the group's life from the gods' wrath: there were no more fun or play in there. I disagree with Caillois, because I believe that both functions can stay together. When touching spiritual matters, should any kind of play and representation be no longer a play, because it is too important for life? If so, we return to compulsory religious seriousness. That would represent a dead end. I prefer Godard's intuition, that should prevail here: "Imaginary is not the pure reflection of reality, but the reality of the ordinary normal daily life", a kind of crystallization of humans situations and choices, and values.
From the Mail Bag

Ham of Bone reviews "Lost in Translation":
Watched 'Lost In Translation' last night. For the most part, I loved it. Lived up to its billing. BUT I'm starting to spot a predictable trend here after just finishing up another May-December romance called 'The Human Stain'.

I have a theory why we will see more of this as the baby boomers age: relative maturity levels. Everyone knows that women mature (emotionally) faster than men and I would propose that the technology revolution has further stunted men's emotional growth while women's have remained fairly stable.

The fifty-year-old male is nowhere near the emotional quotient of his predecessor of 100, or even 50, years ago. So, the young woman who seeks emotional fulfillment must look for the tired graying temples type to find it.

Concerning the opening scene of a body double's derriere, I felt manipulated by the director's blatant attempt to focus the audience by prurience. Minus that scene and the gratuitous strip club scene, I would say that this was one of the most enjoyable films that I have seen in a while.
Worthy Cause

This seems worth supporting. One of the mission team members is fellow virtual parishioner Terrence Berres .
Jester Strikes Again

Nobody does it better than Curt Jester, who has come up with some hilarious Catholic pick-up lines.

Hmm...how about some blogger pick-up lines (btw, wouldn't he and she be a good match?):

Tell me your IP address and I'll tell you mine.

Why don't we get drunk and blog?

If I said you had a beautiful blog would you hold it against me?
Ok, okay, I'll quit.
For the Melancholic Temperament

From RC books:
Spiritual Despondency and Temptation by Rev PJ Michel, S.J.

Nearly everybody's unspoken spiritual problem

2004 marks the publication anniversary of Fr. PJ Michel’s potent book, long out of print.

February 16, 2004

Einstein and the Eucharist

Heard a marvelous story from a Fr. Groeschel tape. Fr. Groeschel said that Fr. McTague dropped the ball and how wonderful if Einstein's funeral were at St. Patrick's. Here it is via Fr. Raymond Suriani:
I read an interesting story about Einstein recently: Apparently one day this great man of science was visited by a young priest from New York, a Fr. Charles McTague. They sat down in his office, and Einstein proceeded to tell Fr. McTague that he wanted to talk to him about (of all things) the Catholic doctrine of the Holy Eucharist. It seems that Einstein was fascinated by the idea of a substance that you can’t see; a substance that has no shape or size or color. (A substance with no accidents as we say in theology.) Finally, at the end of the conversation, Einstein said to the priest, "Please send me any books in German that you can find that tell me about the Holy Eucharist."

Now what I find most interesting about that story is the fact that Einstein was open to the possibility of the supernatural. He didn’t say, "My mind is the measure of all things, and if I can’t explain something in my scientific categories, then it doesn’t exist." His attitude was, "Maybe there’s something to it. Maybe it’s true. And if that be the case, I need to be open to this truth, even it’s beyond the categories of physical science."
Maria....

The lyrics to the Sound of Music's "Maria" go:
She's always late for chapel
But her penitence is real
She's always late for everything
Except for every meal...
I can relate to Maria here, not because I'm late to chapel but that I'm never late for a meal. But I can't help speaking the unspoken: just how real can her penitence be if she's always late for chapel?
Prayer Requests

--For my brother-in-law, who is experiencing marital difficulties.
--For Akim, that his empty days become full.
--For my nephew, 7 months from conception but wants to come early.
Ham of Bone's Book Review

I'm still only half-way thru Roth's "The Human Stain" partially because I read ten thousand books at once. Bone's singlemindedness has its privileges - he's already finished and reviewed it (used with permission, all rights reserved):
To start off with a cliche: That Roth guy can flat out write!

I loved the intensity of the writing - matching Dostoyevsky at times - and the setting of the story. NorEasterners sure are a f--ked up lot.

Unlike the Big Russian D, however, postmodern novels refuse to break out of the psychological reality which is the only reality of the secular world. I read 361 pages of human drama with nary a word about the theological reality which so richly enhances classical literature.

Just like Franzen with his undercurrent of despair and meaninglessness, Roth presents a view that is only three dimensional.

But what sentences! How effortlessly did Roth take us readers back and forth, foreshadowing and postshadowing, through time, piecing together a story that exposed the tragedy of winning or losing the "human lottery", being determined at birth.
Pew Lady Homers...

...with this post:
While I was interested in the opposite sex, Sarah — not her real name: her real name is “Sally” — was more attracted to females...
---
The notion that heterosexual people require homosexual approval in order to achieve social acceptability might seem ironic to you. But how else do you explain it?
Does heterosexual support for the gay agenda have the scent of Black People Love Us about it?
Games Authors Play...

...with their amazon.com reviews.
From the "More-Things-Change-the-More-etc-" Dept:

...excerpt of Belloc's "Path to Rome"
[I]t is the capital of a mountain district, and this character always does something peculiar and impressive to a town. You may watch its effect in Grenoble, in little Aubusson, and, rather less, in Geneva. For in such towns three quite different kinds of men meet. First there are the old plain-men, who despise the highlanders and think themselves much grander and more civilized; these are the burgesses. Then there are the peasants and wood-cutters, who come in from the hill-country to market, and who are suspicious of the plain-men and yet proud to depend upon a real town with a bishop and paved streets. Lastly, there are the travellers, who come there to enjoy the mountains and to make the city a base for their excursions, and these love the hill-men and think they understand them, and they despise the plain-men for being so middle-class as to lord it over the hill-men: but in truth this third class, being outsiders, are equally hated and despised by both the others, and there is a combination against them and they are exploited.

February 15, 2004

Matthew Kelly's Seven Pillars

The formula for rediscovering that spiritual source is to focus on becoming "the best version of yourself," he said, and that is accomplished by using what he called the "seven pillars of Catholicism":

• Going to confession. "I know you hate it," Kelly said. But this sacrament shoves "our dark sides into the light" and diminishes evil's influence in our lives.

• Contemplation. You are what you think, Kelly said, so start thinking about more positive, spiritual issues and people: "Human thought is creative. What we think becomes."

• Attending Mass. "We hear it all the time: It's boring." But if Catholics will pray to find one thing in the Mass each week that will help them be better people, they will be transformed: "Our lives change when our habits change."

• Reading the Bible. Kelly said he read recently that the life expectancy in America is 77, which means no one can claim they don't have time to read the Scriptures. "How are you going to tell (God) you didn't have time to read his book?" Kelly said. "Read the Bible. There's power there."

• Fasting. Developing the ability to go without, even for short periods of time, creates "a freedom from our bodies" that is liberating and asserts "the dominance of the soul over the body."

• Spiritual reading. If you read junk, said Kelly, you become junk. Choose reading material wisely, he said especially for kids: "When our children know more about Britney Spears and Harry Potter than Jesus Christ, we've got cause for concern."

• Pray the rosary. "What reason do we have for getting rid of the rosary?" he asked. The rosary is an effective tool for contemplating the life of Jesus as seen through the eyes of Mary, his mother, Kelly said. --Link via Notes to Myself
Traffic Calming Ahead

There's a 25mph zone on a nearby road that is enforced by a series of what is euphemistically known as "speed humps" but are actually small mountains placed at 10-yard intervals. Perhaps my truck's suspension isn't what it should be, but I feel like I'm ridin' a buckin' bronco while going down that road, even at 10mph. What is hilarious is the sign preceeding the humps says "Traffic Calming Ahead". Traffic, but not necessarily drivers. I would've re-named the "Speed Hump" signs "Brake for Mountain" and the "Traffic Calming Ahead" as "Don't Be Planning On Getting Anywheres Soon".
Financial Housekeeping

Video Meliora continues a policy of commitment to openness in public blogging as stated in Section 610.011 of Blogspot's Sunshine Law: "It is the public policy of this blog that meetings, records, votes, actions, and deliberations of public bodies be open to the public unless otherwise provided by law. Sections 610.010 to 610.028 shall be liberally construed and their exceptions strictly construed to promote this public policy. No other liberal bias shall be present."

As a resultant of the antecendent, openness will be also be pursuant in the concordance of financial instruments, abatements, per diems, and depreciation expenses forthcoming...
Uncle Bud

I’d always been attracted to the notion of profligate waste, the more profligate the better. Waste appealed not only because of my parsimonious ways but because it mirrored the profligacy of the natural world. A million fireflys and butterflys die on arrival, long-lasting as fireworks.

Eccentric characters and underachievers held my affection. I saved newspaper and magazine clippings of plumbers or mailmen who could quote long sections of Moby Dick or who’d read 10,000 books. “Dropping out” was attractive in all its delicious permutations. A pretty nun was a figure of wonderment; here was untapped potential in all its inconceivableness. The sum total of happiness she could give a man over a lifetime could not be calculated by the adolescent mind.

Keeping a low profile as a child was a survival tactic but redeeming in its own way. I read May Sarton devotionally, growing terrariums and tending aquariums while naively missing clues of her sexual orientation. I looked covetously upon the shores of Walden Pond as depicted on my copy of Thoreau’s work. He was Robinson Crusoe come to life, acting like it were actually possible, laying out the cost for seeds and wood but then he quit and went back to Boston and it felt hollow. A year and a half out of fifty? He called it an experiment but it seemed a failed experiment, else he wouldn’t have high-tailed it back to civilization. Only the permanent is romantic.

Uncle Bud used to take me fishing. He had the leather, reptilian skin of someone who’d been out in the sun every day of his life and didn’t know SPF from the ATF. A born fisherman, he’d look out over the water and after ten or twenty minutes I’d be getting ants in my pants but he’d sit there like Mount Rushmore. I’d walk around the lake and grab at the cattails and look for dead fish near the bank and inhale the intoxicating dank smell, and then come back around and see if Uncle Bud caught anything. There weren’t near enough action. I’d bait my bamboo pole and put it in the water and pull out a wormless hook.

But I'd sit and stare at the water and wonder if there really were any fish under all that water. They said it was stocked but maybe the other fisherman already caught all the fish. The water looked the same as soil, only with relentless ripples. Uncle Bud was my great uncle, my uncle's father, so he was getting on in years. Always a bachelor, he lived by his own rules and died by his own rules. Got cancer but wouldn't have anything to do with doctors. Holed himself up in his house like an outlaw with the law outside yellin’ for him to come out, so the hunter shot himself. There was shock in the horrible coupling, good uncle Bud and Judas’s last sin.

I ache for him to be in heaven because the thrill of waste ends at Hell’s gate.

February 14, 2004

Hie thee...

...to a wonderful post from Thomas, misplaced no more.

He shares a quote that helps express why I've always been transfixed by Don Quixote:
‘[Quixote’s] folly closes the gap between the ‘ideal’ of God’s redemptive grace in Christ and the ‘reality’ of the earthly, allegedly world-transforming actions of Christians. In his ‘simple’ faith and his well-intentioned conduct Quixote sees the gap bridged, but as he approaches his fate and failure, it is laughably evident to everyone that it is yawning wide open. Quixote thus becomes the true patron saint of Catholic Action. He is a bit of dogmatics neglected by Catholic theologians, a tract that can be written on the Catholic side only with and by means of humour . . . ,’ (von Balthasar’s Glory of the Lord, v. 5, pg. 170).
Two other comments especially resonated: "Please pray that I don't start feeling a frisson of pleasure at my folly..." and "it's time I asked for faith instead of assuming that I have it". I think we all can relate.

February 13, 2004

Hodge-Podge of Discontinued Items...

I'm trying out a new Friday feature today - Hodge-Podge of Discontinued Items, or HPDI for short - because sometimes at the end of the week there are odds and ends that aren't quite good enough to actually make this blog. Can you imagine that? Without further ado...
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Our secretary does us no favors by providing "break in case of emergency" candy outside her desk. You'd have to be desperate to eat the stuff. She used to put those little Reese Cup candies out but they disappeared faster than Saddam's weapon cache. Apparently plan B is to put out candy that had better have a shelf-life of two thousand years because that's how long it's going to take to empty that bowl. I hear you. You say I shouldn't complain because it's 'free' but it is actually worse than if nothing was there. Because the candy sits there implying gift, offering, etc.. without actually giving anything of worth! The fact that the candy has been uneaten for lo these many years is making it morph, before my very eyes, into mere decoration.

FYI: Written for entertainment purposes only. Please no emails saying that many would love to have that candy. If this were an actual complaint, you would have been notified where to tune for further information.
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All-Time Favorite Country Songs Referring to God

1) You're the Reason God Made Oklahoma - David Frizzell
2) When I Die - Tanya Tucker
3) God Will - Patty Loveless
4) A Love Without End - George Strait
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Friday Mailbag is a regular feature here at ye old blog, if by regular one means once in a blue moon. The number of emails I've received has doubled in recent days and my sense of noblesse oblige obligates me to share them:

Lou Coffey sent me a message asking that I "get Viocdin now". A bit pushy and the subject header was misleading.

Hunter Clarke kept me abreast of his pornography products, again with a misleading subject header.

Terry of Summa Mommas sent me an email about one of my blog posts, which I updated accordingly. Good subject header selection Terry.

Nancy Nall said that she was happy her gender-writing samples came up male. "Cool! I ran three samples through, and it says, consistently, that I got a dick." What a guy thing to say.
Piquant Details

Bill of Summa Minutiae reeled off a beautiful little family reminisce here. Inspired, I thought I'd write a little something even though we don't have many family stories. But the little details that made his story pungent ("Decoration Day", "Huns", "old metal cigarette box") are the kind of things that, for me at least, don't trip off the tongue. But isn't that the pleasure of reading? A fleeting encounter with the unfamiliar?

In lieu of personal family history, I'll borrow from the neighbors. After all, it's not just milk we need, is it? We lived next door to a family of second-generation Germans who told us stories of the time before the Wall fell, of "Checkpoint Charlie" and harrowing tales of East Berliners escaping in ingenious ways. The German's capacity for both ingenuity and brutality were on display at the Wall. Intricate paths to freedom were devised; children making a misstep were shot down by guards. The horror of East Berlin was the foil that made us appreciate our own freedom.

The two Deutschlands of my imagination were represented in their home. There was the Germany of folk tales and children's songs, of yodels and bier. The other Germany was of a darker vintage, of the war-making machines of WWI and WWII, the Krupps, and the model soldiers.

On a living room end table sat a spike helmet from WWI, mute testimony of a fighting man who was in the war and collapsed and died while taking an ice-cold shower after being severely overheated. The anecdote overheated my imagination, and to this day after a hard workout I never take a cold shower. (Hope that doesn't sounds flippant.)
That Elusive Combo

The woman in the gospel reading from yesterday, Mark 7:25-30, has her prayer answered because she showed the potent combination of humility and perservance. Rather than simply accepting Christ's answer, she answered in a way that simultaneously suggested humility, by not disputing the Lord's reply, while at the same time not taking no for an answer.

From the Catena Aurea:
Theophylact: He calls the Gentiles dogs, as being thought wicked by the Jews; and He means by bread, the benefit which the Lord promised to the children, that is, to the Jews. The sense therefore is, that it is not right for the Gentiles first to be partakers of the benefit, promised principally to the Jews. The reason, therefore, why the Lord does not immediately hear, but delays His grace, is, that He may also shew that the faith of the woman was firm, and that we may learn not at once to grow weary in prayer, but to continue earnest till we obtain.

The soul of each of us also, when he falls into sin, becomes a woman; and this soul has a daughter who is sick, that is, evil actions; this daughter again has a devil, for evil actions arise from devils. Again, sinners are called dogs, being filled with uncleanness. For which reason we are not worthy to receive the bread of God, or to be made partakers of the immaculate mysteries of God; if however in humility, knowing ourselves to be dogs, we confess our sins, then the daughter, that is, our evil life, shall be healed.

February 12, 2004



The ideal bible is, of course, the one that gets read, but if I was putting together the pluperfect bible I'd include:

- Psalms from Revised Standard Version
- Rest of bible from Jerusalem Bible
- Study Notes/Guide from New Jerusalem Bible
- Illustrations from the Douay-Rheims Haydock bible
- Leatherbound (for beauty and because I'm hard on things, sayeth my wife)
Interesting article from Nat'l Review:
The Progress Paradox by Gregg Easterbrook

Easterbrook, a senior editor of The New Republic, chronicles in entertaining detail the multitude of ways in which life in America gets better all the time. Americans today have better health, more wealth, greater safety (even in the new age of terrorism), better nutrition, more leisure time, cleaner air and water, and just more stuff to play with and keep them entertained than any earlier generation. In fact, there are an estimated 80 billion people who have ever lived on this earth, and Easterbrook calculates that even poor Americans have a better material living standard than 99.4 percent of them. To have been born here and now is to have truly won the lottery of life.

In the book's second half, Easterbrook discusses the economists' conundrum of whether getting richer makes us happier. There isn't much evidence that Americans are more satisfied with their lives today than in the 1950s, an era when our parents didn't have VCRs, $800 designer teapots, treatments for cancer and heart disease, cleaner air to breathe, and so on. (Although our parents and grandparents may have been just as happy as we are, the evidence does show they were more bored. Our ancestors slept a lot more than we did, because there was nothing else to do at night.) To defend this idea that money doesn't buy happiness, Easterbrook points to data showing that chronic depression is a bigger problem in our society than ever before.

Easterbrook rightly sneers at the crass and preposterous things our consumer-driven society sometimes spends money on, but he has more contempt for the crisis-mongers in media, academia, and government who chronically complain about American life. He ridicules the daily, sensationalized news reports of "poison in the water," lost forests, the health crisis, or whatever the calamity du jour happens to be. Our latest societal affliction is "choice anxiety": so many things to choose from and so little time. --STEPHEN MOORE
The power of the blog!
Enter the Persistent

What does it mean that we must become like little children to enter the Kingdom?

I was thinking of Thomas the Misplaced Prot's recent post concerning the nearly unbearable tension between the search for a perfect church populated with imperfect people, or alternatively, the tension inherent in our own contradictions. We pray for peace in the world while dealing with the nagging thorn that says, "what hope has the world?" (Come to think of it, what are diets but the triumph of hope over experience?)

Insanity has been defined as doing the same thing over and over all the while expecting different results, but is that insanity or a childlike hope? "Wait for the LORD ; be strong and take heart and wait for the LORD," says the psalmist.

"Hopes are waking dreams." - St. Gregory

Update: See this excellent post from Two Sleepy Mommies. See also part of the inspiration for this post, about a mountain that can deceptively appear sisyphean.
The Passion

The unprecendented acclaim continues: the great evangelist Billy Graham has seen the film and cried during it, saying it was "a lifetime of sermons in one movie". I'm getting nervous; I'll be worried if my eyes aren't spigots on Feb. 25. To be honest the fragments of trailers I've seen haven't impressed me, probably because I'm desensitized to "blood and guts". Gore is to dramas what slapstick is to comedies - the easy way out?*

Part of what is driving the attention, of course, is the charge of anti-Semitism. If this is bumping advance ticket sales then it is an enormous turnabout. Why? Because the normal posture is for Christians to be in the position of providing publicity and the foil for depraved acts, like Janet Jackson's stunt (which no doubt spiked her record sales).

How wonderful it is to be on the other side for a change! Secularists are on the defensive, unwittingly plugging what they loathe.

* - Update: Interesting comment from Neil Dhingra on Amy's blog: "There is, it has been suggested, a certain pleasure that comes from gazing voyeuristically at the brutalized body of Christ - a powerful combination of guilt and desire, since Jesus suffers horribly in bearing our sins but it is through these very sufferings that we are healed. This is very similar to the pleasure that come from a torrid love affair in which the feelings of self-reproach intensify the eroticism. Now, this might make for deeply affecting cinema. One can argue that it has done exactly that in other Mel Gibson films. But it there anything religious about it? Carroll and the Metropolitan's comments suggest that the answer is "Not really."...we can worry that a Passion Play that finds itself relatively unconcerned with the resurrection has lost its very meaning. It ceases to be about communion with God; it becomes - at best - melodrama."

February 11, 2004

Cringing in Columbus

Watched Rod Dreher just rake the Vatican over the coals on Bill O'Reilly (from last week I think) concerning the mixed messages he'd received over whether the Pope said, "it is as it was". Manalive, I tell you I was inwardly cringing. You know things are bad when O'Reilly sticks up for the Vatican. Dreher was one degree of separation from saying the Vatican is engaging in 'structures of deceit' to borrow Garry Wills' phrase. We're really airing the dirty laundry these days.
Alan Keyes on Saving Family Farms
It is a sad truth, but the trouble usually comes when farmers produce too much of a good thing. As a result, prices can become so depressed that extraordinarily bountiful crops cannot be sold for a return that even pays for the costs of production, much less provides a profit.

How can economically destructive overproduction be prevented?...Our farm policy should aim rather at encouraging the development of independent and voluntary associations in the farming community to help farmers make the right decisions ... for themselves.
Another article here

I'm not a farmer although I play one in the backyard, but I think part of Alan's solution - that farmers look for alternative crops when there is an overabundance - strikes me as naive. The farmers I know are extremely cagey businessman. I may be wrong, but it seems there is a limited supply of marketable crops and growing hashish isn't an option. I love Keyes, but I'd like to have a "follow-up" as the reporters say.
Spanning the Globe to Bring You the Constant Variety of Posts


You threatening to cut off a debate with me is like an ugly man threatening not to have sex with me. --Kathy Shaidle to a Dean supporter, delivering a fisk as elegant as it was repellent, elegant for its brevity and the coup de grace use of the word 'ugly'.

Actually, Elvis sang incredibly well auf Deutsch. - Lee Ann of Literarium

Johnson remembered his life as a Benedictine, in which Scripture was read, listened to and prayed with five times a day, which made it absolutely impossible for him to consider Scripture as most scholars do today - as a cadaver to picked over and dissected. Rather, it is alive, an portal through which encounter with the living, self-disclosing God who lives. - Amy Welborn

Why not calculate the eigenvalue of the eigenvector of the 22 variable space that represents all issues, plot these in a rank/cluster diagram and examine the outliers for probable fit? You could use a bivariate nonparametric statistical analysis..." - Steven of Flos Carmeli on Tom's blog, to which I can only add damn straight, what he said.

In the early 90's, while Kurt Cobain screamed about the world that didn't pick him for kickball in gym class, or Eddie Vedder sang about, well, whatever, Johnny Cash sang about real people who felt guilt and regret, not ironic resentment/jealousy. The voice was like listening to an old testament prophet. His words seem to be more than emotion, they seem to be truth. It's often said that God speaks to us like a still, quiet voice. This IS Johnny Cash' American Recordings. I have cried to this album many times, esp. to Like A Soldier, and The Beast In Me. Accepting one's own contradictions is the key to loving yourself. Johnny's album helped me to do this. - amazon.com reviewer of Johnny Cash's 'American Recordings'

I think one thing that divides us moderns from our premodern brethren is this ratio of physical vs. social pain. Back in the days before modern medicine, everyone basically became enured to a level of physical suffering that we can hardly imagine...It's hard to convey that aspect of the Jesus story because it's so alien to us....Our first reaction upon seeing a crucified man, or a man walking along with his cross on his back, would likely not be, "Sheesh! What a loser!" But, apparently, the reaction of the day would have been something like that. Maybe something approaching an analogy would be our own forms of real-life humiliation as entertainment, like Joe Millionaire....A crucifixion, one imagines, would have inspired that same schadenfreude. Does Gibson get that about the crucifixion?... I think one problematic attitude I've sometimes run into about the sufferings of Jesus is that, far from humiliating him, they made him one bad-ass dude for enduring so much... If we are to believe Jesus experienced true human suffering, humiliation is a crucial part of that. Especially in that culture. -Camassia

[C.S.] Lewis's experience was very similar to my own. He loved mythology; he loved Wagner and nature (he was an avowed "Autumn fanatic" as I am, too); he had an extended atheistic period in his life (I toyed with the occult in my religiously-nominal childhood and teen years -- though I was never an atheist). Lewis -- my favorite writer, if that is not evident by now -- combined love of mythology and fantasy and imagination with rigorous logical thought (as I seek very much to do in my own apologetics). I was a nature mystic searching for something more... - David Armstrong of Cor ad cor loquitur

What we suffer from today is humility in the wrong place. Modesty has moved from the organ of ambition. Modesty has settled upon the organ of conviction; where it was never meant to be. A man was meant to be doubtful about himself, but undoubting about the truth; this has been exactly reversed.... The old humility was a spur that prevented a man from stopping; not a nail in his boot that prevented him from going on. For the old humility made a man doubtful about his efforts, which might make him work harder. But the new humility makes a man doubtful about his aims, which will make him stop working altogether. --GK Chesterton via Philip of Musings of a Pertniancious Papist

Confession of a book glutton: gluttony, like other vices, dulls the senses yet inflames the passions. You lose that fine sensitivity to detail and, as it fades, you need more. So we come to one of my Lenten resolutions, made up right here on the spot: rather than reading everything in a rush, I will read well, read deeply and read slowly. - Bill of Summa Minutiae

One of my favorite parts about being Catholic is that Mass is every day. Church is open almost all day, depending on the neighborhood. Not just Sundays. - Therese Z of Santificarnos

I liked Thomas Merton's take on Jesus and His wart-ridden followers. I take great comfort in it. I don't want to wrap myself up in sinful habits and predispositions like a cloak (or like a "burrito', as Smockmomma's husband might say)--but I can't imagine going dead in the wits. Is that snobbishness, overfond attachment to intellectual entertainment, or simple integrity to who God made me? St. Francis de Sales would know. Read him for Lent... --Kathy Swistock

One thing I've learned over the years is that, though made in God's image, the human mind is a beast of almost intractable obstinacy; its intellect (as Newman put it) arrogant and corrosive, restless, dissatisfied, irreverent, vain and rebellious; its greatest faculty, reason, a very poor tool for unearthing truth and, if relied on to the exclusion of all else, will lead us to die happily in a hell of falsehood - in short, its inclination tending toward destruction as often as creation. -Bill of Apologia

It's in the Bible: no man can serve two masters. - Jeff of ElCamino, on why polygamy is wrong

While sarcasm and irony can be useful, they are difficult to wield with charity. - Michelle of And Then?

Put the Smock Down  ...vote smockmomma in '04!
Chicken or the Egg

I think it was St. John of the Cross who said that often we long for spiritual peace without deserving it, but isn't there a kind of spiritual peace that comes in accepting a lack of spiritual peace?
John Paul - Too Lenient?

I was recently touched by reader Jeanne's request that I offer my opinion of JPII's management of the Church. Obviously for me to judge JPII is akin to Tim, the 22-year old philosophy major, informing Kathy Shaidle why she should vote for Dean. But bloggers go where where the brave dare not go, so Jeanne, thanks for asking.

I think that it's far more important to offer ideas - which this Pope has done in spades - than to tear down. Tearing down has been tried before, most obviously with the anti-modernist encyclicals of Pius X. In the political sphere, tearing down failed when used by Bush Sr. in '92. The reason the Republican party was so successful with the "Contract with America" in '94 was because the Republicans had a positive vision. The Democrats didn't. Republicans won hearts and minds.

That's not to say that people don't long for limits and for clarity. They do. But the lack of clarity came prior to JPII, and it's easier to prevent the genie from getting out of the bottle than to put the genie back in the bottle. One need to exercise much more caution with the latter.

Philip Trower, hardly a Jcecil3 type, makes a good case in his Ignatius Press book "Turmoil and Truth" that the church of the 50s was going to weaken greatly anyway. The fact that all the Protestant churches fell apart too should be a siren call that the collapse had nothing to do with Vatican II, although admittedly many took license with faulty interpretations of Vatican II.

Ultimately it is an unanswerable question because we see the Church in its present state but we don't know what it would look like if the Pope had declared thermo-nuclear war on theologians, Catholic colleges and the like. What people don't realize is that when a leader insists on getting his way, he can be sabotaged in a million less noticeable ways. The fact that JPII gets sniped at by those who think he's too strict and those who think he's too lenient suggests he is striking the right balance. Does anyone imagine that the first John Paul would've been stricter!? By most accounts he would've made JPII look like a tyrant. Same thing with Paul VI. Same thing with John XXIII. This Pope is the most disciplinarian pope we've had since the Pius's.