January 28, 2013

Whether St. Thomas Aquinas is Boring

Link. Pretty clever.



Various & Sundry

I think the message of the gospel has two primary obstacles: for some people the news is too good, and for others the news is too bad. The cross is famously an obstacle, especially the part about carrying our crosses. We want to be gods now. St. Ireaneus, seventeen hundred years ago, wrote: "For we cast blame upon Him, because we have not been made gods from the beginning, but at first merely men, then at length gods."

More surprising perhaps is that sometimes the good news is too good. A brother-in-law is skeptical about the Resurrection simply because it seems too good to be true and it's what we want to believe. A lot of people refuse, for whatever reason, to accept good fortune. That we get something for nothing which is the essence of life itself - we were all given physical life itself without purchasing it in any way. And on a spiritual level, grace deserved is an oxymoron and thus is not grace. And Holy Communion is rejected by some Protestants because it's too good to be believed.

*

This past Sunday reminded me of the difficult-to-believe truth of the one Body of Christ of which we are all members. I liked how St. Paul taught this “one Body” so strongly because in fact his initial encounter with Christ was on this very subject: “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” Paul sure came by that teaching honestly and with great back-up authority.

*

Last night we watched an impressively good television show called Justified. Set in hardscrabble Harlan County, Kentucky, the acting is pitch-perfect, the dialogue keen and the storyline interesting. It's so rare when I see anything that well-done on television, and seeing someone so good at their work promotes a feeling of relaxation and inspiration in me. Excellence is charismatic and it's nice to fall into expert hands, even be they those of a television producer.

*

Did a 30-minute run at the gym. Ran by many folks working out on the weight machines and treadmills so diligently. Ruthlessly youthful, they dotted the landscape like reminders of my past, of college, except with shorter, form-fitting lycra shorts. Made me miss my own youth and feelings of exuberance that attended it, feelings not disconnected from great physical fitness and physical strivings of a much more intense nature than I was currently engaged in. One girl looked like she was in the death throes of agony, sweating profusely but with a holy sort of look of striving on her face. Sweat like tears drenched her face, and her eyes and posture were like that of the Virgin on the Via Dolorosa. I wondered how far afield simple striving is from spirituality and whether they were in fact the very same thing. The palpable striving to please God is a very rare thing, witness how touched He was when a prostitute, no less, wept on his feet and dried them with her hair. Who was Mary Magdalen but all striving, all hunger? ("Stop clinging to me," Jesus had to say.) How much of spirituality consists of not feeling full?

*

New novel set in Cincinnati was reviewed in the paper today. From the Dispatch: “The author's Cincinnati - a place where residents 'make a virtue of grittiness, take pride in not living in some cleaner, wealthier, wussier city.'” Hmm, Cincy doesn't seem that unclean and there are wealthy areas. I would've thought the author would have the residents take pride in the absorbing the (relatively) hot summers and cold winters. I suppose I'll download the first chapter and see if it's any good. Reading a novel simply for the setting seems akin to watching a basketball game for the cheerleaders. It just doesn't figure in much.

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Tragically, I had to put my Knox Bible out of reach because our dog Buddy was eating books next to it (a Downton Abbey book was a recent casualty). I don't think he's a particular fan of thin bible paper but I'd rather not find out. Sadness untold because I rather liked having such a fresh (to the point of wild) translation so close to my recliner. My druthers on Sunday is to read the readings of the day not only as presented in the missalette but in versions sundry, like the stiff upper crust Douay, the guilelessly transparent Jerusalem, and the quirkily robust Knox. Those seem to be the three renditions significantly interesting versus the New American text, the latter being pretty close to the lectionary readings.

*

Spent some time yesterday reading Ireaneus on Logos, specifically the full context of his case against those who wouldst be gods first:
Irrational, therefore, in every respect, are they who await not the time of increase, but ascribe to God the infirmity of their nature. Such persons know neither God nor themselves, being insatiable and ungrateful, unwilling to be at the outset what they have also been created—men subject to passions; but go beyond the law of the human race, and before that they become men, they wish to be even now like God their Creator, and they who are more destitute of reason than dumb animals [insist] that there is no distinction between the uncreated God and man, a creature of to-day. For these, [the dumb animals], bring no charge against God for not having made them men; but each one, just as he has been created, gives thanks that he has been created. For we cast blame upon Him, because we have not been made gods from the beginning, but at first merely men, then at length gods; although God has adopted this course out of His pure benevolence, that no one may impute to Him invidiousness or grudgingness. He declares, “I have said, Ye are gods; and ye are all sons of the Highest.”1 But since we could not sustain the power of divinity, He adds, “But ye shall die like men,” setting forth both truths—the kindness of His free gift, and our weakness, and also that we were possessed of power over ourselves.
St. Ireaneus makes the case that, to quote Jack Nicholson, “we couldn't handle the truth.”:
God had power at the beginning to grant perfection to man; but as the latter was only recently created, he could not possibly have received it, or even if he had received it, could he have contained it, or containing it, could he have retained it.
Of course it's a moot point given that it's ridiculous for the creature to complain that the Creator didn't make him perfect when the Creator himself came down to subject himself to our imperfections to the point of dying on a cross. Certainly makes the whole argument ludicrous since it's far more impressive for the Creator to come down and suffer than a created one to do likewise.

January 24, 2013

Four Dead in Benghazi

Tin ears and Clinton coming,
She's finally on her own.
This winter I hear the drumming,
Four dead in Benghazi.

Gotta face up to it
Media's biased as hell
Bush'd be hounded to the ground.
What if you knew Stevens
Found him dead on the ground
Media doesn't care though they know...

Tin ears and Clinton coming,
She's finally on her own.
This winter I hear the drumming,
Four dead in Benghazi.

January 23, 2013

MLK & Brandon Vogt

Catholic bloggers, a surprisingly bloodthirsty lot (I feel almost chastened by how naive I was in the beginning in thinking that the Catholic blogsophere would be different than the Internet at large), have piled on Brandon Vogt for a pro-Martin Luther King Jr. post. Msgr. Pope responded with alacrity.

Part of what makes King especially interesting to me is his inherent contradictions, but then he was playing by the book in one sense: as Anne Lamont recently tweeted: “Lance, Lance, Lance. Usually these guys are willing to destroy their children, wives, parents, friends, ONLY if they're going to get laid.”

But among the leaders of his day he was an absolute peach. LBJ, Nixon, Hoover, Wallace…a pretty sorry lot, no? But even that is pretty judgmental of me. “By the measure you measure..”.

I tend to want people, including myself, to conform to some sort of consistent, logical pattern. Good or evil. But people are complicated, duh.

Dignity and the Poor

I read a recent blog post that only up-to-date clothes in good condition should be given to the poor in order to be respectful of the dignity of the poor.

This is a very interesting to me because it touches on so many things. “Dignity”, in this case, is related to clothing relative to other folks’ clothing – i.e not seen in just a purely functional light. Assuming I have clothing that is out-of-date or otherwise not in great condition, it is to be thrown away -- but I wonder if that is good? Is it possible there is someone who might be willing to wear clothing out-of-date but because we have this standard of dignity then he/she won’t get it?

Similarly with low wage jobs. Are they beneath the dignity of people, or is it better they have something rather than nothing? Is the perfect the enemy of the good in these cases?

And the larger question is, for me, this: Is income inequality inherently evil? I tend to think that what matters is not income inequality (or, clothing inequality) but the measure of how well off the poor are. I would rather have a “prosperous poor” than a situation where the poor are more impoverished but incomes are more equal.

But there’s certainly a good number of holy and worthy people who would rather see incomes more equal even should it result in making the poor poorer because then the poor would not be able to SEE and FEEL the income inequality so prevalent in capitalistic societies. Which is to say, I suppose, that self-image is more important than materialistic concerns.

January 22, 2013

Word Among Us Meditation

On the anniversary of Roe v. Wade:
On this anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court decision that opened the doors to legalized abortion, the Church asks us to pray for legal protection of the unborn. If you’ve ever seen a fence around a pasture, you can understand the need to pray for a change in our laws. We all know that a pasture fence helps keep the animals together and provides protection from outside dangers. Could the sheep stay together without a fence? It’s possible, but not likely. Sheep aren’t very good at regulating themselves, after all.

Laws function in a similar way. They set limits for human behavior. While God created us to gravitate toward the good, sin has altered our attractions, and we now have trouble making the right choices. Where our natural impulses may take us down the wrong path, a good law can correct our trajectory. It holds us to a higher standard and helps us to live peacefully with each other...

So on this day of grim remembrance, let us take up the call to pray for just laws that protect the innocent. Such laws certainly would help stop the slaughter of unborn children. But even more important, laws protecting them could create some breathing room, an environment of safety until people’s hearts could come to a deeper and more lasting change. But let’s also pray for a transformation of minds and hearts, so that the protection of the unborn becomes a no-brainer. May we all work for both results: just laws and softened hearts!

Jolly Good Ale and Old


by William Stevenson

I cannot eat but little meat,
My stomach is not good;
But sure I think that I can drink
With him that wears a hood.
Though I go bare, take ye no care,
I nothing am a-cold;
I stuff my skin so full within
Of jolly good ale and old.

Back and side go bare, go bare,
Both foot and hand go cold;
But, belly, God send thee good ale enough,
Whether it be new or old.

I love no roast but a nut-brown toast,
And a crab laid in the fire;
A little bread shall do me stead;
Much bread I not desire.
No frost nor snow, no wind, I trow,
Can hurt me if it would,
I am so wrapped and throughly lapped
Of jolly good ale and old.

Back and side go bare, go bare,
Both foot and hand go cold;
But, belly, God send thee good ale enough,
Whether it be new or old.

And Tib, my wife, that as her life
Loveth well good ale to seek,
Full oft drinks she till ye may see
The tears run down her cheek.
Then doth she troll to me the bowl,
Even as a maltworm should,
And saith, "Sweetheart, I took my part
Of this jolly good ale and old."

Back and side go bare, go bare,
Both foot and hand go cold;
But, belly, God send thee good ale enough,
Whether it be new or old.

Now let them drink till they nod and wink,
Even as good fellows should do;
They shall not miss to have the bliss
Good ale doth bring men to.
And all poor souls that have scoured bowls
Or have them lustily trolled --
God save the lives of them and their wives,
Whether they be young or old.

Back and side go bare, go bare,
Both foot and hand go cold;
But, belly, God send thee good ale enough,
Whether it be new or old.

Quotable

From Joe Queenan's book about books:
“I am of Irish descent, and to the Irish, books are as natural and inevitable a feature of the landscape as sand is to Tuaregs. When the English stormed the Emerald Isle under Cromwell in the seventeeth century, they took everything that was worth taking and burned everything else. Thereafter, the Irish had no land, no money, no future. That left them with words, and words became books, and books, ingeniously coupled with music and alcohol, enabled the Irish to transcend reality.”
Also:
“No matter what they profess to believe, no matter what they may tell themselves, most book lovers do not read primarily to obtain information or to while away time or to better themselves or even, in the words of C.S. Lewis, to know that they are not alone. They read to escape to a more exciting, rewarding world…I am convinced that this desire to escape from reality - on a daily, even an hourly, basis - is the main reason people read books.”

January 18, 2013

Controversies and Devil Beatings

'Twas alarming to read of St. Antony, whose memorial we celebrated yesterday, getting beat up by the devil (just like St. Padre Pio). It reminds me so much of the homily the other day at St. Patrick's where the priest said that we should expect not simply to be on the offensive against the devil, driving him back and such, but also be able to take a punch, to absorb a blow. Just an amazing coincidence, or Godincidence it seems. What are the odds that I would read about the devil beating a saint up* and then hearing a homily, totally unrelated to the story of that saint, bring up the necessity of Christians to absorb the devil's blows?

Jesus famously provided the example in taking the worst the devil has to offer in the form of suffering and death, and be able to come out the other side victorious. Death vanquished by death. The priest said it was like how in boxing it's not just how well you can punch but how well you can absorb punishment.

It got me thinking how odd it would be if Pope Benedict suddenly appeared all bruised up by the devil. Hard time explaining that to the media one would think.

Reading about St. Antony, we see him ask the Lord, after enduring torture from the Devil, “What took you so long?” (to bring relief). And God basically said “I was there the whole time and you will be rewarded for your endurance.” Kind of a non-satisfying answer - I was perhaps hoping for “you didn't ask for help!”. But St. Antony loved the response. Which is the way it seems to work - saints are very satisfied and edified by the responses of God. The prime example of this is Job in the Old Testament who receives the answer in a whirlwind, an answer very compelling to him. I take comfort in the fact that there IS a highly satisfying response, even if it's not particularly satisfying to me. Perhaps it's not important that I feel that relief until it's required or until this earthly trial is over.

*
Always fascinating to see a fight among the good Catholics on the 'net, in this case in a response to a column reputed to be a bit too relaxed on matters sexual. What really interested me was the guy's anti-Pelagian recognition that goodness and virtue comes from outside ourselves.

A padre disses the author but does touch on that mysterious realm of free will versus grace with this:
“Actually, Christian virtue is something “gotten directly,” by freely encountering the person of Christ through the means He Himself instituted in the Church. Virtue is something that Christ works in us without us. However, because it can only involve our freedom, as persons created in God’s image, it involves everything: knowledge, choice, love, affection, discipline, mortification, fear, desire—all of it. This is the mystery of grace and free will that has kept theologians and mystics busy for centuries.

Virtue is a habit that can only be formed by continuous pressure against the bad habit. That pressure is not simply negative energy. But neither is it mostly positive thinking. This being said, even the supernatural virtue of chastity is not of itself sufficient. That is why there are the Gifts of the Holy Spirit, whose effects are simply beyond anything that can be achieved by education, positive, nor negative, or by discipline.”
Pope Benedict also touched on this mystery in his recent book on Jesus, offering: "Grace and freedom are thoroughly interwoven, and we cannot unravel their interrelatedness into clear formulae."

*
And Eliz Duffy scores with a thought-provoking reflection on things:
“Maybe it’s something to do with the 2012 election, and Drudge-style media paranoia, but I’m just tired of skepticism, and conspiracies, and default positions that everyone in the world is trying to do me wrong. I wanted to go into labor trusting that I was in competent hands. I was in a new hospital with a new doctor, so it took a little leap of faith. Nothing about it was familiar. But I’ve been thinking a lot lately, in a lot of different situations, that ignorance can be a mercy.

I realize that’s not a popular position–no one wants to be taken by surprise, say, by the end of the world, by aggressive government policies, by cut-hungry OBs. But it was nice to go through Advent and the nativity right before delivery, thinking about how God entrusted himself in complete powerlessness to human caregivers. Why would God, who knows how wrong people can be, choose this kind of voluntary impotence?

My friend Pedge was telling me about a Fulton Sheen quote, in which people who have lost their fear of God tend to redirect their fears onto imaginary human assailants. There must always be an antagonist, whether it’s doctors or politicians or people who think or look differently. It’s so easy to consider oneself a potential victim, when what really motivates fear is an excess love of self....

To tell you the truth, I’m still trying to figure out what “Fear of God” is. But I think it has something to do with awe of Creation, and recognizing that everything that happens in it, including suffering, is God’s providence. 'Some people call pleasant things ‘providential.’ Mary and Joseph thought everything was. God is in everything and every place. Nothing is without God.”–Father Peyton's rosary book...

I’m trying to figure out if humility means entrusting oneself to the people and times with whom and in which I live...

'It is not life and its difficulties you have to conquer, only the self in you.' (From 365 One-Minute Meditations: God Calling edited by A.J. Russell.)"
* --
St. Antony, from a life of the saint:
"...in hideous shapes of the most frightful wild beasts, which they assumed to dismay and terrify him; till a ray of heavenly light breaking in upon him, chased them away, and caused him to cry out: “Where was thou, my Lord and my Master? Why wast thou not here, from the beginning of my conflict, to assuage my pains!” A voice answered: “Antony, I was here the whole time; I stood by thee, and beheld thy combat: and because thou hast manfully withstood thine enemies, I will always protect thee, and will render thy name famous throughout the earth.” At these words the saint arose, much cheered, and strengthened, to pray and return thanks to his deliverer."

January 14, 2013

Intriguing Quote

"Reason is always a kind of brute force; those who appeal to the head rather than the heart, however pallid and polite, are necessarily men of violence. We speak of 'touching' a man's heart, but we can do nothing to his head but hit it."
--G.K. Chesterton

Oh the sh*! Chesterton says!

Unintentional Hilarity from the New Yorker

The New Yorker is often an exercise in paternalistic parody, and this one is pretty high-laire. Very thoughtful of the New Yorker to give Southerners advice.

Re: "Southern political passions have always been rooted in sometimes extreme ideas of morality, which has meant, in recent years, abortion and school prayer."

Oh yes, extreme it is to be for prayer in school and be against killing the unborn. So radical.

Various



Funny quote sighted on a FB page: “It's never too late to become the person you never became.”

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Came across a book (“Christianity in Evolution”) that looks interesting. Right up my alley given the author's attempt to let religion and science learn from the other even though it doesn't seem the most orthodox of books. I sometimes wish Pope Benedict hadn't become pope because he had been planning to “retire” from Vatican service in order to write a book on original sin in light of modern anthropology. I always wish he'd gone that route of discovery, and thus gone beyond what he wrote in that little book about the Fall back many years ago now.

Anyway, I'm not thrilled with this author's seeming high comfort level with death, but he sure sounds Ratzingerian when he talks about Jesus and trinitarian altruism and the need to counteract self-absorption.
“Evolution has provided a new understanding of reality, with revolutionary consequences for Christianity. In an evolutionary perspective the incarnation involved God entering the evolving human species to help it imitate the trinitarian altruism in whose image it was created and counter its tendency to self-absorption. Primarily, however, the evolutionary achievement of Jesus was to confront and overcome death in an act of cosmic significance, ushering humanity into the culminating stage of its evolutionary destiny, the full sharing of God's inner life. Previously such doctrines as original sin, the fall, sacrifice, and atonement stemmed from viewing death as the penalty for sin and are shown not only to have serious difficulties in themselves, but also to emerge from a Jewish culture preoccupied with sin and sacrifice that could not otherwise account for death. The death of Jesus on the cross is now seen as saving humanity, not from sin, but from individual extinction and meaninglessness. Death is now seen as a normal process that affect all living things and the religious doctrines connected with explaining it in humans are no longer required or justified. Similar evolutionary implications are explored affecting other subjects of Christian belief, including the Church, the Eucharist, priesthood, and moral behavior.”

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The only show worth watching on MSNBC is, of course Morning Joe and I caught a bit of it recently. They had on author George Saunders and he made some interesting statements like “capitalism fosters sensuality” which seems true and reminiscent of Malcolm Muggeridge's line about how “sex is the mysticism of a materialistic society, it's only acceptable religion.” Saunders meant sensuality broader than sex of course, given our drive for all sorts of bodily comforts and stimulations.

Also heard Saunders, to paraphrase him badly, say that happy people should almost knock themselves over the heads in order to understand/empathize with/think of the many unhappy people in our society. It's as if this secular voice is preaching asceticism. Makes me think of this recent blog quotation:

From A. C. Benson, “Books,” in From a College Window (London: Smith, Elder & Co., 1906), pp. 52-53:
“As I make my slow pilgrimage through the world, a certain sense of beautiful mystery seems to gather and grow. I see that many people find the world dreary — and, indeed, there must be spaces of dreariness in it for us all — some find it interesting; some surprising; some find it entirely satisfactory. But those who find it satisfactory seem to me, as a rule, to be tough, coarse, healthy natures, who find success attractive and food digestible: who do not trouble their heads very much about other people, but go cheerfully and optimistically on their way, closing their eyes as far as possible to things painful and sorrowful, and getting all the pleasure they can out of material enjoyments.

Well, to speak very sincerely and humbly, such a life seems to me the worst kind of failure. It is the life that men were living in the days of Noah, and out of such lives comes nothing that is wise or useful or good. Such men leave the world as they found it, except for the fact that they have eaten a little way into it, like a mite into a cheese, and leave a track of decomposition behind them.

I do not know why so much that is hard and painful and sad is interwoven with our life here; but I see, or seem to see, that it is meant to be so interwoven. All the best and most beautiful flowers of character and thought seem to me to spring up in the track of suffering; and what is the most sorrowful of all mysteries, the mystery of death, the ceasing to be, the relinquishing of our hopes and dreams, the breaking of our dearest ties, becomes more solemn and awe-inspiring the nearer we advance to it.
I do not mean that we are to go and search for unhappiness; but, on the other hand, the only happiness worth seeking for is a happiness which takes all these dark things into account, looks them in the face, reads the secret of their dim eyes and set lips, dwells with them, and learns to be tranquil in their presence.”
*

When I was young I said I'd never go to a fortune-teller or palm-reader because they may give me some bad news. Thought about that today and how the role of a biblical prophet isn't too far afield from that of a fortune-teller, because look at what old Simeon told Our Lady: "a sword shall pierce your heart." Not exactly what she wanted to hear I expect.

But they also had another sort of foreknowledge, that of the ultimate end result. Came across this quote from then Cardinal Ratzinger in Co-Workers for the Truth meditation:
"Perhaps modern man buries himself so assiduously in the present because he lacks the courage to look into the future, because even to think about it gives him nightmares. Or again: we no longer fear that the sun will be vanquished by darkness and not shine for us again. What we fear nowadays is the darkness that emanates from man, and in this fear we have finally discovered true darkness—more fearful in this century of man’s inhumanity than could ever have been imagined by the generations that preceded us. We are afraid that the good that is in the world will become completely powerless....For we see it: what rules the world now is money, the atom bomb, the cynicism of those to whom nothing is sacred....Will the good continue to have meaning and power in the world? In the stable at Bethlehem a sign is given that enables us to answer with a joyous Yes! For the Child, God’s only-begotten Son, is set as a sign and a surety that in the end God will have the last word in world history and that he is truth and love."

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Watched the intense and haunting Hatfields and McCoys tv show starring Kevin Costner. Kind of hard to take in all that violence and pure unadulterated hatred. It was interesting the way they portrayed the “founding fathers” of the feud. McCoy was a devout Christian who turned to drink and apparent atheism when he was unable to square a loving God with what had happened with his family. He went slightly mad, dying alone in a fire of his own making. Hatfield started out looking like a pagan (at one point pondering killing his own son) but turned Christian, getting baptized late in life after finding that violence didn't work. I don't know how historically accurate it was, but it sure made for a riveting show.

January 09, 2013

Journal App & the Sad Fate of ND at the BCS

Wasted last night obsessed again with finding out why anyone would consider the iPad journal app called Day One given that you can't export your whole journal to a text file. (Ironic that because I'm one who is considering it.) Seems like you're totally locked into the app. Oh sure you can have your entries backed up on Dropbox, but they are stored as individual files (per entry) and thus if you want to ever get them into, say, a Word document or another journal you'd have to cut and paste the entries individually.

I've been thinking how little I get out of my past journals simply for their inaccessibility. I have only the last 13-14 months on the iPad which are definitionally uninteresting by virtue of being too recent. I have another couple years on Google docs, and then all the previous years on two separate ginormous Word documents. I'd love to have a clean way to search for anything. I suspect the ultimate goal would be to get all entries on an iPad app, if an app would even handle that sort of amount of data. I don't like the lack of “talkativeness” between iPad apps and the web - hence the ability to export the whole journal to a text file seems critical. Day One will eventually have the ability to export to a PDF, but PDFs seem fairly unusable except for printing purposes. Plus I'm not sure how to password-protect a pdf.

The sweet things about digital journals are the password protection feature and the searchability.

*

Watched the so-called National Championship Monday night. One could be forgiven for thinking it a pre-Sec tune-up for Alabama. It was as engrossing as watching a high school team play a college team. Only about 20 minute of football enjoyment out of a swiftly foreordained outcome. Brent Musburger got in trouble for pointing out the obvious, that the Alabama QBs girlfriend was beautiful. Who knew that one could get in trouble for such things? ESPN apologized. And Lino Rulli said Musburger was treating this girl as an “object” despite Lino's frequent assertions of so and so being a “handsome woman”. Apparently handsome is the preferred adjective.

January 08, 2013

Flannery O'Connor & Epiphanies

Interesting link on the Atlantic about Flannery O'Connor's A Good Man is Hard to Find.

I haven't read that one, but I've heard the famous quote - "She could have been a good woman...if it had been someone there to shoot her every minute of her life." - which I'd always interpreted as meaning that we'd all be good people if we had the threat of imminent judgmental (death, hell) hanging over us at every minute.

Anyway I liked this:
The fact that there's a brevity to human connection and human empathy—the fact that it goes away—might make you feel that we should not make a big deal that it was there at all. But of course we can't do that. We have to value the moments when a person is everything we'd hope this person would be, or became briefly something even better than she normally is. We need to give those moments the credit they're due.

January 07, 2013

Ha...


Pleasure versus Joy


Went to St. John's Byzantine yesterday and was nonplussed to learn they were celebrating the Baptism of Our Lord which I believe will be celebrated in the Roman rite next Sunday. So back-to-back Baptisms for me. The liturgy was extraordinaringly long, a healthy, rip-roaring, special expanded edition. Eastern Christianity sure makes the Baptism of Jesus a major feast. I skipped out after Communion at 11:13, the service having begun at 9:30. Fr. T brought up in his homily how he takes home a big jug of holy water ("Jordan water" he calls it) every year after this feast and uses it liberally and daily. He blesses his pets with it, puts some in his soup, blesses his bed with it before sleeping, will use it after someone troubled comes to visit in the rectory, sprinkles it in his garden, etc... Now there's the true Byzantine spirit in action - having that maximal zeal towards the sacraments and sacramentals. No Protestant-inspired fear of the material. Faith is ultimately a "gratitude machine" because if you believe, then even humble holy water is something that contains power and consolation. Faith teaches that God is not mincing in his gifts but is extravagant, even to the point of making matter (like water or bread or wine or us) holy.

*

I often recall a line from Andrew Greeley's "The Jesus Myth" in which one correspondent with Greeley said that what it all comes down to is whether you consider the universe to be benevolent. Which I suppose means that it was crafted with care and not simply the result of random chaos.

It can be hard to see the universe as benevolent seeing all the suffering that occurs within it. But then suffering is not the measure of benevolence, nor is pleasure. Even the presumed atheist/author Zadie Smith sees the difference between pleasure and joy:
"A final thought: sometimes joy multiplies itself dangerously. Children are the infamous example. Isn’t it bad enough that the beloved, with whom you have experienced genuine joy, will eventually be lost to you? Why add to this nightmare the child, whose loss, if it ever happened, would mean nothing less than your total annihilation? It should be noted that an equally dangerous joy, for many people, is the dog or the cat, relationships with animals being in some sense intensified by guaranteed finitude. You hope to leave this world before your child. You are quite certain your dog will leave before you do. Joy is such a human madness.

The writer Julian Barnes, considering mourning, once said, 'It hurts just as much as it is worth.' In fact, it was a friend of his who wrote the line in a letter of condolence, and Julian told it to my husband, who told it to me. For months afterward these words stuck with both of us, so clear and so brutal. It hurts just as much as it is worth. What an arrangement. Why would anyone accept such a crazy deal? Surely if we were sane and reasonable we would every time choose a pleasure over a joy, as animals themselves sensibly do. The end of a pleasure brings no great harm to anyone, after all, and can always be replaced with another of more or less equal worth."
I was thinking about this in connection with Jennifer of Conversion Diary's recent hospitalization. I fear the worse, but thought about how by definition being open to life is also risking death. In fact, the more kids you have the more chance one will die before you, which seems the great curse. I thought about how odd it was that I thought it wrong that the mentally ill sister of Msgr. Pope (Pope being the priest who blogs at the Archdiocese of Washington website) ended up dying in a fire she started. Wrong, presumably, because he seems a holy man and one might expect his prayers to be efficacious and yet...that sentiment is so totally antithetical to the gospel because Jesus himself of course suffered and died.

That the universe is benevolent is another way of saying that God loves us. And my saint of the year, via Jennifer F's website, is St. Terese Margaret Redi, "a pious child who saw God in all things, and who was confused to learn that not everyone knew that God loved them." Indeed.

A homilist recently said that the disciple Jesus loved in the gospel according to John was not John but was you and me. All of us. What I'd long taken for braggadocio on the part of the gospel writer or his scribe might actually be considered as a placeholder for me. Crazy, but it would fit into the whole gospel zeitgeist of things not being as they appear and of the holy person's typical deflection of making things about himself or herself but in loving others and wanting them to feel included. The priest also said that when Jesus promised to Nathaniel that he (Nathaniel) would see angels rising and falling before the son of Man, we get to see that as well here on the altar. Angels are going before the son of Man here, today. Again that sense of inclusion, that hunger we all have for being included in these otherworldly things that can seem far removed from us in the 21st century.

Lino Rulli brought up something today on his radio show about how puzzling it is that God shows Himself to some and not to others. God shows himself to St. Paul so that Paul can tell others. Many of Lino's friends say they don't believe in God because God hasn't show himself to them personally. And there is a great mystery there, but when Lino and the priest were starting to address it I got a phone call. Doh! I suspect there's simply no getting around faith - even though we'd all prefer experiential knowledge instead.

Thought about poor old Andrew Greeley and how he suffered that traumatic brain injury. How tragic it seems and yet - and yet not really. Do I not believe in the Resurrection and that his body will become mint again!? So will all of us become "like angels". We mourn the decline of our natural human facilities even though they are pitifully lame compared to what we will eventually receive.!

*

I tend to want to get over my numbness to prayer and sacrifice by first, ironically, self-indulgence. As if Christ said, "you must die to self after enhancing your mood sufficiently." Our Lord didn't seem concerned about us achieving consistent transcendent states of happiness in this world. Rotten luck, I say, that Truth would be suchlike. Or so I say in this life, without access to all the relevant information.

A couple moments of transcendence not found in brew or poetry today. A snippet of the catechism that resonated concerning the fulfillment of Jeremiah's new Covenant in Jesus and thus in us. And the offering of a prayer, a Hail Mary, for Jennifer F. The purity of simply asking Him "if my prayer can contribute then so be it" while not having delusions of grandeur. Of being of service in even a micro way.

Time and again I realize the freeing recognition that nothing is really possible without God and all things possible with Him. That when I'm "hitting the wall" in terms of a niggardly spirit, I don't have to depend on self alone. That when my power to love fails there is a Backup. Which is actually the Frontup, the only Love who is.

On the Unproven Theory That Venting Actually Works...

So it's back to work. The party's over. Our long national daydream has ended. Reminder to self: "Will work for charitable giving purposes."

The weather has taken a very ugly turn. Florida and NM trips did not acclimate me well to 25 degrees. (Cue violins.) But this is the new normal so I best get used to it.

Frustrations at work, I've had a few, but then again, too few to mention. The crappy P program blew up again - second straight quarter. Paid for my sin of just fixing the particular policy last time instead of identifying the root cause. But then it's not my program, although 99% of ownership is simply a question of need. If you need a program to work, then you're on the hook regardless of who wrote it or ostensibly owns it.

So I added missing rates using my dog-slow computer that made me unplug the machine for rebootive purposes twice.

Got home and couldn't get the flipping laptop to connect to 'net because it turns out there's a nob that you switch in order to turn on and off wireless. A hardware switch. Absolutely drove me crazy.

Lost my earbud for the umpteenth time. I understand the physics of it - that pressure in my jeans pocket can make it come off, but really would it be so hard for it to stay put within the pocket? I always look for it in the pocket after it's gone and it's never there. I've tried gluing the damn things on. I feel like buying 10,000 of the nubs just so I don't have to be held hostage to the buggers.

(Cue violins.)

*

Interesting to hear Johnny Cash pull off the seemingly difficult task of performing a song about San Quentin to an audience of prisoners at San Quentin. Seems a tad presumptuous, something a more white collar type guy couldn't pull off. Cash sure was a man's man wasn't he? To sing songs to prisoners and maintain the tough guy image... Though he didn't go too much out on a limb by singing lines like, "San Quentin, I hate every inch of you."

*

I tumblr'd a bit tonight and also took in some fascinating pictures via Atlantic magazine of that ultimately foreign place- the place that may as well be the moon - North Korea. It made me want to find out more about where my daughter-in-law came from, what city in South Korea and to trace her lineage. It made me simultaneously sad and happy for my grandchildren that they won't know their maternal biological grandparents. Sad for obvious reasons but happy because despite our protestations we humans crave mystery. We love the that there's something uncharted for us to search for. I have a grandmother who died before I was born and feel close to her somehow nonetheless. I pray for her, maybe she prays for me.

Novel Rank: a Box Score for Authors

If following a favorite sports team makes sense, then how much more a favorite author? Thus I'm hyp-mo-tized by Novel Rank, which allows you to track up to one hundred books and see how sales line up.

Of course there's some wailing and gnashing of teeth involved since many of my favorites are doing as well as I think they should. It's like a box score for authors although it'd be nice if there was more of a cumulative look at how a given book has done rather than just a snapshot of current sales.

Surprises include:

Blue Like Jazz: Nonreligious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality by Donald Miller (an older book) is at an astonishing number 736. Must be a lot of evangelical interest or "seeker" interest in it (Miller's not Catholic).

33 Days to Morning Glory by Fr. Gaitley at a strong 1,749 despite the book not having a Kindle edition. Fr. Gaitley seems to be slaking a spiritual need these days.

Style, Sex, and Substance: 10 Catholic Women Consider the Things that Really Matter seems pretty strong despite presumably being limited to an audience of mostly Catholic women. Plus it's been out awhile. It's ahead of the recently released The Complete Thinker: The Mind of GK Chesterton by Alquist, for example.

Scott Hahn's more scholarly book not doing too well (Kingdom of God as Liturgical Empire, The: A Theological Commentary on 1-2 Chronicles). More surprisingly, Dawn Eden's book My Peace I Give to You isn't doing nearly as well as it deserves.

Heather King's Redeemed is ahead of the excellent (and more recent) Shirt of Flame.

Cardinal Schoenberg's We Have Found Mercy really doing poorly at number 657,691. No mercy on the mercy book. Kind of surprising given his position in the church.

~

I'm torn between my democratic instincts - if a book is selling well then it's likely good and meeting a need - and the elitist point of view that thinks the truth doesn't sell well because often people (including me of course) don't like to hear it.

January 05, 2013

The Day(s) of Christmas

In the big scheme of things - or even the little scheme of things - it's likely not that important to defend the honor of Christmas from being truncated from the famous "twelve days" to one. But there feels something in it symbolic, as if we Christians are picking up secular clues. The length of the holiday is not what the big retailers determine it to be but what the Church does. After the 25th no one is buying Christmas gifts any more, so there's no incentive for the materialistic concerns to promote the holiday.

Perhaps though instead of seeing it in conspiratorial terms it's simply that we are accustomed to see celebrations as single days, be they birthdays, anniversaries, president days, etc... Unlike the Middle Ages, there's much less a custom of multiple days attached to single remembrance.

January 04, 2013

Spielberg's "Lincoln"

Saw the movie "Lincoln". It was decent if a half-hour too long. Pious and overly devotional in some stretches, I tend to be wary of the nursing of black grievance (which is already stratospheric). But then every ethnic group thirsts to feel saintly and sinned against. Daniel Day Lewis, who played the prez, was fabulous. Gosh you just feel like he captured the spirit and mannerisms of Lincoln despite the lack of any proof thereof given the absolute dearth of Lincoln video. Too much screen time for Mary Todd. Feels like Sally Fields has something on Spielberg, or maybe he just felt like these days you have to be inclusive by not having a mostly-male story. Tommy Lee Jones was his over-the-top quasi-reptilian self. Certainly the movie highlighted a piece of history I didn't know existed, that of the incredible exertions Lincoln went though in order to get the 13th Amendment passed in the House. Had no idea it was that difficult to get it done.