August 2002 Archives

Now This Is Interesting

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Now This Is Interesting

Mr. Betts at Just Your Average Catholic Guy has brought our attention to this article on a little known, little cared for word, which may have vanished from most translations of the psalms since the AV, or at least the early RSV. Selah. Interesting and intriguing stuff. Thank you.

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Ammunition Against the Doubters I

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Ammunition Against the Doubters
I love to pull things like this out against those who have received the wisdom of the world. Like the famous passage from Aquinas after Aristotle that proves without doubt that medieval scholars (hence those of the Renaissance and beyond) believed the world to be a sphere, this middle English poem announces the Assumption into Heaven of the Blessed Virgin. It is not a renaissance invention, nor is it an addition after the fact. This was doctrine as far back as the date of composition of the poem.

from "Poems in Celebration of Mary"

All haile, lady, mother, and virgyn immaculate;
Haile, Mary, most precious that bare our savyour Jesu;
Haile, clarified cristall, haile, wife mundificate;
Haile, rote of grace, our joy thow did renewe,
For the Holy Gost did clerely in the yssue.
Our soles for lacke had ells perresshed sore
Nere throgh the helpe of our highe redemptour. (Without the help)

All haile, whose solempne glorious concepcioun
Full of glorie and hye joye tryumphaunte:
Bothe celestyall and terrestriall gif laude with Jubilacioun
Of new joy and gladnesse with solace incessaunte.
Alhaile, whose nativité to us is solempnysaunte (festival)
Ferens lucem ut Lucyfer, lux oriens,
Dyademe angelicall, verum solem preveniens.

Alhaile be thy mekenes, sine viro fecunditas
Whose amyable Annunciacioun to us was redempcion.
Joye therfore be to thee, tu summa suavitas,
And glorified be the houre of thy incarnacioun,
By whome we advoyde the infernall dampnacioun.
So dulcour was the ground in whom Crist hym planted
O mater most illuminate, we myght not the have wanted. (we might not have done without you)

Haile, true chast virgyn and mother immaculate,
Whose pure purificacion to us was purgacion:
Haile, replete with all virtue angelicate,
Whose celestiall hye ascendaunte Assumpcion
Was oure gret joye and glorificacion.
Wherfore, dere lady, solistrice be for grace, (solicitress)
That we with thy son in heyven may have a place.

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Some Van Zeller True to

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Some Van Zeller
True to his promise the prolific (ever notice how that word, broken into syllables is Pro Lif ic--probably from the icelandic or Anglo Saxon for Prolife) Mr. Dylan at Error 503 has blogged us some delicious excerpts from one of the books by Dom Hubert van Zeller. Go and read and enjoy.

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What an Archbishop! The newly

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What an Archbishop!
The newly installed Archbishop of Milwaukee, Archbishop Timothy Dolan, has this to say to us: (via the delightsome blog of Karen Marie Knapp). Please go to Ms. Knapp's blog to find the link to the rest.


Excerpt of the Installation Homily
Archbishop Timothy Dolan

. . .No wonder the first public words out of me this joyful afternoon were, "Glory to God in the highest!"

The second thing you heard me say as your new Archbishop was: "Let us pray." Packed-words those are, as they can only flow from a heart filled with faith. So, we renew our profound hope in God's care, His call, His loving providence, our conviction that, without Him nothing is possible, that, with Him, nothing is impossible, that He is with us all days, even to the end of the world, that He never calls us to a task without providing us the grace to accomplish it. Faith! I propose to you that this Eucharist, as every other one, and that this installation liturgy is in fact an adventure in fidelity, and I invite you to embark on that exciting adventure with me. This adventure in fidelity offers us two towering challenges:

The first is: "Be not afraid!" We have a God who repeats Himself, and over and over again in His Holy Word, throughout the sacred saga of our salvation, He tells us: "Be not afraid!"

"Abraham, be the father of a great nation!"
"Lord, you've got the wrong guy!"
"Be not afraid, Abraham, I am with you!"

"Moses, lead my people into freedom!"
"Not I, Lord! I don't know what to say!"
"Be not afraid, Moses! I am with you!"

In today's first reading, remember?
"Jeremiah, renew my people!"
"Lord, I do not know how to speak. I am a child!"
"Do not be afraid, Jeremiah, I am with you!"

And then the most pivotal moment of all:
"Mary, you are to be the Mother of the Most High."
"Mary was deeply disturbed at these words . . ."
"Do not be afraid, Mary, the Most High will overshadow you!"

"The apostles shouted out in fright. 'It is a ghost!'"
"Courage, it is I," said Jesus. "Fear is useless; what is needed is trust!"

And now –– may I be so bold –– He repeats it again:
"Timothy, I call you to be Archbishop of Milwaukee!"
"Oh, Lord, not I! I'm too young! I'm a Cardinal fan! I prefer Bud to Miller!
I don't know how to drive in the snow! . . ."
"Do not be afraid, Timothy! I am with you!"

And to you –– you're not off the hook either, for the Lord says:

"My people of my Church in southeastern Wisconsin, unite in hope with your new shepherd and embark on an adventure in fidelity!"
"Oh, no, Lord, not us! Haven't you heard? Haven't you watched the news and read the papers! We're in crisis! We've lost trust! We're demoralized! We're scandalized! We're cowering in the corner!"

"Be not afraid, People of God of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. I am with you," repeats the Lord.

And there's the first charge on our adventure in fidelity: "Fear is useless! What is needed is trust!"

The second exhilarating challenge which our adventure in fidelity presents us is again from Jesus: "Cast out to the deep!" St. Augustine, on whose feast we gather, interprets this mandate of Jesus to "cast out to the deep!" as a call to profound union with Him through holiness of life, and that's my second summons to you.

My only reaction is, as glad I was not to be in the diocese when the Unfortunate Archbishop Weakland was there, it looks like I'm really missing out now. I have a feeling that like Archbishop Charles Chaput and Archbishop Fabian Bruskewitz, we are likely to hear and share a lot from the charismatic Archbishop. And for that among a great many other things, I say with him, "Glory to God in the highest."

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From the Apostolic Exhortation--Familiaris Consortio

What would the day be if I allowed it to pass without a word from our dear Pope John Paul II--one of the great and profound thinkers of our age and one of the great teachers of any age.

from Familiaris Consortio His Holiness Pope John Paul II Man, the Image of the God Who Is Love

11. God created man in His own image and likeness(20): calling him to existence through love, He called him at the same time for love.

God is love and in Himself He lives a mystery of personal loving communion. Creating the human race in His own image and continually keeping it in being, God inscribed in the humanity of man and woman the vocation, and thus the capacity and responsibility, of love and communion. Love is therefore the fundamental and innate vocation of every human being.

As an incarnate spirit, that is a soul which expresses itself in a body and a body informed by an immortal spirit, man is called to love in his unified totality. Love includes the human body, and the body is made a sharer in spiritual love.

Christian revelation recognizes two specific ways of realizing the vocation of the human person in its entirety, to love: marriage and virginity or celibacy. Either one is, in its own proper form, an actuation of the most profound truth of man, of his being "created in the image of God."

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A Celebratory Occasion
This weekend, tomorrow to be precise, your blogmaster has an occasion to celebrate. The nature of that occasion, I shall hint at with my posts. Well, hint is probably too subtle a word, I shall, then, bludgeon you with "until it be morrow." Your first clue--this charming excerpt from Edmund Spenser.

from "Epithalamion" Edmund Spenser WAKE now my loue, awake; for it is time, The Rosy Morne long since left Tithones bed, All ready to her siluer coche to clyme, And Phoebus gins to shew his glorious hed. Hark how the cheerefull birds do chaunt theyr laies And carroll of loues praise. The merry Larke hir mattins sings aloft, The thrush replyes, the Mauis descant playes, The Ouzell shrills, the Ruddock warbles soft, So goodly all agree with sweet consent, To this dayes meriment. Ah my deere loue why doe ye sleepe thus long, When meeter were that ye should now awake, T'awayt the comming of your ioyous make, And hearken to the birds louelearned song, The deawy leaues among. For they of ioy and pleasance to you sing. That all the woods them answer & theyr eccho ring.

My loue is now awake out of her dreame[s],
and her fayre eyes like stars that dimmed were
With darksome cloud, now shew theyr goodly beams
More bright then Hesperus his head doth rere.
Come now ye damzels, daughters of delight,
Helpe quickly her to dight,
But first come ye fayre houres which were begot
In Ioues sweet paradice, of Day and Night,
Which doe the seasons of the yeare allot,
And al that euer in this world is fayre
Doe make and still repayre.
And ye three handmayds of the Cyprian Queene,
The which doe still adorne her beauties pride,
Helpe to addorne my beautifullest bride
And as ye her array, still throw betweene
Some graces to be seene,
And as ye vse to Venus, to her sing,
The whiles the woods shal answer & your eccho ring.

Now, in addition to giving a hint of the occasion, this poem should teach two things--the value of the apostrophe for showing possessives, and our great debt to Samuel Johnson and Noah Webster--noted lexicographers and orthographers.

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For those on the Trail

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For those on the Trail of N.O.
For those interested there is a clue on this page (perhaps deliberately misleading) to the identity of N.O. I noted it at the time, but did not realize that so many were interested. So please feel free to look about. Hint, I am not Nihil Obstat. I have enough trouble monitoring my own grammatical and orthographical anomalies to spare time for anyone else's. Enjoy the hunt. The clue may provide the discerning reader with interesting material for inference--although it may not be true, who can know?

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Another Wonderful Prayer Mr.

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Another Wonderful Prayer
Mr. Mooney at Xavier+ ( a blogsite that seems not to play well with the internet due to its title) has posted a wonderful prayer by Father Vincent McNabb. Go and see it. If you can't get there, I will (assuming Mr. Mooney's kind consent) copy it here--but hopefully all lines are open.

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In Our Continuing Series--The

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In Our Continuing Series--The Wisdom of Fear

Another excerpt from the Holy Father in which he talks about "the fear of the Lord which is the beginning of wisdom." Read the full text here.

from Crossing the Threshhold of Hope "Be Not Afraid" His Holiness John Paul II The Holy Scriptures contain an insistent exhortation to cultivate the fear of God. We are speaking here of that fear which is a gift of the Holy Spirit. Among the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, indicated in the words of Isaiah (cf. Is 11:2), fear of God is listed last, but that does not mean it is the least significant, since it is precisely fear of God that is the beginning of wisdom. And among the gifts of the Holy Spirit, wisdom holds first place. Therefore, we need to pray that people everywhere and especially people in our own time will receive the fear of God.

From the Holy Scriptures we also know that this fear-the origin of wisdom-has nothing in common with the fear of a slave. It is filial fear, not servile fear! The Hegelian paradigm of master-slave is foreign to the Gospel. It is a paradigm drawn from a world in which God is absent. In a world in which God is truly present, in the world of divine wisdom, only filial fear can be present.

The authentic and full expression of this fear is Christ Himself. Christ wants us to have fear of all that is an offense against God. He wants this because He has come into the world in order to set man free for freedom. Man is set free through love, because love is the source par excellence of all that is good. This love, according to the words of Saint John, drives out all fear (cf. 1 Jn 4:18). Every sign of servile fear vanishes before the awesome power of the All-powerful and all-present One. Its place is taken by filial concern, in order that God's will be done on earth-that will which is the good that has in Him its origin and its ultimate fulfillment.

"Every sign of servile fear vanishes" and "its place is taken by filial concern." For some reason I find this unbelievably lovely. There is a profound beauty in a child growing from seeing Dad as disciplinarian to seeing Dad as a loving and concerned member of the family group. We experience this transition as we grow in prayer. We may start our religious lives with a healthy fear of Hell, but a mature faith is driven by the desire to please Abba (Papa, but not the Pope). We are still children, but our faith can grow from fear or indifference to a dynamic, passionate love wherein all is for Christ. This is a goal of prayer and a good prayer life and it should be the goal of each person who strives to increase the capacity of faith. Fall in back into filial love with your Father. Spend time with Him, let Him teach you through the example of His Son and the leadings of His Holy Spirit. Isn't this truly "The Beginning of Wisdom?"

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The Busy Little Bees of

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The Busy Little Bees of Blogdom

My, my, Dylan's been a busy little blogger this morning. An exceptional poem by a person whose eccentricities made of her a poem. I honestly have found Dame Sitwell far more interesting than the vast majority of her oeuvre--but this poem is incredible. And Dylan is adept at pulling gems from places where I though offal only dwelt.

Once again I've been shown to have peremptory in my judgments, and it looks like I've found another place to go back and hunt for other gems. (I love this--it's incredible to realize that there are things right under your nose that you've overlooked for a long time.) Next I suppose he'll manage to pull something redeemable for the works of Sara Teasdale. He really is a marvel!

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Visit Defensor Fidei Now my

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Visit Defensor Fidei

Now my grousing over, my argument done, I sink to exhaustion. Mr. Akin, blissfully unaware of the virtual drubbing that may have occurred, will blog again, and I promise no more excoriations. But, I hope that everyone has gone over there to say hello and to welcome him to St. Blog's. I'm delighted that he has finally put together a blog. I'll put a link up shortly and I'll be visiting frequently--even if we do differ on what makes fine prose! His own is fine enough for me.

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My Comment Box is

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My Comment Box is Getting Full

Tom maintains below that one form of writing in a simple sentence is better than another. I would contend that they serve different purposes. I will point out that the writer considered one of the Masters of American Prose, and writer of (I believe ) 4 of the top 100 novels of the century (according to the Random House List) violated these rules right and left. The following is an excerpt from what is considered his very finest work The Golden Bowl.

from The Golden Bowl Henry James

He handled it with tenderness, with ceremony, making a place for it on a small satin mat. "My Golden Bowl," he observed—and it sounded on his lips as if it said everything. He left the important object—for as "important" it did somehow present itself—to produce its certain effect. Simple but singularly elegant, it stood on a circular foot, a short pedestal with a slightly spreading base, and, though not of signal depth, justified its title by the charm of its shape as well as by the tone of its surface. It might have been a large goblet diminished, to the enhancement of its happy curve, by half its original height.

Now, you may choose to say that you do not care for this type of prose. But to imply that it would somehow be better to say

He handled it, making a place on the mat for it. He left the object to produce an effect. By its shape it was a bowl. It might have been a goblet diminished by half its original height.

is better writing is simply to miss the point of the prose. This is my central contention. We follow rules promulgated by the followers and admirers of Hemingway that are not always successful, true, or useful. I think one would be hard pressed to prove, by empirical proofs, rather than mere assertion that, "She spread the quilt, smoothing out all the wrinkles," is better always and in every context than , "She lovingly spread the quilt."

That is the sum of the argument. Writing is both a craft and an art. The rules of writing as art often undo those of writing as craft. I prefer writing as art when I have a choice. I'd rather read one sentence of a work by James than an entire Hemingway novel. (And it is likely that properly done, they would take about equal amounts of time).

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One More Quibble Returning

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One More Quibble

Returning to Mr. Akin--

For example, you don’t need to say “God is a good Father and so he lovingly provides for his children.” It is stronger to say “God is a Father and provides for his children” (note that we also got rid of “so he” in addition to “good”; this also makes it stronger writing)
Mostly agreed on all points. For most purposes, his second sentence is a better one. Disagreement, the first sentence does not require the "and so" conjunction. "God is a good Father who provides for His children" is an acceptable formulation, or even, "God is a good Father and provides for His children."
You don’t need to allude to the fact that bad fathers may not lovingly provide for their children. You don’t need to point out that God is good. Your reader can be expected to know that God is good at whatever he does, so if he is a Father, he will be a good one. The modifier “good” is unnecessary and weakens the writing.

I could not possibly disagree more, and this is the crux of the issue. Your assumption depends on the audience you project. If you are speaking to those who hurt deeply and who believe that their hurt is a result of God's actions or inactions, you may not convince with "Good" father, but I would flatly reject the statement that you don't need to point it out. You need to do so again and again, in so many words with as much evidence as you can muster. One thing one learns early on in any business is that labeling is everything. In today's society (and perhaps through all time) Father can come with a load of connotations, good, bad, and indifferent. The modifier MAY be needed depending on your audience. That is probably the center of my disagreement. All of these rubrics, rules, notions, and ideas must take into account the effect you are attempting to achieve AND the audience for whom the piece is being written.

In general, I believe Mr. Akin's rule holds for much expository prose. I believe that it often fails in the realms of narrative and descriptive prose. Different modes require different rules and different structural supports.

Okay, on and on, but this is a subject that I dearly love and an art I care about intensely. Too much damage is done with sweeping rules that do not take into account audience and purpose. We need to be more cautious about what we make general rules. Yes, generally overuse of modifiers should be avoided. On the other hand, properly breaking the rule can give rise to some surprising and interesting writing.

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A Welcoming Salvo to

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A Welcoming Salvo to Mr. Akin
I hate to get on Mr. Akin's case so soon after he has joined our little community; after all, I truly appreciate the hard work and research that goes into his apologetics site and I like what he writes. However, he has chosen to spread one of the most poisonous false truisms in the literary world. A truism that has led to an explosion of hemingwayesque pap and cardboard prose indigestible to anyone with even a modicum of taste and education. In one recent entry on his blog, he trots out this little bit of advice for would-be writers:

One of the most common faults of beginning writers is the overuse of modifiers (adjectives, adverbs). You must resist this tendency. Overmodification of your nouns and verbs weakens the force of your writing. Beginning writers frequently add modifiers thinking that these will make their text more vivid and powerful, but they don’t. Consider these two sentences:

(1) The beautiful Francesca lovingly spread a treasured quilt on the green grass beneath the stately oak.

(2) Francesca spread a quilt on the grass beneath the oak.


The second is better writing. In the first, each noun and verb has been modified in a vain attempt to make the text more vivid.

This is the delivered truth from years of teachers whose sensibilities and refinements have been dulled by poring over the received texts--For Whom the Bell Tolls, The Sun Also Rises, and A Farewell to Arms. The second sentence IS NOT better than the first, it is simply bad in another way. It is flat, dull, lifeless, and nonindicative of character. The truth is somewhere between these two extremes. For example, one might normally pick a stronger or different verb, but what is wrong with the sentence

Francesca lovingly spread a quilt in the shade of the oak.

(Why do you need "on the grass" where else would she have spread it? On the air beneath? In the bramble and brush--one would assume that the blanket is being spread on a generally flat, vermin-free area.) One word speaks a world about Francesca, the quilt, and what she hopes this quilt may be scene for. It galvanizes an otherwise very flat narrative and enlivens what would likely be one sentence in an endless line of dull sentences.

She opened the picnic basket. She took out plates. She set them on the blanket. She closed the basket. She opened a bag. She pulled out a bottle. She closed the bag. She put the bottle on the quilt. She waited. She saw a figure. Giorgio approached. He sat down. She opened the basket. She took out the food.


This is not strength--it is simply a string of declarative sentences without impact, without panache, without style, and, ultimately without interest. Very few write this way, and no one should.

In addition the advice which follows, "Your writing will be much stronger if you avoid unnecessary modifiers," is again received wisdom that is, at its base, nonsensical. By definition ALL modifiers are unnecessary. You need not modify anything with something more than "this" or "that" in order to talk about it. We need to learn, "Your writing will be much stronger if you learn to use modifiers as they are needed to add detail to what you are writing." This is where the truth is. Moreover, all of these rules differ depending upon desired effect and audience--one accustomed to the leisurely jaunts of a Trollope, Dickens, or James, might be more amenable to reading prose with great descriptive capacity.

We need to weed out these imperatives that sap the strength from our writing. Remember to select strong verbs, vivid modifiers, and appropriate nouns. We need to place these in appropriate juxtapostions to make syntactical sense. Beyond that we need not pare down, strip off, or otherwise constrain our prose to fit the rules of those who think that they have some rubric for what constitutes effective writing. Effective writing is, at best, a subjective notion. You've seen from the interchanges between Dylan and this blogmaster, that things that are very effective and very moving to one of us may not inspire similar feelings in the other.

Sure, I think we all can buy that excess modification is detrimental both to meaning and to beauty. But to continue to preach this mode of writing is enormously detrimental to young people and new writers who need to find their own legs. Do yourself a favor, ignore the advice and read the fine prose of such writers as Mr. Akin, this will stand you in better stead than any number of checklists for journalistic/writing integrity.

My apologies for the raking over the coals Mr. Akin. You have, unknowingly, pressed one of those many buttons that results in the spewing of invective and much frothing at the mouth. I truly enjoy what I have read of your blog and your website and I think you are a very capable writer. However, having had to deal with the end result of teaching like that, and forcing people to open their prose up, I can assure you that the ultimate effect of these rules is to dissuade many capable writers from beginning because their prose is "too weak." Moreover it encourages blow-hards who write "tough, masculine prose" which in fact is merely a series of atrociously dull declaratives strung together to resemble a narrative.

Okay--so this is the closest I've to a harangue here. And you'll note it isn't on doctrinal matters. In fact, the only controversies you're likely to face here are artistic in nature. Hope you've enjoyed this glimpse into the differences of opinions that make up the writing world.

Oh, and welcome Mr. Akin, I truly look forward to enjoying your insights and apologetics.

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Meet and Greet Before

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Meet and Greet Before Mass

This question has come up in many different places. Frankly, I have almost no opinion on this matter. If asked to do it, I would gladly do so. But I've wondered about some of the intense negative reaction this suggestion received. I do agree with many that one needs to preserve the integrity of a sacred rite. But I also think about Jesus's admonition that "If you have something against your brother, leave your offering, reconcile with your brother, and return to sacrifice." In a sense something like this can give us a moment of reconciling with our neighbor. I won't stir the pot. This is an issue that seems to stimulate deep feelings. But I will present a cogent thought on the matter from a relatively new blogger, Mr. Lugardo at Rosa Mystica.

What I would like to ask many of you is how do you reconcile your utter disgust with having to descend from the Mount of the Transfiguration for the apparently wretched duty of having to acknowledge your fellow Christian with whom you are about to enter into the deepest communion of Christ's flesh in the Eucharist, with St. Justin's assertion in his description of the liturgy in the year 155 (no, I did not leave out a digit there, we're talking about the second century) that the Christians, when gathered to worship, exchanged a kiss?

This is a profound moment when we are about to receive the blessed Sacrament. It makes sense to take a moment to wish peace to our neighbors at this time. And an appropriate way to outwardly (remember, we Catholics are all about physical expression of spiritual realities) demonstrate peace to a stranger is through a handshake, and a more intimate sign may be appropriate for those with whom we may be more intimately acquainted or more closely related. Mind you, I'm not talking about laughing and joking, and as I've stated elsewhere, having a great big "love-in". I mean taking a moment, in the Presence of the Lord, to acknowledge and share a loving sign of peace with our neighbor.

I think this succinctly spells out my thoughts. I have no objection when the Pastor asks me to do so, just as most of us have no problem sharing some "sign of peace." Yes, it can be abused. Yes, it can lead to nonsense. But it seems that one of the problems Catholics have when viewed from outside is that we so strongly value the sacred we appear not to value the individual. Go to almost any protestant Church and you will be made warmly welcome--in most cases embarrassingly so. Never, in any Catholic Church I have visited, have I felt that I was anything more than another person to be dealt with, however politely. I have never had anyone greet me in a parish not my own, no one talk to me or welcome me. Perhaps I've just chosen bum churches, but I've been to literally hundreds and with the exception of the Old Cathedral in San Antonio (at what I refer to, and not condescendingly nor contemptuously, but lovingly, as the Mariachi Mass) has anyone gone out of their way to do more than thrust a bulletin at me. Catholics, in general, do less to make one welcome than any other Christian religious group I've met with. (And I've met with a few, let me tell you!)

So my point is not necessarily to support this gesture before Mass, but that the reaction I see to the suggestion of it seems to delineate a place where Catholics could use some improvement. I love the Catholic Church and I love the people of the Catholic Church, but I think that every Catholic should attend an Evangelical Easter Sunrise Service or a standard service in nearly any mainline protestant Church. It gives one a substantially different notion of what community is about.

Ask yourself a pointed question and answer as truthfully as you can--if you were new to an area and you experienced a horrible disaster, would you rather count of the "community" of most Catholic Churches or your local Amish or Mennonite community for help? In your answer you will find the key to what community is really about, and why it so rarely surfaces in many Catholic Churches.

I agree with everyone about preserving the sacredness of Mass. But sacredness does not require isolation. In fact, if we are all members of the Body of Christ, sacredness requires incorporation--literally. So the exchange of a greeting and the acknowledgement of the existence of other people outside the circle of your family is probably not a terrible intrusion, if done appropriately. Again, all things must be done properly and in their place.

I realize what I've said is likely to be controversial, and I also understand that there are very good Catholic communities and individuals within the communities. But I would also like to say that personal experiences suggest that we could all do with improvement. (That all includes me, as I rarely take the effort to do any of the things I've outlined here. I'm as guilty or more so than anyone else). I mean no offense, and I would be delighted to hear that my impressions are largely incorrect, so please write and tell me.

One last note--it has also been my experience that my welcome in largely hispanic communities has been much warmer and much more gracious than in largely anglo communities. Perhaps part of what I'm indicting is that famous "American Individualism" that leads us each to forge our own way to salvation. Perhaps not. Again, my report is anecdotal, so I await other comments.

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"Be Not Afraid" An excerpt

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"Be Not Afraid"
An excerpt from the chapter of that title in Crossing the Threshold of Hope available online here.

from Crossing the Threshold of Hope "Be Not Afraid" John Paul II At the end of the second millennium, we need, perhaps more than ever, the words of the Risen Christ: "Be not afraid!" Man who, even after the fall of Communism, has not stopped being afraid and who truly has many reasons for feeling this way, needs to hear these words. Nations need to hear them, especially those nations that have been reborn after the fall of the Communist empire, as well as those that witnessed this event from the outside. Peoples and nations of the entire world need to hear these words. Their conscience needs to grow in the certainty that Someone exists who holds in His hands the destiny of this passing world; Someone who holds the keys to death and the netherworld (cf. Rev 1:18); Someone who is the Alpha and the Omega of human history (cf. Rev 22:13)-be it the individual or collective history. And this Someone is Love (cf. 1 Jn 4:8, 16)-Love that became man, Love crucified and risen, Love unceasingly present among men. It is Eucharistic Love. It is the infinite source of communion. He alone can give the ultimate assurance when He says "Be not afraid!"
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A New (Old) Version

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A New (Old) Version of the Psalms

Below is one of my favorite Psalms as either translated or reinterpreted by a poet of the 16th century. What is so unusual is that the poet is Mary Sidney Herbert, Countess of Pembroke. One is not often able to hear female voices speaking from such a time, so this is a relatively rare treat.

     
Psalm 139
Mary (Sidney) Herbert,
Countess of Pembroke


      O LORD, O Lord, in me there lieth nought
    But to thy search revealed lies,
            For when I sit
            Thou markest it;
    No less thou notest when I rise;
Yea, closest closet of my thought
    Hath open windows to thine eyes.
Thou walkest with me when I walk;
    When to my bed for rest I go,
            I find thee there,
            And everywhere:
    Not youngest thought in me doth grow,
No, not one word I cast to talk
    But yet unuttered thou dost know.
If forth I march, thou goest before,
    If back I turn, thou com'st behind:
            So forth nor back
            Thy guard I lack,
    Nay on me too, thy hand I find.
Well I thy wisdom may adore,
    But never reach with earthy mind.
To shun thy notice, leave thine eye,
    O whither might I take my way?
            To starry sphere?
            Thy throne is there.
    To dead men's undelightsome stay?
There is thy walk, and there to lie
    Unknown, in vain I should assay.
O sun, whom light nor flight can match,
    Suppose thy lightful flightful wings
            Thou lend to me,
            And I could flee
    As far as thee the evening brings:
Even led to west he would me catch,
    Nor should I lurk with western things.
Do thou thy best, O secret night,
    In sable veil to cover me:
            Thy sable veil
            Shall vainly fail;
    With day unmasked my night shall be,
For night is day, and darkness light,
    O father of all lights, to thee.
Each inmost piece in me is thine:
    While yet I in my mother dwelt,
            All that me clad
            From thee I had.
    Thou in my frame hast strangely dealt:
Needs in my praise thy works must shine
    So inly them my thoughts have felt.
Thou, how my back was beam-wise laid,
    And raft'ring of my ribs, dost know;
            Know'st every point
            Of bone and joint,
    How to this whole these parts did grow,
In brave embroid'ry fair arrayed,
    Though wrought in shop both dark and low.
Nay fashionless, ere form I took,
    Thy all and more beholding eye
            My shapeless shape
            Could not escape:
    All these time framed successively
Ere one had being, in the book
    Of thy foresight enrolled did lie.
My God, how I these studies prize,
    That do thy hidden workings show!
            Whose sum is such
            No sum so much,
    Nay, summed as sand they sumless grow.
I lie to sleep, from sleep I rise,
    Yet still in thought with thee I go.
My God, if thou but one wouldst kill,
    Then straigh would leave my further chase
            This cursed brood
            Inured to blood,
    Whose graceless taunts at thy disgrace
Have aimed oft; and hating still
    Would with proud lies thy truth outface.
Hate not I them, who thee do hate?
    Thine, Lord, I will the censure be.
            Detest I not
            The cankered knot
    Whom I against thee banded see?
O Lord, thou know'st in highest rate
    I hate them all as foes to me.
Search me, my God, and prove my heart,
    Examine me, and try my thought;
            And mark in me
            If ought there be
    That hath with cause their anger wrought.
If not (as not) my life's each part,
    Lord, safely guide from danger brought.

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Jan van Ruysbroeck I have

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Jan van Ruysbroeck

I have heard this person variously referred to as "Blessed" and "Saint" so I do not know his present standing in the church; however, the Catholic Encyclopedia entry describes him as "the foremost of the Flemish mystics." That is certainly true, as I am uncertain that I have ever heard of any of the other "Flemish mystics." This excerpt is from The Sparkling Stone. It is available online at CCEL.

From The Sparkling Stone Jan van Ruysbroeck Chapter 1 THROUGH THREE THINGS A MAN BECOMES GOOD

HEAR now three things which constitute a good man. The first, which a good man must have, is a clean conscience without reproach of mortal sin. And therefore whosoever wishes to become a good man must examine and prove himself with due discernment, from that time onward when he could first have committed sin. And from all these sins he must purge himself, according to the precept and the custom of Holy Church.

The second thing which pertains to a good man is that he must in all things be obedient to God, and to Holy Church, and to his own proper convictions. And to each of these three he must be equally obedient: so shall he live without care and doubt, and shall ever abide without inward reproach in all his deeds.

The third thing which behoves every good man is that in all his deeds he should have in mind, above all else, the glory of God. And if it happens that by reason of his business or the multiplicity of his works, he has not always God before his eyes, yet at least there should be established in him the intention and desire to live according to the dearest will of God.

Behold, these three things, when they are possessed in this way, make a man good. And whosoever lacks any one of these three is neither good nor in the grace of God; but whenever a man resolves in his heart to fulfil these three points, how wicked soever he may have been before, in that very instant he becomes good, and is susceptible of God, and filled with the grace of God.

This puts me in mind of how very fortunate I am here. We have a local church designed to serve our large tourist base. This church boasts of having a priest available more than forty hours a week for confession. They announce this and encourage everyone to take advantage of it at every Sunday mass. The priests there have been magnificent confessors. They have been helpful in encouraging you to make a good confession, and they have been wise councilors about how to avoid the occasion of sin.

The Holy Father emphasizes over and over the importance of confession. I have seen some wording to the effect that there is a "crisis" in confession. This, I cannot understand. Why wouldn't you avail yourself of the strength and the grace that comes from this sacrament. I guess part of the reason is that many churches offer confession for an hour to a half-hour before the Saturday Vigil Mass, otherwise you need to make an appointment, and that is not always possible.

Part of the problem seems to be priests who think that everyone is basically okay and there isn't a lot of need for this morbid emphasis on confession. These people have their hearts in the right place, but I think they are hopelessly fuddled on the situation of the average person. Most of us are not "basically okay." Most of us are not necessarily in mortal sin, but we sure have enough venial sin piled up that the slide down to mortal wouldn't be all that difficult. Our vision of God is obscured through mirrored lenses that only allow us to see ourselves and our agenda. We are lost sheep, wandering around in a field of self-satisfaction, self-recrimination, and a generally poor attitude toward others. We are not only social conservatives, we are fiscal conservatives who have abandoned the Church's teaching on social justice and we toe the hard line in 2 Thessalonians, "If they do not work, they should not eat." We have all sorts of small waywardnesses that need to be constantly kept in check. The confessional provides for us a certain accountability. Knowing that I will be there each week is an encouragement to do better and not to do some of those things that I will have to confess. I know that this is not the best attitude; however, sometimes it is all that really keeps us from our falling into the vacuum of our self-centeredness.

So keep in mind the first of these three things--purgation from sin. As to the second, I find it most interesting the order in which van Ruysbroeck lists our necessary loyalty--God, Church, and conscience. We are required to form ourselves in this fashion. First is faithfulness to God, which is formed and informed by the teaching of the Church. We must be obedient to both of these first and foremost. When conscience and self comes into conflict with either of these, it is necessarily wrong and must be corrected. Being Americans we can argue ourselves into the "right" to almost anything. We have no rights save those granted by God alone, and such rights do not include self-determination--hard for an individualistic society to accept, but true nevertheless.

Note that the third guide is conscience. I read this to mean that conscience can place an additional group of things in mind, such as are neither strictly required nor forbidden by Church teachings. For example, so long as one holds to the Church teaching that there can be such a thing as a "just war," individual conscience may further dictate that any participation of the individual in war is not permitted. That is not to say that such an individual is then free to proselytize his particular conscience as Church teaching or as required by obedience to Jesus Christ. However, the person so convicted by conscience is required, upon pain of sin, to refrain from participation. And so on with less serious things and things not forbidden by the Church. For example, part of my conscience, formed by Baptist upbringing will not allow me to partake of any alcohol nor to give alcohol as a gift. I am not scandalized when others give or receive it, nor am I offended when someone unaware of my convictions generously gives me such a gift. However, other than in cooking, the use of alcohol is something I do not feel permitted. This is a hallmark of conscience--not the church, not God, but individual conviction. As such it is neither good nor bad, but it is an additional structure in my life. We all have them. The problem comes in when the dictates of conscience go against the teaching of the church. For example, if your conscience were to tell you that it is okay for people to have abortions if the child conceived is not wanted because every child deserves a loving home, your conscience would be monstrously malformed because of the secular agenda it has absorbed. Nearly every form of dissent is conscience in opposition to Church teaching and God.

A properly formed conscience cannot reasonably oppose either of these, and where it seems to, deep examination is required, because there are usually other factors of convenience hidden there. I note that the vast majority of these conflicts seem to center around the question of sex. It is a place where natural pulls work more persuasively to convince us that 2,000 years of teaching (more like 4-6,000 if you count Levitical Teaching as the forerunner) are simply wrong. Van Ruysbroeck makes it clear that our required obedience is (1) to God; (2) to Church and (3) our own consciences. Anything else is dissent and dissent borders on sin. A canonist or someone who truly understands the deep meanings of many of the moral laws and definitions would be required to tell whether or not. In any case, it will set the person in direct opposition to God and open the doors to further disobedience. Their prayers are likely to be self-delusional rather than true correspondence with the divine, and much of their lives will be colored by this dissent.

Okay, okay, I've tried your patience too much. But you can see how simple writing of people close to God can inspire great reflection, great understanding, and a much closer approach to God Himself. I pray for everyone who reads this and for those who do not, that God will draw you closer in and bind you to Him with ties of love. I also pray that neither pride nor a stony heart nor fear will prevent anyone from following His gentle lead.

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Something for Everyone a comedy.

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Something for Everyone a comedy. . .

Jeff Miller at Atheist to a Theist gives us a very amusing, and terribly humbling litany. All that I would add is a series of anathemas.

"From looking every 10 minutes at the site stats,
Good Jesus, deliver us,
From combing other sites to find references to us,
Good Jesus deliver us,
From commenting elsewhere to drag people to us,
Good Jesus deliver us."

I'm sure you all have your own things to add to the litany--we may as well make it a group effort.

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One More Time--Audience in Krakow

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Here is a wonderful reflection from the Wednesday Audience held in Poland. The prayer at the end is, again, exemplary.

From the Wednesday 21 August 2002 Audience in Krakow, (?) Poland
John Paul II

4. My pilgrimage then took me to Kalwaria Zebrzydowska to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the shrine dedicated to the Passion of Jesus and to our Lady of Sorrows. I have been attached to that holy place since childhood. I often experienced there how the Mother of God, Our Lady of Grace, turns her merciful eyes to afflicted humanity, in need of her wisdom and help.

After Czestochowa, it is one of the better known and visited shrines of Poland to which the faithful come even from the countries nearby. After travelling the paths of the Way of the Cross and of the Compassion of the Mother of God, the pilgrims pause to pray before the ancient and miraculous image of Mary, our Advocate, who welcomes them with eyes filled with love. Beside her, one can perceive and understand the mysterious bond between the "suffering" (patì) Redeemer on Calvary and his "co-suffering" (compatì) Mother at the foot of the Cross. In this communion of love in suffering it is easy to discern the source of the power of intercession which the prayer of the Virgin Mary has for us, her children.

Let us ask Our Lady to kindle in our hearts the spark of the grace of God and to help us transmit to the world the fire of Divine Mercy. May Mary obtain for all people the gift of unity and peace:  unity of faith, unity of spirit and of thought, unity of families; peace of hearts, peace of nations and of the world, while we wait for Christ to return in glory.

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A Prayer from--Well, You

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A Prayer from--Well, You Can Guess

I stumbled across this lovely prayer while reviewing the Angelus Addresses of the Holy Father. The first line of this prayer is extraordinarily beautiful and seems the kind of prayer that I would like to add to my daily devotions.

from The Angelus Address for the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary John Paul II

O Mary, Mother of hope, strong with your help we do not fear obstacles and difficulties; fatigue and sufferings do not discourage us, because you accompany us on the path of life and from heaven, you watch over all your children filling them with grace. To you we entrust the destiny of the peoples and the mission of the Church. Today especially, I want to entrust to you my pastoral journey to Poland on which, please God, I will set out tomorrow.

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New Virginia Candidates for Sainthood

Mr. Betts at Just Your Average Catholic Guy has this good news regarding the cause for a number of Jesuits who were attempting to work with the local Native Americans before "American History" actually started (1607, if you want the official date in the anti-Catholic Chronology). We don't acknowledge much, if anything happening in Virginia and the Carolinas before the Roanoke expedition, but these men were working among the Indians, and, in fact, brought Opechancanough (known in popular stories by his title--Powhatan) back to Spain for training. This is often used to help understand the attempted Indian Massacre of 1621-1622--Opechancanough was given enough of a glimpse of European life to realize what might happen to this continent as a result. Nevertheless, the work of these brave men (the Jesuits) has too long gone unrecognized in the public at large, and it is time to remedy that oversight.

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A Meditation on the

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A Meditation on the Meaning of Catholic

This piece from John Donne is not often considered in the light that he offers on the meaning of being part of a Catholic Church. But I think it may be one of the most beautiful things to emerge from the reading.

from Devotions upon Emergent Occasions XVII Now, this Bell tolling softly for another, saies to me, Thou must die John Donne

PERCHANCE hee for whom this Bell tolls, may be so ill, as that he knowes not it tolls for him; And perchance I may thinke my selfe so much better than I am, as that they who are about mee, and see my state, may have caused it to toll for mee, and I know not that. The Church is Catholike, universall, so are all her Actions; All that she does, belongs to all. When she baptizes a child, that action concernes mee; for that child is thereby connected to that Head which is my Head too, and engraffed into that body, whereof I am a member. And when she buries a Man, that action concernes me: All mankinde is of one Author, and is one volume; when one Man dies, one Chapter is not torne out of the booke, but translated into a better language; and every Chapter must be so translated; God emploies several translators; some peeces are translated by age, some by sicknesse, some by warre, some by justice; but Gods hand is in every translation; and his hand shall binde up all our scattered leaves againe, for that Librarie where every booke shall lie open to one another: As therefore the Bell that rings to a Sermon, calls not upon the Preacher onely, but upon the Congregation to come; so this Bell calls us all: but how much more mee, who am brought so neere the doore by this sicknesse. There was a contention as farre as a suite, (in which both pietie and dignitie, religion, and estimation, were mingled) which of the religious Orders should ring to praiers first in the Morning; and it was that they should ring first that rose earliest. If we understand aright the dignitie of this Belle that tolls for our evening prayer, wee would bee glad to make it ours, by rising early, in that application, that it might bee ours, as wel as his, whose indeed it is. The Bell doth toll for him that thinkes it doth; and though it intermit againe, yet from that minute, that that occasion wrought upon him, hee is united to God. Who casts not up his Eye to the Sunne when it rises? but who takes off his Eye from a Comet when that breakes out? Who bends not his eare to any bell, which upon any occasion rings? but who can remove it from that bell, which is passing a peece of himselfe out of this world? No man is an Iland, intire of it selfe; every man is a peece of the Continent, a part of the maine; if a Clod bee washed away by the Sea, Europe is the lesse, as well as if a Promontorie were, as well as if a Mannor of thy friends or of thine owne were; any mans death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankinde; And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee.

One of the most beautiful thoughts in this passage occurs toward the end when Donne says "any mans death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankinde." Similarly, any person's sorrows, turmoils, or difficulties, adds some little to my own burden and any person's joys, (righteous) triumphs and victories add to my own store of joy. It is part of being a communion of Saints that we either help other to carry their burdens or we unconscionably add to those burdens by our own actions. Whenever we become entangles in the affairs of the world and we participate in things that do not build up the body of Christ, we necessarily add to the burdens all of us carry. However, when we spend even a moment becoming closer to God, reflecting upon His Glory, and giving Him thanks and praise for all that He has done for us, we lighten the terrible load of every individual. Jesus tried to tell us this when He kept saying that the Kingdom of God was at hand. If that is true, so too the kingdom of the Other is at hand. Each of our choices contributes to one or the other, and in that way rings throughout eternity. How much time we spend adding to each other's burdens! How much time we spend wrangling and arguing and puffed up with pride. But, praise God, for most who read what I am writing, how much time we can spend building the Kingdom! How many opportunities we are given to forgive one another, prayer for one another, and elevate one another to bathe in God's glorious light. Given the choice of one course of the other, which seems preferable? Which seems more difficult? The truth of the matter is the second choice is both preferable, and due to our fallen human natures more difficult. But God has supplied even that need in the many channels He has provided for His sustaining grace--Eucharist, Eucharistic Adoration, Corporal and Spiritual works of Mercy, the Sacrament of Reconciliation--all these, and many others, serve as channels for the grace to sustain us when human will is insufficient. So, it is best to remember, "No man is an iland," what we choose to so has intimate connections to every person around us and ramifications for all of humankind. (Rather mind-boggling isn't it?)

(As one example of a burden, had to post this three times after a restart of blogger, which refused to take the original. Oh the traumas of blogging!)

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Memento Mori Perhaps the swiftest

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Memento Mori

Perhaps the swiftest and surest remedy to any set of problems is to set them into proper perspective. All the turmoils, hubbubs and ados of everyday life become relagated to the back seat when you consider that ultimately each of us is going to die and render an accounting for the time we spent on Earth. Some sooner, some later, but the same fate awaits all and there is no missing out. Then we need to ask ourselves, what do our deeds look like in the echoes of eternity. The vast majority of us, in our day to day actions, will see that most things produce minor ripples and damp out. But important things, like how one loves and raises a child, how one loves ones spouse and friends, how one love ones neighbors--these things produce more than a ripple. Often, for good or ill they produce tsunamis. Some of these tsunamis carry others onward to glory, others rip and slash our homeland, leaving it weakened.

So to open the morning , a reflection by a saint on this subject. If the biography in the Catholic Encyclopedia is correct St. Robert Southwell (I believe he has been canonized) was relatively fortunate among the English Martyrs because he was merely hanged at Tyburn Tree in 1595. Fr. Southwell was a Jesuit, and quite a fine poet.

from Moeoniæ, 1595         Upon the Image of Death St. Robert Southwell

Before my face the picture hangs
    That daily should put me in mind
Of those cold names and bitter pangs
    That shortly I am like to find ;
But yet, alas, full little I
    Do think hereon that I must die.

I often look upon a face
    Most ugly, grisly, bare, and thin ;
I often view the hollow place
    Where eyes and nose had sometimes been ;
I see the bones across that lie,
    Yet little think that I must die.

I read the label underneath,
    That telleth me whereto I must ;
I see the sentence eke that saith
    Remember, man, that thou art dust!
But yet, alas, but seldom I
    Do think indeed that I must die.

Continually at my bed's head
    A hearse doth hang, which doth me tell
That I ere morning may be dead,
    Though now I feel myself full well ;
But yet, alas, for all this, I
    Have little mind that I must die.

The gown which I do use to wear,
    The knife wherewith I cut my meat,
And eke that old and ancient chair
    Which is my only usual seat,—
All these do tell me I must die,
    And yet my life amend not I.

My ancestors are turned to clay,
    And many of my mates are gone ;
My youngers daily drop away,
    And can I think to 'scape alone?
No, no, I know that I must die,
And yet my life amend not I.

Not Solomon for all his wit,
    Nor Samson, though he were so strong,
No king nor person ever yet
    Could 'scape but death laid him along ;
Wherefore I know that I must die,
    And yet my life amend not I.

Though all the East did quake to hear
    Of Alexander's dreadful name,
And all the West did likewise fear
    To hear of Julius Cæsar's fame,
Yet both by death in dust now lie ;
    Who then can 'scape but he must die?

If none can 'scape death's dreadful dart,
    If rich and poor his beck obey,
If strong, if wise, if all do smart,
    Then I to 'scape shall have no way.
Oh, grant me grace, O God, that I
    My life may mend, sith I must die.

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Mysteries of the Universe and

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Mysteries of the Universe and Closer to Home

Life is made better by things such as the Voynich Manuscript. Take a look at Xavier+ for the links. A little mystery, things that cannot be deciphered, or things that are less than fully known--the nature of the Ness phenomenon, where giant squid live, the Voynich manuscript, cryptozoology of all sorts--these things remind us that science, despite its claims, has not encompassed all knowledge yet, nor is ever likely to. Some things exist that do not necessarily have empirical proofs or explanations. We (Christians) have long known that--we call them "supernatural."

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Christian Simpllicity
There are several protestant writers today have an enormous amount to say to all Christians. Dallas Willard is one of them. His books The Divine Conspiracy and The Spirit of the Disciplines are remarkable guides to good Christian Living. (He has a new book which I have not yet read and so cannot comment on--Renovation of the Heart. If you care to, you can sample some of his works here.

Another such writer is Richard J. Foster. His best-known work is Celebration of Discipline; however, I found this survey of various disciplines too cursory to be of much help. It is excellent to understand the underlying theory of much of these writers' work; however, it is simply too brief to be very helpful. My favorite Foster book is his remarkable, Freedom of Simplicity from which I quote below. Foster identifies simplicity and living simply as perhaps the central discipline in Christian life. This makes a certain amount of sense because simple living makes us more like the God whom we adore. For any who have even briefly dipped into the Summa, one of the first questions we examine is the question of whether or not God is simple. (Which leads us to the delightful diversion that Chesterton includes at the beginning of his biography of Aquinas--'A lady I know picked up a book of selections from St. Thomas with a commentary; and began hopefully to read a section with the innocent heading, "The Simplicity of God." She then laid down the book with a sigh and said, "Well, if that's His simplicity, I wonder what His complexity is like." ' The nice thing about blogdom is one need not be quite so disciplined as if one were writing elsewhere--though I suppose it would help.) Back to simplicity--simplicity represents singleness of mind, will, and heart, all directed to the ultimate goal of loving God here on Earth as we will love Him in heaven. An admirable and necessary goal--it may not be possible to attain the degree of perfection we will have in heaven, but it is necessary to try, both for our own sakes and the sake of those around us.

From Freedom of Simplicity Chapter 3 Richard J. Foster

Jesus Christ and all the writers of the New Testament call us to break free of mammon lust and live in joyous trust. Their radical criticism of wealth is combined with a spirit of unconditional generosity. They point to us a way of living in which everything we have we receive as gift, and everything we have is cared for by God, and everything we have is available to others when it is right and good. This reality frames the heart of Christian simplicity. It is the means of liberation and power to do what is right and to overcome the forces of fear and avarice. (p. 62 mass-market Harper edition).

What is most wonderful about Foster's book is that he doesn't leave us stranded in a limbo of theory. The second half of the book is dedicated to practical considerations in living a life of simplicity. Overall, a highly recommended book--if everyone would read this and one out of ten were to practice it, we would be a long way toward saying with Jesus, "The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand."

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From the Catechesis on the

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From the Catechesis on the Psalms
From the vast treasury of riches that has been given us in our current pontiff, a portion of the magnificent exposition of Psalm 148

from Commentary on Psalm 148 His Holiness John Paul II Heaven, earth and the depths of the sea

2. We find in the heavens the singers of the starry universe: the remotest heavenly bodies, the choirs of angels, the sun and moon, the shining stars, the "highest heavens" (v. 4), that is, the starry space and the waters above the heavens, which the man of the Bible imagines were stored in reservoirs before falling on the earth as rain.

The "alleluia", that is, the invitation to "praise the Lord", resounds at least eight times, and has as its final goal the order and harmony of the heavenly bodies: "He fixed their bounds which cannot be passed" (v. 6).

We then lift our eyes to the earthly horizon where a procession of at least 22 singers unfolds: a sort of alphabet of praise whose letters are strewn over our planet. Here are the sea monsters and the depths of the sea, symbols of the watery chaos on which the earth is founded (cf. Ps 23[24],2), according to the ancient Semite conception of the cosmos.

St Basil, a Father of the Church observed: "Not even the deep was judged as contemptible by the Psalmist, who included them in the general chorus of creation, and what is more, with its own language completes the harmonious hymn to the Creator" (Homiliae in hexaemeron, III 9: PG 29,75).

What a depth of understanding--understanding of scripture, understanding of literature, understanding of poetic structure. All of these are given in a simple exposition. We should surely be grateful for such a remarkable man.

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New Poll The last two

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New Poll
The last two posts have inspired me to ask this poll question:

What is the very, very very, very worst piece of Catholic ficiton you have ever attempted to read? (Presumably if it were that awful, and you were a person of limited time, you would not have wasted the time trying to plow through the entire thing). I'd like to compile a list of titles to shy away from. Please comment or e-mail me!

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The Deplorable Fictions of Andrew

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The Deplorable Fictions of Andrew Greeley

I very ill-advisedly agreed to read an Andrew Greeley book in a Catholic Book Group that I attend. I struggled and toiled and made it through all of fifty pages of a cliche-filled sex-drenched, tawdry, semi-family-epic entitled Thy Brother's Wife. Those who really enjoy Father Greeley's work, need continue no further as the following analysis is unlikely to be gentle on the work of this particular wordsmith.

I was appalled by the storyline which very early on introduced the idea that one of two brothers was going to marry a woman who had been brought up in the same house as a sister. If this isn't awful enough, the patriarch of this happy little group has determined that one of his sons will be a Senator and the other a Priest. Excuse me, how do you presume to determine that your son will become a priest? Isn't that kind of up to God? I mean, you can and should encourage any thought of vocation on the part of your children, but to dictate that they shall be a priest or religious is presumptuous in a nearly blasphemous way.

Those story points only begin the atrocities of this epic of bad writing. Every woman is gorgeous, every man virile, every encounter passionate, blah, blah, blah. I gather from the books that Father Greeley is probably not in what we might refer to as the Orthodox school of Catholicism (I know little to nothing of his opinions outside of this book and one ancient sociological study of the Church). Even given that, is an appropriate pastoral example for a priest to be writing books of this sort? What sort of message does this give the world of Catholicism? I would venture to guess that Father Greeley does for Catholicism what Bishop Spong does for Episcopalianism (I know I'm vastly overstating the case, but I think you understand my meaning). Why does he continue to do this? Why doesn't someone point out to him the image he is making of the church? Why aren't diocesan priests required to take a vow of poverty as with Religious Priests so that they will not be tempted to write long chains of awful, inflammatory best sellers? (That last wasn't a serious question--but I do say I have to wonder how much money Fr. Greeley has and whether it is entirely right for a priest to have that much money)

Anyway, just some thoughts after not successfully finishing one of the worst reads I've been subjected to in some time.

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Some Questions on Catholic Fiction

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Some Questions on Catholic Fiction
What is the mission of the Catholic writer of fiction? Do Catholics have certain themes reserved to them, for which they would be the best expositors? On the other hand are there topics which are forbidden the Catholic writer? If your story requires infidelity, is it appropriate to describe this situation, and if it does not end unhappily, is it still all right to include it? How does one discern God's will in attempting to write?

Many writers seem to be topical--taking on issues of the day and letting fly. Certainly, that is one way to address the issue, but it seems, at best a rather scattershot approach. In addition, it tends to make for very short-lived literature. A Catholic writing at the time of the fight for universal suffrage who expended their entire energy on that topic, would not have much of an audience today.

Another approach, of course, is the Louis de Wohl approach. Take a famous figure from church history and write a fictionalized biography of the person. This sort of sugar-coated hagiography makes for good light-reading (I would recommend to you all almost any of de Wohl's books available from Ignatius Press) and I suppose it fills a gap, but it is certainly not the highest aspiration of the Catholic writer.

Being a Catholic writer, I think long and hard about these issues, and I've come to no real conclusions. Of recent date I have read some absolutely dreadful so-called Catholic fiction (see any of the sub-standard cliche drenched atrocities from the pen of Father Greeley), and there are others, more orthodox who are as bad or worse. I've also read some truly inspired work. I keep coming back to The Way of the Serpent which I recommend unreservedly. This is a story of the brutal multigenerational sexual enslavement of the women in a family in Sweden. How can this have any Catholic value? Read it and see. It's astounding the places in which grace can be found. That's what I want to know--how do you develop the eyes to see this grace hidden in the most dismal situations. I often enough have trouble seeing it in what would be considered by most a nearly enchanted life. In comparison to the rest of the world, I have been handed everything on Earth without question. But still it is sometimes hard for me to make out the substance of Grace in my life. How do I begin to see and appreciate it?

The only answer I have for this is the same answer I have for everything. Only in a life saturated in prayer can you either know grace or live your vocation. You can't live without prayer and then hope to pick up a pen and write about God in a grace-filled way. And the prayer called for is not the long laundry list of petitions and requests, but a prayer of presence, and prayer of waiting on the Lord. Prayer informs all writing, and those who choose to write fiction, prayer is even more necessary to inform your fiction and your good judgment so that those who read your work are led to the Lord.

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A Sample of Sidney

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A Sample of Sidney Lanier--Georgia's Poet

Georgia is inordinately proud of this native son. He's probably best known for this poem, although he has many others very similar in tone and diction. I sometimes wonder whether these can be successful if you have never seen of what he speaks. Don't know, because I have, and it is lovely beyond any words--but these come close.

from "The Marshes of Glynn" Sidney Lanier

GLOOMS of the live-oaks, beautiful-braided and woven
With intricate shades of the vines that myriad-cloven
Clamber the forks of the multiform boughs, -
Emerald twilights, -
Virginal shy lights,
Wrought of the leaves to allure to the whisper of vows,
When lovers pace timidly down through the green colonnades
Of the dim sweet woods, of the dear dark woods,
Of the heavenly woods and glades,
That run to the radiant marginal sand-beach within
The wide sea-marshes of Glynn; -


Beautiful glooms, soft dusks in the noon-day fire, -
Wildwood privacies, closets of lone desire,
Chamber from chamber parted with wavering arras of leaves,
Cells for the passionate pleasure of prayer to the soul that grieves,
Pure with a sense of the passing of saints through the wood,
Cool for the dutiful weighing of ill with good; - . . .


.

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Firm Compassion Kairos has a

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Firm Compassion
Kairos has a compassionate, level-headed, and cogent response to much that has been making the rounds lately.


If Law resigned and were sent to some monastery to live out his days, he would give his testimony, then slip into a van and drive off to New Hampshire, untroubled by telephones and televisions, ignoring all requests for interviews, and sleeping without the need to look for cameras outside his bedroom.


As it now stands, he still preaches public masses, still presides over one of the most prominent Catholic dioceses in the country, and must deal with the daily public scorn of the chattering classes whose attentions he once sought. For a Pope whose principal concern is the redemption of souls, which would have been the better course to take: the institutionally-sound public firing, or the personally-redemptive public agonistes?

His post caused me to think a bit about motivations and meanings behind actions from the Vatican and it occurred to me that part of this whole thing is that they will allow for no easy outs. They denied the zero tolerance policy because it allowed bishops a bureaucratic solution for a problem that requires individual accountability and investigation.

There may be many reasons for an event we do not fully know about. If the pope did turn down Cardinal Law's resignation part of the reason may have been to have in full public force an object lesson in responsibility and accountability. The Pope has never been one for the easy out. He has apologized for things that some have debated the need for an apology for; however, he did the difficult thing and apologized. He appears to be a man who believes heavily in accountability. As Kairos suggested, perhaps part of this is accountability that leads to true repentence/change of heart and true change of behavior in the future. What is the real likelihood that Law will ever allow something like this again? After having been at the center of the largest whirlwind to rush through the church in quite some time, one's attitudes and life probably change significantly.

I'm gladly joining with Kairos in my prayers for Cardinal Law, that he have the strength to deal with the problems before him in a truthful, forthright, and responsibility-taking way, and that God uses this experience to let Cardinal Law know how much he is loved and how important his position and responsibilities are.

Thanks, Kairos, great post.

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Al Qaida and Asimov? Now

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Al Qaida and Asimov?
Now here's an interesting news item(?) speculation out of the UK. Osama and his cronies decided to base their strategies on Isaac Asimov's Foundation Below, an excerpt. Enjoy!

In October last year, an item appeared on an authoritative Russian studies website that soon had the science-fiction community buzzing with speculative excitement. It asserted that Isaac Asimov's 1951 classic Foundation was translated into Arabic under the title "al-Qaida". And it seemed to have the evidence to back up its claims.

"This peculiar coincidence would be of little interest if not for abundant parallels between the plot of Asimov's book and the events unfolding now," wrote Dmitri Gusev, the scientist who posted the article. He was referring to apparent similarities between the plot of Foundation and the pursuit of the organisation we have come to know, perhaps erroneously, as al-Qaida.

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The Importance of a Personal

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The Importance of a Personal Philosophy

from Heretics Chapter 1 G. K. Chesterton But there are some people, nevertheless—and I am one of them— who think that the most practical and important thing about a man is still his view of the universe. We think that for a landlady considering a lodger, it is important to know his income, but still more important to know his philosophy. We think that for a general about to fight an enemy, it is important to know the enemy's numbers, but still more important to know the enemy's philosophy. We think the question is not whether the theory of the cosmos affects matters, but whether in the long run, anything else affects them. In the fifteenth century men cross-examined and tormented a man because he preached some immoral attitude; in the nineteenth century we feted and flattered Oscar Wilde because he preached such an attitude, and then broke his heart in penal servitude because he carried it out. It may be a question which of the two methods was the more cruel; there can be no kind of question which was the more ludicrous. The age of the Inquisition has not at least the disgrace of having produced a society which made an idol of the very same man for preaching the very same things which it made him a convict for practising.
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Thank You, Mr. Serafin Mr.

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Thank You, Mr. Serafin

Mr. Serafin at Blogspot for Lovers has given us a beautiful and moving tribute to the Holy Father. A perfect anodyne, oil on troubled waters. Thank you, Mr. Serafin, it is, indeed, beautiful.

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Return to Medieval England

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Return to Medieval England
But not courtesy of me, this time, I'm sure you're thankful. Ms. Knapp of From the Anchor Hold has posted a wonderful excerpt of that great blossom of Medieval English Poetry--Geoffrey Chaucer. Said excerpt highlights the qualties of a good shepherd. Hie thee there and partake of it!

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Another Swiftian Tidbit to

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Another Swiftian Tidbit to Tide You Through the Day
This is from his prose work. Two works everyone seems well acquainted with are Gulliver's Travels and "A Modest Proposal." But Swift was as inveterate satirists (there are those that would call him "Bitter." Well, they're probably right, but who can tell. Maybe "accurate" for his time is a better description.) As with all good Satire, Swift did not usually target a person but an attitude or a general approach to things. Here is his insight from "Abolishing of Christianity in England."

from "Abolishing of Christianity in England" Jonathan Swift Therefore I freely own, that all appearances are against me. The system of the Gospel, after the fate of other systems, is generally antiquated and exploded, and the mass or body of the common people, among whom it seems to have had its latest credit, are now grown as much ashamed of it as their betters; opinions, like fashions, always descending from those of quality to the middle sort, and thence to the vulgar, where at length they are dropped and vanish.
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And Now the Less

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And Now the Less than Gentle Jonathan Swift
Jonathan Swift is known for razor-edged satire. The following little fable has so many possible applications that I sha'n't burden you with naming a single one. However, knowing my place in the story, I believe that I shall choose to keep my my feet to myself.

The Sick Lion and the Ass Jonathan Swift

A lion sunk by time's decay,
Too feeble grown to hunt his prey,
Observed his fatal hour draw nigh:
He drooped and laid him down to die.
There came by chance a savage boar,
Who trembled oft to hear him roar,
But when he saw him thus distressed
He tore and gored his royal breast.
A bull came next (ungen'rous foe),
Rejoiced to find him fall'n so low,
And with his horny-armed head
He aimed at once to strike him dead,—
He strikes, he wounds, he shocks in vain,
The lion still conceals his pain.
At length a base inglorious ass,
Who saw so many insults pass,
Came up and kicked him in the side:
'Twas this that raised the lion's pride.
He roused, and thus he spoke at length,
For indignation gave him strength:
Thou sorry, stupid, sluggish creature,
Disgrace and shame and scorn of nature!
You saw how well I could dispense
With blows from beasts of consequence!
They dignified the wounds they gave;
For none complain who feel the brave.
But you, the lowest of all brutes,
How ill your face with courage suits!
What dullness in thy looks appears!
I'd rather far (by heav'n 'tis true)
Expire by these than live by you:
A kick from thee is double death—
I curse thee with my dying breath!

The Moral

Rebukes are easy from our betters,
From men of quality and letters;
But when low dunces will affront,
What man alive can stand the brunt?

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Another Pope

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(Titter) Couldn't resist the pun. Oh well. Many don't care for the poetry of Alexander Pope, they find it too rigidly regular, too uncannily metrical, stiff and inelastic, poems as chunks of concrete. To which I reply, Gustibus non est disputandem. I really like all of those aspects of Pope and his flair for finding just the right chink in the armor, just the right thing to say, as in this excerpt from the somewhat shorter Essay on Criticism

from Essay on Criticism Alexander Pope

Of all the Causes which conspire to blind
Man's erring Judgment, and misguide the Mind,
What the weak Head with strongest Byass rules,
Is Pride, the never-failing Vice of Fools.
Whatever Nature has in Worth deny'd,
She gives in large Recruits of needful Pride;
For as in Bodies, thus in Souls, we find
What wants in Blood and Spirits, swell'd with Wind;
Pride, where Wit fails, steps in to our Defence,
And fills up all the mighty Void of Sense!
If once right Reason drives that Cloud away,
Truth breaks upon us with resistless Day;
Trust not your self; but your Defects to know,
Make use of ev'ry Friend—and ev'ry Foe.

A little Learning is a dang'rous Thing;
Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian Spring:
There shallow Draughts intoxicate the Brain,
And drinking largely sobers us again.

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And now, Alexander Pope

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And now, Alexander Pope
Rushing headlong, with breathtaking speed we careen from the seventeenth century (one of my favorites) to the eighteenth (Voltaire and his lot all but ruined it--but even so, there's so good stuff early on, before we got quite so "enlightened." This excerpt is from a much longer work by Alexander Pope. Pope also did a magnificent translation of both The Iliad and The Odyssey. The latter is currently available online at Blackmask as is "An Essay on Man," from which the following excerpt is taken.

from An Essay on Man in Four Epistles Epistle I Alexander Pope Go, wiser thou! and in thy scale of sense, Weigh thy opinion against providence; Call imperfection what thou fancy'st such, Say, here he gives too little, there too much: Destroy all creatures for thy sport or gust, Yet cry, If man's unhappy, God's unjust; If man alone ingross not Heav'n's high care, Alone made perfect here, immortal there: Snatch from his hand the balance and the rod, Re-judge his justice, be the God of God. In pride, in reas'ning pride, our error lies; All quit their sphere, and rush into the skies. Pride still is aiming at the blest abodes, Men would be angels, angels would be gods. Aspiring to be gods if angels fell, Aspiring to be angels men rebel: And who but wishes to invert the laws Of order, sins against th' eternal cause.
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Some Salutary Advice Father Keyes,

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Some Salutary Advice

Father Keyes, C.P.P. S. (forgive me if I've done the initials wrong) has posted an apropos excerpt from St. Catherine of Siena. Advice of such high quality, we would all do well to consider and follow.

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Thou Art Peter IV I

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Thou Art Peter IV
I was profoundly moved by the homily at Mass today which focused heavily on the need to be thankful for and to love our Pope, the true unifiying voice on Earth for the Church. We are called to love him, pray for him, and honor both him and his office. The Papacy is the defining feature of the Catholic Church throughout the world. It is the reason why the official church may speak with one voice and teach one doctrine that is officially Catholic. There are many in dissent, but they choose to define themselves by the doctrines they wish to negate, hardly a good start. But the Catholic Church is One because it has for so long honored one Earthly leader embued with that power by One Savior, Lord, and God.

Another Poem, particularly fitting for John Paul II, from John Paul II.


Words Spoken by the Woman at the Well, on Departing
John Paul II

From this moment my ignorance
closes behind me like the door
through which you entered, recognizing
all I do not know.
And through me you led many people in silence,
many roads, and the turmoil of the streets.

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Thou Art Peter III Viva Il Papa!

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From the poetry of His Holiness John Paul II. (Find more poetry here.)

from Space Which Remains in You
John Paul II

(spoken by the apostle John)

Your arms now remember His space, the little head
snuggling to your shoulder,
for the space has remained in You,
for it was taken from You.

And shining never empty. So very present in You.
When with my trembling hands I broke the bread
to give it to you, Mother,
I stood for a moment amazed as I saw
the whole truth through one single tear
in your eye.

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Thou Art Peter II--Viva il

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Thou Art Peter II--Viva il Papa

For the man who gave us "The Gospel of Life" and the "Splendor of the Truth,"
Father, we give you thanks and praise.
For the man who oversaw and lead the downfall of communism through his constant recourse to prayer,
Father, we give you thanks and praise.
For the man who could forgive his would-be assassin,
Father, we give you thanks and praise.
For the man who has held up a mirror of Christian truth and peace
Father, we give you thanks and praise.
For the man who oversaw the production of a new catechism to lead us out of the rebellion into which we had fallen,
Father, we give you thanks and praise.
For the man who stands as an example of love and life
Father, we give you thanks and praise.
For the man who stands as an example of weakness and strength
Father, we give you thanks and praise.
For the Chief earthly Shepherd of Your flock,
Father, we give you thanks and praise.
For the man who seeks to reunite Your broken Church
Father, we give you thanks and praise.
For the man who speaks your truth for all to hear
Father, we give you thanks and praise.
For the man whose heart is torn by grief for Your people
Father, we give you thanks and praise.
For the man who humbles himself before You and prays for all people,
Father, we give you thanks and praise.
For the man who begged forgiveness for the sins committed by members of Your church against others,
Father, we give you thanks and praise.
For the man who proclaims the love of the Holy Mother of God,
Father, we give you thanks and praise.
For the man who has us crossing "The Threshold of Hope,"
Father, we give you thanks and praise.
For the man who speaks with one voice for all the faithful
Father, we give you thanks and praise.
For the man who stands against the culture of death
Father, we give you thanks and praise.

Thank you Father for this great man, this gift of intellect and heart, this dynamo who has galvanized great changes in your Church already. Assist him as he struggles with his greatest challenge and let him hear and always follow your gentle lead.

Amen.

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Thou Art Peter I tried

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Thou Art Peter

I tried this in one way earlier, but its resultant tone too deeply disturbed my conscience. So I try here from another, hopefully more congenial and hospitable angle.

Viva il Papa
Lord,

Thank you for the gift of John Paul II, our brother, our leader, our guide,
head of your Church on Earth.
Through him you have given us a prophetic witness of your Gospel,
You have time and again used his voice to pronounce the truth.

Dear Lord,
John Paul, our precious Pope, needs your guidance and your health.
Around him are a great many voices,
let him sort through the noise and go
unerringly to the heart of the truth.
Guide him in ways to guide us from
these present difficulties into a time of lasting peace and growth
for the Church on Earth.

You have given us so much in John Paul,
let him know that we love him and unite with him
to oust the evil that has roosted in Your Church.

Lord, let John Paul continue to speak with Your voice,
and love with Your heart;
to lead Your people in truth and in the paths of righteousness.

Use him as an instrument to clean your Church and bring
us all back together in strength and in love.

We ask this of you, our one true and precious Lord, Jesus Christ,
in confidence that all asked in your name will be done.

Amen.

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The Importance of Being Earnest

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The Importance of Being Earnest
The following exchange, an interview conducted by Lady Bracknell to determine the suitablity of Jack as a suitor is worthy of note today. Find the full online text at Blackmask (see left column).

LADY BRACKNELL. [Pencil and note-book in hand.] I feel bound to tell you that you are not down on my list of eligible young men, although I have the same list as the dear Duchess of Bolton has. We work together, in fact. However, I am quite ready to enter your name, should your answers be what a really affectionate mother requires. Do you smoke?

JACK. Well, yes, I must admit I smoke.

LADY BRACKNELL. I am glad to hear it. A man should always have an occupation of some kind. There are far too many idle men in London as it is. How old are you?

JACK. Twenty-nine.

LADY BRACKNELL. A very good age to be married at. I have always been of opinion that a man who desires to get married should know either everything or nothing. Which do you know?

JACK. [After some hesitation.] I know nothing, Lady Bracknell.

LADY BRACKNELL. I am pleased to hear it. I do not approve of anything that tampers with natural ignorance. Ignorance is like a delicate exotic fruit; touch it and the bloom is gone. The whole theory of modern education is radically unsound. Fortunately in England, at any rate, education produces no effect whatsoever. If it did, it would prove a serious danger to the upper classes, and probably lead to acts of violence in Grosvenor Square. What is your income?

JACK. Between seven and eight thousand a year.

LADY BRACKNELL. [Makes a note in her book.] In land, or in investments?

JACK. In investments, chiefly.

LADY BRACKNELL. That is satisfactory. What between the duties expected of one during one's lifetime, and the duties exacted from one after one's death, land has ceased to be either a profit or a pleasure. It gives one position, and prevents one from keeping it up. That's all that can be said about land.

JACK. I have a country house with some land, of course, attached to it, about fifteen hundred acres, I believe; but I don't depend on that for my real income. In fact, as far as I can make out, the poachers are the only people who make anything out of it.

LADY BRACKNELL. A country house! How many bedrooms? Well, that point can be cleared up afterwards. You have a town house, I hope? A girl with a simple, unspoiled nature, like Gwendolen, could hardly be expected to reside in the country.

JACK. Well, I own a house in Belgrave Square, but it is let by the year to Lady Bloxham. Of course, I can get it back whenever I like, at six months' notice. . . .[break to reduce length of post]

LADY BRACKNELL. [Sternly.] Both, if necessary, I presume. What are your polities?

JACK. Well, I am afraid I really have none. I am a Liberal Unionist.

LADY BRACKNELL. Oh, they count as Tories. They dine with us. Or come in the evening, at any rate. Now to minor matters. Are your parents living?

JACK. I have lost both my parents.

LADY BRACKNELL. To lose one parent, Mr. Worthing, may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness. Who was your father? He was evidently a man of some wealth. Was he born in what the Radical papers call the purple of commerce, or did he rise from the ranks of the aristocracy?

JACK. I am afraid I really don't know. The fact is, Lady Bracknell, I said I had lost my parents. It would be nearer the truth to say that my parents seem to have lost me . . . I don't actually know who I am by birth. I was . . . well, I was found.

LADY BRACKNELL. Found!

JACK. The late Mr. Thomas Cardew, an old gentleman of a very charitable and kindly disposition, found me, and gave me the name of Worthing, because he happened to have a first-class ticket for Worthing in his pocket at the time. Worthing is a place in Sussex. It is a seaside resort.

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Indeed, Sunday Morning
Wallace Stevens is a notoriously difficult poet, if you trust what you hear tell. But this, the eighth section of a poem entitled "Sunday Morning" seems eerily prophetic. For indeed, at the waning of his Life, that Tomb in Palestine, which lay empty, called him home to the Darkness which, in fact is so light that we cannot see it.

from "Sunday Morning" Wallace Stevens VIII She hears, upon that water without sound, A voice that cries, "The tomb in Palestine Is not the porch of spirits lingering. It is the grave of Jesus, where he lay." We live in an old chaos of the sun, Or old dependency of day and night, Or island solitude, unsponsored, free, Of that wide water, inescapable. Deer walk upon our mountains, and the quail Whistle about us their spontaneous cries; Sweet berries ripen in the wilderness; And, in the isolation of the sky, At evening, casual flocks of pigeons make Ambiguous undulations as they sink, Downward to darkness, on extended wings.
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An Old Favorite This

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An Old Favorite
This poem (actually a piece of a much larger work entitled Milton) has been a favorite for a much longer time than I knew of the poem proper. My first acquaintance of it was in a very atraditional setting. It is a militant, strong, and still quite beautiful anthem on Emerson, Lake, and Palmer's best album Brain Salad Surgery. From that acquaintance I came to hear it once in an Episcopal setting (boy did that shock me at the time!) and later found the source in William Blake. No matter how it came about, and no matter that Blake was a rather queer (in the old and very full sense of that word) mystic (He used to have tea in the Garden with Elijah), it is a remarkable piece of work.

"Jerusalem" from the Preface toMilton William Blake

And did those feet in ancient time
Walk upon England's mountains green?
And was the holy Lamb of God
On England's pleasant pastures seen?

And did the Countenance Divine
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here
Among these dark Satanic mills?

Bring me my bow of burning gold:
Bring me my arrows of desire:
Bring me my spear: O clouds unfold!
Bring me my chariot of fire.

I will not cease from mental fight,
Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand
Till we have built Jerusalem
In England's green and pleasant land.

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Dylan's Poetry Review

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Dylan's Poetry Review
Yes, once again La Vita Nuova hosts a lovely couplet. In this case a pair of poems. One by 16th century poet Thomas Campion, the other by Countee Culllen. These kinds of reasonable comparison completely defy those who wish for a rigid and largely exclusive canon. (Although, are there really any such unreasonable beasts, or are they straw men? I don't know sufficiently the shape of the academic terrain to say. But considering that in all books about the Western Canon I hear not a single word about the poets of the Harlem Renaissance, Vachel Lindsay, or Paul Lawrence Dunbar, one must begin to wonder.) The Canon can take in an enormous amount and never bloat, and I would guess that Countee Cullen is more likely to speak to modern young people than Leo Tolstoy, Henry James, or several others commonly in the canon (although, in reality, given our current trends in education, most modern young people may emerge from school unable to read or apprehend any of them).

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Amphibious Goats and Other Unlikely

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Amphibious Goats and Other Unlikely Wildlife

I trust you are are following the musings and meditations on Amphibious Goat's site. Here one is given what appears to be a profoundly Orthodox, feminist, Catholic viewpoint on issues of the day concerning women. Here's a sample of her musings:

It's good to hear that Germaine Greer is figuring out what Feminists for Life has known all along. "Forty-million abortions are a reflection that we have failed women -- and women have settled for less," said Serrin Foster, president of Feminists for Life of America. "It is time for us to systematically eliminate the coercive factors that drive women to abortion -- primarily the lack of practical resources and emotional support. We invite all organizations -- including women's organizations that differ with us on abortion -- to join us. Every woman deserves better. We don't have to settle for less."

For those interested in alternative but still strictly Orthodox viewpoints, you would do well to stop by the site. The blogmaster appears to know the subject matter very well and has links to all sorts of interesting places--Feminists for Life (could you even imagine it?) and other "Feminist" pages. Find out that feminism doesn't mean merely Andrea Dworkin and her ilk--there is a huge range of viewpoints and it's good to be aware of them.

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Continuing on the Previous

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Another poem by Countee Cullen--this one relates some of the feelings a person of color might have had at the time that he wrote his poetry. Once again, what an advantage it would have been to have been able to read something like this in a high-school literature course. Yes, I know there are innumerable wonderful things in literature, but I can recall a few things that made no sense of impression on me at all and could have been dispensed with. But here a cri de coeur which, like Rap Music, can be taken up by all who feel alienated from those around them. And heaven knows, youth knows enough about alienation.

from "The Shroud of Color"
Countee Cullen
(for Llewellyn Ransom)

"Lord, being dark," I said, "I cannot bear
The further touch of earth, the scented air;
Lord being dark, forewilled to that despair
My color shrouds me in, I am as dirt
Beneath my brother's heel; there is a hurt
In all the simple joys which to a child
Are sweet; they are contaminate, defiled
By truths of wrongs the childish vision fails
To see; too great a cost this birth entrails.
I strangle in this yoke drawn tighter than
The worth of beaing it, just to be man
I am not brave enough to pay the price
In full; I lack the strength to sacrifice.
I who have burned my hands upon a star
And climbed high hills at dawn to view the far
Illimitable wonderments of earth,
For whom all cups have dripped the wine of mirth,
For whom the sea has strained her honeyed throat
Till all the world was sea, and I a boat
Unmoored on what strange quest I willed to float. . .

Do yourself a favor and go and find the rest, it is worth your time, as will be any of the other poems you may find in a volume dedicated to his writings--"Christus Natus Est", "Judas Iscariot," and the wonderful narrative poem "The Black Christ." I think Dylan mentioned Countee Cullen as his favorite neglected poet--I owe him a great debt of thanks to the (re)-introduction.

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I dedicate these to Dylan and Ono between the two of them I was moved to dig up a book and pull out these particular poems. The first consists of two of four short epitaphs by Countee Cullen. The second a magnificent sonnet that at one time was much more popular than presently; originally an outcry against racism in the inner cities, it was carried by a great many soldiers in World War II. Both are works by great, but largely neglected African American poets. Proponents of true multiculturalism seek to redress the gross injustice of the exclusion of such great work from the common heritage. We are all diminished when we choose to exclude such luminous voices from our cultural vocabulary.

from "Four Epitaphs"
Countee Cullen

2.
For John Keats, Apostle of Beauty
Not writ in water nor in mist,
Sweet lyric throat, thy name;
Thy singing lips that cold death kissed
Have seared his own with flame.

3.
For Paul Lawrence Dunbar
Born of the sorrowful heart,
Mirth was a crown upon his head;
Pride kept his twisted lips apart
In jest, to hide a heart that bled.

Only short samples, but I'm sure you can agree that they are quite lovely and to the point. I particularly like the poignancy of the image of Keats's kiss searing Death's lips.

If We Must Die
Claude McKay

If we must die, let it not be like hogs
Hunted and penned in an inglorious spot,
While round us bark the mad and hungry dogs,
Making their mock at our accurséd lot.
If we must die, O let us nobly die,
So that our precious blood may not be shed
In vain; then even the monsters we defy
Shall be constrained to honor us though dead!
O kinsmen! we must meet the common foe!
Though far outnumbered let us show us brave,
And for their thousand blows deal one deathblow!
What though before us lies the open grave?
Like men we'll face the murderous, cowardly pack,
Pressed to the wall, dying, but fighting back!

Some decry multiculturalism. I decry its excesses, but I also decry the blindness that did not allow me to encounter poems such as these until well into my adulthood. I am glad that children educated today are getting a broader sense of the contributions made to literature by all peoples. My only wish is that we would choose works of quality, not merely works that are representative. There is no need to abandon the works of the Western Canon. Shakespeare can be taught alongside works like these, as can Keats and others. However, when left to the mulitculturalists, works chosen do not necessarily represent great works of literature, but agenda-supporting works of literary propagandists. Literature should be chosen for its quality, not for the political agenda it supports. In fact, it should be chosen IN SPITE OF political agenda, as I am sure I could not agree with the politics of Pablo Neruda, but I still admire On the Heights of Macchu Picchu.

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This brief meditation stopped me in my tracks the first time I read it.

Ô Marie, si j'étais la Reine du Ciel et que vous soyez Thérèse, je voudrais être Thérèse afin que vous soyez la Reine du Ciel ! ! !

Trans: O Mary, if I were Queen of Heaven and you were Therese I would want to be Therese so that you could be Queen of Heaven.

This is one of those examples of humility that boggle the mind. I still am boggled by the implications of this simple thought. It is beautiful and reflexive and for some reason absolutely mind-bending. It's kind of a Carmelite koan or something, I just can't seem to encompass the perfection of its thought.

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This from the progenitor of the melancholy Graveyard poets, Thomas Gray. It was unfinished at the time of his death and completed (more or less) by another. Still given two hands, this isn't at all a bad little poem.

Ode on the Pleasure Arising from Vicissitude
Thomas Gray (1716-1771)


Now the golden Morn aloft
Waves her dew-bespangled wing,
With vermeil cheek, and whisper soft
She woos the tardy Spring:
Till April starts, and calls around
The sleeping fragrance from the ground;
And lightly o'er the living scene
Scatters his freshest, tenderest green.

New-born flocks, in rustic dance,
Frisking ply their feeble feet;
Forgetful of their wintry trance
The birds his presence greet:
But chief, the skylark warbles high
His trembling thrilling ecstasy;
And, lessening from the dazzled sight,
Melts into air and liquid light.

Rise, my soul! on wings of fire,
Rise the rapt'rous choir among;
Hark! 'tis Nature strikes the lyre,
And leads the general song:


Yesterday the sullen year
Saw the snowy whirlwind fly;
Mute was the music of the air,
The herd stood drooping by:
Their raptures now that wildly flow,
No yesterday, nor morrow know;
'Tis man alone that joy descries
With forward, and reverted eyes.
Smiles on past Misfortune's brow
Soft Reflection's hand can trace;
And o'er the cheek of Sorrow throw
A melancholy grace;
While Hope prolongs our happier hour
Or deepest shades, that dimly lower
And blacken round our weary way,
Gilds with a gleam of distant day.
Still, where rosy Pleasure leads,
See a kindred Grief pursue;
Behind the steps that Misery treads,
Approaching Comfort view:
The hues of bliss more brightly glow,
Chastis'd by sabler tints of woe;
And blended form, with artful strife,
The strength and harmony of life.
See the wretch, that long has tost
On the thorny bed of pain,
At length repair his vigour lost,
And breathe, and walk again:
The meanest flow'ret of the vale,
The simplest note that swells the gale,
The common sun, the air, the skies,
To him are opening Paradise.

Humble Quiet builds her cell,
Near the source whence Pleasure flows;
She eyes the clear crystalline well,
And tastes it as it goes.

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Agnostics You know, when

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Agnostics
You know, when it comes right down to it, give me a good honest atheist any day--at least there's hope there. An atheist is every bit as religious as a theist, and even though they may not admit it, their system relies as much on faith as any theistic system. There is a leap of faith to say either "There is a God," or "There is no God," because neither proposition is ultimately provable to someone who doesn't accept proofs beyond the empirical.

But an agnostic is truly the opposite of a Theist or atheist. A person who truly maintains that they cannot/do not know and who seems to demand some sort of sign cannot be reasoned into belief. God Himself could appear to such a person and demand belief (and assuming His operations are as usual--open to free will) they would find a way to explain this as "a morsel of underdone beef, or a fragment of an underdone potato."

Agnostics have no real ability to believe. They have deliberately cut themselves off from belief, probably due to past traumas related to humans they have trusted. They have, in some sense truncated part of their humanness--the price they pay for freedom from a certain kind of pain. They cannot or will not see this themselves, but they have performed a sort of radical spiritual blinding with the notion that they will not be hurt by trusting again.

What amazes me is that they do continue to be hurt. They wonder why people do what they do. They demand accountability from on high for every minor infraction. The "boss" be he human or divine should be controlling all the factors that negatively impact them. They blindly trust in the perfect operation of human institutions and gawp when politicians are shown to be corrupt. They are outraged at corporate indiscretions. I always wonder why. You don't believe in anything at all, why would you believe that people would behave themselves in the absence of any belief at all?

Agnosticism is a tough nut to crack. But falling back on some favorite verses, we know that , "With God, all things are possible." When we find someone who does not respond to the promptings of the Holy Spirit, we should pray hard and long--that our prayers will increase the resonance of the spirit within them to crack that hard exterior and to open up the hardened heart.

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We Are Amused Though I

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We Are Amused
Though I suspect there shall be number in blogdom who are less than amused. You MUST see Dylan's riff on a currently controversial article. And, at core he's right. However, I have a friend who would read Dylan's article with an absolutely straight face, finish it, and respond, "That's they way I see it." And that's a shame.

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What's Wrong with Blogdom? Well,

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What's Wrong with Blogdom?

Well, to quote one who is not a favorite of Dylan "The best lack all conviction and the worst are filled with passionate intensity." Said another way, the blogs I am most interested in simply do not produce enough material around the clock to keep me entertained. I hold each of those listed in the column of the left PERSONALLY responsible, and I shall be investigating the proper authorities to whom to report this. Please be warned!

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What's Really Wrong with PoMo?

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What's Really Wrong with PoMo?

Kairos, ever the idealist and optimist opines:

The danger in it, of course, lies in the famous Chesterton line that a man who believes in nothing will believe in anything. But that's also the opportunity. An honest postmodernist can only forestall the inevitable, not prevent it. At some point he must come to examine his philosophy that says "there is no truth but I will it so" and declare that truth, too, null and void. And when he does, he will hopefully find a Christian or a Jew standing nearby to rush into the vaccuum in his heart.

And, with all good intentions falls into PoMo's most insidious trap. For you see, in true PoMo fashion, it may be more desirable not to be honest, as a thrust against the hegemonic oppression of the pale patriarchy. In fact, as a lineal descendant of atheistic existentialism, the point of PoMo is that reality is an infinitely mutable series of texts with no real meaning anyway, so why try to conform to something that suggests structure-- you write your own script, define your own reality. As with existentialism, it is as valid to define yourself by negation as by positive choices, and "Hell is other people;" those looking in and redefining you. (Given all this I cringe whenever I hear someone talk about a significant other, because philosophically they don't know what they are bound into. There can be only One Significant Other--ultimately only His Opinion is of any substance whatsoever. Digression mode off) The universe is chaotic, so too is PoMo philosophy, without apologies.

Remember, you are talking the philosophy of Paul de Man, a known Nazi sympathizer, who had no difficulty with the removal of a few Jews in order to "tidy up the story," and of Michel Foucault, who, knowing he was infected with AIDS had unprotected sex with estimated hundreds, perhaps more than a thousand partners before his death--an act he defended as a radical rebellion against the hegemonic and oppressive script that sought to define him from outside his own "text."

These are the people who give us feminist studies with the enormously unlikely concantenations such as the "Lesbian Phallus." (I kid you not, use Google, and look up Judith Butler and Lesbian Phallus, and you'll see all sorts of accolades for this physical impossibility.) Talk about divorcing reason from even a vestige of reality!

No, PoMo is insidious, dangerous, and evil (a fact that Kairos readily acknowledges), but to think that one can argue a committed PoMo beyond his blinkered thinking is to think a great deal of oneself. On the other hand, as is hinted and suggested by Kairos, "With God, all things are possible." With God, even the defeat of the PoMo defense against reality is a possibility. But this doesn't come from reasoned discussion on their grounds or defined territory, it comes through prayer and evangelism of lifestyle.

Most PoMo know there is something seriously wrong. The philosophy is rooted in nihilism and they realize that there is no center and if you look too closely everything will fall apart. Not exactly a philosophy that makes one warm and cozy. By seeing a luminous life, a life in complete union with Jesus Christ, a life of prayer and serenity in the midst of the admitted chaos of the modern world, there is concrete evidence that something exists beyond the enclosing (we should say entombing) walls of the abyss that stretches out to claim them.

Our first apologetics lesson is hospitality--to engage a PoMo not on the field of intellectual battle, nor necessarily even semi-intellectual discussion, but rather over a cup of coffee (or a bottle of beer for those so inclined) in the kitchen or living room (whatever room of your house is most warm and inviting). It is offering to bring back lunch if you are going out anyway, or picking up a soda, or any other of a number of small kindnesses that may be shown (one must be very careful if this is a PoMo feminist, as all such gestures are merely extensions of patriarchal control mechanisms and objectively "rape" in the workplace (gack! it feels like a hairball in my gullet to even think these banal phrases into being).

No, Kairos, my friend, do not be too hopeful about any of the approaches reason offers. As Jesus said of a different case, "Such as these are driven out only with much fasting and praying." Don't get too close (intellectually), or when driven out, you may find them entering you! PoMo is powerful poison, deadlier than tetrodotoxin. Nevertheless, all that said--Kairos is absolutely 100% correct about the last thing he says. If a PoMo adherent does eventually realize the logical trap he/she is in, we need to be standing by, ready to haul that person out of the mire--just take care not to get pulled in yourself--let Jesus do the hauling.

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Journals Again T. S.

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Journals Again

T. S. O'Rama has another fine post on journals in which he says in part:

But it is the chronic situations, like a bad relationship with a co-worker, that writing about doesn't seem much to help because there is an aspect of "Groundhog Day" to it - the ventilation doesn't 'work' because the situation that lead to the flame-up simply reoccurs continuously.

Exactly right--and therefore these are the most valuable pages of your journal because they provide two things: (1) fodder for your next trip to the confessional and (2) a mirror. When you have a long-term antagonistic relationship with someone and you have a record of your run-ins and attempts to deal with it, what you are likely being given by God is a mirror. What you say about that person in your reflections is what you should be looking for in yourself. Nothing is more irritating to us that to see part of us in someone else--particularly a part we don't want to acknowledge at all. When we have the journal as a resource, we have an observational mirror. Change all the he/she/it/they, to I/me and read it again. Does part of it ring true? Now, sit down with that same journal entry and write it from the other side. What did they see that they were reacting to? What a wonderful source of presence and grace! Take what you find and go to the nearest priest offering confession (in some dioceses I realize this is hard to come by, but look, you'll find one), and confess it all and offer it all up to God for His greater glory, with firm purpose of amendment and of abandoning yourself (promising not to be defensive or offensive) in these disputes. Suddenly endless, roiling, seething, black, and ugly thoughts become the substance of grace. "For with God, all things are possible."

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Evaluating Our Prayer For those

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Evaluating Our Prayer

For those not beguiled by the sweet strains of Medieval English (gad! could there be any such?) we bring you Renaissance English. Well not really, as The Sadness of Christ was actually written in Latin, and what we can read today is a translation of that original Latin. One of the causes of the Sadness of Christ, St. Thomas More contends, is that He is surrounded with two sorts of people--those who go to sleep on Him and those who betray Him. He didn't have a word for it in his time, but Thomas More might have talked about the former as "Groupies." These guys really liked to hang out with Jesus, but when the heat came, they were gone. He likens most of our prayers to these sleeping apostles.

from The Sadness of Christ St. Thomas More

I wish that sometime we would make a special effort, right after finishing our prayers, to run over in our minds the whole sequence of time we spent praying. What follies will we see there? How much absurdity and sometimes even foulness will we catch sight of? Indeed, we will be amazed that it was at all possible for our minds to dissipate themselves in such a short time among so many places at such great distance from each other, among so many different affairs, such various, such manifold, such idle pursuits. For if someone, just as an experiment, should make a determined effort to make his mind touch upon as many and as diverse objects as possible, I hardly think that in such a short time he could run through such disparate and numerous topics as the mind, left to its own devices, ranges through while the mouth negligently mumbles through the hours of the office and other much-used prayers. (p. 18-19)

It is amazing. When we're doing almost anything else, it would take an explosion to pull us away. But here we spend a moment, a fraction of a hour with the Creator of the Universe and we are bored out of our skulls, thinking about everything but praying--that itch, the tire on the car that may or may not need air, that strange sound--what is it like, kind of like an airplane passing overhead but echoey. You know all about it. Distraction prevails in prayer. Part of the reason is that we don't really take prayer very seriously, no matter what our lips say about it.

We figure, we get in our fifteen minutes plus Mass, and we're set, right? Maybe we can sneak in a Rosary after dinner, or at least some after dinner thanks, or maybe a "Thank you, Lord" at night. We are all stuck in the anti-Samuel syndrome. A Priest friend of mine once said that our prayers are always, "Listen Lord, your servant is speaking." And how often is that true. And even when we're doing all the talking, we're distracted by the next thing on the agenda--how quickly can we tick these things on the list off.

Is that how we treat our friends? Do we meet them in the street and tell them everything that has happened to us since our previous meetings in the street and then rush off to the next friend to do the same? No, we invite friends in to share our houses, our foods, our comforts, our families. We make them welcome and we carve out time--yes, time in our extremely busy schedules into which we cannot fit another thing, we make time. Shouldn't we be doing the same for God? Carving out a cherished place in time that could be spent in any of the incredibly important things we do in a day--like talking around the water-cooler, or watching 4-6 hours of substandard television.

Our prayers are impoverished because our attitudes are poor. You cannot have great prayers if you don't value prayer. You cannot spend time with God if it isn't a priority. And prayer, like conversation, is a skill that takes time to learn. Most of us are toddlers or very young children in prayer. We talk only about ourselves and say the same things over and over again. I suspect Our Father in Heaven rejoices when we introduce a single new word into our prayer vocabularies. Prayer takes time to cultivate, and it takes a willing heart. Both of these come from an initial attitude--Prayer is important.

Take some time, evaluate what you really think about prayer--is it as important as beer?, as football? , as the current scandal?, as what J-Lo is wearing to the Academy Awards?, as gossiping with the neighbor? Is it really? Because if it is, then we wouldn't be spending our time doing those things, rather we would be spending the time gently, slowly cultivating prayer. And like anything carefully nurtured and tended, we would find explosive growth--most particularly because this cherished gift is fed from without by the King of Creation Himself.

But, if you find yourself driven to distraction, recognize that it is part of the skill of praying to learn to accept those things as they come and offer them to the Lord, wordlessly. Simply, as St. Therese would say, "With a glance toward heaven." Prayer is an aspiration and an aspiration must be desired above all things, otherwise it is no aspiration at all, merely a thought, a throwaway, a worse than worthless thing.

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This poem is such a typical, lovely evocation of the graces of Our Lady that i couldn't resist a brief excerpt. This time I'll provide a few explanatory notes, althought you can pick them up at the Teams site if need be. (Take heart, read it aloud, phonetically, and you'll be surprised at how easy it comes).

from "The Joys of Mary"

73

Heyle be thou, ladye so bryght:
Gabriel that seyde so ryght,
"Cryst ys wyth thee."
Swettyst and swotyst in syght, (sweetest and most fragrant)
Modyr and mayde of myght,
Have mercy on mee.

Hayle be thou, fynest to fonde: (fonde=to seek)
Jesu thy sone, y undyrstonde,
Of thee borne he was.
Glad were thou, lef in londe, (loved in the land--on earth)
Tho thou haddyst in honde (tho=when)
The prynce of oure pees.

Heyle, ladye, flower of alle thynges:
Ryally three ryche kynges,
Derely dyght, (Richly clothed)
Comely wyth knelynges, (beautiful in kneeling)
Broughten thi sone three thynges;
The sterre was lyght.

Hayle, gladdyst of alle wyve: (wyve=women)
Aryse fro deth to lyve
Thy sone, tho thou syghe.(tho= while)
Blyssyd be thoo woundys fyve
That made mannys soule to thryve
In heven so hyghe.

Heyle, joye in hert and in yghe: (yghe=eye)
Wyth yghe thy sylf thoo thou syghe (with your own eyes, though you sighed)
On Holy Thursdaye,
Jesu thi sone all upstyghe (upstyghe=ascended)
Hoom into heven so hyghe,
The apostles to paye. (paye=reward)

Heyle, ladye, full of all blys,
Tho that thou wentyst wysse (tho= when; wysse=directly)
To blys soo bryght,
That blys God lete us never mysse,
Marye; thou us wysely wysse (wysse=guide)
Be daye and be nyght. Amen. (be=by)

I'm half sorry, half overjoyed to burden you all with this because I find the language so beautiful and the sentiment so true. The richness of the imagery and the strength of the devotion of the poet are such that they cannot be doubted or questioned. I hope you've enjoyed the brief excursions, and I promise that other than a link in the side column, you will not be further burdened by my enthusiasm.

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Continuing Where I Left Off

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Continuing Where I Left Off

Yes, I'm still excited by all the marvelous new additions to the Medieval English online texts. What is particularly nice is the addition of Walter Hilton, who along with Richard Rolle of Rumpole, Margery Kempe, Julian of Norwich, and the Author of The Cloud of Unknowing represent the finest flowering of the English Mystical school. His insights, despite the language are surprising fresh and useful to people today. In addition there is a certain beauty and music in Medieval English that tends to be lacking in modernizations of his texts. For some online versions of the modernizations check Blackmask. Meanwhile, please enjoy this marvelous excerpt from Book I.

from The Scale of Perfection Book I--Chapter 4 Walter Hilton

Contemplatif liyf hath three parties. The first is in knowynge of God and goosteli thynges geten by resoun, bi techynge of man and bi studie of Hooly Writ, withouten goostli affeccion and inward savour feelid bi the special gift of the Hooli Goost. This party han speciali summe lettred men and grete clerkes whiche bi longe studé and travaile in Hooli Writ comen to this knowynge, more or lesse, after the sutelté of kyndeli wit and contynuance of studie after the general gift that God gyveth to everi man that hath use of reson. This knowyng is good, and it may be called a partie of contemplacioun in as mykil as it is a sight of soothfastnesse and knowynge of goostli thynges.

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Ande iff thu kanst

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Ande iff thu kanst rede this outen somme succour. . ."

Go then to the page mentioned below and look at the introduction to Walter Hilton's Scale of Perfection. These are words for our times:

For wite thu weel, a bodili turnynge to God without the herte folwynge is but a figure or a likenes of vertues and no soothfastnesse. Wherfore a wrecchid man or a woman is he or sche that leveth al the inward kepinge of hymself and schapith hym withoute oonli a fourme and likenes of hoolynesse, as in habite and in speche and in bodili werkes, biholdynge othere mennys deedys and demyng here defaughtes, wenynge hymsilf to be aught whanne he is right nought, and so bigileth hymsilf. Do thou not so, but turne thyne herte with thy body principali to God, and schape thee withinne to His likenesse bi mekenesse and charité and othere goostli vertues, and thanne art thou truli turned to Hym.

Oh frabjous day, Caloo, Callay!
He chortled in his joy.

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Freshly-minted, Brand New Medieval Romances in HTML

I was about to blogout for the night when I happened upon a most glorious thing. These kinds of things make you realize how great is the Love of God for us. Out of nowhere, the TEAMs team at Rochester gave us perhaps a dozen new romances. Here's an excerpt of one:


Life of St. Katherine

Jesu Cryst, crowne of maydenes alle,
A mayde bare Thee, a mayde gave Thee soke;
Amongis the lilies that may not fade ne falle
Thou ledyst these folk, ryth so seyth oure boke.
With all her hert evyr on Thee thei loke;
Her love, her plesauns, so sore is on Thee sette
To sewe Thee, Lord, and folow thei can nott lette.

Also included in this great trove is the so-called "Prose Merlin," Walter Hilton's "Scale of Perfection," and numerous others with which I have not, until now, had the chance for intimate acquaintance. And now, as though by miracle, I have laid out for me my extra reading for the next several months. I am indeed, deeply grateful. God is so good! If you have failed to make the acquaintance of these great works and others, for shame! Hie thee hence, and be on with the great reading!

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For Our Spanish-Reading Population

I stumbled upon fotos del apocalipsis a blogsite out of Argentina, if the URL is any indication. I'm afraid I only piece together Spanish from my large French and little Latin. I will probably add this to my blogsites once blogger has calmed down a bit. Every time I touch the template I seem to cause enormous rippling complications down the line. I end up having to recode more than half of it. But if you read Spanish, you may want to visit this site. I hope Mr. Gonzalez does not mind this plug.

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Bill White's Keen Saint Site

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Bill White's Keen Saint Site

Mr. White, who runs the exemplary Summa Minutiae blogsite, has put together a remarkable page of that traces causes for beatification/canonization currently in progress. Also included are lists of Saints by orders. You MUST see this site. I'm sure Mr. White would gladly welcome all help!

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Food for Thought

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This Post over at Video M... provided some fodder for rumination. I join the ruminants. It says in part:

If one uses a journal to vent or complain, perhaps that only serves to reinforce the sense of injustice that you feel in being wronged, rather than in forgiving that person and "moving on".

I have kept a journal for 30 or more years and I discover that in keeping the journal I pray more often and more deeply. I pray with pen in hand, waiting to hear what may be spoken.

Yes, I have used the same journals to rake people over the coals, but what I have discovered is that writing out my "complaint" gives me the ability to let go of it. I remember of one particularly unfortunate victim of my pique I wrote,

When you die no worms
will open the windows of your corpse.
You would melt the plastic violets
in an old lady's hat.

It went on from there, but vitriol is best contained in small vials and the continuation was simply bleeding out the rest of the wound. As a result of writing that poem I was able to forgive the person whatever unimaginable harm they had done me.

I use the journal to write "unsent letters" that spell out my grievances in atrocious detail. When I am finished, there is no need to send the letters and all has been forgiven.

But the plus side of a journal far outweighs the minus side. When I reflect on the Bible I can find truths that sometimes I am surprised to stumble over in later years, providentially at a time when I need to remember that aspect of God's Mercy.

However, I can see that a journal can be used to work yourself up from merely made into violent fury--to concentrate venom from a very minor infraction into virulent poison--to turn a mosquito bite into dengue fever. If you do not write as a normal thing, then a journal may serve as a repository of cherished feelings, and among the most cherished are the nursing of some grievous wound dealt you by some callous fraud. I'll be most interested in seeing how Mr. O'Rama plays this out.

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Great Silence Well, now I

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Great Silence
Well, now I at least understand it. In playing with my page I killed my commenter. Hopefully up soon.

Later: should be fixed now. We'll see.

Later yet: Actually it was the picture of St. Therese that killed the commenter--figure that. I guess Carmelites don't go in for a lot of chat--particularly those Discalced Carmelites--well if your feet were cold, you wouldn't want to be standing around chatting either.

Later Yet--No, it isn't St. Therese, God Bless her--it is the evil minion of bloggergremlins. They creep in and take out bits and bytes disrupting templates right and left--creating havoc and leaving behind ruin and tears, great weeping and lamentation, etc. etc.

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Dylan's Challenge

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Dylan's Challenge

Okay, I've waited all my blogging career to share some of my own poetry and here it goes. Technically it doesn't meet any of Dylan's requirements (delineated below) In point of fact, it doesn't meet any of them at all, but I thought I'd add it to the challenge.

-- Give me the most ridiculous rhymed couplet of pentameter, tetrameter, or the strangest haiku ever composed in the history of literature! Write it yourself, if you like. In fact, that would be good.

Here is the very best derivative double dactyl I've ever seen:

Battling Heresy
Higgledy-Piggledy
Righteous Pelagius
Got off his horse and
fell on his face.

Said Bishop Hippo quite
unsympathetically,
"Surely your doctrine
leaves some room for grace."

The rules of a double dactyl are elaborate and here's what I remember of them:
(1) scansion must be dactylic (stress and two unstress)
(2) there must be one line that is basically nonsense syllables and
(3) one line must consist of a single word
Here's a place for the complete list of rules.

Okay, so it isn't a very good double-dactyl (as if there is such a thing) violating as many rules as it does. In addition, this is made especially awful by the punning on the word Grace. This has been in my head so long (at least 20 years) I don't know whether it is mine or if it is the work of another that I have adapted. My apologies if I have appropriated your work.

There, that will teach you to issue a challenge for remarkably bad poetry.

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On God's Love

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This is from a little book I found online at CCEL, listed only as being by a "Bishop Ullathorne. I would welcome more information on this person, and if anyone knows where I could find more of him online, I'd greatly appreciate that information as well.

THE LITTLE BOOK OF HUMILITY & PATIENCE Archbishop Ullathorne

There is no master so large-minded, so generous, or who is so well acquainted with you and your requirements, as God; no father so loving and bountiful; no friend so free from all jealousy; none who so completely loves you for your greater good. Whilst there is no tyrant so narrow-minded, so proud-hearted, so exacting, so suspicious, so utterly bent on keeping you to your own littleness, as the one we all know so well, of whose tyranny we have had such bitter experience, and who goes by the name of Myself. Yet God or yourself you must choose for your master.

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Back at Work Well, praise

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Back at Work
Well, praise God, I'm still feeling wretched (that orange on a toothpick has become a watermelon on a rusty needle) but I'm back at work, so blogging will be less. And I suppose that must be a good thing because yesterday was my most extensive blogging day ever and I had the least response ever. What one learns from that is when one never shuts up people are hard pressed to get a word in edgewise. So I promise, no marathon blogging today.

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Fin du Jour We started

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Fin du Jour

We started in joy and praise, and it has been a labor, but I am through the day. My head feels about the size of a hot air balloon and wobbles around like an orange on a toothpick. Spouse is home to care for child, and so I can take something that will help with this unpleasant sensation. But first this send-off from St. Thérèse.

Ma Joie ! St. Thérèse of Lisieux

1
Il est des âmes sur la terre
Qui cherchent en vain le bonheur
Mais pour moi, c'est tout le contraire
La joie se trouve dans mon coeur
Cette joie n'est pas éphémère
Je la possède sans retour
Comme une rose printanière
Elle me sourit chaque jour.

2
Vraiment je suis par trop heureuse,
Je fais toujours ma volonté....
Pourrais-je n'être pas joyeuse
Et ne pas montrer ma gaîté ?...
Ma joie, c'est d'aimer la souffrance,
Je souris en versant des pleurs
J'accepte avec reconnaissance
Les épines mêlées aux fleurs.

3
Lorsque le Ciel bleu devient sombre
Et qu'il semble me délaisser,
Ma joie, c'est de rester dans l'ombre
De me cacher, de m'abaisser.
Ma joie, c'est la Volonté Sainte
De Jésus mon unique amour
Ainsi je vis sans nulle crainte
J'aime autant la nuit que le jour.

4
Ma joie, c'est de rester petite
Aussi quand je tombe en chemin
Je puis me relever bien vite
Et Jésus me prend par la main
Alors le comblant de caresses
Je Lui dis qu'il est tout pour moi
Et je redouble de tendresses
Lorsqu'il se dérobe à ma foi.

5
Si parfois je verse des larmes
Ma joie, c'est de les bien cacher
Oh ! que la souffrance a de charmes
Quand de fleurs on sait la voiler !
Je veux bien souffrir sans le dire
Pour que Jésus soit consolé
Ma joie, c'est de le voir sourire
Lorsque mon coeur est exilé

6
Ma joie, c'est de lutter sans cesse
Afin d'enfanter des élus.
C'est le coeur brûlant de tendresse
De souvent redire à Jésus :
" Pour toi, mon Divin petit Frère
" Je suis heureuse de souffrir
" Ma seule joie sur cette terre
" C'est de pouvoir te réjouir.

7
" Longtemps encor je veux bien vivre
" Seigneur, si c'est là ton désir
" Dans le Ciel je voudrais te suivre
" Si cela te faisait plaisir.
" L'amour, ce feu de la Patrie
" Ne cesse de me consumer
" Que me font la mort ou la vie ?
" Jésus, ma joie, c'est de t'aimer ! "

God is so gracious and good, so deserving of our unbroken attention. The truly Simple requires the truly single-hearted--we naturally desire to move to union with Him.

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Sadness of Christ-Redux

Continuing my reading in St. Thomas More's classic yielded this small gem:

from The Sorrows of Christ St. Thomas More And so among the other reasons why our Savior deigned to take upon Himself these feelings of human weakness, this one I have spoke of is not unworthy of consideration--I mean that having made Himself weak for the sake of the weak, He might take care of other weak men by means of His own weakness. He had their welfare so much at heart that this whole process of His agony seems designed for nothing more clearly than to lay down a fighting technique and a battle code for the fainthearted soldier who needs to be swept along, as it were, into martyrdom. (p. 17 of the Scepter Edition)

This is one of the first books I have ever read that addressed martyrdom in the real terms of human feelings, not in terms of some exotic ecstasy. St. Thomas More wisely points out that if God gives you the means to avoid martyrdom, by all means take it. If however, the mantle is thrust upon you, go with dignity and with the knowledge that Christ walked this road before you.

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Literature Teaches Everything

All of this talk reminded me of a story in Sherwood Anderson's Winesburg, Ohio (find an electronic version at Blackmask, listed in the side column). This excerpt comes from a story called "Hands." If you have not encountered the book before, it is highly recommended.

from "Hands" in Winesburg, Ohio Sherwood Anderson And yet that is but crudely stated. It needs the poet there. With the boys of his school, Adolph Myers had walked in the evening or had sat talking until dusk upon the schoolhouse steps lost in a kind of dream. Here and there went his hands, caressing the shoulders of the boys, playing about the tousled heads. As he talked his voice became soft and musical. There was a caress in that also. In a way the voice and the hands, the stroking of the shoulders and the touching of the hair were a part of the schoolmaster's effort to carry a dream into the young minds. By the caress that was in his fingers he expressed himself. He was one of those men in whom the force that creates life is diffused, not centralized. Under the caress of his hands doubt and disbelief went out of the minds of the boys and they began also to dream.

And then the tragedy. A half-witted boy of the school became enamored of the young master. In his bed at night he imagined unspeakable things and in the morning went forth to tell his dreams as facts. Strange, hideous accusations fell from his loosehung lips. Through the Pennsylvania town went a shiver. Hidden, shadowy doubts that had been in men's minds concerning Adolph Myers were galvanized into beliefs.

The tragedy did not linger. Trembling lads were jerked out of bed and questioned. "He put his arms about me," said one. "His fingers were always playing in my hair," said another.

One afternoon a man of the town, Henry Bradford, who kept a saloon, came to the schoolhouse door. Calling Adolph Myers into the school yard he began to beat him with his fists. As his hard knuckles beat down into the frightened face of the schoolmaster, his wrath became more and more terrible. Screaming with dismay, the children ran here and there like disturbed insects. "I'll teach you to put your hands on my boy, you beast," roared the saloon keeper, who, tired of beating the master, had begun to kick him about the yard.

What would a "zero-tolerance" policy make of tousling hair? Of any form of familiarity or comfort? Aren't Priests there, in part, to bring the comfort of Jesus Christ to the people? To paraphrase The Tempest, "These are such things as nightmares are made on, and our little world is rounded with a sleep." (Seems that incisive thinking has gone completely underground.)

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A Sonnet from Spenser

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A Sonnet from Spenser on Today's Themes

Edmund Spenser poet who composed The Faerie Queene, and for whom the Spenserian stanza is named composed a series of sonnets called Amoretti, from which sequence this is taken:

Amoretti LXVIII Edmund Spenser


Most glorious Lord of life, that on this day,
Didst make thy triumph over death and sin:
And having harrow'd hell, didst bring away
Captivity thence captive, us to win:
This joyous day, dear Lord, with joy begin,
And grant that we for whom thou diddest die,
Being with thy dear blood clean wash'd from sin,
May live for ever in felicity.
And that thy love we weighing worthily,
May likewise love thee for the same again:
And for thy sake, that all like dear didst buy,
With love may one another entertain.
So let us love, dear love, like as we ought,
Love is the lesson which the Lord us taught.

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A Lesser Doxology This

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A Lesser Doxology

This was a hymn we used to sing nearly every Sunday in the Baptist Church. I've heard it variously referrred to--"Old Hundredth," "The Lesser Doxology," etc. However, it is very short and very beautiful for today.

Praise God from whom all blessings flow,
Praise Him all creatures here below,
Praise Him above, ye heavenly host,
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.

I guess this is just a praising kind of day. I have been so fortunate in everything God has done for me. There have been great trials, and almost every trial has enabled me to help others. There have been periods of great consolation. I am thankful for it all today. I am even thankful that God has given me a sense of thankfulness. It is very hard to be an unhappy person if you are truly thankful. I don't pause often enough to thank God for all the blessings He bestows in the course of ordinary life. Praise Him!

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Thank God for a Voice

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Thank God for a Voice of Reason

This from Mark Shea's site in re Mr. Dreher's disappointment:

4. Arguments like Dreher's are very much a product of precisely the circumstance he criticizes: There is a lack of solid Christian formation. It seems that people who came into the Church (I don't know how Dreher did) through apologetics were totally unprepared for the current scandal. They believe because the Church is eminently believable; it makes sense intellectually. But when faced with sinful pastors, the intellect isn't enough to hold the faith together. Apologetics alone produces a weak faith. Catholic faith has to be based on love for a person, Christ, and trust in him and the knowledge that he is at the heart of the Church, which is his body. That requires prayer. When you know him you aren't as scandalized by some of the things that happen. You know that he is the Lord of the wheat and the tares (and this parable not only applies, it is in the Gospels in order to speak directly to today's situation as much as any other), the Lord who chose Peter and Judas, the Lord who made sinful men and not angels the ministers of his sacraments, the Lord whose ways we can't fathom. You believe with St. Catherine that his popes and bishops should be confronted privately, not publicly, you believe with St. Paul (and Christ in Revelations and JPII) that his erring churches need to be set straight through exhortation.
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Praise God in His

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Praise God in His Great Mercy

Please continue to pray for Kairos and his wife, but the news on that front is tentatively good. Praise God!

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More Light, Less Heat Quoted

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More Light, Less Heat

Quoted at Ad Orientem

The Pope Has Let Us Down

Rod Dreher writes in today's Wall Street Journal: Even if it has been possible to believe that John Paul had been ignorant of the rape of children, the worst of all scandals, that is obviously no longer the case. The situation of Catholics in Boston is enough to make one weep. Cardinal Bernard Law claims to have offered his resignation, only to have it refused. Rome allows him to remain in office, though his mendacity and corruption are there for all the world to see, and the credibility of the church in Boston is destroyed.

I am truly saddened to read things like this. (A reason I don't often comment on news). I am saddened not for John Paul and the Church, but for Mr. Dreher and his adherents.

And, what are we to make of this? Seems to me that it is an object lesson. If one of the most learned, greatest, and kindest Popes of recent years could indeed be so remiss in his duties, we shouldn't be surprised. Aren't we told that "All fall short of the Glory of God?" And more, aren't we told not to put our trust in Earthly Creatures, but in Heavenly ones? Perhaps this is God's way of reminding John Paul of his very human, broken nature.

If John Paul has let us down, and I'm not certain that I believe that, it is because we expected him to be more than a man. If one looks at the life of any Pope, any saint, one is likely to find episodes that are "disappointing." My question is, "Is this a proper topic of conversation, or is this simply spreading scandal?" If there has been a failure, shouldn't we be praying earnestly rather than spending all of our time blaming? If someone has fallen short of our expectations, are we so perfect that we can afford to point out the shortcomings?

This is the Pope who oversaw the destruction of Communist regimes in the west. This is the author of Veritatis Splendor and Evangelium Vitae. This Pope has been a powerful prophetic witness to the world, and now, more than ever, he needs our prayers and our love. Just as one would not throw out a family member no matter how grave the offense, it is time to stop hurling blame and pray the Church hierarchy back to health. Note: THE HIERARCHY, not the Church, because the Church is without blemish or fault, it is the Body of Christ and the Spouse of God. The Church is more than the hierarchy. Yes, we need to call people to account.

But please, where does invective, blame, ridicule, sarcasm, and spleen get us in this discussion? Prayer is the solution, not blame. Watchfulness and caution, not invective, are our chief weapons. God has given us this time of trial to see if we will turn to Him and trust Him. So far, we have trusted only flawed human judgments. Better to align ourselves with God in prayer and go the way He leads us.

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Joyce Carol Oates Joyce Carol

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Joyce Carol Oates

Joyce Carol Oates has to be one of the oddest, and most engaging, people in the literary world. I have read many of her novels with great interest, repugnance, revulsion, fascination. She is an example of someone to whom language means a great deal. I happened across this little snippet from an article about her new book.

Why, I ask, did Jonathan Franzen, author of The Corrections, refuse to have his book recommended by Oprah? "Well, he ultimately apologised to Oprah, but she wouldn't accept his apology because she was wounded in her pride." She pauses. "It was also a gender thing, because I think that Jonathan Franzen perceives the Oprah book readers as mainly women, and he would prefer a male readership." This softly delivered grenade hangs deliciously in the air for a second, then evaporates.

I love the way she very gently identifies some, not all, of Franzen's problem. I think Franzen himself probably served as the model for Chip in his book. At least his behavior much resembled what one might expect from Chip--eternally stranded in his own intellectual vanity, eternally adolescent, eternally irresponsible and unable to come to terms with it.

Anyway, in all of my encounters with Ms. Oates, she has been a true lady in manners and courtesy, and a truly intriguing speaker. Long may she write for us.

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Prayers for Kairos and Mrs.

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Prayers for Kairos and Mrs. Kairos

From his site:

We are waiting for some info from the doctors that could be good, bad, or really bad, so prayers for me and Mrs. K would be very much apreciated. Especially if you happen to be seeing this in advance of about 8 am Wednesday.

You got 'em buddy!

May the Lord God Almighty, who made Heaven and Earth and all the things of the Earth, be your comforter, your companion and your guide, and may your spirits "mount up on wings of eagles--run and not be weary, walk and not faint." May He open the rich treasures of His healing grace and His merciful love. And may the Mother of Love Incarnate stand at His side, constantly whispering your needs in His ear. May Mary, Queen of Contemplatives, and Mother of God, hear your cause and bring it to the throneroom of the King of Mercy. Amen.

Shalom Kairos and Mrs (Sally) Kairos. His peace be with you.

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Staying Home--Rejoicing

Feel dreadful beyond words today, so I'm staying home--sinuses or virus--who knows?

But even so I'm reminded that it is a beautiful morning to give God thanks for all of His mercies. His greatest reaches to the heavens and permeates all the Earth. He hears our prayers and answers them. He guards us as the apple of His eye and we are carved on the palm of His hand. His love is to be cherished more than all the riches of all the world.

Is there anything that does not respond to the loving call of God. Even those who do evil, do so as a misguided reaction to Him. There is nothing that He does not control.

I am put in mind of one of my favorite passages of scripture. A prayer to offer to God every morning from the Song of Songs, a reminder of His abiding concern and Love.

Song of Songs 8:6-7 6. Set me as a seal upon thine heart, as a seal upon thine arm, for love is strong as death, jealousy is cruel as the grave. The coals thereof are coals of fire, which hath a most vehement flame. 7. Many waters cannot quench love, neither can floods drown it. If a man would give all the substance of his house for love, it would be utterly contemned.

Here the soul speaks to Jesus Christ who tells it, "Set me as a seal upon your heart, a seal upon your arm." In other words, become the slave of Christ to obtain your freedom. We are all mercilessly bound to the world until we set Him as Lord over us. We know the love of which we speak because it comes with a fire of most vehement flame--the Holy Spirit, who works within us to help drive out all the works of darkness.

This is the Lord we have. This is the God we love. Everyday, we should rejoice in another day. Yes, there will be problems. Indeed, there will be strife. But God is near, breathing life into us, guiding our footsteps, bearing us up "lest we dash our foot against a stone." This is the God we hold as our own. This is the Lord who is our master, and it is cause for constant rejoicing.

So, for a moment today, move your mind away from scandals, hypocrisy, and sheer human cussedness. Take in the beauty of a fountain, a flower,, the sky, and revel in the presence of the God who loves you!

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Response to Dylan and

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Response to Dylan and the "Crisis"

This morning Dylan seems a mite more peeved than a beautiful morning normally warrants (This is the day the Lord has made, let us be glad and rejoice in it!). However, his causus belli seems just.

Am sick of the Law-bashing, & the Pope-bashing is a stretch. At the risk of being violently refuted: They're bishops, not cops or judges. [Addendum, whilst checking for errors: And they've helped thousands more than they've hurt.]

My extended response, not intending to give offense either to Dylan nor to the world at large:

This was the reason for my post on previous anti-Catholicism. You get to a certain point and an unabashed hysteria takes over. I am reminded of the events of the Salem Witch Hunt, and I am given to doubt that there will emerge a Samuel Sewall* to take responsibility for the ruined lives. I realize that it is a stretch, but all the points made in Dylan's post are true and clear. As I hear more and more stories I am reminded of the Maria Monks and the Sarah Richardsons of a previous time--our press is now on the hunt, the merest whiff of an impropriety, and we have a crime requiring the removal of good people. Yes, I concur, that there have been a great many things wrong. Yes, the priest who have done such things should long ago have been removed from office. But we are approaching hysteria. We get reports of convents of Nuns raping teen-age boys (by the way, this stuff goes way, way back to the Protestant reformation--it formed some of the pornography of the day.) Sheer, unabashed, irresponsible hysteria. Reporting should be done after the facts are established, otherwise it is merely gossip.

There can be no doubt that those accused of these heinous crimes should be called to account for them. Those who allowed it to happen repeatedly should be carefully reviewed for suitability for office AFTER they have developed some more sensible policy than the so-called Zero Tolerance, which in all likelihood may be victimizing people who never did anything criminal. It's very easy to make accusations. "Recovered" memories are always highly suspect. Don't get me wrong, there can be no question about some of these accusations. But for example the single accusation against Archbishop (Cardinal?) Pell, seems somewhat suspect to me.

As in all things, the best policy to take in these matters is prayer. In addition, parents who care about their children should not take hush money so that a criminal can continue his actions. I understand that part of the motive in the past may have been love of the church, but much of it seems like greed. This is very complex web of human fallenness, the only real solution to which is to pray constantly.

* On Samuel Sewall--At least reading this won't have been a complete waste if you didn't already know about Sewall.


The diary entries reveal little personal reservations or remorse concerning his own role in the conduct of the trials. In December 1696, however, Sewall wrote a proclamation for a day of fast and penance and reparation by the government for the sins of the witchcraft trials. Sewall publicly apologized for his role in the trials. Each year after 1697 Sewall set aside a day in which he fasted and prayed for forgiveness for his sins in the Salem trials.

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From a Lesser-Known Saint

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From a Lesser-Known Saint

This is a double whammy, containing as it does the profound wisom of St. Eucherius of Lyons in the most recent English translation, that of (yes, HIM again) Henry Vaughn. You can find the complete document here. Enjoy.


De Contemptu Mundi
St. Eucherius of Lyons

I shall therefore speak unto you, not the wisdom of this world, but that secret and hidden wisdom which God ordained befor the world unto our glory. I shall speak with much care and affection towards you, and with very little respect and animadversion of myself; for I have in this attempt considered more what I wish to see practised in you, than what I am able to do in myself.

The first duty of man ordained and brought forth into this world for that end, -- my most dear Valerian! -- is to know his creator, and being known, to confess Him, and to resign or give up his life -- which is the wonderful and peculiar gift of God, -- to the service and worship of the Giver; for what he received by God's free donation, may be employed in true devotion, and what was conferred upon him in the state of wrath and unworthiness, may by an obedient resignation make him precious and beloved. For of this saving opinion are we; that as it is most certain, that we came forth first from God, so should we believe it, and press on still towards Him: whereupon we shall conclude, that he only rightly and divinely apprehends the purpose of God in making man who understands it thus, that God Himself made us for Himself.

It is then our best course to bestow our greatest care upon the soul; so shall that which is the first and highest in dignity be not the lowest and last in consideration. Amongst us Christians, let that which is the first in order be the first cared for; let salvation, which is the chiefest profit, be our chiefest employment. Let the safeguard and the defense of this take up all our forces; let it be not only our chiefest, but our sole delight. As it surpasseth all other things in exellency, so let it in our care and consideration.

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A Response to Mr. Shea

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It is with some trepidation that I consider venturing into this nearly sacred area. I know how well Mr. Shea is liked, and indeed, I find his work enlightening and amusing, but occasionally a trifle harsh. This post is one that disturbed me.

Here's a bogus factoid from the article: "Sexual abstinence is nothing new, of course: it is prescribed for Muslims from sunrise to sunset during Ramadan, Roman Catholics during Lent and Orthodox Jews during a woman's menstrual period."

"Of course"? I missed the memo from the Vatican instructing all Catholics to abstain from sex during Lent. Or might it just be that the reporter is yet another ignoramus from the NY Times who heard something once in a college bull session and now repeats it as gospel. Maybe she mistook the movie "40 Days" for the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

Now, I do not claim to be an expert on Church history, nor on all the practices of the Church; however, it seems from all the medieval history I've read that abstinence during lent included abstinence from sex. It is a key theme in the Kristinlavransdatter series. Yes, I know it is medieval times, but I do not know whether the practice continued until the present day in remote areas or what Catholic teaching pre- and post-Vatican II may have been. However, I do wish to acknowledge that at one time this may have been common practice even it not church teaching.

The reporter certainly needs to update her records if she is reporting medieval cultural practice as modern church teaching, but I shy away from the language used to describe the reporter. Even if true, it is hardly charitable unless said directly to her face with the hope of correcting the dismaying trend observed by Mr. Shea. Didn't Jesus say something about calling thy Brother "Racha! Thou fool." I tend to take that admonition very seriously as I spend a goodly portion of each of my days being a fool, I don't know that I'd like to have it identified every time it happened. I haven't achieved that pinnacle of humility yet.

[Later note: The ever-courteous Mr. Shea stopped by and helped me to significantly improve the post above. He truly is an apologist and a gentleman. I mean that seriously, thank you, Mr. Shea.

Please visit and read Mr. Shea's very funny and very gracious revision of aforementioned post.]

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No You're Not Seeing Double

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No You're Not Seeing Double

Eventually the beatific face of St. Thérèse must slowly disappear down my column length, and then, eventually vanish into the archives. To forestall that hideous end, I have placed her in the side column a la T. S. O'Rama, thank for the idea!

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What's Your Order Via Mark,

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What's Your Order

Via Mark, at Ad Orientem. Okay, I admit it, the dates and wild rice got me in trouble and I to go back and unFranciscanize myself. But I was borderline. Close call either way. Besides, I had to have this great picture of St. Thérèse.



what's your order?

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Letter to Carmelites

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Letter to Carmelites

Courtesy of Jeff Miller over at Atheist to a Theist, we have this link to a letter by the Reverend Joseph Chalmers, Prior General of the Carmelite Order. (Note--If I have any readers from my region, I encourage you, very strongly to read the entire letter, but to pay special attention to pargraphs 37-58. Share it with your groups--discuss it.)

Here are some excerpts:

40. The main elements of the Carmelite charism are well known: prayer, fraternity and service. These three elements are bound together by contemplation. Above all, Carmelites are called to follow Jesus Christ and live the Gospel in daily life. In our following of Christ, we are inspired by two biblical figures: Our Lady and the Prophet Elijah. Every Carmelite, whether religious or lay, is called to live this charism. The way in which we put these elements together will differ according to our state in life. Lay people must live the Carmelite charism precisely as lay people. Jesus said that he was not asking the Father to take his friends out of the world but to protect them from the evil one (Jn 17,15). All Carmelites are in the world in some way but the vocation of lay people is precisely to transform the secular world.

48. Contemplation is what binds the other elements of the charism together. Like all members of the Carmelite Family, lay Carmelites are called to grow in their relationship with Christ until they become his intimate friends and as such will be a powerful transformative influence on the world. The traditional helps for the development of contemplation are often absent from our world, which is marked by frenetic activity. Therefore lay Carmelites must seek out times when they can lay aside the cares of daily life for a while and allow God to speak to their hearts in silence. Strengthened by this food, they can continue their journey and look at the world with new eyes. Contemplatives can see the presence of God in unlikely situations; God always precedes us and is present in every situation before we arrive. It is our duty to discover the presence of God in the midst of what is around us and proclaim this presence to our world.

50. In recent years as an Order, we have rediscovered Lectio Divina as a powerful way of prayer and indeed a way of life. Lectio Divina is the prayerful listening to the Word of God which, like all prayer, is intended to open us to contemplation. Our Lady is the model of one who listened to the Word of God. Clearly it is not sufficient merely to listen to the Word; Mary put it into practice and so must we (cf. Lk 8,21). In the traditional movement of Lectio Divina, there is a time for meditation on the Word that has been heard, and this pondering must lead to prayer which in turn leads to silence, a profound silence open to contemplation. St. John of the Cross wrote, "Seek in reading and you will find in meditation. Knock in prayer and it will be opened to you in contemplation." (Maxims & Counsels, 79).

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Blogging in the early morning is tough. It seems few bloggers have been active enough between the time I go to bed and the time I get up for me to comment on much of anything. Only Dylan at Error 503 seems to rise and blog before I do on a regular basis. Of course, that's good, because it is the one page on which I read every single word, and occasionally, words that are not there. This morning some excellent information on prose works by prominent poets. Dylan may eventually work his way around to convincing me that Dylan Thomas and e.e.cummings are actually work my time--he's made significant inroads (Moreover, I'm sure it's what he lives for.:-). Others I am significantly more dubious about. I'm afraid my taste in modern poetry is probably rather deplorable--I judge less well when it comes to modern times. My favorites are Roethke, Maxine Kumin, Linda Pastan, and Dana Gioia. I really like parts of Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton, but I have personal reservations about reading poets who spend so much of their time forecasting their own suicides. (Add John Berryman to that group). Dylan always gives me a chance to see something in a new light, and therefore proves a most delightful read. He seems to have read every major modern poet and a great many of those who have written in the past. If you don't read poetry (poor you!) you might want to skip over there right now and start your education. You'll find that when you don't have a fiercely autocratic teacher leaning over your shoulder asking you what it means, poetry can be a very enjoyable diversion.

Also, speaking of Dana Gioia, a must read for all people who have not already done so AND who are interested in the modern poetry world (note the boolean logic there) is Dana Gioia's remarkalbe excursion in criticism, "Can Poetry Matter?" Quite controversial in its time, I think much of what Gioia has to say is right on the mark. But perhaps Dylan would be so kind as to disabuse me of these prejudices as time continues.

Okay, now your turn--Aubade or Raga?

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Intro to More Apocryphal Gospels

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Intro to More Apocryphal Gospels

Mr. Betts at Just Your Average Catholic Guy, despite any protestations to the contrary is anything but what the title of his blog indicates. His continuing series on Apocryphal Gospels and other small delights of the "considered but rejected" books of the canon is delightful. Not nearly so delightful as the works themselves Thus after reading his new columns of the "Sayings Gospel of Thomas," I encourage interested reader to "hie thee to Early Christian Writings and seek out the works themselves.

As a side note, many of the texts at the site are the translation work of the remarkable ghost story writer and New Testament Scholar M. R. James. Knowing this, one can better understand the sensibility that informs Mr. James's very finest works--"The Mezzotint", (which it seems to me may have been the inspiration for a segment in the original Night Gallery movie, "Count Magnus", "'Oh, Whistle and I'll Come to You My Lad. . .'" , and the tense and remarkable little "Casting the Runes," subject of a Jacques Tourneur film (Curse of the Demon), which but for the end is quite effective, and an hommage by James Hynes in his book Tenure and Terror. All of which (and more) can be found at Blackmask.

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Apropos of the remarkable discussion Kairos started yesterday on humility:

At the risk of violating number 8 below, I use leave this as a checklist on my wall at work. I cheer when I have shown as few as nine of the seventeen in a day. This is from the remarkable writings of Josemaria Escriva, soon-to-be St. Josemaria.

Furrow Josemaria Escriva


263


Allow me to remind you that among other evident signs of a lack of humility are:

--Thinking that what you do or say is better than what others do or say;

--Always wanting to get your own way;

--Arguing when you are not right or --when you are -- insisting stubbornly or with bad manners;

--Giving your opinion without being asked for it, when charity does not demand you to do so;

--Despising the point of view of others;

--Not being aware that all the gifts and qualities you have are on loan;

--Not acknowledging that you are unworthy of all honour or esteem, even the ground you are treading on or the things you own;

--Mentioning yourself as an example in conversation;

--Speaking badly about yourself, so that they may form a good opinion of you, or contradict you;

--Making excuses when rebuked;

--Hiding some humiliating faults from your director, so that he may not lose the good opinion he has of you;

--Hearing praise with satisfaction, or being glad that others have spoken well of you;

--Being hurt that others are held in greater esteem than you;

--Refusing to carry out menial tasks;

—Seeking or wanting to be singled out;

--Letting drop words of self-praise in conversation, or words that might show your honesty, your wit or skill, your professional prestige ... ;

--Being ashamed of not having certain possessions ...

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For Chesterton Fans

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It may be that this is available elsewhere on the web, but this is the first full version I've come across of "Lepanto."

I must immediately say that usually I'm not overwhelmed by Chesterton's verse, mostly workmanlike stuff. But this piece is nice for those of us taught in American schools where we really haven't an inkling of some of the important things have have gone on in the world before our naissance. It also has some sumptuous imagery and works as narrative (often a very difficult trick to pull off in poetry).

from "Lepanto"
G. K. Chesterton

Mahound is in his paradise above the evening star,
(Don John of Austria is going to the war.)
He moves a mighty turban on the timeless houri's knees,
His turban that is woven of the sunsets and the seas.
He shakes the peacock gardens as he rises from his ease,
And he strides among the tree-tops and is taller than the trees;
And his voice through all the garden is a thunder sent to bring
Black Azrael and Ariel and Ammon on the wing.
Giants and the Genii,
Multiplex of wing and eye,
Whose strong obedience broke the sky
When Solomon was king.

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Meet the Press! As the

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Meet the Press!

As the Catholic scandal winds down and the stories become more and more bizarre (and to my mind, more than a bit questionable), I thought of this delightful little classic of anti-Catholicism. A must-read for those who have not yet had enough of the scandals. Read all about it.

from Life in the Grey Nunnery at Montreal by Sarah J. Richardson CHAPTER XVII. THE TORTURE ROOM.

I remember hearing a gentleman at the depot remark that the very enormity of the crimes committed by the Romanists, is their best protection. "For," said he, "some of their practices are so shockingly infamous they may not even be alluded to in the presence of the refined and the virtuous. And if the story of their guilt were told, who would believe the tale? Far easier would it be to call the whole a slanderous fabrication, than to believe that man can be so vile."

This consideration led me to doubt the propriety of attempting a description of what I saw in that room. But I have engaged to give a faithful narrative of what transpired in the nunnery; and shall I leave out a part because it is so strange and monstrous, that people will not believe it? No. I will tell, without the least exaggeration what I saw, heard, and experienced. People may not credit the story now, but a day will surely come when they will know that I speak the truth.

As I entered the room I was exceedingly shocked at the horrid spectacle that met my eye. I knew that fearful scenes were enacted in the subterranean cells, but I never imagined anything half so terrible as this. In various parts of the room I saw machines, and instruments of torture, and on some of them persons were confined who seemed to be suffering the most excruciating agony. I paused, utterly overcome with terror, and for a moment imagined that I was a witness to the torments, which, the priests say, are endured by the lost, in the world of woe. Was I to undergo such tortures, and which of those infernal engines would be applied to me? I was not long in doubt. The priest took hold of me and put me into a machine that held me fast, while my feet rested on a piece of iron which was gradually heated until both feet were blistered. I think I must have been there fifteen minutes, but perhaps the time seemed longer than it was. He then took me out, put some ointment on my feet and left me.

Read all about it! Slaves for life, imprisoned with the dead, tortured and humiliated, forced to pray unspeakable prayers and perform acts that force the sane mind to the brink of sanity!

from Chapter 4--A Slave for Life But I am wandering from my story. Would that I might forever wander from it--that I might at once blot from memory's page, the fearful recollection that must follow me to my grave! Yet, painful as it is to rehearse the past, if I can but awaken your sympathy for other sufferers, if I can but excite you to efforts for their deliverance, it is all I ask. I shall have my reward. But to return to my story.
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Treasures of the East One

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Treasures of the East

One of the great early hymnodists and poets of the Church was St. Ephraim of Syria. One source reports that Ephraim wrote up to 3,000,000 verses. This seems unlikely, but there is no question that he was a prodigious writer. Below is a fragment from the first of seven hymns that makes up a cycle called "The Pearl."



from The Pearl
St. Ephraim of Syria

On a certain day a pearl did I take up, my brethren;
I saw in it mysteries pertaining to the Kingdom;
Semblances and types of the Majesty;
It became a fountain, and I drank out of it mysteries of the Son.

I put it, my brethren, upon the palm of my hand,
That I might examine it:
I went to look at it on one side,
And it proved faces on all sides.
I found out that the Son was incomprehensible,
Since He is wholly Light.

In its brightness I beheld the Bright One Who cannot be clouded,
And in its pureness a great mystery,
Even the Body of Our Lord which is well-refined:
In its undivideness I saw the Truth
Which is undivided.

It was so that I saw there its pure conception,
The Church, and the Son within her.
The cloud was the likeness of her that bare Him,
And her type the heaven,
Since there shone forth from her His gracious Shining.

I saw therein his Trophies, and His victories, and His crowns.
I saw His helpful and overflowing graces,
And His hidden things with His revealed things.

What I love about this sequence is both its rich imagery and its intense association with "The Pearl of Great Price" mentioned by Jesus in the gospels. So, had we been the wise merchant, this is the pearl we would have sold everything for and purchased.

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The Dea(r)th of Good Prose

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Okay, here's my chance to give equal opportunity offense, but please stay with me through this, it may or may not have a point.

I belong to two reading groups--one catholic and one noncatholic. Our noncatholic group tends to read a lot of contemporary stuff along with a good mixture of older prose. Recently I've noticed a really depressing trend in literature. The books that the critics are touting as "great" "worth reading," and so on tend to a prose style that verges on the prose equivalent of McDonald's. To take two recent examples, Bel Canto, and The Lovely Bones.

Now understand, I am speaking only of the quality of the prose, not the characters, plot or characterization. But I have noticed that these two highly touted novels suffer from a surfeit of Hemingway (who single-handedly managed wreaked the greatest damage on prose since Thomas Peckett Prest [who at least had the benefit of being lurid]). The prose is flat, emotionless, and uninteresting. I'm not giving anything away when I tell you that The Lovely Bones begins in heaven with a dead 14 year old girl. Would that she had learned something in school about what makes narrator's voices interesting! Would that she had not fallen into the pit of countless repetitive and dull sentences.

On the other hand Bel Canto is. . . dull. The prose does nothing interesting. Perhaps the story line dictates this. But I think it's another abominable critical trend. I look at Ha Jin's Waiting (I read it almost a year ago and I am still waiting). Not only is the prose flat, something that is probably forgivable in someone who is writing in language not his own, but the story is interminable. When i was finished with it, I was certain that I had been through War and Peace at least twice.

None of these writers has the sheer prose sparkle of a John Updike or a Tom Wolfe. As much as I found Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections pretentious, and the antics around its publication deplorable, the prose was at least supple. The author took chances with language, sometimes succeeding, sometimes failing, but at least playing and trying things out--stretching the limits of what can be done in a novel intended for the mainstream.

You know you're in a bad prose situation when translations are presenting some of the very best English. The books of Perez-Reverte and the abominably post-modernist predeconstructed Corelli's Mandolin both sport prose that sings--it is lush and evocative, carrying the reader on the wave of language.

Yes, I know, most people want this quality in their poetry, but would prefer prose straight forward. Don't get me wrong, I'm not asking for the new Henry James producing sentences of such length and tortured convolution they require five or six readings just to make sense of them. But I would like more writers like Franzen, Updike, Wolfe, and, if she could ever get past her anti-American political agenda, Barbara Kingsolver. As unlikable as V. S. Naipaul may be as a person, A Bend in the River is remarkable, supple, and evocative prose.

I realize that I have committed the cardinal sin of simply espousing opinion without any real proof; however, the proof is in the books themselves. All of these books are worth reading and worth a careful reader's attention. But then compare them to the careful, ringing, and lovely prose of a Mariette in Ecstasy. Most of our novelists have eschewed true cultivation of language for the telling of story. The two need not be mutually contradictory, as centuries of writings prior to the present day show. Moreover, one breath of F. Scott Fitzgerald or Flannery O'Connor would show that vibrancy of prose had survived the transition to the 20th century.

Prose need not be dull, wooden, gray, or emotionless to tell a story. I'm afraid some of our very best story-tellers have not yet happened on to this fact.

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Combating Inequality Joshua at

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Combating Inequality

Joshua at Little Latin, Less Greek asks the following cogent question:

To what extent is it the Church’s responsibility to combat inequality? How much of this part of fallen nature should we accept? Responses—I don’t expect answers or solutions necessarily—welcome in comment box below or by e-mail.

To which I reply: "What for of 'inequality' do we refer to?" Human beings are simply not equal in all aspects of their lives and to pretend otherwise is to cultivate a deliberate ignorance in the name of a certain brand of political correctness. All human beings are equal in dignity before the eyes of God and therefore ultimately "equal," and deserving of exactly the same treatment accorded to anyone else. However, an artist is not a scientist, is not an editor, is not a home-maker, is not a (professional) thief (most of the time), etc. etc.

It is the Church's responsibility and mission to speak out loudly and boldly regarding the innate dignity of each person. Because each person is an image of Christ to do otherwise is to compromise the mission of bringing the message of Jesus to the world. The Church, and the members thereof, is required by faithfulness to its mission to constantly alert the world to the dignity and oppression of the poor, to the value and importance of respecting life, to the sins of bigotry and discrimination, and to speak out against all crimes against humanity.

The Church has the right and responsibility to expect that every person would receive a wage sufficient to support him- or herself and all dependents. What the Church should not (and to the best of my knowledge does not) do is demand that all such compensations be exactly equal. Nor does she (nor should she) claim that all trades, employments, careers, jobs, and avocations are exactly equal. Very rightly, she considers the calling to a religious life a special and highly exalted calling from God himself to an individual. She deplores occupations that cause or inculcate or accede to oppression or destruction of individual liberties or lives (that is, she isn't keen on slave overlords, pimps, murderers, thieves, and other sundry avocations). She does not say that all talents are equally worthwhile (nor did Jesus, for that matter.)

The Church is one of the main voices for equality in all things that really matter--the innate dignity of a human being and the essentially equality of all people as images of Jesus Christ. She should not be a voice for equality in incommensurable qualities, nor for equality in defiance of reason. While she would maintain that all people have a right to and education, I do not believe that she would go further to say that all can or should obtain doctorates. These are qualities and talents that contribute to the remarkable diversity of the world, but they are not essential to every person, nor do they alter the intrinsic worth of the person.

Another example, while the Church might maintain that all people are entitle to liberty and respect; she would not go so far as to insist that multiple murderers or those who menace society in overt ways should be allowed to roam free.

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Sources of The Sadness of

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Sources of The Sadness of Christ

The Sadness of Christ is the title of the last book written by St. Thomas More as he awaited execution in the tower. One of the central theses he proposes in the book is that we have a choice of how we follow Christ. We can either choose to be like the apostles who fell asleep or like Judas who stayed awake and plotted. He encourages us to be like the former, only to stay awake as well. One of the points he makes is that we do not spend out time well. We are not only idle and lazy, but often we are downright vicious.

from The Sadness of Christ St. Thomas More

Alas, how different we are from Christ, though we call ourselves Christians: our conversation during meals is not only meaningless and inconsequential (and even for such negligence Christ warned us that we will have to render an accounting), but often our table-talk is also vicious; and then finally, when we are bloated with food and drink, we leave the table without giving thanks to God for the banquets He has bestowed upon us, with never a thought for the gratitude we owe Him. (p. 1)

Certainly More is talking about our ordinary eating, but how much more so might he be referring to how unworthily we receive the Eucharist? How many sit in the pews, minds wandering all over the place, while our Lord is unveiled on the altar? How many think to give thanks and praise after receiving the Eucharist. I'm sure all the regular readers of this page do so; however, you all know people who probably do not. What is to be done? Pray.

Prayer is the answer to all ills, but most especially for this one. Pray that the Church gets back on track and forcefully teaches and acts out its belief that the consecrated elements are indeed the body and blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ. Ask God to reveal Himself to any who seem to show no respect for what has just gone before. Above all, remember to thank and give holy supplication to the Lord who has deigned to be with us in such an intimate and personal way.

The Eucharist is the great banquet to which we are all invited. None of us is worthy, but it is perhaps better not to make a show of our unworthiness.

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Mary's Place in the Church,

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Mary's Place in the Church, Mary's Place in Our Hearts

Sean at Swimming the Tiber, is having a couple of qualms about devotion to our Lady.

My feelings about Marian devotion are usually somewhere between uneasy acceptance and vague discomfort. I have come to believe in, and am genuinely excited by, the communion of saints. And, if I feel perfectly comfortable asking a saint for intercession on an issue, you wouldn't think I would have any problem asking Mary. Yet the whole thing completely 'weirds me out'. I have a Rosary, but I usually can't get more than one 'decade' into it before I give up out of a sense of foolishness or futility. Sometimes both.

Here is my response to the difficulties he expresses (with the advantage of having been proofread so that it actually makes sense):

I sometimes wonder if the Blessed Mother isn't everyone's favorite obstacle. And in fact, it isn't usually the blessed mother herself, but the occasionally misplaced devotion that would have you believe that some in the Church think that Mary is the Author of our Salvation.

I started where you are, or perhaps a good deal further back. (I was Southern Baptist to the core, except by the precepts of my own faith I had no choice but to become Catholic, as no one else interpreted John 6 properly. Why was everything else taken literally, and then suddenly when you get to this one chapter it was figurative language?) Anyway, I started with absolute zero devotion to Mary. I saw rosaries as one step away from voodoo dolls. But despite myself, I said to God, "Where you go, I will follow." I asked Him to change my heart and to show me what was proper and true with respect to devotion to Mary.

God responded gently, as He always does. It took probably ten or fifteen years, but now I am a member of the Carmelite Order whose patron is (you guessed it) Our Lady of Mount Carmel. I still have problems with some of the overstatements and exaggerations that occasionally surround the Blessed Virgin. But then I think about my own earthly mother and the things I am inclined to say about her and some of my irritability and uncertainty passes.

Don't sweat this. Simply be open to the movement of the Holy Spirit, and God will lead you where you need to go. Saying a Rosary is not necessary for salvation (although you may eventually discover that it really helps to make you aware of that precious-bought gift). Devotion to Mary is not a requirement, it is a wonderful present. If you're not ready to open it at this moment, leave it in God's hands--He'll lead you where you need to go, and He is trustworthy.

All of that said, I must say that having a heart for Mary is one of the greatest gifts God can give you.

Marian devotions are a treasury of rich meditative resources that always draw us closer to God. Mary always points to her son Jesus. Look at all the great Icons of Mary and you'll see that she is rarely, if ever, without Jesus. Sometimes she is comforting Him, sometimes proudly pointing Him out, but it is almost as though she is in the picture frame reluctantly--"Not me, Him."

Devotion to the Blessed Mother can only bring us closer to Jesus, and respect for the Blessed Mother can only endear us to Jesus. How many among us, if someone were to tell us what a great person our mother is, wouldn't feel some elevated approval or liking for that individual? So, too, with Jesus, particularly as she was one of His dying gifts to us from the Cross. He gave us His mother to care for us, pray for us, console us, and cry over us in the same way she did for Him.

Having a heart for Mary does not mean loving Jesus less, if anything, it means loving Him more. Because we are more integrated into His family, we grow into being inseparable from Him and His Blessed Mother.

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St. Thérèse on Prayer

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St. Thérèse on Prayer

From Story of a Soul reprinted in the "Magnificat" as the meditation for the day.

St. Thérèse of Lisieux--Story of a Soul

How great is the power of prayer. One could call it a queen who has at each instant free access to the king who is able to obtain whatever she asks. To be heard it is not necessary to read from a book some beautiful formula composed for the occasion. If this were the case, alas, I would have to be pitied! Outside the Divine Office which I am unworthy to recite, I do not have the courage to force myself to search out beautiful prayers in books. There are so many of the them it really gives me a headache! and each prayer is more beautiful that the others. I cannot recite them all and not knowing which to choose, I do like children who do not know how to read, I say very simply to God what I wish to say, without composing beautiful sentences, and he always understands me. For me, prayer is an aspiration of the heart, it is a simple glance directed to heaven, it is a cry of gratitude and love in the midst of trial as well as joy; finally it is something great, supernatural, which expands my soul and unites me to Jesus.

Ultimately prayer is not about petitions, although certainly those are good prayers, it is about being with God. It is "an aspiration of the heart." Such an aspiration is usually wordless--a glance directed heavenward has no syllables; you cannot say how you feel when you feel in love except to note that it is love.There are no words to describe the true changes, the turns the heart makes, when one loves. An aspiration of the heart is flung, wordless to heaven, and received there by the most receptive of Lovers, the kindest of Kings, who recognizing the value and importance of each of these gaudy baubles deigns to answer them with Love incarnate--Jesus Christ, sufficient for all needs.

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The Moral Lessons of Baby Jane

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Sometimes cinema gets it right--more often in the past than in the present. I was writing this morning and Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? happened to be the television. Whatever you may think of the movie, it is a powerful demonstration, in miniature, of what happens when we are determined to have our own way in things.

Every major character in this movie is manipulative. They push and attempt to control each other. Baby Jane has complete control over her sister Blanche who has manipulated the accident that confined her in a wheel chair--an attempt gone wrong to murder or injure Baby Jane, whose youthful success destroyed Blanche's childhood. Disagreement builds on disagreement, resentment on resentment. "Build on" is the wrong verb. "Erodes the foundation" is probably better.

The entire house of humanity is built on such sand--bitterness, resentment, revenge. We hold petty grudges and we allow them to simmer long enough to become obsessions and hallmarks of our lives. If we drop our masks of civility for a moment, we could not look in the mirror for the horrors we are.

Jesus Christ is the one way to root out these evils. There is no other way. We have the choice of lives that devolve into progressively more vile schemes of vengence and "getting mine back," or ascending with Jesus Christ as our help and mainstay. Most of us choose a path that alternates between these two strains--but how much better off we would be if we could clear our eyes and minds for just a moment and see where the one path leads. How much better if we would sense our own frustrations, aggravations, hurts, and pains, and give them over to our yoke-mate, the great Burden-bearer. Jesus died so that we would not have to carry these weights and so that others would not have to suffer because we were crushed to the ground under them. Wouldn't it be best if we would let Him do what He came to do, so that we would be free to be human?

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Other Important Trifles

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Other Important Trifles

In case you couldn't tell by now I truly love books, literature, poetry, prose, reading. As a child I was the one who read the cereal boxes and whatever else didn't move fast enough. Thus, this prayer:

Bibliomaniac's Prayer
Eugene Field

Keep me, I pray, in wisdom's way
That I may truths eternal seek;
I need protecting care to-day,--
My purse is light, my flesh is weak.
So banish from my erring heart
All baleful appetites and hints
Of Satan's fascinating art,
Of first editions, and of prints.
Direct me in some godly walk
Which leads away from bookish strife,
That I with pious deed and talk
May extra-illustrate my life.

But if, O Lord, it pleaseth Thee
To keep me in temptation's way,
I humbly ask that I may be
Most notably beset to-day;
Let my temptation be a book,
Which I shall purchase, hold, and keep,
Whereon when other men shall look,
They 'll wail to know I got it cheap.
Oh, let it such a volume be
As in rare copperplates abounds,
Large paper, clean, and fair to see,
Uncut, unique, unknown to Lowndes.

Okay, not great poetry--but, certainly apropos. Oh, and the Lowndes, referred to in the last line in a famous bibliographer just prior to Field's time. Eugene Field is most famous for a couple of pieces of poetry often associated with children: "Wynken, Blynken, and Nod," and "Little Boy Blue," both unabashedly sentimental--the popular poetry of a prior era.

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The Journal of John Woolman

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Among the great classics of religious literature is this remarkable, slim volume. Written by a prerevolutionary Quaker, it is the story of a man who felt drawn to give up nearly all of his material goods in order to follow God. It is also a kind of window into a discussion that was very prominent in the founding of our republic--the evils of slavery. This excerpt comes from the record of a journey undertaken in 1746.

Excerpt from Woolman's Journal Two things were remarkable to me in this journey: first, in regard to my entertainment. When I ate, drank, and lodged free-cost with people who lived in ease on the hard labour of their slaves, I felt uneasy; and as my mind was inward to the Lord, I found this uneasiness return upon me, at times, through the whole visit. Where the masters bore a good share of the burden, and lived frugally, so that their servants were well provided for, and their labour moderate, I felt more easy; but where they lived in a costly way, and laid heavy burdens on their slaves, my exercise was often great, and I frequently had conversation with them in private concerning it. Secondly, this trade of importing slaves from their native country being much encouraged amongst them, and the white people and their children so generally living without much labour, was frequently the subject of my serious thoughts. I saw in these southern provinces so many vices and corruptions, increased by this trade and this way of life, that it appeared to me as a dark gloominess hanging over the land; and though now many willingly run into it, yet in future the consequence will be grievous to posterity. I express it as it hath appeared to me, not once nor twice, but as a matter fixed on my mind.

Joseph Ellis, in Founding Brothers, chronicles further evidence of this underlying opposition. The chapter entitled "The Silence" talks about a very early move toward abolition, proposed, once again by Quakers, in the 1790s.

True humility, true Christianity, means an uncompromising grappling with the present and obvious evils of this world. It means a deep self-knowledge that helps to understand that the evils we see around us are often exacerbated by our own actions. It also means taking definitive action, no matter how small, to help right some of these wrongs.

But true Christianity stems from a relationship with God. Such a relationship starts in prayer, continues in prayer, grows in prayer, and ultimately ends in prayer. And prayer itself grows, it grows from an endless listing of our needs and wants, into a meditative, voiceless prayer, and finally into a prayer of waiting on the Lord.

Too often, we do not pursue this track of growth. Too often, the riches of prayer are left unexplored. Too often our sense of God is confined to a place or event. Too often we deprive ourselves of the sense that God is everywhere and in everything. Too often, it seems, we are afraid to grow. We need to find our security and stability by holding onto the goods of this world. In so doing we limit our progress in prayer. St. Ignatius said (I paraphrase) that we should use the goods of this world insofar as they move us toward God. Once such goods begin to inhibit our progress, we need to cast them off.

John Woolman is an example of a non-Catholic Christian who followed this ancient, well-established path to closeness with God. If more of us did the same here and now we could change the world in prayer. We could serve as beautiful beacons of light and true receptacles of the Holy Spirit.

Prayer is God's perfect gift of communication. He is always listening, always ready to hear from His children. He is always eager to hear from us and to send us many gifts of His love.

As the saints are our models in living, they are also our models in prayer. When we imitate their exterior actions without interior preparation, we may do good works, but we do not do perfect works. And perfect works are what God is after. Our growth in perfection is the life of the world in God. It is our contribution to making the kingdom of heaven present on Earth. This closeness to God is a gift open to all of God's people here on Earth. Not all achieve it in the same way or to the same degree; but, it is in achieving it that we in some small way fulfill Christ's commission to us to go and spread the gospel to all the world. The only way to spread the gospel is in Union with God and in perfect love for all the people around us. God doesn't expect perfection overnight, but He does expect that we would work toward this perfection. As an ardent Lover, God expects that we would delight in returning the myriad gentle signs of His love.

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The Next Thing in Graduate

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The Next Thing in Graduate Work

And now, on the very serious, theoretical side, from Cacciaguida an extraordinarily important report on current graduate work. A must-read for all gradutate students in the literary fields.

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Book Reviews The Rosary

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Book Reviews
The Rosary of Our Lady and Goodbye, Good Men

Just finished two books, one a magnificent meditation on the Rosary, the other an occasionally illuminating, largely tedious exposition of the "way things are."

Romano Guardini's The Rosary of Our Lady is a two-fold book. The first portion provides an excellent defense of and argument for the praying of the Rosary. Some time back a bit of fuss was stirred over some who said that they found the Rosary difficult. I stand by it, but that does not mean that it should not be prayed. In fact, the harder and less pleasing it may be to me, the more valuable it may be to God. Guardini examines the nature and the purpose of the Rosary, comparing it to other forms of prayer, and not glossing over the perceived difficulties.

The second half of the book serves as a deep meditation on the mysteries of the Rosary, laying bare some wonderful revelations hidden within the lives of Jesus and Mary. If you already pray the Rosary, these will help to build up your reflections. If you have not started, these help you to understand some of the kinds of reflection/meditation that should be occurring as you pray.

Michael Rose's book, while timely and probably necessary as an exposition of present troubles, seems to be somewhat over-the-top. After about three chapters, I had gotten the gist of the argument. The layering of anecdotal accounts really didn't add substance to the argument and occasionally served to make the narrative sound whiny. Some of the complaints lodged began to seem trivial, which was unfair to the people who had experienced these trials.

I believe that the shorter discussions available on the Ignatius Press site and elsewhere managed to make the same point in less space, probably with greater impact. This meditation on the crisis is useful only if you really want to wallow in the detail and justify your already justifiable outrage. I can't recommend it very enthusiastically. But then, I don't often read things of this sort as they tend to depress me and make me think the world is a hopeless place. And, as we all know, THAT thought is simply a lie.

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Review of Cultural Relativism

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The Times (of London) Literary Supplement (don't know how long the link will survive) gives us an impressive review of a book that looks into some of the more appalling crimes of cultural relativism.

Sandall focuses on the worst aspects of cultural relativism, in particular its non-relativist use of sentimentalized assessments of primitive cultures as a stick with which to beat civilization. He begins with a cameo: Lauren Hutton, the actress and ex-model, forcing her two young sons to watch red-robed Masai warriors drinking warm blood from the carcass of a slaughtered cow. Their reaction -- tears in contrast to her own delighted yelps of "wow" -- disappointed her. Perhaps, Sandall wonders, they understood better than she did the necessary violence of the warrior life behind the tourist-anthropology cabaret. As the mother of two boys, one might have expected her to reflect on the appalling initiation ceremonies to which warrior societies sometimes subject young males. In some highland Papua New Guinea societies, boys "were beaten with stinging nettles. . ."[read the remainder of this passage on the site, if interested]

The initiation rituals undergone by Papuan boys are somewhat at odds with the "communal basket-weaving, accompanied by traditional dance and song", that, Sandall argues, dominates the image of indigenous cultures in the minds of "boutique" multiculturalists. Multiculturalist thinking tends to exaggerate the place of art in past communities. Writers enchanted by Aztec art, architecture and poetry often ignore the unspeakable despotism of this warrior and priest-ridden society and their continual wars, waged in pursuit of the 20,000 prisoners needed annually for purposes of human sacrifice. For their neighbours, the arrival of the conquistadors was liberating.

Now, while I cannot but agree with the major assessment, I do have to caution that not all agrarian societies are brutal, awful, or have rituals such as those described. To assume that technological societies are a priori better for being technological is one of my pet peeves. As an example look at the Amish who eschew much of modern technology.

On the flip side, it is equally wrong to assume that an agrarian culture is "close to nature" and more "respectful" or "in-tune" with the environment. In point of fact all cultures have their problems, and on the whole the standard of life within a techonological soceity tends to be better. (I wouldn't argue that this is the way it must be--I suppose I have a romantic notion that would argue we can have the best of both worlds with a bit of work--but that may not be realistic; moreover, it is certainly not the present reality in any culture I'm aware of.)

But more to the point, in the example sited above, the Masai ritual may be unjustly maligned (I haven't seen it). The real problem with the scenario is exposing two young children who have not been exposed to the realities of where their own food comes from to something that is this graphic. I don't know that drinking the blood of a slaughtered cow is necessarily any worse than what happens in modern abattoirs to prepare food for our own tables. The difficulty is some parents appear not to have a clue about what to expose children to.

Okay, all my caveats aside, we must be willing to say straight out that atrocities cannot be justified by cultural differences. Girls who die as a result of "female circumcision," the phenomenon of the "reste-avec" and the child slaves typified by the tragedy of Victoria Climbié and others in Great Britain and elsewhere, and any other atrocity you can think of needs to be identified as an atrocity and not argued into nonexistence by cultural relativism. Likewise, those things that enrich the treasury of humanity through their exemplary exposition of all the good that is possible should be acknowledged as well. For example, communal care of children in many societies, is, in fact, often a good thing.

Not being an ethnologist, I am not in the place to make sweeping comments regarding any societal practices, but I do think we tend either to sweepingly condemn cultures for some of these kinds of things or to discretely sweep real atrocities under the carpet in the name of solidarity.

The best solution to all of these extremes is to love the people who make up a society, to see within them the image of Jesus Christ. If we focus on a person rather than on some of the less savory aspects of the culture from which the person derives, we will be far better off. If we were to be completely objective, there are undoubtedly a great many things about our own culture that would appear both barbaric and appalling. Fortunately, we are called simply to be brothers and sister to one another in Jesus Christ, our Brother, our Head, and our Lord.

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A Link to the Carmelite

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A Link to the Carmelite Saints

Thanks to Bill at Summa Minutiae for this really fine link to information about Carmelite Saints (which I shall add to my Noteworthy Sites list). In addition, it comes from the Irish province, and that in itself has a great deal to recommend it!

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A Commentary on the Crises?

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A Commentary on the Crises?

In the wandering labyrinth of my reading, I happened upon this comment:

Doesn't this contrast between the traitor and the apostle present to us a clear and mirror image. . .a sad and terrible view of what has happened through the ages from those times even to our own? Why don't bishops contemplate in this scene their own somnolence? Since they have succeeded in the place of the apostles, would that they would reproduce their virtues as eagerly as they embrace their authority and as faithfully as they display their sloth and sleepiness! For very many are sleepy and apathetic in sowing virtues among the people and maintaining the truth, while the enemies of Christ, in order to sow vices and uproot the faith..., are wide awake....(p. 46)

So, you've already figured out it isn't contemporary (although it certainly could be), but do you have any idea how old it is? It is a quote from St. Thomas More's last work, written in the tower as he was awaiting execution--The Sadness of Christ.

There was as well another quote that addresses an issue of "Low Mass" and "Low Prayer" as discussed elsewhere in blogdom.

For if we do this carefully [contemplate Christ prostrate in prayer] a ray of light which enlightens every man whom comes into the world will illuminate our minds so that we will see, recognize, deplore, and will at long last correct, I will not say the negligence, sloth, or apathy, but rather the feeblemindedness, the insanity, the downright blockheaded stupidity with which most of us approach the all-powerful God, and instead of praying reverently, address Him in a lazy and sleepy sort of way; and by the same token I am very much afraid that instead of placating Him and gaining His favor we exasperate Him and sharply provoke His wrath.(p. 18-19)

I might subtitle that little ditty: "To those who can't seem to pray the Mass as it is written." From "Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier," to the sharp little embolisms thrown into the Eucharistic prayer, there seems to be no end of the ways in which many choose not to do the mass as it has been approved.

And how many of us in the congregation are nearly half-wits in our preparation and participation? I'm not talking about those who have the additional burden (as do I) of trying to corral and quiet a rambunctious (but well-meaning) four-year old. I'm talking about men in cut-off shorts, women in halter tops, children who should know better playing gameboys, cell-phones and beepers that have not been turned off--any number of ways we show a lack of courtesy not only to God (offensive enough) but to His other beloved children (compounding the offense by distracting those who would be faithful).

I can't recommend this little book highly enough. St. Thomas More is one of my very favorite Saints, a tremendous example as lawyer, statesman, father, husband, and man. This is a modernized and updated version (not usually something of which I approve, but I haven't got several hundred dollars for the Yale volumes) which makes it very accessible to those with no toleration for reading sixteenth century English. If you don't know about St. Thomas More, or need a refresher, watch the remarkable Man for All Seasons to learn about "The King's good servant but God's first."

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The Question of the Dormition

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The Question of the Dormition

John, at Disputations has a well-reasoned and thoughtful post on the question of whether or not Mary died before her assumption into heaven. Myself, I have not real preference for how one views the events. However, I do take exception to my reading (perhaps misreading) of the quote below.

The arguments against Mary's death are, as I understand them, based on a certain way of understanding her Immaculate Conception, which in turn is based on a certain way of understanding Original Sin. There is a chain of reasoning that leads to the conclusion that Mary's death is unreasonable; if Mary did in fact die -- as centuries of undisputed tradition hold, as all but a handful have always held -- then there is something wrong earlier in the chain, something wrong in the reasoning about the Immaculate Conception or about Original Sin. These errors may well be leading to other false conclusions on matters unrelated to the Assumption; they may also interfere with ecumenical efforts by the Roman Catholic Church to reach out to both the Orthodox and Protestants.

If I were to frame an argument regarding Mary's Assumption, it would have nothing whatsoever to do with any of the above. It would simply take the form of, "If God could choose to do this for His friends (Elijah and Enoch), surely He could do so for His own mother." This has no reflection on the immaculate conception, says nothing whatsoever about original sin. So arguments against the Blessed Mother's death do not have to be framed in those terms, they can be framed in terms of God's Will, without speculating on why He might choose to release His mother from the pangs of death.

On a different point has anyone ever noticed that the woman assumed into heaven is always about 25 years old. At the time of Jesus's death Mary was at least 47, perhaps as old as 49. Tradition has it that she went with John in his exile to Patmos, she must have been 60, 70, or 80 when she died, so why is this youthful virgin seen borne up by angels? Perhaps another good argument for her death and return in the glorified body which is assumed into heaven. But entirely peripheral and speculative. Thanks, John for the great post.

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Favorite Spiritual Books, Part I--Story of a Soul

Who knows how many parts, but I thought I would go somewhat more slowly through the spiritual books because it would serve to remind me why I liked the ones I did and why I would return to them. These are in no order other than the one that happens to come to mind. (Oops! only had time for one this time--sorry!)

First is Story of a Soul by St. Therese of Lisieux. I have read this now two or three times, bits and pieces much more than the entire thing. For a very long time I found that I had no liking for St. Therese of Lisieux. The spirituality that seemed to surround her was little short of voodoo or witchcraft. "If I make my novena to St. Therese, and my prayer is answered, I will get flowers (particularly roses) as a sign." I found this very much like sympathetic magic. These same followers would say in swooning terms, "Oh, the Little Flower. Oh, she is so beautiful." Frankly, it was enough leftover Victorian Piety to choke the most rational of people (and I don't claim to be among that group.) I attributed the sins of the followers to something about Therese herself.

I could not possibly have been more wrong. As this book reveals, the "little flower" was, in fact, a Mighty Oak. There is no doubt that the excesses of piety that marked her age also mark her prose. Some translations are more marred by it than others--thus my recommendation of John Clarke's translation, or reading the original French, if that is an option. After one pulls aside the dulling veil of flowers, candies, four year olds pretending to be saints, and other such excrescences, one discovers a deep humor and beauty of a soul nearly always in turmoil and pain. And beyond all of that one sees the truly luminous spirituality of a person who at the tender age of 24 had achieved Union with God and attempted to articulate how to get there for the benefit of those who surrounded her. If you have limited time, read Ms. B and C, (chapters 9-11 of the Clarke translation). These were written after Therese knew of her illness, and the last two during the last months of her life when she was wracked with the horrendous pain of the tuberculosis attacking her digestive system and other body systems. There is a luminous, knowing, and deep spirituality here. There is the evidence of a long "dark night" during which Therese was tempted to despair and to doubt God's existence. But her faith ultimately triumphed, and she became, with Francis Xavier, one of the Patrons of the Missions.

Read in the proper frame of mind, preferably as part of a devout study group, or with others intent on the practice of Theresian spirituality, this book can alter your life and your prayer life in ways that you cannot even begin to imagine. Therese of Lisieux has a tremendous amount to teach us, and until I started to tap the riches of this fine volume, I had wondered at the wisdom of making her a Doctor of the Church. Only now am I beginning to plumb the depths of her teaching, and I am grateful to God for such a teacher.

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The Ever-Present Problems of Doubt

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We've talked in various blogs a good deal about doubt. I thought I would present a classic example of what doubt really looks like when spilled out upon a page. In this case it is a brief, beautiful, and classic poem by Matthew Arnold--his best know poetic work.

Dover Beach
Matthew Arnold

The sea is calm to-night.
The tide is full, the moon lies fair
Upon the straits;--on the French coast the light
Gleams and is gone; the cliffs of England stand,
Glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay.
Come to the window, sweet is the night-air!
Only, from the long line of spray
Where the sea meets the moon-blanch'd land,
Listen! you hear the grating roar
Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling,
At their return, up the high strand,
Begin, and cease, and then again begin,
With tremulous cadence slow, and bring
The eternal note of sadness in.

Sophocles long ago
Heard it on the Ægean, and it brought
Into his mind the turbid ebb and flow
Of human misery; we
Find also in the sound a thought,
Hearing it by this distant northern sea.

The Sea of Faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth's shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furl'd.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
Retreating, to the breath
Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world.

Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.

The rhyme scheme is irregular, erratic, deliberately so. It becomes disoriented and chaotic like the shifting sea and the emotions and thoughts of the speaker. The whole poem is constructed to artfully represent the chaos of all of these thoughts. "The Sea of Faith," once full now withdraws from the world with a melancholy roar. There is no blanket, no shield of protection. What we are left with is the solace of other people(and we all know how fragile that is)--"Ah love let us be true. . . for the world [and by extension God] Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,/ Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain. . ." Yes, the world is a fallen place and there is nothing certain or trustworthy in it, and it is made an even more uncertain place when the soothing blanket of faith is removed and we face the prospects of this place without the loving presence of God.

Here is doubt. Beautifully portrayed, wonderfully dissected and represented, but it shows doubt clearly and without question. If one were to say to me that Matthew Arnold doubted the existence of God, I could probably find no better evidence than here (although truth to tell, there is evidence all over).

So, when we speak of doubt, we find broken meter, chaotic rhyme, and language that leaves no doubt in the mind that the speaker is uncertain of the world and his place in it. He is uncertain of the existence of God, and the world has become a place much colder and much more unfriendly.

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Favorite Books List

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Favorite Books List

I promise, I'm not trying to blog poor Kairos to death, but his very interesting post inspired my own thinking about a list of favorite books. (That's by way of saying you can blame him for this:-)) As I thought about it, I also thought that perhaps I should rank them, because otherwise the list is likely to look like that of a pretentious windbag (as though you hadn't already figure THAT out for yourself). So as I embark on my list, let me place at the very top of the list my three all-time favorite books/pieces of literature:

J. R. R. Tolkien-Lord of the Rings
Mark Twain--Tom Sawyer
Ray Bradbury--Dandelion Wine.

There, now that no one can accuse me of pretentious, the following is a list in no particular order of my favorite fiction. Nonfiction and spiritual books will have to wait for a more considered presentation.

Flannery O'Connor--Everything. An amazing, intense, fascinating, quirky artist.

Love in the Ruins --idiosyncratic, strange, nearly surreal.

The Haunting of Hill House forget the modern movie version--the 1963 Claire Bloom is closer to the book--still read the book memorable for its wonderful send-off "Whatever walks there, walks alone." Chilling and strangely sad.

The Turn of the Screw I really didn't much care for this until I grew old enough to know what it was really talking about. Now I find it one of the most eerily frightening books around.

Ulysses--Yes, the book that more people have started than ever thought of finishing, fascinating, aggravating, modernist, and ultimately a very satisfying puzzle, if one can overlook the sacrilege and very scatological humor.

Winesburg, Ohio--I love this book without reason and without apology--kind of the way I feel about Tom Sawyer--can't explain it, and will probably never read it in a way that would allow me to do so.

To the Lighthouse--I don't care if some regard her as an elitist virago, I find this book lovely beyond description with its gentle evocation of the persistence in memory of one long gone.

In Search of Lost Time--Read Alain de Boton's remarkable How Proust Can Change Your Life for a sense of why this is such a marvelous if flawed work. Talk about dubious morality!

War and Peace Skim those tedious essays on the nature of history and really savor this magnificent and interesting story.

Dune--That's right, I said "Dune." And while I'm admitting these deep dark things I may as well confess to H. P. Lovecraft's At the Mountains of Madness, Peter Straub's Ghost Story and Stephen King's Salem's Lot (With that little revelation, my stock probably tumbled more than the entire Dow Jones over the last 18 months--oh well.)

Tom Jones--Yes following on my obsession with 17th century poetry is my obsession with 18th century novels, include here Tobias Smollet's Humphrey Clinker and Peregrine Pickle, Richardson's Clarissa, Sterne's Tristram Shandy, and Charles Brockden Brown's Wieland. (That's not to count all the wonderful age of Gothics Castle of Otranto, The Mysteries of Udolfo [and nearly anything else by Anne Radcliffe] and others)

Bleak House Who can help but admire the story of the endless lawsuit of Jarndyce v. Jarndyce and the people wrapped up in it.

All of Sherlock Holmes, Father Brown, Dorothy Sayers, Most of Agatha Christie, John Dickson Carr, Ellery Queen, and others of their ilk. (I know, the barometer keeps falling--that's okay, you'll have a more realistic estimate of what is written here).

All of M.R. James and most of Henry James. All of Nathaniel Hawthorne and nearly nothing by Melville (Here I agree largely with Kairos--side note to Kairos--You might enjoy In the Heart of the Sea which is a nice retelling of the story of the voyage that inspired Moby Dick.

Are you sufficiently bored yet? Perhaps more telling are those writers I simply can't stand--for example, Hemingway. I know, I know, you can tell me all you want about the remarkable transformation of style as a result of his spare, lean writing, it still strikes me as so much macho heavy-handed folderol.

Okay, enough, I have presumed upon your patience too much. There are many, many, many more. But I'll talk about plays and poetry, nonfiction, and spirituality some time in the future--if I haven't alienated my entire readership. Thanks for letting me share some of my thinking.

(As Pascal said to one of his correspondents--"If I'd had more time, I would have written a shorter letter.")

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Editorial Retractions; In Re: Foote

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Editorial Retractions; In Re: Foote Below

T. S. O'Rama informs me:

I do agree that Foote is not the arbiter of what makes for good literature, but in fairness he is extremely well-read. On Brian Lamb's show he said he's read Proust's "Remembrance of Things Past" nine times, which, given its length, is surreal. He's read basically everything (unlike Walker Percy, who had to be nagged constantly to read Dante past "Inferno" or any of Proust). He's also sits on the Modern Library board, which is a pretty elite group. That having been said, you are right, it's mere conjecture on his part since it is certainly subjective.

And so I must say that certainly his opinion does deserve the careful consideration given a thoughtful and well-read person. But certainly not the weight given a scholar who has studied the literature for his entire lifetime. Just as my opinion should not hold the same weight as a scholar dedicated to the study and explication of a body of work.

On the difficult question of Shakespeare's doubt (later in the same post)--I must respectfully but firmly disagree with the contention as set forth. Shakespeare may have wondered why God's justice is so delayed (as did the psalmist, I would add).

"Measure for Measure" (his darkest play, perhaps) was written toward the end of his life, but then so were "Othello," "Kind Lear," and "Macbeth" which, while tragedies, are hardly "pessimistic." And the final plays (except for Henry VIII, which I haven't read) "A Winter's Tale," "Cymbeline," and "The Tempest" all seem, in one way or another, to treat of the theme of the banking of life's fires--a realization that no one is immortal. There is a gentle sadness that hangs about some of these, just as there is a profound romantic element. But I wouldn't call them pessimistic, simply much more obviously aware of the fragility of life. I hardly think these works constitute evidence of doubt.

Overall, I think we are trained to see any demurral any expression whatsoever of wonderment of puzzlement as "doubt." But I ask you, did Job ever doubt? One might consider him fairly pessimistic "The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away, blessed be the Lord," is probably the motto of many a fatalist. (Although I would not argue fatalism for Job).

I would need to examine the plays much more carefully for evidences of the doubt of God's existence (the doubt to which Foote ultimately refers). I simply don't think that the people or the times supported such a viewpoint.

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HAPPY AND BLESSED ASSUMPTION DAY

Yes, here he is again folks--I trot out one of my favorite seventeenth century poets for the day:

On the Glorious Assumption of Our Blessed Lady

Richard Crashaw


Hark! She is call'd. The parting hour is come.
Take thy farewell, poor world! Heav'n must go home
A piece of heav'nly earth, purer and brighter
Than the chaste stars, whose choice lamps come to light her
While through the crystal orbs, clearer than they,
She climbs and makes a fair more milky way.
She's called. Hark how the dear immortal dove
Sighs to his silver mate, 'Rise up, my love!
'Rise up, my fair, my spotless one!
'The winter's past, the rain is gone.

'The spring is come, the flowers appear.
'No sweets but thou are wanting here.
'Come away, my love!
'Come away, my dove! Cast off delay.
'The court of Heav'n is come
'To wait upon thee home. Come, come away!
'The flowers appear,
'Our quickly would, wert thou once here.
'The spring is come, or, if it stay,
'Tis to keep time with thy delay.
'The rain is gone, except so much as we
'Detain in needful tears to weep the want of thee.
'The winter's past.
'Or, if he make less haste,
'His answer is, Why, she does so.
'If summer come not, how can winter go?

On the golden wings
Of the bright youth of Heav'n, that sings
Under so sweet a burthen. Go,
Since thy dread son will have it so.
And while thou goest our song and we
Will, as we may, reach after thee.
Hail, holy queen of humble hearts!
We in thy praise will have our parts.
Thy precious name shall be
Thy self to us, and we
With holy care will keep it by us.
We to the last
Will hold it fast
And no Assumption shall deny us.
All the sweetest showers
Of our fairest flowers
Will we strow upon it.
Though our sweets cannot make
It sweeter, they can take
Themselves new sweetness from it.

Maria, men and angels sing,
Maria, mother of our King.
Live, rosy princess, live. And may the bright
Crown of a most incomparable light
Embrace thy radiant brows. O may the best
Of everlasting joys bath thy white breast.
Live, our chaste love, the holy mirth
Of Heav'n, the humble pride of earth.
Live, crown of women, queen of men.
Live mistress of our song. And when
Our weak desires have done their best,
Sweet angels, come and sing the rest.

For more poetry about the Assumption, visit here. Yes, I will note the webmaster there had the same notion I did, but then, it is a rather fine poem on the topic. (Take a look at the poem by Joachim Smet, if you decide to take a visit!)

May the Holy Mother of God, Most Pure Mary, through her intercession to her son bless your day and make it fruitful and holy.

Mary, Queen of Apostles, Queen of Heaven, Pray for us!

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My Response to Mr. Abbot

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My Response to Mr. Abbot

Tom Abbott over at Goodform has issued a plea for payment to Mr. Shea for his redoubtable weblogging services. Below is part of my response.

You are, of course, correct in pointing out that Mr. Shea is a wordsmith for a living, as a great many of us are. We do not all ask for money for the service.

I don't fault Mr. Shea for doing so, I merely point out that there are a great many bloggers who make their livings by sharing their ideas, creativity, thoughts, passions, and insights in words. Not all of them ask for money to do so. I am somewhat neutral on the question of whether or not this would seem to require my donation to the cause. After all, it could be seen that my reading of his words is sufficient donation. For an author, an audience is part of the payment. Many CAN write, few command an audience. (As a cursory glance at most of our webstats would depressingly show).

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Back to Foote

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The discussion continues, and I'm somewhat disturbed to see that Foote's postulate is taken without any real questioning of its underpinnings. John at Disputations has this to say:

Last idea for now: Foote's statement was, "The best novelists have all been doubters." But Foote's judgment, and literary judgment generally, was formed in a culture of doubt. Our choice of "the best novelists" may say more about us and our culture than it does about whether doubt causes great art.

To which I would respond--that's investing pretty heavily in someone who has nothing more than an opinion in a letter as credentials. What are Foote's qualifications for such a literary judgment? He is certainly not a renowned scholar of literature and given his own body of work I would be disinclined to give much credence to his judgments outside the question of the Civil War. Not that he isn't entitled to an opinion--but that is what it is--an opinion with all of the force of an opinion, and without the force of years of work on the subject.

I could equally well say that the greatest novels were by people who had no doubts--The Brothers Karamazov, Anna Karenina, and War and Peace, all often on the list of the greatest novels of all time were by two Russians who did not struggle with belief in the way Foote would have you believe all great novelists do. For that matter, some of Greene's greatest work The Power and the Glory, Brighton Rock, The Heart of the Matter, and End of the Affair were written during a time in his life in which there was little or no doubt about the truths of the Catholic Church.

No, I would not give excessive weight to a postulation. I would say once again that great novels come out of struggle, not doubt. The struggle can be with the truths of the faith, it can be with wrestling with the mysteries of God and the full understanding of the meaning of Jesus Christ in a life. Flannery O'Connor did not doubt--her faith was rock solid, and her books Wise Blood and The Violent Bear it Away are being published today as they will most likely continue to be for some time. On the other hand, the one-time popular, virulently ant-Catholic James Gould Cozzens cannot claim the same for the vast majority of his oeuvre.

Once again, I contend that those who are restlessly searching through the faith, yearning toward God, probably produce the finest work. If Mother Teresa had written, I expect that she would have written some profound meditations that might approach poetry, but she would not have written a very fine novel because much of the sense of struggle, in human terms, had been resolved. It isn't firm faith, but the lack of anything to grapple with, Union with God, that makes a novel unnecessary.

I think it is safe to say the Jane Austen, Henry Fielding, Lawrence Sterne, Tobias Smollett, Daniel Defoe, and a vast majority of other writers up to and including Charles Dickens had no real doubts about the existence of God. The vast majority of writing after the Death of Jesus up to the present time in western culture is permeated and underlain by a solid belief in God and in Jesus Christ. This nonsense about doubt is a chronological absurdity that has little validity even in the 20th century. It as, as even this very argument you are reading, a biased representation set out to validate the world view of the proponent. It carries little or no weight and needn't be regarded as anything more than and interesting and evocative postulation. One can play off it, but one would be wise to carefully consider it before accepting the unsubstantiated argument. One might also wish to consider one's terms in examining it. Draw up the list of what you think are the very finest novels, and then examine it--how many of them were by people who were "doubters" at the time of writing?

As with all arguments about literature and aesthetics, this one must be endlessly subjective. Even so I acquiesce, that my own words above are simply a subjective view (from one who believes) of the literary scene. I will point out that one of the greatest voices in the English Language--William Shakespeare is not, nor has any legitimate argument ever made him out to be a doubter.

Doubt, I maintain is not the cause of great novels, rather struggle, an internal dynamic that has not yet found resolution. A person who is coming from St. Augustine's early years "Our hearts are restless until they rest in thee," this is the kind of person who brings forth the finest works of the novel.

I believe I'll take up the other contentions of John's post later, as they require a somewhat fuller representation than I can make in the brief time afforded to me now.

{Revised version}

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"Arbeit macht Frei" On

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"Arbeit macht Frei"

On this memorial of St. Maximilian Kilbe let us not forget the ultimate "works-based" salvation--the salvation offered by humans to one another. That same salvation is what got our dear Savior nailed to the cross. That same salvation is too often what we offer the poor and disenfranchised in society.

Remember also that faith without works is dead, but faith without love is deadly. The Nazi party had enormous faith in Adolf Hitler and his promise of "lebensraum" for the German people. They had enormous faith in the "final solution."

Let us remember that Our Savior left us with the Holy Catholic Church, the Church of the Apostles, to guide us and to teach us. Let us be thankful to Him as we realize that it is not work that makes us free ("Arbeit macht frei" translates loosely to "Work earns freedom" and it was the "Motto" inscribed over the gates to Auschwitz), but the gentle yoke of Jesus Christ. Let us assume the yoke ourselves, harness ourselves to our savior and toil for the salvation of all. Such toil is the ultimate sweetness.

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Prayer Update Kairos reports: Thank

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Prayer Update

Kairos reports:

Thank you all again for the many expressions of kindness and the many prayer intentions. Sally is home and slowly improving. Your continued prayers for the next few months will be very much appreciated.

Praise God in His great mercy! But let's continue to pray. Thanks to everyone who has done so already and thanks to all those who will continue.

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Low Mass Mentality Father Jim

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Low Mass Mentality

Father Jim Tucker at Dappled Things makes the following observation regarding some sort of creature called a low Mass (can you tell I'm not a cradle Catholic?):

This same mentality is alive and well in the practice of the New Rite. For all the insistence of the documents on the importance of liturgical music and richness of ceremonial, there's a strong force of inertia (often originating with the celebrant himself) that plays down music and ceremonial as needless fluff. A couple times a year we might break out the thuribles for days of extraordinary solemnity. If it's Easter, Father might consider singing the prayers. If we must have hymns, let's use the same four that we've been singing since 1972. Isn't it best just to recite the Gloria during Ordinary Time? Tone it down, dumb it down, minimalize.

The point has a good deal of merit, but I'd like to bring up another, vaguely related point. When I don't respond in Mass, it usually has to do with the music program. I try very hard to sing all of the sung parts, but sometimes the "Music Ministry" functions as an entertainment committee and produces music that while often evocative, is more suggestive of Andrew Lloyd Weber than of Mass. Most of us who do not sing for a living have a limited range and do not usually site-read music (unless we've played an instrument). Some pieces of music seem to require a range from alto to coloratura. Some have such complex scoring they are nearly impossible to follow. I often feel stranded on the beach of baritone/bass by a largely female choir singing something ranging in the rafters. There are a number of things working against participation. One of the reason for the "same four hymns," tiresome though they may be is that everyone knows what they sound like and nearly everyone can sing them without coaching from a voice trainer.

Perhaps if music ministries were brought more closely into line and the musical vocabulary of a given congregation gradually expanded to include a wider range, we would see more participation. On the other hand, I do come from a protestant tradition in which it was expected that you would sing and respond appropriately, and Father Tucker's implied supposition that this is a Catholic cultural thing may be right on target. I would not presume to say. Anyway, I have given suggestions that would help those of us who are inclined to participate.

One last note, while I do like processional music and all sorts of other things that may disturb others, one of the music directors in my area has a disturbing propensity for selecting works that while quite beautiful are incredibly distracting because they are obviously not liturgical. As an example, during the offertory the organist played "The Swan" from Saint-Saens's "Carnival of the Animals." Another time he played Claude Debussy as a prelude and The Rondeau that serves as the Masterpiece Theatre theme as a recessional. Music choices like this leave me just stunned and wondering. If you need to play such things and you want to be up to date, what is wrong with music from the Franck and Durufle masses, or music by John Rutter or John Tavener?

Oh, so much griping, but these are the kinds of things I find enormously distracting at mass.

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The Seventeenth Century:Redux

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The seventeenth century seemed to be a wonderful time for incredible devotional poetry. Richard Crashaw was only 36 when he died in 1649, and yet he left behind a wealth of profound poetry. Crashaw converted to Catholicism in about 1645 (not a particularly safe thing to do in and around England) and found his way to the Continent. The passage below is an excerpt from a poem about St. Teresa of Avila, in it he refers to an event known to Carmelites as the Transverberation of St. Teresa of Avila. A statue sculpted by Bernini depicts this event.

How kindly will thy gentle heart
Kiss the sweetly-killing dart!
And close in his embraces keep
Those delicious wounds, that weep
Balsam to heal themselves with. Thus
When these thy deaths, so numerous,
Shall all at last die into one,
And melt thy soul's sweet mansion
Like a soft lump of incense, hasted
By too hot a fire, and wasted
Into perfuming clouds, so fast
Shalt thou exhale to Heav'n at last
In a resolving sigh; and then,
O what? Ask not the tongues of men;
Angels cannot tell; suffice,
Thyself shall feel thine own full joys
And hold them fast forever. There
So soon as thou shalt first appear,
The moon of maiden stars, thy white
Mistress, attended by such bright
Souls as thy shining self, shall come
And in her first ranks make thee room;
Where 'mongst her snowy family
Immortal welcomes wait for thee.

Not, perhaps, the very finest poetry, but nevertheless an admirable depiction in words of what Bernini managed in sculpture. Some have claimed that Crashaw was influenced by Bernini's sculpture, but the sources I read note the date of the sculpture as 1652, three years after Crashaw's death. Unless he saw sketches or rough models, which is possible, this postulate seems unlikely.

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Some Reflections on the Nativity

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Some Reflections on the Nativity

In his book The Rosary of Our Lady, Romano Guardini reflects in turn upon each of the mysteries. Last night I was reading the reflections on the joyful mysteries and this section leapt off the page for me:

At the same hour something happend that concerned Mary alone: in her own personal being, in her spirit and heart, Christ moved into the open expanse of her perception and love; the attitude of expectation became a communion face-to-face. Unutterable truth--she saw Him who was the manifestation of the living God. . . . This takes place spiritually in every Christian as often as that inner life which is divined by faith steps into the clarity of knowledge, into the distinctness of action, and into the decisiveness of testimony. In every one of us Christ is born as often as He penetrates, as essence and standard, into any deed or happening. One day this happens with particular significance: namely, on that day when it dawns on us, clear and strong, who Christ is, so that He becomes the governing reality of our inner lives. (p. 89-90)

Jesus is born in us when we die to self to let Him live. When we look out of our old eyes and see a new world imbued with His love and vigor--a world that He, His Father, and the Holy Spirit loved into being without cause, without obligation. Jesus is born in us when we strip away enough of our selfishness to realize that we are not the pivot points of the universe. The sun does not rise and set on us, England does not set its clock by us, we are, in fact, insignificant and tremendously significant. We are at once nothing and everything because we share the life of God Himself. We are not gods, but our lives become Hidden in Jesus Christ. What could be more momentous than to be with the creator of all?

Jesus is also born in us when we behave as Mary. When we attend mass first with the eager expectation of His advent and then with the joy of face-to-face communion. We receive His life inside of us, infinitely precious, infinitely valuable, infinitely illuminating. Reflect on the magnificence of the gift and attempt to carry it beyond the church parking lot into the world at large. Look for that light within the people around you, and there is no question but that you will find it. Every saint from the beginning has done so.

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When Was Nature Good?

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When Was Nature Good?

I may be incorrect, I'm stepping out of my melieu. T.S. O'Rama seems to suggest that fallen nature is no longer good.

Let's take a look at nature herself - astonishingly beautiful, right? And good, indeed good - but good before the Fall, right? Nature can be pretty ruthless, amoral, in the whole sense of prey or be preyed upon. Natural selection isn't pretty. Can't art be beautiful but deadly, like some gorgeous but poisonous coral?

I would argue rather that fallen nature, just as with fallen man, is still good, but it is (pardon the pun) fatally flawed. The apparent amorality of nature, so wonderfully portrayed in Frost's "Design" is not suggestive of a lack of goodness, but perhaps a lack of understanding on our part. Yes, a coral snake is deadly, but not unless you go chasing after it. Most snakes (not all) would prefer no entanglement with humans. The getting and consuming of food has its unpleasant side--but is it either amoral or immoral? I think not.

Another weakness here is the argument by analogy. Can art be beautiful and deadly? Well, Satan can appear as an Angel of Light, so much is true. But I think an intrinsic quality of earthly beauty is goodness. I guess I would almost argue that it is a tautology. If the thing is not good, not matter how appealing its exterior, it is not beautiful. By not being good it breaks the platonic triad. Now, that, of course, assumes that Plato was correct, and I don't know that to be the case at all. But I know that my moral sensibility usually reacts violently to things said to be beautiful (some of the writing of the Marquis de Sade, for example) which carry their own poison. Naturally this all depends on definitions. If one includes in the definition of beautiful the necessity of good, then the question vanishes. Of course it is far easier to argue specific cases.

I will have to work up a more cogent discussion of all the issues, but I'm not sure it is entirely feasible because it may involve the acceptance of certain postulates a priori which make the whole argument unnecessary. What I will say is that God can use any created thing for good. And to quote from Pollyanna (or perhaps its inverse) "When you look for the bad in people, expecting to find it, you surely will."

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A Pertinent Reminder
From Shakespeare, a reminder that we should not insist so much on justice.

The quality of mercy is not strain'd, It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven Upon the place beneath: it is twice blest; It blesseth him that gives and him that takes: 'Tis mightiest in the mightiest: it becomes The throned monarch better than his crown; His sceptre shows the force of temporal power, The attribute to awe and majesty, Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings; But mercy is above this sceptred sway; It is enthroned in the hearts of kings, It is an attribute to God himself; And earthly power doth then show likest God's When mercy seasons justice. Therefore, Jew, Though justice be thy plea, consider this, That, in the course of justice, none of us Should see salvation: we do pray for mercy; And that same prayer doth teach us all to render The deeds of mercy. I have spoke thus much To mitigate the justice of thy plea; Which if thou follow, this strict court of Venice Must needs give sentence 'gainst the merchant there.

One nearly need remember the sentence and the ultimate fate of Shylock. If you don't know it, check here (lines 2260 and following).

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On the Question of Culture

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Normally, I prefer the battle on such issues to rage around me and not to comment, but I do feel that I must address an unfortunate tendency in thought, word, and deed. It seems that one webmaster blogged some remarks that were profoundly offensive to Ono Ekeh ( found via Dylan's Blog, q.v.) as how would they not be to individuals who are seeking common ground and understanding? Admittedly, the excesses of academic multiculturalists lead to a sense of dysphoria among all who do not buy into the world constructed by Foucaultian and Derridan theory (let's not even talk about Paul de Man).

I don't believe that we need to feel good about ourselves by denigrating the accomplishments of others. I don't think that cultural comparisons are particularly relevant or helpful, nor do they lead to the sorts of discussions and solutions we need to find to right historic wrongs.

There are problems in all cultures--there is no perfect culture, just as the only Perfect Human was executed in part because He was Other and made us realize that we were not so good as we thought we were. Comments that seek to elevate our sense of self at the expense of others simply contribute to the forces that pounded a the nails into Jesus' hands and feet. What we need is to address the problem and not return the fire we think we have been peppered with. We need to hear what is being said under the extravagant claims and make room in our cultural understandings for the genuine good present in all cultures. We need not claim it for our own, but neither do we need to say that it has no validity. In the example given, a writer compares a European Clock to an African Mask--perhaps an unfortunate juxtaposition arranged by curators, and extols the clock to the detriment of the mask. But looked at another way, a clock is simply a device invented for the external regulation of human behavior entirely useless to a culture that uses the daylight or the nighttime as need dictates. While technological cultures do provide certain goods that cannot be provided by agrarian societies, we may be blinded to some of the positive things that can come from living close to the Earth and its cycles. We should not conclude that a technological culture is necessarily "better" (after all, technology is a morally neutral faculty) or necessarily "worse." Why can't we simply accept that it is different and not attempt the sweeping generalizations that create an "us and them" attitude. Then we can get down to brass tacks--things nearly all reasonable cultures CAN agree on--slavery is bad, genocide is bad, murder is bad, ignoring God's law and natural law is bad. . . etc.

What we need, to use a very old and worn but tremendously useful phrase, is more light and less heat. What does one propose to gain from forcing a group that already feels disenfranchised into a position in which they must fight or die? It makes no reasonable sense. Simply teach your children to savor the wonderful benefits of the culture they enjoy and the goods of other cultures, to decry the wrongs that they see in any culture, and above all to center their hearts, minds, and souls first and foremost on the loving God who grants all things to all people, black, white, red, yellow. God sees in these colors a wonderful rainbow of images of His Son, we should strive to do the same and teach our children the same. Most important of all "Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things will be added unto you." When God is the center all human considerations fly away. The Shema Y'israel, which could be regarded as our chief rule of law says: "Hear O Israel, the Lord your God, the Lord is One. Love Him with all your heart, all your mind, all your soul, and all your strength and love your neighbor as yourself." Loving as yourself means simply seeing the image of Jesus and not judging that as a greater or lesser image.

I've gone on too long, but I think it's clear--Love is the rule and it leaves no place for comparison. Mother Teresa did not stop to compare Hindu and Christian culture before she cared for the ill; St. Charles Lwanga did not stop to consider who was worthy of salvation; St. Martin de Porres did not ask which culture the poor he tended belonged to; they all simply loved the image of Christ they saw in each person, without having to make themselves feel superior, without having to compare one with another. They accepted people as the beautiful, exasperating, exhilirating images of Jesus Christ that they are.


(Rant officially over, we now return you to your regular station)

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The Protoevangelium of James

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Along with the Old Testament pseduepigraphal "Ethiopic Apocalypse of James" and the New Testament's "Gospel of Pilate" the Protoevangelium is one of my favorite "alternative histories." For more, visit Just Your Average Catholic Guy but here's a tasty tidbit of what you'll find to whet your appetite:

The Protoevangelium of James begins with Joachim making an offering at the Temple, where he is turned away for the "sin" of not having children. Distraught, he goes to the "registers of the twelve tribes of the people" to see if he alone "have not made seed in Israel". Unfortunately for him, he finds that he is (ouch!) and grief-stricken retires to the desert to fast and pray to God. His wife, Anna, "mourned in two mournings and lamented in two lamentations, saying: I shall bewail my widowhood; I shall bewail my childlessness". She cried out to God and then an angel of the Lord appeared to her, telling her, "Anna, Anna, the Lord hath heard thy prayer, and thou shalt conceive, and shall bring forth; and thy seed shall be spoken of in all the world". Anna was of course thrilled and made a vow to God that whether the child is a boy or a girl it would be dedicated to his service "all the days of its life". Now two angels appear to Anna to tell her that Joachim has also received the good news, prepared an offering for God, and is returning to be with her. Anna runs to meet Joachim and embraces him, crying out, "Now I know that the Lord God hath blessed me exceedingly; for, behold the widow no longer a widow, and I the childless shall conceive" So Joachim now "rested the first day in his house" and there was joy in Mudville.
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Fascinating Discussion involving Rites

I am no expert, and I have little or no opinion on these matters, but I find the discussion fascinating. This excerpt from Disputations, but the conversation is continuing at many different sites.

A third difference between then and now is that the multiplicity of rites originally arose more or less naturally. The Gallican Mass differed from the Roman Mass just because they did things differently in Lyons than they did in Rome. Nowadays, the motivations for multiple rites are theological and emotional. This rite is objectively better than that rite, or this rite makes me feel better. Neither type of motivation, in my opinion, suffices for manufacturing a multiplicity of rites where none now exists. A rite that is objectively worse, theologically, should not be used; and resurrecting a rite to make people feel good is to subjectivize the one thing in this world that is most objective.

I may be speaking of a completely different issue, but I find that an occasional attendance at a Byzantine Rite, helps me to truly appreciate the diversity and beauty of "what God hath wrought." I have not followed the complexity of the discussion of missals, rites, hymnals, and other details, but on the gross scale, attendance at a Maronite Rite or a Byzantine Rite church would, I think, prove to be illuminating for most people. It shows the richness of the treasures of the One, Holy, Catholic Church. And we do have a great many treasures. But this is a mere footnote to a wide-ranging and complex discussion I do not pretend to have the expertise to understand. Enjoy it!

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Prayer Update

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Prayer Update

This from Kairos:

Thank you all for your prayers. Mrs. Kairos Guy came home from the hospital last night. We still don't have a confirmed diagnosis, but at least have some strong indicators of what has been wrong. She is still not well, but there has been some improvement, and there should be more in the coming days. In the meanwhile, please keep the prayers and good wishes coming: they help tremendously. She told me Sunday morning she could feel them.
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More about Morality and Literature

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T. S. O'rama is back (thank goodness for those of us who are loyal readers) with some insightful comments about the conversation regarding what constitutes "good" in literature. Take a look.

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Christina Rossetti

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Dylan at Error 503: La Vita Nuova promised to blog some poetry from Dante Gabriel Rossetti, a talented painter and poet who was one of the founders and chief proponents of something called the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. They produced paintings like this and this. Ultimately the movement seemed to degenerate into kitsch and transmigrate into the Art Nouveau and its sister Art Deco Movements.

All that aside, Dante Gabriel Rossetti's sister, Christina was also an accomplished poet. Some consider her the most important female poet of her time. For more information about her life and times, look here. For our purposes, it is sufficient to say that in addition to the eerie, frightening, and altogether delightful "Goblin's Market" Christina Rossetti produced some of the finest religious poetry of the age. She is rivaled only by Francis Thompson (when he's on) and Gerard Manley Hopkins. Below is an example.

A Better Resurrection
Christina Rossetti

I have no wit, no words, no tears;
My heart within me like a stone
Is numb'd too much for hopes or fears;
Look right, look left, I dwell alone;
I lift mine eyes, but dimm'd with grief
No everlasting hills I see;
My life is in the falling leaf:
O Jesus, quicken me.

My life is like a faded leaf,
My harvest dwindled to a husk:
Truly my life is void and brief
And tedious in the barren dusk;
My life is like a frozen thing,
No bud nor greenness can I see:
Yet rise it shall--the sap of Spring;
O Jesus, rise in me.

My life is like a broken bowl,
A broken bowl that cannot hold
One drop of water for my soul
Or cordial in the searching cold;
Cast in the fire the perish'd thing;
Melt and remould it, till it be
A royal cup for Him, my King:
O Jesus, drink of me.

What I particularly like about the poem is the oblique references back to John Donne's "Holy Sonnet 14" and a number of the poems of George Herbert, all within well-crafted, relatively light verse. The other thing I like is the very strong lines and stripped down piety of the poem. It is not adorned with what we have come to think of as the trappings of classic Victorian piety.

Anyway, I eagerly await Mr. Dylan's insight into her brother's poetry.

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Trivia

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This is a short excerpt from Book II of John Gay's immortal walking guide: Trivia or the Art of Walking the Streets of London. Before we had Sting on Broadway, before Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht had thought of it, John Gay gave us one of the great satires/comedies of all time along with the immortal characters of Polly Peachum and Macheath or "Mack the Knife." This poem is one of the other productions of that playwright, and is acknowledged along with several other short pieces to be among his best work.

from Trivia or the Art of Walking the Streets of London
John Gay

Thus far the Muse has trac'd in useful lays
The proper implements for wintry ways;
Has taught the walker, with judicious eyes,
To read the various warnings of the skies.
Now venture, Muse, from home to range the town,
And for the public safety risk thy own.

For ease and for dispatch, the morning's best;
No tides of passengers the street molest.
You'll see a draggled damsel, here and there,
From Billingsgate her fishy traffic bear;
On doors the sallow milk-maid chalks her gains;
Ah! how unlike the milk-maid of the plains!
Before proud gates attending asses bray,
Or arrogate with solemn pace the way;
These grave physicians with their milky cheer,
The love-sick maid and dwindling beau repair;
Here rows of drummers stand in martial file,
And with their vellum thunder shake the pile,
To greet the new-made bride. Are sounds like these
The proper prelude to a state of peace?
Now industry awakes her busy sons,
Full charg'd with news the breathless hawker runs:
Shops open, coaches roll, carts shake the ground,
And all the streets with passing cries resound.

If cloth'd in black, you tread the busy town
Or if distinguish'd by the rev'rend gown,
Three trades avoid; oft in the mingling press,
The barber's apron soils the sable dress;
Shun the perfumer's touch with cautious eye,
Nor let the baker's step advance too nigh;
Ye walkers too that youthful colours wear,
Three sullying trades avoid with equal care;
The little chimney-sweeper skulks along,
And marks with sooty stains the heedless throng;
When small-coal murmurs in the hoarser throat,
From smutty dangers guard thy threaten'd coat:
The dust-man's cart offends thy clothes and eyes,
When through the street a cloud of ashes flies;
But whether black or lighter dyes are worn,
The chandler's basket, on his shoulder borne,
With tallow spots thy coat; resign the way,
To shun the surly butcher's greasy tray,
Butcher's, whose hands are dy'd with blood's foul stain,
And always foremost in the hangman's train.

As you can see immortal poetry in the true service of humankind--cautioning how to avoid a haute couture disaster on a simple promenade. Advice that I wish poets would provide us today!

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Prayer Reminder

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Please continue to remember Sally, Kairos Guy's wife. No news on his site yet. Thanks.

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Silence in Prayer

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Silence in Prayer
The quotations below, attributed to their authors, provoked in me the need to relate a little anecdote.

And if one comes into a parish church in which the loud vociferations of the street have NOT become an undistinguishable roar, but have come in with the parishioners who blithely natter & chatter, viva voce, well, it makes it all the more difficult. (dylan_tm618)

I believe that when Mass is celebrated properly, and we all quietly pray and take part in the Eucharist, community just happens. I repeat, it just happens. We don't need to "build" it. We don't need to shake our neighbor's hand or start off Mass by introducing ourselves to our neighbor. When we focus on the Lord, community is a natural byproduct. (Tom Abbot)

I am reminded of the first time I attended a service at a Byzantine Rite church (a special celebration at St. John Chrysostom, Columbus, Ohio for "The Third Finding of the Head of John the Baptist"). The church was a magnificent and beautiful building. On the exterior just to the right and left of the entry doors and on the center of the other three walls (you had to walk around the church from the parking lot to get it) there was a prominently displayed placard that read something like "Silence is to be observed inside the church at all times."

I remember thinking that this had to be the most unfriendly church I had even been to, and there was absolutely no way on earth I would go back. Once inside I was stunned by the beauty of the Church and the liturgy. The people all joined in the singing (which was difficult because they were doing an unusual Slavonic liturgy--the only part of which I remember was multiple repetitions of something that sounded like Hospodie Polimuj--I'm sure I have it wrong.) The service, though in a foreign language and utterly alien in its presentation (to this Latin Rite Guy) was magnificent beyond words. Here I was, in the midst of the people of God, worshipping and praising, and it felt quite different than it did at my very social parish church. No one questioned my right to be there, I was by virtue of my presence part of the community. I thought, after the service, that I would visit often. And while often would be an exaggeration, I did go back from time to time.

On the formation of community. Unfortunately Catholics have become protestantized here as well. Enter any Baptist church and if the Baptistry is not open the only thing to remind you that you are in a church is usually a bare wooden cross. (In my grandfather's church there is also an American Flag and the Flag of Israel flanking the "altar" area and a big table that had inscribed on it, "This do in remembrance of me.") There is a great deal of conversation and inquiring after family members, etc. And to some extent this is good--but in the proper place. Baptist services are not so much about recollection and private prayer as they are about public sharing of faith and scripture. Many Baptists (at the time I was going) brought notebooks and tape-recorders with them. They would replay the sermons several times during the week. This is obviously a different approach to spirituality, one that may better accommodate casual conversation and chatting. I know that it never interfered with my experience of God in the Church.

However, for whatever reason, it does tend to detract from my experience at mass. I am always glad to see friends and people I know, but I don't need to do more than nod my head or smile, if I am so inclined. Many churches have some sort of after-Mass doughnut thingee, or perhaps other ways that people can bond in a social way. This is undoubtedly an important aspect of community formation. However, to my mind it belongs outside of the Mass, as much as possible. It should not interfere with all of us coming together to worship God and to send our prayers "aloft" to Him. God will hear our prayers even if we talk before the service, but we will not have done Him the best service we can.

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Another in the Essay Series

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Okay, after this 'nough said. But I've gotten a great deal of pleasure from reading these very short essays. Not only are they filled with delightful barbs, they invite the reader into a new way of looking at poetry. Obviously the person writing them loves the art and wants it to be as fine as it possibly can be. Hear now her words from and essay entitled "The Argument for Silence: Defining the Poet Peter Principle."

For example, poets James Tate, Philip Levine and Mary Oliver have each produced more than 16 books of poetry. Whatever has driven this production, it is clear from the trajectory of all three poets that something must stop it. In all three cases, a windiness, a wordiness, a kind of poetic logorrhea can be found in their latest work in contrast to the fire and compression in their early work. Flatlined, barely pulsing, their latest work is being kept alive by extraordinary means: the artificial resuscitation of continuous publication.

Sorry to belabor your patient kindness, but these have been a pleasure to read.

Note: I just read Error 503--La Vita Nuova and found that by some strange synchronicity of thought we chose the same passage--but I swear I hadn't seen it before. Well you know that they say about great minds. . . that doesn't apply to me.

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Some Comments on Poetry

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This piece, from Joan Houlihan, should be of interest to those who enjoy poetry. By the way, I don't agree at all with some of her evaluations, but I do find them amusing.

On the other hand, the Billy Collins poem, though distinguished by its humor (an unusual, and welcome, attribute of contemporary poetry), is also a Mary Oliver poem, a Rita Dove poem, a David Lehman poem, and a Maya Angelou poem, among many other contemporary poets, because it is a poem we can understand. Immediately. We feel no drive to delve. It is not a poem we need to analyze. There are no pesky layers of meaning. What you see is what you get.

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Harold Bloom who, despite all of his inherent excesses, I thoroughly enjoy reading recently received this treatment at the hands of Joseph Epstein, Read and enjoy.

In an interview in the Paris Review, he declared that he never revises his prose, and nothing in his work refutes this impressive claim. Any critic ready to avail himself of such gargoylesque words as “psychokabbalistic” and “pneumognostic,” who can refer to a passage in Montaigne as an “apotropaic talisman,” and can write about the cosmos having been “reperspectivized by Tolstoy,” may be many things, but he ain’t no aesthete.
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Philip Pullman

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The ever-delightful Amy Welborn advises us that Philip Pullman has pulled out yet another stop.

Pullman, 55, won this year's Whitbread book award for the final instalment of the His Dark Materials trilogy, in which he created a parallel universe ruled by a senile, viciously sadistic deity who has to be deposed in battle so the inhabitants can join with angels in creating a "republic of heaven". The Catholic Herald called his books "the stuff of nightmares" and "worthy of the bonfire". Another critic cautioned: "Christian parents beware." Pullman, who writes for children but shuns the category, "children's author", is only outsold by JK Rowling's Harry Potter series and has a vast adult readership. Keen to tackle received ideas on religion, he recently called CS Lewis's highly Christian Narnia books "blatantly racist" and "monumentally disparaging of children". Such is his hatred of domineering, organised religion, he has become something of an evangelical atheist. During a debate on morality in fiction at the Edinburgh international books festival at the weekend, Pullman warned that in the climate of threatened attacks on Iraq and the crisis in the Middle East, we live in a Godless and uncertain age, and unless writers wrestled with the larger questions of moral conduct, they would become useless and irrelevant.

It's a real shame that the enormously talented Pullman has not read (or perhaps refuses to internalize) what Dostoyevski observed ages ago and what James Hynes reiterated more recently, "A man who believes in nothing is capable of anything." Atheism has certainly proven a beacon of light to all nations. Think how well we would all be served if every world leader were of the caliber of a Stalin, a Mao, or a Pol Pot!

I know, I'm preaching to the choir here, but Pullman annoys me because he wastes a prodigious talent in work unworthy of him. I think about the parable of the three talents, and if ever a talent were buried. However, always when I consider these things, I am led to cast my mind upward toward God, and I offer a prayer for Philip that his obviously damaged heart might be healed.

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From Andrew Marvell. I promise "To His Coy Mistress" later. But I remember upon first reading this poem being very amused by the obvious elements of propaganca involved.

Bermudas
Andrew Marvell


Where the remote Bermudas ride
In th' ocean's bosom unespy'd,
From a small boat, that row'd along,
The list'ning winds receiv'd this song.

What should we do but sing his praise
That led us through the wat'ry maze
Unto an isle so long unknown,
And yet far kinder than our own?
Where he the huge sea-monsters wracks,
That lift the deep upon their backs,
He lands us on a grassy stage,
Safe from the storm's and prelates' rage.
He gave us this eternal spring
Which here enamels everything,
And sends the fowls to us in care,
On daily visits through the air.
He hangs in shades the orange bright,
Like golden lamps in a green night;
And does in the pomegranates close
Jewels more rich than Ormus shows.
He makes the figs our mouths to meet
And throws the melons at our feet,
But apples plants of such a price,
No tree could ever bear them twice.
With cedars, chosen by his hand,
From Lebanon, he stores the land,
And makes the hollow seas that roar
Proclaim the ambergris on shore.
He cast (of which we rather boast)
The Gospel's pearl upon our coast,
And in these rocks for us did frame
A temple, where to sound his name.
Oh let our voice his praise exalt,
Till it arrive at heaven's vault;
Which thence (perhaps) rebounding, may
Echo beyond the Mexic Bay.

Thus sung they in the English boat
An holy and a cheerful note,
And all the way, to guide their chime,
With falling oars they kept the time.

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A Favorite from Shakespeare

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A Favorite from Shakespeare

This may be one of my favorite songs from any of Shakespeare's plays. But then the play itself may well be one of my very favorites. "O Brave new world that has such people in 't."

Full Fadom Five from The Tempest

Full fadom five thy Father lies,
Of his bones are Corrall made:
Those are pearles that were his eies,
Nothing of him that doth fade,
But doth suffer a Sea-change
Into something rich, & strange:
Sea-Nimphs hourly ring his knell.
Burthen:
ding-dong.
Harke now I heare them, ding-dong, bell.

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The Prayer of Silence

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Different book this time:

Meditations Before Mass Romano Guardini

Stillness is the tranquility of the inner life; the quiet at the depths of its hidden stream. It is a collected, total presence, a being "all there," receptive, alert, ready. There is nothing inert or oppressive about it. . . .

"Congregation," not merely people. Churchgoers arriving, sitting, or kneeling in pews are not necessarily a congregation; they can be simply a roomful of more or less pious individuals. Congregation is formed only when those individuals are present not only corporally but also spiritually, when they have contacted one another in prayer and step together into the spiritual "space" around them; strictly speaking, when they have first widened and heightened that space by prayer. Then true congregation comes into being, which, along with the building that is its architectural expression, forms the vital church in which the sacred act is accomplished. All this takes place only in stillness; out of stillness grows the real sanctuary.


While this is undoubtedly true of mass (and one of the reasons I tend to impatience for people who wander in with a hale-fellow-well-met attitude) it is doubly true of all prayer. Prayer is encased in a house of silence. Outside of silence, prayer becomes just more roaring against the sound of the rushing wind of culture. That is not to say that God does not hear it, because of course He does. However, it is not the kind of praise that rises like an incense to the throne of heaven.

For prayer to be truly pleasing to God it must be of the sort that makes one completely present to God. Such prayer is not acquired in the short run, and ultimately its final stage is not acquired at all. However, one must dispose oneself to receive the gift of infused contemplation. One of the ways of doing so is to practice this "prayer of silence." In addition, the prayer offers the person praying innumerable benefits stemming from a "mental vacation from the world." It "recharges the batteries" and makes one more capable of coping with what occurs in everyday life. It helps one to experience the presence of God in all of life's activities. It helps one to empty oneself to be filled with the Holy Spirit. In short, it opens the doors to greater levels of prayer..

But it isn't easy, and it isn't a short road. It may take years, perhaps decades. But, as with the bloom of the Century Plant, it is both spectacular and worth waiting for. In the prayer of silence, we take the first steps toward becoming like our grand model of prayer, the Holy Mother of God. We learn to "ponder these things in our hearts" and to derive from them great joy and peace. The prayer of silence, it would seem to me, is one of the most effective tools on the road to lifestyle evangelism because it causes a fundamental change in the person who is doing it consistently. From agitated and worried to peaceful and trusting, the prayer of silence changes lives.

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Surrealism Works--sometimes

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Surrealism Works--sometimes

Dylan at Error 503 comments that sometimes surrealism works. I couldn't possibly agree more--in fact, separated from the original surrealist manifesto and some of the excesses of the artists, I would say that it works most of the time. My favorite poet to prove it is James Merril, here's a very short sample of "Procession."

Think what the demotic droplet felt, Translated by a polar wand to keen Six-pointed Mandarin—

The rest becomes somewhat more surreal.

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Introduction to the Fathers

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This site via Xavier+ blogspot gives a very brief introduction and then a quotation to give a sample of the writing of a given father. The purpose of the site in the webmaster's own words:

Those who are interested in studying the writings of the Fathers of the Christian Church are often overwhelmed by the sheer vastness of the volumes they find before them. In order to introduce the curious reader in a very simple way to the writings of these beloved Fathers, this website contains excerpts on various subjects from their writings in the hope that the reader may be spurred on to further and deeper study of our forebears in the faith.


The webmaster appears (if the links are indicative) to be an Orthodox Christian of some variety. The comments and selections are additionally categorized by a topic. For those who have been interested, but have shied away for one reason or another, a most worthwhile site. Go and enjoy!

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Wallace Stevens Conversion?

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A document entitled Wallace Stevens's alleged deathbed conversion presents a letter from Father Arthur Hanley to Professor Janet McCann, dated July 24, 1977, with line breaks, punctuation, spelling, etc. exactly as in the typescript. This transcript gives details about his conversion. I don't know the circumstances and can't testify to the veracity. But given Stevens's poetry it does not seem unlikely. After all, "Sunday Morning" suggests this end, as do a number of other poems. On the other hand, reading with a Christian perspective does tend to distort the record.

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Prayer Reminder

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I know I posted only a day or two ago, so it may show up on the same screen for some of you with big monitors--but please remember to keep Kairos and especially his wife, Sally, in your prayers. She is in the hospital with an as-yet-undiagnosed ailment. Not knowing is always extremely difficult.

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Reading Pascal

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Many seem to experience the same thing as John notes below:

I first heard of Pascal and his Pensees a long time ago when learned about "Pascal's Wager" from this book. I tried to read it, but my say that this "average Catholic guy" was a bit intimidated by the high-falutin' language and put it back down. Yet, I think I'll give it another go.

Pensees can be extremely difficult for a couple of reasons. The language (depending on the translation) can be extremely difficult. More than that, Pensees is a series of largely disconnected thoughts. There doesn't seem to be much structure to it. For this, I highly recommend Peter Kreeft's rearrangement of the material Christianity for Modern Pagans. Kreeft deftly edits the material to make a more-or-less coherent flow-through. If I remember correctly, Kreeft adds some insightful comments after either each Pensee or each group. Unfortunately, I think it may be a sllightly abridged version. But as with his Summa of the Summa it makes for a brief, coherent, introductory presentation.

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Pascal Reflects

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I love this small section from the Pensees. It speaks so much to the point. And at the same time undermines the point by making it. One should not, if it can be avoided, speak ill of others or spread rumor, even in a good cause. Pascal breaks that primary rule for the purpose of a greater good. But by doing so does he forfeit the higher good or does he, as he intimates, stand on the same level as his subject?

63. Montaigne.--Montaigne's faults are great. Lewd words; this is bad, notwithstanding Mademoiselle de Gournay. Credulous; people without eyes. Ignorant; squaring the circle, a greater world. His opinions on suicide, on death. He suggests an indifference about salvation, without fear and without repentance. As his book was not written with a religious purpose, he was not bound to mention religion; but it is always our duty not to turn men from it. One can excuse his rather free and licentious opinions on some relations of life; but one cannot excuse his thoroughly pagan views on death, for a man must renounce piety altogether, if he does not at least wish to die like a Christian. Now, through the whole of his book his only conception of death is a cowardly and effeminate one.

64. It is not in Montaigne, but in myself, that I find all that I see in him.

65. What good there is in Montaigne can only have been acquired with difficulty. The evil that is in him, I mean apart from his morality, could have been corrected in a moment, if he had been informed that he made too much of trifles and spoke too much of himself.

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A Bit of Marlowe

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From Tamburlaine The Great, Part I
Christopher Marlowe [1564-1593]

Nature That Framed Us of Four Elements

Nature that framed us of four elements,
Warring within our breasts for regiment,
Doth teach us all to have aspiring minds:
Our souls, whose faculties can comprehend
The wondrous architecture of the world,
And measure every wandering planet's course,
Still climbing after knowledge infinite,
And always moving as the restless spheres,
Will us to wear ourselves, and never rest,
Until we reach the ripest fruit of all,
That perfect bliss and sole felicity,
The sweet fruition of an earthly crown.

Marlowe, for all his vast intelligence, seems never to be able to get over the Faustian belief that knowledge is the key to paradise. Perhaps he wrote his Faustus to exorcise that demon. Nevertheless, regardless of the cause, we did get some nice poetry from it.

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Prayers Needed

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Please remember JB the Kairos Guy's wife. She was ill this morning and apparently it was serious enough to require hospitalization according to his blog. Thanks.

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Addressing the Lady of Shalott

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At All But Dissertation the Lady of Shalott has given those of us who are interested in the arts a lot to think about. So much so, that I'm reprinting much of the post and will try to comment line-by-line. There was no other way, structurally, to say all that needed to be said, both in agreement and disagreement, and indeed, this exceedingly long post could well be the start of an entire book.

This little exchange came to mind when I nabbed a few copies of Crisis yesterday. Stevens' allegiance, if I remember correctly, was to aesthetics above all.

Just a note here, Stevens is one of my favorite poets also, and while the stated aesthetic may have been art for the sake of art, the end accomplishment vastly exceeds the poet's intent. In fact, it is apparent from a casual reading of most of the oeuvre that despite a stated aesthetic stance, the poet's concerns were far reaching. I note not in contradiction to the Lady, but in support of my ultimate argument.

Ruminating on this, I recalled a quote by Keats: "Beauty is truth, truth beauty. That is all ye know on earth and all ye need to know." As a Christian I don't quite agree with the latter portion of that statement, . . .

Agreed, and this quote is part of the trend that we see building throughout the 19th century and into the 20th. Knowingly or unknowingly Keats collapsed the classic platonic triad of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty into Truth and Beauty. Now, it may be in his aesthetic theory goodness could be classed under either beauty or truth, but it fact, this collapse caused a major collapse in aesthetic theory and resulted eventually in Art for Art's Sake, the Pre-Raphaelites (not such a bad thing) and such monstrosities as Huysman's A Rebours and La-Bas.

On a side note, I have the feeling that Keats very deliberately chose to collapse this triad. After all the quote does occur in "Ode on a Grecian Urn." It seems more than coincidence that such an aesthetic theory should make its debut in this poem. I believe Keats very deliberately used the Urn and its associations to forge his aesthetic theory and give it a solid grounding.

but let's think about the former portion for a minute and relate it to Joyce and Tolstoy and how each author handles, for example, the issue of adultery. Both Joyce and Tolstoy write truthfully about adultery, Joyce most famously from the perspective of Molly Bloom, who is quite clearly in favor of the act and says something like "if that's the worst people do, they're not doing too badly." I'm not saying that I agree with this sentiment, only that it's true that many people believe it. Tolstoy, on the other hand, portrays the terrible cost of adultery in agonizing detail. Both are true characterizations of the deed; both are stunningly written in their own very different ways, and so both are beautiful. That much I'm sure about. But I'm still struggling with the idea of ultimate truth, and whether that need be present for a piece of literature to be considered truly good, and not just aesthetically so.

Now this presents a good case study and an interesting example. Because there is another way of thinking about the two works. In Anna Karenina the end result is ultimately immoral (Anna's suicide), whereas in Joyce the end result is the exultant reaffirmation of the commitment to marriage, (Molly's "Yes, Yes. Yes). So looked at from this perspective, one might view Tolstoy's work as an example of "Crime and Punishment," but with no real hope of redemption and Joyce as offering us a redemptive reaffirmation. In addition, one must keep in mind that there are agendas outside the literary in operation here. Joyce was very probably profoundly conflicted about the life he found himself living with Nora (to whom he was not married). All assertions to the contrary could be read simply as an immature attempt to further flout the rules of the Church. Obviously, he must support a view that says "Adultery isn't the worst thing," because he would otherwise be convicted by his own words. And even Dante supports that view. Though adulterers find themselves in Hell, it is only in the second or third circle and it seems to me that he makes the point that "Love gone wrong" is, in some mysterious way less bad that a total lack of love.

T. S. O'Rama in the comments below gives some really interesting but rather disturbing quotes from Shelby Foote addressed to Walker Percy:

"..The best novelists have all been doubters; their only firm conviction, the only one never shaken, is that absolute devotion and belief in the sanctity of art which results in further seeking, not a sense of having found."

Against all modern evidence to the contrary, I want to disbelieve that "a sense of having found" kills good art.

Here is as close as I come to disagreement with the fair lady. The first portion is a quote from other sources and I would revise it
before I could affirm it. I would say that all the best novelists have been searchers. By that I mean, they may stand fully aware and accepting of the presence of God, but with St. Paul, they are "working out their salvation in fear and trembling." They haven't stopped in their growth toward God. Poor novelists (search the ranks of the fiction in most "Christian Bookstores" and you'll find them by the drove) already have all the answers laid out nicely on a platter. Anyone who disagrees is very simply damned, and growth toward God isn't nearly as important as bashing a few heads with some biblical truth. Now, I admit, the last statement is a gross oversimplification and does not represent my view of every "Christian" novelist, but reading these works you get the sense of a completely "settled" universe. Great art is the result of struggle and friction. Being completely settled would not be conducive to such a struggle and is likely to result in the Helen Steiner Rice and Rod McKuen school of writing.

One point further on the quotes. Foote goes on to say that O'Connor is a minor minor novelist because she hadn't the time to develop. This is chronological arrogance at its height. Neither Foote, nor Vidal, nor Updike, nor Wolfe, nor any person alive today can accurately predict what will be read and how it will be read 200 years from now. Such assertions are simply personal preferences disguised in a critical framework.

The point on which I find myself disagreeing with the fair Lady is her own statement regarding, "Despite all evidence to the contrary." Indeed, there is a plethora of abhorrent writing, of half-baked plots, ideas, characters, and even structures. No argument there. I would point out, however, that time has a winnowing effect; and it is my contention that such evidence has existed in abundance as long as there has been public writing and reading for pleasure. I am reminded of the Executioner's Song from The Mikado in which one of the lines listing those who should be summarily executed includes something like, "And all the lady novelists... not one of them'll be missed, not one of them will be missed." So dreck has always been more abundant than quality work. So, I guess my demurral is one of degree and it amounts to me saying simply, "Yes, you are right, there is abundant evidence in the form of putrid art. But how many artists who "have doubted" (to quote Foote) have also produced works that reek to heaven? "

Past masters belie this opinion. Augustine, having been ravished by God, writes prose that ravishes his readers: "beauty ever ancient, ever new ..." Dante's Divine Comedy is the supreme example of "finding," ending as it does with the beatific vision, "the Love that moves the sun and other stars."

As I said before, the winnowing of time has left us with the past masters and with very few of the past dilettantes and dabblers. The chronological sense is that much more good work existed in the past than is present now; however, that is a distortion of the lens of time.

I'm not yet willing to give up hope that our times and our God can inspire good that is beautiful and true in every sense.

I concur, and believe this to be the wisest course, and I have waited until now to spell out why. God created the world and it was all good. The innate talent or creative faculty is good--what makes a work less than good is its effect upon the reader. The effect is controlled by how much an artist allows his or her fallenness to interfere with talent. In the case of a Huysman or a Crowley, the ultimate effect is that the creation is bad or seems bad, flawed, and ugly., However, in the case of a Joyce, the talent is prodigious, some of the things exposed are bad, but ultimately the effect of the book is reaffirming and reaffirming in the right sort of way. A great artist can talk about less-than-moral things and God can use that to overshadow even the intent of the artist.

We are ultimately co-creators with God. Every creation in which we allow His will to predominate will shine out in that goodness and light; every creation that we subject to ourselves, will ultimately hide in our shadow. Truth, beauty, and goodness still exist, there is still writing and art that bring them forward and there will continue to be because God ultimately informs all of creation with His being. This is where those confusing statements Jesus made come in. In one place He says, "He who is not for me is against me." This is at the realm of conscious thought and choice. In another He said, "He who is not against me is for me." That is, an artist, whether an acknowledging Christian or not, if he does not purposefully stand against goodness will ultimately allow that goodness to play through--sometimes brighter, sometimes darker.

One last note on the effects of modernism. Modernism and its horrid mutant step-child Postmodernism have so infected the culture, taste, and ideas of every one of us that we are hard pressed any more to truly see what is good and beautiful. Our notions of beauty have grown so outré and so distorted, and we have been told by many voices that we cannot communicate any more, that we are no longer able to see clearly when something truly magnificent comes along. We must first deconstruct it, analyze it, tear it apart, and see what happens when we put it back together. Modern critical method is less about the work being examined than it is about the opinions of the persons examining the work. Truth, beauty, and goodness have a hard time fighting through that deliberate obstacle.

One last note, much of this is thinking on the fly, and probably needs some careful consideration and revision. I welcome all comments toward that goal. I've already been through twice, and I see places where the thought needs much better fleshing out--but that will undoubtedly emerge in subsequent discussion. Thanks to all.

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Must See and Read

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John Betts over at Just Your Average Catholic Guy is producing a decidedly non-average series on the noncanonical works of the New Testament. A small excerpt to whet your appetite (in reference to the texts of the Infancy Gospel of Thomas):

I find that one cannot read these texts without being highly amused, for the Jesus in these apocryphal gospels is a Divine Dennis the Menace or Squire of Gothos (sans the obsession for fencing). He not only knows Who He Is, but he certainly isn't afraid to show it. Indeed, poor Joseph finds that the boy Jesus is quite the handful and, like many parents of willful children, is a number of times at wits end about what to do with the boy. This boy Jesus smites those who offend him (though those who were struck down are restored in the end), and is very much the terror to any teacher brave enough (or more aptly perhaps foolish enough) to try and teach him his letters. Joseph becomes so vexed at what to do with the boy Jesus that he scolds him and tries corporal punishment of a sort: pinching the boy's ear until it was very sore. Yet to his consternation, the boy Jesus, of course annoyed because of this, looks up at him and says, "It sufficeth thee (or them) to seek and not to find, and verily thou hast done unwisely: knowest thou not that I am thine? vex me not." Imagine having God as your child and trying to punish him!
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Happenings in Blog World

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I've added several sites to my list of those visited frequently. A Catholic Point of View presents images and icons from the world of Catholic and (presumably) Orthodox art with commentary. My Daily Crumbs provides reflections of a young Catholic musician along with access to some of his music--including a FREE CD and some compressed real player files to sample. Enjoy

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At Error 503:La Vita Nuova Dylan offers us this remarkable poem by Thomas Campion as well as a tribute to Chicago area poet Kenneth Koch, recently deceased. Check it out!

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The Fate of God

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Reading through Romano Guardini's remarkable little book on the rosary, I came across this passage which startled me. I read it through at least twice before it began to make sense to me, and now I find it an amazing insight into the workings of God's Love.

from Romano Guardini--The Rosary of Our Lady, p. 49

To say that God's love meant fate for Him certainly means nothing that would diminish God's honor, but on the contrary, something that should teach us to adore Him all the more deeply. A person who loves relinquishes the freedom of the untouched heart, and becomes chained to the beloved, not by force or necessity but precisely by love. He cannot say of the other any more, "This is someone else, not I--this hits him, not me!" Such distinctions disappear with the degree of love's reality.

Therefore, love is fate from the first moment. Again, this is not said correctly, for what happens to the loving individual must be only a reflection of what happens in God with unbelievable import and power.

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Robert Hugh Benson

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Looking for other texts by Benson, I stumbled upon this poem and thought it quite beautiful.

The Teresian Contemplative By Robert Hugh Benson

SHE moves in tumult; round her lies
The silence of the world of grace;
The twilight of our mysteries
Shines like high noonday on her face;
Our piteous guesses, dim with fears,
She touches, handles, sees, and hears.

In her all longings mix and meet;
Dumb souls through her are eloquent;
She feels the world beneath her feet
Thrill in a passionate intent;
Through her our tides of feeling roll
And find their God within her soul.

Her faith the awful Face of God
Brightens and blinds with utter light;
Her footsteps fall where late He trod;
She sinks in roaring voids of night;
Cries to her Lord in black despair,
And knows, yet knows not, He is there.

A willing sacrifice she takes
The burden of our fall within;
Holy she stands; while on her breaks
The lightning of the wrath of sin;
She drinks her Saviour’s cup of pain,
And, one with Jesus, thirsts again.

It seems so exactly to describe the contemplative experience and the work of the contemplative within the body of the Church. St. Therese of Lisieux never left her little convent, and yet she is Patroness of the Missions because of her ardent prayer for those who went on mission work.The contemplative labors in the darkness of God which is far brighter than the light of humanity. And she seeks to draw all souls to God through Prayer. Once again, Therese of Lisieux promises that all who she has met and prayed for are drawn with her like objects through a whitewater torrent into the mercy and love of God.

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Thomas Gray is known chiefly as the font of the "Graveyard poets" having penned "Elegy in a Country Churchyard." Alas, this so-much-more important work is too often missed in our hurry to praise his better known work!

Ode on the Death of a Favorite Cat Drowned in a Tub of Goldfishes
Thomas Gray


'Twas on a lofty vase's side,
Where China's gayest art had dy'd
The azure flow'rs that blow;
Demurest of the tabby kind,
The pensive Selima, reclin'd,
Gazed on the lake below.

Her conscious tail her joy declar'd;
The fair round face, the snowy beard,
The velvet of her paws,
Her coat, that with the tortoise vies,
Her ears of jet, and emerald eyes,
She saw: and purr'd applause.

Still had she gaz'd; but 'midst the tide
Two angel forms were seen to glide,
The Genii of the stream;
Their scaly armour's Tyrian hue
Thro' richest purple to the view
Betray'd a golden gleam.

The hapless Nymph with wonder saw:
A whisker first and then a claw,
With many an ardent wish,
She stretch'd in vain to reach the prize.
What female heart can gold despise?
What cat's averse to fish?

Presumptuous Maid! with looks intent
Again she stretch'd, again she bent,
Nor knew the gulf between.
(Malignant Fate sat by, and smil'd)
The slipp'ry verge her feet beguil'd,
She tumbled headlong in.

Eight times emerging from the flood
She mew'd to ev'ry wat'ry god,
Some speedy aid to send.
No Dolphin came, no Nereid stirr'd;
Nor cruel Tom, nor Susan heard.
A Fav'rite has no friend!

From hence, ye Beauties, undeceiv'd,
Know, one false step is ne'er retriev'd,
And be with caution bold.
Not all that tempts your wand'ring eyes
And heedless hearts is lawful prize,
Nor all, that glisters, gold.

Truly an epic to sit alongside "The Dunciad" and "Rape of the Lock!"

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More French Poetry

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Dylan mentioned a poem by Paul Verlaine that has always been a favorite of mine. It also demonstrates a contention I have made regarding some of the less likable qualities of the prose of St. Therese. Isn't it wonderful the way God arranges these juxtapositions?

"Il pleut doucement sur la ville" - Arthur Rimbaud
Paul Verlaine.
Romances Sans Paroles (1874).

Il pleure dans mon coeur
Comme il pleut sur la ville,
Quelle est cette langueur
Qui penetre mon coeur?

O bruit doux de la pluie
Par terre et sur les toits!
Pour un coeur qui s'ennuie,
O le chant de la pluie!

Il pleure sans raison
Dans ce coeur qui s'ecoeure.
Quoi! nulle trahison?
Ce deuil est sans raison.

C'est bien la pire peine
De ne savoir pourquoi,
Sans amour et sans haine,
Mon coeur a tant de peine!

And once again an attempt at translation. This being symboliste is a bit more difficult and variable than Jacques Prevert, but I'll try to make it serviceable, if not great verse.

"It rains softly (sweetly) on the city" Arthur Rimbaud [another French Symboliste]
Paul Verlaine
from Love Songs without Words (1874)

My heart weeps*
As it rains on the city,
What is this languor
That penetrates my heart?

O sweet sound** of the rain
On the ground and on the roofs!
For a bored heart,
O the song of the rain!

There is senseless crying
in this heart which is disheartened.
What? No breach of faith?
This sorrow is without reason.

Truly*** the worst pain [is]
Not knowing why
Without love and without hate
My heart has so much pain.

*Literally-It cries in my heart or There is crying in my heart
**or gentle noise
***literally--That's right

Yes, it doesn't make it into English very well, largely because it builds on a sort of punning twin of pleure (cry)and pleut (rains) probably stemming from a common Latin root and a conceit that the rain are the tears of the sky. There is also the neat verbal trick of coupling coeur (heart) twice with a reflexive verb "s'ennuie" and "s'ecoeure." All of this verbal play in French that sounds good and makes a sort of sense. In addition, it plays on a phrase of Blaise Pascal--"The heart has its reasons, which reason cannot know." In fact the whole poem is a sort of variation on Pascal's phrase (odd considering Verlaine himself).

The main point I wanted to make with this poem however is that it predates Therese only by about 20 years. It is considered highly respectable, not sentimental poetry. But such maundering on and on about bored hearts and pained hearts just doesn't go over well in English. In fact, it is nearly painful to American ears and doubt that it does a whole lot for other native English speakers. There is no way to bring the poem into English that doesn't sound over-the-top melodramatic. Many complain of a similar quality in Therese's writing and attribute it, I think wrongly, to the sentimental piety of Victorian Era French. I think rather it is a matter of the two languages at odds in taste in sensibility. Nevertheless, the end result is that Therese winds up sounding saccharine in our ears. That's a shame, as when this is filtered out, as it seems to be in Clarke's translation, even the most eccentric verbal tropes come out not sounding so bad as they might in lesser translations. For example, the whole bit about being Jesus' toy is not nearly so awful in Clarke's translation as it is in Beevers and others.

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From Morning Prayer

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This prayer is beautiful and really spoke to me this morning. (Yes, yes, I know I read it every Thursday of Week II, but still. . . )

Lord God, eternal shepherd, you so tend the vineyard you planted that now it extends its branches event to the farthest coast. Look down on your Church and come to us. Help us remain in your Son as branches on the vine, that, planted firmly in your love, we may testify before the whole world to your great power working everywhere.
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Happy Saint Dominic's Day

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Happy Saint Dominic's Day
To all Dominicans--a most blessed feast day!

And that he might be construed as he was,
A spirit from this place went forth to name him
With His possessive whose he wholly was.

Dominic was he called; and him I speak of
Even as of the husbandman whom Christ
Elected to his garden to assist him.

Envoy and servant sooth he seemed of Christ,
For the first love made manifest in him
Was the first counsel that was given by Christ.

Silent and wakeful many a time was he
Discovered by his nurse upon the ground,
As if he would have said, 'For this I came.'

O thou his father, Felix verily!
O thou his mother, verily Joanna,
If this, interpreted, means as is said!

Not for the world which people toil for now
In following Ostiense and Taddeo,
But through his longing after the true manna,

He in short time became so great a teacher,
That he began to go about the vineyard,
Which fadeth soon, if faithless be the dresser;

And of the See, (that once was more benignant
Unto the righteous poor, not through itself,
But him who sits there and degenerates,)

Not to dispense or two or three for six,
Not any fortune of first vacancy,
'Non decimas quae sunt pauperum Dei,'

He asked for, but against the errant world
Permission to do battle for the seed,
Of which these four and twenty plants surround thee.

Then with the doctrine and the will together,
With office apostolical he moved,
Like torrent which some lofty vein out-presses;

And in among the shoots heretical
His impetus with greater fury smote,
Wherever the resistance was the greatest.

Of him were made thereafter divers runnels,
Whereby the garden catholic is watered,
So that more living its plantations stand.

From Paradiso Canto XII

My apologies for the translation (Longfellow) but needed to find something that was without question public domain.

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Despondency Redux

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Despondency Redux

Mr. Field comments below:

I'm new to blogland, but I think that the types of posts that you write don't provoke a thread of discussion in the way that Mrs. Welborn's do. Probably because of your "rules of posting" that you discuss in your philosophy post immediately above.

And, of course, he's correct. It is far more difficult to respond to something that simply isn't controversial. It is harder to formulate anything coherent to say about it other than , "Well, yes, of course." (Read that last phrase with a sort of valley-girl whine--much more effective). So despondency, is simply about unrealistic expectations. Once abandoned, the sheer pleasure of being able to write and being able to say something about those saints and artists who speak to you takes over. This love and exhilaration is a gift from God as all love is a mirror of His divine love for us. They are all lesser and eventually need to be abandoned for that greater love, but only as He leads us.

So, all things considered, it is hardly surprising that these posts don't provoke tons of comments. And that's perfectly okay, because normally I feel conscience bound to try to respond to someone who has been so kind as to make a comment on the site. I know I haven't done so completely or perfectly, and if I had a greater number of responses, I'd be unable to respond to as many of them as I currently do.

So, to Mr. Field, thank you for the fine compliment paid and for putting into words what I had so obviously neglected. After all, I do not comment on everything I read on everyone's site, nor am I likely to in the future. But all of those sites I visit with great frequency, those listed to the left and many others, I enjoy and appreciate enormously.

I suppose, if I'm to be allowed a single whine (I promise not to drive for at least an hour afterwards), that I lament that so few seem to be engaged by what is lovely and beautiful as by what is current and usually unfortunately human (in that most fallen of senses).

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Jacques Prevert

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Jacques Prevert is a kind of minimalist poet that normally I don't care for. Perhaps because it is in French, or perhaps for other reasons, I find Prevert quite, quite different and quite beautiful. I've appended a rough translation to the following poem.

Déjeuner du matin

Il a mis le café
Dans la tasse
Il a mis le lait
Dans la tasse de café
Il a mis le sucre
Dans le café au lait
Avec la petite cuiller
Il a tourné
Il a bu le café au lait
Et il a reposé la tasse
Sans me parler
Il a allumé
Une cigarette
Il a fait des ronds
Avec la fumée
Il a mis les cendres
Dans le cendrier
Sans me parler
Sans me regarder
Il s'est levé
Il a mis
Son chapeau sur sa tête
Il a mis
Son manteau de pluie
Parce qu'il pleuvait
Et il est parti
Sous la pluie
Sans une parole
Sans me regarder
Et moi j'ai pris
Ma tête dans ma main
Et j'ai pleuré.

My poor translation:

Breakfast
He put the coffee
in the cup
He put milk
in the cup of coffee
He put sugar
in the cafe au lait
With a small spoon
he stirred
He drank the cafe au lait
and he replaced the cup
without speaking to me
He lit
a cigarette
He made rings
with the smoke
He put the ashes
into the ashtray
Without speaking to me
Without looking at me
He got up
He put
his hat on his head
He put on
his raincoat
because it was raining
And he left
Under the rain
Without a word
Without looking at me
And me I put
my head on my hand
and I cried.

I love the very short lines, the gray repetition of phrase. Particularly I love the fact that in French pleuvait (it was raining) and pleure (past participle of "to cry") are such similar words. This poem reminds me very much of the work of such French cineastes as Francois Truffaut. When I read Prevert's work I see Fahrenheit 451 or L'enfant Sauvage or Le Quartre Cent Coups. I see Parisian gray, and I also see the despair of a life not centered in God, but centered and isolated completely within the self. We don't know the cause of the silence we observe, but we seem to know that it is quotidian, and this scene probably has few variations in its playing. I think this is the art of quiet desperation and of conventionality.

Please, once again, excuse my poor translation, but I tried to convey as literally as possible what was being said and still remain true to the strangely formal and yet colloquial French. Too many translations change words. For example to construct a sort of formal poetic parallelism, "sans me parler" and "sans une parole" are often both translated to--"Without a word." I don't think that is true to the spirit or intent of Prevert's poem. But then, I probably should be a little cautious about such statements, as I am by no means an expert in poetic French.

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Another Gem from Blog Land

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I never fail to be amused, or at least perplexed (a rather enjoyable state overall) by the remarkable comments at Disputations.

I quote the excerpt below because it is a remarkable summary of much of the way I feel as well.

I don't have any insightful or non-negotiable opinions about liturgy, translations, enneagrams, EWTN, or Cardinal Law. What I will object to strenuously, though, are Catholics who demonstrate no faith in the Catholic faith.

(Add "worthwhile" to "insightful or nonnegotiable" to get a clearer idea of my stand.)

Although, contra John (elsewhere in the same blog), I do identify myself quite clearly as an Orthodox Catholic. (I just am uncertain about orthopraxis--out of ignorance, not defiance.) I insist that I am a true son of the Holy Catholic Church and any opinions I may hold contrary to its teaching are to be considered subject thereto (being a convert from the Baptist faith, I plead mostly ignorance).

That's not to say that I don't struggle with some of these same teachings. But when asked about them, I might advance my opinion, with the clear admonition that it is merely my opinion and not the teaching of the church and that I am presently struggling with and attempting to enter into the church teaching. I am pleased to say that on every point of importance on which I have disagreed with the Church, I have subsequently been proven wrong, by reason and the Holy Spirit. Praise God!

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Another must-read! Chez Dylan

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Chez Dylan you will find a wonderful response to the letter by a priest defending "choice" that has been making the blog-rounds. Beautifully stated and entirely self-consistent and logical.

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On Coping with Sinfulness

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One more piece of advice to Mr. Roberts at his new blog on dealing with sin comes from Therese of Lisieux. In one of her letters she tells a little parable of two sons, each of whom had offended his father. One of the sons went and hid, fearing his father's anger. But the other saw his father and went and threw himself into his father's arms and kissed and hugged him and promised with a small child's promises not to commit the same offense again. Therese concludes that though the father is perfectly aware that the child will sin again, he could not but forgive one who gave such an ardent and authentic display of love. Therese recommends throwing yourself into the all-embracing love of the father as the finest tonic for less-than-perfect behavior.

And then of course there is the remarkably bracing and strengthening support of our brother St. Paul who reminds us of the human condition, "I do the things I do not wish to do, and I don't do the things I wish to do, and I have no strength in me." And later, "In my weakness is His strength." So, if I have no strength in me (due to my constant reversion to sin), I approach the throne of grace and with Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection say to God, "See what happens to me when you leave me even for a moment to walk by myself?" (Of course, God never leaves us, but He does allow temptations).

And finally remember the caution of that old reprobate Oscar Wilde, "I can resist anything but temptation." And seek to do a bit better.

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Surprise! Not a Metaphysical

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No, he's not a metaphysical poet. He may not even have been a Christian. But his poetry is among the greatest in the English language. One of his poems ("To Autumn")has been typified by one critic as "imperfect because of it's perfection." And his vibrant poetry tends to remind one of the God's vibrant poetry in creating such an artist.

On first looking into Chapman's Homer
John Keats


MUCH have I travell'd in the realms of gold,
And many goodly states and kingdoms seen;
Round many western islands have I been
Which bards in fealty to Apollo hold.
Oft of one wide expanse had I been told
That deep-brow'd Homer ruled as his demesne:
Yet did I never breathe its pure serene
Till I heard Chapman speak out loud and bold:
Then felt I like some watcher of the skies
When a new planet swims into his ken;
Or like stout Cortez, when with eagle eyes
He stared at the Pacific—and all his men
Look'd at each other with a wild surmise—
Silent, upon a peak in Darien.

"I felt like some watcher of the skies/When a new planet swims into his ken. . ." certainly describes my reaction to reading this poem the first time. Certainly one of the finest sonnets of the 19th century, if not the very best of Keats himself. And I suspect that he may have his history a little off--Cortez probably should be Balboa--but hey! he didn't claim to be a historian.

For those interested in looking into Chapman's Homer (as well as the remarkable and lovely Pope translations) you can do so at t this site. Simply look up "Homer" or "Chapman" or go to the "Elizabethans" page. Enjoy.

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The Philosophy of this Blog

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I've never really stated why I am in the blogging world. There are actually two reasons--one practical, one spiritual/emotional. The practical reason is that I needed to better understand how Dhtml works, and this provided me with an excuse to learn.

The spiritual/emotional reason is that I saw a lot of blogs that commented on the news and on events. I think many of these are very fine and provide insights I might not otherwise have. But I thought that I could provide a pool of serenity where these issues did not often intrude (little did I realize that there are many such pools--thus my ignorance of the blogging world contributed yet another blog). However, you will see that while I have opinions about many of the things stated, I have some fairly strict rules (for myself) about what I will post and discuss. The first of these follows a dictum from Blessed (soon-to-be St.) Josemaria Escriva. One of his "seventeen evidences of a lack of humility," is " to give your opinion when it has not been requested and when charity does not demand it." I'm afraid that many of my ruminations upon events in the world would strike one as something less than charitable. Far better not to inflict that on an unsuspecting world. But the overriding rule I try to abide by comes straight from the lips of Jesus, "Take the beam from out thine own eye before thou removest the mote in thy brother's eye." I'm afraid that I've got one of those metal skyscraper structural I-beams--far be it for me to deride anyone no matter how (subjectively) ludicrous I may find their opinions.

That said, I must also add that I thank God for those not under the same strictures. We need bold defenders of the faith and people who are willing to wade into the fray and simply lay it on the line. We need people who can explain and defend the faith and who are not afraid to call a dog a dog. In no way is my reluctance to engage in these sorts of enterprises to be considered a reflection on anyone who does. But as John at Disputations wisely pointed out:


As with air masks that drop down from the ceiling in the event of a sudden loss of cabin pressure, the saving of souls works best if you take care of yourself before assisting those around you.

That said, you will undoubtedly better understand why this site has the weird things it does. I write to inform you and in so doing I learn far more than anyone is likely to derive from my writings. So thank you all for giving me a reason to write and to reflect upon the goodness of God, His mercy, His blessings, and His loving kindness to me. It is my prayer that you may come away from my site with something similar for yourselves. And if not, at least you have been entertained by the endless meanderings. I suspect it ranks at least slightly above most television for content value.

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Thanks

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I want to thank everyone who so kindly responded to my post about "despondency." I suppose that the word was rather stronger than my actual feeling and the real essence was to reflect and realize that not everything one writes CAN provoke much of a reaction. There are things very close to one's heart (to one's soul) that speak to one and not to another, as God chooses. We all have vocations, and each vocation is tailored to the individual.

Often I hear people say something like, "I'll never be a St. Therese." And my immediate response is, "We already have one of those, God doesn't need another. What God needs here and now is a St. Kevin." (Assuming the conversant's name was Kevin).

Another mystery of vocation that I had missed for so long is that it isn't simply, "My vocation is to be a Carmelite," and that's the end of it. No, as St. Therese informs us, vocation is much more complex. She finally concluded that her vocation was, "To be Love at the heart of the Church." Each of us is called not only to what I would term a primary vocation, but to a unique definition of that vocation. What this provides the world is an array of saints of every shade and shape, every imaginable disposition and personality, so that when someone is looking for an example, they can find someone who really helps them out. I mean, consider the spectrum--from St. Philip Neri to St. Jerome and beyond. God really is lavish in His gifts to us.

I've wandered off path again. But thanks for writing and thank you for reading--it is deeply appreciated. I pray that God will bless you for it.

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"This is the saddest story.

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This post may be one of the saddest things I have read in recent days. And it is such an appropriate characterization.

An excerpt:


There can be nothing new in her particular vision because the new is simply a metaphor for what she already understands. She has the tiniest god I've ever seen. He fits inside her head.

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Richard Crashaw

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Richard Crashaw

From the first time I read this poem, the imagery of the "purple wardrobe" stuck with me.

Upon the Body of Our Blessed Lord, Naked and Bloody
Richard Crashaw

They have left thee naked, Lord, O that they had!
This garment too I wish they had deny’d.
Thee with thy self they have too richly clad;
Opening the purple wardrobe in thy side.
O never could there be garment too good
For thee to wear, but this of thine own Blood.

I have seen this typified by some would-be critics as a "macabre epigram." Perhaps. But I think a moment's attention would show it for what it really is--a passionate poem about the passion. The imagery is stark and startling, and the truth of it undeniable to anyone who has spent any time meditating on the meaning of Good Friday. But, in a post-Christian world, what can one expect of those who refuse to absorb even the slightest hint of their own culture?

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On Vocation

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On Vocation

I have written a number of posts reflecting on St. John of the Cross and the Carmelite way, and I was getting a bit despondent at the lack of interest and/or discussion they seemed to provoke. But as I was reflecting on this I realized several things, the most important of which I shall share.

The lack of response isn't due to a lack of readership, but it is due to the nature of vocation. Some may stop by and read an endless blog on detachment and say--"What's his problem?" or "What was that all about?" Others may stop and read and find it perfectly clear and have no comment. Yet others may stop by and say, "And that means what to me?" All are legitimate responses. What it points out to me, is that vocation really is a gift from God.

From as early as I can remember in my spiritual life, I have had the desire to be as close to God as I possibly could--to "climb inside" God and not come out. Through a tortured path of mistakes, poor discernment, and God's Grace, I finally found my way to the Third Order of Carmel. Previously I had read some of St. John of the Cross and realized that what he was talking about was exactly what I wanted. I remember a discussion with my wife before we bought our first house. She was talking excitedly about how great it would be to "own" a house, and all I could think about, with serious dread, was the prospect of a house now "owning" me. It was yet another thing to care for and take time away from what really mattered.

All along, God has been calling me to detachment, to a gentle movement toward Him. I have moved ever so slowly. But as I said in a teaching to my Carmelite Community last week, "Three steps forward and two steps back is still a step in the right direction." My ascent of Mt. Carmel may take me the rest of my life (of course it will--that too is the nature of vocation), but at least God has granted me a sense of what I am doing, and some reliable saintly guides as to how to go about it. Both of these are great treasures that God in His mercy has seen fit to grant me. And so, because He has also shown me this way, I would like to share them as much as possible; therefore, lack of comment is no object. We must recognize why we do things, reject the human rationalizations and desires, and do what we do solely for the love of God.

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A Right to be a Priest

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Okay, so I'm late in coming to the discussion--no surprise there. However, I would like to say this about an excerpt from the New Gasparian Blog:

Lane Core from the Blog from the Core disputes my contention that no one has a right to be a priest.

He balances that with:

Of course, a right may be forfeited: but saying that is not nearly the same as saying the right doesn't exist.

I must respectfully support the conclusion, in part of Mr. (Fr. ?) Keyes:

I respectfully disagree with Mr. Core, and think we should spend more time reflecting on and celebrating what God has given, what God has done for us, then trying to take sole ownership of it.

But I do so from a slightly different perspective. The priesthood is a vocation. A vocation is a call from God. Therefore, it would be improper to say that anyone had a "right" to the priesthood. Only those called by God have any possibility of a "right" and I think insisting upon a gift would be considered boorish in any circle. No one has a "right" to the priesthood, and it may be that some have improperly considered their vocation. Sometimes proper discernment is not undertaken in the consideration of a task or place in life.

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Spirit Detector But this time

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But this time not to critique. Hop right over. Now. No, sooner--quick. Read the wonderful post on the Catholic Church's built-in spirit detector and see what you think!

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From Office of Readings:


Jesus goes before us to show us the way, both up the mountain and into heaven, and --I speak boldly--it is for us now to follow him with all speed, yearning for the heavenly vision that will give us a share in his radiance, renew our spiritual nature and transform us into his own likeness, making us for ever sharers in his Godhead and raising us to heights as yet undreamed of.

Let us run with confidence and joy to enter into the cloud like Moses and Elijah, or like James and John. Let us be caught up like Peter to behold the divine vision and to be transfigured by that glorious transfiguration. Let us retire from the world, stand aloof from the earth, rise above the body, detach ourselves from creatures and turn to the Creator. . .

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Another metaphysical poet with a very disturbing and lovely poem:

THE WORLD.
by Henry Vaughan


I SAW Eternity the other night,
Like a great ring of pure and endless light,
All calm, as it was bright ;
And round beneath it, Time in hours, days, years
Driv'n by the spheres
Like a vast shadow mov'd ; in which the world
And all her train were hurl'd.
The doting lover in his quaintest strain
Did there complain ;
Near him, his lute, his fancy, and his flights,
Wit's sour delights ;
With gloves, and knots, the silly snares of pleasure,
Yet his dear treasure,
All scatter'd lay, while he his eyes did pour
Upon a flow'r.

2.
The darksome statesman, hung with weights and woe,
Like a thick midnight-fog, mov'd there so slow,
He did nor stay, nor go ;
Condemning thoughts—like sad eclipses—scowl
Upon his soul,
And clouds of crying witnesses without
Pursued him with one shout.
Yet digg'd the mole, and lest his ways be found,
Work'd under ground,
Where he did clutch his prey ; but one did see
That policy :
Churches and altars fed him ; perjuries
Were gnats and flies ;
It rain'd about him blood and tears, but he
Drank them as free.

3.
The fearful miser on a heap of rust
Sate pining all his life there, did scarce trust
His own hands with the dust,
Yet would not place one piece above, but lives
In fear of thieves.
Thousands there were as frantic as himself,
And hugg'd each one his pelf ;*
The downright epicure plac'd heav'n in sense,
And scorn'd pretence ;
While others, slipp'd into a wide excess
Said little less ;
The weaker sort slight, trivial wares enslave,
Who think them brave ;
And poor, despisèd Truth sate counting by
Their victory.

4.
Yet some, who all this while did weep and sing,
And sing, and weep, soar'd up into the ring ;
But most would use no wing.
O fools—said I—thus to prefer dark night
Before true light !
To live in grots and caves, and hate the day
Because it shows the way ;
The way, which from this dead and dark abode
Leads up to God ;
A way where you might tread the sun, and be
More bright than he !
But as I did their madness so discuss,
One whisper'd thus,
“This ring the Bridegroom did for none provide,
But for His bride.”

JOHN, CAP. 2. VER. 16, 17.

All that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, the
lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the
Father, but is of the world.
And the world passeth away, and the lusts thereof ;
but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.


source: Luminarium

What I like particularly about this poem is both the rhyme scheme with couplets and the eccentric end-stopped half-lines that cause the rhythm to stumble along unnaturally, mimicking in verse the fallen nature of the world discussed in the details of the poem. Overall, a poem that speaks both in its subject matter and its structure--a very neat trick to accomplish.

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Morning Prayer

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From Morning Prayer:

Almighty Father, source of everlasting light, pour forth your truth into our hearts and pour over us the brightness of your light. Amen
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Sayings of Light and Love

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Sayings of Light and Love

John of the Cross wrote a series of very short aphorisms meant to instruct the Carmelite Religious of his time. These short sayings are very much like the sayings of the desert fathers in that they pack a lot of meaning or intent into a very small space. They are great for meditation starters, or in series for an intense lectio.

20. God is more pleased by one work, however small, done secretly, without desire that it be known, than a thousand done with the desire that people know of them. Those who work for God with purest love not only care nothing about whether others see their works, but do not even seek that God himself know of them. Such persons would not cease to render God the same services, with the same joy and purity of love, even if God were never to know of these.

This demonstrates one of the primary themes of St. John of the Cross--seeking nothing, letting go of all desire and of all attachments. This detachment is a necessary stage in growth toward unity with God. After detachment comes purification (the variously described "Dark Nights"). But detachment is the first rule. In order to achieve union with God one must be detached from everything less than God. The other day a person interested in becoming a Carmelite asked me, "Does that include your children?" And my answer, immediately, was, "Of course."

But you need to understand what detachment is and what it is not. Many people confuse detachment with indifference. They are not the same. An person who is detached is able to calmly and carefully care for a child or another person who has just fallen and may have broken a limb. An indifferent person looks upon the same spectacle with the attitude that it is all part of the rich pageant of life, and then goes inside to pour him- or herself a beer.

Detachment is the ability to let everything go into the good that God has prepared for His entire creation. Detachment from one's children means loving them, guiding them, bringing them up in the way they should go, lavishing care and concern on them, but not seeking to control every action of their lives; you need to be there as guardian, guide, and advisor, and then you need to trust them confidently to God's loving care when it comes time for them to make their own choices.

True detachment delivers the object to the infinite care of Almighty God, understanding that we are incapable of even a microscopic fraction of the care and love God lavishes upon each of His Children. In the parlance of one group, detachment is "Letting go and letting God." But it really is--rather than just being a cute slogan. Detachment is a source of enormous peace, because you are no longer burdened with the need to control everyone and everything around you. Detachment is not cold, it is passionate, loving, caring, and deeply intimate. It shows far greater love than any other action we can take, because we turn the object of our concern over to the Infinite source of Love and all concern. We trust our most loved people and things to the One who can most love them--God.

More on John of the Cross as we go along.

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The Fractal Feast

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I mentioned in the very first of my blog impressions that I was interested in fractals. More than interested, much of my dissertation centered about fractals and non-linear dynamics. So, while I'm no expert, I do like them and so I thought I'd tell you about the most perfect (and my favorite) fractal--the Eucharist.

This is not meant as sacrilege, nor even as metaphor. God thought and imagined the fractal before we could ever name it, and little wonder that He should use it. What precisely is a fractal? Well, there are lot's and lot's of possible definitions--"a geometric figure with a non-integral dimension," for example. There are more technical definitions, and there are more informal definitions. For my purposes, I've settled on the midground definition of "an object or figure that exhibits self-similarity." Now admittedly, this is loosely true of all fractals and only completely true of perfect fractals. A perfect fractal would be exactly the same at whatever magnification you viewed it. Let me see if I can explain. Take an equilateral triangle. Now, from each of the three side, draw another equilateral triangle with base exactly one-third the length of the original base (however, in your drawing, you will exclude or erase the portion of the original base that is now "covered" by the new triangle. (You now have figure that looks a bit like a six-pointed star.) Now from each of the sides of the new figure, draw a new equilateral triangle with base one-third the length of the second, one-ninth the length of the first. I think you get the idea.

Consider now the Eucharist. It is the complete body and blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. You cannot get a "part of the body" or "some of the blood" or a "portion of the divinity" or a "fragment of the soul." In consuming the Eucharist we receive the complete Savior. Now, on some occasions, the priest may have to break a host in order to assure that there is enough for everyone. Does this broken host represent a part of the body of Christ. When he breaks it, do we only receive the body and not the blood, or the soul and not the divinity? Or do we receive half of each? No. We all know that no matter how small the fragment of the host, so long as it has been properly consecrated, it contains the fullness of the body and blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ. In fact, this is true down to the smallest possible fragment that could still be recognizable as bread (probably not true on an atomic level, although I'll leave that speculation to quantum physicists and others better qualified than me). But certainly, so long as the material is still recognizable as bread, it is the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. (This is why some of the cleansing techniques I have seen in some churches approach blasphemy. It is also why the plumbing used in the sacristy to wash the vessels of Mass was (at least in the past) grounded--that is, not channeled into a sewer system. If we are at all serious about our faith, this should still be mandatory, but I don't know if it is.)

Everything written above about the consecrated host is also true of the consecrated wine. The smallest sip contains the exact image of the entire cup. There is no fragment of God that we receive. Indeed, the Eucharist is the perfect fractal, retaining to the smallest detail the exact image of Jesus Christ to all who consume it. It is awe-inspiring to contemplate this essential mystery of the Eucharist. It is the perfection of God's plan and in it one could read a message of Divine Love. No matter how little you receive, you receive all there is to receive. In this sense, the Eucharist is a perfect fractal feast. The person of God is complete in every part of every element, down to the smallest recognizable fraction of that element. This mystery deepens as you think about it and it leads you into an understanding of the pervasiveness of God. He is all in all in all. In everyone who consumes the Eucharist, every portion of that person (the entire person) is divinized by contact and intermingling with the Divine. And there is no end to this. As once said, in saecula saeculorum.

Of course, all of this is speculation and metaphor, and if incorrect in any way, I gladly accept all correction. Thanks.

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John Bunyan Revisited

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Disputations today has a brief column (see 11:02) regarding the necessity of saving your own soul before you proceed to that of others. This immediately put me in mind of A Pilgrim's Progress in which Christian is advised likewise. Once might also consider that Jesus kind of advised the same thing "Take the beam from out thine own eye before thou regardest the mote in thy brother's." There are other places where such advice is made explicit as well. Looking to your own salvation is the only way to help show someone the path to his or her own.

Now, admittedly, this can become toxic and obsessive. We could be so controlled by worrying about our salvation that we find ourselves incapable of acting. It becomes morbid. However, it is a good idea to be certain you are at least aware of the path you should be walking (even if you aren't doing a particularly good job of it) before you try showing others the way they should be going.

Even though it is a work of Puritanism at its height, a Pilgrim's Progress is worth a look--even if only to better understand Lewis's A Pilgrim's Regress.

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Hazel Mote, Anyone?

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At least Hazel only promoted the Church of God without Christ--a kind of Southern Unitarian thing, I suppose. But Mark Shea (direct linking not working so go to the 8/5/02, 7:32 post about Spong) has linked to an article by Gene Edward Veith that must chronicle one of the most absurd and idiotic doxologies in the history of humankind:

Bishop Spong proposes "a new Christianity." This new faith, he writes, must be able to "incorporate all of our reality. It must be able to allow God and Satan to come together in each of us.... It must unite Christ with Antichrist, Jesus with Judas, male with female, heterosexual with homosexual." This new Christianity, which amounts to a completely different religion, presumably will still need to employ bishops.

This "new christianity" already has a name--secular humanism.

And for "Bishop" Spong and those who follow him, the following admonition:

"Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. Woe to the world because of things that cause sin! Such things must come, but woe to the one through whom they come! "(Matthew 18:6-7)

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Who Saves the World?

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Who Saves the World?

Kairos has a very interesting post, but I find myself somewhat at odds with the language (but probably not with the intent).

The first instance is in this short paragraph:

I know I have said this before, but it bears constant repetition: You cannot fix the world. You can only save it.

First, I must say, there are several ways to read this. If it is intended to say "The world cannot be fixed, it can only be saved," which, I believe is the intent, then I would have to concur, even if it is passive language. However, if the claim is that I as an individual can so some sort of saving, then I must demur and point at the One who saves. The reason I make a point of this is that all too many people today are ready to say that we can save the world. Look at any lobby--pro-abortion, anti-abortion, pro-gun-control, anti-gun-control, pro-environment, pro-business--you name it, and they all have the panacea that will make for the perfect world. (Well, not really, but many seem to think of their cause in this light.) While many of these causes are profoundly right-headed and certainly likely to shift the world into the right direction, salvation is from God alone. So, I must repeat, while I do not attribute this reading to Kairos, I must take exception to the literal reading of it.

Another place where I was a bit perturbed was in this quotation, "The souls of the corrupt priests and corrupted victims require significant attention. . . " once again, I believe my disagreement is with the phrasing, not the thought. A person who engages in an activity against his or her will is not "corrupted" by that activity. If they are persuaded to engage in it and then continue afterwards, then I would say that corruption had occurred. We might say that they had been "defiled" by it, but even that language disturbs me because it suggests that there is now something about the person that is wrong or distorted. In fact, there is not. Violation is the only word that can be used to describe the effect on the person, and what that "grows into" is really dependent on the person.

The corruption is on the part of the one perpetrating the act, and on that person alone. The only thing the victim suffers is harm--neither corruption nor uncleanness. We know this because Jesus pointed out that it was not what went into a person that produced uncleanness but what came out of them. Once again, I urge caution in the language because we are a society inclined to blame the person harmed. I have heard ludicrous arguments out of courtrooms suggesting that children as young as four years old "enticed" and participated in their own violation. The other extreme this leads to is that deplored by St. Augustine. Speaking in The City of God about some virgins who had committed suicide rather than suffer defilement, Augustine noted that there was nothing saintly about this action, that the preservation of virginity was not first and foremost a cause to be pursued above all others. (Note, this has nothing to do with the circumstances of Maria Goretti, who categorically DID NOT commit suicide--she was murdered). We mustn't conclude that the violation of these children corrupted or harmed them in an irreparable spiritual way. They have no "spot on their souls" for what happened to them.

Once again, it may sound as though I'm taking Kairos to task over this--I wish to dispel that notion. I am simply using some of the things he wrote about as a springboard to addressing some of the thoughts people have about these issues. If one misreads Kairos's intentions, it would be very easy to fall back into a morality that imputes the stain of a crime to the victim, and I am absolutely certain that was not his intention. So, my apologies beforehand to Kairos for a more or less semantic assault. But my thanks also for allowing me to address issues that are left too often unnoticed.

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"Do not turn inward and live only for yourselves as though already assured of salvation; join together rather and seek the common good. . . .Rather, let us become spiritual; let us be a perfect dwelling place for God." (from a Letter attributed to Barnabas)

What does this dwelling place look like? How does one become such a dwelling place? In what sort of place does God choose to live?

You'd be surprised. God does not necessarily choose palaces, nor even a nice middle-class suburban home, although, of course, He can make His dwelling there as well. No, more often, the places He comes to are humble--tarpaper shacks, a tumble-down cabin, a shallow cave in the face of a cliff. And what He finds there is often unspeakable--wretchedness, dirt and filth, unhappiness, vermin, all manner of things that would offend Him.

How then do these places, our own souls, become suitable dwellings for the Lord of All Creation? Simply, we open a door. We truly open a door. We don't unlock a single lock only to slam a huge bar in place. We don't make the sound of squeaky hinges yet never turn the handle of the door. We ask Christ to be our guest. We ask Him in through prayer and through allying our wills to the first stirrings that He inspires in us.

The present dwellings are too often unkempt, unlit, cramped, and airless. We are unbending, uncompromising, judgmental, unloving, uncaring, self-involved, greedy. We make no room for others. We allow no imperfections in anyone other than ourselves. We are quick to take offense and slow to make peace. We demand our own ways and acknowledge not other possibilities. When we actually open the door, even if it is only a crack, the breath of the Spirit stirs up a new, breathable air and with that air comes light and warmth. When we ask Jesus in, He will enter. And He will do the renovation that makes our dark home His dwelling of light. And we will not like it--no one wants to see what is just beneath the wallboards of their dwelling. No one wants to have exposed the dark workings of the human heart. We do not really want to know about the damage we have inflicted on others or about the harm we do when we are distant, cold, and judging. We are safer in our cramped darkness. This new light and air means we must walk in the open and deal with others in ways we are unused to.

Jesus makes the dwelling of God perfect if we simply cooperate in the venture. If we put ourselves and our considerations aside, Jesus will reform the interior. He will do the remodeling, the rebuilding, the repainting. Sometimes He will have to completely gut what is already present. But all we need do is focus on Him and listen to Him. He will make the dwelling right, but He can only do so by invitation. We cannot expect Him to barge His way in and begin changing things. We must open the door.

And once the door is open, the world is changed. No, it only seems that the world has changed. But once we change, once we become vessels for God, we begin to see as God sees and understand as God understands. No, not fully, but at least darkly, we begin to understand the interconnectedness of our actions. We begin to understand that harsh words spoken even in a good cause are still harsh words. Righteous anger too often is only righteous on the part of the one angry. We begin to see that even our best gestures at welcoming others are, without Christ, awkward and off-putting. We begin to understand that from ourselves we can expect nothing but self, but from Jesus we can expect nothing but Love.

When Jesus dwells in the house, the light is on and it shines out for all to see. If Jesus is not there, we see that as well. When Jesus is in the house, there is no task too large, no injustice so great that we cannot do something to help alleviate it. When God is dwelling in this perfected dwelling, the world has hope and love and light.

How do we start? Prayer, constant prayer. We need at every moment to be aware that God is present and to direct our attention to God. This does not mean we go about in some mystical daze, stumbling into traffic, or causing accidents at work. It does mean that we recognize that work as the gift of God for that moment and that we recognize each person we encounter as a marred image of Christ, another dwelling for God than may need some help in the renovation process. It means that we spend some time thanking God for the many opportunities that come to us and inviting Him to send more. It means that we pray as we live, as we breath, acknowledging that all life, all hope, all goodness comes from Him who took our form to make us One with Him. And it means that we allow that oneness to erase our individuality and to bring forth our reality. Our only real image can exist only when we allow Christ to identify it and to light it from within. All other images are merely masks of the moment. The only reality is the image of Christ with which we may choose to cooperate or against which we can battle to our own detriment and that of the entire world. For a single dwelling without a light can conjure up a holocaust to defy imagination. A single soul that does not know it is loved, can wreak havoc on millions all around it. A single image of Christ left uncomforted and unconsoled by us is, in fact, a blasphemy. And what can be the source of comfort and consolation if it is not Christ within us?

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The early part of Robert Herrick's life is contemporary with Shakespeare. The latter with John Dryden. He truly spans several literary eras.

Upon Julia's Clothes
Robert Herrick

Whenas in silks my Julia goes,
Then, then (methinks) how sweetly flows
That liquefaction of her clothes.

Next, when I cast mine eyes, and see
That brave vibration each way free,
O how that glittering taketh me!

I've always been surprised at how effective this short piece is. It is one of a series of poems written to Julia, all of which are quite beautiful. This poem achieves part of its punch through the complete rhyming of each of its stanzas. But more of the effect simply comes through the image that is being recounted and the obvious affection of the poet for the subject. The idea of "liquefaction" of clothes is a powerful suggestion. This is one of those tropes that appeals to the mind's eye and leaves you to bring associations to the poem.

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The Beauty of the Saints

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God has made powerful provision for all his people in the person of His saints. There seems to be a saint for every person and temperament. What is more, we have images from the lives of saints that, while the saint may or may not appeal, the moment speaks to us.

St. Alphonsus Liguori was a prolific writer and among the things presented to the world is a magnificent compendium The Practice of the Love of Jesus Christ. Naturally, the lives of saints makes up only a portion of the work. But here is a excerpt that really spoke to me:

Similarly Saint Mary Magdalen de Pazzi, when she held any beautiful flower in her hand, felt herself on fire with love for God, and she would say: "Then God has thought from all eternity of creating this flower for love of me." Thus that flower became, as it were, a dart of love, which sweetly wounded her, and brought her closer to God.

The saints are so steeped in prayer that they are able to show us the world anew. In their innocence of vision they strip away some of the illusions that we have built up about ourselves and the world. Who among us would look upon a flower and conclude that God in His love had made that flower particularly and especially for us at that moment in time? One of our prayers should be to be able to see things as they are--to be able to rip through illusion and see God's particular love and care for us.

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Prayer of St. Teresa of

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commonly called Her Bookmark
Let nothing disturb you;
nothing frighten you.
All things are passing.
God never changes.
Patience obtains all things.
Nothing is wanting to him who possesses God.
God alone suffices.

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We are rapidly approaching 9 August, the anniversary of the Death of St. Edith Stein, one of the most fiercely intellectual of the Carmelite Saints, and one of the great lovers of the Lord. The following prayer is from a Pentecost Novena that she composed. It is among the loveliest prayers I have read.

6.Are you the one who created the unclouded mirror
Next to the Almighty's throne,
Like a crystal sea,
In which Divinity lovingly looks at itself?
You bend over the fairest work of your creation,
And radiantly your own gaze
Is illumined in return.
And of all creatures the pure beauty
Is joined in one in the dear form
Of the Virgin, your immaculate bride:
Holy Spirit Creator of all!

The anniversary of St. Edith Stein reminds us of the potential for evil and cruelty locked up inside every one of us. How many stood by to allow the evil that engulfed her and 8,000,000 or more sisters and brothers? As it is said, all that it takes for evil to succeed is for good people to stand by and do nothing. Let us remember that in ever interaction of every day. Evil starts in little ways--a word here, a gesture there, a statement, nothing much at all. Such little things escalate into great harm in no time if left unchecked. We can do much to undermine the culture of evil that sprouts like weeds around us. We may speak against it in word or action. We can take up spiritual arms and prayer for God's intervention. What we cannot do is stand by. As Christians we must take action against the evil we see rise up--we have no choice. More, we cannot call evil good and think that it changes for all that. We must not abandon our belief to relativists. An evil can never be a good regardless of the circumstances. And when we resort to evil to fight evil, then Evil has won.

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Catechism Internet Study Group

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Many are probably already aware of this (I seem always to be the last to know. But below is a description for those, who like me, have to sneak up on such things by yourself.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church Internet Study Group

[Our study group program will begin on Monday, August 19th, 2002. In the meantime, please read below, and explore the site. We recommend starting with this page and our "Full Description of the Program." You may visit the forum and register at any time. We'll remind you by email 2 weeks before the course starts. Please see "Getting Started" for how to do this]

More info

Our Schedule

Our full program of reading, reflection, and discussion – described below - is scheduled to begin on Monday, August 19th, 2002. Until then, we will be trying to let as many people as possible know about our site and our program. You can help by sharing our site (CCCISG.ORG) with people who you think might be interested.

Whom is this for?

To put it simply, this site is for anyone who would like to learn more about the contents of the CCC, which present the Church's best, most recent expression of its full and authoritative teaching. Some specific ideas about who those people might be are:

1. Ordinary, lay Catholics (like the members of our Steering Committee) who want to learn more about the doctrinal teachings of the Catholic Church. "(The CCC) is also offered to all the faithful who wish to deepen their knowledge of the unfathomable riches of salvation." [FD]

2. People who are or want to be involved as volunteer catechists in parish activities who want to deepen their knowledge of the CCC as a foundation for this work.

3. People who have an ecclesiastical or professional need to become familiar with the contents of the CCC, and who find the methodology of our program convenient and helpful.

4. Non-Catholics who are curious about what the Church teaches. The CCC is "...offered to everyone who asks us to give an account of the hope that is in us, and who wants to know what the Catholic Church believes." [FD]

Perhaps I will see you there!

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A New England Poet

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Anne Bradstreet was one of the first "imported" poets of New England and while some of her poetry is very naive, and does not really compare well with what was being composed in England at the time, it has its own vigor. The sound of it echoes in poets and writers who were to follow. This poem from "Representative Poetry On-line"

Anne Bradstreet
By Night when Others Soundly Slept

1.
By night when others soundly slept
And hath at once both ease and Rest,
My waking eyes were open kept
And so to lie I found it best.
2.
I sought him whom my Soul did Love,
With tears I sought him earnestly.
He bow'd his ear down from Above.
In vain I did not seek or cry.
3.
My hungry Soul he fill'd with Good;
He in his Bottle put my tears,
My smarting wounds washt in his blood,
And banisht thence my Doubts and fears.
4.
What to my Saviour shall I give
Who freely hath done this for me?
I'll serve him here whilst I shall live
And Loue him to Eternity.

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Memento Mori

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Memento Mori

Long called Venerable, St. Bede offers this brief reflection on the four last things:

Bede's Death Song
from The Venerable Bede (673-735)

Fore there neidfaerae naenig uuiurthit
thoncsnotturra than him tharf sie
to ymbhycggannae aer his hiniongae
huaet his gastae godaes aeththa yflaes
aefter deothdaege doemid uueorthae.

[Loose Translation:
Before the inevitable journey there is no one
wiser than him who, knowing his need,
ponders, before his journey,
what good and evil within his soul,
after his death, will be judged.]

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Jean Pierre de Caussade is a great teacher of silent prayer and a more complex and, perhaps, subtle expositor of the "Practice of the Presence of God," as conceived by Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection. Many have accused de Caussade of Quietism, but over the years that accusation has been addressed and disproved. What de Caussade teaches is not fatalistic resignation, but enthusiastic conformity to God's will.

Perfection consists in doing the will of God, not in understanding His designs.

The designs of God, the good pleasure of God, the will of God, the operation of God and the gift of His grace are all one and the same thing in the spiritual life. It is God working in the soul to make it like unto Himself. Perfection is neither more nor less than the faithful co-operation of the soul with this work of God, and is begun, grows, and is consummated in the soul unperceived and in secret. The science of theology is full of theories and explanations of the wonders of this state in each soul according to its capacity. One may be conversant with all these speculations, speak and write about them admirably, instruct others and guide souls; yet, if these theories are only in the mind, one is, compared with those who, without any knowledge of these theories, receive the meaning of the designs of God and do His holy will, like a sick physician compared to simple people in perfect health.

There seems to be a certain stream of anti-intellectualism here, but I think it is only seeming. De Caussade, as with any good Christian, does not encourage merely intellectual assent, but actual action based on what is called for in the present moment. His theory, which I believe to be correct, is that understanding the reasons of God is not nearly so important as willingly doing those things that God requests.

Perfection is not perfection of intellect, rather a perfection of duty and activity, even if that activity consists in sitting at Jesus' feet.

The soul that does not attach itself solely to the will of God will find neither satisfaction nor sanctification in any other means however excellent by which it may attempt to gain them. If that which God Himself chooses for you does not content you, from whom do you expect to obtain what you desire? If you are disgusted with the meat prepared for you by the divine will itself, what food would not be insipid to so depraved a taste? No soul can be really nourished, fortified, purified, enriched, and sanctified except in fulfilling the duties of the present moment. What more would you have? As in this you can find all good, why seek it elsewhere? Do you know better than God? As he ordains it thus why do you desire it differently? Can His wisdom and goodness be deceived? When you find something to be in accordance with this divine wisdom and goodness ought you not to conclude that it must needs be excellent? Do you imagine you will find peace in resisting the Almighty? Is it not, on the contrary, this resistance which we too often continue without owning it even to ourselves which is the cause of all our troubles?

And I think the wisdom of this passage is apparent without going into any detail. Those who would resist God's love, God's Teaching through His Church, and God's infinite outreach, resist peace itself. They struggle to upset their own peace, thinking it merely complacency, and having dragged themselves out of it, think it their duty to drag everyone else out as well. Such are the dissenters, the supposed intellectual heroes of the resistance movement, who abandoning God's peace, choose peace only on their own terms. To them, I simply ask the question presented in the second sentence above, "If God's will is not good enough, what will you find that is?"

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A Personal Favorite One

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One last poem before I'm off to teach a class of Carmelites. Today we are studying the diagram of the Ascent as drawn and labelled by St. John of the Cross. This is all preliminary to a year or more study of the Ascent. Many regard it as a daunting work. I find it not-so-difficult at all to read, simply very difficult to implement.

The Silver Swan Orlando Gibbons

The silver swan, who living had no note.
When death approach'd, unlock'd her silent throat;
Leaning her breast against the reedy shore,
Thus sung her first and last, and sung no more.
Farewell, all joys; O Death, come close mine eyes;
More geese than swans now live, more fools than wise.

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And a little known teacher of prayer. His works are still in the sometimes tortured prose of the seventeenth century, but what he has to say holds true now as then.

1. IT was only infinite goodness that moved Almighty God to create the world of nothing, and particularly in this inferior visible world, to create man after His own image and similitude, consisting of a frail earthly body, which is the prison of an immortal, intellectual spirit, to the end that by his understanding, which is capable of an unlimited knowledge, and by his will, which cannot be replenished with any object of goodness less than infinite, he might so govern and order himself, and all other visible creatures, as thereby to arrive unto the end for which he was made, to wit, eternal beatitude both in soul and body in heaven, the which consists in a returning to the divine principle front whom he flowed, and an inconceivably happy union with Him, both in mind, contemplating eternally His infinite perfections, and in will and affections eternally loving, admiring, and enjoying the said perfections.

2. Now to the end that man might not (except by his own free, and willful choice of misery) fail from attaining to the only universal end of his creation, God was pleased to the natural vast capacity of man's understanding and will to add a supernatural light, illustrating his mind to believe and know Him, and divine charity in the will, which was as it were a weight to incline and draw the soul, without any defect or interruption to love God, and Him only. So that by a continual presence of this light, and an uninterrupted exercise of this love, the soul of man would in time have attained to such a measure of perfection of union with God in this world, as without dying to merit a translation from hence to heaven, there eternally to enjoy a far more incomprehensibly perfect and beatifying union with God.

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A wonderful and little know book. Even Edward Gibbon, not known for his Christian sympathies, liked and admired William Law. So much so, in fact, that he made Law tutor to his children.

DEVOTION is neither private nor public prayer; but prayers, whether private or public, are particular parts or instances of devotion. Devotion signifies a life given, or devoted, to God.

He, therefore, is the devout man, who lives no longer to his own will, or the way and spirit of the world, but to the sole will of God, who considers God in everything, who serves God in everything, who makes all the parts of his common life parts of piety, by doing everything in the Name of God, and under such rules as are conformable to His glory.

We readily acknowledge, that God alone is to be the rule and measure of our prayers; that in them we are to look wholly unto Him, and act wholly for Him; that we are only to pray in such a manner, for such things, and such ends, as are suitable to His glory.

For the full text go here.

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Flannery O'Connor Tribute

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Flannery O'Connor Tribute

Chez Gerard Serafin,you will find a wonderful tribute to Flannery O'Connor, including:

Hers is a vision rooted in the Mysteries of Creation, the Fall, the Incarnation, the Redemption. But she speaks of these in stories that can both stun and shine! This edition of her works is the best I know and the most beautiful to behold and touch. A treasure-house - and it has most of her letters too! These letters have had me both crying and laughing - what a noble soul radiates in these stories and letters! She once called herself a "hillbilly Thomist" and you will find in Flannery O'Connor - A GREAT ARTIST AND GREAT CATHOLIC!

Enjoy!

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More about the Rosary

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I must first say that I find much of what goes on at Disputations is well beyond my immediate ken. But I profoundly admire the spirituality and understanding that seems to come from the site. Continuing an extremely fruitful strain on the Rosary:

The goal of the Christian life is perfection in Christ. Praying the Rosary is a tremendously effective aid to achieving this goal, but it doesn't work by magic. If it is not helping you to become perfect in Christ -- although, as I've written before, it takes some time and effort to be sure about this -- then don't pray it.

Insight like this will keep me going back to Disputations even when posts like this make my head spin:

St. Thomas Aquinas, taking up the question of whether contemplation is the cause of devotion, considers this objection:

[I]f contemplation were the proper and essential cause of devotion, the higher objects of contemplation would arouse greater devotion. But the contrary is the case: since frequently we are urged to greater devotion by considering Christ's Passion and other mysteries of His humanity than by considering the greatness of His Godhead.

Yes, I know, it's merely a matter of applying myself. But I must confess a certain sympathy for the woman described in Chesterton's biography, St. Thomas Aquinas:

A lady I know picked up a book of selections from St. Thomas with a commentary; and began hopefully to read a section with the innocent heading, "The Simplicity of God." She then laid down the book with a sigh and said, "Well, if that's His simplicity, I wonder what His complexity is like."
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Art and God

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In a comment to a post on the Catholic Novel Dylan comments:

TS O'Rama has raised the question of whether loyalty to art & loyalty to God is a zero-sum game. We can't serve them both with equal fervour. Hmm. I know what he's getting at: we can't make art equal in valence to God, but I don't think it's a zero-sum game. Neither does (if we can judge from his Letter to Artists) Papa.

No, it isn't a zero-sum game because, if one approaches the whole thing correctly one serves God through one's art. It isn't as though one is loyal to one's art in opposition to God--after all, beauty comes from God. The properly aligned Christian artist regards his art as a gift given and returned to God. God expects artists to use their talents to better humankind. (I direct your attention to the parable of the three servants and the "talents"). Art can become an object of worship, but a proper orientation toward art views it as a means of expressing relationship with the Creator. I do not "worship" a Monet for the art, but I am brought a "momentary taste of being from the well amid the waste" in the medium of the Creator-inspired piece of art. Thus "Impression Sunrise" isn't about a canvas but about the supreme artistic vision given by God to one of his creatures to convey to the whole world.

I look at examples like C. S. Lewis and other writers who dedicated much of their writing to the exaltation of the Creator. This is what Art is about. Art is a medium, not an end. It's products are humanly made, often divinely infused creations. They are, at their best, participations with the Creator God in the act of creation.

As a result, works that are not overtly Christian can be read by Christians to their own great profit. For example, the Drayton Sonnet I placed here at the beginning of the day is not overtly Christian, but it can be read by Christians in a way that brings them closer to God. This is because Art is a good given by the Creator for the benefit of His creation. It is good inasmuch as it reveals Him to those who are looking. It is worthwhile inasmuch as it improves the devotional life of those who look upon it.


No, properly construed art is not an end, but it is a means of serving the Creator.

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The Language of Therese

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A reader named Therese comments on St. Therese:

Also, St T de L wrote in Victorian times, with Victorian piety and it sounds a little (well, a lot) icky to our ears today. But read her and the truth wells up through all the "Jesus' toy" parts (which I find difficult, forgive me).

This is often then reaction when one encounters some of the older translations of the great "Story of a Soul." I noted first time through it that it was fairly overwrought. However, reading the ICS translation by John Clarke, I did not have that reaction. Also, perhaps because French is not my first language, these elements did not seem so out of place in the French. Further, in previous translations much of this was exacerbated by her sister Pauline's edits that cut away some of the more acerbic humor. I share this without knowing the expertise of the commentators. Also, it is far easier to overlook these sorts of things when you are reading in a group searching for signs of the "Little Way."

Therese did not spell out her doctrine in any clear way as did John of the Cross or Teresa of Avila (unless you count Manuscript B of Story of a Soul, published as chapter 9 of the ICS edition.) So finding the little way can be greatly deceptive if you do not have a good guide. Many are pulled off into the "small things with great fidelity" side road. While that is certainly PART of the Little Way, it in no way constitutes the core of it. Misinterpreted it leads people into strange pathways and convolutions. Our Lay Carmelite Group just finished a year-long study of Story of a Soul and I feel as though we might have cracked open the door a bit. Perhaps in the practice of some of the things Therese suggests, the door will open further.

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Intemperate Words

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Intemperate Words
This blurb garnered from Bettnet.com - Musings from Domenico Bettinelli is somewhat harsher than I would care to be. I should note that these words do not appear to be the views of Mr. Bettinelli.

More from the current issue of National Review:

p. 12 Some idiot who thought he was a composer copyrighted a "musical piece" in 1952 called "4:33" that consisted of 4 minutes and 33 seconds of silence.

While I am no fan of the "music" of John Cage, I would hardly typify the man an "idiot." I disagree with his views on music. I dislike the vast majority of his opus. I detest his effect on much of the music that came after him. But I would see him as a wrong-headed individual who did some interesting experimentation. Most of his "music" was actually a nihilistic statement on the arts, and the arts suffered for it. I would expect, in fact, that his pointed attacks on the arts were the result of a keen, if philosophically misguided, intelligence.

But surely we can avoid the epithets and ad hominem attacks even as we excoriate the supposed art. I know, the point of the article is not art criticism. Nevertheless, intemperate language such as this example leads to people branding conservative views on a variety of issues as "intolerant," "grating," and "inhumane."

It must be possible to object to the art without denigrating the person who made it. After all, like it or not, that person is an image of Christ.

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On the Rosary

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On the Rosary

Yes, an off-hand comment that I made started this, and I am pleased to see so many responding to it. There is this excellent post at Disputations in response to this equally cogent reflection at Goodform. The quote below is taken from Disputations:

The purpose of a devotion is to bring you closer to God, and if all the Rosary brings you close to is chucking the beads out of a window, then perhaps you should chuck the beads, not out of a window, but out of your prayer life. (Put the beads away some place; there may yet come a time when you'll need them.)

St. Therese wrote, "It's a terrible thing to admit, but saying the Rosary takes it out of me more than any hair shirt ... Try as I will, I cannot meditate on the mysteries of the Rosary. I just cannot fix my mind on them." (I'm told the early editions of her autobiography omitted such passages.) As a Carmelite, though, she had to pray the Rosary, and -- agreeing with Tom -- decided that the sheer effort of doing so would be at least as profitable as twenty minutes of easy meditation.

It used to be that I really disliked St. Therese. Then I studied her life and writings. What I discovered I dislike (as happens more often than not) is what popular piety makes of St. Therese. She is called "The Little Flower," but she is, in fact, "A Mighty Oak." And I share her difficulty with the Rosary. But I also recall the words of our St. Teresa of Avila (further reflected in Therese) that God prizes obedience above a multitude of actions. Teresa was so adamant about obedience, in fact, that she counseled that if you wished to do something that your superior denied you, then obey your superior. If it were in God's will that it were done, He would change the superior's heart, or change the Superior.

So, one Rosary said in obedience to my rule, is better than ten-thousand dedications, consecrations, and acts that I enjoy more. In fact, I know that God prizes daily morning prayer, evening prayer, Office, and lesser hours, but from me, He prizes more each Rosary I can choke out. And I know that He prizes those rosaries done with my four-year-old son. (Actually, doing them in this way, though he does not go through all five decades, removes some of the burden and gives me great cause for joy. Since I've made this parenthesis, I may as well continue to brag--how many other four year olds can recite Psalm 8 and Psalm 23 in toto?)

The Rosary can be a penance, and a very useful penance, but I know that it also serves to strengthen my prayer life by dint of obedience to the promises I have made. I also know a great many people whose lives have improved immeasurably as a result of adopting this wonderful devotion. However, as Mr. da Fiesole indicates, if it serves to move you away from God, then discard it. (See advice from St. Ignatius--here)

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Peggy Noonan on John Paul II

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Dylan at Error 503 recommends this. I couldn't possibly agree more. A very moving, sensitive, and timely tribute to a very loving, concerned, and strong man. No matter what one might say about feminization of faith (page down to August 1, 1:07 pm) il Papa is not exemplary of the trend.

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Male Genius?

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Male Genius?

I loved this post from Video meliora, partially because it gives me legitimate cause to mention Camille Paglia in a Catholic venue. (Unfortunately direct link isn't working, so you'll have to scroll down.)

Point 2: Genius as Masculine IQ tests have shown men to have a more extreme range of intelligence (or lack thereof) than women. The bell curve seems to include lots more points to the right side (i.e. geniuses) and more points to the left (dunces). And although women have not had nearly the opportunities men have in the arts, still the Joyces, Shakespeares, Dantes, Beethovens, Bachs are nearly universally male.

In Sexual Personae Ms. Paglia made a very similar argument, which, unjustly, earned her the ire of most of the feminist world. She referred to it, if I remember correctly as the Apollonian direction of the male. She seemed to imply that women held the real power--power of procreation, which was sufficient. I paraphrase here, but the ultimate conclusion was something like: "If women had been left on their own, they would still be living in grass houses." Now, she goes on to modify her point, but she essentially notes that men seem to be driven (largely as mating display and sexual impulse) to tremendous acts of creativity and destruction. To counter the genius, Ms. Paglia points out that the vast majority of serial killers, and nearly all war and incidents of mass destruction are also the property of males.

While most moments of genius appear to belong to men, feminist critics would (I think mostly rightly) attribute that to the fact that men actually had the leisure to create. (They wouldn't phrase it that way--there would probably be a great deal of bubbling diatribe about the Patriarchal Oppression). But genius is, in part, a function of leisure. To support such a claim, I would mention lady Murasaki's epic "Tale of Genji" is still regarded as one of the great novels of Japan and of Asian in general. It is, in its own way, a construction of genius by a court lady--a woman with time on her hands. Now, this is isolated and anecdotal, but it does suggest that if such leisure and education had been the universal norm in the west, we would probably see more works of genius from women. For a further discussion of this, see Virginia Woolf's A Room of One's Own and Three Guineas. (For that matter, see Virginia's Woolf's oeuvre, a vastly underrated, but I think highly influential body of work, only recently really brought to light. I see much more of The Waves in such proponents of stream-of-consciousness as William Faulkner than I do Ulysses).

(Let's face it, Ulysses was a one-off even for Joyce. From that point he moved into the realm of ultimate esoterica and inaccessibility--the strangely delightful and playful Finnegan's Wake. Well worth perusal in the presence of an accomplished guide. I believe Burgess produced A Shorter Finnegan's Wake and someone produced a guide called A Skeleton Key to Finnegan's Wake. Then again, you might just content yourself with Philip Jose Farmer's playful riff "Winnegan's Fake." Not particularly up to his progenitor, but amusing nonetheless. Sorry for the digression, but recently have read too many who have not been able to scale the mountain, and while I'm not quite certain if it is truly worth scaling, it has provided an infinity of fun.)

Anyway--fascinating thread of discussion. I love literature, and I love particularly the qualities of literature that reflect the creator in the created. Works well constructed offer Glory to God whether or not their authors so intend.

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Aubade

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Technically a morning song, I offer this, a wonderful counterpoint to yesterday's (which none could read).

from Idea by Michael Drayton


LXI.

SINCE here's no help, come, let us kiss and part,
Nay, I have done, you get no more of me,
And I am glad, yea, glad with all my heart,
That thus so cleanly I myself can free.
Shake hands for ever, cancel all our vows,
And when we meet at any time again
Be it not seen in either of our brows
That we one jot of former love retain.
Now at the last gasp of Love's latest breath,
When, his pulse failing, Passion speechless lies,
When Faith is kneeling by his bed of death,
And Innocence is closing up his eyes.
Now, if thou wouldst, when all have given him over,
From death to life thou might'st him yet recover.

Idea is a remarkable cycle of sonnets from a contemporary of William Shakespeare. Perhaps not so accomplished as Shakespeare's sonnets, or perhaps simply less well known, Drayton's sonnets run the gamut of possibilities. Drayton was also know for his "Ode To the Virginian Voyage" one of the first English celebrations of the Age of Discovery. (Camoens The Lusiads is one of the earliest such celebrations). This sonnet is a delightfully on-target exposition of the undying nature of love. Even when we want it to go away we cannot make it simply leave. We say love draws its last breath, and yet, and yet, if there were only a chance, a possibility. Drayton's sonnet captures that moment that so many of us have experienced. It is a poem that often dances in my head as God speaking to me. Too often I seem to reduce everything to its bare bones, leaving my supposed love and fidelity to God gasping on its deathbed. But God, ever desiring my undesirable company, always enacts those last two lines, fanning to life again the failing spark and providing a new way to see and to love Him.

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On Walker Percy

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On Walker Percy

In an e-mail, one writer had this to say about Walker Percy:

It's been a while since I read it, but I thought that The Second Coming was more cogently Catholic. One of the major themes in the book had to do with how we might expect God to work in our life when we are complacent and lacking in joy, and sprouting out of that, the role of tradition and traditional culture in our lives. I might be losing my mind, but I believe that this is the book in which the main character goes into a cave in order to commit suicide and is prompted to come out by a toothache (God works in not so mysterious ways). (I don't think it was Love in the Ruins.) On the whole, though, I don't think that Percy's books are going to "wear" particularly well, for reasons having to do more with his style than his subject or content.
Thanks to BR for permission to quote.

I find the impression interesting. I don't know that I disagree exactly, its just that I think several different kinds of Catholicism wend their way into Percy's writing. Love in the Ruins is a heady whiff of highly intellectual Catholicism dealing a lot with scholastic theory and practice. For example, the whole question of "angelism" and "bestialism" seems to partake of a deep understanding of Aquinas's theory. The Catholicism of Second Coming seems much more up-front and easier to notice. As to style, the writer may be correct--that's always difficult to tell. I wonder whether the same might not have been said of Flannery O'Connor at one time.

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Catholic Novel (cont.)

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Catholic Novel (cont.)
A couple of people have commented on the question of the Catholic Novel. And we make some headway. Let's start with Dylan's question:

"One might ask, Why categorize? Why impose a denominational test?"

Indeed, we might ask the question, but it seems that scholars and critics from ages past (when they were still working with the writing at hand, rather than inventing something to write about and then writing about it. {If you think I joke see most of the work by Judith Butler and others, for example, ""The Lesbian Phallus and the Morphological Imaginary." differences: A Journal of Feminist Cultural Studies(Spring 1992), 4(1): 133-171."}) had identified something called "The Catholic Novel." They were able to point to examples of this creature. Evidently it had some definable morphology and, perhaps, spirituality.

In addition, I would like to separate the Catholic Novel from other "Christian Fiction," because in my reading there is a large sensibility gap between the two forms. There are many novels with a "generic Christian" sensibility, some of them great. But the Catholic Novel, that mysterious entity we seek to define, but into whose confines The Violent Bear it Away is always admitted, has a profoundly Catholic sensibility and understanding of the world. Or does it? Is any novel by a Catholic necessarily a Catholic Novel? Are those potboilers by Father Greeley truly "Catholic Novels?" Does it matter?

I think it does. I think there is a lineage of very reputable work which, while not expressly apologetical, does serve to advance the Catholic view of the world. At one point in our history (and perhaps the point hasn't passed) such works were necessary to counteract and just-short-of-virulent anti-Catholicism pervasive in our culture. There was a time when it was wondered whether a Catholic would be fit to serve in the government-- (until we got that wonderfully comforting reversal of the great St. Thomas More--"God's good servant, but America's first").

A post of digressions, a post we might never see live, yet I revel in writing in and urging us onward to consider the question at more than a superficial level. What is a Catholic Novel? What makes a novel a Catholic Novel? And then, what are the very best Catholic Novels that fall within our definition?

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Bonjour, Tristesse

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Bonjour, Tristesse
Okay, so it's melodramatic, considering the cause, but nevertheless, I have amazing traffic flowthrough on a day when I cannot update anything. It's enough to make you cry. Wrote to Blogger, three times. They don't acknowledge or post that there's a problem, but I know others have reported to me glitchy operation of their sites. On the other hand some sites are operating without a hitch, and I haven't a clue why. Everything is reported as aOK, but it doesn't function.

Oh well, this is why St. John of the Cross recommends detachment. Do not get so bound up in something so that it upsets you not to have it. Human beings are notoriously unreliable, why should their mechanical servants be any better? The lesson--patience, gentleness, resignation, and courage. Keep blogging even if you can't blog. Perhaps that is really what is called in common circles, "Stupidity." Anyway, I've wanted to respond to a lot of stuff I've seen today, so I will continue to blog until even the transfer does not take.

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Even later at the computer today than yesterday, so I'm confined to a single poem and comment. Here we go:

To My Dear and Loving Husband
Anne Bradstreet

If ever two were one, then surely we.
If ever man were lov'd by wife, then thee.
If ever wife was happy in a man,
Compare with me, ye women, if you can.
I prize thy love more than whole Mines of gold
Or all the riches that the East doth hold.
My love is such that Rivers cannot quench,
Nor ought but love from thee give recompetence.
Thy love is such I can no way repay.
The heavens reward thee manifold, I pray.
Then while we live, in love let's so persever
That when we live no more, we may live ever.

Some poems speak from beauty of language. Some speak from the beauty of the thought. I love this poem because it surely captures what the Sacrament of Matrimony is about in the Earthly realm, and even provides a glimpse of its continuation. It also is very adept at quoting scripture without quoting. Finally, it certainly puts the lie to what many of us have misconstrued as the Puritan view of life.

But I am fortunate enough to say with Anne Bradstreet about my own lovely wife, 'If ever two were one, then surely we. If ever man were lov'd by wife, then me." It is my hope that I can make the rest of the poem true for her!

Good morning all, and God Bless.

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