November 2004 Archives


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Books from Gutenberg--Chesterton--scroll to November 29

* The Crimes of England
* The Barbarism of Berlin
* The Appetite of Tyranny, Including Letters to an Old Garibaldian
* The Wild Knight, and Other Poems
* The Defendant (second edition, 1902)
* Twelve Types
* Robert Browning
* The New Jerusalem
* Varied Types

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A Quiz Result with a Zinger

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You scored as Catholic. Welcome to the One, Holy, CATHOLIC, and Apostolic Church! You my Friend are a Catholic. You have a strong sense of something outside of yourself and feel drawn to answer profound questions to satisfy your desires. You recognize that truth isn't self-centered or about inventing something new, but rather following the road map of your heart to a bigger picture. You are probably baptized.













created with

And now the zinger--an old complaint, but one I never tire of repeating. Why the heck is there "Catholic" as some sort of distinct entity from Christian. It is this mindset/divide that really defines Catholic identity in the minds of many. My wife had a very dear friend of long duration with whom she had spoken for a great many years. When my wife announced that she was becoming Catholic, the friend's response was, "Well you won't be Christian any more and I don't assoicate with non-christians." (She was following a supposedly Biblical injunction to this effect. However, I wonder how well she functioned as an evangelist if this was truly what she practiced.)

Anyway, for future quizmasters--Catholic is Christian, definitively Christian, one of two "Churches" that has the right and obligation to define the meaning of Christian. We do not sit outside of tradition, we are the tradition which gives meaning at all to the word Christian.

Diatribe over, but sure to rise to the surface again given the next quiz to separate the groups without appropriate modifiers, i.e. "Other" Christians.

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They only knew that, some time, the stock of David would burgeon anew; some time, a key would be found to fit the door of their prison house; some time, the light that only showed now, like a will-o'-the-wisp on the horizon would broaden out, at last, into the perfect day.

This attitude of expectation is one which the Church wants to encourage in us, her children permanently. She sees it as an essential part of our Christian drill. . . So she encourages us, during Advent, to take the shepherd-folk for our guides, and imagine ourselves travelling with them at dead of night, straining our eyes towards that chink of light which streams out, we know, from the cave at Bethlehem.

I found the excerpt in In Conversation with God for the Advent Season.

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Vile Bodies--Evelyn Waugh

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It is said by some that Evelyn Waugh writes some of the most biting satarical novels of the twentieth century. This description strikes me an inaccurate in one respect and that is the question as to whether Mr. Waugh's work could properly be characterized as "novels."

Take this book for example. While I enjoyed it tremendously, I would ve very hard-pressed to give you any notion whatsoever as to what it was actually "about" in terms of story. It is about the glittery, flittery, flilghty, uncertain, undependable between-the-wars generation of youth and their vapid, aimless lives. It takes into its broad sweep everything from politics to religion to the upper class of Great Britain of the time. And yet, to say that there is a story would be an exaggeration.

Vile Bodies is a follow-up to Decline and Fall, Waugh's first novel. It contains some of the same characters continuing their odd trajectories through life. For example, we meet once again the white-slaver Lady M. who hosts a party at which a well-known evangelical minister presents her choir. We meet Peter Pastmaster--hero of the first novel and fall-guy. But this novel centers around two new people, Adam and Nina, penniless, profligate, promiscuous, and desiring marriage.

Vile Bodies has the same abrupt happenings and mordant wit as when a young lady who plays no considerable role in the novel dies in accident resulting from swinging on the chandelier. And the fate of Ms. Runcible is also mordantly recounted.

I find moments in each of Waugh's novel amusing--not uproarious, not hilarious--merely amusing. But his writing is so darned good and his observations of the people around him so acute that each novel is a gem. And more than this, his unflinching gaze into the mirror is admirable. When Waugh satirizes, no one is spared, including Waugh himself.

Vile Bodies has been made into a movie recently. In an interview with the director of the film (Jeeves--Stephen Frey) the "auteur" revealed that he played this straight, that these are admirable people going about finding meaning in life. This suggests to me that Mr. Frey completely missed the point of Mr. Waugh's novel.

An even higher recommendation is that the epigraph is, I believe from Phillippians 2:11:

"Who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself. "

Nowhere does Waugh suggest this transformation in the book. Moreover, the last chapter of the book is a complete change of scenery--a complete divergence from what has come before.

Perhaps my confusion regarding this work is that I don't really "get" satire. I don't understand its purpose, and too often if seems petty, mean-spirited, and hardly what one might expect from a gifted Christian writer (although I grant that this novel is from the "pre-Chrisitan" or at least pre-Catholic-Christian phase of Waugh's career).

Despite my lack of assurance with the text, I did enjoy the work and I do recommend it highly to those interested in Waugh and in why Waugh has the high reputation he does. (An easier and much more mordant beginning can be found in the uproarious The Loved One.)

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From an E-mail Correspondent


I received a very nice e-mail from the webmaster of this pro-life site. Be warned, the material is graphic, but it appears to have a wealth of quotes, information, and stories about abortion and people who have had abortions. It may be a good source of information when you are seeking to find something that would sway the wavering pro-choice advocate.

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Giving Thanks

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I will truly be giving thanks when I learn how to give thanks without hesitation for all those things that get in the way and slow me down.

I will truly be giving thanks when I can without hesitation thank God for those who treat me poorly.

I will truly be giving thanks when I learn to give thanks for the things that most aggravate me.

I will truly be giving thanks when I want nothing other than what God has set out before me.

I will truly be giving thanks when I hand what has been so generously given to the next person down the line.

For what I am about to receive, whatsoever it may be, may the Lord make me truly thankful.

Happy Thanksgiving to all.

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from A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life
William Law (1686-1761)

It is as reasonable to suppose it the desire of all Christians to arrive at Christian perfection as to suppose that all sick men desire to be restored to perfect health; yet experience shows us, that nothing wants more to be pressed, repeated, and forced upon our minds, than the plainest rules of Christianity.

I am reminded more and more of this when I am under the pressure of deadlines, etc. I grow more remote, more difficult to approach, more distant, less concerned for the welfare of others. What I realize is that it is not during the good times that character expresses itself, but rather during the difficult times. And each type of difficult time reveals something more of character. If we wish to know outselves well, we should take a snapshot at each of our difficult moments--mourning, under pressure, under scrutiny, in financial crisis, whatever. Each of these moments will shows us in greater or lesser light depending in large part on how far we have allowed grace and "the plainest rules of Christianity" to shape us. And it is in examining moments like these that the Saints themselves realized how far they were from the perfection that is part of God's gift to us.

And yet, lest we use this as an excuse to tumble into despair, our Father loves us with an everlasting love no matter how unloveable we try to make ourselves. It is important to remember that His is a love with no conditions and without regard to persons. His love is more intimate than the masks we wear--it is love of the core of our being, of the person He sees us as in the body of Christ.

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Iraq--An Irony

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I'm sorry so little posting of recent date. Hope that it will pick up shortly. Today just a moment for this short note.

I heard that some Sunni Clerics are calling for a boycott of forthcoming elections in Iraq. I don't suppose they stopped for a moment to consider that now they can call for such a boycott without consequences. What would have happened in the days of the Ba'athist regime had a similar call taken place against the pseudo-elections of Saddam and Ba'ath?

But being involved in it they cannot objectively see--blilnd hatred has indeed made them blind and they cannot know how far they have come in little more than a year.

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Tim Drake's Book n Blog


Y'all might be interested in checking out Tim Drakes new book and a web page that has a link to a blog for Young Catholics. Mr. Drake at one time kept a Blog here at St. Blogs. Perhaps he still does so (many people come and go under my radar) or perhaps this represents his return to blogging.

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The long awaited advent of that Art House film was greeted by yours truly and Son almost on the day of its arrival.

Yes, Spongebob Squarepants:The Movie (Bigger. Better. More Absorbent.) is with us in full cinematic glory, and indeed glorious it is--from the live action pirate beginning to the post credits live action clearing of the theater, every moment is a triumph.

Seriously--it's not for the very young. One woman near me brought her son, who may have been three or four and there were some moments that would have been frightening (especially given the big screen) to one so young. However, if your munchkins are in the 5-whatever age-group, Spongebob provides exactly what they need to be semi-permenantly wound-up.

Except for Ellyn, I've anecdotally notices a tremendous divide on the part of Spongebob, and it showed in the attendees at this theatre--they were overwhelmingly male. Some mothers reluctnatly trudged in to endure the high-pitched voices and the hyperactivity of Spongebob and Patrick, but most of the cause for the attendance was male. Linda despises Spongebob and is constantly lamenting that Samuel can't see Bugs Bunny and friends. But those of us who have come to know and love Spongebob know that the secret is in his kindness and his irrepressible good cheer even in the worst of circumstances.

The Spongebob movies is everything you've come to expect of Spongebob and more--as the advertising line says: Bigger. Better. More Absorbent.

So it you're of a Spongebob mind, grab a kid and run for the nearest theater. If not, you may want to pay the exorbitant rates and become acquainted with the residents of Bikini Bottom because you are missing out on some generally pleasant, exceptionally generous and kind (if somewhat below the average wattage) company.

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Narcissism and Therapy?

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Our own Venerable TSO writes

One of the things that fascinates is the diversity among St. Blog's and the different approaches taken. There are intensely personal blogs and less so. My temptation is to think of those bloggers who never met a personal pronoun as minor saints. Certainly Donna Marie Lewis is the Cal Ripken of bloggers when it comes to that. A possible drinking game is to pick a month in her archives and take a drink every time she posted about Ven. Newman or St. Philip Neri. And I admire her for it because it's difficult to imagine saying things that Cardinal Newman didn't say better. Video meliora... Still, I'm not sure it's necessary to give up the personal even though narcissism is to blogs what hot air is to popcorn. The way I look at it writing is a form of therapy and much cheaper than a $100 an hour analyst.

And I too much admire Ms Lewis's blog, not entirely for lack of personal pronouns, but for many of the good things she posts. Being the Anti-Lewis and the master of personal pronouns, I feel called upon to expostulate and deliver orotund wisdom about the felicity of doing so. But the reality is that I learn from the mistakes I make. I learn from the mistakes others make. Venerables and Saints are too distant and unapproachable to me until I know where they failed. So I gladly parade my failures for everyone to see that they might say, "Well, at least I'm not like that Pharisee over there." Or perhaps one soul somewhere might better recognize the Devil's Snare I got entangled in and dose it with about 20 billion lumens of SonLight.

But I will continue to make know to the world my many failings and foibles in hopes that everyone might garner from them some sense of "Receive Hope All Ye Who Enter--I've Been There, Done That, And Come Back to Tell You ALL to Stay Away." Yep--TSO is right--cheap therapy.

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According to a comment on Gerard 's blog

I am very sad to report that Gerard Bugge, my mother Sheila Pritchard's long-time friend and tenant, passed away peacefully last night at his home in Maryland.

Please pray for the repose of his soul. He is the ethereal Godfather of many of us.

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JCecil3 Called It Early On

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Whatever one might conclude from Mr. JCecil3s varius arguments about Kerry, he hit the nail right on the head so far as the dedication to pro-life of the present administration. It strikes me as window-dressing. If they stand idly by and allow Arlen Specter to chair the judiciary committee, we are very close to "all is for nought." Specter, as you know, has as much as promised that there will be a pro-abortion litmus test for Supreme Court Judges. Under those circumstances, doesn't much matter what the rhetoric was all about. It appears that the republican dedication to the pro-life cause is a public face. It ends once the family begins its conversation.

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A Pro-Life Democrat

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I'm cautiously optimistic.

With all of the "bad news"--the Spectre of Specter and such like--the elevation of Senator Harry Reid of Nevada to the seat of Senate Minority Leader vacated by Tom Daschle sounds like wonderfully good news. He sounds like fiscal democrat (we can debate the merits of that elsewhere) but a social republican. NPR reported that he is pro-life (what that means in their parlance might require some investigation) and anti-gun-control (not one of my favorite positions). But if Mr. Reid can begin to work with Republicans on some of these issues we might be in a very good place on life issues.

He did say that he didn't think much of the elevation of Clarence Thomas to Chief Justice, but that he would be much more sanguine about Scalia. I'm not keen on Scalia since he announced himself a better interpreter of Church doctrine than our current pope. But from what I've seen of his decisions, they seem well-reasoned and usually on "our" side.

Anyway, it's wait and see time.

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On Dorothy Sayers

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I was speaking with a friend the other night and we were talking about the world of "golden age" mysteries. I commented that Rex Stout had some great characters but really terrible plots--murky, muddy, and nearly indecipherable. Agatha Christie is kind of the reverse--some of the most clever plots around, but other than the detectives (and even there, they are more a mass of peculiarities rather than full blown characters) paper thin characterizations. They suited her purpose--Agatha Christie wrote magnificent scenarios for a game of Clue. Now keep in mind, I hold both writers in very high regard as far as sheer entertainment goes.

He commented that Dorothy Sayers was the best of the lot. And I added "And the worst." He wondered what I meant. Dorothy Sayers is by far the most inconsistent of the Golden Age writers. If you started reading at the first novel Whose Body it is entirely possible you would not consider ever picking up another. If you had the misfortune to pick up Gaudy Night a windy, winding, tortuous nonbook of a book, you might fling in across the room and pronounce anathema on Dorothy Sayers. If you were to pick up (I forget which it is, because I nearly abandoned my Sayers career at these two books) Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club or Cloud of Witnesses you would likely be appalled at the sheer classist bigotry that permeates the whole.

But were you to do any of these things, you would have deprived yourself of the extreme pleasures of the best crafted of the books. For Dorothy Sayers is unique. There is no voice like hers, nor any plots, nor story development to match. Five Red Herrings is a magnificent example of the art. My friend said that if was often criticized for its strict reliance of railway tables. But when seen as an extension of and response to the enormously popular Freeman Willis Crofts, one can hardly fault the work, which is in every way superior to Mr. Crofts's very best exploits. And how many people out there read Crofts' any more (myself excluded). The delights of Murder Must Advertise of the sheer virtuosity of The Nine Tailors in which we learn more about ringing the changes than you ever thought you wanted to know. Strong Poison, though by now a cliché of the mystery industry unites Harriet Vane and Lord Peter Wimsey and it is an elegant, and if you haven't been exposed to the gimmick, wonderful little study in plotting and a variant of the "locked room murder." In which only one person could possibly have done it because of circumstances.

The overly contrived Busman's Honeymoon still has moments of brilliance. And even though the means of the murder is so highly unlikely as to nearly break the back of this work, still, it somehow works. It took is rather a locked room murder--a genre better exploited and completely explored by John Dickson Carr and his pseudonym Carter Dickson (of whom more later as he based both of his detectives on G.K. Chesterton.)

But Sayers is not to be missed for her wonderful mysteries. Nor should one overlook some of the great and sometimes acerbic religious writings. I don't recall the book, but in one essay she writes of new Calendar days for the Church and includes among them "Derogation days." Her translation of Dante, an exercise undertaken like much of her work, in a futile attempt to show the world that women could be as good as men at classics (it's true, it's just that her work did not show it to the people of the time.) is rather tiresome and plodding.

But Mind of the Maker and many of her other works are well worth our attention today. The disintegration she chronicled in the Anglican Church of her time has continued to our own day and resulted in the debacle of Gene Robinson's Episcopacy.

But her brilliance and her contribution to the wealth of the Golden Age are themselves sufficient reason to spend some time with Dorothy Sayers. But for Heaven's sake, please start with one of the novels of the middle period (excepting Gaudy Night) if you wish to continue reading and enjoying this remarkable writer.

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I heard the remarkably vacuous remarks of the recipient of National Book Award distinguished Contributions to Arts and Letters. "I never dreamed my books would be the object of censorship."

How idiotic, how robotic, can one set of remarks get? Judy Blume has never been censored. No government agency has ever prevented the pressing of ink to paper in her name (though heaven knows, arts and letters would be better off had one done so.) Judy Blume has been the object of boycotts. Well-deserved completely self-earned boycotts. It is the solemn responsibility of all parent to carefully patrol and circumscribe the reading of their children. It is a necessary function of protecting childhood innocence and of nurturing one's child with the appropriate set of values and ideals.

Censorship is a government prohibition of the distribution of material. And don't get me wrong, I am not at all certain that I oppose all censorship. I don't think the news should be able to report details of murders or lavish loving attention of the lives of serial killers while said serial killers are fighting their convictions. Censorship comes from a government agency with the power to repress--and I do think that some "expressions" are imminently worthy of repression. The problem becomes, of course, who decides what those might be--but that's an argument for another day.

Judy Blume's books have been taken off the shelf because she is a substandard hack writer (some of her very early works are pretty good) who peddles adolescent smut under the guise of talking about "real issues of the day." Parent have told schools to remove these books from the library. It is not the school that has taken it upon itself to remove the works--but the pressure of boycotts. This is not censorship--this is the free market in action. If your ideas are repugnant to the free market, then expect that they will be rejected. Go get yourself published by a vanity press and stand on the street corners distributing your work. It isn't censorship.

Nor is the rejection of sacrilege, blasphemy, and other sundry invasions of personal space perpetrated by talentless people whose sole ambition is to produce enough "shock" to make their half-brained "works-of-art" worth purchasing.

Let's get it straight--censorship stems from authority. If a press refuses to print your book because it won't sell, if people refuse to buy it and even protest it because it is trash--that is not censorship. If the government says that it may not be printed--you've been censored and under our current federal guidelines you have a right to complain.

But I've said it more the once and will say it again in the future. Any person may have the right to freedom of expression (whatever that means) under our constitution. No one has a right to an audience

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Why So Much About Just War?

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I share this bit of correspondence I wrote to a blog-friend:

I realize that one of the reasons I obsess about certain things (homosexual civil unions and war) is that they represent very theoretical very distant things that I'm never likely to do anything about to really sin anyway. It effectively takes my mind off of the more pressing sins that I commit by the dozen without giving it two thoughts. I can agonize at length about the theory and never really have to put it into practice, whereas if I did that for real temptations, I might be provoked to change.


But to give myself credit as well--one of the reason for obsession is to come to terms with Church teaching as it really is, not as I would have it be. Sometimes I have to hit my head against that stone over and over again before I can crack open my mind enough to let in a new conception or a new nuance. Ah, to be like Bernadette. But then Jesus warned us, "To whom much is given, much is expected in return."

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On Just War

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This started as a response to Jack's comment below, but I thought it was worth making a full post of.

Thank you. Last night it dawned upon me what my objection to so-called "just war" actually is. The name "just war" makes it sound as though we are taking an intrinsically evil action and trying to make it good.

I think your point is what I state elsewhere somewhat differently. Just war does not magically take evil and make it good, rather it states doctrinally that there are times when a natural evil must be engaged in to prevent an even greater evil. When that must happen the evil of the action is not imputed to the actor as a sin. Thus the evil is always (on the part of those fighting justly) malum and, assuming it is conducted according to jus bellum not corporately culpum. That is not to say that no one sins in the course of the war. But you get my drift. I had always been thrown by the name of the doctrine. In fact it is really a "lesser of two evils doctrine" that is a principled application of a form of double-effect.

I might differ with you on the justness or unjustness of some of the conflicts you mention--that's a different issue and really a moot issue. It little matters how I view the issue, it is how the Lord views the issue that is the essence.

That said, I think it is important to note that there is still room and necessity for the individual in conscience to conclude that any participation in the destruction of human life (whether or not it is labeled "just") is, in fact, a matter of sin. These people are called pacifists and in some ways I believe they have chosen the better part, IF they truly live it out. While it may be just to defend oneself and one's country, it may be more noble and more persuasive to refuse to take someone else's life. I liken it to the Maccabbean brothers who one after another refused to eat pork and died for it.

But this is a matter for the individual conscience, and if the individual is persuaded that it is forbidden to kill for any reason whatsoever, then to kill would be a sin, just war or otherwise.

I think it is the balance between the pacifist voices and those not so inclined that need to try to inform any decision regarding war. What seems to happen too often is that the pacifist voice is dismissed as "cowardly" or shirking duty. I suppose it is possible, but I also think that it is equally possible that pacifists are speaking out of conscientious convictions every bit as deep and as driving as any imperative to war.

The extreme of pacifist doctrine leaves us in a very untenable position in a fallen world. People will always cause aggression and grievous harm to one another. So long as that is the case, we must have means in place to prevent atrocities like the Holocaust or Pol Pot's monstrous reign. And what do we do about Rwanda and Somalia if we must rely completely on non-combative means? Pacifists hold out the very real hope that prayer and virtuous living will change the world. I agree with them, it will. However, it will only change a fallen world, not redeem it utterly. I think we need to stay away from the dangers of neo-Rousseauian thinking. We are not noble savages. Rather the opposite, we are wonderful, fatally flawed creations--we will never create a Utopia and we will never stop war.

That however doesn't mean we oughtn't to try and that those so inclined ought not to argue against every instance of aggression. We need the properly informed, conscientious counterbalance to our wayward tendencies.

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Another Book for the Book List

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Listening to NPR this morning I have a new book for my book list. (If any generous donors in St. Blogs feel moved to get it for me, I won't object--(just joking--it's the ONLY thing on my Christmas list so far)).

Stephen Greenblatt was being interviewed. I don't know if he won or if he is a nominee for the National Book Award for Biography. The book: Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare. It is a biography of sorts, trying to peek behind the scenes of the works and ferret out little details of this most secretive man's life.

Greenblatt's ultimate conclusion is that Shakespeare was very good at hiding much of his personal life because he had much to hide. Greenblatt infers that Shakespeare was a crypto-Catholic. He says there are "hints" hidden in the works (I don't know how true this is likely to be, but it certainly is intriguing.) I haven't read the entire book, but in the interview he mentions one thing in particular. At the end of Midsummernight's Dream the Faery troup circles round and sprinkles the marriage bed with field dew Greenblatt likens this to a Catholic practice of sprinkling the marriage bed with holy water.

There are other intriguing aspects that arose in the course of the interview. This sounds like a winner. I'm looking forward to it.

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On the Rectory System

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I love it when people volunteer information that is really none of my business and give me an insight into part of life I have never really given serious consideration to before.

Our priests make some serious sacrifices in their lives (many of which we are already aware of) to be of service to God. Father Jim lets us in on another one Thanks Father Jim, a real insight that vastly increases my already great esteem for the life of sacrifice lived by our Clergy.

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Another Place to Find New Perspectives


I love when I get new visitors and commenters. As a result I found Down to Piraeus, an interesting site with a somewhat political perspective on things. Go and enjoy.

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A New Perspective on Pacifism

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from "Not Quite a Perfect Fit"
Frederica Mathewes-Green

It may be right to die, but it is never right to kill. Christians are called to be something different in the world, a new thing the wearied, bloodied globe had never seen: people who love their enemies. When we twist hot metal around the body of a boy in a jeep, we are not showing him love.

I learned to keep my mouth shut about this in pro-life circles. I would unfailingly be told that refraining from killing was impractical; people would explain to me that of course Jesus didn't mean it literally. (What else did he not mean literally? Was he just kidding about sexual morality, too? This genre of Biblical interpretation reminded me uneasily of the bland, self-serving liberals in my previous denomination.) I was told that principled non-violence was self-indulgent, impractical, and fell short of the noble heights of courage that only war can call forth. The reasoning seemed to be that it took more courage to stand before your enemy holding a gun than it took to stand there empty-handed.

Entire essay

via Verbum Ipsum

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If You Enjoyed Smilla's Sense of Snow


You'll love "Augustine's Sense of Time" (paraphrase)


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"I'm Sorry, World"

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There has been a spate of people taking pictures of themselves and posting them to apologize to the world for the election of George Bush. Well, I'm not sorry and I disavow any such apologies made on my behalf.

On this matter two things: first, get over it. (1) It simply isn't the world's business who we elect in our government. I care very little for what someone in France thinks about who we elected, just as I hope that someone in France gives very little consideration to my thoughts about their candidates for government. I don't live there, I don't have any insight. I'm neither entitled nor equipped for an opinion. (2) Even were it a matter in which world opinion weighs in--we've had worse, we will have worse again. I'm not thrilled with the election of George Bush--but overall I regard it as the lesser of two evils--and all of this pandering to world opinion simply reinforces that view.

But the more important matter I wish to emphasize is a continuation of yesterday's post. What can we do about it? I'm not falling all over myself that Bush was reelected. I have to admit to a huge sigh of relief, but that's because I don't particularly care for change. Bush's policy decisions seem at times questionable, but every time I think that I remind myself that I do not sit in the oval office day to day, nor do I have access to the information that flows through that office every day. I don't know what his motives are or were, nor can I guess at any number of unclear actions or meanings. What's more, that really isn't my concern. My concern is to function as a good citizen of the United States, critiquing and petitioning the government as necessary, but supporting my country first and foremost, no matter what my opinion of any given individual. I endured 8 years of Clinton with the attitude of "respect the office, if not the man." The least I can say of Bush is that I have not been forced back to that gambit. Some things that have happened have been distasteful, and perhaps unnecessary. But the reality is that neither I know, nor does the world for all its second-guessing.

So what can I do? I can pray. As Marion pointed out yesterday, slightly jumping the gun on what I was going to say but never got around to, the essence of the virtuous Christian life lies in prayer. We cannot attain virtue through sheer strength of will. As Paul tells us, "I do the things I would not do, I do not do the things I would do, and I have no strength in me." Jesus tells us , 'The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak." So it is with us. All the willpower in the world will not keep us from sliding eternally backwards. That is not because we are bad, but because we are fundamentally flawed. In some the flaws seem less of an obstruction. (See Tom's post (Disputations) yesterday about St. Catherine of Siena.) We call these people Saints. For the rest of us, it's a case of the Red Queen's race. We run just as fast as we can to stay in the same place. Our will must be aligned with what God desires from us--no question; however, that in itself is insufficient. We must be strengthened, daily, by grace. Without grace we are characters in a Shakespearian tragedy--marked by a fatal flaw--each individually wrapped and bound up in our weakness and on the express freight for Hell. For one it will be pride, for another envy, for a third lust--but the destination is ultimately the same--slavery to sin and death.

Only through grace, transmitted through the sacraments, and through the strengthening that comes through regular prayer and time spent with God, can we hope to change our ways. To use another metaphor, grace is the corrective lens in our flawed Hubble telescope. Grace sharply focuses our attention on the contiguous but not full tangible Kingdom of God--that Kingdom which is right at hand. And grace strengthens the will which is further strengthened by time in prayer--abiding with God.

Prayer is a source of continual replenishment of grace. Prayer is ultimately the one road out of the terrible place we live without it. We are weak, paralyzed, dying, and we do not know it. Grace shines a light on our pitiful condition, and in so doing, makes it possible for us to change.

Prayer opens the soul to receive grace which heals it. Prayer also opens the spirit to hearing what God has to say and to acting on it.

So if you're upset with the election, if you're annoyed with our limited selection of candidates, if you think everything is going to Hell in a handbasket--you have a recourse. Live a virtuous life--contribute to the public good your own private good. And the best way to do this is through constant prayer and through the life of grace in the sacraments.

There are no private actions, there are no private sins. Everything we do affects the world around us in substantive ways. The sooner we start acting on this knowledge and understanding, the sooner we will be able to stop complaining about the poor platforms offered us. If enough Christians are sufficiently discontented to really pray and live lives that lead to good, there will be a change in the system. That's not to say that we will achieve Utopia--that's impossible, but we will make life somewhat better here for more of the people around us. We will do so not through our strength but through the love of God which strengthens all our thoughts and actions. More than that, the Love of God which strengthens our very being--such a love makes us more real than the world we set out to oppose--because it situates us in the very heart of reality.

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Prayer Requests


Please pray for Dylan.

Please pray for two friends who have started businesses and who are actively seeking clients and buyers. May God grant them success, and more importantly, may their work spread the love of God and the Kingdom of His grace everywhere throughout the world.

Please pray for one who does not know which way to turn or which way to go in the matter of her marriage, that God tells her gently and lovingly how to resolve all of the issues.

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You Ask, "But What Can We Do?"

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Sometimes we feel impotent in the face of political and social realities. There does not seem to be anything we can do about the situation around us. And yet, there is--live virtuously. From Lowery's book again, this moment of hope: "For instance, a Christian living virtuously will have an effect on human history, and numerous Christians living virtuously will have a massive effect."

Withou raising a single protest sign, without signing petitions, without marching on Washington, a simple virtuous life can change the lives of people about whom we know little to nothing. This is part of the need for the sacrament of Confession/Reconciliation. Because if it is true that the virtuous life manifests the kingdom of Heaven on Earth, a life less than virtuous rends the fabric of eternity. Even if our sins are secret, lived out in silence, "victimless" as it were, still, they have deep and abiding effects on the world around us. If we fail in virtue, even though no one but the Lord knows about it, we still harm those around us. This failure takes its toll on the entire world. Our society is in the dire straights it is in because we have chosen individually not to live virtuously. In some cases the choices have been made in invincible ignorance, in other in deliberate defiance. But most of the time, we think that what we do privately has little or no meaning to the world at large. After all our constitution guarentees us a right to privacy doesn't it? (In fact, no, but that is beside the point.) Even if it does, there is no privacy in the Kingdom of God. Every act is a public act with public consequences, even if we cannot see the source. If everyone secretly empties their chamberpots into the gutters on the streets of the City, the effluent will still stink even if we do not know the entirety of the source.

So the next time you think in despair, "What can I do about this or that terrible thing?" recall that the first thing is to live virtuously and to pray always. In doing these things we take the first steps in allowing God to lead us to correct the present situation. We shouldn't stop there, but it is a place to start because living virtuously allows us to hear more clearly what we really can do to stop the present horror.

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in thirty words or less, care of Mark Lowery.

from Living the Good Life
Mark Lowery

It is essential to grasp the Christian conception of history found in Scripture and tradition, and heavily influenced by St. Augustine's understanding as put forth in his classic work Certainly all humans live within history. But the best way to improve the world is by an awareness--a membership in--another "city" or "kingdom" far more important: the kingdom of God or the city of God.

Those who follow Christ and have grace in their hearts are citizens of this city--and as we'll see later, non-Christians can have some connection to his city. (The "charter of this city is the beatitudes--see CCC 1716-24.) Members of the Church, then, have a dual citizenship, in both the city of God and in the historical, political order. As Gaudium et Spes 43 notes: "This council exhorts Christians, as citizens of two cities, to strive to discharge their earthly duties conscientiously and in response to the Gospel spirit."

Two points here--one germane and one professional.

We straddle two kingdoms, one of which we see "as in a glass darkly." Too often we live out our lives with the notion of WYSIWYG. And yet, it is precisely what you do NOT see that is what we end up getting. We see the kingdom of God rarely, but it does emerge if we are looking. It comes out in small ways and in large. For example, it may emerge in the smile of someone greeting us as we come into work. It certainly does emerge in the Eucharistic celebration, if we are paying attention.

Now to my other point, a trivial one, but one that niggles at me. (And you'll note that it takes up the majority of this post.) Who the heck edits these books? What's with this insane jumble of grammatical oddities:

t is essential to grasp the Christian conception of history found in Scripture and tradition, and heavily influenced by St. Augustine's understanding as put forth in his classic work Certainly all humans live within history.

Why a colon? Then, as the colon is not terminal punctuation, why the capital letter following. And who is paying attention to sequence. Note this: But the best way to improve the world is by an awareness--a membership in--another "city" or "kingdom" far more important: the kingdom of God or the city of God..

Why construct the sentence so that you mention city or kingdom and then reverse the order after a colon (which should be an m-dash).

I'm sorry to bend your ear with this kind of thing, but more and more recently I'm noticing that editors are not doing their jobs. House styles are collapsing in the reign of the Stephen King and Michael Crichton, who have grown too big to be "edited." For example, has anyone read the bloated version of Stephen King's The Stand? Here is the strongest possible evidence that good editors know what they are doing and that the author's original conception is not always the best way to do things. I think Lowery's book is likely to be very helpful in sorting out a great many matters, and it does not pretend to be a handbook of style and grammar. Yet, to quote Tevye, "Would it spoil some grand eternal plan, if it were edited well?" Sorry, tirade ended. Back to sleep mode.

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Reading List

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I find myself in a doldrums. Nothing really appeals, nothing really calls out to be read. An unusual state for me.

Nevertheless, I am reading Evelyn Waugh's Vile Bodies, which was recently made into a film by Stephen Frey, the name of which eludes me. Vile Bodies is very evidently a successor (I won't say sequel) to Decline and Fall and is as amusing in a mordant way. What can one say of a book that actually has someone die from an accident ensuing from swinging from a chandelier? We have the same bloated aristocracy, one of whom runs a brothel in Argentina, the same purposeless, pointless young people leading lives that are frankly appalling in their waste. In other words, Evelyn Waugh.

I'm also rereading Wilfrid Stinissen's magnificent Nourished by the Word which is a guide for Catholics on how to use the Bible for prayer.

Anna Karenina boils away in bits and pieces at home during my leisure time and Mark Lowery's Living the Good Life.

I think after this I'll spend some time with the Classics, perhaps even the most despised classics of all--Thomas Hardy--I'm thinking a visit with Eustacia Vye in Far from the Madding Crowd might be in order. On the other hand, Great Expectations also appeals at this season--a visit with Mrs. Haversham is never out of order. Or perhaps Villette or one of the lesser known Brontë sister's oeuvre. Or perhaps something else entirely by the time I get there.

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A Political View


Catholics in the Public Square seems quite a worthwhile endeavor. Go and help them out the pseudoCatholic population.

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Biblical Reflections


At The Lesser of Two Weevils a wonderful reflection on the Shema Yisrael, in some ways the very center and core of Judaism and a perpetual reminder of the simplicity of God in which we all participate to the extent that we align our own wills with His.

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Prayer Requests


Please pray for me and for a friend. We are both taking small steps on new roads (though slightly different in nature) and we both need the support of all the prayers we can get. Pray that these little steps will carry each of us on our way to the life that God has in mind for us--a life of selfless devotion to His beauty and goodness--a life given in service to all around us.

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On Edible Tomatoes

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The things one has to find out in the course of a work day.

I read the supposed "fact" that A.W. Livingston of Reynoldsburg, Ohio developed the world's first edible tomato. This really bugged me. It suggested that up until about 1872 all of Italian cuisine had been tomatoless.

Now, it makes sense that tomato, a member of the nightshade family, might once not have been edible. But I kept finding references further and further back as to people eating tomatoes.

So what is it that Livingston actually did? He hybridized and hand selected wild tomatoes to produce a plump, ripe fruit that we know today. He commercialized the cultivation of tomatoes. It is to Livingston and his efforts that we owe a majority of the variety of tomatoes available today.

I know you all really wanted to know. Well, perhaps not, but it's been a lingering mystery to me for two days and I thought I'd share what I'd finally tracked down. So those of you in Reynoldsburg at the Tomato Festival, take a moment to correct the misconceptions, but still to honor the father of the appetizing tomato.

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I would like to feel more deeply the loss of Yassar Arafat, but it is not in me; however, that does not prevent me from praying for his soul and for rest and peace for him. May Shakespeare be wrong in this case,

"The evil men do lives after them,
the good is oft interr'd with their bones. . . "

May we see a change of heart, a change of path, a continuation of the struggle for identity in a way that allows the Palestinian people finally to achieve identity but not at the cost of another.

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New For Me

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Either an inveterate punster or a fan of Master and Commander: The Far Sice of the World, stop by and say hello to A liberal zen Catholic hebraist. Thanks for visiting--I love to find new, thoughtful sites.

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Resources for Living the Good Life

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Those of you who went to Catholic Universities and who studied theology and moral theology already know more about this than I could possibly share. But reading through one of my many books, I stumbled upon this term and concept and felt that it would make a marvelous addition and reminder as I look back over my posts, garnering from it them some of the insights I had a various times.

from Living the Good Life
Mark Lowery

Participated theonomy is a fancy way of saying that God's truth is build for us--his moral law (theonomy) is something we can really participate or partake in.

The notion of "participation is easier to understand if we consider another aspect of the Christian life: God's grace dwelling in us. It has "twin" aspects: First, sanctifying grace is not a thing we have in our souls, but is the very life of the Triune God dwelling--pulsating, if you will--within our very being. Grace is God's love poured into our hearts (see Rom 5:5).

Second, looked at from our angle, when God pours himself into us, we participate in him (see VS [Veritatis Splendor} 73, and CCC 1709, 1987-2016). And part of God's being is his law--not a set of rules only, as a heteronomy would have it, but the whole set of principles that puts our moral lives in order.

Twin moments again: When God pours himself into us, he pouts that "order " into us. (Later we'll see that this is precisely what "natural law" is.) From our angle we partake in that order. It is there for our happiness.

That's what participated theonomy is. When you see this term throughout the book, think "God's truth is friendly to me" or "God's truth is meant to make me truly happy.

Apart from an eccentric use of colons and italics, this passage was a superb introduction to the terminology of moral theology and to the central concept that we participate in God's law, and as God is uniate and simple (even while be triune--go ask the Thomists to explain this one) we participate in God's life itself.

A little later we have this magnificent little zinger.

Source as above

Here is another "pastoral aid" that this understanding yields: When you embrace the Church's moral stance of participated theonomy, expect to be misunderstood by people on both of the opposite extremes. Those who are positioned within autonomy will look at participated theonomy and see it is as heteronomous [control by an exterior rigid set of laws]. Because you claim, with the Church, to have access to truths that are absolute in nature, you'll be caricatured as an intolerant rigid fundamentalist who wants to impose one opinion on everyone.

On the other had, those who are positioned heteronomously will look at participated theonomy as far too autonomous for their tastes. Because you claim, with the Church, that the solution to our current moral crisis in not a return to the pre-Vatican II past, you'll be caricatured as a loose, wimpy Catholic without any moral fiber.

In the midst of these two misunderstanding, be patient and non-polemical. Take some comfort in knowing that when you are misunderstood by two polar opposites, that's a good sign that you’re getting something right!

I wanted this "anniversary post" to be something of substance--not too much substance I hope, but something that might hearken back to some of the better posts that have been made in the course of this long run.

And I implore your prayers that I might continue this endeavor for as long (and absolutely no longer than) God wills and directs. I love being here among bright, witty, talented, interesting people who are so ready to help one another live the Christian life.

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My Thanks to Mme Ramotswe

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These things I owe to Mme Ramotswe:

(1) a different, more enlightened, view of southern Africa

(2) a renewed interest in African History

(3) introduction to Sir Seretse Khama, from all accounts a great leader and Statesman, who led Bechuanaland to become Botswana; a much less well-known counterbalance to the horrors of western activity in Africa, such as Patrice Lumumba and Stephen Biko.

(4) Last, and most importantly, introduction to and encouragement for Red Bush (Rooibos) tea. Actually a tisane with a unique flavor somewhere between tea and coffee, it has become my morning beverage of choice. And I've gotten to the point where all of my afternoon iced tea is bush tea.

For more about Mme Ramotswe, see here. But I find I must modify that early, more negative review with the fact that Mme lingers on in fond memory and is a source of some pleasure to reflect upon long after having read the book. The book may have been a trifle, but Mme Ramotswe is not.

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A Review of Thérèse

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is available at Cantánima.

What is nice about the review is how it took something that I was not particularly thrilled with and suggested that perhaps I might nevertheless benefit.

Also we face the perennial question that I know has often surfaced here--how does one by-pass the saccharine surface and arrive at the depths of St. Thérèse? The answer is simply--grace. I said some time ago that I long thought I disliked St. Thérèse. The reality, however, was that I disliked some of the excesses of the Saints admirers. I heard so much about "the Little Flower," that I was absolutely certain that there was nothing there for me. What I discovered was that an excess of devotion expressed effusively effectively kept me from embracing one of the strongest, most willful, most loving Saints of recent times. The amazing simplicity and sheer depth of grace that pervaded her entire life resulted in a Canonization that was uncommonly rapid for the time and in a body of doctrine that while not as formidable as that of St. John of the Cross is considerably more approachable. And the most beautiful part of it all is that St. Thérèse is truly a daughter of St. John of the Cross. Most of what one seeks in the Mystical Doctor, one can find, simpler, clearer, perhaps shorn of some of the rigors of the time, in his daughter. But enough, I've said this before and I know and sympathize with all the reasons people find her unapproachable. Perhaps the film might help some more of those.

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Prayer Requests


Please continue to pray for Dylan--I keep hoping he will return.

Please pray for the needs of the people who make up St. Blogs.

Please pray especially for those who have troubled marriages, for those who have difficulty communicating their wants and needs, for those who feel lost and at sea and who live in constant turmoil.

Please pray for the success of 3 different business ventures, the welfare of several families may hinge on it.

And God bless all of you who remember the needs of others in the course of your own busy lives.

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Why am I a blogger? For one thing it keeps me writing. But for another it keeps me involved with the intellectual community of St. Blogs. I don't like every "intellectual" blog, some are too astringent, some too uncivil, but there are a good many that do me great good.

In light of praise received last night, I had to try to figure out a way to disarm what I really wanted to say in this post. Because I tend to be very straightforward in my approach to things, I will do the same with disarming. What I am about to say is the truth as I see it; I am not fishing for compliments, I am not looking for an ego boost, I am not stirring the pot to see what is stuck to the bottom. As I approach that magical 3000 number, I want to give a perspective as to why I have 3000 posts and why I hope I'm around for another five or six rounds of 3000.

When I entered St. Blogs I did so with a fair sense of my own intellectual "prowess" and my own ability to communicate clearly precisely what I wanted to say. My time here has shown how sorely both commodities are lacking. I am not nearly so smart as I would like to think. That has been a hard lesson, a constant challenge to come to terms with, but it has been a very good lesson. Moreover, I am not the thinker I thought I was. I haven't been trained in it and I have no inclination to it. I can follow a reasoned argument fairly well, although I sometimes miss the subtleties, but I am not up to Disputation, merely to opinion formation and floating an idea to see how bad or good it might be. While Disputations has taught me a great many lessons in this realm, I have learned other, formidable lessons elsewhere in St. Blogs.

For example at "Ad Limina" and "Against the Grain" I come up against deep knowledge and love of certain figures and ideas in the Church. There are people discussed about whom I know something, but often there surface insights and ideas that are so exciting and new (to me) that I want to shout them to the world. Hence, another lesson--the world already knows them--it's ME that doesn't.

I go to Two Sleepy Mommies and Summa Mamas for insights into family life, books, and a quiet chuckle or two. For out and out guffaws I head to Curt Jester, and often to Video Meliora. I love TSOs short fiction pieces and sometimes acerbic observations of goings-on here and in the real world.

But the most important lesson taught by Saint Blogs has been the importance of humility. Time and again I have thought myself slighted or mocked or insulted and I have thought about really firing off a zinger (assuming that it is still within my repertoire to do so). And then I will stop and think a couple of things:

(1) Did I read what the person wrote, or did I misread it with my own agenda? Moreover, did I read what was intended or what flat words end up sounding like when they achieve print?

(2) Why exactly are you so hurt and angry? Why did such a response provoke my anger? Why do you take yourself so seriously?

Thinking these things I discover that I do take myself far too seriously. I am not that important and the deconstruction of Steven Riddle is not a particularly likely goal for anyone who has any sort of life outside of cyberspace. Thinking these things always turns me toward Jesus to ask Him what is wrong with me. Why am I so prone to failure in this regard? Why is my pride so overblown?

So, while for many a tenure at St. Blogs is an exercise against the temptation of pride, for me it is a constant lesson in humility. I walked in thinking I was "all that," and discovered that I am just one of a great many fairly intelligent, but not necessarily top-notch thinkers. What I thought was a breadth of view and vast vistas of interests turns out, in the end, to have been a fairly parochial, fairly narrow range compared with some in St. Blogs.

Keep in mind, this is NOT looking for refutation, because refutation would undo the meaning and intent of what comes next:

Thank you all. Thank you for the lessons you teach me even when you are not trying to teach anything. Thank you for the lessons in thinking reasonably. Thank you in the lessons in being a better person. Thank you for the insights you have shared regarding your families and how you all strive to be better parents and better people. Thank you for sharing your struggles and inviting the prayers of the community. Thank you for upholding the Catholic Truth to the best of your ability. Thank you for being a very real and substantive community of thinkers who work, and write, and read, and share. Thank you for helping me to become a better Christian. My Catholic life has improved immeasurably in my time here. Part of this is because of what I post, but most of this is because of what I read, both in response to these posts, but also in each blog that I visit. I owe a tremendous debt of thanks to every person here and I pray for St. Blogs every day.

We have our detractors. Sometimes we are our own detractors, wondering why we do this, why we continue to write. Sometimes we express our own reservations about why we keep blogs. But I apply to this the universal rule--If you are asking yourself if you might be being a jerk either (1) you are not being a jerk; or (2) you are well on your way to becoming not a jerk. So too if you wonder about your motives for posting, you are undergoing the proper regular examen that is necessary for each of us as we continue to work here. Because there is great temptation to pride, but there is also lowly and humble support for the entire community.

Once again, my sincere thanks to all who stop by and read and to all who occasionally engage me in discussion. Your ideas improve my own ways of thinking about things enormously. It is not possible to be thankful enough for this.

So keep blogging, keep those entries coming. I am now at a point where I cannot get through my entire bloglist every day, and that is a wonderful place to be. The diversity of opinion, the diversity of voices, the sheer tumult and rough-and-tumble of some of the interactions are a constant source of inspiration, and, oddly enough, a kind of joy.

Thank you.

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A magnificent e-text from the author of one of the 100 best books of the twentieth century. This excerpt:

from Literary Taste: How to Form It
Arnold Bennett

Chapter IX Verse

There is a word, a “name of fear,” which rouses terror in the heart of the vast educated majority of the English-speaking race. The most valiant will fly at the mere utterance of that word. The most broad-minded will put their backs up against it. The most rash will not dare to affront it. I myself have seen it empty buildings that had been full; and I know that it will scatter a crowd more quickly than a hose-pipe, hornets, or the rumour of plague. Even to murmur it is to incur solitude, probably disdain, and possibly starvation, as historical examples show. That word is “poetry.”. . .

The formation of literary taste cannot be completed until that prejudice has been conquered. My very difficult task is to suggest a method of conquering it. I address myself exclusively to the large class of people who, if they are honest, will declare that, while they enjoy novels, essays, and history, they cannot “stand” verse. The case is extremely delicate, like all nervous cases. It is useless to employ the arts of reasoning, for the matter has got beyond logic; it is instinctive. Perfectly futile to assure you that verse will yield a higher percentage of pleasure than prose! You will reply: “We believe you, but that doesn't help us.” Therefore I shall not argue. I shall venture to prescribe a curative treatment (doctors do not argue); and I beg you to follow it exactly, keeping your nerve and your calm. Loss of self-control might lead to panic, and panic would be fatal.

So, for those of you who suffer metrophobia run, don't walk to this text and find out what Bennett's advice might be. The life you change could be your own!

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Now Jack can have someone to disagree with other than me.

from Living the Good Life
Mark Lowery

We are understandably afraid of being called "judgmental"--especially when Christ's saying "Judge not, that you be not judged" (Mt 7:1) is invoked--and we end up with what might be called the "can't impose syndrome:" "I would never be able to justify having an abortion, but I can't impose my views on someone else." We might know how absurd such a claim is--substitute slave-holding for abortion, and it's pretty obvious--yet we don't want to be labeled as rigid and judgmental.

The solution is clear: We must steadfastly maintain the distinction between an act that is evil and an evil act for which someone is culpable. Christ demands that we make the former judgment, and prohibits us from making the latter judgment.

To judge that an act is right or wrong is precisely what conscience is supposed to do--in fact, the technical definition of conscience is that it is an "act of judgment" that appliles the universal truth to a particular case (see VS 32.2 and 59.2). Judging that a particular individual is cupable for having committed an evil act is strictly forbidden --that's God's business.

Honestly, I can't say why this issue weighs so heavily on my mind, but my frequent return to it shows that it does. I think I need to understand exactly where I am supposed to be with respect to God's desire for me. As I am inclined to be a very judging person anyway, I think I artificially impose this boundary as a prelude to allowing grace to make it a natural boundary. There is a limit to what I can do myself, but there is no limit to what grace can accomplish in me, but I must cooperate. And this is a form, I suppose of active cooperation.

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Rob supplies this quotation too rich to be missed:

Don Imus this morning played a clip of a black preacher, preaching against abortion, preaching against gay marriage. The preacher said, "Either God has to judge this nation, or else he's got to dig up Sodom and Gomorrah, because he owes those people an apology."

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Prayer Requests

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Please pray for a special intention, concern that birddogs me today.

Please pray for troubled marriages and for the communication gaps that too easily contribute to them.

Please pray for those out of work, and those working in new fields with which they are not yet comfortable.

And please pray for a friend of mine who is entering a new field and who is uncertain of her ability to cope, of her desire to do it, and of her capacity to deal with all the surrounding issues.

Thank you all. May God bless your generosity.

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Back to Phillippians


Returning now to the point we left off in chapter 1.

Phillippians 1: 12-18

I want you to know, brethren, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole praetorian guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ; and most of the brethren have been made confident in the Lord because of my imprisonment, and are much more bold to speak the word of God without fear.

From His own life an illustration of one of Paul's most hopeful, jubilant, and joyful sayings, "All things work to the good of those who love Him." Here Paul rejoices in his imprisonment because through it he has gained another audience. The whole Praetorian Guard knows that his imprisonment is for Christ. What they make of this, we do not know. But surely they know enough to realize that a man willing to endure such confinement because of his beliefs is a man worth listening to. And if they are listening, they are hearing about Jesus. Paul is always pointing to Jesus. To everyone around him Paul speaks of Jesus and rejoices in Christ.

Rejoicing in chains--it makes one think. Think for a moment of your own chains--most of them are probably self-made. The worst of our captivities is self-imposed. We enslave ourselves to sin, we give in to temptation. Heck, if the truth be told (and I'm sure I'm not alone in this) I downright go out looking for tempations if they can't readily be found at home. We're smart and we're bored and we're looking for something that will fill the vast empty spaces. And Satan will see to it that we will find something that seems for a moment to do so. For a moment--but then the vast emptiness comes rushing back upon us. What could be worse captivity that this?

But Paul rejoices in chains, because his chains are not of his own making. They are merely material chains--the things we chafe against. I can't stand the fact that I can't buy what I want whenever I want. If truth be told, I'm certain that more than half of my dislike for the wealthy stems not from their perceived arrogance and paltryness, but rather from my own desire to have the opportunity to be the same. A little more money, a little more fame, a little more sex, a little more. . . these are the chains that really bind. And Paul is free of them and rejoicing in his imprisonment. He rejoices because in his own captivity he frees those around him. His chains are of the moment and his presence and witness frees many from the chains that are of eternity.

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A Personal Note

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A while back I lamented the long and laborious road to the collection of comments. I pointed out that while Summa Mamas had been in existence about half as long they had garnered far more comments.

But this is about something even more important, something over which I have control and by which I am astounded.

Very shortly, within the week certainly, and depending upon production perhaps even today or tomorrow, I shall have reached post 3000. I don't know why I find that so remarkable except to think that were I to print all of this out it would make a substantial volume of prose. Relatively bad prose, I fear because such things as are posted are frequently hurriedly composed.

Nevertheless, 3000 is on its way!

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While I found this book for the most part to be an innocuous and interesting exposition of current Conservative thought, there are some deeply disturbing elements about it that make me question the entire notion of "conservative" as defined here.

For example, early in the book comes this passage:

from Letters to a Young Conservative
Dinesh D'Souza

Let's make a list of the liberal virtues: equality, compassion, pluralism, diversity, social justice, peace, autonomy, tolerance. . . . By contrast, conservatives emphasize other virtues: merit, patriotism, prosperity, national unity, social order, morality, responsibility. (p. 7-8)

Leaving aside the question as to whether or not "merit" is a virtue, looking at the two lists, I am disturbed by the conservative’s lack of compassion and social justice and the emphasis on patriotism, prosperity, and national unity. I don't recall a whole lot of Jesus’ teaching centered around becoming prosperous. (Unlike some, I would deny that Jesus saw any intrinsic evil in prosperity per se but rather with its accouterments that seem to affect some more that others.) Where did Jesus promote national unity as a virtue? Patriotism? I would say from this narrow perspective a truly conservative focus on values approaches anti-Christian. And while the liberal values of pluralism, diversity, autonomy, and tolerance are nowhere to be found in Jesus' teachings, I think we can say that compassion and social justice do make up a good deal of what He has to say to us. True, the conservatives seem to have in their corner morality, another keystone (perhaps the chief keystone) of our Savior's teaching. Nevertheless. looking at the two lists side by side I have to say that my preference is the list of "liberal" virtues (many of which I would label "humane").

In a later chapter, which gives a very interesting perspective on anti-globalism (the perspective of one who has lived in and experienced the effect of big companies offering jobs in third world countries) there is this sinister elision:

[source as above]

Thus countries that have embraced globalization, such as China and India, have seen growth rates of 5 percent or more per year, compared with 2 percent in Western countries, and 1 percent or less in countries outside the free-trade loop.

Another reference is made to the wonders of the Thai market, among others. Now, perhaps it is this very perspective (third-world country) that colors the perceptions--however, to exalt the Chinese lao-gai system in the same breath as successes in India makes one question the successes of India. To exalt a market (Thai) that exploits child labor makes one wonder. I suppose in the brevity of the book one cannot discuss everything, but this treatment seems somewhat short of candor or deliberately disingenuous.

And this is the problem I often encounter with self-styled conservatives. Many of the ideas are very good in theory, it is in the implementation that the occasionally fall short, and yet there is not acknowledgment of this failure. Globalization is just fine, everyone benefits, the world is a better place. The facts of the matter belie parts of this conclusion and we would all do better to recognize this and seek to "fix" globalism and really bring the benefits we would like to claim for it to the entire world.

The difficulty I have with this book stems from small bits and pieces like this--cracks in the facade that give me a glimpse of something vaguely unpleasant teeming below the surface.

Once again the book is largely a superficial explanation of the depths of modern conservative thought. However, the final disturbing point is the suggestion of Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand as a "must" on the conservative read list. This is described as " a fast-paced novel that is also a capitalist manifesto; it celebrates the entrepreneurs who build and make new things." So Rand's philosophy is embraced in a single sentence without any indication that the deeper currents of objectivism hide many extremely ugly, extremely brutal things. Rand's "capitalism" is of the objectivist school--some people matter, most do not. Those that are important make something of themselves while the rest are to be used on the way up. Largely, the corporate ethos of today as many of us experience it in the workplace.

I've picked little holes in the fabric of what really is a very nice exposition of Conservative thought. In the course of reading it one brushes up against some of the real virtues of conservatism. One can see the virtues of conservative thought even if there is some demurral. But the most alarming thing, I suppose, is this deliberate blindness to the weaknesses of the system.

That said, the same is true IN SPADES of liberal thought. The exaltation of tolerance and autonomy as the greatest of the virtues blows holes a yard wide in the whole structure. In liberalism the equality strived for is not equality of means, but equality of ends--another depredation and incidental demeaning of the intrinsic worth of a person.

By all means, please read Letters to a Young Conservative, but do keep in mind that if this were all there were to the Conservative venture, we would be living in a very, very ugly society and world. The greatness of God is that He gives us the constant harping of the liberal voices to correct the excesses and potential harm of the straight conservative view. The truth, as usual, lies in a blending of the two sets of virtues, and in the recognition of the limits of any ideology. A true conservative does seek to conserve the very best of what is present in society now, and I also believe that he or she works very hard to correct the excesses and the burdens imposed by this system of thought and governance

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Publishing Politics

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You know, every time I write about politics, I just become more confused about the whole point. I really think Jeff Culbreath, the Amish, and the Mennonites have a really keen idea.

However, until I live in a separated community, I really don't have much choice but to participate. Or is that true? The Church teaches that it is a moral obligation to work within the system, and yet I cannot but wonder if it isn't at times a moral obligation to turn your back on a system that consistently fails you.

The withdrawal from the affairs of politics offers harmony, peace, and good-living without extensive argumentation on either side. I do not have to support someone engage in dubious battle, and even less someone who would countencance the slaughter of the innocents.

Well, what is a blog for but thinking aloud? I think I'll return to things my mind was made for--literature and spiritual writing. I am always distressed in writing even remotely about politics and while I try to persuade myself that I have no convictions, what i actually discover is a mass of self contradictory convictions on which no reasonable person, let alone party, could build a platform for living. Better just to travel the gospel way.

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Probably Not

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You Are a Conservative Democrat

Frankly, the way most other Democrats behave embarasses you greatly.

You pride yourself on a high level of morals, and you have a good grasp on right and wrong.

It's likely you think America needs to get back to its conservative, Juedo-Christian values.

Why aren't you a Republican then? Because you believe the goverment helps more than hurts.

No, not really. But when in the midst of a quiz you are constrained by the choices. Mostly government tends to hurt more than it helps. But I cannot deny that it DOES help and should help and so I end up with this weird label. On the other hand, I do admire Zell Miller, and I am a Southerner to the core, so it's hardly surprising that I would look to THAT party historically. (Too bad that, like the republicans, it no longer even vaguely represents what it started out as.)

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In light of yesterday's post "Mixed Feelings," I felt it important to make certain provisional statements.

My personal credo, whether I acknowledge it or not, is "Always question authority." It turns out to have been how I have lived my life. This goes for Church teaching as well as anything else.

But my questioning of authority does not start with an automatic bias against authority. The questioning of authority is more about elucidation that it is about rebellion. "Why should that be the way things are?" is an important question to me.

As a result, I often struggle to come to terms reconciling personal experience with Church teaching in certain areas. One of these is the subject of homosexuality and homosexual expression of love. While I do not necessarily by the "genetic predisposition" argument, I also do not completely by the "matter of choice argument." It appears in the characterization of the upbringing of a great many homosexual men there are similar elements. These environmental factors appear to shape as irreconcilably as genetics. That is not to say that there is no alternative; however, it does mean that alternative paths are extremely difficult to take and people being the fallen creatures that they are, it is exceedingly easy to step off the straight and narrow. It is this fact, among others, that makes reconciling Church teaching with appropriate attitude extremely difficult. Compassion tends to overwhelm and reason tends to take a back seat. If I truly believe such conduct is a sin (and I do) then real compassion would dictate that I would confront it in the same manner as I would any sin. However, for some reason, perhaps because of past experience and wide acquaintance with the homosexual community, this is very, very difficult.

So, this is a very long-winded way of saying, please understand that I am not trying to say that the Church is wrong or that the Church should change its teaching to accommodate me. I am only saying that it will take a while for me to internalize and truly accommodate Church teaching. I will need to strike a balance between recognizing and reproving the sin and welcoming the sinner. In the meantime, I'll let the heart struggle and I will be true to the feelings of it. They may be wrong (in this case, my reason grants that they are wrong) but trying to wrestle them into line with reason never works anyway, so I'll let them be and continue to have mixed feelings even as I recognize that those feelings stem from misplaced compassion. Better misplaced compassion than misplaced anger--compassion can at least usually be persuaded to do what is really best for a person--anger is much more difficult to reason with.

So thanks to all who have responded so far. And to those who were uncertain of what I intended by the post yesterday--it was merely an expression of feeling. It was not intended to cast doubt on present or past Church teaching or to call into question the wisdom of the Church. But I do think it salutary to share the difficulties one has encountering the teaching as well as the triumphs. Most of us struggle with one point of doctrine or another somewhere along the line. It's okay to struggle so long as we always hold in mind that long-held, traditional teaching of the Church is always correct. The teaching of the ordinary and universal magisterium bears the same seal of infallibility that the teaching ex cathedra does. I know that and I am thankful for that above a great many other wonderful things the church offers. The guidance is clear on the matter. I have a lighthouse and I have the various tugboats of St. Blogs that will assure that I do not find myself wrecked in the shoals. My thanks to God for His Church, and to all of you who heed His word and help those who struggle (myself included) find their ways.

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JCecil3 speaks. . .

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and it is, as usual, thoughtful and thought-provoking. See here for a wonderful example of gracious in defeat. Skip that, simply gracious. It is good to have such people as JCecil3 in our community, civil, polite, and willing always to look for God's grace in whatever may occur.

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Scriptural Reflections


Once again, I invite you to visit The Journey each day and enjoy the reflections on scripture to be found there. I particularly delilghted in writing this one. I read it and discover in it much that is not me. I hardly remember having composed it, and so I attribute the joy it produces in me to the Holy Spirit who also (I trust) inspired it. He uses even this weakest of vessels at times. And what is really wonderful is that I am rewarded by reading the work that I have done and discovering something new in it, that I did not see in writing.

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Mixed Feelings

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I rejoice in the fact that 11 states voted to recognize the traditional, sacramental definition of marriage. It is likely that there will be a great deal of legal wrangling over this, but the people have spoken unequivocally on the matter.

I am a good deal more conflicted over the fact that 8 of these states apparently also voted to outlaw gay civil unions. I suppose the matter is merely semantic. At least in my mind that is how I have drawn the boundaries--marriage is between a man and a woman--a union recognized both by the Church and by Law. But a civil union? Why should I oppose the legal recognition of a long-term relationship.

Why, for example, should it be possible for a spouse to inherit with or without a will in most states the estate of a spouse upon the demise of the spouse, but such cannot happen without a will in place for persons of the same sex.

I see justice-of-the-peace marriages as simply a legal recognition of a bond between people. While I may be required to insist that such a bond cannot and does not exist sacramentally, what sense does it make to say that it does not exist legally?

I think the bishops have said that we should certainly fight to preserve the sanctity of marriage. And I suppose one could reasonably make the slippery slope argument with regard to the legalization of civil unions. But that doesn't necessarily mean that the heart is entrained in the strict line of reason. In this case, for me, it is not. Yes, I regard homosexual practice as a sin, but is it not possible for the homosexually attracted to live in a committed, non-sexual relationship? I suppose the temptation is always present, but temptation is not sin, and it is, frankly, none of my business and certainly not within my purview to regulate it.

In this case I will say, "The heart has its reasons that reason cannot know." I don't know why I am saddened by this turn of events, but I am. I feel that in some sense justice has been denied even while truth has been reaffirmed in the main statement.

So, I rejoice in the 11 states that have defined marriage traditionally, but I am saddened that the two issues seem to be one in at least eight of those states.

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I was surprised at how well this film succeeded for me, and how strongly it reinforced my conviction that the death penalty is in nearly all cases unjust. You are well aware that this is the movie for which Charlize Theron (next to Halle Berry definitely in my icongraphic hall of Most Beautiful Women in the World--well there's a few others including (still) Sophia Loren, etc. but that's for antoher post) went plain. But not only did she "go plain," she also demonstrated an amazing acting ability. Who'd have guessed even after such films as The Astronaut's Wife?

In the film Theron plays Aileen Wouros, a down-and-out prostitute who is pushed over the edge and begins to kill the men who solicit her services. Ms. Wouros was a real person who was executed in 2002, an action I protested to the Governor and it consituted the first vigil I maintained. (Although being who I am, I didn't join any large crowd of people doing so. I prefered my vigil in the silence of my home in prayer.)

What struck me in the course of the film was how I was able to sympathize with the plight of this woman who had everything taken from her and was expected to survive, to make it on her own. Don't get me wrong, almost every choice she made was wrong--from the very beginning. However, the film shows the consequences of not reaching out to help people who find themselves in this situation. It shows the consequences of "victimless" crimes such as prostitution. It shows the consequences of our refusal to love even the unlovable, of our insistence upon meeting a set of arbitrary social standards before you are acceptable. The tragic irony of the film is that just when someone is able to reach out and try to help, Wouros has reached the end of the line.

I expected to be horrified by the violence in the film, and in a sense I was, but it was not the violence coming from Wouros, is was the violence directed at her. She is not a likeable person. She is not a person I would want to engage on any level. And yet, it is precisely that kind of person we are called as Christians to pay the most attention to. We are not allowed our preferences in whom we serve. I was reminded of this over and over because part of the story has a very deeply personal significance which I cannot share.

The film touched me and saddened me. I do have to admit that I was so assaulted by the language used that I came very, very close to turning it off on several occasions. But I stayed the course and I'm glad that I did. A superior film on many levels.

Recommended, but language and violence pretty much limits any household viewing.

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Although, they tend to turn a deaf ear to these causes.

(1) I heard on NPR that the number 1 issue above all others in the majority of states was Moral Decline. (Not that I think Bush is particularly an exemplar of moral stability.) But of those who stated that morality was an issue 80% of them voted for Bush. Thought provoking numbers.

(2) Again from NPR, Kerry's strongest showing was in young people. I forget the age range, but something like 24-29. The NPR commentator's statement was, "But there just weren't enough of them to carry the day." Well, as someone else pointed out (and I wish I could remember the article) these are the consequences of aborting your constituency. If the 1.2 million people who might have been born each of those 5 years were voting, perhaps there would have been enough to make a difference.

I certainly hope the Democratic party begins to wake up. [Before: Republican economic policies simply do not reflect Catholic social justice teachings no matter what they may claim to the contrary.] [Amended: because Ell is right in intent] Republican policies that have been enacted have not evinced any particular interest in a "preferential option for the poor" or support for the underprivileged or disenfranchised. This seems less in tune with Catholic Social Justice than does the RHETORIC of the Democratic party. However, if you do not have a constituency because you have killed all of your children, there can be no social justice at all. As it stands, Life is the ultimate social justice issue and on that alone, the Republican party still holds the upper hand. I don't know what it will take for this to sink in for democrats, but I hope they can learn not to ignore the vast red heartland that cries out for morality and justice in government.

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Search News

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It comes as considerable pleasure to me that the perennial highest scorers for visitors to my site come as a result of searching for one of the following terms:

blue-ringed octopus
Gustave Dore
Rime of the Ancient Mariner

While this post will not help those visitors, a quick run by my search box in the left hand column might do so. Be warned, however, that there is nothing here likely to help those in search of deep scholarly wisdom. I admire those things that I admire, but I do not claim to explicate them to the world at large. Enjoy the treasures I have found, may you delight in them as well, but don't expect that there will be any profound insights.

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Year of the Eucharist

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Communal Lectio


Yesterday Tom shared with us some of the fruit of his reflection on the Sunday scriptures. And it was odd, but the same scripture struck me for quite a different reason.

from Wisdom

For you love all things that are
and loathe nothing that you have made;
for what you hated, you would not have fashioned.
And how could a thing remain, unless you willed it;
or be preserved, had it not been called forth by you?
But you spare all things, because they are yours,
O LORD and lover of souls,
for your imperishable spirit is in all things!

In the spirit of communal lectio, I'll share what occurred to me in reading the passage.

There are some who maintain that humanity is utterly depraved and in the fall from grace all created things were dragged down with him and made low. That is that all creation is in some part bad, unworthy, or a constant spur to evil behavior.

What struck me here is once again the reaffirmation that what God has created is fundamentally good. He would not have created what is evil, it is not in him to do so. More, all of creation is sustained by Him, has life breathed into it by Him. All of creation is fundamentally good. And I think that extends to the fallen angels themselves. They are, in creation, fundamentally good. They have chosen through their own will to deny the good. They are ultimately negative, creating or causing nothing in themselves, but reacting to all that is and negating it. Nevertheless, they cannot negate themselves. God will put them away at the end of time, but until then, they continue in their rebellion against the basic goodness of all things.

Without becoming Pantheistic, we can say that His breath is in all breathing things, His life is in all living things. All things exist because of His constant intense love and attention. Without that all things would fly apart and become nothing. He sustains all with the eternal hope that all things will return to Him and the eternal knowledge that He has made it possible through His son.

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Two Samuel Stories

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Let me share some Samuel stories.

We were talking the other day about what God could do. I said to Samuel that God could do all things and Samuel said, "Well, He can't become Satan." There is deep wisdom there for one so young. It is indeed true that God cannot do what His nature will not allow. Not that He COULD not do it (that He lacks the power for it), but He cannot (He lacks the will for it). And it is in this, among other things, that we have our hope--God can never be other than simple, uniate, eternal, Love.

At communion two Sundays ago, as Linda and I were returning from receiving, Samuel jerked on Linda's shirt and said, "When do I get some of that Christ stuff?" Afterwards he expressed the same idea to Monsigneur who found it utterly delightful and decided that he would share that with everyone.

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. . . it will be too soon.

Those of you who live in states that were "already decided" should heave a great sigh of relief. Over the past five days, I've received more than forty automated "informational" calls for George Bush, John Kerry, and a plethora of others supporting Bush or Kerry, and then one or two for Sheriff, Dogcatcher, Soil Conservator, Groups supporting one or another constitutional amendments.

Traffic has been meesed up one way or the other nearly every day since last week with huge rolling roadblocks that parade the candidates from one place to another.

I will be glad at the end of this day regardless of outcome. We have to live with it anyway, so we simply pray for the best and move on.

I was, of course, outraged that Kerry attended Mass here in Orlando this morning and presumably received communion (on the other hand, I would have to admit that refusal at this point amounts to political grandstanding and really bad judgment.) But I'm appalled at the gall of the man continuing to flout the Church's teachings and presenting himself--he ought to be ashamed of himself.

All I can hope is that we do not repeat the election of 1800. This has been the most polarizing election to date and the divisions become deeper and more injurious with each passing day. Whoever wins, I plead with the other side saying, "Relent and learn to live with what God has wrought. Heal the division and stop the partisanship that is so relentlessly destructive."

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Slap the Candidate


The MOST IMPORTANT SITE EVER to visit before voting. That way you can do it with a clear conscience.

(via Don of Mixolydian Mode)

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Homeschooling Moms

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Those of you who homeschool are probably already aware of the magazines available to you, but I just recently received one from a very dear friend who has published a wonderful article in it. Unfortunately I don't remember the name of the magazine clearly (I left it at home). I thought it was Hearts and Minds. But perhaps one of my audience who does homeschool could perhaps provide the corrected name.

Anyway, the whole magazine is highly recommended from my one view of it, and congratlualtions are due to my very dear friend who against overwhelming odds--(5 children in homeschool and another on its way)--managed to write a great article to help other mothers out there.

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All Saints' Day Hymn

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For all the Saints, who from their labors rest
William Walsham Howe

For all the saints, who from their labors rest,
who thee by faith before the world confessed,
thy Name, O Jesus, be forever blessed.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

Thou wast their Rock, their Fortress and their Might;
thou, Lord, their Captain in the well fought fight;
thou, in the darkness drear, their one true Light.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

For the apostles' glorious company,
who bearing forth the cross o'er land and sea,
shook all the mighty world, we sing to Thee:
Alleluia, Alleluia!

For the Evangelists, by whose blest word,
like fourfold streams, the garden of the Lord,
is fair and fruitful, be thy Name adored.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

For Martyrs, who with rapture kindled eye,
saw the bright crown descending from the sky,
and seeing, grasped it, thee we glorify.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

O may thy soldiers, faithful, true, and bold,
fight as the saints who nobly fought of old,
and win, with them the victor's crown of gold.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

O blest communion, fellowship divine!
we feebly struggle, they in glory shine;
all are one in thee, for all are thine.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

And when the strife is fierce, the warfare long,
steals on the ear the distant triumph song,
and hearts are brave, again, and arms are strong.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

The golden evening brightens in the west;
soon, soon to faithful warriors comes their rest;
sweet is the calm of paradise the blessed.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

But lo! there breaks a yet more glorious day;
the saints triumphant rise in bright array;
the King of glory passes on his way.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

From earth's wide bounds, from ocean's farthest coast,
through gates of pearl streams in the countless host,
and singing to Father, Son and Holy Ghost:
Alleluia, Alleluia!

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El Dia del Muerte


Does it strike anyone else as ironic that this year's elections shall be held on the Day of the Dead? I think the only other more appropriate election day might have been in the "intercalary days" of the Mayan Calendar. Those 5 doomed days between the end of one cycle and the beginning of the next.

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Prayer Request

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Today being All Saints, let us invoke their aid as our nation approaches an election debacle. May the mighty Lord intervene in this election that we get the elected officials we need rather than those we deserve.

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About this Archive

This page is an archive of entries from November 2004 listed from newest to oldest.

October 2004 is the previous archive.

December 2004 is the next archive.

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