December 2004 Archives

All of you have undoubtedly experienced types of books that you simply cannot read, or types of movies you cannot watch. In movies, for example, I have yet to be entertained by any film about organized crime--no matter how "well made" no matter how wonderful--they leave me cold. Two notable exceptions are the comedy Some Like it Hot which needs organized crime to drive the improbable plot, and Pulp Fiction which like most of Tarrantino is a live-action cartoon.

So also in literature, I am left cold by certain genres--two in particular. I have never cottoned to the "spy story." And to this date there has been no exception to this--Le Carré, Ludlum, Deighton, Hall, Buchan, Clancy, you name it, I don't care for it. This goes all the way back to Joseph Conrad's The Secret Agent and even includes The Man Who was Thursday, which, while not strictly speaking a "spy" novel, partakes of too many of its tropes for me to really enjoy it. My dislike of it is so strong that it even includes redoubtable Golden Age Mystery writers like Agatha Christie who wrote some deplorable Fu Manchu-like "spy" stories. Now, I don't feel too bad about not liking this particular group of things--after all it is a fairly contained limited genre. Yes, it would be nice to appreciate Rogue Male and some of Greene's "entertainments" but if it is not to be so, I can live with that.

One that I find more disturbing though, and the reason for these thoughts, is sea stories. In this I have had a few minor breaktthroughs--Conrad's Lord Jim and Heart of Darkness, Billy Budd and even some parts of Moby Dick. (I once read an edited version that removed all the flensing and rendering and whale anatomy and boiled the story down to its bare bones and found the whole thing a compelling allegory.) And of course, one of my favorite books of the Bible--Jonah--begins with a sea-story.

But, in particular, the sea stories I would like to like and would like to have reason to read are some that are extremely popular around St. Blogs (another reason for mentioning them.) I have tried now eight or nine times to make it through Master and Commander. Every time I am occasionally pleased by the language and invariably confounded with the glacial pace of the action. Page after page after page of a description of two boors at a chamber music recital. Or maybe they aren't boors, as I progress through the work. But what I lack is a compelling reason for continuing through the story. The movie version of these characters I found even more off-putting. As I have descirbed it to friends--a soggy Ivory-Merchant wannabe with characters out of Gosford Park.

Nevertheless, people whose writing I enjoy and whose insights I find notable enjoy these books. Some seem to enjoy them as much as I might enjoy Tolkien or C.S. Lewis. Good writing, is, after all, good writing. And it may be only a matter of time before I grow into an appreciation for these books. After all, it took me twenty years of trying before I became an ardent life-long admirer of Henry James and of Nathaniel Hawthorne. So, there's always hope.

What I'd like to ask as a favor is that those who truly admire the work write more about it. Cite passages, give me some insight into why these are compelling and interesting reading. Share your favorite moments. I'll be stopping by at least two places frequently. And I'll post the occasional reminder. I love the language of the books, now I want to have the drive to get over whatever it is about them that I find so alienating. That will require some introspection, of course. But, in all, it probably boils down to a lack of charity and a great deal too much judgment being exercised. That is usually the source of problems. And yet, I do, in some things follow the great Thomist line that knowledge brings an increase of love (I understand that the reference is to matters divine, but I think it is true of all matters not sinful). So, perhaps if I know more, I can break down my resistance and begin to appreciate an oeuvre that truly seems to be worth the effort. The tantalizing through of twenty unread books, presents a vista of possibility for me--a vista that I truly do want to explore. So I look for a reason.

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Revisiting CE and BCE

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It's odd the way things come in cycles and this week I've had my attention focused on this issue twice. The first time was with Sr. Malone's book (reviewed below). The second was as I was writing a reflection of this scripture from St. John:

"He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world knew him not.
He came to his own home, and his own people received him not. " (John 1: 10-11)

Of this passage I wrote:

. . . historians have started to use a dating system that dates everything B.C.E. (Before Common Era) and C.E. (Common Era) because the Latin phrase "Anno Domini" or A.D., the Year of the Lord, is "not sufficiently inclusive." What could be more inclusive than salvation for all who believe in Him? What could possibly be more inclusive that honoring Him who created all.

(The text above reflects the edits suggested by the editor and accepted by me.)

What I originally wrote may vanish because it is probably not well-conducive to serene reflection; however the editor of the column wrote to me and here, in a slightly altered version, is what I replied:

My point was, of course to emphasize the phrase "And the world knew Him not." That's the world we live in today perhpas even more so than the world of Jesus. At that time, the transmittal of news was limited to caravan and personal communication--it was at leasat understandable. In today's world it is more like an enforced amnesia--more like "We knew Him, but we're trying our best to forget Him."

I should emphasize that I do not wish not to criticize those who find themselves in academia and for the sake of academic survival must accept the system imposed upon them. What I want to point out is that it is not a "value-neutral" inclusive act. That is--it is not as though this action has no ramifications. There is great harm done when Jesus Christ is excised from historical memory by academic fiat in the name of some illusory "inclusiveness." If the dating system still dates from the traditional A.D. (even if the calculation was originally wrong) then we are still saying (no matter what the letters we use) that the history of the world was so altered by this event that we begin our dating there. Were we really to try to place a value-neutral date for beginning our chronology, it would have to be something like the date of the Shang scapulomancy fragments (earliest written language), or perhpas if all were amenable the establishment of the Sumerian civilization. And, perhaps, if academia is to have its way, we will see that proposition in the near future. If so, I suspect that it will be confined to the rarified atmosphere of the ivory tower. I would suggest that the usages BC and BCE also be confined by popular demand to the post-modernist Christ-amnesiac academic establishment. Those of us outside it should make every effort to remember Jesus even in so small a thing as two letters after a date.

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Let All Creation Praise Him!


We find reasons for praise and sources of wonder in the oddest places. This after it was once again in Mandelbrot's book.

from The (Mis)Behavior of Markets
Benoit Mandelbrot and Richard L. Hudson

It is an extraordinary feature of science that the most diverse, seemingly unrelated, phenomena can be described with the same mathematical tools. The same quadratic equations with thich the ancients drew right angles to build their temples can be used today by a banker to calculate the yield to maturity of a new, two-year bond. The same techniques of calculus developed by Newton and Leibniz two centuries ago to study the orbits of Mars and Mercury can be used today by a civil engineer to calculate the maximum stress on a new bridge, or the volume of water to pass beneath it. Now, none of this means that the bridge, river, and planets work in the same way; or that an archaeologist at the Acropolis should help price an Accenture bond. . . . But the variety of natural phenomna is boundless while, despite all appearances to the contrary, the number of really distinct mathematical concepts and tools at our disposal is surprisingly small. When a man goes to clear a jungle he has relatively few types of tools: To cut, perhaps a machete; to knock down, a bulldozer; to burn, fire. Science is like that. When we explore the vast realms of natural and human behavior, we find our most useful tools of measurement and calculation are based on surprisingly few basic ideas. When a man has a hammer, all he sees around him are nails to hit. So it should be no great surprise that, with our small number of effective mathematical tools, we can find analogies between a wind tunnel and a Reuters screen.

This brief passage inspired in me a diffuse chain of thought. If these things may all be described with a limited number of tools (as Mandelbrot maintains) then the infinite diversity and complexity of phenomena that we see about are are really all variations of a few key themes.

I will not contend that this speculation proves anything at all, but merely that looking upon this possible conclusion, one can see for a moment the image of the mind of the maker--infinitely varied and yet discrete and accessible. That all of these varied things should have in common some underlying language, some limited group of descriptors either means that we are not truly describing them, or their relationships are by far more important than their perceived differences.

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Well-seasoned Stock (Market)

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That's kurtosis, which is neither ketosis, thankfully, nor kenosis.

Let's face it. One of the reasons you stop by here is that you want to see what oddity I will trot out next, what quirky thing presented itself to my warped imagination as a thing of interest.

Well today we have Kurtosis and Mandelbrot's analysis of the stock market.

from The (Mis)Behavior of Markets
Benoit Mandelbrot and Richard L. Hudson

Statisticians like to condense a lot of confusing information into one clear talking point, and so they have devised a single number to measure what we have been discussing--how closely real data fit the ideal bell curve. They call it kurtosis, for the Greek kyrtos, or curved. But we can think of it as how much "spice" is in the statistical broth. A perfect, unseasoned bell curve has a kurtosis of three. A hot, fait-tailed curve of the sort we have been finding would have a higher spice number, while a curve that had been boiled into a dull paste would have a lower number. According to a 2003 book by Wim Schoutens, a Catholic University of Leuven mathematician, the daily variaiton in another common U.S. stock-market index, the Standard&Poor's 500, had a kurtosis of 43.36 between 1970 and 2001. This is, by the bland standard of the statistical kitchen, a five-alarm chili. If you throw out the spiciest data point, the October 1987 crash, you still get an uncomfortably hot dish: a kurtosis of 7.17. The high-tech NASDAQ index: 5.78. The French CAC-40: 4.63. All are above the Gaussian norm of three.

Hope that whipped up the Holiday appetite dulled from too many sweets and too much turkey. Get out your stock (market) pot and boil yourself up some Kurtosis of 1987!

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St Blogs Prayer Network

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In Preparation for New Year's

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and making resolutions that matter and prayers that are worthwhile, I present once again from the writings of St. Josemaria Escriva:

The Seventeen Evidences of a Lack of Humility

1. To think that what one says or does is better than what others say or do

2. To always to want to get your own way

3. To argue with stubbornness and bad manners whether you are right or wrong

4. To give your opinion when it has not been requested or when charity does not demand it

5. To look down on another's point of view

6. Not to look on your gifts and abilities as lent

7. Not to recognize that you are unworthy of all honors and esteem, not even of the earth you walk on and things you possess

8. To use yourself as an example in conversations

9. To speak badly of yourself so that others will think well of you or contradict you

10. To excuse yourself when you are corrected

11. To hide humiliating faults from your spiritual director, so that he will not change the impression he has of you

12. To take pleasure in praise and compliments

13. To be saddened because others are held in higher esteem

14. To refuse to perform inferior tasks

15. To seek to stand out

16. To refer in conversation to your honesty, genius, dexterity, or professional prestige

17. To be ashamed because you lack certain goods

Lord. grant me eyes to see my own faults and to desire to make them good. Let me see how I fail in humility and give me the strength and the courage to make it right. Lord, let me be what you would have me be--nothing more, nothing less. And let me not pretend to anything more than my identity in Christ. And grant me the willingness to abandon myself in the pursuit of that Pearl of Great Price, the One who matters. Amen

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Heaven and Hell

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I liked this quotation from Peter Kreeft:

"Jesus says the way to hell is broad and many find it and that the way to heaven is narrow and few find it. And he means it: you don't get to heaven simply by being born, by being nice, or by oozing into an eternal growth experience. But "few" here does not mean that less than half of mankind will be saved. For God speaks as our Father, not our statistician. Even one child lost is too many, and the rest saved are too few. The good shepherd who left his ninety-nine sheep safe at home to rescue his one lost sheep found even 99 percent salvation too "few". "

And this may be the beginning of many pointless maunderings on the subject. They were started by reading at Christifideles (see below). I asked myself, what do I believe about Heaven and Hell.

For one, I believe they exist. What one or the other is, I really don't know, because it occurred to me that while I accept their existence as an article of faith, they don't occupy a large portion of my thought-world. In fact, they occupy practically nothing at all. Except to acknowledge that they exist and either is a possible destination for me personally, they have no real presence in my devotional life. I guess that is because even if they did not exist, I would have no excuse for a lack of loving God. The existence or nonexistence or heaven or hell is not instrumental in my belief structure. That is, I believe them, but my belief is not compelled by either of them. My belief is compelled by communication with God through His revelations and prayer.

That isn't to say that they are unimportant or inconsequential. But it has never occurred to me to spend a lot of time thinking about them. I think that this is one of those places where the empirical "facts" of the matter are so limited and so few that spending a lot of time conjuring up images seems counter-productive. I've said the same before about speculating about angels (and have been chastised for it), but I stand by it. There is so little solid material to go on with regard to what constitutes these realms of being that, for me, they would prove unsatisfactory means for loving God more. And that's really what any sort of meditation and prayer should be about, isn't it? If an action detracts from that end, I would do well either to never take it up or to desist at the earliest possible moment.

Nevertheless, I am interested in the informed speculations of people better placed (intellectually and spiritually) about these realms. I do believe because Jesus believed and taught their existence and the Church upholds that same teaching and reinforces it. And I shall continue to read about them from time to time; nevertheless, they might never constitute a center for my faith or my prayer for all the reasons I listed above. And I wonder if they were ever meant to or if they ever did for anyone in an protracted way. It little matters--and I suppose it is one of the reasons that Jesus told us, "My Father's house has many mansions." That mansion allotted for me is all I need be concerned about.

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Marriage in the Resurrection

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Go here to read an interesting speculation about the life of the world to come. I don't know quite what to make of it, but it is intriguing and thought-provoking. Don't remember where I found this link, but I think it was through Catholic Light.

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From El Camino Real

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Mr. Culbreath makes a real point with this note:

"The real problem today is that there are so many Catholics and so few saints among us. The dearth of saints is without a doubt a chastisement for the rest of us, for God doesn't send graces to those who will not receive them. The Church in America would be thoroughly scandalized by another Saint Francis, to say the least. We know what the present modernist hierarchy would do with his rigid orthodoxy. But what would the wealthy, glitzy, celebrity-making neo-conservative establishment do with his preaching of acesticism, poverty, and obscurity? What would the fire-breathing know-it-all traditionalist attack dogs do with his charity, humility, and obedience? What would the respectable and worldly-wise among us do with his bizarre and other-worldly quirks? "

What wonderful insights for all of us. Thank you.

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Appropriate for the Season


As we approach Epiphany and the brilliant end of the Christmas Season (actually with Baptism of the Lord), we have The Story of the Other Wise Man by Henry Van Dyke.

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Poems by Denise Levertov


I've never been muchh of a fan of Denise Levertov, having considered her poems too heavy handed, too unbalanced, too political. However, I saw a reference in Sister Malone's book and decided to go looking, expecting once again to be appalled. Well, here is a place where I owe Sister Malone a debt of gratitude because I found a few really wonderful relgious-themed poems here. Go and enjoy, and if so, remember to say a small prayer thanking God for Ms. Levertov and for Sister Malone.

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On Tsunami Detection


This morning I heard on NPR that the "Ring of Fire" (basically the Pacific Ocean Basin) is peppered with little buoys that can detect the presence of a Tsunami hours before it makes landfall. In most cases, this would probably be enough time to escape the shoreline and preserve life and limb.

This is not true of the Indian Ocean, although, NPR implied, after this disaster it soon would be. And my thought on the matter was--and then the rich who had access to the mediate and the means to get away would do so and the poor would be left behind to suffer just as they do now. In reality, the poor take the brunt of any disaster--they are disproportionately affected by such things because they lack the means to find out and the means to do anything at all about it even if they do find out. And I wonder what can be done. I suppose that what can be done must be done on a person by person basis. That is, those of us who have are responsible in some measure for those who have not. If I am fleeing to the mountains and my car can hold more than me, perhaps it is incumbent upon me to bring those who cannot so flee.

It is a problem without any easily recognized solution, but it strikes me that there should be something more we can do than stand ready to mop-up afterwards. And when I speak of we, I don't necessarily refer to a corporate body, but to individuals who have the means to make a difference.

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Please pray for the victims of the Sumatran Tsunamis--more than 12,000 dead at this point.

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Walking a Literary Labyrinth


Sister Malone's book is a vexingly disappointing effort, leaving nearly all of Tom's questions unanswered and not truly developing the thesis of the work. The book turns out to be more the literary perusals of a nun at various stages of her life. And while this holds some interest, the difficulty is that she expressly denies the intent and apparently genuinely purposes something different.

Unfortunately she doesn't achieve it. In fact, even as a "biography in letters" as it were, the book fails. There is entirely too little about the substance of what she read and how it influenced her intellectual life in any significant way.

But worse than that are numerous points at which the Sister gives me too much information. For example at one point she tells me that she would rather miss her daily required prayers than to miss her time reading. And while I can sympathize with that viewpoint, it is hardly edifying to conjure up the image of a Nun reading The Cardinal Sins in preference to evening prayer. More than that, we get a nun's lecture on reading erotic literature--by which she means such things as the collected works of John Updike. She then uses this little apparatus to give us a polemic on what is wrong with the Church's teaching on sexuality--the details of which I sha'n't regale you with, but suffice to say that it is the standard diatribe post Humanae Vitae.

Okay, so it is evident that I was never successful in separating the person of the nun from the content of the work, try as I might. Moreover, most of what I found difficult, I would have found difficult to read written by any professing Catholic. It is especially difficult coming as it were from the reserved center of the Church, and, in a way, indicative of present trials in the church. If the core is like this, what can one expect from the periphery?

I think my greatest disappointment (but one I half expected) is the fact that the wonderful and workable symbol of the labyrinth is once again dragged into the camp of those who do not really agree with church teaching. (Although I would say that Sister Malone, despite professed disagreement on many points, certainly seems to walk the walk. I think about the parable Jesus told of the two sons, one of whom said, "Go away, no way I'm going to do that," and then went and did it, the other of whom said, "Right away," and never stirred his bones. Unfortunately our witness is at least two-fold--what our lives teach and what our words teach. It were better were they consonant.)

I like the symbolism of the labyrinth--not the endless Cretan maze of lore--but the long and winding path that at one moment seems directly aimed at the goal and then in a moment takes you swooping off in another direction. That does seem to speak deeply of my spiritual journey. For short segments I'm right on and certain that I'll make it to my goal, and then for wide stretches I'm wandering around uncertain of where the center is and if I'll ever make it. The hope lies in the fact that it is a single path and the center pulls with a pull stronger than any gravity. I'm off the point here, and I'll have to get back to this idea in a different post, but the thrust here is that once again a rich symbol has been usurped by a group with whom I have little in common intellectually.

Sister Malone's book is not a scandal, nor is it a success. What it sets out to do she wanders far from leaving me alone to try to divine the answer to the question as to whether reading has a spirituality and causing me to wonder if the initial assertion of a similarity between reading and other aspects of spirituality is indeed valid. As a lifetime reader, I definitely hope so; unfortunately the book provides no ammunition or support for an exceedingly interesting notion.

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Joyeux Noël

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Il est né, le divin enfant. . .
chantons tous son evenement.

May Jesus, as infant Son of God, dwell with you in this season and throughout the year.

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I should have guessed as much given the title with "Labyrinth" as a keyword. But putting that aside, I thought perhaps there would be something here for me. However, at every turn I bump up against one or more absurdities--things I shouldn't mind so much, but do.

For example, about twenty pages into the book Sister Malone gives us an outline of the history of reading. And what to my wonder eyes should appear but the date of 1000 C.E. I know it is a little thing, but why can't a nun, one sworn and betrothed to Christ, run against the PC culture and call it what it is--Anno Domini A.D. It is no more a common era than it is anything else. This was simply a PC disguise for the fact that the world's dominant cultures date all things from the appearance of one Man who was also God. That appearance that we honor this evening and tomorrow is dishonored by caving in, for whatever reasons, to the idiocy of academia.

I'm sure I will find other sore points as I continue. Perhaps I would do better were I to forget that this is supposedly one of Christ's Brides, and think of her rather as a curmudgeonly old lady professor who, like Harriet Vane, has something to prove by what she writes. I'll try that and let you know how it goes.

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Speaking of Schism


One really must hand it to Episcopalian Bishop Peter Lee of Virginia. Recently he was quoted as saying that when it comes to a choice between heresy and schism, one should always choose heresy. In fact, whether we like it or not, one must at least respect the integrity of those who are in schism. Why would you want to hang around a Church that didn't have a handle on the truth as far as you were concerned? Why would you wish to consent to heresy--to secure integrity? Well, you might be integral in one sense (unified) but unified in error that condemns all. Why can't the leaders of Churches see and understand this? It is quite a sobering spectacle to see a Bishop condoning, indeed, for the sake of unity, encouraging, heresy. Thank goodness tonight we celebrate Him who makes all things One.

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More Catholic than the Pope

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More Catholic than the Pope
Patrick Madrid and Pete Vere

Bought this on a whim yesterday. I've been accosted by the various arguments of the ultratraditionalist/schimatic crowd and had not even realized that these were some of the pervasive themes of discontent. Perhaps you've seen them as well--"Vatican II wasn't a doctrinal council, merely a pastoral council, " etc. The first time I encountered this, I hadn't the foggiest notion that there was such a distinction (as Madrid and Vere explain, there isn't) and didn't know what to make of it even if there were.

This book is a mite too technical for me. Mr. Vere is a canon lawyer, and the first half of the book is a detailed description of exactly what went on in the establishment of SSPX and the schism of Archbishop Lebfevre. (And, schism it was by any version of Canon law you care to use for analysis.) They also explain the phenomenon of Campos, Brazil (a former SSPX diocese reunited with the Catholic Church).

The second part of the book is an exposition of several arguments used against the Catholic Church by SSPX adherents. For example, the St. Pius V edict assuring the availability of the Tridentine Mass in perpetuity, the "heresy" of Paul VI (implicity I suppose of John XXIII) and of John Paul II (often compared to the "heresy" of Pope St. Liberius, etc.).

What was nice about this book is that it clarified for me certain points that I have seen made by the adherents of SSPX. What it doesn't really provide, and cannot in the scope of so short a study is the psychology behind it. This must come from the extreme traditionalists themselves. (And I assume that the "extreme traditionalists" that Madrid and Vere refer to are, in fact, schimatics of various stripes--not those who while remaining within the Church and loyal to Rome demand access to the wonderful treasury of riches that is the Tridentine Mass.

What I fail to understand, and what I would like to see more of a discussion of, is why the Tridentine Mass was suppressed in the first place. That seems to have been a major tactical error on the part of the Council--or perhaps a usurpation of the council's good meaning by those who had in mind a new agenda. I suppose I shouldn't speculate as to reason, given that I have a very poor understanding of events overall.

That leads me to another point that I hope bodes well for my own diocese. Our Bishop (a good, weak man) has recently retired and the Adjutator Bishop recently had been installed (or perhaps will be installed--much goes on at that level that I am out of touch with). It is my profound hope that this changing of the guard will allow us to have established within the diocese at least one place at which one might attend the Traditional Latin Mass, and thus I would finally have an experience of it. We'll see.

Anyway, back to the book--for those interested in the division caused by Archbishop Lefebvre and the canon law and statues surrounding it, this book is an excellent, beginning resource. I found some of the "what if" scenarios a tad wearisome, but I don't think I was the intended audience for them. Messers Madrid and Vere are speaking to people like me, but one of the real audiences for this book are those who are considering abandoning the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church for the preservation of a cherished past. Nevertheless, the book overall is quite fine and does provide a reasonable and interesting assessment of the Lefebvre affair and its schismatic aftermath.

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A Momentary Taste of Being


Probably shouldn't be posting today in consideration of the day; however, my brain has had a moment to decompress, and so I'm inclined to put some stuff up. Probably not much because I have to be about our various Christmas decorations. But something more.

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Via Mixolydian Mode

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On Libraries


How is this for a quotation:

"Libraries will survive the digital revolution because they are places of sensuality and power"

or this:

"'I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library,' wrote Jorge Luis Borges, poet, writer and librarian, who understood better than most the essential physicality of books."


See the source.

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Henry James

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(As if you care.)

I know, you mention his name to clear out the room. However, the plan of my reading is comprehensive and evolutionary. There was a time in which the mention of James would have sent me running. But I find that James and Hawthorne are presently figures I am returning to again and again. Despite certain similarities in complexity of style, there could not be two more different writers or two more different sensibilities.

Compare, for example, a couple of the masterworks from each The Scarlet Letter and The Golden Bowl. Now, I could probably find two works that had more in common, but there is enough here for the cursory note I want to make. The stories are vaguely similar about distorted and "illicit" love affairs that effect the lives of more than the two or three involved. But James is a psychological realist--to the point where the figures in The Golden Bowl become almost avatars of the psychology within. I remember in reading the book my impression that there were four or five people floating in a cloud of their own anxieties and competition through a ghost-like world. There was no real sense of anchoring in events. I remember hearing about someone making a movie of the book and I thought, "How in the world could they do that?"

Edith Wharton famously commented on The Golden Bowl. She asked the James why his more recent work seem to be so lacking in atmosphere and were ‘more and more severed from that thick nourishing human air in which we all live and move.’

Of The Golden Bowl itself she asked, ‘What sort of life did they lead when they were not watching each other and fencing with each other? Why have you stripped them of all the human fringes we necessarily trail after us through life?’ James looked at her in pained surprise and she wished she had not asked the question. He thought a while and then, plainly disturbed, said, ‘My dear, I didn’t know I had.’” (Quotation from A Backward Glance. (found here)

In some ways, this exactly describes my experience of reading The Golden Bowl and yet, something of the book lingers in my mind several years after the initial read. And this is what I find of the very best of James's work--it is very difficult going, but it stays with you, hauntingly and suggestively and gives other experiences a richer, more robust, more three dimensional feel.

Hawthorne on the other hand, a interesting and subtly amusing prose stylist is the antithesis. He is a romantic, writing romantic tales in romantic mode. In fact, he refers to his novels as romances, and each that I have read is indeed such. While one can sympathize with Hester Prynne, or can follow and believe incidents of The House of the Seven Gables, these are romances. They offer no great insight into life or into how people function, nor are they intended to. They serve more to entertain, amuse, and perhaps act in some cases as allegories.

James admired Hawthorne. Some of his later prose reflects the complexities of Hawthorne's style. Henry James is not easy to read. But reading James is a source of infinite delight and joy. It is also a source of profound frustration. One wishes to fashion sentences like Henry James's. One wants to produce characters as memorable as Quint, Isabel Archer, or Daisy Miller. One want to be able to capture the atmosphere and meaning of "Altar of the Dead," or to be able to recount with as deft a hand the conflict imbedded in The Spoils of Poynton. James is one of those writer relegated to the backs of shelves and to hidden places and times. It's a shame because reading his work is more profoundly affecting than almost any other writer of the time. The paths he explored and the details he noted in human behavior have never since (nor for that matter before) been so successfully recounted. Part of the breathlessness and the "closed" feeling of The Golden Bowl comes not from any deliberate exclusion on James's part, but on the laser-like focus on the state of the four main characters involved in a twisted dance of selfishness and despair.

I suppose that I think of James because one of his great stories "The Turn of the Screw" is the exemplar of a category of "Christmas Ghost Stories" that start in the telling at a club. Robertson Davies in High Spirits seems to take some of his inspiration from James. Stephen King says as much in Four Seasons when introducing the last tale of the book. James may be in some ways out of date and out of fashion, but what he has to say is not confined to any time, and his neglect is due more to the progressive deterioration of the art of reading and the impulse to use reading as recreation and escape rather than as a learning experience. I suppose it is the inevitable result of the training of generations of children in the reading of substandard multi-culti literature. It is a shame that great figures of the past can no longer command attention merely because of their race and sex. In more enlightened times such an attitude would have been labeled, parochial, or perhaps even sexist.

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Please continue prayers for one of St. Blogs' own who is searching for employment. One of the interviews is looking very good.

Please pray for Dylan and his return to us.

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For one determinedly searching for employment and interviewing on a very regular basis.

For Katherine as she approaches the joyous birth of her child.

For CNG that the opportunity come through in time.

For Dylan who remains sorely missed.

For me--circumstances to be detailed at some later date.

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A Spirituality of Reading

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This link thanks to Neil, gives some insight to the thought about the spirituality of reading. I think there is much here that may inspire hope for those who feel hopelessly left out of the contemplative world. Perhaps more later.

Reading with New Eyes
Nancy Malone, OSU (Ursuline Sisters)

I suspect that lots of people who love reading have a sense there is something spiritual about it. That was my hunch when I started thinking about "a spirituality of reading." The hunch was based on two simple observations. One, that the acts of reading and of contemplation share many of the same characteristics: Both are usually done alone, in silence and physical stillness, our attention focused, our whole selves - body, mind, and hearts - engaged. And two, that reading scripture and the lives of the saints played a significant part in the conversions of St. Augustine and St. Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuits. I wanted to explore the spiritual value to be found not so much in reading "holy books," however, but in good books of all kinds - novels, poetry, biography, history, short stories.

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Just What I Needed

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A nun justifying one of my worst habits. Ah, I suppose I should count it a Christmas gift.

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Random Thought/Quotation

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Better to be thought a fool than to break silence and remove all doubt.

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Code of Canon Law

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Thomas Merton on Suffering

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By the way, much of the recent quotation is derived secondarily from Dwight Longenecker's beautiful study St. Benedict and St. Thérèse

from The Seven Storey Mountain
Thomas Merton

The more you try to avoid suffering, the more you suffer, because smaller and more insignificant things begin to torture you . . . the one who does most to avoid suffering is, in the end, the one who suffers most: and his suffering comes to him from things so little and so trivial that one can say that it is no longer objective at all; it is his own existence which is the source of his pain.

And this extremely powerful note from Longenecker follows:

from St. Benedict and St. Thérèse
Dwight Longenecker

If the vow of stability forces me to stay in one place and face the grim reallitiles of llife, then I am also confronted by the glorious realities. Indeed, if we embrace ther grim reality, then the good reality is more vibrantly alive than we could ever have imagined. The climax of Thérèse's deathbed experience was an excrutiating participation in the suffering of Christ, but it was also an exhilirating participation in the love of Christ. On the afternoon of her death she cries, "Newver would I have believed it was possible to suffer so much!" but her last words are, "Oh! I love HIm! . . . My God . . . I love you!"

The everyday realities of being married, of loving who and where we are--these are the places where we are called to grow in sanctity, in the pain of feeling not appreciated, and in the warm embrace of family.

I go on, but I think you would all do yourselves a favor to acquire and read this wonderful book. It has blessed me over and over again.

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Supernatural and Natural


Commenting on St. Thérèse, von Balthasar says, "Everything Thérèse achieves at the supernatural level is rooted in something she has experienced at the natural level."

This is akin to the idea that we cannot love what we do not know. And it has enormous implication for good or ill for each of us. What I read here is that God has set the blueprint for our supernatural lives within our natural lives. What we are and what we experience each day is the grounding for what we will become if we follow God in the way He means to be followed.

We are each a member, a part of the body of Christ. Our place in the body is defined by who God made us to be. Who we are is defined by all that makes us up and all that has come to us from the hand of God. Where we most clearly fail is when we reject what has come to us be it good or bad. Every moment is a moment of grace to be embraced, it becomes part of the fabric of who we are now and who we are in the kingdom. Our sorrowful moments, our pains, our crushed dreams are all stepping stones on the path of Joy. When we reject sorrow or hardship, we are rejecting the fittings that will make us more useful for God's purposes.

St. Thérèse reminds us that there is pain and sorrow enough in a day, we needn't go looking for more. But we also need to learn how to embrace what does come to us and allow it to transform us into true worshippers and followers of the Most High. We are servants in the court of the beneficent King. When he bestows riches of any sort, we should be prepared to use them for the good of all those around us.

(Good God, you know I write this way because I need convincing. I know that what you give me is a good gift. Even as I am looking for the exchange counter, teach me how to use what you have given me, teach me to accept and love it as you love and accept me. Show me how to make your will my own in the little things of every day. Because these are the only stepping stones I have to your throneroom. Let me one day be a faithful attendant there. Amen)

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From St. Thérèse


"We must see life in its true light . . . it is an instant between two eternities."

"Let us turn our single moment of suffering to profit, let us see each insant as if there were no other. An instant is a treasure."

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Hearts and Minds III

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This is my third attempt to make clear something that has long been on my mind. I wrote at length about the problems besetting the two mindsets of the church, those "heart" oriented and those "head" oriented. I went into detail about how exactly each of these might be fixed to bring everything into proper balance.

That done and the previous drafts set aside, I gave myself a moment to think about it and reached a new conclusions about the problems besetting the Church. The reality is that there are so many people in the Church who insist on seeing things differently than I do. This is a serious problem. But it isn't the Church's problem. It's mine. I have all sorts of solutions to suggest to bring the Church and its various members into exact accord with me. Somehow, I find myself questioning the wisdom of that particular direction.

So, the solution to the problems in the Church is this: I need to bring myself into accord with the mind of the Church and not busy myself nearly so much with fixing up everything I see as wrong. Wrong or right, my view is not the wisdom of the ages, the wisdom of the age, or even (very likely) wisdom at all. So rather than tell you all how you can fix your broken church, I think I'll make my way to confession and fix my broken self (at least until the next major goof-up.)

Perhaps someday I will learn that not everything should circulate around me. I pray that that day is sooner rather than later.

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A Samuel Story

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Today Samuel was reading a simplified version of the Christmas Story. It said that Gabriel brought the message to Joseph the Carepenter. I asked him, "What is a carpenter," (After all, given my DIY challenged status, carpenter is not a word bandied about here.) His answer. "A man who sells carpets." Priceless.

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A Tale of Acedie

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or, What Acedie Looks Like When It Gets Dressed Up and Goes Out on the Town

In some ways, this advent season is a perfect time to talk about acedie because one of the central traditions of Christmas storytelling is a marvelous illustration of its effects. The Fathers have said variously that Pride is the source of all the deadly sins, or that when one of the deadly sins is present all are present. I think another well-spring of deadly sin is very important and pervasive.

If we were to look at the story of Ebeneezer Scrooge, we would conclude that the operative sin was avarice. And I suppose to some extent that might be true. But if we look to the roots of the story, we will find haunting (pardon the pun) suggestions of the cause of this avarice. That is, avarice was not the first cause, but the result. In the story of Christmas past we encounter Isabelle who tells scrooge that he is "too afraid of the world." (At least this happens in some of the cinematic versions of the tale.) It is this fear of the world and closing in on oneself that is the core of acedie. And it shows itself in how one conducts one's life. One is more closed in--one may collect and own things (as does Scrooge) but, famously these things are neither cared-for nor valued. They simply are. Scrooge's house is in disrepair, his belongings substandard. This is in part the avarice of not wanting to spend the money, but it is also a sure sign of the despair, the loss of joy that did not happen all at once. That is part of the insidiousness of this deadly sin. That loss of joy can take years and years and years, until one arrives in the dark, bleak wilderness of the end of Acedie.

Famously also, Scrooge is awakened from the slumber of despair. And while the proximal cause is three spirits representing Christmas, outside of our secular culture we can assume the greater cause is the cause of Christmas Himself. That is that grace breaks in. Grace in this case takes the form of visitation from four spirits--one who testifies and three who demonstrate. Now we know from the gospels that the rich man was not released from Hell to go in spirit to warn his brothers and sisters, and yet, we have that story that warns us, and other works through the ages. We cannot expect the visitation of spirits. We must like Dante come to ourselves in midlife and awaken to what has happened to us. We must seek to recover joy and Jesus has promised, "He who seeks finds."

If we are subject to this terrible deadly sin, let us uncover it in the light of day. Let it be confessed and done away with and let us avidly seek "surcease of sorrow" in the presence of God. The only way to do away with Sloth is to recognize it and apply one's will to doing away with it.

And so I end my discussion of Acedie--one of the most insidious of the seven deadlies. All are deadly, and all can go unrecognized. The danger of Acedie is that it builds through a series of seemingly unimportant choices to ultimately rob us of joy.

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The DNA of Literature

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A friend of mine just apprised me of the availability of the Paris Review Interviews (Go to the page and find the DNA of Literature feature. These are hefty--the one with T.S. Eliot runs 25 pages!

Eventually all of the interviews will be available. But for the moment you will have to content yourselves with the likes of:

Isak Dinesen, Nelson Algren, Truman Capote, Lawrence Durrell, T.S. Eliot, William Faulkner, Ralph Elliosn, E.M. Forster, Henry Green, Joyce Cary, Graham Greene, Ernest Hemingway, Francois Mauriac, Alberto Moravia, Frank O'Connor, Dorothy Parker, Francoise Sagan, Irwin Shaw, Georges Simenon, William Styron, James Thurber, Robert Penn Warren, Thorton Wilder, Angus Wilson.

Go and enjoy. It is nice to have at least two prominent Catholic Writers and one Anglo-Catholic. I shall be most interested in what Capote was saying at this point in his career. What a treasure trove. Happy Advent to literature lovers everywhere!

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Urgent Prayer Request

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Please pray for the swift recovery of four friends who, I just learned, were in a car crash last night. One of them is still in the emergency room. May God be with them and protect them and bring them safely home.

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A Rose Against Acedie

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A rose for you from St. Thérèse:

"We who run in the way of Love must never torment ourselves about anything. If I did not suffer minute by minute, it would be impossible for me to be patient; but I see only the present moment, I forget the past, and take good care not to anticipate the future. If we grow disheartened, if sometimes we despair, it is because we have been dwelling on the past or the future."

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On Acedie or Sloth

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The modern usurpation of terms has left us with the deadly sin of sloth as something akin to laziness. Earlier in the essay by Robertson Davies that I quoted below he notes that the person in thrall to acedie might be extraordinarily busy indeed. So much Martha that Mary hasn't a single moment to be with the Lord.

Acedie is akin to world-weariness. As Davies rightly noted it is the complete death of Joy. The Good News is no longer good, and it is just barely news. It merely is. The world is drained of color and meaning.

Here is an excerpt from an article that gives a clearer view:

from "Spiritual Acedie, Torpor, and Depression" in Homiletic and Pastoral Review, August Sept 1999
John Navone

The term in classical Christian spirituality for life-robbing dreariness or sadness is “acedia.” St. Gregory the Great (c. 540-604) included this term among the seven deadly sins (Moralia xxxi, 87, where it is called “tristia” or sadness). This form of ennui or apathy is linked to our greatest possibility. To be oppressed by weariness and boredom is to despair of the glory to which God calls us. The inability to delight in God is the inability to glorify God. If faith is the “eye of love” that “sees” and delights in the beauty of God’s love in all things, acedia implies the absence of the love which both “sees” and delights in the all-encompassing splendor of God’s love.

Acedia shrivels our vision of God’s goodness and love. It is born from a loss of hope in ever achieving what God’s love wants for us: our eternal happiness under the sovereignty of God’s love. It is spiritually fatal because it means that we do not want what God—Happiness Itself—wants for us: we do not want Happiness Itself.

Now, I think we need to be very, very careful equating acedie, which is something remedied by grace with clinical depression, which also might be healed by grace, but which is not of the same substance. Acedie develops from a lack of spiritual discipline, a failure to make use of the sacraments, a gradual abandonment of prayer because of a lack of hope--things around us seem so desperate and so sad that there is little or nothing to hope for.

As Davies said, this can easily creep up on one. You find that nothing whatsoever holds any interest. You flit from spiritual thing to spiritual thing looking for something to fill the time but not the emptiness that you acknowledge but have come to see as unfillable. The most remarkable thing about acedie is that the person in thrall to it will not even recognize it. This person is likely to be wry, witty, sarcastic, intelligent, sophisticated, above the fray and toil of the ordinary, in possession as it were of the real secret to life.

The desert fathers warned constantly of acedie, and its real danger becomes more intense as one approaches or enters the various dark nights. It is possible for one to lose track without a good spiritual advisor and to slip off into hopelessness--at least so we are warned by the spiritual masters.

With this description, it seems as though few would be subject to such a condition. But read the article linked to above and you will see how very easy it is to slip into the condition. And the worst part of all is that you hardly know that you have done so--one might view it is a natural concomitant of aging. But it is not necessarily so. We all can think of older people who are still vibrate, alive, and aware--Mother Teresa of Calcutta comes to mind.

The great bulwarks against acedie are an established spiritual discipline that includes constant recourse to the graces present in the sacraments. I should also think that service would help one to be sufficiently exteriorly directed that one would not normally have time for the self-focus necessary for despair and sadness. We might still go through a terrifying dark night, as it is said of Mother Teresa, but her constant recourse to contemplation and to adoration and receiving the Lord helped her to stay the course.

As a society, I sometimes feel that the general mood is one of acedie--individuals see things differently, but the group mind seems to be endlessly preoccupied with entertaining itself and relieving itself of hardship, pain, and suffering to an unhealthy degree. And yet in our reality television and even in the popular shows such as CSI, we dwell constantly on the suffering and hardship of others because it momentarily takes our minds off our own. The only cure for acedie is a motion of will toward grace--the desire as it were to wake from this waking nightmare.

And lastly, my apologies to all. I thought acedie was well known to all. It has a prominent place in the spirituality of the desert fathers and the subsequent early Christians. Hope this helps somewhat.

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In common terms, sloth.

from "The Deadliest of the Sins" in One Half of Robertson Davies
Robertson Davies

I have never been able to make up my mind which it is that people fear to feel most--pain or joy. Life will bring you both. You will not be able to escape the pain completely, thouogh Acedia will dull it a little. But unfortunately it lies in your power to reject the joy utterly. Because we are afraid that great exultation may betray us into some actions, some words, which may make us look a little foolish to people who are not sharing our experience, we very often stifle our moments of joy, thinking that we will give them their outlet later. But alas, after a few years of that kind of thing, joy ceases to visit us. . . There is an old saying of medieval teachers which I recommend to your special notice:

Time Jesum transeuntem et non revertentem.

I shall translate it thus: 'Dread the passing of Jesus, for He does not return.' And thus it is with all great revelations, be they relgious or not. Seize them, embrace them, let them engulf you, draw from them the uttermost of what they have to give, for if you rebuff them, they will not come again. We live a world where too many people are pititfully afraid of joy.

Acedie is one of the most dreadful of the deadly sins because it sneaks up on you. It slowly grows until it has a complete grip and suddenly you can't find the way out (if you even recognize your predicament.) Not so lust or gluttony, which while persausive and powerful, are generally of a moment and recognizable. Most people can recognize when they commit these sins--but most are ignorant of any signs of Acedie. In a time of waiting, look inside and see what is there--look for signs of joylessness of being above the fray, sophisticated, and too advanced for those emotions that drive hoi polloi.

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On Phases of the Spiritual Life


TSO has this interesting reflection and question on the spiritual life. Much of this has merit and we do well to think of it as we think about how we will move forward (or not) in the spiritual life.

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A Vow of Partial Silence

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In a comment, Mama T brought up an interesting and, in my experience, largely true psychological insight. When we control our tongues, we go a long way to controlling how we feel and react to things.

This from James:

James 3:6-12

And the tongue is a fire. The tongue is an unrighteous world among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the cycle of nature, and set on fire by hell.

For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by humankind, but no human being can tame the tongue -- a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brethren, this ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening fresh water and brackish? Can a fig tree, my brethren, yield olives, or a grapevine figs? No more can salt water yield fresh.

(An aside: I love the book of James, precisely because Luther so despised it. In order for Luther's theology to work, he needed to divest himself of James and Hebrews--compelling evidence that his system had flaws, if one were only to heed the evidence.)

In the Gospels, Our Lord tells us that it is not what goes into a man that makes him unclean, but rather what comes out of him. For what comes out of him comes out of the fullness of his heart. Think of your instinctive reactions to comments made around you/about you. Is it the reaction of the saints who say, "Thank you Lord for this humiliation, for this reminder of my lowliness in the scheme of things." Or is it (as in my case) more, "Who the heck does that bozo think he is?"

I think we start with an act of will--a vow of partial silence. With Mama T's friend it was, "No complaint shall pass my lips." By not complaining, her view of the world changed--there became less in the world to complain about. I would do well to start here. But I know that I need to go beyond. I need to promise myself never to speak about another person outside of that person's presence. And I'm not referring to gossip, which I have long abhorred, but even the truth in small negative things. Speaking these truths colors my perceptions of the persons about whom I am speaking. And as James says above, may I bless God and curse humanity that is made in his image? May the stream of my speech flow from both sweet and brackish water?

Bridling the tongue is the first step on the path to extending grace in our lives. God will work with us however we are, but when we make this promise of obedience, even though we do not initially feel it, I do believe that grace flows in so that soon we are feeling.

I look around the blogosphere and so much unpleasantness, so many dark things are the result of people "talking" to people they never meet. What flows out of the comment boxes can be vitriol and hell-fire. Not everywhere, not all the time--but it is so much easier to say ill of people we have never met.

Speech is more than what comes out of my mouth. In a very real way what I write each day is speech. It has the power to comfort or to confront, to wound or to heal, to offer a glimpse of grace or a glimpse of hell. Satan would have us believe that what we say is of little consequence. But both our Lord and St. James tell us otherwise.

So perhaps I should consider this vow of partial silence--simply to refrain from saying what need not be said. It sounds like the easiest, most reasonable, most logical thing in the world--and yet it is fraught with such enormous difficulties one wonders if it is even possible. But with grace and through Christ, I can do all things. He will assist if I am firm in my conviction that for love of Him I will offer no harm to any of His brothers, to any of God's children. Let my speech be always edifying, converting the sinner, changing hearts, offering comfort and a place to rest. That is my prayer as I wait for the coming of Our Lord. With joy and expectation, in hope that His time is soon, I wait and I thank God for this season to remind me of what it is I wait for and wait upon.

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Prayer Request


A dear friend in correspondence has written to me saying that she needs our prayers for financial support. She is going through an extremely difficult personal crisis and that is exacerbating the problem. Please pray hard for God's grace and help in finding her a position.

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An insight that startled me:

from St. Benedict and St. Thérèse
Dwight Longenecker

Church-shopping is one of the spiritual diseases of our age. Constantly on the lookout for an excellent preacher, good music, fine liturgy, or pleasing architecture, we become liturgical tasters and our taste becomes so refined that, like the connoisseur who has spoiled his appreciation through snobbery, we can never find a church exquisite enough for us.

These lines were written right at me. One of the problems I have espoused with my present parish is the awful decoration and certain anomalies in practice. What I should have been doing is working quietly and relentlessly within the parish to bring it into line with Church teaching.

Apparently some good souls have been doing so. The expansion of Eucharistic adoration, the suggestion of building a special chapel for exactly this purpose, and the request to alter the configuration of the Church to result in a eucharistic centrality, is evidence of a core of faithfulness that has worked relentlessly to effect the changes necessary to bring the entire parish into line with the Church at large. I should be ashamed of myself for my laxity and my own appetite for comfort, by which I deprived the parish of one more supporter--a supporter who might have made shorter work of the long waiting the people have experienced. I pray that God forgive me my own self-indulgence.

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On Suffering

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All of the great saints seem to desire to suffer. Well, perhaps not all, but a great many make a point of desiring to suffer for Jesus. This has long been disconcerting and nearly incomprehensible to me.

But yesterday, as I continued to think about this matter, it seemed a light slowly began to dawn. I'll start with the straightforward ideas before I launch into the theological speculation which may have no validity at all.

Just as any good parent would take upon themselves any of the suffering that faces their children--from physical, suffering a cold or broken bone, to mental, making incorrect decisions--so we desire to shield those we love from suffering. Desiring to share in Christ's suffering is an expression of the desire to offer some comfort, to take away part of the agony of the Passion.

Now, I speculate. God honors that intention. The suffering of the saints may, in some odd way, help to alleviate the suffering on the cross. That is not to say that it makes it more pleasant, but rather that the offering of suffering throughout all of time even made it possible. We all know the story--the scourging, the crowning with thorns, carrying the Cross to Golgotha, and three hours upon the Cross. Christ was fully human and fully divine. Being fully human, it is unlikely that he could have survived even the scourging much less the rest of the ordeal on mere human strength. That goes without saying. He was strengthened by supernatural grace. But perhaps the channels of that grace were tapped into the suffering of Saints throughout the ages and this served in some way to be allied to the sufferings on the cross and allow Jesus to run the entire course.

I've always been a little mystified by Paul's declaration that he made up in his own body what was lacking in the sacrifices of Christ. What could possibly be lacking in that sacrifice. Perhaps what was "lacking" was not atonement or redemption, but rather the human strength to endure the whole ordeal. Perhaps the sufferings of his own body in some way made Christ's own sufferings possible.

Mere speculation, I hope not blasphemous, and I renounce them if against some teaching of the church I do not know. But mysteriously, they provide for me the key to understanding suffering. If I can really believe that my sufferings, little and big are truly united with those of Jesus on the Cross, that they express not just some strange notion of an almost Manichean nature, but rather true and passionate love; then, perhaps I can grow to be like the Saints. Perhaps I can come to understand the necessity of suffering and the beauty of suffering united with Christ. God will undoubtedly continue to work on me, but I humbly offer these speculations and respectfully request correction from those who know better than I do.

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Prayer for the Day


And my ending is despair,
Unless I be relieved by prayer,
Which pierces so that it assaults
Mercy itself and frees all faults.
As you from crimes would pardon'd be,
Let your indulgence set me free.

--William Shakespeare, The Tempest, Act V

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Prayers for Katherine

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I'm asking all mothers and all involved in the care of mothers to remember Katherine especially in your prayers in the coming weeks. She is hoping to have a home-birth, but presently the baby is not accomodating her. I don't understand the details completely, and I'm not certain they are relevant. What is relevant is that if she cannot have the child at home it will entail a great deal of hardship for the family.

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TSO has put up a provocative and intriguing excerpt from the always controversial Father Greeley. In this case I don't think he says anything too off-base. But I'd love to hear other views--particularly of his view of the Reformation.

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You might want to take up Abbot Vonier's Key to the Doctrine of the Eucharist, now available through Ignatius Press and also through Zaccheus Press. By buying and reading this book, you are both surrounding yourself with an introduction to Eucharistic theology and supporting the efforts of a new, independent, and very promising book seller. Use my search box in the left hand column to look up previous mentions of this wonderful book. Tom at Disputations also had one or two posts in the pst about it.

Anyway, it is a suggestion. (After of course Ecclesia de Eucharistia and Mane Vobisum Domine.

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What I write below I do in the first person for several reasons. For one, it occurs to me that it is true and I do well by saying so. For another, I suspect there may be others who have a similar problem, and yet it is presumptuous of me to include those who see no problem in my indictment of it. The Holy Spirit has been speaking through a megaphone to me recently. I guess I just need to adjust my own ear-trumpet and try to start listening.

Flannery O'Connor wrote in Wise Blood of Hazel Mote who wanted to found "The Church of God Without Christ." His goal was to undo some of the "damage" done by religion and by the "Christ-haunted" South.

I think too often that I want to belong to the Church of Jesus Without the Cross. That is I really do love Jesus, I accept all that I understand of what the Church teaches about Him, and the rest I agree to by faith even though my understanding is weak. I love the Eucharist and the rich treasury of the Church and I believe what she teaches. I even believe in the necessity of personal sacrifice.

Sort of. I believe in the abstract principle. But when it comes right down to it, I don't really want the cross. Every time its shadow looms, I run for cover. I turn to the gospels and spend time in the Garden with Jesus. I pray with Him, up to a point, and then I say, "Nevertheless Father, my will not thy will." I want protection. I want the "Be Happy" prosperity gospel of Robert Schuller and his ilk. I want to be transformed into the likeness of Christ, but if it involves even so much pain as a leg-waxing, I could do without it, thank you. Change me, but do it gently. Batter my heart three-personed God, but use nerf projectiles.

The shadow of the cross looms and I run from it. Or perhaps eventually I take it up, with long face and long sighs and much lamenting. Take this recent spate at work, where I will need to put in more hours for an extended period in order to accomplish our goals. I do this, but I make sure that the entire world knows how much I suffer and how meaningful that suffering is.

I take up my cross, but I do not embrace it. The sad fact of the matter is that there is no genuine love of Jesus Christ without willingly embracing everything that comes to me from His hand. Jesus did not reluctantly take up the cross, but as memorably portrayed in Gibson's film version, out of love, He embraced it for us all.

St Thèrése of Lisieux told us that the sacrifices need not be monumental. Bearing with the unbearable with a smile, sitting on a hard bench to talk to a friend in desperate need. Listening one more time to what you thought would drive you crazy a moment ago ("Jingle bells, Batman smells. . . " you get the picture). In the words of Don Quixote, "to bear with unbearable sorrow, to fight, the unbeatable foe."

I do not embrace the cross. I run from it. And until my cooperation with graces causes enough change in me to make embracing the cross a reality, my love for Jesus is incomplete. I must love Him as He loved me, even to the death of the Old Man and the resurrection of the new. And if that does not happen in this life, I have wasted my life. There is no love without sacrifice, personal, meaningful sacrifice of what I would rather.

So now I return to my overlong work week with a different perspective, one granted by this meditation. Perhaps I can make a worthy offering of this admittedly minor sacrifice. Perhaps I can start on my way today and embrace the cross as I wait for the coming of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

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In Mass today we had a visiting Priest who gave a stirring and wonderful homily directly in tune both with advent and with the Eucharistic Year. While he was speaking to us the woman directly in front of us spent the majority of the homily talking, albeit quietly into her cell phone. Has she no sense of priorities? Is she unaware of what her example teaches the three children she was with? If it were an emergency, why not take it outside the Church?

I don't know the nature or the meaning of the conversation; however, I will be praying especially hard for this woman and for her three children.

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My Parish Moves Forward

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And then get points for having lots of heart. They are just in the process of moving first Friday adoration to all Fridays. This is the first step of a campaign to institute perpetual adoration. I don't care how much hand-holding goes on in the Church, when their heart is set on making the Eucharist the center of parish life, they are going the right direction.

Wanting to encourage this trend, I immediately signed up for some Friday hours. You could choose one or more Fridays of the month. Knowing that I can't do anything halfway--I signed up for all Fridays at the last hour available. This was before I looked at the brochures.

Well it turns out that the Friday hour I chose will have Rosary in English and Spanish followed by Benediction. In other words, virtually no chance of any quiet at all, with the additional penance of public Rosary.

Well, for a change the Holy Spirit led, and I listened. Thus, I am absolutely certain this is what is meant for me and I am deeply grateful for being able to participate.

Another thing my Parish is doing is bringing to our attention "Equal Exchange" or "Fair Trade" coffee and cocoa. Yes, this is exactly in line with the mushy-headed thinking of people who hold hands during the "Our Father." And I love it.

It means ultimately that we pay a bit more for coffee that might not be so good as some of the more exotic brands and roasts, and as a result the people growing the coffee get what amounts to a living wage in their part of the world. This is not to say that they make princely sums, but that they make a good deal more than the average person in the same place in the world.

This is one of those way to implement economic justice that just doesn't hurt all that much. (But then I (1) don't drink coffee at all; and (2) I'm not a conoisseur of coffee and cocoa. ) Linda was enthusiatic about supporting this cause.

I sincerely hope that my parish continues efforts in these directions. Implementing true social and economic justice without trying to level the playing field (hardly "just" in any sense of the word) is part of the Catholic Christian message. If we can help simply by buying coffee, what a wonderful privilege!

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WooHoo! Birthday Surprises

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Presents included the Spongebob Christmas movie AND

His Excellency Joseph Ellis. If it's as fine as Founding Brothers it will be a real pleasure.

Still waiting for Black Mischief

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So many groups have names that are so much alike, that I am left to wonder. I stumbled across this site, thanks to an e-mail I received and found some interesting information on it. I will explore further, but I welcome any input. Economic and Social justice are incredibly important to me, but given the experience of the Methodist Church, a large part of which became derailed with the Social Gospel movement of the 50s and 60s, I am wary. The two documents on the site that I saw do bear imprimaturs, but if anyone has anything to share about the group, I would love to hear it.

However, the following passage does give me a clue:

Let us start with a simple thesis. Political democracy cannot preserve the institutions of a free society unless everyone can participate on an equal basis. An economically free and classless society - another way of describing economic democracy - is therefore both a goal and a means for supporting political democracy.

Is an "economic democracy" an necessary concomittant of a political democracy? I don't think so. And while I do not necessarily reject the validity of an economic democracy, I find this kind of argument vaguely manipulative. But then I'm leaping to conclusions. And, I really wanted to get TSO's goat this morning. Now I'll be classed with the Marxists of the world (get a clue people--it hasn't worked on a large scale ANYWHERE where the government wasn't absolutely horrendously oppressive and rife with corruption). But, so be it. I like the idea of economic democracy to a greater or lesser extent. Particularly when I hear about the spectacular contributions so-and-so made to the economy, when those contributions were the results of the workers actually producing the product, not necessarily the CEO watching the bottom line. But now I know I'm entering really dicey territory both because (1) I don't really know what I'm talking about except anecdotally; and (2) this isn't a passion (see TSO's post of yesterday or this morning about that--wonderful work.)

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The dullness and sheer shrewish repulsiveness of the book is faithfully brought to the screen. So faithfully I was only able to endure the first episode before turning it off. Harriet Vane isn't as odious as those with whom she associates--but what a clutch of harpies.

Now, I know that this was Sayer's version of A Room of One's Own arguing for the possible academic integrity of women studying at a university. But it is an unfortunate venue populated with the Oscar Wilde version of a fox-hunt--"The unspeakable chasing the inedible."

In case you haven't noticed, I'm not a fan of Gaudy Night as Tom noted, I constitute a very small (but vocal) minority of Sayers' fans. On the other hand, I am truly a Sayers' fan and only reluctantly a partisan of Lord Peter Wimsey, who I generally find as apalling as the characters in an Evelyn Waugh novel. (Can't wait to read Black Mischief.)

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An Apology and a Thank You


First an apology.

Work is intense. I don't know how often I will be able to post as I'm working 14-16 hour days of late and this will continue for some time. I grab a moment here or there when I probably shouldn't, but it won't be much. Thus, please excuse both the paucity of posting and an even-worse-than-usual proofreading and correction cycle.

Second, a thanks to all who participated in the disucssion generted by TSO's remarkable post. I love it, I would love for it to continue. Great stuff from great minds. I may not be a center of controversy myself, but I sure can identify what they look like.

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Follow-up to Vile Bodies


Terry Teachout has a review of the film version in this month's Crisis. While I'm not certain I agree with some of his statements about the book, I am more interested in seeing the film now.

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Two Varieties of Saints

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Although he might all-unknowingly be playing his cards right into Nietzsche's hands, TSO has a very interesting post regarding Two Kinds of Saints. What is of interest here is the ring of something substantive just beneath the surface. I looked at the list he compiled and found myself squarely in the "Mercy" camp of things. With the exception of St. Francis, with whom I have enormous difficulty relating--the list TSO compiles accurately represents the Saints who are "accessible" to me. More revealilngly the saints on the "Justice" side of the scales are and always have been either inaccessible (St. Thomas Aquinas) or distasteful (St. Jerome).

The placement of Pascal is an interesting dilemma, for while he was an acute Mathematician, his Pensées seem to fall more directly into the "Mercy literature" than into the more apologetic literature of the many others on the Justice side of the camp. However, that is something worthy of closer inspection and more thought.

At any rate, give yourself a treat and go and see what TSO has thought out. Then e-mail him your thoughts on the matter. This is one of those cases in which I wish he had comments--I would love to see the discussion that would evolve around this very interesting speculation.

And in this line, truer words were never spoken (regardless of my statements above about affinities):

"What of those who have a foot in both camps, who have both right-brain and left-brain tendencies? I think it makes for some unpredictability and a lot of fence-sitting. Steven Riddle maybe? "

Fence-sitting R US! And I sure hope that there is some measure of unpredicatablility--otherwise I might get bored. (TSO, didn't even read that lilne until my third time through!)

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Not a Stalwart Chestertonian


No, I'm not. I like some things, find many things rather poorly written, and find the poetry often all-but-unreadable (there are notable exceptions--sections of The White Horse and Lepanto). But as many are perfectly will to tell you there are some wonderful treasures. In the e-books I posted a link to the other day I found this delightful excerpt of an essay:

from "A Defense of Penny Dreadfuls" in The Defendant
G.K. Chesterton

One of the strangest examples of the degree to which ordinary life is undervalued is the example of popular literature, the vast mass of which we contentedly describe as vulgar. The boy's novelette may be ignorant in a literary sense, which is only like saying that a modern novel is ignorant in the chemical sense, or the economic sense, or the astronomical sense; but it is not vulgar intrinsically--it is the actual centre of a million flaming imaginations.

In former centuries the educated class ignored the ruck of vulgar literature. They ignored, and therefore did not, properly speaking, despise it. Simple ignorance and indifference does not inflate the character with pride. A man does not walk down the street giving a haughty twirl to his moustaches at the thought of his superiority to some variety of deep-sea fishes. The old scholars left the whole
under-world of popular compositions in a similar darkness.

To-day, however, we have reversed this principle. We do despise vulgar compositions, and we do not ignore them. We are in some danger of becoming petty in our study of pettiness; there is a terrible Circean law in the background that if the soul stoops too ostentatiously to examine anything it never gets up again.

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Henry James E-Texts


A more or less recently acquired literary taste, Henry James rewards the careful reader with delights beyond number. His books are not light, nor are they immediately accessible by all. However, every single book or story I have read by him has been worth the effort in far greater measure than might be said for more recent literary figures.

So, I was delighted to find at one of the best of Henry James e-text sites (that of Adrian Dover) the following three works:

The Private Life-- a collection of Short Stories, not featuring his best know work, but still, some fine stories.
The Princess Casamassisma which Dover notes is unique amongst Henry James's work in that it features a character from a previous, much earlier work (Roberick Hudson) as the title character.
Tales of Three Cities--once again, short stories, and not his more famous work, but then, perhaps more of his work should be justly applauded. His stories are small gems, intricate and elaborate works that reward rereading in nearly every case.

Anyway, I hope I've intrigued you by my own interest. If you have not yet read or started to read Henry James, set aside a block of time and take up his famous "Christmas Story" The Turn of the Screw. Or look into another, more social realist work such as The Golden Bowl. But be warned--you must be willing to spend time to really enjoy Henry James. If you're looking for a quick read, you'd do better to look up Bret Harte or Mark Twain.

And just for the record, I will note that one of the finalists for the Naitonal Book Award was an Irish Author's novel based on Henry James's life--titled The Master --I haven't read it yet, but I am looking forward to it.

Just located at another site:

The Passionate Pilgrim and Other Tales --an early collection of short stories which includes both "A Romance of Certain Old Clothes" and "The Madonna of the Future." Henry James's early works are much more accessible and straight forward than some of the more mature work.

Take this classic Jamesian set-up for a story, from "Madonna of the Future" as an example of his fine art:

WE had been talking about the masters who had
achieved but a single masterpiece, -- the art-
ists and poets who but once in their lives had known
the divine afflatus, and touched the high level of the
best. Our host had been showing us a charming little
cabinet picture by a painter whose name we had never
heard, and who, after this one spasmodic bid for fame,
had apparently relapsed into fatal mediocrity. There
was some discussion as to the frequency of this phe-
nomenon; during which, I observed, H -- sat silent,
finishing his cigar with a meditative air, and looking
at the picture, which was being handed round the table.
"I don't know how common a case it is," he said at
last, "but I 've seen it. I 've known a poor fellow who
painted his one masterpiece, and" -- he added with a
smile -- "he did n't even paint that. He made his bid
for fame, and missed it." We all knew H -- for a
clever man who had seen much of men and manners,
and had a great stock of reminiscences. Some one im-
mediately questioned him further, and while I was en-
grossed with the raptures of my neighbor over the little
picture, he was induced to tell his tale.

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The Celtic Riddle--Lyn Hamilton


Lyn Hamilton has produced a series of mysteries that have the subtitle "An Archaeological Mystery." While this might not be technically correct for the present book (it is more like an Ethnographical mystery or a Cultural Anthropological Mystery), I am certain that the subtitle attracts more than its share of people interested in the subject.

In the present case, Our Heroine, Lara McClintoch journeys to Ireland with her friend and employee Alex to hear the reading of a will in which Alex is left a small cottage on the Irish coast by someone he met once, a long time ago. As part of the will, the Decedent set up a treasure hunt for an enormously valuable relic. The purpose of the hunt was to get his dysfunctional family to work together. The result is a triple murder.

Now, an inveterate reader of mysteries will know "whodunit" before the heroine. I know I did. There's just something a little coy in the writing that, if you have learned to pick up on it, triggers a kind of intuition. That is certainly true here. The mystery is not tightly constructed (oh, how I miss the golden age)--largely because much too much attention is lavished on the truly interesting treasure hunt.

I'm a sucker for treasure hunt books. It's why, much to everyone's chagrin, I liked both Angels and Demons and The DaVinci Code and it explains a certain amount of my myopia concerning them. I could care less about the trappings, its the fun of moving from one clue to the next (regardless of how hare-brained they might be.) In this case you haven't much opportunity to move from one to the next unless you are intimately familiar with Ireland, here legends, and her history. Nevertheless, the author deftly guides you past the clue and even at one point gives you a map to help you to try to decipher the location of the treasure. In the course of all this, she makes one enormous gaffe (having the sun rise in Ireland in the northeast) and may make others.

But somehow, all of that does not matter. The heroine is fun, interesting, and not a know-it-all. The novel is interspersed with tales from The Book of Invasions told, more or less accurately (from my recollection--it's been a while). We encounter all the major figures of Irish Mythology--Nuada, Lugh, Fionn. Cuchulain, Maeve, Almu, the Morrigan, etc. All of this with official eccentric Irish Orthography.

The book is fun, light, entertaining, and informative. There are some serious faults, but not something that most people will mind (I'm a stickler for "fairness" and for Golden Age plotting a clue-laying). And for the price of admission you get a fairly good story and a nice does of Irish Mythology.


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