February 2005 Archives

St Francis Borgia on Judas


May as well continue my annual or semi-annual tradition of posting this little tidbit:

From the time that he began to give himself totally to the divine service Francis Borgia, who was canonized in 1671, learned the importance and difficulty of attaining to humility, and he tried unremittingly to humble himself in the divine presence and within himself. Amidst the honours and respect that were shown him at Valladolid, his companion, Father Bustamante, noticed that he was not only quiet but more than ordinarily self-effacing, for which he asked the reason. "I considered", said St Francis, "in my morning meditation that Hell is my due. I think that all men and even dumb creatures ought to cry out after me, 'Hell is your place'." He one day told the novices that in meditating on the actions of Christ he had for six years always placed himself in spirit at the feet of Judas; but then he realized that Christ had washed the feet even of that traitor, so that he thenceforth felt unworthy to approach even him.

See the poem I posted earlier this Lent.

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From Ad Limina Apostolorum

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A list from NCR of theologians whose work has been questioned undergone scrutiny, and some of whom have been declared orthodox (see the entry for Karl Rahner).

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Hurricanes 2004


You can use this to find me in Florida. Look for the place where three tracks cross. And Ivan is a little deceptive because be caught some of the brunt of that storm on its back track as well.

Here's the map

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The Sacrifice


From Office of Readings: Psalm 50

Pay your sacrifice of thanksgiving to God
and render him your votive offerings.
Call on me in the day of distress.
I will free you and you shall honor me."

Ant: Offer to God the sacrifice of praise.

Prayer: Father, accept us as a sacrifice of praise, so that we may go through life unburdened by sin, walking in the way of salvation, and always giving thanks to you.

My praise has grown beyond words for the good things He has done for me.

accept us as a sacrifice of praise,
so that we may go through life unburdened by sin,
walking in the way of salvation,
and always giving thanks to you.

Father, accept us
as a sacrifice
of praise, so that we may go
through life unburdened
by sin, walking in the way
of salvation, and always
giving thanks
to you.

Accept me--this body, this life, this brokenness--because my words are just words and they have been used so long and so hard that they do not mean what they once did. But my heart knows you and your joy. My heart hears your word and leaps up. All of creation is a praise to You, O God, what can I add to that with mere words? But my life--let it be a constant praise, a source of joy and hope to those who see You in me. Let my ears hear, my heart obey, and my life be always directed to You in humble obedience and joy.

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Is Judas Saved?

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Because he knew you once, Lord,

and loved you. More than I can really claim.
He sat at your feet with the others.
And when the time came he did like Peter
and turned away.

And knew, knew in his heart the wrong
he had done.
And sought in this frail human way
to make it right.
In the way that we have always sought
to make things right.

But didn't we learn from Abraham
and Isaac, that it isn't blood
that you want?

Not the destruction of sinners
but their redemption?

Oh Good Lord, you could not abandon one of your own twelve.
And so my hope is that
I can ride his coattails in
because I am not nearly so honest
so straightforward.

I have not sat at your feet as this one did.
I did not love you and serve you.

So I can hope that my betrayal, the betrayal of a stranger
does not hurt as much.
Oh, but it hurts me--
beyond the words I can find to say it,
beyond the feeling in the heart squeezed by it,
beyond the hope of finding you again.

And so I know that I cannot do it.

Oh, Lord, is Judas saved?
The answer matters so much to me
because if one you loved so much cannot see your face,
then what about one who loves only himself?

Lord, do you love me as Judas?
Then give me at least his share of love for you,
and let that grow.
If I cannot be your saint,
then at least let me be your sinner,
your tired betrayer,
your constant companion.

If your grace extend so far,
grant me at least the love of Judas,
the hope of heaven of one who was your friend.
Let me live to say my sorrow
all my days at what I have done.
Let me live to rejoice in the new creation
and to learn to love in ways at once unlovely
and true. Let me learn to be a son to You.

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Silence is shattering.
It says nothing more than what you hear in it and what you see in it.
Sometimes it shows you the numbness of the heart.
Other times it shows you the hardness of the heart.
But silence cannot be silence without grace, and grace prevails.

Still you are left asking, "Why have I abandoned you?"
I am bewildered and wondering--not knowing what I have always known
and wanting now to know the way home--
to know if for ever so small a span of time
that there is a home. And the question returns

in the span of years of silence,
"Why have I abandoned you?"
Where did I turn away?
The spectre of Judas hangs before me
over and over again I see myself

accused and not noble enough to at least
be ashamed. Uncaring enough to spare myself.
In shattering silence I cry at first
why have you abandoned me?
Becomes, why have I abandoned you?

Daddy, come and rescue me.

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Informed and inspired by Smockmomma's actions, below is the transcript of my remarks to Judge Greer--may the Good Lord lead him in right paths for His name's sake.

Dear Judge Greer,

Sometimes I think in the routine of day-to-day operation we forget some of the profound truths that influence and shape our lives. You are in the privileged position of having led a life dedicated to the legal system of our great country and now you are faced with a terrible decision. Logic dictates that if no written record exists and two parties disagree on an issue the better solution to the entire problem lies in a decision that is not irrevocable.

More, it seems that a legal system is erected first and foremost as a bulwark against the depredations of the strong against the weak. The first rule of law is to be the defense of the defenseless against those who would unjustly use them. This necessitates your intervention in the case of Ms. Schiavo. She has people willing to care for her. She responds to voices and is obviously engaged. It would be a disaster of the first water for our legal system to determine that it would be allowable for someone to say she cannot be fed. That way opens the door to horrors we dare not contemplate. A new-born child cannot feed him or herself, would it be all right to withhold food on the basis that they cannot care for themselves or they are not aware of the world around them in the same way we are?

I know that the law is not necessarily compassionate. But those who administer the law must be. The greater error here would be to take away what cannot be restored. Please do not let Florida once again be the leader in the paths of infamy. Please allow Ms. Schiavo's mother and father to take her home and care for her. Please don't sentence her to a slow, agonizing death by starvation.

Please remember that the law was made to serve us, not we to serve the law--it is not implacable, remorseless, nor immovable and it is time to decide in favor of life, compassion, and hope.

Here is the place where you can take your own appropriate action. In this time of waiting, please write--frequently if necessary. Make it your Lenten bond of justice.

Thanks Smock!

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On Judas


I don't know why, but for some reason today at Mass my mind went to Judas once again.

Judas was the instrument of betrayal but we are all, each of us individually and every one of us corporately, the cause of that betrayal. We informed that betrayal and daily continue it. Just as Jesus became for us all the embodiment of salvation, Judas became for us all the embodiment of betrayal.

I cannot but think that when Jesus spoke the word from the cross, "Father, forgive them, they know not what they do," there was hidden there the forgiveness of Judas for his crime.

Judas betrayed Jesus, and Judas became betrayal--so much so that he even betrayed himself into taking his own life. Whatever his fate and we cannot know for sure, we partake of it and contribute to it with every step we take away from the God who loves us.

Judas is the instrument, all of humanity is the cause. We need to recognize our own part in that and take responsbility for it.

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More on Ms. Schiavo


Today at Mass the homily and the intentions were devoted to the plight of those who are "not worthy" of our attention. Ms. Schiavo's name came up no fewer than three times. There was blessing and relief in hearing her name and in hearing her treatment denounced from the pulpit. At the same time, the Pastor raised our awareness that Ms. Schiavo is only the most prominent of a great many who do not get from us the attention, care, consideration, and concern that they are entitled to through the dignity of being Children of God. Let us use this Lent to remember them in a special way.

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At Mr. Shackleford's blog, noted below, this comment:

Is there not a group of, say, 100 not so peaceful men with shotguns who would enter that infamous "hospice" and free that longest ever hostage?

For heaven's sake, this is WAR, do you really want to have respect for this caricature of law that alows such barbarian acts as starving a disabled woman to death?

Wake, up, America, please, I'm on the verge of losing faith in you...

While I distinctly sympathize with the sentiments, not so with the methods. Nevertheless, the deep frustration one feels over this whole issue is given vent in such a comment. I have long wondered why the executive branch does not simply take this out of the court's hand. Why is it allowable to litigate a person to death but not allowable to kill a manatee? (Don't read this incorrectly, I don't think we should be killing manatees either.) But even a great and noble end does not justifiy any means--no matter how much we would like it to. Yet, it is hard to fault such fervor on the part of those most disenfranchised.

I am not one easily moved to support violent expressions, but this case has just about done it for me. How much more must we endure?

Newspaper articles often compare this case (unfairly) to Karen Ann Quinlan and others. But Karen Ann Quinlan couldn't even breathe on her own. Here is a living, breathing, reacting, loving person who has suffered a horrendous tragedy and so our solution to the problem is to starve her to death. Why can't a judge see how idiotic his "findings" are. He should get his officious, bumptious, judicious white butt off of his bench and spend some time in that room. Or on second thought, perhaps he should not because then we would have mandated executions of all persons with autistism, brain-damage, or palsy.

That God has withheld the justice of His hand from this for so long is a great measure of His abiding love and His desire for us to return to Him with our whole hearts. So as we pray for Ms Schindler, let us remember to thank God for his tremendous blessings and mercy. Oh, that we could live in the world where lovingkindness and mercy were the rule of the day and not the rule of our wayward gonads and warped desires.

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(but, by the Grace of God, I'm recovering.)

Following on posts at Against the Grain, I began to wonder about rock music. I confess a point or more of disagreement with the good Cardinal on the matter--but it was more an off-hand comment about Country Music that spawned this confession.

I have never cared for country music--far too whinyand twangy to my ears. Yes, I liked the occasional song here and there and sometimes I have liked a performer, more for their personality than for their music. However, my feeling about country music is summed up in the nausea I feel every time I hear Billy Ray Cyrus and his "Achy Breaky Heart."

However, another off-hand remark, this time in a conversation with a friend, spawned rethinking. This friend spends a great deal of time listening to the likes of Nine-Inch Nails and Ministry. I have found that I have gone beyond the need for these expressions of rage. However, he said that recently he had been buying a lot of Hank Williams Senior and Patsy Cline. And that got me thinking.

Thinking to the point where I've actually done something--borrowing a Patsy Cline disc from the library. Now, I know you all will find this hard to believe, but I have kept myself deliberately ignorant of the likes of Patsy Cline for much of my life. I heard her name and tossed her in the Loretta Lynn bucket and said, "Not for me."

Well imagine my surprise when I found out that I had tossed her in the wrong bucket. Yes, there's the occasional yodel and the once-in-a-while twang--but Patsy Cline can really sing and she sings honky-tonk bluesy sorts of things that are absolutely gorgeous.

So, I'm happy again to admit my ignorance and to find that as I move forward in life, God works hard on me to round off the rough edges.

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You Heard it Here First!

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Florida Judge Orders Pope Removed from Life Support

NARAL, the ACLU, and attorney's for Michael Schiavo, Terri's husband, have already begun work on amicus curae briefs in support of the judges decision to euthenize the Pope. "The right to die is an essential aspect of human dignity," said George Felos, Michael Schiavo's attorney and spokesman, "and the right to kill those who no longer have any value and are a drain on the economy is unseperable from this right."

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The Blessing of Great Works


Guide for the Perplexed --Moses Maimonides (aka Rambam)--one of the great scholars and writers of his, or any time.

Excerpt of above:

My primary object in this work is to explain certain words occurring in the prophetic books. Of these some are homonyms, and of their several meanings the ignorant choose the wrong ones; other terms which are employed in a figurative sense are erroneously taken by such persons in their primary signification. There are also hybrid terms, denoting things which are of the same class from one point of view and of a different class from another. It is not here intended to explain all these expressions to the unlettered or to mere tyros, a previous knowledge of Logic and Natural Philosophy being indispensable, or to those who confine their attention to the study of our holy Law, I mean the study of the canonical law alone; for the true knowledge of the Torah is the special aim of this and similar works.

[And another from "On the Three Types of Evils"]

MEN frequently think that the evils in the world are more numerous than the good things; many sayings and songs of the nations dwell on this idea. They say that a good thing is found only exceptionally, whilst evil things are numerous and lasting. Not only common people make this mistake, but even many who believe that they are wise. Al-Razi wrote a well-known book On Metaphysics [or Theology]. Among other mad and foolish things, it contains also the idea, discovered by him, that there exists more evil than good. For if the happiness of man and his pleasure in the times of prosperity be compared with the mishaps that befall him, — such as grief, acute pain, defects, paralysis of the limbs, fears, anxieties, and troubles, — it would seem as if the existence of man is a punishment and a great evil for him. This author commenced to verify his opinion by counting all the evils one by one; by this means he opposed those who hold the correct view of the benefits bestowed by God and His evident kindness, viz., that God is perfect goodness, and that all that comes from Him is absolutely good. The origin of the error is to be found in the circumstance that this ignorant man, and his party among the common people, judge the whole universe by examining one single person. For an ignorant man believes that the whole universe only exists for him; as if nothing else required any consideration. If, therefore, anything happens to him contrary to his expectation, he at once concludes that the whole universe is evil. If, however, he would take into consideration the whole universe, form an idea of it, and comprehend what a small portion he is of the Universe, he will find the truth. For it is clear that persons who have fallen into this widespread error as regards the multitude of evils in the world, do not find the evils among the angels, the spheres and stars, the elements, and that which is formed of them, viz., minerals and plants, or in the various species of living beings, but only in some individual instances of mankind. They wonder that a person, who became leprous in consequence of bad food, should be afflicted with so great an illness and suffer such a isfortune; or that he who indulges so much in sensuality as to weaken his sight, should be struck With blindness! and the like.

The Works of Dionysius the Areopagite aka St. Denis (in some Medieval Works).

from "The Treatise on the Names of God"

Concerning this then, as has been said, the superessential and hidden Deity, it is not permitted to speak or even to think beyond the things divinely revealed to us in the sacred Oracles. For even as Itself has taught (as becomes Its goodness) in the Oracles, the science and contemplation of Itself in Its essential Nature is beyond the reach of all created things, as towering superessentially above all. And you will find many of the Theologians, who have celebrated It, not only as invisible and incomprehensible, but also as inscrutable and untraceable, since there is no trace of those who have penetrated to Its hidden infinitude. The Good indeed is not entirely uncommunicated to any single created being, but benignly sheds forth its superessential ray, persistently fixed in Itself, by illuminations analogous to each several being, and elevates to Its permitted contemplation and communion and likeness, those holy minds, who, as far as is lawful and reverent, strive after It, and who are neither impotently boastful towards that which is higher than the harmoniously imparted Divine manifestation, nor, in regard to a lower level, lapse downward through their inclining to the worse, but who elevate themselves determinately and unwaveringly to the ray shining upon them; and, by their proportioned love 4of permitted illuminations, are elevated with a holy reverence, prudently and piously, as on new wings.

from "The Letters of Dionysius

The Divine gloom is the unapproachable light in which God is said to dwell66. And in this gloom, invisible67 indeed, on account of the surpassing brightness, and unapproachable on account of the excess of the superessential stream of light, enters every one deemed worthy to know and to see God, by the very fact of neither seeing nor knowing, really entering in Him, Who is above vision and knowledge, knowing this very thing, that He is after all the object of sensible and intelligent perception, and saying in the words of the Prophet, “Thy knowledge was regarded as wonderful by me; It was confirmed; I can by no means attain unto it68;” even as the Divine Paul is said to have known Almighty God, by having known Him as being above all conception and knowledge. Wherefore also, he says, “His ways are past finding out69 and His Judgements inscrutable,” and His gifts “indescribable70,” and that His peace surpasses every mind71, as having found Him Who is above all, and having known this which is above conception, that, by being Cause of all, He is beyond all.

Keep in mind that these may be the works of the "Pseudo-Dionysius" no less respectable despite the questionable name.

Of God and His Creatures St. Thomas Aquinas

The Catena Aurea for the Gospel of Mark

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The (Mis)Behavior of Markets


You have seen sufficient excerpts of this book on and off at this blog, so that I need say little more about it except to emphasize how very accessible and interesting this whole study is. Mandelbrot is attempting to define a new science of economics and the stock market and admits that he is far from being there; however, the problems he unearths are significant and should give pause to those who argue loudly (and at length) about the privatization of Social Security. The risks involved in even the most conservative stock/bond/cash portfolio far outweigh the perceived advantages until there is a better way of managing risk.

That is largely what the book is about--how does the market really run and how can you best assemble investments to minimize risk and maximize profits. In the process of this discuss Mandelbrot touches on invariant and scalable phenomena in markets, in language, and in the annual flooding of the Nile. That so many disparate phenomena can be looked at through multifractals and brownian motion is interesting in itself. That the common practice of Monte Carlo simulation based on Gaussian rather than Cauchy distributions is a dangerous misstep is made evident throughout.

The main difference between the simple bell curve (Gaussian) and the Cauchy curve is that in a bell-curve an additional bundle of data will not particularly disturb a heavily weighted center. That is, if enough data has been collected, then additional data will not appreciably affect the "center of gravity" of the curve. Large outliers will not affect averages.

With the Cauchy curve it is these large outliers that define the essence of the curve. It is a better measure of rapidly fluctuating environments with inherent turbulence (at least so Mandelbrot implies, and I certainly am not one with the least ability to naysay). As a result, additional data added to the Cauchy distribution will result in significant differences in the measures of central tendency.

Another interesting idea uncovered by Mandelbrot is that it is not only the fluctuations in prices that are important, but also the order in which they occur. And this extends to the study of floods on rivers as well. He pointed out that if the data is entered randomly and stirred together, you end up with a nice well-behaved bell curve distribution. But if the data are analyzed in order, what you find instead are a series of parallel curves that reveal a scalability in the phenomenon that is otherwise invisible.

Mandelbrot argues that as long as outdated means are used to evaluate the market, events like October 1987, and the entire year of 2001, but particularly 9/11 (we're speaking here only of market effects) are inevitable. Bubbles will arise and burst based on old means of buying, holding, and selling stocks. Portfolios will continue to experience rapid fluctuations, even based on very conservative, very deliberate buying and selling. Anyone who went through 2001 realizes what this can mean in a very, very short time.

Mandelbrot's book is required reading for all of those who will propose a means whereby social security will be partially privatized. It is recommended reading for everyone else. Despite Mandelbrot's annoying, but slight, tendency toward focusing the spotlight on himself, the book is quite good. It is one of those eye-opening works where many phenomena of the natural world are brought together and part of the pattern underlying them revealed.


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Terri--Keep Praying!


Is Judge Greer coming to his senses? Let us pray!

CLEARWATER, Fla. - A judge Wednesday extended a stay keeping brain-damaged Terri Schiavo's feeding tube in place, saying he needed time to decide whether her husband, who wants to let her die, is fit to be her guardian.

Pinellas Circuit Court Judge George Greer extended until Friday an emergency stay that was to expire Wednesday afternoon. He said he also needs more time to determine whether Terri Schiavo needs more medical tests to determine if she has greater mental capabilities than previously thought.

And this note:

Meanwhile, the Florida Department of Children & Families moved to intervene in the legal battle over the life of the severely brain-damaged woman. Details of the agency's involvement in the case were not immediately available. Greer denied a DCF attorney an opportunity to speak at the afternoon hearing.

The DCF involvement came hours after Gov. Jeb Bush told reporters he was seeking a means to intervene in the case.

George Felos, who represents Terri Schiavo's husband criticized the DCF move, saying it "reeks of the intervention of politics into the case and is an affront to the court."

I don't know if Terri's site has been slashdotted, has a DDOS, or is simply reflecting the outpouring of concern. Here is the notice from the site about today's ruling.

The Schindler family are encouraged at the outcome of today's hearing before Judge Greer and are overwhelmed at the public outpouring of care and concern being shown to them and their daughter, Terri Schiavo.

The Schindler family also welcomes the involvement of Florida's Department of Children and Families (the state's health and human services agency) in their investigation into serious and detailed allegations of abuse and to ensure that appropriate care and treatment of Terri and patients like her is being delivered.

We ask that you please continue to think and pray for them and for Judge Greer as he takes this matter under advisement. Terri's life and the lives of many disabled, elderly and vulnerable people in Florida hang in the balance.

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Adoption Day

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A quiet day for me today as we went out and celebrated Adoption Day with all due pomp and ceremony. Magic Kingdom--Haunted Mansion, Tom Sawyer Island, Pirates, Lunch, Two TTA, The Drag Race, Buzz Lightyear, and Snow White. Then dinner.

God has been so gracious and kind to us. Please join me and my family in thanksgiving for the wonderful gift every family has in its children, and most particularly for blessing us with Samuel to make up our family. We would have done just fine if God had not seen fit to grant us children, but I am so thankful that His providence has so blessed us.

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A Medical Professional's Blog


Adding to our list of medical professionals in St. Blogs, Clueless Christian tells us about medicine and becoming a Catholic. Go and enjoy.

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The Mysterious Ways of God


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

Lastly, the cotton story shows the strange liaison among different branches of the economy, and between economics and nature. That cotton prices should vary the way income does; that income variations should look like Swedish fire-insurance claims; that these, in turn, are in the same mathematical family as formulae describing the way we speak, or how earthquakes happenn---this is, truly, the greatest mystery of all.

Mystery?--Yes and no. Mathematics is one of the ways in which we discern the organizing principle behind all creation. When these things fall together and there is no correlation among them in terms of causes or events, we begin to see the Mind of the Maker. We can deny it, if we choose--and many do. But the reality is that the thumbprint of God is on all creation if you merely look for it.

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For Terri

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Barring a miracle, today is the date scheduled for the destruction of an innocent human being at the whim of another. Please pray for her and for God's will in this whole matter. Also, if you can choke the words out (and it is very difficult) please try to pray for her misguided and outright pernicious husband/guardian, who in pursuit of some other "good" has decided to destroy this poor woman.

Those who are more knowledgable, help us work toward an end in which this outcome is not possible. I don't understand a court system that allows an execution when the facts are not clear. I don't even understand the personal motivations of Judges and Lawyers who could think of supporting this horrific act. May God have mercy on them and on us.

I now understand Jesus weeping for Jerusalem in a way I wish I never had experienced. We are so lost as a society and we don't even know it. If ever there were a time for civil disobedience and the showing of some Gubenatorial spine, this is it. After all, what's to lose--you defend an innocent woman in your last term as governor. Yes, I know we're hoping for a White House run here, but what is the balance of powers for if not to thwart the tyranny of one or another group?

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More on NASCAR

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Throughout the book St. Dale the point is made of how most people regard fans of NASCAR. It seems that NASCAR gives those who are interested in hockey, soccer, and rugby someone to look down upon as rubes, rednecks, and somehow less than creditable.

I've thought a lot about this and it strikes me as absurd that people who can extol the virtues of jumping on a lump of pigskin, or striking a horsehide (I know, no longer) ball with a stick of ash would have the audacity to look down on anything.

Personally, I have no time or interest in any of it--it all strikes me as a form of bread and circuses with which I can readily dispense--I've too many time-wasters in my life anyway. But, I cannot fault those who enjoy these things. And in some ways I would love to be able to emulate them. I would have so much more to discuss with other "normal" men whose thoughts seem to channel in one of several ruts (pun intended). But it does provide ready entrance into the society of men in some circles, and I do not have that.

I also don't regard NASCAR racing as a sport as such (which is not intended as a criticism and may reveal only my ignorance of the matter). It may require great endurance--it does require great skill. (Think about being in a perpetual traffic jam at between 90 and 180 mph.) It apparently requires a great deal of knowledge and strategy--I'm astounded by some of the things that racers appear to consider. NASCAR racing doesn't seem to be a sport, but it is a contest--a legitimate one.

So were I to undertake to examine contests including atheletic sports and car racing for their virtues, I tend to think I might find more to admire in the skill and knowledge of a racer than in two teams of people who use each other as crash-test dummies.

Consider this just a plea for those inclined to look down upon others for what they enjoy to look first in the mirror and see what you enjoy boiled down to its essentials. I don't claim to have any great understanding of any sport or contest and I often wish I did. But I admire the enthusiasm of those who do participate--I find it refreshing and oddly, another way of encountering God. In truly allying yourself with a team or with a contest or with a person you live in that moment and in a sense abandon yourself to the joy that God has opened for you. Sports have the great value of what Disputations is inclined to call eutrepalia. I don't get it, but I rejoice in those who do. I only ask them to look kindly upon the enthusiasms of others.

(I guess my "sport" of choice ranks close to dead last in everyone's estimation of the worthwhile. But where else can you see water as blue as God's eye and people balanced on the edge of eternity, falling, falling, falling so gracefully, so perfectly, so evenly into the wide blue water.)

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Son of the Mask


Yes, I know. I groaned when I saw the preview in the theatres and I asked myself why this was necessary. And when Samuel said he wanted to see it, I said to myself, absolutely not.

Oh, well, so much for resolutions. And thank God for little boys. This is one of those rare films when the trailer really does not do justice to the sheer ingenuity and hilarity of some of the slapstick episodes throughout the film.

I laughed through more than half of it, and I was a grudging attendee. Most particularly amusing were Samuel's reactions to many of the high-energy scenes. But every father who has been left alone with an infant for the first time, every parent who wonders if their children really are out to drive them crazy--this is the film for you.

Naturally the humor was such as to amuse a six year old. Lot's of body fluids, loud noises, and intense swirling action. But the theatre I was in had more than its share of grown-ups and everyone seemed to be laughing themselves silly.

The plot is onion-skin thin, but the main point is about paying attention to those you love. So its got a great many good lessons for children, along with the body fluids, and you won't be bored. If the film is a turn-off, watch your kids and see what they see.


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A travesty of a Holiday smashing together by accident of their birth two such disparate Presidents as Washington and Lincoln. Of Lincoln the less said here the better for all. Let me simply say that he has his cult as has John Kennedy and, in my estimation, they have about equal validity.

But of Washington there are not enough words to say what needs to be said. He has come through the crucible of post-modernism and the worst people can bring up about him is that he wasn't a particularly good military leader, he kept slaves, and he wasn't particularly approachable.

Of the first, perhaps not, but then those he defeated must have been so much worse. On the other hand, perhaps he needn't have been great, merely "good enough." And that was what he was. As a result many may have died who need not have done so. Nevertheless, that is all speculation. Washington may have been a bungler, I am not qualified to say--but he bungled his way, either through strategy or through providence, to an independent United States.

As to the second. Yes he did, with grave misgivings. More, he did not, as Jefferson did, justify keeping his slaves for patriarchal reasons such as, "What will they do on their own." He kept his slaves to serve him and Martha--not necessarily admirable, but something that I think we are presumptuous to judge in our "enlightened" times. Times when rather than keeping slaves we slaughter children by the millions. We have a chronological chauvinism and arrogance in our institutes of learning that is really quite breathtaking.

And as to the last, perhaps that demeanor is why he could serve his country as he did. Perhaps he wasn't approachable. But is that a great sin? It would make a great many of our Saints less than saints--starting with that model of irascibility St. Jerome.

No, if Washington came through his post-modern post-mortem so clearly unscathed there is much here to admire and respect. The depth of his contribution, through his intelligence, his sobriety, his willingness to serve cannot be overestimated. A true hero of history and the true Father of his Country.

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St. Dale

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I like the works of Sharyn McCrumb. From the great science fiction convention send-ups of Bimbos of the Death Sun and Zombies of the Gene Pool to the marvelous atmospheric mysteries The Rosewood Casket and The Hangman's Beautiful Daughter, Sharyn McCrumb weaves a fine story with interesting, realistic characters.

She has done so once again with this off-beat story about a tour group going on a Dale Earnhardt memorial tour. McCrumb is at her most comfortable dealing with the people of the southern Appalachians and adjacent territories, and the structure of this story gives her a chance to exercise her gifts in full.

The tour is hosted by an ex-NASCAR driver who leads the party of about fourteen pilgrims through a variety of sites from the Bristol Speedway in Tennessee to "The Lady in Black"--the Darlington Speedway in South Carolina. Along the way the reader learns far more than he or she ever dreamed possible about NASCAR drivers, history, strategy, and fans. From the waitress in New Hampshire who counts her change "One, two, Dale, four, five" to the size and banking in each of the major speedways, to the deaths of NASCAR's major figures, to the meaning of these secular saints.

And that is the theme that McCrumb explores in detail as we traverse the book. Why are some people (Elvis springs to mind) embraced by the populace and made a kind of "secular saint" even though the conduct of their lives is hardly exemplary? In this case, we explore the Dale Earnhardt phenomenon. Killed in February 2001 in a horrific crash at the Daytona Speedway, Earnhardt rapidly became the stuff of legends as there were battles fought over his autopsy and photographs from it. Know as "The Intimidator" because of his driving tactics, Earnhardt appears to have been the kind of person about whom there are no "middle opinions." Either revered or loathed, Earnhardt occupied center stage for a great many people. St. Dale attempts to explore why that might be in several cases.

Interestingly, although McCrumb provides plausible explanations for the people in her tour group, she fails to really get at the core of why Elvis, Marilyn, and Princess Diana make such a huge impression with their thousands of admiring fans. We know why Earnhardt spoke to these individuals, but surely that doesn't explain all of the appeal.

Aside from this single miscue, the book is wonderful. I learned more about NASCAR and things like "restrictor plates" than I ever cared to know--I also learned how very dicey it might be to engage a die-hard fan in any sort of discussion that might question the value or integrity of the sport or any of its adherents.

A surprising and by turns amusing and sad book--most sad in its theological speculations and absurdities, it is well worth the time it takes to read and enjoy. And it gives us insight into our need for heroes and how, where they are lacking, we build up new and unlikely ones.

And now, back to the world of Shakespeare and Mandelbrot.


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Because of Winn Dixie


Charming, slight, and very, very interesting to young boys (at least). The story of a girl living with her preacher father in rural Florida. She takes in a stray and learns a great deal about dealing with the strays, the unwanted, and the abandoned in our lives.

The film does seem to suggest that we do well not to rush to judgment on those who are different. Also it teaches that we should not listen to gossip.

The dog is cute and the young female actress is quite a pretty little girl if not yet a top-notch actress. Adults might revel in seeing some favorites that have been missing from the scene too long--Eva Marie Saint and Cicely Tyson--both of whom do a splendid job.

Like the "Litmus Lozenges" featured in the film, it is sweet and sad in about an equal mix, with a happy ending and a goofy dog.


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Advice for Liturgists

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I am not enamored of change for the sake of change. But change can be a good and healthy response when it deals merely with discipline and practice and not doctrine.

However, in the past several months we've undergone two significant changes to the liturgy as the diocese finally got in gear and implemented the GIRM. As part of this, it was determined, but not particularly well announced that we would all stand after the Agnus Dei until the last person had received communion. (This was the instruction prior to November.)

In November a new instruction was released which was not announced or implemented in my parish until about three weeks ago. This one restored the kneeling during communion, but had an odd assortment of kneelings and risings between the Agnus Dei and communion. (If I understood the instruction properly we are to stand during the Angus Dei, kneel during the "Lord I am not worthy", stand between the end of the "Lord I am not worthy" and kneel or sit after reception.) Once again the instruction was communicated in the bulletin but not "taught" so as a result in and around communion we have people doing everything imaginable, standing, kneeling, sitting, riverdance--you name it.

Now, I have no idea why we received two sets of instructions so close together. But it little matters. If we are to do them, we must know and understand them. And if we are to celebrate as one body, everyone should be doing the same thing at the same time. This is where I plead with liturgists and with those who are in charge of instructing the people--please do so. Don't rely on the bulletin--evidence indicates that fewer than half the people read it, or at least half do not understand it. Perhaps in the weeks following the instruction it would not be remiss to ask the priest or the deacon or even the cantor (if they are readily visible) to use hand signals to indicate whether or not we should be standing. (There might still be confusion of kneeling/sitting, but at least we'd have the worst of the confusion done away with.)

I also know that there are limits as to what can be done by a liturgist without being disruptive. But what could be more disruptive than having your neighbor lean over and say "You're supposed to be standing," when you know for a fact that it said you were supposed to be kneeling?

If change must occur--an in a living liturgy it CAN and will occur, then it should be introduced and gently guided in a way that all will know what is expected. As I said, I have no real problem with change, but a severe problem with not knowing what the change is or what I'm supposed to be doing--worship and adoration are difficult when you're busy thinking about standing/sitting/kneeling and trying to decide who actually got it right.

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The Christology of the Saints


I wrote a piece yesterday in which I tried to get at this point--quite awkwardly. I did not publish it (as you may see). However, I stumbled on this during my perambulations through St. Blogs and it says perfectly what I had in mind. Thank you Mr. Blosser.

A quotation from Cardnial Ratzinger

Real advances in Christology, therefore, can never come merely as a result of the theology of the schools, and that includes the modern theology as we find it in critical exegesis, in the history of doctrine and in an anthropology oriented toward the human sciences, etc. All this is important, as important as schools are. But it is insufficient. It must be complemented by the theology of the saints, which is theology from experience. All real progress in theological understanding has its origin in the eye of love and in its faculty of beholding.

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Quoting Disputations


An interesting thought. We each and we all need to atone for the sins of each and all of us. It could even be taken further, by suggesting that those of us willing to atone must do so for those who are unwilling. Christ is owed a spotless Church; which of His priests (and remember: if you're baptized, you're a priest) will make the offering to Him in reparation for the scandal's grave disfigurement of His Church?

What an excellent notion. Perhaps I shall start my own small part today. Thanks for the suggestion.

Full Post Here

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from Ascent to Love
Sr. Ruth Burrows

Acquired knowledge is satisfying because it is our own, a possession. Inevitably it gives--albeit unconsciously-- a sense of power, control. We know where we are, what we are about; we have a sense of 'being able to do it'; in other words there is the implicit assumption that we can make our own way to God. It is only a case of going on like this, everything nicely under control, and we shall get more and more spiritual, know more and more about God, wax holy! This is illusion. Once again this cannot be appreciated no matter how much we may know it theoretically. Theoretical knowledge in its turn becomes just another piece of spiritual acumen until God 'touches' us; then our illusion begins painfully to crumble and we find ourselves with nothing. The new knowledge actuated in the depths of our being, uncurling as the tenderest of young plants, is not detected. This is not a possession, it cannot of its nature be appreciated or enjoyed as a personal attribute. Incipient though it be it has effects, and one of these is to take some of the gild off our 'God.' As the 'God' is really ourselves, our ego is wounded in its most vulnerable area. It is one thing to be asked to renounce our ego in dealing with other people and things, we come to appreciate that this is only commonsense; but surely our prayer, our pursuit of God, is unselfishness itself? Are we not trying to renounce ourselves, do good in order to please God? Well, we are about to be tested in that! Are our reactions prompted by the desire to please God or to have a spiritual life, become a spiritual person? In other words is our tenacious egotism operating in what is the most supremely satisfying sphere of all?

Wow! What a breathtaking indictment! And how true for many of us. Sometimes my desire for "secret knowledge" for "understanding the things of God" overwhelms any sense of why I would want to do this. Isn't the point of knowing God and sharing in His life supposed to be to please Him rather than to please myself? Gratifying this desire in one sense "undoes" the good of all the spiritual practices. And it will be ultimately unsatisfying. Our only goal in approaching God in any way is to be pleasing to Him. God is well pleased in those who approach Him in humble prayer and ask of Him the things needed in each day.

How poorly I do to take this finest gift and desire to make it my own for my own purposes. My purpose in approaching God must be His purpose for me. My goal must be His desire, not my own. Just as I delight in Samuel offering me some small card or written note that tells how much he loves and admires me, so God delights in a single Our Father said in complete love and desire to please. Let us take an example from our children and offer God our humblest but most sincere thanksgiving and praise. When I offer Him any thought out of sheer love of Him and desire to please Him, I am far better off than trying to scale mountains for the sake of gratifying my own curiousity and ego.

Our end--to please God in all that we do, to walk simply and to offer God our most truthful, most abiding, most loving, most sincere self. We offer to Him all that we are in the desire to please Him, not to get something from Him, but simply because our delight is in Him and living in harmony with Him. Forget the austerities, forget the forbidding language, forget all the contrivances that we formulate and that only get in the way. God wants us to want to please Him and to be with Him not for self-aggrandizement, but for Him alone.

In short, send your love letter today--delight and glory in pleasing the God who loves you "as the apple of His eye."

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Listening--"Missing. . ."


Listening to John Adams's On the Transmigration of Souls, a remarkable Ives-like remembrance of the tragedy of September 11, 2001. There are formless voids like those proposed by Ives in The Unanswered Questions, Reich-like paraphrases, particularly recalling the remarkable completely vocal tape-loop minimalist pieces using phrases from interviews. There are Ligeti-like choral voicings, often indistinguishable in what they are saying. Overall, a haunting piece--remarkable.

"I see buildings. . . water. . . buildings. . . water . . . "

All moving upward through grief to rebirth.

I can't say much for the transmigration of souls (nor for the whippoorwills that wait to snatch them away. But the piece of music is interesting and worthy of your attention.

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Urgent Prayer Request

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Please pray for a little boy named O.,
2 1/2 years old. ...He fell yesterday and needed
stiches- somewhere during the ER visit he went into shock, his heart
stopped, and he was revived, but rushed to a second hospital, and then air
lifted by chopper to the UPenn hospital in Philly. I have few details,
except that he is fighting for his life.... As of 5pm yesterday they were unsure of his chances of survival...

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Particularly among the ladies. I laughed out loud when I first read this because of the non sequitur and needlessness of the final line. I think misogynist is the word one might use, except that Mr. Waugh didn't particularly LIKE anyone. So he was an equal-opportunity disdainer. Note the source.

from Msgr. Ronald Knox
Evelyn Waugh

At the time there was a limited but eager public for these puzzles. Fashion has turned from them, as from acrostics. When they come back into fashion, Ronald's stories, because of their austerity, may seem less dated than those of his more romantic and dramatic rivals. None was more ingenious than he, more scrupulous in the provision of clues, more logically complete in his solutions. Very few women have ever enjoyed them.

Add to that the fact that Mr. Knox's mysteries are, quite simply, not enjoyable. There isn't so much as a thread of personality on which to hand a hope of a real story--you get in essence the outline of a mystery with the skeleton fully exposed. Mr. Waugh's prediction is sadly unrealistic. And his venom gratuitous. Nevertheless, I think it was the shock of juxtaposition that forced a guffaw out of me. And then gave me pause, because I certainly fall into the class of those who cannot read Mr. Knox's mysteries with any pleasure at all. If I'm to read fiction by clergy, I'll hold with Robert Hugh Benson's wonderful novels. You want to read some good stuff try The Necromancers or Lord of the World.

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Prayer in a Time of Distress


There has been a great deal of disturbing news in my personal life of late. Add to that the ongoing travesty just "one city over," and I fall back on one of the most beautiful of hymns--sung at the end of each of the hours in the Carmelite tradition. May Our Lady open our eyes to the splendors of Jesus Crucified and Risen.

Salve Regina, mater misericordiae: vita, dulcedo, et spes nostra, salve. Ad te clamamus exsules filii Hevae. Ad te suspiramus, gementes et flentes in hac lacrimarum valle. Eia, ergo, advocata nostra, illos tuos misericordes oculos ad nos converte. Et Iesum, benedictum fructum ventris tui, nobis post hoc exsilium ostende.

O clemens, O pia, O dulcis Virgo Maria. Amen.

V. Ora pro nobis, sancta Dei Genetrix.

R. Ut digni efficiamur promissionibus Christi.

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Shakespeare Does Psalm 8

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To honor Ms. Schiavo and the Terri Schiavo blogburst:*

from "Hamlet" Act II scene 2
William Shakespeare

I have of late--but wherefore I know not--lost all my mirth, forgone all custom of exercises; and indeed it goes so heavily with my disposition that this goodly frame, the earth, seems to me a sterile promontory, this most excellent canopy, the air, look you, this brave o'erhanging firmament, this majestical roof fretted with golden fire, why, it appears no other thing to me than a foul and pestilent congregation of vapours. What a piece of work is a man! how noble in reason! how infinite in faculty! in form and moving how express and admirable! in action how like an angel! in apprehension how like a god! the beauty of the world! the paragon of animals! And yet, to me, what is this quintessence of dust? man delights not me: no, nor woman neither, though by your smiling you seem to say so.

"The beauty of the world--the paragon of animals." How horribly appropriate in the savagery surrounding this innocent woman and those who wish her dead--that these two should be juxtaposed. For people can indeed be the paragon of animals in both the positive, and in this case the negative sense. How much more an animal must one be to stoop to the slaughter of those least able to defend themselves. May God have mercy on them and deliver Terri from their "tender" care.

I am with you in spirit (those in Tampa) though I didn't hear about the gatherings until too late to manage a day off. My prayers are with those who gather in her defense.

*A note of clarification from Hyscience--Visit hyscience blog and search for Terri Schiavo Blogburst to find the script to add to your blog, etc. E-mail hyscience at scienceblog@3oaks.com once you have it added or if you have any questions. It's time to burst the blogosphere for Terri! Ultimate goal? Getting her out of the hands of those trying to murder her and back on the road to her recovery in the care of her parents/siblings/etc. and those who love and want to help her.

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Our Crosses


Too often we chafe under our crosses--we want to change them, to make them more conformable to ourselves and to the image of ourselves that we would like to reify. But it is a serious mistake to try to our crosses to fit our warped and distorted figures. Rather, we should change ourselves to fit the cross God has given us. We are strange, misshapen creatures, warped and distorted. The crosses we bear are to shape us to our place of service in the body of Christ.--when we resist them and seek to change them we are, in essence, saying that our appointed place is not to our liking.

We can think of our crosses as orthopedic devices. We may think that we're amblilng along just fine, but in truth we lurch forward in fits and starts, and stumble and fall on a regular basis. The cross is a set of braces, it supports us, shapes us, and allows us to walk upright--not to halt and to lurch. As with the application of any braces there is some pain--sometimes there is considrable pain. But the end result is that we are better able to walk or move, or chew.

As we become conformed to the cross of the day we take on the image of Him who bore our sins on the Cross of Eternity. We bear His Holy Image to all who look upon us on our own crosses. And we achieve a wholeness that cannot be won outside of our battle to conform to the crosses God has given us. As Mr. Gibson showed us memorably in the film, we must not merely endure the cross, we must accept it, embrace it, and make it our own. This is God's shaping of us--sometimes painful, but always with an eye to the eternal destiny that has been wrought for each of us in Him.

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A Farewell to Mortons

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You may already have seen this, but it is worth another look--Ben Stein's farewell to Morton's.

(While you're at it, have a look at The Problem in Our Lives Is Powerlessness--the Solution Is Also Powerlessness. Another wonderful column. Were they not under copyright, I'd copy them out and keep them here forever. As it is, I have only the links, and I hope they last a while. A soupçon:

6. My greatest power comes from my surrender to God's will every moment of every day.

7. Fear is the common human condition. The only solution that lasts is faith in God.

8. What happens to me is not terribly important.

9. I cannot control other people, and when I try, it leads to disaster.

10. Acceptance of God's will is my only option today. It is not a choice but a necessity. )

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The World, The Flesh, and The Devil


Poor reflections on yesterday's readings.

The temptation--the three basic forms of separation from God--the world, the flesh, and the Devil. The flesh is the first temptation and the one to which nature most naturally inclines people. Food is a good thing, it is a necessary thing, but it is neither the best thing nor the one thing necessary. Satan tempts Jesus to use His legitimate power in an illegitimate way. Why change stones to bread to satisfy mere appetite? Bread can be bought or made -- the use of Divine power is squandering for the sake of a trifle.

The Devil is the initiator of all temptation--but this second of temptations is, in fact, the essence of temptation. "Throw yourself down" is a temptation that presents no real good or award whatsoever. It is the invitation to pride and doubt. Should Jesus undertake the action, he acts in pride. Should henot undertake it, then He might begin to think about the situation and wonder about the efficacy of God's power. No legitimate good can come from this action. It seeks merely to test or prove what is already known--God cares for all His people.

The world is the last of the three--Jesus is shown the grand splendor of creation and offered dominion over it if only He will renounce His father. Now, why would this present even the slightest temptation to Christ? He is already master of all creation. Everything belongs to Him, how can He be tempted by it? The temptation is presented for us as a completion of the instruction that might be had from the episode in the Life of the Savior, but it is also presented to show us how poorly Satan understands the nature of God. He seeks to drive a wedge between father and Son as though they are separate entities. But they are not. They are separate persons sharing one will. Thus, we are instructed that right knowledge is an important part of recognizing who and what we are and Who and What Jesus Christ is.

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One I Had Not Seen by Richard Crashaw


Once again, your indulgence I beg and direct your eyes to the apologies of the previous post. Ditto.

Hymn in Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament
Adoro te
Richard Crashaw

WITH all the powres my poor Heart hath
Of humble love & loyall Faith,
Thus lowe (my hidden life!) I bow to thee
Whom too much love hath bow'd more low for me.
Down down, proud sense! Discourses dy!
Keep close, my soul's inquiring ey!
Nor touch nor tast must look for more
But each sitt still in his own Dore.

Your ports are all superfluous here,
Save That which lets in faith, the eare.
Faith is my skill. Faith can beleive
As fast as love new lawes can give.
Faith is my force. Faith strength affords
To keep pace with those powrfull words.
And words more sure, more sweet, then they,
Love could not think, truth could not say.

O let thy wretch find that releife
Thou didst afford the faithfull theife.
Plead for me, love! Alleage & show
That faith has farther, here, to goe,
And lesse to lean on. Because than
Though hidd as GOD, wounds writt thee man.
Thomas might touch; None but might see
At least the suffring side of thee;
And that too was thy self which thee did cover,
But here ev'n That 's hid too which hides the other.

Sweet, consider then, that I
Though allow'd nor hand nor eye
To reach at thy lov'd Face; nor can
Tast thee GOD, or touch thee MAN,
Both yet beleive; And wittnesse thee
My LORD too & my GOD, as lowd as He.

Help, lord, my Faith, my Hope increase;
And fill my portion in thy peace.
Give love for life; nor let my dayes
Grow, but in new powres to thy name & praise.

O dear memoriall of that Death
Which lives still, & allowes us breath!
Rich, Royall food! Bountyfull BREAD!
Whose use denyes us to the dead;
Whose vitall gust alone can give
The same leave both to eat & live;
Live ever Bread of loves, & be
My life, my soul, my surer selfe to mee.

O soft self-wounding Pelican!
Whose brest weepes Balm for wounded man.
Ah this way bend thy benign floud
To'a bleeding Heart that gaspes for blood:
That blood, whose least drops soveraign be
To wash my worlds of sins from me.
Come love! Come LORD! & that long day
For which I languish, come away;
When this dry soul those eyes shall see,
And drink the unseal'd sourse of thee,
When Glory's sun faith's shades shall chase,
And for thy veil give me thy FACE.

A M E N.

As this is the year of the Eucharist, whatever feeble strains we can add to praise, we ought to do so. And so I offer this--not my own, but too easily lost and not again found.

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Another Poem


I'm sorry for yet another, but I came upon it in searching through some other things and wanted to be able to find it again. The best way is to place it here and I will be able to see it in the commonplace book or among the poets. Please pardon my self-indulgence.

Robert Gilbert Welsh

from The Little Book of Modern Verse (1917)
ed. Jessie Rittnehouse
(available from Bartleby, linked above)

THE ANGELS in high places
Who minister to us,
Reflect God’s smile,—their faces
Are luminous;
Save one, whose face is hidden,
(The Prophet saith),
The unwelcome, the unbidden,
Azrael, Angel of Death.
And yet that veilèd face, I know
Is lit with pitying eyes,
Like those faint stars, the first to glow
Through cloudy winter skies.

That they may never tire,
Angels, by God’s decree,
Bear wings of snow and fire,—
Passion and purity;
Save one, all unavailing,
(The Prophet saith),
His wings are gray and trailing,
Azrael, Angel of Death.
And yet the souls that Azrael brings
Across the dark and cold,
Look up beneath those folded wings,
And find them lined with gold.

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A Poem in Honor of this Month

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February is often honored as African-American History month. So I offer this poem.

The Feet of Judas
George Marion McClellan

CHRIST washed the feet of Judas!
The dark and evil passions of his soul,
His secret plot, and sordidness complete,
His hate, his purposing, Christ knew the whole,
And still in love he stooped and washed his feet.

Christ washed the feet of Judas!
Yet all his lurking sin was bare to him,
His bargain with the priest, and more than this,
In Olivet, beneath the moonlight dim,
Aforehand knew and felt his treacherous kiss.

Christ washed the feet of Judas!
And so ineffable his love ’twas meet,
That pity fill his great forgiving heart,
And tenderly to wash the traitor’s feet,
Who in his Lord had basely sold his part.

Christ washed the feet of Judas!
And thus a girded servant, self-abased,
Taught that no wrong this side the gate of heaven
Was ever too great to wholly be effaced,
And though unasked, in spirit be forgiven.

And so if we have ever felt the wrong
Of Trampled rights, of caste, it matters not,
What e’er the soul has felt or suffered long,
Oh, heart! this one thing should not be forgot:
Christ washed the feet of Judas.

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St John of the Cross on Satan


from The Spiritual Canticle
John of the Cross

quoted in In Conversation with God
Francis Fernandez

No human power can be compared to his; only God's power can vanquish him and only God's light can unmask the snares that he lays. The soul that would overcome the ower of the devil will not be able to do so without prayer, nor will it recongise his deceitful traps without the aid of mortification and humility.

The traps of the devil cannot be seen by those who are looking in the mirror. A great many people walk around with a Rube Goldberg apparatus attached to them--a fishing pole at the seat of the pant that dangles a mirror in front of them. Walking about in this way will lead only to falling into a pit--and oh what pits there are to find.

The worst part of all of this is that there are certain kinds of people who, once they have fallen into a pit, choose to make it home, decorate it and invite others in, thinking there is absolutely nothing wrong with the way they are living.

The season of Lent is a time to look at the minefield of pits we may have previously inhabited and to resolve, by the grace of God never to dwell there again. It is a time to realize that we cannot even tell the good from the bad, even though we know it for a certainty in our heads. It is a time for humble adoration and extended prayer to ask God to make right what we have made oh, so wrong. It is a time to break the mirror and to begin to move ahead fully aware of what lay in our path. And this may only be done with God's grace, His help, and our continued and grace-perfected obedience to His law.

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Carrying Crosses

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Yesterday was an agony of cross-bearing in the lightest possible sense. Things that should not mean so much, meant far, far too much. Trifles weighed on me heavily. oppressing me all day. A slight shift in viewpoint, a change in policy.

The long and the short of it was that I was big-time looking for a way not to carry these daily crosses. That is, until I read the reflection in In Conversation with God. While I find myself hesitant about the emphasis on making mortifications for yourself, the guide was very helpful in helping me to identify the phenomenon of the day. Suffice to say that i still didn't manage very gracefully, I fear. Nevertheless, I was more aware of what I was facing, and more willing to do so.

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A Joyous Feastday Celebration


to all of my Bendictine Brothers and Sisters--and most particularly to one little sister in Christ. May you give good cause for St. Scholastica to rejoice before the Lord on your account. May the day bring blessing and through her intercession, greater peace and love of God.

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Knowing God


from Ascent to Love
Sr. Ruth Burrows

The real point John is making is that at a certain point of growth a new form of knowledge is introduced that does not come through the normal channels of cognition. This is real knowledge of him who 'is night to the soul in this life', incomprehensible mystery. Thus in a practical existential way we are being asked to accept that 'nothing whatever that our imagination can conceive or our minds grasp in this life, can be God himself'; they are merely ideas about him no matter how spiritual they seem to be. Anything that we can actually regard and give an account of simply cannot be a direct experience of God.

Beginners for John are 'those who meditate on the spiritual road', which means they are those who are totally dependent on thoughts and ideas about God. Now for all of us, whatever state we are in, this is the only distinct knowledge we have; it is all we can know in the common acceptance of the term. When we write or talk it is always this kind of knowledge that is involved. But for beginners it is literally the sum total of their knowledge. It is not, as with advanced persons, merely that this is their conscious knowledge of God--it is, in objective reality, the sum of their knowledge. They are completely dependent on what their intelligence discovers of him and, as knowledge and love are closely intertwined, their love too is limited in this way.

This is so heartening--the thought that with enough progress I do not have to depend upon the nonsense that circulates in my head and calls itself "knowledge of God." My head so bulges and throbs with ideas about God that if my eventual success depended upon them, I would know for certain that there is no hope.

But my journey does begin with my thoughts and my ideas about God. In the light of transforming grace God gently moves me closer to Him by "perfecting" that knowledge in so far as I am capable of grasping it. The truth is that I am extraordinarily limited in this way. If two theologians were debating, I might be able to ask a couple of questions to fuel the fire, but I know so little that I would be persuaded first this way and then that way. The sum of my certain knowledge of theology is found in the revelation of the Scriptures, the defined doctrines and dogmas of the Church (in so far as I know and understand them), and most especially in the Creed. I understand at least the superficial meaning of every statement in the Creed, and I accept them unequivocally. This, at least is an organizing chain for thoughts.

But if we are living the life God has set out for us, thought will inevitably lead to deeper, inexpressible knowledge. This seems to be the message of all the great spiritual writers of the Church. At some point in prayer we move beyond meditation and thought about God into a deeper knowledge of Him that He Himself grants us. This is commonly called infused contemplation. However, that are a great many steps between these two ends, and I think all of us have experiences of the reality and the truth of God that extend beyond mere ideas. That transcendent and overwhelming feeling that has no reliable description in English when one first encounters a stunning landscape or work of art--that it seems to me is a small sense of what Sister Burrows means when she talks about "secret knowledge of God." It isn't a knowledge that sits outside of revelation, but rather a direct encounter.

I suppose one way of thinking about it is the translation from Divine Acquaintance (How do you do? So pleased to see you again.) to Divine Friendship (How can I help you deal with this difficult mater?) to Divine Intimacy (Oh let us be married, too long we have tarried, but what shall we do for a ring?). We all start at Divine Acquaintance. We seem to know something of God but are largely indifferent or only slightly warm to the matter we know. Most of us have probably moved beyond acquaintance to friendship, where we desire to spend more time and really get to know the Other. We go beyond the minimum requirements, but we still withdraw at times and move to be on our own. God stays in His place (figuratively speaking) and we go elsewhere. Finally, we know so much and understand enough, that we wish not to be merely friends that come and go, but we desire to become One Flesh, intimate family--we don't ever want to be parted from the presence or the security of our union. Most of us are like the proverbial bachelor--we want to keep our freedom, Divine Intimacy would really wreck our game plan for life. We need to be free to sample the pleasures of the world.

The reality is that it is only in the bonds of union that we become free enough to know what the pleasures of the world really are. And to get to union we must eventually go beyond our ideas and constructs and begin to trust God for who He is. We must experience the great I AM in the smallness of being "she who is not" (a quote from St. Catherine of Siena). This is the end goal--this is the Easter of our lives. Living the lives of good Christians and striving always to stay in a state of grace, we will find our way to this end eventually. But consider for a moment the profound triumph, beauty, passion, and ecstasy of finding ourselves there while still in the land of the living. Moving beyond merely knowing about into knowing while we still live. St. John of the Cross, St. Teresa of Avila, St. Catherine of Siena, St. Francis de Sales, St. Alphonsus Liguori, in fact every Saint who writes about the deep mystical life tells us that not only is it possible, it is what we are intended for. This is the "Mary" (as opposed to Martha) moment. This is the "one thing necessary." It is the end either here and now or in the life to come.

The good news is that this end is open to every one of us through the Grace of God. It is inconceivable that the God who said, "knock and it shall be opened, seek and ye shall find" would fail to live up to His word. Once again, it is merely a matter of making up our minds to do this. Choose Life. Choose intimacy. Love God now in the ideas and meditations, live the life partaking of sacramental grace, and pray that His will be done, and each one of us who does so can join those saints who achieved Divine Intimacy. It is not beyond us, it is within us, in the form of the Holy Spirit who constantly calls and urges us to move beyond our hesitant and sometimes cool friendship. The Holy Spirit calls us to ardor.

"Now is the acceptable time."

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Lenten Thoughts


Two thoughts occur to me provoked by things I've read elsewhere.

Some refer to Lent as a journey. If so, it is a microcosm of all of life. The Lenten journey has as its goal Easter, so the fasting and penitence come to an end with the celebration of the resurrection. All of life has as its goal Union with God and so at long last when we have shed this mortal coil and endured whatever purgation remains to us, we arrive at the Easter resurrection. The two journeys mirror one another.

It also occurred to me that lent is not so much about changing daily routine as about making daily routine respond to God. We can do most of what we normally do, but somehow we do it more mindfully, more aware of its cosmic importance, more sensitive to its eternal repercussions.

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Providential Synchonicity

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Two readings this morning:

from Morning Prayer, the Intercession

May we abstain from what we do not really need,
and help our brothers and sisters in distress.

And this from my present bookgroup:

from Freedom of Simplicity
Richard J Foster

The life pleasing to God is not found in a series of religious duties but in obedience. The fast that God desired was for the people to "loose the bonds of wickedness" and to "let the oppressed go free." God's word to them were these: "Share your bread with the hungry" and bring the "homeless poor into your house." (Is 58: 5-7)

Fast from what you do not really need anyway. This doesn't seem like such a difficult thing, but many of us, perhaps most of us, are daily indulged in our own wants. We have more than we need and we crave more yet.

God did not set up a given economic system--He is not a capitalist or a communist or a distributist or an economist of any sort. He is God. He points out simple truths. You don't need that. And what we don't need generally weighs us down. Sometimes it does so in real physical reality--we eat more than we need and we increase our girth. But more often it is in psychological and spiritual terms. We have more than we really need and we cease to use or own things and we become the servant of things.

I think back to the time when I rented an apartment or a townhouse from someone else. When something went wrong, I simply called the landlord and it was dealt with, most often quite quickly. Yes, there were some restrictive rules, perhaps some problems with the system, but I had a place to live and it did not loom large in my mind.

Now I "own" a house. This last season I sat through four hurricanes wondering how I was to take care of this house, reroof it, de-mold it, repair it. Early this year I think how I must buy hurricane shutters, or get this thing or that thing removed or adjusted. The house owns me. It demands things of me never demanded by a rented townhouse. It requires of me things that I gave no thought to when I simply rented. And it offers no better surety or security. And thanks to owner's associations, I am even more restricted than when I lived in a townhouse. Some feel the warm glow of ownership--I feel, more often, the shackles of being owned.

The fast that we do today reminds us not only of God, but it should also remind us of those less fortunate than ourselves, those who do not have even a single full meal to eat in a day. The fast that the Church requires today is a fast that, should be choose to do so, we could easily live on the rest of our lives without being deprived. The fast we observe under Church regulation wisely focuses our attention on what we need not on what we want.

Try this experiment (if in ill health, obviously consult your physician first). Take this day of fast and extend it. See what happens to you , to your waistline (if that is a concern) to your health and to your awareness. And see what you save. Then take that and give it to the poor. What you do not eat, what you fast from--that can feed others. As you train yourself to focus on what you need, you can at the same time help others, with no other sacrifice whatsoever. Let this day be a dawning of new awareness. Let your little physical hunger drive the hunger for righteousness and for justice. Open your heart to give God a home. Offer Him your excesses and you will find yourself freed from them. More, you will find in His heart of generosity the spirit of generosity itself and become unburdened in matters that are only of the moment.

God will rescue us from the greatest foe of all--our own desires.

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Two Notes from Today's Reading


Reading In Conversation with God a little series that MamaT recommended last year (and, if I'm not mistaken, again this year). There were two things that struck me. One was the suggestion that we keep in mind over this day the following prayer from Psalm 51:

"A pure heart create for me O Lord, put a steadfast spirit within me."

An excellent choice for bringing ourselves once again into the presence of God int he penitential spirit. It takes but a moment, but it begins the process of "living in the presence of God." More, it prepares our hearts to receive the grace of true repentence which will be spelled out in our confession.

The other point really struck home--it was an incidental, nearly a codicil to a sentence. "He wants us to abandon sin, which makes us grow old and die. . . " This is a powerful insight. The youngest people I know are those who are the most innocent, the most free from sin. This includes people who are truly young in chronological age, but it also includes the "ageless," who are relatively unworn by sin, unlined by age upon age of defying God and having their own way. Sin makes us grow old and it steals our joy. We may not know it at the time because of the momentary pleasure we may have in the commission of many sins. But defying God ages one and jades one, almost to the point of not being able to hear Him any more. Our hearts long for Him and our minds and bodies turn away from Him. Sin destroys youth, it destroys awareness, it destroys the core of who we are--it mottles and scars us and takes away from us the precious life of God.

But we can do something about it. We can confess the sin. We can repudiate it. We may not be suddenly made young again, but we can stop the process of interior death, of growing unawareness, of loss of focus. This is the time and now is the season. Rejoice in this wonderful season the Church has given us and tradition has honored. God speaks to us today as He does every day. Would that we could carry the awareness we cultivate in this Lent into our daily lives outside Lent!

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For those feeling a bit peckish but nevertheless not wishing to curtail their walpoling activities, Hugh Walpole's The Cathedral. May be the wrong Walpole, but read it with a nice bit of stilton or some brie (even very runny brie) and you won't notice the difference.

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Lent Posting

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At this point there is such a wealth of posting on the beginning of Lent that my head threatens to explode, and I shouldn't be adding to the problem. Nevertheless, it is my intent to do so over the next few hours. I've given long, hard thought as to how to balance the normal requirements of the day with the requirements I shall add for Lent, without overbalancing and coming completely undone.

Lent is a constant temptation to me for Instant Sanctity in forty days. Every year I shall achieve union with God, have perfect prayer, and renew all those around me, and basically initiate a fundamental revolution in the Church that will have me a Saint five years after my death. And every year, somehow, I don't know how, I seem to fall short of those exalted goals. This year I either

(1) intend to make it; or, more realistically,

(2) will revise my goals in such a way that what I decide is indeed possible.

That will probably entail less time at the computer (bad news). The good news is that the time will probably be more productive because of the things I am determined to cut out.

For me Lent is a welcome, joyous season of repentence. I love it. It is like taking a really difficult, incredibly rewarding course in college, but this if off-the-scale better. I am called upon to exercise my entire will and desire in the pursuit of the "one thing necessary" and I undertake the commission with both a sense of my own adequacy and the assurance of help through Grace. So the object is to not pile on things until everything becomes unstable and implodes, but also not to let myself off with the light skimming of the surface. This year, as in other years, I want to grow closer to the God who calls to me through this Holy season. Blessings to all, may grace fill you and God guide you to the end He intends.

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On Simplicity

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Richard J. Foster is a Quaker who has quite the ecumenical outlook. He's written dozens of books on faith and spirituality, several of them dedicated to the study of devotional literature. In simplicity he talks at length about one of the most important and most difficult of spiritual disciplines.

from The Freedom of Simplicity
Richard J. Foster

If the first insight into simplicity that we receive from the Old Testament is radical dependence, the second is radical obedience. Perhaps nowhere is this more graphically seen than when Abraham was called upon to surrender his most priceless treasure--his son Isaac. God spoke, Abraham obeyed. No contingency plans, no skirting around the issue, no ifs ands or buts. Through a long painful process Abraham's life had been honed down to one truth--obedience to the voice of Yahweh. This "holy obedience" forms the grid through which the life of simplicity flows.

Radical obedience is possible only when God has our supreme allegiance. . . .

Today we need to hear again that God alone is worthy of our worship and obedience. The idolatry of affluence is rampant. Our greed for more dictates so many of our decisions. Notice how the fourth commandment of the Sabbath rest strikes at the heart of this everlasting itch to get ahead. We find it so very hard to rest when, by working, we can get the jump on everyone else. There is no greater need today than the freedom to lay down the heavy burden of getting ahead.

(from chapter 2)

Following on the theme of several days now--we must make a choice, life or death, heaven or hell, self or Other. "You cannot serve two masters for you will love one and hate the other. . ." The choice is all-or-nothing and that is why it is so difficult. Either we embrace God and His way entirely and experience a radical transformation in our lives, or we reject Him in one way or another. Embracing God is scary because we have been given so many distorted pictures of what that looks like. Strange cultists burn their possessions and go in live in cinder-block communes all for love of Him. Some look for His return in a spaceship. There are any number of distortion to the one truth. And these distortions exist because the worst thing that can happen to the prince of this world is that we should turn our eyes from him toward the One who saves.

But the reality of the matter is that this interior transformation may be propagated to outward things, but the matter of change is our bondage to those things that keep us from being who we are. We do not know our identities until we are identified in Christ. Sin and self-possession keep us away from that possibility.

We cannot begin a life of obedience unless and until we have made that commitment to God, from whom the strength and the grace of obedience flows. That only makes sense--how can we hope to be obedient if we repudiate the source of obedience?

And that ultimate obedience of Abraham is instructive--God does not wish us obedience to destroy us, but rather to strengthen us. He will not take from us all that He has given us, but he will invest it with new meaning. Life will not stop, but the kind of life-in-death we live in bondage to ourselves. The obedience of Abraham teaches us that God does not ask from us the impossible. He may test us, but He will always be with us so long as we trust in Him and rely upon Him.

Simplicity, obedience, charity, meekness, humility, the storehouse of all virtues becomes opened to us by a simple choice. We either choose to unify ourselves to Jesus Christ in as much as we can, relying entirely on grace and His help, or we choose to remain as we are. God will save in due time either way--but it is the difference of a life of Joy in Him or a life of bondage to self with some recourse to Him. It really isn't much of a choice, and yet it is so difficult to make!

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St Blogs Awards

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You all are undoubtedly aware of the Awards vote in progress. I would like to thank CyberCatholics for the wonderful community service they perform in organizing this. I'm not one for competitions, but as a result of this I have discovered several new and delightful blogs. Go and vote (or not, as you feel led), but whatever you do check out some of the things that you may not even have been aware exist at St. Blogs. What a wonderful treat. (It's how I found the Nuns sledding). Many, many thanks to the people who have gone through all the effort to organize this.

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"Nervous" Melancholic

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Fascinating Medieval Personality quiz found via Trousered Ape

Here's a summary of my results:


You are a "nervous" Melancholic, with an abundance of black bile. Melancholics are characterized by the element of Earth, the season of Autumn, middle-aged adulthood, the color blue, and the characteristics of "Cold" and "Dry." Famous Melancholics include St. John of the Cross, St. John the Divine, St. Francis, and St. Catherine of Siena.

If you were living in the Age of Faith, perfect career choices for you would be contemplative religious, theologian, artist, or writer.

And, having a score of 85%, I suppose I must be one in spades.

More extensively here.

Take the quiz here

What is truly remarkable here is how much more reasonable many of these descriptions sound. Naturally, they are tending to cluster people so individual differences tend to get lost. I mean any group that contains both St. John of the Cross and St. Catherine of Siena, great contemplatives that I would consider at opposite ends of the scale, must perforce be somewhat vague. But I am considerably better inclined to these analyses than I am to most contemporary ones.

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Nuns on Sleds


Utterly wonderful. Check out Moniales et seq. for wonderful photographs. Now this is relishing God's creation.

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Prayerful Lent


Steve Bogner has opened a new blog for the Lenten Season based upon the "little black books" many parishes (including my own) distribute for Lenten Devotions. (In my parish they come in English and Spanish and there is a little purple book for children). Go see.

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"Transgressing the Boundaries"


At once the wittiest, most interesting, and most devastating attack on the excesses of post-modernism. Originally published in a peer-reviewed journal and later revealed as a hoax--I had forgotten how much I enjoyed "Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity" by Alan Sokal. An excerpt follows.

from "Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity"
Alan Sokal

There are many natural scientists, and especially physicists, who continue to reject the notion that the disciplines concerned with social and cultural criticism can have anything to contribute, except perhaps peripherally, to their research. Still less are they receptive to the idea that the very foundations of their worldview must be revised or rebuilt in the light of such criticism. Rather, they cling to the dogma imposed by the long post-Enlightenment hegemony over the Western intellectual outlook, which can be summarized briefly as follows: that there exists an external world, whose properties are independent of any individual human being and indeed of humanity as a whole; that these properties are encoded in ``eternal'' physical laws; and that human beings can obtain reliable, albeit imperfect and tentative, knowledge of these laws by hewing to the ``objective'' procedures and epistemological strictures prescribed by the (so-called) scientific method.

But deep conceptual shifts within twentieth-century science have undermined this Cartesian-Newtonian metaphysics1; revisionist studies in the history and philosophy of science have cast further doubt on its credibility2; and, most recently, feminist and poststructuralist critiques have demystified the substantive content of mainstream Western scientific practice, revealing the ideology of domination concealed behind the façade of ``objectivity''.3 It has thus become increasingly apparent that physical ``reality'', no less than social ``reality'', is at bottom a social and linguistic construct; that scientific ``knowledge", far from being objective, reflects and encodes the dominant ideologies and power relations of the culture that produced it; that the truth claims of science are inherently theory-laden and self-referential; and consequently, that the discourse of the scientific community, for all its undeniable value, cannot assert a privileged epistemological status with respect to counter-hegemonic narratives emanating from dissident or marginalized communities. These themes can be traced, despite some differences of emphasis, in Aronowitz's analysis of the cultural fabric that produced quantum mechanics4; in Ross' discussion of oppositional discourses in post-quantum science5; in Irigaray's and Hayles' exegeses of gender encoding in fluid mechanics6; and in Harding's comprehensive critique of the gender ideology underlying the natural sciences in general and physics in particular.7

Even more amusing was its considerable aftermath, chronicled in part here. Enjoy.

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You may think the title above a joke, but it is not. And I right this in thanks for the kindness of the St. Blog's Community in nominating Flos Carmeli for best devotional blog. Heaven knows, I don't really deserve it--Quenta Nârwenion, Laudem Gloriae, Ever New, and a host of other deserve the recognition far more than I do. But I am very grateful, thank you. And now--on with the post.

While wasting some time indulging a vice acquired at a very young age--the reading of H. P. Lovecraft and materials inspired by him--something odd occurred to me. In the course of reading The Children of Cthulhu, an updating of the old Mythos, I recognized what I saw in these works.

H.P. Lovecraft is great Christian devotional reading because he gives the other side of the coin--what is the Universe without God? In many ways the arguments of H.P. Lovecraft and others in this realm were really the first fruits of modernism and atheism. These fruits were to develop into the nihilists, the absurdists, and ultimately the Post-Modernists. This is not to say that Lovecraft in any way influenced Beckett, Ionesco, or de Man (though some of his attitudes would have found good company in the latter). Rather, they were part of the zeitgeist, the "spirit of the times" that gave rise to these other things.

Why do I say this? Well, Lovecraft himself was a dedicated atheist. Some of his letters suggest some contempt for theism as a whole and for individuals in particular. His vision is of a world in which at any moment there can intrude utter chaos, randomness, and complete disorder. These are figured in the Great Old Ones and in the Elder Gods he conjures up in his prose. The effects of these entities are chaos, madness, and destruction for those who experience them. And yet, while the threat of universal destruction is always suggested or implied, the reality never occurs. Small townships are affected by interbreeding with the spawn of Dagon--a scientific investigation in Antarctica is disrupted by the Great Old Ones. One or two people experience the rising of R'lyeh. But in fact, Lovecraft's visitations of the Great Old Ones affect remarkably few people considering the hideous power and the great might and the eldritch evil that drips off of every page. If we bother to examine Lovecraft closely it appears that the doom visits only some.

I would suggest that these some represent those "brave" enough to cast off the bonds of traditional religion and thought and to walk without God. Lovecraft's visitations are, in fact, the vision of life without God. They spell out Yeats's famous dictum, "Things fall apart, the centre cannot hold/mere anarchy is loosed upon the world." When God slides out of the picture, we slide into the madness of fallen nature. Everything is hostile and potentially deadly--the world is filled with fear and with the things that cause fear. Moreover, life does not make sense. Things intrude that make life a horror, a nightmare, lunacy. There is simply no explanation and so we run from one opiate to another seeking to dull the pain that is living in stark reality.

Now there are those who would contend that theism is a flight from that reality. But I think that theism imposes upon that reality the truth of the matter and begins to sort out that most things do make sense. There is still the intrusion of the uncertain and the insane, but not nearly to the degree that there is without God.

The horrors of Lovecraft are an acute example of writing what you know. Metaphorically, Lovecraft spelled out his horror of the world--a horror, I believe formed from his inability to believe in any connecting order, any system, any Creator.

The perils of atheism are given ample play in the works of Lovecraft and his successors, and they provide a good ground even for the Catholic artist to indulge his or her imagination. What is the world like without an underlying order--when even the law of gravity is view as a hegemonic oppressive construct? (As in the famous pastiche of Post Modernist thought-- Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity)

There is much to be gained by looking into the mirror Lovecraft holds up--do we see our own reflections, or do we see the truth and thus see the the mythos for the mask of anxiety, pain, and unease that it is? God is where you look for Him, even in those places that the authors and artists struggled most assiduously to keep Him out. After all, Art is at last, only an action of co-creation. We cannot do anything that is not already possible--we cannot create ex nihilo and so every inventive work is the artist in collaboration with his God-given talent whether or not the artist wishes to believe it.

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Prayer, as with any foreign language, is built such that fluency comes with practice. Foreign language? you ask. And I say--without a doubt. It is secretly our native tongue, the communication of the deepest part of us to the God who loves us, but when it comes to conscious application--it is completely foreign. Sometimes I think of prayer like my grandmother's recipes. My grandmother made the greatest food around, but if you asked her for a recipe, you were out of luck. She couldn't tell you for anything--in fact, if you asked, she might not even be able to make the thing you asked because you threw up a mental block. But it would eventually go away as she got into her kitchen and fussed around for a while making other things.

Prayer is at once our native tongue that we know so well we cannot tell anyone about it, and it is the hardest exercise in the world when we set our minds to it.

The Rosary is a practice of prayer that leads to a certain fluency, and in some cases a certain glibness or slickness. Some people fire off those Aves with such rapidity that I can hardly wrap my mouth around the first two syllables and they're already done. In church I hear people fire off responses to the Mass as though they were engaged in some sort of race--how much more quickly can I finish before everyone else around me. The practice of prayer, in whatever form you take it, should not lead to greater speed, but if anything, to greater slowness. Prayer is an activity, kind of like bacci in which deliberation and intent and purpose pays off. Not slowness for the sake of slowness, but deliberation for the sake of knowing to whom you speak and about what. Prayer is the ne plus ultra of stopping to smell the roses, because the Rose you are smelling is the archetype of all roses and of all creation.

The practice of prayer leads to fluency in prayer, which leads to deliberation and a focused intent, which leads to contemplation, which, God willing raises the person eventually through God's direct interaction to Divine Union.

But as we saw yesterday, proper prayer requires making a choice. "Choose life or choose death." It requires that we give it our full attention and a good deal of our time. It requires that we be purposeful in our pursuit of it. It requires our complete cooperation with the power of the Holy Spirit, who teaches us how to pray. It requires most of all that we pay attention. Prayer is giving and receiving. But it too often becomes a monologue as we fill the airwaves with our intent. Recall that the command Eli gave to Samuel was not "Listen Lord, your servant is speaking," but to say, "Speak Lord, your servant is listening." And so this flawed teacher of prayer speaks to us through time and directs us to the proper attitude of prayer--speak Lord, your servant is listening.

And just as it takes a while for your ear to become accustomed to the rhythm of a foreign language so that about halfway through that film in French or German, you're suddenly catching a sense of the language and the subtitles become less essential--so it is with prayer. When we start with a will to listen, God will inform our listening so that we will actually hear. It starts slowly and it feels like sifting air, but eventually we will begin to hear through some unknown faculty, precisely what God has for us to hear. And our obedience to this secret hearing is the next step in the fluency of prayer because the act of prayer always is translated to the prayer of action--working God's will in the world in all humility.

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I trouble you once again with insights from Sr. Ruth Burrows.

from Ascent to Love
Sr. Ruth Burrows

We have one dynamism of choice. That dynamism must be controlled, concentrated, otherwise it ceases to be dynamic and is like a worn out battery driving nothing. If we do not know what we really want, if we vacillate, allowing ourselves to be drawn hither and thither, we become enfeebled and our faculty of choice is weakened. We must decide what we really want and concentrate on that. 'The soul whose will is torn between trifles is like water which n ever rises because it is running through an outlet down below.'

Taking a lesson from Aquinas--God is uniate, simple. There is no part of Him that is not integrated with all other parts (in as much as He can be said to have "parts"). This is a very hard lesson. We know the truth of the shema Y'israel--"Know O Israel, the Lord your God, the Lord is One." We know this. But the doctrine of the trinity sometimes clouds our understanding no matter how clearly we state it. Nevertheless, we know it to be true--God is triUNE--three person in union--simple. God is one. Uniate. Simple.

Why make such a big deal about it? Well, if God is uniate, simple, one, then nothing that is not God can be part of Him. That is, until our complete purification either here or in purgatory, we cannot join the God who is One. There can be no union of like with unlike. There is no mystical marriage and the fullness of the beatific vision is impossible. God is One and immovable, we are duple (at least) and duplicitous and must become simple and one to move toward the One.

This is what Sr. Ruth is emphasizing here. Our desire must be one, our heart must be one, our minds must be one, our intent must be one, our actions must be one. We cannot look now at God and now at some created good. Our choice must be singly and wholeheartedly one.

Now, there is not a little fear in this choice. What will happen to my family if my whole attention is devoted to God, to my career, to my life, to my leisure? What will happen to me?

What ideally SHOULD happen if one makes this choice is that "me" drops out of the picture and our joy and delight ever increases in serving God. It is in selflessness that we find the truest definition of self. If all of our being is aligned in wanting the One thing that matters, then we will not be troubled by the old car in the driveway or by wanting filet and eating chicken. We will not be disturbed by the same currents that scatter the rest of the school. We will begin to see eternity and what is present will pass away in RELATIVE importance. That does not mean our family passes out of our mind, but rather in the selflessness we practice we more completely serve our families and those around us. Union with the One does not mean the abandonment of life on Earth, but complete joy in that life and complete service to His ends in it.

The reality is very simple--we can continue to live a life in tension--in a kind of dynamic opposition of created good and Creator. Or we can "Choose Life" as we are commanded:

Deuteronomy 30:19-20

"I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse; therefore choose life, that you and your descendants may live, loving the LORD your God, obeying his voice, and cleaving to him; for that means life to you and length of days, that you may dwell in the land which the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them."

"Cleave to Him." the ancient language used to describe the relationship of marriage where "the two become one." In fact, throughout the Bible we are called to this surrender of marriage, this abandonment of self and immersion in the self as defined by God's vision of us. Cleaving to God is a vision of divine union that promises "length of days." Not length of life, but the "length", if you will, of eternity.

So today and all the days I chance to think about it and particularly through this season of Lent, I must make a constant choice to "Choose life" so that I might begin to live rather than to walk through life. We have but one chance to get it right, but within that chance so many opportunities. "This is the day the Lord has made, let us be glad and rejoice in Him!"

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God's Mysterious Ways

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A source of endless delight and perplexity to me is the way God works through what we say.

This brought me up short again as I was perusing TSO's Spanning the Globe. While it is always delightful to be mentioned (a good reason for avoiding the reading of that particular post) I was stunned to find an excerpt from a piece written here recently.

Stunned because the piece was an attempt, a not very clear or good one I thought, to articulate a truth I have felt in my bones for a long time and which is just beginning to make a kind of sense to me. But there I see a piece of it.

My point here is that we do not know which of our words will strike people and convict them. Our most carefully planned and deliberately calculated arguments may have no sway at all. All of our clever words and our verbal tricks get trotted out and no one pays any attention. But those words of perplexity, of struggle, of attempting to articulate the truth as we see it--those words are authentic in a way we cannot recognize and they will ring true to others. So, we are all in the position of Moses told to speak to Pharoah--we do not have the words. And yet if we speak the words we are given in truth and obedience, we may find hearts moved unexpectedly. I know I was surprised and delighted that somehow something escaped from what I thought a complete muddle.

God works in mysterious ways, His wonders to perform. You do not know through what or to whom God will speak to in your writing.

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Notes on a Key


Go to Notes on a Key and help to keep Tom true to his word and rigorous in his discipline.

Tom has promised to deliver some reflections on the magnificent A Key to the Doctrine of the Eucharist by Abbot Vonier. Available now from Zaccheus Press. Buy a copy and support this worthy endeavor--a company that is set to rival Sophia Press for the quality of books produced. (You can also purchase the book through the Ignatius Press Catalog, but I'm sure the person who runs the press would love to get orders directly!)

And while you're there check out Our Lady and the Church by Hugo Rahner. We need to do all we can to support the worthy endeavors of those preserving the treasures of Catholic Literature and teaching. (Also look at the upcoming books--I'm particularly excited about Dom Marmion's, Christ, The Life of the Soul)

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Blogging and Presumption

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I don't know what drives most people to blog. To make any statement about the matter is simply presumption on my part, in both the positive and negative meanings of that word. It is also presumption for me to think that I have anything new to tell anyone. Ecclesiastes said it thousands of years ago, "There is nothing new under the sun." True.

And yet I blog. As I stated above, I cannot speak for other bloggers nor for their feelings about the form of communication--only for myself.

And when I get to thinking this way, I also begin to think about giving up blogging. (That's not a threat, simply a reality.) At that point I remind myself of why I blog, or why I don't really blog.

True blogging is all about linking and commentary--showing people what you are interested in on the web and commenting on it. Now, it has subsequently developed a great many facets and variations--as many variations as there are people.

My blog is more like an open journal. I write here about the things that concern me most. I try to explain them to myself in a way that makes them new and comprehensible to me. If this is a service to others, I am grateful to God for the inspiration. If not, I am grateful to God for this chance to extend prayer into the blogworld. Because in a very real sense for me, writing is prayer. Writing is the way that I make sense of the world and bypass the interior censor.

So, blogging is presumption. Yes, I thought (note past tense) once again about quitting, but once again I find that there is sufficient reason to blog in what I learn as I write. There is sufficient reason in whatever little praise God may receive through these writings. There is sufficient reason in that while I blog, I do think (most of the time) about God and I do engage in extended prayer. Admittedly, it is merely vocal prayer. But as St. Teresa of Avila noted, vocal prayer devoutly and completely engaged in can lead to or become contemplative prayer. If so, pray for me that it might become so. Then this blog, presumptuous as it is, would have a great purpose for at least one soul.

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Be with him Lord in sickness, and let Him know your closeness.

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Beginning Abandonment

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The beginning of the Ignatian Exercises focuses on the fact that despite how you may feel about yourself God loves you here and now--as you are. You don't need to change a thing to be loved. If you are to receive the fruits of that love, things will need to change.

One of the hardest truths of Christianity is that God loves you as you are. The intellectual truth is not difficult--over and over again in the Bible we are told that God loves us. It is almost the breath of scripture--the enduring, abiding, eternal love of God for His wayward chldren. But it is very difficult for that head truth to trickle down to the heart. Few of us feel loved even if we know that it is true. More importantly, few of us feel lovable (and for those who do, they are often insufferable).

The beginning of abandoment lies in understanding the depth of God's love for us. You cannot abandon or surrender yourself to a disinterested party--that way lies disaster. But how do we begin to internalize the reality of God's love for us?

First, we pay attention. To one who is paying the least attention, every moment of every day is a revelation of God's love--in the beauty of the Earth, in the people who surround us, in the things that happen to us. If we trace over the incidents of our lives to our present day, we will see His hand gently guiding us to the present circumstance. Sometimes, that circumstance does not appear to be of the best--it may seem that God's love fails. But is it His Love, or our acceptance of that love? Is it His love or our choices that too often fail?

The beginning of surrender is to know that we are not lovable, and yet, nevertheless, we are loved. This central truth of Christianity must become part of us indelibly before we can become whole. The beginning of surrender is to look at the One who loves you and to acknowledge that you are loved.

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About this Archive

This page is an archive of entries from February 2005 listed from newest to oldest.

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