Steven Riddle: July 2002 Archives

My, What a BlogDay But


But I still have several other issues to develop. More tomorrow, but the final word of the day is in response to a comment by TS regarding John Updike.

I find Updike's work exceedingly uneven. I believe he is critically overvalued (and I know Tom Wolfe would agree). And I have to admit to always having been mystified by his characterization as a "Christian Novelist." All I have been able to conclude is that perhaps Mr. Updike belongs to one of the more "progressive" branches of mainline protestant churches. However, I don't spend much time puzzling over it as my rule of life is "Remove the beam in your own eye before you go after the mote in your brother's." But I do admit to being somewhat puzzled.

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Below, I quote with permission, a portion of an e-mail received from a reader. This will serve as a wonderful springboard to ask the essential questions.

I'm shocked that no one has yet mentioned James Joyce, not only the greatest Catholic writer of the 20th C, but, in my estimation, the greatest writer of the century, period. Despite Joyce's own ambivalent attitude toward the Church, his work, especially A Portrait of the Artist As A Young Man and Ulysses, are thoroughly saturated with the Irish Catholicism in which he was raised, and with the Jesuit scholarliness in which he was educated. If one were to excise everything Catholic from Joyce's books, there would be almost nothing left.

Certainly Joyce's novels are not "Catholic" in the sense that they are didactic or apologetic, but, as Anthony Burgess pointed out in his study of Joyce (entitled Rejoyce), no good and faithful Catholic ever lost his faith by reading Joyce. Thomas Merton even stated in his Seven Story Mountain that the sermon on Hell in A Portrait was among the influences that led him to Catholicism, though Joyce obviously did not intend that sort of response.

Sure Joyce is irreverent, joking, and sometimes even downright scathing in his attitude toward the Church. Some may find his humor regarding the Church and its beliefs and rituals as offensive, but as Joyce himself said, "The Church was built on a pun" (Tu es Petrus . . . etc.).

Despite his ambivalence and attempts by some critic to make him out to have been agnostic or even atheist, I always get the sense that Joyce, in his own odd way, loved and respected the Church more than he would ever have admitted. How can one not love a guy whose response to being asked whether he had become a Protestant was to say that he did not give up a
rational and coherent absurdity in order to embrace an irrational and incoherent absurdity, and that he had simply lost his faith, not his reason? As a Catholic, I certainly disagree with his describing the Faith as "an absurdity", but one must admit, the quote is delicious, and more scathing toward Protestantism than Catholicism. It is perhaps also worth mentioning that Palestrina was Joyce's favorite composers, and that he used to walk the streets of Zurich humming the Missa Papa Marcelli.

The key problem here, I think, is that one must define more clearly what one means by "Catholic novel". Does the author have to be an orthodox, practising Catholic to qualify? What if the author is a lapsed Catholic, or went from being a lapsed Catholic to merely being a "bad Catholic"?

Does the novel itself have to be Catholic in a didactic, apologetic sense, i.e. does it have to seek consciously to promote the Faith, perhaps even at the expense of aesthetic and literary quality? Or does the novel just have to be "Catholic" in the sense that Catholicism is a prominent element of the cultural and religious milieu in which the action takes place? What if the author is, like Umberto Eco, a baptised Catholic who is now a self-described agnostic, but who wrote a fabulous Catholic book like The Name of the Rose?

Though certainly not an exercise in apologetics, reading The Name of The Rose will not lead one to embrace Eco's own agnosticism, and it provides a lot of interesting Mediaeval lacunae to boot. What about books by non-Catholic writers, who nonetheless depict the Faith and the Church in a sympathetic and intelligent manner?

Answering these questions will, I think, make it easier to compile a list of the "Greatest Catholic Novels of the 20th Century".

Profound thanks DW for permission to quote!

There's a ton of stuff to address here. Let me start by excerpting the note I return in re: Joyce (for whom I have the most profound respect as a writer--so much so that I have dared Finnegan's Wake three times, and plan several more sojourns, God willing, before I die.

On Joyce, I suppose that his placement on the now defunct Index may have been a key determinant in many not seeing him as a progenitor of the great Catholic novel. While he was grounded in Catholicism, his outlook was more that of Eliot in J. Alfred Prufrock. While perhaps not so nihilistic as his secretary (the redoubtable Samuel Beckett) I would argue that if one were to go through the Syllabus of Errors one would be likely to see that Joyce subscribed to a great many of them, and indeed probably helped in a literary sense to define some of them.

While I have enormous respect and affection for Joyce,
I would never place his novels in the ranks of great
Catholic novels. The themes are really quite
different from those that seem to define most Catholic
novels, and as you pointed out, he was and wore very
well the facade of Agnostic. The whole "Telemachus"
section of "Ulysses" is highly suggestive of a certain
contempt in which he held the church, and his somewhat
unusual (for the time) relationship with Nora tended
to underline that.

So I've addressed the Joyce issue (sort of). But the question remains, what defines a "catholic novel." Before I compose any more, I'd like to open the question up to thoughts and responses. Please tell me what you think defines the Catholic Novel.

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Evangelizing the Culture


Evangelizing the Culture

Once again Video Meliora provides food for thought. (Yes, I will get around to the promised post on the Catholic Novel, just be patient, I'm creeping up on it.--O wait, you will already have read it by the time you get to this point on the page--oops!)

Anyway, TS at Video says,

I suppose I am still thinking along the lines of Amy Welborn's question of how to evangelize the culture and how art could play a role.

And that's what I want to address. Art is art--sometimes it affects people, sometimes it does not. You could read "A Good Man is Hard to Find" and not get any impression whatsoever of grace. In fact, my first several trips through Flannery O'Connor, I missed, as my good friend would say, "All the novelistic signposts." Art, it seems to me, is for preaching to the converted--something which must be done, but which makes more sense when you're on the inside.

If we are to evangelize the culture, it seems to me we must do so first and foremost by example. I have a young child at home. Those of you with young children know that you can talk until you turn blue in the face, but the child is going to do what he sees you do. Our culture is much the same. You can preach, you can yell, you can jump up and down until you turn blue in the face, but if you are not living a life of holiness, nothing you say will take root.

Seems to me that a wise Man once said, "Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things will be added unto you." In other words, to evangelize we must first and foremost change our own lives. We must abandon the common recreations of the culture that detract from our thoughts of God, and we must live a life of such peace and beauty in the presence of God that everyone around us says, "I've gotta have that!"

Prayer and lifestyle are our primary evangelical tools. Unless and Until we turn around our own lives--the examples shown to others, we waste our time evangelizing. I always wondered what beet-faced bible thumpers thought they were doing. You may effect a conversion, but like the conversion experienced by Stephen Daedalus after the "fire and brimstone" sermon, it will be short lived. Conversions through anger, fear, or any of a myriad of emotions, are like the seed that lands in shallow soil. It is the soil of a moment and once the moment fades, the roots of the plant dry up and faith vanishes.

True conversion, true evangelization occurs when everyone can see the difference in your own life. When you are having fun with your wife and child so that you do not retreat to the questionable solace of "Sex in the City" or other programs I am appalled to discover many parishioners of St. Blogs seem to revel in. Oh well, perhaps I am missing out and I have too many of my own skeletons rattling about to cast stones.

St. John of the Cross tells us that the key to approaching God is detachment from all worldly things that keep us from Him. To my mind, this detachment is the beginning of evangelization. Through it we obtain a certain measure of peace and calm and become a center of quiet in a world full of disturbing eddies.

In honor of St. Ignatius Loyola, we should consider his instructions from the beginning of The Spiritual Exercises

The other things on the face of the earth are created for man to help him in attaining the end for which he is created.

Hence, man is to make use of them in as far as they help him in the attainment of his end, and he must rid himself of them in as far as they prove a hindrance to him. (p. 12)

[Taken from The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola ed. by Louis J. Puhl. Loyola University Press.]

After all of this, I guess part of my answer is that we evangelize the culture one person at a time through personal holiness, prayer, and example.

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In Honor of the


In Honor of the Good Lady Mentioned Below

Spoiler warning: yes, for those who have not read it nor heard Loreena McKennit's magnificent rendition, I'm giving away the climax of the poem:

Out flew the web and floated wide;
The mirror crack'd from side to side;
"The curse is come upon me," cried
The Lady of Shalott.

There, now don't you want to go and read the whole thing? Try here. I send you to the top of the Tennyson portion so you can choose the 1832 OR the 1842 version--what excitement!

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Well, What Would You Expect. . .


from someone with the exquisite good taste to fashion herself "The Lady of Shalott?" This comes from
a very amusing and interesting post
at her site. Most particularly, please note the following:

I've always circulated freely among the right and the left, and except for a few unhappy months in a wretched Catholic homeschooling group that was as rigid as a Stalinist reading group, never received any flack from anyone about any of my "contradictory" activities.

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Not Subject to Disputation


To fall back on the language of my fundamentalist protestant days, I was profoundly moved and convicted by this wonderful post at the Disputations site.

I am convinced that what he says is probably true, but to expose a dark side of my prayer life, I regard the rosary as a onerous penance--doing a single decade is, for me, like trampling through a lake of liquid lead. Others I know have enormous transports of joy, or whiz through fifteen decades without even knowing they prayed. But for me I find no such "surcease of sorrow" in it. Nevertheless, it is good to do penance as well. I prefer other Marian devotions--the prayer of St. Louis de Montfort, and the Consecration to Our Lady of Mount Carmel. But, as with all things, the Lord will work with me on this as well, and it will be as He wills. (Praise Him for that!)

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Catholic or Not?


Before the opportunity slips by, I did want to comment on a notion presented in Video Meliora. The blogmaster there writes (TS, please pardon me quoting so much):

I recall a convert friend who read Percy's "Love in the Ruins" totally differently after he converted and "Love in the Ruins" had absolutely no part in the conversion. Percy was a sort of Christian existentialist, which seems to me almost a contradiction in terms. Don't get me wrong, I love reading Percy, and am deeply appreciative that someone so talented was also a believer - but I wonder how truly "Catholic" his novels can be considered when an agnostic sees them in sync with his/her worldview. I realize the purpose of art is not to proselytize. But this is sort of personal to me since I have agnostic friends who could seemingly be reached by art - they are hugely turned off by a more direct approach - but art that to me is transcendent to them, well...

Now, we'll get to some of this when we start talking about what makes a Catholic novel. For the moment, however, it serves simply to say that the merit of a work, or its Catholicity, cannot necessarily be judged by the misinterpretation, or valid interpretation outside of the author's intent applied by the reader. Percy's work is no less Catholic because it can be read and enjoyed by someone outside the fold than say the Bible is because atheists enjoy the poetry of Song of Songs or the Psalms. The interpretation of the work is not the work itself and because of the infinite mutability of the language someone can force any work into the procrustean bed of interpretation and make of it what they wish. This is not to say that we cannot communicate (as some deconstructionist critics would have it). It is to say that by participating in the act of creation,. we join with the creator and are stuck with the Creator's rules, which include such annoying things as free will and conscience. We do not create ex nihilo but out of our fallenness and so the work is not perfect and does not convey perfectly our sense of things. However, it does not interefere with the work being Catholic or non-Catholic, supporting Christian values or tearing them down.

It works also in the opposite way. For example the soaring poetry of Percy Shelley is penned by an atheist, and yet much of it can be read and interpreted in a Christian context, a point no doubt vexing to Shelley himself.

More on this later, as we discuss the Catholic Novel, but I think this makes a start. Thanks TS for the provocative thoughts.

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Now it's time to go to work, so later, perhaps around lunchtime, I'll be addressing this question, which came up in some correspondence. I find the question provocative and profound.

Also, quote du jour, and perhaps a poem it there's time. You lose so much when you're up 15 minutes later than usual!

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Rules of Engagement


I don't have much time this morning before work, so I shall be brief and hope I can return to other subjects later today.

I wanted to say something about communications to this site. I have decided not to follow the lead of many sites. Whatever is written to me in e-mail will remain private unless and until the author gives me permission to make such things public. My reasoning is as follows: I provide comment spaces here, where remarks meant for all can be made. People who wish to make remarks intended to foster discussion can use this mechanism. If they wish, they can remain anonymous in their comments. However, just as if someone sent a letter to me, unless they indicate that it can be shared with the world at large, to my mind it sets aside etiquette in the name of expedience. I do not fault the choices others have made, they have clearly indicated their preference and people responding to such sites know the rules beforehand. But I prefer to keep public and private worlds clearly separated. Therefore, if you send me a note, please indicate that you do not mind me sharing it with the world. If you do not do so, and I find something in it that all and sundry might profit from, I may paraphrase and attribute it to an anonymous source, but I will not use your words or your name.

I guess that's a long-winded way of saying--Comments are public, e-mails are private unless you indicate a willingness to share.

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Response to Chesterton


My comments have temporarily vanished as Haloscan is attending to their servers, but I did read a comment from someone this afternoon questioning me as to why I thought Chesterton's writing was flawed.

Part of it is subjective, but part, I think objective. Chesterton tends to hyperbole and overwriting at times to make his point. In some cases his metaphors and his language just don't seem to be under control. There are ocassionally lengthy passages of material that just pall. Also, some of what he writes is very heavy handed, seemingly without a strong sense of the language. I know this is not true because most of what he writes does reflect both control and moderation. I think sometimes the journalist with deadlines overtakes the inner writer and clubs him into silence.

As I am reading I will try to find bits that illustrate what I'm talking about. I suspect that I won't find them in Heretics but I know that I have read them both in the novels and some of the essays. I'll attempt to clarify. Thanks for bringing up the point.

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Prayers from Other Places I


I hesitate to call these prayers of the Eastern Church, but these wonderful treasures on Dylan Six-Eighteen's site here and here should provide days of reflection, meditation, and food for thought. A line I shall treasure

"Hail, O little space that held within it Him whom the world cannot contain! "

These two pieces are going into my personal prayer book. Thanks Dylan!

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It has taken me a long time to warm up to Chesterton. For me his writing flaws often got in the way of some of the really superb things he had to say. However, I am now going through Heretics for the umpteenth time, this time with some thought that I might actually make it through. In the course of reading I happened upon this wonderful little quote from Chapter 1.

The man who is perpetually thinking of whether this race or that race is strong, of whether this cause or that cause is promising, is the man who will never believe in anything long enough to make it succeed. The opportunist politician is like a man who should abandon billiards because he was beaten at billiards, and abandon golf because he was beaten at golf. There is nothing which is so weak for working purposes as this enormous importance attached to immediate victory. There is nothing that fails like success.

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Protestant Divines


Protestant Divines

I never fail to be amazed and amused at the various protestant divines and protestants themselves, who while railing at the Catholic Church, continually rediscover much of what had been in her treasury for millenia. I do not know that Richard Baxter did much, if any, railing. But, I share below some excerpts from a slightly modernized sermon-- "How to Spend the Day with God"

Do not let worthless recreations, television, idle talk, unprofitable company, or sleep rob you of your precious time.

Whatever you are doing, in company or alone, do it all to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31). Otherwise, it is unacceptable to God.

Remember every day the special duties of various relationships: whether as husbands, wives, children, masters, servants, pastors, people, magistrates, subjects.

Remember every relationship has its special duty and its advantage for the doing of some good. God requires your faithfulness in this matter as well as in any other duty.

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Some Replies


Some Replies
Dylan writes in comments below, "Love in the Ruins rocks -- took me just a single 10-hour sitting to read it entirely for the first time." And I have to agree. But I need to say as well that it is apparently quite disorienting for a great many people. In my Catholic Book group the majority of people simply said, "Huh?" And that can be a reaction to it. However, approached properly and on Percy's grounds, it is a wryly amusing, sometimes outright funny story of an alcoholic psychiatrist and philanderer who develops a device to "measure the human soul." Solidly based in Aquinas, the story unfolds in a "world gone mad." Or is it in the head of the psychiatrist gone mad? You need to read it to find out.

In reaction to my summer reading list Dylan offered that he was reading Death on a Friday Afternoon I have read this over the past two years as a sort of lenten exercise. Neuhaus has been, I think unjustly, accused of being a universalist. He defends his arguments quiet ably here. For those intrigued by the sound of the book, and excerpt is available here.

I find the book stirring and moving and convicting. Because I tend to share Fr. Neuhaus's convictions in this matter, I saw little problem with the argument in question; however, I also acknowledge that I stand on the strength of convictions, of the arguments of others, and on hope--not necessarily on a grounded, reasoned argument.

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Ten of the Best Catholic

An intrepid soul decided to set foot in that extraordinarily dangerous territory of "Best of" lists, and so, naturally opened himself up to the billions of us who wish to make adjustments, emendations, corrections, annotations, revisions, and generally mess the whole thing up. So here's at least my two cents.

Four of the books Diary of a Country Priest, Vipers Tangle (a.k.a. Knot of Vipers and Nest of Vipers), Silence(not "The Silence" as noted in the article) and The Violent Bear it Away can be endorsed without even a hint of demurral. The choices for the Graham Greene and the Walker Percy seem idiosyncratic . Why Brighton Rock, while admittedly quite good over the three greats ( End of the Affair, Heart of the Matter, Power and the Glory? And while The Moviegoer is indeed quite a good novel, I think I would be more inclined to suggest Love in the Ruins. I must pause to note that many in my Catholic Reading group were simply puzzled by Percy's book, wondering why so many thought it great.

I have not read and cannot comment upon Judith Hearne or The Accident. I have mixed feelings about Brideshead Revisited and perhaps I need to revisit it. The final choice, Memento Mori, while a very fine novel, strikes me as an odd choice for a best list. It is very difficult to pull much Catholic from the novel, and it does tend to stump most people who read it and try to figure out what makes it particularly "Catholic."

Had I been making the same list, I suppose it would like something like this:

Flannery O'Connor: Oh, why try to pick, just read her entire opus and count it as one. I mean it doesn't amount to the length of a single Tom Clancy novel and you get a lot more out of it.

Graham Greene: Probably The Heart of the Matter read it next to Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness and V. S. Naipaul's A Bend in the River.

George Bernanos Diary of a Country Priest

Franz Werfel The Song of Bernadette I don't know if this really belongs, being by someone Jewish, but I think it powerful and influential.

Shusaku Endo Silence

Walker Percy Love in the Ruins

Torgny Lindgren The Way of a Serpent

Francois MauriacViper's Tangle (Although Woman of the Pharisees and Therese are also very fine.

Sigrid Undset Kristin Lavransdatter, though I must admit, this suffers from its present translation.

And the following two are books that have haunted me and suggested their way onto the list--whether they deserve it or not is difficult to say--I suppose only time will tell.

Ron Hansen Marriette in Ecstasy or Atticus.

Undoubtedly there are a great many others that must be neglected by perusing this list. For example, one might site the extraordinary and beautiful science fiction novels A Canticle for Leibowitz (Walter Miller Jr.) and A Case of Conscience, Black Easter, and The Day after Judgment by James Blish.

Please feel free to wrangle, disagree, add, subtract, multiply, or divide. I look for works that I have not yet read! If you'd like more information about any, please ask, I'd be happy to write at greater length. (As if you couldn't tell!)

One thing I ask please--No Andrew Greeley books!

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For St. Martha's Day


A Kipling fan, I am not. I don't despise his stuff, but was never really interested in his poetry and most of his novels were colored by a political intelligence I do not share nor have much patience with. While the poem that follows suggests some of this, it does seem quite a nice bit for St. Martha's Day.

from "The Sons of Martha"
R. Kipling

The Sons of Mary seldom bother,
for they have inherited that good part;
But the Sons of Martha favor their Mother
of the careful soul and the troubled heart.
And because she lost her temper once,
and because she was rude to the Lord her Guest,
Her Sons must wait upon Mary's Sons,
world without end, reprieve, or rest.

It is their care in all the ages
to take the buffet and cushion the shock.
It is their care that the gear engages;
it is their care that the switches lock.
It is their care that the wheels run truly;
it is their care to embark and entrain,
Tally, transport, and deliver duly
the Sons of Mary by land and main.

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Poet for Today: Richard Crashaw


Richard Crashaw was a 17th century poet, who with George Herbert, Henry Vaughn, and John Donne produced some of the most splendid devotional poetry of their era. (I leave Milton out, because while he produced some devotional poetry, it is hardly his best work nor the work for which he is best known). Crashaw died at the age of 36 in 1649, leaving behind a volume of poetry that must include one of the earliest tributes in English to St. Teresa of Avila. But for today, here's a less formidable (but no less lovely) work:


On the Water of our Lord's Baptism.
EACH blest drop on each blest limb,
Is wash't itself, in washing Him :
'Tis a gem while it stays here ;
While it falls hence 'tis a tear.

What I find most appealing in this very short piece is the notion that through the Baptism of Jesus, water itself was purified. What a wonderful image you could have of a stream flowing out into the world, washing all clean, removing from it the stains of sin, cleansing nature itself. For more of Crashaw's poetry, you might wish to start by visiting The Luminarium

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Dolan's Image:Jesus as a Baby


Dolan's Image:Jesus as a Baby

I Hope This Is Indicative of What We Can Expect from Milwaukee!"

The newly appointed Bishop of Milwaukee, Timothy Dolan, delivered a catechesis on Reconciliation to the WYD crowd. Among the remarks quoted:

"God comes as a baby, because babies are irresistible," Dolan said. "And God wants us to take him up and welcome him into our arms like a baby."

While the image is an inverse of St. Therese of Lisieux's "Elevator to God," it is, nevertheless an extremely appealing image. And we should recall that St. Therese was St. Therese of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face.

At a shrine near where I live (Mary, Queen of the Universe) there are several statues that show the Child Jesus. One of the most touching is Jesus at age 3 or 4 running toward his Mother's open arms. How could you not pick up such a child and carry him with you? Is there anything more endearing than a child telling you, "I love you"? I suppose this is why the image appeals to me. Often enough we are told that Jesus loves each of us, and sometimes, particularly as a male in society, that is a difficult message to hear. But what father cannot hear that message from their own child? So if we take Jesus up as a baby, as a toddler, as a child, we still have the Son of God, we still have our Brother and our Lord. But perhaps we have an image that can help foster a greater intimacy.

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And Now My Meae Culpae


And Now My Meae Culpae
OR, why I don't often comment on events and people

Every time, every single time, I'm given some reminder. Here's today's--from St. John of the Cross, Sayings of Light and Love

62. Because the virtues you have in mind do not shine in your neighbor, do not think that your neighbor will not be precious in God's sight for reasons that you have not in mind.

69. You will without labor subject the nations and bring things to serve you if you forget them and yourself as well.

109. Wisdom enters through love, silence, and mortification. It is great wisdom to know how to be silent and to look at neither the remarks, nor the deeds, nor the lives of others.

116. The entire world is not worthy of a human being's thought, for this belongs to God alone; any thought, therefore, not centered on God is stolen from him.

118. Ignoring the imperfections of others, preserving silence and a continual communion with God will eradicate great imperfections from the soul and make it the possessor of great virtues.

Oh well, caught and convicted again! It's a good thing I have a great attorney and advocate in Jesus Christ!

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Gary Wills Redux


Gary Wills Redux

I know that I am coming in late on this, but I normally don't like to comment much on controversy--I find it makes me exceedingly irritable and not particularly charitable. However, I happened on this article over at Emily Stimpson's blog and was so profoundly annoyed by some of Mr. Wills's comments that I needed to note at least one glaring stupidity. This quote, ". . . and it's also obvious that loyalty to the papacy has been made the test of what makes you a Catholic," must stand as the archicon of idiocy. Whether or not Mr. Wills cares for the point, loyalty to the Pope and to his teachings is, in fact, part of what distinguishes Catholics from every other faith. I will grant that it is not the entirety of the difference; however, if you have the entire doctrine of the Catholic Church without loyalty to the Pope, you are either Anglican of some variety or some other faith--you simply are not Catholic. The Catholic Church, founded by Jesus Christ upon the Rock (St. Peter) is defined by having a single head who speaks with authority for the whole body. Remove the head, and you don't have a church; you have a headless body. Now, how Wills, a purportedly intelligent man, can come up with such a profound piece of religious blinkered thinking, I don't care to speculate. But I do say, that without loyalty to Rome and to the Pope, you cannot be Catholic.

I will go further to say that surely in the course of your investigations, you may come upon things that don't fit right, that you have doubts about. I think doubts offer an opportunity for growth, if approached properly. Where there is doubt, it is best to approach with the idea of finding the truth, not supporting an agenda. Mr. Wills seems to have cast this aside. As with many supposedly informed and intelligent modernists, he has be blindsided by the world and secular society into believing that his vision of the Church is indeed the church. If you stop to consider (after you get over the aggravation) this is sad situation, one requiring more prayer than fury. People who belong to this distorted church miss the fullness of the faith. They have mixed their faith with water--or unfortunately as with Israel entering the land of Canaan, they have sullied their practice with the idols of the Land of Milk and Honey. They do enormous damage to themselves and to those around them without realizing what they wreak.

I trust God in His providential wisdom and great mercy will deal kindly with those who have so wandered. Jesus promised to leave the 99 and go off in search of the single strayed sheep. For those who have strayed, like Mr. Wills and others, I pray merely that he is one brought back into the fold by the great caring of Incarnate Love. I also pray for myself and others incidentally affected by Mr. Wills that our momentary irritation and annoyance does not stray off into judgment. I'm sure that it shall not, but my assurance comes (paradoxically) from my confidence in prayers being answered.

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My Summer Reading List


Unlike Mr. Claybourn, no one has expressed the slightest interest in what I'm reading this summer. But I am incredibly interested in what other people are reading and so as a service for those too timid to ask, I offer you my reading history and prognosis (in the strictly nonmedical sense of that word. Though, I suppose I should share with you a list of symptoms of reading addiction.)

At present I am juggling The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Brothers Karamazov, The House of the Seven Gables, The Ascent of Mount Carmel, and The Sayings of Light and Love. I feel impelled to note, lest accusations of pretentiousness be hurled--I am reading the Dostoevsky and Hawthorne and have been reading them for months with little progress. They comprise a sort of "background reading" that I hope to move forward with ASAP. Twain is for the reading group that I belong to, and John of the Cross is to refresh my acquaintance before I attempt to guide an entire group of Carmelites through his work. Now, on the things I am reading on my own for my own purposes (though I suppose all of the above qualify in one way or another), I have Dwight Longenecker's delightful St. Benedict and St. Therese: The Little Rule and the Little Way; Joseph Ellis's wonderful concise history Founding Brothers , a title not entirely accurate as one of the segments in the book deals with John Adams and his Wife Abigail (one of the great true love stories of all time); Sister Miriam Pollard's truly wonderful book of poetry Neither Be Afraid; and 1.5 million blog messages per day.

On the just finished and highly recommended front, John Simon's intricate and fascinating account of the conflict between Jefferson and Marshall, which, for better or worse, ended up defining the nation as it stands now, What Kind of Nation. I cannot say enough good about this truly detailed and fascinating excursion into the past; however, it does tend to aggravate me seriously as I am not a proponent of much of what our modern Court system has inflicted on society, and its ability to do so stems from this time and the apparently innocuous decision of Marbury v. Madison. I also just finished Michael Casey's book on humility, A Guide to Living in the Truth. I hope to write more extensively about these latter two in a few days. Further, I will lengthen the list and modify the recommendations list so that everyone can peruse at their leisure.

A question--what does everyone thing about Amazon Associateships. I tend to be somewhat green in this matter, preferring, whenever possible and reasonable, to give my patronage to smaller, local dealers. However, for purposes of reference here, that seems a difficult route. Please advise if you have strong opinions one way or the other. That in itself should make for interesting reading.

On the horizon, I would like to read Torgny Lindgren's epic of the plague Light. Once again, I hope to write a good deal more about Mr. Lindgren in the future. Also on the list is the 1895 (?) version of Portrait of a Lady. As with my films, I prefer the original, unreedited versions of classic works. I'm told that the 1914 New York edition is different in substantive ways. James is a taste that has come to me only recently. I spent quite a while wandering through the labyrinth entitled The Golden Bowl. When I finished, I was stunned to discover that I had encountered an artist who had forced me to grow, and though while reading it I had wondered at whether I was enjoying it, I find that reflecting upon the experience has been tremendously fruitful and wonderful. James is an author best read for the journey, not the destination. Many in this Tom Clancy and John Grisham world might be quite disappointed in the "story" such as it is of James's masterpiece, but it is a wonderful work that lives on in the imagination, forcing multiple rethinkings and reconsiderations. I know that I have come no where near beginning to tap its wonderful depths. And so, I now confess myself a Henry James fan.

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Spirits that Speak


Spirits that Speak

I want to thank the author of Summa Contra Mundum for his cogent exposition of the faults of democracy in deciding key church teachings. While there is certainly a place for majority opinion and democratic rule in the "filigree" of the faith, the core of the faith should not and must not go with anything approaching a majority opinion. In fact, the core of the faith should be central in forming majority opinion. The truly faithful should receive what is taught and assume it into their own lives.

Some time ago, I was arrogant enough to assume that a person of some 30 or 40 years on earth was sufficiently knowledgable to challenge the authority of a Church with 2000 years of teaching and the guidance of the Holy Spirit. I recall the occasion precisely. Pope John Paul II had just released the encyclical "Veritatis Splendor" and I was hearing all sorts of the usual media nonsense regarding how this was a blow against all right-thinking church members, blah, blah, blah. Unfortunately, at that time, I believed it. I said to some close friends that if what the media announced was true, I was obliged to leave the Catholic Church and join the only other Church that had legitimate claim to descend from Jesus Christ Himself (in my mind, the Orthodox faith--but I don't wish to argue this point). My friend, being much cooler-headed about this matter pointed out how the media exaggerated everything and constantly made a mess of anything dealing with the church. She suggested that I actually read the encyclical and decide. I hadn't realized that ordinary people had access to these documents in any reasonable way. She got me a copy of "Veritatis Splendor" and it the course of my reading I was convicted by the Holy Spirit of the hubris I had been spouting for years.

Such an experience makes it very difficult for me to take seriously anyone who is in dissent about essential Church teachings. I say to myself, "60 years vs. 2000 years and the Holy Spirit--no contest."

Thanks again to the wonderful blogwriter who gave me this point of departure!

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What Blogs to Read and Why II


Mr. Claybourn, in a comment on the previous post, quite rightly points out that I have misread him. I apologize as the intent was not to set up a straw man, and I certainly did not mean to impugn Mr. Claybourn's taste. I think it is simply the innate streak in me that I must work to conquer. I have the "If it's popular, it is suspect" elitist bug that I would do well once and for all to exorcise. Mr. Claybourn's actual statement was that "most readers are interested in what is most popular," which, of course, in no way implies that everyone wants to rush over and read it. However, he does say the "if everyone is reading a certain blog, it probably has something worth reading." This statement sets off the "Lemming " alert in my brain--again a congenital defect I must confess. The contention is not necessarily true and this is bourne out by a hideously long list of best-sellers starting with Grace Metalious and progressing through Harold Robbins, Jacqueline Susann, and Sidney Sheldon. If everyone is reading it, it may simply be popular. While that is really quite all right, it doesn't necessarily make it worth reading.

I belabor the point.

The main thrust of this is that I must apologize for misrepresenting Mr. Claybourn's thought and intent and can only plead that it was perhaps with work-weary eyes and brain that I managed to misconstrue what is actually written. My apologies. However, I do contend that all examples were my own and not designed to reflect Mr. Claybourn's thought at all. If these examples represent what is "popular" then the point stands; however, attribute all statements to my own thought, not to Mr. Claybourn. And moreover, I thank him for taking the time to visit and discover. Thank you, I appreciate the time you took to come here and comment!

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What Blogs to Read and Why


Mr. Claybourn intimates--no, in fact he says outright--that readers wish to read the most popular blogs. While that may be true for many, I think many blog readers are rather selective in what they wish to read and it may have little to do with how popular the blog is. For example, I like intelligent commentary about literature, art, and religion. When I find a site that has such things I am likely to follow the links on that site to find others in a similar vein. While that may cause me to cruise by some fairly well-traveled sites, it also sends me to outposts along the way that are less populated, but nonetheless interesting. Popularity, in fact, is more likely to be a detriment than an attraction, if, in fact there is merely an endless rehash and commentary on "news of the day," which, we must remind ourselves, is not the Good News. Smart commentators can always bring something out of the endless drivel that the media wish us to believe is important.

I guess I would contend that there are some subjects that are more likely to attract a large population than others, but popularity does not speak of the quality of such sites. However, I have visited some sites that may be rarely seen by much of the blogging world, but the quality of the insight, thought, and writing is ultimately the persuasive factor in returning to those sites. So I find myself in respectful disagreement with Mr. Claybourn. When I am reading I don't want the most popular, I want the best!

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How many of us have asked ourselves this question? How often have we racked our brains or searched through innumerable articles or combed scholarly volumes for the answer?

Perhaps I am not terribly original in my answer, but it seems to me that if you know and understand your faith, the best translation of the Bible is the one that you read the most. The best translation is the one that inspires you to read more. If you are drawn to spend time with your Bible because you understand it well, then that is the best translation. I knew once of a Jesuit who highly recommended to most readers The Good News Bible which amounts to a paraphrase. But in that Bible stories sound like stories, the language is somewhat loose and natural. It is not to my taste, but I can see how many would benefit from it.

If you spend time studying, the best Bible for you may be one with lots and lots of notes. If not, you may prefer a stripped-down volume with only the occasional marginal note.

"Ignorance of the Bible is ignorance of Christ." (A quote of St. Jerome[?]). Intimacy with the Bible is not intimacy with Christ, but, it at least opens the door.

My personal favorite Bible, perhaps predictably, is the King James Bible. Yes, I know that it is not a "Catholic" translation, and I am well aware of some of the bias that may have gone into translating. I know that the very best texts were perhaps not used. But all of that is pushed aside when I consider the magnificence of:

"Behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which shall be to all people. For unto us is born this day in the City of David a savior which is Christ the Lord." (Luke 2:10-11)

Even the RSV, another favorite for different purposes manages to turn this magnificent announcement into a rhythmless recital of "just the facts",

"For behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people; for to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord." (Luke 2:10-11)

The language may be more accurate, and it may work better for many to whom the "floweriness" of the King James is a barrier.

Another example,

KJV "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life." (John 3: 16)

Compare that to the straightforward, but hardly sparkling,

RSV "For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life." (John 3:16)

Just one comparison--look at the words meaning "life forever." One is "eternal," a very workmanlike, practical term. The other, "everlasting," says pretty much the same thing, but rings in a way that "eternal" does not.

Now, it should be understood that I am not arguing that everyone should read the King James Version. I must state emphatically that I do not believe this is practical for most people in the 21st century. Terms have changed mean, archaic terms that look like other terms could be confusing (an and wist spring to mind). In the Pauline letters, where the thought is nearly impenetrable to someone accessing the best of modern scholarship, the language makes them nearly opaque. (However I can't resist one of my favorite beautiful lines, "For now we see as in a glass darkly...." It's hard to be enthusiastic enough about that wonderful line.) So for all intents and purposes the KJV is all but inaccessible to many modern readers.

I do not argue for any version in preference to any other (except for myself). I do argue that Catholics should immerse themselves in the Bible, study it, read it, enjoy it, revel in it, think about it, use it as a staple for prayer. The Bible is the continuous and living love-letter that God wrote to His People. And writing it He used His most beloved Word. Therefore, whatever Bible we should use, use it we should! Read the Bible faithfully, lovingly, and in accord with the teachings of the Holy Catholic Church. You will discover treasures utterly unknown to you. More, if you meet all the other conditions, you can gain a Plenary Indulgence for reading the Bible for 30 minutes a day. (See item 50).

Now I encourage you, pick up a translation and start reading. Best to start with one of the gospels and perhaps even with one of the passion narratives. But if you have left it aside for a few days (months, years, decades...) pick it up again and become acquainted with the God who loves you through the words He has inspired.

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Quote of the Day "Reading


from St. Benedict and St. Therese: The Little Rule and the Little Way
Dwight Longenecker

Reading books about the Christian life is often a substitute for living it. If it is easy to read spiritual books without being spiritual, it is not much harder to write them without having the experience behind you. (p.16)

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A Sonnet for Christians


I suppose that seems rather narrow, as a great many sonnets can be read by most Christians much to their improvement both in the spiritual and the secular order. However, this sonnet, possibly one of the most difficult in English, is certain the Master Sonnet for Christians, and for Catholic Christians at that.

The Windhover
Gerard Manley Hopkins

To Christ our Lord

I caught this morning morning's minion, king-
dom of daylight's dauphin, dapple-dáwn-drawn Falcon, in his riding
Of the rólling level úndernéath him steady áir, & stríding
High there, how he rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing
In his ecstasy! then off, off forth on swing,
As a skate's heel sweeps smooth on a bow-bend: the hurl & gliding
Rebuffed the big wind. My heart in hiding
Stirred for a bird, -- the achieve of, the mastery of the thing!

Brute beauty & valour & act, oh, air, pride, plume, here
Buckle! AND the fire that breaks from thee then, a billion
Times told lovelier, more dangerous, o my chevalier!
No wónder of it: shéer plód makes plóugh down síllion
Shine, & blue-bleak embers, ah my dear,
Fall, gáll themsélves, & gásh góld-vermílion.

What a masterful working of the sonnet form! It isn't often that you see a rhyme scheme of AAAAAA BCBCBC. Admittedly, the first line-break is something of a cheat to get the scheme, but nevertheless we arrive. As one might expect from a Jesuit, the poem practically needs someone to guide you through it. While I'm not qualified to talk about all the nuances, I can give the reader a rough map and leave it to her/him how best to approach the magnificent and sometimes tortured language and thought behind the poem. First, a little bank of definitions:

Windhover-a kestrel or small hawk with pronounced red breast plumage
dauphin: the heir apparent to the French throne and by extension to any throne
wimpling: (probably clear by context) rippling
sillion: the furrow caused by the plow

Now, what to say about the poem? It is an ecstatic evocation of the soul's movement within us when we connect to an image outside ourselves that helps us understand God. It could be seen as an exultant reading of what Paul terms "the second book." The first is, of course (in St. Paul's view), the Hebrew Scriptures, but the second is nature itself.

What always moved me about the poem is the tremendous energy of the Windhover and its associations and the feeble motion it causes in the viewer who has locked himself up too much, "my heart in hiding/stirred for a bird..."

In addition there is the very mysterious conclusion in which Jesus ("my chevalier") is compared to the windhover and found a billion times more lovely and dangerous. Then we conclude with the statement that it is hardly a surprise as nature shows other examples of profound beauty as when by sheer effort the soil of the field lay in shining furrows and when an ashen covered ember falls and glows golden.

But this last three lines may also refer to Hopkins's reaction "my heart stirred for a bird." The preceding explanation "No wonder of it" may give the poet some consolation at the enormous strength and power of his reaction to this scene as he recalls that in other ways he has felt similar though smaller things. In a certain way it could be seen as an examen that allows Hopkins to list a few ways in which the knowledge of God has entered his otherwise closed world.

Hopkins is difficult to understand. But once again, read and read and read and read and then read aloud. Enjoy the sheer mastery of the language, the unexcelled beauty of what Hopkins is trying to do.

Hope this brief guide gives you the opportunity to explore more on your own. In works of real art, as in works of nature, the Lord of All makes His appearance.

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What Makes Literature?


What Makes Literature?

A question many of us have asked ourselves through time. In this delightful excursion by Umberto Eco, he reflects upon the prose of Alexandre Dumas and what has allowed it not only to survive, but to prosper when contemporaries like the enormously ponderous Eugene Sue have (mercifully) subsided into the background.

And what about The Count of Monte Cristo? I have written previously about how once I decided to translate it. I would find phrases such as: "He rose from the chair upon which he was sitting." Well, which other chair should he have risen from, if not from that upon which he was sitting? All I had to say in my translation was, "He rose from the chair", or even "He rose", as it is already clear he was sitting at a table.

I calculated that I had saved the reader at least 25% reading time by shortening Dumas's language. But then I realised that it was exactly those extra words and repetition that had a fundamental strategic function - they created anticipation and tension - they delayed the final event and were fundamental for the excellent vendetta to work so effectively.

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More on Pius XII


More on Pius XII
This article from a reporter in Great Britain looks once again at the Pius XII controversy. Frankly, I don't really know what to make of the whole thing. We are attempted to judge actions of the past with a newly reconstructed (deconstructed) ethos. I would tend to side with those who point out historic anti-Catholic bias; but then, that really is an easy way out. Events, people, and ideas are often so complex and nuanced that there is wide margin for interpretation, particularly depending upon the bias with which you approach the question. I remain hopeful that the true Light of Jesus Christ will shine brightly upon this situation and make clear to all people of reasonable aspect and approach where the truth is.

Brief excerpt from the article:

Indeed, Rabbi Dalin accuses three of Pius’s attackers, two former seminarians and a former priest, of using their accusations to conduct an internal argument within the Catholic Church about the future of the Papacy after John Paul II.

Perhaps the reason why these charges against Pius XII are so infectious is that they are constructed in such a way that they cannot be disproved. They are what Karl Popper called an unfalsifiable proposition: however many public attacks on Nazism Pius XII did make, one can always say he should have made more.

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Quote of the Day


From John Milton, Comus: A Mask

The Spirit sings:
Listen where thou art sitting
Under the glassie, cool, translucent wave,
In twisted braids of Lillies knitting
The loose train of thy amber-dropping hair,
Listen for dear honour's sake,
Goddess of the silver lake,
Listen and save!

No reason, just because. And a good because it is too! Because it is lovely language, because it is utterly unexpected by anyone who knows John Milton well, because it is a Thursday and a melody is never harmful on such a day, because God gave us poets to celebrate the beautiful things in life, because I like it very much and like very much to share such a beautiful work.

Read it aloud and listen in wonder to the assonance in the third line where the liquid "L" of "glassie" is reflected in both of the following words and suggests the body of water in which the Nymph Sabrina lives. Then the soft "S" of "glassie" is captured again twice in "translucent," once again suggesting both the water and perhaps the reeds along the bank as they sway in the wind. More than any of this the very loose prosody allows the words to wind rather sinuously, not held to the rigorous meter (mostly iambic) that so clearly blocks out much of the rest of the poem.

I had long loved this little snippet of the larger poem and for the longest time did not realize where it had come from. Thank goodness for Google! I hope you are able to enjoy it as well, and perhaps, moved by the small piece, will seek out the larger.

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Humility is regarded by nearly all of the saints, Carmelite and others, as one of the key necessities for anyone who would attain to sanctity. But what, precisely, is humility? I've wondered about this for a while and cannot claim to have final answers, but all of my reading and praying has lead in one direction: humility is finding one's life in Jesus Christ. In a sense, humility is the doorway to our place within the eternal love of the Holy Trinity. You cannot do anything worthwhile in religious life without a very strong sense of humility.

Humility concludes that we are not worthy of any worldly honors or celestial attention; yet, it does not do so through lack of self-esteem. Humility is not humiliation. Humility is tough-mindedly realistic. Humility stares a hole through the fabric of lies with which we surround and cushion ourselves. Humility also allows us to serve without feeling as though we are doing a service, but a service is being done us. Humility is the fuel of the joy of service.

Humility also requires that we strip away the fabrications about ourselves. Layer by layer we uncover what we really are. To do so we must stop taking anything worldly as a standard and instead stand in the doorway of heaven to see how we measure up. Think about it as the record of a child's growth--we stand in the doorway and see where the mark is relative to where it last was. To do this, we must stop evaluating ourselves with respect to others. Humility allows for no comparison to anyone on Earth. As soon as we begin to compare, even if we come off the worse for comparison, we lack humility. There is a certain presumption in comparison--that I approach the goodness or the greatness of the person to whom I am comparing myself; that, in fact, someday I may exceed that goodness or greatness.

Humility is difficult. It means that I must look upon people who commit atrocious acts against others and see that the same thing is within me. Humility recognizes, "There but for the grace of God go I." It knows the deep truth that within the wardrobe of the human condition we all have the same clothing; different garments have different degrees of wear, but all the same clothes are there. (My sincere thanks to FC for the analogy). Humility does not mean that we are not outraged, but it does mean that we look upon the marred image of Christ with great sorrow and great compassion and a desire to help.

Humility does not, first and foremost, ask whether someone is worthy of our assistance. Instead humility always assumes that our assistance is of little worth, but that it may be given to all in need, regardless of whether or not they measure up to some earthly standard. An author, whom, unfortunately I cannot recall, wrote a marvelous passage regarding Dorothy Day. He had gone in to see Ms. Day for an interview or some other function. There were two women in the room into which he was directed. They were very deep into their conversation. One of them was obviously an old derelict, someone who had seen difficult times and who needed a friend to listen to her rants and speeches. The other was Ms. Day. As he stood there, he was gradually noticed and Ms. Day came to greet him. Without a hint of sarcasm or anything other than sincerity she asked him, "Have you come to speak with one of us?" THAT is the profound grace of humility.

And from humility, what peace. We needn't worry about whether we "measure up." While we can't drop out of the rat race we don't need to run it, we can walk it, because getting ahead isn't what life is all about. We are given the freedom to be who we are without regard to comparing ourselves, fitting in, matching up, or excelling. If Mother Teresa had spent all of her time worrying about what Christopher Hitchens (pbuh) had thought of her, she would never have been able to do her charitable work. Had she thought about how she might be viewed by the media, she would never have been able to deliver her stern and profound rebuke at the National Prayer Breakfast.Had John Paul II worried about the secular media's opinion he could not have written Evangelium Vitae or Veritatis Splendor , among others. Humility is the doorway to freedom in Christ because it is the doorway to identity in Christ.

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Father, it is our duty and our salvation,
always and everywhere
to give you thanks
through your beloved Son, Jesus Christ.

Have you ever been surprised by these words? You probably should have been. Sure enough, we can acknowledge that it is our duty to give praise to God. But how often have we considered that it is also our salvation? It is both duty and salvation. How is it salvation? Wasn't that the work of Jesus Christ Himself?

Salvation is the work of Jesus Christ, in which we must cooperate. We cannot be saved against our will. We cannot be redeemed if we refuse to acknowledge that we are slaves. Therefore it is our salvation to give praise to the Father through the Son because in so doing we align our wills with the one Will that would bring us into His kingdom, if only we would allow Him.

The depth of the love of God shows itself in the lightness of this duty. The depth of the negligence of humankind is measured in how poorly we do this. Do we always and everywhere give God thanks? Do we consistently acknowledge His reign over us? Do we rejoice in the wonderful opportunity of turning ourselves over to God?

Always and everywhere--in traffic, in the accountant's office, while facing trial and talking to our attorneys, while facing the boss who is unjustly blaming you for everything that has gone wrong? And yet it really is our duty, and more importantly our salvation. If, in the midst of all our troubles, we surrender to God and turn to Him with thanks and praise, the troubles, while no less troublesome, become less important--they drop into proper perspective.

Jesus, the very name is our salvation. In The Way of a Pilgrim the efficacy of praying the Jesus Prayer and of simply saying the name of Jesus is pounded home time and time again. If we surround ourselves with a wall constructed of prayers, if we follow the proper teaching of Ephesians 6:10 and following, we will find ourselves triumphant and living in the grace of salvation.

To get there, first we must acknowledge that we need to be saved and that we can in no way save ourselves. We cannot dig our way out of the pit. But we can take off the blinders and see the marble staircase, supported by the hands of angels that leads heavenward. This staircase is adorned by the constant praises of all who love Him.

What a wonderful grace-filled duty! Would that we had a hundred such duties! Would that we could devote five minutes of the day to really doing this. I am reminded of an anecdote regarding St. Benedict. While walking with a local farmer he lamented the inability to concentrate on his prayer for any length of time. The farmer averred that he had no such trouble and he could easily focus on his prayer. Benedict quite calmly said that if the farmer could get through a single "Our Father" without distraction, Benedict would gladly give the farmer his horse. The farmer agreed and immediately started, "Our Father, who art in Heaven. . .Do I get the bridle and saddle as well?" So are we all. Our focus is weak and our ability to turn to God further weakened by our constant preoccupations with things less worthy of our time, for example (dare I say it?) blogging.

But we return once again, it is our duty and our salvation always and everywhere to give thanks. Our salvation because while giving thanks we cannot be thinking about ourselves, we must open the door that allows God to enter.

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Sayings of Light and Love:


Sayings of Light and Love: I

In a series of very short maxims*, St. John of the Cross attempted to leave those he advised with some guidance as they continued in the life of prayer. The Sayings of Light and Love is a collection of all the known maxims that can be shown definitively to be by St. John of the Cross. I have chosen the first of these sayings to share today because it is particularly appropriate to the present situation in the Church. However, it is important to note that it is equally important to both the church and to individuals at almost any given time.

1. The Lord has always revealed to mortals the treasures of his wisdom and his spirit, but now that the face of evil bares itself more and more, so does the Lord bare his treasures more.

Throughout church history people could have found use for this simple reminder. In the face of the "crisis" of the Church we face in America today (can there truly be a "crisis" if we know "The gates of hell shall not prevail against it?") we see a great outpouring of people at once condemning the truly terribly nature of the crimes, and yet supporting the Church (in the sense of the Mystical Body of Christ--the signpost of His Divine Establishment). Of course the excision of a cancerous lesion is always traumatic to the body as a whole, but there can be no healing until it is removed. Whether we all agree on the course and the fashion of this removal is incidental, I think all agree that no allowance can be made for those who prey upon the weakest and most disenfranchised. I tremble when I think about Jesus among the children, "Suffer the little children to come unto me and forbid them not, for of such is the Kingdom of Heaven. (Matt 19:14)" (I believe that there is another quote perhaps more to the point regarding "A millstone around his neck.") If so, what happens to one who leads a child astray? All such need our strongest and most ardent prayers and disapproval of their conduct. They need the healing love of the Holy Catholic Church, but they must not be allowed to wreak further havoc upon it.

The simple phrase of John of the Cross reminds us that Christ is ever nearer in time of trial. And we are also reminded of the words of our Savior, "And you will hear of wars and rumors of war. (Matt. 24:6)" In other words, every time is traumatic in its own way. If we are not seeing the church rent from the inside, we see persecutions outside. It helps at all times to recall the words of Paul, "In my weakness is His strength." So too with the body of the Church. Christ strengthens it with those who come out as prayer warriors, intent on enlisting in the supernatural battle that rages around us at all times. "For we are not contending against flesh and blood but against. . .the world rulers of this present darkness (Eph 6:12)."

The truths St. John of the Cross chooses to share with us are not the fruit of mere human wisdom. They are the profound fruit of intimate knowledge of the gospel and close communion with Our Lord Himself. St. John can show us a clear way to Jesus if we can clear away enough of the brush of our own uncertainties and doubts. The ultimate destiny of every Christian is to be a saint. Better for us all if more can accomplish this during their time on Earth.

* Note from above--after following the link, look in the archives, then look in The Collected Works of St. John of the Cross for Sayings of Light and Love.


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Violence Morally Neutral?


The gentleman or lady who runs the blog Kairos has given me something to write about in my blog. Kairos asserts without proof (in the article in question) that violence is morally neutral. He then goes on to challenge those who disagree (actually those who "don’t like that I’m not a pacifist,") to "get your own blog and say so." Well, in point of fact, I am neutral on whether Kairos is a pacifist or not. I have read cogent articles and treatises that argue both sides of the issue and I stand firmly on the side of the pacifists, though not so firmly as, say, Stanley Hauerwas, a man for whom I have enormous respect. That said, I do find myself in disagreement with the bald statement that violence has no moral content. However, anything I would have to say in the matter amounts simply to another bald assertion as it sits as a core belief.

I simply had to respond, and say, "New York abstains, courteously." (Though conscience leads me to confess that the statement is for dramatic effect only, I do not have any right to represent the state of New York, being neither natal nor resident.)

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Words and Pictures


Words and Pictures

Seems that Mr. Shea has a short blurb about literature and the once-upon-a-time value and power of poetry. He mentions Billy Collins's "Forgetfulness" and provides a link to it. His comment, "And another thing: not all poetry has to be grim and serious. " Brought to mind a delightful piece by X. J. Kennedy "Nude Descending a Staircase." This particular link is very nice because in addition to the text of the poem, the graphic inspiration is also provided.

No matter what you may think of Duchamp's original (actually I haven't decided--I find it an endlessly fascinating study to see how my attitudes toward the work change through time) the poem is a powerful verbal construction that seems to catch the rhythm and grace of the Edweard Muybridge-inspired painting. In fact, when I read the poem, particularly the last stanza, I see more Muybridge than Duchamp.

One-woman waterfall, she wears Her slow descent like a long cape And pausing, on the final stair Collects her motions into shape.

[Note Muybridge's first name seems variously spelled Eadweard and Edweard.]

An answer to Mr. Shea's originally proposed question. Poetry is largely ignored by the public today because sometime during the twentieth century poets retreated from accessibility, seeking refuge in the ivory tower. It became progressively more reclusive and obscure, to the point that today it largely circulates among the poetic elite. For a much better and more profound explanation of this truly unfortunate turn of events see Dana Gioia's highly controversial essay, "Can Poetry Matter?".

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How God Speaks


How God Speaks

One has no conception of how little one has to say that is worth sharing with the world until one has blogged. What a lesson in humility!

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Forming New Churches


This post from Sean Gallagher's Archive brought to mind an amusing anecdote regarding the formation of churches. He quotes a reader as saying, "Very, very few churches are started from disputes." I don't know about the truth of this; however, I do have an illuminating story regarding one new church that did form as a result of a dispute.

Some time ago my grandparents (whom I love very much, and so this should not be read as a criticism of them) belonged to a small church in a midwestern state. This church met mostly in homes and in such public places as they could find accommodations. I don't believe they had an ordained minister, but all the men took turns preparing teachings for the entire group. One Sunday the teaching centered around the Pauline admonition that, "Women should not wear those things that pertaineth to a man," and what the implications of this might be today. Somewhere in the course of discussion, someone asked or brought up the subject of pantyhose, saying that they were very much like pants. This particular point of discussion became very heated and over the next several months was introduced and reintroduced. Apparently some went so far as to denounce any woman showing up to the meeting wearing hose under the supposition that they must be pantyhose. Finally the church split into two groups--those that said that wearing pantyhose was a grievous offense to God, and those that said that God probably didn't give much thought to the matter of pantyhose, having other things on his mind. My grandmother and her sister ended up in opposite camps, with my ever-sensible grandmother being threatened with hellfire for the sheer temerity of wearing pantyhose (pun intended).

This story is true. I don't know all of the details, but I keep it in my treasury of "protestantism gone wild" stories. One thing it demonstrates profoundly and that is the wisdom of the Church's teaching on the interpretation of scripture. I won't say this can't happen here, but if one interprets scripture in accord with Church teaching, it is far more difficult for the Church to split over pantyhose.

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The Metaphysical Poets--John Donne I

There are any number of writings that have deeply influenced my experience of the reality of God's Presence in life. From time to time I'd like to share some of these. For some reason the poem that comes to mind today is John Donne's "Holy Sonnet 14"

Holy Sonnet 14
John Donne

Batter my heart, three-personed God, for you
As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend;
That I may rise, and stand, o'erthrow me, and bend
Your force to break, blow, burn, and make me new.
I, like an usurped town, to another due,
Labour to admit you, but Oh, to no end.
Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend,
But is captived, and proves weak or untrue.
Yet dearly I love you, and would be loved fain,
But am betrothed unto your enemy:
Divorce me, untie or break that knot again,
Take me to you, imprison me, for I,
Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,
Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.

This is so much a poem of contradictions. That I may stand, God must overthrow me. Reason, which should defend me, proves untrue. I, like a town taken over by alien forces seek to let God in, and yet can do almost nothing by myself. (Surely, the act of asking is a very small step--we don't want to descend into quietism). But my favorite lines are the concluding couplet. The sonnet follows a highly unusual and powerful rhyme pattern ABBA, ABBA, CDCD, EE ( a more usual configuration of this rhyme scheme ends with a pair of tercets CDE,CDE, or variants thereof). And the EE couplet makes for an usually for profound effect. I can't think of another sonnet that packs quite the wallop of these two lines. "[For I,]/ Except you enthrall me, never shall be free/ Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me."

These two lines speak in so many ways and foreshadow Chesterton's fascination with paradoxes. It is impossible for me to be free unless I am God's slave. (Enthrall is a wonderful word because it has gained such a patina of meanings through time, but the original and powerful meaning is to make someone a thrall--a person held in bondage.) Unless I am God's slave, I am unfree. And if I am not completelty ravished by God's Love, I can never be chaste. Chastity depends upon grace and my will cooperating with grace. It is only possible when we love something or Someone more than we love ourselves.

Forgive me belaboring the point, but the poem is such a magnificent combination of images that it really stands as a stark reminder of the power of the Metaphysical poets--a group that wrote before we truly developed some of the mind/body dichotomy that is sometimes a mark of more rigid puritanism. (This dichotomy serves today to create an almost schizophrenic personality in many moderns.) "Holy Sonnet 14" serves as an example of what a poet truly in tune with and listening to God can produce. I would look to Donne as one of my examples when thinking of writing about the mysteries of Grace.

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Flos Carmeli


Flos Carmeli
O beautiful flower of Carmel,
Most fruitful vine,
splendor of heaven,
Holy and singular,
Who brought forth the Son of God
Still ever remaining a pure Virgin,
Assist us in our necessities.
O star of the Sea,
Help and protect us.
Show us that you are our Mother.

(as prayed at each monthly meeting of the Lay Carmelites)

Members of the Carmelite order are to have a special devotion to Our Lady. As a convert to Catholicism, this has to be one of the great hurdles I have had to leap ( I am a member of the Third Order of Carmelite, ancient observance). I am still not where I would like to be, but it is only by the grace of God that I have been brought to my present stage. Through continued prayer and continued grace I am certain that I will grow in the love and embrace of Our Lady Queen of Contemplatives, Mother of Carmelites.

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Comment on The Widening Gyre


Comment on The Widening Gyre

Okay, so I promised more on The Widening Gyre. and more particularly to the link at this point. While I have no comment to make regarding Mr. Yeats's spirituality (having no intimate knowledge of what he believed, and finding that, more often than not, such knowledge tends to distract me from enjoying the sheer beauty of the poetry and language), I must take some exception to comments regarding the poem itself. While I'm certain that there may be allusion to Viconian cycles and other absurdities of ancient historiography and philosophy of history, I find that I take exception to the characterization of the poem. While it certainly uses Christian imagery, perhaps because it would be commonly accessible to his readership, I don't know that it so much represents a "predictive" poem as a "look what's happening now poem." A minor disagreement, I acknowledge, but one worth noting. After all, Mr. Yeats and the rest of the world had just been through what they had considered the most apocalyptic conflict ever to have occurred on the face of the earth.

And frankly while there are innumerable things that could be read into the poem, it is best appreciated for the sheer power of imagery and language. As with all great poetry, the rewards of the simple literal reading (preferably aloud) are far more profound than anything that scholarship would presume to wrest from the work.

In addition to this magnificent addition to the oeuvre of modern poetry, Yeats also gave us the wonderful poetic gifts of "Leda and the Swan," "Sailing to Byzantium," "The Wilde Swans at Coole," and "The Lake Isle of Inisfree," just to name a few. His spirituality may have been confused, but grace often enters human confusion and gives a poet language to express what he himself has only misconstrued.

Another note: Viconian cycles as a historical phenomenon may be out of fashion, but they have given us that remarkable beginning (here citing from memory, so please forgive any missteps)

riverrun past eveandadam from swerve of shore to bend of bay brings us by a commodius vicus of recirculation to Howth Castle and Evirons. . . (first portion of first sentence of Finnegan's Wake, by James Joyce)

Look out--Here Comes Everyone!

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Well, I've already had my first unpleasant encounter with Blogger having erased an entire carefully considered, deeply thoughtful, and supremely self-revealing post. I reconstruct it here knowing that it can be merely a pale imitation of the original (for which everyone should probably be truly thankful).

I had a very difficult time coming up with a title for this site. Two spectacular names (The Widening Gyre--about which more later--and Dappled Things). I toyed with "A Good Blog is Hard to Find" and "Love Among the Blogs" and even "The Heart of the Blog" or "The Power and the Blog" or was it "The Blog and the Glory" all to honor favorite authors. But the only real contender came from Dante reflecting another of my profound interests (nonlinear dynamics, chaos, and fractals) "Her Changes Change Her Changes Constantly." When I learn better what I am doing here, I will endeavor to add the subtitle. Don't count on it any time soon.

So what might the visitor expect to find here? I think the title kind of gives it away. While I profoundly admire those with the wisdom, wit, precision, and incisiveness of thought to consider the theological implications of the Wall Street Crash, I'm afraid this is far beyond my meager capabilities. Here I follow the cautions of the psalmist (Ps. 131: 1 RSV) I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me. So while I may often refer you to the insights of others in the blog world, I expect my primary occupations will be with issues of spirituality and most particularly the road to Union with God through contemplation. Yes, like Merton, I am a would-be contemplative who needs to drive out some ghosts before I can get on with the wonderful business of the Ascent of Mount Carmel. Michael Dubruiel often shares profound insights from the Benedictine Tradition and serves as example and mentor in the blog world. So you may find insights from those who have helped me considerably in understanding the contours to the landscape and the shape of the road: Jean Pierre de Caussade, St. Therese of Lisieux, St. Teresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross, Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity, Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection, Richard Baxter, George Fox, John Woolman, John Wesley, Roger Williams, Stanley Hauerwas, Thomas Traherne, Robert Southwell, William Law, John Flavel, St. Catherine of Siena, St. Catherine of Genoa, St. Thomas More (a personal hero) and others.

In addition, Mr. Dubruiel's better half (Amy Welborn) shares another interest of mine--Literature in general and Catholic Literature in particular. I have conducted a class for nearly two years at my Church on the Catholic Novels. We have read a good many Catholic works and some profoundly good noncatholic works. Silence, A Good Man is Hard to Find, The Power and the Glory, Love Among the Ruins, Memento Mori, Brideshead Revisited, Mariette in Ecstasy, Atticus, The Chosen, Byzantium, and The Great Divorce have been among the works we have read to date. On our list for the future are works like Resting in the Bosom of the Lamb and perhaps part of the "Harmony" Series by Philip Gulley. One of the more interesting works we have indulged in was Torgny Lindgren's magnificent short novel Way of a Serpent. I hope to spend a good deal of time talking about this compact and powerful little work by an author of some of the strangest Catholic fiction since Walker Percy.

Finally, outside of Spirituality and Literature, interests in Science (particularly paleontology in which I hold an advanced degree--hence my selection of templates) and higher math--chaos, fractals, and nonlinear dynamics--may occasionally find their way into these reflections.


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About this Archive

This page is a archive of recent entries written by Steven Riddle in July 2002.

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