Steven Riddle: January 2006 Archives

Notes for Puzzled Dominicans

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Our resident highly intelligent, but overly-complicated resident Dominican, Brother Thomas of Disputations says that Pope Benedict XVI gave us an encyclical without clear instruction in what to do next. I begged to differ, and Brother Thomas restated the case that there was nothing explicit--no steps. Well, of course there are no steps, I reply in the spirit of collegiality and Carmelite Simplicity. Steps imply complexity and to be in God is to be in simplicity, hence no need for steps. Ironic, is it not, that simplicity comes to those who haven't really got a clue what it's about, but for those who can define it, articulate it, and spell it out for the rest of us it's a major challenge. Anyway, the unadulterated text of a potential reply follows.

Dear Tom,

Sheesh! You Dominicans seem to need a roadmap for everything. Three steps to prayer, seven steps to the perfect sermon, nineteen steps to Christian service.

Goodness, the Pope said follow the ascending line of purified eros to the point where the intertwining of eros and agape lead you to intimacy with the Lord. There you learn your particular and peculiar mission and are sent forth on it. Said mission is to be prosecuted with the maximum of Christian Charity and a minimum of personal agenda. Seems to me that without a visit to your house, the Pope couldn't get much more explicit about how to go about what you were supposed to be doing!

In short as with some sports shoe or another--"Just do it!"

Evidently, one man's marching orders are another man's pleasant and moving reflection. The Lord speaks to us through the same vehicles, but ultimately says what each one needs to hear through who we are. So maybe I shouldn't be so hard on the Dominicans.

(Nah! What fun would that be?)

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The Catholic Blog Awards


The 2006 Catholic Blog Awards

Helas, I'm having trouble nominating people, but I will continue--probably use a different browser. For those with functioning broswers, please rush over and nominate your favorite blogs. Nominations close on Friday of this week.

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So I Can Find It When I Need It


Erle Stanley Gardner Bibliography

Pursuant to the last post--a very complete-looking bibliography of ESG.

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Lamentations of a Bibliophile

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I inherited my love of books from my mother. Unfortunately, what I did not inherit, at least initially, was her taste in books. As a result I often found myself in the past trolling through small out of the way second-hand specialty bookshops looking to fill in gaps in my collection of Carter Dickson, or John Dickson Carr.

Recently, I have found another case of overlooked until almost too late. I have long been a fan of the mysteries published under one of Erle Stanley Gardner's pseudonyms--A.A. Fair. I was fortunate enough to discover this when it was still possible to pick up paperbacks of the novels at a fairly reasonable price. And I did so--excessively. To the point where I think I'm only lacking one--either Widows Wear Weeds or Bachelors Get Lonely (I'd have to check the shelves. Oh, and if anyone wants to donate to the cause, please don't hesitate.)

Unfortunately, I did not acquire my mother's taste for Perry Mason in time. I found the television series mildly interesting, but nothing that would provoke me to read the novels. That's a shame because, like the Fair books, they are intricately constructed and completely in a world of their own. They don't inhabit the "hard-boiled" world of Hammett, Chandler and Ross MacDonald. They don't exist in the noir world of Chandler, Fair, and Woolrich. They don't run straight out in the golden age world of Rex Stout. There is nothing in the mystery world to compare to them.

I know that there are some who might breathe a sigh of relief at this news. However, I find myself in the distinctly unpleasant position of having about 17 out of 82 titles, and now wishing to acquire the rest--this in a time that if they are not a-list they might see print once every ten-or-so-years, and that will fade with time. I'm also in the unfortunate position of not living anywhere near a large used book store, much less the specialty used book-stores I used to prowl through in the DC area.

So, I'm left with the unappetizing, but potentially required necessity of prowling through the internet used-book corridors to see if I can rustle up some Perry Mason novels. Once again, an open invitation to any of my potential benefactors out there--you've got some you don't want, I will provide a loving and caring home for them--just e-mail me. And while I'm not picky, the 1960s editions with their lurid covers would be particularly well-loved and admired. However, beggars can't be choosers and the real issue is to get these and read them, so whatever wings its way to me--I'll be just fine.

Now, since my benefactors haven't usually mobbed me with offers, I'll ask an additional boon. If any of you all have had particular success with an on-line used book dealer or know of one that is really good, I'd greatly appreciate recommendations.

The down side of all of this is that the thrill of the hunt is definitely diminished with on-line shopping. I remember how thrilled I was to walk into a story and be able to snag a "new" (to me at least) binding of The Peacock Feather Murders or the day I nearly passed out at having in my hands Nine, and Death Makes Ten in a rare PB edition for $0.50. I know that will not happen again, but what a rush it was to score such a coup! (Same with Behind the Crimson Blind which I had to pay $10.00 for.)

Any way, any help you might offer would be greatly appreciated.

Later correction: Turns out I was missing Some Slips Don't Show, which I recall reading so I don't know how it went missing. However, probably got it from the library, etc. Still, if anyone has an extra copy lingering about. . .

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Hurrah--TSO Is Home Again

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With a report on his cruise.

Welcome back TSO. In the words of the famous song--"It's so nice to have you back where you belong!"

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A Meme A gain

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Probably as a ploy to see if I were paying attention, Erik tagged me. So here's my response:

Four Jobs
1. Children's Librarian
2. Night manager at Sewer Line Maintenance
3. Museum cataloger and photo developer
4. My present position

Four Movies I Would (and do) Watch Over and Over:
1. Harry Potter (any of them)
2. Miss Congeniality
3. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
4. The Spongebob Squarepants Movie

Four Places I Have Lived:
1. Pensacola, FL
2. Norfolk, VA
3. Fairfax, VA
4. Columbus, OH

Four TV Shows I Love to Watch: (Don't expect sophistication here)
1. Jimmy Neutron
2. Spongebob Squarepant
3. Fairly Odd Parents
4. Rachel Ray (Sometime Iron Chef America or Good Eats)

Websites I visit daily (well, not quite daily, as I usually go a couple of days a week without even checking email):
1. Listed Blogs
2. Library Thing Library Page
3. Yahoo/Google/search pages
4. On-line Books Page

Favorite Four Foods
1. Olives--any size, any shape, any color, stuffed with just about anything
2. Pizza
3. Macaroni and Cheese
4. Chicken and Dumplings

Four Places I Would Rather Be:
1. Key West/Dry Tortugas
2. Naples, FL
3. La Jolla (but not anywhere near town)
4. San Antonio, TX

But the truth is, on a permanent basis, nowhere else on Earth. I love where I live.

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This is probably premature as I have not yet read the entire encyclical, and yet when a Pope moves toward the Song of Songs (as in section 6, which precedes the excerpt below), it seems to call for comment.

from Deus Caritas Est
Pope Benedict XVI

7. By their own inner logic, these initial, somewhat philosophical reflections on the essence of love have now brought us to the threshold of biblical faith. We began by asking whether the different, or even opposed, meanings of the word “love” point to some profound underlying unity, or whether on the contrary they must remain unconnected, one alongside the other. More significantly, though, we questioned whether the message of love proclaimed to us by the Bible and the Church's Tradition has some points of contact with the common human experience of love, or whether it is opposed to that experience. This in turn led us to consider two fundamental words: eros, as a term to indicate “worldly” love and agape, referring to love grounded in and shaped by faith. The two notions are often contrasted as “ascending” love and “descending” love. There are other, similar classifications, such as the distinction between possessive love and oblative love (amor concupiscentiae – amor benevolentiae), to which is sometimes also added love that seeks its own advantage.

In philosophical and theological debate, these distinctions have often been radicalized to the point of establishing a clear antithesis between them: descending, oblative love—agape—would be typically Christian, while on the other hand ascending, possessive or covetous love —eros—would be typical of non-Christian, and particularly Greek culture. Were this antithesis to be taken to extremes, the essence of Christianity would be detached from the vital relations fundamental to human existence, and would become a world apart, admirable perhaps, but decisively cut off from the complex fabric of human life. Yet eros and agape—ascending love and descending love—can never be completely separated. The more the two, in their different aspects, find a proper unity in the one reality of love, the more the true nature of love in general is realized. Even if eros is at first mainly covetous and ascending, a fascination for the great promise of happiness, in drawing near to the other, it is less and less concerned with itself, increasingly seeks the happiness of the other, is concerned more and more with the beloved, bestows itself and wants to “be there for” the other. The element of agape thus enters into this love, for otherwise eros is impoverished and even loses its own nature. On the other hand, man cannot live by oblative, descending love alone. He cannot always give, he must also receive. Anyone who wishes to give love must also receive love as a gift. Certainly, as the Lord tells us, one can become a source from which rivers of living water flow (cf. Jn 7:37-38). Yet to become such a source, one must constantly drink anew from the original source, which is Jesus Christ, from whose pierced heart flows the love of God (cf. Jn 19:34).

To clarify his point, and to unite it with some of the earlier ruminations, I simply offer this definition proposed in section 3:

That love between man and woman which is neither planned nor willed, but somehow imposes itself upon human beings, was called eros by the ancient Greeks.

So, the holy Father talks about a love that is neither planned nor willed. Further, he goes on to say that this love, the so-called ascending love of the cited section is critical to our advance in love and in the spiritual life. This ascending love is the arrow of desire. Desire may start with a worldly or human object, but that is not the ultimate aim of desire. The target of desire is always to return home. Desire points the way to something missing. Too often people stop at the point of obtaining what is desired, which is unfortunate because obtaining Earthly desires will never be satisfying.

The Holy Father points out that the fullness of love is in giving and Receiving. That is, the fullness of love is in the outward travel of the arrow of desire and in the shower of agape that comes down to us as the manna of Heaven. Anything less falls short of true love, true caritas.

I find this passage particularly comforting:

The more the two, in their different aspects, find a proper unity in the one reality of love, the more the true nature of love in general is realized.

What it says to me, in a roundabout way is that the human lot is to be tempted by desire. Desire is the siren-call of God, call us upwards, encouraging each person to transcend his earth-bound desire and to heed the desire that gives life and is behind all earthly desire. So, those of us who constantly complain about bodily temptation--yes, it is a very difficult passage to endure, but what it says, indirectly, is that we still hear God's call even though we are yet distant from Him.

Eros is answered by and intertwined with agape. In our present situation, the two are intrinsically bound and cannot be separated without doing radical harm to the very nature of love itself. Eros severed from agape parts passion and sympathy from service--it damages both will and desire.

I'll continue to read, and if other thoughts occur, I'll be happy to share them, but so far in this brief transit, I have met Pope Benedict XVI mystic or protomystic whose first encyclical calls us to a closer relationship with out Lord. The nature of the letter seemed to surprise a great many in Rome, and yet there was no need for it to do so. After all, he was chosen by the Holy Spirit, and we will assume that he has consented to be guided by Him, so what could be more practical than telling a world drowning in the diminution of eros that God is reaching out and calling each person home?

God bless our good Pope, and thanks be to God for the message He inspired of the Holy Father.

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What a very pleasant surprise is to be found in this unassuming little film. Fine fare for the whole family that is neither cringe-inducing, nor overrun with bodily function humor.

Truthfully, the trailer did not do the film justice. I watched it several times at the theater and generally decided that it was "ho-hum." Well, that's easy to do when they show you bits and pieces of a very cleverly scripted, very nicely crafted little mystery.

Loosely based on the infamous "Red-Riding Hood" case, in which the wolves once again were fiercely and unfairly maligned, this story goes way beyond to expose the multiple layers of the tale--and boy is it a tale--no one is completely innocent--nope, not even Granny!

The story starts where the story you know ended and throughy the aegise and intellect of Mr. Flippers, the frog, we eventually learn the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, as he strips away the layers of lies and deceptions that form the stories of the four principle participants--Red, the Wolf, Granny, and Mr. Axeman.

Sam enjoyed it, and there were parts that were laugh-out-loud funny for the adults. Cleverly scripted, capably animated, an enjoyable treat for child and adult alike. Don't let the poor showing of the trailers deceive you, Hoodwinked is major family entertainment.

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Prayers Please. . .


For Katherine and her family as they continue to struggle with the difficulties of her mother's illness. Pray for peace and blessings particularly on Katherine and her father, and for solace for Katherine's children who are coming to understand how terrible this struggle is.

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Love Walks on Two Legs


But let's get back to love. Love walks on two legs. It needs both--will and feeling. They are not always operating. Just as when you take a step both feet are not simultaneously on the ground, so it may be with love. There are times when both are operative, but more often one or the other aspect predominates. For some, love hops around on one leg--will. There is a distrust of the emotional world, of the dimension that really is the consolation of God that helps to feed and "restock" the will. Love that seeks to operate on will alone will soon run dry. The emotion is the lubricant, rather like the fluid in the knee that keeps the joint moving smoothly--it is critically necessary. But we must also acknowledge that too much fluid is also a bad thing, the knee swells up and ceases to operate well.

Love as a human faculty has these two equally important, mutually intertwined branches. They feed each other, will and emotion. If I will someone good, the emotion will tend to fall in line. If I like someone, I am inclined to will good things for them.

Likewise, we do not say that God is will, we say that He is love. Nevertheless, God is His will just as He is His love. In God they know separation or boundary, but in humanity they do. Indeed, even in the spiritual world apart from God, they must know division or a fall from grace would not be possible.

Love walks on two legs, which like all legs, are a gift from God. The will is strengthened by the grace that is partially expressed in the consolation of emotion. We can will to love what we are not attracted to, but this will is a feeble thing and only held in place by His overwhelming grace and favor. Likewise, emotion fades, and without the will to hold us steady to the course our "love" becomes nothing more than our lust.

When we say God is Love, we must also acknowledge that God is Justice, Mercy, Prudence, Temperance, Grace, Kindness, Will, etc. etc., no part separate from any other nor extricable from it. Nevertheless, God sanctified the divided human person when He took human form and deigned to experience and participate in the full spectrum of what it meant to be human. And this means love--emotion and will, will and emotion, the two bringing to fullness the greatest of the three theological virtues.

Love is patient (will--to wait), love is kind (emotion--meeting the needs of another with empathy for the situation). . .

More later as I can think more about it, but I'm sure you're all tired by now. Hope I can make it to sentence two of the encyclical. But if not, it has already proven a great gift for me.

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Love is Patient. . .

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I have not read more than the introduction to the new encyclical, but the title alone was enough to make me think and to consider all of the misconceptions and difficulties that center around the idea of love.

When we begin to talk about love there tend to be two very strong reactions. Amongst the intellectuals and those who are emotionally distant, we tend to get the "Love is an act of will," school of thought. Among those who find things too rigorously logical and emotionally sterile, we get the notion that love is an emotion. On the part of the first opinion, I find the thought of God conforming to that definition of love frightening and off-putting. Gritting one's teeth and enduring despite the desire to be elsewhere is certainly an act of will, and it can encompass one motion of love, but it certainly doesn't define the fullness of love--one grits ones teeth and endures because there is a link or a bond there worthy of preservation. On the other hand, the "love is emotion" school, leaves us abandoned to the vagaries of whim. When the feeling of love comes over us, we'll pay attention, otherwise, you're left on your own--there's a bond, but where the will is not united the bond is merely how I feel at the moment. Neither extreme gives us a very appealing notion of what it might mean when we say that God is love.

Neither of these perceptions is entirely correct on its own. Rather it is the combination of the two that gives us some sense of the dimensionality of love. It is interesting that the word used for love with respect to God is not "amor" but "caritas." In fact, this caritas, for a very long time, was translated as "charity." And charity is perhaps closer to the spirit of what is intended than is "amor," linked as it is to eros. Caritas and charity both carry with them the very word "caring." Caring is love in action--it is both an act of will and a movement of will toward the other. Caring implies a bond--in some cases a bond of emotion, but certainly a bond of duty, depending upon the nature of the caring. A nurse might not be emotionally bonded to her patients, but one of the reasons many people become nurses is that there is a deep seated desire to help others. A priest may not particularly like all of his parishioners, but out of duty he cares for each one to the best of his ability.

We are human. Duty fails, bonds are strained, emotions come and go, the strength of desire and will fluctuate. God is God. He is, in this sense the unmoved mover--not that He is emotionally distant, but rather, none of these things that strengthens or weakens the bonds that join humans change His universal caring one iota. The horrors of a Hitler, a Pol Pot, or a Saddam Hussein do not alter God's intense salvific love one bit. His desire, His bond, and His will to save and care for are just as strong for these people as it is for Mother Teresa. I know, there is something frightening about the notion. Is it fair that He should love these who have spread so much sorrow as much as He loves His saints? Fairness is an odd human concept that attempts to right the balance of things. God is a God of justice, mercy, and love. And He is the God of all of these at once without any bars or separation. Remember, God is not the God of parts, but the God of the whole, undivided unity and simplicity. His Love, Justice, Mercy, caring--all of these things are one thing in God, indivisible, uniate. God cannot help but care for all of His children with equal fervor. There are some who cannot return the love and there are some who are exalted to great heights by it. How high we rise in God's kingdom is not so much predicated on how much God loves us (He did so even unto death) as by how much we are willing to respond to that love--by how much precedence that love takes in our own lives. Each is made differently, but God loves all equally. He will welcome any prodigal with the joy that He welcomes any saint. It's just that prodigals, thought they may realize their sin, often repent only insofar as is necessary to get back into good graces. (Being one myself, I speak with authority.)

I'll stop for the moment and gather together the rest of this thought which I may post later; however, for the moment, I think it is sufficient to leave with the thought that love is not a things of extremes in human experience, rather it is the perfect balance of bond and caring with action of will. One must have both the tie and the willingness to accept and act upon the tie for love to exist and grow.

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Deus Caritas Est


Encyclical Letter "Deus Caritas Est"

Obviously, I can't comment as I just received notice of it--but for those who would like to look, the first encyclical of Pope Benedict XVI--his Christmas present to the Church.

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A Timely Continuation

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from Listen to the Silence: A Retreat with Père Jacques
Tr/Ed Francis J. Murphy

Whatever brings us to this point [obedience[ be it a superior or a sorrow, a sickness or a job, it is alway God who comes and speaks to us. When we embrace obedience, we embrace God. When we obey with a smile, we smile at God and welcome him joyfully into our home. To dream of profound prayer, like that of the saints, while withholding the obedience of the saints, is a contradiction.

It's remarkably simple. We cannot pray like saints if we do not live like saints. Or more simply stated, one cannot be a saint without being a saint. Period. One can't hope for deep, profound, unitive prayer while one is chasing every idle pleasure that passes by. Every licit pleasure is not necessarily something to be pursued or obtained. Licit pleasures should be used as a means to the end, which is God. A hike in the mountains should have as its end, a closer walk with God. A cruise in the Caribbean should have as its destination close communication with God. There may be any number of intermediate "ends," for example strengthening and revivifying the relationship one has with one's spouse; however, this in intself becomes a further means to closeness with God. All service, all leisure, all joy, and all sorrow should lead inevitably to the All in All. And one of the ways this happens is when we humbly obey.

What this leads me to is to ask myself, where am I lacking in obedience? Where do I fail God? He alone knows how many ways I fail in obedience, and in my prayer, if He is willing, He will show them to me one by one. Disobedience isn't always obvious. I have many clever ploys to protect myself and my habits from change. But if I wish to live in God, I must ask Him to reveal to me all these places where I fail in obedience.

Obedience is a critical means to the most important of Ends. What we start in obedience ends in growing love.

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I Love Sobering Thoughts

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So here's another. Sobering and at the same time uplifting and joyful.

Listen to the Silence: A Retreat with Père Jacques
TR/Ed Francis J. Murphy

We follow the opposite path. Christ started out from contemplation to come to the perfection of obedience. We must start out from the perfection of obedience to arrive at contemplation. This is the reverse route we must follow. In the depths of our being our prayer is worth what our obedience is worth. Our embrace of God will be in accordance with our embrace of his will.

This follows from the discussion of the other day. If God is simple and uniate, His will is not separable from Himself. We cannot find a way to God without embracing all of God. This includes his will. Thus, the measure of our prayer and embrace of God is the obedience and humility we show in following His will completely.

This said, there is always some difficulty knowing exactly what His will is for us because we see now "as in a glass darkly." We certainly know the outlines of His will for us, and we can discern the "danger areas," the arenas of temptation. Sometimes it is difficult to know whether God wants us to do this one thing or this equally worthy other thing. Obedience consists of praying it through, seeking the counsel of a wise spiritual director, and listening with all our might before one makes a choice. When one does this, one has done everything within one's power to discern the proper end. God will either direct us, or, as I often think the case, leave us to choose, desiring both ends and giving us the delight of choosing the end that most suits us.

Obedience is so important that St. Teresa of Avila advised the sisters in her foundations to follow instructions they knew to be "wrong" (I assume this meant interior knowledge of their impropriety) so long as they were not sinful. For example, if a spiritual director told you to do something you were not inclined to do and that you knew was not something you should do (speaking only prudentially)--it would better to do it anyway and demonstrate obedience to those God has put in authority over you AND at the same time to show humility and meekness in your approach to God. St. Teresa pointed out that if God wanted the circumstances to change, he would cause the director's mind to change, or would replace the director with one who better understood the circumstances.

This is radical obedience--the perfection of obedience that is demanded from those who would embrace God's will. What does this mean in practice? Well, let's take a simple, but controversial example. Let us say you go to a parish where the Priest, in contradiction to one understanding of the rubrics tells the congregation to hold hands during the Our Father. Our immediate obedience is owed to the most immediate director. St. Teresa did not contradict her own director because her Bishop or the prior general said she could do otherwise. Perfect obedience would require that we obey the immediate authority.

Fortunately, I have almost never heard a Priest tell everyone to join hands, even if he does so as example on the altar. This isn't usually an issue. But it is a test of your willingness to be obedient. We understand it to be technically wrong, but we are told to do it anyway.

The measure of our prayer is the obedience we show to those whom God has placed in legitimate authority over us. This is scary and very, very difficult. But it is also liberating. If I know that it is not sinful, even if it seems wrong to me, I do better to follow the instruction than to follow my own lead. It is a training ground for humility, patience, meekness, and obedience and it is a very direct way of saying "I love you," to God.

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12 Apostles

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Not a novel observation, but one that occurred to me as I was listening to the homily at Mass.

12 is a number of completeness. So why didn't Jesus pick 11 apostles? Why 12?

12 is the number of completeness, the completeness of the body of Christ and as its head, Christ leads the body but is more than just another part of it. When He ascended to His Father, tweleve were still left--completeness, headed by Completeness.

Not astounding, but well worth considering.

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Exhortation and Encouragement

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I have probably written about this before, but sometimes my mind turns on the same tracks and I think it's important to remind myself of things I rediscover.

When I was with the charismatic renewal, I was identified among the group as a prophet or as having the prophetic gift. But honestly, I didn't feel like a prophet and I didn't act like a prophet. I did not warn of the coming wrath nor did I convict others of their sins.

Over time I considered what I knew of what I had done with the group. (The experience was odd because it would no sooner come out of my mouth than I would forget what it was I had said, so I had to rely on the few notes I had taken and others had given me.) I discovered that there was nothing at all of the prophet about me. I did not announce God's wrath to come, I did not identify the sins of others and encourage them to renounce them and lead a straight life.

Rather then, as now, I announced the Father who loves us, the Savior who cherishes us, the God who slaughters the fatted calf to welcome us back, time and time and time again. At one time I gave the word "exhortation" to this gift. But an exhortation is a hair's breadth from a harangue. I think of my gift now in terms of encouragment.

Time and again people come to me despairing of themselves, of God's love, of God's help, of others, and it is my pleasure and my privilege to remind them of the God who loves each one of us as if we were each the only child He had. Encouragement, always to turn from our present ways which satisfy neither ourselves nor God and rejoice in our privilege of conversation, of deep and abiding love.

I hope always to hold on to this great gift. I derive encouragement from places people see none (St. John of the Cross for one) and I hope always to be a source of encouragement to those who feel that they cannot go on, they cannot progress, they cannot grow. Of course one can't if that is how one approaches the question.

No one can will him or herself to heaven. No one can even will him or herself to better prayer. All that one can do is pray, rely on God, and when the grace comes, seize it and live it. God will perfect our prayers, He will give us the words. He will help us lead lives pleasing to Him, all we need to do is turn to Him and ask. The grace is always there and He rejoices in our little requests. He is the Father who loves us above all things--even above His own self.

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Deleted Entry

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I'm only noting that I deleted an entry so that the entry actually goes away. Many thanks to the people who commented, but upon review, it was not the type of thing I want to keep on the blog. I'm not steering away from controversy, but only certain kinds of non-edifying, my-opinion-is-superior-to-yours kinds of controversies that can crop up here and there. My apologies.

Also, so you know, I started on three different posts this morning--The Catholic Church and Community, The Vatican Pronounces on ID, and one other. Because these took the form of critique and complaint without offering useful help in dealing with the noted problems, they were deleted as well.

If I cannot say something that will help to build up the body of Christ (and constructive critiques fall into the category), then I do not need to be merely another voice complaining. No one is edified by my quirky complaints.

Now, this restriction will apply to all things other than the Arts, in which case almost everything is opinion any way and the whole point of the arts is to stir up discussion and make people think. So, I have no hesitation posting my opinions there.

But really, who needs yet another complaint about how the liturgy in my church is not up to snuff? Or a complaint about really much of anything that doesn't come with a suggestion that might improve the problem. My complaints are better borne by myself as little mortifications for my own improvement. So, I'll try very hard not to burden you all with them--but that's not a guarantee--only a promise to try. I trust you all will hold me accountable to my promise and alert me when I go off course.

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William Jennings Bryan

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In His Image

Being a compendium of his lectures to the Union Theological Seminary.

Bryan made his reputation in two major events that showed how wrong a good person could be--the Scopes trial, in which he debated oppostie Clarence Darrow (chronicled in Inherit the Wind)and his support of bimetalism, in whic he made this famous speech:

from "Cross of Gold"
William Jennings Bryan

If they dare to come out in the open field and defend the gold standard as a good thing, we will fight them to the uttermost. Having behind us the producing masses of this nation and the world, supported by the commercial interests, the laboring interests, and the toilers everywhere, we will answer their demand for a gold standard by saying to them: You shall not press down upon the brow of labor this crown of thorns, you shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold.

You can see that his oratorical style made him one of the most persuasive and interesting speakers of his time.

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An Antiquarian Gift

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Project Gutenberg Edition of Directions for Cookery, in its Various Branches

Most particularly for Julie D. and her comrades-in-arms. I love old/ancient cooking and recipe books. Hope you all enjoy this one.

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A Forgotten and Amusing Quotation


Glendower: I can call spirits from the vasty deep.

Hotspur: Why, so can I; or so can any man: But will they come, when you do call for them?

Shakespeare--Henry IV.

Found while looking at Marie Belloc Lowndes's From Out the Vasty Deep

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A Slew of Bellocs

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The Online Books Page: What's New

See January 18th Entry:

Marie Belloc Lowndes (Sister of Hilaire, and author of The Lodger--a very nice Jack-the-Ripper novel published in 1913. Her work is primarily in the Mystery, suspense, ghost story mode): From Out the Vasty Deep, The Chink in the Armour, What Timmy Did, The End of Her Honeymoon

Hilaire Belloc The Historic Thames, Hills and the Sea

Note also, the delectable Waltoniana: Inedited REmains in Verse and Prose of Isaak Walton

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Frightening Steps to Loving God


1. God is simple.

St. Thomas Aquinas "discovered" this and the Church teaches this (so far as I can tell.) God is simple. He is not made up of parts. He is one complete unity--one cannot take away a "part" of God. As such God has separable attributes--no qualities apart from Who He is. That is God's will is God, God's love is God, God's mercy is God, God's justice is God. He is at once all of these things and these things are at once all the same in God because God is simple. People make distinctions between these things because humanity is not simple--there are component parts. (By the way, don't ask me how this is true, I haven't a clue. But I do understand that it is true, and I am trying to piece out the implications of this solid and confusing truth.)

2. Loving God Means Loving God's Will
As pointed out above, God's will is His being. God is God's will and at the same time God's love, justice, mercy, patience, power, etc. But in the very real sense God is God's will--they are not separable. Thus, truly loving God means loving God's will. Loving God's will is more than saying , "Thy will be done/on Earth as it is in heaven." We must also seek to do it. When we do God's will, because His Will is Himself, we incorporate ourselves into God in a substantive way that in unmatchable. This is one of the reasons why Jesus tells us, "If you love me, you will keep my commandments." His commandments are an expression of the will of God. To love God, we must love His will.

3. Loving God's Will Means Loving My Life

Things get even more frightening. Loving God's will means loving my life, here, now, as it is. That is not to say that we must be fatalistic and accept as inevitable our present circumstances. It does not mean we cannot hope and work for better. But unless and until things do get better, our present circumstances are, for whatever reason, God's present will for us. To love God means to love his will. To love His will means to rejoice in our present circumstances even as we look forward to even better circumstances. We can rejoice in who and what we are and what we have here and now and still hope for a better life. Indeed, the whole Christian vision is reaching for that better life here and now.

The most important part of prayer is loving God. But loving God comes with knowing God and we can know God (in part) by knowing ourselves and our present circumstances because they are manifestations of God's will. Loving our lives as they have been presented to us, as gift and gift alone, is a step toward knowing God intimately. It is a frightening step because it means I must see and accept my present limitations, circumstances, and conditions as God's abiding and loving will for me here an now.

I suppose for some this is not nearly so difficult a prospect as it may be for others. As one who is always looking forward to better times, it is a difficult first step. However, the necessity of this step follows from the logic and beauty of God's simplicity. I need to learn to embrace that simplicity in all of its apparent contradictions--love, will, mercy, justice, compassion, authority--everything that is God and makes up God, not as constituent parts but as a gestalt from which we derive our impression of these virtues and strengths.

Loving God is as simple as coming to know who we really are and always seeking to find what God has in store for us.

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From the Heart of Dismay

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As of today, I have 1,808 books catalogued on my "Library Thing" catalogue. The dismay sets in when I realize that this covers two sets of shelves in my family room (and it doesn't even complete those). My estimate of my total library may have been low as I am guessing that what is catalogued so far represents about 5% of the total. (But maybe that is misleading because it represents 5% of the shelving space, not all of which is so fully occupied as the shelves in the family room.)

Perhaps I am pessimistic and I'll still come in around 20,000. But the easy part has been done and now it's title by title with much hand entry. Perhaps this catalogue will not be so extensive as otherwise might occur.

Also, I have to go through a proof to make certain that I didn't include Rex Stout titles three and four times. (A common problem given my cataloguing method.)

And given the recent spate of mysteries TSO has been knocked out of first place of similar libraries and now is about third. I'm sure that is a source of enormous heartache to him, so please drop him a note of consolation. :-D

Given what I have left to index, my suspicion is that Miss Woodhouse and Eurydice are likely to increase dramatically in the similarity index pushing poor TSO lower. (But don't tell him, he's very sensitive to these things you know--and I'm certain that he was so devastated by the last revelation that he's left off reading.) The bulk of the remainder are non-Carmelite religious texts and the "classic works"--Dickens, Mrs. Gaskell, Hardy, Fielding, novels of the late 19th and early 20th Century. Then of course there's the unseemly large collection of H. Rider Haggard.

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From Intercessions to Prayer

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Before I start, I must make as clear as I possibly can that there is nothing wrong with intercessory prayer. It is not lesser, it is not unworthy, it is not broken, it is not an indication of a stunted prayer life, it is not in any way to be demeaned. I say this as a precaution because in the context it is possible that I will slip and make it sound as though I think people should not engage in intercessory prayer. This is simply not the case at all. Every time we turn to God for even a moment, He uses the opportunity to encourage us to approach more nearly. God blesses intercessory prayer even when He does not answer it in the way that we think He ought.

One common problem I've encountered is that for some people intercessory prayer = prayer as a whole. That is, the are unaware that there is anything other than intercessory prayer. If they pray the Rosary, they pray it for intentions and don't really reflect on the fact that proper prayer of the Rosary entails meditation upon the mysteries. It is the idea that intercessory prayer is all that there is that can become problematic. Remember, the line is "Speak, Lord, your servant is listening." In any conversation there must be time for speaking and time for listening; otherwise you do not have a conversation but a monologue.

If one is faithful to one's intercessory prayers, but does not do much more, how can one move into the wider field of prayer? How can one grow from listing concerns to hearing what is on God's heart (as it were)?

I'm afraid the answer is one that you've heard here time and again, and I'm going to trot it out again because I haven't read on any blogs recently the tremendous breakthroughs that have come as people adopted and started to faithfully used the tried and true methods of Church tradition. So, here it is one more time--Lectio Divina. For those from a protestant background, you'll know what I mean when I say, "Get into the Word."

I like that Protestant expression because of its productive ambiguity. Indeed, Lectio is "getting into the Word" in at least two substantive ways. In one, we read and pray the Bible to learn to love God, and in the other, by doing the former we "put on Jesus Christ." When we get into the word, we perforce get into the Word. When I pray the Bible, I begin to understand humility--who and what I am before God and what is required of me as a servant of the Lord and a member of the body of Christ. Reading scripture apprises me of where I am in the Lord, and when that happens in a flash of metacognition, I realize that indeed I am IN the Lord. I have "put on Jesus Christ."

Lectio is one gateway that moves us from intercession to the depths of prayer. It is not the only gateway, but it is one that is too poorly used in the Catholic Tradition. The more cradle Catholics I talk to the more surprised I am at how many are only very slightly aware of the Bible. They know that parts of it are read at Mass, but there does not seem to be a real comprehension of the depths of the scriptures and the necessity of reading and studying them. In fact, I am all the more surprised because many of these people are well versed in the writings of the Saints and of philosophers. They argue cogently and coherently certain truths of the faith, but they seem disconnected from the roots of some of these truths. They know vaguely that they come from the Bible, but were one to press the point they wouldn't be able to articulate where or how.

Because Catholics have had a twofold magisterium of Scripture and Tradition, there has been a tendency to honor one above the other. Unfortunately all too often what has been honored is tradition not Tradition, with the net result that many Catholics can't find their way around the Bible. When I was teaching a class a few months ago, I had to guide many to realize that Daniel was in the Old Testament, in the latter half where one found the Prophets. That lead to a whole discussion about the classical division of the Law, the Writings, and the Prophets and to New Testament divisions. This ignorance is understandable, but it is neither invincible nor is it laudable nor long excused once one is aware of it.

Now, I'm not a "read the Bible in a year, every year" sort of guy. But everyone owes it to themselves to have at least a nodding acquaintance with the overall outlines of the books of scripture. That is, one should know that Isaiah is the source of a good many Messianic prophecies, that Jeremiah is the "weeping prophet," etc. The purpose of understanding your general whereabouts in scripture is to know where to turn if you have a particular problem or are seeking help with a particular difficulty. Having trouble trusting God, meditate for a while upon Jonah. . . you get the idea.

The prayer of scripture in Lectio is not about studying to fill your head with more facts. Continuing the discussion of some days past, all of our actions are about loving and glorifying God. If this is not the end of what we do, then there is no reasonable or viable end--there is merely a stopping point. Lectio is reading to love, not entirely reading to learn (although that can and must happen as well if we are to grow in love.)

So, from intercession to other prayer--one step is reading the Bible. The practice is considered so beneficial that if one were to spend a half-hour each day reading scripture (under the usual conditions) one could get a plenary indulgence each day. This is one way the Church announces as clearly as possible that it considers the reading and praying of scripture as paramount to the person seeking to live a Christian life. Do not underestimate the efficacy of reading scripture for even five minutes at a busy lunchtime--the alteration in you day is likely to be dramatic!

So, why are you still here reading this? You could be spending the time with scripture. Start here if you have no other plan. Yes, it is the ghastliest of translation, enough to make a Cornishman gnash his teeth--but it is the Word of God, holy and true--even in a linguistically mangled state.

[Orthographical Note: On this one entry, I managed to find at least two different ways to mutilate the spelling of intercessory--my fingers are accomplished actors all on their own!]

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"Our souls. . . fail God."

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from Listen to the Silence: a Retreat with Père Jacques
TR./ED. Francis J. Murphy

Bear in mind the words of Saint John of the Cross: "It is not God who fails our souls; it is our souls that fail God." When God seeks to test the perseverance of the soul through suffering or trials, through disappointments or challenges, consider the outcome. Many souls, who longed to taste the sweetness of prayer, but not to have direct contact with God for his own sake, take flight. In the words of the familiar saying, they longed to taste "the consolations of God, but not the God of all consolations." In truth, are we any different? Are we not likewise lacking in courage and total acceptance? Do we not seek to exercise choice, to impose conditions, and to make bargains in our relationship with God? By contrast, Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus said: "I accept all." "Yes, Lord, I accept all," meant for her: I accept being as I am and remaining as you wish provided I find you and live ever more closely with you.

Père Jacques delivered these retreat talks to cloistered nuns, and so we must be cautious how much of what was said to them we take upon ourselves--after all we have neither the vocation nor the charisms nor the strengths that accompany the acceptance of such a vocation. On the other hand, we also need to be cautious of how much we reject of what is said, because what is true for those specially called is true for all Christians in the degree that normal life can sustain.

What is particularly compelling is the way Pére Jacques identifies some of the major problems in the normal religious and prayer life with such precision. How often have you found yourself bargaining with God. This happens more often in intercessory prayer, but I know that there are times when I say something like, "Let me only hear your voice and I will be more faithful to prayer." The intent is true, but the human heart being what it is, were I to hear His voice, I would be more true to prayer. . . for perhaps as much as a week. And then I would lapse into my semi-regular torpor. This is one of the reasons that the consolations of prayer must be withdrawn. As with a child learning to walk, you first provide support and then gradually allow the child to walk more and more free, so God treats us in prayer. The first bloom of prayer is a rush of ardor and affection filled with all sort of revelations and consolations and feelings of intimacy. But when that bloom has worn off, the consolations occur less and less until we are walking on our own. And like a child learning to walk, we are able to walk because we know there is a goal and we know that there is a guardian, a protector, one who loves us (though we may not understand at the time what that means or what love is). Just so, we are able to pray because we come to know that God is present as we pray, He listens and He hears and He responds as is best for us.

As we move on in prayer, we want that exhilaration of the first steps. In a sense, we want to move backward, to move to the point where we took our first steps because it was so exciting. But you can't return because your muscles have firmed up and your gait is more steady, and now you can walk. Yes, YOU CAN WALK! It's ordinary, it's mundane, it's slow, but it gets us from here to there. Exactly like prayer--we can't return to the exhilaration, but we can go from where we are to where God wants us to be one step at a time. But we can only do so if we stop longing to go back to where prayer was so sweet and God so immediately present. God is still immediately present, but like the parent encouraging those first steps, He wants us to move toward Him. He accepts our slow, halting advance, and He rushes to us when we tumble or fall, to lift us up and shower us with signs of His affection.

But we must desire what God desires. We must want to walk to Him and walk always toward Him, getting ever closer even though it sometimes seems as though we shall never be able to make it. On our own, we cannot, but He is always there, encouraging and supporting and holding out the arms we can rush into.

To make any advance, we must stop wanting to go back. Like the people of Israel released from the bondage of slavery, we long for the fleshpots of Egypt, the places of comfort, the places where we feel at home and in control.

These are the ways we bargain with the Lord as we pray. Not all of us--some great Saints stop their bargaining, and thus show us it is possible for us. But for me, the bargaining continues from time to time. Not always and not exclusively, I have trained myself sufficiently not to seek extraordinary things--and yet part of what lures me onward in this life is the promise of a single extraordinary thing--intimacy with God. Even this must fall away and what I do I must do because God calls me to it. No consolation or enticement should induce me to move forward in prayer, but rather the ardent, brilliant, burning, and all-consuming love of God.

May it be so!

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Occasionally, I read TSO's "Spanning the Globe" and am frankly horrified by the stuff I've allowed to slip into print. Today is a case in point--I used the word predominate when I meant to use predominant.

This leads me to another thought. Might it be better to write less and revise more?

The reality is, whatever might be better, it probably won't happen, so I'll have to continue to take my lessons in humility. I will err. I appreciate those who assist with pointing these problems out. But I don't intend to not write something simply because I'm busy revising something else.

In short, unlike some blogs, this one is rough-draft world. The ideas are ideas that I want to get into some medium so that I can refer to them again. At that time they will be revised and refined, but until then, I'm afraid there will be mistakes.

It comes down to a trade-off--much better written and considered or the essentials as they come to mind. As this is a dual purpose blog, it is the secondary consideration that predominates (correctly used this time-though heaven knows what other errors might be here). Part of the purpose as I say from time to time, is to preach most to the one who needs it most (me). That requires capturing the thought however ineptly. These things can be fixed.

But I apologize to all of you who have to deal with such grammatical catastrophes. Not a good thing, I know. But I appreciate your stolid endurance, and I especially appreciate those who help me catch the problems. I won't always fix them right away, but there is at least a record to return to.

So, once again my thanks to TSO and to all others who while pursuing good purposes of their own help me to refine my own writing. God bless you.

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Benjamin Franklin

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Born January 17, 1706 in Boston, Massachusetts (the grave of his parents is in the same cemetery as that of John Hancock--I think--Bostonians can advise. It is, nonetheless on the freedom trail) Benjamin Franklin self-educated scientist, philosopher, inventor, and statesman became, arguably, the single most famous non-presidential "political" figure in the nation's history. During his life he was well known throughout Europe and the United States. He supported causes such as abolition, religious freedom, and proper treatment of Native Americans long before they became popular culture. His vision was instrumental in the shaping of the New Republic, and his legacy is with us still in Poor Richard's Almanack and in the wording and framing of both the Declaration of Independence and to some extent the Constitution. Often typified as a Quaker, Franklin's actual religious convictions were closer to the Deism popular at his time.

Famous for his "air baths" and other therapeutic practices and for his invention of bifocals, the Franklin Stove, and the lightning rod, Franklin was a man of many gifts and of generous spirit--he was willing to share them. He developed one of the first lending libraries in the United States and was for a time Postmaster of Philadelphia.

If anyone deserved the title, "Father of his Country" it is probably Franklin who was well known for having some (perhaps many) children without benefit of marriage. Nevertheless, the man behind the name is immensely appealing, the kind of guest you would like to stay longer, although he advised us that "Fish and visitors stink after three days."

In case you can't tell, I really love Benjamin Franklin--indeed, almost as much as I admire George Washington and dislike the duplicity of Jefferson. Providence indeed graced our nation when it granted so great a man in an era of great men. This was one of the minds that forged a nation and a national consciousness--our debt to him is enormous--beyond reckoning.

So, Happy Birthday Mr. Franklin, and thank you for all you did for us. And though you might not have agreed in your time, praise God for the great gift He gave us in you. May you be enjoying His presence and continuing the good work you started here below.

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To celebrate the birthday of Benjamin Franklin, a Samuelism.

"Is Benjamin Franklin's 300th Birthday a special day?" from out of the back seat on the way to work.

"Why, yes, sweetheart, it is."

"Then can I have trout?"

This referring to a promise we had made that on special occasions we would let him have the trout at our local Cracker Barrel. Can't blame the boy for working the system.

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It occurs to me that if the end is not Love, then it is not the end, but a stopping point.

In the past I have seen movies and read books that do not really end, they merely stop. If we act without love then we do not reach the End, we simply stop. I wonder if the sum of all this stopping is not the whole notion of purgatory, where all halting and stopping is consumed and we are finally purged of all the faults that do not lead to an end, but rather bring us to a stopping point and allow us to quit.

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You'll all recognize this as the answer to "Life, the Universe, and Everything."

Well, I'm going to answer some of the questions I have long asked with new answers.

What is the purpose of reading a book? Loving God.

Any book? Yes, any licit entertainment, though some facilitate this more than others.

Is there no other purpose? All other purposes are secondary. And that leads to the real surprise.

The only real purpose to any human activity, properly considered, should be loving God. Not "should be" in the adjuring sense, but "should be" in the ambitious sense. Our goal should ultimately be that all of our recreations, our works, our thoughts, and our endeavors give praise and glory to God in such a way that, in the words of Jesus Christ, Superstar,

"Why waste your breath moaning at the crowd,
nothing can be done to stop the shouting,
if every tongue were still the noise would still continue,
the rocks and stones themselves would start to sing
Hossanah, Heyssanah, sannah sannha ho, sannah he, sannah hosannah. . .

In the somewhat more time-honored words of Paul, "Every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord."

It is the proper end of all of our actions that this should come about. When we orient ourselves and our days properly, even the time we spend away from work and away from direct participation in the spiritual and corporeal acts of mercy contributes to their success. Our downtime is never down because it is spent glorifying God.

So, what is the purpose of reading a book? Praising God.

What is the purpose of cooking a meal? Praising and glorifying God. A single hot dog cooked with attention and with love is more meaningful and more worthwhile than all of the grand feasts cooked under duress and oppression.

What is the meaning of life, the universe, and everything? Praising and glorifying God and leading all souls to salvation, especially those in most need of God's mercy.

All of our acts should be ordered to the end of loving God--all good things used to His just and right purposes. All that we have, all that we are, all that we do, all that we think, everything has one End in Jesus Christ. The legitimate means are many and varied, but the end is always the same--the Glorification of the Son whose glory is the glory of the Father and the Holy Spirit, three-in-one, transcendent trinity of love.

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A Mighty Fortress


. . . is our God, a bulwark never failing. . .

I've never much cared for the hymn--cumbersome, overblown, bombastic (seemingly) all that overwhelms me in German composition. And once again, I get to see how my prejudices get in may way.

I'm sure Luther didn't intend it in the way that I now read it, but for the Carmelite, and for those with Carmelite affinities, God is a fortress and the fortress is named Solitude.

Solitude is not loneliness, it is not simple isolation. The Carmelite vision of solitude never really permitted reclusion. There were isolated hermitages, but they were meant more for a time of refreshment than a constant living arrangement (outside of the earliest practitioners). For a Carmelite, including even the cloistered nuns, the fruit of solitude was to be shared with the entire world. Reclusion, in such circumstances, is not an option.

But the danger in sharing the fruit is that one will not frequently visit the fortress of solitude. What then is solitude properly considered? If isolation is not, what then is the purpose of being alone? How is it related to solitude?

St. John of the Cross taught that faithfulness to physical "alone" time even on a very limited basis led to a solitude that was a permanent fixture of your life--a solitude of heart. Thus solitude cannot be merely separation from other human beings, although it may start with some time of this. Rather solitude is being alone with the Alone. That is, solitude is total immersion in God. Solitude takes away not merely people but all of the varied trappings we carry with us to protect us from God--our books, our learning, our understandings, our conversations, everything that could potentially carry us away from God is gone in solitude. And in solitude we receive our refreshment from God Himself. In solitude we find the mighty fortress who is our God and we become part of that fortress. From the citadel of solitude we can set forth to change the world as the Spirit directs and we can be guided always, carrying our solitude with us.

Solitude is our shield and our fortress, it is our link with God's strength, it is the promise of His Love fulfilled. Solitude is not merely alone time, because in solitude, we are not alone but we are complete with the eternal and infinite. Thus in solitude, we transcend who we are and assume our proper places in the body of Christ.

Without solitude we cannot fully know who we are or what we are called to. Solitude, time alone with God, starts with separating ourselves for some period to be with Him, but it grows in the heart and becomes an "Interior Castle." In solitude we prepare the dwelling places in the bridegroom, and in the solitude of the people around us, we are joined in spiritual marriage. The fruit of this is to be shared with everyone. Solitude is not about single joy, it is about rejoicing in what Jesus rejoices in.

Solitude, for the Carmelite, has always occupied a central place. Without solitude, the Carmelite rule disintegrates. Without service, the Carmelite rule disintegrates. The Carmelite rule is Mary web to Martha for the salvation of souls and the service of the world. It is being Martha, while always sitting at the feet of Jesus. I'm sure that this is true for other orders as well, but I can only speak what I know of my own. For the Carmelite this is the end of all rules--to be so joined in intimacy with God that Solitude and the strength and bulwark of it are with us at every moment--we are alone with the Alone and never more so than when we are joyfully serving others and seeing in them the Solitude of Christ.

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Online Parallel Bible


Revelation 22:17 The Spirit and the bride say, "Come!

Mostly older translations--Darby, KJV, etc, but still wonderful for the diversity of translations.

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Seek the Lord While He May Be Found


I have been asked, "Where do I start to read the Bible?"

The answer differs for each person. But from a strictly Carmelite perspective, the answer is always the same. Read whatever incites you to love. Read first for love and incidentally for knowledge. Whatever inspires you to heights of love, read that.

For me, it is in the Old Testament, the end of 1 Kings and the beginning of 2 Kings (bet I shocked you with that one), the end of the Song of Songs, Isaiah, Jonah and some of the lesser prophets. In the New Testament it is Luke, Phillippians (another shocker), the Letters of John, and the Book of Revelation which I find strangely beautiful and enormously comforting. For some reason, these visions that seem to befuddle and terrify others speak overwhelmingly of mercy, love, and the triumph of Good.

But these are my books, meant for me, inspiring me to love. They will not be the same for everyone. This is one of the great things about having a library in a single book. For others, other books will speak loudly and strongly, they will lead you to love.

St. Teresa of Avila said that it is not to know much, but to love much. The purpose of all study, all knowledge, all intellectual endeavor is ultimately to know God, to love Him, and to will what He wills. Some of us skip the intellectual step--at least the intense portions of that--and head straight for love. Of course there is no love without knowledge, but a surfeit of knowledge can easily impede the heart.

So, my advice to any who might ask--go to where Jesus speaks to you. Is there a particular problem? Did Jesus address it with another person? Start there. No problem, go to where you can simply look upon a person you admire and grow in love.

The purpose of all our study is a single goal--the Shema. "Love God with all your heart, all your mind, all your soul, and all your strength." And we show this love by loving our neighbor as ourselves.

Seek the Lord where he may be found,
call to him while He is still near.

The Spirit and the Bride say come,
let all who hear say come,
let him who is thirsty come take the water of life
without price. (paraphrase of Revelation 22:17)


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Billy Collins

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TSO uses a bit of Billy Collins (for a caption) that perfectly encapsulates my major difficulties with his work:

Video meliora, proboque; Deteriora sequor

As usual, I was thinking about the moments of the past,
letting my memory rush over them like water
rushing over the stones on the bottom of a stream.

The problem here is merely that there is nothing new--there is no insight or surprise. These are perfect as the lyrics of a love song destined to be a hit--but as poetry they suffer from overuse of the images. What is more ingrained in the mind of modernists and postmodernists than the "stream of consciousness?"

Billy Collins appeals to a great many because of his accessibility. And perhaps that is part of what disorients me. Poetry SHOULD be accessible, but it should also be coy--alluring on the surface and rich in depths and surprises for the person who stays around after the initial courting. Mr. Collins's work doesn't do this for me, and I so much wish it would.

On the other hand, if he opens a door to people, then there must be something I'm overlooking--some pleasure that comes from hearing something just as we ought to hear it, without being startled, shocked, or drubbed into insensibility by the poet's cleverness. One tires of the overwrought, the "shock of the new," the constant attempts to up-the-ante on the part of some poets. Perhaps Mr. Collins's work is merely a form of understatement a rebellion against the insistence that everything needs to be worked and overworked until we have a lump of coal we call a diamond because we're so impressed with what we've done to it. I need to consider and respect that as well. And so my reaction to Mr. Collins is really not a reflection on his work, so much as it is an ingrained reaction--a reaction that is perhaps provocative on its own--asking me what it is that cause me to kick against the goad.

Note: language revised in deference to a note from a friend. And apologies tendered to those inadvertantly disturbed by the original.

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One Meaning of the Saints


One of the marvels of the Catholic Church is the enormous variety in unity that is available to us in the persons of the Saints and in the Orders to which many belonged. This morning I was talking with a friend and it occurred to me that she had been spending too much time with the "heady" saints--the Dominicans, Benedictines, and Jesuits. Now, to say that these are "heady" Saints is to in no way demean them or to suggest that they are somehow inferior to those I'll call the "hearty" Saints. Rather it is to imply an initial focus and predominant means of access. St. Thomas Aquinas loved God very much, there can be no doubt. He loved God primarily through the work of his mind and the assent of his will to what intellect told it.

I mentioned to her that she needed to read the "hearty" Saints--in my mind, the Carmelites and the Franciscans (of the major Orders). These two orders raised up some saints of tremendous intellectual capability, but the writings tend not to be treatises and arguments, a la Summa, but rather distillations of personal experience and encounters with God.

Now, these are generalizations, and so, in some sense, essentially untrue. Every order has its "Heady" and "Hearty" representatives. Both embrace the fullness of life of the mind and of the heart. But the essential Charisms of some orders incline them toward one or the other more extensively. The Carmelite charism with its focus on Divine Intimacy is more an invitation to tea than a debating society. The Dominican charism of spreading the truth of the Gospel and the Word of the Lord is more an invitation to encounter the living God in all of his reality rather than tea and cookies with Jesus. Again, in my statements, I exaggerate the extremes of both sides, so don't take this as definitive analysis, merely as appreciation for the many wonders God has blessed us with in the persons of His Saints and of the Orders He has raised up and nurtured through them.

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Contemplatives and Mystics


From a recent Carmelite Retreat:

"People with a mature relationship with God are contemplatives. Mystics are people with an intimate relationship with God."

From this I derive that the goal is to be a mystic. To be a contemplative is fine, but what I want and what God may grant if I want it enough ("For from the beginning heaven has experienced violence, and the violent take it by storm.") Nevertheless, it is His to grant or not to grant and blessed be the Lord in either case.

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Break, Blow, Burn

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I really like Camille Paglia. I can't think of a single person with whom I disagree more in nearly every walk of life that I would so much like to have a conversation with. She's sharp, incisive, witty, often fair-minded. In fact, she can be brilliant (as in Sexual Personae--a book filled with things I disagree with, remarkably and capably argued and presented.) As a result, I picked this book up at the library and I've dipped in at a few places.

I must say that I'm somewhat disappointed. I'm disappointed with the selection, and I'm disappointed with some of the readings. I haven't read enough to know the complete content, and so this is not to judge the whole book. But while retaining her stunning prose clarity and polish, the majority of the analyses I looked at failed in one of two ways.

The first failures were simply unremarkable. Into this category fell the commentary on Wallace Steven's "Disillusionment of 10 O"Clock". It's a poem that doesn't really NEED a reading. The surface is the substance, and it is a fine substance. We don't need the brilliance of Camille Paglia to come in and tell us that it is about ordinary people doing ordinary things in ordinary ways and the despair that can entail when looked at in that way. This is probably one of those places where she should have chosen a different poem--"Sunday Morning" with its ambiguities and multiple possible interpretations (I see it as presaging the great atheist's conversion); or "13 Ways of Looking at a Blackbird"--that convoluted, intricate, imagist dismantling of haiku, tanka, and other imagist standards. Now, I suspect that one of the reasons for not choosing such poems is that Ms. Paglia wished to maintain her approximate structure of about four pages of explanatory prose for each poem. These latter poems would require a great many more pages to even start an explanation.

Another example of this failing came with the reading of Marvell's "To His Coy Mistress." Surprisingly, there was nothing new or of note here. Ms. Paglia notes the carpe diem nature of the poem and then goes on to make several other unremarkable observations about structure, oratory, and imagery. I suppose that this might come as news to college freshmen who had no previous introduction to poetry, or perhaps even to some of the St. Blogs audience who have no particular liking for poetry, but for those of us who have lived with the poem, Ms. Paglia offers nothing startling, or, other than her fine prose, even interesting.

The second category of disappointment is in overwrought and high-flung interpretations. Into this category falls both the readings of William Carlos Williams "The Red Wheelbarrow" and "This is just to say." Williams was a great poet, perhaps one of the finest imagists of the twentieth century. But to say that immediately indicates his relative importance in the field of poetry. Yes, he's top rank, but he's a top rank imagist--the most non-committal of poets. Kind of the "scientist" of poets--recording for posterity without much in the way of guideposts for interpretation or hooks for an emotional entanglement.

Of the latter, Paglia takes a simple communication between husband and wife--if lovely and charming--and turns it into a kind of mini-Paradise Lost, with Williams intruding upon the Eden of the refrigerator and waging battle in heaven. Honestly, this slip of a poem doesn't support the weight of interpretation. Similarly with "The Red Wheelbarrow," which depends for its effect on the ambiguity of "So much depends on a red wheelbarrow." We are led to ask, "Such as?" When in fact, the dependency, while real, may be as simple as the image that it forms in the poet's mind and in ours.

The third, and most notable failing comes in the choice of poetry to represent the modern age. Of course, any such choice is likely to be idiosyncratic and debatable, but one must question the inclusion of Sylvia Plath's "Daddy" over "Lady Lazarus" or "Ariel," and the inclusion of two Roethke poems ("The Root Cellar" being one of them) in preference to "My Papa's Waltz" (If we're going with the "Daddy" theme) or the truly remarkable and frightening "In a Dark Time".

I've outlined the problems I have seen withthe readings, and yet, I suspect I shall read the remainder of the book, if only for Ms. Paglia's mastery of English Prose. As to selection, that can be forgiven easily, as any one of us would select poems to comment on that others would question. The other two failings might simply be the result of the fact that I am not the intended audience for this book. Ms. Paglia wants to recapture and reignite interest in our poetic heritage. She chooses interesting, short poems that people would be willing to read and accompanies them with a solid, simple, straightforward interpretive model that demonstrates that poetry is not inaccessible, distant, and far off. When one reads her interpretation of Steven's "Disillusionment," there is an almost palpable sense of relief that one didn't miss the point after all. When one engages some of the outre, bizarre, or outrageous interpretations, one can see the depth of the personal meaning possible for a poem.

I will read the book because Camille Paglia is a master of prose. She is also one of the foremost warriors on the cultural battlefield that would like to do away with the notion that there is a "Canon," a core of formative works that have affected civilization throughout the ages--a core of work from which other works are derivative or theme and variations, or "transgressive." (Good Lord, how I hate that term.)

In sum, the work is worth reading, not so much for its insights as it is for its solid, foundational, and level-headed approach to what many consider unapproachable. Ms. Paglia's prose is a marvel in nearly every sentence, and here and there the brilliance of Sexual Personae or Vamps and Tramps shines through. In short, Ms. Paglia's work is almost always worthy of attention because Ms. Paglia herself is a compelling mind and personality.

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Just in Time. . .

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Reading List


With the idea that there is simply not enough time for everything, certainly not enough for the merely good, I have turned my attention to the best, hoping thereby to improve my own circumstances.

Anna Karenina Leo Tolstoy--In the gorgeous new translation. I have never managed to make my way through this book. The subject matter is unutterably depressing and uninteresting. I've never been much engaged by those who go about evil deliberately (Vronsky) applauded by society. But, unfortunately, that is a prevalent reality and Tolstoy chronicles it very well.

A Retreat with Pere Jacques--A retreat given shortly before the martyrdom of yet another Catholic during the horror of the Second World War. Pere Jacques was imprisoned for protecting and aiding Jews escaping from the Holocaust. He is numbered by the Yad Vashem as one of the Righteous among nations and his story is told in the film Au Revoir Les Enfants. He was deported to Mathausen Concentration Camp and survived until the liberation but died shortly thereafter. Being a Carmelite, Pere Jacques would seem to have a great deal to say to this lay Carmelite (even thought the retreat is given to cloistered religious).

Next up, More of Dom Columba's book. I've dipped into it here and there and if the whole lives up to the selected parts it will prove a really fine read.

Great business at work accounts for a diminished number of books going simultaneously.

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A Ghost Post


Several people have tried to comment on the mysterious "ghost post" below. This post was to have been a draft. It made it public (somehow) and when I deleted it it wouldn't go away. I guess I should consider that a matter of providence and thank everyone for the very kind notes they have sent regarding it. I'm hoping a subsequent post will actually exorcise it, and with it some part of my embarrassment. Frankly, this is a mortification I could do without.

Later: Hurrah for the triumph of bell, book, and candle.

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A Samuelism

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Okay, how's this for perspective.

Linda was teaching Samuel his Bible lesson this morning. Samuel's comment was, "You know, Jesus is a lot like that Baboon in The Lion King. He talks a lot and I don't really know what He's talking about. But at least He doesn't sin."


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If it can be said that prayer allows us to share the life of the Trinity, and I do think this is true of some kinds of prayer, then it may also be said that prayer incorporates us into divinity. If it "incorporates" us, who already have a body, then in a sense, God is incarnated in His adopted children. It is this divinization or incarnation that makes us fully part of the mystical body of Christ and it happens to each of us in greater or lesser degree (as God wills) when we turn our hearts to Him in prayer.

Keep in mind this is not theology, nor is it a studied remark. I'm completely insufficient to the task of attempting to explain how this might happen or even if I have phrased it properly. And I stand open to correction of my terminology or phrasing. But I think it is reasonable to say that prayer opens the door to Divine life here and now. And prayer starts with praying--old and well-worn words, tradtional prayers, or traditional forms. But I think we must keep in mind that is where prayer begins. It is not where prayer ends. The end of Prayer is the possession of God Himself in His entirety. In some sense by becoming His, He becomes ours entirely. When we set His seal upon us, He gives Himself to us in all of His majesty. We cannot see it, nor can we fully know it--this is what all of the Dark Night is really about--His brilliance is night to the senses and intellect, but when we are there He is Ours and we are His.

"I am my beloved's and He is mine."

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Twice in Two Days. . .

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For the second time in two days, I've encountered the following:

"You will catch more flies,” Saint Francis deSales used to say, “with a spoonful of honey than with a hundred barrels of vinegar."

Once in my own reading, once at TSO's blog. I wonder what the Holy Spirit is trying to convey to me. I tend to think most of the time I am more honey than vinegar, in fact, some might liken me to treacle at times. But perhaps it's time to look again at how I approach things. Again, related to mortification, perhaps I see myself as St. Thérèse and the rest of the world is busy avoiding St. Jerome.

Or perhaps I should be seeing under what circumstances St. Francis was provoked to write or say this. Anyway, two times so rapidly, two different sources--there are no coincidences. If I'm paying proper attention, I should address this bit of providence.

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Whether one is attached to earth by a silken thread or a golden cable, the result is the same: one cannot soar to the heights.

From "Sayings of Light and Love"

I'm beginning to understand what my friend meant when he said, "It takes guts to be a Carmelite." And I always thought it took heart!

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My mortification should not mortify you.

Too often those who undergo strict regimes of mortification end up mortifying not only themselves but those around them. Their diets dictate all and cast shadows on what others eat. Their rules of behavior are the standard and anything less is unsatisfactory--even if nothing is said, it is clear.

I'm a bad mortifier--when I suffer I believe in sharing. But shared suffering often isn't efficacious, and mortification isn't merely about suffering, there is an end to the action--we deny ourselves some positive blessing or good not to deny ourselves, but to open ourselves to the greater good we would remain ignorant of.

Now, if only I remember to come back and look at this when I'm going through my next bout of mortifications.

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REALLY Hard Instructions


from Listen to the Silence: A Retreat With Pere Jacques
Tr./Ed. Francis J. Murphy

Then, between them, with a quick stroke, he drew what must be the way of our retreat; a direct, exacting road on which one hears the refrain, "Nothing, nothing, absolutely nothing but God alone." Not this little personal matter, not this slight comfort we cling to, not this tiny curiosity that seems so trivial, but "nothing, absolutely nothing"--John of the Cross is speaking. You see, this retreat we are making must have direction. When Saint Bernard arrive at the monastery he too asked himself frequently, "Bernard, what did you come to the monastery to do?"

I hear the call of nothing--attachment to nothing, cleaving to nothing, being nothing. And my heart wants to follow it, but my body has ideas of its own. And my reason, tricky little devil that it is says things like, "Well the joy you take in this or that minor pleasure is eutrepalia legitimate, and legitimate use of God's goods.

But I've come to the point where I must say, "No, it isn't." And I need to leave behind the things that attract me and keep me away from the serious pursuit of the one thing that matters. I need to discipline myself so that nothing ever interferes with Everything.

And you know, the thought isn't chilling, frightening, or even daunting. It is enthralling. It is the most exciting thing in the world. So, why is it I never make it beyond the first few steps?

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We all went to see this film yesterday. Samuel and I nearly didn't make it through the very first scene in the film. Linda wasn't far behind. But after that little rough patch everything smoothed out into what was really a very enjoyable film. The acting was decent, the special effects occasionally jarred me out of the story and got me to thinking about the art of film rather than what I was supposed to be focused on. I was also a little surprised by how very little sense the story makes when one sits back and looks at it.

This is where our two great inklings differ so dramatically. I've never been particularly impressed with Lewis's fiction. His forte is that kind of nonfiction story-telling that gets at his more practical points. For example, I think The Screwtape Letters a vastly superior work to most of his fiction (the exception might be That Hideous Strength). Letters to Malcolm:Chiefly on Prayer and The Great Divorce are other examples of using the techniques of fiction to present argument or fact. As I was thinking through the Narnia presentation, I kept finding myself troubled with questions that a person like Tolkien would already have considered in detail. Now, on Tolkien's side, I must say, that I find his non-fiction very donnish and often nearly opaque. His strength was in the full and vivid creation of worlds and races and histories--he truly was a story-teller who had all the strands together because he had spent so much time making the whole.

Lewis and Tolkien have very different purposes, very different means, and very different strengths. But, as much as I liked the film, particularly the icy Queen of Narnia, I found that it made transparent some of the difficulties I always had with Lewis's storytelling.

Be that as it may, I enjoyed the film. Linda was touched by the film. And typical of a seven year-old boy Samuel liked "the fighting." But the point did not completely pass him by and he said that he would much rather be like Peter than like Edmund and, no, mommy wasn't much like the Queen of Narnia. . .

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Christ the Lord--Redux

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I have finished Mrs. Rice's book and I cannot recommend it highly enough. You might call it The Anti-Da Vinci Code in every respect--it is well written, well researched, well considered, well planned, and well executed. There does not appear to be even the slightest trace of axe-grinding or agenda pushing. In short, it seems a remarkable work of devotion by a woman of remarkable talent. I found it inspirational and beautiful. The ending, which I had half-expected to disappoint, did not. It was subtle, understated, and all the more powerful for its restraint. Overall a really great reading experience and a way to grow closer to the human person of Jesus Christ.

I'll repeat that I have not been a fan of Mrs. Rice's book since Interview with a Vampire, which should not be read as a reflection on Mrs. Rice's ability, but upon my taste. I sincerely hope that she brings her talent and vision to bear on continuing this series--because it is precisely to my taste. She's taken some interesting challenges and risks and I have been truly blessed in reading this particular work. In short, it is really a work of beauty and power. Art, properly focused, can do much to help us get in touch with God--Mrs. Rice's latest work does exactly this.

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The State of the State

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Of recent date we have had cause to take on a number of people at work. Among them is one very bright, very enthusiastic, very promising young man. I have occasion to work with him closely. I was giving a bit of background/training/mentoring/pep talking. I pointed out some things that I don't particularly care for in the use of language--particularly, I was pointing out that we needn't utilize something when it is just as easy to use it. Following numerous dicta, I espoused the famous, "Always prefer words of Anglo-Saxon origin to those of latinate origin." I pointed out that this dictum was codified by George Orwell (among others) in his famous essay, "Politics and the English Language."

"Have you read it?" I asked.

"No," he answered.

"As a creative writing major, you should have encountered this essay. It's a succinct summary of some of the rules for clarifying your writing."

"Who did you say it was by?"

"George Orwell."

"How do you spell that?"

"The author of 1984"

"Of what?"

I was astounded. This man is a recent graduate of our so-called educational system and he has come through nearly completely unscathed by familiarity with important figures of Western Literature. And this is not his fault, but the fault of an educational system that kowtows to every special interest that comes down the road. There is no reason on Earth that he should not at least heard of Orwell. I can understand not wanting to read him, but given how much of Orwell is present symbolically and otherwise in our country, to lack a nodding acquaintance is cultural theft. It is akin to the horror (though much less) of the DRE who corrected my son's definition of a sacrament to say that it was "a special way of meeting God."

The Canon is important. Even if Orwell is only a minor figure in the canon, there are at least three works with which one should be familiar upon graduating college--Animal Farm, 1984, and Politics and the English Language. These three have contributed enormously to our culture. "Big Brother is watching." "Newspeak," and "minitruth" are all important reference points. "All animals are created equal. Some are more equal than others," stands as one of the foremost criticisms of communist regimes from their inception.

Our children are being systematically robbed of their cultural heritage. They are emerging from institutions of higher learning knowing less than I knew upon graduating high school. Indeed, in some cases less than I knew when I was a sophomore--and I don't regard myself as extraordinary by any means.

Moreover, the young man I am speaking of had a major in an area that would seem to entail a broad and deep acquaintance with the literature of our time. I could understand this in a business major or a psych major. But his major was English. Admittedly it was a creative writing emphasis--but how can one begin to create new works if one has no knowledge of what has come before?

Those of you with children, take care to guard against this. If they are in public school, help to supplement, as best you can, what they get there. If you are a reader, mix your present-day reading with classic reading. Let your children see that you are interested in good writing and that GOOD writing extends far beyond the bailiwick of Dan Brown, Michael Crichton, Dean Koontz, and Stephen King. I am not saying there is anything wrong with the proper enjoyment of these writers, but they certainly are not the font of literature from which most of our modern imagery springs. As with our CCD classes, it appears that parents must make a much greater effort on the part of educating their children than seems reasonable. However, unless you wish for your child to emerge from your care with the idea that Maya Angelou is the end-all be-all of poetry, care must be exercised to help them come to a wider awareness of the fullness of our cultural heritage. Star Wars is all very well and good in its place--but its place is far down the line from a heritage that starts (arguably) with Homer (and I don't mean SIMPSON).

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On this most glorious day of the revelation of Our Lord Jesus Christ to all the world as seen in the persons of the three wise men I am reminded that we do not work to earn leisure, nor do we work to earn the money to buy things, but, if we are working properly, we work for the glory of God, as a sign to all people. If in the process we have some leisure and some enjoyment of the things of this world, so be it. But it is important to remember that they are secondary, entirely secondary. And if I should be called to work every waking moment of every day with only the reward of getting up to work it all again, and yet I do that work in praise of God and the the Glory of Christ our savior, I have contributed more to the world than any amount of labor in a cause or leisurely creation of the arts.

Each day we are the epiphany for those who do not know Jesus. If I accept that role and act accordingly, I am living in the praise of glory and that is the only end I need.

And so I ask, why is this so hard to remember day by day. Why must I struggle so hard to keep focus and to remember that everything that is not for the glory of God is wasted effort--futile and meaningless?

I note it now for those times when I need to remember and cannot seem to get everything into focus. I note it now for those who have a similar difficulty with focus. And I note it now in great joy and peace because God is with us--He will support us with His grace and help us to work out our salvation and the salvation of the entire world.

Praise Him!

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I've read here and there about the proper means of defending one's faith. It occurred to me at some time that the most useful, most effective, most reliable means of defending one's faith is to live it as it is meant to be lived, without stint, without quibble, without making a point of it.

It also occurred to me that this is by far the most difficult means of defending one's faith--one that, while not reserved to Saints, certainly most effectively demonstrated by them. Some of these Saints also defended their faith in other ways--in physical battle, in intellectual battle, in protracted debate. But others did not so engage, and yet they still won the hearts and minds and souls of a great many. I guess I would say that living your faith in its entirety is a precursor to being able to defend it in any intellectual capacity.

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Reading List

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Up Now--

Anne Rice Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt--I was first astounded by Ms. Rice reading Interview with the Vampire. I knew that I was reading something absolutely new, compelling, interesting. I have not been a fan since--something happened in the development of her style and writing that put me off--my problem, not hers. But once again, I am astounded by Ms. Rice's ability. This book is beautifully written and it takes big risks--for example writing from the point of view of Jesus. But every choice seems deft and sure, guided by prayer and study. What do I make of the inclusion of certain elements from "apocryphal" sources? I make that Ms. Rice uses them to show us the true humanity of Christ--the developmental awareness that every person comes to through time. I have watched my own son come to awareness of himself as a person. Ms. Rice proposes that if Christ is "like us in all things but sin" He might always have known who and what He is, but He might have had to come to an understanding of what that means. I believe the book portrays that dawning understanding beautifully. I haven't finished it yet, but I still recommend it to your attention. Even if the ending falls short, the journey has been worth it.

Up Shortly:

Christ, The Life of the Soul Blessed Columba Marmion--I mentioned receiving this yesterday and I am looking forward to reading it. It will be one of those long, slow reads because the prose is such that it will take some time to assimilate the ideas. The book is assembled from a series of talks and so has a more informal, looser structure, but still remains heady and profound. Just glancing at the first few pages showed that this would not be my usual duck-my-head-in-a-book-while-the wife-watches-CSI kind of thing.

Also yesterday I received the IVP new Catena volume for Revelations. This should prove one of the most interesting volumes as one can discover from it what the Early Church Fathers made of St. John's visions.


My christmas gift books:

The Moai Murders Lyn Hamilton
Literary Giants, Literary Catholics Joseph Pearce

and at the inspiration of TSO

Charles Carroll of Carrollton: Faithful Revolutionary Scott McDermott--I had not looked closely enough to discover that this was, in fact, a Sceptre publication and thus a work of Opus Dei.

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For some sets,
it is emptiness
that makes them whole.
The bounding matter
is twisted, turned
bent between two
competing sides.
Meaning flows from
the interface
between the two.

The line between all and nothing
is thin as a laser-level line
as firm as Cantor's dust
as solid as serpienski's gasket
as clear as the absolute length of the shoreline
as bounded as the shell of a cloud.

That's all you can know about it.
That's all you need to know about it, except--

the line between all and nothing
is the only line.
Everything sits on one side
or the other.
And closer to the boundary
is closer to the heart of all.

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This season has been very difficult for me in a number of ways. But a couple of notes from some on-line friends and the totally unexpected arrival of this book in the mail have really made my day.

The Blessed Columba Marmion is the author of a number of books in which I have been interested, but which have been out of my reach either because of cost or sheer availability in any form. Now, Zaccheus Press, a Press which just keeps getting better and better has produced an all-new translation of one of Marmion's key works. (I am reporting this more by reputation than through my own knowledge.) What a handsome and large book it is. I can't wait to get started with it. John O'Leary, the Owner and operator of Zaccheus Press has dedicated his efforts to reproducing some of the great, lost works of the past. I have noted that his previous efforts have been picked up and distributed by Ignatius Press (Abbot Vonier's Key to the Doctrine of the Eucharist and Hugo Rahner's Our Lady and the Church. Each book is better made and more aware of some of the subtleties of the typesetting arts, and each is more ambitious. If you have the money, the time, and the inclination, you might want to look at Mr. O'Leary's site and invest in some of the handsome volumes. They are a magnificent addition to any library of Catholic Literature, and you will do much to help contribute to the restoration of some of the great old works that have been lost to us.

Mr. O'Leary, if you happen to stop by, thank you so much for your service to the Catholic community as exemplified by these beautifully produced, nicely printed volumes. May God prosper your efforts at this renaissance of Catholic Spiritual literature.

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Museum Review: King Tut

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During a recent trip to Naples, we took the opportunity to take our friend and my son to Fort Lauderdale to view the traveling exhibition of Egyptian materials related to King Tut. Most recently this exhibit was in Los Angeles. It will be here in Florida until April or May.

First the good points: this makes a fine exhibition for either the novice or the expert reviewer of Egyptian artifacts. There is relatively little material associated directly with Tut, neither the mummy, the sarcophagus, nor the death mask is present in the exhibition, despite the misleading advertising that suggests the presence of the latter. What we do see are some of the pectorals and jewelry that were within the wrappings on Tut's mummy, some of the materials from the burial chamber and a few canopic jars. This sounds paltry, but believe me, they are worth seeing for their intrinsic interest and for their great beauty.

The remainder of the exhibition covers the Pharoah before Tut who attempted to impose a monotheistic system on the Egyptian people. Tut's reign was viewed as a restoration of the traditional system of worship.

The final rooms of the exhibit recreate the actual burial chamber both in size and in the diagrammatic layout of the burial arrangements. The last room is dedicated to new research on Tut that suggests that he may not have been murdered by his successor. However, I have been advised by people more attuned to the news in this field that the particular theory espoused is a bugbear of the exhibit coordinator and is not to be taken too seriously as objective research.

Now for the downside--the exhibit is poorly managed and poorly run. While there are a limited number of tickets for viewers during each time period, those limited tickets are still too many. Each gallery is overly crowded and movement between parts of the exhibit space is slow and difficult. Often it was hard to get a good look at some of the piece without waiting for five, ten, or more minutes.

We arrived about a half-hour before our entry time and were ushered to a line where we waited until well past our time. We were shown the way to some stair where we climbed and waited for another fifteen or twenty minutes before we went in to see a short context-setting film. Afterwards we entered the exhibit.

The museum really needed more forethought in preparing the exhibition. In addition, the exhibit materials were written not so much to educate the public as to placate specialists in the field with the net result that many of them were nearly incomprehensible to the audience they should thrill most--school-age children. I'm not suggesting that exhibits be written down to that age, but I am suggesting that there are ways to construct exhibits so that all might benefit from the knowledge being bestowed. However, this complaint is not unique to the Tut exhibit.

None of these criticisms should be viewed as in any way suggesting that one should avoid this rare opportunity. As the Islamic fundamentalist world becomes more vehement about the eradication of the non-Muslim past (view the Taliban's horrendous destruction of the Afghan Buddhas) such relics may become more rare, and certainly our opportunities to view them will be curtailed. I cannot recommend heartily enough the value to be derived from attending and enjoying such a wonderful exhibition. Those who live in Florida should make plans to try to see it.

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Another entry in the gather around and protect the reputation of Pope Pius XII books. A worthy cause and a notable book in the cause.

Dalin traces documentary evidence that soundly refutes the detractors of Pope Pius XII as well as the generalized claim of anti-semitism on the part of the Catholic Church and the popes specifically. While I found some of his arguments in favor of the Church overly generalized to the point of inaccuracy, his generosity of spirit in the matter is to be applauded.

What Dalin effectively does do in the work (as well as clearing Pius XII's name) is to point out the strong Nazi roots of current Islamic antisemitism. Some time back in Crisis there was an essay titled, "Hitler's Mufti," and this comprises most of the end of Dalin's present work.

For those interested in trying to restore some balance in the presentation of Pius XII to the world, this work is invaluable. It is readable and well documented. It does have some small faults, but they are more than made up for by the wonderful historical insights offered throughout.

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Those who travel in the mystery circuits know that Erle Stanley Gardner, most famous for the Perry Mason series of mysteries, also published under a number of pseudonyms. Each of these was usually dedicated to a given series. The series published under the name A.A. Fair is Bertha Cool and Donald Lam.

Bertha Cool is a large woman who runs a private detective agency out of Los Angeles. In the earlier books in the series she contributes more to the story and the solution of the mystery. In this entry she acts mainly as catalyst and obnoxious obstacle. Lam does all of the footwork. And fancy footwork it is indeed. The mystery is multilayered and starts when a wealth young San Franciscan comes to the Cool and Lam agency looking for detectives to procure him an alibi for a night on which a notorious gangster was shot.

Well, that's only the beginning of a noir roller-coaster ride that uncovers a stock scheme, a double murder, a hit-and-run driver and other incidentally related crimes and criminal activities.

Unusally well-crafted for this series and available now in the new Hard Case line of classic and nouveau noir entries. Worth your attention if you need a light read.

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About this Archive

This page is a archive of recent entries written by Steven Riddle in January 2006.

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