Steven Riddle: February 2006 Archives

Mardi Gras and Carnival

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Of the two "celebrations" that precede Ash Wednesday, I prefer the name "Carnival." Carnival derives from either medieval Italian or Latin and means "to take away meat." Folk etymology (and the etymology I worked out for it) makes it come down to "Farewell, Flesh!" It is this second meaning that I think gives us our best starting point for Lenten reflection. Yes, we have meatless Fridays--and of course during Medieval times, the abstinence was more pronounced because every Friday was meatless anyway. I don't know the particulars of the Lenten regulations during medieval times, but I do know that they were far more stringent than they are today. (People had much less to start with, thus to make a fast meaningful, to make it a deprivation, one would have to restrict far more.) But I am once again off my main point.

The folk etymology is rewarding food for thought because "Farewell, Flesh" is, in fact, something we are trying to achieve within the context of Lent. That is, we are attempting to move closer to God and hence away from the fleshly attraction that keep us far from Him. To do so we practice the disciplines of Lent as prescribed by the Church and our spiritual directors through the Holy Spirit. Lacking a spiritual director, we go directly to the Holy Spirit (although even with a director, it is hoped that prayer is directing all Lenten practices). St. Thérèse of Lisieux advised us that our daily trials and tribulations were mortifications enough--that we needed to add nothing to the mix to become aware of God. That's one of the miracles of "The Little Way." Nothing extraordinary is required. The Little Way is simple but it is not easy and the practices of Lent help us to sharpen our eyes to perceive the actions of God in our every day lives.

And THAT is the real purpose of mortification of the flesh--to put off enough of ourselves that we can begin to put of Jesus Christ. The Lenten Regulations are not in place merely to mark a season; they are positive helps on the way to holiness--gentle suggestions for things we can do that will improve our orientation and disposition toward God.

As you ponder your Lenten "resolutions" this last day before the great day of Ash Wednesday, always keep in clear focus precisely why you are doing anything at all. Obedience is good, but desire for God is even better. Let this Lent be the beginning of an ever-deepening relationship with the Lord. Hold the course and do those things that bring you in touch with Him--clear away all obstacles, and walk forward boldly in prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. The Lord will aid you mightily if your intent is to see Him.

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Jane Austen Fans Take Note


Memoir of Jane Austen

A memoir by her nephew.

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Naples, FL

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I probably shouldn't write this seeing as I don't want any more people going down to Naples and driving up the real estate prices, but here I go. Naples has become for me a destination of sorts. During the winter season one of my relatives from Ohio lives down there and a very good friend puts my whole family up for our stay. We've stayed with him twice, and so far as I can discern, he doesn't seem to be too disoriented by our stays. (A couple days with Samuel, especially when you're used to living alone, can be something of a trial.)

I love Naples because of all the interesting things nearby--first and foremost--the ocean. I have always loved the ocean, and down near Naples, it begins to have that turquoise cast that is really predominant in the Keys, and perhaps much of the Caribbean. But also within easy reach of Naples are two different "swamps"--Corkscrew Swamp (which as an Audobon preserve is nearly perfect with a lengthy boardwalk and a fine interpretative center; and the Everglades. There are places of historical interest close-by and lots of shopping and other recreation.

This weekend I spent four days in this demi-paradise. It was a bit chilly, getting down to sixty at night and peaking at, perhaps, 80 for the entire time. Also, the ocean water temp (which is really important) was only about 69-70. We went to the beach twice and had lunch with the relative I mentioned after visiting the residence.

Any way, just wanted to say a word or two about my absence and to reiterate how much I wish I were there right now. With the building of Ave Maria (the official groundbreaking of which was just last week) much will, undoubtedly, change. Those who live near college towns will know what I mean when I say, not necessarily for the better. But it will bring new life and new attention to the town and I expect that there will be many fine educational offerings. Although, there will always be the swamp-buggy competition and the "ferries" to Key West.

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Rather than deciding what YOU will do for Lent, ask God in prayer what HE would like you to do. Your Lent will be a thousand times more productive. You have a couple of days before it starts. Ask God to show the way--He is faithful, He will show you clearly.

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Lent and New Year's

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Our liturgical year begins with Advent, but Lent shares certain similarities with the beginning of the secular year.

We enter into Ash Wednesday with a load of hopes and resolutions. I will not eat chocolate; I will watch less television; I will read this, that, or the other abstruse and difficult technical book; I will. . . .

Each of us has our own list and if most people are like me, within three days they have violated one or the other protocols of their list. This is inevitable, because I go in with the idea that I will do these things. Of course I will fail. Moreover, I make unrealistic assessments of what I am ready for and what I can handle in the course of time.

Lent isn't about taking a bunch of spiritual couch potatoes and turning them into triathletes. If I approach the season with that idea of transformation, I will always be disappointed with the result. Lent is about learning to listen again. For this we do not need feats of spectacular spirituality. If we follow the simple provisions the Church has laid out before us, we have a good start. If I observe the fasts on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday and the abstinence from meat on Fridays and if I keep in mind why I do these things--in other words, if I spend my time looking for and at Jesus, I will have accomplished more than reading ten million spiritual books. If I attend one stations of the Cross and really pay attention and pray through them, if I make a regular practice of confession, if I pay more attention to the needs of those around me, I need not wear a hair shirt and use the discipline.

The asceticism of Lent is not a call to heroics, it is an invitation to love. That invitation, followed to its full, will inevitably lead to heroic spirituality, but God doesn't expect us to leap from our current habits and practices into the habit of Mother Teresa in one 40 day season. He may cause it to happen, if we are willing and we dispose ourselves to it; however, we can't make it happen, and He most likely won't. This is nothing to be disappointed over. Sanctity takes time and attention. Lent begins to teach us how to pay attention.

So, if all of your noble and high-flown resolutions fall by the wayside, do not trouble yourself. Continue on the quiet path of a little more prayer, a little more attention, a little less selfishness and God will make much good out of this simple obedience. Do not ask more of yourself than God asks of you. This is a form of spiritual pride and disobedience. Instead, before we start on this road, let each of us spend some time in prayer and ask God what He desires. And then, do what you can to make it happen, and pray for God to fill in the rest.

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An Invitation to Intimacy

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Yesterday our priest's homily centered around the scripture from Hosea accented by the gospel message. He said we must consider Lent an invitation to a second honeymoon. That is, Lent is an invitation to renew our intimacy with God.

I stand, perhaps in a better place to speak about this than many. Perhaps cradle Catholics have not had this experience. Upon first entering the church, there is a fire, a fervency, a desire to serve God in this new place that burns brightly; however, as the fuel for that fire tends to be sparse the flame is of short duration. Soon, from whatever cause, the fire has died down and is banked, the embers are rarely stirred beneath their fine white covering of ash. Such a faith provides a certain warmth and glow, but not the all-consuming blaze that the Lord would like of us.

Lent is a time to consider how to move once again toward that intimacy, toward an all-out conflagration rather than a simple house-warming fire. It is a time of renewal--not of hardship. The hardships of Lent are incidentals that receive entirely too much of our attention. Fasting, Prayer, and Alms are not strange entities to pull out only at this season--rather they are constants.

Lent is a time to consider all of our activities and to integrate them into the one goal of serving the Lord. This does not mean we abandon our entertainments necessarily, but that we refocus them and make them purposive. We don't stop jogging in the morning, because that is a good thing, oriented toward bodily health which in turn honors God and helps us to fulfill His purpose. But perhaps one changes one's route, or one's music, or one's thoughts during the time. Perhaps in the course of that regular routine, we allow ourselves the luxury of not listening to our Ipods and our white noise, but we take in the ambient and begin to forge a new sense of creation.

The same goes with all other activities. If we like to cook, we do not stop cooking, but we cook with God in mind, perhaps envisioning Jesus as the house-guest we have awaited so long.

In other words Lent is about repentance--literally, rethinking where we are now. This repentance should be more than superficial. It should give us the ground of real substantive change that last beyond the gates of Lent and brings us closer to God, even is only baby steps.

So this Lent it is my prayer that the practices substantively change my spiritual life and the lives of all of those who really desire change and reorientation toward God's way. I also pray for those who are simply going through the motions another year that it awakens in them a thirst, an ardent longing for a better life that is defined by more than material success. May their hearts learn to yearn for the Father. And even for those of us who already yearn, may it become the guiding light and the foundation of the rest of our lives. May the habits we cultivate in Lent take hold and transform us.

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Adoption Day!

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Today we celebrate adoption day by going to the beach and visiting with some friends and perhaps a relative or two, if we can get hold of them.

Please remember us in your prayers today.

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Soon Enough-Lent

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I know that by this post I am treading in the place of the Rat; nevertheless, I have cause to think that this might give her some delight.

from Sermons Parochial and Plain
John Henry, Cardinal Newman

Sermon 7. The Duty of Self-denial Seasons - Lent

"Surely I have behaved and quieted myself, as a child that is weaned of his mother: my soul is even as a weaned child." Psalm cxxxi. 2.

{86} SELF-DENIAL of some kind or other is involved, as is evident, in the very notion of renewal and holy obedience. To change our hearts is to learn to love things which we do not naturally love—to unlearn the love of this world; but this involves, of course, a thwarting of our natural wishes and tastes. To be righteous and obedient implies self-command; but to possess power we must have gained it; nor can we gain it without a vigorous struggle, a persevering warfare against ourselves. The very notion of being religious implies self-denial, because by nature we do not love religion.

Self-denial, then, is a subject never out of place in Christian teaching; still more appropriate is it at a time like this, when we have entered upon the forty days of Lent, the season of the year set apart for fasting and humiliation.

If time permits, you may wish to consult the entire sermon here
"To change our hearts is to learn to love things that we do not naturally love." This is the core of the ongoing Christian vocation. In this simple sentence Newman speaks of detachment without ever once uttering the scary word. We must learn to love what we do not by nature love--to do so, we must unlearn our entanglement with the world, the flesh, and the devil.

Lent gives us the beginning of an opportunity for this self-denial. But it is the merest beginnings. Many of us start Lent, fresh as triathletes at the beginning of their ordeal, and we end winded and happy to be released from these self-imposed burdens to return once again to our life as we knew it before Lent.

Here's a mental challenge--take what you plan to do at Lent and stretch it out over a lifetime. Can you continue this self-denial? Is it a good form of self-denial? Does depriving yourself of chocolate for 40 days really mean anything? Or could the denial take the form of one day a weak of a Catholic Fast and prayer. Every weak, inside Lent and Out. Eat a little bit less and keep in mind those who have need of more?

Each year I am challenged by Lent to grow, and each year I reach the end with a certain sense of disappointment. I have not kept to what I have promised with the earnestness I would have liked. And each year I realize that I am relying on myself. I did not do..., I did not keep. . ., etc. Each Lent I'm invited to surrender and I use the Lenten practices to build my cozy fortress more tightly around me.

Meditate then upon these words from a different Sermon:

And be sure of this: that if He has any love for you, if He sees aught of good in your soul, He will afflict you, if you will not afflict yourselves. He will not let you escape. He has ten thousand ways of purging those whom He has chosen, from the dross and alloy with which the fine gold is defaced.

Perhaps God's affliction takes the form of my own disappointment and living with less than the best. Perhaps it takes the form of knowing we can do better and consistently refusing to do so. These too are forms of affliction. But as God does love us, He can use these things to transform us. As God does love us, He will use every means to get out attention. Let's face it folks, some of us just need to be slapped upside the head before He speaks so we'll pay attention. Nothing less will work.

P.S. I truly love the opportunities that Lent presents to grow in love. If only I could preserve those wonderful gifts through the rest of the year!

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From Summa Minutiae


Latin Proverb of the Day

Some neat insights into some Latin proverbs. I particularly like

Non mihi sapit qui sermone sed qui factis sapit.

Go and read.

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Blog in Haste. . .

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repent at leisure. The remainder of the Scupoli/Robinson passage which I only managed to get to at lunch time.

A fall should make us detest the fault "and the unruly passions which have occasioned it." That is, rather than allowing ourselves to be overcome with emotions of self-disgust or anger at ourselves, we should direct our dislike onto the fault itself and the disorganization in our nature that has led us into sin. Too much attention to the fact that it is we who have failed may very well deflect us away from what it is we have done. The sin itself is, as it were, left unscathed and its attractions really unaltered, because our energy has not been directed against it itself.

. . . There must be real contrition, but the energy generated by our reaction to the fall--if I may put it this way--must be spent on hating the sin and resolving to fight it more effectively in the future.

. . . Scupoli says the following:

I would that these things were well considered by certain persons so called spiritual, who cannot and will not be at rest when they have fallen into any fault. They rush to their spiritual father, rather to get rid of the anxiety and uneasiness which spring from the wounded self-love than for the purpose which should be their chief end in seeking him, to purify themselves from the stain of sin, and to fortify themselves against its power by means of the most holy sacrament of penance.

If I may say this in a way that makes a certain sense to me--in the matter of sin, there must be a prayerful metacognition that seeks to separate the fact that we sinned from the sin, the occasion of sin, and the fault that spawned the sin. That is, rather than feeling hurt, wounded, and scared and going to confession on that basis, we need to seek God's insight into what provokes us and prayerfully ask His assistance in the avoidance of future occurrences of the sin. We need to use the mirror of our fall to reflect on the fault that caused it, not upon the hurt sinner. Finding the fault, we must seek, with the grace of the sacrament of penance, to excise it completely and allow God to fill the empty spaces that the cancerous sin had once occupied.

True contrition for sin seeks to track down its cause and eradicate it--always with grace as our foremost weapon. It does not roil about in self pity or blithely excuse the fault and sin on the basis of modern psychology.

Hope this helps to amplify and clarify the previous post in which I may have given the indication of too blithe and nonchalant an approach to sin and sinfulness.

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Those of you who have been around St. Blog's for a while know that I absolutely love numbers. I love what they say and what they don't say.

Let's take a look at the recent Catholic Blog Awards. There were sixteen categories. Look at the relative number of votes in the various categories and you'll see an interesting trend.

The absolute lowest number of votes (1022) occurred in the "Most Devotional Blog" award category. I suppose this is meet and fit as St. Blog's would not want to disturb those of us nominated from our lofty contemplations by the stampeding roar of voter's feet. Then we have "New Blog" at 1284, and "Most Creative" at 1293.

That 300 fewer votes occurred in the "Most Devotional Blog" is significant. It implies that St. Blogs parishioners are even more afraid of devotional things than they are of New things or Creative things.

How can we eradicate devotiophobia? I'm uncertain, but I do know that it is the next crusade. Next year, people should be more afraid of New things than of devotional things.

Of course, perhaps it is the fearsome thought of disturbing God's intimates that keeps the droves away. Or perhaps St. Blogs is wise enough to realize that "sleeping dogs" and "rapt contemplatives" belong in the same category of attentions. Disturb a rapt contemplative and you'll probably get an earful of something that as Samuel typified it, "He sure talks a lot and I don't understand a thing he's saying. . ."

So my campaign for next year is already outlined--get more people to vote for devotional blog than for one other category. Penultimate next year, as for the future--Ante-penultimate and beyond--the sky's the limit.

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I don't know how she pulled it off, but Julie D. of Happy Catholic won best blog by a woman. Remarkable, truly remarkable.

Congratulations--I know I was pulling for you--I'm just astounded and pleased. (Not that I would be any less pleased for Ms. Welborn--it's just that, well, I've MET Julie!)

Congratulations again.

And congratulations to Father Jim, one of my very favorite blogs!

And congratulations to all of the winners and to all who have enjoyed the proceedings.

And a heartfelt thanks to the people who went to such pains to organize the whole proceedings.

Of course, do keep in mind, these are preliminary results. And those of us in the great State of Florida are already agitating for a recount! It's our very favorite kind of count. Dangling and pregnant Chads--woohoo!!

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I'm looking for things to read during the great Lent. If you are as well, you could do worse than St. Thomas More's The Sorrows of Christ or Fr. Richard John Neuhaus's Death on a Friday Afternoon. But I happened on a book once started, since abandoned, and related to the theme of an upcoming silent Carmelite retreat: Spiritual Combat in the Carmelite Tradition--Lorenzo Scupoli's Spiritual Combat as amplified by Jonathan Robinson of the Oratory. (Jack, get moving. I really want to see the entire original without the extra notes and I can't find it anywhere else.)

Any way, I dipped into this book at the place my marker indicated that I had stopped and I came upon something perfect as a pre-thought for Lent or for any time.

We can examine whether we have developed genuine self-distrust or not by observing the effect made upon us when we sin. "If thou art so saddened and disquieted thereby as to be tempted to despair of making progress or doing good, it is a sign that thy trust is in self and not in God." We make a resolution, for example, to be patient, and we fail; or we make a resolution to avoid an occasion of sexual sin and then enter into the occasion and perhaps fall. In both cases there is often a disproportionate sense of failure and of grief. How could this possibly happen to me? What's the use of trying? The whole thing is unrealistic; I'll never be any good anyway.

This reaction shows we have been depending too much on our own efforts. If we really mistrusted ourselves, we would not be surprised when we fall, nor would we give way to despondency and bitterness. We would recognize that our sin flows quite naturally from the sort of people we are and that our reaction is occasioned as much by hurt pride as by sorrow at having offended God.

In other words, "Cowboy up. Stop yer bellyaching, and get back on the horse." Oops! I ate meat on a Friday--well, then repent and don't do it again. Oops, I meant to give x up and ate some or had some anyway. Oh well, it's time to trust in God renew the resolution and start all over.

Know that you will fail (at times spectacularly)--only God in you will succeed. If I rely upon myself I will find nothing but failure. If I rely on God, then my failings will meet with Brother Lawrence's reaction, "See what happens Lord, when you allow me to go my own way." Our failings are not the end of the world. Let God lift you up, brush you off, and then set out, as any toddler would, to explore the world anew, knowing all the while that there is more falling than standing up. But also knowing that Papa is there to lift us when we fall.

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I was not feeling well yesterday, so I stayed at home. In the course of the day I was able to see one full opera and part of another and what a tremendous contrast they were.

The Magic Flute is light, open, airy, and errant nonsense. There are dragons, and bird people, and initiates to the temple of Isis, and a magic flute carved from a thousand year old oak. The music is a Mozartian froth, even its most "chilling" moments are frothy, light, and full of a certain kind of joy. The message of the opera (if it can be said to have one) is utter lunacy, but the thrilling aria, mentioned in a previous post, and the delightful duet between Papageno and Papagena are wonderful entertainment.

Das Rheingold on the other hand is dark, brooding, doomed, and ultimately destructive. I begin to understand why those who have no acquired the taste early on do not care for Wagner. The Romantic Orchestral music is overlain with a truly bizarre variety of operatic snippets. In Rheingold, we have a plot to rival The Magic Flute, a bunch of witless Rhine maidens are guarding a lump of gold, they tease a nasty gnome, and idiotically let him know that the only way to get the gold is to renounce love forever. Well, they tease him enough so that he realizes that love ain't coming anyway, so he promptly renounces it and makes away with their gold, from which he will fashion a ring of power. Scene change--we're now outside Valhalla where we learn that Wotan has traded Freija to the Giants in return for the Giants building the fortress. The Giants come to collect their wages--enter Loge (Loki) who sets about making a real muddle of things. He sets in motion the actions that will end in the destruction of Valhalla at the end of Götterdammerung. The action so far takes place in two scenes of amazing static nature. It probably comprised about an hour and a half of amazing orchestration and truly odd operatic noise hovering above it.

Wagner, unfortunately, carries with him the onus of his own anti-semitism and that vicariously attributed to him by his adoption as the Third Reich's composer laureate. The only real good I can think of off hand is that he managed to alienate Nietzsche, perhaps the single most unlikeable philosopher of Modern Times (though Marx evidently could have given him a real run for the money). Wagner is huge, slow moving, monolithic. He is doing myth and he wants you to be aware of it. The Four Operas of the Ring Cycle approach sixteen hours in length, much of it bombastic, over-the-top tableau singing, despite the fact that toward the end there are some really interesting things going on. From the very beginning the angst is so thick you can cut it with a knife.

So why watch? I don't know--it's rather like the train-wreck of Opera, there is an incredible fascination with watching it unfold in all of its dreariness--the dire inevitability of the fall of the Gods coming at last to its final stages. There's something really satisfying about prophecy fulfilled. In addition, Wagner had an amazingly lush compositional palette, perhaps overly dramatic and ultimately what became known as German music. But the Magic Fire Music, the Ride of the Valkyries, Siegfried's Rhine journey, and other orchestral interludes begin to introduce some of the tonalities and sonorities that would drive both Schönberg and Debussy (in asymptotically opposed directions).

And it was nice to hear German sung in these two ways. In Mozart, German is like any other language, flexible, nimble, lovely in its way. In Wagner, German is like a bludgeon--it is sung so slowly and ponderously that one actually begins to realize that English is a Germanic language in large part--one can begin to understand Wagner's ponderous German. German is not just any other language--it is the language of fate, and doom, and useless gods, and war, and death, and trickery. (Of course it isn't--I'm merely relating the effect of the two operas.) So we have Champagne German and Ultimate-Destruction-of-the-Realm-of-the-Gods German. What an amazing contrast in less than 100 years. (But do keep in mind that Mozart was Austrian, not German--and there has always been a pronounced difference in music, literature, and culture between the two.)

Any way, it was most instructive and a most pleasant way to spend a not-so-pleasant day.

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The Catholic Blog Awards

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I realize how very ungracious I have been, not thanking the wonderful parishioners for the real honor they have tendered me in nominating me for "Best Devotional Blog." Thank you all, thank you very much.

If you are so inclined, please go and vote there. Vote for Julie D. and for Rick Lugari, and when you're faced with the difficult choices in devotional blogs, I would ask you to vote for A Penitent Blogger-Penitens. While I can, once in a while offer something in the devotional mode, it is a rare day when Penitens does not. All devotion, all the time. I realize that is not the most popular mode of blogging, but Penitens does it so well--and if St. Blogs is to honor someone whose work really does focus on devotion and glorifying God, then I would suggest that Penitens should be the one. This is a blog I look up to and admire deeply. I cannot sustain the depth that is there, although I can swim in those depths every day.

But once again, I can't thank everyone who participated in this nomination enough. I am very pleased that this blog is seen as being of service. Thank you all, and my sincere apologies in being so slow to acknowledge this debt of gratitude.

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A Divine Smack Upside the Head

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Sometimes the Lord, in His infinite mercy sees fit to smite us.

James 1:5

5 If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives to all men generously and without reproaching, and it will be given him.

I can't begin to say how the truth of this verse has begun to dawn on me after years of being Catholic. The truth is something that it takes a great deal of wisdom to discern. I lack it all over the place. I have so little wisdom, so little capacity to discern for myself. I like to think of myself as exalted and lifted high in the realm of intellect. But I am not. In the realm of thinkers I have an exceedingly small mind, a brain incapable of much in the way of original thought. Wisdom is very far from me and yet still I deny it.

How the stubborn self fights that reality thrashing out now this way, now that way. I write in part as a way of denying that I am nothing special. Graciously enough that very writing has brought home the magnitude of this reality. I write to show how wonderful I am, and in writing, I discover how small I am.

But God does not smite merely to leave us reeling. Indeed, it's rather like the hysterical person in previous times--one good smack upside the head to get my attention, a short point following, and then the embrace of Love. When He shows me these things, I am then the most certain that He loves me because He tells me all of these things not to destroy me, but to bring me home. Unlike the majority of people, God does not fear telling us the truth, He relishes it--not because it is hurtful or difficult, but because it gives us the chance to grow toward Him.

So, smite away Lord, so long as you are there to pick me up, I will know your love. It can be hard to face, but when I look at you I face eternity, not the mirror, and what a glorious sight it is. Thank you!

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Assent of Intellect and Will

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One of the most difficult things for me to gauge is how in accord I am with Catholic teaching. I was not raised Catholic, and I have to admit that my entry to the Catholic Church was accompanied by so many reservations, it's amazing I got through at all. I still had very primitive notions about this Catholic "Marian" bent. I did not believe in Papal infallibility, and I thought the Church wrong on birth control, most likely wrong on abortion, and wrong on homosexuality. Nevertheless, I entered with a willingness to believe if God would lead me there. I don't think I assented in mind, but I wanted to be Catholic and I prayed God every night that I should grow in my Catholicism.

Now, this tends to make one defensive and nervous about one's Catholicism. However, this morning TSO gave me a wonderful gift. I have no idea whether or not I read the passage he posted from the Vatican II documents in the comments section of the Respect post below; however, I discovered that all I have done is parroted what the Church teaches definitively. Whether I came to the conclusions in the post on my own or they were merely the surfacing of material read long ago, I stand by what was written and believe it with all my heart. What that says to me is that I have stumbled into Catholicism by being willing to do so. I am now "thinking more like a Catholic" if you will.

I believe that this is entirely a gift from God; however, it is a gift that had some strings attached. That is, to receive the gift I had to be willing to listen and willing to be led. I had to give assent of will to Catholic teaching, even if what I thought I was doing was praying for the grace to believe. Perhaps they are one in the same.

What I can say is that it is a source of great joy to see how closely my own thought parallels that of the Church. It suggests that the Church's magisterium is informing me in ways that I could not even begin to imagine.

I still have difficulties. I am troubled by some Church teachings, uncertain what to think about ordination of women, and the whole issue of homosexuality. But, I refuse to follow my own lead on this. I am far too often wrong--seriously wrong--on issues of great import. So I will remain in a state of discomfort for now knowing that as I pray to be part of Christ's Church on Earth, the Holy Spirit will guide me as He has always done. I can trust Him completely--more completely than I can trust my own faulty reasoning and prejudice.

In her prudential judgments the Church may err, but in all matters central to the faith she is absolutely trustworthy. Sometimes I don't know where that line is, but my fellow Catholics, my reading, and over all, the Holy Spirit all help me to find my way through my own confusion.

My thanks for this gift to TSO, who posted the passage from Vatican II, and to Talmida, whose patient, thoughtful, and courteous discourse was one of the inspirations for the original post. You guys and gals in St. Blog's are just spectacular--thank you for your persistent help on the journey. Traveling companions make the trip less burdensome.

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Orlando Wetlands Park


Orlando Wetlands Park had a festival today. It's a park that's about forty miles to the east of where I live in the "town" of Christmas, Florida--about a mile down the road from Fort Christmas.

The Orlando Wetlands Park is interesting because it is the final stage of a water treatment scheme before the water is return to the St. John's River. The wetlands were constructed about twenty years ago and they are the "polishing" arena for waste water that is treated at a treatment plant in east Orlando.

Enough of the background. They have an annual festival lasting only one day, but boy what a day! Had a hay ride through a working cattle ranch/conservancy area, a bus ride over the levees separating different areas of the wetlands. Saw red-shouldered hawk, mating ospreys and their nests, about a dozen alligators, soft-shelled turtle, snapping turtle and others, ibises, anhingas, vultures by the handful, little blue heron, great blue heron, American egret, bald eagle, and dozens of other animals. Fed a cow and bull in a pasture, climbed a rock wall, and Sam bounced in a bounce house. Gathered information about other local wildlife areas. Petted a milk snake and a small caiman or alligator. Saw rehabilitated Kestrel, Barn Owl, and Bald Eagle. (Barn Owls are really kind of spooky looking, with those huge feather patches around the eyes that flatten the face and make the eyes look to be about three times their real size.)

In short, a gorgeous Central Florida day--beautiful, clear, pleasant weather, and a nice gathering of people all celebrating the natural world and our park system. Couldn't have thought of a better way to spend a day.

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Even Our Amusements Matter

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For me one of the difficult aspects of Christian life to internalize is that there are no compartments. It isn't possible to be part-Christian. God is a God of extremes. As I've often said before, it is "all or nothing at all." Too often, I find myself fighting this notion, most particularly as regards my amusements and diversions.

This notion came to mind because I happened to pass a colleague's cube at work. I heard him describing a "game that's like Monopoly only you can unleash viruses and total nuclear destruction on your opponents." I had to physically restrain myself from saddling up my hobby horse and riding it to death. To explain, I have studied psychology professionally, and I have yet to decide on the issue of whether playing such games is a release of aggression or an inculcation of aggression. I tend to think it is something that differs from individual to individual. As a very aggressive individual myself, I have found that playing games such as Doom or Quake tended to reinforce aggressive tendencies. I found I was less cooperative and more strident in my dealing with others, most particularly those close to me. I do not mean to imply that this happens to everyone, but I suspect that there are about half of us for whom this is the rule.

This tendency suggests that we need to be cautious in all of the things we take in as entertainment. We must choose our books and movies and music with a Christian framework in mind. I have recently adopted a standard that if I would not want Samuel doing it (whatever IT may be) I will refrain from it myself.

Our entertainment affects us--some people more than others. Something seen cannot be unseen; something read cannot be unread--the harm is done. I learned this the hard way through sad experience. And there are some things better left unseen, some things better left unread, some actions better never tried. God has been merciful to me, and so I have few of these things in my past, but they act as markers and reminders. When someone asks me if I want to see such-and-such a movie, I simply recall one or other examples and have a ready answer.

Being Christian means that all of our actions are drawn into the Christian realm. Everything we do affects the community of the body of Christ. Our sinfulness, our oversights, affect the entire body--that is part of the need for and meaning of reconciliation or penance. It is not only a private act between penitent and priest, but also a public act which seeks to redress and repair the breeches we have created in the body of Christ through our sinful actions. Our focus is often on ourselves, but the effect of grace is such as to touch both us and the body as a whole. As we are repaired and restored, so the body is healed. We cannot compartmentalize--we cannot separate out certain things and separate them from our Christian vocation. As John Donne said in a different context,

Meditation XVII
John Donne

No man is an island, entire of itself every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friends or of thine own were. Any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls it tolls for thee.

Our actions affect all who hold to the truth we hold, so our amusements matter. Don't fool yourself into thinking that they are optional or meaningless. There is nothing in the life of a Christian that is meaningless. Even the smallest thing is a matter of great import in heaven. When we keep this in mind, it becomes easier to act in cooperation with grace. If we ask, God always gives us the strength to do what is right, fitting, and to His greater glory.

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Der Hölle Rache

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All morning I have heard "Der Hölle Rache" echoing through my head. For those who don't know, "Der Hölle Rache" is an aria from Mozart's The Magic Flute. Even in an Opera as extraordinary as The Magic Flute with its dozens of gorgeous pieces, even in the realm of opera as a whole, "Der Hölle Rache" stands out as a transcendantly difficult and beautiful piece. The aria, sung by the Queen of Night, allows a truly finely trained coloratura soprano to press the limits of her art and voice. Done well, there is nothing in the repertoire to match it; done poorly, there is nothing in the repertoire to match it. Alas, too many who are not truly capable of it attempt it to dismal effect. In the course of this aria, the soprano's voice ascends her entire range and ends up sounding a pure, musical tone at the upper end of the register. Indeed, the Queen of Night's voice becomes the voice of the magic flute--the human element of the voice is gone and all that remains is the pure clear sound of the flute. An extraordinary accomplishment.

What is interesting about the Aria is that its beauty is in direct contradiction to its content. The first line of the aria is variously translated "the wrath of hell burns in my heart" or "the revenge of hell burns in my heart." In the Aria, the Queen of Night sings of her betrayal and adjures her daughter that if one of the characters of the Opera is not killed by this daughter then:

The vengeance of Hell boils in my heart;
death and despair flame around me!
If Sarastro does not through you feel
The pain of death,
Then you will be my daughter nevermore.
Disowned may you be forever,
Abandoned may you be forever,
Destroyed be forever
All the bonds of nature,
If not through you
Sarastro becomes pale! (as death)
Hear, Gods of Revenge,
Hear a mother's oath!

Obviously not a candidate for the mother of the year award. But the aria, gorgeous and corrupt as it is mingles those elements so utterly human so well that it becomes a real metaphor for much that transpires here below. How often do I nurse this very flame? Are there not times when all I really want to do is to even the score? Are there not times when vengeance is justified?

On the contrary, the Lord promises "Vengeance is mine, I will repay, saith the Lord." (Romans 12:19) And what form will this vengeance take? It will take the form of a Man on a cross, arms outstretched through all eternity to embrace humankind. God's vengeance becomes love in the person of Jesus Christ. His vengeance is not against the person, whom He wishes to save, but against the passion that seeks to destroy one of His children. There will be vengeance, the flames of hell will burn hotter, but they will burn for the passion, not for the person. For God's vengeance is against evil and takes the form of salvation, of rescuing from the jaws of Hell all who call on His name.

Oddly enough the sequel to the verse immediately above is the proper formula for Christian vengeance:

Romans 20-21

20 Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head.

21 Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.

When we return kindness for hatred, love for hate, compassion for ruthlessness, we are scourging the demons that drive our enemies, we lend a helping hand to our brothers and sisters who labor under the heavy burden of sin, and we become God's warriors of vengeance against the forces that would deprive Him of His children.

The most important thing to keep in mind is that there is not one, not a single person, no matter how awful, repugnant, terrible, fierce, hate-filled, destructive, out-and-out evil, there is not one whom God does not desire to return home. He wants every one. When we learn how to return good for evil, we become conquerors through Him who conquered death and sin. And as conquerors we become liberators, leading our brothers and sisters out of death and into life.

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Opportunities for Discernment


One of the scripture passages I'm always trying to find and which never comes to hand when I need it is Matthew 15: 10-20.


And he called the people to him and said to them, "Hear and understand:

[11] not what goes into the mouth defiles a man, but what comes out of the mouth, this defiles a man." . . .
[17] Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth passes into the stomach, and so passes on?
[18] But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a man.
[19] For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander.
[20] These are what defile a man; but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile a man."

What comes out of a person reflect the internal landscape. What I say when I am not prepared to say anything is a suitable indicator of who I am and what I am about and the progress the life of grace has made within me. What I say to the person who is rude to me, to the person who cuts me off in traffic, to the person who aggravates me, all of these are pointers to where Jesus wants to work with me.

It would be a gross overstatement to say that there is nothing I can do about these reactions and statements. There are some things; however, merely suppressing what I would say under the circumstances doesn't really change the landscape. It is a start, because I refuse to cooperate in what would harm another. The reality is, as in all spiritual things, that God accomplishes what He will within me, the best I can give is cooperation and prayer. I must ask that he transform the anger and darkness that is within me and that I become aware of only in these off-instants into true love for my brothers and sisters. I must ask that my consciousness of being part of God's family be more present and that the roughness of the interior landscape be subdued, and brought into proper focus. In short, I pray this sonnet:

Holy Sonnet 14
John Donne

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

I cannot know the freedom of God unless God overcomes my own barriers and defenses and brings me to the life He has to me. I can only pray that God break down those things that keep us apart. I can only ask for the gift. But in the asking I know "Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. . ." (Matthew 7:7).

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Better Bibles Blog

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Better Bibles Blog

In a recent comment, Talmida pointed to this blog. Naturally, coming from such a source, I immediately went to visit and was delighted by what I found there.

This blog is a discussion of all sorts of difficulties in the translation of the Bible. One of the chief discussions of recent date was the question of gender neutrality and proper translation. A blog like this one helps to sort out a number of issues that are related to this.

It is a place for interesting insights into Biblical translation. I found it fascinating even though I do not speak any of the original languages. But even those of us who do not can contribute to better translations by guiding those who philological and linguistic abilities are finely attuned, by suggesting alternative wording that may help in precision of expression or in beauty of language (depending on the purpose and guidelines of translation).

If you're interested in the Bible and in Bible studies, this might be a gateway to many interesting places. I'm approaching it very slowly because I have a feeling that there is a tremendous amount available--more than I may have the time for. But one more blog right now won't hurt!

Thank you Talmida.

Later: I see one of the authors of the Blog found his way here. Thank you for the visit Mr. Leman.

Leter still: I'm wondering whether or not it is possible to have a truly majestic "inclusive" language Bible. I think, perhaps it is, but I have my doubts that it is usually a priority. As Talmida points out in the coments, translation is focused largely on accessibility to the greatest number of people. Such a missiion encourages the idiomatic and even the colloquial. However, perhaps translation can also take into account those of us who do not usually take up idiomatic Bibles and who are looking for the grandeur of some of the older translations with the insights of present linguistic understandings and sensitivities.

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Recent very pleasant exchanges with readers and writers here and elsewhere have caused me to want to make explicit what I hope has always been implicit.

There are a great many people in St. Blog's with whom I do not agree on some things, in some cases on many things. Nevertheless, I enjoy the company of people with whom I do not see eye-to-eye. Part of the reason for this is that I am enriched by multiple viewpoints AND I learn a new sensitivity and respect for the views of those who differ.

Respect for a person is always important. Each person is a child of God, an image of God, a chosen one of God. To show disrespect to a person is, in some small sense, to show disrespect to Christ who dwells within. While our viewpoints may differ, it seems to me that the most important thing is to respect the person and probe the reasons for our disagreements. In many cases, I have discovered, the differences boil down to nuances and to subtle flavors given to words and word meanings. In some cases the differences are more substantive, originating from personal experiences that one has not and perhaps cannot share.

When someone disagrees with me I see an opportunity for growth. Sometimes I'm aggravated and frustrated (more often with myself for the lack of precision in my writing and in what I am trying to say), so this may show. I hope it does so infrequently. I think we all bristle a little when someone disagrees. But the important thing to remember is that a disagreement is not necessarily, or even most often, a statement that YOU are wrong and I am right, but rather a demonstration of emphases. This is how I view the same object, and this is how it looks to me.

Surely there are some things on which there are categorically right and wrong responses. I do believe in absolutes. In these cases I am almost always whole-heartedly on the side of Church Teaching. There are some places in Church doctrine in which I have tendered my intellectual assent, but in which I find it very difficult not to have reservations, questions, and a certain degree of puzzlement. Nevertheless, I assent awaiting the conviction of the Holy Spirit. I entered the Church with any number of misconceptions and misunderstandings, but I entered not with the idea that I would start as a perfect Catholic, but with the idea that with the aid of the Holy Spirit I would grow into a more perfect Catholic. Over time the Holy Spirit has spoken to me about the Blessed Virgin, about certain magisterial teachings, and I am pretty much convinced that He will not abandon me now to figure out my own way. Therefore I assent, knowing that He ultimately will lead me in right paths for His name's sake.

One of those right paths is to listen and to hear what others say. When they are patently wrong, to attempt to correct with charity; and when we merely disagree, to attempt to express with the greatest possible care and concern how exactly we may differ.

I have my hot buttons as does anyone else. Press one of them and my reaction is likely to be firing off a stormy tromping of whatever "idiotic notion" inspired it, followed by swift use of the delete key and a period of reflection--why did that statement provoke the reaction it did. More often than not, the Holy Spirit speaks through those words and illuminates yet other dark areas in my soul.

So, what I would like to convey to everyone who visits is, although my words and my way of saying so may at times fail, I really do respect the sincerity and the integrity of the person who comments here. If I inadvertently offend, I beg your pardon. I will say that I try very, very hard never to offend deliberately. Sometimes this is seen as "being soft" on certain notions with which I do not agree; but I see it rather as the simple fact that I do not now, nor ever will have all the answers. My opinion on any given issue is just as likely to be wrong as to be right.

Respect is something that I think we should probably go out of our ways to make a point of. I don't think we should respect every viewpoint--hate speech directed toward ANY group for ANY reason is particularly repugnant. Hatred is not part of the Christian canon and cannot enter it except as directed toward sin. (That is, the hatred of sin is mandatory.) However, this is not a license to hate sinful people--in part because I am chief amongst them but in part because Jesus explicitly told us not to time and again.

Respect is so important to my way of thinking that I've written this to remind me when I'm not feeling particularly respectful. People are important. People are to be loved, valued, and cherished for themselves and for the Creator Father of whom they are the Children. Respect is actually very, very easy to show and often we will find the use of the delete key in our correspondence will help us on the way.

I am so grateful that the majority of places I visit in the blog-world require that participants be respectful to one another. Places that do not require this are often places I only visit upon urgent recommendation of a trusted fellow-blogger. I need not wade into those waters because I am so weak that I am too ready to succumb to them at the slightest excuse.

So, once again I find reason to thank God and to thank all of you who are so patient as to bear with me through both this long post and through the many passages in which I struggle with respectfully framing my disagreement. You all are a really great group of people to know (even if only in cyberspace) and to grow with.

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Blinded by Proximity


One of the most difficult things for me to come to realize in my walk with God is how blinded I am by those things closest to me. St. John hints at this in his first letter when he says:

1 John 4: 20-21

20 If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. 21 And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.

If we cannot love what we do see, how can we begin to love that which we cannot see. But the trap is that if we "fall in love" with what we do see, it tends to blind us to the cause of what we love, which we cannot see. Say we love sunsets, or roses, or the ocean--we might be tempted to spend time enjoying these things, so much time that the pleasure the things themselves produce becomes an end rather than a means to an end. We start by admiring the handiwork of God and end by admiring a sunset. Surely a good thing to admire, but only in its right order within the sphere of allowable things. When we admire the sunset more than the maker of the sunset we have misplaced our priorities.

I know that this is very, very easy for me to do. It is entirely too easy to admire the creation and forget the creation. The senses can be overwhelming and the pleasures that come from the senses can distract us from the real End and true Purpose of all that we see.

In a sense, the ability to see God in creation is what detachment is about. That is, you do not cling to the sensual pleasure that comes from the object, although you do not reject it either, but you see beyond it to the Cause of all pleasures and the End of all Being. You look beyond the surface and embrace the God who has made all of this possible.

Detachment then is not outright rejection of any of God's licit goods, but rather the proper orientation of them so that God is always in the foreground--He never recedes, but our great pleasure in the event is pleasure in the presence of God in that created thing.

It is easy to be blinded by proximity, however, if the Light is always between us and what is being illuminated, it can never fall into another background element. If we allow God to illuminate our pleasures, with will be God who is the focus and not our pleasures.

Or so it would seem.

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Robert Hugh Benson


Blackmask Online : Search Results

Particularly worthy of note is the new addition of Benson's None Other Gods. Very nice.

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A Slew of Cable, Cabell, and Oppenheim


The Online Books Page: What's New

In case I need to find it again. The E-texts include Cabell's magnificent Figures of the Earth, Cable's The Grandissimes, and a variety of works by E. Phillips Oppenheim.

Also note in this batch of stuff, Sigrid Undset's preconversion novel Jenny.

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Y Gododdin--Aneirin



This is the first time I've seen it as "Y Gododin." Be that as it may, this is kind of THE National Epic of Wales (NOT, the much better know Mabinogion) by its most renowned poet, one who has a remote connection to the Arthurian cycle (see below). Here, for conoisseurs it is presented in Welsh and English.

From another Arthurian site:

Y Gododdin Preserved in the thirteenth century, Llyfr Aneirin, Y Gododdin has a claim to be one of the earliest Welsh poems (or sequence of poems). It contains one reference to Arthur, which may or may not be a later interpolation; if it is original it is the earliest of all references to Arthur:

He charged before three hundred of the finest,
He cut down both centre and wing,
He excelled in the forefront of the noblest host,
He gave gifts of horses from the herd in winter.
He fed black ravens on the rampart of a fortress
Though he was no Arthur.
Among the powerful ones in battle,
In the front rank, Gwawrddur was a palisade.

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A Prayer Request

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Father, We bring before you our small town in Lancashire, we ask that you will give strength to our police and community officers as they work to bring law and order to our streets.
We pray for all our young people and ask that the churches will have ways of reaching out to them in a non threatening wayl amen

A request from the comments box that needed a better venue--posted by Ms. Frankland.

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One Version of the Bible I Lack

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ESV Bible Online: Browse

And, judging from my on-line reading, I need to get. This is one to set alongside my RSV and KJV. Psalm 23 is rendered beautifully and memorably, even though it is not the tremendous KJV. I shall continue to read on-line until my hardcopy gets here. My wife will be so pleased--(this will make Bible # 58--but that includes a good many heirloom, inherited, and "free copies" obtained from any number of sources. Guess it doesn't matter, cause they take up a shelf and more all by themselves. And I'm not even counting the Anchor Bibles and the New Catena Aurea which is still being produced. That's a lot of Bibles! But more is not better and if they just sit on the shelves. . . )

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Fr. Neuhaus on the AV

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It is wonderful to read someone speaking well of the AV, the truncated version of which has become known as the KJV. (The original AV came complete with the deuterocanonical books.)

Read the whole thing here:

from "On the Square", the blog of the First Things site

Exclamation points notwithstanding, I’m not surprised at all. Contemporary biblical scholars such as Robert Alter have much to say in favor of the KJV. In his book, The Prophets, Norman Podhoretz makes an extensive argument for the KJV, contending that it captures the rhythms and nuances of the Hebrew much better than other English translations.

For regular liturgical use, however, the KJV has too many archaisms that require a translation of the translation. The Revised Standard Version or English Standard Version are to be preferred.

One pastor writes me that he has found a way of getting out from under the bishops conference imposition of the wretched New American Bible (NAB) translation. He says that there is another translation that is permitted–the Latin. So at Mass in his parish, he says, the prescribed lessons are read in Latin, followed by their being read in the Revised Standard Version. I think he may be putting me on, but it’s an idea with interesting possibilities.

I have let my subscription to Crisis lapse, as it is too full of Crisis; however, First Things was accidentally lapsed, and I intend to remedy that at my earliest convenience. First Things and Touchstone both write mostly sensibly about current issues. I miss them.

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Thanks for the Prayers

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Samuel came through the judging yesterday with flying colors--a 95/Superior performance.

Interestingly, they've instituted a "sight-reading" section to the proceedings. This was not part of the judging last year, so Samuel sight-read a piece of music and did fairly well so far as I could tell. The pieces are written so as to make no real musical sense, so without the music you can't tell if the right notes or the wrong ones are being hit. Anyway, it didn't count in the judging except that you tried to do it. He then played his optional piece and mandatory piece and listening at the door, they went off without a hitch. He even managed to slow them down a bit so it didn't sound like the equivalent of his race-read through the story of Peter and Cornelius during his try-out last week for reader during his first communion Mass.

Anyway, thank you all. Much appreciated.

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One Way of Saying Thanks


Happy Catholic

If there is someone on your blogroll who makes your world a better place just because that person exists and who you would not have met (in real life or not) without the internet, then post this same sentence on your blog.

And the place where I found this, is, in fact, one of several. You others know who you are.

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The Deep Blue Alibi--Paul Levine


In my constant search for mysteries that can hold a candle to the classics in either writing, plotting, or cleverness of story, I managed to pick this one up. Promising to be a combination of Hiaasen and Grisham, it looked like it would probably be a bust, but it was set in the Keys, so I had to give it a chance.

I was more or less pleasantly surprised. An Attorney team of Steve Solomon and Victoria Lord investigate unpleasant and illegal doings in the keys, each nearly getting him or herself killed several times.

So let's stop here for a moment. If you want a frothy, if somewhat salacious and more-foul-mouthed-than-I-care-for read--this book is for you. It has everything--shyster lawyers, ambulance chasers, explosions, death by spear-gun, death by vintage WWII torpedo glider explosion, etc. etc. However, I'm now going to complain (hopefully not at length) about a point I found distressing.

Paul Levine, the author, supposedly lives in Miami. If so, he has never ventured very far from his penthouse apartment on the beach. The main stuck-in-my-craw point centers around a scene in which Victoria encounters a deadly coral snake in the shower. Okay, to start with, coral snakes ARE deadly--they are not something for amateurs to fool around with, don't try this at home. Any way, Victoria sees this snake and then dispatches it, after python-like, it wraps around her arm and has to be loosened and snapped like a whip a couple of times to subdue it. After she does so, her mother comes in and declares she'll have a handbag made of the skin. Two other people both claim it for their projects--a pair of boots and a briefcase.

STOP--rewind! (1) A coral snake is about the size of a common garter snake. Its head is so small that it would have to chew through an adult human's skin to inject venom, and the little guy isn't hanging around to do that. Most bites occur in the webbing of fingers and toes, the only place the skin is thin enough for this to transpire. If you had half-a-brain as an assailant, you'd pick something with a little more zing--a pygmy rattler, for instance. (2) Being the size of a garter snake, you'd be hard-pressed to make the strap of a handbag from several skins, much less an entire handbag. (3)Later mom shows up with a pair of sandals covered in this snake's skin. How long does the author think it takes to prepare a skin for such use. Evidently, he's of the opinion that it should be no more than about three days--at least according to the chronology of the novel.

Okay, I went on far too long about that, but it was one major sticking point. I hate when research is so sloppy that these minor facts can't be put straight. However, be that as it may, it's a quick and mostly enjoyable romp through the keys. I wouldn't bother with it until you've gotten through your stock of Hiaasen, White, and Dorsey (and if you're inclined to nostalgia MacDonald). But if you like some courtroom stuff mixed with a wildish ride through the tropics, you might enjoy this book.

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L'Elisir D'Amore


It is pretentious to try to review Donizetti at this point, and largely ungrateful to try to review a given performance given how few are available to most people. So I won't try. But given that it was Samuel's first "Night at the Opera" and given that I'd asked for prayers that all go smoothly, I thought I'd report in.

First, it was a wonderful evening. It's been a very long time since I've been able to attend the Opera and I can't think when I've enjoyed something so much. I so appreciative of those who love the culture enough to keep trying despite dwindling attendance and skyrocketing costs.

L'elisir D'Amore is a frothy bit of comic opera--at one time a vehicle for the enormous success of Beverly Sills and Luciano Pavarotti. Donizetti is a composer who bridges the gap between the Mozartian Operas and Italian Grand Opera. "L'elisir" is about a woman with two suitors, one of whom is a simple country man, the other a soldier of fortune. A quack doctor comes into town to sell his snake-oil and he is asked by the country man for an Elixir like that that wooed Queen Isolde. Of course the peddler has a supply to hand and generously sells it to the suitor. Chaos ensues and wraps up in classic fashion.

Samuel appeared to have wonderful time for the first half of the Opera and seemed to fight off sleep for the second half, which has some of the truly stirring and wonderful music in the piece. All-in-all, it was a very promising operatic debut for Samuel. I look forward to The Marriage of Figaro. The jury is still out on whether or not he will join us for Tosca. But thank you all for your prayers. Given that the little guy is only seven, he showed heroic virtue and strength in even being able to sit mostly still for it. And, he showed remarkable taste in liking it and enjoying it to some extent.

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Another Prayer Request


Samuel will be performing in a "judging" competition on Sunday. He'll be playing a couple of pieces on piano.

I have to say, knowing absolutely nothing at all of the way children develop in the performance of music, Samuel seems to be roaring ahead. He seems to do splendidly. He certainly surprises me at every turn.

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An Evening with Donizetti


Tonight we will be able to indulge an impulse long denied and we will be attending the Opera. It's a local company with a mixed bag of singers, but it's a frothy piece of Operatic fluff called L'Elisir D'Amore.

Tonight we will be taking Samuel, so please pray for us. I don't know how he'll take to it, if at all and that may present some small problems. I don't actually anticipate it, but better to pray about it than worry about it.

If things go well, he'll be attending at least one other--The Marriage of Figaro. The jury is still out on Tosca, which despite some lovely music may be too long and too adult to have any interest for him whatsoever. But at 7 I'd be surprised if he stays awake for the evening.

Nevertheless, there is no chance to enjoy culture if we don't at least give him the opportunity, and Opera, particularly local companies is an art-form that may soon pass away entirely, and that would be a terrible blow to the richness of our culture.

So, I'll report on that and on a recent book read, possibly as early as tomorrow.

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The Urgency of the Gospel Message


The Gospel according to Mark is breathless, relentless, starting at a run and never letting up. Not for Mark the leisurely winding beginnings of Matthew and Luke, nor the theological ruminations of John. No, instead at breakneck pace we get--

1 The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

2 As it is written in Isaiah the prophet, "Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, who shall prepare thy way;

3 the voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight—"

4 John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

An entire sentence of introduction before a prophecy, before a prophet. And this is followed by the introduction of St. John the Baptist, the Baptism of Jesus in the Jordan, the forty days fast and temptation, the Arrest of St. John the Baptist, the choosing of Simon and Andrew and James and John, teaching in the synagogue, the exorcism of the first victim of demons, the healing of Peter's mother, the healing of an entire city, the first retreat, the beginning of the preaching mission, and the first healing of a leper. And THAT'S chapter 1!

Doesn't this suggest something about the urgency of the Gospel message. This charged Gospel is all about getting us moving. It is short, to the point, punchy, like life itself. In an opinion poll it would probably rank fairly low in popularity among the four gospels because it is so direct, pithy, to the point. Its directness demands a response, an immediate response. The reader is sucked into the narrative, into the immediacy of the life of Christ. You can't take a breath without breathing in an action of Jesus. It's a whirlwind, a roller coaster ride, an invitation to adventure, and a passionate romance all in one. The Gospel according to Mark is the swiftest and sleekest way into the heart of the story of Jesus. A half hour, perhaps an hour, and you've grasped the essentials of a story you can meditate upon for a life, for an eternity.

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Reading around blogdom, I have come to realize that society is infused with a sickness which is unto death. I'm not unique in this observation: as a people and as individuals, we are distracting ourselves to death.

Not so long ago a work day was fourteen hours plus, then one came home and tended to things on the homefront that needed tending. We had bigger families and more help, but hours were long and recreation limited. Most people worked at least six days a week. (In fact, the Church obligation to attend Mass was set as a kind of charitable acknowledgment of the fact that Lords would have worked their serfs to death if attendance were not mandatory. The penalty was set for those who did not attend AND for those who obstructed another's attendance.)

Now most of us work eight hour days. We come home and probably grumblingly do some housework and then sit down in front of the television. According to one source, football and Harry Potter can be seen as definitive elements of community binding. I read this list from Christian Science Monitor with a kind of heartsickness. Of all of the events listed in the roster only one approached anything like a true community event (Fourth of July Celebrations). Most of the rest were endless distractions and amusements. Where were baptisms? Weddings? Eucharist? Confirmation? Prayer? Service? Where were the true things that help you know who you can really call upon in a time of great trial? I didn't see them on the list. No doubt Harry Potter fans are very generous, but I suspect that if my house burned down, I would turn rather to the members of my Church and my circle of friends for help, comfort, and solace. Are football games and The DaVinci Code and CNN the sum of what binds us together as society and community? If so, what a very sad statement on our culture.

Some have claimed that reading the Bible is too hard. I know that part of what they mean (for me at least, and perhaps for many others) is that it gets in the ways of other more amusing distractions. I can't read my twenty-two mysteries a month, or watch my eighty-nine movies, or indulge in my six must-see series, or play my softball, bowling, or curling matches. Coming up will be an endless cycle of Olympic broadcasts, the results of which I will glean from postings on the Blogs. And Blogs themselves--an amusement that can have a serious side, but really an amusement.

How can we identify when these things are a problem? I think it's fairly simple--do you craft a schedule around them? Does everything stop when the show comes on? Do you get irritated if someone interferes with quality reading time with a request for homework help or housework help? Do you resent giving up the time you would otherwise devote to the activity? Are you churlish, boorish, mean-spirited, or otherwise petty when someone suggests that your time might be better spent? Do you resent, just a little, any interference with your planned recreation?

I know that I can answer a big yes to many of these questions about both reading and blogging. If I am not ready to abandon the amusement at once to attend to important things in life, then the amusement has too much control over me. If my amusement prevents me from having a full prayer life or from reading scripture every day, then it is a sickness unto death--because the amusement has moved squarely between me and the God I must adore, worship, and glorify in all that I do.

This whole post started with the thought that "Bible reading is too hard." I said in a previous post that it has never been hard for me. And it hasn't. But I haven't done nearly enough of it. I began to ask myself why--and it occurred to me that my distractions and my amusements have become the entangling weeds of Jesus' parable. They are good things in themselves that have grown into me and become twisted by my own twisted spirit, my own reluctance to do what is good and right.

So now, for the evening, I'm leaving the blog. I go to do my Bible reading, to spend time with the wife and my beautiful son, and to ask God to give me the strength to do likewise every day of my life. Only grace can save us from our distractions once they have grown too strong and too encompassing.

(Sorry, if this is a downer, but I was commenting to someone the other day that I felt weary. I realize the source of that weariness is the utter sapping strength of my amusements and distractions. I am not doing what is right and good, only what can be good in moderation--and because moderation is lacking in many areas, the very goodness of it is questionable now. I know--typical Carmelite detachment talk--but where would you all be if it didn't come up every now and then?)

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A Shared Conversation


Shared betwixt myself and another Opera aficionado--

"Jump, Tosca! Jump! Please put us out of your misery."

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Jesus take the wheel
Take it from my hands
Cause I can't do this all my own
I'm letting go
So give me one more chance
To save me from this road I'm on

--from "Jesus Take the Wheel" Carrie Underwood

Jesus, take the wheel! Boy, if only I could bring myself to say it and mean it.

This is one of those songs that probably means a good deal more to those of us with a history of "Jesus speak," a form of communication common among evangelicals and fundamentalists, but nearly unknown outside of Catholic Charismatic circuits. Understand, it is simply a cultural things, like grits at breakfast, or rice, sugar, and butter, or turnip greens with fatback. Not better, not worse, simply a different way of saying the same thing. Utterly alien to most Catholics and "mainline" Protestants. But it feels like home to me.

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In an interesting series of posts at Disputations, Tom discusses the importance of reading the Bible. In the comments there are a variety of reasons given for not doing so. Among the most curious to me was that reading the Bible was hard.

Tom seemed to understand immediately what was meant by this. To me it was nearly a foreign language. Reading the Bible has never been difficult for me. But I also think I know the reason why.

Pardon me if I spend a few moments sharing too much information about my family. My Grandpa Riddle (I can't really speak to Grandma's case so well) never graduated High School. I think he got an eighth grade education before he had to start working to help support the family. (I remember how proud he was when he got his GED at the age of 80, as though somehow a life of building houses and churches was not enough.) I don't know about the educational level of my grandparents on my Mother's side of the family, but I suspect they graduated high school.

The translations of the Bible available to my grandparents were limited in number and even more limited by tradition. Limited, in fact, to one--the KJV. Now, people who complain about the difficulty of reading the Bible should try the KJV or other close approximations of foreign languages. The USCCB has done its level best to produce the most cacophonous, least coherent and lovely translation ever to assault the eyes and eardrums of humanity, but there are translations out there even more tone-deaf and less euphonious. The point is, my 8th grade educated grandfather and my high-school educated grandparents not only had these bibles, but they read them--every day of their lives.

I had occasion to go and stay with my grandmother to help her around the house and get her to appointments while my grandfather was in the hospital recovering from surgery. During times in the hospital waiting room, when she wasn't lifting the spirits of other visitors, she was rapt in her Bible.

One time my Grandpa S was saying something about the Blessed Virgin (this upon learning that I had wholeheartedly joined the Catholic Church) and my grandmother quoted chapter and verse.

Grandpa, "There's nothing so great about Mary."

Grandma, "Now, Oscar (her pet name for him, you know it says right there in the Good Book itself, 'Hail thou that art highly favored, Blessed art thou among women. . .'Cain't see any way around that making her special. The good book says so."

For any occasion their first recourse was the rich treasury of scripture that they had read, memorized, internalized, and to some degree lived. Both of my grandfathers could give long, and I pleased to say that subsequent research revealed, largely correct talks about the historical background of the books of the Bible, and understood clearly what is often unclear to me in Paul's letters. I remember an old Riddle (pardon the pun) that Grandpa Riddle posed me--"Who was the oldest man who ever lived that died before his father did?"

Admittedly, they had a very literal understanding of the Bible which was not open to discussion or probing. But understand, they did. More importantly, they read, and they didn't just parrot back the words.

What I want to reemphasize is that this was the KJV, Jacobean English, nearly a foreign language to us today. It was not "too hard" for them to do. They found no problem at all in reading it daily.

My purpose is not to make anyone feel bad about saying, "It's hard to read the Bible." There are so many ways that is true. But if it is a priority, what is hard becomes easy, "My yoke is easy, my burden light."

My point in recording this is to remind me, when I'm busy making excuses for why I don't get around to it as often as I would like that it isn't particularly difficult as a task, only as an obligation. The trick is to ask for the grace to turn an obligation into an invitation and to accept as frequently as possible that invitation.

My grandparents wouldn't have thought of facing the day without "being in the word." In a similar way, I would do well to make it the number one priority, rather than number six, seven, ten, fourteen, or dead last. My grandparents leaned upon it as a staff of life and I can still recall my Grandpa saying, "man doth not live by bread only, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the LORD." Perhaps I would do well to have a little less bread and a bit more WORD.

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The Colorado Kid Stephen King

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It looks like a noir. It's titled like a noir. But it sure ain't a noir, and in a sense that's what makes it so marvelous.

You all may be acquainted with the grand and glorious paperback/pulp tradition of the 1950s and 60s in which you have a lurid, or at least a suggestive cover on a piece of content that has nothing whatsoever suggestive about it. Evidentiary support The Colorado Kid--cover, a seductive picture of a young woman in black holding a microphone. The promise--"she'll get secrets out of a dead man." The actuality--nothing of the sort.

The story is the tale of two old-geezer newspaper reporters on an island off the coast of Maine (Moose-Lookit Island) who are relating to a young intern the story of a truly mysterious happening on the island--a never-solved mystery.

In that sense, the story is only just barely a mystery and it certainly doesn't qualify in any sense for a hard-boiled or noir mystery. However, that is the icing on the cake--the vast majority of hard-boiled or noir don't really qualify. Hard Case Crimes hit a home run with this little ruse. In addition they accomplished quite a little coup in getting a piece by Stephen King to bolster sales. It would seem to me that this one title alone would be likely to support the line for a year or more.

The story itself is well done. When Stephen King sets aside certain personal fetishes he can write like no one else. This story resembles in kind only "The Body," only without any hint of anything gross. In a sense, it is among the most mature, adult writing Mr. King has done. The story is captivating and carries you right along even though you sense that you might not be getting what you paid for. By the time you're done you're either happy or furious--(in fact, I was happy because the author broadcast the end long enough in advance for you to leave off if you hadn't any interest.)

A very fine entry in the series, and a very fine story all on its own. Highly recommended.

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Spiritual Anger

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At the beginning of Dark Night of the Soul, St. John of the Cross details a number of "spiritual sins" that can get in the way of progress toward intimacy with the Lord. The seven capital sins have their corresponding faults and sins in the spiritual world.

I had wondered about what spiritual anger might be. I happened to read the significant passages again yesterday and then today, I had an example served to me on a platter.

In our local area we have a tremendous opportunity for a retreat. It will last three days and the cost for staying over is less than two-hundred dollars. I have spoken to a number of people who live in a better part of town than I do, who spend a good deal of money to go on fairly extravagant vacations and who go on pilgrimages when the locations are right. Some of these people told me that the retreat is too expensive. A person I was speaking to was very upset over this wondering how they could spend the money on frivolity and pass up such a great opportunity.

That, in a nutshell, is the genesis of spiritual anger. I won't say that this person had it, but when we let that thought dwell on us and we begin to get truly angry about how people's priorities are all messed up, we have entered the realm of spiritual anger.

I thought about this and wondered how much of the conflict between different groups of Catholics was tainted with this sin. How often do I get angry at some petty transgression of the rubrics? Angry enough for it to throw me off-course during the mass? Turns out that it isn't very often, but once is too much. Spiritual anger takes concern over a very important matter and turns it into an opportunity to judge and exercise my own righteousness against others. It is entirely destructive because I can begin to convince myself that my anger is righteous because it is in a righteous cause and that those who are the subject of my anger are truly unregenerate sinners who wish to tear apart the fabric of the Church. That may be true, but I do not have the right to sit in the judgment seat--my anger in this matter separates me from God just as surely as my anger in more secular matters. When anger leads to judgment against a person, it separates us from the love of God.

Spiritual anger is a real danger. It seems more real in the world today because there are so many abuses. But being aware of its possibility renders it less of danger. When we are angry about a real abuse, we need simply steer away from judgment. We address the abuse, pray for the one committing the abuse, and leave the matter in God's hands otherwise, neither condoning nor condemning--rather commending to God's infinite mercy those who trespass against us.

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Night Walker


An entry in the Hard-Case Crime series by Donald Hamilton, Night Walker suffers a bit in the plotting department, the noir department, and the writing department. It is adequate and light fluff, but hardly a heavy hitter, not even coming up to the standards of the Day Keene entry Home is the Sailor.

The story centers around a Navy Reserve Officer after WWII being called up to service again. Not keen about the idea he spends the travel money on a drunk and ends up hitchhiking his way to the hospital via a driver who picks him up and clubs him over the head. Add to that a reluctant murderer wife, some espionage, and a girl-fried who won't let go and you have a fairly typical noir mix. However, the atmosphere doesn't really have the menace necessary for a successful noir--nor is it steamy enough to move successfully into the hardboiled realm.

Hamilton is better known as the creator of Matt Helm, a detective/spy played with variable success in a series of films starring Dean Martin (heck, it was the Zeitgeist, you have Bond, Flynn, Helm, on television The Man From U.N.C.L.E., The Saint, and The Avengers.

Anyway, if you haven't anything else to fill an idle hour-and-a-half, this can be entertaining enough. But I'd probably suggest you try the Day Keene or, so far at least, the Stephen King entry in the series The Colorado Kid.

Next up after The Colorado Kid--Paul Levine's The Deep Blue Alibi (more Florida Mystery), Michael Innes Sheiks and Adders and From London Far (lent me by a friend) and about two dozen Perry Mason. Found a stash that includes the first ten and I have about fourteen of my own. Yes, when the heat is on at work, the brain goes on vacation away.

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Nanny McPhee

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What a very pleasant surprise--a surprise with the likes of Emma Thompson, Derek Jacobi, and Angela Lansbury.

The story is adapted from a series of book by Christianna Brand. (I hadn't any idea. Ms. Brand is known to me for a number of fine mysteries including Death in High Heels and Green for Danger.) Very Mary Poppins-like, Nanny McPhee joins the beleaguered Brown family, gets it properly organized in typical Edwardian fashion and then is off again.

What is so very delightful is the way the story incorporates some of the very oldest cinematic cliches in a way that refreshes them and makes them funny once again.

Samuel loved the film as did both Samuel's mother and father. Highly recommended for those who wish to take children to see a film in which family is extolled, supported, and celebrated.

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Google Spell-Checking


I don't know if it's spying on me (probably), but the Google spell-checking tool is just so nice. Naturally it won't catch misused homonyms or typos that are real words, but it's so much easier than cut and paste to word and cut and past to template. It's just very useful--if I only remember to use it!

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The Case of the Sulky Girl


(As if you care).

One of the attractions of any novel by Erle Stanley Gardner is the cleverness of the title. Although not exhibited particularly well in this second Perry Mason novel, the first The Case of the Velvet Claws and the third The Case of the Lucky Legs, along with the A. A. Fair titles (Fish or Cut Bait, Fools Die on Friday, You Can Die Laughing) are all nice uses of cliché phrases to new effect. Enough about titles, were his ability to stop there, there would be no point in encouraging people to pick up these classics.

Gardner's ability extends to plotting and construction of the essential mystery. I would not class him with the other classic Golden Age Mystery writers for a couple of reasons. Most importantly, in the Perry Mason series, he does not have a detective as such. Perry Mason, much like Nero Wolfe, is essential a fixture. The investigation is done by others and we see Perry thinking and interviewing and doing lawyerly stuff, but rarely actively investigating. (I'm reporting on this novel, I'm sure others may show different behaviors.) But more importantly, Gardner took steps, either consciously or unconsciously to divorce himself from the whole Golden Age school. For one thing, his setting is relentlessly realistic. So much so that I would put him in a class by himself as a California Mystery Novelist. There are no others in this unique set. Although others write mysteries set in California, the sensibility of these novels is unique. Chandler wrote about Los Angeles and other California settings, but his novel aren't anchored to the state, they are anchored to the state of hard-boiled noir. Gardner walks a thin line between the classical school and the hard-boiled, but the atmosphere is rarely noir, and it certainly wasn't for Perry Mason in this novel.

This is the second in the series. I'll have to go back and catch the first. Thanks to the provisions of our marvelous copyright laws, the books, which under any reasonable circumstances would have entered public domain some time ago, are locked away most likely permanently. And publishers, in their great push to have more knitting, candle-making, bed-and-breakfast, tea, and scrapbooking mysteries have set aside some of the great works of the past. Should the trend continue, these works could be lost to future generations--I think particularly of Gardner, Carr, Queen, and a few others--very fine mystery writers whose recent publication records are dismal. I'd venture to guess that among the three perhaps twenty percent of the collected opus is available for purchase to readers today. Back to my point--thanks to copyright provisions, The Case of the Velvet Claws and approximately 60 other Perry Mason novels do not appear to be in print at present. Or perhaps Velvet Claws was and it was just back-ordered--I forget--either way the main point stands.

In this second Perry Mason novel we experience (I am told) the first time Mason is involved in a trial. For those who recall the television show, the trial is much the same, although there's a whole lot more commentary from the peanut gallery about how Mason is really botching it up. The denouement occurs within the trial sequence and provides a satisfactory, if only faintly sketched solution to the mystery. As Gardner gets better control of his material, I expect this aspect of the novels to improve.

What is interesting here are the large number of illegal and suspect things Mason does in the course of this single case. He hides his client away from the police, he mails stole money to himself to avoid being in possession of it, he attempts to steal evidence--and so forth. He is so dicey that at one point he acknowledges that if things go poorly, he would certainly be in danger of an accessory-after-the-fact charge.

I've gone on long enough. I enjoyed the book for what it was and am sorry that I have come so late to this particular table. The field was never a specialty of mine and I was much more interested in the British School--which, curiously, includes one major American author (John Dickson Carr) and could be argued to be the predominant influence in another (Ellery Queen). In fact, of the writers of the Golden Age, it seems there is only one prolific American standout--Rex Stout. He defied the conventions and the lure of the British School and forged a unique American voice and a Detective who has no parallel in the mystery field. Perhaps I'll take up writing about him in the near future. But for the time being, to round out the review, I would say that Sulky Girl is recommended light reading, and required reading for those who wish to acquaint themselves with certain milestones in the history of the mystery field. After all, Perry Mason's first recorded trial is a landmark occasion of sorts.

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About this Archive

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

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