Steven Riddle: November 2006 Archives

The Trout Quintet

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I am NOT a truefan of most chamber music. To my ear it tends to sound a bit thin, weedy, and forced. I suppose if I were actually in the chamber while it was being played, the effect would be quite different. But to listen to chamber music in the privacy of my own room on my stereo gives a kind of wan and weak portrait of the experience. It's rather like watching Opera on television, or worse yet, listening to an Opera on disc. This can be a satisfactory and satisfying experience for many, I suppose, but I almost never enjoy a recorded Opera (in its entirety) before I've had the chance to actually see the Opera performed.

I digress. What I wanted to do was say that if you also are disoriented, unmoved, indifferent, or positively antagonistic to chamber music, you might wish to give Schubert's "Trout" quintet a try. This is one of those rare pieces that, though only five instruments play, there is a depth of sound and of theme and motif that really shows what chamber music construction is all about. After a glorious, bright, and quickly moving first movement, there follows a somewhat slower, more meditative, "interior" second movement--a natural flow from the first and an obvious development of the themes. Again, the third movement is bright, fast, and almost strident, lapsing into a fourth, quieter, meditative line and culminating in the fifth movement that brings the light and darkness together into a brilliant synthesis and summary of the entire work.

Words are not really meant to describe music, they cannot do it justice. And my words are particularly inept because I have no real training at describing these things, nor do I have the proper training and terminology to express all that is present in the music.

What I must do however, is encourage anyone interested in classical music to listen, really listen to the piece. Not put it on as background music and let it go--rather listen to it and to what the composer manages to do with relatively few instruments.

Bright and brilliant, one of the few chamber pieces I actually choose to listen to over and over again.

Now, Erik can come and chastise me for succumbing to the lush Romanticism of the 19th century--but then, you'll get a better picture of what the music is all about. And I'm always ready to learn the error of my ways, even as I continue to like what I should not. But let's face it, it isn't Brahms--and it is on Brahms that Erik and I can agree nearly whole-heartedly.

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Black Robe

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Julie at Happy Catholic has posted a list of works recommended by one writer as "essential Catholic reading" (my words). Black Robe is on that list. And I just happened to have been reading it at the time. (It was one of those discount book purchases I couldn't resist.)

I very much enjoyed Brian Moore's The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne, which was a brilliantly conceived and well-written story of an aging spinster seeking the meaning of her life.

Black Robe is a completely different story, but it follows in a long line of Catholic novels about priests and their feelings of unworthiness in the face of what they must do: The Power and the Glory, Silence, Diary of a Country Priest, and so on. Black Robe details the journey of a Jesuit Missionary from the home base in Quebec to his mission outpost--it is a very small slice in the life of the priest, but it is filled with event.

Moore's strength in this books is sense of place. It is extraordinary how seemingly effortlessly he gives one an overwhelming sense of place. However, the weakness of the book is in the characters. They are stock and they are ciphers. He attempts to recreate the gutter-speech of the Native American populace and it comes off like a forced convention of stereotypical Australians. The central battle of Father Laforgue against sin and toward meaning is so sparsely and unconvincingly sketched against the backdrop of this amazing setting that I am compelled to wonder why he bothered at all.

Apparently the author of the book Julie read indicated that the book was rife with torture and other unpleasantness, and while there is a fairly graphic scene of torture and death, it remains fairly unmoving. (There are also other unpleasant scenes, but nothing the rises to the level of most of the forensics novels of current popularity.) The reader is at such a distance from events (perhaps mercifully) that it is rather like glimpsing certain things through the fog. There is no emotional context, only physical brutality.

And that marks most of the book. When Father Laforgue begins to meditate upon his sins and unworthiness, we have so little intimate knowledge of him that it comes off as pasted on. We've experienced his physical suffering, his temptation and fall, his hardships, but we've been given almost no real knowledge of his interior life. What was the extraordinary strength and insight of Judith Hearne is all but missing here.

I wondered for a fews moments why this book was on the list and realized that it was very probably the result of the fact that the list was composed by a Jesuit and hence there may have been an affinity for the North American martyrs. Or perhaps the reading did not extend so far as to take in some of Moore's better works.

Whatever the reason, Black Robe does not belong on a list of essential Catholic novels--it is definitely second string. Well written, interesting, a ficitonalization of Francis Parkman's The Jesuits in North America in the Seventeenth Century, which, in turn, is a distillation and expansion of certain parts of The Jesuit Relations. It is fine, fast reading--if one can tolerate the simplistic vulgarity of much of the dialogue--however it is neither a Catholic classic nor the finest work of Moore on Catholic themes. If you want to read a really fine work about the interior life, The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne is your book. (On a side issue, I really wish I could find a copy of the film. I don't think Netflix has it listed, and it is one for which Maggie Smith received a great deal of critical acclaim.)

So, on this book, recommended with some reservations.

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"Easy Listening"

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I listen to a lot of different kinds of music. Yes, I even subject myself to stuff that Erik calls "absolutely gorgeous" and which I find essentially indistinguishable from cicada song except perhaps in volume. I want to learn to listen to new things and I readily admit some are beyond me.

But the horrible little secret that I don't even really try to keep from any one, is that I have a real liking for classics, remakes of classics, and certain varieties of what is variously called "Tiki-music" or "Space Age Bachelor Pad Music." (This does not extend to the wheezy electronic organ or skating rink music that sometimes accompanies these things.)

I brought some in to work to add to my iTunes and I know someone here who really enjoys "The Exotic Moods of Les Baxter" as much as I do. She made a comment this morning that hit the nail on the head for me. "It is somehow so soothing and calming." It is indeed, and I have no real explanation for why. I find certain composers and styles very soothing. There may be real virtuosity in the composition, but I regard the music largely as background sound--more than white noise, I think, because the sound probably helps even out the daily spikes in blood pressure that come when someone approaches your desk with something that is manifestly NOT your responsibility and begins to discuss the problem. (Or worse yet--it IS your problem/fault.)

So I admit, I like the light sounds of Les Baxter, Martin Denny, Henry Mancini (in his own original compositions, not general in his reconstruction of others.) I like Rosemary Clooney, Early Frank Sinatra, and all the classics. I even like Bette Midler and Rod Stewart and Linda Rondstadt and Cyndi Lauper redoing "I Only Have Eyes for You," or "Stardust."

I don't listen to these things all the time. I also like Vivaldi, Varese, Ligeti, Ravi Shankar, Brad Paisley, Ultravox, Bill Nelson, Arvo Part, Aine Minogue, Loreena McKennit, and any number of other styles/types/artists. You might say I am catholic in my tastes. The less charitable would say (not without reasonable support) that I am undiscriminating in my choices. But there's a wide world of music out there and I have stopped trying to make a point by abhorring this or that popular artist or genre. Instead, I put on my headphones and listen to Tina Turner and am reminded for a moment of what beautiful things people can do and produce. And that is a comfort and a world that seems intent upon ugliness.

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Making New Acquaintances

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I don't get out much.

Not even in the blog world.

Frankly, there are just too many blogs of interest and I often can't keep up with the very limited, but very worthy list of blogs in my side column.

So as a result, I am often last to the party, but I often arrive.

I just found a blog by a priest that really struck me. Bonfire of the Vanities has been around for a while, but as I am not particularly drawn to priestly or religious blogs (by sheer virtue of them being priestly or religious) and because I had not encountered Fr. Fox elsewhere, I missed this wonderful blog.

And what is most wonderful is the providence that brought me there during a very difficult time I am having over a number of issues, personal and faith-related.

What should I find there when I arrive, but this very consoling, very pastoral post:

So: there's a lot of ferment in matters of liturgy -- and yet, a great number of God's people are tired of it all. They've seen a lot of tinkering and monkeying around with liturgy, a lot of changes mandated from the bishops or Rome, and they would like to pray.

Well, there are a number of keyboard combatants out there who say that if a priest doesn't immediately start offering Mass, all in Latin, ad orientem, without extraordinary ministers, with only male servers, etc., etc., he "lacks courage" and seeks a "lowest common denominator" liturgy.

I will leave it to your imagination as to why they have so much time to lecture pastors via the Internet, as well as why their own pastors don't listen to them.

I have said before, I am not a traditionalist. It would be pretension on my part to claim to be so. I came into the Church during the reign of JPII. I came in with a lot of struggle and a lot of turmoil and it has taken me a long time to shed many of my protestant trapppings. And honestly, they aren't all gone yet. Nor do I think they will ever be. And that's all right because it is part of who I am. But I am not a traditionalist.

And I am turned off by the anger and bitterness of many traditionalists. (Not that I don't understand it, I do. And I even sympathize. But the rigidity that it often instills isn't particular attractive nor conducive to showing the wonders of the Catholic Faith. On the other hand, if in one fell swoop all that you loved and all the supported you and held you up through years of faith life were swept away and simultaneously the secular revolution entered a phase that brought faith-life to a stand-still. . . well, you get the point. It isn't that traditionalists are wrong or don't have good reason for how they feel, it's just that for some the bitterness of that feeling leaks into the conversations and interactions they have in general. For a long time I thought I was opposed to the Latin Mass and the return thereto; it took me a while to figure out that what I was opposed to was the personal offensiveness of a small number of people who ardently desired that return.)

And I have to admit to be numbed, aggravated, and confused by much of the trumpeting and crowing and partial announcements and indecisions--"We'll have a full indult." "No the French Bishops delayed it." "This is the right translation." "No, that is the literal translation, this is the actual meaning."

It tends to put my faith-life and my worship completely out of focus. I am so focused on the accidents that I miss entirely that God is present. I am so flustered and bothered by the noise in my head that I can't see God or engage in prayer in any fruitful way.

And so I happen upon this voice of calm and reason, this voice that says to me, at least in this passage and for this time, "There are many valid ways of being Catholic. Don't let precision destroy intimacy. God is present."

Thank you, Father Fox, even if it wasn't what you intended to say, God gave me a great consolation through your words.

(And if I have inadvertently offended any who call themselves traditionalists, please forgive me, I certainly was not trying to tar all with the same brush, and my anecdotal experiences may not be typical of an ordinary interaction.)

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Prayer for the Pope's Trip to Turkey


I had intended to post this prayer; however, Blog-by-the-Sea saved me the trouble.

Thank you.

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Quotation for the Day


I could be bounded in a nutshell, and count myself a king of infinite space, were it not that I have bad dreams. Shakespeare--Hamlet, II.ii

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What We Owe God, and Why

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From Fr. Luis of Granada:

from The Sinner's Guide
Fr. Luis of Granada

The design of this book being to win men to virtue, we shall begin by showing our obligation to practice virtue because of the duty we owe to God. God being essentially goodness and beauty, there is nothing more pleasing to Him than virtue, nothing He more earnestly requires. Let us first seriously consider upon what grounds God demands this tribute from us.

But as these are innumerable, we shall only treat of the six principal motives which claim for God all that man is or all that man can do. The first; the greatest, and the most inexplicable is the very essence of God, embracing His infinite majesty, goodness, mercy, justice, wisdom, omnipotence, excellence, beauty, fidelity, immutability, sweetness, truth, beatitude, and all the inexhaustible riches and perfections which are contained in the Divine Being.

This quotation came to me today in a time of struggling to focus, and it made sense for the day, this being Christ the King.

It's an odd thing but the through and through American Baptist Church always seemed to me to have a better sense of what this feast is about than does most of the Catholic Church. Baptists seem to understand the concept of absolute sovereignty with noblesse oblige. Protestants in general tend, if anything, to overemphasize the concept of sovereignty, neglecting the fact that we always have the right to reject His rule, possibly for eternity. Nevertheless, if there's anything a Calvinist knows and responds to it is the sovereignty of God. Catholics, oddly considering all their ritual, seem to be a more casual people God may be sovereign, but that doesn't really mean much of anything. We are more on the terms of the importunate widow--and as a general thing, that's probably a good thing because it is a closer and more reasonable approach to the God who loves us. But it is also good to have a day to remind us of His Kingship and what that means for us.

So I'm grateful today for Luis of Granada and his reminder that we should not sin firstly because it offends justice, the justice of the God he goes on to describe. Now, why in the world would we even consider such an offense?

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On the Road with the Archangel

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I like Frederick Buechner, a lot. I've liked his work since Godric and Brendan, when I went out in search of some of his nonfiction.

One of the collateral results of seeing a couple of films this weekend is that we happened by a bookstore that was truly going out of business. It dealt only with remaindered books to start, and now these were 40% off. There's nothing I can resist less than the lure of deeply discounted books, and so we brought home a bunch. Blood Meridian, Black Robe, The Preservationist (a novel about Noah and his Ark), a book of essay by the poet Geoffrey Hill, the most recent book of Joyce Carol Oates literary essays. (Does Oates have temporal lobe epilepsy? Every time I turn around she seems to have two dozen other books out.) But I have digressed.

Buechner's book is a small gem. It is the story of Tobit and the great scorekeeper in the sky and the Archangel Raphael whose main job is to present the prayers offered here on earth in the great throneroom of the sky, and who often shakes with mirth over the misconceptions and misconstructions of the people who do the praying.

The story is faithful to the biblical account of Tobit and gives it weight, substance, and bearing without falling into faux biblical language or off-hand explaining away. And as such it works superbly as a bit of exegesis and an inspiring message about God's love and compassion for all of us. Buechner is a minister in one of the protestant faiths (Presbyterian, I think) and he has an amazing ability to bring out the message that is often hidden in the very terse prose of most of the Bible--God loves us. God is not the great score-keeper. God is not busy trying to smash us like the flies that Tobit squashes with his shoe. He does not delight in our sorrows, nor is he distant a merely allowing things to play out in the course that has been formed. In short, God is love, and his love-letter to us--every word of it, hard as that is to imagine--is the Bible. Every story, no matter how fraught with trial and turmoil is endlessly about His reaching out to us.

And so Buechner makes very clear in this very entertaining small book. If you happen to see it on the remainder shelves or find it at your library, pick it up and spend an hour or two. You'll be glad you did. Highly Recommended.

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Children's Cinema Offerings


This may be too late for some of you, but I post in hopes of alerting the rest as to the relative merits of three children's films I've had the duty to sit through this season:

(1) The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause--A mild entertainment--neither offensive nor particularly compelling. Whatever message is here is so coded and buried by all the fluff that surrounds it that it will at worst do no harm and at best encourage some form of family solidarity. The worst part of this is that family solidarity, as good as it is, is not the central message of the Christmas story.

(2) Happy Feet: The one with the greatest potential for damage. Another of George Miller's nearly endless and endlessly preachy films. It seems that after Babe, Miller got up on his hobby horse and has been riding it into the ground ever since. Ostensibly the tale of the Penguin who is not gifted as other penguins are, the main messages of this film are dissent, disagreement, and headstrongness. Most children won't see it, but it is a two hour long polemic on preserving the fish for the starving penguin populations of Antarctica. In addition, it has some fairly strong anti-parental and anti-religious elements. Again, very young children won't catch on, but Samuel came out of the theatre lecturing us on the need to preserve fish populations for other animals. And while it is good to have one's consciousness of these things elevated, it does make for preachiness and polemic that are hardly worth the spectacle of dancing penguins, particularly when compared with . . . singing slugs.

(3) Flushed Away: The film that most amused me and featured the inspired talents of singing slugs and a city of sewer rats. A straightforward adventure film/love story with, as I said, singing slugs, some "adult" humor a la "Rocky and Bullwinkle" and a tight and clever plot line. One example of "adult humor--" La Frog is summoned by his British cousin Big Frog to help capture the heroes and play out his evil plot to drown sewer world and populate it with his voracious tadpoles. The French ninja-frogs show up and La Frog tells them, "Time for action, men." At which the dozen or so frogs raise their arms and say "I surrender." "Not that action!" (My sincere apologies to any French readers I may have.) There are other moments as well, but overall, it is fast paced, with amusing interludes featuring fleeing slugs, singing slugs, flying slugs, and yes, dancing slugs. Overall, it seemed pretty message free and a lot of fun. Recommended.

The other two films I can't really recommend because I was bored by the preachiness of Happy Feet and simply bored by The Santa Clause 3, neither charming nor inventive. But the latter has no discernible harmful message and the former has a strong but relatively coded anti-religious message that will be missed by pre-teens, and perhaps by some adults.

Now on the kid scale--Sam loved all three. I don't know which one he liked best because best usually means most recent. So your pre-teen child is likely to enjoy all three.

Oh, how I long to see a film made for adults!

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Free SF E-Books and More


Can be found here.

They are generally of the militaristic brand of SFbeing from the Baen Books library, but there are a lot of them, and it's entirely possible you'll find something you'll really enjoy in amongst the titles. Go and see.

Everything almost anyone could want to know about Nematodes (and probably a good deal more than most care to know.)

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At Geoffrey Chaucer's blog:

An excerpt:

Thogh the pees of Kent pleseth me much, yt is right hard to fynde goode bokes ther, so as ich make my stay in Londoun for Parlement, ich haue been going crazy about the purchasyng of bokes. Euery daye ich visit the scriveneres for to see the newe bokes and maken requestes for copyes. My shire doth paye me IV shillinges for ech daye ich am in parlement, and by cause of al the monkey business of this straunge parlement yt is lastinge longer than a voyage to Spayne. By cause ich lodge myself with my frende Langeland, ich spende but iii pens for a capon ech daye (and a somedeel greter amount for ale, wyn, and batidas), and thus a gret surplusage of cash moneye remaineth for the acquiringe of bokes.
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May your day be blessed and may whatever gathering you attend be a joyous celebration of life and of true thanksgiving for all that we have been given.

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An Interesting Item from E-mail

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Once again, I must admit to being ignorant of the agenda, politics, or ideas behind the Glenmary Home Missioners; however, this story was interesting in a way that I'm sure the author did not intend. From it I learned that there is a town in Mississippi by the name of "Vardaman."

Now, why would this even be of minor interest? Well, one of the point-of-view characters of William Faulkner's As I Lay Dying is named Vardaman. And though I read the book ages ago and have not returned to it, burned into memory is Vardaman's reflection on his mother Addie (the one who lay dying), which constitutes an entire "chapter" of the book. "My mother is a fish." (Read the novel to find out why.)

Anyway, reading the letter from the Priest reminded me of As I Lay Dying and I wonder now why the book has made such a powerful, indelible impression on my mind. I mean I read it thirty or more years ago and I can remember scenes in it vividly. Unlike say the swill I read last week which vanishes into the memory hole almost as soon as the cover is closed.

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Fulton Sheen


I can't vouch for how good the site may or may not be, but here's a place where you can download Fulton Sheen talks.

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Must Read

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TSO's Spanning the Globe is an unusually good round-up in a column that is always top-notch. Go and see.

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Knowing Christ Jesus

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or defending a doctrine?

Tom at Disputations points out that winning a point may mean losing a soul. If we make the system of beliefs the object of faith, then we're arguing for a falsehood.

I read (into) this to mean in part, our mission is not to prove the doctrines of the Church but to bring people to know Christ Jesus. The rest will follow naturally as the heart is inclined to the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Or not--and at that time we look more carefully at the doctrines and help and lead the person to understand the point being made, all from the point of view of Love. Compassion--leading another to the source of love, the only place where Truth can be found unalloyed.

Read Tom's magnificent exposition in several parts--this one marking a beginning.

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This is the first book by Mark Haddon and it is a very quick read. The story of Christopher Boone, an autistic young man with an extraordinary ability and affinity for "maths," follows the young man as he attempts to investigate the killing of a neighbor's dog. The book is his narrative of that investigation and its fall out.

Not being autistic myself, nor having much personal experience with autistic persons, I cannot speak to the authenticity of the narrative. However, it seemed quite authentic. Told in the first person, I got a sense of what the world of the autistic person must be like.

The story also traces the trials and tribulations of the family that must care for the autistic person. At times it is heartbreaking and aggravating. You can understand the mother who is pushed to the snapping point because she can't even go to the store to pick up groceries or clothing. You get a glimpse of the pressures that might cause a marriage to dissolve.

In a sense the novel is an instruction in empathy, a help to understanding, a guide to comprehending and trying to embrace difference--even very difficult difference.

Well told, fast read--not literature for the ages, but a remarkable glimpse into an extraordinary parallel world. Highly recommended for adults.

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Could there be any more pathetic image than sheep without a shepherd? Sheep are a true example of the herd-mind, not one of them can do anything if all of them do not decide to do it and because they are sheep none of them has the sense to decide anything at all. Even cows are smarter than sheep who will stand and be plucked off one by one by a predator because they simply don't know any better.

Add "sheep without a shepherd" to the answer to the question "Am I my brother's keeper?" and you have the point of compassion. In fact, each of us is responsible for the people around us. We are all the images of Christ. Each of us an image in miniature. If so, then we are each shepherds of a small flock, a small number of people with whom we come in contact and interact every day. It is part of our vocation to holiness to the the shepherds, the tenders, the ones who care for, feed, and guide to the extent possible our brothers and sisters. And like the Good Shepherd we need to do so in truth and in love.

Love is not love without the truth. Compassion is telling the truth in love. Part of this truth-telling is a matter of timing. We don't sit down with the woman who is mourning her divorce and tell her that if she hadn't slept around before marriage, she would have had a better chance. We don't scold the woman who is mourning the abortion that made her sterile by reminding her of the sin--she's already learned the truth, now it is time for compassion and support.

The truths of Christianity can sometimes be very hard truths. Sometimes it is difficult to understand that one cannot do evil that good might come of it. It seems reasonable and logical that if by breaking one person you can save twenty-thousand it is something you ought to do. But "the good of the many exceeds the good of the one," is a principle that may only be chosen, not forced upon a person. If my personal sacrifice might save twenty-thousand, then it is legitimate--but I may not choose to sacrifice another that the twenty-thousand are saved. These are hard truths.

Compassion is about loving our brothers and sisters and speaking the truth in love. More often than not, we need not use words to speak the truth. With a sympathetic ear and a loving heart, they will often work out for themselves where and what went wrong. And our duty and privilege is to be there to help them live through the consequences and set out on a new path where similar things will not happen.

Compassion also extends to loving those who haven't the means or opportunities we have. Some desperate situations are not the choice of the person involved, but the result of societal conditions prevelant in the area. The starving poor of Bombay, Calcutta, or Appalachia do not choose this situation for themselves. In a sense, there is no truth to speak here except that they are beloved children of God. To speak that truth, we must find a way to feed and care for those who do not have enough for themselves. Some theories of government suggest that this is a governmental enterprise. But the Christian truth is that it is our responsibility. The sad truth is that most of us, regardless of our view of the government, do rely upon the government to support these people. As a result, the people never really feel compassion, merely obligation.

We are each sheep and shepherds. Those who know a bit more and understand a bit better are obligated in a greater way--"To those to whom much has been given, much will be expected in return." That means most of us at St. Blogs have a greater obligation than the majority of humankind. Most of us living in the wealthiest and most privileged nation on Earth are required to give of that wealth to help our brothers and sisters. And this giving should not come through the involuntary redistribution of wealth that is our tax-and-spend government system, but through our direct encounter with the needs of those around us who have less.

Compassion is reaching out in love. Shepherding requires sacrifice--sacrifice of time, energy, money, even of self in some sense--that the sheep may prosper grow and follow the right path. Think of our obligation as a kind of peer shepherding. Responding to the call of the One Good Shepherd we, though sheep ourselves, take upon us the duty to shepherd those even less aware of the divine. It is a hard job and not one that is particularly well-paying or recompensed in any way. Indeed, we are often despised and hated for doing it. Nevertheless, it does not remove from us the obligation to serve as we have been served, to be Christ for brother and sister, and to do it personally in whatever way God has given us the strength and wisdom to do.

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Re: Catholic Manicheeism


In the example given below, I chose a progressive cause; however, the same truths hold for traditional causes. Too often much of our attitude toward traditional causes is , "It's done, get over it."

As with the purveyors of the progressive causes, it is true that some people supporting the traditionalist cause can be very aggravating in the way they choose to make their points. However, this does not "undo" the nature and extent of the hurt, and as the complaint centers around the center of the faith life, the wound is that much more painful and difficult to heal. As a whole, I'm not certain that the Church has been particularly compassionate toward the traditionalist movement. I know that while I have some sympathies for the complaints, I am often tried to the limits by the complainers, and so I have perhaps not been as responsive as I might have been.

True, it is sometimes difficult to deal with people and their emotions with regard to change. And even more true, unlike reason, which in right-minded persons speaks all-for-one, dealing with emotional injury is a one-on-one and therefore more difficult and exhausting. These facts in no way remove the obligation for each of us, to the extent we are able, to deal compassionately and faithfully with our brothers and sisters who have received real and/or perceived wounds at the hands of the Church.

The Catholic Church struggles not with right reason, which I believe she has a fair bead on, but with the reality of human emotion. There are people and times where this has been handled better and worse than at present--but our present reality is that people expect the Church to help meet these needs. And by that expectation, they expect the people of the their local Church to be a real community. This is a perceived, if often illusory, strength of our evangelical brethren. It is a reason many leave the cold comfort of the truth and join the warm brotherhood of our separated brothers and sisters in Christ.

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Interesting Answers


John Allen, someone I will have to pay more attention to, addressed the issue of the role of women in the Church in a way that I see as solidly holding forth Church teaching and then suggesting what could be done within the framework of Church teaching to make clear the full and equal status of women in the Church. Full article here. Even this may be controversial to some, but I don't see much that would be problematic about it (though I do have to admit that some DREs seem to run away with their own agendas--but wouldn't that happen male or female?). Moreover, it gets around the "it's the law, get over it," by framing the possibilities. One thing I like a lot in the argument is the notion that we can maintain our understanding and framework and still make room for a number of voices to be heard. (We have to remember that not every woman is a Hildegard or a Catherine of Siena--allowance should be made for those whose lives do not command our attention by extraordinary holiness, but who still have important things to say about how we live our spiritual lives.)

First, while no one directly put the question of women’s ordination on the table, we might as well deal with it head-on. Given Pope John Paul II’s 1994 document Ordinatio sacerdotalis, which stated that “the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women, and … this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church’s faithful,” there will be no official movement on this question in any short-term future scenario I can imagine. I’m aware that some Catholics dream of revisiting the issue somewhere down the line, and I have no crystal ball that tells me where the church will be in 200 years. What I can say is that the Catholic Church does not lurch from position to position, especially on something this sensitive, and at a minimum anyone living in hope of rapid evolution will likely be disappointed.

Further, it’s correct that Pope Benedict and other church leaders see the revitalization of the priesthood as a top priority, including the fraternal nature of relations between bishops and priests – especially in light of the strain under which those bonds have been placed in some parts of the world as a result of the sexual abuse crisis.

However, the right Catholic answer when faced with a seeming disjunction is rarely “either/or,” but “both/and.” Hence one hopes that strengthening the all-male character of the priesthood does not have to come at the expense of greater efforts to hear the voice of women. We ought to be able to do both at once.

In reality, there are vast areas in the life of the church where authority and responsibility can be exercised without sacramental ordination. On the parish level, the Catholic church in the United States and elsewhere could not operate without the contributions made by women as directors of religious education, liturgists, pastoral associates, and in myriad other capacities. Roughly 25 percent of the diocesan chancellors in America are now women, and one hopes that trend will accelerate until it hovers around 50 percent, better reflecting the percentage of women in the church. Women today serve as diocesan spokespersons, as general councils for dioceses, as chief financial officers, and in a wide variety of other capacities. These efforts can become much more systematic, especially in positions of high public visibility. (The American bishops’ conference is presently hiring a new communications director, for example, and all things being equal, it would be exceedingly positive symbolism if that post went to a lay woman).

Even in the Vatican, one can detect “baby steps” in this regard. In 2004, Pope John Paul II for the first time appointed a woman to a superior’s-level position in an office of the Roman Curia, naming Italian Salesian Sr. Enrica Rosanna as under-secretary of the Congregation for Religious. It’s true that a cleric co-signs letters from the congregation that exercise the pope’s delegated “power of jurisdiction,” but nevertheless the appointment put Rosanna in a position of leadership in the universal church. In the same year, John Paul named Harvard law professor Mary Ann Glendon as President of the Pontifical Academy for Social Sciences, and appointed two female theologians to the International Theological Commission, both firsts. (One was an American, Sr. Sara Butler). While these are admittedly small moves, and perhaps open to the charge of “tokenism,” they nevertheless set precedents upon which one can build.

Moving more comprehensively in this direction is important, it seems to me, for two reasons.

First, church teaching unambiguously supports the full equality of women, and offering the world models of female leadership is thus an important way of demonstrating that we mean what we say.

Second, doing so could also perhaps allow us to approach the conversation about the priesthood more rationally. Church spokespersons routinely say that the all-male character of the priesthood is not a matter of excluding women from power, because the priesthood is not about power but service. The practical reality, however, is that ordination has always been the gateway to power in the church, if not theologically then sociologically. If the church were more systematic about the full representation of women in every area of life that doesn’t require ordination, it would perhaps reduce some of the suspicion that the teaching on the priesthood is really a smokescreen designed to preserve a system of male privilege.

I recognize that for some Catholics, including many deeply faithful Catholic women, none of this amounts to a fully satisfying answer. Yet under the rubric of “the art of the possible,” it seems to me to be the best answer one can give about what can be done under the present circumstances to help the church “breathe with both lungs” – in this case, not East and West, but male and female.

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Catholic Manicheeism

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One of the difficulties I have most often with the Catholic Church and with the people in it is not a lack of intellect, but a focus so intense on the intellect that one would think that people are mere disembodied intellects wandering about without either sense or emotions. This comes up most often in the question of response to certain church teachings. I was reading a really fascinating book by John Allen, and he happened to mention Sister Joan Chittister--a person for whom I cannot summon up a lot of sympathy or empathy in many ways. However, the attitude I hear most Catholics take with regard to her central issue is not one of compassion for the hurt and sense of disenfranchisement it entails, but rather a "It's the law, get over it."

I'll be first in the line to enthusiastically trumpet that I believe it to be an infallible teaching of the Church that women cannot be ordained. I'll also be among the first to admit that I'm not certain I follow the reasoning entirely. My reasoning is drawn from Camille Paglia, of all places. Her observation that the female "cultus" is nearly always "transgressive" is argument enough for me. In facing the eternal, I don't particularly need transgression. However, that said, what does one do about Sr. Joan and thousands or hundred of thousands of women who feel this sense of disenfranchisement and a sense of being second class citizens?

"Get over it" is insufficient. Put the shoe on the other foot and walk in it for a while. How do we feel as Catholics when a group of nine men and women over whose election and office we have had no real say determines that key elements of the moral system we uphold and declare to the world have no validity? What recourse have we? What rights have we? Why are our voices not heard? This is only vaguely analogical, but if you think about how you feel when yet another ruling from the council of Death is passed down, you'll get a sense of how some women might feel at the fact that a council of people over whom they have no control and through whom they no sexual representation determine that the door is closed to them. Kind of like when some of us were kids and we had a clubhouse door with "No Girls Allowed" emblazoned on it. (As an aside, how refreshing it would be to see more of that among the young persons of our present age, rather than the present plague.)

"Get over it, your feelings don't matter only what is right matters," may be true, but it is not inclined to helping the human and humane person get over it. It is this fundamental insensitivity to a major part of human life that I find problematic. "Tenderness leads to the gas chamber" (a misquotation, by the way) is the mantra of the intellectual set. So, by all means, let us avoid tenderness or pastoral concern or care for those who have been wounded and hurt by Church teachings or Church practice. Actually, I know of no one anywhere in the Church who would support the statement made in the previous sentence. So obviously, tenderness and concern are important to us, why then is the thrust of many Catholics so violently apologetical as to dismiss this aspect of our lives?

Well, for one thing, we aren't all psychologists and analysts with days to sit around and listen to our brothers and sisters explain their difficulties with the faith. And of course there's the pastor and various church committees to listen to the problems of others.

These are mere excuses. We don't listen because we are in the "triumphant" class and more often than not the reality is we don't care how other people feel about it. The truth is, after all, the truth.

Time and time again I have been wounded and I have seen others wounded by the cavalier imposition of one person's "truth" in a way that neglects the emotional needs of another. "You're childless, oh well, too bad, that's just the way it is. Learn to deal with it because the Church (quite rightly) prohibits doing much of anything about it." "Come to our 'family day,' but if you don't have children you'll be made to feel like some sort of freakish outcast as we arrange all of our activities around those who do have them and there will be nothing for those not blessed with children--because, after all, God has singled you out anyway." "Oh, you have same sex attraction, well that's gravely disordered and you'll just have to put a lid on it anyway 'cause the church teaches that that is evil." And so forth. Not everyone is nearly so callous, but there is enough of it that if I were asked the great fault of the Catholic Church I would respond not that it has no head, but that it has no heart. Obviously, that is a vast overstatement, because it does. It has in fact many hearts, starting with the Immaculate Heart of Mary and the Sacred Heart of Jesus and extending to every Catholic who reaches out to feed the poor and comfort the afflicted. No, the real injury comes from the sheer thoughtlessness of the everyday and the devaluation of the life of emotion that is implicit in most apologetics, if not in the teaching itself.

The emotional life of the person must be addressed even as the truth is taught. It is insufficient to say, "You can't practice birth control and if the next baby means you will die, oh well, then you'll just have to live sexless lives from now on. The great saints did it." (Something actually said to a twenty-two year old married friend of mine.)

I'm tired of hearing that if you feel it, it must perforce be wrong. I'm tired of seeing people cast to the side in the name of truth. I'm tired of the dichotomy that says that reason is always to be trusted and emotions are to be repressed, suppressed and otherwise disfigured in its service. I'm also tired of hearing of the exaltation of reason. Right reason is a gift from God, but it is fabulously rare in the normal conduct of life. For some reason we're able to think quite clearly in the abstract, but I rarely see those who think these great thoughts put them into practice.

In short, I guess what I'd like to see from the Church is something akin to compassion. The Catholic Church in Florida is losing members right and left to various evangelical Churches. There are a great many reasons for this, but one of the primary reasons I hear is the friendliness and the welcome and the warmth of the Evangelical Churches. It's really funny seeing some of my evangelical Hispanic friends telling me about the wonders of the evangelical church right before they kiss their rosaries and join in the prayer circle.

If the Catholic Church continues to be the Church of cold reason it will continue to lose its members to Churches with doctrine less accurate, but with the ability to integrate the emotional life of the person into the fabric of faith. For the most part the Catholic Church fails spectacularly at this, noting mostly that to be a faithful Catholic you must suppress whatever you may feel. Right doctrine does not necessitate incapacitating the individual, and unless and until Catholics come to terms with that, the Church will continue to lose members throughout the world as Catholicism becomes a joyless but eminently reasonable way to believe. You may mock the megachurches, perhaps even rightfully so, but we could learn from their sense of hospitality, warmth, and true interpersonal consideration.

I guess my final statement here is to remember that the Church is the mystical body of Christ made up of the people in it with Christ as the head. When we're waging our war of reason against error, it is wise to consider the source of the error and address not only the facts of the matter, but the person with whom we are engaging in discussion. Compassion for the plexus of emotions that underlies much incorrect thought will not only help eradicate the error, but it will also help support the person in a way that will allow continuity in faith without bitterness. There will not be the sense of "this is a pill I must swallow," but "this is a liberating truth I can embrace." Above all else, take it upon yourself to be the smile and the handshake or hug of Jesus Himself. Have the heart of Jesus for all--and that means when the young man discovers he cannot sell all and follow Jesus, you don't follow him around with a harangue about how it is the just, right, and reasonable thing to do. Humans will not do the just, right, and reasonable thing in an unsupportive emotional vacuum.

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The abuse of an argument does not render an argument invalid, but it does suggest that it be used very carefully.

The words below are an excerpt of the defense of the latest doctrinal atrocity of the Church of England.

The bishop made his submission as public affairs’ vice-chairman for the Church’s Mission and Public Affairs Council. He said: “For a Christian, death is not the end, and is not to be avoided at all costs.”

So if it will cost a few hundred or thousand extra quid to see a struggling life into the world, I guess we're just supposed to remember that economic cost always trumps God's own will in bringing a life into the world.

To be absolutely fair, this may be the singular opinion of a wayward Bishop in Southwark--we know how individual Bishops can occasionally give rise to preposterous statements. However, if allowed to go unchallenged, this is clearly a serious threat to Anglican Doctrine--the Church of England may be following the trail blazed by their American Cousins.

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More Insanity


Mayhem over Playstation.

The lead of the article is simply about some opportunists who visited thirty or so people waiting in line and tried to rob them. They ended up shooting one. But it seems that our obsession have too firm a hold on us. But then something must fill the God-shaped vacuum--why not Playstation?

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Evening's Entertainment


This evening we take Samuel to his fourth Opera this year: Camille Saint-Saëns, Samson et Delilah.

His previous operatic experiences: L'elisir d'amore, Le Nozze di Figaro, and Tosca. In addition last year he saw The Rockettes and Riverdance or Lord of the Dance (I forget which).

Next year he will see The Pirates of Penzance and Madama Butterfly and there's a good chance that he'll see the Khachaturian ballet Sparatacus.

I used to think that Orlando was pretty much a cultural wasteland. But I've discovered that while the pickings are a little slim compared to larger cities, there is much to be found if one looks. Given that both Opera and Ballet are largely dying arts to the Brittany generation, it seems good to give Sam some experience with these marvelous artforms before they completely vanish.

Most interestingly of all, Sam is absolutely riveted by the performances and seems very much aware of all that is going on. He reads the supertitles on the operas (which, by the way, I often have to do even when the Opera is in English), and is able to give a pretty good run-down of the story--which is not always such a good thing. I've no idea what we'll do when we get to Madama Butterfly, but we'll deal with that in its time.

To prepare for tonight's Opera Sam has been practicing the "Egyptian Dance" from Samson and Delilah as part of his piano practice. It's wonderful to see him so interested in these things and so well versed in them at so young an age. I think the first Opera I saw was when I was in college.

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Samuel came into work with me today.

As we pulled into the parking garage he said, "I've been waiting for that [whatever "that" was] for decades. . . which is a derivative from the Latin decem meaning ten."

Well, I'd have been astonished if Linda hadn't told me he had come up with that himself yesterday and if I hadn't had last night's experience.

Standing in the grocery store checkout line he announces to the check-out girl, "I can conjugate the verb amo--amo, amas, amat, amamis, amatis, amant." Then a moment later, "I can decline the noun mensa, " which he proceeded to do. One of the girls at the checkout said, "Little boy, I go to college and I don't know that much. Stop it!" And we all burst out laughing. Of course we gave the lecture about showing off--but you can imagine how much good THAT did.

Finally, this morning, I greeted him, "Quid agis, hodie?. And he responded Statis bene. And I reminded him of the courteous, Gratias tibi ago. Guess I need to practice my own very rudimentary Latin if I am to keep up.

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but I am essentially a political ignoramus. A friend sent me this blogblurb which amused me with this statement [in reference to the recent elevation of Trent Lott]:

Is it just me, or is it becoming increasingly apparent that the Republicans and Democrats are determined to engage in a two year dumb-off? If it weren’t for the fact that there are some very determined lunatics out there trying to kill us, this would be funny.

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Alas! Already Too Late for Me


Yes, even given that it is the words of a father for his well-loved son, this is the type of tribute I would like to receive:

This morning at 3:15, Wilbur passed away, aged 45 years, 1 month, 14 days. A short life, full of consequences. An unfailing intellect, imperturbable temper, great self-reliance and as great modesty, seeing the right clearly, pursuing it steadily, he lived and died. Bishop Milton Wright

Especially, "seeing the right clearly, pursuing it steadily, he lived and died."

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Benedict's Melancholy

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I was talking to a friend and sharing with her excerpts of the book and she commented that it sounded in every case as though he grasped it from the wrong side, that he talked more about what was missing than what was needed or present. And here's an example that I think demonstrates this proclivity.

from Let God's Light Shine Forth
Pope Benedict XVI, ed. Robert Moynihan

Why we say "before Christ" and "after Christ"

The secular regimes, which do not want to speak about Christ and, on the other hand, do not want to ignore altogether the western calculation of time, substitute the words "before the birth of Christ" and "after the birth of Christ" with formulas like "before and after the common era," or similar phrases. But does this not rather deepen the question: what happened at that moment that made it the change of an era? What was there in that moment that meant a new historical age was beginning, so that time for us begins anew from that date? Why do we no longer measure time from the foundation of Rome, from the Olympiads, from the years of a sovereign or even from the creation of the world? Does this beginning of 2,000 years ago still have any importance for us? Does it have a foundation dimension? What does it say to us? Or has this beginning become for us something empty of meaning, a mere technical convention which we conserve for purely pragmatic reasons? But what then orients our joy? Is it like a vessel that in fact has no course and is now simply pursuing its voyage in the hope that somewhere there may exist an end?

This starts as a superb rebuttal to the BCE folks but it rapidly deteriorates into a peroration about our slide into the sea of meaninglessness. Rather than ask the question Does this beginning of 2,000 years ago still have any importance for us? , it would seem that another approach would arrive at the same end--the approach I associate with JPtG. His tack on the same subject would be, "This beginning of 2,000 years ago still has importance for us today. We cannot escape its shadow, we cannot hide from its glory. As desperately as the historians of death seek to homogenize it into oblivion, they are left with the change of an era without an explanation--a constant hearkening back to the entrance into History of God Himself."

To my mind, Benedicts thought runs downhill into melancholy, a tremulous descent into questioning and into giving some credence to those who would hide from the momentous event. Whereas I think JPtG would tend to call them out of the shadows and ask them to look at what they have been avoiding--were he even to choose to address such a topic.

Again, purely personal, but a track of why I have difficulty approach the thought of Benedict. My problem, not his--but at least it is a problem shared by others as well in encountering Benedict's teaching.

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Let God's Light Shine Forth

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This book is a compendium of short insights from the writings of Pope Benedict XVI. Indeed, the "author," Robert Moynihan, is humbly listed only as an "editor." The book is published this month in paperback.

For those, like me, who are not enamored of the present Pope's writings, this is a perfect introduction. After a short biographical introduction in which Moynihan spells out the three main thrusts of Cardinal Ratzinger's/Pope Benedict's approach to the crisis in the Catholic Church, the editor produces a compendium of short writings centered around the topics of "His [Benedict's} Faith", "Today's World," and "The Christian Pilgrim." In addition there are three short pieces from the beginning of Pope Benedict's pontificate.

The organization is superb. For me the selection was enlightening, although probably not in the way it was intended to be and seemed to cull from a great many lesser known sources, and the information provided was illuminating. Pope Benedict XVI, in sharp contrast to his predecessor, is a very interior man who has some difficulty sharing the wealth of revelations that came from his insights. Throughout the book I saw more the intellectual than the pastor. Given that the hardcover book was produced at the very beginning of Pope Benedict's pontificate, this can hardly be surprising. However, it gives a lot of credence to those who feared the pontificate because of the singular lack of pastoral charism evinced to that point by Pope Benedict XVI, which should not be read as a criticism of the Pope, merely a personal reaction. And this observation helped me understand my disconnect with him--we are far too similar. In this brief selection of writings, I get the impression of an extremely intelligent, extremely thoughtful, perhaps very holy bull in a china shop. Now, when I said we are similar, I don't mean to claim for myself either intelligence, thoughtfulness, or holiness, but rather that we are both very interior men whose exterior behavior is occasionally, and probably mostly unwittingly akin to that of a bull in a china shop. The recent brouhaha over remarks made during one of BXVI's speeches is a splendid case in point of saying precisely what is on our minds but having it interpreted outside of the context of our minds and the general message. These qualities don't make for the heart of a great pastor. That said, we cannot deny that the Holy Spirit gave us this great leader for this time and for His purposes. And with time, I will probably find myself drawn to understand and love him far better.

The passages in this book point out the crystal clarity of thought. What I was astonished by was the lack of surprises and interesting insights I encountered as I read. Pope Benedict XVI has had a mission to catechize from the basics, and much of what I read here, I read with a sort of acknowledgment of the truth and an implicit question, "And then?" or "What follows from this?" For example:

from Let God's Light Shine Forth
Pope Benedict XVI, ed. Robert Moynihan

A Central Truth
It must be firmly believed as a truth of Catholic faith that the universal salvific will of the One and Triune God is offered and accomplished once and for all in the mystery of the incarnation, death, and resurrection of the Son of God.

So, surprise, we must believe that God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son that whosoever believeth in Him shall not die but shall have everlasting life--only stated somewhat more ponderously.

This said, I must admit that the excerpts from the Today's World and particularly The Christian Pilgrim sections of the book provide more of what I was looking for. Not that what is articulated above is trivial, it is not, but it's rather like never moving beyond Euclid's postulates. In this case a lifetime of love can be had from meditating upon the truth articulated in the quotation from John, but I find Pope Benedict's articulation of it rather like a very high fiber muffin--nutritious but a bit tough, tasteless, and chewy.

On the other hand:

Proof of the authenticity of my love

In my prayer at communion, I must, on the one hand look totally toward Christ, allowing myself to be transformed by him, even to burn in his enveloping fire. But I must also always keep clearly in mind how he unites me organically with every other communicant--the one next to me, who I may not like very much; but also with those who are far away, in Asia, Africa, America, or in any other place.

Becoming one with them, I must learn to open myself toward them and to involve myself in their situations.

I'm sure the longer works would answer the question raised. But the truth of the matter is that I had enough of reading Benedict in these short passages. I'm neither enlightened nor excited, and frankly, contrary to the previous Pope, I find Benedict's message too gloomy and dire to spark me onwards in faith. Were I to take any part of what I've read too seriously, I'd have to consider going off into the desert and giving up hope for humanity--even though he constantly says not to, his writings are a compendium of reasons to do so.

These are all subjective impressions--gleanings from short works before the Pontificate, and highly colored by my own impressions. For those not deeply aware of Benedict, his career and his writing, this book provides a superb overview and series of insights into the main lines of this great man's thought. For those better acquainted, this book serves as a sort of "Sermon in a Sentence" compendium of short thoughts--a gathering of insights from the many published works and from many speeches, sermons, and lectures given during his career.

For people desiring a better acquaintance with our present pontiff, this book may serve as an excellent resource. I know that it helped me better understand my reticence and lack of rapport. Recognizing my fault in looking at the Holy Father, I can now take steps to remedy it. Going back to a quotation used earlier,

Becoming one with [him], I must learn to open myself toward [him] and to involve myself in [his] situations.

Any lack is not on the part of Benedict, but rather on the part of my own etiolated, scrawny, hardscrabble soul. I demand that he meet my needs, when instead I should be looking to see how he already does and has as leader of the Church and teacher of the truth.

The book is highly recommended for all people who wish to know some of Benedict's thought better without diving into the major works. It is also an excellent book of reflections and insights for people who know and love Benedict and his works quite well.

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Carnival of the Animals


Two incidents from Ordinary Orlando Life.

Why Did the Chicken Cross the Road?

As I set out for work this morning I pulled up to the traffic light that marks the exit to my community. Across the street I saw an animal that was momentarily obscured by traffic and then I saw it again--an enormous black cockerel.

Now, I don't live in farmland--all my life I've been a true suburban boy. But here I am looking at an enormous chicken crossing the road. And with all my bad brain, I thought about the possibilities. Was someone, against all association rules, raising chickens in their back yards? Was this a family pet (also prohibited by association rules)? Or more darkly, was this perhaps an escapee from a house where Santeria is practiced. (Living here in Florida it is not beyond the realm of possibility. In fact, while we're a little north for it, I'd say that it certainly is a possibility.)

See You Later Alligator

Same day, fifteen or so minutes later, I'm pulling into the parking garage at work and the radio announcer comes on with a bulletin. "For the first time in more than a hundred years an alligator has been found in Lake Eola." Well, you might wonder, so what?

Lake Eola is a largish fountain/lake that is smack-dab in the middle of downtown Orlando. There isn't much in the way of alligator nurseries anywhere nearby, so to find an alligator in the Lake suggests that this guy had a little ways to go to plop himself in the middle of Orlando's showplace, theater, center of city.

Of course, when the convention center was being built not more than a few blocks from where I work, they pulled a huge gator--17 or 19 feet out of the swamp they were clearing. So it just goes to show you can't keep a good gator. . . well, seems you can't keep it anywhere at all because it's just going to go.

One related anecdote. When we were at KSC (Kennedy Space Center) we were tooling around on the tour and the bus driver pointed out these peculiar outward sloping chain link fences. He noted that these were built this way because gators could climb a straight fence and too many employees had come out to their cars at night to find that a gator had taken residence under their cars. (KSC is on Merritt Island with is a National Wildlife refuge.)

I think Saint-Saëns included chickens, but I don't think alligators were part of his carnival. So we've added one.

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Also On Deck


I don't know if I'll finish all three, but right now I've scraped the surface of a magnificent biography of William Randolph Hearst, The Chief by David Nasaw. Also by Nasaw, Andrew Carnegie, and finally by Ron Chernow The House of Morgan. All three were recommended in a New York Times book review and all three seem to be eloquently and evocatively written and superbly researched. I don't know if I'll actually make it through all three, but I shall try.

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Coming Soon to a Blog Near You

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Probably several, a review of Let God's Light Shine Forth supertitled The Spiritual Vision of Pope Benedict XVI. And it should come as no surprise to you that while I am an obedient son of the Church and will take my direction from the authoratative teachings that this servant of God produces and he has the duty of my loyalty to him as head of the Church, unlike the previous Pope, he does not have my affection. He doesn't need it, and he is none the less for it because I pray for him and for his intentions with every bit of the fervor that I did for Pope John Paul the Great. However, this compendium is instrumental in helping me understand the disconnect between us and I'll say more about that in my review.

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The Geographer's Library


This book by Jon Fasman is an example of what one can produce when The DaVinci Code goes right. And it's a shame that it shall be so (relatively) poorly rewarded.

The story centers around. . . well, you know, it's kind of hard to say what it centers around as there are three narrative threads complexly interwoven that help us delve into the heart of a mystery. An obscure and somewhat odd professor dies in untoward circumstances in a Northeastern College town. The man who is to write his obituary for the local paper begins to investigate his death and uncovers a number of anomalies. In the meantime we're told the stories of the the history of the transactions regarding 15 objects stolen from the library of the Court Geography of Roger II of Sicily (I think). And then we're given intimate details about the objects--all of which help build the background of this wonderful tale.

At once a mystery, a history, and a collection of odd tidbits of information from around the world, one of the things that was brought to light for me is how important now-obscure countries in the world once were. Azerbaijian and others are shown in quite a different light. And you'll learn more about Estonia than you might have thought possible.

Nicely written, brilliantly conceived, a great and satisfying thriller that I recommend to all for an enjoyable, if somewhat heady, beach book. Reminiscent of The Club Dumas and other such fun, but slightly weightier books. Read, enjoy!

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Simple Pleasures


One of the things I write too infrequently about are the simple pleasures available from living in Florida that I have not encountered elsewhere.

For example, lunch today was at a small restaurant called "Q'Kennans." Q'Kennans features Venezuelan cuisine--most particularly two types of sandwiches a Patacon which is made with either green or sweet plantains as the bread, and Arepas (my favorite) which are sandwiches in which the filling is stuffed into a small corn-cake that has been split and hollowed out. The procedure itself is well worth watching and reminiscent of the actions of an oyster-shucker.

My favorite of the arepas is the Reina Pepeada which consists of a good but rather bland white-meat chicken salad stuffed into the corn-cake with about half an avocado. Usually I top this off with black beans and rice, but today I went with fried green plantains.

Such a simple and delightful lunch in a restaurant where English is tolerated, even welcomed, but certainly not the predominant part of the polyglot mix of different flavors of Spanish and Portuguese.

It is good to thank God for these simple and delightful things.

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The Feast of All Carmelite Saints


November 14th, the day we celebrate all the Saints of the Carmelite Order:

And from the Carmelite Calendar--the List of many of the Saints with their own feast days:

3 Bl. Kuriakos Elias Chavara, priest OC-m OCD-m
8 St. Peter Thomas, bishop OC-F OCD-m
9 St. Andrew Corsini, bishop OC-F OCD-m
17 Bl. Henry de Osso y Cervello OCD-m
29 Bl. Archangela Girlani, virgin OC-m

19 St. Joseph, Spouse of the Virgin Mary
Principle protector of our Order SOLEMNITY

1 Bl. Nuno Alvares Pereira, religious OC-M OCD-m
17 Bl. Baptist Spagnoli of Mantua, priest OC-M OCD-m
18 Bl. Mary of the Incarnation, nun OCD-m
23 Bl. Teresa Mary of the Cross OCD-m

5 St. Angelus, priest & martyr OC-M
8 Bl. Aloysius Rabata, priest OC-m
16 St. Simon Stock, religious OC-m OCD-m
22 St. Joachina de Vedruna de Mas, religious OC-m OCD-m
25 St. Mary Magdalene de'Pazzi, virgin OC-F OCD-M

7 Bl. Anne of St. Bartholomew, virgin OCD-M
14 St. Elisha, prophet OC-M

9 Bl. Jane Scopelli, virgin OC-m
13 St. Teresa of Jesus 'Los Andes', virgin OC-m OCD-m
16 Solemnity of Our Lady of Mount Carmel SOLEMNITY
17 Bls Teresa of St. Augustine and Companions OC-m OCD-m
20 St. Elijah, Prophet & our Father OC-S OCD-F
23 Our Lady, Mother of Divine Grace OCD-M
24 Bl. John Soreth, priest OC-M
Bls. Maria Pilar, Teresa and Maria Angeles, v OCD-m
Bl. Maria Mercedes Prat, v & m OCD-m
26 Sts. Joachim & Anne, parents of the BVM, OC-M
27 Bl. Titus Brandsma, priest & martyr OC-M OCD-m
28 Bl. John Soreth, priest OCD-m

7 St. Albert of Trapani, priest OC-F OCD-M
9 St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, martyr OC-m OCD-m
16 Bl. Maria Sagrario of St. Aloysius, vir.& martyr OCD-m
17 Bl. Angelus Augustine Mazzinghi, priest OC-m
25 Bl. Mary of Jesus Crucified, virgin OC-m OCD-m
26 St. Teresa of Jesus' Transveberation OCD nuns-M others-m
28 Bl. Alfonso Maria Mazurek, priest & martyr OCD-m

1 St. Teresa Margaret Redi, virgin OC-m OCD-M
12 Bl. Mary of Jesus, virgin OCD-M
17 St. Albert of Jerusalem, bshp & lawgiver of Carmel FEAST

1 St. Therese of the Child Jesus, virgin & doctor FEAST
15 St. Teresa of Jesus, virign & doctor OC-F OCD-SOLEMNITY

5 Bl. Frances d'Amboise, religious OC-m
6 Bl. Josepha Naval Girbes, virgin OCD-m
7 Bl. Francis Palau y Quer, priest OC-m OCD-m
8 Bl. Elizabeth of the Trinity, virgin OC-m OCD-M
14 All Carmelite Saints FEAST
15 Commemoration of All Carmelite Souls* OC-C OCD-C
19 St. Raphael Kalinowski, priest OC-m OCD-M
29 Bls. Denis & Redemptus, martyrs OC-m OCD-M

5 Bl. Bartholomew Fanti, priest OC-m
11 Bl. Maria Maravillas of Jesus OCD-m
14 St. John of the Cross, priest & doctor OC-F OCD-SOLEMNITY
16 Bl. Mary of the Angels, virgin OCD-m

Of course, this does not include those Saints whose cause is known only to God and not yet brought forth for human eyes. Nor does it include all those who worked and prayed with the Carmelite Saints and now enjoy or will soon enjoy the beatific vision with their brothers and sisters, but whose lives did not rise to the height of heroic sanctity. These souls are honored tomorrow.

(The OC and OCD in the calendar indicate whether the particular Saint is celebrated in one or both branches of the order.)

One whose life is endlessly fascinating to me and whose cause I am uncertain of is Louise de la Vallière, mistress of the King of France, who after a long dalliance finally was brought to the doors of Carmel where she was encloistered for her remaining days. This fascinating woman's story forms part of the saga of the Three Musketeers and is yet another example of those in places of privilege surrendering all for a greater privilege.

All holy saints of Carmel, pray for us. And pray most especially for those members of the Brothers and Sisters of Our Lady of Mount Carmel living, praying, and working for the Glory of God today.

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Saw this plan for a space-based solar shade mentioned at Dappled Things and all I could think of was Montgomery Burns's plans to increase energy consumption in Springfield. Ah, yes, Smithers, release the hounds.

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Middlemarch Revisted III


And here I must vindicate a claim to philosophical reflectiveness, by remarking that Mr. Brooke on this occasion little thought of the Radical speech which, at a later period, he was led to make on the incomes of the bishops. What elegant historian would neglect a striking opportunity for pointing out that his heroes did not foresee the history of the world, or even their own actions?--For example, that Henry of Navarre, when a Protestant baby, little thought of being a Catholic monarch; or that Alfred the Great, when he measured his laborious nights with burning candles, had no idea of future gentlemen measuring their idle days with watches. Here is a mine of truth, which, however vigorously it may be worked, is likely to outlast our coal.

[And, a bit later on another subject]

"What? meaning to stand?" said Mr. Cadwallader, going on with the
arrangement of the reels which he had just been turning. "I hardly think he
means it. But where's the harm, if he likes it? Any one who objects to
Whiggery should be glad when the Whigs don't put up the strongest
fellow. They won't overturn the Constitution with our friend Brooke's head
for a battering ram."

[And, finally, here's one for the annals of put-down exchanges--almost no character is left unscathed.]

"In the first place," said the Rector, looking rather grave, "it would
be nonsensical to expect that I could convince Brooke, and make him act
accordingly. Brooke is a very good fellow, but pulpy; he will run into
any mould, but he won't keep shape." . . .

"Humphrey! I have no patience with you. You know you would rather
dine under the hedge than with Casaubon alone. You have nothing to say to
each other."

"What has that to do with Miss Brooke's marrying him? She does not do
it for my amusement."

"He has got no good red blood in his body," said Sir James.

"No. Somebody put a drop under a magnifying-glass and it was all
semicolons and parentheses," said Mrs. Cadwallader.

"Why does he not bring out his book, instead of marrying," said Sir
James, with a disgust which he held warranted by the sound feeling of an
English layman.

"Oh, he dreams footnotes, and they run away with all his brains. They
say, when he was a little boy, he made an abstract of `Hop o' my Thumb,'
and he has been making abstracts ever since. Ugh! And that is the man
Humphrey goes on saying that a woman may be happy with."

The story may be ultimately sad, but how can one not see the sparkle in such asides?

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The Saddest Story I Ever Heard

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Okay, so it's an exaggeration. But not much of one.

Overheard in the office this morning, a young lady who had just returned from her honeymoon:

"So, how is it?"

"It's great. You know, it isn't any different."

This is a sad, sad statement. Married life IS different, or at least it should be. And if it is not, it is not because our society has given us license so that it might not be so. What happened to the excitement of getting and being married? Is it any wonder that wedded bliss amongst those who live together before marriage is much more likely to come to an end through divorce?

Marriage is not a cornucopia of bliss, but neither is it "the same as it ever was." If the marriage is sacramental, the two become one and it is in that yoking that both strive to live the life God has envisioned for them.

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Many Catholic E-Books


and some nonCatholic sources as well here. Thanks to Bill White for noting one of the more difficult to find--St Bernard of Clairvaux's Commentary on the Song of Songs.

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No Comment

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I passed through a site today--no one in St. Blogs, so don't get any notions--where I so desperately wanted to make a comment that could in no way be made as charitably as I wanted to make it. Correction is always difficult. So after attempting it five different ways, I abandoned the enterprise and went on, with this error still rankling in my head.

Now I write about it to exorcise its ghost and to wonder why I should be so concerned about the relatively minor errors of other. This after all wasn't a matter of faith or morals or even right and wrong in the religious sense--it was a matter of sensibility, taste, training, and to some extent presumption on the part of the person posting. But is it up to me to correct presumption and error? If they think Rod McKuen will be remembered and savored alongside John Keats, is that my problem to correct? If Thomas Kinkade is their artist of choice and they think that all of those worthless Vermeers in the art galleries should be replaced, should I worry? So long as they don't run an art gallery and are merely redecorating their living spaces, why should I be concerned?

And then it occurred to me as well that we all have areas where we are deeply concerned about formation and about depth and breadth and understanding. My particular weak point is the question of art, music, literature, beauty, truth, and goodness. Where someone fails in these, I have this urge to lecture, to correct, to say things that in all truth needn't be said and will not ultimately profit either party.

I would that I could learn these things before I warm up my typing fingers.

Sometimes even those things that can be said in charity need not be said. Often, silence is the better part.

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Early this morning I had the thought for the post below, but so many circumstances intruded, so many things came between me and the writing, that it was almost not written. And all of that leads me to believe that there was great fear somewhere that I might be written. I don't know who it was written for or to whom the Lord wishes to speak (other than myself), but my gift to you today is this message that almost didn't make it to be written. When so much opposition is raised to something there must be within that something the potential for great good. May it be so for you.

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Ezekiel 11:19--A Prayer

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And I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within you; and I will take the stony heart out of their flesh, and will give them an heart of flesh:

My only question, Lord, when? For the better part of a quarter of a century I have been waiting for this heart of flesh and find that I grow only stonier. I need to be taught how to abandon my own ways. The heart of flesh comes only with the heart given to service to You. Service to You is necessarily service to your people--both within the church and outside.

Nevertheless, one step at a time--when will You make this transformation? When will You take a heart of stone and remake it in the image of Your Heart? When will I learn to stop judging? When will I learn to take up Your burden and move forward? Even if I am not fit to join You at the cross, let me at least carry it for You for some time--let me be Your Cyrene if I cannot prove my worth otherwise.

I await Your will; I desire Your will, but I cannot effect Your will. So, come Lord Jesus and transform this stony heart, let there be one more among your people who does your work and transforms the world.


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Greeting in a Different Light

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Praise God in His Holy Places

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I wrote what is below for a blogger depressed by election results, I thought it bore repeating, though I've already said much the same thing here today.

My point was that we may have precisely what we deserve; however, even in this God's will is done. And even though it is not His perfect and Ordained will, I will rejoice in His hand in this and in all things because we do not know how He will turn it to good.

To see it as anything other than God's will is the road to being depressed, but there's nothing to be depressed about--if things turn out as you say, then they will change with the changing of the times. If they do not, then we've spent today in tears over a tomorrow that never comes.

All I want to say, is don't lose heart, turn to God, pray and restore what was lost in the process. I wasn't faulting you for an opinion, nor do I fault the attitude, I just want to point out what a waste it is. This is the moment for prayer, the perfect time to turn to God and say, "So what's up with that, Lord? Nevertheless, not my will, but thy will be done--show me what I can do to ameliorate the consequences."

I know, you don't want to hear it at this time, but that's the time you most need to hear it. Prayer heals all wounds, even these great ones. It heals all ills. God is God alone and Lord of All--what He has fashioned we cannot undo and what He undoes we strive in vain to renew. But we can do all things through Him who strengthens us.

That's my message to depressed Christians today. Pray, pray, pray. Remember this and pray that God raises up Godly leaders who will lead us rather than be led by us.

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Victory at Sea

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Film music has, for the most part, replaced formal classical music as the classical music of our time.

I'm presently listening to Victory at Sea and More Victory at Sea which had their origins as soundtracks to documentary films about WW II produced (I think) for television in the late 50s early 60s. What I think occurred is that Richard Rodgers composed some new material and reworked materials from his musicals into the soundtracks as appropriate. For example, "Beneath the Southern Cross" has a motif that is very familiar but which I am not able to place immediately, not being terribly conversant in musical theatre.

Whatever may be the case, there is some interesting music here that has stronger classcial music leanings than the music of most contemporary composers. Dissonance serves a real purpose in the course of the music rather than the ritual extolling of disorder commanded of the high priests of modern anarachy. There is form and function here, and while it doesn't have the strict structural elements of prolonged classical music, it does within each short piece contain both thematic and musical elements that hearken back to musical predecessors in ways that might be called "musical quotation."

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On my way into work this morning I was listening to a "Christian Music Station." I've developed this habit after hearing just too much on nearly every other station that I didn't want to try to explain to Sam and growing tired of the same CDs and being made agitated by the road noises.

Now, the Christian Music station is solidly evangelical with a very cordial relationship with Catholic listeners. But I noticed that certain things about the language and bearing of the station chafed. For example, they were talking much this morning about how a new station out on the East Coast joined their family of stations and how they were growing the ministry and they had prayed and prayed and prayed for a station out in Brevard County.

As I listened to this I thought, "Yeah, yeah. Like God cares if there's a new Christian Music station out in Palm Bay or wherever the heck it is." And "God really wants us to pray for a new radio station. That's a really good use of our time."

And then I thought about it. How arrogant and shortsighted it is of me to consider these things unworthy of prayer or unworthy of the work of people. If I believe that many at the station regard this as a real ministry--and it's hard to judge sincerity, but I do believe that they honestly mean what they're saying--then why wouldn't God want to intervene there as well as in the personal life of an individual or the political life of a country. There is nothing that is beneath His interest, nothing that passes out of His concern. All that is is because He allows it to be so.

What came from this chain of thought is that I need to radically alter my view of God's involvement in the life of the world. He is intimately entangled in every matter, completely involved in every matter that concerns us. His motions are visible in the things that happen around us and there is nothing, nothing whatsoever that He is not interested in if we are interested in it. There may be things He would rather us not be interested in and part of surrender is giving those over; however, every matter is a matter for prayer, and every motion is better determined by a length of prayer beforehand. Yes, God did care about "growing the music ministry of the radio station" and yes, God does care about the constitution of the House and Senate, and yes, God does care if we add a swimming pool to our house or plant daisies and tulips. Not all matters rise to top priority, but as a Good Father, a loving Father, He is interested by the little baubles we show Him. He is interested ultimately in each of us coming and talking about whatever is on our minds--childish though it may seem. And unlike us, He is infinitely patient with our scattered, wandering selves, infinitely interested, infinitely loving, oohing and ahhing over all that we present, occasionally taking from our hands the jellyfish or scorpion we were stupid enough to pick up and bring to Him.

God does care. About us, about everything that concerns us. He cares, intimately, infinitely, eternally. Because God is simple, He cares about everything with all that He is--no matter is too small or too unimportant to talk to Him about. And He is always waiting, patiently waiting for us to come to Him, with fingerpaintings or with the booboos we get from trying to do what we ought not. A loving father with an infinite heart of goodness. Talk to Him.

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God's Will Is Done

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And it remains to be seen whether we have been given the government we deserve or the government of God's mercy. My instinct is that it is business as usual on Capitol Hill; however, my political instincts are nil, and we might well be under the hand of His Mercy rather than under the hand of His Permissive will. Pray that it be so.

And every day, add to your intentions for the day that God raise up leaders who follow Him and who look to Him rather than to themselves to to society for guidance and nurture.

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Voting Guide-Orson Scott Card


If you haven't voted yet, here's yet another advisory for those so inclined:

Orson Scott Card's Advice

via Claw of the Conciliator

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An Odd Day


Lunchtime, recording the listening for the morning:

4 different versions of O Mio Babbino Caro--including one by Charlotte Church
Visi d'Arte
Janet Baker's magisterial performance of the rather odd English Renaissance set piece (hard to call it an opera) Henry Purcell's Dido and Aeneas

Bohislav Martinu's Symphony's 3 and 4

What I'd like to listen to and don't have available at the moment is Mendelsohn's "Overture to the Hebrides" and Rimsky-Korsokov's Scheherazade

Later this afternoon music by Casting Crowns, Out of Eden, and Selah, along with a compilation of "inspirational" songs by country musicians.

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The Election

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Listening to Bohislav Martinu's (pardon--don't even know the name of the accent mark over the "U" to try to reproduce) symphony No. 3 put me in mind of what most people are going through today. And it matches the Florida weather. Grey, somewhat oppressive, rising to a joy here and there that is brought back down to Earth and to its formative elements.

Zippy's reasoning provided ample justification for not voting; however, we are guided in part by our consciences and it simply isn't possible for me not to assume my part in the franchise. It is too terrible an abdication of responsibility. Moreover, I would have missed out on the opportunity to at least register my intention to give the boot to four supreme court justices who saw as the highest good the absolute sovereignty of husband over wife in the absence of any documentary evidence to support his assertions.

However, I did reconcile my doubts because in some races I simply didn't vote, and in others, the new touch-screen system has made it very easy to write in alternatives. NOTA won't mean much to very many, but it will register the fact that we need new and real choices--real men and women capable of leadership, not merely of kowtowing to the demands of a society that has lost its mind.

And I've spent time in prayer for all those going to make a choice today that they may be guided by the Holy Spirit. This afternoon, with the Divine Mercy, I intend to add to those intention the desire of my heart in politics--that God should give us worthy leaders, not the leadership we have come to deserve.

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The Wages of Sin


One of the things that isn't said often enough about the effects of sin is the effect sin has on the will.

Habitual sinning, even when one is unaware of the action as a sin, has the dual effect of warping and hence weakening the will. In a sense, sinning is the Christian equivalent of being a couch-potato. The will is strengthened in its capacity when it operates in accordance with the grace given it to act in the manner God has commanded. When a person sins the will is struck a blow and weakened. Grace prevails in the sacrament of reconciliation and the will can be restored through careful and prayerful practice and discipline within the strengthening grace of God.

However, when one falls into habitual sin, one refuses to exercise the faculties of the will in the manner they are meant to be. One in effect resigns oneself to life on the couch in front of the TE. But worse, like a tapeworm, habitual sin leads to a lassitude (in spiritual terms sometimes referred to as Sloth) that makes one torpid and, in fact, virtually unable to do anything to find one's way out of the pit. So lax has the reliance upon grace grown that one forgets that it even exists and that it is indeed the only way out.

I can't imagine that this is a problem for most St. Bloggers, but it is a problem with most of society. Society does not exist as an entity, but were it so, we could accuse it of this sloth. However, the zeitgeist does directly influence the individual and the weltanschauung established by that same spirit of the times is also highly influential. Societal sin does not accrue to the individual but it does shape the environment in which a person forms and from which a person derives essential understandings.

None of which is to excuse the person who abandons the practice of will in the light of grace for the pursuit of pleasure, which often means following ones own desires. Practicing will in the light of Grace is weightlifting; pursuing one's desires is shifting from one buttock to another as the seat cushions get uncomfortable--certainly not formative exercise.

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Praying for our Representation


Following on the post below, and thinking about Zippy's reflections on voting and participatory government, it occurs to me that we may have precisely the government we deserve and precisely the set of laws and occurrences we have merited.

How many people actually pray before voting? More importantly, how many make it a daily offering to pray for better representation, for people who will support the fullness of Catholic doctrine in every decision they make?

Zippy points out, or someone did, that so long as we are constantly choosing the lesser of two evils, we are still choosing evil and constantly lowering the bar. Once upon a time our elected officials had the decency to make the attempt to cover up their extra-marital affairs, at least they were truly and properly ashamed of them. With Mr. Clinton we reached a new low of someone who was ashamed and abashed at having been caught. And so it goes, onward and downward.

And so it will continue until we all take very seriously our responsibility to pray God to raise us up men of virtue and strength who will take "unpopular" positions and make them popular. That is, after all, what leadership is about. It is about uniting the refractory. I think of Ronald Reagan who is reviled ex post facto by all and sundry, but during his Presidency one heard nary a peep--a few words about Voodoo economics, but not much else. Unfortunately, he didn't use that charisma to greatest effect, but he did momentarily slow the slide down the slippery slope.

Now is the time to pray for God to raise up ardent, believing, Christian politicians--a veritable hoard of Mr. Smith's who will go and stand in Washington against the cultural slide that is all but pervasive.

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An Hour of Prayer


A notice from a friend on the West Coast, in time for all of us. Seems like a very good idea:

Unite in prayer for 1 hour Monday for the elections on Tuesday

There is a grass roots effort to have this country, united in prayer for one hour this Monday, asking for God's mercy and direction concerning Tuesday's critical elections.

Prayer is to start on the west coast from 9-10 a.m.

...from 10-11 a.m. mountain time,

.... 11-12 a.m. central time,

...and 12-1 p.m. eastern time.....

It can be done anywhere... rosary, divine mercy or novena, etc. One can be alone or gathered with friends. The object is to join all our prayers from one end of our country to the other, as one voice, begging God to have Mercy on us and Intercede for the good of our nation. We need all the help we can get to spread this message. Your help would be much appreciated.

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From Evil Comes Evil


From, A Penitent Blogger, a useful reminder:

The scary truth is that evil actions always have evil results even when there was not evil intent or when there was an impeccable excuse.

It should therefore be no surprise that the world around us is piled high with the evil effects of innumerable evil deeds - ours and others. Both the deliberate and the well-intentioned evils of humanity have woven a web of evil consequences that a thousand years of altruism alone could not undo.

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On Spiritual Gluttony

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Being a Carmelite can be difficult. Heck, let's face it, it is difficult. The dedication to a life of prayer is all well and good, but it is ethereal and a matter of grace overcoming the tendency one might have to seek more sensible satisfaction.

from Dark Night of the Soul Book 1 Chapter 6
St. John of the Cross

[On Spiritual Gluttony]

2. Such individuals are unreasonable and most imperfect. They subordinate submissiveness and obedience (which is a penance of reason and discretion, and consequently a sacrifice more pleasing and acceptable to God) to corporeal penance. But corporeal penance without obedience is no more than a penance of beasts. And like beasts, they are motivated in these penances by an appetite for the pleasure they find in them. Since all extremes are vicious and since by such behavior these persons are doing their own will, they grow in vice rather than in virtue. For through this conduct they at least become spiritually gluttonous and proud, since they do not tread the path of obedience. The devil, increasing the delights and appetites of these beginners and thereby stirring up this gluttony in them, so impels many of them that when they are unable to avoid obedience they either add to, change, or modify what was commanded. Any obedience in this matter is distasteful to them. Some reach such a point that the mere obligation of obedience to perform their spiritual exercises makes them lose all desire and devotion. Their only yearning and satisfaction is to do what they feel inclined to do, whereas it would be better in all likelihood for them not to do this at all.

3. Some are very insistent that their spiritual director allow them to do what they themselves want to do, and finally almost force the permission from him. And if they do not get what they want, they become sad and go about like testy children. They are under the impression that they do not serve God when they are not allowed to do what they want. Since they take gratification and their own will as their support and their god, they become sad, weak, and discouraged when their director takes these from them and desires that they do God's will. They think that gratifying and satisfying themselves is serving and satisfying God. . . .

6. They have the same defect in their prayer, for they think the whole matter of prayer consists in looking for sensory satisfaction and devotion. They strive to procure this by their own efforts, and tire and weary their heads and their faculties. When they do not get this sensible comfort, they become very disconsolate and think they have done nothing. Because of their aim they lose true devotion and spirit, which lie in distrust of self and in humble and patient perseverance so as to please God. Once they do not find delight in prayer, or in any other spiritual exercise, they feel extreme reluctance and repugnance in returning to it and sometimes even give it up. For after all, as was mentioned,1 they are like children who are prompted to act not by reason but by pleasure. All their time is spent looking for satisfaction and spiritual consolation; they can never read enough spiritual books, and one minute they are meditating on one subject and the next on another, always hunting for some gratification in the things of God. God very rightly and discreetly and lovingly denies this satisfaction to these beginners. If he did not, they would fall into innumerable evils because of their spiritual gluttony and craving for sweetness. This is why it is important for these beginners to enter the dark night and be purged of this childishness.2

Perhaps everyone longs for some surety of the effectiveness of communication; looks for some sign that the message has been received and acknowledged; looks for some hint that love sent out is returned.

In the matter of prayer, such longings are not to be trusted. In fact, in the matter of prayer, such longings are a temptation away from prayer. If one enters prayer with the notion that one needs to "get something out of it," one will fail every time because there will come a time when nothing sensible does come out of it.

But there are several reasons why this attitude is wrong. If someone were invited to a friend's house for a quiet cup of tea (coffee) and a sit out on the back porch watching the world go by, most would not immediately ask, "What will I get out of it?" This simply isn't the way most people look at friendship. Time is spent because it is profitable, in ways untold, to spend the time. If one's fiancé said, "Let's go for a walk" most people would not ask, "What can I expect from it? Will I know that you love me more by the end of it?" Why then, when it comes to prayer, are expectations so different? In prayer, one is invited to spend time with the Bridegroom of the Soul, the closest, most intimate friend anyone will ever have. But the attitude many, if not most, strike is, "Show me how this will be good for me."

Or think of the matter in another way. When one has been spending a great deal of time in physical training, one doesn't enter the weight room with the expectation that there will be any sensible difference by the time one leaves. In fact, if one is wise, one doesn't really desire any sensible difference because the difference one is more likely than not to sense will be pain. So with prayer, the constant practice of which is remotely analogous to weight-training, one does it to maintain one's grace-won place in the Kingdom, not to "be promoted" to Sainthood. The purpose of prayer is not to earn a place at the right hand of God, but to remain in the place that God's grace has fashioned for one. That, in itself, is the life of heroic sanctity--to advance in holiness, to advance in being what God would have one be, to weed out all imperfection from life and to move as God would have one move. These are achieved not through the sensible satisfactions of prayer, but through simple and humble obedience, humility, and gratitude. One advances not by advancing, but by remaining precisely where God would have one be and not questioning one's station but accepting the will of God in the matter of one's place in the kingdom.

Spiritual Gluttony, the desire to sniff out the sensible consolations of prayer and focus on them, stands in the way of accepting God's will. It amounts to saying, "So long as you do what I like, I shall visit. But as soon as you stop paying out the wealth of your generosity, I shall seek other venues for satisfaction." The desire for sensation overpowers the desire to serve and to be with Our Lord to the detriment of each person who succumbs and of all the people that surround them. Prayer is not about sensible consolation, but about obedience, humility, gratitude, and joy in the presence of an intimate friend.

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From a bit further along. . .

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πάντα ἰσχ?ω ?ν τῶ ?νδυναμοῦντί με.

Odd, how the last word is the same in English and Greek but in different letters. Maybe those Indo-Aryanists have a point.

I'm sorry, I just love the look of the Greek line of type. Here's the Latin:

Omnia possum in eo qui me confortat.

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Experimenting with Joy

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χαί?ετε ?ν κυ?ίῳ πάντοτε· πάλιν ??ῶ, χαί?ετε.

Text from the Polyglot bible. And those who know me well already know what it says. For you others--Phil 4:4

And below, is the Latin:

Gaudete in Domino semper: iterum dico gaudete.

As you can well see, Greek is by far the more aesthetically pleasing language--the absoluteness of its superiority to Latin is amply displayed by the chi and rho characters. So, on aesthetic merit alone, it is intuitively obvious to the most casual of observers that Greek is objectively superior to Latin.

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Middlemarch Revisted II


Those disinclined to peruse fiction, or for those for whom long books hold horrors untold, you would do well to go to Daily Lit and sign up for a book or two. I'm reading and rereading books that I would otherwise not find the time for, and surprisingly, at a page or so at a time, enjoying them more fully than I did when I blitzed them for whatever purpose was driving my reading in the past. Today's installment of the saga presents the reaction of Dorothea's other suitor to the new that she is to marry Casaubon.

from Middlemarch
George Eliot

"Good God! It is horrible! He is no better than a mummy!" (The point
of view has to be allowed for, as that of a blooming and disappointed

"She says, he is a great soul.--A great bladder for dried peas to
rattle in!" said Mrs. Cadwallader.

"What business has an old bachelor like that to marry?" said Sir James.
"He has one foot in the grave."

"He means to draw it out again, I suppose."

I love the rather acerbic understatement of the final sentence of this exchange.

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Incredible Bible Online


The Polyglot Bible present Greek, Latin, KJV with Strong's numbers, Septuagint, and Tanakh (for OT). A real treasure. The Strong's numbers are lexical entries that help to explain the Greek and Hebrew usage.

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Roman Catholic Search Engine

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Precious Moments--Samuel


In some ways its a real bummer being the breadwinner because you miss out on things like this: (recorded from a Linda phone-call)

Sam took his dog Lucky and put him in an old foam Spiderman chair that was good for Sam when he was about five. He picks the chair and the dog up and begins to walk around saying, "Keep all paws and tails inside the vehicle while it is in motion."

Guess you can figure out where Sam spends a lot of time.

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Middlemarch Revisited


It's difficult to say whether George Eliot meant for such passages as the one that follows to be as amusing as they presently are, but I can see her, quill in hand, pressing her lips together as she writes to supress an unseemly and unwomanly giggle.

from Middlemarch
George Eliot

[Dorothea has justed announced to her engagement to Mr. Casaubon to her sister Celia. Celia reflects:]

She never could have thought that she should feel as she did. There was something funereal in the whole affair, and Mr. Casaubon seemed to be the officiating clergyman, about whom it would be indecent to make remarks.

And later, another bon-bon:

[referring to Casaubon's pronouncement of love]

No speech could have been more thoroughly honest in its intention: the frigid rhetoric at the end was as sincere as the bark of a dog, or the cawing of an amorous rook. Would it not be rash to conclude that there was no passion behind those sonnets to Delia which strike us as the thin music of a mandolin?

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Reading List

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Presently I am reading:

Through on-line delivery:

Middlemarch George Eliot--and you are seeing some of my dialogue with this great book.

Northanger Abbey Jane Austen--The Novel that languished for a while but then came out to roundly trounce the excesses of the Gothic novelists, Ann Radcliffe, among them. But even so, one should not miss out on the pleasures of The Mysteries of Udolfo or The Castle of Otranto (Horace Walpole).

"The Willows"--in a collection of Ghost Stories--considered the very finest of Algernon Blackwood's many stories.

In real paper:

The Geographer's Library Jon Fasman--The kind of book I was looking for when I read The DaVinci Code, Angels and Demons, and Steve Berry's The Amber Room. I hope the rest of the novel lives up to the first five or six chapters--a mysterious death, odd objects from antiquity that have a way of going missing and suddenly being found to be stolen, and a reporter. Literate, intricate, and fun. Perhaps the most fun I've had with a book since The Club Dumas. I'll let you know if it lives up to its beginning.

Will in the World Stephen Greenblatt--Another close examination of the life of William Shakespeare, one of the most prominent to introduce the idea that Shakespeare may have come from a family of recusant Catholics. Fascinating in its details and a prelude to another book I have at home, A year in the Life of William Shakespeare: 1599.

Hammer and Fire Fr. Raphael Simon, a Jew turned Cistercian Monk, and at the time of the writing of this book, a practicing psychiatrist. We're reading it as a part of a slow study--probably a full year within my book group. I invited everyone to breeze through and get the general drift and we're going to talk about it a couple of chapters at a time. We're only dedicating part of the book group time to it, hence the slowness. But the book invites slow reading and reflection on what is being said. Too often we chew this books up like they were candy and they make no appreciable change in the way we do things. But a book like this is written to invite change in the way we live and the way we approach spiritual matters. (All books on prayer are written to invite change, no simply to provide those of us with the wherewithal to buy and read them with a moment's diversion. I have to remind myself of that every so often.)

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Where Do You Get Those Facts?

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Reading Greenblatt's Will in the World and I stumbled across this:

In 1557 a pregnant woman out for a walk with her husband was struck in the neck by a stray arrow and killed.

The context was a passage about the suburban recreations of Shakespeare's time, not war. So, what did Greenblatt have to read in order to document such an occurrence. Think about it, we have a very small incident (in terms of worldly events) at a far remove in time, for which we have limited recording devices. I don't think there was anything like a daily people, I sure as heck know there wasn't a People Magazine. So, this must have come from a reading of some sort of summary of cases before the court, or something.

Anyway, it's utterly fascinating what small gems can be garnered from research and reading in primary sources. The difficulty for most of us is that we can never see most of these sources. That's one thing I hope the internet successfully resolves with time. It would be wonderful to have access to all of these kinds of things on-line, to be able to read with impunity the trial record of St. Joan of Arc, or the magistrates summary for the Court in Suffolk, or whatever it is that strikes one's fancy. Buried within those chronicles will be thousands of little stories such as this one. This is a sad story, a terrible story, but one that is too soon forgotten otherwise.

The pleasures of reading in books whose agenda's, as much as they are recognizable, do not chafe.

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All Saints

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Today is a day to remember, praise, and thank the Saints for their everyday (if that is a possibility in Heaven) work for us.

In my Academy speech, I would like to thank:

(1)The Blessed Virgin Mary for teaching me humility in so many different ways and for being the constant stumbling block to my reforming protestant mind.

(2) St. Therese of Lisieux, whose constant efforts on my part have availed so little so far, but in whose prayers I have every confidence, and whose desire to work good on Earth makes me desire to see her prayers come to fruition.

(3) St. Patrick, who nearly single-handedly established the system that preserved much of antiquity for western minds and eyes.

(4) St. Teresa of Avila, constant intercessor and close friend, a person I would be honored to call Mother--practical, kind, and above all joyful.

(5) St. John of the Cross, joyful, humble, and a constant inspiration to one so lost.

(6) St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross--humbling the intellect and the person to serve those dying while dying herself.

(7) St. Augustine, who better articulated the mind of most men of my acquaintance, and certainly to some extent my own than any other Saint. He gives me hope that salvation may be attained through grace and perserverance.

(8) St Catherine of Siena--courageous, truthful, crusader who had the gumption and the determination to set the Pope back on the right track, who also served the poor and the ill where she lived.

(9) St Katherine Ann Drexel--friend of the friendless, constant companion of those who had no champion, a true American example of holiness.

(10) St. Elizabeth Ann Seton--whose dedication to children and to their education helps us to focus on what is important here and now, the nurturing and care of our little ones that they may raise up a new generation better than our own.

Naturally, these are idiosyncratic and only a bare start. But thank goodness for this day to honor all of the Saints who have gone before us and who go before God for us, praying constantly and working good on Earth through their prayers.

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from Will in the World
Stephen Greenblatt

With its crush of small factories, dockyards, and warehouses; its huge food markets, breweries, print ships, hospitals, orphanages, law schools, and guildhalls; its cloth makers, glassmakers, basket makers, brick makers, shipwrights, carpenters, tinsmiths, armorers, haberdashers, furriers, dyers, goldsmiths, fishmongers, booksellers, chandlers, drapers, grocers, and their crowds of unruly apprentices; not to mention its government officials, couriers, lawyers, merchants, ministers, teachers, soldiers, sailors, porters, carters, watermen, innkeepers, cooks, servants, peddlers, minstrels, acrobats, cardsharps, pimps, whores, and beggars, London overflowed all boundaries.

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"For All the Saints. . . " II


Isn't it odd how the hymn would have it that we pray to all the saints "who from their labors rest," when, in fact, the serious work of the Saint begins with their ability to intercede before the throne of the Most High. I think of St. Therese and her desire to "spend my heaven doing good on Earth."

For All the Saints
William W. How

For all the saints, who from their labors rest,
Who Thee by faith before the world confessed,
Thy Name, O Jesus, be forever blessed.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

Thou wast their Rock, their Fortress and their Might;
Thou, Lord, their Captain in the well fought fight;
Thou, in the darkness drear, their one true Light.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

For the Apostles’ glorious company,
Who bearing forth the Cross o’er land and sea,
Shook all the mighty world, we sing to Thee:
Alleluia, Alleluia!

For the Evangelists, by whose blest word,
Like fourfold streams, the garden of the Lord,
Is fair and fruitful, be Thy Name adored.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

For Martyrs, who with rapture kindled eye,
Saw the bright crown descending from the sky,
And seeing, grasped it, Thee we glorify.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

O blest communion, fellowship divine!
We feebly struggle, they in glory shine;
All are one in Thee, for all are Thine.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

O may Thy soldiers, faithful, true and bold,
Fight as the saints who nobly fought of old,
And win with them the victor’s crown of gold.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

And when the strife is fierce, the warfare long,
Steals on the ear the distant triumph song,
And hearts are brave, again, and arms are strong.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

The golden evening brightens in the west;
Soon, soon to faithful warriors comes their rest;
Sweet is the calm of paradise the blessed.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

But lo! there breaks a yet more glorious day;
The saints triumphant rise in bright array;
The King of glory passes on His way.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

From earth’s wide bounds, from ocean’s farthest coast,
Through gates of pearl streams in the countless host,
And singing to Father, Son and Holy Ghost:
Alleluia, Alleluia!

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"For All the Saints. . ."


TSO has a fuller quotation from which this is extracted:

a joy limited to considering one's own grace and salvation could not claim to be Christian."

--Hans von Balthasar

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Lily's Ghosts


Laura Ruby's book for teen girls is an interesting panoply of the coming-of-age story, the divorced parents story, and a supernatural mystery. All of the elements are distinct and they never become muddled in the flow of the book.

Lily and her mother move from Montclair, NJ to Cape May after her mother's latest boyfriend throws them out. Lily's mother's uncle owns the house and offers it to them as a place to stay in this time of turmoil. Lily and her mother move in and the ghost descend--one of them, Lola, mistakes Lily for her rival Steffie and pulls all sorts of ghostly pranks from putting jam in Lily's shoes to dying Lily's hair pink. Other ghosts intervene in her life as well.

While the ghost story and the girl-mother relationship story are okay, I am disturbed by some elements of this book--elements that I think might mislead many young women who don't have firm guidance. For example in the course of this book Lily, who is about 13 embarks on a "love affair" (If matters of the heart carry such weight at that time) with her boyfriend Vaz. They carry on throughout the book, and Lily's mother becomes quite concerned and determined to slow everything down. This provokes Lily's strongest rebellious moment and the mother relents. I don't know how this would be read by young women likely to encounter the book, but it presents for me some grave misgivings about recommending it.

The book is well-written and fun to read and probably harmless for most adults. But if you have a daughter to whom you are likely to hand it, you would be wise to read it first and judge the content against your child's maturity.

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About this Archive

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

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