Steven Riddle: December 2006 Archives

And all other greetings of this festive and Holy Season

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Samuel's First Altar Service

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This evening was Samuel's first altar service. A wonderful deacon, and an older girl managed to get him through the Mass without calamity. He took the bell-ringing duty because they didn't feel he was up to the book.

Everything went so well that we deemed it a special occasion so we went out to the local sushi place where he astounded the waitress and appalled his mother (yet again) by ordering and devouring the octopus sushi. (The last time we went the Japanese waitress said that most people bring in food from Chick Fil- A for their kids while they eat Japanese--so she was really surprised to see him devouring sushi.) In addition, he had gyoza, california roll, and chicken teriyaki. The only thing he doesn't seem to care for is miso.

Any way, a good evening and a wonderful way to lead into the celebration of Christmas.

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Prayers for TSO and Family

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Who lost a beloved family member last night.

May the Lord bless those left behind and take unto Himself, this, his very own precious child.


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Live Giant Squid

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An incredibly cool Christmas gift for cephalopod fanatics the world over. Enjoy!

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Samuel in Japan

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Yesterday we went to EPCOT for the very lovely annual Christmas Processional they stage three times a night (in which the name of Jesus is actually spoken and all of the Christmas Carols are, in fact, religious--turns out to be a smart commercial venture for them, but, hey, whatever it takes.)

In visiting, we stopped by the "department store" that they have as a small exhibit in Japan and Samuel was able to speak to Arisa-san who arrived in the states two months ago.

"Did you live in Japan?" Sam asked.

"Yes. I come from Tokyo two months ago," says Arisa-san

"Do you know about Kitabatake Chikafusa?" Sam asks. This particular influential writer and leader of the Minamoto clan and also inventor/developer of Japanese Puppet Theater (if I remember correctly) has been a Samuel favorite for a while because the name is so much fun to say.

The young lady did not.

Sam said, "What about Tokugawa?"

Arisa-san, "You know Tokugawa?"

Sam, "Yes, Tokugawa Ieyasu." (I think the young lady was stunned to hear both names as many people may know Tokugawa, but few know the other.

"Yes, Tokugawa is very famous in Japan."

Sam, "He was the warlord. The shogun." He still hasn't quite gotten the notion that Tokugawa was essentially the founder and developer of the shogunate as a ruling clan--but that's all right.

Arisa-san, "That's right."

And Sam adds, "And my favorite film director is Miyazaki."

Arisa-san, "Totoro?"

Sam, "I like Spirited Away and Howl's Moving Castle better."

Arisa-san, "You know Howl? That is one of my favorite movies."

And as we left she gave a little bow and I think Sam said, "Sayonara Arisa-san."

I was impressed. It's amazing how little minds are just like absorbent sponges. Little things fall on them and are imbedded, seemingly permanently.

Later Update: Sorry, I confused the great politician Kitabatake Chikafusa with the master playwright Chikamatsu Monzaemon. Oh, well, it was some time ago and I suppose the "Chika" in each threw me off. Sorry.

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"Let's Say Thanks"

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No matter how you feel about the war in Iraq, now is the time to let the people serving over there know how much we appreciate them. One major company has made it easier for us all to do so:

So, Let's Say Thanks to the men and women overseas who are away from the ones they love during this holiday season. Let them know we hold them in our hearts and minds and that we pray for them and for the families left behind every day.

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"Be faithful in little things. . ."


I don't know that Blessed Dom Columba was particularly influenced by St. Therese, although he did write a notice supporting the cause of her beatification; however, their messages converge at several points. And I must conclude from this convergence that God chose that particular time in history to clarify the path to Him. For what reason, I cannot say, but it appears that these two great directors of souls really found one very simple way which we still have not come to terms with.

from Union with God
Blessed Dom Columba Marmion

Be faithful in little things, not out of meticulousness, but out of love. Do this to prove to Our Lord that you have the love of a spouse for HIm.


It is a question of giving the first moments of the day to Our Lord or to His enemy, and the whole day bears the reflection of this first choice.


Let us labor to give ourselves to Jesus in the person of others. That admits of much interior renunciation.

Although St. Therese remarked very little on the enemy of God, she certainly taught a lot about doing little things with great faithfulness. Extraordinary measures need not be taken--the ordinary round of life provides ample opportunity for holiness and sanctity. And one of our chief services may be a smile at someone who receives very few.

What these two great spiritual guides did was strip away prolixity, method, and the encrustation of routine. They demanded of themselves and of those who would accept the path they showed an authenticity and a presence that some prior spiritualities tended to obscure. These two stand as great servants of God in the present moment under the present circumstances in present company.

This is nothing new. Brother Lawrence taught sanctity among the pots and pans. St. Benedict's rule emphasizes the "ordinariness" of sanctifying the day.

But these two Saints expressed this simple truth in words for the time. Straightforward, direct, uncompromising--the two tell us in no uncertain terms that the path to holiness is not turning our steps a different direction as we go to market, but turning our hearts a different direction whichever way we go. A transformation of the heart and attentiveness to God in the details of the day is all the fuel we need to accept the Grace of God's omnipresence. We need do nothing extraordinary, we just need to be aware of how extraordinary every moment in His presence is; how every opportunity of the day is an opportunity for grace, peace, love, and security in His presence. He is in every second, every moment of every day. And every moment of every day is His special gift to us.

Generations of teachers have taught this, and still we go looking for the extraordinary. While it is exemplary practice to wake early and spend time in Eucharistic adoration, it is just as extraordinary to recognize Jesus in the presence of our coworkers and to greet Him.

Faithfulness in the small things--in preparing lunch for a hungry child, in taking time out to comfort a sorrowing friend, in smiling at a neighbor, in giving way in traffic although you have every right to continue, in letting God be present through you and in you in every encounter and interaction. Surrender, abandonment of self. And in this season, the abandonment of self to the hope of the Incarnation. We have the face of the baby Jesus to look upon and to delight in. We can join the chorus of the angels in His acclaim. We can sing,

"For unto us a son is given
and his name shall be called
wonderful, counselor, prince of peace, mighty god, holy one,

And it is on that last that we should spend a moment in mediation as we practice the direction of Blessed Columba and St. Therese. Emmanuel--"god with us." For indeed He is, in every moment, in every breath, in every person, in every event, in all that comes to us in the course of the day. Jesus, our Emmanuel, ever present, comforter, King and Brother. Come, Lord Jesus, do not delay, we await you moment by moment, let us see your face in each person who greets us, and more importantly let each person see your light shining out from us. Come, Lord Jesus.

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Science Fiction E-books

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An amazing profusion from Baen books.


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One of the great sins of the Catholic masses--I include myself among them--and one much in evidence in St. Blogs is the sin of presumption, in the ordinary or prideful sense of this word. I don't mean the presumption of God's grace and the assumption that one is somehow entitled to it, but rather the prideful assumption that one understands what is clearly beyond one's understanding.

I think of this particularly with respect to the "suspect theologians," Hans Urs von Balthasar and Karl Rahner. von Balthasar is often accused, unwarrantedly in my opinion, of supporting a kind of Universalist heresy. Now, in my reading there is only one type of universalism that has incurred any anathema at all--that is sometimes referred to as "origenist." But I am by no means the authority on this or on all the subtleties surrounding it. However, there are many places around St. Blogs where I've read would-be experts condemning von Balthasar on the count of heresy. This seem presumptuous. It strikes me as odd that as intelligent as much of St. Blog's is, anyone here feels a sufficient depth of knowledge to condemn such a theologian. Perhaps it is so, but then it would be presumptuous of me even to be able to decide that much.

The other much maligned theologian is Karl Rahner who has been accused here and elsewhere of denying the real presence in the Eucharist. I'll be honest, I can't read three consecutive sentences of Rahner's in any form without being lulled into a possibly unending trance-like state. After the first sentence an impermeable membrane forms around the dura mater that threatens brain asphyxiation. But I have seen people arguing back and forth with a seeming understanding of the matter, and others standing by the wayside simply taking sides based their fluctuating opinions of the moment. Any such judgment strikes me as presumptuous--at least coming from those who have not been properly trained to read and understand these theologians.

However, we all sit in the place of armchair theologians from time to time. What I've discovered as I have occupied that coveted seat is that my personal likes and dislikes of either the author or perhaps something the author has penned that has nothing to do with the case in point often colors my perception. I think that may be true in broader circles. For example, I hear a lot of people warning others about the later works of Thomas Merton, and while there is a certain "easternization of thought" in the spirituality of the later books, I don't know that he ever abandoned the centrality of Jesus in faith. Even the Asian Journals strike me as clinging to the faith. But then, it would be presumptuous of me to say what his state of mind was one way or the other. Not everything that is written is indicative of the mindset of an individual as he or she struggles with issues.

So I guess I'm in favor of leaving the glorious high-throne of amateur theologizing and trusting the Vatican and their warnings--explicitly issued in the case of Anthony de Mello (although I truly don't understand the nature of the warning), but so far as I am aware, never even whispered in the case of Thomas Merton. We must, each of us, decide what will nurture us and what will lead us astray. It is possible that reading very orthodox, very reliable, very reputable, Saintly figures could just as easily lead some astray as would reading Meister Eckhart and others of the Devotio Moderna school. For example, reading Thomas Aquinas drives me to the point of despairing whether or not I'll ever become Christian much less Catholic. If being a good Catholic requires acceptance of all that, then I am in a lot of trouble. On the other hand, Thomas Merton, even the later, "questionable" Merton, causes hardly a ripple in the pond.

If one makes the assumption that all that is approved is necessarily good for all people, one has stumbled upon the borderlands of presumption. When one asserts it positively, one occupies the throne of the entire realm--at least for a moment.

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I can't help it. Two more words from Dom Columba, words that reflect the wisdom of all the Saints through the ages.

from Union with God
Blessed Dom Columba Marmion

Do all things solely for love of Our Lord and, for love of HIm, accept all that He permits; give yourself up to love without looking either to the right or the left. Accept, without troubling yourself about them, the annoyances and difficulties through which you are passing at present. What you have to do by obedience, do as well as ever you can, but without being anxious whether others are pleased with you or blame you, whether they love you or don't love you. It ought to be enough for you to be loved by Our Lord.


Try to smile lovingly at every manifestation of God's will.

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More by Dom Columba


I can't vouch for the remainder of this site, it may be fine, it may be otherwise; however, O Marvelous Exchange by Dom Columba Marmion is a wonderful meditation on some of the aspects of the mystery of the Incarnation.

from Christ in His Mysteries
Dom Columba Marmion

What the Word Incarnate gives in return to humanity is an incomprehensible gift; it is a participation, real and intimate, in His Divine nature: Largitus est nobis suam deitatem. In exchange for the humanity which He takes, the Incarnate Word gives us a share in His Divinity; He makes us partakers of His Divine Nature. And thus is accomplished the most wonderful exchange which could be made.

Doubtless, as you know, this participation had already been offered and given, from the creation, to Adam, the first man. The gift of grace, with all its splendid train of privileges, made Adam like to God. But the sin of the first man, the head of the human race, destroyed and rendered this ineffable participation impossible on the part of the creature.

It is to restore this participation that the Word becomes Incarnate; it is to reopen to us the way to heaven that God is made man. For this Child, being God's own Son, has Divine life, like His Father, with His Father. In this Child "dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead corporeally" (Col 2:9); in Him are laid up all the treasures of the divinity (Cf. Ibid. 3). But He does not possess them for Himself alone. He infinitely desires to communicate to us the Divine life that He Himself is: Ego sum vita (Jn 14:6). It is for this that He comes: Ego vend UT vitam habeant (Ibid. 10:10). It is for us that a Child is born; it is to us that a Son is given: Puer natus est NOBIS et Filius datus est nobis (Introit of the Mass of the day). In making us share in His condition of Son, He will make us children of God. "When the fulness of time was come, God sent His Son, made of a woman,... that we might receive the adoption of sons (Gal 4:4-5). "What Christ is by nature, that is to say the Son of God, we are to be by grace; the Incarnate Word, the Son of God made man is to become the author of our divine generation: Natus hodie Salvator mundi DIVINAE NOBIS GENERATIONIS est auctor (Postcommunion of the Mass of Christmas Day). So that, although He be the Only-begotten Son, He will become the First-born of many brethren: UT sit IPSE PRIMOGENITUS in multis fratribus (Rom 8:29).

May you be blessed by the Blessed Dom Columba's prayers as you read this, May God grant us all a measure of His Wisdom as we contemplate the mystery of the Birth that we celebrate on Monday. Lord Jesus, come!

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I haven't written in my Dom Columba book yet because I wanted to get a sense of how much I would be likely to write. I look at the first section of the book and see now dozens of little post-it tags--each representing a passage I would otherwise mark. When I page through there are, perhaps, three or four passages I have not marked. My conclusion--this is a book that is fit for lectio in the same way as Imitation of Christ makes fine fodder for hours of prayer. So I think this would as well.

For example, this word for those of us prone to taking on tomorrow and next week:

from Union with God
Dom Columba Marmion

If circumstances happen to change, then and not before, we can consider how you would have to adapt your life to that new position you set before me. For the moment, live in the actual present, and not in a future which perhaps will never be an actuality for you.

This passage echoes St. Therese who said (I paraphrase), "All of our sorrows lie in the past and in tomorrow, but we live only in this moment."

And this piece of scary, but cogent advice:

[source as above]

Let yourself be led by God's hand without looking too much where He is leading you, provided that you remain quite submissive and in His Hands. One is a thousand times more united to God in the midst of a crowd where one is by obedience than hidden away in one's cell by self-love.

Once again the ancient dual, humility and obedience, make their appearance. These two things are so difficult for me because I tend to be spiritually tone-deaf, often assuming that what I want to do or what I have read about doing are what God actually wants me to do--and all the while secretly reveling in a kind of spiritual pride in what it is I am doing--pride not that I am announcing it to the world, but that I am "making my own way." Only the foolish believe that they can make their own ways in the spiritual world. The only way is God's way and so I end up tramping through the brush and getting scratched up by briars, rather than walking the cleared path that God has made for me. In my own mind I am a great explorer and investigator, but in reality, I am merely a disobedient child--subjecting myself to wear and tear and stress that will ultimately pull me away from God rather than toward him. While I could be sampling berries by the side of the path, I am instead tangling with the poison ivy, poison oak, and brambles of my own making and my own choosing. How is this so much different from Milton's Satan who said, "Better to reign in Hell than to serve in Heaven?"

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One for Bill at Minutiae

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If he doesn't already have it--Dom Columba Marmion's Sponsa Verbi.

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The Catholic Church of the Future


Elliot, at Claw of the Conciliator, reviews an e-book of short fiction dedicated to the future of the Catholic Church. Sounds good.

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"When you feel invited. . ."


from Union with God
Dom Columba Marmion

When you feel invited to remain in silence at Our Lord's feet like Magdalen just looking at Him with your heart without saying anything, don't cast about for any thoughts or reasonings, but just remain in loving adoration. Follow the whisperings of the Holy Ghost. If He invites you to beg, beg; if to be silent, remain silent; if to show you misery to God, just do so. Let Him play on the fibers of your heart like a harpist, and draw forth the melody He wishes for the Divine Spouse.

Souls like your, called to interior prayer, are often greatly tempted in all ways, by the sense; to blasphemy, pride, etc. Don't be afraid. You can't do anything more glorious to God or more useful to souls than to give yourself to Him. . .

In prayer, don't cast about for useful things to do, or things to occupy the mind while the prayer time continues. Do as God invites you to do; heed the Holy Spirit and you cannot go awry.

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"Wachet Auf"


Although it has a certain end-times feel, it is still appropriate for those of us who slumber up to and through the great celebration of the Incarnation.

1. "Sleepers, wake!" the watch cry pealeth,
while slumber deep each eyelid sealeth:
Awake, Jerusalem, awake!
Midnight's solemn hour is tolling,
and seraph-notes are onward rolling;
They call on us our part to take.
Come forth, ye virgins wise:
the Bridegroom comes, arise!
Each lamp be bright
with ready light
to grace the marriage feast tonight.

2. Zion hears the voice that singeth
with sudden joy her glad heart springeth,
at once she wakes, she stands arrayed:
her Light is come, her Star ascending,
lo, girt with truth, with mercy blending,
her Bridegroom there, so long delayed.
All hail! God's glorious Son,
all hail! our joy and crown,
The joyful call
we answer all,
and follow to the bridal hall.

3. Praise to him who goes before us!
Let men and angels join in chorus,
let harp and cymbal add their sound.
Twelve the gates, a pearl each portal:
we haste to join the choir immortal
within the Holy City's bound.
Ear ne'er heard aught like this,
nor heart conceived such bliss.
We raise the song,
we swell the throng,
to praise thee ages all along.
1. Wake, awake, for night is flying:
The watchmen on the heights are crying,
Awake, Jerusalem, arise!
Midnight's solemn hour is tolling,
His chariot wheels are nearer rolling,
He comes; prepare, ye virgins wise.
Rise up, with willing feet,
Go forth, the Bridegroom meet:
Bear through the night your well-trimmed light,
Speed forth to join the marriage rite.

2. Sion hears the watchmen singing,
Her heart with deep delight is springing,
She wakes, she rises from her gloom:
Forth her Bridegroom comes, all glorious,
In grace arrayed, by truth victorious;
Her Star is risen, her Light is come!
All hail, Incarnate Lord,
Our crown, and our reward!
We haste along, in pomp of song,
And gladsome join the marriage throng.

3. Lamb of God, the heavens adore thee,
And men and angels sing before thee,
With harp and cymbal's clearest tone.
By the pearly gates in wonder
We stand, and swell the voice of thunder,
That echoes round thy dazzling throne.
No vision ever brought,
No ear hath ever caught,
Such bliss and joy:
To raise the song, we swell the throng,
To praise thee ages all along. Amen.


1. Up! awake! from highest steeple
The watchmen cry, Awake, ye people;
O Salem, from thy slumber rise! —
Hear those clarion-voices knelling,
The hour of midnight loud forth-telling;
Say, where are ye, O Virgins wise?
The Bridegroom comes; awake!
Up! lamp and lantern take;
With ready light ye must to-night
Go forth to join the marriage-rite.
2. Syon hears the watchmen sounding,
Her heart with deep delight is bounding;
Anon she wakes; away she wends:
Comes her Spouse from heav’n, all glorious,
In grace almight, in truth victorious;
Her light doth shine, her star ascends.
Jesu, our peerless Crown,
Strong Son of God, come down!
Fain will we all obey thy call,
And follow to the bridal-hall.
3. Glory unto thee in heaven
By men and Angel-tongues be given,
With harp and cymbal’s thrilling tone;
Syon hath twelve pearly portals,
Wherein, with Angel-quire, we mortals
On high may stand around thy throne:
Eye ne’er saw aught like this;
Ear ne’er heard tell such bliss;
And we therefore will thee adore,
And hymn thy praises evermore.

1. Wake, o wake! with tidings thrilling
the watchmen all the air are filling,
arise, Jerusalem, arise!
Midnight strikes! no more delaying,
"The hour has come!" we hear them saying.
Where are ye all, ye virgins wise?
The Bridegroom comes in sight,
raise high your torches bright!
Alleluia! The wedding song
swells long and strong:
go forth and join the festal throng.

2. Zion hears the watchmen shouting,
her heart leaps with joy undoubting,
she stands and waits with eager eyes;
adorned with truth and grace unending!
Her light burns clear, her star doth rise.
Now come, thou precious Crown,
Lord Jesus, God's own Son!
Hosanna! Let us prepare
to follow there,
where in thy supper we may share.

3. Every soul in thee rejoices;
from men and angelic voices
be glory given to thee alone!
Thy presence never more shall leave us,
we stand with angels round thy throne.
Earth cannot give below
the bliss thou dost bestow.
Alleluia! Grant us to raise
to length of days,
the triumph-chorus of thy praise.

No matter which translation, the message is the same. Wake up. Become aware. Rise from sleep. Light the lamps and prepare the feast, the Bridegroom approaches. Indeed, He approaches, soon as a babe in a manger, soon as the Son of Man riding on the clouds in glory. Awake, awake--see the lights that decorate the houses and see in them the One light that decorates each of our houses, that lights our soul from within so that light spills out into all the world. Awake!

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Union with God


Before another moment passes, race over to Disputations and put your name in the lottery for this magnificent book.

This brief notice will not do it justice. I write in the fever of a quick review and hope to draw out from the book over the coming days and weeks some evidence of my enthusiasm.

Dom Columba Marmion's book, a publication of the really superlative Zaccheus Press, is a magnificent companion to and continuation of Jean Pierre de Caussade's Abandonment to Divine Providence. In saying that, I don't wish to diminish its unique qualities--they are many--the gentleness of the voice of Dom Columba, his erudition, and his careful tailoring of his teaching to the individual student, while never compromising the truth. Truly, this is an inspiring, hope-giving work. For those of us in the trenches, who seem like we never move forward, Dom Columba raises the battle cry that will jolt us out of complacency and send us forward.

A couple of examples at random:

from Union with God
Dom Columba Marmion

For you, it is not good to scrutinize the lowest depths of your soul. If during prayer, God throws His light into your soul and in this light reveals to you, your misery and baseness, it is a signal grace. But your are not in a state to examine and analyze your soul in a natural light.

You must be persuaded that your sinful past is in no way an obstacle to very close union with God. God forgives, and His forgiveness is Divine. With the Angels, God was not merciful because they had no miseries. With us, who are full of miseries, God is infinitely merciful. "The earth is full of the mercy of the Lord."

And what might appear astonishing, but is however very true, is that our miseries entitle us to God's mercy.

The little Infant Who is in our heart is gazing on the Face of His FAther. "In the presence of God for us." He sees in His Father's Eternal love the place you occupy, God's plan for you, a plan so minute that "not a hair of your head falls without Him." Give yourself up to Jesus, the Eternal Wisdom in order that He may lead you and guide you to the fulfillment of that ideal.

Each small section provides food for long and fruitful meditation. Magnificent and beautiful.

This year give the Christmas, New Year's, or Lenten gift of hope, love, and Eternal mercy. If you know someone who needs a good source of spiritual reading, this is the book for them. And while you're at it, drop a line to Mr. O'Leary to thank him for bringing these wonderful works back into print. We are truly blessed with our small Catholic Publishers. Let's support them.

Also, look here to see Vultus Christi's much more coherent, cogent review of the same work.

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It should come as no surprise that when an 8-year-old boy is given the choice between Eragon and Charlotte's Web, it is nearly inevitable that he will choose Eragon. I see this as a very healthy interest for the young--action, excitement, adventure. It should also come as no surprise that their middle-aged fathers would far prefer the gentle remembrance of youthful reading, especially when the reviews for Eragon were so tepid.

So, what of Eragon? It's faults are faults that every reasonable child will overlook, and every adult whose chief interest is the happiness of that child can deal with readily. The movie is precisely what one would expect of a movie made from a highly derivative novel written by a 15 year-old boy. Every plot turn is not only expected, but is directly mappable to something you've seen elsewhere. There are youthful romantic notions of what it means to die with dignity. There is a Sauraman-like evil wizard who commands groups of made-from the Earth nasties whose chief job is to hunt down the hero and kill him. There are several references to Star Wars, one in the death of Eragon's Uncle another in the mysterious mentor who helps Eragon become a dragon-rider.

I won't go on with the catalogue, these illustrate the point. The movie takes bits and pieces of nearly every prominent action/adventure/mythic movie made in the last 30 years and compounds them into a unique film. Was it good? Well, let's say that it was as good as a film of this description could possibly be. The dragon-riding was probable and well-done, the acting mostly passable. It was not a fantastic film, but given its source material, that would be much to expect.

It was sufficient to entertain, entrance, captivate, and otherwise stimulate the mind and imagination of an eight-year-old boy. And so, it served its purpose well. Is it as good as other films that might do the same? Probably not. But this is one of those matters that is judged by the instance, not by the entire literature of film. In this instance, it performed to a magnificent degree the task set before it. It made an 8-year-old boy, and thus his father, very happy for a short time. It isn't a saga for the ages, but it is a saga for age 8.

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Knowing and Understanding


The Church may teach (I haven't looked for a definitive articulation, but I've seen it asserted by a number of bloggers) that Jesus knew from the moment of His birth that He was God. How this reconciles with "like us in all things but sin," is an interesting question--a question addressed by Anne Rice in her wonderful Jesus the Christ: Out of Egypt.

If I must accept on faith that Jesus always knew His divinity and that He was like us in all things but sin, I'm left to wonder how these two partially antithetical tenets are resolved. Anne Rice explains it superbly--while we may know, sometimes we do not understand.

As babies, I suppose there is a rudimentary "knowledge" that one is alive and one is human. Can a baby be said to understand what it means to be human? As one cannot inquire into the understanding of a infant, one cannot speak definitively; however, it is on the very far side of probability that any infant truly understands his or her condition.

I think now about the babe in the manger. This infant who was God possessed the mind and the physical limitations of the human being in the human body. He was to undergo ontogeny--growth in understanding and in being. That is the path of all of humanity. It is important that He should do so, for to do anything else would not be fully human, and Jesus came to bear the full weight of humanity. Jesus may have known that He was God, but if He was fully Human, it took Him some time to fully comprehend what that means.

Think for a moment of being the mother of this very special child. What a responsibility, what a privilege. You are charged with bringing God to an understanding of His Godhood. It is principally through your love, care, and nurturing that this Child will come to understand what it means to love, what it means to be human. And from the foster-father of this child will come the knowledge of what it means to be a man and what it means to love like a man and worship God as a man.

This child, who knew from the moment of His birth that He was God was trusted to two parents who were to help Him understand what this great mystery meant.

In the same way, we come to understand our human condition from our own parents. This means that some of us understand some aspects of it better than others. Depending on our parents, we may be more inclined to "head" thinking or "heart" thinking, or to some ideal balance between the two. Depending on our parents we will understand to a greater or lesser degree our interdependence and our common lot with the remainder of humanity.

But it is up to the working of the Holy Spirit and the Father in heaven to help us understand how Christ lives within us and what that means. When we stand by the creche this Christmas, we do well to bring to mind, that we are not even yet as that Babe in eternity. This earthly life is our gestation, our maturity for our ultimate "Christmas," our individual nativities in eternity--to be greeted by the Father who has waited so long to see us born into that life. Angels rejoice and Saints sing praises as we enter that life. And should we share in that life as we live in this passing world, O, how much better for all of those around us--what a blessing to them and to the entire world.

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Manly Wade Wellman


Most excellent.

John the Balladeer in several delectable versions. For those interested in American Fantasy, this is a must-read. (Also for those interested in the South and Appalachian folklore.)

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The Iliad

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Not so much a review as a rant. I'm only a short way into it and I remember why I found it such difficult going the first time.

I know I'm going to get blasted for it, but I'm going to lay it on the line. Was there ever another group of whining, self-involved, petulant, petty, pugnacious, undisciplined, unlikable people in all of literature. From Achilles who goes off to sulk in his tent until his friend is killed and then emerges to slaughter Troy's finest and do his darnedest to disgrace him (thank Heavens Thetis missed a spot), to lying (aka wily) Odysseus, and arrogant, egotistical and ultimately useless Agamemnon (once again, one finds oneself cheering Clytemnestra on). Ultimately what Achilles succeeds in doing is showing us what a belligerent, bellicose boor he is. As for Odysseus, wily Odysseus, the less said the better.

What an unpleasant lot, thoroughly deserving of whatever is dished out. Add to that quarrelsome, petty, ignorant, and foul-tempered gods, goddesses, minor nymphs, seers, you name it.

Indeed, a thoroughly unpleasant exploration of a thoroughly repugnant side of human nature.

And absolutely perfect for Advent because it shows a glaring, harshly revealing picture of humanity in the depth of the fall with no sign of the redemption we know so well. And what is frightening to me is the way modern society seems to be assuming more and more of the characteristics of the foul society that Homer praises.

At least The Odyssey had monsters and witches to take your mind off of how really awful Odysseus is as a person.

I know, I just got drummed out of the Classics clique and have lost all my credentials--but I sure get tired of being told how really great this is (and it undoubtedly is) without the clear picture of how really repugnant nearly everything Homer writes about is.

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The One True End


from Hammer and Fire
Fr. Raphael Simon O.S.C.O.

From this account of prayer, we can readily understand its subsidiary value as mental hygiene, and for the resolution of certain mental and emotional problems.

. . . It makes us understand how sublime and noble this end is, and how efficacious are the means. From this comes a spirit of security and confidence, based not upon our own strength but upon the omnipotence and mercy of the Father and upon the help of His grace.

Everything in our life and contacts falls within the compass of this purpose without any distortion or unreality. . . because the purpose of our existence and the existence of the universe is the union of our soul with the Father. The wholehearted pursuit of an end that is able to integrate our entire life makes for an integrated personality and mental health.

[boldface is my own emphasis.] (Go tell Tom that you want Hammer and Fire for Christmas)

Our end, the end of every single person is wholehearted love of God. And it is mind-boggling--the universe exists that this end might be achieved. In thinking about the Christ who is to come, and the Child who already sanctified time, it is awe-inspiring to think that all that is is so that we might love Him better.

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On the Death Penalty


Let me make it resoundingly clear, I am opposed to the death penalty and I believe that in general the Church is opposed to the death penalty, although certainly not to the point of total exclusion.

That said, I find the concerns expressed in events like these to be totally out of proportion. We're told that the person subjected to this "suffered unduly," and yet what did his victim suffer? This disproportionate concern for the suffering of the guilty seems misplaced. Yes, it is terrible that he suffered. It is even more terrible that he took it upon himself to make another suffer and die as well. Is it possible to suffer unduly under such circumstances? Is it not just possible that he is working out a bit of purgatory on Earth (assuming of course that he sought and found God's grace). I think this focus on the guilty tends to suggest that what he did to another is not so very bad after all.

I oppose the death penalty, but not for reasons of clemency toward the guilty so much as for reasons of the dignity of the individual and other reasons that I think the Church is careful to delineate. And I wonder, are a few moments, or even minutes, of discomfort more suffering that thirty or forty years of slowly deteriorating in a prison? I don't know. But if we want to talk about undue suffering, perhaps the whole picture should be put into perspective.

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For those who wish to know the "intimate" St. John of the Cross, you probably could do no better than to read the very brief, but very rich "Sayings of Light and Love" from which the quotation below is extracted.

16. O sweetest love of God, so little known, whoever has found this rich mine is at rest!

Where your heart is, there is your treasure. Where your treasure is, so you will find your heart. I can think of no greater treasure than the love of God, and yet my heart dwells there so infrequently.

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More from St. John of the Cross


From "Sayings of Light and Love"

13. God desires the least degree of obedience and submissiveness more than all those services you think of rendering him.

Too often I want to "do things for God," when, in fact, what God requires and desires is that I simply listen to Him and obey Him.

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The World and God's Love


from Sayings of Light and Love
St. John of the Cross

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

On the community of believers:

Source as noted above

7. The virtuous soul that is alone and without a master is like a lone burning coal; it will grow colder rather than hotter.
8. Those who fall alone remain alone in their fall, and they value their soul little since they entrust it to themselves alone.
9. If you do not fear falling alone, do you presume that you will rise up alone? Consider how much more can be accomplished by two together than by one alone.

Although originally written for cloistered nuns, I think the truth of these statements resonates for every Catholic.

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If time permits, more about this later.

I suppose it is politically incorrect to continue a fast on a feast day. I'll have to look it up. On the other hand, could there possibly be a better way to honor this great Saint? (Other than to immerse oneself in contemplation--which is a dicey proposition at best when viewed as a goal.)

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Our True End

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It is in forgetting our true end that most people make the most grievous mistakes in the spiritual life.

While I can't say must for Fr. Simon's verbal felicity or style, the home truths he tells are worth hearing again and again:

from Hammer and Fire
Fr. Raphael Simon O.C.S.O.

Through persevering mental prayer, the obstacles to our happiness in God are overcome. These are, on the part of the intellect, forgetfulness of our end and purpose, of eternity and the eternal truths, and forgetfulness or ignorance of ourselves, of our motives, desires, and preoccupations, which, more than we may realize are weaning our heart from God and turning hearts unduly to the things of the world.

Besides these obstacle on the part of the intellect, others on the part of the will and affections are also overcome by unremitting mental prayer. Beside the light to know our Supreme Good and ourselves we need the strength to redirect our energies to this Good and away from what is useless, harmful or dangerous to us. We need to overcome worldliness, the undue love of honor, dignity, power, riches, comfort and all forms of selfishness and sin. This mental prayer accomplishes through arousing in us our natural and supernatural powers by directing them to their true ends and objects, and by drawing divine help and strength into our minds and hearts.

In a word, selfishness is the greatest obstacle to peace in God. Selfishness is a very natural condition, a condition in which humanity finds itself not from desire but from uncertainty. It takes a great spiritual maturity to even begin to step away from selfishness. Moreover, even a small step is impossible without the constant aid and support of grace.

The great Saints may have grown to the point where they were able to toddle unaided; but most ordinary people never reach the toddler stage in the spiritual life while here on Earth. That is part of knowing ourselves. Of ourselves we can do nothing, neither stumble nor even crawl toward Grace. We can only choose to fall. But with God all things are possible. He wrought salvation out of a quarrelsome, fragmented, conquered, and humiliated people. He brought a child forth from a Virgin's womb, still preserving in every way her virginity. There is nothing that is beyond Him, and we wait to look upon his face, to see Him as that precious child born more than 2000 years ago in a conquered state amongst an oppressed people.

Come, Lord Jesus. Do not delay.

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I love this reading because of the productive ambiguity that stems from ancient sources having no consistent means of punctuation. Shall we read this

A voice cries out
In the wilderness prepare ye the way of the Lord?

Or shall we read it

A voice cries out in the wilderness
prepare ye the way of the Lord?

Either is a valid way to read it. One more directly refers to the mission of John the Baptist; but the other may be more appropriate for life in the modern world. People in the modern world live in the wilderness of modernism and postmodernism. They live in the wilderness of self-aggrandizement and self-promotion; a wilderness of self. They live in a wilderness, wandering alone, without God.

It is given to those who know God, however slightly, to proclaim Him in this wilderness, to make a way for Him in the midst of selfishness and blight, to prepare souls to receive Him.

This is done by welcoming a child, with all that comes from such a welcome--openness, genuine love, joy, peace, tranquility. In a season that the modern world has come to make the apotheosis of disorder, disunity, and chaos, it is time to recreate the still, calm pool that was that night at Bethlehem when Mary bore us all a son.

Isaiah 9:6-7

For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given:
and the government shall be upon his shoulder:
and his name shall be called
Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God,
The everlasting Father,
The Prince of Peace.

7Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end,
upon the throne of David,
and upon his kingdom, to order it,
and to establish it with judgment and with justice
from henceforth even for ever.
The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this.

We are privileged to be the courtiers of the great King, the servants of the Most High, of this Prince whose reign is over all forever. We have seen the great light, and like mirrors we are called to reflect and multiply it in the darkness that we live in. We do this in His own wisdom and strength, in His own virtue.

We await His coming, we await the little Child and He who is to come in Glory, treading of the clouds and separating sheep from goats, wheat from chaff. He who is to come, who loves and desire all to come to Him. O, Lord Jesus, come swiftly.

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Henry James on the U.S.

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The American Scene, by Henry James

From Boston to Florida, the impressions of Henry James on a trip through America. I don't think I realized that he had written about Florida. 1907 publication.

An excerpt from his disquistion on St. Augustine:

from The American Scene
Henry James

That perhaps was all that had been the matter with it in presence of the immemorial legend of St. Augustine as a mine of romance; St. Augustine proving primarily, and of course quite legitimately, but an hotel, of the first magnitude--an hotel indeed so remarkable and so pleasant that I wondered what call there need ever have been upon it to prove anything else. The Ponce de Leon, for that matter, comes as near producing, all by itself, the illusion of romance as a highly modern, a most cleverly-constructed and smoothly-administered great modern caravansery can come; it is largely "in the Moorish style" (as the cities of Spain preserve the record of that manner); it breaks out, on every pretext, into circular arches and embroidered screens, into courts and cloisters, arcades and fountains, fantastic projections and lordly towers, and is, in all sorts of ways and in the highest sense of the word, the most "amusing" of hotels. It did for me, at St. Augustine, I was well aware, everything that an hotel could do--after which I could but appeal for further service to the old Spanish Fort, the empty, sunny, grassy shell by the low, pale shore; the mild, time-silvered quadrilateral that, under the care of a single exhibitory veteran and with the still milder remnant of a town-gate near it, preserves alone, (460) to any effect of appreciable emphasis, the memory of the Spanish occupation. One wandered there for meditation--it is not congruous with the genius of Florida, I gathered, to permit you to wander very far; and it was there perhaps that, as nothing prompted, on the whole, to intenser musings, I suffered myself to be set moralizing, in the manner of which I have just given an example, over the too "thin" projection of legend, the too dry response of association. The Spanish occupation, shortest of ineffectual chapters, seemed the ghost of a ghost, and the burnt-out fire but such a pinch of ashes as one might properly fold between the leaves of one's Baedeker. Yet if I made this remark I made it without bitterness; since there was no doubt, under the influence of this last look, that Florida still had, in her ingenuous, not at all insidious way, the secret of pleasing, and that even round about me the vagueness was still an appeal. The vagueness was warm, the vagueness was bright, the vagueness was sweet, being scented and flowered and fruited; above all, the vagueness was somehow consciously and confessedly weak. I made out in it something of the look of the charming shy face that desires to communicate and that yet has just too little expression. What it would fain say was that it really knew itself unequal to any extravagance of demand upon it, but that (if it might so plead to one's tenderness) it would always do its gentle best. I found the plea, for myself, I may declare, exquisite and irresistible: the Florida of that particular tone was a Florida adorable.

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Cool Beyond Words

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Contents to Archaeologia Hibernica: A Hand-book of Irish Antiquities

Cromlechs, raths or Duns, Stone circles, cairns, oratories, churches, crosses and round towers. With illustrations!

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Two Ways of Avoiding Sin

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It seems that there are at least two reasonable ways to avoid sin, one, to my mind more desirable than the other.

This came up as I heard a news story about a young woman who had been arrested for taking small amounts of money as she had access to a company safe. I thought, "I would never do that." But then it occurred to me why I wouldn't--I would fear being caught. If I could do it in the absolute certainty that I would not be caught, I cannot say that I would have so firm a conviction as to my integrity. I'm pretty certain that it wouldn't cross my mind; however, the fact that I could consider it suggests that there is always the possibility.

Fear of being caught is the first means of avoiding sin. It is certainly effective for those things that are public and noticeable, but it is a poor means of combatting sins that are private and known but to oneself and God. Still, it crosses most of the big things off the list for us--murder, theft, adultery, even vandalism.

The better way of avoiding sin is for the desire, temptation, or thought of doing it never to cross one's mind at all. For most of us murder, armed robbery, vandalism, direct theft fall into this category. In my right mind I would never consider any of these things--and for me the concept of adultery is just mind boggling--it's more than I can do to manage and maintain reasonable relations with just one woman, the thought of two or more is simply an enigma beyond consideration for me. I think each of us has these places of natural strength and they differ by person. And they are not impregnable--rather they are simply stronger areas in our defenses. Left on our own, we can fail in ways that we simply can't imagine. Fortunately, God does not leave us on our own. He strengthens our defenses and make the feasible unthinkable.

By far it is better if the very thought of a possible sin never crosses one's mind, if one were, in some sense, innocent of the concept that such an act were possible. However, in the absence of that innocence, fear of the Lord, fear of being caught is a sufficient deterrent when strengthened by Grace.

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People elsewhere in the country would laugh themselves silly if they could see those of us basking in the [relative] warmth of Central Florida. Last night and this morning the weather forecasters put on their dire and doomed faces and warned us about bone-chilling and dangerous cold that was coming our way. Last night the temperatures were to plunge to 54 degrees, with a high not much above sixty today. And tonight, horrors! bring in the dogs, batten down the hatches, get out the emergency supplies--the temperature is to plunge into the forties, perhaps resolving at about 42 degrees.

I remember the first year I was hear, my wife and I were wandering around Sea World wearing shorts and a light jacket and the people manning the ticket stations were in parkas, gloves, hats, and even scarves. We had just come from Columbus, Ohio, where the temperatures were at a steady 30-40 degree range, and it was 65 and breezy here in Orlando. We laughed ourselves silly. Unfortunately, the next year, similar circumstances, and we had already adapted--parkas, gloves, and hats at 60 degrees.

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For those of you who are admirers of the fiction of Virginia Woolf, you will already know to what I refer by these words--and she was among the leading practitioners of them. If you read Mrs. Dalloway or To the Lighthouse or most particularly Jacob's Room you will experience within the works an oddly disconcerting element, a subtle ambiguity of character and incident. There is about her stream of consciousness a looseness, an almost frightening element of uncertainty, instability, which resolves into a rather gentle, perhaps slightly surreal, serenity. It pervades the works and its ambiguities make the characters themselves rather ambiguous in some ways.

I was thinking about this solid and shifting as I considered how whatever I was feeling, wheresoever my emotional state, I could put on Debussy (and for me, it is only Debussy, not Ravel, not Vaughn-Williams, not Delius, not Holst, not even Satie--Debussy alone) and the entire world seems to shift for a moment in its orbit and is suddenly a better place--better lit, better coordinated, better composed. Debussy captures the serenity of flowing water, the tumble of the stream over a rocky bed, the smell of smoke in autumnal air, all things momentary, evanescent, ephermal, diaphanous--all things that shift in a moment and are gone. Debussy encapsulates them all and contains them so that shifting and solid are together. Those glimpses, those moments, those intuitions, are suddenly tangible--no longer vague and fleeting and gone, but substantial, permanent, perennial. The moments of the opening of a blossom are suspended, it is forever opening--not a loop, but a continuity that never reaches an end. In this way, for me, Debussy capture eternity--time vanishes while I listen to his music and I am caught up in the flow of the eternal where all that happens happens not in a moment but in a continuity that never ends. The blossom never stops opening even though at some point the flower is full-blown.

And if that isn't vague enough for you, just post a comment and I'll see if I can make it even more vague.

Later: Although on reconsideration, there are parts of Daphnis and Chloe that approach the power of Debussy to bridge the shifting and the solid.

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The End of an Era


If this turns out to be true, it is a very sad, very touching event. Pearl Harbor survivors meet for the last time.

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The Incarnation--Baptism of History


It is said that when Jesus received baptism, its effect was the obverse of the usual--rather than Jesus being cleansed of sin, because he had none, the waters of the world were made capable of this sacramental ability because of the power that went forth from Him and charged them to do so. In a sense the Baptism of Jesus was in effect, the baptism of the waters for all of us.

Like wise, when Jesus entered time, our linear perception of events, time became baptized in the waters of eternity. That is, time as we understand it and eternity had always existed together. A privileged few were given the ability to "enter into Eternity" and communicate directly with God. In the Old Testament, most of these were noted as "having a portion of His Spirit." In the New Testament, with the birth of Christ, eternity opened up in the here and now for all to enter into. Through Jesus Christ every person has been given the invitation to approach the Father more closely and love Him more dearly. In contemplation, we are given the privilege of entering for a time into God's timelessness and being there with Him. We speak of "spending time with God." In actuality, we "spend timelessness with God"-- in the ordinary realm of things, linear time marches on, but in our prayer, we are engaged in eternity and time has no real meaning.

This is the gift of Jesus Christ in the incarnation. Not the sum total of the gift, but one of the many aspects of the Divine that are now brought to intrude daily into the life of the believer. God no longer communicates only through one or two chosen prophets or priests--although He continues that mode of communication as well. Now God has chosen to open the doors to all--to allow all people to enter into eternity even as they live.

Sadly, most people choose not to do so. They don't really understand the nature of the gift or what it is they are supposed to do with it. But the entry into Eternity, those sublime moments of prayer, be they in private or in the celebration of the Mass, they are revivifying. If we deprive ourselves too long of them, our lives become wan and sere, dominated by the concerns of the only world we choose to know in any detail.

When Jesus entered into history, it can be said that History entered into the heart of Jesus. We all walk a road that leads directly to the Father, if we only choose to allow His grace to be the predominant force in our lives.

So we continued the advent journey and reflect on the manifold mysteries of the incarnation--that what is all Power and all Time chooses to become human so that what is human may become all Power and all Time even for a time while living. Christ entered history so that we might enter through Him into eternity and that we might become His servants and doormen--showing others the way to the Father.

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How Fiction Means

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Some people just don't "get" fiction. It's all made up, right? So how can it say anything that is true?

That is an excellent question, one that I'm probably not the best-equipped to answer, but one that I think about a lot and speculate on.

Fiction that is properly composed does not tell you anything at all, except by implication. The writer of a great work of fiction shows something and leaves the reader to experience that event. In every great work of fiction the reader experiences some everyday things and some new things. These new things are the nucleus around which new thought occurs, if the reader is inclined to treat them so.

In "The River" by Flannery O'Connor, the young protagonist is followed as he witnesses and is driven by the experiences of Church and baptism. So driven is he that he meets his fictional destiny in the course of the story. In that moment the reader is left to wonder about the nature of baptism and the nature of the thirst for God. O'Connor allows the reader to experience an event that forces him or her to clarify what and how they think. She does not tell the reader what to think--although it is clear she has something in mind--but she allows each person to draw conclusions. For some, those who have little understanding of faith or longing for God, the story will seem absurd, hideous even. For others, the absurdity vanishes to be replaced by a concrete sense of what the young protagonist's desire means.

Fiction means not by telling but by showing and eliciting from us a response--sympathetic or antagonistic. Harold Bloom, in one of his books on reading the great books says that great literature is not so much read by us as it "reads us." By that, I take him to mean, that it unearths things we generally like to keep buried. Nonfiction can do this, as shown by the fact that the Bible has been the source of inspiration and constant conversion for countless people; however, in general, in nonfiction the normal attitude assumed is that of "objective scientist," testing the facts, images, and truths brought to us.

The screens for fiction are not so strong, and because fiction does not generally tell but shows, we are in the role of critics in the cinema of the mind. What we experience in reading fiction is something of the author's intent mixed with something of our own experience, and the two together lead to revelation. Our reaction to the fiction can be the measure of the impact of the revelation.

Fiction uses different techniques and different strategies to bring us to similar ends as nonfiction, an understanding of the world around us. But fiction tends to focus on hearts and minds--too often nonfiction focuses on the analytical and external. Even philosophy does not tell us so much about hearts and minds as it tells us how hearts and minds should, ideally work. Fiction tends to show us how they actually do work.

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Open Book


For people who love books and reading and who remember well their own first encounters with books, Michael Dirda's memoir/autobiography serves up some delicious moments. Perhaps the most satisfying moments in the book come when we realize that Mr. Dirda simply isn't all-encompassing (as it sometimes appears he must be) but that he has some limits. For example, he reveals that he doesn't much care for Agatha Christie. But don't hold that against him, it's one of the very few weaknesses in his armor of a catholic embrace of literature.

Mr. Dirda's life has some fascinating parallels with my own, and I'm certain that any person who grew up loving books will find moments that reflect their own lives. His discovery of the sonorities of H.P. Lovecraft; his intentional baiting of teachers who were not quite so eclectic in their readings and tastes; the constant pressure from parents to get your nose out of a book and go outside and do something (though I must admit that I didn't get too much of this).

There are enormous pleasures in reading Mr. Dirda's life in books, and some regrets as well. There are the roads untaken and the paths unexplored that one can see more clearly when reflecting on someone else's life and path. And then, there are the books unread--numberless streams and rivers of them--too many to ever even begin to number, and we're counting only the very best. What is one to do in facing the tide.

Well, it appears that Mr. Dirda, like the Chinese brother of fame, faces them with mouth wide open, ready to take in the entire sea of them and more. We know it isn't true, but those of us in the book-reading competitive world know that we have our work cut out for us when we face a man who read War and Peace by age 16, and kept lists of what he was reading as early as 14.

Next time the wife complains about the seventy or so volumes of journal that litter odd corners of our house, I'll just direct her to Mr. Dirda.

Highly enjoyable, highly recommended. In fact, can't be recommended highly enough.

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Dies Irae

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I will repeat, I am not a traditionalist.

I make this point for effect because I will follow it with the statement that as a "centrist" in Church matters, I find myself wondering what anyone could possibly find to object to in such a lovely chant. (Click the MP3 link) I think of the magnificent thunder of Mozart's requiem Mass and how I wouldn't want that Dies Irae sung at my own funeral. However, what can be found in this chant other than the perfect serenity of God's wisdom and will?

Why do people rage against the Latin Mass? I don't understand. I might not choose to make it my daily Mass, but if it were reinstituted, I wonder whether it might not have a reviving effect upon the Church as a whole? When beauty and holiness are together celebrated and the human spirit uplifted, what can be the fault or flaw?

Part of the resistance stems, I think, from the less than positive spirit with which some who desire the return treat others who, for whatever cause, resist it. Too long, it seems, this glorious part of tradition has been unduly suppressed, for reasons that I cannot comprehend. I think these decisions are often made by people who have a great deal more information to hand than I do. But I would suggest that evidence indicates that the information may have been misinterpreted.

I join my prayers to those who are begging God daily for the indult that seems just around the corner. And I pray that the indult stands long after the man who engineered it has gone to his rest. This is too valuable and too lovely a thing to have lost for so long.

And, I add to that prayers that those who are liturgically right-minded might exert some effort into turning the vernacular mass into the living image of this great Mass. There is absolutely nothing that stand in the way of great poetry, great beauty, and great prayer in the English Language. May the leaden-eared be passed over and a new and Godly, orthodox group of believers begin to forge anew in our own tongue the beauty inherent in this ancient one.

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I'm not a liberatarian. I'm not a "small government is good government person" in general principle. But I am annoyed when government finds nothing better to do with itself than meddle in the kitchens of donut shoppes and fast-food eateries.

Yes, trans-fats are probably bad for you--but isn't that a matter of personal responsibility? Why should the government step in if I happen to like the taste of the trans-fats? Alcohol is probably responsible for an equal, if not greater proportion of deaths. Shall we phase out alcohol in our margaritas and rum-punches? Shall we ban raw vanilla?

Sheer silliness, sheer interfering silliness.

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Yesterday, My Birthday

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So we went to the Magic Kingdom and saw the revamped Pirates of the Carribean featuring Jack Sparrow at least three times, Barbossa once, and Davy Jones in that new mist-projection technology. Also while there discovered that they'd done a complete revamp of "It's a small world," new paint, some new animatronics, etc. It's a favorite of Linda's and after I'd finished with a few things (Haunted Mansion, Pirates) we did requests.

Afterwards went home and got ready to go out and see an abbreviated Messiah in a very small theatre. Of course it was wonderful because we were practically sitting in the musician's laps. I've seen on performance of the complete Messiah and found it a trifle much for one sitting at the time. We had Samuel with us and while he enjoyed it, he said, "Not as much as the Operas, but it was good." Interesting--an eight-year-old Critic.

May not post much today, but thought this might be of some interest.

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Florida Snow


No! Not Ft. Lauderdale Snow or Miami Snow, Florida Snow!

84 degrees and the late evening. Across the street my neighbor's yard is covered with Florida snow--25 or so white ibis, strutting across the yard plucking up lizards and small insects as they go. The "dirty" gray snow takes the form of three or four young among the blazing white. We watch, restraining boy from going and chasing them and the snow drifts across the yard. Five sentinel drifts on top of the house rise into the air and the drift speeds up, and then blows away, across the street, above the roofs of the house two down from us, and they're gone.

Just one of the reasons Florida is home.

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Karlheinz, revisited

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Because I really do want to try to see the beauty in things that others recognize as beautiful, I listened through a couple of things on Erk's site and then went here to sample the music of Karlheinz Stockhausen. It had been some time ago that I first formed my impressions of this composer and it was time to revisit.

While I have to say that my impressions were a good deal less negative than those of a while back, I still come away with the sense that "There's no there, there." (I'm quoting someone in saying that, but I don't recall who.) There is sound--I won't label it with the seemingly perjorative "noise" but it doesn't seem to do much of anything. There may even be some principles of composition--I can't say, I haven't studied the matter and probably would come as close to understanding this as I do understanding Aquinas (it is a good thing to recognize one's limitations.)

But what I can say is either that my prayers for patience have paid off, or that there is some other intrinsic mellowing device such that these pieces no longer try my patience. I listen and the music stops and I am left with an impression of some interesting moments, but generally an unresolved and unresolvable sound mass.

But I will continue to try from time to time. As with Aquinas and others, I don't anticipate success. We come with intrinsic boundaries and it appears that Mr. Stockhausen is well outside of mine--which I'm sure would come as enormously gratifying to him-- (I tend to get the impression that he has no time for "middlebrow" music listeners who cannot appreciate his genius)--but that is as it may be. If there's something there, persistence will break down the barriers and I will get from it what there is for me.

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(and she had already done the excruciating work of typing it) that I thought I'd repeat it here with a twist. (Just as Disputations has already done.) My twist? The books in bold are ones that I have read and recommend to all. The books in ital are ones I have read and DON'T recommend, usually with a substitute suggested. The ones with no type treatment are ones that I haven't read.

The Book of Genesis

The Book of Job: Where were you when I made the universe?!

The David Story: A Translation with Commentary of 1 and 2 Samuel by Robert Alter

The Gospel of Luke: "For behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which shall be to all people, for unto you is born this day in the city of David a savior, which is Christ the Lord."

The Gospel of John:The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.

The Confession by St. Augustine:Difficult to read but worth it at last.

Inferno by Dante Alighieri: Don't stop there. Read the other two parts of the poem--Purgatorio is strong, Paradiso, is well. . . I hope it turns out better than Dante describes it.
Butler's Lives of the Saints by Michael Walsh: I have the four volume set and read the saints for the day each day. Worthwhile for some of the strange lore you'll be likely to come up with.

The Imitation of Christ by Thomas a Kempis: Not just a "book to read" but rather a book to continue reading. More than a devotional, it is a handy and simple guide.

The Idea of a University by Ven. John Henry Newman Yawn! Probably important ideas at the time, probably even important now, but I think Apologia pro vita sua is more personally interesting and captivating.

Walden by Henry David Thoreau: Yawn, self-important twaddle with a few bits here and there of unmitigated arrogance and misanthropy.

The Second Inaugural Address by Abraham Lincoln: . . . oh, don't get me started.

The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky: Even though I'm recommending it, it suffers from the temporal lobe epileptic syndrome--way, way, way too long for where it finally arrives. On the other hand, some gems, some brilliant moments, and some of the best theological writing in fiction you're likely ever to see.

The Story of a Soul by St. Therese of Lisieux: Avoid every translation Beevers, Knox, whoever and stick with the Institute of Carmelite Studies Fr. John Clarke translation or possibly the new study edition that features Fr. Clarke's translations. I found a few places where I would have translated a line or two somewhat differently, but overall, excellent and more importantly COMPLETE with an explanation of the composition and the history of bowdlerization and saccharinization that occurred over time. Although there are still moments that are nearly emetic.

Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres by Henry Adams: Then try the superb novel, Democracy, still strong even today.

Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton: ho-hum, and the same for Heretics and The Everlasting Man. A journalist spelling out lay thoughts in prose that rise above the level of Robert Schuller, but still aphoristic to the point of disjointedness. I like Chesterton's nonfiction best in the small doses that other people quote on their blogsites. My choice, The Man Who Was Thursday.

Dubliners by James Joyce: Every piece of fiction by Joyce was a masterpiece, and this is his most accessible. Memorable points: "Ivy Day in the Committee Room," "Araby," "Clay," and , of course, "The Dead."

Kristin Lavransdatter by Sigrid Undset: Brilliantly done--make certain to read the entire trilogy. But beware, there are older, heavy-handed, extremely difficult to bear translations out there. Undset deserves better.

Therese by Francois Mauriac: This gets both marks because I read it and it took me twenty years to get back to Mauriac. I suspect a reread is in order. However because of my initial experience I always recommend either Tangle of Vipers or Woman of the Pharisees.

Death Comes for the Archbishop: My very favorite book of the earlier Twentieth Century--but very quiet, very sedate. In a word, lovely.

Mr. Blue by Myles Connolly

Out of My Life and Thought: An Autobiography by Albert Schweitzer: Haven't read it, but I think I'll give a pass to "Mr. Historical Jesus."

The Diary of a Country Priest by Georges Bernanos: Tried half a dozen times to get through it. Thought the movie was better.

The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene: Can't recommend it highly enough. Part of the "problematic series with Heart of the Matter and A Burnt Out Case

Black Lamb and Grey Falcon: A Journey through Yugoslavia by Rebecca West:

Brideshead Revisisted by Evelyn Waugh: While I enjoyed this, it is atypical Waugh. For a better, stronger, bitter brew try Decline and Fall, Vile Bodies, A Handful of Dust, Black Mischief, or The Loved One. For a completely uncharacteristic view try Helena supposedly Waugh's own favorite of his works.

Cry, the Beloved Country by Alex Paton: Brilliant, beautifully told. Also Too Late, the Phalarope.

The Seven Storey Mountain by Thomas Merton: Ho-hum. I love Merton's work, but I couldn't get through this. I suspect that it may be because of the rather heavy censoring it took just after composition, I don't know. But I would suggest Sign of Jonas or Waters of Siloe if you are interested in Merton, or New Seeds of Contemplation if you are interested in his thoughts.

Letters and Papers from Prison by Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Read after I became a Catholic and I tired of the sidelong slams of The Cost of Discipleship. Perhaps I should give this one another try?

The Long Loneliness by Dorothy Day

The Family of Man by Edward Steichen:

Divine Milieu by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, S.J.: Erik said it best at Julie's place. Although I will note that de Chardin was probably only a dupe in the Piltdown scandal thing, not a conspirator. What overblown folderol. Think Loren Eisley with Jesuit training so a really dull and tedious vocabulary.

A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller Jr.: One of my very favorite SF books--the first one I read more than once.

Morte D'Urban by J. F. Powers:

The Other America by Michael Harrington: t

The Four Loves by C.S. Lewis: Brilliant, largely literary study of the classic system of looking at Love.

The Historic Reality of Christian Culture: A Way to the Renewal of Human Life by Christopher Dawson

The Edge of Sadness by Edwin O'Connor:

Letter from Birmingham Jail by Martin Luther King, Jr.: Short enough and frequently enough referred to that I'd say everyone should have a passing acquaintance (Suppose the same might be said of Lincoln's inaugural address. . . but let's not go there.)

Everything That Rises Must Converge, "Revelation" by Flannery O'Connor: If I were recommending only one O'Connor story, it probably wouldn't be this one, having a special place in my heart for "Good Country People." But with Flannery there's no way to go wrong.

The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Alex Haley:

Silence by Shusaku Endo: Brilliant, frightening, overwhelming. The The Samurai and The Sea and Poison then. . . . His Life of Christ was a rather odd piece of work that is probably the most interesting exposition of a certain variety of Japanese Christianity you're ever likely to run across.

A Theology of Liberation: History, Politics, and Salvation by Gustavo Gutierrez: Have no interest whatsoever.

The Fate of the Earth by Jonathan Schell: If you really want to read about the end of the world, pickup David Raup's The Nemesis Affair: A Story of the Death of Dinosaurs and the Ways of Science

The Love of Jesus and the Love of Neighbor by Karl Rahner, S.J.: Puh-leeze, four germanic syllables into it and I suspect that I'd never wake again. Tried reading a really short, really thin book on prayer by Rahner. May be the most wonderful treatise ever devised, couldn't prove it by me. Nope, won't be reading this one.

In Memory of Her: A Feminist Theological Reconstruction of Chrsitian Origins by Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza: (I'll just let Julie speak for me here) the title alone gives me the creeps, much less after reading the description - I don't think so. I'm open to suggestions for substitutions, preferably fiction. (Back again) If you want stuff in this vein just pick up The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood.

Black Robe by Brian Moore: Reviewed below--it wouldn't be my first choice--that would be The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne, and Catholics, reviewed on Julie's site sounds very appealing.

Dead Man Walking: An Eyewitness Account of the Death Penalty in the United States by Helen Prejean: Book/movie, both a little too preachy for me.

The Life of Thomas More by Peter Ackroyd: The Best thing since More's son-in-law.

All Saints: Daily Reflections on Saints, Prophets, and Witnesses for Our Time by Robert Ellsberg: I'm not great at this kind of book because it invites "devotional reading," which I don't really do. But it is good stuff.

Some things left off the list that I would HIGHLY recommend:

Muriel Spark: Memento Mori, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, The Girls of Slender Means or A Far Cry from Kensington

Thomas Kelly: (this one will make Erik sick up)A Testament of Devotion--Brilliant, modern Quaker reflections.

Richard J. Foster: Simplicity, reflections on modern materialism and its discontents.

Dallas Willard: The Divine Conspiracy

Cornelius Plantinga, Jr. Not the Way It's Supposed to Be: A Breviary of Sin

Louis de Wohl: Anything--it's all "light reading" but pretty well constructed historical novels mostly about Saints.

C.S. Lewis That Hideous Strength, The Screwtape Letters and The Great Divorce

Walker Percy Love in the Ruins. The Moviegoer won a Pulitzer prize, but left me largely cold. This one and its sequel The Thanatos Syndrome comprise a very high degree of weirdness in literature.

Rohinton Mistry--Family Matters--everything you could ever possibly want to know about being a Parsee.

Yann Martel--Life of Pi--weird beyond words, but notable for the ambition of the hero to combine the best of Hindu, Islam, Jewish, and Christian worlds in order to have four Holy days a week.

Hermann Hesse--Siddhartha gives you all the reasons a Hindu will tell you that they don't much care for Buddhism.

Pascal--Pensees--worth reading one at a time, slowly and thinking about, a long time.

John Howard Yoder--The Politics of Jesus--love it or hate it, it is a force to be reckoned with in modern thought about Jesus and his teaching.

Gerard Manley Hopkins--Why compose a list with no poetry? (One can't count Dante because that's far beyond mere poetry.) And particularly poetry of this power and caliber? I'm also very partial to the poetry of Sr. Jessica Powers.

And the list could go on forever. Jean Pierre de Caussade, St. Francis de Sales, etc. But let this be enough for now.

And real thanks to Julie and Tom who both inspired me to record some thoughts.

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All the Pope's Men

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The most unfortunate thing about this very interesting book by John Allen is the title. With a title reminiscent of Robert Penn Warren's All the King's Men and Woodward and Bernstein's All the President's Men one expect a book brimming with gossip, scandal, and revelations of evil intent.

While there is a considerable section devoted to discussion of the pedophilia scandal and to the Vatican's position on Iraq, there is nothing scandal-mongering about it.

The book is a guide to the Vatican, its structures, its institutions, its functions, the people who fill the offices and the general "culture" of the Vatican. For those, like me, who are ignorant of Vatican structure, who wouldn't know a dicastery from a congregation and have no idea what the difference between the Pope, the Holy See, and the Vatican are, this is a wonderful, informative guidebook.

John Allen is a correspondent with the National Catholic Reporter--and that will immediately influence some people one way or the other. But he states up-front that his intent as a reporter is to try to make the functioning of the Vatican, its offices and personnel, as transparent as possible so that it becomes feasible to understand some of the decrees and rulings that issue forth.

In the course of the book, he recounts the overlapping of offices; how one office dictates liturgy, but another actually puts together the liturgies for the Pope and how the two may be at loggerheads depending upon who is leading them. Thus, those who were particularly annoyed by the Liturgies for the Canonization of Juan Diego and others will be relieved to know that those are one office while the official liturgy of the Church is dictated by another.

John Allen dispels the myths of Vatican wealth, secrecy, and even what "The Vatican" is. I know that it gave me a completely different notion of how the Vatican functions and what the interrelationships of the various offices are.

One small problem with the book is that it was originally published in 1995 and so the names of some of the office-holders have likely changed since that time. But that is a minor quibble. The wealth of information and insight offered by the book are well worth your time and effort to seek it out. If you are as Vatican-illiterate as I am, you will likely profit from reading about it from one who appears to be fairly sympathetic to it as an institution and as a central authority and power.

Because of his reportorial venue and rumors I had heard kicked around the blogs, I had avoided reading John Allen. It's a shame. I must learn to filter out the scuttlebutt and make a decision based solely on the facts. (In this case, even if I had, I would not have picked up the book because of the unfortunate implications of the title.) In the future, books by John Allen will get a good deal more of my attention.

Highly recommended.

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