July 27, 2002

My Summer Reading List

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

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

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

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

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

Posted by Steven Riddle at 08:12 PM | Comments (0)

Spirits that Speak

Spirits that Speak

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

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

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

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

Posted by Steven Riddle at 06:45 PM | Comments (0)

What Blogs to Read and Why II

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

I belabor the point.

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

Posted by Steven Riddle at 06:23 PM | Comments (0)

July 26, 2002

What Blogs to Read and Why

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

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

Posted by Steven Riddle at 07:16 PM | Comments (0)

What is the BEST translation of the Bible?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Another example,

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

Compare that to the straightforward, but hardly sparkling,

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

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

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

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

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

Posted by Steven Riddle at 06:57 PM | Comments (0)

Quote of the Day "Reading

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

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

Posted by Steven Riddle at 01:10 PM | Comments (0)

A Sonnet for Christians

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

The Windhover
Gerard Manley Hopkins

To Christ our Lord

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted by Steven Riddle at 08:36 AM | Comments (0)

July 25, 2002

What Makes Literature?

What Makes Literature?

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

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

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

Posted by Steven Riddle at 02:23 PM | Comments (0)

More on Pius XII

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

Brief excerpt from the article:

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

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

Posted by Steven Riddle at 02:22 PM | Comments (0)

Quote of the Day

From John Milton, Comus: A Mask

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

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

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

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

Posted by Steven Riddle at 02:21 PM | Comments (0)

July 24, 2002


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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted by Steven Riddle at 07:51 AM | Comments (0)

July 23, 2002

Reflection on the Introduction to the Second Eucharistic Prayer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted by Steven Riddle at 08:54 PM | Comments (0)

July 22, 2002

Sayings of Light and Love:

Sayings of Light and Love: I

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

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

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

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

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

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


Posted by Steven Riddle at 07:15 PM | Comments (0)

Violence Morally Neutral?

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

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

Posted by Steven Riddle at 01:24 PM | Comments (0)

Words and Pictures

Words and Pictures

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

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

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

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

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

Posted by Steven Riddle at 03:54 AM | Comments (0)

July 21, 2002

How God Speaks

How God Speaks

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

Posted by Steven Riddle at 07:53 AM | Comments (0)

Forming New Churches

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

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

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

Posted by Steven Riddle at 07:40 AM | Comments (0)