September 20, 2003

For My Stepmother's Sister

My stepmother is from Costa Rica--it's a long story.

Anyway, last night she called me and told me one of those stories that can only happen in developing countries. Her youngest sister has four children. One of these had been diagnosed some time ago with hemophilia. This child had gone into the hospital while my stepmother was there. My stepmother helped to pay for her care. My stepmother noticed while she was there that her sister was not looking well and paid for her to visit the doctor who told her she needed to lose weight. All that said, my stepmother's sister simply didn't have the money to care for herself and her daughter, and so the daughter got the care. The end result--my stepmother called last night and told me that she had gotten news that her sister died.

Please pray for this woman's soul, for her children, and for her husband José and for his ability to raise four children alone. I think this sister may have lived near their parents, so José may have some help from the grandparents. But they live eight hours from anywhere (San José--the capitol and only large city of Costa Rica) and life is very difficult.

Every time I am granted a glimpse into this world, I can only reflect on how blessed I am.

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You've Already Seen It, But See It Again

Jeff Miller does it again with "explicit" prayer magazines. Hey, Jeff, can I have that issue of Prayboy for site decor?

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September 19, 2003

De Praescriptione Haereticorum

How to argue with heretics and how not to--with reference to my last post and to recent debacle in the Episcopal Church this synopsis of the On the Prescription of Heretics just packed a wallop.

This book is about how Christians think about heresy and respond to the arguments of heretics. Tertullian is concerned at the way Christians are disputing with heretics and pagans, and the effect this is having on believers. He feels that it is never possible to convict a heretic from the scriptures, because they simply deny the authority of whichever bit of scripture they are quoted, and shift their ground every moment. At the same time the spectacle of the dispute seems to put their opinions on the same level as that of the scriptures. In general, how do we recognise and deal with heretics - people who pretend to be Christians but actually accept no authority but their own opinions?
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Quiz Time

Okay, let's be honest now--how many of you even knew there was Tertullian Project?

One. . . two. . . three. . .

Okay, how many actually cared?

Anyone? Anyone?

For those interested includes texts in English, Latin, Italina, Russian, French, Greek, and perhaps other languages. In some cases mutliple translations of a single work (for example Ad Martyres. If the Church Fathers are your thing (even if Tertullian did become a montanist) this is a site for you.

This is an index of other Church Fathers' writing as well as the writing of such luminaries as Gildas (one of the very early supposed sources of the Arthur Legend) and other delightful tidbits.

Go a browse--there's a wealth of wonderful and entertaining stuff at these locations.

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More on St. Thérèse

Regarding the difficulties many have with reading the work of the Little Flower

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

If the first-time reader has to struggle with the mundane minutiae of sixth-century monastic life in Benedict, then in Thérèse he has to struggle with an even more difficult dose of "ordinariness." At least there is some historical interest in reading about the sleeping arrangements of sixth-century monks, but Thérèse takes us into the detailed life of the nineteenth century French bourgeoisie. Her writings are full of spiritual points made through the events of ordinary days. So we are plunged into the details of visits to relatives, a first train ride, trips to the seaside, and the traumas of a little girl's school days. We are told about playtime with her sisters, quarrels with the maid, and the joy of cuddle with Mommy and Daddy. Those who are looking for a lofty spiritual treatise will find in both Benedict and Thérèse a hefty does of ordinary life instead.

And doesn't this just make perfect, natural sense. Ordinary life is where our spirituality plays out. Even if are advanced contemplatives, we are not transported bodily from where we spend time sweeping the floors and caring for children. God speaks to us in the trauma of our children, in the difficulty of getting a stain out of the carpet, in the trials of cleaning baked-on cheese and who knows what-all off of the casserole. He speaks to us in the commute to work and in the trials of the day (getting enough paperclips--getting rid of too many paperclips, the copier is skipping pages--the copier is making two copies of every other page). Spirituality is not divorced from life, it is reinforced by life. Our reactions and our actions of each day are what come out of our hearts. They are where we are most real, where we have the least time to don a mask and put on the "company face." And so they are the best mirror of our spiritual life. Exalted states of prayer are, for most of us, the exception rather than the rule. As Longenecker says elsewhere in the book, "The divine is in the details." And the details are ordinary.

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On the Little Way

Dwight Longenecker, a contributor over at Envoy, has written a delightful and insightful book titled St. Benedict and St. Thérèse: The Little Rule and the Little Way in which he talks at some length about the convergences of the twain:

fromSt. Benedict and St. Thérèse: The Little Rule and the Little Way
Dwight Longenecker

Benedict and Thérèse call for a kind of childhood in which perfect freedom is found in strict adherence to the rules.

If Father Benedict and Sister Thérèse silence the theologians, they silence the religious leaders too. All those who would divide the Church over grace or works, Scripture or Tradition, sacraments or word, service or sanctity, will be united in the wisdom of Benedict and Thérèse. If any Christian reads the two saints of the little way, they will also be united with every other disciple of Christ. Benedict draws all Christians together because he speaks from a time before the terrible divisions in Christ's Church. Thérèse unites Christians because her little doctirne of grace alone is a magnet to both Catholics and Protestants. Balthasar says, "One would have to be blind not to see that Thérèse's doctrine of the little way answers point by point the program outlined by the Reformers and that she presents the Church's bold, irrefutable answer to Protestant spirituality." (p. 42)

There is much, much more worthy of your attention in the pages. And I have to say that browsing through the IVP catalog--a mainstay of evangelical publishing, I've been quite surprised by recent offerings. Naturally, they offer all the Church Fathers. But they also are offering books on other saints. Notably they offer a biography of St. Francis of Assisi (an easy Saint to like and even to admire), but mysteriously, they offer a biography of St. Teresa of Avila, who while very engaging and likeable, did not put too fine a point on what she thought about Luther and his ilk stirring up trouble for the Church.

While I know that it is not humanly possible, I do not refrain from the prayer "E pluribus unum." As we once were, one church, so we should work to become again. But I say this cautiously because in the course of returning to Christ's intention for the world, we should not be willing to compromise or sacrifice one iota of the revealed truth of Jesus Christ, either through Biblical Revelation or the understandings of Tradition including the magisterium of the Church. This will forge a weak and false unity. However, so long as there are LaHaye and Jenkins types who fear "one world church" we need not worry too much about unity--and that is a terrible shame.

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September 18, 2003

News From My Former Hometown

I thought the 1500 pound Venezuelan Rodent was fantastic until I stumbled across the fact that I've been in a Church where there is a relic of the One True Cross--in, of all places, Columbus Ohio. I hope it proves to be true upon closer inspection.

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An Open Letter to Jeb Bush

Dear Esteemed Governor,

As a citizen of the State of Florida, I am appalled at the way a rampant judiciary has taken it upon itself to sentence a woman unable to speak for herself to an unspeakably horrible death. I will readily admit that I do not know all the facts in the case, but it seems to me that there are people who would be willing custodians of the precious life of Terri Schiavo, and in that event, these people should be allowed the opportunity to care for her. Obviously there are differences of opinion about Ms. Shiavo's chances and if the person presently in custody no longer cares to be burdened with her, so be it. However, given the present state of disagreement, it is not seemly that anyone should preempt any chance Ms. Schiavo may have to continue her rightful life here on Earth.

It is your right and privilege as Governor of the great State of Florida to issue a stay of execution on any prisoner or an person rightly adjudged of the courts of Florida to have merited death. Ms. Schiavo has been found guilty of being a burden and is thus seen as disposable. Please issue a writ to counter this judicial usurpation of the authority of the state. Ms. Schiavo is not a criminal, nor does she deserve death. She deserves custodians who will care for her and see to it that she is nursed back to health.

Please, please, please for the sake of Ms. Schiavo, and indeed for the sake of the state of Florida and these United States, intervene and overturn this writ of execution. Do not allow our courts to put to death one who has committed no crime. Do not let the State of Florida be the place where the next step down the slippery slope of the culture of death is taken.

most respectfully yours. . .

Oh, and please, see this prayer for Ms. Schiavo

And while we are storming heaven, I encourage every Floridian to storm the governor's office and work on him until he rescinds the court order by executive order. We should not let this go unaddressed; Florida should not lead the way into the next revelation of the Culture of Death.

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More on Edwards

Please forgive me this last indulgence. Considering the overwhelming interest in the topic, I find it difficult to restrain myself. But for some reason this point is quite important to me. Edwards was a Calvinist, but he was not a monster. Too often, he is painted in the bleakest black--another Puritan--sour-faced, convinced of the damnation of a majority of the world, uncompromisingly bleak, and overall horrid. It is the story one would get regarding nearly any major Catholic figure of the Middle Ages from those ignorant of the real people behind some stories.

I reiterate, I do not hold to Calvinist doctrine. But even the Calvinist can be correct and inspiring at times.

from Many Mansions
Jonathan Edwards

Prop. II. There are many mansions in the house of God. By many mansions is meant many seats or places of abode. As it is a king's palace, there are many mansions. Kings' houses are wont to be built very large, with many stately rooms and apartments. So there are many mansions in God's house.

When this is spoken of heaven, it is chiefly to be understood in a figurative sense, and the following things seem to be taught us in it.

1. There is room in this house of God for great numbers. There is room in heaven for a vast multitude, yea, room enough for all mankind that are or ever shall be; Luke 14:22, "Lord it is done as thou hast commanded, and yet there is room."

It is not with the heavenly temple as it often is with houses of public worship in this world, that they fill up and become too small and scanty for those that would meet in them, so that there is not convenient room for all. There is room enough in our heavenly Father's house. This is partly what Christ intended in the words of the text, as is evident from the occasion of his speaking them. The disciples manifested a great desire to be where Christ was, and Christ therefore, to encourage them that it should be as they desired, tells them that in his Father's house where he was going were many mansions, i.e., room enough for them.

There is mercy enough in God to admit an innumerable multitude into heaven. There is mercy enough for all, and there is merit enough in Christ to purchase heavenly happiness for millions of millions, for all men that ever were, are or shall be. And there is a sufficiency in the fountain of heaven's happiness to supply and fill and satisfy all: and there is in all respects enough for the happiness of all.

. . . I. Here is encouragement for sinners that are concerned and exercised for the salvation of their souls, such as are afraid that they shall never go to heaven or be admitted to any place of abode there, and are sensible that they are hitherto in a doleful state and condition in that they are out of Christ, and so have no right to any inheritance in heaven, but are in danger of going to hell and having their place of eternal abode fixed there. You may be encouraged by what has been said, earnestly to seek heaven; for there are many mansions there. There is room enough there. Let your case be what it will, there is suitable provision there for you; and if you come to Christ, you need not fear that he will prepare a place for you; he'll see to it that you shall be well accommodated in heaven.

Again, once can't get the real meaning from a mere excerpt. The complete sermon may be found here.

Edwards was undeniably Calvinist, but I do not read his Calvinism as saying that any are excluded from Heaven. They may well be by the provision made by God (in Calvinist doctrine) but we do not know who they may be, and the provision God has made is sufficient for all. Edwards believed in the possibility of the believer approaching God and repenting of sin and being made heaven-worthy through God's grace. He may have believed in predestination, but he urged everyone toward the gates of heaven. This to my mind is a preacher and a man who loved God. A man who has suffered much by the calumny of generations who have chosen to misconstrue his words and works and indeed the entire notion of faith.

At one time I believed Savanarola to have been an unparalleled monster, now I am a good deal less certain. Much depends upon the texts from which one derives one's information. In assessing doctrine, teaching, or idea, it is better not to trust redactors with an agenda, but to form one's own opinion on the basis of wide reading (if the matter is of sufficient interest and moment.)

Posted by Steven Riddle at 08:45 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

For Both of You Following the Edwards' Discussion

You can find it continued at Erik's Blog

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A New Home for Two Sleepy Mommies

You can find them here. And I'm certain they will find it a wonderful and convivial home.

Posted by Steven Riddle at 08:32 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

More On Fire and Brimstone

In another comment to the same post referenced below, Jeff Culbreath notes:

Fire and brimstone sermons are a good thing. We need more of them in the Catholic Church. I would hope that neither you nor Erik object to the hellfire in Puritan homiletics, but that you rather object to the Calvinist notion that God's grace is arbitrary, and that certain unfortunate souls were created by God for hell with no possibility of repentance.

I wrote a hasty reply and wished to give this further consideration.

I don't know that "fire and brimstone sermons are a good thing--" part of the purpose of writing this is to explore that notion a bit more. I don't know that they are a bad thing. I suppose I would say that I think they are perhaps a necessary thing. If not fire and brimstone, at least a better articulation of the doctrine of sin, what happens to sinners, and how to avoid that happening. Now this can take a great many forms, from Edwards, discussed below, to Joyce, mentioned below, to many other sophisticated articulations of the same doctrine. However, it seems to largely have vanished from the Catholic scene. The "Spirit of Vatican II" interpreters seem not to care for the harsher side of Catholic Doctrine and it is often left to the lay people to insist upon God's justice as strongly as God's mercy. This is a pity.

If our pastors felt more call to carefully pronounce anathema on those things the Church condemns, and to do it with great regularity, it might serve as a check not only upon wayward congregants but upon wayward inclinations within the clergy itself. Reminders that salvation is not guaranteed, nor merited, nor earned, nor in any way dependent upon ourselves, but utterly dependent upon God's grace and our acceptance thereof (so to some extent dependent upon us, but even His omnipresent grace makes possible that initial acceptance) are salutary. They encourage the overall health of the body, not by terror, but by precaution.

Frequently we should hear from the pulpit that abortion is wrong and procuring one or assisting in the procuring even to the extent of supporting the legality of the action is wrong and incurs de facto excommunication without any such being pronounced. This truth should not be left to the ranks of apologists and pro-life lay people. We should see the spectacle of Bishops refusing communion to prominent pro-choice politicians on a more regular basis. This should not be a point for marveling, but the expected occurrence.

We would do well to hear about everyday sins--taking things home from the office, exploiting other people, adultery, fornication, and all manner of other sins.

I suppose current theory has it that one can catch more flies with honey rather than vinegar. But the impression I get more often from many Catholic sermons and speakers is a sense of complacency. That everything is copacetic and we live in the best of all possible worlds, ice-skating or rollerblading our way into heaven. We should be aware of that great folk song that advises us:

"Oh I can't get to heaven
(Oh I can't get to heaven)
on roller skates
(on roller skates)
Cause I'll roll right by
(Cause I'll roll right by)
those pearly gates
(those pearly gates)


I ain't gonna grieve my Lord no more,
I ain't gonna grieve my Lord no more,
I ain't gonna grieve my Lord on more.

I cannot believe that Paul wrote "I work out my salvation in fear and trembling" for no reason. Thus, while I do believe in the mercy of God and in the ultimate possibility of heaven, I doubt I would come to any harm if someone were to tell me the consequences of sin, or even speak about what is and is not a sin.

I don't know that I'd want to hear this every day--but perhaps Mr. Culbreath is correct. Perhaps a bit of fire and brimstone is a salutary remedy for the complacency and mediocrity with which many go about their Christian lives. Perhaps a bit of reminder of what we have been freed from and what we are called to through the incredible sacrifice of our Lord is a remedy for many of the ills we are presently tracking in the Church.

Perhaps we need to start the next "Great Awakening."

Posted by Steven Riddle at 08:22 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Fire and Brimstone

In the comments section of this post the redoubtable Erik expresses some distaste for the work and thought of Jonathan Edwards. And while I agree that Calvinism can be enough to leave a very bad taste in your mouth, I disagree about Edwards, one of the great preachers of the Great Awakening.

Now, Edwards is not to everyone's taste. We do need to recall a number of things. At the time he was preaching, Sunday sermons were a form of "entertainment." That is, people didn't have television sets, movies, or even much in the way of plays or other distractions. When political season rolled around you might find a little oratory, but even that was limited. So your week's entertainment was rolled up with your worship.

The particular sermon objected to is the only one most Americans have any acquaintance with. It is the model for the sermon given by Karl Malden in Pollyanna when he is doing his fierce "sermonizing." Here is a sample and it is exemplary of what we tend to think of as a "fire and brimstone" sermon.

from "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God"
Jonathan Edwards

The God that holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider, or some loathsome insect over the fire, abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked: his wrath towards you burns like fire; he looks upon you as worthy of nothing else, but to be cast into the fire; he is of purer eyes than to bear to have you in his sight; you are ten thousand times more abominable in his eyes, than the most hateful venomous serpent is in ours. You have offended him infinitely more than ever a stubborn rebel did his prince; and yet it is nothing but his hand that holds you from falling into the fire every moment. It is to be ascribed to nothing else, that you did not go to hell the last night; that you was suffered to awake again in this world, after you closed your eyes to sleep. And there is no other reason to be given, why you have not dropped into hell since you arose in the morning, but that God's hand has held you up. There is no other reason to be given why you have not gone to hell, since you have sat here in the house of God, provoking his pure eyes by your sinful wicked manner of attending his solemn worship. Yea, there is nothing else that is to be given as a reason why you do not this very moment drop down into hell.

O sinner! Consider the fearful danger you are in: it is a great furnace of wrath, a wide and bottomless pit, full of the fire of wrath, that you are held over in the hand of that God, whose wrath is provoked and incensed as much against you, as against many of the damned in hell. You hang by a slender thread, with the flames of divine wrath flashing about it, and ready every moment to singe it, and burn it asunder; and you have no interest in any Mediator, and nothing to lay hold of to save yourself, nothing to keep off the flames of wrath, nothing of your own, nothing that you ever have done, nothing that you can do, to induce God to spare you one moment.

(For the entire sermon, very edifying reading, see here)

Properly intoned and delivered, this is a thrilling piece of rhetoric and oratory. It is not my particular image of God, but it is an image that can be substantiated through reference to a great many Old Testament texts. It is also an image that is suggested by certain of the themes of the Book of Revelation. Therefore it is an image of some reasonable pedigree even in the Catholic world. A similar sermon, focusing more on the dangers of Hell can be found in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.

What most people miss, however, is this:

The Conclusion of "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" Jonathan Edwards

And now you have an extraordinary opportunity, a day wherein Christ has thrown the door of mercy wide open, and stands in calling and crying with a loud voice to poor sinners; a day wherein many are flocking to him, and pressing into the kingdom of God. Many are daily coming from the east, west, north and south; many that were very lately in the same miserable condition that you are in, are now in a happy state, with their hearts filled with love to him who has loved them, and washed them from their sins in his own blood, and rejoicing in hope of the glory of God. How awful is it to be left behind at such a day! To see so many others feasting, while you are pining and perishing! To see so many rejoicing and singing for joy of heart, while you have cause to mourn for sorrow of heart, and howl for vexation of spirit! How can you rest one moment in such a condition? Are not your souls as precious as the souls of the people at Suffield, where they are flocking from day to day to Christ?

Are there not many here who have lived long in the world, and are not to this day born again? and so are aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and have done nothing ever since they have lived, but treasure up wrath against the day of wrath? Oh, sirs, your case, in an especial manner, is extremely dangerous. Your guilt and hardness of heart is extremely great. Do you not see how generality persons of your years are passed over and left, in the present remarkable and wonderful dispensation of God's mercy? You had need to consider yourselves, and awake thoroughly out of sleep. You cannot bear the fierceness and wrath of the infinite God. -- And you, young men, and young women, will you neglect this precious season which you now enjoy, when so many others of your age are renouncing all youthful vanities, and flocking to Christ? You especially have now an extraordinary opportunity; but if you neglect it, it will soon be with you as with those persons who spent all the precious days of youth in sin, and are now come to such a dreadful pass in blindness and hardness. -- And you, children, who are unconverted, do not you know that you are going down to hell, to bear the dreadful wrath of that God, who is now angry with you every day and every night? Will you be content to be the children of the devil, when so many other children in the land are converted, and are become the holy and happy children of the King of kings?

And let every one that is yet out of Christ, and hanging over the pit of hell, whether they be old men and women, or middle aged, or young people, or little children, now hearken to the loud calls of God's word and providence. This acceptable year of the Lord, a day of such great favour to some, will doubtless be a day of as remarkable vengeance to others. Men's hearts harden, and their guilt increases apace at such a day as this, if they neglect their souls; and never was there so great danger of such persons being given up to hardness of heart and blindness of mind. God seems now to be hastily gathering in his elect in all parts of the land; and probably the greater part of adult persons that ever shall be saved, will be brought in now in a little time, and that it will be as it was on the great out-pouring of the Spirit upon the Jews in the apostles' days; the election will obtain, and the rest will be blinded. If this should be the case with you, you will eternally curse this day, and will curse the day that ever you was born, to see such a season of the pouring out of God's Spirit, and will wish that you had died and gone to hell before you had seen it. Now undoubtedly it is, as it was in the days of John the Baptist, the axe is in an extraordinary manner laid at the root of the trees, that every tree which brings not forth good fruit, may be hewn down and cast into the fire.

Therefore, let every one that is out of Christ, now awake and fly from the wrath to come. The wrath of Almighty God is now undoubtedly hanging over a great part of this congregation. Let every one fly out of Sodom: "Haste and escape for your lives, look not behind you, escape to the mountain, lest you be consumed."

Hardly the strict Calvinist line--a vague notion at best anyway. No intimation here that not all are called. No sign that only some will be saved. Yet we must acknowledge that that truth certainly can be supported from the words of Jesus. Here is a universal call to repentance in the fiery language of the time. And it is only a highlight in a long career of wonderful sermons.

Okay, so Edwards was a Calvinist. No, I don't agree with Calvinist doctrine as I understand it, but then I am hardly an expert in the matter and cannot pretend to really grasp what is meant by certain of their propositions. But I read "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God," and I am thrilled, frightened, enlightened, and edified by the words of someone who struggled to express his true love for God. Some of the notions of Calvinism as I understand it are as repugnant to me as deconstructionism. But the same is true of certain portions of Catholic "doctrine," which is not doctrine at all but theological speculation of very saintly men and women.

I suppose I am going the long way about saying that the notions of Calvinism that are incorrect deserve to be systematically dismantled by careful inspection and explication. Those that are part of core Christianity will, naturally enough, stand. However, the individual Calvinist, as wrong-headed as he or she might be, must be examined not in one or two sermons or words, but in the fullness of the doctrine for the signs of the love of God. If one can consider the Grand Inquisitor of Spain, a man who oversaw the burning of hundreds, and perhaps as many as two-thousand Jews, a saintly man worthy of canonization, then I it seems others who may be wrongly oriented in principle should be given a fuller appreciation before consigning them to the flames of woe.

Jonathan Edwards may not have been correct, but I do believe that he loved and worshipped God and tried to lead others to do so as best he could at the time. That's all I'll say for the moment. I suppose it declares my position as being similar to that of Mr. Dhingra, who seems to seek always the commonality and the thread of the love of God that people of good will try to express--ecumenism without compromise of the great truth of the Holy Catholic Church. Hearing the good in Jonathan Edwards does no damage to the bulwark of Catholicism, nor will it ever damage us to hear what is good from others.

But as Erik points out, and rightly so, there must be the peacemakers and the valiant defenders. Those that extend the kiss of peace and those that rigorously challenge the errors of Protestantism. I have neither the will nor the intellect to do the latter (by which I mean the turn of mind, not the intelligence), and so I must do the former. And I delight in it, for there is much to be found even far from home that is worthy of our attention.

Posted by Steven Riddle at 07:59 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 17, 2003

For Your Edification and Delectation

Sent to me by a friend--the must see trailer of the decade, century, millenium. Yes,

The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra

will be threatening a theatre near you.

Posted by Steven Riddle at 09:07 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

From the Root to the Tree

Following on the post below, it occurs to me that if we accept God as Father, the next step stemming from the radical image is to truly regard each human being as brother and sister. Again, we're good at using the words, but for most of us that fact has no reality because it does not influence in the slightest the way we live. That is where the truth of our beliefs lay--if they shape what we do they are real. If they are silent and do not inform us, they are dead, beliefs in word only.

The reality of the human race as family escapes many of us. Perhaps it escapes most of us. Maybe only the great missionary saints really have any idea of what it meant. But it stems from the fact that God is our Father. He is our Father in more than a distant and fearsome way. He is our Father in a way that will transform and change us, if we allow it. More,

from Psalm 139:13-16
13 For thou hast possessed my reins: thou hast covered me in my mother's womb.
14 I will praise thee; for I am fearfully [and] wonderfully made: marvellous [are] thy works; and [that] my soul knoweth right well.
15My substance was not hid from Thee when I was made in secret, and intricately wrought in the lowest parts of the earth.
16Thine eyes did see my substance, yet being imperfect; and in Thy book all my members were written, which in continuity were fashioned, when as yet there were none of them.

He has thought us, each one, individually into being. He has guided our making with a tender hand. He is the founder and root of our being. Our parents conceived us, but He guarded us on the way to our birth, and He nurtured and knew us in the womb. How much more a Father then, than one who may only supply the genetic material.

We are family. We so often show it through sibling rivalry and our attempts to beat each other up. Perhaps it would be better if we thought of ourselves all sitting down to Thanksgiving Dinner after a pleasant day of preparation and reacquaintance. Perhaps we should try to be on our best behavior rather than parade our "us and them" attitude.

The logical consequence of truly believing that God is our Father is to believe that we are all brothers and sisters. If we do believe this then it is time to stop making excuses about why we cannot express it, or how we aren't called to this or that ministry, and make the attempt to treat the people we encounter each day more than civilly. We must learn to treat them with a deep-rooted love of a family with so loving a Father.

Posted by Steven Riddle at 08:12 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

To Our Canonists

A blessed and wonderful feast day. I believe St. Robert Bellarmine is the patron, or at least one of the patrons of Canon Lawyers. I also think he is the one who said of the Bible, "God gave it to us not to tell us how the heavens go but how to go to heaven."

Later: I find it interesting, and perhaps indicative (of something), that this day I choose to celebrate St. Robert Bellarmine, and Erik (he of the Rants) chooses to extol Tomás de Torquemada.

This from an entry on Catholic Exchange:

Robert tried to take a moderate approach to the issues of the day; he upheld the Church's position and pointed out Protestant errors, but in a way which relied upon persuasion, not polemics. He argued against the "divine right of kings" the belief that royal authority comes directly from God. He thereby indirectly promoted the possibility of modern democratic thought, angering the kings of England and France in the process.

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The Radical Fatherhood of God

Perhaps the chief contribution of St. Thérèse to the understanding of the Church is the radical understanding of the Fatherhood of God. I use "radical" in its etymological fullness. The Fatherhood of God is the Radix or root of how He wishes us to approach and understand him. This became clear to me while reading a passage of a book by Vernon Johnson titled Spiritual Childhood. I paraphrase the passage that affected me. Johnson wrote that when Jesus taught the disciples how to pray, he did not start with "Oh Invisible Creator of the Universe," "Oh King of all that is and ever will be," "Oh majesty ineluctable and unknowable by man." Rather He started with "Our Father."

We know this. We pray it every day. We pray it so much, in fact, that it has become threadbare and nearly meaningless. More than that, many of us have enough problems with the Earthly image of Father that having another Father isn't particularly appealing. And yet, this is how God wishes to be known first. He wants us to understand that He is our Father. He is the one who gives everything to protect us. He is the one who nurtures us and encourages us in the expression of His gifts to us. He delights in our triumphs, he sorrows in our failures and our rebellions. He chastises as all good fathers must do if they hope to help the child succeed in the world. Only the world He wants us to succeed in is not this material realm, but the world that comes next, for which this is the training ground.

Why does it matter that we understand God as Father first? Primarily because all other understanding stems from that. He is all of the other titles listed above and more, but all of that reality only makes sense when it is seen in light of the root understanding God as Father. In other words, God as King can be daunting, terrifying, unnerving. Approaching the throne-room of a king is not a prospect pleasing to most peasants. However, when that throne-room is Daddy's office, the prospect is much less daunting. Yes, He still commands our respect and our awe (the fear from which proceeds all wisdom) just as when we were very little children our fathers commanded our attention and respect and sometimes awe. But above all these other mingled emotions is our love. When God is Father first, our first reaction to Him is the seemingly limitless love that a child feels for his father and mother. That why Father is root. We are to approach Him as a "little child." Not as a rebellious teenager, not as a mature adult, but as a little child, one for whom trust has not been eroded away--one for whom love is still a reality. We need to return to the place when God dwells within and come out renewed, ready to love and to accept Our Father.

Thus, in Thérèse's little way, we must first understand and encounter God as father, and we must reify that. In other words, this is not an intellectual understanding or a game with words. The reason the family is so fundamentally important in the life of the Church is that it gives us both a glimpse of the life of the Trinity AND it gives us the experience to understand the truths of the Bible. Without experience of Father, it becomes very difficult to relate to God in the way He most desires. One of the great horrors of divorce is that often the rift in the family means that there is no real understanding for young children of the nature of Father.

God is Father first. He wants our love as Father. He wants our trust as Father. He wants our acceptance and unstinting love. He wants our unconditional love.

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September 16, 2003

Important Cautions for Bible Study

John da Fiesole provides once again interesting commentary on how NOT to read the Bible.

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A Suggestion for Dealing with Our Priests and Bishops

This struck home as I read it:

from He Leadeth Me
Walter Ciszek, S.J.

People came to you because you were a priest, not because of what you were personally. They didn't always come, either, expecting wise counsel or spiritual wisdom or an answer to every difficulty; they came expecting absolution from their sins, the power of the sacrament. To realize this was a matter of joy and of humility. You realized that they came to you as a aman of God, a representative of God, a man chosen from among men and ordained for men in the things that are of God. . . For my part, I could not help but see in every encounter with every prisoner the will of God for me, now, at this time and in this place, and the hand of providence that had brought me here by strange and torturous paths.

A man of God, a servant of Men, and a server of sacraments. Not necessarily vessels of wisdom and spiritual enlightenment--not repositories of the solutions to all human problems. Human themselves, prone to error and to sin, but God's merciful gift to us. Perhaps we ask too much sometimes--perhaps often. Perhaps it is time to thank God for His provision and to let those who make so many sacrifices for our sakes know that we truly, deeply appreciate it. Perhaps it is time to expect of our Pastors and Priests proper administration of the sacraments and a human, loving heart that needs everything we all need, and has only as much wisdom as God grants and a human being holds.

Posted by Steven Riddle at 11:29 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

His Song to Us

This is what I imagine He sings all the time:

All or nothing at all
Half a love, never appealed to me
If your heart never could yield to me
Then I'd rather have nothing at all.

All or nothing at all
If it's love, there is no in between. . .

That's the way it is with God. All or nothing at all. As soon as something else creeps in that something tends to dominate our thoughts, actions, and words. When we slip a little, we always slip a lot. So my goal is that He truly become My Lord and My All, not in words only but in every aspect and facet of my life.

Posted by Steven Riddle at 09:33 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Quotation for Meditation

A wonderful prayer starter from Wilfrid Stinnisen Nourished by the Word

"God doesn't act in an arbitrary way but according to certain principles. Love has its own way of behaving. What God did with Israel, he can also do with the individual human being."

Posted by Steven Riddle at 07:44 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Finding A Way

It occurred to me in the middle of reading Father Dubay's very fine Prayer Primer that I was once again on the wrong track. One of my tendencies is to derail so easily. Once again I was in my head looking for God. And He is there, as surely and as fully as He is anywhere. But it is harder for me to find Him in my head because there are so many distractions there.

Back to the heart. I am driven time and again away from the intellectual pursuit of God and back to the understanding that God is found through love. I do understand that you cannot love what you do not know. However, I also understand that if something becomes the object of study, the love you have for it is not the object itself, but the intellectual satisfaction of studying the object. That is where I often wind up when I pursue the path of the mind toward God. I do love Him, and it is a good thing, but what I really Love is the pursuit of knowledge of Him--not really Him at all.

God granted me the privilege of being a father so I could further learn to love without intellectualizing. I do love my wife in this way, but I needed to expand my repetoire. I needed to love someone who starts out utterly dependent and who grows into his own person. I needed to learn to love someone as a Father loves a Son, so that I could understand the family of the Trinity--not in the theoretical precision of love and procession, but in the intimate details of how a Father gives his whole heart to His Son, so at the merest slight the Father's heart aches and sorrows.

This is the purpose of all the mundane details of life. All of the things we are reluctant to share because they are too trivial. It is in this trivial realm that we become the real people that we are. Everything else is, to some extent, patina and pantomime--mere surface and sensation.

We become Holy by learning to love through all the lessons of life, difficult and easy. We do not learn this from a book or from study, although both of these things are very helpful along the path. We learn more from a Saint's life and actions, I believe, than we do from a Saint's words. Because as good as those words may be, they cannot convey the fullness of the experience of God in the way a Saint's life does. There is something about a life that allows no mask of misunderstanding to intrude and override. We do not need to interpret through the muddle of words, but are confronted with direct action.

Now, I also know that the inspiration of each person comes from different directions but always from the same source. So, while I say that I am more inspired by a life, others might be more inspired by writings, or a word, or some other aspect of encounter with God's grandeur. The important point is to know and to understand where you best meet Christ and to go there often, wherever it may be. If you find Him in the writing of Dorothy Day, then it would be well to spend time with the writing of Dorothy Day. If you find Him in great art and literature and music, so be it. Most importantly, be very honest about where you really encounter God. No matter how much I love literature, words, music, and art, it is in my interaction with my precious wife and son that I am made most aware of God's guiding hand. It is in the small kernel of the loving family that I become aware of what I am called to and God gives me the strength to answer the calling. Sometimes inspiration springs from other quarters but love stands naked and needy at the heart of the family, and it is there I am most likely to see Him, embrace Him, and welcome Him. It is in the detail of daily life that I become most aware of the action of God.

Posted by Steven Riddle at 07:42 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 15, 2003

A Complete Boswell-Life of John Vols 1-3 of 6

Great news for followers of e-books: a complete Life of Johnson in process

Volume 1

Volume 2

Volume 3

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Ancient Rome

From Mr. White's Blog, a link to a full reference on ancient Roman History. Try to ignore the very annoying popunders.

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Things Keep Trickling In

In the bag got me to thinking about utterly inconsequential things, but it occurred to me that there's a giant tapestry by Joan Miro that hangs in the East Building of the National Gallery and there's the utterly magnificent Carnival of the Harlequin, also by Miro. Even in memory the painting looms and changes with its vaguely biomorphic forms in a tanguy-like space--a celebration in flat-world.

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Read the Rules--That Changes EVERYTHING

First five things that spring to mind:

Book: The Holy Bible, The Pentameron

Sculpture: The Gates of Hell--Rodin

Music: Genesis-Foxtrot, Durufle-Requiem

Okay, I think that does it properly. I wouldn't evenly distribute stuff in categories. And these were the things that sprang to mind immediately. I don't think I'd be happy long with my selection. And a surfboard--short board AND long board, and maybe a boogie board. Do these count as works of art or craft? If so they'd replace some of the above.

Posted by Steven Riddle at 06:51 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

From Teachout's Blog

Teachout proposes an interesting little test--here are my five:

PAINTING: Rene Magritte--Castle of the Pyrenees

MUSIC: Maurice Durufle-Requiem

NOVEL: Charles Dickens--Bleak House

FILM: Billy Wilder--Some Like it Hot

POP SONG: The Ventures--Wipeout

These were really, really, really tough, and I'm not sure. I have a feeling they might fluctuate by day--maybe by hour.

Now my usual question--why are you watching movies on a Desert Islant? And is the desert Island Tavarua? And where is the surfboard? Sometimes these tests really are tests of logic. Now if someone said you were going to be stuck in an arctic hovel . . .

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Praise God, A Dylan Comment

Please see comment directly below and remember to pray, pray, pray.

And to Dylan--thank you so much for taking a valuable moment to stop by!

Posted by Steven Riddle at 03:16 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

My Contempt for the Ideas Overfloweth

So instead read Erik's remarkable and incisive skewering of the PoMo deconstructionists. I cannot force myself to the labor of addressing those who hold these foolish notions. It astounds me how self-deceptive the human mind can be.

But note always--contempt for the ideas and the actions (Paul de Man was a known Nazi collaborator) of the individuals--never for people themselves. All people, no matter how distorted their notions, tortured their reasoning and intellect, or abhorrent (q.v. the life of Michel Foucault) their actions have the dignity of being images of Christ. A person is an image of God, no matter how they may try to efface it. Thus, death to the ideas and notions, and prayer for the deluded people who hold them and for those in power, that eventually this fetid stream will be cut off from Academia.

Posted by Steven Riddle at 11:16 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

While I'm In Embarrassment Mode

I thought I'd mention Davey's Mommy, who in several places about her blog wonders about the purpose of blogging on mundane matters and not talking about deeply personal, close-helf stuff. And I just have to interject that it is often though what others consider the mundane aspects of their every day lives, that I find new elements and moments of grace. Endless discussions of what the Bishops are doing wrong or right, or why these Catholics are bad Catholics and those are good ones, or why some foreign yahoo I don't even know is kindling for the fires of the Inferno, simply don't open me up to the workings of grace. But to hear the small triumphs of a day--building a castle with blocks, making dinner, just being who we are and living out our vocations--those things speak to me in a voice that demands change. They teach me things and they call me to be a better father, a more compassionate friend, and all round a better exemplar of Christ.

So to Davey's Mom and to all of those who wonder whether it is worthwhile to share what you do--the answer is YES. You do not know who you bless or how with what you choose to share. Even if you don't dive down into the muck and murk of your own souls and dredge up all manner of grisly objects to show the world, you bless us (come to think of it, perhaps more than if you ran an online confessional monologue). Don't worry about not being able to talk about deeply personal matters. You don't know how simply and mundane things transform your audiences bit by bit. You make all of us better people by simply living your lives and sharing what you choose to share with us. Thank you.

Posted by Steven Riddle at 08:13 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

What is Our Cross?

I read this and it completely changed my perspective on the day. Please read it before continuing, it is worthy and more than worthy of your attention.

On the feast of the exaltation of the Holy Cross, I did not ask myself what my cross was. Every day I have a new idea of what that might be. And I realized reading M'Lynn's entry, that my cross is myself. It isn't all those little things that burden me each day. It isn't someone else or something else. It is nothing other than myself and how I choose consciously or through habit, to react to what is happening around me.

I remember when Samuel was a little baby, he was as unlike other little babies as you can begin to imagine. Whereas other children would sleep through Mass, Samuel would fuss and then cry, every mass without fail. I'd go into the Church and he'd be practically asleep and when the entrance hymn started those eyes would fly open and the fussing would begin. It would, if untreated, quickly escalate into outright screaming. The only remedy for it was for me to get up and go back into the entrance hall and walk around through all of Mass. And I remember feeling sorry for myself and wondering why he couldn't be like all the other children who slumbered peacefully during Mass. At points I concluded that I had gotten the "Omen" baby. I don't know that I ever really got over it, but when it became clear that it would happen every week, I adjusted to the fact--not gladly.

That reaction is my cross. In fact my reaction to much of the world is my cross. It was these lines that made this so clear to me:

M. is not my cross--as my hubby said afterwards, she's just perched on top of our crosses, looking cheerful at being able to get a good view of everything, maybe jumping up and down a little. I wonder what the congregation is getting from watching me hustle my decidely odd child around the church.

And I'd like to share what I get when similar things happen in my own church. Though you may not believe it, I am blessed. I am blessed by a mother who is aware enough of her child to care, and who is aware enough of the people around her to try to do something. I am blessed by having someone else to pray for rather than being stuck in the rut of how everything isn't going precisely the way I would like it to. I am blessed by the knowledge that we are all "fearfully and wonderfully" made and all deserving of love.

And as I am blessed by all of those who struggle, and who should not be ashamed or embarassed at their burden, so too I've been blessed by what M'Lynn has written for us. She's made me aware that my greatest cross is me--not others, not the world, not my burdens, but my reactions to them.

M'Lynn has reminded me that every moment, no matter how difficult, every breath I draw is a gift, it is a moment that God is present to me, if I choose to make myself aware of it. Every moment is Divine, in the sense that He is Lord of all time and outside time. And now I feel called to return to Jean Pierre de Caussade Abandonment to Divine Providence. Perhaps one of the meanings of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross is that we are to see how relatively unburdened we are all compared to that Man who took all upon Himself and put an end to it once for all.

(Thanks M'Lynn for the reminder.)

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September 14, 2003

Quotable Samuel

This morning before we went into the Church for mass we heard the enormous ruckus of a pair of Sandhill cranes coming from points undisclosed in the parking lot. Samuel and I trekked through a couple of plant barriers that had narrow gaps to go and look at this truly remarkable and wonderful pair of birds. In the course of doing so Samuel got scratched on his lower leg. He noticed this at Mass and pointed it out to me.

Later in the car on the way home he said, "Some sticks are pointful, but many are not."

Isn't that a wonderful reflection for the Feast of the Triumph of the Cross, for our Lord has hurt by both those that are "pointful" and those that are not. Lord, forgive us our sins, may we triumph by the sign of the glorious Cross.

Posted by Steven Riddle at 11:32 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Update on Everything

As you can see I've added a small accent photo. If you would please leave URLs that lead to free-use religious art, I would greatly appreciate it. I'm only comfortable using my own until I know the rights.

You'll see also that I have both category and chronological search possibilities. MT is really a marvel and better yet is DHTML and CSS that allow for amazing changes to a blog without extensive code rewriting. This blows blogger out of the water. A definite plus. Altering the blogger template could be a technical nightmare because the CSS was combined with the Template and there was a tendency to corruption and coding bugs. This way, you can tell if the problem is in the CSS or the template. Great mechanism. Plus I'm learning a tremendous amount about the meaning of the code.

Next, I'll probably fool with some backgrounds. I do this because presently my brain is exhausted from writing about Impact (reaction) engines, reciprocating engines, and the enormously inventive Clement Ader. Google him, I think you'll be amused and fascinated with his aircraft designs. This should end shortly as the exhibit is opening in a few days. I've got an invitation to the opening.

Oh, and supercool--Samuel's class will be taking a field-trip to the museum so he'll get to see his daddy's work without even knowing it. I'm thinking of volunteering for chaperone. Kids are GREAT! (Especially if you're talking four or so hours at a time!)

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