January 29, 2005

More Texas Questions

Do they drive cars there?

Where do they keep their horses?

Do they have houses or do they just sleep on the ground around a fire?

You can see we strive to keep our child up-to-date on the latest happenings in society and science. We informed him that they did indeed drive cars. Then he asked, "Don't most people drive horses?" And immediately after, "Can I get a picture of a cowboy?"

Yes, it's all rather like a real-life "Gila-monsters meet you at the airport." But it is from time to time hysterically funny.

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Important Questions for Texans

While contemplating future possibilities, the subject of a visit to Texas came up (San Antonio, in particular). We said something of this to Samuel and he immediately asked, "What kind of food do they have in Texas?"

"Well, they have chili and Tex-Mex, and all sorts of food?"

"Do they have Oreos?"

"Well, yes, they're not a foreign country," my wife, charming in her ignorance, replied. I quickly correctly this misconception--after all we are talking the Republic of Texas.

"Do they have cheerios?"

"Yes, they probably have cheerios."

"Well what other food do they have?"

I suppose Samuel is concerned about starving to death. However, he went to sleep for the last three nights in a row singing "Deep in the Heart of Texas." I don't know when he thinks we're actually going (if at all) but it isn't this weekend.

So, all you Texans out there, do you have any thoughts about Texas food? Any words of wisdom to share with Samuel to allay the fears of no oreos and no cheerios?

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January 28, 2005

The Inevitability of God's Grace

I knew that title would get you. In fact some of you are already hopping mad over my presumption (aren't you--just admit it). But as usual with something so deceptively direct it is--well deceptively direct.

Sometimes you read something one way and it doesn't say anything at all to you, but you hear the same truth expressed a different way and suddenly it all comes clear. So with this passage:

from The Living Flame of Love
St. John of the Cross quote in:
Carmelite Prayer:A Tradition for the 21st Century
ed. Fr. Keith J Egan

. . . when the soul free itself of all things and attains to emptiness and dispossession concerning them, which is equivalent to what it can do of itself, it is impossible that God fail to do his part by communicating himself to it, at least silently and secretly. It is more impossible than it would be for the sun not to shine on clear and uncluttered ground.

Allow me to trace the line of thought that made of this seeming nothing the stuff of epiphanies. God's grace and desire for us is like sunlight--it falls on everything and everyone equally. We are all people who live in a deep wood, building our houses and keeping close to ourselves, protecting ourselves from all interference. Some few of us tire of this protected living, tire of the darkness of the self-contained gloominess of our own fabricated identities. We wander abroad far from the things that own us--mostly in shadow but occasionally in the dappled light of a thinner part of the wood. And then, all of a sudden, we stumble into a wide open green, no trees, no houses, no barriers, no protection. We are immersed in sunlight, completely enveloped in light. For some the experience is too intense and there is a retreat to the cool darkness of the wood. But for others, the light is the source of endless delight and a sort of rueful torment--that it had taken so long to emerge into the light.

God's grace bathes us all. It provides whatever light there is in the dark wood. And when we give up our love of darkness and seek to emerge, we will suddenly discover ourselves whole and entire in the midst of Him.

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To All Spiritual Children of St. Thomas Aquinas

Whether in religious order in in order of intellect and mind, a most joyous and blessed Feast Day. May your actions today give cause for St. Thomas to rejoice before the Lord on your accouont.

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A Million Dollar Warning

From a friend concerning a movie I have yet to see advertisements for--nevertheless, sometihng for everyone to be aware of:

I don't know about you, but in my neck of the woods we're being inundated with radio (and although I haven't seen any, probably TV) ads for Million Dollar Baby, a Oscar-nominated movie, directed by Clint Eastwood, about a 30-something woman who wants to be a boxer. The trailer and most of the movie reviews make it sound like a female version of Rocky, but it's not, at least not entirely. As I found out yesterday in a column by Debbie Schlussel, the movie has a right to die agenda, an agenda that is being kept well-hidden by its promoters and reviewers. And a column that I found today by Tony Medley made it clear that it's blatantly anti-Catholic in other ways as well.

So I'm passing this information on to you and others so that you're aware of the latent propaganda. At least in the case of Fahrenheit 9/11 you knew what you were getting yourself in for before you paid for the tickets. I'm very disturbed by the fact that this movie seems hell-bent on manipulating people into accepting euthanasia.

My most sincere thanks to the contributor.

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January 27, 2005

The Village

What a silly, albeit engaging and sometimes interesting, piece of hokum this is. I suppose those more knowledgable in film and semiotics have already combed through the frames finding symbol upon symbol and constructing much (á la The Matrix) in the way of religious message and intent from this preposterous and stilted little vignette.

You all may have seen it already--people live in a village deep in the woods apparently some time in the 1800s judging by what's available to them. The woods are filled with creepy red-cloaked beasts that no one in the village has had the courage to stand up to even though they had to come through those self-same woods to establish this village. One of the villagers is attacked and needs medicines from "The Towns" and so an intrepid blind woman is sent out to brave the woods and bring back the medicine.

There's a whole series of things about the colors red and yellow and white, banners and pennants and all sort of rigamarole concerning certain rituals of the townspeople. There are some spooky moments. But largely there are people speaking in a highly ornate and contrived version of English, occasionally sounding utterly ludicrous.

The odd thing about it was that while all of this was true, I did enjoy the film. The director makes a beautiful film and some lasting images even when he is off-target (as he has been in at least two of his four films. Of the first I can say nothing having never seen it.) He tries so hard and his films are so bristling with symbolism and fraught with intended meanings its hard not to admire the effort even when it falls flat.

So, whether you pay attention to the symbols or not, dive into the alternative meanings or not. This is an enjoyable, fun film and worth your time.

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January 26, 2005

"This is the Day the Lord Has Made"

Last night as part of a Bible study I've committed to I read the assigned reading. Psalm 118:24: "This is the day the Lord has made, let us be glad and rejoice in it."

Honestly, it wasn't a day for much rejoicing. At work I heard things I found discordant and disconcerting and upon arriving home discovered that Samuel had had a difficult day at school as well.

As I sat down to spend my ten minutes with this reading, (I know, not much of a commitment, but still, try spending ten minutes sometime with a single verse of scripture that speaks to you--you'll be amazed at the results) I thought, "About what do I have to rejoice? What was good about this day?"

And as I thought about it I realized how very wrong my perspective on the matter was. All of these challenges are opportunities to let go of myself and my wants and my needs and to focus with pinpoint laser accuracy on what God wants from me. That was my first revelation. The second was that even were the first not true, I had the wrong focus.

Why am I to rejoice in the day? Not for the things that happen in it, not for the events or nonevents, not for my own good or the good that accrues to others. Rather I am to rejoice in it because "This is the day the Lord has made."

Getting back to the theme that God is gently leading me to--I rejoice in this moment that I have been allowed to share. I rejoice because God has sustained all that is until this moment, this day, the only day that I have, All other days are memories (past) or worries and fears (future). It is today, it is now, that has been given to me for this moment and for that very reality I should rejoice. I rejoice because God loves me enough to pay attention. I rejoice because I am His child and He does care--He cares enough to remind me every day in innumerable ways.

Surprisingly, these thoughts did help me rejoice in the day. When I turned my focus away from how bad it was for me personally to the marvel that it exists at all, that a loving God cared enough to fashion a day for all of us, I could not long remain in my determinedly sullen state.

Unfortunately for the rest of the world around me, I did not take on the study until late in the evening, and so, as a result, was not able to share the better sense of things that I had late in the evening. For this lapse, I need to seek forgiveness. But from it I have learned to start my study earlier and let it mellow the entire evening, if not the entire day.

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January 25, 2005

"I Will Refresh You"

More from Sister Ruth

from Ascent to Love
Sr Ruth Burrows

In his writings John often speaks of refreshment of spirit, how freedom from the ego brings peace. Ingulging our selfhisness only wearies us. The ego is like a child, fractious, restless, wanting now this, now that, never content with what is given. Afflictions and pain flow from the ego, refreshment from the Spirit of God. The two cannot dwell together. We all know what it is to be tormented and afflicted, labouring under a burden of anxiety and desire. 'Cast it aside by coming to me,' says Jesus. 'I will refresh you.' As fog darkens the sky and obscures the sun, or as a dirty mirror distorts an image, so the unbridled ego blocks light. Our natural power of reasoning is affected; we cannot see things as they are, cannot evaluate objectively while dominated by emotion and selfish desires. Still more, we are prevented from receiving the infused divine light. The finest intellect in the world cannot perceive truth while the heart is under the sway of selfishness.

God is one. God is simple. In order to join God, we cannot introduce an element that is not-God--this is contradictory to divinity and to divine union. One cannot be in union when one insists on a completely separate identity. And we do want to be recognized for what we are and what we do. When we get that recognition, it is rarely enough. We begin to seek larger rewards, better recognition. The self always triumphs over our better inclinations.

But surrendering to God is always refreshment. When we stop struggling against the bonds of self, we can walk out of chains. Self is like one of those Chinese puzzle traps, the more you pull to escape it, the tighter it clings to you. However, relax and the trap releases you. So with the self, the more we think about self and about how we need to escape self and about how bad self is, the more we become mired in self. But when we direct our attention outward, if only for a moment, to Jesus, to God, to the Blessed Virgin, to all of the things in the world beyond us, the tension is relaxed and we stand a good chance of escaping from self.

The secret of escape is not to look for the way out, but to look at the Way into the Heart of God.

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January 24, 2005

For the Memorial of St. Francis de Sales

A great spiritual guide and Patron of Writers, therefore the intecessor of all who keep their own blog.

from Introduction to the Devout Life
St. Francis de Sales

THE queen bee never takes wing without being surrounded by all her Subjects; even so Love never enters the heart but it is sure to bring all other virtues in its train; marshalling and employing them as a captain his soldiers; yet, nevertheless, Love does not set them all to work suddenly, or equally, at all times and everywhere. The righteous man is “like a tree planted by the water side, that will bring forth his fruit in due season;” inasmuch as Love, watering and refreshing the soul, causes it to bring forth good works, each in season as required. There is an old proverb to the effect that the sweetest music is unwelcome at a time of mourning; and certain persons have made a great mistake when, seeking to cultivate some special virtue, they attempt to obtrude it on all occasions, like the ancient philosophers we read of, who were always laughing or weeping. Worse still if they take upon themselves to censure those who do not make a continual study of this their pet virtue. S. Paul tells us to “rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep;” and Charity is patient, kind, liberal, prudent, indulgent.

At the same time, there are virtues of universal account, which must not only be called into occasional action, but ought to spread their influence over everything. We do not very often come across opportunities for exercising strength, magnanimity, or magnificence; but gentleness, temperance, modesty, and humility, are graces which ought to colour everything we do. There may be virtues of a more exalted mould, but at all events these are the most continually called for in daily life. Sugar is better than salt, but we use salt more generally and oftener. Consequently, it is well to have a good and ready stock in hand of those general virtues of which we stand in so perpetual a need.

In practising any virtue, it is well to choose that which is most according to our duty, rather than most according to our taste. It was Saint Paula’s liking to practise bodily mortifications with a view to the keener enjoyment of spiritual sweetness, but obedience to her superiors was a higher duty; and therefore Saint Jerome acknowledges that she was wrong in practising excessive abstinence contrary to the advice of her Bishop. And the Apostles, whose mission it was to preach the Gospel, and feed souls with the Bread of Life, judged well that it was not right for them to hinder this holy work in order to minister to the material wants of the poor, weighty as that work was also. Every calling stands in special need of some special virtue; those required of a prelate, a prince, or a soldier, are quite different; so are those beseeming a wife or a widow, and although all should possess every virtue, yet all are not called upon to exercise them equally, but each should cultivate chiefly those which are important to the manner of life to which he is called.

What is so wonderful here is the sheer, loving practicality of the advice. Practice those virtues which are most appropriate to your calling in life and to the situation in which you find yourself. Don't attempt magnanimity when the situation calls for compassion. Don't go for strength when what is called for is humility.

It seems like common sense, but too often in the practice of spiritual life it is easy to become derailed. Sometimes we are so busy searching for patience that we forget love, or so focused on endurance that we forget compassion. Sometimes we pray for the strengthening of one virtue, when in fact it is some other facet of spiritual lives that needs polishing.

More and more as I read the great Saints I hear a single resounding message. Live this moment, right now. You haven't any other and this is the moment that God has given you and everything about it has been lovingly constructed to strengthen you in your pursuit of Him. We hear it in St. John of the Cross, in Jean-Pierre de Caussade, in St. Francis de Sales, and even the intimations of it in the letters of St. Paul. (Rejoice in the Lord always, again I say it rejoice. What other activity requires so much focus on the moment?)

Happy Feast Day and through the intercession of St. Francis de Sales may we all be blessed with the right words to bring all people to our most gracious Lord Jesus Christ.

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A Season for the Dead--David Hewson

This book is currently being compared to The DaVinci Code for reasons that completely elude me (other than the obvious one of captializing on a "name brand." ) The two works share few, if any similarities. In fact, were one to compare it to a Dan Brown book it would have to be Angels and Demons in its city tour of Rome bia the sculptures of Bernini. In this case we get a little history of the paintings of Caravaggio, but nothing like the plot of the former.

First, it is superbly written with well realized characters and a plot that never seems to stop. It's a curiosity that the murderer is revealed a little less than halfway thorugh the book and yet the book keeps up momentum and there are surprises through the entire latter half.

Hewson has a very nice touch with descriptions, both of persons and of locales so that you get the sense of being in a place. He has also a deft touch with dialogue and his plotting and timing are quite good.

As this seems to be about a serial killer, it isn't really my kind of book; however, this one succeeded for me with one minor flaw. The beginning of the book is told with a sharp focus on the interior monologue of one character (a major characcter) from whom the focus shifts abruptly. While even this is done well, the effect does stand out in reflecting on the work.

Obviously not one for the annals of all time, but given the current crop of popular writers and their proclivity toward being utterly unreadable, this is a welcome addition to the ranks of mystery writers. Exotic (for me) locales and interesting characters combine to produce a book with distinctly above average appeal.


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January 23, 2005

A Blog that Has Recently Come to My Attention

Talmudic Questionings

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