It’s been a month of horrifically overwhelming headlines. As such I’m taking a break in today’s Friday Five and am going to go “soft”. I awoke in a cold sweat this morning after a nightmare that involved the loss of one of my children. And then I was greeted with the news of the day and its cynicism coupled with an extensive prayer list that I receive each morning through our state Knights of Columbus organization. All of which finds me wanting to open the gate to a green open stretch of mental prairie and let my mind wander around aimlessly for a day.
I read a quote once by Marsha Norman that said
Dreams are illustrations from the book your soul is writing about you.
I must say that lately I’m not a fan of this book. Let’s instead journey to the open prairie…
— 1 —
A favorite book of fairy tales that I purchased a few years ago was The Wonder Clock by Howard Pyle. It is a masterpiece of nineteenth century storytelling and meant to be read by parents to children at night. The premise of the story is given in the introduction whereby the narrator comes across a clock in Father Time’s attic which strikes the hour with songs and puppet dances. Twenty-four stories follow, one for each hour of the day. Each story begins with a verse that corresponds to the hour of the day: lighting the fire, preparing breakfast, sending the children to school, making the noonday meal, milking, tea, bedtime. The small verses that begin each “hour” alone are fascinating, as they bring to life the household routines of a very different era, and the illustrations perfectly enhance the storytelling.
The Wonder Clock is also available to be read online here.
From the preface:
I PUT on my dream-cap one day and stepped into Wonderland.
Along the road I jogged and never dusted my shoes, and all the time the pleasant sun shone and never burned my back, and the little white clouds floated across the blue sky and never let fall a drop of rain to wet my jacket. And by and by I came to a steep hill.
I climbed the hill, though I had more than one tumble in doing it, and there, on the tip-top, I found a house as old as the world itself.
That was where Father Time lived; and who should sit in the sun at the door, spinning away for dear life, but Time’s Grandmother herself; and if you would like to know how old she is you will have to climb to the top of the church steeple and ask the wind as he sits upon the weather-cock, humming the tune of Over-yonder song to himself.
“Good-morning,” says Time’s Grandmother to me.
“Good-morning,” says I to her.
“And what do you seek here?” says she to me.
“I come to look for odds and ends,” says I to her.
“Very well,” says she; “just climb the stairs to the garret, and there you will find more than ten men can think about.”
“Thank you,” says I, and up the stairs I went. There I found all manner of queer forgotten things which had been laid away, nobody but Time and his Grandmother could tell where.
— 2 —
When younger during the lazy days of summer one of the things my friends and I would do to pass the time was sit in the shade of the front porch eating popsicles and debating lazy summer things like “what is the greatest album side?” While I can still list four or five I listened to one of my favorites driving to work yesterday: Side 3 from Eagles Live. Seven Bridges Road, Wasted Time, Take It To The Limit and Desperado. The only thing missing was an open and endless ribbon of highway and twilight skies.
Sometimes there’s a part of me
Has to turn from here and go
Running like a child from these warm stars
Down the Seven Bridges Road
— 3 —
A little encouragement for our walk along the prairie:
For a while, we are fully aware of God’s concern for us. But then, when God begins to use us in His work, we begin to take on a pitiful look and talk only of our trials and difficulties. And all the while God is trying to make us do our work as hidden people who are not in the spotlight. None of us would be hidden spiritually if we could help it. Can we do our work when it seems that God has sealed up heaven? Some of us always want to be brightly illuminated saints with golden halos and with the continual glow of inspiration, and to have other saints of God dealing with us all the time. A self-assured saint is of no value to God. He is abnormal, unfit for daily life, and completely unlike God. We are here, not as immature angels, but as men and women, to do the work of this world. And we are to do it with an infinitely greater power to withstand the struggle because we have been born from above.
From My Utmost For His Highest by Oswald Chambers (May 1st entry)
— 4 —
In an article titled “Music as a Character-Forming Force” I read the following quote by philosopher Roger Scruton:
Nobody who understands the experiences of melody, harmony, and rhythm will doubt their value. Not only are they the distillation of centuries of social life: they are also forms of knowledge, providing the competence to reach out of ourselves through music. Through melody, harmony, and rhythm, we enter a world where others exist besides the self, a world that is full of feeling but also ordered, disciplined but free. That is why music is a character-forming force, and the decline of musical taste a decline in morals. (The Aesthetics of Music, 502)
Behold the Agnus Dei from Berlioz’s Requiem, Op. 5. It’s as moving as any piece of music I’ve heard, and when used with the final scenes from Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life pretty much renders me a puddle of goo.
And if you don’t have nine minutes to spare in order to watch or even listen to the music, then perhaps you can spare five to read and ruminate over this:
Ever heard about the three transcendentals? Christian philosophers claim that the ultimate desire of man, the ultimate direction towards which all things are ordered, is perfection. Perfection has three properties which cannot be divorced from one another: Veritas, Bonitas, Pulchritudo; Truth, Goodness and Beauty. As Christians we believe that God is the fulfilment of these transcendentals. In His being we find absolute Truth, absolute Goodness and absolute Beauty. Hence St. Augustine’s famous line: “Our hearts are restless Lord, until they rest in Thee.” We will never be satisfied until we are suffused with His being.
I’m afraid I’ve lost the source, so if you happen to know who or what that might be, please let me know.
— 5 —
I’ll end in an unconventional place. It’s true that among my favorite songwriters and performers are the members of ABBA. I was a fan when being a fan was very uncool. Maybe it still is. I don’t really care. All I know is the music is catchy, yet more layered and complex than given credit for, and that Benny and Bjorn’s collaboration with Tim Rice for the broadway musical Chess is on par with Les Miserables in my opinion. Again…my opinion. If you want to debate it or argue go elsewhere. I’m not in the mood for that today. I read where they opened an ABBA Museum in Stockholm earlier this week. I found myself listening to this and thinking of friends, both old and new.
You and I can share the silence
Finding comfort together
The way old friends do
And after fights and words of violence
We make up with each other
The way old friends do
Times of joy and times of sorrow
We will always see it through
Oh I don’t care what comes tomorrow
We can face it together
The way old friends do
From The Island of the World by Michael D. O’Brien:
“Love is the soul of the world, though its body bleeds, and we must learn to bleed with it. Love is also the seed and milk and the fruit of the world, though we can partake of it in greed or reverence. We are born, we eat, and learn, and die. We leave a tracery of messages in the lives of others, a little shifting of the soil, a stone moved from here to there, a word uttered, a song, a poem left behind. I was here, each of these declare. I was here.”
The world can make one crazy if we have not love. We are not immature angels. We have been born from above in love.
We are here. Together.
I’ve seen the following quote by actor George Takei pop up in various forms on Facebook a lot lately.
“Each of us bears a responsibility to reject hate, whatever its form, whatever its justification. A soul filled with hate can devastate a community. A nation filled with hate can devastate a people. It must start and end with each of us.”
Who can argue with this logic, right? Hate is obviously something that needs to be taken seriously in a civil society. However this strikes me for whatever reason as an overly simplistic statement that makes for a nice bumper sticker due to one important thing: it doesn’t define hate. So what is the definition of hate?
According to Merriam-Webster:
- 1a: intense hostility and aversion usually deriving from fear, anger, or sense of injury
- 1b: extreme dislike or antipathy: LOATHING <had a great hate of hard work>
- Intense or passionate dislike: “feelings of hate”
- 1. to dislike intensely or passionately; feel extreme aversion for or extreme hostility toward; detest: to hate the enemy; to hate bigotry.
- 2. to be unwilling; dislike: I hate to do it.
- 1. a. To feel hostility or animosity toward.
- 1. b. To detest.
- 2. To feel dislike or distaste for: hates washing dishes.
- to dislike someone or something very much
Some will go further by saying that hatred stems from fear. Ok, so what is the definition of fear? I won’t go through all the above sources again in the interest of time, but Merriam-Webster defines fear as:
- 1a: an unpleasant often strong emotion caused by anticipation or awareness of danger
- 1b (1): an instance of this emotion (2): a state marked by this emotion
- 2: anxious concern: SOLICITUDE (which is a state of being concerned or anxious)
- 3: profound reverence and awe especially toward God
- 4: reason for alarm: DANGER
Can you see where this is going? By being loose with our definition of terms, even the most serious of them, we open a can of unintended consequences. (Or are they unintended?)
For instance, if I say that I’m for profiling certain groups who have had an inordinate number of their members commit horrific acts of terrorism against innocent men, women and children due to my fear of such atrocities happening again in the future I must obviously hate every single member of that group.
If I use wasp spray on my patio to kill a nest of wasps because I’m allergic to their stings and have a fear of being stung? I’m a hater who must be rejected.
If I avoid walking through the jungles of Africa at night to avoid being eaten by lions? I hate lions.
If I have an aversion to the beliefs or tenets of a faith held by over 1.2 billion people as it has existed for over 2000 years because I find them backwards and a crutch for the ignorant? Yes ma’am, you are a hater.
If I don’t want a dog as a housepet because the thought of stepping in a pile of poop in my backyard with shoes or barefoot is something I find repugnant? I hate dogs. Or dog poop.
I’m concerned that our nation has become numb to the realities of what an abortion doctor does to both the woman and her baby, and believe that we see this crassness and disregard for our fellow man’s humanity reflected in our actions as a society. Ergo, I obviously hate abortion and the Culture of Death. (Ok, this one is actually true.)
A people who believes in everything, believe in nothing. What used to be known as common sense is eradicated. No one will voice their opinion or take a stand on an issue.
Why? Because of fear and the hatred of the oh so tolerant that will reign down upon their heads before the can cross the Bridge of Tolerance and avoid being cast into the Gorge of Reeducation.
The trouble with tolerance is that there is always someone deciding what to tolerate. A free society does not tolerate people; it allows them to live their own values. And a tolerant society is not free. It is a dictatorship of virtue that is intolerant toward established values in order to better tolerate formerly intolerable values.
Ask yourself: who really benefits from a nation of people afraid of speaking out? Who gains from the persecution of those who dare to speak? Who makes the rules and who will be left when the rules are once again redefined? History contains the answer…if you’re not afraid to seek it.
With apologies to one of my favorite and most beloved things in this world: Monty Python.
ARTHUR: There it is! The Bridge of Tolerance!
ROBIN: Oh, great.
ARTHUR: Look!! There’s the Director of Tolerance and Diversity from the Department of Moral Relativism!
BEDEVERE: What is he doing here?
ARTHUR: He is the keeper of the Bridge of Tolerance. He asks each traveller five questions…
GALAHAD: Three questions.
ARTHUR: Three questions. He who answers the five questions…
GALAHAD: Three questions.
ARTHUR: Three questions may cross in safety.
ROBIN: What if you get a question wrong?
ARTHUR: Then you are cast into the Gorge of Reeducation for tolerance and diversity training.
ROBIN: Oh, I won’t go.
GALAHAD: Who’s going to answer the questions?
ARTHUR: Sir Robin!
ARTHUR: Brave Sir Robin, you go.
ROBIN: Hey! I’ve got a great idea. Why doesn’t Launcelot go?
LAUNCELOT: Yes, let me go, my liege. I will take him single-handed. I shall use faith…and reason…
ARTHUR: No, no, hang on hang on hang on! Just answer the five questions…
GALAHAD: Three questions.
ARTHUR: Three questions as best you can. And we shall watch… and pray.
LAUNCELOT: I understand, my liege.
ARTHUR: Good luck, brave Sir Launcelot. God be with you.
KEEPER: Stop! Who would cross the Bridge of Tolerance must answer me these questions three, ‘ere the other side he see.
LAUNCELOT: Ask me the questions, bridge-keeper. I’m not afraid.
KEEPER: What is your name?
LAUNCELOT: My name is Sir Launcelot of Camelot.
KEEPER: What is your quest?
LAUNCELOT: To seek the Truth.
KEEPER: What is your favorite color?
KEEPER: Right. Off you go.
LAUNCELOT: Oh, thank you. Thank you very much.
ROBIN: That’s easy!
KEEPER: Stop! Who approaches the Bridge of Tolerance must answer me these questions three, ‘ere the other side he see.
ROBIN: Ask me the questions, bridge-keeper. I’m not afraid.
KEEPER: What is your name?
ROBIN: Sir Robin of Camelot.
KEEPER: What is your quest?
ROBIN: To seek the Truth.
KEEPER: Are in favor of the designated hitter rule?
ROBIN: What? Oh, I hate that rule! Auuuuuuuugh!
KEEPER: Stop! What is your name?
GALAHAD: Sir Galahad of Camelot.
KEEPER: What is your quest?
GALAHAD: I seek the Truth.
KEEPER: Are you in favor or against gay marriage?
GALAHAD: For. No against — Auuuuuuuugh!
KEEPER: Stop! What is your name?
THREE-HEADED KNIGHT: A three-headed knight of Camelot.
KEEPER: What is your quest?
THREE-HEADED KNIGHT: We seek the Truth.
KEEPER: Do you believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist?
Left Head: Well, no, that’s absurd. The very idea of eating the flesh of Christ is disgusting and unenlightened…
Right Head: Not to mention unsanitary.
Center Head: But what about John 6? Or 1st Corinthians 10 or 11? Or the writings of the early Church Fathers?
Left Head: He does have a point.
Right Head: Oh, do shut up. – Auuuuuuuugh!
KEEPER: Heh heh. Stop! What is your name?
ARTHUR: It is Arthur, King of Common Sense.
KEEPER: What is your quest?
ARTHUR: To seek the Truth.
KEEPER: What is the definition of fear?
ARTHUR: What do you mean? The fear that absolutes may exist or the fear of someone who thinks differently than I do?
KEEPER: What? I don’t know that! Auuuuuuuugh!
BEDEVERE: How do know so much about fear?
ARTHUR: Well, you have to know these things when you live in our modern society you know.
The reality of the situation struck me three weeks ago. That was when the first of several graduation party announcements arrived. I had opened our refrigerator door for some milk and when I closed it came face to face with Tony’s smiling image.
“What’s this?” I asked my wife.
“Tony’s graduation party announcement. It came today.”
“Jeez…he’s a senior already?”
“Did you just figure that out?”
The truth is I was well aware of Tony being a senior as he is on the same high school baseball team as my oldest son. We’ve come to know and care about him and all the members of our baseball “family” over the years. When you spend as much time together at spring and summer ballgames as we all do you know these things.
So I know that Tony, Dan, Tom, Tyler, etc. are all seniors. That’s not what hit me upside the head like a wild fastball. It was the knowledge that if they were seniors then just a year from now my oldest child’s face will be gracing the refrigerators of friends and family just as Tony’s is gracing ours.
Over the next few weeks over a dozen more announcements would find themselves on our fridge. And with each new arrival came another grey hair to my temples. The names and faces have raced before my eyes this week. Not this year’s seniors mind you, but next year’s group. Our baseball family is a big one, and those that immediately came to mind were all the boys that played little league ball with Nolan on the team I began to coach when he was nine until he was fourteen and made his high school baseball team. There we were introduced to at least a dozen more of his class, members of our family who will graduate next spring.
There’s his classmates from kindergarten through eighth grade: thirty-one smiling faces who all went on to various high schools across our city and joined much larger class groups.
Of course this is not all a bad thing. After his eighteen years under our roof is over he will hopefully have gleaned enough from us to successfully function on his own in the world. He has the grades (while writing this post I received an e-mail informing me that he was just named as an Academic All-Stater for baseball) and qualities colleges look for in scholarships and such, but is instead leaning seriously towards joining the Marine Corps a little over a year from now. I admire him for this and respect his decision. He desires to be the best of the best. Yet that in itself will bring me more grey hairs in the coming years. But it’s his dream, and for as long as he can remember his parents encouraged him to pursue his dreams.
It’s not a bad thing because his little brother can’t wait to get his room. When we moved into our house ten years ago this month Nolan was seven and were several months pregnant with Jonah. The boys shared an upstairs bedroom for a few years until I remodeled our basement and added a bedroom. Our oldest moved downstairs, and Jonah has had to share his bedroom with his little sister who arrived three years after he joined us.
Nolan is ready to move on.
Jonah is ready to move downstairs.
Sophie is ready to decorate her room per her unique tastes.
Mom and dad are ready to cut their food budget significantly.
But not just yet.
The other night my daughter climbed onto my lap and asked me to turn on the tv. I turned it to a show she’s watched the last few years, Team Umizoomi, thinking she’d enjoy it.
“Da-a-a-a-a-d. Not this. This is a little kids show.”
“But you like this show. And you are a little kid.”
“No I’m not. I’m a big girl. Can’t I watch a big kid’s show?”
I hugged her close and said “Not yet, Soph…not yet. Let’s watch this one together for awhile.”
After she went to bed that night I stopped in our bathroom to look in the mirror. Each day I look at the man looking back at me. He looks familiar, still has all of his hair, but it’s frostier than before, with lines around his eyes. I close my eyes and can still see the man I know. A man much trimmer, and with a bounce in his step. For while the man I see in the mirror today still has dreams, the younger version had them too. When my eyes are closed I see the man who is clueless about what his future holds. Anything seems possible and he’s excited and energetic.
I close my eyes and I see each of my children as infants, wrapped in onesies and blankets and snug and warm in my arms. I’m reading each of them the same book: “I’ll love you forever, I’ll like you for always, as long as I’m living, my baby you’ll be.” I cried each time I read it until finally, one by one, they asked me to stop reading it. Because they had become “big kids”. And probably because I embarrassed them.
I close my eyes and I see their mother, my wife, looking young and radiant as she rocks each of them or dresses them for their first day of school. Funny thing about my bride of almost twenty years: she looks just as vibrant today when my eyes are open.
With eyes closed I can see snapshots in each child’s life. I won’t bore you with them here.
I open my eyes and gaze intently at the eyes looking back. In them I am able to see more than what was present in the younger version of myself. I see memories. I see hints of wisdom. I see hard work and much laughter. I see the pain and sorrow that comes from losing a child to miscarriage, along with the reflection of the tiny, lifeless body held in my hand. I see dreams of the future and dreams realized. I see the gratitude I expressed to God as I offered each of my children back to Him since they are His to begin with. I’m merely the steward, a modern-day Joseph. I see love.
The younger man had more dreams. The older man has more blessings.
Dreams do come true.
2012 Father’s Day photo credit: Laura Kortum Photography
— 1 —
On Tuesday the hard drive of my work laptop went kablooey. As I had some time I took an early lunch to walk to my favorite used bookstore to look around. I hadn’t paid them a visit in many moons and the owner, Cinnamon, was quick to greet me and point out several shelves of books that had new titles that she thought might interest me. They did, but mostly I was there to pick up a copy of Huxley’s Brave New World for a friend of mine, which I did.
Cinnamon was eager to show me the current jewel of their story, a two volume Folio Society edition of David Roberts’ The Holy Land and Egypt and Nubia. She pulled them from under the glass counter and I spent the next twenty minutes slowly turning the pages of these incredible and beautiful books. I’ve purchased volumes from The Folio Society before and these are among the finest I’ve seen. Big, heavy, well bound, large slip covers, and thick paper. I swallowed hard and asked her how much. “$1600 for the set,” she said. It’s a very fair price and I couldn’t argue with her. They are number 719 of a limited printing of 1000 and in pristine condition. The text is wonderful, but the lithographs are truly fantastic. “I’ve had offers from people of their kidneys or children,” she laughed. For twenty minutes I turned the pages and tried to figure out how I could purchase them and be allowed to sleep in the house over the next year. Not being able to come up with an answer to that question and not wanting to sleep in our shed I reluctantly passed them back across the counter.
She hasn’t made it available on their website yet as she always gives the locals a chance to purchase finds like this first. A three-minute video showing lithographs from the book is on YouTube.
— 2 —
While in the store I also looked at a copy of The Cloister and the Hearth by Charles Reade. The opening paragraph was beautiful and I wanted to share it here.
Not a day passes over the earth, but men and women of no note do great deeds, speak great words, and suffer noble sorrows. Of these obscure heroes, philosophers, and martyrs, the greater part will never be known till that hour, when many that are great shall be small, and the small great; but of others the world’s knowledge may be said to sleep: their lives and characters lie hidden from nations in the annals that record them. The general reader cannot feel them, they are presented so curtly and coldly: they are not like breathing stories appealing to his heart, but little historic hail-stones striking him but to glance off his bosom: nor can he understand them; for epitomes are not narratives, as skeletons are not human figures.
You do not need to change the world. It’s big and so vast. But you can and should change your world. There is no such thing as an obscure person. You are the entire world to someone.
We tend to forget this.
— 3 —
You know that there is a rabbit hole in which the media buries stories it doesn’t want the public to see because it doesn’t fit with the way they view the world when Snopes.com is compelled to publish a page confirming that the story is real, not merely an urban legend.
I remember when journalists were objective reporters. Now they are activists wanting to “change the world”. Just stop already.
— 4 —
Speaking of the story-which-must-not-be-named:
Source: Michael Ramirez at IBD
— 5 —
I’ll be brief today (hold your applause). The new project continues its slow progress and is taking what little free time I have. I considered naming the new blog “500 Words or Less” but I know better. However the reason for my creating it is in fact brevity.
I’ll wait until you are able to stop laughing and catch your breath. All done? Good. Where were we?
Ah yes, brevity. That and wanting to carve out a space where I am free to anonymously experiment a little. I’ve got an e-mail inbox dedicated solely to all the story notes and blog ideas I’ve had for the past 3-4 years and I’d like to focus there awhile.
This song’s title (see video below) was what I wanted to name my new blog, but sadly it was not available on either WordPress or Blogger so I’ve gone with Plan B. The lyrics to Josh’s song sum up the direction I am going with the new project. But instead the new blog will owe its title in part to this song. And also this one. At least for now anyway. I’m still mulling it over.
I was wrong, everybody needs someone, to hold on
Take my hand, I’ve been a lonesome man, took a while to understand
There’s some things we can’t live without,
A man’s so prone to doubt,
Faithful are the wounds from friends.
So give it just a little time,
Share some bread and wine
Weave your heart into mine,
Walls fall down, where there’s a peaceful sound, lonely souls hang around
Don’t be shy, there’s nothing left to hide, come on let’s talk a while
Of the places we left behind,
No longer yours and mine
But we could build a good thing here too
So give it just a little time,
Share bread and wine
Weave your heart into mine
If I fall, I fall alone, but two can help to bear the load
A threefold chord is hard to break
All I have I give to you if you will share your sorrows too,
Then joy will be the crown upon our heads
Over the weekend I read this post by a terrific blogger whom I’ve enjoyed reading the past few months. Jessica wrote on a topic I’ve touched upon before and once more has bubbled to the surface of my mind as I considered the events of the past several weeks: Suffering and our seeming indifference towards it. Our being overwhelmed by it. Our strong desire to acknowledge it…change it…eradicate it…wrap the entire world and its hurting people in our arms and assure them that they are loved.
It’s an impossibly big job. And, it’s not our job.
Whoa Jeff, you heartless sonofabitch. What do you mean it’s not our job?
It’s not. Our job is not to take on the task of changing the entire world in a fell swoop. Our job is to grow where we’re planted. To have a positive impact one life at a time. The Ripple Effect. To be a light. To imitate Christ. We toss our small pebble into a little pond and watch the waves roll slowly outward before finally losing steam before they reach the pond’s shore. We can’t do it all ourselves. But, if we toss in our small pebble, and are able to inspire others to do the same one-by-one as they in turn “pay it forward”, soon there will be not just my pebble but multiple pebbles hitting the water’s surface; each pebble in turn sending out ripples in all directions. Ripples bouncing off of ripples, continuing to build momentum and not lose steam. Soon my ripple is lost in a tide of turbulent waves upon the water’s surface: affecting everyone while they affect me.
Christ did this. He didn’t come to soothe the calm waters. He came to shake things up. To awaken us from our malaise. To reveal the uncomfortable truths. To shake us from our apathy.
“Do not imagine that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have come to bring a sword, not peace.” (Matthew 10:34)
One of my favorite lines from Scripture is Luke 12:48: “Much will be asked of the man to whom much has been given; more will be expected of him, because he was entrusted with more.”
Paraphrased: To whom much is given, much is required.
The lines that follow further demonstrate the division Jesus says he will cause:
“I came to cast fire upon the earth; and would that it were already kindled! I have a baptism to be baptized with; and how I am constrained until it is accomplished! Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division; for henceforth in one house there will be five divided, three against two and two against three; they will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against her mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.” (Luke 12:49-53)
And what is truth? Jesus is “the way…the truth and life” (John 14:6). We are to respond. The way we respond divides us. We can either accept the truth or reject it. If we try to ignore it? Well, that in itself is a form of rejection. Jesus confronts us with God’s eternal truth. It is our reaction to this that divides us.
Last week I continued to read of the nation of sludge we have become. And we have. No amount of protesting or whining will change that fact. I have watched in continued amazement as people, including friends of mine, twist themselves with pretzel logic in order to somehow justify infanticide in order to defend their sacrament of abortion. This culture of death chills my bones. It is something I just cannot fathom. And so I pray. I do not condemn nor do I judge. I simply pray.
To ensure I understand a certain thought process that exists out there:
- Michael Vick is the personification of evil. He must never be forgiven for what he did to those poor dogs, is a pariah, and the worst person in the world. A cruel, heartless bastard.
- Kermit Gosnell is a misunderstood individual protecting the rights of women. By killing them if necessary. All for the greater good, don’tcha know?
Alicia Colon asks “How did we get to the point where so many people in the media accept the murder of full term babies born alive as a women’s right that must be protected? How do they turn their eyes from the truth; …”
I ask: “How did we get to the point where so many of my fellow citizens accept the same?”
The answer to both questions? Through lies.
At the end her April 30th column Colon documents what ex-abortionist Bernard Nathanson (one of the founders of NARAL) said when he revealed the tactics used by his side to help make abortion legal and socially acceptable in the United States:
How did we do this? It is important to understand the tactics involved because these tactics have been used throughout the western world with one permutation or another, in order to change abortion law.
“The First Key Tactic was to capture the media – with lies. The number of women dying from illegal abortions was around 200-250 annually. The figure constantly fed to the media was 10,000.
“The Second Key Tactic was to Play the Catholic Card – We systematically vilified the Catholic Church and its ‘socially backward ideas’ and picked on the Catholic hierarchy as the villain in opposing abortion.
“The Third Key Tactic was the Denigration and Suppression of all Scientific Evidence that Life Begins at Conception – A favorite pro-abortion tactic is to insist that the definition of when life begins is impossible; that the question is a theological or moral or philosophical one, anything but a scientific one.”
We are up against lies (Nathanson called them “tactics”), consistently and endlessly having to swat them away. The Church is anti-science, we hear. Mark Shea shows just how stupid a statement this is. Yet it is a lie oft-repeated by those too intellectually lazy to look at the evidence to the contrary or who harbor their own prejudices against the Church. He cites Mike Flynn’s complete refutation of this absurd claim and “unreason” that is worth bookmarking for future reference.
Because the lies never stop.
The lies that tell us that it’s ok for a government to arbitrarily redefine words and that our fretting over such redefinition may result in our going places never before imagined.
No, the lies never stop.
Nor does the Church’s hate for homosexuals. Look at these pictures to see if you can stand seeing all the hate we have as Catholics.
Oh wait. Guess I was wrong about that one. This picture will tell you the full story.
Last week I watched as a Belgian priest prayed during an attack upon his person and I was without words. On an almost daily basis I say to myself and those closest to me that the world is upside down: right is wrong and wrong is right. The temptation at this point is to retreat deeper and deeper into my Catholic faith. Its beauty is eternal. It is also earthy and gritty. It offers me peace. I see images such as this and am able to better understand the outrages Christ suffered during His Passion.
Yes, the temptation grows to retreat. But if I do that before my time on earth as a member of the Church Militant is over there will be no ripples in my pond. The surface will be smooth as glass.
Stagnant and stale.
That’s just not my style, nor is it my calling.
And so amidst all the bad news and despair I find strength in five other things I read this week.
One: In his 1978 commencement address at Harvard Alexander Solzhenitsyn warned us about a lack of courage:
A decline in courage may be the most striking feature that an outside observer notices in the West today. The Western world has lost its civic courage, both as a whole and separately, in each country, in each government, in each political party, and, of course, in the United Nations. Such a decline in courage is particularly noticeable among the ruling and intellectual elites, causing an impression of a loss of courage by the entire society. There are many courageous individuals, but they have no determining influence on public life.
It was a brilliant speech and you’ll want to read it all.
Two: A reaffirmation of the truth written by Cardinal Dolan with regards to what the Church is versus what it isn’t.
So, for example, the Church loves, welcomes, and respects the alcoholic . . . but would not condone his binge;
The Church loves, welcomes, and respects a prominent business leader…but would not condone his or her failure to pay a just wage to a migrant worker;
The Church loves, welcomes, and respects a young couple in love . . . but would challenge their decision to “live together” before marriage;
The Church loves, welcomes, and respects a woman who has had an abortion, and the man who fathered the child and encouraged the abortion . . . but would be united with them in mourning and regretting that deadly choice;
The Church loves, welcomes, and respects a woman or man with a same-sex attraction . . . while reminding him or her of our clear teaching that, while the condition of homosexuality is no sin at all, still, God’s teaching is clear that sexual acts are reserved for a man and woman united in the lifelong, life-giving, faithful, loving bond of marriage.
The Church loves, welcomes, and respects wealthy people, while prophetically teaching the at-times-uncomfortable virtue of justice and charity towards the poor.
We are part of a Church where, yes, all are welcome, but, no, not a Church of anything goes.
Three: An article for Crisis magazine written by Bernadette O’Brien that reminded me that when the going gets tough, the tough get going.
Four: Three of the quotes I highlighted in my copy of Kisses from Katie: A Story of Relentless Love and Redemption, by Katie Davis.
“People who really want to make a difference in the world usually do it, in one way or another. And I’ve noticed something about people who make a difference in the world: They hold the unshakable conviction that individuals are extremely important, that every life matters. They get excited over one smile. They are willing to feed one stomach, educate one mind, and treat one wound. They aren’t determined to revolutionize the world all at once; they’re satisfied with small changes. Over time, though, the small changes add up. Sometimes they even transform cities and nations, and yes, the world.”
“It may take place in a foreign land or it may take place in your backyard, but I believe that we were each created to change the world for someone. To serve someone. To love someone the way Christ first loved us, to spread His light. This is the dream, and it is possible.”
“I have learned that I will not change the world, Jesus will do that. I can however, change the world for one person. I can change the world for fourteen little girls and for four hundred schoolchildren and for a sick and dying grandmother and for a malnourished, neglected, abused five-year old. And if one persons sees the love of Christ in me, it is worth every minute. In fact, it is worth spending my life for.”
Five: Like Jessica (whom I noted at the beginning of this post) Brianna Heldt made note of the overwhelming suffering we see prevalent in our world today. After discussing all of the horrors we see broadcast on the news each day Heldt points out in her final paragraph that keeping one’s perspective is key:
So how does all of that tie in with the news? I suppose because with the overabundance of real-time information available to us today, it is possible to become so caught up in what is happening somewhere else that our own peace and joy become eclipsed by some “national conversation” that is “needing” to happen. When in reality, our own present situation is either fairly rosy or is difficult in its own way (fellow mothers of small children, I’m talking to you), and in either case the last thing we probably need is to own a far-off burden that doesn’t belong to us in the first place. I’m not saying it’s bad to be informed (I like to be), and I’m not saying we shouldn’t know what’s going on in the world we inhabit (I do, and sometimes I even blog about it.). But we occasionally also need to be reminded that we are merely responsible for stewarding what is right in front of us, today. In our own respective spheres of influence. And more often than not, that will probably be quite enough.
I read more than just those five things actually. Much more. Enough to convince me to continue developing the blog project I’ve been working on. I’ll still be found here, but my posting will slow down a bit as I experiment elsewhere. If after a few days/weeks of posting privately I think that I’m on to something I’ll share it with you.
Yesterday I read a short story written by Kaye Park Hinckley for the Candlemas 2013 edition of Dappled Things, “a quarterly periodical of ideas, art and faith.” At the end of the story, titled “Dragon”, the main character Liz is having a conversation with an “old, black waitress in a starched white uniform”. Liz has revealed to the waitress secrets she’d meant to hide, certain that she would be shunned. Instead
…she grasped my hand as if she had a God-sent message for me. “Listen Shugah, we all got to pass by the dragon. That fire-breathing sucker’s gonna be there, waiting with his jaws open, ‘cause he’s gotta be fed. Don’t give him nothing else to eat. Go on home and tell ‘em the truth.”
The waitress closes by saying “Bet they’ll love you, no matter what.”
I’m not so sure many love to hear any truth these days outside of their own. We’re becoming a nation of 300 million plus “truths”. We cower before the dragon and feed him lies while on our knees begging him to let us continue living our own truth, our own lies. The dragon’s lips curling into a smile as he hoards our tributes. In his eye our image is reflected back to us as we gaze in numb admiration of what we see.
Quid est veritas? (What is truth? – John 18:38)
To whom much is given much is required.
Veritas vos liberabit. (The truth shall set you free. – John 8:32)
©2013 Jeff A Walker.
— 1 —
The hardest role…the most difficult job…I will have, and have it for the rest of my life, is that of a father. I’ve been a dad for seventeen years. What I’ve learned is that whether for seventeen or seventy (should I live to be 98) I will never stop being a dad and all that role implies. I realize we live in a society that has marginalized fathers, is hostile to them, and finds them wholly unnecessary. Laws and societal norms have been changed and pushed them to the side to the point to where men themselves have thrown up their hands and surrendered in weakness, abdicating their role to the spiritus mundi.
Folly. Weakness. Madness.
I am a father. I am also a dad. My job is not to be my children’s best friend. I challenge them. I correct them. I discipline them. I help and guide, and I try to trust them enough to step out and make their own mistakes once in awhile. When they do I’m there for them. I make mistakes as I’m still learning, too.
And I love them.
I do not abandon them. I practice instead self-abandonment when necessary.
I do not come first. I sacrifice. But I still am a line in the sand. As they get older and more responsible that line becomes more pliable. But it will always be there in case they ask for guidance.
It’s a very hard and frustrating role. It is also the most fulfilling, awesome, amazing thing I will ever do in this lifetime. I will continue to do it for as long as I breathe no matter how much my government or the surrounding culture of experts attempts to fashionably redefine it or tell me I’m unnecessary and a relic of a quaint but distant and unenlightened era.
It’s a challenge to be a father. So I’m not surprised so many men fail or quit.
Along the same lines I saw this pop up on Facebook this week. Reinforcement.
At age 13, I went to my dad to complain about a situation where I didn’t think I was being treated fairly by a coach. My dad listened very closely to the whole story and then looked at me and told me something that stuck with me for the rest of my life… He simply said, “Work harder”, and walked away. Lesson learned. Stop whining and get to work. Instead of rescuing, excusing and enabling our kids by blaming others and fighting battles for them, or going immediately to the AD, principal and school board to demand the coach be fired… think about teaching our kids the simple wisdom of taking responsibility for your own situation. – Proactive Coaching status update on Facebook, April 22, 2013.
— 2 —
Last weekend my oldest and I watched Terrence Malick’s 1998 film The Thin Red Line. He and I have become Malick fans after 2011’s Tree of Life and decided to check out this film. We both agreed it was an excellent film, but at three hours it tended to drag in a few spots. This is not a movie review however. I wanted to highlight a series of questions we heard as the internal thoughts of one of the main characters, Private Witt played by Jim Caviezel. The movie takes place during 1942 at Guadalcanal during World War 2 and provides a glimpse of the brutality and inhumanity of warfare.
We were a family. How’d it break up and come apart, so that now we’re turned against each other? Each standing in the other’s light. How’d we lose that good that was given us? Let it slip away. Scattered it, careless. What’s keepin’ us from reaching out, touching the glory? ~ Private Witt, The Thin Red Line
I’ve asked myself these same questions a lot lately with regards to our nation…our world…right here in 2013. Two nights ago I found my answer during my nightly reading from Divine Intimacy (Baronius Press, 2010):
To be able to recognize and meet God in every creature, even in the ones that hurt us, offend us, or make us suffer, and in every happening, even the most disagreeable, painful, and disturbing ones—this is a great secret of the interior life. Then the world becomes an open book, on every page of which is written in large letters the one word: God. Before God, His will, His permission, His plans, everything else becomes secondary; we see how stupid it is to fix our gaze on creatures, which are, as it were, only a veil which hides the Creator. We need, however, assiduous practice before we can reach such deep faith.
In my contacts with my neighbor … I can form the habit of greeting Our Lord, present in every creature. … I can see the expression of God’s will in all circumstances—great, small, or even minute—which cause me boredom, uneasiness, suffering, increase of labor, or change of plans. I must learn to see them as the many means which God is using to make me practice virtue—patience, generosity, charity. My hours of prayer must serve to show me all the details of my life in this supernatural light, so that I may always be able to find Our Lord in them.
Divine Intimacy by Fr. Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalen, O.C.D., #163 – The Spirit of Faith (p.473)
We were created in God’s image. But we stopped believing in God. Once we did that our fellow man was no longer an inherently beautiful and unique soul to whom we showed love, patience or understanding. He or she became nothing more than an accident of biology; a mass of cells, muscles and bone. YOLO!
We were created in God’s image. As God and the Son are one, we are made in Jesus’ image as well. Christ is in all of us. Jesus was clear about this in Matthew 25:35-45.
…for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, `Lord, when did we see thee hungry and feed thee, or thirsty and give thee drink? And when did we see thee a stranger and welcome thee, or naked and clothe thee? And when did we see thee sick or in prison and visit thee?’ And the King will answer them, `Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.’ Then he will say to those at his left hand, `Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, `Lord, when did we see thee hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to thee?’ Then he will answer them, `Truly, I say to you, as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me.’
We are to do this. We fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, friends and strangers. As some fathers have abdicated their roles to their families we as a nation are abdicating our roles to a faceless bureaucracy and what some such as Senator Harry Reid would have us believe is an “inherently good” government. The same government that turns a blind eye and even advocates the dismemberment and murder of the most helpless among us. The same government that went house-to-house in Watertown, MA, kicking families out into the street with armor-plated storm troopers without warrants (goodbye 4th amendment) or ordering them to stay inside, cowering without protection afforded them by the 2nd amendment because they had willingly given up those rights to be sheep.
Like it or not we are called to be sheep to a shepherd. Americans are choosing to be sheep all right. But not sheep following the Good Shepherd.
— 3 —
A respite from all of that to what remains my goal in the next few years:
Walk the Camino and you will never forget entering the forests at sunrise, when the full moon still hangs like an earring from pine branches. The air is cool and fresh, the silence as palpable as an empty cathedral. Many mornings you are the one who awakens the birds so they can begin chirping. How simple it is—walk, eat, sleep, pray—and how overwhelmingly variegated it becomes. Cross 20 rivers and streams, hike through a dozen picturesque villages—many that haven’t changed much since medieval times—trek over a mountain pass or two, and soon you cannot remember half the beauty of a morning, let alone a week. A month down the road and you no longer remember the person you were when you began.
— 4 —
Confession: Last Sunday after drinking some coffee much too late in the day and finding myself wide awake instead of in bed, I tried to watch the popular television series Mad Men. It wasn’t the first time I’ve tried. Of course I’ve read all about it and how it’s the bees knees and the coolest, bestest show in the history of television or something. I lasted just twelve minutes and one commercial break before I wanted to punch Don Draper (the main character we hear sooooooooo much about) in the face. Based upon everything I’ve read by critics and fans of the show he’s pretty much the ass they say he is. Why in the world would I invite that cretin into my home every week? To make myself feel better because I’m not him?
So I watched 2.5 hours of Buffy the Vampire Slayer until 2:00am instead. Comfort food.
(Please don’t write to tell me this is inconsistent with what I wrote above in Section 2. Mad Men is a television show (I’d argue it’s a cartoon, just as Buffy was) and the characters are not real. But the Mad Men cartoon pisses me off. I don’t watch cartoons to be pissed off.)
— 5 —
As for one of the truly greatest shows in the history of television, if you grew up during the 70s and early 80s you were spending a part of your Saturday nights in front of the tv watching The Carol Burnett Show. And while every week provided a highlight, on this day, Carol Burnett’s 80th birthday, I present what for me is the funniest moment from that show of shows.
Happy birthday Carol. And have a great week everyone!
Apparently I repeated myself. I noticed last night that I’ve written before along the same lines as I did yesterday. Back in August 2012 I wrote about honoring those people (family and saints) with places on the walls of our homes:
That is what we do with the saints. We honor them as family with a place on our “wall.” For the most part the stories are not sugarcoated and lessons are learned from their struggles. Their triumphs are chronicled, too, and especially from those martyred we gain strength in lessons of perseverance and in heavenly reward. It is a reminder that there is more to life than what we see before our eyes.
Maybe that’s where so many struggle today. The walls on their homes are empty. The digital age affords us the ability to take more pictures than ever, but our walls are now on Facebook. The images are not developed and hung in a prominent or more permanent place. It is also my opinion that we have substituted family photos for those of celebrity, whether from the entertainment world or the political. We choose to know every detail of the shallowest of humanity who offer nothing more than an often-repeated example of how not to live our lives.
I guess that after over 500 posts on this blog I need to make sure I haven’t covered a subject before I post.
Above is a photo of the Red Sox plaque on my wall that I mentioned yesterday. If I have this hanging in a prominent place, why not do the same for those whom I really consider role models? I’d start with the following eight persons. If you look closely, aside from their being Catholic, you’ll notice other traits that run as common threads between members of this family.
Eight Family Portraits
Francis of Assisi (1182-1226)
Who he was: A rich, partying playboy, Francis served a year in a dungeon as a prisoner of war. When finally released he went back to his partying lifestyle and retained his dreams of glory. Before leaving as a knight to join the Fourth Crusade and a chance to achieve his dream, he had a dream in which God told him his designs on glory were wrong and that he was to return home, which he did. In 1219 Francis decided to go to Syria to convert the Moslems while the Fifth Crusade was being fought. In the middle of a battle, Francis decided to do the simplest thing and go straight to the sultan to make peace. When he and his companion were captured, the real miracle was that they weren’t killed. Instead Francis was taken to the sultan who was charmed by Francis and his preaching. Francis’s visit to Egypt and attempted rapprochement with the Muslim world had far-reaching consequences, long past his own death, since after the fall of the Crusader Kingdom it would be the Franciscans, of all Catholics, who would be allowed to stay on in the Holy Land and be recognized as “Custodians of the Holy Land” on behalf of the Catholic Church.
A story: One day while riding through the countryside, Francis, the man who loved beauty, who was so picky about food, who hated deformity, came face to face with a leper. Repelled by the appearance and the smell of the leper, Francis nevertheless jumped down from his horse and kissed the hand of the leper. When his kiss of peace was returned, Francis was filled with joy. As he rode off, he turned around for a last wave, and saw that the leper had disappeared. He always looked upon it as a test from God…that he had passed. (source)
A lesson learned: Francis of Assisi was a poor little man who astounded and inspired the Church by taking the gospel literally—not in a narrow fundamentalist sense, but by actually following all that Jesus said and did, joyfully, without limit and without a sense of self-importance.
Personal story: I took Francis as my confirmation name when I entered the Church twenty Easters ago.
Maximilian Kolbe (1894-1941)
Who he was: Born in Poland Kolbe became a Franciscan friar, joining the order founded by Francis of Assisi. Before being ordained as a priest he founded the Immaculata Movement which is devoted to Mary. He was a pioneer in radio and publishing, and at one time his movement’s magazine “The Knight of the Immaculata” had the largest circulation of any periodical in Europe. He traveled to Japan and India before returning to Poland a few years prior to the Nazi invasion of 1939. He was arrested and imprisoned at Auschwitz where he exchanged his life for another condemned man and was put to death in 1941.
A story: Kolbe described the following childhood vision he had of the Virgin Mary: That night, I asked the Mother of God what was to become of me, a Child of Faith. Then she came to me holding two crowns, one white, the other red. She asked me if I was willing to accept either of these crowns. The white one meant that I should persevere in purity, and the red that I should become a martyr. I said that I would accept them both. (source)
A lesson learned: Kolbe’s death was not a sudden, last-minute act of heroism. His whole life had been a preparation. His holiness was a limitless, passionate desire to convert the whole world to God. And his beloved Immaculata was his inspiration.
Personal story: I joined the Knights of the Immaculata in 2001 and since then have worn the Miraculous Medal, much used and distributed by Kolbe, around my neck.
Frances Xavier Cabrini (1850-1917)
Who she was: One of thirteen children, at the age of eighteen she wanted to become a nun but was hindered by poor health. She helped her parents until their death and then worked on a farm with her siblings. She taught at a girls’ school for six years and founded the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart to care for poor children in schools and hospitals, and took her vows as a nun in 1877. She came to America with six nuns in 1889 to work among the Italian immigrants. She soon founded schools, hospitals and orphanages in the U.S. before her death in Chicago.
A story: In America she found disappointment and difficulties with every step. When she arrived in New York City, the house intended to be her first orphanage in the United States was not available. The archbishop advised her to return to Italy. But Frances, truly a valiant woman, departed from the archbishop’s residence all the more determined to establish that orphanage. And she did. In 35 years Frances Xavier Cabrini founded 67 institutions dedicated to caring for the poor, the abandoned, the uneducated and the sick. Seeing great need among Italian immigrants who were losing their faith, she organized schools and adult education classes. (source)
A lesson learned: The compassion and dedication of Mother Cabrini is still seen in hundreds of thousands of her fellow citizens, not yet canonized, who care for the sick in hospitals, nursing homes and state institutions. We complain of increased medical costs in an affluent society, but the daily news shows us millions who have little or no medical care, and who are calling for new Mother Cabrinis to become citizen-servants of their land.
Personal story: I first heard of Frances Cabrini around ten years ago during a story told by my priest upon the death of his mother. He said “My mom was a devoted woman of great faith. One of my childhood memories is of mom driving around the stores in downtown Lincoln seeking that elusive parking space. She would say ‘Mother Cabrini, don’t be a meanie. Find me a parking space.’ And each time she would find one!”
John Vianney (1786-1859)
Who he was: The fourth of six children, Jean-Baptiste-Marie Vianney was ordained a priest in 1815 and made a parish priest of Ars, a small remote French hamlet of 230 people, in 1818. It was there that his reputation as a confessor and spiritual advisor grew until he was known throughout the Christian world. A mystic who had great patience, he was loved by the crowds but retained his childlike simplicity. It was well known that he heard confessions from people who travelled from all over the world to see him, with the lines lasting often for 16-18 hours each day. By 1855 the number of pilgrims who came to see him reached 20,000 a year. He, too, was a Franciscan.
A story: By 1790, the French Revolution forced many loyal priests to hide from the government in order to carry out the sacraments in their parish. In order to attend Mass, even though it was illegal, the Vianneys travelled to distant farms where they could pray in secret. Since the priests risked their lives day by day, Vianney began to look upon priests as heroes. His First Communion lessons were publicly carried out in a public home by three priests. He made his first communion at the age of 13. During the Mass, the windows were covered so that the light of the candles could not be seen from the outside. (source)
A lesson learned: A man with vision overcomes obstacles and performs deeds that seem impossible. John Vianney was a man with vision: He wanted to become a priest. But he had to overcome his meager formal schooling, which inadequately prepared him for seminary studies. His failure to comprehend Latin lectures forced him to discontinue. But his vision of being a priest urged him to seek private tutoring. After a lengthy battle with the books, John was ordained.
Personal story: I own two books that contain sermons by Vianney. They pull no punches and are among the most challenging pages I’ve ever read. I can see why modern men and women would avoid reading Vianney. I can also see why so many do.
Teresa of Avila (1515-1582)
Who she was: As a teenager she cared only about boys and clothing and flirting and rebelling. When she was 16 her father decided she was out of control and sent her to a convent. At first she hated it but eventually she started to enjoy it – partly because of her growing love for God and partly because the convent wasn’t as strict as her father. She eventually chose religious life over married life and once installed at the Carmelite convent she began to learn and practice mental prayer. She is the founder of the Discalced Carmelites and in 1970 she was declared a Doctor of the Church for her writing and teaching on prayer, one of four women to be honored in this way.
A story: Her last words were “My Lord, it is time to move on. Well then, may your will be done. O my Lord and my Spouse, the hour that I have longed for has come. It is time to meet one another.”
A lesson learned: The gift of God to Teresa in and through which she became holy and left her mark on the Church and the world is threefold: She was a woman; she was a contemplative; she was an active reformer. As a woman, Teresa stood on her own two feet, even in the man’s world of her time. She was “her own woman,” entering the Carmelites despite strong opposition from her father. She is a person wrapped not so much in silence as in mystery. Beautiful, talented, outgoing, adaptable, affectionate, courageous, enthusiastic, she was totally human. Like Jesus, she was a mystery of paradoxes: wise, yet practical; intelligent, yet much in tune with her experience; a mystic, yet an energetic reformer. A holy woman, a womanly woman. (source)
Personal story: I am in awe of Teresa having read my way through half of her classic book The Interior Castle. She is a model of contemplative prayer. After her death a bookmark was found in which she had written:
Let nothing disturb you.
Let nothing make you afraid.
All things are passing.
God alone never changes.
Patience gains all things.
If you have God you will want for nothing.
God alone suffices.
It is one of my favorite prayers and a bookmark in my copy of The Liturgy of the Hours.
Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556)
Who he was: Ignatius was born in the family castle in Guipúzcoa, Spain, the youngest of 13 children, and was called Iñigo. When he was old enough he became a page, and then a soldier of Spain to fight against the French. During the Battle of Pamplona a cannon ball and series of bad operations ended his military career in 1521. When recovering, Ignatius read a commentary on the life of Jesus Christ called De Vita Christi by Ludolph of Saxony and was to abandon his previous military life and devote himself to labor for God, following the example of spiritual leaders such as Francis of Assisi. He wrote on of the most influential books on the spiritual life ever written, the famous Spiritual Exercises. He founded The Society of Jesus, more commonly known as the Jesuits. In September 1523, Loyola reached the Holy Land to settle there, but was sent back to Europe by the Franciscans. (source)
A story: Ignatius was dominated all his life by a desire to imitate Christ. His Spiritual Exercises, written over a number of years, are a series of reflections, examinations of conscience, and prayers, grouped according to a traditional set of four steps leading to mystical union with God. The spirituality identified with St. Ignatius is characterized by emphasis on human initiative. His little book is a classic of Christian mysticism and is much used by devout Catholics.
A lesson: Ignatius was a true mystic. He centered his spiritual life on the essential foundations of Christianity—the Trinity, Christ, the Eucharist. His spirituality is expressed in the Jesuit motto, ad majorem Dei gloriam—“for the greater glory of God.” It is probably true that the picture of Ignatius that most people have is that of a soldier: stern, iron-willed, practical, showing little emotion – not a very attractive or warm personality. Yet if this picture is exact, it is hard to see how he could have had such a strong influence on those who knew him. Luis Goncalves de Camara, one of his closest associates, wrote, “He (Ignatius) was always rather inclined toward love; moreover, he seemed all love, and because of that he was universally loved by all.
Personal story: I attended a weekend retreat in the spring of 2010 led by Fr. Timothy Gallagher who has authored several books on Ignatian spirituality. This peaked my interest in contemplative prayer and spirituality and I began to go deeper into both Carmelite and Ignatian spirituality. Last fall I attended a four-day silent Ignatian retreat. It was one of the most powerful few days of my life.
Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (1891-1942)
Who she was: Edith Stein was born in Breslau, Poland, the youngest child of a large Jewish family. She was an outstanding student and excelled in philosophy with a particular interest in phenomenology. She fell away from her Jewish faith and became an atheist as a teenager. Eventually she became interested in the Catholic faith and was baptized a Catholic in 1922. In 1933 Edith entered the Carmelite convent in Cologne, Germany. However, the Nazis knew she had Jewish roots and as she wasn’t safe she was moved to the Carmelite convent in Echt, Holland. When the Nazis conquered Holland they arrested Edith and her sister Rosa and immediately sent them to Auschwitz by train, where she died in the gas chambers in 1942.
A story: On August 7th, 1942, the transport in which Sister Benedicta and her sister Rosa were traveling to her death at Auschwitz, stopped at the train station of Schifferstadt, not far from the town of Speyer where Stein had lived and taught for so many years at a Dominican school. Apparently the prisoners were allowed some access to the outside air as the train waited on a side rail. Stein identified herself to the station master, Valentine Fouquet; and she sent greetings to the Schwind family, who resided nearby, and to the sisters of St. Magdalena’s convent. She then added the comment, “We are heading east.” Later that same day, having been transferred to a cattle train, she reportedly stopped briefly in her old hometown of Breslau, and was reportedly sighted by the postal worker, Johannes Weiners, who was working in the railroad depot in Breslau (now in Poland). Weiners noticed the nun appearing at the entrance of the railway car as the door was slid open by a guard. After their initial conversation, Sister Benedicta looked around to see where she was; then she said: “This is my beloved hometown. I will never see it again.” She added: “We are riding to our death.” Johannes Weiners asked her: “Do your companion prisoners believe that also?” She answered: “It’s better that they do not know it.”
A lesson: The account continues with a description of the postal workers arguing among themselves whether or not they should do anything for those in the railway car. When some of them asked her if they could bring them any food or drink, she answered: “No, thank you, we accept nothing.” These gentle words of refusal, of gratitude, and of detachment are the final words recorded from her. If Sister Benedicta spoke these words as a way to protect the railroad workers from retribution, then the act of charity through self-denial, would have freed the postal workers from their difficult situation. Other accounts of people who observed Sister Benedicta during the transport to her death record that she gave special attention to the needs of the children and of their mothers during this traumatic time. (source, page 21)
Personal story: I don’t really have one with regards to Stein. But I’m fascinated by this brilliant woman who was born a devout Jew, became an atheist, a philosopher of high regard, and eventually a Catholic nun.
Thomas More (1478-1535)
Who he was: More studied law at Oxford before embarking on a legal career which took him to Parliament. Known for his wit and as a reformer, this learned man listed bishops and scholars among his friends, and in 1516 wrote his famous book Utopia. He was appointed by King Henry VIII to a succession of high posts and missions before being named Lord Chancellor in 1529. He resigned in 1532 when Henry persisted in pressuring More to approve of Henry’s desire to divorce Queen Katherine of Aragon and marry his lover. In 1534 More refused to render allegiance to the King as the Head of the Church of England and was confined to the Tower of London as a prisoner. Fifteen months later he was convicted of treason. On the scaffold moments before he was to be beheaded More told the crowd that he was dying as “the King’s good servant—but God’s first.” (source)
A story: When the executioner offered to blindfold him, More said that he would do this himself. But after he had stretched his head over the low block—it was merely a log of wood—he made a signal to the man to wait a moment. Then he made his last joke: His beard was lying on the block and he would like to remove it. At least that had committed no treason. The heavy axe went slowly up, hung a moment in the air and fell.
A lesson learned: Four hundred years later, in 1935, Thomas More was canonized a saint of God. Few saints are more relevant to our time. In fact, in 2000, Pope John Paul II named him patron of political leaders. The supreme diplomat and counselor, he did not compromise his own moral values in order to please the king, knowing that true allegiance to authority is not blind acceptance of everything that authority wants. King Henry himself realized this and tried desperately to win his chancellor to his side because he knew More was a man whose approval counted, a man whose personal integrity no one questioned. But when Thomas resigned as chancellor, unable to approve the two matters that meant most to Henry, the king had to get rid of Thomas More.
Personal story: Utopia and The Sadness of Christ (a meditation on the Christ’s passion written while he was imprisoned in the Tower) are on my shelves and two of my favorite books. In an age where religious freedom is being removed from the public square, More is increasingly a role model for our era.
My next eight? I’m going with Thomas Aquinas, Augustine of Hippo, Katherine Drexel, John of the Cross, Francis de Sales, Edmond Campion and the apostles John and Peter.
It has been a custom or tradition in most homes to keep framed pictures of loved ones and relatives in a room or rooms, whether on the wall or shelf. We do this to honor the memory of these people who came before us. Stories are told about them and their lives are shared with the next generations, emphasis being placed on the good or the humorous (often growing in embellishment with each passing year) so that our children may get a glimpse of their heritage as well as glean wisdom from the lessons of the past.
“That’s your Uncle Joe. While he would cuss like a sailor I’ll never forget the time he stopped to help those people stranded on the interstate when …”
“Your great-grandmother Viola was a little girl who chased threshing machines through the fields, road a neighbor’s white horse every Sunday when she was 14, and would steal her older brother’s bicycle when they were away so she could ride. She was amazing.”
There is another wall in our home on which photos are hung, at least metaphorically. On this wall hang the images of my other family members: the saints. They are there for much of the same reason as those of my family: to honor the memory of those Christians who came before. For the purpose of sharing stories about their time on this earth, both the serious and the funny, so that me and my family is reminded of our heritage as Catholics as well as learning lessons from the past.
I say metaphorically because I do not have that dedicated wall for our favorite saints, though I’m thinking that I should do so. We do have their images prevalent in our home either through the a holy card or bookmark, etc. But if I have a framed portrait of eight “Red Sox All-Time Greats” and their baseball cards displayed downstairs on a basement wall why on earth wouldn’t I have the same thing done for those whom I strive to emulate? We have pictures of pop stars, sports stars or movie stars all around us, few of whom are hardly role models of virtue or even of reality. Why not emphasize the lives of those who strove to do what we are called to do: imitate Christ.
I’ll present a brief list of my favorite Christian “relatives” tomorrow, but first a word to clear up a common misunderstanding about Catholics and the saints. Catholics do not worship the saints any more than you or I would worship my grandmother. They are human just as you or I are human. Where non-Catholics (and even some Catholics) get confused can be explained this way: we venerate the saints. Veneration given to the saints is called dulia. Higher veneration given to Mary is called hyperdulia. This devotion “differs essentially from the adoration which is given to the incarnate Word and equally to the Father and the Holy Spirit” (CCC 971). The only worship we are to do is the supreme worship or adoration due to God alone. This is called latria. (Go here for more background including how some branches of all major religions including Judaism, Hinduism, Islam and Buddhism practice veneration.)
There is a lot of good information on why it is that Catholics honor these holy men and women. I refer specifically to the following paragraphs in the Catechism of the Catholic Church: 956-959, 962 and 823-829. These paragraphs speak of our striving to be “more closely united to Christ”, of the Church and “its pilgrim members” honoring “with great respect the memory of the dead”. Of loving one another “all of us who … form one family in Christ.” Seems pretty straightforward and makes sense to me. But in the interest of brevity I will include only #957:
Communion with the saints. “It is not merely by the title of example that we cherish the memory of those in heaven; we seek, rather, that by this devotion to the exercise of fraternal charity the union of the whole Church in the Spirit may be strengthened. Exactly as Christian communion among our fellow pilgrims brings us closer to Christ, so our communion with the saints joins us to Christ, from whom as from its fountain and head issues all grace, and the life of the People of God itself”: We worship Christ as God’s Son; we love the martyrs as the Lord’s disciples and imitators, and rightly so because of their matchless devotion towards their king and master. May we also be their companions and fellow disciples!
Charity (love). Union. Strengthening ourselves through communion with the saints. Joining ourselves to Christ.
Sounds good to me.
Tomorrow I’ll post the eight “relatives” I would hang on my wall as a start. I say “start” because as is the case with all of us we come from huge families when we trace our lineage back further than a few generations. While the exact number of saints recognized by the Catholic Church is unknown, there are at least a thousand, all with different traits, personality quirks, at times strange stories and lessons to teach.
Kind of like our families.
Man: Ah, Is this the right room for an argument?
Arguer: I told you once.
Man: No you haven’t.
Arguer: Yes I have.
Arguer: Just now.
Man: No you didn’t.
Arguer: Yes I did.
Man: You didn’t
Arguer: I did!
Man: You didn’t!
Arguer: I’m telling you I did!
Man: You did not!!
Arguer: Oh, I’m sorry, just one moment. Is this a five minute argument or the full half hour?
The Argument Sketch from Monty Python’s Flying Circus
On April 11 I published a blog entry in which my primary topic was my lament about the dearth of understanding and getting along with one another through personal relationships. I (clumsily I admit) used as an illustration the recent meme of switching one’s Facebook profile to the pink and red equal sign in order to demonstrate one’s solidarity with a cause. I still think it’s empty symbolism used by those who are going along to get along and I could have probably chosen any number of similar memes. But here’s the thing: that’s my opinion.
I seem to have struck a nerve on one blogger in particular however who left a comment completely unrelated to the theme of the post and who launched into a barrage of assumptions and hypotheticals. It is here, despite my knowing better, that I made a mistake: a direct response. Having looked at this individual’s blog should have been enough to indicate to me that a response was futile and be met with hostility, but I tried anyhow. I have read through all of the posts on his/her blog back to its beginning in December 2012. There is a lot of food for thought contained on it. There is also an intense dislike for anything remotely considered religious. I say “intense dislike” and not “hatred” because I believe that word is abused far too much anymore in relation to things that we don’t like or agree with. If you like “x”, but I don’t agree with your liking “x” then I’m a “hater”. And so on and so forth. We don’t talk 1-on-1 anymore, but yell at each other through comboxes and computer screens.
And so I replied on April 15th. Today when I logged on to check my blog I learned that they had replied back, and had then gone to the trouble to post to their blog their comment that was still awaiting moderation in my comments box. Because as he/she said of me:
I suspect he will not have the honesty or courage to publish it, so I am publishing it here. If he remains an ideological coward and does not publish the comment, I will quote & post his entire article precipitating the comments here as well, …
Well if you look closely you will see that I published his/her comment. I have also corrected one item on my original response to him/her that he/she did properly call me out on. I quoted a paragraph from this article in my response and failed to include the link as a source. This was an oversight on my part, hardly intentional, but it was still wrong nonetheless and I own it. Hence the correction. He/she accuses me of lifting the quote from this article at the EPPC, a site I’d never heard of. I wish I had, for then I would have cited the correct source and perhaps worded my comment differently.
I had considered responding, line by line to his/her second comment but have decided against it. Twice the subject to which I was speaking has been disregarded and twice he/she has taken a direction in a preconceived grievance area in which he/she somehow magically purports to know anything and everything about my thoughts, feelings and intentions. My questions were not answered and/or deflected and the responses would make any modern politician proud. If this were to continue it would be a matter of time before we landed here:
So I’m going to stretch my own commenting guidelines and post his second response, and for what I hope is the only time, respond to someone’s comment with a dedicated posting. I’m also going to amend it further by adding a corollary that Stacy Transancos has given permission to use. My response? Well, you pretty much just read it.
But since it was brought up by this individual here are two other points on the topic of the redefinition of marriage and supposed bigotry of Catholics towards homosexuals. In my original response I said I objected to “the dishonest attempts at destroying a word.” His/her response was:
… And I still have no idea what you mean to imply by calling the attempts ‘dishonest.’ There is no agenda in the pursuit of equality beyond equality. To suggest otherwise is to fraught your argument with a level of irrationality that I think you’d like to think you are above. No one wants to destroy anything. They just want to be included in what you claim that they want to destroy. So can we sit for a minute and see how your assertion doesn’t make sense…
It doesn’t? Meet lesbian journalist and homosexual activist Masha Gessen.
“It’s a no-brainer that (homosexual activists) should have the right to marry, but I also think equally that it’s a no-brainer that the institution of marriage should not exist. …(F)ighting for gay marriage generally involves lying about what we are going to do with marriage when we get there — because we lie that the institution of marriage is not going to change, and that is a lie.
The institution of marriage is going to change, and it should change. And again, I don’t think it should exist. And I don’t like taking part in creating fictions about my life. That’s sort of not what I had in mind when I came out thirty years ago.
I have three kids who have five parents, more or less, and I don’t see why they shouldn’t have five parents legally… I met my new partner, and she had just had a baby, and that baby’s biological father is my brother, and my daughter’s biological father is a man who lives in Russia, and my adopted son also considers him his father. So the five parents break down into two groups of three… And really, I would like to live in a legal system that is capable of reflecting that reality, and I don’t think that’s compatible with the institution of marriage.”
As for my supposed hatred and bigotry based upon “presumptions, lies” and “typical rhetoric”:
[Homosexuals] must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God’s will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord’s Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition. – Catechism of the Catholic Church, #2358
To this end meet Steve Gershom, a pro-Catholic, pro-chastity man with same-sex attraction.
Where are all these bigoted Catholics I keep hearing about? When I told my family a year ago, not one of them responded with anything but love and understanding. Nobody acted like I had a disease. Nobody started treating me differently or looking at me funny. The same is true of every one of the Catholic friends that I’ve told. They love me for who I am.
Actually, the only time I get shock or disgust or disbelief, the only time I’ve noticed people treating me differently after I tell them, is when I tell someone who supports the gay lifestyle. Celibacy?? You must be some kind of freak.
Hooray for tolerance of different viewpoints. I’m grateful to gay activists for some things — making people people more aware of the prevalence of homosexuality, making homophobia less socially acceptable — but they also make it more difficult for me to be understood, to be accepted for who I am and what I believe. If I want open-mindedness, acceptance, and understanding, I look to Catholics.
I’m sure this post will provide fodder for an ongoing series about how loathsome a creature I am.
No it won’t.
Yes it will.
Argument Sketch photo source.