Reviving the Classic Liberal Arts Education: what I heard at George Weigel’s lecture in Lincoln

weigel-lecture-info

On November 30th I had just arrived home from a long day at work when a good friend sent me a text inviting me to attend a lecture at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Newman Center. It was to be the final of four in the “Reborn in Wonder” series and since I’d had to miss the other three despite wanting to go, I accepted the invitation. Ninety minutes later Tom and I were in our seats in the second row. I learned afterwards from one of the organizers that the room sat 240, but with the people also standing at the back and sides the crowd was estimated at just over 250 people. The crowd was a mixture of college students, priests and religious sisters, as well as many interested laypeople. I saw and spoke with several of my peers afterwards. There were children present as well, and the front row just ahead of me contained five siblings ranging from I’d estimate early elementary to early high school in age.

For those not familiar with George Weigel you can read his Wikipedia entry. He is both a respected author and one of the leading Catholic intellectual voices of our age. I own four of his books and flirted with the idea of bringing one to be autographed but ultimately decided against it. As it turned out I should have as he signed a few after the lecture.

After an introduction courtesy of Professor John Freeh, Doctor of Philosophy, Mr. Weigel began the night by citing some recent survey stats. My apologies as I didn’t catch the source:

  • 35% of Millennials believe that George W. Bush killed more people than Stalin
  • Only 1/3 of Dutch young people thought it essential to live in a democratic state
  • Less than 30% of US young people thought the same
  • 35% of US population are Millennials, but those same Millennials comprise just 19% of the electorate
George Weigel

George Weigel

After establishing a bit of where we are now, he proceeded into the heart of his talk and what he called “The Revival of the Classic Liberal Arts Education”.

To start, he listed, defined and discussed Five Toxins/Solvents that are eating away at civilization.

  1. Gnosticism
  2. Skepticism
  3. Moral Relativism
  4. Radical Individualism
  5. The Will to Power as the center of the human condition. This in turn leads to “A Regime of Coercion”

Weigel also described the “Three-Legged Stool of Western Civilization”

  1. Jerusalem
  2. Athens
  3. Rome

Jerusalem: brought us the school of thought that said life is a journey, an adventure, a pilgrimage, and that life is NOT random. Here he mentioned the experiences and lessons of the Book of Exodus.

Athens: taught that there are truths. That human reason can grasp them in an orderly way. The “Principle of Non-Contradiction” was discussed.

Rome: taught us that the Rule of Law is superior to brute force when governing (even though they were also known to ignore this at times in their history).

By the 11th century the three legs had produced what we know as the Civilization of the West in which the Dignity of the Human Person was emphasized. This also ultimately led to the birth of the Democratic Project.

In the 19th century those three legs begin to be kicked out from under the stool.

weigel-1The first leg to be kicked out was Jerusalem.

  • The project of Atheistic Humanism
  • The God of the Bible as the enemy of human liberation and maturation. (This is ironic as God had entered into history as a Liberator as opposed to the gods of Egypt, Greece, etc., with their demands, child sacrifice, and treatment of persons as “chess pieces” to be lead around a cosmic game board.

The second leg to be removed was the Athenian leg.

  • If no rationality is built into the world…no Logos…then reason left to its own devices turns on itself.
  • The result: there is “your truth” and there is “my truth.” A view dominant in so many philosophy departments in universities today.

The final leg, left on its own, will then collapse. Thus the Rome leg and our entire stool was brought down.

  • If there is no truth, and no horizon of judgement, then I’ll impose my will on you or vice-versa.
  • This is known as “Coercion of the Will” (or Will to Power)
  • Students shutting down free speech on campuses, for example.
  • He referred to modern universities as “expensive daycare centers”, a term that elicited laughter from the crowd.

All of this, he said, is auto-constructed self-deconstruction. In other words, we’ve done this to ourselves. Communism lost. The Nazis lost. Fascism lost. Yet we alone did this to ourselves.

Weigel ended the night by talking about the lessons to be learned from rediscovering and reading what he called “the great books”. These are his Ten Lessons Learned from Classic Education:

  1. The dignity of the human person as inalienable
  2. The superiority of reason to raw emotionalism
    (Thinking trumps Emotion)
  3. The sense of responsibility for the common good
    (A willingness to contribute and sacrifice for the common good)
  4. The willingness to engage others with dignity and respect
    (Disagreement is not hate)
  5. The critical importance of integrity, prudence and maturity in public life
    (Character counts)
  6. The ability to distinguish between Wisdom and Whizbang (Twitter).
    (In other words, there is no way to find wisdom in 140 characters on Twitter or in brief Facebook status updates. Too many confuse the quick hit or even memes as some deep dark secret of life, or as wisdom.)
  7. The recognition that democracy depends on a critical mass of virtue in the citizenry.
    (Weimar Republic: while the architects built grand facades and pillars making it appear as a great, classic society, it masked the corruption and dissatisfaction within that ultimately led to Hitler rising to power through a free election.)
  8. The instinct for sniffing out demagoguery
    (Learning to recognize when the man of power is a demagogue in disguise)
  9. An appreciation for the truly beautiful, not the transiently amusing.
    (We are amusing ourselves to death. Get yourselves, and most importantly your children, away from the screens.)
  10. A sense of life as adventure.
    (Life has a goal and a direction. This goes against the zeitgeist of our post-modern line of thought that says “life is a burden.”)

Weigel concluded by emphasizing the need for Virtue and the things needed to become a free and virtuous society.

  1. Democratic Society
  2. Free market Economy
  3. Vibrant Moral Culture

It takes a certain kind of people with certain virtues to make the machinery of political and economic society work.

So taking all of the above into consideration, what heals a wounded culture? Mr. Weigle’s response: An encounter with great thinkers and great minds of the past.

Throughout the evening he mentioned books such as The Aenid, The Iliad, The Odyssey, Night by Elie Wiesel, and the Bible. And writers/thinkers such as Aristotle, Augustine, Dostoyevsky and Aquinas.

Weigel ended his lecture with the following closing remarks: Honor the wisdom of the past and extend it into the future.

There was a brief Q&A afterwards. I raised my hand to ask what we as parents could do to help facilitate this education for our children given the fact that so many universities no longer appear to back their professors who teach a classical education. Here I was going to allude to the goings on at Providence College and Dr. Anthony Esolen (you can get a good overview of it by reading this article and the links within it), but a man behind me was called on first and he asked essentially the same question. Weigel’s response was to reiterate what he’d said earlier about removing the screens from our children’s lives and not only having the classics within our homes but to model good behavior for our children and read them. Read them together and discuss them. He talked about one family he knew that had a weekly family movie night, and while they would watch popular movies together they would also watch classics such as A Man For All Seasons and talk a bit about them with their kids as well.

Bishop Conley's closing remarks.

Bishop Conley’s closing remarks.

An interesting question was posed by a woman in the audience: If you could give one book to everyone in America what would it be? After humorously hinting towards a forthcoming book of his to be published early next year, Weigel once more referred to a book he’d talked about early in the lecture that he’d enjoyed that was written by James Traub John Quincy Adams: Militant Spirit. At over 600 pages however Mr. Weigel that might be a tough one to get everyone to read. After thinking it over audibly for a minute he said that although it wasn’t a book, he’d give everyone a DVD set of the HBO miniseries John Adams, based on the book of the same name by David McCullough.

Once the Q&A was complete, our Diocese of Lincoln Bishop James Conley closed the evening with a few remarks and a closing prayer.

I plan to do a quick follow up to this blog next week to discuss reading the classics. I determined that it would make this article too long. My apologies for the outline/bullet point nature of what I captured during the lecture. I learned to take notes that way to survive my history and political science lectures in college and I still use them to this day.

Friday Five – Volume 114

I’m a day late with this, but wanted to pass this along courtesy of Fr. Richard Heilman:

Be Thankful

Be thankful that you don’t already have everything you desire,
If you did, what would there be to look forward to?

Be thankful when you don’t know something
For it gives you the opportunity to learn.

Be thankful for the difficult times.
During those times you grow.

Be thankful for your limitations
Because they give you opportunities for improvement.

Be thankful for each new challenge
Because it will build your strength and character.

Be thankful for your mistakes
They will teach you valuable lessons.

Be thankful when you’re tired and weary
Because it means you’ve made a difference.

It is easy to be thankful for the good things.
A life of rich fulfillment comes to those who are
also thankful for the setbacks.

GRATITUDE can turn a negative into a positive.
Find a way to be thankful for your troubles
and they can become your blessings.

That’s the main course, on to the seconds (or thirds…or fourths…)

Friday Five-Mere Observations

— 1 —

Here’s your Word of the Year, ladies and gentlemen. It’s sadly appropriate.

The Oxford Dictionary, after a tumultous year of political exaggeration and media distortion, has chosen “Post-Truth” as its Word of the Year.

In making the announcement, Casper Grathwohl, President of the Global Business Development & Dictionaries Division at Oxford University Press, predicted that “post-truth” could become “one of the defining words of our time.” Grathwohl added,

“Fueled by the rise of social media as a news source and a growing distrust of facts offered up by the establishment, post-truth as a concept has been finding its linguistic footing for some time.”

The dictionary defines “post-truth” as

“Relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.”

I’ve got to say that the Oxford Dictionary has hit the nail on the head. This is a definition which affirms the feelings of transgender individuals over the scientific reality of “x” and “y” chromosomes, and ranks “feelings” over objective truth when college students retreat to their “safe spaces” complaining of racism and inequality and gender discrimination.

— 2 —

To continue what I said last week about enjoying movies that tell stories (and not the kind you find in a superhero comic):

 

 

H/T to Steven Greydanus

— 3 —

Recently Msgr. Charles Pope wrote about The Modern Tendency to Get Lost in Our Devices. It’s an excellent article in which he cites an article in First Things written by Patricia Snow. It seems we read these types of articles with more frequency these days as people are awakening from the stupor of what staring at a screen has done to them and their ability to interact with others or function in society. But it was the following passage that really stood out to me (in particular what I boldfaced):

That’s right, the effects of becoming lost in our devices lead to semi-permanent problems and symptoms we usually attribute to autism spectrum disorders. This affects not only human conversation, but even more so the conversation with God that we call prayer. Snow writes,

For all the current concern about technology’s effects on human relationships, little or nothing is being said about its effects on man’s relationship with God. If human conversations are endangered, what of prayer, a conversation like no other? All of the qualities that human conversa­tion requires—patience and commitment, an ability to listen and a tolerance for aridity—prayer requires in greater measure. Yes, here is the one conversation Satan most wants to end.

So here is the problem: there is an increasing loss in our ability to relate to other people and to God. The virtual is prized over the real, fantasy over reality. What God actually offers us is dismissed as of lesser value and we become more deeply locked in our own little world. It is a perfect recipe for Hell since it also describes it: turned in on oneself and away from God and others.

What is the way out of this descent into a self-enclosed virtual world?

It’s worth your time to read the rest and have that question answered. And while I’ve thought of it off and on, it wasn’t until reading that paragraph from Ms. Snow that I saw it in black and white. As a father it is a very real concern of mine. As a citizen watching our culture devolve into an unthinking, reactionary and angry society it alarms me to no end.

— 4 —

According to NPR many people are taking steps to cut back on social media after this election.

Rachael Garrity posted a farewell message on Facebook. She told her “friends” — that’s how she puts it in an email to NPR, in quotes — that she would delete her account. An email from her son followed: Are you OK?

“I am finding Facebook to have a negative impact on my continuing to keep a positive feeling regarding some of the people I have known longest and cherish most,” writes Garrity, who has worked in not-for-profit marketing and publishing since the 1970s.

Garrity was one of more than 150 people who have shared their stories with NPR, recapping how they are recalibrating their attitude toward social media after this year’s election. Donald Trump’s surprise victory ended an emotional roller-coaster of a presidential race, which has left Facebook, Google and Twitter scrambling to rein in a proliferation of fake news and harassing behavior.

“What was really shocking to me was how many people who I consider to be smart were sharing things that were not so smart, definitely obviously fake but matched whatever viewpoint that they pushed or agreed with,” says Michael Lowder. He’s Garrity’s grandson — and he shared her story with NPR because, true to her word, she has quit Facebook, where NPR posted the call-out.

— 5 —

Amy Welborn addressed a question I see repeatedly being asked in the days and weeks following the election: What do we tell the children? Amy is always worth reading and this week she articulated thoughts I’ve sifted in my own head and she brought some order to them.

On Christ the King Sunday last week I exchanged a few texts with a good friend of mine in which I mentioned that it seemed to me the reason so many Hillary supporters were wailing and gnashing their teeth is because they, like so many Obama supporters, had elevated a politician to the role of a savior. All their trust, all their self-esteem, all their faith in who they are is entrusted to a fallible human being beholden to their donors. To be fair, I see this on the right side of the spectrum too, and became disgusted when I’d see Trump memes appear after he won his party’s nomination this summer. Memes that suggested all our problems would be fixed by Trump. Many was the time during this whole election spectacle that I recalled a favorite passage from Holy Scripture:

It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to put confidence in man. It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to put confidence in princes. – Psalm 118:8-9

Instead of asking What do we tell the children?, Amy asks What have you been telling your children?

I would also ask What have you been telling yourself?

Scenes from wartime: “This constant strain.”

churchofspies_bookcoverAmongst the books in the stack next to my bed garnering attention is Church of Spies: The Pope’s Secret War Against Hitler by Mark Riebling. Published in November 2016, the book was gifted to me last spring from a grateful friend who had borrowed several books from me while she researched a college paper. While it has its slower moments, the book really is a fascinating and, at times, exciting read set during a time of madness. The only reason I have not finished it by now is my own inability to focus my attention on one book at a time. While I have the attention span of a gnat these days I do highly recommend this book.

I pulled the excerpt below from the end of Chapter 15: Shootout at the Cathedral. In my haste I neglected to write down the time period of this meeting between a German politician, Josef Müller and Wilhelm Canaris, a German admiral. They had met at a German hotel to exchange information when they discovered that the SS, led by Ernst Kaltenbrunner, had already staked out a table in the hotel restaurant. I thought it did a great job of capturing the intrigue and strain these men were under in such a dangerous time.

*****

Müller went upstairs to Canaris’s room. Canaris did not seem quite himself, and the report of Kaltenbrunner’s presence seemed to unhinge him. (SS spy chief Ernst Kaltenbrunner is described as “taller than the rest, with a long scar down his cheek.) He started knocking on the walls, looking for microphones. He took the pictures down and scrutinized the areas behind them, then ran his hands under the edges of the tables and the chairs. Apparently satisfied, Canaris put his coat over the telephone and asked about the interrogation. Müller said that they had asked about his Vatican missions, but he had purged all his files before Sauermann arrived. They found nothing. But Canaris worried about the money Dohnanyi had given Schmidhuber for U-7. They seemed trapped. The admiral sank into a chair and muttered, half to himself, “This constant strain.” His nerves seemed shot.

muller-canaris-kaltenbrunner

L to R: Müller, Canaris, Kaltenbrunner

Müller saw only one way out. Canaris should reconsider Keitel’s offer to let military intelligence set up its own internal policing unit, so that Canaris could investigate crimes within his own service. In their current straits, that certainly would help them control the probe.

Canaris would not consider that. The Rosa Luxemburg case haunted him. After Luxemburg’s assassination by a paramilitary Freikorps in 1919, Canaris had served as a junior officer at the court-martial, which imposed a strangely lenient judgment on the perpetrators. Some suspected him of complicity in Luxemburg’s death. He wanted nothing to do with “manhunts,” he told Müller. He already had enough emotional burdens from “the old days.” Rising abruptly, he suggested that they go downstairs to eat.

Müller suggested they eat elsewhere, given the SS stakeout. Canaris disagreed. They should always do the unexpected. When a sniper had someone in his sights, he said, the target must break cover to confuse him. As they descended the stairs, however, Canaris grabbed Müller to steady himself. “That criminal,” he said in a loud voice, “is still sacrificing millions of people just to prolong his miserable life.” Startled, Müller pulled him back into the room to recompose. When they stepped out into the hall again, Canaris slung an arm around him and said, “My nerves, my nerves! I can’t stand it anymore.” No one know what he had endured since 1933. He murmured about a tightening noose and then forced his face into a mask of normality. Together they descended to the restaurant to meet the enemy over a four-course meal.

Canaris sat down and nodded to Kaltenbrunner. Müller sat by Canaris. They all talked like old friends. The surreal dinner had the feel of a parlay between the Greeks and the Trojans. When it ended, the war resumed. Over the next months, Müller would return to the Vatican, and the pope would again become an active conspirator—as the plotters accelerated their plans to destroy Hitler before he could destroy them.

– from Church of Spies: The Pope’s Secret War Against Hitler by Mark Riebling. Chapter 15: Shootout at the Cathedral, pp.140-141.

*****

Postcript

Josef Müller (27 March 1898 – 12 September 1979), also known as “Ochsensepp”, was a German politician. He was a member of the resistance during World War II and afterwards one of the founders of the Christian Social Union (CSU). He was a devout Catholic and a leading figure in the Catholic resistance to Hitler.

Wilhelm Franz Canaris (1 January 1887 – 9 April 1945) was a German admiral and chief of the Abwehr, the German military intelligence service, from 1935 to 1944. Initially a supporter of Adolf Hitler, he later turned against the Nazis as he felt Germany would lose another major war. During the Second World War he was among the military officers involved in the clandestine opposition to the Nazi regime. He was executed in Flossenbürg concentration camp for high treason as the Nazi regime was collapsing.

Ernst Kaltenbrunner (4 October 1903 – 16 October 1946) was an Austrian-born senior official of Nazi Germany during World War II. An Obergruppenführer (general) in the Schutzstaffel (SS), between January 1943 and May 1945 he held the offices of Chief of the Reich Main Security Office (Reichssicherheitshauptamt; RSHA). He was the highest-ranking member of the SS to face trial at the first Nuremberg trials. He was found guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity and executed.

Friday Five – Volume 113

I’m composing this week’s Friday Five post using a new web browser called “Brave”. When former Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich was forced out of his job rather unceremoniously and unfairly, I kept tabs on his work because Firefox was my favorite browser thanks largely due to his acumen, and I’d heard he was going to go back to work in creating a competitor. He recently released Brave and after reading about it I decided to download it for use. Not because Firefox is awful (that honor belongs to Microsoft Edge) but because of the totalitarian manner in which they dumped the guy who created their success. Some of the details are outlined in the article I linked to. Congratulations Mr. Eich. So far (admittedly just a few hours) I am really liking Brave. It’s fast, automatically blocks ads and trackers, and says it’s safer.

Moving forward…

Friday Five-Mere Observations

— 1 —

Two excerpted passages that got me to thinking about the great dearth of information we absorb every waking hour in this modern age, and yet are nowhere near as wise as we could be…should be.

The first is from a poem by Edna St. Vincent Millay, in her collection Huntsman, What Quarry? (source)

Upon this gifted age, in its dark hour,
Rains from the sky a meteoric shower
Of facts . . . they lie unquestioned, uncombined.
Wisdom enough to leech us of our ill
Is daily spun, but there exists no loom
To weave it into fabric.

The second is from something I posted on this date in 2010 and was reminded of recently. It comes from Ecclesiastes, included in the Divine Office for the day.

Though I said to myself, “Behold, I have become great and stored up wisdom beyond all who were before me in Jerusalem, and my mind has broad experience of wisdom and knowledge”; yet when I applied my mind to know wisdom and knowledge, madness and folly, I learned that this also is a chase after wind. For in much wisdom there is much sorrow, and he who stores up knowledge stores up grief.

I can attest to the truth in that last line. Not necessarily because I’m all that wise, but the truth in the fact that the deeper you go into things, not just skimming the surface in a wide array of factoids and headlines but into the very roots and causes of our struggles, one will often find sorrow…and grief…because we just can’t seem to get out of our way, learn from our mistakes, let go of past wrongs, and move forward.

Therein lies the tragedy in my mind. And it has ever been so.

— 2 —

In what was the best article I read this week, Fr. George Rutler wrote the following:

Watching all of the post-election angst, protests and violence reminds me that T.S. Eliot was right when he wrote in “The Four Quartets”: “Humankind cannot bear very much reality.”

Perhaps the second best (in my eyes) was Sam Guzman’s blog a few days ago named “Love Your (Political) Enemies”. Sam begins with a litany of terms thrown about much too casually these days:

Fascist. Snowflake. Liberal weenie. Nazi. Racist, xenophobic, bigot. Idiot. Moron. Ignorant fool.

It’s getting worse because while those names used to be reserved for online rants, more and more people are saying it too each other, face-to-face, in what has become a titanic divide among us.

I invite you to read it all, and I’m including the final two paragraphs below because they refer to a man I use more and more as a guiding star through this darkness.

St. Maximilian Kolbe lived in dark times in the days before and during World War II.  There was a great deal of hate and propaganda being disseminated on all sides.  And yet this saint, holy as he was, did not participate in the evil being spread everywhere.  He did not return hate for hate, bitterness for bitterness.  I conclude with his words, which describe the true spirit of the children of God.

“Genuine love rises above creatures and soars up to God.  In Him, by Him, and through Him it loves all men, both good and wicked, friends and enemies.  To all it stretches out a hand filled with love; it prays for all, suffers for all, wishes what is best for all, desires happiness for all, because that is what God wants.”

— 3 —

This is a little story about four people named Everybody, Somebody, Anybody, and Nobody.

There was an important job to be done and Everybody was sure that Somebody would do it.

Anybody could have done it, but Nobody did it.

Somebody got angry about that because it was Everybody’s job.

Everybody thought that Anybody could do it, but Nobody realized that Everybody wouldn’t do it.

It ended up that Everybody blamed Somebody when Nobody did what Anybody could have done.

(source unknown)

— 4 —

Jessica Chastain has been one of my favorite actresses ever since her role in The Tree of Life. I saw the trailer for The Zookeeper’s Wife yesterday and am looking forward to watching it. Apparently it’s based on the book of the same name, a bestseller published in 2008 written by Diane Ackerman. From the book’s page on Amazon:

A true story in which the keepers of the Warsaw Zoo saved hundreds of people from Nazi hands. After their zoo was bombed, Polish zookeepers Jan and Antonina Zabinski managed to save over three hundred people from the Nazis by hiding refugees in the empty animal cages. With animal names for these “guests,” and human names for the animals, it’s no wonder that the zoo’s code name became “The House Under a Crazy Star.” Best-selling naturalist and acclaimed storyteller Diane Ackerman combines extensive research and an exuberant writing style to re-create this fascinating, true-life story―sharing Antonina’s life as “the zookeeper’s wife,” while examining the disturbing obsessions at the core of Nazism.

When you add that movie to my wanting to see Hacksaw Ridge this weekend, and the new movie about the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings called Patriots Day (link to trailer), there are still movies worth going to that don’t include Marvel or DC Comic superheroes. Movies that tell stories about the human condition. Thank God for that.

— 5 —

In the two hours I’ve had the Brave browser open it tells me that it has done the following:

brave-scorecard

 

 

 

(An hour later and those numbers are now 116, 24, 76 and 7.)

I like it.

I’ll end this week with a song about stories. And why it matters.

Sit with me and tell me once again
Of the story that’s been told us
Of the power that will hold us
Of the beauty, of the beauty
Why it matters

Speak to me until I understand
Why our thinking and creating
And our efforts of narrating
About the beauty, of the beauty
And why it matters

Like the statue in the park
Of this war torn town
And its protest of the darkness
And this chaos all around
With its beauty, how it matters
How it matters

Show me the love that never fails
Some compassion and attention
Amidst confusion and dissension
Like small ramparts for the soul
How it matters

Like a single cup of water
How it matters

Friday Five – Volume 112

Friday Five-Mere Observations

— 1 —

To all of the veterans I know, and most especially to my own son, I want to say a heartfelt thank you on this Veterans Day.

I am, in particular, fond of this screen capture from that video:

veteransday_kofc

— 2 —

The United States of America held an election this week. That’s a good thing. Before continuing below, please listen to this two minute NPR clip.

These are women who have put all their identity into the ideology of the liberal feminist and into the person that is Hillary Rodham Clinton. They have chosen to not embrace being made in the image and likeness of God, but have made themselves into the image of Hillary Clinton. They are not alone in this, as the temper tantrums, protests and violence that came after Clinton lost the election have shown. All of these protestors seem to have identified their candidates and party’s success with their own success. This is never a good idea. When Obama was elected in 2008, I prayed for the man and for his success as leader of my country. I didn’t cry. I didn’t lash out on social media. I accepted the result and moved on. I did the same in 2012.

From Robert Royal’s column on Monday comes the following imagined exchange between Socrates and Glaucon:

Glaucon: What, then, are we to do, Socrates?

Socrates: First, O impetuous Glaucon, we must clearly understand our condition, which will not be solved by the vote because the disease is not, in the first place, political. To think that it is, is like the bad physician who prescribes a treatment for the stone when the real malady is gout. We are in a life-threatening state and cannot afford illusions about our health.

Glaucon: But what can we DO?

Socrates: We can do what good men must always do. Implore the god. Act well. Try to do good to our fellows, even when they do not do good to us. Make sacrifice for the city. Above all, the city that is divided will not become undivided unless the people undertake a serious time of conversing, face-to-face, among themselves, about the kind of city they wish to be. If the choice is a city that lives for the moment, that looks not to the past and the wisdom of the elders, or that cares not for those who must be allowed to be born for the city to survive – and for people to realize their own place in the generations – then the votes may hasten or slow the end. But the end will, in either case, be near.

— 3 —

It is well worth your time to read this entire article by Kenneth Crowther over at Crisis. In particular I thought the following passage did a tremendous job of describing the noise of this past election season, and if the current nightly rioting is any indication, the noise to come. Our challenge is in recognizing the noise and learning how to combat it with silence.

Humanity’s hideous strength is our ability to create. It is a strength because it is a gift from God—he purposed us to work the land, to co-redeem his creation. It is hideous when it is perverted; we have turned our ability to create into our desire to destroy. In the shadow of that hideous strength the sons of Noah lost their capacity for communion and that same shadow still stretches through time and darkens the hearts and minds of men. It is the shadow which even now we find ourselves in; the shadow that spreads the babble of Babel.

And babble is everywhere. Politics has been reduced to a farcical parody, people merely talking past each other. Debate lacks all logic. No one is interested in hearing, only speaking. Our opinion is fact and requires no proof. Other opinions are false, and no amount of proof will convince us otherwise. Words mean what we want them to mean, and because meaning is fluid, they’re not worth the breath with which they’re spoken. What we have may seem like communication, but it is most certainly not communion.

Every day it is the babble of Babel that corrupts conversation. It is evident on Facebook posts and Disqus comments; in conservative and liberal media alike; in classrooms and schoolyards; on talk show panels and presidential debates; at home in the nursery while the young mother scrolls through Instagram, and at work while the middle-aged man cannot go five minutes without checking the football score. It is why students no longer read books, and neither do teachers. Josef Pieper once wrote that people have lost the ability to see because there is too much to see. The same can be said for hearing. Noise, chaos, confusion and pandemonium fill our ears and desensitize us to the rhythms of created order and the common sense of logic and reason.

We cannot communicate properly because we do not want communion. We want dominion. We choose to reign in a Hell of confusion, rather than serve in a Heaven of true communication.

— 4 —

Becoming Catholic is to respond to a call to take up position in the front line of a battle – it is not for the faint hearted, or the cowardly; perhaps most importantly of all, it is, not for those who choose to leave something of themselves with the enemy – a sin, perhaps, or a ‘moral position’ that they are unwilling to surrender. In this war, which we call ‘life’, compromise with the enemy is fatal.

From Award-Winning Atheist Poet Writes Memoir with a Twist: Her Conversion

Perhaps the most truth-filled paragraph I’ve read in a long, long time.

— 5 —

If you’ve read my blog for any length of time you know how fond I am of the psalms. This article pulls from Chapter 14 of Peter Kreeft’s book You Can Understand the Bible. In particular the thing I like about it is its emphasis on how Christ is foreshadowed in the Psalms. Do yourselves a favor this weekend. Grab a highlighter, sit down with your bible, and make note of the following 22 Old and New Testament passages that Kreeft lists below.

*****

Many passages in the Psalms, as well as whole psalms, are messianic.  If we had none of the rest of the Old Testament but only the Psalms, we would still be able to “check it out” and we that Christ fulfilled the Old Testament patterns and predictions.  For instance, compare:

  1. Psalm 2:7 with Matthew 3:17;
  2. Psalm 8:6 with Hebrews 2:8;
  3. Psalm 16:10 with Mark 16:6-7;
  4. Psalm 22:1 with Matthew 27:46;
  5. Psalm 22:7-8 with Luke 23:35;
  6. Psalm 22:16 with John 20:25, 27;
  7. Psalm 22:18 with Matthew 27:35-36;
  8. Psalm 34:20 with John 19:32-36;
  9. Psalm 35:11 with Mark 14:57;
  10. Psalm 35:19 with John 15:25;
  11. Psalm 40:7-8 with Hebrews 10:7;
  12. Psalm 41:9 with Luke 22:47;
  13. Psalm 45:6 with Hebrews 1:8;
  14. Psalm 68:18 with Mark 16:19;
  15. Psalm 69:9 with John 2:17;
  16. Psalm 69:21 with Matthew 27:34;
  17. Psalm 109:4 with Luke 23:34;
  18. Psalm 109:8 with Acts 1:20;
  19. Psalm 110:I with Matthew 22:44;
  20. Psalm 110:4 with Hebrews 5:6;
  21. Psalm 118:22 with Matthew 21:42; and
  22. Psalm 118:26 with Matthew 21:9.

(This list was compiled by Dr. Kenneth D. Boa.)

The Psalms are like an ocean fed by many rivers, many writers.  They are for wading in, bathing in, swimming in, surfing in, boating on, and even drowning in (for the mystics have loved and used them too).  Their authors include David (about half), Moses (90), Ezra (119), Solomon (72 and 127), Asaph, and many others.  They were written during a period of perhaps a thousand years, from the time of Moses, about 1400 B.C., to the return from exile about 430 B.C.  They will last forever.

After the Election: feasts and fence-mending

Last night I finally had enough and deactivated my Facebook account. I had removed it from my phone but would check in during the day once or twice. But yesterday even that was too much. I simply got tired of all the fake political news articles being posted. More than that however, I’m tired of being told who to vote for. Friends on the right yelling at me to vote for Trump. Friends on the left doing the same for Clinton. Not often in such nice terms. So I said “Enough”, selected the appropriate buttons on Facebook, and shut ‘er down.

Last week I wrote that on Election Night I was thinking of

…inviting over a few close friends I have on both sides of the partisan divide to break bread, enjoy a libation or two, and sit around the firepit. No phones. No politics. Perhaps taking a break from our conversation to pray a rosary or my leading/teaching them to pray Vespers (Protestants have been known to pray a form of the Divine Office) and in our own way we’d still be sanctifying time with our friendship. Common ground.

Soon after writing this I learned that I would be at my son’s junior high basketball game and therefore unable to do this tonight. But that doesn’t mean I’m opposed to doing so on another night. Indeed I’ve attempted this a few times but have thus far been unsuccessful due mostly to scheduling conflicts. But I’ll keep trying because I do feel it’s important to commune with people in a face-to-face environment. There’s something about “the screen” that makes us all a little crazy.

Someone else is regretting his actions on Twitter during this election process and unleashed this 29 Tweet mea culpa last night. And to further this thought process I recalled reading this entry written in the Magnificat Year of Mercy Companion by Monsignor Gregory E.S. Malovetz for November 4:

She learned at her family’s table. The daughter of Hungarian and Slovak parents, my mother grew up believing there was always room at the table. That belief followed her through all the years as a mother, grandmother, and today as a great-grandmother. There is always room at the table to squeeze in another person at Christmas, Easter, or other occasions. When the number grows from eleven to nineteen people, her response is always the same: “How could I say no?”

Paul’s Letter to the Romans is his longest, written to introduce himself and present his message to them. One of the great themes of this letter is the universal call of Jesus to follow him. Jews and Gentiles alike are offered the invitation to sit at the table.

There is something both touching and challenging when we realize that he can never say no. Anyone with a sincere heart is welcomed. Paul writes he has mercy upon whom he wills (Romans 9:18), insisting that in God there is always the spirit of welcome. The followers of Jesus, to live that mercy, must cultivate a spirit of welcome. We must be willing to confront the hard truth: whom do we exclude not only from our dining tables but from the table of the human family? We can understand God’s mercy only when we are challenged by the question, “How could I say no?”

friendsatdinner

As this cycle winds down and we prepare to emerge on the other side, no matter who wins we must find a way to put this behind us and come together at table. In the last few months I’ve upset friends on the left and the right for not supporting “the obvious choice”, i.e. their choice. One woman, a Catholic mom and registered Democrat that I’ve known for over fourteen years and whose son I coached in little league unfriended me on Facebook because of the singular political post I wrote about the leaked emails that showed the Clinton campaign and John Podesta were working actively against the Catholic Church in order to create confusion and cause a “Catholic spring”. (I’m not providing links to the Podesta story because they are legion and I’m tired of it.) This upset her so much that this friend who had been averaging 2-3 political posts a day to my zero political posts accused me of “just posting too much political crap” and blocked me. I like to think that her exiting our church next to me after Mass a week later was more uncomfortable for her than for me.

Actually I don’t like to think that. The whole episode is just a sad reminder of how far our civility and discourse as a nation has fallen. While I’m definitely guilty of Pride when it comes to the “Seven Deadlies”, Gluttony is a very close second. Yet I can think of nothing better to do than to pull people together over a good meal, drink and conversation. Oh, and no screens allowed.

Over at First Things in an article named Cocktail Theology, William Dailey writes:

“God gives us wine to cheer our souls,” sayeth the psalmist—and quite right, too. It was no accident that our Lord’s public ministry began at a joyous wedding celebration, one saved by the generous intervention of Christ in providing the greatest vintage ever poured. There’s a conviviality to a shared libation that draws us together, lifts our spirits, and cuts what Walker Percy called “the cold phlegm of Wednesday afternoons.”

So on that note I say “Sláinte!” as we begin to hopefully mend some fences in need of serious care. In addition to this feasting and fence-mending, and as this election falls further back in the rearview mirror, I will strive to do as Fr. Longenecker pledged when he wrote:

I will try to say the Divine Office for the good of the world and Christ’s church. I will attempt to pray the rosary every day for the blessing of my family, my parish and the world and for the defeat of evil. I will attempt to promote the rosary and the Divine Mercy for the salvation of souls and for the good of all people.

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Photo source

Friday Five – Volume 111

Friday Five-Mere Observations

— 1 —

As a Red Sox fan I had no horse in this year’s World Series. While I generally say that the Cubs are my second favorite team I have to admit that it’s really the Cubs of the 1980s. Those were the years from my childhood when I would watch them almost daily on WGN with Jack Brickhouse, and then famously Harry Caray, doing the announcing. I watched mostly day games, and then the first night game in Wrigley Field history (1986). I watched Marla the Ball Girl (until she was fired for posing in Playboy) and the Bleacher Bums. I remember the brick backstop before it became littered with blue screens of advertising. And of course the players: Jody Davis, Ryne Sandberg, Greg Moreland, Ferguson Jenkins, Ron Cey, Ivan DeJesus, Andre “The Hawk” Dawson and Lee Smith. And many more.

I’m also painfully familiar with long World Series droughts. It took the Sox 86 years to break the dreaded Curse of the Bambino so I was rooting for the Cubs more than the Indians. But like the Cubs, who had familiar Red Sox faces of recent memory like Jon Lester, David Ross and front office wizard Theo Epstein, the Indians had Greg Napoli, Coco Crisp, Andrew Miller and manager Terry Francona.

What I guess I hoped for the most was a memorable Series that would hopefully go the full seven games. And did it ever deliver, with the Cubs winning Game 7 in ten innings, 8-7 after falling behind 3 games to 1 and having to win the last three to clinch it all for the first time since 1908.

Congratulations to Cubs fans everywhere. Soak it all in and enjoy these days and months between now and Opening Day in 2017. This is your time.

coffeewithjesus_cubs

PS: I do have to say however that I am sick to death of hearing “Go Cubs Go“. I much prefer the 2004 Sox anthem “Tessie” but, for this year at least, maybe that’s just me.

— 2 —

I have said very little about this year’s election and I still will hold to my silence. I’m tired of all the nasty and uncivil campaigning. So I thought I’d go back into history when our nation was pristine and unspoiled.

“I’m John Adams, and I approve this message because Jefferson is the son of a half-breed Indian squaw raised on hoe cakes. And Hamilton is a Creole bastard brat of a Scotch peddler.”

Well shoot. Nevermind.

 

— 3 —

But my sin was this, that I looked for pleasure, beauty, and truth not in him but in myself and his other creatures, and the search led me instead to pain, confusion, and error. – St.Augustine

Last week Father Dwight Longenecker wrote a brief article on his blog about why he predicts trouble ahead for America no matter who wins the election. After a few paragraphs discussing the passions and divisions revealed during this campaign season, he gets to the root of the problem.

Here’s why: when people are not penitent they blame others for their unhappiness. Because of our fallen nature we believe (in our pride) that we are right, we are good, we are okay, we are the best. If this is the case, then when we are unhappy it cannot possibly be our fault. If it is not our fault, then it is somebody else’s fault.

So the default setting is that it is someone else’s fault.

We must therefore find someone else to blame. We cannot possibly admit that we are to blame for our unhappiness. That would be to admit that we are not the perfectly right and correct and good people we think we are.

So we blame the blacks, or we blame the whites. We blame the rich. We blame the poor.  We blame the immigrants or we blame the citizens. We blame the liberals or we blame the conservatives.

[snip]

If we are not penitent then we must blame someone else. It’s logical.

If this is the problem, then the solution is simple.

“Only the penitent man may pass.”

Saying “Sorry, Yes. It’s me. I’m to blame. It’s my fault. I’m responsible for my problems.” That is the only way our country can avoid the division, strife, and (I fear) violence that lies before us.

“Too Much Pride” is a cut from Cass County, Don Henley’s 2015 solo album. I was listening to the album again yesterday and was reminded of this song as I read Fr. Longenecker’s blog.

How many heavens are hopelessly lost?
How many tender loves has vanity cost?
Lord, help the soul that can’t be satisfied
Too much pride

[snip]

Empires rise and empires fall
Stick around here long enough, you’ll see it all
Now it looks like it’s gone nationwide
Too much pride

— 4 —

Every other fall I have been attending Ignatian retreats at Broom Tree in southeastern South Dakota. I failed to make it this year and have been regretting it for the past month or so. While I intend to go next year I’ve also been excited about a new retreat center being constructed much closer to home here in eastern Nebraska. The Cloisters on the Platte was announced a few years ago and once the website was constructed I quickly registered to be on their mailing list as well as their retreat list. Last week I received an email from them updating us on the progress. It also contained this video that provides a look at the construction progress so far.

Be sure to watch the video on the website’s main page as well. It does a great job of explaining the planning and goals involved for the creation of this place. I can’t wait to experience it for myself.

— 5 —

On a personal note I’m sorry to say I missed pretty much most of what has always been a favorite time of year for me: All Hallow’s Eve, All Saints Day, and All Souls Day. Yes, I handed out candy again this year, though my daughter mostly did the honors. Yes, I attended Mass on All Saints Day. But I missed out on praying the Divine Office on that day and on All Souls Day November 2nd. On that day we pray the Office of the Dead which has always been something I look forward to.

I missed these events mostly due to spending time with our oldest son. He returned from his deployment in Iraq earlier in mid-October and arrived at our home for his leave on Saturday. We hadn’t talked to him in person or on the phone since his departure in late March. I took the day off from work on November 2nd in order to assist him with his goal of purchasing a truck. So after doing our research for a few days we hit the road in my car early Wednesday and drove from Lincoln to Bellevue and finally Seward where he was able to meet his goal of purchasing a newer 4×4 Ford truck. He paid for it mostly out of his own pocket and financed the rest. Yesterday I helped him obtain three auto insurance quotes before we decided the local route through my own auto insurance agent, a long-time friend of our family, was best. He asked if I’d go with him but I knew he needed to do this on his own and sent him solo. At some point they have to be the one’s meeting face-to-face with agents, or dealers, or bankers, etc. in order to gain the experience, but more importantly the confidence to tackle these things on their own.

And so he’s grown up. Before he turns 21 in January he has purchased a vehicle, is paying for the insurance, and paying for his mobile phone. He has also been deployed to a part of the world torn apart by endless war. On our hour-long drive from Bellevue to Seward we had an opportunity to talk a little about what he’d experienced in Iraq. He quietly but matter-of-factly told me about the wounded Iraqi soldier casualties he’d treated. To me, settled comfortably in the Midwestern United States on the other side of the world, he was describing a horror show. One casualty in particular, an Englishman killed by a roadside bomb, will stay with me a long while.

I thought of these things while reading this article today.

Seven young women in Kirkuk credit the Virgin Mary for their safety after spending a harrowing eight hours hidden underneath beds while Islamic State group fighters used their room as a hideout during an assault on the city.

“The Virgin Mary was with them,” Father Roni Momika told CNA Oct. 23.

The priest, who ministers in the refugee camps of Ankawa, Erbil, in northern Iraq, was in cellphone contact with two of the girls while they hid under the beds. They gave him a play-by-play account of what was happening.

Seven university students in Kirkuk found themselves threatened by the Islamic State group’s assault on the city on Oct. 21.

“ISIS entered the house of our students, the girls,” the priest reported.

When they heard the militants coming, the women quickly darted under four beds in one of the rooms, where they remained undiscovered for eight hours as ISIS fighters used the room as a refuge to eat, pray and hide from Iraqi Army forces.

“I was speaking with them all the time,” Father Momika said, noting how there was “a strong girl” who told him, “Father, I will continue speaking with you and tell you all our news and what ISIS is saying.”

For the duration of their time there, the militants not only ate and prayed, but used the beds to care for two of their fighters who were wounded.

“On one bed there is a lot of blood,” the priest said.

He shared with CNA some photos taken of the room after the soldiers left. He explained that “when ISIS was attacked by our army (the Iraqi Army), there were two people from ISIS injured, and ISIS put them here on these beds … and under the beds were the girls.”

This is why I am an advocate of prayer and need it in my life. It keeps me tethered to the Divine while having my feet here in this fallen world.

The Office of the Dead is not reserved solely for All Souls Day. For that reason I plan to pray it soon.