Friday Five – Volume 108

I don’t know where to begin. I haven’t written a word outside of emails in a long time. I’ve tried to start. Several times. My excuse during the spring and summer was that I was just too busy with my son’s baseball schedule. But that excuse has been gone for almost a month now. The kids are back in school. And I’m faced by the fact that I just cannot muster the will to write for the first time in almost two decades. It’s like I’m staring at a 50 foot wall and just cannot find a way over or around it.

This is my attempt to begin to knock down that wall.

Mostly my summer was filled with baseball, taking my daughter to the neighborhood pool, and awaiting the return of our oldest. Squeezed into all of that a columnist at our local paper wrote a nice follow-up story to one she’d written ten years ago regarding me and some of the little league boys I used to coach. The result was The baseball that went to Iraq and back and the boys who became men.”

In the meantime I’ve been keeping busy with some reading. I’m still working my way through Paige Erickson’s excellent The Nice Thing About Strangers, Particles of Faith by Stacy Trasancos and Champions of the Rosary by Fr. Donald Calloway. Once I’ve completed those I’m finally going to tackle a long-time goal and read The City of God by St. Augustine. At this time in history it really feels like a book I need to read.

*Full Disclosure: Paige was kind enough to include me in the Acknowledgements portion of her book and Stacy had an advance copy of her book in Kindle format sent to me for reading. I really want to finish both books and write what would be my very first Amazon book reviews. I do not know Fr. Calloway, but his book is one of the best I’ve ever read on the subject of the Rosary (or any subject, really). Obviously I never met St. Augustine of Hippo…but I wish I had.

Friday Five-Mere Observations

— 1 —

It’s been almost three years since we cut the satellite television signal out of our lives. Not only did this serve to liberate our pocketbook but our minds as well. A fact proven to me every time we find ourselves at a hotel for an overnight stay during baseball season. This summer found us staying in six or seven cities and each time my children couldn’t wait to turn on the television so they could watch cable. This never lasted long however as the bombardment of commercials every 7-10 minutes became too overwhelming for them. This was a relief to my wife and I as we paid attention to the content now on display on our children’s former favorite channels like Disney, Nickelodeon and ABC Family (now no longer calling itself by that name which may be the first honest thing they’ve done at that network).

Near the end of July my son and I spent a week in Utah for his final tournament of the year. It was here that my son actually advocated just shutting it off. We’d watch a ballgame on ESPN when it was on, but otherwise he at last understood why we got rid of cable television.

We are not without access to other things via the television besides what we receive over the air for free however. We subscribe to Netflix and Amazon Prime and so have discovered many television series and movies that we otherwise would never have known about. My 9-year old daughter spent the first half of the summer repeatedly watching the three seasons of “Liv & Maddie” on Netflix, and it became a family favorite as well. Other series we’ve enjoyed include “Merlin”, “Granite Flats” and “Spooksville”. On Amazon we’ve enjoyed the first season of “Just Add Magic” and three seasons of “Gortimer Gibbon’s Life on Normal Street.” We have also stumbled across and enjoyed many movies that were not box office champions but were instead terrific stories. I’m grateful to them.

As for me I’ve taken in “The Office”, “Firefly”, “Daredevil” and “Stranger Things” on Netflix. I’ve several others queued up for viewing, but my time is limited so it takes me awhile.

Plus the kids and I are currently about a third of the way through the journey we take now and then through the (sadly) only season of “The Adventures of Brisco County Jr.” that I own on DVD. I crack up every time my daughter says in her best cowboy drawl “You touched mah piece! Nobody touches mah piece!” Pete Hutter and Brisco’s horse Comet are her favs. My son likes Lord Bowler and Professor Wickwire (played to a tee by John Astin). Of course I’m partial to Dixie Cousins myself, but we all love Brisco.

— 2 —

Here’s an interesting quote I read the other day, spoken by FCC Commissioner Newton Minow:

When television is good, nothing — not the theater, not the magazines or newspapers — nothing is better.

But when television is bad, nothing is worse. I invite each of you to sit down in front of your own television set when your station goes on the air and stay there, for a day, without a book, without a magazine, without a newspaper, without a profit and loss sheet or a rating book to distract you. Keep your eyes glued to that set until the station signs off. I can assure you that what you will observe is a vast wasteland.

You will see a procession of game shows, formula comedies about totally unbelievable families, blood and thunder, mayhem, violence, sadism, murder, western bad men, western good men, private eyes, gangsters, more violence, and cartoons. And endlessly commercials — many screaming, cajoling, and offending. And most of all, boredom. True, you’ll see a few things you will enjoy. But they will be very, very few. And if you think I exaggerate, I only ask you to try it.

By the way, Minow did not recently make that statement. He said that in 1961.

His full speech is here.

I actually read that quote in the comments of this column written by Randall Smith for The Catholic Thing. One part in particular of his commentary resonated with me:

Televisions, computers, and iPhones are the perfect instruments for those who want to know everything about everything, but know nothing about themselves. (emphasis mine) The gadgets can reveal many things. The one thing you don’t usually see is yourself. Perhaps as a public service, every video screen should come equipped with a little “viewer’s box” – the kind you see when you’re using Skype or Google Chat – so that you have to look at yourself while you’re looking at the screen.

What would you see?

You might see a person interested and engaged – for a while. But if you were endlessly checking texts on your phone or watching television to “kill time,” what would you see then? A person sitting, staring blankly? A person with empty eyes? A person being drained of life?   Would you turn off the television, computer, or iPhone, or just stop using the “viewer’s box”? Would you turn away from the video screen, or just from looking at yourself looking at it?

What do I see? That unless I change my own habits I am going to continue down the path to zombiehood with the rest of our nation. I cannot merely point the finger at everyone else anymore. I need to change, too. It sounds like I watch a lot of television, but I average about an hour per day. No, it’s this damned phone. Zombie Nation.

— 3 —

The following was written by a convert to Catholicism. I read it (again) in the comments for and article I read this week (which I now cannot locate) and it struck me as being as close to the reasons for my own conversion as anything I’ve read (or written myself) so far. Someday I really do need to put it into my own words. Until then, there’s this:

I’m a convert to Roman Catholicism from Protestantism. Like many other converts, I was initially attracted by the depth of the intellectual tradition, the beauty of the architecture, church history, the truth of the moral teaching, but never found those to be sufficient reasons to enter the Church. For years I flirted with Rome; it was enough to read Aquinas and de Lubac on my own, to buy coffee table books of Gothic architecture, to consult the Catechism on any number of controverted ethical matters, but I could remain a Protestant and have those things sufficient to my needs. In the end, however, I heeded the rather stern advice of a priest who reminded me that St John and Our Lady were to be found with Jesus near the sacrifice of the cross while I was happy enough to look on from a safe distance. In other words, I entered the Church for the Eucharist. Not for the pope, not for the architecture, not for the theology, but to be with Jesus in the Tabernacle and on the Table. For my entire life I “had” Jesus in theory, in my thoughts and in my “heart,” but I no longer wanted my experience of him, I wanted him, and he was right there, right over there! (Shocking truth, a marvel!) I could see him, I could touch him; he sees me, he hears me, and I adore him (in and as the Host) with profound reverence.

Blessed John Henry Newman (1801-1890), himself a convert to Catholicism from the Church of England, once said: “To be deep in history, is to cease to be Protestant.” This maxim is also applicable to my conversion.

— 4 —

On Monday I began getting up earlier than normal in order to sit outside and pray a rosary. It’s part of a Rosary Novena for our nation that will last for 54 days. I believe in the power of prayer and in the power of the Rosary. I believe it is the greatest spiritual weapon in our arsenal. Given the vitriolic political nonsense I see every day I’ve chosen this as my recourse and solution to keeping my peace of mind (that and a forthcoming extended break from ALL social media). At 5:30am on August 16th there was a brief downpour and when I came outside after 6am I was treated to a beautiful sunrise. Buster the Rosary Beagle has taken to joining me outside also.

The Rosary Novena will end on October 7th. You don’t have to be Catholic to participate. You don’t need to purchase the books in my photo below either. All the prayers and meditations are posted online or you can sign up to have the delivered via e-mail.

Thursday morning I prayed for the virtues of humility, charity, detachment from the world, purity and obedience. Lord knows I need all of them.

I'm using the Sacred Heart rosary I picked up while on retreat at Broom Tree four years ago.

I’m using the Sacred Heart rosary I picked up while on retreat at Broom Tree four years ago.

— 5 —

Speaking of St. Augustine, this excerpt was from the Office of Readings in the Liturgy of the Hours for August 17th:

So we must not grumble, my brothers, for as the Apostle says: Some of them murmured and were destroyed by serpents. Is there any affliction now endured by mankind that was not endured by our fathers before us? What sufferings of ours even bear comparison with what we know of their sufferings? And yet you hear people complaining about this present day and age because things were so much better in former times. I wonder what would happen if they could be taken back to the days of their ancestors—would we not still hear them complaining? You may think past ages were good, but it is only because you are not living in them.

[snip]

How then can you think that past ages were better than your own? From the time of that first Adam to the time of his descendants today, man’s lot has been labor and sweat, thorns and thistles. Have we forgotten the flood and the calamitous times of famine and war whose history has been recorded precisely in order to keep us from complaining to God on account of our own times? Just think what those past ages were like! Is there one of us who does not shudder to hear or read of them? Far from justifying complaints about our own time, they teach us how much we have to be thankful for.

Just a reminder that St. Augustine lived from 354 to 430. His advice is still very pertinent for today.

Be thankful.

A Plea for Healing (but only if you want it)

flag-distressed

Rather than rush in with my very fallible, fallen human voice in order to comment on the tragic and alarming events of the past 48 hours I have decided to place here instead the words I read from this morning’s Divine Office.

The psalm for the Office of Readings was Psalm 38. As I read it I found myself quickly reading it in the voice of our collective nation.

Our fractured, frayed, hanging by a thread nation.

Do so for yourself and see if you “hear” it the same way I did.

Psalm 38: A Penitent Sufferer’s Plea for Healing

O Lord, rebuke me not in thy anger,
nor chasten me in thy wrath!
For thy arrows have sunk into me,
and thy hand has come down on me.

There is no soundness in my flesh
because of thy indignation;
there is no health in my bones
because of my sin.
For my iniquities have gone over my head;
they weigh like a burden too heavy for me.

My wounds grow foul and fester
because of my foolishness,
I am utterly bowed down and prostrate;
all the day I go about mourning.
For my loins are filled with burning,
and there is no soundness in my flesh. I
am utterly spent and crushed;

I groan because of the tumult of my heart.

Lord, all my longing is known to thee,
my sighing is not hidden from thee.
My heart throbs, my strength fails me;
and the light of my eyes—it also has gone from me.
My friends and companions stand aloof from my plague,
and my kinsmen stand afar off.

Those who seek my life lay their snares,
those who seek my hurt speak of ruin,
and meditate treachery all the day long.

But I am like a deaf man, I do not hear,
like a dumb man who does not open his mouth.
Yea, I am like a man who does not hear,
and in whose mouth are no rebukes.

But for thee, O Lord, do I wait;
it is thou, O Lord my God, who wilt answer.
For I pray, “Only let them not rejoice over me,
who boast against me when my foot slips!”

For I am ready to fall,
and my pain is ever with me.
I confess my iniquity,
I am sorry for my sin.
Those who are my foes without cause are mighty,
and many are those who hate me wrongfully.
Those who render me evil for good
are my adversaries because I follow after good.

Do not forsake me, O Lord!
O my God, be not far from me!

Make haste to help me,
O Lord, my salvation!

Had I the time I’d do a commentary on the verses in particular that stand out and how I see them in relation to our nation today. But I am instead going to leave that up to each individual reader.

The second reading this morning was from a letter to the Corinthians by Pope St. Clement. One sentence in particular stood out in context with the events fresh on my mind:

“For it is better for a man to confess his sins than to harden his heart.”

Agreed. It is better that he or she do so (or in my example for our nation to do so), but it certainly is not easy. It seems that the majority of us have chosen the path of the hardened heart. Because it is easier to do so. I get it.

And finally, as if in answer to the nation’s admission in Psalm 38, the first psalm in Morning Prayer was Psalm 51. If America, and we as individuals, could only admit our guilt and confess our sins, two things made all the more difficult by our hardened and stubborn pride, we would go a long ways towards healing ourselves and our nation. The trouble is that based upon the comments I see in social media, and not just in regards to the events in Louisiana, Minnesota and Dallas but in relation to pretty much anything in people’s lives, we have a long ways to go.

Me too.

Psalm 51: Prayer for Cleansing and Pardon

Have mercy on me, O God, according to thy steadfast love;
according to thy abundant mercy blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
and cleanse me from my sin!

For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is ever before me.
Against thee, thee only, have I sinned,
and done that which is evil in thy sight,
so that thou art justified in thy sentence
and blameless in thy judgment.
Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity,
and in sin did my mother conceive me.

Behold, thou desirest truth in the inward being;
therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.
Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
Fill me with joy and gladness;
let the bones which thou hast broken rejoice.
Hide thy face from my sins,
and blot out all my iniquities.

Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and put a new and right spirit within me.
Cast me not away from thy presence,
and take not thy holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of thy salvation,
and uphold me with a willing spirit.

Then I will teach transgressors thy ways,
and sinners will return to thee.
Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God,
thou God of my salvation,
and my tongue will sing aloud of thy deliverance.

O Lord, open thou my lips,
and my mouth shall show forth thy praise. F
or thou hast no delight in sacrifice;

were I to give a burnt offering, thou wouldst not be pleased.
The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.

Do good to Zion in thy good pleasure;
rebuild the walls of Jerusalem,
then wilt thou delight in right sacrifices,
in burnt offerings and whole burnt offerings;
then bulls will be offered on thy altar.

Friday Five – Volume 107

wordpress happy anniversaryAccording to WordPress today marks the eighth birthday of this blog. Eight years in the blink of an eye. When I launched this blog I was winding down my time after several successful but highly stressful years at one company. During those years I spent six largely uneventful and unfulfilling years at another company, and two years ago went out on my own. Eight years ago my oldest son was still in junior high and my youngest child was a little girl of sixteen months. Now my oldest is twenty and serving his country overseas on deployment. I have received no word, text, Snapchat, or Facebook message from him in two weeks. Unless you’ve experienced it you’ve no idea the weight that comes with that. I seem to notice it every 3-4 days, being busy with life, and then realize 3-4 days have passed with no word from him and it’s as if the air pressure has increased all around me and gravity pulls harder. I’d swear that if you looked at my shadow it would be a figure hunched over. Not just because of the weeks without a sign, but because of life in general and the battles I now struggle to fight in other areas.

But enough of that. I’ve nothing original to write on this occasion marked only by me and by the algorithms at WordPress, but I did want to get out one more Friday Five. So I present a few quotes and thoughts I’ve sketched out over the past five months that never materialized into full-blown posts, but are still very much share-worthy.

Friday Five-Mere Observations

— 1 —

I read something this morning that I wish I would have written down. It went something like “Those who advocate for change often do not understand what it is they are changing from.” I don’t believe that those who today are activists for change have a sense of history or they would realize that they are not the first generation to believe that they are the chosen generation to lead humanity out of the darkness of its past. Even worse, the majority are too distracted by their own problems, pop culture entertainment and video screens to have a clue about what’s going on around them. They remain disengaged entirely.

It is a characteristic of any decaying civilization that the great masses of the people are unaware of the tragedy. Humanity in a crisis is generally insensitive to the gravity of the times in which it lives. Men do not want to believe their own times are wicked, partly because they have no standard outside of themselves by which to measure their times. If there is no fixed concept of justice, how shall men know it is violated? Only those who live by faith really know what is happening in the world; the great masses without faith are unconscious of the destructive processes going on, because they have lost the vision of the heights from which they have fallen. – Bishop Fulton Sheen

At the same time being too involved and overly activist-driven, as Thomas Merton observed, can lead to this:

There is a pervasive form of contemporary violence.

The rush and pressures of modern life are a form of its innate violence.

To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns,
to surrender to too many projects,
to want to help everyone in everything,
to succumb to violence…

The frenzy of the activist…destroys our own inner capacity for peace.

It destroys the fruitfulness of our own work,
because it kills the root of inner wisdom which makes work fruitful.

Source for Merton quote: Heather King

— 2 —

I find myself wanting this, and only this, more and more with each passing year.

The Lake Isle of Innisfree
By William Butler Yeats (1865-1939)

I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made;
Nine bean rows will I have there, a hive for the honey bee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.

And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight’s all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet’s wings.

I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements gray,
I hear it in the deep heart’s core.

IsleofInnisfree
Photo source

— 3 —

Merton and theologian Von Balthasar remind me a sense of community is vital. Man was not meant to live alone, after all.

It is a law of man’s nature, written into his very essence, and just as much a part of him as the desire to build houses and cultivate the land and marry and have children and read books and sing songs, that he should want to stand together with other men in order to acknowledge their common dependence on God, their Father and Creator. In fact, this desire is much more fundamental than any purely physical necessity. – Thomas Merton, The Seven Storey Mountain

*****

It is almost (or entirely impossible) to avoid the illusion that man knows from himself what love is, and how it is to be practiced.  In truth, however, a sense for divine love first arises in man when he stands before God, in full readiness to allow himself to be led with Jesus Christ – in love – on the path of perfect renunciation and ultimately the cross.  A path of renunciation of, not love … but all hidden egotism in eros and in the whole community of the family. – Hans Urs Von Balthasar

— 4 —

I do hope there is a sandlot nearby set aside for baseball. Because as I’ve learned once more this summer when I’m involved in watching my middle child play competitive baseball, or practice, or even as we travel to a game or out-of-town tournament, time slows down and I am able to forget the troubles of this world…if only for six innings at a time.

And baseball will heal you. Bring a box of tangled wire, a ball of knotted twine, a heap of broken heart, a clutter of twisted misery to the baseball diamond and spend enough time listening to the thump of the ball in the glove, the sound of the wind on the dust, and looking at the blue salute of the indivisible sky, and baseball will make you whole again. Bring your defeated soul to baseball, and baseball will, by the unchangeable truth of its geometry and the eternal vectors of its freedoms, speak to you, call you by name, and “not teach” but allow you to remember who you have always been.

Source: First Things

— 5 —

As I read what I’ve included above I find as an unprompted and unplanned common theme my desire for peace. I’m not sure if it’s the result of living the years I’ve managed to live or the state of where I am at this particular moment in time, but I’ve begun to think that the only time I shall find the peace I seek will be after I have breathed my last, come face to face with God, and can at last be healed of “my grievous wound” as King Arthur told Sir Bedivere he prayed he would be after passing from this world.

And slowly answer’d Arthur from the barge:
“The old order changeth, yielding place to new,
And God fulfils Himself in many ways,
Lest one good custom should corrupt the world.
Comfort thyself: what comfort is in me?
I have lived my life, and that which I have done
May He within Himself make pure! but thou,
If thou shouldst never see my face again,
Pray for my soul. More things are wrought by prayer
Than this world dreams of. Wherefore, let thy voice
Rise like a fountain for me night and day.
For what are men better than sheep or goats
That nourish a blind life within the brain,
If, knowing God, they lift not hands of prayer
Both for themselves and those who call them friend?
For so the whole round earth is every way
Bound by gold chains about the feet of God.
But now farewell. I am going a long way
With these thou seëst—if indeed I go—
(For all my mind is clouded with a doubt)
To the island-valley of Avilion;
Where falls not hail, or rain, or any snow,
Nor ever wind blows loudly; but it lies
Deep-meadow’d, happy, fair with orchard-lawns
And bowery hollows crown’d with summer sea,
Where I will heal me of my grievous wound.”

from “Morte D’Arthur”, by Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809-1892)

Source

What is Adoration?

When we go before the Blessed Sacrament, let us open our heart; our good God will open His. We shall go to Him; He will come to us; the one to ask, the Other to receive. It will be like a breath from one to the other. – St. John Vianney

I read the following passage in a great little book I picked up recently called Manual for Eucharistic Adoration, written by the Poor Clares of Perpetual Adoration and edited by Paul Thigpen, whose Manual for Spiritual Warfare remains a favorite. I’ve been using both books during my weekly visits to the adoration chapel in town. The following passage stood out for me as a great explanation about what adoration is, particularly for those who might not understand what is meant when I write about it. It also explains why I think it is a difficult contrast to grasp for many in our me-first, self-centered lifestyle.

It’s from Chapter 5: Guidelines for Adoration (pages 32-33).

*****

How Do I Adore?

manual-for-eucharistic-adorationIt is important to remember that feelings of love, fervor, and devotion are not essential for adoration. Adoration is not a sentiment.

Fr. John Hardon, in his Modern Catholic Dictionary, defines adoration as “the act of religion by which God is recognized as alone worthy of supreme honor because He is infinitely perfect, has supreme dominion over humans, and the right to human total dependence on the Creator. It is at once an act of mind and will, expressing itself in appropriate prayers, postures of praise, and acts of reverence and sacrifice.”[1]

Our adoration, therefore, begins when we walk in the door of the church or adoration chapel. When we genuflect before the Blessed Sacrament, kneel in the pew, and show Him our respect by giving Him our full attention, we adore Him. When we turn off our cell phone and maintain reverent silence in the chapel, we adore Him. When we make a simple act of faith in His Real Presence, we adore Him. When we place ourselves before Him as empty vessels to be filled with His love, we adore Him.

In our self-centered culture and classic American emphasis on work, we often feel we have to accomplish something during our times of prayer before the Blessed Sacrament. We rate our experience by how “good” our prayer was, how heartfelt our devotion was, or how focused we could remain. Yet prayer and contemplation are fundamentally God’s work, in which we are invited to participate.

We need only to give Him the opening, and He will do the rest. By coming to adoration, we are handing Him the key to our hearts, allowing the rays of His love and grace to bathe our souls in the light of His Presence, as the rays of the sun bathe our bodies in light. If we can take the time to pull away from the busyness and distractions of life and just sit at His feet, He will lead us.


[1]“Adoration,” in Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J., Modern Catholic Dictionary (Bardstown, KY: Eternal Life Publications, 2000), 13.

Busy Bees and Baseball

While reading my friend Paige’s book last night I searched my mind for any similar story I might have. I remembered the two children I encountered a few days ago and decided to take a crack at writing it down.

What follows is my homage to Paige and The Nice Thing About Strangers.

*****

Bettis Family Sports Complex

Bettis Family Sports Complex

I am in Topeka, Kansas, with my family for a Mother’s Day baseball tournament. My son’s team of 12-year-olds played two games on a beautiful, sunny Saturday but the weatherman tells us today will be much different. Rain is expected all day and we are hoping that because the fields are covered in artificial turf, aside from the real outfield grass, we will be able to get the whole tournament in.

One of the things my family enjoys about these overnight out-of-town trips is the opportunity to attend Mass at different churches around the Midwest. Unfortunately due to our late Saturday game and early Sunday game we have to get up at 5:30am to shower, check out of our hotel and use the GPS to locate the Mater Dei parish in downtown Topeka for a 7:30am Mass. It is a beautiful 19th century church and the morning sunrise shines through the east-facing stained glass windows on my right. We bathe in the brilliant and warm colors reflected through the images of the Mary, St. Michael, and especially Jesus, the Good Shephard. Maybe the rain won’t come after all.

After arriving at the sports complex and while the boys and their coaches begin their pre-game routine on the soccer field, I find a place to sit on a landscaped wall with bushes at my back, strategically located within eyesight of the boys at 10 o’clock, and the game being played prior to ours on the field to the north of the field in front of me, located to my right at 3 o’clock. It turns out the weatherman was right after all. After Mass ended the sun disappeared behind a gray cloudbank and the temperature has begun to drop. Lake Shawnee, located beyond the soccer field, is empty, unlike the previous day when it was filled with jet ski and waterski enthusiasts.

“The bees are coming. We have to swim for it!” she shouts. The little girl with long brown hair and the big imagination is dressed in a full-length, floral-print dress and sandals. “Bees? Oh, no!” She is followed with much giggling by her smaller brother in a green t-shirt, shorts and sandals. I guess that she is 5, and he is around 3. Both of them run through the grass, whirling their arms like helicopters cutting through the imaginary water with their air-borne American crawl.

While I watch the children at play I sense their mom approaching from the ballfield. When you’ve been around youth baseball as long as I have you learn to recognize the purposeful gait of a mom seeking her wayward cubs. “You need to stay where I can see you,” she gently scolds them. Both continue to giggle and “swim” away from mom. As she stands watching with hands on hips I risk intruding on the scene and say “They’re swimming away from a swarm of bees. It sounded pretty serious.” Broken from her gaze she turns to look at me and I see for the first time her shirt with the name of her son’s team on the front. They are from Elkhorn, a community just west of Omaha. I am wearing my Nebraska Bison maroon hooded sweatshirt. We are both dressed in the uniform of the baseball parent and identified as a member of our respective herds. To help put her at ease I explain why I’m sitting where I am and keeping an eye on her kids and foul balls. We make small talk and learn about each other’s ballplaying sons while the two swimmers continue to frolic. As we do my son’s team begins to make their way towards the field, their pregame routine complete. She and I wish each other good luck and safe travels home, and she is finally able to entice her two younger charges to follow her up the path.

I eventually follow them to the field as it is where we are scheduled to play next. Their game would go into extra innings and big brother’s team would win to remain alive in the tournament. The drizzle turned into a soft yet steady rain, but the little sister and brother play on behind the dugout until corralled, soaking wet and smiling, under their mom’s umbrella.

—Topeka

Our team's little sister's Mother's Day chalk art left behind their big brother's dugout during the semifinals.

Chalk art left behind our team dugout during the semifinals by their little sisters. Fifteen minutes later the skies opened, the tournament was canceled, and this sloped sidewalk was left a multi-colored and smeared rainbow mess.

Friday Five – Volume 106: “The truth is…”

The commonality in this week’s items is the idea of Truth. In a few weeks on Good Friday we will once more read the words from Holy Scripture in which Pilate asks the man standing before him “Quid est veritas?” (John 18:38)

What is truth? As Jesus’ passion shows us, truth is rarely popular with a mob. But what else is truth?

  • Truth is radical.
  • Truth is clouded by ignorance.
  • Truth is mimicked in the false mirrors of politics and tyranny.
  • Truth is difficult to convey in our relativistic, multicultural, post modern age.
  • Truth is still present in our world today. It is beautiful. It is unexpected. It will take our breath away and drop us to our knees in awe.

Strange times are these, in which we live, forsooth ;
When young and old are taught in Falsehood’s school:–
And the man who dares to tell the truth,
Is called at once a lunatic and fool.

— George Francis Train, from Pen Sketches of Nebraskans by A.C. Edmunds, published in 1871 in Lincoln, Nebraska (source). This quote (or its variation) is often misattributed to Plato and often appears in memes plastered all over Facebook and Twitter.

Friday Five-Mere Observations

— 1 —

Open up your Bible and read one of the four Gospels from start to finish. Try to do it with fresh eyes, and you will be struck by something: Jesus was a radical—and his life and teachings are a radical invitation to something beyond what most of us have settled for in our everyday lives.

What does radical mean? It means to get to the “root” of things.

Jesus was interested in getting deep down to the root of things. He was interested in what was essential—not the fluffy periphery, but the core, the center, the heart of things.

Jesus wasn’t trapped by the notion of political correctness. He wasn’t burdened with the need to be liked by people. He wasn’t moved by the desire for expediency or convenience. Instead, he simply allowed truth to reign supreme.

Truth is radical.

Rediscover Jesus by Matthew Kelly. Chapter 8.

— 2 —

Hidden beneath various slogans (“Love wins!”) and postures (“tolerance”) this is the fundamental factual reality that the modern ethos abhors, because it has substituted feelings for facts and overwhelmed reason with the will.

The duty to instruct the ignorant is a work of mercy because there is something important that can be known and should be known to attain spiritual maturity. Cicero said, “To be ignorant of history is always to remain a child.” That kind of ignorance is not the childlike innocence that leads to the Kingdom of heaven. It is the childishness of adults who do not know that there is much they do not know.

Father George Rutler, Magnificat Year of Mercy Companion, February 17

— 3 —

Let us call this Lenin’s Wax Dummy Effect. During the Cold War, critics in the West remarked that the Soviet Union and its doctrine of Marxism-Leninism resembled nothing so much as a new religion, complete with scripture (the writings of Marx and Engels), charismatic prophets (Lenin and Stalin) with the aura of demigods, a Church Militant (the Party), a mother church (the Kremlin), and a clerical caste (the Politburo and Soviet apologists in the West). The religion also had, tellingly, a funerary temple to the mummified corpse of the Founder lying in eternal state just outside the Kremlin’s walls, where tourists an Soviet citizens alike would wait in the cold of a Russian winter to shuffle past the bier and gaze upon the embalmed body of the Leader, Teacher, Beacon, Helsman, the Immortal Guide, V.I. Lenin (whose relics were gathers at the Lenin Institute and Lenin Museum immediately upon his death).

The Devil’s Pleasure Palace: The Cult of Critical Theory and the Subversion of the West, by Michael Walsh

*****

Tens of millions of unborn babies have been slaughtered; illegitimacy rates have soared; divorce has skyrocketed; pornography is rampant; drug use has exploded; sexually transmitted diseases such as AIDS have killed millions; birth control is a way of life; sex outside of wedlock has become the norm; countless children have been permanently damaged — their innocence lost forever — because of the proliferation of broken homes; and sodomy and homosexuality are celebrated openly. America has become the new Babylon. –  Jeffrey T. Kuhner, Washington Times, January 20, 2011. (source)

— 4 —

The one that is worrying is that, in our relativistic, multicultural, post modern age, any form of argumentation is simply impossible. You can only argue about something if you and your opponent have at least some shared foundational values and philosophical principles. If your opponent does not believe there is such a thing as truth or if he denies that there is any authority on earth that can ascertain and interpret the truth, then there is very little that can be discussed.

Look around. Why is there so much chaos, turmoil, confusion, fear and recrimination?  Because people not only do not believe the same thing, they don’t believe it is possible to have a shared belief system or foundational philosophy. They don’t believe it is possible because they don’t believe such things exist. Consequently, on what basis does anyone argue about anything?

Increasingly, the only basis on which people argue is their feelings and instincts. Driven by animal instincts and dark forces they cannot understand, they respond with feelings of rage, anger, confusion and fear. When confronted with a belief system or person that contradicts them or suggests they control these instincts, the response is rage expressed as sarcasm, personal attack, profanity or some other form of irrational emotionalism.

Father Dwight Longenecker: Why I Won’t Argue Anymore

— 5 —

“We went into the cathedral for a few moments, and as we stood there in respectful silence, a woman came in with her shopping basket and knelt down in one of the pews to say a short prayer. That was something completely new to me. In the synagogue, as in the Protestant churches I had visited, people only went in at the time of the service. But here was someone coming into the empty church in the middle of a day’s work as if to talk with a friend. I have never been able to forget that.” – Edith Stein, on a visit to Frankfurt in 1919 (source).

On August 9, 1942, Edith Stein, now known as Sister Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, and her sister Rosa, died in Auschwitz. A German Jewish philosopher and former athiest, she was beatified as a saint on May 1, 1987, in Cologne, Germany.

*****

St. Thomas Aquinas in Lincoln, Nebraska

St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church in Lincoln, Nebraska

There are so many great stories. Here is a favorite. As you leave the church, the following words are painted on the arch above the door: “The more we love God, the better our love is.” That quotation is from St. Thomas Aquinas. Makes sense, right? Well at one of our recent weddings, when the bride and groom walked out of the church, the bride stopped the groom at the arch and told him, “Take off your ring.” Of course, he was puzzled and confused. And so she said to him again, “Take off your ring and look at the inside.” Inscribed on the inside of the ring were the words, “The more we love God, the better our love is.” That story still gives me goose bumps.

And then of course there is Night Fever. Night Fever is an event that started in Cologne, Germany where young people go out into the streets and invite people who are out and about to come into the church to light a candle and say a prayer for peace. The Blessed Sacrament is on the altar with the lights low and priests and prayer team members are available for confessions or just to talk. We have had two of these nights in our new church. And again, it’s amazing to see what happens. I remember at our first Night Fever watching three young teenage boys walk up the center aisle with their skateboards in tow. They stood in front of the altar in amazement for a short time before falling to their knees to light a candle and offer a prayer. It was beautiful, and I’m pretty sure when they left home that evening with their skateboards, they had no idea that encounter was going to take place.

Father Robert Matya, HuskerCatholic newsletter, Winter 2016, p.11

St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church in Lincoln, Nebraska.

St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church in Lincoln, Nebraska.

Photos of St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church and Newman Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln taken by the author.

Fighting back

There has long been a deep reservoir of hate in this country just waiting to be tapped. Now Hillary Clinton on the left and Donald Trump from wherever he comes have both tapped it – it is open and gushing, it is vile, and it is threatening to bring this country down.

The only thing that will stop it is prayer – the ONLY thing. – online commenter Terry at Crisis Magazine online

_______

The life of man upon earth is a warfare… – Job 7:1

***

Last night I entered the fray.

I joined the battle.

We established a beachhead.

I haven’t been writing much for more than a few weeks now. My efforts to continue with The Screwtape Letters project is, for now, on hold. I got tired of staring at an empty screen and will try to continue another day.

The bitter and honest truth is that I’ve been…how to say this…out of sorts.

Out of whack. Lost my equilibrium.

I’ve been under attack.

I’ve said before that I believe the great battle of our times is before us. I’ve also said that it will be a spiritual war.

After the events of the last month I stand behind those assertions.

It’s been a rough year. A year filled with self-doubt and second-guessing. A year of “what ifs”. Through it all I’ve struggled to keep my balance and maintain both my optimism and stay upright. At times I’ve come perilously close to giving in to despair. One beam of light guided me through this fog.

Prayer, specifically the Liturgy of the Hours, also known as the Divine Office.

We are living in strange times. Or hadn’t you noticed? Many have not. Distracted by the soft comforting glow of their various screens they are oblivious to history’s verdicts. How else does one explain our youth’s embracing of the culture of death and socialism? How else to explain the unhinged, vehement attacks levied at anyone who points out the obvious lack of conservative bona fides in the candidate widely embraced on the right as “the true conservative candidate”?

Thought and reason have no traction today because emotions and slogans have superseded them.

What the hell is going on?

And that’s the answer. Hell is going on.

***

Of late I’ve read many things online to ramp up my sense of urgency regarding this war. If the results from this survey by the Barna Group are in fact true, then I’m already to be considered an extremist in the eyes of many. The war is already being waged against me. I just as well fight back and make damn sure I live up to the evidence and label that may someday be used against me.

Society is undergoing a change of mind about the way religion and people of faith intersect with public life. That is, there are intensifying perceptions that faith is at the root of a vast number of societal ills.

Though it remains the nation’s most dominant religion, Christianity faces significant headwind in the court of public opinion. The decades-old trend that Christianity is irrelevant is increasingly giving way to the notion that Christianity is bad for society.

A new major study conducted by Barna Group, and explored in the new book Good Faith, co-authored by Barna president David Kinnaman, examines society’s current perceptions of faith and Christianity. In sum, faith and religion and Christianity are viewed by millions of adults to be extremist.

A growing portion of society considers me an extremist by virtue of my actually professing and living by my beliefs as a Christian. As a conservative I’ve watched myself or anyone else who questions the candidacy of Donald Trump be labeled a “rich, establishment, power mad” fool who is not a “true conservative” and will get “what’s coming to you!”. Ummm…what? I’ve watched those members of the media who call themselves conservatives outed for the carnival barkers that they are, nothing more than shills looking to make a book for the candidate du jour.

I’ve seen spleens vented at Pope Francis and any Catholic who dares call him or herself Catholic while pleading for some decent human decency be shown the less fortunate or the poor.

Obama voters the past two elections just pissed me off. I laughed them off as unserious kids fawning over an unqualified leftist. Supporters of Trump who spew their hatred and bile towards anyone who dare point out the flaws in their reason or simply ask for clarification on their stance scare the hell out of me because this lot is filled with rage and they are looking for someone to pour it upon. And I get it. I’m as upset with the Republican party leadership as anyone on how they’ve said one thing to get elected and then done the opposite once in office, while sending out letters for more money. I stopped supporting the GOP in 2006 when despite having control of all three branches of government they did not one blessed thing about abortion in this country. But as soon as Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid took over in 2006 the fundraising letters once more were filling the mailboxes of pro-lifers everywhere.

So I get the anger and disillusionment. But Trump? And to vent that anger out on not just your fellow citizens of either party, but against those who are in tune with the Constitution and our nation’s history?

It’s nothing new. History has shown us examples of a citizenry embracing anger during the Reign of Terror in France, in Puritan England, and  in pre-World War II Germany.

The lessons from this history is that it never ends well for the likes of people like me.

***

Already being bloodied from the blows received, I read the following from scripture one  evening while in prayer:

My brothers, count it pure joy when you are involved in every sort of trial. Realize that when your faith is tested this makes for endurance. Let endurance come to its perfection so that you may be fully mature and lacking in nothing. – James 1:2-4 (Evening Prayer for January 29)

The very next morning I read this during Morning Prayer:

In everything you do, act without grumbling or arguing; prove yourselves innocent and straightforward, children of God beyond reproach in the midst of a twisted and depraved generation—among whom you shine like the stars in the sky. – Philippians 2:14-15 (Morning Prayer for January 30)

I decided I needed to make a call.

***

During mornings or evenings above 30 degrees you will find me outside with these.

During mornings or evenings above 30 degrees you will find me outside with these.

It has been a long-time goal of mine to initiate the praying of Vespers, or Evening Prayer, at my parish. A few weeks ago I finally got around to setting up a meeting with my parish priest to discuss it. I say finally because I could no longer ignore what I see going on. I needed to stop fighting alone, and begin to form a squad to wage the only form of warfare that matters and the one for which I’m best equipped. My son is a United States Marine. He’s trained for the more conventional battles of this world. He has been raised to fight the other, too, but for now his task is elsewhere.

Mine, however, is not. Mine is against the “powers and principalities” of this world.

This is your fight as well.

I have prayed the Liturgy of the Hours for just about fifteen years, ever since I first worked up the nerve to ask our former assistant pastor Father Hottovy to show me the book he always carried with him. It was slow going and a struggle at many times, but I persevered until now my day feels unbalanced if I fail to pray at least Morning or Evening Prayers. Being a historian I researched its origins and revisions over the years, even purchasing an expensive set of pre-Vatican II era books containing the Divine Office in both Latin and English.

But mostly I have done so in order to sanctify time for God. Except for a handful of occasions I have prayed this communal prayer alone.

I wanted to change that. Father Johnson agreed. And we selected Wednesday evenings at 6pm immediately following 5:30 Mass. We agreed that instead of announcing it in the bulletin for now or at weekend Masses he would simply announce it at the end of last night’s Mass and invite people to stick around to join me.

***

About the same time that I first contacted Father for a Saturday morning meeting over coffee the attacks upon me intensified. As last night drew near they threatened to suffocate me. I struggled to smile or find happiness. Optimism about almost anything seemed to disappear. I found myself hit with dreams and visions in broad daylight…horrible and awful images of my family, especially my children, and at times my friends. I saw horrific scenes, too terrible to recount, that involved my children bloodied, in danger, or worse. I couldn’t sleep and had little energy. My despair would turn to frustration and in a flash my anger would flare with words against those who mean the most to me. Two days ago I was sitting at a red light when one flashed before my eyes and caused me to cry uncontrollably as the light turned green through my tear-streaked eyes. The devil knows our weakness. It has ever been so.

I honestly thought I was falling apart. Believe it or not thoughts of my own death and of not being a burden to my loved ones crept into my mind.

But then little pinpoints of grace would shine forth. Nothing huge, but small indications that I did have worth, that I mattered, and that I made a difference began to emerge. Two examples:

Two weeks ago my Marine and I were texting about his younger brother’s upcoming baseball season. Jonah is twelve and at this point in his young life already a much better baseball player than his older brother. Considering that Nolan was able to contribute and then start on two spring high school state champion baseball teams and compete for summer state titles as well, that’s saying a lot about his younger brother. A back injury almost cost Nolan his high school baseball career and deeply affected his attitude, causing lethargy and depression. Prior to his sophomore year he was going to quit and we argued back and forth about it for weeks before the treatment and work he’d been doing to heal his injury caused him to relent and play. Ever since 2012 I’ve beat myself up and wondered how much resentment my coaxing him to play had caused. I wondered if he’d ever appreciate all that he and his buddies had accomplished. Lately I’ve wondered if I would have the strength to do so again with Jonah should he travel a similar path.

It turns out I won’t have to get after Jonah. His big brother will. This is a part of our text exchange:

Nolan: Make him play at least through high school. He’ll be glad one day.

Me (after taking a big gulp): Are you thankful I pushed you to play?

Nolan: More than anything. I’ve been talking to some of the guys out here. We all want more than anything to be able to go back and play under the lights one more time. Whether it’s football, baseball, basketball, soccer, whatever…everyone wishes they could go back just one more time.

I hoped I would hear those words before I was 60, never dreaming I’d hear them at 48.

The last occurrence was the unexpected gift of a book from a friend. I had loaned her five books from the World War II era on the fate of Christians, including St. Maximilian Kolbe and Edith Stein to use as research for a college paper she was writing. Becky is my age but has gone back to school in order to finish up her teaching degree. Several weeks later she showed up unannounced and unexpected in order to present me with a copy of a book published late last year called Church of Spies. For fifteen minutes we stood outside as she talked about her research and thanked me several times for the use of books from my library. She couldn’t see it in the twilight, but I was so quiet because I was trying to keep from crying after being overwhelmed by her simple generosity. I’d been beaten down and was nearly exhausted, but her gesture was like a cool drink of fresh water.

And then yesterday I began to understand what was happening. While praying during my lunch hour at the Pink Sisters chapel and sitting before the Blessed Sacrament, I began to understand that I was under attack. Satan did not want me to introduce Evening Prayer at St. John’s nor did he want those I met with to understand they could use this great treasure of the Church themselves. The tradition of sanctifying time to God through the praying of the psalms goes back thousands of years before Christ when the Jews would pray them throughout the day. Jesus himself prayed these same psalms. The Catholic Church has done the same ever since. But not just Catholics. Anglicans, Lutherans and other Protestant denominations all have their own traditions that grew from the trunk of this tree.

While sitting slump-backed in that pew yesterday I was encouraged and renewed. Despite my self-doubt and fears I would press on. I was too close to quit now after wanting to begin for so long.

***

In the grand scheme of things it was hardly noticeable. After Mass last night I stood in front of the sanctuary with the booklets I’d printed for use. I made only ten, hoping for at least one or two people to join me. After a few minutes of thinking no one would I found myself suddenly surrounded by around 15 people. After a brief introduction on my part we began. Fifteen minutes later it was done. We finished while the church was filling for a 7pm First Confession service held for our second graders and their parents. I doubt very many were aware of us or what was going on.

But something did happen. A toe-hold was made. A command post was established.

Last night we began fighting back. In community. Communion.

I slept like a baby last night for the first time in months.

We will continue every Wednesday night going forward. We may grow in number or we may not. But I believe we will see an increase in numbers over time.

I believe there are many who want to fight back. They see the shroud of darkness descending and are hungry to learn about whatever weapons available to them.

Based on the comments and positive feedback received last night I stand by that belief. And I will be better prepared in the future for the spiritual attacks that I know will come. There’s always a counter-attack.

I’m hopeful that last night we struck a blow and that as we continue others will have their eyes opened to the beauty and power contained within the Divine Office. All are welcome to join us for 15-20 minutes of prayer. Perhaps in time we’ll extend it for 15-30 minutes of discussion. In the meantime I have made plans to include a sheet each week that teaches on some aspect of the Liturgy of the Hours and history of the Divine Office.

But I’m taking it slow. Better a start than none at all. For while we live in seemingly more desperate times and there is a sense of urgency, I feel a calm that tells me to not rush according to my own schedule.

It’s His time, after all. Sanctified.

History.

His story.

***

For though we live in the world we are not carrying on a worldly war, for the weapons of our warfare are not worldly but have divine power to destroy strongholds. – 2 Corinthians 10:3-4