Friday Five – Volume 117

After praying a 54 day Rosary novena from August to October, I fell out of the habit of praying a daily rosary. Recently I did a lot of reflecting on events over the course of my life and came to the obvious conclusion that during those times that I immersed myself in the praying of the rosary I was showered with graces. I do not mean to say that my life was easy and that I received everything I want. That would be childish and disingenuous. I mean to say that I was stronger and better prepared to face life’s challenges and that yes…I did experience many blessings in my life.

It is because of this that I recently recommitted myself to praying the rosary each day. To that end the first few items today are related to the rosary.

Friday Five-Mere Observations

— 1 —

Last October in National Review Kathryn Lopez conducted an interview with Fr. Donald Calloway, author of what I consider to be one of the best books of 2016, Champions of the Rosary. I encourage you to read the entire interview (it’s not too long) and am pasting a few of my favorite excerpts below.

FATHER CALLOWAY: The rosary has the power to set souls free because it is, in essence, the Bible on a set of beads. It is mobile and can be prayed practically anywhere. The holy rosary educates the mind, heart, and soul about the true teachings of Jesus Christ because its prayers and mysteries come from the New Testament. This grounds the rosary in the living Word of God, and it is that Word that gives us hope, healing, and new life.

[snip]

LOPEZ: Can a rosary really be a weapon?

FATHER CALLOWAY: The rosary has always been understood to be a spiritual weapon. When Mary gave the rosary to Saint Dominic in 1208, she gave the explicit instruction that it was to be used to overcome a heresy. She called the rosary a weapon, a battering ram, for the defeat of all falsehoods. In the New Testament, St. Paul stated that the Word of God is stronger than any two-edged sword and able to overcome all strongholds. Knowing that the prayers and mysteries of the rosary come from the New Testament makes it the ultimate spiritual sword for the spiritual warrior. Interestingly, at the beginning of the rosary’s existence, many people began to wear it on the left side of their belt in order to signify that it was a spiritual sword. In medieval times, a knight would unsheathe his sword from his left side since most people are right-handed. This is why even today priests or sisters who wear the rosary as part of their religious habit almost always have it hanging on the left side of their habit.

— 2 —

Another favorite book on the subject was written by Fr. Dwight Longenecker. In the introduction to his 2016 book Praying the Rosary for Spiritual Warfare he writes:

Consider darkness and cold. We perceive them as real, but darkness is nothing in itself. It is the absence of light. Likewise, although we shiver with cold, the cold is really only the absence of heat. Evil is similar. There is nothing positive or original about evil. Like cold and darkness, evil has no substance of itself. Evil is always either the absence of goodness, truth, and beauty, or it is a distortion and destruction of goodness, truth, and beauty.

[snip]

Seeing evil in this way gives us the foundation for battling against evil. In spiritual warfare, we will not so much wrestle with evil itself – that would be to wrestle with shadows in the dark. The way to counter the dark is to light a lamp. The way to battle cold is to start a fire. Therefore, instead of wrestling the shadows in the dark, we battle against evil best by supporting in prayer everything that is beautiful, good, and true.

— 3 —

Over on the GKCDaily blog, dedicated to the writing of G.K. Chesterton, I read an old post titled “The Revival of Philosophy—Why?” Taken from a book of essays first published in 1950 and titled The Common Man, I found that it spoke to me today in 2017. For example:

The best reason for a revival of philosophy is that unless a man has a philosophy certain horrible things will happen to him. He will be practical; he will be progressive; he will cultivate efficiency; he will trust in evolution; he will do the work that lies nearest; he will devote himself to deeds, not words. Thus struck down by blow after blow of blind stupidity and random fate, he will stagger on to a miserable death with no comfort but a series of catchwords; such as those which I have catalogued above. Those things are simply substitutes for thoughts. In some cases they are the tags and tail-ends of somebody else’s thinking. That means that a man who refuses to have his own philosophy will not even have the advantages of a brute beast, and be left to his own instincts.

Before those of you on the American political right look at these words and think derisively of elements of the American left with a smug look of derision, consider what followed:

I know these words will be received with scorn, and with gruff reassertion that this is no time for nonsense and paradox; and that what is really wanted is a practical man to go in and clear up the mess. And a practical man will doubtless appear, one of the unending succession of practical men; and he will doubtless go in, and perhaps clear up a few millions for himself and leave the mess more bewildering than before; as each of the other practical men has done. The reason is perfectly simple. This sort of rather crude and unconscious person always adds to the confusion; because lie himself has two or three different motives at the same moment, and does not distinguish between them. A man has, already entangled hopelessly in his own mind, (1) a hearty and human desire for money, (2) a somewhat priggish and superficial desire to be progressing, or going the way the world is going, (3) a dislike to being thought too old to keep up with the young people, (4) a certain amount of vague but genuine patriotism or public spirit, (5) a misunderstanding of a mistake made by Mr. H. G. Wells, in the form of a book on Evolution. When a man has all these things in his head, and does not even attempt to sort them out, he is called by common consent and acclamation a practical man. But the practical man cannot be expected to improve the impracticable muddle; for he cannot clear up the muddle in his own mind, let alone in his own highly complex community and civilisation. For some strange reason, it is the custom to say of this sort of practical man that “he knows his own mind”. Of course this is exactly what he does not know. He may in a few fortunate cases know what he wants, as does a dog or a baby of two years old; but even then he does not know why he wants it. And it is the why and the how that have to be considered when we are tracing out the way in which some culture or tradition has got into a tangle. What we need, as the ancients understood, is not a politician who is a business man, but a king who is a philosopher.

What I’ve observed, on social media at least, from my post situated between two factions of the country seemingly at war with each other is that there is very little deep thinking taking place on either side. The same insults and accusations are endlessly hurled blindly back and forth at each other. Indeed it seems to be one of the things both sides agree upon and have in common. I don’t have time to post examples as evidence and if I took the time to do so over the course of a few days would amass what should be an embarrassing amount of juvenile and petty jabs that appeal to base emotion and involves no thinking on the part of the audience. Chesterton continues:

Philosophy is merely thought that has been thought out. It is often a great bore. But man has no alternative, except between being influenced by thought that has been thought out and being influenced by thought that has not been thought out. The latter is what we commonly call culture and enlightenment today. But man is always influenced by thought of some kind, his own or somebody else’s; that of somebody he trusts or that of somebody he never heard of, thought at first, second or third hand; thought from exploded legends or unverified rumours; but always something with the shadow of a system of values and a reason for preference. A man does test everything by something. The question here is whether he has ever tested the test.

— 4 —

Also worth reading: Anthony Esolen’s column on today’s Public Discourse titled After the Exile: Poetry and the Death of Culture.

Academe has largely become an institution devoted to the destruction of cultural memory. Most of my best freshmen Honors students have never heard of Tennyson, much less had their imaginations formed by his eminently humane and approachable poetry. That is no reflection on Tennyson in particular. They have also never heard of Milton, Wordsworth, Keats, and any number of the great artists in what is supposedly their mother tongue. “Who the heck is Spenser?” asked a friend of one of my old students now pursuing a Master’s degree in English at an elite university. That friend was studying for the same Master’s exam along with others who had never heard of Spenser or never read a thing he wrote.

We are a people now illiterate in a way that is unprecedented for the human race. We can decipher linguistic signs on a page, but we have no songs and immemorial stories in our hearts. The pagan Germanic warrior could not read, and where were the books for it anyway? But he had centuries of song in his mind, and he well knew of that specially gifted man, the scop, who could sing by heart many thousands of verses about the old heroes and their adventures, and could even compose new songs of his own: wordum wrixlan, weaving patterns of words that were as intricate as the vermiculate embellishments upon the hilt of a warrior’s sword.

— 5 —

how-to-read-your-way-to-heavenWhile 2017 is still young I think I’ve found the book that will wind up being the book of the year. Written by Vicki Burbach (who resides nearby in Omaha) How to Read Your Way to Heaven is a terrific resource for those who have always wanted an organized reading plan that sees them not just through Sacred Scripture, but also through the Catechism of the Catholic Church and dozens and dozens of spiritual classics. There is a 5-year reading plan, but Burbach also made a one and a three year plan for those who wish to devote a shorter period of time to their reading. Expect to hear more from me about this book as I progress through the 5-year plan, but in the meantime I thought I’d end with this portion from the book taken from page 16.

One need only watch the news for five minutes to know that this world has become a bastion of paganism more and more emboldened in its persecution of those who choose to follow Christ. Everywhere we turn, secularism is the new religion. Worse, the world is fast becoming, not merely secular, but anti-God—and not only anti-God, but anti-everything-that-even-remotely-relates-to-God.

Daily we are bombarded from every angle with messages that are clearly designed to remove us one step further from our Faith or to cripple us within it. Whether social situations at work or school, the news, television shows, movies, books, advertising, or—the ultimate temptation—social media, the influences on our daily lives do virtually nothing to draw us closer to our calling as Christians to live the life of Christ.

The only way to shield our hearts and minds from the lies of a hostile culture is to fill them with reinforcements before we head out to battle each day. Additionally, the more we fill our hearts with the love of Christ, the greater the light we bring to the darkness around us. Spiritual reading arms us for all those daily battles with negativity, temptation, and sin, filling our minds, hearts, and souls with truth, building us in Christ, and strengthening us for combat.

Spiritual reading brings us closer to Christ and provides a peace and joy that the world can never offer.

St. Hilary of Poitiers

st-hilary-of-poitiersToday is the feast day of St. Hilary of Poitiers (310-367). You can read more about him here or here. He is most known for his arguments against the heresy of Arianism, which denied the divinity of Christ.

What follows is from today’s Liturgy of the Hours in the Office of Readings. It’s from a wonderful sermon on the Trinity by St. Hilary. I think it reads like an extended prayer and meditation.

As we head into another three-day holiday weekend I invite you to read it slowly, perhaps more than once. In fact it should be read at least 2-3 times slowly. As I’ve been studying the virtues this month I’ve come across many saints stating that conforming our will to the Will of God is a very important path to virtue. St. Hilary as well alludes to this in his sermon.

We are in the path of what they say will be a massive ice storm this weekend. Once I publish this note I’ll be driving to the gas station to top off my gas tank as it’s below 1/4 full, and then stop by the hardware store to pick up a bag or two of salt for our sidewalks and driveway. Whether you are in the path of this storm or not, might I suggest that during this extended weekend you make it a priority to make time to stay indoors where it’s (hopefully) warm, fill your mug with something to warm your insides, light a candle or two and curl up in your favorite chair with a favorite quilt and a favorite book. For that is my intention, too.

*****

May I serve you by making you known

I am well aware, almighty God and Father, that in my life I owe you a most particular duty. It is to make my every thought and word speak of you.

In fact, you have conferred on me this gift of speech, and it can yield no greater return than to be at your service. It is for making you known as Father, the Father of the only-begotten God, and preaching this to the world that knows you not and to the heretics who refuse to believe in you.

In this matter the declaration of my intention is only of limited value. For the rest, I need to pray for the gift of your help and your mercy. As we spread our sails of trusting faith and public avowal before you, fill them with the breath of your Spirit, to drive us on as we begin this course of proclaiming your truth. We have been promised, and he who made the promise is trustworthy:  Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.

Yes, in our poverty we will pray for our needs. We will study the sayings of your prophets and apostles with unflagging attention, and knock for admittance wherever the gift of understanding is safely kept. But yours it is, Lord, to grant our petitions, to be present when we seek you and to open when we knock.

There is an inertia in our nature that makes us dull; and in our attempt to penetrate your truth we are held within the bounds of ignorance by the weakness of our minds. Yet we do comprehend divine ideas by earnest attention to your teaching and by obedience to the faith which carries us beyond mere human apprehension.

So we trust in you to inspire the beginnings of this ambitious venture, to strengthen its progress, and to call us into a partnership in the spirit with the prophets and the apostles. To that end, may we grasp precisely what they meant to say, taking each word in its real and authentic sense. For we are about to say what they already have declared as part of the mystery of revelation: that you are the eternal God, the Father of the eternal, only-begotten God; that you are one and not born from another; and that the Lord Jesus is also one, born of you from all eternity. We must not proclaim a change in truth regarding the number of gods. We must not deny that he is begotten of you who are the one God; nor must we assert that he is other than the true God, born of you who are truly God the Father.

Impart to us, then, the meaning of the words of Scripture and the light to understand it, with reverence for the doctrine and confidence in its truth. Grant that we may express what we believe. Through the prophets and apostles we know about you, the one God the Father, and the one Lord Jesus Christ. May we have the grace, in the face of heretics who deny you, to honor you as God, who is not alone, and to proclaim this as truth.

Friday Five – Volume 116: Lists!! (plus 1)

This week shall be a week about lists.

Recently I was reading Back To Virtue by Peter Kreeft and in a section on virtues in the Sermon on the Mount (or Beatitudes) was struck by his outstanding description of what they are and how we react to them. I’ll have to post that later as time is short for me today and I would also like to keep this F5 short. Plus there are a lot of links here for you so that you may spend your time reading what I’ve linked to instead of my own blathering endlessly on. Plus as a bonus I’ve included a sixth entry.

And now on to those lists!

Friday Five-Mere Observations

— 1 —

The Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-10). Listed here because I alluded to them in the intro, and because they are among the most important and most challenging words ever written.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

— 2 —

The 7 Habits of People Who Place Radical Trust in God by Jennifer Fulwiler.

In which she lists the common threads she found between the lives of people who place their entire trust in the Lord. It is a tremendous list and there is much wisdom to by learned from considering these seven habits very carefully and applying them to our lives.

— 3 —

7 Tips Perfectionists Don’t Want to Hear by Silvana Ramos.

If you are a perfectionist as I am, this is a must read. If you know or love someone who has these tendencies it is a must read to help you understand them. Number 2, and the description she provides with it, has been the hell of my own making for as long as I can remember.

— 4 —

Within his article for Catholic World Report Thomas Doran lists The Other 10 Commandments, or as I refer to them The 10 Commandments of This World.

Unlike God’s Commandments, which are unchanging and necessary for man’s well being in every time and place, Satan’s commandments are adapted to changing cultures, so as to most effectively entice, discourage, and destroy. The devil’s commandments for our age, as I read them in this new year. Beware, they are troubling and terrible.

Click here and scroll down to read his list, though I recommend the entire article. It’s not long.

— 5 —

Within his article Hilary Mantel’s Cursed Childhood Rod Dreher lists six things that he identifies as recurrent themes in his writing that emerged from his most formative experiences. You can read the entire article if you wish, but I’m going to paste them below as they are, for me, worthy of keeping at my mind’s forefront when dealing with the world and people each day.

The world is not what we think it is. What is unseen is as real as what’s seen.

People are not who we think they are; they are not even who they think they are.

People will go to extraordinary lengths — including telling themselves outlandish lies, accepting what ought to be unacceptable and making their own lives and the lives of others miserable — to avoid facing truths that would compromise the worldview upon which they’ve settled.

The battle lines between good and evil, and between order and chaos, are not drawn where we would like them to be. The front is everywhere, most particularly within our own hearts.

Be wary of the treachery of the good man who believes in his own goodness.

“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (Ephesians 6:12)

— 6 —

As a tonic I’m going to present a bonus this week: 10 Brilliant Quotes from St. Francis de Sales on Cultivating Peace.

St. Francis de Sales has become very important in my life as I’ve read and reread his classic The Introduction to the Devout Life. I highly recommend it to anyone.

Pick one or more from this list, write it down, and read it each day when you wake up. Soon you will “Be who you are and be that well.”

Friday Five – Volume 115

Friday Five-Mere Observations

— 1 —

Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?
Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?
∼  T.S. Eliot, Choruses from the Rock

— 2 —

Today we celebrate the Feast of the Epiphany. It is, at last, the Twelfth Day of Christmas.

…the Feast of the Epiphany is a feast of light because it reminds us that God is not an inert philosophical argument, but the truth. And the truth is light to see God and the world as they truly are, unclouded by delusion or desire. Reality, in short, cannot be seen or fully understood without God. (Source)

Sometimes people ask me what God will do with all the peoples of the world who have never heard of Jesus Christ. Are they damned? Are they saved in some other way? I leave those matters to God. I would rather ask how Christ will judge me because so many have never heard His saving Word – precisely because of my lack of enthusiasm or my desire to keep aloof from the missionary work of the Church. (Source)

3wisemen

Ok, I’ll stop now. Happy Feast of the Epiphany!

— 3 —

mulcahyDuring 2016 the populace seemed to become obsessed in its tracking and then lamenting the deaths of several pop culture celebrities. I’m not making light of this other than to say I don’t see 2016 any differently than any other calendar year. People were born. People died. And not just celebrities that entertained us or gave us those warm emotional warm fuzzies. We lost friends and family. In this regard 2016 was to me just like any other year.

On the last day of the year a man died at the age of 84. For eleven of those 84 years William Christopher played the role of Fr. Mulcahy on the television show M*A*S*H. For the other 73 years (and for the 11 that we watched him perform) he was a very real and warm friend and family member to those who knew him best.

In the 1981 episode “Blood Brothers”, Fr. Mulcahy delivered one of the best sermons I’ve ever heard, fiction or otherwise:

I want to tell you about two men. Each facing his own crisis. The first man you know rather well. The second is a patient here. Well, the first man thought he was facing a crisis. But what he was really doing was trying to impress someone. He was looking for recognition, encouragement, a pat on the back. And whenever that recognition seemed threatened he reacted rather childishly. Blamed everyone for his problems but himself because he was thinking only of himself. But the second man was confronted with the greatest crisis mortal man can face, the loss of his life. I think you will agree that the second man had every right to be selfish. But instead he chose to think not of himself, but of a brother. A brother! When the first man saw the dignity and the selflessness of the second man, he realized how petty and selfish he had…I….I…I had been. It made me see something more clearly than I’ve ever seen it before. God didn’t put us here for that pat on the back. He created us so he could be here himself. So he could exist in the lives of those he created, in his image.

Thank you Mr. Christopher, for your portrayal of this role. I’ll think of you every time I say “Jocularity, jocularity!” And I’ve always wanted my own hat like the one you wore all those years.

— 4 —

I had never heard of Carlo Carretto until Heather King mentioned him the other day. She cited something written by him that struck me during the holidays, the time when our awareness is heightened concerning the juxtaposition of gift-giving, gift-receiving, and the poverty that is still rampant among us. And that Christ was born into the midst of that poverty.

Judgments on the question of poverty are difficult to make. The garb of a pauper, a small house, a wooden table, a chipped cup, the plaited haversack—these are external signs. Then there is the reality, the true poverty, which is altogether interior and invisible.

Today, I prefer the reality. And I actually see it is better, see it in its real essence, because now it has become something more vast, and universal.

The one who cannot meet the rent is not the only poor person. He or she is poor as well who is suffering from cancer.

Those who live in burned-out slums are not the only poor. He or she is poor as well who is on drugs, who is unloved, who is marginalized, who is alone…

So it is difficult to judge.

And I do not wish to judge.

So I only say, place yourselves directly before God and be judged by him.

And keep one thing in mind.

At the vespers of your life you will be judged by your love, not by your poverty.

I say this because out on the frontiers of the Church poverty has become a battlefield, where the poor hate the rich, and the laborer hates his or her employer.

This is no longer blessedness. It is not even the Gospel. This is Marxism…

Never forget, God is love. Poverty is but his garment.

*****

At the vespers of your life you will be judged by your love, not by your poverty. I really like that line.

— 5 —

A few months ago I decided that in 2017 I would write less, and read more. In particular I am dedicating the year to the study of the virtues, for it is in the lack of the practice of virtues that I see much of the darkness in our world.

In the Introduction to his book The Book of Man, William Bennett writes:

But the decline in foundational virtues—work, marriage, and religion—affects more than the lower class. It appears to affect the upper reaches of the wealthiest also. For instance, we once believed that the wealth and successs for men were connected to and were a product of diligence and virtue. We are not so sure anymore.

Walter Russell Mead, the accomplished cultural essayist, put it this way about some of America’s elite men: “What a surprise! We raised a generation of bright kids without a foundation in religion, and they’ve grown up and gone to Wall Street. We never told them that the virtuous life was both necessary and hard, that character was something that had to be built step by step from youth, that moral weakness was both contemptible and natural: and we are shocked, shocked! when, placed in proximity to large sums of loose cash, they grab all they can.” In short, from the top to the bottom of American society we have a problem with a good number of our men.

One such symptom is the collapse of what is known as the code of men, or the code of a gentleman. There was once a common understanding in our society among men that there are standards of action and behavior to which men should hold themselves. Men, the code dictates, among other things, keep their word, whether in writing or not, men do not take advantage of women, men support their children, and men watch their language, especially around women and children. The code of men is fading.

[To those who dismiss the above as 1) old fashioned; and/or 2) sexist I will say right here and now: “So?” In short, I don’t care. I’ve tried things your way (and by your I mean the current zeitgeist of the world). It isn’t working. Not just for me, but obviously for a lot of us. Obviously I believe that these virtues apply to women as well as men and recognize the context in which things were written. So until you can present a more cogent argument than the two I listed above, save your breath.]

Initially I struggled to come up with a list to study. There are the twelve virtues as put forth by St. Alphonsus Liguori in his book The Twelve Steps to Holiness and Salvation which I own and enjoy. There are also twelve virtues listed in the daily devotional Cultivating Virtue: Self-Mastery with the Saints. This is a reprint of a book published in 1891 as A Year with the Saints: A Virtue for Every Month of the Year (available online). There are the Five Cardinal Moral Virtues as defined by Socrates. And as a Catholic I’m aware of the four Cardinal Virtues, the three Theological Virtues and the seven Capital Virtues. And of course there are more and various lists. There are the seven virtues listed in Manvotionals: Timeless Wisdom and Advice on Living the 7 Manly Virtues. William Bennett wrote a best-seller twenty years ago called The Book of Virtues.

When I laid the above out in a table I was able to quickly assess that several of the lists mentioned contained the same or similar virtues. This means the list of forty-three is a lower number and not so daunting.

I’ve flirted with the idea of writing about a virtue at the end of each month, but I think it more likely I will be content to read, study and lightly journal about each one instead. Perhaps when all is said and done I will write about what I find. But for now I think it best to limit myself to their study instead. I need to absorb them more deeply before I dare to put forth my thoughts.

Stay tuned, and have a great week (and 2017).

Finding beauty and joy on the planet of the apes

This morning I was greeted with a story that broke yesterday about the mentally disabled man who was kidnapped, tied up and tortured while his ordeal was broadcast on Facebook Live. I have not watched it. After reading initial reports last night I chose not to watch before bed. I chose to not watch again today after receiving a few emails from friends about it as well as seeing it on social media.

Social media. Satan’s greatest invention, don’t you think? I do. Social media itself is a tool and therefore neutral in its nature. But man, being a fallen creature, tends to corrupt the neutral. This is why after a two year experiment with Twitter I had enough. I still have an account but haven’t logged on in a month. I’ve removed Facebook from my phone and allow myself 20 minutes a day at work to glance at it. Like Rabbi Jonathan Sacks I believe we need to get beyond the politics of anger.

At the end of Wendell Berry’s novel Jayber Crow the title character says:

This is, as I said and believe, a book about Heaven, but I must say too that it has been a close call. For I have wondered sometimes if it would not finally turn out to be a book about Hell – where we fail to love one another, where we hate and destroy one another for reasons abundantly provided or for righteousness’ sake or for pleasure, where we destroy the things we need the most, where we see no hope and have no faith, where we are needy and alone, where things that ought to stay together fall apart, where there is such a groaning travail of selfishness in all its forms, where we love one another and die, where we must lose everything to know what we have had.

Increasingly social media, or our media in general, seems to be to be a book about Hell.

During those brief daily interludes on Facebook I began to notice that a friend of mine from Mississippi was daily posting the blog entries for a blog called Sean of the South. After a week I read one entry. Then two. After the third I signed up to have his posts delivered to my inbox each day. I recommend it to you as well. His writing reminds me a little of Jean Shepherd, the man who wrote the stories that the popular movie A Christmas Story is based upon. Shepherd is also the voice that narrates the movie. I’ve read three of his books and often laugh along to his stories. Sean Dietrich can do the same, though he is also a bit more somber at times. This morning’s offering, a story he called simply “Good”, was an excellent antidote to what happened in Chicago. I’ll let you read it for yourself, but I will include a small portion of it here.

Anyway, I feel I owe it to you to admit: I don’t know much about life—I have the lack of training to prove it.

Even so, I’m a person who believes in something. In miracles. Small ones I’ve seen with my own eyes. In people. In things that terrify the sapsuckers who write the nightly news—folks who earn livings reporting on the worst mankind has to offer.

Well, I think life is a lot more than a string of bad headlines.

Me too brother.

As if to punctuate this point I saw this story about three little girls and their garbagemen posted to Facebook this morning. Read the story (or watch the ABC News video).

But Jeff, that young man today is hurting. He’s been traumatized. Aren’t you angry?

Of course I am, but what good does that do other than increase my blood pressure and make my day more difficult than it is? One of my friends that mentioned that the story out of Chicago likened it to “life on the Planet of the Apes”. I can’t disagree with him and have the same thought when I spend too much time looking at nothing but social media and the news. We are approaching a tipping point of a dark nature. I’ve seen several pundits and cultural observers agree with that assessment. It may indeed get very much worse before it gets better.

(Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.)

On Facebook sometime in late 2015 having had enough of all the political shouting and anger I wrote “I choose Joy.” I wrote those three words as an affirmation and reminder to myself to avoid falling into the pit of despair that can result from immersing oneself in the cesspool. I will also add that I’ve further chosen to focus on the beauty that surrounds us all. Because if we but open our eyes it is there, present in our fellow human beings, our families, our pets, music, scenery. It’s there.

On January 1 we said goodbye once again to our son as he left our driveway and headed back to his base in California. Later that day my wife and I decided to go to a movie for my birthday and saw Collateral Beauty. After seeing a trailer for the film I suggested to her that we go. There’s no CGI. No superheroes. I liked the cast. It looked like a simple, but interesting, story. While critics savaged the film on my Flixter app I read five times as many viewer reviews that were positive. I’m glad we went.

I’m not going to write about the film’s plot. From IMDB:

Retreating from life after a tragedy, a man questions the universe by writing to Love, Time and Death. Receiving unexpected answers, he begins to see how these things interlock and how even loss can reveal moments of meaning and beauty.

During the film a character recalls the words a stranger said to her when facing a tragedy in her own life: “Don’t forget to notice the collateral beauty.”

So looking back at the last few weeks I’ve noticed it:

In my household while my oldest son was home during his two week holiday leave from his Marine base.

In my wife’s hands as she repaired the small holes in Nolan’s camos just as she had sewn the holes in his baseball uniforms throughout his youth.
sewing

In the madness and activity surrounding our daughter’s Christmas Concert.

In my daughter’s face while she sat next to me and her two brothers watching Rogue One in 3D. I glanced over in time to watch her mouth open wide and her small hands reach out in front of her.

In our beagle Buster as he was once more reunited with his master and was virtually inseparable from Nolan’s lap for two weeks.

In the batting cage where Jonah has spent the last three weeks working on his swing because in his words he “wants to continue to improve”. He hopes to play college baseball one day. His words. Not mine.

swing

In the home of our longtime friends who invited my wife and I over one night to enjoy the wet bar they’d built in their basement after years of discussions. It was present in the laughter, conversation and glow of our cheeks after several recipes involving scotch and bourbon served in a glass.

In the liturgy, music and faces of our fellow parishioners at Mass on Christmas Eve.

In the soft glow of the Christmas candle burning in the center of our Advent wreath after I prayed Matins after midnight on Christmas Eve.

christmas_eve

In our visits with each side of our families to gather for food and presents. In particular I saw it in the face of my two-year old nephew as he climbed on my lap and allowed me to take a 60 second video of himself laughing at his image on my phone’s screen. For the next hour he took my phone away and watched again and again and again the image of himself laughing at himself. And he laughed a beautiful laugh and smiled a beautiful smile.

In the impromptu game of darts that broke out New Year’s Eve on our back patio in 20 degree weather between my three children. Nolan had purchased a dartboard to take back to his barracks. He leaned it against the brick wall and from 8-10pm he played with his younger siblings. My daughter was in her robe and slippers, but her face was warm with laughter and competition. I joined in a game of 301 with them before we went inside to warm up.

In the game of Nerts that my wife and I played with our two youngest afterwards. It has become a bit of a family tradition to play this frantic card game since 2014 when our oldest was at boot camp. This year after one hand he offered to sit in for me as his brother’s partner. For the first time in three years the boys beat the girls at Nerts. Next December 31 when he’s not with us while he’s on deployment I’ll once again partner with Jonah and hopefully do well or else ring in 2018 by hearing how awful a partner I am.

In my daughter wishing me a Happy Birthday after counting down to midnight on New Year’s Eve “Happy 50th birthday, Dad!” After explaining to her that I was now 49 she replied “Really? You look older…like you’re 50.” She’s grounded until I turn 50 next year.

In reviewing my daughter’s homework from school, and laughing at her clever creativity in which she turned a spelling test into a cartoon project of sorts.

spellingbee

In the many birthday wishes graciously sent by friends and family. 

I saw beauty in the blanket of softly falling snow outside my window just last night.

On January 1st after Nolan left our driveway we were too late to attend 10:30am Mass at our home parish so we journeyed a few minutes south to attend the 11am Mass at a neighboring church. And there, once more, I saw beauty. It came to me in these words from Holy Scripture during the Old Testament reading from Numbers, Chapter 6:

The LORD bless you and keep you!
The LORD let his face shine upon you, and be gracious to you!
The LORD look upon you kindly and give you peace!

And I thought to myself “What a wonderful blessing to use to greet others in 2017.”

I guess where I’m going is this:

The Beauty is always there, if you but look long enough while standing still.

The Joy is there too. It is our reaction to encountering the Beauty.

Both are present. We just need to stand still long enough to notice.

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?