My Life’s Ambition

Eight years ago, in November 2010, I wrote a post I called Stargazing. It was about asking life’s big questions and how we stop doing so as we age. Within the post I mentioned someone who during my high school years meant a lot to me:

I only took one person to this sacred spot of mine. Her name was…well, I’ll keep that to myself. She may read this and I’d hate to embarrass her. She was a year ahead of me in high school. We were in band together. She was quiet and unassuming, and I thought she was very pretty. Somehow we connected in all the busyness of our teenage years for too short a time and made a try at dating. I was horrible at it and my first love, baseball, ensured the relationship’s death come springtime. But that winter was warmed by the quiet, pretty farmgirl who played clarinet. One night, a night much like tonight, we had gone out for a bit and spent some talking on my front porch. We went for a walk and found ourselves in my backyard where I led her to the place I did all my thinking. I sat down and she sat on my lap for warmth. We talked about the same questions: How will it all turn out? Where will we go in our lives? What will we be doing? We laughed and we talked about all the possibilities before us.

She still means a lot to me. I’m a man blessed to know many people, but I have a very small circle of close friends. I would fight for them in a heartbeat even if we haven’t seen each other in years. I’ll fight physically, if necessary, and always through prayer.

In November of last year, just two months ago, my friend’s husband of twenty-eight years, a fine man, husband and father of her two children, died very suddenly and without warning. No sooner had she finished the grim, sad task of burying him than she was diagnosed with an aggressive cancer. So aggressive that they started chemo within a week. An elementary school teacher with two children in college, her most pressing concern was for her students and her kids. I know this because we had reconnected by random chance by running into each other in a big box store parking lot of all places, around twelve or so years ago, and have stayed in touch via Facebook or text messages.

Before I’d gone on my retreat last month I sent out a text to several people asking them if there were any intentions I could pray for on their behalf. She responded, asking in part:

“For cancer to be gone for the rest of my life. For (my) children to have peace and be cancer free their whole life, to hear God…”

I responded by offering those prayers at my retreat and after. Understandably her spirits were very low after absorbing all of these blows while heading into the holiday season. I also responded by sending her bad clarinet memes. When we were in high school she played clarinet and I played trombone. Trombonists are notorious trouble makers and forwarders of bad band memes, even those with typos. I like to think I helped her laugh a little.

I text her every week, especially the Sundays prior to her two-week chemo treatment. On December 23rd she texted me first:

“Hey! You should see my bald head … 30 years off my age and with a gazillion more muscles and I could be G.I. Jane.”

Sure enough a few minutes later I saw a family photo taken in front of their Christmas tree. Bald as the proverbial cue ball.

It should be mentioned that she is around 5’5”…maybe 5’6” before the hair loss. It should also be pointed out that clarinet players are not as funny as trombone players, but we laugh at their jokes anyway. I figure you gotta have a sense of humor to play a reed instrument. Trombonists have few faults outside of our propensity for bad memes and being late. It’s why we chose to play an instrument with that slide. It’s a cool, non-chalant way of being a half-beat early or late but eventually getting to the right note. “Bad timing, with style,” is what I’d imagine Buzz Lightyear saying if he played the trombone.

Admit it, you just heard him say it in your head.

Yesterday was the passage of another two weeks and it was time to check in. She responded:

“Feeling good for the last four days. Chemo tomorrow. Would have been my 29th anniversary today.”

Oof.

Before she dozed off (I was up late watching a special about the Red Sox run to the World Series title on MLB Network) she seemed to pick up the conversation we’d begun all those years ago during the time I write about in that post when she texted:

“What is your life’s ambition?”

Jeez…clarinet players are unpredictable and much too serious. Thinking about it for a bit, and recalling a similar conversation we’d had together under a canopy of stars thirty-four years ago, I texted back:

“That’s the million dollar question that I have never been able to answer.”

But as I type this out now a thought occurred to me. Maybe it’s to be there for friends in need. That’s not a bad ambition, is it?

During my lunch hour today I was running errands and buying a few things for my oldest son’s birthday tomorrow when she texted me after her chemo was finished.

“Found out at appt today I have cancer in the right side also.”

Being a master wordsmith who is often too verbose in my texts, I considered my a reply for five minutes before mustering

“Nuts.”

“Better to find out now then later,” she replied.

I think I’ve begun to realize my life’s ambition after all … just a week after turning fifty-one.

Trombonists aren’t known for their timing. Better late than never. A clarinet player taught me that.

Please pray for my friend Clarice.

*******

I quoted this song in my original piece eight years ago but failed to embed it for some silly reason. I’m correcting that grievous error here.

©2019 Jeff A Walker. All Rights Reserved.

Peace in Our Day

A gargoyle statue is seen among a property smoldering rubble in Paradise, north of Sacramento, California on November 09, 2018. (Photo credit JOSH EDELSON/AFP/Getty Images)

During my silent Ignatian retreat four weeks ago I made and long and intense face-to-face confession with a retired priest and confessor. I confessed my sins and then as I confessed to the sin of anger I found myself unloading my anger about the sins of those priests, bishops and cardinals who undermine the faith of so many in their participation and covering up of the abuse of young boys, men and women. When the newest outbreak began to be reported this summer I was seething…OUTRAGED! I considered leaving, but to go where? This wasn’t of Christ. It wasn’t of His bride, the Church. This was sin and wrongdoing as old as Cain and of the sort that resides inside the deepest recesses of our fallen human nature. To leave Christ’s bride would be like abandoning my own spouse or closest friend or family member in a time of great need, one in which they needed to be defended while under attack. It would be my scurrying like a coward over the old city walls and escaping into the night when outside the ramparts the enemy was preparing for the final siege and rape of the city. What kind of man would I be to do this? The sacraments themselves are still valid. I’ve read too much, studied too much, and experienced too much to ever abandon the Church. But I have zero problem at all in the handing of those traitorous vermin who are to be her most ardent protectors and teachers over to authorities and to justice. I do not envy them the Divine Justice they will one day experience.

I closed by telling him that when asked at the start of the retreat to write down an answer to Christ’s question In Luke 18 “What do you want me to do for you?” I had written the following:

I want Jesus to release me from this anger.
And from my desire to control the uncontrollable
To make me a better husband and father
To make me more selfless and serving
To guard me from my own cynicism
To make me a better man

And when asked to read and meditate on Isaiah 55 and then to write what it is I hunger and thirst for, I had journaled:

For the Truth
For Beauty
For the Good and the Holy
For Peace

“The bottom line Father,” I said. “is that I long for peace.”

When I was finished the old priest looked up at me with a sense of fatigue that I cannot know. For he is likely pained by his brother priest’s betrayal moreso than I. After talking through it with me he gave me my penance: “Go, and search for peace until you find it.”

He completed the rite by absolving me of my sins and sending me on my way with a blessing.

The magnitude of what he said didn’t hit me until after I’d returned to my seat in the chapel. At first I laughed to myself at such a seemingly flippant and silly penance. But as I recalled the wry smile that he wore while saying these words to me and began to consider the magnitude of what he had assigned to me I was no longer laughing. I considered rushing back into the confessional and begging him to give me something else. “Can’t I just recite 100 Hail Mary’s instead? Or 100 Our Father’s?”

Go, and find peace. He just as well asked me to pick up Mount Everest and move it onto the plains of central Nebraska near Kearney. Finding peace would be as easy as that.

I say this as one who tells you that you would have to truly be blind to not see the increasing unrest and chaos in our world today. Events have picked up in intensity and volume at a pace that is destined for a crashing explosion. I do not have the time nor the inclination to attempt to document or list said events here. I don’t say these words as a “prepper” or one hiding behind his armory in a mountainside bunker in Montana. But I can see it with mine own eyes. I can feel it in my bones. Many times recently I’ve found myself uttering these words by Tolkien in The Lord of the Rings to myself:

There is a well-known song, and I’ve even seen it in meme form, that says “Let there be peace on earth.” Too many times we recite the first six words and overlook the six that follow: “…and let it begin with me.” This is the key, I think, for my quest to find peace. I have to start with myself. With my own mind. With my own heart.

As such I have decided to at long last eliminate the noise and distraction of social media from my life by greatly reducing my access. I posted to Facebook for the final time today (though I may include this blog post), a thank you for a baseball-related favor done for my son by a friend of mine. I’ve eliminated anything reeking of the stench of politics from my Twitter feed. I’ve had to do this because as much as I love and value my friends I simply cannot stomach the vomit of politics that goes on there every day. Yes, it still creeps into Twitter and recently I found myself responding in this manner to a question posed by someone sneering at Catholics:

Why shouldn’t I expect them to sneer? It’s what they’re taught to do by our educational system, the media, and our own politicians. Senators Harris (D-CA) and Hirono (D-HI) are now suggesting requiring a religious test for being considered for a federal judgeship as they deem membership in the Knights of Columbus to be “extreme”. Yes, those of us who assist the elderly with their moves, or serve at their funerals, or cook the flapjacks at the pancake breakfasts and Lenten fish fries across the world are now to be looked upon with suspicion. And then I log onto Facebook and see friends of mine, ardent and blindly partisan supporters of all things Democrat, cheering these so-called “leaders”. In a world too full of senseless, screeching identity politics these women are two of the worst.

Just typing that paragraph removed my peace and made my blood boil, and for no reason. After all I cannot control the actions of those moronic and evil politici-…”

See? I was about to lose it again.

So I logged off. Removed the app from my phone. I did so not only for my peace, but for the peace of others. Because I don’t know how much longer I could have remained there and not begun to tell people what I really thought of their politics. I was about to pull up broadside, light the cannon fuses and blow it all to Kingdom Come. Enough is enough.

But that, of course, would help no one. No peace.

I give you peace, my peace I give you

At 4:30pm on December 31st, I drove to the Pink Sisters chapel. Flurries were beginning to fall on the cold, gray New Year’s Eve. Once inside I settled in to pray a rosary before the sisters would arrive to sing Vespers at 5pm. On this night I prayed the Joyful Mysteries because despite what I feel is ahead in the coming year it is, afterall, Christmas and in a transcendental sense I do in fact feel joy. I also felt my strength nourished inside this sanctuary, safe and secure while the darkness descended outside the stained glass windows and the wind howled outside.

My rosary finished as I was able to hear the sisters assembling behind the screen for Vespers. I had brought my breviary so I could pray with them and turned to the page marked by the first ribbon. For the next twenty plus minutes I again felt buoyed by a sense of calm and of strength. I was not praying alone, nor was I praying with just the nuns. In those moments I was praying along with thousands of Catholics around the world who participate in the Divine Office every day in every time zone. And I knew I was praying with not just the Church Militant here on earth, but with the Church Triumphant in Heaven itself, the Communion of Saints. This is how I’ve chosen to live my life, and this is how I prepare myself for my days upon the earth. In this way I know I do not walk alone.

The Sentinel

After Vespers was finished the nuns shuffled out of the sanctuary and back into their living space. But a lone nun stayed behind, kneeling in silent prayer for a time in front of the altar before which the Blessed Sacrament was stationed. She eventually settled back into her chair, a vigilant sentinel of prayer. I left shortly after, walking back outside into the dark night where the flurries had increased their intensity. The old year was in its death throes; the new year would ring into existence in six hours.

I thought of that sister again the following morning when I woke up to the new year and my birthday with Lauds. The image was still very fresh in my mind and brought back into focus as I prayed these words from Psalm 63 that morning:

So I gaze on you in the sanctuary
to see your strength and your glory.

Lauds, January 1, Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God

During the Catholic Mass we hear these words from John 14:27 during the Rite of Peace, which directly follows The Lord’s Prayer:

“I give you peace, my peace I give you…”

The full verse containing the words of Jesus is as follows:

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.

Let there be peace on earth.

Let it begin with me.

[Written this 10th day of Christmas, on the Feast of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton]

One year later…

One year ago today I awoke to find I could not walk. I would spend the next 2-3 weeks going from my bed to my couch and no further. I watched more Perry Mason, Laramie or Gunsmoke than I thought possible. I was miserable. I confess to wanting someone to put a bullet into my brain and end the onslaught of pain.

And thus it was that I celebrated Christmas, and my 50th birthday on New Year’s Day, lying on my side with a pillow between my knees because it was the only position that allowed relief from endless spasms and for my tears to cease.

A trip to the doctor’s yielded no results, but did get me a prescription that finally allowed me to get some sleep. I was unable to have an MRI because I could not lie flat for more than 90 seconds and the long, thin tube required my stillness for 30 minutes. My wife bought me two crutches which enabled me to hobble about somewhat. Two weeks in physical therapy prescribed by my doctor did a little, but not much in the end. I did have “dry needling” or acupuncture twice, and it yielded positive results but did not last.

I continued to want that bullet in my head.

I finally went to a chiropractor that had an office near my home. My oldest son had a bad spinal and neck injury from junior high football and two years of chiro had enabled him to function and breathe normally again, complete his high school baseball career and serve as a US Marine. His chiropractor’s office was 30 minutes away and closed for three weeks due to the birth of the chiropractor’s baby. Researching a handful of chiropractors resulted in my deciding to go to the one I did nearby, because of the similarity in techniques and philosophy with my son’s. Hindsight revealed that I had ignored ten months of slow warning signals being sent from my body regarding my back and on Dec. 18, 2017, it manifested itself with the most intense sciatic pain knifing through my left thigh and down into my knee. Seriously…a bullet would have been merciful. I wouldn’t wish that pain on even my worse enemy.

And so, after a flurry of initial treatment several times per week gradually slowing to the once per week I still go today, and as the man who claimed to have been turned into a newt said when confronted with the fact that he was in fact a man said in Monty Python and the Holy Grail:

What a year.

I haven’t blogged in 367 days. I’ve thought about what to say if…or when…I decided to post once again. Would it be a farewell? Would it be as if no time had passed? What would I say? Do I even have anything to say anymore?

I don’t have the answers yet. This may, in fact, be the last thing I write here. I just don’t know.

The last twelve months have been a blur, full of challenges and some triumphs. My oldest son returned from his second deployment safely in the spring, and was discharged honorably in October. He has begun the next phase of his life and currently resides with us. I’ve had to say goodbye to some dear friends my own age who didn’t get the luxury of mulling over such vanities because when the time came for them the next breath was suddenly and unexpectedly their last. Sobering events indeed.

I’ve learned, and re-learned, the power of prayer and faith. For it was my faith as a practicing Catholic that helped guide me through the dark year that was 2017, it’s painful ending, and the challenges faced in 2018. I recently made a three-plus day silent Ignatian retreat that renewed and refreshed me. One of the exercises was to review the events of our last twelve months and to journal

  • What have I learned?
  • What have I accomplished?
  • What role did faith, hope or love play?
  • What might I have done differently?
  • Why might I have done things differently?
  • What significant events occurred that were very special to me?
  • What brought fun into my life?
  • What were sources of joy?
  • What difficult things have I faced?
  • How am I different now? How did I grow?
  • What area(s) still need growth?
  • For whom or to what am I most grateful?

To pray with this exercise I used, among other verses,

  • Isaiah 42:6-7
    • I have been called. I have been taken and kept. I have been given.
  • Luke 18: 35-43
    • “What do you want me to do for you?”
  • Isaiah 55
    • What is it I hunger and thirst for?

Also for consideration: Colossians 3:9-10, Psalm 46:1-10 and Psalm 103.

So until I can decide whether to continue to write, or to write again, I invite you to do the same exercise to close out your year. To begin all you need to do is to look at your past 12 months (or 6, or 3, etc.) and ask God to help you to understand your story as it involved a good and gracious God. Also ask yourself “How can I grow in understanding how God reveals Himself to all of us and in particular, uniquely to me?” And finally, ask “How do I use the blessing that is me and my life in the service to God and others?”

I’ll end here and keep it at 900 words. No sense in exhausting us all after a year off. One year after being effectively paralyzed in one leg I was able to stand on my deck this morning with our beagle and watch the sunrise. A year ago I wasn’t sure I’d ever be able to do so again.

Nebraska sunrise, Dec. 18, 2018

A little of this and a little of that

So you think that it’s just a tale of days gone by?

This has been on YouTube since 2009 but I just saw it this week and loved it. Very clever.

A Dangerous Firebrand

We have very efficiently pared the claws of the Lion of Judah, certified him “meek and mild,” and recommended him as a fitting household pet for pale curates and pious old ladies. To those who knew him, however, he in no way suggested a milk-and-water person; they objected to him as a dangerous firebrand. True, he was tender to the unfortunate, patient with honest inquirers, and humble before heaven; but he insulted respectable clergymen by calling them hypocrites; he referred to King Herod as “that fox”; he went to parties in disreputable company and was looked upon as a “gluttonous man and a wine-bibber, a friend of publicans and sinners” . . . when confronted with neat dialectical traps, he displayed a paradoxical humor that affronted serious-minded people, and he retorted by asking disagreeably searching questions that could not be answered by rule of thumb. He was emphatically not a dull man in his human lifetime, and if he was God, there can be nothing dull about God either.

Dorothy Sayers (essayist, playright and translator of Dante’s Divine Comedy) “The Greatest Drama Ever Staged is the Official Creed of Christendom.” The Sunday Times, April, 2, 1938

Flannery and The Hillbilly Thomists

This was one of my favorite passages from Flannery O’Connor’s prayer journal, published a few years ago:

You are the slim crescent of a moon that I see and my self is the earth’s shadow that keeps me from seeing all the moon. The crescent is very beautiful and perhaps that is all one like I am should or could see; but what I am afraid of, dear God, is that my self shadow will grow so large that it blocks the whole moon, and that I will judge myself by the shadow that is nothing.

O’Connor was the original “hillbilly Thomist” and she referred to herself as such. So what exactly is this type of individual?

In 1955, the southern author Flannery O’Connor said of herself, “Everybody who has read Wise Blood thinks I’m a hillbilly nihilist, whereas. . .I’m a hillbilly Thomist.” She said that her fiction was concerned with the ways grace is at work among people who do not have access to the sacraments. The Thomist (one who follows the thought of St. Thomas Aquinas) believes that the invisible grace of God can be at work in visible things, just as the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, in the person of Christ. (source)

A group of Dominicans calling themselves The Hillbilly Thomists released an album this week and it sounds very cool. I love the old-timey pose they struck for the album cover.

From C.C. Pecknold at First Things:

But after nearly four years of performing, they’ve now produced their first album, and it is a veritable feast of Bluegrass banjo bliss! The twelve-song album includes nineteenth- and twentieth-century bluegrass classics, such as Jefferson Hascal’s “Angel Band” (prominently featured in the Cohen Brothers’ O Brother, Where Art Thou?), as well as original bluegrass arrangements of hymns such as “Amazing Grace” and “What Wondrous Love Is This.”

Many of the songs chosen for the album emphasize the theme of pilgrimage, and the vocal harmonies of songs like “Angel Band” remind us of our heavenly destination. From the opening track, “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms,” we learn about how sweet it is to walk “in this pilgrim way.” The beautifully produced music video that promotes the new album features Br. Simon Teller’s pitch-perfect rendition of the pilgrim’s ballad, and the fourth track, “Poor Wayfaring Stranger,” which hints at the way Dominicans have understood their witness as a joyful sign of contradiction in a world that is passing away.

I’ve sampled a few tracks on iTunes and liked what I heard. While I’m not an avid bluegrass fan, thanks to Alison Kraus I listen to my fair share. They’ve already sold out of their physical inventory of CDs, but it can be ordered in digital format by way of iTunes and Amazon by visiting their page here.

Speaking of St. Thomas, how about a pint?

Matt Fradd recently began a podcast that has become quite successful called “Pints with Aquinas”. As I spend most of my social media time on Twitter these days that is where I first stumbled across his new podcast venture. I’ve not yet had time to listen to any but have a few downloaded and plan to give a listen this weekend. I’m a huge fan of “The Dumb Ox” as Aquinas was known, and have dipped my toes into his Summa Theologica a few times from their place on my bookshelf. You may find him on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube or the world wide web.

I first noticed him when I saw a few cartoons retweeted that made me laugh out loud. A few of my favorites are below.

Prayer Time > Free Time

Having logged off Facebook until after New Year’s in order to avoid Star Wars spoilers, and cutting way back on Twitter, I’ve got some more time on my hands. We are at the halfway point of Advent and Christmas will soon be here (no matter how much Madison Avenue tries to convince you that it’s already here…it’s not.) So what am I doing with that extra time each day?

How much time do Catholics spend in prayer? Prayer is a great gift that one should find joy in. The cultivation of virtue—which is the outcome of habit (habitus)—requires striving. It requires time. It demands that we set aside time for God in the midst of our daily lives. To have an active prayer life is the result of the habit of prayer.

To this end the Rosary embodies the call to a virtuous prayer life better than most prayers because of the time it takes to pray the Rosary. Time is the one thing we can never get enough of according to some people. And the more time spent reading, praying, or contemplating God, the less time one is “making something of themselves” in the material world. For all the wonders that God has done for us it would be fitting of our appreciation and understanding of God’s wonders and love to devote time to him throughout the day. From small things greater things come. (source)

Happy Advent! And I wish for you all a very Merry and Blessed Christmas!

…and he is us.

Narrator: [opening narration] You walk into this room at your own risk, because it leads to the future, not a future that will be but one that might be. This is not a new world, it is simply an extension of what began in the old one. It has patterned itself after every dictator who has ever planted the ripping imprint of a boot on the pages of history since the beginning of time. It has refinements, technological advances, and a more sophisticated approach to the destruction of human freedom. But like every one of the super-states that preceded it, it has one iron rule: logic is an enemy and truth is a menace. [source]

So this week we had this warning:

Another former Facebook executive has spoken out about the harm the social network is doing to civil society around the world. Chamath Palihapitiya, who joined Facebook in 2007 and became its vice president for user growth, said he feels “tremendous guilt” about the company he helped make. “I think we have created tools that are ripping apart the social fabric of how society works,” he told an audience at Stanford Graduate School of Business, before recommending people take a “hard break” from social media.

Palihapitiya’s criticisms were aimed not only at Facebook, but the wider online ecosystem. “The short-term, dopamine-driven feedback loops we’ve created are destroying how society works,” he said, referring to online interactions driven by “hearts, likes, thumbs-up.” “No civil discourse, no cooperation; misinformation, mistruth. And it’s not an American problem — this is not about Russians ads. This is a global problem.”

He went on to describe an incident in India where hoax messages about kidnappings shared on WhatsApp led to the lynching of seven innocent people. “That’s what we’re dealing with,” said Palihapitiya. “And imagine taking that to the extreme, where bad actors can now manipulate large swathes of people to do anything you want. It’s just a really, really bad state of affairs.”

And a few days later, another:

“Imagine a future where your life is measured by a number — three digits that dictate your place in society,” the latest cover of Wired declares. “That future is now.” The accompanying piece, written by Mara Hvistendahl, details the Chinese government’s attempts — with occasional assistance from private companies — to develop a system of “social credit,” using digital data to rank every citizen based on every aspect of his life. “The aim is for every Chinese citizen to be trailed by a file compiling data from public and private sources by 2020, and for those files to be searchable by fingerprints and other biometric characteristics,” according to the story.

What could possibly go wrong? Already, Hvistendahl notes, private ranking systems in China can penalize poor scorers, relegating them to second-class treatment when it comes to various services. Users can even face a downgrade for associating with low-scoring friends. “For the Chinese Communist Party, social credit is an attempt at a softer, more invisible authoritarianism,” the article notes. “The State Council has signaled that under the national social credit system people will be penalized for the crime of spreading online rumors, among other offenses, and that those deemed ‘seriously untrustworthy’ can expect to receive substandard services.”

Well, never mind. That’s China. America is the land of the free, the home of the brave! It is also, however, the home of millions of people giving up boatloads of private data and personal information to random corporations on a completely voluntary basis! Here’s looking at you, Alexa. “The US government can’t legally compel me to participate in some massive data-driven social experiment,” Hvistendahl points out, “but I give up my data to private companies every day.”

Yesterday I saw this video posted by Obianuju Ekeocha (@obianuju) before seeing it posted by others. [For the record, I recommend her Twitter account as one worthy of a “follow”.]

It wasn’t that long ago that the Netherlands fought against the Nazi’s and their eugenicist ideals. But that was then, and this is now.

To recap we are able to distill the costs each one of us has upon society and use it to determine “worth”. Worth as it is measured in costs to taxpayers, or social credits, or our guilt (or innocence) as judged by the frothing, incoherent social media mob who themselves are not so different from the torch and pitchfork crowd that marched many an innocent to the guillotines of France during its revolution just a few short centuries ago.

There is no tinfoil hat ensconced my head. I’m just well-read, continue to read and study history, and am distressingly aware of what humanity is capable of while the masses are distracted by shiny objects and the pursuit of more comfort.

I am just one man making an observation.

We have met the enemy…

Narrator: [closing narration] The chancellor, the late chancellor, was only partly correct. He *was* obsolete. But so is the State, the entity he worshiped. Any state, any entity, any ideology that fails to recognize the worth, the dignity, the rights of Man, that state is obsolete. A case to be filed under “M” for Mankind – in The Twilight Zone.

The Searchers

I started to write this a few years ago, when the strains and pressures of a former job and lifestyle were fresh in my mind. Thankfully this is no longer the case for me. My blood pressure is down and the ulcers are gone. I now face a new adversary, very much different yet in a way born of the same cloth, that I engage in battle.

But that is a story for another day.

I have wanted to go back to my childhood home for years. To take a day off from work and just wander around all the old places, backstreets, etc., that I used to roam, whether by bicycle or car. I had the opportunity to do so a few weeks ago but decided against it. I turn 50 in six weeks. I’m still too young to wallow in the past and search for the ghosts of youth.

Not yet. I’m still sailing on the ocean of life. Still searching.

*****

Martin Sloan, age 36, vice-president in charge of media.

Successful in most things but not in the one effort that all men try at some time in their lives.

Trying to go home again.

And also like all men, perhaps there will be an occasion, maybe a summer night sometime, when he’ll look up from what he’s doing and listen to the distant music of a calliope and hear the voices and the laughter of the people and the places of his past.

And perhaps across his mind there will flit a little errant wish that a man might not have to become old. Never outgrow the parks and the merry-go-rounds of his youth.

And he’ll smile then too because he’ll know it is just an errant wish, some wisp of memory, not too important really.

Some laughing ghosts that cross a man’s mind.

That are a part of the twilight zone.

Walking Distance, The Twilight Zone (1959)

*****

Some people do not have to search. They find their niche early in life and rest there, seemingly contented and resigned. They do not seem to ask much of life, sometimes they do not take it seriously. At times I envy them, but usually I do not understand them. Seldom do they understand me.

I am one of the searchers. There are, I believe, millions of us. We are not unhappy, but neither are we really content. We continue to explore life, hoping to uncover its ultimate secret. We continue to explore ourselves, hoping to understand. We like to walk along the beach, we are drawn by the ocean, taken by its power, its unceasing motion, its mystery and unspeakable beauty. We like forests and mountains, deserts and hidden rivers, and the lonely cities as well. Our sadness is as much a part of our lives as is our laughter. To share our sadness with one we love is perhaps as great a joy as we can know – unless it be to share our laughter.

We searchers are ambitious only for life itself, for everything beautiful it can provide. Most of all we love and want to be loved. We want to live in a relationship that will not impede our wandering, nor prevent our search, nor lock us in prison walls; that will take us for what little we have to give. We do not want to prove ourselves to another or compete for love.

― James Kavanaugh, There Are Men Too Gentle to Live Among Wolves (1970)

There Are Men Too Gentle to Live Among Wolves

There are men too gentle to live among wolves
Who prey upon them with IBM eyes
And sell their hearts and guts for martinis at noon.
There are men too gentle for a savage world
Who dream instead of snow and children and Halloween
And wonder if the leaves will change their color soon.

There are men too gentle to live among wolves
Who anoint them for burial with greedy claws
And murder them for a merchant’s profit and gain.
There are men too gentle for a corporate world
Who dream instead of candied apples and ferris wheels
And pause to hear the distant whistle of a train.

There are men too gentle to live among wolves
Who devour them with eager appetite and search
For other men to prey upon and suck their childhood dry.
There are men too gentle for an accountant’s world
Who dream instead of Easter eggs and fragrant grass
And search for beauty in the mystery of the sky.

There are men too gentle to live among wolves
Who toss them like a lost and wounded dove.
Such gentle men are lonely in a merchant’s world,
Unless they have a gentle one to love.

(source)

What’s Deepest in Us: Three for All Souls Day

After watching Game 7 of an exciting 2017 World Series and a few post-game interviews I shut off the TV. It was just after midnight and since November 2 is All Souls Day I decided to pray Matins from the Divine Office. I began:

Open my mouth, Lord, to bless Your holy name; cleanse my heart from all vain, perverse and distracting thoughts; enlighten my understanding, inflame my affections, that I may be able to recite this Office worthily, attentively and devoutly, and may deserve to be heard in the presence of Your divine Majesty. Amen.

For the next 45 minutes I did my best though I’m sure I slurred and nodded off at some point.

I have written on the subject of All Souls Day before, both in 2011 and 2014. When I learned of that this morning I wasn’t sure I felt the need to write about it again. In fact I think both of those entries hold up well. But I read a few things this morning while browsing Twitter over breakfast that I wanted to share on the occasion.

20 Ways

The first is a commentary written by Gretchen Filz called 20 Ways to Pray for the Holy Souls in Purgatory. Now before my non-Catholic readers roll their eyes Ms. Filz includes a section called “Church Teaching on Purgatory” at the beginning of her piece. It’s only four short paragraphs long, and includes just one link, but serves as a tidy introduction for those who are open to learning about something before casually dismissing it.

Moving on, she then lists her “20 Ways.” I usually perform number 11, 13, and always 16. I’m going to also do #5, the Holy Souls Rosary, tonight for the first time.

“Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord. And let the perpetual light shine upon them. And may the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.”

All Souls Story

Next I read a story written by Fr. Dwight Longenecker back in 2008. It begins:

I was living in England as a young Anglican priest when my younger brother came to live with me. Some weeks after his arrival he learned about the death in a plane crash of a young friend of his we shall call Tom.

Tom was about 5’2″ with a shock of blond hair, a round tanned face with freckles. He was brought up as a Baptist, but had never been baptized and he was in a state of rebellion against the faith when he died unprepared.

My brother Daryl told a priest named Fr. Philip about Tom and the priest said, “We must have a requiem Mass for Tom.” So the two of them got together with another priest named Fr. Roger. Fr Roger agreed to celebrate Mass for Tom’s soul. They decided that it would be best if the Mass were a semi-private celebration, so they went into church and locked the door and proceeded to say Mass for Tom.

Fr. Philip was an extraordinary man with a gift of second sight and the ability to read souls. This spiritual or psychic gift was a benefit to him in an active healing ministry. As the Mass proceeded my brother was overcome with emotion, and at the point of kneeling to receive Holy Communion he felt that Tom was actually there with them and that he was disturbed and confused by what was going on. Daryl (my brother) said that he felt as if Tom was there next to him at communion and he re-assured Tom that everything would be alright and urged him (in his mind) to simply accept the gift he was being given.

After Mass Daryl recounted his feelings to the two priests. “It was like Tom was actually there!”

“Oh he was there.” said Fr. Philip, “I saw him.”

I encourage you to read the rest.

In his homily for All Saint’s Day yesterday at my parish, Fr. Eckrich talked about what Catholics believe regarding those present at each and every Mass on earth and the communion of all saints, not just those formally recognized as those canonized by the Church. I once had it described to me in the following beautiful and simple manner: the Mass is when the Church Militant on earth gets together with the Church Triumphant in Heaven to pray for the Church Penitent in Purgatory (more on that here).

“There it is.”

Some of you are sitting back with arms folded and muttering “Jeff, Jeff…enough with the supernatural hocus-pocus.” Ok, I’ll close with this.

“The lack of transcendence in secularism is its greatest weakness, alongside its carnality and its hubris of man-as-god. It fails to satisfy what’s deepest in us.” – Fr. Arne Panula

I read that quote this morning in an article commemorating Fr. Panula who had died this past July. I’ve had many a conversation with those who are Catholic, Protestant, liberal or conservative about the loss of the sacred and the transcendental in our modern age and the destructiveness it is having on our society. “But Jeff, that was a softball. You quoted a Catholic priest.” Fair point. So I’ll close with these words from Paul Kingsworth, former environmental and conservation activist. I read them on Rod Dreher’s blog this morning via Twitter as well. Kingsworth is not a religious man, but he has a religious sensibility. In his essay “In The Black Chamber” (which I recommend as a good read) he writes:

I wonder if there has been a society in history so uninterested in the sacred as ours; so little concerned with the life of the spirit, so contemptuous of the immeasurable, so dismissive of those who feel that these things are essential to human life. The rationalist vanguard would have us believe that this represents progress: that we are heading for a new Jerusalem, a real one this time, having sloughed off ‘superstition’. I am not so sure. I think we are missing something big. Most cultures in human history have maintained, or tried to maintain, some kind of balance between the material and the immaterial; between the temple and the marketplace. Ours is converting the temples into luxury apartments and worshipping in the marketplace instead. We are allergic to learning from the past, but I think we could learn something here.

The rationalist delusion has a strong grip on our culture, and that grip has been getting stronger during my lifetime. Every year, it seems, the areas of life that remain uncolonised by scientific or economic language or assumptions grow fewer. The success that science has had in explaining what can be explained has apparently convinced many people that it can explain everything, or will one day be able to do so. The success that economics has had in monetising the things which science can explain has convinced many that everything of significance can be monetised.

Environmentalists and conservationists are as vulnerable to these literalist trends as anyone else, and many of them have persuaded themselves that, in order to be taken seriously by those with the power to save or destroy, they must speak this language too. But this has been a Faustian bargain. Argue that a forest should be protected because of its economic value as a ‘carbon sink’, and you have nothing to say when gold or oil of much greater value are discovered beneath it.

Speaking the language of the dominant culture, the culture of human empire which measures everything it sees and demands a return, is not a clever trick but a clever trap. Omit that sense of the sacred in nature – play it down, diminish it, laugh nervously when it is mentioned – and you are lost, and so is the world that moved you to save it for reasons you are never quite able to explain.

I’ll say it plainly, because I’ve worked myself up to it: in ‘nature’ I see something divine, and when I see it, it moves me to humility, not grandiosity, and that is good for me and good for those I come into contact with. I don’t want to be a god, even if I can. I want to be a servant of god, if by god we mean nature, life, the world. I want to be small in the world, belong to it, help it along, protect myself from its storms and try to cause none myself.

I know there are others who feel like this, and I know there are others who don’t. It is not a position to be argued from. I don’t want to try and convince you if you’re not already convinced. If you don’t feel it, you don’t feel it. I do, and I can’t argue it away. There it is.

(Feast of All Souls Day, 2017)