Friday Five – Volume 102

Friday Five-Mere Observations

— 1 —

I have (or had) ideas for this F5 for awhile now but as has happened almost daily over the past month or so I’m almost paralyzed on how to proceed. Something is broken within, and I don’t know how to fix it because I don’t know what’s broken. It’s frustrating as hell. It’ll be disjointed I suppose but here goes.

Pope Francis had declared the next Church year (Advent to Advent) to be an Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy. It began on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception on Dec. 8 and will continue until November 20, 2016. And while I would love to write a few thoughts on mercy and justice as well as a brief history on just why the Church celebrates a jubilee, I am instead simply going to say that I’m participating prayerfully by doing some daily reading on the subject. I’d planned on doing a lot more of that in 2016 (praying) as I see it as one of the most neglected maneuvers in our arsenal. Paraphrasing what Aragorn told Theoden in the film version of The Two Towers “Open war is upon us whether we like it or not.”

On December 8, Father James Schall wrote: It is insufficient to “love” or be “merciful” without recognizing what each of those things is and is not. Sentiments and emotions are fine, but without order they lead us all over the place. We are not free if we are just stupid or naive. We are not free if we lie to ourselves about what is.

And just what, exactly, is what is? Reality, writes Anthony Esolen.

It may be that all of the mad errors of the last hundred years have risen from one first and terrible error: that of refusing to honor reality, including human reality, as it is. In generations past, if you did not honor reality, you paid for it swiftly and severely. Try to plant strawberries in a desert, or fig trees in a swamp, and your belly will tell you that you have been a fool, even if your mind is stubborn and slow to admit it. Send your women out with the oxen and the plow, the cross-cut saw and the mattock, while your boys do the laundry and the mending, and the very stones will testify to your stupidity. But our wealth and sophisticated technology are a great buffer between us and those stones. We can seem to ourselves, for a while, to get away with ignoring the real.

[snip]

So it is that Planned Parenthood, which has never helped any woman to become a parent, sells as human body parts the members of the human beings they have killed under the fiction that they were not human at all, calling it “medical care” when nothing is remediated. So also the Pill, destructive of the common good and (like all synthetic growth hormones) deleterious to the health of the women who use it, is called “medical care,” when no disease is cured, and no limb or organ is restored to its normal and natural function; rather, its purpose is to thwart the natural function of the reproductive system, even at the cost of the woman’s health. It is thus not like an inoculation to protect you against a communicable disease. It is like deliberately putting a joint out of socket.

[snip]

A man who is weary of the reality of being a man and a father can become a woman and a small child merely by pretending to be so, and dressing accordingly, perhaps taking advantage of the nipping and tucking of plastic surgery. A woman who is weary with the reality of being a woman can become a man by having a doctor pin the tail on the donkey. A lonely boy can become a girl—presto!—by mere insistence, and everyone has to play along. People who live atop the citadel of reality can shake their heads and smile at their opponents. They have reality under their feet and round about them and over their heads. Reality is fresh air, bracing and healthy. People who live in the dream world of ideology can never smile at their opponents. One ironical jest is a dire threat. That is because they have built their house on something slighter than sand—airy nothing.

— 2 —

Our reality has become as thin, fragile and fake (an “airy nothing”) as any utopian novel written in the last century. Brave New World, 1984, The Giver or The Hunger Games. We seem to seek comfort in the warmth of the gentle lies we tell ourselves, or more accurately, allow ourselves to be told. It’s truly been an astounding thing to witness. I used to get angry at each absurd claim I would see. Now I laugh. One day soon I’ll be crying. For anyone with clear and open eyes it is a remarkable time. Orwell called it Newspeak. We call it the news or a government press release.

For our beloved old U. S. A. is in a bad way. Americans have turned against each other; race against race, right against left, believer against heathen… . ~Walker Percy, Love in the Ruins

Percy’s book was published in 1971. Tell me you don’t see this happening today at the dawn of 2016. I watched it play out in real time on Twitter just a few weeks ago. As the first reports of the San Bernardino shootings came in and through the ensuing coverage I was sickened. But in the aftermath as the full-fledged hatred of the left in this country was unleashed in the manner of prayer shaming I was mortified.

So what to do? We choose. How to live, how to die and who (or what) we worship:

It’s not that we don’t have a real power to choose, or that our will isn’t free, or that our choices are unimportant. Though, in a certain sense, the many choices we make throughout our lives on earth are really many acts of just one choice: the choice to pursue God or to pursue ourselves. We are continually deciding whether to worship God or ourselves, to follow His will or our own, and, ultimately, whether to accept His gift of Himself (heaven) or reject it (hell). In this way we are faced with the same choice that the angels had, but we decide it differently. For the angels are more noble beings, and when they were created they chose in a single act of the will. We, as men and women living in time and constrained by our physical natures, have to make this choice throughout our lives, in our daily acts.

— 3 —

Anyone can perform magic Anyone can reach his goal, If he can think If he can wait If he can fast. – Hermann Hesse

I read this quote in a book I’m now reading called Wisdom from the Monastery, edited by Peter Seewald. I must have looked at this book and through it on the shelves at Gloria Deo Catholic Books & Gifts for two years before finally purchasing it a few weeks ago. I am very glad I did. The book is broken into three main parts, or paths, to spiritual healing: fasting, healing and silence. I didn’t think I’d care much for the portion on fasting or healing, but was most interested in the part about silence: listening, prayer and meditation. I was wrong. I still haven’t gotten out of the first section on fasting because I find myself re-reading and underlining much contained there. This will become my go-to book for 2016 and beyond.

I’ve printed the quote from Hesse out on a notecard, and as a bookmark for my breviary. There is much wisdom contained there.

Many others have taken notice of this need to slow down.

The frequent texting, the flipping back and forth between apps on your tablet, the intermittent glancing at notifications of social media updates.

What these actions both cause and represent is a lack of stillness – that inner state of restfulness needed to focus on an activity for a significant amount of time.

Chances are that many of you suffer from this malady. I’ll admit that I do, too. And chances are that, like me, many of you don’t really like it, but find it tricky to remedy given the technological expectations and noise of the world in which we live.

[snip]

A lack of stillness has detrimental effects on our lives. Aristotle and others throughout Western tradition have regarded contemplation as the highest activity of human beings, and intimately connected with happiness. Frequent flipping around on our phones and tablets doesn’t really promote contemplation, as you might have noticed.

[snip]

In order to grow in wisdom, one must have stillness in his or her life. One must be able to give sustained attention to books in order to more fully plumb their depths. One must take the time to patiently struggle through problems in order to move on to more difficult ones in the future. One must have periods of silence in which he can assess and reflect upon the ideas that he has encountered. Through a still, inner constitution, mere information becomes knowledge.

— 4 —

Yesterday a friend sent me the following article that had appeared in the Wall Street Journal. Titled “Hello, Old Friend, Time to Read You Again” author Christopher Nelson wrote of the virtue of revisiting old favorite books as opposed to rushing to consume all the new ones found on today’s shelves and e-readers. (Something I am very guilty of doing.)

In my thank you reply to John I wrote:

Further proof of what he says is within the psalms I suppose. Every day, 2-3 times a day, I pray/read the Divine Office of the Church, as it has been prayed for over 2000 years. There are 150 psalms that are arranged to be prayed in a four week cycle that repeats over the year. Or now and then I’ll use the pre-Vatican II arrangement that was used going further back to the 3000 year old tradition used prior to Christ’s birth in which you pray all 150 over a week’s time. The thing I’ve learned while doing this is that though the psalms never change, I and my life’s circumstances do. Sometimes the prayer is dry as no growth or nothing new has occurred. Other times it is like I am reading them for the first time and am either moved to tears or to stunned silence and much reflection and thought. It’s pretty remarkable.

I thought his reply was insightful:

Each time I read a favorite book, it leads me to reflect on the person I was when I read the book the first time, the significant events in my life at the times I’ve re read the book and the person I am now reading it. There are almost always different insights.

I think the very first book that I really internalized that truth from was ‘Mountain Man’ which is probably one reason why it’s my favorite book. I fell in love with it in high school and my evolution and growth (or lack thereof in some life phases) can be charted each time I read it. It’s funny how Sam sees the changes in the frontier and sees the way of life he loves slipping away and I see the changes in our society, even in Wyoming and see the good, wholesome (to me) time when I first read the book is so far in the past. Sometimes I feel like those old trappers in the book. But it also brings back such good memories that it is literally like meeting an old friend again. I don’t know, it’s hard to put into words; but it’s the same feeling that I get every year when I watch, ‘A Charlie Brown Christmas.’ I’m different every year when I watch it, but the person I was at Mountain View Elementary comes back to say hello. Maybe that’s the essence of it: Rereading a good book allows us to go back and meet our previous selves and reminds us of all that we’ve learned and how we’ve grown. Yet the people that we were back then remain unchanged-preserved like dragon flies in amber. I think those reminders are good ones.

Me too.

— 5 —

The St. Gregory the Great seminarians set the bar very high by performing first last Sunday at Carole Fest: A Benefit for St. Gianna Women’s Homes here in Lincoln. The concert was held at the beautiful new St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church and UNL Newman Center. Each choir afterwards met that challenge and I learned that there are some extremely talented singers in Lincoln’s parishes. A combined choir wrapped up the program with two songs. The first, Silent Night, was aided by the audience singing along and the wonderful acoustics at St. Thomas Aquinas. The finale was O Magnum Mysterium, a responsoral chant from the Matins of Christmas.

You can watch Silent Night by clicking this link. O Magnum Mysterium is embedded below. And for those who’d rather something a little more non-traditional, please enjoy this rendition of O Come All Ye Faithful as sung by Swedish goats. Yes, really. You may credit Tim, the owner of the previously mentioned Gloria Deo bookstore for that one.

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