Friday Five – Volume 119

— 1 —

For several months now I’ve been getting up early on Saturday mornings to watch an hour’s worth of Have Gun – Will Travel episodes. I remember watching the show as a young boy, but the fact that Paladin was such a learned and literate philosopher/hired gun was lost on me. A recently aired episode called The Education of Sara Jane involved a graveside back-and-forth that would not likely survive the editing room of today’s television studio.

In the mountains, Paladin comes upon a riderless horse with blood on the saddle. He follows the horse to the dead body of a middle-aged man. When the man’s daughter arrives, Paladin learns that her father is the latest homicide victim in a blood feud between two families. Over the father’s grave, Paladin recites John Donne and a back and forth follows between he and Sara Jane who interrupts with a string of vengeful Old Testament selections. Paladin counters with biblical quotations emphasizing love and forgiveness.

Heady stuff for a Saturday morning that could easily by missed as the exchange lasted under one minute.

“Any man’s death diminishes me for I am involved with mankind.”

“You get those words from the book?”

“Well they’re words from a book. It was written by a man named John Donne.”

“Words spoken over the dead should be from the book. ‘The Lord my God is a jealous God.’”

“God is love.”

“Honor thy father and thy mother.”

“Love thy neighbor as thyself.”

“An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.”

“Blessed are the merciful for they shall receive mercy.”

The scene begins at the 5 minute mark.

— 2 —

I have thoroughly enjoyed reading Anthony Esolen’s new book Out of the Ashes. Occasionally I have made an effort to highlight passages in the book as particularly relevant. I read this particular one about the time I read about Teen Vogue’s promotion of abortion to young girls.

The question remains. What does it mean to be a woman?

I hear the answer, mainly from a certain kind of woman, “It means whatever you want it to mean.” Sorry, but that is equivalent to saying that it means nothing. Women, in my experience, prefer their nihilism to be dressed up in perky relativist clothing. Relativism is nihilism for girls.

If we are to believe the women’s magazines on sale at groceries and drug stores, a woman is obsessed with her body, eager to learn new sex tricks, always on the watch for dirty revelations about pop-culture celebrities, prone to consulting horoscopes, ready to shell out a lot of money for new fashions, all-in for “safe” gay men who destroy one another’s lives rather than women’s lives, and firmly committed to “women’s health,” which depends on contraceptives and abortions and everything else that is meant not to restore healthy function to a diseased organ but to thwart the natural action of a healthy one.

If we are to take as evidence women’s political shows, a woman is loud, vulgar, screeching, ignorant of history, morbidly touchy, vindictive, smug, voluble in slogans, impervious to the principles of any coherent political philosophy, and ready to see the world as the she-bear sees it when her cubs are restless and the food is scarce. Men, for their part, would be boorish, violent, indolent, reckless, cruel, proud, and ready to soak the world in blood for the sake of a principle.

That is not what women are. That is what bad women are. It is what happens when you fail to cultivate the difficult virtue of womanliness, just as the thug and the lout are what you get when you fail to cultivate the companion virtue, manliness.

Out of the Ashes: Rebuilding American Culture by Anthony Esolen. Page 118.

— 3 —

Tracy Ullman has made me laugh since I first saw her video They Don’t Know in 1983.

— 4 —

Love is Not Tolerance
Bishop Fulton J. Sheen

Christian love bears evil, but it does not tolerate it.

It does penance for the sins of others, but it is not broadminded about sin.

The cry for tolerance never induces it to quench its hatred of the evil philosophies
that have entered into contest with the Truth.

It forgives the sinner, and it hates the sin; it is unmerciful to the error in his mind.

The sinner it will always take back into the bosom of the Mystical Body;
but his lie will never be taken into the treasury of His Wisdom.

Real love involves real hatred:
whoever has lost the power of moral indignation and the urge to drive the buyers and sellers from the temples
has also lost a living, fervent love of Truth.

Charity, then, is not a mild philosophy of “live and let live”;
it is not a species of sloppy sentiment.

Charity is the infusion of the Spirit of God,
which makes us love the beautiful and hate the morally ugly.

— 5 —

In January there was a debate about what word would be selected as the “Word of the Year” for 2016. At the time the Left was pushing for that word to be “fascism”. I maintained then, and still do today, that the word of 2016 (if not the last decade or more) should be “hypocrisy.” If you pay any attention at all in a non-partisan manner to the political events in America it practically leaps off the page or out of your television screen and punches you in the nose. Statements said by a Republican are abhorrent, until it’s revealed that a Democrat said the same thing and was cheered for it. A Democrat bill or legislation is reviled until or unless it is now a position of the Republican majority in Congress. It never ends.

Being a hypocrite in this manner demonstrates all too easily how critical thinking has been set aside. Instead of having to research and think about something, one can merely look to see which political party favors the issue and that alone will firm up the stance one takes on said issue. This shallowness also leads to each side attempting to co-opt a popular book, movie or character in order to, through relativism, paint their political opponents as evil or reaffirm their position as virtuous and good. For example, Orwell’s 1984 is popular with Democrats during the George W. Bush presidency, with Republicans during the Obama era, and now once more required reading for the Left in the Trump term.

The problem with this shallowness is that the truth is always deeper and more profound than this partisan preening. Thus it’s easy to point out that Republicans are not Nazis and Trump is not Lord Voldemort. The lazy way around an argument is to seize upon such comparisons. I get that. But I can’t help but laugh at the moral smugness and superior position assumed by those who are this lazy. It employs the same ploy used to shut down those we disagree with by calling them a racist/homophobe/xenophobe/Islamophobe/etc. By doing so we “otherize” those we deem offensive.

I could point out flawed logic from the Right as well but these are the two most prevalent themes I’ve been reading of late. (A quick Google search of “Trump is Voldemort meme” will show you quite a few, some of which did make me laugh at their creativity.) Thus, as Bart Gingerich points out on the Mere Orthodoxy blog, it’s quite a stretch for the Left to make such a claim regarding the Harry Potter world:

Why do progressives like Harry Potter? Ever since the election of Donald Trump, the left has been regularly referencing to JK Rowling’s popular books in order to rally the opposition to the new president. When you read the books closely, however, it’s a strange move. The contradictions of Millennials’ self-perception and insertion of themselves in the Harry Potter narrative can be quite drastic:

  • Opposing the Death Eaters in fiction while supporting abortion, euthanasia, and transhumanism in real life
  • Loving the boisterously warm-yet-poor Weaselys while visibly troubled by large families (and the sacrifices necessary to keep them)
  • Fascination with the authoritative traditions that order life in the Wizarding World while doing everything they can to destroy and dilute the same in the actual world
  • Reveling in the concept of godparents like Sirius Black while not actually participating in the baptismal liturgies and vows of the Church that create such relationships in real life
  • Longing for the committed, sacrificial love of the Potter parents while hesitating to enter marriage themselves and blowing up said institution by co-habitation and legal redefinition

Most recently, progressives have leaned on the series to oppose Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, identifying the newly minted secretary with Dolores Umbridge. How an advocate for less government oversight, more freedom of school choice, and the potential for increased moral formation in education could be conflated with a bureaucrat enamored with state oversight and questionable curricular hegemony is almost beyond me. Almost. But that is precisely the point.

It’s time to make critical thinking, and honesty, great again.

Friday Five – Volume 118

A week ago today was the first of six days of 70+ degree weather. Today it’s 23 degrees outside and as I look out my window all I can see is a large white flurry of snowflakes accumulating. Hello again February.

Friday Five-Mere Observations

— 1 —

Yesterday I mentioned three books I have been waiting to read in early 2017. I’m currently in the middle of the first book by Anthony Esolen. The second book in my “trilogy” is by Archbishop Charles Chaput. I picked it up a few days ago and plan to dig into it by the end of next week when I’ve finished Esolen’s Out of the Ashes. Robert Royal reviewed Chaput’s new book yesterday. I highlight this excerpt from his review as it speaks to what I wrote yesterday: I’m done with the complaints. It’s time to get to work. It’s time to rebuild.

Many people have recently worked this same ground, but none more astutely and with such breadth of cultural reference. Chaput brings together some of the very best secular as well as religious thinking about our situation: the American Founders, Tocqueville, Charles Péguy, Romano Guardini, Pierre Manent, Leon Kass, Charles Murray, Alasdair MacIntyre, even the great German poet Rilke, and many others. No brief account can do this book full justice. You have to read it, slowly, to appreciate its richness and texture.

But the wide-ranging social analysis is just a preliminary. The central question for us, right now, is what can be done. The answer, the Christian answer, is that there may not be much we can do on a large scale. But what we can do, however modest, we must do. Visiting the sick or dying, maintaining solid families and marriages, having the courage to speak when some human value is violated, being willing even to talk about God, in the right way, amidst a culture that wants, above all things, not to hear the name. Political action, too, as needed. The possibilities are infinite. And we cannot complain that “the times” are evil, because we are the times.

But even that is not enough. Chaput transports all these considerations into a different key by reminding us that the true Christian response to our predicaments is to live in Hope. Hope is not optimism – a foolish thing in a world so obviously wounded by sin and folly. Neither is it confidence in Progress, that 19th Century counterfeit. We have Hope, true Hope, he says, because 2000 years ago, in an obscure regional capital, a man – Jesus – rose from the dead, and defeated the world, the flesh, and – let’s say this openly – the Devil.

The world scoffs at such things, of course, and always has. There are a number of intellectual battles that must be fought to dispel wrongheaded scientific, social, and cultural assumptions. Perhaps the most challenging problem, however, is that the people who most need to hear such arguments are now virtually impervious to reasoning because of the way they have been conditioned to live. Chaput remarks, “The more problematic the behavior, the more sacred grows the liturgy of alibis.”

I like that term, though I hate what it stands for: the liturgy of alibis.

— 2 —

Another excerpt:

chaput_strangersKnowing “about” Jesus Christ is not enough. We need to engage him with our whole lives. That means cleaning out the garbage of noise and distraction from our homes. It means building real Christian friendships. It means cultivating oases of silence, worship, and prayer in our lives. It means having more children and raising them in the love of the Lord. It means fighting death and fear with joy and life, one family at a time, with family sustaining one another against the temptations of weariness and resentment.

And what about beauty? Beauty can be admired. It can be venerated. It can inspire gratitude or awe. But it cannot be consumed as a product or “used” for instrumental purposes without defacing it. Beauty doesn’t do anything … except the one most precious thing in life: It invites and elevates the soul beyond itself, beyond calculation, beyond utility, and thus reminds us what it means to be human.

Beauty, to borrow from Augustine’s thoughts on the First Letter of John, is like a ring a bridegroom gives to his bride, a sign and a seal of God’s enduring love. It’s the antidote to the deeper, demonic, pornographies of our age: anger, despair, vanity, violence, cynicism … beauty refreshes our hearts in this world while lifting us toward the next, “for here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city which is to come.” (Heb. 13:14)

— 3 —

While on the subject of beauty…

Several weeks back I mentioned having watched the movie Collateral Beauty in the theater with my wife. The usual cadre of critics lambasted the film but, as usual, I enjoyed what they were unable to grasp. I haven’t mentioned that I had a similar experience with another movie in January: The Sea of Trees.

Again, the critics tried to crush this movie in the cradle and to a large part succeeded. It was actually booed at the Cannes Film Festival and the once-promised theatrical releases largely cancelled. I was able instead to watch it on Amazon Prime. Yes, its pace is slow. Yes, the actors actually act and no CGI is involved. Yes, you have to be able to think and have empathy. Thus, critics and much of today’s movie audience were deaf to what the film was trying to say.

Again I will pass on offering a review. I do recommend the film and plan to watch it again in fact. From the Internet Movie Database:

Arthur Brennan treks into Aokigahara, known as The Sea of Trees, a mysterious dense forest at the base of Japan’s Mount Fuji where people go to commit suicide. On his journey to the suicide forest, he encounters Takumi Nakamura, a Japanese man who has lost his way after attempting suicide. The two men begin a journey of reflection and survival, which affirms Arthur’s will to live and reconnects him to his love for his wife.

— 4 —

skeleton-smartphoneHere’s a shocker. Social Media Are Driving Americans Insane.

Social media use has skyrocketed from 7 percent of American adults in 2005 to 65 percent in 2015. For those in the 18-29 age range, the increase is larger, from 12 percent to a remarkable 90 percent. But while an increase in social media usage is hardly surprising, the number of people who just can’t tear themselves away is stark: Nowadays, 43 percent of Americans say they are checking their e-mails, texts, or social media accounts constantly. And their stress levels are paying for it: On a 10-point scale, constant checkers reported an average stress level of 5.3. For the rest of Americans, the average level is a 4.4.

Know what else has increased in use?

To the uninitiated, the figures are nothing if not staggering: 155 million Americans play video games, more than the number who voted in November’s presidential election. And they play them a lot: According to a variety of recent studies, more than 40 percent of Americans play at least three hours a week, 34 million play on average 22 hours each week, 5 million hit 40 hours, and the average young American will now spend as many hours (roughly 10,000) playing by the time he or she turns 21 as that person spent in middle- and high-school classrooms combined. Which means that a niche activity confined a few decades ago to preadolescents and adolescents has become, increasingly, a cultural juggernaut for all races, genders, and ages. How had video games, over that time, ascended within American and world culture to a scale rivaling sports, film, and television? Like those other entertainments, video games offered an escape, of course. But what kind?

Read the entire article about video games here.

Neil Postman was right back in 1985. We are amusing ourselves to death.

— 5 —

One of my dad’s favorite recording artists would have celebrated a birthday on February 26th. I grew up listening to my dad’s Johnny Cash records, as well as Elvis, The Beatles and the comedy of Bill Cosby…even Charlie Pride now and then. But there was always something about Cash’s songs. They went just a little deeper, and even in my younger days I knew there was more “there” there. I highly recommend this article about The Johnny Cash You Never Knew.

It was a tough line, the line Cash was trying to walk — the line we’re all trying to walk between our worldly and spiritual lives.

Cash was once asked how he was able to reach so many people with his message without ever hiding his faith, and he gave a simple and perfect answer: “I am not a Christian artist. I am an artist who is Christian.”

Cash was revered by artists of every genre, from hip-hop to rock. Bruce Springsteen, Bono, and Snoop Dogg all admired the openly evangelical Southern man. And all because Cash transcended stereotypes and musical categories. He even transcended time, something that can be said of very few stars in any medium.

His 2002 acoustic take of Trent Reznor’s “Hurt” was about as courageous a recording as any ever made by a popular artist. Cash took that song, originally written about the pain of heroin addiction, and turned it into a reflection on his own mortality.

“The truth of fading beauty, forgotten earthly achievements, and broken human bonds, powerfully and yet wordlessly seep from the screen,” Steve Turner said when describing the music video, which peaks emotionally when Cash sings these words:

What have I become, my sweetest friend?
Everyone I know goes away in the end.

As he delivers those lines, the video cuts to a picture of June, standing at the foot of a staircase watching her husband. “Her lips quiver,” wrote Turner, “as though she knows that she is watching the man she loves singing his final testament.”

What no one knew as the video crew shot that scene was that, on the day before, June Carter Cash had been diagnosed with a leaking heart valve.

I’ve watch this video a lot over the years. I think it’s because when it flashes back between the younger Cash and the 2002 version, I see a lot of my own dad. In the words and in the images.

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.

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).

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?

Friday Five – Volume 113

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

Moving forward…

Friday Five-Mere Observations

— 1 —

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— 2 —

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— 3 —

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

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

Anybody could have done it, but Nobody did it.

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

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

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

(source unknown)

— 4 —

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

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

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

— 5 —

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

brave-scorecard

 

 

 

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

I like it.

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

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

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

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

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

Like a single cup of water
How it matters