Friday Five – Volume 121

— 1 —

Two videos this week. The first one is for you to listen to while reading the rest of the Five. The last video will be #5. As you will learn in the second video this piece was composed by a member of the Canadian armed forces deployed to Afghanistan.

Veteran’s Day is November 11. In other nations it’s called Remembrance Day. I don’t know at what point the significance of the poppy and its relationship with this day went out of fashion…perhaps it’s due to the fact that those who remember WWI are no longer with us…but it saddens me. For the first ten or so years of my childhood and school experience, the poppy was prevalent. I won my first (and only) art contest in third grade when the Women’s Auxiliary held a Veteran’s Day art contest and my rendition of poppies on the graves, alongside flags, at our local cemetery was chosen as the winner.

— 2 —

I’m a nerd, so things like Existential Comics makes me laugh. The image from this comic is too large to paste here so I’m just going to include a link for those who are nerds like me. The rest of you can skip to #3.

Existential Ad Agency

— 3 —

In “Lonely Old Men”, today’s column from Sean Dietrich, I catch a glimpse of my future should I be unfortunate enough to outlive my wife. (If you aren’t already receiving his daily column in your inbox via email you should be.)

His wife died two years ago. She was the quintessential woman. She took care of him.

She cooked big breakfasts from scratch while he piddled. Then he’d piddle through lunchtime. And every night after supper, he piddled some more.

Then they’d play Gin Rummy.

“Started playing when our kids were in high school,” he says. “They’d stay out late, neither of us could sleep until they were home safe.”

The couple kept a scorecard going for thirty-some years. When she passed, Mister Dan was ahead fifty-nine points.

“If I’d known she was sick,” he said. “I woulda been letting her win. She probably woulda murdered me if I EVER intentionally lost.”

Her death nearly killed him. His house became a tomb. His kids live out of state.

What good is piddling when there’s nobody to piddle for?

— 4 —

If you had $86,400 in your bank and someone stole $10 would you spend all the rest of your money trying to get revenge?

Exactly, so if someone puts 10 seconds of negativity in your life don’t spend the next 86,400 seconds of the day thinking about it.

(Source)

— 5 —

The story behind Cap Trinity: From the sands of Afghanistan, to the concert hall in Budapest, this is the story of composer Martin Lapierre on his journey to realize his lifelong dream.

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Friday Five – Volume 120

It’s been six months since I last wrote. It may be another six before I do again.

These five prayers represent things or events that I have and will continue to pray about.

Natural disasters and their aftermath. A son about to leave for his second deployment overseas. Vocation and employment. My children. Peace.

These are prayers I found in Catholic Household Blessings & Prayers and Manual of Prayers. Both from my bookshelves. Neither collecting dust.

The excerpts prior to each prayer are quotes that I’ve been saving from articles read prior to my six-month absence. They don’t always “work” with each prayer subject, but they’ll do. Until the next time:

An Old Gaelic Blessing
May the road rise to meet you. May the wind be always at your back. May the sun shine warm upon your face. May the rains fall softly upon your fields. Until we meet again, may God hold you in the hollow of His hand.

[Manual of Prayers, page 296]

— 1 —

“God’s first language is silence.” In commenting on this beautiful, rich insight of Saint John of the Cross, Thomas Keating, in his work Invitation to Love, writes: “Everything else is a poor translation. In order to understand this language, we must learn to be silent and to rest in God.”

It is time to rediscover the true order of priorities. It is time to put God back at the center of our concerns, at the center of our actions and of our life: the only place that He should occupy. Thus, our Christian journey will be able to gravitate around this Rock, take shape in the light of the faith and be nourished in prayer, which is a moment of silent, intimate encounter in which a human being stands face to face with God to adore Him and to express his filial love for Him.

[Source]

Houston Police SWAT officer Daryl Hudeck carries Catherine Pham and her 13-month-old son Aiden after rescuing them from their home surrounded by floodwaters from Tropical Storm Harvey Sunday, Aug. 27, 2017, in Houston. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

Prayer for Protection During a Storm
Loving God, maker of heaven and earth,
protect us in your love and mercy.
Send the Spirit of Jesus to be with us,
to still our fears and give us confidence.

In the stormy waters,
Jesus reassured his disciples by his presence,
calmed the storm, and strengthened their faith.
Guard us from harm during this storm
and renew our faith to serve you faithfully.
Give us the courage to face all difficulties
and the wisdom to see the ways
your Spirit binds us together
in mutual assistance.

With confidence we make our prayer
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen.

[Catholic Household Blessings & Prayers, page 334]

— 2 —

Young man, be not forgetful of prayer. Every time you pray, if your prayer is sincere, there will be new feeling and new meaning in it, which will give you fresh courage, and you will understand that prayer is an education.

Remember, too, every day, and whenever you can, repeat to yourself, ‘Lord, have mercy on all who appear before Thee today.’ For every hour and every moment thousands of men leave life on this earth, and their souls appear before God. And how many of them depart in solitude, unknown, sad, dejected that no one mourns for them or even knows whether they have lived or not! And behold, from the other end of the earth perhaps, your prayer for their rest will rise up to God though you knew them not nor they you. How touching it must be to a soul standing in dread before the Lord to feel at that instant that, for him too, there is one to pray, that there is a fellow creature left on earth to love him too! And God will look on you both more graciously, for if you have had so much pity on him, how much will He have pity Who is infinitely more loving and merciful than you! And He will forgive him for your sake.” (The Brothers Karamazov, book 6, chapter 3 (g) – Conversations of Fr Zossima: Of prayer, of love, and of contact with the other worlds)

[Source]

A Prayer for One’s Vocation in Life
Lord, make me a better person: more considerate towards others, more honest with myself, more faithful to you. Help me to find my true vocation in life and grant that through it I may find happiness myself and bring happiness to others. Grant Lord, that those whom you call to enter priesthood or religious life may have the generosity to answer your call, so that those who need your help may always find it. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.

[Manual of Prayers, page 302]

— 3 —

How often the grieving have said, “I never told him how much I loved him.” But if they did love, it would have shown; it did not need to be advertised. The words, perhaps, should not have been omitted; yet words are just words, whether uttered or printed in books. They might be words of fire and power – “winged words” in the Homeric vernacular – or mere formalities. Some are crucial; most are unnecessary. Often, silence says more than words.

[Source]

Blessing Before Leaving Home for Deployment (excerpt)
O God, you led your servant Abraham from his home
and guarded him in all his wanderings.
Guide this servant of yours, my son Nolan.
Be a refuge on the journey, shade in the heat,
shelter in the storm, rest in weariness,
protection in trouble, and a strong staff in danger.
For all our days together, we give you thanks:
bind us together now, even though we may be far apart.

May your peace rest upon this house,
and may it go with your servant always.

Grant this through Christ our Lord.
Amen.

[Catholic Household Blessings & Prayers, page 285]

Image source.

— 4 —

When we’re able to put aside our hang-ups about rejection and tell people honestly how much they mean to us and how thankful we are for them, it can entirely change a relationship. We no longer experience the world as separate individuals but in solidarity, mutually experiencing our bond together as a source of strength. If a relationship with a friend or family members seems uninspired, bland, or dispirited, perhaps it has something to do with you and me. A few simple honest words of appreciation can set things on a whole new course.

[Source]

Prayer for Strength
God,
we pray for our young people,
growing up in an unsteady and confusing world.
Show them that your ways give more life
than the ways of the world,
and that following you is better
than chasing after selfish goals.
Help them to take failure,
not as a measure of their worth,
but as a chance for a new start.
Give them strength to hold their faith in you,
and to keep alive their joy in your creation.
We ask this through Christ our Lord.
Amen.

[Catholic Household Blessings & Prayers, page 197]

— 5 —

Our world has become very noisy. The hurry has sped up. The distractions have multiplied, the blare has increased, and everywhere I look is advertising. Even books scroll by on monitors, backlit and shining in one’s eyes. And the eyes, all around, seem elsewhere. Man, without God, scurries towards a Hell he cannot begin to imagine.

Imagination itself has been “put to work,” selling things.

[Source]

Prayer for Peace: To Mary, the Light of Hope
Immaculate Heart of Mary,
help us to conquer the menace of evil,
which so easily takes root in the hearts of the people of today,
and whose immeasurable effects
already weigh down upon our modern world
and seem to block the paths towards the future.

From famine and war, deliver us.
From nuclear war, from incalculable self-destruction, from every kind of war, deliver us.
From sins against human life from its very beginning, deliver us.
From hatred and from the demeaning of the dignity of the children of God, deliver us.
From every kind of injustice in the life of society, both national and international, deliver us.
From readiness to trample on the commandments of God, deliver us.
From attempts to stifle in human hearts the very truth of God, deliver us.
From the loss of awareness of good and evil, deliver us.
From sins against the Holy Spirit, deliver us.

Accept, O Mother of Christ,
this cry laden with the sufferings of all individual human beings,
laden with the sufferings of whole societies.
Help us with the power of the Holy Spirit to conquer all sin:
individual sin and the “sin of the world”
sin in all its manifestations.
Let there be revealed once more in the history of the world
the infinite saving power of the redemption:
the power of merciful love.

May it put a stop to evil.
May it transform consciences.
May your Immaculate Heart reveal for all the light of hope.
Amen.

[Catholic Household Blessings & Prayers, pages 375-76]

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).