The Power

Scandal. Crime and corruption at the highest levels of church and government. Wars and rumors of wars. Incivility everywhere you look. The talking heads hone in on it all and shout with glee: “Look at it! Look at it and despair! How awful! LOOOOOOOOK AT IT!!!”

“More news after the break.”

Father Z, a prominent Catholic priest and blogger, relayed how one recent morning he received the following message from a friend:

Motus in fine velocior.* Our faith in the indefectibility of the Church is soon going to be tested and good people will legitimately choose different sides. I am neither an alarmist nor a conspiracy theory cook, but these people are evil.  …  It’s going to get SO much worse before it gets better. Brace yourselves and cling to your beads, catechism, Breviary and Mass.

His friend was not talking about the public scandals of our day that surround our celebrities or elected officials. That is all bad enough by themselves. Instead he was talking about those within the Catholic Church who are purposely sowing confusion and ambiguity.

But that’s not the subject I’m writing about today. Today I turn to Fr. Longenecker writing on his Suburban Hermit blog:

I was on retreat at Quarr Abbey once many years ago, and when I came out of the church after Vespers a teenaged kid was slouching on a bench outside smoking.

Denims, punk haircut, nose ring.

So I asked him what he was doing there.

“I’m just hanging out here.”

“Do you come here often?”

“Yeh.”

“Do you ever come into church to hear the monks sing?”

“Yeh.”

“Why do you come here?”

He grinned. “This is where the power is man.”

Then he got up and walked down the lane to the road beyond and the outside world.

This is where the power is man.

The English teenager gets it. Fr. Longenecker and Fr. Z get it. And so do I.

In describing these Benedictine monks Fr. Longenecker writes:

The monks are ordinary men who have realized that their lives are sacrifices which oil the wheels and cogs of the cosmos. They keep the furnace stoked. They man the engine room of the great ship.

Hidden from the world, they are the beating heart of the church. Why does the Catholic Church keep going on its everlasting roller coaster ride? Because the Benedictines don’t give up. They’re like weeds. They come back.

Their vow of stability is one of the most important vows they can offer the world. We think times are tumultuous. They have always been tumultuous. We think the world is on a knife edge about to tumble into the pit. It has always been so. We think there is corruption and strife in the church. Read church history. It has always been a battle. Isn’t that what you signed up for when you decided to follow Christ the King?

Motus in fine velocior.

It’s going to get SO much worse before it gets better.

This is where the power is man.

Fr. Longenecker writes that he returns to the monastery because “there is stability in the turmoil and peace in the midst of battle.”

It strengthens his resolve. It refills his spiritual tank. It gives him hope.

St. Augustine wrote:

“Hope has two beautiful daughters: their names are anger and courage. Anger that things are the way they are. Courage to make them the way they ought to be.”

It is because I am so familiar with the two daughters that I know their parent Hope. Hope is what keeps me going in these times. It would be far too easy to join the world and be angry all the time. To become so consumed in rage that I lash out on social media, while driving, in public or in the home. But anger is only one half of the equation. People who give in to their anger do not have hope because they do not know courage. Courage is what we have when we turn off the talking heads, disengage from our mobile screens blinding us with the anger and vitriol on social media, roll up our sleeves and go to work righting the ship.

For some, it’s through direct action. They get off the couch and get involved.

For others, like me, it’s through prayer. As I’ve observed the descent into madness on all sides of the political aisle consume family, friends and acquaintances, my prayer life is the thing most keeping me sane. While I do get angry, I have courage.

I’ve never been particularly good at being the hands of the Church. It’s true that I’ve taught a little. I serve by doing various things during the liturgy or with the Knights of Columbus. As it is I’m much better, or at least more at home, in helping be the heart of the Church, keeping it beating regularly each day in prayer. In turn I receive the courage to deal with my anger and perhaps it is because of this the hope I receive not only helps me but helps others as it continues to inspire me to write bits and pieces on this blog, or on my social media. Things that I hope both teach and inspire others.

The word “courage” actually derives its meaning from a Latin root word “cor” which means “heart.” (Remember what the Cowardly Lion needed to gain his courage in The Wizard of Oz?) It means we are never more courageous than when we “have the courage of our convictions,” that is, when we live from the heart, remaining true to who we really are.

Choosing this path is to some, I’m sure, quite boring. The heart is hidden. Some of us have buried it and cut off all feeling to it, perhaps telling ourselves we do so as a means of survival.

Thump-thump

As it’s not visible it’s not relevant.

Thump-thump

It’s not obvious.

Thump-thump

It’s not sexy.

Thump-thump

We don’t take selfies of ourselves praying, but doing things.

Thump-thump

Things like eating a meal…hanging with friends…meeting celebrities…attending a concert. You know. Stuff.

Thump-thump

It’s not something we can show off to those who follow us on Twitter or Instagram for the almighty “like”.

Thump-thump

A heartbeat is regular. It maintains a rhythm.

Thump-thump

The rhythm and timing of praying with the Church though the daily Lauds and Vespers of the Divine Office. Through the Mass. The Angelus. The rosary.

Thump-thump

It is because of that heartbeat that I have hope.

Hope strengthens my resolve. Hope refills my spiritual tank.

I know you’re angry out there. I understand. Allow me to help give you a little hope. Allow me to introduce you, or re-introduce you, to courage.

It’s where the power is.

Thump-thump


*[Motion accelerates when the end is near] The latin motus in fine velocior is commonly used to indicate the faster passing of the time at the end of an historical period. The multiplication of events, in fact, shortens the course of time, which in itself does not exist outside of the things that flow. Time, says Aristotle, is the measure of movement (Physics, IV, 219 b). More precisely we define it as the duration of changeable things. God is eternal precisely because He is immutable: every moment has its cause in Him, but nothing in Him changes. The more one distances himself from God the more chaos, produced by the change, increases.

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“We submit to every demand of Love.”

Have you ever felt as if God is speaking to you? Leading you? Directing you? That He is trying to get your attention in some way by constantly bringing to your attention a subject, item or idea? This is how I’ve felt recently with regards to the Divine Liturgy – the Catholic Mass. While my work continues on studying and creating an outline about the Divine Office (more on that another time) the Mass has come to the fore. Most likely because the Divine Liturgy and the Divine Office are so closely related and fit so neatly hand in hand. It may be to awaken me from my malaise and to remind me of what I bear witness to each time I attend Mass; to shake me from complacency that may be setting in and succumbing to what Father Richard Heilman referred to as spiritual lethargy.

It could also be that God is answering the prayer that I have prayed each day for the last three weeks, brought about by my recklessly immersing myself in and internalizing the overwhelming horrors from Syria and Iraq as I prepare for my own son’s departure into the Marine Corps. Each day I pray for Fortitude, Wisdom and Hope. That has become my mantra, and I believe God is showing me where the answers await.

“I am convinced that the crisis in the Church that we are experiencing today is to a large extent due to the disintegration of the liturgy, which at times has even come to be conceived of etsi Deus non daretur (as though God were not there): in that it is a matter of indifference whether or not God exists and whether or not He speaks to us and hears us.” – Cardinal Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI)

Lord, grant me the gifts of Fortitude, Wisdom and Hope. Make me salt, and make me light. Let me never be indifferent to Your presence in this world and in my life. Amen.

Below are two passages about the Mass from books that I am currently reading. Or finished, as I completed my journey with Christopher late last night.

There was no indifference or complacency to be found at Iwo Jima at this Mass.

There was no indifference or complacency to be found at Iwo Jima at this Mass.

The first passage is from David Athley’s Christopher. It is from an email written to the book’s protagonist by his long-time love. She is a devout and practicing Catholic. He, while Catholic, will only attend Mass and not receive Communion. Somewhat of a mystic, he refuses because he recognizes Holy Communion for what it is, and is not confident that he would be able to withstand the consuming of Christ’s body and blood, soul and divinity. It is a beautiful summation of the Mass.

The second passage is an excerpt from The Portal of the Mystery of Hope by Charles Péguy.

*****

Dear Christopher,

Despite all the damage done by sinners in the Church, the Mass is the hope of civilization.

The Mass is the pinnacle of philosophy. Our minds approach the Holy Gifts in fear of God, the beginning of wisdom. Our hearts accept the Holy Gifts in love of God, the end of wisdom.

The Divine Liturgy is the epitome of language and poetry. It is the most powerful form of drama, a play that appears to descend into tragedy, yet ends in the height of heavenly bliss.

The Mass is housed in the most glorious architecture ever constructed. Not all churches are grand, but the world has been given the supreme cathedrals to remind us of the majesty of the Maker, who appears on the altars.

The Divine Liturgy is the grand unified theory of physics. Beyond all of the quarks, multiple dimensions, and dark matter is the greatest gift to science: Transubstantiation.

The Mass is the quintessence of agriculture – the simply fruits of the earth transformed into spiritual nutrition.

The Mass is the bloodline of the best art. From icons to stained glass to mosaics to statuary to all of the variations of paintings, the Sacrifice enlivens creativity.

The Divine Liturgy is a perfect education. It is reality. We kneel. We bow. We give up our rebellions and embrace the hierarchy of the created order. We submit to every demand of Love.

The Mass gives voice to the music of angels, the chant of nine choirs and seven heavens. It culminates in the most noble act of physicality. We accept into our bodies the Creator of all flesh, in whom we live and dance and have our being.

The Mass is the most personal relationship that one can have with God.

The Mass is the most heavenly occurrence on earth, and the most viciously attacked – from within the Church and without.

The Mass has produced the humble, superhuman saints, multitudes of heroic men and women, from the beginning of the Church to the end, miracle workers from every walk of life – patrons for every holy passion.

The Divine Liturgy of Heaven gathers the most purposeful community in the world, the assembly of Communicants. Beyond the goodness of human friendship, the friends of Heaven are perfected in the Feast.

The Mass makes life worth living. It is the gateway out of our self-inflicted pain, to fully enter into the death and resurrection of Christ.

Will you, in the name of Love, become a Communicant?

TheMass

Photo credit: catholicbible101.com

I am so resplendent in my creation.
In all that happens to men and to people, and to the poor.
And even to the rich.
Who don’t want to be my creatures.
And who take refuge.
From being my servants.
In all the good and evil that man has done and undone.
(And I am above it all, because I am the master, and I do what he has undone and I undo what he has done.)
And unto the temptation to sin.
Even.
And all that happened to my son.
Because of man.
My creature.
Whom I had created.
In the conception, in the birth and in the life and in the death of my son.
And in the holy sacrifice of the Mass.

In every birth and in every life.
And in every death.
And in eternal life that will never end.
That will overcome all death.

I am so resplendent in my creation.

That in order really not to see me these poor people would have to be blind.

*****

“Hear Mass daily; it will prosper the whole day. All your duties will be performed the better for it, and your soul will be stronger to bear its daily cross. The Mass is the most holy act of religion; you can do nothing that can give greater glory to God or be more profitable for your soul than to hear Mass both frequently and devoutly. It is the favorite devotion of the saints.” – St. Peter Julian Eymard

The extended prayer of good books

Man Reading. Oil on canvas by John Singer Sargent (undated)

Man Reading. Oil on canvas (undated) by John Singer Sargent [1856-1925]

There are some books that you can’t escape. No matter how many times you pass them over after putting them on your wish list years ago they’ve managed to hang on through every purge of your list.

So finally you order them. The time is right for whatever reason and you order them.

Yesterday I received two such books. One had been on my Amazon Wish List since May of 2011. The other had actually been removed a year ago and made a return to my list this summer. This is rare. Usually it’s “down the memory hole” once purged.

*****

portalofthemysteryofhope_bookcoverThe faith that I love the best, says God, is hope.

Thus begins Charles Péguy’s The Portal of the Mystery of Hope. One of the few poems by the French poet to be translated into English, it his masterpiece. I began to read it last night and am 30+ pages in. I confess to having been moved to tears once or twice so far. To date my favorite poems have included the likes of Dante’s Divine Comedy and Eliot’s Four Quartets and I am confident that The Portal of the Mystery of Hope will find its way onto if not atop this list. As I’ve spent much of the past two weeks praying for Fortitude, Wisdom and Hope in my own life I thought it time to order this book.

Péguy wrote Hope a few years before he was killed at the Battle of the Marne in 1914 during WWI at the age of 41.

I want to offer a summary of this poem but have yet a long way to travel. I plan on re-reading it several times however and have marked several passages to share later. I’ll just say for now that it is a narration in the voice of God the Father and is a meditation on the three virtues of Faith, Hope and Charity (Love) with Hope presented as a little girl that races ahead of her sisters Faith and Love. Many themes are covered by Péguy including fatherhood, childhood and the beauty of work.

After meeting the three sisters the poem becomes an extended meditation on fatherhood and mortality. This is the section that has connected with me the most so far. It continues for just over 20 pages and I’m including just a small section of it below:

For them, their father’s kiss is a game, an amusement, a ceremony.
A greeting.
Something taken for granted, something very good, without importance.
A simple little thing.
Something they don’t even particularly notice.
Which is as much to say.
It’s become such a habit.
It’s just something they’re owed.
Their heart is pure.
They receive it like a morsel of bread.
They play, they have fun with it like a morsel of bread.
Their father’s kiss. It’s their daily bread. If they only knew what it meant to their father.
Poor children. But that’s none of their business.
They’ll have plenty of time to learn about that later.
For now they only know, when their eyes meet their father’s gaze.
That he doesn’t seem to be enjoying himself enough.
In life.

*****

The book that fell off my list but returned is Christopher by David Athey. Published in 2011 the book is described as follows:

Haunted by the heavenly, yet born of this earth, Chris grows toward manhood seeking to discover and become worthy of the perfect girl, but yearning even more to satisfy his God-hunger.

Page by page, mystery by mystery, adventure after adventure, and with ever-growing urgency, Christopher struggles to see the Light that is ever ancient and ever new, and finally to hear the Song that is beyond human language.

A modern love story and a quest for the Holy Grail, Christopher is a tribute to genuine love and to the Faith that shaped the best of our Western Civilization.

christopher_book coverI would sum it up as an individual’s dance with faith. I read the first one hundred pages last night before turning my bedside lamp off at 12:57am. I like that each chapter varies between 2-4 pages so that the book really seems to soar along from scene to scene. When we meet Christopher he is 11 years old, the only child of “children of the 60s” and adjusting to life on Lake Superior near Duluth, Minnesota after relocating from Sacramento, California.

Is it great literature? Probably not, and may seem an odd choice to some. But it has connected with me and brought back to mind scenes and thoughts from my own youth. In my experience with Divine Providence I’ve learned that there are reasons for events in our lives and that we don’t always discover what the reasons are. But I figure there is a reason this book kept coming back onto my radar. It has become personal. And isn’t that what all great books do on some level?

For example, this exchange between Christopher and the mother of his best friend Terra contained a truth about vocation that I needed to hear.

The band transitioned to the Chicken Dance, and the dancers responded like little kids. Chris was intrigued by the spectacle of Minnesotans flapping their arms. He noticed the growing smile on Mrs. Corwin’s face, and he said, “I’ll bet you miss your husband.”

The smile remained on the woman’s face, while her eyes grew sad. “Marriage is not a romance, Christopher. It is a sacrament. Like the priesthood.”

The boy nodded, wishing he’d kept his mouth shut.

“Do you think the priesthood is fun? It’s a sacrifice, Christopher. No matter what vocation you choose – or get called to by God – you have to give up almost everything else. Oh, don’t look at me like that. I have much joy in my life. Every vocation has its joys. Yes. And its sufferings.”

Mrs. Corwin took a big drink and gestured toward a young couple on the dance floor. “Marriage is more like a liturgy than a romance.”

As one Amazon reviewer pointed out:

Saint Augustine said, “You have made us for yourself, Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You.” It is a catholic (universal) truth that we are all seeking God. If we don’t seek to satisfy that innate restlessness with Him, we will constantly be choosing superficial substitutions. This novel is the story of young Christopher who is in search of truth and ultimate meaning. Even at a young age, Christopher has the ability to see the presence of the holy in the natural world, yet he does not know God fully. Still, his mystical heart continues to search for true love which he must be prepared to give himself to unconditionally.

Christopher is an engaging novel that communicates the beauty and love of God. Through unique characters we see that the journey to know Him includes brokenness, loneliness and despair. It is a difficult road, but it is the only one that ultimately brings true, pure and everlasting joy.

That, in a nutshell, is why this book is resonating with me so far. And believe it or not I do see a correlation between the excerpt I placed above from Hope regarding fatherhood and the sacrifice of vocation as described in Christopher. There is much to meditate upon here.

*****

prayer of the presence of god_book coverI rounded out my order with The Prayer of the Presence of God by a Carthusian monk named Dom Augustin Guillerand because of my continued research and interest in prayer.

The first two books have been like that. Like prayer.

It has been my experience that the books I’ve enjoyed most in this life are like extended prayers.

Lord, please help me to write my own book of prayer for someone someday.

*****

Exit Question: Have any books connected with you as extended prayers in this way? Were there certain scenes, descriptions of nature, or characters that stood out in this way for you?

‘ere there be tooth fairies: part two

Eliot from Pete's Dragon.

Eliott from Pete’s Dragon.

In Part One we touched upon the romantic and the tales of old, as well as their role in helping to convey truths. The romantic also believes in dragons. Not the cute, cuddly kind found in Disney’s Pete’s Dragon or in Dragon Tales, an animated show for kids. We’re talking Smaug in the Lonely Mountain or Harry Potter’s Hungarian Horntail on steroids. When we dismiss the dragon we close ourselves off from adventure, imagination, trials and our own courage. Michael O’Brien addresses the dragon in his book A Landscape with Dragons: The Battle for Your Child’s Mind:

The dragon has a vested interest in having us dismiss the account of battle as make-believe. It is not to his benefit that we, imitating our Lord the King, should take up arms against him. He thinks it better that we do not consider him dangerous. Of course, the well-nourished imagination knows that dragons are not frightening because of fangs, scales, and smoke pouring from nostrils. The imagination fed on truth knows that the serpent is a symbol of hatred and deceit, of evil knowledge and power without conscience. If dragons do exist, it is not in the form of green steam engines or painted Chinese masks or overgrown lizards. The dragon that takes no form is the worst kind, and I would rather it not prowl around the neighborhood I call home. Most of all I do not want it infesting my children’s minds. I do not want them befriending it, either, nor do I want it calming their instinctive good fears and perhaps in the process taking possession of their very selves.

At this point I may sound somewhat contradictory. It seems that I do not want dragons in my children’s minds, I say, and yet at the same time I want them to read plenty of stories in which there are dragons that act like dragons and meet a dragon’s end. In fact there is no contradiction here. It is the real dragon against which I want my children armed. Their interior life has need of the tales that inform them of their danger and instruct them at deep levels about the tactics of their enemy. It is good that our children fear dragons, for in the fearing, they can learn to overcome fear with courage. Dragons cannot be tamed, and it is fatal to enter into dialogue with them. The old stories have taught our children this.

This is why our home contains books not just of history or the classics or even Calvin & Hobbes or The Far Side. Our shelves are also full of fairy tales, myths and legends. Our children cut their teeth learning to read them and have continued as they’ve grown in age and intelligence. For fairy tales and intelligence or reason are not mutually exclusive. We do not shelter our children from evil, but have taught them to recognize its existence and the many forms that it takes. They have learned or are learning about risks, failure, courage, selflessness and honor. These are some of the same values they learn in their Catholic faith. Why on earth would I steal that from them?

Lest you think I believe my children are perfect little knights and ladies let me tell you that they are as imperfect as any adolescent. They have tantrums, fights and irrational meltdowns. Come to think of it they are as imperfect as any adults, myself included. But I see in them hope. I see a fighting chance. I see the formation of honor in my sons and a dignified air about my daughter (who can also wield a rapier and battle ogres with the knights).

Is my children’s growth somehow stunted by their daily attendance at Mass from kindergarten through the 8th grade at their school? Or weekly Mass with the family? Or acknowledgement and study of history in the lives of saints? What about through prayers, not just for themselves, but for those people in their lives who may have even wronged them? In this area care is taken to ensure religion is not a crutch used to beat over someone’s head. To rob religion of its mystery…its heart…is what Longenecker describes below:

Poetry is the heart of religion, and when the poetical is lost, religion has lost its heart. That is to say, it has lost its romance. The lifeblood, the beating passion of religion, has gone. Instead of poetry and prophecy, we are left with pedestrian prose and pious platitudes. Religion has become not the realm of the romantic but a list of regulations and rules, doctrines and dictums, prohibitions and polite behavior. In other words, modern religion has become merely physical rather than metaphysical. It has become concerned with making this world a better place and has forgotten the next world altogether. In other words, modern religion has ceased to be a religion at all. It has become a set of table manners.

At the rambunctious heart of humanity, religion has always been about the supernatural commerce with the gods. Forget table manners. Furious, fiery beings were there to be wrestled with. A great war between heaven and earth was enjoined. The great dragon was engaged. Sacrifices were made. Blood was shed. Teenagers sang through torture. Old men smiled at their executioners and blessed the head of the one who would cut off their own heads. Holy men cracked jokes while they were grilled alive and scoffed at the terror of the scaffold. Housewives went into the flames with forgiveness on their lips or had their heads detached with a calm air of dignified detachment.

I know people whose religion is nothing more than table manners. How truly bland and boring. I also know people whose impressions about religion were formed by those who believe the same. More’s the pity, because the former have no idea what it truly is they have their hands on and the latter won’t give it a second look because of what they perceive it to be. Both are missing out on the adventure of an eternal lifetime.

Our kids know that St. Lawrence told his executioners “Turn me over” as Emperor Valerian had him slowly burned to death over an open grill because Lawrence turned his money over to the poor instead of enriching the coffers of Caesar. For Lawrence religion was not a set of rules and this life is not all there is. For him it was more.

The Martyrdom of St Lawrence, Tintoretto, oil on canvas, (Christ Church, Oxford)

The Martyrdom of St Lawrence, Tintoretto, oil on canvas, (Christ Church, Oxford)

O’Brien again:

Good magic and bad magic in truthful stories correspond to true religion and false religion in our real world. True religion is the search of the soul for God in order to surrender itself to him, the search for his will in order to fulfill it, the search for truth in order to conform to it. False religion is the inverse. It makes a god out of oneself; it makes one’s own will supreme; it attempts to reshape reality to fit one’s own desires. True religion is about surrender, while false religion is about control.

Lawrence surrendered. He knew there was more. For Caesar it was all about control.

My children have grown up seeing their father on his knees in prayer before God on a regular basis. It is not a foreign concept to them and hopefully a gesture they see as one of strength and humility. Not because I am overflowing with either trait, but because from them I draw the courage to be vigilant and to instill in them the values they’ll need to go out into the world and fight the dragons that lay in wait, both foreign and domestic; of this world or those principalities of a more supernatural nature (See Ephesians, Chapter 6).

And why do I kneel? Because I believe. I believe that there is something more. In something that exists beyond our world. And when one believes, well…a line from my favorite novel speaks of this:

The future opens ahead of us as a great mystery before which we can only kneel in reverence. Island of the World, by Michael O’Brien.

This brings me back to our tardy tooth fairy. And while there are some of your reading this who believe that our Catholic religion and faith is about nothing but control, know that once my children are out of our home at the age of 18 they are free to believe as they wish to believe. Our oldest will be at boot camp in eight months and in the Marine Corps will be free to follow his own path. The Marines define their character by the virtues of Honor, Courage and Commitment. As he has learned to recognize these since he was a child I’m confident he will embrace them as an adult. He will continue the fight and the adventure.

Hello, it's me.

Hello, it’s me. You’re going to college.

I should disclose that since the idea of joining the Marines was first presented a few years ago I fought my son on the idea. I wanted him to pursue the path of scholarship and baseball and career, most likely because it was the path I’d followed and known. During these (at times) knock-down drag out conflicts I morphed into his dragon. Actually, that’s not true. I was more of an orc or an ogre. But I was the thing that stood between my son and the path he had chosen for himself. But he had the courage to stare me down and once I recognized what was going on I blinked, put down my club and heard him out. He did not wish for himself the path that would lead him to a “life in doing neither what he ought nor what he liked.” He had been listening to what I’d been telling him since he was a small boy about finding your place and pursuing it even if it meant taking the path less traveled. He had seen his own father grow comfortable in the dreary flickering of mind that is involved in the cubicles and conference calls of corporate America while hating himself for it. My son wants more, and he slay the dragon blocking his path.

The other two may or may not follow his path but they will be armed with the same knowledge, recognize the darkness of dragons, and one day, perhaps as parents themselves, be less tardy in their role as the tooth fairy.

__________________________________

Going Deeper:

For more on prayer, particularly from a man’s point of view, read this post from The Catholic Gentleman.

For more on adventure, read On Adventure: A Letter To My Children by Bryana Joy over at Having Decided To Stay.

The 12 Steps to Holiness and Salvation, by St. Alphonsus Liguori. TAN Books, 2012.

The Romance of Religion: Fighting for Goodness, Truth, and Beauty, by Dwight Longenecker. Thomas Nelson Publishing, 2014.

The Screwtape Letters, by C.S. Lewis. HarperOne, 2009.

A Landscape with Dragons: The Battle for Your Child’s Mind, by Michael O’Brien. Ignatius Press, 1998.

Island of the World, by Michael O’Brien. Ignatius Press, 2007.

‘ere there be tooth fairies: part one

tooth fairy_dollar

Better late than never: my daughter’s pillow

For the past few months the tooth fairy has earned a bad reputation at our house. She is often a day, or several days, late in delivering the coveted dollar for the latest tooth to fall from one of our younger children’s mouths. My wife and I have chronicled her tardiness on more than a few Facebook statuses and relieved to learn that our tooth fairy is not alone in being late. Her brother’s wife Kim is also having problems with the tooth fairy and has even gone so far as to outsource a replacement fairy. While she and her husband were here with their children to celebrate my daughter’s birthday a few weekends ago she admitted that while they were staying in town at a hotel her own sister had a key to their home and was ensuring that the tooth fairy had arrived and whatever gifts she was to bring would be awaiting Kim’s children upon their return home.

We ourselves were tardy again Sunday morning, then again on Monday. Upon waking Monday morning my daughter did a quick survey under her pillow and found nothing. Stumbling sleepy-eyed into the kitchen she sighed “I guess the tooth fairy is sick” to my wife and me. Turning around to exit the kitchen she mumbled “Maybe she broke a wing” and went to get dressed for school.

Monday afternoon she came home from school and discovered that the tooth fairy had added a school-day route to her delivery cycle. Crisis averted…until next time.

This is all I was going to write on the subject of our tooth fairy adventures. And then I asked myself: Why do we do this? Why do we perpetuate such myths in our household? Not just myths of tooth fairies and Santa Claus and hobbits and wizards and elves, but also tales of knights and maidens and dragons. Of chivalry, honor, courage, truth and beauty. Of saints and sinners. Why do we do this? Shouldn’t we grow up as adults use reason only and allow the world to force our children to grow up? How does this all square with what the cynics of this world consider the Greatest Myth of All: Christianity?

One can hardly look at the world today and witness what happens when we stop believing in things bigger than ourselves. Nihilism, narcissism and the cold, gray nothingness of despair is running rampant in our world and, saddest of all, infecting our children. We are robbing our children of hope. How can one experience joy, beauty or even love without hope?

Or should we simply limit ourselves to what we can see and feel around us and use only reason? Last night I read the following passage from this book by St. Alphonsus Liguori while watching my son’s indoor baseball practice and it reminded me of my own journey in my life of faith.

Reason takes us, as it were, by the hand and leads us into the sanctuary of faith, but itself remains standing at the threshold. Once we are convinced that the truths we are asked to believe really come from God, we are obliged to submit our reason and, on the strength of God’s word, to accept as certain the truths proposed, though we may not or cannot understand them. This is the humble simplicity so characteristic of the child, and of which St. Peter speaks when he says: “As newborn babes, desire the rational milk without guile, that thereby you may grow unto salvation.” (1 Peter 2:2).

This was from a chapter on the subject of faith in which St. Liguori was speaking of truth. No matter how many tantrums we throw as a species and scream that there is no absolute truth (which is ironically a statement made by someone who is uttering an absolute truth about truth), the fact remains that there are such truths. If we utilize our reason in a way that is honest with ourselves and the world around us it will take us to that threshold.

We find those truths hidden in the myths and fairy tales of yore. Indeed that is one of the main purposes of fairy tales, myths and legends. In his new book The Romance of Religion: Fighting for Goodness, Truth, and Beauty (which I highly recommend) Dwight Longenecker writes about the differences between those who are romantics and those who are not.

…almost all of us are romantics at heart. Simply take us into the darkened hush of the cinema or theater and all our cynicism drops away. Allow us for one moment to be entranced by the spell of the storyteller, and the Cyrano de Bergerac in each one of us comes alive. There in the darkness the child within still believes that there are things as truth, beauty, and goodness. Even when we lapse into cynicism, doubt, and despair, the romantic in us lives—otherwise why would we be cynical and despairing?

The reason we become cynical is that we have come to believe that the ideals we thought were true are not true after all, or if they are true, they are impossible. We lapse into despair because we have lost the hope that goodness, truth, and beauty will prevail in the end. Thus, even the most despairing cynic proves that the romantic’s beliefs and hopes are an indelible and universal part of the human heart. If you like, cynicism and despair exist like parasites on belief and hope. You could say that despair is the compliment the cynic pays to the romantic idealist.

Cyrano and Roxanne (courtesy of bonzasheila.com)

Cyrano and Roxanne (courtesy of bonzasheila.com)

When living in despair as cynics our lives have the flavor of what Screwtape prescribed in C. S. Lewis’ collection of that devil’s letters:

All the healthy and outgoing activities which we want him to avoid can be inhibited and nothing given in return, so that at last he may say, as one of my own patients said on his arrival down here, “I now see that I spent most of my life in doing neither what I ought nor what I liked.” The Christians describe the Enemy as one “without whom Nothing is strong.” And Nothing is very strong: strong enough to steal away a man’s best years not in sweet sins but in a dreary flickering of the mind over it knows not what and knows not why.

This malaise is growing ever larger and ever stronger among our youth today. Just a few days ago I read where devices with screens now outnumber toys as gifts given to children. Screens that involve little thought, adventure or, if you will, pain of risking and failing. Longenecker continues:

The romantic way is an adventure with both great risks and great gains. On the other hand, to endure life as a cynic is at best jaded and dull, and at worst bitter and despairing. It is a dead-end street. Think of it like this: We all stand on the deck of a sinking ship. The Epicurean (those who seek only to enjoy life while it lasts) enjoys a five-course meal and drinks a cocktail and dances while the ship goes down. The Stoic (those who believe the suffering of life should be avoided through discipline and noble behavior) gives up his lifejacket and stands on the bridge in silent dignity, awaiting the deluge. But the romantic spots a distant light, decides it is a lifeboat, then jumps in to either swim for safety or die in the attempt.

The Epicurean and the Stoic both believe that there is nothing after this life. The romantic believes that there is more. In Part Two I’ll cover a bit of the “more”.

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photo credits: Me and bonzasheila.com.

Don’t turn away

Note: I think I may have used this song in a post before. No matter. I’ve no time to find it and it applies just as much today as it may have then.

On the turning away
From the pale and downtrodden
And the words they say
Which we won’t understand
“Don’t accept that what’s happening
Is just a case of others’ suffering
Or you’ll find that you’re joining in
The turning away”

Having taken Thursday off from work in order to drive to Omaha at 6am and watch my nephew wrestle at the state wrestling championships I found myself listening to Pink Floyd’s On The Turning Away while driving to work this morning. (He went 2-0 and will wrestle in the semis this afternoon. Go Jake!) On the drive to and from Omaha I listened to the news on the radio, and coming home mid-afternoon had the house to myself and watched more news on television. The images of the chaos and the killings in Kiev and Venezuela came rushing back to my mind’s eye while listening to the Floyd this morning, and it seemed to me that once again we are at one of those all-too-familiar moments in time where the world appears it will devour itself. Where it appears that we are all turning away from our very humanity.

It’s a sin that somehow
Light is changing to shadow
And casting it’s shroud
Over all we have known
Unaware how the ranks have grown
Driven on by a heart of stone
We could find that we’re all alone
In the dream of the proud

Do we turn away? Or are we keeping busy by distracting ourselves? I have to admit somewhat with a red face that leaving social media behind has been a whole lot tougher than I imagined it would be. It’s only been five days yet I keep staring at the apps on my phone’s screen. Yesterday at the meet from on high where I was watching Jake with my brother’s extended family in a suite above the ten mats below I wanted to send out pictures and updates about my nephew. But I’m going to try my best to hold out until early March when spring baseball will cause me to return as a senior parent in charge of communications. I wish I didn’t have to though. For reasons I may write about another day I’ve had my fill of Facebook and the rest. From this much I wouldn’t mind turning away.

And so I was in a generally rotten mood on my drive in this morning. But then…

On the wings of the night
As the daytime is stirring
Where the speechless unite
In a silent accord
Using words you will find are strange
And mesmerised as they light the flame
Feel the new wind of change
On the wings of the night

I saw pictures taken from Kiev like this from a news story full of more photos equally as powerful.

Orthodox priests pray as they stand between pro-European Union activists and police lines in central Kiev, Ukraine, early Friday, Jan. 24, 2014. A top Ukrainian opposition leader on Thursday urged protesters to maintain a shaky cease-fire with police after at least two demonstrators were killed in clashes this week, but some in the crowd appeared defiant, jeering and chanting "revolution" and "shame." (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)

Orthodox priests pray as they stand between pro-European Union activists and police lines in central Kiev, Ukraine, early Friday, Jan. 24, 2014. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)

And a friend sent me a news story about this.

Pamela Rauseo, 37, performs CPR on her nephew, five-month-old Sebastian de la Cruz, after pulling her SUV over on the side of the road along the west bound lane on Florida state road 836 just east of 57th Avenue around 2:30pm on Thursday, Feb. 20, 2014. At right is Lucila Godoy who stopped her car to assist in the rescue. The baby was rushed to Jackson Memorial Hospital, where he is reportedly doing ok. (AP/The Miami Herald, Al Diaz)

Pamela Rauseo, 37, performs CPR on her nephew, five-month-old Sebastian de la Cruz, after pulling her SUV over on the side of the road along the west bound lane on Florida state road 836 just east of 57th Avenue around 2:30pm on Thursday, Feb. 20, 2014. At right is Lucila Godoy who stopped her car to assist in the rescue. (AP/The Miami Herald, Al Diaz)

And I looked at the following photos in my phone:

My daughter insists that she, not Hallmark, make the card for whatever friend she has that is celebrating a birthday.

birthday card

I found this written on the bill of my 18-year old son’s baseball cap as it lay on top of his glove one morning after pitching practice. As a senior he is expected to lead. Never one to be vocal about it however he has always attempted to quietly lead by example. That is what Ductus Exemplo means: leadership by example.

ductus exemplo_cap

No more turning away
From the weak and the weary
No more turning away
From the coldness inside
Just a world that we all must share
It’s not enough just to stand and stare
Is it only a dream that there’ll be
No more turning away?

If it’s only a dream then it is a very good dream. One worth fighting for. But to fight for it one must be cognizant of it. One must avoid distractions.

Dare to add to your bucket list: Avoid distractions while not turning away. Be selfless.

This morning I watched this video I’ve placed at the end of this post. I insist you do as well.

Small steps towards a distant goal

baby_steps

We may look different, but our hearts beat with the same dreams.

More and more I’ve enjoyed posting over here. I’ve been able (so far) to stay on task and limit myself to 500 words or less each and every time (if you’ve read this blog for awhile you know what an achievement that is!). Part of that focus was the result of deactivating my Facebook account and limiting my access to news by attending more baseball games than I can count. The challenge to maintain that focus will increase as I have reactivated my Facebook account in order to post pictures of my kids for close friends and family, I have peeked at the news, and we have just two weeks of the summer baseball season left after our just-finished four day stay in Independence, Missouri for a wood bat tournament.

The glimpses of news I’ve dared to take have been disheartening to say the least. Our nation’s ignorance of their fellow man, our nation’s history, and the inability to avoid having our emotions manipulated by a media and political administration seeking to divide is enough to make me want to pull out my hair. And at 45 I’m blessed to still possess all of my hair. I’d like to keep it that way.

So this post will not be below 500 words. You picked the wrong blog for that.

This post will also not be about any specific headline or issue of the day. I wouldn’t know where to start. Instead this post will be about division, and our seeming all-too-eager willingness to embrace that division instead of just one time considering the position of our neighbor and fellow man. I’m going to employ the use of two items I came across recently: one a video and the other an article I read on the First Things blog.

First, the video which asks us all:

If you could stand in someone else’s shoes,
Hear what they hear,
See what they see,
Feel what they feel,
Would you treat them differently?

You can click here to read about the history behind the development by Cardinal Avery Dulles of the following ten-point “interim strategy” for Catholics and Evangelicals to work together in the cause of Christ despite—and in the midst of—persistent and important differences. My intent today is to look at Dulles’ ten points not as a Catholic or Evangelical, but to take each one in light of who we are as fellow citizens and neighbors in a country that is quickly becoming the Divided States of America.

1. Correct misleading stereotypes.

Ask yourself: Do I stereotype those on the other side of the political aisle from which I reside? Do I derisively dismiss people of faith or a faith different than my own? What about those of no religious faith? Or a different sexual orientation? What do I think or say about people of a different skin color? While it’s true that some ethnicities may hold to that image, they may very well represent a departure from that particular group of people and be an unfair stereotype.

drive-thru2. Openness to surprise.

Ask yourself: When was the last time I talked with my neighbor(s)? Said something to the person working the drive-through window other than “I’d like fries with that.”? Do I hold back for any particular reason? What is it?

3. Holy rivalry.

Ask yourself: Do I strive to exceed my fellow neighbors, friends, or co-workers in wealth, power and prestige? Do I instead try to exceed them in virtues such as honesty, self-sacrifice, or care for the poor? Why not? Have I tried to live my life as an example of what it means to have faith in God’s Word and hope for a life beyond this present one? Am I a visible and silent witness to the counsel of Saint Paul when he said “Love one another with mutual affection; anticipate one another in showing honor” (Romans 12:10)? Can I imagine what the world would be like if I (we) actually heeded those words?

4. Overcome mutual suspicion. 

Ask yourself: Have I studied the past and/or history of a particular issue? Do I educate myself using a diversity of resources and not just what a quick Google search or my favorite cable news channel or celebrity personality says I should think? We must study the past before we can forgive it. Have I looked back upon past hurts in my own life and studied them from a perspective other than my own? Have I sought forgiveness? Have I forgiven myself?

5. Respect each other’s freedom and integrity. 

Ask yourself: Am I tolerant of the fact that beliefs or positions on an issue exist outside of my own? Do I incessantly rant on social media and hammer strangers in the comboxes of the world? Have I rolled my eyes and clucked my tongue at those who disagree with a position I hold? Do I insist that my friends and/or family hold my positions and if they do not, do I cease to acknowledge their existence as a friend or (in Facebook-speak) “unfriend” them?

6. Ecumenism of mutual enrichment.

Ask yourself: Ecumenism is defined as “the principle or aim or promoting unity among the world’s Christian churches.” What does unity mean to me when it comes to our nation? My community? How do I hold on to those things that make me a uniquely gifted individual and still relate to my neighbors/friends? Do I ask or insist that my friends or acquaintances give up their own unique characteristics or heritage in order to conform to my own? Do I strive for unity, or perpetuate the divide?

timtaylor_and_wilson7. Bonds of faith.

Ask yourself: What are the bonds that unite me to my neighbors? My friends? My family? To strangers? Are there basic commonalities we all share that bring us together, not just in times of duress, but also in calmer waters? How do we discover those common bonds?

8. Joint witness and social action. 

Ask yourself: If I believe that all life is sacred, do I hold any positions on various issues that may be seen as inconsistent or hypocritical? If I do not believe in the sanctity of life in any or all instances, how do I feel about those that do? What constitutes justice? How do I define a civil right and is that definition historically consistent or one that changes with the times? Are there things I can do to work towards a justice that is truly equal for all, and not for those whom the media or politicians deem a separate-but-equal class of citizens?

9. Peace and patience.

Ask yourself: Many of the problems that plague us as a citizenry and as a human race are as old as time and it’s easy to become frustrated by our fellow man’s inability to learn from the mistakes of the past…or by my mistakes. Do I grow increasingly frustrated and angry by the seemingly slow process of change? Or do I take the long view and realize that I am working towards improving my immediate surroundings and through a rippling effect changing the world for the benefit of my children, grandchildren and those whom I may never know in this lifetime?

10. Pray together.

Ask yourself: If I profess to be a Christian, do I actually practice my faith? Or is it simply a label I wear to belong to a social group or to use as a networking apparatus in my community to increase my bottom line? What do I pray for? Whom do I pray for? Do I pray alone? Do I pray with and for others and their needs? Am I selfless in my prayers? Or do I pray for the prosperity of myself and that others come to see things my way?

Granted, not everyone is going to relate to #10. And while prayer is defined as “an address (or petition) to God or a god in word or thought” there are those individuals who think prayer a fruitless endeavor. I respect this. It is no secret that as a Catholic I believe in and strive towards consistent prayer in order to unite us all in Christ and His teachings. I do this in the privacy of praying a rosary or the Divine Office, reading Sacred Scriptures, or even the spiritual exercises of St. Ignatius. I do this publicly in the communal prayer that is the Catholic Mass. I’ve prayed for you, dear reader, though you had no idea until this very moment.

As the article in First Things concluded:

Though first presented some twenty years ago, Avery’s ten rules remain relevant and urgent today. Perhaps, when taken together, they sound unduly modest to some, small steps toward a distant goal, but they are steps that move in the right direction.

I’ve asked you a lot of questions here today. Each of them are questions I have asked and continue to ask myself. Pick one of the set of ten for your own situation. Or just pick one question from one set of ten. But do begin to ask them of yourself.

In an speech given to a general audience on April 24, 2013, Pope Francis said

“In this period of crisis, today, it is important not to turn in on ourselves, burying our own talent, our spiritual, intellectual, and material riches, everything that the Lord has given us, but, rather to open ourselves, to be supportive, to be attentive to others. … Set your stakes on great ideals, the ideals that enlarge the heart, the ideals of service that make your talents fruitful.  Life is not given to us to be jealously guarded for ourselves, but is given to us so that we may give it in turn.”

What have you got to lose? What have you (and the world) to gain?