My Life’s Ambition

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oof.

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

“What is your life’s ambition?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Nuts.”

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

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

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

Please pray for my friend Clarice.

*******

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

©2019 Jeff A Walker. All Rights Reserved.

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.

How I’ll Spend Election Day

“To be ignorant of what occurred before you were born is to remain always a child. For what is the worth of human life, unless it is woven into the life of our ancestors by the records of history?” – Marcus Tullius Cicero

Ora et labora.” – St. Benedict of Norcia

_________

Photo source: outwardon.com

Photo source: outwardon.com

A few weeks ago I began to think pretty seriously about taking a camping trip over a 3-day stretch in early November. There were two reasons for this: the warmer than usual (and beautiful) autumn weather, and…the election. Oh, did I mention that the three day stretch I had in mind was November 7-9? I figured I’d leave Monday afternoon and return home on Wednesday afternoon. I’d pack my tent, sleeping bag, extra blankets, food provisions, make a big fire…all of it. I’d probably pack a journal along with a good book or two, including the Liturgy of the Hours so I could continue to sanctify the time. My phone? Yes, it’d be with me in the event of an emergency, but I’d put it into airplane mode so that I could make that call if necessary, but not have access to the internet.

Why? Because the Tuesday sandwiched in that timeframe is Election Day.

I want nothing to do with this year’s election anymore. Nothing to do with the noise that has been shattering eardrums for well over a year, generated by partisans on both sides and a press that’s all too happy to stoke the flames of division instead of doing their jobs.

My second option is likely the one I’ll do because my oldest son is home after spending the bulk of the year deployed overseas and I hate to take three days away from that family time. This option involves me spending election night sitting/kneeling in my church. Phone still shut off. A book/journal with me as well as the prayers of the Divine Office. Still sanctifying time, just not out in nature as I’d prefer.

A third option would involve inviting over a few close friends I have on both sides of the partisan divide to break bread, enjoy a libation or two, and sit around the firepit. No phones. No politics. Perhaps taking a break from our conversation to pray a rosary or my leading/teaching them to pray Vespers (Protestants have been known to pray a form of the Divine Office) and in our own way we’d still be sanctifying time with our friendship. Common ground.

I awoke yesterday to news that there had been another earthquake in Norcia, destroying the 14th century Basilica of St. Benedict, the historic church built atop the birthplace of St. Benedict. In this ancient Italian mountain village Saints Benedict and his sister Saint Scholastica were born. Benedict has been credited with the saving of western civilization due to his creation of the monastic system in the 6th century which preserved so many of the writings and lessons of the past for those of us in the present.

The remains of the basilica at Norcia.

The remains of the basilica at Norcia.

Last night I read an article by Rod Dreher about the basilica’s unfortunate destruction. But in the middle of his piece he included a few paragraphs from his forthcoming book The Benedict Option that I felt provided an excellent continuation of what I’ve been writing (or trying to write) lately about prayer and its importance. When he was visiting the monks at Norcia this past February, he was having a conversation with Brother Ignatius Prakarsa. And while he asked the monk about how the cloistered monks evangelize, I thought Brother Prakarsa’s reply about the discipline of prayer very important. Dreher writes:

This past February, when I was visiting, in conversation with Brother Ignatius Prakarsa, I asked him about how cloistered monks evangelize, if at all. This short passage from The Benedict Option contains his answer:

“The structure of life in the monastery, the things you do every day, is not just pointless repetition,” said Brother Augustine Wilmeth, 25, whose red Viking-like beard touches his chest. “It’s to train your heart and your spirit so that when you need it, when you don’t feel strong enough to will yourself to get through a difficult moment, you fall back on your training. You know that you wouldn’t be strong enough to do it if you hadn’t been kind of working at it and putting all the auxiliary things in place.”

In other words, ordering one’s actions is really about training one’s heart to love and to desire the right things, the things that are real, without having to think about it. It is acquiring virtue as a habit.

In the grand scheme of things, these habits are what the Lord can use to save the world. You never know how God will act through the little things in a life ordered by His love, to His service, to speak evangelically to others, said Brother Ignatius Prakarsa, the monastery’s guestmaster. In the summertime, the monastery’s basilica church fills up with tourists, many of whom are lapsed Christians or unbelievers, who sit quietly to watch the monks chant their regular prayers, in Latin.

When he meets them on the church steps later, visitors often tell Brother Ignatius that the chanting was so peaceful, so beautiful.

“I tell them we’re just praying to the Lord. We’re just opening our mouths to sing the beauty that’s already there in the music,” he said to me. “Everything is evangelical. Everything is directed to God. Everything has to be seen from the supernatural point of view. The radiance that comes through our lives is only is only a reflection of God. In ourselves, we are nothing.”

The Benedictine monks of Norcia have always been disciplined prayer warriors. Their motto is after all Ora Et Labora (pray and work). They have practiced the merging of praying and working simultaneously for over 1400 years. They are masters at sanctifying time:

The Church takes seriously the call to sanctify all things, even time. The Catholic significance of days and months is a profound reminder that our lives are finite, and that time should not be squandered. As the Psalmist said, “teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom” (Ps. 90:12). But more than anything, it reminds us that time is a gift from God, and with him and through him, all things are holy, and nothing is without meaning.

When I think of the concept of Time I do not merely The Present but also The Past. As we approach two of my favorite feast days in the Catholic Church’s calendar (All Saints Day on Nov. 1st and All Souls Day on Nov. 2nd) I can’t help but have history on the brain. To scour the landscape today it is easy to see that is not really the case among my American peers however. Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia recently touched on this when he said:

Americans have never liked history. The reason is simple. The past comes with obligations on the present, and the most cherished illusion of American life is that we can remake ourselves at will. But we Christians are different. We’re first and foremost a communion of persons on mission through time—and our meaning as individuals comes from the part we play in that larger communion and story.

It is due at least in part to this disdain of history that we see such a disconnect with things such as family, God, and even prayer. Why sanctify time for God if you do not believe in Him? Why should I be concerned about my family tree? Most likely they were a bunch of backwards, uneducated hillbillies with an embarrassing amount of white privilege. They’d have nothing to teach me about living in our modern, complex and nuanced world. For that matter why on earth would I be concerned about the unborn? They are a nuisance that will hold me back from my own self-fulfillment and realizing my potential. So why would I, a modern individual living in the modern age, bother myself with the discipline of prayer?

scruton-quote-respect-for-the-dead2

Americans have become consumed by nothing more than consumerism in the guise of entertainment. I’d argue more than that, they are interested in one thing: the raw Power of the Now. How else do you explain Democrats who overlook the crimes, deception and possibly treasonous actions of their candidate for the highest office in the land? How else do you explain Republican voters, who once proudly and accurately hung their hats on the rule of law and a certain sense of morality, now throw out those principles in order to prop up a man such as they have because he isn’t her? Yes, I know I am being overly simplistic, but I will argue that it is for the pursuit of raw, unadulterated power that both sides are doing this. Saddest of all has been the surrender of not just the nation’s evangelicals who have sold out on the Right, but those Catholics on the Left who have sided with a woman who is the most rabidly pro-abortion candidate to ever win a major party’s presidential nomination, as well as to a campaign who holds their very church in contempt. There is such an abundance of willing ignorance and blindness across our land today. Reason has fled and hypocrisy rules the day. What’s absent are enough people with the courage to say “Stop! Enough! What are we doing?”

All the while I ask myself: how do we go back? How do we find our way back to one another and common ground? Does common ground even exist anymore or is there only the Power of the Now?

I have seen such bile, loathing and demonic hatred spewed on social media. I’ve witnessed it in conversations among people I know personally. It is dark. It can smother you. It is void. And the only way I’ve been able to combat and even conquer it has been through sanctifying time. I plan on continuing to do so, but especially as the darkness grows in intensity next week.  I’d like to pull a few men and women I know together to do this around our backyard firepit, but if I’m unable I know that at the very least I’ll be found on my knees in my church. Better yet I’ll be found outside of my tent, either at sunset welcoming a canopy of stars as I warm myself by the fire with the ancient psalms of the Divine Office. Or at sunrise, watching the radiance of eternity spread warmth and light over Creation and drive back the darkness that threatens the soul.

_________

Praise the LORD! Praise the LORD from the heavens, praise him in the heights!
Praise him, all his angels, praise him, all his host!
Praise him, sun and moon, praise him, all you shining stars!
Praise him, you highest heavens, and you waters above the heavens!
Let them praise the name of the LORD! For he commanded and they were created.
(from Psalm 148)

Quoting Lewis

Just before the Nebraska Cornhuskers and Indiana Hoosiers kicked off their football game on ABC last Saturday, a good friend of mine posted the following quote on my Facebook:

fake-screwtape-on-politics

Knowing how much of a fan I am of The Screwtape Letters John thoughtfully posted what he thought was an excellent quote regarding the role politics tends to play in our lives. I thought it looked “off”, but as I was sinking into the couch with my popcorn and about to loose myself in the game I didn’t have time to confirm the quote. (This is what the internet has wrought: we now have to fact-check everything because of course we do.)

It wasn’t until Sunday night that I had time to research it. It turns out it’s a clever, but fake, quote created by some blogger as a reimagining of what Uncle Screwtape would offer as counsel to Wormwood in our current political climate. It is a clever forgery and despite it not being from Screwtape it is a pretty good summing up of where we are today.

This got me to wondering what Lewis may have written regarding politics in the past. I took a look into my copy of The Quotable Lewis and found the following quotes of interest (to me, at least).

On Political Power:

Each generation exercises power over its successors: and each, in so far as it modifies the environment bequeathed to it and rebels against tradition, resists and limits the power of its predecessors. This modifies the picture which is sometimes painted of a progressive emancipation from tradition and a progressive control of natural processes resulting in a continual increase of human power. In reality, of course, if any one age really attains, by eugenics and scientific education, the power to make its descendants what it pleases, all men who live after it are the patients of that power. They are weaker, not stronger: for though we may have put wonderful machines in their hands we have pre-ordained how they are to use them. – The Abolition of Man, chapter 3, paragraph 4.

Politics:

A sick society must think much about politics, as a sick man must think much about his digestion. – The Weight of Glory, “Membership”, paragraph 4.

[After a few covering the area of politics I continued in the P’s and found more quotes which I thought relevant to today.]

Possessiveness:

But it is not only children who react thus. Few things in the ordinary peacetime life of a civilised country are more nearly fiendish than the rancour with which a whole unbelieving family will turn on the one member of it who has become a Christian, or a whole lowbrow family on the one who shows signs of becoming an intellectual. This is not, as I once thought, simply the innate and, as it were, disinterested hatred of darkness for light. A church-going family in which one has gone atheist will not always behave any better. It is the reaction to a desertion, even to robbery. Someone or something has stolen “our” boy (or girl). He who was one of Us has become one of Them. What right had anybody to do it? He is ours. – The Four Loves, chapter 3, paragraph 30.

[While Lewis is writing about a religious conversion, in our age in which politics and the state have replaced religion in many lives, I’ve seen  this same “Us vs. Them” mentality on display. Tell me you can’t see it yourself, especially if you have a presence on social media. It’s everywhere.]

Post-Christian Man:

What you say about the present state of mankind is true: indeed, it is even worse than you say.

For they neglect not only the law of Christ but even the Law of Nature as known by the Pagans. For now they do not blush at adultery, treachery, perjury, theft and the other crimes which I will not say Christian Doctors, but the pagans and the barbarous have themselves denounced.

They err who say “the world is turning pagan again.” Would that it were! The truth is that we are falling into a much worse state.

“Post-Christian man” is not the same as “pre-Christian man.” He is as far removed as virgin is from widow: there is nothing in common except want of a spouse: but there is a great difference between a spouse-to-come and a spouse lost. – Letters: C.S. Lewis/Don Giovanni Calabria (March 17, 1953), paragraph 4-7.

[I have read words to this same effect on more than one occasion. Where we seem to be headed as a culture is much worse than pre-Christianity. The pagans, and here I refer to the ancient Greek philosophers such as Plato and Aristotle, are widely known to have referred to what they (in their pre-Christian mind) called divine providence. These philosophers recognized the divine and the hope of man to transcend their human state. There was natural law. As is evident in our culture today, where gender is fluid and changed like the oil in our cars, and “marriage” between people of the same sex is not only accepted but encouraged, there is a wholescale rejection of natural law and the divine. While the easy thing to do is to divide the sides into “liberal vs. conservative” or “left vs. right”, we are more accurately a people who are divided thusly: you either believe in the supernatural or you don’t. In a post-Christian world there will be no need for the supernatural, or natural law, because man is a god, the state is the bigger god, and there is no natural law…only what the state on their whim, and man as an individual (“my truth”) says is the law.]

Power:

The descent to hell is easy, and those who begin by worshipping power soon worship evil. – The Allegory of Love, chapter IV.II, paragraph 21

[When a political party realizes that they can stay in and gain even more power by selling themselves to special interests that can at best be described as inhuman, evil or even satanic (Planned Parenthood, anyone?), they no longer are merely interested in power but have themselves become pawns of evil.]

Prayer:

Since I have begun to pray, I find my extreme view of personality changing. My own empirical self is becoming more important, and this is exactly the opposite of self-love. You don’t teach a seed how to die into treehood by throwing it into the fire: and it has to become a good seed before it’s worth burying. – Letters of C.S. Lewis (1933?)

[I included this quote in order to end on a positive note, and to show that there is always hope. But, as the saying goes, change begins with me. This is the hard part. It can be done. I’m living proof.]

What is Adoration?

When we go before the Blessed Sacrament, let us open our heart; our good God will open His. We shall go to Him; He will come to us; the one to ask, the Other to receive. It will be like a breath from one to the other. – St. John Vianney

I read the following passage in a great little book I picked up recently called Manual for Eucharistic Adoration, written by the Poor Clares of Perpetual Adoration and edited by Paul Thigpen, whose Manual for Spiritual Warfare remains a favorite. I’ve been using both books during my weekly visits to the adoration chapel in town. The following passage stood out for me as a great explanation about what adoration is, particularly for those who might not understand what is meant when I write about it. It also explains why I think it is a difficult contrast to grasp for many in our me-first, self-centered lifestyle.

It’s from Chapter 5: Guidelines for Adoration (pages 32-33).

*****

How Do I Adore?

manual-for-eucharistic-adorationIt is important to remember that feelings of love, fervor, and devotion are not essential for adoration. Adoration is not a sentiment.

Fr. John Hardon, in his Modern Catholic Dictionary, defines adoration as “the act of religion by which God is recognized as alone worthy of supreme honor because He is infinitely perfect, has supreme dominion over humans, and the right to human total dependence on the Creator. It is at once an act of mind and will, expressing itself in appropriate prayers, postures of praise, and acts of reverence and sacrifice.”[1]

Our adoration, therefore, begins when we walk in the door of the church or adoration chapel. When we genuflect before the Blessed Sacrament, kneel in the pew, and show Him our respect by giving Him our full attention, we adore Him. When we turn off our cell phone and maintain reverent silence in the chapel, we adore Him. When we make a simple act of faith in His Real Presence, we adore Him. When we place ourselves before Him as empty vessels to be filled with His love, we adore Him.

In our self-centered culture and classic American emphasis on work, we often feel we have to accomplish something during our times of prayer before the Blessed Sacrament. We rate our experience by how “good” our prayer was, how heartfelt our devotion was, or how focused we could remain. Yet prayer and contemplation are fundamentally God’s work, in which we are invited to participate.

We need only to give Him the opening, and He will do the rest. By coming to adoration, we are handing Him the key to our hearts, allowing the rays of His love and grace to bathe our souls in the light of His Presence, as the rays of the sun bathe our bodies in light. If we can take the time to pull away from the busyness and distractions of life and just sit at His feet, He will lead us.


[1]“Adoration,” in Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J., Modern Catholic Dictionary (Bardstown, KY: Eternal Life Publications, 2000), 13.

Fighting back

There has long been a deep reservoir of hate in this country just waiting to be tapped. Now Hillary Clinton on the left and Donald Trump from wherever he comes have both tapped it – it is open and gushing, it is vile, and it is threatening to bring this country down.

The only thing that will stop it is prayer – the ONLY thing. – online commenter Terry at Crisis Magazine online

_______

The life of man upon earth is a warfare… – Job 7:1

***

Last night I entered the fray.

I joined the battle.

We established a beachhead.

I haven’t been writing much for more than a few weeks now. My efforts to continue with The Screwtape Letters project is, for now, on hold. I got tired of staring at an empty screen and will try to continue another day.

The bitter and honest truth is that I’ve been…how to say this…out of sorts.

Out of whack. Lost my equilibrium.

I’ve been under attack.

I’ve said before that I believe the great battle of our times is before us. I’ve also said that it will be a spiritual war.

After the events of the last month I stand behind those assertions.

It’s been a rough year. A year filled with self-doubt and second-guessing. A year of “what ifs”. Through it all I’ve struggled to keep my balance and maintain both my optimism and stay upright. At times I’ve come perilously close to giving in to despair. One beam of light guided me through this fog.

Prayer, specifically the Liturgy of the Hours, also known as the Divine Office.

We are living in strange times. Or hadn’t you noticed? Many have not. Distracted by the soft comforting glow of their various screens they are oblivious to history’s verdicts. How else does one explain our youth’s embracing of the culture of death and socialism? How else to explain the unhinged, vehement attacks levied at anyone who points out the obvious lack of conservative bona fides in the candidate widely embraced on the right as “the true conservative candidate”?

Thought and reason have no traction today because emotions and slogans have superseded them.

What the hell is going on?

And that’s the answer. Hell is going on.

***

Of late I’ve read many things online to ramp up my sense of urgency regarding this war. If the results from this survey by the Barna Group are in fact true, then I’m already to be considered an extremist in the eyes of many. The war is already being waged against me. I just as well fight back and make damn sure I live up to the evidence and label that may someday be used against me.

Society is undergoing a change of mind about the way religion and people of faith intersect with public life. That is, there are intensifying perceptions that faith is at the root of a vast number of societal ills.

Though it remains the nation’s most dominant religion, Christianity faces significant headwind in the court of public opinion. The decades-old trend that Christianity is irrelevant is increasingly giving way to the notion that Christianity is bad for society.

A new major study conducted by Barna Group, and explored in the new book Good Faith, co-authored by Barna president David Kinnaman, examines society’s current perceptions of faith and Christianity. In sum, faith and religion and Christianity are viewed by millions of adults to be extremist.

A growing portion of society considers me an extremist by virtue of my actually professing and living by my beliefs as a Christian. As a conservative I’ve watched myself or anyone else who questions the candidacy of Donald Trump be labeled a “rich, establishment, power mad” fool who is not a “true conservative” and will get “what’s coming to you!”. Ummm…what? I’ve watched those members of the media who call themselves conservatives outed for the carnival barkers that they are, nothing more than shills looking to make a book for the candidate du jour.

I’ve seen spleens vented at Pope Francis and any Catholic who dares call him or herself Catholic while pleading for some decent human decency be shown the less fortunate or the poor.

Obama voters the past two elections just pissed me off. I laughed them off as unserious kids fawning over an unqualified leftist. Supporters of Trump who spew their hatred and bile towards anyone who dare point out the flaws in their reason or simply ask for clarification on their stance scare the hell out of me because this lot is filled with rage and they are looking for someone to pour it upon. And I get it. I’m as upset with the Republican party leadership as anyone on how they’ve said one thing to get elected and then done the opposite once in office, while sending out letters for more money. I stopped supporting the GOP in 2006 when despite having control of all three branches of government they did not one blessed thing about abortion in this country. But as soon as Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid took over in 2006 the fundraising letters once more were filling the mailboxes of pro-lifers everywhere.

So I get the anger and disillusionment. But Trump? And to vent that anger out on not just your fellow citizens of either party, but against those who are in tune with the Constitution and our nation’s history?

It’s nothing new. History has shown us examples of a citizenry embracing anger during the Reign of Terror in France, in Puritan England, and  in pre-World War II Germany.

The lessons from this history is that it never ends well for the likes of people like me.

***

Already being bloodied from the blows received, I read the following from scripture one  evening while in prayer:

My brothers, count it pure joy when you are involved in every sort of trial. Realize that when your faith is tested this makes for endurance. Let endurance come to its perfection so that you may be fully mature and lacking in nothing. – James 1:2-4 (Evening Prayer for January 29)

The very next morning I read this during Morning Prayer:

In everything you do, act without grumbling or arguing; prove yourselves innocent and straightforward, children of God beyond reproach in the midst of a twisted and depraved generation—among whom you shine like the stars in the sky. – Philippians 2:14-15 (Morning Prayer for January 30)

I decided I needed to make a call.

***

During mornings or evenings above 30 degrees you will find me outside with these.

During mornings or evenings above 30 degrees you will find me outside with these.

It has been a long-time goal of mine to initiate the praying of Vespers, or Evening Prayer, at my parish. A few weeks ago I finally got around to setting up a meeting with my parish priest to discuss it. I say finally because I could no longer ignore what I see going on. I needed to stop fighting alone, and begin to form a squad to wage the only form of warfare that matters and the one for which I’m best equipped. My son is a United States Marine. He’s trained for the more conventional battles of this world. He has been raised to fight the other, too, but for now his task is elsewhere.

Mine, however, is not. Mine is against the “powers and principalities” of this world.

This is your fight as well.

I have prayed the Liturgy of the Hours for just about fifteen years, ever since I first worked up the nerve to ask our former assistant pastor Father Hottovy to show me the book he always carried with him. It was slow going and a struggle at many times, but I persevered until now my day feels unbalanced if I fail to pray at least Morning or Evening Prayers. Being a historian I researched its origins and revisions over the years, even purchasing an expensive set of pre-Vatican II era books containing the Divine Office in both Latin and English.

But mostly I have done so in order to sanctify time for God. Except for a handful of occasions I have prayed this communal prayer alone.

I wanted to change that. Father Johnson agreed. And we selected Wednesday evenings at 6pm immediately following 5:30 Mass. We agreed that instead of announcing it in the bulletin for now or at weekend Masses he would simply announce it at the end of last night’s Mass and invite people to stick around to join me.

***

About the same time that I first contacted Father for a Saturday morning meeting over coffee the attacks upon me intensified. As last night drew near they threatened to suffocate me. I struggled to smile or find happiness. Optimism about almost anything seemed to disappear. I found myself hit with dreams and visions in broad daylight…horrible and awful images of my family, especially my children, and at times my friends. I saw horrific scenes, too terrible to recount, that involved my children bloodied, in danger, or worse. I couldn’t sleep and had little energy. My despair would turn to frustration and in a flash my anger would flare with words against those who mean the most to me. Two days ago I was sitting at a red light when one flashed before my eyes and caused me to cry uncontrollably as the light turned green through my tear-streaked eyes. The devil knows our weakness. It has ever been so.

I honestly thought I was falling apart. Believe it or not thoughts of my own death and of not being a burden to my loved ones crept into my mind.

But then little pinpoints of grace would shine forth. Nothing huge, but small indications that I did have worth, that I mattered, and that I made a difference began to emerge. Two examples:

Two weeks ago my Marine and I were texting about his younger brother’s upcoming baseball season. Jonah is twelve and at this point in his young life already a much better baseball player than his older brother. Considering that Nolan was able to contribute and then start on two spring high school state champion baseball teams and compete for summer state titles as well, that’s saying a lot about his younger brother. A back injury almost cost Nolan his high school baseball career and deeply affected his attitude, causing lethargy and depression. Prior to his sophomore year he was going to quit and we argued back and forth about it for weeks before the treatment and work he’d been doing to heal his injury caused him to relent and play. Ever since 2012 I’ve beat myself up and wondered how much resentment my coaxing him to play had caused. I wondered if he’d ever appreciate all that he and his buddies had accomplished. Lately I’ve wondered if I would have the strength to do so again with Jonah should he travel a similar path.

It turns out I won’t have to get after Jonah. His big brother will. This is a part of our text exchange:

Nolan: Make him play at least through high school. He’ll be glad one day.

Me (after taking a big gulp): Are you thankful I pushed you to play?

Nolan: More than anything. I’ve been talking to some of the guys out here. We all want more than anything to be able to go back and play under the lights one more time. Whether it’s football, baseball, basketball, soccer, whatever…everyone wishes they could go back just one more time.

I hoped I would hear those words before I was 60, never dreaming I’d hear them at 48.

The last occurrence was the unexpected gift of a book from a friend. I had loaned her five books from the World War II era on the fate of Christians, including St. Maximilian Kolbe and Edith Stein to use as research for a college paper she was writing. Becky is my age but has gone back to school in order to finish up her teaching degree. Several weeks later she showed up unannounced and unexpected in order to present me with a copy of a book published late last year called Church of Spies. For fifteen minutes we stood outside as she talked about her research and thanked me several times for the use of books from my library. She couldn’t see it in the twilight, but I was so quiet because I was trying to keep from crying after being overwhelmed by her simple generosity. I’d been beaten down and was nearly exhausted, but her gesture was like a cool drink of fresh water.

And then yesterday I began to understand what was happening. While praying during my lunch hour at the Pink Sisters chapel and sitting before the Blessed Sacrament, I began to understand that I was under attack. Satan did not want me to introduce Evening Prayer at St. John’s nor did he want those I met with to understand they could use this great treasure of the Church themselves. The tradition of sanctifying time to God through the praying of the psalms goes back thousands of years before Christ when the Jews would pray them throughout the day. Jesus himself prayed these same psalms. The Catholic Church has done the same ever since. But not just Catholics. Anglicans, Lutherans and other Protestant denominations all have their own traditions that grew from the trunk of this tree.

While sitting slump-backed in that pew yesterday I was encouraged and renewed. Despite my self-doubt and fears I would press on. I was too close to quit now after wanting to begin for so long.

***

In the grand scheme of things it was hardly noticeable. After Mass last night I stood in front of the sanctuary with the booklets I’d printed for use. I made only ten, hoping for at least one or two people to join me. After a few minutes of thinking no one would I found myself suddenly surrounded by around 15 people. After a brief introduction on my part we began. Fifteen minutes later it was done. We finished while the church was filling for a 7pm First Confession service held for our second graders and their parents. I doubt very many were aware of us or what was going on.

But something did happen. A toe-hold was made. A command post was established.

Last night we began fighting back. In community. Communion.

I slept like a baby last night for the first time in months.

We will continue every Wednesday night going forward. We may grow in number or we may not. But I believe we will see an increase in numbers over time.

I believe there are many who want to fight back. They see the shroud of darkness descending and are hungry to learn about whatever weapons available to them.

Based on the comments and positive feedback received last night I stand by that belief. And I will be better prepared in the future for the spiritual attacks that I know will come. There’s always a counter-attack.

I’m hopeful that last night we struck a blow and that as we continue others will have their eyes opened to the beauty and power contained within the Divine Office. All are welcome to join us for 15-20 minutes of prayer. Perhaps in time we’ll extend it for 15-30 minutes of discussion. In the meantime I have made plans to include a sheet each week that teaches on some aspect of the Liturgy of the Hours and history of the Divine Office.

But I’m taking it slow. Better a start than none at all. For while we live in seemingly more desperate times and there is a sense of urgency, I feel a calm that tells me to not rush according to my own schedule.

It’s His time, after all. Sanctified.

History.

His story.

***

For though we live in the world we are not carrying on a worldly war, for the weapons of our warfare are not worldly but have divine power to destroy strongholds. – 2 Corinthians 10:3-4

Friday Five – Volume 97

Friday Five-Mere Observations

— 1 —

“The road that stretches before the feet of a man is a challenge to his heart long before it tests the strength of his legs.” — St. Thomas Aquinas

— 2 —

I had planned on touching a little upon the ongoing trip that Pope Francis is making to the United States. After thinking about it for awhile last night and again this morning I’ve decided to take a pass. It’s really not my comfort zone right now and I doubt anyone is interested in my thoughts on the matter.

I will say that I believe Pope Francis is neither a Marxist or a bigot. These are popular dismissals coming from both sides of our American political aisle. They is also over-simplified, non-thinking knee-jerk bumper sticker sloganeering. Pope Francis is criticized in this manner for three reasons:

  1. Americans have become a reactionary, hyper-partisan political people (“Politics uber alles”). Almost everything is seen through a rigidly defined lens of what is considered to be left and/or right.
  2. Cafeteria Catholicism: So many American Catholics have a poor knowledge of the depths and beauty of their faith. Instead they treat it like a buffet line: “I’ll follow that portion of the faith, but not portion.”
  3. A growing lack of attention span coupled with a lack of critical thinking skills.

Being a follower of Christ and His Gospel means that you are not defined by partisan politics. I’ve learned from personal experience through interactions with friends in person, online, or strangers, that holding the line on Christ’s teachings when it comes to the issues of the day does not equate with one being popular. That is simply not the way of this world, nor has it ever been. I’ve lost friends in real life and been attacked on Facebook or Twitter by people I do not know (and some I do know), simply for gently discussing an issue from the point of the view of the gospels. (Those who know me just now snickered at my use of the word “gently”. But believe me, it’s true.)

I guess there is a reason why the Church on earth has referred to itself for two thousand years as the Church Militant. When fully engaged on earth as a Christian you will take hits from all sides. I’ve found strength in prayer, the Sacraments, the Mass, and in service to others.

When it comes to the attacks on Pope Francis for what he said or didn’t say this week while in America I can only say that I seems to recall another man who pleased neither side of the political aisle with his message.

We crucified Him.

*****

Addendum: Father Longenecker points out how polarized Conservatives and Liberals have become as well and lists five papal takeaways for both right and left wingers.

Text of Pope Francis’ speech to Congress is here.

Text of his address to the United Nations is here.

— 3 —

Parent/Teacher conferences were yesterday evening at our Catholic elementary school, which means there is no school today. Yet despite the opportunity to sleep in on a free day our sixth-grader asked to be woken up early this morning so that he could be dressed and ride his bike to church to serve at the 8:15 Mass. I’m not sure what his reasons were for this nor do I question them. I’m grateful that he desired to do this at this point in time. Freshly in to junior high as he is these moments could be fleeting and the next time he may just as likely balk at my suggestion that he do so. So for now I’ll gladly accept and be thankful for his unprompted bit of service and this grace.

This week First Things published Rules for Being an Altar Boy at Saint John Vianney Parish for the Liturgical Year 1964. I’m pasting it in full below, and am considering having a framed copy made for our parish sacristy (and perhaps my son’s room).

If you have to sneeze on the altar do so quietly and turn
Your head away from the Holy Sacrament. Please carry
A handkerchief in the pocket of your trousers. No jeans.
Wear good shoes. No sneakers. Arrive 30 minutes early
Minimum: 5 minutes early is 25 minutes late. The bells,
As a crucial part of the Mass, are rung firmly but gently.
It is the unaware altar server who rings them too loudly.
Be attentive. You too are an integral aspect of the Mass.
You are witnessing and abetting a miracle. Always treat
The Mass that way. Your service allows the miraculous
Easier passage into this plane. Never let your cassock be
Stained or sullied. Similarly your surplice. Do not under
Any circumstances drink the wine or eat the consecrated
Hosts. You will be tempted to do so. Resist the Tempter.
You may be late for, or fail to appear for, only one Mass.
If you are late for or miss a second Mass, your privileges
Are suspended. Two boys in nine years have been ousted.
Don’t become the third. Honor the parents who are proud
Of their son and his service as witness to Holy Sacrament.
It is a gift to serve on the altar. Treat your service as a gift.
Listen to the Holy Spirit as you serve. The Mass is ancient
And comes to us directly from the hand and words of God
When He assumed human form in the person of the Christ.
In and through and suffusing every aspect of the quotidian
Is the sacred. Treat Father with respect, but be aware of his
Own complex humanity. The sacristy is not a locker room:
There is no horseplay, no vulgar language, and no shouting.
If you have a problem, or a question, of any sort, or if there
Is anything whatsoever that you wish to speak to me about,
Be assured that I will keep it in confidence, and listen with
Respect for your own miraculous existence, and admirable
Service to the Church Eternal and particularly to our parish.
Finally as to the length of the hair, any length is acceptable,
As long as the hair is noticeably clean. Christ had long hair,
But you can be sure that His was clean. Boys—be like Him.

— 4 —

In his book The Breviary Explained, Pius Parsch explains the difference between private prayer and liturgical prayer. I pray the Divine Office in order to join the voice of my prayer with that of the Universal Church. I pray because I know that at that moment, around the world (and most especially in my time zone) hundreds of thousands are praying along with me. During that time I am not alone.

The breviary is above all the prayer of the Church, the prayer said in the name of the Church. It is helpful to understand the difference between private prayer and liturgical prayer. In private prayer I pray, mostly, for myself and my own affairs. It is the isolated person who stands in the centre of the action, and the prayer is more or less individualized. But in liturgical prayer, and therefore in the breviary, it is not primarily I who am praying, but the Church, the bride of Christ. The object of her prayer is broader, too: all the needs of God’s kingdom here on earth. In liturgical prayer, I feel more like a member of a great community, like a little leaf on the great living tree of the Church. I share her life and her problems. The Church is praying through my mouth, I offer her my tongue to pray with her for all the great objectives of redemption, and for God’s honour and glory.

Of course I’m not alone during private prayer either and that is my one-on-one time with Jesus. I cherish that time and place great value on it. But just as we humans will “participate” in the big game by talking about it with a buddy at the office water cooler, or among 90,000 screaming fans at the stadium, prayer affords us similar opportunities.

I close my eyes, and while my lips murmur the words of the Breviary which I know by heart, I leave behind their literal meaning, and feel that I am in that endless land where the Church, militant and pilgrim, passes, walking towards the promised fatherland. I breathe with the Church in the same light by day, the same darkness by night; I see on every side of me the forces of evil that beset and assail Her; I find myself in the midst of Her battles and victories, Her prayers of anguish and Her songs of triumph, in the midst of the oppression of prisoners, the groans of the dying, the rejoicing of the armies and captains victorious. I find myself in their midst, but not as a passive spectator; nay rather, as one whose vigilance and skill, whose strength and courage can bear a decisive weight on the outcome of the struggle between good and evil, and upon the eternal destinies of individual men and of the multitude. – Blessed Card. Ildefonso Schuster, Archbishop of Milan, 1929-54

Source: New Liturgical Movement

— 5 —

Sometimes we miss the moment trying to capture the moment. Just stand there and enjoy. This woman, watching the Pope in New York City yesterday, gets it.

grannygetsit_popeinNYC

Source: Twitter via @JamesMurphy