Friday Five – Volume 105

Friday Five-Mere Observations

— 1 —

Last Saturday and for the second year in a row I attended the Daddy/Daughter dance at our Catholic school. It is an annual opportunity for myself and the other dads to relive our memories of many a junior high or high school dance. In other words, we stand against the walls, sipping punch and talking sports while the girls dance. Only these are OUR girls. And dance they do. On the eve of her ninth birthday my own daughter relished the chance to show off the moves she’s been practicing in her bedroom while listening to the local pop station and watching music videos on her tablet (yes, approved by yours truly).

She relished the opportunity. I, having witnessed her so-called moves, resolved on the spot to chaperone all remaining dances between now and her graduation in 2025.

In the end, she did come to ask me to dance to the last song, the ever-popular Butterfly Kisses. We danced together, arm in arm, except for the 3-4 times she insisted “Twirl me, daddy”…and so I did.

I want to also note the moment when, dancing with his two daughters, my friend Jeremy heard the line “She’ll change her name today” and hollered “No she won’t!”

Those possible events await us down the line. For now it was just us and our little girls. I soaked as much of those moments as I could into my memory sponge in order to squeeze a few drops out as an oasis when we travel through the inevitable arid teenage desert.

Nothing against Bob Carlisle or his song Butterfly Kisses, but I much prefer Cinderella by Steven Curtis Chapman.

PS: As her favorite pop music station and the DJ at the dance play a lot of Top 40 stuff and Sophie loved dancing to Bruno Mars, Katy Perry, Taylor Swift and many more artists I do not know, I decided it was time to allow her to graduate from her Frozen and ABBA CDs, gulped hard, and bought her a copy of Taylor Swift’s 1989. I’ll probably regret it as it took me six months to flush Shake It Off out of my brain and Welcome to New York has been bouncing around between my ears ever since that dance…but it was worth it to see her smile and shriek as she ran off to her room to play it.

— 2 —

Whether you practice the sacrament of Confession as Catholics do or prefer to do so in a more personal manner, you may be interested in reading Ashley Osmera’s story The Confessional: A Treasure Unlocked. Of the seven sacraments Confession was the biggest stumbling block for me as I transitioned from Protestantism to Catholicism. In time it became perhaps my favorite other than receiving Christ in the Eucharist.

“Ummm,” came the mumbled response, as Steven looked at the locks. “I don’t know which one goes where…wait, I suppose I have the instructions in my shoe or something, right?” Steven shot back, rolling his eyes. Instead of being offended, the man simply shrugged. In disbelief, Steven looked down to see a small scroll of paper at his feet. He unrolled it and read, “One key to expose that which is hidden, and one to bow and then rise again. One key to boldly state one’s fault, and one to see the wounds of sin.” Glancing back at the keys in his hand, Steven saw that each of them had an inscription: Humility, Courage, Sincerity, and Simplicity.

— 3 —

While I am not sharing any photos from the Daddy/Daughter dance I do want to give you a glimpse of the face I see every morning before I go to work. Our beagle has taken to hopping onto my lap and joining me for Morning Prayer each day. Buster will usually sit at attention during the Invitatory and Psalm 95, and then curl up to listen to the rest.

A beagle and his breviary

A beagle and his breviary

— 4 —

Why do we love words? Why do we even use words? What’s language and human speech all about, anyway? In his response to these questions B.A. Lewis reveals three reasons. The third is my favorite. It’s a very short article so I won’t paste anything here but instead encourage you to read it.

— 5 —

My quote o’ the week is actually several quotes. The first comes from a favorite saint, not just because we recently celebrated St. Valentine’s Day, but because of the depth contained within these forty-five words. St. John of the Cross in his brevity said more than many modern self-proclaimed wordsmiths who prattle endlessly on but with all the depth of a sidewalk rain puddle. At times, yours truly is counted among them. It is followed by two more that deserve more than a cursory mention. There is much meat on them bones. Do not pass them over lightly. The final quote fits with the previous in the overall theme of a Christian and his or her “human condition” while we, the Church Militant, live on this earthly plane.

And I saw a river over which every soul must pass to reach the Kingdom of Heaven, and the name of that river was suffering … and then I saw a boat which carried souls across the river, and the name of that boat was Love. – Saint John of the Cross

“He submits to pain, because it is inevitable, to bereavement, because it is irreparable, and to death, because it is his destiny.” – John Henry Cardinal Newman, on ‘the gentleman’

“A religious man is a person who holds God and man in one thought at one time, at all times, who suffers harm done to others, whose greatest passion is compassion, whose greatest strength is love and defiance of despair.” – Abraham Joshua Heschell

God assumed from the beginning that the wise of the world would view Christians as fools…and He has not been disappointed. Devout Christians are destined to be regarded as fools in modern society. We are fools for Christ’s sake. We must pray for courage to endure the scorn of the sophisticated world. If I have brought any message today, it is this: Have the courage to have your wisdom regarded as stupidity. Be fools for Christ. And have the courage to suffer the contempt of the sophisticated world. – Antonin Scalia

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Of Monsters and Men

As a follow up of sorts to yesterday’s post I’ve placed together three seemingly unrelated items that I read or came across today. The first, a quote from St. John Paul II is from a daily devotional book I use with Mass readings each day whether I’m able to attend or not. The second is from an article written by Karen Ullo for Dappled Things. And last is a new video put together for Josh Garrels. I’m including the lyrics below the video.

As JPII points out evil thrives when we choose to look the other way and prefer not to notice its existence. Ms. Ullo then discusses the power that fiction has to shape our souls and to convey the existence of evil and, most importantly when the monsters come, the meaning of Christ’s redemption to the world. She uses Frankenstein (Mary Shelley), The Hunchback of Notre Dame (Victor Hugo) and Dracula (Bram Stoker) to illustrate her point. And finally, in the lyrics of Josh’s song we see the struggle that we all go through as fallen humanity. We fall, we fight, we resist. Through God’s grace and the recognition and acknowledgement of the dark and its monsters we can finally find our way back to the light.

I cry at your feet, wounded for me
And all of the monsters and men
But here in your light
We can begin again

*****

There are times when the existence of evil among people is particularly apparent. Then it becomes even clearer that the powers of darkness that reside in and operate through man are larger than him.

It seems that people today almost do not want to see this problem. They do everything to put the existence of those ‘rulers of this world of darkness’, those ‘tactics of the devil’ referred to in the Epistle to the Ephesians, from their minds. Yet there are times in history when this reluctantly accepted truth of revelation and of Christian faith is completely manifest, almost tangible.

St. John Paul II, Address, May 3, 1987
From In Conversation with God, Volume 5 – Ordinary Time: Weeks 24-34, p.239

*****

It really should not come as a surprise that stories about monsters can be rich with Christian meaning. There is only one story that matters in Christianity: Adam’s first sin leads to humanity’s demise, but Jesus comes to save us through His death and resurrection. It is a blood-soaked tale that features more than its fair share of monstrosity. And there is this: as ridiculous and devoid of metaphysical meaning as most modern horror stories may be, horror remains the one genre in our “post-Christian” society where it is not laughable to call upon Christ and the Church in one’s hour of need. When the monsters come, no one flees to the protection of the local non-denominational minister. When the monsters come, our society still knows that only the fullness of Truth entrusted to the Bride of Christ can challenge them. Our job as Catholics is not to convince the world that such hocus-pocus is beneath us. Our job is to convince them that the monsters are real. The monsters live inside each and every one of us: malformed, lonely, hopeless, vengeful monsters with their fangs latched deep into our hearts. Once we recognize them for what they really are, we know, deep in our bones, that it is only Christ crucified who can drive them out.

From The Catholicity of Monsters, by Karen Ullo. Dappled Things.

*****

Born Again

I came into the world, into the wild
No place for a child
Used my voice to howl
With the ghouls of night
In the dying light

Had to learn to get what I need
In the dark, empty
Instincts are guiding me
Like a beast to some blood
And I can’t get enough

I’m losing control; my body, my soul
Are slowly fading away
But I’m ready now
To feel the power of change

I’m my mother’s child
I’m my father’s son
It took me awhile
But my time has come
To be born again

Running scared in between what I hate
And what I need
Savior and enemy are both trying
To take my soul
And I can’t hide no more

Stumble out to the light
Raise my fist up to fight
Then I catch your eye
So full of love
Lord, what have I done?

I cry at your feet, wounded for me
And all of the monsters and men
But here in your light
We can begin again

I’m my mother’s child
I’m my father’s son
It took me a while
But my time has come
To be born again

Visit Josh Garrels website for more information: http://joshgarrels.com

The Gift

“I have been a lucky man. To feel the intimacy of brothers is a marvellous thing in life. To feel the love of people whom we love is a fire that feeds our life. But to feel the affection that come from those whom we do not know, from those unknown to us, who are watching over our sleep and solitude, over our dangers and our weaknesses—that is something still greater and more beautiful because it widens out the boundaries of our being, and unites all living things.” – Pablo Neruda, poet

Read the full quote, an excerpt from Lewis Hyde’s book The Gift: Creativity and the Artist in the Modern World, on Heather King’s blog.

Speaking of gratitude, I’ve been grateful for the gift of Maria McKee performing since I was a lad of 17. Thirty years on and she still is, better than ever.

You can trip smug smiling in your worn-out shoes
Cast away the rhythm of eternity’s fugue
Grapple with the tongue of hope till it abandons you
But you can’t deny a gift

Falter at the well, making heroes out of ghosts
Stuffing yourself on thankless boasts
But I have faith in your withering soul
‘Cause you can’t deny a gift
Oh, no, you can’t deny a gift

A gift of one and a gift to all
The wings to soar and not to fall
A gift of light in the abyss
Higher ground above the pit
The choice to live that is a gift
That is a gift, that is a gift, that is a gift

Though this gift lacks frivolous flair
It doesn’t sparkle in the sun and requires little care
It’s one of volume enough to spare
Throw down defense and we will share
Throw down defense and we will share

A gift of one and a gift to all
The wings to soar and not to fall
A gift of light in the abyss
Higher ground above the pit
The choice to live that is a gift
That is a gift, that is a gift, that is a gift

A gift of one and a gift to all
The wings to soar and not to fall
A gift of light in the abyss
Higher ground above the pit
The choice to live that is a gift
That is a gift, that is a gift, that is a gift
That is a gift, that is a gift, that is a gift

Songwriter: Maria McKee
Lyrics © BMG RIGHTS MANAGEMENT US, LLC

The lukewarm blindness of “I’m Christian, but I’m not…”

By now you may have seen this video produced by BuzzFeed. I saw it late last night when I read this story by Mollie Hemingway on Twitter. Then today I was sent this piece written by Matt Walsh.

I can only say that two passages from Scripture immediately came to mind as I watched the video and followed this story. The first is from Luke 18:9-14:

He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and despised others: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, `God, I thank thee that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week, I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, `God, be merciful to me a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for every one who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

The second is from Revelation 3:15-17,19-20:

“I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were cold or hot. So, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew you out of my mouth. For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing; not knowing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. … Those whom I love, I reprove and chasten; so be zealous and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any one hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.”

As I wrote to a friend of mine while we discussed the video, this world is filled with too many lukewarm Pharisees, but too few tax collectors. None of the lukewarm relish the thought of being chastened by Jesus or having to repent. That would mean having to admit to sin and we can’t have that.

In his latest book Hints of Heaven Father George Rutler writes about the parables of Jesus, including the one above from Luke. In his commentary on this parable Fr. Rutler writes:

The Pharisee went to the Temple to boast, like those who go to funerals to praise the dead and by so doing smile at death with nervous bravado. The Temple was the Pharisee’s sounding board and its arches a frame for his virtue. … The Pharisee “trusted in himself and despised others.” He thanked God that he was better than the publican. It was not gratitude. It was self-canonization, and self-canonization ends with the self, for the self has not the metaphysics to haul itself up to the holy altars.

Of the publican (tax collector) Fr. Rutler continues:

The publican dares not raise his bloodshot eyes to the blinding glory of heaven. … He is a sinner, and he knows it, sensing a splendor that the miniature mind of the puffed-up Pharisee missed. Both have souls, but only the publican knows what his soul can yet be. The Pharisee’s charade of holiness struts like Napoleon who, as Victor Hugo said, “embarrassed God.” Sins hurt the Divine Mercy, but the chief sin of pride is immeasurably worse, for it embarrasses the Divine Majesty.

I won’t go so far as others I’ve read and say that those in the video aren’t Christians, but if they are they have almost no idea what being a Christian truly means and are bringing scandal upon themselves and the rest of the Church by saying such inane things.

The martyrs did not lay down their lives for warm and fuzzy platitudes. They gave their lives for Christ because of their zeal, their knowledge of themselves as sinners, and because of the One whom none of these misguided kids could bring themselves to name in the video.

For example look no further than the saint whose feast we celebrate today, St. Peter Claver. While not a martyr, can you imagine any of those in that video (or using a trending hashtag on Twitter to pat themselves on the back) giving of themselves the way Claver did?

St. Peter Claver (1581-1654)

St. Peter Claver (1581-1654)

Along with Father Sandoval, Pedro (Peter Claver) would go down to the docks to meet the arriving slave ships, keeping an eye out for them from a watchtower. The ships came from all over West Africa, and the slaves spoke many different languages. The spectacle of what they saw being offloaded was shocking: a terrible smell, half-starved men, women and children chained in groups of six, having not seen daylight nor washed for months. It was usual for a third of the poor souls to die en route. The slaves were extremely frightened when they came ashore, convinced they were about to be sacrificed. Pedro tried to put them at ease with his retinue of interpreters, and gifts of blankets and fresh fruit. Sometimes Pedro would not wait for the ship to offload, but paddle out in a canoe.

Pedro began to show strength where other priests showed weakness. He would often kiss the open and infected wounds of the slaves, telling them that God loved them. … He would baptize the dying first, then the sick.

Brother Nicholas was his companion for many years, and recalled there were times that he could not cope with Pedro Claver’s work. Many times he went to see dying slaves, held in stinking dungeons in the slaveowner’s houses, where others could not enter due to the stench of death and sickness. … In 1633, they both went to see a slave girl dying of smallpox. Brother Nicholas took one breath of the foul air in the girl’s room, fell down, and could not continue. Pedro gave the negress his crucifix to kiss, cleaned her wounds, and prayed for her. The girl recovered.

[snip]

The last 4 years of Pedro’s life were very tragic. He was afflicted by a degenerative disease that slowly made him bedridden. He was given his own slave, Manuel, who was charged with feeding and helping him. Manuel is known to have mistreated his master, pushing him roughly when helping him get dressed. (Source)

As you would imagine, Claver was not a popular person with the slave traders or even other priests. But to this saint it was never about popularity or the accolades of this world. He would not have been interested in making videos extolling how accepting he was. Like most saints, and those to whom Christianity is not a popularity contest or something worn on their sleeve one hour a week, he was too busy getting things done.

From today’s Office of Readings, a letter written by the saint:

Yesterday, May 30, 1627, on the feast of the Most Holy Trinity, numerous blacks, brought from the rivers of Africa, disembarked from a large ship. Carrying two baskets of oranges, lemons, sweet biscuits, and I know not what else, we hurried toward them. When we approached their quarters, we thought we were entering another Guinea. We had to force our way through the crowd until we reached the sick. Large numbers of the sick were lying on wet ground or rather in puddles of mud. To prevent excessive dampness, someone had thought of building up a mound with a mixture of tiles and broken pieces of bricks. This, then, was their couch, a very uncomfortable one not only for that reason, but especially because they were naked, without any clothing to protect them.

We laid aside our cloaks, therefore, and brought from a warehouse whatever was handy to build a platform. In that way we covered a space to which we at last transferred the sick, by forcing a passage through bands of slaves. Then we divided the sick into two groups: one group my companion approached with an interpreter, while I addressed the other group. There were two blacks, nearer death than life, already cold, whose pulse could scarcely be detected. With the help of a tile we pulled some live coals together and placed them in the middle near the dying men. Into this fire we tossed aromatics. Of these we had two wallets full, and we used them all up on this occasion. Then, using our own cloaks, for they had nothing of this sort, and to ask the owners for others would have been a waste of words, we provided for them a smoke treatment, by which they seemed to recover their warmth and the breath of life. The joy in their eyes as they looked at us was something to see.

This was how we spoke to them, not with words but with our hands and our actions. And in fact, convinced as they were that they had been brought here to be eaten, any other language would have proved utterly useless. Then we sat, or rather knelt, beside them and bathed their faces and bodies with wine. We made every effort to encourage them with friendly gestures and displayed in their presence the emotions which somehow naturally tend to hearten the sick.

This is the type of example we celebrate, remember and honor with our actions…and this is just ONE DAY out of 365! The lives of the saints inspire us to give our all as they did to…I dunno…Voldemort? At least you’d think that was his name, since none of those in the video could bring themselves to utter the name of Jesus Christ.

In the Buzzfeed video one of the participants says: “A lot of people think Christianity ruins people, but to me I think it’s people that are ruining Christianity, you never really see the good that happens, you only see the hypocrites, and the people who put themselves on a higher pedestal.”

To this I reply as Matthew Henry did when in his commentary on Psalm 82 he wrote: “A gift in secret blinds their eyes. They know not because they will not understand. None so blind as those that will not see. They have baffled their own consciences, and so they walk on in darkness.”

To miss the good and the beautiful in Christianity and its adherents each and every day you truly must be willfully blind. Those who have eyes that see what God sees find ways to help the helpless and imitate Christ like St. Peter Claver. They don’t participate in naval-gazing passive-aggressive self-congratulatory exercises for BuzzFeed.

The tragic success of “good taste”

chaircircle

When the old Liberals removed the gags from all the heresies, their idea was that religious and philosophical discoveries might thus be made. Their view was that cosmic truth was so important that every one ought to bear independent testimony. The modern idea is that cosmic truth is so unimportant that it cannot matter what any one says. The former freed inquiry as men loose a noble hound; the latter frees inquiry as mean fling back into the sea a fish unfit for eating. Never has there been so little discussion about the nature of men as now, when, for the first time, any one can discuss it. The old restriction meant that only the orthodox were allowed to discuss religion. Modern liberty means that nobody is allowed to discuss it. Good taste, the last and vilest of human superstitions, has succeeded in silencing us where all the rest have failed. – G.K. Chesteron, Heretics (Introductory Remarks)

Why art exists

From an article I read a few weeks ago in the excellent periodical Dappled Things. It brought to mind a quote from Saint Augustine which I’ve included as well.

Dreams are shadowy, dark birds. They are present as a sign of possibility and longing, a searching grasp for a definite reality beyond this one, and yet they remain achingly frustrating because they are forever beyond our grasp. Kierkegaard refers to it as the “dizziness of freedom,” like looking into a great abyss and seeing endless possibility. If human beings are mere animals only made for this physical world, we would not dream, we would not create, and we would not suffer from nostalgia.

This is why art exists, to express the possibility and greatness of the human being. We are made to live in a world beyond this one and we stretch out to discover it. Aristotle defines poetry as the language of what might be and what should be. It cannot help but proceed by analogy, by dreaming, and by nostalgia.

*****

You are great, O Lord, and greatly to be praised: great is your power and your wisdom is without measure. And man, so small a part of your creation, wants to praise you: this man, though clothed with mortality and bearing the evidence of sin and the proof that you withstand the proud. Despite everything, man, though but a small a part of your creation, wants to praise you. You yourself encourage him to delight in your praise, for you have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in you. – The Confessions of St. Augustine, Book I. 

The silence of death

Angel at San Pedro Cemetery (Source)

Angel at San Pedro Cemetery (Source)

In the modern world language is far from both worlds of silence. It springs from noise and vanishes in noise. Silence is today no longer an autonomous world of its own; it is simply the place into which noise has not yet penetrated. It is a mere interruption of the continuity of noise, like a technical glitch in the noise-machine—that is what silence is today: the momentary breakdown of noise. We no longer have definite silence and definite language, but simply words that are being spoken and words that have not yet been spoken—but these are present, too, standing around like tools that are not being used; they stand waiting there menacingly or boringly.

The other silence, the silence of death, is also absent in language today, just as real death is absent in the modern world. Death is no longer an autonomous world of its own, but merely something negative: the extreme end of what we call life: life emptied to the last dregs—that is what death is today. Death itself has been killed. Death today is far removed from that death of which the following sentence was spoken:

Man dies only once in his life, and as he lacks experience of the event he bungles it. So that he may die successfully, he must learn how to die by the following the instruction of experienced men who know what it means to die in the midst of life. Asceticism gives us this experience of death. (Florensky)

– Max Picard, The World of Silence