Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Worth a Thousand Words: Portrait of Mister (Billie Holiday's dog)

Portrait of Mister (Billie Holiday's dog)
via Library of Congress

Genesis Notes: The Test

Now we come to the most famous incident in Abraham's story. God tells him to take his beloved only son, Isaac, and sacrifice him. No one ever really understands this until they become a parent but it is enough to strike horror into anyone's heart if they stop and visualize the scene. What really brought home the obedience required by all involved was when I realized that in order to carry the wood for his father, Isaac also knew exactly what was going on when he was told to lie on the altar. What a test of faith for everyone.

This whole scene was recently put into clearer context for me. At the time, child sacrifice was nothing new. Many "gods" demanded it and there is ample archaeological evidence for the fact that thousands of children were sacrificed, usually when they were at least 3 or 4 years old so that the gift was more valuable — they'd made it past infancy. This whole story adds a bit of perspective to Abraham and Isaac's seeming calm. It doesn't mean that they weren't feeling the horror, but it was an understandable demand.

The unbelievable part for them — the amazing blessing — was when God used it to show exactly who He was. How amazing and new this would have seemed to Abraham and Isaac. He is not a God who demands that sacrifice of us. He himself will provide the sacrifice, both of the ram and, later, of his own son.

Abraham and Isaac, Rembrandt, 1634

An interesting bit of factual information about the place where Abraham offered Isaac.
[Note: " Mount Moriah is the place where Solomon (king of Israel in about 950 B.C.) set about building the house of the Lord, the temple that contained the Holy of Holies. Mount Moriah wasn't out in a remote desert; it was located where the city of Salem was situated in Abraham's day, which later became known as Jerusalem (see Ps. 76:1-3). Why the name change? An old rabbinic tradition attributes it to Abraham, based on what he said after sacrificing the ram: 'Abraham called the name of that place, 'The Lord will provide'; as it is said to this day, 'On the mount of the Lord it shall be provided (Gn 22:14). The Hebrew word for 'provide' is jira, which was then prefixed to Salem, thus making Jeru-salem." (A Father Who Keeps His Promises, by Scott Hahn; Ann Abor, MI: Servant Publications, 1998; p. 108)]

Abraham's test brings up the question that we frequently ask and seem to find no answer for ... why are we tested at all?
The test that God gives Abraham is so severe that it presumes an advanced level of knowledge and experience of Him. Compare it to the relatively simple test that God first put Abraham through, back in Gen. 12:1-4. There it was simply, "Pack up and go." Here, at least thirty years later, the test is staggeringly difficult. It builds on everything that has gone before in Abraham's life. For Abraham to endure the test, he will have to act on all that he knows about God, and he will have to be willing to mortify even the smallest weaknesses and imperfections yet remaining in his character.

This is what we call "purification." It is the final step in Abraham's life that establishes him as the Father of faith, both for Jews and Gentiles (Rom. 4:11-12). His obedience burned away the dross of even relatively minor imperfections. Interestingly, the test of Abraham gives us a dramatic demonstration of why God tests men in the first place. Men must freely choose to lay down their own wills in order to serve God. When they do this, they are conformed to the likeness of God. They participate in self-donation, which is the essence of the life of the Blessed Trinity. Abraham not only obeys God, but he becomes a living example of the character of God; he is a human being who reflects both the image and likeness of God. As the Catechism says, "As a final stage in the purification of his faith, Abraham, 'who had received the promises,' is asked to sacrifice the son God had given him...And so the father of believers is conformed to the likeness of the Father who will not spare his own Son, but will deliver him up for us all." (2572)
All quotes from Genesis, Part II: God and His Family. This series first ran in 2004 and 2005. I'm refreshing it as I go. For links to the whole study, go to the Genesis Index. For more about the resources used, go here.

Lent: A Preparation for New Life

This is from a series of  bulletin inserts I wrote for our church, waaaaay back in 2008. 

It's good for reflection now that Lent is underway and my initial fervor may have flagged. I'm just sayin' ... it could be that I need a Lenten booster!

Lent: A Preparation for New Life
1430 Jesus’ call to conversion and penance, like that of the prophets before him, does not aim first at outward works, “sackcloth and ashes,” fasting and mortification, but at the conversion of the heart, interior conversion. Without this, such penances remain sterile and false; however, interior conversion urges expression in visible signs, gestures and works of penance.231431 Interior repentance is a radical reorientation of our whole life, a return, a conversion to God with all our heart, an end of sin, a turning away from evil, with repugnance toward the evil actions we have committed. At the same time it entails the desire and resolution to change one’s life, with hope in God’s mercy and trust in the help of his grace. This conversion of heart is accompanied by a salutary pain and sadness which the Fathers called animi cruciatus (affliction of spirit) and compunctio cordis (repentance of heart)....

1439 The process of conversion and repentance was described by Jesus in the parable of the prodigal son, the center of which is the merciful father:37 the fascination of illusory freedom, the abandonment of the father’s house; the extreme misery in which the son finds himself after squandering his fortune; his deep humiliation at finding himself obliged to feed swine, and still worse, at wanting to feed on the husks the pigs ate; his reflection on all he has lost; his repentance and decision to declare himself guilty before his father; the journey back; the father’s generous welcome; the father’s joy — all these are characteristic of the process of conversion. The beautiful robe, the ring, and the festive banquet are symbols of that new life — pure worthy, and joyful — of anyone who returns to God and to the bosom of his family, which is the Church. Only the heart of Christ who knows the depths of his Father’s love could reveal to us the abyss of his mercy in so simple and beautiful a way.
Catechism of the Catholic Church
Most of us do not look forward to these 40 days of penance. Perhaps this is why the Church, in Her wisdom, mandates it for us. We would never seek this on our own.

A time of deprivation. A time of suffering. A long, gray, dreary time of doing without the little things that make life worthwhile ... coffee, chocolate, a favorite television show. This is all too often the attitude of dread that we bring to Lent.

The Church also strongly recommends that we do something additional during this time to show penance. Prayer, fasting, and service to others are among the recommended activities that we may resolve to take on. These also do not sound very attractive and often are dropped during the 40 days.

Yet it is that very attitude that is skewed from reality, as we see if we read the Catechism about interior penance. We are going about it all backwards if we merely focus on the outward sign, on what we are “giving up” or “adding on.”

This is not about outward signs and empty gestures. Lent’s purpose is to deepen our knowledge of ourselves and of what we need to come closer to a more loving relationship with God. This is the hunger that should be propelling us into Lent. This is the true change of heart and new life which God longs for us to have. The outward signs should be merely the visible supports to our inward changes.

With this in mind, we can examine our Lenten plans while asking God what He would like us to do to come closer to him. He knows our hearts better than we do ourselves. He will guide us in how to link our “giving up” and “adding on” to help us gain the interior knowledge we need.

Perhaps instead of giving up coffee altogether, we can give up the daily morning visit to Starbucks. The fifteen minutes that is saved, could be spent in prayerful reading of scripture, for which we would usually never have time. Possibly we may give up watching our favorite television show and spend the time with our families playing a game, reading aloud, or just talking. Maybe we feel called to volunteer to spend time with those in need. In that case, giving up surfing the internet may allow us to do other tasks in order to have the needed time later on.

Regardless of the outward signs, let us be sure to take full advantage of this opportunity to dig deeper, change our hearts, and grow closer to God.

23 Cf. Joel 2:12-13; Isa 1:16-17; Mt 6:1-6; 16-18.
24 Cf. Council Of Trent (1551): DS 1676-1678; 1705; Cf. Roman Catechism, II,V,4.
37 Cf. Lk 15:11-24.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church can be found online.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Lagnappe: Cup of Joe

[Secretary of the Navy Joesphus] Daniels's only enduring contribution to the U.S. Navy was to abolish the rum ration in favor of free coffee. FDR supported this reform. To this day, navy chief petty officers call their coffee "a cup of Joe" for Josephus.
William J. Bennett, America: The Last Best Hope, vol. II
I had no idea. Now I'm going to enjoy that using that phrase even more. And I use it a lot.

Worth a Thousand Words: Taking a Cup of Coffee in Leipzig

Taking cup of coffee while sitting in front of a coffee tree
Detail above door of Leipzig coffee house "Zum Arabischen Coffe Baum"

"... the Gestapo officer sneered: 'Now you look like your Jewish Christ.'"

Although struck with an iron rod until one of his arms had to be amputated, the doctor would not be quieted. Finally, as DeMille's autobiography recounts, "one Gestapo officer beat the doctor's head against a stone wall until blood was streaming down his face." Holding a mirror before the doctor, the Gestapo officer sneered: "Take a look at yourself. Now you look like your Jewish Christ."

Lifting his remaining hand up, the doctor exclaimed, "Lord [Jesus], never in my life have I received such honor—to resemble You." Those would be his last words on Earth.
Who would have thought that such actions would have been inspired by a conversion thanks to viewing Cecil B. DeMille's The King of Kings?

This is from a few years ago, but it is worth reading again. A powerful story for Good Friday from the WSJ.

I am posting this well before Good Friday so that you can consider the movie as a choice for Holy Week viewing.

I Join Jenny on the Reading Envy podcast to discuss: Slowing Down and Rereading

I join Jenny Colvin at the Reading Envy pub, where we talk about rereading, slowing down to appreciate an author's craft, and the best spy adventure the Vatican has ever seen! We also talk about good books we've read lately.

Check it out.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Worth a Thousand Words: La Laveuse

La Laveuse, Sir John Lavery, R.A. - 1883
via The Athenaeum

Lagniappe: Great curved scrolls of feet

Then the carpenters return to making more tables—tables on which to spread our pottery, a drawing-table for Mac, a table off which to dine, a table for my typewriter. ...

Mac draws out a towel-horse and the carpenters start upon it. The old man brings it proudly to my room on completion. It looks different from Mac's drawing, and when the carpenter sets it down I see why. It has colossal feet, great curved scrolls of feet. They stick out so that, wherever you put it, you invariable trip over them.

Ask him, I say to Max, why he has made these feet instead of sticking to the design he was given?

The old man looks at us with dignity.

"I made them this way," he says, "so that they should be beautiful. I wanted this that I have made to be a thing of beauty!"

To this cry of the artist there could be no response. I bow my head, and resign myself to tripping up over those hideous feet for the rest of the season!
Agatha Christie, Come Tell Me How You Live

Saturday, March 25, 2017

The Solemnity of the Annunciation

Reminder - there is no fasting on a Solemnity. So enjoy taking a break from your Lenten fast while celebrating the great good done for us when Mary said, "Yes" and Jesus became flesh in her womb.

Leonardo da Vinci. The Annunciation.
Detail. c. 1472-1475. Oil and tempera on wood. Uffizi Gallery, Florence, Italy.
On today's feast the Church celebrates the mystery of the Incarnation and, at the same time, the vocation of Our Lady. It was her faithful response to the angel's message, her fiat, that began the work of redemption...

The setting of this feast day, March 25th, corresponds to Christmas. In addition, there is ancient tradition that the creation of the world and the commencement and conclusion of the Redemption all happened to coincide at the vernal equinox.

As the greatest proof of his love for us, God had his only Son become man to save us from our sins. In this way Jesus merited for us the dignity of becoming children of God. His arrival signalled the fullness of time. St. Paul puts it quite literally that Jesus was born of a woman. (cf The Navarre Bible, Romans and Galatians, note to Gal 4:4) Jesus did not come to earth as a spirit. He truly became man, like one of us. He received his human nature from Our Lady's immaculate womb. Today's feat, therefore, is really in honour of Jesus and Mary. That is why Fr. Luis de Granada has pointed out: It is reasonable to consider, first and foremost, the purity and sanctity of the Woman whom God chose 'ab aeterno' to give form to his humanity.

When God decided to create the first man, he first took care to create a fitting environment for him, which was the Garden of Eden. It makes sense, then, that when god made ready to send his Son, the Christ, he likewise prepared for him a worthy environment, namely, the body and soul of the Blessed Virgin. (Life of Jesus Christ, I)

As we consider the significance of this Solemnity, we find Jesus very closely united to Mary. When the Blessed Virgin said Yes, freely, to the plans revealed to her by the Creator, the divine Word assumed a human nature: a rational soul and a body, which was formed in the most pure womb of Mary. The divine nature and the human were united in a single Person: Jesus Christ, true God and, thenceforth, true Man; the only-begotten and eternal Son of the Father, and from that moment on, as Man, the true son of Mary. ... (J. Escriva, Friends of God, 274)
There is more from this reflection featured in this previous post for this solemnity.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Worth a Thousand Words: Summertime

Summertime, Edward Hopper
via WikiArt, Fair Use

Lagniappe: A highly professional cat

Hamoudi explains soothingly that all will soon be well. The holes in the bedroom are being stopped up with plaster. More whitewash will be applied. Moreover, a cat is coming; it has been loaned out. It is a super-cat—a highly professional cat. ...

Our cat arrives at dinner-time. I shall never forget that at! It is, as Hamoudi has announced, a highly professional cat. It knows the job for which it has been engaged, and proceeds to get on with it in a truly specialized manner.

Whilst we dine, it crouches in ambush behind a packing case. When we talk, or move, or make too much noise, it gives us an impatient look.

"I must request of you," the look says, "to be quiet. How can I get on with the job without co-operation?"

So fierce is the cat's expression that we obey at once, speak in whispers, and eat with as little clinking of plates and glasses as possible.

Five times during the meal a mouse emerges and runs across the floor, and five times our cat springs. The sequel is immediate. There is no Western dallying, no playing with the victim. The cat simply bites off the mouse's head, crunches it up, and proceeds to the rest of the body! It is rather horrible and completely businesslike.

The cat stays with us five days. After those five days no mice appear. The cat then leaves us, and th emice never come back. I have never known before or since such a professional cat. It had no interest in us, it never demanded milk or a share of our food. It was cold, scientific, and impersonal. A very accomplished cat!
Agatha Christie, Come Tell Me How You Live

My New Book — Seeking Jesus in Everyday Life


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This book is a joyful pilgrimage to the Father,
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Thursday, March 23, 2017

Lagniappe: "A little extra money is always welcome"

Soundings must be made at all three mounds. We make a start with Tell Mozan. There is a village there, and with Hamoudi as ambassador we try and obtain workmen. The men are doubtful and suspicious.

"We do not need money," they say. "It has been a good harvest."

For this is a simple, and, I think, consequently a happy part of the world. Food is the only consideration. If the harvest is good, you are rich. For the rest of the year there is leisure and plenty, until the time comes to plough and sow once more.

"A little extra money," says Hamoudi, like the serpent of Eden, "is always welcome."

They answer simply: "But what can we buy with it? We have enough food until the harvest comes again."

And here, alas! the eternal Eve plays her part. Astute Hamoudi baits his hook. They can buy ornaments for their wives.

The wives nod their heads. This digging, they say, is a good thing!

Reluctantly the men consider the idea. ...
Agatha Christie, Come Tell Me How You Live

Worth a Thousand Words: Satan of the Sea

Via Pulp Covers

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Worth a Thousand Words: Gladioli in a Vase

Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Gladioli in a Vase, c. 1875
via Arts Everyday Living

Well Said: There is no entering in ...

The next morning we reach the Cilician Gates, and look out over one of the most beautiful views I know. It is like standing on the rim of the world and looking down on the promised land, and one feels much as Moses must have felt. For here, too, there is no entering in. ... The soft, hazy dark blue loveliness is a land one will never reach; the actual towns and villages when one gets there will be only the ordinary everyday world—not this enchanted beauty that beckons you down. ...
Agatha Christie, Come Tell Me How You Live
There is a lot of wisdom in that short observation. It's a lesson I always need to remember to apply to my own life. From far away, plans, dreams, desires, always look perfect. But it is close up, in the nitty gritty, where we live.