Sunday, May 27, 2018

Solemnity of the Blessed Trinity

Icon of the Old Testament Trinity, c. 1410, Andrei Rublev

Today the Church celebrates the feast of the Blessed Trinity. This, the ineffable mystery of God's intimate life, is the central truth of our faith and the source of all gifts and graces. The liturgy of the Mass invites us to loving union with each of the Three Divine Persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This feast was established for the Latin Church by Pope John XXII, to be celebrated on the Sunday after the coming of the Holy Spirit, which is the last of the mysteries of our salvation. Today we can say many times, savoring it, the prayer: Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit...

[St. Teresa] writes: Once when I was reciting the "Quicumque vult," I was shown so clearly how it was possible for there to be one God alone and three Persons that it caused me both amazement and much comfort. It was of the greatest help to me in teaching me to know more of the greatness of God and of his marvels. When I think of the most Holy Trinity, or hear it spoken of, I seem to understand how there can be such a mystery, and it is a great joy to me.

The whole of a Christian's supernatural life is directed towards this knowledge of and intimate conversation with the Trinity, who become eventually the fruit and the end of our whole life (St. Thomas). It is for this end that we have been created and raised to the supernatural order: to know, to talk to and to love God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit, who dwell in the soul in grace.
In Conversation With God Vol 6
Special Feasts: January - June
I love this portion of Proverbs which is always read aloud during this Mass. It is one of my all time favorites as it conveys God's creativity, mastery, craftsmanship, delight, playfulness, and ... love.
Thus says the wisdom of God:
"The LORD possessed me, the beginning of his ways,
the forerunner of his prodigies of long ago;
from of old I was poured forth,
at the first, before the earth.
When there were no depths I was brought forth,
when there were no fountains or springs of water;
before the mountains were settled into place,
before the hills, I was brought forth;
while as yet the earth and fields were not made,
nor the first clods of the world.

"When the Lord established the heavens I was there,
when he marked out the vault over the face of the deep;
when he made firm the skies above,
when he fixed fast the foundations of the earth;
when he set for the sea its limit,
so that the waters should not transgress his command;
then was I beside him as his craftsman,
and I was his delight day by day,
playing before him all the while,
playing on the surface of his earth;
and I found delight in the human race."
PRV 8:22-31

Saturday, May 26, 2018

St. Philip Neri's Feast Day or "Did Laughing At Yourself Help At All?"

I have always been attracted to this saint without too much of a specific reason other than I knew that he loved to laugh. Then I read a bit more about him and saw that was reason enough. Joy and gaiety were so much a part of his normal disposition that Goethe, who esteemed him highly, called him the "humorous saint." It was his gay, blithe spirit that opened for him the hearts of children. "Philip Neri, learned and wise, by sharing the pranks of children himself became a child again" (epitaph). (from Catholic Culture.)

So it is no wonder that he appeals to me.

One of the stories that attracted me to him is this one from Beginning to Pray by Anthony Bloom. This is one of those classic saint tales that remind us no one is perfect ... so there is hope for each of us.
It is absolutely pointless to ask God for something which we ourselves are not prepared to do. If we say "O God, make me free from this or that temptation" while at the same time seeking every possible way of falling to just such a temptation, hoping now that God is in control, that He will get us out of it, then we do not stand much chance. God gives us strength but we must use it. When, in our prayers, we ask God to give us strength to do something in His Name, we are not asking Him to do it instead of us because we are too feeble to be willing to do it for ourselves.

The lives of the saints are enlightening in this respect, and in the life of St. Philip Neri just such an occasion is described. He was an irascible man who quarreled easily and had violent outbursts of anger and of course endured violent outbursts from his brothers. One day he felt that it could not go on. Whether it was virtue or whether he could no longer endure his brothers his Vita does not tell us. The fact is that he ran to the chapel, fell down before a statue of Christ and begged Him to free him of his anger. He then walked out full of hope. The first person he met was one of the brothers who had never aroused the slightest anger in him, but for the first time in his life this brother was offensive and unpleasant to him. So Philip burst out with anger and went on, full of rage, to meet another of his brothers, who had always been a source of consolation and happiness to him. Yet even this man answered him gruffly. So Philip ran back to the chapel, cast himself before the statue of Christ and said "O Lord have I not asked you to free me from this anger?" And the Lord answered "Yes, Philip, and for this reason I am multiplying the occasions for you to learn."
We need to remember to laugh. And then to ask ourselves, "did laughing at yourself help at all?"

It almost always does. A sense of the ridiculous, especially one's own ridiculousness, is extremely helpful in regaining perspective.

Weekend Joke: Too Darn Hot

As George got out of the shower he said to his wife, “Honey, it’s too darned hot to wear clothes today, what do you think the neighbors will say if I mow the lawn naked?”

“That I married you for your money.”

Friday, May 25, 2018

Worth a Thousand Words: Artist's Studio

Artist's Studio, Belinda DelPesco

Well Said: Having faith in the Christ in others without being able to see Him

Peter [Maurin] made you feel a sense of his mission as soon as you met him. He did not begin by tearing down, or by painting so intense a picture of misery and injustice that you burned to change the world. Instead, he aroused in you a sense of your own capacities for work, for accomplishment. He made you feel that you and all men had great and generous hearts with which to love God. If you once recognized this fact in yourself you would expect and find it in others. "The art of human contacts," Peter called it happily. But it was seeing Christ in others, loving the Christ you saw in others. Greater than this, it was having faith in the Christ in others without being able to see Him. Blessed is he that believes without seeing.
Dorothy Day, The Long Loneliness

More is More: Hannah & Rose discuss the German paper industry ...

Hannah & Rose discuss the German paper industry, the hidden dangers of diabetes, and why dentists are witches’ natural enemy as they watch Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters (2013).
My favorite funny podcast. The movie is bad but Hannah and Rose are so good!

Jo Walton, St. Zenobius, and Me: Joyful and Triumphant

  • Common attributes: Bishop
  • Occasional attributes: Florentine red fleur de lis, flowering tree
  • Patron saint of: Florence
  • Patron of places: Florence
  • Feast days: May 25
  • Most often depicted: Standing around with other saints, resurrecting somebody
  • Close relationships: St. Ambrose, St. Eugene and St. Crescentius
  • Relics: Florence, Santa Reparata crypt
Saint Zenobius was the first bishop of Florence. He supported St. Ambrose in battling the Arian heresy. He brought several people back from the dead, and his relics resurrected a dead elm tree. He used to be buried in San Lorenzo in Florence, but was later moved to Santa Reparata/the Duomo.

Saint Zenobius is one of these cases of an early Christian who did a good job and was pious and therefore got to be a saint just for that, without getting martyred or founding a giant order or anything. I support this, but it means his primary role was in Christianizing Florence and putting it on the map, so he is not and never will be particularly beloved outside his native town.

Photo and text: Ex Urbe blog

(where there is much more about St. Zenobius ... and also St. Reparta!)
My road to St. Zenobius is a long and fascinating one. At least to me.

A long, long time ago (in 2015!), Scott and I had our first guest on A Good Story is Hard to Find. We were thrilled to talk with Br. Guy Consolmagno, Vatican Astronomer, about his book selection, Among Others by Jo Walton.

Recently Scott was at a local con and met Walton, telling her about our degree of connection and thoughtfully sending me a signed copy of her new short story collection, Starlings.

I've got to admit it is a bit offputting to read an introduction where the author spends so much time talking about how everyone agrees she just can't write a decent short story. So I did put it off for a while. Finally I bravely flipped open Starlings and landed on the first page of Joyful and Triumphant: St. Zenobius and the Aliens. It is told by St. Zenobius and blew me away with how accurately it portrayed sainthood, God ... and the point of the whole thing. (You can read the beginning of it here.) While I was reading her Brother Guy connection floated in the back of my mind. I figured that she'd just naturally get this right and she really, really did.

Interestingly, about the time I read this story I realized that my birthday this year will be on a Friday. And after Pentecost. So Easter will be officially ended and it will be back to meatless Fridays for us. I've been rueing this since we always go out to eat in celebration — so I looked up saints whose days are on my birthday, thus justifying fried chicken (my traditional birthday choice).

Now there are saints for every day of the year. But if I'm looking to get around the rules then I seriously study the saint I find. I've got to have a real connection otherwise I've just got to put up with those rules. No freebies.

Who did my eye fall on first out of the long, long list? Of course. St. Zenobius. Who I didn't really know was a real saint. Just thought Walton made him up.

I feel as if this was a long way to go for him to wrangle an introduction, but I also feel as if that is what he did.  Looking around recently I saw that there is a much better known saint on May 25, St. Bede. But that's not who stepped up and shook my hand, after using all the things I love to get my attention.

I love the saints who fought against the Arian heresy. It went on so long and was so pervasive that I feel as if it is like the waves of secularism that are battering faith these days. And that's what St. Zenobius did. He was close to St. Ambrose, who I admire so much. Any friend of St. Ambrose is a friend of mine.

Now when I lift that piece of chicken, it will be with true admiration for a great saint!

Pope phones woman planning abortion and convinces her to choose life

Before going through with it, though, she decided to write a letter to a special person. She wrote her story down and slipped it in an envelope; the address was simple: “Holy Father Pope Francis, Vatican City, Rome.” She sent the letter without thinking too much about it. Then, a few days later, the phone began to ring.

“I read your letter.”

The number on the screen was unfamiliar, with the prefix of Rome. She answered, and was struck dumb: “Hello Anna, this is Pope Francis. I read your letter. We Christians must never lose our hope. A child is a gift of God, a sign of Providence.”
Read the whole story.

You know, I get frustrated by the news I see surrounding the Pope sometimes. This is the sort of pastoral action that helps me keep proper perspective.

Also this. It helps me to remember that news stories often don't give the whole picture and actions speak louder than words.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Well Said: The Intimacy of Books

Books give delight to the very marrow of one's bones. They speak to us, consult with us and join with us in a living and intense intimacy.

Worth a Thousand Words: Thrush Nightingale

Thrush Nightingale, Remo Savisaar

How to Defend the Faith Without Raising Your Voice by Austen Ivereigh (UPDATED)

My interview on The Journey Home brought some questions about talking to atheists, which is only natural considering my own history. I'm going to put together a few links and more information but for now here is a review of a really fantastic book. It is more needed than ever in today's contentious world where we can't count Christianity being the norm anymore.

I reviewed the original edition in 2013, but neglected to update it when I read the new edition which is equally fantastic. Both reviews are below, with the update coming first.

How to Defend the Faith Without Raising Your Voice: Civil Responses to Catholic Hot Button Issues by Austen Ivereigh

As I mentioned in my review of the first edition below, this is a book every Catholic should read.

I'll take this space to say why the revised edition is necessary. In three short years, debate in the public square has shifted in a way that has often bewildered me. How to Defend the Faith explains that whereas questioners and critics used to be those outside of Christian faith, they are now often secularized Christians. They hold to basic principles that originated with Christian teachings but are so divorced from those teachings that they can't see the connection any more. That leaves a Catholic on shifting ground if one tries to anchor explanations of hot button issues in a Christian understanding. We're having discussions with people who aren't interpreting things with a common framework.

How to Defend the Faith helps understand the shifted frame from which critiques originate and how to reframe our responses so that we are all on the same page. Your questioner may not agree with you (and winning isn't the point - explanation is), but they will at least have a better understanding of the Church's attitudes toward contentious issues in the public square.


This is a book that every Catholic should read.

The reason I say that becomes abundantly apparent in the subhead: Civil Responses to Catholic Hot-Button Issues.
We know how it feels, finding yourself suddenly appointed the spokesman for the Catholic Church while you're standing at a photocopier, swigging a drink at the bar, or when a group of folks suddenly freezes, and all eyes fix on you.

"You're a Catholic, aren't you?" someone says.

"Um, yes," you confess, looking nervously at what now seems to resemble a lynch mob.

The pope has been reported as saying something totally outrageous. Or the issue of AIDS and condoms has come up. Or the discussion has urned to gay marriage. And here you are, called on to defend the Catholic Church by virtue of your baptism, feeling as equipped for that task as Daniel in the den of lions.
Yes, we've all been there.

Or perhaps you are a Catholic who does not feel called to defend the faith but is one of the crowd waiting, wanting, a good explanation for whatever issue has been raised.

Either way, this book is here to help.

The introduction lays out the vital need for good, civil communication that sheds light but not heat. This is followed by nine chapters that discuss challenging questions which seem to get on everyone's nerves, such as the Church speaking up about politics, assisted suicide, clerical sex abuse, or defending the unborn. Austen Ivereigh discusses the overall context for each issue, the positive intention behind challenging questions, the Church's historical and current positions, and more. This is all with the goal of helping us be more knowledgable and know how to reframe issues so that there is a chance of being a positive voice for the Church.
Why the Church Opposes Euthanasia

In common with a long-standing tradition of western civilization, the Church believes that dying naturally is a vital part of life's journey, in many ways the most meaningful part. Dying can be described as a process of healing. Important things happen on that journey, and suffering and pain are often a part of it. As Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo ... said: "Compassion isn't to say, 'Here's a pill.' It's to show people the ways we can assist you, up until the time the Lord calls you."

Dying, then, is a highly meaningful gradual process of renunciation and surrender. Although some die swifty and painlessly, very often the pattern of dying involves great suffering, because (and this is true of old age in general) it involves letting go of those thing which in our lives we believe make us worthwhile and lovable: our looks, intelligence, abilities, and capabilities. This is what the great Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung called "necessary suffering," the suffering endured by the ego, which protests at having to change and surrender. The idea that this kind of suffering is part of growth is not a uniquely "religious" view, although Christianity -- with the Cross and the Resurrection at its heart -- has perhaps a richer theological understanding than most secular outlooks.
The above excerpt is not the whole argument or rationale by any means. However, it was so well put for what I knew instinctively but had never had to articulate. It is one of the reasons I may wind up reading and rereading this book ... not only to absorb the points for the sake of discussion but for my own soul's sake.

Above all Ivereigh reminds us that where there is no trust, there can be no understanding or true conversation. To that end, he ends with ten points which should frame our mindset. These are the points that have stuck with me the most. I can't tell you the number of times in simply dealing with difficult situations daily that I have remembered to "shed light, not heat" and to "look for the positive intention behind the criticism." This doesn't mean not speaking up for the truth, but it does remind us that the goal is not always "to win."

I mentioned above that I thought every Catholic should read this book. I would go farther and venture to say that if you are curious about how the Church can justify a position you don't agree with, then this book is for you. That is how impressed I was by Ivereigh's even-handed, civil discussion of the positive motives of both sides of conversations on contentious issues. You may not wind up agreeing with the Church, but you will definitely see that there is a reasonable, logical context for her position.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Well Said: Why are the wicked joyous?

Perhaps you say, Why are the wicked joyous? Why do they live in luxury? Why do they not toil with me? It is because they who have not put down their names to strive for the crown are not bound to undergo the labors of the contest. They who have not gone down into the race-course do not anoint themselves with oil nor get covered with dust. For those whom glory awaits trouble is at hand. The perfumed spectators are wont to look on, not to join in the struggle, nor to endure the heat, the dust, and the showers ...
St. Ambrose of Milan

Worth a Thousand Words: Alamo Lit Up

Alamo Lit Up, via Traces of Texas
Photo source: UT digitized photos, San Antonio's Special Collections

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

The Bible in Couplets

I'm a sucker for this kind of thing. I shared it here before way back in '05 and once more since then. High time to read it again!

Read aloud for full impact.
The Bible in Couplets
by Christopher Howse

God makes the heavens and the earth
And finds them very nice.

When Adam eats forbidden fruit
He forfeits Paradise.

Mankind grows worse, but Noah's ark
Keeps eight souls in the dry.

There's much begetting; Abraham
Is chosen by and by.

His progeny are Egypt's slaves
Till Moses leads them out;

The Ten Commandments tell them what
Morality's about.

The Israelites gain Canaan, and
Surrounding peoples smite.

King David takes Bathsheba from
Uriah the Hittite,

He then repents, writes psalms, but sins
By numbering Israel,

Repents again, is told by God
His house shall never fail.

A golden temple of the Lord
Is built by Solomon.

The exiled Israelites hang harps
In fluvial Babylon.

Lions don't eat Daniel; Job gets boils;
The prophets prophesy;

Jonah meets fish; the Preacher says
That all is vanity.

Jesus is born in Bethlehem
And is baptised by John

In Jordan, and the Spirit dove
Then him descends upon.

He heals the sick, walks on the sea
And multiplies the bread,

Shares supper with apostles, then
Is crucified, and dead.

He rises from the dead, is seen
By many, then ascends

To heaven, from which he'll return
It says, when this world ends.

Saul (later Paul) falls off his horse,
Turns Christian, hits the trail,

Writes letters to the churches and
Ends life locked up in jail.

Four horsemen, beasts and trumpets fill
The Book of Revelation,

Whose meaning has been subject to
Much vexed interpretation.

Worth a Thousand Words: Le Loup d'Aggubio

Luc-Olivier Merson - Le Loup d'Aggubio
I just love the level of detail in this painting and the foreign feel, both of faraway lands and of faraway times. Also, the wolf (le loup) has a halo over his head ... which is a nice touch since Gubbio (Aggubio) is the town in Italy where Francis "converted" the wolf. So we are seeing the wolf's and villagers' "happy ever after" ending.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Lagniappe: Sinking as a hedonist into novels

My mother read secondarily for information; she sank as a hedonist into novels. She read Dickens in the spirit in which she would have eloped with him.
Eudora Welty
Yes. Also Tolkien. And Dante. And Agatha Christie.

Clearly I've got a problem.

Worth a Thousand Words: Morning Bathing

Morning Bathing, Remo Savisaar

The Journey Home — My Interview

I had the rare privilege and pleasure of speaking with Marcus Grodi about my conversion story. It airs on The Journey Home show today.
  • Mon. May. 21 at 7:00 PM
  • Tue. May. 22 at 12:00 AM
  • Thu. May. 24 at 1:00 PM
You can also catch it on YouTube and as a podcast. It may show up in those places a bit later than the show airs. I'll update this spot once I've got the scoop.

After recording, everyone in the office gets together for lunch ... with lots of great stories, of course!

Scott produces and directs the show. He also makes sure you get picked up at the airport and have a delicious meal when you arrive. His hospitality and conversation were really wonderful and meeting him (and his wife!) was one of the great pleasures of the trip.

Ryan Dellacrosse (Fuzati, in Houston) was the other guest being taped that day. I loved hearing his story and getting to meet this energetic guy who has devoted his considerable business knowledge to helping Catholic companies market themselves better.

First thing Monday morning, before recording, you get it started right. With Mass, of course, just as you'd expect!

On the way into the church. 

Surprises abound on the way to Zanesville! Guess what this company did?