Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Lagniappe: Nature was absorbed in making cabbages when Mrs. Vesey was born

Some of us rush through life, and some of us saunter through life. Mrs. Vesey SAT through life. Sat in the house, early and late; sat in the garden; sat in unexpected window-seats in passages; sat (on a camp-stool) when her friends tried to take her out walking; sat before she looked at anything, before she talked of anything, before she answered Yes, or No, to the commonest question — always with the same serene smile on her lips, the same vacantly- attentive turn of the head, the same snugly-comfortable position of her hands and arms, under every possible change of domestic circumstances. A mild, a compliant, an unutterably tranquil and harmless old lady, who never by any chance suggested the idea that she had been actually alive since the hour of her birth. Nature has so much to do in this world, and is engaged in generating such a vast variety of co-existent productions, that she must surely be now and then too flurried and confused to distinguish between the different processes that she is carrying on at the same time. Starting from this point of view, it will always remain my private persuasion that Nature was absorbed in making cabbages when Mrs. Vesey was born, and that the good lady suffered the consequences of a vegetable preoccupation in the mind of the Mother of us all.
Wilkie Collins, The Woman in White
My favorite Wilkie Collins' book is The Moonstone, especially because it is so funny, but The Woman in White also has touches of Wilkie Collins' humor. The passage above is a favorite of mine.

Worth a Thousand Words: Titan Travel Poster

from NASA's Visions of the Future collection
Frigid and alien, yet similar to our own planet billions of years ago, Saturn's largest moon, Titan, has a thick atmosphere, organic-rich chemistry and a surface shaped by rivers and lakes of liquid ethane and methane. Cold winds sculpt vast regions of hydrocarbon-rich dunes. There may even be cryovolcanoes of cold liquid water. NASA's Cassini orbiter was designed to peer through Titan's perpetual haze and unravel the mysteries of this planet-like moon.

Immaculate Conception* Novena: Day 1

As has become tradition over the years, let's say the Immaculate Conception Novena together to get us in the proper frame of mind as we approach that feast day.

Master of the Winking Eyes, Madonna and Child, ca. 1450

Mary's purpose is to show us her Son. She always points the way to Him. I have never known her to fail me whenever I have asked her to show me Jesus. I will be posting something each day as this is a very worthy Advent contemplation ... and if you want to pray the novena, then here it is!
Mary constantly showers down graces and favours on the faithful, and so has won the prerogative all-powerful intercessor. Through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Christians know that they can reach God through his Mother. She is our shortcut — the most direct path to God for us. Our love for her is shown in our continually coming up with new ways of expressing affection for her. We begin the Novena leading to the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception by trying to offer Our Lady something special each day.

Our Lady's appearance is the first ray of dawn that shines forth in the world. She rises over the horizon and is the forerunner to the brilliant splendour of salvation that will enter the world through Jesus Christ.
Here is the novena for the first day.

O God, who by the Immaculate Conception
of the Blessed Virgin Mary,
did prepare a worthy dwelling place for Your Son,
we beseech You that, as by the foreseen death of this, Your Son, You did preserve Her from all stain,
so too You would permit us, purified through Her intercession, to come unto You.
Through the same Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son, who lives and reigns with You in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
God, world without end.


Day One

O most Holy Virgin, who was pleasing to the Lord and became His mother, immaculate in body and spirit, in faith and in love, look kindly on me as I implore your powerful intercession. O most Holy Mother, who by your blessed Immaculate Conception, from the first moment of your conception did crush the head of the enemy, receive our prayers as we implore you to present at the throne of God the favor we now request...

(State your intention here...)

O Mary of the Immaculate Conception, Mother of Christ, you had influence with your Divine Son while upon this earth; you have the same influence now in heaven. Pray for us and obtain for us from him the granting of my petition if it be the Divine Will.


Litany of the Blessed Virgin

Lord, have mercy on us
Christ, have mercy on us
Lord, have mercy on us
Christ, hear us
Christ, graciously hear us

God the Father of heaven, have mercy on us
God the Son, Redeemer of the World, have mercy on us
God the Holy Spirit, ...
Holy Trinity, one God, ...

Holy Mary, pray for us
Holy Mother of God, pray for us

Holy Virgin of virgins, ...
Mother of Christ, ...
Mother of Divine Grace, ...
Mother most pure, ...
Mother most chaste, ...
Mother inviolate, ...
Mother undefiled, ...
Mother most amiable, ...
Mother most admirable, ...
Mother of good counsel, ...
Mother of our Creator, ...
Mother of our Saviour, ...
Virgin most prudent, ...
Virgin most venerable, ...
Virgin most renowned, ...
Virgin most powerful, ...
Virgin most merciful, ...
Virgin most faithful, ...
Mirror of justice, ...
Seat of wisdom, ...
Cause of our joy, ...
Spiritual vessel, ...
Vessel of honour, ...
Singular vessel of devotion, ...
Mystical rose, ...
Tower of David, ...
Tower of ivory, ...
House of gold, ...
Ark of the covenant, ...
Gate of heaven, ...
Morning star, ...
Health of the sick, ...
Refuge of sinners, ...
Comforter of the afflicted, ...
Help of Christians, ...
Queen of Angels, ...
Queen of Patriarchs, ...
Queen of Prophets, ...
Queen of Apostles, ...
Queen of Martyrs, ...
Queen of Confessors, ...
Queen of Virgins, ...
Queen of all Saints, ...
Queen conceived without original sin, ...
Queen assumed into heaven, ...
Queen of the most holy Rosary, ...
Queen of Peace, ...

Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, spare us, O Lord, Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, graciously hear us, O Lord, Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy on us.

Grant we beseech Thee, O Lord God,
that we, Thy servants,
may enjoy perpetual health of mind and body:
and, by the glorious intercession of the blessed Mary, ever Virgin,
be delivered from present sorrow and enjoy eternal gladness.
Through Christ, our Lord.

This link is where I got the novena.

* The Immaculate Conception is a belief in the Catholic church, as well as some Protestant denominations, that Mary, the mother of Jesus, was protected by God from the original sin during her own conception. Since she subsequently lived a life completely free from sin, this makes her perfectly pure. The idea of the Immaculate Conception is often confused with the doctrine of the Incarnation and Virgin Birth of Christ. The Immaculate Conception was defined as dogma by Pope Pius IX in 1854 and consecrated by Pope Pius XII in 1942. However, this tradition had existed within the Catholic church for more than a millenium. Eastern Orthodox Christians do not believe in the Immaculate Conception, because they have a different view of the original sin from Catholics, and in their tradition, it would be unnecessary for Mary to require divine purification from this. The majority of Protestants reject the idea because it is not explicitly stated in the Bible.  (Description from Olga's Art Gallery.)

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Well Said: Down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean

In everything that can be called art there is a quality of redemption. It may be pure tragedy, if it is high tragedy, and it may be pity and irony, and it may be the raucous laughter of the strong man. But down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid. The detective in this kind of story must be such a man. He is the hero, he is everything. He must be a complete man and a common man and yet an unusual man. He must be, to use a rather weathered phrase, a man of honor, by instinct, by inevitability, without thought of it, and certainly without saying it. He must be the best man in his world and a good enough man for any world. ...

If there were enough like him, I think the world would be a very safe place to live in, and yet not too dull to be worth living in.
Raymond Chandler, The Simple Art of Murder
I'd say that this applies not only to the hard boiled detective but to how we live our own lives.

Worth a Thousand Words: Last light on the Guadalupe Mountains

Last light on the Guadalupe Mountains at Guadalupe Mountains National Park in Culberson County, Texas.
Taken by Jason Merlo Photography

Julie's gang name is Brigid. Scott's is Patrick.

Together they lead The Leprechauns to drive the snakes out of the Bronx. Episode 147 of A Good Story is Hard to Find podcast: Concourse by S. J. Rozan.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Worth a Thousand Words: The Red Umbrella

The Red Umbrella
painted by Edward B. Gordon

Well Said: God delegates to His creatures

For he seems to do nothing of Himself which He can possibly delegate to His creatures. He commands us to do slowly and blunderingly what He could do perfectly and in the twinkling of an eye. ... We are not mere recipients or spectators. We are either privileged or compelled to collaborate in the work.
C.S. Lewis, The Efficacy of Prayer

Genesis Notes: The Call to Abram

Genesis now spends a long time studying Abram and Sarai. I never thought about the fact that these are the first two people whose lives are looked at in great detail and this is a sign of their extreme importance. We get to see God interacting with them and especially Abram in a way that has not been shown before. Therefore, not only do we learn more about these people but, through them, about God.

Life Application Study Bible tells us a bit about Abram's background.
Abram grew up in Ur of the Chaldeans, an important city in the ancient world. Archaeologists have discovered evidence of a flourishing civilization there in Abram's day. The city carried on an extensive trade with its neighbors and had a vast library. Growing up in Ur, Abram was probably well educated.
So when Abram followed God's call to the wilderness he was leaving a lot behind, a pattern we see over and over right up into our own lives.

I also never noticed before that everywhere Abram goes he is busy building altars. I like the fact that Abram's altars are a connection we still have with us today in the Catholic church.
It is worth taking note of the use of altars in man's relationship with God. Noah built an altar to the Lord and pleased Him with the sacrifice he made on it. Men after Noah everywhere built altars to deities. Through ignorance and perversion, many men worshipped false gods. Yet there was among men a common understanding that an altar is appropriate when men approach the Divine. Why? It is because men know instinctively that they owe God something. The altar represents man's desire to give something to God. In false religion, the offering is made to a deity out of fear or a desire for manipulation. When men worship from the heart, the altar is associated with praise and thanksgiving. In the life of Israel, the altar would take on a central significance in the relationship between God and His people. It would be a visible expression of atonement for sin and of thanksgiving to God. In the life of the Church, the altar continues to be a central, visible expression of the atonement that Christ won for us on Calvary, as well as the place where our offerings of thanks ("eucharist" means "thanks") are joined to His perfect offering as we renew our intention to be His covenant-keeping people.
Abraham's Counsel to Sarai (watercolor c. 1896–1902 by James Tissot)

One thing I never really understood in previous readings was the whole "Sarai is my sister" ploy that Abram trotted out ... she really must have been a looker which is something else I never considered. Still, God uses Abram's human weakness to lead him back on the right path. I like the point that is made here about how God shows Abram that He is everywhere.
It seems that God did what was necessary to convince Abram to live righteously. He shows great patience with Abram's weakness. He understood the fear that prompted the sin and so sets Abram back on the path to restoration. In addition, for Abram to see God at work in Egypt, following him wherever he went, would have taught him a profoundly new lesson. This God is not like pagan deities, who were associated with specific locations. This God is everywhere. God did not want to start over with someone more reliable; He wanted to make Abram into a more reliable man. Will Abram cooperate with God? This is the question God had put to Cain: "If you do well, will you not be accepted?" (Gen. 4:7). It is the question He asks each one of us. He shows Himself willing to work with us in our weakness; it is rebellion and turning away from Him that will exclude Him from our lives.

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.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Thanksgiving Jokes

Why can’t you take a turkey to church?
Because they use such FOWL language!

What kind of key can’t open any doors?
A turkey.

What always comes at the end of Thanksgiving?
The G

Which side of the turkey has the most feathers?
The outside

Why did the turkey cross the road?
It was the chicken's day off

What are the feathers on a turkey's wings called?
Turkey feathers

What's the best dance to do on Thanksgiving?
The turkey trot

Can a turkey jump higher than the Empire State Building?
Yes - a building can't jump at all

What do you get when you cross a turkey with an octopus?
Enough drumsticks for Thanksgiving

How can you make a turkey float?
You need 2 scoops of ice cream, some root beer, and a turkey

In Thankfulness on This Day

The First Thanksgiving at Plymouth, Jennie A. Brownscombe, 1914
Have a blessed day with your families as we enjoy the many riches God has bestowed on us. I truly have so much to be thankful for, much more than I could list here, which fall under the broad categories of God, Catholic Church, family, country, and friends (because that corny stuff is also the real stuff of life).

Here is something I have posted every Thanksgiving. I like seeing what Abraham Lincoln had in mind for the holiday (before I go dive into that turkey, pie, and football ... GO Cowboys !). I'll be off the computer until Monday.

So without further ado, I present to you ...
Abraham Lincoln's Thanksgiving Proclamation of 1863
It is the duty of nations as well as of men to own their dependence upon the overruling power of God; to confess their sins and transgressions in humble sorrow, yet with assured hope that genuine repentance will lead to mercy and pardon; and to recognize the sublime truth, announced in the Holy Scriptures and proven by all history, that those nations are blessed whose God is the Lord.

We know that by his divine law, nations, like individuals, are subjected to punishments and chastisements in this world. May we not justly fear that the awful calamity of civil war which now desolates the land may be a punishment inflicted upon us for our presumptuous sins, to the needful end of our national reformation as a whole people?

We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of heaven; we have been preserved these many years in peace and prosperity; we have grown in numbers, wealth and power as no other nation has ever grown.

But we have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us, and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own.

Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us.

It has seemed to me fit and proper that God should be solemnly, reverently, and gratefully acknowledged, as with one heart and one voice, by the whole American people. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November as a day of Thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Worth a Thousand Words: Baking the Bread

Baking the Bread, Anders Zorn, 1889
See this? That's me today.

Ok, not literally. Thank goodness I've got an enclosed oven for one thing. But I'm cook, cook, cookin' the day away preparing the Thanksgiving feast.

It's easier this year since Rose is at home. She's been the main Thanksgiving cook among her friends in L.A. so we think the same about timing and the general approach to getting a big meal on the table.

It's also more fun!

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Well Said: God and little green tree frogs

From the universe we learn that God is infinite, that we cannot compass him at all. From such things as insects, flies, little frogs, mice and flowers, we learn that to us he is something else. He is Father, brother, child, and friend.

If you have ever had a little green tree frog and watched him puffing out with a pomposity worthy of a dragon before croaking, you must have guessed that there is a tender smile on our Heavenly Father's face, that he likes us to laugh and laughs with us; the frog will teach your heart more than all the books of theology in your world.
Caryll Houselander
Someone was musing the other day, wondering what sorts of jokes Jesus laughed at. I think he must have laughed at a wide variety, considering some of the really funny things he said, such as about the plank in your own eye. This, though, is what sprang to mind. We've got examples all around us that whatever Jesus laughs at, it is never mean spirited but always a tender laughter.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Worth a Thousand Words: Ocean Waves

Ocean waves, Katsushika Hokusai
via Wikipaintings
I love the sense of motion and grandeur conveyed here. We almost feel that we are these boatmen, dwarfed. Do they feel afraid? Exhilarated? I plump for exhilaration, but in reality ... I might be hanging on for dear life.

Worth a Thousand Words: St. Mark

Donatello, St. Mark (1411-13)
via Wikipedia
... it also remains true that Italian sculptors, like those north of the Alps, were moving relentlessly in the same direction: the discovery and representation of the individual human being, with truth and dignity. It was a move away from mere human symbols and archetypes toward actual flesh-and-blood men and women. For the Christian faith taught that humans were not types. Each had an immortal soul, and the carvers began to look for it in the faces and bodies they saw. But whereas the northern sculptor had no theory and worked by instinct—and his instinct for realism, as we have seen, was overwhelmingly strong—the Italian sculptors were beginning to learn about humanism, the knowledge from the past which directed fierce attention on the human body and psyche, created in God's image and the potential master of the universe and all it contained. The human being was all-important and sacrosanct, and to portray him accurately and vividly was a God-like act, worthy of the utmost pains and the highest genius.
Paul Johnson, Art: A New History

I really, really like it when historians are not afraid to acknowledge all sorts of influences on people, including their faith. And to go to the trouble to understand the faith enough that they can see how it influences the people.

Well Said: Dictating to the Holy Ghost

Everyone knows how terrible it is to come into contact with those people who have an undisciplined missionary urge, who, having received some grace, are continually trying to force the same grace on others, to compel them not only to be converted but to be converted in the same way and with precisely the same results as themselves.

Such people seem to wish to dictate to the Holy Ghost. God is to inspire their neighbor to see things just as they do, to join the same societies, to plunge into the same activities. They go about like the scriptural monster, seeking whom they may devour. They insist that their victims have obvious vocations to assist in, or even be completely sacrificed to, their own interests. Very often they unwittingly tear out the tender little shoot of Christ-life that was pushing up against the dark heavy clay, and when the poor victim has been devoured, he is handed over, spiritless and broken, as a predigested morsel for the next one-hundred-percent zealot who comes along.
The Reed of God by Caryll Houselander

A Priest and an Imam Walk Into Amazon Prime

You've probably seen this already but we liked it so much when it came on during the Cowboys' game yesterday that I thought I'd share it.

It's rare to see an ad promoting true understanding that has such a light touch. Yes, they are selling something, but the bigger thing they are selling is understanding each other as people. Really perfect.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Solemnity of Christ the King

A repeat which I very much enjoyed reading again. Hope you do too!

As the visions during the night continued,
I saw One like a son of man coming, on the clouds of heaven;
When he reached the Ancient One and was presented before him,
He received dominion, glory, and kingship;
nations and peoples of every language serve him.
His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not be taken away,
his kingship shall not be destroyed.
Daniel 7:13-14
Pope Pius XI instituted The Feast of Christ the King in 1925 for the universal church in his encyclical Quas Primas. He connected the denial of Christ as king to the rise of secularism. At the time of Quas Primas, secularism was rising, and many Christians (including Catholics) began to doubt Christ's authority and existence, as well as the Church's power to continue Christ's authority. Pius XI, and the rest of the Christian world, witnessed the rise of dictatorships in Europe, and saw Catholics being taken in by these earthly leaders. Just as the Feast of Corpus Christi was instituted when devotion to the Eucharist was at a low point, the Feast of Christ the King was instituted during a time when respect for Christ and the Church was waning, when the feast was most needed. In fact, it is still needed today, as these problems have not vanished, but instead have worsened.
I was surprised when I looked through my archives and didn't see any comments about the Solemnity of Christ the King. Perhaps that is because I haven't really appreciated it much until over the past year. That is partly because one can only absorb so much at a time and although I converted in 2000, that is not really such a long time ago.

It also signals an internal conversion, which we all undergo in one way or another for our entire lives. I recently caught myself saying, "His majesty" and meaning God. That made me happy for two reasons, the first of which was because I never understood how St. Teresa of Avila could be somewhat sassy to God and still call him "His majesty" ... and now I did understand that much more.

The second because I feel much more that I am a daughter of the king. That would anyone happy, wouldn't it? To discover that they come from royalty, albeit a royalty that reigns in order to render humble service. Certainly I feel I have a bit better understanding of my place in the scheme of things overall and my gradually deepening relationship with my king who rules through love.

The above image of Christ the King comes from the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, DC. I was captivated when I discovered it. The strength and confidence of this image of Christ fills me with joy. For a discussion of the symbolism included, read Msgr. Charles Pope's piece Awesome or Awful? Here's a sample:
... let’s look a little closer at Christ’s face (at Left). Look closely at his eyes. Notice that the one on the right (from our perspective) is more rounded and serene than the one on the left that is narrower and piercing. Notice also that the right eyebrow is more arched and peaceful and the one on the left angled and downward in a severe look. Now take your hand and cover the left side of the face and see that he is more serene and then cover the right side of the face and see that he is severe. This is very common in Eastern Iconography which likes to present both the Justice and Mercy of God on the face of Christ. It is subtle but it is meant to be otherwise we’d have a weird looking face. On the Day of Judgement there will be mercy seen by those who have shown mercy and severe justice to those who have been severe (Mat 5:7; Mat 7:2; James 2:13) for Justice and mercy are alike with him (cf Sirach 5:7). Looking into his eyes I am reminded of the stunning text from Hebrews which says of Christ: No creature is concealed from him, but everything is naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must render an account. (Heb 4:13)

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Genesis Notes: The Tower of Babel


The Tower of Babel by Pieter Bruegel the Elder (1563)

One of the familiar stories contained here is that of the Tower of Babel. According to Life Application Study Bible:
The tower of Babel was most likely a ziggurat, a common structure in Babylonia at this time. Most often built as temples, ziggurats looked like pyramids with steps or ramps leading up the sides. Ziggurats stood as high as 300 feet and were often just as wide; thus they were the focal point of the city.
When an atheist friend challenged me with this story as showing that God hates people gaining knowledge I didn't have any response. Too bad I hadn't read Genesis Part I: God and His Creation yet because they point out it is not the knowledge God disapproves of, but why the tower is being raised ... because of man's pride.
These descendants of Ham reached a high degree of technical proficiency. This seems to have created a great deal of power among them. They did not want anything to threaten that power. They especially seemed to dread having to move out over the uninhabited parts of the earth. Perhaps they feared their power would dissipate if they got separated. Perhaps they didn't want to leave the comforts that come with civilization. Their desire to build a tower to heaven speaks of an arrogance and autonomy that has been dangerous when we have seen it in others (Adam, Cain, Lamech, Ham). The tower represents a physical manifestation of the pride of man, which, in its birth pangs, leads to disobedience to God; when pride is full-grown, it can lead to a direct assault on God Himself, with the desire to be rid of Him for good. The tower comes provocatively close to that. Of course, when Heaven came to earth, in the body of the Son of God, Jesus, men actually were able to assault Him, putting Him to death ...

The diversity in human languages represents the pride and arrogance of man, who abused his original unity with others to work against God instead of for Him. On the Day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit was poured out on the apostles to begin the work of creating the Church, it is of no small significance that there was a miracle that undid the effects of Babel. It was a thrilling sign that what God was about to do in men would now enable them to use their unity in the right way-to live as God's family on earth.

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.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Worth a Thousand Words: The Fighting Temeraire

The Fighting Temeraire. 1839, by Joseph Mallord William Turner.
I've been insanely busy, as is always the case this time of year, working on my annual catalog layout project. It does give me lots of time to catch up on audiobooks (Bleak House - Naxos recording - because twice is not enough times to read that wonderful book) and podcasts.

The In Our Time radio show (via iTunes podcast in my case) is a favorite. They cover a wide variety of topics, from The Epic of Gilgamesh to Penicillin to the William Wilberforce and beyond.

Their most recent is about The Fighting Temeraire which I didn't even realize was a painting. But when I went to see what it looked like, I could see why it would get people's attention. So I thought I'd grab a few quick minutes to share it.

I'll be back full time by mid-December. Until then I'll drop in when I can with quick items.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Julie grooves to Earth, Wind, and Fire and Scott likes Vivaldi. ...

... Yet they've been able to do this podcast together for 6 years. The Intouchables (2011) is the subject of Episode 146 of A Good Story is Hard to Find podcast.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Well Said: The Endless Variety of Motion

The order of God's Providence maintains a perpetual vicissitude in the material being of this world; day is continually turning to night, spring to summer, summer to autumn, autumn to winter, winter to spring; no two days are ever exactly alike. Some are foggy, rainy, some dry or windy; and this endless variety greatly enhances the beauty of the universe. And even so precisely is it with man (who, as ancient writers have said, is a miniature of the world), for he is never long in any one condition, and his life on earth flows by like the mighty waters, heaving and tossing with an endless variety of motion; one while raising him on high with hope, another plunging him low in fear; now turning him to the right with rejoicing, then driving him to the left with sorrows; and no single day, no, not even one hour, is entirely the same as any other of his life.
St. Francis de Sales, Introduction to the Devout Life
The chaos and uncertainty that seem so predominant right now are all part of "heaving and tossing with an endless variety of motion." As St. John Paul II reminded us, be not afraid.

Thanks to my good friend Scott for bringing all this to mind recently. This is a favorite quote of mine from this wonderful book and so appropriate to the national mindset at the moment.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Freakonomics — Trust Me

It's an understatement to say that we're seeing a lack of social trust in America these days. This Freakonomics episode came out the day after the election. It is interesting overall but the best part is the last few minutes. It will leave you inspired and hopeful ... no matter who you are and how you are feeling these days.
Societies where people trust one another are healthier and wealthier. In the U.S. (and the U.K. and elsewhere), social trust has been falling for decades — in part because our populations are more diverse. What can we do to fix it?
(If you don't want to listen, they have the transcript at the link. But it's not that long.)

Genesis Notes: The Noachide Covenant

The Complete Bible Handbook gives a different perspective on the consequences of Noah's story than I'd seen before. It resulted in the Noachide Covenant which laid down laws for how the Jews would deal with Gentiles who kept their laws.

The rainbow is the sign of God's covenant with Noah.
It came from a spot where you can read the seven laws of Noah.
Within the structure of the Bible as a whole, the covenant with Noah is the beginning of god's work of repair and healing. Having come to regret making humans on the earth (Gen 6:6), God now blesses Noah and his descendants and makes promises of further blessings, tied to certain conditions that they must keep. Then God gives the rainbow as a sign of the covenant that they have entered into (Gen 9:1-17). This covenant later came to be understood as one that embraces all people, not just the Israelites and Jews, because in chapter 10 the three sons of Noah -- Shem, Ham, and Japheth -- become the fathers of all the nations of the world. Noah is thus sometimes seen as the "second Adam."

This all embracing covenant came to be known in later Christian and Jewish tradition as the Noachide covenant, and it was thought to contain seven commands. These are listed differently in different texts, because they are derived not from this chapter in Genesis alone but from the appeals in the rest of Scripture to the Gentiles (non-Jews) to live justly. The usual list of seven is the command to establish a system of justice, prohibitions against idolatry, blasphemy, murder, adultery and incest (regarded as one, and often interpreted as sexual immorality in general), robbery, and eating flesh torn from a living animal.

A Gentile who keeps these laws is already in the covenant with God and does not have to convert to Judaism in order to become a part of the "world to come" ('olam ha-ba). Jews have a special vocation to keep the 613 commands and prohibitions of Torah, not for themselves or for their own advantage (since "righteous Gentiles" stand on the same footing), but for the good of the whole world, in order to show what life lived under the guidance, or Torah, or God can be like.

At the outset of Christianity, a decision had to be made concerning how many, if any, of the laws in Torah a new convert was obliged to follow. It is possible that the decision in Acts 15:20 is an early reflection of the Noachide covenant.
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.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Worth a Thousand Words: Ural Owl

Ural Owl
taken by the incomparable Remo Savisaar

Well Said: The Music of the Lines

All I'm looking for is an excuse for certain experiments in dramatic dialogue. To justify them I have to have plot and situation; but fundamentally I care almost nothing about either. All I really care about is what Errol Flynn calls "the music," the lines he has to speak.
Raymond Chandler, letter 1948
And this is actually why I love reading Chandler. The plots are often convoluted and don't really make sense, but it is the poetry and dialogue and clever wit of his writing that I love.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

After the Election: Let's Be Kind to Each Other

I received an email this morning hoping I would have something inspirational to say after the election.

That made me realize the reason I posted a delicious recipe was that sharing a meal is the best way to come together with those you love. When you don't have adequate words then cook for someone, right?

It goes to the heart of what has been echoing in my mind all morning.

Be kind. We need to be kind to each other right now. We need to shed light not heat. Whether our candidate won or lost, we need to be gentle with each other.

I think President Obama really hit those notes well in his remarks on Donald Trump's election.

I liked the reminder that this is how the process works, that when you've won then someone very different has lost. But we can all be adult about it.
Now, it is no secret that the president-elect and I have some pretty significant differences. But remember, eight years ago President Bush and I had some pretty significant differences. But President Bush's team could not have been more professional or more gracious in making sure we had a smooth transition so that we could hit the ground running.

And one thing you realize quickly in this job is that the presidency and the vice presidency is bigger than any of us. So I have instructed my team to follow the example that President Bush's team set eight years ago, and work as hard as we can to make sure that this is a successful transition for the president-elect.
I especially liked the reminder that we are all Americans first, before politics.
Now, everybody is sad when their side loses an election, but the day after we have to remember that we're actually all on one team. This is an intramural scrimmage. We're not Democrats first. We're not Republicans first. We are Americans first. We're patriots first. (Speech transcript is here.)
Just on a practical note, be careful about believing dire predictions. Remember how accurate the media was about this election? A little sense of perspective for us all as we head into the next news cycle.

I'm surprised to find, upon gingerly checking my feelings this morning, that I have a sense of curious interest. The future is uncharted. I'm curious to see how this will all play out.

In the meantime, we all have our own part to play. Right where we live and work and go to school ... and have dinner together. It's the same job we have every day and it can change the country just as much as a new president ... if we all do it as honestly and genuinely as we can. And it begins with being kind.

Beef Meatballs with Oricchiette, Kale, and Pine Nuts

Whether the election results have left you mourning, celebrating, or (like me) simply bemused, this recipe will make everything better.

Rose made it last night and we simply couldn't believe how savory it was, how satisfying, and what a nice blend of textures.  It is not difficult to do in stages but just complex enough that if you want to take your mind off your problems then it will take your full attention.

And it is nice to give people a delicious meal whatever mood they are in.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Blogging Around: Getting a Sense of Perspective Before the Election

For everyone who isn't a True Believer in one of the two major party candidates and needs a good dose of perspective. I know I found them welcome.

First, this is far from the worst set of elections we've had as a nation. I knew of the John Adams and Thomas Jefferson stories which can be hard to believe if one is used to thinking of them only as noble Founding Fathers. The piece below reminds us that this isn't the first time we've sunk low for candidates' behavior. Read the whole thing but here's something to get you started.
If 2016 won’t be remembered for its civility, the elections of 1824 and 1828 were no more ennobling. Mr. Guelzo thinks they’re the only ones that can compete with 2016 for “the sheer depth of the nastiness.”

Neither John Quincy Adams nor Andrew Jackson earned an Electoral College majority in the first round, throwing the election to the House, which broke for the son of the second president. Old Hickory spent the next four years assailing the “corrupt bargain” he said Quincy Adams had struck with the House speaker.

David Reynolds, who teaches the Age of Jackson at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, remarks: “Very improbably, the intellectual and rather snobbish John Quincy Adams was charged with being a pimp, because as minister to Russia he had allegedly offered his nursemaid to the czar as a kept woman in exchange for political favors. Then there was the scandal surrounding Andrew Jackson, who was charged with being a bigamist.” Jackson got his revenge on JQA in 1828, but he blamed the vitriol for the coronary that killed his wife the same year.
Joseph Rago, History Repeats as Farce, Then as 2016
Peggy Noonan wrote a good piece reminding us that life will go on and this is far from the end of the road. First her note of hope for the future. We've got nowhere to go but up.
A memory that stays with me is a college student down South who in September asked me if the young, experiencing national politics for the first time this year, should feel despair. No, I said, you should be inspired. You’re not even out of school yet and you can do better than this. All of you will have to set yourselves to saving us. It got a laugh but I meant it, and the audience knew.
Peggy Noonan, Democracy's Majesty and 2016's Indignity
This was followed by a good overview of why we wound up with these unpopular candidates and what they represent. It seemed impartial to me, since I'm a fan of neither.

I especially liked her ending note though. It has occurred to me forcibly since I've been reading the Bible in chronological order and recently got to a lot of prophets from around the same time. The point she makes below is one that God has been trying to make for thousands of years.
A closing thought: God is in charge of history. He asks us to work, to try, to pour ourselves out to make things better. But he is an actor in history also. He chastises and rescues, he intervenes in ways seen and unseen. Or chooses not to.

Twenty sixteen looks to me like a chastisement. He’s trying to get our attention. We have candidates we can’t be proud of. We must choose among the embarrassments. What might we be doing as a nation and a people that would have earned this moment?
Peggy Noonan, Democracy's Majesty and 2016's Indignity
Be sure to read the whole thing. The Wall Street Journal usually charges for online content but I'm glad both the above pieces are available free. They provide good perspective as we try to gain footing in the midst of chaos.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Genesis Notes: Noah's Resume

The Life Application Study Bible profile helps us see the key lessons from Noah's life. I like best the extreme patience, faithfulness, and obedience that Noah must have had to accomplish his task. Also, I love the lesson that God does not protect us from trouble, but takes care of us in spite of trouble.

Noah giving the gesture of orant as the dove returns
Strengths and accomplishments:
  • Only follower of God left in his generation
  • Second father of the human race
  • Man of patience, consistency, and obedience
  • First major shipbuilder
Weaknesses and mistakes:
  • Got drunk and embarrassed himself in front of his sons
Lessons from his life:
  • God is faithful to those who obey him
  • God does not always protect us from trouble, but cares for us in spite of trouble
  • Obedience is a long-term commitment
  • A man may be faithful, but his sinful nature always travels with him
Vital statistics:
  • Where: We're not told how far from the Garden of Eden people had settled
  • Occupation: Farmer, shipbuilder, preacher
  • Relatives: Grandfather - Methuselah. Father - Lamech. Sons: Ham, Shem and Japheth
Key verse:
"Noah did everything just as God commanded him." (Genesis 6:22)

Noah's story is told in Genesis 5:29-10:32. He also is mentioned in 1 Chronicles 1:3, 4; Isaiah 54:9; Ezekiel 14:14, 20; Matthew 24:37, 38; Luke 3:36; 17:26; Hebrews 11:7; 1 Peter 3:20; 2 Peter 2:5..

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.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Commemoration of All Souls

The Day of the Dead, William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1825-1905)
Today we dedicate our prayers in suffrage for the souls in purgatory, still being purified of the remains of sin. Our ties with deceased relatives and friends do not end with their death. Priests can celebrate Mass three times on this day for their benefit, and all the faithful can gain special indulgences to expedite their entrance into heaven.

Here is the translation of the beautiful, yet mournful music for the day which I heard at Pray As You Go a few years ago. It touched my heart and made me contemplate more deeply the mysteries of faith, life, and death.
Free the souls of all the faithful departed.
Free them from the pains of hell.
Free them from the deep pit.
Free them from the lion's mouth.
Make them pass from death to life.


As I listen, I may want to pray too for the people I know who have died or perhaps to contemplate in these moments the ultimate hope that God offers me of freedom from all things that threaten and trouble me: the promise God makes me of eternal life.

This dovetailed with the reading from today that touched my heart most, surprisingly, to me, from Wisdom. Reading it line by line, I felt that ache of missing those I love, but the surety that God offers for the faithful departed.
Wis 3:1-9

The souls of the just are in the hand of God,
and no torment shall touch them.

They seemed, in the view of the foolish, to be dead;
and their passing away was thought an affliction
and their going forth from us, utter destruction.

But they are in peace.
For if before men, indeed, they be punished,
yet is their hope full of immortality;
chastised a little, they shall be greatly blessed,
because God tried them
and found them worthy of himself.

As gold in the furnace, he proved them,
and as sacrificial offerings he took them to himself.
In the time of their visitation they shall shine,
and shall dart about as sparks through stubble;
they shall judge nations and rule over peoples,
and the LORD shall be their King forever.

Those who trust in him shall understand truth,
and the faithful shall abide with him in love:
because grace and mercy are with his holy ones,
and his care is with his elect.
I think today of my beloved dead. I love them and I miss them. Certainly, I pray for them to be happy and joyful in Heaven. And I long to see God's face ... which is a surprising longing for me to be experiencing. But one which I accept gratefully.
  • Our two unborn children 
  • Dad
  • GG
  • Raymond
  • Thelma
  • Grandmama
  • Deedah
  • Tom's father
  • Tom's mother
  • Mrs. Ford
  • Robin Ford
  • Jeanmarie
  • Sydney
  • Matthew
  • Ivar
  • Dorsey
  • Dorsey's mother
  • Carole
  • Heath
  • Phyllis
  • Alberta
  • Aunt Laura
  • Uncle Adolph
  • Mark (Tom's cousin)
  • Maggie Garcia
  • Sarah Arnold
  • Gregg Margarite
  • Phyllis
  • June
  • Jack
  • Marshall
  • Diane
  • Kathy
  • Harry Steven
Rest Eternal Grant Them, Lord!
Take we up the touching burden of November plaints,
Pleading for the Holy Souls, God’s yet uncrowned Saints.
Still unpaid to our departed is the debt we owe;
Still unransomed, some are pining, sore oppressed with woe.
Friends we loved and vowed to cherish call us in their need:
Prove we now our love was real, true in word and deed.
“Rest eternal grant them, Lord!” full often let us pray—
“Requiem √¶ternam dona eis, Domine!”
Here is a litany for the souls in Purgatory.

You can read more about All Souls' Day here. For those with any questions about Purgatory I posted this extremely basic explanation a while back.

Catholic Culture explains indulgences and practices that Catholics can do during the month of November for the Poor Souls in Purgatory. Also be sure to swing by Recta Ratio, who's really got soul ... check out his place. In the past he has examined such fascinating topics as Catholic death customs, especially medieval ones.

I'm with Chaput - Let's Punch the Devil in the Nose

The Blessed Virgin Mary punching the devil (13th century MS, British Library).
Via Gregory Wolfe and Catholic News Agency
I featured this artwork about a month ago. Today I got a complaint that it is not treating Mary reverently enough ... and also that it might be pop art.

For me this shows Mary as a powerful spiritual warrior, especially when I look at the expression on both faces. I'd like to think I could be like that.

I'll be fair. Mary could also be holding a seal of some sort with which she is marking the devil.

Looking around for a proper reference to prove it wasn't pop art I wound up at the Catholic News Agency. The bonus was this wonderful talk by Archbishop Chaput which used it as a springboard to exhort us to be like Mary.
“If we want to reclaim who we are as a Church, if we want to renew the Catholic imagination, we need to begin, in ourselves and in our local parishes, by unplugging our hearts from the assumptions of a culture that still seems familiar but is no longer really ‘ours,’” Archbishop Chaput said.

“This is why Mary – the young Jewish virgin, the loving mother, and the woman who punches the devil in the nose – was, is, and always will be the great defender of the Church,” he added.

Archbishop Chaput addressed the 2016 Bishops’ Symposium at the University of Notre Dame on Wednesday. He spoke on “Remembering Who We Are and the Story We Belong To.”

He began his talk referencing an illustration, reportedly from the Middle Ages, of the Blessed Virgin Mary punching the devil in the nose. “She doesn’t rebuke him. She doesn’t enter into a dialogue with him. She punches the devil in the nose,” he said.
I love that guy. Read the whole thing. It's good medicine.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

All Saints' Day: We Should All Desire to Be Saints

Today is All Saints' Day, when the Church commemorates all saints, whether known or unknown.

I repost this for today's feast of All Saints' Day because I simply love this excerpt from The Seven Storey Mountain ... and the meditation still holds true for me.
“What you should say”– Lax told me — ”what you should say is that you want to be a saint.”

A saint! The thought struck me as a little weird. I said: “How do you expect me to become a saint?”

“By wanting to,” said Lax, simply.

“I can’t be a saint,” I said, “I can’t be a saint.” And my mind darkened with a confusion of realities and unrealities: the knowledge of my own sins, and the false humility which makes men say that they cannot do the things that they must do, cannot reach the level that they must reach: the cowardice that says: “I am satisfied to save my soul, to keep out of mortal sin,” but which means, by those words: “I do not want to give up my sins and my attachments.”

Lax said: “All that is necessary to be a saint is to want to be one. Don’t you believe that God will make you what He created you to be, if you will consent to let him do it? All you have to do is desire it.”
Thomas Merton, The Seven Storey Mountain
This kept returning to my mind after I read it.

Yes, the goal is to get to Heaven, but didn't I expect a stopover in Purgatory? Didn't everyone I talked to laugh somewhat about how long they'd be stuck there too?

It struck me that what this attitude reflects is not aiming for Heaven, but settling for Purgatory. We should be happy that Purgatory is there like the net under tightrope walkers, to catch us if we fall short. But we should be aiming for, and expecting, to achieve our greatest potential ... that for which God created each and every one of us. That with His grace and our cooperation we can each be a saint.

St. Teresa of Avila crossed my mind. St. John of the Cross. You know where I'm going with this right? Blessed Teresa of Calcutta (a.k.a. Mother Teresa). The dark night of the soul. I know that these saints thought it worthwhile but I'm not into signing up for that duty.

I then thought of my grandfather, Raymond. A wonderful man, always happy and cheerful, willing to work hard to help anyone who needed it ... an anonymous saint to the Church but one to all who knew him. No dark night of the soul there. Yet, I'm sure he skipped right over Purgatory. Would I be willing to follow his example? Of course.

I thought of my patron, Saint Martha (you know, of the "Mary has chosen the better part" story). The last time we see her serving is notably different from the first. Mary is washing Jesus' feet and Martha is mentioned as serving in the background. To me that says she has learned the lesson Jesus gave her about "the better part." Would I be willing to follow her example? Natch.

My glance fell on a book I recently received about Solanus Casey, a favorite of mine because he was a humble porter whose holiness shown through to the people of Detroit. Similar to St. John Vianney, another favorite of mine (yes, I have lots of favorites), in that both found studies difficult and consequently were not thought much of by their orders.

Of course, it was borne in upon me yet again that we have so many examples of all the different sorts of saints God makes to suit each time and place. Why I would feel that it necessarily requires a "dark night of the soul" I don't know ... how silly of me!

The culmination of all this thinking took place last night while I was waiting for the Vigil Mass to begin. I was saying the rosary (more about that in another post) and kept coming back to the subject of saints. I got a growing feeling of excitement and anticipation at the unknown future when we completely give ourselves over to God ... when we desire to become a saint. Nothing new here intellectually that's sure, but for me it is that sense of possibilities, of waiting for a surprise ... and that is always what we discover when God is involved.

I'm not settling any more. I'm aiming higher.

Isn't this gorgeous? There's more where that came from ... Recta Ratio.

    What We've Been Watching: The Good Place

    At last, a new television show that is light, engaging, humorous, and makes you think. All while celebrating the virtues that lead to being good.

    After a freak accident, Eleanor (Kristen Bell) wakes up to find that she died and wound up in The Good Place (as opposed to The Bad Place, of course). Hearing the long list of humanitarian behavior that led to her arrival is a surprise to Eleanor. Because the system, overseen by immortal Michael (Ted Danson) had a glitch that assigned her the completely wrong history. Eleanor was never very nice and always selfish which means she is in The Wrong Place.

    Luckily, she's met her "soulmate" who was an expert in morality and ethics. He agrees to give her lessons to teach her how to be good. Naturally complications arise and we meet other Good Place neighbors who, though perfectly good, are dealing with their own dilemmas.

    What all this leads to for the viewer is a refreshing change from the usual sitcoms. The show is being allowed to develop at its own pace and this lets us grow along with it.

    One thing we especially enjoy is the mini-philosophy lesson which Eleanor learns and which is echoed in each episode's general plotline. You get a sense, albeit surface level, of different philosophical concepts of virtue and being good. Which is, in itself, refreshing.

    It's not just high minded though. The humor is loopy, oddball and fun, in the best way possible. And the set design is deceptively simple but done with the sort of attention that makes me think of Pushing Daisies which was another favorite of ours.

    The show was developed and is being run by Mike Schur who's known for his involvement in The Office, Parks and Recreation, and Brooklyn Nine Nine.

    NBC has all the episodes available on their website. I think they're letting it grow through word of mouth, which is also refreshingly different these days. You need to watch them in order because it is one big story.

    Rose pushed us to watch this because she wants it to keep going. It only took a few episodes for us to see why. So I'm pushing it too.

    Take a look. I think you'll be pleasantly surprised.

    (For a more indepth look, check out The AV Club's pilot review.