Thursday, October 8, 2015

Well Said: Courage

Courage is not something that you already have that makes you brave when the tough times start. Courage is what you earn when you've been through the tough times and you discover they aren't so tough after all.
Malcolm Gladwell, David and Goliath

Worth a Thousand Words: Staircase Group

Staircase Group (Portrait of Raphaelle Peale and Titian Ramsay Peale I), 1795) Charles Willson Peale.
Via Books and Art
Peale painted this life size portrait to be a trompe l'oeil and fool the eye into thinking it was real. To that end, he installed the painting in his studio inside a door frame with a step in front of it. It must have fooled many people.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Well Said: Chasing Two Rabbits

If you chase two rabbits, you may not catch even one.
Japanese proverb
Would that we discovered this logo before the concept of multi-tasking arose.

Worth a Thousand Words: Sunset over Tujunga

Sunset over Tujunga
Taken by Will Duquette
Will lives in these foothills and I'm trying very hard not to be envious over the beautiful view he gets every day. Be sure to click through on the link to see the photo full size. It is simply gorgeous.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

These Just In: 4 Books and a DVD

It's that delightful time of year when review books fill the mailbox. These are the ones I'm definitely going to be reading and telling you more about. But I don't want you to have to wait until then.

The Story of St. Francis of Assisi: In Twenty-Eight Scenes

by Timothy Verdon

This beautiful new book by renowned art historian Timothy Verdon tells the story of the life of St. Francis of Assisi in story and art. The 28 stunning thirteenth-century frescoes by Giotto that cover the walls of the famous Basilica in Assisi named for the saint are reproduced in full color, together with a schematic drawing showing their placement in the church. Through detailed descriptions and illuminating commentary on each of the famous frescoes, Verdon tells the story of Francis's extraordinary life, allowing today's reader the opportunity to "read" the art on those walls in the same way that a medieval Christian might have done.
You may recall I was a huge fan of Timothy Verdon's pervious book, Art and Prayer. This lovely, accessible book looks at how the frescoes invite us to see Francis's life "as a modern extension of the Biblical history of salvation." That allows us to connect our lives also to both the Old Testament and to Christ. Verdon does this not only through insights and and art, but even uses seemingly unlikely items like art placement, architectural placement, and landscape to bring us closer to God, via this meditation on St. Francis of Assisi. Stunning.

Intimate Graces: How Practicing the Works of Mercy Brings Out the Best in Marriage

by Teresa Tomeo (Pastore) and Dominick Pastore
Teresa Tomeo and her husband, Dominick Pastore, were disappointed and discouraged with their marriage. As Teresa identifies the problem, they were "more catechized by the culture" than their faith. But when they invited Christ into their marriage and began practicing mercy with each other, their lives--and marriage--were transformed.

Tomeo and Pastore each write in their own voice and include personal experiences, reflection questions, practical suggestions, and a prayer at the end of each chapter.

Yes. Yes. Yes.

No one has a perfect marriage but often we aren't sure where to get help, especially if the problems don't seem "that bad." This couple talks about pitfalls and danger zones from personal experience and gives us a new perspective to bring to make our marriages better. Just flipping through this I know it is a resource I'll be recommending to others.

Word by Word: Slowing Down with the Hail Mary

Editor: Sarah Reinhard
A unique meditation on each word of the Hail Mary, one of the most important prayer traditions in Catholic life. Each of the forty reflections encourages readers to "slow down" with the Hail Mary and experience previously unseen dimension in the popular devotion, making it come to life in a new way. This unique, formative, and informative exploration of the beloved prayer is a gift to anyone who wants to be continually changed through it--learning to slow down and examine things more closely. 
The Church Fathers often advised slowing down in prayer by meditating on a phrase or word of a given prayer, such as the Our Father. This book follows in those wise footsteps and will help your prayer life deepen.

Full disclosure: I did the "Thou" chapter. More full disclosure: I haven't gotten my copy yet, but did get a good sense of everything when the series originally came out on Sarah's blog.

The Mystery of God

Film series and study program from Bishop Father Barron

Atheism is on the rise. Skeptical thinkers like Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and Sam Harris vigorously attack belief in God as irrational or, even worse, dangerous. The so-called New Atheism has attracted millions of young people thanks to bestselling books such as The God Delusion and God Is Not Great.

How should Christians respond? How can we turn the tide of secularism and draw people back to God?

You'll discover how in "The Mystery of God," a new six-part film series and study program by Fr. Robert Barron. The lessons reach into our rich intellectual tradition. Using the insights of St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, Pope Benedict XVI, you'll uncover a clear yet sophisticated understanding of what we mean by “God".
I was delighted when this showed up in my mailbox. For one thing I love Robert Barron's videos. For another it seems very timely.

God With Us: Rediscovering the Meaning of Christmas

Editors: Greg Pennoyer and Gregory Wolfe
Christmas is the season most difficult to grasp and understand in all its spiritual richness. The sentimentality and commercialism that dominate the season tend to obscure the profound mystery at its heart: the Incarnation. God with Us provides the perfect way to slow down and reconnect with the liturgical and sacramental traditions that illuminate the meaning of Christmas and the Incarnation. In daily meditations for the complete seasons of Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany, the contributors offer a tapestry of reflection, Scripture, prayer, and history.
This is an Advent/Christmas devotional which was originally published in 2007 and clearly aimed at Christians who don't have a tradition of the liturgical year. For those who already do, you may skip a lot of the introductory material and just go straight to the reflections. They come from a diverse group like Father Richard Neuhaus, Scott Cairns, Lucy Shaw, and Kathleen Norris. The samples I read look very good.

Well Said: Understanding Too Soon

Some people will never understand anything, for this reason, because they understand everything too soon.
Alexander Pope
I've done that. A lot. Luckily humility eventually kicks in and then I can begin to understand what I ignored before.

Worth a Thousand Words: Ice Cream on the Boardwalk

Taken by Will Duquette
I always like it when everyone gets some ice cream.

Monday, October 5, 2015

War? What's it good for? Turns out it's great for defeating evil if you're in Middle Earth.

The penultimate episode of our Lord of the Rings discussion at SFFaudio, Book V (“The War Of The Ring”). Aka the first half of The Return Of The King.

October Lagniappe: The Bells

Because it's October! When better for bells and Poe! Read it aloud for best effect.

The Bells

by Edgar Allen Poe

Hear the sledges with the bells-
Silver bells!
What a world of merriment their melody foretells!
How they tinkle, tinkle, tinkle,
In the icy air of night!
While the stars that oversprinkle
All the heavens, seem to twinkle
With a crystalline delight;
Keeping time, time, time,
In a sort of Runic rhyme,
To the tintinnabulation that so musically wells
From the bells, bells, bells, bells,
Bells, bells, bells-
From the jingling and the tinkling of the bells.


Hear the mellow wedding bells,
Golden bells!
What a world of happiness their harmony foretells!
Through the balmy air of night
How they ring out their delight!
From the molten-golden notes,
And an in tune,
What a liquid ditty floats
To the turtle-dove that listens, while she gloats
On the moon!
Oh, from out the sounding cells,
What a gush of euphony voluminously wells!
How it swells!
How it dwells
On the Future! how it tells
Of the rapture that impels
To the swinging and the ringing
Of the bells, bells, bells,
Of the bells, bells, bells,bells,
Bells, bells, bells-
To the rhyming and the chiming of the bells!


Hear the loud alarum bells-
Brazen bells!
What a tale of terror, now, their turbulency tells!
In the startled ear of night
How they scream out their affright!
Too much horrified to speak,
They can only shriek, shriek,
Out of tune,
In a clamorous appealing to the mercy of the fire,
In a mad expostulation with the deaf and frantic fire,
Leaping higher, higher, higher,
With a desperate desire,
And a resolute endeavor,
Now- now to sit or never,
By the side of the pale-faced moon.
Oh, the bells, bells, bells!
What a tale their terror tells
Of Despair!
How they clang, and clash, and roar!
What a horror they outpour
On the bosom of the palpitating air!
Yet the ear it fully knows,
By the twanging,
And the clanging,
How the danger ebbs and flows:
Yet the ear distinctly tells,
In the jangling,
And the wrangling,
How the danger sinks and swells,
By the sinking or the swelling in the anger of the bells-
Of the bells-
Of the bells, bells, bells,bells,
Bells, bells, bells-
In the clamor and the clangor of the bells!


Hear the tolling of the bells-
Iron Bells!
What a world of solemn thought their monody compels!
In the silence of the night,
How we shiver with affright
At the melancholy menace of their tone!
For every sound that floats
From the rust within their throats
Is a groan.
And the people- ah, the people-
They that dwell up in the steeple,
All Alone
And who, tolling, tolling, tolling,
In that muffled monotone,
Feel a glory in so rolling
On the human heart a stone-
They are neither man nor woman-
They are neither brute nor human-
They are Ghouls:
And their king it is who tolls;
And he rolls, rolls, rolls,
A paean from the bells!
And his merry bosom swells
With the paean of the bells!
And he dances, and he yells;
Keeping time, time, time,
In a sort of Runic rhyme,
To the paean of the bells-
Of the bells:
Keeping time, time, time,
In a sort of Runic rhyme,
To the throbbing of the bells-
Of the bells, bells, bells-
To the sobbing of the bells;
Keeping time, time, time,
As he knells, knells, knells,
In a happy Runic rhyme,
To the rolling of the bells-
Of the bells, bells, bells:
To the tolling of the bells,
Of the bells, bells, bells, bells-
Bells, bells, bells-
To the moaning and the groaning of the bells.

Worth a Thousand Words: Red Foxes

Red Foxes
taken by Remo Savisaar
Remo forgot to say adorable. Adorable Red Foxes.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Worth a Thousand Words: Chestnut Gatherers

Chestnut Gatherers, Georges Lacombe, 1893
via Wikiart

Well Said: The Reason Angels Can Fly

The reason angels can fly is because they take themselves lightly.
G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy

Feast of the Guardian Angels

Another of my favorite feast days ... reposted because it's just that good! 

Devotion to the Guardian Angels goes back to the beginnings of Christianity. Pope Clement X proclaimed the feast a universal celebration in the seventeenth century. The Guardian Angels serve as the messengers of God. The Almighty has allocated a Guardian Angel to each one of us for our protection and for the good of our apostolate...

We have to deal with our Guardian Angels in a familiar way, while at the same time recognizing their superior nature and grace. Though less palpable in their presence than human friends are, their efficacy for our benefit is far greater. Their counsel and suggestions come from God, and penetrate more deeply than any human voice. To reiterate, their capacity for hearing and understanding us is much superior even to that of our most faithful human friend, since their attendance at our side is continuous; they can enter more deeply into our intentions, desires and petitions than can any human being, since angels can reach our imagination directly without recourse to the comprehension of words. They are able to incite images, provoke memories, and make impressions in order to give us direction.

As devoted as I am to the Archangels, I am especially fond of my Guardian Angel. He is always there when I need him and has a wicked sense of humor. Perhaps wicked is not the right word. He must, therefore, have an angelic sense of humor! This is one of my favorite feast days.

For my personal angel stories, as well as some general information, you can read more here, here, and here.

Prayer to One's Guardian Angel

Dear Angel,
in his goodness God gave you to me to
guide, protect and enlighten me,
and to being me back to the right way when I go astray.
Encourage me when I am disheartened,
and instruct me when I err in my judgment.
Help me to become more Christlike,
and so some day to be accepted into
the company of Angels and Saints in heaven.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Well Said: Desiring to be a Saint

God would never inspire me with desires which cannot be realized; so in spite of my littleness, I can hope to be a saint.
Thérèse de Lisieux, Story of a Soul
This gives me hope, likewise.

Feast Day of St. Therese of Lisieux: The Strong Woman Called the "Little Flower"

What broke open connecting with St. Therese for me? A good translation and a second book. I wrote about it for Patheos several years ago and Therese's feast day seems a good time to share it here.

Brede, No Treacle*: St. Therese and Rumer Godden

Canonized less than thirty years after her death, Thérèse's only book, The Story of a Soul, was enough to get her named a saint, and more recently a Doctor of the Church. Thérèse is the youngest person to be so named and only the third woman to receive this honor.

This all is quite praiseworthy. What is it, then, about this saint that divides Catholics sharply into two camps: those who love her unreservedly and those who are pointedly indifferent when her name is mentioned?

In a nutshell, it is Thérèse's own words that lead many to distastefully associate her with saccharin piety. Her autobiography was written as a young girl to her sister in the flowery, sentimental French style of the late 19th century. Older translations, if anything, heighten the over-wrought style. The other problem is the subject matter: early childhood devotion to Jesus, testimony about her relationship with Jesus, and Thérèse's struggles in the convent to do small things for Christ. Even talented writers might struggle to communicate these concepts well, much less a young woman with limited writing experience.

I read The Story of a Soul long ago because I was urged to do so by many devotees of "The Little Flower," as she is called. Wishing to politely turn off those suggestions, I read the book as fast as possible. Naturally, I got little from it.

The key, as I discovered recently, is not only to read St. Thérèse with attention, but to have a translation that cuts through her "treacle." Robert Edmonson's translation from Paraclete Press does precisely that. Thérèse's trademark piety, sincerity, and liveliness cannot be denied, but this translation makes it easier to see beneath her superficial-seeming surface to the complex person underneath. She emerges as tough, uncompromising, and heroic with a strong core of common sense.
The second experience that I had concerns the priests. Never having lived close to them, I couldn't understand the principal goal of the Carmelite reform [to pray for priests]. To pray for sinners delighted me, but to pray for the souls of priests, whom I thought of as purer than crystal, seemed astonishing to me. ...

For a month I lived with many holy priests, and I saw that if their sublime dignity raises them above the Angels, they are nonetheless weak and fragile men . ... If holy priests whom Jesus calls in the Gospel "the salt of the earth" show in their behavior that they have an extreme need of prayers, what can one say about the ones who are lukewarm? Didn't Jesus add, "But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again?" [Mt 5:13]
Her observation sadly resonates all too well with the modern reader. The 15-year-old Thérèse is revealed as someone who faces the truth and applies the only action she can take, which is prayer.

Thérèse also reveals her extreme struggles to love her neighbors in the convent, often accompanied by a lively sense of the ridiculous. There is the example of her determination to assist an elderly Sister down a long hallway after dinner, which begins with the aged woman shaking her hourglass at Thérèse to get her attention. This contains so much truth, conveyed with such good humor, that we can see the Sister's personality exactly because we know people just like her. Thérèse is never afraid to laugh at herself either.
... I've made a sort of speech about charity that must have tired you out reading it. Forgive me, beloved Mother, and remember that right now the nurses are practicing on my behalf what I've just written. They're not afraid to go two miles when twenty steps would suffice. So I've been able to observe charity in action! ...

When I begin to take up my pen, here's a good Sister who passes near me, a pitchfork over her shoulder. She thinks she's entertaining me by chatting with me a little. Hay, ducks, hens, a doctor's visit, everything's on the table. To tell you the truth, that doesn't last long, but there's more than one good, charitable Sister, and suddenly another hay cutter drops some flowers in my lap, thinking that perhaps she'll inspire some poetic ideas in me. Not seeking out flowers right then, I would prefer that they remain attached to their stems.
It has become fashionable to discount St. Thérèse's spiritual struggles by filtering them through modern perspectives. Biographers look at the girl whose mother died when she was very small, at her "abandonment" by her older sisters as they one by one entered the convent, at her early entry into the cloister. They speak of neuroses and a stifled personality by living in the unrealistic atmosphere of the convent.

It's better to take Thérèse at her word. Many people suffered similar life circumstances and worse, but were never suffused with the love of God, or the wisdom, that Thérèse relates.

An antidote to the heaping of modern perspectives onto Thérèse's insights might be to read one of the finest books ever written about convent life. In This House of Brede by Rumer Godden is fictional but it portrays cloistered convent life in such a real, luminous way that it could be mistaken for an autobiography.

Philippa Talbot, a successful career woman in her 40s, leaves London to join a cloistered Benedictine community. Once she enters, the narrative never leaves that setting, yet the story is riveting. There are mysteries and minor intrigues, but the focus is on the characters, who are fully realized with flaws and virtues alike. Readers soon realize that life among the religious is no easier path; an enclosed community requires more Christian development from the souls within, not less.

Rumer Godden lived at the gatehouse of an English enclosed community for three years while writing In This House of Brede, during which time she converted to Catholicism, and eventually became a Benedictine Oblate. The deep understanding that comes from real exposure to the life infuses the novel with such authenticity that the book is still recommended by actual cloistered religious to those who wonder what such life can be like.

Godden had a talent for looking into the heart of what makes us truly human, both good and bad. In holding up her characters' flaws, she holds up a mirror into which we blush to look, even when the flaws seem relatively minor.
... Odd, she [Philippa] had thought, I never seriously visualized coming out of Brede again; it had not occurred to her, but in those minutes it occurred painfully. She could have blushed to think how once she had taken it for granted that, if she made enough effort—steeled herself—it would be settled. "I know," Dame Clare said afterwards. "I was as confident. Once upon a time I even thought God had taste, choosing me!"

Dame Perpetua had been more blunt. "Weren't you surprised that God should have chosen you?" a young woman reporter, writing a piece on vocations, had asked her. "Yes," Dame Perpetua had answered, "but not nearly as surprised that he should have chosen some of the others—but then God's not as fastidious as we are."
Rumer Godden is the talented writer who provides perspective for the cloistered life that Thérèse experienced. Her insights into the rich, full life that can be had in the convent are the final antidote for those who believe otherwise.

I am no longer indifferent to St. Thérèse. She has become a solid friend who has provided good advice for overcoming my faults and loving my neighbors better. Thanks to Robert Edmonson and Rumer Godden, there are new lessons to be learned both for those who are devoted to St. Thérèse and those who are indifferent.

Treacle = British for molasses (sort of)

Wikipedia sez: The most common forms of treacle are the pale syrup that is also known as golden syrup and the darker syrup that is usually referred to as dark treacle or black treacle. Dark treacle has a distinctively strong flavour, slightly bitter, and a richer colour than golden syrup,[3] yet not as dark as molasses.

Worth a Thousand Words: Portrait of Edna Barger

Jules-Joseph LEFEBVRE, Portrait of Edna Barger of Connecticut
via French Painters

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Worth a Thousand Words: Mixed Flowers in an Earthenware Pot

via Arts Everyday Living
Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Mixed Flowers in an Earthenware Pot, c. 1869

Feast Day of St. Jerome

Niccolò Antonio Colantonio, showing St. Jerome's removal of a thorn from a lion's paw. Source.
I interpret as I should, following the command of Christ: Search the Scriptures, and Seek and you shall find. Christ will not say to me what he said to the Jews: You erred, not knowing the Scriptures and not knowing the power of God. For if, as Paul says, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God, and if the man who does not know Scripture does not know the power and wisdom of Gods, then ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.
Read more at Crossroads Initiative
I do not have that "friendly feeling" with St. Jerome that I have with many other saints. However, I do love the fact that he was well known to be cantankerous and had to fight his temper constantly. It gives me that fellow feeling of someone who has to fight the same failings I do. I also highly respect him for his supreme love of Scripture as the path to God. (Protestants should enjoy this Church Father's works for that very reason.)

This might be the best short summary I've ever seen of St. Jerome's life, and, specifically, why he is such a good patron saint for us bloggers.
He was a great scholar. He knew many languages. He fact-checked against original sources. He supported and was supported by fearless, scholarly and religious women. He successfully fought against the world, the flesh and the Devil.

And dang, did he understand flamewars.
Here is a wonderful poem about St. Jerome which is both accurate and hilarious. My favorite sort of poem, in fact. If you read this out loud you will get the most benefit from it.
From "Times Three" by Phyllis McGinley

God’s angry man, His crotchety scholar
Was Saint Jerome,
The great name-caller
Who cared not a dime
For the laws of Libel
And in his spare time
Translated the Bible.
Quick to disparage
All joys but learning
Jerome thought marriage
Better than burning;
But didn’t like woman’s
Painted cheeks;
Didn’t like Romans,
Didn’t like Greeks,
Hated Pagans
For their Pagan ways,
Yet doted on Cicero all of his days.

A born reformer, cross and gifted,
He scolded mankind
Sterner than Swift did;
Worked to save
The world from the heathen;
Fled to a cave
For peace to breathe in,
Promptly wherewith
For miles around
He filled the air with
Fury and sound.
In a mighty prose
For Almighty ends,
He thrust at his foes,
Quarreled with his friends,
And served his Master,
Though with complaint.
He wasn’t a plaster sort of a saint.

But he swelled men’s minds
With a Christian leaven.
It takes all kinds
To make a heaven.
Read a summary of St. Jerome's life and work at Catholic Culture. For more detailed information go to Catholic Online.