Monday, February 28, 2005

Healed of the Bite of Evil

This Son of Man must be lifted up as the serpent was lifted up by Moses in the wilderness, so that everyone who has faith in him may in him possess eternal life. John 3:14-15
The Book of Numbers relates that when the people murmured rebelliously against God, they were punished with a plague of fiery serpents, so that many lost their lives. When they repented, Moses was told by God to make a brazen serpent and set it up for a sign, and all those bitten by the serpents who looked upon that sign would be healed. Our Blessed Lord was not declaring that He was to be lifted up, as the serpent had been lifted up. As the brass serpent had the appearance of a serpent and yet lacked its venom, so too, when He would be lifted up upon the bars of the Cross, He would have the appearance of a sinner and yet be without sin. As all who looked upon the brass serpent had been healed of the bit of the serpent, so all who looked upon Him with love and faith would be healed of the bit of the serpent of evil.
Life of Christ by Fulton Sheen

Friday, February 25, 2005

Georgette Heyer

If ever I was going to be embarrassed by reading a "type" of book, it would be the Regency romances written by Georgette Heyer. They are sold in the romance section and usually feature couples in period clothing on the cover.

However, nothing could be farther from the usual "romance novel" stereotype than these books. The closest analogy I can think of is Jane Austen; specifically Pride and Prejudice. Heyer's books are well researched enough to make you think that she was a contemporary and full of the sort of intelligence and humor that make you laugh out loud. Thinking over her books it is amazing how she consistently covered a wide range of characters and plots that included romance, fashion, upper classes, cross-dressing, arranged marriages, murder, intrigue, cant language, sarcasm, and humor. She also wrote a few mysteries but I never really enjoyed them the way I did the others.

Some of her romances are currently being republished, many can be found in second-hand bookstores, and most libraries have a wide selection as Heyer was amazingly prolific. A few of my favorites are The Grand Sophy, Venetia, Sylvester, or The Wicked Uncle, and The Foundling. If you haven't tried a Georgette Heyer book, pick one up, hide the cover, and prepare for a delightful and clever read.

UPDATE: I can't believe I forgot to mention that the grand finale of these books is usually when the heroine and hero finally ... wait for it ... KISS. Not quite the usual stuff we get given in romance novels these days. Not only intelligence, but respect of the characters.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Proud Parent Alert!

At BL they hand out class rankings partway through the third semester. In a class of 300, Hannah is holding steady for the third year running around number 75. Woohoo! Top 25% seems great to us! These are a lot of very smart kids, many of whom will get scholarships to top schools, if past performance is any indication.

So imagine my total shock and astonishment when Rose announced that she is number 9 out of her class of 288. Number 9? NUMBER 9!!! WOOHOO! This is with taking all honors classes too. It seems she hangs with a bunch of overachievers as one friend is number 5 and another is number 15 ... and so on, and so forth.

This is when I'd love to go around and point out to all those parents who push their kids, still check their homework (yes, in high school!), enroll them in extra study classes ... we have done none of that. If your kid has the potential and wants to use it, they will do it themselves. Both our girls have achieved their good ranks based on their own desire to excel. So lighten up on your kids already! (Though that's something I don't have to tell most regulars around here.)

The Discipline of God

It is part of the discipline of God to make His loved ones perfect through trial and suffering. Only by carrying the Cross can one reach the Resurrection. It was precisely this part of Our Lord's Mission that the devil attacked. The temptations were meant to divert Our Lord from His task of salvation through sacrifice. Instead of the Cross as a means of winning the souls of men, Satan suggested three short cuts to popularity: an economic one, another based on marvels, and a third, which was political. Very few people believe in the devil these days, which suits the devil very well. He is always helping to circulate the news of his own death. The essence of God is existence, and He defines himself as: "I am Who am." The essence of the devil is the lie, and he defines himself as: "I am who am not." Satan has very little trouble with those who do not believe in him; they are already on his side.
Life of Christ by Fulton Sheen

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

The Divine Disturber

Simeon was practically calling Him the "Divine Disturber," Who would provoke human hearts either to be good or evil. Once confronted with Him, they must subscribe to light or darkness. Before everyone else they can be "broadminded"; but His Presence reveals their hearts to be either fertile ground or hard rock. He cannot come to hearts without clarifying them and dividing them; once in His Presence, a heart discovers both its own thoughts about goodness and its own thoughts about God.

This could never be so if He were just a humanitarian teacher. Simeon knew this well, and He told Our Lord's mother that Her Son must suffer because his life would be so much opposed to the complacent maxims by which most men govern their lives. He would act on one soul in one way, and on another in another way, as the sun shines on wax and softens it, and shines on mud and hardens it. There is no difference in the sun, only in the objects on which it shines. As the Light of the World, He would be a joy to the good and the lovers of light; but He would be like a probing searchlight to those who were evil and preferred to live in darkness. The seed is the same, but the soil is different, and each soil will be judged by the way it reacts to the seed. The will of Christ to save is limited by the free reaction of each soul either to accept or reject. That was what Simeon meant by saying:

The secret thoughts of many will be laid bare. Luke 2:35


... Simeon also said that the Babe would disclose the true inner dispositions of men. He would test the thoughts of all who were to encounter Him. Pilate would temporize and then weaken; Herod would mock; Judas would lean to a kind of greedy social security; Nicodemus would sneak in darkness to find the Light; tax collectors would become honest; prostitutes, pure; rich young men would reject His poverty; prodigals would return home; Peter would repent; an Apostle would hang himself. From that day to this, He continues to be a sign to be contradicted. It was fitting, therefore, that He should die on a piece of wood in which one bar contradicted the other. The vertical bar of God's will is negated by the horizontal bar of the contradicting human will. As the Circumcision pointed to the shedding of blood, so the Purification foretold His Crucifixion.
Life of Christ by Fulton Sheen

Monday, February 21, 2005

Quick Reviews

BARBERSHOP 2
Not quite as good as the first but not bad at all. This time around a big developer is taking all the individuality out of Calvin's neighborhood by buying all the little businesses and putting in franchises, specifically a "Nappy Cutz" (loved that name ... the perfect franchise idea) right across the street from the barbershop. I found Queen Latifah's beauty shop next door rather distracting and could have done without that part. I did like showing Eddie's back story set in the 60's when he first came to work for Calvin's father. Glimpses of black history were the contrast that gave meaning to the modern-day struggles. If you liked the first movie this one is definitely worth renting.

DANNY DECKCHAIR
This is a charming Australian comedy about Danny, a cement worker, who lives for his annual vacation ... two weeks of camping. When his girlfriend cancels the vacation, Danny experiments by tying helium balloons onto his deckchair and then floats away into the sky. We then see Danny's new life in the small town where he lands and his girlfriend's total enjoyment of the media circus that springs up over the notoriety of the escapade. It is a low-key and charming movie, perfect for the end of a hard week.

ONMYOJI
Hannah rented this and we had no idea what sort of a movie it was. Believe me when I tell you that after watching half this movie, we still weren't quite sure. In fact, I was stunned on looking at Amazon this morning to see that this was Japan's top grossing movie in 2001. Shoddy special effects and pretty bad acting were two main reasons. To be fair, we suspected that there was a fair amount of cultural information we were lacking in order to "get" what was going on. Unless you are fairly in tune with Japanese culture and movies, I'd stay away ... far, far away ... from this movie.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

This Good Catholic Boy ...

Benji

Benji Madden, Good Charlotte

... wrote this song ...

"Wondering"

If you want me to wait
I would wait for you
If you tell me to stay
I would stay right through
If you don't wanna say
Anything at all
I'm happy wondering

Since I was a young man
I never was a fun man
I never had a plan and no security
Then ever since I met you
I never could forget you
I only wanna get you right here next to me

[chorus]
Cause everybody (a-whoa-oh-oh)
Needs someone that they can trust and
You're somebody (a-whoa-oh-oh)
That I found just in time
If you want me to wait
I would wait for you
If you tell me to stay
I would stay right through
If you don't wanna say
Anything at all
I'm happy wondering


Now my life is changing
It's always rearranging
It's always getting stranger than I thought it ever could
Ever since I found you
I wanna be around you
I want to get down to the point that I need you

[chorus]

Don't tell me
The bad news
Don't tell me anything at all
Just tell me
That you need me
And stay right here with me

[chorus]

... about his dog. Awwww. Read the chorus again ... I think those are his dog's words there. Double awwwwwww.

Why do I say he's a "good Catholic boy?" Well, I'm not positive but here's his twin brother with his tatoos of the Virgin Mary on one arm and the sacred heart of Jesus on the other. So, just guessing here...

JOJO

Joel Madden, Good Charlotte

Thanks to my "beat reporter", Rose, for this one, presented as supporting evidence when revising her "Mom mix" playlist ... just keeping me current, ya know! (And if you like these pictures you ought to get an eyeful of the posters on her wall!)

Friday, February 18, 2005

Just One More Angel Story

Many saints and holy people enjoyed friendship with their Guardian Angel, whose intercession they frequently besought. Blessed Josemaria Escriva [now Saint Escriva] had a special devotion to the Guardian Angels ... Blessed Josemaria dealt with his own Guardian Angel and customarily greeted the angel of the person to whom he was speaking. He called him "a great accomplice" in the apostolate, and asked him for material favours too. During one particular period he called his constant companion my watchkeeper, because he had entrusted him with getting his watch going when it stopped, since he didn't have enough money to have it repaired. He set aside Tuesday as a day on which to put more effort into communicating with his Guardian Angel.

Once during a time of intense anticlerical persecution in Madrid a would-be aggressor stood menacingly in Josemaria's path with the obvious intention of doing him harm. Someone suddenly stood between them and drove off the assailant. It all happened in an instant. The protector came up after the incident and whispered to him: "mangy donkey, Mangy donkey," the expression Blessed Josemaria used to refer to himself in the intimacy of his soul. Only his confessor knew about this. Peace and joy filled his heart as he recognized the intervention of his Angel.

My "met my Guardian Angel" story is by no means as definitive as St. Escriva's. However, I do not know who else it could have been. This happened about 2 years ago. I was pulling up to a red light at a big intersection on my regular way to work. I was in the middle lane of the five lanes on that side of the street, the second car back. As I was slowing down, I noticed a homeless man on the median leaning nonchalantly with his back against a streetlight post. This is a place where a lot of homeless people begged. I was used to handing out granola bars practically every time through there. What made me notice this man though was that as I glanced at him, he was making specific eye contact with me, with an expression on his face of ... it is hard to describe ... quizzical, humorous, and, above all, familiar. It was as if he already knew me and was giving me this look to get my attention. As I stopped, he stopped looking at me and then looked unconcernedly straight ahead down the road behind me, not at any other cars or people. He was ignoring all of them. I really don't remember much about how he looked, except he was not old, his beard and hair were the exact same shade of golden brown as his clothes.

I sat there for a minute. I was out of granola bars. I was ignoring him too as I don't give money. Then I couldn't stand it. I kept thinking of St. John Vianney's injunction to give to the poor and, then, there had been that look. So I grabbed my purse and started opening it as I put the window down. He was already almost at my car ... now how he did that when I had just decided to give ... anyway, I gave him a few dollars. I didn't even look at his face. He said, "Thanks" and I said, "You're welcome."

Then he headed toward the rear of my car. I thought, "Oh, he's going to that gas station on the corner to buy food. He really was hungry." I looked in my rear view mirror. There were no cars behind me, although there were cars around me on all sides and a car in front of me. The man was gone. Well, he must be in the gas station parking lot. No. Or at an angle where I couldn't see him behind my car. No. He was gone. Vanished, you might say.

So I don't know who it was. But I will never forget that look. And I don't know why, if that was an angelic presence, he would have wanted those few dollars. Although that experience solidified my feelings about giving to the poor and it happened just a couple of days before a big debate I was part of in a women's group (which is briefly chronicled here).

So now I am done with angel stories, perhaps mercifully. I have heard a lot about others' stories so I'm passing the torch ... who will catch it?

Lectio Divina

This scoop is from my best friend Joan who went on a retreat this week that focused on Lectio Divina.
Step 1: "Statio"
Find your "sacred space" to read where it is quiet and at a regular time.

Step 2: "Lectio"
Invite the Holy Spirit in and read only "4 fingers worth" of Scripture very slowly.

Step 3: "Meditatio"
repeat a word or phrase which speaks to you (from the above Scripture) over and over, very gently and slowly. Let the word / phrase enter into you. Do this until you tire from it.

Step 4: "Oratio"
Begin a dialogue with God
A. Prayer of Repentance
B. Prayer of Intercession for others
C. Prayers of Thanksgiving
D. Prayers of Praise to God
E. Prayers of Self Surrender

Step 5: "Contemplatio"
This is God's Step when He takes over and you don't realize what is happening to you and lose track of the time. This is the final "letting go" which removes the last veil of the self.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

More Angel Talk

After saying yesterday that I didn't want to read any cutesy "I met my angel" books, I now am going to tell a little story ... no, not about how I met my angel. That comes later. Ha! This is about my awareness of my angel.

I always have this sense that my angel is standing next to me with his hand on my right shoulder. I only notice this when I think about my guardian angel but don't know if it's "all in my head" or not. Although there was one time when my angel was gone. It was during last year's Holy Thursday evening Mass. It's complicated and I won't go into the story here but I knew Hannah was distraught, by herself, and that was not a good thing at that point. I was very upset at this and told my guardian angel to go look after her. I didn't think about that again (I was at Mass after all) until a few minutes later when I suddenly thought about that "order" and realized that I felt all alone. No "hand on the shoulder" presence around at all. This was very strange ... and maybe all in my head? I kept mentally "testing" ... is he back? No. Is he here? No. About 20 minutes later, I was not alone any more. So was I grateful? Heck no! I mentally ordered him back to watch over Hannah ... and got this feeling of "she didn't need me anymore." Naturally, when I checked with Hannah later that was about the time that Tom showed up and she was fine.

So enough about me, here is what few people much smarter than I say about guardian angels. These quotes are all from In Conversation with God: Lent and Eastertide.
... all the guardian angels will gather together at the universal judgment in order to bear witness themselves to the ministry that they exercised through God's command for the salvation of each man.
St. John Chrysostom, Catena Aurea
Just as fathers, when their sons have to travel among bad and dangerous roads, make sure they are accompanied by people who can guard them and defend them from danger, so in the same way does our heavenly Father, as we set out along this path that leads to our heavenly home. He gives each one of us an angel. He does this so that, strengthened by his power and help, we may be freed from the snares cunningly set by our enemies, and may repel the terrible assaults that they make on us. He wants us to walk straight along the path with such guides, so that no obstacle placed in our way by the enemy should turn us aside from the way that leads to heaven.
Catechism of the Council of Trent
The saints intercede for men. The guardian angels not only pray for men, but they carry out duties towards them. If intercession takes place through the blessed in Heaven, through the guardian angels there is both intercession and direct intervention; they are at the same time advocates for men before God and ministers of God before men.
G. Huber, My Angel Will Go Before You
Have confidence in your guardian angel. Treat him as a lifelong friend -- that is what he is -- and he will render you a thousand services in the ordinary affairs of each day.
Saint Escriva, The Way
We must learn to speak to the angels. Turn to them now; tell your guardian angel that these spiritual waters of Lent will not flow off your soul but will go deep, because your are sorry. Ask them to take up to the Lord your good will, which, by the grace of God, has grown out of your wretchedness like a lily grown on a dunghill.
Saint Escriva, Christ is passing by

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Let's Talk Angels

I usually have some "mind's eye" angel thinking going on. During Mass I think about the fact that there are double the visible inhabitants, because we each have our guardian angel with us. I read somewhere that angels are always worshiping when the Host is consecrated ... I always have that mind's-eye vision of them prostrating themselves at that point. St. Josemaria Escriva always mentally greeted the guardian angel of the person and sometimes I do the same. It's a big deal to some to know their guardian angel's name. Although I now have enough of a sense of my angel not to care, I believe that his name popped into my head when my sponsor was telling me about her attempts to find out her angel's name. More important to me is to be sure to ask my guardian angel for guidance during the day ... according to St. Escriva, the more you "talk" to your angel, the more sensitive you are to any guidance.

I was fascinated by the entire concept of angels when I converted but wanted the real scoop ... not one of those cutesy "I met my angel" books that were popular at that time (2000). Wouldn't you know, Peter Kreeft (is there anything that guy can't write about?) has a wonderful book, Angels and Demons: What Do We Really Know About Them? Here is the quickest possible Angels 101 course from the first page of the book ...
O.K., so I'm browsing through this book and wondering: why should I buy it? What can you tell me about angels in one page?
  1. They really exist. Not just in our minds, or our myths, or our symbols, or our culture. They are as real as your dog, or your sister, or electricity.

  2. They're present, right here, right now, right next to you, reading these words with you.

  3. They're not cute, cuddly, comfortable, chummy, or "cool." They are fearsome and formidable. They are huge. They are warriors.

  4. They are the real "extra-terrestrials," the real "Supermen," the ultimate aliens. Their powers are far beyond those of all fictional creatures.

  5. They are more brilliant minds than Einstein.

  6. They can literally move the heavens and the earth if God permits them.

  7. There are also evil angels, fallen angels, demons, or devils. These too are not myths. Demon possessions, and exorcisms, are real.

  8. Angels are aware of you, even though your can't usually see or hear them. But you can communicate with them. You can talk to them without even speaking.

  9. You really do have your very own "guardian angel." Everybody does.

  10. Angels often come disguised. "Do not neglect hospitality, for some have entertained angels unawares" -- that's a warning from life's oldest and best instruction manual.

  11. We are on a protected part of a great battlefield between angels and devils, extending to eternity.

  12. Angels are sentinels standing at the crossroads where life meets death. They work especially at moments of crisis, at the brink of disaster -- for bodies, for souls, and for nations.

Stooping to Heaven

Of every other child that is born into the world, friends can say that it resembles his mother. This was the first instance in time that anyone could say that the mother resembled the Child. This is the beautiful paradox of the Child Who made His mother; the mother, too was only a child. It was also the first time in the history of this world that anyone could ever think of heaven as being anywhere else than "somewhere up there"; when the Child was in her arms, Mary now looked down to Heaven ...

... Because He was born in a cave, all who wish to see Him must stoop. To stoop is the mark of humility. The proud refuse to stoop and, therefore, they miss Divinity. Those, however, who bend their egos and enter, find that they are not in a cave at all, but in a new universe where sits a Babe on His mother's lap, with the world poised on His fingers ...

Only two classes of people found the Babe; the shepherds and the Wise Men; the simple and the learned; those who knew that they knew nothing, and those who knew that they did not know everything. He is never seen by the man of one book; never by the man who thinks he knows. Not even God can tell the proud anything! Only the humble can find God.
Life of Christ by Fulton J. Sheen

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Spontaneity

I once read that the reason for the saying, "Scaredy cat" is that cats have to think things over before they act. When something startling happens they run to a safe place to think things over. I knew exactly how they felt. Not that I run away ... but I like to have things planned, organized, all figured out ... then something throws everything off and I have to have a moment (or several) to settle myself to this new reality before acting. So, I am definitely not spontaneous.

I am much better about it than I used to be. Having children and then teenagers imbues a certain amount of flexibility just for the sake of survival. However, the kids have been warned from time to time about my "cat-like" qualities. They know how to spring things on me ... or that if I am not reacting well, just to come back in about 5 or 10 minutes and I will be all calmed down.

After reading that, it wouldn't surprise you to know that I am always ahead of the blog (so to speak) on material. I have a bunch of saved posts, meditations, jokes, etc. When I come across them, they get tucked away into a safe corner for the right moment.

Last week, I suddenly started to get the feeling that I should be more spontaneous about all this ... the blogging. Ok. I can do that. Until Saturday morning when I had copied the selected Weekend Meditation out of the file. I went back for the joke and ... "What do you mean AN ENGINEER WILL CHECK ON THIS PROBLEM?" The file was gone ... all the quotes, all the meditations, all the jokes ... and me with 12 minutes left before my Lent timer went off. Aaaaargh!

It crossed my mind ... so am I being forced into spontaneity? Just as I thought that, an email came from Tom's dear Aunt CB. Lo and behold, a hilarious joke about a blonde on an airplane. Ok, message received. I can't abandon planning entirely. Those Bible studies take time. However, more "off the cuff" activity is gonna be at this URL.

The Form of Emptiness

THE REED OF GOD by Caryll Houselander
That virginal quality which, for want of a better word, I call emptiness is at the beginning of this contemplation.

It is not a formless emptiness, a void without meaning; on the contrary it has a shape, a form given to it by the purpose for which it is intended.

It is emptiness like the hollow in the reed, the narrow riftless emptiness which can have only one destiny: to receive the piper's breath and to utter the song that is in his heart.

It is emptiness like the hollow in the cup, shaped to receive water or wine.

It is emptiness like that of the bird's nest, built in a round warm ring to receive the little bird.

The pre-Advent emptiness of Our Lady's purposeful virginity was indeed like those three things.

She was a reed through which the Eternal Love was to be piped as a shepherd's song.

She was the flowerlike chalice into which the purest water of humanity was to be poured, mingled with wine, changed to the crimson blood of love, and lifted up in sacrifice.

She was the warm nest rounded to the shape of humanity to receive the Divine Little Bird...

It is the purpose for which something is made that decides the material which is used.

The chalice is made of pure gold because it must contain the Blood of Christ.

The bird's nest is made of scraps of soft down, leaves and feathers and twigs, because it must be a strong warm home for the young birds...

The material which God has found apt for it is human nature: blood, flesh, bone, salt, water, will, intellect.

It is impossible to say too often or too strongly that human nature, body and soul together, is the material for God's will in us...

Think again of the three symbols I have used for the virginal emptiness of Mary. These are each made from material which must undergo some experience to be made ready for its purpose.

The reed grows by the streams. It is the simplest of things, but it must be cut by the sharp knife, hollowed out, and the stops must be cut in it; it must be shaped and pierced before it can utter the shepherd's song. It is the narrowest emptiness in the world, but the little reed utters infinite music.

The chalice does not grow like the flower it resembles. It is made of gold; gold must be gathered from the water and the mud and hewn from the rock, it must be beaten by countless little blows that give the chalice of sacrifice its fitting beauty.

The twigs and fluff and leaves of the bird's nest are brought from all sorts of places, from wherever the brave careful mother alights, with fluttering but daring heart, to fetch them, from the distances and explorations that only the spread wings of love know. It is the shape of her breast the moulds the nest to its inviting roundness.

Thus it is with us -- we may be formed by the knife, pared down, cut to the least, to the minimum of our own being; we may be marked indelibly by a succession of strokes, blown from the gold-beater's hammer; or we may be shaped for our destiny by the love and tender devotion of a devoted family.

I don't know why no one has ever mentioned Caryll Houselander among all the wonderful Catholic writers that are quoted from so often. I have seen her mentioned only in Magnificat and every time that I have read an excerpt it has spoken right to my heart. If I had let myself go I could easily have put the entire book on this site. I had to stop myself from underlining practically everything in it. It is a wonderful contemplation of the Virgin Mary and, through her as always, we get a clearer and better look at her son, Jesus. The excerpt above says better than I can what sort of a writer and thinker she was. It is simple but provides many opportunities for our own contemplation.

Monday, February 14, 2005

After Yesterday's Thoughts on Temptation ...

... I came across this in The Word Among Us.
God wants to transform our lives, but it doesn't happen on its own. It's miraculous, not magical. Transformation comes as we take our small human efforts and mix them with faith in God's mighty power.

A good reminder for me as I am shocking myself with how easy it is to give in bit by bit, sliding into temptation. No wonder Lent calls us back to God; I am surely being shown how much help I need. But I must make my best effort as well as remembering to call on Him for help.

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Temptation

I just love the fact that the Church knows so well what we are facing after the first few days of Lent ... temptation to give up our penance, to slide just a little. So the readings were about Adam and Eve giving in to temptation, and then Jesus resisting all the devil's blandishments in the desert. Today's meditation from In Conversation with God has some great insights about that very subject ... so I thought I'd drop them here for you. My special favorite is the first quote from Ronald Knox that makes me think of the devil as a very successful used car salesman ... which would be funny if it were not that I am so often gullible that I fall for his wiles.
The temptations of Our Lord are also the temptations of his servants individually. But the scale of them, naturally, is different; the devil is not going to offer you and me all the kingdoms of the world. He knows his market; offers, like a good salesman, just as much as he thinks his customer will take. I suppose he thinks, with some justice, that most of us could be had for five thousand a year, and a great many of us for much less. Nor does he, to us, propose his conditions so openly; his offer comes to us wrapped up in all sorts of plausible shapes. But, if he sees the chance he is not slow to point out to you and to me how we could get the thing we want if we would be untrue to our better selves, and not infrequently if we would be untrue to our Catholic loyalties.
Ronald Knox, Pastoral Sermons
He allows temptation, and uses it providentially to purify you, to make you holy, to detach you from the things of the earth, to lead you where He is and by the route he wants you to take, so as to make you happy I (in a life which may not be comfortable); so as to give you maturity, understanding and effectiveness in your apostolic work with souls, and ... above all, to make you humble, very humble.
S. Canals, Jesus as Friend
But do not forget, my friend, that you need weapons in this spiritual battle And your weapons have to be these: continuous prayer; sincerity and frankness with your spiritual director; the Holy Eucharist and the Sacrament of Penance; a generous spirit of Christian mortification which will bring you to flee from the occasion of sin and to avoid idleness; humility of heart and a tender and filial devotion to Our Lady, Comforter of the Afflicted and Refuge of Sinners.
S. Canals, Jesus as Friend

Friday, February 11, 2005

Our Next Vacation "Theme"

Montreal last summer turned out, quite unexpectedly, to have a Catholic basilica/cathedral/church theme as we visited at least one per day.

This summer my family will be having our first-ever reunion as my brother is now back in this country. We'll be gathering in Kansas City (Mo.) which is near where we spent most of our formative years. Actually, we grew up outside of Bonner Springs, but, believe me, KC is the much more entertaining choice and where we escaped to whenever possible.

I had forgotten until my sister mentioned it yesterday, that the Truman Presidential Library is near there. That perked up Tom's ears as he read a masterful book about Truman. My sister and I went on to reminisce about the time our grandparents took us to the Eisenhower Library in Abilene, KS. Truth to tell, the Truman Library just didn't have what it took to impress us after seeing the Eisenhower Library which also has all the WWII memorabilia. 'Nuff said. Tom is a huge Eisenhower fan and Abilene isn't that far out of our way on the way home. Plans have been made, itineraries made, routes mapped.

It looks as if this summer will be our "Presidential Library" theme vacation.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Sundays in Lent

This is something that I wondered about as a new Catholic. Do Sundays "count" during Lent? Do you get a day off from what you've "given up" or do you keep on going? Everyone had a different answer. Then Father Hamilton's mother came to him with the same question and Catholic Ragemonkeys wrote this article. Short answer, it's up to you ... but to know why, read the article.

Wednesday, February 9, 2005

Oh, My Humanity!

It's one thing to have lofty and wonderful thoughts about Lent. Then comes the reality of Ash Wednesday morning with the child who, "Oh, by the way..." is going to spend the night with a friend tonight and then "Did I mention...?" needs money, hasn't planned for being gone, etc. Add on my poor stressed husband with too much work he is valiantly trying to handle, volunteer work where no one is giving him any info to go from, and his mother whose rapidly failing memory is requiring immediate attention from all the sons. Let's stir in a BIG pile of work for me and that need/desire to catch up on everything (that choleric personality surfacing?).

Oh, the snappish-ness of my morning. All of which was withheld from public comment, although somewhat imperfectly. They know me too well and I didn't cover very well ... until I remembered what I had read this morning. (Did I remember to bring it to work so I could quote it? pffft! Of course not! I grabbed the wrong book.) Basically it said that anytime that we are irritated, angry, upset, want to strike out ... then the fault is not in others. The fault is in us because we are not close to Christ in that moment.

That really set me back on my heels. Not close to Christ. Well, that's what going into the desert is all about, isn't it? Oh, thanks so much, God, for plunging me in ASAP, making me actively seek Christ, making me think about it because of my tetchy mood. That would be the prayer that gets instantly answered. (His sense of humor again ... He cracks me up. And then I just have to laugh at myself.)

Tuesday, February 8, 2005

As We Gather Ourselves Together

Looking around St. Blog's you get the sense that something big is happening. For the last week or two a blogger here and a blogger there have been mentioning Lent, examining themselves for faults to amend or appropriate sacrifices to make, preparing themselves for the desert. It is almost upon us, this time of penance and sacrifice, and the posts are coming from all sides now. Where have I failed? What am I lacking? How can I prepare myself to please God, to meet Him in that spare, spartan ground of the Lenten desert? No one is bemoaning the need. No one is talking about that last splurge of Mardi Gras. We are past that. It is almost insignificant. Our heads are far beyond that ... we are preparing to go together, though separately, to meet God in the place where he met Abraham, Moses, Jesus ... the desert. I feel as if I am watching the scene from The Ten Commandments where the children of Israel are all gathering together with goats, sheep, children, carts to follow Moses out of Egypt. They went to seek their freedom and we go to seek ours. I love that feeling of togetherness, camaraderie, as everyone writes about preparing for Lent. This is a part of the body of Christ I have not been privileged to see before. Though I go separately to struggle with my self discipline, denial, and prayer, I am not alone. We will travel together like a flock of birds wheeling through the sky, twittering to each other ... in the desert.

What I'm Doing for Lent

GIVING UP
Spending so much time blogging and on the computer in general. In the past I've given up computer games altogether and that was tough, but I think that merely limiting my computer time will be more challenging. When I say that I'll be putting on the morning's entries and then spending just an hour both reading others' blogs and working on mine, you can see how much time I've been slipping into the computer. When I tell you that my severest critics, my family, totally accept this as Lenten penance that just emphasizes it. I'll be using a timer and stopping whatever I am doing exactly when it goes off ... now that's going to take discipline.

ADDING ON
I'll be saying the Angelus every day at noon. This is a habit I've always wanted to acquire and Lent is the perfect time to add it.

OUR FAMILY DEVOTION
We'll be saying a decade of the rosary together as a family during Lent. This is another habit that I've been wanting to add and one that Tom is amenable to, so now we're just trying to decide on the best time ... right after dinner or right between our ritual viewing of "The Simpsons" and going to bed. Both have pros and cons but whichever we choose I'm very excited about this one. Our family has not been in the habit of praying together except before dinner and I've been trying to figure out how to get some of that into our lives.

All of these are habits I hope to keep going after Lent ends. They are definitely going to take some leaning on Our Lord to accomplish for a variety of reasons. I'm excited about going into the desert this year!

Monday, February 7, 2005

Holy Mackerel, What a Show!

KING KONG
This is one of my all-time favorite movies and a true classic in its own right. King Kong is a simple story: intrepid filmmaker, Carl Denham, leads an expedition to Skull Island where they discover a 50-foot gorilla who becomes enamored of Ann Darrow (Fay Wray). He is captured and brought back to New York City as the "8th wonder of the world" where he inevitably runs amuck with Ann clutched in one hand and meets his death atop the Empire State Building. The skill of the movie makers is such that we thoroughly enjoyed it some 70 years later. Fay Wray has a scream that could stop a freight train; you could hear it over practically anything that the movie threw at it. The animation was star quality at the time and though it put the girls forcibly in mind of the stop animation they've seen in such modern classics as Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, it soon was forgotten in watching Kong wrestle with a T-rex.

It also was fun watching with the girls because, as fanciful as this movie was, it opened the door on a bit of history. It is set during the Depression so Denham watches a line of women going to a soup kitchen in searching for his starlet. That made us talk about how all-pervading it was that it was a common setting for this movie. We suddenly realized that love interest "Jack" looked a lot like Harrison Ford and this made us wonder if girls would talk about seeing the movie again to watch this cutie. When it came to the scenes with the island natives, both girls were shocked at how they were negatively portrayed and talked about as a matter of course ... no matter what some may think, we've come a long way in racial equality. Rose loved the way that Carl Denham talked. It was clipped and forceful and full of corny phrases (like the title of this post which is what he said when peeking through the tall grass to see the natives' rituals).

Although terribly predictable, it was a lot of fun watching terror stricken sailors meet their demise in totally clueless ways ... tip: when running from a 60-foot-tall monster, do not climb a tree; then you're just at eye level and easy to pick off. Also, it was a howl watching a variety of herbivores sport sharp, pointy teeth and eat one sailor after another.

I had seen this several times but only on Saturday afternoon "Monster Movies" shows. I did not remember Kong squashing natives underfoot or casually tossing New Yorkers back like a handful of popcorn. We assumed that these sequences had been cut for commercial time but then I discovered this in one Amazon reviewer's comments:
Final Notes: This is the "restored" version of the film, but it still does not include the legendary scene when four crewmen who are shaken off the log by Kong fall into a ravine where they are eaten alive by giant spiders. When first previewed the scene stopped the movie cold and Cooper pulled it from the film. The scenes that were cut in the late 1930s and not restored until the 1970s were (a) where Kong pulls Ann's clothes off; (b) the shots of the Apatosaurus (nee Brontosaurus) biting the sailors; (c) Kong eating natives when he breaks through the gate; (d) Kong stepping on a native; (e) Kong biting a New Yorker after escaping from the theater; and (f) Kong grabbing the wrong woman from the hotel and throwing her to her death. It would be nice if they could find the spider sequence or any of the other bits we know were cut by Cooper before the film was released, but it is probably never going to happen.

The print quality is not very good but that didn't matter as we were caught up in the movie. It's a lot of fun and we wound up talking fondly about it the next day as well ... perfect for a family that wants something different.

Friday, February 4, 2005

Why Do I Read So Many Vampire Books?

SUNSHINE by Robin McKinley

Although it is true that I have read Dracula by Bram Stoker about ten times, it is not true that I have a special love for the vampire genre. It just seems that my favorite authors like to occasionally turn their hand to writing vampire tales. What I find interesting is that they all have very logical twists on why vampires act as they do, while spinning wonderful stories at the same time.

Such is the case with Sunshine by Robin McKinley. Sunshine is a young woman who bakes "cinnamon rolls as big as your head" for her family's coffeehouse in a post-Voodoo War world where humans fight for existence with other "races" such as demons, werewolves, vampires, angles, ghouls, incubui, etc. She is kidnapped by a vampire gang and chained in a decrepit ballroom as a snack for magnetic, half-starved Constantine, a powerful vampire whose enemy shackled him there to perish slowly from daylight and deprivation. They manage to escape and form an alliance to fight the enemy while escaping detection by human SOFs (Special Other Forces)... otherwise, of course, it would be a very short book.

This book is loaded with coffeehouse ambiance, food talk, vampire-human attraction, mystery solving, magic, and self discovery. Anyone who has ever read anything by Robin McKinley knows that her books also include a lot of talk, talk, talk. I enjoy it because I like her style but admit that if it doesn't grab you then you'll be bored to death. However, if you like Robin McKinley (Beauty, The Outlaws of Sherwood, and one of my all-time favorite books, The Blue Sword) then you will find this thoroughly enjoyable. [Warning: it does contain a couple of sex or almost-sex scenes ... nothing too graphic but I'm not going to be passing this one along to Hannah or Rose, at least any time soon.]

Thursday, February 3, 2005

All Under Heaven

HERO
If you told me I would watch a Chinese kung fu movie and come out raving about how good it was, I would have said that you were raving. I really hated Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Hero is simply in another class. Everything is presented with such simplicity even when it turns out to have underlying levels of complexity. The use of color, music, wind, shimmering silk, water and even ink makes this a work of art. Even the kung fu scenes had an elegance and grace that kept me riveted. It made sense and that probably is the greatest compliment I can give it. By the end we were all riveted, wondering what choice Nameless would make.

If you see the movie be sure to remember this note from Jeffrey Overstreet when watching. I forgot but find that it adds resonance to bring the message beyond just applying to China and to applying to our lives as a whole.
Note: Near the end of the film, a character delivers an important message in two words—"Our land." In the Chinese version, there are actually three words—"All under heaven." Zhang Yimou changed it out of concern that it would not translate properly. Frankly, I prefer "All under heaven."

Cooperating with the Spirit

We all know that God wants to reveal himself to us through Scripture. But just like everything else in the Christian life, Scripture won't just magically make sense to us. It's up to us to cooperate with the Spirit as we read the Bible. And that takes some time, some attention, and some perseverance.

The following guidelines may help you cooperate with the Spirit. Try implementing them over the next few days and see if they make a difference.
  • Select a passage from the Bible you want to read...

  • Don't read right away but begin with prayer. If you feel like singing or even humming a hymn you heard at Mass, do it.

  • When you feel ready, read the Scripture passage you have chosen.

  • Slowly read it again, dwelling on the words or phrases that struck you.

  • Use your imagination to place yourself in the scene described in this passage.

  • Imagine that Jesus is sitting across from you and speaking these words directly to you.

  • Be still. During this quiet period, some words or pictures may bubble up in your thoughts. This may be God speaking to you -- especially if the images and thoughts lead you closer to Christ, fill you with hope, or stir your heart to love and forgive.

  • Try to write out what you think God is saying to you and close with a prayer of praise and thanksgiving.
God wants to reveal himself to us in Scripture. Only through quiet reflection will we learn to hear his voice.