Friday, July 29, 2005

Blessings and Afflictions

"I dreamed I was getting a guided tour of heaven?" Emmylou says. "I was wearing a jumpsuit and a hard hat and my tour guide, he was the same as I was, and we were in this giant building, kind of an industrial shed like in those boring old movies they used to show us in high school, how they make paper or ice cream. And there was this big huge machine in it, whirring and clanking away, and there was a conveyor belt coming out of one end of it, and on the conveyor belt were rows of golden bricks, but softer: they looked like giant Twinkies, row after row of them, and when they got to the end of the conveyor belt they fell off of it. I looked to see where they were falling to and I saw that there was a big hole in the floor there and through it I could see clouds and blue sky and the earth far below. I asked the guide what the Twinkie things were, and he said they were blessings, and I remember thinking, in the dream, how marvelous is the Lord showering all these blessings down on us. Then we moved on, across an alley and into another big huge shed with the same kind of machine cranking away, the same conveyor belt, the same giant Twinkies falling down, and I said to the guide, 'Oh, these are more blessings,' and he said, 'No, those are afflictions,' and I said, 'Oh, but they look just the same as the blessings,' and he said, 'They are the same!'"
Valley of Bones by Michael Gruber
My partway-through-the-book review is here.

Responding to the Test

GENESIS 42
What have Joseph's brothers learned in the time that they were parted from him? A lot more than I thought on a first reading. Digging beneath the surface shows how changed and repentant they are.
A guilty conscience is worth little if it does not lead to change. A comparison of the two homecomings reveals that Joseph's brothers are not the proud, selfish, jealous brutes they were when they sold Joseph.

The first thing to notice is the increased sense of family. The brothers seem to see themselves as all in this together, no longer every man for himself. Judah, who left after selling Joseph for a life in Canaan, is back in the picture. And whereas before throwing Joseph in the pit they called him "this dreamer" and to Jacob they called
him "your son," now they call Joseph "our brother" and "the lad" and say to Joseph "we are 12 brothers." Even though Joseph is thought dead, they consider him part of the family.

Second is the lack of jealousy or anger at Jacob's favoritism. Even though Jacob obviously prefers Benjamin now that Joseph is gone, there is no sign of resentment among the brothers about this or that Jacob kept him behind or that his absence endangers them.

Perhaps most telling is the sons' honesty with Jacob. When they "lost" Joseph, they were heartless liars; now they are honest. On the earlier occasion they offered no information, but allowed Jacob to come to his own grisly conclusion. This time they tell everything that happened on their trip. And the first time they offered insincere comfort, whereas this time they are clearly distressed.

Finally, there is a genuine effort to make good. When Jacob accuses them of bereaving him of his children, Reuben doesn't just try to offer comfort, he offers his own sons if he fails to bring Benjamin back. His solution may not move Jacob, but he is at least trying to make things right. When Joseph was lost no one seemed to consider their father's feelings, but now they take care not to cause their father any more grief than he already has experienced.
All quoted material is from Catholic Exchange's "Catholic Scripture Study." See the sidebar under "Bible Study: Genesis" for links to references used.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Those Happy Golden Years

My mother received this as an email and started thinking back to what things really were like when she was young and growing up in Cincinnati. She then produced this treasure for her children which I am sharing with y'all.
This makes me think of growing up in Cleveland, taking off for a Saturday with a couple of friends and a sandwich, and riding our bikes through neighborhoods and finding patches of woodlands still left undeveloped. It reminds me of buying a big old Royal Crown soda to go with the sandwich, too. I don't think my parents worried, or I wouldn't have been allow to go. It was a time of scavanger hunt parties, and people even walked places like to the little neighborhood stores that were always just a few blocks away. Not quite as good as Mayberry, but we never came to harm or even a hint of it!

So, even in a large town, suburban life was pretty easygoing. I also remember living in the outskirts of Cleveland before baby Brenda, and riding downtown on the trolley: I took my sister Beverly to ballet class, and bought baby clothes for Brenda, too. Cleveland wasn't nearly as nice, but it was still OK as a downtown. The May Company still reigned, and I still remember that I heard "Sleigh Ride" for the first time walking through downtown. Can you imagine a time like that? No cell phones, no street people, no TV.

To speak of one more Cleveland thing, Father was always proud of the fact that he knew Chef Boyardi and used to have lunch at his little downtown eaterie before he became famous.

And speaking of those old days: there were school lunches that were never refrigerated but left in lockers. None of us died from eating them.

Those neighborhood stores were always family run, and their stock was shelved to the ceiling. Tongs were used to reach a high level selection. They had veggies, but only in season, and think what that meant: potatoes, onions, and just a few other things unless it was summer and there were green beans. I don't remember meat, but they did have the super-licious ice cream Drumsticks. (Popsicles, too, but then there was the ice cream cart every afternoon jingling through your neighborhood from which to buy them. Rare treats; money was scarce.)

These stores were literally everywhere. Just walk a few blocks and you'd find one. For families like mine, who didn't have a car, they were a true convenience. When we did supermarket, we had to ride a streetcar and lug bags of groceries to bring them home. Or, as my father and I did, drag a kid's wagon to the store and haul it home, loaded and loudly protesting to the point of embarrassment to a young teen. As "recently" as the early 60's in Wisconsin, there were still neighborhood stores. In the Missouri town where we live now you can still see their ghosts in the older neigborhoods.

Of course there was no AC, so you just sweated, kept the curtains closed, and rested after lunch. Poor Mother, I can't imagine how hard it must have been running a household, ironing, hanging wash out and having dinner on the spot for Father when he came home. I used to sit on the front and steps and watch for him to get off the streetcar. Newspapers were delivered twice a day, and folded into neat little squares. They introduced me to my first Agatha Christie, run as a serial: "What Mrs. McGillicuddy Saw". Hmmm, didn't Dickens start out that way?

When we lived in Cleveland Mother could walk one block to a hairdresser, who was the sister of the mayor. I guess life at that time divided itself into living segments: little neighborhoods within a whole that worked for residents. Would it be nice to go back? I think so ( BUT with air conditioning). In some ways we live like that now, not walking but having our own clusters of stores we frequent. Kind of the same, but highly mobilized (and with all those damned cell phones). I have enjoyed, this summer, driving to the houses I do and seeing bevies of kids out on bikes, or a parade of kids with backpacks going to a park event. It's nice to know neighborhoods still exist as such!

Thinking about all this has taken me deep into my young years ... it's been fun. So many memories have been tapped that I didn't even realize were there!

A Fascinating Book

I'm only halfway through so this is just a partial commentary about Valley of the Bones by Michael Gruber. I had to share it though because it is hands-down one of the most interesting books I have read in a very long time, both for technique and content. I first read about it in this month's Crisis magazine. They rarely review fiction and this is a gritty mystery, so my interest was piqued. When the reviewer said it was a really Catholic book, but without the usual trappings found in a mystery I really perked up my ears.

In Miami, a man is hit on the head and thrown from a hotel balcony. When the homicide detective, Paz, goes up to investigate, he finds a woman, Emmylou Dideroff, in the room. She is in a trance, speaking to St. Catherine of Siena, which qualifies her to the detective as both a wacko and a likely murderer. This seems confirmed when they find a bloody weapon on the balcony with Emmylou's fingerprints all over it. She even has a likely motive but denies committing the murder. This is not as open and shut as it seems as Jimmy Paz pursues clues that lead to the international oil market, a FBI watch list, and missionaries in the Sudan.

Aside from the intricate mystery there is the spiritual factor. Emmylou claims to have communion with the devil which leads to her being put in a mental institution where, at the detective's request, she begins writing a confession. However, her confession is more along the lines of St. Augustine's Confessions ... and soon she is filling four notebooks with the story of her life. At this point we meet Lorna Wise, a psychiatrist who is determining Emmylou's fitness for trial. Both Wise and Paz have actual moments of seeing the devil that Emmylou has mentioned but they manage to lie to themselves. Little doubt is left to the reader, though, that what they are experiencing is real. Strange personality changes start coming over Paz who is beginning to wonder if he is possessed and then shaking off the feeling. I am screaming to him, "Wake up and smell the coffee! YES, yes you are!" Obviously this is no ordinary mystery.

Along the way we see Wise's various insecurities, Paz's Cuban-American world and how he relates to the "white" world, insights into police detecting, how men and women relate to each other, and so much more. Most of all, there is a strong spiritual thread throughout that is interesting in itself as each character responds in their own way. This all is being told through four points of view: the detective, the psychiatrist, Emmylou's confessions, and pages from the book Faithful Unto Death: The Story of the Nursing Sisters of the Blood of Christ by Sr. Benedicta Cooley. As I read further I am beginning to see that these are all showing various ways of conversion, of openness to God. This feeling is intensified when we meet Paz's former partner, a strong evangelical Christian who is not afraid to share his faith. Most unusual for a mystery of this sort.

This may sound like a jumble of information but that is part of what makes this book so very interesting. The author is a masterful writer who makes everything come together naturally.

Make no mistake, it is a gritty, adult mystery and has sexual content that may offend some readers, so far most of which is in Emmylou's confessions. However, at this point any offensive content has been relayed with such a lack of passion or detail that I didn't find it bothersome.

I can't wait to see where this book goes because there is literally no telling. Naturally, being vitally interested in faith, the spiritual content is all I need to be glued to the book as it seems very true to life thus far. The intertwining of mystery and personal relationships make it irresistible. I will definitely be picking up Gruber's previous book after I have finished this one.

Purgatory

Purgatory exists because God is both just and merciful.

Purgatory is "like a refiner's fire" (Mal 3:2). It refines and purifies those who at the moment of death are neither good enough for an immediate heaven nor bad enough for hell. "All who die in God's grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven" (CCC 1030). "The Church gives the name Purgatory to this final purification of the elect, which is entirely different from the punishment of the damned" (CCC 1031)...

The existence of purgatory logically follows from two facts: our imperfection on earth and our perfection in heaven.
  1. At the moment of death, most of us are not completely sanctified (purified, made holy), even though we are justified, or saved by having been baptized into Christ's Body and having thereby received God's supernatural life into our souls, having accepted him by faith and not having rejected him by unrepented mortal sin.
  2. But in heaven, we will be perfectly sanctified, with no lingering bad habits or imperfections in our souls.
  3. Therefore, for most of us, there must be some additional change, some purification, between death and heaven. This is purgatory.
... Unlike heaven or hell, purgatory is only temporary. Purgatory takes away the temporal punishment still due for our sins after our Baptism, faith, and repentance have already saved us from the eternal punishment due to our sin, that is hell.

Catholic Christianity: A Complete Catechism of Catholic Beliefs based on the Catechism of the Catholic Church by Peter Kreeft

Jacob Meets His Brothers Again

GENESIS 42
If my brothers had hated me enough to sell me to traders I am pretty sure I wouldn't have welcomed them with open arms. At first that seems to be Joseph's reaction as he pretends not to know them and questions them. But we then can see there is a reason besides hurt feelings or revenge for Joseph's methods.
So why does he pretend to be a stranger and question them harshly, if not to punish them? It is clear from his questions that before telling them who he is, Joseph wants to learn more about them and test them. No doubt he has wondered all those years how things have fared with his family. Have his brothers changed in all those years? How is their relationship now with their father? Joseph is also concerned about his brother Benjamin, who is not with them. Have they done away with him, too? And if not, will Jacob trust them enough to send Benjamin? Joseph must know these things before they can be reconciled.

So Joseph tests his brothers not to taunt or punish them, but with the aim of bringing them to true repentance and ultimately to reconcile them with himself and with their father. In this, he gives us a picture of what Christ will do one day for his brothers: not just forgive them and free them from sin for their own sakes, but restore them to friendship and into the family of God (See CCC #1443).

All Joseph's testing aims to bring them to repentance and reconciliation. Three days in prison gave the men real time to worry about their predicament. They were being asked to bring their youngest brother to Egypt, and if they had never sold Joseph, Benjamin would be with them now. They were confined in prison, which may have reminded them that they held Joseph in a pit regardless of his pleas and sold him into the prison of slavery. Their consciences began to accuse them. They realized that they did wrong against Joseph and deserve this punishment, which they see as coming from God. They have acknowledged their sin, which is the first step toward repentance. Evidence of true sorrow and a changed character remain to be seen.

As much as Joseph must have longed to see Benjamin, sending his brothers to get him posed a further test as much as it would bring about a reunion. Were the brothers still jealous, divided against their father's favorite? Had their relationship with their father improved? Would he trust them with Benjamin? These questions remain to be answered.
All quoted material is from Catholic Exchange's "Catholic Scripture Study." See the sidebar under "Bible Study: Genesis" for links to references used.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Glyphnotes

  • We’ll just match that PMS 2935 with a screen mix. Huh?

  • What the heck is RSS? (Not to be confused with ROUS.)

  • I figure there are three type of computer users:
      1. Those that know all the keyboard shortcuts and use them.
      2. Those that use the right mouse button, instead.
      3. Those that have trouble remembering all but the most basic commands.
    If you are in the third category, this short article opens a whole new world into using your computer.
Glyphnotes is Tom's answer to all the questions we see repeatedly in the course of doing graphic design work for print and on the web. Drop by and see what's up over there. It is pretty nifty (and this is not just the devoted wifey speaking). Just click on the sidebar to go to any article. Be sure to let him know if you like it or not ... we love feedback!

Pumping Gas and Seeing Stars

Little John's ongoing story of seeing celebrities while pumping gas in Malibu (circa 1984).
One night (I worked 3-midnight) around 10 pm a limo pulls up. A huge black guy gets out, walks to the ladies room and goes inside. After a minute or so he returns to the limo and opens the door and out steps Dolly Parton. He escorts her to the ladies room and a few minutes later she returns to the limo and they leave. To me it was like a Aesop's fable. The lesson...when you have to go you have to go, no matter how rich or famous.

Bad Car Karma?

In my driving life I have had some of the oddest accidents. Very few were my fault and when they were it was for mundane reasons. However, I have had the oddest things happen when others were busy hitting me.

For instance there was the time when a guy thought he'd get a jump on the light and turn left before the other lanes started up. Trouble is, he ran smack dab into me as I was innocently driving along the lane he couldn't see. That in itself isn't odd, but it was distinctly surreal to be sitting there, trying to figure out if I could open the door this guy had just smashed into when up pounded two men in flannel shirts, waving badges, and saying, "We're undercover cops. We saw the whole thing and will be your witness." So there's something I don't see every day ... or ever.

Or the time that I was driving up to a red light and a man waiting to exit the grocery store parking lot suddenly revved up his car and rammed right into the side of the van. Turns out that he had Alzheimer's and thought he was hitting the brakes. That was the wake-up call for his daughter, riding with him, that something more needed to be done about Dad's condition.

Then there's the time that I was driving by an intersection and a parked car on the other side of the street just burst into flames. I'm talking flames here. It was like something off a Hollywood set. And no one stopped or even seemed to notice. Ok, that wasn't an accident but you have to admit it was freaky.

These are just a few of my car chronicles and luckily I've always come out of it unhurt, even if the car has been totalled. For instance, the time the delivery truck doing 60 hit me, I know my guardian angel was on the case because the entire front of the car was at a distinct angle to the rest of the car ... but I had instinctively hit the brakes just in the nick of time to tear out her rear axle so she couldn't leave the scene ... oh, and to stop her from hitting me dead on.

I'll end with yesterday's story, when I was again innocently driving (I'm always innocent; that's my story and I'm sticking to it!) in the right hand lane toward an intersection, next to one of those gigantically long Mayflower moving vans. I always feel like an idiot because I am nervous about driving next to big trucks. I don't trust the drivers to see me in their mirrors. It's a good thing I was nervously eyeing this one since I was halfway up the length of the van. I noticed right away that my lane was getting narrower and narrower ... because the truck was moving over. Maybe he was just out of his lane for a moment? Nope. He was moving over now! I hit the horn and hit the gas. Caught between a high curb on one side and this immensely long truck on the other I started wondering about crushed vans (and people inside them). He came far enough over to hit my side mirror (good thing it snaps back) and then finally came to a halt. I pulled up even with the cab, opened my window and then we had a very inelegant exchange of screaming at each other. Because he seemed to think that this was my fault and I should have gotten out of the way by going faster (or something). Wrong. So we will see how Mayflower handles this as I pulled up enough to get his license plate before moving on.

I think when my Guardian Angel got assigned they made a point of making sure he was extra good at handling car situations. Thank heavens!

Pharaoh's Dreams and Layers of Meaning

GENESIS 41
One of the things that I love so much about the Catholic approach to Scripture is the acceptance that there are layers upon layers of meaning to be found. This is very well illustrated when Joseph is needed to interpret Pharaoh's dreams. Until I read these comments in the Catholic Scripture Study I never would have connected the famine in Pharaoh's dreams with man's condition waiting for Jesus, the "Living Bread" but it makes a definite connection. This is long but worth reading.
Pharaoh's dreams are given in great detail and repeated several times in chapter 41. The net effect of the repetition is to focus our attention on them. "Notice the details!" it fairly shouts.

But why? What is there to notice, other than the fact that the dreams warned Pharaoh of an economic downturn that would wipe out all memory of prosperity and potentially wipe out the population? Wasn't it just a setup, so Joseph could be brought into power?

This is a good time to remember that there are layers of meaning in Scripture, and that understanding the literal meaning can be a springboard to illuminating a deeper spiritual sense. In this case, Pharaoh's dreams and the state of Egypt they represent gain significance when we realize that they are in microcosm a picture of the condition of mankind after the fall. We gain profound insight into the way Joseph saves Egypt by seeing it as sign of the way Christ will come to change that condition.

Man has always been tempted to see his condition through the eyes of the Serpent. "Thou shalt not die!" he hissed -- and we would like to believe that. But in writing history, God wove in pictures and events that prove otherwise: choosing to go our own way was like eating a poisoned apple that causes death. Lest we doubt that one man's sin affects everyone, He showed us that the entire world is as if drowned in a great flood due to sin. Now in Egypt we see that after an initial period of bounty, sin has sucked the life out of the world until the plenty is forgotten and the whole world is in danger of starving to death.

Each story carries its own hint of the way help will come. In the Garden is a Tree whose fruit will give everlasting life, if we could only gain access to it. God's curse on the Serpent carries with it a further hint, that one day a woman and her seed will bring about a reversal. The New Testament reveals that Jesus is both that Tree of Life and the son of the Woman. Out of the flood, God brought one man to establish a new family on earth, just as later one man, Jesus, would conquer the floods of death and establish a new family. To save the world from famine, God sent Joseph, the beloved son of the father of God's people, to offer "grain in great abundance, like the sand of the sea- [that] could not be measured." The people cried out for bread and he fed the earth out of his unlimited supply that they might live, and not die. Joseph is a type of Christ, the beloved Son of God, who offers abundant life to all who come to him to be fed.

Returning to Pharaoh's dreams, it is significant that other than the account of the flood, which signifies baptism, all the major pictures of man's condition and the solution to come (the fruit in the Garden; the famine and grain; and later manna in the wilderness, bread from heaven, the feeding of the 5,000; etc.) are couched in terms of food. For what is it that gives us life but the food that Jesus provides, His Body and Blood? As we read in St. John's gospel: "I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live for ever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh." (John 6:51). As Catholics we take in this new life every time we eat the host at Mass. As the Catechism so aptly says,
"... when the faithful receive the Body of the Son, they proclaim to one another the Good News that the first fruits of life have been given.' Now too are life and resurrection conferred on whoever receives Christ." What material food produces in our bodily life, Holy Communion wonderfully achieves in our spiritual life. Communion with the flesh of the risen Christ, a flesh -- given life and giving life through the Holy Spirit, "preserves, increases, and renews the life of grace received at Baptism." (1391-2)
All quoted material is from Catholic Exchange's "Catholic Scripture Study." See the sidebar under "Bible Study: Genesis" for links to references used.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Best Short Movie Review Ever

Harry Knowles at Ain't It Cool gives us a spot-on, succinct review of "Stealth."
Well here it is... down to the final ounce, this film is 7 tons of dumb.

"... she is also just so darn happy!"

The Anchoress took me totally by surprise with some very kind and generous comments. When they come from someone who I admire as much as I do her, well, that just makes me doubly happy! (Couldn't resist that one, ya know.)

Being so darned happy has come up before and led me to reflection of just why that is ... which I am linking to here for anyone who is interested, as well as to my conversion story. Because, as in all things, it is through the grace of God who I can never thank enough for His goodness to me and mine.

Cheers Anchoress and thanks again!

Wait a minute, what were we talking about?

MEMENTO
This possibly may be the definitive film noir. We follow Leonard Shelby (Guy Pearce) as he tracks down the man who raped and murdered his wife. However, Shelby was left with permanent short term memory loss as a result of an injury when trying to defend his wife ... and thereby hangs a fabulous piece of movie making as well as a fascinating story.

Director Christopher Nolan takes us through the movie backwards, beginning at the end and working his way to the beginning in short jumps of time. We are just in the dark as Shelby when he wakes each morning thinking, "Where am I? Hotel room ... ok ..." and begins to regain his place in time with the aid of body tatoos, polaroids with notes jotted on them, and various friends (or are they?) he encounters. At first the jumps cover comparatively long time periods to give us the knack of following the movie. Towards the end when we are in the rythym, the jumps become shorter and shorter as the essence of the mystery is revealed. Fascinating ... and, may I say, that Guy Pearce has never looked or acted better (as Hannah said, "A better looking Brad Pitt!")

There were a few plot holes but they may be forgiven considering the complexity of this piece. Indeed, they may be my own deficiency because this movie was moving so fast by the end (beginning?) that it occasionally was hard to think back and put various pieces in their proper places.

HC rating ...

****
Listen, we've been meaning to have a talk with you about your reviews. Everything's a rave! Nine thumbs up, what the hell is that? (newspaper editor to Homer)

UPDATE: Nehring the Edge adds a couple of comments that are so spot-on I am including them here.
The use of the forward moving hotel phone conversation (in black & white) as a buffer between the backward moving scenes of the rest of the film completely makes me geek out.

You are right, this is a dingy piece of existentialism and it does leave one heck of a sour aftertaste when you're done. If you haven't seen this film yet, approach with caution.
UPDATED UPDATE: Nehring's review is here. While I originally felt the same distaste for the ending and subject as Nehring mentions, I also think back to my conversation with Hannah after watching this movie. In some ways it is a fascinating look at one's capacity to lie to oneself and, ultimately, in how we deal with guilt ... whether we are consumed by it or whether we can accept reality as it is and move on to a better future. As Hannah pointed out, everyone in this movie has responsibility for how they wind up. Even the subplot about the wife who is desperately hoping to prove definitively whether or not her husband has short term memory loss is guilty of being stupid. She should have made up her mind and chosen a course of action and moved on. But she didn't.

When Leonard points out that memories lie and only documented facts can be trusted, he is right. He goes on to prove that point in a most unlikely way during the movie. But one must be sure they are not manipulating themselves, whether consciously or unconsciously.

So, in the end, there is a value lesson for those who care to contemplate the subject long enough to glean it ... though the sour taste may still be left in your mouth.

A Few Facts About Egypt

GENESIS 39
I found this information about Egypt in Joseph's time interesting.
WHEN DID JOSEPH ARRIVE?
The date of Joseph's arrival in Egypt is debatable. Many believe he arrived during the period of the Hysksos rulers, foreigners who came from the region of Canaan. They invaded Egypt and controlled the land for almost 150 years. If Joseph arrived during their rule, it is easy to see why he was rapidly promoted up the royal ladder. Because the Hysksos were foreigners themselves, they would not hold this brilliant young foreigner's ancestry against him.

PHARAOH
Pharaoh was the general name for all the kings of Egypt. It was a title like "King" or "President" used to address the country's leader. The Pharaohs in Genesis and Exodus were different men.

THE GOOD LIFE IN EGYPT
Ancient Egypt was a land of great contrasts. People were either rich beyond measure or poverty stricken. There wasn't much middle ground. Joseph found himself serving Potiphar, an extremely rich officer in Pharaoh's service. Rich families like Potiphar's had elaborate homes two or three stories tall with beautiful gardens and balconies. They enjoyed live entertainment at home as they chose delicious fruit from expensive bowls. They surrounded themselves with alabaster vases, paintings, beautiful rugs, and hand-carved chair. Dinner was served on golden tableware, and the rooms were lighted with gold lampstands. Servants, like Joseph, worked on the first floor, while the family occupied the upper stories.
All quoted material is from "Life Application Study Bible." See the sidebar under "Bible Study: Genesis" for links to references used.

Making Money With Anti-Catholicism

While other forms of bigotry are confined to the world of cranks and conspiracy theorists, anti-Church historical polemic makes money for major American publishing houses. Within the last decade, blue-ribbon publishers have produced such works as John Cornwell's Hitler's Pope, Garry Wills' Papal Sin and Why I Am a Catholic, James Carroll's Constantine's Sword, and Daniel J. Goldhagen's A Moral Reckoning. By 2002, readers had access to "a virtual book of the month club on institutional Catholicism, anti-Semitism and the Holocaust." That is in addition to the widespread use of the anti-Catholic pseudo-history in many works on Catholic attitudes to sexuality and gender, on early Christianity, and on medieval history. Obviously this run of anti-Church blockbusters does not mean that America's leading publishers are conspiring to destroy or calumniate Catholicism. The publishers act as they do because they believe that people will buy the books, and the success of authors such as Carroll and Cornwell indicates they are exactly right. Against the charge that the books are purely hostile attacks, the publishers can state, quite accurately, that in most case the authors themselves claim to be loyal Catholics. Wills, Cornwell, and Carroll would all make such an assertion, and their insider status certainly helps to deflect criticism.

But whatever the publishers' motives, the total effect of such an outpouring of deeply hostile books is powerful. Imagine browsing the religion section of a major bookstore and finding Catholicism represented chiefly by these titles. The obvious lesson for the average reader is that the Catholic Church carries a huge burden of guilt for its historical atrocities, that it is a prime motivator of anti-Semitism and a collaborator with Nazism.
I discovered this when I was first converting and innocently looking over the books at Borders. It didn't take much perusing of book jackets, even to such a newbie as myself, to find that some people who claimed love for the Church were pouring out bitter invective in these same books. As was a matter of dicussion here last week, it took Cardinal Ratzinger being elected Pope to get any of his books into the mainstream stores near me.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Marching Into My Heart

MARCH OF THE PENGUINS
This movie is a fascinating look at what the Emperor penguins endure every year as they go mate and raise their chicks. Frankly, as I watched this I couldn't believe any penguins existed under these circumstances for very long. The fact that they are still here after thousands of years testifies to the innate toughness of these birds. I highly recommend that anyone who is interested in nature films see this movie.

As I watched the penguins enduring things like a winter storm which brought conditions of 80 degrees below zero and 100 mile per hour winds, I kept wondering how the film makers got the footage. We are treated to just a few glimpses of them in the closing credits so do not leave before you see them. They hint at the movie I'd really like to see, that perhaps we will get when the DVD is released ... The Making of March of the Penguins.

My approval of this movie is not unconditional, however, as there is a fly in the ointment. The movie makers seem determined to elicit emotion from the viewer and use the twin bludgeons of unbelievably sentimental music (which at times is incredibly loud) and relentless anthropomorphization. The movie would have been much stronger with a lighter touch on both which accounts for my rating of ...

***
"Liked it despite the absence of flubber..." - Mel Gibson reading Prof. Frink's review

Finding "Church" Everywhere Else

More and more Christians say the usual ways of "doing church" no longer resonate in a contemporary, postmodern culture. Seeking to fill the gap, a growing movement called "the emerging church" is developing new forms of worship and asking new theological questions.

Adherents to the movement don't align themselves with any established denomination. Their rites and worship settings are unconventional – often more coffeehouse or college-dorm ambience than church.

Many emerging churches weave together elements from different religious traditions, especially Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy. Some are renewing medieval mystical practices such as walking the labyrinth. Some emphasize video images, electronic music and audience participation.
This Dallas Morning News story goes into great detail over the "emergent church" and pastors' alarm as Gen X abandons traditional worship. In this same vein, A Real Big Fish talks about finding church at work with fellow believers.

My reaction to all this is essentially Catholic. Any church that doesn't have the Eucharist is just a building where believers gather. Some may be pretty and some may be plain and some may have coffee and DJs that mix cds for the worshippers ... in fact, some may be like my Catholic women's book club. Jesus is there with any worshippers where two or more are gathered in His name but it isn't the same as having his actual presence in the Eucharist right there with you. Without the Eucharist then one place is just as good as another ... and no place is as good as being in front of the tabernacle.

Dealing With Temptation

GENESIS 39
We could never have a better model for dealing with temptation than looking at how Joseph dealt with Potiphar's wife who would just not take no for an answer.
Joseph provides a true model of strength in the face of temptation, which recognizes the danger of remaining in its presence. "Shun immorality!" Paul says in I Cor. 6:18. Other translators prefer the word "flee." Joseph did both: he refused Potiphar's wife, shunning her suggestions, and then fled when she didn't listen. It is not cowardice to run from such temptation, it is common sense. Sexual immorality may entice but its ultimate end is death. St. Paul speaks elsewhere (see, for example, I Cor. 10:13 and Heb. 4:15-16) of the mercy and grace that God provides to help us endure and escape temptation, and says that God will not allow us to be tempted above our strength. What was Joseph's secret? Vs. 21 says it all: "But the Lord was with Joseph and showed him steadfast love, and gave him favor in the sight of the keeper of the prison."
All quoted material is from Catholic Exchange's "Catholic Scripture Study." See the sidebar under "Bible Study: Genesis" for links to references used.

The Importance of the Body in Christianity

Christ's Resurrection bestows new dignity on our bodies by revealing to us a new, unexpected, and glorious eternal destiny for them ... "In expectation of that day, the believer's body and soul already participate in the dignity of belonging to Christ" (CCC 1004).

In most religions (such as Hinduism), only spirit is immortal. In some (such as Gnosticism), only spirit is good. In some (such as Buddhism), only spirit is real. But for Christians, the body is real, good, and immortal. No religion exalts matter and the body as Christianity does:
  1. God created it and declared it "good" (Gen 1).
  2. God united man's body with his immortal soul to make one substance, one being.
  3. And therefore he made the body immortal like the soul, through resurrection.
  4. In sexual intercourse, he uses a material act to make new immortal souls.
  5. And he kept his human body forever. Every since Christ took his human nature, body and soul, to heaven in the Ascension, God has a body forever. Christ did not "un-incarnate" when he ascended.
  6. He now uses matter to save souls in Baptism and the Eucharist.
... The practical moral consequences of this doctrine of the resurrection as the body's destiny are radical, especially to contemporary culture. "This dignity entails the demand that he should treat with respect his own body, but also the body of every other person" (CCC 1004). "Do you know that your bodies are the members of Christ? ... Your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit ...You are not your own' you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body" (1 Cor 6:15, 19-20).

The origin of modern hedonism and materialism (especially the "sexual revolution") is not the discovery of the goodness or greatness of the body, but the denial of it, by the Gnostic separation of body from spirit, by the confinement of religion and morality to subjective intention (the idea that if it is motivated by love, anything is moral). The "materialism" of the playboy really stems from the denial of the sacredness of matter and the body, which is then used as a mere tool, a means to the end of pleasure and excitement. His end is subjectively good feelings in the soul, not the objective good of the body.

Catholic Christianity:A Complete Catechism of Catholic Beliefs based on the Catechism of the Catholic Church by Peter Kreeft

The Church Loves All Her Children

No matter what sins they commit, sinners continue to belong to the Church since spiritual goods still subsist in them -- goods such as the indelible character received in Baptism and Confirmation, the theological virtues of faith and hope ...

The Church continues to live in her children who are not in the state of grace. The Church seeks to work against the evil that corrupts their souls. She struggles to keep them in her fold, to bring them back to life with her love. She conserves them as one conserves a treasure not easily parted from. And it is not because she wants to carry around dead weight. She only hopes that through the power of patience, gentleness, and pardon the sinner will make his return to her. It is like the withered branch which for lack of sap is allowed time to regain health and flower once more. (J.C. Journet, Theology of the Church).

The Church does not forget for one single day that she is a Mother. She continually prays for her children who are ill. She waits with infinite patience. She seeks to help them with abundant charity. We ought to bring to the Lord our prayers, works, joys and sufferings for the sake of those who belong to the church but who do not participate fully in the life of grace We should especially keep in mind those we happen to know personally who may need to return to the fullness of spiritual life.
In Conversation with God: Daily Meditations
This is something I tend to forget. Though my parents may turn their backs on the Church (to say nothing of God), this makes them no less her children. I also love that phrase "fullness of spiritual life" which fits so very many situations.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Walk the Line

Joaquin Phoenix is Johnny Cash and I am so there! (Maybe I'd better rent Ray first and catch up on my singer movies though.)

Pumping Gas and Watching Stars

Want to know what the stars are really like? Work at a gas station near where they live. Tom's nephew, Little John, grew up in Malibu and has a million stories ... as I pry them out of him (though so far not much prying has been required) I will share them.
Living in Malibu was an interesting experience. My first year of community college I worked at the only full service gas station in the area. Of course nobody who is anybody pumps their own gas, so I got to serve a lot of the big stars.

My friend Eden Unger's parents had built a spectacular home, even by Malibu standards, and a year or so after completion of the home I saw Eden at a party, which was rare since she was a sophmore at UC Berkley. Eden's parents were friends of Leo Penn (Sean's dad) and everyone in the world knew that Madonna and Sean were to be married in a super secret wedding. I asked Eden if the wedding would be at her house and she smiled and said, "maybe". We knew that was a yes. So, the next night I am working at the gas station and we hear that the big wedding is taking place at Eden's house. It was a madhouse, the first big paparazzi wedding with helicopters and the whole nine yards. At about midnight I am shutting the gas station when a short guy walks up and asks me for change for a dollar since he needs to use the pay phone (1984, before mobile phones). It's Tom Cruise. I think, "Wow is this guy short!" Anyway he says thanks and heads over to the pay phone. I shut the station and get in my car to go home and I notice he is still talking on the phone. I have always wondered why he needed to use our payphone at such a strange hour.

I have a million celebrity stories from Malibu and the Unocal 76 station!

Feed My Sheep...

The Catholic Diocese of Dallas is asking its parishes to take a little extra out of their collection plates to help pay diocesan legal costs.

In a letter sent to pastors this week, Bishop Charles Grahmann said two legal fights were likely to cost the cash-strapped diocese more than the $1 million budgeted for litigation in 2006.

Those two cases are the battle against the Dallas school system's attempt to condemn land next to a Catholic cemetery and the lawsuit over two child molesters who worked at St. Pius X Catholic Church's child-care center in Far East Dallas in the 1990s.

"Those costs have exhausted our reserves," the bishop wrote of those two lawsuits.
Dallas Morning News
(free registration required)
I have often said that if our bishop can't be a good shepherd the least we could expect is a good businessman. Evidently not.

Seeing this in the newspaper this morning evoked the usual eyerolls from Tom and me. We haven't forgotten, as apparently Bishop Grahmann has, the first time our reserves "were exhausted" by paying for the Rudy Kos lawsuit settlement due to the bishop's intransigence (he only officially apoligized to the victims and their families last year). The St. Pius X is too much more of the same for us.

Our parish has had its own problems with the bishop, as have many others. Like most Dallas Catholics we are waiting until next year when Bishop Grahmann turns 75 and has to send his letter of resignation to the Vatican ... and crossing our fingers that they accept it. Until then I guess we'll just have to keep on paying and waiting for our bishop to remember to "feed my sheep."

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Fetal Tissues Are Used in Vaccines?

I had no idea at all. It took a Vatican statement condemning the practice and the CWN news report to clue me in.
The Vatican has condemned the use of vaccines derived from fetal tissue, and exhorted Catholics to lobby for the development of alternative vaccines.

The new instructions from the Vatican provide strong support for parents and doctors who resist the use of vaccines that are based on fetal remains. Such vaccines are commonly used today in the US to inoculate patients-- usually children-- against diseases such as measles, mumps, chicken pox, rubella, smallpox, rabies, polio, and hepatitis A. In some cases the vaccines developed from fetal tissues are the only products available to patients seeking protection from the disease. ...

Although parents and doctors may be morally justified in using such vaccines, when no alternative is available, the Vatican document says that they "have a duty to take recourse to alternatives, putting pressure on political authorities and health systems" to produce morally acceptable alternative treatments.

In its analysis, the Pontifical Academy for Life listed the vaccines developed from fetal tissues:

A) Live vaccines against rubella:
  • the monovalent vaccines against rubella Meruvax®!! (Merck) (U.S.), Rudivax® (Sanofi Pasteur, Fr.), and Ervevax® (RA 27/3) (GlaxoSmithKline, Belgium);
  • the combined vaccine MR against rubella and measles, commercialized with the name of M-R-VAX® (Merck, US) and Rudi-Rouvax® (AVP, France);
  • the combined vaccine against rubella and mumps marketed under the name of Biavax®!! (Merck, U.S.);
  • the combined vaccine MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) against rubella, mumps and measles, marketed under the name of M-M-R® II (Merck, US), R.O.R.®, Trimovax® (Sanofi Pasteur, Fr.), and Priorix® (GlaxoSmithKline UK).

B) Other vaccines, also prepared using human cell lines from aborted fetuses:
  • two vaccines against hepatitis A, one produced by Merck (VAQTA), the other one produced by GlaxoSmithKline (HAVRIX), both of them being prepared using MRC-5;
  • one vaccine against chicken pox, Varivax®, produced by Merck using WI-38 and MRC-5;
  • one vaccine against poliomyelitis, the inactivated polio virus vaccine Poliovax® (Aventis-Pasteur, Fr.) using MRC-5;
  • one vaccine against rabies, Imovax®, produced by Aventis Pasteur, harvested from infected human diploid cells, MRC-5 strain;
  • one vaccine against smallpox, AC AM 1000, prepared by Acambis using MRC-5, still on trial.
Read the entire story at Catholic World News. The entire Vatican statement can be found here.

The Christian Attitude Toward Death

I like that Kreeft points out it is natural to have multiple attitudes toward death. So often we are expected to have only one ... if we miss someone there is sure to be a person who points out that we should be happy they'll be in heaven. Right. Got that. But that doesn't mean we can't miss them ... or not look forward to the process ourself.
Since death is both natural, unnatural, and supernatural, we should have three corresponding attitudes toward it:

Since it is natural, we honestly confront it and accept it as a fact of our being, instead of avoiding it by endless diversions of our attention or, by living in denial, pretending it is not there.

Since it is also unnatural, the inescapable punishment for sin, we hate it and fight it as our enemy, "the last enemy" (1 Cor 15:26).

Finally, since it is also supernatural, transformed by Christ's Resurrection, we welcome it. For if we are in Christ, death comes to us as God's golden chariot sent to fetch his Cinderella bride from the cinders of this dying world to his golden castle to live with him in eternal ecstasy.

The element that pervades all three of these attitudes is readiness. "The Church encourages us to prepare ourselves for the hour of our death. In the ancient litany of the saints, for instance, she has us pray: 'From a sudden and unforeseen death, deliver us, O Lord'; to ask the Mother of God to intercede for us 'at the hour of our death' in the Hail Mary; and to entrust ourselves to St. Joseph, the patron of a happy death (CCC 1014).

"'Every action of yours, every thought, should be those of one who expects to die before the day is out. Death would have no great terrors for you if you had a quiet conscience ... Then why not keep clear of sin instead of running away from death? If you aren't fit to face death today, it's very unlikely you will be tomorrow'" (CCC 1014).

Catholic Christianity:A Complete Catechism of Catholic Beliefs based on the Catechism of the Catholic Church by Peter Kreeft

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Delivering Ultimatiums to God

You know the kind I mean. At some point we're lying there in bed suffering from the flu or a terrible sinus headache, not really convinced that we might not die, and we issue the directive, "Either heal me or take me now, Jesus." And we mean it ... because we have never felt so terrible ... ever.

Ok, somewhere deep in the recesses of our minds we know we're not gonna die. We know that another and better day will dawn; maybe even this very day will improve. But, personally, that is a time when I am not about thinking. I am all about feeling. That is when it is very, very good to be a Catholic. We're told that our suffering is never wasted if we offer it up for others, following Jesus' example. All we have to do is to be able to remember it at that point.

This morning, with a sinus headache that made my pillow feel hard, I had some first-class suffering to offer up. And I have a friend in dire need who I could offer it up for. So I lay there, struggling my way through the rosary, forgetting what I was doing because I moved my head and that might have been the very moment when Jesus was coming to take me because I felt as if I was dying ... and then getting back to it. And you know what? It helped me too because I had my mind, such as it was, on something besides how I felt. No matter how horrible I felt that allergy pill and aspirin were going to kick in eventually and my friend has no such options. Her problems are so much worse.

I made it all the way through the rosary and eventually that aspirin did kick in. Another lesson in gratitude was mine. Not only do I appreciate my good health but I also am glad for all those little annoyances of everyday life ... the ones that I try to let slide off my back and offer up for various causes. If not for that daily practice I am not sure I would have remembered to offer up the big one this morning. Which not only helped my friend, it helped me. No wonder I'm happy to be Catholic.

Symbolism of Beasts in Harry Potter

Which is your favorite Harry Potter beast? They all have a symbolic meaning says John Granger in Christianity Today. He spells it out for each in the article.
For most of us, the connection between an animal and its symbolic quality is pretty clear. A dog embodies and radiates the virtue of loyalty; a cat, feminine beauty and grace; a lion, power and majesty; an eagle, freedom; and a horse, nobility.

But the animals in Harry Potter are not your conventional domestic pets or zoo beasts. Rowling has a rich imagination and a special fascination for fantastic beasts; she has even written a Hogwarts "schoolbook," Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, cataloging her favorites, A to Z. Are these products of her imagination symbols in the way eagles and lions are symbols? ...

Many of the animals in Harry Potter are Rowling's own inventions (although the Acromantula reminds Tolkien fans of the giant spider Shelob and of the den of spiders in The Hobbit). However, let's focus on traditional symbols from European literature because of the wealth of references that support the interpretation of their supernatural qualities. If there is a single giveaway of the Christian meaning in Harry Potter, it is in the uniform meaning of the symbols. The magical creatures and figures we will look at more closely are the griffin, the unicorn, the phoenix, the stag, the centaur, the hippogriff, and the red lion. Each is a traditional symbol of arts and letters used to point to the qualities and person of Christ.

More About Judah's Story

GENESIS 38
Here are some useful details in fully understanding the implications of everyone's actions in the story of Judah.
PROSTITUTES IN CANAAN
Why does this story seem to take a light view of prostitution? Prostitutes were common in pagan cultures such as Canaan. Public prostitutes served the Canaanite goddesses and were common elements of the religious cults. Fornication was encouraged to improve fertility in crops and flocks. They were more highly respected than private prostitutes who were sometimes punished when caught. Tamar was driven to seduce Judah because of her intense desire to have children and be the matriarch of Judah's oldest line; Judah was driven by his lust. Neither case was justified.

WOMEN IN CANAAN
Why was Judah so open about his relations with a prostitute, yet ready to execute his daughter-in-law for being one? To understand this apparent contradiction, we must understand the place of women in Canaan. A woman's most important function was bearing children who would perpetuate the family line. To ensure that children belonged to the husband, the bride was expected to be a virgin and the wife was expected to have relations only with him. If a woman committed adultery, she could be executed. Some women, however did not belong to families. They might be shrine prostitutes supported by offerings or common prostitutes supported by the men who used their services. Their children were nobody's heirs, and men who hired them adulterated nobody's bloodlines.

Judah saw no harm in hiring a prostitute for a night; after all, he was more than willing to pay. He was ready to execute Tamar, however, because if she was pregnant as a result of prostitution, his grandchild would not be part of his family line. Apparently the question of sexual morality never entered Judah's mind; his concern was for keeping his inheritance in the family. Ironically, it was Tamar, not Judah, who acted to provide him with legal heirs. By seducing him, she acted more in the spirit of the law than he did when he refused to send his third son to her.

This story in no way implies that God winks at prostitution. Throughout Scripture, prostitution is condemned as a serious sin If the story has a moral, it is that faithfulness to family obligations is important. Incidentally, Judah and Tamar are direct ancestors of Jesus Christ (Matthew 1:1-6).
All quoted material is from "Life Application Study Bible" See the sidebar under "Bible Study: Genesis" for links to references used.

Monday, July 18, 2005

The Blogger and the Fatwa

The Anarchangel has had a fatwa and death threats issued for his blogging about Islam and the Koran. Granted, "in your face" seems to be the only style he knows, but this is the sort of extreme reaction that Robert Spencer wrote about in Islam Unveiled when talking about why Muslims in the United States didn't complain about extremists. He then went on to talk about documented cases of people disappeared if they gave information to the authorities and I think I am remembering that he mentioned Arizona which is where this blogger lives ... which makes me glad that the FBI is taking The Anarchangel seriously. Via On the Other Foot.

This is What Happens When You Don't Blog All Weekend ...

... and keep finding interesting stuff because everyone else did blog all weekend. You wind up with a zillion blog entries. And still you haven't blogged about the family's day trip to the Fort Worth Zoo.

It is justly among one of the top in the country with most of the zoo having lovely landscaping and habitats that are clearly designed for the animals' comfort. (The exception to that is the newest part of the zoo which feels more like a badly designed amusement park with few exhibits that make you feel as if the animals are comfortable. Unbelievably badly done considering the majority of the zoo.)

The weather was fairly comfortable thanks to the daily rainstorms we've been having and the animals were much more lively than we had expected. We wound up spending six hours walking around and having a blast.

Our favorite moment was when watching an orangutan family that had a playful and curious youngster. At one point a frog jumped out of the stream nearby and he scurried over to sniff it, very hesitantly poke it with a finger and then jump back when it jumped away. He followed it all over trying to figure it out until an older sibling came up to see what he was doing, picked up the frog until he lost interest, and then put it down again and left. It was almost like watching them with the family pet. Rose got a photo of the youngster getting ready to touch the frog. I circled the frog but it is well camouflaged that I don't know if you can see it.

frog orangutang

Our other favorite moment was when the youngest of the elephants decided to go full body in the water and really play. I don't think I've ever seen an elephant do that and although this photo doesn't capture any of the actual hijinks, Rose did manage to get this little elephant's face expressing the delight of the moment.

baby elephant

About That "Weeds" Parable

This one really hit a chord as I have seen posts all over St. Blog's about it. I'm guilty too but my post was just a commentary excerpt that I really liked. Most have mentioned some variation of the Kinder, Gentler Parable mentioned by Karen Hall. That is what we got ourselves. Something about turning from "bad wheat" into "good wheat." Oh well. Maybe it was meant for someone else. I got my message earlier from "In Conversation with God."

No one had the guts of the priest who gave the history lesson on "The Weeds of Islam" as reported by Lofted Nest. Now there's a priest with conviction.

Ok, Good Charlotte Fans, Here You Go

The most looked for thing on my blog in the last few weeks? These two photos. Go figure. Maybe it was the shock of seeing those photos connected with a blog called Happy Catholic. Anyway, that's why I'm reposting this blog entry. Gotta keep the people happy, doncha know?

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!)

Judah's Story

GENESIS 38
Judah's story never even registered with me on any previous readings of Genesis. As I was taking it in, my jaw dropped. Quite the parallel to Joseph indeed. If y'all don't know what I'm talking about, go read this story now.
Chapter 38 provides a "story of Judah" that is parallel to the story of Joseph in time while being completely opposed in moral tone. It serves to set off the story of Joseph in a number of ways: both leave home, one voluntarily, the other against his will. One leaves to seek his fortune among the Canaanites, the other is sold as a slave to Egypt. One seeks out a prostitute, the other flees sexual temptation. What becomes of these men, who will father the two leading tribes of Israel, is a study in contrast. There is great irony in the outcome, for what appears to be true on the outside (one man moving freely and in control of his destiny; another man enslaved, in control of nothing but his response to the situation) does not take into account the unseen -- the will and the presence of God....

Two of Judah's sons were so wicked, God killed them before they had children. According to custom, Judah should have given his third son to the first son's wife so the family name would continue, but he was afraid that son would die too so he sent his daughter-in-law home to her father. This left him with one son who was betrothed to a woman he was not allowed near -- hardly a recipe for building a family. The wickedness of Judah's sons makes one question Judah's ability to "father" properly in any sense of the word -- and yet God had chosen Judah to father the tribe that would one day produce the Messiah, and He would bring that about.

Onan's sin was preventing pregnancy by spilling his seed on the ground. In doing so, he was taking selfish measures to make sure no child would come between himself and his brother's property. But it was not just his intent but the act itself that was wrong. Onan was going through the motions of a covenant act while denying it meaning and purpose. According to the Catechism, "every action which, whether in anticipation of the conjugal act, or in its accomplishment, or in the development of its natural consequences, proposed, whether as an end or as a means, to render procreation impossible -- is intrinsically evil." (#2370)

Tamar, with her courageous plan to get that which was hers by right but which Judah refused her, became the means by which Judah's line -- the line from which the Savior would come -- is continued. This is yet another illustration of the fact that membership in the family of God is determined not by natural order but by God's providence in determining who will be heir to promise and blessing.
All quoted material is from Catholic Exchange's "Catholic Scripture Study." See the sidebar under "Bible Study: Genesis" for links to references used.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

The Cockle of False Doctrine

He proposed another parable to them. "The kingdom of heaven may be likened to a man who sowed good seed in his field.

While everyone was asleep his enemy came and sowed weeds all through the wheat, and then went off. When the crop grew and bore fruit, the weeds appeared as well. The slaves of the householder came to him and said, 'Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where have the weeds come from?'

He answered, 'An enemy has done this.' His slaves said to him, 'Do you want us to go and pull them up?'

He replied, 'No, if you pull up the weeds you might uproot the wheat along with them. Let them grow together until harvest; then at harvest time I will say to the harvesters, "First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles for burning; but gather the wheat into my barn."'"...

All these things Jesus spoke to the crowds in parables. He spoke to them only in parables, to fulfill what had been said through the prophet: "I will open my mouth in parables, I will announce what has lain hidden from the foundation (of the world)."

Then, dismissing the crowds, he went into the house. His disciples approached him and said, "Explain to us the parable of the weeds in the field."

He said in reply, "He who sows good seed is the Son of Man, the field is the world, the good seed the children of the kingdom. The weeds are the children of the evil one, and the enemy who sows them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels. Just as weeds are collected and burned (up) with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all who cause others to sin and all evildoers. They will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Whoever has ears ought to hear.
Matthew 13:9-11, 15-22
New American Bible
In the Gospel of today's Mass or Lord teaches us the parable of the wheat and the cockle. The world is like a field where God is continually sowing the seed of his grace; this divine seed takes root in the soul an produces fruits of holiness ... But while men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away.

The weed in question -- cockle-seed -- is a plant that is often found growing in cereal crops in the Middle East. It resembles wheat so closely that even to the farmer's practised eye it is impossible to tell the two plants apart until the stalks begin to mature, at which stage the cockle can be recognized by its slender ear and emaciated grain; it is quite toxic to humans, and if mixed with flour will ruin bread. Sowing cockle among the wheat was a form of revenge not unheard of in those countries. Periodic plagues of cockle were very much feared by the peasants, because they could cause them to lose their entire harvest.

The Fathers of the Church have understood the cockle to be a metaphor for false doctrine, which is not easy to distinguish from the truth, above all at the beginning, because it is proper to the devil to mix falsehood with truth; (St. John Chrysostom) and if error is allowed to flourish it always has catastrophic effects on the people of God.

This parable has lost none of its relevance nowadays; we can see that many Christians have fallen asleep and have allowed the enemy to sow bad seed with total impunity. There is practically no truth of the Catholic Faith which hasn't been called into question. We have to be very careful indeed, both with ourselves and with anybody we are responsible for, in the whole area of magazines, television, books, and newspapers, all of which can be a real source of false doctrine and which required us to make a special effort to look after our on-going formation in the doctrinal area.

If we are to be faithful to all the requirements of the Christian vocation we have to be constantly watchful and not let ourselves be taken off guard, because once false doctrine manages to take root in the soul it quickly gives rise to sterility and to estrangement from God. We need to be watchful too in the area of our affections, and not fool ourselves with excuses about how at our time of life "things don't affect us"; and we should be careful also about the effect of such false ideas on those whom God has entrusted to our care.
Francis Fernandez
In Conversation with God: Daily Meditations, Vol. 4

Friday, July 15, 2005

Joseph Sold By His Brothers

GENESIS 37
Joseph's story is of the best known in the Bible and yet there is so much to learn that I had never considered. I like the "big picture" personal message that is there about cooperating with God's plan as He brings good out of what we see as bad things.
It is one of the great ironies and wonders of the way God works that the very thing Evil hopes will derail His plans, turns out to usher those plans in. The rest of this story will show that what the brothers meant for ill—throwing Joseph into a pit and selling him into slavery—is the thing that God uses to accomplish what they hoped to make impossible, his reigning over them. This should remind us of the way God took the very Satan could do to Jesus and turned it into the door to eternal life, the door that Satan was trying to slam forever. In this way God uses even evil people and intentions as instruments of good. “So too,” says the Great, “when one wants to avoid the divine will, then is when it is fulfilled” (Moralia, 6,18,20).
All quoted material is from Catholic Exchange's "Catholic Scripture Study." See the sidebar under "Bible Study: Genesis" for links to references used.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Are Protestants to blame for church divisions?

Yes. And so are Catholics.

"'However, one cannot charge with the sin of the separation those who at present are born into these communities [that resulted from such separation] and in them are brought up in the faith of Christ, and the Catholic Church accepts them with respect and affection as brothers ... All who have been justified in faith by Baptism are incorporated into Christ'" (CCC 818); they are our "separated brethren."

"Christ's Spirit uses these Churches and ecclesial communities as means of salvation, whose power derives from the fullness of grace and truth that Christ has entrusted to the Catholic Church" (CCC 819). The Protestant limbs that broke off from the Catholic tree can still have enough life-giving sap (God's truth and grace) from the root (Christ) through the trunk (the Catholic Church) to be the means of salvation for their members. The Church of Christ "subsists in" (CCC 816) the Roman Catholic Church most completely but not exclusively.

Catholic Christianity:A Complete Catechism of Catholic Beliefs based on the Catechism of the Catholic Church by Peter Kreeft

Jacob's Resume

GENESIS BIBLE STUDY
Jacob's life had four stages, each marked by a personal encounter with God. In the first stage, Jacob lived up to his name, which means "he grasps the heel" (figuratively "he deceives")... In the second stage, Jacob experienced life from the other side, being manipulated and deceived by Laban. But there is a curious change: the Jacob of stage one would simply have left Laban, whereas the Jacob of stage two, after deciding to leave, waited six years for God's permission. In the third stage, Jacob was in a new role as grabber. This time, by the Jordan River, he grabbed on to God and wouldn't let go... Jacob's last stage of life was to be grabbed -- God achieved a firm hold on him. In responding to Joseph's invitation to come to Egypt, Jacob was clearly unwilling to make a move without God's approval.

Strengths and accomplishments:
  • Father of the twelve tribes of Israel
  • Third in the Abrahamic line of God's plan
  • Determined, willing to work long and hard for what he wanted
  • Good businessman
Weaknesses and mistakes:
  • When faced with conflict, relied on his own resources rather than going to God for help
  • Tended to accumulate wealth for its own sake
Lessons from his life:
  • Security does not lie in the accumulation of goods
  • All human intentions and actions -- for good or evil -- are woven by God into his ongoing plan
Vital statistics:
  • Where: Canaan
  • Occupation: Shepherd, livestock owner
  • Relatives: Parents - Isaac and Rebekah. Brother - Esau. Father-in-law - Laban. Wives: Rachel and Leah. Twelve sons and one daughter are mentioned in the Bible.
Key verse:
"I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you" (Genesis 28:15).

Jacob's story is told in Genesis 25-50. He also is mentioned in Hosea 12:2-5; Matthew 1:2; 22:32; Acts 3:13; 7:46; Romans 9:11-13; 11:26; Hebrews 11:9, 20, 21.

All material quoted is from the Life Application Study Bible. See the sidebar under "Bible Study: Genesis" for link to this reference.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

The Church as the ultimate reason for creation

"Christians of the first centuries said, 'The world was created for the sake of the Church.' God created the world for the sake of" [our] "communion with his divine life, a communion brought about by ... the Church ...

"'Just as God's will is creation and is called "the world," so his intention is the salvation of men, and it is called "the Church"'" (CCC 760).

The Church is the reason for creation, the reason for the Big Bang. The universe is a Church-making machine, and the Church is a saint-making machine.

Catholic Christianity:A Complete Catechism of Catholic Beliefs based on the Catechism of the Catholic Church by Peter Kreeft

Monday, July 11, 2005

God's Covenant Confirmed

GENESIS 35 & 36
God tells Jacob to move to Bethel, which if we look back at Chapter 34, is where he was supposed to go in the first place! So although it didn't seem like a big deal at the time, if Jacob had just gone to Bethel from the beginning his whole family would have been saved a world of pain. Good reminders for me to go the distance even when it doesn't make sense. I like the way that Catholic Scripture Study sums up Jacob's mistake and then shows what he did to get right with God. It's still blowing my mind that these Old Testament stories have such good lessons for me right here and right now.
Some of us, given the chance to intervene at this point, might choose to punish Simeon and Levi. Justice must be served, after all. But God's ways are not our ways. They will be punished in good time, but Simeon and Levi are not the root of the trouble. To punish them would be a stopgap measure at best. In the same way, destroying sinful man with the flood was not the final solution to the Fall. God planned not to destroy but to save mankind by grace, however undeserved. Wiping out "the bad guys" would leave sin in control of men's hearts, and it was sin itself that had to be dealt with. In this case, God first zeroed in on Jacob's heart, and called him to get right with Himself.

God told Jacob to return to Bethel, to settle there, and to build an altar to the God who has been so faithful to him. Doing that would do more than remove the family from the scene of the crime, where they could expect further trouble. It would put them where they should have been to begin with, and focus them back on God and on His plan
for them.

It might seem a small thing that Jacob built his altar and settled at Shechem instead of at Bethel. After all, Abraham received the promise of the land at Shechem (Gen. 12:6-7). Jacob did all the right things, just not at the right place. He followed the spirit of the law, we might say in his defense. But God has His reasons for asking particular things, and He requires obedience. Jacob did what God asked but he did it on his own terms. Not going as far as Bethel may be a small thing in and of itself, but it indicates a huge problem inside him: His way, not God's way, took first priority. By returning to Bethel, Jacob will not just obey the letter of God's law, he will humble himself to do things God's way. By settling there he will separate his family from Canaanite influence. And by building an altar and worshiping God he will have the chance to repent, to be purified, and to start again.

In Jacob's response we see that in spite of his mistakes, his heart desire is for God. He acted immediately to move his family to Bethel. In the process he did four important things:
  1. He had everyone get rid of their foreign gods. Before anything else, they had to get rid of anything that kept them from giving themselves totally to God. Jacob's family divided their allegiance between God and the household gods that were part of the culture they came from and settled in. The other gods had to go.

  2. Next Jacob had them purify themselves, and change their clothes. That external act was a sign of what they needed on the inside before they could be reconciled to God.

  3. Now they were ready to go to Bethel, the "house of God." This meant not just doing what had been left undone, it meant putting themselves physically in God's presence in a conscious way. Jacob took them to the place where God appeared to him and gave him the promises, and sought His face there.

  4. Finally, Jacob worshiped God at Bethel. When you worship, you acknowledge who God is and His greatness and your dependence on him. You accept His will. You throw yourself before Him. You pray when you worship, and as the Catechism says, "Prayer restores man to God's likeness (CCC #2572)." In prayer and in worship, Jacob got back on the road to following God and to becoming more like Him.
All quoted material is from Catholic Exchange's "Catholic Scripture Study." See the sidebar under "Bible Study: Genesis" for links to references used.

Friday, July 8, 2005

The Church is necessary for salvation

Since we have no salvation without Christ,
And we do not know Christ without the Church,
It follows that there is no salvation without the Church.

This traditional formula of the Church Fathers (see CCC 846), "Outside the Church there is no salvation", does not mean that Protestants and others are not saved, because this formula is not an answer to the mind's curiosity about the populations of heaven and hell, but an answer to the sincerely seeking heart's question "Where is salvation? Where is the road? What has God done to show me how to be saved?" Similarly, Christ's words to his disciples about "many" choosing the "wide" road to destruction and only "few" finding the "narrow" road to life (Mt 7:14) are not the words of a statistician spoken to a census taker, but the words of a loving heavenly Father to his beloved children, warning them of danger. To the Good Shepherd even one out of a hundred sheep is too many to lose and ninety-nine too few to save (Mt 18:12).

In fact the Church explicitly teaches that many who call themselves non-Catholics are saved. Vatican Council II said that "they could not be saved who, knowing that the Catholic Church was founded as necessary by God through Christ, would refuse either to enter it, or to remain in it" (LG 14), but also that "[t]hose who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience -- those too may achieve eternal salvation" (LG 16) -- not because conscience is an adequate substitute for the Church, but because conscience, too is contact with God.

Catholic Christianity: A Complete Catechism of Catholic Beliefs based on the Catechism of the Catholic Church by Peter Kreeft

Wednesday, July 6, 2005

Batman Begins

I read so many highly favorable reviews by so many diverse people, including Barbara Nicolosi who it seems never likes anything of this sort, that I was very surprised to find myself bored about two-thirds of the way through the movie. One more explosion, one more hallucinatory vision shown, one more over-the-top action scene ... it reminded me in a way of True Lies in which James Cameron just kept going with the action scenes until they had the reverse effect of that intended ... it was too much and I tuned out. Now, I liked True Lies but a little restraint would have made it a much better movie and that is how I felt about Batman Begins. I really liked so much of it, especially Christian Bale's star turn ... the way his appearance was so flexible he really looked different from portrayal of callow youth to rich playboy Bruce Wayne to in-transition ninja-training guy. Katie Holmes didn't add anything to her role but I did like the way her character would stand up for herself using her taser or grabbing a gun on the run when protecting the little boy (maybe he'll become Robin?).

Aside from the unrelenting action scene complaint, I hafta say that none of us understood the reason that whats-her-name (Katie Holmes) gave for not being able to hook up with Batman. I have never heard such twisted logic. "Umm, Bruce, you've turned yourself into everything that you should have and I'm missing that shallow guy I fell in love with so forget it." What the heck?

I thought the whole responsibility for power/living up to dead father's expectations theme was done much better in Spiderman 2, although I did like the constant reminder, "Why do we fall? So we can learn to pick ourselves up."

HC Rating: *** (Liked it despite absence of flubber.)

A Violent Attack and the Wrong Reaction

GENESIS 34
Now we are faced with something that could be out of a newspaper story. Jacob's daughter, Dinah, is raped. Not only does Jacob not deal with it himself, his sons Simeon and Levi make a deceitful deal with the rapist who wants to marry Dinah. Then after everyone has gone along with the terms (circumcision), they kill them all. Yowsa! Not exactly what we were expecting from anyone. Catholic Scripture Study helped me to see why it was a bad idea for Shechem to marry Dinah and also underscored what I already saw as terrible actions from Jacob and his sons.
Shechem loves Dinah and wants to marry her. Hamor not only asks for her on Shechem's behalf, he suggests to Jacob that Israel settle among them, intermarry and make their home among them. On the surface this seems a generous offer. But what did Hamor's people have to gain? Why were the men of that city willing to submit even to circumcision so that Shechem could marry Dinah? Clearly they wanted to absorb Israel, which was a potential threat to them, and benefit from God's blessing in people and possessions. This would prove a continuing problem for Israel as it is to us today: the world, if not attacking God's people, seeking to absorb them into itself.

If Jacob's sons appreciated the true meaning of this Covenant rite, it is hard to imagine that they would ask it of another nation not so they could be joined, but so they could take advantage of the men in their pain and destroy them. They are deceitful like their father, only to an evil end.

... This is the future family of God, His chosen people! Certainly Simeon and Levi are accountable for their own actions. They are deceitful, violent, and lacking in remorse. They use a covenant rite for their own purposes, emptying it of meaning and disregarding its sacredness and value. They show no compassion for Dinah, only outrage. Where there might have been a peaceful solution, she was kept lonely and isolated and shamed. But Jacob must take some share in the blame as well. We have already seen that he has abdicated power to his sons. He does not appear to have brought at least the older ones up in the knowledge and love of God and His commands, as evidenced in their light treatment of circumcision and in the presence in the household of foreign gods (see Gen. 35). When his sons massacre the Shechemites, Jacob's reason for anger seems to be not over the Shechemites' loss, but rather over how the act affects his safety and status in the community. And finally, Jacob seems to have forgotten all God's care and leading over the years. When he hears of his sons' atrocities, his main worry is for the safety of his household -- the household God promised and gave him and promised to protect -- and he does not go to God for help.
Certainly, this is the sort of situation that comes up all too often today. Sadly, we have all too many examples of people who use religion for attacks on others, especially if we think of the recent sex scandals. There is a message in this long ago Old Testament chapter that we can apply to our lives in this very situation.
How can God allow a bad man to be a pope, or a bishop or priest? Why does He allow sinners into His family at all?

The obvious answer, that sinners are all He has to choose from, doesn't satisfy. We all know people who are better than others and those, we think, are the ones who should be the Christian leaders. Remember that God called Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and Jacob's sons -- and He has called the popes and bishops and He calls us today -- not because we are worthy, but because HE is worthy, and because He loves us. Chapter 34 is not the end of the story. God is constantly calling us as He will call Jacob's family to return to Bethel, to the House of God; to obedience; to worship. As we will see with Simeon and Levi, God does not leave sin unpunished. But His goal is first and always to reconcile his children to Himself.
All quoted material is from Catholic Exchange's "Catholic Scripture Study." See the sidebar under "Bible Study: Genesis" for links to references used.

Tuesday, July 5, 2005

What the Bleep Do We Know? More Than These Moviemakers Do.

Guest reviewer, Hannah, has strong feelings about What the Bleep Do We Know?

Her rating: * - Worse than Godfather III.
Her review:
I'm know a lot of people found this movie "eye-opening" and "enlightening", but it is the most pretentious mockery of a film I have ever seen. The makers of this film completely threw philosophy and logic out the window when they decided to support the claims of the so-called experts interviewed herein.

The first example of such woeful judgment calls is the tale of the Native Americans not being able to see Columbus' ships. The explanation is that the ships were too foreign to them, so their brains ignored them completely. Only when the shaman focused and pointed them out did the others believe and see. First of all, this is a myth hundreds of years old and from a non-credible source. Second, the logic of this story would make all new-borns blind, as the world is an alien place to them, much more so than a big ship is to an Indian. Later on in the film, the experts turn to a subject on which they do not even claim to have expertise. They begin derailing all conventional views of God. Whether they realize it or not, these include Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Protestantism, Catholicism of any sort. In other words, all of the worlds' most cherished religions are debunked in a few moments. These are no theologians, but people who, like everyone else in the world, simply think their reasoning is the best. And what is their reasoning? They don't give any. They simply rave about how wrong and insulting it is to our pantheistic, universe- encompassing God of Spinoza's fancy that there are those who would still follow the old ways. Conflicting views are simply out of the question. When thoroughly examined, these people are some of the most close-minded I have ever beheld. No substantial logic is ever laid out, so we just have to believe that they somehow obtained extensive knowledge about a subject that has remained elusive to humanity since the beginning of time. Sounds reasonable.

The animation portion of the movie is disgusting and poorly-executed. I am a huge fan of animation, and these little "things" disgusted me and made me want to turn the movie off and burn it. This section alone would have caused me to want to suppress the memory of this movie forever, had not so many other hideous flaws done the trick already. I do not claim to have all the answers nor to be the ultimate judge of logic or reason, but check your facts, people, and use your heads. This movie makes no sense and is designed to be appealing to those with no background in philosophy or specialized sciences. As a student and lover of both, this movie makes me sick.
While researching the movie, Hannah found additional information:
I found out while reading many of the 350 reviews, that the movie was basically an infomercial for Ramtha. You know, the 35,000 spirit of the Cro-magnon warrior of Atlantis that the main expert was "channeling". None of the experts names and so-called qualifications were revealed until the end because they were all followers of J.Z. Knight's cult, except for one, who has loudly complained that his interview was edited to give the false impression that he supports the cults beliefs. Wow. That explains a lot. This was my favorite Amazon review:
If you are interested in listening to professors talk in circles, then ultimately admit that quantum physics is impossible to explain, then this movie is for you. "How far down the rabbit hole do you want to go?" one of them says. Was he really quoting Alice in Wonderland?

Let me sum it up for you: Thinking positively about a memory, event, or the future is better than thinking about it negatively. Wow, what a mind blowing concept. I think I learned that when I was 12 yrs old.

Now can I go up to Rantha's camp in Washington and get locked in the place? I'd be happy to sign her contract not allowing me to leave the facility, use electricity, etc. I think I'll sit under the $100,000 chandeliers in the horse stables and ponder if reality is real.

Hero Revisited

Tom hadn't seen Hero and that was all the excuse we needed to rent the DVD again. He was less impressed than the rest of us but liked it well enough. The vivid visuals made us wonder about the symbolism of the colors and so we went a-Googlin' and found this:
In many of his films, Zhang Yimou has used the color red as a means of making a vibrant symbolic statement. However, according to the fact file on IMDB.com, the spectrum of the color motif in Hero has been expanded to include red as a symbol for imagination, blue for perceived reality, white for truth, and green for enlightenment and peace.
We also found references to other symbolism that we hadn't particularly wondered about but that proved to be very interesting as well.
The chorus of the king’s servants are not meant to be comical, as it would seem to many, but rather emblematic of the will of a population under political stress.

The fight scenes are not meant to be presented as if these people enjoyed supernatural powers. Rather, they are the memories of the individuals and—more importantly—mythic figures of the people of China who endow them with abilities and traits far beyond the scope of the average person.