Thursday, April 30, 2009

2009 Pandemic of Stupidity

Regardless of the big picture, we can testify that here in the DFW area, people are freaking out on a major scale.

The Ft. Worth school system canceled school for about a week because three students came down with the virus. They have now canceled Mayfest, an annual festival.

A friend tells me that an acquaintance of hers was fretting last night because "if they close the borders then how are we going to get produce?" This sent others off on emergency runs to the store where they found that masks are all sold out.

I hope the authorities and the media are happy ... our national freak-out is on schedule and progressing well.

Now I see, via Neatorama, that scientists are saying that this flu strain is milder than the regular winter flu.
"Let's not lose track of the fact that the normal seasonal influenza is a huge public health problem that kills tens of thousands of people in the U.S. alone and hundreds of thousands around the world," said Dr. Christopher Olsen, a molecular virologist who studies swine flu at the University of Wisconsin School of Veterinary Medicine in Madison.

His remarks Wednesday came the same day Texas authorities announced that a nearly 2-year-old boy with the virus had died in a Houston hospital Monday.

"Any time someone dies, it's heartbreaking for their families and friends," Olsen said. "But we do need to keep this in perspective."
There is much more. Go read it all. Please.

Grilled Lemon Chicken

Because I don't know about where you live but 'round here it's grilling season all year ... and most certainly it was last weekend. Grab it at Meanwhile, Back in the Kitchen.

The Flu View from Inside Mexico

Interesting to read the reactions there from various bloggers living in Mexico:
  • Midwesterner in Mexico has lots o' links as well as good photos documenting their light-hearted take on things (they're eating lots of bacon ...)
  • billieblog from whence I got the above link, talks about how quiet the streets are
  • Mexico Bob, one of my favorite new blogs and one that I think maybe billieblog turned me onto also, has a fascinating contemplation about God, viruses, and his own faith journey. Worth reading for sure.

10 Secrets of the Vatican Exposed!

Actually, I'm going to share number ten from this list that I know will interest readers a lot. It is from Mental Floss magazine which is one of the very few magazines that I subscribe to.
Even the ATMs Are in Latin

The Vatican Bank is the only bank in the world that allows ATM users to select Latin to perform transactions. That’s just one symbol of the Holy See’s continued devotion to the language. Pope Benedict XVI has been particularly passionate about reviving the language and purportedly holds many informal conversations in Latin. (Pope John Paul II generally spoke Polish.)

The Vatican’s Latin Foundation tries to keep the language relevant by translating modern phrases into the ancient tongue. In 2003, they released an updated dictionary that included the terms “rush hour” (tempus maximae frequentiae) and “dishwasher” (escariorum lavatory). Interestingly, the translations can have serious consequences. A recent U.S. lawsuit was brought against the Vatican for conspiring to protect a child-molesting priest, and it was held up for months as the Church’s experts rejected the prosecuting team’s Latin translations of terms such as “conspiracy to commit fraud.”
I like the idea of Pope Benedict chit chatting in Latin. Though not if I were around. Then it wouldn't be a bit enjoyable ...

Happy Birthday, Dearest Tom

That is not a photo of my cake but it looks as if chocoholic Tom would like it ... so we'll see how close I can get to reproducing it with Chocolate Buttermilk Cake and Chocolate Malt Frosting.

Happy Birthday to my dear and darling husband!

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Harry Dresden and How Diplomacy is Done

"This is not how diplomacy is done," Anastasia said as we approached the Chateau Raith.

"You're in America now," I said. "Our idea of diplomacy is showing up with a gun in one hand and a sandwich in the other and asking which you'd prefer."

Anastasia's mouth curved up at one corner. "You brought a sandwich?"

"Who do I look like, Kissinger?"
Lord knows I love a funny smart mouth detective.

Finally got my hands on Jim Butcher's latest Harry Dresden, Turn Coat. It's keeping me up way too late at night. I'm loving it.

Vinegar Peace by Michael Bishop featured at StarShipSofa

Tony of the StarShipSofa podcast writes to tell me:
StarShipSofa narrates Vinegar Peace, a SF story wrote by Michael Bishop for his son, Jamie Bishop, who died two years ago at the Virginia Tech shooting.

StarShipSofa is very honoured and humbled to be allowed to bring this story to a wider audience. I know I speak for the SF community when I say our hearts and prayers go out to Mike and Jeri and all the families who have to live with this grief every day.
Get the story itself here (and read Michael Bishop's message that accompanies it) if you aren't already subscribed through iTunes.

Movie Review: Stranded

On October 13, 1972, a young rugby team called "The Old Christians" from Montevideo, Uruguay, boarded a plane for a match in Chile--and then vanished into thin air. ... 16 of the 45 passengers miraculously resurfaced. ... Thirty-five years later, the survivors returned to the crash site--known as the Valley of Tears--to recount in their own words their harrowing story of defiant endurance, intense spirituality, and indestructible friendship. ... this shocking true story finally gets the cinematic treatment it deserves. Visually breathtaking and crafted with riveting detail by documentary filmmaker (and childhood friend of the survivors) Gonzalo Arijon with a masterful combination of on-location interviews, archival footage and reenactments, Stranded is a hauntingly powerful and spiritually moving celebration of humanity.
If a rugby team and the Andes were ever mentioned to me I very vaguely would remember something about a plane crash and the survivors having to turn to cannibalism to stay alive. That was all I knew and frankly I never gave it much thought. After watching this DVD, I can say that there are hidden depths to this story that make one reflect for days afterward the indefatigability of the human spirit and tenacity of our survival instinct.

The "Old Christians" rugby team with family and friends boarded their plane in a carefree, holiday frame of mind. Most were 19 years old from upper class families. These were pampered kids dressed for spring weather who were not equipped for wilderness survival. The plane ran into a storm system high above the Andes that crashed them in the middle of a forbidding landscape. At first, grieving for those who died in the crash, tending to survivors, they waited for a rescue team to pick them up within a few hours. However, this was not to happen. As day after day went by, they began dealing with the rigors of the climate, lack of food, and the uncertainty that comes with not knowing if rescue would ever come. Eventually, with survival uppermost in their minds, they were forced to resort to cannibalism to stay alive.

This story is told strictly through the words of the survivors, their family members, and others who were part of the story. We see the faces of the men telling their story, woven with beautifully and sensitively reenacted scenes to take us through the story. There is never a single word of narration. This forces a slow pace that I found frustrating at first. I longed for a narrator to clarify locations, time lines, and provide an omniscient point of view. Gradually, I realized that we would eventually receive all that information just as everyone else did at the time. This put us even further into the story with the men, agonizing as no one came to help, suffering as they realized what must happen to survive, and holding out hope even when uncaring nature seemed certain to leave none of them alive.

The story unfolds on two levels. First, there are the simple mechanics of the rescue. I had no idea if they were found or rescued themselves, how long they endured this time stranded, or what they actually went through simply to survive on the mountain. I am deliberately refraining from discussing these details so that any similarly unaware viewers may also follow the story as it develops. Rest assured that the story is simply incredible.

Secondly, there was the spiritual and mental level of survival. The promotional materials I received for the movie spoke stirringly of how they survived with the aid of their Catholic faith. This actually was not an overarching theme and depended largely on the individual person, as one might expect with any group of people. Occasionally one person or another would speak about how saying the rosary helped him at a particular moment. Another would talk about a time when he felt distinctly the presence of God. Regardless, one cannot miss the many images of hands telling the rosary beads that the director shows in the background time and again, even when no direct words are speaking about faith.

A particularly moving instance is when the survivors talk about when they realized that they were going to have to eat the dead in order to live. I don't know why this never occurred to me but it is not as if it were a plane full of strangers, which would be horrific enough in itself. These people were all friends and, in some cases, close family members. Just watching the faces of those speaking gives an immense depth of feeling to the horror of the very idea when it surfaces and then again when it becomes clear that cannibalism must be carried out. For those who were deeply Catholic, the thought that helped carry them through was that Christ himself gave his body and blood to his followers through Holy Communion. They said that if Christ did such a thing surely they would be forgiven for following those actions through their extreme reluctance. This subject is treated with the utmost respect and reverence on all levels.

One thing that we realize above all is how precious life is, that it is worth fighting for, and just how much these men love each other both in life and in death. Especially touching was seeing the men visit the crash site with their children and the children of those who never left the mountain.

Highly recommended.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Some Good Trashy Vacation Reading Recommendations

A friend wrote:
I know this is random, but I need your recommendations for trashy vacation reading. I'm asking for page turners here. I like mysteries but do not like serial killer genres. Doesn't have to be a mystery. Series are good. I've read the Stephanie Plum and True Blood series. No Dean Koonz or Danielle Steele. If you don't want me to share your name because you are too ashamed of the series you are recommending (e.g, derby roller-blading vampires), I will keep you anonymous.
Now we all know I have taken a certain amount of flack already for liking the Janet Evanovich (Stephanie Plum) series, up to about #12 anyway ... then I finally had had enough of that formula.

My off-the-top-of-my-head list follows, with an R rating applied t0 a few of them for ... oh, come on, you know what for ... R is for racy!
  • I really love the Harry Dresden series by Jim Butcher. Every so often a book will have something ... shall we call it "racy"? ... but that varies. Harry's a smart mouth and these books will make me laugh out loud. As the back of his latest book said, like Spenser with magic.

  • A new favorite book of mine, racy in a couple of spots, is Grimspace by Ann Aguirre. It is space opera.It has a sequel but I didn't like it which was disappointing.

  • War of the Oaks is urban fantasy ... not a fantasy but I have loved everything of Emma Bull's that I've read. Also recommended is Territory ... a true blue Western set in Tombstone but ...with magic! Isn't everything better with magic?

  • Sunshine by Robin McKinley ... vampires, cinnamon bun baking and a couple of touches of raciness.

  • Bride of the Rat God by Barbara Hambly ... or, frankly, most of Hambly's early stuff. NOT her later things or her mystery series set in New Orleans which is good but very, very dark.

  • Also, I thought of Diana Gabaldon's Outlander. 1st of a series but I didn't like the second book and didn't finish it. Truly a potboiler with time travel, Scottish rogues, evil British officers and much raciness.

  • Not trashy, but sure to make you feel like it is when you have to venture into the Romance section of the book store, are Georgette Heyer's novels. Funny, frothy, smart romances that are the first Regency Romances. Not to be missed.

  • I'm also partial to a few Barbara Michael titles: Shattered Silk, Into the Darkness, and Stitches in Time. Classic gothic-style romance but written and set in the 1970s (?).

  • Barbara Michael's alter-ego is Elizabeth Peters. So you get the gothic-style romances with a humorous twist. My favorite series of hers is the Vickie Bliss mysteries, though I think the most popular is the Amelia Peabody series. I liked the first book but detested Amelia's son so very, very much that I never read past the second book.
UPDATED TO ADD:
  • Charles de Lint. I like his older books better than the newer. Moon Heart, Jack the Giant Killer, Drink Down the Moon (Jack's sequel), The Riddle of the Wren, and Mulengro. Elizabeth Anne reminded me of him in the comments and says: If you like Emma Bull, you would love Charles deLint. He writes both short stories and full length novels that went a long way towards inventing the genre. "Forests of the Heart" is one my absolute favorites of his novels, and "Dreams Underfoot" is probably where people start. It's a collection of short stories that introduces his usual "cast" of characters. "Seven Wild Sisters" is a stand alone that is deeply beautiful,and makes me want seven daughters of my own.

  • The Marcus Didius Falco series by Lindsey Davis features a cynical, sharp-witted gumshoe in Imperial Rome in 70 A.D. He goes from small case to small case, always short of cash and late on his rent. When he rescues Helena, a senator’s niece, from a kidnapping attempt he is flung headfirst into murder, plots in the Emperor’s family, and a trip to Britain where he winds up working as a slave in a silver mine (the first book in the series, Silver Pigs). Davis has a touch for humor, romance, and suspense as we follow Falco’s adventures. Part of the charm of these books is following Falco’s life as we see him move from case to case and in the process meet other members of his large family, watch changes in the neighbors’ lives, and see if he is lucky in love. Davis is a master storyteller and despite the solid historical setting, her hero has enough modern touches to make us relate to his life without feeling as if the up-to-date attitude is false. I was also reminded of this series by Elizabeth Anne, a.k.a. my light reading soulmate, who says:If you just plain like that noir tone but are intersted in historical fiction, I'd also strongly recommend the Marcus Didius Falco mysteries by Lindsey Davis. They're books about ancient Rome that even us Classicists love. If Sam Spade had lived under the emperor Vespasian, this would have been his story. "The Silver Pigs"is the first in the series, and is now back in print. There's also, I think, something of the Cadfael about Falco. Oh, he's tough and jaded, but he also has a large, sprawling Italian family. In case anyone is intimidated by the setting, it's extremely true to history, but not intimidating. Davis is writing for an audience that knows little about Rome beyond Ben Hur and Gladiator, so while history buffs will get a kick out of seeing Rome in 70 AD brought to life, those who aren't won't be left in the dust.
Ok, never let it be said that I don't let it all hang out for y'all.

I know there's some great stuff I either missed or just never heard of ... I'm looking forward to recommendations from you, the great blogosphere reading public!

Monday, April 27, 2009

$700 ... that's a lot to pay for a Pittsburgh Pilgrimage

Allegheny Building
taken by Father Pitt
This may not be the best time in the economy to plan a pilgrimage, some people may be thinking "especially to Pittsburgh." But why not fly in the face of conventional wisdom, right? I did want to take a second here to address something that was brought up by a commenter.

Agreed. $700 is a lot. However, it's chock full of value.

Let's just look quickly again at what that $700 buys:
  • 4-night stay at the Wyndham in the University area ... this is about 3/4 of the cost and is an excellent price for a hotel anywhere, much less a top flight hotel in the heart of a vibrant central location in a city

  • Welcome dinner on Mount Washington ... the most scenic location in Pittsburgh to have a meal overlooking the valley and downtown at night. Purposely chosen for unique Pittsburgh flavah.

  • Admittance to tour attractions including the Andy Warhol Museum and the Carnegie Museum

  • Talk by Mike Aquilina and Chris Bailey, noted Catholic authors and Pittsburgh afficionados ... including a copy of their latest book, Praying the Psalms with the Early Christians, to be signed afterwards

  • Special tour guides, Mike Aquilina and Chris Bailey, afore-mentioned Pittsburgh afficionados will show us why Pittsburgh is in its third renaissance. They'll also take us to special Catholic sites in a place where Catholicism has thrived for over 200 years. For further looks, check out Mike's recent talk about Pittsburgh or Chris's excellent Father Pitt blog.

  • Pittsburgh info for planning your free time in advance ... a.k.a. Moon Guide to Pittsburgh with items of interest marked.

  • Movie talk night ... dessert, coffee, and a movie ... as well as the book sent to you ahead of time so we'll have a chance to discuss where the book and movie differ.
Of course, the opportunity to have several days of give and take with like-minded Catholics in a unique community setting is priceless. N'est ce pas?

As I said, the economy's tough and this might not be the way you want to spend your hard-earned cash. But you gotta admit, there's plenty of bang for the buck there.

More details about the pilgrimage can be found here.

The Anchoress Has Moved

Same great writing, just a new spot over at First Things. Yep, she's in the swanky end of the blogosphere, y'all. If she's a daily read for you like she is for me then you'll want to update your feed with this address:
http://www.firstthings.com/theanchoress/

Putting Her Money Where Her Mouth Is: Mary Ann Glendon Declines Notre Dame’s Laetare Medal

In the continuing protests against Notre Dame inviting President Obama to speak at commencement and giving him an award, a new, strong voice speaks up. Mary Ann Glendon both declines a prestigious award and clearly sets out her reasons for doing so in a letter that was faxed at 9:30 this morning to the university's president, the Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C. Read it at First Things. Well done Ms. Glendon.

Product Review: Garofalo Pasta

Pick up this tasty morsel over at Meanwhile, Back in the Kitchen.

And Now, For Something Completely Different ...

I just saw the list of Nebula winners and the nominated story I read for StarShipSofa won (Trophy Wives - Nina Kiriki Hoffman). I liked that story and was struck at how much it made me think of a fairy tale while not being a fairy tale at all.

I would have picked as a winner either 26 Monkeys, Also the Abyss by Kij Johnson or The Dreaming Wind by Jeffrey Ford. Nothing against the winner, I simply liked their free-wheeling originality. If you haven't listened to those stories, do go give at least those three a try ... and then venture further and listen to the rest.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Review of Lamentation

A pillar of black smoke rises from the plains where the ruins of a city lie. Four people watch it. Petros, an old fisherman; Nebios, a boy who is the only eyewitness; Rudolfo, the Gypsy King and Lord of the Ninefold Forest; and Jin Lee Tam, consort of a powerful madman. Each takes up the story in turn and we learn as they do what has happened and what changes it bodes for the Named Lands.

Through their eyes, Ken Scholes masterfully unfolds layer upon layer of complexity to reveal an epic tale of the struggle not only for power but to serve the Light. This struggle between vengeance, knowledge, mercy, and justice is what drives the main characters. Scholes takes us into a world where Machiavellian politics are constantly intertwined between characters’ motivations. However, because he uses interesting characters to tell his story, it always feels personal and we realize the “epic” quality only as we look back over storyline development. As well, he skillfully manipulates these believable people (and, let us admit it, his readers as well) so that I literally went from worrying about one character being killed to hating him to coming back into sympathy and understanding again by the end of the book. In the end, what we see is that despite epic qualities, the question the book is asking is a simple one. Who was the evil mastermind that destroyed Windwir and why?
Read my entire review of this brilliant book over at SFFaudio.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Movie Watching, Christians and The Cult of Me

Scott at Good News Film Reviews makes a point that I could not agree with more. In a Christian discussion forum after reading his review of Pirates of the Caribbean where Scott loved the plot but decried the reversed moral message comes this ...
The person with the 13 year old says:

I don't guess we'll be watching it. Better safe than sorry.”

This is where I slap my palm to my forehead.

Previous generations confronted witchdoctors, satanists and all matter of philosophical creep. Us? We’re sent running by Johnny Depp in a handkerchief.

It is my opinions that many Christians have become far too scared of this big bad world to be of any use in saving it. Honestly, better safe than sorry over a Disney movie? Regarding a 13 year old? This teen will presumptively be leaving the home in less than five years and he/she is too fragile to handle Pirates of the Caribbean? ...
The whole thing is worth your time in reading it but I can't resist in putting forward this further excerpt.
... Disgusted by the mockery of our Lord on prime time television? We have no one but ourselves to blame. The maintenance of this world falls to us, not someone else. When we turn our backs on the culture because it’s too icky and gosh I’m so sensitive – what do you expect will happen? Go find your Bible. Look up Acts 17:16-34. Did Paul shy away from the enemy? Did he turn from a fight? No. He went in, learned the culture and learned its language. He became like his hosts and turned them using their own arguments, their own ways. If Paul was with us today would he be too scared to view Pirates of the Caribbean? No. I believe he’d watch it to discuss its merits and its flaws. Then he’d use it to teach if he could find a way. Then again, Paul wasn’t so much into that whole me thing.
Be sure you read the entire article before commenting. He isn't saying to watch without discrimination, believe me. Also, although this is aimed primarily at Protestants, I know plenty of Catholics who would do well to undergo a little self examination on this subject.

Baking Can Improve Your LIfe

Get a super easy and delicious recipe for 1-2-3-4 Peanut Butter Cookies ... and find out why Rose wanted it.

2009 Cannonball Awards

Loved these last year and they're back!
... consider this the blog awards for us "minor" bloggers... a blog award not dominated by the usual suspects. The results from last year's awards brought those quieter less visited blogs some much needed attention... even the little guy deserves some recognition. Having lost my fair share of Blog Awards... Ok, all of them, I did what any other sore loser would do; create my own!
A few of my favorite categories ...
BEST BLOG BY A RELIGIOUS WHOSE NOT FR.Z

BEST CATHOLIC POLITICAL BLOG THAT IS NOT THE AMERICAN PAPIST

BEST BLOG BY A HERETIC

BEST POTPOURRI OF POPERY
Now go read all the categories and make a few nominations in the comments box ... I've got most of mine picked out but am still filling in a few blanks.

Catholic Basics--Moral Issues of Life and Death 6

As promised, I am following up my answers about pro-life issues with excerpts from Catholic Christianity by Peter Kreeft. This is the book I read that cleared up many of my objections to Catholic teachings. The excerpts for this series began here.

I must stress that this book does not substitute for the Catechism and is best read as an accompaniment to it. Also, I must stress that this book is best read from the beginning as Kreeft, in following the Catechism, provides a logical construct for the reason the Church's teachings exist. That is just precisely the Catechism does, but this book is somewhat easier to understand, especially in its application to specific examples of modern life and the faith. Although this section necessarily addresses other issues such as capital punishment, euthanasia, suicide and more, I will be focusing primarily on abortion and the right to life.
13. The basic arguments for and against abortion
There are three steps, or premises, to the argument for outlawing abortion.

The first is that one of the most fundamental purposes of law is to protect human rights, especially the first and foundational right, the right to life.

The second is that all human beings have the right to life.

The third is that the already-conceived but not-yet born children of human beings are human beings.

From these three premises it necessarily follows that the law must protect the right to life of unborn children.

There are only three possible reasons for disagreeing with this conclusion and being “pro-choice”instead of “prolife.” One may deny the first, second, or third premises. For if all three are admitted, the “pro-life” conclusion follows.

Thus there are three different kinds of “pro-choicers”:

First, there are those who admit that all persons have a right to life and that unborn children are persons, but deny that this right should be protected by law (the first
premise). This is a serious legal error.

“The inalienable right to life of every innocent human individual is a constitutive element of a civil society and its legislation. ‘The inalienable rights of the person must be recognized and respected by civil society and the political authority. These human rights depend neither on single individuals nor on parents; nor do they represent a concession made by society and the state; they belong to human nature and are inherent in the person by virtue of the creative act from which the person took his origin….’80 ‘The moment a positive [human] law deprives a category
of human beings of the protection which civil legislation ought to accord them, the state is denying the equality of all before the law. When the state does not place its power at the service of the rights of each citizen, and in particular of the more vulnerable, the very foundations of a state based on law are undermined. . .’81” (C2273).

Second, there are those who admit that the law should protect the right to life and that unborn children are human beings, but deny that all human beings have the
right to life (the second premise). This is a very serious moral error.

It is essentially the philosophy of power, of “might makes right.” Those in power – doctors, mothers, legislators, adults – decree the right to kill those who lack the
power to defend themselves: the smallest, most vulnerable, and most innocent of all human beings. No good reason can justify this decree; a good end does not justify an intrinsically evil means. If the babies shared the powers of the abortionists and could fight back with scalpels, there would be few abortions.

Third, there are those who admit that the law should protect the right to life and that all humans have that right, but deny that unborn children are humans (the third premise). This is a serious factual and scientific error.

Before Roe v. Wade legalized abortion, all science texts taught the biological understanding that the life of any individual of any species begins at conception, when sperm and ovum unite to create a new being with its own complete and unique genetic code, distinct from both father and mother. All growth and development from then on is a matter of degree, a gradual unfolding of what is already there. There is no specific or distinct point in our development when we become human. (What were we before that – birds?) Only when abortion became legal did the science textbooks change their language and cease teaching this understanding – not because of any new science but because of a new politics.

Abortion is not “a complex issue.” Few moral issues could be clearer. As Mother Teresa has said,“if abortion is not wrong, nothing is wrong.”
End of series.

(Note: you can also find the book as a series of pdfs or podcasts here. My series of excerpts would be found in Lesson 27.)

Good Advice and a Very Good Prayer

Yesterday, my friend Kim gave me several pieces of good advice. I share them here in case anyone else may be interested. This far from everything but it is what hit me most.

The first was that I offer myself completely to Jesus in the morning to use as He needs. Ok, kind of already doing that but not really thinking about it, being there for that prayer ... if you know what I mean. So that is a more definite prayer and commitment.

Secondly, she recommended that although the day may be busy so that we don't have time to consciously stop to offer up a difficult moment for Jesus to unite to his cross and use for our intentions ... we can instead do something that is quick, simple, and will bring us closer and closer to Him. (My ultimate goal anyway ...) If He crosses your mind, simply tell Him that you love Him. Simple indeed. And it made me realize that at least five times during my work day Jesus crossed my mind. Not in blog reading about faith or anything. But He, as a person, crossed my mind, just as I would think of our kids or friends or my husband. First of all I was astonished that Jesus was crossing my mind that much. But also at how naturally it was to toss a mental, "Love you..." out there. A very nice thing indeed, grounding and good for my soul to be "in touch" that often.

Thirdly, she called to mind a prayer for dealing with people that frustrate us which I have practiced for some time but had completely forgotten about lately. This also may be helpful for those struck by yesterday's "Well Said."
Lord, have mercy on me and bless (person's name).
I could go into more detail but have already done so in this post which mentions the deeper meanings, effect on me, and overall benefits of such a prayer.

Fourth, among other things, she gave me the Litany of Humility. Again, I know it well but had forgotten about it. Nothing is more grounding. I include it here.
Litany of Humility
Rafael Cardinal Merry del Val (1865-1930),
Secretary of State for Pope Saint Pius X


O Jesus! meek and humble of heart, Hear me.
From the desire of being esteemed,
Deliver me, Jesus.

From the desire of being loved...
From the desire of being extolled ...
From the desire of being honored ...
From the desire of being praised ...
From the desire of being preferred to others...
From the desire of being consulted ...
From the desire of being approved ...
From the fear of being humiliated ...
From the fear of being despised...
From the fear of suffering rebukes ...
From the fear of being calumniated ...
From the fear of being forgotten ...
From the fear of being ridiculed ...
From the fear of being wronged ...
From the fear of being suspected ...

That others may be loved more than I,
Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.

That others may be esteemed more than I ...
That, in the opinion of the world,
others may increase and I may decrease ...
That others may be chosen and I set aside ...
That others may be praised and I unnoticed ...
That others may be preferred to me in everything...
That others may become holier than I, provided that I may become as holy as I should.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

God Makes Surprise Visit to Local Church

"I AM the God of Abraham, the LORD MOST HIGH, who brought you forth from the bondage of Egypt," God said unto church members, many of whom cowered in reverent fear of Him. "Thought I'd just pop in and see how things were going. Please, pretend like I'm not even here."

The Supreme Being then thanked the choir for its "lovely introduction" and took a seat to the right of the altar.
The Onion. Gotta love it. The entire thing is perfect, right down to the parents' reaction to their child wanting to hug God. (Warning, site has been known to have offensive content.)

Today God Sent a Friend to Sit Beside Me

Funny thing. Going through a few family things right now that are not only taking up a lot of time but also rather stressful.

Daily mass has been very helpful for this. Again, no angels singing or big epiphanies but I find I have been hugely helped by the steady flow of homilies and time in front of the tabernacle, not to mention the immense benefit of the Eucharist (of course, the most important comes last, right?).

Another great thing is to realize the good that is there to see along with the tough stuff. The fact that my brother, sister, and I get along so well and can laugh with each other through everything is a true blessing.

Just yesterday, my sister sent an email that began thusly:
You know, just when things look the bleakest God says, "well here's a wonderful person for you that's proof of my love"; that's Cathy.
Today that very same thing happened to me. I was at morning Mass and thought suddenly of a friend who attends whenever she can, "I wish Kim was here. It would be so comforting to tell her all of this. Oh well, I don't need to go on talking to people about this stuff. Most people have things much harder than I do and I need to toughen up and not worry about it."

Even with that, I found myself still thinking again five minutes later how good it would be to talk with Kim.

About five minutes after that while I was kneeling after communion, someone suddenly came and knelt down next to me. Kim. Like an answer to prayer. In fact, that is what she was.

I remembered what my sister had said and was flooded with thanksgiving for a God who cares enough to send such comfort right when it is needed. Proof of his love.

Kim was indeed good medicine for me with good advice that I never would have thought of otherwise.

Thanks be to God.

A.N. Wilson on His Return to Christianity from Atheism

For a few years, I resisted the admission that my atheist-conversion experience had been a bit of middle-aged madness. I do not find it easy to articulate thoughts about religion. I remain the sort of person who turns off Thought for the Day when it comes on the radio. I am shy to admit that I have followed the advice given all those years ago by a wise archbishop to a bewildered young man: that moments of unbelief “don’t matter”, that if you return to a practice of the faith, faith will return.

When I think about atheist friends, including my father, they seem to me like people who have no ear for music, or who have never been in love. It is not that (as they believe) they have rumbled the tremendous fraud of religion – prophets do that in every generation. Rather, these unbelievers are simply missing out on something that is not difficult to grasp. Perhaps it is too obvious to understand; obvious, as lovers feel it was obvious that they should have come together, or obvious as the final resolution of a fugue.
An excellent piece. Via The Anchoress.

Catholic Basics--Moral Issues of Life and Death 5

As promised, I am following up my answers about pro-life issues with excerpts from Catholic Christianity by Peter Kreeft. This is the book I read that cleared up many of my objections to Catholic teachings. The excerpts for this series began here.

I must stress that this book does not substitute for the Catechism and is best read as an accompaniment to it. Also, I must stress that this book is best read from the beginning as Kreeft, in following the Catechism, provides a logical construct for the reason the Church's teachings exist. That is just precisely the Catechism does, but this book is somewhat easier to understand, especially in its application to specific examples of modern life and the faith. Although this section necessarily addresses other issues such as capital punishment, euthanasia, suicide and more, I will be focusing primarily on abortion and the right to life.
11. The universal agreement in the Catholic tradition about abortion
“Since the first century the Church has affirmed the moral evil of every procured abortion [as distinct from miscarriage or spontaneous abortion]. This teaching has not changed and remains unchangeable” (C 2271).

The earliest Christian document we have after the New Testament, the first-century “Letter to Diognetus,” mentions abortion as one of the things Christians never
do, as a distinctive visible feature of their faith. The latest Ecumenical Council,Vatican II, reaffirmed this teaching in totally uncompromising terms:“‘. . . abortion and infanticide are abominable crimes’76” (C 2271).

The presence of “dissenters” or of heretics who reject some certain, essential Catholic (“Catholic” means “universal”) teaching does not make that teaching uncertain,
unessential, or non-universal. The Church’s teaching did not come from human opinion, so it cannot be changed by human opinion.

12. The Church’s policy on abortion
Catholic tradition distinguishes “formal”and “material” cooperation in any evil. “Formal cooperation”means direct, deliberate doing of the evil – for instance, a mother freely choosing to pay a doctor to abort her baby, the doctor performing
the abortion, or a nurse directly helping the doctor to perform it.“Material cooperation” means indirect or nondeliberate aid – for instance, contributing money to a hospital that performs abortions. Material cooperation is a “gray area.” Even paying taxes can be material cooperation in abortion when the government uses tax money to finance health insurance that covers abortions. It is not possible to avoid all material cooperation with evil. But it is possible, and necessary, to avoid all formal cooperation with evil, for any reason. No good reason can justify an intrinsically evil act.

“Formal cooperation in an abortion constitutes a grave offense. The Church attaches the canonical [official Church-law] penalty of excommunication to this crime
against human life. ‘A person who procures a completed abortion incurs excommunication latae sententiae,’77 ‘by the very commission of the offense’78 . . .” (C2272).

This does not mean that all who commit this sin are damned. Excommunication is not automatic damnation. But it does mean they have broken their communion with
the Body of Christ. For Christ cannot commit such a crime, and to be a Catholic is to be a member of his very Body, to be his hands and fingers. It is not Christ’s hands that abort Christ’s children.

“The Church does not thereby intend to restrict the scope of mercy” (C 2272). Forgiveness is always available for any sin, if sincerely repented, and ministries of reconciliation like “Project Rachel” deal compassionately with women who have had abortions.

Mother Teresa says: “Every abortion has two victims: the body of the baby and the soul of the mother.”The first is beyond repair, but the second is not; and the Church
does everything possible to repair and restore souls and lives torn by sin – which in one way or another is true of all of us. The Church does not judge the individual soul,nor should any of us. She says, as her Master did, “Let him who is without sin among you cast the first stone.” She is not in the business of stone-casting. But she is in the business of the accurate labeling of human acts, just like her Master, who said not only “neither do I condemn you,” but also “go and sin no more” (Jn 8:11).
Coming next, the basic arguments for and against abortion.

(Note: you can also find the book as a series of pdfs or podcasts here. My series of excerpts would be found in Lesson 27.)

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

No, My Kid is Better Than Your Kid ...

"I told you twice, don't put the lima bean in Jesus' armpit! What is wrong with you? You are almost 22 months old!!! Are you a baby? Read the directions!"
Ok, I know I'm having a tough day, but anyone is gonna find this hysterically funny ... go read.

Catholic Basics--Moral Issues of Life and Death 4

As promised, I am following up my answers about pro-life issues with excerpts from Catholic Christianity by Peter Kreeft. This is the book I read that cleared up many of my objections to Catholic teachings. The excerpts for this series began here.

I must stress that this book does not substitute for the Catechism and is best read as an accompaniment to it. Also, I must stress that this book is best read from the beginning as Kreeft, in following the Catechism, provides a logical construct for the reason the Church's teachings exist. That is just precisely the Catechism does, but this book is somewhat easier to understand, especially in its application to specific examples of modern life and the faith. Although this section necessarily addresses other issues such as capital punishment, euthanasia, suicide and more, I will be focusing primarily on abortion and the right to life.
9. Sins against the fifth Commandment
These include:
  1. “Infanticide [killing an infant],70 fratricide [killing one’s brother or sister], parricide [killing one’s father or mother], and the murder of a spouse are especially grave crimes by reason of the natural bonds which they break” (C 2268).
  2. “The fifth commandment forbids doing anything with the intention of indirectly bringing about a person’s death” (C 2269).
  3. “The moral law prohibits exposing someone to mortal danger without grave reason,
  4. “as well as refusing assistance to a person in danger” (C 2269).Also,
  5. abortion,
  6. euthanasia, and
  7. suicide all demand special treatment today, since the traditional consensus against them is rapidly breaking down in so-called “civilized” and “advanced” societies in the West.
10. Abortion and the Right to Life
The “bottom line” first:“[h]uman life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception [its beginning]. From the first moment of his existence, a human being must be recognized as having the rights of a person – among which is the inviolable right of every innocent being to life72” (C 2270).

The American Declaration of Independence has the same philosophy: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these rights are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

We cannot pursue our end of happiness without liberty. (Therefore slavery is a great evil.) But we cannot have liberty or pursue happiness without having life. (Therefore
murder is a greater evil.)

The State did not create us, design us, or give us life. Nor did it give us the right to life. Therefore the State cannot take away that right.

All persons, not just some, have a “natural right” to life simply because of their nature, because of what they are: human persons. Only if someone gives up his right to life by threatening the life of another is it right to take his life, to protect the innocent other person. This is the morality of Western civilization, of Greek and Roman classicism at its best, of religious Judaism, of Islam, and of Christianity, of
Biblical Protestantism and Eastern Orthodoxy as well as Roman Catholicism. It is the “sanctity of life” ethic.

The other philosophy, the “quality of life” ethic, holds that only some, not all, human beings have an inalienable right to life; and that some human beings may draw the line for others and exclude them from the community of persons, from those who have the right to life. This same principle is at work whether those excluded persons are unwanted, unborn babies, the old, the sick, the dying, those in pain, those of a certain “inferior”or unwanted race,those who have the wrong political opinions, or those who are declared “severely handicapped” because they fail to come up to a certain standard of intelligence or performance such as “significant social interaction” – which standard is always determined by the killers.

Thus the “quality of life” ethic denies the most basic human equality and the most basic of all human rights. No two moral philosophies could be more radically at war with each other than the philosophy of the culture Pope John Paul II has called the “culture of death” and the philosophy of the Church of the God of life.
Coming next, the universal agreement in the Catholic tradition about abortion.

(Note: you can also find the book as a series of pdfs or podcasts here. My series of excerpts would be found in Lesson 27.)

Pushing Back Against Politically Correct Language

"The word 'eskimo' comes from the language of the cree (?) indians to describe their neighbors to the north, and may actually be a racial slur. The inhabitants of the Canadian High Arctic call themselves the Inuit (the people). I believe that the Alaskan natives are Aleuts …“

I am aware of that, and I do not care. In fact, I regard with particular hatred attempts to change the language to sooth the imaginary hurt feelings of various mascots of the political Left. Unless you can tell me, off the top of your head and without looking it up, the name in any Eskimo dialect for a Virginian, I suggest your concern for their concern for our names for them is illegitimate, particularly where no English speaker knows the meaning of the insult. (None, that is, but I: it refers to them as eaters of raw fish, a slight against their relative poverty).

Besides, what could be more insulting to me that to have the Eskimos refer to themselves as ‘the People’? What does that make me? A non-people?
I still remember the day that I found out "gypped" came from the word Gypsy and that if I used it then I was slurring gypsies everywhere. Darn. I loved that word. It didn't seem to matter that everything I'd ever read about true Gypsy culture, including writing by Gypsies themselves, indicated that they'd glory in that meaning. One upping outsiders monetarily would be counting coup for them, to mix my metaphors.

For everyone who has ever wearied of editing our colorful language into plain vanilla in order to not offend anyone, I direct you to John C. Wright's On Political Correctness, Or How to Speak Nonspeak. It's a gem.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Stolen library book returned after 145 years

Holy moly!

There's Nothing Like a Loving Husband

I did a back-to-back turnaround to Springfield with my mother. As the second one in two weeks, the way back was a bit rough but nothing that was too horrible. I remain grateful to McDonald's McCafe lattes for providing good tasting caffeine and to my favorite podcasts for giving me engaging listening material. Both are key to the long drive alone.

Best of all, when I got home at about 8:00 on Saturday evening, Tom had dinner waiting. And a candlelit table. With flowers.

My heart melted.

And he had my favorite ice cream for later.

What a guy!

As well, yesterday became the "Day of Julie" as he catered to my every whim so I could recover. I had copious podcasting time, he went to the grocery store, and then we had Thai take-out while we caught up on the last couple of weeks of House, Life, and 30 Rock.

Ahhhh, is it any wonder that I am refreshed today? (Though not, as you may notice, blogging much ...).

I'll be back on track tomorrow.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Catholic Basics--Moral Issues of Life and Death 3

As promised, I am following up my answers about pro-life issues with excerpts from Catholic Christianity by Peter Kreeft. This is the book I read that cleared up many of my objections to Catholic teachings. The excerpts for this series began here.

I must stress that this book does not substitute for the Catechism and is best read as an accompaniment to it. Also, I must stress that this book is best read from the beginning as Kreeft, in following the Catechism, provides a logical construct for the reason the Church's teachings exist. That is just precisely the Catechism does, but this book is somewhat easier to understand, especially in its application to specific examples of modern life and the faith. Although this section necessarily addresses other issues such as capital punishment, euthanasia, suicide and more, I will be focusing primarily on abortion and the right to life.
4. The basic principle of Catholic ethics of human life
Persons are not things, objects of manipulation and control and design, to be judged by some other, higher standard than persons. There is no higher standard – God himself is personal (“I AM”). Persons are subjects, I’s. They are subjects of rights.They are not to be judged as worth more or less on some abstract, impersonal scale of health, intelligence,physical power, or length of life. Each life, each individual, each human being is unique, and each is equally and infinitely precious. That is the root of Catholic morality on all issues of human life.

5. Christ and the fifth Commandment

Instead of shrinking the fifth Commandment, as the modern “quality of life” ethic does, Christ expanded it. “In the Sermon on the Mount, the Lord recalls the commandment ‘You shall not kill,’ (Mt 5:21.) and adds to it the proscription against anger, hatred, and vengeance [Mt 5:21-22]. Going further, Christ asks his disciples to turn the other cheek, to love their enemies. (Cf. Mt 5:22-39; 5:44) He did not defend himself and told Peter to leave his sword in its sheath” (Cf. Mt 26:52.).
Coming next, sins against the fifth commandment.

(Note: you can also find the book as a series of pdfs or podcasts here. My series of excerpts would be found in Lesson 27.)

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Catholic Basics--Moral Issues of Life and Death 2

As promised, I am following up my answers about pro-life issues with excerpts from Catholic Christianity by Peter Kreeft. This is the book I read that cleared up many of my objections to Catholic teachings. The excerpts for this series began here.

I must stress that this book does not substitute for the Catechism and is best read as an accompaniment to it. Also, I must stress that this book is best read from the beginning as Kreeft, in following the Catechism, provides a logical construct for the reason the Church's teachings exist. That is just precisely the Catechism does, but this book is somewhat easier to understand, especially in its application to specific examples of modern life and the faith. Although this section necessarily addresses other issues such as capital punishment, euthanasia, suicide and more, I will be focusing primarily on abortion and the right to life.
2. The "sanctity-of-life ethic"
The opposite philosophy of life is the traditional "sanctity-of-life ethic," which is taught by all the great religions of the world, is the basis of Western civilization from its Judeo-Christian roots, is presupposed n our laws, and is the basis of all Catholic teaching about the fifth commandment.

There are three reasons for the sanctity of human life: its origin, its nature, and its end.

"'Human life is sacred because'" [a]"'from its beginning it involves the creative action of God'" [b]"'and it remains for ever in a special relationship with the Creator,'" [c]"'who is its sole end'"1 (CCC2258).

"'God alone is the Lord of life from its beginning until its end: no one can under any circumstance claim for himself the right irectly to destroy an innocent human being'"2 (CCC2258).

If this is not true, then life is not sacred and God is not God. If it is true, then the "quality-of-life ethic" is as serious a form of idolatry as the worship of stone idols, false pagan gods, or evil spirits--all of which in ancient times also manifested themselves in the practice of human sacrifice, especially of children.

3. The sense of the sacred
Not all men throughout history have known the true reason for the sacredness of human life: that one God created all men. But most men and most societies have instinctively intuited that moral conclusion, even without that theological premise, and felt a strong sense of the sacredness of human life. they have often violated it--history is full of murder and bloodshed--but the sense of shame and guilt remained attached to killing, especially killing the innocent. These instinctive feelings--the sense of the sacred and the sense of shame and guilt--seem to be in crisis today.

The loss of the sense of the sacredness of human life seems closely connected with the loss of the sense of sacredness of three other closely connected things: motherhood, sex, and God. Of motherhood, for by far the most dangerous place in the world today in America is a mother's womb during the child's first nine months of life. Of sex, for the "sexual revolution" was a radical change not only in behavior but in vision, in philosophy. Of God, for "the fear of the Lord," which Scripture calls "the beginning of wisdom," is usually thought to be "primitive" and even harmful, even by many religious educators.

1 CDF, instruction, Donum vitae, intro. 5.
2 CDF, instruction, Donum vitae, intro. 5.
Coming next, the basic principle of Catholic ethics of human life.

(Note: you can also find the book as a series of pdfs or podcasts here. My series of excerpts would be found in Lesson 27.)

Movie Review: Earth



"Earth" is an exquisitely photographed and presented film that promises to take us with three animal families through a year. However, this is simply the easiest way that they can market the movie. Actually, the movie does exactly what the name promises, which is to celebrate the planet Earth in its own right. Beautifully narrated by James Earl Jones, we are introduced to the movie with the information that Earth's tilt toward the sun is integral to the planet as we know it. This is basic information for many of us but it sets the tone for our appreciation of the unique life forms with which we share the planet. As well, it sets up the fact that Earth itself is the star of the movie. We see how planetary cycles of water, weather, and sun work together and how they in turn have shaped the forces that living creatures struggle with daily for existence.

Interspersed with fantastic shots of Earth's vistas we are taken into a more personal connection through the many featured scenarios of living creatures in the circle of life. Although there are three main animal families that we watch on a migration adventure, there are numerous sequences where we are treated to many other animals in humorous, dramatic, or threatening circumstances. We are reminded that every day there is so much more to life than we experience in our civilized routines. Especially memorable were the intense night scenes of the elephant herd versus the pride of lions whose roars seemed to split the night. I was also impressed with the scenes of aquatic predators pursuing prey. It never occurred to me that watching a school of sailfish (the cheetahs of the ocean) hunt smaller fish in their darting, elusive school could be as riveting as watching wolves hunt caribou ... and eerily echoing of similar movements. I also will never forget the shots of the great white shark with part of a seal dangling from its mouth like a toothpick.

Amazing in themselves were the many shots of Earth from a great distance in the sky. This allowed us to see changes in desert regions of Africa after the rainy season. Shots of migrating herds taken from such a height that one could see the hundreds and hundreds of animals all wandering in the same direction in a loose formation. In fact the many views from overhead were unusual and gave us a different perspective on the progressions of rivers to waterfalls. Time lapse photography was used frequently to great effect so we could see the overall results of seasons, rain, or other natural phenomenon.


At about an hour and a half in length I never found the movie to lag and was always captivated by the remarkable photography and subject matter. Although there are tense moments and clear victories by predators there is never a violent coup de grace or bloody tearing at a corpse. Shots are always cut short just after we understand what happened. This makes it appropriate for younger children as long as they don't mind the tension of hunting scenes. The music, which is beautiful and grandly recorded by the Berlin Philharmonic, was occasionally over the top in setting a sentimental scene. As well, I found the infrequent comic scenes a bit over the top musically. However, from the response of the audience, this was more a matter of personal taste than anything. I did like the fact that there wasn't any attempt to find reasons for planetary warming or other conditions that might make life on a changing planet riskier for animals. The statement that the planet is warming was repeated a tiring number of times when talking about polar bears, however, there was no guilt-trip put on humans because of it. Sometimes a clarifying comment would have been welcomed, such as pointing out that predators miss their prey most of the time or that most animals in the wild live large parts of their lives hungry. This would have helped cut through a bit of the sentimentality present, but it was not really a big factor in the movie.

I saw this with my mother, who also thoroughly enjoyed the movie. Her one serious objection is one that I shared. The narration continually called the animals "Mom" and "Dad" when looking at family groups. This anthropomorphizing was jarring. However, I must point out that it was a far cry from the shameless example found in March of the Penguins and actually was a fairly minor point.

I also was occasionally left wondering, "just how on earth did they get these shots?" Naturally, I was very pleased when we are shown some footage from the photographers' experiences during the movie credits at the end.


For any person of faith this movie also serves to make us appreciate even more the diversity, creativity, and beauty that God has given us in this beautiful planet. Marveling at the scenery and incredible living creatures I saw, I was again moved to thanks that God's ways are different from ours. We are just not imaginative enough to come up with the marvels that are all around us. I was left at one point thinking just how unimaginable was the mind of God to be able to come up with evolution as a developmental tool that still left life so free to find its way to the incredible variety that was displayed in this movie. In fact, the ingenuity, curiosity, and appreciation of nature that we saw in the clips of photographers during the credits also left me with an appreciation of the human spirit.

"Earth" opens on Earth Day. As has been noted before, I'm not a fan of Earth Day as it tends to bring out the least attractive features of many environmentalists in treating it as a religious day of observance. However, I'm a big fan of Earth itself and watching this movie will remind you just what an incredible home we have. It lends itself to appreciation on many levels and I encourage you to go.

Highly recommended.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

This 'N' That


Knitting ... Baby Bobbi Bear. Had a heckuva time getting the pattern as the local yarn store kept getting shorted on their order but finally I began it yesterday. Cute as can be, although this organic cotton yarn is a bit thick seeming ... but we shall see.

Great podcast for music lovers ... Lyrics Undercover (iTunes feed here). Gives the story behind pop song lyrics and interesting info about the musicians as well. A new discovery of mine but Tom is really loving this. Each is something like 6 minutes long.

Movie watching ... going to see a screening tonight for the upcoming movie Earth from Disney's new Nature division. This looks fantastic.



Reading from my in-box... Dappled Things has their new issue up.
It’s funny—eerily funny, some might say—how Lent falls upon you just as you’ve finished reading that last story, savoring that last poem from the Advent/Christmas issue of Dappled Things. What follows? A desert: a literary desert of forty-plus days that you must endure before rejoicing at last in the glory of Easter—and the delights of the new issue that comes with it! Dear reader, your days of penance are over: the Lent/Easter 2009 edition of Dappled Things, our most exciting issue to date, is now available online!
Music from my in-box ... Jade Music Offers Free Music Downloads through MyCatholicVoice.com ... click through the links to check out all the offerings.
Site members can download free songs each week through June 10;

Partnership provides online venue for Jade Music’s complete song collection

LOS ANGELES, Calif. – April 15, 2009 – Jade Music has partnered with MyCatholicVoice to offer a featured free music download each Wednesday through June 10.

From a deep catalog of sacred and classical music, these free downloads will include works by Giulio Caccini, Hildegard von Bingen, as well as chant recordings by the Benedictine Choir of Santo Domingo de Silos, and the Norbertine Fathers of St. Michael’s Abbey, among others...
Movie from my in-box ... when I read this email I began looking around for reviews and was interested to see that this movie has garnered many awards at festivals.
This week, our movie distribution company is releasing a new Catholic-themed feature film called SINNER. The film is a thoughtful and poignant look at the Catholic sense of forgiveness and redemption.

SINNER is just the type of movie that we seek out. It has won numerous international film festivals, has been praised by theological luminaries, and presents an honest exploration of serious Catholic issues. Here is a quick synopsis:

Hidden away in small town America, in an anemic parish on the brink of bankruptcy, Father Anthony Romano finds himself at a mid-career crisis in the wake of both his personal conflicts and the real world scandals that have left the Catholic Church an anathema to so many. When his junior colleague, a fundamentalist named Stephen, clashes with a prostitute who preys on Catholic priests, Anthony finds his private world invaded and his deepest secrets exposed by a modern day Mary Magdalene.

DVDs will be available from our website. To view a trailer and other press materials for the film, go here.

Catholic Basics--Moral Issues of Life and Death

As promised, I am following up my answers about pro-life issues with excerpts from Catholic Christianity by Peter Kreeft. This is the book I read that cleared up many of my objections to Catholic teachings.

I must stress that this book does not substitute for the Catechism and is best read as an accompaniment to it. Also, I must stress that this book is best read from the beginning as Kreeft, in following the Catechism, provides a logical construct for the reason the Church's teachings exist. That is just precisely the Catechism does, but this book is somewhat easier to understand, especially in its application to specific examples of modern life and the faith. Although this section necessarily addresses other issues such as capital punishment, euthanasia, suicide and more, I will be focusing primarily on abortion and the right to life.
Chapter 7
The Fifth Commandment: Moral Issues of Life and Death

1. The "quality-of-life ethic"
Throughout the twentieth century, Western civilization has witnessed a titanic struggle between two radically opposed philosophies of human life: the traditional "sanctity of life ethic" and the new "quality of life" ethic." This new morality judges human lives by the standard of "quality," and by ths standard it declares some lives not worth living and the deliberate "terminatino" of these lives morally legitimate. ("Termination" is the usual euphamism for killing) Life Unworthy of Life was the way it was described in the title of the first book to win public acceptance for this new ethic, by German doctors before World War II--the basis and beginning of the Nazi medical practices.

The criteria by which a human life is most often judged in this "quality-of-life ethic" today are:
  • a. Whether it is wanted by another. Today this is usually applied to unborn children, to justify abortion: if the baby is "unwanted" by the mother, or predicted to be "unwanted" by "society," then it is thought morally right to take that life, in other words, to kill it. In other places and times, other "unwanted" groups have been denied the right to life, such as jews (the Holocaust), Blacks (lynching), and people with the wrong political or religious beliefs (in totalitarian states).
  • b. Whether it has "too much" pain. Today this is usually applied to justify killing the old. But there is an increasing pressure to justify and legalize medically assisted suicide at any age.
  • c. Whether it is severely handicapped, mentally or physically. Of course, there is no clear dividing line between more and less "severe" handicaps, or between "much" pain and "too much" pain. And with no objective criteria, the decision of whether it is right to kill must be baed on subjective feeling and desire.
Coming next, "sanctity-of-life ethic."

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

If You Have a Loved One with Alzheimer's ... You Need This Book

When a person has short-term memory loss, his life is made up of moments. But if you think about it, our memory is made up of moments, too. We are not able to create a perfectly wonderful day with someone who has dementia, but it is absolutely attainable to create a perfectly wonderful moment; a moment that puts a smile on their face, a twinkle in their eye, or triggers a memory. Five minutes later, they won't remember what you did or said, but the feeling you left them with will linger.
Tom's mom recently was diagnosed with Alzheimer's, delusional. In her case, that also means she is increasingly angry and hostile because of imagined situations that we can't predict. It is a big challenge for everyone to deal with.

One of the biggest helps for Tom and me is the recommendation of this little book. I find the description to be somewhat misleading as it is not about creating moments of joy together in the way we interpreted it initially, which would be for those great little moments of laughing together. Much more helpful is that this book gives many examples for helping you understand more about where your loved one is mentally. This allows you to come much closer to making them happy which consequently makes you happy as well.

For example, understanding that an Alzheimer's patient tends to regress mentally in age would help a son whose mother screams when she sees him but can talk to him happily on the phone. Hint, mentally she is in her forties and her mind's eye of her son is not a 50-year-old man but a young fellow in his twenties. His voice sounds the same even though in person she thinks he is a strange man who has broken into her room. Another idea would be that someone further along in Alzheimer's may be mentally about three years old. Therefore, they would be proud that they dressed themselves and not understand the distress of a daughter upon beholding her mother with her bra and underwear on over her dress.

These are some of the simplest examples but they give a flavor of the very helpful scenarios and advice contained in this gem of a book. We are both midway through but are continually finding ourselves bringing up examples to help in trying to figure out how best to deal with Tom's mom. And when I say "deal with Tom's mom" I hope that you understand what I really mean ... is to make her happy.

Highly recommended.

The War on Condoms

The Pope’s comments that the distribution of condoms “increases” the problem of AIDS caused a media and diplomatic storm across the globe. In an investigation spanning three continents, Mike Webb spoke to the world’s foremost Catholic theologians and AIDS scientists to discover why the Pope said what he did, and whether the lastest research might, controversially, support his claims.
The Alligator has an interesting story that talks to many experts about this issue. For me the crux of the matter is contained in Webb's ending summary "the real morals of the story." I do not necessarily agree with this portion of his first conclusion, which states:
First, the Pope should not make claims that can be interpreted as being scientific. Whichever way he meant it, the statement that condoms “increase” the problem of AIDS was seen by the world as a assertion of fact: namely, that the distribution of condoms causes the disease to spread...
I know where Webb is coming from but I do not think it is too much for the Pope to expect that reporters speaking to him remember that he is a religious authority only. After all, it is within that context that he is being questioned. Granted, I also realize this is my idea of a "perfect world" ... that people actually think about their jobs as they do them.

However, I can wholeheartedly agree with his other conclusions and appreciate someone's desire to look thoroughly into an issue rather than accepting sound bytes from either side of an issue.

Bridge of Sighs


Bridge of Sighs, taken by Father Pitt ... just one of the charming sights to be seen in Pittsburgh, where you may recall we will be going on pilgrimage (if we can get enough people signed up). Check it out, as well as Father Pitt's other great photos of this little known treasure.

A Reader's Questions About HC's Prayers to End Abortion

A reader writes with some comments that I think might reflect the thoughts of many people so I'm sharing his questions and my answers with y'all. Clearly, we could go much more indepth than I will be doing below for each subject. However, I will do the best I can to cover the basics clearly. Here we go ...
I just wanted to give you some things to think about. Perhaps you've thought about them before, I don't know.

Just to let you know, I'm a Catholic myself and, like you, I'm anti-abortion.

First, I can't help but wonder why you pray for an end to abortion when it's not going to happen, and if it did happen it would be detrimental to society. Governments will never out-law abortion, it's a freedom that we've 'enjoyed' for too long and has become 'the norm' (rightly or wrongly). It would be like giving someone a gift for Christmas, then snatching it back off them in August. Moreover, if they did outlaw abortion then dangerous back-street operations would start taking place, as they did before abortion was legalised. I'm not saying God is powerless to change the situation, I just think that we should be realistic in prayer. Instead of praying for an end to abortion, maybe we should pray for a reduction in the number of abortions?
I must say that this concept had never occurred to me. The God who resurrected His Son from the dead, who has legions of angels all around us, who created the universe ... surely to make sure our prayers are "realistic" is to attempt to leash that God to our limited imagination? I, personally, agree that we probably will not have laws repealed. However, if I do stop to imagine how God could act on this issue in a way I could foresee, it would be to agree with what Bishop Farrell said during his homily at the last Pro-Life March in January. He pointed out that a true culture of life would make it inconsequential if Roe v. Wade were never overturned ... for the simple reason that no one would avail themselves of it. Impossible? It may seem like it but nothing is impossible for God.

The claim about back street abortions is a common one used all over the world to persuade politicians to change the law on abortion. However, there is little evidence to suggest that backstreet abortion is the massive problem some campaigners claim it to be. You may read more here about the exaggerations of those claims, including this: "We aroused enough sympathy to sell our program of permissive abortion by fabricating the number of illegal abortions done annually in the US. The actual figure was approaching 100,000 but the figure we gave to the media repeatedly was 1,000,000. Repeating the big lie often enough convinces the public. The number of women dying from illegal abortions was around 200-250 annually. The figure we constantly fed to the media was 10,000." (Bernard Nathanson, Confessions of an Ex-Abortionist)

Now, any back street abortions are terrible, but looking at the number of actual abortions and the number of women dying from them is far from the numbers of abortions we see today. Let's also look at the willingness of the anti-life/pro-abortion drive to falsify right from the beginning.

As our priest has said about deception, "First, the facts are put in doubt. Second, the motivation is put in doubt." That seems a prime example.
I pray for a reduction in the number because, as a Catholic following Catholic moral teaching (as best I can), I believe there are some legitimate reasons for abortion. In fact, Catholic moral teaching supports abortion indirectly. I'm not talking about the doctrine of double-effect, but of Catholic teaching on conscience. Dogma dictates that when a conflict arises between a person's conscience and moral teaching, it is conscience that takes priority. At my Catholic school*, we had the phrase "Conscience is man's most secret core, and his sanctuary. There he is alone with God whose voice echoes in his depths." drilled into us in religious studies. It's from Guadium et Spes and is mirrored in the CCC. If after spending careful time reflecting, praying and discussing (perhaps with a Priest) your conscience is telling you to do something then you should do it. In fact it's a sin not to obey your conscience in these occasions, and it's a sin for someone to prevent you doing so as well.
Those points are true ... however ... you knew I had a however for you, right? However, they do not go far enough.

First and foremost, when one depends on one's conscience as a final, deciding factor, then one is under a strict obligation to be sure that one's conscience has been properly formed and informed. This goes far beyond careful reflecting, praying, and discussion with a priest. It goes to reading the CCC on that subject, and then looking further into the reasoning and logic for the Church's stance. On any serious subject, such as abortion, this requires deeper reading and research. I speak from experience as this is what I had to do after I entered the Church to reconcile my secular upbringing and approach to abortion and other social issues. Imagine my surprise at the overwhelming logic of thinking I encountered. It left me with no solid ground under my feet. Believe me when I tell you that no one is more astounded than myself when I look at where I was nine years ago and where I am now, in relation to Church teachings on abortion.

As the reader very properly has gone to the Catechism (CCC) on conscience, let us also go there for abortion.
Abortion
2270 Human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception. From the first moment of his existence, a human being must be recognized as having the rights of a person - among which is the inviolable right of every innocent being to life.72
Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you.73

My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately wrought in the depths of the earth.74
2271 Since the first century the Church has affirmed the moral evil of every procured abortion. This teaching has not changed and remains unchangeable. Direct abortion, that is to say, abortion willed either as an end or a means, is gravely contrary to the moral law:
You shall not kill the embryo by abortion and shall not cause the newborn to perish.75

God, the Lord of life, has entrusted to men the noble mission of safeguarding life, and men must carry it out in a manner worthy of themselves. Life must be protected with the utmost care from the moment of conception: abortion and infanticide are abominable crimes.76
2272 Formal cooperation in an abortion constitutes a grave offense. The Church attaches the canonical penalty of excommunication to this crime against human life. "A person who procures a completed abortion incurs excommunication latae sententiae,"77 "by the very commission of the offense,"78 and subject to the conditions provided by Canon Law.79 The Church does not thereby intend to restrict the scope of mercy. Rather, she makes clear the gravity of the crime committed, the irreparable harm done to the innocent who is put to death, as well as to the parents and the whole of society.

2273 The inalienable right to life of every innocent human individual is a constitutive element of a civil society and its legislation:

"The inalienable rights of the person must be recognized and respected by civil society and the political authority. These human rights depend neither on single individuals nor on parents; nor do they represent a concession made by society and the state; they belong to human nature and are inherent in the person by virtue of the creative act from which the person took his origin. Among such fundamental rights one should mention in this regard every human being's right to life and physical integrity from the moment of conception until death."80

"The moment a positive law deprives a category of human beings of the protection which civil legislation ought to accord them, the state is denying the equality of all before the law. When the state does not place its power at the service of the rights of each citizen, and in particular of the more vulnerable, the very foundations of a state based on law are undermined. . . . As a consequence of the respect and protection which must be ensured for the unborn child from the moment of conception, the law must provide appropriate penal sanctions for every deliberate violation of the child's rights."81


2274 Since it must be treated from conception as a person, the embryo must be defended in its integrity, cared for, and healed, as far as possible, like any other human being.

Prenatal diagnosis is morally licit, "if it respects the life and integrity of the embryo and the human fetus and is directed toward its safe guarding or healing as an individual. . . . It is gravely opposed to the moral law when this is done with the thought of possibly inducing an abortion, depending upon the results: a diagnosis must not be the equivalent of a death sentence."82

2275 "One must hold as licit procedures carried out on the human embryo which respect the life and integrity of the embryo and do not involve disproportionate risks for it, but are directed toward its healing the improvement of its condition of health, or its individual survival."83

"It is immoral to produce human embryos intended for exploitation as disposable biological material."84

"Certain attempts to influence chromosomic or genetic inheritance are not therapeutic but are aimed at producing human beings selected according to sex or other predetermined qualities. Such manipulations are contrary to the personal dignity of the human being and his integrity and identity"85 which are unique and unrepeatable.
Now, all this seems very clear. However, in my case, what turned the tide on my understanding was reading Catholic Christianity by Peter Kreeft. To use one phrase I've read about the book, it puts the muscle on the skeleton of the Catechism. More about that later ...
One more thing, if you pray for an end to abortion because of the destruction of human life (and I'm guessing you do) then you seem to ignore that the senseless loss of human life takes place in many other places than abortions. In the year 2007 alone, there were 17 000 recorded murders -- that's just one country. Think about how many lives are lost to war each year; not just in the wars where our soldiers are fighting, Africa seems to be in a permanent state of war. What about people who smoke cigarettes? Isn't that just state-permitted cancer?
Well, of course I'm not ignoring the loss of human life or the suffering that happens elsewhere. Just as the Pope has a few special prayer intentions every month but does not cover every single possibility of evil that he prays against, or good that he prays for, I also have my special intentions. It seems that God has put abortion as a special intention for my prayer life. I actually have many times of private prayer where I have a glimmer of understanding for those saints who said they felt the heaviness of the sin of the world. Sometimes it really does seem overwhelming. However, as Pope John Paul II said, we are an Easter people and Hallelujah is our cry.

As for those who have fallen prey to addiction, such as cigarettes, alcohol and such things, I have sympathy and pity for them, especially as I have experience with alcoholic friends and family. Also, being allowed to choose to smoke a cigarette is a far cry from being permitted, with the state's blessing, to kill another human being.

However, let us not take our eye off the prize here. Every single one of those people, whether oppressor or oppressed, whether addict or not, whether loving or hating, has had the chance to live. They have the chance to exercise their free will. Sometimes we do it well. Sometimes we do it very badly. However, we all have been given the opportunity that an aborted baby will never have. We are alive. We make choices. A baby killed in the womb never gets that chance. It is totally innocent and pays the ultimate price for everyone else's choices with his or her life.
* In the UK, there is no separation of Church and state which means that our Catholic schools are like 'regular' high schools but with a Catholic ethic; we pray together, have mass together, attend compulsory theology lessons (for which we get a legally-recognised qualification) and there is always something going on in for charity. It's the best of both worlds! I thought I better mention this, just so you don't get the impression that I was schooled by nuns or whatever.
Just a quick comment on this for those who don't know how U.S. Catholic schools are run. They are completely separate from the public school system and very often have as many, if not more, nonCatholics as Catholics because of the superior education they offer. Studies have also shown that they are far more efficiently run than public school systems. As for being schooled by nuns, I'd put Sister Cecilia from Bishop Lynch High School head to head with any hard-headed scientist of any persuasion. Not only is she a nationally respected scientist herself, she's got a logical style that will knock you on your ... well, let's just say you won't be standing.

NEXT STEPS
In view of these questions and the importance in my own life of proper formation of conscience, I will be following this up with a series of excerpts from Catholic Christianity by Peter Kreeft, focusing on abortion and the right to life.

NOTE
Please keep any comments on this volatile subject polite and respectful. Thanks!