Monday, November 30, 2009

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Manhattan Declaration

The Manhattan Declaration

A Call of Christian Conscience
Christians, when they have lived up to the highest ideals of their faith, have defended the weak and vulnerable and worked tirelessly to protect and strengthen vital institutions of civil society, beginning with the family.

We are Orthodox, Catholic, and evangelical Christians who have united at this hour to reaffirm fundamental truths about justice and the common good, and to call upon our fellow citizens, believers and non-believers alike, to join us in defending them. These truths are:
  1. the sanctity of human life
  2. the dignity of marriage as the conjugal union of husband and wife
  3. the rights of conscience and religious liberty.
Inasmuch as these truths are foundational to human dignity and the well-being of society, they are inviolable and non-negotiable. Because they are increasingly under assault from powerful forces in our culture, we are compelled today to speak out forcefully in their defense, and to commit ourselves to honoring them fully no matter what pressures are brought upon us and our institutions to abandon or compromise them. We make this commitment not as partisans of any political group but as followers of Jesus Christ, the crucified and risen Lord, who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
179340 signatures in support as of the time I signed it ...and growing!

Sign the declaration...

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Bugging Out of Here ...

... until after Thanksgiving, though I will have my annual Thanksgiving posting up tomorrow.

One of the things I'm grateful for is y'all! Have a Happy Thanksgiving everyone ... and if you are not an American then find a few extra things and stop to give thanks for them. While you're at it, then have a piece of pie!

A Thumping Good Read: Crown of the World

“I will not wear a Crown of Gold where my Master wore a Crown of Thorns.”
—attributed to Godfrey de Bouillon, upon being offered the crown of Jerusalem

Some time later, Godfrey awoke. He had no memory of going to sleep, but his mind was much clearer. Clearer…except for an image and a thought on the edge of his memory. He had been dreaming, dreaming very vividly, and he had dreamt something about…

Godfrey tried to call the images into his mind:

Conrad and Adelaise…and me. Jacques was there too, but not with the rest of us. And old Otto of Freising. He was telling something to Adelaise and me…

Godfrey’s heart ached, but he could recall no more. The dream faded, and Godfrey let it go wearily.

How long has it been?

It was still dark, still night. He was lying on some torn piece of cloth next to the fire. Someone was sitting next to him. His vision was a little blurry, but he stared for a few seconds and it cleared. It was Humphrey. Humphrey still looked battered and wounded, but there was a broad grin on his face.

“I was bloody right, Templar.”

Godfrey frowned, but quickly went back to staring. Frowning hurt.

“About…what?” he managed.

“You do have some of Godfrey de Bouillion in you.”

Godfrey smiled weakly. “I’m not a saint…only crazy.”

“It seems to me,” said Humphrey, “most of the saints had a touch of madness in them. I think it’s a sign that God loves them.”

Godfrey tried to laugh, but it came out as a weak gurgle.

“If you are mad,” continued Humphrey, “we need more madmen. A few more fools like you and we’d have had the Ishmaelites running.”

Godfrey could remember now what had happened. You fool, he thought with a sinking heart, You’ve gotten yourself too deep in for even Blanchefort to get you out now.

He had been waiting with the knights of Tripoli. He had at last convinced Jacques that it would be wrong to fight, so the two of them were waiting at the rear. Godfrey had seen the infidels come, and had watched, shocked, as Tripoli began riding up and down, shouting out to his men.

‘Knights of Tripoli, do you know what the king wants you to do?’ Tripoli had roared, visibly angry. ‘He wants us to run! He wants us to flee, to try to deceive the infidels. Then his knights will crush the Ishmaelites and return to Jerusalem with tales of the cowardice of the men of Tripoli. What do you say to that?’

The knights of Tripoli had not approved of the king’s orders. Their uproar had drowned out Tripoli’s voice for a while, and Godfrey had caught only snatches of his speech. He caught words like ‘glory’ and ‘honor’ often. Finally the noise subsided, and Tripoli had ridden to the head of the line. All the men of Tripoli had waited in silence as Tripoli faced the infidels. Then the count had given the order to charge.

Godfrey had sat there on his horse, still not fully believing what he was seeing. The knights of Tripoli had surged forward towards the Saracens, leaving the rest of the army behind. A few minutes later, the knights of the Hospital had broken formation to charge, and then the knights of Ibelin. Jacques had made some insulting comment about the Hospitallers, but Godfrey had been too surprised to really notice.

So Godfrey had watched as a third of the kingdom’s knights charged up the hill, while the rest of the army sat and watched. He had kept looking up towards the king’s banner, to see if Amalric were going to come to their aid.

It was then that he had realized what was happening. To Amalric, this battle was no more than his bloody game of thrones. Tripoli and D’Aissailly and Ibelin had committed treason, so those three must die. If two thousand others must die with them, so be it.

Godfrey had grown angry at that, and in his anger had thrown caution to the winds. He still felt dizzy remembering it. He had spurred forward, drawing his sword and shouting incoherently. Then he began riding up to join the knights of Tripoli, forgetting any past resolution to stay out of the battle. As he rode up the hill, Godfrey had thought he was leaving them all behind, the king and the Army and Jacques, but to his surprise he had heard the sound behind him as others followed. By the time he had reached the top a dozen others had joined him, and most of the army was behind him. ...
Crown of the World is an exciting work of historical fiction set in the days of the Crusades when Christians held the Kingdom of Jerusalem ... and when that kingdom is slowly being lost. We follow Godfrey de Montferrat, a young Templar knight who truly has the goal of being a hero and a saint. We see him strive and fail and then try again to live as a true Christian should as he encounters all manner of people, places, and situations that are new to him.

I am a sucker for good historical fiction, which I find all too often cannot match the heights now that were achieved by many writers of the past. This book was a pleasure to read as it strove before all to tell a good story without hitting the reader over the head with a Christian message. That message is necessarily part of any tale of the Crusades, especially one focused around a Templar knight and the author wisely allows it to be a subtext.

The author, Nathan Sadasivan, began the book when he was 15 and finished when he was 19. It does show a raw talent that leaves me interested in reading the rest of the proposed trilogy and, indeed, any other book that he may turn his hand to. He has a definite talent for translating history into adventure while still giving the reader something deeper to ponder.

However, due to the author's youth and inexperience, Crown of the World is not an unqualified literary masterpiece. There are far too many points of view with the reader being whisked from person to person, place to place, often without necessary context to help recall under what conditions one last encountered a character. Indeed, there is too little contextual information given as a whole. Although there are commentaries here and there from various points of view, it would have been good to have an omniscient narrator to assist tracking so many characters. These are also points that one hopes an experienced editor could have pointed out to a young author as the book was being prepared.

I would advise Sadasivan to take some time to read some of the excellent historic fiction available and to note techniques to smooth out delivery as one moves the reader through time with the story. My own favorites to recommend would include Kenneth Roberts who was acclaimed for his works about the American Revolution; Rafael Sabatini who incorporates a good feel for the time period without skimping on action or thoughtful characters, and (my absolute favorite) Samuel Shellabarger whose Prince of Foxes and The Captain from Castile are landmarks of accurate history combined with riveting adventure, memorable characters, and social commentary that holds up today.

This is all offered as constructive criticism for the author and is not intended to discourage readers. I truly enjoyed Crown of the World and plan on reading the rest of the trilogy as it is published. It does not take too much effort to overcome what I felt were distractions from an otherwise very good book. Truly it is an amazing book for a 19 year old to have written. It makes me think back to the first time I ever read Georgette Heyer's The Black Moth, written when she was 19 to amuse a sick brother. It showed great promise and was a highly entertaining work that presaged greater works to come as her potential blossomed. Crown of the World is no different in those respects. One may enjoy it for its own merits and for the promise that I hope will give us many excellent works of historical fiction in the future. Highly recommended.

This was a review book received from Arx Publishing where you may read an extended excerpt here.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Whoa, whoa, whoa ... let's not say something we'll be sorry for about marrying nonCatholics -- Now Updated Thrice!

My basic premise, which I advert to in this audio segment is that, more often than not, mixed marriages (i.e., when a Catholic marries a non-Catholic) are a recipe for serious problems down the road in that marriage. My advice to Catholic parents is, teach your children well the importance of finding a devoutly Catholic spouse. Eventually, if you haven't taught them this maxim and they, as a result, do not act on it, you will very likely see problems springing up in your extended family due to your sons and daughters being, in a certain sense, unequally yoked with non-Catholics. Word to the wise.
Patrick, Patrick, Patrick ... whatever happened to "be not afraid?"

To living your faith fully and trusting to God's plan?

I'm shaking my head in sorrow over such a fine man falling prey to this thinking.

Let me just reiterate something I've said many a time.
(And seriously, check out the comments on that post.)

If my husband had only dated Catholics I might still be a single agnostic wondering "what's it all about" as I wandered looking for my soul mate. It took marriage to this good man and God's use of our children to bring me to knowledge of Him and then of His Bride, the Church.

For all any single Catholic knows, God's been waiting for you to open your eyes to the fact that your true love is just waiting for conversion in addition to meeting their soul mate.

Also, Jesus did not tell us to stay in our own little group, only marrying people who were just like us. As in the parable of the yeast (now you've done it ... I'm actually driven to quoting scripture):
He spoke to them another parable. "The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed with three measures of wheat flour until the whole batch was leavened." (Matthew 13:33)
As anyone who bakes knows, this means he's telling us to mix in, mingle, and get out there. Not to conform. But to be the change that we wish to see in the world. Wanna see people converted? What better way than to marry the love of your life, let your example of living your Catholic faith open their eyes, and then raising a batch of Catholic kids?

Mmmm, nothing's better.

So know and love your faith and then ... get out there ready to fulfill your marriage vocation by marrying the person that God created just for you ... and be not afraid of their faith.

UPDATE THE FIRST
Someone brought up the idea of who my kids should date, not how my experience turned out.

As it happens, Hannah is dating a dating a young man who has thoroughly examined his Jewish heritage. I must say that as someone who understands his faith well, this young man understands the essence of Catholic thinking about relationship and God much better than many practicing Catholics I know. Well, except for the whole true core ... Jesus Christ. However, these things often come with time and conversation, which he and Hannah have frequently about their respective faiths and how they live it in everyday life. Each has a better understanding of how the other's relationship with God works in terms of their faith.

I would rather judge someone from the value of their soul, of their character, of the person they are and have potential to be than to put it off on checking off a box about their religion.

Also, no matter what happens down the road, I trust my children to make the right choices. I can't live their lives for them. They are not God's grandchildren, they are his children. We can try to give them guidance and protect them. However, as young adults their walk at this time of their life is going to be more with His guidance than Tom's and mine. I am content for it to be so in this aspect of life as well as those that are more secular.

UDATE THE SECOND
Jason, who I like and admire, brings up a partial quote from the Catechism about mixed marriages. I would like to include the entire section that addresses this topic. (Ok, see? Now I'm having to quote the Catechism. Yep. All the big guns ...)
Mixed marriages and disparity of cult

1633 In many countries the situation of a mixed marriage (marriage between a Catholic and a baptized non-Catholic) often arises. It requires particular attention on the part of couples and their pastors. A case of marriage with disparity of cult (between a Catholic and a nonbaptized person) requires even greater circumspection.

1634 Difference of confession between the spouses does not constitute an insurmountable obstacle for marriage, when they succeed in placing in common what they have received from their respective communities, and learn from each other the way in which each lives in fidelity to Christ. But the difficulties of mixed marriages must not be underestimated. They arise from the fact that the separation of Christians has not yet been overcome. The spouses risk experiencing the tragedy of Christian disunity even in the heart of their own home. Disparity of cult can further aggravate these difficulties. Differences about faith and the very notion of marriage, but also different religious mentalities, can become sources of tension in marriage, especially as regards the education of children. The temptation to religious indifference can then arise.

1635 According to the law in force in the Latin Church, a mixed marriage needs for liceity the express permission of ecclesiastical authority.135 In case of disparity of cult an express dispensation from this impediment is required for the validity of the marriage.136 This permission or dispensation presupposes that both parties know and do not exclude the essential ends and properties of marriage; and furthermore that the Catholic party confirms the obligations, which have been made known to the non-Catholic party, of preserving his or her own faith and ensuring the baptism and education of the children in the Catholic Church.137

1636 Through ecumenical dialogue Christian communities in many regions have been able to put into effect a common pastoral practice for mixed marriages. Its task is to help such couples live out their particular situation in the light of faith, overcome the tensions between the couple's obligations to each other and towards their ecclesial communities, and encourage the flowering of what is common to them in faith and respect for what separates them.

1637 In marriages with disparity of cult the Catholic spouse has a particular task: "For the unbelieving husband is consecrated through his wife, and the unbelieving wife is consecrated through her husband."138 It is a great joy for the Christian spouse and for the Church if this "consecration" should lead to the free conversion of the other spouse to the Christian faith.139 Sincere married love, the humble and patient practice of the family virtues, and perseverance in prayer can prepare the non-believing spouse to accept the grace of conversion.
What I absolutely love about this is the wisdom of cautioning what may cause problems within a marriage due to spouses professing different faiths. However, notice that last bit ... let me help ya out; here it is again:
In marriages with disparity of cult the Catholic spouse has a particular task: "For the unbelieving husband is consecrated through his wife, and the unbelieving wife is consecrated through her husband."138 It is a great joy for the Christian spouse and for the Church if this "consecration" should lead to the free conversion of the other spouse to the Christian faith.139 Sincere married love, the humble and patient practice of the family virtues, and perseverance in prayer can prepare the non-believing spouse to accept the grace of conversion.
Uh huh.

What I've been saying.

Albeit the Catechism, as one would expect, says it much more elegantly.

Reread it and think of St. Monica, married to an unbeliever, daughter-in-law to an unbeliever, mother to a son who fell away from the Church. Yes she suffered. Such is the fate of Christians who are really living their vocations, one way or another. It is how we become saints. Let us look at her legacy. Great things, great gifts to us who follow, and all because she trusted God and worked as if it were up to her alone as she followed Augustine from place to place.

I'll say it again, step out in faith and hope with God and "be not afraid."

Brad wrote to give me the link to his story about dating a Mormon ... which I think is interesting because it typifies both the benefits and detriments to such a relationship. Again, what I think this shows more than anything is that nothing is set in stone and nothing is black and white, especially when one takes the positive and negative overall. Thanks Brad!

UPDATE THE THIRD (aka Tom Sez)
My husband has been listening and reading with bemusement all the comments for and against.

He says for him the definitive argument against Catholic exclusivity is the fact that Catholics have the same divorce rate, the same problem rate as every other faith system. Period.

Don't try the trump that these are not "faithful Catholics" either because we both remember vividly an article that specifically examined really faithful, well prepared Catholics married to others who were equally faithful and well prepared. And who had the same divorce rate as everyone else. (I just wish we had an equally vivid recollection of where we saw it ... maybe Crisis magazine?)

At any rate, his point is that if all these arguments were true then those numbers would be much, much lower.

I pointed out that we began by talking about dating nonCatholics. He responded that marriage was put on the table by everyone and, therefore, divorce comes into play because that is the logical measure of a marriage.

In his view, every other argument is a straw man.

There is no golden bullet. It comes down to the people themselves and not being afraid of every little thing. (I am quoting Tom here.)

ALSO
I completely missed until now the discussion over this at Faith and Family Live, where Lisa Hendey (who I have met and is just as charming and wonderful in person as she seems on her blog, yes indeed!) was also discussing this. I was interested to read the comments (57 of them ... this is indeed a hot issue) from both sides. A gentle and mostly agreeable crowd ... do go check it out.

Doing Less So We Can Live More

Letting Our Souls Catch Up
By means of a diversion, we can avoid our own company twenty-four hours a day.
—Pascal, adapted from Penses

An American traveler planned a long safari to Africa. He was a compulsive man, loaded down with maps, timetables, and agendas. Men had been engaged from a local tribe to carry the cumbersome load of supplies, luggage, and “essential stuff.”

On the first morning, they all woke very early and traveled very fast and went very far. On the second morning, they all woke very early and traveled very fast and went very far. On the third morning, they all woke very early and traveled very fast and went very far. And the American seemed pleased. On the fourth morning, the tribesmen refused to move. They simply sat by a tree. The American became incensed. “This is a waste of valuable time. Can someone tell me what is going on here?”

The translator answered, “They are waiting for their souls to catch up with their bodies.”

The sacred necessity of stillness is an invitation to savor the pleasure of slowness and the moments of stillness or even silence, letting them work their magic.

In her book The Solace of Open Spaces, Gretel Ehrlich talks about the idea that space can heal, that space—created by silence—represents sanity. Silence can be a fullness rather than a void. It can allow the mind to run through its paces without any need for justification. It can let us recover those parts of the self that have been so scattered, so disparate, throughout the week. To sit still is a spiritual endeavor.

To sit still is to practice Sabbath, which means, literally, to quit.

To stop.
To take a break.
To make uncluttered time.
To waste time with God.

A Powerful Pause for the Days Ahead
Find a bench to sit on. If you can, buy a new or used bench or chair just for sitting, preferably outside. Practice going to that spot at least once a day just to stop, to quit, to let your soul catch up.
This is the book that gave us the final push to actually live that commandment to make the Sabbath holy by resting. Which is a lot more difficult than one might think.

Keeping the Sabbath holy had been coming to my consciousness more and more while preparing to write a bulletin insert about the Third Commandment. In many places, The Power of Pause emphasizes this specific point which had seized my imagination in my readings:
Perhaps most interesting is the reminder from The Navarre commentary quoted above that God doesn't prescribe how we take rest, simply that we do so. It is the rest itself which is holy. That is a freeing concept that invites us to self evaluation and prayer to determine just what it is that we need to let go from the week so that we may have renewed vigor when we take it up again the next day. This can be surprisingly difficult to do, as practitioners of keeping the Sabbath will testify. It is at the moment when we are struggling not to turn on the computer or clean out that drawer or write up that report that we discover just how addictive work is to our society and in our own lives.
The book is written in very short chapters which are divided seasonally so that readers may consider the various meditations on rest in relationship to the world around them. One is encouraged to read a meditation daily or weekly to reinforce the concept. Being me, I read the entire book in one sitting. It is simply written, easy to read, and has much good food for thought.

The one criticism I have is that the author, at the publisher's bidding I imagine, quite often urges the reader to visit Loyola Press's special section to click on "Book Extras" for something applicable to the section one has just read. So here is a book that urges us to disconnect while simultaneously telling us to fire up the computer and ... connect. This was a misstep and I would urge in response that any reprints remove this "extra" which gave Tom and me a hearty laugh when I came across it.

Other than that, which is a small point indeed, I have nothing but praise for this book. It is not just for Catholics but for all Christians and, indeed, I would venture to say for all Americans. I will be keeping it on my bookshelf so I can reinforce the message that resting can be holy and rejuvenating when the modern world pulls me away as it so often does. Highly recommended.

I received The Power of Pause from Loyola Press as a review book. Clearly I'd have pushed it on you no matter where I got it or if I paid for it. It's a keeper.

In which a house party begins and inexplicable events occur.

Yes, it's time for another installment of The Uninvited at Forgotten Classics, where the unearthly begins to be recognized at Cliff End. As well as a podcast highlight of a spot where you will be up to date on the latest books being released.

Monday, November 23, 2009

A Little Something New to Try for Thanksgiving ...

... perhaps as a nice after dinner drink? Try out Bee's Kiss, which I am featuring over at Meanwhile, Back in the Kitchen. Light rum, heavy cream, honey syrup. Mmmmm, what's not to be thankful for in that?

150 Bible Verses Every Catholic Should Know

PSALM 27:1-3
The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?

When evildoers assail me, to devour my flesh,
my adversaries and foes, they shall stumble and fall.

Though a host encamp against me, my heart shall not fear;
though war arise against me, yet I will be confident.

Saint Paul captured the essence of this beautiful psalm when he exulted in Romans 8:31, "If God is for us, who is against us?"

Notice that the psalmist does not say that those who love God will not be assailed, slandered or persecuted. Such trials come, especially to those who love God intensely, as the lives of the great saints testify. But what of it? As Scripture reminds us, all that really matters is that we remain close to the Lord, He will protect us in all the ways that truly matter. Trust in him, and don't worry about what evil may come your way.
Patrick Madrid is a familiar name in the Catholic publishing world for apologetics (defense of the faith) and also for his magazine, Envoy.

I was surprised and pleased to see that this book does not focus exclusively on apologetics, as you can see from the above excerpt. Rather, Madrid gives the reader a solid nugget of scripture, places it in context and then gives his reflection for our consideration. Most reflections are a few paragraphs while a very few are as long as a page or so. Often there is a sentence or two that has an apologetics orientation. However, it is a rare reflection that does not also offer more for us to think about as Madrid focuses on key issues for daily Christian living. Well rounded and a good book for daily reading, I have been using this as a daily devotional. Recommended.

This review was written as part of the Catholic book Reviewer program from The Catholic Company. Visit The Catholic Company to find more information on 150 Bible Verses Every Catholic Should Know.

Guess what? I'd have recommended it anyway.

If there's one thing I know from reading Judges ...

... it is that human nature doesn't change. Short memories about God's faithfulness, a "me first" mentality, and more. Oy veh!

I am now beginning 1st book of Samuel. Presumably for more of the same ... with a heavy dose of covenental faithfulness from God as it also begins the story of Saul, David, and Israel's monarchy.

However, these Bible commentaries are highly recommended AND worth the price. I have yet to be disappointed by one of them as I have roamed over the New and Old Testament books with their guidance.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Impressive Photo of the Week

22,000 Youth in Eucharistic Procession through Kansas City at NCYC
Holy moly! Now that's what I call a Eucharistic procession! Check out all the photos at Catholic Key.

It makes me think of the times we have participated in the March for Life processions in the last few years. Organizers would be thrilled over having around a thousand people. If every city with a March for Life could show numbers and photos like that one then maybe our representatives would begin to take the pro-life issue more seriously. And, more importantly so would the people who see no evidence that anyone has different views than theirs.

Thanksgiving is Coming ....

... the shopping list is being made.

Here's what I'll be making, including Sweet Potatoes Baked in Cane Syrup and Turkey Bone Gumbo.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Eternal rest grant unto Keith Austin, O Lord ... (expanded)

Eternal rest grant unto Keith Austin, O Lord,
and let perpetual light shine upon him.
May he rest in peace.
I had a call from my brother saying that my father died around 6:00 this evening.

The good thing is that I feel he at least had his toes over the line into Purgatory. I never thought I'd be able to say that. Thank you St. Monica and St. Augustine for praying alongside me (and most probably more faithfully)! It almost did take the ten years I vowed to pray for my parents to come to know God. I only can give thanks also that I didn't know it took St. Monica 26 years of praying for her son, Augustine. I thought it was ten years and vowing to match that if necessary was bad enough!

For at least a month before my father's final illness began, my prayers for him would result in this thought which ran seemingly nonstop when he crossed my mind, "The father of so many tears will not be lost."

This, of course, echoes what the Bishop of Tagaste had said to St. Monica in an effort to get her to stop bothering him in her entreaties for help with wayward son Augustine, who later became one of the greatest Doctors of the Church: "It is impossible that the son of so many tears will be lost." That was indeed a comforting reminder to which I clung and one which I was privileged to see God answer richly in Dad's last days. Not only for my father, but for my mother too. My cup runneth over ...

These lines from one of my favorite Easter hymns repeat themselves in my mind and heart as they did after my last talk with my father:
The strife is o’er, the battle done;
The victory of life is won;
The song of triumph has begun: Alleluia!
My heartfelt thanks go to anyone and everyone who prayed for my father over these last few weeks of his illness. Truly spiritual battles were fought, warfare was waged, and the good fight won. I praise God and offer this prayer for my father and all my loved ones who are now gone from us.
God our Father,
Your power brings us to birth,
Your providence guides our lives,
and by Your command we return to dust.

Lord, those who die still live in Your presence,
their lives change but do not end.
I pray in hope for my family,
relatives and friends,
and for all the dead known to You alone.

In company with Christ,
Who died and now lives,
may they rejoice in Your kingdom,
where all our tears are wiped away.
Unite us together again in one family,
to sing Your praise forever and ever.
Prayers are solicited, if we happen to cross your mind, for my father's soul and for the comfort and peace of my mother (and of my sister as she does all the earthly stuff that has to be organized right now). Also, I ask your prayers for my mother, that her faith will continue to grow and be of comfort during this hard time. And also that she may begin this journey without my father with her hand in God's. Thank you ...

"When you let Jesus in, He will make your life messy."

Can you tell that I'm in the midst of our annual catalog layout work? Too busy to see straight, working evenings and weekends so we can make hay (and the printer's deadline) while the sun shines. While still, I reflect upon all the ways God manifests himself to us, especially in what I witnessed during my time with my family recently as spiritual warfare was unleashed over my father's soul (and, I believe, my mother's as well).

In that spirit, I am reposting something from Easter 2008, for those new to the blog and also for those of us who need reminders that sometimes we've gotta step out in faith ... even (and perhaps especially) when we don't see any visible results.

Therefore, I present for your consideration (original comments box remarks included) ....

"When you let Jesus in, He will make your life messy."

No. Freaking. Kidding.

I'd been having my usual Easter. Doughnuts. Coffee. Leaping to my feet to frenziedly prepare before throwing myself out the door so we could get Grandma and get to Mass. Crying while singing the Alleluias ... which is common enough that the kids don't even get embarrassed any more.

I was bemusedly thinking about Peter and just how it must have felt to hear Mary Magdalene come through the door saying that Jesus was gone. Thinking about how maybe he and the beloved disciple had been not only feeling devastated and forlorn but also how possibly they had been trying to figure out just what all those things Jesus said about being "raised on the third day" really meant. And then getting the first clue, that first little glimmer that something more, something wonderful might happen ... as they raced to the tomb. Thinking about how it would feel to allow yourself to dream about the possibility of seeing once again your best friend, your teacher, your master ... and to be able to apologize for the betrayal, to tell him how much you loved him. I was thinking that I knew Jesus just a bit better than before as a personal friend so I could get a better idea of what that would be like. You get the picture. I was putting myself in the moment.

Now, not that this reading would be unusual at all for Easter morning, but I was caught unawares when suddenly I started paying more attention to what was going on as the Gospel reading began.
John 20: 1 - 9

Now on the first day of the week Mary Mag'dalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. So she ran, and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, "They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him."

Peter then came out with the other disciple, and they went toward the tomb.

They both ran, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first; and stooping to look in, he saw the linen cloths lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb; he saw the linen cloths lying, and the napkin, which had been on his head, not lying with the linen cloths but rolled up in a place by itself.

Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not know the scripture, that he must rise from the dead.
Ooooo ... synchronicity.

Father L. topped off the amazing homilies I'd heard over the Easter Triduum with one yesterday that had Tom turning to me and saying, "Wow. I wanted to stand up and say, 'Amen, brother!'" (And that's no easy feat!)

He was on fire, speaking with intensity about the need to think outside the box of our ideas about God. About a third of the way in, I found myself intently praying for all of those listening, thinking of how many were there that only came twice a year, praying especially for my sister-in-law who talks about becoming Catholic but never comes to mass. For her husband, Tom's brother, for whom "lukewarm" would be a step forward. Wishing they had listened to Grandma about coming to Easter Mass or that they had accepted Tom's phone message inviting them and that they just hadn't made it in time to move beyond the edges of the church, where so many stood. Knowing that they weren't.

Listening, but focussed on praying, I was suddenly jolted to complete attention when Father L. said that when Jesus comes into your life, He will make it messy. I nudged Hannah, and said, "Ain't that the truth?" Turning back, I saw Deacon Ken who knows me quite well enough to know how I related to that "messiness". He was smiling at me. Yep. Of course, we're a lot alike in that way.

I returned to my praying, feeling it and also thinking in the back of my mind that this must be the Holy Spirit because it sure wasn't like me. Father L continued, practically beseeching people to let Jesus into their lives, into their hearts, to let it get messy. Because that's where real life is found. If we'd have been a difference sort of church, there'd have been an altar call ... wow.

So I'm still listening, still inspired, still praying hard. Forgetting one thing. I'm part of the congregation. That prayer to let the messiness in ... oh, right, it applies to me too.

You see it coming?

We get home and do some frenzied dashing around because Tom's brother and sister-in-law (yep, the very ones for whom I was praying) and another couple have a long-standing tradition of many years of coming over for Easter dinner. I'm peeling potatoes, pulling deviled eggs from the fridge, directing the girls with plates and silverware ... the general marshaling troops. Busy. Mass is done. We're moving on to real life.

So, everyone comes over and I've had a couple of glasses of champagne, a glass of red wine, and we're eating while sitting around the living room. It turns out that my sister-in-law and I are sitting in the one corner of our living room where private conversation aside from the group could actually take place. We're talking about movies, about politics, about Grandma's memory but the fact that she never forgot about getting to mass or stations of the cross for Holy week. I told her that Grandma didn't go to the Good Friday mass but probably wouldn't have liked the chanting of the readings. So I described it some. She closed her eyes and said, "I would have loved that."

And then we're talking about grocery shopping at the Central Market, trading stories about the rare bad cashier or bad customer service and what we've done. We're talking about how much we like the Sudanese checkers (who I have mentioned before). Out of the blue, I hear myself telling her about the time that I went to one of them one day when it had been crowded in the store, only to find myself one of the few people checking out.
I mentioned how surprised I was to the cashier and he looked at me, paused for a moment, and then carefully said, "The first shall be last and the last shall be first." I looked at him for a second (thinking did he just say what I thought he said? and did he mean it in the way I think he did? you know ... Biblically?) and then said, just as carefully, "If only we could all live our lives according to that." It was like a secret handshake or something. And then we both relaxed and started talking about ... yep ... God and how he has seen that we all talk about religious tolerance in America but what he has seen is that it means that no one can say anything or they will be persecuted. An amazing conversation to have when buying groceries on a Saturday morning.
She's listening and smiling and I realize that I'm (once again) doing a Happy Catholic all over someone ... and this time it's my sister-in-law.

And then I'm in the kitchen getting coffee ready, cutting cake and talking to Hannah. My sister-in-law comes in with some dirty plates. I apologize for laying that religious story on her and say, but sometimes that stuff just happens to me. Tom used to not believe me but then he witnessed it. And I'm suddenly telling her about the time that he and I both came out of our offices when the Fed Ex lady came.
She is always cheerful and smiling and I tell her that she is such a nice change from the other Fed Ex people who can be not very happy at all. She says that she is going to speak to them. I tell her that I don't want to get anyone in trouble. She then says that you can never tell when your smile might be the one good thing a person sees all day and that it might make a big difference. She is looking right into my eyes and I look right back and tell her that is very true, we never know what we do that might make a huge difference to the people around us.

She then looks at me and says with emphasis, "I'm a Christian too ..."

Uh huh.

After she left, I turned to Tom and said, "See?" He threw up his hands and said, "I can't believe it but I saw it."
My sister-in-law is nodding and smiling.

Then Hannah told a story about a man who acted on God's prompting in a way that didn't make sense to him at the time but later turned out to have deeper meaning ... of course, now I can't remember it (worst of all she said that I told it to her and I didn't remember that either ... oh well).

That prompted my extremely sketchy retelling of this wonderful story about Beth Moore and what God had her do for an old man at the airport.
I say this because I want to tell you it is a scary thing to have the Spirit of God really working in you. You could end up doing some things you never would have done otherwise. Life in the Spirit can be dangerous for a thousand reasons not the least of which is your ego.
My sister-in-law is nodding and smiling.

And then I don't know why ... because it's like in the back of my mind I'm asking myself, "Why are you doing this?" ... but I tell her about the time that my CRHP team and I were getting ready to leave the church and go present the CHRP retreat to the next group of women.
I'm standing next to Holly and the thought has popped into my head several times that I need to hug her. Not that Holly isn't a very sweet and huggable person but it's not as if I'm just going to randomly hug her out of the blue. Finally, the third time that thought pops into my head (more like "an order" actually), I turn to her and hug her and say, "This isn't from me. This is from Jesus. It wasn't my idea." (Nothing if not gracious, right? ha!) Holly looks startled and says, "All morning I've been wishing and wishing that Jesus was here in real human form to put his arms around me so I could feel him."
My sister-in-law is smiling and nodding ... and then I think about what I just said and I know just what kind of wacko I sound like and so I mentally cringe and apologize and say that I don't know why I started telling these stories ... she says, "No, no, it's fine."

When she leaves the kitchen, I turn to Hannah and say that I can't believe I just dumped faith all over the place like that. Hannah leaned forward, looked at me intently, and said, "Mom, I think she needed to hear it."

Oh. Yeah. Maybe but at what cost? What about my ego? Hmm? I have to face sister-in-law again without being under the influence of champagne and a bunch of "faith-ish" stories of the moment. What about that?

Anyway, we move on and the guests leave, Hannah and her friends drive off to A&M, Tom and Rose clean the kitchen, and real life goes on.

So I'm having one of those nights that is becoming more frequent of tossing myself into a state of complete consciousness by 3:00 a.m. (ah, age ... ). I'm thinking about myself and sister-in-law, about Fr. L's homily ... and then I get it. That fervent praying I was doing was for everyone who was there. Which included me.

That we'd let Jesus take us outside the box. That we'd let Him make our lives messy. That we would completely commit ourselves to Him. Which includes telling stories that might embarrass us later ...

So far, so good ...

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Welter*

Get a "Butterball" turkey for test driving a Cadillac. Really?
From a offer in the mail by a local dealership. Seriously? What a strange offer which their promo piece didn't tie to anything at all. And a Butterball? Not that there's anything wrong with a Butterball. Except wouldn't they want to give the "Cadillac" of turkeys? Which in my opinion would be a Greenberg Smoked Turkey. Hoochie-mama, now that's a good turkey! And they have a brilliant sense of humor as evidenced by their "gobblegobble.com" url.

"Socially aware" is the new "politically correct"
Per Hannah. Just in case you were wondering.

Goody's Headache Powders

Endorsed by my brother when we were all together in Springfield. A mixture of aspirin and caffeine (which I hope that everyone knows helps get rid of headaches ... try some coffee or cola the next time you're waiting for the aspirin to kick in), now nicely flavored with orange. He travels extensively and, evidently uses these extensively as well. I never heard of them before but now have my sample tucked away in my wallet awaiting a headache emergency!

Horoscopes in the sidebar
I thought my post about why I have horoscopes in the sidebar was definitive. Let me say this more bluntly, as it clearly is not for those whose minds are unable to take in more than one concept concerning a subject. I am not endorsing horoscopes. I am explaining why my horoscopes are amusing and a mockery of regular horoscopes. It is not an apologia for the occult as anyone with half a brain can see. Take your soapbox elsewhere. And would it kill you to lighten up? (And, yes, I'll be adding this to the bottom of my apologia.)

Courageous Generosity must be an excellent Bible study ... just read this endorsement.
Stacy Mitch lets God's Word do all the talking in this excellent study that leads us to contemplate God's generosity in all aspects of our lives. By providing examples, asking questions, and having the reader look up what the Bible says about topics like marriage, family, work, and prayer, Mitch gives a well-rounded picture of just what it means to be courageously generous and how to strive toward that goal ourselves. Highly recommended.
Julie Davis,
blogger at Happy Catholic
Yes, I'm in print on the back of the book. Woohoo! Not only did I get the thrill of being asked do do a back-of-book endorsement (they like me, they really like me!) but I discovered an excellent series which I highly recommend to you. So we all win!

*Main Entry: welter
Function: noun
Date: 1596
1 : a state of wild disorder : turmoil
2 : a chaotic mass or jumble
(Source: Merriam-Webster Dictionary)

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Sometimes You Just Lose. Get Over It.

You remember Abby Johnson, the former Planned Parenthood clinic director who became pro-life after watching an ultrasound of an abortion. Her former employer tried to get a court injunction to shut her up. Well, they failed.
I'm glad to see that this is still the land of the free and home of the brave. If that court injunction had worked I'd have had to move to ... well, I haven't thought that through yet. But somewhere.

Read the story at Catholic Key Blog. who has the story from 40 Days for Life.

Monday, November 9, 2009

The Concrete Results of Giving a Bad Example

Today's Gospel [Luke 17:1-3] contains some of the strongest words ever uttered by Our Lord: Temptations to sin are sure to come; but woe to him by whom they come! It would be better for him if a millstone were hung round his neck and he were cast into the sea, than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin. He then concludes with this warning: Take heed to yourselves. St. Matthew provides the setting for these words. [Matt. 8:1-6] The Apostles have been importuning Our Lord to say who would be the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus called a child to his side so as to emphasize his teaching: Unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child, he is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven. As Jesus looked upon this little one, He must have had in mind many others who would lose their innocence as a result of scandal. It seems as if Our Lord were revealing the burden of this weight to his disciples in the words: Take heed to yourselves.

To give scandal is to be responsible for another's failure or spiritual ruin because of one's words, acts or omissions. [St. Thomas, Summa theologiae, 2-2, q. 43, a. 1] When Jesus speaks of these little ones, he has in mind all children. In their innocence they reflect the image and likeness of God. Yet Jesus was also thinking of the many, many people who, for one reason or another, are especially liable to be affected by bad example. Few sins are as serious as these since they tend to undermine the greatest work of God which is the Redemption of souls. They kill the soul by alienating it from the life of grace, something which is more valuable than physical life. Scandal provokes a multitude of sins. [Catechism of St. Pius X, 418] How precious must man be in the eyes of the Creator, if he "gained so great a Redeemer" (Hymn "Exultet" from the Easter Vigil), and if God "gave his only Son" in order that man "should not perish but have eternal life" (cf John 3:15). We can never lose sight of the inestimable value of each person: Christ has died for each and every one. for every soul is a wonderful treasure; every man is unique and irreplaceable. Every single person is worth all the blood of Christ. [J. Escriva, Christ is passing by, 80]
In Conversation with God: Daily Meditations, Volume Five
This is one of the lessons that was pounded into my head and heart during my time with Mom and Dad. Both of them were initially driven away from faith by hypocritical church goers or those who lived the letter but not the spirit of the law. Then I heard additional comments about in-laws who were driven away from the Church by terrible examples of twisting the Catholic faith for peoples' own evil purposes. Tom's side of the family has similar examples.

Did those driven away have other good examples in their lives? Some yes and some no. However, sometimes those good examples are not enough to overcome the betrayals felt so keenly by the "innocents."

As this became a prominent theme I noticed through small comments from others, it was surely no coincidence that I had recently read this commentary on Christian living from Coffee Klatch. Usually, that site is a reliable source of humor for me, but occasionally there are gems such as this from which I am excerpting the beginning. Do go read it all.
With so much strife in the world, we Christians have a true opportunity to live our faith. It doesn’t have to be in big, world-shaking ways, but just in our daily lives. We are called as Christians to spread God’s love and peace throughout the world. Think how much the world would be changed if we all did that right where we are in our daily lives.

To live a Christian life is a simple thing if difficult. There are several books in the New Testament that have the same thing to say to us:

Romans 12:18

If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.
1 Corinthians 16:14
Do everything in love.
2 Corinthians 13:11
Finally, brethren, rejoice, be made complete, be comforted, be like-minded, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you.
1 Thessalonians 5:13b-14
Live in peace with each other. And we urge you, brothers, warn those who are idle, encourage the timid, help the weak, be patient with everyone.

Hebrews 12:14

Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord.
In my human imperfection and clumsiness I know that there are times when I am not a good example. I hope and pray that, when I become aware of my errors, my efforts to atone are enough to offset damage done. I try to learn and to do better, which is all that any of us can do. As well, of course, as throwing myself at Christ's feet that he may compensate for my insufficiency with His grace. I know God's grace is sufficient. I just don't want to get in His way ...

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Some people call him a space cowboy ... some people call him Mal Reynolds

Got a chance last night to catch up on four glorious hours of television I'd missed. Among them was the Halloween episode of Castle, starring Nathan Fillion, who also was Captain Mal Reynolds in Firefly as fellow browncoat fans know (yes, it's a tiny little edge of a cult thing I've got going on ...)

Which was what made this hilarious from the very get-go.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Prayer for the Dying

For my father who is suddenly failing much faster and harder than he has since his miraculous rallying in the hospital ... he may have hours or a few days, but his time is fast approaching ...
May Christ Who was crucified for your sake
free you from excruciating pain.

May Christ Who died for you
free you from the death that never ends.

May Christ the Son of the living God,
set you in the ever green loveliness of His Paradise,
and may He, the true Shepherd
recognize you as one of His own.

May you see your Redeemer face to face
and standing in His presence forever,
may you see with joyful eyes
Truth revealed in all its fullness.

Amen.
For my mother and for my brother who stand as witnesses to this mystery, I pray for their strength in the face of great sorrow.

My review of Genesis by Bernard Beckett ...

... which is a SF novella may be found at SFFaudio. Short version: a quick read full of thought provoking ideas worth pondering. Long version ... go to SFFaudio!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

A Good Read ... and a Good Listen

The God Conspiracy
This book is in progress at Podiobooks. I've gotta love a conspiracy-theory, techno thriller where so many of the characters are Christians. Nothing like a bunch o' manly men stopping for a quick prayer before going out to whack the bad guys, right?
One e-mail. Five lines. 4,000 dead.

And it is only just beginning…

When a small boy in Iowa forwards a mysterious email from ‘God’ to a small group of friends, he unwittingly releases a trigger that sends blood pouring throughout his farming community.

Thousands more are dead across the country in dozens of simultaneous terror attacks and the government blames fundamentalists who want to trigger the Apocalypse.

FBI Agent Joe Unes reluctantly teams with reclusive Internet radio host Barney Ison (from Sharon K. Gilbert’s The Armageddon Strain) to expose the plot -- and discovers that he's not contending against flesh and blood.
Angel Time
An assassin who has his work down to an art and is sought in many countries by the authorities suddenly encounters an angel who offers him a chance for redemption by traveling back in time where his skills may be used on the side of good. I am finding this riveting and Rice's angelic theology is on target (not surprising as one of her cited sources is Peter Kreeft). This is just plain good story telling which, so far, should give Dan Brown fans something to read which also conveys a good deal of truth.
Anne Rice returns to the mesmerizing storytelling that has captivated readers for more than three decades in a tale of unceasing suspense set in time past—a metaphysical thriller about angels and assassins.

The novel opens in the present. At its center: Toby O’Dare—a contract killer of underground fame on assignment to kill once again. A soulless soul, a dead man walking, he lives under a series of aliases—just now: Lucky the Fox—and takes his orders from “The Right Man.”

Into O’Dare’s nightmarish world of lone and lethal missions comes a mysterious stranger, a seraph, who offers him a chance to save rather than destroy lives. O’Dare, who long ago dreamt of being a priest but instead came to embody danger and violence, seizes his chance. Now he is carried back through the ages to thirteenth-century England, to dark realms where accusations of ritual murder have been made against Jews, where children suddenly die or disappear . . . In this primitive setting, O’Dare begins his perilous quest for salvation, a journey of danger and flight, loyalty and betrayal, selflessness and love.

From Nathaniel Hawthorne to Flannery O'Connor. And Back Again.

I am continually surprised at the way people and events are connected both in the big wide world and in my personal experience. My own Rose has a passion for Nathaniel Hawthorne's writing which, combined with her and Hannah's love of The Scarlet Letter, made me pick up and read that book which high school English had taught me to despise.

I found a complex and interesting book which made me admire Hawthorne's character as much as his writing. Additionally, I found new depths when Heather Ordover at the CraftLit podcast recently featured the book read aloud by her listeners as well as including her enlightening commentary. Much was made there of Hawthorne's understanding of women as people. I wrote to Heather about his daughter, Rose Hawthorne, and how his influence must have contributed greatly to her character. Rose converted to Catholicism and in 1900 founded an order to care for inoperable cancer patients.
The Dominican Sisters of Hawthorne is an American religious community, founded on December 8, 1900 by two extraordinary women. Rose Hawthorne, daughter of American novelist Nathanial Hawthorne, began the work at age 45. She moved into a tenement in the poorest area of New York City, and began nursing incurable cancer patients. Rose, later to become Mother Alphonsa, was a convert to Catholicism. This work was the practical fulfillment of her conversion.
About halfway through the excellent The Abbess of Andalusia: Flannery O'Connor's Spiritual Journey, I have discovered with pleasure that Flannery O'Connor put her finger on a specific moment of influence. O'Connor had agreed to edit and write the introduction for a book about a terribly deformed little girl (Mary Ann) who nonetheless lived a life of joy, written by an Atlanta chapter of the order who approached her. There is much food for thought in "The Abbess" about the role of "innocent suffering" in the life of the Christian and the life of the Church, prompted by O'Connor's own thoughts and writings while working on the book. In considering the Hawthorne connection, which I find interesting for all the threads I see converging as well as for the reminder that we often do not realize the good we are doing, I include this excerpt:
It is true that Mary Ann suffered, but Flannery did not believe she suffered in vain. Rather her suffering was a thread woven within the larger fabric of believers called the Communion of Saints. In the introduction, Flannery described the Communion of Saints as "the action by which charity grows invisibly among us, entwining the living and the dead."

On May 14, 1961, she explained to a friend that "the living and the dead" referred to Nathaniel Hawthorne, who was her inspiration for the introduction. Long before Mary Ann was born, Hawthorne had written about visiting the children's ward in a Liverpool workhouse. There, according to his description, he met a "wretched, pale, half-torpid child of indeterminate sex, about six years old." Hawthorne admitted that he found the child repulsive, but for some mysterious reason, the child took a liking to him. The child insisted that Hawthorne pick him up. Despite his aversion, Hawthorne did what the child wanted: I should never have forgiven myself if I had repelled its advances."

According to Flannery, Mother Alphonsa believed that these were the greatest words her father ever wrote. And many years after Mother Alphonsa had died, Flannery perceived a mystical connection existing between Hawthorne's picking up the child, his daughter working among the dying and the sisters caring for a little girl with a disfigured face.
There is a direct line between the incident in the Liverpool workhouse, the work of Hawthorne's daughter, and Mary Ann -- who stands not only for herself but for all the other examples of human imperfection and grotesquerie which the Sisters of Rose Hawthorne's order spend their lives caring for. Their work is the tree sprung from Hawthorne's small act of Christlikeness and Mary Ann its flower.
Flannery O'Connor dedicated the book to the memory of Nathaniel Hawthorne.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

10 Misunderstandings About the Church

Anna Miller writes to tell me that she has a brief answer to ten common misunderstandings about the Catholic Church. I don't know that all of these are exactly common. Many of them I'd never heard bandied about as reasons to diss Catholics, but I can see where the various points might be misunderstood. Check it out.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Ultrasounds can change more than a mother's heart on abortion

Abby Johnson, 29, used to escort women from their cars to the clinic in the eight years she volunteered and worked for Planned Parenthood in Bryan, Texas. But she says she knew it was time to leave after she watched a fetus “crumple” as it was vacuumed out of a patient’s uterus in September.

“When I was working at Planned Parenthood I was extremely pro-choice,” Johnson told FoxNews.com. But after seeing the internal workings of the procedure for the first time on an ultrasound monitor, “I would say there was a definite conversion in my heart … a spiritual conversion.”
I vaguely heard about this while I was out of town. Get Religion looks at the coverage (and lack thereof) in this story about how the director of the (Texas A&M-area) Bryan Planned Parenthood resigned after watching an abortion performed on ultrasound.

"There be pirates in the vast void of space!"

My review of Guest Law, John C. Wright's brilliant short story, can be found at SFFaudio. (I guess that's a bit of a tell ... go find out why I liked it.)

A Few Book-ish Things

You know, it's an odd thing how you can be gone for two weeks with essentially no planned activities, spend a lot of time hanging around doing nothing (such as in hospital rooms) and still never really have any time to read. Such was the condition I encountered on my trip.

I did finish Mark Shea's fantastic second Mary, Mother of the Son book and this time was wise enough to take some notes as I went. That is on my stack of review books to write up. I began the third book but that was enough Mary in concentration for that time and I feel myself irresistibly pulled to The Abbess of Andalusia: Flannery O'Connor's Spiritual Journey.

As well I just finished New Tricks by John Levitt. The sequel to Dog Days, I found this to be somewhat of a rehash of the interesting concepts introduced in the first book. Additionally, I had the culprit pegged within a few pages of initial appearance, which is always somewhat of a bore. I probably will not continue with the series although that book was perfectly diverting for the trip and so served its purpose. Yesterday I received my review copy of Ann Rice's Angel Time and after reading the first 40 pages or so am hooked. It will be my next fiction read.

On the cookbook front, my copy arrived of The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Recipes from an Accidental Country Girl by Ree Drummond. I bought this one for myself and a quick perusal shows it is just what I hoped for: a delightful representation not only of Pioneer Woman's cooking posts but of her blog in general.

Upon return I discovered an unsolicited review book (as far as I can recall), Reading Jesus: A Writer's Encounter with the Gospels by Mary Gordon. Best selling author Gordon is suddenly struck one day by the fact that she has never read the Gospels all the way through due, she tells us, to the fact that she was raised Catholic in the 1950s and only heard them in bits on Sundays. Fired up with this idea, she dashes off to begin immediately. This book is her series of contemplations on those books. I read the first 75 pages or so and found it highly humorous that Gordon does just what she is annoyed at the Church for having done. She selects key bits that all seem to be related and gives us her meditations upon them. That is not to say that her thoughts are not interesting or thought provoking or worth spending time on. I, personally, did not find them to be very enlightening and will not continue reading. Additionally, her mash-ups of Gospel were selected for common themes that she wanted to discuss. Taking them out of context is problematic and annoying for the very reason that she mentions at the beginning of the book.

Another tendency that I found annoying was Gordon's habit of tossing around Biblical scholars' names and then fall back on her own personal interpretation. This is especially obvious in the case of when Jesus tells the young man that he cannot stay to bury his father but must follow Him. Gordon concludes:
I would have buried my father. I would not have followed Jesus. I would have known that I was right.
Gordon does not stop to consider that if she would have been right and Jesus would have been wrong (Jesus, God Incarnate, let us remember) then it is possible that she is not digging deep enough. We cannot skate the surface with such texts or we fall prey to error. I am fortunate enough to have read William Barclay's study of Luke. I must add a disclaimer here that from a Catholic theological viewpoint Barclay is often in grievous error. In fact, from a basic Christian viewpoint that can be the case, such as his many "work around explanations" for the virgin birth of Jesus. However, when it comes to shedding light on past customs and original language meanings and translations Barclay is fantastic. He tells us that asking to bury one's father was a common Middle Eastern expression that was an easy way to put off immediate action.

I see that without intending it, this turned into a book review from someone who didn't read the entire book. Apologies if the rest of the book redeems the faults I mention above but I have too many books to read to spend time on this one. Mine is a highly individual take and probably many people will find them worthwhile. My main caution is that readers remember that ultimately these are Gordon's personal reflections rather than legitimate interpretations of the Gospels. To explore the Gospels in further depth, one might seek out works by the authors Gordon references as the ones I noted all seemed pretty trustworthy and some were authoritative in their fields.

When perusing Mom's bookcases I discovered a book that I think I gave her and then, somehow, forgot. It is always odd to rediscover a book that one liked well enough to give as a gift. A Circle of Quiet by Madeleine L'Engle is the first of her Crosswick Journals series of four books. She wrote them as a long letter or series of journal entries on her life living in the country near a small village with her family. This book achieves the effect that I believe Mary Gordon was going for. L'Engle's meditations upon life reads somewhat like Dorothy Day's journal, On Pilgrimage which I see I have somehow never reviewed but highly recommend. Inextricably wound in among daily activities of family, teaching, and writing are thoughts about God that are quietly illuminating and give us much food for thought. Highest recommendation.

Monday, November 2, 2009

"You do not realize the value of the good you are doing..."

You do not realize the value of the good you are doing. Think of how the farmer sows without seeing his crop in front of him. He trusts in the land to deliver his harvest. So why don't you put your trust in God? The day of the harvest will surely come.Imagine yourself in the middle of the planting season. The more we sow today, the more we can reap tomorrow. Remember those words of Holy scripture: "He that goes forth weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, bringing his sheaves with him" (Ps 125:6).
St. Augustine, Sermon 102, 5
Quoted in In Conversation with God, Vol. 5:
Ordinary Time, Weeks 24-34
I feel as if I have just come off of a two week retreat. A retreat that others are carrying on with my prayer support, I might add.

On the way back to Dallas, reviewing the astounding events that have taken place over a two-week period, I again was in awe of God and his mysterious workings. The result was that for the first two hours I played my "God mix" as loud as I could take it and sang along in my private praise and worship session. Sometimes jubilant, sometimes crying ... as the Holy Spirit touched my soul.

I am sorry to say that first I had to overcome my selfish desire to stay home and not disrupt my life which was flowing along nicely. That took a couple of days. I was then able to throw myself fully into the humble tasks of driving Mom, sitting at Dad's bedside both when it seemed each breath would be his last and then as he miraculously recovered his faculties completely (and I use the word "miraculous" deliberately), helping clean out their house, making sure Mom remembered to eat, and suchlike. Good works to be sure but nothing exalted. Except that, not seeing with God's eyes, those experiences are exactly what enabled me to have such a perspective that I could say to my father before I left, "When you die and see God holding out His hand, take it and go with Him. You can't imagine the love and happiness there and I want you to have it."

Not exactly words I ever imagined myself saying to my father. Or him crying with me and saying, "I will!"

I couldn't have imagined how my sister, brother, and I would all in our own ways provide what was needed, both practically and spiritually, for my mother and father ... each according to our talents and insights.

I certainly couldn't have imagined that a demonic encounter by a down-to-earth family member, that was impossible to mistake for coincidence, would be the thing that would suddenly prompt a new focus for my mother, a new way of thinking, and a series of conversations about spiritual warfare. I am positive that The Enemy, also as short sighted as me, wouldn't have imagined that such blatancy would be used by God to such a result that my mother told me on the phone that she prayed last night. Glory be to God! Surely her reaching out to God is something that she will sorely need in the trials of the days to come and of adjusting to new life later.

The growth and light never end. We are not often privileged to see strands come together as God weaves a tapestry, but this is one of those times.

I am now prayer support as my father's "retreat" continues. I do not think it has long to go as he is becoming weaker. Of your kindness, please continue to add your prayers to mine for my father and mother.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

An Extremely Quick Update

The party was wonderful. My brother and sister outdid themselves. The food was wonderful, the drink plentiful, and the guest of honor was very happy as his friends and well-wishers showed up to talk and be with him. He looked super sharp in his "Italian mafia" outfit of white jacket, black shirt, and black trousers. My mother looked elegant and sophisticated ... and also happy to see her husband enjoying his party so very much.

On a personal front, I had a brief heart-to-heart with Dad which included the subject dearest to my heart as well as the subject of many prayer requests ... that he take God's hand when he dies and goes with Him. My father said, "I know there is a God" and later on, "I will!" What a happy, happy morning that made it.

As well, after my brother and sister left later in the evening to go listen to a friend's band play, Mom and I sat talking of many things ... not cabbages and kings, but of the good day, my father's happiness, of good and evil, of Heaven and miracles. I do not think that she really can be called an atheist any longer. Perhaps more of an agnostic, a seeker of truth who is open to accepting that truth can be found in places that cannot be measured.

None of that would have been possible, I think, without the terrible and stressful chain of events that led us to this day. God works in strange and unfathomable ways which are a wonderment to watch unfold, when we are granted that privilege.

Thank you God for my good day, for answers to fervent prayers, for love found among family and friends, and for the love you shower upon us for the taking if we only are open to it.

As a side note ... I am going home! Woohoo! Two weeks and two days. This is the longest I've been away from Tom since we married. I cannot wait to get home again.