Thursday, March 31, 2011

Space Aliens, a Priest, and the Black Death

One marvelous novel has it all: Eifelheim.
Father Dietrich is the village priest of Eifelheim, in the year 1348, when the Black Death is gathering strength. To his astonishment, Dietrich makes first contact between humanity and an alien race from a distant star, when their ship crashes in the nearby forest. Flynn gives us the full richness and strangeness of medieval life, as well as some terrific aliens.
Scott and I discuss the book, whether aliens have religion, disagree over Connie Willis' Blackout, and a whole lot more at A Good Story is Hard to Find.

Young, Fun and Catholic

Looking for answers? Or just want something clean to read? Got questions about your Catholic faith and don't know what answers you can trust to be true to the Vatican? Here is the blog for you! For ages 20 - 30. It's a place for younger Adult Catholics to find some answers and read about other Catholics trying to live the right way!
From what I saw it is perfectly named. Drop by and take a look around.

A Free Mind: Brede, No Treacle: St. Therese and Rumer Godden

Cutting through the "treacle" of St. Therese brings forth the strong personality and deep faith of a woman willing to embrace the challenge of a Carmelite cloister. And we know how challenging that could be thanks to a Rumer Godden classic novel.
What broke open connecting with St. Therese for me? A good translation and a second book: my latest column at Patheos.

Treacle = British for molasses (sort of)

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

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Au Revoir Les Enfants: There's Another 105 Minutes I'll Never Get Back*

I'll do what director Louis Malle should have. I'm going to make this mercifully brief and to the point.

A young, privileged French boy in a Catholic boarding school in Nazi-occupied France mostly despises and later befriends another young boy who has a touch of mystery about him. It is just a touch. The audience can tell fairly easily that the boy is Jewish and is being hidden at the school by the priest.

Although beautifully photographed, this story goes nowhere as slowly as possible, failing to develop characters enough for us to care about them until around the last twenty minutes of the movie. At that point it became interesting as the Nazis made their usual menacing selves more obvious.

The biggest crime in the movie is that Malle showed us nothing new. Autobiographical or not, the characters are those we've seen before, as are the motivations and the lessons.

I'm not against slow movies. Babette's Feast was also almost ponderously slow and beautifully shot. The difference, and it is crucial, is that Babette's Feast showed us something new and gave us much food for thought at the end. There was a payoff and it was one that kept us talking about it for weeks.

This story mattered to Louis Malle because it was semi-autobiographical. It didn't to me or the three others who watched it with me.

I meant to say that we researched Louis Malle's other films after seeing this. Upon seeing that he also directed My Dinner with Andre, Tom reevaluated his review, "I now realize that for Malle this was a sprightly and fast-paced look at school days." Which tells you all you need to know about our view of that movie, which we never made it through despite our best efforts. 'Nuff said.

*I'll just say it now ... yes, I'm in the minority, based on the many acclaims the movie has received. I remain unmoved by them and stick to my guns on this.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

A Zombie and Two Protestants Walk Into a Book Store

I am tickled pink to see that a zombie was the first purchaser of an autographed copy of Happy Catholic at the HC store.

He was followed closely by two of my Protestant besties ... Scott, with whom I've argued over many a movie review, and Hey Jules, with whom I've pondered many a theological question.

Just seems right somehow.

Though I see the fellow mackerel-snappers are joining in now also. Which definitely is a good thing!


On another note, I am super-swamped today ... this may be the only post I can muster.


Monday, March 28, 2011

The HC Book Store is Ready to Serve You


Step right up to get your autographed copies ... we're set up for domestic sales in the form and will be happy to handle international requests also (though those will take a little more hands-on work).

I made my first personal sale this evening. It's true, I'm shameless. None of Hannah's friends are safe when they come over to go running. Though to be fair, she does read the blog.

Rest In Peace: Diana Wynne Jones

Thank you to the various people who, knowing of my new-found passion for Diana Wynne Jones' books, wrote to let me know that she died this weekend.

Neil Gaiman wrote a splendid and moving tribute to this author, who was also his literary godmother.
As an author she was astonishing. The most astonishing thing was the ease with which she'd do things (which may be the kind of thing that impresses other writers more than it does the public, who take it for granted that all writer are magicians.But those of us who write for a living know how hard it is to do what she did). The honest, often prickly characters, the inspired, often unlikely plots, the jaw-dropping resolutions.
Indeed, yes.

I also liked reading his description of visiting her in the hospital the day before she died.

Read it all here: Being Alive. Mostly about Diana.

Just this weekend I was thinking about confession ...

... during my wrestling with keeping my thoughts on Mass, one of the wanderings my too-active brain did was a realization that Reconciliation (a.k.a. confession) is the only sacrament, other than the Eucharist, which can be repeated frequently in ordinary life and which we need no other prompting than to get ourselves to the confessional.

(Quick refresher here - the seven sacraments are: Baptism, Eucharist (communion), Reconciliation, Confirmation, Marriage, Holy Orders, Annointing of the Sick)

I don't know why this never dawned on me in quite that way, but it made it more special. It is so important, like the Eucharist, that God wanted us to be able to get it whenever we needed it. Often. Frequently.

But do we think of it that way? I do not. Which is, in itself, something I need to think about.

As if to underscore that realization, today I had a question pop up on an old post explaining Penance (yet, another term for Reconciliation and Confession). You just get yourselves over there to see what it was, but it made me look up the results of Confession. I gotta love that online Catechism.
1496 The spiritual effects of the sacrament of Penance are:
  • reconciliation with God by which the penitent recovers grace;
  • reconciliation with the Church;
  • remission of the eternal punishment incurred by mortal sins;
  • remission, at least in part, of temporal punishments resulting from sin;
  • peace and serenity of conscience, and spiritual consolation;
  • an increase of spiritual strength for the Christian battle.
It is Lent. Time for confession, penance, and reconciliation with God. What else do I need to think about?

Nothing really.

Saintly Sisters' Nun Dolls

I am pleased to announce that I have started my own Catholic Nun Doll business! Today on the feast of the Annunciation Saintly Sisters officially opened its doors! Saintly Sisters is a family owned and operated business. It's my sincerest hope that vocations will be inspired by these dolls. I love love thinking about the possible vocations that might come blossom from our dolls!
These are super-cute dolls. Go check out Saintly Sisters' grand opening!

The new Happy Catholic book's here!

Navin R. Johnson: The new phone book's here! The new phone book's here!

Harry Hartounian: Boy, I wish I could get that excited about nothing.

Navin R. Johnson: Nothing? Are you kidding? Page 73 - Johnson, Navin R.! I'm somebody now! Millions of people look at this book everyday! This is the kind of spontaneous publicity - your name in print - that makes people. I'm in print! Things are going to start happening to me now.
The Jerk
I have in my hands the actual printed book! Not too shabby! And this'll tell you what a layout geek I am ... I actually really like the spine.

Yes. The spine. You'll just have to get your own to see what I mean.

Sadly, I've already found a couple of things that need fixing. Isn't that always the way? The first things you turn to are the shockers that stop your heart.

I am going to look at these as the touches that tell us that real human beings worked on these, just as in Gutenberg's day. Yeah. That's my story and I'm sticking with it! Although they will be fixed in the ebook editions so anyone buying those will be just that little bit closer to perfection!

(I haven't been in advertising for so long without learning how to tap that dance in both directions, y'all. The crazy thing? I mean it! Both ways!)

Ok, I'm getting the store set up. Cross my heart. As soon as I can get Tom off the phone.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Did you read ...?

This makes me think of being on SFFaudio. There's no way I can ever keep up with those guys' encyclopedic science fiction reading. Thanks to Tante Leonie for this.

Friday, March 25, 2011

In which Abraham and Isaac go to the mountaintop and Abraham buys at top dollar.

That's right! We're heading with Abraham into the event that everyone knows him for, whether they've ever read the Bible or not. Hear it all, plus the podcast highlight, at Forgotten Classics.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Reviewing Gilgamesh The King by Robert Silverberg

The Epic of Gilgamesh is one of the earliest known works of literature, being from around 2200 B.C. It tells of Gilgamesh the king of Uruk (a city-state in Sumer) who is half human and half god.


After a story has been around as long as the Epic of Gilgamesh, it is not surprising that there are several versions which have been recovered on ancient clay tablets. What is surprising is that Gilgamesh’s story is alive and well in different versions in modern culture, ranging from music to television to video games. That makes it more understandable that Robert Silverberg, that prolific master of science fiction, brought his talents to bear on retelling the tale in 1984. One wonders how earlier authors missed taking advantage of a story with such fantastic elements: a demi-god, slayer of monsters and master warrior, searching for the key to immortality.
Read it all at SFFaudio.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

A Movie You Might Have Missed: 27

You'll laugh. You'll cry. You'll fall in love all over again with a little mermaid. Believe it or not, all from a documentary.

27. Waking Sleeping Beauty

The Black Cauldron is universally agreed to be Disney's lowest point in animated movies. This documentary takes us from the time that movie is being created in 1984 through Disney's golden animation renaissance that began with The Little Mermaid and ended with The Lion King in 1994. How the studio went in a  mere ten-year period the depths to the heights of animation is the subject of this behind-the-scenes tale from the point of view of the animators. Everything is told through stills and archive footage although with new audio interviews by several of the principal figures. Much of the footage shot by the animators themselves while at work.

The business side of the company is also examined, including what was really responsible for Disney's rise and subsequent fall after The Lion King, the monumental egos of Roy Disney, Michael Eisner and Jeffrey Katzenburg. Hearing the animators' side of these much loved movies is fascinating. The movie clips played remind us that it has been all too long since we watched The Little Mermaid or Beauty and the Beast. As well, you will appreciate Howard Ashman as never before for his creative genius and the passion he gave to his work. It is an engrossing and surprisingly fast-paced work that any Disney movie fans will enjoy.

Mail Bag: Three Interesting Things

NY Lenten Video Scholarship Contest with a $25,000 Prize
In an effort to help promote New York’s All Day Confessions event, happening Monday April 18th, The Diocese of Brooklyn in conjunction with both the Archdiocese of New York and Diocese of Rockville Centre are launching a grassroots digital campaign called i-Confess. Using both social and digital media, the goal of this campaign is to generate interest in the act of Confession throughout New York State.

As part of the i-Confess campaign and beginning March 8th local New York area students will have the opportunity to create and submit short (up to 1 minute in length) YouTube stylized videos for a chance to win the top prize of $25,000 towards an educational scholarship and the school will receive an additional $25,000. A second place prize of $10,000 and the school will receive an additional $10,000, multiple third place prizes of $1,000 each will be awarded. The winning video may also be featured in the official All Day Confessions campaign TV commercial airing throughout NY.
Find out more here. Thanks to The Anchoress for the heads up on this.

Shower Curtains to Sing About

Find them here. Via Rose, whose selection you see above.

The History of Science Fiction
 I especially like the way that pulp magazines have an artery leading to Astounding Magazine that leads to L. Ron Hubbard, with a vein going to Scientology. That gives you the flavor. I printed it out to peruse at leisure. This is a low res image just to give you a feel for it. Go to slashfilm to see the high res image. Also via Rose.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

B-16's History Lessons: Reviewing "The Fathers, Volume II"

In this treatise on the combat between the vices and the virtues, [Ambrose] Aupert sets contemptus mundi (contempt for the world) against cupiditas (greed), which becomes an important figure in the spirituality of monks. This contempt for the world is not a contempt for Creation, for the beauty and goodness of Creation and of the Creator, but a contempt for the false vision of the world that is presented to us and suggested us us precisely by covetousness. It insinuates that "having" is the supreme value of our being, of our life in the world, and seems important.
It is often lamented that Pope Benedict XVI writes on a very high level. What is overlooked are his homilies, which he gives a great number of every year.

Homilies of necessity must be fairly easy to follow as they are delivered to the widely varying crowds of the congregation for Mass. Luckily for us, Pope Benedict likes to take a theme and follow it to a logical end, which may cover the course of a year. In this case, he followed the theme of the Fathers of the Church, which is a long one indeed. Equally luckily for us Our Sunday Visitor has published the pope's homilies gathered into books which makes them handy for contemplative reading or simply for learning more about the fathers' lives and times.

I was eagerly anticipating this book, having really been inspired after having read the first Fathers volume as well as his homilies about the apostles. I was not disappointed and, if anything, found this even more valuable as it covered many people who I hadn't heard of before. Although factual information is naturally important, the books really shines when Pope Benedict uses their lives to show how God worked through them and then deftly brings us face-to-face with our own similar need for God today.
... I think that Rabanus Maurus is also addressing these words to us today: in periods of work, with its frenetic pace, and in holiday periods we must reserve moments for God. We must open our lives to him, addressing to him a thought, a reflection, a brief prayer, and above all we must not forget Sunday as the Lord's Day, the day of the Liturgy, in order to perceive God's beauty itself in the beauty of our churches, in our sacred music and in the word of God, letting him enter our being. Only in this way does our life become great, become true life.
We might think that the Fathers of the Church are too difficult to understand or to relate to, that they don't have anything to teach us. Pope Benedict shows us that nothing could be further from the truth.

This is a long over-due review for The Catholic Company who provided this book. My thanks to Chris Cash for his patience!

You can find all active reviews of this book here.

A great piece of advice for those who wish to achieve dominance over their dog.

"Ignoring attention-seeking behaviors is the highest form of dominance." (Now stop yelling at the dog when he barks at the mailman.)
From a review that I was reading to see if I wanted to accept a review copy of this book. Everyone at our house can agree on this truth. Ignoring our dogs except when we call them to us has really made a huge difference.

The only greater truth is that growling at the dog will stop that behavior (thank you again, Bark Busters). Of course, we praise the dog as soon as they stop, which is usually instantaneous. It's the language they understand. Truly miraculous.

Monday, March 21, 2011

God Bestows Silence for Lent Although We May Not Always Recognize It as a Blessing

What a weekend.

First came the notice that not enough people have signed up for either of our CRHP retreats to make them viable. The March retreats are being postponed until October. We were asked to pray and to ask God to guide us in the future of the retreat at the parish. The decision was given with regret and only after much deliberation, but it prompted many emails in support of action, immediate action. That is a very understandable response as we are, of course, Americans which means that immediate action fixes many ills and is the first thing we think of. Sometimes, though, there is no helpful action to take. We must practice patience, prayer, and obedience. Ouch! The triple threat, but such a needed reminder, especially during Lent.

There was a young woman in the pew next to me on Sunday who quietly wept during a good portion of Mass. She had been whispering about the retreat to her friends before it began and my surmise was that she felt, as Tom thought must be the case for those who had gone through CRHP recently, "as if there were a death in the family." I felt sorry for her, but also hoped that she could take those feelings into the desert with Christ ... it can be a blessing though it never feels like it at the time.

Then came the news that Father Corapi, a much admired priest by many people I know, announced that he has been accused of sexual impropriety, among other things. Read about it at The Anchoress where there are many other good links and good reflections, with which I agree.

I myself have no particular feelings about Father Corapi either way, except to be quite surprised at his angry comments about the Church immediately putting him on administrative leave. Has he read the news for the past few years? What does he expect? I think of how many saints were, to use modern terminology, put on administrative leave for various attitudes and "offenses" against the Church. They took it in a spirit of obedience. Quite a contrast. Perhaps this is part of God's provision of Lenten silence for the good father. I pray for his accuser and for him, that justice and mercy may be meted to both as needed by the authorities and by God, especially in this time of Lent.

Finally, Tom happened across Archbishop Dolan's interview on 60 Minutes (watch it or read the transcript here), a show we never normally watch. He was very impressed and reported a lot of it to us over dinner. Luckily, it pushed The Amazing Race back far enough that my taping of that show caught most of the interview and we were able to watch it for ourselves. If he is the new face of the Church, then we are blessed. (Read his telling of an airport encounter here to see how much.) He seems not only well spoken but to understand real people, which is key. Some of my favorite bits:
He is unwavering on what he calls the "settled" questions: abortion, birth control, ordination of women, gay marriage and celibacy.

"No question that you're conciliatory, that you like to have dialog, but underneath that you're an old-fashioned conservative. I mean, in the sense that of right-wing conservative," Safer remarked.

"I would bristle at being termed right wing. But if somebody means enthusiastically committed and grateful for the timeless heritage of the church, and feeling that my best service is when I try to preserve that and pass that on in its fullness and beauty and radiance, I'm a conservative, no doubt," Dolan said.


"Do you fear that aftereffects of these [sex] scandals are just gonna live on and on and on?" Safer asked.

"In some ways I don't want it to be over because this was such a crisis in the Catholic church, that in a way we don't wanna get over it too easily. This needs to haunt us," Dolan said.


Dolan says he wants people to celebrate the beauty, charity and timelessness of the church, and not focus so much on what the church prohibits. "Instead of being hung up on these headline issues, let's get back to where the church is at her best," he told Safer.

"But the headline issues are where people are living their lives. And an awful lot feel that the church is going down the wrong road," Safer said.*

"Yeah, I guess, you got two different world views there," Dolan replied.

"And you ain't gonna change," Safer remarked.

"I'm in one world. You're in the other," Dolan replied, laughing. "I'm glad you're visitin'."
What does that have to do with Lent and silence?

This statement: In some ways I don't want it to be over because this was such a crisis in the Catholic church, that in a way we don't wanna get over it too easily. This needs to haunt us.

We like to forget that we are fallible, that we don't know the best way, that we have to turn in humility to God. Sometimes only prayer, patience, and obedience are what we can do. Lent forces us to contemplate true perspective, true reality, and let it sink into our souls. We may not recognize it as a blessing, but it is one indeed.

  • Mark Shea says what needs to be said about Fr. Corapi and about any other accused priest and the process of investigation. He essentially says what was the initial reaction at our house. Good common sense.
  • Meant to link to this updates post as well as to The Anchoress's post above. More good common sense.
  • Fr. Dwight Longenecker has an excellent reflection on Priests and Pedestals, based upon once being mistaken for Fr. Corapi.
2nd Update: St. Macarius the Great
Hannah was trying to think of the name of the saint whose story she told us ... a priest or monk who was accused of sexual impropriety and reacted in a praiseworthy, Christ-like manner, as she told the story. I don't think it was Desert Father, St. Macarius the Great, but he is a wonderful example ... and we can thank Frank at Why I Am Catholic for telling us his story. I meant to link to this yesterday, actually, but got sidetracked ... shame on me! Go read and let us all reflect upon the times when we could have been more Christ-like and ask for God's grace to do so in the future. Which is the point of Lent, right?

*Note: this took us aback and was a real insight into how journalists think. We, actually, are evidently not in his world view because we do not live our lives by headline issues. What a dreary world that would be.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Is Society Purposely Messing With Boys' Heads?

What ever happened seeing the dignity and worth of the human person alone, and why are we still less focused on the content of one’s character than the character of one’s chromosomes?

The question can be applied in other instances, as well. I once asked a religious sister, who insisted on expunging as many male pronouns from the liturgy as she could get away with (she hit a wall when she tried to de-sex Jesus) why she was so manic on the subject. She kindly explained that “some women have been hurt by men, and they don’t have good feelings about fathers, so it’s important that we not perpetuate the idea of God-as-Father, or as having gender at all.”

I replied, “well I’m a woman, and I’ve been hurt by men and don’t have good feelings about my father; that’s one reason I’ve always been so grateful to have the idea of a Heavenly Father who is perfect; what about women who feel as I do? Why do we get short shrift? Why can’t we echo Jesus and say ‘Abba…’”

Sister was so taken aback that she actually took “a step back” from me and said — with wide-open-eyes — “you are the first woman I have ever heard express that sentiment.”
An absolutely wonderful piece by The Anchoress and the above is just a fraction of it.

It is the fraction that spoke to me most, though, since my Catholic women's book club recently had a conversation about how our fathers helped or hindered our ability to see God as Father.

Two friends talked about how much they loved their fathers, gave them tribute, and then said that they thought it was why they could think so easily about God the Father. Another said that her father was extremely difficult to live with but that it was that very thing which made her long for God the Father ... and always think of Him as the "Abba" (Daddy) that she hadn't experienced on earth.

So we pull toward our Father in Heaven via different routes. But we all need that Father.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Quiz Show: Temptation, Confession, and God the Father

Scott chose the perfect movie to discuss during Lent, Quiz Show from 1994. And the spoilers don't get discussed until close to the end (with warnings) ... hear it all in Episode 6 of A Good Story Is Hard To Find.

Myth Busters: Christians, the Dark Ages, and Statistics

A couple of books I recently came across that look like information we could use.

The Genesis of Science: How the Christian Middle Ages Launched the Scientific Revolution
by James Hannam
Maybe the Dark Ages Weren’t So Dark After all…

Here are some facts you probably didn’t learn in school:

People in the Middle Ages did not think the world was flat—in fact, medieval scholars could prove it wasn’t

The Inquisition never executed anyone because of their scientific ideas or discoveries (actually, the Church was the chief sponsor of scientific research and several popes were celebrated for their knowledge of the subject)

It was medieval scientific discoveries, methods, and principles that made possible western civilization’s “Scientific Revolution”

If you were taught that the Middle Ages were a time of intellectual stagnation, superstition, and ignorance, you were taught a myth that has been utterly refuted by modern scholarship.
You can read some of the author's articles here.  I know I liked some of them well enough to ask for notification when the book was published. It is now on my wish list.

Christians Are Hate-Filled Hypocrites...and Other Lies You've Been Told: A Sociologist Shatters Myths From the Secular and Christian Media
by Bradley R.E. Wright
According to the media, the church is rapidly shrinking, both in numbers and in effectiveness. But the good news is, much of the bad news is wrong. Sociologist Bradley R. E. Wright uncovers what's really happening in the church: evangelicals are more respected by secular culture now than they were ten years ago; divorce rates of Christians are lower than those of nonbelievers; Christians give more to charity than others do. Wright reveals to readers why and how statistics are distorted, and shows that God is still effectively working through his people today.
You know, I think that I used that "well known" myth that Christians get just as many divorces as other people when Scott and I discussed The Castle a few weeks ago. My apologies. But now I know better. The story that brought this to my attention may be read at GetReligion.

"... the bank couldn't handle all the donations made through their ATMs."

What it looks like from Japan ... from the friend of a friend in Japan at Ruth Reichl's.

Donate to relief efforts through your preferred charity, or you can use the one I remembered that helped Tom's father when no one else would help him get home after his service as a Marine in the Pacific during WWII:

Lent and the Zombie Apocalypse

Y'all knew I couldn't stay away from zombies for very long, right?

I now inflict them on the readers of A Free Mind, my Patheos column. Read it here (if you dare ...).

I should have mentioned that Scott Danielson and I discussed this book on the first episode of A Good Story Is Hard To Find. He concurs that it is a good Lenten read.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Blogging Around: Many Lent-y Things ... and A Few Not So Lent-y

What Will You Murder in Order to Pray?
The major obstacle in most of our lives to just saying yes to prayer, the most popular and powerful excuse we give for not praying, or not praying more, or not praying regularly, is that we have no time.

The only effective answer to that excuse, I find, is a kind of murder. You have to kill something, you have to say no to something else, in order to make time to pray. Of course, you will never find time to pray, you have to make time to pray. And that means unmaking something else. The only way to install the tenant of prayer in the apartment building of your life is to evict some other tenant from those premises that prayer will occupy. Few of us have any empty rooms available.
Peter Kreeft has a good and practical article at Integrated Catholic Life. Via New Advent.

Lent in Hawaii
I hate the idea of wasting time. I spend every moment of the day in a whirlwind of tasks, which gives me a dangerous energy, unanchored, frenetic. ...
The church calendar, unlike my way of inhabiting time, is more merciful, patient, and consistent. It reacquaints us with redemption through the steadiness of liturgy, practice, memory, sacrament.

The church calendar recasts time like a net, pulling us into a rhythm that returns us, season after season, to God.
Read it all at Good Letters.

Stuttering and the King's Speech
The connection between handedness and speech runs deep. Speech is controlled by the left side of the brain and so is motor control of the usually dominant right hand. It is possible that this connection says something about the evolutionary origin of language, if language was first expressed through gestures rather than speech.

Curiously, stuttering is not really a speech disorder. Some deaf people stutter in sign language, too. This is just one of the ways that sign language shares all the characteristics of spoken language.
Matt Ridley's Saturday science column at the Wall Street Journal is consistently a favorite of mine. This one looks at the idea that sound may have come second in language development.

Is Happiness Overrated?
Happiness research, a field known as "positive psychology," is exploding. Some of the newest evidence suggests that people who focus on living with a sense of purpose as they age are more likely to remain cognitively intact, have better mental health and even live longer than people who focus on achieving feelings of happiness.
I'd like to say, "well, DUH!" but a Lenten quality of charity leads me to simply say that they wrote a whole lot more in support of this thesis if you would like to read statistics and suchlike. From the Wall Street Journal.

We know what we like, and it's not modern art! How gallery visitors only viewed work by Damien Hirst and Tracy Emin for less than 5 seconds
I think that pretty much says it. As an uneducated art viewer who only knows what she likes, this is another "Well, DUH" moment for me. But the article was very interesting. Read it here. Thanks to Margaret from ten thousand places for pointing this out to me.

Of Gods and Men ... the Perfect Lenten Movie?
It looks to me as if it might be. Read Father James Martin's review at Patheos and Steven D. Greydanus's review at National Catholic Register and you'll see why I think so.

Where to Get Good Information about Nuclear Reactors in Japan
Hint: not from the mainstream media.
While the events at the Fukushima plant reactors are serious, they also underline how many layers of redundancy and safety measures are built into modern nuclear power plants.
DarwinCatholic has the links we need to the real experts. As we would expect.

God is in Her Hand
I use the terms “God” and “love” interchangeably. But these concepts I merely ponder. As for belief, I believe in acts of love. I believe that God asks me to fill the empty hand of the beggar. I believe that God poses the question every time I see the hand my student raises. I believe that I find God as I type the poem, the one I begin without knowing where I will end.
An essay from the This I Believe series. It is brief but excellent and something we need to ponder during Lent. Or perhaps something that I need to ponder. Listen to the podcast or read the essay at the link.

Don't forget that I link many interesting articles in my Google reader also. It's in the sidebar.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Catholic Media Promotion Day: Easy as 1, 2, 3

Greg Willit's great idea. Via Lisa Hendey.
  1. On March 15, everyone with a blog, podcast, or Facebook page should list their favorite 3 blogs, 3 podcasts, 3 other media, 3 random Catholic things online, and their own projects.
  2. Then post the link to the list here on March 15th. Additionally, to help get the word out, press are asked to write articles and press releases for this day.
  3. Lastly, on March 15th, go to iTunes and leave at least 3 positive written reviews for various Catholic podcasts and 3 positive written reviews for Catholic mobile applications.
So that's tomorrow.

Put your thinking caps on, get your engines ready ... and tomorrow we'll go promotin'.

My Lenten Sacrifice

It occurs to me that my Lenten sacrifice this year may affect some of you.

Therefore, I will share. (Plus, I just like sharing! As you know by now.)

I gave up checking email at home for Lent. Which gives you an idea of just how distracted I get because I then begin following links, writing other emails, checking my Google reader. You know the drill. It is part of the big internet time-suck that steals an hour at a time from me when I'm not looking.

I have a similar problem with looking for new podcasts, new downloads for podcasts I already listen to, and suchlike. Therefore, in a related sacrifice I have given up checking iTunes.

As happens with such things, I have discovered just how addicted I was to those time wasters as I am continually having to fight the urge to just check email once more before doing anything like ... oh ... sweeping the floor.

As a result, I got a record amount of housecleaning done on Saturday. Which just goes to show it was the right thing to give up.

That also gives me much more time for things of the spirit ... which was part of the point ... such as prayer. So I'm better off overall, I think we could all agree.

Anyway, why do you care? Only if you regularly email me and don't get an answer back over the weekend or until the next day. At work, I'm kept from checking personal email as much by ... well ... work.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Earthquake-Tsunami Relief for Japan

Catholic Relief Service personnel throughout the Pacific are standing ready to assist those affected by the earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan early Friday morning.

“We know from 2004 the devastating impact that these tsunamis can have,” said Sean Callahan, CRS’ executive vice president for overseas operations. “As with all such disasters, CRS will help people recover from the emergency and stand with them as they recover in the months and years to come.”

Caritas Japan is beginning to assess the needs in that country where the tsunami has caused extensive damage. CRS has programs in the Philippines and Indonesia and works with Caritas Oceania that is active in numerous islands in the Pacific that might be affected. Central American countries where CRS works could also be in danger.

“We will reach out to our Caritas partners to help them in any way we can,” Callahan said.
Go here to donate.

Remember the obligation for almsgiving during Lent and be extra generous ... because we'd have all given something anyway, right?

From Alice Cooper to St. John Vianney to Battlestar Galactica ... and beyond: Announcing Happy Catholic - the book!

Why did it take me so long to see the truth that floods through everyday life? -- from the Introduction.

As she does in her blog, Happy Catholic, Julie Davis taps into quotes ranging from The Simpsons to John Paul II, Battlestar Galactica to Scripture and The Princess Bride and discovers all around her glimpses of God. Her reflections on pithy quotes (Trashing your hotel room is easy, but being a Christian--that's rebellion. -- Alice Cooper) draw back the veil, letting us connect with God in unexpected ways. Intriguing to both Christians and non-Christians alike, this book is also an unexpected source for daily prayer.
Can you believe it?

Happy Catholic is now an actual book.

It takes one of the most popular features, the daily quotes, and combines that with my reflections on them. These are the sorts of thoughts that go through my head when I put the quotes in my journal and on the blog. I just don't usually share them.

 I wrote all but a couple of these 149 reflections specifically for the book, most of them while sitting in front of the tabernacle in our Church. So if you especially like one or two of them, then you know who to thank for the inspiration. (Hint: it ain't me!)

Here's a sample that gets you from Alice Cooper to St. John Vianney.
Still Countercultural After All These Years

Drinking beer is easy. Trashing your hotel room is easy. But being a Christian, that’s a tough call. That’s rebellion.
Alice Cooper

If you care about what people think of you, then you should not have become a Catholic.
St. John Vianney

It is astounding that as far as we have advanced, there is still nothing more shocking to the world than a faithful Christian. Jesus was radical in his time. Following Christ makes us radicals in turn. We’re called on to slice through all those neat little boxes that people use to make things more understandable. There is no political party we can trust. There is no nation that gets it right. There is no cultural group where we are going to completely feel at home. We are the ultimate outsiders. That’s OK, really. If we’re doing it right, then we’re upsetting things because we won’t “settle” and we won’t conform. We answer to a higher power.

Take another look at that crucifix and remember the only really original rebel, the one whose watchword of “Love one another” casts the world into confusion. Then prepare to be fully yourselves in Christ and watch the confusion spread, along with the love.
Another excerpt: Knitting Madonna (actually this didn't make it into the book, but only because of space)

Pick it up from your favorite Catholic bookstore like Aquinas and More. It is also at Amazon.

In response to a couple of questions I received in email ... we didn't design the book. The publisher (Servant Books) did all that.

Cross the Bridge to Heaven

Every work day at lunch, Tom and I have been taking turns reading aloud to each other from A Year with the Church Fathers by Mike Aquilina. Considering that we don't do it on weekends, it will take us more than a year to get through it but that doesn't matter. It does explain why we only read Day 39 on Ash Wednesday, though.

This struck both of us as particularly appropriate for Lent so I thought I'd share it.
Cross the bridge to heaven
In a striking metaphor, St. Ephrem the Syrian imagines
Jesus the carpenter making his own Cross into a bridge
to heaven. Because the tree in Eden brought death, it is
fitting that a tree also brings us to life.

This is the Son of the carpenter, who skillfully made his Cross a bridge over Sheol--Sheol that swallows up all--and brought over mankind into the dwelling of life.

And because it was through the tree that mankind had fallen into Sheol, so upon the tree they passed over into the dwelling of life. Through the tree in which bitterness was tasted, through it also sweetness was tasted; so that we might learn of him that among the creature nothing resists Him.

Glory be to your, who laid your Cross as a bridge over death, that souls might pass over on it from the dwelling of hte dead to the dwelling of life!
St. Ephrem the Syrian, Homily on Our Lord 4

In God's Presence, Consider...
Does it help my resolution to imagine the Cross as a narrow bridge over a gaping chasm?

For I Was Blind But Now I See: Reviewing "Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist" by Brant Pitre

You've got to have proper context to really understand anything well. It's a lesson I seem to have to learn repeatedly.

Years ago our family hosted a Japanese teaching intern who could not comprehend most of the jokes in "The Simpsons." They were so cultural that they flew over her head. We'd never given context a second thought until that point. More recently, we learned that when we thought our dogs were simply playing, they were actually acting upon a complex pack hierarchy. Watching with our eyes newly opened, we suddenly understood why the gentlest dog always got his way. The other dogs all knew what we didn't: he was the pack leader.

When I converted to Catholicism, one of the most joyful, enriching experiences was learning that there were more levels of context to scripture than I would have dreamed. Obviously parables about weddings, seed sowing, and wineskins required explanations of customs of the day for full understanding. However, the more I learned about what lay contextually behind seemingly simple concepts, the more eager I became to learn as much as I could about the faith.

No statement ever needed context more than Jesus' statement that leads directly to the key Catholic teaching that the Eucharist consumed at every Mass is truly the body and blood of Jesus Christ.

"For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink" (Jn. 6:53-54).

Those words taken without context might lead some to think Jesus was advocating cannibalism, or only speaking completely symbolically. Brant Pitre's Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist, however, will put the rest to that notion, and will make even those Catholics who believe they have fully explored and understood church teachings on the Eucharist feel like they'd been merely scratching at the surface of this deep and mysterious gift.

The belief that consecrated bread and wine can become the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ is hotly disputed by non-Catholics. It can be supremely difficult to defend when encountering a well-prepared challenger, as Brant Pitre discovered while a college sophomore. Shaken to the core by an attack on Real Presence, which he had never questioned, Pitre changed his major and became a biblical scholar. As his knowledge grew, he realized that the key to understanding Jesus' words, deeds, and identity was in his Jewish roots and the Jewish people to whom he proclaimed his message.

Pitre began concentrating on 1st-century Jewish history to bring context to everything that Jesus taught about the Eucharist; this brought Jesus' teachings into hi-def focus in a new and fascinating way. What readers of Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist will find are surprising revelations that add a powerful, exciting depth to everything about Jesus.

Pitre builds his case painstakingly, so that readers clearly understand what the Jews would have believed that God promised about the Messiah, the new Moses, the new Passover, and new exodus. He demonstrates how Jesus' words and actions reflected the foundational expectations of the Jews, and pointed toward his role as Messiah, the fulfillment of them. He then shows how the apostles, Church Fathers, and the Catechism all refer to these key expectations as well, although they are not usually spelled out in a way that modern believers find easy to identify. Those authorities knew the ancient sources very well, while the average modern Catholic lacks the same informing context.

Pitre invests all of this with an immediacy and accessibility that will deeply impress any interested Christian. His research challenges many modern purveyors of "historical" biblical exploration, and even those who think that they know the sources well will find surprising depth and details brought to light, including:
  • How the lamb was prepared for the Passover meal
  • Why the manna in the desert was truly miraculous
  • The ancient Jews' mandatory ceremony celebrating the Bread of the Presence in the temple
  • The meaning of the four cups of wine of the Passover
  • The less-than-accurate translation in the Our Father that is key for Eucharistic understanding
There is a thrill of discovery at seeing the pieces fall into place, and that makes the book a surprising page-turner; the reader eagerly wonders where the next revelation will take them. Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist makes it crystal clear why ancient Jews and early Christians alike understood Jesus' outrageous claims about the Eucharist, that he is truly present in it now and forever.

This book made me look at the Eucharist and Jesus' promises with new eyes and new appreciation for the truth hidden in plain sight in the Catholic Church. It answers the question that Brant Pitre encountered so long ago as a college student, "How can you Catholics teach that bread and wine actually become Jesus' body and blood? Do you really believe that?"

Beginners or scholars, believers or atheists, Protestants or Catholics, skeptics or the faithful can now follow the inescapable logical reasoning of Pitre, which leads to opened eyes and an emphatic "yes."


This review ran initially at Patheos as part of their book club.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

If you've just plugged up the holes in your attic and you see a racoon or squirrel frantically trying to get back in ...

... it may not be just that they are mad because they can't have their own way.

It may be because they left something behind. Something so well hidden and so tiny that you didn't notice it.

Like these little tykes. Their eyes aren't even open but they have adorable masks already. Adorable.

Read about their reunion here.

"In an eight-decade study, parental divorce in childhood was the strongest predictor of early death in adulthood."

The early death of a parent had no measurable effect on children's life spans or mortality risk, but the long-term health effects of broken families were often devastating. Parental divorce during childhood emerged as the single strongest predictor of early death in adulthood. The grown children of divorced parents died almost five years earlier, on average, than children from intact families. The causes of death ranged from accidents and violence to cancer, heart attack and stroke. Parental break-ups remain, the authors say, among the most traumatic and harmful events for children.
What makes that fascinating is that the study, begun in 1921 and which studied 1,500 people, was actually to try to identify early glimmers of high potential. They certainly don't seem to have had an agenda. It was not as rigorously scientific as we might like these days but I think that the discoveries based on 80 years' worth of observation of trends are worth considering. It's a book worth looking for, based on the review.

Atheist Convert: Jeff Miller (a.k.a. The Curt Jester)

I was at the apogee of my conservatism based on Randian positivism. To me, radical selfishness was the highest virtue. The pinnacle of individualism and being a self-made man were my highest ideals. The natural virtues helped to modify this idealistic positivism toward how I related with others, but it was not enough. My nose had long before achieved orbit as I looked down at those poor superstitious mortals who still believed in hunter-gatherer myths such as God.
I love reading conversion stories and best of all are those of the people you know. Now, I've never met The Curt Jester in person but I've been reading him since before I began blogging and we have a certain amount of give and take in the Catholic blogging community. I'm quite fond of him.
I also thought I knew his story better than I did. It is a fascinating combination of slow percolation and 2-x-4 to the head from God. Read it all at Why I Am Catholic.

While you're there, browse around. There are many other good stories, each that show God's knowledge of us individually and that He never gives up.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Michaelangelo. Is There An App For That? There Could Be ...

Lifted from Ironic Catholic ... and it isn't a joke but a great idea.
  • Love art?
  • Love theology?
  • Love apps?
Then you may want to help my friend Eileen create this app for instant interpretative help for Christian art in museums all over the world.  Eileen teaches theology at Loyola in Chicago--she is incredibly talented and knows what she is talking about (both in art interpretation and theology), and a born teacher.  She's looking for crowd-sourcing funding.  So I ask you--check out her pitch video and stick with it until the end (five minutes?)--and prepare to be impressed.

Spread the word to religious art lovers you know!  Thanks!

Shrove Tuesday Pancakes, Anyone?

Here's a full helping.

Monday, March 7, 2011

When No Fault Divorce Leads to Spousal Abandonment

Imagine your brother Jim discovers that his wife of 17 years, mother to their four children, is leaving him for another man. He pleads with her to stay. He asks that they get counseling to heal their marriage. He calls every priest he knows, along with family and friends, to try to get the help he needs to keep his family together. But your brother’s efforts are in vain.

Jim learns that his wife has retained a lawyer, and is suing him for a divorce. His mind races back to the day he made his vows before God and the community of believers.

“I don’t want a divorce,” he cries out in despair. “And I will never sign a paper stating that my marriage is over.”

Over the next few weeks, Jim’s wife keeps asserting that she has left because their marriage has been “hell.” She says he is the only thing standing in the way of her happiness.


What we may not know is that most divorces are situations in which one person wants to end the marriage while the other is fighting to save it.
I only wish I didn't know of actual families who this has happened to but I do. Read the entire article at CNA. I especially like the practical suggestions at the end as to how people can stand in solidarity with abandoned families. (Please note that the author is not speaking of those cases where there has been abuse, etc.)
The example given in the article about speaking in charity but with clarity resounds to me especially since Hannah did that very thing this weekend to a friend who is planning on moving in with his girlfriend. She did so by saying to him, "That's a terrible idea."  He wasn't offended and said, "You're the first person who's had the guts to tell me that you thought this was a bad idea." He isn't changing his plans but at least that seed has been planted.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Squirrels Playing Cards (is it the weekend yet?)

Cribbage actually. They're playing cribbage.

Via Thomas L. McDonald at State of Play where you may see many more amusing "caught in the act" photos of squirrels in card games.

Goons, Giants, and Magids

Episode 150 of Forgotten Classics is a big, big show with three samples of Diana Wynne Jones' books. Get it while it's hot!

First Friday Fast for an End to Abortion: March

Here's the background info.

If you're not already fully involved in working toward this goal, I invite you to join me in a monthly day of sacrificial fasting and prayer for the unborn, the mothers and fathers who are tempted to make the mistake of abortion, those who work to end abortion and for the souls of those who have been so lied to that they work for abortion.

Here is something that I ran in 2008 which I found inspiring and am sharing again to remind us that a "less than perfect" baby is a blessing we simply don't have the capability of imagining ... until they are right there in front of us.
On the ninth day, she came home, and I began to realize that my feelings of fear and anxiety had changed in a way that no prenatal screening could ever have predicted.

I now believe Genevieve is here for everyone. I believe Genevieve is taking over the world, one heart at a time — beginning with mine. I believe that what was once our perceived damnation has now become our unexpected salvation.

When Gregg Rogers heard that their baby would have Down syndrome, he was terrified. Until she was born. A life-affirming story that reminds us that what we often fear turns out to be a great blessing. Read or listen to this short essay here at This I Believe.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

New Blog: Wake up Dave

You may recall that after I attended our parish's Christ Renews His Parish (CRHP) retreat, I was so lit up that after a time I began this blog. It is rather odd to think that was so long ago (in blog time), almost 7 years ago.

Now, there is another who has been similarly inspired after attending CRHP. His new blog is Wake up Dave. Drop by and welcome him to the blogosphere!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Is It Real? Is It A Fairy Tale? Reviewing Angel-A

Andre is an inept con artist who has made a lot of bad business deals with a lot of  bad people. When we meet him, Andre's luck has run out and his time is almost up as he faces multiple death threats. Despairing, he decides to end it all by jumping off of a bridge into the Seine.

At the point of jumping, Andre notices a tall, gorgeous woman who jumps from the bridge, and Andre's thoughts turn from suicide to saving her as he jumps and drags her out of the water.

Thus we meet Angela. She pledges to help Andre in any way she can as thanks for saving her life. Andre says that no one has helped him in his entire life and, therefore, he's skeptical as to why such a gorgeous woman would want to help him at all but agrees. He becomes increasing alarmed at the lengths she is willing to go to in order to get the money he needs to pay off the thugs on his trail. Meanwhile, Angela continually tells Andre that beauty is on the inside, not the outside, and that he is good deep down. As Andre begins to believe her and to act accordingly, his fortune changes, and he begins to want to change Angela's fate in turn.

Beautifully shot in black and white, this movie was directed by Luc Besson who is known for movies like La Femme Nikita, The Fifth Element, and Taken. In an interview at Movies Online, Besson commented on the black and white format by saying:
Black and white because yin and yang, because tall and small, introverted extroverted, blonde brown, the good the bad, the black the white, everything is in opposition in the film. And I need the film to have this little poetry. Is it real? Is it a dream? Is it a fairy tale?
The key message of Angel-A is that you don't have to be good for life to be sacred, and you can begin to be good even if you have failed to be.

This movie is extremely straight forward in plot line. There are a few surprises but they are foreshadowed for the most part. I found the plot rather simplistic, but enjoyed it well enough and can recommend it on those grounds. My key problem is that the ending was a cop out because there wasn't the proper set up or story-line logic to make it a realistic conclusion. Along those lines, a much superior movie which communicates the same basic message is In Bruges.

For those who don't mind a tacked-on ending out of nowhere, I can recommend this movie. I specifically enjoyed the humorous moments such as at the American embassy where Andre cannot even con the US official (and where they both spoke fluent French the entire time) and at the police station where Andre pleads to be arrested. If nothing else it is simply beautiful to look at in composition and photography, although there is more to recommend it to the viewer than that. (Rated R for language and some sexual content.) 

For the Love of God - Shut Up!

If the church is not on fire, you should not be talking.
There's more, of course, written by Pat Archibold for National Catholic Register and I encourage you to read it. (Found it via Sr. Lisa Doty whose thoughts on the subject I also encourage you to read.

However, that pretty much says it.

I have to admit that I am guilty of a very lax attitude in this area. Coming up on my 11th birthday as a Catholic this Easter, I have generally had only that "chatty" post-Mass experience. Now I know intellectually that I shouldn't be talking then but it is very easy to forget if the other environment is all you have known.

That's why it is good for me, and doubtless for others, to be reminded. We are in the presence of the King of Heaven. A little reverence is good but I don't think we can show too much. Restraining my tongue until I get out the door is a small gesture to offer but I am going to try (again) to make this my new habit.