Monday, October 31, 2011

Catholic Ministry Conference: Report, the First

I spent too much time on Halloween (is that possible?) and now have no time to tell of all the wonders that two days wandering around a giant Catholic conference meeting people and hearing interesting talks and just generally having a great time.

So I will stagger it.

First - HI JEFF! (Is there anything so ego-swelling as having someone come up and tell you that Happy Catholic is his home page? Of course there isn't... no wonder I loved the conference)

Second - possibly the most astounding experience was seeing Bishop Kevin Farrell wandering around completely alone, simply dressed in his priestly garb, making himself utterly available to anyone who wanted to come up and talk.


Now that's how you bishop, people.

What a breath of fresh air! Even if I did get so nervous and focused on giving him a copy of Happy Catholic that I totally forgot Tom was there ... which led the good bishop to throw an arm around him and ask "what did you did to deserve that" in his Irish accent, while laughing good naturedly at me. Ah yes, a bishop of the people.

More later ...

Back to Basics: Lust

The third of the seven deadly sins is lust.
The Catholic Church believes that it's normal and healthy to be attracted to and appreciate the opposite sex. That's not lust, and it's not considered a sin.

Lust is looking at, imagining, and even treating others as mere sex objects to serve your own physical pleasures, rather than as individuals made in the image and likeness of God. Lust is having someone become something merely to please you, in fantasy or reality.

The Church says that lust depersonalizes the other person and the one having the lustful thoughts. It makes both parties nothing more than instruments of enjoyment instead of enabling them to focus on the unique gift of personhood. And it seeks to separate, divide, and isolate what God intended to be united -- love and life, the unitive and procreative dimensions of marriage...

Chastity, the virtue that moderates sexual desire, is the best remedy for lust. Chastity falls under temperance and can help to keep physical pleasure in moderation.
Catholicism For Dummies by John Trigilio
Recommended reading: Back to Virtue by Peter Kreeft. He examines the virtues in depth and also looks specific virtues and Beatitudes as antidotes to each of the seven deadly sins. Not a new concept but one that he writes about superbly (as always).

Next up ... Anger.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Gone Until Monday

It is the time of year when that big school catalog is being worked on around here and my time is at a minimum for a month or so.

Also, I'm going to the Dallas Catholic Ministry Conference on Friday and Saturday so will be out of touch then.

I'll drop in when I can to touch base, but until then all I can say is ... I'll see everyone Monday!

Back to Basics: Envy

The second of the seven deadly sins is envy.
Envy, another deadly sin, is the resentment of another person's good fortune or joy. Catholicism distinguishes between two kinds of envy.
  • Material envy is when you resent others who have more money, talent, strength, beauty, friends, and so on, than you do.
  • Spiritual envy is resenting others who progress in holiness, preferring that they stay at or below your level instead of being joyful and happy that they're doing what they're supposed to be doing. Spiritual envy is far worse and more evil than material envy.
Note that some spiritual writers and moralists make a distinction between envy and jealousy. They maintain that envy is the resentment of what others have, such as possessions, talent, fame, and so one, whereas jealousy is the fear of losing what you already have... Jealousy is considered to be as much a sin as envy, because it resembles that deadly sin a whole bunch...

The Church maintains that meekness or kindness can counter envy.
Catholicism For Dummies by John Trigilio
Recommended reading: Back to Virtue by Peter Kreeft. He examines the virtues in depth and also looks specific virtues and Beatitudes as antidotes to each of the seven deadly sins. Not a new concept but one that he writes about superbly (as always).

Next up ... Lust.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Johnny Depp Gets His Own Back at Ricky Gervais for Golden Globe "Jokes"

We all remember Ricky Gervais's angry "jokes" from his Golden Globe emcee stint, right? Or at least we remember they happened (if you happen to be like me and not bother watching most awards programs.) One target was Johnny Depp

What happens when Ricky and Johnny meet up unexpectedly later?

This is from from Gervais’s new BBC show, Life’s Too Short, The show centers on little person Warwick Davis in his day-to-day life, complete with the frustrations he faces. Looks as if it is along the lines of Extras, which I enjoyed a lot.

This bit is cleverly done, almost uncomfortably so ... until the last words, which are a big payoff. Take the time to watch this.

Via Strange Herring.

Back to Basics: Pride

The first of the seven deadly sins is pride. It also is the mother, the author, of all other sins. This was a new concept for me when I first came across it but so very obvious upon reflection. In the end it all comes down to a distortion of truth, does it not? How important am I? How much better am I than others? Easy to see and understand, yet this is so very hard to keep in check ... because it can manifest itself in any and every aspect of one's life.
The sin of pride is an inordinate love of self -- a super-confidence and high esteem in your own abilities. It's also known as vanity. It exaggerates your abilities, gifts, and talents, and ignores your weaknesses, frailties, and imperfections.

In Catholicism, sinful pride is the deviation or distortion of the legitimate need of self-affirmation. Liking yourself isn't sinful. In fact, it's healthy and necessary, but when the self-perception no longer conforms to reality, and you begin to think that you're more important than you actually are, the sin of pride is rearing its ugly head...

Pride is the key to all other sins, because after you believe that you're more important than you actually are, you compensate for it when others don't agree with your judgment. You rationalize your behavior and make excuses for lying, cheating, stealing, insulting, ignoring, and such, because no one understands you like you do. In your mind, you're underestimated by the world.

That's the extreme expression of pride. A subtler example is when you refuse to accept the authority of someone else over you, be it a parent, teacher, employer, pastor, bishop or pope. Most resentment toward those in authority has nothing to do with the occasional instances of abuse of power in the course of human history. Rather anti-authoritarianism is rooted in pride: "No one is going to tell me what to do." ...

Pride also prevents you from seeking, listening to, or applying advice from others. It fools the mind into thinking that it alone has or can discover all the answers without help from anyone...

The Catholic Church teaches that humility is the best remedy for pride. It's not a false self-deprecation ... It's not denying the truth ...

In other words, although acknowledging your talents is good, humility should remind you that your talents come from God. Pride fools you into thinking that you're the source of your own greatness.
Catholicism For Dummies by John Trigilio
Recommended reading: Back to Virtue by Peter Kreeft. He examines the virtues in depth and also looks specific virtues and Beatitudes as antidotes to each of the seven deadly sins. Not a new concept but one that he writes about superbly (as always).

Next up: Envy.

In Dallas? Going to the UDMC? Me Too! I'll Be Signing Books on Friday from 2:30-3:00 pm

Tom and I were already planning on attending the big Catholic Conference that the Dallas and Fort Worth dioceses are sponsoring next weekend.

Then I found out that St. Anthony Messenger Press is going to have a booth there and was happy to think that I could meet some of the nice folks who I've exchanged emails with over the last year. St. Anthony owns my publisher, Servant Books.

They went it one better and offered a time when we could do a book signing.

If you are there, either with your own book or wanting to buy one, I'll be signing them on Friday from 2:30 - 3:00.

And, I'll add a quote that isn't in the book. As a little bonus.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Fr. Dwight Longenecker on Happy Catholic: "... I will probably be stealing a lot of ideas from her."

... Julie stands things on their head and helps you to see the world in a new way in the new method of communicating in the new media: bite sized chunks.

I plan to use this book as a daily reader. I'll keep it by my side when I'm doing the office of readings and after the Divine Office and prayer, I'll dip into Happy Catholic.
It is quite surreal to have an author whose books you admired for a long time, to whom you dared to write one of your first fan letters long ago, and whose current writing continues to provide new insights ... praise your own efforts. A wonderful, but nevertheless surreal, experience!

Thank you Father Dwight Longenecker!

You can read the entire review at his outstanding blog, Standing on My Head.

Back to Basics: The Seven Deadly Sins

The opposite of the cardinal virtues are the seven deadly sins. We'll be going through these one by one, as well as the virtues that remedy each, in future posts.
As you may have guessed, along with cultivating good habits, some bad habits need to be avoided. The Church maintains that seven vices in particular lead to breaking one or more of the Ten Commandments. These particular bad habits are called the seven deadly sins because, according to Catholicism, they're mortal sins -- sins that kill the life of sanctifying grace. The Church believe that if you commit a mortal sin, you forfeit heaven and opt for hell by your own free will and actions.

A mortal sin is any act or thought of a human being that turns away from God and which turns toward a created thing instead. In other words, mortal sin is the complete turning away from God and embracing something else in place... Three conditions are necessary for moral sin to exist.
  • Grave Matter: the act itself is intrinsically evil and immoral. For example, murder, rape, incest, perjury, adultery, and so on are grave matter.
  • Full Knowledge: The person must know that what they're doing or planning to do is evil and immoral...
  • Deliberate Consent: The person must freely choose to commit the act or plan to do it. Someone forced against his will doesn't commit a mortal sin...
Venial sins are any sins that only meet one or two of the conditions needed for a mortal sin but do not fulfill all three at the same time, or they're minor violations of the moral law, such as giving an obscene gesture to another driver while in traffic. Venial sin is less serious than mortal sin...[they] aren't deadly to the life of grace, but like minor infections in the body, if casually ignored and left untended, may deteriorate into a more serious condition...

The seven deadly sins are pride, envy, lust, anger, gluttony, greed, and sloth and Pope Gregory the Great made up the list in the 6th century.
Catholicism For Dummies by John Trigilio
Recommended reading: Back to Virtue by Peter Kreeft. He examines the virtues in depth and also looks specific virtues and Beatitudes as antidotes to each of the seven deadly sins. Not a new concept but one that he writes about superbly (as always).

Next up: Deadly Sin #1.

Going to the Heart of the Matter: Reviewing "Catholic Mass for Dummies"

For the Ordinary form, the Roman Rite uses the following colors:
  • Red: Used for Pentecost; Palm Sunday; Passion of the Lord; feasts of the holy cross, martyrs, Apostles, and evangelists (except for John the Beloved Disciple); and Confirmation. Red is a symbol of the burning charity of the martyrs and their generous sacrifice, tongues of fire of the HOly Spirit, and the blood shed by our Divine Lord.
  • Green: Used in Ordinary Time. It is a symbol of hope in eternal life.
  • Violet or purple: Used for seasons of Advent and Lent, Sacrament of Reconciliation, and Mass of Christian burial. Purple is a symbol of penance and mortification.
  • ...
I originally became interested in Catholic Mass for Dummies because it might help with answers for our RCIA small group. I learned to trust authors John Trigilio and James Cafone when reading Catholicism for Dummies which was wonderfully informative and also carried the Nihil Obstat* and Imprimatur*.

Joined by Kenneth Brighenti, the same authors have joined forces again to provide this practical, step-by-step guide to the Catholic Mass. This book also has the Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur and is fascinatingly informative. The authors not only take us through the standard Roman Catholic Sunday Mass, but also variations for such needs as weddings, funerals, and the like. At pains to explain the history, symbolism and meaning, they also explain the changes to Mass responses which will be instituted when the new liturgical translation begins being used in Advent.

As well as explaining the structure of the Mass, they also discuss the Extraordinary Form of the Mass (Latin Mass), the Liturgy of the Hours, Eucharistic Devotions, and the Byzantine rite Eastern Catholic Divine Liturgy. I admit I was fairly stunned to realize that I could take this book to a Latin Mass or Byzantine Mass and follow along. They include all the actions and words of the priests and people for both. The other Catholic rites from East to West are described with the history for everything from Armenian to Dominican to Anglican covered.

In the Tools of the Trade section, we learn about the books, vestments, vessels, architecture, art, and music used in worship. This was one of the most interesting sections to me since much of the symbolism inherent in these items is that which I only knew dimly or guessed at. This section would have been much enhanced with simple sketches or photos of the items being discussed. We may know what a tunic is but an amice is something that I just can't call to mind, no matter how detailed the description. Again in this section as in the rest of the book, the authors take care to call out differences practiced in the different rites of the Church.

I especially liked that the authors were reporting the information and not giving any personal opinions. This makes the book especially useful to the wide variety of people who might be drawn to it, whether the merely curious, Catholics, potential converts, or those with specific questions about a particular practice. This is intended as a reference book and deeper theological reflections, therefore, are not found here. However, just knowing the symbolism that stretches back to the beginning of the Church is often enough to prompt the reader to their own reflections, which I found happening as I read.

There are times when we all just need to know what's going on before we dig deeper. I can think of no better place to find one's footing with the ins-and-outs of the Catholic mass than in this book.
The unalterable importance of the altar
The altar is not only the place where the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is offered, it also represents and symbolizes Christ himself. At the beginning of Mass, the altar is always reverenced by the clergy who are concelebrating by bowing before it and kitting it before going to their respective places. Before the introductory rites start, the main celebrant, escorted by one or two deacons, may incense the altar in a very dignified and elegant movement around it. The altar is also reverenced with a kiss at the end of Mass.

All immovable altars must have altar stones, slabs of stone about the size of a netbook computer. The altar stone is placed on a full size altar (made of marble or wood). Under the stone are relics of one or more of the ancient martyrs. Even though the altar is covered with linens during Mass, the bread and wine are placed on top of the linens over the altar stone. The idea is that Mass will be celebrated over the remains of the martyrs, just as was done for three centuries when the early Christians had to worship in the catacombs to escape Roman persecution.

* Official declarations that a book or pamphlet is free from doctrinal or moral error. No implication is contained therein that those who granted the Nihil Obstat and the Imprimatur agree with the contents, opinions, or statements expressed.

Un Lun Dun by China Mieville ... progress report

Un Lun DunUn Lun Dun by China MiƩville

I was looking around for a China Mieville book to try and discovered for every enthusiastic review I'd see another saying the exact opposite. This was the only exception, which is his only book for younger readers. I dipped into it this weekend and found it almost impossible to put down.

Thus far I am really enjoying this book. Although any modern book with "another London" inevitably calls Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman to mind (whom Mieville tips his hat to at the beginning), this feels original and is definitely inventive. For example, Curdle is an adorable character and I wouldn't have credited the concept alone with making for a loving relationship as is obviously developing in the book.

About halfway through and am finding it still interesting but strangely slow at the same time. Not sure if this is an editing problem or just how the author writes but he seems to go on and on when we've gotten the point and are ready to move on. Also, major plot points are telegraphed ahead of time so the "twists" aren't really "twisty" at all.

I would say that last problem is possibly because I'm an older reader than the intended audience but, upon reflection, this isn't a problem I have had with the Harry Potter books, The Graveyard Game by Neil Gaiman, or Assam & Darjeeling by T.M. Camp ... all of which feature children in fantastical settings, to greater or lesser degrees of simplicity.

I will continue reading but feel this could have used another time or two through a big trimming machine.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Cherie ...

The newest cocktail to receive our approval ... and there's a movie connection for you too! At Meanwhile, Back in the Kitchen.

And Reamde Looked So Good ...

But this is why book bloggers you can trust are so important.
I had planned to abandon the book around page 160 or so. Other members of the Sword and Laser said "It gets better at page 300 when new characters are introduced." In a shocked sense of disbelief, I decided to press on to that point. And, okay, it really does get better at around page 300. In what universe is it okay for an author to not get to the good stuff until 300 pages in? My favorite parts of the book were from about page 300-700. The ending was not satisfying although all the ends are tied up.
Here's the thing. I am in awe of Jenny because when the Booker nominees list comes out, she goes out and gets those books ... and actually reads them! And that's just one of the book awards lists she does that for.

I simply do not have that sort of stamina (or maybe it is simply dissimilar reading interests).

Whatever it is, when the lady who does that gives that indictment to Reamde, I am crossing it off my list.

One down. 300 to go.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Once Upon a Time ... On TV

We were so interested in the premise behind Once Upon a Time that we did something almost unprecedented (except for football or the world series) ... we watched it real time with commercials and all.

Because with The Amazing Race and The Good Wife being taped, I had no other options.

In case you missed the pilot, here's the Wikipedia synopsis to help out.
28-year-old bail bonds collector Emma Swan is shocked when Henry, the son she gave up for adoption ten years ago, turns up in desperate need of her help. Henry believes that Emma is Snow White and Prince Charming's missing daughter, who was sent away from the Enchanted Forest to be protected from the Evil Queen's curse. Emma refuses to believe a word of Henry's story but soon finds that his hometown of Storybrooke, Maine may be more than it seems. Because it's in Storybrooke that all of the classic fairytale characters are frozen in time with no memories of their former selves – including the Evil Queen, who is Storybrooke's mayor and Henry's adoptive mother Regina.
It had highs and lows (among the lowest ... Snow White in our world's hair ... this really is a horrible place!).

But overall we approved of the premise, the originality, and most of the execution. I liked the idea of the dual timeline and looking at what the fairy tale characters are doing in "real life."

We shall see ...

You can watch the pilot at the link, btw.

Whoa Nellie! Joss Whedon's Much Ado About Nothing?

That sneaky fellow ... and here we thought The Avengers was the only thing he had going.

Nathan Fillion tweeted this. (via Scott Danielson)

And Huffington Post has more confirmation.

The Light Fantastic ...

The Light Fantastic (Discworld, #2)The Light Fantastic by Terry Pratchett

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In The Light Fantastic only one individual can save the world from a disastrous collision. Unfortunately, the hero happens to be the singularly inept wizard Rincewind, who was last seen falling off the edge of the world...
I thoroughly enjoyed this book which gives us not only Rincewind the wizard who can't do magic, but Twoflower the tourist and his Luggage (made of sapient pearwood so it can follow and protect him wherever he goes), Cohen the Barbarian, and many more memorable characters.

This is vintage Terry Pratchett which means that not only does he tell an amusing adventure story but he makes many a good commentary about people and society along the way using humor. I never would have looked for this book myself but must be grateful that my daughter Rose wanted to read about Discworld from "the beginning" and then highly recommended the book to me.

"I shall say it again: rejoice!" : Reviewing "Between Heaven and Mirth" by James Martin, SJ

Joy, humor, and laughter show one's faith in God. For Christians, an essentially hopeful outlook shows people that you believe in the Resurrection, in the power of life over death, and in the power of love over hatred. Don't you think that after the Resurrection Jesus's disciples were joyful? "All will be well, and all will be well, and all manner of things will be well," as the fourteenth-century mystic Blessed Julian of Norwich said. For believers in general, humor shows your trust in God, who will ultimately make all things well. Joy reveals faith.
I can't tell you how many times I've had people ask me, "How can you be a Happy Catholic?" They then go on to cite the problems currently in the Church, how hard life is in general, and so on and so forth.

My answer is that happy does not mean cheerful. I'm not talking about a Pollyanna-ish insistence on always seeing the glass half full. I'm talking about a deep, underlying joy that comes from the peace of mind in knowing Jesus really has overcome the world, really is real, really does love me personally. Except in times of deep trouble or sorrow, when no one in their right mind would be able to say that they are happy, I have happiness as a foundation of my days. I must add that even in those times of trouble there is a peace lurking in the background reminding me that "all manner of things shall be well."

I suppose that I am asked that because even the best of us tend to think that faith and religion aren't real unless they are sober, serious, and definitely not amusing, humorous, or joyful. This never made sense to me because I have had too many times when God makes his point to me using a "virtual" nudge in the ribs and a chuckle. There is that stunning moment when I realize what I've gotten very wrong and then that hilarious moment when I realize just how ridiculously wrong I am ... and somehow, you know, I wind up howling with laughter and things just never seem too bad after that.

James Martin has written a book all about that very thing. He writes compellingly that holy people are joyful people, providing numerous examples of the people, their joy, and their levity ... up to and including Jesus. The main premise is that joy, humor, and laughter help us live more spiritual lives, relate to others better, and connect with God more easily.

Martin's examination of scripture and Jesus' humor will be especially valuable to those who hesitate to think that humor and playfulness have a place in faith. His case studies in scriptural joy look at a psalm, the visitation of Mary to Elizabeth, and 1 Thessalonians. It gives us a fresh look at the familiar passages and perspective on the way the hearers would have understood it when the scripture was new.

I also really appreciated the chapter where Martin addressed the problem of living joyfully when life is difficult. He discusses the fact that joy doesn't mean one is happy all the time, how to find joy during times of pain, what to do if you are not a funny person, and what to do when working or living in a joyless environment. This section is almost a primer on how to look at our lives with both gravity and lightheartedness. It is one that more people than Christians would benefit from.

Naturally in a book of this sort, anecdotes and jokes are larded throughout the text. They always are illustrations of the point that Martin is making and yet, in themselves, contribute to helping look at things just a touch less seriously or from a different point of view. My favorites were the ones that came from real life, as those are the sort that are most genuinely funny. Those are often the sort that help us in painful times, as Martin points out.
Then she recounted the story of two friends whose mutual friend had died. "They missed her terribly," said [Margaret] Silf. "They planted what they thought were daffodil bulbs on her grave and grieved all winter. In the spring they returned to the grave to pay their respects and discovered a wonderful crop of ... onions! They laughed until they cried--and they are convinced their friend was right in there laughing with them.
There were a few places where Martin was going so fast that he skimmed on providing all the information we needed for the book to be as solid as it could. The primary place I noticed this, and the one that kept bothering me, was his lack of distinction when he compared Zachariah's doubt at the promise of a son after many years of childlessness (who would become John the Baptist) and Mary's reasonable, straight-forward question about how she could become pregnant if she'd never "known" a man. Zachariah, the experienced priest who should have known better than to doubt, is struck mute by the angel. The simple question of the young girl, Mary, is answered. Martin's joke in the footnote that Gabriel is gentler with women was amusing but completely inaccurate and that made me a bit wary of other such confident assertions about Scripture when they came up.

Happily, there are not many instances of those problematic points. Those aside, this book is informative, engaging, and makes a solid argument for the case that joy and humor are integral parts of being human and the spiritual life. Certainly this book is much needed to help lighten the mood of those who believe that only serious attitudes will gain us the kingdom of Heaven. It most definitely is appreciated by those of us who occasionally must defend our faith because of our joy.

Highly recommended.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Heavenly Habits: Fortitude

The last but not the least of the cardinal virtues.
Fortitude is the ability to persevere in times of trial and tribulation -- the ability to hang in there when the going gets tough. It's courage to do the right thing no matter what the cost.

It's not enough to be fair, use self-control, and be prudent and know what, when, and how to do something. The virtue gives you the strength to fulfill your commitments to God, family,and friends...

When practiced faithfully and consistently, fortitude empowers people to remain courageous and overcome even the fear of death in order to help others and/or do the right thing for the right reason.
Catholicism For Dummies by John Trigilio
Recommended reading: Back to Virtue by Peter Kreeft. He examines the virtues in depth and also looks specific virtues and Beatitudes as antidotes to each of the seven deadly sins. Not a new concept but one that he writes about superbly (as always).

Next, we'll look at the seven deadly sins, including how the virtues counteract them.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Heavenly Habits: Temperance

Continuing our look at the cardinal virtues with number three up close and personal.
Temperance is the virtue by which a person uses balance. It's the good habit that allows a person to relax and have fun without crossing the line and committing sin.

The Catholic Church believes that human beings are permitted to participate in legitimate pleasures but that, often, society and culture lures people into excesses in the direction of either extreme...

... practicing temperance means knowing when to say when. It's knowing your limits and keeping them. For example, a kiss and a hug don't have to end in passionate sex, and an argument doesn't have to deteriorate into a fist fight. Temperance is establishing, respecting, and enforcing boundaries. Self-control is the key. Having a good time without it becoming an occasion of sin or a sinful act is what temperance is all about.
Catholicism For Dummies by John Trigilio
Recommended reading: Back to Virtue by Peter Kreeft. He examines the virtues in depth and also looks specific virtues and Beatitudes as antidotes to each of the seven deadly sins. Not a new concept but one that he writes about superbly (as always).

Next up: Fortitude.

Weekend Joke: Then and Now

Seen around the internet and most recently sent to me by Tom K., who saw a commenter who added the last line.
Ten years ago we had

  • Steve Jobs
  • Bob Hope
  • Johnny Cash

Now we have

  • No Jobs
  • No Hope
  • No Cash

Don't let Kevin Bacon die!

Friday, October 21, 2011

It's Lisa Hendey Day Today ... Because the Van Stops Here!

Isn't she amazing?

She's rockin' that look, y'all!

Driving with her head out the window and her hair still looks good!

Check out my review of her wonderful book, A Book of Saints for Catholic Moms.

And, Lisa wrote a special post about Blessed John Paul II for us.


And then go get a copy of her book ... you will NOT be sorry!

NOTE: I'll leave this at the top of the blog today. Scroll down for other things that I've got going on today.

Heavenly Habits: Justice

After learning about Prudence, we proceed to the virtue of Justice. This is another of the bulletin inserts I wrote for our church.
Heavenly Habits: Justice
1807 Justice is the moral virtue that consists in the constant and firm will to give their due to God and neighbor. Justice toward God is called the “virtue of religion.” Justice toward men disposes one to respect the rights of each and to establish in human relationships the harmony that promotes equity with regard to persons and to the common good. The just man, often mentioned in the Sacred Scriptures, is distinguished by habitual right thinking and the uprightness of his conduct toward his neighbor. “You shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great, but in righteousness shall you judge your neighbor.”68 “Masters, treat your slaves justly and fairly, knowing that you also have a Master in heaven.”69
Catechism of the Catholic Church

Justice is a certain rectitude of mind whereby a man does what he ought to do in the circumstances confronting him.
Saint Thomas Aquinas

Justice is rather the activity of truth, than a virtue in itself. Truth tells us what is due to others, and justice renders that due. Injustice is acting a lie.
Horace Walpole
Justice is the virtue that ensures we treat others fairly. It is this which helps us desire that goodness is rewarded and evil punished.

Catholic teaching defines justice as one of three types:
  • Commutative justice calls for fundamental fairness between individuals. If the grocery store clerk hands you too much change, you are practicing commutative justice when you give back the overpayment.
  • Distributive justice is found in the relationship between an individual and a group. Largely speaking it is concerned with the fair distribution of resources to those who need them. We see an obvious example of this as citizens. The government should levy only the taxes necessary to provide services while we should pay our fair share.
  • Social justice is perhaps the term mentioned the most in Catholic circles as it involves ensuring fair treatment for all in society. Welfare, right to life, feeding the poor, the environment, and many other social issues fall under this category.
Regardless of categories and definitions, justice toward our fellow man is an easy concept to grasp. Even small children have an innate sense of what is fair and what isn’t. It all boils down to Jesus’ words, “Do to others whatever you would have them do to you” (Matthew 7:12). This helps us keep in mind that justice practiced as a cardinal virtue is not defined strictly by civil legality. For example, abortion, legal though it may be, is a grave violation of justice as well as love. Additionally, strict legality must always be tempered by equity so that the precise appreciation of even a just law does not de facto produce an injustice.

Another application of justice may be a new idea to us. The virtue of religion requires that we practice justice toward God. We owe to God, our Creator, worship, praise, and gratitude. Though they should be motivated by love and not fear, these are nonetheless not optional or favors we do for God. They are instead owed to God by the virtue of our creaturely relationship to Him. Even creatures without reason praise God by living according to their natures. We, whose nature is so like to God’s, owe to Him the proper fulfillment of His plan of love for us.

Thus, when we take time for prayer to further our relationship with Him and not merely to ask for things, though that asking may be perfectly appropriate, that is a form of justice. When we obey God’s will, whether it is practicing the virtues or the many other ways we live our faith, that also is a form of justice as we respond to His right that we submit to His laws. We are giving Him what He truly is due as our creator and as the one who loves us more than any other.

If we reflect on all these manifestations of justice it becomes clear that justice forms a network, a web if you will, that defines our relationships to God and to each other. It puts a whole new spin on the motivation for playing fair in all aspects of our lives.

68 Lev 19:15.
69 Col 4:1.
  • Catechism of the Catholic Church. This may be found online
  • Catholicism for Dummies by Revs. Trigilio and Brighenti
  • The Virtues by Fr. John Hardon. This may be read online.
Next up, to help us stay on an even keel: Temperance.

Not Just for Moms: Reviewing "A Book of Saints for Catholic Moms" by Lisa Hendey

Lessons from John Paul II
Pope John Paul II is one of my favorite intercessors when I struggle with the body issues that crop up in my vocation as a mom. His prolife writings speak so eloquently about his belief in the sanctity of all human life, but for me it is the way in which he lived out his vocation that offers the most telling life lessons.

From his childhood, Karol Wojtyla loved to glorify God with his physical body. Friends from his youth describe his love for soccer and games played between rival Catholic and Jewish community teams, and his voluntary desire to "sub in" as goalkeeper for the opposing Jewish team when they found themselves short of players. This man, once described as the "Keep Fit Pope," loved kayaking, camping, hiking, and swimming. ...

Perhaps this is why my heart hurt all the more as we watched him quietly, and with tremendous dignity, accept the crosses of physical, pain, aging, and disability. For his entire papacy, John Paul II wrote and spoke about the dignity of all human life. The grace with which he accepted his physical decline in his final years gave us an eloquent lesson that encouraged me to look at the elderly and physically infirm in my own life with new, more loving eyes.

But as a wife and mom perhaps the greatest lessons I have learned from John Paul II have come from his teachings known as the "Theology of the Body." Honestly, after so many years of hearing the pontiff vilified by a society that bemoaned his commitment to thousands of years of Church teachings on the dignity of all human life, a light turned on in my heart when I read his writings and teachings for myself. ...
This wonderful collection guides readers through fifty-two saints. Some are famous, like Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta, and some are virtually unknown, like Chiara Badano. Each entry discusses a saint's life, how their experiences give special insights for living a holy family life, a pertinent quote by that saint, devotional suggestions for individual and family use, and daily scripture meditations and prayers. I have been using this for weeks and it is a real treasure. I especially appreciate the section where Hendey shares how she applies a saint's lesson to her life.

The excerpt above shows a bit of how Lisa Hendey surprises me when I open A Book of Saints for Catholic Moms. Choosing John Paul II for inclusion is not surprising, but noting the way he glorified God with his physical body definitely was. This great pope did so many wonderful things that it is difficult to say which I'd choose to discuss but Hendey, with this emphasis reminds us of how those wonderful things often keyed off of a big message in a way that we truly needed to hear in our day and age. God sends us the saints we need and Hendey's week spent with John Paul II reminds us of how women, spouses, parents, and families can learn so much from him, often in surprising ways.

This isn't the only saint which Hendey shows us from a new angle. Time and again I'd come upon a saint and think that I knew all about their main ministry only to have Hendey pick up a thread that I hadn't thought of in terms of my own life. A few examples:
  • St. Thomas More: loving, wise parenthood and blended families
  • St. Matthew: good money management and a proper perspective on money's place in the overall scheme of things
  • Elizabeth Ann Seton: the difference a housewife makes in daily routines and steadfast witness
Hendey also infuses the book with her gentle way of living her faith. This is something that I welcome more often than I care to admit when I open the book every day to see the daily scripture and prayer for the week's saint. Hendey's prayers avoid the too frequent modern tendency for long, explanatory prayers while simply and elegantly stating just what we ask for help with. So often, I would open this book and literally feel myself relaxing as I focused on the scripture and prayer which were just what I needed to refocus myself on God's will rather than the challenges or frustrations of the day.

I'm just going to say, you need a copy. Don't let the "Moms" on the cover fool you. This is for anyone in a family ... wives, husbands, grown children ... it is simply fantastic. Trust me on this.

Lisa Hendey: Blessed John Paul II and Me

Lisa's promoting her book, A Book of Saints for Catholic Moms, which you already know that I love. I asked her to write something extra about a saint for us (an author's work is never done, y'all, and I'm proud to help her keep her writing credentials).  The result? This great personal reflection.

Thank you, Lisa, and welcome to Happy Catholic on your tour of the Catholic blog world. (Hey, if you need extra towels, just look in that cabinet behind the sink!)
When I set out to write a book about the lives of the saints at the request of my publisher in the early weeks of September 2010, I could never have anticipated the way in which my life would be touched personally by the project. With a blank slate and a lot of leash from Ave Maria Press and my editor Eileen Ponder, I set out to create a “dream team” of 52 saints, reflecting for several weeks upon their individual charisms and qualities. One definite on my “must include” list was – as we knew him at that time – Pope Venerable John Paul II.

As with Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta, the man so many of us lovingly knew as “JPII” was a saint we were able to watch, learn from and love during our own lifetimes. In many ways, his call to the New Evangelization and the celebration of the Great Jubilee in the year 2000 led me to what has now become my own life’s work. How audacious is it that one little mom, living in a suburb with a then non-Catholic spouse, two young sons, and no technical capabilities, could launch a little website that eleven years later would be welcoming millions of visitors each year to know, to love, and to celebrate our Catholic faith? And yet when he called each of us, I did my best to answer.

I put the finishing touches on my then “Pope Venerable John Paul II” chapter for A Book of Saints for Catholic Moms in late December 2010. At that time, I dwelt upon the role of his writings on the Theology of the Body had in my life, doing my best to celebrate the dignity with which he taught us to see and to treasure all human life. Little did I know that a few months later, I would be invited to attend the Vatican Blogger Meeting being held in conjunction with the Beatification of Blessed John Paul II.

Like a dream that just kept getting better, my trip to the Vatican in May 2011 found me nestled amidst a million and a half of my closest Catholic friends on Divine Mercy Sunday as Pope Benedict XVI beatified this man who had beckoned me into an ever deepening relationship with Christ, with our Church and with my spouse. When I filed past his coffin the next day, kneeling amidst a group of priests for an impromptu decade of the Rosary before the Swiss Guards moved us along to make way for the throngs of pilgrims who had come to pay their respects, I gave silent thanks.

I never met Blessed John Paul II personally in life, and yet in so many moments since his death he has been a spiritual companion, and intercessor, and a model of virtue for me. God willing, I hope to be present at his canonization. But in truth, my trip to Rome and my time spent studying the dignity of the life of this man has taught me to look around me at the everyday saints in my own life with greater awareness. Like this humble man from Poland who went on to bring peace to our world and transformation to our Church, each of us are called to the path of sainthood. My path plays out one step at a time, in simple, joyous fashion. I’ll be forever grateful for the companionship of Blessed John Paul II along that journey – wherever it may lead.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Mr. Dark wouldn't let Julie in the mirror maze after he saw her trip over her own feet ... talk about dumb luck!

Scott and I talk about the classic book of carnivals, Halloween, and how our choices shape us: Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury.

Is it a trick or a treat?

Find out at A Good Story is Hard to Find podcast.

Heavenly Habits: Prudence

Now for a closer look at the cardinal or moral virtues. I  originally wrote this as a bulletin insert for our church our church but I think it works here just as well.
Heavenly Habits: Prudence
1805 Four virtues play a pivotal role and accordingly are called “cardinal”; all the others are grouped around them. They are: prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance. “If anyone loves righteousness, [Wisdom’s] labors are virtues; for she teaches temperance and prudence, justice, and courage.”64 These virtues are praised under other names in many passages of Scripture.

1806 Prudence is the virtue that disposes practical reason to discern our true good in every circumstance and to choose the right means of achieving it; “the prudent man looks where he is going.”65 “Keep sane and sober for your prayers.”66 Prudence is “right reason in action,” writes St. Thomas Aquinas, following Aristotle.67 It is not to be confused with timidity or fear, nor with duplicity or dissimulation. It is called auriga virtutum (the charioteer of the virtues); it guides the other virtues by setting rule and measure. It is prudence that immediately guides the judgment of conscience. The prudent man determines and directs his conduct in accordance with this judgment. With the help of this virtue we apply moral principles to particular cases without error and overcome doubts about the good to achieve and the evil to avoid.
Catechism of the Catholic Church

As mentioned previously, a virtue is a good habit that helps us to behave rightly and not to give in to our own contrary impulses. The Church teaches that the “theological” virtues of faith, hope, and charity are given to us by God as gifts. We cannot acquire them by effort. He fills us with them to help us participate in the spiritual life.

On the other hand, the “cardinal” virtues of prudence, justice, temperance, and fortitude are those which we can achieve through both God’s grace and our efforts. They are known as the “cardinal” virtues because the Latin root cardo means “hinge.” Prudence, justice, temperance, and fortitude are the “hinges” on which other human virtues depend. All human virtues are in some way an extension of a cardinal virtue.

If God is giving us the grace already, why would we care about “practicing” virtue? Obviously, we receive God’s grace regardless but certainly it is easier to recognize and take full advantage of it if we’ve been practicing these virtues to get our souls “in shape,” so to speak. Living virtuously also gives us the daily blessings of living a joyful moral life because we are able to exert self-control more easily.

Prudence, the first of the cardinal virtues, is called the “charioteer” of the other virtues because it drives or guides them. The Catechism definition above states that prudence “disposes practical reason to discern our true good in every circumstance and to choose the right means of achieving it.” Another way of saying this is that prudence allows us to use solid common sense in everyday life. A prudent person has the ability to judge when to kindly temper a potentially harsh comment, how best to avoid a volatile situation, or when it is necessary to take action to resolve a conflict. In short, prudence allows us to judge best how to act decisively but charitably.

Practicing prudence means that we must consider situations carefully before acting. We may need to consult authorities such as trusted advisers, the Catechism, or the Bible. Sometimes, we may need to take extra time to determine the right course of action. It doesn’t mean that we avoid acting, merely that the course is considered sensibly first.

Practicing prudence also helps us to overcome the modern tendencies to sit back and do nothing for fear of offending or to jump in with both feet and trample everyone with brash action. We can steer the right course both for ourselves and in influencing others’ right actions and attitudes. For some of us, acquiring the habit of prudence will seem like a super-human feat, and of course it is. We need God’s grace to perfect this virtue in ourselves. However, if we give it a helping hand by trying to acquire it through regular repetition, it will come all the easier when we need it in a pinch.

64 Wis 8:7.
65 Prov 14:15.
66 1 Pet 4:7.
67 St. Thomas Aquinas, STh II-II, 47, 2.

  • Catechism of the Catholic Church. This may be found online
  • Catholicism for Dummies by Revs. Trigilio and Brighenti
  • The Virtues by Fr. John Hardon. This may be read online.
Next up: the virtue of Justice.

On Monster Patrol: Reviewing "Night of the Living Dead Christian" by Matt Mikalatos

... I had that sudden creepy feeling that something truly horrible stood drooling over my shoulder, and with a fear-fueled shout I spun around only to discover my neighbor Lara.

Lara and I had gone to high school together, so it was this weird thing that she lived across the street now. Weird in the sense that I couldn't help but feel a little bit less like an adult when she was around. She had her long, dark hair swept down, and a tight pair of dress slacks on, and a white collared shirt, and a black cape. Her skin looked pale, I assume because she was frightened of zombies.

"Oh, hey, Lara."

"What's all the racket?" she asked. "I heard this horrible noise in the neighborhood, and then when I looked outside I saw all those people dressed like zombies."

I laughed. "Nothing to worry about. I scared them away by pretending to be a vampire."

Now Lara was laughing too, and I noticed her thin, sharp canine teeth. It seemed a little sad to me that Lara had tried on her Halloween costume a week early, but she was single again and I knew she was lonely and bored sometimes. You going to be a vampire for Halloween?"

She grinned. "Nah. I'm going to be a pirate."

"What's with the teeth then?"

She blushed. "A vampire pirate."
Matt Mikalatos has a problem. His neighborhood is overrun with monsters and he's the captain of the neighborhood watch. He meets zombies, a mad scientist and his robot, vampires, werewolves, and more. Eventually he even befriends a few of them and discovers a secret. They were all human once. In fact, they are all human now. Underneath their monstrous forms, there are humans waiting to be transformed into their true selves.

More serious are the interludes where Luther the werewolf records his innermost thoughts. These are the sections where Mikalatos is challenging readers to dig deeper and take a good, hard look at their lives, their actions, and their faith.

The quest undertaken by  Matt and his friends is an entertaining journey that leads to sacrifice, redemption, and ultimately the savior who transforms us all, Christ.

Monsters have long been the storyteller's device for examining the problems that we all face when, as St. Paul says in Romans 7:15, "What I do, I do not understand. For I do not do what I want, but I do what I hate." Mikalatos uses this metaphor to good effect to show Christians new ways to look at their own behavior and where they are denying that they need Christ's help to die to self.

The author doesn't just look at how people live their lives. He also examines types of worship and churches as well. I admit that made me rather wary, knowing that Mikalatos was writing primarily for nondenominational Protestants. However, the two times that Catholics were briefly mentioned, Mikalatos made sure that they were properly understood, as far as he himself understands the Catholic faith (more on that below in the Comments for Catholics). He also took the stance which Catholics believe and affirm, that people are good underneath everything. As Peter Kreeft puts it, we are like masterpieces with big scratches on them.

The ground that is covered isn't necessarily new. Anyone who regularly practices self-examination of conscience will recognize many of the points made. However, trying to rid the neighborhood of monsters is a device that may make the most self-aware Christian realize there is something that is not reflecting properly in the mirror ... and take another look.

Mikalatos wrote a book that is laugh-out-loud funny and that had me pestering family members to read amusing passages. He also has an engaging way of shaking up readers to look at their own lives with fresh eyes. I enjoyed the book very much and feel it can offer a lot to Christians when used for personal discernment about their walk with the Lord.

There were a couple of things that Catholics would need to be open-minded about which I address below.

COMMENTS FOR CATHOLICS ... contains a couple of spoilers
In one spot, the mad scientist is trying to clone Jesus using a chewed communion wafer and wine stolen from a Catholic Church. Mikalatos points out that this is a misunderstanding of transubstantiation to think that Jesus could be cloned from these. It is never stated whether the wafers and wine were consecrated before they were stolen, the theft of which would have constituted one of the gravest of mortal sins. In fact, it is a supreme desecration that gave me a nasty jolt when I read it because the host was somewhat chewed  ... so I couldn't assume that consecration hadn't taken place. However, it is clear from the way that the story is written that the author is not trying to upset anyone and it is actually a logical leap for a scientist to make. Especially a "mad" one.

In the end, every church the group of friends tries winds up having a serious problem. There is no church that doesn't have some sort of doctrinal error, whether real or misunderstood by one character or another. Eventually, "church" seems to be a gathering of friends and family by a river for baptism.

Now, there isn't necessarily anything wrong with that scenario for a lot of Protestants, but for Catholics the Church can't be cast aside so easily. Even Catholics who regularly criticize the Church recognize that there is great good that comes from her ... or they would leave. The Catholic point of view is that your family isn't your church, your Church is your family.

Catholics' love for their Church and her teachings goes far beyond the book's "zombie" church where everyone blindly obeys what the founder/pastor has written in his study Bible. Again, it is made pretty clear that the author isn't taking shots at any one group, at least as far as I can tell. He is just addressing believers who turn off their brains at the church door and blindly follow whatever they are told. That's a definite no-no in the Catholic faith where we are called on to be sure we understand the Church's teachings. I'd bet that every Catholic priest and bishop would laugh at the idea of parishioners who blindly do what the Church teaches without questioning it, even as they obey.

Although the author seems to cast off any sort of organized religion, in the end this story is the quest of a group of friends for individual transformation and that is how I chose to read it. Your milage may vary.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

So You Stopped The Apocalypse. What Are You Going to Do Now? Reviewing "Mercury Rises" by Robert Kroese

Finch went on, "If these people spent as much time trying to develop a written language as they did making up deities, they wouldn't be in this jam. they've got rain gods, cloud gods, sun gods...I've documented three hundred different deities so far, and I'm not even close to covering them all. At this point there are probably more Tawani deities than there are Tawanies."

In fact, the Tawani only had seven gods and goddesses in their pantheon; the remainder they had made up just to screw with Horace Finch. Finch had made it his mission to debunk their mythology, one deity at a time, and the Tawani had cleverly responded by manufacturing an unlimited number of deities. At first it had been an enjoyable diversion, but as Finch showed no sign of tiring his debunking, it had become something of a chore. More worrying, they were on the verge of running out of natural phenomena that could be used as an excuse for supernatural intervention. Lately they had devised gods of acid indigestion, night sweats, and chafing, respectively. ...

In truth, they had started inventing deities in an attempt to determine whether Finch could tell the difference between a real god and a fake god, a test that he decisively failed in their eyes. ...

The Tawani had also concluded that anyone who wanted so badly to believe that the gods did not exist must have done something very evil in their sight.
This sequel to Mercury Falls picks up after journalist Christine and rogue angel Mercury have stopped Armageddon from happening. And it picks up in Babylon around the time of Noah where we see just what Mercury's relationship with Tiamet was and why she's so interested in ziggurats. Following a dual timeline, we get the long ago backstory and the ongoing new attempt to destroy the world, where a few new characters get added to the mix.

This is clearly a transitional novel and Kroese is working toward a third book that will pull everything together where we eventually will see who is really running things in Heaven, whether free will is integral or a mistake, and if there is an ineffable plan that will leave Earth in one piece. I sped through this book which was almost as entertaining as Mercury Falls. Sometimes though, as Stephen Tobolowsky termed his role in Heroes, we feel as if we are still stuck in Act I. We've seen everyone try to stop the end of the world before. The dual timelines do not always transition gracefully and the number of characters left me sometimes feeling that the story was choppy.

Make no mistake, I still enjoyed reading this book. Kroese is clever, witty, and makes many good points about the people on both sides of religious belief (as we see in the excerpt above). I'm looking forward to seeing what the third book in the trilogy brings as Christine, Mercury, and the gang hopefully can finish their task of putting the kibosh on an immediate apocalypse.

This book was provided through the Amazon Vine program.

Heavenly Habits: Cardinal Virtues

I'm going to rerun this look at the virtues mostly for myself, but also for anyone else interested. I see that I had two separate series which ran in 2006 and 2008. Yes, it's time to get back to basics on these.

Despite God’s help and our best intentions we often fall. We often turn down the wrong road, whether accidentally or deliberately. There is, however, a frequently overlooked way that we can strengthen ourselves and increase our odds of success in following Jesus. Of course, we cannot do this without God’s grace, but just as athletes train for both strength and muscle-memory, we can do the same for our souls. We can train ourselves by striving to acquire the virtues.
A virtue is a habit that perfects the powers of the soul and disposes you to do good. Catholics believe that divine grace is offered to the soul, because without God's help, humans can't do good on their own. Grace, which is God's intervention, bolsters a person's soul. providing the necessary oomph to do the right thing, that is, if the recipient recognizes its value. Catholics believe that virtues prepare and dispose people so that when the grace is offered, people readily recognize, accept, and cooperate with it. In other words, God's grace is necessary, but virtues make it easier to work with.

Traditionally, the cardinal virtues number four ... The root meaning of cardinal is cardio, which is Latin for hinge. These four virtues are the hinges on which the rest of the moral life swings:
  • Prudence
  • Justice
  • Temperance
  • Fortitude
The four cardinal virtues are also called moral virtues to distinguish them from the theological virtues of faith, hope, and love (charity), which are given to the soul at Baptism.
Catholicism For Dummies by John Trigilio
Now there's a way of looking at it that isn't common, at least to me. What habits can I cultivate to make it easier for me to recognize and receive God's grace? I like that.

A great book to read on this subject, and on that I should reread is Back to Virtue by Peter Kreeft. Along with talking about virtues, Kreeft lines up specific virtues and Beatitudes as antidotes to each of the seven deadly sins.

Next we'll look at the four virtues separately. First up: Prudence.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Satan's Whiskers

What happens when you choose cocktails for their seasonal names?

Find out at Meanwhile, Back in the Kitchen.

Reviewing "Jesus & Muhammad: Parallel Tracks, Parallel Lives" by F.E. Peters

Afterthoughts: The New Testament and the Quran
There are two different epistemic systems at work in the New Testament and the Quran. With the Quran the secular historian starts with the investigative premise that it is the voice of Muhammad he is hearing through the received text. The Muslims who were responsible for transmitting that received text, and perhaps the very earliest believers who created the Quran as a text, believed no such thing. They heard the all but immediate voice of God. The sounds may have come forth from the lips of Muhammad but he was merely enunciating and not creating them.

In the case of Jesus, the historian, whether Christian or not, recognizes from the outset that he is dealing with texts that had human authors, whose very names stand in fact at the heads of the texts that constitute the New Testament as certainly as no one's does at the head of the Quran. The investigative premise is that the texts, particularly the Gospels, report the teachings (and describe the acts) of another human personage, namely, Jesus of Nazareth. The Christian immediately adds that this same Jesus was also the Son of God and so what was proceeding from his lips was the reported speech of God. It was not, however, The words of Yahweh heard and reported by Moses from Sinai or the words of Allah pronounced by Muhammad in Mecca and Medina were God's reported words; what proceeded from Jesus' lips was a revolutionary new discourse, the words of a man-God, a human voice with the gravity of the Divine.
I received this book just about a year ago and, what with one thing and another, it took me a long time to read it. However, I always came back to it because the premise was so interesting and the facts so engrossing.

F. E. Peters examines and compares the historical profiles of Jesus and Muhammed to show us, from a historian's viewpoint, what we do and do not know about them. I actually am not exactly sure why the author wrote the book because he does not really draw any conclusions. However, I'm ok with that, as will be revealed at the end of this review.

What Peters does is directly compare pieces of Jesus' and Muhammad's lives and ministries. The reader learns what historical context Jesus was born into and then the context for Muhammad, the infancy narratives for Jesus and then Muhammad, the words of Jesus and then Muhammad, and so forth. In each case, Peters considered sources, the historian's point of view, and the believer's point of view.

The book jacket says that Peters finds surprising similarities between Jesus and Muhammad. I was disinterested in "surprising similarities" and more interested in learning facts. Specifically, I was interested in learning about Muhammad from an unbiased source, if such a thing exists.

I already am familiar, of course, with Jesus' life and identity from both a secular and Catholic point of view. Part of the test for Peters, naturally, was to see how his presentation of Jesus matched my own expectations. Since I knew next to nothing about Muhammad, I couldn't judge the truth of what I was being told other than to judge the truth of what Peters said about Christ. If he proved trustworthy there, then I felt he'd be equally trustworthy on Muhammad's behalf.

I was impressed because the author was dispassionate in delineating history versus belief, while always being quite respectful of believers. This is not a quality we often see in historians speaking about religion. Usually they are rooting for one side or another. I commend Peters for doing such a clear job of research and writing.

The painstakingly objective way he wrote about what Christians believe about Christ,  led me to believe that I was being allowed as unbiased a look as I have ever been shown of Muhammad and how his followers have developed his words into the Quran and the Sira. And that was precisely what I was after. Highly recommended for those who would like similar enlightenment.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Blogging Around: Another Random Edition

6 Inspiring Tales of Friendship in the Middle of Brutal Wars: "right in the heat of battle, sympathy and simple human kindness breaks through." I knew most of these but not all. Each is inspiring and worth remembering. (Language warning, this is a story.)

The Year of Faith: "The Holy Father has written a new apostolic letter for the induction of the Year of Faith. The Year of Faith will start on 11 October 2012, the fiftieth anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council. As always this is well-worth reading as is everything from our catechist-Pope." Via The Curt Jester.

12 Year Olds Embodying Something Greater: "And you know what? Instead of making the scared newly 12-year-old boy walk a block home in the dark, imagining flesh-eating zombies in shadows, every single boy offered to walk him back to his house.

Together." A wonderful story from Rambling Follower.

Toast: A Coming of Age Story - the movie. A review that makes it sound much more interesting than the book ever did ... and I love Nigel Slater's cookbooks.

Robert Downey, Jr. Asks Hollywood to Forgive Mel Gibson: “I asked Mel to present this award for me for a reason,” he said. “When I couldn’t get sober, he told me not to give up hope and encouraged me to find my faith. It didn’t have to be his or anyone else’s as long as it was rooted in forgiveness. And I couldn’t get hired, so he cast me in the lead of a movie that was actually developed for him. He kept a roof over my head and food on the table and most importantly he said if I accepted responsibility for my wrongdoing and embraced that part of my soul that was ugly – hugging the cactus he calls it — he said that if I hugged the cactus long enough, I’d become a man.”

An astounding story of mutual good will and forgiveness. It is so unlikely that I had to click around and make sure it wasn't a spoof when I read about it at Why I Am Catholic. Frank not only provides links to stories but his own take on this remarkable tale, which is one for all Christians.

Worth a Thousand Words: Trick or Treat

The fabulous Virginia on a Halloween past
from Amy H. Sturgis, whose parents own Virgina
Click through to see other costumes including this year's.

Who knew Armageddon Could Be So Funny? Reviewing "Mercury Falls" by Robert Kroese

He carried the ketchup bottle to the breakfast nook and popped open the lid. Time to do some serious damage, he thought. But there was only about half a bottle of ketchup and, and he wanted to make it count. He didn't want to just make random blotches of ketchup. It should be something meaningful, someting offensive. Something that would make the owner really want to get rid of the carpet. A satanic symbol, he thought. Yes, that's it.


... As a new transfer, however, Nisroc hadn't yet attended Lucifer's seminar on Branding for the New Millennium, and was thus starting from scratch.

He had heard that an upside-down cross was sometimes used, so he started with that, carefully drawing perpendicular ketchup lines on the carpet. He was rather satisfied with the result until he realized that he had drawn it upside down from the perspective of someone in the kitchen -- when viewed from the front door, it was a normally oriented cross. Now what?
Actually, anyone who's read Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett knows that Armageddon can be extremely amusing. What's truly wonderful is that Robert Kroese takes the concept to California and makes it funny all over again, in a completely different way.

Christine reports on end-of-time cults for a Christian newspaper. And she's having new linoleum installed in her breakfast nook. Her boss's obsession with the apocalypse results in her being entrusted with a locked briefcase about which she was told, "take it to Mercury." (Her boss is putting off new flooring.)

Mercury is a cult leading, ping-pong playing, Rice Krispy treat eating ... angel. He is maddeningly blase about the rapidly approaching apocalypse, although he is happy to be friends with Christine. After Christine encounters a very sulky Antichrist -- who lives in his mother's basement playing computer games -- she becomes determined to save the world. With hilarious results. And flooring.

Kroese's plot pulls together a varied cast of characters and scenarios with wonderful pacing for excellent comic effect and a story that had me staying up late and reading at breakneck speed. I laughed out loud more than once and pestered family members by reading funny sections aloud (which happened a lot). Kroese liberally skewers both religious and nonreligious, but is always solidly on the side of common sense, humor, and a good story. And flooring.
Harry's belief that he was guided by the voices of angels that only he could hear was, surprisingly, one of the least unreasonable of his many absurd beliefs. For example, he also believed that God created photosynthesis before He created the sun and that all of the world's animals had once taken a Mediterranean cruise together. Having convinced oneself of those unlikely propositions, accepting the notion that one is hearing the voices of angels is pretty much a cakewalk. 5

5 People of a "scientific" bent have been known to ridicule those, like Harry, who believe unlikely notions such as the idea that the Universe was created in six days and that the first human being was formed by God breathing into a lump of clay. It should be noted that the latest scientific theories entail that (1) all of the matter in the Universe was once compressed into an area smaller than the point of a pin; and (2) life came about when a chance collision of molecules accidentally lined up three million nucleic acids in exactly the right order to form a self-replicating protein.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Reviewing "At the Still Point: A Literary Guide to Prayer in Ordinary Time"

A Prayer That Will Be Answered
Anna Kamienska (Polish, 1920-1986)
Lord let me suffer a lot
and then let me die

Allow me to walk through silence
Let nothing not even fear linger after me

Make the world go on as it always has
let the sea continue to kiss the short

Let grass still remain green
so a little frog could find shelter in it

and someone could bury his face
and weep his heart out

Make a day dawn so bright
it seems there is no more suffering

And let my poem be transparent as a windowpane
against which a straying bee hits its head
This unusual devotional is a book after my own heart. Sarah Arthur has thematically arranged classic and contemporary fiction and poetry to look a little deeper at the worship inherent in the words.

Designed for use in Ordinary Time, themes range from "Seeking God's Face" to "Quarrels with Heaven" to "Rending the Veil." Readings are taken from such diverse fiction sources as The Wind in the Willows and Mansfield Park, and from poets spanning the Italian Christina Rossetti to Enuma Okoro, a contemporary Nigerian-American.

I must admit I've had this book since the beginning of Ordinary Time and now we are approaching the end of it. I haven't written a review until now because, to tell the truth, I do not know how to do it justice. However, I will try.

The daily readings pull one into an almost inadvertent practice of Lectio Divina*. It makes me slow down, look outward for God and inward for my self, and brings me to a place I haven't been before.

I usually am not drawn to poetry and the daily immersion leaves me feeling as if I've stepped out of real time when I'm done reading it. It shakes me up mentally in the best possible way. It is transformative, even if I can't label the transformation ... which, now that I think of it, may actually speak to the authenticity of the "shaking up" that these meditations carry for me.

I do wish that the publisher had provided room for the daily scripture readings instead of simply putting the reference. I, for one, am too lazy (yes, I said it and it's true) to go look up the references. It may have taken a few more pages but would have made At the Still Point a complete devotional. However, that is a small point and certainly one that is easy to remedy, if only I overcome my laziness with a bit of forethought in having a Bible to hand.

I hope that this book does well because I would really love it if Arthur did volumes for Advent, Lent, and Easter. Definitely recommended and not just for Catholics or Christians but for all spiritual seekers who love transformation through words.
Called to Be Saints
Christina Rossetti (English, 1830-1894)

The lowest place. Ah, Lord, how steep and high
That lowest place whereon a saint shall sit!
Which of us halting, trembling, pressing night,
Shall quite attain to it?

Yet, Lord, Thou pressest nigh to hail and grace
Some happy soul, it may be still unfit
For Right Hand or for Left Hand, but whose place
Waits there prepared for it.
Lectio Divina is Latin for divine reading, spiritual reading, or "holy reading," and represents a traditional Catholic practice of prayer and scriptural reading intended to promote communion with God and to increase in the knowledge of God's Word. It is a way of praying with Scripture that calls one to study, ponder, listen and, finally, pray and even sing and rejoice from God's Word, within the soul.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Flannery O'Connor's "Awe-ful" Stories

I wrote this biography for all those people who have heard they’re supposed to be getting some spiritual meaning out of O’Connor’s stories but just can’t get there. Your remarks get close to the heart of what O’Connor is doing in these awful stories (awful, you’ll remember, meant ‘filled with awe’ or ‘awe-inspiring’ before it meant ‘terrible’; I’m drawing on all those meanings here).
Author Jonathan Roger's post makes me really, really want to read this book. Via Brandywine Books.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Chocolate Marshmallows

Rose and a friend got busy last weekend and made an unusual treat for us ... which you can read about at Meanwhile, Back in the Kitchen.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

World's Longest Book Meme? 48-55

Part 6 and the final piece! Picking up from before ...
48. What would cause you to stop reading a book half-way through?
Mrs. Darwin said it well:usually the rare case of my coming to the conclusion that reading the book is itself morally culpable. I have a pretty broad leeway on this, especially where science fiction is involved, so it doesn't come up much.

49. Do you like to keep your books organized?
I have different bookshelves and bookcases devoted to genres and within those try to keep an authors' books together as much as possible. Other than that I don't alphabetize or organize. I like to have a random factor so that I am surprised by books I wasn't looking for. That leads to some of my most pleasurable rereading.

50. Do you prefer to keep books or give them away once you’ve read them?
I keep 'em.

51. Are there any books you’ve been avoiding?
Confessions by St. Augustine. (To be fair, I've tried to read it three times and hated it. So now I just avoid it.)

52. Name a book that made you angry.
The Ladies of Covington Send Their Love.

53. A book you didn’t expect to like but did?
Silence by Shusako Endo. Also The Silence of a Soul by St. Therese of Lisieux.

54. A book that you expected to like but didn’t?
Changes by Jim Butcher.

55. Favorite guilt-free, pleasure reading?
The Dresden Files ... right up to the aforementioned Changes.

Want to Help Change a Life?

Ironic Catholic's putting out the call ... to help them answer their call to adopt adorable Alex from Eastern Europe.

Click through to see Alex and donate to the adoption fund. Prayers are always good, but prayers accompanied by $5 or more are even better.
Friends, you know from a previous post that we are thick in the middle of living out a call to adopt Alex, a beautiful 5 yr old child of God who lives in Eastern Europe and is stuck in a (VERY) basic care institution simply because he has CP. Some people have asked what they can do to help change Alex's life. And the first thing we always say is pray for Alex's protection. Children with special needs are in pretty dire straits if they are orphaned in this country: no school ever, primitive care, limited treatment for their diseases or disabilities. While we have recent information that he is doing OK, considering, we'd very much like it to stay that way and pray for his protection every morning and evening.

But the second reality is that international adoption is not cheap at all. No one I know has $25,000 cash lying around. While we are in a better situation than we could have expected financially, we could really use help with the pre-travel expenses associated with this adoption. For example, sic needs to renew his passport ($110). We need to pay for all these documents to get apostilled ($3-10 a document, and there are what, 20 documents?). Paying to Fed Ex materials to this country so that they will actually GET there in less than three months ($200-300?). Paying for super special fingerprints for the USCIS ($720--yes, you read that right). We will make it happen. We've nearly paid for the home study and promise trust (that's over $4000). But could we use help? Oh yes, we can, trust me. We're pretty frugal folks--one older minivan for the family, lots of clearance back rack clothes shopping, well-versed in bean-based dishes, and vacations involve camping because it's cheap--but pinching pennies only goes so far.

Blogging Around: The Random Edition

The Zombie Preparedness Center ... only Ace Hardware takes zombies seriously. Via Strange Herring.

6 B.S. Myths You Probably Believe About America's "Enemies" ... from Cracked (do I need to put the language warning in here? Ok, I'll put it ...)

14 Wonderful Words with No English Equivalent ... from Mental Floss blog. Via ten thousand words.

Monday, October 10, 2011

World's Longest Book Meme? 41-47

Part 5 comin' atcha! Picking up from where we left off ...

41. The longest I’ve gone without reading.
I must have had times when I haven't read, but I can't think of one. Ever.

42. Name a book that you could/would not finish.
Hyperion by Dan Simmons. I just lost interest after reading about a third of the book.

43. What distracts you easily when you’re reading?
Lately I've had more trouble with that. Could it be the famous lack of concentration we've been told is fostered by too much internet/social media distraction? I think it might be. However, when I'm immersed in a great story I find that I sacrifice all sorts of usual distractions in order to read as exclusively as possible. So in those circumstances, practically nothing distracts me easily.

44. Favorite film adaptation of a novel.
The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Thank you Peter Jackson! It wasn't perfect but it was probably closer than anyone else would have gotten.

45. Most disappointing film adaptation?
I am terrified it is going to be World War Z. For movies already made: Ron Howard's The Grinch Who Stole Christmas. Never have I hated a movie more. What a travesty.

46. The most money I’ve ever spent in the bookstore at one time?
I suppose it is the last set of books I bought for the Elements of Faith book club where a lot of people like me to pick up the next few months' worth of books for them. Gosh, that was over $300. I tend not to spend too much on myself for books at one time. You can hide the amount you're spending if you do it in dribs and drabs. Mostly because I'm spending so much time trying to NOT buy books ... I buy books the way some people hit bars. They're an addiction.

47. How often do you skim a book before reading it?
Almost always. Mostly because I pick up most of my books from the library and I hate to put them to the trouble of tranfering a book