Saturday, March 31, 2012

Weekend Joke for Palm Sunday

It was Palm Sunday but because of a sore throat, 5-year-old Johnny stayed home from church with a sitter. When the family returned home, they were carrying several palm fronds. Johnny asked them what they were for.

"People held them over Jesus' head as he walked by," his father told him.

"Wouldn't you know it," Johnny fumed, "the one Sunday I don't go and he shows up."

Friday, March 30, 2012

Notes on Mark: The Scribes

MARK 1:21, 22
Having seen how the Torah was viewed, we can now see why the scribes were so important. Someone had to tell everybody what was right and wrong for everyday living. After reading about how the scribes' systems worked it is clear why Jesus' teachings were so startling.
To give this study [of the Torah] ... a class of scholars arose. These were the Scribes, the experts in the law. The title of the greatest of them was Rabbi. The scribes had three duties.

(i) They set themselves, out of the great moral principles of the Torah, to extract rules and regulations for every possible situation in life. Obviously this was a task that was as endless...

(ii) It was the task of the scribes to transmit and to teach the law and its developments. These deduced and extracted rules and regulations were never written down; they are known as the Oral Law. Although never written down they were considered to be even more binding than the written law. From generation to generation of scribes they were taught and committed to memory...

(iii) The scribes had the duty of giving judgment in individual cases; and, in the nature of things, practically every individual case must have produced a new law.

Wherein did Jesus' teaching differ so much from the teaching of the Scribes? He taught with personal authority. No Scribe ever gave a decision on his own. He would always begin, "There is a teaching that ..." and would then quote all his authorities. If he made a statement he would buttress it with this, that, and the next quotation from the next great legal masters of the past. The last thing he ever gave was an independent judgment.

Reading about how the scribes gave the decisions made me flash on all the times that Jesus would say, "You have heard it said ... But I say to you..." and then give his own personal teaching with a definite air of authority. No wonder everyone was blown away!

All excerpts in this post are from: The Gospel of Mark (The Daily Bible Series, rev. ed.) by William Barclay

* Not a Catholic source and one which can have a wonky theology at times, but Barclay was renowned for his authority on life in ancient times and that information is sound.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

It's All Downhill From Here: A Little Humor to Get Us Through the Rest of the Week

From the brilliant Doug Savage at Savage Chickens

Short Pasta with Cauliflower

Another of the recipes that Rose tried out when she was our nightly cook. (Oh, those were the days!). This was really tasty and comes in handy for meatless Fridays.

Get it at Meanwhile, Back in the Kitchen.

Notes on Mark: The Law

MARK 1:21, 22
It is important to understand what perspective the Jews had that they heard Jesus' teachings as such a revelation ... and not like the scribes. First we must look at how they viewed the Torah (the Law).
To the Jews the most sacred thing in the world was the Torah, the Law. The core of the law is the Ten Commandments, but the Law was taken to mean the first five books of the Old Testament, the Pentateuch, as they are called. To the Jews this Law was completely divine. It had, so they believed been given direct by God to Moses. It was absolutely holy and absolutely binding. They said, "He who says that the Torah is not from God has not part in the future world." "He who says that Moses wrote even one verse of his own knowledge is a denier and despiser of the word of God."

If the Torah is so divine two things emerge. First, it must be the supreme rule of faith and life; and second, it must contain everything necessary to guide and to direct life. If that be so the Torah demands two things. First, it must obviously be given the most careful and meticulous study. Second, the Torah is expressed in great, wide principles; but, if it contains direction and guidance for all life, what is in it implicitly must be brought out. The great laws must become rules and regulations -- so their argument ran.
All excerpts in this post are from: The Gospel of Mark (The Daily Bible Series, rev. ed.) by William Barclay

* Not a Catholic source and one which can have a wonky theology at times, but Barclay was renowned for his authority on life in ancient times and that information is sound.

Palm Sunday is Coming. Is It Personal For You?

Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Philippians 2:6-11
I love this. It keeps me really grounded.

And I had it in mind the whole time I was watching this video about What the Father Saw . Made by Patrick, a youth minister (and future friar), at make a friar.

This is going to keep you grounded too, next Sunday when the Church, around the world, is reading the Passion narrative aloud at Mass. It's a little emotional, a little over the top, you might say.


But think about the readings for Palm Sunday. A lot of people today say that's a little over the top. Who'd believe all that anyway?

Right. You and me. Or you wouldn't be here and neither would I.

It brings it home, makes it personal, when we think about what Christ's obedience cost him ... and why He did it.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Blogging Around: "Too Good Not to Share" Edition

Links to full stories are in the titles.

Dr. Boli's Complete History of the World - Chapter 1
At a certain point in time—in fact, at the very first certain point of time in the history of time—this primordial unity gave birth to multiplicity with a tremendous racket. There is some disagreement as to why this event occurred: theologians believe it happened because God willed it; scientists believe it happened for no reason at all; and Dr. Boli, whose opinion must be allowed to count for something in his own book, believes it was the result of deliberate sabotage. The matter thus set loose in the previously tidy universe busily set about forming itself into galaxies, stars, planets, and other detritus, so that today there is little hope of ever getting the place cleaned up. This should be a valuable lesson for us all on the tragic consequences of slovenly habits.
It was hard to choose what to use to lure you to reading the entire thing, but do go do so. Too, too wonderful.

Christians Raise Money to Help Atheist Have Eye Surgery
Patrick Greene says he has always been “treated like dirt” by Christians because of his atheistic beliefs.

That recently changed, leaving Greene “completely flabbergasted.”

It happened when some Henderson County Christians offered Greene financial assistance with a medical problem despite his opposition to a nativity scene on the courthouse square.
To which I thought, "Yes, this is just as it should be." Sadly, it is rare enough to flabbergast people and raise a lot of notice. This should be the norm not the oddity. However. We are all to blame for that. For inspiration in doing better, let's all go read the entire story. Via The Deacon's Bench.

It's Better to Light One Candle Than Curse the Darkness
A young adventurer risks his life to reunite trafficked children with their families; African-American maids in the South reclaim their dignity through sharing their stories; a priest travels around the world to explore the history of the Catholic Church. These stories and more are told in the 22 feature films, TV/Cable programs, and books for adults and young people being honored with Christopher Awards in New York on May 24th, 2012.
There is a wealth of good reading, watching, and inspirational lives to read about at The Christophers where their most recent award winners have been announced. I can vouch for Little Princes by Conor Grennan which is an engrossing memoir tracing the young man's growing maturity as he helps reunite trafficked Nepalese children with their families.

Father Dwight Longenecker Moves to Patheos
I've long been a fan of Father Longenecker, way back from the days when I nervously typed my first "fan" email (before he converted) to the author of Adventures in Orthodoxy (which I still recommend). Reading his blog was just more of a daily dose of goodness and now he's at Patheos. Drop by and tell him hello!

Illustrations for Vox Clara Pontifical
I've long been a fan of artist Daniel Mitsui, who blogs at The Lion and The Cardinal, and was so pleased to see he had been commissioned to do these illustrations, which are simply wonderful. Check his newletter for more of his creations, which you may have for your very own.

A Thread for Weaving Joy
Catholics need to wake up from the illusion that the America we now live in – not the America of our nostalgia or imagination or best ideals, but the real America we live in here and now – is somehow friendly to our faith. What we’re watching emerge in this country is a new kind of paganism, an atheism with air-conditioning and digital TV. And it is neither tolerant nor morally neutral.


My point is this: Evil talks about tolerance only when it’s weak. When it gains the upper hand, its vanity always requires the destruction of the good and the innocent, because the example of good and innocent lives is an ongoing witness against it. So it always has been. So it always will be. And America has no special immunity to becoming an enemy of its own founding beliefs about human freedom, human dignity, the limited power of the state, and the sovereignty of God.

A friend of mine has a son with Down syndrome, and she calls him a “sniffer of souls.” I know him, and it’s true. He is. He may have an IQ of 47, and he’ll never read The Brothers Karamazov, but he has a piercingly quick sense of the people he meets. He knows when he’s loved -- and he knows when he’s not. Ultimately, I think we’re all like her son. We hunger for people to confirm that we have meaning by showing us love. We need that love. And we suffer when that love is withheld.

These children with disabilities are not a burden; they’re a priceless gift to all of us. They’re a doorway to the real meaning of our humanity. Whatever suffering we endure to welcome, protect and ennoble these special children is worth it because they’re a pathway to real hope and real joy. Abortion kills a child; it wounds a precious part of a woman’s own dignity and identity; and it steals hope. That’s why it’s wrong. That’s why it needs to end. That’s why we march.
Charles J. Chaput addressed the Cardinal O’Connor Conference on Life and spoke from the heart. It needs to be read from beginning to end and taken to heart.

Monday, March 26, 2012

"All right, Mr DeMille, I'm ready for my close up."

This little lady is now our Boxer, Wash's, new little sister. She's smaller than she looks but makes up for it with huge personality. Unfortunately, so huge that she thinks she should run the household. Did we mention she's a lot more Pitt Bull than Boxer (or maybe Bulldog, we're thinking).

We got her at the SPCA where she could show her sweet, loving side. She'd been adopted and returned once because of an illness in the home that wouldn't allow taking care of a new pet. They also mentioned her fear of doors / doorways and extreme shyness.

We're wondering just what dog they took home. True enough, she doesn't like being taken by the collar and pulled anywhere. But walking through a doorway? No problem. Because maybe there's a camera waiting to take her confident photo.

And, if she gets through that doorway ahead of you it means that she is top dog, not you. Oh yes. There is that.

She has bonded very well to me and either waits to let me walk first or if she "forgets" (ha!), then when I clear my throat or tap my foot or ... yes sometimes she makes me order her ... clap my hands at her, then she comes contritely back (Oh, I didn't see you back there the two times I looked over my shoulder! So sorry!) and very properly follows me down the hall.

Biggest problem so far?

She began a fight with Wash within minutes of meeting him and still would like to settle it. Up went the dog gate (which she can knock over or climb ... what a little darling) and then began the two-dog tango to give each dog plenty of people time but keep them separated. We're going to take them for a walk this evening which should help the bonding because she was trying to get him to play with her through the gate this morning. (In between growls. Talk about mixed messages.)

Keeping in mind that we got her home around 2 p.m. on Saturday, that is not bad progress.

And, when we returned from Mass on Sunday, we discovered she's a little escape artist.

"Wire crate? Ha, ha! I laugh at them!" she chuckled gleefully as she greeted us at the door when we returned.

Thank goodness we had also crated Wash. Our gentle giant was sitting in the far corner of his crate, thanking his lucky stars she was outside and he was inside. And wondering just why we brought her home.

How she squeezed through that little opening she forced between the top and side, we'll never know. Oh, wait, we do know. Because Tom reinforced all gaps yesterday. When we put her in the crate so Wash could have an hour in our company while we were watching TV, we watched with bemusement as she tested every join, tried the wire with her excellent teeth (which are long and sharp and Tom said remind him of Alien), and then moaned with frustration. (Zoe and she could hold lovely concerts with their moaning.)

This makes her sound terrible, but it is really just adjustment pains being felt all around.

She is a little sweetie pie who wants noting more than to sit in your lap while her tummy is being rubbed. And then run 10 circles around the living room at the speed of light. (Which is very much like a Boxer.)

Her name?

We're sticking with the Firefly theme.

Think of a homegrown beauty, from a hardscrabble planet, delighted to see the big, wide world.

Yep, Kaylee.

That parasol makes me think of our Kaylee's spiffy new pink collar. Just the thing for a little lady.

Notes on Mark: The Synagogue

MARK 1:21, 22
I read this and realized that I have a tendency to think of the synagogue as just the local version of a church with the Temple being the big "headquarters" in Jerusalem. Not so at all as William Barclay points out.
There are certain basic differences between the synagogue and the church as we know it today.

(a) The synagogue was primarily a teaching institution. The synagogue service consisted of only three things -- prayer, the reading of God's word, and the exposition of it. There was no music, no singing and no sacrifice. It may be said that the Temple was the place of worship and sacrifice; the synagogue was the place of teaching and instruction. The synagogue was by far the more influential, for there was only one Temple. But the law laid it down that wherever there were ten Jewish families there must be a synagogue, and, therefore, wherever there was a colony of Jews, there was a synagogue. If a man had a new message to preach, the synagogue was the obvious place in which to preach it.

(b) The synagogue provided an opportunity to deliver such a message. The synagogue had certain officials.
  • There was the Ruler of the synagogue. He was responsible for the administration of the affairs of the synagogue and for the arrangements for its services.

  • There were the distributors of alms. Daily a collection was taken in cash and in kind from those who could afford to give. It was then distributed to the poor; the very poorest were given food for fourteen meals per week.

  • There was the Chazzan... He was responsible for the taking out and storing away of the sacred rolls on which scripture was written; for the cleaning of the synagogue; for the blowing of the blasts on the silver trumpet which told people that the Sabbath had come; for the elementary education of the children of the community.
One thing the synagogue had not and that was a permanent preacher or teacher. When the people met at the synagogue service it was open to the Ruler to call on any competent person to give the address and the exposition. There was no professional ministry whatsoever. That is why Jesus was able to open his campaign in the synagogues. The opposition had not yet stiffened into hostility. He was known to be a man with a message; and for that very reason the synagogue of every community provided him with a pulpit from which to instruct and to appeal to men.
All excerpts in this post are from: The Gospel of Mark (The Daily Bible Series*, rev. ed.) by William Barclay

* Not a Catholic source and one which can have a wonky theology at times, but Barclay was renowned for his authority on life in ancient times and that information is sound.

Eternal Rest Grant Him, O Lord ... for Gregg Margarite

I had the privilege of "meeting" Gregg on SFFaudio and he seemed larger than life somehow, so it was with great shock that I heard via SFFaudio that he died of a sudden heart attack.

This is such a shock and I am really sad because I’m going to miss Gregg so much. He was pervasive in my life, whether via his many LibriVox readings, hearing his conversations on the SFFaudio podcast, or our sparring on the occasional SFFaudio podcasts we were on (as is only natural for an outspoken Catholic and an outspoken existentialist). I am doubly sad because I always cherished the hope that I would get to New York City and be able to have cocktails with him.

Maureen commented at SFFaudio that she suspected Philip K. Dick is now showing Gregg around the afterlife and that made me laugh. It made me hope that that stubborn existentialist took the chance offered at the last second to grasp Christ's hand and get to meet all those fine authors who have gone before him and whose work he read so well for LibriVox. And I am praying that when I get to Purgatory, they'll either tell me he's gone on ahead ... or he'll wave a hand at the chair next to his.

Gregg, we will all miss you very much.
Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him. May the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.
And may Gregg see your face, Lord. This I pray.

Friday, March 23, 2012

This Just In: Sense Nonsense - Updated

Sense Nonsense: Fundamental Propositions Not Too Good to Be True, Just Too Hard to AcceptSense Nonsense: Fundamental Propositions Not Too Good to Be True, Just Too Hard to Accept by Francisco J. Garcia-Julve

Can I tell you that I was sitting at the Sense Nonsense book website just chuckling at the sayings rotating? (You can't yet, but go take a look and you'll see what I'm talking about.)

They're funny because they're true (as wise man Homer Simpson has often told us). Although they aren't always funny ... anyway it was enough to interest me in opening the review pdf I received.

And then I read the first paragraph of the Forward and had to laugh again. Can't wait to read this.

And here's a review from Maureen at Aliens in This World.

Notes on Mark: Jesus' Assault on the Powers of Darkness

MARK 1:21-28

I knew all these facts, of course, but until reading this concise summary of Jesus' announcement of the kingdom and his attack on evil, it never all came together being shown a planned progression (so to speak). But once I was shown, it was so obvious. So it is not Mark that is simple, it is my reading of his work. (That's a tune we'll be singing throughout the book ... he's a much smarter cookie than he gets credit for.) I like the points made in the reflection also because it makes me think of Jesus as our shepherd. He appears on the scene and begins swiping the wolves away from his sheep. And we clearly need it.
The call of the first disciples is followed by Jesus' first miraculous work, an exorcism. By this act Jesus' announcement of the kingdom (v. 15) becomes dramatically perceptible and concrete. Throughout the public ministry mark shows Jesus' progressive dismantling of the powers of darkness, the advancement of his assault on Satan's kingdom that began with the temptation in the desert (1:13; see 3:23-27).


REFLECTION AND APPLICATION: The story of Jesus' first exorcism portrays the forces of evil in a way that may appear to readers today as strikingly personal. For Mark, as for the whole New Testament, evil is not an impersonal force but is concentrated in invisible, malevolent beings who are bent on destroying human beings and hindering God's plan of salvation. These evil spirits are responsible for various mental and even physical maladies (7:25; 9:17-27; see Matt 12:22; Luke 13:11). Some exegetes, nothing that the Gospels do not always clearly distinguish between illness and demonic possession, have concluded that the references to demons are simply a mythical way of symbolizing the misfortunes to which human beings are prone. The Church has always taught, however, that demons are real spiritual beings, fallen angels who were created by God but became evil by their own free choice (Catechism, 391-95). Anyone tempted to dismiss accounts of demons as fables does not have to look far to see evidence of their influence today. Such phenomena as "racial cleansing," group suicides, and the sexual abuse of children show a more than merely human malice at work, seeking to destroy the image of God in man. But as frightening and real as is the power of demons, the authority of Christ is infinitely superior. Through his cross and resurrection, Christ definitively conquered the powers of hell. For the present time, however, their malicious actions are permitted by God, who is able to good out of every evil (Rom 8:28). The grace of baptism affords us protection from demons and the strength to resist their seductive influence.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Words Matter ... Especially When We're Hurling Them at Others

I remember years ago my brother was in an altercation with the owner of a parking lot. They managed to exchange loud greetings that sounded to all those in hearing distance like ‘go to hell.’ I remember when I heard them, I suddenly got chills. I thought to myself, “Who the hell wants to go to hell.” Neither one of them I believe, was really thinking that they wanted the other to go to hell. They were simply expressing their feelings at that moment. To understand just the basics of hell would stop all of us from wishing it on anyone else.


I will never forget in a biography of Bishop Fulton J. Sheen, he commented about praying for your enemies. He said he offered prayers up every day for Adolf Hitler, until the moment he learned of Hitler’s death. So it should be for all Catholics. Pray for your enemies and remember that you don’t want anyone going to hell.
Sammy John preaches it at Catholics on the Edge. And while he's at it, he spares some thought and prayer for prominent Catholics much in the news these days. Go. Read. And let us all do likewise.

Notes on Mark: Choosing the Disciples

MARK 1:16-20
Why so many fishermen? It never occurred to me to think about that since everywhere Jesus went the place seemed to be crawling with them. In support of that observation, here is some interesting information about Galilee and fish.
There were many fishermen in Galilee. Josephus, who, for a time, was governor of Galilee, and who is the great historian of the Jews, tells us that in his day three hundred and thirty fishing boats sailed the waters of the lake. Ordinary people in Palestine seldom ate meat, probably not more than once a week. Fish was their staple diet. Usually the fish was salt because there was no means of transporting fresh fish. Fresh fish was one of the greatest of all delicacies in the great cities like Rome. The very names of the towns on the lakeside show how important the fishing business was. Bethsaida means House of Fish; Tarichaea means The Place of Salt Fish and it was there that the fish were preserved for export to Jerusalem and even to Rome itself. The salt fish industry was big business in Galilee.
There are also some very interesting observations about Jesus calling the disciples. I knew a lot of this but it is thought provoking to see these all listed here.
It is naturally of the greatest interest to study the men whom Jesus picked out as his first followers.

(i) We must notice what they were. They were simple folk... they were fishermen. That is to say, they were ordinary people... A man should never think so much of what he is as of what Jesus Christ can make of him.

(ii)We must notice what they were doing when Jesus called them. They were doing their day's work, catching the fish, mending the nets... The man who lives in a world that is full of God cannot escape him.

(iii) We must notice how he called them. Jesus' summons was, "Follow me!" It is not to be thought that on this day he stood before them for the first time. No doubt they had stood in the crowd and listened; no doubt they had stayed to talk long after the rest of the crowd had drifted away... He said, "Follow me!" It all began with a personal reaction to himself; it all began with that tug on the heart which begets the unshakable loyalty.

(iv) Lastly we must note what Jesus offered them. He offered them a task. He called them not to ease but to service... He called them to a task wherein they could win something for themselves only by giving their all to him and to others.
All excerpts in this post are from: The Gospel of Mark (The Daily Bible Series*, rev. ed.) by William Barclay.

* Not a Catholic source and one which can have a wonky theology at times, but Barclay was renowned for his authority on life in ancient times and that information is sound.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Live in Dallas? I'll Be Speaking March 20. Hey - that's today!

Just a reminder that I'll be sharing my story From Atheist to Happy Catholic (and what I learned along the way) with the Altar Society at their evening meeting. And you're invited too!

Tuesday, March 20
7:00 p.m. (following 6:00 p.m. Mass)
St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church, St. Anne Hall
(6306 Kenwood Avenue,  Dallas, TX 75214)

You do not have to be a member of the Altar Society to attend.

I will have copies of my book, Happy Catholic, available afterward for anyone interested. If you already have a copy, I'd be happy to sign it.

Rally for Religious Freedom - Nationwide - Friday, March 23 - Noon

Here's the scoop for Dallas (including a map at the link):
Rally for Religious Freedom
Friday, March 23, Noon to 1 p.m. CST
Dallas City Hall, 1500 Marilla St.

Bleg: Good writing about the relationship between reason and Catholic faith

A good friend asks:
For years now I've been waiting for someone to preach to Catholics that philosophy reinforces rather than challenges our faith. I picture it like what Scott Hahn did for Catholics and popularizing the Bible (embrace it, don't fear it).

I have not devoted the time to read up on the topic to see what is already out there but I imagine it would use JPII's Fides et Ratio and personalism as a jumping off point (basically Thomast). Kind of allowing church-going Catholics to more firmly occupy the shifting ground between fundamentalism and materialism, without criticizing either or apologizing but rather celebrating the richness of our own faith.

Do you know anyone out there who is writing like that now?
I don't, though I am now going to print out Fides et Ratio which I may have read before but can't remember. Just reading the first few paragraphs was pretty exciting. (No, I'm not kidding. That's how I roll.)

Any suggestions for my friend?

Montmartre: a favorite Paris neighborhood and a new favorite cocktail

Check it out at Meanwhile, Back in the Kitchen.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Bleg: Book Suggestions for 13-year-old Girl

A reader asks:
Can you suggest a couple of book titles for my 13-year-old granddaughter? They must be audiobooks as she is dyslexic and mostly listens to books on tape.

I thought, perhaps, you might have some thoughts about good, wholesome books for early Teen girls; I fear that my granddaughter, who will be 13 this month, is already into those Twilight books (on tape) and somehow I don't think they're terribly appropriate, based on what I've heard and read! I always prefer the classics, myself, and if you have any particular audio versions that you like, I would love to hear about that.
Now I had a few thoughts, but they were very few, so I also turned to a couple of readers I trust.

Sarah Reinhard says:
  • Regina Doman books -- ALL of them (I once called her books the "answer" to the Twilight books)
  • The Eragon books (four in the series, I just read the last ones...I've heard less-than-glowing reviews, but I liked them)
  • Book I haven't had a chance to review loudly yet (but will start next week at - The Dragon's Tooth
  • Michelle Buckman has a YA series of two books which are GREAT w/ Catholic worldview but no PREACHY (and really, you couldn't tell they were Catholic if you didn't know, which I LOVELOVELOVE): titles are Maggie Come Lately and My Beautiful Disaster

Rose says:
  • The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley
  • Eon: Dragoneye Reborn by Alison Goodman
  • Princess Diaries
  • Pride & Prejudice

My thoughts:
  • Genesis by Bernard Beckett (SF novella)
  • Neeta Lyfe, Zombie Exterminator by Karina Fabian
  • To Kill a Mockingbird (I know a couple of these are "classics" which can be a turn-off, but they are classics because they are great stories. It might be that if she heard a good audiobook version the story would be gripping enough, with a great enough heroine, to make her forget the damning "classic" label)

I know there are lots of you out there with other great ideas. Please do chime in!

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Weekend Joke: Sherlock Holmes

Thanks again to Seth for this one!
Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson went camping in the forest. After a good dinner and a bottle of wine, they went to sleep in the tent.

Several hours later, Holmes awoke and nudged his faithful friend, Watson.

"Look at the sky and tell me what you see."

Watson answered: "I see millions and millions of stars."

"And what does that tell you?"

Watson thought a minute and answered: "Astronomically, that tells me that there are potentially billions of planets. Astrologically, I see that Saturn is in Leo. Chronologically, I deduce that it is approximately three ten AM. Theologically, I see that God is all powerful and that we are small and insignificant. Meteorologically I suspect that we shall have a beautiful day tomorrow."

Holmes was quiet for a minute and then said: "Watson, you are an idiot. Someone stole our tent."

Friday, March 16, 2012

Who Else is Watching "Awake"?

I haven't seen the most recent episode but just finished up watching the second one recently.

How do I say this with no spoilers?

The moment at the end ... with the motorcycle ... was so wonderful.

But the moment after that, in the park on the bench, almost spoiled the whole thing for me. I thought, "Oh no, really? Do we need this? I know it's a thing right now, but this story already has so much in it that we don't need that too."

Did anyone else feel that way?

Spoilers allowed in the comments box ... so we can talk!

Let's Talk Chicken ...

... Palaver Chicken, that is. Over at Meanwhile, Back in the Kitchen.

John Allen Makes Me Laugh

Not most of the time.

But did you see this?
One month from today, Benedict XVI will turn 85. He's now the oldest pope in the last 109 years, since Leo XIII died in 1903 at 93, and will shortly become one of only six popes in the last 500 years to reign past the age of 85. That list includes three pontiffs (Pius IX, Innocent XII and Clement X) who died within a year of turning 85, so if Benedict's basic stability holds up, he'll surpass them in 2013.

As the saying goes, German machinery is built to last!
I heard that!

You laughed too!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Worth a Thousand Words: La Patisserie Gloppe

La Pâtisserie Gloppe aux Champs-Élysées, Jean Béraud (January 12, 1849 – October 4, 1935) 

Notes on Mark: Tempted in the Wilderness

MARK 1:12-13
Jesus faces the same ordeal that Adam and Israel endured in the OT (CCC 538-540). He is thus tempted by Satan among the wild beasts, as the first Adam was tempted amid the beasts in paradise. He likewise retraces the steps of Israel, being led into the wilderness by the Spirit and tested for forty days as the Israelites marched in the desert for 40 years of testing. In the end, Jesus succeeds where Adam and Israel failed by resisting the devil and proving his filial love for the Father. This initiates an extended campaign against demons, death, and disease throughout the Gospel (1:25, 31, 34; 2:11; 3:5; 5:13, 39-41).

Morally: (St. John Chrysostom, Hom. in Matt. 13), Jesus endured temptation to train his disciples how to overcome the devil. No one should be surprised, then, that after our own Baptism the tempter assails us more aggressively than before. Victory is assured if, like Jesus, we commit ourselves to fasting, wait upon the Lord with patience, and have no desire for things beyond our need.
The Gospel of Mark
(The Ignatius Catholic Study Bible)
by Scott Hahn and Curtis Mitch
I just love all those parallels between Jesus' temptation and the Old Testament. So obvious when pointed out but so hard to see when I am just reading along.

Also it is a good reminder that if Jesus suffered from temptation, so then will I. It is much easier to take when we see what is pointed out here.
No sooner was the glory of the hour of the Baptism over than there came the battle of the temptations. One thing stands out here in such a vivid way that we cannot miss it. It was the Spirit who thrust Jesus out into the wilderness for the testing time. The very Spirit who came upon him at his baptism now drove him out for his test.

In this life it is impossible to escape the assault of temptation; but one thing is sure -- temptations are not sent to to us to make us fall; they are sent to strengthen the nerve and the sinew of our minds and hearts and souls. They are not meant for our ruin, but for our good. They are meant to be tests from which we emerge better warriors and athletes of God.
The Gospel of Mark
(The Daily Bible Series*, rev. ed.)

by William Barclay
* Not a Catholic source and one which can have a wonky theology at times, but Barclay was renowned for his authority on life in ancient times and that information is sound.

What good is a Catholic presence in the land if it isn't Catholic?

In reading Joanne McPortland's honest, angry open letter to President Obama, one part stayed with me.
You have managed this really well from your end, manufacturing a "war on women"--Catholics want women to be pregnant or die!--while waging war on the First Amendment. I sometimes wish the Catholic bishops hadn't jumped at the bait, too (because I truly don't think this is the hill we want to die on)...
"Jumped at the bait" puzzled me because I truly couldn't see what other choice Catholics, including their bishops, had at this point.

As Tom said when I asked him about this, "If not now, then when?"

The only other choice was to let it lie which is unacceptable from a purely American point of view because religious liberty is so bred into our national identity. Not to mention defending our faith as Catholics.

If the Bishops, our fathers in the Church, had not let so many small fights go by with little more than a disapproving glance, then we would not be in the position of having to defend our faith in this way. We wouldn't have to defend it not only to the government but to our fellow Catholics. However, none of us is perfect and nothing is as simple as fingerpointing, especially at those in charge. I do not say this in anger, but just as one looking back on the road that got us to this point. Honestly, I am simply happy that they are standing up in unison.

I think that this is a hill that we must take a stand on, and not simply as Americans, but as Catholics one to another. After I entered the Church, I found I had to do great internal struggling to come to terms with many of the Church's teachings about how to live out the ten commandments and Jesus' two great commandments.

It's trendy to call them "life issues" and "social justice issues," but let's say what we mean. It is about the ten commandments, Jesus Christ, and getting to heaven. If that is in the center of our lives then the fruit will be enough to make "life issues" and "social justice issues" fade because we will be loving our neighbors as ourselves. Old, young, poor, rich, unborn, homeless ... everyone.

Here's one of the big realizations that I had during that process: you can't be really Catholic and be a card-carrying Democrat or Republican. There is no political party on earth that truly lives God's laws.

To say anything else is to fool yourself. It is to be blinded by our own desires and to put the golden calf of politics and controlling things "our way" ahead of the commandments and Jesus Christ.

It is to define, explain away, and excuse ourselves until we are a shadow of what we should be, which is authentically Catholic.

Do we believe the Catholic Church is the bride of Christ? Do we believe that her mission is to get each one of us ... you and me ... to heaven?

Then why aren't we listening? Why aren't we pulling out our Catechisms to examine the places where we oppose Her teachings. Why aren't we delving deep into the "why" of what the Catechism contains and holding our own "golden calves" up to see what needs to go in order to bring us closer to God?

I am not perfect, believe me. Plenty of my family and friends can testify to that. But I do keep getting up and trying again. And God keeps pointing out where I thought I was right but I had it all wrong.

My goal?

I want to be Catholic ... without any adjectives. Just plain Catholic is enough.
I am not a liberal Catholic, orthodox Catholic, conservative Catholic, cafeteria Catholic, or traditionalist Catholic: I am, simply, a Catholic (Roman Rite). That should be enough for you to know where I stand and what I believe about most issues. At least, it used to be.
I can tell from Joanne McPortland's blog that she has done the same struggling. She and I may vary in how we try to apply the Church's teachings to ordering our lives or our voting or where we choose to volunteer, but we are not apart at the center. I know that she is honestly trying to do God's will with all her heart and mind and strength. By changing her long-held beliefs, even when it hurt.

She's had to move from her comfort zone to a place where both sides feel self righteous about attacking. Welcome, sister! Here I am too, although I think that I had to come from the other side of the road to meet you here.

In this particular case, on this particular hill, I think we have no choice but to take a stand and politely but firmly explain the truth. My prayer is that hearts and minds are opened, especially those of Catholics who dissent from Church teachings about contraception and abortion.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

No Wonder I Never Feel Lonely - The Staggering Growth of the Church in Texas

A quick look at the stats lays out the backdrop: since the last ad limina, Catholics -- their presence increased nearly 60 percent since 1990 -- have eclipsed Evangelicals to become the state's largest religious group. In a matter of years, three of its dioceses have erupted to comprise more than a million members, each reflecting five-or-sixfold expansions over the last three decades. On a 25 percent growth in general population since 2000, the Dallas-Fort Worth "metroplex" is now home to nearly 2 million of the faithful in what's just become the nation's fourth-largest metropolitan area. Along the border, a majority of Brownsville's 1.1 million Catholics are younger than 25; out East, rural Tyler's taken to ordaining more priests than New York, and in the capital, Austin's church of half a million -- projected to double within a decade -- is perhaps the Stateside church's most energetic outpost, boasting the nation's most celebrated Catholic campus ministry, to boot.

On the institutional front, the seminaries are expanding, freshly-built "mega-churches" are teeming, and local RCIA classes routinely set national benchmarks. By and large, the model of church is a decidedly post-Conciliar, 21st century one, blending Africans, Anglos, Asians and Latinos -- each mostly migrants of some sort -- into cohesive, vibrant communities. In a first, Rome's designated headquarters for a significant cross-country project lies not along the Northeast corridor, but in Houston, where the dedication of a new cathedral (above) since the last visit shut Downtown streets as an army priests processed toward it four across. Each named auxiliaries in their early forties, the last decade has seen four homegrown priests succeed each other as the nation's youngest bishop. And of course, in the ultimate reflection of "the dynamic growth of Catholicism in the southern part of the United States, and especially in" this second-largest of them, for the first time its group crosses the "threshold of the Apostles" led by a figure in scarlet, one told by Benedict on his elevation that "Texas needs a cardinal."
Whispers in the Loggia has the whole story including all the links that go with the text above so that you know just what he's talking about. Via The Deacon's Bench, who always has the latest news.

Its Baaaaak - Community

For everyone like me, who's been missing it.

Poster is from Six seasons and a movie, via Scott, another Community fan.

No Man Should Fear the Rieper*: Reviewing "Sons of Cain" by Val Bianco

Sons of CainSons of Cain by Val Bianco

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

You're either going to love this thriller or hate it. It has a definite Catholic orientation (which is a turn-on for me, let's get that straight right now) and definitely hews to the conservative side of the political spectrum. So there's that.

Here's the book description:
An ancient group of twelve unspeakably powerful men are prepared to implement mass suicide in the United States. Already in control of the Congress and the Presidency, all that they lack is the Supreme Court. The only thing standing between these SONS OF CAIN and the lives of the Court is a small group of dedicated warriors. Wealthy ex SEAL, Nick Rieper, and his dozen, Knights of Longinus, may be the most deadly strike force alive. The have pledged their lives, their fortunes and their honor to battle international Satanism. Battle is joined as they engage the Cainites and their demon leader, Namon, in mortal combat. They stand alone as the only force alive with the knowledge, the skill and the faith to prevent a crime that will change America... forever.
Nick Rieper and his merry band of knights (don't laugh, these guys live as close to the knightly ideal as possible) must stop not only the humans trying to wreak havoc upon the U.S. government, but also deal with their demonic leader. This is slightly complicated by the fact that they must also protect those they care about, including a gorgeous journalist who is just beginning to live a life of faith and a priest who has a checkered past to say the least.

This is told in straight forward fashion with no frills, except for some explanatory sections which were a bit too long and drawn out for my taste. That aside, the book heads straight for an adventure steeped in good versus evil, with angels and demons doing their fair share on the appropriate side.

If you aren't Catholic then my guess is that you may not like the book because the good guys are steeped in it, can't shut up about it, don't mind stopping to press rosary beads into a dying woman's hand, and are quick to gather in prayer for someone in danger before it's time to race to the rescue. Did I mention they talk about it? A lot? Now, as I said before, that's a turn on for me, but your milage may vary. As for the rest, you'll have to read it. All I'm gonna say is we now have the ultimate conspiracy presented about what's been keeping America down in recent years.

On a personal note, it was a good reminder of the implacable hatred that demons bear to mankind. The book's opening which tells of Pope Leo's vision that led him to write the St. Michael prayer was extremely powerful, setting the tone for the story but also acting as a wake up for the reader. Evil does exist and we do well to remember it. It is easy to forget that face when in the daily routine. This book highlighted it for me in a powerful way.

The author provided my review copy but as several authors know, to their sorrow, if I don't like it then it don't matter who gave it to me. And vice versa.

(*My post title? An inside joke for those who have read the book.)

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

It's March and "Card Carrying Democrat" Joanne McPortland is Mad at the President

I’m a card carrying Democrat, the daughter of a union shop steward, New Deal and Civil Rights and Camelot all the way. In 2008 I let my son’s enthusiasm for you and all you represented woo me away from my lukewarm support of Hillary Clinton, even though I thought even then there was something too-good-to-be-true about the way you absorbed all our war-weary, Bush-burdened projections. I put a HOPE decal in my car window right next to my Go, Flyers! decal. I cheered my heart out at your win, which I truly believed was the start of better days for all Americans. (And for my fellow Catholics who want to read this paragraph as evidence for excommunication, that’s for another combox, OK?)

Since then, though, you’ve disappointed me, Mr President. Even before I returned to the Catholic faith I grew up in, and began to reexamine everything in the light of that faith’s teachings, you showed absolutely no sign of being the bridge-builder you rightly said America needed in that fabulous 2004 convention speech. In your relationships with Congress, even when you had a majority, you talked compromise and did none of it. You ramped up the war efforts you had said were stupid. You kept Guantanamo open, and gave the nod to torture. You approved a return to the US-as-assassin model of dealing with dictators you don’t like, while allowing those who serve your interest to continue slaughtering innocents. You added even more restrictions on Americans’ constitutional freedoms than the original Patriot Act dreamed of. And you wouldn’t fight to keep a single-payer health plan on the table, settling instead for a bloated patchwork doomed to displease everyone, just so you could say you passed a health care act.

But it’s been your administration’s recent cynical manipulation of “the contraceptive issue”–an agenda mandated by your supporters in Big Pharma and Planned Parenthood, and planted in the midst of the debates in order to make the religious right (which now includes extremist Catholics like Rick Santorum and Catholics-by-marriage like Newt Gingrich) snap at the bait. You have managed this really well from your end, manufacturing a “war on women”–Catholics want women to be pregnant or die!–while waging war on the First Amendment. I sometimes wish the Catholic bishops hadn’t jumped at the bait, too (because I truly don’t think this is the hill we want to die on), but you knew they would, and knew that Catholics are already hated enough (for our own sins, in too many cases) in this country to make dissing us equal an automatic double-digit bump in your popularity stats. That’s my biggest disappointment–that you’re nothing but a Chicago pol after all.
Joanne McPortland lays it on the line with President Obama, since he's in town (Dayton) and all. I salute Ms. McPortland for her honesty. I have to say, contraception mandates aside, she brings up some things that I've been wondering myself. Guantanamo, ramped up war efforts, dictator deals, and additional Patriot Act restrictions have had me asking the television more than once, "What happened to all of Obama's promises? I thought he was supposed to go in the opposite direction of the Republicans?"

Now, I didn't vote for him so it isn't as if I felt betrayed. But these were all the things that my Democrat friends rail against and here was their "Change!" guy staying the course or hitting the gas, depending on the issues. Color me confused.

Not to mention the HHS mandate debacle.

Anyway, it was refreshing to see someone who was on his side ask those questions. Even if he finally had driven her away by the time March madness hit.

Via The Deacon's Bench.

Well Said: Friendship Plays the Potter

From my quote journal.
So there they go, Jim running slower to stay with Will, Will running faster to stay with Jim, Jim breaking two windows in a haunted house because Will's along, Will breaking one window instead of none because Jim's watching. God, how we get our fingers in each other's clay. That's friendship, each playing the potter to see what shapes we can make of the other.
Ray Bradbury, Something Wicked This Way Comes

Worth a Thousand Words: Window Light

Window Light

Notes on Mark: The Baptism of Jesus

MARK 1:9-11

I'm so used to reading these passages and accepting them as matter of fact when, of course, there is nothing matter of fact about them. The "simple" fact of Jesus' baptism carries a wealth of information that affects us deeply, as we can see. This not only helps me understand the great power of our own baptism, but how intricately interwoven everything is in the balance of salvation history and our own relationship with Christ.
Jesus' coming up out of the water (anabaino) is answered by a coming down (katabaino) of the Spirit from above. According to the Old Testament, sin creates an insuperable barrier, distancing humanity from the holiness of God (see Isa 59:2). God would "come down" to his people only after they had been cleansed of impurity (Exod 19:10-11). The Spirit's descent upon Jesus foreshadows his descent upon the Church at Pentecost, after sin has been removed by the cross.

The whole cosmos is impacted by Jesus' act of humility. The heavens are not gently opened but torn asunder--a sign that the barrier between God and man is being removed. Israel had pleaded for God to intervene decisively in human events: "Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down" (Isa 63:19). Now that plea is answered! The same verb "tear" will reappear at a crucial point near the end of the Gospel, when the curtain of the temple is torn from top to bottom at Jesus' death (Mark 15:38), completing the reconciliation of heaven and earth that began at his baptism.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Book Review: Jerusalem: A Biography by Simon Sebag Montefiore

A guest review by Scott Danielson. After I received the review book and realized it was not my sort of book, he filled the gap as someone who could appreciate and evaluate the book for me. Many thanks, Scott!

Prophets and patriarchs, Abraham, David, Jesus and Muhammad are said to have trodden these stones. The Abrahamic religions were born there and the world will also end there on the Day of Judgement. Jerusalem, sacred to the Peoples of the Book, is the city of the Book: the Bible is, in many ways, Jerusalem’s own chronicle and its readers, from the Jews and early Christians via the Muslim conquerors and the Crusaders to today’s American evangelists, have repeatedly altered her history to fulfil biblical prophecy.
A person could read the above paragraph and be inspired to consider how wonderful and sacred a place Jerusalem must be.  Another person would be forced to think about the bloodshed that has occurred in the names of those religions in Jerusalem.  I have never been there, but this book makes me understand that it's both of those things.  The history of Jerusalem contains examples of the best and the worst that humans have wrought on each other.

Simon Sebag Montefiore called his book Jerusalem: A Biography for two reasons.  First, the city has a personality of its own.  In that paragraph above, he refers to Jerusalem as "her".  The Talmud also refers to Jerusalem as a woman.  The second reason is that the book is about "the people that made Jerusalem, and how they built it, and how it developed.  It's people and families that build cities."

The book presents the history of Jerusalem from Abraham to the Six Day War.  It is separated into chapters that usually focus on a single historical figure.  Some example chapter titles: "The Fall of Antigonos: Last of the Maccabeans", "Duke Godfrey: The Siege", and "The Emperor and the Caliph: Charlemagne and Haroud al-Rashid".  The chapters are short and can be read as self-contained stories within the story.  It's extremely well-organized, very readable, and will be an excellent resource for years to come.

I never felt that the author (who is Jewish) was agenda driven.  In fact, I would have to say that the book had a distinct secular feel to it.  Referring to the paragraph at the beginning of this review, he states that people "have repeatedly altered her history to fulfill biblical prophecy", implying that any prophecy that may have been fulfilled was purposeful and deliberate.  This includes Jesus.  Of the Resurrection, Montefiore says: "Archaeologists tend to believe that the body was simply removed and buried by friends and family in another rock-cut tomb somewhere around Jerusalem."  The book is not "about" the religions of Jerusalem, but the subject is impossible to escape.  Overall, I feel he did a remarkable even-handed job, treating all religions with a bit of detachment.

I learned a great deal from this book, and I look forward to visiting Jerusalem someday.  I've stated before that I'm waiting for the dust to settle before I do, but it hasn't settled for 3000 years.  I don't expect it will any time soon.

The Latest Book I'm Reading About Marriage? Would You Believe ... The Odyssey?

It's true! Jesse, Scott, and I discuss books 5-8 of The Odyssey at SFFaudio.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Gloria Purvis: What a Well-Reasoned Response to the HHS Mandate

I am in awe of Gloria Purvis. What an articulate, reasoned, intelligent argument she makes.

So much so that I am going to take my courage in both hands and send it to a couple of friends who may never speak to me again ... but if anyone can make the argument, she does.

It is what we need more than anything ... spokespeople like Gloria who can't be denied as a regular woman.

Five Years, 3302 Yards of Yarn, and Untold Hours Later ... I Present the Sampler Afghan!

Holy moly, I thought this took 3 years. Turns out now that I check the date, it took 5! Oh well, I also was knitting socks, bears, and suchlike so I took many a break.

The pattern worked absolutely perfectly and it went together like a charm. Kudos to Melissa Leapman who wrote Cables Untangled. It worked! (click the image to see it larger)

It is absolutely gorgeous and I want to make one for myself now. (You should have seen the look Tom gave me when I said that. A look that said, "you're nuts!")

I have entrusted it to FedEx to get it to Rose in L.A. Nervously. But I did entrust it. And she got it! Woohoo!

Notes on Mark: Word Study - Repentance

MARK 1:4
Metanoia (Gk): literally a "change of mind". The word is used 22 times in the New Testament for a conversion of one's entire life to the Lord. Based on similar OT concepts, it involves a twofold movement of the heart: one who repents turns away from sin (1 Kings 8:35; Ezek 18:30) and toward God (Hos 6:1; Sir 17:25, 26; Heb 6:1). This entails genuine contrition for past failings and a firm resolve to avoid them in the future, and it may be accompanied by bodily disciplines like fasting (Dan 9:3-5; Joel 2:12; 2 Cor 7:10). Because repentance is a gradual process of transformation, God is patient with sinners struggling to make amends and redirect their lives toward holiness (Wis 12:10; Rom 2:4; 2 Pet 3:9). Repentance is inspired by the eternal life offered in Christ (Mk 1:15; Acts 2:38), and its genuineness becomes evident when lives are changed in accord with the gospel (Mt 3:8; Acts 26:20; Gal 5:22-24).

The Gospel of Mark
(The Ignatius Catholic Study Bible)
by Scott Hahn and Curtis Mitch
Reading this I was really struck by the fact that "repentance is a gradual process of transformation". I tend to think of it as very cut and dried. I'm sorry, I won't do it again ... and then I should change my ways. Of course, often the sad fact is that I fail in changing my ways and lapse again. Thinking of it as a gradual thing is very helpful. A step forward here, a little improvement there ... and I am "in progress" rather than a total failure.

Julie and Scott are forced to spend the entire movie in #$%^ing Bruges. Not all is lost, though, because they're filming midgets!

 In Bruges, written and directed by Martin McDonagh.  PS: It's in Belgium.

Now under discussion at A Good Story is Hard to Find podcast.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

At the Crossroads in America: We Hold These Truths

“He might be good, but he’s not that good.” Turns out that Ted Chiang actually is that good.


A couple of days ago, I gave John le Carré a “wow” for A Perfect Spy; today I’m giving Ted Chiang a “wow” for pretty much his entire output.

Here’s what I know about Ted Chiang. He’s a science fiction writer. He writes short fiction (his longest published piece is a novella). He knocks my socks off.
Now that's what I like to see. Will Duquette sees the light and gives a look at some of Ted Chiang's stories on the way. Go to The View From the Foothills to read more.

Priceless: You're the friend I'd least want to kill ...

Via the delightful Amy H. Sturgis, queen of the YA dystopian novel appreciators.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

They Said It Couldn't Be Done, But They Didn't Know Hannah, Super Arborist!

In fact, here she looks as if she may be leafing out. Or is that moss?

Wait, that's from a 5K race where you get pelted with colored powder.

This is better.

See how happy it makes her just to be next to one of her leafy, bark-covered friends?

Hannah was told that no one passes the arborist test the first time around. But she pulled it off yesterday.

Congratulations, Hannah! We knew you could do it!

Five Leadership Lessons from James T. Kirk

Captain James T. Kirk is one of the most famous Captains in the history of Starfleet. There’s a good reason for that. He saved the planet Earth several times, stopped the Doomsday Machine, helped negotiate peace with the Klingon Empire, kept the balance of power between the Federation and the Romulan Empire, and even managed to fight Nazis. On his five-year mission commanding the U.S.S. Enterprise, as well as subsequent commands, James T. Kirk was a quintessential leader, who led his crew into the unknown and continued to succeed time and time again.

Kirk’s success was no fluke, either. His style of command demonstrates a keen understanding of leadership and how to maintain a team that succeeds time and time again, regardless of the dangers faced. Here are five of the key leadership lessons that you can take away from Captain Kirk as you pilot your own organization into unknown futures.
Read it all at Forbes. You'll laugh, you'll cry, but most of all you'll see the truth of the arguments.

Thanks to Tamahome for this, which I'd never have seen if he, Scott, and I weren't discussing Jane Eyre.

What? From Jane Eyre to Captain Kirk? I'm telling you, Goodreads should never be underestimated for prompting imaginative reading discussions.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The WSJ and the HHS Mandate: They Aren't Going Quietly into the Good Night

It is now common to hear me beginning the morning with the paper, a cup of coffee and a "God bless the Wall Street Journal" as I look at the opinion page.

That's because is a rare day when I don't see at least one mention of yet another reason why the White House's attack on religious liberty (via the HHS mandate). They have examined why it is wrong via the usual logic. They have also taken a look at it from insurance,  economics, and other business viewpoints ... none of which have added up to a good reason to implement the White House's program. In short, the WSJ is relentless in keeping this issue in front of readers.

If only other main stream media had such a talent for using their own brains and not just mouthing the pablum fed them by the White House. (Follow the fact trail for that claim at GetReligion.)

This morning brought two good pieces in the WSJ.

Limbaugh and Our Phony Contraception Debate
At the hearing of the House Democratic Steering and Policy Committee chaired by Nancy Pelosi, Sandra Fluke testified as a victim. Having to buy your own contraception is a burden, she said. She testified that all around her at Georgetown she could see the faces of students who were suffering because of Georgetown's refusal to abandon its Catholic principles.

Exactly what does the face of a law student who must buy her own birth-control pills look like? Did I see them all around me and just not know it? Do male law students who must buy their own condoms have the same look? Perhaps Ms. Fluke should have brought photos to Congress to illustrate her point.

Bishop Dolan's Liberty Letter
The Catholic Cardinal describes a chilling visit to the White House.
The debate over the Obama Administration's birth control mandate has been ingloriously fact-free, even more than usual. So amid demonstrably false claims about a plot to relegate women to the era of "Mad Men," if not Salem, Massachusetts circa 1692, Cardinal Timothy Dolan's letter on religious freedom deserves more readers.
Unfortunately, this is a paid-access only piece. However, I found it at Freedom Eden so go read it there.

Notes on Mark: The Beginning of the Good News

MARK 1:1
The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ [the Son of God]

The first verse of the Gospel is a title to the whole work. Like Matthew and John, Mark opens with an echo of the book of Genesis. The beginning recalls the first line of the creation narrative in Gen 1:1, and  suggests that the good news that Mark is about to tell is a new beginning, a new work of God as original and stupendous as the creation of the universe.


Mark's opening line resonates with his excitement at the glad tidings he is conveying. He sees the coming of Jesus, preceded by that of John the Baptist, as the turning point in history, when God decisively acted to accomplish all that he had promised for so many centuries. At the time Mark wrote, the good news was beginning to explode upon the Mediterranean world, as the apostles and other Christians traveled throughout the empire, evangelizing in synagogues and town squares. Lives were being changed as people who had been lost in spiritual darkness and moral confusion came to know the living Christ and experience his love. Mark's evident joy at the tidings he has to share prompts the questions: Do we realize how good the good news is? Do we recognize that this news fulfills and far surpasses all the deepest longings of the human heart? Or have we settled of a diluted version of the gospel that has little power to impact our daily lives? God's entrance into human history in the person of Jesus Christ is news that is inexhaustibly new, as fresh and potent as on the day it was first proclaimed.
This really made me take a new look at just what Mark was really saying. I have intellectually known for some time that the good news of Christ is exciting and explosive, but how long has it been since I really resonated with it? It also confirms what our priest has long said, that Mark is not the simple book people like to say it is, but rather is intricately constructed. We will see more proof of that as we move through the book.

Monday, March 5, 2012

God and the Machine: In which Thomas L. McDonald joins the Patheos Catholic bloggers

Technology, like fire, can create or destroy, and so we need to consider the vast technological landscape from a uniquely Catholic angle. This is what I hope to accomplish with God and the Machine. I want to look at the intersection of technology and faith: not just the way new tech is being used to evangelize and examine the faith, but the way people of faith encounter their world through technology. In short, I’ll examine technology, in all its wonderful, horrible power and potential, and try to answer the singular question: How do we walk with Christ in the digital age?
I've enjoyed Tom's other blog, State of Play, for some time. Tom's also uniquely suited to look at technology and the Catholic faith at his new Patheos blog, God and the Machine. His credentials are as long as your arm. But I'll just quote The Anchoress on them for you.
Tom’s CV is exhausting and impressive. Aside from authoring three books, and overseeing Games, he’s been a columnist for Computer Gaming World, T3: Tomorrow’s Technology Today, Game Players PC Entertainment, Cemetery Dance Magazine, PC Ace, and Computer Life . . . the techno list goes on and on, and he also blogs at State of Play. On the faith side of things, Tom is a certified catechist who teaches church history and prepares candidates for the sacrament of Confirmation; a few years ago he started writing about religion as well (you’ve read him in the Register, here at Patheos and elsewhere) and — particularly as he works his way through a masters in Theology — a blog called God and the Machine seems a logical means by which to cull together these intersecting interests and ponder where the lines might be drawn within our longings. I have a feeling we’re going to get some very interesting reads out of this extremely energetic writer! 
Also, I'm not gonna lie. Tom is a funny guy and you know how I love funny. For example, his brief illustrated introduction made me crack up. Not that it is all funny. Some of it is just right.
I am not a liberal Catholic, orthodox Catholic, conservative Catholic, cafeteria Catholic, or traditionalist Catholic: I am, simply, a Catholic (Roman Rite). That should be enough for you to know where I stand and what I believe about most issues. At least, it used to be.
And I like that even more than funny. (Plus, you know, I think that is going to have to go into my quote journal. Quotable. I like that too.)

L.A. Diary: Seeing Stars

Part 1: We Begin
Part 2: On the Road
Part 3: We Arrive
Part 4: The Strange Encounter
Part 5: The Best Deal (or Two) in L.A.Part 6: Land of Dreams
Part 7: Meeting New Old Friends
Part 8: Lettuce Love


I'm not talking about the kinds of stars that you naturally think of when L.A. and Hollywood come to mind.

I'm talking about driving to the Griffith Observatory in Griffith Park. Griffith Park is the largest city park in the U.S. Really.
With over 4,210 acres of both natural chapparal-covered terrain and landscaped parkland and picnic areas, Griffith Park is the largest municipal park with urban wilderness area in the United States. ...

Originally a part of the Spanish land grant, Rancho Los Feliz, the park was named for its former owner, Colonel Griffith J. Griffith.
That would be enough to thank Col. Griffith for but he also was very interested in astronomy and soon Los Angeles had a state-of-the art observatory, built in a charming art deco style (which, now that I come to think of it, was state-of-the-art for ... art!).

Today, the insides have been turned into one of those education places that are au courant. We'd have preferred to see it turned more into a museum of what was "state of the art" at the time, however, we were still able to imagine what it was like when astronomers from around the country and the world worked there.

My favorite part was walking around the outside of the building and up to the top. It features a magnificent view of the park and across Los Angeles where you can see the ocean glinting in the distance. It also has what may be the best view of the Hollywood sign around.

We actually do have pictures of a lot of these things, including us in front of this sign (du rigeur for a L.A. visit, isn't it?), but I've got to get them from Tom.

Next, I'll be talking about our other "must see" tourist destination ... the Los Angeles Cathedral. Is it the monstrosity of architecture that I've heard it is? Well, yes. And no.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

TAN Books Encourages Prayer for Religious Freedom — Makes St. Michael Prayer Cards FREE to Parishes while Supplies Last

TAN Books, an imprint of Saint Benedict Press, announced today plans to make St. Michael the Archangel prayer cards FREE to parishes willing to include the prayer in Sunday Masses for the intention of religious freedom.

The offer is a response to the call of Bishop Daniel Jenky of Peoria, Ill to petition St. Michael the Archangel "for the freedom of the Catholic Church in America."

Bishop Jenky's request comes on the heels of a new federal ruling that will force many Catholic organizations to provide insurance coverage for sterilizations, contraceptives and "morning-after" pills.

Chairman and CEO of Saint Benedict Press, Robert Gallagher, fully supports the call from Bishop Jenky and plans to encourage the effort by offering St. Michael prayer cards for free to parishes nationwide.

"The Obama mandate creates a crisis of conscience for thousands of our nation's employers, especially Catholics and other men and women of faith," said Gallagher. "It is a radical infringement upon the free exercise of religion, a persecution of religious belief in the marketplace, and an attempt by a thoroughly secular Administration to remove the expression of one's religious tenets from the public square."

"The power of prayer cannot be overestimated as a means to combat this blatant attack on Catholic moral convictions," said Gallagher. "Calling on the intercession of St. Michael the Archangel to be our defender in this critical battle is something that everyone can do. At Saint Benedict Press we want to make it easy for parishes to implement this initiative by offering resources that will help them do so."

For further information and to request free copies of the St. Michael the Archangel prayer cards call (704) 831-3468 or email

Contact: Katie Moore - Publicist
Saint Benedict Press, LLC/TAN Books NC, 28273 US