Monday, February 29, 2016

Cruz and Rubio Should Take Lessons from John Oliver

Not only was this takedown of Donald Trump hilarious, but I found it cathartic.

Worth a Thousand Words: No Chocolate for You!

A possible Maya lord forbids a person to touch a container of chocolate.
Via Wikipedia

Lagniappe: Pechuga

I've been thoroughly enjoying The Drunken Botanist: The Plants That Create the World's Great Drinks. This is a book to enjoy a little each day.
There is one ingredient that can make mezcal different from whiskey or brandy: a dead chicken. Pechuga is a particularly rare and wonderful version of mezcal that includes wild local fruit added to the distillation for just a hint of sweetness, and a whole raw chicken breast, skinned and washed, hung in the still as the vapors pass over it. The chicken is supposed to balance the sweetness of the fruit. Whatever its purpose, it works: do not pass up an opportunity to taste pechuga mezcal.
Amy Stewart, The Drunken Botanist
Crazy, but it actually makes me want to try it.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Dropped my iPod. Shattered the Screen. Yep - it's Lent.

Curse you, dry hands!

I'm now somewhere in the five stages of grief.

Podcasts, audiobooks ... how the deprivation already grips me!

I'll take this as a chance to enter Lent more deeply, while I send my baby off to specialists for glass replacement.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Well Said: Never mistake for malice ...

Never mistake for malice that which is easily explained by stupidity or incompetence.
attrib. to Napoleon Bonaparte
That certainly is the charitable way to interpret many of the frustrations that people put in our way.

Worth a Thousand Words: James Abbott McNeill Whistler

James Abbott McNeill Whistler by William Merritt Chase
via Art Renewal Center Museum

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Lent: Fade to Gray

Just a little pick-me-up now that we're further into Lent.
Lent begins with the color gray -- the color of ashes, of penance, of weakness. Gray is also the color of dullness. Sometimes it seems the best description of our everyday routine. Some days it seems our whole life is gray.

By this we are not talking about sin or guilt. Sin is an action resulting form my free decision that separates me from God. However, when I truly recognize my sin, it opens me to God's love. Grave sin is healed by great mercy. Betrayal is redeemed by faithful love.

The problem is located somewhere between great sin and great love, in the vast haze of imperfect friendships, unfulfilled promises, incomplete victories, plans delayed to infinity. It is a constant, omnipresent weakness, an endless capacity for mediocrity. Our dreams rarely come true -- and when they do, they are just a pale shadow of what we expected. Our loves and friendships, though intense and full of promise, are also fragile and full of deception. How many times have we caught ourselves trying to possess or to manipulate other people? How many times have our prayers for others been nothing more than showing off for ourselves? What scares us the most is the suspicion that this is all it means to be human.

But the color of Lent is not gray; it's violet -- purple. Purple is the color of repentance and conversion. The intensity of purple also signifies the persistent love of God, who is rejected by man but does not give up. He sacrificed himself as a man in order to redeem man. He became man so that I don't have to be afraid to be human.

This means that the way to get out of the gray is not to be afraid of it. If we accept our life, our loves and friendships and our work for what they are, and if we have the courage to receive them with all talent and energy, then past the haze of mediocrity, boredom, and even suffering, I will see Christ. Christ's humanity is not a limitation or an embarrassment; it is the way in which God chose to save his creatures. His cross is not a failure; it is his victory and hope for us. Christ is the Son who became man so that "the Father may see and love in us what he sees and loves in Christ." Thanks to him I don't have to be afraid of my weaknesses and limitations. As long as I don't give up, I am on the road to him.
Father Jacek Buda, O.P. (Magnificat)

Worth a Thousand Words: Joy of Life

Joy of Life
taken by the incomparable Remo Savisaar

Well Said: The test of bureaucracy

If the first person who answers the phone cannot answer your question, it is a bureaucracy.
President Lyndon Johnson
We'll ignore the irony of the purveyor of that wisdom, shall we? It does make me think again fondly of the three companies I can call who are unfailingly polite and always have the answer: Discover, Chase Bank, and Republic Wireless.

Most others fall far short.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Blogging Around: Random Things

Going Whole Hog

Doriana Giustozzi and Raffaele Petterini have adopted a 100lb boar, Pasqualina in Foligno, Italy. The caring couple gave the hog a home after finding it desperate, undernourished, and close to death in the woods. Now the bulky animal gallivants freely around their house.
There is a delightful slideshow for this story in The Telegraph. Thanks to T for the heads up on this after seeing the Wild Boar photo here last week.

Roses = Secrecy

Sub rosa literally means "under the rose" in New Latin. Since ancient times, the rose has often been associated with secrecy. In ancient mythology, Cupid gave a rose to Harpocrates, the god of silence, to keep him from telling about the indiscretions of Venus. Ceilings of dining rooms have been decorated with carvings of roses, reportedly to remind guests that what was said at the table should be kept confidential. Roses have also been placed over confessionals as a symbol of the confidentiality of confession.
I had no idea that roses symbolized secrecy. For that matter, I never knew the meaning of sub rosa, while I'm busy breaking silence! This is from the Merriam-Webster Word of the Day which I receive in email. It is only email subscription I have and I read every one of them. They almost always have some interesting tidbit I didn't know.

How Do You Keep Your Wedding Vows When Everything Changes?

That was only the beginning of what felt like a series of deaths over the next several years. Al came home after six weeks in the hospital. He walked with the aid of a leg brace, a cane, and a gait belt. He had almost no use of his left arm. I comforted myself with the thought that on the inside, he was the same old Al. My sweet, funny, and compassionate husband was still alive, and that’s what mattered most. Over time, however, I started to see that he had changed on the inside as well.

Al suffered from chronic brain fatigue that made him need to take long naps. He was often confused, and his short-term memory was impaired. Most difficult for me was the decline in his emotional capacity. Not just our physical intimacy but our whole relationship no longer had the same depth. The closeness I had shared only with Al, my partner for life, seemed to be gone.
A powerful and thought provoking article from Word Among Us.

Worth a Thousand Words: Transfiguration

Icon of transfiguration (Spaso-Preobrazhensky Monastery, Yaroslavl), 1516
It was not the feast of the Transfiguration last weekend, but the Transfiguration was the Gospel reading. One thing that struck me when listening to the reading was that Jesus went up to pray. To pray.

Is this what his prayer was always like? Glowing, God's glory all around him, praying with saints all around him? It is fascinating to meditate upon this.

I love this icon because it strives to portray the unportrayable, but taken together with the Gospel (which strives to describe the indescribable) perhaps we can get a glimpse of Jesus at prayer.

Well Said: Religion and Politics

I have heard that in some debating clubs there is a rule that the members may discuss anything except religion and politics. I cannot imagine what they do discuss, but it is quite evident that they have ruled out the only two subjects which are either important or amusing.
G.K. Chesterton,
Appreciations and Criticisms of
the Works of Charles Dickens

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Worth a Thousand Words: Solitude

Frederic Leighton (1830–1896), Solitude

Well Said: The nicest white people that America has ever produced

So, to say Obama is progress is saying that he’s the first black person that is qualified to be president. That’s not black progress. That’s white progress. There’s been black people qualified to be president for hundreds of years...The question is, you know, my kids are smart, educated, beautiful, polite children. There have been smart, educated, beautiful, polite black children for hundreds of years. The advantage that my children have is that my children are encountering the nicest white people that America has ever produced. Let’s hope America keeps producing nicer white people.
Chris Rock, New York Magazine interview

Julie and Scott call Haviland Tuf to solve the world's problems.

The solution will include sea monsters, manna from heaven, and at least one Tyrannosaurus Rex. George R.R. Martin's Tuf Voyaging is the subject of Episode 127 of A Good Story is Hard to Find podcast.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Worth a Thousand Words: A Bride and Groom

Peter Paul Rubens, Rubens and Isabella Brant, the Honeysuckle Bower, c. 1609
via Arts Everyday Living
I couldn't resist this picture today.

We just spend the weekend helping present the Beyond Cana Retreat for marriage enrichment. It is always a pleasure which far exceeds the amount of work or trouble necessary. Not only do we get to see the couples growing deeper in love with each other as they reconnect, but the team gets to spend lots of time together. It is a simply wonderful experience and we feel blessed to be part of it.

The Reign of God 6: Jesus, Israel, and the World

Continuing with the excerpt, which ended in Part 5 saying that one would have to prove Jesus did not view Israel as a sign of blessing for all nations.

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
It would then have to be proved explicitly and in detail that Jesus only appeared in Israel because that was his place of origin, because he was naturally shaped in some way, like every human being, by the history of his people, but that otherwise he had set himself apart from Israel's history of election. And yet there is not the faintest evidence of such a thing. It simply cannot be produced. Precisely where Jesus (like John the Baptizer before him) calls into question the participation of Israel, or part of Israel, in ultimate and definitive salvation (cf. Matt 8:11-12) he presumes Israel's salvation-historical function. But above all there is an overabundance of texts to show that Jesus did not abandon the fundamental constant we have described. I will speak of those texts at length in the following chapters. Most important of these is the choice of the Twelve--a demonstrative sign-action showing that Jesus cared about the twelve tribes of Israel. The Twelve are a visible sign and, of course, also an "instrument" of his will to gather all Israel. And why? For the sake of Israel? No, for the sake of the world!

The principle behind this is pointedly formulated in James's speech in Acts 15, aided by a mixed quotation based on Amos 9:11-12:
After this I [the Lord] will return, and I will rebuild the tent of David, which has fallen; from its ruins I will rebuild it, and I will set it [the tent] up, so that all other peoples may seek the Lord--even all the Gentiles over whom my name has been called. Thus says the Lord, who has been making these things known from long go. (Acts 15:16-18)
The sense of this combined quotation is that the fallen Israel must be rebuilt precisely in order that the Gentile nations, over whom the name of the Lord has been called out, may seek and find God. They cannot perceive him otherwise. The ultimate goal of the rebuilding of Israel is the coming of the Gentiles. Jesus thought no differently.

Obviously this resolute will of Jesus to gather all Israel (for the sake of the nations) had everything to do with his proclamation of the reign of God. The two are inseparable...
Jesus of Nazareth by Gerhard Lohfink

The Name of God is Mercy by Pope Francis

The Name of God Is MercyThe Name of God Is Mercy by Pope Francis

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was a gift from a friend and it was the book I began Lent with. The first part of the book is a Q&A between a Vatican reporter and the pope. As usual, Pope Francis is personable and clear answering the series of questions about mercy and its centrality in our Christian faith.

What might surprise many readers is that Francis spends an equal amount of time talking about sin, repentance, confession, and reconciliation. One can't receive or even recognize mercy unless one knows why it has been extended. That means you've got to know you did something wrong. And then fully receiving mercy means you will respond to the love that has been offered. This isn't just the easy mercy that secular society thinks of when the word is used. It is the real, full-blown deal that changes lives.

Also of interest to many will be that Francis continually mentions his predecessors as bearing the same message to the people. John Paul II, Benedict XVI, Paul VI, etc. and their writings are continually referenced. People often act as if Pope Francis's ideas are completely new and different when, of course, it is the same Catholic faith simply shining through a different person. It's part of what makes Pope Francis interesting to watch. He's not easy to fit into the categories with which so many want to label him.

The last part of the book is the text of Pope Francis's Bull of Indiction of the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy. It is as if the first part of the book is Francis talking you through his points and then the last part is the more structured presentation.

I found this book inspirational and an easy read. It is another look into the mind of this pope who so many admire and a window into the ways of true Christian life. May we all move closer to being authentic examples of it!

Friday, February 19, 2016

The Reign of God 5: A Basic Biblical Constant

Continuing with the excerpt, which ended in Part 4 with Israel as the experimental nation to show others God's salvation.

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
That, or something like it, is the description one must give of the meaning of Israel's election, looking back especially at the stories of the patriarchs in Genesis but also at any number of other key biblical texts such as Exodus 19:5-6 or Isaiah 2:1-5. At any rate, this election and its function for the world form a basic constant in the Old Testament. According to the Old Testament, salvation and the reign of God cannot otherwise exist in the world.

But then the question arises: is this basic constant of the Old Testament abandoned in the New Testament? Is it no longer valid there? has it given way to a vague and placeless universalism? Anyone who says or even hints at such a thing will have to prove it. He or she will have to prove that for Jesus, Israel was indeed no longer the sign of blessing (or of judgment) for all nations but that he had separated himself internally from Israel and preached an absolute salvation, that is, one divorced from Israel-- with "people in general" as the immediate audience for his message.
Jesus of Nazareth by Gerhard Lohfink
Next Part 6: Jesus, Israel, and the World

Worth a Thousand Words: Blow in my ear...

Taken by Valerie of ucumcari photography,
some rights reserved

7 Women: And the Secret of Their Greatness by Eric Metaxas

7 Women: And the Secret of Their Greatness7 Women: And the Secret of Their Greatness by Eric Metaxas

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Just as he did in 7 Men: And the Secret of Their Greatness Eric Metaxas shares the brief biographies of seven inspirational women. Some are familiar, like Mother Teresa and Rosa Parks. Some I had never heard of, such as Saint Maria of Paris and Susanna Wesley.

Metaxas begins the book by considering the way our culture often highly celebrates women who compete with men, as if there is no other way to measure a woman's value. We think of this as putting men and women on equal terms, but it actually pits them against each other in a zero-sum competition. Someone must win and someone must lose. That's hardly "equality." It is ironic that such a standard is so built into our culture that this concept was slightly startling to me. And I'm nobody's knee-jerk "feminist."

I found it amusing, therefore, when Metaxas' first great woman was Joan of Arc. Is there a better female icon for achieving greatness by doing what the boys do, but better? It turns out that one of the contradictions is the little known fact that Joan was not as we portray her these days, like Katniss from The Hunger Games. She was inexperienced, petite, vulnerable, and innocent. It was precisely her feminine, youthful qualities which affected the average fighting man to respect her victories as miracles.

Story after story shows these women just as they were, rising to the difficulties of their circumstances in ways that exemplify true womanhood. Each surrendered themselves to God and sacrificed themselves in some way for the greater good. In so doing, each helped change the world for the better.

Somehow the phrase "true womanhood" equates these days with "namby pamby" or "doormat." Nothing could be further from the truth. As you read these stories you will come away respecting how strong feminine qualities can be under adverse conditions. Examining the lives of these great women helps reset our view by stepping outside of our current assumptions and that can only help inspire all of us. It certainly inspired me.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

What We've Been Watching: The Wages of Fear, Mr. Holmes

The Wages of Fear (1953)

Four men, desperate to escape a South American village, agree to drive trucks of nitroglycerin over mountain passes to where they are needed to stop an oil fire. At its heart this is both a character study and a nonstop thriller. My heart was in my mouth for a good portion of the film.

Picking this up on a friend's recommendation, I was completely surprised by my husband's enthusiastic, "I remember watching that when I was a kid! What boy doesn't love guys driving nitroglycerin over mountain passes!" He saw it in the days when the movie was dubbed and shown on Saturday afternoon.

These days, of course, we get the meticulously restored version with 21 minutes added back in and all en Français with captions. Except where they were speaking English or Italian. Those 21 minutes probably removed some jokes or rhetoric which were considered anti-American in 1953. These days we are well used to taking it on the chin, so back in they went. Unfortunately, they served to slow down the story ... a lot.

As I said, the heart of the movie is sound suspense and I was on the edge of my seat. Just let the long, slow beginning wash over you as a preamble. You won't be sorry.

Mr. Holmes (2015)

This was recommended by two very different friends and so we gave it a shot. It turned out that we liked it very much and even more so the next day when we kept bringing it up to each other.

Sherlock Holmes is very aged, living in Suffolk and keeping bees (as he sometimes mentioned wanting to do in the stories), coping with losing his memory, and forging an unexpected friendship with the young son of his housekeeper. The movie accompanies the current day with two other strands of remembered story. One is recent involving a trip to Japan. The other is older and involves Holmes' last case. The way all three strands are woven together forms a lovely final lesson in Holmes' life (I would argue that this itself is Holmes solving his last case).

It is a quiet, life affirming movie with several mysteries that kept us rapt the entire time. Well worth seeing.

The Reign of God 4: The Abraham Principle

Continuing with the excerpt, which ended in Part 3 when God begins to transform the world with an individual, Abraham.

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
From all this we can already see that the people God chooses and creates cannot rest within itself. It is not self-enclosed, existing for its own sake. It is chosen out of the mass of the nations for the sake of those nations. Abraham was, after all dragged out of his family and his homeland so that he could be a blessing for many others. In the people that came from him was to be made visible and tangible what God wants for the whole world: nonviolence, freedom, peace, salvation.

Because God desires the salvation of the world, that salvation has to be tangibly present in the experimental field of a small nation, precisely so that the other nations can see that there really can be justice and peace in the world, so that they can see that justice and peace are not utopia, not "nowhere," and so that they can freely take on this new social order. Of course that puts a shocking burden on this nation: the burden of election. Because if the people of God does not do justice to its task, if instead of peace in its midst there is conflict, instead of nonviolence it works violence, instead of showing forth salvation it spreads disaster, it cannot be a blessing for the nations. Then it falls short of the meaning of its existence; then it will not only be a laughingstock for the nations but will do great harm
Jesus of Nazareth by Gerhard Lohfink
Next Part 5: A Basic Biblical Constant

Well Said: Condiments No. 4

Condiments No. 4
by Neil Hollingsworth

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

The Reign of God 3: Something New

Continuing with the excerpt, which ended in Part 2 by observing that the individual is the point where God can build on change undertaken freely.

Part 1
Part 2
That is precisely what the stories of the patriarchs in Genesis tell about. The first pages of the Bible had told of the creation of the world, the development of the story of humankind, and--in a few hints--the growth of human civilization and culture. But along with all that the Bible also spoke immediately of disobedience to God and thus of the growth of destructive rivalries and brutal violence.

But then Genesis 12 starts over with something new. It suddenly ceases to look at humanity as a whole and begins to talk about an individual: Abraham. God begins to transform the world by starting anew, at a particular place in the world, with a single individual:
Now the Lord said to Abraham, "Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed." (Gen 12:1-3)
Jesus of Nazareth by Gerhard Lohfink
Next Part 4: The Abraham Principle

Worth a Thousand Words: Wild Boar

Wild Boar
taken by Remo Savisaar
Here in Dallas we seem to be experiencing perpetual spring instead of winter. Not only do I like seeing this boar in its natural element, but I like remembering what the weather should be like.

Quick Looks at 3 New Books

I haven't had time to read more than a few chapters of each of these books. Those chapters, however, are enough to put them on my "to read" list. I didn't want you to have to wait to find out about them until I'd read them and done a full review.

Transformed by God's Word: Discovering the Power of Lectio and VISIO DivinaTransformed by God's Word: Discovering the Power of Lectio and VISIO Divina by Stephen J Binz
Bestselling author and biblical scholar Stephen J. Binz offers the first book to combine the ancient Western practice of lectio divina (sacred reading) with the lesser-known Eastern Orthodox tradition of visio divina (sacred seeing). Binz suggests a life-changing way to pray through twenty gospel readings paired with beautiful, never-before-published contemporary icons.

The book's twenty Bible passages--starting with the Annunciation and ending with Pentecost--are paired with full-color icons of each story. The original, never-before-published icons, written by Ruta and Kaspars Poikans, are displayed in the Unity Chapel at the Mary of Nazareth International Center in Israel.
It's no secret that I'm a big fan of Stephen Binz's books about lectio divina. I myself have long had an affinity for icons and other art which help me connect with God so you can imagine my delight at receiving this book.

So far it is practically perfect in every way. I especially love the gorgeous icons. Their symbolism tends to be obvious enough to start me contemplating God's mystery, but Binz's notes add to the layers of meaning that I'd otherwise miss.

You Can Share the Faith: Reaching Out One Person at a TimeYou Can Share the Faith: Reaching Out One Person at a Time by Karen Edmisten
Sharing the faith doesn't have to be complicated. After all, Jesus himself just started with one person. Here are practical pointers from the author's own story and those of many others to help you share your faith joyfully, casually, confidently and with compassion.
This book resonated with me from page one. I don't know Karen Edmisten has managed to write a book that sounds as if I gave her notes on what I'd write myself, but she did. Her life story is different from mine, but her Catholic way of life is precisely what I answer when people ask me "how to" be a Happy Catholic.

I admit that I read five chapters before getting pulled away. They included engaging the culture, hanging with all kinds of people, being honest about struggles, and (most of all) doing it person-to-person. Get it. Read it.

The Catholic Catalogue: A Field Guide to the Daily Acts That Make Up a Catholic LifeThe Catholic Catalogue: A Field Guide to the Daily Acts That Make Up a Catholic Life by Melissa Musick
This collection of prayers, crafts, devotionals and recipes will help readers make room in their busy lives for mystery and meaning, awe and joy.

This beautifully designed book will help readers celebrate Catholicism throughout the years, across daily practice and milestones. Like the most useful field guides, it is divided into user-friendly sections and covers such topics as the veneration of relics, blessing your house, discovering a vocation, raising teenagers, getting a Catholic tattoo, planting a Mary garden, finding a spiritual director, and exploring your own way in the tradition.
This actually might be the perfect "Easter season" book to read. Remember, we've got 50 days of Easter after Lent is done. It certainly would be a great gift for new Catholics. It's one of those books with the practical stuff about living the Catholic life. I remember I had questions about how to do Eucharistic adoration, what the Triduum is, how to fast and "give things up" for Lent, and much more.

I did not have questions about Catholic tattoos, consecrated virginity, planting a Mary garden or Catholic tattoos, but if you do, this is your book. They cover a lot of ground!

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Appointment With Death by Agatha Christie

I discovered that the library has a few of Agatha Christie's books in audio format so I've been enjoying listening to the familiar tales. I read them over and over when growing up but she still manages to fool me time after time. Quite often I recall the set up but listening makes me slow down and enjoy the small details that familiarity can gloss over.  Just as often I find myself really enjoying a book that I previously didn't care about.

What surprises me most of all, listening as a Christian and an adult, is how very moral the stories were, with many mentions of Christianity. There is nothing odd in that, especially for the time in which most of Christie's stories were written. It was an accepted part of the cultural background, for one thing. But it gives one to think, as Poirot would say.

This book is one such example. I recalled the set up and even caught the big toss-off clue, though I got the murderer wrong.

Appointment with Death (Hercule Poirot, #19)Appointment with Death by Agatha Christie

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the story of a family on vacation in the Holy Land, whose matriarch is a sadistic monster. By the time the mother is murdered we are nothing but thankful because this lady, we think, does not deserve to live. In fact, that seems to be the opinion of the Colonel and doctor who bring the possibility of murder up in a halfhearted fashion to Hercule Poirot. On one hand they don't approve of murder but on the other, they feel the family is much better off.

This book comes after Murder on the Orient Express, which case is referred to several times by various characters. Anyone who knows the solution to that famous mystery knows that it contained an interesting moral dilemma which Poirot handled in a very different fashion than he seems prepared to do here. Christie seems to be exploring the question of whether murder is ever justified.
Poirot said, "The moral character of the victim has nothing to do with it. A human being who has exercised the right of private judgment and taken the life of another human being is not safe to exist among the community."
She also presents us with a vivid example of the danger of turning inward, instead of extending oneself for the larger community.

Naturally one needs a moral view in a murder mystery, but these themes were unexpected and added to my enjoyment of the book.

The Reign of God 2: Starting Small

Continuing with the excerpt, which ended in Part 1 with the question of how God could change society at its roots, leaving us still free.

Part 1
It can only be that God "starts out small," beginning at a single place in the world. There must be a place--visible, comprehensible, subject to examination--where liberation and healing begin, that is, where the world can become what it is mean to be according to God's plan. Starting from this place, then, the new thing can spread abroad. But it most certainly cannot happen through indoctrination or violence. Human beings must have the opportunity to view the new thing and test it. Then if they want to they can allow themselves to be drawn into the history of salvation and the story of peace that God is bringing into being. Only in this way can the freedom of the individual and of the nations be preserved. What drives one toward the new thing cannot be compulsion, not even moral pressure, but only the fascination of a world transformed.

So God has to start small, with a small nation. More precisely, God cannot even begin with a nation. God must start with an individual, because only the individual is the point where God can build on change undertaken freely.
Jesus of Nazareth by Gerhard Lohfink
Next Part 3: Something New

Worth a Thousand Words: The Rhinegold & The Valkyrie

Arthur Rackham, The Rhinegold & The Valkyrie, 1910

Monday, February 15, 2016

The Reign of God 1: God the Revolutionary

This excerpt is ridiculously long so I will break it into parts. It gives a good idea of the brilliance contained in Jesus of Nazareth by Gerhard Lohfink. It is the big nonfiction book I'm reading during Lent and it is continually eyeopening.
Why is there this unending fixation on Israel in the Old Testament? Is this the inferiority complex of a little nation that had to fear for its existence all the time and therefore almost of necessity developed a theological megalomania? Most certainly not. If we read the Old Testament from beginning to end--from Abraham to Daniel, so to speak--then looking back, considering the whole of it and at the same time incorporating the great revolutions in world history, we could say: The God of the Bible, like all revolutionaries, desires a complete overturning, the radical alteration of the whole of the world's society. For in this the revolutionaries are right: what is at stake is the whole world, and the change must be radical, simply because the misery of the world cries to heaven and because it begins deep within the human heart. But how can God change society at its roots without taking away its freedom and its humanity?
Next Part 2: Starting Small

Worth a Thousand Words: Portrait of Pola Negri

Portrait of Pola Negri (1922). Tadeusz (Tade) Styka
via Books and Art

Friday, February 12, 2016

Worth a Thousand Words: Waxwing

taken by Remo Savisaar

Well Said: In the world it is called Tolerance

In the world it is called Tolerance, but in hell it is called Despair ... the sin that believes in nothing, cares for nothing, seeks to know nothing, interferes with nothing, enjoys nothing, hates nothing, finds purpose in nothing, lives for nothing, and remains alive because there is nothing for which it will die.
Dorothy L. Sayers

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Well Said: When we have been wounded by the Church ...

When we have been wounded by the Church, our temptation is to reject it. But when we reject the Church it becomes very hard for us to keep in touch with the living Christ. When we say, “I love Jesus, but I hate the Church,” we end up losing not only the Church but Jesus too. The challenge is to forgive the Church. This challenge is especially great because the Church seldom asks us for forgiveness, at least not officially. But the Church as an often fallible human organization needs our forgiveness, while the Church as the living Christ among us continues to offer us forgiveness.

It is important to think about the Church not as “over there” but as a community of struggling, weak people of whom we are part and in whom we meet our Lord and Redeemer.
Henri Nouwen

NARAL's problem with Doritos

I hadn't heard that the NARAL (National Abortion Rights Action League) complained that the Super Bowl Doritos commercial dangerously “humanized” the fetus.

Well, only if you expect a human being to be born. (eye roll)

I'd never heard of Voluntarism, but Father Barron's got the perfect example in the reaction to this Doritos commercial. Read it all here.

Hard Times by Charles Dickens

Hard TimesHard Times by Charles Dickens

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I listened to Anton Lesser's superb narration has pulled me into a story I frankly feared because of the reputation. None other than G.K. Chesterton succinctly remarked:
Twenty times we have taken Dickens's hand and it has been sometimes hot with revelry and sometimes weak with weariness; but this time we start a little, for it is inhumanly cold; and then we realise that we have touched his gauntlet of steel.
Early on, I was surprised to hear of a school and household where not a drop of fantasy is allowed. Only the facts. Whether they convey the truth is a different matter, of course. This put me in mind of J.R.R. Tolkien's famous essay about why children, and indeed all of us, need fantasy. (On Fairy Stories. Dickens' story makes the point before Tolkien did.

Then I was stunned to see that Dickens shares the poignancy of the sadness, or should we say the tears, of a clown. Dickens strikes first again, beating Motown to the punch.

It is clear that we've got a lean, stripped down, no nonsense Dickens here. And yet, I was still enthralled. A large part of this was due to Anton Lesser's skill which carried me away on the story, breathless to see what would happen next despite the Hard Times which all the characters face. Knowing how Dickens loved theater and gave many of his own public renditions of his stories, straining his health in so doing and contributing to his early death, I believe he would approved.

I was really surprised to like this book as much as I did. It was as if Dickens took a good look at one of the subplots he couldn't cram into Bleak House and decided to just make a novella of it instead. Dickens always has enough alternate subplots in a book that he could easily spare this set of characters to make his point about Utilitarianism.

I called this a "novella" but, of course, that is only because I'm used to Dickens' average high page count. This is a 321 page book, 9 cds long if you go by audiobook, which I did most of the way. Toward the end, as usual, I had to abandon the audio and go for print because I just had to know what happened as soon as possible.

The book was not as "hard" as I expected. I feel Oliver Twist has much more difficult passages. It is just that there is not the usual complement of comic characters to lighten the way for us. When I saw that this was written between Bleak House and Little Dorrit the darker tone made sense also. Those are two of my favorite books but there is no denying that the later novels have a darker edge which fits right in with this book.

I'd have given it 3-1/2 stars but rounded down simply because it is a lesser novel. Definitely recommended. Be not afraid.

Worth a Thousand Words: An Artist in His Studio

John Singer Sargent, An Artist in His Studio, 1904
Via Lines and Colors where there are interesting details about this painting which Sargent did of a friend on vacation.

Lent and Fasting From Meat on Fridays

Reposting this because, well, it's that time of year! Also the point about fasting from flesh is one that strikes me hard every time I think of it.

From American Catholic:
Abstinence forbids the use of meat, but not of eggs, milk products or condiments made of animal fat.

Abstinence does not include meat juices and liquid foods made from meat. Thus, such foods as chicken broth, consomme, soups cooked or flavored with meat, meat gravies or sauces, as well as seasonings or condiments made from animal fat are not forbidden. So it is permissible to use margarine and lard. Even bacon drippings which contain little bits of meat may be poured over lettuce as seasoning.
In America, fasting from meat led to the fish fry as a
Lenten tradition. (Public domain photo.)
I was looking for this for another reason, actually, but it applied to the question our retreat group was asking about providing a Friday lunch including Tomato Basil Soup made with chicken broth.

I think the main reason, though I now have lost the place I originally read this, is that the original intent of fasting from meat is that we are fasting from ... flesh.

It is because Christ put on flesh to become man that we fast from it in penance for what He went through on our behalf.

A lovely connection isn't it?

At least it is to me.

And to have to dig into each ingredient turns it into an exercise in scrupulosity for me. I like that they make it easy for us that way.

I've always cooked with those sorts of guidelines for Friday fast days (heck, every Friday is a fast from meat at our house). So it's nice to see it spelled out ... no need for any vestiges of guilt when I put a bit of lard in our refried beans for those nachos!

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Ash Wednesday: All other loves will enslave us if they are not ordered to Him

Rerun because I need to read this every year.

Painful though the process may prove to be, I ask God for the transformation I need to become closer to the person He created me to be.

Let's begin with the collect for today.
Grant, O Lord, that we may begin with holy fasting
this campaign of Christian service,
so that, as we take up battle against spiritual evils, we may be armed with weapons of self-restraint.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.
I like this for several reasons, but foremost today it calls to mind that we are in a spiritual battle. It never does to forget that, especially with Satan's wilderness tempting of Christ as prominent as it is during this season.

Daniele Crespi (1597 - 1630)
Il Digiuno di San Carlo Borromeo / The fasting of St Charles Borromeo (c. 1625)
(Read more about the painting and the saint at Idle Speculations where I found the painting)

I always need help having the proper perspective to prepare for Easter.
The Liberating Power of Serving God

"No one can serve two masters. He will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon." (Mt 6:24)

God did not save the Israelites from slavery in Egypt so that they might become slaves again by bowing down to the golden calf in the desert. Nor has he freed us from the slavery of our sin so that we might bow down to the work of our own hands or to any other creature, including ourselves and our own desires. Strange as it might seem, we are not really free when we consider ourselves the masters of our own lives. From precisely that standpoint, we quickly fall into the trap of serving someone or something else: our self-images, our bosses, our spouses, our corporations, our tyrannical two-year-olds or teenagers, our homes, our cards, our portfolios, our social statuses, our egos, and the list goes on and on.

When, however, we seek to serve God, we soon learn that we thereby allow God to serve us. He wants our hearts precisely so that he might reign there: more as servant than as king. It is he who sets the table before us, who washes our feet, waits upon us, and invites us to eat of his own body. As servant, he not only nourishes us, however; but he also liberates us fro inordinate attachments that both weigh us down and enslave us. He does not merely liberate us from without, by removing obstacles that would hinder his coming into our hearts. He also and more profoundly liberates us from within; for once we have received him, he beings making order within us, freeing us from all that prohibits us from the interior freedom that characterizes the children of God. He will not allow any competition for his love; for all other loves will enslave us if they are not ordered to him, who alone can render us free.
Taken in this way, we can see how it is actually a relief to have done self-examination to see what has enslaved us, usually without our having been aware of it at all. What a relief to set that down. Even when we miss it, when we long for it, when we are annoyed because we can't have it, there is still a sense of relief in being forced to see with open eyes just what our addictions really are. To see how they have become so much more important to us than the harder path that leads us to a more loving relationship with God. Clarity matters. We have to know what rocks are in the way in order to avoid them.

The Putting on of Ashes
From the Initial "M" in the Introit of the Mass of Ashes on Ash Wednesday
From the Missal à l'usage de Saint-Didier d'Avignon c. 1370
Via Idle Speculations which has information about the tradition of ashes on the forehead

We surely can see why the readings for today included this from Joel which spoke to my heart.
Even now, says the LORD,
return to me with your whole heart,
with fasting, and weeping, and mourning;
Rend your hearts, not your garments,
and return to the LORD, your God.
For gracious and merciful is he,
slow to anger, rich in kindness,
and relenting in punishment.
Perhaps he will again relent
and leave behind him a blessing,
Offerings and libations
for the LORD, your God.
And this from Psalm 51, also part of today's readings, which is surely what we all crave.
A clean heart create for me, O God,
and a steadfast spirit renew within me.
Cast me not out from your presence,
and your Holy Spirit take not from me.
Give me back the joy of your salvation,
and a willing spirit sustain in me.
O Lord, open my lips,
and my mouth shall proclaim your praise
I do praise him for giving us this season of Lent ... which is something that I never, ever feel until it has begun. But now that I am face to face with Lent, having considered this morning that "Remember, man you are dust and to dust you shall return" ... which means, get serious because you never know when this life will end ... I remember how good it is to consider priorities, to leave behind the transitory, and strive upwards toward the immortal life we were made to have.

Yes, Lent is good.

by Duane Keiser 

Catholic Culture has a wonderful page about Lent with many links to activities, prayers, recipes, and readings.

They also offer free e-books which have daily reflections on the readings and saints for the liturgical year. I have used these for several years now and cannot recommend them highly enough.

Worth a Thousand Words: Ash Wednesday

Carl Spitzweg [Public domain], Ash Wednesday
via Wikimedia Commons

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Worth a Thousand Words: Venezia Carnivale

Venezia Carnivale
taken by Wanlee, CCL3.0
The Carnival of Venice is world famous for elaborate masks which, as you can see, often call for equally elaborate costumes to match.

Lenten Listening: Podcasts

Another big list that I've updated from last year.

I'm a bit of a podcast junky as we all know. Here are some of my favorite faith podcasts which can prove helpful at Lent. To be fair, I tend to listen to most of them year-round.

Lanky Guys
A weekly attempt to draw some meaning and humor out of the sacred treasury of the Scriptures in the context of the liturgy.
I'm hooked on this one. Fr. Peter Mussett and Scott Powell get us ready for each Sunday by taking us through the scriptures. They read each one aloud and dig deeper into context and background about historical, scriptural and liturgical connections. They combine scholarship, humor, and joy which makes the time fly by. (website link, iTunes link)

Word on Fire
Father Robert Barron's weekly homilies. 'Nuff said. (iTunes link, website link)

Catholic Bytes
Each episode features a different priest who is in Rome right now. They have simple, understandable explanations of  a variety of topics such as the importance of the body, prayer, how Christ makes us free, saints, and much more. I often find these inspirational as well as informative. For anyone who wants to learn more  or would like a quick refresher. (iTunes link, website link)

Lectio Divina with Cardinal Thomas Collins
Cardinal Collins focuses only on a small part of Mark during each hour-long session. He reads the section aloud and then goes back over it line by line. After each line he gives some background and thoughts. He also asks some questions which may well echo in listeners' hearts. Then there is a brief pause so it can all sink in and listeners can see what strikes them. My current favorite inspirational podcast.

(iTunes link, website link)

A Good Story is Hard to Find
Two Catholic friends talk about the books and movies they love and the traces of the One Reality that lie below the surface.

Yes, this is the podcast that Scott Danielson and I do every couple of weeks. Looking for God in the stories that entertain us might be just the Lenten inspiration you need to see God interacting in your life in a whole new way. (iTunes linkwebsite link)

Catholic Under the Hood
These are like miniature "today in Catholic history" lessons. Father Seraphim tells about misunderstood or forgotten history and theology in a way that often leaves me pondering it for days afterward. He's been working his way through the history of the Church in order these days. Older episodes pick an interesting topic and jump around through history.  (iTunes link, website link)
Verbum Domini
Daily readings of the Roman Catholic liturgical calendar. Good for anyone who wants a daily dose of scripture.  I find that listening to the readings gives me a different perspective sometimes, although I often am reading them at some time from my Kindle subscription to Word Among Us. (iTunes link, website link)

Daily prayer. This podcast is usually about 10 minutes. It begins with music (they use quite a variety from Lady Blacksmith Mogambo to French monks to contemporary worship style), then read from the scripture for the day. They give time for contemplation of this scripture with a series of gently asked questions that invite us to think about it in ways we might not otherwise. (iTunes link, website link)

St. Irenaeus Ministries
I never miss this one. Scripture study that is practical. The teacher is extremely insightful in giving connections between scripture and daily life. He keeps it real and although he has an orthodox Catholic point of view, this is the podcast I recommend to non-Catholics. An essential. (iTunes link, website link)

Julie and Scott have never been asked to solve a crime of this magnitude.

They usually solve crimes of the "who ate the last donut" variety. Are they up to the challenge? Gone Baby Gone is the subject of Episode 126.

Mardi Gras Prayer

It is good for me to have this reminder in prayer, which I have posted for the last few years. We tend to think of the feasting of Mardi Gras as being totally opposite to the fasting of Lent. But they don't have to be. If we turn our eyes toward God the entire time, feasting and fasting can be seen as sides of the same coin.

In these or similar words, we can pray in the spirit of this day.
Blessed are you, Lord God of all creation,
for it is from your goodness that we have this day
to celebrate on the threshold of the Season of Lent.

Tomorrow we will fast and abstain from meat.
Today we feast.
We thank you for the abundance of gifts you shower upon us.
We thank you especially for one another.
As we give you thanks,
we are mindful of those who have so much less than we do.
As we share these wonderful gifts together,
we commit ourselves to greater generosity toward those
who need our support.

Prepare us for tomorrow.
Tasting the fullness of what we have today,
let us experience some hunger tomorrow.
May our fasting make us more alert
and may it heighten our consciousness
so that we might be ready to hear your Word
and respond to your call.

As our feasting fills us with gratitude
so may our fasting and abstinence hollow out in us
a place for deeper desires
and an attentiveness to hear the cry of the poor.
May our self-denial turn our hearts to you
and give us a new freedom for
generous service to others.

We ask you these graces
with our hearts full of delight
and stirring with readiness for the journey ahead.
We ask them with confidence
in the name of Jesus the Lord.

Monday, February 8, 2016

The Big List of Lenten Movies

Tweaked from last year. I'm never as interested in "Jesus" movies as I am in mainstream films with food for thought about sin, reparation, and redemption.

These movies run the gamut so if you haven't heard of them be sure to check reviews for ratings. There are some excellent ones that use bad language and violence to make their point. For that matter, The Passion of the Christ was not for wimps. Just as Jesus' real story wasn't.

Links go to my reviews. A number of these have been discussed by Scott Danielson and me on our A Good Story is Hard to Find podcast. Those links follow the descriptions.

  • The Intouchables ... Wealthy quadriplegic Philippe needs an assistant to help him with all the functions of daily life. He hires immigrant, ex-con Driss because the regular applicants are missing one important quality and the lives of both men are changed. Sounds predictable. Isn't.

  • The Overnighters ... This documentary focuses on Pastor Jay Reinke's ministry to homeless men who have flocked to the North Dakota oil fields for work. His ministry, the congregation's reaction, and the town's response lead us into challenging, thought provoking waters.

  • Gone Baby Gone ... A private investigator and his partner agree to search for a kidnapped girl because he has connections to the locals that the police do not. This can be tough to watch but you won't find a stronger examination of free will, the difference choices make in our lives, and personal responsibility in the face of evil. [Good Story episode 126 on this will post soon]

  • Stranger Than Fiction ... I'm continually amazed at how well this story is told and what a wallop it packs. Redemptive and life affirming. [Good Story episode 8]

  • Of Gods and Men ...  a group of Trappist monks in Algeria must choose between the practical choice to abandon their monastery when extremist Muslims terrorize the area ... or following spiritual calling even when there doesn't seem to be any reason to do so.  [Good Story episode 58]

  • Les Miserables (2012) ... as Scott Danielson said, "This film makes me want to be a better person. Could there be higher praise for a movie? [Good Story episode 117]
  • Lars and the Real Girl ... this sweet film shows unconditional love and complete acceptance, in the family, in the town, and in the most unusual love triangle you can imagine. [Good Story episode 27]

  • About a Boy ... Suffice it to say it shows the difference between living completely for one's own selfish purposes and the joy and fulfillment that come from living for others. [Good Story episode 12]

  • Babette's Feast ... huge underlying message about God's unexpected and overflowing generosity and Jesus' complete self-sacrifice ... all wrapped up in a woman who gives all her lottery winnings to cook a perfect meal for a village.

  • In Bruges ... for me, this is the perfect Lenten movie. Redemption, sacrifice, humanity in it's worst and best are all mingled and shown here. [Good Story episode 29]

  • Gran Torino ... hiding behind the racist talk and anger is a big, big message that has Lent all over it.

  • Henry Poole is Here ... do you believe in miracles? The sort that have Jesus' face appearing in the stucco on the back of your house? This one's for those who do and those who don't.
  • Mary & Max ... a rich story for those who are not afraid to explore the heights and depths that imperfection humanity bring to our lives and the lives of those we touch. [Good Story episode 43]

  • Calvary - Not for the faint-of-heart. But simply astounding. A real masterpiece that provides food for thought for everyone from Catholics to atheists. [Good Story episode 101]

  • Pan's Labyrinth ...  as Joi reminded me in years past, "the imagery is amazing, the language beautiful, and the story mythic, AND it honors self-sacrifice as the truest expression of love. [It shows] the road to virtue is not easy, and it's about doing what's right, even if you don't always know why, and even when it hurts.  [Good Story episode 70]
  • Looper - An interesting time travel concept that avoided going expected directions. It is about much bigger themes than one would think and the way those are connected leave one with much food for thought, especially appropriate for Lent.

  • Groundhog Day - A classic that delves much more deeply than one would expect into what it takes to really die to oneself and come alive. [Good Story episode 14]

  • Inception - perhaps the perfect heist movie doubling as a thriller, as well as being a wonderful look at truth and love. [Good Story episode 16]