Friday, March 31, 2017

Worth a Thousand Words: Portrait of a Woman

Portrait of a Woman (c.1520). Quentin Metsys
via Books and Art
What I like about this is that she's looking out of the portrait at something in our world. That amuses me. And that she stopped reading her devotional to do it. That is just like me. Easily distracted.

Well Said: God speaking

The theme of God speaking will run like a thread through Hebrews. When introducing biblical quotations, instead of saying "it is written," Hebrews will invariably use phrases like "God says" or "he has promised." Scripture is not confined to the dusty pages of ancient manuscripts; it is a living and active word through which God continues to speak, addressing his people personally her and now (see 3:7, 4:12).
Mary Healy, Hebrews (Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture)

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Worth a Thousand Words: Sink at the Old Mill Inn

Sink at the Old Mill Inn
by Belinda Del Pesco

Well Said: Changed from within

Hebrews affirms that by Christ's passion those who share in him have been changed from within (10:22), radically and permanently. This means that the Christian life does not consist in acquiring a holiness we do not have, but rather in appropriating and more deeply living the holiness we have already been given (10:10). So we are invited to a relationship with God that is filled with confident hope and free from the burden of guilt and sin. Our whole life is qualified to be a priestly life, in which all our actions and sufferings are offered as "a sacrifice of praise" that is pleasing to God (13:15-16).
Mary Healy, Hebrews (Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture)

New Independent Bookstore for Dallas - Interabang Books

I've never forgotten Taylor Books, a full service independent bookstore chain in Dallas that predated Bookstop, Borders, and Barnes and Noble. Those big box stores killed Taylors and now that most of them are gone (with Barnes and Noble mostly selling games and other non-book items), I have longed for a decent bookstore in which to browse.

I was recently reading about several specialty independent bookstores, all of whom are quirky and none of whom cater to my quirks (mystery, science fiction, and so forth). Looking around I was thrilled to see that Interabang is supposed to open in May at Preston and Royal - run by someone who  began his career at Taylor Books. Talk about coming full circle.

I can't wait!

American the Last Best Hope: From a World at War to the Triumph of Freedom 1914-1989 by William J. Bennett

From a World at War to the Triumph of Freedom 1914-1989 (America: The Last Best Hope #2)America The Last Best Hope:
From a World at War to the Triumph of Freedom 1914-1989
by William J. Bennett

I've been reading this book very slowly, dipping in whenever current events makes the world seem chaotic and uncertain. So that's been a lot lately.

The great thing about history is that it reminds us there have always been chaotic, uncertain times and that we've endured, we've come out ok in the end. William Bennett's volumes on American history are even handed, easy to understand, and yet comprehensive. I came out understanding better those figures who I'd previously disliked, and in some cases even having a certain new respect for them. Those who I already liked were shown to me "warts and all" so I had a greater understanding of their complexity as people and leaders.

This history ends with Ronald Reagan and I was reminded that he was viewed in much the same way as Donald Trump is now. That is not to say Reagan and Trump are the same but our reactions as a people were surprisingly similar in their strength and alarm. That in itself was a good bit of context. The "olden days" are calm and easy to take only because we weren't the ones living then.

Highly recommended.
And yet we are a resilient people, caretakers of a blessed nation. It has become a commonplace that we always rise to the occasion in this country. That is still true. And we surprise ourselves, never knowing with exact certainty from whence our next leader or hero will come—good reason to respect and defend one another as Americans, as fellow countrymen dedicated to a great proposition.

Allow me a few simple illustrations. If you were sitting in a saloon in 1860, and someone told you that while he did not know who would win that year's presidential election, the next elected president after him was right then a little known leather tanner in Galena, Illinois, he would be laughed out of the saloon. But then came Ulysses S. Grant. If you were sitting at Franklin D. Roosevelt's inauguration, in 1933, and someone told you the next president was a little-known judge in Jackson County, Missouri, he would have been made to look the fool. But then came Harry S. Truman. If you were a political consultant in California in 1950 watching the bitter Senate race between Richard Nixon and Helen Gahagan Douglas (where Nixon labeled Douglas "the pink lady"), and you said that actor Ronald Reagan (who was then campaigning for Douglas) would someday be a Republican president and would crush the Soviet Union, your career would have been over.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Worth a Thousand Words: Portrait of Mister (Billie Holiday's dog)

Portrait of Mister (Billie Holiday's dog)
via Library of Congress

Genesis Notes: The Test

Now we come to the most famous incident in Abraham's story. God tells him to take his beloved only son, Isaac, and sacrifice him. No one ever really understands this until they become a parent but it is enough to strike horror into anyone's heart if they stop and visualize the scene. What really brought home the obedience required by all involved was when I realized that in order to carry the wood for his father, Isaac also knew exactly what was going on when he was told to lie on the altar. What a test of faith for everyone.

This whole scene was recently put into clearer context for me. At the time, child sacrifice was nothing new. Many "gods" demanded it and there is ample archaeological evidence for the fact that thousands of children were sacrificed, usually when they were at least 3 or 4 years old so that the gift was more valuable — they'd made it past infancy. This whole story adds a bit of perspective to Abraham and Isaac's seeming calm. It doesn't mean that they weren't feeling the horror, but it was an understandable demand.

The unbelievable part for them — the amazing blessing — was when God used it to show exactly who He was. How amazing and new this would have seemed to Abraham and Isaac. He is not a God who demands that sacrifice of us. He himself will provide the sacrifice, both of the ram and, later, of his own son.

Abraham and Isaac, Rembrandt, 1634

An interesting bit of factual information about the place where Abraham offered Isaac.
[Note: " Mount Moriah is the place where Solomon (king of Israel in about 950 B.C.) set about building the house of the Lord, the temple that contained the Holy of Holies. Mount Moriah wasn't out in a remote desert; it was located where the city of Salem was situated in Abraham's day, which later became known as Jerusalem (see Ps. 76:1-3). Why the name change? An old rabbinic tradition attributes it to Abraham, based on what he said after sacrificing the ram: 'Abraham called the name of that place, 'The Lord will provide'; as it is said to this day, 'On the mount of the Lord it shall be provided (Gn 22:14). The Hebrew word for 'provide' is jira, which was then prefixed to Salem, thus making Jeru-salem." (A Father Who Keeps His Promises, by Scott Hahn; Ann Abor, MI: Servant Publications, 1998; p. 108)]

Abraham's test brings up the question that we frequently ask and seem to find no answer for ... why are we tested at all?
The test that God gives Abraham is so severe that it presumes an advanced level of knowledge and experience of Him. Compare it to the relatively simple test that God first put Abraham through, back in Gen. 12:1-4. There it was simply, "Pack up and go." Here, at least thirty years later, the test is staggeringly difficult. It builds on everything that has gone before in Abraham's life. For Abraham to endure the test, he will have to act on all that he knows about God, and he will have to be willing to mortify even the smallest weaknesses and imperfections yet remaining in his character.

This is what we call "purification." It is the final step in Abraham's life that establishes him as the Father of faith, both for Jews and Gentiles (Rom. 4:11-12). His obedience burned away the dross of even relatively minor imperfections. Interestingly, the test of Abraham gives us a dramatic demonstration of why God tests men in the first place. Men must freely choose to lay down their own wills in order to serve God. When they do this, they are conformed to the likeness of God. They participate in self-donation, which is the essence of the life of the Blessed Trinity. Abraham not only obeys God, but he becomes a living example of the character of God; he is a human being who reflects both the image and likeness of God. As the Catechism says, "As a final stage in the purification of his faith, Abraham, 'who had received the promises,' is asked to sacrifice the son God had given him...And so the father of believers is conformed to the likeness of the Father who will not spare his own Son, but will deliver him up for us all." (2572)
All quotes from Genesis, Part II: God and His Family. This series first ran in 2004 and 2005. I'm refreshing it as I go. For links to the whole study, go to the Genesis Index. For more about the resources used, go here.

Lent: A Preparation for New Life

This is from a series of  bulletin inserts I wrote for our church, waaaaay back in 2008. 

It's good for reflection now that Lent is underway and my initial fervor may have flagged. I'm just sayin' ... it could be that I need a Lenten booster!

Lent: A Preparation for New Life
1430 Jesus’ call to conversion and penance, like that of the prophets before him, does not aim first at outward works, “sackcloth and ashes,” fasting and mortification, but at the conversion of the heart, interior conversion. Without this, such penances remain sterile and false; however, interior conversion urges expression in visible signs, gestures and works of penance.231431 Interior repentance is a radical reorientation of our whole life, a return, a conversion to God with all our heart, an end of sin, a turning away from evil, with repugnance toward the evil actions we have committed. At the same time it entails the desire and resolution to change one’s life, with hope in God’s mercy and trust in the help of his grace. This conversion of heart is accompanied by a salutary pain and sadness which the Fathers called animi cruciatus (affliction of spirit) and compunctio cordis (repentance of heart)....

1439 The process of conversion and repentance was described by Jesus in the parable of the prodigal son, the center of which is the merciful father:37 the fascination of illusory freedom, the abandonment of the father’s house; the extreme misery in which the son finds himself after squandering his fortune; his deep humiliation at finding himself obliged to feed swine, and still worse, at wanting to feed on the husks the pigs ate; his reflection on all he has lost; his repentance and decision to declare himself guilty before his father; the journey back; the father’s generous welcome; the father’s joy — all these are characteristic of the process of conversion. The beautiful robe, the ring, and the festive banquet are symbols of that new life — pure worthy, and joyful — of anyone who returns to God and to the bosom of his family, which is the Church. Only the heart of Christ who knows the depths of his Father’s love could reveal to us the abyss of his mercy in so simple and beautiful a way.
Catechism of the Catholic Church
Most of us do not look forward to these 40 days of penance. Perhaps this is why the Church, in Her wisdom, mandates it for us. We would never seek this on our own.

A time of deprivation. A time of suffering. A long, gray, dreary time of doing without the little things that make life worthwhile ... coffee, chocolate, a favorite television show. This is all too often the attitude of dread that we bring to Lent.

The Church also strongly recommends that we do something additional during this time to show penance. Prayer, fasting, and service to others are among the recommended activities that we may resolve to take on. These also do not sound very attractive and often are dropped during the 40 days.

Yet it is that very attitude that is skewed from reality, as we see if we read the Catechism about interior penance. We are going about it all backwards if we merely focus on the outward sign, on what we are “giving up” or “adding on.”

This is not about outward signs and empty gestures. Lent’s purpose is to deepen our knowledge of ourselves and of what we need to come closer to a more loving relationship with God. This is the hunger that should be propelling us into Lent. This is the true change of heart and new life which God longs for us to have. The outward signs should be merely the visible supports to our inward changes.

With this in mind, we can examine our Lenten plans while asking God what He would like us to do to come closer to him. He knows our hearts better than we do ourselves. He will guide us in how to link our “giving up” and “adding on” to help us gain the interior knowledge we need.

Perhaps instead of giving up coffee altogether, we can give up the daily morning visit to Starbucks. The fifteen minutes that is saved, could be spent in prayerful reading of scripture, for which we would usually never have time. Possibly we may give up watching our favorite television show and spend the time with our families playing a game, reading aloud, or just talking. Maybe we feel called to volunteer to spend time with those in need. In that case, giving up surfing the internet may allow us to do other tasks in order to have the needed time later on.

Regardless of the outward signs, let us be sure to take full advantage of this opportunity to dig deeper, change our hearts, and grow closer to God.

23 Cf. Joel 2:12-13; Isa 1:16-17; Mt 6:1-6; 16-18.
24 Cf. Council Of Trent (1551): DS 1676-1678; 1705; Cf. Roman Catechism, II,V,4.
37 Cf. Lk 15:11-24.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church can be found online.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Lagnappe: Cup of Joe

[Secretary of the Navy Joesphus] Daniels's only enduring contribution to the U.S. Navy was to abolish the rum ration in favor of free coffee. FDR supported this reform. To this day, navy chief petty officers call their coffee "a cup of Joe" for Josephus.
William J. Bennett, America: The Last Best Hope, vol. II
I had no idea. Now I'm going to enjoy that using that phrase even more. And I use it a lot.

Worth a Thousand Words: Taking a Cup of Coffee in Leipzig

Taking cup of coffee while sitting in front of a coffee tree
Detail above door of Leipzig coffee house "Zum Arabischen Coffe Baum"

I Join Jenny on the Reading Envy podcast to discuss: Slowing Down and Rereading

I join Jenny Colvin at the Reading Envy pub, where we talk about rereading, slowing down to appreciate an author's craft, and the best spy adventure the Vatican has ever seen! We also talk about good books we've read lately.

Check it out.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Worth a Thousand Words: La Laveuse

La Laveuse, Sir John Lavery, R.A. - 1883
via The Athenaeum

Lagniappe: Great curved scrolls of feet

Then the carpenters return to making more tables—tables on which to spread our pottery, a drawing-table for Mac, a table off which to dine, a table for my typewriter. ...

Mac draws out a towel-horse and the carpenters start upon it. The old man brings it proudly to my room on completion. It looks different from Mac's drawing, and when the carpenter sets it down I see why. It has colossal feet, great curved scrolls of feet. They stick out so that, wherever you put it, you invariable trip over them.

Ask him, I say to Max, why he has made these feet instead of sticking to the design he was given?

The old man looks at us with dignity.

"I made them this way," he says, "so that they should be beautiful. I wanted this that I have made to be a thing of beauty!"

To this cry of the artist there could be no response. I bow my head, and resign myself to tripping up over those hideous feet for the rest of the season!
Agatha Christie, Come Tell Me How You Live

Friday, March 24, 2017

Worth a Thousand Words: Summertime

Summertime, Edward Hopper
via WikiArt, Fair Use

Lagniappe: A highly professional cat

Hamoudi explains soothingly that all will soon be well. The holes in the bedroom are being stopped up with plaster. More whitewash will be applied. Moreover, a cat is coming; it has been loaned out. It is a super-cat—a highly professional cat. ...

Our cat arrives at dinner-time. I shall never forget that at! It is, as Hamoudi has announced, a highly professional cat. It knows the job for which it has been engaged, and proceeds to get on with it in a truly specialized manner.

Whilst we dine, it crouches in ambush behind a packing case. When we talk, or move, or make too much noise, it gives us an impatient look.

"I must request of you," the look says, "to be quiet. How can I get on with the job without co-operation?"

So fierce is the cat's expression that we obey at once, speak in whispers, and eat with as little clinking of plates and glasses as possible.

Five times during the meal a mouse emerges and runs across the floor, and five times our cat springs. The sequel is immediate. There is no Western dallying, no playing with the victim. The cat simply bites off the mouse's head, crunches it up, and proceeds to the rest of the body! It is rather horrible and completely businesslike.

The cat stays with us five days. After those five days no mice appear. The cat then leaves us, and th emice never come back. I have never known before or since such a professional cat. It had no interest in us, it never demanded milk or a share of our food. It was cold, scientific, and impersonal. A very accomplished cat!
Agatha Christie, Come Tell Me How You Live

My New Book — Seeking Jesus in Everyday Life


Seeking Jesus in Everyday Life

Prayers and Reflections for Getting Closer

This book is for the beginner and for those beginning again —
to bring us closer to Jesus, which is every Christian’s greatest desire.
Each page gently leads the reader to open up and encounter Christ in their own way —
using scripture and inspirational quotes, reflection, brief commentary, and prayer.
Foster a daily habit of prayer and reflection that will continue
long after you come to the end of this book.

Advance Praise
I’m getting a copy for every member of my RCIA class. 
— William H. Duquette —
If you want to be a happy Catholic, you need to encounter Jesus.
And if you want to encounter Jesus, read this book.
— Brandon Vogt —
This book is a joyful pilgrimage to the Father,
made with the most amazing companions, from Ambrose of Milan
to Marshall McLuhan. Highly recommended.
— Mike Aquilina —

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Lagniappe: "A little extra money is always welcome"

Soundings must be made at all three mounds. We make a start with Tell Mozan. There is a village there, and with Hamoudi as ambassador we try and obtain workmen. The men are doubtful and suspicious.

"We do not need money," they say. "It has been a good harvest."

For this is a simple, and, I think, consequently a happy part of the world. Food is the only consideration. If the harvest is good, you are rich. For the rest of the year there is leisure and plenty, until the time comes to plough and sow once more.

"A little extra money," says Hamoudi, like the serpent of Eden, "is always welcome."

They answer simply: "But what can we buy with it? We have enough food until the harvest comes again."

And here, alas! the eternal Eve plays her part. Astute Hamoudi baits his hook. They can buy ornaments for their wives.

The wives nod their heads. This digging, they say, is a good thing!

Reluctantly the men consider the idea. ...
Agatha Christie, Come Tell Me How You Live

Worth a Thousand Words: Satan of the Sea

Via Pulp Covers

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Worth a Thousand Words: Gladioli in a Vase

Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Gladioli in a Vase, c. 1875
via Arts Everyday Living

Well Said: There is no entering in ...

The next morning we reach the Cilician Gates, and look out over one of the most beautiful views I know. It is like standing on the rim of the world and looking down on the promised land, and one feels much as Moses must have felt. For here, too, there is no entering in. ... The soft, hazy dark blue loveliness is a land one will never reach; the actual towns and villages when one gets there will be only the ordinary everyday world—not this enchanted beauty that beckons you down. ...
Agatha Christie, Come Tell Me How You Live
There is a lot of wisdom in that short observation. It's a lesson I always need to remember to apply to my own life. From far away, plans, dreams, desires, always look perfect. But it is close up, in the nitty gritty, where we live.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Genesis Notes: Hagar's Resume

I never thought of Hagar as a perpetual avoider, a run away, but there you go. And yet she also was thrust into a situation which most of us would find challenging, to say the least, when Sarah gave her to Abraham as a surrogate. We might also get in the habit of running away under those circumstances.

Matthias Stom, Sarah Leading Hagar to Abraham
Escape of some kind is usually the most tempting solution to our problems. In fact, it can become a habit. Hagar was a person who used that approach. When the going got tough, she usually got going -- in the other direction.

However, it is worthwhile to note that the biggest challenges Hagar faced were brought on by other people's choices.

Strengths and accomplishments:
  • Mother of Abraham's first child, Ishmael, who became the founder of the Arab nations
Weaknesses and mistakes:
  • When faced with problems, she tended to run away
  • Her pregnancy brought out strong feelings of pride and arrogance
Lessons from her life:
  • God is faithful to his plan and promises, even when humans complicate the process
  • God shows himself as one who knows us and wants to be known by us
  • The New Testament uses Hagar as a symbol of those who would pursue favor with God by their own efforts, rather than by trusting in his mercy and forgiveness
Vital statistics:
  • Where: Canaan and Egypt
  • Occupation: Servant, mother
  • Relatives: Son - Ishmael
Key verse:
"Then the angel of the Lord told her, 'Go back to your mistress and submit to her.'" (Genesis 16:9)

Hagar's story is told in Genesis 16-21. She also is mentioned in Galatians 4:24, 25.
All quotes from Life Application Study Bible. This series first ran in 2004 and 2005. I'm refreshing it as I go. For links to the whole study, go to the Genesis Index. For more about the resources used, go here.

While Scott runs through a frustrating maze, Julie marvels at her ability to find Karl Urban in every inkblot she sees.

We dig deep below the surface Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes and find Genesis everywhere we look. Get it all in Episode 154 of A Good Story is Hard to Find podcast.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Worth a Thousand Words: Entrance to the Underground

Entrance to the Underground
by Edward B. Gordon

Well Said: One does not set a Force in motion lightly.

“... But if I go with the Host ... then I go as an agent of the Holy Catholic Church, prepared to execute what I would consider the most spiritual rites of my office. Then I go as Christ’s representative on earth.” He was now looking at Matt seriously, solemnly. “I may be a poor excuse for a priest—at times I’ve thought so—a bit jaded, a bit cynical, and just lately suffering a crisis of ... what? faith? identity? ... but I still believe enough in the awesome, mystical, and apotheotic power of the church which stands behind me to tremble a bit at the thought of accepting your request lightly. The church is more than a bunch of ideals, as these younger fellows seem to believe. It’s more than a spiritual Boy Scout troop. The church is a Force ... and one does not set a Force in motion lightly.”
Stephen King, Salem’s Lot

Friday, March 17, 2017

Well Said: The worst form of inequality

The worst form of inequality is to try to make unequal things equal.
And thousands of years later, here we are ... still in the same place.

Worth a Thousand Words: Lady with a Bouquet

Lady with a Bouquet. The artist's wife with flowers from the Viburnum 'Snowball' bush, Charles Courtney Curran

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Well Said: God made the world beautiful because he loves us.

One July evening, cloudless, moonless, with just a hint of a humid breeze, her father took her out into the back yard in the dark and told her to look up at the sky.

From one horizon to the other, all across the black carpet of the night, were the stars — thousands of them, tens of thousands, in clusters and rivers of light. And in the quiet, her father said, “God made the world beautiful because he loves us.”

That was more than sixty years ago. … still, when she closes her eyes, she can see that carpet of stars and hear her father’s voice: God made the world beautiful because he loves us. Creation is more than an accident of dead matter. It’s a romance. It has purpose. It sings of the Living God. It bears his signature. And it's our home.
Charles J. Chaput, Strangers in a Strange Land

Worth a Thousand Words: Dance at Le Moulin de la Galette

Dance at Le Moulin de la Galette, 1876, Pierre-Auguste Renoir

Strangers in a Strange Land by Charles J. Chaput

Strangers in a Strange Land: 
Living the Catholic Faith in a Post-Christian World
by Charles J. Chaput
We've spoken frankly so far about the American landscape as we now know it. Some of the words have been difficult. But candor is not an enemy of love. And real hope begins in honesty.

The current spirit of our country inclines us to be troubled. It's a sensible temptation. How can any one person or small group of people make a difference? How can we change and renew things so that our children grow up in a better world? We come back to a question suggested at the start of this book: How can we live in joy, and serve the common good as leaven, in a culture that no longer shares what we believe?
As we might expect from the author of Render Unto Caesar, this is a book which focuses on how we can live both an authentically Catholic life and an American life in changing, chaotic times.

The first half of the book examines our nation's history, especially as it is tied to religion; how our society became "post Christian;" and why it will not return to the way it was. That last truth hit me hard. I'm not someone who thinks restoring a few laws is going to change the national psyche but I think I felt as if everything would settle back into old norms at some point. Absorbing Chaput's explanation was tough. But if we don't know the truth, then we aren't on firm ground for future decisions. So I'm grateful.

The second half looks at where we go from here, as Catholics, as Americans. I found it realistic and hope-filled and inspiring. What is hope and how do we maintain it? How do Jesus' promises in the Beatitudes apply to our lives and times? What does it mean to be the "people of God" in a distracted and unbelieving age?

Chaput's answer is one that I have always felt is a basic truth, perhaps because I myself came from a completely secular life before my conversion. We begin by reforming our own hearts, being authentic Christian witnesses by living our own lives with conviction. We have to be in love with our faith and with God. That is what spills over as we go into the world for work, school, and all the things that make up a normal life.

It may not always be easy, but, let's face it, we've been spoiled. All you have to do is look at the way Christians are persecuted around the world to see that.

In different ways, with varying directness, Chaput repeatedly points out that people living a fully Christian life make a difference in the world.
Jesus uses three images to describe using our gifts for God's kingdom: salt, light, and leaven, or yeast. ...

Note the logic at work here. Yeast mixes with flour and makes dough rise. We sprinkle salt on our food, and the meal tastes better. We turn on the lights of a dark room so we can see. The yeast, salt, and light aren't the focus of our attention. Rather, they impart their qualities to something else to make it better. And so it should be with the work of the Church in the world.
Chaput directly addresses why withdrawing from the world won't work. I found his first reason the most compelling: "The world will come after us" because reminders of an abandoned past will be increasingly irritating. In his discussion of forming a Catholic identity, Chaput acknowledges the Benedict Option idea, albeit without naming it specifically, adding:
This is wisdom, so long as we don't give up on the good present in American society. We need to create places where Catholic culture can flourish and be handed down to the next generation. ...
I'm not a fan of the Benedict Option, at least as I've read about it to date, but I do think it has begun a much needed discussion. Catholics and, indeed, all Christians need to be mindful of the uneasy ground beneath our feet as our society goes through a watershed moment. Strangers in a Strange Land is a clear-sighted road map to where we've been and where we need to head now.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Well Said: Our place of holiness

We, the ordinary people of the streets, believe with all our might that this street, this world, where God has placed us, is our place of holiness.
Madeleine Delbrêl

Worth a Thousand Words: Lotus Lilies

Lotus Lilies by Charles C. Curran, 1888

Saint Junipero Serra's Camino by Stephen J. Binz

Saint Junipero Serra's Camino

A Pilgrimage Guide to the California Missions
by Stephen J. Binz
For each of the 21 missions, this guide offers you the street address for your GPS, the mission’s website, a brief history of the place, the story of the mission’s patron or namesake, and information about the mission bells. You’ll be given a tour of the mission church, as well as a prayer service for your visit.

But this book is much more than a simple travel guide. You’ll learn more about the life of Saint Junípero Serra, whose vision is responsible for this holy Camino. You’ll be enriched by two interwoven traditions: the Spanish Franciscan and the American Indian.
I've always been drawn to the idea of walking the Camino de Santiago, that ancient pilgrimage which treks over mountains and takes weeks to complete. I've also always known in the depths of my sensible heart that time and money will never allow that pilgrimage.

However, it never occurred to me that there is a camino of sorts in the United States. California has a well known string of twenty-one missions stretching from San Diego to San Francisco. On foot, on bike, or by car, that is within my reach. Stephen J. Binz has written an eminently usable guidebook which has all the usual practical travel guide info, ranging from GPS to area history to mission bell names.

I learned a lot about California's early history that I never knew before, including details about problems between native people, colonists, and soldiers. Binz also includes that the unintended consequences of Spanish evangelization which didn't always work out for either the missionaries or the natives. I really respected Binz's acknowledgement that history is never simple as we like to paint it, while he sorted through each mission's story.

What makes this more than a travel guide, however, is that Binz takes care to feed the traveler's spiritual side. He explores each mission's patron with the lessons they have for us in our times. Each entry includes a litany and spiritual readings from scripture or missionary letters. These are designed to make each mission visit into a visit with Our Lord.

The only thing I'd change would be to include more photos of each location and to print them in color. But if you want to make a camino pilgrimage, this is the most complete resource I can imagine.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Worth a Thousand Words: Embraced by the Raging Waves

Embraced by the raging waves
taken by Remo Savisaar

Well Said: Which path one chooses

As for me, I believe in a good God and in a life that is on the side of good, a life in which it is not a matter of indifference whether one takes one path or another.
Paul Claudel

Real Music by Anthony Esolen

Real Music

A Guide to the Timeless Hymns of the Church
by Anthony Esolen

I am writing this book to bring back the words of great Christian hymns, most of which are no longer heard anywhere. These hymns are not pious sentiments (or, worse, self-celebrating sentiments or social propaganda) set to a catchy tune. They are works of art. They are, at their best, profound meditations upon the meaning of Scripture, their artistry serving to help us to see truths we may have missed or to hear in our hearts, not only in our ears, the implications of the Word of God for our lives. they are verbal and melodic icons of Jesus Christ.
I'm lucky enough to be part of a parish which offers a rich variety of music and our choice is the 11:00 Mass, where we often sing same great hymns that Anthony Esolen writes about in this stellar book.

Esolen's translation of Dante and his commentary on the missal, The Beauty of the Word, are favorites of mine. His adroit connecting of poetry and prayer with underlying meanings have often opened my eyes and inspired me. Naturally I was eager to see what he would show me in some of my favorite hymns. (Without the music, it's hard to have a complete experience so a CD of 18 beautifully sung hymns is included with the book, though that is far from the complete number that Esolen examines.)

He begins with the psalms and how many classic hymns have come from them. Then he looks at how the English poet would focus on a particular aspect of a psalm and develop it as a bit of theology for us to sing.

I've loved these hymns for their rich imagery and meaning but never made the sorts of connections that Esolen points out. That is why it is so good to have Anthony Esolen for a guide. He clearly loves the theology, poetry, and meaning of each hymn.

Here's an example, from the chapter "Who is Christ?"
The glory of these forty days
We celebrate with songs of praise;
For Christ, by Whom all things were made,
Himself has fasted and has prayed.
The poetry is so straightforward that we might miss the artistry. Notice the word glory. That should surprise us. When Jesus went forth into the desert, what glory accompanied Him? No train of disciples, no fanfare, no parade, no earthquake. The glory, then, must subsist in the very absence of the manifestations of glory. It susbsists in loving humility—a glory the world misses.

Thus we can understand the first part of the stanza only in the context of the last part. This is what's glorious: Christ by Whom the world was brought into being (cf. Jn 1:3), Himself has fasted and has prayed. He Himself has done so. The pronoun is emphatic. The richness of the world's being—all things—is placed in contrast with Jesus' depriving Himself of food, and His attitude of complete openness, complete self-emptying, in prayer before the Father.
We sing These Forty Days all the time during Lent but until I read Esolen's explanation, the hymn never came fully alive.

Chapters range from The Psalms to the Nativity, the Cross and the Resurrection to Our Love for Jesus to The Glory of God, and, of course, much more. Not only does this book help us to enter into each song, it gives us spiritual food in helping us understand and grow closer to God.

I can't recommend Real Music highly enough. Read it and then go ask your music director to slip some of these classics into his regular repertoire. They're good for the soul.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Worth a Thousand Words: Projet d'aménagement de la Grande Galerie du Louvre

Hubert Robert - Projet d'aménagement de la Grande Galerie du Louvre (1796)
via Wikipedia

Lent: Who Do You Say I Am?

From a long ago insert I wrote for our church bulletin.
Who Do You Say I Am?
Filled with the holy Spirit, Jesus returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the desert for forty days, to be tempted by the devil. ...
Luke, chapter 4

The common practice today is to measure the Bible against the so-called modern worldview, whose fundamental dogma is that God cannot act in history—that everything to do with God is to be relegated to the domain of subjectivity. And so the Bible no longer speaks of God, the living God; no, now we alone speak and decide what God can do and what we will and should do. And the Antichrist, with an air of scholarly excellence, tells us that any exegesis1 that reads the Bible from the perspective of faith in the living God, in order to listen to what God has to say, is fundamentalism; he wants to convince us that only his kind of exegesis, the supposedly purely scientific kind, in which God says nothing and has nothing to say, is able to keep abreast of the times.

The theological debate between Jesus and the devil is a dispute over the correct interpretation of Scripture, and it is relevant to every period of history. The hermeneutical2 question lying at the basis of proper scriptural exegesis is this: What picture of God are we working with? The dispute about interpretation is ultimately a dispute about who God is. Yet in practice, the struggle over the image of God, which underlies the debate about valid biblical interpretation, is decided by the picture we form of Christ: Is he, who remained without worldly power, really the son of the living God? ...

The point at issue is revealed in Jesus’ answer, which is also taken from Deuteronomy: “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test” (Deut 6:16). ... The issue, then, is the one we have already encountered: God has to submit to experiment. He is “tested,” just as products are tested. He must submit to the conditions that we say are necessary if we are to reach certainty. If he doesn’t grant us now the protection he promises in Psalm 91,3 then he is simply not God. He will have shown his own word, and himself, too to be false.

We are dealing with the vast question as to how we can and cannot know God, how we are related to God and how we can lose him. The arrogance that would make God an object and impose our laboratory conditions upon him is incapable of finding him. For it already implies that we deny God as God by placing ourselves above him, by discarding the whole dimension of love, of interior listening; by no longer acknowledging as real anything but what we can experimentally test and grasp. To think like that is to make oneself God. And to do that is to abase not only God, but the world and oneself, too.

Joseph Ratzinger4,­ Jesus of Nazareth


We are quite used to thinking of Jesus’ struggle with temptation as a scenario of the devil offering worldly methods which Jesus spurns while worshiping God. This often leads to us considering what we must struggle with or deny in order to follow Jesus.This is valid, however, we have seen this piece of scripture presented so many times that it can be easy to miss levels of meaning aside from struggle with physical desires and denial.

Therefore, it is startling to see Joseph Ratzinger boldly state that Jesus’ verbal battle with the devil is one of Biblical interpretation. It brings us down to earth with a thump. Moving to this different level of understanding scripture offers challenges to our easy doubts of God’s presence in our lives and in our world.

It is easy to doubt and to fall back on the well worn phrase “trust but verify.” Indeed, we have been taught this lesson by the world, where business and politics, to name merely two influences, have given us much reason to be wary, cynical and doubtful of claims we cannot see, touch, or prove scientifically.

However, we cannot use these criteria when it comes to friends, loves, children, spouses, or, most importantly, God. With these cherished relationships, we must learn in a way that cannot be quantified. We must release our need to control. We must listen. We must remain open. We must learn. We must trust.

We may not know what questions to ask in order to learn to love God better. Jesus came to bring us the answers before the questions were spoken. We can find them by being open to God’s living word and listening.

1 Critical explanation or analysis, especially of a text.

2 The theory and methodology of interpretation, especially of scriptural text.

3 Psalm 91 is a prayer of someone who has taken refuge in the security of the temple. Verses 11-12 state, “For God commands the angels to guard you in all your ways. With their hands they shall support you, lest you strike your foot against a stone.” Read the entire psalm to see the statement of God’s promises therein.

4 Pope Benedict XVI wrote Jesus of Nazareth under his own name, Joseph Ratzinger.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Perils of the Home Office

Political analysis pales when the kids pop into the room during a live BBC interview. And I thought it was bad when the dogs bark during a phone call.

(Video via The Guardian)

What We've Been Watching: Dietrich, Hepburn, Chess Playing, and a Big Shipwreck

Creature Comforts
Stop-motion animated series with a cast of animals, sound-biting on specific topics such as sporting adventures, Christmas, and visits to veterinarians. The show satirizes modern man on the street and documentary interviews, responding to unseen questioners. The voices of the characters are supplied by everyday people speaking varied regional accents, credited as The Great British Public. The creatures are portrayed in their own habitats. Creature Comforts was originally a short film, then a series of highly popular commercials, later a U.S. series. - Written by David Stevens, IMDB
We've been watching the American series which the library had in dvd format. These are surprisingly charming and funny. The animators did a great job of matching animals with recurring interview subjects and you feel as if you know them by the time they come around in different episodes. A gentle and humorous antidote to a stressful day!

The Scarlet Empress 1934

Sophia Frederica (Dietrich) is minor German royalty who is is brought to Russia by at the behest of Empress Elizabeth (Dresser) to marry her half-wit nephew (Jaffe) and refresh the blood line. Sophia, renamed Catherine by the Empress, is a virtuous and innocent girl. Unfortunately nothing remains pure for long in the Russian court. We see sweet Sophia become Catherine the Great in a film that is a tour de force for both Dietrich and legendary director Josef von Sternberg.

The images from this movie may remain seared on my mind forever. Marlene Dietrich is completely believable in the range from pure innocence to the disillusioned empress who is subverting the mad tsar's army man by man. The surreal set designs reflecting the decadence and inner corruption of the court, making the spaces seem immense while simultaneously cramming everyone practically on top of each other. The direction which makes me finally see why this director was so acclaimed. I'm pretty sure I'll never watch it again but I know I'll never forget it.

A Night to Remember 1958

On April 14, 1912, the "unsinkable" Titanic struck an iceberg. In less than three hours, it had plunged to the bottom of the sea, taking with it more than 1,500 of its 2,200 passengers. In his unforgettable render­ing of Walter Lord's book of the same name, the acclaimed British director Roy Ward Baker depicts with sensitivity, awe, and a fine sense of tragedy the ship's last hours.

I got this for my husband because it is supposed to be one of the most historically accurate movies made. I didn't expect to be so involved that the time flew by, that I would be moved to tears, that I would long for history to be rewritten. I know I will watch it again so I can track characters better through the story. A great film.

Queen of Katwe 2016

Living in the slum of Katwe in Kampala, Uganda, is a constant struggle for 10-year-old Phiona (Madina Nalwanga) and her family. Her world changes one day when she meets Robert Katende (David Oyelowo) who coaches soccer and teaches children to play chess. Phiona soon becomes a top player under Katende's guidance. But she must learn more than the game as she is exposed to life outside Katwe. — Wikipedia summary

Oh the difference a director makes! In lesser hands than Mira Nair's this would have been an ordinary "family film." Instead we got a work with subtlety, nuance, and a definite sense of place.

It was a touch long. By the time we got to the final chess tournament I felt as if I'd been to two too many. However, in the long run that is neither here nor there.

The Philadelphia Story 1940

Katharine Hepburn is the daughter of a wealthy family and about to marry for the second time. In walks her cunning ex-husband Cary Grant with tabloid reporter James Stewart in tow and disrupts everything.

Casting, witty lines, examination of class, marriage, and judging others ... this film is practically perfect in every way.

I especially like the way they continually introduce typical comic misunderstandings or secrets upon which plot points would normally turn - only to clear them up almost immediately by having someone tell everyone what's really going on. It's a nice way to point out this is playing at a higher level than the normal comedy.

Worth a Thousand Words: Early Spring-Bluebonnets and Mesquite

Julian Onderdonk, Early Spring—Bluebonnets and Mesquite

Well Said: Cornbread and Time

Shamelessly, I often opt to buy the boxed, inferior version of everything for the sake of time. Why is it that I utilize the most modern time-saving technology known to humankind and yet I never have enough time? I can't even find the tme to make homemade cornbread. It's tragic.

Jacqueline Rhodes, The Soul of Soul Food
from The Spirit of Food
This is the modern curse and once we recognize it, we have to take determined steps to fix it in our own lives. A good way to start is to make a great batch of cornbread. I can help with that.

Lenten Friday Meatless Meal: North African Eggs

Eggs poached in a flavorful tomato sauce make a wonderful meatless meal and are a lot more filling than you would think. Get them at Meanwhile, Back in the Kitchen.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Worth a Thousand Words: Anna Pavlova

Anna Pavlova by John Lavery

Well Said: Knowing Another Soul

Fred fancied that he saw to the bottom of his uncle Bulstrode's soul, though in reality half what he saw there was no more than the reflex of his own inclinations. The difficult task of knowing another soul is not for young gentlemen whose consciousness is chiefly made up of their own wishes.
George Eliot, Middlemarch

What I'm Reading: Strangers in a Strange Land by Charles J. Chaput

Or, as I've begun calling it around here, the anti-Benedict Option book. So I just thought I'd give y'all a heads up.

Strangers in a Strange Land: 
Living the Catholic Faith in a Post-Christian World
by Charles J. Chaput
A vivid critique of American life today and a guide to how Christians—and particularly Catholics--can live their faith vigorously, and even with hope, in a post-Christian public square.
A kind Happy Catholic reader gave me this book. It only took reading the introduction and first chapter to make it clear that this is the anti-"Benedict Option" book:
But we can't simply withdraw from public affairs. Saint Benedict could retreat to the Italian countryside, but Augustine was a bishop intimately tied to his people and their society. For Augustine, the classic civic virtues named by Cicero — prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance—can be renewed and elevated, to the benefit of all citizens, by the Christian virtues of faith, hope and charity.
Gauntlet thrown. Interesting-er and interesting-er. I'm really looking forward to reading this.


UPDATE - chapter 2 brings the third mention of not hiding away:
All of which underscores a simple fact: The surest way to transform a culture is from the inside out. And the surest path to doing it isn't through reasoned debate (too tedious) or violence (too costly) but by colonizing and reshaping the culture's appetites and behaviors.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Well Said: Perfect and Bulletproof

Perfect and bulletproof are seductive, but they don't exist in the human experience.
Brené Brown, Daring Greatly

Worth a Thousand Words: At the Edge of Canyon

At the Edge of Canyon
another gem taken by Remo Savisaar

Genesis Notes: Ishmael's Resume

Ishmael is usually a character who gets eclipsed by the dramatic tale of Abraham and Isaac. And yet I always feel sorry for that favored, much loved son who is suddenly cast out into the desert. No wonder he cried, despite his years. Everything he knew had been ripped away from him.

This resume shows us the whole picture so we can get perspective on Ishmael.

Hagar and Ishmael in desert, Grigoriy Ugryumov
Much of what happened throughout his life cannot be blamed on Ishmael. He was caught in a process much bigger than himself. However, his own actions showed that he had chosen to become part of the problem and not part of the solution. He chose to live under his circumstances rather than above them.

Strengths and accomplishments:
  • One of the first to experience the physical sign of God's covenant, circumcision 
  •  Known for his ability as an archer and hunter 
  •  Fathered 12 sons who became leaders of warrior tribes
Weaknesses and mistakes:
  • Failed to recognize the place of his half brother, Isaac, and mocked him
Lessons from his life:
  • God's plans incorporate people's mistakes
Vital statistics:
  • Where: Canaan and Egypt
  • Occupation: Hunter, archer, warrior
  • Relatives: Parents - Hagar and Abraham. Half brother - Isaac.
Key verses:
"God heard the boy crying, and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, 'What is the matter, Hagar? Do not be afraid; God has heard the boy crying as he lies there. Lift the boy up and take him by the hand, for I will make him into a great nation'" (Genesis 21:17, 18).

Ishmael's story is told in Genesis 16-17; 25:12-18; 28:8, 9; 36:1-3. He is also mentioned in 1 Chronicles 1:28-31; Romans 9:7-9; Galatians 4:21-31.
All quotes from Life Application Study Bible. This series first ran in 2004 and 2005. I'm refreshing it as I go. For links to the whole study, go to the Genesis Index. For more about the resources used, go here.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Well Said: The danger ...

The danger is not lest the soul should doubt whether there is bread, but lest, by a lie, it should persuade itself it is not hungry.
Simone Weil

Worth a Thousand Words: Roosters

Ito Jakuchu, Roosters

Julie comes up with a foolproof heist plan. Scott tells her to rewatch Hell or High Water. ...

... They were about to try it anyway, but called it off once they realized Jeff Bridges would be coming after them.

Toby Howard: You know, you talk like we ain't gonna get away with this. 
Tanner Howard: I never met nobody get away with anything... ever, you?

We discuss Hell or High Water (2016) in Episode 153 of A Good Story is Hard to Find podcast.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Well Said: No Time for Being

When I am constantly running there is no time for being. I will never understand the silent dying of the green pie-apple tree if I do not slow down and listen to what the Spirit is telling me, telling me of the death of trees, the death of planets, of people, and what all these deaths mean in the light of love of the Creator, who brought them all into being, who brought me into being, and you.

This questioning of the meaning of being, and dying and being, is behind the telling of stories around tribal fires at night; behind the drawing of animals on the walls of caves; the singing of melodies of love in spring, and of the death of green in autumn. It is part of the deepest longing of the human psyche, a recurrent ache in the hearts of all God’s creatures.

So when the two messages, Listen to the silence. Stay open to the voice of the Spirit, and Slow me down, Lord, came, I was forced to listen, and even to smile …
Madeleine L'Engle, Walking on Water
You could hardly ask for a better reason to embrace Lent could you? Lord, slow me down, help me listen.

Worth a Thousand Words: In The Blossoming Bower

Marie Egner (1850–1940), In The Blossoming Bower

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Green Soup for Meatless Fridays

Making Lent taste wonderful - Madhur Jaffrey's Indian cream of pea soup. Get it at Meanwhile, Back in the Kitchen.

Worth a Thousand Words: Golden moment by the Teno mountains

Golden moment by the Teno mountains
taken by the incomparable Remo Savisaar

Lent and Me - This Year

I've been busy posting lists of books, movies, and suchlike. But I haven't said much about my own personal plans for Lent.

In the past Lenten sacrifice has changed my habits in real life such as not using the computer on Sundays, not listening to my iPod when others are around and so forth.

Here's where I am this year.


NONFICTION — This year I'm going to read Meditations on Vatican Art. I'm not sure where I first heard of this but the previews on Amazon look wonderful. I love reflecting on art and adding scripture to the mix seems perfect for Lent.

FICTION — I wasn't planning this but kind of fell into reading The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien. Again I'm struck by the depths this seemingly simple story has in it and how inspirational I find it. I am, after all, pretty much a hobbit.


I like to say I have three prayer times in the day.

When I'm feeding the dogs in the morning and taking them for a walk, I do intercessory prayer and turn my day over to God.

In the evening before bed I do a self examen of my day. I've been getting better about really doing it instead of giving it a lick and a promise.

I like to SAY that after work in the afternoon, I make a cup of coffee and go outside for 20 minutes of contemplative, imaginative prayer. (The dogs love coffee time when we're all out there together.)

I like to say that. And in the past I've done it. But for several months it has been more saying than doing. It is sad how often I have other distractions I indulge than spending just 20 minutes with God. This isn't the first time I've had this problem but I will tackle it once again.

During Lent I promise not to miss a 20-minute date with my coffee, dogs, and Bible.


This is the traditional name for "giving up something for Lent." I've done it with food, I've done it with technology, I've done it with bad habits. (Remember that 40 days when I made it everywhere on time? Hurrah for Lent!)

Once again, I am fighting distraction. It is one of the ills of our time. And I'm no different than anyone else.

In February, before Lent, I really cut back on visiting three social media spots which just suck the time right out of me. GoodReads, Letterboxd, and Facebook. That helped a lot.

For Lent proper I'm giving myself the gift of silence. By not listening to my iPod. For most people that would mean no music. For me that means no podcasts or audio books. Aaaaaaargh! Horrible, horrible silence.

Won't someone stop me? Tell me it's too radical? Save me?

Huh. Guess not. So onward I go into the desert.


This is the one we always dither about and try to get creative with. This year it's gonna be straight forward - we're going to double what we usually give to the church each week. Done and done.