Thursday, August 31, 2017

Hurricane Harvey and H-E-B

When we left for Florida last week, Hurricane Harvey was threatening landfall in Corpus Christi, where my husband has relatives. Of course, like everyone at the time we were relieved to hear it was going to miss Corpus ... and then horrified at the havoc wrought upon Houston by the never ending rainfall. We were relieved to find that my husband's Houston-based relatives were not in danger but the flooding in such familiar areas is really surreal to people who know it well.

While we donate and help however we can (my charitable avenue is Catholic Charities), let's not forget the power of prayer. God will help in ways we cannot foresee.
May God, the Lord of mercy and compassion, protect all who are still in danger, and bring to safety those who are missing.

May He care in a special way for those who were already homeless, or without support and resources, before this disaster.

We pray in thanksgiving for the first responders who are risking their lives to save others at this very moment.

We include in our intentions the everyday heroes reaching out to help their neighbors in need, those who, like the Good Samaritan, cannot walk by a person in need without offering their hand in aid.

Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston
Speaking of tangible aid, I found this video heartwarming. H-E-B is a Texas grocery store chain which is much beloved throughout the state. Certainly, I love their Central Market which is near my house. So I was happy to see how much a part of the community they are.

Ben-Hur and Me: 1957, 2016, and 1880

One thing I have discovered is that once I've seen one chariot race, I've seen them all. Luckily, there is much more to Ben-Hur than the famous chariot race.

1959 film
This is the one everyone has seen at least once. I've seen it numerous times and so have passed from wowed to blasé to appreciative over the years. Most recently I viewed it for a 2015 discussion at A Good Story is Hard to Find podcast with Scott Danielson. That was the viewing where I was suddenly much more appreciative than I've been before. Yes, it's 3-1/2 hours and Charlton Heston can be pretty stiff sometimes, but this is the one you want to watch.

Then I watched the 2016 version with Rose recently. She'd only seen this version once so I simultaneously summarized the differences between the two films while we were watching. (Just for the record, this was at her specific request.) It made me appreciate this version even more and pat myself on the back for how well I recalled the plot.

2016 movie
By itself, without knowing the story in any other way, this 2016 version of Ben-Hur is fairly forgettable. To be fair, this director is known for great action (I loved Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter — as did Roger Ebert, so don't judge me!) and not for drawing great performances from actors. (I've never seen Morgan Freeman so wooden and stilted.) And a director is hampered if the script isn't good to begin with. So Timur Bekmambetov had a lot against him from the beginning on this project.

However, viewed as a companion piece to the classic 1959 movie, this movie lends itself to interesting reflections on the nature of mercy, forgiveness, redemption, etc. Make no mistake, it does reflect modern cultural views in many ways. For example, one must ignore some of the namby pamby New-Agey Jesus statements made early on in the movie. And Messala's angsty attempts of "can't we just all get along?" are completely out of place. But it is worth seeing once for the gorgeous visuals and the way the story treats Ben-Hur and Messala's relationship.

Be warned. Worst sea battle ever. You can't tell what's going on. And Bekmambetov loves shooting night scenes in the actual dark. So at one point we thought we were watching Ben-Hur sneaking around in a garden at night to meet his wife. Turns out it was Judas getting ready to betray Jesus. Talk about confused!

1880 book
After watching one movie while simultaneously summarizing the other, I decided to reread the book because my memory of it is muddled by the various film versions. I'm enjoying it so far and surprised by some of the book facts that the movies changed. Actually, make that a lot of things that both movies changed. 1959 changed a lot of Ben-Hur's motivations and internal thoughts. And then 2016 changed the rest.

I read this story many years ago, long before I was Christian. Certainly it long before I picked up the fact that the author was a Civil War General ... which somehow just makes the book that much more interesting. I also recently was in a conversation in which I learned that Ben-Hur was the Harry Potter of its day. Since people couldn't afford to travel, this was a great way to combine exotic travelogue and an inspiring tale.

I most recently read it in 2015 when we discussed it on A Good Story is Hard to Find and don't remember it much at all. Which says something about how little this hit me at that time. Now, with both movies specifically in mind, I find myself liking it much more.

Well Said: Being one of the five thousand

How naturally a common meal serves for a symbol of fraternity; how easily a scratch party of guests get on together if you take them out for a picnic in the open air! Just imagine what it must have meant, later on, if one of those five thousand met, by accident, one of the others; what fellowship must have been imposed on them by their common store of reminiscences! "Yes, don't you remember, I was sitting about seven or eight off you, and Peter — or John, or James, or Judas — came round with the crust which looked as if it could never satisfy more than two; we both seemed to be in starvation corner, didn't we? And then when he got to the end of the row the crust was still there."
G. Chevrot, The Well of Life
via In Conversation with God, vol. 4
You know, it never occurred to me to think about any of the people for whom Jesus multiplied the loaves and fishes, at least from the point of view of their lives later on. There were so many of them, in one case 5,000 and in another 4,000, and Israel was a small country. Maybe a lot of them were related. Of course, they would have bumped into each other later on.

Worth a Thousand Words: Garden at Sainte-Adresse

Garden at Sainte-Adresse ("Jardin à Sainte-Adresse"), 1867, Claude Monet

Monday, August 28, 2017

Feast Day for St. Augustine

People look upon [the Church] and say, "She is about to die. Soon her very name will disappear. there will be no more Christians; they have had their day." while they are thus speaking, I see these very people die themselves, day by day, but the Church lives on.


Do you know how we should read Holy Scripture? As when a person reads letters that have come from his native country, to see what news we have of heaven.


The turbulent have to be corrected, the faint-hearted cheered up, the weak supported; the Gospel's opponents need to be refuted, its insidious enemies guarded against; the unlearned need to be taught, the indolent stirred up, the argumentative checked; the proud must be put in their place, the desperate set on their feet, those engaged in quarrels reconciled; the needy have to be helped, the oppressed to be liberated, the good to be encouraged, the bad to be tolerated; all must be loved. (St. Augustine, describing his daily life)
Just a few tidbits of wisdom from my first saint friend and a great Doctor of the Church, St. Augustine. His writing has informed a lot of my practical daily Catholic life.

At times his writing has soared way above my head (he was brilliant, after all) and I have by no means read even a fraction of it (City of God ... someday perhaps). But even the tidbits, the crumbs, that fall at my feet are gratefully received and have made a huge difference in my life.

Thank you St. Augustine! Pray for us!

(Read about this great saint's life at Catholic Culture.)

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Feast of St. Monica, Housewife and Mother

St. Monica's feast day falls on Sunday this year so let's just recognize her the day before instead. Because, as she'd be the first to remind us, no one trumps Jesus and Sunday belongs to him.

Painting of Augustine of Hippo and his mother Monica of Hippo,
Ary Scheffer, 1846, via Wikipedia
Widow; born of Christian parents at Tagaste, North Africa, in 333; died at Ostia, near Rome, in 387.

She was married early in life to Patritius who, a pagan, though like so many at that period, his religion was no more than a name. His temper was violent and he appears to have been of dissolute habits. Consequently Monica’s married life was far from being a happy one, more especially as Patritius’s mother seems to have been of a like disposition with himself. Monica’s almsgiving and her habits of prayer annoyed her husband, but it is said that he always held her in a sort of reverence and he converted to Christianity before he died.

Monica was not the only matron of Tagaste whose married life was unhappy, but, by her sweetness and patience, she was able to exercise a veritable apostolate amongst the wives and mothers of her native town; they knew that she suffered as they did, and her words and example had a proportionate effect.

Monica had three children but all her anxiety centred in her oldest son. He was wayward and, as he himself tells us, lazy. As he grew up, he kept seeking the truth but getting interested in heresies. It was at this time that she went to see a certain holy bishop, whose name is not given, but who consoled her with the now famous words, “the child of those tears shall never perish.”

There is no more pathetic story in the annals of the Saints than that of Monica pursuing her wayward son to Rome, wither he had gone by stealth; when she arrived he had already gone to Milan, but she followed him. Here she found St. Ambrose and through him she ultimately had the joy of seeing her yield, after seventeen years of resistance.

Mother and son had six months of true peace together after his baptism. Then Monica died and her son went on to become St. Augustine, one of the one of the most important figures in the development of Western Christianity

  • difficult marriages
  • disappointing children
  • victims of adultery or unfaithfulness
  • victims of (verbal) abuse
  • conversion of relatives
I helped out with our parish's RCIA classes for a couple of years and would give a talk about St. Monica which included the above basics as well as my personal experience with her and St. Augustine. It made me realize that, without thinking about it, I'd grown very fond of St. Monica.

Burial of Saint Monica and Saint Augustine
Departing from Africa Master of Osservanza
via Wikipedia

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Gone Fishing

John Singer Sargent, Two Girls Fishing, detail, 1912
via Arts Everyday Living
Again, I'm headed out of town, this time to a place where I actually could fish (if I wished, which I don't). To Florida to visit my dear mother!

We won't be dressed like this. Or, as you know, fishing.

But we will be enjoying each other's company, as well as that of Rose who's also going on this outing. We'll be cooking and watching movies, talking about books, and having all sorts of fun.

There are a couple of feast days when I'll have posts for reflection. Enjoy!

I'll be back in a week or so!

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Worth a Thousand Words: Cornflower, National flower of Estonia

Cornflower, National Flower of Estonia, taken by Remo Savisaar

Mary, Queen of Heaven

Coronation of Virgin, Giacomo di Mino, 1340-1350
From the earliest ages of the Catholic Church a Christian people, whether in time of triumph or more especially in time of crisis, has addressed prayers of petition and hymns of praise and veneration to the Queen of Heaven. And never has that hope wavered which they placed in the Mother of the Divine King, Jesus Christ; nor has that faith ever failed by which we are taught that Mary, the Virgin Mother of God, reigns with a mother's solicitude over the entire world, just as she is crowned in heavenly blessedness with the glory of a Queen.

His Holiness Pope Pius XII
Encyclical on Proclaiming the Queenship of Mary
Promulgated October 11, 1954
I remember the thing that made this feast day come into focus for me was learning about King Solomon's Queen Mother who brought cases before him for special attention. I tell you, typology really helps you get a mental grip on things.

Well Said: On Ray Bradbury's Birthday

"They began by controlling books of cartoons and then detective books and, of course, films, one way or another, one group or another, political bias, religious prejudice, union pressures; there was always a minority afraid of something, and a great majority afraid of the dark, afraid of the future, afraid of the past, afraid of the present, afraid of themselves and shadows of themselves."
Ray Bradbury, "Usher II" (1950)
Ray Bradbury shares a birthday with Hannah ... which I tend to forget. They both share the qualities of being smart as whips, logical, and never fearing to speak the truth. Hannah doesn't have nearly as many best sellers, but there's time.

Julie and Scott don't like it when ...

... people come up to them after a podcast and say, "I really dug your message, man." They like it when people come up to them the next day, or a week later, and say, "I listened to your podcast, man. What happened?"

Episode 165, Tootsie (1982) starring Dustin Hoffman, is the subject of A Good Story is Hard to Find podcast.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Worth a Thousand Words: Red Squirrel

Red Squirrel (1528), Hans Hoffmann

Well Said: Scientists and theologians

For the scientist who has lived by his faith in the power of reason, the story ends like a bad dream. He has scaled the mountains of ignorance; he is about to conquer the highest peak; as he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a bunch of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries.
Robert Jastrow, NASA scientist and Columbia University physicist

A Saint for Today: St. Pius X

I never paid much attention to St. Pius X before but once you read about him it becomes blindingly obvious that he is a saint we should be asking for intercession in these modern times.

Pope Pius X working in the Vatican Gardens, 1913
He exercised holy intransigence in keeping the faith pure from doctrinal error. He reformed the Sacred Liturgy and promoted the custom of the frequent reception of Holy Communion. The motto of his Pontificate was Instaurare omnia in Christo [To restore all things in Christ]. He died on August 20, 1914. ...

St. Pius X made the motto of his Pontificate a reality -- to restore all things in Christ -- through his deep concern to stem the tide of the many evils that threatened the faithful. He frequently insisted on the damage ignorance of the Faith produces. He used to say: It is useless to expect a person without formation to fulfill his Christian duties. Time and again he pointed out the need to teach the catechism. From his uneasiness concerning the lack of Christian formation there was produced the Catechism of St. Pius X, which has done so much good in the church. His vehement desire to give doctrine in a world starving for the want of it, is reflected throughout his entire magisterium. ...

Many of the errors St. Pius X fought against are uncritically accepted in our own day. In countries evangelized almost twenty centuries ago great numbers of people are ignorant of the most elementary truths of the Faith. Many are defenseless and with the complicity of their own passions allow themselves to be taken by the erroneous opinions of a few. The call of St. Pius X to conserve and spread good doctrine is still a fully current and vital issue.

In whatever way possible, it is especially urgent to make known the teachings of the Church on the meaning of life, on the end of man and his eternal destiny, on marriage, on generosity in the number of children, on the right and duty of parents to choose the education their children receive, on the social doctrine of the Church, on love for the Pope and his teachings and on the evil of abortion. We should do all we can -- family catechism, the diffusion of good books, daily conversations concerning faith and morals ... Moreover, may we never forget at Pope John Paul II reminds us, that faith is strengthened by sharing it.
Also, I've gotta love a defender of the faith who can make quips.
The Pope was renowned for performing miracles. One day his former parishioners went to the Vatican to pay him a visit. Whth thier customary simplicity and confidence, devoid of tact, they asked him: Father Beppo (as they used to call him when he was a parish priest), is it true you can work miracles? And the Pope with simplicity and good humor responded: Look, here in the Vatican, you have to turn your hand to a bit of everything. ...

Friday, August 18, 2017

What We've Been Watching: Horror, India, Action, Satire, and James Bond

European mercenaries searching for black powder become embroiled in the defense of the Great Wall of China against a horde of monstrous creatures.

To our great surprise, we found this a solid action movie with a classic, if simply put, message of trust and giving of yourself for others. The action pieces were inventive and the whole thing was gorgeous, as one would expect from this director. Sure it was no Hero but it was also not nearly as disappointing as Rogue One.

Bud Baxter is a minor clerk in a huge New York insurance company, until he discovers a quick way to climb the corporate ladder. He lends out his apartment to the executives as a place to take their mistresses. Although he often has to deal with the aftermath of their visits, one night he’s left with a major problem to solve.

A Billy Wilder classic that I watched because Rose said it was a comedy. Actually, satire is a better description. Not as funny as Some Like It Hot and not as dark as Double Indemnity, this film falls in the middle tone-wise as Billy Wilder gives us his take on infidelity and the cost to everyone involved. I loved the performances and the clever contrasting and parallel situations and characters which all helped to make the point. And Jack Lemmon - of course, fantastic as always.

Guess Who's Coming to Dinner for modern times, with a horror twist. When a young woman brings her boyfriend home to meet her parents, a series of increasingly disturbing discoveries lead to a truth that the boyfriend never could have imagined.

A well acted tale that shows talent which makes me eagerly look forward to director/writer Jordan Peele's future movies. This much lauded movie does what a lot of good horror does, draws our attention to social conditions by exaggeration to make us think about the horror underneath.

Where Peele does something new is in the group of people he skewers before the outright horror begins. Taking well-meaning, liberal white people to task for the shallowness of their racial equality is a place that no one's gone before, because it is unfashionable to point out such things.

It really felt like a 70's horror movie in a lot of ways, and I mean that in the best possible way.

A five-year-old Indian boy gets lost on the streets of Calcutta, thousands of kilometers from home. He survives many challenges before being adopted by a couple in Australia; 25 years later, he sets out to find his lost family.

It is hard to believe this was made by a first-time director, except when I recall several other advertising directors who've wowed the film world.

This is a really skillfully told story that, as others have pointed out, is really two movies in one. The first is that of little Saroo who is lost 1,000 miles from home and lives as a street urchin in Calcutta which is a sort of modern-day Victorian nightmare. The second is of the adult Saroo, who after adoption forgot his childhood memories and had a happy life in Tasmania. Until a sense memory brings it all flooding back and sends him on a journey to see if he can locate his lost family.

I was lukewarm on the story until I had to watch it for a group discussion. The whole thing blew me away. Really, really well told story that feels genuine.

We continue watching the James Bond movies in order. It's the rare weekend when we aren't spying with 007 so we've gotten as far as Moonraker, which was much better than we thought it would be.

This has been an interesting project and I can finally say I've seen George Lazenby's turn as Bond, which I enjoyed immensely. I had no idea they were rebooting the franchise as early as that. It makes me eager to see how the Timothy Dalton movies hit me. But we're still at least a couple of movies away from that.

Worth a Thousand Words: Vase of Gladioli

Gustave Caillebotte, Vase of Gladioli, 1887
via Arts Everyday Living

Well Said: Being, having, and doing

Being is much more significant and essential than having or doing. And the greatest temptation we face is to prefer having and doing more than being.
St. John Paul II

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Well Said: Even ordinary books are dangerous

Elsewhere, someone might have said, "It's just books! Books aren't dangerous! But even ordinary books are dangerous, and not only the ones like Make Gelignite the Professional Way. A man sits in some museum somewhere and writes a harmless books about political economy and suddenly thousands of people who haven't even read it are dying because the ones who did haven't got the joke. Knowledge is dangerous, which is why governments often clamp down on people who can think thoughts above a certain caliber.
Terry Pratchett, The Last Continent

Worth a Thousand Words: Garden at Vaucresson

Garden at Vaucresson, 1923, Édouard Vuillard

Genesis Notes: Jacob's Resume

What this overview allows us to see is how clearly Jacob's life changed every time he encountered God. Just like Jacob, our lives too change every time we encounter God. And just like Jacob, perhaps, it is hard for us to see it until we're looking back over our lives.

Jacob and the Angel, Gustave Moreau
Jacob's life had four stages, each marked by a personal encounter with God. In the first stage, Jacob lived up to his name, which means "he grasps the heel" (figuratively "he deceives")... In the second stage, Jacob experienced life from the other side, being manipulated and deceived by Laban. But there is a curious change: the Jacob of stage one would simply have left Laban, whereas the Jacob of stage two, after deciding to leave, waited six years for God's permission. In the third stage, Jacob was in a new role as grabber. This time, by the Jordan River, he grabbed on to God and wouldn't let go... Jacob's last stage of life was to be grabbed -- God achieved a firm hold on him. In responding to Joseph's invitation to come to Egypt, Jacob was clearly unwilling to make a move without God's approval.

Strengths and accomplishments:
  • Father of the twelve tribes of Israel
  • Third in the Abrahamic line of God's plan
  • Determined, willing to work long and hard for what he wanted
  • Good businessman
Weaknesses and mistakes:
  • When faced with conflict, relied on his own resources rather than going to God for help
  • Tended to accumulate wealth for its own sake
Lessons from his life:
  • Security does not lie in the accumulation of goods
  • All human intentions and actions -- for good or evil -- are woven by God into his ongoing plan
Vital statistics:
  • Where: Canaan
  • Occupation: Shepherd, livestock owner
  • Relatives: Parents - Isaac and Rebekah. Brother - Esau. Father-in-law - Laban. Wives: Rachel and Leah. Twelve sons and one daughter are mentioned in the Bible.
Key verse:
"I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you" (Genesis 28:15).

Jacob's story is told in Genesis 25-50. He also is mentioned in Hosea 12:2-5; Matthew 1:2; 22:32; Acts 3:13; 7:46; Romans 9:11-13; 11:26; Hebrews 11:9, 20, 21.
All material quoted is from the 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.

Blogging Around: Right Wing Asshole, the Miracle and the Jihadist, and Charlottesville

Ask Andrew W.K.: My Dad Is a Right-Wing Asshole
You’ve reduced your father — the person who created you — to a set of beliefs and political views and how it relates to you. ...

The world isn’t being destroyed by democrats or republicans, red or blue, liberal or conservative, religious or atheist — the world is being destroyed by one side believing the other side is destroying the world. The world is being hurt and damaged by one group of people believing they’re truly better people than the others who think differently. The world officially ends when we let our beliefs conquer love. We must not let this happen.
Ask Andrew W.K., The Village Voice
Truer words were never spoken. Go read the letter and Andrew W.K.'s whole response. Via Tony Rossi.

The Miracle That Saved a Priest From a Jihadist’s Knife
I don’t know what I prayed at that moment. I was very afraid, and I told Marie Alphonsine, “It can’t be by chance that I’m carrying you with me. If it is necessary that the Lord take me while I’m young, I’m ready, but if not, I ask you that no one else die.”
And what happened next was a miracle. Get the whole story at Aletia.

Charlottesville — Two Articles, One Answer

Former neo-Nazi Joseph Pearce (yes, that Joseph Pearce, now a well known Catholic author) examines Charlottesville Through the Eyes of an Ex-White Supremacist
I recall three separate occasions when I confronted an enemy with hatred and enmity and received in return love and friendship. In each case, the receiving of love when I was expecting hatred sowed seeds of healing in my hate-battered heart. ...

This is the challenge we face in the wake of the horrors of Charlottesville. It is to love our enemies. We should not demonize the white supremacist or the abortionist, but should love them into submission. We should not prey on them but should pray for them, hoping that, in the future, by the grace of God, we can pray with them.
Matthew Archbold looks at a moment of grace in The Suprising Thing That Happened in Charlottesville. Mark Heyer, father of the young woman who was killed, shows Christ-like love.
He spoke of forgiveness. “I include myself in that in forgiving the guy who did this,” he said. “I just think about what the Lord said on the cross, ‘Forgive them. They don’t know what they’re doing.’ … I hope that her life and what has transpired changes people’s hearts.”

Words like that are the only things that can.

Mark Heyer called the young man who killed his daughter “stupid.” And that's the thing. Hate is stupid. It makes you that way. There's a reason they call it “blind hatred.”

"Everyone wants the key to finding God, but there is no lock"

If you’re looking for a retreat that will bring you closer to Jesus, Julie Davis will be happy to be your retreat guide. You won’t even have to leave your house – and neither will she. She conducts this retreat of sorts in her book “Seeking Jesus in Everyday Life.”
Tony Rossi sums up the two-part Christopher Closeup radio interview we had in a really nice written interview at Aletia. Read the interview here and find links to the podcasts of the interview at the bottom of the piece.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

What I've Been Reading: Adventure, Noir, and Investigative Reporting

TREASURE ISLAND by Robert Louis Stevenson
After outsmarting a band of buccaneers, young Jim Hawkins crosses the Atlantic in search of buried treasure. Jim and the ship’s crew must brave the elements and outwit the ruthless pirate Long John Silver.

I listened to Alfred Molina's superb narration of this classic adventure story. I remembered only the beginning and that only sketchily. As the story progressed I was caught up in it and couldn't wait to get back to listening. It is truly the ultimate adventure story, expertly told.

Right up to the end I was continually being surprised by plot twists. No wonder this story is still beloved by so many.

THE TRUTH by Terry Pratchett
William de Worde is quite surprised when his printed page full of "things written down" is suddenly incredibly popular. As he publishes Ankh Morpork's first newspaper, learning as he goes, William becomes involved in solving a murder. And, thus, he also becomes Discworld's first investigative reporter.

As I continue working  my way through the Discworld novels in order I wasn't thrilled when I got to this one because it's a stand alone novel. I am much more attached to the books which are part of the several series within the Discworld books.

However, Pratchett was clearly on a roll and this book does have enough of the Watch and other regulars from Ankh Morpork that it was both enjoyable and good. Watching everyone adjust to the idea of having the media report on their actions was worth the price of admission, especially since a lot of that adjustment came from the person who inadvertently invented the newspaper in this book. Fun and worth reading.

It was a simple enough case, but don't they always start out that way? When a pair of His and Hers private detectives get involved, the sparks start to fly and the blood begins to spill in earnest. With every shot that's fired, the hole digs a little deeper, and the list of people our sparring shamuses can trust gets shorter and shorter.

Fans of Decoder Ring Theatre's long-running full-cast audio series Black Jack Justice will delight in the very first meeting between Jack Justice and Trixie Dixon, girl detective. 

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this hard boiled detective story when it came out in print. As a longtime fan of Decoder Ring Theater's Black Jack Justice series, I could hear the voices of the main actors as I read. It was lively, humorous, and had all the banter one expects from a Chandler-esque novel.

Now they've done it one better and brought the book out in audio format. So you can actually hear the voices of the actors as they read the book. Perfect!

IVANHOE by Sir Walter Scott
Set in the familiar time of Robin Hood, evil Prince John, and good King Richard, this adventure tale has it all. It is not precisely about those three characters but they are major players. I read this for my book club (the adult equivalent of a high school reading assignment when it is for a book you've managed to avoid for years).

Consequently I listened to B.J. Harrison's excellent narration to help me get into the book. And it worked. I initially enjoyed it it on the level of adventure novel, a la Treasure Island.

I was surprised at the inventive plot twists, the laugh-out-loud humor, and most of all at Rebecca. Here is someone who is female, from a despised group, and who is only valued by most for her beauty. Yet, she is articulate, quick witted, and will not allow herself to be used as a pawn or allow others to get away with facile explanations for their own evil actions. What a role model!

Overall, Ivanhoe was a reminder not to avoid a classic just because the first chapter seems a little difficult or because one thinks the plot is hackneyed. Highly recommended.

Worth a Thousand Words: The Valkyrie

The Valkyrie via Brandywine Books

Well Said: Using Time

Those who make the worst use of their time are the first to complain of its brevity.
Jean de la Bruyere

Solemnity of the Assumption of Mary (with some modern science commentary)

Adam and Eve with the Virgin Mary (detail), Correggio, Assumption of the Virgin
via Khan Academy
On November 1, 1950, Pius XII defined the dogma of the Assumption. Thus he solemnly proclaimed that the belief whereby the Blessed Virgin Mary, at the close of her earthly life, was taken up, body and soul, into the glory of heaven, definitively forms part of the deposit of faith, received from the Apostles. To avoid all that is uncertain the Pope did not state either the manner or the circumstances of time and place in which the Assumption took place — only the fact of the Assumption of Mary, body and soul, into the glory of heaven, is the matter of the definition.
Catholic Culture, where there is a lot more info
Each year on the Assumption of Mary I like to revisit this from The Anchoress. Because it blows my mind. And the Assumption is a good time for mind-blowing. This was originally posted this at Patheos where the original post link no longer works, sez:
When studying Anatomy and Physiology in college, the lesson that briefly discussed fetomaternal microchimerism, became instructive to me on a different level. Learning that every child leaves within his mother a microscopic bit of himself — and that it remains within her forever — the dogma of the Immaculate Conception instantly became both crystal clear and brilliant to me.

Mary, then, was indeed a tabernacle within which the Divinity did reside — not for a limited time, but for all of her life. Understanding this (and considering how the churches seemed to get it ‘way before microscopes told us anything) the Immaculate Conception made and makes perfect sense: God, who is All-Good is also completely Pure; the vessel in which He resides, then, must be pure, too, or it would not be able to sustain all of that “light in which we see light itself.”

Microchimerism also relates to the dogma of the Assumption of Mary, as well. In the psalms we read “you will not suffer your beloved to undergo corruption.” Christ’s divine body did not undergo corruption. It follows that his mother’s body, which contained a cellular component of the Divinity — and a particle of God is God, entire — would not be allowed to become corrupt, either.
I believed it anyway, but that made sense on several levels. Incredible.

Assumption of the Virgin, Correggio
where the above detail is included
Click through to the link to look at it enlarged.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Worth a Thousand Words: The Hammock

The Hammock, Joseph Rodefer DeCamp, 1895

Well Said: Not knowing how the world works.

Barry would have been all right if he hadn't become a physicist. But all that nonsense about mass and energy got him believing he really knew how the world worked. And he didn't. He never did. And that's what got him killed.
Jack McDevitt, The Devil's Eye

Memorial of St. Maximilian Mary Kolbe, priest and martyr

I could only thank him with my eyes. I was stunned and could hardly grasp what was going on. The immensity of it: I, the condemned, am to live and someone else willingly and voluntarily offers his life for me - a stranger. Is this some dream?

I was put back into my place without having had time to say anything to Maximilian Kolbe. I was saved. And I owe to him the fact that I could tell you all this. The news quickly spread all round the camp. It was the first and the last time that such an incident happened in the whole history of Auschwitz.

For a long time I felt remorse when I thought of Maximilian. By allowing myself to be saved, I had signed his death warrant. But now, on reflection, I understood that a man like him could not have done otherwise. Perhaps he thought that as a priest his place was beside the condemned men to help them keep hope. In fact he was with them to the last.
Testimony of Franciszek Gajowniczek,
for whom Maximilian Kolbe offered himself at Auschwitz
I have long admired Maximilian Kolbe for a lot of reasons. The most famous story about him is that of his martyrdom, when he stepped forward to offer himself in place of a married man with children.

Before World War II, Kolbe traveled to Asia and throughout Europe teaching and preaching the Gospel. He used the latest technology with the most modern printing and radio techniques. He planned to begin a motion picture studio. And then he was imprisoned in 1941 by the Nazis. He was known for walking among the bunks at night, quietly saying, "I am a Catholic priest. Can I do anything for you?"

When a prisoner escaped, Franciszek Gajowniczek was one of the ten men chosen for death in retaliation. He sobbed, "My poor wife! My poor children! What will they do?

Maximilian Kolbe stepped forward before the commandant and said, "I am a Catholic priest. Let me take his place. I am old. He has a wife and children."

It took the prisoners over two weeks to die, imprisoned with no food or water, but the sounds of hymns and prayers came from the room until only Father Kolbe was left. The room was needed for more prisoners so he was killed by injection and his body was burned in the crematorium. I often think of what a blessing his presence was and what a difference he made in helping those men in their ordeal.

Maximilian Kolbe was canonized in 1982 by Pope John Paul II and declared a martyr of charity. He is the patron against drug addiction and for drug addicts, families, prisoners, journalists, and the pro-life movement. He was declared "The Patron Saint of Our Difficult Century" by Saint Pope John Paul II.

I think of the problems we face in our culture, the technology we have available to use in spreading the good news, the choices we sometimes are faced with ... and Maximilian Kolbe is modern enough to be a shining example of how to show God's love and truth.

Truly Saint Maximilian Kolbe is a saint for our time.

More indepth reading:

The Maltese Falcon and the God Shaped Hole - on SFFaudio

Jesse, Paul, Maissa, and I go to surprising places in our conversation about the classic hard boiled detective story, The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett. Catch it at SFFaudio!

Friday, August 11, 2017

Well Said: Getting Older

You can’t help getting older, but you don’t have to get old.”
George Burns
This makes me think of Raymond and Thelma, my grandparents. No matter how much older they got, they were never old. They are my role models in many ways and this is one of them.

Worth a Thousand Words: Evening at the Coast

Evening at the Coast, taken by Remo Savisaar
This makes me long to be in Galveston.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Worth a Thousand Words: Mufti Reading in his Prayer Stool

Jean-Léon GERÔME, Mufti Reading in his Prayer Stool
via French Painters

Well Said: Conversion and the Looking Glass

Conversion is like stepping across the chimney piece out of a Looking Glass world, where everything is an absurd caricature, into the real world God made; and then begins the delicious process of exploring it limitlessly.
Evelyn Waugh
I really can't add anything to the perfection of that observation. It does explain the depths I suddenly began seeing in the everyday world.

Glen Campbell, rest in peace

It's funny. My mom loved Glen Campbell so, as a kid, I thought of him as pop music. (Also based on the radio stations he was often played on. I'd never heard of "crossover" music.) And my family was very snobby about country music so I never associated him with that.

Then I married a country music lover (to be honest, he loves practically every sort of music) and just listening to that wild variety began a broader education. Imagine my surprise when he highly praised Glen Campbell and talked about what he did for country music. I had to listen with new ears ... and heard a master.

Recognizing a lot of the famous faces around him in that clip made me realize that I knew a lot more about country music of that time period than I realized. Seeing their admiration warmed my heart.

Glen Campbell was brought vividly to mind when one of my favorite BBC radio shows, Soul Music, did an episode on one of Campbell's iconic songs, Wichita Lineman. You can listen here.

Many thanks to Marc whose email brought all this to mind and inspired this post.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Worth a Thousand Words: Gorgeous Stained Glass

Domestic window by Dirck Crabeth for the house of Adriaen Dircxz. van Crimpen, of Leiden. (1543)
via Wikipedia
Van Crimpen was a member of the government. The scenes show seven scenes from the First Book of Samuel in the Old Testament and five scenes from the Acts of the Apostles. Though the house is still standing, the stained glass is now in the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris.

Well Said: A longing for romance and wonder

What did I want?

I wanted a Roc's egg. I wanted a harem loaded with lovely odalisques less than the dust beneath my chariot wheels, the rust that never stained my sword. I wanted raw red gold in nuggets the size of your fist and feed that lousy claim jumper to the huskies! I wanted to get up feeling brisk and go out and break some lances, Then pick a likely wench for my droit du seigneur—I wanted to stand up to the Baron and dare him to touch my wench! I wanted to hear the purple water chuckling against the skin of the Nancy Lee in the cool of the morning watch and not another sound, nor any movement save the slow tilling of the wings of the albatross that had been pacing us the last thousand miles.

I wanted the hurtling moons of Barsoom. I wanted Storisende and Poictesme, and Holmes shaking me awake to tell me, "The game's afoot!" I wanted to float down the Mississippi on a raft and elude a mob in company with the Duke of Bilgewater and the Lost Dauphin.

I wanted Prester John, and Excalibur held by a moon-white arm out of a silent lake. I wanted to sail with Ulysses and with Tros of Samothrace and eat the lotus in a land that seemed always afternoon. I wanted the feeling of romance and the sense of wonder I had known as a kid. I wanted the world to be what they had promised me it was going to be—instead of the tawdry, lousy, fouled-up mess it is.
Robert Heinlein, Glory Road
What he wanted was the Catholic Church, as G.K. Chesterton could've told him. It's got all the romance and sense of wonder (and mystery) you could want.

Genesis Notes: God's Covenant Confirmed

GENESIS 35 & 36
God tells Jacob to move to Bethel, which if we look back at Chapter 34, is where he was supposed to go in the first place! So although it didn't seem like a big deal at the time, if Jacob had just gone to Bethel from the beginning his whole family would have been saved a world of pain. Good reminders for me to go the distance even when it doesn't make sense. I like the way this sums up Jacob's mistake and then shows what he did to get right with God.

I don't know why I'm continually surprised that these Old Testament stories have such good lessons for me right here and right now. You'd think I'd be used to that by now!

Sebastien Bourdon, Jacob Burying Laban's Images
Some of us, given the chance to intervene at this point, might choose to punish Simeon and Levi. Justice must be served, after all. But God's ways are not our ways. They will be punished in good time, but Simeon and Levi are not the root of the trouble. To punish them would be a stopgap measure at best. In the same way, destroying sinful man with the flood was not the final solution to the Fall. God planned not to destroy but to save mankind by grace, however undeserved. Wiping out "the bad guys" would leave sin in control of men's hearts, and it was sin itself that had to be dealt with. In this case, God first zeroed in on Jacob's heart, and called him to get right with Himself.

God told Jacob to return to Bethel, to settle there, and to build an altar to the God who has been so faithful to him. Doing that would do more than remove the family from the scene of the crime, where they could expect further trouble. It would put them where they should have been to begin with, and focus them back on God and on His plan
for them.

It might seem a small thing that Jacob built his altar and settled at Shechem instead of at Bethel. After all, Abraham received the promise of the land at Shechem (Gen. 12:6-7). Jacob did all the right things, just not at the right place. He followed the spirit of the law, we might say in his defense. But God has His reasons for asking particular things, and He requires obedience. Jacob did what God asked but he did it on his own terms. Not going as far as Bethel may be a small thing in and of itself, but it indicates a huge problem inside him: His way, not God's way, took first priority. By returning to Bethel, Jacob will not just obey the letter of God's law, he will humble himself to do things God's way. By settling there he will separate his family from Canaanite influence. And by building an altar and worshiping God he will have the chance to repent, to be purified, and to start again.

In Jacob's response we see that in spite of his mistakes, his heart desire is for God. He acted immediately to move his family to Bethel. In the process he did four important things:
  1. He had everyone get rid of their foreign gods. Before anything else, they had to get rid of anything that kept them from giving themselves totally to God. Jacob's family divided their allegiance between God and the household gods that were part of the culture they came from and settled in. The other gods had to go.
  2. Next Jacob had them purify themselves, and change their clothes. That external act was a sign of what they needed on the inside before they could be reconciled to God.
  3. Now they were ready to go to Bethel, the "house of God." This meant not just doing what had been left undone, it meant putting themselves physically in God's presence in a conscious way. Jacob took them to the place where God appeared to him and gave him the promises, and sought His face there.
  4. Finally, Jacob worshiped God at Bethel. When you worship, you acknowledge who God is and His greatness and your dependence on him. You accept His will. You throw yourself before Him. You pray when you worship, and as the Catechism says, "Prayer restores man to God's likeness (CCC #2572)." In prayer and in worship, Jacob got back on the road to following God and to becoming more like Him.
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.

Not your mother's fairytale: Cinder Allia by Karen Ullo

Cinder Allia has spent eight years living under her stepmother’s brutal thumb, wrongly punished for having caused her mother’s death. She lives for the day when the prince will grant her justice; but her fairy godmother shatters her hope with the news that the prince has died in battle. Allia escapes in search of her own happy ending, but her journey draws her into the turbulent waters of war and politics in a kingdom where the prince’s death has left chaos and division. Cinder Allia turns a traditional fairy tale upside down and weaves it into an epic filled with espionage, treason, magic, and romance.
I really enjoyed Karen Ullo's first novel, Jennifer the Damned, which was a fascinating, unexpected vampire story. So I was interested to see what she'd do putting an "untraditional" spin on a familiar fairy tale (is that a genre yet?).

She begins in full blown "this isn't your mother's fairytale" style with Cinder Allia (Cinderella) learning from her fairy godmother than the prince has just been killed in battle. Because the fairy godmother messed up. Ouch.

Where do you go from there? We do have a wicked stepmother, a ball for all the maidens in the land, a lost slipper, cinders, and many of the traditional props, but they all turn up in unexpected ways. I thoroughly enjoyed it when they would appear, woven into a richer, fuller story that included a really interesting political situation with a neighboring country.

The story is told from multiple points of view, including the royals scrambling to recover from the prince's death. Several themes come to the fore. All the characters are driven by some sort of loss or failure while struggling with how to balance truth, justice, and mercy. And, of course, love.

There is also some background about how Allia's mother died and why her father allows her to be treated so badly (he's still alive in this version). I didn't enjoy this part as much because there were a couple of points that rang false to me, emotionally.

My quibbles are not enough to keep the story from being entertaining and definitely worth reading. Cinder Allia is a richly woven tale that stands on its own merits.

(Full disclosure: I received a review copy of the book. But my opinion is fully my own.)

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Worth a Thousand Words: Cat Sleeping

Cornelis Visscher, Cat Sleeping, 1657
via Arts Everyday Living
Don't miss the charming little creature right behind the sleeping cat.

Lagniappe: French breakfast

The French think that a man can face the day with chicory and milk, and a croissant, which probably accounts for their unstable politics.
Robert Heinlein, Glory Road

We All Scream

I loved narrating this short piece about a happily married wife and mother whose ice cream truck business runs into an unexpected problem one day.

It's as if the author knew me! I was pleased and humbled that EscapePod asked me to read it.

You can find it on iTunes (episode 585) or here at EscapePod.

Under the door comes a new set of orders.

Julie and Scott have to record yet another podcast, this time against insurmountable odds. 

Episode 164 of A Good Story is Hard to Find: Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Worth a Thousand Words: Leo Tolstoy

Portrait of Leo Tolstoy (1887). Ilya Repin (Russian, 1844-1930)

Lagniappe: No Room to Swing a Cat

Mrs. Crupp had indignantly assured him that there wasn't room to swing a cat there; but, as Mr. Dick justly observed to me, sitting down on the foot of the bed, nursing his leg, "You know, Trotwood, I don't want to swing a cat. I never do swing a cat. Therefore, what does that signify to ME!"
Charles Dickens, David Copperfield
Dickens has some of the most amusing characters and dialogue of anyone. Not an original observation, of course, but he continually cracks me up.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Feast of the Transfiguration

Theophanes the Greek. The Transfiguration. Early 15th century.
Christ's Tabor radiance is a kind of mirror in which we glimpse the glory that God wills to give his friends. The resplendence of the Transfiguration reveals the fullness of life destined to be ours. The Transfiguration invites us to configuration. We peer into the glory that pours from every pore of the transfigured Christ, we cast off everything unworthy of our personal relationship with the Infinite, and we take on the luster of the Son of God. Jesus gazes back at us with a luminous look of love that make us desire to live his transparent beauty -- to be luminaries. Silently from Tabor's splendor, the Savior begs: "Become what you behold!"
Meditation from Magnificat 
What is revealed here is not only the glory of pure, angelic spirit, but of the spirit through the body, glory of the spiritualized body of man. Not the glory of God alone, not a piece of disclosed heaven, not only the sheen of the Lord as it hovered over the ark of the covenant, but the glory of the God-Logos in the Son of Man. Life above live and death; life of the body, but issue of the spirit; life of the spirit, but issue of the Logos; life of the man Jesus, but issue of the Son of God.
Romano Guardini, The Lord

Friday, August 4, 2017

A man came up to the window to ask for money. I know there are those who do this as a scam. So what should you do?

This is a post I've been running occasionally for over a decade. 

Today I'm running it because it is St. John Vianney's feast day. As you can see below, he was a major influence in changing my heart and mind toward the poor. Not that I don't still struggle with the issue, but every time I come back to the quote I feature. St. John Vianney, pray for us!


When I was talking to my sister about this some time ago, she had the short answer. "Pull out your wallet and give them money."

For the longer, more anecdotal version, and the answer to the question "what if it is a scam," just keep on readin' ...

As my long-suffering husband well knows, from the fact that when he gave a handful of change to an Australian man sitting outside a London tube station years ago ... the man shouted after our family, "God bless you mate! Thank you!" My husband muttered, under his breath, "Don't thank me, thank her; I had nothing to do with it" as I gave him a thank you hug. This didn't compare to later on when he would be driving with three people in the car all urging him to roll down the window and hand out granola bars.

The first time I ever saw a beggar was in Paris, 18 years ago. She was across the street and Tom said, "Don't look at her." Of course, I did and she began screaming invective and shaking her fist at me. It's a good thing my French wasn't very fluent or I'm sure my ears would have burned. Everywhere we went there were beggars. It was deeply troubling for someone like me who had never seen such a thing before. Tom, whose family lived in London for several years, was more blasé. He taught me to ignore them and that they were making plenty of money off of the population at large. I did make him give to a couple of WWII veterans who were playing music for their coins but at least they had sacrificed something for their country ... they had done something to deserve our charity.

I wasn't Christian then; I wasn't even sure if God existed. Nothing other than popular thought occurred to me in those situations. That was saved for 15 years later in 2001 when we went back to Paris and London with the girls. I had converted by then, we attended Mass weekly, and they went to Catholic school with religion lessons every day. It was fairly common to see the homeless on street corners but we were insulated by the car and traffic flow. These up close encounters with beggars in Europe were different. Tom and I gave the standard "making money off the crowd" explanation but it didn't sit very well, especially with the Christian precepts that had taken hold by then.

Then, one evening, I read this quote.
There are those who say to the poor that they seem to look to be in such good health: "You are so lazy! You could work. You are young. You have strong arms."

You don't know that it is God's pleasure for this poor person to go to you and ask for a handout. You show yourself as speaking against the will of God.

There are some who say: "Oh, how badly he uses it!" May he do whatever he wants with it! The poor will be judged on the use they have made of their alms, and you will be judged on the very alms that you could have given but haven't.
St. John Vianney
You certainly couldn't get much clearer than those words. St. John Vianney covered pretty much every objection I ever thought of for giving to the poor. That was my wake-up call and the end of ignoring beggars. We were supplied with handfuls of coins that were distributed at large as we went through the subway stations.

When I got home I stocked the car with granola bars and bottles of water. I passed them out at every street corner we stopped at. I never have any cash on me and they almost always had signs saying "Will work for food" so it seemed a good match.

Then Dallas passed a law against any panhandling on street corners and, for the most part, the homeless disappeared from sight. I had gotten used to being on the lookout for people to give my granola bars to and now the corners seemed very empty.

About that time, I was the leader of a Catholic women's group that met weekly. One evening our discussion became a debate over two strategies of giving to the homeless. One group believed in giving to people as they were encountered. The other countered with stories of scam artists and believed in giving to organizations who would distribute goods and cash in the most beneficial way to the needy. Two things stuck with me after that meeting though. The first was that my friend, Rita, said she was troubled by those who didn't want to give face to face because "they don't know what blessings they may be depriving themselves of." Once again I remembered St. John Vianney's quote.

I also thought about the very day before when I encountered a homeless man, gave him some cash, and later was extremely glad that I did ... because I'm still not sure who it was that I gave that cash to.

The second thing occurred to me as I listened to the debate. Jesus never said anything about helping the poor by giving to the local temple or soup kitchen. He said:
"For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me."

Then the righteous will answer him and say, "Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?"

And the king will say to them in reply, "Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me."

Matthew 25: 35-40
Tom and I do support organized charities and I know they reach farther than I ever could personally. This is not an argument against those organizations. However, I think that we cannot rest with those contributions. I believe that if we have a personal encounter with the needy it is because they have been sent to us for their good and our own. If we turn them away, then we are turning Christ Himself away and what blessings are we sending away with Him?

This was reinforced for me during a retreat I attended later. Somehow the debate over how to give to the homeless came up along those old familiar lines, not just once but twice. Each time I trotted out my St. John Vianney quote. Then my friend, Mauri, said that when she looked at those unfortunates she saw people she knew. For instance, she has a schizophrenic nephew who doesn't want to take his meds so he has been found wandering only in his boxers in a Chicago suburb. A confused old lady at the bank reminded her of her mother and Mauri found a discreet way to help her while preserving her dignity. She reminded me of the worth and dignity of each of these people. She later sent me this story which is the perfect example of looking past the surface to the real person that is there in front of us.
Today at the post office I saw this man going through the garbage -- I think looking for food as he was going through a discarded fast food bag and picked out left over bun from the bag, emptied the bag of the other garbage, and then used the bag to neatly wrap up the left over bun and then placed it in his satchel. You could tell that he still had his pride as he looked well kept, although worn and a bit "dusty". He was not begging in any way. Just walking through the strip center where the post office was.

I wanted to help as I sensed that he was hungry, but he was not asking for help and he did not approach me in anyway. I was so worried to bruise his pride, but could not stand the thought of him only having the leftover bun for food. I got out of my car with $5 and asked him if he was hungry. He said he was fine but hesitantly. I gave him the money and told him that there were many times when I was hungry but didn't have the cash on me to go through McDonalds or grab a sandwich. I told him to take it for when he might need it. I don't think I hurt his pride. His eyes were so kind.

I only wish I had asked his name ... He looked like he might have been mid 60s. I should have given him more money. I can't get him out of my mind. He could have been someone's grandfather, father, etc.
I am so grateful to Mauri for bringing me to this phase in my awareness of the homeless. Each of them was some mother's baby, a tiny toddler learning to walk, a laughing boy or girl at school. We must remember that when we are looking at these people who can seem so frightening or strange or manipulative. I pray that someday I can look at these people and find my vision is perfect ... I hope that someday I can look at a homeless person and see Jesus Himself. In this quest I think we can not do better than to take the advice of someone who achieved perfect vision and sought out her beloved Jesus in the homeless.
Do not wait for leaders; do it alone, person to person.

Blessed Teresa of Calcutta