Saturday, September 30, 2017

Feast Day of St. Jerome, The Thunderer

Niccolò Antonio Colantonio, showing St. Jerome's removal of a thorn from a lion's paw. Source.
I interpret as I should, following the command of Christ: Search the Scriptures, and Seek and you shall find. Christ will not say to me what he said to the Jews: You erred, not knowing the Scriptures and not knowing the power of God. For if, as Paul says, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God, and if the man who does not know Scripture does not know the power and wisdom of Gods, then ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.
Read more at Crossroads Initiative
I do not have that "friendly feeling" with St. Jerome that I have with many other saints. However, I do love the fact that he was well known to be cantankerous and had to fight his temper constantly. It gives me that fellow feeling of someone who has to fight the same failings I do. I also highly respect him for his supreme love of Scripture as the path to God. (Protestants should enjoy this Church Father's works for that very reason.)

This might be the best short summary I've ever seen of St. Jerome's life, and, specifically, why he is such a good patron saint for us bloggers.
He was a great scholar. He knew many languages. He fact-checked against original sources. He supported and was supported by fearless, scholarly and religious women. He successfully fought against the world, the flesh and the Devil.

And dang, did he understand flamewars.
Here is a wonderful poem about St. Jerome which is both accurate and hilarious. My favorite sort of poem, in fact. If you read this out loud you will get the most benefit from it.
From "Times Three" by Phyllis McGinley

God’s angry man, His crotchety scholar
Was Saint Jerome,
The great name-caller
Who cared not a dime
For the laws of Libel
And in his spare time
Translated the Bible.
Quick to disparage
All joys but learning
Jerome thought marriage
Better than burning;
But didn’t like woman’s
Painted cheeks;
Didn’t like Romans,
Didn’t like Greeks,
Hated Pagans
For their Pagan ways,
Yet doted on Cicero all of his days.

A born reformer, cross and gifted,
He scolded mankind
Sterner than Swift did;
Worked to save
The world from the heathen;
Fled to a cave
For peace to breathe in,
Promptly wherewith
For miles around
He filled the air with
Fury and sound.
In a mighty prose
For Almighty ends,
He thrust at his foes,
Quarreled with his friends,
And served his Master,
Though with complaint.
He wasn’t a plaster sort of a saint.

But he swelled men’s minds
With a Christian leaven.
It takes all kinds
To make a heaven.
Read a summary of St. Jerome's life and work at Catholic Culture.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Worth a Thousand Words: Durer's Rhinoceros

Albrecht Dürer's 1515 Rhinoceros woodcut

Well Said: What you need to achieve great things

To achieve great things two things are needed. A plan and not quite enough time.
Leonard Bernstein

Feast of the Archangels

This is one of my favorite feast days so I re-present one of my favorite posts about it.

St. Michael the Archangel

St. Gabriel the Archangel

St. Raphael the Archangel
The liturgy for today celebrates the feast of the three archangels who have been venerated throughout the history of the Church, Michael (from the Hebrew Who is like God?) is the archangel who defends the friends of God against Satan and all his evil angels. Gabriel, (the Power of God), is chosen by the Creator to announce to Mary the mystery of the Incarnation. Raphael, (the Medicine of God), is the archangel who takes care of Tobias on his journey.

I have a special fondness for angels and it is a sign of my Catholic geekiness, I suppose, that I got an excited "Christmas morning" sort of thrill when I realized today's feast.

I read for the first time about angels when we were in the hospital with my father-in-law after his stroke. That made a big impression on me at the time. I always attribute the miracle that happened to the Holy Family but the angels are divine messengers and so have their place in it as well. Because of that I always have remembered that we can call not only on our friends for intercessory prayer, but also on angels for intercession and help. The prayer to St. Michael is one of my favorites.
St. Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle. Be our safeguard against the wickedness and snares of the devil. May God rebuke him we humbly pray. And do thou, O prince of the heavenly host, by the power of God, cast into hell Satan and all the evil spirits who prowl around the world seeking the ruin of souls. Amen.
Some more on angels.
You should be aware that the word "angel" denotes a function rather than a nature. Those holy spirits of heaven have indeed always been spirits. They can only be called angels when they deliver some message. Moreover, those who deliver messages of lesser importance are called angels; and those who proclaim messages of supreme importance are called archangels.
From a homily by Pope Saint Gregory the Great
Read more about angels at Catholic Culture.

Listen Up: More is More

Hannah spends her days looking at trees and Rose spends her days looking at computer screen but they both spend their nights watching bad movies. They can commonly be found in yarn shops, hanging off silks, and in fancy grocery stores but their natural habitat is the dollar movie theater.
We've got a long history of enjoying discussing bad movies, especially when Hannah and Rose are doing the talking. They are both funny and insightful, and I don't just say that as their mother. And they love bad movies enough to specifically go to see them at the theater.

Now everyone can enjoy that hilarious insight on their new podcast, More is More. Hannah and Rose take you through their favorite bad movies in enough detail that you don't have to have seen it yourself (for which I am truly grateful). They also discuss story elements that went wrong and why.

Episode 1 is The Scorpion King featuring everyone's favorite, The Rock, in a movie that even his charm can't salvage. Try them out! (website, iTunes)

"Don't let them tell you less is more. More is more."
Stephen Sommers

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Worth a Thousand Words: A_Thousand_Li_of_River

Panorama of a section of A Thousand Li of Mountains and Rivers, a 12th-century painting by Song dynasty artist Wang Ximeng
Click through to see the image bigger.

Well Said: The glue that holds a person together

The glue that holds a person together is either vanity or values.
Stephen Tobolowsky, The Tobolowsky Files,
The Wager with Freddie

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Worth a Thousand Words: Chinese Guardian Lion

A statue of a guardian lion looking over Mount Emei, China
Chris Feser

Well Said: Grant's brand of whiskey

You just tell me the brand of whiskey Grant drinks — I would like to send a barrel of it to my other generals.
Abraham Lincoln

Catholic Books I'm Looking Forward To: Robert Barron, Mike Aquilina, Marc Barnes, Brandon Vogt

Fall is new book publishing time and these beauties are almost ready to dive into. I've had them on my wish list for a while so I thought you might be interested too!

As secularism gains influence, and increasing numbers see religion as dull and backward, Robert Barron wants to illuminate how beautiful, intelligent, and relevant the Catholic faith is.

In this compelling new book—written in conversation with award-winning Vatican journalist John L. Allen, Jr.—Barron proclaims in vivid language the goodness and truth of the Catholic tradition.

Touching on everything from Jesus to prayer, science, movies, atheism, the spiritual life, the fate of Church in modern times, beauty, art, and social media, Barron reveals why the Church matters today and how Catholics can intelligently engage a skeptical world.
You can hear John Allen and Bishop Barron discuss the upcoming book on this Word on Fire podcast episode. I was particularly intrigued by what Allen says about WOF as an apostolate. I really loved Allen's book with Timothy Dolan and this promises to be just as good. Can't wait to read this one!

The history of the Church didn't take place shrouded in the mists of time. It actually happened and continues to happen through things that we can see and sometimes hold in our hand.

The Christian answer to Neil MacGregor's New York Times bestseller A History of the World in 100 Objects, Mike and Grace Aquilina's A History of the Church in 100 Objects introduces you to:
  • The Cave of the Nativity (the importance of history, memory, and all things tangible)
  • Catacomb niches (the importance of Rome, bones, and relics of the faith)
  • Ancient Map of the World (the undoing of myths about medieval science)
  • Stained Glass (representative of Gothic cathedrals)
  • The Holy Grail (Romance literature and the emergence of writing for the laity)
  • Loaves and fish (a link from Jesus to the sacrament of the Eucharist)
  • The Wittenberg Door (Martin Luther and the onset of the Reformation)
I've mentioned this one before but wanted to bring it up since it is coming out fairly soon. So, Mike Aquilina - it's a given I'll love it. I'm looking forward to reading his collaboration with his daughter as well as an insightful look at those 100 objects.

Marc Barnes first cared about being Catholic, "not out of any profound love for the person of Christ, but out of a profound distaste for my other options." After exploring the options of the secular world, Barnes came to the conclusion that even the secular world isn't secular enough. In fact, it is hopelessly Christian.

Through these essays Barnes exposes the hopelessly Catholic nature of our fallen world, and the joyous news that, even for the bad Catholic or the non-Catholic, there is nowhere to hide from the Truth. The beauty of Christ's love can be found even in the most secular of circumstances.
I've liked Marc Barnes' Bad Catholic blog for a long time, so this one is a no-brainer. Agree or disagree, you'll usually wind up laughing and nodding and ... thinking. And all of those are good things, so of course I'm eagerly anticipating this one!

With atheism on the rise and millions tossing off religion, why would anyone consider the Catholic Church? Brandon Vogt shares his passionate search for truth, a journey that culminated in the realization that Catholicism was right about a lot of things, maybe even everything.

Why I Am Catholic traces Vogt’s spiritual journey, making a refreshing, twenty-first century case for the faith and answering questions being asked by agnostics, nones, and atheists. With references to Catholic thinkers such as G. K. Chesterton, Ven. Fulton Sheen, St. Teresa of Calcutta, and Bishop Robert Barron, Vogt draws together lines of evidence to help seekers discover why they should be Catholic as an alternative.
I'm a fan of Brandon Vogt's (see my review for his book Saints and Social Justice). His passion for the faith has led him to discuss it in a lot of places and he's now the content manager at Word on Fire, Bishop Barron's ministry. I have been looking forward to reading his spiritual journey from "none" to Catholicism ever since I heard about this book.

Genesis Notes: Dealing With Temptation

We could never have a better model for dealing with temptation than looking at how Joseph dealt with Potiphar's wife who would just not take no for an answer.

Joseph and Potiphar's Wife, Jean-Baptiste Nattier
Joseph provides a true model of strength in the face of temptation, which recognizes the danger of remaining in its presence. "Shun immorality!" Paul says in I Cor. 6:18. Other translators prefer the word "flee." Joseph did both: he refused Potiphar's wife, shunning her suggestions, and then fled when she didn't listen. It is not cowardice to run from such temptation, it is common sense. Sexual immorality may entice but its ultimate end is death. St. Paul speaks elsewhere (see, for example, I Cor. 10:13 and Heb. 4:15-16) of the mercy and grace that God provides to help us endure and escape temptation, and says that God will not allow us to be tempted above our strength. What was Joseph's secret? Vs. 21 says it all: "But the Lord was with Joseph and showed him steadfast love, and gave him favor in the sight of the keeper of the prison."
Thinking of Joseph and temptation is an obvious theme for this story. What is not so obvious is thinking of how Potiphar reacted to his wife's accusation of Joseph's attempted rape. Leave it to C.S. Lewis to examine the story more deeply for what it shows us about everyone involved.
Reflection on the story raised in my mind a problem I never happened to have thought of before: why was Joseph imprisoned, and not killed, by Potiphar? Surely it seems extraordinarily mild treatment for attempted rape of a great lady by a slave? Or must one assume that Potiphar, tho' ignorant of the lady's intention to make him a cuckold, was aware in general ... that her stories about the servante were to be taken with a grain of salt—that his real view was "I don't suppose for a moment that Joseph did anything of the sort, but I foresee there'll be no peace till I get him out of the house?" One is tempted to begin to imagine the whole life of the Potiphar family: e.g. how often had he heard similar stories from her before?
C.S. Lewis from a letter to his brother, February 25, 1940
Scripture is so rich. Reading the stories again and again leaves us the leisure, if we want to put it that way, to see just how much is in there for us.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Worth a Thousand Words: Newman Reads

Newman Reads, via Awesome People Reading

Lagniappe: Inhuman, Gelatinous, and Disembodied

Shall I say that the voice was deep, hollow, gelatinous, remote, unearthly, inhuman, disembodied?
H.P. Lovecraft, the Statement of Randolph Carter
Wow. And somehow I feel I know just how it sounded.

Do You Like Pumpkin Pie? Then You Need This Ice Cream.

Fresh H-E-B milk, real dairy cream, Pumpkin, nutmeg and spices combine to create this exceptional holiday delight.
This is how brave we are. We tried it, even figuring that real pumpkin would make it pretty heavy and weirdly chewy for ice cream. Nope. It's silky, creamy, delicious and captures the essence of pumpkin pie.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Worth a Thousand Words: Falling Leaves

Falling Leaves,
Olga Wisinger-Florian
Via Lines and Colors

Well Said: He'd never met The People

Vimes had spent his life on the streets, and had met decent men and fools and people who'd steal a penny from a blind beggar and people who performed silent miracles or desperate crimes every day behind the grubby windows of little houses, but he'd never met The People.

People on the side of The People always ended up disappointed, in any case. They found that The People tended not to be grateful or appreciative or forward-thinking or obedient. The People tended to be small-minded and conservative and not very clever and were even distrustful of cleverness. And so the children of the revolution were faced with the age-old problem: it wasn't that you had the wrong kind of government, which was obvious, but that you had the wrong kind of people.

As soon as you saw people as things to be measured, they didn't measure up.
Terry Pratchett, Night Watch
I hear a lot of talk, especially these days, about action on behalf of "The People" of various labels without remembering what Pratchett reminds us of above.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

St. Pio's Feast Day

I will stand at the gates of Heaven and I will not enter until all of my spiritual children are with me.
Today is St. Pio's feast day. I just love this guy, an Italian priest who knew how to throw his head back and laugh, who would scold a famous actress for being shallow, who suffered the stigmata for over 50 years, who knew (and could see) his guardian angel from the time he was a tiny child, who could bilocate and read souls, who was one of the greatest saints in living memory ... and who I share a birthday with (although his was 70 years earlier - May 25).

Finally I have found the original photo which attracted me to him when I was leafing through a book of saints in our church's library ... it communicates a sense of joy and light-heartedness that was striking. I thought, "Now there is someone I could talk to...that is what a real saint should look like."

Deacon Greg Kandra has, in years past, featured a homily he gave focusing on Padre Pio and tells this story which reflects the saint's fine sense of humor and irony.
One of my favorite stories about him happened during the early 1960s.

Italy was in crisis. The Red Brigade was sparking violence in Rome, and it was considered dangerous to travel around the country. For protection, people began carrying pictures of Padre Pio.

During this time, Padre Pio had to leave his village to visit Rome, and one of the other friars asked him, “Aren’t you worried about the Red Brigade?”

“No,” he said. “I have a picture of Padre Pio.”
Here is an extremely brief and incomplete look at the saint, which nonetheless is not a bad summary.
While praying before a cross, he received the stigmata on 20 September 1918, the first priest ever to be so blessed. As word spread, especially after American soldiers brought home stories of Padre Pio following WWII, the priest himself became a point of pilgrimage for both the pious and the curious. He would hear confessions by the hour, reportedly able to read the consciences of those who held back. Reportedly able to bilocate, levitate, and heal by touch. Founded the House for the Relief of Suffering in 1956, a hospital that serves 60,000 a year. In the 1920's he started a series of prayer groups that continue today with over 400,000 members worldwide.
You can read more about Padre Pio here

And, finally, back to the humor factor, we all know that The Curt Jester is all over the holy humor thing. I proffer this little gem from his fertile imagination.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Worth a Thousand Words: Windy evening at the coast

Windy evening at the coast, taken by Remo Savisaar
I can almost feel the sand between my toes and the wind blowing hard. Click through on the link to see this larger and take in the full beauty.

Well Said: Do you know how to live?

You want to live — but do you know how to live? You are scared of dying — and, tell me, is the kind of life you lead really any different from being dead?
Seneca, Letters from a Stoic
Seneca lived in first century Rome but these words echo loudly through the modern mindset and lifestyle. They make me think of a much later quote from a very different person. The sentiment is the same though.
To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that is all.
Oscar Wilde

Listen Up: BirdNote, Classic Tales, Jaws of Life, Rachel Watches Star Trek

Hannah recently began listening to podcasts and was asking for recommendations. Oh, I have so many!

My own Forgotten Classics podcast is on hiatus now but I tried to always have a new podcast suggestion to give in each episode. (Check the sidebar there for a wide range of suggestions.) Sharing new podcasts is the one thing I miss at the moment. So I'm going to drop a few here occasionally, ranging from old favorites to new discoveries.

You can find all of these at iTunes but most have more info at their websites so that's where the links go.

BirdNote is one of those shows that is a bite-sized nugget of information, about 2 minutes long. It airs every day, featuring fascinating information complete with bird calls and a great photo of that day's subject.

Recent entries included how an Emperor Penguin launches out of the water to get back to shore, the tiniest hummingbird (not much bigger than a bee), how the Jaeger pursues gulls to steal their fish mid-air, and a week-long series about migration (since it is that time of year).

It's a brief investment of time but always entertaining and I never miss it.

I'm not sure how long the Classic Tales Podcast has been running but I've been listening ever since I discovered podcasts (and that was many, many years ago, y'all). No one can beat B.J. Harrison's narrative style and I can't beat his podcast description so here you go:
Every week, join award-winning narrator B.J. Harrison as he narrates the greatest stories the world has ever known. From the jungles of South America to the Mississippi Delta, from Victorian England to the sands of the Arabian desert, join us on a fantastic journey through the words of the world's greatest authors. Critically-acclaimed and highly recommended for anyone who loves a good story with plenty of substance.
It's weekly and ranges in length from half an hour to an hour long. Another one I never miss each week.

Jaws of Life is fairly new but I've been enjoying it since the first episode. Two Catholic guys discuss different aspects of modern life in the light of the faith. It's weekly and about half an hour long.
Tim and Rob apply the jaws of life to release truth from the mangled mess of modernity. In each episode we bring light and levity to our encounter with the modern world, helping to bring the contagious joy of a holy life to a world so desperately in need of our witness.
Topics so far have included: Snuffing Out Hope: The Science of Grumbling, Bored at Mass, Fighting for Entertainment, Falling in Love with Vatican II, Recreation in a Culture of Comfort, and Funny Business: The Seriousness of Faith. I've listened to all of them except the one about fighting, which was distinctly more of a guy topic. I look forward to it every week.

Rachel Watches Star Trek is a new favorite of mine.
Chris loves Star Trek. Rachel has never watched it. Until now.

This is a podcast where Rachel and Chris talk about each episode of the original Star Trek Series, from the original pilot, getting her outsider’s perspective on one of the most influential Sci-fi shows of all time.
Rachel and Chris Lackey are pure fun to listen to whether you care about Star Trek or not. They cover an episode at a time and Rachel's comments are often hilarious, coming, as they do, from a perspective that is decades after the show aired.  They also often branch out into interesting conversation I wouldn't have expected, such as musing about leadership qualities after watching The Enemy Within.

Episodes are about half an hour long and come out once a month at best. So it isn't hard to catch up, even if you don't binge-listen the way I did.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Worth a Thousand Words: Suit Yourself

Suit Yourself, Karin Jurick
Karin Jurick's museum paintings are some of the most popular I share and I'm always so glad that she graciously gave me permission long ago to do so. She usually gives some background and context for the original being viewed or her own overall painting. Click through the link for more.

Well Said: A dealer in words

I am, by calling, a dealer in words; and words are, of course, the most powerful drug used by mankind. Not only do words infect, ergotise, narcotise, and paralyse, but they enter into and colour the minutest cells of the brain ...
Rudyard Kipling
I've begun listening to a lecture series by Michael Drout, Singers and Tales: Oral Tradition and the Roots of Literature. Between that and the strong impression that The Storytelling Animal (my review here) left upon me, I think we'd have to say Kipling is absolutely correct.

Genesis Notes: More About Judah's Story

Chapter 38 of Genesis has a lot of elements that really need cultural context for us to get the point. That happens when you've got prostitution as a main feature of a story. (And people are always saying how nice the Bible is. Nope - it gets right down to brass tacks.)

Here are some useful details in fully understanding the implications of everyone's actions in the story of Judah.

Judah and Tamar, school of Rembrandt
Why does this story seem to take a light view of prostitution? Prostitutes were common in pagan cultures such as Canaan. Public prostitutes served the Canaanite goddesses and were common elements of the religious cults. Fornication was encouraged to improve fertility in crops and flocks. They were more highly respected than private prostitutes who were sometimes punished when caught. Tamar was driven to seduce Judah because of her intense desire to have children and be the matriarch of Judah's oldest line; Judah was driven by his lust. Neither case was justified.

Why was Judah so open about his relations with a prostitute, yet ready to execute his daughter-in-law for being one? To understand this apparent contradiction, we must understand the place of women in Canaan. A woman's most important function was bearing children who would perpetuate the family line. To ensure that children belonged to the husband, the bride was expected to be a virgin and the wife was expected to have relations only with him. If a woman committed adultery, she could be executed. Some women, however did not belong to families. They might be shrine prostitutes supported by offerings or common prostitutes supported by the men who used their services. Their children were nobody's heirs, and men who hired them adulterated nobody's bloodlines.

Judah saw no harm in hiring a prostitute for a night; after all, he was more than willing to pay. He was ready to execute Tamar, however, because if she was pregnant as a result of prostitution, his grandchild would not be part of his family line. Apparently the question of sexual morality never entered Judah's mind; his concern was for keeping his inheritance in the family. Ironically, it was Tamar, not Judah, who acted to provide him with legal heirs. By seducing him, she acted more in the spirit of the law than he did when he refused to send his third son to her.

This story in no way implies that God winks at prostitution. Throughout Scripture, prostitution is condemned as a serious sin If the story has a moral, it is that faithfulness to family obligations is important. Incidentally, Judah and Tamar are direct ancestors of Jesus Christ (Matthew 1:1-6).
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.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Thank You for Asimov's Guide to Shakespeare

I was surprised and delighted to find Asimov's Guide to Shakespeare delivered to my door this morning. I don't know who sent me this gift, but thank you! This is a book I felt I was going to have to keep until the library demanded it back (and with 99 renewals, that could be a long time). Now I have my very own copy to peruse. I have been meaning to review it so this is a good opportunity.
Shakespeare's genius is marked by his rare ability to appeal to theatergoers of all types and all levels of education. But for most modern folks, the Greek and Roman mythology and history, let alone the history of England and the geography of sixteenth-century Europe that his works are laden with, are hardly within our grasp. Isaac Asimov comes to making obscure issues clear to the layperson, selects key passages from 38 of the great bard's plays plus two of his narrative poems and, with the help of beautifully rendered maps an figures, illuminates us about their historical and mythological background.
When Scott and I discussed Hamlet recently, it prompted me to request Asimov's Guide to Shakespeare from the library. Rose laughed when she saw it because, like most people, she thought of him solely as a science fiction author. However, Isaac Asimov wrote over 400 books during his lifetime, many on factual subjects. I'd glanced through his guides to the Old and New Testaments and found them informative, even if I felt he sometimes over-reached in conclusions about theology. Indeed, our pastor told me that he sometimes uses those books as reference materials for historical context.

In the Shakespearean case, I was delighted with the material on the plays I sampled in Asimov's book. Asimov explains possible sources for Shakespeare's story ideas, gives historical context which includes maps and family trees, and explains cultural ideas that the audience would have understood at the time but that may escape us. This includes every literary, historical, or mythological allusion explained so that we don't have to wonder what's being gotten at.

Asimov also gives his commentary on the plays as he explains the story.
... It isn't generally pointed out that Claudius' predicament in this play is exactly that of Hamlet. Hamlet wants to kill the King, but the King wants to kill Hamlet. Neither is safe as long as the other is alive. But the King, as well as Hamlet, cannot take the simple road and simply kill. The King is but new on the throne and can scarcely yet feel secure; to kill the son of the preceding King would easily raise enough hostility against himself to hurl him from the throng. Just as Hamlet needs to do more than merely kill the King, but must gain the throne too, so the King needs to do more than merely kill Hamlet, but must keep the throne too.
The comments are generally insightful although I sometimes felt he was over-reaching or reflecting too much thinking from the 1970s when he was writing. The frequent, though usually brief, attribution of close male friendship to homosexuality is one of those moments when we must recall we are under no obligation to agree with everything. And those moments are few and far between.

Asimov's style is fresh and personable, while his knowledge is encyclopedic. You can tell he loves these plays and is having a good time talking about them. And we have fun reading him. This is indeed a wonderful reference which anyone will treasure while diving into Shakespeare.

Again, thank you so much to my anonymous benefactor!

Worth a Thousand Words: Elegante Près d'une Source

Elegante Près d'une Source, Georges de Feure, circa 1903
Via Lines and Colors

Well Said: I gave you a brain and you never used it.

Intelligence and compassion are the heart of what it means to be human. Help others where you can. That is clear enough. But a Creator may well want us to open our eyes, as well. If there is a judgment. God may not be particularly interested in how many hymns we sang or what prayers we memorized. I suspect He may instead look at us and say, "I gave you a brain and you never used it. I gave you the stars and you never looked."
Jack McDevitt, Firebird
I might need to reread the Alex Benedict novels. It's been a long time and I remember them being rather like Indiana Jones crossed with sci-fi mysteries.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Nabeel Qureshi, Rest in Peace

I just discovered this young man died of cancer at age 34 a few days ago. His book, Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus is one I liked for a lot of reasons, but most of all I recall the look it gave me into a loving Muslim family. The Gospel Coalition has a really good overview of his life, conversion, and work.

Nabeel Qureshi, rest in peace, and may your loved ones be comforted as they grieve.

Via Brandywine Books.

My review of Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus is here.

Worth a Thousand Words: Lunch in Provence

Lunch in Provence,
taken by French Sampler

Well Said: The real religious mystery for Judaism is not our faith in God but God’s faith in us.

The great institutions of modernity were not constructed to provide meaning. Science tells us how the world came to be but not why. Technology gives us power but cannot tell us how to use it. The market gives us choices but no guidance as to which choices to make. Modern democracies give us a maximum of personal freedom but a minimum of shared morality. You can acknowledge the beauty of all these institutions, yet most of us seek something more.

Meaning comes not from systems of thought but from stories, and the Jewish story is among the most unusual of all. It tells us that God sought to make us His partners in the work of creation, but we repeatedly disappointed Him. Yet He never gives up. He forgives us time and again. The real religious mystery for Judaism is not our faith in God but God’s faith in us.

This is not, as atheists and skeptics sometimes claim, a comforting fiction but quite the opposite. Judaism is God’s call to human responsibility, to create a world that is a worthy home for His presence. That is why Jews are so often to be found as doctors fighting disease, economists fighting poverty, lawyers fighting injustice, teachers fighting ignorance and therapists fighting depression and despair.

Judaism is a supremely activist faith for which the greatest religious challenge is to heal some of the wounds of our deeply fractured world. As [Viktor] Frankl put it: The real question is not what do we want from life but what does life want from us.
Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, The Challenge of Jewish Repentance
This is just a bit from a really great piece written to lead into Rosh Hoshana (the Ten Days of Repentance) which begin tomorrow.

Rabbi Sacks's article is one we can all benefit from whether we share the Jewish faith or not. And Catholics know that the Jews are our elder brothers in the faith so it is a good thing to get that extra perspective.

Be sure to read the whole thing.

To podcast or not to podcast. That is the question.

Scott says yes. Julie says no. After they talk about it, they change sides. Still no decisions get made. But, somehow, the podcast did! (Probably because Scott reasoned so lyrically.)
Alas, Julie, Sit down awhile;
And let us once again assail your ears,
That are so fortified against our story
What we two have seen.
Join us to discuss Hamlet (1990) - starring several famous people and directed by Franco Zeffirelli - at A Good Story is Hard to Find.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Worth a Thousand Words: Portrait of Raminou the Cat

Suzanne Valadon, Portrait of Raminou the Cat
via French Painters

Well Said: What human curiosity can achieve

Show a human a closed door, and not matter how many open doors she finds, she'll be haunted by what might be behind it.

A few people liked to paint this drive as a weakness. A failing of the species. Humanity as the virus. The creature that never stops filling up its available living space. ... But Anna rejected that idea. If humanity were capable of being satisfied, then they'd all still be living in trees and eating bugs out of one another's fur. Anna had walked on a moon of Jupiter, She'd looked up through a dome-covered sky at the great red spot, close enough to see the swirls and eddies of a storm larger than her home world. She'd tasted water thawed from ice as old as the solar system itself. And it was that human dissatisfaction, that human audacity, that had put her there.

Looking at the tiny world spinning around her, she knew one day it would give them the stars as well.
James S. A. Corey, Abaddon's Gate

Red Harvest at SFFaudio

I completely missed this last week. Red Harvest by Dashiell Hammett was the topic of discussion for Jesse, Paul, Scott, Rose, and me at SFFaudio podcast. It's a brutal story but the writing is fantastic. Take a listen!

Friday, September 15, 2017

Genesis Notes: Judah's Story

Judah's story never even registered with me on any previous readings of Genesis. As I was taking it in, my jaw dropped. Quite the parallel to Joseph indeed. If y'all don't know what I'm talking about, go read this story in chapter 38.

Judah and Tamar, Horace Vernet
Chapter 38 provides a "story of Judah" that is parallel to the story of Joseph in time while being completely opposed in moral tone. It serves to set off the story of Joseph in a number of ways: both leave home, one voluntarily, the other against his will. One leaves to seek his fortune among the Canaanites, the other is sold as a slave to Egypt. One seeks out a prostitute, the other flees sexual temptation. What becomes of these men, who will father the two leading tribes of Israel, is a study in contrast. There is great irony in the outcome, for what appears to be true on the outside (one man moving freely and in control of his destiny; another man enslaved, in control of nothing but his response to the situation) does not take into account the unseen — the will and the presence of God....

Two of Judah's sons were so wicked, God killed them before they had children. According to custom, Judah should have given his third son to the first son's wife so the family name would continue, but he was afraid that son would die too so he sent his daughter-in-law home to her father. This left him with one son who was betrothed to a woman he was not allowed near -- hardly a recipe for building a family. The wickedness of Judah's sons makes one question Judah's ability to "father" properly in any sense of the word -- and yet God had chosen Judah to father the tribe that would one day produce the Messiah, and He would bring that about.

Onan's sin was preventing pregnancy by spilling his seed on the ground. In doing so, he was taking selfish measures to make sure no child would come between himself and his brother's property. But it was not just his intent but the act itself that was wrong. Onan was going through the motions of a covenant act while denying it meaning and purpose. According to the Catechism, "every action which, whether in anticipation of the conjugal act, or in its accomplishment, or in the development of its natural consequences, proposed, whether as an end or as a means, to render procreation impossible — is intrinsically evil." (#2370)

Tamar, with her courageous plan to get that which was hers by right but which Judah refused her, became the means by which Judah's line — the line from which the Savior would come — is continued. This is yet another illustration of the fact that membership in the family of God is determined not by natural order but by God's providence in determining who will be heir to promise and blessing.
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.

Worth a Thousand Words: Thunderball

1961, original dust jacket, via Books and Art

Well Said: Editing History to Popular Taste

As a construct, history is too often revised to match contemporary views. It has been said that each generation must rewrite history in order to understand it. The opposite is true. Moderns revise history to make it palatable, not to understand it. Those who edit "history" to popular taste each decade will never understand the past—neither the horrors nor the glories of which the human race is equally capable—and for that reason, they will fail to understand themselves.
T.R. Fehrenbach,
Lone Star: A History of Texas and Texans

Our Lady of Sorrows

William-Adolphe Bouguereau (French, 1825-1905), Pietà, 1876
Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many is Israel and for a sign that shall be contradicted. And your own soul a sword shall pierce, that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.
Luke 2:34-35
Any mother suffers when their child suffers. It is like a sword piercing their heart. However, Mary was no ordinary mother and her son was no ordinary son. John Paul II, in his encyclical Redemptoris Mater, commented:
Simeon's words seem like a "Second Annunciation" to Mary for they tell her of the historical circumstances in which the Son is to accomplish his mission, namely in misunderstanding and sorrow ... They also reveal that she will have to live her obedience of faith in suffering at the Saviour's side and that her motherhood will be mysterious and sorrowful.
If we stop to consider it, Mary must overcome many troubling and sorrowful circumstances through her life, beginning with trusting that Joseph will understand her pregnancy before their marriage. The circumstances of Jesus' birth, their flight into Egypt, then the trip to Nazareth where they must become established yet again, Jesus' disappearance in Jerusalem, and much more are her lot. Jesus sees fit to spare her none of these experiences, including witnessing his death inflicted in the most shameful manner the Romans can invent as the result of lies and conspiracy.
Today's feast is an occasion for us to accept all the adversity we encounter as personal purification, and to co-redeem with Christ. Mary our Mother teaches us not to complain in the midst of trials as we know she never would. She encourages us to unite our sufferings to the sacrifice of her son and so offer them as spiritual gifts for the benefit of our family, the Church, and all humanity.

The suffering we have at hand to sanctify often consists in small daily reverses. Extended periods of waiting, sudden changes of plans, and projects that do not turn out as we expected are all common examples. At times setbacks come in the form of reduced circumstances. Perhaps at a given moment we even lack necessities such as a job to support our family. Practicing the virtue of detachment well during such moments will be a great means for us to imitate and unite ourselves to Christ ...

The particular circumstances are frequently the most trying dimension of sickness. Perhaps its unexpected duration, our own helplessness or the dependence on others it engenders is the most difficult part of all. Maybe the distress due to solitude or the impossibility of fulfilling our duties of state is most taxing ... We ask Jesus for an increase of love, and tell him slowly and with complete abandonment as we have perhaps so often told him in a variety of situations: Is this what you want Lord? ... Then it is what I want too.
Is this what you want Lord? ... Then it is what I want too.

That is what hit me hard about this reflection. How often in my life should I say that instead of trying to dodge around what I know I should do? Way too often is my sorry response.

Except for this last bit, everything here is either quoted directly or paraphrased from In Conversation with God: Daily Meditations, Volume Seven, Special Feasts: July - December.

Abaddon's Gate by James S.A. Corey

Abaddon's Gate by James S.A. Corey

For generations, the solar system -- Mars, the Moon, the Asteroid Belt -- was humanity's great frontier. Until now. A massive alien gate has appeared that may lead to the stars or to destruction.

Jim Holden and the crew of the Rocinante are part of a vast flotilla of scientific and military ships going out to examine the artifact. But behind the scenes, a complex plot is unfolding, with the destruction of Holden at its core. As the emissaries of the human race try to find whether the gate is an opportunity or a threat, the greatest danger is the one they brought with them.
This is the third book in the Expanse series and is a worthy companion to the first of the series, Leviathan Wakes.

Abaddon's Gate has a really interesting scenario of what humans find when they leave the galaxy and of alien life itself, one that I've never encountered in science fiction before. The other elements are more recognizable as we are pulled into conflicts resulting from politics, ambition, and revenge.

One other unique element is that Anna, a Methodist minister, brings religion into the story in a positive and thought provoking way. There are many religious folk but most act in the predictable and lamentable way that fame can provoke. Anna is different and although I found her frustrating at times, I also found that very frustration to be something I had to examine more personally. Anna's embrace of both science and faith were praiseworthy and all too rare in a mainstream series.

Abaddon's Gate takes advantage of the future setting to occasionally include cultural elements that I don't always agree with — such as Anna's home situation. Just ignore it. The story's good anyway.

Except for one element which leads us to the alien gate, I now feel the second book in the series is skippable. Yes, it is entertaining but overall I found it too much like the first book in a lot of ways and kind of a waste of my time. I'm not advocating you skip it but just saying that I won't bother rereading it if I decide to revisit the series.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Worth a Thousand Words: Great White Egret

Great White Egret, Remo Savisaar

Well Said: An infinite number of crucified persons in the world ...

I see an infinite number of crucified persons in the world, but few who are crucified by the love of Jesus. Some are crucified by their self-love and inordinate love of the world. But happy are they who are crucified for the love of Jesus. Happy are they who live and die on the cross with Jesus.

St. John Eudes

via Voices of the Saints by Bert Ghezzi

Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross

Exaltation of the Cross, Russian icon

Some time ago I read Anthony Esolen's commentary in Magnificat about the elevation of the cross from the point of view of an English monk's meditation written in the Middle Ages from the point of view of the cross itself. It has haunted me, in a good way I hasten to add, as I would come upon small annoyances and inconveniences and then remember the image of the young Hero as a warrior striding toward the cross. Shame on me if I do not at least attempt to match that valiant attitude.
For it is not a shy and effeminate Jesus, this Savior of ours, the Healer, the Chieftain. No courageous German could respect a man who did not fight. And will Christ own us, if we do not fight for him? The poet dares to make us see Calvary in a way that we are not used to -- but in a way that is right and just nevertheless. Says the cross:

Then the young Hero ungirt himself -- that was God almighty,
strong, stiff-willed, and strode to the gallows,
climbed stout-hearted in the sight of many; intended to set men free.

Yes, Jesus sweated blood in Gethsemane. But he took the cross to himself, suggests our poet, as eagerly as the warrior takes the battlefield, or the bridegroom takes the bride. He needs no armor here. He strips himself, he climbs. And though it all the cross, as the first and most loyal follower of the Chieftain, stands firm; trembles, but does not bow; is drenched with blood and driven through with the same spikes that pierce the body of Christ.
Applying this to my daily life with its small and petty sacrifices, this helps immeasurably when I am reminding myself that my time is not really my own, that making a meal for a friend in need takes priority over my previous plans, and that even such a small thing is a step toward becoming a warrior in the young Hero's footsteps. It is surprising how contented one can be when embracing the cross with such an example.


This commentary is from 2008 and I repeat it here because it did me good to read it this morning.

It is rare that I relate to the daily reading in Magnificat from the saints who wrote a really long time ago. I always read them though because you never can tell just when something is going to hit you right between the eyes.

As did this from Saint Symeon the New theologian (died 1022):
... For Christians the cross is magnification, glory, and power: for all our power is in the power of Christ who was crucified; all our sinfulness is mortified by the death of Christ on the cross; and all our exaltation and all our glory are in the humility of God, who humbled himself to such an extent that he was pleased to die even between evil-doers and thieves. For this very reason Christians who believe in Christ sign themselves with the sign of the cross not simply, not just as it happens, not carelessly, but with all heedfulness, with fear and with trembling, and with extreme reverence. For the image of the cross shows the reconciliation and friendship into which man has entered with God.

Therefore the demons also fear the image of the cross, and they do not endure to see the sign of the cross depicted even in the air, but they flee from this immediately knowing that the cross is the sign of the friendship of men with God...

Those who have understood this mystery and in very fact have known in experience the authority and power which the cross has over demons, have likewise understood that the cross gives the soul strength, power, meaning, and divine wisdom... To the degree of the reverence which one has toward the cross, he receives corresponding power and help from God. To him may there be glory and dominion for ever. Amen.
Just a little something to remind me not to make the sign of the cross automatically, as so often happens, I am very sorry to say. I must be heedful of what that sign has cost and what that sign means for me in my relationship with God.


I like this commentary also, which I posted a few years ago, from Word Among Us, which comments upon the strangeness of the feast and the fact that we are reading about poisonous serpents. Good stuff.


This is short, but good. And says it all.

The cross is the hope of Christians.
The cross is the resurrection of the dead.
The cross is the way of the lost.
The cross is the saviour of the lost.
The cross is the staff of the lame.
The cross is the guide of the blind.
The cross is the strength of the weak.
The cross is the doctor of the sick.
The cross is the aim of the priests.
The cross is the hope of the hopeless.
The cross is the freedom of the slaves.
The cross is the power of the kings.
The cross is the water of the seeds.
The cross is the consolation of the bondsmen.
The cross is the source of those who seek water.
The cross is the cloth of the naked.
We thank you, Father, for the cross.

Cheesy Chicken-and-Spinach Stromboli Ring

It's a sort of pizza jelly-roll filled with deliciousness. It's the latest meal at Meanwhile, Back in the Kitchen.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Thank You for The Wind in the Willows!

What a wonderful surprise it was to have this show up unexpectedly in my mailbox this morning! To whoever went to the trouble of visiting my Amazon wishlist and sending me this little treasure — thank you!

J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography by Humphrey Carpenter

Born in South Africa in January 1892, John Ronald Reuel Tolkien was orphaned in childhood and brought up in near-poverty. He served in the first World War, surviving the Battle of the Somme, where he lost many of the closest friends he'd ever had. After the war he returned to the academic life, achieving high repute as a scholar and university teacher, eventually becoming Merton Professor of English at Oxford where he was a close friend of C.S. Lewis and the other writers known as The Inklings.

Then suddenly his life changed dramatically. One day while grading essay papers he found himself writing 'In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit' — and worldwide renown awaited him.
I recently read Humphrey Carpenter's book, The Inklings, for a discussion at A Good Story is Hard to Find podcast and it piqued my interest in his biography of one of my favorite authors. I liked The Inklings but this book was even better, possibly because Carpenter was focusing on one person instead of a group.

It gave a thorough story of Tolkien's life without sugar coating his flaws but in a way that allowed me to understand and appreciate him as both a person and author. I'm not usually very interested in biographies but read this in record time, which is a tribute to Carpenter's skill in finding a fascinating story in the outwardly mundane life of an Oxford professor.

Of course, like Dr. Who's TARDIS, we're all bigger on the inside and Tolkien's inner landscape held a vast imagination coupled with interest in so many topics that he was sometimes unable to finish a project unless prodded by deadlines or friends. It is Humphrey Carpenter's ability to reconcile Tolkien's inner and outer man, while including his popular fiction in the timeline, that make this book so riveting. We feel we truly know J.R.R. Tolkien by the end.

And, this is the ultimate tribute to the author's skill ... as I read the epilogue, I cried.

Worth a Thousand Words: The TV Studio

The TV Studio, Edward B. Gordon

Well Said: Tolkien and Democracy

I am not a "democrat," if only because "humility" and equality are spiritual principles corrupted by the attempt to mechanize and formalize them, with the result that we get not universal smallness and humility, but universal greatness and pride, till some Orc gets hold of a ring of power—and then we get and are getting slavery.
J.R.R. Tolkien

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

The Remedy for a Bad Homily

We've got a couple of priests and one full-time deacon in our parish, as well as a couple of regularly scheduled fill-in priests for weekend masses. On any given Sunday you have a one-in-five chance of getting the consistently outstanding homilist. The others are average. One usually hovers close to a high average and all can hit the heights occasionally. But there are those who live in the middle and sometimes dive closer to the depths. Those depths can be pretty shallow.

Now, we're lucky because these guys aren't straying from the truth of Catholicism (as I've heard occasionally when visiting other parishes). The worst that happens is that one remains uninspired, struggling to connect with God.

I know the point of the mass is not the homily. I also know that not every homily is directed at me personally and it might be just what someone else needs to hear. However, you can't deny that a good homily goes a long way toward enriching the entire experience as well as the week to follow.

I have fallen into preparing for Sunday mass beforehand, which is a good habit no matter what kind of homily you expect. There is nothing like being familiar with the readings beforehand for allowing you to sink into them as you hear them read during the liturgy. These are often the times when you are open enough to let God in.

With all that in mind, here are a few of my favorite resources.

Read the Sunday readings.
You can find them at the US Bishops' website 
where you can click on the handy calendar for next Sunday. 

Easy listening, worthwhile podcasts.
Just like a homily, let these reflections wash over you.

Word on Fire
Bishop Robert Barron's homilies
These are about 15 minutes long and come out on Wednesday usually. Bishop Barron often goes for an angle that I don't expect and which is almost always thought provoking. That makes them a perfect warm up to getting your head in the game. (iTunes link, website link)

Lanky Guys
Reflections and context on the readings
Fr. Peter Mussett and Deacon Scott Powell take listeners through the scripture for next Sunday's liturgy. They read each one aloud and dig deeper into context and background about historical, scriptural and liturgical connections. About 45 minutes long, it comes out on Thursday or Friday which gives me time to listen to it in pieces before Sunday. (website link, iTunes link)

Read up.

The Beauty of the Word 
by Anthony Esolen
I use this on Sunday morning. Anthony Esolen focuses on the Collect, Prayer over the Offerings, Preface, and Prayer after Communion for every Mass through the year. He draws the reader's attention to connections with scripture, the Mass readings, and Christ in our lives. This is an easy and quick read each week but I find the prayers have much more meaning when I've read this beforehand. (My full review here.)

Footprints on the Mountain: 
Preaching and Teaching the Sunday Readings 
by Roland J. Faley
I read this Sunday morning. It provides scriptural background on all the readings for each Sunday (nicely divided up into A, B, and C years), as well as at least eight ideas for reflection. The background also discusses why the readings complement each other and specific insights to be found for each. Plus, this is summed up in a brief but pithy reflection on what these readings and points mean to believers. (My full review here.)

In Conversation With God 
Series by Francis Fernandez-Carvajal
I read the upcoming Sunday reflection on Saturday with breakfast. I have been using this series for about 16 years and have yet to find one that is better or more complete. It follows the daily Mass readings, but has a separate reflection for each of the A, B, and C Sundays of the year. Topics range from the sacraments and virtues to family interaction and friendship. It is both practical and inspiring. (My full review here.)

There are obviously lots more good resources out there. Magazines like Word Among Us and Magnificat are some that spring to mind. These are just what appeal to me every week.

The real key is to pick one or two favorites and prepare yourself to encounter God in His Word each Sunday. Then a good homily is a nice bonus and a bad one is easier to tolerate.

Well Said: You can't object to "cultural" apparently

"Cultural, is it?" Dr. Hopkins looked relieved. He was a man who tried to see the best in everybody but the city had gotten rather complicated since he was a boy ... He wasn't sure that he liked everything that was happening, but a lot of it was "cultural," apparently, and you couldn't object to that, so he didn't. "Cultural" sort of solved problems by explaining that they weren't really there.
Terry Pratchett, Thief of Time

Worth a Thousand Words: Landscape with Coach

Hugo Mühlig, Landscape with Coach
via Lines and Colors

Monday, September 11, 2017

September 11: Still We Mourn

The northeast face of Two World Trade Center (south tower) after being struck by plane in the south face.
Via Wikipedia
It still hurts. I guess this date will hurt until the day I die.

These say what still is in my heart:

Still the best tribute video.

• September 11: Our Memories and Our Determination

• Remembering the tragic, sudden, and violent loss of 2,996 innocent Americans

• Captain Daniel O'Callaghan: Have Mercy on Me Now and at the Hour of My Death. Amen.

• 9/11, Our Choices and Making a Stand

Piece of Flight 93 fuselage found at crash site
Via Wikipedia

Saturday, September 9, 2017

St. Peter Claver's Memorial

Peter Claver was born of a distinguished family in Catalonia, Spain. He became a Jesuit in 1604, and left for Colombia in 1610, dedicating himself to the service of black slaves. For thirty-three years he ministered to slaves, caring for the sick and dying, and instructing the slaves through catechists. Through his efforts three hundred thousand souls entered the Church.
I have loved Peter Claver from the first time I read about him. I can't believe I haven't mentioned him here before. The brief description above doesn't do justice to his heroic efforts: going to the slave ships with water, medicine, food, and clothing; working and living among slaves on plantations in order to minister to them; ministering to all levels of society in Cartagena from the wealthy to Muslims to criminals.

Take a few minutes and read more about this saint who shows the extraordinary difference that ordinary people can make when they follow God's promptings.

O God, who made Saint Peter Claver a slave of slaves
and strenghtened him with wonderful charity and patience
as he came to their help,
grant, through his intercession,
that, seeking the things of Jesus Christ,
we may love our neighbor in deeds and in truth.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.