Sunday, February 19, 2017

4th Sunday of St. Joseph

Presentation at the Temple by Ambrogio Lorenzetti, 1342

Joys and Sorrows - I

To think about the life of Saint Joseph is to discover a life full of joys and sorrows. the Lord teaches us through the life of the Holy Patriarch that true happiness is never far from the Cross. If we bear that suffering and trial with supernatural spirit, we will soon be rewarded with clarity and peace. With Christ at our side, sorrows turn into joys.

[First Sorrow and Joy]

When Mary his mother had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit. (Matt 1:18) Joseph ... loved Mary with a pure and deep human love. Yet he felt obliged by his upright conscience to follow the Mosaic law in this regrettable situation. In order to protect Mary from public shame, Joseph decided to put her aside privately. This was a most painful test for both Joseph and Mary.

Just as his sorrow was great, so was Joseph's joy immeasurable when at last he was shown the ways of God's Providence ...

We can learn from Joseph's first sorrow and joy that the Lord will always enlighten those who seek him with a clean heart. God's light can shine through the most perplexing situations imaginable.

[Second Sorrow and Joy]

And it came to pass while they were there, that the days for her to be delivered were fulfilled. And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger... (Luke 2:6-7)

We can imagine Joseph going from door to door in search of shelter and hospitality for his pregnant wife ... What must this terrible experience have been like for Saint Joseph? What were his feelings at the sight of his weary wife, her clothing travel-stained and every feature proclaiming her utter exhaustion? ...

All of this anxiety and suffering was quickly forgotten from the moment Mary held the Son of God in her arms. Saint Joseph realized that the Son of God was now his son as well. He kissed and worshipped him...

This alternating sorrow and joy should teach us that serving God is worth the effort, even though we will encounter difficulties, and perhaps poverty and pain.

[Third Sorrow and Joy]

And when eight days were fulfilled for his circumcision, his name was called Jesus, the name given him by the angel before he was conceived in the womb. (Luke 2:21) ... The actual ceremony was sometimes performed by the father.

... The name Jesus means Savior; it had been chosen by God himself and communicated through the message of the angel ... It was the desire of the Holy Trinity that the Son should commence his salvific mission on earth in suffering. It would seem fitting that Joseph was the one to inaugurate the mystery of the Redemption by shedding the first drops of his Son's holy blood. This blood would yield its full effect in the awful context of the Passion. The Child who cried upon the receipt of his name had thereupon begun his work of salvation.

Saint Joseph ... was well versed in the Scriptures and he knew, if only in an imperfect way, that there would come a day when his Son would have to shed his blood even to the last drop. Joseph was filled with joy to carry the child in his arms and call him Jesus ...

[Fourth Sorrow and Joy]
And when the days of her purification were fulfilled according to the Law of Moses, they took him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord. (Luke 2:22) ... When Joseph heard the prophecy of Simeon, surely a sword must have pierced his heart as well.

On that day in the Temple Joseph and Mary were given a more profound insight into the mystery of the Redemption which their Son would bring to completion. Saint Joseph was now able to understand a little better. He made this suffering his own...

Alongside this pain there was, of course, the joy of the impending universal redemption.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Gone Retreatin' - to Help Good Marriages Get Better



We are off to help with our parish's Beyond Cana retreat. It is a labor of love and a pleasure to be part of the very special group of people putting this retreat on.

Please keep us in your prayers and, of course, also the attendees ... married couples who somehow were able to find the time to take 2-1/2 days apart from the world to focus on their marriages. These days that shows true dedication!

May this be a blessed time for everyone involved. Lord, hear our prayer.

(I'm outta here until Monday, not surprisingly! See y'all then!)

By the way - if you live in Dallas and are interested in finding out more, we hold these twice a year. You can get the basics here.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Worth a Thousand Words: Medieval Honey Bees

Medieval illustration from beekeeping manuscript
Via Animalarium where there is an antique treasure chest of illustrations for anyone who clicks through the link!

Well Said: The Path of Redemption

It is to the Cross that the Christian is challenged to follow his Master; no path of redemption can make a detour around it.
Hans Urs von Balthasar
When I have this in mind it is so much easier to bear things that would otherwise really get me down. The challenge is often to keep it in mind instead of looking for that detour.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Well Said: Satan's Assurances

Before we commit a sin, Satan assures us that it is of no consequence; after we commit a sin, he persuades us that it is unforgivable.
Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen

Worth a Thousand Words: Water Spaniel

George Stubbs, Water Spaniel

Genesis Notes: Lot's Resume

I love these resumes. They pull together a Biblical figure's life in a way that gives me a whole new take sometimes.

Lot and his family flee from Sodom by Jacob Jordaens.
Jacob Jordaens

When still young, Lot lost his father. Although this must have been hard on him, he was not left without strong role models in his grandfather Terah and his uncle Abram, who raised him. Still, Lot did not develop their sense of purpose. Throughout his life he was so caught up in the present moment that he seemed incapable of seeing the consequences of his actions. It is had to imagine what his life would have been like without Abram's careful attention and God's intervention.

By the time Lot drifted out of the picture, his life had taken an ugly turn. He had so blended into the sinful culture of his day that he did not want to leave it. Then his daughters committed incest with him. His drifting finally took him in a very specific direction -- destruction.

Lot, however, is called "righteous" in the New Testament (2 Peter 2:7, 8). Ruth, a descendant of Moab, was an ancestor of Jesus, even though Moab was born as a result of Lot's incestuous relationship with one of his daughters. Lot's story gives hope to us that God forgives and often brings about positive circumstances from evil...

Strengths and accomplishments:
  • He was a successful businessman
  • Peter calls him a righteous man (2 Peter 2:7, 8)
Weaknesses and mistakes:
  • When faced with decisions, he tended to put off deciding, then chose the easiest course of action
  • When given a choice, his first reaction was to think of himself
Lessons from his life:
  • God wants us to do more than drift through life; he wants us to be an influence for him
Vital statistics:
  • Where: Lived first in Ur of the Chaldeans, then moved to Canaan with Abram. Eventually he moved to the wicked city of Sodom.
  • Occupation: Wealthy sheep and cattle rancher; also a city official
  • Relatives: Father - Haran. Adopted by Abram when his father died. The name of his wife, who turned into a pillar of salt, is not mentioned.
Key verse:
"When he hesitated, the men grasped his hand and the hands of his wife and of his two daughters and led them safely out of the city, for the Lord was merciful to them." (Genesis 19:16)

Lot's story is told in Genesis 11-14; 19. He also is mentioned in Deuteronomy 2:9; Luke 17:28-32; 2 Peter 2:7, 8.

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.

Holy Martyrs of Libya, pray for us

21 Martyrs of Libya
by Tony Rezk
(See more about this icon below)
The martyrs of Libya are the 21 young men who withstood imprisonment by ISIS for 40 days and then were murdered when they refused to renounce Jesus Christ.

They died with Jesus' name on their lips, saying "Jesus help us" and "My Lord Jesus."

It has been two years since they were martyred.
The blood of our Christian brothers and sisters is a testimony which cries out to be heard. It makes no difference whether they be Catholics, Orthodox, Copts or Protestants. They are Christians! Their blood is one and the same. Their blood confesses Christ. As we recall these brothers who died only because they confessed Christ, I ask that we encourage each another to go forward with this ecumenism which is giving us strength, the ecumenism of blood. The martyrs belong to all Christians.
In these uncertain times, I am strengthened by their witness, faithful unto death. I pray that I may likewise bear faithful witness in whatever circumstances I find myself.

Let us pray for those persecuted for their faith, for the persecutors to recognize the truth they strive to silence, and that we will be as faithful our love and witness.

Holy martyrs, pray for us and for the whole world. Amen.
+Milad Makeen Zaky
+Abanub Ayad Atiya
+Maged Solaimain Shehata
+Yusuf Shukry Yunan
+Kirollos Shokry Fawzy
+Bishoy Astafanus Kamel
+Somaily Astafanus Kamel
+Malak Ibrahim Sinweet
+Tawadros Yusuf Tawadros
+Girgis Milad Sinweet
+Mina Fayez Aziz
+Hany Abdelmesih Salib
+Bishoy Adel Khalaf
+Samuel Alham Wilson
+Ezat Bishri Naseef
+Loqa Nagaty
+Gaber Munir Adly
+Esam Badir Samir
+Malak Farag Abram
+Sameh Salah Faruq
+Matthew Ayairga, originally non-Christian, who was captured with the others and witnessed their faith. When terrorists asked if he rejected Jesus, despite knowing he would be killed, he said, "Their God is my God."
ICON NOTE

21 Martyrs of Libya icon

I discovered this icon at New Liturgical Movement which shared insights about the symbolism, always important for any icon.
[Matthew Ayairga is] represented here in the middle of the group. Note also that the rest of them are shown with the same face as Jesus, whose Holy Name they spoke as they were killed; the sea behind them is shown reddened by their blood. The red stoles and crowns above them symbolize their martyrdom; the stoles are arranged like those of Coptic deacons during the liturgy. ... The red stoles worn by Christ and the martyrs symbolize the cross identifying them as Christlike Cross bearers, (staurophoroi).

Here is an interview with Tony Rezk where he talks about his faith and the Coptic Church.

Holy Martyrs of Libya icon


Holy Martyrs of Libya
by Nikola Sarić
Notice how the waves of the sea stained with the martyrs’ blood are shown around the edge of the image; Matthew Arayiga is distinct among the group on the top right. The men were killed wearing orange prisoners’ jumpsuits; all them are looking at Christ except for the one at the bottom, who is looking out at us.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Worth a Thousand Words: Japan Mail Steamship Co.

Japan Mail Steamship Co., via BibliOdyssey
Title: Nippon Yusen Kaisha = Japan Mail Steamship Co. [Three ukiyo-e women]
Description: Three Ukiyoe women in kimono standing at the shore
Subject (Company): Nihon Yūsen Kabushiki Kaisha 日本郵船株式会社

Well Said: Finding Peace

Great peace is found in little busy-ness.
Chaucer
Yes. When I remember to do the little things it helps the big problems recede.

Scott and Julie lose the signal, but their bad housekeeping pays off.

There are glasses of water everywhere. And a bat. Lucky! Or not?

Episode 151 looks at Signs directed by M. Night Shyamalan. Get it at A Good Story is Hard to Find podcast.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Leek and Potato Soup

This seems like a basic soup but James Beard's flavoring makes it something out of the ordinary.

Worth a Thousand Words: Arlene Dahl in Desert Legion

Arlene Dahl for Desert Legion
via Not Pulp Covers
I love this. The costuming should have won an award! And how about that sultry look? It is classic not only for what it is portraying but for a picture of 1953 movie making.

Beware if you explore Not Pulp Covers. It has some really great stuff but, keeping in mind how close a lot of it comes to pulp, there are a fair number of scantily clad damsels.

Well Said: A continual remembrance

Food is the daily sacrament of unnecessary goodness, ordained for a continual remembrance that the world will always be more delicious than it is useful.
Robert Farrar Capon
Yes indeed. Which makes the modern tendency to slam down a meal as fuel all the more deplorable. We all do it from time to time. The trick is to be sure that we are mindful. That we do not make it a habit. That we appreciate the goodness available to us, thanks to the sheer generosity and goodness of God who wants us to have something delicious.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

3rd Sunday of St. Joseph

Lorenzo Lotto. Madonna and Child with St. Jerome, St. Joseph and St. Anne.

Joseph, Husband of Mary

Painters have traditionally depicted Joseph as an elderly man in order to emphasize the perpetual virginity of Mary. Yet it is more likely that Joseph was not much older than Mary. You don't have to wait to be old or lifeless to practice the virtue of chastity. Purity comes from love; and the strength and joy of youth are no obstacle to a noble love. Joseph had a young heart and a young body when he married Mary, when he learned of the mystery of her divine motherhood, when he lived in her company, respecting the integrity God wished to give the world as one more sign that he had come to share the life of his creatures. (St. Escriva, Christ is passing by)


Let us ask the Holy Patriarch to teach us how to live this kind of love in the circumstances to which God has called us. We want this love that lights up the heart (St. Thomas, On Charity) so that we may perform our ordinary work with joy.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Worth a Thousand Words: Beragmo Window

Beragmo Window, Belinda Del Pesco

Well Said: I came in on my knees. That is the only way in.

I never came into the church as a person who was being taught. I came in on my knees. That is the only way in. When people start praying they need truths; that’s all. You don’t come into the Church by ideas and concepts, and you cannot leave by mere disagreement. It has to be a loss of faith, a loss of participation. You can tell when people leave the Church: they have quit praying.

Actively relating to the Church's prayer and sacraments is not done through ideas. Any Catholic today who has an intellectual disagreement with the Church has an illusion. You cannot have an intellectual disagreement with the Church: that's meaningless. The Church is not an intellectual institution. It is a superhuman institution.
Marshall McLuhan, The Medium and the Light

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Two Italian Hotheads and Jesus

I reviewed this over 10 years ago and, just having reread it for an upcoming podcast conversation, thought I'd rerun the review for those who missed it the first time around. 


by Giovanni Guareschi

You would be hard pressed to find a more charming book anywhere than this set of short stories.

Set in a small Italian village soon after World War II, we see the priest Don Camillo repeatedly come up against his sworn enemy Peppone. Peppone is an atheist who is the head of the local Communist party and, therefore, against Christianity. Both are hotheads who are inclined to solve problems with their fists and the occasional Tommy gun before turning to more peaceful measures. One soon learns that both men quarrel because they are so much alike that neither will give way and that, when push comes to shove, they will work together for the common good.

Whenever Don Camillo is in over his head, he talks to Christ on the crucifix in his church. We get to hear Christ's wise advice and his occasional, necessary words of reproval as Don Camillo goes about shepherding the souls of the village. In this scene the local communists have threatened to shoot anyone who participates in a scheduled religious procession.
... Don Camillo found the square as bare as a billiard ball.

"Are we going now, Don Camillo?" asked Christ from above the altar. "The river must be beautiful in this sunshine. I'll enjoy seeing it."

"We're going all right," replied Don Camillo. "But I am afraid that this time I shall be the entire procession. If You can put up with that..."

"Where there is Don Camillo he is sufficient in himself," said Christ smiling.

Don Camillo hastily put on the leather harness with the support for the foot of the cross, lifted the enormous crucifix from the altar and adjusted it in the socket. Then he sighed: "All the same, they need not have made this Cross quite so heavy."

"You're telling Me!" replied the Lord smiling. "And I never had shoulders such as yours."

A few moments later Don Camillo, bearing his enormous crucifix, emerged solemnly from the door of the church. The village was completely deserted; people were cowering in their houses and watching through the cracks of the shutters.

"I must look like one of those friars who used to carry a big black cross through villages smitten by the plague," said Don Camillo to himself. Then he began a psalm in his ringing baritone, which seemed to acquire volume in the silence.

After crossing the Square he began to walk down the main street, and here again was emptiness and silence. A small dog came out of a side street and began quietly to follow Don Camillo.

"Go away!" muttered Don Camillo.

"Let it alone," whispered Christ from His Cross. "Then Peppone won't be able to say that not even a dog walked in the procession."

The street curved and then came the lane that led to the river bank. Don Camillo had no sooner turned the bend when he found the way unexpectedly obstructed.

Two hundred men had collected and stood silently across it with folded arms. In front of them stood Peppone, his hands on his hips.

Don Camillo wished he were a tank. But since he could only be Don Camillo, he advanced until he was within a yard of Peppone and then halted. Then he lifted the enormous crucifix from its socket and raised it in his hands, brandishing it as though it were a club.

"Lord," cried Don Camillo. "Hold on tight; I am going to strike!"

But there was no need, because the men scattered before him and the way lay open. Only Peppone, his arms akimbo and his legs wide apart, remained in the middle of the road. Don Camillo put the crucifix back in its socket and marched straight at him and Peppone moved to one side.

"I'm not shifting myself for your sake, but for His," said Peppone, pointing to the crucifix.

"Then take that hat off your head!" replied Don Camillo without so much as looking at him. Peppone pulled off his hat, and Don Camillo marched solemnly through two rows of Peppone's men.

When he reached the river bank he stopped. "Lord," said Don Camillo in a loud voice, "if the few decent people in this filthy village could build themselves a Noah's Ark and float safely upon the waters, I would ask You to send a flood that would break down this dike and submerge the whole countryside. But as these few decent folk live in brick houses exactly like those of their rotten neighbors, and as it would not be just that the good should suffer for the sins of scoundrels like Mayor Peppone and his gang of Godless brigands, I ask You to save this countryside from the river's waters and to give it every prosperity."

"Amen," came Peppone's voice from just behind him.

"Amen," came the response of all the men who had followed the crucifix.

Don Camillo set out on the return journey and when he reached the doorway of the church and turned around so that Christ might bestow a final blessing upon the distant river, he found standing before him: the small dog, Peppone, Peppone's men and every inhabitant of the village, not excluding the druggist, who was an atheist, but who felt that never in his life had he dreamed of a priest like Don Camillo, who could make even the Eternal Father quite tolerable.
At first because of the format and simplicity of some of the stories I mistakenly thought that these were simply light hearted tales, featuring simplistic morality. Nothing could be further from the truth. However, the simplicity is deceptive and the problems that the characters must solve are often true to life and painful.


Did I mention that Guareschi did his own illustrations for the stories? They are charming.

There are so many good moments that I could post the entire book. However, I will leave you with this additional lengthy excerpt which answers the question of whether praying for your favorite team to win works or not. Christ's fondness for his priest even when he has done the wrong thing makes me smile and this is a good example.
Don Camillo was bewildered. He ran off to the church and knelt in front of the altar. "Lord," he said, "why did You fail me? I have lost the match."

"And why should I help you more than the others?

Your men had twenty-two legs and so had the Dynamos, Don Camillo, and all legs are equal. Moreover, they are not My business. I am interested in souls. Don Camillo, where are your brains?"

"I can find them with an effort," said Don Camillo. "I was not suggesting that You should have taken charge of my men's legs, which in any case were the best of the lot. But I do say that You did not prevent that dishonest referee from calling an unjust foul against my team."

"The priest can make a mistake in saying Mass, Don Camillo; why do you deny that others can make a mistake and yet be in good faith?"

"Errors happen in most circumstances, but not in sport! When the ball is actually there ... Binella the clock-maker is a scoundrel ..." Don Camillo was unable to go on because at that moment he heard an imploring voice and a man came running into the church, exhausted and gasping, his face convulsed with terror.

"They want to kill me," he sobbed. '"Save me!"

The crowd had reached the church door and was about to pour into the church itself. Don Camillo seized a weighty candlestick, and brandished it menacingly. "Back! In God's name or I strike!" he shouted. Remember that anyone who enters here is sacred and immune!" The crowd hesitated.

"Shame on you, you pack of wolves! Get back to your lairs and pray God to forgive you your savagery."

The crowd stood in silence, heads were bowed and there was a general retreat.

"Make the sign of the cross," Don Camillo ordered them severely, and as he stood there brandishing the candlestick in his huge hand, he looked like Samson.

Everyone made the sign of the cross.

Don Camillo stood back and closed the church door, drawing the bolt, but there was no need. The fugitive had sunk into a pew and was still panting. "Thank you, Don Camillo," he murmured.

Don Camillo made no immediate reply. He paced to and fro for a few moments and then pulled up opposite the man. "Binella!" he said furiously. "Binella, here in my presence and that of God you dare not lie! There was no foul! How much did that heretic Peppone give you to call a foul in a tied game?"

"Two thousand five hundred lire."

"M-m-m-m!" roared Don Camillo, thrusting his fist under his victim's nose.

"But then ..." moaned Binella.

"Get out," bawled Don Camillo, pointing to the door.

Alone again, Don Camillo turned toward Christ. "Didn't I tell You that the swine had sold himself? Haven't I a right to be mad?"

"None at all, Don Camillo," replied Christ. "You started it when you offered Binella two thousand lire to do the same thing. When Peppone bid five hundred lire more, Binella accepted."

Don Camillo raised his hands. "Lord," he said, "but looking at it that way makes me the guilty man!"

"Exactly, Don Camillo. When you, a priest, made the first offer, he assumed it wasn't wrong and then, quite naturally, he took the more profitable bid."

Don Camillo bowed his head. "And do You mean to tell me that if that unhappy wretch gets beaten up by my men, it will be my fault?"

"In a certain sense, yes, because you were the first to lead him into temptation. Nevertheless, your sin would have been greater if Binella, accepting your offer, had agreed to cheat on behalf of your team. Because then the Dynamos would have done the beating up, and you would have been powerless to stop them."

Don Camillo reflected awhile. "In fact," he said, "it works out better that the others won."

"Exactly, Don Camillo."

"Then, Lord," said Don Camillo,'"I thank You for having let me lose. And if I say that I accept the defeat as a punishment for my dishonesty, You must believe that I am really penitent. Because, to see a team like mine, who could easily swallow and digest a couple of thousand Dynamos, to see them beaten ... is enough to break one's heart, and cries for vengeance to God!"

"Don Camillo!" Christ admonished him, smiling.

"You don't understand me," sighed Don Camillo. "Sport is a thing apart. Either one cares or one doesn't. Do I make myself clear?"

"Only too clear. I understand you so well that ... Come now, when are you going to get your revenge?"

Don Camillo leaped to his feet, his heart swelling with delight. "Six to nothing!" he shouted. "Six to nothing that they never even see the ball! Do You see that confessional?"

He flung his hat up in the air, caught it with a neat kick as it dropped and sent it like a thunderbolt into the little window of the confessional.

"Goal!" said Christ, smiling.

Well Said: I am not what I ought to be

I am not what I ought to be, I am not what I want to be, I am not what I hope to be in another world; but still I am not what I once used to be, and by the grace of God I am what I am.
John Newton

Worth a Thousand Words: One in the Hole

One in the Hole, Valerie, Ucumari Photography
some rights reserved

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Worth a Thousand Words: Femme à la Marguerite

Femme à la Marguerite, Jane Atché (1872-1937)
via French Painters

Well Said: Correct Morals

Correct morals come from knowing what Man is — not what do-gooders and well-meaning old Aunt Nellies would like him to be.
Robert A. Heinlein, Starship Trooper

Genesis Notes: A Man of the Covenant

GENESIS 18 & 19
Abraham is very hospitable to the three strangers here as is Lot later on. Whenever a stranger comes to my door, I try to keep in mind that it might be an angelic encounter just like theirs. It helps temper a lot of the "temper" I might otherwise display! Life Application Study Bible tells about hospitality in Abraham's time.

Abraham and the Three Visitors by Marc Chagall

... In Abraham's day, a person's reputation was largely connected to his hospitality -- the sharing of home and food. Even strangers were to be treated as highly honored guests. Meeting another's need for food and shelter was and still is one of the most immediate and practical ways to obey God. It is also a time-honored relationship builder. Hebrews 13:2 suggests that we, like Abraham, might actually entertain angels. This thought should be on our minds the next time we have the opportunity to meet a stranger's needs.

There is a highly symbolic understanding to the three men's visit. I never noticed before all the little hints that help show what is really happening on a spiritual level.
Note: "This new appearance of God to Abraham is somewhat mysterious: the three men stand for God. When Abraham speaks to them, sometimes he addresses them in the singular (as if there were only one person there: cf. vs. 3), and sometimes in the plural (as if there were three: cf. v. 4). That is why some Fathers interpreted this appearance as an early announcement of the mystery of the Holy Trinity; others, following Jewish tradition (cf. Heb. 13:2) take these personages to be angels. The sacred text says that one of the three men (Yahweh, apparently) stays with Abraham (cf. v. 22), while the other two, who are referred to as angels, go to Sodom (cf. 19:1)." (Navarre Bible: Pentateuch; Princeton, NJ: Scepter Publishers, 1999; p. 103-104)

I remember hearing this story of Abraham "bargaining" with God for the righteous men's lives in Sodom. Never understood it very well, until now, that is. I love the idea that Abraham is concerned about God's character and that God uses bargaining to help Abraham understand Him better. Very Middle Eastern isn't it?
Interestingly, as Abraham considers what God has told him, his primary concern is about God's character. He does not want to believe that God would allow those who live righteously (and surely he is thinking of Lot and his family) to suffer the same fate as those who live wickedly. This kind of treatment of men by God would suggest that He is not just ("Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?" vs. 25). Abraham seems to comprehend in a flash that if the Creator of the world is not just, men are in very serious trouble ("Far be it from Thee to do such a thing....Far be that from Thee!" vs. 25). Why? Because if the Creator is not just, then there is no difference between right and wrong. If God does not reward righteousness and punish wickedness, men can and will do whatever they want. The alternative to justice is chaos.

This protest from Abraham reveals him to be a man who believes that God is just and that He can be expected to deal justly with men. In effect, what he is saying is, "God, You are not really like that!" It is his confidence in God's true character that makes him bold to make his appeal.

To allow the presence of righteous people in a city to spare judgment of the wicked in that same city is an
example of how justice and mercy meet. What a powerful moment this is in redemption history! We should get down on our knees when we read it. It is from human lips that the outline of our salvation is first established in Scripture. Father Abraham, God's covenant-keeper, raises the possibility that righteousness can be so powerful that it spares judgment on those who deserve it. This is not a violation of justice. Rather, it is a statement of the superabundant merit of righteousness. Abraham acknowledges that the wicked deserve to be punished, but he opens the door to the possibility that the righteous can fill up what is lacking in the wicked, thereby saving them.

And God accepts it!

Abraham perhaps realizes that the number of righteous people in Sodom may be very small. He is probably thinking of Lot's family and maybe a few others. He carefully works the numbers down to see how merciful God is and how powerful righteousness is. He stops at ten. The reality is, of course, that ultimately it is the perfect righteousness of one Man, God's own Son, who saves the whole world! As St. Paul writes, "Then, as one man's [Adam] trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one man's act of righteousness leads to acquittal and life for all men. For as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so by one man's obedience many will be made righteous." (Rom. 5:18-19)

If Abraham is an example of someone who keeps a covenant with God, then we are supposed to follow his example. Kind of a sobering thought. He has shown us several lesssons:
  1. Covenant-keepers should occasionally expect to be visited by God in "disguise." Energetic hospitality is the proper response to these visits. Sometimes He may come to us "hidden" in a family member, a coworker, or a stranger in need. Abraham's respect for and self-donation on behalf of his three visitors show us the way to receive Him.
  2. Covenant-keepers can expect that sometimes God will ordain circumstances in our lives that are meant to be occasions for Him to reveal His nature to us. These circumstances will cause us to examine what we believe about God - Who He is and how He acts in the world. Covenant-keepers will defend God's character against accusations or doubts (even when they come from within), just as Abraham did.
  3. Covenant-keepers should see themselves as God's co-workers, just as God described Abraham as one through whom the whole earth will be blessed. We should be prepared to pray as intercessors for those who are in need of God's mercy. Abraham's prayer for Lot meant that already God was keeping His covenant promise to him of making him a "blessing" (19:29). Our prayers for others fulfill God's promise to us to make us a "royal priesthood." As St. Peter writes: "But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's own people, that you may declare the wonderful deeds of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light. Once you were no people but now you are God's people; once you had not received mercy but now you have received mercy." (1 Pet. 2:9-10)
  4. Covenant-keepers should be as bold and as humble as Abraham was before God.

All quotes from Life Application Study Bible. This series first ran in 2004 and 2005. I'm refreshing it as I go. For links to the whole study, go to the Genesis Index. For more about the resources used, go here.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Lagniappe: Meeting my cat away from home

My cat does not know me when we meet a block away from home, and I gather from his expression that I'm not supposed to know him either.
Guy Davenport

Worth a Thousand Words: On the Menu

On the Menu by Edward B. Gordon

Monday, February 6, 2017

Memorial of St. Paul Miki and Companions


I was always fascinated by the Asian martyrs, specifically in China and Japan since those were the ones I usually could find info about. After becoming more interested in Takashi Nagai (here and here), I have even more of an attachment to St. Paul Miki and his companions since they formed the foundation of the Christian community that Nagai was part of.

This is an opportunity not only to share more about these brave martyrs, but also to highlight my favorite book about saints, bar none, Voices of the Saints by Bert Ghezzi. He includes a saint for every day of the year and each is as well written about as you can see in the excerpt below, often with copious quotes from the saints' own writing so you get a real feel for the person. (I picked up the text from Ignatian Spirituality which is a good resource for all sorts of things. At the very least, I appreciate not having to type all this in! The picture is my addition, Ghezzi's book has no images in it.)


St. Paul Miki, SJ ((1564? - 1597)

Christianity spread like wildfire in sixteenth-century Japan. By the 1580s, less than forty years after Francis Xavier introduced the faith, the church counted two hundred thousand converts. The growth had proceeded despite the opposition of Buddhist priests and many petty rulers. However, in 1587, Emperor Hideyoshi ordered the banishment of all Catholics, forcing the Jesuit missionaries to operate from hiding. But outright persecution did not break out until late 1596, when Hideyoshi rounded up twenty-six Jesuits, Franciscans, and laypeople and prepared to martyr them.

Among the victims was St. Paul Miki, a Jesuit novice who had just completed eleven years of training. Paul’s noble family was converted when he was a child and at age five he was baptized. Educated by Jesuits, the gifted youth joined their novitiate at age twenty-two. He had studied intensively the teachings of the Buddhists so as to be able to debate their priests. He welcomed his chance at martyrdom, but may have wished just a little that it would be delayed long enough for him to be ordained a priest.

Hideyoshi had the left ears of the twenty-six martyrs severed as a sign of disrespect and paraded them through Kyoto. Dressed in his simple black cassock, Paul stood out among them. Most onlookers realized that this noble young man could have worn the samurai’s costume with two swords on his belt. The whole display had the unexpected effect of evoking compassion from the crowd, some of whom later became converts.

The martyrs were then taken to Nagasaki. They were tied to crosses with their necks held in place by iron rings. Beside each was an executioner with his spear ready to strike. An eyewitness gave this account:
When the crosses were set up it was a wonderful thing to see the constancy of all of them. Our brother Paul Miki, seeing himself raised to the most honorable position that he had ever occupied, openly proclaimed that he was a Japanese and a member of the Society of Jesus. And that he was being put to death for having preached the gospel. He gave thanks to God for such a precious favor.

He then added these words: “Having arrived at this moment of my existence, I believe that no one of you thinks I want to hide the truth. That is why I declare to you that there is no other way of salvation than the one followed by Christians. Since this way teaches me to forgive my enemies and all who have offended me, I willingly forgive the king and all those who have desired my death. And I pray that they will obtain the desire of Christian baptism.”

At this point, he turned his eyes toward his companions and began to encourage them in their final struggle. The faces of them all shone with great gladness. Another Christian shouted to him that he would soon be in paradise. “Like my Master,” murmured Paul, “I shall die upon the cross. Like him, a lance will pierce my heart so that my blood and my love can flow out upon the land and sanctify it to his name.”
As they awaited death the entire group sang the canticle of Zachary (see Luke 1:67–79). The executioners stood by respectfully until they had intoned the last verse. Then at a given signal they thrust their spears into the victims’ sides. On that day, February 5, 1597, the church of Japan welcomed its first martyrs.
Bert Ghezzi, Voices of the Saints
This is the Church's prayer for today. I love the collects and the way they give us pointers, if we reflect on them, on how to live a devout life. It's like a tiny catechism in a prayer. I picked this up from Catholic Culture which is another excellent resource.
Collect: O God, strength of all the Saints, who through the Cross were pleased to call the Martyrs Saint Paul Miki and companions to life, grant, we pray, that by their intercession we may hold with courage even until death to the faith that we profess. 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.

Lagniappe: Texans' Self Evident Truths

We Texans hold certain truths to be self-evident: Davy Crockett was the most fearless freedom fighter who ever lived, Buddy Holly was the greatest rock 'n' roller, the Dallas Cowboys are America's Team, and the best barbecue in the world is pit-smoked in Taylor, Lockhrt, Bastrop, Elgin, and Luling, along the Central Texas Barbecue Belt.
Texas Monthly 1992

Worth a Thousand Words: Misses Solomon

Misses Solomon, Anders Zorn

A Movie You Might Have Missed #62: Night Train to Munich

Charters: I bought a copy of Mein Kampf. Occurred to me it might shed a spot of light on all this... how d'ye do. Ever read it?

Caldicott: Never had the time.

Charters: I understand they give a copy to all the bridal couples over here.

Caldicott: Oh, I don't think it's that sort of book, old man.


When the Germans march into Prague, armour-plating inventor Dr Bomasch flees to England. His daughter Anna escapes from arrest to join him, but the Gestapo manage to kidnap them both back to Berlin. As war looms, British secret service agent Gus Bennet follows disguised as a senior German army officer. His ploy – not unpleasant one – is pretending to woo Anna to the German cause.
This was a complete pleasure. Why is this gem not better known? My daughter rented it to see what Carol Reed's other movies were like (besides The Third Man). Night Train to Munich has witty dialogue, spy story action, suspense, a romantic hero who is detached and narcissistic, unexpected plot twists, and two bird-brained Englishmen who drive the plot in unexpected ways. (Their reaction to learning that England and Germany is at war is priceless.)

When you consider that this was made in 1939 (in theaters in 1940), then the continual, subtle jabs at the Germans become even more interesting. It's like Ernst Lubistch's To Be or Not to Be in using humor to make points but, of course, completely different.

St. Dorothy's Day

Saint Dorothy and the Infant Christ, Francesco di Giorgio
Dorothy was born in Caesarea, where her Christian parents had fled to escape the persecutions taking place in Rome. The Roman emperor Diocletian stepped up his harassment of the Christian communities around the time that Dorothy was a young woman of marriageable age. When marriage to the roman prefect Fabricius was arranged for her, Dorothy refused, saying that she wanted to remain a virgin. To compound her insults to the Roman authorities, she also refused to take part in the ceremonies to the old gods. She was thrown into prison [where she was was tortured]...

Along the route to her place of execution, Dorothy met a young clerk in the legal network, named Theophilus, who made fun of her belief that when she was dead, she would be transported to a heavenly garden filled with flowers and fruit. "Send me fruit and flowers, then, when you are dead," he mocked. In one version, the young man watched Dorothy kneel down before she was executed, and while she was praying there, an angel appeared to him carrying three roses and three apples. In another version, after her death a strange boy appeared at Theophilus's door in the dead of winter, carring a basket with three red roses and three red apples.

Theophilus was converted and later martyred by being beheaded, after which his body was thrown to wild animals...

DEVOTIONAL PRACTICE
During the winter months, place on your altar or in a special area in your home three apples and three roses., See them as reminders of the eternal garden that exists within you even in the dead of winter. Thank God for allowing you to have faith in this vision.

The Way of the Saints by Tom Cowan
St. Dorothy is Rose's patron saint and after she moved out on her own we let the devotional practice drop. However, for anyone who is interested here's what we did.

We put the apples and roses on the "Mary" table. This is an end table in our living room where we have a cross, a statue of Mary, a statue of the holy family, and a little jar containing the dried rose petals from our "miraculous rose." Why? Because of those dried rose petals. They are our physical evidence of the miraculous and it is only right for this memorial to Dorothy to be placed there alongside them.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

2nd Sunday of Saint Joseph

Marriage to the Virgin, Perugino, c. 1448

The Virtues of Saint Joseph

When considering the virtues of Saint Joseph we need to keep in mind that God's perspective on human actions is frequently quite different from the world's perspective. We men and women have a habit of giving all our attention to exterior things while neglecting the interior realities. We tend to work against the clock. We accept appearances and give little importance to what is most important. We worry so much about how things will look to others instead of being concerned for the way they ought to be. It is for this reason that the most esteemed virtues are those that are associated with "getting on in life" and lead to success in business. As a consequence, the interior and hidden virtues are rarely practised or, for that matter, rarely understood. Yet these are the virtues that pertain to man's relationship with God. This dilemma (or paradox) is the key to the mystery of true virtue ... Joseph, the honest man, seeks God. Joseph, the selfless man, finds God. Joseph, the hidden man, delights in God's presence. (Bossuet, Second panegyric on St. Joseph) We need to follow the Holy Patriarch's example by seeking God's presence in the course of our ordinary work.

Friday, February 3, 2017

What the Catholic Church teaches about death with dignity

Simcha Fisher hits it out of the ball park — here's a bit but read it all. (Emphasis added is mine.)
Doerflinger acknowledges Malnight’s struggle: “Often there is no one right or wrong answer, but just an answer you think is best for your loved one in this particular situation, taking into account that patient’s own perspective and his or her ability to tolerate the burdens of treatment.”

The key, says Cathy Adamkiewicz, is “not to put our human parameters on the purpose of a human life.”

When she got her infant daughter’s prognosis from the neurologist, she told him, “You look at her as a dying system. I see a human being. Her life has value, not because of how much she can offer, but there is value in her life.”

Worth a Thousand Words: Natural History Series for Children

Prang's Natural History Series for Children, 1878
via Animalarium

Well Said: Putting a limit on God's love

The Lord's love knows no bounds, but man can put a limit on it.

"You are clean, but not all of you" (Jn 13: 10): What is it that makes man unclean?

It is the rejection of love, not wanting to be loved, not loving. It is pride that believes it has no need of any purification, that is closed to God's saving goodness. It is pride that does not want to admit or recognize that we are in need of purification. ...

"You are clean, but not all of you". Today, the Lord alerts us to the self-sufficiency that puts a limit on his unlimited love. He invites us to imitate his humility, to entrust ourselves to it, to let ourselves be "infected" by it.

He invites us - however lost we may feel - to return home, to let his purifying goodness uplift us and enable us to sit at table with him, with God himself.

Pope Benedict XVI, The Joy of Knowing Christ,
homily, April 13, 2006

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Worth a Thousand Words: The Photographer, Christian Franzen

Joaquin Sorolla; The Photographer, Christian Franzen; 1903
via Arts Everyday Living

Well Said: Tackling evil with love and truth alone

This Sunday's Gospel contains some of the most typical and forceful words of Jesus' preaching: "Love your enemies" (Lk 6: 27). ...

Actually, Christ's proposal is realistic because it takes into account that in the world there is too much violence, too much injustice, and therefore that this situation cannot be overcome except by countering it with more love, with more goodness. This more comes from God: it is his mercy which was made flesh in Jesus and which alone can "tip the balance" of the world from evil to good, starting with that small and decisive "world" which is the human heart. ...

One then understands that for Christians, non-violence is not merely tactical behaviour but a person's way of being, the attitude of one who is so convinced of God's love and power that he is not afraid to tackle evil with the weapons of love and truth alone.

Pope Benedict XVI, The Joy of Knowing Christ
Angelus, Feb. 18, 2017

Genesis Notes: Faith and Obedience

GENESIS 16 & 17
Here's something we can all relate to ... not wanting to be patient but trying to control things ourselves. When Sarai gives Hagar to Abram so they can have children she is following the trends of the time. However, both Abram and Sarai are not trusting God when they take the standard, easy way out.

Matthias Stom (fl. 1615–1649), Sarah Leading Hagar to Abraham

It was the custom of the time for a barren wife to give her slave girl to her husband, in the hope of having an heir. "It was not strictly polygamy but rather a means the lawful wife used in order to give her husband children. From what we know of Babylonian laws of the time, if the slave girl became pregnant and then began to look down on her mistress, she could be punished and revert to being treated as a slave. That is what Hagar fears will happen, so she runs away." (The Navarre Bible: Pentateuch; Princeton, NJ: Scepter Publishers, 1999; p. 97-98)
When God repeats his promise to give Abram children, he establishes a covenant with a painful and somewhat ironic sign ... circumcision. I always thought that circumcision was a very unusual sign of faith that God required. Turns out it wasn't as unusual as all that...
The practice of circumcision was fairly extensive in the world of Abraham's time. The Egyptians circumcised boys at the age of 13, which would have been Ishmael's age at this time. For the Jews, it became a sign of the covenant God made with Abraham. This is one of many instances of God's appropriating an already existing practice and dedicating it to His own purpose.
God also changes Abram's name to Abraham which is explained at that time. Sarai's name change signifies something important as well.
Sarai also gets a name change, to Sarah, which means something like "queen mother" or "princess" - in other words, a suggestion of royalty. From her descendants would come King David, in whom this part of the covenant ("kings of peoples shall come from her") was fulfilled. When David sat on Israel's royal throne (c. 1010-970 B.C.), God made a covenant with him that someone from his line would always sit on the throne of Israel (see 2 Sam. 7). Jesus, born of the house of David, would be that King, reigning forever over the New Israel, the Church.

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.

The Responsibility of Christians During Troubled Times

Holy moly, guys! Listen to Bishop Barron's homily for this Sunday (website, iTunes).

Talk about a challenge to live the faith out in the world. I found it really inspiring.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Blogging Around: Context for Trump Watching

Like many, I have been bemused by watching our new president actively launch himself into fulfilling campaign promises. Bemused on many levels, I might add.

I'm not among the outraged because I really don't understand the implications of everything that is going on and keep waiting to see what happens in the long run.

With that in mind I appreciated discovering Scott Adam's blog. He's the creator of the Dilbert cartoon and views pretty much everything with a businessman's eye. He's got a fascinating take on President Trump's tactics. Here are a couple of posts that made a lot of sense to me.

The Persuasion Filter and Immigration

If Trump is a Master Persuader, as I have been telling you for over a year, he just solved his biggest problem with immigration and you didn’t notice. The biggest problem is that his supporters on the right want more immigration control than he can (or should) deliver while his many critics on the left want far less. Normally when you negotiate there is only one party on the other side. But in this case, Trump is negotiating two extremes in two different directions. It’s the toughest possible situation. Best case scenario is that 40% of the country want you dead when it’s all over. Not good.

So what does a President Trump do when he is in an impossible situation?

According to the Hitler Filter, he does more Hitler stuff, such as being more extreme than anyone expected with his recent immigration declarations. That filter accurately predicted that he would be “worse” once elected. Sure enough, his temporary immigration ban is more extreme than most people expected. If things never get worse from this point on, we would have to question the Hitler Filter. But if things get worse still, the Hitler Filter is looking good.

Compare to the Persuasion Filter. This filter says Trump always opens with an extreme first offer so he has room to negotiate to the middle. The temporary ban fits that model perfectly. On the immigration topic alone, both the Hitler Filter and the Persuasion Filter predict that we get to exactly the point we are at today. Let’s call that a tie in terms of predictive power. The hard part is predicting what happens next.

The Persuasion Filter says Trump is negotiating with his critics on the extreme right at the same time as he is negotiating with his critics on the left. He needed one “opening offer” that would set up both sides for the next level of persuasion. And he found it. You just saw it.
My husband had been speculating on a version of "the persuasion filter" for a while (without calling it that). It was interesting to see how Adams talks about it. Read it all here.

Is President Trump Doing Management Wrong?

It appears that Trump’s counter-persuasion for “chaos” involves framing his administration as “disruptive.” That’s a good persuasion move because it doesn’t deny the observations. A disruption looks a lot like chaos from the outside. Two movies on one screen. ...

Is being a bit messy a sign of a problem?

Not if you’re the entrepreneurial, disruptive, candidate of change who just got elected.

Let me explain another management concept that the pundits don’t understand because, generally speaking, they don’t have the right kind of education or experience to analyze a business process.

There are two basic styles of management. One is the cautious style of Fortune 500 companies. The other is the rapid-iteration and A/B testing style of entrepreneurs. Trump is bringing the latter style to the office. The markers for this style of management include:

1. Rapid and decisive hiring and firing.

2. Bias toward action.

3. Rapid A/B testing. Release the early beta version and judge reactions. Adjust accordingly.

4. Emphasis on the psychology of success. Entrepreneurial management includes lots of persuasion and bullshit because entrepreneurs have to fake it until they make it. In other words, they have to create demand via persuasion.
Again, this gave me a lot to think about. Read it all here.

Presidential Podcast

My favorite way to put things into context is to look at history. The Presidential podcast ran once a week up to the last election, covering our presidents in order. It's only half an hour long but gives unusual takes on our past leaders, for example looking at Lincoln's writing and Grant's letters to his wife. It is eminently even-handed and always has a connection to our own times.

It is a wonderful reminder that President Trump is not the first leader who's come in sowing chaos and confusion. We've had it many a time before. Sometimes knowing that is context enough to make it easier to sit back in calm bemusement.

Here's the website or you can get it from iTunes.

Worth a Thousand Words: Rain

Torii Kotondo, Rain, 1929

Budweiser's Super Bowl Ad: Born the Hard Way



Making a point, but doing it subtly and artfully enough that everyone can enjoy it from a lot of levels. And look at those production levels. They spared no expense.

Well Said: Come and See

We too ask Jesus: "Teacher, where do you stay?", and he answers us: "Come and see". For the believer it is always a ceaseless search and a new discovery, because Christ is the same yesterday, today and for ever, but we, the world and history, are never the same, and he comes to meet us to give us his communion and the fullness of life.

Pope Benedict XVI, The Joy of Knowing Christ, 
Angelus, January 15, 2006