Friday, April 21, 2017

Why You Should Go to Church (Even If You're Not Sure of Your Beliefs)

I'm not sure tho compelling this would've been before I became a believer. Now, though, having gone to church for a couple of decades, I can attest to the truth of this piece from The Art of Manliness. So I can assure you they're on point here.

These are just a few of the topics they touch upon:

  • A Chance to Remember/Reorient/Reflect/Re-center
  • Builds Discipline
  • Rare Chance for Communal Singing
  • Breaches Your Echo Chamber and Connects You With People From Different Walks of Life
  • Contributes to Greater Free-Thinking and Your Diversity of Ideas
  • Ample Opportunities (and More Motivation) for Service

Worth a Thousand Words: Noli Me Tangere

Noli Me Tangere, Lavinia Fontana, 1581
via Elizabeth Lev
Fontana’s version emphasized accuracy: Mary Magdalene mistakes Jesus for a gardener, and so she paints him in a broad-brimmed hat holding a shovel. Yet once she has emphasized the literal sense, Lavinia also evokes a beautiful scene. The atmosphere is permeated with warm golden light as a new age is dawning. A little flashback scene in the distance shows the women who have left the city arriving at the tomb where an angel tells them Christ is gone. Mary’s pose in the further scene shows her with the slumped shoulders of dejection, but in the foreground her face becomes radiant with hope. Christ puts out his hand, ostensibly to tell her not to touch Him, but also in a gesture of affectionate blessing. Mary’s gaze is directed toward the wound on his hand made visible for her, but she seems to look beyond it, trying to gaze at his face under the shadowy brim. Proof of his resurrection is not her primary concern as she sinks to her usual place by his feet. The light, setting, and positions evoke a love story, a compelling language that the Counter-Reformation will employ in its time.
There's more where that came from. I love being shown beneath the surface of paintings for deeper meaning. Elizabeth Lev's piece discusses the goals of Counter-Reformation art and opens another piece up for our edification. Be sure to check it out.

Genesis Notes: Jews, Christians, Muslims ... and Abraham

We know that all three religions have a basic connection through Abraham. A succinct summary in The Complete Bible Handbook shows where they agree and disagree about Abraham's example for us.

Abraham Serving the Three Angels by Rembrandt
A common reverence for Abraham as a model of true human response to God and as ancestor of subsequent believers is one of the prime links between Jews, Christians, and Muslims.

Abraham's responsiveness to God is summed up in his epithet as "the friend of God." This title is first given in Hebrew scripture (Isa 41:8; 2 Chr. 20:7); it is taken up in the New Testament (Jas. 2:23); and in Islam, Abraham (Ibrahim) is known simply as "the friend" (Al Kahlil).

Each religion gives content to Abraham's friendship with God in terms of its own characteristic emphases, on the supposition that Abraham is best understood in terms of that to which he helped give rise. Thus for Jews (appealing to Gen. 26:5 as well as to more general considerations), Abraham is an example of one who was obedient to God's commandments, or Torah, even before Torah was given to Israel at Sinai. For Christians, following Paul's exposition (Rom. 4), Abraham is a model of one who has faith (pistis) in God. For Muslims, Abraham demonstrates islam, unconditional submission to the will of God, as in his willingness to sacrifice his son. Though Jews, Christians, and Muslims differ about the true human response to God as exemplified by Abraham, they agree that he provides a model of how human life should be lived.
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.

San Jacinto Day! Remember Goliad! Remember the Alamo!

Thank goodness that my friend Don never forgets ... he's the one always reminding me it is San Jacinto Day He has told me many a time:
I try to remember all of these good Texas holidays. They really bring home how unique the state –and future Republic?—truly is. This one is a real holiday, not like Cinco de Mayo. I mean, if you have a holiday to celebrate beating the French, then every day would be a holiday!
Ha! No kidding!

Let's all go get a few margaritas and lift them high to the Texian heroes of the decisive battle of the Texas revolution!

Thursday, April 20, 2017

"Egyptian Christians are made of steel!"

Watch the news anchor's reaction to the forgiveness expressed by the widow of the gatekeeper who prevented a suicide bomber from entering an Alexandria church yard on Palm Sunday, thereby saving countless lives.

It is truly moving. This is why the blood of the martyrs [and the forgiveness of the faithful] is the seed of the church.

"Egyptian Christians are made of steel! These people have so much forgiveness!"
Via The Deacon's Bench.

Worth a Thousand Words: Tea Service

Albert Anker, Tea Service, c. 1910
via Arts Everyday Living

A "Fast Take" Interview on Aleteia

Elizabeth Scalia graciously offered me a "fast take" interview on Aleteia about Seeking Jesus in Everyday Life. Aleteia is a worldwide Catholic network with all sorts of fascinating articles.

Among other things, find out what person I identify with most in the book, what writing it taught me, and ... perhaps most importantly of all ... what the ideal beverage is that you should have in hand while reading your copy!

Challenging Opinions Interview: Sticking Up for the Faith

William has relaunched his podcast and I feel honored that my 2016 interview was one he carried over. So I'm reposting this in case you're interested.

Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope.
I Peter 3:15
William Campbell invited me to chat with him at his podcast, Challenging Opinions. The podcast exists to "test all ideas, left and right, liberal and conservative, progressive and libertarian."

That idea in itself is pretty challenging but when I listened to sample episodes William was a fair and impartial interviewer, which is a rare quality these days.

I thought we were going to discuss my post Obedience: The Dirtiest Word in America so I was prepared to talk about being an American Catholic during the political season. I think that post was only what drew me to William's attention. We never actually discussed that topic, but wound up covering everything from faith in God to Catholic misdeeds to the future of the Church.

I was going completely off the cuff, which I think shows sometimes, but that in itself was fair. Shouldn't we be able to shed some light on faith and the Church when we're asked about it? It was a like a particularly invigorating workout and I really enjoyed talking with William.

Listen at Challenging Opinions or iTunes.


The Reason for My Hope and Why I'm a Happy Catholic
This didn't come up in our fast-paced conversation, but I wanted to share it anyway. This quote perfectly echoes my feeling.
I have looked for happiness everywhere: in the elegant life of the salons, in the deafening noise of balls and parties, in accumulating money, in the excitement of gambling, in artistic glory, in friendship with famous people, in the pleasure of the senses. Now I have found happiness, I have an overflowing heart and I want to share it with you. … You say, “But I don’t believe in Jesus Christ.” I say to you, “Neither did I and that is why I was unhappy.
Hermann Cohen, letter to a friend
All my life I searched for Truth, wondering if there were such a thing. And I found it in Jesus.


On the documents I hadn't heard of, allegedly Vatican blueprints for methodically concealing sex crimes, the news articles had responses from both the Church and other experts which point out that they aren't a "smoking gun" and that "it's a church law that deals only with religious crimes and sins. And that the secrecy is meant to protect the faithful from scandal." All this proves is that there are two sides to any issue and that we can't make quick assumptions without very careful study.

A friend of mine is a canon lawyer. I've often heard him speak about how easy it is to misunderstand a law by only a looking at it through one frame, especially when it has been misused so that is the only lens we are using. Often these laws reflect long ago history and problems which were very different than the current issues.

Can such documents be misused? Absolutely. Was there a terrible sexual misconduct and a mistaken idea of protecting the Church implemented by moving predators around? No doubt. These are the sins we, the faithful, mourn and must keep from ever recurring.

But, it is equally a mistake to read our current mindset backwards into documents whose roots lie deep in the past. Jumping to conclusions about intention is as much of a mistake as ignoring victims to protect an institution.

Which is all a way of saying ... it's complicated.

Easter Thursday: Litany for the Easter Season

A beautiful litany full of praise and joy. And, not too long. What could be better?
Litany for the Easter Season
Father of life, we give you praise and glory.
Christ is risen, alleluia!

You have given Jesus victory over sin.
Christ is risen, alleluia!

You have raised him from the dead.
Christ is risen, alleluia!

You have made his cross a sign of glory.
Christ is risen, alleluia!

You have made us sharers in your life.
Christ is risen, alleluia!

With Christ, you have buried us in death to sin.
Christ is risen, alleluia!

With him you have raised us to new life.
Christ is risen, alleluia!

He is seated with you in glory.
Christ is risen, alleluia!

He sends his Spirit to guide our lives.
Christ is risen, alleluia!

Jesus will come again in glory.
Christ is risen, alleluia!
Now don't forget, Easter doesn't end until Pentecost, so keep on celebrating right up to June 4!

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Seeking Jesus in Everyday Life: "Are you ready to hit the reset button on your practice of the faith? Here it is."

A friend had a relative who’d just turned to God for the first time in the midst of a serious end-of-life crisis, but now what? How do you help someone who’s ignored God for a lifetime to even know how to pray? I recommended this book.

Starting with “Beginning to Pray” as the zero point, Julie walks the reader from I’ve-got-nothing all the way into the depths of the Christian life.
Jen Fitz has a lovely review of Seeking Jesus in Everyday Life. Please do read the whole thing at the link.

Easter Wednesday: Via Lucis - Stations of the Resurrection for Easter

Nikolay Koshelev, Harrowing of Hell, 1900
Via Lucis, The Way of Light substitutes meditations on the Stations of the Resurrection for the Stations of the Cross.
As with the Stations of the Cross, the devotion takes no fixed form, but typically includes for each Station a reading from Scripture, a short meditation, and a prayer. Where a series of pictures is used to aid the devotion, it takes the form of a procession, with movement from one Station to the next sometimes being accompanied by the singing of one or more verses of a hymn. (Source: Wikipedia)
I first came across this practice in Magnificat, which typically features a version in their Easter edition.

For Easter meditation, this devotion parallels the Glorious Mysteries of the Rosary just as the Via Crucis (Way of the Cross) complements the Sorrowful Mysteries. These stations were discovered in the Catacombs of St. Callistus in Rome.

If you check the Wikipedia link there are a couple of different lists of meditative stations. As with the original Stations of the Cross, it is evolving as the practice is taken up by growing numbers of people. I like getting to see that happen, actually.

This link is to a pdf from the Archdiocese of Detroit which can be printed out. I'm grateful these are provided.

Note on the art
Just to keep that fluid Via Lucis meditation going, one of my favorite things to contemplate is when Christ brought salvation to the righteous who had already died but were waiting for this moment.  That is not part of any of the Via Lucis lists that you'll find but, hey, I don't always stick to the "assigned" mysteries when praying the rosary either.

Maybe it's because I've been reading the Divine Comedy. In Hell, Dante has several spots where the architecture and ground were ruined by Christ's coming and the resultant earthquake. I love that so much. (The Harrowing of Hell is complicated. You can read more here.)

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Worth a Thousand Words: A Spring in the Heart

A Spring in the Heart
taken by Remo Savisaar

After a bizarre podcasting accident leaves Julie and Scott in the hospital ...

... the nurses confiscate their copies of The Daughter of Time to stop them arguing about Richard III. It doesn't work. We discuss The Daughter of Time by Joesphine Tey on Episode 156 of A Good Story is Hard to Find podcast.

Easter Tuesday: Living Under Enemy Occupation in the Light of Victory

I've been posting this one since waaaay back in 2007. It is still as valid now and I, personally, need the  reminder.
Now think of the cross and resurrection of Jesus as breaking the power of sin. But if the power of sin, death and evil has been broken, how can we make sense of the fact that it still continues to plague us? Human history and Christian experience tell us of a constant struggle against sin and evil in our own lives, even as Christians. There is a real danger, it would seem, that talking about "the victory of faith" will become nothing more than empty words, masking a contradiction between faith and experience. How can we handle this problem?

A helpful way of understanding this difficulty was developed by a group of distinguished writers, such as C.S. Lewis in England and Anders Nygren in Sweden. They noticed important parallels between the new Testament and the situation during the Second World War. The victory won over sin through the death of Christ was like the liberation of an occupied country from Nazi rule. We need to allow our imaginations to take in the sinister and menacing idea of an occupying power. Life has to be lived under the shadow of this foreign presence. And part of the poignancy of the situation is its utter hopelessness. Nothing can be done about it. No one can defeat it.

Then comes the electrifying news. There has been a far-off battle. And somehow, it has turned the tide of the war. A new phase has developed, and the occupying power is in disarray. Its backbone has been broken. In the course of time, the Nazis will be driven out of every corner of Europe. But they are still present in the occupied country.

In one sense, the situation has not changed, but in another, more important sense, the situation has changed totally. The scent of victory and liberation is in the air. A total change in the psychological climate results. I remember once meeting a man who had been held prisoner in a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp in Singapore. He told me of the astonishing change in the camp atmosphere which came about when one of the prisoners (who owned a shortwave radio) learned of the collapse of the Japanese war effort in the middle of 1945. Although all in the camp still remained prisoners, they knew that their enemy had been beaten. It would only be a matter of time before they were released. And those prisoners, I was told, began to laugh and cry, as if they were free already.

... And so with us now. In one sense, victory has not come; in another, it has. The resurrection declares in advance of the event God's total victory over all evil and oppressive forces -- such as death, evil and sin. Their backbone has been broken, and we may begin to live now in the light of that victory, knowing that the long night of their oppression will end.
Alister E. McGrath, quoted in Bread and Wine: Readings For Lent And Easter
This is a point of view that hadn't occurred to me. I especially like it for those times when the world is too much with us and the cynicism of modern times begins to get us down. The deciding battle is over, the victory won, but there remain all the small skirmishes (which are not at all small to those caught up in them ... like us) that go on afterwards in any war. By virtue of simply being human and alive we are caught up in the skirmishes of resistance to the enemy occupation. Even when fighting, though, we know ...
The strife is o'er the battle done;
Now is the Victor's triumph won:
Now be the song of praise begun: Alleluia!

Monday, April 17, 2017

Lagniappe: The ringing bell had a sinister sound, for no reason of itself, but because of the ears to which it rang.

I got a shoulder holster out of the desk and strapped it on and slipped a Colt .38 automatic into it, put on hat and coat, shut the windows again, put the whiskey away, clicked the lights off and had the office door unlatched when the phone rang.

The ringing bell had a sinister sound, for no reason of itself, but because of the ears to which it rang. I stood there braced and tense, lips tightly drawn back in a half grin. Beyond the closed window the neon lights glowed. The dead air didn’t move. Outside the corridor was still. The bell rang in darkness, steady and strong.

I went back and leaned on the desk and answered. There was a click and a droning on the wire and beyond that nothing. I depressed the connection and stood there in the dark, leaning over, holding the phone with one hand and holding the flat riser on the pedestal down with the other. I didn’t know what I was waiting for.

The phone rang again. I made a sound in my throat and put it to my ear again, not saying anything at all.

So we were there silent, both of us, miles apart maybe, each one holding a telephone and breathing and listening and hearing nothing, not even the breathing.

Then after what seemed a very long time there was the quiet remote whisper of a voice saying dimly, without any tone:

“Too bad for you, Marlowe.”

Then the click again and the droning on the wire and I hung up and went back across the office and out.
Raymond Chandler, The High Window

Worth a Thousand Words: The Fantasy World

Column header from Stirring Science Stories, Feb. 1941
via SFFaudio

Easter Monday: When Easter Makes You Want to Act Like Scrooge on Christmas Morning

This is from a few years ago, but I think it's worth reading again.
After the last egg is found – what next? While I had come to know a little more about Easter and its connection to Jesus – I was still more interested in the mythology of the Greeks and Romans than what I thought of as the mythology of the Christians. Even secular Christmas has some power to let you hear the Gospel even if only via the Carols and the watered-down version of Christmas in a Christmas movie. Secular Easter is another story where hardly and bits of the Gospel make it through into the culture. On the pantheon of holidays Easter for me was less than President’s Day. At least for President’s Day you don’t feel that loss of something you feel should be there, but don’t know why you are lacking something.
Read The Curt Jester's conversion story and his experience with Easter.

I concur in most of the feelings he mentions. In reading through this I noticed that Jeff and I also share that experience of having to wait for a year to be confirmed in the Catholic Church. In my case, unlike his, I needed the RCIA instruction as well receiving the unexpected spiritual growth from the classes.

No matter what your case, read his story. It will remind you of the joy of Easter.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Easter Sunday: Joyful, Joyful

Maurice Denis. Holy Women Near the Tomb/Saintes Femmes au tombeau. 1894
This is the great truth which fills our faith with meaning. Jesus, who died on the cross, has risen. He has triumphed over death; he has overcome sorrow, anguish and the power of darkness ... In him we find everything. Outside of him our life is empty (J. Escriva, Christ is passing by).
After the somber tone and reflection of Holy Thursday and Good Friday I can hardly wait to get to Mass to hear the joy and triumph of our Easter celebration.

May you all have the same delight and joy in your Easter celebrations both in church and at home.

To all the new Catholics around the world who are joining the Church this year, welcome home! This is my 16th birthday as a Catholic and well I remember how wonderful it was sitting with my sweet and wise sponsor, the smell of the chrism (I wanted to never wash it off), and that glorious Mass where it all happened. I will leave you with some funny but wise words from another convert. If you remember these, it will make the good times better and any disillusionment with the Church less.
First, the good news about the Catholic Church is: it's like a big family.

Second, the bad news about the Catholic Church is: it's like a big family.
Mark Shea

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Holy Week: Holy Saturday - The Sepulchre of Jesus' Body

Hans Holbein. The Body of the Dead Christ in the Tomb. 1521.
Click through on this to see it properly large.
The Body of Christ lay in the tomb. The world was in darkness. Mary was the only light still burning on earth. The Mother of Our Lord -- my Mother -- and the women who have followed the Master from Galilee, after taking careful note of everything, also take their leave. Night falls.

Now it is all over. The work of our Redemption has been accomplished. We are now children of God, because Jesus has died for us and his death has ransomed us. "Empti enim estis pretio magno (1 Cor 6:20), you and I have been bought at a great price.

We must bring into our own life, to make them our own, the life and death of Christ. We must die through mortification and penance, so that Christ may live in us through love. And then follow in the footsteps of Christ, with a zeal to co-redeem all mankind. We must give our life for others. That is the only way to live the life of Jesus Christ, and to become one and the same with him (J. Escriva, The Way of the Cross, Fourteenth Station).

Nicolas Poussin. The Lamentation over Christ. 1655-1657.

This is the loneliest day of the year. Our Lord is gone ...