Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Julie and Scott answer an ad looking for people to spend three years on the moon. Gerty likes both of them!

 Scott Danielson and I discuss Moon, starring Sam Rockwell, in  Episode 308 of A Good Story is Hard to Find.

Cistercian Architecture

Cistercian Architecture: Poblet Monastery, Catalonia
via Barcelona Photoblog
Isn't this lovely? I can just imagine slowly pacing along it, looking out at whatever is on the other side of those open arches.

Click through to Barcelona Photoblog for a bigger image and to see details about this architecture.

A Movie You Might Have Missed #82 — A Taxi Driver

It's been 12 years since I began this series highlighting movies I wished more people knew about. I'm rerunning it from the beginning because I still think these are movies you might have missed.

In 1980, a foreign journalist hires a down-on-his-luck taxi driver to take him to Gwangju, South Korea. They soon arrive to find a city under siege by student protesters and the military. A Taxi Driver brings a ground-level perspective and a refreshingly light touch to a fact-based story with sobering implications.

I'd never heard of this 2017 movie which was wildly popular in Korea and was their entry to the Oscar foreign film nominations that year. Knowing only the brief description above and having a vague memory of Korea as having military dictatorship issues in the 1980s we launched into the movie.

As with the Indian movie Airlift, we were introduced to a piece of history we had never heard of. It turns out that the taxi driver, Mr. Kim, is the perfect character through whose eyes we should view the military lockdown of Gwangju. He also had no idea of the violence being perpetrated upon the protesters and innocent civilians. Following the reporter as he follows leads to the heart of the riots, the depth of the violence and oppression gradually unfold. We get to meet other taxi drivers as they help first with repairs and then with more important things. As the story goes on,  the driver begins seeing a bigger picture than just his own interest and that everyone, however seemingly insignificant, plays a part in others' lives. 

Based on a real event, this is a combination of fact about the photographer and fiction about the driver.  Kim's identity was unknown when the film was made so his story is fictional aside from his time with the photographer. Nevertheless, it is very effective and provides both a much needed lighter approach and "everyman" view which takes the audience along.

I came away grateful for good reporters determined to get the truth to the people. I also thought of the war reporters who have been dying in Ukraine. And I was reminded of how desperate the Ukranians' plight is, even as they fight with all they have. Those trends were personified in this movie.

As I mentioned, this reminded me of both Airlift and also of Argo. Fans of those movies will not be disappointed.

Monday, May 29, 2023

Memorial Day

I can only offer my whole-hearted thanks and gratitude to those who gave their lives for their country. All the freedoms we enjoy today would not be ours if it were not for these sacrificial souls.

Sunday, May 28, 2023

Pentecost: Come Holy Spirit

The coming of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost was not an isolated event in the Church's life. The Paraclete sanctifies it continually as He also sanctifies every soul. This He does through all the innumerable inspirations which are all the attractions, motions, rebukes and interior compunctions, lights and intuitions which God works in us. So He strengthens our heart with his blessings, with his care and fatherly love, so as to arouse us, move us, impel us and draw us to holy virtues, to heavenly love, to good resolutions: in short, to all that leads us to our eternal life. (St. Francis de Sales) His action in the soul is gentle and mild ... He comes to save, to cure, to enlighten. (St. Cyril of Jerusalem)
In Conversation With God Vol 2: Lent and Eastertide
Our priest said once in a scripture study class that God loves us so much that He went to the trouble of plugging a translator right into our hearts. If we take the time and trouble to listen for that whisper, we hear the Holy Spirit there within us ... and He is there to help us speak to God in turn. What a fantastic image and it is one that I think of often. Talk about going the extra mile! God has done everything that one could imagine to help us get the point, to communicate, to talk to Him and be in relationship with Him.

I also like the way that same point was said by Father Raniero Cantalamessa, preacher to the papal household, "the only person allowed to preach to the Pope." He's served John Paul II, Benedict XVI and Francis in that capacity.
When the Holy Spirit takes possession of a heart, a change comes about. If before there was a "secret rancor against God" in the depths of a man's heart now the Spirit comes to him from God and attests that God is truly favorable and benign, that he is his ally and not his enemy. He opens his eyes to all that God has been capable of doing for him and to the fact that he did not spare his only Son for him. The Spirit puts "God's love" into man's heart (see Rom 5:5). In this way he makes him a new man who loves God and who willingly does what God asks of him. God, in fact, no longer limits himself to telling man what he should do or not do, but he himself does it with him and in him. The new law, the Spirit, is much more than an indication of a will; it is an action, a living and active principle. The new law is new life. That is why it is more often called grace than law: "You are not under law but under grace" (Rom 6:14).
Life in Christ: A Spiritual Commentary on the Letter to the Romans
Amen ... I can testify to that!

 Pentecost -- The Cry of Release from Meditations on the Passion
Under copyright by Iain McKillip and used by permission

Saturday, May 27, 2023

Novena to the Holy Spirit: Day 9

Oldest of all novenas, this is still the only one officially prescribed by the Church.
This is the last day of the novena and tomorrow is Pentecost!

Netherlandish Master, The Spirit, c. 1500.

(Saturday, Vigil of Pentecost)
When the soul is docile to the inspirations of the Holy Spirit, it becomes that good tree which is known by its fruits. These fruits enrich the Christian's life and are manifestations of the glory of God: By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit, Jesus says at the Last Supper (John 15:8).
In Conversation With God Vol 2: Lent and Eastertide
Prayer: The Fruits of the Holy Spirit

Thou, on those who evermore
Thee confess and thee adore,
In thy sevenfold gifts, descend:
Give them comfort when they die;
Give them life with thee on high;
Give them joy which never ends. Amen.

The Fruits of the Holy Spirit
The gifts of the Holy Spirit perfect the supernatural virtues by enabling us to practice them with greater docility to divine inspiration. As we grow in the knowledge and love of God under the direction of the Holy Spirit, our service becomes more sincere and generous, the practice of virtue more perfect. Such acts of virtue leave the heart filled with joy and consolation and are known as Fruits of the Holy Spirit. These Fruits in turn render the practice of virtue more attractive and become a powerful incentive for still greater efforts in the service of God, to serve Whom is to reign.

Come, O Divine Spirit, fill my heart with Your heavenly fruits, Your charity, joy, peace, patience, benignity, goodness, faith, mildness, and temperance, that I may never weary in the service of God, but by continued faithful submission to Your inspiration may merit to be united eternally with You in the love of the Father and the Son. Amen.

Our Father and Hail Mary ONCE.

Glory be to the Father SEVEN TIMES.

Act of Consecration to the Holy Spirit

Prayer for the Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit

Friday, May 26, 2023

Couldn't Put It Down — Aunt Dimity's Death by Nancy Atherton

When you're recovering from the flu and rediscover Aunt Dimity's Death jammed behind other books - that's a lovely moment. It's perfect recovery reading. 

Lori Shepherd thought Aunt Dimity was just a character in a bedtime story...

...Until the law firm of Willis & Willis summons her to a reading of the woman's will. Down-on-her-luck Lori learns she's about to inherit a siazable estate--if she can discover the secret hidden in a treasure trove of letters in Dimity's English country cottage. What begins as a fairy tale becomes a mystery--and a ghost story--as Aunt Dimity's indomitable spirit leads Lori on a quest to discover how true love can conquer all.
I'm not a lover of "cozy" mysteries as they are churned out today. However, this 1992 book is a charming mystery from before "cozy" was a category and it is far better than most. What sets it apart is the emphasis on what Lori discovers about herself in the investigation. This review hit the nail on the head:
This book, cleverly disguised as a cosy mystery, takes us into a world of adults looking at childhood memories through grown-up eyes. There are memories sweet and difficult, dark secrets, and finally, a love story or two. There's really not so much of a mystery here, but more a righting of past wrongs.
Certainly, when I was unable to continue reading and my thoughts whirled in flu-ish chaos, musing about this story kept me from focusing on how bad I felt.

St. Philip Neri's Feast Day or "Did Laughing At Yourself Help At All?"

I have always been attracted to this saint without too much of a specific reason other than I knew that he loved to laugh. Then I read a bit more about him and saw that was reason enough. Joy and gaiety were so much a part of his normal disposition that Goethe, who esteemed him highly, called him the "humorous saint." It was his gay, blithe spirit that opened for him the hearts of children. "Philip Neri, learned and wise, by sharing the pranks of children himself became a child again" (epitaph). (from Catholic Culture.)

So it is no wonder that he appeals to me.

One of the stories that attracted me to him is this one from Beginning to Pray by Anthony Bloom. This is one of those classic saint tales that remind us no one is perfect ... so there is hope for each of us.

It is absolutely pointless to ask God for something which we ourselves are not prepared to do. If we say "O God, make me free from this or that temptation" while at the same time seeking every possible way of falling to just such a temptation, hoping now that God is in control, that He will get us out of it, then we do not stand much chance. God gives us strength but we must use it. When, in our prayers, we ask God to give us strength to do something in His Name, we are not asking Him to do it instead of us because we are too feeble to be willing to do it for ourselves.

The lives of the saints are enlightening in this respect, and in the life of St. Philip Neri just such an occasion is described. He was an irascible man who quarreled easily and had violent outbursts of anger and of course endured violent outbursts from his brothers. One day he felt that it could not go on. Whether it was virtue or whether he could no longer endure his brothers his Vita does not tell us. The fact is that he ran to the chapel, fell down before a statue of Christ and begged Him to free him of his anger. He then walked out full of hope. The first person he met was one of the brothers who had never aroused the slightest anger in him, but for the first time in his life this brother was offensive and unpleasant to him. So Philip burst out with anger and went on, full of rage, to meet another of his brothers, who had always been a source of consolation and happiness to him. Yet even this man answered him gruffly. So Philip ran back to the chapel, cast himself before the statue of Christ and said "O Lord have I not asked you to free me from this anger?" And the Lord answered "Yes, Philip, and for this reason I am multiplying the occasions for you to learn."
We need to remember to laugh. And then to ask ourselves, "did laughing at yourself help at all?"

It almost always does. A sense of the ridiculous, especially one's own ridiculousness, is extremely helpful in regaining perspective.

Novena to the Holy Spirit: Day 8

Oldest of all novenas, this is still the only one officially prescribed by the Church.

Ottonian Master Pentecost, C. 1030-40

(Friday, 7th Week of Easter)
The gift of wisdom gives us a loving, penetrating faith, and a clarity and understanding of the unfathomable mystery of God which we never thought possible. It can have to do with the presence and nearness of God, or the Real Presence of Christ in the tabernacle, which produce an extraordinary happiness. ...

The more usual thing, however, will be to find God in everyday life, with no special effects but the the intimate certainty that God watches over us, sees what we are doing, cares for us as for his children, at work or at home. The Holy Spirit teaches us that if we are faithful to his grace, our everyday affairs are the normal way to God, there we serve him in this life and prepare ourselves to contemplate him in Heaven for all eternity.
In Conversation With God Vol 2: Lent and Eastertide

Prayer: The Gift of Wisdom

Bend the stubborn heart and will;
Melt the frozen, warm the chill;
Guide the steps that go astray!

The Gift of Wisdom
Embodying all the other gifts, as charity embraces all the other virtues, Wisdom is the most perfect of the gifts. Of wisdom it is written "all good things came to me with her, and innumerable riches through her hands." It is the gift of Wisdom that strengthens our faith, fortifies hope, perfects charity, and promotes the practice of virtue in the highest degree. Wisdom enlightens the mind to discern and relish things divine, in the appreciation of which earthly joys lose their savor, whilst the Cross of Christ yields a divine sweetness according to the words of the Saviour: "Take up thy cross and follow me, for my yoke is sweet and my burden light.

Come, O Spirit of Wisdom, and reveal to my soul the mysteries of heavenly things, their exceeding greatness, power and beauty. Teach me to love them above and beyond all the passing joys and satisfactions of earth. Help me to attain them and possess them for ever. Amen.

Our Father and Hail Mary ONCE.

Glory be to the Father SEVEN TIMES.

Act of Consecration to the Holy Spirit

Prayer for the Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit

Thursday, May 25, 2023

Jo Walton, St. Zenobius, and Me: Joyful and Triumphant

Rerunning this piece because the sentiments still apply no matter when my birthday falls in the liturgical calendar. I am delighted to have made St. Zenobius's acquaintance, especially via Jo Walton.

  • Common attributes: Bishop
  • Occasional attributes: Florentine red fleur de lis, flowering tree
  • Patron saint of: Florence
  • Patron of places: Florence
  • Feast days: May 25
  • Most often depicted: Standing around with other saints, resurrecting somebody
  • Close relationships: St. Ambrose, St. Eugene and St. Crescentius
  • Relics: Florence, Santa Reparata crypt
Saint Zenobius was the first bishop of Florence. He supported St. Ambrose in battling the Arian heresy. He brought several people back from the dead, and his relics resurrected a dead elm tree. He used to be buried in San Lorenzo in Florence, but was later moved to Santa Reparata/the Duomo.

Saint Zenobius is one of these cases of an early Christian who did a good job and was pious and therefore got to be a saint just for that, without getting martyred or founding a giant order or anything. I support this, but it means his primary role was in Christianizing Florence and putting it on the map, so he is not and never will be particularly beloved outside his native town.

Photo and text: Ex Urbe blog
(where there is much more about St. Zenobius ... and also St. Reparta!)
My road to St. Zenobius is a long and fascinating one. At least to me.

A long, long time ago (in 2015!), Scott and I had our first guest on A Good Story is Hard to Find. We were thrilled to talk with Br. Guy Consolmagno, Vatican Astronomer, about his book selection, Among Others by Jo Walton.

A few years ago Scott was at a local con and met Walton, telling her about our degree of connection and thoughtfully sending me a signed copy of her new short story collection, Starlings.

I've got to admit it is a bit off-putting to read an introduction where the author spends so much time talking about how everyone agrees she just can't write a decent short story. So I did put it off for a while. Finally I bravely flipped open Starlings and landed on the first page of Joyful and Triumphant: St. Zenobius and the Aliens. It is told by St. Zenobius and blew me away with how accurately it portrayed sainthood, God ... and the point of the whole thing. (You can read it here.) While I was reading her Brother Guy connection floated in the back of my mind. I figured that she'd just naturally get this right and she really, really did.

Interestingly, about the time I read this story I realized that my birthday this year will be on a Friday. And after Pentecost. So Easter will be officially ended and it will be back to meatless Fridays for us. I've been rueing this since we always go out to eat in celebration — so I looked up saints whose days are on my birthday, thus justifying fried chicken (my traditional birthday choice).

Now there are saints for every day of the year. But if I'm looking to get around the rules then I seriously study the saint I find. I've got to have a real connection otherwise I've just got to put up with those rules. No freebies.

Who did my eye fall on first out of the long, long list? Of course. St. Zenobius. Who I didn't really know was a real saint. Just thought Walton made him up.

I feel as if this was a long way to go for him to wrangle an introduction, but I also feel as if that is what he did.  Looking around recently I saw that there is a much better known saint on May 25, St. Bede. But that's not who stepped up and shook my hand, after using all the things I love to get my attention.

I love the saints who fought against the Arian heresy. It went on so long and was so pervasive that I feel as if it is like the waves of secularism that are battering faith these days. And that's what St. Zenobius did. He was close to St. Ambrose, who I admire so much. Any friend of St. Ambrose is a friend of mine.

Now when I lift that piece of chicken, it will be with true admiration for a great saint!

Novena to the Holy Spirit: Day 7

Oldest of all novenas, this is still the only one officially prescribed by the Church.

PETRUS de Raimbaucourt, The Descent of the Spirit, 1323

(Thursday, 7th Week of Easter)
There are many moments when we could stray from the path which leads to God. There are many side tracks we could wander down. But God has reassured us with these words: I will instruct you and teach you the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you (Ps. 32:8). The Holy Spirit is our best Adviser, our best teacher, our best Guide. Our Lord's promise to his Apostles for when they might find themselves in very difficult situations, is very heartening: When they deliver you up, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say; for what you are to say will be given you in that hour; for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you (Matt. 10:19-20). They were to have the special assistance of the Holy Spirit as would Christians through the centuries when placed in similar circumstances. ...

The gift of counsel presupposes that we have used all the other means necessary to act prudently: to obtain the necessary data; to foresee the possible consequences of our actions, to learn from the experience of similar situations in the past, to ask advice when the moment comes. this is natural prudence which is then reinforced by grace. Along with supernatural prudence we receive this gift of counsel which allows us to make a sure and quick decision regarding the means to be used, or the reply to be given, or the way to be followed. ...
In Conversation With God Vol 2: Lent and Eastertide
Prayer: The Gift of Counsel

Heal our wounds -- our strength renew;
On our dryness pour thy dew;
Wash the stains of guilt away!

The Gift of Counsel
The gift of Counsel endows the soul with supernatural prudence, enabling it to judge promptly and rightly what must done, especially in difficult circumstances. Counsel applies the principles furnished by Knowledge and Understanding to the innumerable concrete cases that confront us in the course of our daily duty as parents, teachers, public servants, and Christian citizens. Counsel is supernatural common sense, a priceless treasure in the quest of salvation. "Above all these things, pray to the Most High, that He may direct thy way in truth."

Come, O Spirit of Counsel, help and guide me in all my ways, that I may always do Your holy will. Incline my heart to that which is good; turn it away from all that is evil, and direct me by the straight path of Your commandments to that goal of eternal life for which I long. Amen.

Our Father and Hail Mary ONCE.

Glory be to the Father SEVEN TIMES.

Act of Consecration to the Holy Spirit

Prayer for the Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit

Wednesday, May 24, 2023

Portrait of Emperor Napoleon I

Portrait of Emperor Napoleon I by François Gérard (1815)
via My Daily Art Display

Why Napoleon? Because suddenly he is in the background of my reading life in a weird way.

I have read half of War and Peace. The "war" part of that book is about Russia's part in the Napoleonic wars. At several points Napoleon is a character, actively influencing the young men whose stories we're following.

Now I'm taking a break from War and Peace. I've picked up The Count of Monte Cristo which I have been interested in rereading for a long time (sparked by my desire to rewatch the 2002 movie with Jim Caviezel). A key point of the book hinges on Napoleon being on Elba and the political struggles between royalists and Napoleonic supporters. So here we are again. Me and the Emperor.

Finally, I have begun listening to How to Eat an Elephant's series closely reading Les Miserables. Here we have a priest having a chance encounter with Napoleon which changes the trajectory of his life. We also have the Battle of Waterloo, which has an encounter that is key to characters later in the story. I've read the book before and won't be rereading it, but I am enjoying listening to the conversation about it. So, the Emperor is lurking in the background here and there again.

Very odd.

Books and Sharks

I do not believe that all books will or should migrate onto screens: as Douglas Adams once pointed out to me, more than 20 years before the Kindle showed up, a physical book is like a shark. Sharks are old: there were sharks in the ocean before the dinosaurs. And the reason there are still sharks around is that sharks are better at being sharks than anything else is. Physical books are tough, hard to destroy, bath-resistant, solar-operated, feel good in your hand: they are good at being books, and there will always be a place for them.
Neil Gaiman in a talk about libraries
It is true that some books do perfectly well on the Kindle. But there are others where a great part of the experience is in having a book in your hand, seeing where the text falls on the page, and (possibly above all) not running out of battery.

Novena to the Holy Spirit: Day 6

Oldest of all novenas, this is still the only one officially prescribed by the Church.

Sacramentaire Pentecote, Illustration de la Bible de Jérusalem

(Wednesday, 7th Week of Easter)
The gift of understanding enables us to grasp the deeper meaning of the Scriptures, the life of grace, the presence of Christ in each sacrament, and in a real substantial way in the Blessed Eucharist. It gives us, as it were, an instinct for what is supernatural in the world. For the eyes of one of Christ's faithful, illumined by the Holy Spirit, there is a whole new universe to be discovered. The mysteries of the Most Blessed trinity, the Incarnation, the Redemption, and the church become living realities affecting the day-to-day life of the Christian. They have a decisive influence on his work, on his family life and friendships. Prayer becomes deeper and easier.
In Conversation With God Vol 2: Lent and Eastertide
Prayer: The Gift of Understanding

If thou take thy grace away,
Nothing pure in man will stay,
All his good is turned to ill.

The Gift of Understanding
Understanding, as a gift of the Holy Spirit, helps us to grasp the meaning of the truths of our holy religion BY faith we know them, but by Understanding we learn to appreciate and relish them. It enables us to penetrate the inner meaning of revealed truths and through them to be quickened to newness of life. Our faith ceases to be sterile and inactive, but inspires a mode of life that bears eloquent testimony to the faith that is in us; we begin to "walk worthy of God in all things pleasing, and increasing in the knowledge of God."

Come, O Spirit of Understanding, and enlighten our minds, that we may know and believe all the mysteries of salvation; and may merit at last to see the eternal light in Your Light; and in the light of glory to have a clear vision of You, Holy Spirit and the Father and the Son. Amen.

Our Father and Hail Mary ONCE.

Glory be to the Father SEVEN TIMES.

Act of Consecration to the Holy Spirit

Prayer for the Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit