Wednesday, August 5, 2020

If the fact of O’Connor’s racism, and Dickens’s, has any importance, it is because they were both capable of transcending it in astonishingly beautiful and lasting ways.

It is futile to deny that both O’Connor and Dickens “lacked comprehension” in many ways. You won’t find one person anywhere, at any time, about whom that’s not true. If the fact of O’Connor’s racism, and Dickens’s, has any importance, it is because they were both capable of transcending it in astonishingly beautiful and lasting ways. What’s remarkable about O’Connor’s racism, and Dickens’s, is how inconsistent it is with their fiction. By now, the sins of both of them have been burned away. Their art is a far more fitting monument to their largeness and ability to defend the inherent worth of human persons.
On the heels of yesterday's letter defending Flannery O'Connor, warts and all, comes this very good piece about Flannery O'Connor and Charles Dickens. I'd long known about charges of anti-Semitism against Dickens and how he corrected himself once he understood what he'd been doing. However, I guess the fault has been resurrected as something new. Anyway, I liked the examples and comparison in this piece — do go read it all.

Gospel of Matthew: The Cockle of False Doctrine

Matthew 13:9-11, 15-22

I love the fact that the cockle and the wheat looked so much alike and that this would have been a common form of revenge so everyone knew what Jesus was talking about. Context that is much needed for our lives which are far from that sort of agriculture or even from agriculture at all.

And, of course, it is applicable to our times no matter the context.

The enemy sowing weeds, Heinrich Füllmaurer
In the Gospel of today's Mass or Lord teaches us the parable of the wheat and the cockle. The world is like a field where God is continually sowing the seed of his grace; this divine seed takes root in the soul an produces fruits of holiness ... But while men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away.

The weed in question -- cockle-seed -- is a plant that is often found growing in cereal crops in the Middle East. It resembles wheat so closely that even to the farmer's practised eye it is impossible to tell the two plants apart until the stalks begin to mature, at which stage the cockle can be recognized by its slender ear and emaciated grain; it is quite toxic to humans, and if mixed with flour will ruin bread. Sowing cockle among the wheat was a form of revenge not unheard of in those countries. Periodic plagues of cockle were very much feared by the peasants, because they could cause them to lose their entire harvest.

The Fathers of the Church have understood the cockle to be a metaphor for false doctrine, which is not easy to distinguish from the truth, above all at the beginning, because it is proper to the devil to mix falsehood with truth; (St. John Chrysostom) and if error is allowed to flourish it always has catastrophic effects on the people of God.

This parable has lost none of its relevance nowadays; we can see that many Christians have fallen asleep and have allowed the enemy to sow bad seed with total impunity. There is practically no truth of the Catholic Faith which hasn't been called into question. We have to be very careful indeed, both with ourselves and with anybody we are responsible for, in the whole area of magazines, television, books, and newspapers, all of which can be a real source of false doctrine and which required us to make a special effort to look after our on-going formation in the doctrinal area.

If we are to be faithful to all the requirements of the Christian vocation we have to be constantly watchful and not let ourselves be taken off guard, because once false doctrine manages to take root in the soul it quickly gives rise to sterility and to estrangement from God. We need to be watchful too in the area of our affections, and not fool ourselves with excuses about how at our time of life "things don't affect us"; and we should be careful also about the effect of such false ideas on those whom God has entrusted to our care.
Francis Fernandez
In Conversation with God: Daily Meditations, Vol. 4
From my friend Patsy come these wonderful insights into the painting.
The picture, labeled "Math. 13," shows the fence of the field broken, and the awful demon with chicken feet sowing cockles, very scary and terrible. The poor woman in the shabby house is faithfully kneading her bread, unaware of how threatened the bread could become as the wheat grows.

The worst part of the picture is the very rich house where the guardians of the field are asleep. The pope is lying down, fully asleep (his responsibility abdicated?), with a cleric in the background who should be watching over him (inadequate protection for his holiness?). The King is sleeping, more or less sitting up (thinking he is still in charge?). On the floor there seems to be a misused chalice almost covered with a black cloth (lack of providing the True Bread). Then there are the priest and the two bishops, who seem to have fallen asleep over what they should be preaching from that podium (from boredom, disinterest, giving up?).

Up in the sky we can barely make out the Lord God coming on the clouds of heaven, with all his angels, but a long way off. It is the time for getting ready for the final separation of the weeds from the wheat. The chimney of the woman's house is sending up smoke which seems to merge with the clouds around the Lord God. Maybe her life of faith and duty are calling for his mercy. There is a very large bee hive beside her house, whose honey is a symbol of wisdom and preaching the Word of God.
This series first ran in 2008. Quote source info is here. I'm refreshing it as I go.

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

We must honor Flannery for growing. Hide nothing of what she was, and use that to teach.—Alice Walker, statement issued to Loyola University Maryland, July 27, 2020

I'm sharing this since Loyola University's decision to take Flannery O'Connor's name off of a building with very little thought and very great haste dismayed me a lot. A lot of this is the result of at least one article about her being racist. First Things has been commenting on this really well.

However, I was delighted to see this letter sent in Flannery's defense to Loyola, signed by 200 noted writers, literary scholars, theologians, professors, religious leaders. Scroll down at the link for the letter itself. A little excerpt:
Walker praises O’Connor “for growing,” for having the courage and humility to confront, through her writings, her own shortcomings and prejudices and to critique them, via the characters she invented in her stories. Finally, Walker, consummate teacher that she is, urges us to use this as a teachable moment. We are all desperately in need of conversion and transformation. O’Connor died young, 39 years old, in 1964 at the height of the Civil Rights movement. As she lay on her death bed, she was writing story after story about white racists who arrive at the difficult knowledge of their sin. Reading these stories, we watch her coming to a painful but necessary understanding of herself.
For anyone who is interested, Scott and I have several episodes of A Good Story is Hard to find where we discuss some of her short stories.

Self portrait of the 13th-century illuminator Claricia

Self portrait of the 13th-century illuminator Claricia
Via J.R.'s Art Place
I love Claricia's playful spirit in making herself the tail of the Q!

Victorious even when we are defeated

With him [Christ] we can do anything. We are victorious even whnen we are defeated. This is the optimism so characteristic of the saints. ... Cast away that despair produced by the realization of your weakness. It's true: financially you are a zero, and socially another zero, and another in virtues, and another in talents ... But to the left of these zeros is Christ. And what an immeasurable figure it turns out to be. (Josemaria Escriva)
Francis Fernandez, In Conversation with God, vol. 4

A Movie You Might Have Missed #16: Regarding Henry

It's been 10 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.

One of Harrison Ford's attempts to avoid typecasting shows just what a good actor he is, in this, our next stop. 
16. Regarding Henry

In one of his best performances, Harrison Ford plays Henry Turner, a top notch lawyer who is selfish and cold in his personal life with his wife and daughter. He goes out for some cigarettes and when displaying his trademark self-centeredness to a convenience store thief, Henry gets shot in the head. As Henry begins to struggle through recovery we see that his personality has undergone a distinct change. He is now human and humane although also slow mentally. Watching him unravel the mystery of why he always paints Ritz crackers as well as adjust to where he does and doesn't fit in at home and at the office are the heart of the story as we also reflect upon true humanity and how the truth often comes in ways we don't expect.

Monday, August 3, 2020

Sunday, August 2, 2020

Happy Birthday, Mom!

It is Mom's birthday. This year she is with us so we can enjoy celebrating the day together.

I'm not making a Sunflower Cake but odds are good that I will be making her a chocolate cake of some sort. She's requested a chocolate cake with orange frosting and that is a divine combination.

I put the sunflower cake picture because Mom loves sunflowers (as do I). And that's perfect, actually because thinking of Mom's birthday makes me think of how many we celebrated when I was growing up in Kansas. One of my fondest memories is of sunflowers everywhere. The scene below is typical of what you'd see driving through backroads through the open country. It is thanks to Mom that I have my enduring love of nature, flowers, and wildlife of all sorts. That's a gift you can never say thank you enough for.

Happy birthday Mom!

Friday, July 31, 2020

A Movie You Might Have Missed #75 — To Be or Not to Be (1942)

During the Nazi occupation of Poland, an acting troupe becomes embroiled in efforts to track down a German spy.
Jack Benny and Carole Lombard shine in this satire directed by the great Ernst Lubitsch, a master of screwball comedy. It is a unique movie in the way it alternates comedy with really poignant moments — the poignancy would have been more so in 1942 when the Nazis were in Poland. Watching this made me especially appreciate Lombard's acting skill. It was her last film and released a month after she died.

This movie was highly controversial when it was released in 1942. That's hard to image watching it today but when the movie was released there'd been nothing but bad news from Europe, the U.S. hadn't entered the war yet, and nothing seemed to stop Hitler in his goal of world domination. This movie seemed in very bad taste.

But Ernst Lubitsch had an important message beneath the screwball humor — Nazis were not unbeatable superhumans, but simply deluded and incompetent human beings who chose to follow a ridiculous leader like Hitler. And they could be beaten — as a troupe of Polish actors shows us. And never more entertainingly so than in To Be or Not to Be.

It was remade by Mel Brooks in 1983. Don't waste your time on that version. The original is best.

Thursday, July 30, 2020

Who has taught you to live well?

The Lord sends us out to proclaim his message to the ends of the earth. We are to bring it to those who do not know him personally, on a one-to-one basis, just as the first Christians did with their families, their colleagues and their neighbors. To do this apostolate, we need not resort to strange behavior. And when they see that we live the same life as they do, they will ask us, "Why are you so happy? How do you manage to overcome selfishness and comfort-seeking? Who has taught you to understand others, to live well and to spend yourself in the service of others?" Then we must disclose to them the divine secret of Christian existence. We must speak to them about God, Christ, the Holy Spirit, Mary The time has come for us to use our poor words to communicate the depth of God's love which grace has poured into our souls (Christ is passing by, J. Escriva). ...

We should also consider the fact that the leaven has an effect only when it is in contact with the dough. Without being indistinguishable from the dough, but working from within, the leaven does the work of transformation. The woman not only inserts the leaven, but she also kneads it into the mass and hides its presence. In like manner, you have to mix in with other people and become identified with them... Just as the leaven is hidden but does not disappear, so, little by little, all of the mass is transformed to the proper degree (St. John Chrysostom, Homilies on St. Matthew's Gospel). Only in the middle of the world can we bring all things to be renewed by God. it is for this task that we have been called by divine vocation.

Francis Fernandez,
In Conversation with God
Volume Four: Ordinary Time: Weeks 13-23

Woman Seated

Woman seated, Gaston Lachaise
I tend to think of the Amon Carter Museum as having mostly western art, especially since it originally was built around Carter's Remington collection of paintings and sculpture. It's always a pleasure to be reminded that there is a lot of other art ranging through America's history and with some playful modern pieces like this one. I feel as if it should really be titled "Woman with attitude."

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Dorothy and Jack: The Transforming Friendship of Dorothy L. Sayers and C.S. Lewis by Gina Dalfonzo

In each of my friends there is something that only some other friend can fully bring out.— C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves
I remember being surprised and interested to learn that Dorothy Sayers and C.S. Lewis were friends who exchanged comments about writing and many other things in their acquaintance. I was intrigued by the idea of what the famous mystery writer and a famous Inkling had to discuss. That's because, while I knew a lot about C.S. Lewis's life, I knew only the basics about Dorothy Sayers. I'd forgotten that when she'd taken the Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries as far as she felt she could, Sayers turned to writing theological books and plays, translating Dante, and in general serving her Christian faith. So, of course, she and Lewis were on the same path.

This book does a good job of tracking their friendship, what it meant to each of them, and how they supported and critiqued each other's work. It also does a good job of giving brief but comprehensive biographies for each, so I learned a lot more about Sayers' life. And, in the context of that friendship, it helped me see C.S. Lewis more clearly.

There is an emphasis throughout holding up Sayers' and Lewis's friendship as an ideal proving that men and women can be friends without succumbing to sexual attraction. The idea that my friendship with a man would lead to us automatically flinging ourselves into each other's arms was a very strange idea to me. I understand prudently keeping an eye on anything that might strike a spark. It is a very rare circumstance in my experience. I actually tend to have as many male as female friends. However, I discovered it is evidently a well known assumption in some Evangelical circles. So much so that you should've seen the Facebook page for the book launch light up with passionate (haha) arguments about the book promoting incorrect ideas. It doesn't detract from the book overall but it is an odd thread woven throughout. And I suppose if this is a thing you care about, then this book will be of extra interest.

All things considered, I enjoyed filling in the story of these strong-minded but mutually respectful famous friends. Their friendship is the sort that I have with a few people myself and I liked reading it.

Please Allow Me to Bend Your Ear About St. Martha, My Patron

Christ in the House of Mary and Martha, Jan Vermeer
Today is Saint Martha's feast day and I still have not written anything I like better about her than this piece, which I present again.

It is no secret that Martha is my patron saint. I chose her because she is the patron saint of housewives but it soon became clear that it probably was God who chose to put us together. I relate to Martha in so many ways and her life stands as a measure of the person I work toward becoming ... a faithful servant who loves Jesus and is his good friend.
As they continued their journey he entered a village where a woman whose name was Martha welcomed him. She had a sister named Mary (who) sat beside the Lord at his feet listening to him speak.

Martha, burdened with much serving, came to him and said, "Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving? Tell her to help me."

The Lord said to her in reply, "Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her."
This is the story about Martha that springs to mind for most people and this is the first time (chronologically) that we hear her mentioned. We have all heard variations of the basic message about this passage of keeping your mind on Jesus no matter what else you may be doing and to listen before acting. I also recently heard Bishop Barron speak about N.T. Wright's comment that only men would normally act as Mary is doing, so Martha is also asking for a return to cultural norms. Which is a fascinating point also.

However, we also see the confidence Martha shows when approaching Jesus with her complaint. What good friends they were for her to feel so comfortable coming to him like that. Jesus' affection is clear as he answers her much more gently than he often does his disciples.

For us, it also is a lesson in the fact that there is nothing too small to go to Jesus about. He will always help us with anything, even if it is something like helping give the right perspective.
Now a man was ill, Lazarus from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. Mary was the one who had anointed the Lord with perfumed oil and dried his feet with her hair; it was her brother Lazarus who was ill.

So the sisters sent word to him, saying, "Master, the one you love is ill."

When Jesus heard this he said, "This illness is not to end in death, but is for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it."

Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus...

When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went to meet him; but Mary sat at home.

Martha said to Jesus, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. (But) even now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you."

Jesus said to her, "Your brother will rise."

Martha said to him, "I know he will rise, in the resurrection on the last day."

Jesus told her, "I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?"

She said to him, "Yes, Lord. I have come to believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world."

When she had said this, she went and called her sister Mary secretly, saying, "The teacher is here and is asking for you."
Again, a familiar story featuring Martha though more often it is told from the point of view of the miraculous raising of Lazarus from the dead. First of all, we may wonder how Martha knew that Jesus had arrived when Mary didn't. What it may make us think of is someone who is attuned to all the little details even in the middle of her grief. Perhaps there was a flutter of unusual activity that clued her in, so she went to investigate.

When we examine Martha's conversation with Jesus, we see again how familiar and friendly she is with him. She doesn't hesitate to say that she is disappointed that he didn't save her brother. How can one not love the confidence and trust that shows?

Martha also shows her great faith and understanding in unmistakable terms: I have come to believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world. What an amazing moment that must have been between Jesus and Martha. Yet, after such a moment, she also doesn't forget her sister, Mary, who is still at home mourning. Martha is both loving and practical to the bone.

We have an unmistakable example of that practicality when Jesus is getting ready to raise Lazarus from the dead and we are told: Martha, the dead man's sister, said to him, "Lord, by now there will be a stench; he has been dead for four days" (John 11:39). Martha's unwavering, housewifely, detail-oriented common sense is used to emphasize the greatness of Jesus' miracle. The corpse is well into decay and yet he will still be brought back to life. How like God to use the mundane and practical moment to catch our attention and bring it to an even greater realization of His glory and love for us.
Six days before Passover Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. They gave a dinner for him there, and Martha served, while Lazarus was one of those reclining at table with him.

Mary took a liter of costly perfumed oil made from genuine aromatic nard and anointed the feet of Jesus 2 and dried them with her hair; the house was filled with the fragrance of the oil.
Through watching Martha's progression in the previous Scripture, this very simple mention speaks to the difference between the first time we saw her and now.

Martha served.

That is all that needs to be said. Nothing about needing help is brought up now or comparing another's service to her own. Mary serves Jesus in her way while Martha serves Jesus in hers. Together they complement each other as both have chosen the better part. A beautiful end to a beautiful journey of faith.

I pray that my own journey may prove as fruitful as my dear St. Martha's.