Monday, January 31, 2011

Unplanned, a Second View

I have read many different types of books.  No type of book, other than Scripture, has moved me as much as the confession.  The first time I read St. Augustine's confessions I was in awe at his self-reflection and his honesty.  I have not read another in this genre (I believe it has very few constituents) until I read Unplanned by Abby Johnson (also see the Curt Jester's review of the book, of which I linked earlier this month).  Most might not put said book in the genre of confession but rather in the broader genre of say, autobiography, but I would beg to differ, due to the content and the general thrust of the work.  Abby Johnson is downright candid in retelling her experience, with the help of experienced writer Cindy Lambert.  The clarity with which she conveys her emotions is profound and moving.  She has been through quite an experience over the last few years.  Multiple times I found myself tearing up, in sorrow or in joy, sharing with her the pain, the suffering, and the joy.  

Like Augustine, she has been able to piece together how God has worked in her life to bring her where she is.  Her confession is a testament to God's providence and His gentle tenacity for the sanctification of lost souls.  Abby indeed was lost in the lies a Planned Parenthood.  Although she didn't say it, out of great love and care for her co-workers, one cannot help but see in many who work at PP the old familiar phrase, "the road to hell is paved with good intentions."  Her intentions were very noble and nothing but genuine.  They were used for very unnoble and nothing but false means, the procuring of abortions for many women.

She captured the humanness of people on both sides of "the fence."  One can tell she made a deliberate point not to demonize those at Planned Parenthood.  She rather showed us all that when one is treated humanly, even if on the wrong side of the fence, one can understand the error in which they live.

I suggest this to anyone who works with the pro-life movement.  It is enlightening and encouraging.  Abby is what some might call a super-save.  She no longer assists Planned Parenthood in procuring confused and misinformed women abortions.  In turn, she now quietly and gently urges and prays for those confused and misinformed women to not have an abortion.

As a final note, I would suggest this to all seminarians and priests.  Because of Abby's candidness, one can really see the movements in her soul.  One can see the influence of evil spirits and good spirits.  One can see how the evil spirit depresses her once she makes a choice for good and how the good spirit encourages her on.  One can see the good spirit biting at her through her parents and her husband.  This is a great book to read to begin to understand what a soul, that we might be directing, goes through.

QWERTY and the Spiritual Principle of the Human Person

I am sitting in a coffee shop doing some paperwork for the seminary and found myself staring off into space while typing.  I wasn't looking at the screen or at the keyboard.  I was just typing what I thought, as I am right now.  It hit me how amazing a skill tying is.  Letters are not in alphabetical order.  They are in QWERTY setup, and yet my brain in conjunction with the small appendages attached to my hand connected the keys so as to make words.  This is utterly amazing.  I shows to me the beauty of the human person how so.  I shows both mental and muscle memory, which granted is not a necessarily exclusive human ability.  However, what the muscle and mental memory is used for is creating words on a screen that connect together to make sentences and ideas.  Symbols such as "t" and "j" and ";" help communicate invisible realities such as thought, and justice, and the clarity of context.  These invisible realities in turn connect the perceptible reality of words with the spiritual principle of the human person.  By me typing this entry, I am communicating a spiritual reality.  Who said the typist couldn't be a philosopher?

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Pellas Apollo and Paper Dolls

As I write these words, I sit at the desk of my new job: copy boy. I join the generations of proud copy boys whose noble feet have moved our civilization forward since the invention of the Gutenburg Press. I’m afraid that it is their skill and effort that will fuel our civilization till the Apocalypse recounted by that first printed tome: the Gutenburg Bible.

Sitting here in this room, meditating on these topics of respectful work and working revelation, a rather flippant thought comes to me. It has haunted me for some time yet I have never put down into writing. It first popped into my head thanks to Dunder Mifflin and The Office, it was confirmed by St. John of the Cross during my time in the Monastery and, as I sit stationed surrounded by stationary, it occurs to me that there might indeed be an omen in this strange situation. Is it possible that we worship paper? Have we have enshrined it in the way the ancient worshipped the wheat in worshipping Baal, or exulted mere sex in the shrines of Venus? If what man worships is essentially what he spends the most time with, than the Philistine worshiped the field, the Roman worshiped power and lust, and we worship these things indirectly through paper. And not just paper. I include media of any sort under this umbrella: TV, radio, internet etc. But our worship is of an insane sort.. While it is true that men can be tempted to live by bread alone, or that they can be convinced that fertility is necessary for the progress of civilization, it is our own backward 21st century that would insist that life is dependant on print and media. Imagine telling a solemn Philistine, who’s spent his whole life laboring under the delusion that he should worship the god that brings nourishment through food, that all his years have been wasted. Reaping is nothing, we would tell him, in comparison to a reem of 8x11 canary paper. See the proud Roman centurion. Try telling him that his greed for wealth and women, born of the desire for food and children, are really second to the need for Facebook. Our idols are not wood and stone, but paper dolls.

If there are any regular readers of my bloggings, (and I do thank you for your loyalty) they might have realized that I like this exercise of contrasting contemporary culture with the ancients, especially the ancient pagan. I do this because I believe that we live in an era of Neo-Paganism (which should not strike you as a surprising concept) and because I believe that we are far worse off than the original pagans (which should be an unsettling concept). Now, I’m not so backwards so as to assume that things were best under Caesar and Pilate, or that they were perfect in the days of Leopold or Leo. I do not idealize the past. There was famine. There were needless wars and petty politicians. There were sinners and saints, but at least they were sane. I use this admittedly extravagant metaphor about the cult of copy-paper to point out a strange and bewildering fact about contemporary life. We are indeed wanton and wasteful, but not in the way our forefathers were. They might have treated the field with a certain amount of idolatry and women as if they were waste, but we moderns have outdone them in according waste-paper with respect and relish. We’ll spend the same time and energy indulging in media, be it printed or electronic, that an honest heathen spent in wandering in the fields and frolicking in the city.

Even our concept of labor is tainted by this petrifaction of communication. Across this country, we claim that ‘doing work’ consists of moving paper across desks. Our business men and women don lavish garb to perform this exercise. I am not criticizing those men and women. I have great love and admiration for many of them. I know that they suffer a great deal of stress and make great sacrifices so as to distribute information and keep the wheels of commerce moving. My question is not with their skills or service, but with their product. Or, as GKC would say, I wonder whether or not there search for goods is really a search for the Good. Were the apocalypse (Zombie, Nuclear, Terrorist or otherwise) to happen tomorrow, there would be few ‘usable goods’ left after all the paper had burned. More tragic still, there would be fewer people with enough practical knowledge and common sense left to know what to do with a fruitful field or a pregnant woman. People of this age complain of feeling disconnected with reality and my immediate thought is that they are quite right. They have placed a veil between themselves and the fruits of creation. It is an irony of fate that the veil if made of paper or, better yet, of a computer screen.

Reality is indeed all around us, but it doesn’t flash or bang or come in a cool font. Our Benevolent Father has given us a glorious gift. Sometimes, we choose to revel in the wrapping paper instead savoring in the quietude of His beatitude. And, in the silence of this creation, He is trying to speak to us. When this silence gets awkward (like in a copy room at 9:00am), I feel as if He is on the verge of saying some important thing.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Music Done Well

As of late, I have been reading St. Augustine's treatise, On Music.  A later blogpost will give my thoughts on the whole work but one particular part in the first of the six books interested me.

He said, "Music is the science of moving well."  As a means of necessary background, this particular treatise covers rhythm only so the definition fits well in that regard.  He goes in that chapter to make a point of the qualifier "well."  Well does not just connote the good measuring of notes at time and intervals that are pleasing to the ear; it also connotes the proper place in which those notes are heard.
Yet it is possible for this harmony and measuring to please when they shouldn't.  For example, if one should sing sweetly and dance gracefully, wishing thereby to be when the occasion demanded gravity, such a person would in no way be using harmonious mensuration (correct measuring of notes) well.  In other word, that person uses ill or improperly the motion at one time called good because of its harmony. (On Music 1.3)
There is not only good mechanics and sound but a proper place for those good mechanics and sound.  Good music is not harmony and rhythm alone, but proper placement of that harmony and rhythm.  One wouldn't play, for instance, speed trash metal during the bridal procession of a wedding.  That particular harmony and rhythm, although good in itself (some may argue otherwise), does not fit with that situation.  Now I know people push these boundaries.  The 20th and 21st centuries have been all about pushing boundaries in art, but it is boundaries, i.e. harmonics and rhythms that internally control music.  Aharmony and arhythm is not music.  It is noise, a cacophony of sound with no order.  What to me, Augustine is proposing, is that not only is the order of harmony and rhythm part of music but the placement of that harmony and rhythm within a given situation.  A director would not set "Flight of the Bumblebee" during a peaceful scene with the couple walking down a beach at sunset.  It does not fit the mood.  In our insides we naturally recognize the incoherence of that.

There also occurs in our hearts and in our senses a certain deadening of that naturally recognizable incoherence when incoherence becomes the norm.  Coherence can no longer be identified.  Say for instance someone cannot tell the dream from reality.  One actually is reality and the other a figment of imagination.

This seems to have occurred in Liturgical music over the past half century.  People recognize beautiful music and wish to incorporate it into the liturgy because of its beauty, which is indeed an admirable desire, but the second part of what Augustine describes as good music requires proper placement.  Although pop music has recognizably coherent harmony and rhythm that is pleasing to the ear, it does not fit within the framework of worship.  Pop music is an earthy, passionate, and highly emotional form of music.  It keeps one firmly in earthly experience.  It does not, but its mood and movement lift someone  up to worship in God the same way the other-worldly sound of Gregorian Chant, or Mozarabic Chant, or Byzantine Chant does.  Chant lifts someone out of themselves and moves the towards God.  The lack of meter gives a certain elevation to it.  It is guided by accents and phrases connecting lyric with melody in such an extraordinarily symbiotic way.

I'm looking at this from a philosophical viewpoint, but it would seem that this viewpoint finds its way into countless church documents about sacred music.  Corpus Christi Watershed does a good job of explaining it here:

Can you tell the difference?? from Corpus Christi Watershed on Vimeo.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Leisure and Philosophy

This compilation of two essays by Josef Pieper is must have for any Catholic intellectual or pseudo-intellectual, theologian, philosopher, scripture scholar, grad student.  The first essay, Leisure: The Basis of Culture, really solidified my understanding of a philosopher and how one goes about thinking.  I had heard in undergrad about Plato's concept of leisure as the prerequisite for philosophy, but I had a 20th century comprehension of that word.  To me, leisure meant someone who was rich and had leisure time, as I wrote in a previous post.  Leisure is a passive receptivity to being.  In that sense, it makes sense that leisure is the prerequisite for philosophy.  "Philosophy," as Pieper says, "is not the loving search for any kind of wisdom; it is concerned with wisdom as it is possessed by God," who is the source of all being (emphasis added by me).

To me, the first essay gives a philosophical backing for the need for silence and reflection in the life of each human person, no matter their state in life or intellectual capacity.  There is something elementary human about reflection that helps in living a good life.  Whether this silence and reflection is done in prayer, as seems to be the natural way for a Christian, or with reflecting on experience in a such a way as to come to some knowledge of the universal, or reflection to recognize one's emotions at different parts of the day.  Pieper sets up a cogent and well articulated plan to understand and begin to enact leisure in one's life.

I still wonder why didn't read this at the beginning of my philosophy studies and not 3 years after I received a degree in philosophy.  "The Philosophical Act" begins to set a premise similar to what Fr. Schall said in the preface to this edition.  We gain an understanding of philosophy by going back to the first philosophers.  The first philosophers in turn turned to the writers of myths.  There is a direct connection between philosophy and theology.  "There is no such thing as philosophy which does not receive its impulse and impetus from a prior and uncritically accepted interpretation of the world as a whole," i.e. a theology.  Pieper goes on to say that this, in a sense, can even be an atheistic theology.  However, there is only one true philosophy due to what quoted two paragraphs earlier, "Philosophy ... is concerned with wisdom as it is possessed by God."  Christian theology gives philosophy a framework from which to work.  In so doing, it does not allow for unrestricted thought and hence the possibility of extreme error, i.e. Descartes trying to start all over again.

I would suggest these two essays in a beautifully compiled edition by Ignatius Press, which also includes a forward by Fr. James Schall.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Novena Prayer of Reparation for Roe vs. Wade

Fr. Frank Pavone, of Priests for Life, has written a novena prayer for the reparation of abortion.  Being that January 21st is the anniversary of the Roe vs. Wade we invite all our readers to pray this pray to end legalized abortion in the United States of America.

Prayer of Reparation

God and Father of Life,
You have created every human person,
And have opened the way for each to have eternal life.

We live in the shadow of death.
Tens of millions of your children have been killed
because of the Roe vs. Wade decision legalizing abortion.

Father, have mercy on us.
Heal our land
And accept our offering of prayer and penance.
In your love for us,
Turn back the scourge of abortion.

May each of us exult in hearts full of hope
And hands full of mercy
And work together to build a culture of life.

We pray through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011


Over the past few days I have been seeing advertised on Twitter Abby Johnson's, a former director of Planned Parenthood in Texas, new book Unplanned: The Dramatic True Story of a Former Planned Parenthood Leader’s Eye-Opening Journey across the Life Line.  It seemed interesting enough, and a good edition to the list of books I want to read.

Jeff Miller, the Curt Jester, himself and avid reader wrote a fantastic review of the book, only days on the shelf (oh the glory of ebooks!).  You can check it out here.  Jeff then updated finding answers to some of his questions at the end of the review.  You can find the update here.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Elementary, My Dear Watson,

WARNING: Spoiler Alert, to those interested, or have not read "The Final Problem" by Arthur Conan Doyle, there are contents and endings of that story in this post.  You can find it here.

I have been reading the Sherlock Holmes short stories now since the beginning of this past summer.  Holmes was my companion in long nights on-call at the hospital; he has followed me to the parish where he is a source of thought on detection and mission (probably another blogpost for another time).  Arthur Conan Doyle has kept a certain symmetry in his stories.  They have a formula that is more or less followed.  This provides stability for the story to story but began to get stale because 15 stories with the same formula, no matter the case they become easier for the reader. 

I have always like the medium that uses to tell his stories.  The lost narrator of Dr. Watson keeps the stories human and fallible, like your following the mystery clueless as the narrator is.  The mystery is resolved with Holmes being the only one who knew what was happening.  This also gives personality to the stories, where an omniscient narrator would fall short.  Doyle’s style and meter is portrayed through his character of Watson. 

In “The Naval Treaty,” the supposed penultimate Holmes story (if one were reading them as they came out in “The Strand”), Doyle breaks the formula and splits the story up into two issues.  Not everything is resolved in the normal time frame.  The mystery itself, which has no bearing on this post (therefore, you should read it for yourself in one of the many editions of the Holmes stories), is one my favorite.  It has intrigue and governmental importance.  Holmes isn’t just helping a country page or, just an old friend of Watson; he’s helping keep stable international relations. 

This is followed by “The Final Problem.”  All previous formulae are thrown out the window.  We enter with Watson in media res, but with a sobering personal note that has more sentimentality and candidness than the normal Watson narration.  Doyle starts to weave a great story were Holmes has final met his match, “the Napoleon of crime,” Professor Moriarty.  There is no mystery in the story.  All the mystery has been solved.  This story written by Watson is to vindicate his best friend. 

Sidney Paget's sketch in
the original publication
of  "The Final Problem"
I had read in previous articles, blogs, and the like that this is the story were Sherlock Holmes dies.  I was looking forward to this.  How was Doyle going to oust his character?  I figured it would be dramatic in typical Holmes style.  Gunshot seemed the best way to take care of someone as smart and agile as Holmes (the BBC series of this past year moved in this direction).  Instead, it is done is secrecy.  Our limited narrator does see his beloved friend die.  He intuits both Holmes’ and Moriarty’s deaths, but as a reader, that is not certain evidence in a Holmes story (knowing that Doyle writes a novel and 10 or so more stories after this doesn’t help in my suspicion).  I honestly was let down.  Watson gave a eulogy to his friend but he seems to betray his own detective ignorance while trying to use his friend’s skills. 

This was by far Doyle’s best Holmes story to date that I have read, and I was still let down.  If you are lover of mystery, or of great characters, or of detection, you would be doing yourself a disservice by not reading Doyle’s Holmes adventures.  

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The Light of the World

A friend wrote a good and helpful book review on Pope Benedict's new interview book Light of the World (which incidentally I got for Christmas).  You can find review here.