Saturday, April 30, 2011

Bl. John Paul II and Future Priests

I've been following the Twitter feeds of the likes of Anna Arco, writer for the Catholic Herald, and Rocco Palmo, the writer of the blog, Whispers in the Loggia as they tweet about the vigil before John Paul II's beatification.  I am supremely excited.  For many of my generation, John Paul II was the pope, just like for many in New Orleans, Archbishop Philip Hannan, is the Archbishop.  His writing has had great effect on my life from the Theology of the Body, to Fides et Ratio, to Pastores Dabo Vobis, to Veritatis Splendor, to Love and Responsibility, to Redemptoris Missio.  All of these have been of that earth-shattering, weltenschauung changing variety, providing insights into the human person, the Christian life, and the priesthood that helped shape who I am today.  I look up to him first as a holy man and a holy priest.  He certainly influenced my discernment as he has many others and some might call me in the future, a JP II priest.

I stand now hoping that through his intercession many more men follow the call that has been placed on their hearts.  He was a preeminent priest, whose Christocentrism shined forth.  I speak this on the brink of a whole new life for me, being only three weeks from ordination to the transitional diaconate.  John Paul II looks out to me as a shining example as I reach the homestretch of my formation.

In his early priesthood, he devoted much time to the youth, guiding them, directing them, giving them the concepts by which to live a Christian life.  He went out with them, wasting time with them.  He continued to foster his tremendous intellect all during a time a persecution from the secular athiests of the Communist regime that led his country.  He went on to be a compassionate pastor and lover of the poor, who devoted his life to his flock.  He never tired of going out though, and brought the papacy in an evangelistic direction it hadn't seen in a long time.  He certainly turned to Peter and Paul for guidance on that.  He loved the Blessed Virgin Mary, his mother since an early age.  His priesthood was dedicated to her Son through her.

That is what kind of priest I wish to be: passionate about the catechesis and evangelization of the youth, while willing to continue expanding my intellect to the great mysteries of the faith and of nature.  We are also under a more subtle persecution in this country from the practical athiests, who persecute Christian to justify their own apathy.  I wish to be a compassionate pastor and lover of the poor who is tireless in working for both truth and justice, going out to proclaim the good news to the ends of the earth, or to wherever the Lord calls me, all done under the banner of Virgine Maria, our Mother and Protector.

Blessed John Paul II, we pray that through your intercession many more men enter into the priesthood of Jesus Christ.

Monday, April 25, 2011

John Updike's The Resurrection

This poem was what opened the section on Easter Season in my devotional book. I always dig it when a popular contemporary writer speaks up for the Resurrected Lord.

Make no mistake: if He rose at all
it was as His body;
if the cells' dissolution did not reverse, the molecules
reknit, the amino acids rekindle,
the Church will fall.

It was not as the flowers,
each soft Spring recurrent;
it was not as His Spirit in the mouths and fuddled
eyes of the eleven apostles;
it was as His Flesh: ours.

The same hinged thumbs and toes,
the same valved heart
that — pierced — died, withered, paused, and then
regathered out of enduring Might
new strength to enclose.

Let us not mock God with metaphor,
analogy, sidestepping transcendence;
making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the
faded credulity of earlier ages:
let us walk through the door.

The stone is rolled back, not papier-mache,
not a stone in a story,
but the vast rock of materiality that in the slow
grinding of time will eclipse for each of us
the wide light of day.

And if we will have an angel at the tomb,
make it a real angel,
weighty with Max Planck's quanta, vivid with hair,
opaque in the dawn light, robed in real linen
spun on a definite loom.

Let us not seek to make it less monstrous,
for our own convenience, our own sense of beauty,
lest, awakened in one unthinkable hour, we are
embarrassed by the miracle,
and crushed by remonstrance.

From Updike, John. "Telephone Poles and Other Poems" (New York: Alfred A. Knopf,1961).

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Closed Captioned: Male Voice

Sitting in a busy loud coffee shop does not lead to being able to hear the tvs displayed, hence the need for {closed caption}.  I happened to glance up to the television in a fit of attention deficit to notice a commercial beginning. The caption said {male voice} and then went on with the script of the commercial.  At that moment it hit me, a person born deaf would have no concept of a {male voice}.  They would not put together that it is probably a lower frequency and pitch than a female voice.  They would have no concept of pitch and frequency in general, much relation between higher and lower.  That caption would have only visual comparisons, say the person speaking might have facial hair and a possibly large muscular structure.  It might be a stronger voice than that of a petite woman.  The commercial might give context to the type of man that is speaking, but then again I am speaking with a plethora of past commercial watching and listening experience.  I would like to turn this insight into a Chestertonian insight into the infinite, but as of yet nothing has occured to me.  What I do realize is that a person born deaf perceives the world differently that I do.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Book Discernment

A fellow blogger and bibliophile, Sarah Reinhard, asked the question on her blog, Snoring Scholar, (a fellow alliteration blogsite), How do you pick what to read next?  I thought I would answer on her comments line, but I figured it was pertinent to the blog so here we go.

To have so many books one has not read the choices are vast.  I tend to "collect" books.  More books just seem to appear on the shelves, or when all the shelves are taken on the floor.  Which one do I choose to read next?  Should I read Dostoyevsky's The Brother's Karamozov or St. Catherine of Siena's Dialogue or Karol Wojtyla's The Acting Person or Pope Paul VI's encyclical Evangelii Nutiandi or Pope Benedict's Jesus of Nazareth: Part One and Part Two or G.K. Chesterton's The Man Who Was Thursday.  All good.  All worth reading.  None will disappoint.  All with be fruitful.  Some will be more difficult than others.  Over the years, I have developed a system for myself to help guide me choice of reading.

First of all, anyone who sees my Goodreads current reading list will find upwards of six books.  I don't multitask well going from one to the other.  Rather, each book is for a certain "area" if you will.

Life of a Saint

First, there is the life of a saint, which saints say is good thing to read.  The more lives of saints I read the more they tell me to read more lives of the saints.  That is my bedtime reading to give me peace as I prepare to sleep.  It's usually read in bed.  Fifteen or twenty minutes a night is a good preparation for rest.  My current book is The Curé d' Ars by Abbé Trochu.

The Library

Since I was a child, when my father said he was going to the library, he had in his hand the daily newspaper and was heading towards the bathroom.  Since then, I have connected reading and taking care of business.  Sitting near the toilet is some small book that can be read in short intervals without being burdensome.  I tried reading Theology of the Body, and it just didn't work to dense for the time period.  This current book is Dawn of the Messiah by Dr. Edward Sri.

Spiritual Reading

The seminary has tried to foster spiritual reading in our lives.  I have taken to read 15-20 minutes each day from a certain work on the spiritual life.  Sometimes it is recommended to me by my spiritual director, which makes choices easy.  This book at the moment is Discernment of Spirits by Fr. Timothy Gallagher, OMV.

Regular Reading

This is the book that suits my fancy at the time.  Usually, it some theology or philosophy book, but on occasion to cut the density I'll read a novel or collection of short stories.  I have my "library" of books sectioned off and I have tried to go through, Scripture, then Theology, then Philosophy, then Literature, then History, then Psychology, then Church Documents, trying to go in some sort of pattern to get a well rounded reading experience.  On the whole, this has been wholly unfollowed.  I'm too ADD to be that organized, but at least, it provides some sort of parameters for choosing, if nothing suits my fancy at the time.  This is usually the book I will spend the most time with in a given sitting.  The current book in this category is This is Your Brain on Music by Daniel Levitin.

ADD Ebook

This section is for those time when I don't have anything to do, but have no available book in front of me.  I unlock my iPhone and start reading from iBooks or from a PDF saved on GoodReader or a word document on iFiles.  This has two books right now that I swap between both by Chesterton, Tremendous Trifles and The Innocence of Father Brown.


This will usually pertain to a certain time in the liturgical year or some other important event.  They have short runs and usually end up unfinished only to wait to be taken up by one of the aforementioned categories.  I have been reading for Lent Abandonment to Divine Providence by Jean-Pierre Caussade.

Hope this is helpful Sarah.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

And Then There Were None: An Examination of Mystery Stories

Over the past year I have begun to engross myself in detective fiction.  I began reading the Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, analyzing his keen analytics from the perspective of Dr. Watson.  Arthur Conan Doyle had a structure to each story.  For the unpatient reader, the massive amount of dialogue could have become tiresome, but for me, it excited me.  Who was the perpetrator?  How was Holmes going to solve the case?  What was Doyle going to think of next?  These I enjoyed, short bursts of mystery and detection, that like any finite reality left me wanting more.

I had in my possession during that time on my iPod, then iPhone, a free ebook I had obtained from the vast collection of beyond copyright materials in the library of the iBook store.  For a set of mysteries stories, it has a curious name, The Innocence of Father Brown.  I had long heard of Chesterton's brilliance with these stories about a detective priest, and finally, gave into reading short stories on the small iPhone screen, a novel experience I tell you.

I must tell you this curious desire to read mystery novels is not just a fancy of bored seminarian, for bored I am rarely not.  It is rather for two reasons, enjoyment, for mystery fiction keeps one riveted and is always seeking justice, and secondly, research, because one day I, a simple blogger and seminarian, wish to write detective fiction.  More on this desire later, and back to Father Brown.

Chesterton took a decidedly different turn with his Father Brown stories.  They were written by way of different narrators unlike the retelling done by Watson alone.  Father Brown was a completely different character than Holmes.  He was unassuming, humble, religious, and sometime in the background of the story.  He pops out when it is time for said mystery to be solved and has all figured out like a contemplative monk who speaks only when necessary during grand silence.

Finally, I get to Agatha Christie.  I must say first her introduction to me was by way of a stageplay of her famous Mousetrap performed by my highschool's drama club.  I loved it.  I was riveted by the characters and the story so much so that I took it as form in my one and only screenplay, if it can be called that, written for a film project for a high school speech class.  Since, that time I was always interested in her work but had slothfully never read it.  A few years ago in browsing through the Blockbuster stacks, pre-Netflix, of course, looking for an enjoyable to pass the time a friend and I came across a film named Murder on the Orient Express, with a cast of actors of the likes of Sean Connery and Ingrid Burgman.  It was a film version of one her Poirot detective novels.  I thoroughly enjoyed the mystery and detection.  It was solved by a competent and brilliant detective.

During my aforementioned research I came across a club, that connected the two previous authors.  They imaginatively called themselves The Detection Club.  Chesterton was their first president.  They wished to provide good detective fiction among all the dross and such coming out in those days of the early 20th Century.  I found on the American Chesterton Society's website some essays, under his title Murderer, he had written on detective stories.  Amongst those essays he outlined some do's and don't of writing detective stories.  One of the main ones is this: the culprit should always be known to reader, the culprit should not be introduced as a new character at the end of the story/novel.  I found this true of both the Fr. Brown and Holmes stories as well as Murder on the Orient Express.  He also stated that those who die are people that we should actually care about in some way.  They should not just be straw people.  Their deaths then have no great meaning and impetus to solve the mystery is lessened much.

This now brings me to my current place of reflection, Agatha Christie's brilliantly written And Then There Were None.

WARNING: There are SPOILERS if you continue regarding the work mentioned above.  If you have not read said work, I suggest that you read a different blogpost, or purchase said novel at your local bookstore, ebook store, or audio book store (I suggest for the third commercial enterprise).

Now I must say I did not read it.  I listened to it, via audiobook.  It was a very compelling listen.  It came to life.  Christie introduces all the characters as they are traveling to a mysterious island.  All invited as house guests.  Not all by the same person.  She immediately creates mystery.  Having never read the story I nonetheless knew its premise and its basic conclusion, not only from the title of the novel, but from hearing it from other places.  All were going to die.  When the ten little indian poem was introduced, I then understood how each person was going to die.  I wondered who is going to be last?  Who is the culprit?  Christie strayed though from the formula.  There was no official "detective" like Holmes, or Fr. Brown, or Poirot.  There were just amateurs, some more experienced than others, but all amateurs, nonetheless.  Furthermore, with ten characters it became rife with red herrings, only relieving doubt when they were murdered.

At the end of the story, all ten were dead and the mysterious Mr. Owen was not revealed.  There appeared then an epilogue beginning at the Scotland Yard.  I figured, finally, there would be real detective work and all would be figured out.  Unfortunately, all Christie gave us were nearly competent policemen, who couldn't figure it out.  All this time I was thinking: she broke the golden rule.  She's going to bring the culprit up from thin air.  After the "detective" work there was no answer and I thought, "You bastard.  You're not going to solve it!  You're going to leave it up in the air!  You can't do that!  It negates the whole story, turns it into a waste of time.  You can't end totally unresolved with no clues for the reader figure out."  Was it one of the ten?  Can we trust that it was?  Was it one of the final three?  Was there actually someone else on the island, who hid too well?  It couldn't be a ghost.  That would break another cardinal sin of mystery fiction.  Then, there was the final letter from Judge Justice Wargrave explaining everything.  I should've know from his name.  I had thoughts because he was leading the whole "investigation." He was guiding.  By being in front of everyone, he was eluding suspicion.  I suspected him most of all, until he was killed.  Then when the other four died.  I was left wondering.  Was there another person?  The letter was cruel and inviting.  I did not like waiting to the very end to find out.  To see how the mystery unraveled.  It wasn't unraveled by a brilliant detective, but by the culprit himself.  It took the sting out of justice.  Justice.  Justice Wargrave.  How ironic.

I learned a few things about mystery fiction from this.  Create characters you can feel for.  I connected with Vera and Lombard.  I didn't want them to die.  I wanted them to live.  Apparently in the film versions, they do.  But it was perfect to kill them, even because we felt for them, because of the nature and power of the plot.  It was so well put together.  It was nearly impossible to decipher without the letter.  I also felt by the end that I despised the cold, tortise-like demeanor of Wargrove.  For ample reason did Christie move the reader in that way giving slight clues as to who the perpetrator was.  She did that with great effect for Emily Brent.  Few would have sided with her quiet self-righteousness.  She was perhaps the best red herring.  Even better than the kind, rattled doctor.

Second, Christie provided the best example of having the culprit right in front of the reader.  All knew Wargrave.  He was the very first character that was introduced.  Christie broke a rule that is in no rule book per se.  She rather played with the expectations of the reader.  The first character usually introduced is the protagonist.  She flips it around and introduces the killer with the first lines of the book. Ingenious.  He''s right in front of everything, and yet ultimately unreproachable until his letter confession.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

The God of the Atheists

I came upon this GKC passage in my Lenten Devotional. It's not the first time I've read it, but it will be the last time I keep it to myself.

THAT A GOOD MAN may have his back to the wall is no more than we knew already; but that God could have his back to the wall is a boast for all insurgents for ever. Christianity is the only religion on earth that has felt that omnipotence made God incomplete. Christianity alone has felt that God, to be wholly God, must have been a rebel as well as a king. Alone of all creeds, Christianity has added courage to the virtues of the Creator, For the only courage worth calling courage must necessarily mean that the soul passes a breaking point — and does not break.

In this indeed I approach a matter more dark and awful than it is easy to discuss; and I apologize in advance if any of my phrases fall wrong or seem irreverent touching a matter which the greatest saints and thinkers have justly feared to approach. But in that terrific tale of the Passion there is a distinct emotional suggestion that the author of all things (in some unthinkable way) went not only through agony, but through doubt. It is written, “Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God.” No; but the Lord thy God may tempt himself; and it seems as if this was what happened in Gethsemane.

In a garden Satan tempted man: and in a garden God tempted God. He passed in some superhuman manner through our human horror of pessimism. When the world shook and the sun was wiped out of heaven, it was not at the crucifixion, but at the cry from the cross: the cry which confessed that God was forsaken of God.

And now let the revolutionists of this age choose a creed from all the creeds and a god from all the gods of the world, carefully weighing all the gods of inevitable recurrence and of unalterable power. They will not find another god who has himself been in revolt. Nay (the matter grows too difficult for human speech), but let the atheists themselves choose a god. They will find only one divinity who ever uttered their isolation; only one religion in which God seemed for an instant to be an atheist.