Monday, December 24, 2012

Castles in the Clouds and Christmas on Earth


Passing down that enchanted lane that is St. Charles, with castles and plantations and ancient churches drifting by, one gets the strange, stunning and simple feeling that the most dignified ages of mankind have convened a parliament right there along the road. A stone work structure gives way to white lattice, is followed by red brick reaching to dizzying heights, and is met by a row of Tudor windows that could fit in a London skyline. One feels as if Napoleon might walk out the French Gables of one house, that Churchill would breeze past the red-brick of another, that Charlemagne would fit in perfect next to a certain public library, and that Robert E. Lee would feel right at home on any one of the plantations' porches. The incongruence of period, style and culture is lost in the train. Despite clashing techniques and aesthetic methods, the golden thread of prestige and power unites all the facades into one long procession of architecture. It is the buildings that march, and the spectator, though moving, seems to merely watch them pass by. In a few weeks parades will start rolling down this street, but I fancy that it is only because the street itself is already a parade. If Carnival floats are a matter of dressing up cardboard and plaster to look like relic from ages past, then the houses of St. Charles all together represent a perpetual Mardi Gras, only the material used is far more lasting and far less gaudy.
And about halfway between downtown and the point where St. Charles ends at the river, there is a series of private schools each built in a unique period. One such, stationed between the Jewish Synagogue and Sacred Heart School, is built in the style of an Authorian Castle. As I drove my red truck past it, I was struck by the size of the stones. Each was easily as large as a barrel and as jagged as saw. If it were not for the fact that the geology of our city is so blatantly that of an estuary  I would have turned quickly around looking for the mountain from which such stones had been quarried. It defied explanation that such large rocks should be cut and transported so many thousand miles only to end up in pristine condition in the side of a wall on St. Charles Ave, New Orleans, LA. It must have been a monumental endeavor to erect such a monument above the streets of a swamp. And all to build a school whose architecture could hold its own against that of a Parisian-Styled Catholic School and a German-Jewish place of worship. I imagined the architect, working with the stones as if they were massive Legoes or alphabet building blocks. Each piece was its own veritable world, filled with nooks and crannies peculiarly its own. Had the mortar suddenly vanished, the blocks would have come toppling down like hundreds of dice rolling out on to a game board. Fitting them all together into such a symmetrical and congruent whole must have been like making a mosaic while balancing book on your head and and chomping a tree down: fitting, balancing and cutting all at once. The thought then struck me: why build such a house for children? As an educator, I searched my brain for some pedagogy that would account for taking the time and energy to erect such and edifice only so that children could study multiplication tables and learn to write in cursive.
And in the middle of such prudent speculations, I passed the gate and saw all the students sitting out on the steps with Christmas gifts in hand. For today was the last day of the semester, and parents who can afford to send their children to such a school probably make certain that the kids don't leave without some token of yuletide cheer. Such are the way with the affluent: they care much for the details. It is their virtue and their vice: to labor over every nickel and dime only to forget how many they have and, therefore, how many they could afford to share. Anyway, some conscientious parent of this variety had made certain that each child, though all with different gifts, be given these different gifts in the same package. This is yet another characteristic of the wealthy: they stress the appearance of equality so as to avoid having to be responsible for actual equality. In any event, the feelings of my heart were not with the unfortunate parents, but with their beautiful and innocent children. Each stood on the steps of the castle of academics with their uniform gift-wrap in hand. The wrapping for the gifts was a bag of deep red, smooth as a mirror and bright as blood. Out of each bag, the students were pulling their gifts: a soccer ball here, a teddy bear there, a doll or a scarf or a necklace. Regardless of the size of the present, the container it came from was the same: a 2x1.5 foot bag of brilliant crimson. By some odd coincidence, these bags were the same size as the stones against which they were laid. So imagine with me a large castle wall and stair case with large sand-colored stones punctuated by these countless red bags of equal size. What strange thoughts whirled through my head. I pictured a mythical battle that soaked with blood the entirety of those stones that had touched a corpse but left entirely untouched all other stones. I saw a wall built of alternating sand-stone and bricks made of compressed rose, forming a wall of chivalry that would attest to both beauty and strength. As a child picked up a bag here, or left a bag against the wall there, I imagined a castle constantly under construction by children as part of some tetras-like game. And through it all, I was haunted by the re-occurring speculation: why spend some much time and energy on children? They care not whether they learn in a castle or in a plantation or in a synagogue  provided what they learn is fun and good. They pay no mind to the color of the gift wrap provided that the gift inside pleases them. For children, more than adults, have a keen sense of substance-over-style. They know that they value of something is can only be improved by a positive appearance, but cannot be replaced by one. In short, they don't give a fig for the architecture of their school provided their school is where they can meet their friends and find their fun.
Then the answer to the riddle dawned on me like some colossus astride on the avenue, like the giant facade of the buildings that bordered me along the street. Whether or not it is fiscally viable or civically sound to invest in such school architecture is not the question. Nor does it even matter whether or not the kids notice that they are learning about human life in a monument to an outdated form of it. It doesn't even matter (in the first instance) whether or not their parents are greedy buffoons or just absent-minded members of the bourgeoisie  The point is the kids. Yes, I said it: the point of the discussion is the children. At Christmas, is it necessary to surround children in an atmosphere of imagination, even if they do not notice the details? Is it 'worth it' to take the extra time and energy to give them winter castles and wrap them matching presents? Well, why wouldn't it be worth it!? What could possibly be more worth our time or effort? When God spared no effort to surround his own Son at his birth with a such a colorful contingent of oriental kings and woolly shepherds, why should we spare any act of imagination on own our children? The question becomes, why isn't ever street and boulevard more like St. Charles Ave? We spare no expenses so as to be a cable bill: why not spare no expense to line every street with a cable car like the street cars that run on St. Charles? If God was able to turn a stable into His castle at the time of His birth, why not turn a school into a castle in order to teach others about Him?
The answer to all of this, as far as I can tell, is that we are far too lazy in our exaltation. Our eyes grow weak gazing heavenward, as the psalmist complains. Indeed, it is too much for us to realize everyday that the plot line of our lives is greater than any Greek tragedy but can reach a climax more stupendous than even the most romantic faerie-tale. The splendor of St. Charles is limited to one street, the crescendo of Christmas only occurs once a year, precisely because our hearts are not yet ready to see all the glory that we are destined for. Were all the ages of men to roll before us, as they seem to on St. Charles, and were they to all bow before that Infant Messiah, as someday they will, we would not now understand what it all meant. We are like children playing in a castle but thinking of it as nothing more than a school. Are hearts are still far too small to sing like the angels and celebrate like the gods. No, my friends, the joy of the Christmas story is that we are still too selfish and melancholy to understand heaven. That is why heaven had to come down to us! And for one day, we all return to childhood and proclaim Christ as the only Man who never grew out of the joy of childhood.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Sudden Monday - The Morning Light

I won't be able to do this every Monday but today is one of those days I can. Ryan Charles Trussel of Ora et Labora et Zombies fame has started something in the vein of Jennifer Fulwiler's 7 Quick Takes. He calls it Sudden Monday. He invites the courageous writer in all of us to write a small piece of flash fiction and connect it back to him so without further ado.

The Morning Light


To say that it is bright is really unnecessary, although it has encroached on my well deserved and much desired darkness. It remains constant and yet, in the haze, seems to dispel something. What that something is has yet to be determined because, well, determining things are not an available ability at this current juncture.

Amber is the color, which reminds of an ale I had not too long ago. To give a date or time of how long ago requires for me to make something definitive, and I'm definitely not ready for definitive. Nonetheless, that color is intoxicating in and of itself. It begins to elicit in me motion. It draws me; attracts me. I can smell it. No, no, I can't smell it. Although if I could, I'm sure its odor would be pleasant for such a color cannot create stench.

This amber becomes a lens with which to see shadows and shapes, not like trees. I know trees. They smell. No, the shapes have angles, right and isosceles. Despite they're shape and angle,  definition remains beyond grasp. What is in grasp is that darkness is slowly slipping away receding like the shoreline in low tide making a promise to come back but not saying when.

Do I let it slip away? I do love this darkness. It is devoid of responsibility. It is not within the limits of the necessary cogitation of human interaction. It is safe.

But this sweet smelling color is calling me. I can hear it clear as a bell ringing the knell of some joyous occasion. It's lens now provides definition. Angles and shapes become things instead of ideas.

Awake from sleep. Arise, for a new day dawns.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

More Thoughts on Prayer and Sleep (or, Looking for a Distraction from Thanksgiving stuff?)

Union with Christ's death/sleep is essential to union with His life. For what is the purpose of the spiritual life other than to love, to be united with Jesus? This union IS our vocation. discerning this union is discerning our vocation. being formed into this union is being formed into this vocation.  If union with Christ is the motive and fruit of all our actions, there can be no question of the effectiveness of our prayer life, of our spiritual growth, and, yes, of the sincerity of our religious devotion. Of course, no one gets it perfect, but, at the same time, we all know that each prayer, each sacrifice and each breath brings us closer to such perfection when we move in Christ's grace. Keep Christ always before your mind and heart, and you cannot fail.

Yet even this simple mantra lacks something. In fact, it lacks something essential for lovers and Christians alike: knowledge of presence. Yes, we might admit, keeping the idea of God before me is a good practice, but where's the fun, fruit and point in it if I don't experience Him in the giving of myself to Him? It is one thing for the lover to be there, sitting quietly looking at me. It's another thing entirely to know what that gaze communicates, to experience in it all its meaning and content. And I need that meaning and content just to carry on. It is here that we come to a particularly sticky problem. Prayer can never promise us complete satisfaction. The loving gaze we look for will not always be returned. If there is one thing that all of the various spiritual masters do agree on, it's that we must come to prayer expecting nothing, at least nothing in particular. If our spiritual life is to have any real focus, if it is to do anything different to change us, transform us and turn us into the types of people Christ wants us to be, we must come to it expecting only that God wants us to be there and not that we ourselves will always want to be there. This advice is nothing new. It can be found in the heart of every spiritual work that you read (and not just every Christian spiritual work). However it is here at its most dismal that the Christian spiritual message (indeed the whole Christian spiritual life) shifts a great truth into focus. In fact it is the greatest truth that the Christian religion has to offer us in this life and it is the only thing that truly makes the Christian religion unique.

Many religions tell us  that we must find inner peace or come to an inner harmony or learn to forgive ourselves for the sake of others, but also, all preach an Omnipotent God (or Being or Force) who can rule over us and use us in this particular state of passivity to do his will. They focus on a spiritual discipline in prayer that runs far too close to the utilitarian ideals we have already condemned. In contrast, it is only the Christian religion that offers the bruising and startling fact of her own creed which states that the baptized Christians vocation is based on an imitate encounter with not only an omnipotent God but also a weak and powerless human being.

We are told that in our baptism we died with Christ; we are told that in our baptism we also rise with him; and we're told that in our prayer we gained, a communion a constant communion with this dying and rising. Yet, as with any good love story, the best thing is left unsaid. It is taken for granted when you're told that we must imitate Christ who is already in possession of us through this dying and rising. But by faith in him we are more than just imitating his actions; we're also moving out of his very Love. This type of love is so unlike anything found in any other place, offered by any other system, described by any other faith. For the Christian is called to a radical vocation and baptism, a vocation that I will attempt to describe in a few short words.

It is no new thing for religion to claim that man gropes for God in the dark, and some religions claim the man is even been able to find him. However, it is the Christian religion that claims that on that uncanny Passover evening in the garden of Gethsemane we can see a God groping for Man in the dark. Everything from the betrayal of Judas to the denial of Peter to the trial before Caiaphas, to the hours spent alone in the cell in to the minutes of torture at the pillar in the courtyard show us a God that was groping for us just as much, nay even more, than we we are willing to look for him. In this mystery of the passion of Christ, which through the sacrament of baptism forms the foundation of the Christian spiritual life and vocation, the Christian sees mirrored in his own life the greatest love story ever told. The greatness of this love story does not arise simply from a passionate, painful and wonderful love. It is great because it describes the greatest of lovers. The actors in this drama are not just man and woman; they're not just God and man, but they're God-Man, us and God. There is something in the very syntax of the previous sentence that reveals a great truth. In this great story of the passion and in the great emotion of baptism man finds himself sandwiched between God and God. The Confines of his vocation are found in the very act of being pulled into the role of the Godhead, of being drawn into the very life of the Trinity. When the Son cries out to the Father in obedience, man himself finds himself crying out; and by some strange miracle of death and water, he hears his own voice echo between the walls of the inner tabernacle of God's love, the Son's human voice resounding, piercing through man and reaching the Father. So powerful and incomprehensible is this calling, the calling of the Son to the Father, that man must in a certain sense, falls back asleep in order to be re-created. Our Faith was born in the almost faithlessness of God. Our love was born when it seemed all love, even God's love, had failed.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

QOTD - Are You Prepared for Marriage?


As I have begun preparing couples for marriage, I have found that when they live together the preparation instantly becomes more difficult for them because they live a lie as a truth. Marriage prep began way before they entered my office. It began in their homes and continued in their dorms and in the apartments.

Society’s interest in preparing young men and women for marriage also suffers when the media presents as a mercantile plaything the holy act of intimacy that is proper to the sacred bond of marriage. - Bishop Paul Loverde of the diocese of Arlington, TX


Saturday, November 10, 2012

What Do I Need to Know to Discern?


This is a selection from a longer work on prayer and discernment. It reflects on the question "How much do we need to know in order to discern our vocation?"
When it comes time for God to fulfill Adam and give him the greatest grace yet, he doesn't leave him conscious for it. Maybe it is because Adam had already been so disappointed by all the gifts that he had seen while awake. Maybe it is because God is one of  those cheesy parents who force their kids to close their eyes before they pull out a birthday gift from behind their back. Or maybe, just maybe, it is because God's graces are more valuable than sight and experience can ever reveal, though not so incomprehensible that sight and sound can't make them apprehensive. 
Here it would be important to point out the distinction between apprehensive and comprehensive knowledge. It's a distinction that is rarely mentioned in normal conversation, but it is terribly important, especially in the grace-knowledge relationship. To comprehend something is to understand it through-and-through, to know it in its deepest essence. When teachers talk of  reading comprehension, when lawyers talk of  comprehension of  the law, when politicians claim (falsely) that they can comprehend the economic situation, when scientists  claim (often truly) that they can comprehend a phenomena, they all mean this sort of knowledge. It's a knowledge characterized by knowing the black and white, the ins-and-outs. It not only means that we know the thing itself, but that, using this knowledge, we can then predict exactly what will happen when we apply it. This type of  knowledge can only be applied to purely objective situations. However, we can never know God, or even each other for that matter, with a purely objective knowledge. In personal relationships, we are given a subjective knowledge of  the other, a partial (but still real!) knowledge of  the other. When they go to give us something of  themselves, our knowledge about them increases, but in a qualitatively different  way. In fact, as long as we try to comprehend (Latin for "to seize" or "grab") others, we are never in a position to receive them as a gift. Just as a wrapped present can only be received with apprehensive knowledge, the wrapping paper obscuring the full nature of  the gift, so too must we receive each other, and God, as dignified subjects. The lack of  comprehension in no way decreases the nature of  the gift. In fact, by making it personal through apprehension, our knowledge is lifted to a higher plane, one in which the person who we know is a being beyond our grasp but still within full sight of  our vision. 
So before entrusting Adam with his first purely creaturely personal relationship, God makes sure that Adam is unconscious ("casts a deep sleep") when He pulls woman from man's side. And like a kid on Christmas morning, Adam wakes up to find a gift waiting for him. Only, this gift isn't some plastic action figure or Barbie doll, but a living, breathing and beautiful woman. This moment is so moving, that the author of  Genesis has Adam recite the world's first love poetry: 
"This one at last is bone of  my bones 
and flesh of  my flesh. 
She shall be called 'woman' for out of  
man she has been taken." 
There's a lot more from this passage
(Not too bad for Man's first try at romantic verse. I can just picture a Lion King-esque scene with Adam rapping out this poem and all the animals of the Savanna making cool African sounding riffs in the background.)

There's a lot more from this passage that needs to be discussed. For our immediate purposes, however, I would simply like to point out that Adam did not need to be conscious when Eve was  being made, even though the process was quite an intimate one. This is how God handled the first gift giving.  It is a standard He will set from this point forward. Whether its the Hebrew slaves asleep as the angel of  death passes over, or Samuel asleep in the temple before receiving his vocation, or Jonah in the belly of  the whale, or Jacob asleep at the base of  Jacobs ladder or Joseph asleep when he is told the marry Mary, Scripture makes it overwhelmingly clear that God makes a habit of  dispensing both graces and vocations while people are asleep.


Saturday, November 3, 2012

Discernment of Spirits


It takes me forever to read a spiritual reading book. Forever. A year or two forever. The Discernment of Spirits: An Ignatian Guide for Everyday Living by Timothy Gallagher, OMV was one of those books. It is one of the few books recommended me by my spiritual director (mostly because I take so long to read them).

Now from the cover of the book, I would have discounted the work almost wholesale as something that was connected with the horrible parts of 70's Jesuit spirituality. It has reviews by people whom I never heard and who I would be less likely to trust. But, this is one where you can't judge a book by its cover. I trusted my spiritual director to continue past the less than desirable exterior.

Fr. Gallagher, who apparently teaches about the Ignatian Rules of Discernment around the world, spends his words and thoughts on giving practical guidance to the spiritual life through the text of the 14 Rules of Discernment St. Ignatius of Loyola spells out in his Spiritual Exercises. These words and thoughts are put forth in a colloquial style, like he was giving a retreat on these fourteen points. He uses stories and examples to bring to light, in relatable ways, the truths of these rules and how to apply them to the normal everyday humdrum Jane Doe spiritual life (not sure why I used Jane Doe).

I must say I gained an incredible amount of insight in how to notice what is going on in my interior life through what he outlines in this book. Have you ever wondered why you react the way you do in a certain situation? Do you notice movements in your spiritual life like the peaks and valleys of waves moving toward the coast of the unknown? This is the book for you.

He explains what spiritual consolation is and what spiritual desolation is and how we need to deal with it. These rules are hard and fast and super helpful, and Fr. Gallagher is able to communicate them in such a way as to allow the spiritual novice or spiritual athlete to grow in their understanding of their spiritual life.

I have and will recommend this book to anyone needing a greater understanding of the spiritual life.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

NaNoWriMo


So I haven't been writing a whole lot in this space as of late. Although there are many excuses I can and will give, I personally accept none of them. I took up this blog as part of my mission as a Christian. Now that I am a priest, it has taken a while for me to reorganize and refocus this particular part of my mission. Priesthood, like parenthood, has many demands on its time. I am continually inspired by parents of many children who still are able to be prolific in their writing.

Being that I have been out of the habit of writing (other than with homilies) I felt I needed a jump start, a way I could get a little rocket boost to propel me back into the writing which I so enjoy, where I find rest (the biggest attraction), and that can also be a means for evangelization (which is always on my heart). I have heard over the past few years from different corners of the info feed that is my time on the internet of something called NaNoWriMo. This immediately conjured for me images of rhinos listening to tiny iPods and had little other importance other than an inside joke with myself. Needless to say I didn't pay much attention to it. As November moved closer to being actualized, I began to see small snippets about NaNoWriMo in the days before, well, today. Now normally I don't shave during the Man Month of November, which really means I don't trim my beard as often. I decided due to the aforementioned desires NaNoWriMo would be the little rocket boost to propel me back into creativity.

For those who are still thinking of rhino's and iPod's NaNoWriMo means National Novel Writing Month, or sometimes called November. People from all around the country decide that in one month they will write a rough draft on a novel that has been floating around in their overstimulated underused brains. The goal: write 50,000 words in 30 days towards the completion of a rough draft of a novel.

Now being that I'm Catholic. I decided the rules didn't apply to me. I don't have a novel idea, or rather, an idea for a novel. What I do have is a blog (thank you for reading), a promise to write for another blog (I'm super excited about fulfilling that promise), a new parish website that goes live next week in which I will be writing on the documents of the Second Vatican Council for the Year of Faith, and an unfinished short story in the vein of Father Brown and Sherlock Holmes with an American, New Orleans variant. Amongst those I will have ample opportunity to write 50,000 words. The novel will have to wait and I will not 'win' per se because there will be little cohesion to the topics about which I will be writing.

I'm also glad that I am not alone in this endeavor. I have connected with a local group of NaNoWriMo's here in New Orleans, two of which are serendipitously parishioners. I will also be supporting and getting support from two friends, Erica who writes for Writers Read and Readers Write and Emmy who writes for Journey of a Catholic Nerd Writer.

I will take all the support I can get from you. Feel free to drop me an encouraging tweet @colonel4God or even an email at reverencedreading@hotmail.com

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

QOTD - Submerge Yourself in the Abyss of the Sacred Heart

Since my time in San Antonio, three years ago, a devotion to the Sacred Heart has grown in my prayer life. I found out that this fine woman fostered it back in the late 17th Century due to some extraordinary experiences she had with Christ. Plunge yourself in the Sacred Heart of Jesus and be satisfied.

This divine heart is an abyss of all blessings, and into it the poor should submerge all their needs. It is an abyss of joy in which all of us can immerse our sorrows. It is an abyss of lowliness to counteract our foolishness, an abyss of mercy for the wretched, an abyss of love to meet out every need. - St. Margaret Mary Alacoque 

This is the image I used for the holy card commemorating my ordination to the Priesthood.

Monday, October 15, 2012

QOTD - A Prayer for the Church by St. Theresa of Avila

On the feast of St. Theresa of Avila. We provide for you a short prayer from the annals of her writings. Pray this often, for the bride of Christ, the Ship of the Church needs it.
Now, Lord, now; make the sea calm! May this ship, which is the Church, not always have to journey in a tempest like this. - St. Theresa of Avila

Teresa of Avila by Peter Paul Reubens

Friday, October 12, 2012

QOTD - Intimacy Leads to Evangelization

At the beginning of the year of faith, this seems like an apt thought on which to reflect.

The most personal and secret intimacy [with God] leads to the need of announcing to all people's that love has been found. - Blaise Arminjon, SJ
The Visitation by Mario Albertinelli

Thursday, October 11, 2012

QOTD -The Power of Words

People do not take enough stock in words. We take them for granted. We let them flow from our tongues, our fingers, and our pens without reflection to the vast beauty and depth of their existence and power. The following quote comes from a letter to the author's publisher defending his use of foreign, i.e. non-English, words in his works.

Surely I have never yet made, and never expect to make any money. Neither do I expect to write ever for the multitude. I write for beloved friends who can see colour in words, can smell the perfume of syllables in blossom, can be shocked with the fine elfish electricity of words. And in the eternal order of things, words will eventually have their rights recognized by the people. - Lafcadio Hearn

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

QOTD - Columbus Day Rethought

I found out at the end of the day when no mail came that yesterday was Columbus Day. The government and some banks take the day off to 'celebrate' the founding of the new world by a Spanish funded Italian sailor.

I mean this in an all sincerity. Government holidays aren't even holidays. They retain no sort of value of festival (no celebration) and maintain a false sense of leisure (i.e. not working). So I turn to a man more wise than myself for consolation.
True joy, genuine festival, means the casting out of wickedness. - St. Athanasius
Courtesy of Library of Congress

Monday, October 8, 2012

QOTD - Mere Economic Development is Slavery

Sorry for being away so long. Life has been super busy and then I got sick with a virus. I didn't want to pass that on in my writing so I entered into semi-social media reclusion. I have recovered to working order, although I am not fully healthy yet.

With the upcoming election, there is much talk about the economy of the United States and what the candidates plan to do about it. However, we must remember: society is not primarily economic. To say that, would be a reduction of the human community to mere transaction. It is an offense of his dignity. Hence,
Development which is merely economic is incapable of setting man free, on the contrary, it will end by enslaving him further. - Bl. John Paul II
There's a shadow side to mere economic development.

Friday, September 28, 2012

QOTD - Sacraments, How to Change the World

Ever thought the last time you went to confession could change the world? Think again:
The sacraments are defining moments for Christians - and for the world. - Fr. Kurt Stasiak, OSB
Seven Sacraments Altarpiece by Rogier van der Weyden
Royal Museum of Fine Arts, Antwerp

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

QOTD - Flee to Mercy

The proclamation of Divine Mercy pre-St. Faustina:
Do not fear that you cannot fulfill the Law; flee to mercy. - St. Augustine of Hippo

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

QOTD - What is History?

 We studied it in grammar school and high school. Never did we ask its nature content with only knowing its accidents. So, what is history?
History is not simply a fixed progression toward what is better, but rather an event of freedom, and even a struggle between freedoms. - Bl. John Paul II

Saturday, September 22, 2012

The Absolute Necessity of Awkwardness


To Genevieve and Katie, Who Have Watched Me Learn This


There is much that is lacking in our culture in  the way of acesticism. It is not that we are utterly devoid of discipline. It's just that our discipline seems always directed toward the most marginal and mediocre of things. A man who 'works out' develops large biceps so that, when he sits around in his cubicle, it might feel a little less empty. A stuggling family eats Raman noddles and buys their clothes at Goodwill so that all the children can have iPhones. A soccer mom limits her food intake, not simply to prevent obesity, but so that she might feel sexy in the sequins panties that her husband bought her. Chesterton was fond of saying that it is not the vices, but the virtues, that were let loose to wreak havoc when the Post Christian era began. Thus we see the old forms of fasting and renunciation haven't disappeared; they just no longer correspond to charity. We still forgo food and beat our bodies into submission; its just that we no longer expect earth and heaven as our reward, but merely the worldly.

Being born into such a situation, it might seem odd that I suggest a reexamination of an obscure form of acesiticism, so obscure in fact that I think hagiologists are the only ones who ever wrote on it. If all the world is mistaken about the nature of self-discipline, why on earth should I waste my time with this ambigious point? Would it not be better to stick to the main issue: the radical loss of meaning in discipline? Perhaps, but (praise God) there are much better writers that can handle that battle. I am obscure, and so that the author may be comensurate with his subject matter, I will keep to reflecting on points of seeming obscurity.
In all the great saints, there was an acesiticism of humility that I can only call the radical call to awkwardness. We read about it in the mendicants mostly, though it is easier to put in proper context when we look at the more recent Saints. It can be seen when Boniface cut down the oak, when Patrick lit the bonfire, when Teresa took off her shoes and danced in the middle of meal time. Therese betrayed it when she snuck into the male monastery while on pilgrimage, and Athanasius displayed it when he jumped out of hiding to stop Constantine's chariot and argue with the Emperor. JP II was notorious for it, sneaking away in the middle of meeting and meals only to be found lying prostrate before the tabernacle---kissing men, women and children full out on the face in St. Peter's square---doodling out poetry when he got bored during sessions of the Second Vatican Council. Aquinas was caught talking to the crucifix. Pier Gorigio interrupted conversation to say rosaries. Mother Teresa walked out of committee meetings when she found out how much their bottled water had cost. And the list goes on. The point is that all of these saints knew the great secret of humility and kindness: that we must risk seeming rude and vulgar. "We must defy convention if only to keep the commandments." (GKC, once more) We must learn what God has always known: that every act of love is at risk of being interpreted as an infringement on freedom and, thus, an act of annoyance.

Now somewhere along the way, our culture made awkwardness the ultimate mortal sin. We have invoked these great disciplines of ours, the schedules, the diets, the exercise routines, the penny-pinching, all in the name of avoiding discomfort. The man at the gym never breaths a word of humility. The family on the tight budget never questions the necessity of wireless technology. The woman haphazardly starving herself never stops to think if her husband should be looking at more than her thinner thighs. At the end of the day, all of these disciplines bring them further from, not closer to, the type of humility that Francis enjoyed or Don Bosco exuded when they spent all their time with animals and children. Saints were always faulted for the 'awkwardness' that such a lifestyle created. But the secret that all the Saints knew was that the greatest joys in life begin when we call into question our own limited assumptions and priorities. "There is nothing like pain and discomfort to plant the flag of heaven behind enemy walls."(CSL, this time) Sheer happiness can never give us such a perspective, for sheer happiness is all too small a feeling. There must be an element of embarrassment or our humility is insincere. There most be that moment when it all seems wrong in order for us to know that it is truly right. The problem, as far as I can tell, with our silly Chicken Soup for the Soul discipline is not that it lacks effort, but that it lacks something of this authentic embarrassment. We look for disciplines that will bring us happy sex lives, better pleasures, stronger contentment, stable relationships, etc. We should look for the discipline that would risk all that in order to bring us back to ourselves and the Other. It is a discipline that constantly bets anything in order to gain everything. And that kind of bet is always embarrassing.

One final note before I leave you to assess your own asceticism of awkwardness; it is not enough to simply defy convention. It is not enough to be counter-cultural, eccentric, and thus enticing. Even the pagans have done the same. I hang out with many artists and eccentrics who, for all their oddness, are no closer to the Kingdom of Heaven. What I have discovered, what I so wish to see more of in the lives of my brothers and sisters, and what I am dying to find more often in my own life, is that radical humility in which I am utterly embarrassed, rolling-on-the-floor-of-my-mind-laughing-at-myself-embarrassed, and then Love comes rushing in and gathers me up. This asceticism of awkwardness should not only make Christians stand out: it should make them give up. Surrender. Make a gift of themselves. Man only discovers himself through a sincere gift of self. A sincere gift of self requires a great deal of confusion and blushing. We are told that our bodies are washed in the blood of the Lamb, and I have often wondered if we see something of that crimson when our cheeks turn red.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

QOTD - The Church Will Withstand All Persecution

Being that today is the Memorial of the Korean Martyrs. It seemed good to quote one of them.
Dearest brothers and sisters: when he was in the world, the Lord Jesus bore countless sorrows and by his own passion and death founded the Church; now he gives it increase through the sufferings of the faithful. No matter how fiercely the powers of this world oppress and oppose the Church, they will never bring it down. Ever since his ascension and from the time of the apostles to the present, the Lord Jesus has made his Church grow even in the midst of tribulation. - St. Andrew Kim Taegôn

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

QOTD - Sin and the Church

The Church, in fact, cannot act differently toward men than did her Redeemer. - Pope Paul VI
When people see 'the Church' acting contrary to her Redeemer that is, in fact, not the Church acting but one of her members stained by a original sin. 

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

QOTD - Divine Intoxication

In its ascent, love, without losing order, loses measure and finds intoxication. - Jan von Ruysbroeck 
The Ecstasy of St. Theresa by Giovanni Bernini
In all things we desire to, at least in nascent form, arrive at completeness, whether that being completing a task or being completely drunk. Our society is all or nothing, or apathy all around. We ascend mountains or the corporate ladder; either way it is measurable. The ascent of Divine Love, though, is like diving into the depths of space. It may seem measurable but relationally it loses all measurement, and that is where true intoxication (i.e. completion) occurs.

Monday, September 17, 2012

QOTD - For What He Is Man is Precious

In the economy that we are in coupled with the culture that we live it's always good to remember:
A man is more precious for what he is that what he has. - Gaudium et Spes
Courtesy of Bandini

Sunday, September 16, 2012

QOTD - God Attracts Us

On this day of rest, rest in this:
It is only because God, in His love, attracts us that we find the strength in our turn to join him. - Blaise Arminjon, SJ
Visiting the poor, illustration from 'Le Magasin Pittoresque', Paris, 1844 by Karl Girardet

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Evernote Smart Notebook, Where New and Old Media Unify

As you might have found in another post, I am a great believer in handwriting. Handwriting is a much more intellect intensive activity than typing. It challenges and extends the brain more. I requires greater manual dexterity, and, when done well, is much more beautiful than typing.

For my ordination registry (yes, they exist thanks to Aquinas and More), I asked for many notebooks with which to take down those things that I thought important, whether it be blog ideas, notes from meetings, homily preparation, or notes for other projects I have going on. I love notebooks as much as I do pens. It might be because you need one for the other.

With notebooks, we run into a problem, with which people have suffered since their inception, their searchability. Notebooks, even well organized ones, take awhile to be searched. You have to flip page by page to complete your search. Many people, being jaded by such an ancient form of searching, have given up on notebooks and turn to word processors or to programs such as Evernote.

I love Evernote. It is a cloud notebook with, if your willing to pay, an infinite amount of storage. I keep many notes within my synced apps on phone, iPad, and desktop that allow me, at anytime, to return to them. For awhile the app replaced the Moleskine that had been in my back pocket. There was just one difficulty. I couldn't write on it. Eventually there was an update that allowed for that, but writing on a screen and writing in a notebook are vastly different in experience. One is novel and therefore, for a short while, holds the attention of this person, but the other is cathartic and retains at least a great perceived permanence to the words being written.
(via blog.evernote.com )

I few weeks ago I heard rumblings about Moleskine and Evernote teaming up for a special kind of notebook that would sync to Evernote. Well it is here, and guys and girls I must tell you. I'm excited. It provides the best of both words the permanence of ink on paper with the searchability of the digital type.

Moleskine has designed the notebook to be read via Evernote programing through a photograph in the iOS app (soon for Android users). These photographs become whole Evernotes and enter into the fully searchable data system of Evernote.

This is where new media and old media collide and inform each other.

Once I get one hopefully I can post some of my writing and thought on here like I've seen one blogger do.

QOTD - Common Good and the Character of Citizens

John Wanamaker Citizen
taken by Smallbones
 The common good must include concern for the character of citizens. - J. Brian Benestad
Relativism has so ingrained itself in our government that this seems contrary to the American government's understanding of itself.

Friday, September 14, 2012

QOTD - Baptism, God's Most Beautiful Gift

Just in case you haven't thought about your baptism in awhile.
Baptism is God's most beautiful and magnificent gift ... We call it gift, grace, anointing, enlightenment, garment of immortality, bath of rebirth, seal, and most precious gift. It is called gift because it is conferred on those who bring nothing of their own; grace since it is given even to the guilty; Baptism because sin is buried in the water; anointing for it is priestly and royal as are those who are anointed; enlightenment because it radiates light; clothing since it veils our shame; bath because it washes; and seal as it is our guard and the sign of God's Lordship. - St. Gregory of Nazianzus

Thursday, September 13, 2012

QOTD - Continuity and Renewal, Conservative and Progressive

In effect, continuity and renewal are a proof of the perennial value of the teaching of the Church. - Bl. John Paul II
People often speak within the Church about conservative and progressive. The Church is both, but without the political connotations. It remains perennially in continuity with the Apostles and their successors both in government and in teaching. However, it is forever renewing and progressing in its evangelical mission, which requires reaching people in their own situation. This allows for a deepening of understanding of the teaching of the Church which Bl. John Henry Newman called the development of doctrine, but it also pushes forward those who proclaim the good news of the saving mystery of Jesus Christ.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

QOTD - The Paschal Mystery Can Only Be Received

We cannot bring about the Paschal Mystery for ourselves; as the mystery of death and resurrection, by it's very nature it can only be received. - Josef Cardinal Ratzinger

Lord, help us to receive from you the cross you will for us. That through that reception we my rise to newness of life.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

QOTD - Rest in the Lord

Some might already be looking back to this past summer's vacations. Well:
To rest in the Lord and to see his joy is like a banquet, and full of gladness and tranquility. - St Ambrose

Monday, September 10, 2012

QOTD - Gradualism

After much though, we will return somewhat to the roots of this blog. Quotes. We will begin having a quote of the day. We won't stick to any particular genre (although it will be coming from what we are reading). So here is the first QOTD for Reverenced Reading:

Gradualism is the pervading modus operandi of our times. My peers’ pressure is subtle but relentless. Who can hold it back? - Angus Graham, The Father's Tale by Michael O'Brien

P.S. We, of course, will be continuing to write new content about books and things we read from books and movies about books and the occasional other fancy.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The Integral J.R.R. Tolkien

'I threw down my enemy, and he fell from the high place and broke the mountain-side where he smote it in his ruin. Then darkness took me, and I strayed out of though and time, and I wandered far on roads that I will not tell. 
'Naked I was sent back - for a brief time, until my task is done. And naked I lay upon the mountain-top. The tower behind was crumbled into dust, the window gone; the ruined star was choked with burned and broken stone. I was alone. forgotten, without escape upon the hard horn of the world. There I lay staring upward, while the stars wheeled over, and each day was a long as a lofe-age of earth. Faint to my ears came the gathered rumour of all lands: the springing and the dying, the song and the weeping, and the slow everlasting groan of overburdened stone. And so at the last Gwaihir the Windlord found me again, and he took me up and bore me away.
 '"Ever am I fated to be your burden, friend at need," I said
'"A burden you have been," he answered, "but not so now. Light as a swan's feather in my claw you are. The sun shines through you. Indeed I do not think you need me any more: were I to let you fall, you would float upon the wind."
I wish I could claim this writing as my own. We are taken in a realm that is beyond sense while simultaneously being hyper sensory. Am I in a dream? Or is this real? It sounds sort of like Scripture until Saxon-like name appears.

This is the writing of one J.R.R. Tolkien. To the fan-boy, the first paragraph will sound familiar. It is Gandalf speaking of his defeat of the Balrog from Khazad-Dûm in The Two Towers.

(via http://www.theonering.com/ )
In his magnum opus, Tolkien left us something rich and complex. It is not merely an imitable fantasy story nor merely the perfect story to translate into motion picture. It is a myth and myths are powerful. They contain within them much more than mere words and stories and lessons. They contain and communicate Truth.

The excerpt above is my example. Among the mysterious syntax and hazy description comes forth something almost other worldly. For the mind seeking Truth, "naked I was sent back …" has a familiar ring to it. "Do we return to our mother's womb?" Nicodemus asked. "You must be born again of water and the spirt."

"The tower behind was crumbled into dust, the window gone; the ruined star was choked with burned and broken stone." Babel had been destroyed. The veil in the Temple was torn in two. The Light of the world was place in a new tomb hewn from rock.

Tolkien forcibly communicated that he had no intention of writing a 'Catholic' novel, or so I here from many sources. While having never reading those words from his pen, I can see why he would be so adamant. That being said, he did write a Catholic novel - not because it was intended to be one, but because he was Catholic. "Nominal" was not in his religious vocabulary. He was singularly dedicated  Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He lived that dedication as a father, as a professor, as philologist, and as a writer. When you dedicate yourself to one thing, that one thing permeates all other parts of your life. "I desire that they may all be one as You and I are one." Integrality.

What we have to learn from Tolkien is that to be Catholic is to allow Christ to permeate our entire existence, from breathing to washing the dishes to filling TP reports to calculating the amount of fuel needed for a rover to arrive at the planet Mars.

'"A burden you have been," he answered, "but not so now. Light as a swan's feather in my claw you are. The sun shines through you.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Pain and Laughter




What a pity it is to be born a romantic. Try as you might, you can never escape the borders of fairyland. That is to say, you can never leave this world nor can you plunge across into Rivendell. You hang in the frontier country, always seeing your patria from the neighborhood over, but never crossing the street, and, in New Orleans, it is so easy to be a romantic, so easy to indulge in the in-betweeness of the wayfarer. On Sunday, when I found out that I would be evacuating once more, I made a point of wandering the streets of our great city, aimlessly making my way to Audubon Park, for that is the secret way of life for the natives of our town: to be passionately devoted to being nonchalant. When it comes to letting the good times roll, we roll up our selves and work at it (it is perhaps the only thing we really work at). We order life around parades, closing our schools and allocating their buses to the project. We set our schedules according to the festivals. Overtime is not something we do at our jobs and is only heard when discussing the (football) Saints. The (Church's) Saints have, historically speaking, come to our town to sing and party, not just pray and repent. And so, when I set out from my door going about the important business of getting lost, the only desire I had in my heart was that I should end up at a park and climb a tree.

Thus, I cannot say how I ended up in Audubon park, nor why I continued to wander there for many hours more, but I can say that it was utterly intentional when I finally mounted a half-naked magnolia missing limbs from a previous storm. With her remaining limbs, the tree wrapped me up and so that I might fall, not to the ground, but further in love with my home city. And, much as it is when falling in love with a woman, I found that she looked both more simple and more beautiful than she typically does. The air was dry and cool. There was a slight breeze. The Spanish moss tickled me delicately, draped from the trees' limbs. People talk about seductive women on Bourbon St., but I have never made it that far. I am always taken in by Dame Oak and Lady Willow long before I can make it to the French Quarter.

From within the arms of Miss Magnolia, I looked around at the elegant houses and even more elegant streets that, like my magnolia, still bore marks from Katrina. I reflected that, on the anniversary, we would once again be rebuilding. As I climbed down and walked home, I saw the water lines on the houses left from the last storm. Memories of that flood triggered a strange feeling to flood my consciousness. It was that pale, sickly feeling of helplessness that I first felt seven years ago on that same day. "Will I see this all again? How much will have changed when I walk this street next time?"
As I stated before, New Orleanians never plan their route. As such, we never know just when we'll be back on even the closest streets to our houses. Thinking that our city might change due to forces beyond our control was perhaps the most drab and sickening thought that lingered after Katrina. And oh, Change! How we hate that word! We like things done the same way again and again. Change imposes planning, and we perfer to expend that energy enjoying ourselves. We don't like the planning process. We perfer simple action. The party is in the performance. The devil is in the details. That is why we hate change.

This is one aspect of my citizenship that is always in conflict with my creed, where my affection for NOLA finds tension with my loyalty to Kingdom. For Christians are always concerned, even to the verge of paranoia, with the concept of conversion, with the concept of change. So I asked my God whether or not I would have to change again. And He laughed at my silliness. Change again? As if the change Katrina wrought could be repeated!? He made me remember my CS Lewis; "Things never happen the same way twice" said Aslan. Katrina was purification, and not all tears are evil. Isaac is laughter, and not all laughter is flippant. Sometimes laughter strikes with a pain more intense than purgatory, for laughter conceals in its heart the very essence of humility. Tears can be selfish, but laughter is never permitted to be. Because it depends on humility for life, arrogant laughter does not simply offend good manners: it violate the principle of non-contradiction.

Romantics know well the need for laughter, their need for Isaac. As I said before, we live on the border land. Its not that we are citizens without a country, but a people torn between two countries, delicately balancing the pleasures and pains of each. For the pain of being outside of heaven is more manifold than the pleasures of this world. Each of us bears this pain in a different way. Some call it Holocaust. Some call it War. Some call it Disease. Some call it 'the Storm,' but each of these pains produce in us a secret link between the world and the fairyland, between earth and heaven, that makes us a mediator like our Beloved Mediator. "Things never happen the same way twice." Every pain is as unique as the one who bears it, nay, it is more unique. Because it reveals not just the person at their most intimate, but the One more infinite in Good and Variety than all others, our humble laughter does not obscure, but rather enhances this manifold Goodness. Think how agonizingly repetitive merely mirthful moments are. Weddings, birthdays, graduations are redundant with an almost anarchistic similarity. God has to flood these events with His Goodness or we sinners would all grow bored with them. The real miracle, though, is that pain can produce laughter, and that laughter comes in the greatest variety, revealing the full spectrum of human goodness and metaphysical wonder. We leave home entirely uncertain of what trials we will endure, but confident that we will come to a party at the end. We are so confident, that we wonder as we wander and laugh as we set out in the serious business of losing ourselves. The greatest joke in the universe, the greatest act of irony, is that to save our life we must lose it. It was so worthy of Isaac, of laughter, that God Himself was more than willing to become the punchline, taking Isaac (laughter's) place on Mt. Moriah when He stayed the hand of Abraham. So do not fear the storm. Do not weep over what is lost. What is lost was good, but what comes later, like at the end of a joke, is a Punchline worthy of both heaven and earth.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Concupiscence, True Communion, and 'Friends'

I decided to repost my first thoughts posted on blog format. This post originally was written on Monday, June 30, 2008.
It does not correspond to the personal union or 'communion' to which man and woman have been reciprocally called 'from the beginning,' in fact, it is contrary to it, that one of the two persons should exist only as a subject of satisfaction of sexual urge and that the other should become exclusively the object for such satisfaction. Further, it does not correspond to this unity of 'communion'--in fact, it is contrary to it--that both the man and the woman should mutually exist as objects for the satisfaction of sexual urge, and that each of them on his or her own part should be a subject of such satisfaction. Such a 'reduction' of the rich content of reciprocal and perennial attraction among human persons in their masculinity and femininity does not correspond to the 'nature' of the attraction in question. Such a 'reduction,' in fact, extinguishes the meaning proper to man and woman, a meaning that is person and 'of communion,' through which 'the man will... unite with his wife and the two will be one flesh' (Gen 2:4). 'Concupiscence' removes the intentional dimension of the reciprocal existence of man and woman from the personal perspective 'of communion,' which are proper to their perennial and reciprocal attraction, reducing this attraction and, so to speak, driving it toward utilitarian dimension, in whose sphere of influence one human being 'makes use' of another human being, 'using her' only to satisfy his own 'urges.'
Man and Woman He Created Them: A Theology of the Body by Blessed John Paul II
Friends was one of the big sitcoms in the 90's (you can hear the claps from the theme clap-clap-clap-clap). It had a lot of influence on my generation. Yet, this quote from John Paul II puts forward the basic weakness of the series.

There is a total reduction of the relationship between man and woman to one of sexual satisfaction. The two friends who ended up marrying each other began their intimate relationship with sex. When they hid the 'relationship' from the other friends, they where hiding the fact that they were having sex. To my knowledge, which is limited and finite, and possibly wrong, they didn't go out on a 'date' until it was public knowledge that they were dating.

A relationship which ended in marriage was based and grounded upon a sexual relationship, i.e. sand. This is what my generation saw each week, and it is what John Paul II called the utilitarian dimension, wherein the person of the opposite sex is an object for sexual gratification. The ideal in this dimension is mutual sexual gratification, which, to many nowadays, means a basis for a solid marriage.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Is Collecting Bad?: The Fountain Pen and Our Consumerist Culture

To "have" objects and goods does not in itself perfect the human subject, unless it contributes to the maturing and enrichment of that subject's "being," that is to say unless it contributes to the realization of the human vocation as such ... The danger of the misuse of material goods and the appearance of artificial needs should in no way hinder the regard we have for the new goods and resources placed at our disposal and the use we make of them. - Bl. John Paul II Sollicitudo Rei Socialis 28,29

These seem to be contrary statements, but are rather intended to moderate our use of material goods. We live in  a society that idolizes materiality. I feel like I'm preaching to the choir being that most of us realize this. Realizing it is one thing, and not participating in it, is another thing altogether.

Take myself as a poor example. Back in January, I fell in love with fountain pens (they write so much better than ballpoints). They're messy. They are really nice looking, and they leave you open to an endless possibility of inks.

I loved taking notes with them while in my final semester of classes. I actually no longer took notes on my laptop or iPad. Over the course of six months, I have purchased a total of ... 1, 2, 18 fountain pens. My latest purchase is a set with Benedict XVI's signature on it. I got caught by the collector consumer bug, courtesy of Amazon and eBay. 

Now, seriously Kyle what are you going to do with eighteen fountain pens? Well, I use this one for this and this one for that and that one for signing checks and that one for homilies. I still don't use them all. I gave one to my sister. A few ended up being duds and unusable (which in itself proves the point).

Pens hold a certain nostalgia to them. Some of them make really cool fancy lettering. Some of them just look cool (like the one second from the left in the picture that is made from olive wood from the holy land.) 

Pens can contribute, as Bl. John Paul II, to the realization of the human vocation. They can be used to write down thoughts (I write out my homilies because for me, typing requires less energy and less memory). Thoughts are very important in the realization of the human vocation. They can communicate truth and beauty. But "to 'have' objects and goods does not in itself perfect the human subject." In other words, I don't need 17 pens to write my homily. I only need one. 

Where is the line drawn (no pun intended)? Is collecting things a pursuing something that does not bring us closer to God? Are there moral justifications for collecting, whether it be baseball cards, stamps, or fountain pens? Does such a hobby build us up? Dear reader, these are questions for which I do not have an answer. Sound off if you so desire and let me and others know what you think.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Go to Confession and Go Out to the World


True conversion of hearts, which means opening ourselves to the transforming and regenerative action of God, is the 'motor' of all reform and turns into an authentic force for evangelisation. During Confession, the repentant sinner, thanks to the gratuitous action of divine Mercy, is justified, forgiven and sanctified. ... Only those who allow themselves to be profoundly renewed by divine Grace can internalise and therefore announce the novelty of the Gospel.
Bl. John Paul II Dives in Misericordia

Thursday, August 9, 2012

The Contests Between Political Parties and What a Pope Thinks

To these evils we must add the contests between political parties, many of which struggles do not originate in a real difference of opinion concerning the public good or in a laudable and disinterested search for what would best promote the common welfare, but in the desire for power and for the protection of some private interest which inevitably results in injury to the citizens as a whole. - Ubi Arcano Dei Consilio Pius XI
This was written in 1922. It was the encyclical of the pontificate of Pius XI. This is part of what he had to say. I do not normally enter into the realm of politics when I blog, but I read this a few months back and was struck by the force of its truth as well as the appropriateness for our current political situation in the United States. I'll let him speak for himself.
Pius XI in his office (via Wikimedia Commons)

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Gratitude=Happiness x Wonder


"I would maintain that thanks is the highest form of thought; and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder."-GKC, 1917

There are truly refreshing moments in life when we are relieved of the pressure of standing alone with some thought by discovering that it has already been said or thought by another. When I read the above quote, I was so taken up by the joy of this phrase that I wanted to share it with all those present. I felt as if something special, almost sacramental, had occured. And indeed (as you will read), a communion had taken place. Unfortunately, the place I found myself reading this passage was a coffee shop, where such delicate and delicious thoughts lost in the shuffle. Starbucks does us no favors by printing all sorts of maxims on their cups: one becomes deceived that they are all of equal quality (isn't it ironic that, regardless of quality, they all end up in the garbage can).

Anyway, for months now I had found myself trying to say that above quote, but being impaired by not having yet read it. In fact, I had almost taken the extremely treacherous step of trying to write the idea out myself, but was happily prevented from doing so by discovering that I was a century too late. So, instead of a sloppy, second rate version of the above truth, I was taken up with the less tedious task of writing a commentary on it.

And the commentary will be short (though commentary is never as brief as the primary source): Our dependence on God creates as thrill in us that can reach the point of anxiety. Speaking personally, my experience of it often involves a signifigant amount of anxiety. Recently, a close friend of mine rightfully corrected this anxiety by comparing our reception of God's grace to the catching of a frisbee. She stated that, just like a frisbee, grace seems to waver delicately between heaven and earth. She insisted, however, that this should not be a source of fear. We should be confident that, if God tossed us the frisbee, He had ever intention of our catching it. And the intention of the Divine is above suspicion.

Now, she left off the metaphor here, but I will pick it up again by pointing out that I have often dropped a frisbee. She was very right to correct my fear, but the fear was justified. The great feeling of gratitude that comes from participating in Reality is that happiness comes at a risk. That is to say, love comes at a price. There can be no wonder unless the pass can be dropped. There must be some real chance that frisbee will slip through my fingers, otherwise my wonder at catching it will indeed slip through my fingers. But my friend was right: fear is not the right response. Wonder is the right response.

I do not plan here to tackle the topic of Divine Will and human freedom, only to comment that our freedom is indeed Divinely willed. God wants to give us grace (otherwise it could not be gratia, gift) and, in doing so, there must be the real risk that we might not acccept that gift (overwise, it would be said to be forced on us, and not given). What has to happen is a willing to unwill, an active choice to be passive and catch the pass. Some call this surrender. Some call this receptivity. Whatever it is called, it result in thanks, in gratitude, in eucharist. And Eurcharist is the source and summit of life.

When we come to God in this way (that is, in the Eucharist) what we find is that startling fact that He came to Himself in this way. He gave Himself on the cross. For our Salvation did indeed waver between heaven and earth, and when Christ passed on His Spirit, there had to be some real risk that the pass might be dropped. And now my commentary must end, for I have reached the limits of what mere words can express. There is a Divine Silence that surrounds this mystery of Calvary, where even the Word refused to speak. All I can say is that when we have some experience of this love, speaking louder in its silence than all the tongues of man, the very value of Reality seems to double up on itself. We exist most when be understand what it would be to cease to exist. Value pours in from every corner of consciousness. Our happiness is multiplied by wonder, even as drift dying in mid-heaven. The matter of catching the frisbee becomes secondary to the fact that there was a God so loving as to pass it to us in the first place. That we should even be there to catch it becomes the content of our gratitude.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Of Hair and Health Care, by GKC


This is a Chesterton essay that acts as the conclusion of his book What's Wrong with the World. Though written over a century ago, it asks just how far the government can go in matters of health and hygiene. It's pertinence to our current situation cannot be overstated.

A little while ago certain doctors and other persons permitted by modern law to dictate to their shabbier fellow-citizens, sent out an order that all little girls should have their hair cut short. I mean, of course, all little girls whose parents were poor. Many very unhealthy habits are common among rich little girls, but it will be long before any doctors interfere forcibly with them. Now, the case for this particular interference was this, that the poor are pressed down from above into such stinking and suffocating underworlds of squalor, that poor people must not be allowed to have hair, because in their case it must mean lice in the hair. Therefore, the doctors propose to abolish the hair. It never seems to have occurred to them to abolish the lice. Yet it could be done. As is common in most modern discussions the unmentionable thing is the pivot of the whole discussion. It is obvious to any Christian man (that is, to any man with a free soul) that any coercion applied to a cabman's daughter ought, if possible, to be applied to a Cabinet Minister's daughter. I will not ask why the doctors do not, as a matter of fact apply their rule to a Cabinet Minister's daughter. I will not ask, because I know. They do not because they dare not. But what is the excuse they would urge, what is the plausible argument they would use, for thus cutting and clipping poor children and not rich? Their argument would be that the disease is more likely to be in the hair of poor people than of rich. And why? Because the poor children are forced (against all the instincts of the highly domestic working classes) to crowd together in close rooms under a wildly inefficient system of public instruction; and because in one out of the forty children there may be offense. And why? Because the poor man is so ground down by the great rents of the great ground landlords that his wife often has to work as well as he. Therefore she has no time to look after the children, therefore one in forty of them is dirty. Because the workingman has these two persons on top of him, the landlord sitting (literally) on his stomach, and the schoolmaster sitting (literally) on his head, the workingman must allow his little girl's hair, first to be neglected from poverty, next to be poisoned by promiscuity, and, lastly, to be abolished by hygiene. He, perhaps, was proud of his little girl's hair. But he does not count.


Upon this simple principle (or rather precedent) the sociological doctor drives gayly ahead. When a crapulous tyranny crushes men down into the dirt, so that their very hair is dirty, the scientific course is clear. It would be long and laborious to cut off the heads of the tyrants; it is easier to cut off the hair of the slaves. In the same way, if it should ever happen that poor children, screaming with toothache, disturbed any schoolmaster or artistic gentleman, it would be easy to pull out all the teeth of the poor; if their nails were disgustingly dirty, their nails could be plucked out; if their noses were indecently blown, their noses could be cut off. The appearance of our humbler fellow-citizen could be quite strikingly simplified before we had done with him. But all this is not a bit wilder than the brute fact that a doctor can walk into the house of a free man, whose daughter's hair may be as clean as spring flowers, and order him to cut it off. It never seems to strike these people that the lesson of lice in the slums is the wrongness of slums, not the wrongness of hair. Hair is, to say the least of it, a rooted thing. Its enemy (like the other insects and oriental armies of whom we have spoken) sweep upon us but seldom. In truth, it is only by eternal institutions like hair that we can test passing institutions like empires. If a house is so built as to knock a man's head off when he enters it, it is built wrong.


The mob can never rebel unless it is conservative, at least enough to have conserved some reasons for rebelling. It is the most awful thought in all our anarchy, that most of the ancient blows struck for freedom would not be struck at all to-day, because of the obscuration of the clean, popular customs from which they came. The insult that brought down the hammer of Wat Tyler might now be called a medical examination. That which Virginius loathed and avenged as foul slavery might now be praised as free love. The cruel taunt of Foulon, "Let them eat grass," might now be represented as the dying cry of an idealistic vegetarian. Those great scissors of science that would snip off the curls of the poor little school children are ceaselessly snapping closer and closer to cut off all the corners and fringes of the arts and honors of the poor. Soon they will be twisting necks to suit clean collars, and hacking feet to fit new boots. It never seems to strike them that the body is more than raiment; that the Sabbath was made for man; that all institutions shall be judged and damned by whether they have fitted the normal flesh and spirit. It is the test of political sanity to keep your head. It is the test of artistic sanity to keep your hair on.


Now the whole parable and purpose of these last pages, and indeed of all these pages, is this: to assert that we must instantly begin all over again, and begin at the other end. I begin with a little girl's hair. That I know is a good thing at any rate. Whatever else is evil, the pride of a good mother in the beauty of her daughter is good. It is one of those adamantine tendernesses which are the touchstones of every age and race. If other things are against it, other things must go down. If landlords and laws and sciences are against it, landlords and laws and sciences must go down. With the red hair of one she-urchin in the gutter I will set fire to all modern civilization. Because a girl should have long hair, she should have clean hair; because she should have clean hair, she should not have an unclean home: because she should not have an unclean home, she should have a free and leisured mother; because she should have a free mother, she should not have an usurious landlord; because there should not be an usurious landlord, there should be a redistribution of property; because there should be a redistribution of property, there shall be a revolution. That little urchin with the gold-red hair, whom I have just watched toddling past my house, she shall not be lopped and lamed and altered; her hair shall not be cut short like a convict's; no, all the kingdoms of the earth shall be hacked about and mutilated to suit her. She is the human and sacred image; all around her the social fabric shall sway and split and fall; the pillars of society shall be shaken, and the roofs of ages come rushing down, and not one hair of her head shall be harmed.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Catholic Bloggers Summer Reading Extravaganza

Ladies and Gentlemen,

We are starting something new (well I don't think it's been done before but if you know link it in the comments). After speaking with some fellow bloggers who like to read, we decided to do a blogger summer reading club. I've done reading clubs before where we read a book and talk about it. We attempted here on the blog, a few years ago, a summer reading thing which turned out to be a monologue (mine, sorry) for way too long (3 months of posts).

After learning from those mistakes, we taken up again the goal of a collaborative and communional reading and writing on a book. We have chosen the book: The Father's Tale by Michael O'Brien.

My sister has raved about his writing for the last few years and I was given some of his books, as an ordination gift, by some friends of mine. Despite that, I felt drawn to this story of a father who had lost his son, having recently become a father (of souls). This novel is no 200 page detective yarn (to which I'm naturally drawn) but rather a 1,200 page tale.

Joining me on this libraventure (I just made it up but I'm thinking of coining it) is:

Angelica Quinonez from Through a Glass Onion

Claudio Mora from Greater Love Has No One Than This

Emmy Cecilia from Journeys from a Catholic Nerd Writer

Jeff Young from Catholic Foodie

Lisa Schmidt from The Practicing Catholic

Sarah Reinhard from Snoring Scholar and New Evangelizers

Sarah Vabulas from Catholic Drinkie

We will be posting bi-weekly thoughts on the book and (hopefully) responding to each other. Start following each of the blogs and get to see this in action. We will be posting things on Twitter as well. If you want to pick up the book and follow along with us go here. Feel free to chime in as you read the book or if you've already read the book share your thoughts.

Here's the reading plan:

There are four sections in the book. We will be taking each section in bi-weekly increments so you will definitely see posts on:

Section 1 - July 23
Section 2 - August 6
Section 3 - August 20
Section 4 - September 3

There will be sporadic posts here and there about it but you can expect writing at those times. You will also see links to the other posts on each of the blogs bring things full circle. Then at the end, I hope to gather some thoughts from each of the readings for a sort of meta-review.