Saturday, August 29, 2009

Albrect Dürer: Portrait of a Young Furleger with Her Hair Done Up (1497)

She's totally wearing a brown scapular!

Letter from the past

When I was about thirteen I used to gather every week with a small group of girls from my church. We'd meet with two twenty-something women, counselors of the junior high youth group, in one of their homes. I can't really remember if we studied the Bible or what, but I do remember we would talk about anything we pleased, with our counselors contributing a bit of insight and maturity to the conversation.

One night one of the counselors said that she'd been having a bit of a dilemma, a struggle to know God's will, and she had happened to read her old high school diary. There she found a letter to herself. "Dear Brandi," it began, "for the future..." There followed some things her high school self hadn't wanted her future self to forget. It turned out that the issues on her mind back then were the same ones she was dealing with now. Brandi found the advice of her younger self to be exactly what she needed.

I thought that was pretty neat and never forgot it. In fact when I was seventeen I shared the idea with my sister and a good friend of mine, and before long we were sitting down together at a table to write letters ten years into the future. My sister provided blank sheets of paper and pens in rainbow colors, and we got to it, silently scribbling away, switching colors for each new paragraph, saying nothing to each other of what we were writing. When I was done I folded my three pages into one of the origami shapes we girls always used for passing notes at school. On the front I wrote: "To Rachel: Do not open until 2005 (if you can wait that long.)"

Some months ago, as I was clearing out my old desk, I found the folded fourteen-year-old note. I immediately remembered writing it, but couldn't remember a thing I'd said. Eagerly I opened it, expecting to read something like, "Are you married yet?" followed by a list of the qualities expected of my future husband. I thought perhaps I'd have a laugh at my past self's girlishness.

To my surprise the letter was nothing of the kind. It was about something else entirely, a certain moral issue, which happened to be exactly the issue I was currently dealing with. I'd completely forgotten that I had pondered the same problem in high school, but reading what I'd written (and how I went wrong back then) helped me reinforce my intention to get it right this time. Talk about help from an unexpected quarter....

Now if any of that inspires you, check out this site for sending email to your future self. :)

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Funny story about Ted Kennedy

Fr. Robert Sirico has a good article in National Review on Kennedy's record as a Catholic, and he begins this way:

I only met Edward Kennedy once.

I had been invited to visit then-senator Phil Gramm, who was contemplating a run for the Republican presidential nomination in 1996. Having read some of my musings on the topic, Senator Gramm wanted to brainstorm about some innovative welfare-reform policies that would simultaneously make economic sense and really help the poor.

After we had chatted for some time in his office, a bell rang and Senator Gramm rose. “I need to take a vote. Walk with me and let’s continue this conversation,” he said.

As we walked down the corridor, I could spy familiar names on the various Senate office doors. We came to an elevator that would take us down to an underground subway connecting the Senate offices to the Senate chamber. It was a small elevator, no more than a large closet. Senator Gramm, an aide, and I tucked ourselves in and the door began to slide shut.

Just before closing, an arm came through to stop the door’s close. As it reopened, I found myself standing face-to-face with the Lion of the Senate, arguably the most prominent Catholic layman in the country, scion of the most prominent Catholic family, perhaps, in U.S. history. Kennedy immediately looked me up and down, and then quizzically glanced over to Senator Gramm trying to figure out why his colleague was hanging out with a priest.

As Senator Kennedy stepped into the elevator, Senator Gramm welcomed him with his Southern tones, “Come on in, Teddy. We’ve called you here to pray for you.”

Without missing a beat, Senator Kennedy tossed a mischievous wink in my direction, nudging me with his elbow in Catholic camaraderie and replied in his Bostonian accent, “Uhh [there was that familiar pause of his], uhh, no Phil, Father and I have called you here to pray for you.”

There was laughter as the elevator door slid closed. It was my turn to speak so I decided to enter the spirit of the moment.

I stood erect, place my hand on Senator Kennedy’s broad shoulder and said, “Actually, senator, this is an exorcism.”

Later on Fr. Sirico gets serious:

Kennedy’s death also brings the Church face-to-face once again with the fact that there is a massive problem of basic Catholic education — catechesis — among the faithful. So many Catholics — even some clergy — make an absolute out of prudential issues such as economic policy, while relativizing absolutes, such as abortion, euthanasia, and marriage. This is done in the face of clear, binding teachings from John Paul the Great, who said that no other right is safe unless the right to life is protected, or, as Pope Benedict wrote recently in Caritas in Veritate, that life issues must be central to Catholic social teaching.
H/T Fr. Z.

Stealth smarts

I wrote this in May of last year when I was helping with catechism. Found it just now while cleaning out my drafts archive, so here you go:

In fifth-grade catechism yesterday we had Mass for the all the classes. Those are my favorite catechism days. Though I can't prepare myself for Holy Communion prayerfully when I have to make sure my twenty kids are behaving, it does save me from teaching. Plus I enjoy the sermons the priest gives to the kids; they're instructive and inspiring. (I'm sure there are parishes in L.A. where the adults never hear sermons as solid as the children get at SPC.)

My class was squeezed into two pews and I was next to a kid I'll call Michael. Michael's one of the rambunctious students. He's not malicious but he disturbs the class a lot and constantly needs to be hushed. He rarely seems to know what I'm talking about in class; certainly he never volunteers to answer any questions (in this he's no different from most of the students), and when called upon he usually responds with an embarrassed grin and silence. I had him pegged as a little troublemaker destined for an inauspicious school career. He did, however, refrain from squirming at this Mass when he found himself seated next to Teacher.

Father kicked off the homily by noting that it was the feast day of St. Athanasius, who suffered a great deal to uphold the orthodox Christian faith. "Do you kids know anyone else who suffered for teaching the faith?" he asked us. "Paul?" murmured Michael at once. How about that, I thought-- he knows something.

"The disciples said, 'Lord, we don't know where you're going, so how can we know the way?'" said Father later on. "And what did Jesus reply?" "'I am the way,'" Michael whispered to me, and I about fell out of the pew-- the kid really knows something! He must have practically memorized that passage.

"St. Athanasius was at a council where they wrote the Creed we say every Sunday," Father went on, and Michael whispered "The Nicene Creed?"

And it was like that for the rest of the sermon-- whenever Father asked a question, Michael would either whisper the right answer to me or at least give it a good guess. He was into it; each question was a challenge he wanted to meet.

It wasn't till I thought about it later that I felt a little sad. I'm sure Michael will do fine; he probably has good parents teaching him at home. He clearly enjoys learning things and knowing things and sharing his knowledge, and he's smart. But I would never have known that if I hadn't happened to sit next to him at Mass. I taught him for a year and thought he was a dumb bunny almost that whole time. Now, I'm an inexperienced catechist with no claim to be good with kids. But Michael wanted to look dumb in class. He preferred to be seen misbehaving than getting an answer right.

I went to some very good public schools where most of the kids were Asian and we all tried to outdo each other in academics. How blessed we were to have such positive peer pressure. I wish I were a heck of a lot more experienced and knew how to change the culture of my own classroom, to make my kids want to look smart instead of rebellious.

My, what big eyes you have!

Or: Rachel stares into your soul.

(It's an old picture of me after my eyes had been dilated.)

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Time interview with Mother Teresa

Time Magazine held an interview with Mother Teresa in 1989. Her answers to the questions strike me as both simple and profound. The whole thing is great, but here are some excerpts:

Mother Teresa: We try to pray through our work by doing it with Jesus, for Jesus, to Jesus. That helps us to put our whole heart and soul into doing it. The dying, the cripple, the mental, the unwanted, the unloved, they are Jesus in disguise.

Time: Why have you been so successful?

Mother Teresa: Jesus made Himself the bread of life to give us life. That's where we begin the day, with Mass. And we end the day with Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. I don't think that I could do this work for even one week if I didn't have four hours of prayer every day.

Time: Humble as you are, it must be an extraordinary thing to be a vehicle of God's grace in the world.

Mother Teresa: But it is His work. I think God wants to show His greatness by using nothingness.


Time: What is God's greatest gift to you?

Mother Teresa: The poor people.

Time: How are they a gift?

Mother Teresa: I have an opportunity to be with Jesus 24 hours a day.


Time: You and John Paul II, among other Church leaders, have spoken out against certain lifestyles in the West, against materialism and abortion. How alarmed are you?

Mother Teresa: I always say one thing: If a mother can kill her own child, then what is left of the West to be destroyed? It is difficult to explain, but it is just that.

Time: When you spoke at Harvard University a few years ago, you said abortion was a great evil and people booed. What did you think when people booed you?

Mother Teresa: I offered it to our Lord. It's all for Him, no? I let Him say what He wants.


Time: How do you find rich people then?

Mother Teresa: I find the rich much poorer. Sometimes they are more lonely inside. They are never satisfied. They always need something more. I don't say all of them are like that. Everybody is not the same. I find that poverty hard to remove. The hunger for love is much more difficult to remove than the hunger for bread.

Time: What is the saddest place you've ever visited?

Mother Teresa: I don't know. I can't remember. It's a sad thing to see people suffer, especially the broken family, unloved, uncared for. It's a big sadness; it's always the children who suffer most when there is no love in the family. That's a terrible suffering. Very difficult because you can do nothing. That is the great poverty. You feel helpless. But if you pick up a person dying of hunger, you give him food and it is finished.


Time: There's been some criticism of the very severe regimen under which you and your Sisters live.

Mother Teresa: We chose that. That is the difference between us and the poor. Because what will bring us closer to our poor people? How can we be truthful to them if we lead a different life? If we have everything possible that money can give, that the world can give, then what is our connection to the poor? What language will I speak to them? Now if the people tell me it is so hot, I can say you come and see my room.


Time: Feminist Catholic nuns sometimes say that you should pour your energy into getting the Vatican to ordain women.

Mother Teresa: That does not touch me.

Time: What do you think of the feminist movement among nuns in the West?

Mother Teresa: I think we should be more busy with our Lord than with all that, more busy with Jesus and proclaiming His Word. What a woman can give, no man can give. That is why God has created them separately. Nuns, women, any woman. Woman is created to be the heart of the family, the heart of love. If we miss that, we miss everything. They give that love in the family or they give it in service, that is what their creation is for.


Time: The world wants to know more about you.

Mother Teresa: No, no. Let them come to know the poor. I want them to love the poor. I want them to try to find the poor in their own families first, to bring peace and joy and love in the family first.

Time: People who work with you say that you are unstoppable. You always get what you want.

Mother Teresa: That's right. All for Jesus.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Feeling a bit too upbeat right now?

Then check out our National Debt Clock!

Some other nun's way

Mother Mary Francis writes of the common religious life:

If you want to scent out a potential Poor Clare saint, do not pause overlong at the nun who accomplishes great laborious feats single-handed, but look for the one who is big enough to do things some other nun's way. Just to let herself be lost in an ever-unscattering crowd can be a woman's martyrdom.... "Use your initiative," our Lord urged Sister Mary of the Trinity, "in leaving to others the pleasure of commanding."

Mery gave me an example of how hard this can be. There was an aspirant in a monastery who was helping to make salad. A nun instructed her to rinse off the lettuce leaves in warm water. The aspirant quite naturally wanted to rinse them in cold water, but the nun insisted that she use warm.

She couldn't stand it and ended up leaving the monastery.

Such a simple task... just rinse the lettuce the stupid way if that's what they want... but I can see how a thing like that would stick in your craw.

I like email forwards. Sometimes they have pictures like this.

A fawn and a baby bobcat cuddle in an animal shelter after escaping a fire.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

What do you see when you look at this picture?

I came across it at Ten Reasons, and at first glance I thought it was a plate of miniature Oreo cookies!

Friday, August 21, 2009

Sisters and Daughters, by Robert Miola

Here's an article I loved from the latest First Things. I'm glad they've put it online! Some of the comments are great too.

The new translation of the Roman Missal

I'm not certain when this will be implemented, but here's a page of the major changes.

Rough explanation: the Missal is the text of the Mass, the part that (unlike the sermon) is the same at Masses all over the world. The official version is in Latin, and it's translated into all the other languages, but the English translation we've had for decades doesn't always match the Latin and is dumbed down in places. This irritates people like yours truly, but now it's being fixed.

Most changes are small. One of the biggest is that in the Confiteor, which is the part at the beginning where everyone confesses his sins, the "mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa" is no longer shortened to just one "through my own fault", but is now accurately rendered "through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault," which gives you an opportunity to beat your breast three times just like in the TLM. :)

The fact that it was so obviously mistranslated in the first place, by those who were charged with producing an accurate translation and not a paraphrase, makes me speculate on their possible motives. "This is too hard, it's too embarassing, we can't ask people to dwell on their sins like that..."

So I'm happy to see some evidence of that spirit being eradicated. Of course priests do have the option of skipping that Confiteor entirely and substituting a shorter one, but even the shorter option's been toughened up a bit. Heh heh heh. :)

Quot libros, quam breve tempus!

("So many books, so little time!")

Just reorganized my books. In spite of the book purge I conducted two years ago this double case doesn't fit all my books, but it has most of them.

See the two middle shelves there, the ones with the pictures? Those shelves contain nothing but books I have not read yet. There are some unread books on the other shelves as well. So if you ever recommend a book to me, and I tell you that I'll add it to the end of my long to-read list and might get to it in ten years, don't be offended. The picture explains why.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The new Popemobile

Mysterious Mass stuff

A woman who goes by Seraphic recently married and moved to Scotland, where she now attends the traditional Latin Mass with her husband. She BLOGS her EXPERIENCE under the title "Secrets of the Tridentine Mass":

Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4

It sounds like the Scotland TLM is just like the one I go to in California, only with a flippant tone. :)

In the TLM the priest faces the tabernacle along with the people, praying to God together with them, except when he turns briefly to greet the congregation and when he preaches the sermon. It's called the ad orientem position. In the newer form of Mass the priest has the choice of either standing ad orientem or facing the people, and in practice most priests do the latter. But now the Bishop of Tulsa has decided that when he offers Mass in his cathedral, even though it's the newer form, he'll say it ad orientem. He wrote an article saying why, and it's such a good short explanation that I decided to post it in full. The original (PDF warning!) is here and the hat tip goes to Fr. Z here.

Ad Orientem
Bishop Edward J. Slattery

Because the Mass is so necessary and fundamental to our Catholic experience, the liturgy is a constant topic in our conversation. That is why when we get together, we so often reflect upon the prayers and readings, discuss the homily, and – likely as not – argue about the music. The critical element in these conversations is an understanding that we Catholics worship the way we do because of what the Mass is: Christ’s sacrifice, offered under the sacramental signs of bread and wine.

If our conversation about the Mass is going to "make any sense," then we have to grasp this essential truth: At Mass, Christ joins us to Himself as He offers Himself in sacrifice to the Father for the world’s redemption. We can offer ourselves like this in Him because we have become members of His Body by Baptism.

We also want to remember that all of the faithful offer the Eucharistic Sacrifice as members of Christ’s body. It’s incorrect to think that only the priest offers Mass. All the faithful share in the offering, even though the priest has a unique role. He stands "in the person of Christ," the historic Head of the Mystical Body, so that, at Mass, it is the whole body of Christ - Head and members together - that make the offering.

Facing the same direction

From ancient times, the position of the priest and the people reflected this understanding of the Mass, since the people prayed, standing or kneeling, in the place that visibly corresponded to Our Lord's Body, while the priest at the altar stood at the head as the Head. We formed the whole Christ – Head and members – both sacramentally by Baptism and visibly by our position and posture. Just as importantly, everyone – celebrant and congregation – faced the same direction, since they were united with Christ in offering to the Father Christ’s unique, unrepeatable and acceptable sacrifice.

When we study the most ancient liturgical practices of the Church, we find that the priest and the people faced in the same direction, usually toward the east, in the expectation that when Christ returns, He will return "from the east." At Mass, the Church keeps vigil, waiting for that return. This single position is called ad orientem, which simply means "toward the east."

Multiple advantages

Having the priest and people celebrate Mass ad orientem was the liturgical norm for nearly 18 centuries. There must have been solid reasons for the Church to have held on to this posture for so long. And there were!

First of all, the Catholic liturgy has always maintained a marvelous adherence to the Apostolic Tradition. We see the Mass, indeed the whole liturgical expression of the Church's life, as something which we have received from the Apostles and which we, in turn, are expected to hand on intact. (1 Corinthians 11:23)

Secondly, the Church held on to this single eastward position because of the sublime way it reveals the nature of the Mass. Even someone unfamiliar with the Mass who reflected upon the celebrant and the faithful being oriented in the same direction would recognize that the priest stands at the head of the people, sharing in one and the same action, which was – he would note with a moment's longer reflection – an act of worship.

An innovation with unforeseen consequences

In the last 40 years, however, this shared orientation was lost; now the priest and the people have become accustomed to facing in opposite directions. The priest faces the people while the people face the priest, even though the Eucharistic Prayer is directed to the Father and not to the people. This innovation was introduced after the Vatican Council, partly to help the people understand the liturgical action of the Mass by allowing them to see what was going on, and partly as an accommodation to contemporary culture where people who exercise authority are expected to face directly the people they serve, like a teacher sitting behind her desk.

Unfortunately this change had a number of unforeseen and largely negative effects. First of all, it was a serious rupture with the Church's ancient tradition. Secondly, it can give the appearance that the priest and the people were engaged in a conversation about God, rather than the worship of God. Thirdly, it places an inordinate importance on the personality of the celebrant by placing him on a kind of liturgical stage.

Recovering the sacred

Even before his election as the successor to St. Peter, Pope Benedict has been urging us to draw upon the ancient liturgical practice of the Church to recover a more authentic Catholic worship. For that reason, I have restored the venerable ad orientem position when I celebrate Mass at the Cathedral.

This change ought not to be misconstrued as the Bishop "turning his back on the faithful," as if I am being inconsiderate or hostile. Such an interpretation misses the point that, by facing in the same direction, the posture of the celebrant and the congregation make explicit the fact that we journey together to God. Priest and people are on this pilgrimage together.

It would also be a mistaken notion to look at the recovery of this ancient tradition as a mere "turning back of the clock." Pope Benedict has spoken repeatedly of the importance of celebrating Mass ad orientem, but his intention is not to encourage celebrants to become "liturgical antiquarians." Rather, His Holiness wants us to discover what underlies this ancient tradition and made it viable for so many centuries, namely, the Church's understanding that the worship of the Mass is primarily and essentially the worship which Christ offers to His Father.

That article reminds me of something. Two years ago there were three priests at our parish who liked to pray in the big church early in the morning. Many parishioners would do the same thing, so I'd arrive and see people sitting or kneeling all around the church, and three black cassocks in their midst. It used to give me a warm fuzzy feeling. I finally realized this was because it seemed like we were all there for the same purpose, priests and people united and looking together to God. An ad orientem Mass has something of the same feeling.

Monday, August 17, 2009

"New Nuns and Priests Seen Opting for Tradition"

It's not news to me, but here's a New York Times article that says young people joining religious life today are drawn to the more traditional orders.

Many nuns gave up their habits, moved out of convents, earned higher educational degrees and went to work in the professions and in community service. The study confirms what has long been suspected: that these more modern religious orders are attracting the fewest new members....

"We’ve heard anecdotally that the youngest people coming to religious life are distinctive, and they really are," said Sister Mary Bendyna, executive director of the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate. "They’re more attracted to a traditional style of religious life, where there is community living, common prayer, having Mass together, praying the Liturgy of the Hours together. They are much more likely to say fidelity to the church is important to them. And they really are looking for communities where members wear habits."

My short explanation of this is that "modern" orders have conformed more to the world and lost their original purpose. If you mainly want to do community service or save the environment, you can do that without vowing celibacy. The point of a religious order is to give your whole life to God, not to any lesser cause.

A more difficult question is how the heck so many orders lost their focus in the first place. You could write a whole book about it and I'd probably still wonder, but here's a long interview about the shockingly swift collapse of one order of nuns.

We inundated that system with humanistic psychology.... There were some 615 nuns when we began. Within a year after our first interventions, 300 of them were petitioning Rome to get out of their vows. They did not want to be under anyone's authority, except the authority of their imperial inner selves.

Uplifting picture of the day

My cousin's husband with the daughters they adopted two years ago from an orphanage in Ukraine (they adopted the girls' brother too.)

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Know your states

This is a great little game-- you simply drag state outlines to their places on the US map. The order of states is scrambled each time. I bet it'd be nice for homeschoolers to try.

I just did it and got a score of 80% and an average error of 41 miles; a bit pathetic but I assure you I was going fast (242 seconds) and not trying very hard. I'm sure I'll improve. Mea culpa, Arkansas, for being so wrong about your location!

If any of you try it, let me know your score. :)

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Whoever put the "Hit me!" sign on my car's bumper...

...feel free to come remove it. Anytime!

Yesterday I got rear-ended on the freeway AGAIN. It's been only six months since the last time. Once again, an apologetic young woman was to blame, but this time there was no visible damage at all, thanks be to God. It was a pretty gentle collision. I felt like an old hand at getting hit as I pulled across the five lanes of traffic to park and rooted around in my purse for a notepad to get the other driver's insurance info. I told her it was all right; it really is tricky traffic around rush hour on the 605. (Sometimes you go from cruising along to stopped dead in a very short space and I've often had to brake suddenly.) She said she appreciated my being nice about it.

One kind of cool thing was a Metro tow truck that showed up on the scene almost immediately. We didn't need help, but the driver did give us both brochures from which I learned that he's part of the "Metro Freeway Service Patrol," which drives the LA County highways offering various services for free: flat tire changes, jump starts, radiator refills, a gallon of gas, and towing off the freeway. I generally dislike unnecessary spending of taxpayers' money, but I softened when the handy brochure informed me, "FSP tow trucks help reduce traffic jams by quickly clearing stalled cars, the cause of more than 50% of traffic congestion. We help reduce the chance of further accidents and bottlenecks caused by impatient drivers and gawkers." I never knew there was such a service in LA.

So the only thing that's got me down now is the fact that I could easily get hit again and there's not a darn thing I can do about it. No matter how carefully I drive, it won't help if the car behind doesn't see me in time. It's not like I'm braking too fast and that's why I'm getting rear-ended; both times I had been at a full stop for at least several seconds before the car behind whammed into me. How am I supposed to prevent that?

Eh, I won't worry about it. :)

Oh, John Paul's baptism was beautiful, and afterward his parents treated us all to a delicious meal at their house. Only three days after their sixth child was born, and they're entertaining large crowds. Sometimes parents amaze me.

I love my Catholic feast days

Today it's the Feast of Assumption. Our church was packed, all the priests concelebrated, and Mass was said by Bishop Joseph Sartoris in his fantastically deep voice. We didn't have a choir but that mattered not since we had Inday, a Filipina who provides a capella music at all our daily Masses. She launched into songs we knew so well that everyone joined in (imagine!)

After more than three years of walls made of plastic sheeting, our church is finally being reconstructed and it looks better every time I go in. Today it even looked like a church-- they had the stained glass windows back in. Didn't look quite as nice as this Bavarian church here, though. That's a detail from the Assumption of the Virgin by Egid Quirin Asam, 1725. Mary has a German look about her in this one, doesn't she? Chubby cheeks.

At the end of the Mass, our priests handed Bishop Sartoris an icon of Christ the Priest to celebrate his 57 years of priesthood, and Fr. Antolini whipped out his camera and forced Fr. Larry to pose with the bishop and the icon. I guess you'd have to know the people in question to understand how funny that was. :) We then got an episcopal blessing and Inday started the Salve Regina, which seems to be the hymn St. Peter Chanel parishioners know best. I think perhaps she meant that to be the recessional song, but the bishop chose to sing the whole thing with us at the foot of the altar before he genuflected and recessed out.

Afterward I moved down the row to greet a friend, and another girl from the parish came up to us. "I'm going to the Carmelites tomorrow!" she said. We were thrilled. I hadn't even known she was considering religious life! This is the congregation she's joining as a candidate. I went on their vocation retreat a year ago and realized I wasn't called to that order, but they're an awesome group of nuns. Hearing that piece of news was a perfect way to cap off the feast day.

It's not quite capped off yet, though, because some other friends from SPC have a three-day-old baby who's going to be baptized this afternoon. I've got to hurry and finish this post so I can get over there and see it. Check out the names of this couple's six children: Matthew, Jonathan, Maria Chanel (gee, where'd they get that name from?), Therese Marie, Faustina Mary, and now the newborn John Paul. What religion do you suppose the family is? :)

(I knew another family that had four daughters followed by a son. Their names were Grace, Charity, Faith, Hope, and Melchizedek. I always thought that was pretty cool.)

I found the picture above at the Web Gallery of Art by searching for "Assumption", and if you like art, there's plenty more where that came from.

The funniest stuff is often unintentionally so

Friday, August 14, 2009

Pair of nuns help Mo. police nab robbery suspect

Pair of nuns help Mo. police nab robbery suspect

Thu Aug 13, 6:25 pm ET

INDEPENDENCE, Mo. – Thou shalt not steal — especially within sight of a convent. Police in Independence, Mo., are crediting a pair of nuns with helping nab a gun-toting man suspected of burglarizing two homes Thursday morning.

Around 7 a.m., one of the women glanced out a window of the Sisters of St. Francis of the Holy Eucharist convent and spotted a suspicious man walking through a soybean field. She and another nun headed outside to see if the man was lost or hunting illegally.

They saw the man was carrying a shotgun, boxing gloves and other items. When they began to question him, the man ran into nearby woods.

One of the nuns gave chase, wearing her ankle-length habit and flip-flops. He got away, but the 49-year-old nun was able to describe him later to police, who made an arrest.

Woohoo! Not sure I'd chase a guy with a gun, but I love that she did. They need to put that story on their website, from which I learn that their charism, in part, is "to be little and humble, hidden like Jesus in the Holy Eucharist." This of course does not preclude being brave and putting the beatdown on bad guys. Here's a picture from the site of some of them, so you can imagine 'em running after a crook. I wonder what he thinks of nuns now.

H/T to Ironic Catholic.

Update: Another story about it, which clarifies that he'd dropped the gun by the time Sr. Catrina gave chase.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Dante, Newman, cupcakes and lame sea urchins

Someone please send me on a 40-hour road trip. :) I just got my free download of Dante's Divine Comedy, a professionally done audiobook. (I love don't get me wrong... but it's wonderful to have a performer who really knows how to read out loud.) It's only available in the month of August, so if you want it, get over there and use the code AUG2009 at checkout to get it free.

And then I was reminded by a friendly email from EWTN that many of their programs are on the site for downloading, and what should they be featuring this month but a long series by Fr. McCloskey about my buddy, the Venerable John Henry Cardinal Newman. You can search for that or anything else you please, right here.

So my iPod's stuffed with new stuff. And now, to share a further joy of which few of you will be able to take advantage, I have discovered a cupcake place very near work and can testify that though the vanilla flavor was disappointingly bland, the lemon coconut was VERY good.

Something that's not giving me joy: at work I've been trying to inject the eggs of lytechinus variegatus, a different species of sea urchin than our usual strongylocentrotus purpuratus, and though they're supposed to be very similar, I had great difficulty. First they would hardly spawn-- I dissected them to verify that their gonads were empty as can be. When we finally got both a male and a female to spawn and fertilized the eggs, I ran into a much worse problem. Say you've got a wad of chewed gum in a closed car on a hot day-- it's really soft and sticky, right? Now say you need to stick a needle right into the center of this wad in order to inject it with a liquid solution. (Just say.) You won't be able to because the gum just gives and gives until your needle's practically poking out the other side, but there's never a time when it's inside the gum. Make sense? Well, that's what the lytechinus eggs were like. You need a bit of stiffness in the membrane and lytechinus didn't have it. Almost impossible to inject. Yet I know it's been done, so I'll try to troubleshoot it today... ought to be interesting. :)

Oh, something else that did give me joy-- I had to drive down to our marine lab that's right on the beach in Corona del Mar in order to pick up the lytechinus urchins. So yesterday morning I found myself, not in a basement lab in Pasadena, but on the beach inhaling a delicious sea breeze on company time. Ahhhh.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Incident in the blood donation van

There was a Red Cross blood drive on campus today, so I signed up for an appointment. After much preliminary paperwork, I was ushered onto the van and into a little cubicle where a nice lady asked some more questions.

"Last name?"

"Gray. G-R-A-Y."

"First name?"


"Date of birth?"

"June 7, 1978."

"You registered as female; is that correct?"


Ronald Knox on the decline of religion

The main causes of this decline, so far as causes need to be adduced for the defection of human wills, are manifest enough. Undoubtedly popular education and the spread of newspaper culture must be credited, in part, with the result: some of us would say that the mass of the people is now growing out of its old superstitions in the light of new knowledge; some of us would see, rather, the effect of reiterated catchwords upon minds trained to read but not trained to think. The industrial development of the country has added its influence, partly by focusing men's thoughts upon their material interests, partly by setting up, in England as elsewhere, a reaction against old faiths and old loyalties, crudely conceived as old fashioned. Further, the modern facilities for pleasurable enjoyment have killed, in great part, the relish for eternity. I do not know that this influence has been given its proper importance hitherto. Mass production has made luxury cheap; steam travel, motor-cars, and the penny post have brought it to our doors; anesthetics and the other triumphs of medicine have mitigated the penalties which attach to it. And the same causes which have multiplied pleasure have multiplied preoccupation. A rush age cannot be a reflective age.

--Ronald Knox, "The Belief of Catholics", 1927

Thoughts on the passage:

Trained to read but not trained to think: People seem to imagine that we're better at thinking than our ancestors were-- more logical, better able to follow a chain of reasoning to its correct conclusion. I think the opposite is true. Our age prefers to believe whatever feels good. The reason we think we're smarter than folks in (say) medieval times might be that we have wider literacy and better technology. But how is it used? The fact that I can read Sports Illustrated and laugh at LOLcats on the internet hardly makes me a better thinker.

Focusing men's thoughts upon their material interests: Look at the news and see how much our fluctuating wealth is taken as an indicator of the health of the nation. It's not a decline in morality but a decline in the Dow that casts the country into gloom. What a narrow view of life, to say the least.

I was recently with a group of old college friends, and one of them asked how our nation might recover from its current economic troubles. After we'd discussed it a little, he said that he thinks what America needs is to invent better stuff than the rest of the world in order to compete, and he added that what gives him most hope for the future is the quarterly issue of a magazine he gets on the latest technology. I had a feeling that we were missing the point. We seem far more obsessed with wealth than our ancestors were, even though (or rather because) we have so much more of it. "You cannot serve both God and money."

The modern facilities for pleasurable enjoyment have killed, in great part, the relish for eternity: Insightful, and if this was true in 1927, how much truer it is today, when our TVs and computers and iPods and cell phones ensure we need never be alone with our thoughts, never face ourselves as we truly are and realize our need. Even the process of dying is much less painful and probably doesn't offer as much inducement to reconcile with God as it used to (a hospice chaplain reflects on that here, and so does Richard John Neuhaus in a really, really good article on death here).

What I notice in general when I read people like Knox and G.K. Chesterton is that the trends they diagnosed in the 20's and 30's are all the same today, only accelerated. Probably the trends began well before that. We've been heading down this road for a long time now. Beats me where it ends.

Monday, August 03, 2009

The Pelagian Drinking Song

I'd love anyone who could point me to a tune I could sing this thing to! It was written by Hilaire Belloc (1870-1953), and I understand they sing it at meetings of the Belloc Society. I'm sure it can't be fully appreciated until it's seen performed with much clanking of beer steins on wooden tables.

Pelagius lived at Kardanoel
And taught a doctrine there
How, whether you went to heaven or to hell
It was your own affair.
It had nothing to do with the Church, my boy,
But was your own affair.

No, he didn't believe
In Adam and Eve
He put no faith therein!
His doubts began
With the Fall of Man
And he laughed at Original Sin.
With my row-ti-tow
He laughed at original sin.

Then came the bishop of old Auxerre
Germanus was his name
He tore great handfuls out of his hair
And he called Pelagius shame.
And with his stout Episcopal staff
So thoroughly whacked and banged
The heretics all, both short and tall --
They rather had been hanged.

Oh he whacked them hard, and he banged them long
Upon each and all occasions
Till they bellowed in chorus, loud and strong
Their orthodox persuasions.
With my row-ti-tow
Their orthodox persuasions.

Now the faith is old and the Devil bold
Exceedingly bold indeed.
And the masses of doubt that are floating about
Would smother a mortal creed.
But we that sit in a sturdy youth
And still can drink strong ale
Let us put it away to infallible truth
That always shall prevail.

And thank the Lord
For the temporal sword
And howling heretics too.
And all good things
Our Christendom brings
But especially barley brew!
With my row-ti-tow
Especially barley brew!

On a vaguely related note, I've just run across a Catholic blessing for beer and learned that the Latin word for "beer" is "cerevisae", which explains why the species of yeast that's commonly used in lab research is called saccharomyces cerevisiae-- it was probably first isolated for study from beer. :)

I'm back!

It was a challenging retreat.  So glad I had the chance to do it.