Friday, January 30, 2009

7 Quick Takes Friday

Once again I borrow Jen's meme, this time on the right day!

1) We're told to pray for our enemies and we're also told that it is not God's will for anyone to perish, and the worst person in the world can go to Heaven if he'll repent. But it sticks in my craw to pray for someone evil-- I mean really evil, like a child rapist. It seems an offense against the victim to pray for the guilty party.

St. Faustina's Diary has been helping me on that one. I can't remember her exact words, but she writes of how Satan hates the mercy of God, how it's such an awful defeat for him if a great sinner turns in trust to God. The devil isn't saying, "Haha, now Heaven has to accept that jerk!" It's never good for a wicked man to die in his wickedness; God created him for glory and is capable of cleansing him from evil and making him what he was meant to be. Nor would that be hurtful to the victim, for in Heaven where all love perfectly he would rejoice, like Stephen who by his prayers won his persecutor on Earth as his companion in Heaven.

It still bothers me to pray for my enemies, as my feelings haven't been dragged quite in line with my reason yet, but it helps to think, "Well, at least this'll stick it to the devil!"

2) Speaking of Satan, I loved The Black Stallion series when I was a girl, and one of the early ones is called "The Black Stallion and Satan". Satan is the Black's colt, a really vicious horse who causes all kinds of problems before reforming.

Quite a name for a horse in a children's book, right? Here's the funny thing: when I first saw the title I read it as "The Black Stallion and Satin". Yup, I thought the colt was named for a nice smooth shiny fabric. It didn't make a lot of sense to me, especially not when Henry Dailey told Alec "I like the name you picked, Alec. Satin. Plenty of fire there." But I just let it slide. And then one day my dad wandered into my room, picked up the book, and read out the title in a theatrical voice: "The Black Stallion and Satan!" And only then, after having read entire books featuring this horse, did I realize his real name and how I'd been misreading it. I guess I was innocent...

3) Definitely innocent. In elementary school once, I was holding hands with my best friend and another girl asked us, "Are you guys gay?" "Why yes," I said cheerfully, "we are quite happy!" I was proud of myself for knowing the meaning of the word.

We girls would play the game of slapping our hands together while chanting some poem or other. I am feeling nostalgic and I just typed out one of the chants, but I can't publish it. It's too inappropriate! The beautiful thing is that when I was young, I didn't know this. Most of the chants were full of innuendo but I had no clue what I was saying. I was really shocked twenty years or so later when I overheard two little girls doing one of the same chants, and it sounded so, so bad coming from their little mouths.

4) I just left some dishes with peanut butter soaking in water, and after half an hour the nice golden tan color had turned grayish. What on earth?

I read that peanut butter is gross to people from other countries who didn't grow up on it. Also, cinnamon has a weird chemical taste to those who aren't acclimated to its use in desserts. I don't blame them; when I was at the dim sum restaurant last week I refrained from trying the duck tongue.

Speaking of ugly food, the tangerine tree at my parents' house is very heavily laden with fruit this year. Some of the tangerines have smooth, pretty skins, but most have overblown, oddly wrinkled skins, and are full of seeds. They'd never be sold in a grocery store, but they're easier to peel and much tastier.

5) More on misreading: Once when I was about seven I picked up a new insult from a book and filed it away for an opportune moment. The opportunity came when my older brother acted stupidly one day. I adopted my best scornful tone and said "Benjamin, you eyedot."

But my setdown did not have the intended effect. Benjamin only looked mystified, as did my mom who unfortunately was there as well. "What did you call him?"

"An eyedot!" I fetched the book and showed her the word.

There was a short silence and then she burst out laughing. "Idiot, Rachel, that word is idiot!"

I'd missed the second "i". What an eyedot.

6) The Da Vinci Code movie. I know it's bad, but is it unintentionally amusing or just plain irritating? I've heard, for example, that Elizabeth: The Golden Age is very anti-Catholic but in such an overblown and stupid way that many Catholics enjoyed it (there was a monk crossing himself in slow motion right before assassinating someone, and that sort of thing). Is Da Vinci Code like that or will I just be angry if I see it?

7) I was talking to an atheist co-worker the other day, an intelligent, knowledgeable, and courteous man, who told me the following things.

• He sees no conflict between science and religion. If you believe the world was created in six 24-hour periods then yeah, that's a conflict, but we agreed it's completely unnecessary to interpret the word "day" in that way, since in ancient Hebrew (as in English) "day" can stand for an undefined period of time, and obviously does in many other passages of the Old Testament.

• He and his wife chose not to have prenatal testing when they were expecting their daughter, since they'd decided they wouldn't abort the baby even if they did find something wrong with her.

• Since the vast majority of the world does believe in God, he thinks it's important for atheists to be humble. He spoke of how modern science and universities and other things he loves in our culture were founded by religiously motivated Christians. He gave a much more positive speech about Christians than I would myself in mixed company; from me it would just be boasting.

• He went to the funeral Mass of the family killed in that Christmas massacre in Covina, and the priest spoke very strongly about the devil (him again!), and fit in a knock against atheists. My co-worker was surprised that the homily was so dogmatic, but he sort of liked the priest; he felt that this was someone with whom he could have a discussion.

I have no point; he was just an interesting person who made an impression on me. I know what he means about liking someone who seriously disagrees with you if it's someone you can converse with.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

A joyful blog

I should have been in bed three hours ago but I couldn't tear myself away from this family of eleven kids, including five sons adopted from Africa. It just makes me smile and smile. :) If you go in the archives to January 2008 you can see the day their two sons from Ghana came home.

Also, my cousin and her husband adopted three siblings from Ukraine in July 2007 and I've really loved following their blog and reading about all the firsts-- first Christmas, first day of school... I got to meet the kids this last summer, my first cousins once removed. They're lovely smiling children who look like they've been with their parents forever.

Crazy HMO story

My parents have a friend in their Sunday school class whose father died last Wednesday. He was old and it was expected. The funeral was scheduled for the following Saturday. But there was a problem: the doctor couldn't be bothered to sign the death certificate. He said he was too busy and he'd get to it on Monday. I don't know what's wrong with a doctor like that, but it caused a real problem for the family of the deceased, because they needed the death certificate to bury their father on Saturday!

So my parents' friend called Kaiser and said, "If there's no death certificate then my father's not considered dead yet, right? And his medical care is covered by Kaiser until death, right?"

Correct, he was told.

"All right, I'm bringing him in to the emergency room now; let's see what you can do for him."

The death certificate got signed and they buried him last Saturday.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

If Protestants see this their suspicions will be confirmed!

I was at the old mission of San Diego de Alcala a while ago, and my friends and I saw a nice statue of St. Francis of Assisi:


Then we looked closer and saw the sign at the statue's base:


"ST FRANCIS WISHING WELL
TOSSING SILVER OVER LEFT SHOULDER
FOLLOW INDIAN CUSTOM AS WISH BECOMES
PRAYER OF ST FRANCIS"

What the heck?

Blog award

Thanks very much to both Mary Rose and Joe for the "I'm Charmed by Your Blog" Award! Right back atcha, kids. :)

This reminds me that St. Valentine's Day is coming and pretty much anything I bake in the vicinity of that date is automatically a Catholic dessert.... :)

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Fr. Sean's first Mass


It was the noon Mass today at St. Peter Chanel, with six other priests concelebrating. Fr. Guy, a Canadian OMV, gave the homily and told Fr. Sean in his French accent, "I was so happy to see you yesterday, you're crippled, no?" Then he corrected himself, "I'm not happy you're crippled, but I was happy to see laypeople support you." He ended by suggesting that we all pray for Fr. Sean to get transferred to Fr. Guy's parishes in Montreal-- sure, we'll get right on that. At the end Fr. Sean finally got a chance to say a few words of his own. He started to thank everyone and promptly choked up, which I thought very appropriate for the occasion.

Not to get all mushy myself, but it is a blessing to have a new priest, especially to have him arrive as a deacon and get to see him ordained. When you go to a wedding you feel happy for the couple; seeing the ordination made me feel happy for myself, the parish, the Oblates of the Virgin Mary, and the whole Church.

Radical Love photo essay

Time has a really good photo essay here, on a monastery in Summit, New Jersey. It's played as a movie with bits of interviews with two of the sisters. I don't know how long it'll be up. I am surprised and delighted to find a secular news source conveying religious life so well, in the words of the nuns themselves. The last picture's cool-- the photographer found a cross in an unexpected place. :)

As long as I'm being random, here's Archbishop Fulton Sheen: "If you don't behave as you believe, you will end by believing as you behave."

Update: Slightly longer and better version of the photo essay on the photographer's site here.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Seven Quick Takes Saturday, Part II

I'm joining in again on Jennifer's Seven Quick Takes Friday post.

1)
Father Sean Morris of the Oblates of the Virgin Mary was ordained a priest today at my parish, St. Peter Chanel in Hawaiian Gardens, California. Thanks be to God!

I had never seen an ordination before and I loved this one. Father Sean hurt his leg in some accident a few months ago, and consequently he needed surgery and has been wheelchair-bound ever since, which really made me wonder how the ordination was going to come off. But everything went just fine. He could stand on his own and use crutches to get up and down steps, and when he had to kneel or prostrate himself the altar boys could help. They kept handing him his crutches with the same smooth dignity with which they handed Bishop Salazar his mitre.

Lots of Oblates flew in for the ordination. Here's Bishop Salazar helping Father Sean get his crutches hidden before the group photo.

I highly approved the auspiciuos choice of date, because it is...

2) The feast day of St. Francis de Sales, my confirmation patron! I wanted him because he was humble, loving, and zealous, and as bishop in Geneva he converted thousands of people. He also wrote some famous books-- Treatise on the Love of God, Introduction to the Devout Life, The Catholic Controversy-- none of which I have read yet. I freely admit this is pathetic. I'm trying to carve more time in my schedule to read; unfortunately I can't really take time from anywhere but... the internet.

3) From a letter by Flannery O'Connor: "My cousin's husband who also teaches at Auburn came into the Church last week. He had been going to Mass with them but never showed any interest. We asked how he got interested and his answer was that the sermons were so horrible, he knew there must be something else there to make the people come..."

4) My boss took the entire lab out for dim sum yesterday. That was about twenty-five people-- he's a great boss. :) Sesame seed balls are my favorite but I'm also partial to the sticky rice with chicken wrapped in a huge leaf. And the barbecue pork buns, of course. And by the way, happy Chinese new year!

5) The SSPX! The pope has lifted the excommunications of the four bishops of the SSPX! They were automatically excommunicated along with Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre (now deceased) as soon as he consecrated them bishops without permission in 1988 (pictured here) because-- oh, forget it. The story's too long for me to retell. Here's someone else's quick summary, focusing on what the recent development means.

When I first heard the rumors I was worried about the bishops being let back in when, far from apologizing, they still say they were doing the Church a favor. But now I'm glad Benedict XVI is leaving nothing untried in the quest for unity. I have many other opinions on the subject but I'm more aware than usual of the shocking possibility that I could be wrong, so I'll trust the pope's judgment here. :)

6) It's a stupid thing, but I'm afraid of deep water in pools. Our apartment complex has one that's eight feet deep, and I seriously felt uncomfortable in the deep end when I swam there alone at night once. In daytime with other peopleit wouldn't have been so bad. I'm not going to drown unless I have an aneurysm or something; I'm a good swimmer. In fact I could swim in a much deeper ocean or lake without worry (given a boat nearby). But the pool scares me, perhaps because I can see how far down the bottom is.

7) During the ordination today we sang the Litany of the Saints, in which the leader sings out the names of many many saints and after each one we all sing "Pray for us." I was so glad that on such an important occasion, we could call on the intercession of those who whose race is run.

Prayer to the saints had been a great objection of mine to Catholicism; it seemed very wrong both to my instinct and to my theology. Now it seems a strong argument in favor of the Catholic Church being true. We ask our friends for prayer all the time, and especially we seek the intercession of holy people. So what could be more obvious and natural than to ask that great cloud of witnesses which surrounds us to pray for us too? When I personally heard it put that way, I had no further logical objection to the practice. But it still seemed strange and I hesitated about it; it wasn't until I'd been in RCIA for six months and was about to be confirmed that I really started praying to the saints myself. A constant theme when I was joining the Church was that my intellect went first and my feelings eventually followed. For others it's the reverse, which means those others are weird and wrong-- no, it means God calls each of us in a different way, the way He knows is best for us. :)

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Awesome guy in a coffee shop

I had a good lunch today at Panera with my parents and a friend. Among many other things we discussed old Hollywood, and the famous soda fountain on Hollywood and Vine where Lana Turner was discovered one day. (I knew the story from watching I Love Lucy, still the best sitcom ever.)

After a while I noticed a man sitting at a table a good twenty feet away, looking intently at me. He glanced away when I made eye contact and seemed to be writing something in a notebook-- but later I noticed him glancing at me again. He had no expression on his face. I thought he must disapprove of me; perhaps he'd overheard a snatch of our conversation and disagreed with what was being said. How unfair of him, I thought, he doesn't really know what we were talking about!

Then the man got up and suddenly approached our table. "Excuse me," he said. He was holding a page torn from a notebook. "The Cherokee have a rule that you don't steal a person's picture, so I'm going to give it to you." He handed me the page and immediately left. And it was a hand-drawn portrait of me!

What a kind person! He made my day.

Here's the icing on the cake. The picture was signed "Phil Mendez". I Googled him, not expecting much, and what do you know! He's a big artist who's worked on lots of cartoons (including many I loved when I was young-- Flintstones, The Jestons, Scooby-Doo...) and written a book that sold 1.7 million copies. It's definitely the same guy because here's his picture. And here's a fun page that begins with a story about him. This is the man who decided to sit in a coffee shop and draw meeeeee!

I'd be happy even if I didn't know who he was. Such a pleasing incident: I thought he disliked me but he was actually deciding to draw me. I'm glad he dared to approach a stranger and give her a gift.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

What really brought down the plane in the Hudson River



My cousin emailed me this. :)

Update: Fr. Fernando's picture makes mine look petty. :)

Also, my goodness! My little blog is suddenly getting hundreds of hits because of people Googling "What really brought down the plane in the Hudson?" For the record, folks, the investigators found evidence it was indeed birds. Not jihadist birds; regular ones.

Good rejoinder

"My roommate has a great devotion to her guardian angel," I said to a priest while browsing holy cards in a parish bookstore.

"That's good; he has a great devotion to her!" Father replied.

John Adams on Catholic worship

I really like John Adams, from the little I know of him. One day I should read a biography, or his correspondence with Abigail Adams (she was a smart cookie too). He seems like one of the most admirable of the Founding Fathers. By the way, isn't it quaint and lovely that our country even has "Founding Fathers"? How many countries get to have founding fathers? Don't all you non-Americans feel like orphans now? :) Anyway, on October 9, 1774 when Adams was in Philadelphia for the First Continental Congress, he and George Washington dropped by the Catholic Church, and he wrote to his wife about it:

This afternoon, led by Curiosity and good Company I strolled away to Mother Church, or rather Grandmother Church, I mean the Romish Chapel. Heard a good, short, moral Essay upon the Duty of Parents to their Children, founded in justice and Charity, to take care of their Interests temporal and spiritual.

This afternoon's entertainment was to me most awful and affecting. The poor wretches fingering their beads, chanting Latin, not a word of which they understood, their Pater Nosters and Ave Marias. Their holy water-- their crossing themselves perpetually-- their bowing to the name of Jesus wherever they hear it-- their bowings, and kneelings, and genuflections before the altar. The dress of the priest was rich with lace-- his pulpit was velvet and gold. The altar piece was very rich-- little images and crucifixes about-- wax candles lighted up. But how shall I describe the picture of our Saviour in a frame of marble over the altar, at full length, upon the cross in the agonies, and the blood dropping and streaming from his wounds.

The music consisting of an organ, and a Choir of singers, went all the afternoon, excepting sermon Time, and the Assembly chanted-- most sweetly and exquisitely.

Here is everything which can lay hold of the eye, ear, and imagination. Everything which can charm and bewitch the simple and the ignorant. I wonder how Luther ever broke the spell.

I think Adams' Puritan prejudice overcomes his reason here, but he's observant and I like how he doesn't just notice the details but analyzes their effect. Catholic ceremony does affect all the senses, I wouldn't say to bewitch the ignorant, but to help everyone to enter in to the spirit of worship. We're physical beings affected by physical reality. Much of what apparently seems suspect to Adams-- ritual and beauty and richness and incense and music-- was commanded by God for temple worship in the Old Testament. Why should anyone think we don't need it anymore? We're still human.

H/T Pertinactious Papist and Adams Family Papers: An Electronic Archive (follow the link for pictures of the original letter)

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Nun soup and chocolate ganache

In Alhambra an awesome order of Carmelites holds a boutique before Christmas every year, and I bought some soup mix-- a jar of dry beans and a recipe-- and made it yesterday, adding ham hocks, garlic, tomatoes, onion, chili powder and other good things. Juice from a whole lemon brightened up the taste. I really like this soup but it would've been even better with bacon (but I didn't have time to make and add it) or more spices (but I have no idea which ones).

We consumed the results at dinner, along with some pumpkin bread bought by my friends at the Dominican cloister in Hollywood. Those nuns are situated on prime land, at the foot of the Hollywood Hills just below the famous sign, and I hear they've often been asked to sell for big bucks. But they have chosen to stay, figuring Hollywood needs their prayers.

If nuns provided the dinner it's obviously a Catholic dinner, so by definition dessert must have been... a Catholic dessert! I made the brownies I was drooling over in this post. They were easy and the best part was having two bowls to lick out, brownie mix and cookie mix. But honestly I've had better bar cookies than this. The brownie mix I used is great alone with white chocolate chips and instant coffee added, and the chocolate chip cookie mix I used was nothing to the chocolate chip cookies I can make from scratch. Yet this recipe did add an item of greatness to my repertoire: the chocolate ganache topping recommended by Bakerella. I'd never made ganache before and was delighted to find that in spite of its French name it's a snap to make, easier than regular frosting. You just heat up butter and cream, pour that over chocolate chips, wait 20 seconds, and stir. At first the chocolate stayed in a lump and didn't want to mix in, as if it had overheated, but with a whisk and a little time it all resolved into a smooth, thick, yummy ganache. I poured it on the brownies and spread it out a little and it set up very nicely in the fridge. You can see for yourself how ridiculously good it looks. :) A bit of mint or vanilla in there would be fun to try too...

Bush on human life

We won't hear anything like this from the White House for at least four years, so here's some of the proclamation Bush issued for National Sanctity of Human Life Day, January 18, 2009:

All human life is a gift from our Creator that is sacred, unique, and worthy of protection. On National Sanctity of Human Life Day, our country recognizes that each person, including every person waiting to be born, has a special place and purpose in this world. We also underscore our dedication to heeding this message of conscience by speaking up for the weak and voiceless among us.

The most basic duty of government is to protect the life of the innocent...

America is a caring Nation, and our values should guide us as we harness the gifts of science. In our zeal for new treatments and cures, we must never abandon our fundamental morals. We can achieve the great breakthroughs we all seek with reverence for the gift of life.

The sanctity of life is written in the hearts of all men and women. On this day and throughout the year, we aspire to build a society in which every child is welcome in life and protected in law.

That first sentence sounds like the Declaration of Independence: "That all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life..." It's interesting that the colonists' justification for setting up a better government was founded on that fact-- that God had given them certain rights and therefore England was unjust to try to take them away. Without God, where would you find a universal moral authority?

Well, happy (in spite of the fact that it's) Inauguration Day, and pray for our new president!

(Editorial lesson, since I didn't know what to do myself until I looked it up:

As with other titles, capitalize president only when it precedes the individual's name or is part of another official title, and never when writing generally of the president or a president.

"That's something for the president to decide. I'll ask President Smith in the morning.")

Monday, January 19, 2009

Weird habits of my youth

I used to chew on ice constantly. I'd get a big glassful of it, and sit in front of the TV and crunch crunch crunch to my heart's content. I liked it best when it was dry and frosty.

And, um... I liked chalk. One of my siblings gave the whole family a set of sidewalk chalk as a Christmas toy-- this was when I was a teenager-- and it got stored in the bathroom for some reason, and one day I opened the drawer and there it was and it smelled... really good. So I started nibbling on it. You can't really eat chalk-- dries the mouth right out-- but over the course of a year I slowly chewed up and spit out all five colors. I just loved to munch it. So satisfying!

From the time I turned eighteen I've often offered to donate blood, but I'm usually rejected because my blood isn't dense enough; the red blood cell count is too low. They always tell me I'm anemic and recommend iron pills, but I tried that and decided the disease wasn't worth the cure. I don't have any symptoms from the anemia but I definitely get symptoms from the iron, so forget it. I'll just go my merry anemic way.

One day not long ago I read that one symptom of anemia is a strong craving for ice or chalk.

THAT explains it!

Extreme sport

Bungee jumping, skydiving, parasailing... this looks more dangerous than any of them and I'd never heard of it before! You jump off a high cliff and then just fly in a wingsuit.

Half of me is appalled at the risks these Y-chromosome people insist on taking, and half of me is saying, "That is the coolest thing I've ever seen humans do."

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Artistic talent

I have very little. And what I had received no training; I never took an art class except one in college in which everyone else had some idea of how to draw and paint, so the instructor just let us all play.

But it turns out that you don't need artistry to paint your own Christmas ornaments; all you need is slavish devotion to directions! I bought this paint-your-own kit of teddy bears six years ago and named them for the members of my family. My bear has the trumpet because I'm obviously worthy of fanfare (or else because I'm a loudmouth), my dad's singing because he's so good at that, and Mom's holding a present because she's always giving her kids nice stuff.

As instructed, I painted the bears with light brown paint and then mixed dark brown with water for a thin stain to brush over them. Then when I brushed more light brown very lightly over the surface with a dry brush, the dark brown remained visible in the crevasses and gave the fur a more textured look. I did the same trick with white and light blue stain on the fur linings of the boots. There's also pink stain on the cheeks and light blue stain brushed over the black boots and hats, though the latter is hard to see. And finally, I painted a glaze over everything to make the ornaments shiny; that part was a lot of fun.

Yup, I photographed my ornaments when I was taking them down yesterday. :) Turns out I've made more than enough in my lifetime to cover our little tree. Some years ago my sister gave me a really fun kit of plastic beads that you had to place on a small pegboard in the desired configuration. Then a hot iron briefly applied would melt them together. Results on the right. As I recall the snowman and Santa Claus and maybe the candle were the kit's suggestions, and I made up the rest. The "G" is what I did with all the leftover beads.

As for my three cross stitch ornaments, they have the distinction of being the only cross stitch projects I ever finished. Anything bigger or more complicated has no chance with me. :)

It seems I take after my mother; she has about as much talent as I, but when she was about my age she also painted some ornaments which we hang in the window every year.

This post would've been seasonal a month ago, but oh well. :)

7 Quick Takes Saturday

I stole this idea from Jennifer, though I'm a day late. :)

1) Christmas decorations. I just finished taking them all down. It's the first Christmas (since college) that I haven't been living in someone else's house, so this year the decorating was on me.

Now, I come from a home that always looks fabulous in December-- Dad does the lights outside and Mom does everything inside, from hanging lighted garland over each downstairs window to tying a red waterproof bow on the ceramic frog that sits in the glass-doored shower of the guest bathroom. I myself had intended to be minimalist because I don't want to accumulate decorations that'll have to be stored somewhere. But Mom couldn't stand it. She came to my apartment, glanced around, and exclaimed, "Everywhere I look, I see need!" Then from her own abundance she loaned me bagfuls and bagfuls of stuff. "You can keep it at our place," she said. So our apartment looked great after all, and I was quite happy about it, especially the live tree she bought me (pictured), and our inward-facing balcony which got lighted garland and a six-foot (fake) Christmas tree to put the other residents of the complex to shame.

But then the holidays passed and the tree remained, standing in mute six-foot testimony to my laziness. I meant to take everything down last weekend, but instead I went to San Juan Capistrano on Saturday and had dinner at home on Sunday, accompanied both times by lovely people, and that was worth letting the whole complex see what a procrastinator I am.

2) My roommate is busy scrubbing and disinfecting and vacuuming and dusting, while I sit here on the newly bare balcony, looking at the nice landscaping and blogging from my wireless laptop. This is the life.

3) I feel I didn't get enough Christmas this year, didn't absorb the season, partly because I didn't do enough walking around looking at Christmas lights.

There's also the fact that I didn't make it to any of the music programs various churches put on. You gotta sing some carols!

No Midnight Mass either, nor the Christmas Eve candlelight service at my parents' church. I was busy with last-minute present wrapping and I didn't get my moment to say "Yes! Christmas has come and Christ is born and here I am singing Silent Night and tearing up!" Mass at Dawn was wonderful but it's not the same.

And I was out of town for the four days after Christmas and so didn't do my traditional hanging around my parents' house enjoying the decorations and the family friends they always have over at that time. There are three wonderful couples who assemble with various kids, and their presence always makes me feel that I'm on vacation.

Well, better planning next year.

4) To all my roommate's friends who give her chocolate and sweets of various kinds: thank you. She's not big on desserts and they usually end up in my stomach.

5) I was reading John 3 today, and Nicodemus came to talk to Jesus at night and said, "Master, we know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him." And suddenly I got all emotional, and could only tell God over and over that I love Him for bothering to come and teach us. To think of that time, and that simple and amazing fact of God walking the earth as a man, interacting with the people who had all sorts of different reactions to him... I can't describe it, but I know my feeling had something to do with leftover Christmasness. :)

6) Isn't it funny that when Jesus was walking on water, or feeding the five thousand, his disciples could hardly believe it and he had to rebuke them for their lack of faith, yet when the Samaritan town refused to welcome Jesus, the disciples suddenly had great faith in the miraculous and asked, "Lord, do you want us to call down fire from heaven to destroy them?"

Maybe they were angry at the rejection and the force of emotion was helping them to believe. When you really want something to be true, it's easier to persuade yourself that it is. Like an ardent sports fan somehow believes his hapless team has a chance of winning. Like someone in love believes the love must be returned and it's bound to work out somehow. Like a gambler believes his odds are better than everyone else's.

So I suppose the more you love God, the easier it is to have faith in Him.

7) About number 5... it happens quite a lot with me that I'll be reading about some historical period and suddenly I'm seized with a great desire to be there. It feels as if *that* was really the time to live, and I would totally fit in, and they knew all sorts of things then that we've forgotten today. I especially used to feel that about England of the 1600's, but that no longer seems so simpatico, so these days I get nostalgic about the Middle Ages. All things considered, though, I wouldn't want to go, because then I couldn't blog from my balcony. And because God knew very well that I should be born in Hollywood, California in 1978.

8) But I think my attachment to history is related to my enjoyment of science fiction-- other times, other places, other worlds. I used to long to live in Tolkien's Middle-Earth. And I'm embarassed to say that on Friday after work, when I heard that Ricardo Montalban had died, I went looking for Khan clips on YouTube and ended up spending hours and hours just watching blurry bits of old Star Trek episodes. We don't have a TV but I still find ways to waste time in front of a screen! It was good to see the crew again. Hadn't watched Star Trek in ages. I especially used to be a fan of The Next Generation. By the way, you know how Wesley Crusher was hated by most demographics and seems to have been put on the show just to appeal to teenage girls? Well, I was a teenage girl at the time and let me tell you: it worked.

Oops, that was eight takes. Let's see if Jennifer kicks me off the Mr. Linky list...

Thursday, January 15, 2009

No baking till I lose some weight

That's what I had just told myself when I saw that Bakerella had come up with this. Chocolate chip cookie brownies with chocolate ganache on top. Three kinds of indulgence mashed together; it's just ridiculous! That dessert has no justification! I must make it!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Pictures from Mission San Juan Capistrano

I got to visit the San Juan Capistrano mission last weekend with my mom and Heather. The day was gorgeous, warm and blue, and like all the missions I've seen this one had a beautiful center courtyard full of flowers.

Brief rundown for those who didn't grow up here and take California history in fourth grade: 250 years ago Franciscan missionaries began to travel to California, which had been claimed by Spain a few hundred years before but hadn't really been settled yet. They built a string of missions, something like twenty, all along the California coast, each one about a day's walk from the next. Their Indian converts lived and worked with them in the missions. Then Mexico became independent of Spain and an anti-Catholic government took over, confiscated the missions and sold them to private developers. Then America took over and Abraham Lincoln signed the bill giving possession of the missions back to the Catholic Church. They're still active parishes as well as historical sites you can tour. Heather and I were talking about how young the missions are for Europe, but how very old for California.

Anyway, San Juan Capistrano was founded in 1776 and has the usual wooden chapel, but there was also a great stone church, finished in 1806 after nine years of hard work. It was destroyed by earthquake six years later. Too bad; you can tell it would have been impressive. Dark, but impressive. Here's the view from the nave, looking at the sanctuary. I wonder what nine statues they had behind the altar.



I loved that they had a big Nativity scene set up in the church. It was Saturday and Christmas season wasn't quite over yet.



Here's the front of the mission.



And inside I caught a Franciscan walking away.



What used to be the friars' dining room had a portrait of Our Lady of Sorrows. I like the pictures of Mary that have her looking like a nun.



I was going to say that I had no idea why the room also contained a statue of a round-cheeked Dominican with angel wings. Looks more like lame modern kitsch than something from two hundred years ago... And then I remembered that St. Thomas Aquinas was called the Angelic Doctor. Mystery solved!



The interior of the wooden chapel-- probably cozier than the stone church anyway. I was all happy that they had a recording of the chants of the Mass playing. Same Kyrie and Credo that I hear all the time on Sundays at the TLM. :)



A chandelier wreathed for Christmas. All the mission churches have ceilings like that-- brightly painted and a bit warped, like the the nave was too long to keep all the wooden beams straight.



St. Ignatius! Good to see you! He's big at my parish, where the Oblates of the Virgin Mary give retreats based on his Spiritual Exercises. (They used to be called Jesuit retreats, which sounds kinda cool.) He was easy for me to recognize because a number of my friends like to write AMDG on their letters and emails from his motto Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam, "For the greater glory of God."



If I was going to speak from a pulpit like that I'd make sure I had something worthwhile to say.



A fantasic golden retablo, shipped centuries ago from Spain, and the sanctuary lamp hanging from the ceiling.




St. Teresa of Avila shows off some of her Spanish poetry-- I made out something about how God both captures and frees her heart.



A really nice day; good company too. :)

And I would be remiss if I did not here indicate that the swallows come back to Capistrano.

Monday, January 12, 2009

So I hear there have been winter storms in various parts of the nation

Well, here in SoCal it was about eighty degrees today, and when I got home at 7 pm just now, the apartment was so warm that I immediately opened the doors of both balconies to get a cross breeze going.

Heh heh heh. :)

Sunday, January 11, 2009

A discussion group milestone

After more than half a year, our little group of friends has finally made its desultory way through to the end of Humanae Vitae, meeting intermittently to read and discuss it. (While eating Catholic desserts.) We highly recommend it. (The encyclical and the dessert-eating.) Tonight we were also enjoying the last of the Christmas decorations, as they're generally taken down by the Baptism of the Lord. Mery was sorry to see the Advent wreath go and suggested we just get some green Ordinary Time candles for it, but I'm not sure that idea's gonna go anywhere.

Lowlights of tonight's discussion:

Mery: Someone said that in Heaven you're fully you but at your best moment. Like you're you, but--

Christie: At my ideal weight!

Years of spiritual direction Christie had, from a wonderful spiritual priest, and this is what we get.

Adonela: Did you realize that Chris and Karen's baby is due around Super Bowl Sunday? What if it's born on that day and Chris has to decide what's more important?

Mery: Yeah, time to give up the baseball!

Years of spiritual direction Mery had, from a huge sports fan of a priest, and this is what we get.

My friends remark that I never quote myself saying anything weird on my blog, but of course that's because everything I say is sensible.

(Either that, or this entire blog is weird quotes from me.)

I wrote most of this post with the friends looking over my shoulder; there's no telling what it would say if I hadn't!

Friday, January 09, 2009

The race for Best Religious Blog turns nasty

Voting is going on for the 2008 Weblog Awards, and the top two contenders for "Best Religious Blog" are both Catholic priests-- and the mudslinging has begun!

I love the blogs of both Fr. Z and Fr. Longenecker, currently in first and second place, but I think my favorite blog in the running is "Conversion Diary" by Jennifer F, in fourth place. She's a beautiful writer who joined the Church the same day I did, Easter Vigil 2007. Of course the biggest Catholic blog of all is Mark Shea's, but he's not running this year since he's won in the past. Third place (as of now) is one I'm not familiar with, but it's a Catholic blog too. What's up with that? Protestants way outnumber Catholics in English-speaking countries; why are Catholics dominating the awards? Are the awards just not well-known in Protestant land? Do Catholics blog more? Do they discuss theology more because they have more of it to discuss? Maybe Catholics are more interested in talking about the situation of the Church in the world, since there are Catholics all over the world while most Protestant churches are independent or part of smaller denominations. Or maybe Catholics rely on blogging more because most Christian radio stations are Protestant (similar to the way conservative radio is big because liberals own the mainstream media). Or maybe ESL international traffic swells the Catholic numbers. Who knows?

Did you ever hear of a sundog?

Somehow I missed ever learning about this awesome phenomenon. Eanah, you love astronomy stuff; did you know about it?

I stumbled upon it trying to learn just what a "moondog" is-- same thing as a sundog, it turns out, but with the moon. The moon is much fainter than the sun so moondogs are even rarer, but the best chance to see one is when the moon is full, especially when it's at its perigee, its closest approach to Earth. This weekend we'll have a perigee full moon.

Though I've never seen nor heard of moondogs and sundogs, I have personally seen a very nice clear supernumerary rainbow.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Fr. Neuhaus is dying

For any other fans of Fr. Richard John Neuhaus (editor in chief of First Things, which I love)... according to NRO:

His friends and family are keeping vigil and he was administered last rites shortly after midnight. Fr. George Rutler, who gave him the Catholic Sacrament, says that “he is not expected to live long” and suggests “that it is appropriate that prayers be offered for a holy death.”

Sancte Ioseph, ora pro eo.

Update: Fr. Neuhaus died Thursday morning. Requiem æternam dona eis, Domine, et lux perpetua luceat eis: Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him.

I have the fourth best job in America

According to this ranking. :) I work in a biology lab at Caltech.

Actually I don't know if I'm the kind of biologist they mean, and furthermore when I looked a bit more at their methodology it seemed very shallow. And they couldn't take into account all the individual conditions (like whether the boss is sane) that can have so much effect on working environment. So I'm not taking it seriously.

I do like my job, though, and what I chiefly like about it is that it doesn't bug me. I don't feel stressed about work. No one's mean (to me), no one minds if I shift my schedule earlier or later (that's huge), and I've yet to suffer any injuries from sea urchin spines. Often free food, scientific talks, and other events can be found around campus. And the work itself is interesting, neither hard labor nor sitting at a desk all day. I get to move around a big lab bench and work at microscopes and shake sea urchins, and eventually I learn more about what the genes do. True, autoclaving the biohazardous waste isn't my favorite thing, but really I only do that an average of once a year.

One thing I'm sure of: if photography is your dream job, you should avoid taking out $140,000 in student loans at 18% interest for a four-year degree in the subject.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Happy Epiphany!



Being Catholic means never having to say you're sorry for leaving the Christmas decorations up. :)

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Ratzinger on subjective moral judgements

"It is strange that some theologians have difficulty accepting the precise and limited doctrine of papal infallibility, but see no problem in granting de facto infallibility to everyone who has a conscience."

Names

Some words that would make lovely names if they didn't already have meanings:

Anathema
Soliloquy
Apocrypha
Latae Sententiae
Margarine

I'm sure there are many more. :)

In Swaziland I met a Tandegele (tan-de-GEE-lay). So pretty. Also there was a wonderful young man named Sifiso (suh-FEE-so), which means "wish", because his mother had wished for a boy. :) On the other hand there was a man named China, whose mother had said, "He looks Chinese!" when he was born. He's just as African as the other Swazis, with perhaps a slightly flatter face, but anyway that's what she named him.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

St. Stephen the First Martyr parish in Sacramento, CA. Especially its altar guild.

Herewith I give a recap of my trip with three friends last weekend, in which we hung around an FSSP church and bummed around Sacramento

1. After a lovely dinner at my parents' house, we spent Christmas night at Christie's house. For NO GOOD REASON, Adonela's audible prayer just before going to sleep was: "Dear Lord, please forgive Rachel for what she did."

2. We had Mass the next morning at the San Fernando Mission and asked the priest (an older man) to bless us since we were embarking on a road trip. "Of course," said he. "May the blessing of Almighty God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, descend upon you pretty ladies and grant you a safe journey!"

I've been blessed before but the "pretty" part was new....

3. It was December 26, St. Stephen's Day. I was too sleepy to benefit much from the Fr. Mullady lectures played in the car. We made the drive from southern to northern California in good time and got to St. Stephen's church early enough to explore it before 7 pm Mass.

4. You know you're at a serious parish when the kids are making stuff like this. Note especially what appear to be pictures of dead relatives... in the flames of Purgatory! I wish all funeral sermons were that clear on Catholic theology. Note also the borderline placement of Mother Teresa. Of course many are saints without the official recognition of the Church... she'll have it soon anyway, I'm sure. Why they have Benedict XVI in the Church Suffering, I can't say, but I speculate that it's a comment on the difficult nature of his job. He's pictured in the Church Militant as well. I thought this must be a project of the academy that's attached to St. Stephen's, but a parishioner let me know later that it was actually made by the home-educated high school students of the parish. She said that for all the kids who go to St. Stephen Academy there are many more who are home schooled: "They live prayerful lives and work hard developing excellent educations as well." Anyway, I thought it was an awesome project.

5. I love a church that looks like a church. This one was bought from the Lutherans around 2000 and extensively Catholicized-- they even added a choir loft in back. Similar work has begun at the newest FSSP parish in San Diego, which made us wonder if courses in church renovation are necessary for all traditional priests.

6. For St. Stephen's feast day they had a Solemn High Mass. I loved it. I'd never seen one before. Somehow I'd gotten the impression that a Solemn High Mass is too stiff and formal, not as nice as a Sung Mass. But the one I saw was just beautiful; solemn in a joyful way (this post here has a quote from C.S. Lewis that gets at what I mean.) I liked the way the movements of the deacon and subdeacon kept directing attention straight to the celebrant (especially when they would line right up behind him!)

7. The music at St. Stephen's is so good it's been in the news. Small-ish parish, but awesome schola. (I think that reporter is dead wrong that "politics is behind the growth of chant", but otherwise it's a great article and you can tell he worked to understand his subject.)

8. St. Stephen's has ninety altar boys. Ninety. And the great majority of them were at that Solemn High Mass. They couldn't all fit in the sanctuary, but they were there-- their Altar Guild was having a ceremony after the homily and some of them got promoted. Here's a shot of it. They all wear medals and cords of different kinds to signify their rank: "Boys like the military stuff," I was informed.

9. From the adorable little First Communion boys to the college-aged Masters of Ceremonies, those altar servers knew how to behave at Mass. I noted especially how disciplined they were with their eyes, never letting their gaze wander into the congregation but always focused ahead, even here in the recessional with crazy folks like me taking pictures of them. Later I was told that any lapse in this area leads to a warning, and three warnings leads to a three-month suspension from serving Mass. They don't mess around.

10. Incidentally, the ninety altar boys constitute more than ten percent of the parish. "That has to be some sort of record," remarked one of the priests.

11. Thought from Fr. Z: "A liturgical octave is an eight day period following and including the feast. In a way, the Church suspends time so that we can rest within the mystery we have celebrated while contemplating it from different angles." That's what we got to do with Christmas while at St. Stephen's.

(I wonder if the idea of an octave originates from the eight days from Jesus' birth to His circumcision? Someone look that up for me.)

12. After the Mass there was a reception in the church's gym/auditorium with cider and homemade cookies. We found some other folks from our home parish of St. Peter Chanel, and chatted with them.

13. When the crowd had begun to thin a bit, Fr. McNeely suddenly began to shout, "Dodge Ball! Dodge Ball!" In a trice the altar guild had the room cleared and secured for a nice hazardous game. They're always asking to play it, Father told us later, and he felt that on this night that was so special to them he had to permit it. Indeed, he and Fr. Masutti joined in, cassocks and all. I watched carefully from a doorway; those balls were thrown hard.

14. The next day was Saturday. Most of us went to confession. Absolution was long and in Latin, said at the same time as the act of contrition, and ending with this beautiful prayer in English: "May the Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the merits of the Blessed Virgin Mary and of all the saints and also whatever good you do or evil you endure merit for you the remission of your sins, the increase of grace and the reward of everlasting life. Amen."

(In case any Protestants are wondering: one sentence can't be a comprehensive statement of Catholic theology. Although that prayer after absolution doesn't say it explicitly, we're very well aware that Jesus Christ is the source of all merit and the only reason any of our actions can possibly be pleasing in God's sight.)

15. There was a lovely Mass that day for St. John the Evangelist, ending with the blessing of wine. Afterward we went to tour the Sacramento Cathedral. It looks the way a cathedral should look. We loved it. Adonela said from now on she'll think of it as our cathedral. Why our own L.A. Cathedral isn't good enough for her, I can't imagine.

16. I enjoyed the wall of American saints. They're mostly North American at that, though obviously not Our Lady of Guadalupe and Juan Diego. I see they've saved a spot for me. Incidentally, St. Katherine Drexel always gets to me because I know a mother superior who looks just like her.

17. I passed a sweet picture of some saint or other cuddling with a lion. The love of God tames even the savage beast. Then someone asked me, "Did you see St. Ignatius getting eaten by lions?" and I realized I hadn't looked at the painting quite carefully enough. St. Ignatius, bishop of Antioch, was martyred in A.D. 110. On his way to Rome to be thrown to the lions, he was allowed to write letters to the churches in various cities; these letters survived and became very important to Catholic theology. The letter to the Smyrneans is the first known to use the phrase "Catholic Church" to describe the true church as opposed to heretical sects. (That page I link to amuses me; they've got a picture of St. Ignatius of Loyola instead of St. Ignatius of Antioch. There's only 1400 years' difference!)

18. We toured the state capitol building as well on Saturday, and that was fun, but it's late and I'm trying not to let this post get too long so I won't describe it.

19. Dinner was at the Cheesecake Factory. When three of us had to squeeze into the backseat of the car afterward, it seemed more difficult than it had been before. The car drove past an ad for the new Will Smith movie, "Seven Pounds," and I mused out loud, "I wonder what that's about?" The answer came: "It's about some people who eat dinner at the Cheesecake Factory...."

20. Sunday: we hung out at church all morning and afternoon, hitting two Masses and hearing a beautiful afternoon Vespers. (From the old breviary-- all Latin, all chant.) It ended with Benediction and the best arrangement of O Salutaris Hostia I've ever heard. What a wonderful way to worship God! Also we hit the bookstore, very well stocked for such a small parish. There was a very red lace mantilla there, "for when you want to be inconspicuous at Mass," someone suggested. Personally I think those neon-colored veils are great... for someone else to wear. :)

21. Around five o'clock we were very ready (having skipped lunch) for dinner. It was then we discovered that the keys of Christie's car had been locked in her trunk.

22. A man from AAA arrived within half an hour but the theft-proof car defeated him. A second, better-equipped AAA man was summoned, but he was a long time coming.

So we had about two hours total of waiting. During that time we were joined by various parishioners who offered to use their AAA memberships for us (but we had our own). We were also provided with cookies and company, both much appreciated-- I learned interesting stuff about dairy farming and the various ailments cows can have. If you're going to have car trouble, try to do it in the parking lot of St. Stephen's. The real fun came when about six of the older members of the altar guild assembled and did their best to open the car with their own assortment of jiggler keys and coat hangers. Here they are going at it while Christie looks on. They eventually found the tool the first AAA man had lacked-- a long stiff rod with a hook at one end, to poke through the seam of the car door and unlatch the trunk. But right before they could try it the second AAA guy arrived with the same tool and opened the car. We were rather sorry that the altar guild hadn't had a crack at it first.

23. Monday: we had a final Mass at St. Stephen's in the morning. As at the Low Mass on Saturday, there was only one altar boy, a young one, and he reeled off his long Latin lines without a cheat sheet and looked very focused and devoted. I reflected on how much altar servers, by their reverence, can help everyone else enter into the spirit of worship.

24. Afterward we delayed our departure as long as possible by touring the little parish school and going out for breakfast, but in the end there was nothing for it but to go home. We'd really enjoyed the four days of being churchmice at St. Stephen's. A traditional Latin Mass is even better in a parish that's entirely devoted to it; then everything from the behavior of the people to the decoration of the church tends to harmonize well with it.

25. But hey, even here in the Los Angeles archdiocese we have a number of TLMs, at least on Sundays. That's something! And it's thanks to B16's motu proprio that we have them. You know you're Catholic when a decision of the Pope in Rome has a direct effect on how you worship every Sunday.

26. The day after getting home, just before Mass at my own beloved church, I was about to put on a veil but suddenly I bunched it up in front of my nose instead and inhaled deeply. It was still carrying the scent of the sweet incense they use at St. Stephen's. I missed it.

Friday, January 02, 2009

A Catholic quiz and four amusing links

This Rock magazine bills this as the world's toughest Catholic quiz. I think it could get a lot worse, but it is a very hard quiz; I missed three or four when I first took it. Post your score in the combox if you dare. :)

If you scored low, don't despair. You can still make art like Jackson Pollock, and he sold his stuff for millions!

Or perhaps you'd just like to relax with this little toy. You can type your name (or any word) over and over and slowly learn its sound...

While I'm at it, some amusing sites I check often are Cake Wrecks (here's my favorite) and I Can Haz Cheezburger?

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Now THAT's how you bless stuff

When my friends and I were up in Sacramento at the FSSP parish, Diep decided to buy half the bookstore's stock of olive oil (it had the St. Stephen's label on it). She took the box of a dozen bottles to the sacristy and set it on a table for Father to bless. He found the book of old-school blessings, all of them in Latin-- the FSSP performs all the rites as they were done before the updates of the 1960's. The blessing for oil was quite long and it took him a while to read it; then when he was finally done he sprinkled holy water on the bottles and looked up with the beginnings of a grin on his face. "That's quite a blessing," he said. He read us the English translation, which began, "Thou creature of oil, I purge thee of evil," and continued, "Let the adversary's power, the devil's legions, and all Satan's attacks and phantoms be dispelled and driven afar from this oil..."

After all that, we can hardly use it for any mundane frying!

The feast of St. John the Apostle arrived on December 27, and we learned that there's an old custom of blessing wine after Mass, with a special blessing that's only allowed to be said on that particular day. (There's a story that St. John once drank poisoned wine without any harm; that's where the custom comes from.) I don't know if any NO parishes still do this, but the FSSP does. The wine blessing was even longer than the oil blessing; I think you can find it here but I'm not positive since it was in Latin. We took a big bottle of blessed wine home and drank it together on New Year's Eve. I haven't acquired the taste for red wine so I sort of had to choke down my half glass. It gave me warm fuzzies. I promptly fell asleep at the table. But I'm sure I was granted spiritual gladness and every other nice thing the priest asked for in the blessing. :)

New Years' resolutions

I hardly ever make them. I always figure I can reform my life any ol' day, so why put such pressure on this one? :) When I decided some years ago to go on the first diet of my life, it was a perfectly ordinary weekday. No need for a new year; I simply went and bought some cans of Slim Fast at the grocery store (I remember being all embarrassed, hoping the clerk wouldn't comment), and eventually I lost forty pounds and I've mostly kept it off. Likewise, most of the other significant changes in my behavior or mindset have come in midst of normal life, not on a special holiday.

But now I'm inspired by a post over at Conversion Diary, where Jennifer F. has decided the following:

Every night before I go to bed, I will ask myself three questions about the next day (and give detailed, specific answers):
  • "When will I pray?"
  • "What will I eat?"
  • "What are the essential things I need to accomplish tomorrow?"

What a good idea. Those are exactly the three things I need to watch myself. But I have the same problem Jennifer has:

It should only take about 30 seconds...yet I've been trying to do it over the past few days and have found it to be surprisingly hard to force myself to focus long enough to provide thorough answers to each question. Trying to implement this simple resolution makes me realize just how much I have a tendency to drift aimlessly through my days.

I hate the aimless drift. My mom, who's sixty-seven and has been retired for some years now, says that every morning when she wakes up, she hears a voice in her head: "Go! Get up! Get moving!" The longer she lives, the greater her urgency not to waste time. "Does thou love life? Then do not squander time, for it is the stuff life is made of." I dozed through much of my twenties but a few years ago I began to hear that voice too. It doesn't matter much to me whether I become a success by the usual standards; indeed I suspect I won't. But it would be a tragedy to fail to do what I was created for, to miss God's intention for me.

Here's something from C.S. Lewis (he's so easy to quote!) Sometimes when I'm being lazy, the memory of this passage disgusts me enough to get me moving again. It's the demon Screwtape writing to a junior tempter on how to handle his "patient"; I emphasized the parts that most get to me:


...You will find that anything or nothing is sufficient to attract his wandering attention. You no longer need a good book, which he really likes, to keep him from his prayers or his work or his sleep; a column of advertisements in yesterday’s paper will do. You can make him waste his time not only in conversation he enjoys with people whom he likes, but in conversations with those whom he cares nothing about on subjects that bore him. You can make him do nothing at all for long periods. You can keep him up late at night, not roistering, but staring at a dead fire in a cold room. All the healthy and outgoing activities which we want him to avoid can be inhibited and nothing given in return, so that at last he may say, as one of my own patients said on his arrival down here, “I now see that I spent most of my life in doing neither what I ought nor what I liked.” The Christians describe the Enemy as one “without whom Nothing is strong.” And Nothing is very strong: strong enough to steal away a man’s best years not in sweet sins but in a dreary flickering of the mind over it knows not what and knows not why, in the gratification of curiosities so feeble that the man is only half aware of them, in drumming of fingers and kicking of heels, in whistling tunes that he does not like, or in the long, dim labyrinth of reveries that have not even lust or ambition to give them a relish, but which, once chance association has started them, the creature is too weak and fuddled to shake off.