Friday, October 22, 2010

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Down to the wire

I think I stand a decent chance of finishing all the essential tasks before I leave tomorrow.  Seeing the light at the end of the tunnel is making me feel more excited about going. :)

Last night I got to spend a few precious hours catching up with two friends I met in junior high and have scarcely seen since high school.  It was so encouraging to hear their stories and see how God has been working in the lives of all three of us.

I'm typing this at the library, watching my allotted time tick quickly away in the corner of the computer monitor, because our internet access is down at home.  Fine time for it!  And much of what I have left to do requires the internet, so this has to be a short blog post.  If you email me, I might not be able to see it before I leave.

I won't be using the internet at the convent, of course, and I can't write or receive snail mail either except with close family.  If you know my mom, let her know of any big news in your life and she can pass it on to me. :)  It might work out to have my sister update this blog occasionally with letters.  If I happen to post again around three months from now, it's not because I've washed out of the order, nor because I'm sneaking downstairs in the middle of the night to update my blog when the other sisters aren't looking.  It's because I think I'll have to come back to California just to get a visa.  We'll find out.

Pray for me as I will for all of you!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Two days left

   But I have a somewhat anticlimactic announcement: I still haven't got a visa.  This means I'll be back in America a heck of a lot sooner than expected-- months instead of years-- to go to the Italian Consulate in Los Angeles and apply for it.  I have no idea exactly when or for how long I'll be back, but I can only stay in Italy for three months as a tourist, so I'll leave in January or before.  I'll try to post on this blog then and say hi.  :)  As for why I don't have a visa yet, I don't even know the full story but I think it has something to do with someone forgetting that the Vatican is run by Italians. ;)  Meanwhile everything else is the same; I'm heading to Italy on Friday and two other girls and I are officially being received by the order as postulants on the Feast of Christ the King, which is October 31 this year in the old calendar. 

   It's been a hectic week, but with many lovely moments.  Some of my friends came over for dinner and I was able to palm off many of my books on them-- it's satisfying to know they'll go where they might be read.  Most of my favorite books and a bunch I haven't been able to read yet will be coming with me to the convent to be added to the library there.

   My sister arranged for some photographer friends of hers to take pictures of the whole family at our favorite beach-- here we are about to get kicked off the lifeguard tower. :)  'Twas a nice day, bringing back many sweet childhood memories.  I was the terror of the sand crabs.



   On Saturday I had a last meal with a friend whose current project is chalking out Gallifreyan symbols to be painted on her living room wall.  You either get it or you don't. :)  I wish I could keep up with all the things she'll get herself into when I'm in the convent!


   Then there was my last Sunday Mass at St. Peter Chanel.  I sat in the second row and remembered one of my first Sundays, in early January 2007, almost four years ago.  I had an appointment with one of the priests before Mass and I told him why I wanted to become Catholic.  I was concerned I'd have to wait a long time because I was joining SPC's RCIA class halfway through, but since I pretty well knew what they were teaching already, and my sponsor could catch me up on the rest, Fr. John said he couldn't see any obstacles to me being received into the Church at Easter.  I was thrilled to hear it and went into the church, where I knelt in the second row and prayed: "Dear Lord, thank you.  Thank you very, very much.  Thank you thank you.  I'm very happy.  Thankyouthankyouthankyouthankyouthankyouthankyou...."  From that day to this, wow. :)  I'll miss the parish where I've received so many blessings.

   It was Fr. Craig, my spiritual director, saying Mass last Sunday, and when he saw me he called me up front at the end, told the congregation I was headed to a convent, made them all pray for me (especially for the gift of languages!) and gave me a blessing.  Afterwards several people came by to congratulate me and promise to pray for me.  One told me that she had a cousin with almost the same first and last name as me-- one letter off-- who died a year ago on the same day I'm leaving.  She felt it meant something good.  :)  Two other women had tears in their eyes; one hugged me and wouldn't let go.  It was... humbling, to see how happy and grateful they seemed that I was going to be a nun, because although I do want to serve the Church and pray for everybody, I think most of my discernment has been about what will make me happiest.  "Whoever loses his life for My sake will find it"-- I feel like I'm just making the prudential decision, grabbing for the biggest prize.  I'd be a fool not to do it and I'm really grateful that God is giving me the gift of a religious vocation.  But the people who congratulated me reminded me of how connected we all are, how by doing God's will we can lift each other up.  I've felt that way before.  When I see others living their lives faithfully, raising their children or helping others or patiently accepting the suffering that falls to their lot, I feel like it's enriching me, even if I don't seem to be directly affected.

   On Sunday afternoon Peter and Tam had a farewell party for me and I got to stay and chat with people well into the evening.  They have six beautiful kids and they invited over other families even larger, so the house was full of life.  Peter told everyone about the first time he'd met me.  "It was right after the Christmas Midnight Mass in 2006, and I was holding Therese who was just a little baby, and I saw this girl walking around looking at everything, so I said, 'Hi, you must be new!'"

   I remember that night, meeting Peter and his sweet little baby.  She's now big enough to make me a farewell card:


   Her big sis Maria too!


   Both of them have depicted people sitting around the tabernacle at St. Peter Chanel. :)

   As for my adult friends, they've been having Masses said for me, at St. Peter Chanel, St. Pius V, and St. Margaret Mary in Oakland.  Most will be said in November right after I leave, so if I'm not inundated with grace in my first month at the convent, it won't be my friends' fault!  I'm really glad they're doing it.

   I also got a very cool card from Fr. Antolini, an Italian who's old enough to remember being bombed in Rome in World War II.  He wrote his card in Italian, French, English, and Spanish, and all of it upside down.  You'd have to know Fr. Antolini to know how typical that is. :)

   The party ended with Peter and Tam giving Mom and me four very big suitcases for our trip.  Exactly what we needed to haul around the four pairs of shoes, two pairs of boots, sheets and towels and a pillow, dozens of books, and all the other stuff I'm taking.  It was a relief to get them; we didn't really have a good solution before that.

   So that was the party.  On Monday I worked in such a frenzy that a friend who called for a last-minute goodbye thought I must be sick (I'm doing better now, Rachel!)  I spent much of yesterday stressing about the visa (though it was flattering when I called the Papal Nunciature in Washington D.C. and they said they knew who I was because they'd just received the nota verbale from the Vatican about me... but the bottom line was there's no way that nota and the letter from the Nuncio will get to the Italian Consulate in time.)  For a while I thought I'd have to return home right after the little Florence vacation with my family, but now it turns out I'm going to stay at the convent and worry about the visa later, so I'd better get back to packing.

   I'd like to say something profound here, conveying my gratitude to God for the settled feeling I've had all summer that this is what I need to be doing, in spite of the various ways I've been stressed out.  I feel that He's given me all the assurance I need.  And I'd like to express the strong desire I have to be there in Italy, because whatever the life will be like, easy or hard, I've got to start living it already-- feels like I've been hanging around forever!

   I've no time to express myself better than that, so I'll just say: CARDINAL BURKE!  BOOYAH!  Did you know he was the first one to bring the Institute of Christ the King to the U.S., back when he was a bishop in Wisconsin?  He still ordains priests for the Institute; just one more reason to love him.  And now he has a bunch of important jobs in Rome and the pope's giving him a red hat to match, and it couldn't have happened to a nicer person. :)

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Life update

I've been pretty darn busy trying to a) prepare for life in the convent in Italy, b) wrap up my life in California, and c) learn French.  Here's a short summary of other stuff I've done recently.

August:  Quit my job.  My co-workers took me out for a really nice farewell dinner, and then threatened to follow me to Italy, find my order, show up at Mass, and shout, "Hi Rachel!" really loudly.  :)  A co-worker who's known me as long as I've been there told me he thinks it will all work out for me, because those last few weeks on the job I looked happier than he'd ever seen me.  I was surprisingly emotional on my last day in the lab and got teary-eyed saying goodbye to people (and sea urchins).  Behold the desk and the bench where I worked for nearly seven years:



Labor Day weekend:  Had a great trip up to northern California.  I stayed first with my college roommate, who now lives with her husband on acres of land in Sebastopol.  She's got a guest room I've always liked with a real wood-burning stove; I'm sorry I probably won't get to stay there again.  She invited up some other college friends and their significant others for dinner one night, and we had enjoyable conversation and they all wished me well.  I was very glad the timing worked out for me to see her and our other friends one last time before I had to leave.  To think I met them fourteen years ago when I was but a dumb eighteen-year-old!  We all lived next to each other that memorable first year of college.

   We ate well: pesto from home-grown basil, vegetables from the backyard garden, blackberry crisp from the berry bush out front, and for an appetizer... sawdust!

  Actually it was frozen froth left over from apple cider making.  Sebastopol is famous for its Gravenstein apples, tastier than any other variety I know but impossible to get in stores because they're too delicate to ship.

   Then I headed to Corpus Christi Monastery where another former roommate of mine is now Sister Mary Isabel of the Angels, a contemplative Dominican nun.  She's in her canonical novitiate year, which means she's supposed to be even more retired from the world than usual and only close relatives can visit her.  But she asked her superiors to make an exception for me, in view of the fact that I'm leaving for my own order and this could be the last time in our lives that we'll be able to see each other.  They granted permission and the other nuns made lunch for the two of us to eat together.  It was so much food that we just stood and laughed for a while.



   Then we spent hours eating and talking, both of us so happy to have been given the chance.  She gave me the scoop on the various trials of her first year of religious life, and the advice her spiritual director gave her that helped her.  We tried to get a picture of us together:



After that I headed down to Oakland, where the Institute of Christ the King has a parish named St. Margaret Mary.  Here's their statue of the saint the church is named for.  St. Margaret Mary was a nun of the Visitation, the order founded by St. Francis de Sales.  The Adorers have copied the Visitation habit, which means that in most portraits of St. Margaret Mary (including this statue) she's dressed the way I'm going to be eventually. :)

  Canon Moreau is the nearest Institute priest to me and he's the one who invited me to spend a few days in Oakland getting to know the parish.  He set me up with a very hospitable family who hosted me in their gorgeous home, and I spent the better part of two days tagging along after him as he dealt with parish business and showed me the various places he works.  It was fascinating.  The highlight was when he took me to the chancery in downtown Oakland to meet Bishop Cordileone (!) and get his blessing (!!!)  I got hit with holy water and everything; it was awesome.  :)  Bishop Cordileone is great to the Institute; he even travelled to Italy this past June to ordain some deacons for them.  So pray for him, 'cause bishops have a hard job and are hated if they do it right.

 The Oakland Cathedral was next to the chancery, so Canon Moreau and I toured it.  Every cathedral has a cathedra, a big ol' chair for the bishop, topped with his personal coat of arms.  I took this picture of Bishop Salvatore Joseph Cordileone's coat of arms.  The crab I'm told represents San Diego, where he's from.  The lion with a heart represents his last name, and the carpenter's tools represent his middle name.  Not sure about the star and the tree, but if it's the Christmas star and the Tree of Life they could be representing his first name.  I need a coat of arms.  But I digress.

Canon Moreau informed me that there was a girl from his old parish in Green Bay who decided to join the Adorers, and he took her to get blessed too (by the bishop of Green Bay) before she headed to the convent, "and she is still there."  Looks like I'd better not break his streak!

After that lovely northern California tour, I got home, realized I had only six weeks left, and went into hyperdrive.

The rest of September: Mostly panicked preparations and stabs at learning French, but a number of people also invited me out for one last meal together, until my mom finally observed, "You've got a real racket going.  You string them out one at a time!"  It was good to have the time with them all.  I had a long list of tasks like finding health insurance for a year and getting a copy of my (non) criminal record.  And I thought it was ironic that preparing for a vow of poverty meant buying lots and lots of new clothes (shirts, shoes, sweaters, and a bunch of other stuff, all in dashing black and white.)  It's what I'll wear as a postulant, and much of it will also be worn under my habit once I've got one.

One encouraging interlude involved talking with a girl from our parish who left to be a nun, stayed for eight years, and then left her order about a month before she was supposed to take final vows.  Now she's back at the parish, figuring out where to go from here.  I'd always figured that was the worst case scenario, but her story was wonderful, all about how perfectly God has led her.  She'd really wanted to stay and make final vows-- "Leaving was the hardest 'yes' I ever gave to God."  But she's just full of joy and peace.  I wish you all could meet her.  She's going to kick Satan's butt wherever she goes.

October:  I'm even busier, and facing the fact that lots of stuff on my "Do before entering the convent" list isn't ever going to happen.  I wish I had more time to just hang out with folks, go walking around my neighborhood at night, sit in the yard and read a book, do all the stuff I've loved doing in these first 32 years of my life.  But I have pressing chores to finish.  So whatever activities I failed to appreciate at the time won't have a chance to be repeated now-- no doubt there's a profound lesson in there somewhere.

Fortunately I have known for a long time that I was likely to be a nun, and especially in the last year or so I've been thinking, "This might be my last chance to do this... or that..."  So although I have no time to savor things now, there's a lot that I've already said goodbye to.  For example, I was right that two years ago was my last chance to go to Yosemite.  Then last fall I was driving home from work right by my old high school, and I realized it was Wednesday night and the band would be practicing its field show.  Probably my favorite high school memory is the way we used to march back to the band room after practice with the drums echoing incredibly loudly in the school hallways.  It was magical, seriously; it felt like we were in another world, just floating along the hall, feeling the relief of having finished practice and the joy of esprit de corps, hearing nothing but the pounding drums, each section doing a little routine with its instruments.  (The bass clarinets were the best.)  So I pulled over, watched the end of the field show practice, and followed the band to band room one last time.  They were still playing the same awesome cadence they've always used.

Another time this spring I was sent to our marine lab by the beach to pick up some special sea urchins, and before heading back to our lab in Pasadena, I lingered by the beach and walked on the sand.  It was raining very softly and everything was misty and grey and beautiful, and I thought, "Perhaps I'll never see something like this again."  But if not, in Heaven I'll see something better.

People think I'm really going to miss the internet because I spend so much time on it, but I'll be so glad not to be wasting hours in front of a screen any more.  I consider it a great feature of my order that I won't have email or a blog

I can't wrap my mind around the fact that I'm gone in eleven days.  Everything here is so normal and utterly familiar that I can't imagine it all being permanently out of reach.

I told my spiritual director that I'm stressed about getting ready to leave and not especially attracted to where I'm going.  He understood at once: "Because you don't know them."  How much can a one-week visit tell you?  Mostly I'm walking into the unknown.  Father said it was like that for him when he went to seminary in Rome: for a while his emotions were up and down, as he missed his old life and wasn't yet familiar with the new life.  After a while, the seminary started to feel like his own life, and then he was fine.  (It's been great having a director who can so easily relate to my situation.)

  My mom's helping me out a lot, doing lots of legwork and finding all the stuff on my shopping list that I couldn't find myself.  My parents are letting me dump all my stuff on them, and if I stay with the Adorers, eventually they'll get rid of it.  I'll leave them my car too, which they can sell after a while (if I remember to sign the deed over to them before I go).  What's left of my money can sit in the accounts till who knows when.  (I don't think I have to give it away till final vows.)  I'll vote by absentee ballot before I leave.  Heaven only knows how I'll file my taxes next year.  The details go on and on.

   A few days ago some longtime family friends took me to my favorite place in the world to eat: the Tea Room at Huntington Gardens, where little tea sandwiches are all-you-can-eat.  They also thought up some gifts to give me that I'd actually be able to take to the convent.  It was great to hang with them one last time... perhaps I'll see them in Italy one day. :)

   I still haven't seen every friend I'd like to see, so hopefully there'll be time.  My sister had the happy thought of taking me to Disneyland last week. :)  We hit all my favorite rides and I got to eat at the Blue Bayou for the first time in my life.  You know the restaurant inside the Pirates of the Caribbean ride?  I always used to float by it in the boat and wonder about the people eating there, on the mystical dark platform under the glowing colored lanterns... Turns out if you go between normal meal times you can get right in without a reservation. :)  We shared a yummy Monte Cristo and it was plenty of food for us both.

   Did you know Disneyland has single rider lines now?  If you're willing to go alone, you can walk up the exit of some of the major rides and be seated much faster; they use single riders to fill up holes.  My sister and I split up to single-ride Splash Mountain.  The regular line was supposed to be 55 minutes long, but we were both seated (a few logs apart) within seven minutes of finding the exit.

   I found that this time, the part of Disneyland I enjoyed most was Fantasyland, with all the old European-looking houses and castles and fairytale stories.  I think it's because if you could go back to the time when those houses and castles and stories were current, the people would have been worshiping with the same Mass the Adorers have, and some of our patron saints would have been there.

      I need to get back to sorting and packing, but first, anyone who can... PLEASE tell me, what episode of Star Trek is this picture from, and what on earth is going on?  The seriousness of the faces combined with the ridiculousness of the situation is cracking me up.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

10:10 AM on 10/10/10

Gotta post something, so here's a very disorienting version of Tetris. Be sure to try the night mode.

And this video confirms what I always suspected about Tetris (warning: I can't vouch for anything else on that site).

H/T to Ventures 'Neath Aeviternity.

If you've got a hankering now for Tetris straight up, here it is.

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Halloween gingersnaps and Jack-o-lantern cookies

The feast of Our Lord Jesus Christ the King, which in the old calendar falls on the last Sunday of October, is the titular feast day for the Institute of Christ the King. This year I'll be arriving in Florence on October 23rd, I'll join the Adorers a few days after that, my family will stay till the 29th, and the last Sunday in October comes on... the 31st!  My arrival date was suggested by the sisters to give me time to get all settled in before the big ol' Solemn High Mass on that day.  So since Christ the King shall henceforth be a very important feast for me, and since it falls this year on All Hallows Eve, I'm obviously obligated to make a bunch of Halloween cookies.

Here are some cute Jack-o-lanterns!



I'm sure you'd like to know how to make them, but you know creating shapes like these with the great faces and all is bound to be difficult. I'll include instructions, but only the advanced baker should aspire to match my feat.  Here we go!

Step 1: Go to the grocery store and buy this:



Step 2: Open the package, break the cookies apart, and toss everything on a cookie sheet.



Step 3: Bake them and take them out of the oven.



Whew!  After all that, you wouldn't expect me to make anything else, but I'm dauntless and made gingersnaps too. :)  My basic recipe for gingersnaps is here. My adaptation for Halloween is as follows: go to the grocery store and get some orange and black sugar-- they sell it in the baking aisle in October.  Then make the basic gingersnap dough.



Roll the dough into balls and dip each ball halfway into white sugar.  Dip the other half into colored sugar.  Place each ball on a cookie sheet with the colored side up.



Then bake 'em!



They spread out and crack.



With this pretty result.



I think gingersnaps look awfully appealing even just dressed in plain white sugar.  And they're really tasty too.



I had a list of stuff I wanted to bake before leaving, and these gingersnaps were pretty much the last item on that list.  It's been great fun, and hopefully in the convent I'll lose whatever weight I've gained. :)  It would have been nice to lose pounds before entering and arrive at the convent slender, but I keep seeing tasty foods and thinking, "Oooh, it's my last chance to eat that!" and... well...

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

I interrupt my preparations to bring you this short conversation

A month or two ago I was talking with a friend who was about to enter the Nashville Dominicans:

Her: "There are two other postulants there who just graduated from high school, so I'm glad I won't be the only 18-year-old."

Me: "That's nice.  They have a lot of young sisters in Nashville.  Supposedly their age range for entry is 18-30 years old, but they let me visit when I was older.  Actually the Adorers' limit is 30, but they're still letting me enter."

Her: "Yeah, one of the girls in our postulant class is 34."

Me: "Well, speaking as a 32-year-old, I'm grateful that these orders with low age cutoffs are willing to bend their limits.  I'll bet the 34-year-old is happy about it."

Her: "Yeah, she'll be like a mother to us!"
Me:




(On reflection I realized it was a very sweet thing to say, implying love, respect, and emulation.  But it sure made me realize I'm not eighteen anymore!)

Friday, October 01, 2010

Ten new posts

Nearly all of them sat in my Drafts folder for months, or years.  Tonight I suddenly realized that if they're going to be published at all, it's now or never-- I'm only on the internet for three more weeks. :)  So I kicked them out more or less as is, and there they are.

Of course, now it's eleven new posts...

The Blessed Virgin Compared to the Air We Breathe

Why is the sky blue? You could say it's because air molecules scatter blue wavelengths while letting reds and yellows through, so that when you look up you see all the blue wavelengths bouncing around. But I've heard it's just as true to say the sky is blue because the air is blue: if you took a big ball of Earth's atmosphere and suspended it in space (near a star), it would shine blue. A leaf is green because it reflects green light while absorbing other wavelengths, but we don't typically give that scientific explanation of it; we say the leaf looks green because it is green. Likewise the sky. So tell that to your kid when he asks. :)

But there's also this: we humans write ideas down in words, but God can write with all Creation.  He can create signs that point to higher truths, like the union between husband and wife that signifies the union between Christ and the Church.  And along those lines, the poet Gerald Manley Hopkins has convinced me that the sky is blue to stand as a sign of the Mother of God.  He wrote her into creation and waited untold years until a Jesuit poet in the 1800's figured it out.

(Oh, and you can get Hopkins' poetry on CD here.  I actually found it easier to follow and appreciate that way.)

The Blessed Virgin Compared to the Air We Breathe
Gerard Manley Hopkins

WILD air, world-mothering air,
Nestling me everywhere,
That each eyelash or hair
Girdles; goes home betwixt
The fleeciest, frailest-flixed
Snowflake; that’s fairly mixed
With, riddles, and is rife
In every least thing’s life;
This needful, never spent,
And nursing element;
My more than meat and drink,
My meal at every wink;
This air, which, by life’s law,
My lung must draw and draw
Now but to breathe its praise,
Minds me in many ways
Of her who not only
Gave God’s infinity
Dwindled to infancy
Welcome in womb and breast,
Birth, milk, and all the rest
But mothers each new grace
That does now reach our race—
Mary Immaculate,
Merely a woman, yet
Whose presence, power is
Great as no goddess’s
Was deemèd, dreamèd; who
This one work has to do—
Let all God’s glory through,
God’s glory which would go
Through her and from her flow
Off, and no way but so.

I say that we are wound
With mercy round and round
As if with air: the same
Is Mary, more by name.
She, wild web, wondrous robe,
Mantles the guilty globe,
Since God has let dispense
Her prayers his providence:
Nay, more than almoner,
The sweet alms’ self is her
And men are meant to share
Her life as life does air.

If I have understood,
She holds high motherhood
Towards all our ghostly good
And plays in grace her part
About man’s beating heart,
Laying, like air’s fine flood,
The deathdance in his blood;
Yet no part but what will
Be Christ our Saviour still.
Of her flesh he took flesh:
He does take fresh and fresh,
Though much the mystery how,
Not flesh but spirit now
And makes, O marvellous!
New Nazareths in us,
Where she shall yet conceive
Him, morning, noon, and eve;
New Bethlems, and he born
There, evening, noon, and morn—
Bethlem or Nazareth,
Men here may draw like breath
More Christ and baffle death;
Who, born so, comes to be
New self and nobler me
In each one and each one
More makes, when all is done,
Both God’s and Mary’s Son.

Again, look overhead
How air is azurèd;
O how! nay do but stand
Where you can lift your hand
Skywards: rich, rich it laps
Round the four fingergaps.
Yet such a sapphire-shot,
Charged, steepèd sky will not
Stain light. Yea, mark you this:
It does no prejudice.
The glass-blue days are those
When every colour glows,
Each shape and shadow shows.
Blue be it: this blue heaven
The seven or seven times seven
Hued sunbeam will transmit
Perfect, not alter it.
Or if there does some soft,
On things aloof, aloft,
Bloom breathe, that one breath more
Earth is the fairer for.
Whereas did air not make
This bath of blue and slake
His fire, the sun would shake,
A blear and blinding ball
With blackness bound, and all
The thick stars round him roll
Flashing like flecks of coal,
Quartz-fret, or sparks of salt,
In grimy vasty vault.

So God was god of old:
A mother came to mould
Those limbs like ours which are
What must make our daystar
Much dearer to mankind;
Whose glory bare would blind
Or less would win man’s mind.
Through her we may see him
Made sweeter, not made dim,
And her hand leaves his light
Sifted to suit our sight.

Be thou then, O thou dear
Mother, my atmosphere;
My happier world, wherein
To wend and meet no sin;
Above me, round me lie
Fronting my froward eye
With sweet and scarless sky;
Stir in my ears, speak there
Of God’s love, O live air,
Of patience, penance, prayer:
World-mothering air, air wild,
Wound with thee, in thee isled,
Fold home, fast fold thy child.

Scaring off a mugger

This is something that happened two years ago to my friend Adonela, and actually I guess there's no proof the guy had evil intent, but at any rate he was a bit scary.

First, something about Adonela. A former atheist now turned fanatically Catholic, she would intrepidly walk the streets of our parish every week with one of our priests, inviting the people (nearly all Catholics of varying commitment levels) to come to church / go to confession / get married if they're living together. I've gone with them a few times; I was mostly useless because I don't speak Spanish, but I was quite surprised by how well our group was received by everyone. It would never fly in a WASP neighborhood. Back to Adonela, whenever she sees a mother and child, she's likely to say, "Oh, how sweet! Is she baptized?" She then offers the parents the registration form they need to have their kids baptized at our church. She seems to carry this info around with her, along with extra Rosaries, sacrifice beads, booklets on confession and various other Catholic subjects, holy water, and who knows what else-- that's just what I personally have seen coming out of the bag she usually has slung on her shoulder. She's also taught many, many catechism classes at our parish. And the confirmation students in our neighborhood can be pretty tough-- one of Adonela's kids joined a gang, so she warned him about her last stint on a jury, when the defendant was a gang member up for quintuple murder.

So, almost two years ago in December, Adonela was walking to church as usual (she lives nearby), and it was night, and though there are usually many people around on the street, on this occasion there weren't any. Except for one man, and he started following her. He was only a few paces behind. She got worried and slowed down. Then he started asking her questions: "Do you live around here? Where are you going?"

I'm not sure how most women would deal with being alone with a creepy guy on a dark street at night. I've taken self-defense classes and have many ideas about it, but they never taught me Adonela's method.

"I'm going to church!" she told the man brightly. "Are you Catholic?"

"Yes," he admitted.

"But are you a practicing Catholic?" she persisted. He didn't know what she meant.  "Do you go to church?" He admitted he didn't.

So Adonela hit him with, "How long has it been since you've been to confession?" And the man, hardly knowing what to do with this turn in the conversation, said, "It's been a few years."

"Well," said Adonela, "this is the season of Advent, and it's a great time to give a gift to our Lord, and there's no better gift than to go to confession. My church is right up here; want to come with me? I know they're hearing confessions right now!"

This was too much for the poor man, who left her at the church gate. Too bad she couldn't convert him, but at least she got him off her back!

"Nothing is so consoling, so piercing, so thrilling, so overcoming"

There's a book I really enjoyed called Loss and Gain. John Henry Newman (recently beatified, woohoo!) wrote it in 1848, and it's a short novel set in Oxford in the early 1800's, portraying every religious opinion and character the university had to offer. One character in the book is an emotional and impetuous young man named Willis, who up and converts to Catholicism one fine day. An Anglican named Bateman challenges Willis' new beliefs, finally asking him about the Mass.
"These are such difficult questions," answered Willis; "must I speak? Such difficult questions," he continued, rising into a more animated manner, and kindling as he went on; "I mean, people view them so differently: it is so difficult to convey to one person the idea of another. The idea of worship is different in the Catholic Church from the idea of it in your Church; for, in truth, the religions are different. Don't deceive yourself, my dear Bateman," he said tenderly, "it is not that ours is your religion carried a little farther,—a little too far, as you would say. No, they differ in kind, not in degree; ours is one religion, yours another. [....] I declare, to me," he said, and he clasped his hands on his knees, and looked forward as if soliloquising,—"to me nothing is so consoling, so piercing, so thrilling, so overcoming, as the Mass, said as it is among us. I could attend Masses for ever and not be tired. It is not a mere form of words, —it is a great action, the greatest action that can be on earth. It is, not the invocation merely, but, if I dare use the word, the evocation of the Eternal. He becomes present on the altar in flesh and blood, before whom angels bow and devils tremble. This is that awful event which is the scope, and is the interpretation, of every part of the solemnity. Words are necessary, but as means, not as ends; they are not mere addresses to the throne of grace, they are instruments of what is far higher, of consecration, of sacrifice. They hurry on as if impatient to fulfil their mission. Quickly they go, the whole is quick; for they are all parts of one integral action. Quickly they go; for they are awful words of sacrifice, they are a work too great to delay upon; as when it was said in the beginning: 'What thou doest, do quickly'. Quickly they pass; for the Lord Jesus goes with them, as He passed along the lake in the days of His flesh, quickly calling first one and then another. Quickly they pass; because as the lightning which shineth from one part of heaven unto the other, so is the coming of the Son of Man. Quickly they pass; for they are as the words of Moses, when the Lord came down in the cloud, calling on the Name of the Lord as He passed by, 'the Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth'. And as Moses on the mountain, so we too 'make haste and bow our heads to the earth, and adore'. So we, all around, each in his place, look out for the great Advent, 'waiting for the moving of the water'. Each in his place, with his own heart, with his own wants, with his own thoughts, with his own intention, with his own prayers, separate but concordant, watching what is going on, watching its progress, uniting in its consummation;—not painfully and hopelessly following a hard form of prayer from beginning to end, but, like a concert of musical instruments, each different, but concurring in a sweet harmony, we take our part with God's priest, supporting him, yet guided by him. There are little children there, and old men, and simple labourers, and students in seminaries, priests preparing for Mass, priests making their thanksgiving; there are innocent maidens, and there are penitent sinners; but out of these many minds rises one eucharistic hymn, and the great Action is the measure and scope of it. And oh, my dear Bateman," he added, turning to him, "you ask me whether this is not a formal, unreasonable service—it is wonderful!" he cried, rising up, "quite wonderful. When will these dear good people be enlightened? O Sapientia, fortiter suaviterque disponens omnia, O Adonai, O Clavis David et Exspectatio gentium, veni ad salvandum nos, Domine Deus noster."

[The Latin outburst at the end is from the O Antiphons of Advent season and means something like: "O Wisdom, sweetly and mightily ordering all things, O Lord, O Key of David and Desire of Nations, come and save us, O Lord our God."]

It was December 2006 when I first read Newman's book and there was a lot of it I didn't understand-- and not just because his characters spoke in an overwrought Victorian style.  I was in RCIA at the time and set to be received into the Catholic church at Easter, and I'd been going to Mass at least weekly for several months.  But I had never noticed that it was thrilling and overcoming, or that the words passed quickly as the lightning which shineth from one part of heaven unto the other, or that we in the congregation were concurring in a sweet harmony, taking our part with God's priest, supporting him, yet guided by him.

Really the Mass seemed kinda dead to me. The people barely tried to sing the hymns, there were no Bibles in the pews, and (this was by far the worst thing) the sermons were vague and wishy-washy. I remember thinking that my old Evangelical church would look so warm and loving and zealous and fun to any of those Catholics. Those first few months of trying to become Catholic illustrated for me one reason why so many people move the other way.

But slowly I started to appreciate the Catholic ways of expressing piety, and I began to see signs of faith in that parish where I hadn't been looking before.  And then I found a much better parish where the preaching was real, and that was when I really fell in love with the Mass and started going every day.  In April 2007 I was received into the Church and was thrilled about it.

Then in late 2007 my parish started offering the traditional Latin Mass, which is the way Mass was said for centuries (until 1970 when it switched from Latin to the vernacular language, and was simplified and changed in other ways as well.)  That older form of Mass was what Willis was talking about in the novel.  After I became familiar with the old Mass, I re-read Newman's novel and came across that paragraph again.  And I understood.  That's exactly it.

Religious score high on non-agression and naivete

When my roommate Mery (now Sr. Mary Isabel of the Angels) was preparing to be a nun, she had to undergo psychological evaluation with the psychologist her order sent her to.  It was interesting.  The psychologist told her that the long multiple-choice question test she'd taken was designed to measure her personality in all sorts of different areas, and he was checking to see if she fell within the normal range for each area.

There are two areas, he told her, on which future religious tend to score higher than average (though still within what's considered normal range.) One area is "non-aggression". That makes sense; monks and nuns aren't soldiers.

The other area is "naivete". HEY! I thought when I heard this. Religious aren't naive! But the psychologist explained that this didn't mean naivete in the usual sense. It means future religious are more likely to think the best of people and assume their actions had good motives.

That sounds fine to me. In fact, I read an argument somewhere-- I wish I could remember who wrote it-- that if you interpret another's actions in the most sympathetic light possible, you're most likely to have a good understanding of that person. For people don't think of their actions as evil; there's always some good they're trying to attain, though they may be doing it in the wrong way or subordinating a greater good to a lesser one. If you look for the good motive you'll have better comprehension and be closer to the truth.

Not that I claim to know from experience... :)

Quotes about the Sign of the Cross

   And lastly, as every one knows, what else is the sign of Christ but the cross of Christ? For unless that sign be applied, whether it be to the foreheads of believers, or to the very water out of which they are regenerated, or to the oil with which they receive the anointing chrism, or to the sacrifice that nourishes them, none of them is properly administered.
     -St. Augustine (A.D. 354-430)

An article from Christianity Today on the subject:
http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2007/februaryweb-only/109-22.0.html

   Never leave home without making the sign of the cross.... You should not just trace the cross with your finger, but you should do it in faith.
     -John Chyrsostom (A.D. 347-407)

   This [the letter Tau] bears a resemblance to the figure of the cross; and this prophecy [Ezek. ix. 4] is said to regard the sign made by Christians on the forehead, which all believers make whatsoever work they begin upon, and especially at the beginning of prayers, or of holy readings
   -Origen (A.D. 185- 284)

   In all our travels and movements, in all our coming in and going out, in putting on our shoes, at the bath, at the table, in lighting our candles, in lying down, in sitting down, whatever employment occupies us, we mark our foreheads with the sign of the cross.
   -Tertullian (A.D. 160- 225)

   Let us not, therefore, be ashamed of the cross of Christ, but even though another hide it do thou openly seal it on thy brow, that the devils beholding that royal sign may flee far away trembling. But make thou this sign when thou eatest and drinkest, sittest or liest down, risest up, speakest, walkest; in a word, on every occasion, for He who was here crucified is above in the heavens.
   -St. Cyril of Jerusalem (c. A.D. 315-86)

   Many have been crucified throughout the world but none of these do the devils dread, but Christ having been crucified for us, when they see but the sign of the cross the devils shudder.
   -St. Cyril of Jerusalem

   After the sign of the cross, grace immediately thus operates, and composes all the members and the heart, so that the soul from its abounding gladness seems as a youth that knows not evil.
   -St. Macarius of Egypt (A.D. 300- 390)

Servant of God, Remember
Will­iam J. Blew (1852)

Servant of God, remember
The stream thy soul bedewing,
The grace that came upon thee
Anointing and renewing.

When kindly slumber calls thee,
Upon thy bed reclining,
Trace thou the cross of Jesus,
Thy heart and forehead signing.

The cross dissolves the darkness,
And drives away temptation;
It calms the wavering spirit
By quiet consecration.

Begone, begone, the terrors
Of vague and formless dreaming;
Begone, thou fell deceiver,
With all thy boasted scheming.

Begone, thou crooked serpent,
Who, twisting and pursuing,
By fraud and lie preparest
The simple soul’s undoing.

Tremble, for Christ is near us,
Depart, for here He dwelleth,
And this, the sign thou knowest,
Thy strong battalions quelleth.

Then while the weary body
Its rest in sleep is nearing,
The heart will muse in silence
On Christ and His appearing.

To God, eternal Father,
To Christ, our King, be glory,
And to the Holy Spirit,
In never ending story.

Amen.

A bunch of long articles

Sometimes on the internet I read something that's informative, intelligent, interesting or otherwise engaging, and I want to post it on my blog and comment on it. But after collecting many such articles I must admit I'm very unlikely to get around to fisking them all. So here's a post where I just slap up a bunch of links, and if you're bored you can click one.


A typically wonderful recent speech by Archbishop Chaput: Living within the truth: Religious liberty and Catholic mission in the new order of the world


Some time ago, Jen did an internet fast and wrote out what she learned. I remember thinking I needed to take the time to re-read her article slowly and take it to heart.  But now I'm leaving for the convent in three weeks and I won't be able to use the internet there, so I guess that solves that problem. :)
http://www.conversiondiary.com/2009/10/20-things-i-learned-in-my-week-without.html


Carolyn on why romantic comedies have the woman get drunk. I'd add that the same effect is achieved by making the woman sick, as in You've Got Mail, or sleepy, as in Kate and Leopold:
http://solofemininity.blogs.com/posts/2009/10/drunk-the-new-female-tenderness.html


Here's an article proposing a far better health care reform plan than the one our Congressmen forced down our throats without even reading it themselves. The author writes, "I’m a Democrat, and have long been concerned about America’s lack of a health safety net. But based on my own work experience, I also believe that unless we fix the problems at the foundation of our health system—largely problems of incentives—our reforms won’t do much good, and may do harm."
http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2009/09/how-american-health-care-killed-my-father/7617/


The Intellectual Capacity of Women.
http://web.maths.unsw.edu.au/~jim/women.html
This article begins with the sentence, "I believe that the intellectual capacity of women is on the whole inferior to that of men." It's been a while since I read it, but at the time I couldn't think of a way to refute it, and anyway it didn't surprise me.  There's no reason to assume that two sexes with such different physical capacities would have the same intellectual capacity. That makes as much sense as assuming that men and women must be equally strong, or must both be able to bear children.

People are desperate to say that women are exactly equal to men in every way, except when they're better. I think it's because women are oppressed and patronized, and Lord knows that's horrible.  In China and India the sex ratio is becoming more and more skewed as mothers abort their unborn daughters to try for sons. Think they'd do that if they weren't oppressed? It's an awful injustice.

But I utterly reject any notion that we need to deny the truth and proclaim a lie in order to bring about a desired result. We want all people be treated with dignity, and the way to achieve that result is to teach that all people have inherent value that isn't tied to their intelligence, ability, appearance, performance, race, sex, age, etc., etc. Or as the Declaration of Independence put it: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights."  If human rights are granted not by God but by man, then man can take the rights away.

Update: I just thought of a possible refutation, and it's the research Larry Summers referenced that got him fired as president of Harvard: that men and women have a different distribution of intelligence, with women clustering more toward the middle and men grouping more at the high and low ends.  That would mean that the sector of brilliant inventors would contain more men than women, even though the average intelligence of men and women might be the same.  I don't know if that's the case; just throwing out that possibility.

I can't go on; this is supposed to be a short list of articles. :)


The Lost Tools of Learning-- Dorothy Sayers on education
http://www.gbt.org/text/sayers.html


Escape from Nihilism-- a college professor of philosophy gives a lucid account of how his mind changed.
http://www.leaderu.com/real/ri9801/budziszewski.html


Faith and Private Judgment, and Faith and Doubt: These are the two sermons by Cardinal Newman that convinced me it was time to call up the nearest Catholic church and tell them I wanted to join. It isn't that Newman tackles all the many issues on which Catholicism and Protestantism disagree. I'd already read plenty of stuff like that, and it may have been a necessary prerequisite to understanding Newman. But by the time I came across his writings, the question I was dealing with was: how much more research do I have to do and how certain do I need to be? Should I convert when I'm 85% sure, or when I feel comfortable in Catholic churches, or when I agree with 100% of the doctrines? And what if I change my mind later? Newman showed me I was a bit mistaken about the nature of the choice. And my goodness, he writes such beautiful English.

Faith and Private Judgment
http://www.newmanreader.org/works/discourses/discourse10.html

Faith and Doubt
http://www.newmanreader.org/works/discourses/discourse11.html


The Practice of the Presence of God. I first read this very short book when I was about 14 because a youth leader had recommended it to my older sister. I don't remember what I made of it then, except that I was left with an impression of someone praying to God while working in the kitchen, and the idea that God is always present and you can pray to Him all day. But I know that when I re-read it last year I was very affected. It was a lot like something I'd concluded God was telling me after the first eight-day Ignatian retreat I made. I need to read it again. Seriously, words to live by.
http://www.practicegodspresence.com/brotherlawrence/practicegodspresence09.html


If you've ever wondered whether the Catholic Church has some recent very official statement about the blessed Virgin Mary, it's the 8th chapter of this document, Lumen Gentium:
http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_const_19641121_lumen-gentium_en.html


I sometimes wonder (or worry) about people in extreme situations, how they cope and what they think. These next few articles are along those lines:


A mentally ill man who's often been homeless:
http://catholicexchange.com/2009/01/27/115156/


A young man tells of an awful childhood (including brutal sexual abuse, though mercifully he gives few details), his imprisonment for murder, and his hope for the future. (The "Gorden" he mentions has a blog by proxy here.)  PDF WARNING:
http://www.thesestonewalls.com/Files/Pornchais_Story.pdf


A man who found out soon after marriage that he and his wife were incompatible.
http://pblosser.blogspot.com/2009/07/irreconcilable-differences-so.html


Here's a letter from a young nun who gave up everything to become the bride of Christ, and then was raped and had to leave her order to raise the child. It is a stunning letter. I could hardly believe that she could respond with so much faith. Of all the articles in this post, this is the one that moved me the most.
http://www.catholic.org/national/national_story.php?id=28882


This is a woman who wanted a child but had an abortion when she found out the baby had chromosomal abnormalities. She writes about how the system of prenatal testing seemed biased toward pressuring her to abort her son. Why on earth don't we bias it the other way? I guess it's partly because a living baby with an unexpected abnormality is a liability for the prenatal doctor, but an aborted baby is the mother's responsibility alone-- she can't sue anyone for talking her into abortion. Doctors probably figure their malpractice premiums are high enough already.
http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2008/nov/01/family-abortion-trisomy-13


Here's another mother who aborted a wanted pregnancy when the child turned out to have Down's syndrome. I was fascinated by her story. As she says, she's an atheist and there were no religious issues affecting her decision, but that didn't mean she didn't have an awful battle with herself both before and after.
http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2003/may/31/health.lifeandhealth


Compare that with this article:
http://www.touchstonemag.com/archives/article.php?id=16-07-027-f
in which J. Budziszewski describes the ways conscience attacks when we've done something we know is wrong, but won't admit it. It's remarkable how closely Emma Loach's experience tracks with Budziszewski's description, from her compulsive donations to sick children's charities, to her new sense of closeness with the baby's father, to the very fact that she's laying her soul bare by writing the article.


Here's an excellent letter trying to contribute to "an honest public debate about abortion" by asking questions an abortion provider hasn't answered yet:
http://mulier-fortis.blogspot.com/2010/09/getting-to-heart-of-matter.html


David Warren doesn't like the Catholics Come Home campaign...
http://www.insidecatholic.com/feature/retrieving-the-strays.html


Distrust in the U.S. media is at a record high... but I'm surprised it's not higher.
http://www.gallup.com/poll/143267/Distrust-Media-Edges-Record-High.aspx


Okay, enough for now.

Men, women, religious life, celibacy, Luther

The article I quoted in the previous post, the interview with the vocations director, goes on to say:

Q: You have three brothers that are priests. Do you think there is a different strategy for discerning and fostering the vocation of young women than for young men? In what ways?

Sister Hopkins: My experience has been that, in general, men take a lot longer in the discernment process, whether it regards marriage or religious life. Once a woman has “conviction” she is usually impatient to begin a process.

I wonder if men tend to intellectualize it in the beginning, whereas most women religious begin intuitively and very privately. They may struggle longer before admitting they are considering the idea, but once they discern, it is very much a matter of the heart and they are propelled past fears and natural ties to offer that gift of self without reserve....

Both men and women need to know that a desire to enter into the married state is not only good, but is even necessary if one is considering religious life. The absence of such natural desire may signal a problem of selfishness or difficulty in giving or receiving love. Such an emotional handicap would make happiness in the religious life impossible.

   That last paragraph contrasts with a Protestant view I heard on a Focus on the Family radio broadcast.  It was a show about marriage, and the question came up of a call to celibacy.  The two women doing the show said they believed that God intends you for the single life if you're "wired that way", if you're just not interested in marriage.  That's more or less the view I remember hearing at youth group years ago when the subject came up, but I now think it's a truncated understanding of religious celibacy.  Jesus spoke of forgoing marriage for the sake of the Kingdom, not forgoing marriage because you don't want it anyway.

   Anyway, that view apparently traces all the way back to Martin Luther.  He was a priest and an Augustinian monk who declared his own vow of celibacy illegitimate, married a nun, had six children, and wrote this, a letter to several nuns:

. . .You are correct that there are two reasons for which life at the convent and vows may be forsaken: The one is where men's laws and life within the order are being forced, where there is no free choice, where it is put upon the conscience as a burden. In such cases it is time to run away, leaving the convent and all it entails behind. . .

. . .The second reason is the flesh: Though womenfolk are ashamed to admit to this, nevertheless Scripture and experience show that among many thousands there is not a one to whom God has given to remain in pure chastity. A woman has no control over herself. God has made her body to be with man, to bear children and to raise them as the words of Genesis 1 clearly state, as is evident by the members of the body ordered by God Himself. Therefore food and drink, sleep and wakefulness have all been created by God. Thus He has also ordered man and woman to be in marital union. Suffice it to say that no one needs to be ashamed over how God has made and created him, not having been given the high, rare mercy to do otherwise. All this you will amply learn and read and hear proper sermons about when you come out. . .

   It strikes me that Luther's second reason for ditching religious vows could be used to ditch marriage vows too, under certain circumstances.   That notion that we're not in control of our bodies, that we can't (with God's help) live chaste lives whether married or single-- I was going to call it "unchristian", but I think even the ancient pagan philosophers would have thought it beneath them.  The many monks and nuns in Europe in Luther's day were a witness to the fact that although we have animal appetites, we're also higher than the animals.  It's not a "high, rare mercy" to forgo sex; it's just one aspect of subordinating our physical lives to our spiritual lives, something everyone needs to do.  Whether or not we're called to lifelong celibacy, we all have to be celibate at certain times-- like when you're single, or when your spouse is sick or traveling, or when you absolutely can't risk getting pregnant.

   Though Luther didn't intend it, I think his denigration of the possibility of a chaste single life was a step down the road that ended in our century with the widespread feeling that everyone's entitled to sex and teaching chastity is domineering and intolerant.  I've spoken with two different Germans in the past few years about Catholicism, and it was interesting to me that priestly celibacy was the very first objection that both of them raised to the Catholic faith. The spirit of Luther lives on!  So many objections these days have to do with what Mark Shea calls "the pelvic issues"-- that the Church says that contraception and divorce and masturbation and pornagraphy and sex outside of marriage are all mortal sins, and on the other hand the Church allows people to take vows of chastity, and all this seems inhuman and repressed to the modern mind.  It makes me wish that Luther could have seen it; he'd have been horrified.  Maybe he'd have rethought his strong views on the impossibility of forgoing sex.

An interview with a vocations director

   I thought this was interesting: an interview with the former vocations director of the Nashville Dominicans. Their final tally this year was 27 postulants (to see pictures, go here and click on Postulants 2010), so they know something about attracting women to religious life.  Here's an excerpt:

Sister Hopkins: The Dominican Sisters in Nashville understood that it wasn’t a matter of recruitment but of exposure.  As a vocation director, I made it a point always to respect the delicate interior struggle through which most people must pass. My job was not to make a good sales pitch, but to convey the beauty of our life and to expose young women to it through a visit or retreat experience. I had to help those who had the inclination, but struggled with uncertainty, realize that the simultaneous fear and attraction they felt was normal...

What our world needs is more Mother Teresas, people with zeal, humility and a fearless love. Over the past 20 years I have seen the numbers of women inquiring into the religious life grow both in numbers, quality and openness. Given the fact that our culture is not supportive of such ideas, nothing short of grace can explain it.

She talks about things we can do to promote vocations, but I'd agree with her that it comes back to God calling.  The relgious orders I've visited seem to understand that.  None of them tried to convince me that I was called to join them-- they just told me about themselves and let me see how they live.

Family story


I have a great-aunt and great-uncle, Aunt Esther and Uncle Dean, who are retired missionaries.  I like the story of how they married:

Esther, my grandfather's sister, was 31. She had already been a missionary nurse for years in Belgian Congo, as a single woman. She was a member of the Christian and Missionary Alliance, and they wanted a doctor from their own denomination to work with. So in 1948 when Esther was coming up on her next furlough, another CMA missionary jokingly said to her, "See if you can lure a doctor back here."

Esther went home and was introduced to Dean. He was twenty-seven years old, had served in Japan in WWII, and was a new doctor. After a radical conversion experience as an adult, he'd concluded that God wanted him to be a missionary. First, though, he planned to take a course in tropical diseases, figuring that would come in handy. Esther and Dean's parents attended the same church, but the couple had never met. They saw each other several times that summer in group settings, but that was all-- they didn't go on any dates.

Then Dean left with his mother for a road trip to South Carolina, where his tropical disease course awaited. In a hotel room on the way, he happened to be looking through a yearbook from the local university with all the young college-aged girls. And then he suddenly thought of Esther. He had some sort of vision, or at least a very strong impression, that he should marry her.

So off he went, back to Pennsylvania, offering no explanation to his bemused mother. Having arrived back home, he phoned Esther and asked to see her. She figured he must be planning to tell her why he'd decided not to take the tropical disease course after all.

They met. "You know I'm planning to be a missionary..." said Dean, and then he asked her to marry him. Just like that.

Esther was floored, of course-- they'd never dated.  (But I figure there must have been some mutual attraction there...)  Years before, Esther had broken an engagement in order to become a missionary, and she had firmly decided that if she ever got serious about anyone again, she'd have to make certain it was the right thing, since she didn't want to break anyone else's heart. Now here was this man she hardly knew proposing to her. Of course she'd say no, right? But she had a sort of vision of her own, a light shining in darkness which meant to her that in the midst of confusion, God was showing her His will.

"My heart says yes," Esther said to Dean, "but I'll have to pray about it."

So she went home, woke up her parents to deliver the news, and prayed about it.  A few days later she gave her answer-- yes.  Before too long she and Dean were married. Dean eventually took his tropical disease course, in Belgium instead of South Carolina, and by the time Esther returned to Belgian Congo from her furlough, she had a doctor husband and twin sons in tow.

That was sixty years ago. They spent years in Africa, then Cambodia, then Africa again. They had four children and bunch of grandkids and retired to Pennsylvania. Now Esther and Dean are 93 and 89, both in quite good health for their ages, with kind faces and sparkling eyes. They're unfailingly loving to each other. It's wonderful to see.

Movie sites I've seen

On my way to work at Caltech (in Pasadena, California) every day, I used to drive by a house that's been in lots of movies or TV shows, judging by how often I see a row of huge filming trailers parked out there. One movie I know it's in is "Catch Me If You Can"; Leonardo DiCaprio sneaks up to one of the windows and then narrowly escapes the cop cars that drive up on the lawn. I've also seen this house painted vivid blue for a filming, and then repainted white when filming was over-- I wish I know what show that was for.


If I were to drive to work on the parallel street one block north, I'd be driving by the Mr. and Mrs. Smith house every day-- the one Brad and Angelina live in and "redecorate" by shooting it up in their epic battle.



I'm proud that in both cases I immediately recognized the houses from real life when I first saw them on the screen.  They're pretty similar.  Hollywood predictably goes for big white classic second-story homes.

Right in my town there's the Arcadia Arboretum, which has been used in many movies. So has Caltech itself.  The Cigarette Smoking Man and others met in a Caltech library during a scene from the X-Files movie, Reese Witherspoon rides a bike over a Caltech bridge at the beginning of Legally Blonde, and lots of scenes from the TV series Numbers were filmed at Caltech, including a location just one floor above the lab where I worked.

Then there's the Huntington Library close by-- it's been in all sorts of movies as well, including flashback scenes in Serenity. Catherine Zeta-Jones and George Clooney once played a romantic scene for Intolerable Cruelty in front of a stone arbor at the Huntington where I've taken many pictures myself.  Here are the stars:


And here's me and a friend.


I know if I gave it any effort I could find tons of other movie sites-- I'm near Hollywood, after all. But I get a special kick out of the ones I find with no effort, the ones that are right around the corner, on the way to work, near home.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Catholic, Orthodox report promising progress on unity

This is really cool!  Everything else I've read suggests that unity is long way off, so probably the people directly involved in these talks are too optimistic, but still it's lovely to read:

"There are no clouds of mistrust between our two churches," Orthodox Metropolitan John Zizioulas of Pergamon told a news conference. "If we continue like that, God will find a way to overcome all the difficulties that remain."

Did Cardinal Ratzinger or somebody say that when it comes to Catholics and Orthodox, there's nothing lacking for unity except unity?  I can't find the quote.

On nuns wearing habits

I thought this was a great read, and tangentially related to my last post.  (I'd better add that I don't think that any nun who eschews the habit is doing so for bad motives.)

I have a neat little story about this.  Earlier this year I got to spend five days living with the Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Church (SMMC).  They're located in Spokane, Washington, which was a desert as far as traditional Catholic life was concerned-- "progressive" catechesis, annoying trendy Masses, a huge collapse in the numbers of people going to church, and so on.  In the whole diocese the only nuns left in habits were some cloistered Poor Clares and three or four Missionaries of Charity who'd just moved in (in answer to the bishop's plea about the "spiritual poverty" of his diocese.)

But there was also a big order of nuns up at Mount Saint Michael, who were sedevacantist and not in communion with the local diocese.  There were fifty of them wearing full traditional habits and embracing all the traditional practices of Catholicism (except, of course, that little thing about the Pope-- they believed he was an imposter.)  Then (it's a long, interesting story, but I'm super-condensing it for my purposes), some of the sedevacantist sisters considered their position and ended up leaving their order in 2007 and forming a new one in communion with the Church and under the auspices of the local bishop.  That was the start of the SMMCs; they began with eleven sisters.

Anyway, back in 2007, these recently sedevacantist but newly reconciled nuns, who were of course used to the traditional Latin Mass and all, found themselves living at Spokane's diocesan retreat center.  An older priest was the there, the retreat center's chaplain, and he was kind to them but didn't necessarily see the point of all the traditional stuff.  They told him they needed to make themselves some new habits, since of course they couldn't go on wearing the habits of the sedevacantist order they'd just left.  "Oh, sisters, you don't need to wear habits!" the chaplain told them.  He thought that kind of thing was outdated.

Not long after that a few of the sisters were telling their story to a group of laypeople at the retreat center.  Mother Catherine Joseph happened to mention, "Oh, and we won't be able to wear these habits any more, because they're the habits of our old order."  The laypeople misunderstood and immediately began to protest: "Don't stop wearing habits, sisters!  We need nuns in habits; we don't have any here any more!"  The retreat center's chaplain was there and he saw the laypeople getting distressed and realized that the habit meant a lot to them.

That chaplain ended up buying the material for the new habits as a gift to the sisters. :)

Here's a recent picture of their four new novices with the novice mistress.


When my visit with the SMMC sisters was over, some of them drove me and the other girl who was visiting to the airport.  We hugged them all goodbye and then the other girl and I were in the process of saying goodbye to each other when a man approached us.  "Who were those nuns you were with?" he asked.  He was a Catholic who'd lived in the area and knew its troubles, and he was very surprised and happy to hear that this was a new and growing order right in Spokane that the other girl and I had been visiting because we were thinking of joining them.  He sounded like he hadn't encountered such a thing since his childhood.  It was another little confirmation of how encouraging it can be for Catholics to see habits out and about.  I think it might be good in some way too for those who are distanced from religion and see it as bizarre and unbelievable.  It's silent testimony that there are those who perceive God as so real and religion as so important that they dedicate their whole lives to Him.

I sometimes hear that sisters should dress like everybody else because they're more approachable that way, and it always makes me think, "If they're unrecognizable, who's going to approach them?"  A few times I've found myself walking the streets of some town with a priest wearing his collar.  It very often happened that total strangers stopped the priest to ask a question, or to ask for his prayers.  No one's ever stopped me on the street like that, and there's no reason to expect that anyone would.

There's much more to say, but you know, if I wait till I've said it I'll never publish this post. :)  Gotta go get some other stuff done.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

C.S. Lewis on reverence and inequality

And here's an excerpt from Lewis' essay "Membership", also available in my enviable 888-page Essay Collection:

Equality is a quantitative term and therefore love often knows nothing of it.  Authority exercised with humility and obedience accepted with delight are the very lines along which our spirits live.  Even in the life of the affections, much more in the Body of Christ, we step outside that world which says 'I am as good as you'.  It is like turning from a march to a dance.... We become, as Chesterton said, taller when we bow; we become lowlier when we instruct.  It delights me that there should be moments in the services of my own church when the priest stands and I kneel.  As democracy becomes more complete in the outer world and opportunities for reverence are successively removed, the refreshment, the cleansing, and invigorating returns to inequality, which the Church offers us, become more and more necessary.

   I was thinking the same thing the other day (though not in such clear words) when I asked for a priest's blessing and knelt to receive it.  Opportunities for reverence are increasingly rare.  The American bishops robbed us when they said we should stand to receive Holy Communion instead of kneeling at an altar rail.  Priests shouldn't be absorbed in their own desire to appear humble, but should serve in true humility by filling their proper and very difficult role of authority, no matter how people tear into them for it.  Archbishop Burke, Archbishop Chaput, and Pope Benedict XVI are three examples of that kind of true humility and service.

    Reminds me of another quote, from Fr. Feeney's excellent chapter "The Eucharist in Four Simple Mysteries":

What is Our Lord’s value to us in Real Presence – apart from His other beautiful benefits in graces in the Blessed Eucharist? Well, we now have a place to which we can go, in the presence of which we can say we are, in the direction of which we can bow our heads and fold our hands, to which we can sing our songs, strew our flowers, light our lights, shake our incense; for which we can build our cathedral, top it with a cross, stain-glass it with our windows, give it a center aisle that leads down to the Real Presence, before which we can genuflect. The Real Presence makes our bodies entitled to the prerogatives of adoration.

Some people find no outlet for that inborn desire, and I get cranky if they want to deny its fulfillment to everyone else!

Three Kinds of Men, by C.S. Lewis

I just read this very short essay in my awesome 888-page C.S. Lewis Essay Collection.  Resonates with my own experience for sure.

There are three kinds of people in the world. The first class is of those who live simply for their own sake and pleasure, regarding Man and Nature as so much raw material to be cut up into whatever shape may serve them. In the second class are those who acknowledge some other claim upon them—- the will of God, the categorical imperative, or the good of society—- and honestly try to pursue their own interests no further than this claim will allow. They try to surrender to the higher claim as much as it demands, like men paying a tax, but hope, like other taxpayers, that what is left over will be enough for them to live on. Their life is divided, like a soldier’s or a schoolboy’s life, into time “on parade” and “off parade,” “in school” and “out of school.”  But the third class is of those who can say like St Paul that for them “to live is Christ.” These people have got rid of the tiresome business of adjusting the rival claims of Self and God by the simple expedient of rejecting the claims of Self altogether. The old egoistic will has been turned round, reconditioned, and made into a new thing. The will of Christ no longer limits theirs; it is theirs. All their time, in belonging to Him, belongs also to them, for they are His.

And because there are three classes, any merely twofold division of the world into good and bad is disastrous. It overlooks the fact that the members of the second class (to which most of us belong) are always and necessarily unhappy. The tax which moral conscience levies on our desires does not in fact leave us enough to live on. As long as we are in this class we must either feel guilt because we have not paid the tax or penury because we have. The Christian doctrine that there is no “salvation” by works done to the moral law is a fact of daily experience. Back or on we must go. But there is no going on simply by our own efforts. If the new Self, the new Will, does not come at His own good pleasure to be born in us, we cannot produce Him synthetically.

The price of Christ is something, in a way, much easier than moral effort—- it is to want Him. It is true that the wanting itself would be beyond our power but for one fact. The world is so built that, to help us desert our own satisfactions, they desert us. War and trouble and finally old age take from us one by one all those things that the natural Self hoped for at its setting out. Begging is our only wisdom, and want in the end makes it easier for us to be beggars. Even on those terms the Mercy will receive us.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Fun French Facts

In English you call nuns "Sister" and priests "Father", but in French it's "my sister" and "my father": ma sœur, mon père.  Is it capitalized?  I have no idea.  "Merci, ma sœur!" the Adorers would say to thank each other.

The French for "Mister" is Monsieur. Go here and click on listen to see how much it sounds like the sisters are calling each other "Mister".

Then there's "je veux bien", which means you would like whatever's been suggested, or you very appreciatively accept an invitation.  And "je vais bien", which means, "I'm fine."  They sound a lot alike too. So suppose a cute French guy asks you out to dinner and you try to say, "I'd love that-- je veux bien!" but he hears, "I'm fine," as in, "I don't need your silly invitation; I'm fine without it!"

Thank goodness I needn't worry about that.

I understand that the priests of the Institute of Christ the King used to be addressed as "Monsieur l'Abbé" (which is just what Sir Percy called Chauvelin when the latter was disguised as a priest, but Sir Percy wasn't actually fooled), but since the Institute was elevated to the status of pontifical right about a year ago they're addressed as Monsieur Chanoine.  Or is it Monsieur le Chanoine?  At any rate, I have the impression that in the American parishes they're mostly still addressed as Father Smith (or whatever), not Canon Smith.  Except in writing.  The seminarians are "Monsieur l'Abbé", at least once they get their cassocks after the first year.  I could be wrong about some of this, but it doesn't matter because I plan to waste no opportunity to keep my mouth shut. :)

I'm told that in French, "Amen" is a Novus Ordo thing to say.  The traditional phrase is "Ainsi soit-il", "So be it".  Sermons are likely to begin with the invocation of the Trinity, "Au nom du Père, et du Fils et du Saint-Esprit, Ainsi soit-il", followed by "Mes bien chers frères..."

Also, "Rosary" traditionally means all three sets of mysteries, so if you're only planning on praying five decades you'd say "Chapelet".

Oh, and I hear that the familar "tu" form of address is not used in religious life, which is great-- saves me having to learn it.  I can just call everyone "vous".  The verbs are all different depending on which one you're using, so it's no small thing to have to switch back and forth.  Anyway, how awkward if you can't speak to anybody without specifying whether you consider him a close friend!

My cousin and I used to sing Sandi Patti's "Love in Any Language" at the top of our lungs together.  The very first words in the song are "Je t'aime", which makes it easy for me to remember that phrase now.  (Oh my goodness, I just listened to the 30-second sample and it took me right back to summers spent camping with the cousins, and Allie and I scrambling to get next to each other in the motorhome whenever that song came on.  I was maybe nine years old.  It's really something to think that God knew my future.  I wonder what He knows now....)

My sister taught me bits of French when we visited Canada one summer.  It was years ago, but I remember she would ask, "Quelle heure est-il?" and I'd reply, "Je ne sais pas." So I remember those phrases very well too. :)

Final Fun French Fact: I mainly wrote this post to procrastinate learning more French. :)