Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Good Pope John and me

My mom recently pulled out an old baby picture of me and told me I looked like the Pope, with a beatific expression and a hand raised in blessing. "It was a sign!" says she.

Blessed John XXIII seems the likeliest candidate... you be the judge. :)

I'm two months old in that picture, and boy was I fat. Topped ten pounds at birth and thirty pounds at one year. Look at that double chin! Mom says as a child I often reminded her of the chubby puppy in "101 Dalmations"-- the one who's forever saying, "I'm hungry, Mama, I'm hungry!"

Monday, April 28, 2008

Saint picture quiz 3

The answer to Quiz #2 is St. Dominic; Athanasius got it first. Here's another picture of him with all his stuff: dog with a lighted torch about to set the world on fire (which was the dream his mother had while pregnant with him), lilies for purity, a book in his arm, and the Dominican habit with Rosary-- he's missing the forehead star but he has his Dominican staff.

St. Dominic founded the Order of Preachers around 1200. If I recall correctly, the Church was a bit moribund at that time, but the Dominican friars brought about a great revival by traveling on foot from parish to parish, preaching and teaching and combating the Albigensian heresy. I imagine St. Dominic normally looked a bit dustier than portrayed here... and I doubt he ever gathered his attributes around him and struck a pose on a pedestal framed by columns... but I like the painting anyway. :)

When I was at the monastery two weeks ago, the prioress gave me a little medal commemorating the anniversary of the founding of the first convent of Dominican nuns in 1206. Other than the Catholic Church itself, how many institutions can you think of that have lasted at least 800 years?

Okay, moving on to quiz #3. This one's a bit harder.

Rublev's icon of the Trinity

Andrei Rublev painted this famous icon of the Holy Trinity around 1415. (Click for a bigger version.) Pretty much every detail is symbolic; here's a good article explaining it all.

There's a great class at my church that teaches different methods of prayer, and a few weeks ago we did visual prayer. It's something like what the article describes, but more involved. For homework we were supposed to practice visual prayer twenty minutes a day for a week.

I didn't expect to get anything from the exercise. I'd never done anything like it before, and praying by staring at a picture sounded unnatural and awkward to me. Maybe if I'd been raised Catholic... But I gave it a try with various images and found it very effective!

Then that very week I happened to run across the story linked above, so I tried the same exercise with Rublev's icon. At first it just looks like three angels sitting there, but focusing on the faces I saw the amazing love of the Father, and the listening obedience of the Son, and the loving submission of the Holy Spirit (qui ex Patre Filioque procedit, whatever the Russian Orthodox Rublev might have thought-- ha ha, I'm such a nerd). Then I started to envision my own relation to the three divine Persons-- I don't see how you could not be on your knees at that point.

The house behind the Father is supposed to evoke Jesus' words: "In my Father's house are many rooms.... I go there to prepare a place for you." To my own surprise, as I gazed at that worn and faded outline of a very simple house, it seemed to represent unimaginable peace. I had a great longing to go and dwell there forever.

Here's what the prayer class had us doing (sounds a bit awkward because it's been hastily translated from Spanish):

One takes an expressive picture, for example an image of Jesus, or Mary, or any other subject, a picture that makes a strong impression, such as peace, gentleness, strength. What is important is that it speaks to you deeply.

Take the picture in your hands and after calming down and invoking the Holy Spirit, stay quiet, simply looking at the picture, first as a whole, then in detail.

Secondly, capture intuitively, attentively, and with serenity the impressions this picture evokes in you. What does this image tell you?

Thirdly, with calmness transfer yourself to the picture, as if you were this image, or as if you were in it. Respectfully and calmly, make 'yours' the impressions this picture arouses in you. Thus, identify yourself mentally with this image. Remain so for a good while, and saturate your soul with the sentiments of Jesus which the picture illustrates. This is how the soul puts on the image of Jesus and shares in his interior disposition.

Finally, with this inner disposition, transfer yourself mentally to your daily life. Imagine difficult situations, and overcome them with Jesus' attitudes. This is the way to embody the image of Jesus in the world.

This exercise is particularly fruitful for those who are naturally imaginative.

I would just add that I am not naturally imaginative-- I'm very deficient in that area-- and I found the exercise "particularly fruitful" for precisely that reason. I've often tried contemplating scenes from the Bible, but while others report all sorts of images and insights after such exercises, for me it was usually an hour of frustration and boredom. Having an actual picture to look at made all the difference to me.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Saint picture quiz 2

The last quiz was St. Christopher ("Christ-bearer") carrying the child Jesus across a river, and Desmond got it. Here's another one; I think it's one of the easiest...

Saturday, April 26, 2008

A pro-life board meeting and a private Mass

My friend Christie has evidently decided I have too much free time, for today she took me to her Vounteers for Life board meeting. VFL appears to consist of three nuns and however many volunteers they currently have, all living in an apartment building, sharing meals and morning and evening prayer in community and spending their days working for various pro-life causes, like crisis pregnancy centers. They're looking for another board member, someone young and web-saavy who can figure out how best to promote the organization to other web-saavy Catholic women who might be thinking of dedicating a year to full-time volunteer service (the volunteers get room, board, and health insurance, but very little money). Theoretically the new board member could be me; I don't know about that but anyway it was most interesting to be there. The board does wonderful work and they were great to meet (the fun part of volunteering is working with other volunteers.) Sister Paula was in charge and stuffed us with breakfast foods while we talked about finances and potential volunteers and the fact that the huge Archdiocese of LA has no official program to teach NFP in the parishes and maybe we could get one started up if we could find $15,000 a year for a full time volunteer....

But my favorite part was before the board meeting, when a former Navy chaplain said Mass for the four of us who arrived early. We had it in the living room of one of the apartments, which was set up as a chapel (the kitchen was the sacristy). One of the year-long volunteers lives in that apartment; imagine having a chapel in your living room with a tabernacle and all! I really liked our itty-bitty Mass. It was both thrilling and consoling to think that it had the same essential character as a Mass in a big cathedral-- the greatest prayer of all, in union with the whole Church, Christ's sacrifice made present to God, and his Body given to us. Amazing.

(Actually, "thrilling and consoling" also describes my feelings about the entire Catholic Church pretty well. Home sweet home and a great adventure at the same time.)

One detail I didn't think much of: the vestments provided for the priest, which were of plain unbleached cotton with a red cross crocheted on the front. I mean... homespun cotton! Crochet! Enter that thing into the Ugliest Vestment Contest (winners here)! The four members of the congregation were more formally attired than the poor unsuspecting priest was. But I'll stop complaining, for it was still a great experience.

Sister Paula's been in the pro-life movement since the 60's, so I asked her if things are getting any better. Yes, she said-- in the early days abortion was seen as a great and obvious good for women, and apparently there wasn't much thought given to the harm it would do. Now people are more aware of how it can hurt women, and thanks to ultrasound they're much more aware of how it dismembers very human-looking little babies. She said some leaders of the pro-choice side even published an editorial recently saying "We've lost the moral high ground in the public's view. We've got to get it back!"

Saint picture quiz!

At St. Andrew's Abbey last month we visited a ceramics shop with hundreds of different saints. (They all have those odd almond eyes with rectangular pupils. Don't be scared.) Some saints were very easy to identify and some were completely unknown to me, so I just thought I'd test one on my blog readership and see if anyone can tell who it is:

Yes, you could cheat by checking the ceramics store's catalog, but that would be lame. :)

Thursday, April 24, 2008

St. Francis de Sales on the will of God

It is indeed reasonable that we should do His will, for we are in this world only for that. Alas! Every day we ask Him that His will may be done; and when it comes to the doing, we have such difficulty! We offer ourselves to God so often; we say to Him at every step, "Lord, I am yours, here is my heart"; and when He wants to make use of us, we are so cowardly! How can we say we are His, if we are unwilling to accommodate our will to His?

Think of the nature of the commandments of God, which are mild, gracious, and sweet, not only the general commandments but also the particular ones of our vocation. And what is it, then, that makes them burdensome to you? Nothing, in truth, save your own will, which desires to reign in you at any cost....

We are not to choose at our own will. We must wish what God wishes; and if God wishes me to serve Him in one thing, I ought not to wish to serve Him in another.

Coming to that particular thing that troubles you, say, "Will You that I do such a thing? Ah! Lord, although I am not worthy to do it, I will do it most willingly," and thus you greatly humble yourself. Oh my God! What a treasure you will gain! One greater, without doubt, than you can imagine.
An excerpt from a letter by St. Francis de Sales (1567-1622) to a married woman. Emphasis mine.

Two little links

My priests should do this.

And bravo to this sister, who shows us all why nuns should wear habits.


Cardinal Newman to be beatified

I spent most of yesterday dealing with viruses on my computer; depressing work and I'm not even half done. But! At the end of the day I got a reminder of this happy news. It couldn't have happened to a nicer Cardinal. :) If he'd been a Blessed last year I would have wanted him to be my confirmation saint. But I'm glad it worked out this way because I ended up going with St. Francis de Sales (who seems to be a favorite of Protestant converts), and I figure I can just bug 'em both now. Incidentally, this picture of a stained glass window of Cardinal Newman is from the workbook we use with our fifth-grade catechism kids. It accompanies an article on Saint John Neumann, but inasmuch as the man in the picture is dressed as a cardinal and is the spitting image of Newman, I think it's safe to say he's our guy.

At this point nothing could be more appropriate than to quote some of Cardinal Newman's own words, either from one of his beautiful sermons or from one of his many books. But I haven't time to pick out a good excerpt right now, so I'll save that for later, perhaps when he's actually beatified.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

GPS acid test

On Saturday I flew in to San Jose and had to drive through the Bay Area to get to Sebastopol. My dear mom had given me a map with my route highlighted, and a written page of instructions too. "Don't get on the Oakland bridge," she warned. "You take the San Rafael bridge following signs to Berkeley. Not Oakland!" She wrote it in all caps on the instructions as well: "DO NOT TAKE THE OAKLAND BRIDGE."

But driving my rented PT Cruiser up the 880 North, I didn't have time to double-check those instructions, nor to look at the map. And somehow the words "Oakland" and "Berkeley" became transposed in my mind. When I saw a sign for the Oakland Bridge, I thought, "Oakland! That's the one Mom warned me to take!"

Result: I was dumped onto the crowded, confusing, slow, and often one-way streets of San Francisco. This would have been dreadful had I not recently bought a GPS for just such an eventuality. I mindlessly followed its instructions and got back on track. Yay technology!

Also, the PT Cruiser is a silly car. Oh, it looks all cool and retro, but it's got an awful turn radius.

Fortunately I was in time for the wedding reception, and it was well worth a drive through San Francisco. Really really good Italian food, and the couple looked happy too. :)

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Off to Sebastopol

I'm flying to northern California two weekends in a row-- first to visit the Dominicans, and now I'm going to my college roommate's wedding reception. I'm really looking forward to it. Has nothing to do with her or her wonderful new husband; it's the restaurant they picked for the reception. I've been there before and it's goood. :) I'll be home late Sunday.

Friday, April 18, 2008


So, the nuns of Corpus Christi Monastery imagine they can prevent me from seeing their enclosure? Ancient cloister laws are no match for the Google Maps satellite! The picture was available in much higher resolution than this too. I scanned it carefully for evidence of black-veiled nuns walking about, but they must have all been in choir or something. The monastery buildings are in the upper corner and you can see the open land they have. Mery said there's a Rosary walk around the perimeter with pictures of the Mysteries.

In fact I had plenty of pictures of the enclosure already, given to me by Mery, but I got all excited about this one that seems somehow illicitly obtained-- this is, of course, a sad commentary on human nature. "Stolen water is sweet; food eaten in secret is delicious!" (Proverbs 9:17)

Weekend at Corpus Christi Monastery

So Mery and Diep and I flew up to visit the contemplative Dominican nuns last weekend. I think I'll make a career of visiting religious orders; they're so hospitable. :)

The weekend started at 5:30 AM on Saturday. At our church we joined the regular early risers and a large crowd of Spanish speakers who'd been there all night in adoration. Father said Mass for us in Spanish since they had the majority, but he did the Consecration in Latin to keep everybody happy. I liked that; it was the first time I ever heard it in Latin, since the consecration is done in an undertone at a TLM. Afterwards we dramatically hugged everyone goodbye and begged a blessing from Father. "I'll be back on Sunday!" I assured a friend, who looked unimpressed: "That's tomorrow night." Somehow it seemed to us like it was going to be a long trip, perhaps because a plane was involved, or else because a monastery's another world.

We had an uneventful flight from LAX (not an airport I recommend) to San Jose in the Bay Area, where Sister Maria Christine picked us up. She's the extern sister, which means she's the only one who goes outside the monastic enclosure. We drove to the very pretty, rural-looking neighborhood where the monastery's located. They have two acres of buildings and eleven acres total of land, but most of this we never saw since it's part of the enclosure. Mery was inside during the month of her aspirancy, but this time she had to stay in the guest quarters with us. I was delighted with our rooms-- small and simple with signs on the doors welcoming us by name, crucifixes over our beds, and heavy wooden shutters on the inside of the windows. The shutters were the great selling point; I like old-fashioned stuff like that. Mery pointed out the view of the monastery's chapel from my windows. "Sleeping under the same roof with Jesus!" The bedrooms opened onto a big common room with comfy furniture and lots of good books, but we never spent even a minute there-- too much else to do all weekend.

We had a chat with Sister Mary Catherine, the prioress. I was surprised to learn that she hadn't been with the community all that long, given that she's the leader, but later I learned that their prioress changes every three years. These nuns are pretty democratic and apparently a big part of the prioress' duty is to try to achieve consensus. I'm not sure but I think most other congregations are more of a monarchy with a Mother Abbess in charge for life. I think I'd prefer the latter, possibly because I'm envisioning Peggy Wood from Sound of Music putting the smackdown on silly young nuns. Our chat with the prioress took place in one of the rooms at the border between the enclosure part and the guest part of the monastery. She removed the screens so we could talk more easily. Apparently older monasteries had fixed grills that couldn't be removed-- a priest told me he once saw an old monastery with spikes coming out of the grill to prevent visitors from even leaning in too close!

Soon it was lunchtime; we ate in the guest dining room and we ate well. The extern sister brought our plates and every meal was big. Afterwards we attempted to walk off the meal with a walk around the outside of the monastery. It was built in the 1920's in Gothic style and has more taste in its little chimney than most buildings have in the whole house. I loved the chapel. In this picture you can just see one of the nuns in the choir stalls on the other side. Note the position of the Dominican friar saying Mass-- since he faces the nuns, Mass from our perspective was ad orientum. :)

Here's the gate on the altar rail. The Latin means something like "Mankind ate the bread of angels", which is from one of the Psalms about manna in the desert, and now is applied to the Eucharist. It's wonderful how much Catholic doctrine is communicated visually in a church like this. There are churches that lift your mind and heart to God and put you in a praying mood as soon as you step inside, and this was one of them. Kind of a shame the nuns don't see it, but no doubt their side is pretty too.

We gathered for prayer six times a day (well, we guests missed a time or two) and got to chant along with the nuns, they on their side of the chapel and we on ours. Their way of doing the Office is not long and elaborate, but it's lovely. They chant all but the readings and do a profound bow with every "Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit..." This had an interesting effect on me. Normally when I say the Hours, especially alone, all those Glory Be's feel like speedbumps. It's not anything new or interesting; it's just something I have to get over before I can begin the next Psalm. But bowing ninety degrees at the waist every time forced me to reflect on what I was saying and why. The Glory Be's became not an annoying slowdown, but the climax of each section, the point of the Office. I'll try to remember to think of them that way.

In the afternoon we walked to a nearby retreat center and toured the parish church, another lovely old one, right down the road. (It's kinda sad when you look into one of the ornate built-in confessionals of an older church and see it's being used for storage...) Diep and I were photographing every building, statue, and flower we passed, just as Mery did when she first visited the monastery. In the evening back home we got to meet nearly the whole community and chatted nonstop until we all had to leave for Compline. That was great fun. In my limited experience of nuns, they usually seem joyful, and these were no exception. They enthusiastically hugged Mery and grilled Diep and me to tell them about ourselves. While we were talking I noticed that some of them were occupied writing very rapidly on a piece of paper which they then passed around to others. This mystifying behavior was later explained to me by Mery-- they were recording our conversation to show the older nuns who don't hear well.

On Sunday morning after Mass we were joined at breakfast by Louise, who'd done an aspirancy at the same time as Mery, and afterwards we all headed to St. Patrick's seminary a few minutes away. A seminarian friend of ours met us and showed us over the building and grounds. What a grand place it is. I could spend hours there just walking the halls and studying all the pictures. The seminarians live on the third floor and classes and offices are on the floors below, with a big library sprawling into the basement. There's a small and beautiful Eucharistic chapel and a really impressive big chapel in the center of the building. I was sorry (but not in the least surprised) to hear from our friend that there's a lot of heterodoxy among the teachers and students at St. Patrick's. (I was going to call them "liberal", but that word has really been mangled and its classical meaning has nothing to do with what I'm talking about.) Possibly related is this depressing picture: the ordained priests from St. Patrick's with the class of 1954 on the left and the class of 1966 on the right. There were no more class pictures after the 60's, but I think San Jose had five ordained last year, same number as in the Archdiocese of L.A.

We said farewell to our seminarian friend, and back at the monastery after lunch we chatted with "the novitiate", the two newest members of the community. I thought they would have to go as 2 pm drew near, since that's the monastery's profound silence hour. But they were deep in conversation with Louise and Diep and showed no sign of leaving. As 2 o'clock turned into 2:10 and then 2:20 PM, Mery and I slipped to the back of the room and documented the flagrant rule violation with time-stamped digital photos. But then the extern sister passed by and seemed disinclined to scold, so apparently the blackmail potential of our shots will be limited.

Mery had billed the weekend as a spiritual exercise. "Like doing a mini retreat," she said. Lots of time to sit in the chapel before the Blessed Sacrament and pray, she said. Didn't happen. We did lots of talking and eating and exploring and chanting the Divine Office, but the only time I had to pray alone was the few hours on Sunday afternoon before dinner. (It was really lovely with golden afternoon light filtering through the chapel windows.) Dinner consisted of Filipino vegetables and eggrolls-- one of the Filipino sisters had received a visit from her family and they'd brought lots of food.

And then Louise drove us three to the airport and our visit was over. As anticipated, it had been much too short. But wonderful!

Thursday, April 17, 2008

What makes a name sound dorky?

The Baby Name Blog reveals all. This is bad news for one of my favorite names: Hephzibah.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

"Potpourri of popery" is a great phrase.

I don't know who nominated me for "Best Underappreciated Catholic Blog" over at The Crescat, but thanks! My blog is listed as "Would you like blog with that?", and it's pretty much dead last, but nothing can take away my lousy sense of accomplishment. :)


I have a new GPS (on sale for $150 at Costco!) On the way home today I used it. Fascinated by the screen, I missed my freeway entrance and at once had to rely on the new toy to navigate me through neighborhoods I'd never seen before. It worked swimmingly and got me onto the freeway at the next entrance. As I drove I could feel all my internal maps and sense of direction draining out of my brain. From now on I shall be a dependent, mindless GPS-obeyer, much like my face-blind friend but without her excuse:
There also seems to be a tie between face-blindness and a lack of a sense of direction. I don't understand the physiology behind that connection at all, but I do know it's true for me. I have absolutely no sense of direction. I lived in my parents' house for twenty years and I cannot draw you a floor plan of that house. If I wanted to run two errands in a row, back before I had my GPS receiver, I'd have to run the first errand, return home, and then venture out for the second. This was because I had the paths from my house to the various stores memorized, but because they were learned by rote, and without any understanding of how the two sites related to each other in space, I couldn't deviate from the memorized directions and add a detour into the trip. When people give me detailed directions how to get somewhere, if I'm expected to return after I get there, I have to ask them for directions back. I lack the ability to reverse directions. This seems particularly difficult for people to understand, so I get the, "Just... reverse them!" response a lot, as if I'm trying to be smart with them. Sorry. Can't reverse them!

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

We lose nothing, nothing, absolutely nothing!

I had a great weekend, but I've no time to blog it now. I'm done with my taxes! They were complicated-- hope I won't get audited. I leave you with a much-quoted quote that I love. It's the end of the homily of Benedict XVI's inaguration Mass, April 24 2005, and he was paraphrasing John Paul II:
If we let Christ enter fully into our lives, if we open ourselves totally to him, are we not afraid that He might take something away from us? Are we not perhaps afraid to give up something significant, something unique, something that makes life so beautiful? Do we not then risk ending up diminished and deprived of our freedom? And once again the Pope said: No! If we let Christ into our lives, we lose nothing, nothing, absolutely nothing of what makes life free, beautiful and great. No! Only in this friendship are the doors of life opened wide. Only in this friendship is the great potential of human existence truly revealed. Only in this friendship do we experience beauty and liberation. And so, today, with great strength and great conviction, on the basis of long personal experience of life, I say to you, dear young people: Do not be afraid of Christ! He takes nothing away, and he gives you everything. When we give ourselves to him, we receive a hundredfold in return. Yes, open, open wide the doors to Christ – and you will find true life. Amen.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Hanging with the nuns

I have a friend who's thinking of becoming a nun. There's a monastery of contemplative Dominicans up in Menlo Park that she loves and she's already done an aspirancy there. They told her to feel free to visit again and bring her friends, so three of us are going up this weekend. We'll only be there Saturday and Sunday. I'm sorry the visit will be so short, but some silly people have to work. :) Check out the daily schedule of this place:

5:35 AM: Office of Readings and Morning Prayer (Sunday: 6:05)
8:00: Mass
8:40: Terce (Midmorning Prayer)
11:30 Sext (Midday Prayer) followed by private Rosary
12:00PM: Lunch
2:00 -3:00: Profound silence (napping time :-)
3:15: None (Midafternoon Prayer)
5:00: Vespers (Evening Prayer)
6:30: Supper
7:00: Recreation
7:30: Compline (Night Prayer)
9:00: Lights out.

BYOB (Bring Your Own Breviary) I'm so looking forward to this. When our friend showed us pictures of her aspirancy, the chief surprise was how many parties she'd photographed. Those nuns always seemed to be feasting amid balloons or dressing in costume for All Saints' Day or something. They have too much fun up there.

Our plane leaves so early we'll miss morning Mass at our church, and we'll arrive too late for Mass at the monastery. But a very wonderful priest agreed to say a Mass just for us at 5:30 AM. This is a sign we're spoiled.

Okay, if I go to sleep right now I'll get 2.5 hours. :)

Friday, April 11, 2008

Hair one-upmanship

So I publish a post about cutting my own hair, so proud that I managed to trim off a tiny bit without major damage, and what does my friend Rachel do? Posts about the time she shaved her hair off entirely, complete with parental reaction.

I mean, how am I going to top that? I'll have to get a tattoo.

(I'm kidding. But in college I knew someone, a fellow biology major, who had the Biohazard symbol tattooed on the small of her back.)

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Conversation from the convent

I was at the Missionaries of Charity convent this afternoon as usual, and the doorbell rang. A 30-something man stood there, laden with plastic bags, wearing sunglasses and a cell phone earpiece. I greeted him.

"Hello! You are the new sister?" he asked.

"Uh... not quite... Who are you?"

"Oh, you are going to be a sister!"

I was wearing a long tweed skirt and turtleneck; it didn't bear much resemblance to the MC habit but I suppose I looked like an aspirant. I noticed that the bags the man held were smelling delicious, like eggrolls. People often bring such donations. "What is that, food?" I asked.

"For sister, for sister!" he said cheerfully.

"I'll take it to the kitchen," I said, and reached out for the bags.

He handed them over. "You are beautiful sister, but then they all look good!" he told me.

"Thank you very much," I replied absent-mindedly, meaning to refer to the food.

And as I was closing the door I thought I heard him utter the word "hot". This is true-- I don't know if he was warning me about the hot eggrolls, or calling me hot. Couldn't quite hear him.

Maybe if I become a nun I'll get more attention from men...

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Ever read something that disconcertingly expresses your own thought?

From the complementary psalmody for Midday Prayer:
Have mercy on us, Lord, have mercy.
We are filled with contempt.
Indeed all too full is our soul
with the scorn of the rich,
with the proud man's disdain.
I would take out "we" and put in "I". Sometimes I look at myself in a detached way and feel a little frightened by how scornful I can sometimes be. I'm really not going to be able to explain that attitude to the God who humbled himself even to death on a cross.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

A new blog and a strong reader base

I'm more than happy to link to the site of a seminarian named Andrew, who writes, "My blog is mostly a catechetical/quasi-intellectual look at the faith, with focuses on prayer, theology, philosophy and developments in the Vatican. It's called "In Umbris Sancti Petri":

I haven't gotten a chance to read it yet but I wanted to put that up there right away, because I'm flattered by what he wrote in the comment a few posts below. I'd like to thank all of my pretty strong readers who made this possible! :) Actually I just read the post on St. Justin Martyr's use of fire to explain how the Son can be begotten by the Father and yet be no less God. I hadn't heard that metaphor before; it's very good.

Andrew-- God bless you and all seminarians, and for what it's worth I find I get a surprising number of hits by commenting on other sites, particularly the high-traffic blogs like Mark Shea's and Fr. Z's.

The artistic horror of bad Bible translation

As a girl I liked to read the Bible during the sermon on Sunday, and the story of Samson was a favorite of mine. He was always owning the Philistines, particularly when a bunch of them rushed him, thinking he was tied up, but "The Spirit of the LORD came upon him in power" and he broke the ropes, grabbed a nearby jawbone, and struck down a thousand of them. His victory chant felicitously rhymes in English:
With a donkey's jawbone
I have made donkeys of them.
With a donkey's jawbone
I have killed a thousand men.
Afterwards he asked God for a drink, so "God opened up the hollow place in Lehi, and water came out of it. When Samson drank, his strength returned and he revived. So the spring was called En Hakkore, and it is still there in Lehi."

I once saw a painting of this at the Getty. But why the heck was there water spitting out of the jawbone? It turns out that "Lehi" also means "jawbone" in Hebrew, so a Dutch Bible translated it that way, and a Dutch artist, Saloman de Bray, painted it that way.

Even sillier is the thing I learned today from Fr. Schnippel. It seems that when St. Jerome was translating the Old Testament into Latin (A.D. 405), he tripped over the Hebrew description of the rays of light that would shine from Moses' face after he'd been in the presence of the Lord. The Vulgate translates this as "horns of light", and consequently we have these lovely Renaissance statues of Moses-- with horns!

"Shop by anxiety zone"

That's what the front page of Lands' End says right now. Can you imagine them selling men's suits that way? "Shop by anxiety zone", indeed. They don't even pretend that women enjoy buying swimsuits. It's kinda funny.

That reminds me of an awful commercial I saw some years ago (men, stop reading now before it's too late!) for Tampax. It has a high school girl explaining that she had been too nervous to try a tampon, but then her college-aged older sister visited home and said, "You're still using pads?" For a second the younger sister looks directly into the camera, imitating her older sister's patronizing, you-need-to-grow-up expression. (I remember feeling vaguely guilty and very irritated by the stare.) So then, the younger sister tells us, she tried tampons and they were so easy and you should do it too. Yes, the whole goal of the commercial was to shame women into buying the product. If you're not using Tampax, you're just a frightened high school girl!

I don't normally go all feminist on things, but on that occasion I wished the whole world would boycott Tampax into bankruptcy. Or at least fire the idiots who pitched that commercial.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

More pictures from St. Andrew's Abbey and environs

Some friends and I went on Thursday. In addition to St. Andrew's Abbey, we hit a nearby nature preserve, and toward evening we hiked around some poppy fields. Did you know that it's illegal to pick a California Golden Poppy anywhere in California? True story. Okay, starting with the abbey:

A cat had the run of the ceramics shop.

This church totally looks like it was built by and for men. Brick-and-wood pews, sparse decoration, bare planks...

Pretty tulips outside, though.

The monks serve our soup course.

Ever wondered what vegetarian Benedictines eat? Wonder no more! (Jello salad too!)

I've no idea how he got the name.

I think God had fun making the desert horned toad.

"A good plant for the Extraordinary Rite!" as one of our company remarked.

My camera didn't capture the color well, but the poppies made it look exactly as if someone had sprinkled lots of the powdered cheese from Kraft Macaroni and Cheese boxes onto the hills. It was so incredibly windy that the poppies were all closed up, but they still looked wonderful.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Picture quiz time!

1) What event from the Gospels is depicted here?

2) Why does everyone look so darn grumpy about it?

I took the picture yesterday at St. Andrew's Abbey in Antelope Valley, California, a great place to visit in spite of strange 1970's art. It's nestled under some hills in the desert near Palmdale and Lancaster. There are about 23 Benedictines there, along with a retreat center, a big ol' bookstore I could just live in, funky ceramics, a Stations of the Cross that really makes you climb to get to the 12th station, and a nice big dining room where the monks share their vegetarian lunch with all comers. They served the first course themselves to us and the other guests. I felt sort of humble as a gray-haired monk in his black hooded habit set a bowl of soup in front of me-- "Shouldn't I be serving you?"

There's a girl in my 5th-grade catechism class...

...who always used to show up perfectly coiffed. She'd have a bunch of purple elastics holding intricate braids, or myriad itty-bitty pink butterfly clips keeping her hair in some complicated pattern. It was always very neat, too.

Then she disappeared for several weeks. I learned it was because her mother was having another baby.

Today she was back, as bright-eyed as ever, but with her hair in a simple messy ponytail.

Yup, looks like the baby's been born! :)

Friday, April 04, 2008

Important message about the blog

It comes to my attention that some think this site frivolous. Of course anyone with his head screwed on straight knows the truth of the matter. But now does seem a good time to review the basic texts with which all should be familiar before attempting to peruse, or presuming to understand, my posts.

The Summa Theologica, by St. Thomas Aquinas
The Code of Canon Law
The Special and General Theory of Relativity, by Albert Einstein
The Code of Hammurabi
The Complete Works of Aristotle
The Domesday Book

Other works to be listed as they occur to me.

Meanwhile: pedicured toenails! Ooooo, pretty!

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Ronald Knox, by Evelyn Waugh

One of the books I devoured over Lent was Msgr. Ronald Knox, by Evelyn Waugh. Knox (1888-1957) was a priest, and Waugh (1903-1966) is probably best known for Brideshead Revisited; both were converts to Catholicism and both were successful writers.

It's a bit curious that I so enjoyed-- or even began to read at all-- the biography of the one by the other, since I'd never read a word by either of them before! But Knox was a interesting character and Waugh's a heck of a biographer. (And they were friends, though you'd hardly know it from this book.) Knox comes across as diffident, introverted, and a bit gloomy, as well as hilarious, brilliant, and great company. I suppose that means Waugh has drawn a nuanced portrait.

It's just a bit depressing that finishing this one book has added about twenty others to the always-growing list of stuff I want to read. Knox seems to have turned out all sorts of interesting stuff, and my ignorance of anything by Waugh is apparently a shameful gap in my reading. Alas that many of the Knox works I'm most interested in seem to be out of print and available only as very old and expensive copies. There's The Rich Young Man, Difficulties, Let Dons Delight, God and the Atom, his singlehanded translation of the entire Bible together with an NT commentary, A Spiritual Aeneid, The Mass in Slow Motion, On Englishing the Bible, Bridegroom and Bride, Enthusiasm, and several volumes of sermons and conferences. He's written lots more; those are just the ones I want to tackle first. :)

I'm going to die with a thousand wonderful books still unread; I may as well resign myself to it now.

Want to read an excerpt from the biography that contains an excerpt of a poem Knox wrote when he was sixteen? Shut up, I'm quoting it anyway.
...In the summer of 1906 he issued his first book, Signa Severa, bound in Eton blue and published by Spottiswoode, a collection of verses in English, Latin, and Greek, dating from July 1903 to May 1906. The little volume ran into six editions, but copies are jealously guarded by their owners and seldom come into the market. He continued to write verses durning his last half and published a selection of them four years leater in his Oxford book, Juxta Salices. His facility and ingenuity were dazzling. The best known and most quoted of these verses is 'The Wilderness', which appeared in the Eton Poetry Book and was learned by many generations of Etonians. It was written when he was sixteen, under the spur, it is said, of finding a neat rhyme for hollyhock. It is a fanciful plea for the planting of a garden in Schoolyard.

Powers of the Bursary [it begins] who on a cursory
Glance at the ruinous state of Schoolyard,
Made us travel securely on gravel, --
Is not that gravel a little too hard?
Does not the scenery call for some greenery?
Call for a garden, in which we might lop
Calceolarias of suitable areas,
Worthy to rest on the bosoms of Pop?

and contains the lines:

Look you where Gaffney [the School Clerk] is tending the Daphne!
Idly the pedagogues murmur and fret,
Clamouring 'Tolle hoc improbum hollyhock!
Quid est absentiae cum mignonette?'
From what I remember of high school, sixteen-year-old boys seem to have changed a lot.

And check this out:
'During my last half [at Eton],' Ronald wrote in A Spiritual Aeneid, 'I am afraid I was something of a nuisance to the authorities.'

Such misdemeanours as are remembered would not trouble any but a very delicate conscience. He annoyed the Headmaster by a joke at Hugh Dalton's expense. 'Sunday Questions' are an institution at Eton. Boys are required to write a short essay for their division masters on a set biblical theme. The Sixth Form do this for the Headmaster. The questions were sent to College, and Oppidan Sixth Formers sent fags to collect them. One Sunday Lyttelton asked: 'What are the oldest parts of the book of Exodus?' Ronald intercepted Dalton's copy and changed 'oldest' to 'oddest'. The astute young politician quoted the grosser texts from the book and attached to his paper the question in the form in which he had received it. Next day inquiries were made and Ronald confessed. Lyttelton, a humourless man, thought this conduct unbecoming to the Captain of the School.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

"How I became pro-life" by Jennifer F.

This is nothing but a plug for someone else's post-- a former pro-choicer's very thoughtful and well-written account of how she gradually changed her mind. Her views on abortion were inextricable from her views of sex and of contraception, and she shows the process by which the entire worldview shifted. Never having been anything but rabidly pro-life myself, I was fascinated by the insight.