Sunday, November 30, 2008

All excited for the start of Advent

I love having a Church calendar and all sorts of traditional practices and recommended prayers and readings for celebrating different seasons. There's an accumulated wisdom there about what works with the human spirit, what things will help dispose us toward God. I'd never live long enough to work out this stuff on my own.

Today being the first Sunday of Advent, the start of the new liturgical year and the beginning of a penitential season anticipating the Lord's coming, I got out Volume I of the breviary and turned to the Office of Readings. And there was Isaiah crying out, "Wash yourselves clean! Put away your misdeeds from before my eyes; cease doing evil; learn to do good!" I felt a push inside me, the call to holiness trying to dislodge sloth. I've seen the Christmas decorations going up and I've been getting catalogs for months, but it was only this evening with the breviary that I woke up: It's Advent! He is coming! The Israelites had a thousand years of prophecy and we get four weeks to relive it. The prayer given to us at the end of the Office was, "All-powerful God, increase our strength of will for doing good, that Christ may find an eager welcome at his coming..." Amen, I thought. Amen.

People are doing a 54-day novena of Rosaries starting today and running until the anniversary of Roe vs. Wade. I wanted to pass that idea along. And here's a prayer I love. I discovered it too late last year to do the traditional thing of praying it from St. Andrew's feast day (which is today, November 30) until Christmas Day. But I'll do it this year. I have a few intentions I want to pray for.

Hail and blessed be the hour and moment
in which the Son of God was born of the most pure Virgin Mary,
at midnight, in Bethlehem, in piercing cold.
In that hour, vouchsafe, O my God!
to hear my prayer and grant my desires,
through the merits of Our Saviour Jesus Christ,
and of His Blessed Mother.

Why does tradition say Jesus was born at midnight? I used to think whoever wrote "Lo, How a Rose E'er Blooming" was just being lyrical when he declared that "He came a flow'ret bright, amid the cold of winter, when half-spent was the night." But it looks like the writer was inspired by Wisdom 18:

For while gentle silence enveloped all things,
and night in its swift course was now half gone,
thy all-powerful word leaped from heaven, from the royal throne,
into the midst of the doomed land

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Another book meme

Thanks to Mary Rose for tagging me! I like simple fun stuff like this.

The rules: Pass this on to 5 blogging friends. Open the closest book to you, not your favorite or most intellectual book, but the book closest to you at the moment, to page 56. Write the 5th sentence, as well as two to five sentences following that.

The book nearest me: Diary of Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska

Page 56, 5th sentence and a few after:

When I told this priest I was undergoing infernal tortures, he answered that he was not worried about my soul, because he saw in it a great grace of God. But I understood nothing of this, and not even the least glimmer of light broke through to my soul.

Then my physical strength began to fail me, and I could no longer carry out my duties....

Well, I don't think that passage is very self-explanatory, but that's what you get when you obey meme rules. :) In a nutshell, St. Faustina is describing a certain spiritual suffering she experienced early in her convent life, something often called "the dark night of the soul".

The Diary is an awesome book. If left to my own devices I might never have picked it up. I had some kind of prejudice against it, which I'm afraid had a great deal to do with my dislike of the blank expression on that painting of St. Faustina you always see... yes, I judged the book by its cover. (Here, by the way, is an actual photograph I like much better.) But then I went on my eight-day Ignatian retreat last June and Fr. Larry gave me a book to read for fun when I wasn't meditating, and when I devoured that book in short order, he gave me the big fat Diary and I promptly fell in love with it. But you know what, it's 11:15 pm already so I don't have time to say why.

Good night, dear friends, and as we say at the end of Compline, may the all-powerful Lord grant you a restful night and a peaceful death. Amen.

(Oh, as for the meme, I invite anyone who likes it to consider himself tagged.)

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thanksgiving post

Mom, calling from the front door: "Don!"

Dad, from around the side of the house: "I'm over here!"

Mom: "Do you want breakfast out front?"

Dad: "Wherever I can be with you, Hon!"

I am thankful my parents are still in love. :)

(For further reflection see last year's post.)

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Religion May Help Extend Your Life

Religion May Help Extend Your Life

By Serena Gordon
HealthDay Reporter
Wednesday, November 26, 2008; 12:00 AM

WEDNESDAY, Nov. 26 (HealthDay News) -- Attending a weekly religious service, regardless of your faith, may lower your risk of death by 20 percent compared to people who don't attend services, researchers are reporting.

Wow, that's pretty cool! So is an atheist's risk of death still at 100%?

"They are running still"

Some Chesterton brilliance from "The Everlasting Man":
It came on the world with a wind and rush of running messengers proclaiming that apocalyptic portent, and it is not unduly fanciful to say that they are running still. What puzzles the world, and its wise philosophers and fanciful pagan poets, about the priests and people of the Catholic Church is that they still behave as if they were messengers. A messenger does not dream about what his message might be, or argue about what it probably would be; he delivers it as it is. It is not a theory or a fancy but a fact.... All that is condemned in Catholic tradition, authority, and dogmatism and the refusal to retract and modify, are but the natural human attributes of a man with a message relating to a fact.... The religion of the world, in its right proportions, is not divided into fine shades of mysticism or more or less rational forms of mythology. It is divided by the line between the men who are bringing that message and the men who have not yet heard it, or cannot yet believe it.

Drainpipe whine

I love the sound of rain. Some of my coziest memories are of sleeping in the motorhome when I was a kid and hearing rain taptaptap on the roof.

Years ago my parents remodeled and added on to our house. My room was destroyed and I lived out in the motorhome for months, and when it was all finished I had a new room with corner windows and an awesome walk-in closet. But whenever it rained I regretted the one great drawback of my new digs: there was a drainpipe right outside my window, and the water would rattle loudly down and keep me from hearing the beautiful rain.

So it was for years until I moved, and then this last summer I moved again to this new apartment, and last night we had our first real rain. And what did I discover? There's a drainpipe outside my window again and it drowns out the sound of the rain!!!

"No one knows how I suffer. But then I never complain!"

Monday, November 24, 2008

An older form of Gregorian Chant notation

Sometimes during TLMs I find the chants in the back of my missal and sing along, and feel pretty cool that I can read the notation (it's very close to the way modern music is written).

Well, this will humble me. I just stumbled upon it on Wikipedia: an old-school (9th-10th century) form of notation!

Hard to believe that ever meant anything to anybody. :) Other crazy stuff here.

Liturgical note

Some friends and I visited an FSSP parish called St. Anne's this last Sunday. It was a High Mass, and at the consecration when the sanctus bells were ringing, the big church bell outside was rung at the same time. How cool is that? I suppose the neighborhood had no idea what it meant, but what a neat idea to broadcast the miracle that's happening inside to the outside world. Maybe some lapsed Catholic heard it and felt guilty. :)

I read somewhere that in the 15oo's in England it was made illegal to ring a church bell nine times at 6 am, noon, or 6 pm. The Angelus is traditionally sounded at those times with three sets of three bells. So that's how we know that the Angelus was popular in England when it was a Catholic country.

And of course Paul Revere's friend hung a lantern aloft in the belfry arch of the old north tower as a signal light.

I've now exhausted my church bell lore and will end this post.

The Discarded Image, by C.S. Lewis

Not long ago I discovered this book-- something by C.S. Lewis that I had not read! My wonderful sister gave it to me for my birthday. :) It's not one of Lewis' specifically Christian works, but "An introduction to Medieval and Renaissance Literature". He gives this introduction not so much by talking about the literature itself, but by teaching the reader about the culture and worldview of the Middle Ages.

I like history for its own sake, but I think the book would have been interesting even apart from that, for the light it sheds on our own culture. Lewis wrote something about that in his essay "On the Reading of Old Books", arguing that it's parochial to restrict one's learning to one's own time and assume we must know best because we come latest. We may never find out what incorrect assumptions are common in our age if we don't step outside of it by reading works from other time periods.

Anyway, here are some quotes and ideas from Discarded Image that stood out to me. Of course they don't do justice to the whole book. Lewis' exact words are in quotes and my summaries are not.

"Savage beliefs are thought to be the spontaneous response of a human group to its environment." This can develop into "something more ethical, more philosophical, even more scientific," as probably occurred in ancient Egypt. But Medieval culture is like neither of these. It had an "overwhelmingly bookish or clerkly character... When we speak of the Middle Ages as the ages of authority we are usually thinking about the authority of the Church. But they were the age not only of her authority, but of authorities. If their culture is regarded as a response to environment, then the elements in that environment to which it responded most vigorously were manuscripts."

"At his most characteristic, medieval man was not a dreamer nor a wanderer. He was an organizer, a codifier, a builder of systems.... Of all our modern inventions I suspect that they would most have admired the card index."

Lewis spends most of the book describing "The Model", which is "the medieval synthesis itself, the whole organization of their theology, science, and history into a single, complex, harmonious mental Model of the Universe."

However, this Model is more important in art and literature than in religion: "We need to know something about the Model if we are to read Chaucer, but we can neglect it when we are reading St. Bernard.... The spiritual books are entirely practical-- like medical books."

"The insignificance (by cosmic standards) of the Earth became as much a commonplace to the medieval, as to the modern, thinker; it was part of the moralists' stock-in-trade, used, as Cicero uses it, to mortify human ambition..... The medieval Model is anthropoperipheral."

"If the reader will suspend his disbelief and exercise his imagination upon it even for a few minutes, I think he will become aware of the vast re-adjustment involved in a perceptive reading of the old poets. He will find his whole attitude to the universe inverted. In modern, that is, in evolutionary, thought Man stands at the top of a stair whose foot is lost in obscurity; in this, he stands at the bottom of a stair whose top is invisible with light." This difference "perhaps leaves no area and no level of consciousness unaffected."

"Perpetuity is only the attainment of an endless series of moments, each lost as soon as it is attained. Eternity is the actual and timeless fruition of illimitable life. Time is... a hopeless attempt to compensate for the transitoriness of its 'presents' by infinitely multiplying them. That is why Shakespeare's Lucrece calls it 'thou ceaseless lackey to eternity.'"

Lewis describes the Model of the heavens, the famous spheres that revolve around Earth which the medievals learned of from Aristotle, and then comments upon "how such a universe must have affected those who believed in it.... You must go out on a starry night and walk about for half an hour trying to see the sky in terms of the old cosmology. Remember that you now have an absolute Up and Down. The Earth is really the centre, really the lowest place; movement to it from whatever direction is downward movement. As a modern, you located the stars at a great distance. For distance you must now substitute that very special, and far less abstract, sort of distance which we call height; height, which speaks immediately to our muscles and nerves. The Medieval Model is vertiginous."

"All power, movement, and efficacy descend from God to the Primum Mobile [Prime Mover] and cause it to rotate. This moves the other spheres down to the last moving sphere, the Moon... Besides movement, the spheres transmit (to the Earth) what are called Influences." The Sun illuminates the whole universe; stars receive their light from the Sun. "Night is merely the conical shadow cast by our Earth... we are looking through darkness but not at darkness." Space isn't silent either; as Henryson wrote: "Every planet in his proper sphere / In moving makand harmony and sound." So a medieval man on a nocturnal walk was "looking up at a world lighted, warmed, and resonant with music." The modern man looking at a night sky feels he is looking out; medieval man was looking in.

One problem to solve was this: How can God be an Unmoved Mover? If he is Himself unchanging and motionless, how does he initiate the motion of the spheres? This had already been asked and answered by Aristotle: "'He moves as beloved.' He moves other things, that is, as an object of desire moves those who desire it. The Primum Mobile is moved by its love for God, and, being moved, communicates motion to the rest of the universe.... It will be noticed that when Dante ends the Comedy with 'the love that moves the Sun and other stars', he is speaking of love in the Aristotelian sense."

"Certainly there is a striking difference between this Model where God is much less the lover than the beloved and man is a marginal creature, and the Christian picture where the fall of man and the incarnation of God as man for man's redemption is central. There may perhaps.... be no absolute logical contradiction...But there remains, at the very least, a profound disharmony of atmospheres. That is why all this cosmology plays so small a part in the spiritual writers, and is not fused with high religious ardor in any writer I know except Dante himself."

Luxury and material splendor in the modern world need be connected with nothing but money. But in medieval royal courts, in Faerie, and in Heaven, "They were all symbolical or significant-- of sanctity, authority, valour, noble lineage, or, at the very worst, of power. They were associated, as modern luxury is not, with graciousness and courtesy. They could therefore be ingenuously admired without degradation for the admirer."

"Nearly all moralists before the 18th century regarded Reason as the organ of morality.... To recognize a duty was to perceive a truth, not because you had a good heart but because you were a rational being."

To the Greeks history was meaningless flux or cyclic reiteration. Significance was sought not in becoming but in being, "not in history but in metaphysics, mathematics, and theology." For Hebrews their whole past was "a revelation of the purposes of Jahweh. Christianity, going on from there, makes world-history in its entirety a single, transcendentally significant, story with a well-defined plot pivoted on Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Judgment."

(The above passage is similar to one in G.K. Chesterton's Everlasting Man. You find a lot of Chesterton in Lewis' work, as he himself frankly acknowledged.)

Medieval narratives about the past are lacking in a sense of period. For us the past is a costume play, and this helps us more than we suspect towards subtler discriminations between different ages. "Where even the most obvious and superficial distinctions between one century and another were ignored, the profounder difference of temper and mental climate were naturally not dreamed of."

"Medieval and 19th-century man agreed that their present was no very admirable age; not to be compared (said one) with the glory that was, not to be compared (said the other) with the glory that is still to come. The odd thing is that the first view seems to have bred on the whole a more cheerful temper. Historically as well as cosmically, medieval man stood at the foot of a stairway; looking up, he felt delight. The backward, like the upward, glance exhilarated him with a majestic spectacle, and humility was rewarded with the pleasures of admiration... The saints looked down on one's spiritual life, the kings, sages, and warriors on one's secular life, the great lovers of old on one's amours, to foster, encourage, and instruct. There were friends, ancestors, patrons in every age. One had one's place, however modest, in a great succession; one need be neither proud nor lonely."

"Marcus Aurelius wished that men would love the universe as a man can love his own city. I believe that something like this was really possible in the period I am discussing."

We get the impression from medieval poetry "that the poets were unable to keep to the point." But it was deliberately done. Digressions "can be regarded as an expression of the same impulse we see at work in much medieval architecture and decoration. We may call it the love of the labyrinthine; the tendency to offer to the mind or the eye something that cannot be taken in at a glance."

"Far from feigning originality, as a modern plagiarist would, they are apt to conceal it... If you had asked Lazamon or Chaucer, 'Why do you not make up a brand-new story on your own?' I think they might have replied (in effect) 'Surely we are not yet reduced to that?' Spin something out of one's own head when the world teems with so many noble deeds, wholesome examples, pitiful tragedies, strange adventures, and merry jests which have never yet been set forth quite so well as they deserve?"

"I think the majority of the audience, then as now, could hardly conceive the activity of invention at all. It is said that people pointed out Dante not as the man who made the Comedy but as the man who had been in Hell. Even today there are those, some of them critics, who believe every novel and even every lyric to be autobiographical."

Epilogue: "I have made no serious effort to hide the fact that the old Model delights me as I believe it delighted our ancestors. Few constructions of the imagination seem to me to have combined splendour, sobriety, and coherence in the same degree. It is possible that some readers have long been itching to remind me that it had a serious defect; it was not true.
"I agree. It was not true. But...."

There was a change "from a cosmology in which it was axiomatic that 'all perfect things precede all imperfect things' to one in which it is axiomatic that 'the starting point (Entwicklungsgrund) is always lower than what is developed'.... This revolution was certainly not brought about by the discovery of new facts. When I was a boy I believed that 'Darwin discovered evolution' and that the far more general, radical, and even cosmic developmentalism which till lately dominated all popular thought was a superstructure raised on the biological theorem. This view has been sufficiently disproved. The statement which I have just quoted about the Entwicklungsgrund was made by Schellin in 1812. In him, in Keats, in Wagner's tetralogy, in Goethe, in Herder, the change to the new point of view has already taken place.... The demand for a developing world-- a demand obviously in harmony both with the revolutionary and the romantic temper-- grows up first; when it is full grown the scientists go to work and discover the evidence on which our belief in that sort of universe would now be held to rest.... I do not at all mean that these new phenomena are illusory. Nature has all sorts of phenomena in stock and can suit many different tastes.... Nature gives most of her evidence in answer to the questions we ask her."

"I am only suggesting considerations that may induce us to regard all Models in the right way, respecting each and idolising none. [Each Model] reflects the prevalent psychology of an age almost as much as it reflects the state of that age's knowledge. Hardly any battery of new facts could have persuaded a Greek that the universe had an attribute so repugnant to him as infinity; hardly any such battery could persuade a modern that it is hierarchical."

"It is not impossible that our own Model will die a violent death, ruthlessly smashed by an unprovoked assault of new facts-- unprovoked as the nova of 1572.  But I think it is more likely to change when, and because, far-reaching changes in the mental temper of our descendants demand that it should."

Saturday, November 22, 2008

This post is purgatorial; the desserts were not.

Healthy. That's what Christie said on Thursday when we were planning dinner and she announced she'd bring dessert over. "Healthy": the fruit redeems the chocolate, apparently.

(I'm aware the correct word is "healthful", and "healthy" would mean the dessert was in good health. But "healthful" sounds so pretentious or health-class-y or something...)

Christie also claimed it's a Catholic dessert for the following reason: Luther explained his concept of "imputed righteousness" by saying that in God's sight we are covered by the righteousness of Christ as a dunghill is covered by snow. The dunghill isn't actually pure and white, but it looks that way-- and so we appear righteous to God even though we're sinful, because He only sees Christ's righteousness. But Catholics would say sanctification means we actually become righteous, intrinsically righteous. Of course it's only because Christ by His grace makes us so, not all at once but over time. Ideally we cooperate fully with His grace so that He can make us holy before we die. If we don't, thank God, He can perfect us after death, if only we die in His grace. "Infused righteousness", that's the Catholic view. And these strawberries, once dipped in any of these three chocolately dipping sauces (Christie continued) are covered by something good and sweet but are also inherently good and sweet themselves, which surely accords with the Catholic view.

It was something like that, anyway-- my brain's processing power had been partially diverted to my stomach so I can't be certain that's exactly what she said. But I do remember wondering if that would make the remaining Oreo truffles, which we also consumed that night, a Lutheran dessert. Snow-covered dunghills... no, let's just leave that thought alone. There's got to be a good excuse to declare the truffles a Catholic dessert as well; can anyone think of one? I'm longing to add my tag to another post!

Actually I just recently read in some blog (can't remember where; sorry!) that although Catholics and Protestants both frequently cite Luther's analogy of imputed righteousness, no one seems to be able to find the original reference. It's possible Luther never did compare redeemed souls in Heaven to snow-covered dunghills. At any rate I think it was a PR mistake if he did. It gets the concept of imputed righteousness across very well, but rather too well. The image of dunghills into Heaven, snow-covered or not, doesn't really work in Luther's favor, at least not in my opinion. And it seems that C.S. Lewis agreed:

Our souls demand Purgatory, don't they? Would it not break the heart if God said to us, 'It is true, my son, that your breath smells and your rags drip with mud and slime, but we are charitable here and no one will upbraid you with these things, nor draw away from you. Enter into the joy'? Should we not reply, 'With submission, sir, and if there is no objection, I'd rather be cleaned first.' 'It may hurt, you know' - 'Even so, sir.'

I assume that the process of purification will normally involve suffering. Partly from tradition; partly because most real good that has been done me in this life has involved it. But I don't think the suffering is the purpose of the purgation. I can well believe that people neither much worse nor much better than I will suffer less than I or more. . . . The treatment given will be the one required, whether it hurts little or much.

Dessert, anyone? :)

Friday, November 21, 2008

The Presentation of Mary

Can I say "Happy feast day!" when technically it ranks as a memorial? Anyway, here's a sermon by St. Augustine from today's Office:

Stretching out his hand over his disciples, the Lord Christ declared: Here are my mother and my brothers, anyone who does the will of my Father who sent me is my brother and my sister and my mother. I would urge you to ponder these words. Did the Virgin Mary, who believed by faith and conceived by faith, who was the chosen one from whom our Savior was born among men, who was created by Christ before Christ was created in her-- did she not do the will of the Father? Indeed the blessed Mary certainly did the Father's will, and so it was for her a greater thing to have been Christ's disciple than to have been his mother, and she was more blessed in her discipleship than in her motherhood.

A longer excerpt is here, and explains in what sense we too can be mothers of Christ.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Oreo truffles

I haven't really said anything about food lately on this blog, so here's a post about something I just made (recipe here). :)

It had only three ingredients. Kind of embarrassing to go through a grocery line with stuff like this; I should've thrown in a few apples to look more respectable. But when your starting material is Oreo cookies, white chocolate, and cream cheese, you really can't go wrong.

"We who are about to die salute you."


Mixed in with cream cheese.

Rolled into balls, coated with melted white chocolate, and sprinkled with more crushed Oreos.

Some desserts don't taste as good as they look. These taste BETTER. So good!

But too much of anything is too much, and I began to feel overloaded on sweets. To detox I quickly scarfed down some chopped broccoli:

Monday, November 17, 2008

Animal-print eye shadow and St. Clare of Assisi.

I should have been able to go my whole life without ever having to type the phrase "animal-print eye shadow", but this ad has ruined it for me:

That press 'n' peel idea won't work nearly as well in real life as in the ad... but that's not the point! Even if it works perfectly, you'll still look at best like you're a month late for the costume party! How do you parody a fashion magazine that offers stuff like this seriously?

I guess now I need to include a photo I scanned more than a year ago from a similar magazine. It's from an article advising women on how to talk to their doctors. This helpful picture illustrated it:

What, don't tell me that's not what your doctor visits look like. :) Doesn't everyone slip into a plunging vinyl catsuit, Space Age hairdo and vacant expression before trotting off to the office to be grabbed by random latex-gloved hands? (I don't recall what advice the accompanying article offered, but I'm pretty sure this picture undermined every word of it.)

I feel the need to say here that the only reason I'm in possession of magazines like these was that my frequent-flyer miles were going to expire unless I spent a few of them on a subscription, and the fashion/makeup/shopping magazines for very silly women were the cheapest option at 400 points. Check back tomorrow and I might have an excuse for why I was actually reading them. :)

And now, I deeply regret what I am about to do. Well, not really, but I do feel vaguely guilty. I am going to drag St. Clare of Assisi into this.

It's the fault of Ignatius Press! Look at the cover of their new movie about St. Francis and St. Clare!

Click for a closer look and you will unfortunately be unable to deny that St. Clare... she who renounced all worldly vanities to found the congregation of Poor Clares... St. Clare is wearing Revlon Beyond Natural™ Cream To Powder Eye Shadow in Brown Sugar, Stila Tinted Gel Brow Polish (shade: Dark Chocolate), and Max Factor Maxalicious Lip Color in Stunning Berry, finished off with a dusting of Maybelline Photo Finish Shimmer Powder in Champagne Glow.

Okay, I understand that people are made to look more attractive for movies than they were in real life-- Tom Hanks was cuter than Jim Lovell, Cate Blanchett leaves Elizabeth I in the dust, and I sure hope they don't sign me to play me in my movie biography-- but is it really asking too much if I think a saintly humble nun character at least shouldn't be that obvious about having had a makeover?

(The DVD might be good though; I was looking at production stills and St. Clare fortunately isn't that heavily made up in the actual movie.)

Sunday, November 16, 2008

"How very easy it is to become holy"

Sometimes quotes like these drive me mad:

"There are few persons, perhaps none, who thoroughly understand how much we obstruct God when He desires to work in us, and all that he would do for us if we did not hinder Him."
- St. Ignatius of Loyola
"O my Jesus, how very easy it is to become holy; all that is needed is a bit of good will. If Jesus sees this little bit of good will in the soul, He hurries to give Himself to the soul, and nothing can stop Him, neither shortcomings nor falls-- absolutely nothing. Jesus is anxious to help that soul, and if it is faithful to this grace from God, it can very soon attain the highest holiness possible for a creature here on earth. God is very generous and does not deny His grace to anyone. Indeed He gives more than what we ask of Him. Faithfulness to the inspirations of the Holy Spirit-- ­that is the shortest route."
- St. Faustina

On this showing it seems that all we have to do is nothing, and we'll be saints in short order. Good thing I've already picked the picture for my holy card!

All right, the quotes don't actually drive me mad. They're just extraordinary. St. Ignatius and St. Faustina hardly sat back and waited for God to make them holy; they were full of zeal and self-denial and hard work and endurance in suffering. But then they wrote as if all they'd truly accomplished was getting out of God's way. I hardly begin to understand what they meant, but one day I hope I will.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Wildfires (and violence in politics)

This morning after Mass I remarked on what a very warm day it was for November, and Yoka added that the sky was incredibly blue, and Mery said it must be the Santa Ana winds. They blow in from the desert, over the Santa Ana mountains, and down into the Los Angeles valley, where they blow all the smog away and give us hot, clear weather.

A few hours later I suddenly realized that the crystal blue sky had turned hazy as all get-out. Outside the air smelled very strongly of smoke, and I could see white ash floating by and settling on our balconies. I wondered if folks were rioting in LA-- perhaps the anti-Prop-8 protesters I heard of, or else Obama might have been assassinated... but I checked the internet and thank goodness it's no riot, but another fire up in the mountains somewhere.

(It occurrs to me that I've never feared riots from people who were against Obama or for Prop 8 and that's mainly because when I see or hear of marches or protests involving abortion or gay rights, the police always seem to be facing the other side.)

This exact same wildfire thing happened a year ago and I blogged it then too. I also blogged about how daringly irreverent my mom and I were about it all. But it turns out we were mere amateurs at that kind of thing.

For the record: God forbid Obama should be assassinated. We should all be praying for him, as St. Paul commanded (and Nero was Caesar when he wrote that.) Just look what happened when St. Stephen prayed for Saul. :)

A friend of mine who's close to one of the fires just called to ask if she can crash here should it be necessary. Thanks be to God our own place isn't threatened!

Nice quote from Johannes Bengel

He was a Lutheran, 1687–1752, and he said this about studying the Bible:

"Te totum applica ad textum, totum textum applica ad te."

Which means:

"Apply the whole of yourself to the text; apply the whole of the text to yourself."

Friday, November 14, 2008

Every single time I check, they're sleeping

Maybe you'll have better luck.

A joke!

This one was told me by my roommate and has amused me all week:

What's black, then white, then black, then white, then black, then white?

Give up?

A Dominican rolling down the stairs! :D

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Wiser than the sons of light.

This was the Gospel at last Friday's Mass:

Lk 16:1-8

Now He was also saying to the disciples, "There was a rich man who had a manager, and this manager was reported to him as squandering his possessions.

"And he called him and said to him, 'What is this I hear about you? Give an accounting of your management, for you can no longer be manager.'

"The manager said to himself, 'What shall I do, since my master is taking the management away from me? I am not strong enough to dig; I am ashamed to beg.

'I know what I shall do, so that when I am removed from the management people will welcome me into their homes.'

"And he summoned each one of his master's debtors, and he began saying to the first, 'How much do you owe my master?'

"And he said, 'A hundred measures of oil.' And he said to him, 'Take your bill, and sit down quickly and write fifty.'

"Then he said to another, 'And how much do you owe?' And he said, 'A hundred measures of wheat.' He said to him, 'Take your bill, and write eighty.'

"And his master praised the unrighteous manager because he had acted shrewdly; for the sons of this age are more shrewd in relation to their own kind than the sons of light."

It was the parable of the dishonest steward. As we stood listening to it, I thought, "You know, I don't think I've ever really understood what Jesus meant by that." Then we sat down and white-haired Fr. Antolini stood up, made his slow way to the pulpit, and in his thick Italian accent made it clear to me for the first time in my life.

It means we're not as wisely provident about our future spiritual happiness as worldly people are for their temporal welfare. Those who aren't concerned with God think about how best to obtain the possessions, pleasure, honor, happiness and so forth that they want in this world, and having made their calculations they proceed with their plans. But Christians, who know that there are far greater riches to be had, fail to take the obvious steps necessary to obtain them.

The corrupt steward used what he couldn't keep-- his master's money-- to obtain a lasting benefit-- the gratitude of his master's debtors. We also have plenty that can't be kept forever but can be given now for something eternal. We can give time to pray, give up tasty food and fast, give up convenience and serve others, give up marriage for the sake of the Kingdom ("He who is able to accept this should accept it"), give up all claim to ourselves and serve God. These sacrifices lead to much greater good both now and in eternity. We believe it but we don't do it. Jesus advised the rich young man, "Sell all you have and give your possessions to the poor, and you will have treasure in Heaven. Then come, follow me." What an amazing invitation; what a promise and what an honor! The young man didn't take him up on it. Instead he went away sad.

But then there are those who seize the offer. In the 1950's a young man named Jim Elliot wrote in his journal, "He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose." A few years later he gave his own life, martyred at age 28 by hostile Indians while he was a missionary in Ecuador. I wonder if he'd ever heard of St. Clare of Assisi, who in the 1200's left her castle home to live in poverty as a nun, and wrote a little poem about it:

What a great laudable exchange:
to leave the things of time for those of eternity,
to choose the things of heaven for the goods of earth,
to receive the hundred-fold in place of one,
and to possess a blessed and eternal life.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Spam and cheese salad

It's come to my attention via comments that I seem to have food on the brain. If the shoe fits...

Tonight Fr. Larry canceled his weekly class on the Diary of St. Faustina, leaving my roommate and me with an evening free. She invited over three friends who were similarly at loose ends and started on some chicken curry, then asked me to toss the salad. The "salad" turned out to be a package of Romaine lettuce and ranch dressing. It seemed inadequate. But then I got out my English cheddar with caramelized onions, and Mery came up with a package of Spam and some homemade croutons from the Carmelites' boutique in Alhambra. Our friends arrived and one of them fried up the Spam while I cut the cheese into little pieces, and we tossed them with the croutons and Romaine. And let me tell you, that salad was so tasty I didn't even bother with the dressing. Who'd have thought?

In case you were wondering, the meal was finished with tiramisu, brownie bites, tea (decaf, not white tea), trail mix and leftover Halloween candy.

Tomorrow I might get off the topic of food. Unless I'm given chocolate (hint hint).

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Talking to the RCIA class

One of our church's catechists asked me to share my story about coming into the Catholic Church with this year's RCIA class, so I did that tonight. He hadn't warned me that I'd have the last ten minutes of a two hour stretch of class. There was an hour of lecture followed by an hour of small groups which was also mostly lecture, and it was nearly 9:30 pm by the time I was sent up front. The poor kids (it was mostly young adults in this group) must have been longing to go home!

So I was very surprised and gratified to see how polite and attentive they were, how meekly they submitted to this prolongation of the evening. I blabbed at them about the last few years of my life until I managed to make myself stop, and on the whole it seemed to go fine. But if anyone asks me to talk next year, I shall first ascertain whether I'll be made the last thing standing between the class and freedom!

Oh, and I was given tamales afterward, which was ample payment. :)

Monday, November 10, 2008

A co-worker went to Korea for vacation...

...and brought back chocolate-covered seaweed for the lab to eat. It tasted exactly like chocolate-covered seaweed. I found it interesting and tasty! Here's a picture I found of it, or something nearly like it.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Newman: The Testimony of Conscience

The quote in the last post comes from a really good sermon (I haven't read any bad ones by Cardinal Newman.) It's on St. Paul's statement: "For our proud confidence is this: the testimony of our conscience". Newman brings up similar statements in the New Testament and many in the Psalms, which all describe, "that state of heart, which Scripture calls simple and sincere, or perfect, or innocent; and which is such, that a man may know he has it, and humbly rejoice in it."

Now how can be possible for Christians to say, like St. Paul, "I am conscious of nothing against myself," when we know we're sinners and it doesn't lie in our power to be perfect? It's a rather important question; who doesn't want to have a conscience that's completely clear? Newman's solution is something like this: our conscience is clear when we have surrendered ourselves to God, when we fully intend to try to do His will no matter what it is, when we're not avoiding prayer or self-examination because we're afraid of what He might ask of us. A man knows when he's in this state because there's such a difference between holding out on God and fully surrendering to Him:
He may have made resolves before, he may have argued himself into a belief of his own sincerity, he may have (as it were) convinced himself that nothing can be required of him more than he has done, he may have asked himself what more is there to do, and yet have felt a something in him still which needed quieting, which was ever rising up and troubling him, and had to be put down again. But when he really gives himself up to God, when he gets himself honestly to say, "I sacrifice to Thee this cherished wish, this lust, this weakness, this scheme, this opinion: make me what Thou wouldest have me; I bargain for nothing; I make no terms; I seek for no previous information whither Thou art taking me..."—what a difference is this! what a plain perceptible change, which cannot be mistaken! what a feeling of satisfaction is poured over the mind! what a sense that at length we are doing what we should do, and approving ourselves to God our Saviour!
I love Cardinal Newman's writing. He gets to me. He's highly intelligent and he also knows the human heart, so his sermons have this trick of leading the reader, by a line of steady, thoughtful, logical argumentation, straight into an ocean crash of emotion.

In the tradition of excerpting bloggers everywhere, I utter the standard injunction: Read The Whole Thing!

But if you'd rather not, here's how he ends:
Let us then, since this is our privilege, attempt to share in St. Paul's sincerity, that we may share in his rejoicing. Let us endeavour to become friends of God and fellow-citizens with the saints; not by sinless purity, for we have it not; not in our deeds of price, for we have none to show; not in our privileges, for they are God's acts, not ours; not in our Baptism, for it is outward; but in that which is the fruit of Baptism within us, not a word but a power, not a name but a reality, which, though it can claim nothing, can beg everything;—an honest purpose, an unreserved, entire submission of ourselves to our Maker, Redeemer, and Judge. Let us beg Him to aid us in our endeavour, and, as He has begun a good work in us, to perform it until the day of the Lord Jesus.

Hey, all you argumentative Catholic blogger types:

Cardinal Newman's talking to you. Yes, you!
When young persons address themselves to religious subjects without due reverence and godly fear, when they rush towards them impetuously, engage in them hotly, talk about them vehemently, and profess them conspicuously, they should be very suspicious of themselves, lest there be something or other wrong about them.
Read just now in this sermon here. I'll say nothing more lest in critiquing others I condemn myself. :)

Halloween night at church

On Halloween night I went to an all-night adoration thing at St. Thérèse Church in Alhambra (not to be confused with the all-night adoration thing I went to on election night at St. Peter Chanel.) We were praying for the world, and the coming elections, and our own intentions, and in reparation for the evil things that people unfortunately get up to at Halloween. (My sister told me once that the cat shelter she was associated with has a policy of not letting black cats be adopted in the month of October, because they might be sacrificed in Satanic rituals. It's out there...)

St. Thérèse is a large church, mostly stone, with lots of stained glass and about six side chapels. So imagine how beautiful it looked that night when then turned off the lights and only the hundreds of candles flickering in the alcoves were lighting up the place. Once again there were lots of people there, many of them young adults, and when I left at 2 am most of them were staying. Fr. Robert, a newly ordained Carmelite priest, gave a few talks that evening (including his conversion story-- very interesting-- as a teenager he was into occultic stuff so it was pretty appropriate for Halloween!) In between we prayed the Rosary, or prayed in silence, or chowed down outside where good food and coffee was provided all night.

But what I wanted to mention was my impression when I first entered the church. I came in through one of the three sets of double doors in the back. At once I saw the candlelight, the great high ceiling lost in darkness, the many thick stone pillars looking mystical in the gloom. I saw the forms of hundreds of people kneeling in silence. And up front there was Fr. Robert in the sanctuary, not far from the altar where the Blessed Sacrament was exposed. He had wavy black hair and a neatly trimmed black beard, and he was wearing a cope (basically a cape), one of the traditional garments that priest sometimes have for liturgical functions outside of Mass. He was kneeling to one side, facing the altar, his form outlined by flaring candles, and do you know what it all reminded me of? Dracula!

Probably not the vibe they were going for, especially on a night that was meant to be counterprogramming to Halloween! But it wasn't the church's fault. The Dracula legend and the films and all were influenced by Catholic culture, so I suppose that's why there was such a similarity between them and the very traditional Catholic look that St. Thérèse Church had that night. And I wasn't worried. We had plenty of holy water and crucifixes nearby. :)

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Have we lost the true meaning of Halloween?

A video from The Onion: Has Halloween become overcommercialized?

At first I was disappointed by this because, believe it or not, I expected them to refer to the vigil of All Saints' Day: All Hallow's Eve, also called Hallowmas (Shakespeare calls it that in Two Gentlemen of Verona), from the Middle English Alholowmesse (All Saints' Mass).... Boy, am I out of touch. :)

By the way, it appears that the theory of the Catholic Church fixing this feast in order to appropriate old pagan customs is just as unsupported as the one that says the date of Christmas was picked for that reason. I can't find a lick of historical evidence for it. What I do find is that Gregory III set the date of this feast as November 1 in the 730's, and it was not a universal feast then, which I think means it applied only to Italy, or possibly only to Rome, and wasn't celebrated at all in the British Isles where the various pagan celebrations were occurring that it was supposedly meant to replace! A century later Gregory IV extended the feast to the whole church, but as the British Isles were very remote from him in those days I doubt he was as concerned about any druids there as he was about getting the entire universal Church to honor all the unknown saints who lacked feast days of their own.

Even if you didn't know all that, there's this: the pagan rituals weren't set on November 1. They took place in the fall but their dates were variable as far as I can tell, which probably means any major feast celebrated in the fall season would lay the Church open to this charge of syncretism!

The stories about the Church replacing pagan feast days with their own didn't crop up until after the Reformation, and they were used to accuse the Catholic Church of mixing Christianity with paganism, but I always thought that was a weak attack anyway. It wouldn't bother me if the Church did deliberately replace pagan feast days with Christian ones. What bothers me is 1) that everyone believes when there's no evidence for it, and 2) that some seem to think they've scored a hit against Christianity when they say it. I don't think they're thinking at all...

Oh, but the video is quite funny. :)

Friday, November 07, 2008

Ronald Knox on sloth

To-day, we have substituted the word "sloth"; a failing from which we all suffer, and one which none of us ever admits. I think the best way of examining your conscience, if you want to discover whether you are an idle man, is to leave on one side all the things which interest you and concentrate on some side-line of your daily habits which doesn't interest you.... Idleness, with most of us, doesn't mean lying in bed and doing nothing; it means giving priority, always, to the things which interest us, and leaving our other duties to queue up and take their turn, if they ever get a turn. Watch idleness; it can become a sort of creeping paralysis.

Guilty as charged. :) For example, right now I'm blogging when I should be doing something else. I shall go and do the something else now, really!

Is any food more beautiful to behold or fun to eat...

...than an artichoke? LOOK at this freshly-steamed beauty!

I never ate these growing up but I make up for lost time now. Check out this scene: my artichoke, a big plate for discarded leaves, a First Things journal to read, and melted garlic butter for dipping. What happiness! I was so moved I had get my camera.

They have a lovely shape from the side, too. An artichoke is so gratuitously creative and fun.

Such beautiful round leaves.

Working my way down to the choke.

I'm about to CHOMP into this heart.

Wow, that was good. :)

The artichoke: a sign that God loves us.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

The night before the election

Our priests had announced that there would be all-night prayer and adoration of the Blessed Sacrament on Monday night to pray for the election, starting with Mass at 10 pm and going till the 6 am Mass the next day. I figured I'd be one of the few diehards going to the 10 pm Mass.

But when I got there the church was almost packed! St. Peter Chanel is very large but I had to sit way over on the side. Fr. Fernando was the celebrant (with two others concelebrating) and he was moved by how many people had shown up to pray for our country.

It was the feast day of St. Martin de Porres. I expected Fr. Fernando to ignore that and preach something about the election, but instead he spent a lot of time on St. Martin, emphasizing his extraordinary humility and charity. It was strange (and good) to hear, like counterprogramming. Elections are competitions with so much at stake that pride and hate are more familiar at such times.

He did get around to the election too, and spoke of thanking God no matter what and always interceding for those, especially the unborn, who cry out in pain. "May He give us grace and perseverance to consider every human being as worthy of our service.... You and I are the blessed ones. We should be extremely happy because we have Christ and He is the good shepherd who never abandons His sheep."

After the Mass nearly everyone in the crowded church stayed to pray the Rosary (the Joyful Mysteries are so pro-life) and the Chaplet of Divine Mercy (ya'll should learn that one; it's beautiful), and three different election prayers. Then after a half hour's silent prayer Fr. Fernando came back at midnight to lead us in praying it all again (Sorrowful Mysteries this time, for the new day). There were still about two hundred people praying in the church when I left. It was very good to see! I know we weren't the only church that had all night adoration on Monday, too.

Actually, St. Peter Chanel has adoration EVERY night, round the clock; it's just that on Monday it was for that special purpose. You may now envy me my church. :)

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

The Tootsie Roll

Leaving Mass last Sunday, I saw some Knights of Columbus wearing bright orange vests which announced that they were collecting for a good cause. So I fished out some money and put it in one of the cans.

"Thank you," said one of the men, and handed me a tootsie roll.

If I hadn't been fasting chocolate I would certainly have eaten it then and there. Instead I put it in my bag, and that night found an opportunity to give it away. Some friends had come over to our apartment to chat and help eat leftovers, and Adonela sat next to me.

"Here, want a tootsie roll?" I asked, and handed it to her.

She took it and began to inspect the wrapper, and then unexpectedly she shot me a dirty look. "What?" I asked.

"Did you read this?" she demanded.

No, I hadn't read it. Hadn't even noticed that it was custom printed. But here are the pictures so that you, dear reader, can read for yourself what I had inadvertently given my friend.

Thanks, Knights of Columbus! :)

I've nearly forgotten how to blog!

The nice thing about abstaining from something for forty days before an election is that no matter who wins, you still get the fun of breaking your fast. Like this morning-- I'd given up chocolate, so I had a Milky Way for breakfast. :) I'm totally going to make brownies later too.

I'm not surprised but sad that most of the folks in our country voted for someone whose devotion to abortion rights is so extreme he even opposed the bill requiring care for infants who manage to survive one. But there it is. Looks like the most vulnerable members of our society are in for it even more than before. Perhaps with time we can persuade more people to our side. (My own guess is that really changing minds on abortion would require a serious Christian revival, because the demand for abortion is nearly inseparable from the insistence on a right to have sex whether or not you're prepared for a baby.)

When elections don't go my way I tend to avoid politics for a while and try to focus on my own duty. And I also like this saying from Paul Harvey: "In times like these, it helps to recall that there have always been times like these."

I've been slowly reading through Sirach and this morning I happened to be on Chapter 10. The whole thing seems very apropos-- some of it in a comforting way, and some of it definitely not.

In the Office of Readings we were on 1 Maccabees 3. Now there was a society with serious political problems: the Israelites were being forced on pain of death to sacrifice to pagan gods. Then Judas Maccabeus takes over leadership of the resistance: "All his brothers and all who had joined his father supported him, and they carried on Israel's war joyfully." How cool is that? Joyfully!

Reminds me of this quote, which to my delight I just discovered is from none other than G.K. Chesterton:

For the Great Gaels of Ireland
Are the men that God made mad,
For all their wars are merry
And all their songs are sad.

And with that off-topic quote I shall end the post. :)