Friday, April 18, 2014

The Beginning of the Celebration of Our Lord's Paschal Mystery

This post will remain at the top of the blog for Holy Week. Scroll down to see each day's offering. This post is from last year and so some of the liturgical links are not exact but the reflections remain with me this year ... and I have updated it at the bottom to reflect my thoughts yesterday.
... we gather together to herald with the whole Church
the beginning of the celebration
of our Lord's Paschal Mystery,
that is to say, of his Passion and Resurrection.
Palm Sunday, Commemoration of the Lord's Entrance Into Jerusalem
In his commentary on this portion of the Mass last year, our priest pointed out that the Triduum is one extended liturgy.

For the first time I understood why we read the entire passion and crucifixion during Palm Sunday's liturgy. It is to give us a preview of what we are to be meditating on during this week. It is to give us a chance to enter fully into that journey Jesus is taking which culminates with his Passion, Crucifixion, and Resurrection. It is to give us the chance to accompany him not just as a spectator, but as a friend.

Let us put aside our differences. It changes nothing. It is fruitless self preoccupation. It distracts and divides us at a time when we should be focusing on Jesus. I thought of those squabbles when I heard this part of the gospel:
His disciples realized what was about to happen, and they asked,
“Lord, shall we strike with a sword?”
And one of them struck the high priest’s servant
and cut off his right ear.
But Jesus said in reply,
“Stop, no more of this!”
Then he touched the servant’s ear and healed him.
Let us "Stop, no more of this" as we concentrate on what matters most now.
Christ Jesus, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
something to be grasped.
Rather, he emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
coming in human likeness;
and found human in appearance,
he humbled himself,
becoming obedient to the point of death,
even death on a cross.
Because of this, God greatly exalted him
and bestowed on him the name
which is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue confess that
Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
This year, our priest had a three sentence homily and it hit the nail on the head. When talking to his spiritual advisor about troubles and trials, he was told, "You are having these problems because you are avoiding the Cross."

Aren't we all? For my own part, I faced a severe internal struggle last week. Then God in his goodness made me understand that I was causing my own turmoil because I was trying to squirm out of the Cross.

Ah yes.

At that point I gave up wanting my way. And I was able, with St. Josemaria Escriva, to say, "Is that what you want? Then I want it too." that I regained peace and calm. I still had to face the Cross, but it was not so big a cross as the one I was creating for myself.

This is why I need Lent every year. I forget this lesson so easily. And life is so much simpler when I live without avoiding the Cross. Let's face it ... I'd face that Cross anyway. But when I do it squirming and turning away it is so much more difficult than when I slip my hand in God's and follow my Savior's example.

Let us walk with him this week.


Les Très Riches Heures du duc de Berry, Folio 173v - The Entry into Jerusalem the Musée Condé, Chantilly.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

In which we get to the bottom of the Devil's Nest and the path of romance does not run true.

Chapters 14 and 15 are now available for your listening pleasure at Forgotten Classics podcast.

Holy Week: Wednesday - The Way to Calvary


Maurice Denis. The Road to Calvary/Montace au calvaire ou Le Calvaire. 1889.
THE WAY TO CALVARY
Forming part of the procession, their presence making his impending death yet more shameful, are two convicted criminals, described as two thieves. A recently-arrived spectator to the scene would see three men, each laden with a cross, walking towards death. But only one is the Saviour of the world. Only one of the crosses is the redeeming Cross.

Today, too, the cross can be carried in different ways. There is the cross carried furiously or sullenly, in a rage; man writhes and squirms, filled with hate, or at least, with a deep and burning resentment. It is a cross without meaning and without any explanation, useless; such a cross may even separate one from God. It is the cross of those in this world who seek comfort and material well-being, who will put up with neither suffering nor setbacks, for they have no wish to understand the supernatural meaning of pain. It is a cross which does not redeem. It is the cross carried by one of the thieves.

On the road to Calvary is a second cross, carried this time with resignation, perhaps even with some dignity, with an acceptance of the situation simply because there is no alternative to it. This is the one carried by the other thief. Little by little he realizes that close by him is the sovereign figure of Christ, who will radically change the final moments of his life on earth, and for eternity; he will be the one converted into the good thief.

There is a third way of carrying the cross. Jesus embraces the saving wood and teaches us how we ought to carry our own cross: with love, co-redeeming all souls with him, making reparation at the same time for our own sins. Our Lord has conferred on human suffering a deep meaning. Being able, as he was, to redeem us in a multitude of ways, he chose to do so through suffering, for greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends (John 15:13).

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Part 5 - The Wedding at Cana and The Passion of Christ

Duccio di Buoninsegna. Maestà (back, predella): The Wedding at Cana. 1308-11.

The final part of Fulton Sheen's reflections on the wedding at Cana and Christ's Passion, death and resurrection.
The Cross is everywhere. When a man stretches out his arms in relaxation, he unconsciously forms the image of the reason for the Son of Man's coming. So too at Cana, the shadow of the Cross was thrown across a "woman," and the first stroke of the "Hour" was sounded like a bell of execution. In all the other incidents of His life, the Cross came first, then the joy. But at Cana, it was the joy of the nuptials that came first--the nuptials of the Bridegroom and the Bride of redeemed humanity; only after that are we reminded that the Cross is the condition of that ecstasy.

Thus He did at a marriage feast what He would not do in a desert; He worked in the full gaze of men what He had refused to do before Satan. Satan asked Him to turn stones into bread in order that He might become an economic Messiah; His mother asked Him to change water into wine that He might become a Savior. Satan tempted Him from death; Mary "tempted" Him to death and Resurrection. Satan tried to lead Him from the Cross; Mary sent Him toward it. Later on, He would take hold of the bread that Satan had said men needed, and tee wine that His mother had said the wedding guests needed, and He would change them both into the memorial of His Passion and His death. Then He would ask that men renew that memorial, even "unto the consummation of the world." The antiphon of His life continues to ring: Everyone else came into the world to live; He came into the world to die.
Life of Christ by Fulton Sheen

Holy Week: Tuesday - Before Pilate

Nikolay Gay. "Quod Est Veritas?" Christ and Pilate. 1890.
The Passion of Our Lord
BEFORE PILATE: JESUS CHRIST, THE KING
Thinking that in this way he might placate the hatred of the Jews, Pilate, took Jesus and scourged him (John 19:1). This is the scene we contemplate in the second sorrowful mystery of the Rosary, Bound to the pillar. Covered with wounds.

The blows of the lash sound on his torn flesh, upon his undefiled flesh, which suffers for your sinful flesh. More blows. More fury. Still more ... It is the last extreme of human cruelty.

Finally, exhausted, they untie Jesus. And the body of Christ yields to pain and falls, limp, broken and half-dead.

You and I cannot speak. Words are not needed. Look at him, look at him ... slowly.

After this ... can you ever fear penance? (J. Escriva, Holy Rosary, Second Sorrowful Mystery)


When this has happened, the soldiers plaited a crown of thorns, and put it on his head, and arrayed him in a purple robe; they came up to him, saying, "Hail King of the Jews!" and struck him with their hands (John 19:4-5). Today as we contemplate Jesus proclaiming his kingship before Pilate, we should also meditate upon that scene contained in the third sorrowful mystery of the Rosary.

The crown of thorns, driven in by blows, makes him a mock king ... And with their blows they wound his head. And they strike him ... and spit on him ...

You and I ... haven't we crowned him anew with thorns and struck him and spat on him?

Never again, Jesus, never again ... (J. Escriva, Holy Rosary, Third Sorrowful Mystery)

Caravaggio. The Flagellation of Christ. 1607.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Well Said: A day may come when the courage of men fails ...

Sons of Gondor, of Rohan. My brothers. I see in your eyes the same fear that would take the heart of me! A day may come when the courage of men fails, when we forsake our friends and break all bonds of fellowship, but it is not this day! An hour of wolves and shattered shields when the age of men comes crashing down! But it is not this day! This day we fight! by all that you hold dear on this good earth, I bid you, stand, men of the West!
Aaragorn, The Return of the King movie
For our brothers in the Ukraine, I fear that day has come.

Just as when Hitler took the Sudetenland and all that was heard were a few bleats of protest from weak leaders, so I see news coverage of Ukraine standing alone against a wolf while weak bleats come from all around ... and my heart breaks for them.

I mentioned this to a friend when the Crimean situation arose and he said, "Tough words."

But here we are with phase two, as I think of it. I can't keep this quote from my mind.

Then this weekend I was looking at the Kindle sample for Churchill's "The Gathering Storm" about the period between the two world wars and was struck by this.
THEME OF THE VOLUME.

HOW THE ENGLISH-SPEAKING PEOPLES
THROUGH THEIR UNWISDOM
CARELESSNESS AND GOOD NATURE
ALLOWED THE WICKED
TO REARM
And now here we are again.

Holy Week: Monday - Peter's Denials

Duccio di Buoninsegna. Maestà (back, central panel): Jesus Accused by the Pharisees. 1308-11.
The Passion of Our Lord
PETER'S DENIALS
Jesus having been much ill-used, is led into one of the courtyards. He then turned and looked at Peter (Luke 22:61). Their looks meet. Peter would like to bow his head, but he cannot tear his eyes from Him, Whom he has just denied. He knows the Saviour's looks well; that look that had determined his vocation, he had not been able to resist either its authority or its charm; and that tender look of the Master's on the day He had affirmed, looking at His disciples, "Here are my brethren, my sisters, my mother!" And that look that had made him tremble when he, Simon, had wanted to banish the Cross from Jesus' path! And the affectionately pitying look with which he had invited the too-rich young man to follow him! And His look, clouded with tears, before Lazarus' tomb ... He knows them well, the Saviour's looks.

And yet never, never had he seen on the Saviour's face the expression he sees there at this moment, the eyes marked with sadness but without any severity. A look of reproach without a doubt, but which becomes suppliant at the same time and seems to repeat to him, "Simon, I have prayed for thee!"

This look only rests on him for an instant; Jesus is violently dragged away by the soldiers, but Peter sees Him all the time (G. Chevrot, Simon Peter).
He sees that compassionate look of Jesus fixed upon the deep wound of his guilt. He now understands the enormity of his sin, and the fulfillment of Our Lord's prophecy about his betrayal ...

Contrition gives special strength to the soul; it restores hope, makes the Christian forget himself and draw close to God once more with a deeper act of love. Contrition proves the quality of interior life and always attracts God's mercy; ... this is the man to whom I will look, he that is humble and contrite in spirit ... (Isaiah 66:2)

Christ found no difficulty in building his Church upon a man who was able to fall and who did fall. God also counts on weak instruments, provided they repent, to carry out his big project: the salvation of mankind.
I will never forget when I first read the Gospel where Jesus turns and looks at Peter. What a terrible moment of sudden knowledge that must have been. I know that feeling in the pit of your stomach when you are "found out" and the remorse and shame that flooded Peter on that instant. How many times have I given Jesus reason to look at me like that?

On the other hand, I also read a commentary mentioning that Jesus turned and looked at Peter first ... indicating that God always looks first (echoes of the parable of The Prodigal Son to meditate upon there). Which is a comforting thought especially when we, like Peter, have fallen so far and need to get up again.

Part 4 - The Wedding at Cana and The Passion of Christ

Gerard David. The Marriage at Cana. c. 1503.

More of Fulton Sheen's observations about the wedding at Cana and Christ's Passion, death and resurrection.
The six water pots were filled, making about one hundred and twenty gallons, and in the beautiful language of Richard Crashaw, "the conscious water saw its God and blushed." The first miracle was something like creation itself; it was done by the power of "the Word." The wine He created was so good that the bridegroom was reproached by the steward with the words:
Everyone serves the best wine first, and waits until the guests have drunk freely before serving the poorer sort; but you have kept the best wine till now. John 2:10
Truly the best wine was kept. Up until then in the unfolding of revelation, the poor wine had been the prophets, judges, and kings, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Josue -- all were like the water awaiting the miracle of the Expected of the Nations. The world generally gives its best pleasures first; afterward come the dregs and the bitterness. But Christ reversed the order and gave us the feast after the fast, the Resurrection after the Crucifixion, the joy of Easter Sunday after the sorrow of Good Friday.
This deed at Cana-in-Galilee is the first of the signs by which Jesus revealed his glory and led his disciples to believe in him. John 2:11
Life of Christ by Fulton Sheen
Part 5 will be tomorrow.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Palm Sunday

Duccio di Buoninsegna, Jesus and his apostles entering Jerusalem

TRIUMPHAL ENTRY INTO JERUSALEM
"How different the cries," St. Bernard comments, "'Away with him, away with him, crucify him,' and then 'Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, hosanna in the highest!' How different the cries are that now are calling him "King of Israel" and then in a few days time will be saying, 'We have no king but Caesar!' What a contrast between the green branches and the cross, between the flowers and the thorns! Before they were offering their own clothes for him to walk upon and so soon afterwards they are stripping him of his, and casting lots upon them." (St. Bernard, Sermon on Palm Sunday)

The triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem asks for loyalty and perseverance from each one of us, it calls us to depend in our faithfulness, and for our resolutions to be more than just bright lights that sparkle for a moment and then fade away. There are some striking contrasts in the depths of our hearts, for we are capable of the very greatest things and also the very worst, and so if we wish to possess the divine life and triumph with Christ, we need to be constant and through penance deaden within us anything that separates us from God and prevents us from following Our Lord unto the Cross.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Blogging Around: The Something Old, Something New Edition

Please note that none of these are complete in and of themselves. I'm counting on you to click through and read the whole story if you're interested.

"I’M A PATHOLOGIST ...

... which means that I run the lab, and I’m continually shocked by all the unnecessary lab work that comes my way."
There's more. get it at Humans of New York.

"I WAS SO FOCUSED ON BEING DEAF IN MY LEFT EAR ..."

A life lesson we all need reminding of, from Humans of New York.

BEST REVIEW I'VE EVER READ OF THE LORD OF THE RINGS
If you ever needed an excellent overview to give someone or wondered yourself why anyone would want to read The Lord of the Rings, go to Joseph's piece at Zombie Parent's Guide.

POPE FRANCIS AND THE CHURCH
A gaggle of stories worth reading. Notice how many of these are from The Deacon's Bench? It's my go-to for Catholic Church news and I can't recommend it highly enough.
WANT TO BECOME A BETTER WRITER?
Copy the work of others says this article from The Art of Manliness, a blog which I find has many articles that are just as good for ladies as gentlemen. They are talking about copying someone else's work by hand.
Copywork, as it’s called, used to be the standard method by which students learned to write, and it is the “secret” to how many of history’s greatest writers mastered the craft. While it may sound unsexy and unoriginal, it really works, and today we’ll show you how to get started.
5 B.S. RENAISSANCE MYTHS YOU LEARNED IN HISTORY CLASS
One reason I like Cracked.com is that they tell us history like it really was, rather than simply repeating what "everyone knows" which so often turns out to be wrong. If you like this one, check out the links at the end of the article for similar myth-busting about other historical periods. Language warning.

GRACE ON A DESERT ISLAND
A high school theology quiz that makes you laugh and makes you think. This is just a sampling and the answer key is in the comments at DarwinCatholic.
1. Tom Hanks is stranded alone on a desert island with only a volleyball to keep him company. He knows that as a member of the Church, missing Sunday mass counts as "grave matter" for a mortal sin. He wants to go to mass, but when Sunday comes around, he doesn't go. Has he committed a mortal sin? Briefly defend your answer. (3 points)

2. Several months later, Tom Hanks is still stuck on the island. A storm comes and washes away his beloved volleyball, Wilson. After weeping over the loss of his best friend, Tom Hanks raises his eyes to heaven and curses God. Despite all appearances to the contrary, he is in full possession of his mental faculties, and knows what he is doing. What kind of sin has he committed? Briefly defend your answer. (3 points)
WHATEVER HAPPENED TO MEL GIBSON? 
I had actually been wondering that very thing when I read this excerpt at (where else?) The Deacon's Bench. The heartfelt piece is from a reporter who used to think Gibson was public enemy number one, which also serves to make it an even more interesting meditation on the power of personal connection.

TESTING FOR THE KILL 
A good piece about the dark assumptions that underlie new developments in pre-natal testing for Down syndrome. The heart of it is at DarwinCatholic who sends you to read the whole thing.

THE SAINT OF THE NICU
A beautiful story of prayer and the way God surprises us with His answers from Jen Fulwiler at Conversion Diary.

Well Said: I tend to read everything as SF.

Samuel R. Delaney has talked about the importance of reading protocols, and reading SF as SF. I tend to read everything as SF. ...

People talk about SF as a literature of ideas, as if you can't find ideas in Middlemarch or The Hunt for Red October. I don't think it's so much the literature of ideas as the literature of worldbuilding.

In a science fiction novel, the world is a character, and often the most important character.

In a mainstream novel, the world is implicitly our world, and the characters are the world.

In a mainstream novel trying to be SF, this gets peculiar and can make the reading experience uneven.
Jo Walton, What Makes This Book So Great
What Walton means by saying she reads everything as SF is that she is always aware of contextual clues that give her hints as to what the world in the book is like.

I, too, read everything as SF in that same way. Which makes Dickens and Eliot and all sorts of other authors much easier to dive into, let me tell you.

And Walton puts her finger on why I have never really cottoned to mainstream authors' "science fiction" books. I'm expecting science fiction and they're just donning the costume in order to deliver a different sort of book altogether.

Worth a Thousand Words: Luncheon of the Boating Party

Add caption
via Wikipedia
This is a favorite of practically everyone, with good reason.

I completely agree with the sentiments of actor Edward G. Robinson who said, "For over thirty years I made periodic visits to Renoir's Luncheon of the Boating Party in a Washington museum, and stood before that magnificent masterpiece hour after hour, day after day, plotting ways to steal it."

For a wonderful look at who all these people are, check both the Wikipedia link above and this piece at  Through An Artist's Eyes.

Something Funny for Friday

From Catholic Memes
I can't help it. This just cracks me up.

Part 3: The Wedding at Cana and The Passion of Christ


Giotto. The Wedding Feast at Cana. 1304-1306.

Continuing with Fulton Sheen's insights connecting the wedding at Cana and Christ's Passion, death and resurrection.
At the Resurrection He gave Himself back to her, to show that while she had gained new children, she had not lost Him. At Cana the prophecy that Simeon had made to her in the temple was confirmed: henceforth, whatever involved her Son would involve her, too; whatever happened to Him would happen to her. If He was destined to go to the Cross, so was she; and if He was now beginning His Public Life, then she would begin a new life too, no longer as just the mother of Jesus, but as the mother of all whom Jesus the Savior would redeem. He called Himself "Son of Man," a title embracing all humanity; she would be henceforth the "Mother of Men." Just as she was at His side as He began His Hour, so would she be at His side at its climactic finish. When she took Him away from the temple as a boy of twelve, it was because she sensed that His Hour had not yet come; He obeyed her then and returned to Nazareth with her. Now, He told her that His Hour had not yet come, but she bade Him begin it, and He obeyed. At Cana she gave Him as a Savior to sinners; on the Cross He gave her as a refuge to sinners.

When He suggested that His first miracle would lead unerringly to His Cross and death, and that she would become henceforth a Mother of Sorrows, she turned at once to the wine steward and said:
Do whatever he tells you. John 2:5
What a magnificent valedictory! She never speaks again in Scripture. Seven times she had spoken in the Scriptures, but now that Christ had shown Himself, like the sun in the full brilliance of His Divinity, Our Lady was willingly overshadowed like the moon, as John later on described her.
Life of Christ by Fulton Sheen
Part 4 will come tomorrow.

Preparing for Holy Week: Humility

This is a "repost" from previous years for Holy Week. However, in looking forward, these remain what I need to keep in mind for my own preparation ... and so thought I'd share them with y'all as well.

I think if we could be truly humble then everything else would fall into line ... the obedience, the loving others, loving God with our whole hearts, What a luxury that would be. Why is it so difficult to be humble? There are lots of answers to that. This fact remains. Just when I think I have it licked, my self jumps up and blindsides me into acting just the opposite.

We all have our own paths and problems with this essential virtue. With that in mind, I have gathered these words of wisdom for a weekend meditation.

As always, keep in mind that this was written during World War II as a series of letters being written by a senior demon advising his nephew on how best to gain souls. Therefore the perspective is topsy-turvy. For example, "The Enemy" is God and "Our Father" is the devil.
You must therefore conceal from the patient the true end of Humility. Let him think of it not as self-forgetfulness but as a certain kind of opinion (namely, a low opinion) of his talents and character. Some talents, I gather, he really has. Fix in his mind the idea that humility consists in trying to believe those talents to be less valuable than he believes them to be. No doubt they are in fact less valuable than he believes, but that is not the point. The great thing is to make him value an opinion for some quality other than truth, thus introducing an element of dishonesty and make-believe into the heart of what otherwise threatens to become a virtue. By this method thousands of humans have been brought to think that humility means pretty women trying to believe they are ugly and clever men trying to believe they are fools. And since what they are trying to believe may, in some cases, be manifest nonsense, they cannot succeed in believing it and we may have the chance of keeping their minds endlessly revolving on themselves in an effort to achieve the impossible. To anticipate the Enemy's strategy, we must consider His aims. The Enemy wants to bring the man to a state of mind in which he could design the best cathedral in the world, and know it to be the best, and rejoice in the fact, without being any more (or less) or otherwise glad at having done it than he would be if it had been done by another. The Enemy wants him, in the end to be so free from any bias in his own favor that he can rejoice in his own talents as frankly and gratefully as in his neighbor's talents -- or in a sunrise, an elephant, or a waterfall. He wants each man, in the long run, to be able to recognize all creatures (even himself) as glorious and excellent things. He wants to kill their animal self-love as soon as possible; but it is His long-term policy I fear, to restore to them a new kind of self-love -- a charity and gratitude for all selves including their own; when they have really learned to love their neighbors as themselves, they will be allowed to love themselves as their neighbors. For we must never forget what is the most repellent and inexplicable trait in our Enemy; He really loves the hairless bipeds He has created and always gives back to them with His right hand what He has taken away with His left...
The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis


Humility isn't the same thing as having a poor self-image. It's not about low self-esteem. It isn't about letting yourself become someone else's doormat. What it does mean, though, is that we recall always our utter dependence on God -- for life, for grace, for salvation. Humility knocks us off the pedestal we build for ourselves and helps us to realize that the universe doesn't revolve around us. The humble person learns to be indifferent to whether or not people praise him as much as he thinks he deserves. The humble person knows how to hold her tongue -- and her peace -- when things don't work out as she would prefer. Humility makes us consider that maybe the other guy is the one who's right.

To be humble means to be slow in asserting our wills, to hesitate before we insist on our rights, to swallow our pride and our complaints and our contrary opinions more often than we give vent to them. There are, of course, moments when it is right or even necessary to insist on our way and to tell everyone what we think: those moments, though, are far fewer than most of us would like to think. So many of those whom the culture praises as strong and assertive are merely self-absorbed and proud. Humility means to become small in spirit, like a little child, even though we may be wealthy, intelligent, and powerful in fact.
from the now defunct Dappled Things blog


Humility is the luxurious art of reducing ourselves to a point, not to a small thing or a large one, but to a thing with no size at all.
G.K. Chesterton

We'd like to be humble...but what if no one notices?
John Ortberg

Do it for the good, not for the goodies.
Father John Libone

For the most part, I do the thing which my own nature prompts me to do. It is embarrassing to earn so much respect and love for it.
Albert Einstein

When I am paid a compliment, I must compare myself with the little donkey that carried Christ on Palm Sunday. And I say to myself: If that little creature hearing the applause of the crowd, had become proud and had begun -- jackass that he was -- to bow his thanks right and left like a prima donna, how much hilarity he would have aroused! Don't act the same!
Cardinal Luciani, later Pope John Paul I

In fact, my philosophy is it's none of my business what other people think of me.
Jim Caviezel

... when the fault for a broken vase was wrongly put on her she kissed the ground and promised to be more careful.
Saint Therese of Lisieux

If you are humble nothing will touch you, neither praise nor disgrace, because you know who you are.
Mother Teresa

True humility is not an abject, groveling, self-despising spirit--it is but a right estimate of ourselves as God sees us.
Tryon Edwards

God is not proud...He will have us even though we have shown that we prefer everything else to Him.
CS Lewis

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Code Zero by Jonathan Maberry

Code Zero (Joe Ledger, #6)Code Zero by Jonathan Maberry

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

SHORT VERSION:
WOAH.

This is the worthy sequel to Patient Zero.

At one point, Rudy Sanchez says that "this has done something fundamental to the American people."

I'll tell you this. It did something fundamental to me.

It was exciting, suspenseful, terrifying, and haunted me in my dreams and at random moments in my day.

And it was satisfying. Very satisfying.

I'm not sure Maberry can top this. Though I'm already looking forward to his next attempt to try.

LONG VERSION:
It's been six years since Joe Ledger was secretly recruited by the government to lead a combat team for the DMS,  a taskforce created to deal with problems that Homeland Security can't handle. That story was told in Patient Zero. This was where we met a group of terrorists who had developed a bio-weapon that turned people into zombies.

Every year since then, like clockwork, Joe and Echo Team have returned to battle a variety of seemingly supernatural foes, all developed by villains who are somehow going to make boatloads of cash off of the terror.

The action-packed stories are full of evil super-villains, noble heroes, smart mouthed quips, a smattering of philosophy about "good guys and bad guys" and heart. Lots of heart. All this is told at a roller coaster pace that barely allows you to breathe until you get to the end.

I love them.

In many ways, this book is similar to the rest of the series. Mother Night, a villain you love to hate, is a super-genius anarchist who's strewing chaos throughout the country over Labor Day weekend. She's got the DMS's computer tied up in knots and old evils that were defeated in previous books are now popping their heads up all over the country. Losses are high and the odds are very much against Ledger and his team. We know Joe will win. It's watching it happen that makes it fun.

It is superior to the other books, I think, because the pacing is more measured and there is more character development. I also enjoyed the flashbacks into the DMS's years before Joe joined them.

But in one very important way Code Zero was very different for me.

I felt a level of anxiety that was all out of proportion. Maberry is an expert at ratcheting up the stakes until you just can't see how anyone decent is going to survive the maelstrom. I was used to that. But somehow this felt different. I got a bit jumpy. I couldn't quit thinking about the horrific chaos during the day when I had to put the book down. It stuck with me in a way the other books didn't.

In fact, after I finished Code Zero I had to go find a nice, gentle book to read. I just couldn't face anything hard-edged. (Hello, No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency.)

Then I woke up this morning to news on my clock radio about multiple stabbings at a high school. And I figured it out.

Maberry has his finger on the pulse of the evil that Americans today know all too well ... that lurks below the conscious level of our lives ... violent chaos that can strike without a moment's notice. Shootings at Fort Hood, restaurants, schools, and more have changed the mood of our country and made Mother Night's chaos resonate more deeply than usual.

Along the way, he looks at why people choose good or evil. This has been mentioned in other books, but never with so many examples as in this one. Maberry doesn't spell it out much but this conversation between a DMS scientist and Joe Ledger gave the larger context, as well as defining everyone's actions in the book.
"I've watched the tapes of Rudy interviewing some of the people you and Col. Riggs and the others have arrested. Some of them seem so ordinary. How can they commit those atrocities if they have a conscience? Is it their nature? Or is it a nurture thing? Are they from an environment that makes it ok for them?"

Joe grunted. "I asked Rudy that same exact question once."

"What did he say?"

"He said that the nature versus nurture question is fundamentally flawed because it assumes that there are only two possible forces at work on a person. Sure, a person's nature is a factor and that could be a produce of their brain chemistry or whatever makes a person a sociopath or a psychotic or a hero. Just as the forces in a person's life have to be taken into some account. Some abused children grow up to abuse. There's math for that. But neither viewpoint covers all the possible bases."

"So what's missing?"

"Choice," said Ledger. "Rudy thinks that choice is often more important than either nature or nurture. Some people grow up in hell and choose to let others share in that hell. Some people grow up in hell and they make damn sure they don't let those in their care ever glimpse those fires. It's a choice."

"Not everyone can make that choice."

"No, of course not. But a lot more people can than you might think." ...

"Choice," she said.

"Choice," he agreed. "It's what defines us. And it's probably the most underrated power in the world."
Code Zero is full of people choosing to save the world or burn it down. In most of the cases, the motivation comes down to something that Maberry does not name, but which I will make bold to label: love. We want to know we matter, that we make a difference, that someone "knows" us. Not for our accomplishments but simply because our "selves" matter.

Mother Night gives it a different name, and she may not tidily fall into this definition but, let's face it, she's super-villain crazy. I believe that her ultimate fate bears me out. It shows most in Maberry's final scenario at the end of the book as the answer to Rudy's statement that the chaos "has done something fundamental to the American people.

Truly this is a great book, especially for the shoot-em-up genre. It is also probably one that can be read as a stand alone without reading the others that came before.


AUDIO NOTES
I listened to the audiobook read by Ray Porter who was superb, as usual, at portraying Joe and every other character along the way. In this book Porter dialed his urgent, driving, delivery down some and thank goodness for that. The action was intense enough without being shoved over the edge of the cliff by a continually urgent tone. Porter also was more nuanced and thoughtful in his reading than I recall in previous Joe Ledger books. If this sounds odd when considering our heroes are fighting off zombies, it actually worked to make me consider the full horror being faced. Once again, kudos to Ray Porter. He's the reason I always choose audio for the Joe Ledger books.

Well Said: Doing Something for God

Remember, "doing something for God" might not be God's will.
Father James Yamauchi
It is very much in our modern mindset and also in our American character to show that we care by trying to "do something." And, of course, often action is needed to feed the hungry, help the ill, and so forth. But we like to apply action to every circumstance in our lives.

We're problem solvers and "do-ers" and also ... let's face it ... sometimes a frenzy of activity is the easy way out. We don't have to think or reflect or face ourselves that way. God's ways are not our ways and his thoughts are not our thoughts. Sometimes, as Tolstoy says, time and patience are the best warriors.

Worth a Thousand Words: Fishermen at Sea

Fishermen at Sea, William Turner, 1796
via Wikipaintings
When I came across this I couldn't tear my eyes away from the waves. They look so very real. Click through and take a look at this close up. I can almost feel the spray hit my face.

Part 2 - The Wedding at Cana and The Passion of Christ

Hieronymus Bosch. Hieronymus Bosch. Marriage Feast at Cana.
Continuing sharing the mind blowing connections Fulton Sheen makes between the wedding at Cana and Christ's Passion, death and resurrection.
As soon as He has consented to begin His "Hour," He proceeded immediately to tell her that her relations with Him would be henceforth changed. Until then, during His hidden life, she had been known as the mother of Jesus. But now that He was launched on the work of Redemption, she would no longer be just His mother, but also the mother of all His human brethren whom He would redeem. To indicate this new relationship, He now addressed her, not as "Mother" but as the "Universal Mother" or "Woman." What a ring those words had to people who lived in the light of the Old Testament. When Adam fell, God spoke to Satan and foretold that He would put enmity between his seed and "the Woman," for goodness would have a progeny as well as evil. the world would have not only the City of Man which Satan claimed as his own, but also the City of God. The "Woman" did have a seed, and it was her Seed that was standing now at the marriage feast, the Seed that would fall to the ground and die and then spring forth into new life.

The moment the "Hour" began, she became "the Woman"; she would have other children too, not according to the flesh, but according to the spirit. If He was to be the new Adam, the founder of a redeemed humanity, she would be the new Eve and the mother of that new humanity. As Our Lord was a man, she was His mother; and as He was a Savior, she was also the mother of all whom He would save. John, who was present at that wedding, was also present at the climax of the "Hour " on Calvary. He heard Our Lord calling her "Woman" from the Cross and then saying to her, "Behold thy son." When Our Lord raised the son of the widow of Naim from the dead, He said, "Give him back to his mother." On the Cross, He consoled His mother by giving her another son, John, and with him the whole of redeemed humanity.
Life of Christ by Fulton Sheen
Part 3 will come tomorrow.