Friday, October 2, 2015

Worth a Thousand Words: Chestnut Gatherers

Chestnut Gatherers, Georges Lacombe, 1893
via Wikiart

Well Said: The Reason Angels Can Fly

The reason angels can fly is because they take themselves lightly.
G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy

Feast of the Guardian Angels

Another of my favorite feast days ... reposted because it's just that good! 

Devotion to the Guardian Angels goes back to the beginnings of Christianity. Pope Clement X proclaimed the feast a universal celebration in the seventeenth century. The Guardian Angels serve as the messengers of God. The Almighty has allocated a Guardian Angel to each one of us for our protection and for the good of our apostolate...

We have to deal with our Guardian Angels in a familiar way, while at the same time recognizing their superior nature and grace. Though less palpable in their presence than human friends are, their efficacy for our benefit is far greater. Their counsel and suggestions come from God, and penetrate more deeply than any human voice. To reiterate, their capacity for hearing and understanding us is much superior even to that of our most faithful human friend, since their attendance at our side is continuous; they can enter more deeply into our intentions, desires and petitions than can any human being, since angels can reach our imagination directly without recourse to the comprehension of words. They are able to incite images, provoke memories, and make impressions in order to give us direction.

As devoted as I am to the Archangels, I am especially fond of my Guardian Angel. He is always there when I need him and has a wicked sense of humor. Perhaps wicked is not the right word. He must, therefore, have an angelic sense of humor! This is one of my favorite feast days.

For my personal angel stories, as well as some general information, you can read more here, here, and here.

Prayer to One's Guardian Angel

Dear Angel,
in his goodness God gave you to me to
guide, protect and enlighten me,
and to being me back to the right way when I go astray.
Encourage me when I am disheartened,
and instruct me when I err in my judgment.
Help me to become more Christlike,
and so some day to be accepted into
the company of Angels and Saints in heaven.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Well Said: Desiring to be a Saint

God would never inspire me with desires which cannot be realized; so in spite of my littleness, I can hope to be a saint.
Thérèse de Lisieux, Story of a Soul
This gives me hope, likewise.

Feast Day of St. Therese of Lisieux: The Strong Woman Called the "Little Flower"

What broke open connecting with St. Therese for me? A good translation and a second book. I wrote about it for Patheos several years ago and Therese's feast day seems a good time to share it here.

Brede, No Treacle*: St. Therese and Rumer Godden

Canonized less than thirty years after her death, Thérèse's only book, The Story of a Soul, was enough to get her named a saint, and more recently a Doctor of the Church. Thérèse is the youngest person to be so named and only the third woman to receive this honor.

This all is quite praiseworthy. What is it, then, about this saint that divides Catholics sharply into two camps: those who love her unreservedly and those who are pointedly indifferent when her name is mentioned?

In a nutshell, it is Thérèse's own words that lead many to distastefully associate her with saccharin piety. Her autobiography was written as a young girl to her sister in the flowery, sentimental French style of the late 19th century. Older translations, if anything, heighten the over-wrought style. The other problem is the subject matter: early childhood devotion to Jesus, testimony about her relationship with Jesus, and Thérèse's struggles in the convent to do small things for Christ. Even talented writers might struggle to communicate these concepts well, much less a young woman with limited writing experience.

I read The Story of a Soul long ago because I was urged to do so by many devotees of "The Little Flower," as she is called. Wishing to politely turn off those suggestions, I read the book as fast as possible. Naturally, I got little from it.

The key, as I discovered recently, is not only to read St. Thérèse with attention, but to have a translation that cuts through her "treacle." Robert Edmonson's translation from Paraclete Press does precisely that. Thérèse's trademark piety, sincerity, and liveliness cannot be denied, but this translation makes it easier to see beneath her superficial-seeming surface to the complex person underneath. She emerges as tough, uncompromising, and heroic with a strong core of common sense.
The second experience that I had concerns the priests. Never having lived close to them, I couldn't understand the principal goal of the Carmelite reform [to pray for priests]. To pray for sinners delighted me, but to pray for the souls of priests, whom I thought of as purer than crystal, seemed astonishing to me. ...

For a month I lived with many holy priests, and I saw that if their sublime dignity raises them above the Angels, they are nonetheless weak and fragile men . ... If holy priests whom Jesus calls in the Gospel "the salt of the earth" show in their behavior that they have an extreme need of prayers, what can one say about the ones who are lukewarm? Didn't Jesus add, "But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again?" [Mt 5:13]
Her observation sadly resonates all too well with the modern reader. The 15-year-old Thérèse is revealed as someone who faces the truth and applies the only action she can take, which is prayer.

Thérèse also reveals her extreme struggles to love her neighbors in the convent, often accompanied by a lively sense of the ridiculous. There is the example of her determination to assist an elderly Sister down a long hallway after dinner, which begins with the aged woman shaking her hourglass at Thérèse to get her attention. This contains so much truth, conveyed with such good humor, that we can see the Sister's personality exactly because we know people just like her. Thérèse is never afraid to laugh at herself either.
... I've made a sort of speech about charity that must have tired you out reading it. Forgive me, beloved Mother, and remember that right now the nurses are practicing on my behalf what I've just written. They're not afraid to go two miles when twenty steps would suffice. So I've been able to observe charity in action! ...

When I begin to take up my pen, here's a good Sister who passes near me, a pitchfork over her shoulder. She thinks she's entertaining me by chatting with me a little. Hay, ducks, hens, a doctor's visit, everything's on the table. To tell you the truth, that doesn't last long, but there's more than one good, charitable Sister, and suddenly another hay cutter drops some flowers in my lap, thinking that perhaps she'll inspire some poetic ideas in me. Not seeking out flowers right then, I would prefer that they remain attached to their stems.
It has become fashionable to discount St. Thérèse's spiritual struggles by filtering them through modern perspectives. Biographers look at the girl whose mother died when she was very small, at her "abandonment" by her older sisters as they one by one entered the convent, at her early entry into the cloister. They speak of neuroses and a stifled personality by living in the unrealistic atmosphere of the convent.

It's better to take Thérèse at her word. Many people suffered similar life circumstances and worse, but were never suffused with the love of God, or the wisdom, that Thérèse relates.

An antidote to the heaping of modern perspectives onto Thérèse's insights might be to read one of the finest books ever written about convent life. In This House of Brede by Rumer Godden is fictional but it portrays cloistered convent life in such a real, luminous way that it could be mistaken for an autobiography.

Philippa Talbot, a successful career woman in her 40s, leaves London to join a cloistered Benedictine community. Once she enters, the narrative never leaves that setting, yet the story is riveting. There are mysteries and minor intrigues, but the focus is on the characters, who are fully realized with flaws and virtues alike. Readers soon realize that life among the religious is no easier path; an enclosed community requires more Christian development from the souls within, not less.

Rumer Godden lived at the gatehouse of an English enclosed community for three years while writing In This House of Brede, during which time she converted to Catholicism, and eventually became a Benedictine Oblate. The deep understanding that comes from real exposure to the life infuses the novel with such authenticity that the book is still recommended by actual cloistered religious to those who wonder what such life can be like.

Godden had a talent for looking into the heart of what makes us truly human, both good and bad. In holding up her characters' flaws, she holds up a mirror into which we blush to look, even when the flaws seem relatively minor.
... Odd, she [Philippa] had thought, I never seriously visualized coming out of Brede again; it had not occurred to her, but in those minutes it occurred painfully. She could have blushed to think how once she had taken it for granted that, if she made enough effort—steeled herself—it would be settled. "I know," Dame Clare said afterwards. "I was as confident. Once upon a time I even thought God had taste, choosing me!"

Dame Perpetua had been more blunt. "Weren't you surprised that God should have chosen you?" a young woman reporter, writing a piece on vocations, had asked her. "Yes," Dame Perpetua had answered, "but not nearly as surprised that he should have chosen some of the others—but then God's not as fastidious as we are."
Rumer Godden is the talented writer who provides perspective for the cloistered life that Thérèse experienced. Her insights into the rich, full life that can be had in the convent are the final antidote for those who believe otherwise.

I am no longer indifferent to St. Thérèse. She has become a solid friend who has provided good advice for overcoming my faults and loving my neighbors better. Thanks to Robert Edmonson and Rumer Godden, there are new lessons to be learned both for those who are devoted to St. Thérèse and those who are indifferent.

Treacle = British for molasses (sort of)

Wikipedia sez: The most common forms of treacle are the pale syrup that is also known as golden syrup and the darker syrup that is usually referred to as dark treacle or black treacle. Dark treacle has a distinctively strong flavour, slightly bitter, and a richer colour than golden syrup,[3] yet not as dark as molasses.

Worth a Thousand Words: Portrait of Edna Barger

Jules-Joseph LEFEBVRE, Portrait of Edna Barger of Connecticut
via French Painters

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Worth a Thousand Words: Mixed Flowers in an Earthenware Pot

via Arts Everyday Living
Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Mixed Flowers in an Earthenware Pot, c. 1869

Feast Day of St. Jerome

Niccolò Antonio Colantonio, showing St. Jerome's removal of a thorn from a lion's paw. Source.
I interpret as I should, following the command of Christ: Search the Scriptures, and Seek and you shall find. Christ will not say to me what he said to the Jews: You erred, not knowing the Scriptures and not knowing the power of God. For if, as Paul says, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God, and if the man who does not know Scripture does not know the power and wisdom of Gods, then ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.
Read more at Crossroads Initiative
I do not have that "friendly feeling" with St. Jerome that I have with many other saints. However, I do love the fact that he was well known to be cantankerous and had to fight his temper constantly. It gives me that fellow feeling of someone who has to fight the same failings I do. I also highly respect him for his supreme love of Scripture as the path to God. (Protestants should enjoy this Church Father's works for that very reason.)

This might be the best short summary I've ever seen of St. Jerome's life, and, specifically, why he is such a good patron saint for us bloggers.
He was a great scholar. He knew many languages. He fact-checked against original sources. He supported and was supported by fearless, scholarly and religious women. He successfully fought against the world, the flesh and the Devil.

And dang, did he understand flamewars.
Here is a wonderful poem about St. Jerome which is both accurate and hilarious. My favorite sort of poem, in fact. If you read this out loud you will get the most benefit from it.
From "Times Three" by Phyllis McGinley

God’s angry man, His crotchety scholar
Was Saint Jerome,
The great name-caller
Who cared not a dime
For the laws of Libel
And in his spare time
Translated the Bible.
Quick to disparage
All joys but learning
Jerome thought marriage
Better than burning;
But didn’t like woman’s
Painted cheeks;
Didn’t like Romans,
Didn’t like Greeks,
Hated Pagans
For their Pagan ways,
Yet doted on Cicero all of his days.

A born reformer, cross and gifted,
He scolded mankind
Sterner than Swift did;
Worked to save
The world from the heathen;
Fled to a cave
For peace to breathe in,
Promptly wherewith
For miles around
He filled the air with
Fury and sound.
In a mighty prose
For Almighty ends,
He thrust at his foes,
Quarreled with his friends,
And served his Master,
Though with complaint.
He wasn’t a plaster sort of a saint.

But he swelled men’s minds
With a Christian leaven.
It takes all kinds
To make a heaven.
Read a summary of St. Jerome's life and work at Catholic Culture. For more detailed information go to Catholic Online.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

"The Francis Effect" and Me

via Wikimedia Commons
I was relatively unmoved by the idea of Pope Francis coming to America. After all, it wasn't as if I were going to be meeting him. Though I wish him well, I haven't felt personal interest in him. And I didn't feel that he really had a very personal interest in the United States or cared about our culture, just to be honest. Other than possibly to bring us under a critical eye. (Sorry, but that's just how I was feeling from my little part of the Catholic world.)

My main reaction was amazement that a 78-year old would have the stamina to make state visits to Cuba and then carry out a papal U.S. tour with a grueling schedule. I began praying for his health.

Then Pope Francis began speaking and, as I linked to the full text of his addresses for others, I began reading them myself.

I was impressed. And touched. These were the words of someone who clearly had prepared by caring enough to find out what mattered to us. Our heroes were mentioned. Our proud history as a nation of immigrants. Our current struggles.

Over and over, Pope Francis was reaching out toward us in the way we'd understand best, by showing us that he cared about who we are. Which, after all is what a good shepherd does.

It came together for me when watching Archbishop Thomas Wenski on Stephen Colbert's "pope-isode" (which was terrific, by the way). Colbert asked him what the pope was trying to do with visits to Cuba and the U.S. The bishop replied simply, "He's trying to change the culture."

Of course.

I mean, I knew that. But I didn't know it, it didn't hit home until then.

Both Cuba and the U.S. need culture changes to be what we should be in God's eyes, walking in God's way. For all our differences, we are exactly the same. We fall far short, just in ways that reflect our different cultures, our ways of seeing the world. This applies to every country on earth. We all need a culture change. And I was seeing Pope Francis put in the time and effort, pouring himself out, to try to get us to see where the change needs to happen.

This isn't what I'd call "the Francis effect" because what happened to me was fairly gentle. It was a new appreciation for Francis because I suddenly felt as if he cared about me, for who I am as an American. Certainly it made me read his addresses more thoughtfully, with more thought for my own life. (Book publishers, do we have a "Francis Talks to the U.S." book planned - with all these talks in it? Because I wouldn't even wait for the library to get it. I'd buy it.)

Tom's been reading Pope Francis's address to Congress a few paragraphs at a time. It has stimulated a lot of conversation. But we always comes back to the key point: where do we need to pour ourselves out?

Obviously we change the culture simply by being fully ourselves in daily life. If every single Christian did that always, then our culture would change. But that is far from all that we can or should do. It isn't how Jesus lived or the first Christians or the saints. How do we be like that? Where should we pour ourselves out?

Side note: speaking of "the Francis effect," I've also seen similar results from visits by Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict here and abroad. I tend to agree with Ross Douthat's assessment.
But there is a common thread that binds Benedict’s success despite low expectations and often-savage coverage and Francis’s success amid high enthusiasm and generally-fawning coverage: Secularism is weaker than many people think.

Worth a Thousand Words: Gare Saint Lazare

Claude Monet: Gare Saint Lazare, 1877
via Wikipedia

Well Said: To convert somebody

To convert somebody go and take them by the hand and guide them.
St. Thomas Aquinas
In other words, you can't do it from afar.

Feast of the Archangels

This is one of my favorite feast days so I re-present one of my favorite posts about it.



All art from 
Gryphon Rampant where they have art, stories, comics, trivia and merchandise with a faith based focus
(Now when they put one of these archangels on some things, I'll buy them!) 
The liturgy for today celebrates the feast of the three archangels who have been venerated throughout the history of the Church, Michael (from the Hebrew Who is like God?) is the archangel who defends the friends of God against Satan and all his evil angels. Gabriel, (the Power of God), is chosen by the Creator to announce to Mary the mystery of the Incarnation. Raphael, (the Medicine of God), is the archangel who takes care of Tobias on his journey.

I have a special fondness for angels and it is a sign of my Catholic geekiness, I suppose, that I got an excited "Christmas morning" sort of thrill when I realized today's feast.

I read for the first time about angels when we were in the hospital with my father-in-law after his stroke. That made a big impression on me at the time. I always attribute the miracle that happened to the Holy Family but the angels are divine messengers and so have their place in it as well. Because of that I always have remembered that we can call not only on our friends for intercessory prayer, but also on angels for intercession and help. The prayer to St. Michael is one of my favorites.
St. Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle. Be our safeguard against the wickedness and snares of the devil. May God rebuke him we humbly pray. And do thou, O prince of the heavenly host, by the power of God, cast into hell Satan and all the evil spirits who prowl around the world seeking the ruin of souls. Amen.
Some more on angels.
You should be aware that the word "angel" denotes a function rather than a nature. Those holy spirits of heaven have indeed always been spirits. They can only be called angels when they deliver some message. Moreover, those who deliver messages of lesser importance are called angels; and those who proclaim messages of supreme importance are called archangels.
From a homily by Pope Saint Gregory the Great
Read more about angels at Catholic Culture.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Well Said and Worth a Thousand Words: Lunar Eclipse Over Dallas

Lunar Eclipse Over Dallas
taken by talented photographer and friend Kirsten Walquist
Last night we spent 3 hours watching the total lunar eclipse from the comfort of our back yard. The lights were out, the crickets were chirping, the dew was falling. Despite the nearby traffic on Abrams, we felt the mystery of the natural world come over us.

It's been a very long time since I've sat for three hours with no other occupation than to watch the sky.

We had long stretches of silence, punctuated by thoughts on the incredible regularity and predictability of the "cosmic ballet." How had this looked to the Druids? To the prehistoric people? What did we share with them, despite our advanced knowledge of the mechanics of the eclipse? Just thinking of these physical laws applied to our solar system, our galaxy, the ever-expanding universe gave me a headache and a profound feeling of awe.

I thought again of my favorite psalm, which usually comes to mind because of the first part which praising nature as God's voice. This time I thought about the praise of the Lord's teaching, his pact, his precepts. They apply, of course, to the scripture and our internal lives. In another light, in the way of poetry and the timeless depth of scripture, don't they apply just as much to physical laws — the movement of the stars, of the moon, of our own planet?

I submit they do. Last night they delighted our hearts, gave light to our eyes, and restored us to deeper life.

Psalm 19

(a combination of RSV, Knox, and Robert Alter translations)
The heavens are telling the glory of God;
and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.
Day to day pours forth speech,
and night to night declares knowledge.
There is no speech, nor are there words;
their voice is not heard;
Yet their voice goes out through all the earth,
and their words to the end of the world.

In the heavens he has set a tent for the sun,
who comes out like a bridegroom from his wedding canopy,
exults like a warrior running his course.
His rising is from the ends of the heavens,
and his circuit to the end of them;
and nothing is hid from his heat.

The Lord’s teaching is perfect,
restoring to life.
The Lord’s pact is steadfast,
it makes the fool wise.
The Lord’s precepts are upright,
delighting the heart.
The Lord’s command unblemished,
giving light to the eyes.
The Lord’s fear is pure,
outlasting all time.
The Lord’s judgments are truth,
all of them just.
More desired than gold,
than abundant fine gold,
and sweeter than honey,
dripping from its comb.
By these I, thy servant, live,
observing them how jealously!

And yet, who knows his own frailties?
If I have sinned unwittingly, do thou absolve me.
Keep ever thy own servant far from pride;
so long as this does not lord it over me,
I will yet be without fault,
I will yet be innocent of the great sin.

Every word on my lips,
every thought in my heart
what wouldst thou have it be,
O Lord, my rock,
my redeemer!

Friday, September 25, 2015

Because It's Friday So Why Not: Nobody Likes Bagpipes

Award winning Bear McCreary's true love, featuring one of my favorite instruments. (No joke.)

Via Summa This, Summa That where there is a lot more information about McCreary.

Pope Francis Hits the Big Apple

First some context for why I keep linking to the whole text.

The Six Times You Were Flat-Out Lied to About Pope Francis
Michael Marinaccio tells us:
I thought it would be fitting to put together a short list of instances where the Holy Father has been completely taken out of context or mis-reported (flat-out lied about) by the national media and press corps.
It's a good list and if you've been actually reading what the Pope says when these little tidbits are reported, then you too won't be surprised by the things Marinaccio reveals.

What the Pope's Been Saying
With that in mind, here are a couple more links to the full text of the Pope's talks at Whispers in the Loggia (as I did for his Washington talks).
  • Pope Francis at St. Patricks: “There is a cause for rejoicing here”, although “you may for a time have to suffer the distress of many trials” (1 Pet 1:6). These words of the Apostle remind us of something essential. Our vocation is to be lived in joy.

  • Pope Francis at the U.N.: "At the same time, government leaders must do everything possible to ensure that all can have the minimum spiritual and material means needed to live in dignity and to create and support a family, which is the primary cell of any social development. In practical terms, this absolute minimum has three names: lodging, labour, and land; and one spiritual name: spiritual freedom, which includes religious freedom, the right to education and other civil rights."
I won't be doing this every day. Hey, the weekend means I'm not around the computer as much. But you get the idea. You know where to go and what to look for when you see those confusing claims in four words for the Pope's entire message.

Well Said: The terrible pain of loss teaches humility to our prideful kind

We must know the pain of loss; because if we never knew it, we would have no compassion for others, and we would become monsters of self-regard, creatures of unalloyed self-interest. The terrible pain of loss teaches humility to our prideful kind, has the power to soften uncaring hearts, to make a better person of a good one.

Dean Koontz, The Darkest Evening of the Year
I never would have thought of it that way but it is perfectly expressed.

Worth a Thousand Words: Space

Antoine Chintreuil, Space, 1869

Scott has found a perfect location for a Den of Dissolutes in downtown Paris ...

... but he can't understand why Julie is building a barricade outside. Not a chair left in the place! So they have to stand while discussing Les Miserables (2012), directed by Tom Hooper. It's episode 117 of A Good Story is Hard to Find podcast!

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Pope Francis: So Far

Francis 2.0 Emerges in America

He's talked to Congress, he's talked to the bishops, he's even swung by the Little Sisters of the Poor. Pope Francis is in the U.S. and he's not shy about saying what he thinks. John Allen at Crux has an interesting overview of the visit so far. Here's a bit.
To some extent, the category-blending nature of the pope’s message is simply a reflection of the nature of Catholic social teaching, which utterly defies the left v. right nature of American politics.

As John Carr, a longtime policy advisor for the US bishops and now the head of a Georgetown initiative, once memorably put it, anyone who takes the full range of Catholic teaching seriously is destined to end up “politically homeless” in the United States.

Yet one has the sense that there’s something else going on, a deliberate effort by Francis to correct impressions that he’s a one-man band rather than the representative of a long tradition.

“The heart of the Pope expands to include everyone,” Francis told the bishops, adding that “I do not speak to you with my voice alone, but in continuity with the words of my predecessors.”
I was taught that "politically homeless" point in RCIA and have never forgotten it. Though Pope Francis seems to often swing to the right or left, it has always looked to me like the category-defying nature of the Catholic Church. Read it all.

What the Pope's Been Saying ... and His Surprise Visit

Before the news chews it up and spits it out in pieces, you can read the full text of the Pope's talks thus far at Whispers in the Loggia. He's also got feed links.
  • Pope Francis's Address to U.S. Bishops: "I am also conscious of the courage with which you have faced difficult moments in the recent history of the Church in this country without fear of self-criticism and at the cost of mortification and great sacrifice."
  • Homily from the Canonization Mass for Junipero Serra: the first canonization mass held on U.S. soil, by the way
  • "Mister Speaker, The Pope": Pope Francis addresses Congress citing Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Dorothy Day, and Thomas Merton as exemplary Americans. (Read about Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton here.)
  • Pope Francis Visits Little Sisters of Poor: Not a talk but about his surprise stop. "Fr. Frederico Lombardi, spokesman for the Holy See, told reporters at a Washington, D.C. press conference that Francis met with the nuns as “a sign of his support” for them in their lawsuit against the Obama administration."