Thursday, March 31, 2011

Space Aliens, a Priest, and the Black Death

One marvelous novel has it all: Eifelheim.
Father Dietrich is the village priest of Eifelheim, in the year 1348, when the Black Death is gathering strength. To his astonishment, Dietrich makes first contact between humanity and an alien race from a distant star, when their ship crashes in the nearby forest. Flynn gives us the full richness and strangeness of medieval life, as well as some terrific aliens.
Scott and I discuss the book, whether aliens have religion, disagree over Connie Willis' Blackout, and a whole lot more at A Good Story is Hard to Find.

Young, Fun and Catholic

Looking for answers? Or just want something clean to read? Got questions about your Catholic faith and don't know what answers you can trust to be true to the Vatican? Here is the blog for you! For ages 20 - 30. It's a place for younger Adult Catholics to find some answers and read about other Catholics trying to live the right way!
From what I saw it is perfectly named. Drop by and take a look around.

A Free Mind: Brede, No Treacle: St. Therese and Rumer Godden

Cutting through the "treacle" of St. Therese brings forth the strong personality and deep faith of a woman willing to embrace the challenge of a Carmelite cloister. And we know how challenging that could be thanks to a Rumer Godden classic novel.
What broke open connecting with St. Therese for me? A good translation and a second book: my latest column at Patheos.

Clarification
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

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Au Revoir Les Enfants: There's Another 105 Minutes I'll Never Get Back*

I'll do what director Louis Malle should have. I'm going to make this mercifully brief and to the point.

A young, privileged French boy in a Catholic boarding school in Nazi-occupied France mostly despises and later befriends another young boy who has a touch of mystery about him. It is just a touch. The audience can tell fairly easily that the boy is Jewish and is being hidden at the school by the priest.

Although beautifully photographed, this story goes nowhere as slowly as possible, failing to develop characters enough for us to care about them until around the last twenty minutes of the movie. At that point it became interesting as the Nazis made their usual menacing selves more obvious.

The biggest crime in the movie is that Malle showed us nothing new. Autobiographical or not, the characters are those we've seen before, as are the motivations and the lessons.

I'm not against slow movies. Babette's Feast was also almost ponderously slow and beautifully shot. The difference, and it is crucial, is that Babette's Feast showed us something new and gave us much food for thought at the end. There was a payoff and it was one that kept us talking about it for weeks.

This story mattered to Louis Malle because it was semi-autobiographical. It didn't to me or the three others who watched it with me.

Update:
I meant to say that we researched Louis Malle's other films after seeing this. Upon seeing that he also directed My Dinner with Andre, Tom reevaluated his review, "I now realize that for Malle this was a sprightly and fast-paced look at school days." Which tells you all you need to know about our view of that movie, which we never made it through despite our best efforts. 'Nuff said.

*I'll just say it now ... yes, I'm in the minority, based on the many acclaims the movie has received. I remain unmoved by them and stick to my guns on this.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

A Zombie and Two Protestants Walk Into a Book Store

I am tickled pink to see that a zombie was the first purchaser of an autographed copy of Happy Catholic at the HC store.

He was followed closely by two of my Protestant besties ... Scott, with whom I've argued over many a movie review, and Hey Jules, with whom I've pondered many a theological question.

Just seems right somehow.

Though I see the fellow mackerel-snappers are joining in now also. Which definitely is a good thing!

======

On another note, I am super-swamped today ... this may be the only post I can muster.

Sorry!

Monday, March 28, 2011

The HC Book Store is Ready to Serve You

Finally!

Step right up to get your autographed copies ... we're set up for domestic sales in the form and will be happy to handle international requests also (though those will take a little more hands-on work).

I made my first personal sale this evening. It's true, I'm shameless. None of Hannah's friends are safe when they come over to go running. Though to be fair, she does read the blog.

Rest In Peace: Diana Wynne Jones

Thank you to the various people who, knowing of my new-found passion for Diana Wynne Jones' books, wrote to let me know that she died this weekend.

Neil Gaiman wrote a splendid and moving tribute to this author, who was also his literary godmother.
As an author she was astonishing. The most astonishing thing was the ease with which she'd do things (which may be the kind of thing that impresses other writers more than it does the public, who take it for granted that all writer are magicians.But those of us who write for a living know how hard it is to do what she did). The honest, often prickly characters, the inspired, often unlikely plots, the jaw-dropping resolutions.
Indeed, yes.

I also liked reading his description of visiting her in the hospital the day before she died.

Read it all here: Being Alive. Mostly about Diana.

Just this weekend I was thinking about confession ...

... during my wrestling with keeping my thoughts on Mass, one of the wanderings my too-active brain did was a realization that Reconciliation (a.k.a. confession) is the only sacrament, other than the Eucharist, which can be repeated frequently in ordinary life and which we need no other prompting than to get ourselves to the confessional.

(Quick refresher here - the seven sacraments are: Baptism, Eucharist (communion), Reconciliation, Confirmation, Marriage, Holy Orders, Annointing of the Sick)

I don't know why this never dawned on me in quite that way, but it made it more special. It is so important, like the Eucharist, that God wanted us to be able to get it whenever we needed it. Often. Frequently.

But do we think of it that way? I do not. Which is, in itself, something I need to think about.

As if to underscore that realization, today I had a question pop up on an old post explaining Penance (yet, another term for Reconciliation and Confession). You just get yourselves over there to see what it was, but it made me look up the results of Confession. I gotta love that online Catechism.
1496 The spiritual effects of the sacrament of Penance are:
  • reconciliation with God by which the penitent recovers grace;
  • reconciliation with the Church;
  • remission of the eternal punishment incurred by mortal sins;
  • remission, at least in part, of temporal punishments resulting from sin;
  • peace and serenity of conscience, and spiritual consolation;
  • an increase of spiritual strength for the Christian battle.
It is Lent. Time for confession, penance, and reconciliation with God. What else do I need to think about?

Nothing really.

Saintly Sisters' Nun Dolls

I am pleased to announce that I have started my own Catholic Nun Doll business! Today on the feast of the Annunciation Saintly Sisters officially opened its doors! Saintly Sisters is a family owned and operated business. It's my sincerest hope that vocations will be inspired by these dolls. I love love thinking about the possible vocations that might come blossom from our dolls!
These are super-cute dolls. Go check out Saintly Sisters' grand opening!

The new Happy Catholic book's here!

Navin R. Johnson: The new phone book's here! The new phone book's here!

Harry Hartounian: Boy, I wish I could get that excited about nothing.

Navin R. Johnson: Nothing? Are you kidding? Page 73 - Johnson, Navin R.! I'm somebody now! Millions of people look at this book everyday! This is the kind of spontaneous publicity - your name in print - that makes people. I'm in print! Things are going to start happening to me now.
The Jerk
I have in my hands the actual printed book! Not too shabby! And this'll tell you what a layout geek I am ... I actually really like the spine.

Yes. The spine. You'll just have to get your own to see what I mean.

Sadly, I've already found a couple of things that need fixing. Isn't that always the way? The first things you turn to are the shockers that stop your heart.

I am going to look at these as the touches that tell us that real human beings worked on these, just as in Gutenberg's day. Yeah. That's my story and I'm sticking with it! Although they will be fixed in the ebook editions so anyone buying those will be just that little bit closer to perfection!

(I haven't been in advertising for so long without learning how to tap that dance in both directions, y'all. The crazy thing? I mean it! Both ways!)

Ok, I'm getting the store set up. Cross my heart. As soon as I can get Tom off the phone.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Did you read ...?



This makes me think of being on SFFaudio. There's no way I can ever keep up with those guys' encyclopedic science fiction reading. Thanks to Tante Leonie for this.

Weekend Joke: Art and the Thief

Thanks to Seth for this one!
A thief in Paris planned to steal some paintings from the Louvre.

After careful planning, he got past security, stole the paintings, and made it safely to his van.

However, he was captured only two blocks away when his van ran out of gas.

When asked how he could mastermind such a crime and then make such an obvious error, he replied,

"Monsieur, that is the reason I stole the paintings. I had no Monet

To buy Degas

To make the Van Gogh."

Friday, March 25, 2011

In which Abraham and Isaac go to the mountaintop and Abraham buys at top dollar.

That's right! We're heading with Abraham into the event that everyone knows him for, whether they've ever read the Bible or not. Hear it all, plus the podcast highlight, at Forgotten Classics.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Reviewing Gilgamesh The King by Robert Silverberg

The Epic of Gilgamesh is one of the earliest known works of literature, being from around 2200 B.C. It tells of Gilgamesh the king of Uruk (a city-state in Sumer) who is half human and half god.

[...]

After a story has been around as long as the Epic of Gilgamesh, it is not surprising that there are several versions which have been recovered on ancient clay tablets. What is surprising is that Gilgamesh’s story is alive and well in different versions in modern culture, ranging from music to television to video games. That makes it more understandable that Robert Silverberg, that prolific master of science fiction, brought his talents to bear on retelling the tale in 1984. One wonders how earlier authors missed taking advantage of a story with such fantastic elements: a demi-god, slayer of monsters and master warrior, searching for the key to immortality.
Read it all at SFFaudio.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

A Movie You Might Have Missed: 27

You'll laugh. You'll cry. You'll fall in love all over again with a little mermaid. Believe it or not, all from a documentary.

27. Waking Sleeping Beauty



The Black Cauldron is universally agreed to be Disney's lowest point in animated movies. This documentary takes us from the time that movie is being created in 1984 through Disney's golden animation renaissance that began with The Little Mermaid and ended with The Lion King in 1994. How the studio went in a  mere ten-year period the depths to the heights of animation is the subject of this behind-the-scenes tale from the point of view of the animators. Everything is told through stills and archive footage although with new audio interviews by several of the principal figures. Much of the footage shot by the animators themselves while at work.

The business side of the company is also examined, including what was really responsible for Disney's rise and subsequent fall after The Lion King, the monumental egos of Roy Disney, Michael Eisner and Jeffrey Katzenburg. Hearing the animators' side of these much loved movies is fascinating. The movie clips played remind us that it has been all too long since we watched The Little Mermaid or Beauty and the Beast. As well, you will appreciate Howard Ashman as never before for his creative genius and the passion he gave to his work. It is an engrossing and surprisingly fast-paced work that any Disney movie fans will enjoy.

Mail Bag: Three Interesting Things

NY Lenten Video Scholarship Contest with a $25,000 Prize
In an effort to help promote New York’s All Day Confessions event, happening Monday April 18th, The Diocese of Brooklyn in conjunction with both the Archdiocese of New York and Diocese of Rockville Centre are launching a grassroots digital campaign called i-Confess. Using both social and digital media, the goal of this campaign is to generate interest in the act of Confession throughout New York State.

As part of the i-Confess campaign and beginning March 8th local New York area students will have the opportunity to create and submit short (up to 1 minute in length) YouTube stylized videos for a chance to win the top prize of $25,000 towards an educational scholarship and the school will receive an additional $25,000. A second place prize of $10,000 and the school will receive an additional $10,000, multiple third place prizes of $1,000 each will be awarded. The winning video may also be featured in the official All Day Confessions campaign TV commercial airing throughout NY.
Find out more here. Thanks to The Anchoress for the heads up on this.

Shower Curtains to Sing About

Find them here. Via Rose, whose selection you see above.


The History of Science Fiction
 I especially like the way that pulp magazines have an artery leading to Astounding Magazine that leads to L. Ron Hubbard, with a vein going to Scientology. That gives you the flavor. I printed it out to peruse at leisure. This is a low res image just to give you a feel for it. Go to slashfilm to see the high res image. Also via Rose.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

B-16's History Lessons: Reviewing "The Fathers, Volume II"

In this treatise on the combat between the vices and the virtues, [Ambrose] Aupert sets contemptus mundi (contempt for the world) against cupiditas (greed), which becomes an important figure in the spirituality of monks. This contempt for the world is not a contempt for Creation, for the beauty and goodness of Creation and of the Creator, but a contempt for the false vision of the world that is presented to us and suggested us us precisely by covetousness. It insinuates that "having" is the supreme value of our being, of our life in the world, and seems important.
It is often lamented that Pope Benedict XVI writes on a very high level. What is overlooked are his homilies, which he gives a great number of every year.

Homilies of necessity must be fairly easy to follow as they are delivered to the widely varying crowds of the congregation for Mass. Luckily for us, Pope Benedict likes to take a theme and follow it to a logical end, which may cover the course of a year. In this case, he followed the theme of the Fathers of the Church, which is a long one indeed. Equally luckily for us Our Sunday Visitor has published the pope's homilies gathered into books which makes them handy for contemplative reading or simply for learning more about the fathers' lives and times.

I was eagerly anticipating this book, having really been inspired after having read the first Fathers volume as well as his homilies about the apostles. I was not disappointed and, if anything, found this even more valuable as it covered many people who I hadn't heard of before. Although factual information is naturally important, the books really shines when Pope Benedict uses their lives to show how God worked through them and then deftly brings us face-to-face with our own similar need for God today.
... I think that Rabanus Maurus is also addressing these words to us today: in periods of work, with its frenetic pace, and in holiday periods we must reserve moments for God. We must open our lives to him, addressing to him a thought, a reflection, a brief prayer, and above all we must not forget Sunday as the Lord's Day, the day of the Liturgy, in order to perceive God's beauty itself in the beauty of our churches, in our sacred music and in the word of God, letting him enter our being. Only in this way does our life become great, become true life.
We might think that the Fathers of the Church are too difficult to understand or to relate to, that they don't have anything to teach us. Pope Benedict shows us that nothing could be further from the truth.

This is a long over-due review for The Catholic Company who provided this book. My thanks to Chris Cash for his patience!

You can find all active reviews of this book here.

A great piece of advice for those who wish to achieve dominance over their dog.

"Ignoring attention-seeking behaviors is the highest form of dominance." (Now stop yelling at the dog when he barks at the mailman.)
From a review that I was reading to see if I wanted to accept a review copy of this book. Everyone at our house can agree on this truth. Ignoring our dogs except when we call them to us has really made a huge difference.

The only greater truth is that growling at the dog will stop that behavior (thank you again, Bark Busters). Of course, we praise the dog as soon as they stop, which is usually instantaneous. It's the language they understand. Truly miraculous.

Monday, March 21, 2011

God Bestows Silence for Lent Although We May Not Always Recognize It as a Blessing

What a weekend.

First came the notice that not enough people have signed up for either of our CRHP retreats to make them viable. The March retreats are being postponed until October. We were asked to pray and to ask God to guide us in the future of the retreat at the parish. The decision was given with regret and only after much deliberation, but it prompted many emails in support of action, immediate action. That is a very understandable response as we are, of course, Americans which means that immediate action fixes many ills and is the first thing we think of. Sometimes, though, there is no helpful action to take. We must practice patience, prayer, and obedience. Ouch! The triple threat, but such a needed reminder, especially during Lent.

There was a young woman in the pew next to me on Sunday who quietly wept during a good portion of Mass. She had been whispering about the retreat to her friends before it began and my surmise was that she felt, as Tom thought must be the case for those who had gone through CRHP recently, "as if there were a death in the family." I felt sorry for her, but also hoped that she could take those feelings into the desert with Christ ... it can be a blessing though it never feels like it at the time.

Then came the news that Father Corapi, a much admired priest by many people I know, announced that he has been accused of sexual impropriety, among other things. Read about it at The Anchoress where there are many other good links and good reflections, with which I agree.

I myself have no particular feelings about Father Corapi either way, except to be quite surprised at his angry comments about the Church immediately putting him on administrative leave. Has he read the news for the past few years? What does he expect? I think of how many saints were, to use modern terminology, put on administrative leave for various attitudes and "offenses" against the Church. They took it in a spirit of obedience. Quite a contrast. Perhaps this is part of God's provision of Lenten silence for the good father. I pray for his accuser and for him, that justice and mercy may be meted to both as needed by the authorities and by God, especially in this time of Lent.

Finally, Tom happened across Archbishop Dolan's interview on 60 Minutes (watch it or read the transcript here), a show we never normally watch. He was very impressed and reported a lot of it to us over dinner. Luckily, it pushed The Amazing Race back far enough that my taping of that show caught most of the interview and we were able to watch it for ourselves. If he is the new face of the Church, then we are blessed. (Read his telling of an airport encounter here to see how much.) He seems not only well spoken but to understand real people, which is key. Some of my favorite bits:
He is unwavering on what he calls the "settled" questions: abortion, birth control, ordination of women, gay marriage and celibacy.

"No question that you're conciliatory, that you like to have dialog, but underneath that you're an old-fashioned conservative. I mean, in the sense that of right-wing conservative," Safer remarked.

"I would bristle at being termed right wing. But if somebody means enthusiastically committed and grateful for the timeless heritage of the church, and feeling that my best service is when I try to preserve that and pass that on in its fullness and beauty and radiance, I'm a conservative, no doubt," Dolan said.

=============

"Do you fear that aftereffects of these [sex] scandals are just gonna live on and on and on?" Safer asked.

"In some ways I don't want it to be over because this was such a crisis in the Catholic church, that in a way we don't wanna get over it too easily. This needs to haunt us," Dolan said.

============

Dolan says he wants people to celebrate the beauty, charity and timelessness of the church, and not focus so much on what the church prohibits. "Instead of being hung up on these headline issues, let's get back to where the church is at her best," he told Safer.

"But the headline issues are where people are living their lives. And an awful lot feel that the church is going down the wrong road," Safer said.*

"Yeah, I guess, you got two different world views there," Dolan replied.

"And you ain't gonna change," Safer remarked.

"I'm in one world. You're in the other," Dolan replied, laughing. "I'm glad you're visitin'."
What does that have to do with Lent and silence?

This statement: In some ways I don't want it to be over because this was such a crisis in the Catholic church, that in a way we don't wanna get over it too easily. This needs to haunt us.

We like to forget that we are fallible, that we don't know the best way, that we have to turn in humility to God. Sometimes only prayer, patience, and obedience are what we can do. Lent forces us to contemplate true perspective, true reality, and let it sink into our souls. We may not recognize it as a blessing, but it is one indeed.

Updates:
  • Mark Shea says what needs to be said about Fr. Corapi and about any other accused priest and the process of investigation. He essentially says what was the initial reaction at our house. Good common sense.
  • Meant to link to this updates post as well as to The Anchoress's post above. More good common sense.
  • Fr. Dwight Longenecker has an excellent reflection on Priests and Pedestals, based upon once being mistaken for Fr. Corapi.
2nd Update: St. Macarius the Great
Hannah was trying to think of the name of the saint whose story she told us ... a priest or monk who was accused of sexual impropriety and reacted in a praiseworthy, Christ-like manner, as she told the story. I don't think it was Desert Father, St. Macarius the Great, but he is a wonderful example ... and we can thank Frank at Why I Am Catholic for telling us his story. I meant to link to this yesterday, actually, but got sidetracked ... shame on me! Go read and let us all reflect upon the times when we could have been more Christ-like and ask for God's grace to do so in the future. Which is the point of Lent, right?

*Note: this took us aback and was a real insight into how journalists think. We, actually, are evidently not in his world view because we do not live our lives by headline issues. What a dreary world that would be.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Weekend Joke: Boudreaux and Lent

Boudreaux walks into a bar and orders three beers. The bartender raises his eyebrows, but serves Boudreaux three beers, which Boudreaux drinks quietly at a table, alone.

An hour later, Boudreaux has finished the three beers and orders three more. This happens yet again.

The next evening at the bar, Boudreaux again orders and drinks three beers at a time, several times.

This happens for several nights.

Soon, the people up and down the bayou are whispering about Boudreaux going to the bar and always drinking three beers at a time.

Finally, a week later, the bartender says "Boudreaux, I don't mean to be nosey, but everybody around here is wondering why you always order three beers at one time?"

Boudreaux replies, "You see, I have two brothers. One moved to Texas and de udder one to Mississippi. We promised each other dat we would always order an extra two beers whenever we drank as a way of keepin up de Boudreaux bond."

Everybody on the bayou was impressed with Boudreaux's explanation, and Boudreaux was the talk of the bayou.

Then, one day, Boudreaux comes in to the bar and orders only two beers.

The bartender pours them with a heavy heart. This continues for the rest of the evening ... Boudreaux always orders only two beers. The word flies up and down the bayou. Prayers are offered for the soul of one of the Boudreaux brothers.

The next day, the bartender says to Boudreaux, "People on the bayou and I want to offer condolences to you for the death of your brother. You know - the two beers and all."

Boudreaux ponders this for a moment, then replies, "You'll be happy to hear dat my two brothers are alive and well. It's jus dat me, myself, has decided to give up drinkin' for Lent."
For more Beaudreaux jokes, go here.

Solemnity of Saint Joseph

Joseph with Infant Christ. Bartolomé Esteban Murillo.
The season of Lent is interrupted by the Solemnity of Joseph, Husband of Mary. With the exception of Our Lady, there is no greater saint in Heaven than Saint Joseph. This feast originated in the fifteenth century and was then extended to the whole church in 1621. In 1847 Pope Pius IX named Saint Joseph Patron of the Universal Church. Pope John XXIII had Saint Joseph's name included in the Roman Canon.

Here was an ordinary man to whom God granted extraordinary graces. Joseph was to fulfill a most singular mission in the salvific design of God. He experienced indescribable joys along with the trials of doubt and suffering. We recall his perplexity at the mystery of Mary's conception, at the extreme of material poverty in Bethlehem, at the prophecies of Simeon in the Temple, at the hurried flight into Egypt, at the difficulties of having to live in a foreign land, at the return from Egypt and the threat posed by Archelaus. Joseph proved himself always faithful to the will of God. He showed himself always ready to set aside his own human plans and considerations.

The explanation for this remarkable fidelity is that Jesus and Mary were at the centre of Joseph's life. Joseph's self-giving is an interweaving of faithful love, loving faith and confident hope. His feast is thus a good opportunity for us to renew our commitment to the Christian calling God has given each of us. (St. J. Escrivá, Christ is passing by)

Friday, March 18, 2011

Is Society Purposely Messing With Boys' Heads?

What ever happened seeing the dignity and worth of the human person alone, and why are we still less focused on the content of one’s character than the character of one’s chromosomes?

The question can be applied in other instances, as well. I once asked a religious sister, who insisted on expunging as many male pronouns from the liturgy as she could get away with (she hit a wall when she tried to de-sex Jesus) why she was so manic on the subject. She kindly explained that “some women have been hurt by men, and they don’t have good feelings about fathers, so it’s important that we not perpetuate the idea of God-as-Father, or as having gender at all.”

I replied, “well I’m a woman, and I’ve been hurt by men and don’t have good feelings about my father; that’s one reason I’ve always been so grateful to have the idea of a Heavenly Father who is perfect; what about women who feel as I do? Why do we get short shrift? Why can’t we echo Jesus and say ‘Abba…’”

Sister was so taken aback that she actually took “a step back” from me and said — with wide-open-eyes — “you are the first woman I have ever heard express that sentiment.”
An absolutely wonderful piece by The Anchoress and the above is just a fraction of it.

It is the fraction that spoke to me most, though, since my Catholic women's book club recently had a conversation about how our fathers helped or hindered our ability to see God as Father.

Two friends talked about how much they loved their fathers, gave them tribute, and then said that they thought it was why they could think so easily about God the Father. Another said that her father was extremely difficult to live with but that it was that very thing which made her long for God the Father ... and always think of Him as the "Abba" (Daddy) that she hadn't experienced on earth.

So we pull toward our Father in Heaven via different routes. But we all need that Father.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Quiz Show: Temptation, Confession, and God the Father

Scott chose the perfect movie to discuss during Lent, Quiz Show from 1994. And the spoilers don't get discussed until close to the end (with warnings) ... hear it all in Episode 6 of A Good Story Is Hard To Find.

Myth Busters: Christians, the Dark Ages, and Statistics

A couple of books I recently came across that look like information we could use.

The Genesis of Science: How the Christian Middle Ages Launched the Scientific Revolution
by James Hannam
Maybe the Dark Ages Weren’t So Dark After all…

Here are some facts you probably didn’t learn in school:

People in the Middle Ages did not think the world was flat—in fact, medieval scholars could prove it wasn’t

The Inquisition never executed anyone because of their scientific ideas or discoveries (actually, the Church was the chief sponsor of scientific research and several popes were celebrated for their knowledge of the subject)

It was medieval scientific discoveries, methods, and principles that made possible western civilization’s “Scientific Revolution”

If you were taught that the Middle Ages were a time of intellectual stagnation, superstition, and ignorance, you were taught a myth that has been utterly refuted by modern scholarship.
You can read some of the author's articles here.  I know I liked some of them well enough to ask for notification when the book was published. It is now on my wish list.

Christians Are Hate-Filled Hypocrites...and Other Lies You've Been Told: A Sociologist Shatters Myths From the Secular and Christian Media
by Bradley R.E. Wright
According to the media, the church is rapidly shrinking, both in numbers and in effectiveness. But the good news is, much of the bad news is wrong. Sociologist Bradley R. E. Wright uncovers what's really happening in the church: evangelicals are more respected by secular culture now than they were ten years ago; divorce rates of Christians are lower than those of nonbelievers; Christians give more to charity than others do. Wright reveals to readers why and how statistics are distorted, and shows that God is still effectively working through his people today.
You know, I think that I used that "well known" myth that Christians get just as many divorces as other people when Scott and I discussed The Castle a few weeks ago. My apologies. But now I know better. The story that brought this to my attention may be read at GetReligion.

"... the bank couldn't handle all the donations made through their ATMs."

What it looks like from Japan ... from the friend of a friend in Japan at Ruth Reichl's.

Donate to relief efforts through your preferred charity, or you can use the one I remembered that helped Tom's father when no one else would help him get home after his service as a Marine in the Pacific during WWII:

Lent and the Zombie Apocalypse

Y'all knew I couldn't stay away from zombies for very long, right?

I now inflict them on the readers of A Free Mind, my Patheos column. Read it here (if you dare ...).

Update:
I should have mentioned that Scott Danielson and I discussed this book on the first episode of A Good Story Is Hard To Find. He concurs that it is a good Lenten read.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Blogging Around: Many Lent-y Things ... and A Few Not So Lent-y

What Will You Murder in Order to Pray?
The major obstacle in most of our lives to just saying yes to prayer, the most popular and powerful excuse we give for not praying, or not praying more, or not praying regularly, is that we have no time.

The only effective answer to that excuse, I find, is a kind of murder. You have to kill something, you have to say no to something else, in order to make time to pray. Of course, you will never find time to pray, you have to make time to pray. And that means unmaking something else. The only way to install the tenant of prayer in the apartment building of your life is to evict some other tenant from those premises that prayer will occupy. Few of us have any empty rooms available.
Peter Kreeft has a good and practical article at Integrated Catholic Life. Via New Advent.

Lent in Hawaii
I hate the idea of wasting time. I spend every moment of the day in a whirlwind of tasks, which gives me a dangerous energy, unanchored, frenetic. ...
The church calendar, unlike my way of inhabiting time, is more merciful, patient, and consistent. It reacquaints us with redemption through the steadiness of liturgy, practice, memory, sacrament.

The church calendar recasts time like a net, pulling us into a rhythm that returns us, season after season, to God.
Read it all at Good Letters.

Stuttering and the King's Speech
The connection between handedness and speech runs deep. Speech is controlled by the left side of the brain and so is motor control of the usually dominant right hand. It is possible that this connection says something about the evolutionary origin of language, if language was first expressed through gestures rather than speech.

Curiously, stuttering is not really a speech disorder. Some deaf people stutter in sign language, too. This is just one of the ways that sign language shares all the characteristics of spoken language.
Matt Ridley's Saturday science column at the Wall Street Journal is consistently a favorite of mine. This one looks at the idea that sound may have come second in language development.

Is Happiness Overrated?
Happiness research, a field known as "positive psychology," is exploding. Some of the newest evidence suggests that people who focus on living with a sense of purpose as they age are more likely to remain cognitively intact, have better mental health and even live longer than people who focus on achieving feelings of happiness.
I'd like to say, "well, DUH!" but a Lenten quality of charity leads me to simply say that they wrote a whole lot more in support of this thesis if you would like to read statistics and suchlike. From the Wall Street Journal.

We know what we like, and it's not modern art! How gallery visitors only viewed work by Damien Hirst and Tracy Emin for less than 5 seconds
I think that pretty much says it. As an uneducated art viewer who only knows what she likes, this is another "Well, DUH" moment for me. But the article was very interesting. Read it here. Thanks to Margaret from ten thousand places for pointing this out to me.

Of Gods and Men ... the Perfect Lenten Movie?
It looks to me as if it might be. Read Father James Martin's review at Patheos and Steven D. Greydanus's review at National Catholic Register and you'll see why I think so.

Where to Get Good Information about Nuclear Reactors in Japan
Hint: not from the mainstream media.
While the events at the Fukushima plant reactors are serious, they also underline how many layers of redundancy and safety measures are built into modern nuclear power plants.
DarwinCatholic has the links we need to the real experts. As we would expect.

God is in Her Hand
I use the terms “God” and “love” interchangeably. But these concepts I merely ponder. As for belief, I believe in acts of love. I believe that God asks me to fill the empty hand of the beggar. I believe that God poses the question every time I see the hand my student raises. I believe that I find God as I type the poem, the one I begin without knowing where I will end.
An essay from the This I Believe series. It is brief but excellent and something we need to ponder during Lent. Or perhaps something that I need to ponder. Listen to the podcast or read the essay at the link.

Don't forget that I link many interesting articles in my Google reader also. It's in the sidebar.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

In which Sarah becomes a sister once again, we meet a noble king, and unto Abraham and Sarah a child is born.

Yes indeedy, we've got chapters 20-21 of Robert Alter's translation of Genesis over at Forgotten Classics. With some mysterious fiction in the podcast highlights.

Favorite Catholic Media - Updated

As part of Catholic Media Promotion Day, let's take a look at our three favorite Catholic blogs, podcasts, and more ...

3 CATHOLIC BLOGS
I'm going to assume you're on board with my "go to" spots like
The Anchoress
, The Curt JesterDarwin Catholic, and B-Movie Catechism
(just to name a few) so we'll look at three newer places that I love:
  1. Ten Thousand Places
    (and we're going to ignore the fact that when I was getting her url I saw that she's listed me everywhere in her Catholic Media ... that's got nothing to do with why I am listing her) As Margaret points out, "It is a daily chronicle of many things I love: the Faith, books & literature, food, food, food, art, random and wonderful news, style and design, food." How could I not love this place? That's everything I love too. And she's putting up quotes from In This House of Brede, people. How could I not force you to go read her blog?
  2. Roman Catholic Cop
    Jamie says, "I am a cradle Catholic who has refound his faith in the last ten years. I have been a police officer for the last 14 years. This blog contains catholic apologetics as well as spirtual thoughts as I grow in my interior life." Also, I'll tell you that his job keeps him grounded in a way that many of us need. His experience as a husband and father lead to further reflections that are solid gold to people of either sex. What can I say? I'm a fan.
  3. Bad Catholic
    Marc is a high school student and passionate about his Catholic faith. He speaks up often and loudly about various aspects of our faith. I gotta love that. Plus he's hilarious. In an in-your-face way. Which I also gotta love. And he tells it like it happens, "I was giving a talk on Mary to a group of middle schoolers, and, as a joke to get them thinking, I asked whether she had appeared to any of them recently. It was with some surprise, then, that I watched hands shoot up..."
3 CATHOLIC PODCASTS
I harangue everyone with the same list all the time. But here are the three I can't live without.
  1. Catholic Stuff You Should Know
    Modeled after the popular podcast Stuff You Should Know, this podcast explains a wide range of topics ... everything from Stylites (standing on pillars in style) to Ethiopian Christianity to Bishop's Wear and beyond. (iTunes link, website link)
  2. St. Irenaeus Ministries
    Scripture study that is practical. The teacher is extremely insightful in giving connections between scripture and daily life. He keeps it real and although he has an orthodox Catholic point of view, this is the podcast I recommend to nonCatholics. This is one that I listen to every week and since I tend to be behind on it, sometimes daily. An essential. (iTunes link, website link)
  3. Two Edge Talk
    Deacon Tim and Cyndi talk about how to live our faith ... ranging from specific understanding of Catholic teachings to more general questions such as just how do we live an abundant life of faith when we’re so darned busy just surviving? I was alerted to this after seeing several nonCatholics mention how they had learned about Catholic teachings “so they make sense” by listening to this podcast. This is a must listen when it comes in every other week. (iTunes link, website link)  
 3 OTHER CATHOLIC MEDIA
This is my weak area because I don't watch videos (no, not even those "you'll be sorry to miss this" videos). So, we will go with websites because that's all I've got. Though perhaps after reading other people's Catholic Media lists I'll have more resources for this area.
  1.  Patheos Catholic Portal
    A gigantic religion site that has a great Catholic section full of columns and features by a fascinating variety of Catholic writers, run by The Anchoress. (Hey, I was reading this way before I was asked to write for them ... I'm just lucky is all.)
  2. New Advent
    Tons of fresh links to relevant, important Catholic stories from around the interwebs. Plus you can find the Catholic Encyclopedia online here.
  3. Gryphon Rampant
    Deacon Lawrence Klimecki produces stunning contemporary versions of traditional Christian art. He also writes about art, truth, beauty, and Catholicism.
 3 RANDOM CATHOLIC THINGS ONLINE
Heavens to Betsy, this just keeps getting tougher. Here goes ...
  1. Catholic bookstores
    Use them instead of Amazon if you have a choice. My two "go to" stores are Aquinas and More and The Catholic Company.
  2. Peter Kreeft Online
    I'm partial to his writing but he's got audio files and tons of stuff there.
  3. Papal Encyclicals Online
    'Nuff said. Right?

MY VARIOUS CATHOLIC PROJECTS
  1. Happy Catholic
    Duh. I assume y'all have looked around but if you are used to reading through the RSS feed then my sidebar may be of interest. It is changed up almost daily what with the Google links and the Goodreads book updates and the quotes and suchlike.
  2. A Good Story is Hard to Find podcast
    Scott Danielson and I have tons of fun discussing the "one reality" that we can glimpse under the surface of our favorite books and movies. Episode 6 will be up on Thursday, a movie for Lent - Quiz Show.
  3. A Free Mind
    My biweekly column for Patheos.com. This Thursday the second one will be posted. Yes, it is really new.
  4. Forgotten Classics podcast
    Not Catholic per se, but we are reading Robert Alter's translation of Genesis right now and that may go on for a long, long time. Plus, as my non-Catholic listeners know, I have a hard time not being Catholic sometimes. They always know when it's Lent for example!
  5. Happy Catholic - the book
    It isn't Jesus of Nazareth II, but we little flowers need books too. And sometimes we write one. (See, I did get something out of The Story of a Soul!)
Your turn! What are you favorites?  Speak up, either in the comments or if you have a blog (etc.) by posting. Don't forget to post your link here.

Updated:
I know there is one big place to find all this but if you're not as comfortable with Facebook (yes, I am doing this for myself, thank you very much), then here are some other places to find great lists.
  • The Curt Jester - he didn't stop at three for his lists and he listens to tons more Catholic podcasts than I do.
  • Snoring Scholar - Sarah not only listed three of everything but then went around again and listed more which she'll be reviewing later. So that's at least two for the price of one! 
  • The B-Movie Catechism: I'm happy to see that spaceships and zombies were enough to pull A Good Story Is Hard To Find onto this list. (Must find a way to include more of those ... because a gal can never have too many zombies, right? )
  • Zombie Parent's Guide ... ok really at Life's Enchanting, Noteworthy Tidings but I clicked through from Zombie Parent's Guide (and plus I hadn't mentioned zombies for a while ... didn't want to let anyone down): Joseph is the guy who is picking and recording those great folk tales for Forgotten Classics so you know that his media list is just as varied and interesting as those tales.

    Monday, March 14, 2011

    Catholic Media Promotion Day: Easy as 1, 2, 3

    Greg Willit's great idea. Via Lisa Hendey.
    1. On March 15, everyone with a blog, podcast, or Facebook page should list their favorite 3 blogs, 3 podcasts, 3 other media, 3 random Catholic things online, and their own projects.
    2. Then post the link to the list here on March 15th. Additionally, to help get the word out, press are asked to write articles and press releases for this day.
    3. Lastly, on March 15th, go to iTunes and leave at least 3 positive written reviews for various Catholic podcasts and 3 positive written reviews for Catholic mobile applications.
    So that's tomorrow.

    Put your thinking caps on, get your engines ready ... and tomorrow we'll go promotin'.

    My Lenten Sacrifice

    It occurs to me that my Lenten sacrifice this year may affect some of you.

    Therefore, I will share. (Plus, I just like sharing! As you know by now.)

    I gave up checking email at home for Lent. Which gives you an idea of just how distracted I get because I then begin following links, writing other emails, checking my Google reader. You know the drill. It is part of the big internet time-suck that steals an hour at a time from me when I'm not looking.

    I have a similar problem with looking for new podcasts, new downloads for podcasts I already listen to, and suchlike. Therefore, in a related sacrifice I have given up checking iTunes.

    As happens with such things, I have discovered just how addicted I was to those time wasters as I am continually having to fight the urge to just check email once more before doing anything like ... oh ... sweeping the floor.

    As a result, I got a record amount of housecleaning done on Saturday. Which just goes to show it was the right thing to give up.

    That also gives me much more time for things of the spirit ... which was part of the point ... such as prayer. So I'm better off overall, I think we could all agree.

    Anyway, why do you care? Only if you regularly email me and don't get an answer back over the weekend or until the next day. At work, I'm kept from checking personal email as much by ... well ... work.

    Friday, March 11, 2011

    Earthquake-Tsunami Relief for Japan


    Catholic Relief Service personnel throughout the Pacific are standing ready to assist those affected by the earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan early Friday morning.

    “We know from 2004 the devastating impact that these tsunamis can have,” said Sean Callahan, CRS’ executive vice president for overseas operations. “As with all such disasters, CRS will help people recover from the emergency and stand with them as they recover in the months and years to come.”

    Caritas Japan is beginning to assess the needs in that country where the tsunami has caused extensive damage. CRS has programs in the Philippines and Indonesia and works with Caritas Oceania that is active in numerous islands in the Pacific that might be affected. Central American countries where CRS works could also be in danger.

    “We will reach out to our Caritas partners to help them in any way we can,” Callahan said.
    Go here to donate.

    Remember the obligation for almsgiving during Lent and be extra generous ... because we'd have all given something anyway, right?

    From Alice Cooper to St. John Vianney to Battlestar Galactica ... and beyond: Announcing Happy Catholic - the book!


    Why did it take me so long to see the truth that floods through everyday life? -- from the Introduction.

    As she does in her blog, Happy Catholic, Julie Davis taps into quotes ranging from The Simpsons to John Paul II, Battlestar Galactica to Scripture and The Princess Bride and discovers all around her glimpses of God. Her reflections on pithy quotes (Trashing your hotel room is easy, but being a Christian--that's rebellion. -- Alice Cooper) draw back the veil, letting us connect with God in unexpected ways. Intriguing to both Christians and non-Christians alike, this book is also an unexpected source for daily prayer.
    Can you believe it?

    Happy Catholic is now an actual book.

    It takes one of the most popular features, the daily quotes, and combines that with my reflections on them. These are the sorts of thoughts that go through my head when I put the quotes in my journal and on the blog. I just don't usually share them.

     I wrote all but a couple of these 149 reflections specifically for the book, most of them while sitting in front of the tabernacle in our Church. So if you especially like one or two of them, then you know who to thank for the inspiration. (Hint: it ain't me!)

    Here's a sample that gets you from Alice Cooper to St. John Vianney.
    Still Countercultural After All These Years

    Drinking beer is easy. Trashing your hotel room is easy. But being a Christian, that’s a tough call. That’s rebellion.
    Alice Cooper

    If you care about what people think of you, then you should not have become a Catholic.
    St. John Vianney

    It is astounding that as far as we have advanced, there is still nothing more shocking to the world than a faithful Christian. Jesus was radical in his time. Following Christ makes us radicals in turn. We’re called on to slice through all those neat little boxes that people use to make things more understandable. There is no political party we can trust. There is no nation that gets it right. There is no cultural group where we are going to completely feel at home. We are the ultimate outsiders. That’s OK, really. If we’re doing it right, then we’re upsetting things because we won’t “settle” and we won’t conform. We answer to a higher power.

    Take another look at that crucifix and remember the only really original rebel, the one whose watchword of “Love one another” casts the world into confusion. Then prepare to be fully yourselves in Christ and watch the confusion spread, along with the love.
    Another excerpt: Knitting Madonna (actually this didn't make it into the book, but only because of space)

    Pick it up from your favorite Catholic bookstore like Aquinas and More. It is also at Amazon.

    Autographed copies are available from my Paypal store. I'll also be dropping in an extra quote that isn't in the book.

    The eBook will be available at the end of April.

    Update
    In response to a couple of questions I received in email ... we didn't design the book. The publisher (Servant Books) did all that.

    Cross the Bridge to Heaven

    Every work day at lunch, Tom and I have been taking turns reading aloud to each other from A Year with the Church Fathers by Mike Aquilina. Considering that we don't do it on weekends, it will take us more than a year to get through it but that doesn't matter. It does explain why we only read Day 39 on Ash Wednesday, though.

    This struck both of us as particularly appropriate for Lent so I thought I'd share it.
    Cross the bridge to heaven
    In a striking metaphor, St. Ephrem the Syrian imagines
    Jesus the carpenter making his own Cross into a bridge
    to heaven. Because the tree in Eden brought death, it is
    fitting that a tree also brings us to life.

    This is the Son of the carpenter, who skillfully made his Cross a bridge over Sheol--Sheol that swallows up all--and brought over mankind into the dwelling of life.

    And because it was through the tree that mankind had fallen into Sheol, so upon the tree they passed over into the dwelling of life. Through the tree in which bitterness was tasted, through it also sweetness was tasted; so that we might learn of him that among the creature nothing resists Him.

    Glory be to your, who laid your Cross as a bridge over death, that souls might pass over on it from the dwelling of hte dead to the dwelling of life!
    St. Ephrem the Syrian, Homily on Our Lord 4

    In God's Presence, Consider...
    Does it help my resolution to imagine the Cross as a narrow bridge over a gaping chasm?

    For I Was Blind But Now I See: Reviewing "Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist" by Brant Pitre

    You've got to have proper context to really understand anything well. It's a lesson I seem to have to learn repeatedly.

    Years ago our family hosted a Japanese teaching intern who could not comprehend most of the jokes in "The Simpsons." They were so cultural that they flew over her head. We'd never given context a second thought until that point. More recently, we learned that when we thought our dogs were simply playing, they were actually acting upon a complex pack hierarchy. Watching with our eyes newly opened, we suddenly understood why the gentlest dog always got his way. The other dogs all knew what we didn't: he was the pack leader.

    When I converted to Catholicism, one of the most joyful, enriching experiences was learning that there were more levels of context to scripture than I would have dreamed. Obviously parables about weddings, seed sowing, and wineskins required explanations of customs of the day for full understanding. However, the more I learned about what lay contextually behind seemingly simple concepts, the more eager I became to learn as much as I could about the faith.

    No statement ever needed context more than Jesus' statement that leads directly to the key Catholic teaching that the Eucharist consumed at every Mass is truly the body and blood of Jesus Christ.

    "For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink" (Jn. 6:53-54).

    Those words taken without context might lead some to think Jesus was advocating cannibalism, or only speaking completely symbolically. Brant Pitre's Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist, however, will put the rest to that notion, and will make even those Catholics who believe they have fully explored and understood church teachings on the Eucharist feel like they'd been merely scratching at the surface of this deep and mysterious gift.

    The belief that consecrated bread and wine can become the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ is hotly disputed by non-Catholics. It can be supremely difficult to defend when encountering a well-prepared challenger, as Brant Pitre discovered while a college sophomore. Shaken to the core by an attack on Real Presence, which he had never questioned, Pitre changed his major and became a biblical scholar. As his knowledge grew, he realized that the key to understanding Jesus' words, deeds, and identity was in his Jewish roots and the Jewish people to whom he proclaimed his message.

    Pitre began concentrating on 1st-century Jewish history to bring context to everything that Jesus taught about the Eucharist; this brought Jesus' teachings into hi-def focus in a new and fascinating way. What readers of Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist will find are surprising revelations that add a powerful, exciting depth to everything about Jesus.

    Pitre builds his case painstakingly, so that readers clearly understand what the Jews would have believed that God promised about the Messiah, the new Moses, the new Passover, and new exodus. He demonstrates how Jesus' words and actions reflected the foundational expectations of the Jews, and pointed toward his role as Messiah, the fulfillment of them. He then shows how the apostles, Church Fathers, and the Catechism all refer to these key expectations as well, although they are not usually spelled out in a way that modern believers find easy to identify. Those authorities knew the ancient sources very well, while the average modern Catholic lacks the same informing context.

    Pitre invests all of this with an immediacy and accessibility that will deeply impress any interested Christian. His research challenges many modern purveyors of "historical" biblical exploration, and even those who think that they know the sources well will find surprising depth and details brought to light, including:
    • How the lamb was prepared for the Passover meal
    • Why the manna in the desert was truly miraculous
    • The ancient Jews' mandatory ceremony celebrating the Bread of the Presence in the temple
    • The meaning of the four cups of wine of the Passover
    • The less-than-accurate translation in the Our Father that is key for Eucharistic understanding
    There is a thrill of discovery at seeing the pieces fall into place, and that makes the book a surprising page-turner; the reader eagerly wonders where the next revelation will take them. Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist makes it crystal clear why ancient Jews and early Christians alike understood Jesus' outrageous claims about the Eucharist, that he is truly present in it now and forever.

    This book made me look at the Eucharist and Jesus' promises with new eyes and new appreciation for the truth hidden in plain sight in the Catholic Church. It answers the question that Brant Pitre encountered so long ago as a college student, "How can you Catholics teach that bread and wine actually become Jesus' body and blood? Do you really believe that?"

    Beginners or scholars, believers or atheists, Protestants or Catholics, skeptics or the faithful can now follow the inescapable logical reasoning of Pitre, which leads to opened eyes and an emphatic "yes."

    ==========

    This review ran initially at Patheos as part of their book club.

    Friday Litany: Litany of St. Joseph

    In previous years during Lent I have tried to reflect upon different litanies. I will post them as I go so that you may share if you like.

    Pray More Novenas reminds us that  St. Joseph's Feast Day will be March 19 and so the novena to St. Joseph would begin today. Sign up there to receive email reminders each day.

    This litany reminds me of how St. Joseph models not only fatherhood for us, but also life as a faithful believer. It was approved by Pope St. Pius X (1903-14).
    Litany of Saint Joseph
    In Honor of the Foster Father of Jesus
    Lord, have mercy on us.
    Lord, have mercy on us.
    Lord, have mercy on us.
    Christ, hear us.
    Christ, graciously hear us.
    God, the Father of Heaven,
    Have mercy on us.
    God the Son, Redeemer of the world,
    Have mercy on us.
    God the Holy Ghost,
    Have mercy on us.
    Holy Trinity, one God,
    Have mercy on us.
    Holy Mary,
    Pray for us.
    Holy Joseph,
    Pray for us.
    Noble Son of the House of David,
    Pray for us.
    Light of the Patriarchs,
    Pray for us.
    Husband of the Mother of God,
    Pray for us.
    Chaste Guardian of the Virgin,
    Pray for us.
    Foster-father of the Son of God,
    Pray for us.
    Sedulous Defender of Christ,
    Pray for us.
    Head of the Holy Family,
    Pray for us.
    Joseph most just,
    Pray for us.
    Joseph most chaste,
    Pray for us.
    Joseph most prudent,
    Pray for us.
    Joseph most valiant,
    Pray for us.
    Joseph most obedient,
    Pray for us.
    Joseph most faithful,
    Pray for us.
    Mirror of patience,
    Pray for us.
    Lover of poverty,
    Pray for us.
    Model of all who labor,
    Pray for us.
    Glory of family life,
    Pray for us.
    Protector of Virgins,
    Pray for us.
    Pillar of families,
    Pray for us.
    Consolation of the afflicted,
    Pray for us.
    Hope of the sick,
    Pray for us.
    Patron of the dying,
    Pray for us.
    Terror of the demons,
    Pray for us.
    Protector of the holy Church,
    Pray for us.
    Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world,
    have mercy on us.
    Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world,
    have mercy on us.
    Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world,
    have mercy on us.
    He made him master of his house,
    and ruler of all his possessions.

    O God, You were pleased to choose Saint Joseph as the husband of Mary and the guardian of your Son. Grant that, as we venerate him as our protector on earth, we may deserve to have him as our intercessor in heaven. We ask this through Christ our Lord.

    Amen.

    Thursday, March 10, 2011

    If you've just plugged up the holes in your attic and you see a racoon or squirrel frantically trying to get back in ...

    ... it may not be just that they are mad because they can't have their own way.

    It may be because they left something behind. Something so well hidden and so tiny that you didn't notice it.


    Like these little tykes. Their eyes aren't even open but they have adorable masks already. Adorable.

    Read about their reunion here.

    "In an eight-decade study, parental divorce in childhood was the strongest predictor of early death in adulthood."

    The early death of a parent had no measurable effect on children's life spans or mortality risk, but the long-term health effects of broken families were often devastating. Parental divorce during childhood emerged as the single strongest predictor of early death in adulthood. The grown children of divorced parents died almost five years earlier, on average, than children from intact families. The causes of death ranged from accidents and violence to cancer, heart attack and stroke. Parental break-ups remain, the authors say, among the most traumatic and harmful events for children.
    What makes that fascinating is that the study, begun in 1921 and which studied 1,500 people, was actually to try to identify early glimmers of high potential. They certainly don't seem to have had an agenda. It was not as rigorously scientific as we might like these days but I think that the discoveries based on 80 years' worth of observation of trends are worth considering. It's a book worth looking for, based on the review.

    Atheist Convert: Jeff Miller (a.k.a. The Curt Jester)

    I was at the apogee of my conservatism based on Randian positivism. To me, radical selfishness was the highest virtue. The pinnacle of individualism and being a self-made man were my highest ideals. The natural virtues helped to modify this idealistic positivism toward how I related with others, but it was not enough. My nose had long before achieved orbit as I looked down at those poor superstitious mortals who still believed in hunter-gatherer myths such as God.
    I love reading conversion stories and best of all are those of the people you know. Now, I've never met The Curt Jester in person but I've been reading him since before I began blogging and we have a certain amount of give and take in the Catholic blogging community. I'm quite fond of him.
    I also thought I knew his story better than I did. It is a fascinating combination of slow percolation and 2-x-4 to the head from God. Read it all at Why I Am Catholic.

    While you're there, browse around. There are many other good stories, each that show God's knowledge of us individually and that He never gives up.

    Lent and the Right Spirit

    What will convince the world, and - infinitely more importantly - what will convince us of the validity of our faith and all the truth she professes is not comfort, not the statement that "this will make me happy," but the witness of those being happy when they have nothing but their faith. The rich, old, country club preacher saying grace is not much to rally around. But what hope there is in finding out that there is tremendous grace after a day without eating! What affirmation it is to learn that no, we do not believe because we are comfortable, we believe because it is true! To have the grace to praise God in our suffering!

    Plus it's badass. There's just no other way to put it. What else can you call a Church that specifically sets aside 40 days for it's followers to make their own lives difficult? It's as if the government mandated that, for the month of May, alarm clocks were to be replaced with getting punched in the face, for the sole purpose that it would make you stronger, and appreciate alarm clocks more. The Church looks at her children and does not say 'how cute' - she says 'shape up'. "Oh you're rich, happy and full? Well for no other reason than that it will make you stronger, be poor, in pain and hungry." Aaaaaw snap. Where there is no pain, the Church requires it. Run that one over to the humanists, see what they think.
    Now that's what I call the spirit of a Christian soldier marching onward into Lent. Maybe even running headlong.

    Tuesday, March 8, 2011

    Michaelangelo. Is There An App For That? There Could Be ...

    Lifted from Ironic Catholic ... and it isn't a joke but a great idea.
    • Love art?
    • Love theology?
    • Love apps?
    Then you may want to help my friend Eileen create this app for instant interpretative help for Christian art in museums all over the world.  Eileen teaches theology at Loyola in Chicago--she is incredibly talented and knows what she is talking about (both in art interpretation and theology), and a born teacher.  She's looking for crowd-sourcing funding.  So I ask you--check out her pitch video and stick with it until the end (five minutes?)--and prepare to be impressed.

    Spread the word to religious art lovers you know!  Thanks!

    Lenten Listening ...

    I was going to do a post about good podcasts to listen to during Lent and then realized that my Catholic Podcasts recommendations post from not that long ago is essentially that very thing.

    I, personally, cannot praise highly enough the St. Irenaeus Ministries bible studies.

    Also, for anyone who wants to hear Scott and me discuss what we're watching and reading during Lent, check out A Good Story Is Hard To Find. The sidebar has upcoming movies and books in case you trust us enough to keep up ... if not, don't worry because we give a clear spoilers alert before venturing into deep waters.

    Shrove Tuesday Pancakes, Anyone?

    Here's a full helping.

    Monday, March 7, 2011

    Today is Merry Monday!

    The day before Shrove Tuesday and the onset of Lent. This day, spent in dissipation, was said to leave everything with a bluish tinge through inebriation.

    When No Fault Divorce Leads to Spousal Abandonment

    Imagine your brother Jim discovers that his wife of 17 years, mother to their four children, is leaving him for another man. He pleads with her to stay. He asks that they get counseling to heal their marriage. He calls every priest he knows, along with family and friends, to try to get the help he needs to keep his family together. But your brother’s efforts are in vain.

    Jim learns that his wife has retained a lawyer, and is suing him for a divorce. His mind races back to the day he made his vows before God and the community of believers.

    “I don’t want a divorce,” he cries out in despair. “And I will never sign a paper stating that my marriage is over.”

    Over the next few weeks, Jim’s wife keeps asserting that she has left because their marriage has been “hell.” She says he is the only thing standing in the way of her happiness.

    [...]

    What we may not know is that most divorces are situations in which one person wants to end the marriage while the other is fighting to save it.
    I only wish I didn't know of actual families who this has happened to but I do. Read the entire article at CNA. I especially like the practical suggestions at the end as to how people can stand in solidarity with abandoned families. (Please note that the author is not speaking of those cases where there has been abuse, etc.)
     
    The example given in the article about speaking in charity but with clarity resounds to me especially since Hannah did that very thing this weekend to a friend who is planning on moving in with his girlfriend. She did so by saying to him, "That's a terrible idea."  He wasn't offended and said, "You're the first person who's had the guts to tell me that you thought this was a bad idea." He isn't changing his plans but at least that seed has been planted.

    Lenten Reading: Fiction

    • Five for Sorrow, Ten for Joy by Rumer Godden
      This is an inspiring tale of conversion and redemption told in flashback sequence. We meet Lise when she is being released from prison where she has served her term for murder. She is going to join an order that ministers to those on the fringes of society. The reasons behind the murder become clear as the threads come together again in the people around Lise in current time. Threaded through the tale also is the rosary which Lise doesn't enjoy saying but comes to depend upon.

    • Inferno by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle
      Dante's Inferno told through a science fiction focus with Dante's role being filled by a writer who fell to his death at a science fiction convention. He insists that Hell doesn't exist and keeps trying to find scientific explanations for everything he encounters, which sometimes is very funny indeed. The theology in the book isn't completely sound but this is somewhat like Dante "Lite" and is a wonderful introduction to the concepts Dante wrote about. It is the book that made me take a new look at self examination and then go on to read John Ciardi's translation of Dante's Divine Comedy. Not intended as such by the authors, it is a "gateway" book to Dante.

    • Till We Have Faces by C. S. Lewis
      Retelling the story of Cupid and Psyche, this shows Lewis's echoes of what is familiar in myth but which also is a bit of truth about Christianity. Suffice it to say that this story works as plain storytelling, as myth, as truth underlying myth, as character study, as unbelievably delicately written prose, and as fantasy. In short, this book is not nearly as difficult to read as I'd heard, while on the other hand containing rich layers that lend to repeated readings.

    • Valley of Bones by Michael Gruber
      In Miami, a man is hit on the head and thrown from a hotel balcony. When the homicide detective, Paz, goes up to investigate, he finds a woman, Emmylou Dideroff, in the room. She is in a trance, speaking to St. Catherine of Siena, which qualifies her as both a wacko and a likely murderer. This is a gritty mystery that contains a fascinating spiritual thread throughout that is interesting in itself as each character responds in their own way. This all is being told through four points of view, all of which show various ways of conversion and openness to God.

    • Prince of Foxes by Samuel Shellabarger
      This historical fiction tells of Andrea Orsini, who is one of Cesare Borgia's most trusted political manipulators during the Italian Renaissance. This is a swashbuckler that simultaneously shows Andrea's transition of a human heart from greed to love, selfishness to sacrifice, and power grubbing to nobility.

    • Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simenson
      Major Pettigrew is living a quiet life in the village of Edgecombe St. Mary when the news that his brother has suddenly died comes and sends him into a (very quiet) tailspin. It sparks a sudden friendship with Mrs. Ali who has also lost her husband. Both are struggling quietly with relatives who selfishly want to force them to behave differently. This is a brilliantly told tale in which no character is perfect but also no character is without a nuanced personality, which means no one is all bad either. It's a gentle tale of love, second chances, and self realization.

    • Eifelheim by Michael J. Flynn
      Imagine that in the 14th century a little village in the depths of the Black Forest has an alien space ship crash nearby. The aliens look like giant grasshoppers. Naturally, many of the local peasants think they are demons. Others, however, especially the village priest who was educated in Paris, take into consideration what makes a creature "a man." In other words, what constitutes a soul and therefore makes it incumbent upon us to treat aliens as we would wish to be treated? Flynn does an excellent job of recreating the 14th century mindset so this is not simply a story told with modern sensibilities in a long ago setting.

    • Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe
      A real page-turner which many think they know because the cultural references are so embedded in our society. However, if you haven't read this book then you don't know it at all. First and foremost, Uncle Tom actually is a Christ-figure, a living saint. No wonder he is misunderstood by so many. Stowe does a good job showing many different attitudes toward slavery and how people excused themselves under the flimsiest of excuses. What is unexpected is how well she examines the varying levels of Christianity proclaimed and threaded solidly throughout the story.

    • Silence by Shusaku Endo
      Historical fiction centered on young Jesuit, Sebastião Rodrigues, who travels secretly to Japan in 1638 when Catholics have been driven underground by persecution. He and a companion are to provide aid and to investigate reports that his mentor, a much admired priest, has publicly denied the Christ. The result is, as a wise old friend of mine said, Christianity in a nutshell.

    • Our Lady of the Lost and Found by Diane Schoemperlen
      A writer who lives a quiet life walks into her living room one day to find Mary (yes, the Blessed Virgin) standing in her living room with a suitcase. She needs a vacation to rest up before May begins with all the celebrations devoted to Mary. They talk, clean, and shop but it is never boring and is an engaging combination of the history of key Marian apparitions and a personal journey of faith for the writer who tells the story. I think of this as a story of what Mary does in "ordinary time."

    Saturday, March 5, 2011

    Lenten Reading: Nonfiction

    My Lenten reading has already been "assigned" so to speak because of selections made for my Catholic women's book club and A Good Story Is Hard To Find podcast. It is wonderfully varied and ranges from The Story of a Soul to Eifelheim to The Reapers Are The Angels.

    Here are some other book suggestions, any or all of which I'd gladly take up and read in pursuit of spiritual growth and a closer relationship with God. We'll look at the nonfiction here and consider fiction Monday.
    • The Catechism of the Catholic Church
      You may have this on your bookshelf but have you looked inside lately? This book is jam packed with wisdom from scripture and church fathers all designed to help us toward our one goal of getting to Heaven. Pick a section dealing with an area in your life in which you'd like to grow spiritually. Read just a numbered paragraph or so each day and then keep that in mind as you go through the day. You'll be surprised at the impact it can have.

    • Any of Robert Alter's translations of scripture, with commentary: Genesis, The Wisdom Books, The Five Books of Moses, The David Story, The Book of Psalms
      Anyone who has read one of Robert Alter's translations of scripture knows that he is scrupulous in adhering to the original text while communicating to modern readers so that they feel and hear the language as the Hebrews did. His commentary puts the text in context so that we understand the full meaning just as ancient listeners would have. The overall effect is a translation that can have you noticing characters and events in a completely new way that can move you closer to God.

    • Finding Martha's Place by Martha Hawkins
      This is the true story about a woman finding her way out of poverty and mental illness to have a famous soul food restaurant. What you don't expect is Martha Hawkin's strong and natural praise of God and prayer that carries her through her worst times and keeps her thankful always. Highly inspirational, this book has many lessons readers can carry through Lent and into Easter.

    • The Mass by Mike Aquilina and Cardinal Wuerl
      This book was prompted by the changes to the liturgy that will be coming later this year. This is an explanation of what happens during the Mass from beginning to end, including pictures of Cardinal Wuerl at various points of celebrating the Mass. It also acts as a prompt for reflection in weaving the deeper meanings of every action throughout the text. When one is reminded that the procession that begins the Mass is to remind us that we are all to be hurrying toward Christ, then the reader knows there is a wealth of food for thought therein.

    • The Fathers by Pope Benedict (or any collection of his homilies such as The Fathers II, The Apostles, or Saint Paul)
      Pope Benedict XVI's books can be dense but his homilies necessarily are short and to the point. As a good homilist though, even when he is talking about something as straight forward as St. Paul's history, Benedict still manages to always tie it to how we live everyday life as followers of Christ. If you can find the versions that have art, those are highly recommended.

    • The Habit of Being by Flannery O'Connor
      This collection of letters is larded with advice to fellow writers and answers to those who asked her about the Catholic faith. It is full of nuggets of wisdom that make the reader stop and think about their own faith and how they witness to it in everyday life.

    • The Bad Catholic's Guide to Wine, Whiskey and Song by John Zmirak and Denise Matychowiak
      Anything that has John Zmirak's name on it is going to be equal parts of pointed humor and solid Catholicism. This is a history of sorts that journeys from A to Z, covering every sort of alcohol and, not incidentally, the many Catholic connections to them. It is infused with theology, how to live the Ten Commandments, and the virtues as well. It is a long book but the chapters are very short, making it good to dip into if you don't want to read it straight through. As with most well-told history, there are lessons for us all in how to live in modern times.

    • Grace Before Meals by Father Leo Patalinghug
      Full of recipes and inspirations for family meals throughout the year, this book hits a chord with anyone who feels, as I do, that dining together every night is the key to good family life. Father Leo's conversation suggestions might be the most valuable part of the book as they show just how many different ways discussion can take you when preparing and enjoying a meal together. This might seem like a surprising Lenten suggestion but the family is the cornerstone of everyday holiness, giving us so many opportunities to offer ourselves in service to others. If family meals are a struggle, then this book can carry you closer to each other and to God.

    • The Story of a Soul by St. Therese of Lisieux
      The classic autobiography by the youngest Doctor of the Church. I have struggled with reading this book before but am finding this translation by Robert Edmondson to be less sacchrine and more real-life than others I have read. Perhaps it is because a fellow reader also has struggled with this book and has asked St. Therese's intercession to open her eyes. Could that grace be spilling over onto me? If this book doesn't appeal, consider one of the many other books written by saints and then ask their intercession while you read. Make Lent a walk through the desert with a saintly guide holding your hand.

    • Infinite Bandwidth by Eugene Gan
      Here is a roadmap for the digital world, Catholic style. If you struggle, as I do, with how to balance real life with texting, emails, blog reading, video games, and more, then Gan has words of wisdom to help keep everything in perspective. His guide is directed toward parents but everyone can benefit from a reminder of how to discern when your faith is being helped or hindered, especially if this is something that gets between you and God.

    This is just a drop in the bucket. What ideas do you have?

    (Note: Finding Martha's Place, The Mass, Grace Before Meals, and The Story of a Soul were review books. I read Infinite Bandwidth while doing the cover and page layout. I'd have recommended them anyway.)