Heaven has no other prayer niche but love.
Without love the world is worthless.
Become the slave to love, this is the course.
This is the path for all pious people.
Slave To Love, Brian Ferry
I'm a professional man, living in the Southwestern United States. This blog is a personal blog and is not directly connected with my professional practice (although I may draw upon my professional experiences, as well as my personal experiences, in writing my blog posts) nor any other business in which I'm involved. This is a place for personal, not professional, opinions.
Heaven has no other prayer niche but love.
Without love the world is worthless.
Become the slave to love, this is the course.
This is the path for all pious people.
Slave To Love, Brian Ferry
The mandarins of postmodern culture insist that the roots of our religious and moral traditions are irretrievably lost, such that men and women today can't have access to what our ancestors believed to be true; John Paul II taught that Christians always have access to the origins of their faith and their way of life because the source of Christian truth, Christ, is alive and present to his Church. Post-modern culture teaches that agreement about the truth of things can never be reached across historical epochs or between cultures; John Paul II taught that every human being, no matter what the cultural or historical circumstances, can hear a saving word of grace and mercy from God. Post-modernism teaches us that knowledge is incoherent, that there is simply no way to put the world's story together; John Paul II proposed Christian faith as a comprehensive, coherent, and compelling account of human nature and human community, of human origins and human destiny.
"Faith, as opposed to reason," I can hear the secular skeptic sneer.
There are no doubt unthinking Catholics. Asked what they believe, they say that they believe what the Church believes, what ever that may be. But the authentic Catholic spirit is well expressed by the fifth-century St. Augustine: "No one believes anything unless one first thought it believable. Everything that is believed is preceded by thought. Not everyone who thinks believes, since many think in order not to believe; but everyone who believes thinks, thinks in believing and believes in thinking."
---Richard John Neuhaus, Catholic Matters
I'm often either amused or angered by the denigration of faith by those who haven't the capacity for a serious discussion of it, largely because they lack the capacity for serious thought. As one of them expressed in the comments section of a blog, "I accept something as true based only upon the power of my reason, not because some book told me it was true." Reason is a process, not a starting premise. Idiocy, masquerading as intellectualism.
Again, Neuhaus, from Catholic Matters:
Whether in matters of religion, science, politics, or the living of everyday life, we all believe on the basis of authority more than most of us like to think. The systematically consistent skeptic who accepts nothing as true that he has not personally proved beyond a rational doubt would, if there is such a person, be incapable of getting out of bed in the morning. In theory, his skepticism nay be relentlessly consistent (except for being skeptical about his skepticism), but not in life.
No, "not in life."
A child saying a child's prayer looks simple. And if you are content to stop there, well and good. But if you are not and the modern world usually is not -- if you want to go on and ask what is really happening -- then you must be prepared for something difficult. If we ask for something more than simplicity, it is silly then to complain that the something more is not simple.
Very often, however, this silly procedure is adopted by people who are not silly, but who, consciously or unconsciously, want to destroy Christianity. Such people put up a version of Christianity suitable for a child of six and make that the object of their attack. When you try to explain the Christian doctrine as it is really held by an instructed adult, they then complain that you are making their heads turn round and that it is all too complicated and that if there really were a God they are sure He would have made 'religion' simple, because simplicity is so beautiful, etc. You must be on your guard against these people for they will change their ground every minute and only waste your time. Notice, too, their idea of God 'making religion simple'; as if 'religion' were something God invented, and not His statement to us of certain quite unalterable facts about His own nature.
---C. S, Lewis, Mere Christianity
Summary: Yes, there is a "comprehensive, coherent, and compelling account of human nature and human community, of human origins and human destiny," and it's called Christianity. For me, personally, it's called Catholicism. No, it's not antithetical to rational thought; in fact, rational thought is essential to a Christian faith. Contrary to the claims of the clueless, rational thought can lead you to respect the primacy of authority in matters of faith.
Christian faith is not something for the weak or the stupid. Moreover, living it is too fundamentally precious and important to waste time being angry with those too dense or twisted in their own ignorance and/or pride to confront "the response to what god reveals" with the intellectual honesty it deserves. Minutes of your life pour from a bucket filled with a finite amount of those minutes, and you never know when the bucket will run dry. How many of those minutes do wish to waste?
For me, none.
All men dream but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that it was vanity; but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dream with open eyes to make it possible.
To unpathed waters, undreamed shores.
There, right beyond the reach of your outstretched fingertips: There it is. You grasp for it, but it slips through your fingers.
Out of the corner of your eye you see a shadow flit by. You turn your head quickly to catch sight of it. Too late; it has already vanished.
From the essay, "Our Friends The Saints," The Last Essay of Georges Bernanos (translated by Joan and Barry Ulanov), by Georges Bernanos:
The people who have so much trouble understanding our faith are those who have an all too imperfect idea of the eminent dignity of man in Creation, who do not put man in his place in Creation, in the place to which God elevated him in order to be able to come down to him. We are created in the image and after the likeness of God because we are capable of loving. Saints have a genius for love, but not that sort of genius which is the artist's, for example, which is the privilege of a very small number. It would be more exact to say that the saint is the person who knows how to find in himself, and to make gush forth from the depths of his being, the water of which Christ spoke to the Samaritan woman: "Those who drink of it will never thirst." The water is there in each of us, the deep cistern open under the sky. Undoubtedly the surface is cluttered with debris, broken branches, dead leaves, from which arises the smell of death. On it shines a cold and hard light, that of the rational intelligence. But immediately under that pernicious layer, the water is so limpid and pure! Still a little lower, and the soul finds herself again in her native element, infinitely purer than the purest water, in that uncreated light that bathes all Creation—in Him was life, and the life was the light of men—in ipso vita erat et vita erat lux hominum.
The faith that some of you complain you don't know is to be found deep inside men; it fills their interior life. It is that interior life by which all men, rich or poor, ignorant or wise, may make contact with the divine, that is, with universal Love, of which all Creation is simply the inexhaustible outburst. It is against that interior life that our inhuman civilization is conspiring, with its delirious activity, its frenzied need of distraction and that abominable dissipation of degenerated spiritual energies which is melting away the life-substance of humanity.
In our society, there are many who live life like the barren bush in the desert. They are busy, seemingly fulfilled, and superficially happy. Yet because they do not have the waters of everlasting life, their thirst will never be quenched. They keep looking outside of themselves for something to divert them, to entertain them, to make them feel like they are worthy or good... [I]t is time to recognize that Christ is the only real source of strength for human beings. Christ is the only real peace. Christ is the only path to having a life that is meaningful, powerful, and beautiful.
--Fr. Timothy Heines
Sumi Jo, Cacinni's Ave Maria
I've been thinking about forgiveness, and what that particular act of the will requires. When I was a "devout secularist" or "evangelical agnostic" or whatever I was before I returned to my faith, I would have thought that a heart can be pierced or shattered so violently by another human being's acts, omissions or words that, after the broken heart has been patched, it remains too fragile to attempt to try to restore the previous relationship to any semblance of what it was before the offense occurred that pierced or shattered it. I based this assumption on my expertise at wounding others. I mean, I have burned more bridges in my personal and professional lives than William Tecumseh Sherman burned on his march to the sea in 1864. Almost all of those bridges were burned willingly and -- I'm now ashamed to admit -- many were burned with relish. For Kermit the Frog, it may not be easy being green, but for Kevin the Toad, it was easy being a cruel bastard (actually, it came naturally). I didn't realize until relatively recently that it left scars on me as well as on some of my "opponents." Attempting to reconcile in any manner with such human beings seemed to me to not only be extremely unlikely but, in fact, ill-advised. The very act of attempted reconciliation itself could rip off the scar tissue and reopen old wounds, making presently worse a bad situation that had faded from conscious memory. "Let sleeping dogs lie," one former friend-turned-enemy once advised, and I agreed (although not overtly with her at the time).
Unfortunately for my fat-and-happy secular point of view, the Catholic Church teaches otherwise. Catholic author Katrina Zeno reminds us of the difficult facts of life.
Certainly reconciliation involves forgiveness and an apology, but it's more. Reconciliation goes beyond words to actions. Reconciliation restores the relationship to where it was before the offense. It accepts and integrates the offender back into our life.
This is not the "gospel" most of us want to hear; however, it was precisely the good news that Bishop Joseph Ekuwen of Nigeria announced at a national Catholic conference in England this past summer. In explaining the difference between forgiveness and reconciliation, Bishop Ekuwen said: "When someone offends you and makes an apology, you forgive them but keep them at an arms distance. You refuse to re-admit the other into your life. When you do this, reconciliation is missing."
Instead of keeping the other at an arm's distance, the bishop said, we must ask God for the grace of reintegration, of restoration. We must accept the offender back into our lives just as God accepted us back into His life.
As children of God we must try to live out our Christian life in imitation of God. That means we can't just forgive, we must also reconcile. Here, Bishop Ekuwen was very direct: "Is there someone on this globe who offended you and you have forgiven, but not allowed back into your life as it was before the offense?" he asked the crowd. "This is perhaps one of the most difficult aspects of our Christian life because many people forgive, but they do not reconcile, they do not take back fully those who offended them."
He's not kidding. I've seen it in living color: families split by squabbles over money; two Christian sisters who were best friends but now cordially tolerate each other because of an incident with their children; spouses who occupy the same living quarters but are emotionally distant. As for me, it didn't take two seconds for the Holy Spirit to show me the people I keep at an arms distance: my former husband, two of my sisters, friends whose values I don't share. And now the bishop asking me to integrate these people back into my life. That's beyond heroic; it's saintly.
Well, here's another seemingly impossible task thrown in my lap! Ignorance is bliss, and if I'd just live in a bubble of ignorance I'd be a lot "happier," but I insist upon praying, reading and talking, and attempting to plumb the depths of my faith. I'll be damned if I don't keep running into a speed bump on the basics. This happens when you have to exit the starting gate with over 40 years of bad habits burned into a difficult personality. You don't start the race sitting at the pole, you start it back in the pack. Way back.
Now, I haven't killed anyone, or poisoned their cattle. On the other hand, anyone who's read this blog for any length of time understands that I can inadvertently wound the feelings of human beings I genuinely like. Those I don't like get the extra, special acid bath treatment. A confessor recently told me that for most of my life, there has been no "down time" between my experience of the emotion of anger and my response to it. That's unfortunate when you're "blessed" with an acid tongue and the complete lack of restraint in your willingness to employ it to maximum effect. He suggested that when I experience the emotion of anger, before I display any reaction to it, I ask myself the question: "How would God wish me to respond?" I told him that such a process was going to be difficult, because it would not only require self-discipline, but the almost certain abandonment of the use of my favorite epithets. He advised me that it was not "almost certain" but "certain."
The bigger problem with reconciliation, as I see it, is that to be completely reconciled with another requires that the other wish to be reconciled. I suspect that most, if not all, of those who I've forgiven would, to the extent that they even give me a passing thought, ask themselves the question, "I wonder if that lousy SOB's died of cancer yet? I sure hope so, and I hope that his death was both lingering and extremely painful." It takes two to tango (as one of my commenters likes to say), and what if your "partner in reconciliation" sings (ala Fred Astair) "Won't Dance, Can't Make Me"? Is it enough that you're honestly willing to allow them "back into your life as it was before the offense" whether or not they are interested? Moreover, how do you begin to reconcile with someone whose last words to you might have been "if I EVER hear from you again I'll stick a fork in your neck"?
Finally, I've got to be honest: there are a couple of people I've offended who I considered either borderline or over-the-border whack-jobs, and I'd be reluctant to have them back in my life "as it was prior to the offense" because I wasn't too comfortable with them in my life before I intentionally blew them off. Do I get "a pass" on them, or is that merely rationalization? I'm good at rationalization. I'm also very good at compartmentalization, denial, and various other forms of self-deception. In fact, I'm quite skilled in their use.
Who said religion was a crutch? I'll admit that I not only need a crutch, I need a motorized wheelchair ala Stephen Hawking, complete with voice-translating computer, anti-lock brakes, and a turbo charger, because this "Catholic thing" is the hardest thing I've ever attempted to do, especially since I know that I'll never get it right until -- if I'm lucky -- I die, and then who knows how long I'll spend thereafter being purified in Purgatory. Here on Earth, during your life, every day you fall short, but you must pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and keep trying, keep giving, keep forgiving, keep "loving." I'd argue that being a Christian, which means being a steward, is too tough for many, maybe for most, especially where there's so much "stuff" to fill up our otherwise meaningless existence. I'd argue that those who retreat from the rigors of believing and living this faith are the ones who just aren't tough enough.
Rant is done. Over and out.
Stones taught me to fly
Love taught me to lie
Life taught me to die
So it's not hard to fall
When you float like a cannonball
Cannonball -- Damien Rice
I represented the late Sen. Bill Armstrong (R. CO) at one time on banking matters, and I remember him telling me that one of his closest friends in the US Senate was Jay Rockefeller, a Democratic senator from West Virginia and Armstrong's polar opposite in politics. A tribute to him and to the late Denver lawyer and Democratic heavyweight, Howard Gelt, written by the Editor of the Denver Business Journal, contains this accurate assessment:
The loss of these two individuals, I think, will continue to reverberate through political and legal circles around here for a long time.
They couldn't have been further away from each other politically, but Howard Gelt and Bill Armstrong shared something important: They cared about the truth, and about facts, and knew the difference. They were confident in their beliefs and their interpretation of the facts. Most importantly, they respected people who disagreed with them.
Can we say as much about any of the "heavyweights" currently in the national political arena?
A while ago, I stumbled across another ray of light that penetrates the fog. If Van Morrison wrote a song about Emily Dickinson, it might very well sound something like this.
The Belle of Amherst, Quoting Napoleon.
One more passage from Pope Benedict XVI's book God and the World, one that ought to warm the heart of diagrammers of sentences and grammar Nazis of all stripes.
In discussing the contributions that the Benedictine monks made at Monte Cassino (where the interviews for the book took place), Pope Benedict contends that a love of grammar served God's purpose and, of course, man's.
With all this, Monte Cassino brought an end to the culture of antiquity but, at the same time, rescued it. This is where manuscripts were copied; this is where the knowledge of languages was cultivated. The French monk Dom Leclerq once showed how love of grammar and love of God were inseparably united. Because they had to understand the sacred words, then the whole business of reading was so to say a ministry. That in turn conditioned the way in which, to take just one example, philology developed, and the Word was cultivated in every shape and form.
There you have it, boys and girls. Don't moan and groan and about having to take the first sentence of the preamble of the United States Constitution and do this with it:
You're doing God's work.
The man to the left is my father in 1944, age 19, just graduated from advanced training as a Navy Corpsman, right before he shipped out to the South Pacific and the campaigns of Saipan, Bouganville and "The Big One" (for him), Okinawa. He fought with the First Marine Division on Okinawa, where he was wounded and several times nearly killed by shrapnel from Japanese grenades and once, nearly bayoneted by a Japanese soldier who'd run out of ammunition while my father was trying to stop the arterial spurting of a Marine who'd had his leg severed below the knee by a mortar round. The Marine paid my father back for coming to his aid under fire by, while lying flat on his back, picking up his M-1 and, after shouting "Jesus Christ, Doc, get the f**k out of the way!", shooting the Japanese soldier through the head as came at my father from behind.
My knowledge of his wartime experiences came in "dribs an drabs," over an extended period of time, and reluctantly. I think that it was common of men of his generation, especially tough Irish-American males like him, to be reluctant to talk much about those types of experiences. Their idea of masculinity was tied to a sense of humility in a way that, today, is completely counter-cultural. When you think of the attributes deemed favorable by the current generation, the word "humble" does not come immediately to mind. Their role models in the political, sports, and entertainment arenas are almost invariably preening popinjays.
He taught me many things about what it means to be "a man." Among the many lessons that I learned from him, and then promptly forgot, only to remember years later after he morphed in my mind from the relic of a by-gone era to one of the wisest men I have ever known, was that a strong man is merciful and that only a weak man is cruel. Another was that a "real man" never needs to look for excuses to prove how tough he is. On the other hand, being the captain of his high school boxing team (if you can conceive of a time when high schools--his was a Christian Brothers military academy, actually--had boxing teams), he taught his four sons to box, and told us that the only way to handle a bully was to stand up to him and to never back down, no matter how much punishment we took, especially if we needed to do so to protect another person from the bully. Greater love has no man than this, that he lay his life down for the life of another. He taught all of us that lesson, and my surviving brother and I still remember it well.
Having recently read a scathing attack on the Just War Doctrine of the Catholic Church by a well-known Catholic writer who is a strong progressive on political positions, as well as a pacifist who apparently knows more than the likes of St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, G.K. Chesterton, and C.S. Lewis, my father's lessons came to my mind. As convinced as this pacifist is that she is right and I am wrong, I am as firmly convinced, in my heart of hearts, that my father and I are right and that she is wrong. That, while war is a last resort and must be waged only under strict conditions and limitations, there are wars that must be fought, and men who must be willing to lay down their lives in a just cause. That is also what the Magisterium of my faith teaches.
One day, either the question will be answered for us both, or the answer will, really, make no difference.
Independence Day seemed to me to be a fitting day to remember my father and to pay tribute to the many sides of masculinity that he both embodied and did his best to inculcate in his sons. Tenderness and strength, love and courage. Two sides of the same coin.
To pull the metal splinter from my palm my father recited a story in a low voice. I watched his lovely face and not the blade. Before the story ended, he’d removed the iron sliver I thought I’d die from. I can’t remember the tale, but hear his voice still, a well of dark water, a prayer. And I recall his hands, two measures of tenderness he laid against my face, the flames of discipline he raised above my head. Had you entered that afternoon you would have thought you saw a man planting something in a boy’s palm, a silver tear, a tiny flame. Had you followed that boy you would have arrived here, where I bend over my wife’s right hand. Look how I shave her thumbnail down so carefully she feels no pain. Watch as I lift the splinter out. I was seven when my father took my hand like this, and I did not hold that shard between my fingers and think, Metal that will bury me, christen it Little Assassin, Ore Going Deep for My Heart. And I did not lift up my wound and cry, Death visited here! I did what a child does when he’s given something to keep. I kissed my father.