Saturday, July 31, 2010

A thought from the road

Throughout On the Road Kerouac "distinguishes between authentic work and the things people do so they can buy more stuff." So, writes John Leland.

Sal Paradise, not only rejects upward mobility, but is intent on being downwardly mobile. For Sal, as for Kerouac, "upward mobility [is] a plot to make men do pointless things, turning them into parodies of the American Dream."

When we consider the great technological advances that have increased productivity exponentially over the past two decades, we have to consider the good with the bad. Despite our ability to be more productive, I don't know many people who work less, but I know many who work more. Besides that contradiction, as Peter Hitchens recently wrote about, these technologies certainly have a dehumanizing effect. He observed in his post Human Beings Check Out, "The thing about the attempt to automate supermarket checkouts is that it depends on us - just as internet and telephone banking, with all their problems, could not have been introduced without our willing co-operation." Just a thought as the economy still lags and nationwide unemployment persists at around 10%.

It seems an ideal time to rethink a lot of things, especially one's personal practices. In short, the reality is we need to focus less on buying stuff. After all, it was rampant consumerism, financed by consumer debt (borrowing 110% of your equity in your home to go on a cruise, buy a jet-ski, or pay down credit card debt), that got us into this mess. Prior to the meltdown, this kind of consumer spending constituted somewhere around 75% of our GDP, creating an unsustainable situtation. Hence, repeating the fundamental economic failures of the past it is not going to get us out of our current slump, let alone put on us on solid ground.

Downward mobility of a kind is just what advanced countries, who consume resources at an unprecedented pace need, as three successive popes (not including Papa Luciani) have taught. Like the other two evangelical counsels, chastity and obedience, poverty applies to Christians in every state of life. As Don Giussani taught, poverty does not mean starving on a street corner in rags, which is destitution. Rather, poverty has to do with your relationship to things; with the question, In what, or in whom, do I place my hope?, which is nothing less than how you go about achieving your deepest desire, which is to be truly happy. As such, it calls for a certain detachment.

Anyway, Leland warns in the subtitle of his book that the lessons of On the Road are not what you think. This post brings July to a close. Next month marks the 5th anniversary of the clunky and uncertain beginning of what was then known as Scott Dodge for Nobody.

Friday, July 30, 2010

"Hangin' out by the state line, turning holy water into wine"

Our 1980s summer continues this week. We've been working through what are, at least for me, inevitable '80s artists, like the Go-Gos, Phil Collins, Eddie Money, et. al. Today's Friday traditio is Billy Idol's Eyes Without a Face: Les yeux sans visage from 1983's Rebel Yell album. "You hear the music, you make a dip into someone else's pocket, then make a slip..."

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Art is sacramental

Yea, I know the title is obvious, but sometimes we can stand being reminded of the obvious, like when we attend Mass each Sunday.

Due to absolutely no planning on my part, this is becoming culture week here at Καθολικός διάκονος. It began with my purchase of John Leland’s wonderful treatise on Keoruac’s On the Road last week and my subsequent reading it. Today, I read Stephen Hunter’s article in Commentary: Clyde and Bonnie Died for Nihilsim, about the 1967 film featuring Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway. While it is a very insightful article about this film and what it tells us about the time it was made, which affects us now, it caused me to member that Faye Dunaway is an adult convert to the Catholic Church. In fact, she begins a 1999 article for Esquire magazine in the following way:

"I'm a bit high maintenance, but it gets your attention. A little hot and cold never hurts.

"I regret so much. I've made mistakes. I've hurt people. I've done things
I'm not proud of. But on the other hand, that way lies madness, you know?

"The impulse toward perfection is more important than perfection itself.

"It doesn't really matter what other people think.

"Great artists never know if they're making the right choice. I'm a new Catholic. I love the church; I love mass. I go every morning at 6:30. When I'm on the right track spiritually and emotionally, things happen in my life. It's mysterious."

Reading this, in turn, caused me to think about Andy Warhol’s faith; the fact that he was, by all accounts, a practicing Catholic his whole life, as a recent exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum, brought to my attention over on The Deacon’s Bench, reiterated. Of course, this is old news, as an article by art historian James Romaine, which originally appeared in Regeneration Quarterly back in 2003, shows. This piece subsequently found its way over to the website Godspy in the same year.

It is important to point out that Warhol(a) was a Byzantine Catholic. Hence, I think Romaine is very spot-on by writing that "Warhol's strategy of representing heaven by repeated images has been linked to Byzantine icons, which limit individual creativity in favor of a standardized form."

Romaine’s article, Transubstantiating the Culture: Andy Warhol’s Secret, is succinct and certainly open to interrogation from many angles, but I think what he writes corresponds well with Warhol’s life and art, as this snippet towards the end of his piece indicates:

"Indeed, Warhol's approach to art and Christianity exemplify what H. Richard Niebuhr, in Christ and Culture, famously called "Christ the Transformer of Culture." Just as Christ transformed common bread and wine into the holy sacraments, Warhol transformed everyday imagery into art.

"The popularity of Warhol's work is a reflection of our own hunger for such transformation. Like all art, it raises questions: Are we hungry enough to accept anything offered to us? How are we to be discerning? Was Warhol discerning? If we are to 'test each spirit,' should we filter out Warhol? Was Warhol so hungry for something divine that he too easily accepted substitutes for the one thing that would satisfy him?"

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Friendship and obedience

At the very end of Is It Possible to Live This Way?: An Unusual Approach to Christian Existence, vol. 1- Faith, Giussani says something that strikes me when I read it. Because it's true it is challenging. It is about human relationships and how these relationships become friendships:

"The problem of the indissolubility of marriage is the great sign of any human companionship: it can't last" (pg. 158). These words may seem surprising, but they should not be because all Giussani is doing is calling out our sentimentalism, our avoidance of reality by refusing to say, not what he "should" say (he is saying what he should say), what we want to hear, which are exalted words about marriage. Marriage, which he is using as a paradigm of human relationships, is difficult and it is no great secret that many marriages, including those of people married in the church, fail.

He moves next to something we might label the law of entropy as it applies to human relationships: Very often, if a marriage lasts, he continues, "it's due to interest in political or economic power, because satisfaction as such is so flimsy that it immediately decays" (ibid). This is not true of real satisfaction, that which corresponds to your heart, but the satisfaction that is sought by what attracts us and what we go after without considering it in the light of reason, in the light of reality, but sentimentally, ignoring reality. In other words, we miss the mark by investing our happiness completely in the other person, who, being a human being, will not ultimately satisfy us. This dynamic is demonstrated by couples who go off on their own and try to build a world that consists of only them. This is an unhealthy attachment. This satisfaction does not begin to decay until we possess the one we in whom we mistakenly believe our destiny lies.

It is God who seeks to attract us through other people. It is only by recognizing this that we can form genuine friendships. Hence, "[t]he more the presence of the other [person] awakens the passion for his or her destiny in you; that is, it truly becomes love. Friendship, which is mutual love, is the law of obedience" (ibid).

We adhere to friends, we stick to them. A friend is not extraneous to life, but necessary. Together we follow the One who placed us in each other's lives.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Nicking the beat myth

In obsessing, as is my wont, I undercovered an interview from 2007 in the British on-line magazine, Notes from the Underground, with Carolyn Cassady, the wife of Neal Cassady, who is portrayed as Dean Moriarity in On the Road. She is ostensibly portrayed in the book as Camille.

Neal Cassady and Jack Kerouac

The entire interview is worth reading. It's funny how reading a short little book found in the remainder bin of a suburban chain bookstore can spark a raging fire of memory, bringing to light, again, thoughts I haven't thought in years! Kerouac despised the popular image of him. He saw it for what it was, a market ploy. A sort of cartharsis achieved, at least for now...

"'Jack', she mourns, 'got dragged into it…' Jack Kerouac is a great example of what misrepresentation can do to a writer. He wanted to join the canon of great American writers – Jack London, Tom Wolfe, Ernest Hemingway-and the role he was cast in instead proved devastating, as Cassady explains. 'He was called the "King of the Beats" and the "Father of the Hippies", he told me that he was going to drink himself to death. He was so sensitive, so self-conscious, and so paranoid that he just couldn’t stand the image that had been created of him. All the hippie stuff was just so alien to what his dreams had been…it destroyed him.' To what extent does an artist have control over how his work is perceived once it’s in the public domain? It’s a fascinating case study of an artist trying to escape his caricature. As every depth was plunged for commodity –'his awful poems, his awful drunken doodles, his awful play' – Jack found the only means of escape in alcohol."
It's been a manic day. Deo gratias!

"Arrange your life and shut your mouth"

Like a lot of guys, reading Jack Kerouac's On the Road as a young man was transformative for me. It is safe to say that reading this book, along with Merton's Seven Story Mountain, John Henry Cardinal Newman's Apologia pro Sua Vita, seeing Scorsese's Last Temptation of Christ, and my consequent reading of Kazantzakis' book on which the film was based, constitute prime reasons I am Catholic. All of these works came into the orbit of my life in a very compressed period of time. Between the ages of 21 and 27, when I got married, I took great pride in the fact that I could fit everything I owned into my Volkswagen Rabbit. When things got overwhelming, I had an escapist fantasy of loading everything up and driving to different city to begin life anew.

John Leland's book, Why Kerouac Matters: The Lessons of On the Road (They're Not What You Think), is quite a remarkable and, at least to my mind, an honest reading of Kerouac's On the Road. Leland contends that Kerouac's remarkable book is revered for all the wrong reasons and that there is a mystique that has grown up around the book that bears little resemblance to the book itself. Indeed, Kerouac was no rebel, at least not in a conventional sense.

Kerouac died in 1969 at 47 years of age, due to complications of his heavy drinking. He had nothing for the hippies and counter-culturalists. He especially despised their anti-Americanism. One of the problems people have with Kerouac in general, and On the Road in particular is that Jack "had very traditional values, and that he lived a life at odds with these values. In the sixties, when he repudiated any connection with the counterculture, declaring William F. Buckley his hero, many thought the booze and bitterness had curdled his mind. But Kerouac had always been conservative - a blue collar son, Catholic, a veteran of the merchant marine and (briefly) the navy. 'I believed in a good home,' he wrote in the scroll draft [of On the Road], 'in sane living, in good food, good times, work, faith and hope. I have always believed these things. It was with some amazement that I realized I was one of the few people in the world who really believed in these things without going around making a dull middleclass philosophy out of it'" (28-29). Leland quotes William Burroughs, a friend with whom Kerouac had frequent fallings out over their diametrically opposed politics, as saying: "It's generally construed that Jack underwent some sort of a change and became more conservative... But he was always conservative. Those ideas never changed. He was always the same" (29).

Commenting on his book after its publication, Kerouac said of Moriarity (Neal Cassady) an Paradise (Kerouac): "I forgot to mention that we were both devout little Catholics in our childhood, which gives us something in common tho we never talk about it" (Leland 18-19). Kerouac also described his book as the adventures of two Catholic buddies. Leland writes of Kerouac that he drifted from Catholicism in his teens "and as an adult discovered and eventually discarded Buddhism, settling finally on a home-grown form of mystic Catholicism. But he held always to the mysterious and gnostic, and to a prophet's sense of time, which articulates the past within the fallen present" (19). But, alas, faith for Jack "often seemed more a remote goal for his life than a day-to-day pillar" (30).

Therefore, I have been amused over the years by the treatment that Kerouac and On the Road have received by many with whom he would have agreed, like people who write for the journal First Things (link to the search results from typing Kerouac into the journal's search engine), to which I subscribed for many years. I still like the journal a great deal. The late Fr. Richard John Neuhaus, whom I revere, once referred to Kerouac as "an absolutely stoned would be Maoist," to which Kerouac might well have responded: "Who're you calling a would be Maoist?" Prof. Robert Reno, with whom I am generally in agreement, back in the October 2008 edition, wrote a very unsympathetic and disparaging assessment of On the Road, entitled The End of the Road. By itself, but certainly by way of comparison, Leland's take is nothing short of masterful because it is honest and deals with the book and with Jack Kerouac, and not the legend propagated by people who have likely never read On the Road, or who have read it only once and in a cursory way with a lot of preconceptions.

So, we need a little 10,000 Maniacs, fronted by the always lovely Natalie Merchant, singing Hey Jack Kerouac for a Monday, a day when reality weighs most heavily on us. Finding himself in an impersonal and complacent place of work, Sal laments: "This is the story of America: Everybody's doing what they think they're supposed to do." A jab at the hyper-Calvinistic, "Look busy, Jesus is coming," ethos into which we very often fall.

It is good that this floods me during my annual novena to St. Peter Julian Eymard.

Like my dear Camus, Kerouac's rebellion was metaphysical, not mundane. The difference being Jack's undying belief in God, the search for whom he gave himself entirely. You might say, "Hey, wait a minute! Didn't you quote Leland to the effect that Kerouac lacked faith?" Yes, I did. Faith cannot be reduced merely to belief. After all, as Chesterton observed, "When people stop believing in God, they don't believe in nothing — they believe in anything."

This post beautifully evokes the original name of this blog: Scott Dodge for Nobody, riffing off an old radio program here in SLC: Tom Waits for Nobody and the poet, Ron Seitz's memory vision of Pater Tom, A Song for Nobody .

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Year C 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Readings: Gen. 18:20-32; Ps 138:1-3. 6-8; Col. 2:12-14; Luke 11:1-13

Today’s readings tell us two very important things about God: God is merciful, not wanting to anyone to perish, and God is faithful. Our readings today also show us what it looks like to have a personal, even intimate, relationship with God. In our first reading, Abraham, who is our father because of his faith, as he does with the story of his whole life, gives very concrete expression to what Jesus teaches about prayer in today’s Gospel (Rom. 4:9-12). All of this is summarized quite succinctly in our Psalm response: "Lord, on the day I called for help, you answered me." Our second reading, in a manner more subtle than our Psalm response, also connects our reading from Genesis with today’s Gospel. It does this by discussing baptism, describing it as being "buried" with Christ and then being "also raised with him through faith in the power of God who raised [Christ] from the dead" (Col. 2:12).

Jesus teaches that we must approach the Father in prayer with confidence. Our confidence is in God, who is merciful and faithful, truly a heavenly Father, the best of fathers, who longs to give you, not just what you ask for, but to draw you into the divine life of the Blessed Trinity. The biggest problem we encounter with prayer is set forth well by the twentieth century Christian spiritual master, Metropolitan Anthony Bloom: the seeming absence of God when we pray. It is important to realize that, indeed, God is not absent, but everywhere present. "[I]f I lie down in [Hell], you are there too," the psalmist sings of God’s omnipresence (Ps. 139:8). What are we to make of this situation, with which I daresay most, if not all of us, are all familiar? There are two things to keep in mind.

The first thing we must realize is that prayer is a relationship. As such, it involves more than one person. God does not make us pray. He leaves us free in this regard. Just so, to pray is not to summon God as if He were a genie in a bottle that we need only rub three times in order to make appear. No! "The fact that God can make Himself present or can leave us with the sense of His absence" is indicative "of this real and live relationship" (Beginning to Pray 26). After all, if we could mechanically draw God into an encounter, "force Him to meet us, simply because we have chosen this moment to meet Him, there would be no relationship" because this would not be an encounter, but a summons (26). This comes even more to the fore when we realize how often do we not have time for God, when we effectively say to Him, "Not now, I am busy."

The second thing we must keep in mind is that to encounter the living God is awesome, perhaps even awful, meaning to be filled with awe, because every encounter with the living God "is always a moment of judgment" (27). Metropolitan Anthony goes on to say that it is impossible to "meet God in prayer or meditation and not be either saved or condemned" (27). Of course, this is not meant in an ultimate sense, as if when we finally encounter God in prayer we will in that moment be eternally saved or eternally condemned. It means that when we truly encounter the living God it creates a crisis. Our word crisis comes to us from Greek and means to decide, to judge. In other words, there are times we should be grateful to God "that He does not… present Himself to us when we wish to meet Him" precisely because He is merciful by not coming to us "in an untimely way," thus giving us an opportunity to judge ourselves and sparing us when it might mean condemnation.

Metropolitan Anthony tells the story of a man who wanted very badly to see God and asked this holy priest to show him God. Anthony told the man that even if he was capable of showing him God, he would not be able to see God because to encounter God it is necessary to have something in common. So, he asked the man to tell him if there was a passage from any of the Gospels that moved him. The man responded by saying that he was moved by the story of the woman taken in adultery. He then asked his earnest inquirer who he was in the scene: the Lord, "full of mercy, of understanding," or did he see himself as the sinful woman, or perhaps as one of the men ready to stone her who, at Jesus’ words, walks away, having been made aware of his own sin? The man paused, then said "No, I feel I am the only Jew would not have walked [away] but who would have stoned the woman" (27-28). To which Metropolitan Anthony responded: "Thank God that He does not allow you to meet Him face-to-face" (28).

Like the man who wanted to see God, we must be relentlessly honest before God. God cannot be blinded, distracted, or deceived. Most often we do not flatly refuse God’s word or Christ’s teachings, but we frequently "ignore the divine presence and act according to our own desires [and] moods, contrary to everything that is God’s [expressed] will" for us (28). In trying to blind God, we only succeed in blinding ourselves. There are times when we can only come into God’s presence repentant and broken-hearted and not in the way "we immediately wish to be received," which is as if nothing had happened. This, too, my friends is a great mercy and the primary reason for the sacrament of penance (28). Like father Abraham, we approach God saying, "See how I am presuming to speak to my Lord, though I am but dust and ashes"(Gen. 18:27).

Abraham, by Guy Rowe

Too often, like the centurion who wants Jesus to heal his daughter, but does not want the Lord to enter his house, or Peter who says to the Lord, "Depart from me… for I am a sinful man," we want something from the Lord, but we do not want Him. (Matt. 8:8; Luke 5:8). We just want Him to give us what we ask for and then go away. This same attitude afflicts our relationships with people, treating them as means to be employed towards some self-serving end. Even when we pray intensely for someone we love, or a matter of great concern to ourselves, it does not necessarily mean that God matters to us. In fact, even while praying, after “you have made your passionate, deep, intense [petition] concerning the person you love or the situation that worries you, and you turn to the next item, which does not matter” to you quite as much, you often turn cold and mechanical. What happened? Did God leave, or grow uninterested? Most certainly not! "[I]t means that all the elation, all the intensity in your prayer was not borne of God’s presence, of your faith in Him, of your longing for Him, of your awareness of Him" (29).

In order to be able to encounter God in prayer, to be friends with God, like Abraham, "[w]e must recognize that He is God, that He is King, we must surrender to Him," like Job, who, after being informed that his oxen, asses, sheep, shepherds, camels had all been seized in different raids and that all his children, who were gathered in one house, had been killed, tore his cloak, “cut off his hair…cast himself prostrate upon the ground, and said, ‘Naked I came forth from my mother's womb, and naked shall I go back again. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD’” (Bloom 30; Job 1:13-21). Of course, Job’s faithfulness was rewarded in the end. While assets and houses can be replaced, children cannot. After all, as some of us here know, having more children does not erase the pain of losing a child. So, it is only Jesus Christ, who out of great love descended from unimaginable glory to become for us the man sorrows, who can wipe away our tears and take away our pain and emptiness, and bring us to new life, which isn’t merely a life lived for others, but a life of self-sacrificing service to others lived for Him.

Jesus’ point in today’s Gospel is not that God will give you whatever you ask for, or even that God will only give what you need. In his second encyclical, Spe Salvi, the Holy Father points to a letter on prayer written by Saint Augustine to Proba, a wealthy Roman widow, in which he said "ultimately we want only one thing—'the blessed life', the life which is simply life, simply 'happiness'. In the final analysis, there is nothing else that we ask for in prayer" (par. 11). Dear friends, only Christ can give us "the life which is simply life." He does this by giving us Himself, body, blood, soul, and divinity by the power of the Holy Spirit in this very Eucharist. In return, he asks you to give yourself to Him, body, blood, soul, and humanity.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Novena to St. Peter Julian Eymard and miscellania

Today begins the novena to St. Peter Julian Eymard, the apostle of the Eucharist and founder of the Congregation of the Blessed Sacrament. This particular order has been such a blessing to me for many years. One of my dearest and  most beloved friends, my long-time confessor and spiritual director, Fr. J.T. Lane belongs to this congregation, as does my first confessor, the late and dearly remembered Fr. Maurice Prefontaine. My life has also been very blessed by Frs. Dana Pelotte and Mike Arkins, as well as Bro. David. I am so sad that the Congregation's St. Ann's province no longer has a presence in the western U.S., especially here in Salt Lake City where they are still very beloved and missed.

St. Peter Julian's feast day is 2 August. So, the annual novena to him commences today and finishes Monday, 1 August. So, if you have a specific need or intention, whether it's personal, or for someone else, please join in praying this novena, asking St. Peter Julian to intercede for your need. Bring whatever, whether for discernment, health (physical, mental, emotional, spiritual), a job, school, whatever. During these nine days, visit the Blessed Sacrament as often as you can, especially if doing so results in you making some personal sacrifice. Also consider closing the novena by going to confession during this time and assisting at Mass on 2 August.

Novena prayer, prayed daily for nine days:

Saint Peter Julian, who listened with such loving response to the voice of Jesus, help us also to listen and hear Him as He calls us to serve Him each in our own vocation. Help us especially during this Novena when we turn with our petitions to your powerful intercession.

(intentions… mention in the quietness of your own heart).

Lord Jesus Christ, through Your grace, St. Peter Julian understood the Eucharist to be Your Gift of Self to the world. May our prayers lead us to an ardent love of the Eucharist so that, like St. Peter Julian, we may shine in the world with the Radiance of Your Presence, a radiance that will silently say:

Jesus is there- let us go to Him!

St. Peter Julian, Apostle of the Eucharist, pray for us.

Day 1, 24 July:

O Sacrament most Holy, O Sacrament divine, all praise and all thanksgiving be every moment thine.
Our Lady of the most Blessed Sacrament, pray for us.
St. Peter Julian, pray for us.

Peter Julian Eymard was born on 4 February 1811 in La Mure d’Isere near Grenoble in the French Alps, and was baptised there the following day. The younger of only two surviving children of his parents, Madeleine and Julien, he showed a great devotion to the Blessed Sacrament from his earliest years. As a small child, he took on the task of ringing a bell through the streets of La Mure to announce that Mass time was near. This was indeed prophetic as his whole life would eventually be dedicated to proclaiming Jesus’ Eucharistic Presence in the world and encouraging devotion to Him.


St Peter Julian,
We pray that through your intercession and inspired by your example, people may be drawn to honour and join Jesus in the Eucharistic celebration, and that those who have drifted away may once again find fullness of joy in His Presence.

St. Peter Julian, pray for us.

See Blessed Sacrament novena webpage.


I visited a suburban Barnes and Noble because you can very often find really great books in the remainder bins of these stores. I picked up A Roland Barthes Reader, complied by the late Susan Sontag. This contains several Barthes' works I have not previously read. The real gem I unearthed was a copy of James L. Kugel's How to Read the Bible: A Guide to Scripture Then and Now. Kugel is an Orthodox Jew and world renown biblical scholar who now lives and teaches in Jerusalem. Dr. Kugel has a remarkable website, which will appear in my sidebar. I also acquired a very inexpensive copy of John Leland's Why Kerouac Matters: The Lessons of On the Road (They're Not What You Think). Finally, I bought A Daybook of Prayer: Meditations, Scriptures, and Prayers to Draw Near to the Heart of God, which is a wonderful anthology. When I will have the leisure to read them remains unknown.

Our tolerance for truth

My very dear friend, Kim, over her blog, Faith, Fiction, and Flannery, for her Friday Flannery O'Connor quote-of-the-day, posted this yesterday: "The truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it."

While O'Connor is certainly correct and her observation cuts across the broad range of human experience, my mind went to moral truth. Of course, all truth is ultimately one, united as it is in the person of Jesus Christ. The reaction of many to reading this would be to concur, to give it the ol' Facebook thumbs up, but I suspect not many would allow themselves to be personally challenged by it. In my pastoral experience the issues many people "dissent" from are those that really challenge their lazy assumptions, those things that would necessitate a major change in their lives, those things that hit them where they leave, so to speak, whether it is an aspect of the Church's social teaching, or the Church's teaching on sexuality, etc. As Catholics we too easily try to distinguish between Christ and the Church, which means effectively setting up our demonstrably fallible selves as the sole tribunes and arbiters of truth.

While I certainly agree with the moral theologians who comprise the so-called revisionist school that human experience has to be factored into morality, we have to be careful not to mistake our fallen-ness for holiness, to dumb holiness down, to reduce Christ to our measure. In other words, just because some teaching of the Church proves a genuine challenge to a person or a group of persons, does not mean that truth needs to be re-thought and/or renounced, maybe re-formulated, which is to say nothing other than our understanding of truth is always in need of being deepened and purified, always in need of being more truthfully (lovingly) expressed.

It is distinctive of Catholicism that Christ teaches us through the Church. While there is a deep and abiding coherency to following Christ, it looks somewhat incoherent to others, who live according to a wholly different and oftentimes hostile criteria, which is why Flannery, who, along with Dorothy Day, was an obedient daughter of the Church, once averred: "You shall know the truth and truth will make you odd." It was none other than Fr. Andrew Greeley, not known for mindless and docile adherence to Church authority, who observed, in Rod Dreher's paraphrase, "that even if the Catholic church was run by psychopathic tyrants, that has nothing whatever to do with whether or not the Catholic faith is true."

What many don't realize is that what I am trying to describe above is a form of Pelagianism, which denies original sin and tells us that we become holy through our exercise of free will, that is, through our own efforts. On this view, if we prove incapable of observing something, it must not be meant to be observed. If you think this way, you don't need a Savior, you save yourself, becoming perfect through your own efforts, denying your need, the need that constitutes you as a human being, which takes the form of desire.

As he does so often the apostle comes to our aid in this quandary: "Though if I should wish to boast, I would not be a fool, for I would be speaking the truth. But I refrain from it, so that no one may think more of me than he sees in me or hears from me. So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong" (2 Cor. 12:6-10).

Yesterday, for completely unrelated reasons, I went back and re-read Rod Dreher's apologia of sorts for becoming Orthodox, in which he wrote something relevant to the point I am trying to make:
"Basically, though -- and this is as blunt as I can be -- I'm in a church [an Orthodox Church] where I can trust the spiritual headship of the clergy, and where most people want to know more about the faith, and how we can conform our lives to it, rather than wanting to run away from it or hide it so nobody has to be offended." As one who would really be hard-pressed to think of a significant Church teaching from which I dissent (being wholly separate from my demonstrated and routine failure to live what I confess) being both Catholic and a member of the clergy, I find Dreher's words very challenging, indeed.

Friday, July 23, 2010

"I think I'm in love 'cause I can't enough"

I don't feel like working really hard today. So. our retro-80s traditio for this Friday is Eddie Money's Think I'm in Love off his 1982 album Out of Control. Nothing really much to comment on, except to say how much I love my wife, who really doesn't like rock n' roll. Maybe it's the attraction of opposites.

The real question for Friday is how much of the current vampire craze can be traced back to Eddie Money? This is something that bears looking into. What else are we going to do while LiLo is in jail, except listen to Mel Gibson's rants over and over?

UPDATE: I almost forgot about this episode of King of Queens in which Doug and Deacon are trying to spend $5,000 in one day. Running out of ideas, they happen to meet Eddie Money at a restaurant and pay him to play Doug's living room, which he does for quite awhile, as their reaction shows:

Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Feast of St Mary Magdalene

"Afterward he journeyed from one town and village to another, preaching and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. Accompanying him were the Twelve and some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities, Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, Joanna, the wife of Herod's steward Chuza, Susanna, and many others who provided for them out of their resources" (Lk 8,1-3).

The before to the evangelist's "Afterward" is Jesus' supper at the house of Simon the Pharisee, during which a woman of ill-repute cast herself at Jesus' feet, washed his feet with her tears, and dried them with her hair. There is nothing in that pericope that would lead us to believe that the woman who entered Simon's house was Mary Magdalene. However, she has been taken for the woman in that story since Pope Gregory the Great, in the sixth century, identified this figure with that of our beloved patroness in a sermon. The story of the woman of ill-repute honoring our Lord in this way is a beautiful story of love and forgiveness and, as such, is certainly worthy of our lovely intercessor. In fact, it is twice depicted in the west transcept of our cathedral, in the mural just above the Our Lady chapel and in the center of the large circular window. This identification is certainly woven into our tradition concerning this great saint. No doubt this link is due, at least in significant part, to the passage above immediately following the narrative of the supper at Simon's in St. Luke's Gospel.

It is also important to note that, while itinerant rabbis, who traveled and taught accompanied by disciples, were not unusual in the religio-cultural milieu of Jesus' day, it was highly unusual and perhaps even scandalous, that these disciples would consist of women. We can assert with a high degree of confidence that there is nothing accidental about those with whom our Lord surrounded himself. These same women, including Mary Magdalene, would remain until the bitter end, not fleeing, like the twelve, when all the trouble started. Hence, Mary Magdalene is the first witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. We can certainly agree that this is no small thing! It gives her a unique role as is recognized by a title, probably given her by Hippolytus in the early third century, apostola apostolorum, which means apostle to the apostles.

Interesingly, the BBC has a nice profile on this great woman of faith, whose people we are and yet still strive to be, witnesses of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead and heralds of the kingdom of heaven. To that end . . .

Sancta Maria Magdalena- ora pro nobis

Lord Jesus, you forgave the sinful woman because she loved much, forgive us who have sinned much.

This is a repost of something I wrote for our parish blog 2 years ago

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Remarriage and the widowed permanent deacon

Recently I have been asked several times about remarriage and the permanent diaconate. In the present state-of-affairs, which may eventually require changes in canon law (a subject I address in my thesis), permanent deacons follow the discipline of clergy of the Eastern Churches, Catholic and Orthodox. This means that if a deacon is to be married, he must marry prior to ordination because, according to canon 1087, "Those in sacred orders invalidly attempt marriage."

In the eventuality that a deacon is widowed, he is not normatively free to remarry under canon law. This seems almost shocking to people. Keep in mind that in the early church being married twice was quite scandalous and frowned upon for anybody! According to canon 1078 §2 1/, a widowed permanent deacon who wishes to remarry must receive a dispensation from the impediment of holy orders. Granting this dispensation is reserved exclusively to the Holy See. It bears noting that requests for this dispensation have not been routinely granted.

In 1997, the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, at the behest of Pope John Paul II, set forth three conditions under which a dispensation from the impediment of holy orders for a widowed permanent deacon to remarry would be considered: "1) the great and proven usefulness of the ministry of deacon to the diocese to which he belongs; 2) the fact that he has children of such a tender age as to be in need of motherly care; 3) the fact that he has parents or parents-in-law who are elderly and in need of care" (from New Commentary on the Code of Canon Law, pgs. 358-9).

I cannot imagine a permanent deacon who divorces receiving a dispensation to remarry, even after an annulment had been sought and granted, which would certainly be a prerequisite. I suppose a dispensation could be requested in such a situation, but only if any of three conditions listed above applied. However, I am certainly open to expert feedback on this matter.

"When I let things stand that should not be, My Lord did trouble me"

It is with a deep diaconal bow to Deacon Greg Kandra that I post this new video of Tom Jones' recording of Did Trouble Me from his new album Praise & Blame, which will be released 26 July.

Of course, this is not Tom's first appearance on these pages. I have previously posted A Boy From Nowhere live from Cardiff and Give a Little Love from his album 24 Hours. I grew up listening to Tom, the boxer from Wales, whose music my Mom likes. So, I find this release exciting. Besides, who can't use a little spiritual re-charge mid-week? I have been going the rounds this week and last about some issues facing us as a nation. I find this song particularly encouraging right now.

Monday, July 19, 2010

"And because they love him, they can’t help offering him up"

"It's the same every morning, only more and more terrible. While David Levy does his exercises, he listens to the latest griefs over the radio. Drought has cut to less than half the livestock of some village in northern Kenya; desperate herdsmen are forced to slaughter their scrawny cattle. In Indonesia, an earthquake kills hundreds. In this country, millions lose their jobs, can’t make payments on their homes. Families are forced to move in with relatives or, sometimes, live out of their cars... Chaos, the chaos that engenders loss of meaning, enters the world.

"Finished with his exercises, he remembers in his prayers the dead and the living. He mourns the dead and worries for the living. But why talk to God when the kind of God one can talk to is, in a sense, the problem in the first place? If he could accept a world in which things just happened—tsunamis buried villages, cancer cells were fruitful and multiplied, bombs exploded, and razor-sharp shards of metal went every which way, into the bodies of the just and unjust alike, and all was what it was, period—if he could accept that, if he could acknowledge that justice is not built into a sacred patterning of things, then there’d be no point speaking to God about anybody’s grief... it’s this idea of the sacred that’s boxed him into a corner. Though who’s to say God is at the root of the sacred? Maybe sacred is a human creation."

So begins the story I read today at lunch, by John J. Clayton: All the Children Are Isaac, which was published in the current issue of Commentary (subscription required). It is a deeply moving piece. The main character, David, is an observant Jew who vicariously suffers with people. It is not until the story unfolds a little that his current wife, Claire, who is not Jewish, but she is an intellectual historian who teaches about religion, the history of ideas, tells him that he changed when his ex-wife, Sarah, died the previous month. We also learn that Jeremy, a son of Sarah and David, died suddenly, too, sometime well before that.

After reminiscing about how he met Claire, he thinks the trip he took from Massachusetts to California to visit his ex-wife just before she dies, which leads to him to mentally re-live their marriage and the painful death of their son, Jeremy. He and Sarah also had a daughter, Lisa. Danny, his son with Claire, is doctoral student in Chicago, who announces his plans to marry at the end of of the story, which prompts this:
"In a rush, the weight of breath eases. Now David’s lungs fill with joy as irrepressible as grief.

"But at this moment of unexpected joy, David also knows. Knows that this beautiful son, this gift to them and gift to the future, this young man who may, please God, carry, thousands of years into the future, our genetic codes, our cultural codes, has been, since the moment of his conception, a hostage to life. And because they love him, they can’t help offering him up.

"Until Jeremy, David hadn’t really understood: All the children are Isaac. And sometimes the ram is nowhere to be found."

"Abraham 'believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness'... Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, 'In you shall all the nations be blessed.' So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith...if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise." (Gal. 3:6-9. 29). Without Christ, the One who died and rose for me, how else can I make sense of it all, let alone offer myself daily as a sacrifice, trustingly placing myself and everything that is mine in His hands?

Sunday, July 18, 2010

"Mary has chosen the better part"

I had forgotten how truly rich the readings for this long period of Ordinary Time in Year C are. Today, in addition to the story of Mary and Martha from Luke's Gospel, we read from Genesis about Abraham's three guests. It is common wisdom that a picture is worth a thousand words (Wittgenstein's distinction between saying and showing). So, Rublev's Trinity icon seems an appropriate starting point for a consideration of today's readings, the first of which, from Genesis, begins: "The LORD appeared to Abraham by the terebinth of Mamre, as he sat in the entrance of his tent, while the day was growing hot. Looking up, Abraham saw three men standing nearby" (18:1-2a).

Terebinth tree

Andrey Rublev, who lived in fifteenth century Russia, is a saint. For Eastern Christians, Trinity icons from the Hebrew Scriptures are a distinct genre of icons. Rublev's icon is the best known of this genre and is considered to be a practically perfect icon. εἰκών (eikon) is an image, a likeness, not an exact representation, just as the appearance in Genesis of the "three mortal ones" (the most literal translation of the Hebrew) is a typos of the Holy Trinity, not an actual appearance of the Mystery, which no human being could see and survive (John 1:18).

In a well composed icon everything means something. The exact symbolism of Rublev's icon is disputed to some extent, but there is a consensus among scholars and theologians about its general meaning. Some say that Rublev is not depicting the Trinity, but Christ, Adam, and Michael the Archangel. However, this strikes me as a bit of an overstretch. Plus, nowhere is it forbidden to compose icons of the Blessed Trinity, keeping in mind that by composing an icon of this episode from Genesis, which in Christian terms is seen as a type (typos), not an actual appearance, it seems well within acceptable standards to say that Rublev is depicting the "three mortal ones" as types.

The three figures are seated at a meal around a white table on which is a chalice containing roasted lamb, reminding us of communion and the altar. Of course, there is the tree, under which they are seated. The Holy Spirit is on the right, dressed in a garment of blue, like the sky, and a mantle of green, indicating the Spirit's on-going role in creation.Christ is in the middle in a garment of reddish brown, indicating the earth, and a blue mantle, once again, pointing to the sky. These depict the hypostatic union, the uniting of two natures, Divine and human, in the one person of Jesus Christ. "The Father seems to wear all the colours in a kind of fabric that changes with the light, that seems transparent, that cannot be described or confined in words. And this is how it should be. No one has seen the Father, but the vision of him fills the universe."

"The Father looks forward, raising his hand in blessing to the Son. It is impossible to tell whether he looks up at the Son or down to the chalice on the table, but his gesture expresses a movement towards the Son. 'This is my Son, listen to him…' The hand of the Son points on, around the circle, to the Spirit. In this simple array we see the movement of life towards us, The Father sends the Son, the Son sends the Spirit" (quoted extracts from St. John's Camberwell).

In iconography the mountain represents asceticism. All Christians are called to be ascetical, like Mary, contemplating the Lord. Ascetism is not busy work, do-goodism, which is indicative of a Pelagian viewpoint, which amounts to trying to save ourselves, a futile endeavor if ever there was one! As Don Giussani points to in The Religious Sense, "ascesis means man's work" (pg. 11). Ascesis comes to us from the Greek word askētikos, which means laborious.

Both our reading from Genesis and our Gospel today continue to build on the intrinsic connection between loving God and loving our neighbor as ourselves. While last week's Gospel gave a very challenging answer to the question, Who is my neighbor, this week we focus on the first commandment: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind." Today's readings remind us what a challenge this very often is. Abraham entertained three mysterious guests, obliquely identified by the beginning of the episode by the narrator as "the LORD," while Mary and Martha were very aware Who had come under their roof, the One in whom "the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily" (Col. 2:9). What is striking about our pericope from Luke is that it puts to rest a lot of silliness, like "Look busy, Jesus is coming." Perhaps a fitting take away from these passages is summarized well in the Letter to the Hebrews: "Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares" (13:2).

Our Lord says, "Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing..." (Luke 10:41-42a). It is He, the One thing she needs, who speaks to her, beckoning her to join Mary, who rests at His feet, thus showing her and us that the one thing necessary is to realize how much He loves you, which realization is what gives any consequent action its meaning.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Prayers for Hitch

As at least one of my two readers know, I have great affection for Christopher Hitchens. Now, before a third reader shows up and freaks out, having affection for him, liking his style of writing and inquiry (i.e., straightforward, honest, and true to his convictions) and thinking him a great literary commentator, as well as liking some of his books and no small number of articles, is a far cry from agreeing with him on every point. His book, God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, takes a very valid point (i.e., that religion has been, is now, and may well continue to be something about which people fight) and blows it so terribly out of proportion that it becomes an absurd exaggeration. Hitch, as he is called familiarly, was also very critical of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, as his book, The Missionary Position: Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice, indicates. Nonetheless, in 2008 he debated Msgr. Lorenzo Albacete in New York on the proposition Does Science Make Belief in God Obsolete? He has had similar exchanges with his brother Peter, his ideological opposite, whom I also like a great deal, on the question of God around the U.S., too. I recommend reading Peter Hitchens' How I Found God and peace with my atheist brother, which he composed for his own Daily Mail blog back in March.

Recently, Hitchens wrote and had published Hitch-22: A Memoir. I have not yet had the opportunity to read it. Of course, the title of his memoir is a take on the late, great Joseph Heller's truly classic novel Catch-22. By way of digression, my favorite Heller novel remains God Knows, his telling of the story of King David, which takes place by way of reminiscence as he lays on his bed in old age, being kept warm by the young Abishag the Shunammite. For years I have been constructing a syllabus in my head for a class on the Hebrew Scriptures, the texts for which would be novels, like God Knows, and the Scriptures, no dry biblical scholarship! When it comes to good books, some books you read and like very much, other books you cherish. I cherish Hitch's Why Orwell Matters.

Anyway, shortly after his memoirs were published, it was announced that Hitchens had been diagnosed with esophageal cancer. Given his very public and strident atheism, the question very quickly arose as to whether is was appropriate to pray for him. Of course, it's always appropriate to pray for anyone and everyone facing difficult circumstances, going through personal crises, or dealing with illness. In the initial absence of any statement by Hitch, Rabbi David Wolpe, who was quoted by the New York Times as saying, "I would say it is appropriate and even mandatory to do what one can for another who is sick; and if you believe that praying helps, to pray. It is in any case an expression of one's deep hopes. So yes, I will pray for him, but I will not insult him by asking or implying that he should be grateful for my prayers," gets it right. I would add that I pray on the basis of my own faith, not that of the one for whom I pray, or their lack of it.

I always find it interesting that a question, like Should I pray for Hitch, is asked, debated hotly for a day or two, then dies away, even before the subject of the question weighs in on it. In an interview he did with Hugh Hewitt, mostly about his memoir, he finally spoke out on all the hubub over whether to pray for him or not. In his characteristic manner, which, despite his stridency, is reasonable and even gracious, he said: "I think that prayer and holy water, and things like that are all fine. They don’t do any good, but they don’t necessarily do any harm. It’s touching to be thought of in that way. It makes up for those who tell me that I’ve got my just desserts … I wish it was more consoling. But I have to say there’s some extremely nice people, including people known to you, have said that I’m in their prayers, and I can only say that I’m touched by the thought." As a Christian, meaning one who has experienced God's mercy given me in Christ, I pray for nobody to get their "just desserts" because I sure as hell don't want mine!

Via Quaerere Deum, it bears noting that in his memoir he wrote about something I experienced profoundly at the age of 8, during Christmas vacation: "The fact is that all attempts to imagine one’s own extinction are futile by definition." As long as someone doesn't lose or deny these kinds of intuitions, hope abounds. Besides, people like Christopher Hitchens do Christians a favor by challenging us, provoking us not to succumb to sentimentalism, which is detachment from reality.

Friday, July 16, 2010

"that you may be perfect and complete...

"Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing" (James 1:2-4).

This is the reading for Evening Prayer for Friday, Week III of the Psalter. It's funny that when we encounter phrases like "the testing of your faith," we think about God putting us through some sort of test. It isn't God who tests our faith, which is knowledge, but the challenging circumstances we face. Sometimes these circumstances are the result of choices we make and other times circumstances just happen, quite apart from any choice of ours, but do not have God as their immediate cause. How we deal with circumstances is up to us. I can chose to remain in front of whatever I am dealing with, knowing that not only do I not stand alone, but that I can't stand alone. I must learn to use everything, to put all things at the service of realizing my destiny. Experience, both successes and failures, is the only way to learn how to do this. It is important to have a method and to have companions. It is precisely this that the "produces steadfastness" about which James writes. In other words, it isn't magic, something that comes swooping in from on high, but something realized through experience, which is, the instrument for our human journey.

I believe this is the key to sanctity, to true holiness. After all, it is difficult to think of very many saints who did not become steadfast in just the way James describes.

"Two weeks without you and I still think about things that you said"

Just like you're not getting out of the '80s without Phil Collins, you're can't escape with no Go Gos. So, Vacation is our Friday traditio, not least of which because I need one. I like this version, which differs from the version that became a big hit because it shows the punk roots of the group. It's not the best quality video, but hey, it was a long time ago! Because it is an earlier version of the song, you'll notice that these lyrics are considerably different from the ones in the hit version.

Writing about vacations and my need for one, living in a house with 5 lovely children it should come as no surprise that the leftovers you brought home from date night and were looking forward to eating are gone, or almost gone. Just remember to breathe and count to ten before saying anything. It also helps to have patient and kind spouse to assist you through the grief, especially when it is Hunan lamb.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ"

"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all consolation, who consoles us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to console those who are in any affliction, with the consolation with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ's sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in consolation too. If we are afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your consolation, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our consolation (2 Cor. 1:3-7).

Consolation, by Lora Shelley

Two words are key here: "mercies" and "consolation." Translated more literally, "mercies" is "pities" and "consolation" and "comfort" are both variations of the Greek word paraklEseOs, which, as a noun, means something like "besides calling". The Orthodox Study Bible provides a very good insight on 2 Cor. 1:3-11:

"The source of afflictions is the sin of humanity. The purpose of afflications, if we use them properly, may be our comfort [=calling] and salvation, as the Father Himself preserves us through them (v. 3). The means of facing our afflictions is a hope in God which allows us to enter into the afflictions of others in actual, experiential knowledge... The communion of saints, spiritual solidarity, is to begin now in the pains of this life."  We must learn to use everything to realize our destiny.

Some guidelines for "the Areopagus of modern times'

I discovered just yesterday that the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has developed Social Media Guidelines. The guidelines are just that, not dictates. Under the heading Guiding Principles it states:

"The world of digital communication, with its almost limitless expressive capacity, makes us appreciate all the more Saint Paul’s exclamation: "Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel" ( 1 Cor 9:16).—Pope Benedict XVI, 44th World Communications Day message (2010)

Social media are the fastest growing form of communication in the United States, especially among youth and young adults. Our Church cannot ignore it, but at the same time we must engage social media in a manner that is safe, responsible, and civil.

As Pope Benedict XVI noted in his message for the 44th World Communications Day message (2010), this new form of media “can offer priests and all pastoral workers a wealth of information and content that was difficult to access before, and facilitate forms of collaboration and greater communion in ways that were unthinkable in the past.”

The Church can use social media to encourage respect, dialogue, and honest relationships—in other words, “true friendship” (43rd World Communications Day message [2009]). To do so requires us to approach social media as powerful means of evangelization and to consider the Church’s role in providing a Christian perspective on digital literacy.

"Before beginning work on social media guidelines, you may want to read both the 43rd and 44th World Communications Day messages. These are available at 43rd World Communications Day Message and 44th World Communications Day Message."

Later in the document, it addresses personal sites by clergy and church personnel:

"sites of church personnel should also reflect Catholic values. Businesses are cautioning their employees that, while employees have a right to privacy and confidentiality regarding what their employers know about them, an employee’s use of social networking—because of its very nature—means he or she relinquishes some privacy and could be construed as representing the company’s ethics and values. Likewise, church personnel should be encouraged to understand that they are witnessing to the faith through all of their social networking, whether 'public' or 'private.'

"Many employers and church organizations ask their personnel to consider including a disclaimer on their personal sites, especially if employees/church personnel are highly visible in the community and/or post material related to church work/ministry on their personal sites. One example: 'The views expressed on this site are mine alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of my employer'."

As both Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI have pointed out, the church must be present in cyberspace, but our presence has to be a witness to Christ. The guidelines discuss visibility, community, and accountability. John Paul II called the world wide web "the Areopagus of modern times." Of course, St. Paul preached in the Aeropagus of ancient Athens, the place where public discourse and debate were carried out.

Here's what Paul said:

"Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for

‘In him we live and move and have our being’;

as even some of your own poets have said,

'For we are indeed his offspring.’

"Being then God's offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man. The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead" (Acts 17:22-31).

Monday, July 12, 2010

"Yeah, if you could get cable in the Port Authority bathroom"

For those who know me (too) well, you know that I have a number of guilty pleasures. Most of these revolve around the kinds of cultural things I like. I am admittedly pretty low culture, except possibly in the areas of film and literature. Even when it comes to books and movies, I either like the high-brow, or the low-brow, and find myself not interested at all in the middle brow. For example, I cherish Renior's La Règle du jeu and I love Animal House; The Brothers Karamazov and Stephen King's The Stand. I love Sanford and Son, Southpark (though I couldn't do a SP marathon), I am very happy that there are new episodes of Futurama on Comedy Central. Colbert and Jon Stewart, the former of whom I have both lauded and criticized, are part of my reportoire, and so on. So, I write this knowing that one or perhaps both of my readers might well say, Who cares?

I love comedy. A favorite past time, though one I rarely indulge in anymore, is listening to stand-up and comedy albums, everything from old Jonathan Winters, to Steve Martin, to Eddy Murphy, Robin Williams, and even old Woody Allen stand-up acts. At one time I owned every Monty Python album, my favorite being their Contractual Obligation Album. I have laughed to the stylings of George Carlin, Richard Pryor, Lenny Bruce, Redd Foxx, Norm MacDonald, Sam Kineson, Dave Attell, Colin Quinn, Sarah Silverman, Dave Chappelle (another interesting story), and even Andrew Dice Clay. Another comedian I like a lot is Artie Lange, who is most famous for being Howard Stern's sidekick. Now, like most everyone, I do not listen to Howard Stern because I don't subscribe to satellite radio. I haven't listened to Stern's show more than 5 or 6 times ever. Of course, I like Artie Lange: Jack and Coke.

Artie filling in with AC/DC on Stern. Yes, it's more than a little ominous that an ad for Anna Nicole Smith's show appears

Artie wrote, produced, and starred in the movie Beer League, co-wrote the book Too Fat to Fish, which debuted at number one on the New York Times best-seller list. He was also a feature player for a time on MadTv, among other things (WARNING on content for MadTV  link). It was during his time on MadTV that he hit his self-described lowest moment, known among his friends and fans simply as "the pig story."

Lange has a long and comically well-documented (mostly by himself) history of drug and alcohol abuse. Anyway, right after the new year (2 January 2010 to be exact) Lange attempted suicide and has not really been heard from in public much since. Shortly before this episode, Lange was interviewed by Mandy Stadtmiller for the New York Post (at the link you can read or listen- CONTENT WARNING, or WARNING: CONTENT). In fact, it didn't appear in the Post until almost a week after his suicide attempt.

It is a fascinating interview, even if (maybe particularly if) you're not familiar with Lange. I am not a psychologist and I am not trying to analyze Lange, but I am struck after reading the interview and re-watching the MadTV clip by the truth in his comedy. I guess that's why I like those other guys, too. Self-hatred, self-loathing, I lived at that address for too long. Sometimes I still go for a visit. That neighborhood doesn't change much, a lot of junkies, drunks, and other self-destructive types. I just want to say to everyone there, "Amor, ergo sum and so can you!"

From the interview:

Lange: So you know, Mandy, I’m 42, I’m the same age Elvis was when he died. I remember thinking ‘when I was 33 I’m the same age Jesus was when he died,’ look at all Jesus did by 33.

Stadtmiller: Not as much as you, Artie.

Lange: I haven’t come close to that – he died for all our sins by 33 and all I did was, you know, tell some Mexican jokes at a club. And 42, Elvis died at 42. I’m 42, you know. He was Elvis. Part of me thinks it’s over. How much better can my career get? To me the Stern show is the best show of all time. I’ve been on it for a decade.

Like Carlin and so many others, Lange was raised Catholic, but now is a self-described agnostic. Using defeasible reasoning, he does not subscribe to atheism just in case he is wrong. See, Artie, defeasible reasoning?! You're smarter than you think! In any case, I'm sending some prayers your way. Get well.

For something shorter, you can read Lange's Q and A with New York magazine.

Of milk and Oreos

Ah, Jesus' parable of the Good Samaritan! At least among many people that I know, yesterday's Gospel was given a lot of attention, prompting a lot of discussion, which is always a good thing. Of the many masterpieces of Jesus, this one has to rank right up there towards the top. The really new thing that the Lord teaches, there being really nothing earth shattering in the two commandments reiterated by the lawyer who questions the Lord, is that my neighbor is the one in need, even if he is different from me, if I'm white and she's black, if he's LDS and I'm Catholic, if I am straight and she's a lesbian, or even if he is a Yankees fan. It would have been a difficult pill for a Jewish audience to swallow that it was a Samaritan who showed them how to adhere to the law!

As a thought experiment, plug in someone from the group of people you view least favorably, putting that person in the role of the Good Samaritan, and you get an idea of just how challenging Jesus' teaching is. Once again, this parable boils down to the necessary connection between loving God and our neighbor, while challenging us as to just who our neighbor is. As human beings we tend to like people who are like us. We see this in the phenomenon operative in our society today that we call self-segregation. In other words, like peoples choosing to live together, apart from those who differ from us racially, or economically (prosperity often breaking down along racial lines). Even our friendships work in kind of this way. Perhaps the most challenging aspect of this parable for religious people is that helping someone in need is more important than our religious obligations, like, say, attending Mass. The question really becomes, how can you ignore someone in need and continue merrily on your way to church?

I realize that by stating the matter so forthrightly there is a temptation to privilege one over the other and ultimately arrive the conclusion that maybe going to Mass regularly isn't important. Nothing could be further from the truth. After all, there are ways we love God that are distinct and distinguishable from the ways in which we love our neighbor, despite the fact that I can't do one without doing the other. After all, Jesus does not dispute that loving God is the first commandment. It's like Oreos and milk. You can eat Oreos without milk and drink milk without eating Oreos. In fact, we drink milk most of the time without Oreos, but how many times do you eat Oreos without milk?

I can't love God without loving my neighbor and I can't love my neighbor without loving God: "If anyone says, 'I love God,' and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen" (1 John 4:20). The inevitable question is, which is the Oreo and which is the milk? Well, I'd have to go with loving our neighbor as milk and loving God as the Oreo. Besides, Oreos make milk taste so much better, just like knowing Jesus Christ makes life so much better. I could live without Christ, but why would I want to? Unlike Oreos, which should only be consumed once in awhile and in limited quantities, Jesus is life-giving bread. So, unlike Oreos, He is not a luxury, but a necessity, at least for me.

I think one could make an interesting case to reverse this analogy, which only goes to show their interconnectedness.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

"where the girls look like Madonna and the guys sound like DeNiro"

Posting Friday about MTV and reading a comment from my fellow Gen Xer (I think), From the Pews, about getting up to watch MTV, or staying up to watch it, I was reminded of the hilarious Colin Quinn MTV special Goin' Back to Brooklyn, which featured a take on and cover of L.L. Cool J's Goin' Back to Cali. Who says Irish guys can't rap? Well, I do. It's kinda like my fellow Welshman, Tom Jones' rendition of the Talking Heads' Burning Down the House, even with The Cardigans. Nonetheless, Colin kicks it in this one. This is for Deacon G. and my friends from Bay Ridge.

When I first saw this special, I laughed until my whole body ached.

Monday of the Fourteenth Week in Ordinary Time

Readings: Hosea 2:16.17c.18.21-22; Ps 145:2-9; Matthew 9:18-26 Our Gospel today is Saint Matthew’s version of events first written about ...