Monthly Archives: November 2007

Spe Salvi!

Our little Pope, Benedict XVI, has written yet another interesting and beautiful encyclical. “Spe Salvi” is chockful of wonder, hard but true answers, and hope.

Here’s some quotes:

“Hope”, in fact, is a key word in Biblical faith — so much so that in several passages the words “faith” and “hope” seem interchangeable.

We see as a distinguishing mark of Christians the fact that they have a future…Only when the future is certain as a positive reality does it become possible to live the present as well…

The dark door of time, of the future, has been thrown open.

The one who has hope lives differently; the one who hopes has been granted the gift of a new life.

It is not the elemental spirits of the universe, the laws of matter, which ultimately govern the world and mankind; but a personal God governs the stars – that is, the universe. It is not the laws of matter and of evolution that have the final say, but reason, will, love — a Person. And if we know this Person and he knows us, then truly the inexorable power of material elements no longer has the last word. We are not slaves of the universe and of its laws; we are free.

Faith draws the future into the present, so that it is no longer simply a “not yet”. The fact that this future exists changes the present; the present is touched by the future reality, and thus the things of the future spill over into those of the present and those of the present into those of the future.

This new freedom… is revealed… in martyrdom, in which people resist the overbearing power of ideology and its political organs and, by their death, renew the world.

….from the hope of these people who have been touched by Christ, hope has arisen for others who were living in darkness and without hope… this new life truly possesses and is “substance” that calls forth life for others… their way of acting and living is de facto a “proof” that the things to come, the promise of Christ, are not only a reality that we await, but a real presence… he… shows us what life is and where it is to be found.

In some way we want life itself, true life, untouched even by death; yet at the same time we do not know the thing towards which we feel driven. We cannot stop reaching out for it, and yet we know that all we can experience or accomplish is not what we yearn for. This unknown thing is the true “hope” which drives us….

To imagine ourselves outside the temporality that imprisons us and in some way to sense that eternity is not an unending succession of days in the calendar, but something more like the supreme moment of satisfaction, in which totality embraces us and we embrace totality — this we can only attempt. It would be like plunging into the ocean of infinite love, a moment in which time — the before and after — no longer exists. We can only attempt to grasp the idea that such a moment is life in the full sense, a plunging ever anew into the vastness of being, in which we are simply overwhelmed with joy.

….sin is understood by the Fathers as the destruction of the unity of the human race, as fragmentation and division. Babel, the place where languages were confused, the place of separation, is seen to be an expression of what sin fundamentally is. Hence “redemption” appears as the reestablishment of unity, in which we come together once more in a union that begins to take shape in the world community of believers.

….up to that time, the recovery of what man had lost through the expulsion from Paradise was expected from faith in Jesus Christ: herein lay “redemption”. Now this “redemption”, the restoration of the lost “Paradise”, is no longer expected from faith, but from the newly discovered link between science and praxis. It is not that faith is simply denied; rather it is displaced onto another level — that of purely private and otherworldly affairs — and at the same time it becomes somehow irrelevant for the world. This programmatic vision has determined the trajectory of modern times….

[Marx’s] error lay deeper. He forgot that man always remains man. He forgot man and he forgot man’s freedom. He forgot that freedom always remains also freedom for evil. He thought that once the economy had been put right, everything would automatically be put right. His real error is materialism: man, in fact, is not merely the product of economic conditions….

Yes indeed, reason is God’s great gift to man, and the victory of reason over unreason is also a goal of the Christian life. But when does reason truly triumph? When it is detached from God? When it has become blind to God?

Only thus does reason become truly human… if it is capable of directing the will along the right path — and it is capable of this only if it looks beyond itself.

….human freedom always requires a convergence of various freedoms. Yet this convergence cannot succeed unless it is determined by a common intrinsic criterion of measurement, which is the foundation and goal of our freedom. Let us put it very simply: Man needs God; otherwise he remains without hope.

Reason and faith need one another in order to fulfil their true nature and their mission.

….man’s freedom is always new and he must always make his decisions anew… Freedom presupposes that in fundamental decisions, every person and every generation is a new beginning.

….we need the greater and lesser hopes that keep us going day by day. But these are not enough without the great hope, which must surpass everything else. This great hope can only be God, who encompasses the whole of reality and who can bestow upon us what we, by ourselves, cannot attain. The fact that it comes to us as a gift is actually part of hope.

God is the foundation of hope: not any god, but the God who has a human face and has loved us to the end, each one of us and humanity in its entirety. His Kingdom is not an imaginary hereafter, situated in a future that will never arrive; his Kingdom is present wherever he is loved and wherever his love reaches us.

[On prayer as a school of hope:]

When no one listens to me anymore, God still listens to me. When I can no longer talk to anyone… I can always talk to God… beyond the human capacity for hope, he can help me.

…that great hope which does not wane even in the nights of solitude.

It is only by becoming children of God that we can be with our common Father.

When we pray properly we undergo a process of inner purification which opens us up to God and thus to our fellow human beings as well. In prayer we must learn what we can truly ask of God — what is worthy of God… We must learn to purify our desires and hopes. We must free ourselves from the hidden lies with which we deceive ourselves. God sees through them, and when we come before God, we too are forced to recognize them… my encounter with God awakens my conscience… it becomes a capacity for listening to the Good itself.

Hope in the Christian sense is always hope for others as well… It is an active hope also in the sense that we keep the world open to God.

All serious and upright human conduct is hope in action.

…our daily efforts… working for the world’s future either tire us or turn into fanaticism, unless we are enlightened by the radiance of the great hope that cannot be destroyed….

Only the great certitude of hope that my own life and history in general, despite all failures, are held firm by the indestructible power of Love, and that this gives them their meaning and importance — only this kind of hope can… give the courage to act and to persevere.

We can try to limit suffering, to fight against it, but we cannot eliminate it. It is when we attempt to avoid suffering by withdrawing from anything that might involve hurt… that we drift into a life of emptiness in which there may be almost no pain, but the dark sensation of meaninglessness and abandonment is all the greater.

This is a letter from Hell.

Yet the star of hope has risen — the anchor of the heart reaches the very throne of God.

Because it has now become a shared suffering… this suffering is penetrated by the light of love.

To suffer with the other and for others; to suffer for the sake of truth and justice; to suffer out of love and in order to become a person who truly loves — these are fundamental elements of humanity; and to abandon them would destroy man himself.

Does truth matter to me enough to make suffering worthwhile? Is the promise of love so great that it justifies the gift of myself?

What does it mean to offer something up? Those who did so were convinced that they could insert these little annoyances into Christ’s great “com-passion” so that they somehow became part of the treasury of compassion so greatly needed by the human race. In this way, even the small inconveniences of everyday life could acquire meaning and contribute….

To protest against God in the name of justice is not helpful. A world without God is a world without hope. Only God can create justice. And faith gives us the certainty that he does so. The image of the Last Judgment is not primarily an image of terror, but an image of hope….And in his justice there is also grace.

Grace does not cancel out justice. It does not make wrong into right. It is not a sponge which wipes everything away, so that whatever someone has done on earth ends up being of equal value.

….covered over by ever-new compromises with evil — much filth covers purity, but the thirst for purity remains and it still constantly reemerges….

….the fire which both burns and saves us is Christ himself, the Judge and Savior…Before his gaze, all falsehood melts away. This encounter with him, as it burns us, transforms and frees us, allowing us to become truly ourselves. All that we build during our lives can prove to be mere straw, pure bluster, and it collapses. Yet in the pain of this encounter, when the impurity and sickness of our lives become evident to us, there lies salvation. His gaze, the touch of his heart, heals us through an undeniably painful transformation, “as through fire”. But it is a blessed pain, in which the holy power of his love sears through us like a flame…

….the way we live our lives is not immaterial, but our defilement does not stain us forever if we have at least continued to reach out toward Christ, toward truth and toward love. Indeed, it has already been burned away through Christ’s Passion.

The pain of love becomes our salvation and our joy.

The transforming “moment” of this encounter eludes earthly time reckoning — it is the heart’s time, the time of passage to communion with God in the Body of Christ.

….that love can reach into the afterlife, that reciprocal giving and receiving is possible.. this has been a fundamental conviction of Christianity through the ages….

No one lives alone. No one sins alone. No one is saved alone.

It is never too late to touch the heart of another, nor is it ever in vain.

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Any Way You Slice It

Imagine you’re watching CSI, and they’re doing a Thanksgiving episode. One of the characters bakes a really delicious pumpkin pie and leaves it in the refrigerator. At which point, the wacky lab techs decide to do some forensic analysis on the pie.

Armed with all the equipment at their disposal, they proceed to slice, dice, and julienne the poor orange victim. They spread bits of it on microscope slides. They do chemical and genetic analyses. Heck, they even run it by the hospital and give it an MRI.

Two months after Thanksgiving, they are finally done. Except for one slice of pie they kept intact in the deep freeze for later analysts, no part of the original dessert is intact. But they serve up every bit that’s left as it’s been left — dished and slided and bagged and stained and chemical’d — with the sheaf of papers and computer discs and evidence forms as a centerpiece to the table. “You should really appreciate this,” they tell Brass and Grissom and Catherine. “The tests clearly demonstrate that this pie is a gourmet classic.”

They all hesitate. How do you eat this mess? Why would you want to? Brass looks down at the tiny baggies and stale fragments on his plate, then pushes it away. “I think I’ll just eat the whipped cream instead.”

This forensic analysis is, by and large, the way our culture teaches literature in academia. And why? Because since the 1800’s, this is largely the way the Bible has been studied and taught in academia, and it spread to the related disciplines. The other major technique of literary analysis, close reading, also came to literature studies from Bible studies, as far as I can tell.

The problem is that, although analysis of both kinds is a fruitful device for exposing certain facts, it doesn’t do much for those of us who are not terribly interested in analysis. It is an enhancement, an extra feature; but it is only that.

To continue using the analogy, I don’t mind learning to run a few cool tests. I am interested in reading the lab results, and I will probably keep them in mind from now on, whenever I eat or bake a pumpkin pie. But first, last, and foremost, I want to eat the pie in its pre-analysis form, when it’s still fresh and warm, fragrant and tasty.

But what if I sit down, start eating the pie, and am suddenly besieged by the baker and the other diners asking me not just whether I like it, but how? And what does that particular tiny bite mean to me?

How does the hint of cinnamon make me feel?

The secondary way our culture studies both literature and the Bible seems to have spread from literary circles and clubs of the previous centuries into both academic classes and Bible study groups. It is the method of sharing and discussing the group’s personal thoughts, feelings, and experiences of the book. Again, this is something perfectly useful and natural as a tool. Also, it’s both fun and useful for those who primarily experience the world in this way, and can’t really feel happy until they’ve compared notes with others. But it is useless and downright pernicious for another vast number of us.

To continue the analogy again, I don’t mind telling the anxious cook that I like the pie, comparing it favorably to other pies past, or providing a running commentary of “oh, that’s great crust” and “mmm”. But this is just a conversational gambit to me, and so it’s only pleasant when not obligatory.

First and foremost, I just want to eat the blessed pie. And honestly, I don’t care whether you like it or not. If you don’t — Oh, well. More for me!

I hope none of this sounds hostile. If you give classes (hi, Joy!), there has to be some sort of metric, and no metric will really tell you whether the students are learning. But the models we use for study of literature lead students away from the actual literature itself. That’s the intrinsic problem.

That’s fine if you’re aware (and they’re aware) that you’re taking a step back, and if you use it to look back at said literature — or better, if you alternate glances at the literature with orienting glances at your position in the universe and orientation towards God.

See, pie is good, but of course it is not everything. One must balance pie’s utility and art, and its place in family tradition, against one’s total caloric intake, one’s digestive health, the destiny of humankind, and God’s desire that you not commit gluttony. Furthermore, what values are expressed through the glories of pumpkin pie? What does it challenge us to do next? What eternal things does it foreshadow? And is there not a great deal of beauty and meaning to be appreciated in its true place in life, a dessert which recapitulates a good deal of human history and utilizes much art and science in the making, which is to say, a wonderfully skilled sub-creation by a creature in a world baked in the fires of the Sun from the leftovers of the Big Bang, by He is who both the Baker and the Bread of Life, and who snatches human pies from the burning?

You can also respond to literature. Do you understand it? Is the poem right? Is it wrong? Is it a new way of looking at it? How far are you willing to believe it? You can create an in-kind response: a paper, or better, another poem. You can be inspired to join a soup kitchen, or remake your life, or find out more about opera. You can also evaluate whether or not you’re planning to respond in a sensible way. (One remembers Origen again.) Does the pie give you not only sweetness, but vitamins and strength to go on?

But first, you have to read or eat the thing, or there’s no point.

So if you act as if the whole point is to do analyses or talk about feelings, you are no longer teaching literature, or the Bible, at all. You might as well be teaching close readings of the instructions on the back of the toothpick box, or asking people for their feelings and thoughts on the menu at Mickey D’s. You certainly are not teaching people to love or even value literature.

I mean, why should they love something that isn’t seen as important until and unless it’s stomped through in hipboots?

If the pie were any good, you’d just serve them the pie.


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Happy St. Virgilius’ Day!

Today we celebrate St. Fearghal, Bishop of Salzburg, thorn in the side of St. Boniface (probably ’cause he was English, heh), and resident overly geeky Irish monk! St. Boniface kept writing the Pope and accusing St. Virgilius of being un-orthodox. St. Virgilius kept proving that he was perfectly orthodox. I guess our poor annoyed St. Boniface went out in the forest and founded a few more monasteries staffed by his Saxon relatives from back home, or chopped down trees.

So today is the perfect day to contemplate the existence of other worlds with other suns and moons, or other fairy worlds under the hills. Or maybe he was just dissin’ St. Augustine like St. Albert the Great later did, and insisting that just ’cause you’re a Father of the Church doesn’t mean ya know beans about the possibility of life in the Antipodes or the Tropics. (As they say, if an elderly, respected expert says something’s possible, it prolly is. If said expert says it’s impossible, it ain’t necessarily so.)

Btw, for those of us keeping a clan scorecard, the webpage linked above says that St. Fearghal is yet another of the Ua Neill, the descendants of Niall of the Nine Hostages. (Insert Stargate joke here.)

St. Farrell the Geometer and St. Boniface, Apostle of Germany, pray for us!

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I have been bad.

(Picture courtesy of Wikimedia Commons, which has managed to provide the world with either a picture of an annoyed wolfhound who has been woken from his/her nap, or a very alert wolfhound preparing to lunge for food.)

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Knowing Better Than the Author

I despise the academic tendency to “correct” authors, even though I understand the nitpicky mentality.

However, the name of Sir Philip Sidney’s sonnet sequence is Astrophel and Stella, not Astrophil.

*slowly beat head against table*

Do people not understand how lame and dorky it sounds? Do they not understand that Sidney was a poet and concerned with sound? Do they not understand that, if he were all that concerned with exact representations of the Greek, he would have named the character “Astrophile” instead??

Astrophel is a much handsomer name. Furthermore, it sounds a lot like the names of angels and men in the Bible, giving the matter even more resonance. (The name of Queen Esther means “Star”, a meaning Swift famously used in nicknaming his Esther/Stella.)

But Astrophil…. Dear God, I think we have the next comedy starship captain. You simply cannot take a sonnet seriously if it comes from a man named Astrophil.

But none of that is important. Who cares if it’s the way scholars, poets, and poetry-lovers have spelled the name ever since Sidney’s first edition in his own day? Pshaw. Today’s academics are mightier, wiser, and darn it, just better-looking.

Ah, Sidney, would thou wert living at this hour. And carrying a dueling sword.

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A Nice Quiet Start to the Morning

I actually forced myself to exercise a little this morning to the exercise channel on cable. I don’t know what it says about me that I liked this “Kick and Punch” routine better than anything else so far except the Shimmy Middle Eastern dance show…. 🙂 I hope it just means I like to be doing something other than just exercising.

The whole world and their uncle has been trying to get on this morning, since it took them two days to get the maintenance done. I finally managed to get on a little before 7:30. Then, while waiting for the FTP to upload Monday’s podcast chapters, I happened to turn on Animal Planet.

From 7 – 8 AM (EST), they have a show called Sunrise Earth. It’s the most peaceful thing I’ve seen on television in years. (Not counting EWTN, of course).

You know that part at the end of CBS’ Sunday Morning, when they go someplace outdoors and film the grass blowing in the wind, or the sea breakers, or rain? That’s Sunrise Earth, except it’s for an hour and has more commercials.

There are some mornings when I think I’m really gonna need this. (And of course, you could always tape it for later, and thus cut out the commercials.) 🙂

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This Is the Kind of Song I Wish We’d Learned in School!

It’s not really a hymn for singing at Mass, but you have to love a song called “The Right Must Win”. Page 275, courtesy of Fr. Faber and that guy Tozer.

Oh it is hard to work for God,
To rise and take His part
Upon this battlefield of earth,
And not sometimes lose heart!

He hides Himself so wondrously,
As though there were no God;
He is least seen when all the powers
Of ill are most abroad.

Or He deserts us at the hour
The fight is all but lost,
And seems to leave us to ourselves
Just when we need Him most.

Ill masters good; good seems to change
To ill with greatest ease;
And, worst of all, the good with good
Is at cross purposes.

The church, the sacraments, the faith,
Their up-hill journey take;
Lose here what there they gain, and, if
We lean upon them, break.

It is not so, but so it looks;
And we lose courage then;
And doubts will come if God hath kept
His promises to men.

Ah! God is other than we think;
His ways are far above,
Far beyond reason’s height, and reached
Only by childlike love.

And right is right, since God is God;
And right the day must win;
To doubt would be disloyalty,
To falter would be sin.

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Plunder, Plunder, Plunder

There’s a song on page 259 of the hymnal below by Neale and this guy Tozer, which is Neale’s adaptation of a song by “St. Stephen the Sabaite”. (I have a feeling I may have seen this adapted before. But I can’t remember where.) It’s a pretty nifty song, though of course I’ve got no clue of the tune. But honestly, it sounds like it should be a nice Southern gospel song instead.

So since I like it so much, I stole it and rewrote it!

Are you tired? Are you weary? Are you sore and depressed?
Someone’s telling you, “Come to Me, Come to Me and find rest.”
Should I go ask Him to take me, when it’s so late to go?
Oh, till earth and heaven pass away, He will not tell you No.

Are there marks to lead me to Him, marks to take as my guide?
There are wounds on His hands and feet, hands and feet and His side.
If he’s king, then where’s the bright crown that his royal brow adorns?
Oh, He wears one; yes, He wears one, but it’s made all of thorns.

If I find Him, if I follow, what reward is there here?
Many sorrows, many labors, many, many a tear.
If I hold on, and stick close to Him, what reward then at last?
Sorrow conquered, labor over, and the Jordan passed.

Finding, foll’wing, keeping, struggling — is He certain to bless?
Angels, martyrs, prophets, virgins answer yes! answer yes!

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Turn-of-the-Century English Catholic Hymnal

Online and full view at, for your singing convenience!

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Creepier ‘n “Cthulhu Calamari Co.”

Dorion-Gray Retirement Planning.

Yes, it’s a real company.

*brain hurts*

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A Slave Raid on Ireland

Man, those Barbary pirates got around. Especially when they got a Dutch guy to work for them. Thomas Osborne Davis wrote a poem about it.

If you’re interested in a similar but fictional story, you might want to read Sabatini’s great swashbuckler, The Sea-Hawk.

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Slavery in America: Not Just for Helpless Illegal Immigrants Anymore

You can be held against your will and made to sell magazines while trapped by coercive drugs and sex.

No, this isn’t a joke.

Yes, this is one more reason we need to fight the New Slavery, around the world and right here at home. If we don’t fight it — it comes looking for us.


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Concoction Report

Eggs cooked in skillet oiled with butter-flavored vegetable oil instead of using butter or margarine.

PLUS: Eggs cooked but didn’t brown or burn.

MINUS: I couldn’t taste any butter.

NEXT TIME: Try olive oil, or go back to butter/margarine.

Banana omelet to use up overripe banana, because I didn’t have banana bread or pancake fixings and didn’t feel like baking one of those alcoholic banana things.

PLUS: Very sweet and good.

MINUS: Pretty much all you could taste was banana and egg. The cinnamon and other spices I used didn’t contrast enough to be tasted.

NEXT TIME: Maybe better with sausage or oranges, or with a non-overripe banana.

Was given a bunch of homemade turkey soup with barley and mushrooms to take home. It was very good, but I felt like I wanted to add something to it for lunch today.  Suddenly it hit me — soy sauce!

PLUS: Yummy! Soy sauce was designed to go with the earthy, hearty flavors of Japanese cooking. Turkey and mushroom seems to love soy equally well.

MINUS: None!

NEXT TIME: How did I live so long without trying turkey teriyaki?

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Medieval Singing Instructions for Women!

This female Finnish early liturgical music group, Vox Silentii, seems to have done a good chunk of Finnish chant. I take particular pleasure in seeing their work on Brigittine chant! Brigittines are cool. (That’d be the Birgitta of Sweden nuns, not the Brigit of Kildare ones, though the Kildare nuns were also cool. The Brigittines had dual houses much like the Kildare ones, with monks as well as nuns in the monastery. In their own separate area of the house, of course.)

Anyway, cool as Finnish chant is, this is cooler — instructions how to sing!

Birgitta instructed her sisters to sing per omnia humilis (in all humility). Humility and submission were desirable in the attitude and voice production of the singers. In order to please God, the sisters were to sing purius et simplicius (as purely and simply as possible). ‘Pure’ meant focusing all thought on the holy text and singing it boldly and with determination. The singers were to sing with full heart and ardent desire, yet with humility. Birgitta also required her sisters to sing in full voice, but not loudly, boisterously or in a ‘flood of sound’ so as to show off vocal prowess. On the other hand, the singing was not to be lax, weak, frivolous or self-serving. The services dedicated to the Virgin Mary were conducted solemniter (solemnly) — in a festive voice and with wax candles and incense. The singing had to be uniform and executed with consensus and harmony. This was particularly important in reciting the psalmody. The sisters were, in general, instructed to sing somewhat slower than the monks.

There’s also a short article on their webpage about “The Great Responsories of Cantus Sororum on the sisters’ singing of some sort of Brigittine Little Office of the Virgin Mary instead of the regular Liturgy of the Hours sung by the monks. This includes, for Matins, a unique group of lessons written by St. Birgitta from the preaching of an angel, and then translated into Latin and set to music by her confessor. Unique stuff.

(Here’s all the CDs they have out. Maybe you can find them online…. Here’s a good review of the group and the educational work they’ve done with chant and the Finnish folk lullaby tradition, along with a way to buy a CD or two. Ooh, and here’s one of their Brigittine chant albums for $9.99 from a legal download site! Although the lack of liner notes really stinks in this case….)  There’s always Amazon, though has a lot more selection.)

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