Wednesday, July 31, 2013

A Lesson Before Dying (Gaines) - Powerful

Another school book under my belt - a good one.

Many years my city has a "If All of Rochester Reads the Same Book" program. A few years back, the book was A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest Gaines. When I was looking at the reading list I inherited for the senior English class I chose this book to replace a book I thought was not appropriate.

I had partly read it years ago and thought well of it. I have now finished it

I'm glad I picked it.

The book is about post-world War II Louisiana. A black man is found guilty of murder in connection with the death of a white shop owner. He is sentenced to death. During the trial he is likened to a hog. His grandmother is offended by that, and wants him to die with dignity, so she recruits the teacher in the black school to visit him and help him to die as a man.

The "Lesson" of the title is not just the one the convicted man learns - it's the lesson the teacher has to learn.

It's a compelling story. The journal the convicted man keeps at the request of the teacher is particularly affecting.

Although about a tragic subject, it ultimately has a positive message.

There's only one "nudity" section I'm a little uneasy about, but it's better than what was on the list originally (a woman who deserts her family, an affair, and an apparent suicide - great reading for a Catholic high school!).

This is the second best book I've read this summer.

Pax et bonum

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

What did Pope Francis actually say about homosexuals?

The secular media and certain elements within the Church are touting comments by Pope Francis about homosexuals that superficially seem to change Church teachings, at least as they are interpreting what he said.

The problem  is, of course, is that the comments are being taken out of context, and are not being reported in their entirety. Plus, we're dealing with quick translations

I am looking forward to the complete, official translation. But even the translations we have, when read in their entirety, and not just as screaming selective headlines, make it clear that Pope Francis is not changing Church teachings, nor is he repudiating things said by Pope Benedict.

Pope Francis referenced the Catechism of the Catholic Church - which states that homosexuality is a disordered condition, and that homosexual acts are sinful, but that we have to be loving and welcoming to people with homosexual inclinations. That part of his comments are often left out in the media reports because that requires nuanced explanation, or, perhaps because that part does not fit the agenda.

As for his supposedly new call for compassion, he is simply echoing what's in the Catechism, and what's been said before.

Those who would change the Church will continue to spin and cherry pick. But truth remains truth.

It's just that Pope Francis states the truth with a smile.

Pax et bonum

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Turned Off By Aborted Baby Pictures

I am pro-life. I've been active in the local 40 Days For Life Campaign. I take part in an annul Good Friday Stations of the Cross For Life march and vigil outside a doctor's office where abortions are performed. I pray with a group of other people every Saturday morning outside a Planned Parenthood killing center.

But this morning when I arrived at Planned Parenthood, Operation Save America was there. They are a national pro-life group in Rochester this week. They've been staging protests, and apparently they decided to take advantage of our regular prayer vigil.

If they had been there to pray, that would have been one thing.

But they were there with large posters of aborted babies.

Mind you, the killing center is across the street from a mall and a major food supermarket. On Saturday, families, mothers, children are heading to that store, or driving along that major roadway.

Driving by those signs.

Yes, I know all the arguments about people needing to see the reality of abortion. Yes, I know they sometimes need to be shocked to get them to think. Yes, I know that at the clinics they might help change the hearts of women going in to kill their babies.

But subjecting young children and families to such images?

I am not opposed to graphic images under the right circumstances. But not in a public place like this.

I believe that kind of emotional/mental violence is counter-productive. I believe it turns more people off than it convinces to end abortion. I believe it reinforces a negative image of pro-lifers.

I went over to the head of our prayer group, and told him I would not be taking part today. I told him I thought what was going on was offensive.

Then I left and went to a 24-hour chapel and said many of the prayers we normally say, including a Rosary and the Chaplet of Divine Mercy. I prayed for an end to abortion. And I prayed for an end to violence.

I post this not to debate. I'm not interested in engaging in a dialogue with those who support such tactics.

I'm hoping rather that hearing a stanch pro-lifer objecting to these tactics will get them to rethink what they are doing. 

Pax et bonum

"New York Times" Morality

I was flipping though The New York Times when I came to the wedding announcements. Normally I'd just skip them, but there was one that was unusually long with pictures. Intrigued, I began reading.

The article - for that's what it was - covered in extensive detail the history of the couple. (Dad of the bride is a famous person, so that helped to explain the in-depth treatment.)

Nineteen paragraphs (!) in - about half way through the piece - we are casually told that by last summer they "were living together."

Years ago, the fact that a couple was living together would never make it into a wedding announcement, a public admission of what was regarded as immoral behavior. Family members would likely avoid even discussing outside family circles something so shameful.

But this piece treats it casually, as if it's normal. While it is true that many couple do do this, that doesn't make it any less immoral. But it's a sign of the decline of moral values in our society that it is treated so casually.

And the fact that it appeared so casually in The New York Times is a symptom of that decline. Behavior that used to be considered something to hide is treated as fine and acceptable in not only the Times, but also in other publications, television shows, movies, and so on. This is presented as something "everybody" does, helping to convince people that it is fine. Those who try to be moral are made to feel like outsiders, odd, abnormal. Some people actually feel embarrassed about not doing what used to be embarrassing behavior.

In reporting it the way that it did, The New York Times is not just a recorder of the news, it has become part of the problem. It is helping to promote this kind of behavior by normalizing it.

The Times, and other parts of the media, are wrong and blind to do so.

For while our society may have changed, morality has not. Sticking to moral standards has become counter-cultural - which is what the Catholic Church is.

Moreover, studies consistently show that couples who live together before marriage are more likely to have problems - and to end up divorcing. Studies also show that couples who don't even bother to get married are even more like to have problems and to break up (as Johnny Depp and Vanessa Paradis did after 14 years - and two kids -  of living in sin). I doubt you will see much mention of those studies in the Times. They would not fit the narrative.

As for the couple, I wish them well. I hope they do succeed. I'm glad that they did get married.

I hope they don't become just two more victims of the decay of moral sensibility of our society.

I hope they do not become two more casualties of New York Times morality.

Pax et bonum

Friday, July 26, 2013

Seeking meaning in Gardner's "Grendel"

My summer reading for school marathon continues with Grendel, by John Garner. It's a retelling of part of the Beowulf story, but from the monster's point of view.

I had read this book years ago and enjoyed it, so I was looking forward to rereading it.

But the rereading was not as satisfying as I had hoped.

I recognize Gardner's obvious skill as a writer. And the monster's perspective gives a whole new level of understanding to the myth.

At the same time, misgivings bubble beneath the surface as I read.

Sometimes I felt as if Gardner was writing to show off his skill. Look at what I'm doing: Admire it!

And there was a current of nihilism that troubled me. Much of the novel seems to be saying that there is no meaning to life - or art, poetry, religion - unless I create my own meaning, and ignore truth. I kept sensing Jean Paul Sartre's ghost! As for Grendel, he does create meaning for a while - in being a monster - though he is not fully satisfied. In a sense, he has become like an actor, playing a role, embracing that role, but uneasily sensing that there's something more, something "truer" that he just can't understand or accept.

Beowulf in their final battle helps to show that there is something more - a promise of spring, of life, of creation. But that comes only at the end - and only after the nihilism that dominated. It's like one of those old Bible movies where we wallow in sin and sensuality, and then have a redeeming moment at the end to make it all moral.

As I read, I also thought of Nikos Kazantzakis who in novels like The Last Temptation of Christ and St. Francis gives new visions of the characters but at the same time seems to be actually wrestling with his own demons. I don't know if that's true of Gardner in Grendal, but the thought kept nagging at me as I read.

Part of my reaction may be due to the fact that I have changed and grown (I hope) in the years since I first read the novel. Perhaps my own struggles and world-view at the time I first read it made it seem better in my eyes.

I can still appreciate the book, but with less enthusiasm than I once did. Perhaps it's because I've found meaning in my life, so the novel no longer resonates with me.

So ... worth reading. But not a ringing endorsement.

Pax et bonum

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The Jesus Prayer (John Michael Talbot)

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

I have always loved this prayer. I found it decades ago. I haven't used it in quite the way Talbot suggests, though. Instead, I used it as a prayer for spare moments. While driving. While waiting. I also use it during times of temptation to help turn my mind away from whatever thoughts were invading. And I use it during times of stress or fear - such as when sitting in the dentist's chair and he's going in with the drill.

I like the idea of this as a daily prayer. Twenty minutes a day? Why not - 20 minutes away from the internet should be doable. Maybe cut out a game. Or reading negative posts. I already have morning prayer, so the evening seems like a possible time for this kind of praying. I'll have to think about that.

Another part I like about his approach is the breathing in and out. That never occurred to me.

This prayer would help me to address my need for more prayer in my life. It would fit in with the hunger I feel for more contemplative prayer - and for a more hermit-like life.

Pax et bonum

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Starting the day right

Part of my summer reflections is my need for more consistent prayer and spiritual reading. This past week I took one step: I began saying morning prayers again.

I used to say morning prayers, but fell out of the habit. I was getting too caught up in last minute preparations for school - typing or finishing another worksheet, looking up something I need for class, whatever - and, sadly, checking e-mail, facebook, sports, and so on. Suddenly time is gone, and I need to get in the shower, dress and get to school.

I am a lazy, easily distracted person.

God should come first.

Well, except for the dog, who has been waiting for me to get up and is staring at the door. She is, after all, God's creature. 

Reading about Pope Francis's morning routine inspired me. So now I get up, take the dog for a walk, come back, make a cup of coffee, sit down, and say the morning prayers.

I'm hoping that if I get in the habit over the summer, I will be able to continue it when school starts. It will help me to being the day right, and, I pray, give me strength for the day.

Meanwhile, I continue to read the Bible at night before turning out the light. And I say the rosary each day.

It's a start - but God deserves so much more.

Pax et bonum

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Francis: Pope of a New World

In between school books I read Andrea Tornielli's Francis: Pope of a New World.

The book is one of those typical quickie biographies they produce when someone suddenly rises to fame. In addition, it was written quickly in Italian, then translated quickly into English. So in terms of the writing, it is flawed, sometimes a little awkward and repetitive. And it relies heavily on quoted texts - homilies, previous interview, talks, etc.

But I didn't read this little book (175 pages) for style or even depth: I was looking for some information about the Pope. The book served that purpose.

It pulled together various bits of information - some that I'd seen before, but some that was new. It is skimpy on biographical details, but it does give an overview. One thing you realize after reading this book is that his actions since becoming Pope of living simply, avoiding displays of wealth, reaching out to workers and common/average people, are not part of some deliberate pose. This is the way he has been his entire adult life.

One tidbit I had not encountered before (though I would guess it was out there) was his realization during confession on a long-ago September 21 that he was called to be a priest - and so he decided not to propose to the woman he had planned to propose to that very day. Imagine: If he hadn't gone to confession that day he might be a retired gent today playing with his great-grandchildren!

And among the new - at least to me - bits of information was a profession of faith he wrote shortly after being ordained.

"... I believe in my past," he wrote, " which was transfixed by God's look of love, on the first day of spring, September 21, he led me to an encounter to as to invite me to follow him.

"I believe in my suffering, sterile because of he egotism in which I take refuge. ..."

As I read this reflection (I've given only a snippet of it), I was reminded of Blessed Pope John XXIII's Journal of a Soul. But then, these two Popes do seem to have a lot in common.

If you are looking for a quick read to get some background, this book will suffice.

If you want something more in depth, wait until George Weigel gets some free time!

Pax et bonum

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

A Thousand Splendid Suns (Hosseini) - A Splendid Read

I finished the latest of my Senior English course books, A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini.

It was a great read.

The novel covers decades of Afghanistan's travails - warlords, Soviets, Taliban, and finally the post 9/11 invasion - through the experiences of two women. It shows not only what the country has been going through, but also what the women suffer at the hands of the enemies, and their own families.

Hosseini, who moved to the U.S. from Afghanistan, is a good writer. The story is gripping, and full of details that help to bring the reality of the people to life.

So far, it's my favorite serious book of the summer.

Two thumbs up.

Pax et bonum

Monday, July 15, 2013

Two years as a Franciscan

For some reason, I missed an important anniversary last week.

No, not wedding -  that's in August.

Two years ago on July 9 I made my profession as a Secular Franciscan.

The past two years have been a joy to me. They have forced me to learn and grow in so many ways.

And I have far to go.

Thank you, Lord!

(The picture is with my darling wife and my later father-in-law.)

Pax et bonum

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Images of Prochoice America in Texas (caution - some offensive)


                                                  And then there's "Hail Satan."

God forgive us.

Pax et bonum

The Didache

The Didache is one of the earliest pieces of non-biblical Christian literature that gives us an idea about the beliefs of the earliest Christians. It shows the continuity of teachings!

The Lord's Teaching Through the Twelve Apostles to the Nations.

Chapter 1. The Two Ways and the First Commandment. There are two ways, one of life and one of death, but a great difference between the two ways. The way of life, then, is this: First, you shall love God who made you; second, love your neighbor as yourself, and do not do to another what you would not want done to you. And of these sayings the teaching is this: Bless those who curse you, and pray for your enemies, and fast for those who persecute you. For what reward is there for loving those who love you? Do not the Gentiles do the same? But love those who hate you, and you shall not have an enemy. Abstain from fleshly and worldly lusts. If someone strikes your right cheek, turn to him the other also, and you shall be perfect. If someone impresses you for one mile, go with him two. If someone takes your cloak, give him also your coat. If someone takes from you what is yours, ask it not back, for indeed you are not able. Give to every one who asks you, and ask it not back; for the Father wills that to all should be given of our own blessings (free gifts). Happy is he who gives according to the commandment, for he is guiltless. Woe to him who receives; for if one receives who has need, he is guiltless; but he who receives not having need shall pay the penalty, why he received and for what. And coming into confinement, he shall be examined concerning the things which he has done, and he shall not escape from there until he pays back the last penny. And also concerning this, it has been said, Let your alms sweat in your hands, until you know to whom you should give.

Chapter 2. The Second Commandment: Grave Sin Forbidden. And the second commandment of the Teaching; You shall not commit murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not commit pederasty, you shall not commit fornication, you shall not steal, you shall not practice magic, you shall not practice witchcraft, you shall not murder a child by abortion nor kill that which is born. You shall not covet the things of your neighbor, you shall not swear, you shall not bear false witness, you shall not speak evil, you shall bear no grudge. You shall not be double-minded nor double-tongued, for to be double-tongued is a snare of death. Your speech shall not be false, nor empty, but fulfilled by deed. You shall not be covetous, nor rapacious, nor a hypocrite, nor evil disposed, nor haughty. You shall not take evil counsel against your neighbor. You shall not hate any man; but some you shall reprove, and concerning some you shall pray, and some you shall love more than your own life.

Chapter 3. Other Sins Forbidden. My child, flee from every evil thing, and from every likeness of it. Be not prone to anger, for anger leads to murder. Be neither jealous, nor quarrelsome, nor of hot temper, for out of all these murders are engendered. My child, be not a lustful one. for lust leads to fornication. Be neither a filthy talker, nor of lofty eye, for out of all these adulteries are engendered. My child, be not an observer of omens, since it leads to idolatry. Be neither an enchanter, nor an astrologer, nor a purifier, nor be willing to took at these things, for out of all these idolatry is engendered. My child, be not a liar, since a lie leads to theft. Be neither money-loving, nor vainglorious, for out of all these thefts are engendered. My child, be not a murmurer, since it leads the way to blasphemy. Be neither self-willed nor evil-minded, for out of all these blasphemies are engendered.

Rather, be meek, since the meek shall inherit the earth. Be long-suffering and pitiful and guileless and gentle and good and always trembling at the words which you have heard. You shall not exalt yourself, nor give over-confidence to your soul. Your soul shall not be joined with lofty ones, but with just and lowly ones shall it have its intercourse. Accept whatever happens to you as good, knowing that apart from God nothing comes to pass.

Chapter 4. Various Precepts. My child, remember night and day him who speaks the word of God to you, and honor him as you do the Lord. For wherever the lordly rule is uttered, there is the Lord. And seek out day by day the faces of the saints, in order that you may rest upon their words. Do not long for division, but rather bring those who contend to peace. Judge righteously, and do not respect persons in reproving for transgressions. You shall not be undecided whether or not it shall be. Be not a stretcher forth of the hands to receive and a drawer of them back to give. If you have anything, through your hands you shall give ransom for your sins. Do not hesitate to give, nor complain when you give; for you shall know who is the good repayer of the hire. Do not turn away from him who is in want; rather, share all things with your brother, and do not say that they are your own. For if you are partakers in that which is immortal, how much more in things which are mortal? Do not remove your hand from your son or daughter; rather, teach them the fear of God from their youth. Do not enjoin anything in your bitterness upon your bondman or maidservant, who hope in the same God, lest ever they shall fear not God who is over both; for he comes not to call according to the outward appearance, but to them whom the Spirit has prepared. And you bondmen shall be subject to your masters as to a type of God, in modesty and fear. You shall hate all hypocrisy and everything which is not pleasing to the Lord. Do not in any way forsake the commandments of the Lord; but keep what you have received, neither adding thereto nor taking away therefrom. In the church you shall acknowledge your transgressions, and you shall not come near for your prayer with an evil conscience. This is the way of life.

Chapter 5. The Way of Death. And the way of death is this: First of all it is evil and accursed: murders, adultery, lust, fornication, thefts, idolatries, magic arts, witchcrafts, rape, false witness, hypocrisy, double-heartedness, deceit, haughtiness, depravity, self-will, greediness, filthy talking, jealousy, over-confidence, loftiness, boastfulness; persecutors of the good, hating truth, loving a lie, not knowing a reward for righteousness, not cleaving to good nor to righteous judgment, watching not for that which is good, but for that which is evil; from whom meekness and endurance are far, loving vanities, pursuing revenge, not pitying a poor man, not laboring for the afflicted, not knowing Him Who made them, murderers of children, destroyers of the handiwork of God, turning away from him who is in want, afflicting him who is distressed, advocates of the rich, lawless judges of the poor, utter sinners. Be delivered, children, from all these.

Chapter 6. Against False Teachers, and Food Offered to Idols. See that no one causes you to err from this way of the Teaching, since apart from God it teaches you. For if you are able to bear the entire yoke of the Lord, you will be perfect; but if you are not able to do this, do what you are able. And concerning food, bear what you are able; but against that which is sacrificed to idols be exceedingly careful; for it is the service of dead gods.

Chapter 7. Concerning Baptism. And concerning baptism, baptize this way: Having first said all these things, baptize into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, in living water. But if you have no living water, baptize into other water; and if you cannot do so in cold water, do so in warm. But if you have neither, pour out water three times upon the head into the name of Father and Son and Holy Spirit. But before the baptism let the baptizer fast, and the baptized, and whoever else can; but you shall order the baptized to fast one or two days before.

Chapter 8. Fasting and Prayer (the Lord's Prayer). But let not your fasts be with the hypocrites, for they fast on the second and fifth day of the week. Rather, fast on the fourth day and the Preparation (Friday). Do not pray like the hypocrites, but rather as the Lord commanded in His Gospel, like this:
Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily (needful) bread, and forgive us our debt as we also forgive our debtors. And bring us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one (or, evil); for Thine is the power and the glory for ever..
Pray this three times each day.

Chapter 9. The Eucharist. Now concerning the Eucharist, give thanks this way. First, concerning the cup:
We thank thee, our Father, for the holy vine of David Thy servant, which You madest known to us through Jesus Thy Servant; to Thee be the glory for ever..
And concerning the broken bread:
We thank Thee, our Father, for the life and knowledge which You madest known to us through Jesus Thy Servant; to Thee be the glory for ever. Even as this broken bread was scattered over the hills, and was gathered together and became one, so let Thy Church be gathered together from the ends of the earth into Thy kingdom; for Thine is the glory and the power through Jesus Christ for ever..
But let no one eat or drink of your Eucharist, unless they have been baptized into the name of the Lord; for concerning this also the Lord has said, "Give not that which is holy to the dogs."

Chapter 10. Prayer after Communion. But after you are filled, give thanks this way:
We thank Thee, holy Father, for Thy holy name which You didst cause to tabernacle in our hearts, and for the knowledge and faith and immortality, which You modest known to us through Jesus Thy Servant; to Thee be the glory for ever. Thou, Master almighty, didst create all things for Thy name's sake; You gavest food and drink to men for enjoyment, that they might give thanks to Thee; but to us You didst freely give spiritual food and drink and life eternal through Thy Servant. Before all things we thank Thee that You are mighty; to Thee be the glory for ever. Remember, Lord, Thy Church, to deliver it from all evil and to make it perfect in Thy love, and gather it from the four winds, sanctified for Thy kingdom which Thou have prepared for it; for Thine is the power and the glory for ever. Let grace come, and let this world pass away. Hosanna to the God (Son) of David! If any one is holy, let him come; if any one is not so, let him repent. Maranatha. Amen.
But permit the prophets to make Thanksgiving as much as they desire.

Chapter 11. Concerning Teachers, Apostles, and Prophets. Whosoever, therefore, comes and teaches you all these things that have been said before, receive him. But if the teacher himself turns and teaches another doctrine to the destruction of this, hear him not. But if he teaches so as to increase righteousness and the knowledge of the Lord, receive him as the Lord. But concerning the apostles and prophets, act according to the decree of the Gospel. Let every apostle who comes to you be received as the Lord. But he shall not remain more than one day; or two days, if there's a need. But if he remains three days, he is a false prophet. And when the apostle goes away, let him take nothing but bread until he lodges. If he asks for money, he is a false prophet. And every prophet who speaks in the Spirit you shall neither try nor judge; for every sin shall be forgiven, but this sin shall not be forgiven. But not every one who speaks in the Spirit is a prophet; but only if he holds the ways of the Lord. Therefore from their ways shall the false prophet and the prophet be known. And every prophet who orders a meal in the Spirit does not eat it, unless he is indeed a false prophet. And every prophet who teaches the truth, but does not do what he teaches, is a false prophet. And every prophet, proved true, working unto the mystery of the Church in the world, yet not teaching others to do what he himself does, shall not be judged among you, for with God he has his judgment; for so did also the ancient prophets. But whoever says in the Spirit, Give me money, or something else, you shall not listen to him. But if he tells you to give for others' sake who are in need, let no one judge him.

Chapter 12. Reception of Christians. But receive everyone who comes in the name of the Lord, and prove and know him afterward; for you shall have understanding right and left. If he who comes is a wayfarer, assist him as far as you are able; but he shall not remain with you more than two or three days, if need be. But if he wants to stay with you, and is an artisan, let him work and eat. But if he has no trade, according to your understanding, see to it that, as a Christian, he shall not live with you idle. But if he wills not to do, he is a Christ-monger. Watch that you keep away from such.

Chapter 13. Support of Prophets. But every true prophet who wants to live among you is worthy of his support. So also a true teacher is himself worthy, as the workman, of his support. Every first-fruit, therefore, of the products of wine-press and threshing-floor, of oxen and of sheep, you shall take and give to the prophets, for they are your high priests. But if you have no prophet, give it to the poor. If you make a batch of dough, take the first-fruit and give according to the commandment. So also when you open a jar of wine or of oil, take the first-fruit and give it to the prophets; and of money (silver) and clothing and every possession, take the first-fruit, as it may seem good to you, and give according to the commandment.

Chapter 14. Christian Assembly on the Lord's Day. But every Lord's day gather yourselves together, and break bread, and give thanksgiving after having confessed your transgressions, that your sacrifice may be pure. But let no one who is at odds with his fellow come together with you, until they be reconciled, that your sacrifice may not be profaned. For this is that which was spoken by the Lord: "In every place and time offer to me a pure sacrifice; for I am a great King, says the Lord, and my name is wonderful among the nations."

Chapter 15. Bishops and Deacons; Christian Reproof. Appoint, therefore, for yourselves, bishops and deacons worthy of the Lord, men meek, and not lovers of money, and truthful and proved; for they also render to you the service of prophets and teachers. Therefore do not despise them, for they are your honored ones, together with the prophets and teachers. And reprove one another, not in anger, but in peace, as you have it in the Gospel. But to anyone that acts amiss against another, let no one speak, nor let him hear anything from you until he repents. But your prayers and alms and all your deeds so do, as you have it in the Gospel of our Lord.

Chapter 16. Watchfulness; the Coming of the Lord. Watch for your life's sake. Let not your lamps be quenched, nor your loins unloosed; but be ready, for you know not the hour in which our Lord will come. But come together often, seeking the things which are befitting to your souls: for the whole time of your faith will not profit you, if you are not made perfect in the last time. For in the last days false prophets and corrupters shall be multiplied, and the sheep shall be turned into wolves, and love shall be turned into hate; for when lawlessness increases, they shall hate and persecute and betray one another, and then shall appear the world-deceiver as Son of God, and shall do signs and wonders, and the earth shall be delivered into his hands, and he shall do iniquitous things which have never yet come to pass since the beginning. Then shall the creation of men come into the fire of trial, and many shall be made to stumble and shall perish; but those who endure in their faith shall be saved from under the curse itself. And then shall appear the signs of the truth: first, the sign of an outspreading in heaven, then the sign of the sound of the trumpet. And third, the resurrection of the dead -- yet not of all, but as it is said: "The Lord shall come and all His saints with Him." Then shall the world see the

Lord coming upon the clouds of heaven.

Pax et bonum

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

"Nickel and Dimed" (Ehrenreich) - Eye Opening Read

I finished reading Barbara Ehrenreich's Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America. It's one of the optional books for my AP Language and Composition class. I had read portions of it before, but not the entire book.

It was well worth the read.

The premise is that Ehrenreich, between 1998 and 2000, take on menial jobs - waitress, house cleaner, store clerk, etc. - and try to live on the salaries. That includes finding a low-cost place to live and eating only what she can afford. She also keeps her background and education hidden: She poses as just another woman who suddenly has to find some way to survive.

What she uncovers is the harsh reality of the lives of people on these low-income jobs. Surviving on minimum (or waitress) wage is extremely difficult. People are forced to work second jobs, to live with other people, to live in substandard housing, to work through injuries or other physical ailments, etc. They are often trapped by their situations due to lack of money, poor job markets, lack of transportation to get to better housing or jobs, and so on.

The reality is pretty stark. People are indeed not getting by. It challenges our notions that people can survive on minimum wage - and challenges assumptions that if people are not happy with their jobs/income they can just move on. They can't, and the difficult lives they are living is gradually destroying them.

Ehrenreich is a good writer and she brings this all to life. She is honest in her reactions and in describing her own struggles. She also fleshes out her narrative with all sorts of information to provide context and supporting information. Make sure you read the footnotes.

From a Catholic/moral point of view, I do have a few quibbles with the book, or, more accurately, with Ehrenreich. She admits that she is living with her boyfriend (I think that colors her view of some of her co-workers' living arrangements) and uses recreational drugs. In addition, she acknowledges that she is an atheist. Her only lengthy mention of religion is of a revival meeting she attends. She has some valid criticisms of what happens at the revival, but her attitude is dismissive, almost contemptuous of faith.

Those objections aside, this is an eye-opening book. For me, it backs my beliefs that we need to do more to promote a just wage. It also reminds us that we need to treat all people with the respect that they deserve as our brothers and sisters.

I recommend this book.

Pax et bonum

Monday, July 8, 2013

Performing Our Faith - Hope for Catholic theater

I took part in the Performing Our Faith conference over the weekend. I helped a little to organize it (just a little) and provided the music for the Masses.

The goal of the conference was to bring together Catholics involved in theater to see if there's a way to encourage more Catholic theater. There are some troupes or performers out there - St. Luke's, Quo Vadis, Kevin O'Brien, etc.) - but they are scattered. What if there was an organization uniting them together, annual conferences and festivals, and contests to help encourage, support, and evangelize?

The conference was small - Fourth of July weekend was a rough time to get people together, and some of the working performers had commitments that put bread on their tables. But I was impressed by the caliber of the people, the energy, and the ideas. Among those ideas, is having a short pro-life play performed in Washington in conjunction with the March for Life this January, and a festival next August in Washington - the JPII Catholic Theatre Festival. Those plans have to be finalized, of course, but they may just come off.

We did have a one-act play contest as part of this conference - more than 60 scripts were submitted -  and we had a staged reading of the winning play. It was a good play - but as part of it one character dropped f-bombs and talked about sexual encounters with women. It made sense in terms of the character, but being read at a Catholic conference, in a retreat house to an audience that included a small child, I felt uncomfortable. I did raise the problem the next day and suggested that we needed clear guidelines on what's acceptable in Catholic drama - but I did so awkwardly and I think I may have done more harm than good. At least one other participant did bring up the issue of clearer guidelines later - more diplomatically than I did - and folks seemed to accept that.

I have hopes for this group and their aims, though I'm not sure yet if it will succeed. I do think it's a worthy effort.

But as I sat there, I realized that I just didn't fit. Oh, I've written, directed, and acted in plays, but theater is a collaborative effort, as would be an organization like this. I'm not a group person. And with the festival being based in Washington, well, I hate travel and being away from home. (For the conference I could have stayed at the retreat center where it was held, but I chose to stay home, driving back and forth 50 minutes each way to take part.)

I will continue to write plays and act, but I don't see a formal role for me with this new group.

Interestingly, the director who staged the reading for the conference was someone I've known for years and whom I recommended to the conference organizers. After the reading, we chatted, and he told me about two productions (one Shakespearean) in the works, then asked if I'd be interested in acting in them.


Pax et bonum

Sunday, July 7, 2013

"Year of Wonders" (Geraldine Brooks): Okay, but ...

I finished Year of Wonders: A Novel of the Plague by Geraldine Brooks. The 2001 novel is the first of the works on the summer reading list I inherited for the senior English course I'm taking over next year.

The story is based on a true incident during the outbreak of the plague in England in 1665/6 in which a village, Eyam, voluntarily quarantined itself as it battled the spread of the disease. The minister in the book is based on the minister who led the community. The narrator, Anna Frith, a shepherdess/maid, was created based on a brief mention of a maid who assisted the minister.

The first part of the book is well written and gives a real sense of the times, people's daily life and work, and their struggles. The descriptions of the effects of the plague were powerful. Many of the characters were interesting and believable. Brooks did her research.

But then ...

Brooks had to augment the drama inherent in the situation by adding liberal doses of melodrama. We start getting twists and turns involving "wise women" (witches!), the narrator's evil father and stepmother, the troubled wife of the minister, the less-than-noble minister, mining, murder, attempted murder, abortion, religious doubt, a North-African Muslim harem (did I mention this was supposedly set in England?) and more. There is eventually a sex scene you knew was coming. It was not graphic, but was written in typical romance novel style that stands in marked contrast to some of the really nice descriptive writing earlier in the novel. The narrator also begins to develop a contemporary feminist sensibility that seems out of place. By the end of the book, she achieves the skewed feminist dream of having children without the inconvenience of a physical husband. And the ending is so implausible as to be almost laughable.

The book does not get a thumbs up - but it also doesn't get a thumbs down. It's an interesting read for the first half to two thirds of its length, enough to offset the ending. But next year when I have more control I might think of dropping it from the required reading list, and maybe put it on the optional independent reading list.

Pax et bonum

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Satan addresses the prochoicers in Texas

Pax et bonum

Could it be ... Hail Satan??

As part of demonstrations before the Texas legislature began to consider a ban on abortions after 20 weeks, protesters sang/chanted.
As prolifers sang songs like "Amazing Grace," some prochoicers, in addition to having signs saying things like "Hoes Before Embryos" (really), began to chant "Hail Satan."
When I first heard of this, I was skeptical. But then video surfaced.

Now while I do believe those who support abortion are doing the work of Satan, I don't believe the vast majority of them - including the folks at this protest - are out-and-out Satanists. Besides, Satan doesn't need worshippers to turn people from God. Just look at how he makes use of the entertainment industry.

I think the pro-choice protesters were just trying to be offensive, to say things that might anger the pro-lifers. It's like protests I've been at where prochoicers will start chanting things like, "Keep your rosaries off my ovaries." If the pro-lifers respond in anger, you know the news media would pounce on that. After all, Satan has been making good use of the news media to promote his agenda.

I don't know if the prochoicers realize how this comes across. But then, given the nature of the news media, reports of this sort of thing might never get out.

The best response is to keep on singing and praying. Oh, and maybe saying a rosary for the sake of their ovaries - and souls.

Pax et bonum

Monday, July 1, 2013

Dante's Circles of Hell for Today

First, a confession.

I have not read all of Dante's Inferno.

I've read a few parts of it - but not the entire poem. Mea culpa.

I'm sure there's a Circle of Hell for folks like me. Maybe one where I'll have nothing to read except bad romance novels.

Still, I have enough familiarity with the poem that I can fake my way through writing about it, and, specifically, the circles.

I know there are circles devoted to various groupings of sins - lust, greed, heresy, treachery, etc. But I must admit my ignorance of whether there are specific punishments doled out for some contemporary sins. (More than likely there are - at least indirectly. And some sins are not new.)

What is the punishment for celebrities who live with and even reproduce with people to whom the are not married, and who openly celebrate their choice? The Jessica Simpsons and Kanye Wests of the world have enough money to help compensate materially for their sins, but what about all the young men and women they help to delude and inspire?

Maybe they would have to watch reruns of the once supposedly Christian Simpson's Newlywed reality show. Oh, and eat chicken out of a can.

Then there are the Catholic politicians who betray their faith on issues like birth control, abortion, and homosexual so-called marriage. Yeah, there are Biden, Pelosi, Gillebrand and others, but I'm thinking right now of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo - and he's a two-fer, promoting non-Catholic beliefs on these issues, and living with his girlfriend. Maybe he'll suffer punishment in two circles! How about he has to watch Sandra Lee being forced to cook using only chicken from a can. As for the other betrayers of their faith, maybe they'd have to eat whatever she produces.

And what about the providers and supporters of abortion? Not only the political types, but anyone involved with organizations like Catholics for a Free Choice; the parents who help their daughters get abortions so a baby won't interfere with prom or college plans, then show up in the Communion line; anyone involved with or donating money to Planned Parenthood, NARAL, and so on. To borrow a page from Jonathan Swift, maybe they'd have to spend eternity eating a Sandra Lee ragout made entirely from "products of conception."

(Yeah, I know, gross. But so is what they support.)

I could go on. Maybe if we made the punishments more "understandable" for contemporary folks, even for sins that have been with us since The Fall, they might think twice.

As for me, I'm going to finish reading the The Inferno.

I don't want to get stuck reading those bad romance novels for all eternity.

Pax et bonum