For Your Sunday Night at the Movies, “The Scarlet and the Black”

I have my pastor to thank for this post. That’s because during his homily today, he mentioned a movie about an Irish Catholic priest stationed in Rome who, while fulfilling the obligations of his office, also used his office to smuggle Jews, and Allied soldiers, out of harms way after the Nazis occupied Rome. [Read more...]

For All the Sacramentals: Crosses and Crucifixes

Today I’m sharing more on sacramentals from Fr. John F. Sullivan’s little text book called The Visible Church. What is a sacramental? They are “objects set apart and blessed by the Church to excite good thoughts and to increase devotion, and through these movements of the heart to remit venial sin.”

Today we turn to the symbol that all Christians know, love, and revere.

It is the Cross, the instrument that was used to kill the Son of God. And in this lesson, Fr. John explains the history of crosses, their types, both pagan and Christian, and even the difference between crosses and crucifixes.

The Cross and the Crucifix

The Cross is the most important of Catholic emblems. It symbolizes the redemption of mankind and our holy faith, because Jesus Christ, our Redeemer and our God, died on a cross. It is used on our churches, schools, institutions, altars, vestments, etc., as a symbolic ornament; and when blessed, either as a cross or a crucifix, it becomes a great sacramental of our religion.

Among many nations, in ancient times, crosses were used for the execution of criminals. But even among pagan nations the cross was held in religious honor. The most ancient form was the swastika, emblematic of the revolutions of the sun, and consequently of life. In Egypt and Assyria the cross typified creative power; the Egyptian gods are often represented holding a crux ansata, or cross with a handle, an emblem of the reproductive powers of Nature. In India, Mexico and Peru, crosses were in use with the same symbolic meaning.

The True Cross, on which our Saviour died, is said to have been discovered by St. Helena, the mother of the Emperor Constantine, at Jerusalem, in the year 326, and the Church celebrates this by a festival, the Finding of the Holy Cross, on the third of May. There is also a feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross on the fourteenth of September.

A part of the True Cross is said to be preserved in the Church of Santa Croce (the Holy Cross), in Rome, and various other places claim to possess fragments of it or the nails used at the crucifixion.

The Kinds of Crosses

The principal varieties of crosses used in Christian art and architecture are as follows:

1. The ordinary form, called the Latin cross, or crux capitata (headed cross).

2. The Greek cross, having the four limbs of equal length—so named because it was much used in later Greek architecture.

3. The St. Andrew’s cross, in the form of the letter X; that Apostle is said to have been crucified on one of that description.

4. The Maltese cross, having four equal limbs of spreading or triangular form; it was the badge of the military and religious order of the Knights of Malta.

5. The Celtic cross, common in ancient Irish architecture, having the arms connected by a circle.

6. The Tau cross, so called from the Greek name of the letter T, which it resembles in shape.

7. The Egyptian crux ansata, mentioned above. It consists of a cross with a ring or handle.

8. A cross with two cross-bars is sometimes called an archipiscopal cross, or a patriarchal cross, being used in the heraldic arms of these dignitaries.

The Crucifix

There is a difference between a cross and a crucifix. A cross becomes a crucifix only when it bears an image of our Lord’s Sacred Body. The word “crucifix” is from the Latin crud fixus, fixed to a cross.

The Church requires that a crucifix be placed over an altar on which Mass is to be offered; and during the Sacrifice the priest bows towards it several times. It is used in solemn ceremonies as a processional cross, being carried at the head of the line of the clergy. The faithful are urged to have crucifixes in their homes, and the same, blessed symbol is usually attached to rosaries.

The tablet bearing the letters I N R I at the top of a crucifix is called the “title,” and these letters are the initials of the words “Jesus Nazarenus, Rex Judaeorum” (Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews)—the letters I and J being the same in ancient Latin.

On some crucifixes a skull and bones are shown at the foot—reminding us that Golgotha, the place of the crucifixion (Mount Calvary), signified a skull (from its shape or because it was a burialplace)—or possibly from a fanciful legend that in the hole dug for our Lord’s cross was found the skull of Adam!

In our churches, from Passion Sunday to Good Friday, all crucifixes are veiled; and after the unveiling on the latter day the clergy and laity devoutly kiss the feet of the image of our Blessed Lord, to express contrition and gratitude. This ceremony is known as the “Adoration” of the Cross, though we really give adoration only to God. The term is sanctioned by long usage.

To all who after a worthy Communion recite before a crucifix or a picture of our crucified Saviour the prayer beginning “0 Good and most sweet Jesus,” a plenary indulgence is granted, applicable to the souls in Purgatory.

Next time, Part I (of three) on Vestments.

For Faith in Action: Live Action and the Lord of the Rings

Feast of St. Alvarez of Corova

I know. This is a weird title for a post. What does the Lord of the Rings trilogy have to do with Live Action? Maybe nothing, or maybe everything. Bear with me for a moment and I’ll try to explain.

The other day, I wrote a little post that I titled Because All of the Big Questions Have Been Answered. There, I stated simply that, “what is left to do, and one which takes a lifetime to perfect, is the implementation of the answers.”

Actually, it would take an eternity of lifetimes for us to try and perfect the implementation of Christian values, and we simply don’t have that luxury. Because though our souls are immortal, for this go around for us at least, our earthly bodies are finite.

But guess what? God knows all this.

Because the Holy Spirit speaks to us often of our condition as “earthen vessels,” for we are often compared to “clay pots.”  So in our finite bodily existence here on earth, in this test called life, we must act with partial and incomplete knowledge. I wrote of this condition of ours a long time ago.

Our Majesty also knows that we are in “the play” and this ain’t no dress rehearsal. And as Christians, we are not called to just theorize and contemplate. We are also called to act upon this stage called life. And our actions, though imperfect, must seek to glorify God. And they must be in accordance with His will. We believe we will be judged accordingly, do we not? How do we know then that we are acting in compliance to these two demands?

In my mind, we can’t do either on our own, which is why we need the Church as the grounding, or foundation of our actions. And the Church also must be the referee, if you will,  of the drama of life. But even acting on our own, we do have a sense of what is “right conduct” and what is “wrong conduct.” Case in point, the whole Live Action sting on Planned Parenthood controversy that has everyone with an opinion on fire to share it.

I’m no expert on moral theology, or moral philosophy. I will leave that to others with more knowledge and experience, both within the Church, and without. And until the Church hands down a definitive opinion on this matter, where you come down on this incident depends on where you stand.

So where do I stand? I stand with the people who understand the following statement from my ancient Chinese friend,

All warfare is based on deception. Hence, when we are able to attack, we must seem unable; when using our forces, we must appear inactive; when we are near, we must make the enemy believe we are far away; when far away, we must make him believe we are near. —Sun Tzu


And this is a war our government doesn’t seem to have the stomach to fight virtuously, or even at all.

Once I wrote on a friend’s Facebook page that there is Spiritual Warfare going on both within us and throughout the world. Spiritual battles that will inevitably spill out into the public square. How could they not? Only if you believe in relativism and that all ideas are equally virtuous, or equally fatuous. But the truth is, this cannot be.

Speaking of drama then, what if we lived in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth and the Live Action vs. Planned Parenthood fracus played itself out among the characters there? Assume then that the role played by Planned Parenthood is that of the character named Grima, also known as Wormtongue, OK? In the movie adaptation, this character was played by actor Brad Dourif, who also played Hazel Motes in John Huston’s adaptation of Flannery O’Connor’s Wise Blood.

So much for the character supporting the agenda of the Dark Lord of Mordor. What about the good guys? Below are a few links to discussions about what to make of these events. I will share them with you in the order in which they match up with Tolkien’s characters. I think each makes valid points.  As a mere hobbit though, I am inclined to let wiser heads prevail in these debates. But I also seek information from all sides in order to view the full picture. First up is the opinion of a modern day version of Gandalf the Grey,

Peter Kreeft: Why Live Action Did Right, And Why We Should All Know That..

You promised the Jews to hide them from their murderers. To keep that promise, you have to deceive the Nazis. Physical hiding and verbal hiding are two sides of the same coin, whether you call it lying, or deception, or whatever you call it. What it is, is much more obvious than what it is to be called. It’s a good thing to do. If you don’t know that, you’re morally stupid, and moral stupidity comes in two opposite forms: relativism and legalism. Relativism sees no principles, only people; legalism sees no people, only principles.

Hadley Arkes: When Speaking Falsely is Right.

But we remind ourselves that we don’t cast moral judgments solely on the basis of the gross description of the act: “Smith takes the hose from the garage of his neighbor Jones.” Before we’d call it a “theft” we’d ask whether he had permission to take it. He might not have had permission, but he borrowed it for a moment to put out a fire and returned it. He had no permission, but we would be moved to say that his act, given the circumstances, was “justified”—i.e., just, not wrongful.

Guess who plays the character of Arwen?

Lila Rose: Statement on House Defunding of Planned Parenthood.

The case to cease funding is crystal clear. But for any Senator who remains unsure, imagine explaining to your constituents that you voted to keep sending $350 million of their tax dollars to an ‘non-profit’ that puts young girls in harm’s way and made $63 million in profits by aborting 300,000 unborn children last year. It’s time once and for all to stop financing these activities.

And of course, there is the brave and able Aragorn of Gondor.

Francis Beckwith: Live Action and Telling Falsehoods.

Two instances found in Scripture make this clear. The author of Hebrews writes, “By faith Rahab the harlot did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had given friendly welcome to the spies.” (11:31). In James 2:25 we learn that Rahab was “justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out another way.” What did Rahab do that was so commendable that Scripture presents it as a work of faith that justified her? She intentionally told a falsehood.

And then there is Eowyn.

Elizabeth Scalia, aka “The Anchoress:”Gosnell; Baby Feet Kick the Nation.

After all, Margaret Sanger — the poster girl for pro-choice advocates in America — was all about making sure that certain races and certain classes of people were discouraged from reproducing. But you’re not supposed to know that, or at least you’re not supposed to acknowledge that. To do so would be as rude as forcing people to consider that the only way to prevent a pregnancy from advancing to new life is to “stop” it unnaturally, or to note that “stopping” is just a euphemism for “killing.” Because that’s the only way to stop new life from flourishing: by killing it.

Entering from stage right, we have Legolas.

Tim Muldoon: Imagining a Nation without Abortion.

Imagine a nation that loved all its children so passionately that it built an entire social and economic structure around protecting them, nurturing them, fostering their growth, and supporting their every stage of life. The logic of this care for children would, of course, extend to the conditions by which those children entered the world. The nation would first care about young adults and their sexual choices.

Remember what Faramir said? “I would not snare even an orc with a falsehood.”

Mark Shea: Faustian Bargains.

But these do not exhaust our options. For one can also note that, in our panic about being accused of idiotic callousness toward innocent victims we have failed to notice that the notion that lying will save the Jews from the Nazis is dubious to start with. In other words “Lie or die!” is a false dilemma. Does anybody think that if I lie, the Gestapo will say, “Oh! Okay! Sorry to bother you! Have a nice day!” and not look in the attic anyway? Clearly the *real* trick is not to lie well but to *hide your Jews well*. Then you can say, “Look for yourself”, offer the Nazi a nice cup of tea, and speed him on his way with a “Seig Heil” without rousing suspicion, looking sweaty and guilty, and having to remember what you said. In short, a little forethought about what is morally permissible can actually help you do a better job of protecting your wards than just seat-of-the-pants “Let’s lie!” gut responses. Does this cover every possible situation? I doubt it. But it tends to get overlooked in the rush to create the dilemma for the sake of defending Lying for Jesus.

As for me, I’ll just try to keep my friend on the straight and narrow I reckon. All I know is this—we are at war, and war is hell. Not everyone sees the big picture.  But somehow, by each one of the allies doing their duty,  good can overcome evil. It truly is like the great stories…

Update: Marc @BadCatholic on the virtues of Hobbits.

For All the Sacramentals, Holy Water

Yesterday I shared the Sign of the Cross with you, and today I promised an explanation of Holy Water. I’m glad I found this little book The Visible Church by Fr. John F. Sullivan. And not just for trivial pursuit question ammunition either.

You see, RCIA class is very good, but there is a lot of material to cover in a relatively short period of time. So Fr. John’s book is really helpful to me. Show of hands—who knew there are four distinct kinds of holy water? All you priests put your hands down! For the rest of us, Fr. John explains this sacramental,

Holy Water

Holy Water is “water blessed by a priest with solemn prayer, to beg God’s blessing on those who use it, and protection from the powers of darkness.” It is a very important sacramental of our Church.

Water is the natural element for cleansing, and its symbolical use to denote interior purification was common in many ancient religions—the Greeks, Romans, Egyptians and others; and it is so used by the Brahmins of India, the American Indians and other pagans of the present time. Among the Jews, the laws of Moses (contained in the books of Exodus and Leviticus in the Old Testament), enjoined the sprinkling of the people, the sacrifices, the sacred vessels, etc.; and our Church has imitated many of these Jewish practices.

There is a tradition that holy water was used by the Apostle St. Matthew, but this is uncertain. It is traced by some to the early part of the second century, and its use became common somewhat later.

The Kinds of Holy Water.

There are four kinds, each blessed in a different manner. They are as follows:

1. Baptismal Water, which is blessed on Holy Saturday, and may also be blessed on the eve of Pentecost. The Oil of Catechumens and the Holy Chrism are mingled with it. It is used only in the administration of Baptism.

2. Water of Consecration, or “Gregorian Water”, so called because its use was ordered by Pope Gregory IX. It is used in the consecration of churches, and has wine, ashes and salt mingled with it.

3. Easter Water, so called because it is distributed to the people on Holy Saturday, the eve of Easter. A part of this water is used for the filling of the baptismal font, to be blessed as baptismal water; the remainder is given to the faithful. In some countries this water is used by the clergy for the solemn blessing of houses on Holy Saturday.

4. Ordinary Holy Water, blessed by the priest for the sprinkling of the people before Mass and for use at the door of the church. It may be used also for the blessing of persons and things, in the church and at home. Salt is mingled with it—a custom which goes back probably to the second century.

Therefore the only varieties of holy water that directly concern the faithful are the water blessed on Holy Saturday and that blessed at other times. They are sanctified by different formulas, but their value and uses are much the same.

The Uses of Holy Water.

It is used in nearly all the blessings of the Church’s ritual, in the ceremonies of Matrimony and Extreme Unction, in the giving of Holy Communion to the sick, and in services for the dead. For use in church functions it is generally contained in a bowl-shaped vessel with a swinging handle, provided with a sprinkler.

The “Asperges” (pronounced, “as-per-jays”), This is the sprinkling of the people on Sundays before the principal Mass in a parish church. It takes its name from the first word (in Latin) of Psalm 50, of which the opening verse is recited by the priest and sung by the choir at this ceremony during the greater part of the year: “Thou shalt sprinkle me with hyssop, and I shall be made clean; Thou shalt wash me, and I shall be made whiter than snow.”

This practice goes back to the ninth century. It is intended to renew in us every Sunday the memory of our Baptism, and to drive away all distractions during the Mass. In this ceremony, the holy water need not actually touch every person in the church. The whole assembly is blessed together, and all receive the blessing, even though the water may not reach each individual.

The custom of placing holy water at the church door in a “holy water font” is very ancient—probably dating back to the second century. Among the Jews a ceremony of purification was required before entering the Temple, and the Catholic practice may have been suggested by this.

In the Middle Ages it was customary to use holy water only when entering the church, and not when leaving it—to denote that purification was necessary before entering, but not after having assisted at Mass. At the present day holy water may be used both on entering and departing, especially as an indulgence is gained every time it is used.

The Blessing of Holy Water

This is usually done just before the principal Mass on Sunday, but may be done at any other time. The priest reads several prayers, which include an exorcism of the salt and the water, after which the salt is put into the water in the form of a threefold cross, in the name of the Persons of the Trinity. An exorcism is a prayer intended to free persons or things from the power of the Evil One.

The Symbolism of Holy Water

Water is used for cleansing and for quenching fire; salt is used to preserve from decay. Therefore the Church combines them in this sacramental, to express the washing away of the stains of sin, the quenching of the fire of our passions, and the preservation of our souls from relapses into sin.

Salt is also a symbol of wisdom. , Our Blessed Lord called His Apostles “the salt of the earth,” because they were to instruct mankind.

The Indulgence

There is an indulgence of one hundred days for using holy water. Pius IX renewed this in 1876, under these conditions:

1. The sign of the cross must be made with the holy water.
2. “We must say: “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost.”
3. We must have contrition for our sins.
4. For this, as for any indulgence, we must be in the state of grace.

Next time, the Cross and the Crucifix.

For All the Sacramentals, The Sign of the Cross

As a convert, when I was first considering becoming a Catholic, some of the little physical things Catholics did were of interest to me. I would think, why do they do that? The Sacramentals were mysterious to me.

I found a little book by Fr. John F. Sullivan entitled, The Visible Church. Published in 1920 as a text book for Catholic schools, it’s perfect for a beginner like me. 

In it he explains these sacramentals. Today I present you with the first one in his book and one which I didn’t even consider an official sacramental. As it turns out, it is the most important one. Take it away Fr. John,

The Sign of the Cross

The Sacramentals are objects set apart and blessed by the Church to excite good thoughts and to increase devotion, and through these movements of the heart to remit venial sin.

The Sign of the Cross is the most important of the Sacramentals, being a symbol of our deliverance from the power of Satan, and an emblem of God’s mercy manifested through the crucifixion of our Saviour on the cross of Calvary.

It consists in making a movement, with the hands or with some other object, in the form of a cross. The ordinary method of making the sign of the cross is as follows: Put the right hand to the forehead and to the breast, and to the left and the right shoulder, saying: “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.”

The words and the action form a summary of our faith. We say: “In the name”—not “names”—expressing thus the unity of God. We mention the three Persons, the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost, thus showing our faith in the Blessed Trinity. The cross itself, made with the hand, manifests our belief in the incarnation, death and resurrection of our Saviour, and shows that we regard Him not only as God but as man—for unless He possessed a human nature He could not die.

By making the sign of the cross and saying the words twe may gain an indulgence of fifty days—granted by Pope Pius IX in 1863. If we use holy water to make the sign, we may gain an indulgence of one hundred days.

The use of the sign of the cross in Catholic worship probably goes back to the time of the Apostles. In those early days it was usually made very small, by a slight movement of the finger or thumb, so as not to attract the attention of pagan persecutors.

The triple sign of the cross was common in the Middle Ages, but is not now used except at the beginning of the Gospels at Mass. It is made by marking the forehead, the lips and the breast with a small cross, using the thumb; and it reminds us that we should worship God with our minds, our lips and our hearts.

The sign of the cross is used in the administration of all the Sacraments, in all of the Church’s blessings, and at the beginning and end of public and private prayers. In the ceremonies of Baptism it is made fourteen times; in Extreme Unction, seventeen times. In the blessing of holy water it is made twelve times. In the Mass it is used in various ways no less than fifty-one times.

Tomorrow’s topic: Holy Water

A Chinese “Spiritual” (A Few Words For Wednesday)

I’ve been reading John C.H. Wu’s The Interior Carmel: The Threefold Way of Love. This morning, I caught the shuttle bus from the parking lot to the bus stop right outside of my office back-door. As I was drinking my coffee during the ride, I dipped into my book bag and flipped open John’s book. Guess what I found?

Before my eyes were the words to a little ditty that John suggests “when spiritually interpreted, will perhaps give an inkling of the joy of the saints.” I think you will agree that they do. And in the spirit of “for God so loved the world,” enjoy this depiction of the rooster/world by graphic artist Kentaro Nagai.

from “an old Chinese love-song,”

Cold is the wind, chill the rain.
The cock crows kikeriki.
Now that I have seen my Love,
Peace has come to me.

The wind whistles, the rain drizzles.
The cock crows kukeriku.

From a newly discovered1500 year
old church in Israel

Now that I have seen my Love,
My sickness is healed too.

The wind and the rain darken the day.
The cock ceases not to crow.
Now that I have seen my Love,
My joy ceases not to grow.

Because All of the Big Questions Have Been Answered

As I discover the Psalms anew, I am reminded of St. Augustine’s saying about the Church: “late have I loved thee.” When I was younger, see, and when I thought I knew everything, I used to skip these sacred, inspired, and often times prophetic, poems.

Nowadays, I turn to them and find comfort and instruction.

A few days ago I shared a kind letter that Thomas Merton wrote a 6th grader, and noted that being kind is one of the traits of a Christian. I have written also on being meek, and how John C.H. Wu has helped me see that character trait in a more positive, and more approachable light.

Below is a sample of what I mean. It is Psalm 15 written by David. As psalms go, it is a short one. The kind that readily lends itself to lectio divina, and even simple memorization. Short, and yet full of practical wisdom for walking along the Way. Keep in mind that this is the Holy Spirit speaking to us, in an informal question and answer session,

A psalm of David.

LORD, who may abide in your tent?
Who may dwell on your holy mountain?

Are not these questions key? Because once you come to the realization that you are one of God’s children, you wonder if you are worthy of such a position. What must I do to be a child of the Most High? The Holy Spirit answers,

Whoever walks without blame,
doing what is right,
speaking truth from the heart;
Who does not slander a neighbor,
does no harm to another,
never defames a friend;

So far, so good until I realize that I have slipped in all of these areas. Yes, I can look in the mirror and note that even I have slandered a friend in the past, not to mention those whom I have disagreed with who were not my friends. And often I used the text from the next few lines as my self-righteous reason why,

Who disdains the wicked,
but honors those who fear the LORD;

Of course, to do this honestly, and justly, I find that I must disdain myself before I turn the spotlight on others. I remember a line from Psalm 14, “Not one does what is right, not even one.” Yes, I recall painfully, this “one” is definitely me. And in the next line, as I recoil in horror, the Holy Spirit reminds me not to flee from the responsibility of self-examination. Because I must be one,

Who keeps an oath despite the cost,

and one who

lends no money at interest,

instead of always asking “what’s in it for me?” whenever I am asked to help, or give of my time, talents, and scanty treasure. And all the while, though I like to think that I would never do such a thing, I must remember to be one who

accepts no bribe against the innocent.

By this point, the realization dawns that alone, left to my own self-interest, I will fail in keeping any of these seemingly simple precepts. Instead, I will be doing what Qoheleth observed when he was inspired to write,

Then I saw that all toil and skillful work is the rivalry of one man for another. This also is vanity and a chase after wind.

Despite the best intentions of Adam Smith’s “invisible hand.” Coming back, then, to the conclusion of this psalm, I know that only through God’s grace will I be one who can be counted as one that,

Whoever acts like this
shall never be shaken.

Do you know why I don’t spend much intellectual horsepower in this space writing about the “big questions” of the day? It is because all of the big questions have been answered already. As Christ Himself said, on more than one occasion, “He that has ears, let him hear.” What is left to do, and one which takes a lifetime to perfect, is the implementation of the answers. In simple terms, and on a personal level, stop spinning your wheels and get going.

Thinking through the Psalms allows me to hear the answers to what I so deftly ignored for so long. And that is, the Church has the answers, even as we Church members falter in following Her precepts. The Church, guided by the Holy Spirit, instructs us to pray the Psalms and provides them for us in a format that is suitable for this purpose.

As for me and this blog, with the help of God’s grace, I’ll just continue to stay on this narrow,and winding, pilgrims path. Because though I once worshipped my prideful self, now I remind myself often to pray,

LORD, my heart is not proud;
nor are my eyes haughty.
I do not busy myself with great matters,
with things too sublime for me.
Rather, I have stilled my soul,
hushed it like a weaned child.
Like a weaned child on its mother’s lap,
so is my soul within me.

With an understanding that, “there remain faith, hope, and charity, these three: but the greatest of these is charity.”

Update: Peter Kreeft agrees.

The 2011 Grammy’s and More (Music for Mondays)

So the Grammy’s were on last night. Just when I thought my wife was going to force me to watch a new PBS series, instead she made me watch the Grammy Awards.

It wasn’t all bad either. Lots of musically talented children of God were there. For instance, two of the selections from the MfM post last week won awards. The Black Keys won “Best Alternative Album,” and Arcade Fire won the “Album of the Year.” So you see, I wasn’t completely in the dark after all!

I can’t share all the winners with you here, but I’ll give you a taste of some of them. And a few others that are just enjoyable to listen to.

Lady Antebellum, Need You Now. The winner of the Grammy for “Song of the Year” and “Record of the Year.” Over the past year, this group has rocketed to stardom in the country segment. They thanked God in front of the whole world, so kudos for that! They also have broader appeal, or they wouldn’t have won in this category. If you missed them last night, catch them here.

Arcade Fire, Sprawl II. This band won “Album of the Year” for The Suburbs Truthfully, the song they played on the show was hard on the eyes, what with stobe lights a flashin’ and BMX bikes running roughshod all over the stage. This song is markedly better as a showcase for this groups talents. Have a look,

Neil Young, Angry World. The winner of the Grammy for “Best Rock Song.” Remember my Neil Young music post? There I reported that Neil had never won a Grammy before and I was left scratching my head. No more, because Neil finally won(!) for this song last night. From his new album Le Noise, we get just Neil, his trusty Gretch White Falcon, and lyrics like these,

Some see life as hope eternal
Some see life as a business plan
Some will go to hell’s inferno
For screwing up their life in freedom land

Barbara Streisand, Evergreen. Not this years winner, but Barbara sang this back in 1976 and pulled down a Triple Crown: the Oscar for Best Song, the Grammy for Song of the Year, and the Golden Globe to boot. It’s a great song for Valentines Day!

Boz Scaggs, Lowdown.I remember this one from the radio. Boz won a Grammy in 1977 for this song, noted as “the first blue-eyed soul man to receive one for the R&B; category.” Have a listen and you’ll understand why.

Whitney Houston, I Will Always Love You. Remember this one? Written (and sung originally) by Dolly Parton, Whitney won a Grammy for “Album of the Year” in 1994 mainly because of this song from the soundtrack of the movie The Bodyguard. She co-starred with Kevin Costner as a threatened diva. A great song by Dolly and sung beautifully by Whitney. Just in time for Valentines Day too!

Pete Townsend, Give Blood. This song is from one of Pete’s solo album’s. It didn’t win a Grammy but I like it anyway. Great lyrics, and a great Grammy-like performance. Special guest David Gilmore of Pink Floyd on lead guitar. Awesome!

Happy Valentines Day!

For Faith in Action: Thomas Merton’s Letter to a 6th Grader

I don’t exactly remember where I found what follows, so forgive me for not providing footnotes. I was reading Jesuit Fr. Jim Martin’s, recent blog post reflecting on today’s gospel reading. The reading from Sirach applies as well.

The message is simple, yet paradoxically difficult, like most of the tenets of our faith. As Father Jim notes, it is simply “be kind.” Simple, but my kids (and I) are still working on doing this so it is not easy!

While pondering this message,  the memory of this kind letter written by Fr. Louis (Thomas Merton) to a school child popped into my head. 

I mention this also because someone sent me an e-mail yesterday looking for a book recommendation, and in my haste I must have deleted it, because I can’t find it anywhere. So whoever you are, please e-mail me again because I’m not being unkind in not replying to you. I just blew it, is all. Just another plank in my eye (he thought sheepishly).

And now, Father Louis has the floor,

Thomas Merton’s Letter to a 6th Grader named Susan

In 1967, Susan Chapulis, a sixth grader studying monasticism, wrote to Thomas Merton asking for “any information whatsoever” that she could share with her class. Merton replied:

Thanks for your nice letter. You want “any information whatsoever” to help the sixth grade in the study of monasticism. Well, I’ll see if I can get the brothers down in the store to send you a little book about the monastery here. That ought to help.

The monastic life goes back a long way. Monks are people who seek to devote all their time to knowing God better and loving Him more. For that reason they leave the cities and go out into lonely places where it is quiet and they can think. As they go on in life they want to find lonelier and lonelier places so they can think even more.

In the end people think these monks are really crazy going off by themselves and of course sometimes they are. On the other hand when you are quiet and when you are free from a lot of cares, when you don’t make enough money to pay taxes, and don’t have a wife to fight with, and when your heart is quiet, you suddenly realize that everything is extremely beautiful and that just by being quiet you can almost sense that God is right there not only with you but even in you. Then you realize that it is worth the trouble of going away where you don’t have to talk and mess around and make a darn fool of yourself in the middle of a lot of people who are running around in circles to no purpose.

I suppose that is why monks go off and live in lonely places. Like me now. I live alone in the woods with squirrels and rabbits and deer and foxes and a huge owl that comes down by my cabin and makes a spooky noise in the night, but we are friends and it is all ok. A monk who lives all by himself in the woods is called a hermit. There is a Rock ’n’ Roll outfit called Herman and his Hermits but they are not the same thing.

I do not suppose for a moment that you wish to become a hermit (though now I understand there are some girl hermits in England and they are sort of friends of mine because they are hermits, so I send them stuff about how to be a hermit). But anyway, I suggest that you sometimes be quiet and think about how good a thing it is that you are loved by God who is infinite and who wants you to be supremely happy and who in fact is going to make you supremely happy. Isn’t that something? It is, my dear, and let us keep praying that it will work out like that for everybody.

Good bye now.

Which reminds me of the old Shaker hymn,

For the Psalms and Spring, Family and Sports

It is getting ready to be a very busy time for me and my family. That’s because Spring is just around the corner, and around my house this means our children’s sports teams will begin hitting the ground running.

Not everyone gets involved in such things as sports for their kids. Not every child enjoys organized soccer, or baseball, or softball, volley ball, basketball, horse riding, or any of the other myriad possibilities to turn your child’s attention to.

So why do we even bother in our household? Joy in living is the only real reason that I can think of. That and the realization that though our children’s gifts and abilities are out of our hands, they should still be developed. Besides, everything we spend time doing matters.

It is a tight-rope and certainly there is a fine line between the healthy reasons for involving our children in sports, and the unhealthy turning of sports into an idol. On the positive side, for example, our oldest son has played organized baseball for 8 years, since he was 7 years old. As it turns out, he is pretty good at this game. Honestly, he is ten times better at it than I ever was.

How did this happen? I really have no idea. It is nothing that I expected. And let me assure you, my wife never saw this coming either. But God saw it coming, and of that fact I have no doubt. He has decided that, through our children, He will take my wife and I places that we never intended to go on our own.

And there is the riddle of our son’s gift, for example. Though endowed with excellent hand-eye coordination, and having an arm that can accurately throw thunderbolts, the most important characteristic of all isn’t even a physical one. It is that my son simply loves this game. And this love for it drives him to do things that only love can make him do.

Like get up early for practice, and study hard to keep up his grades. And endure practices that look like something that the Marine Corps would endorse. Sure, it wasn’t like that when he was in little league. That was all fun, and that is also where the seeds of this love were planted. But now that he has made the high school team, the love for the game has been tested by the fires of hard work and sweat. There is a spiritual message in all of this somewhere, I am sure.

As an aside, one of the great things about being Catholic is that we have never missed a Mass because of baseball, or any other sports games of my children either. Blessed to live in a diocese with more than one parish, Our Lord has also seen fit to provide more than one Mass said at each parish during the weekend across our area. The only excuse for missing a Mass is sloth, and thankfully, that hasn’t ever occurred.

One day, my son’s baseball career will come to an end, as all good things generally do. And on that day, my career as a baseball dad will end too. Life will go on. But until that day comes, I’ll keep supporting my children in these endeavors.

Because in the end, unless you measure things crudely in only utilitarian and materialistic terms, the benefits of participation in sports (or other extracurricular activities) far outweigh the negatives. Especially when you acknowledge that these abilities and talents being developed are gifts from God, and not of our own making.

I teach my children, and pray that they will remember, gratitude for these truths sung by the Psalmist,

I praise you, so wonderfully you made me;
wonderful are your works!
My very self you knew;
my bones were not hidden from you,
When I was being made in secret,
fashioned as in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes foresaw my actions;
in your book all are written down;
my days were shaped, before one came to be.
How precious to me are your designs, O God;
how vast the sum of them!
Were I to count, they would outnumber the sands;
to finish, I would need eternity.

And also this Song of Ascents of David, which is well suited to keep the soul of an athlete grounded in humility,

Psalm 131

LORD, my heart is not proud;
nor are my eyes haughty.
I do not busy myself with great matters,
with things too sublime for me.
Rather, I have stilled my soul,
hushed it like a weaned child.
Like a weaned child on its mother’s lap,
so is my soul within me.

Israel, hope in the LORD,
now and forever.