Comments of the Week – Avast there, Skipper!

Posted by Frank

No, it is not mutinous to correct your superior officer when they make a mistake. We consider this counseling our superior officer. You see, Webster pulled the plug early yesterday to head up to Vermont for a semi-long weekend. Trying to beat all the traffic streaming out of Boston, I suspect. So when he posted the Comments of the Week earlier today, he failed to notice that my post on my buddy Blaise Pascal garnered more comments than the Brother Sun, Sister Moon post from earlier this week.
Now, Blaise is a master of probability theory (duh!), and my post on his letter faced long-odds in catching up to BSSM in so short a time, so Webster is excused from missing this development. But let me be Frank (pun intended!) for a second and yell, belay that command, because Blaise and I pulled way ahead of your post Skipper. The YIMC reader base (we few, we happy few) actually, sorry to to say, skunked your post with 34 comments (now 35 thanks to Anthony “Tony” Layne) versus 22 for BSSM. Can you hear the Beach Boys tune Shut Down playing in the background? Forgive me Webster!

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Chalk it up to the subject matter of the posts, which are as different as night is from day. The subject of Blaise’s letter being death. And more specifically death from the Catholic perspective. Admittedly, it is a delicate subject and one for which none of us have all the answers. We are blessed though in that our little community offered up differing perspectives of the mystery of our lives and our eventual deaths.

Reader, and guest poster, EPG writes:

I admit I have my doubts about “the decree of providence” argument, at least to the extent that it applies to the particular circumstances of every death, in time, place and manner. For example, here in Florida, we recently had a notorious case in which a young girl was abducted from her home, raped, and then buried alive by a sexual predator who lived near her. It’s hard to see “the decree of providence” in that.

Perhaps it is better to think that God holds the handlebars of the universe lightly, and that, in creating a universe which included the possibility of free will, he allowed for all sorts of disasters, including room for individuals to commit evil, which may have consequences for those who happen to be near them.

(But then, theodicy (editor: the attempt to justify the behavior of God)is a thorny problem, and I don’t expect any of us to resolve that.)

Perhaps a better response is simply to acknowledge, at least in the case of premature death, that there is no answer except the cross and the empty tomb. Christians have the ability to say at least, “Look, we don’t understand the mystery of suffering and death, but we know that God shared in it on the Cross, and that the empty tomb tells us that death, however painful, does not have the last word.”

An anonymous reader gave us this news to contend with:

Hi, I love your columns and want to know what you would say to a mother whose 4 month old died of SIDS. She does not like to hear “God is in charge. He knew what he was doing when he took your son, or God needed another angel in heaven, or be glad because he has reached his goal with no sin on his soul…these are only driving her away from God.

Whereupon several of you responded in, what I hope, are helpful ways to this tragic, personal, and very particular circumstance. Jan from the blog Runs with Angels offered up these words of advice:

To anon – there is nothing you can say to someone who loses a child, especially unexpectedly. The only effective thing I’ve found is to listen very carefully to what the grieving say and take your cues from that. Always be ready to listen and gently guide through each episode, if you will. The only thing you can truly say is “I’m so very sorry.” Even if that is all you say, over and over, that is really all there is.

And an Anonymous reader offered this:

I understand your pain on losing a baby. If you look at the archives for this blog for Dec 16th, you’ll find a reference to the Youtube clip for “99 baloons” in the comments. Very Inspirational! (even 24 years later) for me. I lost a baby at two days of age – and I realize that losing a child at 4 months is a whole other experience. And I know this because my sister lost a nineteen year old! Please accept my prayers as you fold this tragedy into the tapestry of your life.

Helping one another bear the burdens of the Cross is why we are called to be members of Christ’s body through the Church. Reader “pinksy82″ shared a piece from Anne Dillard while “Athos” sent this link to a helpful little book on the matter which he authored.

The “comment of the week” award goes to Warren Jewell, our own Doctor Mellifluous who, now that I taught him how to cut and paste comments, is really letting us all benefit from his experience of walking along the narrow path of Catholic Christian faith. Warren, take it away:

Father Benedict Groeschel, after nearly dying in an auto-pedestrian accident, wrote that “There Are No Accidents’ – it IS all in God’s hands.

But, if circumstances – the dead child, most movingly – seem harsh, we become tentative to have God the Prime Mover of all, that God would permit, even cause such tragedy. That is an odd kind of arrogant reluctance, coming from souls who still very willingly put up the sins that put the very Son of God, humiliated, beaten and tortured, on His Cross.

And, yet, if in our weak and timid spirits God’s hand cannot seem to directly bring even death, He permits all that comes into motion that yields death, even of His most beloved innocents. Thus, the tortured child then buried alive began a few generations ago in the murderer’s family’s lessening moral strictures on such actions. God was there – He knew where it would lead and He let sinful human free will take its awful course. Then again, without God’s complicity in building me, I would have died before birth, short of say, lungs. It is decidedly a mixed bag, here, time-side, now that we have all sinned and come short of God’s direct Eden-like Presence and loving glory.

I am reminded of our crucified Savior’s words at Luke 13:2-5: “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered thus?
I tell you, No; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish.
Or those eighteen upon whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them, do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who dwelt in Jerusalem?
I tell you, No; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish.”

To Christ, there was this aspect to such a judgmental assessment: “Just who the Hades are YOU, to question God’s will with you, you sinners! Get out of His face, and repent or forever die, and leave His infinite will to Him, His eternal choices to Him. You have eyes – SEE – You have ears – LISTEN – and accept whatever the Father gives you that He may save you.”

And, thus does every prayer have its humble completion and move toward sublime perfection in the clause “. . . and Thy will be done.”

Amen! Keep these comments coming as Webster and I keep answering the question Why I Am Catholic to the best of our ability.

While pondering the mysteries of life and death after writing this post and reading these comments, a friend, former comrade-at-arms, and YIM Catholic Face Book fan posted this video of The Verve performing their song Bittersweet Symphony on his Facebook page. Somehow, it seems very fitting that I include it here for your enjoyment and as a conclusion to this homage to our dear readers. May God bless us all, each one of us!

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Because of Blaise Pascal’s Letter upon the Death of his Father

Webster has been serving at funerals lately, one in early December and one just a few days ago. And in a prediction that is all too likely to come to fruition, he believes he will attend the funeral of at least one dear friend this year. Reading these posts, I reflect on the fragility of human life and the sudden impact on our loved ones lives when we depart this mortal coil.

A sudden death, an accidental death, the unexpected death is always a shocker. Others are blessed with an illness—or maybe it’s not a blessing, to see the train enter the station that will inevitably bear them away. There is pain, and suffering in the long drawn-out route to eternity. [Read more...]

Because the Church Needs a Few Good Men (and Women)

Posted by Frank
Yesterday, as I writing Part 6 in the series on my conversion, I re-read something that Thomas à Kempis wrote that motivated me to become a Catholic Christian. In chapter 25 of The Imitation of Christ he writes:

There is one thing that keeps many from zealously improving their lives, that is, dread of the difficulty, the toil of battle.

I read or hear words like this and the theme music of Onward Christian Soldiers starts playing in my head; and I think to myself, “Where do I go to sign up?!” Thomas continues on with this,

Certainly they who try bravely to overcome the most difficult and unpleasant obstacles far outstrip others in the pursuit of virtue. A man makes the most progress and merits the most grace precisely in those matters wherein he gains the greatest victories over self and mortifies his will. True, each one has his own difficulties to meet and conquer, but a diligent and sincere man will make greater progress even though he have more passions than one who is more even-tempered but less concerned about virtue.

These don’t sound like the words of some namby-pamby cloistered monk, now, do they? His last sentence seems to be a call to arms for guys like me! Monsignor Charles Pope has a piece up over at the Archdiocese of Washington website today entitled “The Priest is a Soldier in the Army of the Lord”. As I wrote once before here, those called to Holy Orders , to my mind anyway, are the Officer Corps of the Church. And as Webster wrote just yesterday, without priests, there is no ball game.

Monsignor Pope says the priests are the soldiers, and I say he’s right, because St. Peter said so too. But we lay Catholics are all called to “the royal priesthood,” as well. Shown here is one of my favorite recruiting posters from the pre–WW II era Marine Corps. The same motto could be used for Catholic Christians and those who are feeling the call to the faith as well. Want Action? Join the Catholic Church!

Not to disrespect any of our female readers (whom we dearly love!), but gentlemen—the Church Militant needs you! Now! You want action, don’t you? Well, what army is worth anything without the grizzled non-commissioned officers, the First Sergeants, the Chief Petty Officers, the very backbone of the organization playing a major role? That army is calling guys like Mike and Ferde, and now Webster and me. I would think that without us, it is something less than it can and should be. Have Catholic men been asleep at our posts?

In St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians he exhorts all Christians to—

Put on the armor of God so that you may be able to stand firm against the tactics of the devil. For our struggle is not with flesh and blood but with the principalities, with the powers, with the world rulers of this present darkness, with the evil spirits in the heavens.

What’s that you say? You hadn’t noticed we’re at war?

Therefore, put on the armor of God, that you may be able to resist on the evil day, and having done everything, to hold your ground. So stand fast with your loins girded in truth, clothed with righteousness as a breastplate, and your feet shod in readiness for the gospel of peace. In all circumstances, hold faith as a shield, to quench all the flaming arows of the evil one. And take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

See your parish recruiting office today!

To Be Frank, Part 6, “The Imitation of Christ” II

I left off last time with the first chapter of The Imitation of Christ from my personal library and the Harvard Five-Foot Shelf of Books and a photograph of a rough-hewn and de-carpeted staircase. In that condition, the staircase served the function of getting from the downstairs to the upstairs, but nothing more than that. Maybe there is a metaphor in that rough-hewn and merely functional staircase.

At the time, though, I wasn’t concerned about metaphors. I knew only that I had waited long enough. I had gathered all the materials, and now it was time to get to work making this a functional and (hopefully) beautiful staircase. One that would be pleasing to my wife (and thus “good enough” for me). Maybe there is a metaphor in this after all!

Reading through these devotions by à Kempis were having an effect on me. And pretty quickly, I stopped fighting this because nothing I was reading raised any warning flags whatsoever. If this is what Catholicism has to offer, what’s the matter? And as I ripped up the old treads on the staircase and started replacing them with new, freshly cut treads, the staircase rehabilitation as metaphor for my own rehabilitation started playing out through the work of my hands and through the work of my heart.And trust me, I get a lump in my throat writing this because guys aren’t supposed to have feelings like this. Not about religion. Least of all coming from some hard-charging Marine! I didn’t think so at the time, anyway, and thankfully, I think differently now. But I had survived a life-changing event that had left me wondering “what now Lord?”

Which really meant “what’s in store for me now Lord?”or more accurately, “What’s in it (life) for me Lord?” And as I worked as a rookie carpenter, I turned to the Bible, Blaise’s Pensées, The Imitation of Christ and prayer. Prayer for direction in my life, prayer for guidance and understanding of why I was spared (when several of my comrades weren’t.) Prayer like what the character Lt. Dan, in the movie Forrest Gump says as he is crying on the floor with no legs: “What am I gonna do now? I had a destiny!”

And then I read the following from the last chapter of the first section of The Imitation. The chapter is entitled Zeal in Amending Our Lives and though Thomas (we’re on a first name basis now) is writing about those who have recently been cloistered, it applied to me just the same:

Be watchful and diligent in God’s service and often think of why you left the world (California)and came here. Was it not that you might live for God and become a spiritual man? Strive earnestly for perfection, then, because in a short time you will receive the reward for your labor, and neither fear nor sorrow shall come upon you at the hour of death.”

Perhaps it was that, too. I had thought it was for better public schools and cheaper housing and all the temporal concerns that go along with that etc., etc. But maybe this was the real reason. Thomas continued,

Labor a little now, and soon you will find great rest, in truth, eternal joy; for if you continue faithful and diligent in doing, God will undoubtedly be faithful and generous in rewarding. Continue to have reasonable hope of salvation, but do not act as though you are certain of it lest you grow indolent and proud.

Next, Thomas segues into a story that might as well have been from “Thoughts from the mind of Frank”:

One day when a certain man who wavered often and anxiously between hope and fear was struck with sadness, he knelt in humble prayer before the altar of a church. While meditating on these things, he said:”Oh if I but knew if I should persevere until the end!” Instantly he heard within the divine answer: “If you knew this, what would you do? Do now what you would do then and you will be quite secure.”

Keep it simple, stupid. And for good measure, Thomas adds,

Remember the purpose you have taken and keep in mind the image of the Crucified. Even though you may have walked many years on the pathway to God, you may well be ashamed if, with the image of Christ before you, you do not try to make yourself still more like Him…Always remember your end and do not forget that lost time never returns.

I had been baptized since I was ten, and my mother had been a great example to me growing up in a Christian household. But what about after I left the nest? “Lost time never returns” really struck a chord with me.

How much time had I lost due to arrogance, spiritual pride and stiff-necked resistance to the Church? Well, I married a nice Catholic girl in 1989 and seeing how it was 2007 when I read this passage, I had basically been spinning my wheels spiritually for at least eighteen (18!) years. Add on eight (8!) more from the time I left “the nest” before I got married and now we’re talking twenty-six (26!) luke-warm years altogether. The accident that took the lives of two of my comrades, and killed my “destiny” of becoming a Marine Officer (and almost killed me too) took place in 2001, so six (6!) of those years of wheel spinning, post-accident, is near incomprehensible!

One of my favorite quotes by a heroic military figure is one attributed to Lord Admiral Horatio Nelson during the heyday of the Royal Navy:

Time is everything; five minutes makes the difference between victory and defeat.

I can’t help thinking of that after the quote above and again as Thomas puts the finishing touch on this chapter with these words:

If you have spent the day profitably, you will always be happy at eventide. Watch over yourself, arouse yourself, warn yourself, and regardless of what becomes of others, do not neglect yourself. The more violence you do to yourself, the more progress you will make.

At this point, as I was putting the finishing touches on my staircase, a voice inside my head, (my voice?), said “haven’t you waited long enough? Waste not one second more!”

Next time: The prodding of both Blaise and Thomas lead me to a modern Cistercian named Father Louis, and to look for a job.

Because of Practical Instruction Like This

Posted by Frank
Yesterday, Webster posted this note about the close friendship of Saints Basil and Gregory. Back in the middle of December 2009, Webster penned this note with the title Because of “Such a Friend” where the subject of male friendships surfaced as a topic for discussion. I bring this up because I posted the following comment to that discussion:

They (the Disciples) junked the “think only of myself” model and exchanged it for the “two greatest commandments” model. “Love the Lord your God with all of your heart, soul, mind and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.” Say this to yourself as a mantra and I guarantee your decision making matrix will change.

From the Office of Readings in the LOTH this morning, I was surprised to see St. Augustine flesh out what I had thought was an original idea (Qoheleth is laughing now) over 1600 years before I could possibly have even thought it! Relieved, then, is probably a more accurate description of how I felt. In one of his tractates (lectures) on the Gospel of John he writes:

The Lord himself came, the Teacher of love, full of love, “shortening the word upon the earth”, as it was foretold he would do. He showed that from the two precepts of love depend the whole of the Law and the prophets.

Yes, I remember the passage he is alluding to where Our Lord and a scholar of the law have this discussion in the Gospel of Matthew (22:36-40). Augustine continues on as follows,

What are these two commandments? Join me, my brethren, in recollecting them. They ought to be thoroughly familiar to you and not just come to your mind when we recite them: they ought never to be blotted out from your hearts. Always and everywhere, bear in mind that you must love God and your neighbor, “love God with all your heart, and with all your soul, with all your mind, and love your neighbor as you would love yourself.”

We must always ponder these words, meditate them, hold them in our minds, practice them, and bring them to fruition.

Which is what I suggested in my comment above. A take on the exhortation of the Apostle Paul to “pray without ceasing” from his letter to the Thessalonians. He continues,

As far as teaching is concerned, the love of God comes first; but as far as doing is concerned, the love of your neighbor comes first.

Yes! As James “the slave of Christ” exhorts in his letter, “Be doers of the word and not hearers only, deluding yourselves.” (James 1:22)

Whoever sets out to teach you these two commandments of love must not commend your neighbor to you first and then God, but God first and then your neighbor.

Put first things first!

You, on the other hand, do not yet see God, but loving your neighbor will bring you that sight. By loving your neighbor, you purify your eyes so that they are ready to see God as John clearly says: “If you do not love your brother, whom you see, how can you love God, whom you don’t see?”

I have much work to do on this front, believe me! Who doesn’t? But again I am grateful for the Communion of the Saints and the practical, day-to-day examples and simple instruction they give me to living a Christian life in this world.

P.S. St. Augustine wrote 124 lectures on the 21 chapters Gospel of John. You can find them here.

Because of the Pleasure of Finding Things Out

Posted by Frank
I am sitting in a friend’s house in Southern California surrounded by books one minute into New Year’s Day. My friends are devout Catholics and have many volumes that are of interest to me. Everything from The Curé d’Ars, St. Jean-Marie Baptiste Vianney to a pamphlet entitled Confession: A Little Book for the Reluctant.

There are books here, and in my public library at home, covering the whole spectrum of Catholic Christianity. I could spend weeks, months, a lifetime reading through these selections. And I intend to do so. This quote by Horace Walpole sums up my experience since I started this journey in 2006:

The whole secret of life is to be interested in one thing profoundly and in a thousand things well.

Which brings me to the title of this post, taken from a book in the library here written by the physicist Richard P. Feynman. I’m not really interested in Feynman’s book, but his title is apt for my purposes: The Pleasure of Finding Things Out. With the Bible and the Liturgy of the Hours in one hand, and volume after volume of great works that illuminate them both in the other, I find myself a happy Catholic ready to celebrate a Happy New Year.

St. Augustine’s Confessions? Barely got past the dust cover, so that is on my “bucket list” of Catholic books to read. Aquinas? Looking forward to it. I’ve read de Osuna’s Third Spiritual Alphabet, and that is outstanding. Webster likes the Catholic fiction like Kristin Lavrinsdatter, while I really enjoy the nonfiction works of the Early Church Fathers.

I’ll probably read this one this year as well: The Grunt Padre, the biography of Lt. Vincent Capadonno, USNR, a Roman Catholic Chaplain who was awarded the Medal of Honor serving with the 5th Marines in Vietnam.

Learning about our Faith is a real joy. What is on your Catholic-book bucket list for this year? Now, to bed and up early for the Tournament of Roses Parade. Happy New Year and Happy Reading!

Because of the Feast Day of the Holy Family

For the past ten days, I have been on vacation visiting friends and family in Southern California—immersed in domestic life in a manner more up close and personal than usual. Sometimes I am at a loss to understand what my children are doing and where they are coming from. But I don’t leave them wondering where my wife and I are coming from.
That is why I am glad this is the Feast Day of the Holy Family. I could use some uplifting words on the vocation of parenting right about now, and I’m sure my wife could too! And I look forward to my children hearing these words as well.
Following our successful visit to the Mission of San Juan Capistrano and playing in the waves and watching the sun set at Doheney State Beach, times got a bit rocky with my children. As I wrote here, my kids (14 in a few days, 10, and 8) are “in the know” regarding Santa Claus. As Christmas Day rapidly approached, there were a number of less than kind remarks regarding the paucity of gifts sitting under the tree at grandma & grandpa’s house.
Forget about the logistics of carting presents from Tennessee to Southern California, or back for that matter. My wife and I gave plenty of advance notice that the cost of this trip would be steep in a tough economy, but that mattered little to the 13-and-under crowd. Sure, buying gifts for others upon arrival would be good, but “What about us” is what my children were saying between the lines.
Which makes the Holy Family story that much more needed for me and my family this year. The antiphon to the Invitatory Psalm intonesLet us worship Christ, the Son of God, who made himself obedient to Mary and to Joseph.Consider the antiphon while also considering that Jesus is God. . . . He [God] obeyed the two human beings entrusted with his care for close to thirty years before he “left the nest.” That is the message that our children need to hear today—not just from me and my wife, but from the Church. Madison Avenue and network television aren’t sending this message, and I’m pretty sure that the government botches the message too.

The next line from the LOTH that struck me is Luke 2:41, which reads,
Each year the parents of Jesus went to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover.This indicates that the Holy Family were practicing their faith regularly, not sporadically. The lives of the Holy Family revolved around worshiping God, and that is the model for us to emulate too: Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness . ..Flash back to last evening when I informed my eldest son that I would be waking him up early in the morning so that we could go to Mass (0700) before heading off to day 1 of a four-day baseball camp (0900 = show time) Merry Christmas, kiddo! Was his reaction angelic beatitude? More like Sturm und Drang. It was definitely an example of amour-propre in action.

But despite the sound and the fury of my eldest, I find comfort in the fact that Mary and Joseph lived their faith in a manner that is the very model of this verse from Deuteronomy 6:5,

Therefore, you shall love the LORD, your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your strength.

This commandment (note the word shall and not may in the verse) gives me the strength to ignore the whining, grumbling, and complaining of my children while staying focused on Commander’s Intent (see verse above). The Church understands this commandment because it makes sure there are ample opportunities for the rank and file like me to keep the Sabbath Holy—masses beginning on Saturday evenings and running through Sunday. Sounds like Semper Fidelis in action.

I find comfort in knowing that,

The boy grew in wisdom and in stature and the grace of God was with him.

That is my prayer for my children, yesterday, today, and tomorrow. Though Christian churches of every flavor celebrate the importance of parenting, this is another example of an idea coming full circle, with completeness and amazing grace, within the Catholic Church when it marks a Feast Day celebrating the importance of family and the vocations of both parents and children.

The Short Reading from Deuteronomy 5:16 from today’s LOTH is right on the mark again:

Honor you father and mother, as the Lord God has commanded you, so that you may have long life and may prosper in the land that the Lord your God gives to you.

Amen, and thanks be to God!

Because Going To Mass On Vacation Is Easy II

If you think that I have already had my fair share of going to Mass on this trip to Southern California, you would be wrong. In fact, I can’t get enough of what the Church has to offer, even when I am on vacation.

I have a confession to make: I go to daily mass as often as I can. And trust me, it isn’t because I feel “holier than thou” doing it. I feel relieved when I go. For those of you who can’t go daily because of time constraints or lack of opportunity (no parish nearby), I can understand. But in my case, there is a parish within walking distance from where I work and it holds Mass daily at 12:10 p.m., right in the heart of my lunch hour. So I usually just go.

Before I was Catholic, it never even dawned on me to go to Church every day. I heard about this practice when my wife told me her aunt would go daily (years before I became a Catholic) and I distinctly remember thinking to myself what a waste of time and energy! Get a life, people! But now, I see what she was up to and I think I understand.

So, I wake up each morning and start my day by reading the Liturgy of the Hours and the daily Mass readings. This has become a routine for me too, after being welcomed into the Church. It gives me great consolation to pray the LOTH and sometimes it ignites the spark for a post, or two. But it doesn’t supplant the desire for receiving “my daily bread” in the form of the Eucharist.

This morning I discovered that a parish nearby has daily mass at 8:30 a.m., and having found this out at 7:40 a.m., there was no doubt where I would be come 8:30. I thank one of my wife’s friends, who we met for dinner last night (and who invited us to Christmas Eve Mass) for alerting me that there was a parish nearby: St. John Eudes Parish in Chatsworth. I did a Google search and discovered it was a whopping mile and a half from where we are staying on this leg of our trip.

It never ceases to amaze me that I am not alone at these daily Masses. This morning there were at least 60 other people there with me. I pulled into the parking lot and had to search for a place to park. The first time I went to the daily Mass back home, I was stunned to find 20 people there. I figured it would just be the priest and me.

So, whew, I got to go to Mass this morning! Now to breakfast and then off to the “adventure du jour,” the Wild Animal Park of the San Diego Zoo. World renowned, an absolute must see, the stories we were going to be able to tell and the pictures we could share! It was going to be fantastic! And then . . . we got stuck in traffic.

Chatsworth isn’t exactly a few minutes from Escondido, where this attraction is located, even if there aren’t 8 million other drivers on the road trying to get to other places at the same time. As we slogged slowly southward, I saw signs announcing how long it would take to get to certain landmarks that make sense only to people who live in Southern California. Like “91 Freeway—30 Minutes” and that is when we were still 3 miles from intersecting the 605 Freeway. Have I lost you? Probably.

Suffice it to say that the trip to the Wild Animal Park was not looking good. And I wasn’t looking forward to the prospect of paying the lofty admission price and then trying to squeeze all the pleasure out of my money’s worth before the park closed in the three hours that would be left by the time we got there. I had clear visions of stress and unhappiness if this mission was continued.

So I adapted, improvised, and overcame (Marines are good at that) because the “natives were restless” (being in a car for two hours in traffic feels like eight hours when you are 13 and under) and exited the freeway in San Juan Capistrano and headed to the Mission located there. Yep—we went to Church!

We spent three and a half hours at the Mission in San Juan Capistrano and not one minute felt rushed. Ten acres of beautiful grounds, and gardens and historic ruins and chapels. I learned how the Mission was founded on All Saints Day in 1776 and how Abraham Lincoln deeded the property back to the Catholic Church two weeks before he was assassinated.

I learned too that 40 worshipers had been killed when an earthquake in 1812 destroyed the The Great Stone Church built in 1797. The ruins of that building are still amazing to see today and were decorated with a beautiful nativity scene shown here.

I learned that San Juan of Capistrano is the Spanish form of Saint John of Capistrano or, in Italian, Giovanni da Capistrano. He is pretty “hard corps” as well—known as “the Soldier Saint” because he defeated the Ottoman Turks at the Siege of Belgrade in 1456 when he was, get this, 70 years old! That is probably why he only carried a red banner and a crucifix into battle, armor and a shield being too heavy, I bet.

Although the Turks didn’t kill him, and he was victorious in battle, bubonic plague took him in the end. He had been a lawyer before becoming a Franciscan friar and a renowned preacher. He is the patron saint of jurists. He once spoke to a crowd of over 126,000—more people than can fit in the Rose Bowl—and long before there were microphones, sound systems, etc.

And we haven’t even talked about Fray Junipero Serra, who established the entire chain of Missions in Alta California. Fr. Serra was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1988. Every school child in California knows about Fr. Serra when they complete their 4th Grade Mission project for history class. I’m not sure if public school children complete these projects too, but I know that all the Catholic school kids do. And the Mission sells kits to help you complete these projects just like the Boy Scout shop sells kits for Pinewood Derby cars.

And my kids? They got to run around the grounds and get their ya-ya’s out on one hand, while getting to say prayers and light candles on the other. They loved seeing the koi swimming in the fountains, and the way the Spanish soldiers’ barracks were turned out. And they were amazed to see a bride and groom having their photographs made in the stunningly beautiful little chapel while hearing stories about how their Mom and Dad came here as newlyweds over twenty years ago too. They chased Monarch butterflies and later chased waves as we watched the sun set into the Pacific Ocean from the sands of Doheny State Beach. Mission (pun intended) accomplished!

Yes, going to Mass on vacation is easy. You never know where or what it may lead you to. But so far, it has always led me to green pastures while restoring my soul.

To Be Frank, Part 5, “The Imitation of Christ”

Posted by Frank
I mentioned in the last post in this series that I was jumping from the frying pan and into the fire when I set aside Blaise Pascal’s Pensées and picked up The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis. Keep in mind that my intended mission in all this reading was to come up with ammunition proving how misguided and error-filled Catholicism is.

As Webster has written in an earlier post, there are many pathways to God. He cited this exchange between our Pope, Benedict XVI, and journalist Peter Seewald:

Seewald: How many ways are there to God?
Cardinal Ratzinger: As many as there are people. For even within the same faith each man’s way is an entirely personal one. . . .


The funny thing about that quote is that one of the main things I intended to try to prove was that the personal relationship with God was missing-in-action in the Catholic Church. So when I picked The Imitation of Christ off the Harvard Five-Foot Shelf, I was completely unprepared for the depth and breadth of personal relationship with Christ that is possible from the Catholic perspective.

Let’s just take a look at the outline of the book, in four parts as follows:

Book One: Thoughts Helpful in the Life of the Soul
Book Two: The Interior Life
Book Three: Internal Consolation
Book Four: An Invitation to Holy Communion

I haven’t even read a word yet, but already I know that there is going to be much rich food here. Book One for example has 25 chapters, most of which are the length of a short essay. Here are the first few titles: Imitating Christ and Disposing All Vanities on Earth, Having a Humble Opinion of Self (Marines are known for humility, not!), The Doctrine of Truth, Prudence in Action, Reading the Holy Scripture, Unbridled Affections, Avoiding False Hope and Pride, Shunning Over-Familiarity, and so on.

The book begins with the following sentence comprised mostly of a verse from John (8:12),

“He who follows Me walks not in darkness” says the Lord.

Uh-oh, I’m about to be schooled in scripture by a Catholic again!

Thomas continues as follows:

By these words of Christ we are advised to imitate His life and habits, if we wish to be truly enlightened and free from all blindness of heart. Let our chief effort, therefore, be to study the life of Jesus Christ.

I’m already thinking that this makes all kinds of sense. Who better a model to study than Jesus? This guy is on to something.

The teaching of Christ is more excellent than all the advice of the saints, and he who has His spirit will find in it a hidden manna. Now, there are many who hear the Gospel often but care little for it because they have not the spirit of Christ. Yet whoever wishes to understand fully the words of Christ must try to pattern his whole life on that of Christ.

There are plenty of times where “the words of Christ” are downright painful to hear, especially when you start trying to put them in practice. With that idea in mind, Thomas hits me with paragraph #3:

What good does it do to speak learnedly about the Trinity if, lacking humility, you displease the Trinity? Indeed it is not learning that makes a man holy and just, but a virtuous life makes him pleasing to God. I would rather feel contrition than know how to define it. For what would it profit us to know the whole Bible by heart and the principles of all the philosophers if we live without grace and the love of God? Vanity of vanities and all is vanity, except to love God and serve Him alone.

I love the Old Testament book Ecclesiastes, so “vanity of vanities” strikes a chord with me immediately. Then Thomas throws paragraph #4 at me,

This is the greatest wisdom — to seek the kingdom of heaven through contempt of the world. It is vanity, therefore, to seek and trust in riches that perish. It is vanity also to court honor and to be puffed up with pride. It is vanity to follow the lusts of the body and to desire things for which severe punishment later must come. It is vanity to wish for long life and to care little about a well-spent life. It is vanity to be concerned with the present only and not to make provision for things to come. It is vanity to love what passes quickly and not to look ahead where eternal joy abides.

OK. After that paragraph, I’m on the ropes and stumbling around like some rookie fighter who has wandered into the ring with the mid-1960s Muhammed Ali. Sheesh! And this fight is only going for one round because paragraph 5 settles it with a knock out punch:

Often recall the proverb: “The eye is not satisfied with seeing nor the ear filled with hearing.”(Ecclesiastes 1:8) Try, moreover, to turn your heart from the love of things visible and bring yourself to things invisible. For they who follow their own evil passions stain their consciences and lose the grace of God.

It’s time to get back to work on these stairs, if I can think straight after this bout!

Next time: The stairs are done, but I am not.

Because Going To Mass On Vacation Is Easy

One of the neatest things about being Catholic is that I can go to Mass anywhere in the world and feel comfortable. I never felt that way beforehand. Growing up as a non-denominational Christian, we visited other churches rarely and when we did, it felt weird.

As a result, when on vacation we just skipped church. We didn’t know anyone, and we really weren’t missing anything except a sermon and who knew if that was going to be any good? When visiting relatives, if it happened to be a Sunday, we would sometimes attend with them, so there was a modicum of safety from being singled out as potential new members.

But if we didn’t know anyone? Nope. What was the point? We were just passing through and the fellowship of our local church would be absent and we would be like strangers and stick out like sore thumbs.

Now that I’m a Catholic, I love visiting other parishes! And I know that the fellowship of our home parish community is not the big draw anyway. The big draw is Christ and His Presence in the Eucharist. We don’t need to know anyone locally because the most important Person there knows us backwards and forwards.

The photograph above is of St. Peter Claver Church in Simi Valley, California. Full disclosure: we attended this parish the other night with my wife’s family for Simbang Gabi, a Filipino Advent Vigil Mass traditionally held before Christmas. And thanks to my in-laws, we enjoyed a catered dinner complete with Filipino dishes with about 200 of our new parish “friends.” Neat!


The second photograph is of the Blessed Sacrament Parish in Seattle, Washington. We attended services there this past summer when I attended a conference in that city. Run by Dominican Friars, it featured a homily given by someone dressed like St. Anthony of Padua.

Aside from a few nuances here or there, the Mass follows the same format as in our home parish, and you can count on that worldwide. Dominicans are known for their skills as preachers, so the homily was quite good too.

I have had friends who are not Catholic ask me about visiting a Catholic Church. I’ve told them that it is a very comfortable experience because if you don’t call any attention to yourself, no one will bother you. Heck, for all they know you are a super-devout contemplative so engrossed in your prayer life that they wouldn’t think of bothering you. Or if you are the outgoing type, you’d probably be welcomed like a long-lost family member and given the grand tour of the building. Now that is hospitality!


The last photograph is of St. James Cathedral in Seattle. When my family and I attended mass here, we were asked if we would bring up the gifts of bread and wine that would become the Blessed Sacrament. I said the only thing I could say: Absolutely! Yes!

Did we know where to stand or any other particulars? No. Did we know anyone there? Not a soul, except Our Lord. And when the time came for us to present the Gifts, all went well and without a hitch. What a blessing to have even been asked!

And that is how it is when we are on vacation on the West Coast now. We go to Church as a family. We’ve even been late for the English-speaking Mass and sat through a Spanish Mass before. Did I understand the words in the liturgy and homily? No. But everything that really matters we understood just fine.

This is yet another of the graces and benefits of belonging to the largest Christian Church in the world. Thanks be to God.


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