Dispatches From A Holy Land Pilgrimage…

Church of the Transfiguration

Church of the Transfiguration, Mount Tabor*

Let us go to the place where His feet have stood (Psalm 132:7).

That short verse (from Eusebius’s Greek translation of the psalm) sums up the entire reason for coming to the Holy Land. [Read more...]

To Leave the Shackles of Human History Behind

Image credit: Adam Cuerden.

“Hancock at Gettysburg,” credit: Adam Cuerden.

 

It is ironic to run a post with a title claiming that one of the reasons Why I Am Catholic is to leave history behind. Especially when I have written in the past that one of the main reasons why I am Catholic today is because of Church history. Let me explain this paradox. [Read more...]

“The Quest for the True Cross.” What a Movie That Would Make!

“Glorification of the Cross,” Adam Elsheimer

As you may know, today is the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. I found a pretty good short piece on the finding of the Holy Cross over at Magnificat. But as usual, I went looking for more. Whoa…Mr. Spielberg? I’ve found material for your next project. This would make an epic screen play! Take a look.

from The Finding of the Cross by Louis de Combes,

excerpted from Chapter IV, “The Recovery of the True Cross” [Read more...]

Because God Became Human To Save Us All

The title of this post says it all. Why bother becoming a Christian unless you believe this? “God became human to save us all.” And if you do believe it, why not practice the ancient faith of the earliest Christians? The one that, despite criticisms attempting to prove the opposite, has developed since Christ ascended to heaven, and yet has not done so at the expense of Biblical (and doctrinal) truth.

This post is not an attempt to explain all of that. That is what this blog, and a lifetime of study, prayer, and reflection, is for. Today though, just for a few minutes, pause from all the crises and craziness of your daily life to ponder the fact that God became a human being. [Read more...]

Because of Thomas Merton, OCSO (January 31, 1915 – December 10, 1968)

This is part VII of my conversion story, tagged as 2BFrank in the Tag Cloud. I run it every year on this day to commemorate the death of Thomas Merton, who was also known as Father Louis.

Yes, I am well aware that he is not a canonized saint, but the salient point about Fr. Louis’ life is not whether he was a good Catholic, or a bad Catholic. The main thing isn’t even that his writings helped bring me into the Church. [Read more...]

For Help Reading Maps Correctly

Jesuit map of the world, 17th century (Public Domain).

I have a friend who can’t understand why I enjoy being a Catholic.

From discussions I have had with him, it appears that he believes I am now enslaved by an organization that is run by a tyrant who bears the title of “Pope.” I reckon that his libertarian tendencies bristle at the very idea of submitting to an authority, even if that authority is ordained  and conferred by Christ Himself.

Now before you go and start thinking Frank is using hillbilly colloquial speech by using the word reckon, let me put on my Anu Garg hat and have a look at this particular word. Here is what the Merriam Webster Dictionary says about it,

Reckon transitive verb
Definition of reckon
1
a: count <to reckon the number of days days till Christmas>
b: estimate, compute <reckon the height of a building, etc.>
c: to determine by reference to a fixed basis
Example-

the existence of the United States is reckoned from the Declaration of Independence
2: to regard or think of as: consider
3
chiefly dialect : think, suppose < I reckon I’ve outlived my time — Ellen Glasgow>

intransitive verb

1: to settle accounts
2: to make a calculation
3
a: judge
b: chiefly dialect: suppose, think
4: to accept something as certain: place reliance reckon on your promise to help.

I hope you can see from this that using the word reckon in a sentence is not something that only hillbillies from Tennessee do. Because surely you can see that this word has many different meanings, and shades of meaning. And notice the reference to the Declaration of Independence, which for the purposes of this post fits where I’m going to the “T.”

There is another use of the root word reckon that may help shed some light on where I’m going with this post as well. This word is really a phrase that has to do with the science of navigation. Let’s take a look at Merriam Webster again,

Dead reckoning noun
Definition of Dead Reckoning

1: the determination without the aid of celestial observations of the position of a ship or aircraft from the record of the courses sailed or flown, the distance made, and the known or estimated drift
2: guesswork
— dead reckon (verb)

First Known Use of Dead Reckoning: 1613

Dead reckoning is nice, and all, but you wouldn’t board an airline flight if you thought the pilot was just taking the plane up for a spin without any detailed flight plan to get you where you were going, would you? And lookee there at the second definition of the word. In the navigation business, guesswork can get you killed.

Now, I’m removing the scholarly and erudite looking Anu Garg hat and putting on my Tennessee hillbilly “common sense” hat to say that this here fancy phrase-word means nothin’ more than “flying by the seat of your pants.” Heck, you might even be plumb lost, “but yer jes too proud to stop at the gaas stayshun to ask that feller for directions, I reckon.” See?

What’s that? You can read a map all by yourself you say? You don’t need any help reading maps? Well, I would really like to believe that about you but my own experience has been different. I almost never get lost, geographically speaking. Just ask my wife. And I’ve spent an awful long time in the map room too and I love reading maps as well. But in my practical, real world experience of actually navigating out in the field as a Marine? I know that some people read maps wrong. Dead wrong.

And they were reading the same maps that I had, too. I can’t even remember how many times I have had to point this out to lost Lieutenants, Captains, and sometimes even Majors, when I was out in the field in the Marines. And to PFC’s, Lance Corporal’s, and even Sergeants sometimes too, as they were learning land navigation skills. And this assumes you are using current maps that were drawn and printed recently. True story time. This may shock you, but I even knew a Captain in my artillery battery who got lost routinely(!) even when he was using GPS. I kid you not! So don’t argue to me that the latest technology will absolutely guarantee that you will make it to your intended destination.

Now, what if the map you are using today is ancient? You know, like you are using one that looks something like Blackbeard’s treasure map, or the one from Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic book Treasure Island. You can see that there is an X that marks the spot of the treasure but not much more detail than that.

Well, if I were you, and I found a map like this, I would track down and find the guy who buried the treasure who, as it turns out, is also the same guy who drew the map, and I’d say,

Lookee here, I can’t make head nor tales of where in the world this here treasure is from a readin’ your map all by myself. Show me how to read this map and take me to the place where “X” marks the spot.

That is where the Catholic Church comes in see? She made the map, and she knows where the treasure chest is. Sure, I can read that Treasure Island map too, but it’s lacking in a few details, or didn’t you notice? How long have you been reading that map and you didn’t notice this?! Now, the Church knows where the treasure is buried, because She was there when the chest was put into the ground. And She was there when it ascended up into Heaven too.

She knows that the treasure resides in each and every one of us now, so the map isn’t a geographical one, see, but an internal one. As G.K. Chesterton explains so well,

The Catholic Church carries a sort of map of the mind which looks like the map of a maze, but which is in fact a guide to the maze. It has been compiled from knowledge which, even considered as human knowledge, is quite without any human parallel.

There is no other case of one continuous intelligent institution that has been thinking about thinking for two thousand years. Its experience naturally covers nearly all experiences; and especially nearly all errors. The result is a map in which all the blind alleys and bad roads are clearly marked, all the ways that have been shown to be worthless by the best of all evidence: the evidence of those who have gone down them.

Now back to my friend, who has a “give me liberty, or give me death” bent that would make even Patrick Henry seem squishy on the concept of freedom. Free will is a wonderful gift from God. Knowing that you can’t read maps and need help navigating is another one of those gifts. But wait, there is more.

In my little mind, the knowledge that Christ himself founded the Church and put a human being in charge of it while She is here on earth gives me a warm and fuzzy feeling inside. The kind of feeling I get when I think of my mother comforting me after the time when I had gotten lost at the county fair one year when I was little. When she found me, she gave me the biggest hug ever, and boy did I need that too! And to me this is similar to the kind of feeling I got when I was in the Marines and was serving under a great Commandant, or good commander. It is a feeling of confidence and joy that I am in good hands, even if the mission I was involved in might lead to my physical death.

Allison recently wrote a post about her search for answers about the Kingdom of God. I don’t know if my freedom loving friend thinks about the fact that this kingdom is not a representative democracy or not. But to be clear, it’s called a Kingdom, because there is a King. He is a wise and wonderful King, and a benevolent one too. But most certainly He is a King, and if I pledge my allegiance to Him, which I have, then I do so with full knowledge that I will have to do what he asks of me. I am submissive to Him, otherwise, I’m a rogue and a traitor.

This duty to obey requires discipline and grace, and in my short experience as a Catholic, the Sacraments of the Church, and Her teachings, which are God’s teachings (as you can easily discover), are what provide me the means to stay the course without getting lost. And I will continue to read maps to my hearts content. And I’m very happy because on this ship, I don’t have to decide everything either. Thank God!

The Church is the Ship and I have complete confidence in Her Captain’s ability to navigate the shoals of this world until the day His Majesty decides to come back aboard Her and brings us into port.

Semper Fidelis,


Update: Mark Shea on “Herding Cats On Sola Scriptura.

With God’s Grace And A Little Help From My Friends

When I was a newly minted Marine, fresh out of boot camp and on my way into life, I was certain that I could lick it. Everything was possible, and all would be right in the world. Well, maybe not the whole world, but my world would be just fine. I realized that I was no all-powerful genie, but I had complete confidence in the unholy trinity of me, myself, and I. The winner, which I knew I was, would take all. [Read more...]

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.

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.

To Be Frank, Part 4, “From Pascal To The Mother of All Projects”

I left off last time with my friend Blaise Pascal throwing me something like a complete game shut-out and a no-hitter as well. Frankly, this guy was starting to get irritating. His immense knowledge of Scripture was the capper. The fact that he wasn’t even breaking a sweat was especially galling.

That’s because I thought I was really knowledgeable about the Bible. I had never read it cover-to-cover, but so what? Since I was old enough to remember, Sunday School, Vacation Bible School, week-long Summer Bible Camp, and of course, actually reading it occasionally made me the “duty expert” on Scripture, compared to my wife anyway. The “cradle Catholic,” she was almost completely ignorant of the Bible.

When we got married, she had no idea what books were in the Bible (“I thought the Bible was the book”—sheesh!). The concepts of Old Testament and New Testament were not completely foreign to her, but hand her a Bible and it might as well have been a road map of Middle Earth written in runes. A map like that wouldn’t help her find her way from the Inland Empire to the San Fernando Valley. Everyone knows that Catholics are clueless about the Bible. Everyone I knew, that is.

And yet, Blaise Pascal knew the Bible, seemingly backwards and forwards. He was getting to be intolerable. Evidently he didn’t get the memo that I, the non-Catholic, was the “duty expert” on Scripture in my household. So I did the only thing I could do. I put his lousy unfinished book down and went to work on the staircase.

Have you ever pulled a stunt like that? I had, many times. “How dare you insult my superiority?!” That was my routine response, before I was Catholic anyway (and even today, I must still be vigilant). But I wasn’t a Catholic yet, so I just went to work out my frustrations on the stairs.

Ah, the stairs. My wife is laughing now! Took me a year to finish them. That fact alone should tell you everything you need to know about my marriage. It took one hour to remove the old carpet and about 300 days to figure out the next steps and generally hope I hadn’t made an irrevocable, not to mention expensive, error. Pray!

Here is the story in a nutshell: We bought an older home with wall-to-wall carpet. Having three young children who are outdoorsy types and one dog, this situation was not pretty—for the carpet, that is, which was light gray. Knowing that it rains a lot here in my new hometown, my wife and I knew that the carpet was not going to cut the mustard. Solution? Remove and replace with wood.

I learned a lot. One of the first things I learned was that rookies don’t build stairs. Too late! I embarked on a crash course in carpentry. I had to order a few books on stairs, and as I worked, I gained a healthy, new found admiration for the skills of a good carpenter.

Our Lord and Savior is a carpenter too, in addition to being the Word made Flesh and Maker of All Things Seen And Unseen. He was born into a family business run by St. Joseph. And Joseph didn’t dally in carpentry either. It was his vocation, it put food on the Holy Family’s table. As I worked, I thought if this was my career, I’d probably starve.

During lunch breaks and such, I returned to the Harvard Five-Foot Shelf of Books for inspiration and came upon the next jewel in this collection: The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis. I thought to myself, Now that is a bold title! What an understatement.

Running away from Blaise Pascal, I was leaving the frying pan and heading straight for the fire. Reading the introductory note to The Imitation, I learned the following:

With the exception of the Bible, no Christian writing has had so wide a vogue or so sustained a popularity as this. And yet, in one sense, it is hardly an original work at all. Its structure it owes largely to the writings of the medieval mystics, and its ideas and phrases are a mosaic from the Bible and the Fathers of the Early Church. But these elements are interwoven with such delicate skill and a religious feeling at once so ardent and so sound, that it promises to remain what it has been for five hundred years, the supreme call and guide to spiritual aspiration.

Let me get this straight. This is the second most popular book in the world and I had never even heard of it? What planet had I been on! All of this time, I had thought that only the stairs needed renovating, when in fact I was the one in need of time in the dry-dock.

Next time: The Imitation of Christ (and my almost finished staircase).


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