For All the Saints: John of the Cross

“Zurbarán St. John of the Cross” by Francisco de Zurbarán  Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Today is the feast day of St. John of the Cross, Doctor of the Church. Born in 1542, he was a contemporary of St. Teresa of Avila and a practitioner of contemplative prayer. He is considered one of the foremost poets of Spain. And yet, it is said that he only wrote about 2500 lines of verse. He died on this date at the age of 49 in the year 1591. [Read more...]

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Everything You Wanted to Know about the Banner

Truth, Goodness, and Beauty. What do these mysterious attributes have to do with this blog, or with your humble blogger? Well, if a picture is worth a thousand words, that message is all spelled out for you in the new YIMCatholic banner image you see above. [Read more...]

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Because of a Marine in Charge of Justice and Peace

Originally published on February 10, 2010.

Before I was a Catholic, yet seriously considering  the idea of becoming one, my wife made a suggestion to me.  My daughter was preparing for her First Communion and while the children were being prepared, there was someone speaking to the parents in the parish hall in the interim.  My wife said he was a very good speaker and that I might enjoy what this person had to say. I was dubious, to say the least. [Read more...]

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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
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

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

intransitive verb

1: to settle accounts
2: to make a calculation
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.

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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...]

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For Thoughts Like These from Robert Hugh Benson

Robert Hugh Benson was an English convert to Catholicism. No big deal, right? Wrong! You see, RHB had been ordained an Anglican priest in 1895. The thing was, his dad was the Archbishop of Canterbury at the time.  Think of how proud his parents and the rest of his family were of him.

In 1896, his father passed away suddenly, and Benson himself was ill as well. While on a field trip to recover his health, he began delving into his beliefs and began to lean toward becoming a Catholic. His relatives were underwhelmed with the idea of the son of the late head of the Church of England doing such a thing. Preposterous—but Bobbie did just that in 1903. [Read more...]

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Thanks to Anne Rice for Asking This Question

In light of Webster’s recent post regarding the roles and responsibilities of the laity, I thought I would share with you some correspondence on a related topic that I have had with Anne Rice, author of the The Vampire Chronicles and the Christ the Lord series. I had written her to share one of Webster’s posts and was flabbergasted when she wrote me back a few hours later.  Sheee-eesh! Be careful what you wish for.

Usually I’m the last to know news like this but I had discovered via Bloomberg News that in 1998 Anne returned to the Catholic Church.  Whaat?! The Vampire Writer? Surprised, I learned of  a new novel she had written entitled Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt. It is about Christ’s early years from the time when the Holy Family returned to Nazareth from exile in Alexandria, where they had fled in accordance with the instructions an angel had given to Joseph in a dream. She also writes of her return to the Church in detail in an autobiography, Called Out of Darkness.

You haven’t read these books yet? I know, I know, you are swamped with books right now.  So am I! But if you haven’t read them, put them on your list.  And make sure to add the sequel, The Wedding at Cana. And where am I going to find the time to read her new series about angels, which debuted recently with Angel Time? I have no idea.  But I am going to find the time. Anyway, I had written her as follows,

Ms. Rice:

We are kindred spirits despite our obvious and wild differences.  Much like the twelve apostles, huh?  What a motley crew: Zealot resistance fighters (Simon) to fishermen (Peter, Andrew . . . ), to tax collectors (Matthew, despised by all).  Wow!

I’m not gonna take up a lot of your time.  I wanted to share my partner’s latest post with you.  What a story . . . It’s the kind that my friend Blaise Pascal would probably smile at.  He’s probably smiling now (I hope).

Be well and thanks for all that you are doing for Our Lord. Have fun at your book signing in Riverside. Sadly, my family and I will just miss it.  We are coming to Southern California for the Holidays for my in-laws’ 50th anniversary and Christmas and New Years.  Any other signings in So Cal during that time?

Warmest regards and the love of Our Lord be with you Always,


Ahem, pretty presumptuous, I know, but what the heck? I was sure she wasn’t going to answer anyway. A few hours later I received this reply,

Thanks for your letter.  When you have time, tell me: do you believe that the majority of humans created go to Hell for all eternity? I am finding out that many Christians do believe this. I was not taught this growing up Catholic, and I find it very difficult to believe.  I am curious however as to what others believe.  Thanks for your note.  

Take care, Anne.

I received this note back on December 5, 2009, around lunch time. I had been riding shotgun with Webster at YIM Catholic for all of six days when it arrived in my  e-mail. Gulp!  The Anne Rice, noted author of the Vampire Chronicles and the Christ the Lord series has written back to little ol’ me? Golly! Then I re-read it and thought, whaat?! Is this some kind of a test? I sent her back a rushed reply as follows:


I certainly hope not!  Otherwise, I am done for.  No, our God and Father is not limited by our human rules, norms, or best guesses.  The Pareto Effect does not apply to God. I have faith that Our Lord loves all of us so much that He does everything to help guide us to Him. And that is one of the beautiful, just spectacular Graces that Our Lord gives us through His Church. Thanks be to God!

I went to Reconciliation this morning to confess my sins and to speak with my pastor about this blog.  His counsel prompted me to edit this piece I had posted about the Saints yesterday.  While I was doing penance and pondering what I had been counseled on, I knew that I must edit my post as such:

“But don’t worry and please don’t forget the mission of Our King’s Church: to save souls, at any cost. Most of us haven’t been called into the Church’s equivalent of the Officer Corps (Holy Orders). But we can still serve with distinction, whether we are butchers, bakers, or candle-stick makers. Again, one of the heroes of the Church (St. Francis of Assisi) serves as an example to me. ‘Preach the Gospel always,’ he said. ‘Use words if necessary.’ Also, there is no age requirement (17–28 to enlist) either and no minimum or maximum (6–8 years) contract length. Heck you can even get “out” and rejoin! Just ask Anne Rice.”

I hope I answered your question and I thank you for writing me back.

Your friend in Christ,


I sent another quick note asking her for permission to post her reply, to which she responded, 

It’s fine with me if you share your response.  I never really write confidential emails.  My queries can be shared, of course.  Thanks for the feedback.  I’m pondering.  I started another Discussion on Amazon in the Christianity forum on what people believe about Hell.  I’m interested in the beliefs of all Christians on this. 


This left me pondering too. Before I was a Catholic, I would have answered her question the way that makes sense to a modern day Pharisee, you know, that most won’t make it to heaven. But you can be sure that I just knew that I would make it. Sigh. But as a Catholic, my frame of reference had changed drastically. Let the scriptures show that,

This is good and pleasing to God our savior, who wills everyone to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth. For there is one God. There is also one mediator between God and the human race, Christ Jesus, himself human, who gave himself as ransom for all. (1 Timothy 2:3-6)


He is expiation for our sins, and not for our sins only but for those of the whole world. (1 John 2:2)

I could go on and on with verses from the Bible relating this fact, both Old Testament and New.  Want some more examples?
“I am the LORD, the God of all mankind. Is anything too hard for me?” (Jeremiah 32:27)

The LORD has bared His holy arm In the sight of all the nations, That all the ends of the earth may see The salvation of our God. (Isaiah 52:10)

“And it shall be from new moon to new moon And from sabbath to sabbath, All mankind will come to bow down before Me,” says the LORD. (Isaiah 66:23)

After Jesus said this, he looked toward heaven and prayed: “Father, the time has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him. (John 17:1-2)

So I ponder with Anne the astounding and yet true fact that Jesus came to save us all.  Every single last one of us, past, present, and future. The good, the bad, and the ugly. The healthy, the sick, the able and the lame.  You, me, and everyone here in my house and yours, in my town and yours, in my country, and in every other country as far away as Timbuktu and all points in between.  He died for me, and for you. For the whole world. The just, and the unjust.  For the forgiveness of all our sins, past, present and future.

And our free will comes into play in how we approach this fact. Because there is the capacity in heaven for every single soul to be saved. Isn’t that obvious? Space isn’t the problem. The only thing preventing this from occurring is freedom of choice and our temerity in sharing this good news. This freedom God has given us is an inalienable right. We can opt out or we can opt in. But the fact is that we have been given this great freedom to do with as we see fit, from the Original Sin of our first parents.

It is our Christian duty to proclaim the Good News. The Catholic Church actively pursues the saving of souls from the moment of conception until natural death. That isn’t popular with many folks.  Remember the parable of the vineyard workers (Matthew 20:1-16) who all received the same wages whether they started working at 5 a.m. or 7 p.m.? That is how the Catholic Church sees it. Deathbed baptisms, confessions, etc? No problem. Because saving souls for Christ is job one and the true mission of the Church, among the laity and religious alike. Did you know that Holy Orders are not required to perform a baptism?

Thanks again for your question, Anne, and may we all keep job onein mind. And for our YIMCatholic readers, I turn Anne’s question over to you. How do you answer it? RSVP. Anne and I thank you in advance for your replies.

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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.

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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.

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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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