Thanks to Father Antonio Vivaldi, “the Red Priest”

Around this time of the year, my appreciation for classical music rises to the surface. I don’t know if it is because of the change of seasons, or whether it is the “fall back” move on our clocks. Perhaps it’s because the days are getting shorter and the nights longer now that “daylight savings time” is over.

I’m a simple man, and I would be quickly found a liar if I tried to buffalo you with the idea that I am a man who is a well-educated, and throughly cultured, connoisseur of classical music. No. I’m a poor hick who only knows what he likes. And I’ve always liked Vivaldi and his Four Seasons. I do know that his music came before Bach, Handel, and Beethoven, and that is about it.

But here is what prompted this post: yesterday morning, while preparing to head to Mass, I heard a snippet of a program on NPR where the announcer mentioned that Vivaldi had been “in the clergy.”

Whaat?! It didn’t take me long to determine that given the time frame, and the fact that he was an Italian, that Vivaldi was a Catholic priest. And due to his being a red-head, he was given the nick-name of “the Red Priest.”

A quick check of the internet later and sure enough, seemingly the whole world knows that Vivaldi was a Catholic priest, except me. Somehow I missed hearing about that in music class, and a part of me thinks this is the result of a cover-up. But as I always say, let the sun shine in.

Father Antonio was ordained in 1703 and it seems like he only performed his clerical duties for a short while due to ill health.  He suffered from asthma, among other ailments.

Here is the trailer of a movie based on Vivaldi’s early career. Truthfully, I don’t know if this film ever made it into the theaters or even if it ever hit the small screen instead. But, as you can see, he is wearing a collar throughout. And you get the distinct impression that the good looking red-head had a problem in common with modern-day musicians as well.

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Andante from Concerto In D Minor for 2 Mandolins. But instead of two mandolins, we get Yo-Yo Ma on cello and Bobby McFerran playing his voice box. This is pretty amazing.

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Double Concerto for Two Cellos. This is a beautiful piece Vivaldi wrote for cellos. And this is a very clever presentation with Rebecca Roundman “using multi-tracking. Rebecca plays the two solo cellos parts, the violin 1 part, the violin 2 part, the viola part (not shown), the section cello part and the bass part.” All I can say is, “bravo!”

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Vivaldi did a lot more than this too. Operas and concertos. Sacred and choral music. Like just about any other MfM post though, we are just scratching the surface of his work here. Do you believe he died a pauper? I haven’t read his biography yet (where do you start?) but maybe, just maybe, he wanted to die in that state.

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For Thoughts Like These On Martyrdom By Archbishop Sheen

Martyrdom has been on our minds here at YIMCatholic lately. Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen once wrote that “death is the affirmation of the purpose of life in an otherwise meaningless existence.”

Our Lord led by example, was killed, and buried, by the well meaning and peace-keeping Proconsul named Pilate.

Jesus was an irritant, see, and Pilate, though knowing in his heart that He was innocent, had Him killed anyway. As Father Ronald Knox put it so simply, such is the way of the world. With Our Lord’s Resurrection though, the Game changed and the God of Ecclesiastes unveiled a Heaven sent major revision to the meaning of death.

Sometimes during the Memorial Acclamation at mass we say “Dying you destroyed our death, rising you restored our life. Lord Jesus, come in glory.” (cf. 1 Cor 15 3-23). He leads by example in all things, because if He did not, Christianity would have been stillborn right there at the foot of the Cross. Instead, after Pentecost, former scaredy cats who hid in fear boldly proclaimed the Gospel in a manner that puts real flesh on the phrase “what…you want to live forever?!”

I don’t think there are any words I can offer to succor the families in Iraq left behind in the wake of the deaths of their loved ones. Archbishop Fulton Sheen has a short chapter in his wee book The Power of Love, though, that reminds us that there is more to the picture than meets the eye. Perhaps these thoughts may provide both solace and hope for the persecuted in Iraq and the world over.

Those Who Suffer Persecution by Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen

“Blessed are you when all men speak well of you, when you are popular and in the limelight,” is a beatitude of the world.

Let the Lord come into a world that believes that our whole life should be geared to flattering and influencing people for the sake of what they can do for us, and say to them: “Blessed are you when men hate you, persecute you, revile you,” and He will find Himself without a friend in the world, and an outcast on a hill with a mob shouting His death and His flesh hanging from Him like purple rags.

This Beatitude is really the Beatitude of the blessedness of being persecuted, or the happiness of being a martyr. In its full statement it runs: “Blessed are those who suffer persecution in the cause of right; the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs. Blessed are you, when men revile you, and persecute you, and speak all manner of evil against you falsely, because of Me. Be glad and lighthearted, for a rich reward awaits you in Heaven.”

When Our Lord spoke of the world, He did not mean the physical world or the cosmos, He meant the spirit of the world which was arrayed against Him and His followers; a world which would one day kill his servants and think it was rendering a service to God, a world that is composed of human nature organizing itself against Divinity.

The Christian is bidden to be happy as Peter and the Apostles were when they were permitted to incorporate themselves to the Cross of Christ in order to share in the glory of His Resurrection. To be tolerated sometimes is a sign of weakness; to be persecuted is a compliment. The mediocre survive.

The persecuted person shows that his belief is taken seriously and the cause for which he stands must be eliminated if evil is to conquer. True it is that evil men are persecuted, but they do not come within this Beatitude, for as Saint Paul said: “If I should deliver my body up to be burned and have not the love of God and my neighbor in my heart, then it profits me nothing.” A martyr must die for the faith, not for his property, nor his good name, nor for the sake of the Party. Self-made martyrs are numerous, but they have no place in the ranks of those who are promised the Kingdom of Heaven for taking the Cross of Christ on their shoulders.

One would expect that a person who is humble and unselfish, merciful and loving of mankind, should expect a peaceful end, but the Lord who made human hearts knew better. He, therefore, closed His Beatitudes by showing the treatment He would have us expect from the world.

Martyrs, witnesses to the Divine Love in the world, are promised the Kingdom of Heaven. They do not possess it merely because they suffer and endure; they rather suffer and endure because they already possess the Kingdom in their own hearts. One great and mysterious fact that is not generally known to the world is that wherever there is persecution on account of the Faith, it always results in a vast catch of souls for the Kingdom of God. Tertullian was right when he said: “Blood of martyrs is the seed of the Church.”

The triumph of truth in Heaven is not enough; it must also have its glorious revenge in the very theater of its humiliations and conflicts. The world must see how mistaken it was in rejecting Divine Love, and must be forced to exclaim again with Julian the apostate: “Oh Galilean! Thou hast conquered!”

From today’s responsorial Psalm, “The Lamb has made us a kingdom of priests to serve our God.” Amen.

Update: To Send Supplies to Iraqi Christians.

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Because Christian Martyrdom Sheds No Innocent Blood

Originally posted back on September 16th, the Feast of St. Cyprian, I am breaking this post out of the archives again. The recent killings of parishioners at Our Lady of Salvation in Baghdad bring the title of this post into stark relief with the events that transpired there on All Hallows Eve. St Cyprians words do not alleviate the pain, nor do they erase this tradgedy from our minds. But they do point to something larger than ourselves: the truth in the title of this post points to the Truth of the Word Incarnate.

—Feast of St. Cyprian

Today is the day we commemorate the fellow you see in the icon to your left. Cyprian was beheaded for refusing to worship the false gods of the Roman Empire.

There was no separation of church and state, see, so the state decided to make an example of Cyprian, and thousands of other Christian martyrs too. The state, the Empire, lost the war against Christianity, and collapsed like the house of cards that it was.

On days like this, when the Catholic Church reveres a martyr, I am struck by a signal truth: the only innocent blood that was shed is that of the martyr. In other words, they didn’t go out with “a bang”, trying to bring as many down with them as possible. To me, that fact alone proves the supernatural Truth of the Way.

As a Marine, I promised to put my life on the line for the safety of the citizens of my home country. I promised to willingly take lives, and perform duties that would facilitate the taking of many lives, in order to fulfill this pledge. I took an oath to uphold the Constitution of the United States, against all enemies, foreign and domestic. The Marine Corps taught “my hands to fight, and my fingers to war.”

I am retired from the Marines now. As such, I am no longer bound by this oath made by men. As oaths go, it is a fine one. But now, my sword has been turned into a ploughshare and my time and talents are no longer to “be exercised any more to war.” Not temporally, anyway.

Below is a letter St. Cyprian wrote to honor those who fell as martyrs, and to encourage those who may fall in the service of Our Lord. The martial symbolism is not lost on me. Nor is the call to spiritual arms. But as you read the letter below, keep in mind that each of these martyrs never lifted a sword against their oppressor. And they each, as Cyprian does, knew who the oppressor really is, and that lifting a sword against a mere pawn of that oppressor was, and still is, pointless.

Sun Tzu once wrote that,

All men can see these tactics whereby I conquer, but what none can see is the strategy out of which victory is evolved.

St. Cyprian saw the strategy, and so does every Christian who dies as a martyr. This is one of the myriad paradoxes of our life of faith. I believe Sun Tzu would understand this since he said,

Confront them with annihilation, and they will then survive; plunge them into a deadly situation, and they will then live. When people fall into danger, they are then able to strive for victory.

If Sun Tzu would have been alive when the missionaries first came to China, I think he would have understood the Way.

Here is a portion of St. Cyprian’s thoughts on martyrdom,

St. Cyprian’s 10th Epistle

Cyprian, to the martyrs and confessors, continued health in Christ our Lord, and in God the Father:

I am exceeding glad, and heartily congratulate you, brethren, most blessed in your great endurance, when I hear of your faith and courage, in which your Mother the Church triumphs. Indeed she triumphed before, when a judicial sentence drove the confessors of Christ into exile, without shaking their constancy. But your present confession is as much more glorious and honorable than that, as the sufferings have been greater, through which it has been maintained. The combat has been greater, and greater has been the glory of the combatants.

You have not been deterred from the contest, but you have been rather the more excited to the battle, by the prospect of torture: and you have returned, firm and undaunted, with an unshaken devotion, to the struggles of the hottest engagement. Some of you, I hear, have already been crowned; some are pressing towards the crown of victory, and stand ready to grasp it; and all the glorious band, upon whom the dungeon has closed, are animated with an equal and mutual ardor to carry on the contest.

This is as it ought to be with the soldiers of Christ in the army of the saints; that effeminacy may not enervate, that threats may not terrify, that racks and tortures may not move the integrity and stability of their faith. Since He is greater who is in us, than he who is in the world; and no earthly infliction has greater power to cast us down, than the Divine help has to support us.

Of this we have the proof before our eyes, in the glorious contest of those of our brethren, who were the leaders in this conquest of tortures; and afforded an example of constancy and faith, while they rushed again and again on the battle, until the battle was overcome. In what words shall I proclaim your praises, O brethren, most invincible! With what device of the herald shall I blazon the strength of your fortitude, the endurance of your faith!

You have borne the most exquisite tortures, even to the consummation of your glory; nor have you yielded to torment, but rather torment has yielded to you. Your martyrdom has crowned those sufferings, to which your tortures refused to put an end. The severity of infliction was thus continued, not to the overthrow of a dauntless faith, but that it might transport men more rapidly to their Lord.

The spectators wondering at the celestial contest, the contest of God, the spiritual contest, the battle of Christ, saw his servants standing, with a determined voice, with a mind untainted, with heavenly virtue; without the arms of this world, indeed, but strong in the panoply of faith. The tortured stood more unmoved than their torturers; and the crushed and lacerated limbs overcame the instruments of cruelty. The fierce and often repeated lash could not overcome their invincible faith, although their very vitals were laid open with repeated stripes, and the frequent blow fell not on the body, but on the wounds of the servants of God.

The effusion of blood might have extinguished the flames of persecution, might have assuaged the very fires of hell with its glorious stream. O how noble was that spectacle! In the eyes of the Lord how sublime! How great, how acceptable in the sight of God, that fulfillment of the oath, that pledge of the devotion of his soldiers! Since it is written in the Psalms, the Holy Spirit speaking also to us, Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.

This is indeed a precious death, which has purchased immortality; which has received the crown as the consummation of virtue. How did Christ then rejoice! How willingly did he fight and conquer in such servants of his; confirming their constancy, and giving to all those who believed in him according to their faith!

He was present, as if the contest were His own: He strengthened, encouraged, and animated those who fought for Him, and for the honor of His name: and He who once conquered death for us, continues to conquer death in us. When they shall deliver you up, says he, think not what ye shall say; for in that hour it shall be given you what ye shall say: for it is not ye who speak, but the Spirit of your Father who speaketh in you.

The present combat afforded an evidence of this truth. A word full of the Holy Spirit broke from the mouth of the most blessed martyr Mappalicus, when he exclaimed, in the midst of his tortures, to the Proconsul, Tomorrow shall you see a struggle indeed! And what he said with the witness of a courageous faith, the Lord himself fulfilled. The heavenly struggle was seen; and the servant of God received his crown in the height of the anticipated contest.

This is the struggle which the Apostle Paul describes, in which we ought to run so as to obtain the crown of glory: Know ye not, says he,

that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize ? So run, that ye may obtain. And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown ; but we an incorruptible.

Again, describing his own contest, and in immediate anticipation of being offered up, he says,

For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing.

This struggle, therefore, appointed by the Lord, undergone by Apostles, Mappalicus, in his own name and in the name of his companions, promised that the Proconsul should see. Nor did he disappoint the expectation that he had excited: he exhibited the contest he had promised; he bore off the palm which he deserved.

Let me, then, exhort those of you who remain, to follow that most glorious martyr, and the rest who shared in his engagement; who were patient in tribulation, who were victorious over the rack, and stood like soldiers and comrades unbroken in faith.

That those whom the bond of one confession and the walls of the dungeon have already associated, may also be associated in the consummation of virtue and the heavenly crown. That you may dry, by your joy, those tears of your Mother the Church, which she sheds over the fall and ruin of many; and that you may confirm those, who are yet unshaken, by your example of endurance.

When your turn shall arrive, and you too shall be called to the fight, quit yourselves valiantly, and endure with constancy; well assured that you fight under the eyes of the Lord, who is present with you, and that you march to glory through the confession of his name. He is not such a master as to look on his servants from afar; but He himself struggles together with them; with them He advances to the conflict: He himself, in the successful issue, both bestows and receives a crown.

St. Cyprian, pray for us. You can read more of this letter on the YIMCatholic Bookshelf.

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Because Vincent de Paul was Once a Muslim’s Slave

Life got you down? Things perhaps haven’t turned out as you planned? Do you think everyone else has got it so easy? Your neighbors, for example, or those fortunate people who come into a considerable sum of money?

And how about those saintly types? They are simply walking on air, those guys, living lives of complete and blessed beatitude, right? Hold up!

While in Heaven the saints enjoy the beatific vision, but while they were here on earth? They were slogging it out with the rest of us. And that even includes those who were fortunate enough to be blessed with an earthly inheritance.

Take St. Vincent de Paul for instance (today is his feast day). Following his being ordained a priest, in the year of Our Lord 1605, he received news that someone had left him an inheritance. Saints be praised! Come and see where this development led him.

Once Upon a Time, over four hundred years ago…

The young priest’s life flowed on peacefully for the next five years, and then a startling adventure befell him. An old friend of his died at Marseilles, and Vincent received news that he had been left in the will a sum of fifteen hundred livres, which in those days was a considerable deal of money. Vincent’s heart was full of gratitude. What could he not do now to help his poor people. And he began to plan all the things the legacy would buy till it struck him with a laugh that ten times the amount could hardly get him all he wanted. Besides, it was not yet in his possession, and with that reflection he set about his preparations for his journey to Marseilles.

He probably went the greater part of the way on foot, and it must have taken him about as long as it would take us to go to India. But he was a man who had his eyes about him, and the country which he passed through was alive with the history he had read. Greeks, Romans, Crusaders, and the scandal, now two hundred years old, of the two popes, would be brought to his mind by the very names of the towns where he rested and the rivers which he crossed, but at length they were all left behind, and Marseilles was reached.

His business was soon done, and with the money in his pocket he was ready to begin his long walk back to Toulouse, when he received an invitation from a friend of the lawyer’s to go in his vessel by sea to Narbonne, which would cut off a large corner(of his journey). He gladly accepted and went on board at once. But the ship was hardly out of sight of Marseilles when three African vessels, such as then haunted the Mediterranean, bore down upon them and opened fire.

The French were powerless to resist, and one and all refused to surrender, which so increased the fury of the Mohammedans that they killed three of the crew and wounded the rest. Vincent himself had an arm pierced by an arrow, and though it was not poisoned, it was many years before the pain it caused ceased to trouble him. The ‘Infidels’ boarded the ship, and, chaining their prisoners together, coasted about for another week, attacking wherever they thought they had a chance of success, and it was not until they had collected as much booty as the vessel could carry that they returned to Africa.

Vincent and his fellow-captives had all this while been cherishing the hope that, once landed on the coast of Tunis, the French authorities would hear of their misfortunes and come to their aid. But the Mohammedan captain had foreseen the possibility of this and took measures to prevent it by declaring that the prisoners had been taken on a Spanish ship. Heavy were their hearts when they learned what had befallen them, and Vincent needed all his faith and patience to keep the rest from despair.

The following day they were dressed as slaves and marched through the principal streets of Tunis five or six times in case anyone should wish to purchase them. Suffering from wounds though they were, they all felt that it was worth any pain to get out of the hold of the ship and to see life moving around them once more. But after awhile it became clear that the strength of many was failing, and the captain not wishing to damage his goods, ordered them back to the ship where they were given food and wine, so that any possible buyers who might appear next day should not expect them to die on their hands.

Early next morning several small boats could be seen putting out from the shore, and one by one the intending purchasers scrambled up the side of the vessel. They passed down the row of captives drawn up to receive them; pinched their sides to find if they had any flesh on their bones, felt their muscles, looked at their teeth, and finally made them run up and down to see if they were strong enough to work. If the blood of the poor wretches stirred under this treatment they dared not show it, and Vincent had so trained his thoughts that he hardly knew the humiliation to which he was subjected.

A master was soon found for him in a fisherman, who wanted a man to help him with his boat. The fisherman, as far as we know, treated his slave quite kindly; but when he discovered that directly the wind rose the young man became hopelessly ill, he repented of his bargain, and sold him as soon as he could to an old chemist, one of the many who had wasted his life in seeking the Philosopher’s Stone.

The chemist took a great fancy to the French priest and offered to leave him all his money and teach him the secrets of his science if he would abandon Christianity and become a follower of Mohammed, terms which, needless to say, Vincent refused with horror. Most people would speedily have seen the hopelessness of this undertaking, but the old chemist was very obstinate, and died at the end of a year without being able to flatter himself that he had made a convert of his Christian slave.

The chemist’s possessions passed to his nephew, and with them, of course, Father Vincent. The priest bore his captivity cheerfully, and did not vex his soul as to his future lot. The life of a slave had been sent him to bear, and he must bear it contentedly whatever happened; and so he did, and his patience and ready obedience gained him the favour of his masters.

Very soon he had a new one to serve, for not long after the chemist’s death he was sold to a man who had been born a Christian and a native of Savoy, but had adopted the religion of Mohammed for worldly advantages. There were many of these renegades in the Turkish service during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and nearly all of them were men of talent and rose high.

Vincent de Paul’s master had, after the Turkish manner, married three wives, and one of them, a Turk by birth and religion, hated the life of the town where she was shut up most of the day in the women’s apartments, and went, whenever she could, to her husband’s farm in the country, where Vincent was working. It was a barren place on a mountain side, where the sun beat even more fiercely than in Tunis; but at least she was able to wander in the early mornings and cool evenings about the garden, which had been made with much care and toil.

Here she met the slave, always busy—watering plants, trimming shrubs, sowing seeds, and generally singing to himself in an unknown tongue. He looked so different from the sad or sullen men she was used to see that she began to wonder who he was and where he came from, and one day she stopped to ask him how he happened to be there. By this time Vincent had learned enough Arabic to be able to talk, and in answer to her questions, told her of his boyhood in Gascony, and how he had come to be a priest.

“A priest! What is that?” she said.

And he explained, and little by little he taught her the doctrines and the customs of the Christian faith.

“Is that what you sing about?” she asked again. “I should like to hear some of your songs,” and Vincent chanted to her,

“By the waters of Babylon,” feeling, indeed, that he was “singing the Lord’s songs in a strange land.”

And day by day the Turkish woman went away, and thought over all she had heard, till one evening her husband rode over to see her, and she made up her mind to speak to him about something that puzzled her greatly.

“I have been talking to your white slave that works in the garden about his religion—the religion which was once yours. It seems full of good things and so is he. You need never watch him as you do the other men, and the overseer has not had to beat him once. Why, then, did you give up that religion for another? In that, my lord, you did not do well.”

The renegade was silent, but in his heart he wondered if, indeed, he had “done well” to sell his soul for that which had given him no peace. He, too, would talk to that Christian slave, and hear if he still might retrace his steps, though he knew that if he was discovered death awaited the Mohammedan who changed his faith.

But his eyes having been opened he could rest no more,and arranged that he and Vincent should disguise themselves and make for the coast, and sail in a small boat to France. As the boat was so tiny that the slightest gale of wind would capsize it, it seems strange that they did not steer to Sicily, and thence journey to Rome; but instead they directed their course towards France, and on June 28, 1607, they stepped on shore on one of those long, narrow spits of land which run out into the sea from the little walled town of Aigues-Mortes.

Vincent drew a long breath, as after two years captivity he trod on French soil again. But he knew how eager his companion was to feel himself once more a Christian, so they only waited one day to rest, and started early the next morning through the flowery fields to the old city of Avignon. Here he made confession of his faults to the Pope’s legate himself, and was admitted back into the Christian religion. The following year he went with Father Vincent to Rome, and entered a monastery of nursing brothers, who went about to the different hospitals attending the sick and poor.

It is very likely that it was Father Vincent’s influence that led him to take up this special work, to which we must now leave him, for on the priest’s return to Paris, he found a lodging in the Faubourg SaintGermain, close to the Hopital de la Charity—the constant object of his care for some months.

And did I mention that St. Vincent is an Incorruptible?

You can read the rest of St. Vincent de Paul’s story in The Book of Saints and Heroes by Leonora Lang on the YIMCatholic Bookshelf.

This was originally posted on Novermber 12, 2010. Happy Feast of St. Vincent de Paul!

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Because My Pope says “Read the Bible!”

I can remember the days when I just knew that Catholics were clueless about the Bible. My wife was, for example. Of course, that was before I bumped into Blaise Pascal, and Thomas à Kempis, St. Francis de Sales, et al.

But those guys are all high-powered super Catholics, you may be saying to yourself. Well my Pope just published Verbum Domini, and a lot of converts like me are turning cartwheels over it. What follows are a few short paragraphs that will give you an idea why there is cause to celebrate.

Because if I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times: we are a Bible-believing Church!

72. Encountering the word of God in sacred Scripture

If it is true that the liturgy is the privileged place for the proclamation, hearing and celebration of the word of God, it is likewise the case that this encounter must be prepared in the hearts of the faithful and then deepened and assimilated, above all by them. The Christian life is essentially marked by an encounter with Jesus Christ, who calls us to follow him. For this reason, the Synod of Bishops frequently spoke of the importance of pastoral care in the Christian communities as the proper setting where a personal and communal journey based on the word of God can occur and truly serve as the basis for our spiritual life. With the Synod Fathers I express my heartfelt hope for the flowering of “a new season of greater love for sacred Scripture on the part of every member of the People of God, so that their prayerful and faithfilled reading of the Bible will, with time, deepen their personal relationship with

Throughout the history of the Church, numerous saints have spoken of the need for knowledge of Scripture in order to grow in love for Christ. This is evident particularly in the Fathers of the Church. Saint Jerome, in his great love for the word of God, often wondered: “How could one live without the knowledge of Scripture, by which we come to know Christ himself, who is the life of believers?” He knew well that the Bible is the means “by which God speaks daily to believers.” His advice to the Roman matron Leta about raising her daughter was this: “Be sure that she studies a passage of Scripture each day…Prayer should follow reading, and reading follow prayer…so that in the place of jewellery and silk, she may love the divine books.”

Jerome’s counsel to the priest Nepotian can also be applied to us: “Read the divine Scriptures frequently; indeed, the sacred book should never be out of your hands. Learn there what you must teach.” Let us follow the example of this great saint who devoted his life to the study of the Bible and who gave the Church its Latin translation, the Vulgate, as well as the example of all those saints who made an encounter with Christ the center of their spiritual lives. Let us renew our efforts to understand deeply the word which God has given to his Church: thus we can aim for that “high standard of ordinary Christian living” proposed by Pope John Paul II at the beginning of the third Christian millennium, which finds constant nourishment in attentively hearing the word of God.

Read the whole document here.

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YIMC Bookclub: Wise Blood


I’ve been having a rollicking good time reading Flannery O’Conner’s Wise Blood. I’ve finished the first seven chapters and the cast of characters is setting us up for the the main event.

Did you know director John Huston, the voice of Gandalf the Grey in the animated The Hobbit, adapted this novel to film?.

So far we’ve met our “hero” Hazel, of Eastrod Tennessee (for sound effects, read this as Tannersee), and everyone he meets pegs him for a preacher. He hates that, by the way, and has a brilliant idea to be a preacher (after all) for “The Church Without Christ. As Hazel grapples with this idea though, his thoughts can’t seem to escape the impossibility of such a thing.

But look, I’ve been real busy lately and although I am enjoying this book (my first taste of Flannery), I haven’t been able to think much on it and write about it.

But I found that Roy Peachey, of The Catholic English Teacher blog has posted a link to a couple of podcasts he found given by Amy Hungerford of Yale University. So head on over to Roy’s blog and check out Ms. Hungerford’s lectures in the interim.

And while you’re at Roy’s place, see what else he has to offer. You’ll be glad you did. But absolutely do not watch the John Huston film until you’ve finished reading the book. I’ll know if you did.

After the dust settles around my area, I’ll punch out my impressions of Wise Blood shortly. I can’t wait to see what Hazel, Enoch Emery & company have in store for us.

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Because Blaise Pascal Tells it Like It Is

A friend of mine, who knows of my affinity for Blaise Pascal, sent me a link to an essay written by Peter Kreeft. It is very well written and from the foreword of Kreeft’s book about Blaise entitled Christianity for Modern Pagans: Pascal’s “Pensees.”

The essay is quite good, and Kreeft argues that for the modern age, Blaise is one of the best Catholic apologists going. Below is a short chapter, an essay really, on the real you and me by Blaise himself. OK, maybe it’s not the real you, but when I was reading the Pensées, I knew Blaise had me down cold. It was like hearing the tune Killing Me Softly, sung by Roberta Flack.

Reading the following thoughts of my friend Blaise, I have to wonder if I should continue blogging. Because if the reasons for doing so aren’t aligned correctly with the will of Our Lord, then self-aggrandizement becomes the reason and that is, frankly, pathetic. Even Blaise, in the third bullet point below, acknowledges he might fall prey to this.

Long time readers of this blog know by now that my favorite book in the Old Testament is Ecclesiastes, the very first line of which is,

Vanity of vanities, says Qoheleth, vanity of vanities! All things are vanity!

Maybe that helps explain my fondness for Blaise and his thoughts. That, and for one who died so young (39 years), and was so accomplished in his chosen field (mathematics and probability theory) to be able to write with such force and clarity is, to me, astonishing. Have a look and see if you agree. Like the stamp above, this is Special Delivery, from one “thinking reed” to another.


We are not satisfied with the life that we have in ourselves—in our own peculiar being. We wish to live also an ideal life in the mind of others; and for this purpose, we constrain ourselves to put on appearances. We labour incessantly to adorn and sustain this ideal being, while we neglect the real one. And if we possess any degree of equanimity, generosity, or fidelity, we strive to make it known, that we may clothe with these virtues that being of the imagination. Nay, we would even cast off these virtues in reality, to secure them in the opinion of others; and willingly be cowards, to acquire the reputation of courage. What a proof of the emptiness of our real being, that we are not satisfied with the one without the other, and that we often sacrifice the one to the other; for he is counted infamous who would not die to save his reputation.

Glory is so enchanting, that we love whatever we associate it with, even though it be death.

2. Pride countervails all our miseries, for it either hides them, or if it discloses them, it boasts of acknowledging them. Pride has so thoroughly got possession of us, even in the midst of our miseries and our faults, that we are prepared to sacrifice life with joy, if it may but be talked of.

3. Vanity is so rooted in the heart of man, that the lowest drudge of the camp, the street, or the kitchen, must have his boast and his admirers. It is the same with the philosophers. Those who write to gain fame, would have the reputation of having written well; and those who read it, would have the reputation of having read it; and I who am writing this, feel probably the same wish, and they who read this, feel it also.

4. Notwithstanding the sight of all those miseries which wring us, and threaten our destruction, we have still an instinct that we cannot repress, which elevates us above our sorrows.

5. We are so presumptuous that we wish to be known to all the world, and even to those who come after us; and we are so vain, that the esteem of five or six persons immediately around us, is enough to seduce and satisfy us.

6. Curiosity is but vanity: too frequently we only wish to know more, that we may talk of it. No man would venture to sea, if he were never to speak about what he sees—for the mere pleasure of seeing, without ever speaking of it to others.

7. We do not care to get a name in the towns through which we are travelling: but if we come to sojourn there a short time, we soon become desirous of it. And what time is sufficient for this ? A period proportioned to our vain and pitiful duration.

8. The nature of self-love and of human egotism, is to love self only, and to consult only self-interest. But to what a state is man reduced! He cannot prevent this object of his love from being full of defects and miseries. He wishes to be great, but he sees himself little: he wishes to be happy, but he sees himself miserable : he wishes to be perfect, but he sees that he is full of imperfections : he wishes to be the object of men’s love and esteem, and he sees that his errors deserve their hatred and contempt. This state of disappointment generates in him the most wretched and criminal passion that can be imagined: he conceives a deadly hatred against that truth which reproves him, and convinces him of his faults: he desires to destroy it, and unable actually to destroy it in its essential nature, he blots it out as far as possible from his own knowledge and from that of others: that is, he does his utmost to conceal his faults both from others and from himself, and will not suffer others to exhibit them to him, or to examine them themselves.

It is surely an evil to be full of faults; but it is a far greater evil to be unwilling to know them, since that is to add to them the guilt of a voluntary delusion. We do not like others to deceive us; we do not think it right that they should wish to be esteemed by us beyond their deserts: it is not right, then that we should deceive them, and that we should wish them to esteem us more than we deserve.

So that when they discover in us nothing but the imperfections and vices which we really possess, it is evident that in this they do us no wrong, because they are not the cause of those errors; and that they even do us good, since they aid us in avoiding a real evil—the ignorance of these our imperfections. We should not be indignant that they discover these errors if they really exist, nor that they should know us to be what we really are, and despise us, if we really are despicable.

These are the thoughts that would rise spontaneously in a heart full of equity and justice: what then shall we say of our own, when we see its disposition to be just the reverse. For is it not true that we hate the truth, and those who tell it us; and that we love men to be deceived in our favour, and wish to be estimated by them very differently from what we really are?

There are different degrees of this aversion for truth; but we may affirm that in some degree it exists in everyone, because it is inseparable from self-love. It is this vile sensitiveness to applause, which compels those whose duty it is to reprove another, to soften the severity of the shock, by so many circuitous and alleviating expressions. They must appear to attenuate the fault; they must seem to excuse what they mean to reprove; they must mix with the correction the language of praise, and the assurances of affection and esteem. Yet still this pill is always bitter to self-love: we take as little of it as we can, always with disgust, and often with a secret grudge against those who presume to administer it.

Hence it is that those who have any interest in securing our regard, shrink from the performance of an office which they know to be disagreeable to us; they treat us as we wish to be treated; we hate the truth, and they conceal it; we wish to be flattered, and they flatter; we love to be deceived, and they deceive us.

And hence it arises that each step of good fortune by which we are elevated in the world, removes us farther from truth; because men fear to annoy others, just in proportion as their good will is likely to be useful, or their dislike dangerous. A prince shall be the talk of all Europe, and he only know it not. I do not wonder at this. To speak the truth is useful to him to whom it is spoken, but sadly the reverse to him who speaks it, for it makes him hated.

Now they who live with princes, love their own interests better than that of him whom they serve, and do not therefore care to seek his benefit by telling him the truth to their own injury. This evil is doubtless more serious and more common, in cases of commanding rank and fortune, but the very lowest are not free from it; because there is always some benefit to be obtained by means of man’s esteem.

So that human life is a perpetual delusion,—nothing goes on but mutual flattery and mutual deceit: no one speaks of us in our presence, as he does in our absence. The degree of union that there is among men, is founded on this mutual deception; and few friendships would subsist, if each one knew what his friend says of him when he is not present, although at the time he speaks sincerely and without prejudice.

Man, then, is nothing but disguise, falsehood, and hypocrisy, both towards himself and others. He does not wish them to tell him the truth,—he will not tell it to them: and all these dispositions, so far removed from justice and sound reason, have their root naturally in his heart.

“…they treat us as we wish to be treated; we hate the truth, and they conceal it; we wish to be flattered, and they flatter; we love to be deceived, and they deceive us.” How about that for a wild twist on the Golden Rule, huh?

Peter Kreeft’s essay is available at Ignatius Insight. 

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Calling All Catechists: The YIMCatholic Bookshelf Is Open

It is the time of the year when those who are curious about the Catholic Church can seek answers to their questions in a setting that is non-threatening. This is done by means of the Rites of Christian Initiation for Adults, aka the RCIA program.

Back in 2007, I made my second sojourn through the RCIA program as a Candidate. That is the term given to those who enter the RCIA process and have already been baptised in another Christian faith community outside of the Catholic Church. You can learn more about RCIA from any local parish or from other resources on-line.

Speaking of other resources on-line, that is why I’m writing this post. I want to remind everyone of the handy, dandy YIM Catholic Bookshelf. Introduced back in May, the bookshelf now is up to over 355 volumes of solid Catholic reference material. These books are all available in full view from Google books, and all are completely searchable.

I was a strike-out at my first attempt up at the RCIA plate. I had other excuses too, but lack of knowledge by the catechist at the parish I was in was a big one. If only I would have been able to research some of my questions, maybe I would have become a Catholic in 1990 instead of 2008. Alas, the possibility of quick, yet in-depth, research wasn’t possible then. But it is now.

Enter the YIM Catholic Bookshelf as a part of the solution. Just click on the portrait of Our Lord in the side-bar, and presto (!) you are in our electronic study.  Certainly candidates and catechumens have a lot of questions. And as Cardinal Newman said once, “Catholicism is a deep matter—you cannot take it up in a teacup.” So I hope that the YIM Catholic Bookshelf can be used as a resource for both catechists and catechumans (and candidates) alike.

Here are a few examples for you to consider. By entering the following search terms into the search blank (right below the portrait of St. Joan of Arc)on the shelf,  our reference librarian at Google will locate a number of volumes that can help you answer a question, or find an answer to one. Give it a try!

Search Term – Number of Books Found

Penance                         180
Confession                     243
Reconciliation                 165
Mary                                 118
Veneration of Mary             73
Communion of Saints       151
Doctrine                            191
Confirmation                     201
Purgatory                          165
Primacy of Peter                 53
Canon of Scriptures            55

By no means is this an exhaustive list. And clearly, this is not a circumvention of the two main catechetical published works out there: the Bible, and the Catechism of the Catholic Church. I’m just suggesting that if you have a couple of hard-boiled, skeptical, candidates (like I was!) who need a deeper bibliography, send them our way. Come and see.

You’ll be glad you did.

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Elvis Presley Sings “The Miracle of the Rosary” et al.



I missed commemorating the 33rd anniversary of the passing of the King of Rock and Roll. I was led to a startling discovery about someone known as the “Chinese Chesterton” on the same weekend that marked the passing of Elvis Presley (August 16, 1977). My humble apologies, because I love you Elvis Presley, and especially your gospel music.

Elvis, see, could sing any song well. Like, for example, Do the ClamAnd despite his fame, and fortune, he never forgot his love for the Lord. He was never ashamed to sing His praises. And as you will see in the first selection below, he had no problem singing Our Lady’s praises either. A post of that video by a friend on Facebook was my wake-up call for this belated appreciation.

Was Elvis a Catholic? I don’t think so. But just like he sent a letter to President Nixon, volunteering his services as a Federal Agent, maybe he sent a letter to the Pope at the same time? Only the Vatican archivists know for sure. Regardless, let me get out of Mr. Presley’s way, because these songs need no introductions, and let you enjoy his gospel side.

Elvis, thanks for singing the Good News. Requiescat in Pace.

Miracle of the Rosary.

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Oh Happy Day.

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The Wonder of You.

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He Is My Everything.

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Where No One Stands Alone

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Take My Hand, Precious Lord.

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How Great Thou Art

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To Boldly Go Where Others Have Already Gone

Since my oldest son turned 7 years old, organized baseball has been a big part of my life. He is now a freshman in high school, and working hard on earning the chance to represent his school on the ball field. All of this has changed my life in unexpected ways, and almost all of them good.

My son has learned a lot about the game, and so have I. He has learned that bad calls by the umpires are a part of the game, but the game must go on. He has learned that just looking good gets you nowhere in this game, but experience and hard work can make a huge difference. And he has learned that some things that others consider hard, or impossible to accomplish, he can achieve, because he has seen others just like him do so. Not with ease, and not without effort, but with confidence that the seemingly impossible is achievable because the proof is in his memories or in the history books.

All of these experiences of my son have also helped me give him encouraging words. I too have seen the seemingly impossible achieved, with effort, hard work and determination. I experienced the requirement to achieve what others consider impossible when I was a Marine. Suffice it to say that a Marine’s expectation of what is “normal performance” is often far out along the bell curve, near the tail-ends.

These thoughts that follow were crystallized when I saw the following video clip of a miraculous catch by the center fielder on a Japanese professional baseball team. The team is from Hiroshima, Japan (yes the same Hiroshima you know from the history books), a town 45 minutes by train from a base I was stationed at several times during my military career. This took place on August 03, 2010. This catch was so good, that the fellas at ESPN picked it up and were blown away by it. Take a look,

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Wow, right? Unbelievable, but there it is. Oh, you don’t think it counts as amazing because this is the Japanese league? Please, that is an amazing catch no matter where it happened. Besides, as you may remember from a post I wrote a few days ago, it doesn’t matter where you come from. Everybody can play baseball. But not everyone can make a catch like that. Or can they?

Because below is an example of what I am writing about above. If you have seen something, that you thought was impossible, get accomplished, it opens your eyes a little. Or maybe it opens your eyes, and your mind, a lot. You start thinking to yourself, “Well, if that guy can do it, so can I.” And that is exactly what you will see here,

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Uh-huh. Same pitcher, same two teams playing, just a few weeks later. And now with a different outfielder, making a similar play and another great catch. How? Because his teammate had done it too, and by doing so had shown his peers what is possible. Think outside the box, have confidence, go the extra mile, leap up on to the fence, and make the catch.

When I viewed these two videos, which my wife sent me during lunch today, the first thought that went through my head was “that is what Lou Tseng-Tsiang did when he became a Catholic.” Then I watched the second video and I thought “and that is what his friend John C. H. Wu did. He saw that his friend Lou could do it, and then he went and did it too.”

All of the saints have boldly gone down a path that many see as impossible. But is it really? Aren’t they showing us that it is possible? And aren’t the saints our friends? Don’t they pray for us if we ask them to? I believe so with a firm conviction.

And I also believe this: that they are the pathfinders,the trailblazers. They are the ones who have kept the flame alive; who show us, their teammates in the Church Militant, how we need to be to make it to the Show, which is the Church Triumphant.

Where they have lead, I intend to follow. Let’s go play some baseball.

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