YIMC Bookclub: Wise Blood

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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.

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.

THE VANITY OF MAN.

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. 

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.

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.

Because of the Divine Beauty of the Mass

Guest Post by Terry Fenwick

I met Terry by way of Francis Beckwith’s Facebook page. Pretty soon, we were “friends” too. Shortly thereafter, we were trading e-mails back and forth and I learned that she was a Catholic convert from the class of 2004.  She, and her late husband, Tom, came into full communion with the Church in 2004. She shared this piece she had written for her parish bulletin with me . I don’t know much, but I knew one thing immediately upon reading this; it needed a wider audience. Take a look and see if you agree with me.

Come and See

Since becoming Catholic in 2004, I have asked myself over and over, why I was never invited to attend a Mass. I could attend funerals and was invited to a few weddings, but not one Catholic ever invited me to Mass. [Read more…]

First Lesson About Man (A Few Words For Wednesday)

I’ve been engrossed in exploring the life and work of my new friend John C.H. Wu. Is it any surprise to you that he corresponded with Thomas Merton? How could he not have, is what I say. And I found some evidence that he did, of course. Merton wrote the introduction to John’s book The Golden Age of Zen. In fact, John writes this about their friendship,

There is no telling how much the friendship of this “true man” has meant to me during all these lonely years of my life.

See, practically bosum-buddies! And I also posted a thank you to Pink Floyd this week. Working on that, coupled with the knowledge that my friends John and Father Louis were correspondents, jogged my memory of one of Fr. Louis’ poems.

First Lesson About Man (excerpt)

Man begins in zoology.
He is the saddest animal.
He drives a big red car
Called anxiety.
He dreams at night
Of riding all the elevators.
Lost in the halls
He never finds the right door.

Man is the saddest animal.
A flake eater in the morning
A milk drinker.
He fills his skin with coffee
And loses patience
With the rest of his species.
He draws his sin on the wall
On all the ads in all the subways.

I was getting the wrong number for a while too. How about you? Perhaps St. Anthony had something to do with helping me find the right number as well!

Take a look at this video for the full reading of the poem and a montage that works pretty well with it. The poster writes,

This surreal poem is from The Collected Poems of Thomas Merton. I thought the paintings of Giorgio de Chirico provided an interesting perspective (as it were) on the poetry.

I agree.

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Because Winning Wars Takes Organization

I could sit here and bore you in nauseating detail about why the Church is necessary, and why it is vital to the salvation of all mankind. I could fill my dissertation with footnotes, and quotes from sources old and new. But really, that would be a colossal waste of your time and mine.

A few high-placed people have questioned the legitimacy of organized religion of late. Are they right? Or are they wrong? Look at this picture  and get a clue. Wars aren’t won by individuals on their own. They are won by individuals united in a common purpose and with a unifying mission. To get to this point, where these troops have crossed the “line of departure,” as you see here, thousands of hours and millions of lives have been at work together to bring the fight to a foe.

Is organized religion necessary? Not when you are at peace. But when you remember that we are at war, and have been since the beginning, the question is moot. As someone I met recently would say, “Think well on’t.”

Semper Fidelis

Because Nature Abhors A Vacuum

I found this photograph on a blog with the following caption: So Funny, So True. Maybe it’s just me but I would argue that the caption should have been So Sad, So Tragic.

As a parent of three school-age children, there is plenty for me to worry about in the world. Teen “Self-Help” is not one of them. As the title for this post states, “Nature abhors a vacuum,” a quote attributed to the philosopher Baruch Spinoza.

Spinoza did not believe in a personal God, nor could his brilliant mind come to terms with the idea of God becoming a human, as Our Lord, and Savior, Jesus Christ did. I would say (and I’m definitely not brilliant) that Spinoza had a problem understanding Love.

As parents of three school-age children, my wife and I have been entrusted with raising these individuals in a way that will serve themselves and society well and in the manner that God has ordained them to be raised. That is, in a way that will teach them the Two Greatest Commandments (as stated in Luke Chapter 10 here):

There was a scholar of the law who stood up to test him and said, “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus said to him, “What is written in the law? How do you read it?” He said in reply, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” He replied to him, “You have answered correctly; do this and you will live.”

Of course, saying this and actually doing it are not easy tasks. And I would argue that they cannot be done alone, nor without prayer and constant attention. My wife and I need all the help we can get! And this is another reason why I personally became a Catholic so that I could join with my wife in unity to lead my small flock by example and with all of the benefits that the Sacraments provide and the Graces that The Church has to offer.

“Self Help” is an oxymoron. “Teen Self Help?” You’ve got to be kidding me! Look at the titles on the shelves in the photograph above. Almost every one is a supernatural thriller of some type. And why do we crave the supernatural? Isn’t it obvious? Because we are spiritual beings. Souls in earthen vessels, yearning for God and communion with Him. Why not tap into our children’s need for the supernatural in a positive way?

Time is short, and as parents we can only shape and mold our children while they are in our personal care. Decisions you make to ensure this happens will often times be unpopular in the extreme. However, as stated in Proverbs 22:6

Train a child in the way he should go, and he will not depart from it.

Some tasks are too important to leave to chance. Or as the poet said:

I slept, and dreamed that life was Beauty;
I woke, and found that life was Duty.
Was thy dream then a shadowy lie?

Toil on, sad heart, courageously,

And thou shalt find thy dream to be
A noonday light and truth to thee.

More From the Treasure Chest: “Cannot” Part II

A few days ago, I found an essay written by Father George Bampfield entitled “Cannot”. I posted the first part of it here. This post today is the rest of the essay.

I feel compelled to share the rest of it with you for a good reason. From some of the comments to the first post, comments which I didn’t publish, it is obvious that some of you don’t realize that many passages in the Bible are taken literally by the Catholic Church. [Read more…]


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