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. 

Thanks to Steve Miller (Music for Mondays)

My wife and I recently celebrated our 21st wedding anniversary. We both had this in common when we met: a love for the music of Steve Miller. So what follows are some of Steve’s all-time greatest hits. My wife and I enjoy them and I bet you will too.

All of these are live performances and most are from a show Steve played in Chicago. Is Steve a Catholic? I have no idea. But I know “feel good,” and loving music when I hear it. This is what Steve excels at. And sometimes I can hear Catholic social teaching here too, loud and clear. First up, some biographical information.

Crossroads and Fly Like an Eagle. This is live, with interesting background information and some serious help from master guitarist Joe Satriani on both tunes. Crossroads is a cover of the Robert Johnson blues hit, electrified by Eric Clapton and the his buddies at Cream. Steve states that he is positive, but not a pollyanna. You go man!

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Serenade. I forgot to add this tune to my space jams from last week. This song is, as one of my friends would say, a seven layer dip of awesome. Wake up people! And note to Steve: I can play the maracas and tambourine too…really.

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The Joker. An all-time personal favorite, and aside from the midnight toker verse(not!), a pretty good description of me. This from the encore of the show but I bumped it up here near the top (where it belongs).

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Swingtown If you don’t like to dance, that sounds like something you should work on. Just sayin’ maybe this can help you out. It helps me out, even if I make my wife laugh out loud.

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Jungle Love. The story of Frank’s courtship. LOL. And Steve even signs some autographs too.

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Rock’n Me. Hard to find a job? Steve’s got that right. Sing along now (and work on your resume later)!

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Jetliner. Come on, who doesn’t love this song?! Going away to college, on a deployment, on a business trip, etc. etc.

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Take the Money and Run. Don’t let your kids watch too much television, because “thou shall not steal.” Then again, they might want to attend the police academy. This is great music for a road trip.

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Abracadabra. One of the last big hits the Steve Miller Band had, in the early 1980′s. It sounds even better live.

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Mercury Blues. It’s the least I could do, since Steve was introducing it above. He shows us his bluesy side, and I love the blues.

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Wild Mountain Honey and Winter Time Let’s finish up this edition of MfM with this two-for-one video. Learn how to love, and prepare for winter. The time for the former is now, and the latter will be here soon enough. Dig that cool harp thingy on Steve’s guitar too!

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Who likes SMB? Sound-off in the comm box and I’ll see you next week.

For Thoughts Like This on a Sunday

Humanity is one in spite of the national boundaries and underneath the differences of color. The differences between races are skin-deep, but the unity of mankind lies in the innermost heart of hearts. — John C.H. Wu, Beyond East and West

For All the Saints: Philip of Heraclea & Companions

There are many saints on the calendar for today, but I’d like to share with you this story about St. Philip, the Bishop of Heraclea, and his two companions, the priest Severus, and the good deacon Hermes (named after the Roman god of fleet feet).

People are still being martyred in the present day. Physically, believe it or not in many parts of the world, and mentally elsewhere. Prepare for it because it is likely to happen to you, and maybe it already has, in some way, shape or form.

The following account is from the work of another saint, Alphonsus de Liguori’s Victories of the Martyr’s. Does St. Al’s name sound familiar to you? It should because I shared something else he wrote right before I went on vacation this past summer.

Would you think me macabre if I told you that I find tales of this sort motivating? Well, I do. Because these three men didn’t abide by the dictum that “a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.” Instead, they are faith-filled and fearless men. After all, as a famous Marine once screamed, “Come on you sons of bitches, do you want to live forever?” So let’s wade in to a triple play of Christian courage, shall we?

ST. PHILIP, BISHOP OF HERACLEA, AND HIS TWO COMPANIONS, ST. SEVERUS AND ST. HERMES.

St. Philip was elected Bishop of Heraclea, the metropolis of Thrace, in consequence of his extraordinary virtue; and so fully did he correspond to the expectation of his people, that, while they tenderly loved him, there was not one among his flock who was not the object of his most affectionate pastoral solicitude. But there were two of his disciples whom he loved with peculiar affection—Severus, a priest, and Hermes, a deacon, whom he afterwords had companions of his martyrdom.

In the persecution of Diocletian he was advised to retire from the city. This, however, he refused to do, saying that he wished to conform to the dispensations of God, who knows how to reward those who suffer for his love, and that consequently he feared not the threats or torments of the tyrant.

The audacity of this Bishop. And fearless? The governor decides to lie in wait and call his bluff.

In the year 304, the saint was one day preaching to his people upon the necessity of patience and resignation, when a soldier, by the order of Bassus, the governor, entered the church, and having commanded the people to retire, shut the doors and sealed them; upon which Philip said to him: “Dost thou think that God dwelleth in these walls, and not rather in our souls?”

I don’t know about you, but I’m starting to hear strains of Tom Petty singing I Won’t Back Down. Man, Philip might even have looked like Tom Petty! Back to the story,

Philip, although unable to enter the church, was unwilling to abandon it altogether, and remained at the door with his people. Separating the good from the bad, he exhorted the former to remain constant in the faith, and called upon the latter to return to God by sincere repentance.

“Seperating the good from the bad…” Ahem, Phil, shouldn’t you really just chill out brother?! I mean, the governor’s soldier-boy is here and he’s mighty important, and looking kind of serious. What if the governor himself comes?

Bassus, (I warned you Phil!) finding them assembled, caused them to be arrested, and having demanded who was their master, Philip answered: “I am he.”

The governor said: “Hast thou not heard the edict of the emperor, that in no place shall the Christians be assembled, but shall sacrifice to the gods, or perish?” He then commanded that the gold and silver vessels, together with the books that treated of the Christian law, should be delivered up; otherwise that recourse would be had to torture.

I told you a bluff was going to be called. But Philip has a mind of his own, see, and a heart that belongs to the Lord because,

Philip replied: “For my part, I am willing to suffer in this my body, tottering with age, whatever thou canst inflict; but abandon thou the thought of having any control over my spirit. The sacred vessels are at thy disposal; but it shall be my care to prevent the holy books from falling into thy hands.”

In other words, you can kill the body, but not the spirit. Hmmm, where have I heard that before? Right! Matthew 10:28. And what effect does this have?

Bassus, infuriated at this answer, called forward the executioners, and caused the saint to undergo a cruel and protracted torture.

He didn’t waste any time, did he? Kind of like NPR in the firing of Juan Williams.

The deacon, Hermes, witnessing the agonies of his bishop, told the governor that, although he were possessed of all the holy books, good Christians would never fail to teach Jesus Christ to others, and to render him the honor he deserves. After these words the holy deacon was most cruelly scourged.

Oh, you expected kow-towing and capitulation, did you? Heh, civilians. Not to be outdone by the bishops subaltern,

Bassus commanded that the sacred vessels should be removed from the sacristy, that the Scriptures should be burned, and that Philip, with the other prisoners, should be led by the soldiers to the forum, to be executed, in order that the pagans should be gladdened and the Christians affrighted by the spectacle.

Power…it’s all about the power. And our shining heroes would have nothing to do with bending their knees unto the temporal power of a mere despot.

Philip, having arrived at the forum, and being informed of the burning of the Scriptures, spoke at length to the people of the eternal fire prepared by God for the wicked.

Get that? Philip believes in Hell. And the really crazy thing? He prefers Heaven. And just when he was getting, ahem, warmed up,

During this discourse, a pagan priest, called Cataphronius, came carrying some meats that had been sacrificed to the idols. Hermes, seeing him, exclaimed: “This diabolical food hath been brought, that we, being forced to eat it, may be contaminated!” St. Philip desired him to be calm.

The good Bishop, in the face of certain death, tells the good Deacon to remain calm. I wonder what scheme the governor is planning next.

In the mean time the governor, arriving at the forum again, commanded the holy bishop to sacrifice to his gods.

Why be subtle, right? And was Philip impressed? Not hardly.

The saint asked: ” Being a Christian, how can I sacrifice to marble?” “Sacrifice at least to the emperor,” said Bassus. “My religion,” said the saint, “commands me to honor the princes, but teaches me that sacrifice is due to God alone.”

An in an effort to seem reasonable, the governor said,

“But doth not this beauteous statue of Fortune,” said the governor, “deserve a victim?”

The saint replied: “It may receive that honor from thy hands, since thou dost adore it; but it shall not from mine.”

Uh-oh, the governor thought, this wise-acre of a Christian is calling my bluff! I blinked once but I’ll give him another chance.

“Let then,” urged Bassus, “this fine figure of Hercules move thee.”

Whereupon Philip makes an audacious speech and,

Here the holy bishop, raising his voice, rebuked the insanity of those who worship as gods statues that, being taken from the earth, like earth should be trodden upon, not adored.

Much to the consternation of the governor, who seems to be begging now as we see when,

Bassus, turning to Hermes, asked him if he at least would sacrifice. The holy deacon resolutely answered that he was a Christian, and could not do so; and having been told that, should he continue obstinate, he would be cast into flames, replied: “Thou dost threaten me with flames that last but for a short time, because thou art ignorant of the strength of those eternal flames in which the followers of the devil shall burn.”

Uh-oh, stand-by for the good part,

Bassus, exasperated at the constancy of the saints, remanded them to prison. As they went along, the insolent rabble frequently pushed the venerable and aged bishop, so as to throw him down, but he with joyous looks quietly raised himself again.

Those would be the actions of the crowd of reasonable, though “god-fearing” idolators. Warms the cockles of your heart, doesn’t it?

Meanwhile the term of Bassus’ government having expired, Justin, his successor, arrived at Heraclea.

And then term limits kicked in and everyone lived happily ever after. Right? Dream on, because the new guy on the job has something to prove. Because,

He was a much more cruel man than his predecessor. St. Philip, having been brought before him, was told that if he would not sacrifice, he should, notwithstanding his extreme age, have to suffer tortures that were intolerable even to youth.

And here, the drama continues to unfold.

The venerable bishop replied: “Ye, for fear of a short punishment, obey men: how much more ought we to obey God, who visits evil-doers with eternal torments? Thou mayest torture, but canst never induce me to sacrifice.”

Justin: “I shall command thee to be dragged by the feet through the streets of the city.”

Philip: “God grant that it may be so.” The bloody threat was executed; yet the saint did not die in that torment, but his body was torn to pieces, and in the arms of the brethren he was carried back to prison.

Why am I thinking of the movie Hard to Kill? Surely the old Bishops companions will bend to the governor’s will after this near death experience.

After this, the governor called before him Hermes the deacon, whom he exhorted to sacrifice, in order to escape the torments that were being prepared. But the saint replied : “I cannot sacrifice and betray my faith; do, therefore, according to thy pleasure—tear my body to pieces.”

“Thou speakest thus,” said Justin: “because thou knowest not the pains that await thee; upon a trial thou shalt repent.”

Hermes: “Atrocious though they may be, Jesus Christ, for whose love I am about to suffer, will render them not only light, but sweet.”

Justin sent him also to prison, where the saints remained for seven months.

Justin must have been thinking that these guys are on to something. Maybe he wanted to study it, or maybe more pressing matters came about which led him to forget about these three pesky Christians. The parishoners were probably underground by this time. After seven months of waiting,

Thence he sent them before him to Adrianople, and upon his arrival again summoned Philip to his presence, intimating to him that he had deferred his execution in the hope that, upon mature consideration, he would sacrifice.

Surely, you’ve had plenty of time to see the reasonableness of the governments position. But Philip plays the man and,

The saint boldly replied: “I have already told thee that I am a Christian, and I will always say the same. I will not sacrifice to statues, but only to that God to whom I have consecrated my entire being.”

I sense the denouement coming on.

Angered by this reply, the judge ordered him to be stripped and scourged until the bones and bowels were laid bare. The aged bishop suffered this torture with so much courage, that Justin himself was astonished.

Justin must have been thinking “why won’t you die?!”

Three days afterwards he was again summoned before the tyrant, who inquired why it was that with so much temerity he continued to disregard the imperial edicts.

The saint replied: “That which animates me is not rashness, but the love I bear my God, who one day shall judge me. In worldly matters I have invariably obeyed the rulers, but now the question is, whether I will prefer earth to heaven. I am a Christian, and cannot sacrifice to thy gods.”

These Christians are damned inflexible. Well, inflexible maybe, but surely not damned. Maybe they’re just gung-ho.

Seeing that he could not shake the constancy of the holy bishop, Justin, turning to Hermes, said: ” This old man is weary of life, but thou shouldst not be so reckless of it: offer sacrifice, and consult thy safety.”

Justin figures ol’ Phil is suicidal, so he appeals to the younger Deacon. Would you believe that Hermes takes this as an opportunity to school Justin in reality?

Hermes began to show the impiety of idolatry, but Justin hastily interrupted him, saying: ” Thou speakest as if thou wouldst persuade me to become a Christian.”

“I earnestly desire,” said the saint, ” that this should happen not only to thee, but to all those who hear me.”

Wow! Way to be a witness Deke, and way to try and save a soul too! Not that Justin cared, but that is never the point is it? Hermes and Philip didn’t answer to Justin, but to Our Lord.

Finally, the tyrant, perceiving that he could not win over these generous confessors, pronounced sentence in the following manner:

“We command that Philip and Hermes, for having contemned the imperial edicts, shall be burned alive.”

Time to get this over with.

Sentence having been pronounced, the saints proceeded to the place of execution, evincing by their holy joy that they were two victims consecrated to the Lord. But from having been tortured in the stocks their feet were so sore that the holy bishop had to be supported, while Hermes with great difficulty followed, saying to Philip : “Let us hasten, Father, nor care for our feet, since we shall no longer have need of them.”

Now that is hard corps!

When they came to the place of their martyrdom, according to the custom of the country, they were placed standing in a trench, and covered with earth up to the knees, in order that they might not be able to flee from the fire. Upon entering the trench, Hermes smiled with holy joy, and the fire having been kindled by the executioners, the saints began to thank Almighty God for their death, terminating their prayer and their martyrdom with the usual “Amen.”

Remember the priest, Severus? He was left behind, and not too happy about it. So he started praying,

Severus, who was the other disciple of St. Philip, had been left in prison while his holy bishop consummated his martyrdom in the flames; and having been informed of his glorious triumph, was deeply afflicted at not having been able to bear him company; hence he earnestly besought the Lord not to think him unworthy of sacrificing his life for his glory. His prayers were heard, and on the following day he obtained the desired crown.

And there is a somewhat miraculous twist to the story still because,

After the execution, their bodies were found entire and fresh as in full health, without any trace of fire.

And St. Alphonsus de Liguori (a Doctor of the Church) has this to share to round out this story,

St. Hermes, though a simple deacon, was a distinguished man. He had been first magistrate of the city of Heraclea, and had fulfilled the duties of his office with so much wisdom that he conciliated the esteem and veneration of all his fellow-citizens. After having renounced everything to devote himself to the service of the Church, he took the resolution to live only by the labor of his hands, like the great Apostle (St. Paul), and he had a son named Philip whom he brought up in the same principles.

While the executioners were setting fire to the pile in which he was to be consumed, and perceiving one of his friends in the crowd, he called him and said: “Go, and tell my son: ‘These are the last words of your dying father—words that he leaves you as the most precious marks of his affection. You are young: avoid as dangerous everything that can weaken your soul; above all, avoid sloth; keep the peace with every one.’” The flames having risen prevented him from continuing. These details are given by Ruinart. —ED.

Gung-ho for Christ until the end. Semper Fidelis, Philip, Hermes, and Severus and if you please, pray for us.

To Do My Duty

Duty, Honor, Country is the motto of the United States Military Academy. Honor, Courage, Commitment is a modern motto of the United States Marine Corps. The Marines official, and long standing motto of Semper Fidelis, means Always Faithful.

There are more poll results out showing that Catholics are really disgruntled with the Church. Again, as a recent convert, I’m struck by the disconnect between the average lay Catholic’s opinions and the stark reality of being a Catholic Christian in the modern world.

But the crux of the matter is, it has never been easy to be a Catholic, ever. Being Catholic is not something for the timid, or the faint-hearted. Being Christian isn’t either, and for those Christians who profess an “easy way” to salvation, their professions can be summed up in one word: Delusional.

But Frank, you may say, I was born into the Church; I didn’t sign up for this outfit on my own, what about me? You are in the same boat as I am. In other words, you, just like me, are a convert too, and your conversion, just like mine, is an ongoing one.

Begging your pardon, I wrote once before that we weren’t promised a rose garden. I remember as I wandered around in the wilderness of this world, when I was pushing devotion to Christ as far out on the periphery of my daily life as possible, to the extent that it really was like the planet Pluto in my personal orbit of priorities, that this behavior of mine was the same as the word I pointed to above: delusional.

Duty doesn’t seem to me to be a word much revered in our culture any longer. It is right up there with sacrifice in it’s popularity.  Oh, we honor it in the breach, but we don’t necessarily honor it by actually putting it into practice. And this putting our duty as Christians into practice is why I am glad I’m a Catholic. Because, frankly, the Catholic Church has all of the spiritual and logistical structures in place to successfully take little Private First Classes (for Christ) like me all the way through this enlistment in this valley of tears called “life on earth.”

Prior to becoming a Catholic, as a Christian, I would have been brought up on charges of dereliction of duty and been in a whole heap of trouble as a result.  “Know thyself” and I know this for sure. Now, I just embrace the trouble and hold fast to the lifeline the Church has thrown me. And I give everything I’ve got to toeing the line.

I remember walking fire-watch one night in the squad bay of my platoon, in the middle of the night on Parris Island, looking out the window and gazing across the marshes of the wetlands that border Port Royal Sound thinking to myself What in the hell have I gotten myself into? This is unbelievably tough! All the books I read about this place did nothing to prepare me for the gritty reality of it. Lord Help! I was seventeen years old and I had only one goal: to become a Marine.

So I prayed for perseverance and I steeled my mind to endure the physical and mental trials that I had to endure in order to overcome the obstacles placed in front of me if I was to earn the title of Marine. I prayed a lot at Parris Island, and at Quantico, and at countless other places, that I would endure. And I knew that there was no guarantee that I would be physically unharmed during my career.  I figured being a Marine would kill me, or lead me to being killed, and I signed the dotted line anyway.

My experience isn’t your experience, because each one of us has to make our own way through our pilgrimage on earth. And we can’t earn our way into heaven either. But guess what? If you are a Catholic, you aren’t a civilian anymore. And if heaven is your goal, as it is mine, then this is where you want to be. But you also have to do your duty. Because you can’t have the one (heaven) without the other (duty). But don’t take my word for it. Check St. Paul from today’s readings,

Brothers and sisters:
I, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to live in a manner worthy of the call you have received, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another through love, striving to preserve the unity of the spirit through the bond of peace; one Body and one Spirit, as you were also called to the one hope of your call; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. (Ephesians 4:1-6)

I don’t know about you, but to me this doesn’t sound easy to implement on my own.  I don’t have the willpower for it. Check this from Baruch from today’s Office of Readings (part of your logistical support system!). How do you spell duty? Starting with the word integrity. Look in the mirror.

Integrity belongs to the Lord our God; to us the look of shame we wear today, to us, the people of Judah and the citizens of Jerusalem, to our kings and princes, our priests, our prophets, as to our ancestors, because we have sinned in the sight of the Lord, have disobeyed him, and have not listened to the voice of the Lord our God telling us to follow the commandments which the Lord had ordained for us. From the day when the Lord brought our ancestors out of the land of Egypt until today we have been disobedient to the Lord our God, we have been disloyal, refusing to listen to his voice. And so the disasters, and the curse which the Lord pronounced through his servant Moses the day he brought our fathers out of Egypt to give us a land where milk and honey flow, have seized on us, disasters we experience today. Despite all the words of those prophets whom he sent us, we have not listened to the voice of the Lord our God, but, each following the dictates of his evil heart, we have taken to serving alien gods, and doing what is displeasing to the Lord our God. (Baruch 1:15:22)

Does that sound like anyone you know, or anyplace you happen to be? That was me to a “T.” And still is me, if I let my guard down. As my patron Macarius says, pray “Lord help!” Baruch is another of the books that got tossed in the Reformation, but which was always in the Canon from the very beginning. What happens when we choose dereliction of duty?

And so the Lord has carried out the sentence which he passed on us, on our judges who governed Israel, on our kings and leaders, on the men of Israel and of Judah; what he did to Jerusalem has never been paralleled under the wide heavens – all this in conformity with what was written in the Law of Moses; we were all reduced to eating the flesh of our own sons and daughters. Furthermore, he has handed them over into the power of all the kingdoms that surround us, to be loathed and avoided by all the neighbouring nations among whom he scattered them. Instead of being masters, they found themselves enslaved, because we had sinned against the Lord our God by not listening to his voice.(Baruch 2:1-5)

Why do we get complacent with what we’re told? Why don’t we walk the walk instead of just talking the talk? You know the answer—this is difficult! Baruch provides us a prayer though, and I intend to pray it.

Almighty Lord, God of Israel, a soul in anguish, a troubled heart now cries to you: Listen and have pity, Lord, for we have sinned in your sight. You sit enthroned forever, while we perish continually. ‘Almighty Lord, God of Israel, hear the prayer of the dead of Israel, of the sons of those who have sinned against you and have not listened to the voice of the Lord their God, hence the disasters that have seized on us. Do not call to mind the misdeeds of our ancestors, but remember instead your power and your name. You are indeed the Lord our God and we long to praise you, Lord, since you have put respect for you in our hearts to encourage us to call on your name. We long to praise you in our exile, for we have emptied our hearts of the evil inclinations of our ancestors who sinned against you. Look on us today, still in exile where you have dispersed us as something execrable, accursed, condemned, in punishment for all the misdeeds of our ancestors who had abandoned the Lord our God.

Welcome into the service of the Lord. It gets better, but not necessarily here on the planet. Which is why Our Lord taught us to pray,

Thy will be done on earth, as it is in Heaven.

“As it is in heaven” because frankly it ain’t here.  Saddle up people! We’ve got a long march ahead of us.

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Morality (A Few Words for Wednesday)

A poem by Matthew Arnold (1822-1888).  Not a Catholic, Arnold hung out with John Keble and others from the Oxford Movement in the Anglican Church.  You may recall that many in that movement eventually converted to Catholicism, such as Blessed John Henry Newman and Frederick Faber.  Arnold even heard some of Blessed JHN’s sermons, before JHN swam the Tiber.

As for me, I stumbled upon this poem in my favorite book about Ecclesiastes, written by another non-Catholic named Minos Devine.  John Wu once said (prior to his conversion) that as a Protestant,

I was free to choose whatever interpretation suited best my own reason, and (the Little Flower’s) interpretation was exactly the right one for me, and that made me a Catholic!

Using the same logic, I can say that all things that are good, and that are also Christian, belong to me too, since I am a Catholic. Do you think I’m walking a high-wire act with that statement? Lookee here. And dare I mention St. Paul’s words from his letter to the Philippians?

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.(Phil. 4:8)

Now, let us enjoy the following verses from the pen of Matthew Arnold.

Morality

We cannot kindle when we will
The fire which in the heart resides;
The spirit bloweth and is still,
In mystery our soul abides.
But tasks in hours of insight will’d
Can be through hours of gloom fulfill’d.

With aching hands and bleeding feet
We dig and heap, lay stone on stone;
We bear the burden and the heat
Of the long day, and wish ’twere done.
Not till the hours of light return,
All we have built do we discern.

Then, when the clouds are off the soul,
When thou dost bask in Nature’s eye,
Ask, how she view’d thy self-control,
Thy struggling, task’d morality–
Nature, whose free, light, cheerful air,
Oft made thee, in thy gloom, despair.

And she, whose censure thou dost dread,
Whose eye thou wast afraid to seek,
See, on her face a glow is spread,
A strong emotion on her cheek!
‘Ah, child!’ she cries, ‘that strife divine,
Whence was it, for it is not mine?

‘There is no effort on my brow–
I do not strive, I do not weep;
I rush with the swift spheres and glow
In joy, and when I will, I sleep.
Yet that severe, that earnest air,
I saw, I felt it once–but where?

‘I knew not yet the gauge of time,
Nor wore the manacles of space;
I felt it in some other clime,
I saw it in some other place.
‘Twas when the heavenly house I trod,
And lay upon the breast of God.’

Thanks to Webster Bull and Godspeed!

It seems like a million years ago, but it was only back in February(!) when I wrote these words,

Like the officers I served under in the Marines, some of these priests are going to be exceptional. I have some advice for you. Prepare yourself now for the day they will be re-assigned to another post.

Well, that day has come, but it isn’t at my parish. It is right here, in this space. Webster Bull, the founder of the YIMCatholic blog, has officially passed the reins on to me and Allison. He reports that he is “too busy with other writing projects at this time to give YIMC the attention it deserves.” Those of you waiting upon his posts with baited breath may now exhale, and breathe easy.

What can I say to Webster except, thanks for starting this blog! And for his future endeavors I give him a hearty Godspeed and I wish you well! Will Webster never post here again? I honestly don’t know, and I truthfully hope he can stop in from time to time. I am certain of this though; I trust Our Lord knows what He is doing with Webster Bull.

Join me in wishing him well. Bon Voyage, mon frere, and thanks for staying until I didn’t need training wheels!

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The Wonders of Space (Music for Mondays)

Friday evening, the sky was clear and my daughter and I headed over to the university in our town to look at the stars. For her science class, see, extra credit is available and this was one way to take advantage of that opportunity.

The sky was clear, the night air was crisp and the moon was waxing just past half. So my daughter and I jumped in the car and headed to college. Sort of like a father – daughter date night under the stars.

The university folks had three telescopes set up for us and we got to see the Pillars Nebula (seen here from the Hubble telescope), and up close and personal looks at the moon. We also were treated to viewing Jupiter and could clearly see her and four of her moons. And lastly, they slewed the scope over to let us look at a binary star system. We could clearly see those two little suns twinkling at us.  No sign of Tatooine though (but maybe it was there).

Anyway, that is how the theme for this weeks Music for Mondays segment came about. Space, the final frontier.

The theme to Star Trek. How’s this for a mood setter?

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But this, The Known Universe, is even better. One of the research assistants and I were talking about the new planet that was “found” recently that could possibly be supportive of life. You may have seen the story about this planet the size of Jupiter 20 light-years away where, “this planet doesn’t have days and nights. Wherever you are on this planet, the sun is in the same position all the time.” But I’ll need to sleep! The more we look, the more we learn. And the more we learn, the more it seems we already live on the Goldilocks planet, where everything is “just right.” And as it happens, everything has to be just right, as God intended it.

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Next up, David Bowie’s Space Oddity. This is from a 1970 television appearance, and before the Ziggy Stardust era. Confession time: I’ve always loved this song and I sang it to every one of my children when they were babies. Really. I even sang it to the neighbor’s boys when I would play with the kids out on the swing set. You know, for astronaut training purposes.

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The Police, Walking on the Moon. Remember this from 1979, on the leading edge of the early 80′s? The album title? Regatta de Blanc. This from a live concert in 1983.

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Well, now that the moon is on my mind, how about something apocalyptic and classic too? Creedence Clearwater Revival and Bad Moon Rising should do nicely.

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I know I played this already recently in my “To Anne Rice, with Love” segment, but this is a must for any space segment. Elton John’s Rocket Man. Sing along while you enjoy this classic footage.

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Neil Young fleeing Mother Earth? Something like that, in After the Goldrush, with silver spaceships and such.

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What better visuals for a space segment than black holes? And what better music for that subject than Pink Floyd? This from the instrumental version of Shine on You Crazy Diamond.

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Space and Pink Floyd go together like peas and carrots, wouldn’t you agree? One of These Days, is the tune. And this montage of a scene from Stanley Kubrick’s 2001, A Space Odyssey fits well too.

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It was enjoyable spending time with my daughter, admiring Our Lord’s handiwork. Afterwards, we went and had some frozen yogurt at a shop next to the campus. I blinked a little when I considered that in six short years, my 6th grader may be doing this again with an actual date. Gulp!

See ya’ll next week!

For All the Saints: Ignatius of Antioch

This was originally written last year for the Feast of St. Ignatius. Now is a good time for a reprise of this post.

Two years ago I was reading and re-reading a book that brought me to the Catholic Church. As I wrote in my very first post, that book, My Life with the Saints by James Martin, S.J., reminded me of a central insight I first had in the fourth grade: The saints, revered by the Catholic Church and all but ignored by the Protestant churches of my youth, are a powerful witness for Christians today. But we have to pay attention to them.

So it occurred to me while out on a walk today, or what the Carthusians call my spatiamentum—where most of my best crackpot schemes occur—that I could do worse than devote a little time each day to learning more about the saints and, in particular, reflecting, as Fr. Jim does in his book, on how their stories are reflected in my life as a Catholic today.

This probably occurred to me because (a) I had just had a nap, usually the fount of my finest reflections and (b) before my nap, I had been reading the New Advent entry on today’s featured saint, Ignatius of Antioch. Truth be told, I know so little about most saints that New Advent is likely to be my first daily stop as this, my latest crackpot scheme unfolds. (I will do my best to credit my sources at the bottom of each one of these posts about the saints.)

Until today, I knew nothing about St. Ignatius of Antioch. Until today, I couldn’t even place Antioch on a map, and as for Ignatius, wasn’t he the founder of the Jesuits? Well, yes and no, but he is not that Ignatius.

Ignatius of Antioch was born about the year 35, “probably . . . in Syria of pagan parents, but the facts of his early life are largely unknown,” according to Lives of the Saints by Richard P. McBrien. But how much of a CV do you need when confronted with this one fact?—Ignatius of Antioch was, to the best of present-day knowledge, a follower, a student, a close personal associate of St. John the Apostle and Evangelist. From that alpha point, his life moved toward its omega: being torn to pieces by lions in the Roman Colliseum. And pretty happily too, to judge by the reading in his honor from today’s Office, an excerpt from a letter he wrote while en route to Rome to be torn to pieces by lions:

I am writing to all the churches to let it be known that I will gladly die for God if only you do not stand in my way. I plead with you: show me no untimely kindness. Let me be food for the wild beasts, for they are my way to God. I am God’s wheat and shall be ground by their teeth so that I may become Christ’s pure bread. Pray to Christ for me that the animals will be the means of making me a sacrificial victim for God.

I mean, isn’t that just nuts? As Father Barnes noted last evening in a private conversation, and I can relate personally, we Americans are not big on martyrdom. With ironic symmetry, this morning’s mass was offered for an American serviceman who gave his life in the Middle East last year; Father’s homily and prayers noted that long-honored form of American martyrdom that the young serviceman represented; and for a recessional, Father Barnes led us in “God Bless America.”

Ignatius of Antioch was born about the year 35, or just about the time word was spreading northward from Jerusalem about events singular in human history: the Crucifixion and Resurrection of Our Lord. It may have been as much as a dozen years before persecutions in Judea would drive the Apostles out onto their respective trajectories of evangelization. St. John went north, and sometime, perhaps in the 50s or 60s, a young man named Ignatius encountered this man who had not only encountered Jesus Christ but was, by all accounts, the Apostle most beloved of Christ. From that encounter with an encounter, a martyr was born.

But—do me a favor and let me be ripped up by lions?! Isn’t this martyrdom itself an extraordinary testament to the sanctity of St. John, who late in life (when Ignatius was in the midst of his own manhood) was writing his Gospel, his epistles, and finally the Book of Revelation? What sort of light was St. John radiating that his follower could have been so convinced that the lions would make him “Christ’s pure bread”?

When I was in my 20s, I thought that a certain 20th-century mystic philosopher had been the most significant figure in modern memory. (I’d prefer to withhold further details; that sentence stands on its own.) I never met that mystic philosopher, who died two years before I was born—just as Christ is thought to have died two years before Ignatius came into the world. But as I have written previously, I did meet a man named Michel, who had literally been raised in the household of said mystic philosopher, and to me, in my 20s and 30s, Michel was, without question, the most compelling and convincing figure I had ever met. Through my encounters with Michel, who died when I was 40, I received a taste of what St. Ignatius must have seen and sensed in St. John: a faith founded in fact.

That St. Ignatius of Antioch could have met his death so joyously and with his eyes so open is all the testimony I think I’m going to need, at least for the rest of this day, to the exceptional series of events that occurred on this planet about two thousand years ago and still enliven us all today. I have Michel to thank for that understanding.

(Sources: New Advent entry on Ignatius of Antioch; Richard P. McBrien, Lives of the Saints; The Liturgy of the Hours; and as always, with gratitude, James Martin, S.J., My Life with the Saints)

Because Stuff Doesn’t Last

Yesterday, the day after his 11th birthday, our youngest son came to me, saying he needed new shoes. Talk about an understatement. (See photo above) I bought him those sneakers last spring. He said he’d be willing to continue to wear his canvas and rubber Chuck Taylor Hi-Tops if I would please just buy him a new pair.

He adored those sneakers. They’re marketed as “classic hi-top kicks (that) have remained true to the original Chuck Taylors to give your little one some authentic, old-school style.”  When he spied them at the East Brunswick Kohl’s last spring, they were a fresh Royal blue. Our basketball-loving boy was delighted to learn that American basketball player Charles Hollis “Chuck” Taylor was also a shoe salesman and that Chuck Taylors are history’s best-selling basketball shoes. From daily wear, including on the basketball court, the rubber soles eroded. And now our son’s socks (or ankles) are visible from both sides of each sneaker where the canvas wore away.

It is hard sometimes to explain to young ones how the world we inhabit is much less important than the world we hope to inherit. Or how the world we know is younger than the kingdom created for us before time began. Perhaps our son’s beloved Chuck Taylors serve as a reminder for him, and for me too, of what Our Lord makes clear in His Sermon on the Mount.

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and decay destroy, and thieves break in and steal. But store up treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor decay destroys.


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