Thanks to Michael O’Brien, for this Advent Gift

Posted by Webster 
I am the world’s slowest reader. I love long novels. Go figure. The two Catholic novels I have enjoyed most are very long. Still first on my list is Kristin Lavransdatter (1100+ pages), which I wrote about here and here. But closing fast is Island of the World (800+), which I finished today.

Kristin is a woman’s story written by a woman, 1928 Nobelist Sigrid Undset. Island, by present-day Canadian novelist Michael O’Brien, is all man—the life story of a Croatian peasant boy displaced by World War II and again by the Tito regime that followed. But the books have a lot in common. Each follows an entire life, from early childhood to death; and each of the lives—Kristin in 14th century Norway and Josip Lasta in the 20th century Balkans—ends dedicated to Jesus Christ and his Church, but only after a torturous odyssey.

Island is truly an odyssey. Through a series of horrific trials, a boy/youth/man raised in a Christian culture becomes desperately disillusioned; then, through a series of minor miracles, he comes back to the Catholic faith. The key, it seems, is waiting faithfully. As the author reminds us near page 800, a thousand years are as a day to God, and a day is as a thousand years. If we look for the cause and effect of grace, if we expect grace to heed deadlines, we’re going to be disappointed.

The miracle of Island of the World is that despite the most terrible sufferings—beginning with the annihilation of Josip’s family by Partisan guerrilas (and I’m only giving away the tip of the iceberg)—Josip arrives at a hard-won salvation. This takes every bit of patience he can muster. But God is always patient. “Much good begins in us before we learn to know its name,” an elderly Josip says to himself. ”Our Father is patient with us, for he loves us.”

Or as Josip writes to a loved one near the end of novel, “It seems to me now that even terrible absences can become a blessing if we do not lose heart, if we keep swimming in the many waters of God’s grace, if we give him time, if we permit a little space for his mercy.”

A bit further on, Josip shares the short “prayer/counsel” he tries to live by:

Seek nothing for yourself.
Stand ready to serve
in quietness,
demanding nothing, expecting nothing, 
sacrificing and praying without anyone knowing.

Island of the World was recommended to me first by Father Barnes, then by two fellow parishioners at St. Mary’s, Julie and Elizabeth. Father has recommended other books that I have not read—The Fulfillment of All Desire by Ralph Martin and a book by Adrienne von Speyr, the title of which escapes me. So I’m glad I finally took him up on Island, which I bought while on retreat at St. Joseph’s Abbey in Spencer, Massachusetts. (There’s a great Catholic book shop at the abbey.)

For more details on Island of the World, check out the Web page put up by publisher Ignatius Press, which includes blurbs from luminaries like Peter Kreeft. Next on my novel reading list is O’Brien’s Father Elijah, also from Ignatius Press and recently recommended by Randy Beeler, who calls Michael O’Brien the “best living Catholic novelist.” I can’t disagree.

For Rosa, Who Loved Jesus So Much She Had to Leave His Church

Posted by Webster 
Living where I do, outside Boston, I am surrounded by Catholics. Being Catholics of our times, many of them, born into the Church, have left it. This is a strange burden for me, only two years a Catholic, to bear.

By what lottery was I called to this faith now, nearing the age of 60? By what turn of the wheel have these Catholics, who adored the Church of their childhood, fled it like a frightening memory behind a door they themselves have locked and lost the key? I have never prayed to St. Jude, patron of lost causes (left), but if I meet many more of these people, I may begin doing so.

I have written previously about “my friend who has fallen away from the church.” More recently, I wrote about a cradle Catholic who values my passion for Catholicism but somehow can’t find the way back to his own. Let me take a moment to tell you about a third friend, “Rosa.” This friend recently came upon one of my blog posts, and she was offended by what the post implied about people in her situation. But as we talked I realized, and so did she, that the blog had actually opened up inner territories for her to explore. I even dared to think it may have reopened a door she had closed so long ago.

I have known Rosa for many years now. She is bright, well educated, upstanding in motherhood and citizenship, and—I think even she would admit—extremely talkative. I am not so talkative—except in your blog, I can hear Katie saying with an eye-roll, and she is right, of course. Because Rosa is talkative and I am not, and perhaps for no other reason, we may not always have understood each other as well as we might. Talkative can look superficial to the non-talkative; and I know how self-absorbed I can seem.

Rosa may be talkative, but as I learned in a recent conversation, superficial she is not. She told me of her extreme devotion to the Church as a child. Of praying on her knees on a hard wood floor while other children were playing. Of the countless rosaries, novenas, and other devotions she applied herself to until—when was it?—her late teens, early twenties? Then, a disastrous series of encounters with a priest soured her heart. This was no sordid story of abuse like those that have made news in recent years. It was just a case of lousy advice from someone who should have known better. At a time when she was growing from adolescence to womanhood, when it seems that even virginity was still an option for her—when her life could have taken so many good turns—Rosa turned away from the Church.

As a mother, she has tried to find her way back, but again, maybe ten years ago, she asked for pastoral guidance and received just the wrong answer. You can say, but maybe Rosa is wrong, maybe it was the right answer. I’ve heard the pastoral answer she was given, and, let me presume to say this: It is the wrong answer. I am not sure what the right answer is, but Pope Benedict would have known, and so would Father Barnes, I’m sure.

I am sorry to be so indefinite about Rosa’s story, but I must not violate her privacy. What’s more, I am just finishing Michael O’Brien’s extraordinary novel Island of the World, and I have underlined the following words regarding the short biography of a poet, who is the central character:

Before going to press, . . . he insisted on the deletion of any significant biographical data. He maintained that while such matters are important “for the soul” of a man, the understanding to be gained from them is for the man himself, and not for anyone who, from idle interest or “more perilous curiositas,” as he called it, presumes to enter into the realm of another’s private memory.

I wrote Rosa’s initials in the margin beside this quote. And I have written this post with the quote in mind. My interest in Rosa is not “idle,” but Rosa herself will have to arrive, perhaps with the help of the Holy Spirit, at a renewed understanding of her own biographical data. I feel honored, though, that, during a brief conversation that shattered all my preconceptions, Rosa gave me a glimpse into the realm of her private memory.

What else can I do now? Keep blogging and getting in trouble with my blogging. Keep talking. Keep praying. Joan of Beverly would advise me to add Rosa to my prayer list, and so I have done so. St. Jude, pray for us.

Thanks to Catholic Roundup!

Posted by Webster 
Sean McGaughey over at Catholic Roundup did something very nice for YIM Catholic over the weekend. He and “colleagues” Nancy and Sarah (I think “family members” is more like it) put together an audio promo for this blog.

That is flattering, of course, but the promo also does a nice job of capturing what Frank and I are trying to do here. It is, as another reader has already commented, tenderhearted. Frank discovered the promo posted on our FaceBook Fan Page and was so excited about it he called me from California to tell me. (If you don’t know Frank, he’s, well, excitable.)

To hear the audio promo, click here. To visit Catholic Roundup, click here. Thanks and Merry Christmas, Sean, Nancy, and Sarah!

Because of the Day I Finally Met Our Mother

Posted by Webster 
A snowstorm in New England brings out shovels, not Catholics. After an all-night storm, with high drifting winds, we didn’t have our usual compliment at the 8:15 (where I read with Ferde) or the 10:30 (where our choir was reduced to a few hardy souls). But the Blessed Mother was in the house. I know that now.

Two years back, at a family picnic, I wasn’t so sure. My wife’s cousin, a devout Catholic, asked me why I had converted. She ran through a few possible reasons and finally came to Mary. Was it because of Mary that I became a Catholic, she asked? I now know that others, like Mitch, have been brought to the Church by a devotion to Mary, pure and simple. For me, though, I had to tell my wife’s cousin that, in all honesty, I wasn’t even sure who Mary was.

In fact, it was because my reasons for becoming Catholic were so many, so odd and personal, so interconnected yet disparate, that I started this blog in the first place.

In this blog, I have written just once before about the Blessed Mother. And in that post the Virgin Mary shared billing with another Mary, my grandmother. Reviewing that post today, I realize that, where the Virgin Mary is concerned, my writing was more or less theoretical, offering good reasons for Catholics’ devotion to Mary. That post boils down to a personal philosophical spin job.

Today, it was just personal.

It began with the Gospel and homily at 8:15. Of the twenty Mysteries in the Rosary, I have, for unaccountable reasons, always loved the Visitation—not because of Mary so much as because the Visitation represents the most remarkable and charitable fruit of the Angel Gabriel’s visit. What is the first thing Mary does when she finds out that she is going to give birth to God? Hop on a donkey and ride off into the hills of Judea, to help her pregnant, elderly cousin Elizabeth. That was today’s Gospel reading, for the Fourth Sunday in Advent.

Father Barnes’s homily was about joy, real joy, a joy not dependent on the circumstances of our lives but on God’s gifts and grace, on participating in the fullness of God’s kingdom. Such joy is founded on humility, Father said, the same humility with which Mary met the archangel’s message. By this time, or about 8:40 by the clock, Mother Mary was starting to make her presence known to me.

At the conclusion of communion, Meredith, our cantor, sang the “Ave Maria” from the choir loft as we all sat, silently meditating. About ten measures in, my dear friend Ferde, my fellow lector for the Mass, began singing along by my side. Where Ferde is concerned, singing is frankly a euphemism. Ferde is tone deaf because, from birth, he has been, not exactly stone deaf, but significantly impaired in the general department of hearing. So while Meredith, from above, sang beautifully, Ferde, to my right, grumbled unmercifully. And the effect was miraculous. I have never heard such a beautiful “Ave Maria,” and I am not being ironic. My friendship with Ferde is real enough to me that his “harmony” actually enhanced the moment.

Jump ahead to 9:50 and again to 11:05, when we, the choir, rehearsed and then sang the Canticle of Mary. I have been moved by many of the pieces we sing under Choirmaster Fred’s direction. I have written before of singing the “Gloria” here. Nothing has moved me, though, as the Canticle of Mary moved me today. As a fairly regular reader of the Liturgy of the Hours, I have an opportunity to read these words every evening (though I often am truant). But they have never touched my heart as they did twice today:

My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my Savior. 

For he has looked with favor on his lowly servant; from this day all generations will call me blessed:

The Almighty has done great things for me, and holy is his Name.

He has mercy on those who fear him in every generation.

He has shown the strength of his arm, he has scattered the proud in their conceit. 
He has cast down the mighty from their thrones, and has lifted up the lowly. 

He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty. 

He has come to the help of his servant Israel, for he has remembered his promise of mercy, 

the promise he made to our fathers, to Abraham and his children forever. 

Glory to the Father and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit,
As it was in the beginnning, is now, and will be forever. Amen.

With cantor Mark Nemeskal, we all sang the first and last verses (in bold). The women sang the verses in red. We men sang the remainder. Most touching were the women’s voices, from a group reduced to just five by the snowstorm. The sound was pure, plaintive, praiseful. Mary had entered my heart at last.

Asked by journalist Peter Seewald how many ways there are to God, my pope, Benedict XVI, gave one of the thousand surprising answers to be found in his dialogue with Seewald, which extends over three volumes,* from 1996, when the pope was still known as Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, to 2007, two years into his papacy.

Seewald: How many ways are there to God?
Cardinal Ratzinger: As many as there are people. For even within the same faith each man’s way is an entirely personal one. . . . 

I can attest to the truth of my pope’s statement. In a church where many, if not the majority, feel a tremendous debt and devotion to Mary, I had been frankly out of the loop. Today, for the first time, I think I understand a bit better what all the fuss is about.

* The three Seewald volumes are: Salt of the Earth, God and the World, and Benedict XVI: An Intimate Portrait. They are a small miracle in themselves. Seewald began interviews for the first volume as a young, single skeptic. He published the third volume as a father and a Catholic.

Because Going To Mass On Vacation Is Easy

One of the neatest things about being Catholic is that I can go to Mass anywhere in the world and feel comfortable. I never felt that way beforehand. Growing up as a non-denominational Christian, we visited other churches rarely and when we did, it felt weird.

As a result, when on vacation we just skipped church. We didn’t know anyone, and we really weren’t missing anything except a sermon and who knew if that was going to be any good? When visiting relatives, if it happened to be a Sunday, we would sometimes attend with them, so there was a modicum of safety from being singled out as potential new members.

But if we didn’t know anyone? Nope. What was the point? We were just passing through and the fellowship of our local church would be absent and we would be like strangers and stick out like sore thumbs.

Now that I’m a Catholic, I love visiting other parishes! And I know that the fellowship of our home parish community is not the big draw anyway. The big draw is Christ and His Presence in the Eucharist. We don’t need to know anyone locally because the most important Person there knows us backwards and forwards.

The photograph above is of St. Peter Claver Church in Simi Valley, California. Full disclosure: we attended this parish the other night with my wife’s family for Simbang Gabi, a Filipino Advent Vigil Mass traditionally held before Christmas. And thanks to my in-laws, we enjoyed a catered dinner complete with Filipino dishes with about 200 of our new parish “friends.” Neat!

The second photograph is of the Blessed Sacrament Parish in Seattle, Washington. We attended services there this past summer when I attended a conference in that city. Run by Dominican Friars, it featured a homily given by someone dressed like St. Anthony of Padua.

Aside from a few nuances here or there, the Mass follows the same format as in our home parish, and you can count on that worldwide. Dominicans are known for their skills as preachers, so the homily was quite good too.

I have had friends who are not Catholic ask me about visiting a Catholic Church. I’ve told them that it is a very comfortable experience because if you don’t call any attention to yourself, no one will bother you. Heck, for all they know you are a super-devout contemplative so engrossed in your prayer life that they wouldn’t think of bothering you. Or if you are the outgoing type, you’d probably be welcomed like a long-lost family member and given the grand tour of the building. Now that is hospitality!

The last photograph is of St. James Cathedral in Seattle. When my family and I attended mass here, we were asked if we would bring up the gifts of bread and wine that would become the Blessed Sacrament. I said the only thing I could say: Absolutely! Yes!

Did we know where to stand or any other particulars? No. Did we know anyone there? Not a soul, except Our Lord. And when the time came for us to present the Gifts, all went well and without a hitch. What a blessing to have even been asked!

And that is how it is when we are on vacation on the West Coast now. We go to Church as a family. We’ve even been late for the English-speaking Mass and sat through a Spanish Mass before. Did I understand the words in the liturgy and homily? No. But everything that really matters we understood just fine.

This is yet another of the graces and benefits of belonging to the largest Christian Church in the world. Thanks be to God.

Thanks to Mike, A Mostly Humble Guy

Posted by Webster
Being a Catholic is way too much fun for one man. Last night, a Christmas party. This morning, wake up to a great post by Frank on the liturgy for Advent. Now, men’s group in the basement of our church, a foundation stone of my week. Does it get any better than this?

Mike, one of the humblest guys in the group, spoke about humility. I took a picture of Mike leading the meeting. Is it significant that the image is out of focus, so that you can’t make Mike out very well? He is the middle blur at left. Humble of him to project such an image, huh?

Mike took as his text a short book titled The Power of Humility by Canice Bourke, OFM. The conversation it sparked was one of our best, in which several people asked good questions and/or offered excellent insights into humility, what Fr. Bourke calls “the foundation of all other virtues.”

Mike himself started off with a good point. “If I fail at other virtues,” he said, “it’s usually pretty easy to detect. If I get angry, if I overeat—I know it right away. A failure of humility is hard to detect.” Mike makes his living primarily as a substitute teacher in local school systems, including our parish school. He lives simply, taking care of his elderly mother. I think of him as the humblest of men, and I mean that as a compliment, of course. But Mike spoke convincingly of his failures of humility while teaching, standing in front of “the kids” and finding that pride waits for him “in ambush.”

Jonathan usually has a very fine intellectual grasp of matters discussed, and when I raised the stark contrast between the Christian ideal of humility and the modern psychological ideal of self-esteem, he parsed that as a “psychological” problem, not a religious one. Jonathan usually talks too fast and smart for my pen, so that’s my one note on his contribution.

As usual, some of the best exchanges involved Ferde, our outgoing president (Patrick takes over at the next meeting, January 2), and Bob, a former seminarian and now the father of three. Ferde said that he thought the first step to humility is “removing pride.” Bob interjected that the first step, “as always, is begging.” My pal Ferde had a pretty good rejoinder to that: “OK, I’ll be humble this time. Have it your way, Bob.”

Ten minutes later, when Bob went off on a good long jag about the “line in the sand” between confidence (a virtue) and arrogance or pride (a sin), Ferde finally stopped him with “OK, Bobby, now you’re filibustering! Keep reading, Mike!”

Frank G. and Frank K. are the two senior members of our group. I think of them as the Italian sausage and the Polish sausage. The Polish Frank sat quiet for most of the meeting, after a week spent flat on his back in the hospital. But near the end of the meeting, he piped up: “In all this discussion, has anyone mentioned obedience?” No one had mentioned obedience, so, led by Frank, who said that Christ’s ministry began in obedience to his parents, we talked some about where and how obedience and humility intersect with pride.

The meeting was soon at a close, though not without the Italian Frank’s closing prayer, offered each week:

Saint Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle. Be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil. May God rebuke him, we humbly pray. O Prince of the heavenly host, by the power of God, thrust into hell Satan and all evil spirits who prowl through the world for the ruin of souls. Amen.

Because of the Diamond in the Middle of the Road

Posted by Webster 
I went to a Christmas party last night and spent the first hour talking about religion with a professed atheist and a cradle Catholic who has fallen away from the Church. How do you get such a three-way conversation started at a Christmas party that’s not especially religious? Easy. You drop a stink-bomb in front of the atheist by asking the cradle Catholic if he has read your blog.

Cradle Catholic: You have a blog?!
Webster (nodding): Roger.
Cradle Catholic: What’s it called?
Webster: Why I Am Catholic.
Atheist (look of incredulity): You what?
Webster: Yeah, that’s my blog.
Atheist (did I say look of incredulity?): You’re kidding, right?
Webster: I’m serious as death.
Atheist: When did you become a Catholic?

You would have thought I had made a loud, socially inappropriate noise.

But good things can come of such awkward moments. And as the conversation wound its way out of the thicket of embarrassment onto the open road of discourse, the Atheist clearly outlined three arguments against the Catholic Church: (1) It is ruled with an iron fist by a powerful bureaucracy. (2) It has been plagued by scandal. (3) It is nothing more than an answer to man’s unconscious needs—the old Marxian “opiate of the people” thing.

Whereupon, I had my glittering moment. I said, “There’s need and there’s truth. Truth is truth, regardless of what man’s needs may be. If there is a diamond in the middle of the road, it doesn’t matter what anyone is doing in the road. The jewelers can be corrupt. The diamond merchants can be guilty of horrible abuses. And people can lust after the diamond or they can ignore it altogether. It’s still a diamond.”

I knew I was making some sense because eventually the cradle Catholic came awake and moved slowly but sincerely to my defense. CC, an artist, took note of the passion with which I was speaking. CC said that whatever you thought of my argument, you had to admire my passion.

A bit further on, the Atheist as much as said, “Well, you can’t convert me.” Whereupon I threw my arms around CC and said to the Atheist, “I’m not concerned with you. I’m working on him.

As he went out the door, the cradle Catholic reminded me that I once had promised to take him to a Benedictine abbey to hear the monks sing. I smiled and said, “My bad. We’ll do it soon, brother.”

Because Women Aren’t from Venus and Men Aren’t from Mars

Posted by Frank
We have been talking about men of the laity and their roles in the church lately. Because that is who we are, Webster and I, a couple of laymen in love with the Church and trying to share that with others. There’s much in the liturgy of Advent to help us reflect on the roles of men and women.

Take for instance this verse from today’s Gospel reading where the Angel Gabriel tells Zechariah of the coming birth of his son John (the Baptist) and what John will accomplish.

He will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah to turn the hearts of fathers toward children and the disobedient to the understanding of the righteous, to prepare a people fit for the Lord. (Luke 1:17)

“To turn the hearts of fathers toward children . . .” OK, so I take it that this lack of communication between fathers and sons is not a new thing. Not some recent cultural event of modernity. Somehow I didn’t think it was, but I’m glad to see that this is mentioned right at the beginning of the story of the prophet preparing the way for the coming of Our Savior. So much for blaming modern society.

And now that I mention it, am I the only one to see that the entire mystery of the Incarnation is the Divine Father turning His heart towards His children? Even as disobedient as they were and we are? This sounds to me like the ultimate in “leadership by example.”

Isn’t it amazing that Our Lord has a profoundly good relationship with his Heavenly Father and evidently his earthly father as well? Never a harsh word, no bitching, moaning, or complaining? Why did it take me 44 years and my near-death experience (and then my father’s) to clear the decks towards a better relationship? Heck, it took me becoming a Catholic to even open the door to thoughts like this about my relationship with my dad!

But two guys alone can’t figure all this stuff out, nor can we expect the male leadership of the Church alone to do so. Before you go thinking I’m spouting heretical thoughts, let me introduce you to the wonderful maiden (that would be a female) named Wisdom. There she sits on a throne at the top of this page. Take a look at this passage from chapter 7 in the Book of Wisdom. The writer says,

Therefore I prayed, and prudence was given me; I pleaded and the spirit of Wisdom came to me. I preferred her to scepter and throne, and deemed riches nothing in comparison with her, nor did I liken any priceless gem to her; because all gold, in view of her, is a little sand, and before her, silver is to be accounted mire. Beyond health and comeliness I loved her, and I chose to have her rather than the light, because the splendor of her never yields to sleep. Yet all good things together came to me in her company, and countless riches at her hands; and I rejoiced in them all, because Wisdom is their leader, though I had not known that she is the mother of these. Simply I learned about her, and ungrudgingly do I share—her riches I do not hide away; for to men she is an unfailing treasure; those who gain this treasure win the friendship of God, to whom the gifts they have from discipline commend them.

And in the LOTH for today, Wisdom shows herself again as having been around since the Beginning:

With you abides Wisdom, who knows your works. She was with you when you made the world. She knew what was pleasing to your eyes. She saw what was right according to your precepts. Send your Wisdom from the highest heaven; send her from the throne of your greatness; that she may abide with me and work with me, so that I may know what it is that pleases you. For Wisdom knows everything, and understands; she will lead me wisely in what I do, and protect me in her glory.

And if you don’t believe Wisdom belongs in the Bible (tossed out after the Protestant Reformation) then take a look at Proverbs 8. Here Wisdom shows herself again as the voice of reason! Just in case you thought that might be a typographical error, let’s turn all the way back to a few verses in Genesis, remember the ones? (Genesis 1:26-27)

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” So God created man in his own image. In the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.

Whoa— “us,” “our image,” “male and female”? Aren’t women from Venus and men from Mars? I don’t think so. Not anymore anyway.

Thanks to Chesterton, Who Showed That You Can Combine Knight and Day

Posted by Webster 
Recently, this blog spurred a genteel debate on the Church’s “just war” doctrine vs. the pacifism of arch-Catholic Dorothy Day (pictured here). Leave it to G. K. Chesterton to bridge the gap between these positions in chapter 6 of Orthodoxy—all in one paragraph. There are times I want to accuse GKC of being a smarty-pants.

But then if you were a card-carrying member of the YIM Catholic Book Club (details below), you would be up to speed on all this. The paragraph comes in the chapter titled “The Paradoxes of Christianity,” which club members are reading this week.

Having spent one-third of this short book dismantling many modern isms, Chesterton spends the rest outlining the religious and philosophical positions that stand the test of scrutiny—only to find that these positions add up to one thing and one thing only: Christianity. In chapter 6, he makes the startling point that throughout history, Christianity has been a target for just about everyone on every possible count.

Christians, it was said, were too pessimistic about man’s nature, but too optimistic about his destiny. They were too stuck on chastity, yet too married to the family. (Still are, maybe?) And on the count of war and peace? Same story: Pacifists have attacked Christians for their religious wars, most notably the Crusades; meanwhile, patriots have attacked those like Dorothy Day who were not warlike enough, most notably during World War II. How could both positions be “Christian”?

Here Chesterton strikes gold:

It is true that the Church told some men to fight and others not to fight; and it is true that those who fought were like thunderbolts and those who did not fight were like statues. All this simply means that the Church preferred to use its Supermen and to use its Tolstoyans. There must be some good in the life of battle, for so many good men have enjoyed being soldiers. There must be some good in the idea of non-resistance, for so many good men seem to enjoy being Quakers. All that the Church did (so far as that goes) was to prevent either of these good things from ousting the other. They existed side by side. The Tolstoyans, having all the scruples of monks, simply became monks. The Quakers became a club instead of becoming a sect. Monks said all that Tolstoy says; they poured out lucid lamentations about the cruelty of battles and the vanity of revenge. 

But the Tolstoyans were not quite right enough to run the whole world; and in the ages of faith they were not allowed to run it. The world did not lose the last charge of Sir James Douglas or the banner of Joan the Maid [pictured here]. And sometimes this pure gentleness and this pure fierceness met and justified their juncture; the paradox of all the prophets was fulfilled, and, in the soul of St. Louis, the lion lay down with the lamb. 

But remember that this text is too lightly interpreted. It is constantly assured, especially in our Tolstoyan tendencies, that when the lion lies down with the lamb the lion becomes lamb-like. But that is brutal annexation and imperialism on the part of the lamb. That is simply the lamb absorbing the lion instead of the lion eating the lamb. The real problem is—Can the lion lie down with the lamb and still retain his royal ferocity? That is the problem the Church attempted; that is the miracle she achieved.

I love the buts in that passage. Each bridges a contradiction, the way the Church has bridged contradictions throughout its history.

Now, if you really want to delve into this question of Christianity and contradiction, read chapter 6 of Orthodoxy by Christmas Eve (sorry, we don’t take vacations in the YIMC Book Club) and check in with this blog about the time Santa is checking in with you. You might want to bone up on the first five weeks along the way too, by reading these posts and the comments that follow:

Chapter 1 “Introduction: In Defense of Everything Else”
Chapter 2 “The Maniac”
Chapter 3 “The Suicide of Thought”
Chapter 4 “The Ethics of Elfland”
Chapter 5 “The Flag of the World”

Because Catholic Men Are Just That

Posted by Webster 
As the only male in a household of women, I can say honestly that I did not become a Catholic to meet any more of them. I treasure my Catholic women friends, but as I review comments on recent posts—from fellow Catholic men—I realize that there’s a Catholic faith experience that is uniquely male. And I want more of that. 

It’s why I joined and remain active in our Saturday morning men’s group (left), even while recognizing that we are a deeply flawed bunch. It’s why Ferde and I attend a monthly men’s group at a nearby Carmelite chapel (more broken specimens). It’s probably why I went on a retreat recently at a Trappist monastery in the company of two men friends from the parish.

First point about all this, from the credit where credit is due department: If Frank had not joined up here a few weeks back, these thoughts would not be central to me right now. There’s an energy that comes from sharing this space with another guy that is invigorating.

Second point, same department: “EPG,” an American Anglican and eloquent man, has triggered a continuing dialog following my recent post about the Carmelite men’s group. Which in turn triggered this new post.

Third point, before bleeding to death from a self-administered shot in the foot—Frank and I love, I mean we love our women readers. So keep those cards and cookies coming. . . . 

Now, here is EPG’s comment on the Carmelite men’s group post:

Webster, you have hit on a profound issue, and one worth many, many more posts. Many (perhaps most) men go about their lives without substantive friendships. There may be common interests in sports, etc., but few avenues for addressing serious issues, including matters of faith, with other men.

In many respects, our brothers in the Evangelical churches seem to do a much better job of it, or at least attempting to wrestle with the issue. I have a colleague who is a committed Evangelical, and his congregation works very hard at men’s ministries, including accountability groups, quarterly retreats, and much more.

Since I am not a Catholic, I can’t speak to how well most Catholic parishes do. On the Anglican side, however, (at least as practiced in North America), there really is not much — or I haven’t seen much in the parishes and dioceses where I have been.

In some traditionalist Anglican circles, there is concern about the “feminization” of Christianity. I don’t know whether any such trend is a symptom of the problem of failing to address men’s relationship to the church and God, or a cause of the problem.

I sent this comment by e-mail to some of my men friends in the parish. I want to share some of their responses here, with questions they provoke. Then you can go to the original post here and read other published comments. Then come back here (click, click) and chime in.

Question: Why are men afraid of talking about intimate or faith-related issues with one another? A friend writes graphically and humorously:

Women can talk about their most intimate secrets without blushing. Nothing is taboo, their periods, their bodies and their bodily functions. You have a wife and daughters, so you know what I mean. Guys, on the other hand, would never talk about bodily fluids or clots coming out of their bodies. Ever. Men talk about sports. The only fluid we talk about is beer, and that’s inbound.

Question: Has an open discussion of homosexuality made it easier or more difficult for heterosexual men to talk intimately? Here’s a provocative statement on the matter:

I think the whole gay discussion has been a huge detriment to men (not bashing homosexual men, just noticing how it affects everyone). A couple decades ago, nobody cared, but now we have to almost prove we’re not gay. We can’t even say homosexual, we have to say gay. Why? [Next comment] Look at the picture in the chapel. Are any two men sitting next to each other? They’re all spaced as far apart as possible.

Question: What percentage of Catholic men have faith experiences worth talking about in the first place? The same guy writes:

Most Catholic men are baptized and then wander off into the wilderness, never to be seen again. The attraction to beer, baseball, sex and entertainment is greater than the attraction of the Church.

Question: To what extent does it all boil down to a crisis of fatherhood? Consider this:

As men, we are called to be the head of the family. Most men do not live up to that responsibility. Even saying it feels like we’re “disrespecting” our wives, so we willingly relinquish the task to them. More than anything, we are called to be the spiritual leaders of our family. Are we? Most (good) wives would be overjoyed if we accepted more responsibility and took more interest in the formation of our children. . . . Someone has to be the head of the family, and that is the husband / father. But boy, did we let that one go. And now we can’t even talk about it anymore.

Question: How important an issue is EPG’s “feminization”? One of my parish friends thinks it’s critical:

My thoughts are that feminization of the church (and quite frankly, the world in general) is a direct result of several things. One of them is that civilization and humanity have lost site of the “proper roles” of both men and women and the inherent God given differences between both genders. That’s not to say that women should be confined to the home and men need to be dominant, but in today’s world there is nearly complete disregard for these roles and more importantly how they naturally tie back to the creator and what each has been ‘given’. This begins to lead to women beginning to act like men and men becoming spineless and lazy.   I also would submit that today’s man has become entirely complacent with regards to matters of the faith. And with that, men have lost the balls to speak passionately about their faith (and so go the opportunities for deep male friendships as there aren’t many males left who are passionate about important matters like faith).

Question: And finally what can we do about it? Late last night, I got an e-mail from a friend who has also discovered the Carmelite group. Maybe it contains some clues.

I returned to the Church twenty some odd years ago after a long, dark absence, and it’s been quite a journey—primarily solo. For me that’s ok. I’m not antisocial, quite the contrary, but for me the Faith is like my marriage and as such deeply personal. . . . 

The first thing that came to mind in response to the question posed was the men’s group at the Carmelite Chapel which I see you’ve discovered.  I went to a meeting this past spring fully expecting to find a dozen or so well meaning but dottering old timers looking for a night away from their wives.  What a great surprise. It was so heartening to walk in and find 30-40 guys ranging from 17 to 70 years of age and from such apparently diverse backgrounds. The Carmelites and that chapel have played a tremendous role in my Spiritual life, and I think that like the Franciscans’ Arch Street Chapel in Boston, they are missionary in nature as well as a spiritual oasis in the midst of the marketplace.  A sanctuary and refuge for all to avail themselves of in the Presence of the Blessed Sacrament.  It is where I regularly go to confession as I first did in returning to the Church.  So I’m glad you’ve found this group. Since I could not attend regularly I did not commit but it’s comforting to know that if I’ve a free third Tuesday of the month, I can spend a night of prayer,meditation and benediction with real men of the Church.  

Also, since that one meeting, I’ve taken more notice of the men with their families and without at Sunday mass and find great encouragement there also with some fine powers of example.

 * * *

I began this post before 4 am, and I can think of no better way of closing it than with a short poem by William Carlos Williams, Danse Russe:

If when my wife is sleeping
and the baby and Kathleen
are sleeping
and the sun is a flame-white disc
in silken mists
above shining trees,—

if I in my north room
dance naked, grotesquely 
before my mirror
waving my shirt round my head
and singing softly to myself:
“I am lonely, lonely,
I am best so!”
If I admire my arms, my face,
my shoulders, flanks, buttocks
against the yellow drawn shades,—

Who shall say I am not
the happy genius of my household?