Because Life is Like an Epic Poem (Not a Report Card)

Report cards used to be a once every nine week event. Remember those halcyon days? Information technology being what it is, nowadays we can check our children’s grades daily. Oh, the horror!

I say that because lately, the picture hasn’t been pretty for several of my little darlings. Not that I ever hoped that my kids would make straight A’s or anything like that. That would be a miracle, considering my part of their genetic make up.

Confession time: I didn’t out and out hate school, but I just never gave my studies the attention they deserved. Truth be told, I know that I never gave more than a fraction of my best effort to school work when I was growing up. My home life was a train-wreck, my parent’s had divorced just before I entered the first grade, and it was all I could do just to maintain my sanity growing up. I wasn’t into sports either because that was my older brother’s department. Oh, but I was into reading, though not into reading my textbooks for homework assignments. Unless it was a subject I really liked.

I was also a very young high school graduate too, and I left home when I was seventeen to join the Marines. I had to have my mothers permission, of course, because I was under eighteen. My mom, knowing that I was called to serve in the military, agreed to this in my case. How did she know I was called to this? Because since I was about 8 years old I knew what I wanted to be when I grew up. And I figured that school was just a delaying action until I could join the service. On top of all that, college was unaffordable, for me anyway, so I figured why get all uptight about it?

My mom had one condition on agreeing to sign her little boy’s life away to the Marine Corps. For starters, she would only let me join the Reserves because she wanted me to go to college too. I didn’t mind this condition at the time, because I knew that all Marines, whether Reservists or Regular, both went through the same training, and that I would spend six months on Active Duty, at which point I would a) have an idea if I liked the Marines or not and b) I would be 18 and could apply to re-enlist as a Regular Marine, which is what I wound up doing. The second condition was that upon my return, I promised to attend the local college in our area. That part of the plan didn’t last long.

What does all this have to do with homework, grades, and parental performance anxiety? Well, though I may not have spent much of my childhood mental horsepower on trying to understand square roots, or on learning what a gerund is, I did know one thing beyond a shadow of a doubt: my mom loved me. And she taught me that God loved me even more. And that when all was said and done, what was most important in life was for me to realize this and to love God back. And that God had a purpose in mind for me was something I understood too. I figured I was meant to be a soldier, sailor, airmen or Marine. And I was happy, like Joseph of Cupertino.

And that was good, because with my grades in high school, there wasn’t much chance of my being accepted by a college, not to mention a prestigious one. You know, the ones that you and all the other parents are salivating over when you chit chat with one another at the ball field, or at the family reunion, or amongst your co-workers. Uh-huh, like which school they wind up in is the absolute most important thing in the world to you.

Because, see, if Janie or Johnny doesn’t make it into “Top o’ the Heap” University right out of high school, their lives, and by extension yours too, will be over. What will the neighbors, and oh my heavens, the relatives think?! I don’t know, nor do I care.

And as for my children’s teachers thoughts? Well, let’s just say that teachers of children have no better success at choosing who among their students will be “winners” and who will be, ahem, not, then does a random coin toss. And despite their best intentions, they see only as man sees, and not as God does. God, seeing the heart,  is ultimately the career planner of my children. I’m not, and neither are the guidance counselors at school.

I sincerely believe that God has a plan and purpose for all of my children. For all of His children. And all of my children are His children, so I try not to make mountains out of mole hills. I realize that as a parent, I am called to provide for my children the best education I possibly can, and opportunities to discern what it actually is that the Lord is calling them to do with their lives. And that is what my wife and I try to do. But in reality, only the Lord knows what He has in mind for them.

As I was pondering report cards and what really is important to teach my children, I ran across Heather King’s blog Shirt of Flame. She recently wrote several posts about Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers: The Story of Success. I really enjoyed these essays as she turned the spotlight on some of Gladwell’s assertions and helps explain that if Gladwell’s model is the path to success, then I’m happy to let him know that he can keep it.

I too had thought of writing a post about Outliers once. I was going to title it Because of Malcolm Gladwell…Not! way back when Webster first invited me aboard YIMCatholic, but I never got around to it. Now I don’t have too, thanks to Heather.

For those of you who haven’t read his book, here is a taste of Heather’s essay:

One thing I saw right away: Gladwell’s book isn’t about outliers, defined as “something that is situated away from or classed differently from a main or related body.” His book is about the opposite of outliers: people who’ve managed to parlay their talents into utterly mainstream, predictable and garden-variety money, property and/or prestige. For the most part, he doesn’t mean outliers: he means the extra rich, extra famous, extra lucky, and/or extra smug.

You’ll want to read the companion piece too.

Maybe Gladwell means what Nassim Nicholas Taleb calls “black swans,” only in this case the rare and improbable event is the success of a single person in “the world.” Taleb’s book, on the rare events in finance that come out of nowhere, and can’t be predicted, is really the opposite of Gladwell’s book too. Because Taleb’s thesis is that you can’t predict these event’s, even though we fool ourselves into thinking we can. Meanwhile,  Gladwell’s book tries to tease out the behaviors and circumstances that separate winners from the losers. And as parents, we want our kids to be winners, right?

So Gladwell preaches that it all comes down to doing dreary stuff, like putting in at least 10,000 hours shooting free-throws, for example, or to just being lucky enough to have been born in Seattle and having a wealthy dad who gives you carte blanche at the office, or having the good fortune to have been born in the Great Depression, or in January if you are a little league hockey player, so you get an extra year of playing time etc. It’s all so simple. And there is absolutely no room for the Holy Spirit to transform anyone in Gladwell’s world.

None of us have any control over many of these events, for example, like when or where we were born. And Gladwell would have you believe that the Beatle’s really were successfull just because they played more gigs at an earlier age than anyone else at the time?! I wonder what Keith Richards and Mick Jagger think about that? I don’t know, but I can think of one word—balderdash!

But enough of Gladwell and back to why I won’t be losing any sleep over my kids grades any time soon. Because as someone who was almost killed, an event that was completely unplanned I might add,  I know that life is too short for me to ride herd over every decimal point of my kid’s grade point averages. I’m not saying I don’t help them with their homework, or give them pep talks to do their best, etc. I do.

Thank God this is the phony ending!But I will be teaching them something that I noticed was missing from Gladwell’s book. And that is that the Holy Spirit will work through them and will change them, and bring gifts to them too. And I’ll teach them that they shouldn’t be surprised if their best laid worldly plans turn out to be all made of straw, and that their lives take a radically different turn away from the one that they had planned for. And that they shouldn’t be so quick to kill Hobbes (Thank God that is the fake ending!).

After nine years in the Marines, I decided to give college another try. At that point in my life, I was a much different person than I had been in high school. I met my wife, and she missed out on meeting the lousy high school student and instead met the young man in a hurry. He looked a lot like the faux Calvin in that last frame.

It may be a minor miracle that this C-/D+ high school student from Tennessee eventually graduated from UCLA, but that is surprisingly what happened. I don’t think a single teacher in my high school would have seen that one coming. But the Holy Spirit saw it coming, even when I had no way of knowing that this would even have been possible.

Now I’m all grown up and I can’t be a Marine anymore. And how in the world did I wind up here in this space? Hmmm.

Nowadays, I think the most important classes my children attend currently are their CCD classes. That may seem like a strange assertion, but I believe it to be true. Because though everything else passes away, our faith and the Church will still be here for them. And the love that my mother has for me, and the love of God that she taught me, is the single most important intangible thing that I can pass on to my children.

I came across these words by Kenelm Digby while adding books to the YIMCatholic Bookshelf (I certainly never saw that hobby coming!) which prompted me to title this post as I have. This is from the preface of a poem in twelve cantos he wrote entitled Ouranogaia: Heaven on Earth,

The design of this Poem (if such it may be called) is to represent the happiness, comparable in some degree, we might think, to what reigns in Heaven— which results from taking a cheerful, sympathetic, tolerant, and Catholic view of human life, as being on the confines of our celestial country, with constant means of access to it, amidst our various ordinary, or comic, or tragic conditions, hearing and observing with delicate exactitude the most minute things, whether jubilant, or, in a material sense, sorrowful, while escaping from impediments to this intense intellectual enjoyment, by mentally merging, as it were, in a confused way, one’s own individuality in some other person, or, at least, losing for the time self-consciousness, as if it were others who felt, heard, witnessed, and realized the approach to Paradise.

The object is also to suggest that human pleasures in this world, even those which are deemed most strictly confined to earth, and to our twofold formation in the present state of existence, are enhanced immeasurably when associated in a general way with such higher thoughts as may be said, without extravagance, to culminate in Heaven, being tempered and colored as it were by an all-pervading tone of trust in that forgiveness which constitutes an Article of the Christian Creed.

The whole is so arranged as to show in detail that some of the bliss of Heaven, as far as we can conceive it, may be enjoyed by mankind in this life by means of the spectacle of Creation, and in particular of Beauty, as also Mirth, Admiration, Friendship, Love, Goodness, Peace, Poetry, Learning, Philosophy, the Festivals of the Church, as developing, even by the rites attending them, those internal dispositions which render man what a theologian calls “animal carissimum Deo,” and in fine, through sanctity, untroubled and unaffected by human follies, while ignoring, rather than trying to extirpate the inevitable.

There is an attempt to show likewise with what effect Heaven may be said to descend especially on youth and age, and on those who have gone astray without having had, as a famous author says, “the foretaste of evil, which is calculation, or its aftertaste alone, which is zero.” Poverty, and a low social rank with its consequences, are shown to present no obstacle to this vision of two worlds; and, lastly, Heaven is represented as brought down to the sick and to the dying.

Digby’s first lines from Canto I ? I thought you would never ask.

Oh, joy, wing’d guest, how wonderful thou art!
Yes, just as wondrous as the human heart,
Or all that in the universe we see
Replete with wonder and divinity!
Joy at its highest is the lightning’s gleam,
Dazzles the sense and passes as a dream.
But then its precious memory can last,
Denoting through what golden gate we pass’d.
And, oh! that moment’s glimpse of what’s beyond
Once caught—no, never more should we despond.

That about sums it up for me.  Because the Catholic view of life is about a whole lot more than making straight A’s, hitting the high life, and reaching the top of the earthly pyramid. Because as St. Paul explains,

It is by grace that you have been saved, through faith; not by anything of your own, but by a gift from God; not by anything that you have done, so that nobody can claim the credit.—Ephesians 2:8-9

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.

For All the Saints: Thérèse of Lisieux

I have been wrestling with the angel named Vocation. In August, my wife and I sold our small publishing business, and just this week I completed all but the proofreading for the biggest writing project I’ve ever tackled. Meanwhile, Katie and both of our daughters are on the first steppingstones of new life paths. For our entire family, the future is an open book. The only thing I know is, I have to work.

Yes, sadly the publishing business did not (never did) reap much of a profit. Selling it was not a lucrative deal. So I will have to continue tending the bread ovens, mixing the dough, stoking the hardwood fires. The only thing that has become clear, or seems to have, is that I will work not as a literal baker, but as a writer.

You might think that, as someone halfway to age 118, I should have solved the vocation question for myself long ago. But my favorite nonfiction writer, Norman Maclean, saw it differently in the epigraph to his book Young Men and Fire, and so do I.

As I get considerably beyond the biblical allotment of three score years and ten, Maclean wrote, I feel with increasing intensity that I can express my gratitude for still being around on the oxygen-side of the earth’s crust only by not standing pat on what I have hitherto known and loved. While the oxygen lasts, there are still new things to love, especially if compassion is a form of love.

Not standing pat. New things to love. Compassion is a form of love. Maclean (left) also wrote:

The problem of identity is not just a problem for the young. It is a problem all the time. Perhaps the problem. It should haunt old age, and when it no longer does it should tell you that you are dead.

Fortunately, several enticing and/or well-paying projects loom ahead of me like islands in the fog. Today, I am going to a meeting about the most enticing of these options, so far anyway. Last week, looking ahead to my meeting today, I thought, “October 1. Let’s see whose day that is,” as in which saint. My heart grew instantly warmer inside my chest when I flipped the page on my Catholic desk calendar and saw that it is Thérèse’s day. Something about it seemed so right, so apropos. I felt safe, provided for. I immediately began saying a novena to Thérèse of the Child Jesus.

Stumbling back into this blog last night, like not just the Prodigal Son but the Prodigal Father, I find that Frank has beat me to the St. Thérèse punch, and if there were ever a lousy, mixed metaphor, that has to be it. But then in the short century-plus since she left this earth and began showering us with flowers, people have never tired of writing about her, a Doctor of the Church with one slim book to her credit.

What struck me this morning and prompted this post was the selection from that slim book, her Story of a Soul, in today’s office of readings. Thérese wrestled with Vocation as well! Of course, she called this process a “longing for martyrdom,” which are words that have not yet fallen from my lips and aren’t likely to this side of the barroom door:

Since my longing for martyrdom was powerful and unsettling, I turned to the epistles of Saint Paul in the hope of finally finding an answer. By chance the twelfth and thirteenth chapters of the first epistle to the Corinthians caught my attention, and in the first section I read that not everyone can be an apostle, prophet or teacher, that the Church is composed of a variety of members, and that the eye cannot be the hand. Even with such an answer revealed before me, I was not satisfied and did not find peace.

I persevered in the reading and did not let my mind wander until I found this encouraging theme: Set your desires on the greater gifts. And I will now show you the way which surpasses all the others. For the Apostle insists that the greater gifts are nothing at all without love and that this same love is surely the best path leading directly to God. At length I had found peace of mind. . . .

I have not yet found peace of mind. But I have a new prayer to steady my mind, a prayer to the Little Flower.

YIMC Book Club Selection Poll

It’s time for another horse race folks. The four selections in the poll (see left side-bar) are all novels written by Catholics that I would like to read over the next twelve months. So,  I’ve put them together and I would like for you to help me choose in what order we will read them. One book per quarter, or at least that is my intention.

Head on over to Amazon and run a query on these selections and then put your vote in the ballot box. The selection with the most votes will be our next read, and we will read the runner-up second, and so on down the line.

We will start reading the winning selection on or around the 3rd week of October. Thanks for your support!

Because of Thoughts Like These by Blaise Pascal

—Feast of Our Lady of Walsingham

About a month ago, Webster wrote a post about awaking from a long, bad, dream. Blaise Pascal woke me up from a long slumber. His was a shrill alarm too, much like the one on the clock by my nightstand right now. But unlike that one, Blaise’s alarm didn’t have a snooze button. That’s because I had been snoozing for most of my adult life.

Before I bumped into Blaise, I had been sleeping in my shoes, so to speak. My conscience tried to arose my soul from its slumber from time to time, but mainly my ego just kept hitting the snooze button, ten minutes at a time.

The ironic thing is that when I started reading Blaise, I did so with the intent to find evidence of the errors of Catholicism. That lasted for maybe 20 pages. This mathematical genius, who died at 39 years of age in 1662, had deep knowledge of scriptures as well as deep insights into the human condition. And yet, he could explain his thoughts simply and lucidly. In other words, he could tell it like it is.

The selection below is from Chapter XXI of his Thoughts On Religion. It is a long chapter, and the selection below is only the last quarter of it. But it should suffice to show you the decibel level of Blaise’s klaxon. Like my friend John C.H.Wu reported in his life story in Beyond East and West, up until this time I had thought that I was a clever man. After reading this, being by the grace of God in the right frame of mind, I realized that I had been merely sleep walking.

Blaise wrote this in the mid 1600′s, and yet it seemed as fresh as this mornings cup of coffee. And it had the same stimulative effect.

The Strange Contrarieties Discoverable in Human Nature, with regard to Truth and Happiness, and Many Other Things.

Isn’t this lead-in to the chapter provocative? Contrarieties. Now if that isn’t a word for Anu Garg, there aren’t any.

The civil war between reason and passion has occasioned two opposite projects, for the restoration of peace to mankind: The one, of those who were for renouncing their passions, and becoming gods; the other, of those who were for renouncing their reason, and becoming beasts. But neither the one nor the other could take effect. Reason still remains, to accuse the baseness and injustice of the passions, and to disturb the repose of those who abandon themselves to their dominion: And the passions live, even in the hearts of those, who talk the most of their extirpation.

“Reason still remains, to accuse the baseness and injustice of the passions…” And Blaise is saying that this is the role fulfilled by Mother Church, as you will see shortly. That turns the world’s perception of the Church upside down, doesn’t it? Faith and reason are not only compatible, but they have a home. But what of standing on our own two feet?

This is the just account of what man can do, in respect to truth and happiness. We have an idea of truth, not to be effaced by all the wiles of the sceptic; we have an incapacity of argument, not to be rectified by all the power of the dogmatist. We wish for truth, and find nothing in ourselves but uncertainty. We seek after happiness, and find nothing but misery. We must needs desire both truth and happiness, yet we are incapable of both. This desire seems to have been left in us, partly as a punishment, and partly to remind us whence we are fallen.

For a brief period of time, I was a stock-broker. Blaise just described 95 percent of my clients. Which should come as no surprise, given the raw humanity of the markets in motion. Manic-depressive swings up and down, ad infinitum; a game that virtually no one has a definitive lock on. Which, again can be seen in war, politics, sports, etc., etc. So Blaise counters with these thoughts:

* If man was not made for God, why can he enjoy no happiness but in God? If man was made for God, why is he so opposed to God?

* Man is at a loss where to fix himself. He is unquestionably out of his way, and feels within himself the remains of a happy state which he cannot retrieve. He searches in every direction, with solicitude, but without success, encompassed with impenetrable darkness!

By the time I read this, I had come to realize this was true. The world had been grappling with this since the beginning of time, as Blaise explains with elegant simplicity here,

Hence arose the contest amongst the philosophers: some of whom endeavored to exalt man, by displaying his greatness; others to abase him, by representing his misery. And what seems more strange, is, that each party borrowed the arguments of the other, to establish their own opinion.

For the misery of man may be inferred from his greatness, and his greatness from his misery. Thus the one sect demonstrated his misery the more satisfactorily, in that they inferred it from his greatness; and the other the more clearly proved his greatness, because they deduced it from his misery. Whatever was offered by the one, to establish his greatness, served only to evince his misery, as alleged by the other; it being more miserable to have fallen from the greater height.

And the converse is equally true. So that in this endless circle of dispute, each helped to advance his adversary’s cause; for it is certain that the more men are enlightened, the more they will discover of human misery and human greatness. In a word, man knows himself to be miserable. He is, therefore miserable, because he knows himself to be so. But he is also eminently great, because he knows himself to be miserable.

What a chimera then is man! What a novelty! What a chaos! What a subject of contradiction! A judge of all things, and yet a worm of the earth; the depositary of the truth, and yet a medley of uncertainties; the glory and the scandal of the universe. If he exalt himself, I humble him; if he humble himself, I exalt him; and press him with his own inconsistencies, till he comprehends himself to be an incomprehensible monster.

Not a pretty picture, that. The preceding chapter had ended with the following thoughts,

Without Jesus Christ man is, of necessity, in vice and misery: With Jesus Christ man is released from vice and misery. In him is all our happiness, our virtue, our life, our light, our hope : Out of him there is naught but vice, misery, darkness, and despair; and we can discover naught but obscurity and confusion, whether in the divine nature, or in our own.

I couldn’t have agreed more, because deep down in my soul, I knew this to be true. And in the 28th chapter, Blaise told me emphatically where I needed to go in order to come into the light,

It is the Church, together with Jesus Christ, to whom She is inseparably united, which obtains the conversion of all those who are in error. And it is these converts, who subsequently aid their Mother, to whom they owe their deliverance.

The body can no more live without the head, than the head without the body. He that separates from the one, or the other, is no longer of the body, nor a member of Jesus Christ. All virtues, all mortification, all good works, and even martyrdom itself, are of no worth out of the Church, and out of communion with the head of the Church.

Because Blaise knew what Our Lord meant we He said,

And behold I am with you all days, even to the consummation of the world.

The Streamlet’s Song (A Few Words for Wednesday)

—Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows

I found this little poem, by a forgotten poet, in the journal whose banner you see above. How does one attempt to wrap their mind around the immensity of God and the smallness of our individual selves? If God is the ocean, than we are just streamlets…

The Streamlet’s Song.

As on its course the mountain stream
Unto the valley sped,
The echoes listened, wondering,
To what its murmurs said.
Deep in that mystic solitude
Singing, it passed along;
Around was silence, hushed repose;
This was the streamlet’s song:
“Ever, ever, flowing onwards, neither rest
nor sleep for me;
Tho’ my course be smooth or rugged, onwards,
onwards, to the sea.”

“I sing beside the peasant’s cot,
Beside the castle keep,
Mid forest gloom, neath sunshine bright,
And where the weary sleep,
Thro’ meads where flowers of varied hue
Around their perfume shed,
Thro’ rocky gorge and arid plain,
On to my ocean bed.
Ever, ever, flowing onwards, neither’rest
nor sleep for me;
Tho’ my course be smooth or rugged,
onwards, onwards, to the sea.”

“On, on, the scorching air to cool,
The earth to fertilize,
Of hunted stag the thirst to slake
Ere yet he quivering dies.
On, to refresh the warrior pale
Who, couched on blood-stained sod,
Cries,’Water from yon streamlet give,
One drop for love of God!’
Ever, ever, flowing onwards, neither rest
nor sleep for me;
Tho’ my course be smooth or rugged,
onwards, onwards, to the sea.”

“The type am I of human life,
As down the course of years
It onward flows, mid laughter now,
Anon mid bitter tears,
Mid reckless mirth, mid breaking hearts,
On, till the sands are run,
On, till is gained the tideless sea,
On, till the goal is won,
Ever, ever, flowing onwards, neither rest
nor sleep for me;
Tho’ my course be smooth or rugged,
onwards, onwards, to the sea.”

—A. M. Healy

For the Catholic View of Love


Yesterday was Monday and as such I did a music post. The subject was love, and I called it Love: Three Minus One, because the form of love that I was spot-lighting was not romantic love, or eros as it is known in Greek.

Below are some thoughts written by Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen and published in his book entitled The Power of Love, which hit the bookstores back in 1964.

Bishop Sheen discusses the radical transformation of love from the Catholic perspective which has helped change the world as we know it. This form of love is from the Greek word agape, which in Latin is caritas, which translated into English is the word “charity.”

Historically, Catholics have used the word charity in lieu of agape, though many still think of the Salvation Army, or corporal works of mercy when they hear that word,  instead of this really unprecedented form of love. Have a look at this passage from Archbishop Sheen’s little book,

The third word for love was not much used in the classical Greek; it was a love so noble and divine that Christianity alone made it popular. That word is “agape.” It was used only ten times by Homer; it is found only three times in Euripedes; later on, it was used a bit in popular Greek which was spoken throughout the world after Alexander conquered it.

The Greeks did not need such a word, because Plato held that there could be no real love between God and man, inasmuch as the gods being perfect desired nothing; therefore, they had no love for man. Aristotle argued in the same way. He said that there was too great a disporportion between man and God to have any love between the two.

When God sent His only Son to this world to save it, and when His Divine Son offered His life on Calvary to redeem it, then was born a love between God and man which the Greeks could not and did not understand. That kind of love was best expressed by “agape.” In contrast to it, the word “eros” is nowhere found in the New Testament; the word “Philia” in all its forms is found forty-five times, but the word “agape” is found 320 times.

Once this agape began to exist, then it flowed down to illumine even Eros; Eros became the sensible expression of Divine Love; fraternal and friendly love was also sanctified by the agape inasmuch as we were to regard everyone else as better than ourselves. The only true lovers or friends are those whose love is explained by the agape of Him who so loved the world He sent His only begotten Son to redeem it.

So agape then is charity, the form of love that St. Paul expounded upon in chapter thirteen of his first letter to the Corinthians. It is this form of love that is used so often in the New Testament. On the YIMCatholic Bookshelf, a search of the word “agape” pulls 22 books (out of 360). Not much, see? But a search of the word “charity,” from the Latin form of “agape”(caritas) pulls 208 volumes from our library. Did I mention that Pope Benedict XVI’s first encyclical, Caritas in veritate, is on this very subject? And lest I forget, the Catholic Encyclopedia has a fact-filled citation on this subject as well.

Even Thomas Hobbes, author of the classic of political thought, Leviathan (1651), states it thus,

For these seeds have received culture from two sorts of men. One sort have been they that have nourished and ordered them, according to their own invention. The other have done it, by God’s commandment and direction : but both sorts have done it, with a purpose to make those men that relied on them, the more apt to obedience, laws, peace, charity, and civil society; So that the religion of the former sort is a part of human politics; and teacheth part of the duty which earthly kings require of their subjects. And the religion of the latter sort is divine politics ; and containeth precepts to those that have yielded themselves subjects in the kingdom of God. Of the former sort were all the founders of commonwealths, and the lawgivers of the Gentiles: of the latter sort, were Abraham, Moses, and Our blessed Saviour; by whom have been derived unto us the laws of the kingdom of God.

To close this brief post on Love, I’ll leave you with Archbishop Sheen again, this time from an episode of his television series Life Is Worth Living. Here he discusses Pope John XXIII and his living of this Catholic, this Christian, form of Love. Enjoy.

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From the Treasure Chest: “Difficulties of Private Interpretation”

Alec Guinness (as Chesterton’s Fr. Brown) stands in for Fr. Bampfield

A few weeks ago, I happened upon a lengthy essay by Reverend George Bampfield entitled “Cannot.” Yesterday, I posted a little note on the Bible, and today Reverend Bampfield will help me explain something else that helped me decide to become a Catholic. I don’t know what Father George looks like so I have borrowed Sir Alec Guinness in the role of Chesterton’s Father Brown as a proxy.

The reason, or answer if you will, is right there in the title of this new Bampfield gem that I discovered today, by searching the YIM Catholic Bookself with the word “scripture.” I think you will enjoy what my friend Father George has to say on this matter. [Read more...]

With God’s Grace And A Little Help From My Friends

When I was a newly minted Marine, fresh out of boot camp and on my way into life, I was certain that I could lick it. Everything was possible, and all would be right in the world. Well, maybe not the whole world, but my world would be just fine. I realized that I was no all-powerful genie, but I had complete confidence in the unholy trinity of me, myself, and I. The winner, which I knew I was, would take all. [Read more...]

Because St. Anthony Helped Me Find John C.H. Wu

Anyone remember Webster’s first post on minor miracles? Something a little more than a coincidence led me to John C. H. Wu and I’m not ashamed to go “on the record” and say that. While browsing the shelves of my local public library, I came upon this little volume called St. Anthony’s Treasury. It’s a wee little book of prayers that is about the size of a pocket New Testament, like the ones the Gideon’s publish.

Catholic prayer books in the public library? That’s a minor miracle in itself, right? I know it was a gift from a patron. How? Because in pencil on the top right-hand corner of the blank page facing the inside cover is written carefully the word “gift.” The library, see, doesn’t have the money to purchase every published book under the sun. Especially not little Catholic prayer books like this one.

So I checked the book out, with the intention of looking over the prayers and devotions later. I was on my break and as I walked back to my office I learned about the First Friday Devotions right there on page 76. I always wondered what that devotion was all about. As someone who pretty regularly attends daily Mass, First Fridays are the same as every Friday, or so I thought. Now I know better.

When I got back to the office, I tossed the book into my book bag and forgot about it. And when I got home that evening, I dropped my bag in its customary resting place.  I forgot about it again until I needed to put my lunch into it the next morning. My routine? Grab my lunch, stuff it in the bag, grab my coffee, and out the door. Just another day, so far.

I work downtown and park in a garage that is about a ten minute walk from my office. So I get out of the car, throw my bag over my shoulder, lock the car and start walking. Oh yeah, then I dug into the bag and pulled out St. Anthony’s Treasury to read while I walked. Who knows? Maybe I’d learn something new.

The day before, I had checked the contents and skipped to the first devotion that caught my eye. For my walk, however, I started in the foreword, which is where I used to never look. You know, from before, when I was a “know-it-all.” I used to never read introductions, prefaces, or forewords, because I just wanted to get right to the action. I learned over the years that this wasn’t always a great idea.

So to the foreword it was. Written by a Robert Nash, S.J., he reminds us that St. Anthony is renowned as an “expert in the art of finding lost articles.” Does everyone know St. Anthony’s Prayer? You have lost something, say, and can’t find it anywhere. So you ask St. Anthony of Padua to help you out by calling on him like so,

St. Anthony!, St. Anthony!
Please come down.
Something is lost,
And can’t be found.

But, as far as I knew, I hadn’t lost anything on this day, so I kept on reading Fr. Nash’s foreword which was a lamentation on the huge numbers of people who have lost their faith and don’t really seem to care about it. It sounded like he was sulking, really, and I was just going to turn the page when I ran smack dab into these words,

The pagan philosopher Dr. Wu read…this in the Life of St. Thérèse. “What a wonderful girl!” he exclaimed. “If this saying of hers is an expression of the meaning of Catholic faith I see no reason why I should not become a Catholic.”

Having done a few posts on a guy named Wu, I was intrigued. The Wu I knew, though, became a Jesuit priest way before Thérèse of Lisieux had been born. As I walked, I resolved to see if I could find any information on this “pagan philosopher” named Wu, because from the quote Fr. Nash used, he sounded like a smart guy to me.

Now, this foreward is in the edition of St. Anthony’s Treasury that was published in 1975 by the Anthonian Press out of Dublin Ireland. I had some pretty good clues on this Wu person, and a Google search later, I had discovered that the guy who uttered these words was no pagan. Heck, by 1975, my friend John had been a Catholic for 38 years, and had published numerous books about the Faith. He had been an envoy to the Vatican in the early 1940′s, for crying out loud, and this Fr. Nash had no idea!

Something had been lost, alright, but it wasn’t my car keys. It was the Catholic legacy of John C.H. Wu that had been lost. Perhaps St. Anthony was pointing me in this direction so that John’s legacy can be rediscovered? That’s what I believe, anyway. Especially when I realized that most of his books are out of print, and used copies of them are few and far between. And expensive! Which got me thinking too.

Take a look at this map below.

This is the map of the world shaded by percentage of the population that identifies themselves as being Christian. See the big light colored space? Like all the way from Casablanca on the coast of Morocco to the islands of Japan? Less than 10 percent of the people in these areas are Christians. And the most populated country on that map is the Peoples Republic of China, right next to the second most populated country, the Republic of India.

Which leads me to make this appeal to the good folks at Our Sunday Visitor. Would OSV please consider republishing the works of John C.H. Wu if they still own the rights to them? I think the market for John’s books is pretty large. Heck, I love what he has written too and I’ve only read The Science of Love so far. He is the “Chinese” Chesterton after all. Just imagine the souls that could be reached in Mandarin, Cantonese, Hindi, Arabic, and other lanquages.

What do you say OSV? Can you bring John’s work back to the presses (or to Kindle)? St. Anthony has found him, but we here at YIMCatholic do not have a printing press. Thanks in advance for taking up this cause. If anyone reading this post knows anyone who can help make this happen, I would be much obliged.


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