Because of Blaise Pascal’s Letter upon the Death of his Father

Webster has been serving at funerals lately, one in early December and one just a few days ago. And in a prediction that is all too likely to come to fruition, he believes he will attend the funeral of at least one dear friend this year. Reading these posts, I reflect on the fragility of human life and the sudden impact on our loved ones lives when we depart this mortal coil.

A sudden death, an accidental death, the unexpected death is always a shocker. Others are blessed with an illness—or maybe it’s not a blessing, to see the train enter the station that will inevitably bear them away. There is pain, and suffering in the long drawn-out route to eternity. [Read more...]

Because the Church Needs a Few Good Men (and Women)

Posted by Frank
Yesterday, as I writing Part 6 in the series on my conversion, I re-read something that Thomas à Kempis wrote that motivated me to become a Catholic Christian. In chapter 25 of The Imitation of Christ he writes:

There is one thing that keeps many from zealously improving their lives, that is, dread of the difficulty, the toil of battle.

I read or hear words like this and the theme music of Onward Christian Soldiers starts playing in my head; and I think to myself, “Where do I go to sign up?!” Thomas continues on with this,

Certainly they who try bravely to overcome the most difficult and unpleasant obstacles far outstrip others in the pursuit of virtue. A man makes the most progress and merits the most grace precisely in those matters wherein he gains the greatest victories over self and mortifies his will. True, each one has his own difficulties to meet and conquer, but a diligent and sincere man will make greater progress even though he have more passions than one who is more even-tempered but less concerned about virtue.

These don’t sound like the words of some namby-pamby cloistered monk, now, do they? His last sentence seems to be a call to arms for guys like me! Monsignor Charles Pope has a piece up over at the Archdiocese of Washington website today entitled “The Priest is a Soldier in the Army of the Lord”. As I wrote once before here, those called to Holy Orders , to my mind anyway, are the Officer Corps of the Church. And as Webster wrote just yesterday, without priests, there is no ball game.

Monsignor Pope says the priests are the soldiers, and I say he’s right, because St. Peter said so too. But we lay Catholics are all called to “the royal priesthood,” as well. Shown here is one of my favorite recruiting posters from the pre–WW II era Marine Corps. The same motto could be used for Catholic Christians and those who are feeling the call to the faith as well. Want Action? Join the Catholic Church!

Not to disrespect any of our female readers (whom we dearly love!), but gentlemen—the Church Militant needs you! Now! You want action, don’t you? Well, what army is worth anything without the grizzled non-commissioned officers, the First Sergeants, the Chief Petty Officers, the very backbone of the organization playing a major role? That army is calling guys like Mike and Ferde, and now Webster and me. I would think that without us, it is something less than it can and should be. Have Catholic men been asleep at our posts?

In St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians he exhorts all Christians to—

Put on the armor of God so that you may be able to stand firm against the tactics of the devil. For our struggle is not with flesh and blood but with the principalities, with the powers, with the world rulers of this present darkness, with the evil spirits in the heavens.

What’s that you say? You hadn’t noticed we’re at war?

Therefore, put on the armor of God, that you may be able to resist on the evil day, and having done everything, to hold your ground. So stand fast with your loins girded in truth, clothed with righteousness as a breastplate, and your feet shod in readiness for the gospel of peace. In all circumstances, hold faith as a shield, to quench all the flaming arows of the evil one. And take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

See your parish recruiting office today!

Because of the Pleasure of Finding Things Out

Posted by Frank
I am sitting in a friend’s house in Southern California surrounded by books one minute into New Year’s Day. My friends are devout Catholics and have many volumes that are of interest to me. Everything from The Curé d’Ars, St. Jean-Marie Baptiste Vianney to a pamphlet entitled Confession: A Little Book for the Reluctant.

There are books here, and in my public library at home, covering the whole spectrum of Catholic Christianity. I could spend weeks, months, a lifetime reading through these selections. And I intend to do so. This quote by Horace Walpole sums up my experience since I started this journey in 2006:

The whole secret of life is to be interested in one thing profoundly and in a thousand things well.

Which brings me to the title of this post, taken from a book in the library here written by the physicist Richard P. Feynman. I’m not really interested in Feynman’s book, but his title is apt for my purposes: The Pleasure of Finding Things Out. With the Bible and the Liturgy of the Hours in one hand, and volume after volume of great works that illuminate them both in the other, I find myself a happy Catholic ready to celebrate a Happy New Year.

St. Augustine’s Confessions? Barely got past the dust cover, so that is on my “bucket list” of Catholic books to read. Aquinas? Looking forward to it. I’ve read de Osuna’s Third Spiritual Alphabet, and that is outstanding. Webster likes the Catholic fiction like Kristin Lavrinsdatter, while I really enjoy the nonfiction works of the Early Church Fathers.

I’ll probably read this one this year as well: The Grunt Padre, the biography of Lt. Vincent Capadonno, USNR, a Roman Catholic Chaplain who was awarded the Medal of Honor serving with the 5th Marines in Vietnam.

Learning about our Faith is a real joy. What is on your Catholic-book bucket list for this year? Now, to bed and up early for the Tournament of Roses Parade. Happy New Year and Happy Reading!

Thoughts on the LOTH for Today

Posted by Frank

The Office of Readings from today continues describing the wonders of the mystery of the Incarnation. An excerpt from The Epistle of Mathetes to Diognetus is in today’s Office of Readings. This epistle dates from between 125 to 200 A.D. 

“Mathetes” is not a name, but a title meaning a disciple. Nor are scholars sure who Diognetus was. There was someone of that name who was a tutor to Emperor Marcus Aurelius, the emperor of Rome between 121–160 AD. Diognetus may have also been Claudius Diogenes, who was procurator of Alexandria around the year 200.

Regardless, the letter is fascinating as an early (if not the earliest) example of Christian Apologetics. Here is an excerpt.

No man has ever seen God or known him, but God has revealed himself to us through faith, by which alone it is possible to see him. God, the Lord and maker of all things, who created the world and set it in order, not only loved man but was also patient with him. So he has always been, and is, and will be: kind, good, free from anger, truthful; indeed, he and he alone is good.

He devised a plan, a great and wonderful plan, and shared it only with his Son. As long as he preserved this secrecy and kept his own wise counsel he seemed to be neglecting us, to have no concern for us. But when through his beloved Son he revealed and made public what he had prepared from the very beginning, he gave us all at once gifts such as we could never have dreamt of, even sight and knowledge of himself.

When God had made all his plans in consultation with his Son, he waited until a later time, allowing us to follow our own whim, to be swept along by unruly passions, to be led astray by pleasure and desire. Not that he was pleased by our sins: he only tolerated them. Not that he approved of that time of sin: he was planning this era of holiness. When we had been shown to be undeserving of life, his goodness was to make us worthy of it. When we had made it clear that we could not enter God’s kingdom by our own power, we were to be enabled to do so by the power of God.

When our wickedness had reached its culmination, it became clear that retribution was at hand in the shape of suffering and death. The time came then for God to make known his kindness and power (how immeasurable is God’s generosity and love!). He did not show hatred for us or reject us or take vengeance; instead, he was patient with us, bore with us, and in compassion took our sins upon himself; he gave his own Son as the price of our redemption, the holy one to redeem the wicked, the sinless one to redeem sinners, the just one to redeem the unjust, the incorruptible one to redeem the corruptible, the immortal one to redeem mortals. For what else could have covered our sins but his sinlessness? Where else could we, wicked and sinful as we were, have found the means of holiness except in the Son of God alone?

How wonderful a transformation, how mysterious a design, how inconceivable a blessing! The wickedness of the many is covered up in the holy One, and the holiness of One sanctifies many sinners.

The complete letter may be read here.

Thanks to Thomas à Kempis I

Posted by Webster
Jesus asks us to become like little children; he doesn’t ask us to be childish. I imagine it’s easy for a convert like myself to fall into temptation when the first rush of conversion is passed, when childhood ends, and the long journey of being and becoming an adult Catholic is underway. That’s where I find myself now. And sometimes I’m pretty childish.

Having rediscovered, thanks to Frank’s recent post, The Imitation of Christ, which I first read after the death of Pope John Paul I, I am dipping back into a bit each morning. Wow—it is every bit as cleansing as it was in 1978. Whatever is going on in my life, author Thomas à Kempis (left) has a way of cutting through the thicket of trivial, daily, self-centered concerns and getting at the treasure in the heart of the garden.

I picked it up again where my bookmark told me I had left off, and this morning I came to “Of the Lack of Solace and Comfort.”

It is no great thing to despise the comfort of man when the comfort of God is present. . . .

In other words, I thought, when, in the springtime of conversion, things are going great with God, who needs friends? Who needs life to cooperate?

. . . But it is a great thing, and indeed a very great thing, that a man should be so strong in spirit as to bear the lack of both comforts, and for the love of God and for God’s honor should have a ready will to bear desolation of spirit and yet in nothing to seek himself or his own merits.

There have been times in the past few months, including some this week, when the desire to pray has run dry, when the daily hour of Adoration seems nothing more than another daily hour, when it’s all I can do to get my body to mass. If those times coincide with easy living—friends are understanding, the money is flowing, along with the wine, and the Patriots are on a roll—no problem! But couple such a dry period with friends and loved ones who seem not to get it, let those dry periods come when finances seem tightest or the weather coldest, let those periods come during a losing streak, and then, as Dad used to say, it’s Katie, bar the door!

As usual, Thomas à Kempis has an answer—not an easy answer, but an answer nonetheless:

When spiritual comfort is sent to you by God, take it humbly and give thanks meekly for it. But know for certain that it is the great goodness of God that sends it to you, and not because you deserve it. . . .

When comfort is withdrawn, do not be cast down, but humbly and patiently await the visitation of God, for He is able and powerful to give you more grace and more spiritual comfort than you first had. Such alteration of grace is no new thing and no strange thing to those who have had experience in the way of God. . . .

The Holy Spirit comes and goes after His good pleasure . . .

There is no better remedy than patience, with a complete resignation of our will to the will of God.

I think of men I admire, and I wonder how they handle(d) the dry periods: Father Barnes, living alone in a rectory big enough to house the six priests who once lived there; Father Matthew, a Trappist for as long as I’ve been alive, since 1951; my grandfather, Dan Bull, who bravely outlived two sons and two wives; my father, Dave Bull, whose diagnosis of terminal melanoma plunged him suddenly into an unaccountable world of fear, loneliness, and love—How did each of them respond when life was hardest and God seemed most distant?

They probably had their childish periods, but I like to think they had their Thomas à Kempis moments, as well.

I never yet found any religious person so perfect that he did not experience at some times the absence of grace or some diminishing of fervor. . . . He is not worthy to have the high gift of contemplation who has not suffered some tribulation for God. . . .

And therefore the Lord says: To him who overcometh I shall give to eat of the tree of life.

Because of Half-Baked Thoughts Like These

I like to learn new words. It is a strange thing for a guy to admit maybe, but it’s true. My Mom turned me on to Anu Garg’s A.Word.A.Day web service when we moved back to my hometown in the summer of 2005.

Mom knows I love to read, and she loves to play the board game SCRABBLE. Heck, all of her kids love to play that game! We used to have tournaments in an attempt to beat her at this wonderfully simple, yet stimulating word game. And don’t let her Southern demeanor fool you: she is one tough competitor and doesn’t like to get beaten. [Read more...]

Because of a Book So Beautiful

Sigrid Undset won the Nobel Prize in 1928 largely on the strength of her 1,100-page trilogy of Medieval Norwegian life, Kristin Lavransdatter. I recently read it for the first time on the recommendation of a friend in Communion & Liberation (CL). I have since recommended it to other friends and family. Most people don’t have the time for such a long read. Here’s my Letterman list explaining why I think you should make the time.

10. It starts out as a father-daughter story, and I am a sucker for father-daughter stories.

9. It is a work of fiction in which faith is central. Some would say faith is fiction, and therefore so what? But faith, as Fr. Giussani taught and as CL makes clear, is quite the contrary. Faith is founded in Fact.

8. Kristin lives in a world where family is central. If you want to understand what it is about the traditional family that the Catholic Church holds sacred, read what a binding force family was in Kristin’s world and then imagine how unhinged our world could be one day without it.

7. Kristin lives in a world where sin and its consequences are realities, and few in the novel are more sinful than Kristin. Through her experience, we can better appreciate the role of sin in our lives and our need for forgiveness.

6. Kristin’s devotion to her husband, despite his screaming failings, is deeply touching, and I say that as a husband with failings, some of them pretty loud, who could not have married a more forgiving woman. In fact (this is a corollary of sorts to #8), the depth of love in even the most troubled marriages in the novel is a testament to the enduring value of family.

5. The liturgical calendar alone is used to date events in the novel. A death never occurs on August 6. It happens “a week after St. Olav’s Day.” This, and countless other historical details, plunges the reader into a world as different and convincing as Tolkien’s Middle Earth.

4. The latest English translation, by Tiina Nunnally, is an award-winner and makes the story go down easy, even though you need a program to keep the players straight. As in the Russian system of –oviches and –ovnas, most characters have surnames ending in –son or –datter honoring their fathers. Can you guess the name of Kristin’s father?

3. To elaborate on #10, Kristin’s father is a paragon of fatherhood. Undset was deeply devoted to her father, and that devotion shines through every page. Those of us who are fathers can only hope to be half the man Lavrans Bjorgulfson is. (If you’re still paying attention, you have the answer to #4.) There are models of motherhood here too.

2. Twice in the trilogy I wept openly for at least ten minutes—and not at the end, incidentally. I don’t think I’ve ever done that with any work of fiction. As events unfolded, I was astounded at the depth of even the secondary characters and of the secrets they had kept for hundreds of pages.

1. The end is a stunner, and as right as rain—worth every hour it took getting to.


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