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Rosary start-up

January 12, 2019

I don’t offer a rosary how-to for this fifteen-minute devotion; you can find that anywhere. It’s an essay for the people who can’t get to the first step because the rosary is too complex and the multiple ideas that crowd each step are disorienting to them.

There’s the mystery; there’s the Our Father about which tomes have been written, phrase by phrase; how can you attend to seven basic fundamental ideas of prayer, one after another in 20 seconds; there’s the Hail Mary, also tome-bound (or tome exploded); and the Glory Be, crowded with cherubim outsinging you. There’s who you’re praying for. And then there’s just the whole idea of prayer, even of contemplative prayer, of being in the presence of God (of Whom??!). For this crowd, the people of many thoughts, it’s a three-ring circus, and it’s just too much. 

So step back and just pick up the beads. The beads are useful because they are a faint physical reminder that it’s prayer time; but don’t make a chain of them. You don’t have to say any prayers at all because a look is enough.

Look at Mary and greet her.

Yes, but for these folk, (us-folk) what does it mean, “a look?” There’s nothing to see. Or maybe they have situated themselves in a church with a dull-faced statue of Mary; so that’s no help, none at all! Maybe less than none.

But do you remember the look of someone who once looked at you with love, or even just with understanding? Your mother, your father, or your friend, or a teacher or some wonderful companion? I am sure these looks are common because they turn up in movies, such as the look of the captain in White Squall, several times, but at the end, for one, when his crew gather round. I don’t mean sappy looks of sentimentality and I won’t mention the movies about Jesus, most of which I do not like. There is the image of Mary on the Tilma of Guadalupe.

Anyway, my point is that you know what the look of presence, or of communion, really is, and just remembering such a look, even from art, brings up the sense of communion in your heart. And not only your heart: this look engages a specific locus in the pathways of your brain, your physical brain, and it engages your attention in a specific manner. Engaging that attention on a regular basis deepens your responsiveness to personal communion, even the communion of divine persons, and eventually, gradually, it wakens the inclination to bless the whole world with love. This is not a recommendation; it’s just a fact. I can document it.

So approach the rosary as an invitation to give that look to Our Lady. Just look at (to) her. Say, “Hail Mary” and you don’t need to say the rest. There’s a familiar flavor of “Hi, Mary,” and a happy flavor of “Ah, Mary!” and a flavor, maybe a scent, of “O my mother!” and some others, like roses and jasmine and the North Star in the winter air. As the distractions creep in, you move your fingers to the next bead, and just that little motion pulls you back. It could take three beads to pull you back; it might take only one. Don’t multiply motions, or words, beyond what pulls you in…

If you need mind food, intellect food, because the people of many thoughts have restless minds, there are the mysteries, but to avoid the tumultuous tug of the three-ring circus, which is no less overwhelming for being religious, keep it simple. Let the beads be Mary’s hand. Ask her: Take me to the Annunciation; show me. And then don’t be looking anxiously about. The communion gaze is the only look you need, unless she decides to show you something. There’s a movie, Full of Grace,which may provide helpful images. Or it may not. You may become aware of some image from your life, a memory of your own vocation or of your best friend’s gaze, or a phrase of poetry. You may realize, for a moment, that she loves you. Sad memories may arise; she cares about those too. Enter in with her looking on.

Beads. The look: the look of seeking a face, of meeting eyes. Enough.

Even with your eyes closed, you know that look. Even with closed eyes, you sometimes find yourself looking down, or withdrawing inwards, into “private” thoughts, those that are not intended to be shared, not even with God. That He, or Mary, is aware of your thoughts anyway does not change the reality that your eyes move in response to your intention to share, and your soul is with your eyes. If you don’t intend to share, you don’t share, not even with God. Omniscience is not communion; that takes consent. 

Look up. Even with your eyes closed, move your gaze into communion. 

Hail Mary.

Do it again. Fifteen minutes a day and she will change your life.

Fact check: See How God Changes your Brain by Newberg.

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Happy New Year 2019

January 10, 2019

Here is an interesting question: how long would it take, if there were no civic obstacles such as evil governors or obstructionist laws, to rebuild western civilization? I remember reading once, that Solzhenitsyn said it would take 150 years to rebuild Russia, and he said that many years ago. At the time, I was young and surprised, but now I see how much time it takes to get stuff done… Things have more parts than I realized; also, there are so many obstacles of all sizes…

Still, an interesting question. 

What would it mean, what would it take?

To rebuild the schools so they educated people. To rebuild civic wisdom and confidence so that people used elections to choose good men, not their pocketbooks, (and knew the difference); to reform media concepts of free press to the kind of understanding Washington had about the liberty worth fighting for; and on and on.

One note of encouragement: in the early 19th century, the Cherokee Nation, to a man, became literate, some in Georgia and some in Oklahoma, in seven years. It’s not such a big undertaking! It can happen very fast if everybody decides to do it.

We have a family story, doubtless repeated all over the country, about one nephew having a hard time with calculus until someone got him to try Khan Academy, which is online and free and clear. Calculus was quick, since he chose it and once he found the right resource!

So some things that seem impossibly long-term can be quick, while other things that seem quick are actually long term. My NASA father said this about space: things that seemed 50 years off were done in a few years; meantime other things that seemed very close remain stubbornly out of reach after fifty years…,

The apostles on Pentecost baptized thousands, and the Franciscans in Mexico, in the decade after 1531, baptized millions, all day so their arms were sore, day after day after day. But to secure those baptisms with teaching, preaching, spiritual direction… That was the work of years, and very much of that work was cut down by 19th and 20th century persecutions that later took out almost every educated Mexican who was Catholic and held any position of power or influence.

Still, an interesting question. 

The world could be literate in 7 years. Many failing high school students could learn calculus in months. An unbaptized nation could be baptized, by free choice, in a dozen years. 

What else?

Strength of Doom

January 1, 2019

St. Patrick has a long morning prayer called the Lorica, in which he affirms that he arises today in the strength of the Trinity, in the strength of all doings in the life of Jesus, in the strength of the angels and saints, even in the strength of creation, — light of the sun, splendor of fire, and much else listed in lively detail. So many and such different sources of strength!

One invocation at the end of the strengths of the life of Christ runs, “I arise today through the strength of His descent for the judgment of doom.” Surely this is unexpected, being, not only far from politically correct, but also far from the common spiritual wisdom! Judgment, particularly the final judgment implied by the word “doom,” is judged no topic of happy morning meditation, but only a reminder of our personal danger. Yet that does not seem to be what Patrick had in mind. He seems to have thought it an active strength to rise in the morning aware of Jesus’ descent for judgment.

Any other part of Jesus’ life we are expected to live, and to take in as present reality, particularly at its proper season in the year of the Church. We wait for Jesus to be born, believing that he will be born anew in our hearts if we celebrate Advent and then Christmas with attentive hearts. We believe that His teaching and his miracles are for today,if only you would hear his voice. We enter into the sacrifice of the Cross, full of hope that, at Easter as at no other time of year, we will be invited to taste the glory of his generous redemption.

But doom as a source of strength every morning, who meditates on that?

Yet, humanly speaking, don’t we experience relief when some criminal is finally caught and… and what? Locked up, but not for too long, since he needs hope? This thin gruel of doom is satisfying only to those who have no dealings with predation. Wealth is to live where predation does not reach, where protection is ready to hand, where threats are primarily abstract or to others. The abused woman does not feel safe until she is fully out of reach of her abuser, and sometimes that is only after his death. An aggrieved family may never believe society is concerned as long as its murderous members remain at large. We try to encourage those who have been wounded to embrace mercy and healing without these extremities… sometimes we succeed. Not always!

Anyway, it is not holiness to demand that othersforgive, particularly to demand that the wounded forgive perpetrators who do not repent and whose crimes are still multiplying. Jesus enables this for our freedom, but mercy as a societal demand is simply unjust. Judging by Patrick’s word, even a virtuous man may rightly hope for the doom that will cleanse the world of the wicked, or at least of a few of them. Nor can the argument stand that Patrick was only referring to the last judgment. Every other part of scripture is now,not just then or in the future, and Patrick seems to be finding strength now, this morning.

Jesus is not all mercy. He preaches strong woe to the wicked, and no apology. Come to me all who labor, and let sinners find great mercy, but however large, this mercy is not sappy, and does not work well for those who assume it will cover their ongoing predations. ‘Woe to you who think that you are safe because you are sons of Abraham; I tell you that God can raise sons from the very stones…” Teaching God’s mercy rightly reassures the timid and naturally faint of heart: fear not, God has your needs in mind. But at some point “mercy education” becomes a danger to the wicked, the promise of an easy return to faith when they are done with sinning, meaning at the end of their lives. 

No. Repentance is not easy; death may be sudden and unprovided, and in any case, such a dishonest “return” may look different at the moment of death. It is not something to plan on.

We can ask, then, when is this return of Jesus? At the end of time, yes, and effectively at the end of each life, for each individual. But it is also a constant reality, this descent for the judgment of doom, and it is a strength.

Furthermore, like all the other works of Jesus, — healing, teaching, and suffering — all of which are all entrusted to us in our daily lives, so is the word of doom. It is something to consider. Therefore also, inasmuch as judgment is presently entrusted to civic entities, we need to pray for all first responders, for our police, and for our soldiers, for all who deal with human wickedness, political harm, or accidental tragedy. Thus we pray for our first responders, our police, and our military:

For protection from the violence of heart of all whom they arrest, detain, or punish, and for steadfastness and peace in their work.

“I’ll do my best.” ~ God

December 27, 2018

A few mornings ago, I was asking God to help me out with someone who was bothering me. I don’t remember who it was or what issue was on the table; I only remember his answer: “I’ll do my best.”

I just started laughing so hard, I couldn’t remember anything else.

Now, to be sure, I don’t “hear” a voice, but God and I talk, and sometimes his response does take the form of words within my soul, and this was one time. It was very funny because, of course, God is all powerful, and whatever he chooses to do on earth or in heaven, he can do. Only, not quite “whatever,” you see, and we have talked about this many times, God and I.

He can’t contradict himself. This is the theological difference between more-or-less pagan gods and the One True God, and it’s a very big exception. He is the same, yesterday, today, and tomorrow, and he can’t contradict himself. 

Consider also: God is love.

And God is the Father of all the living, which is to say, he is the source of all personality, and that is to say, he is the source of our freedom. He has given us the power of love, which is the power to attend freely to one another and the power to make, or to deny, all the decisions that must underlie such attention. These truths work a tremendous limitation on what he can do; being Love and our Father, he does not withdraw the gift of personality when we misuse it. Fortunately, we are mortal, and there is a limit to the damage we can do with our gift, but it is something to consider.

So when we ask God for things that involve the free choices of other persons, we may be asking for things that are opposed to the nature of eternal Love. It may not seem so, but God knows the limits of his own invitation, having been turned down flat on so innumerably many occasions. He can renew an invitation; he can remind us (or our friends — or our enemies) of the benefits of his presence and love; he can send angels to do whatever they do to bring us along; but he can’t, within the nature of divine Love, just make people choose the stuff we want. He can’t even make them choose what He wants! He can only do His best! 

And that should be good enough for us!

Power and humility

Baron Acton said, “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” 

Well, if that were really so, God could not be good, since his power is absolute. Fortunately, there is an exception, which lies in the alliance with humility. As long as power remains allied with humility, it does not corrupt; and this applies even to absolute power, which, if absolutely allied with humility – like the second Person of the Trinity being born in a manger – it does not corrupt absolutely. From Bethlehem to Golgotha, our revelation shows the almighty power of God entrained with abyssal humility; God is Love; his power is safe.

Thus, in all our needs, he does His best. 

QED

Praise him!

Pope John Paul II, Saint

December 24, 2018

Let’s begin with a short biography of Albino Luciani, the first Pope John Paul. Perhaps it will be easy to give a short biography of a man who reigned as pope for only 33 days. He came; he listed the reforms he had in mind; he died. Rumors that his death was not natural circulated immediately and continue to swirl about in various permutations. Cardinal Pietro Parolin says they are all nonsense, but he is hardly a reassuring voice for anyone who has read Henry Sire (Dictator Pope) or Philip Lawler. Parolin is a black hat for sure!

Against this background, Pope John Paul II became pope and honored his immediate predecessor by taking his name. Whatever he thought about the rumors around Albino Luciani’s death, and he must have heard them, the new pope (or the Lord Jesus) could have judged that the time had not yet come to clean up the corruption in the Church. I don’t mean he was scared, this veteran of Poland’s sorrow; I just mean he could have understood, or been led by God, that it was not the right move.

I remember hearing about corruption in the Curia in my childhood, which was under Pope Pius XII. You get a glimpse of it reading the life of Saint Pio of Pietrelcina. It was quite terrible, and caused him great anguish. (It is interesting that he met the theologian Karol Wotilja and knew he would be a pope, “and a good one.”) So, long term, the corruption has been terrible. Why not fix it sooner rather than later? 

[Here, let me interject something from the Q board, (“Qanon”) since I have been reading this for the past year. One of the lessons on that adventure has been: “Trust the plan!”– because there are a lot of parts to taking down corruption. For example: you can’t just arrest Hillary on day one, because in court, she’d have a corrupt judge. You have to get honest judges first, one at a time and without them being knocked off. And then there is the matter of guerilla forces – Antifa and BlackLivesMatter and others – who will disrupt everything until you get them under control. And getting them under control involves getting their funding under control. So you freeze Soros’ bank accounts and you take out the bad princes in Saudi Arabia and that’s a lot of the funding, though not all. But the point is that everything has to be done in the right order or it won’t work. It’s a 3D chess game. Maybe 5D. And the kingdom of God is not less.]

In any case, amidst all this corruption, the new young pope, John Paul II, this great man of prayer, turned his attention to issues that might have seemed so quixotic as to be irrelevant – to worldwide evangelization, particularly of Catholic youth, and a fresh discussion of sexuality and marriage. He did not scrap with the wicked men round about him; he leap-frogged over them to visit the world, especially initiating World Youth Days, and he wrote about sexuality in a manner that would constitute a new defense of marriage in its moment of greatest need. 

Was that a mistake? Couldhe have done both the clean-up and the initiatives of youth evangelization and marital theology? Can we say that “with God all things are possible” and he should have done both — meaning God should have done both, right then? 

Canonization does not mean he was perfect in all respects… Does it at least mean that he followed his vocation and second guesses are off the table? 

“Nobody is ever told what might have been.” This is my own conclusion. He did what he was given to do, just as King Edward did what he was given to do. Somebody else had to do the clean-up. 

Then Benedict XVI

Pope Benedict, with great gentleness and amidst a storm of press hatred, continued with the theological clarity of JPII and his World Youth Day. He also took some very strong initiatives towards the clean-up, including a Price-Waterhouse audit. Then he stepped aside for Cardinal Sarah to finish. Oops! Cardinal Sarah did not become Pope; Bergoglio did, and who knew what a disaster that would be? He stopped the audit. And he placed evil men in charge of JPII’s signature initiatives.  And… and…

For a while, people continued to hope that reform could come into our Holy Mother Church, but things kept getting worse. At last, Vigano wrote his letter, in which he describes how he continued, for over a decade, to hope that someone in the Vatican would be able to carry forward the necessary reform. The fury and denial with which his letter was received, however, and his fear for his life, exhibited its truthfulness. 

Fraternal correction

Matthew 18: 15-17, the key passage about fraternal correction, lists several levels of correction, but ends up saying that if none of them work, the individual is to be treated as a gentile and a tax collector. In effect, this means that when a member of the Christian community will not do his part in working out some difficulty, leaving him to the secular arm may be necessary and is appropriate. We do not control the free will of our members, and we do not maintain them in membership “no matter what.” They can be excommunicated, and while that remedy has been understood in a canonical (a juridical) sense within the Church, it also denotes a practical possibility of leaving the wicked to face penalties coming from beyond our community. 

Let that sink in. 

Jesus does not say that the Church will always be able to correct its own membership. He wishes it might be. He says (in Paul) that it is scandalous if we look outside (go to court) to resolve our difficulties. Still, Paul envisions that the Church might have to commit some of its offenders to outside sources. We are at a moment today when fraternal correction within the Church has failed worldwide, and if the secular police must step in to make the necessary corrections, this is not unforeseen, however embarrassing. The Church seeks to govern itself, but it is absolutelynot a police force, and at a moment when the corruption in the Church is out of control, correction is going to be a police operation.

We must accept this, and it is not unforeseen.

It grieves the heart of God, but it is not unforeseen.

This may not seem much like a Christmas blog, but I know that people are suffering from these scandals and I hope it will comfort some to have a different perspective. Jesus, who came so gently, will never leave us, and all is well. But the problem we are facing has many more parts than we have noticed; therefore also the clean-up has hidden sub-plots and long-winding side trails.

We must “trust the plan.”

The Confessor and the Pope

December 20, 2018


Actually, it’s Pope Saint John Paul II that I want to talk about, and I would like to compare him, in a way, to St. Edward the Confessor, whom I assume to be practically unknown, so a short biography is in order. Skipping ahead to my point, however, I just want to say that a man of God in a critical position may not be able to do everything that historians judge he should have done, but he may do what is most necessary for the kingdom of God, and that is exactly what doing God’s will means. I mention this because, in the current crisis in the Church, it is painful and confusing to realize that JPII, so beloved and so quickly canonized, was at the helm for the appointment of so many very bad bishops. How did he not know? He was told, at least sometimes.

First, let us consider the English King. Edward of Wessex was born in 1003, and reigned over England from 1042 to 1066. He died in January of 1066, the fateful year of William the Conqueror’s landing and of the battle of Hastings. (It was also a passage year for Halley’s comet, sighted worldwide, and seen by many as an omen, for good or ill!)

King Edward was a genuinely good and holy man, who had, furthermore, a gift of healing. People with scrofula came to him from all over England, and he laid hands on them and healed them. Imagine what it would mean to a country to have a king with healing hands! Think of people traveling from who-knows-what-distances to be healed! In fact, this piece of history has moved into legend in Tolkein’s work, where the rightful king, in the guise of Aragorn, is prophetically indicated, and then recognized, by his healing hands. Edward was canonized in 1161, less than 100 years after his death, and only much later, a few hundred years, it was discovered that his body was incorrupt.

However, when I mentioned these things to an English friend, he pursed his lips and responded with mild but knowing scorn, that Edward was a very weak king. Another friend with the same opinion, just remarked that holiness does not help a person to be a good king. She seemed to think that he, and England, would have been better off if he’d gone to a monastery. That’s interesting. I thought holiness was supposed to help with anything… I do expect a holy king to be a good one…

However the case may lie in universal terms, Hilaire Belloc has a different story about Edward’s weakness in his book about William the Conqueror. Basically, he contends that what the English most needed right then was a rest from war and they got 25 years off under St. Edward. That’s a whole generation. In peaceful America we may underestimate the dislocation of constant warfare, but it makes everything hard. Mothers become single mothers; children become semi-orphans, harvests are not well carried out, leading to sickness, miscarriage, and more orphans. Men come home broken in spirit and missing their best friends. There is much more to war than death on the battlefield.

The fact that the evil Godwin family took over very much of England during St. Edward’s reign does not seem to Belloc to be a blot on Edward’s reign; sometimes a country needs to stop losing all its young men in war; leave them at home to be husbands and fathers. King Edward did extract from his men, including the Godwins, the promise that William of Normandy would be the next king, and it would have been nice to have a peaceful transtion, but of course the Godwins had no intention of keeping that promise. They had the crown on their own heads before Edward was under the sod.

In response, the rightful King William took the country by storm with the largest army ever assembled in that part of the world (or maybe any part) and after he landed, there was a long and bloody battle. He might not have won except that quarrelsome Harold of Godwin had already been in one battle and arrived at Hastings a little tattered. He was killed very late in the day, and then William went to London to be crowned. 

Many changes ensued. For one, the very corrupt archbishop of Canterbury, Stigand, was replaced by a French bishop, a member of the Benedictine renewal that was sweeping the continent. This meant that the Catholic faith of England was renewed under William’s reign.

Would William have succeeded more peacefully if Edward had fought a few more battles? Who can know? The Godwins were terrible. Edward might have been killed, and William might have been murdered like his elder brother and never succeeded at all. And one wonders how national identity was formed in those days, without a television or even a printing press to keep people in touch. For that matter, there wasn’t even a strong English language, rather a motley scattering of local dialects. It would be 300 years before Chaucer formed the language, incorporating the, by then very extensive, French elements that came in with William. But what if you had a king with healing hands; what if everyone in England knew someone who had been personally touched and healed by the king. What would that do to identity?

“No one is ever told what might have been,” Aslan tells Lucy of Narnia; nevertheless it is helpful to reflect on some might-have-beens to understand actual events more clearly. Edward was not a fighter, in human terms, and if you want to call him a weak king, go ahead. But what if he had fought bravely and still lost to the Godwins? What if, under the Godwins, a bleeding and disheartened England had become an apostate kingdom nearly 1000 years ago, governed by evil men and dis-catechized by greedy and politically motivated bishops? These things are a perennial threat, as we should know, and in that century, it was the coming of William that protected England. It cannot have been a small thing that he came into a kingdom that knew the healing hand of Jesus.

One man can’t do everything; but he can do what God gives him to do, and thereby sow the seeds for another harvest. 

Lead us… Unto Deliverance

December 17, 2018

Lead us not unto temptation, except unto deliverance

Let us return to the last clauses in the Our Father. It’s one thing to offer a new interpretation; it’s another to shift the way we think when we use very familiar words. Step by step, then:

Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil…

Lead us. We affirm that we desire to be led by the Holy Spirit. The prayer is to the Father, of course, but the Trinity is just one God, and the moment-by-moment leading of God is the work of the Holy Spirit. Jesus teaches us to affirm that we desire to be led by the Spirit. It is a way of setting our compassS

So He leads us, and the world is full of wonderful things that our Father has made; any one of these gifts can become a doorway to growth or a rabbit-trail that prevents us from following the movement of the Spirit. Which will it be? Can we assume that since the Holy Spirit is leading us, nothing bad can come into view; nothing bad can happen?

Alas, not! Even under the leadership of the Spirit, bad things come into view, and some of them are worse than what we have ever seen before. Our love is more easily awakened, and if chastity is not yet a strength in us, this will cause unexpected temptations. Our enjoyment is richer, and this makes food more delicious and temperance more challenging. Our minds are sharper and our meandering curiosity cuts into our prayer. Our sense of danger is lowered, and the adventure of risk can beckon in dangerous ways. The list goes on.

So we ask the Spirit to lead us; at the same time, we remind Him (who never forgets) and ourselves (who readily forget) that we are seeking deliverance from evil. Thus:

Lead us, — not so that we will fall into temptation, — but so that we canrespond to your actions that “deliver us from evil.”

Lead us, not for the purpose of annoying us with temptation, but into all the glory of your beautiful kingdom, and especially lead us so that the evils that lurk within our habits may come into the light where so that we can seek deliverance from them. 

Father, we know that we carry the burdens of our families, our friends, our neighbors; sometimes even the people we see on the street leave a bad feeling where they pass. Should we withdraw to the mountains and sit on saffron pillows where nobody can come near? Will that be best? No, Jesus has taught us to let the Holy Spirit lead us along the pathway of his choosing. If we encounter problems, His holy purpose is to set us free, not only from the problems on the outside, but from the inner wounds that make those problems so penetrating. 

Lead us, not for the purpose of temptation, but for the purpose of deliverance.

Lead us never into temptation excepts for the purpose of deepening deliverance.

Amen