Monday, October 31, 2005

Okay, just one more...

I forgot to mention that this discussion about Anne Rice's new novel is no longer an mere academic exercise. Mrs. Rice stopped by the rainforest canopy of solitude to leave this message:

Thank you for your interesting discussion of my conversion (return to
Catholicism), and my book Christ the Lord. The infancy legends I use in the book are not gnostic. I used nothing that contradicted the four canonical gospels. As a Catholic, as a believer, as a novelist, I find the Jesus of faith to be my obsession. The identity of Joachim and Anne do also come from non-canonical sources. My belief is Jesus was Divine from the beginning but He did experience being an infant, a child, a man. And He "emptied" Himself as Paul says for us. I
took this to mean that He did not always use His knowledge of all things. Obviously He came down to earth to truly be human, and it does seem, from Luke's statement that Jesus "grew in wisdom and stature" and from other statements in the gospels that Jesus valued human experience. I chose to write this novel because of my personal belief in Christ, and my desire to put any gifts I possessed at His service. So far the reception has been amazingly good. I knew
there would be some criticism, but I never knew people would be interested in this book. I'm thankful. This is my life's work. Take care, Anne Rice.

Needless to say, I most flattered and appreciative of her comments and insights. Again, the most essential thing I want to stress here is I am very happy that you have returned to Holy Mother Church. I am a convert to the Faith and love our Lord and His Holy Church so much. It makes my heart swell with happiness to hear someone being drawn back, by a thousand subtle hooks and lines, into her fold.

I hope you understand from what I have posted here that my concerns are not the same as criticisms. As a fellow Christian, it is my hope that anything that might lead you astray will be avoided. That's a concern because it may or may not prove applicable, and quite frankly, that applies to all of my readers. A criticism of your work would require a copy of the book in front of me so that I could reference this or that passage. So unless you are going to send a pre-release copy for my review (which is not being requested) you shouldn't expect criticism.

Okay, now this is really the last post until I see the book in print. Again, I hope you will come back and visit us at CRM. And as always you can reach me but the email address in the side bar. Have a happy All Saints' Day.
Post-Consultation Conflagration

After some questions were posted about the exact problems with the Protoevangelium of James and the Gospel of Thomas, I went back to my trusty copy of the standard text on Patrology by Johannes Quasten to make sure I had my facts straight. So here it is.

The Protoevangelium of James is apocryphal but not considered to be of a Gnostic source. So, therefore, it is probably of spurious origin. As to actual usefulness, I will need to more research.

The Gospel of Thomas however being early is considered to be of Gnostic origin, or at minimum, highly influenced by Gnosticism. One commentor asked for a definition of the errors and I will say here, I will try to post an article pinning down Gnostic doctrines, although that is like trying to staple Jello to a tack board. The main problem with the Gospel of Thomas is a clear duelistic notion of matter and a problematic misogyny present in the closing chapters. The reason that the Gospel of Thomas came up at all was to my knowledge, the only source for the tale of the Lord animating clay pigeons is the Gospel of Thomas. So, if Mrs. Rice got that story from somewhere else, it would be news to me. Further, if I recall the event correctly, after the pigeons are animated, one of the Pharisee's children complains that Jesus was working on the sabbath, and the Lord's response is to strike him dead. But I will confess it has been a good spell since I read the Gospel of Thomas.

Okay, enough of that for now. No more Anne Rice posts until I see the book.
Was that a fat joke?
A few weeks ago, after a cold front moved into town, I was standing in the sacristy a few minutes before one of the Masses. The servers were assembled as was the man who was the lector. A lady walked in through the sacristy and with no introduction said,

"Father, less food. It's colder now."

I responded, "Oh, right. I have already been putting less [food] in."

She then departed to take her seat in the church. I saw the lector sort of squinting as if he was trying to understand what had just transpired. I realized there was an explanation needed.

Here is the background that no one else in the sacristy completely knew. The lady who came in has a landscaping business and some time ago she put a garden pond in the rectory back yard, complete with large gold fish. After I arrived in Kingfisher, I began taking care of the fish, giving them food each evening. She had instructed me that in the colder months I should not put as much food in the pond because the fish won't eat as much as when it is warm outside. With that information, now go back and read the brief dialogue. What a difference a little information makes, huh? One might have thought she was making a fat joke about me. No, just the fish THIS time!

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Love Changes Everything

Events like these are small signs of the movement of the heart back to God. It would have been twice as cheap and three times as easy to leave things as they were. Instead, to heal an old wound, a new "scar" had to cover it. And what a lovely scar it is.

Friday, October 28, 2005

A Pair of Catch-22's

Today, during the broadcast of Morning Air on Relevant Radio, I treated the subject of Anne Rice's conversion and the upcoming book from her about our Lord's childhood. I mentioned in a previous post as well as on the air about having a certain degree of hestitation about this new book as it covers a time period which, for better or for worse, the canonical Gospels don't whisper a word concerning. Ms. Rice's book covers the time period of Jesus's youth, about 7 or 8 years old, if I understood the reviews and reports correctly. Specifically, my concern was that Rice makes use of non-canonical sources like Mailer's The Gospel According to the Son and the Gnostic Gospels. To be truthful, it was the Gnostic sources which worried me the most. As I reflected on this, though, I realized it was a touch hypocritical of me to be upset about this when I will happily celebrate the Feast of Sts. Joachim and Anne, the parents of Our Lady. The source for these names is a Gnostic gospel, the Proto-Evangelium of St. James, if memory serves. So it seems to me, that if Rice uses the faux miracles merely to introduce the idea of the boy Jesus finding the way in his human nature to comprehend and to explain His divinity, and doesn't beat this point into the ground, it shouldn't adversely affect the book.

Now, some of you are saying, "Wait, Father, I thought that use of the Gnostic Gospels was bad, given what you said about The DaVinci Code. Why is it okay now?" The difference between Rice and Dan Brown is a vast gulf of intention. D. Brown wants the Catholic Church to become the hippest home for goddess worship this side of the Greenwich mean. Therefore, his use of the Gnostic Gospels is an effort to SUPPLANT the canonical Gospels. In Rice's case, and again, I haven't seen the book, the effort here is to have source material from which to work so that people will EMBRACE the canonical Gospels. In short, it would be akin to either the use of pious legends or other spurious materials. As long as Ms. Rice makes it clear that she isn't trying to dissent from the Church's teaching and practice, I think she is on better ground. And again, it's good to have you home, Anne.

(If you aren't satisfied with my response, don't worry; I'll probably change my mind tomorrow.)

For our second catch-22, I refer you to Leonard DiCaprio's effort at relevance. Global Warming is a topic that has generally left me very cold. On the one hand, I am skeptical of theories of everything which claim to be able to predict outcomes from vastly interconnected and brain-numbingly complex systems. On the other hand, if global warming is a real phenomenon, I don't want to wake up one morning to stone-faced scientists saying, "You know, Venus, that planet next door where the atmosphere exerts twenty times the pressure of our own and it rains sulfuric acid? The first thunderstorm is next week." If such a thing as global warming actually exists, we don't want to wake up and say "Ooooops" and then have to live (or die) with the consequences. So, it seems prudentially, we might want to pay attention to something for which we don't have slam dunk evidence.
Face It: There are only two possible titles for this show

Can you guess what those might be?
I'm Not One to Start a Panic, But...

the last time I checked there was a natural substance, other than the ones mentioned, which generates a sweet odor when it reaches maturity. The sweet odor is a strategy to help it continue to spread but making sure you take a nice big deep sniff of its spores. Yep, you guessed it. That sweet smell might be smallpox.

The sweet aroma is called the "foeter" of smallpox and at one time, it was used as a diagnostic tool to identify the presence of the disease. Granted, that to generate a discernable odor all over Lower Manhatten would require every man, woman, and child, (and probably a fair number of rats) to be infected and running hot with contagion, this probably isn't the actual source. But I had you worried, didn't I?

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Talk about leaving nothing to the imagination

And trust me, I am searching the rectory for a pipe cleaner so that I can burrow out any vestiges of memory associated with this image. Thanks to Elinor Dashwood for the link.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

A Restoration of Proper Order

This article introduces an interesting notion that I have been arguing for, for several years. While I would qualify more carefully the statements that Confirmation isn't about being a good soldier for Christ, because I think that Confirmation as a seal for the battle of faith is a valid way of considering the sacrament given especially the early history of the Church, I wholeheartedly encourage this move to restoring Confirmation to a closer place with Baptism. After all, this is the nature of Confirmation; its primary effect is to complete Baptismal graces. To hold off Confirmation, because we want people to make a "mature" decision about their Faith, severely undercuts the two Sacraments which assume that aspect, namely Holy Communion and Confession.

Tip o' the biretta to T.K. for sending this my way.
An Active Sense of Justice

Nikki Brown from the L.A. Times sent me this article concerning the work of one religious sister and her crusade to get a young man, who may have been falsely accused, out of jail. So, first, thanks to Ms. Brown for the heads up.

This sort of story demonstrates how preliminary and, in the best sense of the word, arbitrary. Often times a case is determined by "being in the wrong place and the wrong time" sort of scenario.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Bring It On, Holy Father!

I am rubbing my claws together with delight over this news. Granted, it means that I will have to read like the wind to be ready so that I can be caught up with all the other writings of the Holy Father that are available in English. I cannot wait to begin to order my life using directions coming from the Home Office.
A Different Take on the Shifting Fortunes of History

Perhaps history isn't really written by the winners after all. Or perhaps history is written by the winner, that being Jesus Christ, the Lord and Master of History.
Truth In Shopping

I went to the grocery today and discovered a truth that I would like to share with all the readers. The truth is "If you spent more than five minutes selecting candy to give to trick or treaters, you are not shopping for them; you are making plans for the leftovers." With that in mind, what is your favorite candy?
Why the Blessed Virgin Mary Is Better Than Wonder Woman or My Mom Can Beat Up Your Feminist Icon

While I was visiting the St. Albert's Priory in Oakland, I was treated to one of the patronal feasts of the Dominican Order, namely the Feast of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary. It was delightful to see the Marian piety so central to the work and identity of the brothers along with the energetic preaching of the wonders of the Rosary. In the priory chapel (which was beautiful in its own right), there is a large statue of Our Lady. Now, I need to explain what the statue looks like for you to understand where this post is going. The Blessed Mother is standing and leaning forward just a bit, and therefore it conveys the sense of forward motion. Elevated and toward her left shoulder, Mary holds the Infant Jesus who has His hands extended in a gesture of joyful excitement. In His hands and threaded into Mary's mantle is a very large white Rosary. I don't know where this came from, but, the position of the Rosary suggested a lasso or lariat, and that was when it hit me. Mary's got her own "magic lasso" and it's the Rosary. And then I started cracking up as I imagined Mary chastising Wonder Woman, probably for immodest dress.

It's funny how in a culture there are always archetypes presented for our assimilation. This is not to suggest that Jung was right, quite the opposite. Instead of having universal images, a culture enshrines what it thinks is the ideal and then goes about making sure that everyone gets the message. It's the same way with art. Art is not about self-expression; it's about communication and can be evaluated on that point. When it comes to heroism and feminity, I think every faithful Catholic has got the popular culture beat in the person of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Here are the top ten reasons why Mary is better than Wonder Woman.

10.) What kind of sense does an invisible jet make? Face it, an invisible jet makes as much sense as a screen door on a submarine. You'd be constantly losing it at the airfield, not to mention a fair number of bloody noses from "bumping" into the body of the plane. Furthermore, the comics have Wonder Woman with the power of flight, so isn't this jet a bit redundant? With Mary, she is simply everywhere the Church is, as she is its pre-eminant member. This doesn't include all those times she appears for the benefit of the faithful.

9.) Mary serves the one True God; Wonder Woman works for anybody. Here we have the classic problem of turning from cleverly concocted myths to the worship of the True God. Mary has got WW beat hands down. Not only was Mary in on the First Covenant, she is the sign of the Covenant coming to full flower when she bears her son, the Covenant Between Expressed in Living Flesh. She is the first Christian. Wonder Woman will work for Olympians or the U.S. Government or the Justice League or whomever will keep her in Aqua Net. Heck, she even shilled Hostess cupcakes at one point in her career.

8.) One word: modesty. I must confess a puerile crush upon the Lynda Carter incarnation of WW. Wonder Woman's attire, however, leaves very little to the imagination. Let's just face it: metal brasserie-wearing ladies are not the ladies one takes home to your parents for marriage approval. Your parents are likely to think that you stopped by the carnival on your way to the house. Mary however conceals the mystery of her feminity, a femininity which achieves supreme greatness in the economy of salvation. Mary gets to be both Virgin and Mother. She conscrated her heart and that heart bursts with life-giving Love. Mary is someone you would be proud to have over.

7.) Better Accessories. What's Wonder Woman got? Apart from an invisible jet, bullet reflecting vambraces, and a magic lasso, so what? The jet we have already considered. But the bullet deflecting bracelets are nothing compared with the ability to crush Satan with your heel. And Wonder Woman's lasso is out of control. I mean seriously, what kind of man-hating psycho came up with this one? The lasso compels those entrapped in it to tell the truth and to obey Wonder Woman. On the other hand, Mary's got the benefit of being full of grace and freed from the corruption of all sin, Original and personal, of being the Mother of God, of being assumed Body and Soul into Heaven, and of her perpetual Virginity. Add on the Rosary and you see the clear winner. Rather than making us tell truth, the Rosary tells us the truth and then in light of these saving truths, we find the strength, through the sweet surrender of grace, of submitting to God. Nothing degrading in being wrapped in the bonds of the Holy Rosary.

6.) Better Allies. Do you think St. Joseph, her most chaste spouse, has anything to fear from being one-upped by Steve Trevor or even Superman? Guess again. Once you put in that Mary, as Queen of Heaven, also, can count the apostles, prophets, martyrs, confessors, and the many other saints, Wonder Woman will be hard put to impress me even if she were to marshal all the forces of Themescrya.

5.) Mary appeals to every culture and land; Wonder Woman is clearly an American idea. Blessed Gueric of Igny reminds us that faithful Christians instinctively turn to Mary and honor her. That would explain all the various ways Mary is and can be depicted without doing violence to her nature and identity. We will not remind readers about the elephant dung incident but simply note that as an anamoly. However, try picturing Wonder Woman in a sarong or in a kimono, and you will see my point. Wonder Woman exists in the weird intersection of the glorification of violence and inappropriate sexuality that is modern American culture. If you don't believe me, go see Aeon Flux when it comes out and then we'll talk.

4.) Mary's my mother in the plan of Grace. No matter how much I might want a relationship with Wonder Woman, I can't have one. However, the instant I am baptized, because I become a Son in the Son, Mary becomes Mary of all the Living, those who live in Christ.

3.) If I follow Mary's example, I can go to Heaven. If I follow Wonder Woman's example, I am fit only for an island paradise. If I wanted an island paradise, I would only be aiming for Adam and Eve. Mary shows the human person who follows Christ in the fullness of joy in Heaven. You take your pick.

2.) Mary is a real, historical person. Unlike Wonder Woman, I can model my life on Mary. As one who is baptized and therefore illuminated by grace, I can actually attain to the same things that Mary actually achieved. Through Faith, I can give birth to the Word Incarnate, both in thought and action. Through Hope, I can unite any misery or suffering to the Passion of Christ, and thus not submit to despair. Through Love, I can achieve victory over the greatest evil of any time or place. No matter how hard I try, I will never become an Amazonian princess. (I think we are all glad about that.) Additionally, I can never learn to fly under my own power or deflect bullets with magic bracelets.

1.) Mary's Son is God! In the final analysis, this is the Ace of Trumps in this discussion. Rather than having some muddled sense of divinity being like a genetic trait, which predominates in both Greek and modern American culture, Mary's Son reinforces the great divide between Creator and Creature, while simulataneously showing us the condescension which God shows to Man in order to bring all creation back into union with Himself.

If you have made it to the end of this post, you can tell I am having some fun at the expense of my comic dork persona. At the same time, I offer this as a reflection about whom we idolize, whether we recognize it or not. If we hold up power and domination as something to shoot for, then we will expend all our energy in trying to getting that. I would suggest that all of us would be well-served to examine ourselves on this point. With whom would I be associated based upon our actions? Whom would I like my action to make folks think of?
Conversion One Step at a Time

I still recall with amusement Fr. Benedict Groeschel's proclamation to the students on the spiritual year during the year I was there. He looked at all of us and said, "I am sincerely praying that Madonna would return to the Faith and become a cloistered Carmelite nun." We howled with laughter at the thought, but Fr. Benedict chastened us. He said something like, "Grace works even when you're not expecting it to." The linked article gives some evidence of this.

I am always pleased to see someone return to the practice of the Faith, and from my experience, I can report that it is something of a daily event. Regularly, folks would appear in the confession or in my office and say, "I'm ready to come back." After wandering, they awaken to the gift of conversion. Granted, this is only the first step. There is much more in the offing. But at least it's a start.

To hear that Mrs. Rice has returned to the Catholic Faith pleases me mightily. I always suspected that Rice was a Catholic, although possibly a lapsed one. There was something about her books, the two that I read, that tipped me off. But to be honest I couldn't tell you now what that was. At any rate, it's nice to have you back, Mrs. Rice. And anyone reading this blog who has lapsed from the Faith should know that goes double for you. The average revert will not receive the support of understanding popular fans so I suspect it will be twice as hard for you, the invisible revert, to come back. If you need help or encourage me, just fire off an email and I'll do what I can. Just don't expect prompt responses.

However, with all this goodwill flowing from my pores, I do have a concern to voice and it has to do with Rice's new novel coming out. Now, this is not to dispute her good intentions or the sincerity of her re-version, but I get leery when I hear about novels focused on the childhood of Jesus. From what the article says, Rice is gathering from lots of sources, some of them kosher and some of them not so much. It reminds me of what Msgr. Romano Guardini said in his preface to his masterwork, The Lord, that mere psychology is never enough to analyze our Lord because he is greater than any created science. The Lord is greater than our capacity to understand Him, and therefore, to write novels about Him means running the mine field of turning the Living Lord into a dead idol, and an American one at that. I am particularly concerned with Rice's alleged dependance upon Gnostic sources, such as the Gospel of Thomas. I know that the article makes no mention of the exact apocryphal texts employed, but given the events that are slated to make an appearance, there is only one source for them that I know of, and that's the Gospel of Thomas. It's strange that such a feminist author would employ a text which concludes that for Mary Magdalene to enter the Kingdom she must be remade as a man (read male). If I find the time and the method I might just drop her an email. I wonder who is helping her in this time of return.

So, here's my thought. Tonight or some time soon, let's all say a Rosary for Mrs. Rice and all revert Catholics on the way. This article is a helpful reinforcement of last Sunday's Gospel. We need to love the Lord with everything, and that occasionally means changing our minds and putting on the new life and person of Christ. And if you read this Mrs. Rice, welcome home.
"I'm tired of the ayatollahs of the Right Wing..."

" I propose replacing them with the Gestapo of the Left."

Yes, I know I completely invalidated my argument by making allusions to Nazism, but I thought one ridiculous exaggeration deserved another.
That puts a new spin on the phrase "snaking the toilet"

I can imagine finding good housekeepers in that part of the world, but seriously, get a Toilet Monkey instead. Jojo can give you plenty of references.
A Point in Favor of Homeschooling

It's stuff like this which makes me crazy. A photo of Jesus Christ is construed as endorsement of religion by the school? The only person who is endorsing the religion is, of course, the adherent, namely a 5 year old. Eeeesh!

There are days when I look upon those who forecast a persecution for the Church with scepticism. Then things like this come along and I wonder how much bottled water can be stored in the basement of the rectory.

Friday, October 21, 2005

That heat ain't the kitchen!
In the past year, I have begun watching the Food Network. I like many of the shows, the little tidbits and kitchen hints you pick up, and, of course, the spectacular demonstrations of food preparation. With all of the sex and violence on television, it is refreshing to be able to turn on a station and not be offended.

Well, Food Network, and more precisely Michael Chiarello, the star of Easy Entertaining, blew it today. Parents: Be warned even Food Network could malform your children by feeding up not only delicious food, but also some occasional bad theology!

As Michael began his show today, featuring Mexican-inspired dishes, he introduced today's theme like this: "When I am reincarnated I hope I come back Mexican" because, he said, he just loves spicy, Mexican food. And as he wrapped up the introduction he declared that today's presentation would be "a feast fit for the Mayan gods." Had he said, "IF I am reincarnated...," you could almost take his words as some sort of corny joke. But rather he said, "when," which would seem to indicate that he expects to be reincarnated. His show was met by my quick press of the power button on my remote control. Sorry, Michael, but you blew it!

Normally, I leave posting which is hostile, exaggerated and overly-analytical up to Fr. Tharp -- you could say it is his contribution to the blog. However, today I am going to make an exception for Easy Entertaining with Michael Chiarello: I am afraid you may find that easy entertaining may not get you to the only banquet which truly matters. My friend, if salt goes flat, with what can it be seasoned?

Thursday, October 20, 2005

A Stroke of Inspiration

I was flipping channels recently and I came upon Larry King interviewing the entire cast of "Roseanne." Love her or hate her, you must admit the first couple of seasons were really well done. But weighing her contributions to television is not the purpose of the post.

As I watched, the camera panned past John Goodman. Now, this is a point I will happily debate, namely, whether or not Goodman is one of the best actors of our time. He was sporting his usual curly mop and a very full goatee. For some reason, the lights brought red elements in his hair and I don't know what it was, but I immediately was hit with inspiration. Imagine a film biography of G.K. Chesterton, centering around his conversion to the Catholic Faith, starring John Goodman. It was so darned perfect. The only thing missing was the glasses Chesterton wore to make the image perfect.

I wonder how long it would take to work up a 125 page script...

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Keep On Preachin' It, Ladies...

Of course, I mean this with no disrespect. I have a certain fondness for cloistered sisters, as I suspect that they are the reason, their intercession, specifically, why reality hasn't just completely gone off the rails. Think of them as Abraham before Sodom. You can imagine them before the Blessed Sacrament saying, "Come on, Lord. You know that they are better than all that..." So here's to the first anniversary of Monials. Don't forget to pray for that semi-secret intention I mentioned recently.
That title probably needs a question mark behind it

I was pleased to find this bit o' news on the web tonight, especially considering I dodged a tornado to get here, but that's another tale. While I am pleased to see the advance, you might not want to get the balloons and crepe paper out just yet.

The problem, as I understand it, with miracles needed for canonization is that they truly must have no other explanation than the intercession of the saint. In other words, the fact the deacon in question had surgery before said cure could rend the miracle dubious in some folks' minds. Compare this to the second miracle for the canonization of St. Katherine Drexel in which a little girl grew new bones in her inner ear, I think you'll understand my point.

Either way, good for the good Cardinal.
Truly Blogworthy

I consider it a major part of my work to help people not only find God, be reconciled with Him, but also to serve Him in a conscious and active sense. God has a plan for each one according to the way He has created us. In other words, I try to set the stage for discernment. I try to set the stage to ask the questions about giving one's self fully to God the supreme Love of our lives.

To that end, I would direct any who are interested in the religious life to go and visit the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal. Every time I see them in action they remind me of how far on the Charity Ladder I still have to go. I often feel like I just put my hands to the sides of the ladder's braces; don't go looking for my foot even approaching the first rung.

At any rate, take a look here to see what your future could be if you have a vocation to the Religious Life.
Book Title Search

One of the student brothers at St. Albert's and myself were discussing St. Maximilian Kolbe. He mentioned a book concerning the life of the Saint which had impressed him mightily as a youth. I had to confess that I didn't recognize it and even after surfing through the Marytown website I didn't find anything that rang a mental bell for the friar. So I am coming to all of you for help. Here's what I know.

The book would have been published around 1970 but you could go 5 to 10 on either side of that figure. The cover of the book was white, with a pencil drawing of the saint in a seated position. In the cover illustration, there was also a strand or even a fence of barbed wire running through the scene. The friar couldn't recall the exact title although the word "crown" seemed like it belonged. He thought there might have been a crown in the cover art as well. As for reading level, as I understood it, he found it a challenging read for a middle school student. That would suggest a book in or around the mid- to late high school reading level.

To help forestall any confusion, the friar didn't think that it was Froussard's book, although the current cover art is very similar. Any and all points in the right direction are appreciated. All direction in the wrong way will only be tolerated. (Wink!)
A Very Small World Indeed

A reader sent this link to me because he thought it would be of interest. Just from the headline, one could gather that this was a sad story. What the reader didn't realize is that I knew the deceased. Fr. Jim Pilsner was my classmate. He was with me on the Spiritual Year at Northampton, PA in 1995-1996. While I had not really kept up with the guys of the Archdiocese of NYC, it is still shocking nonetheless.

I remember Jim as being someone who was very dedicated to the Catholic Faith, especially to the pro-life movement. I in particular remember a time on the Spiritual Year in which I instigated an argument with Fr. Pilsner, then got someone else involved, and then left them to duke it out. I hope that both parties will pardon me for my actions. In general, I had the sense Jim was going to be a good priest -- based upon the news report, it turns out I was correct.

From what some of my friends in the diocese said, Fr. Pilsner struggled with issues of depression. At either rate, please remember Fr. Pilsner, his family, his parishioners, and the priests of the Archdiocese in your prayers.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

"If I were president, it would be a different country. We wouldn't be torturing people..."

...but you would still be killing infants in the womb and supporting non-existant rights to die.

While I must confess a fascination for politics and political history, it is a fascination akin to watching spiders eat captured insects or feral children running filthy through broken streets. I want to turn away, but I can't.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Book Review: The DaVinci Hoax: Exposing the Errors in The Da Vinci Code

As most of you know I write another blog with all of my musing of an apologetic nature at Apologize and Don't Be Sorry. You can find it in the side bar of this blog under "Monkey Like Spin-Offs!" The reason for that blog's existence is my over weening ego. That and I need a place to post my columns that I write for the archdiocesan newspaper. The column consists in my largely inept answers to burning questions that thoughtful people of the same archdiocese (and other places who read such things). After all, as GKC would say, "That which is worth doing, is worth doing poorly," meaning better to get an imperfect product out there that you and others can later tweak than to sit upon your thumbs and do nothing when action is called for.

As I mentioned in a previous post, I have been surprised by the absence of questions related to the runaway best seller, The Da Vinci Code. I did receive one question related to a TV program related to the book, but that doesn't quite count in my book as I have received a pair or more of questions related to the Left Behind series. The reason for this lack of shocked questions I think stems from two sources: 1.) people are used to blasphemy and 2.) Catholics want to seem unmoved by scurrilous lies about our beloved Lord and Master so as not to be "too religious" or "too unsophisticated." Well, allow me to play a thought experiment with youse guys. Say for a moment a book was written in which the Holocaust was dismissed as a fantasy organized by a powerful Jewish cabal. Now, what do you think the odds of that book's being published are? Kudos to those who said "Zilch" or some variant thereof.

It is observations like this - taken from the end of their work - which allow me to heartily and pointedly encourage all readers to get and read Sandra Miesel's and Carl Olson's marvelous debunking extraveganza, The Da Vinci Hoax. With the movie coming out in April 2006, all serious Catholics need to be up on what is wrong with the way the book portrays history. This book is the first rung in a well-stocked arsenal.

The authors do an excellent job in showing how deficient Dan Brown's and others' understanding the Church truly is. For one instance, Brown contends via the DVC that the early Church didn't believe that Jesus was actually God but this doctrine was made up at the Council of Nicea under the influence of Constantine. Apart from logical fallacies being ripped to shreds, the authors, Miesel and Olson, provide 10 pages of evidence from the New Testament and from Ante Nicene Fathers of the Church which show that Brown's contention is totally bogus.

Further, Miesel and Olson are not just literate in presenting the truth about Christ and His Church, they do a more that fair job presenting what neo-Gnostics and other pro-DVC folks think and say. This shows, to my mind, a startling respect for not only the truth of the Catholic claim but also the dignity of their opponents. Without being hyper pious, this sort of "respect for one's enemies" bespeaks a charity and a desire to win souls for Christ, and not just to score points in a debate. Additionally, respect for the truth demonstrates not only a well-grounded faith but a comprehensively engaged sense of hope. Hope is the virtue that relates to trusting in God's promises and His power to fulfill them. These authors show that they know and believe that "the Truth will set you free" that is if you let it.

Let me also praise an abundance of documentation. I just completed my first read through. The first read through means "Ignore the footnotes; finish the book." But the sheer volume of good and lengthy footnotes suggests the second read through is going to take some time. Add in a comprehensive bibliography and the book isn't just good. It becomes a continuing resource for self-education.

Last, let me further compliment the authors' on a consistently readable writing style and clarity. Throughout the course of the read, I was amazed at how logical and obvious the response to the DVC's ridiculous claims could be with really only a consultation of an encyclopedia. This is a particularly good feature as it encourages Catholics not to be afraid of their common history. If anything careful reading of all sorts of literature helps us to see how God has used the Church to promote the Truth of Christ and to grant eternal life to all generations.

In conclusion (don't you hate it when someone writes that), I think that the DVC is a loving example of providence. God permits this sort of hatred to fall upon the Church so that we can better learn to appreciate what God has given to us and to actively practice charity for those who hate us. A book like The Da Vinci Hoax is a singular opportunity for Catholics at all points of catechesis and formation to learn the back story to their own faith, to see themselves as part of the living tradition as it hands down the saving truth of Christ, and Him Crucified. In this way, hoax-sters and snake oil salesmen might find themselves turned away from darkness and error back to the wonderful light.

"And those who came / at first to scoff / remained behind to pray..." Ammonia Avenue, Alan Parson Project.

(By the by, I also recommend for those who are reading time challenged or who like yours truly spend more time in a car than is humanly permissible, or should be, get Matt Arnold's masterful tape series on the Da Vinci Code from St. Joseph Communications. The title is, I think, The Da Vinci Code Exposed. It compliments and suppliments the current work in consideration expertly. Pick it up as well)

UPDATE: Mr. Olson got a hold of me today and let me know there was more to love about the The DaVinci Hoax. They have their own website. Find out more here and even download a study guide. I think I just found my study class for the spring, assuming anyone will ever sign up for it.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

I have seen the mountain top and it's a rabbit warren

Well, boys and girls, I just couldn't stay away. The first week of exploratory planning for taking over the West Coast ... ah, er, I mean, of my vaction has been just peachy. The weather here in Oakland has been positively delightful. I am spending my days at St. Albert's Priory, a Dominican operation of the Western Province, basking in their holiness and dedication to the mission of the Church. It has been a funny refrain as some of the student brothers walk up to me and say, "Oh, YOU'RE the Catholic Ragemonkey?!" I guess my normally placid appearance belies the torrent of hostility and snarking that longs for expression. So far, I did a one day tour of the Wine Country (boy, did the makers of Sideways get that milieu right) and saw some of the historic churches in the area. My favorite thus far is the Dominican stronghold in SF called St. Dominic's. It was badly damaged in the 1989 earthquake, but you wouldn't know it to see it now. I especially appreciated the 8 confessionals which all apparently get used simultaneously as they are all already assigned to particular confessors. But there was one experience which beat them all.

Nestled on the hilltop, on the same block as St. Ignatius Church and the Carmelite Monastery (Christo Rey) you will find a lovely little split level home. There is no sign outside its doors to even direct you to the awesome work happening behind its doors. Yes, kids, I found it. I found my way to Ignatius Press.

For the readers of the blog, this might come as something of a revelation to them but there was a time when I was a particularly average Catholic. While on the Spiritual Year in Northhampton, someone handed around a catalog for Ignatius Press and nothing has ever been the same. I would not be the priest and Catholic I am without Ignatius Press and the throughly peerlessly exceptional books that this humble little publisher puts out there. On a whole variety of topics, I found the very best of the Church's authorative teaching and speculative theology all in one convenient stop. I would go so far as to say that I would recommend ANY book published by IP because I know that they don't publish junk.

So, back to the story, as part of the visit, I got to meet and chat with several people with whom I have cooresponded via email and letter but never in person. Jeff Grace, Roxanne Lum (is it too casual to call you "Roxie"?), Paula, Milo, Nellie, and all the rest. It was a pity that Fr. Fessio wasn't in, but maybe that was a good thing, in that I might still be there chatting it up. Actually, I don't think Fr. Fessio would tolerate my nonsense for all that long. I would have been put back on the streets soon enough. Also, my public thanks for the "lovely parting gifts" Roxanne came up with. I left with several very good books which will get some coverage here in the next few days and weeks.

What I really wanted to comment on is how God generally runs things counter to our expectations. In my mind, Ignatius Press was going to be housed in a largish building with track lighting and Venetian marble accents. Instead, it was set up in a former residence with office space maximized wherever it could be found. I needed a sherpa to get up the back steps to the production and art departments and navigating through the basement to get to Jeff's office required knowing the Elvish word for "friend." I am still winded after all that running from the Balrog. In short, the offices would not impress worldly minded people. For those who strive to see as God sees things, it is a different story. We see them reaching out to educate Catholics and others of good will who want the unvarnished fact of the Christian Faith. They do this to the best of the ability and it shows in every book published and produced by them. In the bat-rectory in Alva, there are so many of the title of IP on my shelves because I simply cannot cotton giving them away. I am convinced that I will need them again. So there they stay with an ever accumulating pile of footnotes, underlines, and highlighter strokes. If you get the chance, swing by the Website and see if they can't get you something worth running your mind through.

Yes, I have seen the mountation of the New Evangelization; it's housed in a rabbit warren.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

I Didn't Ask To Be Born

I recall uttering those self-same words when I was a young man full of knowledge and vinegar. I was about 12 going on 35 and I was sure my argument would have some sort of force of law. As one would expect, my mother was unmoved; after all, no one had asked her if she wished to be born. Quite frankly, it was something of a conspiracy to be sure.

As the High Court convenes, it finds itself in the same straights but only at the other end of the spectrum. The current law on the books in Oregon permits one to end their lives only under a serious pre-defined circumstances but rest assured, that most doctors are probably working to expand them. You see, medical care is expensive and often times hard to come by. Like many other things, it is a resource and as such it can be quite exotic. The Point is just as no one asked to be born, no one can really ask to die. Certainly, one could ask not to be given a certain medical treatment if the only outcome were mere prologation of the dying process. However, that is a far cry from asking to die or perhaps put more to the point of the Oregon law, asking to be put down (as though your life were the equivalent of an unwanted housepet).

And so it continues. The War For Life continues. The Forces Against the Good of Life begin to move away from the so called right to Abort to the putative Right to Die. I suspect that the move is based on a seeming victory by these anti-life forces in the realms of abortion to newer and greener pastures. The Supreme Court begins to hear deliberations on the matter even as we speak. I pray that the common sense of my mother would prevail in these sorts of matters, that one must live the life they are given no matter how hard or sad it may seem. I can only expect that the sanity of the Saints won't be accomadated.

(N.B. While this does technically violate my oath [sworn like Herod] not to post while on vacation, I thought it too timely and important not to say something.)

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Uh, oh!
I don't know if this is happening on anyone else's computer, but I am suspicious. As I logged on this morning after Holy Mass and the blessing of the animals, I noticed that Fr. Tharp's name no longer appears before mine in our sidebar area. Is that some fluke on my computer screen or has some bad little monkey been up to his techmonkey tricks now that Fr. Tharp is out of town? Let me know if Fr. Tharp's name appears on your screen.

Monday, October 03, 2005

How odd
If I were more paranoid than I am, I would have thought it was stalking. Today I joined a few priests for lunch at a great Vietnamese restaurant in Oklahoma City. As we were enjoying lunch I caught sight of a young lady sitting at a table by herself, clearly waiting for someone else to join her. She had some rather wild hair (at least as regards its bigness), tightly curled and very bushy. I say it was wild because it didn't at all appear natural, but clearly something she probably chose to do herself. She also had that -- I'm sorry folks, but I don't know how else to say this -- college liberal, front-row-of-some-leftward-leaning-organization-pep-rally look. I'm not saying she is that; I'm just describing the look (and, yes, looks can be deceiving). Anyway, eventually two guys joined her, looking equally non-conformist, but, oh so conformist in their non-conformity. Know what I mean, Dude?

After lunch, I drove several miles to meet up with Fr. Tharp at Starbucks. We enjoyed coffees and some conversation, as well as the normal round of mutual mocking and one-upmanship that tends to mark our relationship. [By the way, a side note here. When I arrived at Starbucks, Fr. Tharp had already been there for a few minutes and was enjoying his coffee. I ordered an espresso and looked over at Fr. Tharp as I said, "Let me guess, you got the pumpkin spice latte?" He confirmed my prediction by adding, "It's a classic, you know." I told him pumpkin spiced coffee was in no sense of the term a classic. He wouldn't even engage the argument. Now, what sort of person thinks pumpkin spiced lattes are classic coffee? I mean the next thing you know they are going to tell us that priests getting in dunk tanks is an insult to the dignity of the sacerdotal office and ... oh, wait a minute ... Nevermind!] So, as I was preparing to reverse out of my parking space in front of Starbucks, I glanced to my right and who is in the car parked next to me but the same lady, whom I had earlier seen in the restaurant. I thought that was rather weird. She managed to pull out ahead of me and drove off.

But that's not all. I pulled out of the shopping center housing Starbucks and got on the turnpike that loops the northern part of the city. I was driving for a few miles when lo and behold, the same young lady passes me on the highway! She had left the parking lot near Starbucks ahead of me, but was now passing me on the highway. I mean, what are the chances of that happening in a city the size of Oklahoma City. I am not trying to say OKC is NYC, but OKC is some 800,000+ people. It just seems rather odd to run into the same stranger that many times in such a brief span of hours.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

So it ain't so?!

How can that have happened? An archaic book that has no relevance for today's audience (mainly because it doesn't support our current lifestyle de jour) could never motivate someone to positive action, could it? Sorry for the snark but I just get tired when the underlying premise of the article is or seems to be "isn't that quaint? He gets inspiration from the Bible..." implying that this is somehow an aberration. I must give props to Ronnie Earle for having a most thrown back approach to politics. What a difference more freedom from monetary influences would make in current political discourse.