Saturday, March 22, 2014

The Parable of the Prodigal Son

The Prodigal Son was the parable from the Gospel at mass today.  The parable details the mercy of God, and is often shown to be an analogy for the Israelites and Gentiles.  What actually jumps out to me from the details are three things. First, in order to receive mercy from God, we must acknowledge the truth of our situation. We must see ourselves as we truly are in relation to what God has called us to. Then we must seek that mercy (not least, by aligning our lives with God's law), it doesn't just come to us. Last, God is always waiting for us, and will espy us from afar, if we but begin our journey towards him.  Much more could be said, but I will leave my reflections at that.


Thursday, March 6, 2014


Prayer, fasting, and almsgiving are usually the listed means by which the holy season of Lent can sanctify us.  Yesterday, I mentioned prayer, and what a life of prayer (surely the goal of the spiritual life) might look like.  In continuance of that theme, I will now look at fasting.
   The best way to understand fasting is not purely as an abstention from food or any other thing.  Self denial is a good thing, but not in a vacuum.  Like the demon from the cleansed but empty soul, such self-denial would merely clear space for some other self-indulgence.  Perhaps we might gain some good just from this--self knowledge, for instance.  But ultimately, we do not fast purely for the sake of fasting, for the sake of the space.  The space we might create is merely a means to a further end, as would be any self-knowledge gained.
   Ideally, what happens when we fast is that, with the separation we create from daily things, we can remove our attention from things that are too comfortable to us.  As Pope Benedict XVI once said, we were not called to be comfortable, but to be holy.  The daily things that we fast from conform to us; we form them, we form the immediate reality surrounding us in a way that we see fit.  As we all know, however, this is not how things really are, so we need to separate from the immediateness of life, as a first step.  Fasting allows us to pull back from the easy aspects of life.
   Once we have created that space, we are no longer surrounded by things that reflect our self and our desires.  We can examine ourselves, assuming real humility on our parts, in the light of unchanging and perfect Goodness. 
   What we must do, lastly, is make use of the newly created space in our lives, by putting more important things close to us.  Remove a distraction or self-reflecting thing from our daily existence, and put God and His works in their place.  Thus, it is clear that fasting is the real key to the whole work of Lent, the growthof the person in holiness.  It unlocks the door of the self, and clears away the detritus of the past year's habits and indulgences: the result is a reclaimed space for truly living a life in God through prayer, which should then overflow into concrete acts of charity towards others.


Wednesday, March 5, 2014

...And Now it is Lent

   Ash Wednesday is now upon us, indeed almost over.  This year, the lead-in to Lent has been a strange one--rather halting--due to the snow storms and delays associated with them.  Nonetheless, the need for Lent has been growing ever stronger in my mind.  I would guess that the busyness of the last year have stretched out the days, for it has never seemed so long since Lent last was.  Observing the liturgical season of Septuigesima certainly benefited me, for the readings, the vestments, the tone of the liturgy (cough, cough, revised missal of Paul VI...) all pointed to the upcoming season of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.

   For prayer, I plan to just be more consistent in what I try to do.  Really, that's about it.  If I did that well, it would be a Lent well spent.  Obviously, a holy hour here or there would help, but as I have to keep reminding myself: it's not about the amount, but the consistency and care.  Quality vs quantity is an over-used trope in this instance.  Real prayer is about the habit, not the practices.  I say 'practices', for I, at least, tend to focus on the practices, the iterations of prayer.  Many fail to look at inculcating a habit of prayer, a practice of prayer; and real quality of prayer must be based on the habit.  Surely, practices are important, and repetitions, and enumerations.  At least what we do, doing it again and again, and numerically increasing it are all considerations we must have.  Ultimately, however, a lot of the prayer angle is personal, and depends on the personality and situation of each person.  It would seem that certain fundamentals should really be covered, but the how is not as important.  The Eucharist should be at the center, and Our Lady as a guide to Him in that form.  The liturgy should be a real emphasis, and prayer as a habit must derive from it and return to it, as the highest action of man, as individual and community.  Scripture should be involved as the key unlocking the door to Christ, while a good commentator or commentary is like a keychain.  Spiritual reading should have a role, as one's mind should ponder the realities of God's existence and providence, as well as their real interaction in human affairs via the person of Christ.  Taken together, these lead to a unified habit of prayer, where we can quickly turn our thoughts towards our eternal home and He who awaits us there.  If one could aggregate these parts into a whole, with the contemplation of the one God as the result, then would one have learned to pray.  If one can learn to take the daily goings-on and relate them, in the moment, to eternity, and easily see the Cause of causes in all our thoughts and doings (without making it a mining excursion to find them), then one would have gained the habit of prayer.  Of course, the question then is: how to do this.  For that, I'd better leave you to the Saints.


About the image:  The Weeders by Jules Breton, which I have listed here, often reminds me of Lent, as there seems to be a pause in the midst of work, or at least a call, as Lent is for us in the midst of the labor of our lives. I also thought of Jean-François Millet's Angelus, but this seemed to show more of what I meant by Lent being a call in the midst of labor.   

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Beginning Again

Every time my life gets too busy, both important and unimportant things slide by the way.  My writing, while unimportant in itself, ends up being a symbol or mirror of more important things.  Thus, in an attempt to focus back again on more important things, I will resume writing and posting on this blog.  Perhaps it will become more regular, but I cannot promise that it will.  Perhaps it will be more frequent than once a year, however.  I doubt that my wife will have our child, that we will find and purchase a house in two weeks, that I will begin spending two and a half hours a day in the car, or that I will undertake a significant construction project in our new house all in the same year, and within three months of each other.  At least, I surely hope not.


Thursday, February 28, 2013

In the Midst of Life, We are in Death

Now that Lent is already well underway, and the world has seen the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI, I can't help to call to mind the words of a chant piece we used to sing at my college during Lent.  Media vita, in morte sumus: in the midst of life, we are in death.  The theme of death, however, is not a mordant one.  It is not for the sake of dwelling on death itself that one should dwell on death.  Heaven knows--as my niece enters this world, my wife and I prepare to welcome our own child, and we prepare to close the purchase of a house--that there is so much life around me, and newness, and change.  But, for some reason, this theme came to my mind recently (in the guise of John Sheppard's musical piece "Media Vita").  And, as I thought about the meaning, I once more recalled the adage from St. Robert Bellarmine, that we should "live well, so as to die."  We consider death to look beyond death.  By regarding death, we are confronted with the vision of our own mortality and transience.  If we have hope, that Hope that St. Peter said we must always have an account for, we see that beyond death is life, Life everlasting.  May we die to self this day and every day, for the sake of eternity, we may die to sin, but rise to life in Christ.

(Please excuse the video, as it's the best version of the piece I could find).


Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The Wedding Feast at Cana

A couple of Sundays ago, the Gospel was the pericope about the Wedding at Cana.  It brought to mind the following poem from my childhood:

God in Man  (By Charles L. O'Donnell)

A shuttered house He occupies
Whose home is wider than the skies.
(On Tabor, all its windows lit,
Three men were blinded, seeing it).

He hid His Godhead in some sort
Successfully, by all report.
(Some jars of water, once, they say,
Rebelled and gave the truth away).


Friday, November 23, 2012

French Travels Pt. 1.

Orleans, though a city with a great history, would have to wait for another visit from us, as our schedule did not permit a visit.  Our next days would involve travel from Orleans to Lyon, and no time to spare.  We left somewhat later this day, having slept in and breakfasted on bread and Nutella.  We drove to the small town of Benoit-sur-Loire, where the relics of St. Benedict are held by a sizable abbey.

Though Monte Cassino in Italy claims that they have St. Benedict's relics, they have not produced anything, and there is a strong tradition of the relics having been moved to France for safekeeping.  Anyway, we venerated the relics after the mass for the day. The mass was a strange mixture of old and new, (like much in France) with chanted propers and common parts of the mass, and random elements like the faithful placing their own host in the ciborium of clay, etc.  Odd, to say the least.  I had noticed, both at St. Benoit and Chartres, that though there was a monastic presence, it was severely curtailed in comparison to what had once been.  It was as if monastic living was withering with age and harsh exposure in the modern world.  The somewhat bizarre juxtaposition of  modern liturgical practices with Gregorian Chant only served to accentuate the diminishing of Benedictine glory.
  After St. Benoit, we drove another few hours until we reached the town of Nevers, where we prayed before the body of St. Bernadette Soubirous.  The Saint is preserved for public veneration in a shrine at the convent she had joined (the Motherhouse of  the Sisters of Charity)
partly in order to flee the publicity in Lourdes.  Her body is incorrupt,
with the slight discolorations of the skin covered over with a light wax
mask.  One can easily discern her character by regarding her coun-
tenance, one of determination and stern resolution, yet one of devotion.
   After shopping for a picnic dinner in Nevers, we continued on to our evening destination, Autun. Autun is a fascinating location, settled by the Romans, once under Moslem control before Charles Martel defeated them near Tours.  It was also the home of the military school where Napoleon studied, and learned French as a nine-year-old.  We stayed on the outskirts of town and did not go exploring due to a migraine on my part.  It did provide an opportunity for one of my favorite pictures from the trip, of the Cathédrale Saint-Lazare d'Autun at night.  Stay tuned for more.


Of Quiet Men

Pat Archbold, one of the Creative Minority Report blogging brothers, has a fantastic article on quiet men.  It calls to mind the words of Proverbs about the wise man who speaks not, and the fool who prattles.  Alas that we could say otherwise of our times, but it is a time of fools.


The link:

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Where did time go?

Coming back from Europe meant we were thrust back in to our daily lives, and it would seem that they are lives without time.  At least we would seem to have insufficient amounts of it.  That missing time is right there, I'm just not good at using it well.  That means all the blog posts we had are still unfinished, and we are at Chartres!  Well, more updates are coming, I promise.  For now, enjoy a sight we saw in Europe.


Thursday, October 18, 2012

In Chartres

On our way up the South tower at Chartes Cathedral, we found a delightful room, which was empty and had great acoustics. So, we stopped and sang a hymn to Our Lady. Too much fun!


The audio is unaltered except to remove the loud pop when recording began an ended.  We had just climbed dozens of stairs to get there...


Sunday, October 14, 2012

The Grand Cathedral

We ended up in Chartres town after a hectic two hour commute there.  Of course, the address of the B&B did not show up in the GPS, so we had to guess, based on a local landmark with the same name as the street.  Thankfully, it worked, and we had established communication of a sort with our hostess.  She was the mother of five from Brittany, and her husband, who would show up later, was a Breton architect.   Meanwhile, my French was slow, and her English minimal, so it took a bit of effort to communicate.  We went off in search of dinner, buying some bread and pastries, finishing off our excellent English cheeses in the process.
  The next day, we drove to the parking lot by the Cathedral, and went to mass in the crypt.  Sadly, the sanctuary area was under repair, and we did not have mass there, and were not able to see it. After mass, we found some free parking, always a difficulty, and grabbed breakfast at the B&B.  Once that was done, we did laundry at a nearby Laverie or laundromat.  That was a surprisingly rewarding experience, mostly due to the fact that we had no clean clothes left...  While the laundry was going, we explored the lower town, and river areas.  After that, we spent a good four and more hours in the Cathedral, enjoying the majestic beauty of it and then climbing the tower to get a breath-taking view of the Cathedral and surrounding countryside.  Evening then found us on the road to Orleans, where we stayed the night.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Driving in Europe

Driving in Europe, as we have done, contains its own joys and challenges.  The challenges read as a "who's who" of nerve-wracking road conditions, and the joys consist primarily of safely reaching your destination.  Well, that's a mild exaggeration, but still, you get the point.
The first challenge we faced was that of driving on the wrong side of the road; The Irish follow English road customs which are almost the opposite of ours.  Thankfully, the Nissan Micra we had was small, and it was easier to make up for mistakes that way.  The gas, brake, and clutch pedals are all as in America, which was good, since shifting with the left hand was a bit distracting--not a good thing when driving on the opposite side of the road.  The other main feature of Irish roads is that, except for the main highways (M7, for example), they are all narrow, bumpy, and hedged by thick mounds of dirt or rock walls.  Couple this with local drivers hurtling along and giant buses and lorries (that's what they call trucks) looming out at you every so often, you have a scary ride.  We did get a flat tire, either due to bumps in the road, or more likely, severe under-inflation of the tires. Lastly, in Ireland, there are few direct roads to anywhere, so it takes forever to get from place to place, which is not a bad thing, however.  The Micra was so nondescript, we never thought to take a picture. I might link an image, though.
France had a set of challenges all its own. The signs were actually pretty easy to read, since I knew French.  Driving in Ireland had also prepared us for the placement of European signs, which are subtler and more misleading than American ones.  The tough part about France was that many, if not most of the addresses were vague.  They gave a name of a location, and the name of the road it was on (i.e., the Paris Road), but not a number or similar system. That left us driving around in the literal and metaphorical dark several times, as we actually drove past our destination several times. We got used to this, however. Leaving Paris was an exercise in patience, since we hit thick traffic and wet roads. It took us well over two hours to get to Chartres. The Parisian style of driving is to fit your car wherever there is an opening.  So, two lanes of traffic could easily morph into four, and back; depending on space, which driver was parking, calling a taxi, calling his grandmother, or just plain being French--Which way of being is rather vague like my sentence there.  Or here.  Anyway, at least everything was on the right side of the road, usually...  We named our car Gus-Gus the Panda, since it was a Fiat Panda, and a very Gus-Gus kind of car--cheerful and willing to play, but not a particularly stable character.

Italy was insane, I'll just say it now. There's a reason why the rental company would not rent without the insurance attached.  Our ride in Italy was named Ahab, since it was a whale of a car (compared to what we had before), a Citroen Picasso. Besides, Picasso was a whaley sort of person.  We did like the mileage the diesel engine gave, and the ease with which it accelerated.  Anyway, driving in Italy is like driving on the Autobahn in the fast lane, and a roller-derby in the slow lanes (Italian drivers are like Parisian drivers, everywhere in Italy).  No lie. Driving in Rome was like living the nightmares that New York cab drivers have about bad driving.  (That may or may not have been hyperbole. That's for me to know and you to find out.)  Anyway, if you have a modicum of bravery, and the ability to drive manual transmission, driving in Europe is not bad.  You can save some money over trains and planes, not to mention flexible schedules and independence. Just don't try parking on a hill in Siena. I'll tell you that one another time.