Saturday, November 30, 2013


Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I shall raise up a righteous shoot to David; As king he shall reign and govern wisely, he shall do what is just and right in the land.  In his days Judah shall be saved, Israel shall dwell in security.  This is the name they give him: "The Lord our justice."                                                Jeremiah 23:5-6

Madonna del Parto, unknown painter
December 1st is the beginning of the Advent season this year.  Every year I gripe about how early the holiday commercials and tinsel appear.  There's too much rush and clamor and not enough quiet preparation.  Some of my facebook friends have been posting Christmas pictures since October!
It's occurred to me lately, however, that maybe I'm being a little unfair.  For all of the hype and chintzy-ness of the holiday season, the true magic of Christmas still shines through.  Beneath all of the fool's gold is the real gold of Jesus Christ's coming.  Each of our hearts yearns for the coming of the King.  We can't wait to celebrate his birth. 
I heard some people sniping about how stupid it was for people to get so excited over the birth of Prince William and Kate Middleton's baby last summer.  "What a lot of nonsense!" they grumbled.
I don't agree.  There's something deep within us that anticipates with joy a royal birth.  Multiply that to the nth degree and you have so many people chomping at the bit to begin celebrating Christmas.
Advent, in my opinion, is a more beautiful and fulfilling way to prepare for the celebration of the greatest royal birth in human history, the birth of God.
"Advent means a presence begun, the presence of God.  To celebrate Advent means to bring to life within ourselves the hidden Presence of God," writes Pope Benedict XVI.
The first image on this post, Madonna del Parto, showing the Virgin Mary heavy with child, is on the cover of the December issue of the magazine Magnificat.  For an interesting commentary on this particular image (starting December 1st), go to, click on 'Discover Magnificat' in the English Language section, then find 'The commentary of the cover' at the top of the right column. 
I often include texts from Magnificat on this blog.  It's a fantastic monthly magazine that includes the Scripture readings for each day's mass, with a daily meditation on the theme of that day's readings.  Plus, there are daily morning and evening prayers and Scripture readings and a handful of thought-provoking essays scattered throughout the magazine.
I highly recommend you go to any Catholic book store and for $5.95 buy yourself a copy.  Read it daily throughout the month and you may decide to subscribe to it. 

Saturday, November 23, 2013


How does an atheist celebrate Thanksgiving?  To whom or to what does he give thanks? 

Both 'to thank' and 'to give' are transitive verbs; they require an object.  We can't just say I thank or I give.  We can say I thank you or I give you thanks.

And so, who do we give thanks to?

Parable of the Lost Drachma by Domenico Fetti

O felix culpa!

That's Latin for O happy fault!  I'll get back to that in a moment.

At this time of year we often say how thankful we are for our health, our families and friends, our jobs, etc.  It is only right to give thanks to God for all of those things.

But what about the bad things?  Should we give thanks for those, too?  Our trials and troubles can make us stronger, improve our character, teach us patience and humility, and if nothing else make us appreciate the good things.

After all, if there was no bad then good would have no meaning.

"Oh happy fault that merited such and so great a Redeemer."  So goes a line in a song traditionally sung during the Easter Vigil mass.  If not for the Fall in the Garden of Eden, then there's no need for Jesus Christ to redeem us.  Put another way, there's no reason for God to demonstrate the astounding love and mercy he shows us in his Son, Jesus.  There's no reason for the Father to search for his wayward children; the house doesn't need to be swept in search of a lost coin.

It's a peculiar theological concept and is worth much reflection.

The following is a reflection by Ann Voskamp on Luke 17:11-19.  This Gospel passage recounts Jesus' healing of ten lepers, one of which returns to give thanks to Jesus.  Jesus tells this leper, "Stand up and go; your faith has saved you."

Ten Lepers Healed by Brian Kershisnik

I look back to the text.  That is what it says: "Thy faith has saved thee."  And the leper's faith was a faith that said thank you.  Is that it?  Jesus counts thanksgiving as integral in a faith that saves.

We only enter into the full life if our faith gives thanks.

Because how else do we accept his free gift of salvation if not with thanksgiving?  Thanksgiving is the evidence of our acceptance of whatever he gives.  Thanksgiving is the manifestation of our Yes! to his grace.

Thanksgiving is inherent to a true salvation experience; thanksgiving is necessary to live the well, whole, fullest life.

"If the Church is in Christ, its initial act is always an act of thanksgiving, of returning the world to God," writes Orthodox theologian Alexander Schmemann.  If I am truly in Christ, mustn't my initial act, too, always be an act of thanksgiving, returning to Jesus with thanks on the lips?

I would read it much later in the pages of the Psalms, at the close of a Communion service as the bread and the wine were returned to the table, the Farmer handing his Bible over to me, his finger holding the verse for me to see because he had just read it there, what I had been saying, living, believing, and the chin would quiver before I'd brim at the way God shows his salvation: "He who sacrifices thank offerings honors me, and he prepares the way so that I may show him the salvation of God" (Ps 50:23)

Thanksgiving - giving thanks in everything - prepares the way that God might show us his fullest salvation in Christ.

from One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are

The First Thanksgiving at Plymouth
by Jennie A. Brownscombe

Saturday, November 16, 2013

The Gospel According to C. S. Lewis

November 22nd this year marks the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President Kennedy.  I saw recently that according to one survey, Americans consider Kennedy to be America's greatest president.

I think Americans (and not only Americans) often confuse popularity with greatness.  A certain pop singer recently grabbed plenty of attention by her disgusting antics at a 'music' awards show.  For a while her video was the most viewed on youtube.  Popular, maybe, but there isn't a shred of greatness there.

But getting back to Kennedy, I think President Kennedy's fortune was that he was young and handsome, he had a wife with film-star good looks, and he died young.  I mean, how many films was James Dean in?  You can count them on the fingers of one hand.  And yet, he's a legend. 

President Kennedy's greatest accomplishment (other than dying in the glow of eternal youth) was staring down the Russians over the Cuban missiles.  But on the negative side of the ledger come the disastrous 'Bay of Pigs' Cuban invasion attempt and American involvement in Vietnam.

His 'man-on-the-moon' speech, you say?  OK, he was a good cheerleader for that mission but it was Congress which funded the program - with American taxpayers' money - and the numerous scientists and astronauts who put in countless hours to make it happen.

On the same day Kennedy was killed in 1963, occurred the deaths of two of the twentieth century's most influential writers.  Naturally they received scant coverage by the media because of the Kennedy assassination.

Aldous Huxley died at age 69 in Los Angeles and C. S. Lewis died at age 64 in Oxford, England.

Aldous Huxley is best known for his novel Brave New World, a dystopian novel published in 1932 about a future world of scientifically controlled human reproduction and psychological manipulation of human behavior.  It's a superficial world of pain avoidance and lack of deep and lasting human relationships.

When I was a kid and the year 1984 was approaching, many people saw George Orwell's dystopian vision in his novel 1984 as a likely future scenario.  I read that book but as I grew older I began to doubt if human beings would ever acquiesce to such a grimly spartan, emotionally suppressed world.  Then I read Huxley's Brave New World and I thought, Here is a likelier possibility!

I recently ran across this from a letter Huxley wrote to Orwell after the publication of Orwell's novel in 1949, congratulating him on his 'profoundly important book' but going on to state, 'Within the next generation I believe that the world's leaders will discover that infant conditioning and narco-hypnosis are more efficient, as instruments of government, than clubs and prisons, and that the lust for power can be just as completely satisfied by suggesting people into loving their servitude as by flogging them and kicking them into obedience.' 

(Does anyone recall that 'Life of Julia' video from Obama's 2012 campaign?  It wouldn't have surprised Huxley.)

Against all of this is the voice of C. S. Lewis.  If Huxley's is a voice of warning, Lewis' is a voice bringing good news.  Through the medium of print, Lewis may have brought the good news of Jesus Christ to as many people as Billy Graham and Pope John Paul II have done through public speaking.

I think I've read most of Lewis' books and there isn't a dull one in the entire lot.  As far as I can tell, all of his books remain in print - decades after he wrote them.

The world as C. S. Lewis sees it in his books is full of drama and wonder and excitement.  The Incarnation of God in Jesus Christ is the greatest story ever; it is in fact THE story of all stories.  Everything else in human history, both before and after the Incarnation, only matters in relation to that central event in history.

This applies as well to fairy tales.  What are fairytales after all but the working out of the dramas of reality through the prism of human imagination.  I think most all of us have been enchanted by Lewis' The Chronicles of Narnia at some point in our lives.  My own two children love the recent Narnia films, though the books are still a little bit beyond them.  As an adult I've been astounded by his books The Screwtape Letters and the 'Space Trilogy' novels (Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, That Hideous Strength).

Add to those his works of straightforward apologetics and literary criticism like Mere Christianity, The Problem of Pain, The Four Loves, The Discarded Image, etc., and you have a powerful body of writing.  He never won the Nobel Prize for Literature, but he didn't need to.  Look at the list of Nobel winners and most of them you've never heard of and are little read nowadays.  Lewis' books are like perennial flowers - they just keep coming back year after year.

The following comes from Lewis' The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses as reprinted in this month's Magnificat.

What more, you may ask, do we want?  Ah, but we want so much more - something the books on aesthetics take little notice of.  But the poets and the mythologies know all about it.  We do not want merely to see beauty, though, God knows, even that is bounty enough.  We want something else which can hardly be put into words - to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it.

That is why we have peopled air and earth and water with gods and goddesses and nymphs and elves - that, though we cannot, yet these projections can, enjoy in themselves that beauty, grace, and power of which Nature is the image.  That is why the poets tell us such lovely falsehoods.  They talk as if the west wind could really sweep into a human soul; but it can't.  They tell us that "beauty born of murmuring sound" will pass into a human face; but it won't.  Or not yet.  For if we take the imagery of Scripture seriously, if we believe that God will one day give us the Morning Star and cause us to put on the splendor of the sun, then we may surmise that both the ancient myths and the modern poetry, so false as history, may be very near the truth as prophecy.

At present we are on the outside of the world, the wrong side of the door.  We discern the freshness and purity of morning, but they do not make us fresh and pure.  We cannot mingle with the splendors we see.  But all the leaves of the New Testament are rustling with the rumor that it will not always be so.  Some day, God willing, we shall get in.  When human souls have become as perfect in voluntary obedience as the inanimate creation is in its lifeless obedience, then they will put on its glory, or rather a greater glory of which nature is only the first sketch.  For you must not think that I am putting forward any heathen fancy of being absorbed into Nature.  Nature is mortal; we shall outlive her.  When all the suns and nebulae have passed away, each one of you will still be alive.  Nature is only the image, the symbol; but it is the symbol Scripture invites me to use.  We are summoned to pass in through Nature, beyond her, into that splendor which she fitfully reflects.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

The Great War

November 11th is Veterans' Day.  This day of course commemorates the end of World War I in 1918.  I read recently that the BBC plans to air 2,500 hours of First World War programming from 2014 to 2018 to coincide with the 100 year anniversary dates of that war.

Gassed and blinded soldiers

I'm sure there'll be a lot of interesting programs included, though I can't imagine anybody having time to watch it all.

Lately I've been thinking of something else in connection to that war.  George Weigel and others have remarked that the 20th century - politically and culturally - began in 1914 and ended in 1989.  In other words, the essence of that century began with the First World War and ended with the fall of communism in Eastern Europe.

This blog isn't the place for an in depth consideration of that argument, but to me it holds a lot of truth.  The general attitude prevailing in western civilization before WWI was one of optimism about human progress.  That 'war to end all wars' shattered this rosy optimism and ushered in an era of decadence in morals and art (the two go hand in hand).  Furthermore, the idea of human or societal progress was taken up in a brutal fashion by communism and fascism. 

So what ended in 1989?  I think that's the more interesting question.  The general line goes that the western idea of individual freedom won and collectivist-statist authoritarianism lost. 

The smiling face of Statism, then . . .
. . . and now

I suppose so, to a degree.  However, Western Europe and Canada have been - and America is increasingly becoming - very statist.  Those in government know better and more and more decide what's best for the individual.  The sphere of government power grows as individual liberty and responsibility shrink. 

And I don't think I need to differentiate here between liberty and libertinism.

André Malraux once wrote that "the next century (the 21st) will be religious, or it won't be at all." 

Whenever it was that the 20th century ended, I think what marks the 21st century is the confrontation between a vibrant, militant Islam and a morally confused and weak west (Europe, North America, Australia).

Those who continually say that religion has been the cause of all wars are either willfully stupid or just ignorantly parroting what they hear from the stupid.  However, at a deeper level it really is all about religion.  Cult is the root word in culture.  I mean of course cult in its primary sense, not the Jim-Jones-following-freak sense.

Islam is an incomplete religion but it's a much stronger force than the wishy-washy 'whatever' relativism which currently has a vise grip on the western mind.

The west has already lost the battle, I'm afraid, though we still retain the superior technology and military hardware.  That won't save us ultimately.

Here's what will:

Love has made you a Christian
and you are a Christian for Love.
Nothing else made you a Christian
and you were made a Christian for no other reason.

If you forget Love you make yourself absurd;
if you betray Love you become monstrous.
No justice can ever dispense you
from the law of Love.
If you turn away from Love
to receive something greater
you are preferring riches to Life.
If you turn away from Love
so as to give something greater than Love,
you deprive the world of the one treasure
that you were destined to give it.
If Love is more or less an optional extra for you,
don't bother setting out for Abidjan
or anywhere else for you are good for nothing.
We are free of every obligation
but totally dependent
on the one thing necessary: Love.

Love is our life becoming eternal life.
When we give up Love, we give up our own life.
One act of Love is one immediate resurrection.
You win Love by desiring it, asking for it,
receiving it, and passing it on.

We don't learn Love, we get to know it little by little
as we get to know Christ.
Faith in Christ makes us capable of Love;
the life of Christ reveals to us what Love is;
the life of Christ shows us how to desire Love
and how to receive Love.
The Spirit of Christ makes us alive with Love,
active with Love,
fruitful with Love.
Everything can be of service to Love
but without it everything is barren -
first and foremost ourselves.

by Madeleine Delbrêl
(pictured below)

Saturday, November 2, 2013


I've got it bad.  Just about every night I dream of the U.S.  My wife often dreams about it too.  'Home' often comes up in conversation as well - "Remember in Texas when . . .?"

We gave up a lot to move here and I don't just mean financially.  In a lot of ways our life was freer there while here it's more pinched. 

There are serious reasons why the migration of people is nearly 100% in the direction of the U.S. and not in this direction.  I clearly remember the many raised eyebrows of Polish bureaucrats when I went through the process of applying for my residence card allowing me to work here.  Their looks said, You're an American and you're moving here?  So many people here would dearly love to move in the opposite direction.

Homesickness by Rene Magritte

Absence makes the heart grow fonder, as they say.  I have to remind myself that I was pretty discontented with many aspects of my life in the U.S.  My job was a nearly daily stress-bomb.  Suburban America hardly makes a charming postcard picture.

I watch NFL games on the internet and the American TV commercials and TV show promotions remind me of the ugly underside of American culture.  One of my students here has discovered Honey Boo Boo on youtube and she likes to talk about it.  I've had a look at this show on the internet.  Yikes!

I guess most of us are always looking for perfection.  My Dad was afflicted with this search for perfection which caused us to move from place to place.  Call it wanderlust.  I have it too and so does my sister Renée.

Homesickness by Marcin Kesek

As a kid, even when we weren't physically moving house, we changed churches a lot.  My Dad was never satisfied.  And that brings me to a couple of points I want to make in all of this.

When I discovered the Catholic Church, it was like coming home.  There isn't space to go into all of the details here, but the Church answered so many of my deepest desires.  The Church is truly the physical manifestation of Christ's Body on earth.

My second point is that even in this Church, Christ's visible Body on earth, we see things darkly (1 Corinthians 13:9-12).  We are pilgrims on earth; our true home is heaven.  It is for heaven - true perfection - that we long.  Because of that, nothing on this earth will ever completely satisfy us.


from A Shropshire Lad
A. E. Housman

Into my heart an air that kills
    From yon far country blows:
What are those blue remembered hills,
    What spires, what farms are those?

That is the land of lost content,
    I see it shining plain,
The happy highways where I went
    And cannot come again.