Monday, August 2, 2010

Catholic Eye-Candy

In these dark decadent days when stomach-turning blasphemy parades as "art," it is refreshing to discover that not all contemporary art is bad. Behold, I give you three artists whose work you should check out:

1) Michael O'Brien (Canadian painter and writer)
Jesus and His Mother
Divine Mercy

Verbum Caro Factum Est

St. Michael

3) Daniel Mitsui (h/t to Inside Catholic for linking to this Chicago artist)

Crucifixion (see here for an explanation of the symbols)
St. Michael (commissioned to imitate Japanese art)

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Book Review: The Loser Letters

Mary Eberstadt's new book, The Loser Letters: A Comic Tale of Life, Death, and Atheism, has been receiving a great deal of Catholic media attention, and for good reason. This clever satire, in the style of Lewis' The Screwtape Letters, creatively addresses the New Atheists' many flawed arguments about Christianity.

The book contains a series of ten letters written by A.F. (A Former) Christian to her new "BFFs": Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and the rest of the new atheist gang. A recent convert to atheism, she is eager to share her inside knowledge about how the "Dulls" (her name for believers, taken from the atheists' use of "Brights" in reference to themselves) really view the religious world. With incredibly well-meant criticism, A.F. points out the numerous problems with the New Atheists' arguments, including everything from those about sex ("when we Atheists say with a straight face that deep-sixing the old sex rules will make everybody happy, we're dissing the experience of most people . . . under the age of fifty") to those about good works ("it's not as if hospitals and soup kitchens abound in our inner cities in Darwin's name"). Her arguments are simple, factual, and thought-provoking, but it is only when they are combined with the fictional element of the story, A.F.'s personal history, that the book becomes truly compelling. As the letters unfold, A.F. gradually reveals the heartbreaking circumstances under which she left the Church, and it is this tragedy that makes The Loser Letters an ironic testimony to the harmful effects of atheism's hold on humanity.

The Loser Letters is everything the critics describe it as. It is clever, witty, funny, and at times, poignant. As a reader, however, I have two major criticisms. First, the narrator's language, intended to reinforce A.F.'s youth, ends up being a distraction. Her use of modern slang, although often amusing and important for character development, is excessive and I sometimes found myself backtracking to reread and "translate" passages. My second criticism is similar: Many of the references in the book rely on knowledge of current pop culture, which, again, contributes to character development and overall humor, but in the end will serve to severely date the story. For example, Eberstadt makes several references to Paula Abdul and American Idol. Readers today may understand, but ten years from now? Probably not.

The Loser Letters is well-worth the read for its logical arguments, brilliant use of satire and irony, wonderful humor, and emotional (but not sentimental) plot line. Unfortunately, the overdone modern references and slang prevent this book from ever being a timeless classic like The Screwtape Letters. All in all, I recommend buying a copy and sharing it among friends.

Monday, June 28, 2010

the least of my people

I've been trying to figure out what to do with panhandlers and people who ask for money. It's absolutely wrong to brush by and ignore them (cf. Mt. 25:31 ff), but handing over $5 probably means enabling an addiction or bad habit, and that's also wrong. Some people say "take them out to lunch" but most times I honestly don't have time for that. (Plus it can't really help that much.) Some people tell me "you're in college and you don't really have extra money" but cf. Mark 12:41 ff.

Here's the thing, though. My time isn't really "my" time -- I've already pledged it to my employer. Maybe feeding the hungry is objectively more important than the particular task I've been assigned, but I owe to my employer that I obey him and that I give him the time I promised to give him. If he sends me on an assignment, I have to do that assignment (unless it's specifically immoral). So no, I really, actually don't have time to take someone out to lunch because the time isn't mine anymore.

Same with money. I owe it to my parents to finish college, and I actually do need to buy my textbooks. Maybe feeding the hungry is more important than memorizing declension patterns, but that isn't my decision to make. It isn't "my" time that I spend studying, and it isn't "my" money I'm spending on books. I owe it to my parents to buy my books, and therefore the money isn't mine to give away.

I think the best thing to do is to know where these people can get help, and smile and point it out to them. "Sorry, ma'am, I can't actually give you any money, but if you go to [street] and [street], the people there can help you" or "Sir, I can't give you any money, but here's the phone number of [whatever mission]. Give them a call; they should be able to help you."

A man holding his hat out is still a man and we ought to treat him as such. But we should also recognize (with humility) that we are human and limited in what we can do. I can't solve all the world's problems; I can't solve all this man's problems. But I can point him to people who can help.

Thursday, June 24, 2010


From Abbey-Roads, via The Crescat:
What if you were the reason a person refused to come back to Christ? What if your self-righteous, judgmental, dogmatic, theologically correct attitude repelled a soul from accepting Church teaching, from reconciling with the Church, from faith itself? What if they were just on the edge of conversion and one of your contemptuous sneers, caustic remarks, or hostile snubs drove them away? That is one aspect of what Jesus is talking about when he warned against "scandalizing one of these little ones".

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

West's Theology of the Body

I assume we're all somewhat familiar with Pope John Paul II's "theology of the body" (expressed in his Wednesday papal audiences in the early 1980s). Christopher West, a (Catholic) speaker and writer, is perhaps its most enthusiastic and famous proponent. In early 2009, a controversy about his interpretation of JPII's theology erupted after some comments he made on TV. Although his comments were taken out of context and probably misinterpreted, it turns out that he has been making some pretty serious theological errors all along. Dawn Eden, another Catholic speaker and writer, recently exposed these errors and dissected West's interpretation for her master's thesis in theology. Find a summary of it here.


UPDATE: Marcel at Aggie Catholics has responded to Dawn Eden here (thank you, dear commenters, for the link). I need to read more of both JPII and West for myself before I can legitimately weigh in on the questions at hand. That said, I (like Marcel) am inclined to retain my reservations about West, though I will no longer take the entirety of Eden's criticism at face value.

Open question for those who know more West's work better than I do: Does he speak or write at all about the celibacy of priests and religious? More specifically, if "sexual love is the earthly key that enables us to enter into heaven's song," as West writes, then how is it possible that so many saints have been celibate? Perhaps West overemphasizes the (true) image of God as the Divine Lover at the cost of undermining other (also true) ways He reveals Himself to us: as Father, Savior, Good Shepherd, the Way, the Truth, the Life...

Anyway, on a related issue, here is a good reflection from Peter Kreeft on sex in Heaven.

Friday, June 4, 2010

A Very Useful Prayer

I found this in a Catholic prayer book and immediately fell in love; I think everyone knows at least one person they consider a hopeless cause, and this prayer was meant for them.

A Prayer to Our Mother of Perpetual Help
for the Conversion of a Sinner

O Mary, Mother of Perpetual Help, thou knowest so well the great value of an immortal soul. Thou knowest what it means, that every soul has been redeemed by the Blood of thy Divine Son. Thou wilt not then despise my prayer if I ask from thee the conversion of a sinner, nay, a great sinner, who is rapidly hurrying on toward eternal ruin. Thou, O good and merciful Mother, knowest well his irregular life. Remember that thou art the Refuge of Sinners; remember that God has given thee power to bring about the conversion of even the most wretched sinners. All that has been done for his soul has been unsuccessful; if thou wilt not come to his assistance, he will go from bad to worse. Obtain for him the effectual grace that he may be moved and brought back to God and to his duties. Send him, if necessary, temporal calamities and trials, that he may enter into himself and put an end to his sinful course. Thou, O most merciful Mother, hast converted so many sinners through thine intercession, at the prayer to thee of their friends. Be then also moved by my prayer, and bring this unhappy soul to true conversion of heart.
O Mother of Perpetual Help, deign to show that thou art the Advocate and Refuge of Sinners. So I hope, so may it be. Amen.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Awesome Quotations (or, How to blog without thinking for yourself)

[The following lines are excerpts from my spring and summer reading.]

A one-sentence definition of a Catholic from Chesterton:
Now a Catholic is he who has plucked up courage to face the incredible and inconceivable idea that something else may be wiser than he is.
Walker Percy on various worldviews:

This life is far too much trouble, far too strange, to arrive at the end of it and then be asked what you make of it and have to answer, 'Scientific Humanism.' That won't do. A poor show. Life is a mystery, love is a delight. Therefore, I take it as axiomatic that one should settle for nothing less than the infinite mystery and the infinite delight; i.e., God. In fact, I demand it. I refuse to settle for anything less. I don't see why anyone should settle for less than Jacob, who actually grabbed aholt of God and wouldn't let go until God identified himself and blessed him.

Graham Greene on man as Imago Dei:
When you visualized a man or woman carefully, you could always begin to feel pity -- that was a quality God's image carried with it. When you saw the lines at the corners of the eyes, the shape of the mouth, how the hair grew, it was impossible to hate. Hate was just a failure of imagination.
GKC on solitude:
The reason why even the normal human being should be half a hermit is that it is the only way in which his mind can have a half-holiday. It is the only way to get any fun even out of the facts of life; yes, even if the facts are games and dances and operas. It bears most resemblance to the unpacking of luggage. It has been said that we live on a railway station; many of us live in a luggage van; or wander about the world with luggage that we never unpack at all. For the best things that happen to us are those we get out of what has already happened… Now when people merely plunge from crush to crush, and from crowd to crowd, they never discover the positive joy of life.

GKC quotations are from his late essay collection The Well and the Shallows ("My Six Conversions and "The Case for Hermits," respectively). Percy's bit appears in a mock interview of himself at the end of his essay collection Signposts in a Strange Land. Greene's sentences come from his novel The Power and the Glory. I apologize for the weird alignment here; I'm having trouble with the program.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Rest in Peace

A local young man died in a tragic accident this week, leaving his family, friends, and community in shock. It's a small town, so even though I never knew Daniel (and from what I've learned about him since his accident, I wish I had), his death has affected me, too. I have many friends who knew him from church, and wanting to reach out to them, to share their sorrow in some small way, I wrote, "Rest in Peace, Daniel Parker" as my Facebook status.

Daniel's church friends (my school friends) have contributed several touching comments to my status. They have expressed their sadness, prayed for his family, and told him they'd see him again soon. Their words struck me, because they seemed so...what? I can't express the exact feeling, but something was missing. And then I realized what it was. Daniel and his friends are non-denominational Protestants, and they don't believe in prayers for the dead. Ultimately, they can comfort his family, but there is nothing they can do for him. It's a very helpless position, it seems to me.

Of course, everyone feels helpless when confronted with death. It's life's one certainty, one of the few mysteries left unsolved. No one knows what it's like, why it happens when it does, or what we can do about it. As Catholics, however, there is something we can "do" about it. We cannot prevent death, but we can pray for departed souls. What an incredible, beautiful blessing! Until reading my friends' Facebook comments, I never thought about how great a gift this is. A person's earthly life is beyond the reach of our help, but his soul is not. We, the living, are still an important apart of the soul's journey, because we are linked to our loved one and every other member of the communion of saints. We are not helpless, and the soul is not without help. In the eyes of Catholics, "rest in peace" becomes more than a wish or a comfort; it becomes a prayer. And so, with that in mind, let's pray for the repose of souls. Rest in Peace, Daniel Parker.

Monday, May 17, 2010

new york times strikes again


They were trying.

They were really trying.

Too bad Dolan did a darn good job.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

pro-life documentary


I don't know much about this, but it looks pretty good.

Humility = Total Pwnage

I just finished reading The Fellowship of the Ring for the first time, and maybe someone who’s read it more often can find this quotation for me. I think it was Gandolf telling probably Boromir why it was better to send a few with the Ring instead of raising an army and fighting -- to fight would only rouse the anger of Mordor. It seems to me like a good plan. Get your army together, and the enemy’s up and ready to fight; slip in silently and the enemy’s caught off guard. It may be more glorious to taunt your enemy and ride in on the battlefield with spears, but probably more people will die. Furthermore, if glory is your primary goal, you probably don’t belong on the good side anyway.

St. Louis de Montfort makes a similar point in True Devotion to Mary. “[Satan] fears her not only more than all angels and men, but in a sense more than God Himself… Satan, being proud, suffers infinitely more from being beaten and punished by a little and humble handmaid of God” (trans. Faber. TAN, 1985. 29). Our Lady is great because Satan gets beat by a girl, making the victory, in a way, even more glorious.

Humility is our best weapon: it most safely wins the most glorious victories. Humility doesn’t often jump on a faithful steed and ride into the battlefield with colors flying. Humility sneaks silently in the back door, like Frodo. Humility recognizes and admits its own weakness and inability, and because of this submits entirely to the will of God, like Mary. We win the war by not fighting battles; we win the most glory by seeking the opposite of glory.

The experts say -- and I am not an expert, but I say this too -- the best place to start is the Litany of Humility by Rafael Cardinal Merry del Val, secretary of state under Pope St. Pius X. (I think the cardinal’s cause is open.) I first saw this taped to a dorm-room door at University of Steubenville. When I read it, I felt like I’d been kicked in the stomach. “Ugh. This is going to be good for me,” I thought. Here it is:

O Jesus, meek and humble of heart, hear me.

From the desire of being esteemed, deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being loved, deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being extolled, deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being honored, deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being praised, deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being preferred to others, deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being consulted, deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being approved, deliver me, Jesus.

From the fear of being humiliated, deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of being despised, deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of suffering rebukes, deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of being calumniated, deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of being forgotten, deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of being ridiculed, deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of being wronged, deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of being suspected, deliver me, Jesus.

That others may be loved more than I, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may be esteemed more than I, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That in the opinion of the world, others may increase, and I may decrease, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may be chosen and I set aside, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may be praised and I unnoticed, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may be preferred to me in everything, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may become holier than I, provided that I may become as holy as I should. Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Summer Reading

Summer's here, and for many people, that means beach reading! Before you pick up the next novel, though, have you thought about doing some spiritual reading? It's hard to start what are sometimes very challenging reads, but your soul needs stimulation just like your brain does. If you're anything like me, you may need a little help starting, so here's a list of five ways to motivate yourself and possibly others, too:

1) Pick something you can manage. You don't have to read the Summa Theologica! There are many shorter books available if you want them. I am currently making my way through The Four Loves by C.S. Lewis, and Chesterton's Orthodoxy is also on the list. Asking friends for suggestions is an excellent way to find something appropriate.

2) Set aside a time and place for spiritual reading. You need to be able to focus if you want to learn something, so find a place with few distractions. Scheduling a time to read is also helpful to keep yourself on track. If you are a night person, try reading before you say your prayers. If you can't keep your eyes open, however, it might be more beneficial to read in the morning or at another time of day when you are more alert.

3) Give yourself a minimum reading limit every day. This could be in time intervals (as in, "I'll read for 15 minutes every evening.") or in reading assignments ("I need to read 10 pages every day."). Deadlines are always helpful!

4) Find a reading buddy. Talking about the book is a great way to motivate yourself to actually get the reading done, and it helps you understand and retain the material better. Since this is spiritual reading, make sure you're comfortable talking to this person: religion can get personal!

5) Pray! Ask for the perseverance to help you through, for the patience to read carefully, and for the wisdom to understand. If your book is by a saint, ask that saint for prayers, too!

It's hard to start (and finish) a lot of religious works, but in the end it's very rewarding. It takes a lot of practice and discipline (like anything else), but if it helps you to grow in your relationship with God, it's worth the effort. Happy reading!

Monday, May 10, 2010

a really sweet martyrdom

Found this on CAF:

"Lord, show me Thy ways."
-- Thaddaeus Daly, O.S.F., who was hanged, drawn, and quartered at Limerick, 1 January, 1579; witnesses report that his head when cut off distinctly uttered these words.

First of all, this is just cool.

Secondly- this seems something very strange to say after your head and body are physically separated. Given the circumstances, I would have expected something like "Jesus, take my soul" or "I forgive you." But "Lord, show me Thy ways"? This sort of prayer is generally followed with something like "that I might follow them," that is, the pray-er assumes that he will have more time to follow in His ways. I don't think that a man with a severed head could have expected to have much more time in this world.

I don't know anything about this martyr except what's quoted above. But I wonder if what he means is "hanging, drawing and quartering are not your ways, Lord. Show me Thy ways."

A good lesson for his persecutors, no doubt.

Prayers of the Saints

The saints pray for us in two ways. First, in Heaven, they pray for us--intercede on our behalf--to God. Second, and less obviously, they pray for us: they teach us how to pray through the prayers they left behind. To develop a more serious prayer life, start collecting these gems.

At the very least, if you kneel down to pray and can’t think of anything to say, the saints will teach you what you should be saying. (Warning: this is humbling. You will realize how far from holiness you really are... not a pleasant experience.)

The best-known saint’s prayer is probably that of St. Francis of Assisi (“Lord, make me an instrument of your peace…”). Here is one by St. Thomas More that you probably haven’t seen:

Give us, Lord, a humble, quiet, peaceable, patient, tender, and charitable mind, and in all our thoughts, words, and deeds a taste of the Holy Spirit.

Give us, Lord, a lively faith, a firm hope, a fervent charity, a love of you.

Take from us all lukewarmness in meditation, dullness in prayer.

Give us fervor and delight in thinking of you and your grace, your tender compassion towards us.

The things we pray for, good Lord, give us the grace to labor for, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

I particularly love this prayer because in it, St. Thomas was asking for all the gifts that we also need: humility, patience, fervor. Those are difficult virtues to acquire. I don’t find it terribly hard to avoid lying, cheating, stealing, or getting drunk, but being humble, quiet, peaceable, patient, tender, and charitable is another thing altogether. So it’s comforting to know that St. Thomas struggled, too.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Pope speaks to bloggers

(24 Apr 10 – RV) The need to give the Internet a soul and humanize the dynamics of the digital world was at the heart of Pope Benedict XVI’s message Saturday to participants in a conference on modern means of mass communication.

Promoted by the Italian Bishops Conference, “Digital Witness” draws together experts in information technology, social networking, web journalism and blogging to focus on the language we use and the way we communicate as Christians in the online society.

Pope Benedict told participants that the task of every believer who works in media, is to ensure the “quality of human contact, guaranteeing attention to people and their spiritual needs”. “This is increasingly urgent in today’s world”, he said, at a time when Internet appears to have a “basically egalitarian” vocation, but at the same time, “marks a new divide", the "digital divide" that "separates the included from the excluded"

"The dangers of homologation and control, of intellectual and moral relativism are also increasing, as already recognizable in the decline of critical spirit, in truth reduced to a game of opinions, in the many forms of degradation and humiliation of the intimacy of the person"

Thus said the Pope we see, a "spiritual pollution" that brings us to no longer "look one another in the face”. So we must “overcome those collective dynamics that risk reducing people to "soulless bodies, objects of exchange and consumption”. The media must become a “humanizing factor”, focused "on promoting the dignity of persons and peoples". Only then, will "the epochal times we are experiencing be rich and fertile in new opportunities":

"Without fear we must set sail on the digital sea facing into the deep with the same passion that has governed the ship of the Church for two thousand years. Rather than for, albeit necessary, technical resources, we want to qualify ourselves by living in the digital world with a believer’s heart, helping to give a soul to the Internet’s incessant flow of communication."

from Vatican Radio