What We Want

It’s not the consumers’ job to know what they want.”

Who said it? Right. Steve Jobs.

Apple Computer convened no focus groups in developing the iPad. “If you ask people what they want, and then build it, by the time you’re done, they want something else.”

I am not presenting an iPad info-mercial.

In fact, I imagine I will live the rest of my life perfectly well without owning one. When I looked at my brother’s iPad during our vacation, I experienced a desire for one of my own. But a minute later I saw a piece of pepperoni pizza and went through the same thing.

But I think Steve Jobs’ insight is profound. We do not know what we want. I mean we do. But we don’t.

Shakespeare’s plays are full of young ladies who tear up letters from suitors, but then try to piece the scraps together again. Or who say to a knight, “I wonder why you still be talking,” only to go on to say to him a few scenes later, “Love on. I will requite thee.” Or who say to a father about an engagement he has arranged, “Father, you wish me married to one half-lunatic?!” but then later call the same lunatic her “lord, king, and governor.”*

We know that we want. Not sure exactly what. We’ll know it when we see it. Maybe.

It is not the consumers’ job to know what they want. Are we really so fickle?

Well, we can and we should work on this. Govern ourselves with reason. Do I want such-and-such? Perhaps. But what about a reason why I need it? Am I even allowed to have it? Probably better to wait and see if I still want it later. An educated person puts his or her desires in good order.

But Steve Jobs’ statement penetrates even deeper, albeit unwittingly.
Today’s gospel reading paints a picture of confusion surrounding Christ. He heals and casts out demons. A larger and larger crowd swarms around Him. They want something from Him. But what exactly?

He slips away. “I was sent to proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom of God.”

It is not our job to know what we want, because what we want exceeds our capacity to know. We want God. We want the One we do not know. Nothing will truly satisfy our desire, except the infinite One Who so un-satisfyingly escapes our every effort to grasp Him.

So let’s just try to relax. We will know and see and have the One we want when He is good and ready to be known and seen and possessed by us. In the meantime, let’s faithfully obey His loving commandments and prayerfully beg for His mercy and help.

* The reader who names the three plays referred to here wins undying glory. [HINT: The ladies are Julia, Beatrice, and Katherina.]

Hamlet & Ten Virgins

If it be now, ‘tis not to come; if it be not to come, it will be now; if it be not now, yet it will come: the readiness is all.

Hamlet says this line, just before entering into a duel with a treacherous opponent—the duel which will cost Hamlet his life.

What made him so confident and ready, even when he suspected that foul play and murder awaited him?

Hamlet’s confidence in the face of death did not stem from self-satisfaction. Quite the contrary, Hamlet is famous for tormenting himself with self-doubt. He repeatedly accuses himself of pathetic cowardice. Hamlet’s admirers, like Ophelia, had thought him the paragon of princeliness, a true Renaissance gentleman. But he searched his own soul and found confusion, indecision, and weakness.

Yet the melancholy Dane stood ready and peaceful when doom befell him. Where did his readiness come from? From his most conspicuous quality: Zeal for the truth consumed him. Hamlet never lived by self-serving delusions. He did not fear death, because he regarded it as the inevitable fact that it is.

[Click HERE to read the parable of the ten virgins.]

The foolish virgins brought no oil with them. They had not bothered to consider their situation. They lived in a fantasy world where oil lamps burn forever and never run out. They accepted the invitation to the wedding without thinking what the night could really be like. Their heads were filled with conceits about pretty dresses, and wine flowing, and music.

But sometimes bridegrooms are long delayed. Camels can go lame; roads can be washed out by floods; enemies can attack. Pretty fantasies from bridal catalogues can get scotched by the inconveniences of real life.

The wise virgins were ready because the truth interested them. They anticipated that they could be in for a long night. “My lamp only holds so much oil. I had better bring a flask with some extra. If I don’t need the extra oil tonight, I will burn it when I have to stay up to clean the table linen tomorrow night.”

Reality may not be glamorous. But it’s all we’ve got.

If You’re In Irene’s Path…

…Come on out to southwest Virginny for the weekend!

They are calling for just a little rain out here, if that.

Everything costs less in Franklin and Henry counties–gas, hotels, motels, bed & breakfasts.

Hop in the car right now!

Can’t wait to see you.

Click HERE for Mass times in Franklin County, Va.

Click HERE for Mass times in Henry County, Va.

…Southwest Virginia residents: How about getting on the phone and inviting your Irene-endangered friends and family out for the weekend? Hurricane Irene slumber party! Can’t wait to see everyone at Mass!

Shaken and Bestirred

“Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do…For the Son of Man will come with his angels in his Father’s glory, and then he will repay everyone according to his conduct.” (Matthew 16:21,27)

I guess there are two kinds of Sunday Masses: run-of-the-mill Sunday Masses and Masses on the Sunday after an earthquake. At the run-of-the-mill Sunday Masses, distractions can get in the way. We don’t always open our minds to the Word of God like we should.

The same thing can happen at Mass after an earthquake. But coming to church after facing the possibility of sudden death and destruction can sharpen our attention somewhat.

Things like earthquakes can leave us wondering about the Providence of God. Thanks be to God, we did not suffer any serious damage this week. No injury, no loss of life. But we know well that sudden and apparently senseless death can come. Innocent people die in accidents every day. Others suffer unjustly. Why? Isn’t God in charge?

Maybe a televangelist, out there somewhere, has declared that the people of the mid-Atlantic must be sinners—since the Lord sent us an earthquake—but not really bad sinners—since the earthquake was only 5.9 on the Richter scale.

God is God, after all. He can send earthquakes, hurricanes, and plagues on whomever He wants to send them for whatever reason He has for sending them. But it does not require too much investigation on our part for us to discover that, if the Lord meted out His justice upon sinners strictly in the form of earthquakes, then there would not be a city left standing on the face of the earth. Washington, D.C., would not be standing, but neither would Rocky Mount, or Martinsville, or any other town.

The Word of God helps us to focus the matter. In the end, the Son of Man will come in glory with His angels, and He will repay us justly for our deeds.

Continue reading “Shaken and Bestirred”

Source of Apostolic Zeal: the Promise

(for the Feast of St. Bartholomew)

The Holy Apostles acted with such great courage that they seem superhuman.

Among the Apostles, we know St. Paul the most intimately, since so many of his writings have been passed down to us. We know the details of how he willingly suffered every possible hardship for the sake of expanding the kingdom of Christ.

St. Paul nearly starved; he nearly drowned; was repeatedly imprisoned, flogged, beaten within an inch of his life. He patiently endured painful mistreatment of every kind—the willful misunderstanding of his motives by people he had helped, betrayal by people he loved, the unfair judgment of countless supposed allies. In the end, he willingly bent his neck under the executioner’s axe, rather than deny Christ.

All the Apostles acted with similarly astonishing zeal and dedication. The Church expanded from a small band of dreamers, apparently beaten in an obscure Roman province, to a unified worldwide organization.

In other words, a great miracle of social development occurred. And at the heart of this miracle lies the Apostles’ superhuman zeal. Where did it come from?

Continue reading “Source of Apostolic Zeal: the Promise”

Cause of the Earthquake

Listen: sorry. I was perusing the Evangeliary for the Sunday to come, and I came upon the following “English:”

For the Son of Man will come with his angels in his Father’s glory, and then he will repay all according to his conduct.

Um, what? He will repay all according to his conduct? Uh, whose conduct? Will Christ the Almighty judge repay me according to His conduct, instead of my conduct?

The Revised Standard Version reads as follows (this is Matthew 16:27 we are talking about here, by the way):

For the Son of man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay every man for what he has done.

Rage appertaining to the discovery of the grammatical error in our liturgical book–obviously the result of incompetent gender-neutralizing, unidiomatic translatorial argle bargle–caused the earthquake. Please accept my apologies.

The Martyr of the Taxman, Etc.

Who needs horror movies? On Wednesday, we will keep a feast for St. Bartholomew.

Statue of St. Bartholomew in Milan Cathedral

The Holy Apostle appears to be wearing a toga. But he was flayed alive. Skinned. He wears his flayed skin like a toga.

Were Nathanael and Bartholomew the same person? Yes; most likely, yes. Nathanael is a first name; Bar-tholomew is a last name.

He hailed from Cana, followed St. Philip to Christ, evangelized India, suffered martyrdom in Armenia, lays entombed on a little island in the Tiber.

Perhaps we could implore him to pray that we, too, might be zealous enough to be skinned for the faith.

…Holy Father gave a talk back in January ’09 which explains the Mass brilliantly well. Or just go straight to St. Augustine’s City of God, Book Ten, chapter 6…

…A charming explanation of dynamic- vs. formal-equivalence translation:

…Also, in case you missed it, click HERE to read about worshipping the Blessed Mother as a god.

Obey the living Bible

I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church. (Matthew 16:18)

Let us begin with two basic principles of common sense.

Principle #1: Obeying God is the key to life. Life can be confusing and difficult enough as it is. But willingly to disobey or ignore God—that is the path to utter disaster. With God, we find peace. Without Him, nothing—not even the greatest worldly successes—can give us peace.

Principle #1 derives from the fundamental role of faith in a stable life. Common-sense principle #2 derives from the fundamental role of reason.

Principle #2 goes like this: Anyone who claims to tell you God’s will for your life is probably wrong and could very well be dangerous. To put it another way: God is God, and we human beings are not. Of one thing we can be sure: When it comes to God’s Almighty mind, we are not familiar with it.

Principle #1 teaches us that living as if God did not exist leads to disaster. #2 shows us that mistaking the word of man for the Word of God also leads to disaster. Obeying God brings pece. But obeying another human being as a substitute God? Misery.

So, now we have two solid principles of common sense. But, Houston, we have a problem. Obey God. Doubt anyone who claims to speak as an oracle of God. Where does this leave us?

It potentially leaves us altogether paralyzed. In order to obey God and find peace, we have to know God’s will. But how are we going to know it? We also have a solemn obligation to doubt anyone who says, “God wills that you do what I say!”

See the problem? This problem has confounded many noble minds. It has troubled many earnest souls. It has mystified some of history’s giants.

Continue reading “Obey the living Bible”

Listen, China…

…please don’t go beating up on my Hoyas at a pre-season goodwill exhibition game. The VCU Rams beat us up bad enough in March. We’re still trying to get over that.

All joking about Big-East thuggery aside, the Hoyas did not play the bad guys in this international incident. Apparently, Big-East games run like croquet matches compared to the way the Bayi Rockets roll (i.e., numerous fines for on-court fighting from the Asian basketball federation).

This was not China’s finest hour. They played host to the game; the Hoyas arrived as guests. Bad things can happen anywhere. But I don’t think it would have happened this way if the Bayi Rockets were visiting the Verizon Center.

Thank God, it does not appear that anyone was seriously hurt.

JT III deserves the cool-head-of-the-year award for calmly getting the Hoyas off the court and out of the building.

Poem for You

Walking along the beach, trying to come up with an explanation for the Trinity, I found this, in a hole dug in the sand:

Draw Me Into the Shimmer

From this point-of-view, the ocean glistens.
Nine o’clock, and the sun presides.
The circling gulls see something else:
They search for fish I can’t see.

From my point-of-view, this is Delaware.
Europe’s over there, and Maryland to the right.
The sand-digging toddlers consult other reckonings,
plans for moats and turrets by the primordial seaside.

From my point-of-view, the day’s well-begun.
I’ve said my prayers; I have a novel and sunblock.
From the divine: yesterday never ended.
His gaze commands, well above the sun.

I think I know what day it is.
But maybe August 15th will last forever this year.
Maybe the season-turns will fade
into a slow, sweet cradle-rock.

Nap-time for toddlers, and the gulls have settled.
The heat of the day sits on the sand.
“Can’t sit here, looking at the ocean forever.”
I think I know what day it is.

O draw me into the shimmer, wise One,
a javelin in your hand, perpetually hurtling.
My point-of-view like a shaft of light
from the water.

August 15th–from this beach chair.
You see today.