St. Ignatius Feastday and the Holy Land

At one point in his life, St. Ignatius Loyola wanted above all to live in the Middle East, in the land of Christ. Ignatius resolved to go to Palestine and never return home.

As things turned out, he had to return to Europe. The Franciscan superior ordered him to leave Palestine, because the situation had become perilous, due to a war.

Sound familiar?

It appears that the fighters who have taken over a lot of Syria and Iraq, who call themselves ‘Islamic State,’ have systematically sought to rid the land of Christians–and Shia Muslims, for that matter. The Islamic State fighters have committed obscene atrocities with spurious religious justifications, justifications which mainstream Muslim leaders have strenuously denounced.

ignatiuswritingFor a millennium and a half, the original Christian people, the Christians of the Levant, have lived at peace with Muslim neighbors. We recall how, eleven months ago, the church leaders of the Middle East, along with the Pope, begged the western military powers not to attack Syria and foment the civil war there. We recall how, over a decade ago, the same leaders, and Pope St. John Paul II, begged us not to invade Iraq.

Perhaps we can understand a little better now why the Christians of the Middle East made these pleas for peace. It was not simply a matter of naïve pacificism.

Our war in Iraq certainly looks like the fiasco of the 21st century at this point, but that’s not for me to say. What I do know is that we need to pray very hard for our suffering brothers and sisters who live in the land where the Lord called the patriarchs and prophets to Himself, and where He, in Person, walked the earth.

Manifesto in a Messy World


TV and news of the world got into the house like a pigeon from hell.* So, I present the (hopefully somewhat readable) prose version of ‘Conservative Enough to be Liberal.’

Worship the Lord your God.

Is there a God? What does the question mean? A power, an intelligence, infinitely greater than we can imagine, from Whom everything comes. That anything is, that anything is good, or beautiful, or true (i.e., intelligible to us), is because God is nothing other than infinite existence, goodness, and truth. Whereas all that we perceive involves multiple distinct things, all of them made by the putting-together of constituent elements, God’s existence is unimaginably simple, eternal, stable, and blessed.

Must there be such a God? Continue reading “Manifesto in a Messy World”

Sad Twelfth Night

TWELFTH NIGHT, Ben Kingsley, 1996, (c) Fine Line

One summer at the beach, we read Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night together as a family.

From the early scene in which Toby Belch extols Sir Andrew Aguecheek’s attractions as a suitor for a young lady, insisting that Sir Andrew

“’s as tall a man as any’s in Illyria…
…he plays o’ the
viol-de-gamboys, and speaks three or four languages
word for word without book, and hath all the good
gifts of nature”

my brother and I could not stop laughing. Sir Toby had us at ‘viol-de-gamboys.’

Ever since that summer, I have thought of Twelfth Night as primarily hilarious and only secondarily wistful. The downstairs comedy steals the show from the implausible romances that unfold upstairs. Aguecheek possesses as much vivid buffoonery as any character in the Bard’s oeuvre. Eg:

O knight thou lackest a cup of canary: when did I
see thee so put down?

Never in your life, I think; unless you see canary
put me down. Methinks sometimes I have no more wit
than a Christian or an ordinary man has: but I am a
great eater of beef and I believe that does harm to my wit.

No question.

An I thought that, I’ld forswear it. I’ll ride home
to-morrow, Sir Toby.

Pourquoi, my dear knight?

What is ‘Pourquoi’? do or not do? I would I had
bestowed that time in the tongues that I have in
fencing, dancing and bear-baiting: O, had I but
followed the arts!

Now, the play sounds the wistful note, to be sure. And the Clown (called Feste) sings anthems of heartache with good reason. A thoroughly sympathetic young woman, disguised as a man, falls hopelessly in love with a man who pines after a woman who has foolishly fallen for the woman disguised as a man. Plenty of ‘matter for a May morning,’ as one of the downstairs crowd puts it—if the matter you seek is nonsensical lovesickness.

Feste smiles through it all, amused by the lovers’ foibles. Eg:

Yet you will be hanged for being so long absent; or,
to be turned away, is not that as good as a hanging to you?

Many a good hanging prevents a bad marriage; and,
for turning away, let summer bear it out.

To the man in the middle of the bizarre love triangle, who is given to whining, Feste says:

Now, the melancholy god protect thee; and the
tailor make thy doublet of changeable taffeta, for
thy mind is a very opal. I would have men of such
constancy put to sea, that their business might be
every thing and their intent every where; for that’s
it that always makes a good voyage of nothing. Farewell.

And this conversation:

Thy reason, man?

Troth, sir, I can yield you none without words; and
words are grown so false, I am loath to prove
reason with them.

I warrant thou art a merry fellow and carest for nothing.

Not so, sir, I do care for something; but in my
conscience, sir, I do not care for you: if that be
to care for nothing, sir, I would it would make you invisible.

Art not thou the Lady Olivia’s fool?

No, indeed, sir; the Lady Olivia has no folly: she
will keep no fool, sir, till she be married; and
fools are as like husbands as pilchards are to
herrings; the husband’s the bigger: I am indeed not
her fool, but her corrupter of words.

I never thought Feste a matchmaker. Much less a kind of priest who somehow rises to a spiritual plane from which he can turn the conclusion of the play into a meditation on time flowing into eternity—after all the slapstick has played itself out.

Twelfth_Night-_Or_What_You_Will_FilmPosterBut: It can happen. I know I bring up a lot of oldish movies. But that’s what they have at the public library. In 1996, the lovely Helena Bonham Carter starred in a movie version of Twelfth Night, and Ben Kingsley played the Fool. By which I mean, he did not play the fool. He enacted Feste with an F. Scott Fitzgerald-esque melancholy.

I read a review of the movie that praised Kingsley’s singing. I can’t go that far. But what he undertook to do—namely, to make the clown something other than a clown, something more like a quasi-omniscient shepherd of souls—he pulled off in spades.

Sir Toby and Sir Andrew, plotting to challenge Cesario (the disguised Viola) to a duel, and then unknowingly stumbling into real fisticuffs with the twin brother—for my money, the comedy makes Twelfth Night.

But after seeing doe-eyed Ben Kingsley walk off alone up a hillside, his guitar slung over his back, while, behind him, the wedding dances begin in the manor house… Somehow the picture strikes us as utterly complete: the newlyweds happy, the priest striding in his solitude towards the dark cloud of death, like an elf-king… After seeing this movie version of Twelfth Night, I will from now on laugh at Aguecheek with a deeper appreciation of just how autumnal the loveliness of this play really is.

Trying is Succeeding to Find the Pearl

Young Solomon prayed, “Lord, you have made me the king, but I do not know how to act… Give your servant, therefore, an understanding heart, so that I can judge right from wrong.”

St. Paul declared: “All things work for the good of those who love God.” Romans 8:28.

oysterThe treasure buried in the field, the pearl of great price: Wisdom. Sharing the divine mind. Understanding life. Knowing what to do and what not to do. Standing firm in the truth. The peace that passes all understanding. Union with God.

The wise person prays. The wise person begs God for help all the time. As Socrates had it, to be wise is to know that I don’t know anything. Compared to God, I don’t know much. I don’t understand much at all, compared to God. So let me pray like a madman.

By the same token: The praying person demonstrates great wisdom already, because to believe in God is the wisest act of the human mind. No thought, no knowledge, no Sherlock-Holmesian deduction can touch a more solid, a more sublime truth than the Truth we touch by simple faith.

And this all-encompassing Truth which we touch by faith: He became man to show us how good, and how kind, and how loving He is.

Continue reading “Trying is Succeeding to Find the Pearl”

Raincoat? No, I’ll Stay Dry the Gandhi Way

Summertime definitely in full swing.

In Rome, things usually quiet down considerably this time of year.

But 46 years ago today, a thunderbolt broke the late-July languor of St. Peter’s Square. Monsignor Ferdinando Lambruschini announced that, when it comes to artificial contraception, Pope Paul had put the Church squarely on the same side as Mahatma Gandhi–and against all the creepy people like Margaret Sanger and Bertrand Russell.

The Pill is a No NoNow, I may not be the one to talk to, when it comes to artificial contraception. Ever since I was a mere youth, the idea of using artificial contraception has struck me as both preposterous and pitiful.

Back in the 80’s, supposedly well-meaning educational professionals continually shoved condoms into our teenage faces. I would think to myself, ‘Why in the world would I want to do anything with that? I would prefer to play basketball. At least then I could actually sink a layup or a jumper, without having to cover the top of the rim with a garbage bag, just because I’m not married.’

Now—over a quarter-century later—I can say that I have fewer regrets, and more happy memories, than the other boys who did not think like I did. Many of my high-school friends have grown up to be unhappy divorcees who spend too much time on facebook.

Anyway, I will have more to say on this and other related subjects at the talk I am going to give on the 1st, 6th, and 5th Commandments, called “Conservative Enough to be Liberal.”

Psst INTERWEB ONLY Here’s the outline: Continue reading “Raincoat? No, I’ll Stay Dry the Gandhi Way”

#WeAreN, like St. Sharbel

St. Sharbel of Lebanon, ordained 155 years ago yesterday
St. Sharbel of Lebanon, ordained 155 years ago yesterday
I know a Lebanese family in Washington, named Malouf, who say they are kin to Father Sharbel.

I am by no means an expert, but let’s go over these basic things:

God became a human being, born of a virgin from…

Nazareth lies in the northern part of the nation of Israel, which shares a long border with the coastal land of…

When the Son of God stood on the seashore in Capernaum, and looked to His left, He saw the highlands in the nation of…Syria.

Let’s go back a little further, 2,000 more years. Abraham came to the Promised Land from the city of Ur in…Chaldea, which is present-day…Iraq.

Abraham, Blessed Virgin Mary, Jesus our Lord, St. Sharbel, all the Lebanese people we know, Palestinians, Syrians, Iraqis—they all have one thing in common, namely hailing from the same general area, about the same size as Virginia, the Carolinas, and Georgia.

WeAreNThe Lord Jesus wept because of the hardness of this world and the sadness of death. We weep for the people of Syria and Iraq, especially the Christian people who have been targeted for brutal persecution. May the good Lord deliver them.

Planning a Talk

Makes life so much easier for the preacher when we have the same gospel readings on the weekdays that we just recently read of a Sunday. 🙂

We remember: the devil’s birds will eat the seeds of eternal life in us, unless we work on developing spiritual discipline of some kind, building our personalities on the foundation of faith.

Representation_of_the_Sower's_parableGod says, “I love you,” in the simplest, most straightforward manner. But maintaining the kind of interior quiet in which we can hear the Lord’s proclamations of love—in this noisy world, it can be harder than multivariable calculus. If we see things only on the surface, we encounter noise and agitation that manage somehow to both exhaust our minds and bore us to tears. It takes a lot of hard work to sit still and listen to God.

Speaking of noise in the world…I’ll speak for myself, but I can’t imagine that I am alone in this feeling this way: Over the course of the past two and a half years, developments on the national- and the world-stage have gotten considerably more complicated—and difficult for us Catholic Christians to navigate and deal with. I, for one, feel the weight of a great burden when it comes to sorting things out and finding the basic ideas that can help me make sense out of it all.

I have too much to say on this to fit in right now, so I propose to give a 20-minute talk.

The talk is called: “Conservative Enough to be Liberal,” and it covers the 1st, 6th, and 5th Commandments.

Come in person:

5:45pm Saturday, July 26th at Francis of Assisi, Rocky Mount

7:30pm Friday, August 1 at St. Joseph, Martinsville

And I will try to publish the talk here, too. 🙂

Two Kinds of Evil

“While everyone was asleep, his enemy came.” (Matthew 13:25)

devil sewing taresDoes God sleep? Sometimes God appears to sleep, and the Enemy sows weeds.

One of the questions our contemporaries ask us: How can you believe? When bad things happen all the time, and God does nothing? How can you believe in such a silent, absent, sleeping God?

The Enemy has sown weeds up and down the face of the earth. Smog chokes the air. No jobs for people with Masters degrees. More refugees living in squalid camps right now than at any time in recorded history. More conflict, less understanding. Immigrant children unwelcome. Unborn children unwelcome. Gridlock here, bombs exploding there. Hope on the wane.

And all the while, God sleeps—as the Scriptures themselves, in a parable told by the Son of God, relate!

Do we have a sleeping God Who doesn’t care? Who lets good people get cancer, because He can’t be bothered?

Continue reading “Two Kinds of Evil”

From Lackluster to Heaven

Tomb of St. Camillus in Rome
Tomb of St. Camillus in Rome

I know a man with a lot of bad habits. And, generally speaking, he is difficult to deal with. And he doesn’t take care of himself, physically or spiritually, like he should.

In spite of all this, he haunts churches. He is forever hanging around, doing this or that, and he seems to have a great interest in the Word of God and the teachings of the Church.

Yes, this man gives every impression of being a hopeless case. A thoroughgoing, hapless loser³. Nonetheless, there may be hope for him. Because, 450 years ago, there was a similar case.

Camillus de Lellis had a lot of bad habits. And people found him very annoying. But he, too, haunted churches and liked to listen to the Word of God. And we know for a fact that Camillus made it to heaven, because he wound up converting to a very holy life, and he has been canonized by Mother Church.

Lackluster, not really very healthy, and disagreeable. But often in church. Sound familiar? Your humble servant.

God can do amazing things with even incorrigible people who hang around churches.

Rumour vs. Our Heavenly Patron

televisionFrom heaven the Lord looks down on the earth. (Psalm 102:20)

And what does He see? Does He see sober, quiet labor? Does He see us working for His glory, focused on Him, with love in our hearts for all our neighbors?

Or does He hear nothing but the babble of gossips? Does He hear us talking about people behind their backs, judging them on hearsay?

At the beginning of one of his plays, Shakespeare has ‘Rumour’ speak, as a character:

Open your ears; for which of you will stop
The vent of hearing when loud Rumour speaks?
I, from the orient to the drooping west,
Making the wind my post-horse, still unfold
The acts commenced on this ball of earth.
Upon my tongues continual slanders ride,
The which in every language I pronounce,
Stuffing the ears of men with false reports.
…Rumour is a pipe
Blown by surmises, jealousies, conjectures,
And of so easy and so plain a stop
That the blunt monster with uncounted heads,
The still-discordant wav’ring multitude,
Can play upon it. But what need I thus
My well-known body to anatomize
Among my household?

St Joseph shrine immaculate conceptionWe need to focus on one very important fact: The way people talk about each other on t.v. is not Christian. On the internet? God forbid–even more un-Christian still. And on talk radio.

I guarantee that when I turn on the t.v, within fifteen minutes I will hear people talking about each other in a way that is un-Christian, no matter what channel it is. It will either be fictional gossip or real-live gossip. But it will be un-Christian speech.

(And if you think I mean, ‘except EWTN,’ I do not. EWTN has self-righteous gossips, too.)

If my mind has grown accustomed to the way people talk on t.v., I will talk that way myself. And I will speak when I should not about things that I should not.

Let’s let good St. Joseph guide us. Let’s count up the number of speeches he gave, as recorded by the Holy Scriptures. O, wait. He didn’t give any speeches. Okay. Let’s count up the number of sentences he uttered, according to Holy Scripture. Oh. Zero. Okay, how about the number of words he spoke, according to the Scriptures.

[Birds chirping. Summer breeze blowing.]

Thank you, sweet St. Joseph. Please pray for us. May we share in your gift of holy silence.