St. Jude and Balaam’s Animal

As we hear at today’s Holy Mass, the Lord Jesus chose Saints Simon and Jude as two of His twelve Apostles.

St. Jude eventually wrote a letter to the Christian faithful, which can be found in the New Testament; it is the next-to-last book of the Bible.

In his letter, St. Jude tells us to avoid “Balaam’s error.”

[Imagine you’re in Catholic school and the priest is asking you…] Anyone ever been sitting watching t.v., or playing a video game, and mom says, “Time to do this!” or dad says, “Time to do that?” Anybody ever been in a group of friends, and someone starts talking about another person behind his or her back, making fun of that person? Anyone ever been working on schoolwork, and then suddenly a friend calls or shows you something, or you do a web-search, and suddenly there’s a quick and dirty way to print out something to turn in, even though it’s not really my own work at all?

Balaam was an ancient priest, way before Jesus came and gave us the Mass, way before the Temple in Jerusalem was even built. Balaam lived in what is now the Holy Land, before the Israelites came back from Egypt. One of the pagan kings wanted Balaam to sacrifice to the gods and then curse the people of Israel.

Balaam knew that it was not the right thing to do. He knew that God had chosen the Israelites to form a covenant with the human race. So, at first, Balaam refused.

But the pagan king tried to sweeten the deal. He put more pressure on Balaam. “Come on. Curse the Israelites! I will make it worth your while.”

So Balaam hedged. He knew it was wrong, but he thought, “Well, let me just go and see the king, and we’ll see what happens.” He thought maybe he could compromise between right and wrong, and that way he could have his cake and eat it, too. He could be holy and popular. He could be righteous and rich.

So Balaam got on his donkey to go to the king. But once they got on the road, the donkey kept swerving off to the side. So Balaam beat the donkey mercilessly. “Come on, animal!” Then the donkey kept lying down in the road. So Balaam beat the donkey more, and yelled at it.

Then a miracle occurred, and the donkey spoke, and more or less said, “Look, man. Even I, a donkey, know that you are not doing the right thing. When it comes to doing the will of God, and avoiding sin, you can’t compromise. I’m just trying to keep you out of trouble here.”

No compromises with temptation. Our own donkeys will have it over us, if we think we can please both God and the devil at the same time.

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My brother wore his RG III jersey on CNBC this morning!  Yea 'Skins!
My brother wore his RG III jersey on CNBC this morning! Yea ‘Skins! Monday Night Football, October 27, 2014, will go down in history.
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10 Celibacy Pluses

wedding ringsI congratulate my dear brother Ben, who was married today to lovely Jenna. I wish them every happiness. But the occasion moves me to recount some reasons why I love my celibate life…

1. Considerably more time for reading.

2. I can sing as loud as I want in the car, and no one minds.

3. Every time a baby has vomited sputum on my shoulder, or gone to the bathroom in my arms, I have gotten huge credit for being a stand-up guy. Absolutely every time.

4. No chance that any child of mine will ever go to Duke or UConn, or grow up and marry a Cowboys fan.

5. Whenever I go to a meeting in the principal’s office, it’s the principal who’s in trouble.

6. Considerably more time for reading.

7. The people who get disappointed in me because I’m a goofball rarely have an opportunity to let me know.

8. Whenever someone in the house yells at the dishes in the sink, I am never in the dark as to what happened to cause this.

9. No father-in-law gives me weird looks while I read a Jane Austen novel during commercial breaks in Thanksgiving football.

10. Sure, I have a hundred times more people who expect me to read their minds on a daily basis. But I don’t have to share a bathroom with any of them.

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Happy Thanksgiving! May the good Lord bless us all, in our particular states of life.

Questionable, Aesthetically

The train station in Rome assaults you with oppressive ugliness from every angle and in every way.

Fittingly, they have erected this statue of Blessed Pope John Paul II in front of the stazione:

Yes, our late Holy Father was a heavenly man.

(but one could question his aesthetic judgment)

Was Philip Kennicott* on the committee that chose this statue’s design for public installation in Rome?

The statue makes me think of the Hirshhorn Balloon Project.

…This morning my dear brother thoroughly covered the possibility of our “crashing full-speed into the federal debt ceiling.”

The idea of crashing full-speed into the limit conjured a memory from over a decade ago.

Anybody remember this movie with Jim Carrey and Ed Harris?


(WARNING: Bad word in this clip.)

This clip shows the end of the movie, when Truman has sailed ‘off the edge of the world’ after becoming dissatisfied with his circumscribed life as an unwitting reality-show star.

I think I will give a “Truman Show” homily on John 14 this weekend. Stay tuned…
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* The most thoroughly documented Aesthetic Fool Ever. Tied with Michael Kahn.

Miscellaneous Fantasias

Did you know that Mily Balakirev composed brief fantasias to precede each of the five acts of King Lear?

Never heard of Mily Balakirev? Me neither, until yesterday. He was a mentor to Tchaichovsky, a partisan of the Russian nation, a hard-working nineteenth-century musician.

A music lover can download the King Lear suite on iTunes. (They refer to him as “Balakirew.” These pieces are on the same CD as some works of a 20th-century Armenian composer, but iTunes amazingly allows you to download just the Balakirew material for $4.95.) The music was performed by the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra, I believe in the 1990’s.

Listening provokes many reflections…

Was Balakirev just mailing this in, or does the largely sanguine aura of the music express a profound insight into the play? Yes, King Lear is a bitter tragedy, an enormously ugly exploration of the worst that “whoremaster man” can display of his “goatish disposition.”

But beauty emerges: the divine loveliness of pity. The King and Gloucester teach us how to look at human weakness without judgment or contempt. Maybe Balakirev intended his music to bring this aspect of the play to the fore.

The first fantasia, to precede the play’s opening scene, reminded me of just how stupendous that scene is. Don’t quote me, but I believe it is the Bard’s longest. As I think I once mentioned before, more happens in the opening scene of King Lear than has happened in many of the centuries of human history.

…Anyway, I am boring the living daylights out of you. Interested in what will happen next week on Wall Street? Click here. You will never see a more dashing or well-informed New York journalist. The man has a familiar-sounding voice…

…Speaking of all things Shakespeare: I am sure you know that the obscure Henry VI trilogy recounts the “War of the Roses.” These plays are rarely performed; the intricate history is even more rarely grasped.

If you were a Shakespeare troupe undertaking to perform Henry VI, Part 3, would you open the action by slowly unfurling a long banner which is emblazoned with a summary of the first two plays, while playing the Darth Vader theme in the background? Would you title the summary “Rose Wars, Episode III”?

If so, you would have done what the American Shakespeare Center did last night at the opening performance of their short-running rendition of this obscure play. It was the beginning of an enchanting two hours. These players do better with a shoestring budget than the so-called big boys in downtown Washington do with their wasted millions. Long live the American Shakespeare Center!

Sweet, Doleful Fog Horns

All of Staten Island’s bus routes originate at the St. George Ferry Terminal. Borough Hall is across the street.

My brother lives up the hill. With the windows of his apartment open to the cool May air, the fog horns of the container ships sound through the quiet night.

The captains of industry who developed this hilly island built a beautiful parish church in 1904. Here I celebrated the first Mass of my eighth year as a priest.

God Asks Permission His Way

annunciationI am ashamed to admit that I am just now getting around to reading all the homilies and speeches our Holy Father gave when he was in the Israel in May.

When he was preaching in the Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth, the Pope made a remarkable observation.

He was recounting what happened at that spot, when the Archangel Gabriel awaited the Blessed Virgin’s response:

The narrative of the Annunciation illustrates God’s extraordinary courtesy. He does not impose himself, he does not simply pre-determine the part that Mary will play in his plan for our salvation: he first seeks her consent.

In the original Creation there was clearly no question of God seeking the consent of his creatures, but in this new Creation he does so.

Of course it is a beautiful thing to see the Archangel waiting on Our Lady’s free response–to see the Lord waiting on it, all creation waiting on it.

Pope in Nazareth
Pope meditating during Vespers in Nazareth
What struck me here the most, though, is the way the Pope blithely contrasts this with the way God created us in the first place.

In the original Creation there was clearly no question of God seeking the consent of his creatures.

Of course there wasn’t. He created us out of nothing. You can’t ask nothing permission to create it, because there is nothing to ask.

You can only seek the permission of a free person who already exists. Existing is a given–literally. God gave us ourselves.

Then, He asks us to give ourselves back. Freely giving ourselves back is the one and only way for us to deal with having ourselves in the first place.

It is pointless and absurd to fuss about existing, because it never was, and never could have been, a matter for advice and consent.

But offering oneself back to God as an oblation of love–now that is something to fuss about…

ben
My brother Ben
Speaking of which, a friend asked me to mention that The Bethlehem Monastery of Colettine Poor Clare nuns in Barhamsville, VA is having a “Come and See” day on November 14 for women 18-35.

…P.S. Just in case you were looking for White in the Grey Lady recently, Ben White has moved on from the NYT and is now contributing to a daily briefing on politico.com called “Morning Money.”

Friday Night Videos

Friday is a good day to make the Stations of the Cross. Plus, here are some videos for your viewing pleasure.

1) Here is the pro-life Super Bowl commercial which NBC refuses to air:

Fidelis had the money, but NBC said the commercial is “too political.”

2) My brother was bumped from MSNBC yesterday evening, because they decided to focus on some impeached governor who has made himself a national laughingstock.

This evening, however, he was hailed as the Muckraker of the Day! (Click the link to behold his eloquence.)

3) The Federer-Nadal rematch is on!

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Guest Contributors

nytWe welcome guest contributors to the on-going discussion and debate on Preacher and Big Daddy.

First of all, don’t miss Loeb Award-nominated Ben White’s exposé on the front page of today’s New York Times. He will discuss this on MSNBC this evening! (Between 6:00 and 6:45.)

Continue reading “Guest Contributors”

Zephyrs, Beltway Battles, and Old St. Nick

Gimmicks with the uniform are never a good idea
Gimmicks with the uniform are never a good idea

Things had gotten so bad (3-13 record) that the Wizards decided to come in disguise to play the Lakers at the Verizon Center last night.

Then, amazingly, they almost beat my man Kobe and Co.!

Almost. The Wizards/Zephyrs are now 3-14. Kobe saved the game for the Lakers after a “valiant effort” in the fourth-quarter by the Wiz, as Phil Chenier put it.

Continue reading “Zephyrs, Beltway Battles, and Old St. Nick”