The Synod of Tweets

Whenever an October Synod of Bishops meets, I try to pay even more attention than usual to the MLB playoffs.

Leo made a great Gatsby
I’m for the Mets, since their home field sits right where the Eckleburg sign once glowered over the Long-Island highway, in F. Scott Fitzgerarld’s imagination.

Anyway…Ever visited Rome? To visit the churches of Rome means entering into a living memory that extends back two millennia.

I think we can justifiably say that the most memorable thing that has happened in Rome so far in the 21st century was the funeral of St. John Paul II. In the 20th century, Vatican II. On second thought, Pope Pius XII rushing across town to comfort the people in the bombed neighborhoods during WWII–pretty memorable also.

The nineteenth century saw the burning and reconstruction of the Basilica over St. Paul’s tomb. The sixteenth: St. Ignatius Loyola, Michelangelo. Before that, the return of the papacy to Rome and the Lateran Councils. Going back even further: the papacies of Gregory and Leo the Greats. And, even further back, the martyrdoms of Sts. Peter and Paul, and countless other heroes who died at the hands of merciless pagans.

The authority of the Roman pontiff comes from God Himself, in the Person of Christ, establishing the office. For most of the history of the Apostolic See, that authority has been exercised primarily by settling disputed cases and questions.

A visitor to the Vatican Museums can admire paintings of some of the great gatherings of bishops that have left their mark on posterity–by clarifying things: the Council at Nicaea, the Council at Ephesus, and at Trent.

During the fifty years since Pope Paul VI erected the current Synod-of-Bishops routine, the Synod has met many times. One of those meetings involved a discussion which led to a thoroughly memorable enterprise: the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

The 2015 Synod of Tweets? History will be the judge. My money is on the World Series this year being considerably more memorable.

…Supposedly, one Synod bishop said that, in our contemporary world, two perennial pastoral axioms no longer apply. If that were really true, I would find myself quite at a loss. Because they are two of the basic rules I try to live by:

1. Love the sinner, hate the sin.

2. A priest should be a lion in the pulpit and a lamb in the confessional.

Better Future

Gandalf Frodo Moria

As the earth brings forth its plants and a garden makes its growth spring up, so will the Lord God make justice and praise spring up before all the nations. (Isaiah 61:11)

Hard to imagine a more hopeful book than the prophecies of Isaiah. The most beautiful passages accompany us during Advent.

sistine isaiahThe Lord God can and will give us a good future, by His power, according to His wisdom. The future will be brighter, because the Almighty holds it in His hands. His promises, wonderful as they may be, will certainly be fulfilled. Justice will spring up. The earth herself will sing to God a canticle of praise. Creation will reflect and magnify the splendor of the majestic Creator.

When the grace of Christ fills our souls, three theological virtues operate, namely: _____, ______, and ________.

Third Sunday of Advent, we seem to be talking about things, as yet unseen, that will give us joy in the future. In other words, because we believe that God will make good on His promises, we live in ________.

For the past two years, we have from time to time recalled the fiftieth anniversary of the great gift of the Holy Spirit to the Church in the 20th century, namely… When we look back at the days of Vatican II, we might get filled with nostalgia, nostalgia for the optimism of those times. Back then, in the 1960’s, the future appeared to open up like a fabulous suitcase, full of style and new possibilities. Hope practically grew on trees then. A better future seemed to lunge into the room like an eager hippopotamus.

Fifty years later, the atmosphere of the world has certainly changed. The hopefulness of the Sixties has all but vanished. The age of international peace that everyone dreamed of has been disturbed by terrorism and widespread political instability. The economy can’t snap out of the doldrums. I think it’s fair to say that we live in cynical, dispirited times.

Vatican II stallsWill our children have a better life than we do? Most Americans think not. It’s one of Tim Allen’s jokes: looking forward to having just enough to live on, in a small apartment—that’s the ‘Canadian dream.’ The measure of our short-term hope these days. Our grandparents nurtured the ‘American dream.’ But not us.

What about a year of favor? What about a jubilee? When captives held unjustly get liberated, and broken hearts heal, and debts racked-up in desperation get wiped away? What about a day of vindication—a day when everyone who has suffered wrongly gets compensated and made whole? Can we hope for better times? Better jobs, better government, and better Redskins’ seasons?

Not to imply any nastiness toward anyone in particular, but: I think people have cast ballots for candidates who talk about better things. Saying that an era of political compromise will come doesn’t make it come. Saying that America has a great future doesn’t make America have a great future. Saying that races and cultures and people need to get along better doesn’t make them actually get along better.

What, then, do we hope for? Well, if I might put it like Gandalf put it to Frodo, when the little hobbit started to realize how hard it would be to get the ring to Mordor:

We are going to hope, by God’s grace, that we ourselves, when everything is said and done, will stand before God without shame, because we did our little part to try to build a better world. It’s not for us to choose the times we live in. It’s for us to choose good over evil, no matter what happens.

THE GREAT GATSBYAfter all, even though all long-term economic indicators for the middle-class suggest that we are living through one of the worst decades ever, and the movies they come out with these days seem more and more boring—even though these are pretty cruddy times, as times go—they don’t totally suck. Because we have each other. And we have opportunities every day to act with kindness and honesty and courage. Even though the world has grown cynical and dark, we can greet each single day for what it really is: an opportunity from Almighty God for us to practice the teachings of Christ.

Hoping for satisfaction and pleasure from what this world has to offer has always been a vain business, whether the times be good or bad. F. Scott Fitzgerald’s hero Jay Gatsby lived the high life, in a decade when money seemed to grow on trees. He had it all. But he did not have happiness. He longed in his heart for the kind of communion that this world cannot give.

So if the American Dream seems practically out of reach, we hope for a better future anyway. Because the work of God, and the fulfillment of the kingdom of God, comes down to little daily acts of honesty and kindness.

Little acts of Christian heroism plant hidden seeds. Here a seed of patience. Here a seed of chastity. Here a seed of self-sacrifice.

On a day that only God knows, all these seeds will bear fruit, glorious fruit. It won’t matter then what the Dow Jones industrial average is that day, or the gross domestic product, or the national debt, or even the air temperature. It won’t matter. Because God will be all in all.

answers: Faith HOPE Love

Never Tired of…

Manhattan New York
The first frame of Woody Allen’s Manhattan

Growing up, falling in love with New York City, and falling in love with life—all of these fit together in my memory, like the stones of the great vaulted archways of St. John the Divine.

When, long ago, I haunted the places we visited this past weekend on our parish-cluster youth pilgrimage, I learned: Loving the city and loving life means loving the Lord, means receiving His love as the gift of every shaft of light, touching every brazen human artifact, that surrounds you at this moment. For instance, a Cuban sandwich, and big cup of coffee with milk, on a cold afternoon on Broadway in West Harlem.

(Been twenty years since I ate that sandwich and drank that coffee, and still it reminds me how much God loves me.)

To share some of this enchantment with our young people, in the sunshine on the steps of Mother Cabrini Shrine, or under the Times-Square lights on a Saturday night, or confessing our sins to a kindly Franciscan in a comfortingly dark wooden confessional in a church full of candles on 37th Street, or watching the sun set behind Lady Liberty from New York Harbor—this is the privilege of my now fatherly age and the blessed sacred duty the Lord has had the kindness to give me. Not to mention the unstinting generosity of the co-workers I have.

May the graces flow on!

We prayed. We saw the grandeur. The Lord holds the future. Love for the city and life will flower in the hearts of those who are young now, as He alone wills. It takes a whole lifetime, after all, to fall in love with life completely.

…If I might, a couple comments regarding new things for me in this visit to New York–perhaps something like my one-hundred twelfth, but my first in some years…

What a Greenwich-Village sunset USED to look like
What a Greenwich-Village sunset used to look like
1. I found it crushingly painful to see the skyline of lower Manhattan with the new tower. Not that the building doesn’t have anything to offer as something architecturally interesting; it actually kinda does. And not that the memory of the human toll of 9/11 still oppresses me. To the contrary, as hopefully you know, I have found consolation in praying for the poor souls who perished ever since 9:59 am that morning.

No, the painful thing doesn’t have to do with 9/11. It has to do with the fact that the Age of the Twin Towers, as part of what New York looks like—that Age has now definitively ended. Soon, it will be altogether forgotten—except by old people like me.

Yet that Age, that picture of Manhattan towering over the world, my memories of seeing the towers with my mom and dad and brother, or seeing them from Washington Square with college chums, or from Brooklyn Promenade, or Tompkins Square Park after eating some dim sum, or the Jersey Turnpike—all those memories, so vivid in my mind, so bound-up with youth and romance and seeking adulthood—they all belong to someone whose youth is over now, and forgotten. Sad. But I’ll live.

2. The Lord always gives little bonuses to people who wake up early, no matter what. Yesterday morning I had the forty minutes of sunrise to myself, for a run, with our (blessedly inexpensive) LaGuardia hotel as a starting point.

Flying blind, so to speak, I found the meandering park that hugs Flushing Bay. I saw the Whitestone Bridge shining to the northeast, like the towers of Minas Tirith. And Citi Field waking up in the very spot where Tom Buchanan winked at Myrtle Wilson.

We, too, after breakfast in the lobby, made our way towards our East-River crossing, barreling, like Nick Carraway, towards…

The city seen from the Queensboro Bridge is always the city seen for the first time, in its first wild promise of all the mystery and beauty in the world.

The Gatsby Smile


He smiled understandingly–much more than understandingly. It was one of those rare smiles with a quality of eternal reassurance in it, that you may come across four or five times in life. It faced–or seemed to face–the whole external world for an instant, and then concentrated on you with an irresistible prejudice in your favor. It understood you just as far as you wanted to be understood, believed in you as you would like to believe in yourself, and assured you that it had precisely the impression of you that, at your best, you hoped to convey.

You may recall that, back in late-summer 2012, we got ourselves fired up for the Baz Luhrmann-Leo DiCaprio Gatsby. Also: we wondered last spring if Leo could successfully enact the smile.

Well, the DVD landed (in the Franklin County library). And it turns out we wondered about the wrong things.

IMHO: Leo crushes it. Absolutely tramples all over it, like the flag of an enemy nation. Makes Robert Redford (his only rival as a movie Gatsby)–Leo makes Robert Redford look like a piker, a glib flounderer, a shell.

Great Gatsby 2012 posterI don’t weep at movies. That’s documented. I wept for Leo. Wept for his false and misdirected hope that deserved to be true.

It was actually the Luhrmann flourishes (which we thought, after Romeo + Juliet, that we could take to the bank)–it was Luhrmann’s gussying up the movie that came off as stupid. Waste of time and energy, the dancing girls and party sequences, the castle, the stylized Eckleburg ashpits, the car chases, and the cartoon cityscapes. Mere distractions from Leo’s and Carey Mulligan’s incandescently mesmerizing acting. The two of them could perform the script on an unadorned stage with no props, and it would be every bit as interesting as the movie.

Tobey Maguire sporting beard growth to communicate ‘depressed’ made me laugh. He should leave his ‘deep, soulful’ voice out. The whole sanitorium bit–what was the point? On-screen supertitles of the famous lines of the book? Please. Dumb.

But: We thank you, everyone associated with making this movie–we, the entire staff and crew of this little weblog, we thank you for giving us a movie version of The Great Gatsby (the most movie-make-able novel ever written)–we thank you from the bottom of our hearts for giving us a movie that not only does not suck, but is actually, really, truly good.

Too Cold for School

SA182The Snow Man, by Wallace Stevens

One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;

And have been cold a long time
To behold the junipers shagged with ice,
The spruces rough in the distant glitter

Of the January sun; and not to think
Of any misery in the sound of the wind,
In the sound of a few leaves,

Which is the sound of the land
Full of the same wind
That is blowing in the same bare place

For the listener, who listens in the snow,
And, nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.

[…Here’s a little homily I would have given the chillens today, but for the school-canceling chill. I had my chalk at the ready to 20 C + M + B 14 all the classroom door lintels.]

In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son. (I John 4:10)

When our need for a Savior was great, God sent His Son, born of a virgin.

Is Christmas over? In church, Christmas lasts for almost three weeks. The shepherds came to visit the baby, and who else? The wise men.

wise-menThe wise men were wise about the stars. They found Jesus by following the… The wise men also were wise about knowing their need for a Savior was great. They beheld the great love of God—not that we have loved God, but that God has loved us and sent His Son to save us.

Anybody get any presents? Anybody eats any cakes or pies or Christmas cookies? I got some Christmas cookies, and they were delicious, and now they are all gone. And pretty soon, even in church, someone will take down the Christmas decorations.

But: There is one thing about Christmas that does not end. The fact that God loved us. And sent us His Son to wash away our sins and give us life. The wise men, wise as they were, were wise enough to know that they needed Christ. The wise men were wise enough to know that they were not wise enough to save themselves. Let’s be that wise, too. Let’s dedicate 2014 to letting Jesus love us and lead us closer to heaven. He does not ask for perfection. He simply asks for daily obedience.

After all, Jesus looks at us, and—what do we read?—He looks at us, and His Heart is moved with pity. He loves us, teaches us, feeds us. At Christmas and all year long.

Gatsby Sentences

Great Gatsby 2012 posterIn honor of this new Baz-Luhrmann music video coming out tonight, I present my four favorite sentences of The Great Gatsby:*

1. No amount of fire or freshness can challenge what a man will store up in his ghostly heart.

This refers to Gatsby on the afternoon he spent with Daisy, after Nick’s luncheon.

2. The city seen from the Queensboro Bridge is always the city seen for the first time, in its first wild promise of all the mystery and beauty in the world.

(When Nick and Gatsby drive into town together.)

This sentence—to my mind—rings as true now as it did in the twenties. The West Side, for good or ill, still stews in a kind of shtetl boredom compared to the East Side.

3. Now it was a cool night with that mysterious excitement in it which comes at the two changes of the year.

The night Gatsby and Daisy first kissed, five years ago.

4. We possessed some deficiency in common which made us subtly unadaptable to Eastern life.

All the main characters in the novel hail from west of the Appalachians. I never understood the withering aptness of this sentence until I first spent some serious time in the region that Fitzgerald had in his blood: summer of 1999, Omaha, Nebraska. One of my confreres that summer referred to Chicago as “one of those big eastern cities.” An incisive student of character, a dear friend I met that summer, and an Iowan, referred to me as “a brooding Easterner.”

Nick Carraway hit the nail on the head with this sentence. The Eastern Seaboard and the Mid-West produce two different species of human being.

…Probably the most famous passage of the book (other than the last sentence, which I, for one, think is a little stupid) is:

He smiled understandingly–much more than understandingly. It was one of those rare smiles with a quality of eternal reassurance in it, that you may come across four or five times in life. It faced–or seemed to face–the whole external world for an instant, and then concentrated on you with an irresistible prejudice in your favor. It understood you just as far as you wanted to be understood, believed in you as you would like to believe in yourself, and assured you that it had precisely the impression of you that, at your best, you hoped to convey.

This is Nick meeting Gatsby for the first time. (A good third of the way through the novel, one should note!)

Now, I love Leo DiCaprio as much as the next guy loves him. I love him quite a bit. He had me at Romeo + Juliet. Loathe as I am to admit it publicly, I adore absolutely everything about Titanic; I could watch it over and over and over.

Alas, poor KirkBut I am afraid that Leo will not be able to pull this passage off. I will see the movie, one of these eons—maybe when the DVD lands in my local library. But I have no expectation that Leo will have it in him to bring this particular Gatsby smile to life.

Let me say this, and I do so with tears in my eyes:

There is, in fact, one man I have known who truly brought these sentences to life. A man who had the capacity to grasp a situation in full, exactly as it was, to accept it exactly as it was, and to take infinite delight in it. And his delight was because of you.

My father.

At his best, my dad brought this majestic Fitzgerald description of Gatsby to life. May the Lord reward him for it.

* I learned a decade or so ago that a person must re-read The Great Gatsby once every five years in order to remind himself what the English language can accomplish even now.

Three More Middlemarch Quotes

George EliotBad enough that the doors shut on the Holy Father with nightfall in Italy. I also came to the end of the best novel I have ever read–on the same daggone day! Pray that I will find a reason for living tomorrow.

It was one of those moments in which both the busy and the idle pause with a certain awe. (Chapter 83)

We are on a perilous margin when we begin to look passively at our future selves, and see our own figures led with dull consent into insipid misdoing and shabby achievement. (Chapter 79)

Not too many novels can compete with The Great Gatsby for most-powerful moralizing final paragraph. But Middlemarch wins. Eliot writes of her heroine, who has gone on to live an unremarkable life as the wife of a small-time politician:

Her finely touched spirit had still its fine issues, though they were not widely visible. Her full nature, like that river of which Cyrus broke the strength,* spent itself in channels which had no great name on the earth. But the effect of her being on those around her was incalculably diffusive: for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.

* One of Cyrus’ prize horses drowned in a river which fed the Tigris. Enraged and bent on “revenge,” he ordered his entire army to spend the summer digging trenches on the river banks, to turn the swelling river into a marshland of rivulets. Then, the following spring, he went on to conquer Babylon.

In Between…

1. Mourning for the demise of Dalhauser (all-time #1 beast, IMHO),
2. Jazzing for the Mexican-soccer Olympic run,
3. Acknowledging that Lithuania has always given Team USA a run for its money, and
4. Doing some deep-background research for an upcoming essay regarding a film genre that I have dubbed “sampled Shakespeare,”

I discovered—to my delight, to my astonishment, to my toe-curling, lets-get-fired-up bemusement—that:

1. Robert Redford may soon be dethroned (from an august throne, a throne originally designed by F. Scott Fitzgerald, held aloft by Mia Farrow and Sam Waterston, and that turned tragic during a dip in a perfectly stylish pool).

2. Baz Luhrmann and Leo DiCaprio have GOTTEN BACK TOGETHER for another run at turning a literary masterpiece into a consummate, two-hour rock-and-roll video, and it just might be something genuinely interesting, because…

1. Their first crack at it made my year in 1996, made my decade in the 1990’s, never ceases to enchant me, and

2. They’ve got an interesting-looking Indian dude to play Meyer Wolfsheim and Tobey Maguire will play Nick Carraway.