Monday, July 25, 2005

Deserving of an Oscar

From the BBC:
Israel has summoned the Vatican's ambassador to explain why the Pope left the country off a list of those recently hit by terrorism.
For more info, feel free to read the whole article. It's short. But it's frustrating too. It reminds me of the Academy Awards, when people give no speech at all for fear of the infantile reaction of the one or two persons they happen to forget mentioning. They fail to note in the article that there are other places worthy of noting, such as Russia or the Philippines. I'm not even going to get into the issues of difference between insurgency, terrorism, and warring between two sovereign states, albeit with illicit action, over a territory... besides, I think most people will pick up my implication, anyway. Let's just say that the White House and the Vatican don't see eye-to-eye on many issues.

At any rate, I'm frustrated and too tired to really blog.

Maybe I'll come out swinging tomorrow if work goes well. Pray for my airplanes not to break, and you'll hear from me.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

So Much To Read... So Little Time

Due out in September, this looks like it'll be a good one.

From the website:
"A rattling good story of fear, faith, courage, and bulldog tenacity, beautifully told. The drama of Mother Angelica's life is a powerful reminder that the extraordinary lies just beyond the ordinary - if we have eyes to see and ears to hear."
- George Weigel
What other endorsement does it need? I think Weigel knows a thing or two about good biography.

Back In Action

I have returned from my two weeks of fun with the Military. Hopefully I'll be operating in full swing within a few days. I updated my reading list after finishing The Moviegoer which was somewhat disappointing in the end. The philosophy was a bit too convoluted for me, but I appreciate Percy's skill in writing, especially his ability to maintain the present tense first-person narrative. Also, despite my distaste for the muddied philosophical waters of the book, I loved the drama, especially of the Dostoyevskian ending. I'd still recommend it, though not as highly as I could O'Connor.

Moving onto my new book, William Kennedy's Ironweed. One word is all I can really use: WOW. I tore through this book in a couple of days and was absolutely floored. I'm tempted to go out and buy the entire Albany sequence and read the rest of his books. Kennedy's skill as a writer in 1983 has no contemporary equal in anything I've ever come across, and I must say I think the award of the Pulitzer Prize to this book was well-founded. The symbolism is remarkable, particularly the use of "weeds" throughout the entire book, a metaphor bordering on a conceit for it's continued prevalance, and certianly a focal point enhanced by the title of the book itself. There's so much going on in the story that I don't know where to begin. The human depravity and suffering is so real you can hear it, feel it, taste it, smell it. Kennedy's description of alchoholic bums on a binge is as realistic and captivating as any character formation I've seen. A critic on the book jacket said that Kennedy's variety in voice and mood is equal to Joyce, and I'll dare to agree, despite my almost idolatrous admiration for Joyce.

Kennedy's prose can't be encapsulated or described in any easy way, because it can be as terse and disconnected as the voices of his characters, or as milky and flowing as Melville's. His paragraphs sometimes trail off into an awesome kind of prose-poetry that I've never found anywhere else, and for me, this is the chief selling point. It's an awesome story, told well, written superbly, with all the symbolism and character painting one could want from a great novel, with powerful moral impact and emotional content. Still, the greatest element in the book is Kennedy's own voice, an authorial voice so powerful and unique that one cannot help but be constantly aware of it, yet one which is somehow never distracting for all that. And the crowning garnish is the lyrical prose-poetry, playing upon the use of musical lyrics and songs in the storyline, that Kennedy uses to polish a few of his paragraphs off, creating an impact that rivals the greatest of the greats, including the master Joyce.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Been a While

It's been a while since I've blogged, but I haven't run into much I felt worth blogging about. That is, until yesterday of course. The statement, "empty barrels make the most noise", wisely recalled from an Augustinian priest accurately depicts American society. It's America's ignorant who spend more time arguing topics of current affairs rather than learning about them. These same people will denounce beliefs of the Church, devalue Sacred Tradition, or even condemn the theory of God and Christianity as a whole. On a more influential scale they vote. They vote Terri Shiavo to starve to death, they vote pro-death, the ordination of women, embryonic stem cell research, or homosexual marriage. Better yet, these people vote for Logo, the new gay channel to premiere on cable television nation wide. Ever hear of the Golf channel; all golf all the time? Well welcome to the gay channel: all gay, ALL the time. This means another lesson of immorality, another representative of the unnatural law as natural will be viewed by the children of America. The same people denouncing the Church, questioning Sacred Tradition, rejecting the theory of Christ and demanding the same respect as an intellectual individual regarding moral issues and then preaching to others the rights and wrongs of the world today, especially to children, are the same people who go to psychics to get their palms read, the same people who see a penny faced down and refuse to pick it up. These same people are pro-death, but when it comes to the murder of a pregnant woman consider it double homicide. Last night a person in the book store struggled to understand my interest in theology and whispered to her friend with mannerisms reflecting how unimportant religion was to her also waited several hours for the new Harry Potter book to come out. I asked her if she was Christian and her response was, "No, I'm not Christian, but I am Catholic". My soul let out a loud sigh.

During a brief discussion with Father Pacholczyk, the Director of Education for the National Catholic Bioethics Center in Philadelphia, the topic of stem cell research arose. Father Pacholczyk is far from an empty barrel. His Ph.D in neuroscience was obtained from Yale University and preceded his studies at Harvard Medical School, later of which was followed by advanced studies in theology and in bioethics in Rome. Many may have seen him on television, as he has spoken on networks including EWTN, CSPAN, and MSNBC. He spoke about society's unending belief that embryonic stem cells can be used to save lives, when in actuality never has an experiment on healing a disease or damaged tissue been recorded successful. I'm curious to know how many of my fellow neighbors who openly disrespect those unsupportive of the rights to use stem cells from embryos for scientific purposes actually know the difference between an adult stem cell and an embryonic stem cell. Do they know that embryonic stem cells frequently cause tumors in an individual or are likely to be rejected by a person's body? Have these same people discovered success of adult stem cells or even know what are adult stem cells? So easily do the supporters of the immoral and ineffective destruction of embryos for what they believe saves lives brush aside those unsupportive as the conservative and overly religious population, when in actuality a small glance at mere natural law, undeniable and inarguable, will reject a pillar argument for them. We need not the words of Christ, or divine revelation but rather just the recorded scientific facts to understand that an embryo is a human being. An embryo is no more or less a human being than an 80 year old woman or a 15 year old boy. Christ didn't say that, a scientist did. Therefore, would these same people destroy the life of a 15 year old boy to increase the value of an 80 year old woman's life? One must not be affiliated with a religion to see the ramifications of embryonic stem cell research as immoral.

So why is it that these individuals are making the most noise? Perhaps it's merely because there are just more empty barrels than not, but everybody wants to have an opinion. An opinion is a dangerous thing, but an uneducated one attached to a voice is deadly. I myself try not to speak much on topics I don't know much about, or affairs I haven't researched. It simply exasperates me to see America or even the world corrode into a moral wasteland. I watch as Christ's body adamantly works towards destroying itself without understanding the consequences of their actions. My exasperation is matched by my sorrow as the innocent children unwise to the devil trustingly listen and follow these people. As Christ so wisely put it, "And if a blind man leads a blind man, both will fall into a pit." (Mt 15:15) My heart prays for the modern day Pharisee, as they lead our children into a pit. With the Apostles I ask Our Lord, "Who then can be saved?", and so lovingly and passionately He responds to my heart, "With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible." And so I trust my faith and I travel one Hail Mary at a time through a world infected with the cancer of immorality and stained by mortal sin. I watch as society volleys grave matters like a child with a ball. Well needless to say, I thank God many times over that these people aren't voting for Pope.

"Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do."

Tuesday, July 12, 2005


Despite what I said down below, I will be leaving tomorrow and will not return for at least a week. Sorry about the confusion. See everyone in a fortnight.

Jubilate Deo!

ZENIT has reported that Pope Benedict XVI is writing his first encyclical. There are no words to describe my excitement.

No Comment

I like Jeff Miller's caption:

"I know there's a tabernacle somewhere in this Cathedral."

Monday, July 11, 2005

Awesome Vocations Video

Nod to the Angry Twins, who posted a link to this AWESOME VIDEO apparently put out by the Archdiocese of New York, covering a Eucharistic procession through the streets of the city right around the time of our late Pope's death. The video is quite stirring, and although I found it perhaps a little overdone, I was quite moved. Hearing John Paul II's words again made me remember why I want to be a priest. Take five minutes to check it out. It's worth it.

And The Survey Says...

More Younger Children Are Having Sex (in South Africa).


As if abstinence and education initiatives needed a selling point over condoms plans, here are just some of the things this article had to say:
The study involved 269 905 pupils in Grades 6 to 11 in all language groups, across a range of schools and from all nine provinces.

One out of every three children is having sex at the age of 10, and 17 out of 100 will deliberately spread the virus if they know they are HIV-positive.

One in 10 said they believed sex with a virgin could cure HIV/Aids.

Two out of 10 pupils did not believe condoms prevented pregnancy or other sexually transmitted diseases. (Emphasis mine)
For the last time... pregnancy is NOT a sexually transmitted disease. No wonder people are confused about these issues when the media speaks like this.

The article also shows how generally unhealthy attitudes in South Africa have become regarding sexuality, manifested in rampant sexual abuse and rape problems and the mental harm stemming from these. It also did much to debunk a few theories commonly used to explain away these problems, pointing out that while many adult abusers were themselves abused, not so many as one may think of people who are abused grow up to be abusers. The analysis is that the culture fuels the problems, through media and weak schools, making sex too casual and misunderstood. The conclusion: "Education on sexuality, HIV and Aids, creating attitudes of empowerment and growth and developing a transformational mindset were the keys to moving forward."


Many of you in certain viewing areas may have seen a message about me going away.

This message was caused by an error and will not be repeated.

Conversation today went something like:

"This is your Uncle, $am."
"Yes, Uncle $am."
"You know all those plans you made?"
"Change them."
"To what?"
"I can't tell you. Stay in touch."
"What should I tell everyone?"
"Tell them the dolphins are squalling."
"But that doesn't make sense..."
"That's the language I speak, nephew."

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Random Thoughts and Miscellany

I finished Paul Elie's book, and I think my rating of 4 stars was a good prediction, because I wouldn't change it. Surprisingly, Elie didn't wash over the oddities of Thomas Merton like many who write about the man tend to do. It sounds odd, but the best section of the book took place after Flannery O'Connor died. The others followed in quick succession, and Elie's quick, matter-of-fact descriptions seemed to demystify all of what he had written earlier. But then he framed it nicely with an epilogue. I recommend the book highly to anyone interest in American literary Catholicity or in any of the lives of either Dorothy Day, Thomas Merton, Walker Percy or Flannery O'Connor.

I've given up on Salt of the Earth for a while. I can't seem to focus my mind on the subject matter. Maybe dealing so directly with such things for 9 months out of the year necessitates a break. Anyhow, I've updated my reading list to reflect the changes.

Something I meant to blog about over the past week, for which I never found the time, was this story about a Russian woman who is suing NASA for messing up her horoscope with its recent Deep Impact probe landing. What a psycho...

Also, if anyone has any information on good, scholarly books trying to make the case that William Shakespeare was a Catholic, please let me know.

Monday, July 04, 2005

Only Jesus Can Raise The Dead

My high school English teacher often laments when I come back to visit that, in the brief span between my time there and the current student population, "kids have changed." It's as though, in a matter of five years, a whole new generation and culture have come to the school, with a unique kind of problem that frustrates people like him, a veteran teacher, especially.

"Things were different with your class. You people actually seemed ready to do something," he'll say. "But these kids..." he goes on; "To any one of them you could say, 'Hey, kid, your ass is on fire!' and he'd just look at you and say, 'Oh?'"

Each time I go back to visit, we have the same conversation, and he gives the same vivid description. The old man will conclude by shaking his head, and muttering, "I just don't know..." And each time I leave, despite being much closer to these kids he describes in age and experience, facing the same futile perpexity, unable to do anything but shake my head and acknowledge that there's something about this that I just don't understand.

This past weekend, across the globe, 750,000 people packed public parks and arenas for a concert series that sought to increase "awareness" about the issue of poverty and societal decadence around the world. Putting aside Live8's agenda, which is suspect in itself for its promotion of condoms as an effective means to stem the spread of AIDS in Africa (a stupid suggestion if ever there was one), I can't help but wonder if the idea behind this event has any real merit. Raising awareness? As I sat on my couch on Saturday, complacently munching Doritos and flicking through the channels, I happened upon one of the concert perfomances. It was Pink Floyd, who I like very much, so I stayed for a while, still snacking away. Only, when the screen image changed to a slideshow of pictures of starving African children, I got a little uneasy and reached for the remote. I knew that, with the push of a button, all those troubles would seem to go away. And yet, the images and the realization of the stark contrast between mine and the lives of those depicted haunted me. Currently, I'm reading a book partly about Dorothy Day, who championed the cause of the poor throughout her saintly life. Daily, in recent issues of the ZENIT dispatch and VIS, I've read about the Vatican's concerns with the poverty and war ripping apart the African continent. As far as Catholics go, I believe that I'm at least on par with the average level of awareness in regard to these issues. Yet I couldn't help but be unsettled by the experience this weekend, when, all of a sudden, I found myself urged to casually change the channel so as not to detract from my experience of American apathy, a poster child for the generation my English teacher so often decries.

I like to think I'm not a typical member of my generation. By no means do I do all that I can in order to stem poverty and promote the greater good, but I honestly do try. I am at least aware of my insufficencies and failures in charity, and I try to live a Christian ethic in this regard. I don't mean to be judgemental, but it seems that few others in my generation aspire to do likewise. I grew disheartened and cynical when I heard some celebrities this weekend hailing the Live8 event as this generation's march from Birmingham to Selma, or the Million Man March. As they panned the images of the crowd at the concerts, I couldn't help but scoff. The emblematic figure of the flower-power era, a college age ivy-leaguer with long hair holding burning draft card aloft, was nowhere to be found. In an odd juxtaposition, I saw the faces of frat boys, who, on any other weekend, could probably be seen holding a funnel aloft, overflowing with beer. This is not to say that I, a volunteer enlistedman in the Air National Guard, support the action of the aformentioned figure. But I notice a great incongruity between him and the latter, an inconsistency summed up in one word: apathy.

T.S. Eliot, in The Hollow Men said that "This is the way the world ends/Not with a bang, but a whimper." I feel sometimes as though whimpering is all my generation is capable of doing. The social uproar and heated activism that peaked during the leadup to the Iraq War, or during the recent election year, seemed more like the whinings of children than the powerful voices of people like Malcolm X, Bob Dylan, and Lenny Bruce. It seemed like... well, it seemed like the youth of our nation had heard that "their ass is on fire" and could only eek out the weak reply: "Oh?"

I don't know the answer. But I feel that this, like all things, has implications and answers to be found in religion. It's as though the spirit of young Americans from the past has dies, and remains latent in the apathetic Generation Next-ers of today. It's not a matter of simply "waking up" the youth of our nation, either by Rocking the Vote or the use of any other gimic. It's a question of revitalizing that spirit that has for so long been a wellspring for creative solution and radical change in our great country. Raising the dead, bringing that which is lifeless back to the world of the living - we all know Who alone can do such things. I pray that the Church, under the leadership of Benedict XVI, will bring to my generation the life-giving and timeless wisdom that the Saints have taught through the ages, the Truth that is Christ. Only with this Truth - only with a foundation in the natural and moral law, and burning hearts for true justice and peace - will the whimpers of apathy gain wind and become as one a great cry of revolution. Only then will the voice of my generation finally be heard, and be fit to echo through the great halls built by the great generations of our past.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Love and Humility on a Small Scale

A priest began his homily with an allegory of a man at a podium. The man is standing in front of 200 people at a conference holding a 50 dollar bill and asks the crowd who wants the bill. After everyone raises his/her hand, he crumbles the bill up and asks again who still wants it. After seeing a sea of hands still raised in the air, he throws the crumpled bill to the floor, steps on it, and proceeds to grind it into the dirt. The speaker asks the question a final time, who still wants the bill? All 200 people keep their hands in the air. The point of the story is to show despite the damage, the bill maintains its original worth. And though we may be beat up in life, crumbled by our own inequities, stepped on by our failures and grinded into the dirt, to God, we hold the same worth as the day He made us. Sometimes as finite beings we lose sight of this. Too often we don't feel forgiven, and we don't trust in Christ's infinite mercy. How could God love such an ugly being as myself? A deep sinner I am, and too many nights has He seen the cold side of my shoulder. I am unworthy of his mercy and therefore do not merit it. True, you are unworthy, but mercy is not deserved, it is a grace given to those unbefitting of God's forgiveness.

But to reject God's mercy is a sin in itself; it isn't humility we exemplify, but rather it is pride we embody. These feelings lead a spirit to despair, as Judas has so sinfully done, resulting in the belief that there exists a sin too great for the mercy of God. To follow this thought is then to limit God's mercy, to put a cap on the love of Jesus Christ. And to this Jesus says, "Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me; for you are not on the side of God, but of men." (Mathew 16:23) When we enter into Reconciliation our sins are wiped from the memory of God, and only the wounds in our soul remain. It is here that we ask for God's grace to fill these holes, that we may be raised from our filth and we may still bear good fruit. As difficult as it may be sometimes we must accept God's love. We must accept the possibility that a being blanketed in purity wishes to cleanse us so we too may eat at His table. It seems so obvious an ideal, yet so often this false modesty separates us from God. Look at it this way: He didn't come down and die so that He may send you to Hell. I know it seems so elementary, I've just seen so many souls recognize this fault intellectually, but weak before the temptations of evil they succumb to the threat of despair.

Friday, July 01, 2005

Knowing Now What I Thought I Knew Then

I wrote the following article for the July edition of our Diocesan newspaper. I wanted to wait to post it on here until after the publication of the issue. The paper came out today, so here it is:
"I wasn't a bit surprised," said one friend of the family. "I always knew," said another. I had looked for people to be astonished by my announcement that I was entering the seminary; instead, I was the astonished one. The sequence of events had been dramatic enough. After three weeks of college, I'd unexpectedly dropped out. Then, after telling a handful of close acquaintances my intention, I left a few weeks later to serve in the Persian Gulf with the National Guard. I knew rumors would circulate. I imagined that when I got back in a couple of months, my inbox would be crammed with questions, people wondering whether what they had heard was true, or wanting to know why the decision had come so suddenly. But the reactions I received flabbergasted me. Annoyingly, no one seemed a bit surprised.

I've often joked that I seem to have been the last person to know about my vocation, and, like any good joke, this one has more than a bit of truth behind it. Teachers, family, and friends all seemed to think long before I did that the seminary was the right place for me. "I just wish someone had told me," I sometimes quip when telling my vocation story to students in schools around the Diocese; but again, there is much truth to this statement.

The invitation to a young man to consider a calling to the priesthood is a powerful and missing piece to the puzzle of priestly vocation shortages. Often enough while I was growing up, I would write off the idea of the priesthood with the excuse that "I wasn't that type of person." In fact, I knew nothing at all of what was "that type of person." That priests were real people like me, with friends and families of their own - with interests, hobbies, human frailties and quirks - never occurred to me. In a kind of naïve arrogance, I held such things as a girlfriend or my own ambitions to be incontrovertible proof that I was called to a different life. In a sense, I put myself "off limits" to God, limiting His will by the rules and standards that made sense to me. After all, I knew myself - and I was not the priestly type.

To "know oneself" is the lofty and ancient philosophical ideal which constituted a life's work for such great men as Plato, Aristotle, St. Thomas Aquinas and Soren Kierkegaard. I would have been uncommonly bright to have had this mystery figured out at the age of eighteen. In truth, I knew little of myself, and depended as much on the advice, opinions, and observations of others as did the next impressionable teenager. Just as I sought affirmation from family and friends of things like my rugged handsomeness and clever wit, it also mattered greatly to me that they gave credence to my alibis for denying a priestly vocation - that this girl might be "the one," or that I would clearly make a fabulous English teacher one day. And I received all of these affirmations, despite being not nearly so handsome as I surmised, less witty than I would like, and called to seek fulfillment on a path quite different than the married life of an English professor.

Those who knew me better than I knew myself eventually helped me take the first step in pursuit of a priestly life. For one reason or another, I had begun doubting that a career as an English teacher and part-time Airman could make me happy, and the slump in my romantic life did little to reassure me. I decided to confide these feelings to the people closest to me, hoping I would receive the type of support I sought: to be told that these doubts were irrational, a passing phase. Of course I was meant to be a teacher. What else could there be? Well, there was this... "I think God might be calling me to the priesthood," I mused, bracing myself for the laughter. But the laughter never came. Instead, quiet support that this new idea might be the right one. And not every reaction I received was a joyful one. Some people seemed downright disappointed. Yet, they were never incredulous. Even if they hated the idea, they did not seem to doubt that it could be right.

I cannot regret that my decision to enter the seminary came later than for some people. God has led my life on a unique path, and I am grateful for each and every unexpected turn around which I have careened. However, I do take my own story as a lesson. Throughout much of my life, I carried an answer in my heart to a question that was never asked; I awaited an invitation that seemed lost in the mail. When I meet young men with doubts about their futures, I boldly suggest considering a vocation to the priesthood. Whether or not it is something that they want to hear, it might be something that God wants them to hear. Perhaps they are tottering on the same doubtful ledge where I sat so long, and all they need is a push. Perhaps they have figured that they "know themselves," and God wants to challenge that assumption. That I might be the means through which God does this work is a humbling reality that newly surprises me each day. The Holy Spirit operates simply enough. All it takes is an invitation - an invitation to a young man to consider that God, who knows each of us best, might help him to better know himself.