Saturday, May 15, 2004

Surprised by Joy 

I finished C.S. Lewis' "Suprised by Joy" last night. I had wished for more on the Christian end of things but I am also reading his "Mere Christianity" which has all I wished for.

In particular, in the Forward of "Mere Christianity" Lewis writes of Christianity being like a great hall. Once you accept that God exists and the Jesus is His only son, you've entered the great hall. All along the hall are doors leading to all manner of differing offshoots of Christianity: Methodist, Catholic East and West, the Church of England, etc. Lewis writes,

above all, you must be seeking which door is the true one, not which pleases you best by its paint and panelling. In plain language, the question should never be: 'Do I like that kind of service?' but 'Are these doctrines true: Is holiness here? Does my conscience move me towards this? Is my reluctance to knock at this door due to my pride, or my mere taste, or my personal dislike of this particular door-keeper?'

When you have reached your own room, be kind to those who have chosen different doors and to those who are still in the hall. If they are wrong they need your prayers all the more: and if they are your enemies, then you are under orders to pray for them. That is one of the rules common to the whole house.

That hit home for me, as I've been rather tough on my previous room, the Methodist Room. It was one of my original goals that my Methodists friends, encountering this web log, might follow; or at least understand. I need to be more true to that goal. In "Surprised by Joy" Lewis found himself converted to Christianity by the knowledge of intelligent people around him, and the authors he read, being openly and proudly Christian. No one pulled him into the hall, he was pushed by his own knowledge and experiences. That should be the tack we all take, yes?

Who is our C.S. Lewis today? With homosexuality and politics and scandal tearing so many churches apart, who is the modern Christian writer trying to make sense of, not Catholic or Protestant direction, but Christian direction?

I haven't hardly begun studying the lives of the saints, but I was very interested in reading about Gianna Beretta Molla who Pope John Paul II will formally name a saint on May 16th. She died in 1962 due to complications in the birth of her forth child. The article I read said that the doctors wanted her to save her own life through abortion, but she let her baby live instead.

I didn't realize that lay people, and such recent lay people, could be in line to be saints. Her family must be, what would be a good word, thrilled, amazed, joyous, lucky, deeply satisfied? To have their own mother as a saint. Here is a little interview concerning lay saints.

Friday, May 14, 2004

The One True King 

I pledge allegiance to the flag and that evokes a certain state of mind, a respect for what America stands for and has stood for over the past couple hundred years, a pride in my father’s service, an admiration in my ancestors’ hard work in taming the land, a personal commitment to do what I think best for the country and a conviction that America is the best place in the world to raise my children. This is not a post about the Pledge of Allegiance. Despite my oath of fealty, I know American can be wrong, can go down ridiculously stupid paths, can be downright evil. This is not a post about Abu Ghraib prison, or about the War in Iraq, or about any other of the reasons some give to hate America. Even though my allegiance is with America, I am not blind to my personal responsibility to do right no matter the direction my country gives or goes.

Do you remember when Robin Hood first encounters Little John? They fight over a brook with staffs each beating the other severely, but Little John (who is actually John Little) ends up knocking Robin into the river. Afterward, Robin asks Little John to join him and his men. Little John swears his allegiance to Robin Hood and the Merry Men. But this is not a post about Robin Hood.

Lancelot was invincible and yet he swore an oath of fealty to the One True King, Arthur. Superman, in the comics, has the power to destroy, or rule the world, but he serves instead. But this isn’t a post about Sir Lancelot or about Superman. This is a post about my next RCIA question: Who is Jesus for you?

No, I am not saying that Jesus is like Robin Hood, or Lancelot, or Superman, or America. As an American, I have to go back many generations before any of my ancestors would have bowed down before royalty, it's just not in my blood anymore. As a person, I have never been one who follows but usually go my own way. Making close friends of people I meet is more the exception than the rule. I’m not one who shares troubles easily. When I think of Jesus I think of someone who had the power to rule but instead served. I watched a little of “The Agony and the Ecstasy” last night about Michelangelo painting the Sistine Chapel. The Pope was portrayed as a pompous ass, going about with people tossing coins in his wake, people feared him and made fun of him behind his back. Who could ever imagine Jesus putting on airs or posturing in any way. When I think of my relationship with Jesus, I think of Little John and Lancelot, swearing fealty to someone they could defeat because that someone had Right on his side. We, each of us, can easily defeat Jesus. It is a simple choice to make. Just choose not to believe and he is defeated, by you. But here I am, on one knee, my sword thrust in the ground, saying, “I am yours.” When I think of Jesus, I think of all my ancestors who put their lives in his hands, of all the brilliant, powerful, and saintly people who have gone before me who believed. I think of my children and the generations to come and how they will look upon my life and my faith, and how I want to blaze a trail for them to follow. Unlike anything Man can ever be, Jesus has no wrong in him, he goes down no wrong paths and evil has no dominion in his heart. I can swear blind fealty to this Lord. I can follow him. I can tell him anything and it changes him not at all. He is the perfect country in which to live, he is the perfect Lord to serve, he is the perfect friend to trust, the One True King to follow.

Thursday, May 13, 2004

Alone and lost I only seek
a selfsame soul to mine,
who might in darkness like to speak
of God as much as I.

I spoke earlier about asking God for "Time." In "Surprised by Joy," C.S. Lewis also speaks about "Space." He writes of his nightly walks and the details of the ground he covered, the amazing minutia of the natural world, the sky, the changing seasons, the animals and the people. We miss so much of this by traveling interstates and highways to get where we're going. My grandparents used to tell me about all-day trips to visit relatives who lived 10 or 12 miles away. Morning chores, two or three hours travel by buggy, a visit, and two or three hours more to get back by nightfall. Blessedly, I was raised in the country, outside the limits of any city, however small, and I'm well acquainted with the earth and sky. My children, however, no matter how long the nature walks I took/take them on, don't know "Space" as I do.

I've now grumbled about both Time and Space (which make up the entire natural universe) and how modern lives destroy them. Since nothing remains but Heaven and Hell, I'll quit my grumbling now in the knowledge that both Time and Space remain, available, to me and to anyone, for the asking.

I had not been allowed to deflower the very idea of distance; in return I possessed "infinite riches" in what would have been to motorists "a little room." The truest and most horrible claim made for modern transport is that it "annihilates space." It does. It annihilates one of the most glorious gifts we have been given. It is a vile inflation which lowers the value of distance, so that a modern boy travels a hundred miles with less sense of liberation and pilgrimage and adventure than his grandfather got from traveling ten.
-- C.S. Lewis "Surprised by Joy"

Productive Prayer 

I can hardly regret having escaped the appalling waste of time and spirit which would have been involved in reading the war news or taking more than an artificial and formal part in conversations about the war. To read without military knowledge or good maps accounts of fighting which were distorted before they reached the Divisional general and further distorted before they left him and then "written up" out of all recognition by journalists, to strive to master what will be contradicted the next day, to fear and hope intensely on shaky evidence, is surely an ill use of the mind. Even in peacetime I think those are very wrong who say that schoolboys should be encouraged to read the newspapers. Nearly all that a boy reads there in his teens will be known before he is twenty to have been false in emphasis and interpretation, if not in fact as well, and most of it will have lost all importance. Most of what he remembers he will therefore have to unlearn; and he will probably have acquired an incurable taste for vulgarity and sensationalism and the fatal habit of fluttering from paragraph to paragraph to learn how an actress has been divorced in California, a train derailed in France, and quadruplets born in New Zealand.
-- C.S. Lewis writing about WW I news around 1916, from "Surprised by Joy"

I feel I must take this to heart. I am often captured by the war news (which is almost always wrong, as Lewis says) and it is even worse today with sites like Drudge and Lucianne which don't limit us to one or two editions a day, but continually, 24/7, allow us to learn what can't be proven to be completely true. How much more time would we have today to expand our minds and souls if we could free ourselves from the news and television.

One of the questions we have to answer for RCIA is, What growth have you seen in your faith since you started coming to RCIA or simply during this past year as you've made the decision to consider joining the Catholic Faith? I must say, I have a better understanding of the Bible through reading the Catechism. Methodism seems to have ripped the Bible up from its moorings in real life and has left it to float on nothingness. I find, thus, that now Prayer is more meaningful, more productive. I find I'm better able to resist temptation, avoid sin and strife. I find I'm better connected to my faith since I was in such disagreement with the direction of Methodism before coming to the Catholic Church.

So, here's the thing. I find, now, that if I pray for something--something like strength to resist the donut shop on the way to work, or peace of mind at a busy time--if I pray for something that I know, deep down, I have control over, that prayer is answered (can I thus assume the prayers toward things I have no control over might be answered as well?). Before, when I was a Methodist, I didn't feel the same productivity in prayer. Thus, I haven't said a prayer for strength to avoid watching and reading the news... yet... because I know, I deep down know, that prayer would be answered. I just don't feel ready to ask for that change, the changes in my life and my attitudes are coming rapidly and all for the better.

Soon. Soon I will ask for Time and God will give it to me.

Wednesday, May 12, 2004

I found this letter from a soldier in Iraq over on Amy Ridenaur's National Center Blog by way of Glenn Reynolds Instapundit. The letter is such a wonderful thing to read. You should really read the whole thing if you are worried about what's going on in Iraq with Sadr. Like Reynolds, I won't excerpt it in the hopes that more people will read the whole thing, which describes how well we understood the threat Sadr posed and how well our military has planned and performed.

Mark Shea's web site (see the link on the left column) had a nice discussion yesterday about books to read to be converted. I thought I'd grab some of them and make a summer reading list:

The Discarded Image
C.S. Lewis

Fundamentals of Faith
Making Sense of Suffering
Catholic Christianity: A Complete Catechism of Catholic Beliefs
A Summa of the Summa
Peter Kreeft

Quo Vadis
Henryk Sienkiewicz

The Story of a Soul
St. Therese of Lisieux

The Seven Story Mountain
Thomas Merton

Everlasting Man
Biography of St. Francis
Saint Thomas Aquinas: The Dumb Ox
GK Chesterton

Edmund Campion: Scholar, Priest, Hero and Martyr
Evelyn Waugh

Summa Theologica
Aquinas's Shorter Summa
St. Thomas Aquinas

Augustine of Hippo
Peter Brown

The Power and the Glory
Graham Greene

Well, of course I won't get to them all, but at least now I have a list. In particular, I don't believe I'm ready for St. Thomas Aquinas' "Summa Theologica" in a five volume set quite yet :)

Update note: I've left out C.S. Lewis' "The Screwtape Letters," "Mere Christianity," and "Suprised by Joy" since I'm already reading them. I left out "The Belief of Catholics" by Ronald Knox because I've read it and also "The Essential Catholic Catechism" by Alan Schreck.

"There is no God," the foolish saith,
But none "There is no sorrow,"
And nature oft the cry of faith
In bitter need will borrow:
Eyes, which the preacher could not school,
By wayside graves are raised,
And lips say, "God be pitiful,"
Who ne'er said, "God be praised."

-- Elizabeth Barrett Browning

At my pre-catechumenate RCIA meeting last night, discussion tended toward death. We were asked, "Who is your favorite saint, or person who has gone one before you." Some spoke of friends and relatives they had recently, and some not so recently, watched pass on into death. We spoke of keeping something from those people, a cross, a quilt, a ring, a medal etc. and how it's interesting that Catholic church alters have keepsakes from saints. Another question was, "Name your most influential Catholic." We spoke of the long term Pope John Paul II has had and how is has influenced the World, we spoke of parents and in-laws and friends, aunts and uncles, writers and saints. I feel that to go into too many details about the answers others gave would violate what is rather private. I haven't studied enough of the saints to pick my favorite, but I enjoy reading about Mary Magdelene and Brigid of Ireland, who is a patron saint of poetry.

For homework, we are to read John 15:5-17 and then answer questions, like, "How and when do you pray?" "Who is Jesus for you?" "What do you want from God at this point in your faith journey?" "What do you want from the Church?" We'll bring back our answers in a couple of weeks and then decide whether to go on, go through the Rite of Acceptance. Those who go on, and of course I plan to, will be assigned a sponsor, someone already established at the church, who will go through the RCIA process with me.

This part, the sponsor part, is hard for me since I know next to no one at my church. I feel rather like the smallest boy on the playground, hoping I'm not picked last or not at all, however silly that sounds.

Tuesday, May 11, 2004

Did you ever see the image of the Blessed Mother on the windows in Clearwater, FL before the windows were smashed out? Well, they finally caught the kid who did it.

I wrote a poem long ago in which Vladimir Zworykin was the last great god of Greece. He lived on Mount Olympus long past the departure of Zeus and the other gods. His purpose was revenge and retribution against Man for discarding the old gods.

Zworykin, if you don't recognize the name, invented the kinescope, the cathode-ray tube... the picture part of television. Philo Farnsworth also invented the technology, perhaps even earlier... but I ask you, whoever heard of a greek god named Philo? Anyway, I'm reading "Surprised by Joy" by C.S. Lewis which Lewis wrote to trace his path from a child, through atheism and back to Christianity. I heard from a reader (thank you) that Lewis never became a Catholic although he seemed to clearly accept as true nearly everything Catholics accept.

I am at once jealous and horrified at Lewis' education. Horrified because he and his brother were alone much of their early lives and left to their imagination and each other. They were also shipped off to boarding schools, one of which was run by what can only be described as a mad man. Jealous because Lewis was so well read and so well taught... one can hardly compare his education with what passes for education today. As a child, he read books and authors like Ben Hur, Quo Vadis, Darkness and Dawn, the Gladiators, H.G. Wells, Sohrah and Rustum, Tamburlaine, Paracelsus and on and on. But too, he read them without the curse of having seen the movies on television, Zworykin's revenge. So much brighter must those stories like "Ben Hur" and "The Gladiators" read when your mind is young and uncorrupted with Charlton Heston or Russell Crowe.

All this comes to mind because I'm reading C.S. Lewis and because I watched "A Wrinkle in Time," Madeline L'Engle's classic young adult story, on TV last night. Because I have read the book so many times (even reading it to my own children as a bedtime story), I could only be disappointed. There is no way the glory of Mrs. Whatsit as a star or a winged Centaur in the imagination of a child can be filmed. There is no way the image in one's mind of Big Sister, Meg, in the center of universal darkness shouting out, "I love you Charles Wallace, I love you," can be realized... just as there is no way to portray the big-E Evil cloud that stalks the Earth with the horror a 3rd or 4th grader can instill within it.

Mel Gibson did one great job directing and filming "The Passion of the Christ," but how lame must that movie be, in the end, in the mind of one who has never read the the Bible compared to those who have? How much richer would Gibson's "The Passion" be if we had all studied the classic pieces of art he used to block his scenes? How close are we to that final revenge of the greek gods against humanity when we and our children watch life portrayed for hours and hours a day instead of living it, when we have books imagined for us instead of reading, when it starts becoming difficult to tell the difference between the news and fiction.

It isn't too late, at any stage in your life, to start. It's not too late to fight back against that Evil cloud. Read. Turn off the TV. Listen to the rain and read.

Monday, May 10, 2004

I'm reading "Surprised by Joy" by C.S. Lewis which is about his journey to the Catholic Church. Lewis has an author's mind and seems to remember his youth very, very well. He looks back on events, like his mother's death when he was only seven, and is able to see the events of his life shaping his future. If only we all had such insight into ourselves... what a different world it would be. He says, for example, about some very hard times he want through when he was very young,

In all seriousness I think that the life of faith is easier to me because of these memories. To think, in sunny and confident times, that I shall die and rot, or to think that one day all this universe will slip away and become memory (as did the terrible things that happened to him) --this is easier to us if we have seen just that sort of thing happening before. We have learned not to take the present things at their face value.

I'm also reading Lewis' "Screwtape Letters" and "Mere Christianity" now, too. I tend to have a book for free time at work, a book by my chair in the evening, and a book for reading in the night.

Speaking of reading, I posted a note on The Summa Momma's web site (which is a wonderful place, by the way) about Philip Pullman's "His Dark Materials" trilogy. It's a series of children's books that I like very much. The Mommas pointed me toward several review of these books that make it clear how much Pullman really hates the Catholic Church. What I took to be very inventive alternate worlds and young children fighting for truth with great courage, Pullman really means (made clear in the reviews) as diatribes against the Church. It's interesting that Pullman, losing his Father at an early age has taken away from that pain a hate for Christianity, while Lewis, loosing his Mother at nearly the same age, finally turned his childhood loss into a love for the Church.

So I'll be rereading some Pullman with a new eye soon.

I have four children. Three are in their late teens, in late high school or college. My five-year-old is the only child I have ever enrolled in a parochial school. I made this decision because the public schools are no longer merely neutral regarding religion, as they seemed to be when my older kids were in school. Now the public schools in America are actively stamping out religion.

For the first two centuries of American history, it was taken for granted that education included not only reading, 'riting, and 'rithmetic, but religion as well. That changed in the 19th century, however, and by the late 1800s, the burgeoning "common school" system was resolutely secular.

Nonetheless, many schools continued to affirm the importance of God and religion in American life. Well into the 20th century, for example, daily prayer and Bible reading were a familiar part of the public-education experience, and students sang Christmas carols in annual school pageants.

No more. Government schools today routinely suppress any trace of religious influence. Not only do teachers no longer lead their classes in group prayer, students have been reprimanded for uttering private prayer, such as grace before meals. Public schools have barred children from reading Bible stories during their free time or giving bags of jelly beans with a religious poem attached to their classmates before Easter. In a case now being litigated in Virginia, school officials want to ban a graduating senior from singing Celine Dion's "The Prayer" during commencement ceremonies because the song asks God to "help us to be wise in times when we don't know."

Sunday, May 09, 2004

Mothers' Day Sermons 

Mothers' Day Sermons

At my brother's church today, the sermon was about a woman. She put things off that she always wanted to do. She was always busy with something else, work or family or friends, etc. Something else always took precedence over her desires. And then she died, died rather young, and she never did those things. Hearing about it reminded me of "It's a Wonderful Life" if you remember that movie. Remember how Jimmy Stewart always put off his own wants for someone else's needs. The sermon was like that. The minister spoke eloquently about how this woman never stopped to smell the roses, never experienced those things she really wanted to experience and how sad that is. He said everyone should take the opportunities that pass their way in life and live to the fullest. No one, he said, is going to look back at the end of their life and remember the work, the long days at the office, the beautiful lawn landscaping, etc. It really touched a lot of the congregation.

Now. My church. Father spoke of all that women have gained over the last thirty years of the feminist movement. Now, on Mothers' Day, women can think back to the children then never had and the children they chose to kill before birth. Now, these women who have power, these women who are fully equal to men, can watch the Academy Awards or the Grammies or name your own award show and they can see men, dressed to the nines in Tuxedos, fully respected... and they can see their women peers dressed in barely anything at all, dressed like women of the street, as if they are to be respected for the beauty of their skin and not at all for their actual work. Is this the equality women sought and say they have? Father went on, he spoke of the pornography industry and how the women's movement has never sought to make that industry illegal. Women don't march on Washington to seek laws against the degradation and humiliation of women, no, women march in the streets of Washington to make sure it remains legal to kill the very reason for Mother's Day. It is beyond reason.

And there you have it. This is the difference between the direction of the Catholic Church and the direction of so many other Christian Churches. In my brother's church, the minister brought many people to tears by telling them exactly, exactly what they want to hear: Go out now and do what you want! Don't let your responsibilities and your fears and your worries govern your life. Go! Go smell the roses. And in my new church, the priest says, look, look at the world we live in where women kill their own babies, where men ogle women and treat them like objects not at all respecting them as people or equals. You need to take action, you need to take responsibility in your own life and in your own family to stop these things that are corrupting the world around you. So many people are out smelling the roses, there's no one left to plant them. There's a garden to be tended out there, weeds to be pulled, earth to be moved, water to be poured, seeds to be planted... there are roses to be grown and who is there but each of you to grow them?

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?

powered by FreeFind