Wednesday, August 19, 2015

The Truth of Real Things

Anyone who has spent any amount of time talking to me knows that politics is not my arena. I have spoken at length about how I believe that politics in our country is completely bankrupt, and that we could be spending our time and efforts in better ways. Then a few months ago after I had spent the preceding evening waxing eloquent on this topic, I woke up and found that Pope Francis had said that we had to be involved in politics. "Do I as a Catholic watch from my balcony?" he asked, "No, you can't watch from the balcony. Get right in there!"

Well, I still believe that I, personally, am not called to be in the middle of the fray--whatever gifts I have do not lie in that direction--and I still believe that Christians are rapidly losing the ability to be heard in the public square. However, I do try to at least seriously consider what the Holy Father says, and I thought that what I might be able to do is to write occasionally about some of the things we have to keep in mind when we engage in the political realm. This is my first attempt to do so.

While reading Josef Pieper (heavily informed by Thomas Aquinas) on the virtue of prudence, I came across this passage.
There can be false and crooked ways leading even to right goals. The meaning of the virtue of prudence, however, is primarily this: that not only the end of human action but also the means for its realization shall be in keeping with the truth of real things. This in turn necessitates that the egocentric "interests" of man be silenced in order that he may perceive the truth of real things, and so that reality itself may guide him to the proper means for realizing his goal. On the other hand, the meaning, or rather the folly, of cunning consists in this: that the loquacious and therefore unhearing bias of the "tactician" (only he who is silent can hear) obstructs the path of realization, blocks it off from the truth of real things. "Nor should a good end be pursued by means that are false and counterfeit but by such as are true," says Thomas.
Prudence, seeing "the truth of real things," informs all good actions. If we want to reach a good political outcome, we have to be good all the way. We can't overlook the truth in our opponents' arguments, or fudge the truth in any way in our own arguments. It is so tempting to do either of these things in a good cause, but doing so undermines our efforts.

Unfortunately, when I read many Catholic and other Christians commentators or bloggers, or just people commenting on articles or on Facebook, I come across a kind of manipulation of the facts. Sometimes it's a subtle bending of the truth, or a repetition of something that was originally read out of context. I'm not talking about political pundits or spin artists, I'm talking about sincere Christians who are trying to defend the culture or the Faith, but who slip into the folly of cunning and inadvertently cut themselves off from the truth of real things.

In his letter to the Philippians, St. Paul admonishes us to, " blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine like lights in the world." If we are going to do this, we must first of all be quiet and listen to what is really being said. As the above quotes says, "only he who is silent can hear." We have to do some research to see if the information we are passing along is true and presented in the proper context. We must silence our egocentric interests. And then, having discovered as best we can the truth of real things, we speak, not to destroy our opponent, but to illuminate him for the good of his soul.
If we do otherwise, if we bend the truth, subtly alter the facts, suppress knowledge that seems to weaken our argument, we may win the day, but it will be a Pyrrhic victory because we will have destroyed our souls.

UPDATE: This by Stephen Greydanus is about exactly the sort of thing I'm talking about.

And this is wonderful--long but worth it and also touches on some of the things I'm trying to say. 
"The world is waiting for those who love it. If you don’t love men. Don’t preach to them." Fr. Vincent McNabb


Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Over the Bent World.

The children ate their biscuits and drank their milk and the stormcock sang, and Mary thought, "I will remember about this rainbow place. When my own particular experience seems dark and hard I'll remember that it's really a shining thing holding like a flower to the branches of the tree, and that I travel in it, like Cinderella in her coach, to the ending of the days. And up above me in the tree the Seraph sings, and sometimes he sings peace for us and sometimes courage, praise, truth, love, death, but he is always the same Seraph. Who is he? On Mount Alverno St. Francis saw a great crucified Seraph above him, filling the heavens. I'll remember.                                                                                                  The Rosemary Tree, Elizabeth Goudge 


Monday, July 6, 2015

I Want Him to Be in Heaven With Me

Alessandro Serenelli
It is almost impossible to find a picture of St. Maria Gorretti that isn't sappy, so instead I've chosen one of her murderer. This is Alessandro Serenelli, who, at the age of 19 in an attempt to rape the eleven year old Maria, stabbed her 14 times. As he was stabbing her she cried, "No. It is a sin. God forbids it! You will go to hell!" She seems to have been more concerned about his ultimate fate than her danger. Later when she was dying, and was asked if she forgave him she said, "Yes! Yes! For the love of Jesus, I forgive him, and I want him to be with me one day in heaven!" Years later, she appeared to him in his cell; he was converted, and went on to live an exemplary Christian life. I seem to remember that there has been talk of his canonization. You can read more here.

The reason that I wanted to write this today is because of the SCOTUS decision. I've been pretty quiet about it because I don't think I have much to say that I think is helpful. Then, when I noticed that is was the feast of St. Maria Goretti today, I started thinking about her focus on the one important thing. 

I wish that there were some way to let people know that the reason that we oppose this decision is not because we hate, or are afraid, but because we want them all to be in Heaven with us. I surely do not know how to accomplish this. I may have some work to do on myself before I can say that honestly, but it's necessary work. It's hard, sometimes, to keep from looking at how things affect me, rather than what I'm being asked to do. I only hope that whenever I find myself face-to-face with someone who disagrees with me about the decision, I can look at them and think how much I really want that person to be in Heaven with me.


Saturday, July 4, 2015

Nothing Like Us Ever Was

Four Preludes on Playthings of the Wind
Carl Sandburg 

The past is a bucket of ashes. 


 The woman named Tomorrow
 sits with a hairpin in her teeth
 and takes her time
 and does her hair the way she wants it
 and fastens at last the last braid and coil
 and puts the hairpin where it belongs
 and turns and drawls: Well, what of it?
 My grandmother, Yesterday, is gone.
 What of it? Let the dead be dead.


 The doors were cedar
 and the panels strips of gold
 and the girls were golden girls
 and the panels read and the girls chanted:
  We are the greatest city,
  the greatest nation:
  nothing like us ever was.

 The doors are twisted on broken hinges.
 Sheets of rain swish through on the wind
 where the golden girls ran and the panels read:
  We are the greatest city,
  the greatest nation,
  nothing like us ever was.


 It has happened before.
 Strong men put up a city and got
  a nation together,
And paid singers to sing and women
 to warble: We are the greatest city,
   the greatest nation,
   nothing like us ever was.

 And while the singers sang
and the strong men listened
and paid the singers well
and felt good about it all,
 there were rats and lizards who listened
  … and the only listeners left now
  … are … the rats … and the lizards.

 And there are black crows
 crying, “Caw, caw,"
 bringing mud and
sticks building a
nest over the words
carved on the doors where the panels were cedar
and the strips on the panels were gold
and the golden girls came singing:
 We are the greatest city,
 the greatest nation:
 nothing like us ever was.

The only singers now are crows crying, “Caw, caw,"
And the sheets of rain whine in the wind and doorways.
And the only listeners now are … the rats … and the lizards.

The feet of the rats
scribble on the door sills;
the hieroglyphs of the rat footprints
chatter the pedigrees of the rats
and babble of the blood
and gabble of the breed
of the grandfathers and the great-grandfathers
of the rats.

And the wind shifts
and the dust on a door sill shifts
and even the writing of the rat footprints
tells us nothing, nothing at all
about the greatest city, the greatest nation
where the strong men listened
and the women warbled: Nothing like us ever was.

Monday, June 22, 2015


That's me on the right with the pained expression.
I love singing in a good choir. To me it's like a taste of heaven. It has been at least 13 1/2 years, and probably more since I've been in a choir with lots of people who can read music better than I can, and lots of complicated harmonies to learn, so I thought this would be the perfect time to join a choir a month before we were scheduled to sing at an ordination and a first Mass--and a week of that month I was out of town. 

I knew it would take some time to get back into the swing of things--not that we swing too much--but it has been even harder than I thought. So, I had been so focused on hitting the right notes, and figuring out which stave I was supposed to be singing from, and not pronouncing my r's, that on Saturday, the day of the ordination, I wasn't even thinking about what we were singing. I wasn't thinking about the significance of the ceremony. I had no integrated notion of the meaning of the lyrics; it was just a string of words and notes that went together. This was the case throughout the first part of the Mass.

And then I looked down at the altar and the Bishop was laying hands on the two ordinands, and it finally hit me what was going on. Those young men down there were changing. I can't imagine what they were feeling. A minute before they had been deacons, yes, but they didn't have any real power. Now they could with certainty call down God from heaven and feed Him to people--to me. No king or politcal leader has ever had power like this (unless he was also a priest). And no matter what they do for the rest of their lives, they will never lose this power. 

After the Bishop laid his hands on the men, we sang while all their brother priests laid hands on them. We sang, "You are a priest forever in the line of Melchizedek," and I knew what those words meant. Forever. Not, "Till death do us part," but forever. 

Later in the ceremony, the new priests lay hands on the Bishop and bless him. What must that be like for them and for him? And then, they bless all their fellow priests. I don't remember what we were singing at that point, but I know that it's hard to sing and weep at the same time.


Saturday, June 20, 2015


For the past week or so, I have been re-watching the movie Ida. I've watched it half an hour at a time, and gone back and watched some scenes over again. I could easily watch it two or three more times, and that is not something that I do. I came across the movie on Netflix last year and, of course, the fact that it was about a religious sister caught my eye. I liked it very much the first time I watched it, although it left me with some questions. Now I think it's the best movie I've seen in a long time.

As the movie begins, we see Ida face to face with a statue of the Sacred Heart that she is restoring for the courtyard of the convent.

As you see, the scene is bleak. The movie is filmed in black-and-white, and one might more accurately say that it is filmed in gray. This is post-war Poland, and though the convent appears to be an old stone mansion, it, as is most everything in the movie, is in bad repair. One gets the feeling that color film would be wasted here because most likely everything is gray anyway--and not just in the convent.

Ida is a war orphan who has been raised by the sisters in the convent. It is the only life that she has ever known, and now, a few weeks before her final profession, her superior tells her that she has a living relative, her mother's sister, who always refused to see her niece. The superior says that before Ida can make her profession, she has to go and meet her aunt, and, "Stay as there for as long as necessary." 

Wanda Gruz is a judge, a former state persecutor for the Polish government. She "even sent a few people to death," "enemies of the people." Now we find her hearing the case of a protester who mowed down a bed of red tulips planted by socialist scouts with his grandfather's saber. At first Wanda is not happy to see Ida. The one thing she tells her niece about her family is that they were Jewish--a fact which was completely unknown to Ida. 

Soon Wanda, remembering her love for her sister, and seeing the close resemblance between mother and daughter, invites Ida back to her apartment. She shows Ida pictures of her family, and tells her about her parents who were killed because they were Jews. She agrees to drive Ida back to their home and search for their graves.

I don't want to give away the rest of the plot. As Wanda and Ida find out more about the deaths of their family members, they also discover more about each other and about themselves. There are things that happen that may be a bit surprising, but maybe not. You might not like everything that happens in the movie, but I think that you will be glad you watched it.

Agata Trzebuchowska, who plays Ida is beautiful in a very simple sort of way. He eyes are amazing, dark and mysterious as we see the world through them. She has the gift of complete stillness, and there are scenes in the movie that are so still, and so silent, that a few times I checked to make sure the movie had not stopped streaming. 

The cinematography is wonderful. I took a lot of screen shots so that you could see what I am talking about. Frequently, we see the scene from unexpected angles. They don't jar, though, like some off-center images, but seem fitting to the story.

In this scene, Wanda is using all her prosecutorial skill to question the (Catholic) man who now lives in the family home. Look at that picture of the Holy Family behind her head.

Although there are some extreme close-ups in important scenes, more often than not we see the characters dwarfed by their surroundings--caught up in events that are too big for them.

Often, they are set off in the corner of a blank background--

all but lost in the world looming over them.

The walk to the grave.

After watching Ida for the first time, I was surprised that I had not seen anyone else mention the film. Eventually, Artur Sebastian Rosman wrote two posts about it on his blog, Cosmos in the Lost, and you can read them here and here. He writes from a political and historical perspective which is a very different angle than the very personal one that interests me, but I was glad to have some background information. Also, Craig Burrell wrote about it briefly in January on All Manner of Thing. I read it at the time, but have been studiously avoiding re-reading it before writing this post. 

I recommend watching Ida when you have time to sit and watch it quietly without interruption. It deserves the time and the stillness. You might even want to watch it again.