Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Falling Silent

And now comes the best season
   Not yet the brilliant leaves,
      The pumpkin and the cranberries,
         The fragrance and the crackling underfoot.

No. This is the hour of silence.
   The muffled whispers and the white stillness
      The hazy rivers and the haunted shadows
         Now is the season of the mist

Drifting along the surface of the ponds,
   Rising in a curtain across the fields
      Revealing hidden streams

Unfamiliar phantoms fill the farmyards.
   Fog swirls and thickens.
        The traveler, lost a mile from home,
            Finds himself forsaken in an unknown world.

And the swamp, mysterious on the most prosaic days,
   Yields herself to the enchantment,
      Waits as the ghostly wisps weave themselves through her branches,
         Now concealing, now revealing
            Her deepest secrets.

Further along the road, a tree-encircled field
   Becomes a giant bowl that fills with clouds
      that rise
         and build
              and spill
Like smoking incense from a thurible
   Pouring a last cool benediction across the road
      Before the sun’s heat burns the mystery from the day.


Tuesday, October 30, 2012

More Room

As I have told [over the story of our life], the past visible again in the present, the dead living still in their absence, this dream of mine seems to come to rest in eternity. My mind, I think, has started to become, it is close to being, the room of love, where the absent are present, the dead are alive, time is eternal, and all the creatures prosperous. The room of love is the love that holds us all, and it is not ours. It goes back before we were born. It goes all the way back. It is Heaven's. Or it is Heaven and we are in it only by willingness. By whose love, . . . , do we love this world and ourselves and one another? Do you think we invented it ourselves? I ask with confidence, for I know you know we didn't.

Hannah Coulter by Wendell Berry

In Wendell Berry's Port William novels and stories, we find a community that is bound together by love and by their common work on the land. It's not a utopia. The work is hard and the people are people, and therefore sinners, but with all the difficulties and sinning, they live a life that is of a piece--they belong to a membership. Membership is the word that Berry uses and it's the common thread that runs through all the stories.

Hannah Coulter is a beautiful book, and is complete in itself, but if I were going to start reading Berry's books, I would not start there. I would start where I did start with a A Place on Earth, which is very good and very sad, and Watch with Me and Six Other Stories of the Yet-Remembered Ptolemy Proudfoot and His wife, Miss Minnie, Née Quinch, which is filled with humour, some subtle, and some decidedly not. A Place on Earth is Berry's second novel, the first is Nathan Coulter, the story of Hannah's husband in his youth. Written seven years earlier than A Place on Earth, Nathan Coulter is a young man's novel (Berry was 26 when it was published), filled with a young man's angst and anger. It's different in tone from all his other fiction, so even though it's the first, I wouldn't start there.

The only quibble I have with Berry is that one gets the impression that small farming communities such as Port William, are the only place where we kind find a membership--where we can enter that room of love. Perhaps it is the best place for that sort of community to flourish, but we can't all live there. In fact, very few of us can. However, we are, most of us, searching for that membership all the time and we find it in some familiar places and some that are very odd and implausible, like the internet. Grace is everywhere, and it's Grace that holds us together.

The real room of love is here and the membership is everywhere.


Friday, October 26, 2012


Once again, I will be away from my own computer for a few days. I may be able to post something, and may not. I might even post the best thing I've ever written, but probably not. If I don't see you, have a nice weekend.


Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Room of Love

The room of love is another world. You go there wearing no watch, watching no clock. It is the world without end, so small that two people can hold it in their arms, and yet it is bigger than worlds on worlds, for it contains the longing of all things to be together, and to be at rest together. You come together to the day's end, weary and sore, troubled and afraid. You take it all into your arms, it goes away, and there you are where giving and taking are the same, and you live a little while entirely in a gift. The words have all been said, all permissions given, and you are free in the place that is the two of you together. What could be more heavenly than to have desire and satisfaction in the same room?
from Hannah Coulter by Wendell Berry

I have been re-reading Hannah Coulter for a book club, and while I knew that I loved it when I read it for the first time (as I did all of Berry's novels), I did not remember how really beautiful it is. The passage above is one of the loveliest things that I've ever read about sex. I wish that I had read it when I was young. I wish that I had read it to my children when they were teenagers. When I hold this in contrast with the poor, tawdry notion that so many people have of sex today, and, I guess, that many people have always had, it's amazing that one act could be so incongruously construed.

This reminds me of something that Maclin Horton wrote in a post several years ago.
I mean I now see the separation [of sex, love, marriage and procreation] itself, apart from any worldly consequences, as a sort of shocking mutilation, like the severing of a limb from the body. People learn to live with the loss of a limb, of course, and once it’s healed and the person has adjusted as well as possible its absence may be less startling, but the action of severing remains appalling. And I’m now walking around in a world where this action is celebrated.
You can read the rest of the post here. Unfortunately, it has been severed from its comments.


Monday, October 22, 2012

Well, obviously blogging and babysitting don't go together. I hope to work on something at lunch, but we'll see.


Friday, October 19, 2012


I'm babysitting for my 21 month old granddaughter this weekend, so I don't know how often I'll get to the computer, although I'm going to try and write on paper! and hope to get something posted at least a couple of times, but we will see. I'm at my daughter's house and computer is not particularly comfortable to use. My back is hurting already.

I am realizing anew how a TV can turn a very active child into a zombie. It's pretty scary. I mean, the TV comes on and she ceases to move and speak. She doesn't watch much TV thankfully.


Tuesday, October 16, 2012

A Mirror of Shalott and a Bit More

The other day, I was looking for some book or other on my Kindle, and I came across A Mirror of Shalott by Robert Hugh Benson, the author of Lord of the World. It only cost 99 cents, so I figured I would give it a try, and I'm really glad I did. In a way, this book is very similar to Grandmother and the Priests. You may I remember the book with the cover that no one wants to be seen with which I wrote about in May. I wonder if Taylor Caldwell, whose book was published in 1986, had read Msgr. Benson's book, which was published in 1907. I think it's likely.

In Mirror, a group of priests are gathered and each of them agrees to tell a story of the supernatural--or perhaps the preternatural. They are agreed that one has to be agnostic about these unexplained events, but that they are of interest all the same. There is also a journalist with them, the narrator, who plans to write about the stories that they tell.

After the priests have made the decision to tell their stories, one of the younger priests complains that, "Half at least of the stories one hears have no point--no reason." The monsignor explains that one shouldn't assume that the point has anything to do with the person who experiences them. He says that if you drop an orange peel on an ant hill, the ant may assume that it's a sign from Heaven, but in reality it's nothing of the sort. But then, someone might supply the ants with something in the nature of an ant farm in which case it would be a gift to the ants. In the same way, some of things we see or hear have nothing to do with us and some are sent.

I found all of the stories to be quite good and engaging. Several of the stories involve evil presences that affect the characters; some are about those unexplainable events that don't have anything to do with us; one was very beautiful and moving. They don't, however, always reach the sort of satisfying end that one might like. Sometimes there's no resolution. You just have to wonder.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

One serendipitous occurrence that presented itself while I was reading Mirror of Shalott was that something that was said in one of the stories corresponded almost exactly with something that I read in my daily reading from the Catechism. The German priest says:
I knew a man in Germany, thirty years ago, who had lived away from God. He had been a Catholic, and was well-educated in religion till he grew to be a lad. Then he fell into sin, and dared not confess it; and he lied, and made bad confessions and approached the altar so. He once went to a strange priest to tell his sin, and dared not when the time came; and so added sin to sin, and lost his faith. It is ever so. We know it well. The soul dare not go on in that state, believing in God; and so by an inner act of the will renounces Him. It is not true, it is not true, she cries; and at last the voice of faith is silent, and her eyes blind.
The passage in the Catechism reads:
The human mind, in its turn, is hampered in the attaining of such truths, not only by the impact of the senses and the imagination, but also by disordered appetites which are the consequences of original sin. so it happens that men in such matters easily persuade themselves that what they would not like to be true is false or at least doubtful.
Both of these quotes remind me of a talk I attended at a conference a long time ago. The title of the talk was Keeping Your Kids Catholic, and it was given by a man who had written a book by that name, and who began the talk by saying that two of his college-age children weren't going to Mass. This wasn't a very promising beginning. In the question and answer session a couple of people asked, "Why do children leave the Church?" People gave all sorts of answers, but it seemed clear to me that in most cases the obvious answer was that they wanted to sin, and not being able to live with the guilt, they had to quit going to Mass. I still think that is the primary reason, although today, there is so little influence toward church attendance that it's easier to just slip away through inertia.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

I can't, by the way, figure out which story the picture on the cover of the book is supposed to go with. I think it may not go with any of them. It looks like a pre-Raphaelite painting, but I can't find it online anywhere.


Monday, October 15, 2012

St. Teresa of Avila

As I've mentioned before, sometime around the beginning of July I started to read The Life of Saint Teresa of Avila by Herself, for the second time. I only read about three or four pages every morning, and yesterday, on the eve of her feastday, I finally finished. And did I go to Mass today to celebrate her feast and my completion of the book?  I did not, because I didn't even remember it was her feastday until I saw it mentioned on Facebook just now--another opportunity wasted.

This morning, I felt somewhat at a loss. St. Teresa has been my morning companion for so long now that I felt bereft without her. I'm almost tempted to start reading the book over again. It's a great introduction to Teresa and I found it much less daunting than Interior Castle. I'm looking forward to reading the latter sometime soon, but I think that first I will re-read Fire Within: St. Teresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross, and the Gospel--On Prayer by Fr. Thomas Dubay. It's been quite some time since I read that, but I remember it as being very good.

Back in my charismatic days, I remember people telling me that St. Teresa warned against visions and the like, so I was surprised to find that this was not so at all--at least not in her autobiography. In fact, she describes three different kinds of visions in detail, and she does so at least partially so that we will recognize them when we experience them. The first is just a sensing of the presence of Jesus or whoever else might be manifesting himself to her at the moment. There really isn't any "vision" involved in this. Then there are visions which one sees in one's imagination, and finally, there are times when the vision appears in a sensible way. 

Years ago, we attended The Heart of Spain exhibit at the Alexandria Museum of Art. It was the most magnificent exhibit I have ever seen, indeed, it was more like a spiritual experience than an art exhibit. There were two amazing images of St. Teresa there. One was The Communion of St. Teresa, which was a thousand times more beautiful than you can tell from this website, and huge--about 8' x 8'. The other was a larger-than-life carving of St. Teresa from the waist up in pretty much the same position as shown in the above picture, except that her arms were raised higher. It must have been about 1.5 times life-size. It made me feel as if I was being confronted with her overwhelming personality.

Well, this has been a rambling sort of a post, but I wanted to write something in honor of St. Teresa before the day passed. I'll close with her prayer, which I love, and which has stood me in good stead in many troubled times.

Let nothing disturb thee.
Let nothing afright thee.
All things are passing.
God never changes.
Patient endurance attains to all things.
Whom God possesses in nothing is lacking.
God never changes.


Sunday, October 14, 2012

Renaissance Man

Bill picked up this business card at the local convenience store. (It's really convenient--just short of 5 miles away.) I thought the front of the card indicated a man of diverse talents.

I somehow have this image of a sofa covered in a deer hide with antlers for cupholders. 

But when he turned the card over, I was really impressed.

Actually, I'm pretty glad to know that there's somebody fairly close that does water well (I'm wondering what other kind there is--not a lot of oil in north Mississippi.) repair. When you need to have somebody fix your wellhead, they can't be close enough. I imagine this guy probably can do all sorts of other things, too, which is pretty admirable. When you live in the country, database management is not the most useful talent to have.


Saturday, October 13, 2012

No Other Objective

So far, our readings from the Catechism have been from the prologue. They are bit daunting in that they are instructing the reader in the ways that the text references scriptures, patristic texts, writings of the saints, and all sorts of other things that one would have to read to come to full understanding of what the catechism says. Obviously, when one can barely find time to read a short excerpt from the catechism once a day, this isn't going to happen, but it must be better to do what we can than to do nothing.

We finished the prologue today, and I'm anxious to get into the meat of the text. These final sentences of the prologue really struck me.
The whole concern of doctrine and its teaching must be directed to the love that never ends. Whether something is proposed for belief, for hope or for action, the love of our Lord must always be made accessible, so that anyone can see that all the works of perfect Christian virtue spring from love and have no other objective than to arrive at love.
We can see here an ideal, the failure of which explains so many of the difficulties and divisions that trouble the Church today. When I was being taught the Faith for twelve years in Catholic schools, I was really drilled in doctrine. I knew what the Church taught, and I knew what my responsibilities were. I'm sure that we talked about the love of God, but it wasn't a very comforting kind of love. I think the prime motivator in my faith was fear.

When I was a young adult, a new mother, I started attending a Charismatic prayer meeting and for the first time understood that God really did love me, and that it was a love that made a difference now. He wasn't just interested in making sure that I obeyed all the rules, but He wanted me to know Him and rest in that love. I look back on my years in the Charismatic Renewal now and I can see that there were many problems there, but I also know that there was much there that was good. I'm not sure exactly where the line between our enthusiasm and the Lord's work in us lies, but one thing that I absolutely know was real was this experience of God's love.

Because of my own experiences, I wanted to make sure that my children knew beyond a doubt that God loved them, and I tried to convey this to them in every way that I could. I figured that they would learn all the doctrinal stuff (which I knew was important) in school as I had. Well, about fifteen years down the road, I realized this wasn't happening, because about the only thing they were learning about their faith in school was that God loved them. 

I used to be very angry about the lack of good catechesis in the Church after Vatican II, but I've come to realize that those responsible for this were just working from the same point of view that I was. They wanted children to know that there was, " other objective than to arrive at love," but they forgot that all the doctrine was another expression of this love. What we've seen in the past forty years is a false dichotomy between the importance of doctrinal teaching and the importance of teaching God's love and mercy, as though those were two different things. I love the above quote because of the way it integrates the two.

Well, when I sat down to write this, I thought that I was going to write about three paragraphs. I see that I was wrong. If the prologue of the catechism can stir up all this, I can't wait to see what comes from the actual text.


Thursday, October 11, 2012

The Year of Faith

I don't have much time to write today, but I wanted to mention the beginning of the Year of Faith, and something that I found that I think will be really helpful. If you click here, you can sign up to receive a reading from the Catechism of the Catholic Church in your email everyday for the year. I have started to read the whole Catechism several times, but things always get in the way. This seemed like a good opportunity to correct this omission. I got the first reading today and it's quite manageable.

I'm thinking that I might write something about the reading once a week. If anyone is interested in discussing them, that would be nice, too.


Monday, October 8, 2012

Throwing Myself Under the Bus

My friend, Erin (along with many of my other friends), is a faithful participant in 40 Days for Life. I've seen her standing in the cold and the rain day after day praying in front of the abortion clinic that we used to pass on the way to work. I told her once that I felt guilty about not standing out there with them but that I would rather throw myself under a bus than do it. I thought she would probably be irritated with me after that, but she just kind of chuckled at me.

But today, I decided that was going to get myself out to the Life Chain and as much as I really, really did not want to do it, I did. This is the second time I've participated, the first being at least twelve years ago. It was a perfect day today. I don't know if I would have gone had it been raining, so I'm glad it wasn't.

When we arrived, I was glad that we had come because, as you can see, there weren't a whole lot of people there, although there were more than you can see in this picture--maybe thirty. Of course, this is north Mississippi, so there weren't tons of people to draw on.

Standing there for an hour, I found that pretty soon I lost consciousness of the cars passing by and even the other people standing around me and became lost in my thoughts. For one thing, although I was sure I should be there, I wondered why we were there. I wondered if demonstrations like this do any good. Could it possibly make any difference? Everyone seems so intransigent on this issue. Everyone has chosen sides, and knows all their lines. Could this group of not particularly lovely people standing along the side of the road nudge anyone's conscious?

But then, are we to do nothing? Should we just sit complacently while the culture of death decimates the next generation? So, I'm doing this one thing, and remembering what Charles Williams says about building an altar in one place so that fire can come down in another. I'm trusting that God can take this sacrifice of mine, which may have no discernible value, transform it, and use it for his purposes.

This morning at Mass, we sang the hymn Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, and I noticed for the first time that we have replace the second verse. When I was young we used to sing: 

          Praise to the Lord, let us offer our gifts at the altar.
          Let not our sins and offenses now cause us to falter.
          Christ, the High Priest, bids us all join in His feast,
          Victims with Him on the altar. 

I don't know why that verse was removed. Are we no longer willing to be victims with Him? Did someone think it was to harsh--that it's better to sing about God's love for us and never think about all that unpleasantness? The problem is that it is impossible to be with Him and separate ourselves from His suffereing. I think it's time that we started singing that verse again.


Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Brief Light

I am very excited about the publication of my friend, Sally Thomas's, book, Brief Light. I love Sally's poetry, and I would love to say more about it, but I'm not knowledgeable enough about poetry to do it justice, so I will just point you to this link, where you can read some of her poems for yourself. I just ordered my copy here and can't wait for it to arrive. 

Sally's poems and article have been published in First Things, and she has blogged for First Things online. 

And then, you may remember her from Mrs. Cupo and the Roach.

Hopefully I can write more after I've read the book, but hopefully by then you will have read it, too.


The Feasts of October

I love the first part of October because there are so many great feastdays: St.Thérèse, St. Francis, St. Faustina, and the Guardian Angels. And then there is that great feast which we celebrate today, that of St. Ewalt the Fair and St. Ewalt the Dark. For those few of you who are unfamiliar with these brothers, the Saints Ewalt were priests who were born in Northumbria (apparently to slightly unimaginative parents) and traveled to Germany as missionaries. They were martyred in 692 by pagans who feared that the brothers might convert their lord to Christianity. St. Ewalt the Fair was killed with a sword, but St. Ewalt the Dark was tortured and dismembered. You can read more about them here, where you can also read about eleven other saints whose feasts are celebrated today.

And this is one more thing that I love about being Catholic. There is such an abundance of saints from every time and every place, all different, but all seeking the same goal. If you aren't drawn to St. Ewalt and St. Ewalt, you might prefer to read about an very early Christian martyr, St. Candidus, whose feast is also today (although you won't be able to read much)., or St. Mother Theodore Guerin who lived in Indiana and was canonized by Pope John Paul II in 2006. 

Blessed Feastday to you all.


Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Feast of the Guardian Angels

From this morning's Office of Readings:

We should then, my brothers, show our affection for the angels, for one day they will be our co-heirs just as here below they are our guardians and trustees appointed and set over us by the Father.  
From  a sermon by St. Bernard, Abbot

This sentence from St. Bernard's sermon really struck me this morning. I believe in Guardian Angels. I'm really grateful, when I think about it, for having such a powerful helper. I say the Guardian Angel prayer every day, and very occasionally I ask my angel to do something for me; however, I never have thought about showing affection for my Guardian Angel. I don't think that that thought has ever crossed my mind. This is probably because on a day to day basis, I'm not aware of his presence at all. I'm thinking, and I have thought in the past, that I need to do something about this, but I'm not sure how to keep this intention from getting lost amid all the thousands of things that I need to think about every day. Maybe I should ask my Guardian Angel for help.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Angel of God, my guardian dear
To whom God's love commits me here
Every this day be at my side
To light and guard to rule and guide. Amen.

A child's prayer, really, but maybe that's exactly what we need in this case. St. Bernard's sermon goes on to say:

We are God's children although it does not seem so, because we are still but small children under guardians and trustees, and for the present little better than slaves.
Even though we are children and have a long, a very long and dangerous way to go, with such protectors what have we to fear? They who keep us in all our ways cannot be overpowered or led astray, much less lead us astray. They are loyal, purdent, powerful. Why then are we afreaid? We have only to follow them, stay close to them, and we shall dwell under the protection of God's heaven.


Monday, October 1, 2012

St. Thérèse and Shirt of Flame

This being the feast of the Little Flower, I'll take this opportunity to once again recommend Shirt of Flame: A Year with Saint Thérèse of Lisieux by Heather King. Beautifully written, this book tells the story of Ms. King's year long encounter with St. Thérèse in the saint's autobiography, Story of a Soul. Not only does it provide abundant material for personal meditation, it is a model of how we can read the writings of the saints and engage with their spiritual journeys in a way that helps us incorporate their wisdom into our own lives.

The book consists of twelve chapters, one for each month. The first time through, I read it in bits and snatches, frequently skipping a month or going back to a past month. This is very unusual for me as I am almost fanatical about reading a book straight through, but this book doesn't suffer for being read in that manner. Then, in July, I read through the book again from beginning to end and found plenty there to engage my interest a second time. It would probably make a good series of reflections for Lent, or a long retreat. It would be a great book to take with you to adoration.

You can see the monthly topics and read the introduction on Amazon, and read a lengthy quote from an earlier post here.