Monday with Merton


  

The lights of prayer that make us imagine we are beginning to be angels are sometimes only signs that we are finally beginning to be men. We do not have a high enough opinion of our own nature. We think we are at the gates of heaven and we are only just beginning to come into our own realm as free and intelligent beings.” 

― Thomas Merton, The Ascent to Truth

A Belated Lenten Reading Program




We’re approaching the third Sunday of Lent and, therefore, are close to half way to Easter.  It’s long been a custom for Catholics, perhaps stemming from the practice St. Benedict outlined in his Rule, to step up their spiritual reading for Lent.  This spiritual reading is usually planned for some days before the season begins on Ash Wednesday.  If you’re like me, however, that doesn’t always happen; Ash Wednesday comes and goes and suddenly you find yourself getting little or no spiritual reading done at all.  Then, like all good procrastinators, you say to yourself, I’ll do better next year and give up on the idea altogether.  Shame on you, it’s never too late to set things right.

To assist all you procrastinators out there, I’ve come up with a list of five books that make good Lenten reading, in fact good reading, no matter if you start on time or not.  I’m not saying you should try to read all five books between now and Holy Saturday, but you might pick one, possibly two of them and start reading today.  Then, come Holy Saturday, you might have firmed up your spiritual reading habit and decide to read the other three or four books to finish the list.

What are these five little books?  Here’s the list.

  1. The Spiritual Combat, Lorenzo Scupoli
  2. This Tremendous Lover, Eugene Boylan
  3. In Silence with God, Benedict Baur
  4. Seasons of Celebration, Thomas Merton
  5. Bread in the Wilderness, Thomas Merton

Why these five books?  Well, I have a reason for selecting each of these books as candidates for a belated Lenten reading program, but I leave you with a challenge – after you’ve read the books on the list, tell me why you think I consider them candidates for reading during Lent, even if you start late.

Looking forward to hearing from you.

An Unprofitable Effort


A 7 Quick Takes Post as hosted by Jennifer Fulwiler at her  Conversion Diary blog.

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St.-Symeon-the-New-Theologian-3This is a quote from St. Symeon the New Theologian, an Eastern saint:

“The aim of all those who live in God is to please our Lord Jesus Christ and become reconciled with God the Father through receiving the Holy Spirit, thus securing their salvation, for in this consists the salvation of every soul. If this aim and this activity is lacking, all other labour is useless and all other striving is in vain. Every path of life which does not lead to this is without profit.”

-2-

I’ve been pondering the events of the recent Synod, and all the electronic ink spilled over the event. It seems nearly every blog and Catholic news outlet has weighed in with an opinion on the topics covered by the bishops. I can’t help but wonder if there aren’t far too many Catholics more involved in Church politics than in building the faith. Has all of this controversy been a good thing? Has the Church been helped by it all? I think it’s been greatly harmed. I wish more people would heed the words of St. Symeon, “if [reconciliation with God] and this activity is lacking, all other labour is useless . . .”

-3-

I like to make up these meager blog posts on my iPad. In the past, I’ve used the Pages app from Apple, but this week Microsoft made their Office 365 apps available free on mobile devices. The switch seemed a no-brainer since the Office 365 apps are virtually the same as  the PC versions. However, it seems they are no where near as stable as the PC version. I had this post completed, almost completed, when I decided to copy a quote from the web and it came in an extremely large font. In trying to correct this, I managed to wipe out the entire post with one keystroke. Gone forever.   Ain’t technology grand?

-4-

Am I the only one who thinks that we’ve reached the saturation point with football on TV? I’m beginning to think so; when 30 million people tune in to watch the Cowboys and the Seahawks you might think something in society is a bit out of whack. On a personal level, the thought crosses my mind that I’d rather watch 3 hours of Mark Udall speeches than another football game.   I enjoy football as much as the next guy, but maybe we’re being fed far too much of a good thing.  Just sayin . . .

-5-

An article this past week by George Weigel tells about the work being by a Professor Alan Guth on the Big-Bang Theory. He refers to an article about Dr. Guth that appeared in the Boston Globe.

“The universe is roughly 13.8 billion years old, and it began from a patch of material packed with this repulsive gravity. The patch was . . . tiny—one 100-billionth the size of a single proton. But the repulsive gravity was like a magic wand, doubling the patch in size every tenth of a trillionth or a trillionth of a second. And it waved its doubling power over the patch about 100 times in a row, until it got to the size of [a] marble. And that happened within a hundredth of a billionth of a trillionth of a second. As a point of comparison, the smallest fraction of time that the average human being can detect is about one-tenth of a second.”

As Mr. Weigel points out, the question is begged, what happened just before that first trillionth trillionth of a second?  Physical scientists are coming around to that fact it’s impossible to know and, therefore, the possibility of a Creator can’t be ruled out. It’s only those working in the life sciences, that breeding ground of militant atheists, that are still incapable of recognizing such a question exists. It’s an interesting article and you can see the whole thing HERE.

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This must be the week for reading newspapers. An article in the Wall Street Journal last week reviewed Amazon’s new Kindle. It may just be the best thing to come down the pike since fur lined underwear, according to the reviewer.  However, unlike most e-reader commenters, he doesn’t venture into electronic vs print book controversy, rather he looks at dedicated e-readers vs e-books on tablets. In doing so, he makes the interesting point that reading books on tablets is a sure way to invite distraction from email and other message notifications. He says, “Reading books shouldn’t be part of a multi-tasking regimen. If we’re going to remain literate in the years to come, we need to think about how we read, and not just what we read.”

I agree that we need to think of both, but can’t get to the idea that electronic books are the way to do that. The thought keeps crossing my mind that, if the internet was ever hijacked by people of evil intent, or if somehow the power ever goes out (conspiracy nut? Nah) all those books on the web would be gone. Yes, it’s possible to burn print books, but all of them?  BTW, it’s been a long time since I’ve thought multi-tasking of any kind was a good idea.

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Do ya’ think?

“Morning Showers Should End by Early Afternoon”—headline, Atlanta Journal-Constitution website, Nov. 6

H/Tt to the Wall Street Journal’s James Taranto’s Best of the Web Today from last Friday.

 

Come Cross, Fire, or Mangling of Limbs


A Seven Quick Takes post, as hosted by Jennifer Fulwiler at her Conversion Diary blog

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St Ignatius of Antoch
St Ignatius of Antoch

Today is the memorial of St. Ignatius of Antioch.

“It is not that I want merely to be called a Christian, but to actually be one. Yes, if I prove to be one, then I can have the name…Come fire, cross, battling with wild beasts, wrenching of bones, mangling of limbs, crushing of my whole body, cruel tortures of the Devil–Only let me get to Jesus Christ!”
― St. Ignatius of Antioch

(2)
In all the kerfuffle surrounding the Synod, about to conclude it’s efforts this week, it’s good to remember what St. Ignatius said so long ago, that come “battling with wild beasts, mangling of limbs, crushing of my whole body, cruel tortures of the Devil–Only let me get to Jesus Christ!” Our faith isn’t in the Church, it’s in the person of Jesus Christ; the Church will fade away in the last days and, above all, is a human institution.

(3)
As I said, above, the Extraordinary Synod closes on Sunday, mercifully. I say “mercifully” because it looks like so far it has produced only chaos and confusion. I have to admit, there are times when I think the Church is her own worst enemy; producing a document that makes only those who have no real love for or understanding of the Church happy seems counterproductive, at best. The bishops managed this by using language that is clear to no one, a “cardinal” error (pun intended). Yet, the draft relatio is a meaningless thing that should soon evaporate into the ether. Earlier this week I read these words, from Thomas Peters (HERE), and they are worth keeping in mind. (I originally saw this reference here.)

“There are plenty of good people who are going to interpret these recent developments as signs of the end times. That doesn’t help anything. The Holy Spirit won’t let the church fall into error, and the same Holy Spirit is calling you, and all of us, to build up the church.”

(4)
It might also be good to remember, concerning the efforts of the bishops in Rome, that all of us, including them, are mere human beings and certainly prone to error. I was reminded of this in a joke which Fr. David pastor of our parish used to open his homily this past weekend:

Fr. O’Brien, a good old Irish priest, was preparing the third grade class at the parish school for their upcoming first communion. To test their readiness, he asked the class to recite Scripture passages for each of the 7 sacraments.

“OK, who can give me a Bible passage for Baptism?”

Little Janie piped up, “Unless you are baptized in water and the Spirit, you have no life in you.”

Father said, “Very good Janie, you’ve done well in your classes, I can tell. Now, who can recite a Bible verse for the Sacrament of Reconciliation?”

Little Bobby raised his hand. “Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”

Fr. O’Brien was very pleased and complemented Bobby for his excellent response.

Then he said, “OK, who can give me a verse for the Sacrament of Marriage?” There was dead silence and no child raised their hand.

Soon Father said, “Come now, someone must know the answer to this question!” The children could see he was getting a little impatient but still there was no response until suddenly a timid little voice could be heard from the back of the classroom, “Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do!”

(5)
I am going through my annual calendar hunt this year. I can’t believe it’s time to acquire a datebook already. When I retired, I expected that I would no longer need or use a planner or agenda since the days would be long and leisurely and there would be no meetings to attend and no schedule to keep. Boy, did I get that wrong. I forgot about doctor appointments, dentist appointments, clarinet lessons to remember, planning times for workouts at the gym, and so on and so forth. Even though retired, I still need to keep track of dates and times requiring my presence.

At work, I mostly used the calendar on Outlook and also kept a large(ish) generic monthly planner from Office Max or Office Depot, the At-A-Glance type. Last year, I used a loose leaf folio with Franklin Planner monthly calendar tabs. The problem with that was it’s rather bulky and difficult to carry around. I’m toying with the idea of getting a Moleskine extra large 18 month planner but have made no decision as of yet. Ah, the challenges of living the retired life.

(6)
That said, it is true that I have fewer appointments and a much looser schedule to keep. The reason I need a planner isn’t because these dates to remember are so copious, it’s because they aren’t and, if not kept track of, tend to be forgotten. I am already scheduling annual appointments and other things in the early months of 2015. If I don’t write them down, and remember where I wrote them down, I’ll soon forget they exist. Sometimes, I think this blending of days, one into another, a blessing, and I frequently try to remind myself of the importance of being fully present in the moment.

(7)
Since I’m doing weekly quotes from Thomas Merton, I thought I’d point out a development concerning his published journals on Kindle. All of them have been available on Kindle for some time but at nearly the full price you’d pay for hard copies. I’ve noticed over the last couple of months that several of the volumes are now available for less than $5.00 each, quite a bargain.

I go back and forth, sometimes several times a day, over the relative merits of having a book on Kindle vs. having, and reading, the hard copy. I think, generally, I prefer using hard copy of any given book, but when you think about buying a full set of books like Merton’s Journals, which could approach $100 in hard copy, against being able to acquire the same set electronically for less than $30, the electronic version becomes quite attractive.

The Man of a Single Book


imageA Seven Quick Takes post as hosted by Jennifer Fulwiler on her Conversion Diary blog. I am grateful for her generosity.

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“Beware the man of a single book.”
― St. Thomas Aquinas

(2)

“We are confronted with atheists who claim that science, rather than faith, has sole claim to real knowledge. Atheism, they claim, is a more reasonable and informed position than faith. Faith is portrayed as superstition; something that stands purely above reason. We have faith, they say, because we prefer being faithful to being reasonable. Some atheists claim that people of faith would rather be told what to believe than to use intelligence to determine truth for themselves.”

That came from a article published this week on the Crisis web site, and reminded me how many people there are who are men of a single book.  I say this because, although they accuse people of faith of wanting to be told what to believe, the can’t seem to get that they aee the ones in that position.  Science is an extremely limited field of knowledge, it’s subject matter is only that which can be quantified and measured in some way.   People who think science the only source of knowledge are reading from a single book, they are getting only one side of the story.  They can’t even explain their own “faith” in science in those terms, since this faith isn’t something that can be explained by the scientific method.  Why stick to one book when you can have the whole library?

(3)

Fall has arrived, even if it took a few days after the autumnal equinox to do so. Notwithstanding (I’ve been on the Thesaurus app again) the fairly warm days we’ve been enjoying, there’s a hint of chill in the morning air, sometimes more than a chill, and Halloween is fast approaching. Thoughts are already turning to Thanksgiving and the start of the holiday season. I worried, when planning retirement, that finding ways to fill the days might be a problem and that I’d end up hooked to the tube all day. So far, that is the least of my worries; there are even times when I think I’m far too busy and need to slow down. Imagine.

(4)

Listening to Fox News on the radio, on the way to a workout yesterday, I heard some female celebrity asking for all kinds of criminal action against unknown hackers who posted immodest photos of her on the World Wide Web.

Such action may be justified, but I wonder when people will learn that if you don’t want such photos seen by the world, maybe you shouldn’t have them taken in the first place. Assuming that simply impossible, when will they learn that posting such photos anywhere on line in the same as having them appear on the front page of the New York Times? Nothing is secure on the web, just ask the NSA.

Perhaps these problems could have been avoided if people were once again taught the now terribly out of fashion virtue known as prudence, along with just a little temperance.

(5)

The clarinet playing is progressing. For my lesson on Saturday I’m scheduled to play a duet with my instructor. I’m nervous about it even though there’s no reason to be, the piece will be played in a 10×10, throughly sound-proofed studio, carefully shut away from the world. Thank goodness. The piece itself is three lines from something by Schubert and is mostly pretty simple, 4/4 time, few register breaks, and mercifully short. The only complicating factor is that the notes in every measure but two are slurred. I’ve been struggling with it the last three days when I should be able to play it in my sleep. I guess the famous Yogi Berra was right when he said, “99% of the game is half mental.”

(6)

I do most of my writing on an iPad. I do so because most laptops are far too heavy for me to use sitting on my lap; the weight does terrible things to my back. For the same reason, sitting at a desk for too long is also a questionable proposition. With my iPad, neatly enrobed in a one piece keyboard case, the whole thing weighing less than 2 pounds, the device can sit on my lap without problem for extended periods. It’s a convenient solution to my tech needs.

The reason I bring this up is to wonder if Apple is beginning to lose their way. Am I the only one who hates iOS 8? I keep getting an untraceable “Unable to Download Item” message, Apple has copied the much hated and always disappearing top-of-the-screen navigation bar from Google, and they moved around the Bookmark and Reading List icons, and made several other (non) improvements. I’m always reminded of those lines from Ecclesiastes when it comes to software upgrades, “vanity of vanities.” Just when things are working smoothly, someone has to come along and change it all. Ugh!

(7)

Speaking of vanities, I just read that Microsoft is readying a new Windows 10 version that will include features from Windows 7, features like the Start button and the desktop screen that were “improved” right out of Windows 8. Makes sense, coming up with a new version that brings back the best of the old version. Ugh!

Discomposed with Octavius


NOT the Reverend Temple
NOT the Reverend Temple

 

Am discomposed with Octavius, who grows very rude and troublesome. Holidays too long. What uneasiness do children give one from the very first. Miss Stephens came before we had finished dinner. In the evening, Bowyer again but read with no pleasure. Harassed, out of spirits. Make no progress, do nothing. How difficult it is to be regular in any thing one wishes!

That’s from the diary of the Reverend William Johnstone Temple, friend of Boswell and Thomas Gray, acquaintance of Samuel Johnson but no admirer, and pastor to Bishop Keppel.  It’s easy to look back to the good old days and think how easy and calm everything was, it is for me anyway, but I see that the Reverend Temple might disagree, put out as he is by his children and frustrated in his study.  I guess the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.

God Speaks


Ranier RilkeGod Speaks to Each of Us

God speaks to each of us before we are,
Before he’s formed us — then, in cloudy speech,
But only then, he speaks these words to each
And silently walks with us from the dark: 

Driven by your senses, dare
To the edge of longing. Grow
Like a fire’s shadowcasting glare
Behind assembled things, so you can spread
Their shapes on me as clothes.
Don’t leave me bare. 

Let it all happen to you: beauty and dread.
Simply go — no feeling is too much —
And only this way can we stay in touch. 

Near here is the land
That they call Life.
You’ll know when you arrive
By how real it is. 

Give me your hand. 

Ranier Maria Rilke

Knowing When to Stop


    A couple of weeks ago, I considered the project of doing a 7 Quick Takes post written by the Early Church Fathers and the Saints, allowing them to have a chance to speak for themselves.  I debated the idea for a week or two, but how could I argue with the saints?  Here are the “quick takes” they offered me.

    (1)
    “A clear rule for self-control handed down by the Fathers is this: stop eating while still hungry and do not continue until you are satisfied.” St. John Chrysostom

    (2)
    “There is no subject on which the average mind is so much confused as the subject of tolerance and intolerance. Tolerance applies only to persons, but never to principles. Intolerance applies only to principles, but never to persons.” – Archbishop Fulton Sheen

    (3)
    “We must not be surprised when we hear of murders, of killings, of wars, of hatred. If a mother can kill her own child, what is left but for us to kill each other?” – Blessed Teresa of Calcutta

    (4)
    “We must meditate before, during and after everything we do. The prophet says: “I will pray, and then I will understand.” – St. Charles Borromeo

    (5)
    “He who labors as he prays lifts his heart to God with his hands.” – St. Benedict of Nursia

    (6)
    image“In dangers, in doubts, in difficulties, think of Mary, call upon Mary. Let not her name depart from your lips, never suffer it to leave your heart. And that you may obtain the assistance of her prayer, neglect not to walk in her footsteps. With her for guide, you shall never go astray; invoking her, you shall never lose heart.” – St. Bernard of Clairvaux

    (7)
    And, in honor of Corpus Christi on Sunday:

    “Out of his loving-kindness for us he came to us, and we see this in the way he revealed himself openly to us. Taking pity on mankind’s weakness, and moved by our corruption, he could not stand aside and see death have the mastery over us. He did not want creation to perish and his Father’s work in fashioning man to be in vain. He therefore took to himself a body, no different from our own, for he did not wish simply to be in a body or only to be seen.” – St. Athanasius

     

     

Something Loose Knit and Yet Not Slovenly . . .


Miscellaneous Musings on Wednesday

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Reading diary excerpts again and stumbled across this from Miss Virginia Wolfe:

“I got out this diary and read, as one always does read one’s own writing, with a kind of guilty intensity. I confess that the rough and random style of it, often so ungrammatical, and crying for a word altered, afflicted me somewhat. I am trying to tell whichever self it is that reads this hereafter that I can write very much better; and take no time over this; and forbid her to let the eye of man behold it. And now I may add my little compliment to the effect that it has a slapdash and vigour and sometimes hits an unexpected bull’s eye. But what is more to the point is my belief that the habit of writing thus for my own eye only is good practice. It loosens the ligaments. Never mind the misses and the stumbles. Going at such a pace as I do I must make the most direct and instant shots at my object, and thus have to lay hands on words, choose them and shoot them with no more pause than is needed to put my pen in the ink. I believe that during the past year I can trace some increase of ease in my professional writing which I attribute to my casual half hours after tea. Moreover there looms ahead of me the shadow of some kind of form which a diary might attain to. I might in the course of time learn what it is that one can make of this loose, drifting material of life; finding another use for it than the use I put it to, so much more consciously and scrupulously, in fiction. What sort of diary should I like mine to be? Something loose knit and yet not slovenly, so elastic that it will embrace anything, solemn, slight or beautiful that comes into my mind. I should like it to resemble some deep old desk, or capacious hold-all, in which one flings a mass of odds and ends without looking them through. I should like to come back, after a year or two, and find that the collection had sorted itself and refined itself and coalesced, as such deposits so mysteriously do, into a mould, transparent enough to reflect the light of our life, and yet steady, tranquil compounds with the aloofness of a work of art. The main requisite, I think on re-reading my old volumes, is not to play the part of censor, but to write as the mood comes or of anything whatever; since I was curious to find how I went for things put in haphazard, and found the significance to lie where I never saw it at the time. But looseness quickly becomes slovenly. A little effort is needed to face a character or an incident which needs to be recorded. Nor can one let the pen write without guidance; for fear of becoming slack and untidy.” Diary of Virginia Wolfe

I don’t usually like to post long quotes, but this particular excerpt, in spite of its length, rather concisely conveys some of the best advice on writing I’ve found. It should be framed and hung on my wall somewhere I can spy it every day.

(2)

imageSpeaking of diaries, I can’t help but wonder if anyone reads them anymore, especially the famous ones, like that of Samuel Pepys. Ever heard of him? He started writing on 1 January 1660 and wrote daily for the next 3,468 days, missing only 11 days in the interim. He was, I think, anything but loose knit or slovenly; from all those pages one gets a pretty complete picture of the hedonistic, self-serving, vain, Mr. Pepys. For all his personal failings on display, and despite it’s antiquity, it’s still great reading to this day. In the process of all this work, done in addition to his work in the British Admiralty, he pretty much invented the diaristic art form. I wonder if he shouldn’t be considered the first distant ancestor of the blogging world of today? The patron saint of bloggers?  Then again, what does that say about bloggers.

(3)

I’m tempted at times to ask myself what is the greatest problem facing the Church today and I’m tempted to answer: the Church. It reminds me of the old Cold War joke about some old Communist, a delegate from the Soviet Union, came to visit the Vatican and boldly told one of the Cardinals that the Soviets intended to destroy the Church completely from the face of the earth. “Good luck,” the old Cardinal replied, “We’ve been trying to do it for 2,000 years.” I wonder if we’ll ever stop trying?

(4)

The clarinet lessons continue on. It was a terrible week for practice; seemed more like I was at war with the thing than playing it. There was a time or two I thought it would be best to take the thing back to the music store and start rubbing the cat’s ears instead. The question comes to mind, though, if that isn’t the kind of experience that leads to true improvement. I guess I’ll find out.