Category Archives: Uncategorized

Who Is Our Neighbor? Andromeda !

Today’s featured APOD stunner is M31, the Andromeda Galaxy.  At a mere 2 million light years away from our own Milky Way, it is our nearest major galactic neighbor. (See Luke 10:29; “And who is my neighbor?”)

The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament showeth his handiwork.” (Psalm 19:1)

It is a cliché to express a sense of human littleness in the face of the unthinkably enormous scope of the universe.  But here, as in all things, one must retain a sense of perspective. For this unimaginable immensity is just the grown-up phase of a creation that once was small enough to fit in its creator’s hand (or yours, for that matter.) And we are fashioned in the image of that same creator.

A cliché that is both true and more useful: Biblical religion both humbles us (in the face of the majesty of God) and elevates us (for we are created in the image of that majestic God).  This balance of our smallness and our greatness is mirrored in face of our universe, so huge and yet once so small.

By contrast, as theologian Reinhold Niebuhr put it, “Both the majesty and the tragedy of human life exceed the dimension within which modern culture seeks to comprehend human existence.”

 

 

 

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Slobs in Church and Society

In Crisis Magazine today, Chilton Williamson Jr. has published a thought-provoking article about people dressing down for mass (“In the Image of Slob”). Like him, I notice a lot of shorts, tee shirts, and flip-flops; and I also notice my tendency to feel judgmental about this, and I try to re-route my thinking, being glad that they are in church at all.

After he read it, my friend Mister Moleman re-posted an essay from 2001 by noted deep-thinker Charles Murray, entitled “Prole Models; America’s Elites take their cues from the underclass“, putting the issue in the perspective of the disintegration of our society.

Both are well worth reading.

O Beauty

 

Cathedral on Lawrence 1 IMG_3850

“Late have I loved thee, O beauty, so ancient and so new.”

(St. Augustine, Confessions)

My parish church in Helena, Montana: St. Helena Cathedral.

I-phone  photo taken today, a block from my Helena home.

Reprise: Dawkins Ipse Dixit

[At the request of a new friend and reader, I reprint this amazing quote. I first posted it five years ago, when I was still dawdling over my conversion.]

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“Blind, pitiless indifference”

As I have written below, I have spent many years trying to find God.  I have found much Judeo-Christian theology coherent, consistent with reality, and therefore highly plausible.

But I still cannot convince myself that the other coherent, consistent worldview, atheistic materialism, is not also plausible.

Many authors have helped me along; I will list and discuss them sometime.  But nothing so far has been quite so compelling as this quote from atheist guru Richard Dawkins:

“The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, and no good, nothing but blind pitiless indifference.”

This chilling statement, offered in support of Dawkins’ atheism, is from his book Rivers of Eden, which I found quoted in Francis Collins’ The Language of God.  (I recommend Collins’ book highly.  He was the director of the Human Genome Project and current NIH Director as well as a Christian.)

I expect to be contemplating this for a long time.

Hindsight from the High Ground

or, Truman’s Cheek

[Dear Reader: The following essay departs from my usual areas of observation. It is the result of a quick collaboration with my friend Hans Moleman, who filled me in on some of the historical facts.(He has thoughtfully co-posted this at his site mistermoleman.com.) And my dissent here indicates no disrespect for the excellent work done every day by Relevant Radio, which I love.]

 

On August 6, the terrible anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima, I was listening to the indispensable Catholic media outlet Relevant Radio, and I heard a curious interview with Msgr. Stuart Swetland on the subject of the day.

It made me think of Calvin Coolidge who is credited with many laconic (and probably apocryphal) anecdotes; my favorite is his supposed comment on returning from church one Sunday. Asked what the preacher spoke on, he answered: “Sin.” Further asked: “What did he say about it?”, Cal responded: “He was against it.”

It would be unjust and uncharitable to summarize the monsignor’s take on Hiroshima in so many words. He acknowledged the difficult situation and the tough decisions that faced those engaged in what was unquestionably a just war. But his conclusion was as straightforward as Coolidge’s: It was a sin, and Truman should not have done it.

The monsignor argued from Catholic doctrine, which appears to have recently reached the same conclusion. And he offered some historical “facts” in support. But the facts are questionable, and the arguments seem confused.

I am certainly not qualified to argue theology with any monsignor (though I will try, later.) But facts are facts, and assumptions are not.

There are many points to consider. Monsignor Swetland stated, with varying degrees of certitude, the following “facts”. The Japanese government was about to surrender anyway. The Russians were about to tell Truman about a Japanese peace proposal. Invasion of the Japanese homeland would not have been necessary. The invasion’s half-million US casualties anticipated by US military planners would not have occurred.

These things are nice to know. I bet Truman would have liked to know them with the certainty that his posthumous critics know them. Continue reading

Everybody Prays

a small thought…EVERYBODY PRAYS

An earlier thought, about talking to myself, suggests another. Prayer is a central element of the life of a Christian, or of any believer in a God that loves and listens to his children.

Prayer can have many different forms and purposes. We can pray our gratitude for something, or for everything.  We can pray for forgiveness for our sins.  Or we can pray for God to do something specific, for ourselves or others.

This last type of prayer, sometimes called intercession, is probably the most common and frequent, as is natural.  We all have a lot to be thankful for, but we all seem to have an even longer list of things that we want or need.

The prayer life of a believer is a way to address his needs, but it is also a need in itself.  A believer always feels better after prayer. “Faith is the substance of things hoped for,” says the book of Hebrews, 11:1.

But what about the unbeliever: the atheist, the agnostic, or simply the “None” who has no place in his life for religion or God?  Does he need prayer?

Here is the truth, so obvious that it is almost unthinkable.  Everybody prays. They just do it in different ways, some better than others, some worse than no prayer at all.  Whether it is intentional or unconscious,  praying is a natural human function, only one step above breathing.

“I hope I get over this cold quickly.”

“I wish the kids would call more often.”

“It would be great if the University could finally get a decent football coach.”

“I hope this hurricane passes us by.”

“Seven come eleven, baby needs a new pair of shoes.”

Whether we call it praying or wishing or hoping or just wanting, we all pray all the time.  But believers do it better, because they know there is more to it. A hope or wish is an undirected arrow shot into the future.  A prayer is a direct request put forth in a personal conversation with the only being that can satisfy the request.

The believer also has a framework for making sure his request is a proper one and is made in the proper way.    The believer examines his request. “Lord, please let me win the lottery.”  Is this really something to ask God for?  Even if I promise to use the money to pay off my friends’ mortgages along with my own, and then give the rest to the church? Do I expect God to swallow that one?

“God, please let the Florida Gators beat Alabama this week.”  Is this something worth asking God for? Even if the Crimson Tide really needs a lesson in humility?

And finally, the believer, especially the Christian, knows how to judge his requests. We are taught to pray: “Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” In other words, help me to conform my will to yours, to want what you want, to want what you want me to want.

Everybody prays. Believers just do it better.

The Mighty Mice

These “Mighty Mice” (astronomers can be quite poetic) are two enormous galaxies in the process of tearing each other apart. They have actually passed through each other and are pulling away.

Also this one, galaxy M96:

Both courtesy of NASA’s APOD (Astronomy Picture of the Day, the best use our tax dollars have ever been put to.)

And remember: a hundred billion galaxies of a hundred billion stars each, every star a sun; and once so tiny it would fit in the palm of your hand.

For more, check out here: “nasa.apod.gov“, or Psalm 19: “The heavens declare the glory of God.”

 

Talking to Myself

A Small Thought…about TALKING TO MYSELF

I have a habit of talking to myself. I have done so all my life. Mostly I do it silently, confining my conversation to my mind. But when no one else is around, I sometimes speak out loud.

It can be like I am reading a play, acting all parts. (I don’t usually use different voices, though occasionally…)

I think, I express my thoughts, I respond, I argue, I question, I laugh at my foolishness. Really, I have a lively time in here. It’s like there’s a party in my head, and no one is invited (to paraphrase a terrible old commercial).

It has only recently dawned on me, some 70 years into the conversation, that I am not really alone in here.  There is another person listening in, and often joining in. The wise words are his, the foolish ones mine.  It is not a soliloquy; it is a dialogue.

And now I know who it is. (And you, my reader friend, have probably guessed his identity by now.)

It is, of course, God in here with me.  And now that I realize this, I find I am trying to be more careful in my thoughts, which are actually the words I speak to God in m most candid moments. I need to clean up my act.

When I find myself thinking clever but unkind thoughts about others, I stop myself.  When I am passing silent judgment on the obese, tattooed, pierced folks around me at the store, I try to switch over to a prayer: “Lord, bless them and help them.” That short, six-word prayer is all it takes to shut down my cruel thoughts.  I don’t need to be more specific; I know that God knows what they need, and I know He knows I know. And I know that every one of us needs His help, so I add “And Lord, help me.”

It helps.

The Little Girl Hope

Christians have hope because they have faith – the very substance of things hoped for. Christians have hope even in the darkest prison cell (as demonstrated repeatedly from St. Paul to Solzhenitsyn.)

The rest of us? Some substitute optimism for hope, based on a faith in humanity and its inherent goodness.  Others simply avoid thinking about it, relying by osmosis from the ambient cloud of hope generated by a Christian civilization. But can that last? Can we forever be parasites of Christians’ hope?

In Mystery of the Portal of Hope, French poet Charles Peguy describes hope in familial terms.  Two older sisters (Faith and Charity) lead their little sister Hope by the hand.  But in fact, Peguy explains, the little girl Hope is actually leading them, the big sisters.

The little hope moves forward in between her two older sisters and one scarcely notices her.

On the path to salvation, on the earthly path, on the rocky path of salvation, on the interminable road, on the road in between her two older sisters the little hope

Pushes on…

It’s she, the little one, who carries them all.

Because Faith sees only what is.

But she, she sees what will be.

Charity loves only what is.

But she, she loves what will be.

 

But I know this family; they are my neighbors and friends, and Peguy has miscast them. In reality, Faith is the father. Charity, love, is the mother.  But he got the most important part right: Hope is indeed the little child, the daughter whose faith and love are so strong that she cannot help but trust.  And it is she who leads the family along through this valley of the shadow.

MIRRORS AND SINS

Mirror tricks can be delightful. Who has not found himself placed between two mirrors, and noticed in the background a diminishing cascade of reflections; telescoping images of mirror and self and mirror and self…

Another trick, my favorite, requires an array of mirrors, as you might find in a bathroom with a front mirror over the sink, and another mirror on the door of a side cabinet (you can do it with a big enough hand-held mirror, but it is harder).  We all know the oddness of looking at ourselves in a mirror, and noticing that my right side shows up on my left side; my mirror reflection is reversed!

But if you can adjust or tilt one of the mirrors, you can reverse the reversal, and actually see a reflection that is as right-handed as you are in reality. (It probably works just as well if you are left-handed; I don’t really know.)

I was reminded of all this while preparing for my most recent visit to the Confessional for the sacrament of reconciliation. 

Reflecting on my sins, I distractedly wandered into thinking about some of the GOOD things I have done (like a defendant preparing to bolster his guilty plea with character references to show he isn’t ALL bad.)  And I instantly challenged myself – had I done the good things simply to square my accounts with God? Or worse, had I done good so that I might feel good about myself?  In other words, was I doing good for my own sake, rather than to help others or to please God?  If so, was that not a sin of pride, or presumption? A kind of greed for praise or self-praise?

And then I started a round of second-stage self- judging.  Was I being too fastidious, worrying about my motives?  Was I committing the sin of excess scrupulosity, exaggerating the importance of very small distinctions?  (My confessor had in the past introduced me to this sin.)  Was I making too much out of a small sin?

And then I rebuked myself for even entertaining the idea of a “small” sin. Is there such a thing? Or are all sins better categorized as either “big” or “bigger”?

I started with self consciousness in pursuit of self examination. Then, my self-criticism led to an automatic reversion to self congratulation.. That triggered self condemnation. A self-referential cycle of over-thinking, spiraling into confusion.

At some point, I felt like the man in the first trick, standing between two mirrors and puzzling over the endless array of reflections, wondering which one is real.  Then, when mental flip-flops led to mental exhaustion, I remembered the second trick I described above. I needed to get back to my reversal-reversing mirrors to find a true picture of my sin.

But where could I find the properly placed mirrors of my soul?

In the confessional, of course.

Beng a catholic can seem very complicated at times.  But it can also be very, very simple. Not easy, but simple.

God bless you all.  Leave a comment. I’d love to hear from you.