Category Archives: Uncategorized

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.

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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? Continue reading

Who Would Have Known…It Would Get This Bad?

Anthony Esolen, writing in the always valuable Crisis Magazine, has put his brilliant pen to list the stark litany of horrors which would have been unthinkable until quite recently.  “Who would have known, as recently as thirty years ago,” just how destructive the sexual revolution would be to all we hold dear: society, marriage, family, childhood innocence, truth?

The immediate trigger of this litany is the Drag-Queen story time for kids at the public library (even in once-conservative Nashua, NH).

Read the whole thing.  Esolen’s is the voice of Isaiah or Jeremiah.  Painful to read, necessary to heed.

Another Beauty

“The heavens proclaim the glory of God.”  Psalm 19

This is NGC136, a galaxy so “ordinary” that it doesn’t even have a name.

[Reminder: When considering the heavens and their magnitude (100 billion galaxies of 100 billion stars each), remember that all of it was, in the beginning, small enough to fit in the palm of your hand. Well, not your hand, but God’s.]

Hope Without Faith?

There can be no greater blessing than faith in a loving God.  This much I have learned.  But this blessing is not easily achieved; at least it has not been for me.

“Now abideth these three, Faith, Hope, and Love,” writes St. Paul.  Hope seems to me the future tense of faith and love.  Hope  for the future, without faith in something that can save us from ourselves, seems impossible; without faith we live hopeless lives. But how do we do that?

Surprisingly well, for the most part. The  hopeless life can apparently be lived in a condition of general self-satisfaction.  The Swerve, a recent book about Lucretius and his Epicurian writings, sings the praises of just such a life.  It has become the default setting of modern life: “happiness” as a goal in itself, looking away from ugly things, ignoring the things others must do for me so that I may achieve my happiness.

The other alternative to hopelessness is faith in something – anything – that we can persuade ourselves is greater than ourselves.  If one cannot believe in a loving God, one has other choices.  One can believe in saving the world through political action; countless lives have been sacrificed to the belief that a political party holds the key to the salvation of the world.  Hegel first gave scientific pretensions to the faith in historical progress, freeing envy and the will to power to masquerade as world salvation, thereby making a better world by putting me and people just like me in total authority.

Faith in a warrior god, such as some strains of Islam, is an ancient alternative that is reasserting itself.  But faith in a god of bloody conquest tends to be a close kin of the Marxism that gives supernatural authority to our natural desire to destroy our enemies and elevate ourselves.

Or, at a less intense level, one may believe that People Are Basically Good (the PABGoo assumption) and that therefore things will somehow work out.  This variety of the unexamined life, which goes by the name of optimism, is generally coupled with The Swerve’s Epicurianism in the modern default mode.  The only sacrifice most PABGoos are called upon to make for their faith is their contact with reality; most seem only too glad to make it.

I have gone through these alternatives throughout my long life.  They no longer work on me.  I am no longer willing to deny reality, and I am no longer comfortable dressing my will to power in Marxist or Hegelian costume.

And so I have come to the Church, the reality of God’s existence and purpose on earth.  Nothing will be saved without God. God is in fact the only hope which remains when false faiths have fallen away.

 

The Birds and the Bees and the Flowers and the Trees

[Warning:  no birds or trees appear in this essay. This is poetic license. The poet in question is songwriter Herbert Newman.]

A friend gave us a beautiful bouquet of flowers on Christmas day; white and purple daisies and lilies, in a purple vase.  Because the weather has been so pleasant, we put it on our patio table.

Today I saw a bee hovering over the flowers, now a week old but still beautiful and fresh-looking. The bee then landed on one of the lilies and climbed down into its center.  She* then repeated the action with several other flowers, and finally flew away.

A bee visiting a flower is a beautiful thing to see.

But this seemed odd to me.  The flowers are technically dead, having been cut from their plants many days ago.  But they looked alive to the bee (and me) so she stopped by to fill up with nectar and pollen.  It must have been satisfactory, because she repeated it with several flowers.

Continue reading

The Sacred Second

We measure things.  It is one of the things humans do. Mostly because we plan to use them.  

Measurements are of two kinds: natural/intuitive and artificial/synthetic.  Natural ones came first.  Feet based on an average foot (mine, I say without bragging, are exactly one foot long – including the shoe. This makes for a useful way to walk off distances.)  Cubits based on an average forearm of about a foot and a half.  An inch is about the length of a thumb knuckle.

The metric system, on the other hand, is artificial/synthetic, based on…something. (I don’t know what.)  Built on our numbering system, it is more easily used in science and math.

The only area where a natural/intuitive system still prevails in its traditional un-metricized form is our measurement of time.  Natural constants still govern here. A year is one revolution in earth’s orbit around the sun: one cycle of seasons.  A day is one rotation on the earth’s axis: one cycle of light and darkness.  In between a year and a day we have more artificial measures: months and weeks.  And below the day, we have sub-divisions of hour, minute, and second.

Our awareness of the passage of time is a difficulty for us. In late afternoon we ask “where has the day gone?”  Our clocks tell us, but we are still surprised. 

Years are even more so.  On our birthdays and New Year’s Day, we celebrate or mourn the elusive passing of another year; we ponder, for a day, the mysterious year ahead, before moving on into uncharted daily existence.

Even at the much smaller scale, it is hard to track time without mechanical assistance.  Try to concentrate on a single subject or thought for a full minute, without looking at a clock. For me, distractions invariably arise, especially the distraction of wondering how much of the minute has elapsed.  To some extent, this is the problem of reverse concentration: try not to think of an elephant. 

But the crux of the problem is the difficulty of measuring time with our mind alone.  The only way I can make myself aware of the passage of a minute is to count to 60. In other words, to count seconds.

Why are seconds so much easier for us to embrace than any larger measure of time?  Check your pulse. If you are healthy and resting, your heartbeat should be right around 60 beats per minute: a natural standard.

Tiny, fragile, elusive, the second is nonetheless the most tangible form in which we can consciously confront time. It cannot be an accident that it is also the measure of our life blood nourishing our very existence.  The last second-long heartbeat is the end of our earthly life. And long before our birth, the second-long beats of our hearts mark what we are and will become.

The passage of time is thus the passage of life.  Prisoners are said to count the days of their sentences by chalk marks on the cell wall.  If they didn’t do so, they might lose track of the passage of time and their sentences would become infinite.  

Every second is a gift from God.  This can be said of day, week, month and year, of course.  But they slip past us.   Such gifts deserve thanks.  It is appropriate to try to insert a prayer of thanksgiving into every second.  But is it possible?

I am trying.  I find that simply thinking “Thank you, Lord” can be done in about a second.  I can’t do it every second, of course.  But I can do it often.

And I can try to live my life in such a way that I feel grateful for every second.  Some days this is easier than others.  But I can try.

I can try.

Another APOD stunner

See Explanation.  Clicking on the picture will download  the highest resolution version available.The Ring Nebula declares the glory of God.

Courtesy of the Hubble Space Telescope.  NASA at apod.nasa.gov

10 Galaxies in One Snapshot!

See Explanation.  Clicking on the picture will download  the highest resolution version available.

I have mentioned APOD below.  Here is a recent beautiful example of how the heavens declare the glory of God.  This is the Needle’s Eye galaxy.  In the lower left is a chain of four galaxies (Burbidge’s Chain), with the two on the left interacting.  I can count at least five others. 

When I Consider thy Heavens: APOD and the Psalms

ngc1398_eso_3416I want to alert everyone to an amazing website that should be visited every day.  I turn to it each morning before or after my morning prayer (from the monthly magazine Magnificat, which I heartily endorse).

It is “Astronomy Picture of the Day“, a NASA production featuring astonishing photos of stars, galaxies, planets, nebulas, and other celestial phenomena.  Find it at apod.nasa.gov.  Bookmark it in your Favorites or wherever. It has photos from telescopes around the world and in orbit, from Hubble and other satellites, and from simple earthbound cameras.  Not only distant galaxies but beautiful auroras and eclipses, and everything in between.  There is an archive arrow-button on the left side at the bottom, so you can click through a nearly endless gallery of their past pictures.

I cannot imagine how APOD would fail to trigger a spiritual sense of awe at some level; at least a tingle.

Arp243_Hubble_3978

This is two galaxies colliding and merging, 250 million light years away from us. The top photo shows a galaxy 65 million light years away.  When the light from these galaxies began the trip to us, dinosaurs walked the earth!

 

Some time ago I was corresponding with a friend and confided that I was beginning to think about God.  His response was that he thought the universe was too big, too grand to include something as small and local as a deity, especially a man-centered one.  I didn’t know how to respond.

I thought of Psalm 8, “When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained;  What is man, that thou art mindful of him?

It cut no ice;  my friend thought the grandeur of the stars was wholly natural and self-explaining, and way too big for a tribal bronze-age god.

I wish I had thought to point out that the entire universe, unimaginably immense, was once so small that we could hold it in our hands; that the proto-Big Bang creation moment is completely inexplicable to science; that the universe is only comprehensible as part of an expansion process that stretches outward from the infinitesimal.

And I should have pointed out the mysterious human ability to appreciate the beauty of the skies; no evolutionary theory explains our sense of awe when we gaze at the night sky.

And I wish I had known about APOD back then.

“The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.”

In saner times, Psalm 19:1 would be the motto of NASA.