Saturday, September 30, 2006

Shared Struggles

Today is the feast of St. Jerome. He is a Doctor of the Church and is best known for his compilation of the Latin translation of Scripture, known as the Vulgate. As he was a prolific scribe & author, the Curt Jester has suggested we bloggers take him as our patron - I'm all for it.

But what really connected me to St. Jerome is this quote from a letter he wrote to an old friend back in Rome:

In the remotest part of a wild and stony desert, burnt up with the heat of the scorching sun so that it frightens even the monks that inhabit it, I seemed to myself to be in the midst of the delights and crowds of Rome. In exile and prison to which for the fear of hell I had voluntarily condemned myself, I many times imagined myself witnessing the dancing of the Roman maidens as if I had been in the midst of them: in my cold body and in my parched-up flesh, which seemed dead before its death, passion able to live. Alone with this enemy, I threw myself in spirit at the feet of Jesus, watering them with my tears, and I tamed my flesh by fasting whole weeks. I am not ashamed to disclose my temptations, but I grieve that I am not now what I then was.

This is a man who wasn't afraid to share his struggles - like St. Paul says, he boasts in his weaknesses. It's a useful tactic to combat habitual sins, such as my own battle with pornography & the "M" word. Secrecy only increases its hold on us. Openness lets our Christian brethren pray for us and keep us accountable, but moreso makes us humble, and forces us to rely on God for our strength.

So you may be wondering, how goes my battle? It's still a hard fight, and I'm pretty sure it will be to my dying day. Every time I fall, I'm reminded that I can never be invincible. If I tell myself that I've got things under control, that's when I'm in the most danger.

The most helpful advice I've received has been, unsurprisingly, in the sacrament of Confession. I've been encouraged to ask God to love me, especially in those times of heaviest temptation. When I do it, it works every time.

And I take a lot of comfort in knowing that St. Jerome struggled with fantasies of dancing Roman maidens. He suggests fasting... something totally foreign to my Protestant upbringing. Not that Protestants - or even Free Methodists - don't fast, but if they ever tapped into the full graces available through it, nobody ever taught me how to do the same.

Ah, St. Jerome - pray for me!
Imagine

If I were to say that there is, in this country, a Catholic elementary school that requested for a priest to come in to assess their suitability as a trusted venue for the reservation of the Blessed Sacrament, would you be amazed?

If that priest took a glowing recommendation back to his bishop, recommending the school be granted this privilege, would you be amazed?

If the bishop approved the request, would you be amazed?

If, when the announcement of the bishop's approval was made, the students "literally shouted for joy," would your eyes tear up like mine did?

This is no fiction. Maryvale Academy in Ottawa, Ontario is the school. Read the article here, page 18 in the PDF (page 16 if you print it). This is from the Companions of the Cross newsletter for Winter 2006.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Good Ol' Fashioned Values

A long time ago I used to provide technical support for Road Runner internet service customers. One bit of swag I got from the head honchoes was a Road Runner lunch bag, with a picture of the famous Warner Bros bird silk-screened on it. I still use it today.

The other day I started doodling and found myself looking at that lunch bag, and before I knew it, the Road Runner was racing across a piece of cardstock:


I showed the picture to my little girls - who were thrilled. I explained who the Road Runner was and how he was constantly running away from Wile E. Coyote, and I found some footage on YouTube:




So I sat at my computer with my three little girls on my lap (not an easy task, but I'm fortunate to have a sizable lap) and watched some Road Runner.

They were squealing with delight - they've never seen anything like this in their lives! The only kids' shows they watch are what's on Kids' CBC on weekday mornings, and it's all rather shallow, sappy stuff: Dragon Tales, Tractor Tom, Poko, Lunar Jim, The Save-Ums (ughhh), and those ~lovely~ Doodlebops with their ~catchy~ pop tunes (ughhh again). I do somewhat approve of Nanalan', although the show revolves around a little girl whose mommy drops her off at her Nana's while she goes to work. Despite that minor shortcoming, the show is full of fun and reality; portraying the world as a kid sees it. And of course, there's nature-themed Zoboomafoo, hosted by the animal-loving Kratt brothers, Chris & Martin. I even like that one.

Don't get me wrong here - all of these shows are done with the utmost attention to quality, demographics, and message. The ones that I don't like incur my disdain for their message alone. It's all about empowerment, self-esteem, growing, respect for others, etc.

Those are all very good things that children need to learn. But TV shouldn't be how they're learning them. That's our job as Mommy & Daddy. Instead, TV should be fun, exposing one to mainly themes of an artistic nature such as drama. Good vs. evil, right vs. wrong, predator vs. prey. As soon we allow television to develop the character within our children, we have failed as parents.

So as my girls shrieked in excited trepidation at the predicament of the poor Road Runner ("Is the coyote going to eat him?"), something clicked inside me. TV shows should be fun, and fun alone.

Somehow I caught myself staying up late watching Three Stooges shorts on YouTube that night.

Monday, September 25, 2006

I Shouldn't Be Commenting On This...

...but I can't resist. After all, it's not often that the two things (one, two) I dislike the most each have a prominent representative get in trouble together.

[snicker]

Sunday, September 24, 2006

There Is Forgiveness In You

I was contemplating the concept of forgiveness the other day, in the context of a spousal disagreement.

For those of my readers who are not married, let me reveal a secret of marriage: typically, the husband needs forgiveness more frequently than the wife. I don't mean this in the sense that men are greater sinners, but I think it's fair to say that - generally - the shortcomings of the masculine sex are more acutely felt in a marriage relationship. By contrast, the people who women sin against are spread out over a broader spectrum of social life, and so while the man and the woman need forgiveness equally as much, the husband and wife, to each other, have a more disproportionate ratio.

It is a very humbling thing to have to ask for forgiveness from the same person over and over. Often this is a difficult task. Yet God is always the chief victim of our sin, and if we should ever be humbled, it is when we approach his throne of grace. As St. Paul wrote in II Cor. 12:

Therefore, that I might not become too elated, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, an angel of Satan, to beat me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I begged the Lord about this, that it might leave me, but he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness." I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me.

Whenever I start to entertain the lie that my sin cannot be forgiven this time, it helps to think of forgiveness in this manner: God eagerly desires deep communion with every person on earth, yet so many reject him - either directly or through a more roundabout process of distraction. His heart burns to restore that lost connection! There are a few - like myself - who return his desire for that intimacy, albeit imperfectly. We struggle, we fall, we sin again, breaking that union.

Of course he will welcome us back! We few are all he has! And while he seeks to save the truly lost, he still tends his existing flock.

This is why Paul could boast "most gladly" about his weaknesses - it was only due to their presence that he is made aware of his true place in the universal scheme of things (which is the definition of humility). If we are not weak, what do need God for? If we do not sin, why do we need forgiveness? The man who says he is strong and sinless is neither.

I have to ask myself what is going through God's mind when he forgives. Is he reluctantly dragging his feet, grudgingly muttering, "I forgive you"? Or is he like the father of the prodigal son, who spying him a far way off, jumps off the rooftop and runs with all the speed he can muster, embracing his penitent son, showering him with kisses and gifts?

This challenges me a lot. When I forgive others, is it with the same eagerness?

Friday, September 22, 2006

-Ish

I'm back. Close enough. Wasn't really away, just needed a break.

So I get home from work today and my wife tells me that Disney is un-vaulting The Little Mermaid soon. This is highly relevant to my life because I have three princess-crazed daughters.

So now we get to see whether Disney really believes that the priest in the movie wasn't a little too enthusiastic at the wedding.... I'm betting they digitally edit the controversial scene out. While still saying it was his knee. Last thing they want is more dispute over the matter.

Honestly, I don't know what to believe. If my kids ask me, you can bet I'd say it's his knee. If Oliver Stone asked me, I might entertain other thoughts.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

A Week Off

I'm taking this week off blogging, so expect no posts until Sept. 23rd-ish.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Bullies

Imagine if a group of fourteen year old boys approached an eight year old boy and and said, "If you call us bullies, you may very well get beaten up."

Or if a crowd of legitimate Italian businessmen cornered a debtor and discretely reminded him that it wasn't unheard of for their other debtors to have their knees smashed in.

Or if Pakistani foreign affairs spokeswoman Tasnim Aslam said, regarding Pope Benedict's criticism of Islamic violence, "Anyone who describes Islam as a religion as intolerant encourages violence." [hat tip: Best of the Web Today]

That sounds like a threat.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Let Us Press Forward

Much debate has been had, especially since the coming of the 5 year anniversary of 9/11, about the legitimacy of the War on Terror, and specifically about the veracity of invading Iraq as an extension of it.

To paraphrase George Santayana, "Let us remember the past lest we be condemned to repeat it."

This war is unlike any other in history in how it is being waged. But it is very much like the two Great Wars in that it is being fought around the whole globe. An argument could be made that the War on Terror is World War III.

I've always been a student of the times of World War II. Many Americans are under the impression that WWII lasted from Dec. 7, 1941 to Sep. 2, 1945 - but they forget that England (including the dominion countries like Canada and Australia) and France were already embroiled in the European conflict for more than 2 years at that point. But even that portion of the war had been delayed through inaction, hesitancy, cowardice, weak leadership, financial insecurity (the Great Depression was going on), and empty diplomacy. In fact, it was only after Hitler signed a non-aggression pact with Russia that he felt free to invade Poland on September 1, 1939, assured that he wouldn't have to fight a two-front war. He was a master of convenient lies - he invaded Russia just two years later, in June of 1941.

So Germany invades Poland, France & England declare war on Germany (finally!), and they embark on a royal scrap for two years, with England and France purchasing weapons, aircraft, and ships from the USA. At this point there is no formal status between the three as "Allies."

Meanwhile, Japan is doing its own thing:

Japan seized on the opportunity offered by the European conflict to press forward toward her goal of the domination of Asia. [...] The desperate position of Britain and the increasing preoccupation for the United States made it difficult for either of those countries to take strong measures. [...] Negotiations with the United Sates led to a virtual demand for the acceptance of Japanese supremacy in the Orient. An American counteroffer of co-operation in return for a Japanese pledge of nonintervention in neighboring states simply confirmed Japan's conviction that no compromise was possible. A special envoy was sent to Washington to spin out the discussions while Japan completed her final preparations for the great gamble on which she had decided.

The blow fell on Peal Harbor on the morning of December 7, 1941.

source: The American People's Encyclopedia, 1951 - emphasis added

Since Japan, Germany, and Italy had a pact to support each other in war, when the United States responded to Japan's act of infamy with a declaration of war - thus breaking its cherished state of neutrality - Germany responded in kind and declared war on the US. These two key Axis countries, separated by the span of the globe, identified with each other that they had a common foe in Western liberal democracy.

While no proof of a similar arrangement has been established between Iraq and Al Qaeda (which isn't even a state to have formal arrangements with anyway), it is obvious, based on their actions and utterances, that they viewed the West as a common enemy. And they're not alone in that characterization: Iran and North Korea are also part of what President Bush termed "The Axis of Evil." And we could add more to the list as well. There are people - even nations - out there that hate us, that hate everything about us: our liberty, our materialism, our sinfulness, our purity. Can anyone negotiate with that? If through some incredible gesture of openness, the powers of Islamic fascism agreed to meet the powers of Western freedom at a bargaining table, could we really approach them without first searching them for dynamite vests? Could we look them in the eye and truly believe they wanted to work peaceably for a solution to our infidelity?

I wouldn't believe a friendly word they said. If (as they already do) they demanded we convert to Islam or die, I would take them very seriously. But I could then suggest a third option. That third option is the only viable one right now - to fight. They do not want peace. They want global Sharia law. That desire cannot be reasoned with.

Ultimately, the lesson I would have us learn is that once our enemies figured out the way Western democracies think & act, they knew how to "work the system" so as to delay any real action on our part and thus build up strategic advantage themselves. This is as true for the Islamic fascists today as it was for the Nazis and Imperial Japan.

The lesson our troops in Afghanistan and the other coalition troops in Iraq are learning is similarly valuable: they've figured out this new type of warfare and have adapted to it. The enemy no longer has a strategic advantage, after more than 4 years of fighting.

In World War II, the Allies also had to establish new tactics and learn from their enemies' expertise. It took more than 4 years to claim back territory occupied by Germany - and the cost in human life was much more than the reports we get nowadays of 1, 4, or 5 soldiers killed in daily skirmishes.

I'm currently reading Air Power At Sea by John Winton (1976) (did I mention how much I love old books?) which has a fascinating evaluation of the legitimacy of strong military action based on a battle fought between the British aircraft carrier H.M.S. Ark Royal and the Italian navy near Taranto, Italy (not this Taranto), in 1940.

At this point in the war, nobody yet knew how aircraft would contribute to the overall effort. Battleships had been the clear dominant naval force up to that point, but it quickly became apparent that if you could fly in 10 times faster than a ship could move and could launch a couple of torpedoes at it, it was a relatively efficient way to send it to the bottom of the ocean. Even if you had multiple bombers come in to attack a ship and several were shot down in the process, if you could sink the ship or put her out of action for several months, the cost to the enemy was far greater (in lives and in dollars) than the cost of a few airplanes. Quote:

Taranto was... a victory very essential to England at this moment. It must have convinced the last doubters of the power of aircraft at sea. [...] Certainly, it made the Italians even more cautious. On 27 November, off Cape Spartivento, Sardinia, a powerful Italian force including two battleships retreated from a favourable tactical position on the threat of torpedo attack by Ark Royal's aircraft.

This demonstrates that when you have an effective military strategy and aren't afraid to use it, you can often change the outcome of events by mere deterrence.

Or in other words, the best defense is a good offense.

Fight on, brave soldiers. I'm ashamed that I'm not out there with you.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

IN MEMORIAM of Ian J. Gray

For those of my readers unfamiliar with Mr. Gray, he was a passenger on American Airlines flight 77 which was flown into the Pentagon on September 11, 2001.

I've signed up for the 2,996 Project, in which 2,996 bloggers have volunteered to honour the 2,996 victims of that day. I, nestled securely in the middle of Canada, knew none of the victims. I claim no ability to empathize with their loved ones; such a loss is a horrific blow to any circle of friends and family, so I won't pretend to have insights into Mr. Gray's life that I really don't have.

However, from comments made about him on various memorial websites (1, 2, 3, 4, 5) and other web search results, I've been able to infer the following:

He was born in Scotland, emigrated in 1968, and became a naturalized US citizen in 1979 (though he never lost his love for the bagpipes). He and his wife Ana were very much in love. His daughter Lisa misses him terribly. He had an infectious smile and loved to laugh at life's absurdities. He had a giving heart, loyal to the last. He was president of McBee Associates, a health care finance consulting firm, and served on the Board of Trustees for the Baltimore Medical Center. His contributions to both companies were immense - especially as a mentor to his peers - and the people he worked with still struggle with his absence. At company social events, he always played the role of babysitter, thoroughly enjoying playing with the kids while the adults did all their grown-up stuff. I presume he was a golfer. He loved to smoke cigars in Cancun.

He believed in dragons, and believed that we should not be afraid of them.

For having never met the man, he sounds like somebody I really wish I'd known.

May you rest in eternal peace, Ian J. Gray. May God grant solace to your loved ones.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Ad Limina Comments - Ontario Edition

Currently the bishops from Ontario are in Rome for their visit with the Pope. I've commented previously on the Atlantic bishops' visit, and as well on the Canadian Religious Conference's insidious recommendations on what to ask to the Pope for.

While some reports stated that Papa Ratzi was going to crack the whip at the Ontario bishops, his actual address was very tender and encouraging. Not that he didn't have anything "negative" to say - but his message was overall a positive one. Sample:

...the fundamental task of the evangelization of culture is the challenge to make God visible in the human face of Jesus. In helping individuals to recognize and experience the love of Christ, you will awaken in them the desire to dwell in the house of the Lord, embracing the life of the Church. This is our mission. It expresses our ecclesial nature and ensures that every initiative of evangelization concurrently strengthens Christian identity. In this regard, we must acknowledge that any reduction of the core message of Jesus, that is, the '‘Kingdom of God’,' to indefinite talk of 'kingdom values'’ weakens Christian identity and debilitates the Church'’s contribution to the regeneration of society. When believing is replaced by '‘doing'’ and witness by talk of '‘issues'’, there is an urgent need to recapture the profound joy and awe of the first disciples whose hearts, in the Lord'’s presence, "burned within them" impelling them to "tell their story"

Like any good pastor, he is recognizing first the primary fault underlying the problems the Church has today. He's saying we've become too political, too much of a grand-stander, instead of actually living the truth of the Faith. The Pope recognizes the hollow shell we call Canadian Catholicism, and exhorts us to fill it with the love of Christ, much like a child snuggling into her daddy's arms. More:

Christian civic leaders sacrifice the unity of faith and sanction the disintegration of reason and the principles of natural ethics, by yielding to ephemeral social trends and the spurious demands of opinion polls. Democracy succeeds only to the extent that it is based on truth and a correct understanding of the human person.

Any time somebody says that those celibate old men in Rome have no idea what's going on the real world, I will henceforth show them that quote. The Pope knows that our "Catholic" politicians have abandoned the faith when they perceive its message wouldn't be popular. The message our politicians are giving is, "What I believe is good enough for me, but it isn't good enough for you." The pope denounces this false dichotomy.

Of course, one can't be Catholic without recognizing this error:

...certain values detached from their moral roots and full significance found in Christ have evolved in the most disturbing of ways. In the name of '‘tolerance'’ your country has had to endure the folly of the redefinition of spouse, and in the name of '‘freedom of choice'’ it is confronted with the daily destruction of unborn children. When the Creator'’s divine plan is ignored the truth of human nature is lost.

I love how he connects the virtuous ideals of "tolerance" and "freedom of choice" to these great errors; most, if not all, of our society's problems result from a counterfeited Gospel value. When we take a virtue and divorce it from its connection to absolute truth, we end up with a fraud, which can be applied willy-nilly to any situation it would previously have rejected application to.

A particularly insidious obstacle to education today, which your own reports attest, is the marked presence in society of that relativism which, recognizing nothing as definitive, leaves as the ultimate criterion only the self with its desires. Within such a relativistic horizon an eclipse of the sublime goals of life occurs with a lowering of the standards of excellence, a timidity before the category of the good, and a relentless but senseless pursuit of novelty parading as the realization of freedom. [...] Introduced to a love of truth, I am confident that young Canadians will relish exploring the house of the Lord who "enlightens every person who comes into the world (Jn 1:9) and satisfies every desire of humanity."

The Pope here proclaims what I've seen to be true over and over again: young people will respond when you challenge them to a life of true Gospel living.

The Western bishops (which includes my own) will make their Ad Limina pilgrimage October 2 - 14.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

"On Your Knees Before the King of the World!"

That title is a line I recall from an audio cassette we had as kids, which put the Biblical account of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego into dramatic form. The line was spoken by a guard who bellowed it to the trio when they refused to kneel to Nebuchadnezzar's statue.

Obviously, old Nebby wasn't the real King of the World. (Neither was Leonardo DiCaprio.) So kneeling to him would have been an act of grotesque idolatry.

One of the controversies I struggle with most in the sister dioceses of Winnipeg & St. Boniface, whose border I leave near, is the disparity between the two when it comes to the postures during Mass; specifically at the consecration of the Eucharistic elements. Winnipeg's norm is kneeling (except at the funeral Mass held for Pope John Paul II, where our Archbishop said, "As a sign of unity, let us all stand."), and St. Boniface has instructed its parishioners to stand.

Recently I chanced upon a pile of free books from the St. Bonifase Archdiocesan Centre. I found a five-page leaflet entitled, "Reconsideration of Postures for the Laity at the Eucharist." This particular revision was issued by the Western Liturgical Conference in 1986. I can't find it online anywhere; in fact, searching for the title provides only one hit, in a bibliography for a Children's Liturgies manual.

The document itself appears to have been written as a recommendation to the Western Conference of Canadian Bishops, and its main points have been accepted by many dioceses. It tries to explain some of the reasoning behind getting rid of kneeling for the coming of our Lord, and, well... I remain unconvinced. We are taken through a weaving course of logical steps down a ladder of liturgical reform, such as in this snippet:

Feelings of reverence and piety are culturally derived, by and large. The same clergy, for instance, who counsel the people to kneel for the Eucharistic Prayer, seldom, if ever, notice the fact that they themselves have not knelt for the Prayer since there were ordained as deacons: and in the same vein, lay people who wish to retain the kneeling posture during the Eucharistic prayer no longer feel compelled to kneel for the reception of holy communion, do not require communion on the tongue, and quite readily handle the chalice when communion is given under both forms. These activities were forbidden prior to Vatican II, out a sense of reverence.

Twenty years after this document was prepared, I am aware of many people who prefer to kneel for communion and who will only receive communion on the tongue. These aren't throwback kooks either; they're young, vibrant, faithful Catholics who really live their faith. Besides, to encourage a compromise by noting that compromise has already happened in other matters is like believing there's nothing wrong with getting a vasectomy because there's nothing wrong with using birth control pills. When you watch somebody tumbling out of control down a slippery slope, the most uncharitable thing you can do is say, "It's ok if you go a little bit farther!"

As well, did you notice how the authors of this document ignore the differing roles of clergy and laity during the Mass? What's next? Scolding the faithful for not vesting properly? Inviting them behind the altar with the priest?

Here's some more quotes:

  • For many parishes, the standing posture will eliminate a considerable amount of noise, which is caused by the raising and lowering of kneelers. [Should we remove children from the liturgy too, if silence is the end we seek?]
  • It will be somewhat easier to people who are not Catholics to participate in our liturgy, particularly at weddings and funerals, if the postures are simplified. [Ooh, playing the ecumenicism card... but exactly how hard is it to realize, "They're kneeling. Now they're standing. They're sitting now."]
  • Kneeling is called for in the promise of obedience given by candidates for Holy Orders, and for the imposition of hands.* [the footnote reads:] *It could be that we have some short bishops and some ultra-tall candidates: accordingly, when a rite involves imposition or conjoining of hands, or transferring of articles such as a book or chalice, kneeling is called for. No explanation is given for kneeling at such exchanges.
  • Reverence which supports the meaning [italics in original] of the rite should be retained and supported by all of us. [blink blink... What the heck does that mean?]
Over and over again the document identifies standing with resurrection [to which I'm expected to say, "Yay!"], and kneeling with penitence ["Boo!"]:

There are very few places where kneeling is explicitly called for in the Roman Rite. Even at the Rite of Reconciliation, the penitent is called upon to kneel only for the Confiteor; such kneeling may be replaced by a simple bow of the head: and if one does kneel for the Confiteor, one rises immediately for the litanies and intercessions.

Right; we wouldn't want to foster any sort of an ongoing attitude of worship or submission in the Mass - that would be completely uncalled for.

But exactly when was the last time you heard catechesis saying you should kneel (or bow) for even this short moment in the Mass?

This is especially patronizing:

It would be wrong, however, to conclude that there is no place for kneeling in the Roman Rite. Visits to the reserved sacrament normally involve the use of a prie-dieu or kneeler. If the procession which opens Mass crosses before, or comes within close proximity of the tabernacle, the ministers are instructed by the GIRM [General Instruction of the Roman Missal] to genuflect.

Um, guys? Genuflecting isn't the same as kneeling. There is normally a difference in the number of knees you use, and in the time you're down for. Genuflecting is what you do when you enter your aisle at the movie theatre [if you're a creature of habit]. Kneeling is what you do when you propose marriage.

People, I think we've been had.

I kneel during the consecration - whether the rest of the congregation does or not - because Jesus is entering the room at that moment. I kneel as an act of worship and to renew my own submission to God's will. It's instinctive to the human psyche: when a person of authority approaches, I will automatically change my posture. Whether it's sitting up straight in your chair when your boss wanders by, or saluting a superior officer in the military, or bowing when the Queen of England greets you, or kissing my bishop's ring ["What are you doing? Oh, right, that... well, if you must."], my very physical form speaks a language. It ties right in to the Theology of the Body.

Why would I not kneel before the King of the Universe? Or more pointedly, why would a Liturgical Conference seek to remove that as the norm?

Sunday, September 03, 2006

If You've Never Read an Article I've Linked To Before...

...then make it up to me now and read this one. Fellow convert David Warren is getting some flak for speaking Truth again (tsk, tsk) and I'm sure he would appreciate a reversal in the types of email he's getting.

Read it, and let him know you support him. If you don't support him, then (in the words of Obi Wan Kenobi) you want to go home and re-think your life.