Wednesday, October 31

Our man at the New York Post, Rod Dreher, takes a break from the Jesse Jackson beat to bring us news from Christendom College, a very conservative Catholic college in Front Royal, Virginia. A former student is saying that he was kicked out of the school because he criticized a group of students and faculty who were less than distressed about the WTC attacks.

Are they Muslim? No. According to the student, they're part of a group of "pro-monarchists" at the school who were frankly glad to see such a blow leveled at capitalism and democracy.

Like the monks slithering down the pole to prayers, it's another Monty Python sketch: Catholics in the Blue Ridge Mountains praying for a king to rule them!

Here's the column.

Tuesday, October 30

Something to look for: A new PBS special on C.S. Lewis, premiering on a couple of stations this month and making its way to the rest of the country in subsequent months.
There's a good history of Halloween in this month's American Heritage magazine. I think one of the more puzzling minor cultural phenomena of recent years has been the growing attention paid to Halloween by adults. The article presents an interesting explanation: it's a holiday that is much more of a blank slate that any other. You can make of it what you want, if all you want is an excuse to party, you've got it, without any need to pretend you care about the "meaning" of the holiday.

There's another good piece on the holiday in last weekend's National Review Online, which points out, in regard to some evangelical's warnings about Halloween:

It requires us to presume that the Christian church in the United States stood idly by for a century while this abomination became a national habit, and it was only when these current evangelical leaders came on the scene that anybody finally knew enough to stop it.

And then, concerning the function of the holiday:

Far from being a trauma, Halloween gives children an opportunity to confront the most fearsome facts of life — danger, powerlessness, human malevolence, and, most notably, death and decay — and, through exaggeration, domestication, and outright mockery, to diminish and ultimately defeat them by making them less alien and momentous.

Finally did a little work on the main page. I put my recent review of Richard McBrien's Lives of the Saints up, and will probably throw one more article up there before the week's out.

Monday, October 29

More on academia in the post 9/11 world: I shared a few thoughts on this last week. Today, Stanley Kurtz has an excellent article on the same topic in the National Review Online:

So long as radical professors wrote in incomprehensible jargon and confined themselves to discussions of literature or popular culture, the public was content to ignore them, or to let out an occasional chuckle at their expense. But with a question of supreme national importance on the line, the public is watching the academy as never before, and shows every inclination to judge and find wanting what it sees there.

Oh, this is very funny. David Sedaris is a humorist, known for a couple of collections of essays and his commentary on NPR. He's currently on tour, reading from his latest book. In an interview with the Denver Post, Sedaris commented on the post 9/11 world. He said that he feels very safe flying now, except...

Sedaris is spending more time than ever on planes, but he has never felt more safe. "That's because people look like they want to kill anyone who makes a wrong move," he said. "The only thing making me a little nervous is that pilots are sometimes asking people to introduce themselves to the person next to them, and shake their hands. That's why I'm not a Catholic. That's my worst nightmare."

Of course, he's a humorist - he's openly gay, and probably not up for the whole Andrew Sullivan angst thing, but the point is fascinating for what it reflects. Could it be possible that the ridiculous, totally non-liturgical act of pre-Mass introductions designed to bring about some sense of (in reality) faux community is seeping into the general perception of the definition of Catholicism? And...surprise,'s a turn-off???

How many Muslims? The question of how many Muslims live in the United States has always been a vexing one, partly because the US Census doesn't ask about religion, and partly because the question of whether or not to include adherants of the Nation of Islam in the count is a knotty one. A few years ago, folks settled on a "guesstimate" of 6 or 7 million Muslims, leading to the often-repeated statement in recent weeks that "there are more Muslims than Episcopalians in the United States."

Maybe not. Daniel Pipes has a helpful column about this in this morning's New York Post.

It's also important to remember that the majority of Arab-Americans are not Muslim - they're Christian.

A massacre in a Catholic Church in Pakistan this past weekend. Those in the church were a group of Protestants worshipping because they have no church building of their own. You have to wonder if this deliberate act, clearly a response to the war by sympathizers to the Taliban, etc. will get as much hand-wringing coverage in the media gives to unintended civilian casualities of the U.S. action. Probably not. Here's a link to one of the more complete articles about the atrocity.
Yesterday was the feast of St. Jude Thaddeus. He is, of course, patron of "lost causes." Maybe I'll ask him to pray that tonight I'll be able to put together a dinner that everyone will like.

Got the whole costume thing done. The pattern worked fine - yesterday afternoon, I made the dress, collar and drape - Katie wore the whole thing to our parish's Halloween party last night. Today, she'll take just the dress part (a tan-colored shift), put a cross made of sticks around her neck and a headband around her head, and - presto- she'll be Kateri Tekakwitha!

Friday, October 26

Ah. Finally, a bit of peace. Just a few things to share before I go to The Corrections for a while.

Speaking of Harry Potter, apparently, the movie is clocking in at about two-and-a-half hours, and some are fretting that it can't possibly hold a child's attention at that length. Whose children are they talking about? The kids who've sat all but motionless for hours, reading all four books in the series, over and over? Those kids? Nah. As the article I've linked mentions, Harry Potter fans would be far more irritated with a shorter film that leaves out the cool stuff they're looking forward to seeing on the screen. They'll only be bored if the movie's boring.

Maybe smallpox wouldn't be such an absolute nightmare scenario as we think, according to this article in Slate. (Hate the redesign, by the way.) Some evidence indicates that the immunity given by the vaccine can last up to fifty years, and experience has shown that aggressive vaccination once the disease pops up can stem an epidemic.

Tommorow, Michael and I are giving presentations at our parish's Spiritfest, a day-long adult education event. He's speaking on Discernment of Spirits, while I'm speaking on Answering Teens' Tough Faith Questions. He's threatening to do his in the voice of Billy Bob Thornton as Carl from Sling Blade. Mustard and biscuits anyone?

Figured the whole Halloween/All Saints' costumes dilemma. We found a pattern in which the same dress could serve as the basis for both costumes, so maybe the Nightmare Weekend of Sewing won't be so bad, after all.

According to Michael, Prove It: Church is #2 on the Catholic Booksellers' Association bestseller list of books for children and youth. For next month. Don't quite know how that works, but I guess I'm proud anyway.

One thing I'm not looking forward to this fall is yet one more round of the Harry Potter Wars, undoubtedly on the way as sure as the movie is about a month from release. After three years of this, I find my patience with PotterPhobia just about at its end. No, we don't want kids getting into Wicca or the occult, but Harry Potter is not about that. They are certainly not the greatest children's books written, either (the fourth one, in particular was at least 250 pages too long, in great need of editing), but they're not harmful. Magic in these books is a metaphor. It's a metaphor for personal power and the Potter books are about a group of children's (especially Harry's) discovery of how to use that power - for good or for evil.

I've not a great deal of hope in the film, though considering that it's directed by Chris Columbus, he of Home Alone fame. We'll see.

For a good defense of Harry Potter, especially in these post 9/11 days, see this article in the weekend's National Review Online. For a rather unusual endorsement of the Harry Potter books - from a magazine associated with Opus Dei, go to this article from last year.

Perhaps one of the slightly positive unintended consequences of this war will be the universities of this country revealed for what they are: massive wastes of money.

Mind you, I say this as a University Brat myself, being the daughter of a retired professor who taught at several public universities. We know of what we speak.

Over the past weeks, those watching for stupid statements (National Review Online in their "Kumbaya Watch", The New Republic in their "Idiocy Watch", among others) have never failed to include at least one deeply fatuous statement from an academic, a phenomenon which should make all parents of college-age students sit up and righteously wonder, "And I'm paying this guy's salary?"

It's not news, of course, to anyone who's been paying attention to higher education since the sixties knows. A couple of articles today add to the mix: In NRO, a piece on racial preferences in college admissions, which includes the following frightening data from a survey of Illinois residents:

. "What should a student gain from college?" That was the question put to residents in a recent survey, highlighted in a report written by the Committee on Access and Diversity of the state's Board of Higher Education and adopted two months ago by the full board.

At the very bottom of the eight answers ranked was "Exposure to Great Writers and Thinkers." Next to last was "Responsibilities of Citizenship." These were the only two that most residents did not think were "absolutely essential." Indeed, half thought they were not essential at all, and 14 percent and 9 percent, respectively, said that they were in fact "not too important."

The top two vote getters were "Sense of Maturity and How to Manage on Their Own" and "Ability to Get Along with People Different from Themselves." Only 2 percent viewed these as "not too important," and 71 percent and 68 percent, respectively, called them "absolutely essential."

There's another article on the different responses to the war in secular and religious universities in The Wall Street Journal. The latter piece is interesting, but doesn't really represent the reality which it indicates - the "religious colleges" the author cites are Bob Jones, Southern Virginia (small Mormon school), Brigham Young, and Ave Maria (a relatively new, very small Catholic liberal arts and law school in Michigan). I'm sure that if you went to Notre Dame or even Baylor or any other large, more mainstream religiously-affiliated university, you'd find your share of hand-wringing about root causes and jingoism.

Will be getting some work done today: I hope. One more Living Faith devotion, then maybe some work on the interminable book proposals I'm constantly toying with. If I could just get them done, I could get the money, and I'd feel much better. So why can't I get them done?

Today's distraction will be Katie, , home from school at noon. (parent- teacher conferences this afternoon.) I suppose we'll use the time to go get the costumes she needs for next week together. A disadvantage of Catholic schools: two costumes for the Halloween/All Saints nexus. Unless your child really wants to be St. Catherine or St. Dominic for Halloween, and who can blame them if they don't? She's going to be Kateri Tekakwitha for All Saints (a city-wide Catholic school celebration at the Cathedral), and wants to be some sort of Egyptian princess for Halloween. The first will be easier to do that the second.

I'll also try to make more progress on The Corrections which, after a good start, has struck a rough patch, although the nature of the patch has given me a good starting point for criticism - a character is getting interested in a scheme to fool with the "hard-wiring" of the brain in the interest of better mental health for humanity (and himself, probably)....Walker Percy, anyone? Think Love in the Ruins, but without the wit and (so far) without the soul.

Someday, I'll post new articles to the main page. Someday. I have several book reviews and columns I'd like to get up there - maybe next week. I guess I'm getting spoiled by this blogger stuff - no html, no graphics to find - just vent, rant and type. Way too easy!

Thursday, October 25

Lots of discussions about Islam these days, of course, more precisely two questions:

What is the relationship of bin Laden's ideology to the rest of Islam?

and What is the relationship of bin Laden's type of "Islamist fundamentalism" to other types of religious fundamentalism?

The discussions are often shaped, unfortunately, I think, by two overblown and misplaced concerns: to not offend Muslims in general and to make sure religion in general doesn't become a culprit.

One of President Bush's primary advisors on the matter, David Forte, seems particularly intent on drawing all kinds of lines between bin Laden and religion, period. His conversation-starting article can be found here in the National Review. (Actually, the conversation was started by Andrew Sullivan in the NYTimes Magazine. Article's here. ) Subsequent responses in the pages ("on the screens?") of NRO have come from Daniel Pipes and today, , Stephen Schwartz. Here's a good summary of the dispute so far as it centers around the specific issue of the role of violence within Islam: Click here.

I don't really understand Forte's concern or cause here. Of course bin Laden's ideology is rooted in Islam and has a religious component, although it's also true that he's more akin to medieval princes setting forth under the cross of the Crusades to whom religion was a cover for looting, pillaging, adventure, and getting to build their very own castles in Palestine. But sure, it's "religious" in a way, and it's certainly "fundamentalist", too, and as such bears the qualities of all fundamentalism, whether that be Christian, Islam or anything else - selectivity.

People are often wrong about this. They define "fundamentalism" as a religious perspective that takes "everything literally" and applies all tenets of a religion to life without discrimination, sensitivity, nuance, context or mercy. That's just not what fundamentalism is - it's selective application of literal readings of one's religion. Do evangelical Christian fundamentalists apply all of what they read in the Bible literally to life? Of course not. If they did, they'd all be living in community on just what they need, celebrating eucharist every week and believing that that same eucharist was Jesus' Real Presence among them. Uh...they don't.

So very properly defining bin Laden's ideology as one that's partally rooted in Islamist fundamentalism of a certain type is correct, and saying as such doesn't cast a shadow on religion in general, or on orthodox Christianity specifically.

Hey. I made a big-time Blog, albeit anonymously. Andrew Sullivan printed part of a letter I shot off to him about his debate with Katha Pollitt. Nothing new - it's essentially what I wrote here about the matter. (Sullivan doesn't print names of his letter-writers).

Feast of 40 Martyrs of England and Wales.

Modern American Catholics don't really have a sense of how vigorously and consistently Roman Catholicism was persecuted in post-Reformation England (with the exception of Queen Mary's rule, of course!). Today's feast is a good reminder - a summary is here.

By the way, one of the more interesting historical redefinitions that's been going on in recent years is re-evaluating the English Reformation. Although it was always there to be plainly seen, historians (and, just as importantly, those who communicate history to the public through textbooks and so on) have persisted in downplaying the more brutal aspects of Henry VIII's break with Rome, including the obvious element of power-grabbing.

That's changing, though. Two books that you might look into if you're interested in such things: The Stripping of the Altars:Traditional Religion in England, 1400-1580 by Eamon Duffy really broke open scholarship in this area, maintaing that religion in England before the Reformation wasn't particularly corrupt or in need of reform - it was vital, meaningful and connected to both the needs of the people and the core truths of Christianity.

Another book to look at is Peter Ackroyd's biography of Thomas More.

A couple of older books on the subject from the Catholic perspective:How the Reformation Happened by Hillaire Belloc and The Beginning of the English Reformation by Hugh Ross Williamson.

Oh, this is disgusting. Talk about exploitation. This is just creepy. Who would go this low? Well, I guess a guy who makes his living pretending to communicate with the dead would:

"Crossing Over" host John Edward "will feature attempts to communicate with victims of the Sept. 11 attacks" in several episodes airing next month during November sweeps.

Wednesday, October 24

Finally reading The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen.

So far (Day 1: 156 pages into it), I'd have to agree with James Wood (the excellent literary critic, not James Woods, the intrepid, terrorist-spotting actor) in his review of the book in The New Republic. When Franzen concentrates on character and the inner workings of the psyche, he's spot-on and does some nice, perceptive writing (about most of the characters. I'm finding the matriarch of the family nothing but a fluttery stereotype so far). But when he tries to get all pretentiously "social novel" on us and impress us in his knowledge of railroads or post-communist Lithuanian economies, he loses us.

Three rather nice, ever-so-brief descriptions of a character's reality:

Outside, a wind from the south had picked up, a thawing wind that quickened the patter of snowmelt on the back patio. The sense that Chip had had when the phone rang--that his misery was optional--had left him again.

The subtle signs that Denise [daughter] was exercising patience--the slightly deeper breaths she took, the soundless way she set her fork down on her plate and took a sip of wine and set the glass back down--were more hurtful to Enid [mother] than a violent explosion.

To Chip the air felt disagreeably intimate, like a warm spot in a swimming pool.

This whole business between Franzen and Oprah is interesting.

She picked the book for her book club, he indicated his (a) surprise and (b) mild distress, the latter, he claimed, because the "Oprah's Book Club" sticker would mess up the cover. Of course it's also possible his distress was a smart publicity ploy to keep the buzz going on his book, since now people are actually reading it, instead of just talking about it, and finding it a little tougher going (see "Lithuania" above) than the drooling critics hinted it might be.

As usual, see Moby Lives for all your literary gossip needs.

Hot Literary News:

Bob Dylan to Write Autobiography

Justin Timberlake's (of N'Sync - 20 years old) novel canceled.

You win some, you lose some. I'll let you do the matching.

Tuesday, October 23

Here we are again. I guess I should be flattered that Joseph likes to hang out with me so much when everyone else is asleep. So I might as well surf and tell you what I've seen while he lies on the floor playing with his box'o'toys

Here's a writer I've just discovered : Jim Lileks, a columnist for the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, as well as the author of several books. His website has several sections, including the Institute of Official Cheer, which allows you to relive (or be introduced to) some of the most painfully lame moments of 20th century pop culture. I'm finding his daily Bleats very entertaining. Here are some his reflections on The News:

Since I usually watch the news in the evening, I’ve seen a good deal of Brian Williams; he always seems to be leaning forward into a stiff wind, and he communicates bad or important news by leaning forward some more; I expect him to topple over the desk some day. Fox has some women who were clearly hired for their perky bubble-babe quotient, and are now forced to be grim and serious, but they also have two of the sharpest female anchors I’ve seen in a while. (Fox also has a male version of the pin-up variety, a fellow named Sheperd Smith; he looks like a grown-up DC superhero sidekick.) I cannot stand Judy Woodruff, who always seems so pained and disappointed that It Has Come To This.

Under the category of "Articles that can't be for real:"

Monastery installs firemen's pole for late monks:

An Austrian monastery has installed a firemen's pole to make sure monks get to their prayers on time.

The pole runs from their second floor sleeping quarters to the ground floor, where religious sessions take place.

The head of Pupping Monastery, in Northern Austria, came up with the idea during renovations which left little room for a staircase.

As I said, hard to believe, but apparently true. The story appeared in the London Telegraph - I found a link to it, but can't get to the article itself.

Sounds like a scene from a Monty Python skit, doesn't it?

Blessed John Buoni

This is not a week for Celebrity Saints, but that doesn't mean those we remember are any less interesting. It's just that we know hardly anything about them. Every day, however, at least one saint pops out at me with a quirky life detail.

John Buoni lived in the 12th-13th centuries. He spent the first half of his life as a court entertainer - a jester, perhaps? - and apparently enjoyed all the perks. Around the age of 40, he became ill, turned his life over to Christ, and became a hermit.

He gradually attracted disciples and they formed a community which eventually came under the Augustinian Rule. John was, as hermits tend to be, an austere fellow, who, according to Butler's:

...had three beds in his cell, one uncomfortable, another more uncomfortable, and the third most uncomfortable.

The story I like the best is this one: John, like many holy hermits, was beset by visitors, which sort of defeats the purpose of being a hermit, don't you think? John did, so one night, he just started walking and wandering, determined to get away from the penitents and the curious who wouldn't stay away and find a new hermitage where he could pray in peaceful solitude. He walked all night, but at dawn, found himself in familiar surroundings: at the door of his old, familiar hermit's cell.

John took this as a pretty clear sign from God that this is where he needed to be.

It reminds me just a bit of a Jewish folk tale:

Eisek lived a hard-working and pious life in Cracow, Poland. In spite of his best efforts to support his family he was weighed down by debt and oppressed by worries for his future. He resorted to more fervent prayer, but matters remained unchanged. One night he had a dream that clearly arose from his anxiety. In the dream he found himself in a distant city at an impressive bridge situated near a great palace. A voice spoke up and said: "Eizek you are in Prague, at the royal palace. Under this bridge there is a buried treasure that will be the solution to your problems. It is yours for the taking."

Upon awaking Eizek dismissed this dream as arising from wish fulfillment, and so easily explained away. But when it recurred two more nights in a row and the voice rebuked him for not acting on the advice given, he decided to undertake the difficult journey, though not without lingering doubts.

Upon arriving at the Capital he was directed to the famous bridge and to his wonderment he saw it resembled in detail the image he had seen in his dreams and so did the palace opposite. As he explored under the bridge for the treasure site indicated by the voice his actions aroused the attention of the palace police who took him to their chief. Eisek, obviously frightened, told the captain the story of his dream, but without mentioning his name or native city. The captain, a man of experience and discernment quickly recognized that the suspect was harmless and laughing at his explanation spoke to him jestingly. "I too have been having a recurrent dream, but I have too much common sense to go to the trouble it would give me were I to heed it. I keep seeing the poor dwelling of a Jew in Cracow, named Eisek, son of Yekel, and a voice says: "go to this home and dig under the stove where you will find a large treasure buried." But do you think I am stupid enough to believe such a foolish dream! Eisek listened with rapt attention to these remarks and soon as he was released headed for home where he found the buried treasure.

(The Treasure by Uri Shulevitz is a nice children's book that tells this story.)

Sometimes we're called to move on and break out on radical new paths, but the vast majority of our lives are spent doing God's will right where we are. We're a restless people, made all the more restless by a culture that continually puts images in front of us that heighten our desire to be other than what we are, by mobility, by the possibility and reality of rapid change.

Don't be swayed by all of that. Don't try to escape the place to which God has brought you right now - after all, He's put you here...there must be a reason. What is it that He wants you to do?


I'm up a lot in the middle of the night these days. Sometimes when the baby wakes, I just put him into bed with us and let him snooze there after he's fed. But other times, when I'm just a little awake, and I really don't feel like sleeping with him on the crook of my arm the rest of the night, I drag myself downstairs and nurse him there in the silence.

What fascinates me is how absolutely quiet it is, and I'm not just talking about in the house. I'm talking about outside. It's so quiet that when a train passes, two miles away, the rush of it going down the track, something that happens during the day, but I never hear, sounds as if it's going on in our backyard.

I understand that there's a lot more noise out there than I realize. I don't even notice it during the day - if you asked me, I'd say we lived in a quiet neighborhood, and we do. But there must be noise, because the nighttime is so noticeably quiet.

When we pray, we may think we're listening to God, but are we? Are we even aware of how much noisy our spirits really are? Or have we just grown so accustomed to the continual drone, that we don't even know it's there, muffling and distorting the voice of God we're so confident that we hear, only to be startled when it rushes by us like a train in a very silent night, unfamiliar, yet at last unmistakable?

Monday, October 22

Finding out what's not in the lectionary is just as interesting as examining what is.

You should try it sometime: look at the readings for any given Sunday or weekday and find the verses that are skipped. Most of the time, it's all about clobbering enemies. I'm currently working on a devotional for Living Faith , and one of the possibilities is Psalm 149. The text that will be used as the responsorial psalm that day is Ps. 146: 1-6, 9. All sorts of good stuff about praising God. So what's left out? What's in verses 7 and 8, anyway?

And let the two edged swords be in their hands:to execute vengeance on the nations, punishments on the peoples;
To bind their kings with chains, their nobles with fetters of iron;


Clear-headed, honest thinking on Islam can be found in the writings of Daniel Pipes. He has an excellent, sobering piece in the New York Post today, and his website contains a wealth of material - this article, for example is one of many that you'll read that will lead you to wonder....was anyone in intelligence been paying attention to threat that was clearly growing before September 11?
Wondering about smallpox? A lot of people are. The answer is: If you're old enough to have that big round scar on your arm, it's no use - the power of the vaccine wore off a while ago. And no, neither you or yours can go down to the doctor and get vaccinated. The (sort of) good news is that even before the anthrax attacks, President Bush ordered that an acceleration of the process to get enough doses of the vaccine for everyone in the country. Here's a New York Times article on the current status of smallpox.

Sunday, October 21

Another late-evening with Joseph. Yeah, he nodded off around seven, but only for a couple of hours. He woke, I fed him, thought I had him back to sleep, but no way. The head pops up, the eyes pop open, and - this is when you know who's won this won - the mouth breaks into a grin. Play time!

Saturday, October 20

I guess it's better than clubbing on Ecstasy...

Twin teens fashion Civil War dioramas out of ....clay cats.

Cute way to waste thirty seconds of your life: As you must know, Google is the best search engine. On their options page, they have a number of choices for what language in which you'd like to view the main page. All the usual are offered. French, Italian, Pig Latin,....Pig Latin?. Yeah. And Elmer Fudd and the Muppet's Swedish Chef, too. Here's the page.

Friday, October 19

Here are some astonishing, tragic pictures. Space Imaging is a private satellite company that takes photographs of the most amazing quality and resolution. I'd seen some satellite photos of the WTC devastation, but these are unique. Click here to see before and after photographs.
One of the new movies coming out today is Riding in Cars With Boys. It's received mixed reviews, mostly because, it seems, the tone of the book has been lost through a reworked screenplay and Penny Marshall's anvil-wielding direction. I won't be seeing it, but I thought I'd tell you that the book on which the movie's based was written by Beverly Donofrio, the author of a book I reviewed last year called Looking for Mary. You can find the review here.
Okay. Here's a better expression of what I was trying to say below.

Leftist like Katha Pollitt live in the Land of Discourse. (That's the Postmodern deconstructionism for you) They see what happened on September 11, not as an act that killed thousands, but as a statement in an ongoing discourse. Therefore, the only level at which can evaluate whether or not a response is appropriate is on that same level. What does it mean? How are we responding to their statement?

What is missing from this, besides reality, is the truth that the terrorists were not simply "making a statement" here (although their choice of targets contains that element). They were trying to do something - they were trying to kill lots of people, disrupt American life, and continue working towards their objective of destroying our country on a variety of levels. Pollitt and her ilk just can't - or won't - see this. They think that bin Laden wants to make a point, and that the most we should do is make points in return.

This morning, I listened to a "discussion" between Andrew Sullivan and Katha Pollitt, the editor of The Nation. Sullivan had described the encounter on his website, and has said that several readers have taken him to task for being "uncivil" to Pollitt. Here's a link to the program.

Give me a break. Sullivan was doing nothing but being forceful in his convictions: utterly serious, his words and tone rich with his awareness of the crucial moment in which we find ourselves. On the other hand, Pollitt was like a twittery, giggly schoolgirl who had nothing but platitudes to offer. She clearly has no sense of what's really going on, and is content to work out of nothing but cliches.

Her chatty tone was particularly shocking considering that she lives in New York. Her daughter's school is 4 blocks from the WTC site (her daughter made famous, incidentally, by her mother's column about their conflict over hanging a flag in the wake of the attack. She wanted to, mom wouldn't have it. Proof that nurture isn't everything.)

Doesn't Pollitt live in the shadow of this? Doesn't she know the smell of it? Doesn't she walk and work on an island of which one corner has become a mass grave for 5,000 bodies? How can she maintain that chirpy tone in the face of such horror?

She kept saying that the present American action is essentially "bombing Afghanistan" and that this action was being done as some sort of quick fix, ultimately hopeless. She obviously hasn't been listening to Bush,, who have been constantly reminding us that this is, indeed, a complex situation, and breaking the fundamentalist Islamic terrorists could very well take a long time and involve much more than Afghanistan.

The host had his own snide contribution to make, introducing the program (this is a public radio station in Boston, remember) with a call to all "minds with shade" to continue their profound reflection on the issues at hand. Sullivan didn't fail to notice the implication - that if you feel strongly about the matter, especially in support of a forceful response - that's somehow crude and intellectually unsophisticated.

It's distressing, but I suppose not surprising that some feel that Sullivan was somehow (to put it bluntly) mean to little Katha. But that's been the case for a while now. Stating a strong case, particularly from a "conservative" perspective (whatever that means) is routinely described as "divisive" and "uncivil." It's nothing but an attempt to discredit and even stifle certain viewpoints.

Most striking, of course, was Pollitt's inability to present any alternative course of action, which is rooted in her devotion to relativism, but at a deeper level, the implicit assumption, which she may not even see in herself, that all, in the end, is essentially symbolic. We shouldn't "do" anything, apparently, except write articles, have commission meetings and show solidarity. With someone.

It's all about symbolic gestures, which is the ultimate province of the privileged who are used to having freedom at other people's expense, whether it be the hired help or the despised military and intelligence forces who, in case she doesn't know it, are all that are standing between Katha Pollitt and a burqa (or perhaps a nice case of smallpox or just simple nuclear-induced vaporization) right now.

Feast of the North American Martyrs

Today is the feastday of several French Jesuits who came to the New World in the 17th century. Dare we still celebrate them, or any missionary, in these multi-cultural days? We wouldn't have a problem if they'd just wanted to bring material comfort to the native peoples. We like the Red Cross. We like social workers. But these men had something else they were bringing: the Gospel.

Perhaps the best way to put their efforts into perspective for the doubtful is this: These men were brutally tortured and murdered. What better evidence is there for the need for Christ among those they tried to serve than that?

Here's a link to the National Shrine of the North American Martyrs in Auriesville, New York.

Thursday, October 18

Yesterday, in my library time , waiting for Katie at her musical composition program, I read the most horrifying article in American Heritage magazine. It was about the Mountain Meadows Massacre. The article isn't online yet, but here's a brief account of the event from an issue of the Salt Lake Tribune:

A California-bound wagon train of about 140 Arkansas emigrants led by John Baker and Alexander Fancher camped near the present-day southwestern Utah town of Enterprise in September 1857. Fears the U.S. Army was preparing to forcibly remove Brigham Young as Utah territorial governor and impose martial law were at their height. Spurred by inflammatory sermons of LDS leaders, a siege mentality focused Mormon resentment toward the "gentile" wagon train.

Early on Sept. 7, a group of American Indians and local Mormon "Indian missionaries" attacked the encircled wagon train without warning. After the Arkansas party repelled the offensive, a contingent of Mormon territorial militia, acting on orders from religious leaders, joined the assault, which dragged on four more days as 15 emigrant men were killed while fighting or escaping to summon help.

With their ammunition, food and water almost gone, the emigrants were persuaded by Mormon officials on the afternoon of Sept. 11 to surrender their arms in exchange for a safe escort past the Indians to Cedar City. Segregated into groups of young children, women and teens, and adult males, they were led under heavy guard by more than 50 militiamen and settlers out of the corralled wagons and up the valley.

On a pre-arranged command, the rescuers turned upon the emigrants, joined by Indians who had been lying in wait. Estimates of the death toll include 14 Arkansas men shot in the head, 12 women and 35 youngsters clubbed or knifed to death, with 17 children younger than age 8 surviving the double-cross.

Nine cowhands hired to drive cattle also were murdered, along with at least 35 other unknown victims. In all, 120 people, mostly women and children, were slain.

After two decades of rumors, denials, cover-ups and failed indictments, one of the participating Mormon leaders, John D. Lee -- Young's adopted son -- was tried, convicted and executed by firing squad in 1877 at the scene of the massacre. Lee considered himself a scapegoat.

No one else was ever officially held responsible for the crime.

Here's another brief article about the massacre, which includes a description of it from Roughing It by Mark Twain. The American Heritage article says that section was removed from later editions of the book.

The issue, of course, is culpability. The Mormon Church denies any responsibility for the massacre, although evidence exists linking church leadership, including Brigham Young himself, to the event.

Does theocracy ever work to the ultimate good of human welfare? I don't think so.

Profiles in Courage: Not.

I'm of two minds in regard to the Congressional Anthrax Skeedaddle: This is leadership in times when we're told to "not let the terrorists win" and "lead our normal lives?" But then.... if they're not in session, they can't spend money. Go ahead guys. We'll do fine without you, I do believe.

Whew. If you'd told me at 12:30 am that ten hours later I would be finished with the article I'd barely started writing, I would have laughed. Or cried. In fact, I'd just finished reading the book that was to be the focus of the article: Joe DiMaggio: The Hero's Life.

But I did it.Thanks to the baby, who took a 90-minute nap this morning, I did it.

So, you're wondering, why is she writing about baseball? Because the editor told me to, that's why. Actually, the piece is a "think piece" on heroes, reflecting on the warts-and-all portrayal of DiMaggio in the book, our changing sense of the heroic, how our media saturated celebrity culture warps our sense of the hero, and, of course, post 9/11 reflections.

It's a interesting book, the DiMaggio biography. It was a controversial piece of work, since it shatters any myths and leaves us with a cold, hard-shelled central figure (a portrayal not helped by the fact that the author wrote the book without any help from DiMaggio himself.) who was miserly, and pretty much totally focussed on how he could trade on his celebrity status to get other people to give him free stuff and lots of money. The portrait of his later years and his machinations with purveyors of baseball collectibles is pretty outrageous.

There's a hospital down in Hollywood, Florida named for him: The Joe DiMaggio Children's Hospital. DiMaggio never gave the place a dime. Somehow, the naming of the hospital after him worked to help shelter him from some California taxes. He wouldn't even donate autographed memorabilia for fund-raising purposes. They had to buy it on the open market.

One of the most striking images is of DiMaggio, the year before he died, being driven around New York City in a friend's car, a friend whose car was his regular mode of transportation when he was in NYC - it was stocked with his favorite CD's, as well as "a copy of the book, the Old Man and the Sea, with the pages that mentioned the Great DiMaggio dog-eared at the corners, so Joe could find them.”

One thing I didn't know: That DiMaggio and Marilyn Monroe were scheduled to be remarried (after being divorced for about 4 years) the Wednesday after the Saturday she ended up dead.

Wednesday, October 17

Speaking of biological warfare....

The Hot Invite: Pock Parties

Apparently, the state of Pennsylvania has mandated the chickenpox vaccine - ridiculous. I feel much more comfortable about having my kids get chicken pox naturally then subjecting their little bodies to yet another vaccine. In fact, by the time Katie got it when she was two, I didn't even take her to the doctor. I knew what it was, there was nothing the doctor could do other than to tell me what I already knew.

Some parents in Pennsylvania feel the same way, so they've started having "pock parties" in which kids with chickenpox in the infectious stage play with other kids and give them chickenpox on purpose, therefore making the vaccine unecessary. Kind of weird, but makes a bizarre kind of sense.

The disturbing part of the story, though (unless you find the idea of the parties disturbing, too, which I really don't) is that the chickenpox vaccine is derived from the remains of unborn children aborted during the 1960s' (I refuse to use the term "fetus". It used to simply mean what it is - Latin for "unborn child." In its present usage, it means something else - non-human worthy of life only if the powerful people say it's okay. .)

Anyway, the origins of the vaccine bother me a great deal, and I had no idea. I also don't really see how, as the church officials at the end state, it's morally acceptable to use them, given the origins. Maybe someone smart can explain?

Tuesday, October 16

Christopher is having fundy trouble again. My oldest son works in the division of the UT Athletic Department that's responsible for taping games for highlights purposes, as well as producing the coach's shows and miscellaneous other work. He loves it, and we're all so grateful that he's involved in something for which he has such a passion. A couple of the guys he works with are fundamentalist Christians - very good people who've taken good care of my son as he's transitioned from home to college, and I'm appreciative.

They've always teased and questioned him about being Catholic, good-naturedly, I've believed, but it's starting to get to Christopher. Tonight he called and we had a long talk about such matters, which, over the past week, have revolved around the interpretation of Revelation 13:18 - the number 666. All my kid was trying to point out to them was that the number could stand for Nero (the numerical value of the letters in his name adding up to 666), and they jumped all over him, saying that of course he was wrong, of course he didn't know what he was talking about, of course it was simply Satan's "number", and somehow, in the end, devaluing Christopher's faith.

He just didn't understand why it was such a big deal, and frankly, neither do I. I asked him if, in these conversations about literal interpretation of Scripture, he ever brought up Jesus' words of institution at the Last Supper. "Yes!" he almost shouted, "I do! They just say that it's not important, and that Jesus meant something else!"

Ah. Christopher, allow me to introduce you to Mr. Fundamentalist. His first name is Inconsistent.It's pretty bizarre how literal interpreters of Scripture will spend so much time and energy defending the "literal truth" of certain passages and completely ignore others - lots of others. It just goes to show that "truth" is not the issue, but verse-slinging in defense of already-determined assumptions is.

Oh yes. Say a prayer for my son, will you? Gracias.

Off-site posting! I'm sitting here at the Georgetown branch of our library system, waiting for Katie who's at a special program in musical composition at a public elementary school down the block. I've read America, The Atlantic Monthly and Entertainment Weekly, and that's about all that's here to read. This is also about all I can manage with a sleeping baby draped on my lap. Later!
Speaking of Sister Wendy , here's a nice tribute to her from Beliefnet.
My husband Michael Dubruiel has moved his blog to this spot, which he's calling "Annunciations." I like it.
For those of you wondering what's going on with the investigation into the terrorist cells, take a look at this article from last week's LA Times.
"Women of Cover?" Did anyone notice Bush's use of this term in last week's press conference?

I was struck by this that in many cities when Christian and Jewish women learned that Muslim women, women of cover, were afraid of going out of their homes alone, that they went shopping with them, that they showed true friendship and support, an act that shows the world the true nature of America.

Here's what I have to say: if he made up the phrase on the spot, he's pretty darn clever. If one of his speechwriters was responsible - fire the culprit for the crime of being incredibly lame.

Feast of St. Gerard Majella

A Redemptorist lay brother, St. Gerard is remembered for many qualities, including his holiness (well, yeah...we can take that for granted, I guess), his patient endurance of ill health, his gift of healing, and this:

At one point in his life, Gerard was subject to a rather shocking accusation: that he'd had an affair with a woman. this page says the accusation was that he was the father of a child, but nowhere else have I found that element of the story.

When the accusation was brought to him by none other than Redemptorist founder Alphonsus Liguori, Gerard decided to take the Redemptorist rule's command to accept the discipline of one's superior's in silence, without dispute literally, even in this circumstance, which was clearly not the intent of the Rule.

But he did, and was punished for his supposed indisgression for several months, even though everyone found it almost impossible to believe that he would have been capable of such a thing. After a time, the girl, very ill, confessed her lie, and Gerard was brought back into full community life.

This story reminds me of a Zen Koan. Yes, it really does. Here it is:

A beautiful girl in the village was pregnant. Her angry parents demanded to know who was the father. At first resistant to confess, the anxious and embarrassed girl finally pointed to Hakuin, the Zen master whom everyone previously revered for living such a pure life. When the outraged parents confronted Hakuin with their daughter's accusation, he simply replied "Is that so?"

When the child was born, the parents brought it to the Hakuin, who now was viewed as a pariah by the whole village. They demanded that he take care of the child since it was his responsibility. "Is that so?" Hakuin said calmly as he accepted the child.

For many months he took very good care of the child until the daughter could no longer withstand the lie she had told. She confessed that the real father was a young man in the village whom she had tried to protect. The parents immediately went to Hakuin to see if he would return the baby. With profuse apologies they explained what had happened. "Is that so?" Hakuin said as he handed them the child.

Interesting, isn't it? Not so much for the similarities in the stories, but for the differences, which clearly point out the distinctions between Christian and Buddhist spiritual ideals.

The Buddhist ideals that are stressed here are self-detachment, and release from any desire, here the desire for "justice" and even truth. Hakuin certainly acts out of compassion in caring for the baby and protecting the mother's reputation, but that's not the real point. The point is that Hakuin understood that all of the concerns that swirled around the situation were really illusory and not deserving of attachment or concern.

Gerard, on the other hand, is intent on imitating Christ. We may wonder if he took things a bit far, and it may strike us that there's a bit of self-righteousness in his silence in front of St. Alphonsus, but beyond that, the ideals we can see lived out are patience under trial and faith that God's truth will win out in the end.

I have to confess, I find the Buddhist story more appealing. Don't know what that says about me, but there it is.

Monday, October 15

Biblical Evidence for Catholicism is the great website operated by Dave Armstrong, a comprehensive collection of articles (his own and others) covering just what the title suggests. Dave has published a book with the same title. It's available through the publish-on-demand operation called 1stBooks . Click here or here for more information.
Why the Episcopal Church is in trouble: Exhibit 476(a): Read this letter from October 8 written by the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church regarding the military response to the terrorist attacks. No, it's not that he's against them that's striking. It's that the whole letter is such an excellent example of Missing the Point, of what most Western Christian denominations have devolved into: in response to problems, let's form a commission:

As I shared with the House [a meeting of bishops]while we were in Burlington, I have asked the Rt. Rev. Arthur Walmsley, retired Bishop of Connecticut, to coordinate the activities flowing out from our statement. [ On Waging Reconciliation] Arthur has graciously agreed to give us time through the March meeting of the House of Bishops to serve as Coordinator of the House of Bishops Reconciliation Initiative. At the March meeting we will look at what has already been accomplished and consider future strategies, which are being developed over these next months.

Huh? They're going to talk more about the war in March?

Do read the letter. Laugh. Cry. And mind you, I'm not picking on Episcopalians here. I've had my say on the Catholic bishops, as well. Go to the homepage and click on the article called Swords? Ploughshares?

Here's a good piece on the whole Bert/bin Laden thing from The National Review by Andrew Stuttaford. Good quote:

It may have been an accidental triumph, but who cares? Western culture, represented in this case by the unlikely standard-bearer, Evil Bert, had once again humiliated its dim, dismal, and demented opponents, fools who would run a world, but cannot operate a PC

A Delta flight was diverted when two men were spotted at the back of the plane, huddled together and speaking a foreign language.

They were Jewish. They were praying.

This comes the day after a plane was diverted to Indianapolis, after a flight attendant found a "powdery substance" on the plane. It was talcum powder. This, in turn, comes a day after a situation in which people reported yet another "powdery substance" on yet another plane that turned out to be confetti from an opened greeting card.

"People are really being careful and sensitive," said the Aviation Director of the Charlotte Airport.

I guess that's one way to put it.

Feast of St. Teresa of Avila

What a woman. Brilliant, articulate, passionate and, above all, deeply in love with God. St. Teresa of Avila is one of the most powerful answers we have to the accusation that the Church is irredeemably sexist at its core, both in terms of her life and in the devotion accorded to her over the past five hundred years.

She's also a pretty vivid answer to the accusation that the spiritual life of Christians somehow strips us of our humanity and uniqueness. In fact, when you look at all the great saints, made so what the faithful have sensed God has accomplished in them, one of the things that will strike you is their utter humanity. Of course, there's such a thing as hagiography and myths and legends that spring up around figures that render them rather other-worldly. But for the most part, the most revered saints are those who have nothing to hide: St. Paul, St. Augustine, St. Francis of Assisi, St. Ignatius of Loyola, St. Therese of Lisieux, and, of course, Teresa are all keenly aware of their faults, so the way they open themselves to the power of God working in their lives becomes all the more inspiring and accessible for it.

One of the most interesting aspects of Teresa's life is that she really didn't get rolling, spiritually speaking, until mid-life. She was over forty when, after years of life in the convent, years during which she prayed with varying degrees of interest and commitment, she finally began to give herself over to God in meditation and contemplation, and it bore fruit....the fruit was, of course, her spiritual writings as well as her reform of religious life. While Cathleen Medwick's biography of Teresa has its faults - not enough exploration of her mysticism - I found it a rather good introduction to her life and exploration of the wretched politics she had to wade through in order to follow her call to reform the Carmelites.

A brief aside: Teresa's story, like the story of every other great figure in the Church, reminds me of a truth. As a critic of many church institutions, especially schools and religious ed programs, I get a lot of well-meaning people telling me that it's all okay, we just need to work on fixing these institutions from the inside know...get on the school boards, get involved, and so on. Well, that works sometimes, but when things really get terrible, the history of the church tells us, over and over, that working from the inside has its definite limits. Most real, positive change in the Church and its institutions has come from doing something brand new.

That's what Teresa did. The Carmelite convents of her day had become little more than boarding houses for wealthy unmarried women. The "cloister" was a joke, and "poverty" was what happened when your family's gift of sweets ran out for the month. Teresa tried to fix this from the inside, but it didn't take her long to realize that something else was really needed: starting new convents dedicated to simplicity, asceticism, and contemplation. So she did.

For more information on St. Teresa of Avila, go here , and for a list of sites devoted to her, go here.

Sunday, October 14

Take your pick of popes. Or at least the actor portraying him. Apparently, Italian television has two John XXIII movies in the works: one starring Bob Hoskins and the other....Ed Asner. Lou Grant as John XXIII? Does that mean in the latter, we're going to have a scene with a little nun flipping her veil and whining, "Oh, Pope John!" ?? Here's the story.

Saturday, October 13

Finished reading Quakertown. Not great, but it was plenty good enough reading for a Saturday afternoon and evening on the couch with husband, baby, and football. It's a novel based on the true story of an African-American neighborhood in Denton, Texas (called Quakertown, it's thought, because of the role Quakers played in resettling freed slaves during Reconstruction). All the land was bought by the city in 1922, and the residents resettled on some land a mile or so outside of town, and their homes and businesses replaced by a city park. For an article on the history of Quakertown, go here.

Friday, October 12

I'm not sure, but I think this would qualify as "despicable.": CBS Considers WTC Comedy. Read it and weep.
The hardest part about writing the Prove It books is finding good quotes. Here's an excellent one from C.S. Lewis on petitionary and intercessory prayer:

We have long since agreed that if our prayers are granted at all they are granted from the foundation of the world. God and His acts are not in time. Intercourse between God and man occurs at particular moments for the man, but not for God. If there is—as the very concept of prayer presupposes—an adaptation between the free actions of men in prayer and the course of events, this adaptation is from the beginning inherent in the great single creative act. Our prayers are heard –don’t say “have been heard” or you are putting god into time—not only before we make them but before we are made ourselves.

Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer.

Watching Sister Wendy Beckett convince us that a wacked-up surviving lower half of an Egyptian sculpture was positively the most beautiful thing we'd ever seen on an episode of Sister Wendy's American Collection, Michael and I couldn't help but wonder why the British get nuns like Sister Wendy, and we get nuns like...Joan Chittister. Just asking.
I'm working on a variety of things these days: It's good, because it's work, but the problem lies in my apparent present inability to keep all of these writing obligations straight in my head from day to day. I think I'll blame it on the baby. I've got several OSV pieces to write: A regular book column on Tolkein, and then features on: a) heroes, b) Oprah, and c) The Corrections by Jonathon Franzen. Plus, the regular columns.

In terms of books, I have Prove It: Prayer to finish in the next few weeks, sidebars for a coffee-table book on Catholicism, then the beginnings of projects on: a) the Parables of Jesus, b) a sequel to the Loyola Kids' Book of Saints, and an Advent family devotional for Creative Communications for the Parish.

As a result, most of my reading these days is work-oriented. Reading about prayer and parables, reading about heroes.

Read about Mary for an OSV piece: Scott Hahn's latest,(which was okay in using a typological approach to demonstrating the logic and truth of Catholic Marian doctrines, but in the process leaves the human Mary behind, the Mary whom we look to because she is the first disciple, a most powerful model of faith. The strange thing about the book is that it uses the exact same cover art and almost the identical design as Meditations on Mary by Kathleen Norris, published two years ago ) plus a couple of coffee-table books, one awfully pretty, but achingly PC, full of earth mother/goddess commentary along with the Botticellis,) the other a very nice book on Marian shrines in Europe.. I did check out a novel called Quakertown from the library. I've read the first page.

The UN and its Secretary-General win the Nobel Peace Prize. A joke and a disappointment. After all, isn't it about time John Paul II gets his due, while he's alive?

Actually, the juxtaposition of the Nobel Literature winner, V.S. Naipul, and this award, are rather interesting, considering that the UN has become a center of West-hating states and movements, and Naipul made many nasty waves recently by stating, among other things, that Islam had a "calamitous effect on converted peoples".

As always, for thorough coverage of literary news, go to Moby Lives

Many observations about culpability these days. The seemingly rather simple question of "who was responsible" has, in many quarters been mucked up by the cumulative effect of a century or more of victim-making (no, it didn't just start in the Sixties. Personally, I blame Freud.) that tends to ignore real victims. A couple of observations cribbed from various places:

Ann Coulterasks:

If Islam is not responsible for terrorism, why is [an average, modern day white guy named] Vinnie responsible for slavery? I'm just trying to get the rules straight on collective guilt.

One could add - then why is Catholicism in general condemned for the Crusades or the Inquisition?

Jay Nordling tells this joke in today's National Review:

Two liberals are walking down the road, when they come upon a man in a ditch, who has been severely beaten, who is bleeding, broken, moaning, left for dead. The one liberal turns to the other and says, “We must find the people who did this. They need help.”

The Pledge returns: My son David, who's a junior at a public high school, reported that this morning, he recited the Pledge of Allegiance in school for the first time since 8th grade. Up to that point, he'd been in Catholic schools, where the Pledge is a normal part of the day - when I taught in Catholic high schools, we always recited the Pledge first thing, and all my children have had the same experience in all of the Catholic schools they've attended. David's the first to attend a public schoool, and in neither one - here in Indiana or the one down in Florida - was the Pledge recited. That just seems very strange - the Catholic schools, rejected by the government, recite the Pledge. The public schools, (at least those with which we've been involved) supported by that same government, don't.

Thursday, October 11

This item about Burger King employees walking on coals brought back memories.

For those of you unfamiliar with the story, a bunch of Burger King workers had been taken to an employee-bonding session at a resort facility in Key Largo. One of the activities of the day was, believe it or not, firewalking. (Although, I can't help but see this as just a little bit appropriate, considering Burger King's "flame-broiled" burger boasting. Anyway.) Yes, the employees, guided by a professional (I want that on my resume!) had to walk over a bed of 1,200 degree coals. Some got burned.

Now, what you want to know is Why? What purpose was coal-walking supposed to serve? According to the article, it's empowerment. You know - you learn that you can walk over hot coals, so therefore you also learn that you really, really can sell your store's quota of fries this month.

Anyone working in any kind of institution over the past two or three decades has been subjected to this kind of nonsense. Sadly, even Catholic institutions haven't been spared. In fact, they're often among the first to jump on bandwagons of this sort - which says a lot about a) how poorly co-workers in Catholic institutions from parishes to schools to diocesan offices, really and truly get along and b) how little faith these same Catholic institutions have in the power of their own tradition to help out when and if things get a little rough around the chancery.

In the early '80's, when I started teaching in Catholic high schools, it was testing. First, the Meyers-Briggs, then the Enneagram a few years later - take the test, read up on your type, then do exercises or have discussions about how this gaggle of diverse personalities could get along. I'll never forget one of my colleagues assessing this process one afternoon after a faculty meeting: "Why do we need this crap to help us get along?" she wondered, "Isn't this what the Gospels are for?"

By the time I got to Florida, in the mid-90's, personality testing was on the wane as a means of workplace solidarity-building. Fortunately, there aren't any woods or mountains to haul a faculty to on one of their precious days off, but, as the Burger King story shows, desperate administrators will find a way.

Our way was via a ropes course - originally built to help "at risk" kids develop team-building skills, yada, yada, yada - its reach was being extended to local businesses, and of course, the Catholics were first in line.

It was really awful. If you don't know what happens at a ropes course, count your blessings. It's all about your group having to work together to work out solutions to ridiculous problems: "Figure out how to get Mrs. Giddleplunk from this platform to the top of that pillar sixty feet away, using only this box of toothpicks and a bunch of celery. No hands!"

With only a couple of exceptions, we all deeply wished we'd just been allowed to stay at school and grade papers.

Wednesday, October 10

Joseph news for family, friends and anyone else interested:

He's six months old now, and just a lot of fun. He is quite close to crawling - he get almost anywhere he wants with a combination of rolling and turning - the forward motion is coming soon. He's also discovered his tongue. During most of his waking hours, it's hanging out of his mouth, and his working it in and out, opening and closing his mouth, experimenting with the sounds he can make. It's a riot.

As noted by a couple of other webloggers, a bizarre image is appearing on posters of bin Laden: it's Bert of Sesame Street fame. One is tempted to see it as Photoshop joking around, but the image keeps popping up in news photos - look to the right hand side of the posters. The origin of the image seems to be on a personal website out of Holland, and Instapundit wonders if the poster-maker was surfing the web for images and just grabbed this one, without knowing who the puppet was. Photographs found here, here, and here.
Here's a heartening article by Jean Bethke Elshtain from the University of Chicago Divinity School about a meeting she and about twenty other religious leaders had with President Bush on September 20, the day of his speech before Congress. Still working out of Clinton fatigue, I can't help but read things like this and contrast it to our previous presidents narcissistic and PR-seeking approach to things. Click here for the piece.
The perfect quote has been located. Not by me, but by a reader who most graciously passed it along. It's the words of Hans Urs Von Balthasar from "The Christian and Anxiety:"

Consider the abysmal problem of the relation between
God's Kingdom and earthy power... whether, for example, a
call to arms by the Church, a blessing of weapons, or
taking up the sword of this world is an expression of
the courage of the Christian faith or, on the
contrary, the symptom of an unchristian and faithless
anxiety; whether something that can be defended and
justified in a hundred ways with penultimate reasons
drawn from faith (quite apart from the lessons of
Church history - but then what does Church history
teach?) will collapse miserably before the throne of
judgment of the ultimate reason - because what of
course appeared to be God's weapon in the hands of
God's warrior against God's enemies is now suddenly
exposed as Peter's desperate sword-waving against the
high priest's servant, whose side Jesus takes in order
to expose such brandishing of weapons for what it was:
anxious betrayal.

No, it doesn't solve anything, but it certainly articulates the problem perfectly, doesn't it?

Sorry for yesterday's silence. The Blogger server was a little pesky at the beginning of the day, so I didn't bother for the rest. I also needed to get a good start on some projects, and with Joseph's cooperation, I actually did - wrote 1300 words on Prove It: Prayer. This AM, I need to write a fairly big article for OSV, but I'll be back with you later this afternoon, I hope.

Monday, October 8

Joseph says that sure, he trusts President Bush, but he still feels the need to keep vigil far into the night. He just feels safer that way.
Here's an excellent article that very clearly explains the roots of bin Laden's ideology. Would that the idiots on the left who prattle on about a "racist war" would just understand these simple points: Bin Laden's Vision Thing.
St. Iwi. That's one of today's more notable feastdays. He was a missionary in early medieval Britain, and I found this detail of his life particularly appealing:

Following the Irish ideal of an exile for Christ, he took ship without bothering to ask its destination, planning to evangelize where it landed

There's a thought. In this era in which the ideal life is one which is planned and managed, from birth through death, how startling to be reminded of reality: our plans are for naught, and it's a good thing, too. It's a rather different philosophy, isn't it: Whereever God takes me, there I will love as Christ did.

Read about St. Iwi here

What an odd sensation. To come home from Mass yesterday, which was Respect Life Sunday in Catholic Churches, to be met with the news that we've gone to war.

We pray for peace, we pray for real peace. There are many frightening things about this matter, not least of which to me, is my confusion about exactly how we will know when it's over - how we'll know when our goals will have been achieved. We're not exactly waging wars against other nation-states, although they are certainly in the mix. We're waging war against terrorists who live and plan in secret in lots of different countries. How will we know when they've been vanquished and we're safe from retaliation, both here and abroad? I think that we're going to see a shift in the American consciousness and probably even behavior as this worrisome question starts to settle in and take root.

My husband and I both noted our irritation yesterday at the use of the "Prayer of St. Francis". (It was printed on the front page of our church bulletin yesterday) It's certainly a beautiful little prayer, but I hope you know that St. Francis almost surely had nothing to do with it. Here's a brief explanation, grabbed off of this page

All the evidence points to a composition sometime in the early 20th century. There are no pre-20th century prayer books in which it appears in any form. The first known printed copy of the prayer appears in a small 20th century Italian prayer book and therein the prayer is ascribed to William the Norman. A holy card from later on has it ascribed to William the Conqueror. It was not until sometime in the middle of the 20th century that it was first attributed to St. Francis. There is some evidence that Cardinal Spellman is the one who is responsible for the title. There is evidence that he came across the prayer in Italy, brought it back with him to the United States, and had it printed under the title "Prayer of St. Francis

Friday, October 5

This is a crucial moment in countless respects, more numerous for one person to understand. Cultures, ideologies, pardigms are clashing, and in the force of striking each other, are being stripped to a revealing core.

The commentary and analysis crowds my computer screen, and I can't keep up. It's all so interesting, so bracing, so full of "ah-ha" moments in which you think you have the whole situation clarified, only to be brought back down by the next commentator.

Some random thoughts: Even as I've gone through some torturous conscience-scraping (as if I, personally, have a decision to make about where and when to lob the bombs - but - as I've said elsewhere - this is a democratic republic. I voted for these guys. So it is my responsibility to figure out a stance), I, like many, have grown impatient with the apparently slow progress of the response to the attacks.

But then, as I was reading a piece about the video bin Laden has released showing the celebration of the alliance of his al Qaeda and the Egyptian Jihad, it struck me...of course.

They will retaliate. As soon as we strike, they will retaliate, and they will do it on our soil. They're already here (at least until the arrest of hundreds over the past weeks), and it's obvious this is the plan - to draw our attention and resources to striking back over there, thinking that we will then be unprepared to deal with their retaliatory car and truck bombings of our power plants, poisoning of our water supplies, and so on.

I have no doubt, upon pondering this, that what has been going on over the past weeks is not only what they say is going on - pinning down responsibility, gathering allies, finding the culprits - but also something else - clearing out suspected terrorists, putting and keeping them in jail, shoring up defenses of power plants, water supplies and major roads (and whatever other targets are out there) - so that the chances of this planned retaliation are considerably lessened. Don't you think this is part of what's happening?

The other part of it, thought - and this is where it gets really tricky - is while the general citizenry needs to be on alert, the powers-that-be are obviously convinced that too much alertness would have a negative impact, as paranoia always does - they clearly want to avoid the divisiveness of xenophobia, as well as the catastrophic economic consequences of a total halt of normal daily life. But here's the other side: it seems as if, for the past ten years, our government has not been doing what it should and could have done to protect us from this kind of attack. Knowing this, you can't fault the citizenry for being cautious to the point of paranoia, sensing, as it does, that government hasn't been doing its real job, distracted as it has been by buying votes through handing out entitlements.

This is, truly, a different sort of war - the enemy forces have been among us all along, eating at Pizza Hut, and shopping at Wal-mart, just waiting. Not to be paranoid or anything, but...

This isn't what I started to write about. What I started to ponder was the meltdown of relativism. (Oh, how carefully we select our words now. It's harder than it looks to think of words to describe the destruction of something in this context without it seeming as if you're just relying on cheap WTC - tinged metaphors. Collapse of relativism? Nope. Crash and burn? No. Can't say them. Don't really want to.).

Baby's crying, so I just have time to say - this is where multiculturalists and relativists meet their match: in defiantly anti-Western forces which would shut down their universities, strip them of their grants, and (if they're women) shroud them in a veil and punish them for reading a book. Tolerate this.

Today is the feastday of Blessed Francis Xavier Seelos, an American saint you've probably never heard of. Well, he wasn't born in America, but he did minister here as a Redemptorist, working in a number of locations, from Pennsylvania to New Orleans, where he died in 1867. One interesting point: he was proposed as bishop of Pittsburgh, but declined. You can read more about him here.
This is scary, as well as infuriating. Perhaps you'd already heard this, but it was news to me - actor James Woods thinks (with good reason, I believe) that he had an encounter with some of the terrorists a month before the attack - he was on one of the Boston-LA flights (returning from visiting his mother), alone in first class, except for four "Middle-Eastern" looking men. The men - here's the thing - never ate or drank anything on the trip (cross-country, remember), didn't sleep or read. They just sat, looked straight ahead, and ocassionally spoke quietly to one another. Woods thought this was very strange, said something to the flight attendant, who shrugged it off. When he got to LA, he said something to airport authorities, who also shrugged it off. Let that sink in for a minute. I haven't heard more about this story - if indeed the names of those passengers were the names of the terrorists - I would tend to think that they must be, or else we would have heard confident reassurances from airline and airport authorities. It makes sense for them to try to keep this quiet, for fear of a backlash against such idiocy. For a link to a news article about this, click here . For the John Derbyshire column in which I read about this, click here.

Thursday, October 4

Joseph is six months old today! Hardly seems possible. He's not much in the mood for celebrating right now. He's sleeping off the effects of his six-month round of vaccinations. Speaking of vaccinations, when did they stop innoculating for smallpox, anyway? That used to be such a memorable part of childhood - going in to get that little shot that resulted in a huge scab and a life-long scar.
Mark Steyn rocks. In writing about the Left's reaction to the current situation, after a few paragraphs filled with quotes from such folks which are all about "breeding" - intolerance breeds violence...etc, Steyn remarks:

a large swath of the Left has settled into an endless dopey roundelay, a vast Schnitzlerian carousel where every abstract noun is carrying on like Anthony Quinn on Viagra. Instability breeds resentment, resentment breeds inertia, inertia breeds generalities, generalities breed clichés, clichés breed lame metaphors, until we reach the pitiful state of the peacenik opinion columns where, to modify the old evening news motto, if it breeds it leads.

Go here for the piece.

Feast of St. Francis of Assisi

O God, Who, through the merits of blessed Francis, magnifies Your church, enriching it anew with spiritual offspring: make us, like him, to disdain the goods of earth, nor at any time to lack the comforting gifts of heaven.

-from the Roman Missal

Wednesday, October 3

It's official: I'm on the speaker's schedule for the 2002 National Catholic Education Association convention in Atlantic City next April. My topic will be Equipping Teens to Deal with Fundamentalist's Questions About Catholicism .
A great piece in The New Republic by Leon Wiesletier here. A couple of quotes to give you a sense of where he's going:

So now depth has buzz. The papers are filled with hip people seeing through hipness, composing elegiac farewells to the days of Gary Condit and Jennifer Lopez. The on dit has moved beyond the apple martini. It has discovered evil and the problem of its meaning. No doubt about it, seriousness is in. So it is worth remembering that there are large swathes of American society in which seriousness was never out.....Everybody was shocked by the attack, but not everybody was philosophically unprepared for it.

If it makes sense to call on religion in times of trouble, it is not because religion abolishes spiritual pain, but because religion acknowledges spiritual pain.

Feast of Blessed Mother Theodore Guerin

Who's that? None other than our own personal local saint, that's who. Well - beatified, at least. Mother Guerin was a French Sister of Providence who immigrated to the US in 1840 to minister here in Indiana. You can find more about her here and here. Her biography says that she founded a school here in Fort Wayne, but I don't know which one - the Perpetual Adoration chapel in our parish is named after her, but since our parish was founded in the 1930's, I don't think this was Mother Guerin's school.

Some of you regular readers may recall that Michael, Joseph and I paid a visit to St. Mary-of-the-Woods College, founded by Mother Guerin in Terre Haute, last summer. We were struck by the discomfort the modern sisters (at least those in charge of the chapel and grounds) obviously seem to feel about their foundress. She is buried in the church, but her place of burial isn't set off by any sort of barrier - you could walk right over the plate set into the floor, if you're not careful. The "shrine" is basically the narthex, or (in plain English) the vestibule of the chapel - there's a couple of chairs and a painting of Mother Guerin. It looks like the waiting room of a funeral parlor.

If these sisters seem ill at ease with the foundress of their college, one can only imagine what she'd say about them. The schedule of retreats for the fall include programs on The Enneagram and Spirituality and Earth Spirituality. (These ladies are pretty down with Gaia all around - the college offers a graduate degree in "Earth Literacy.") There's also Zen meditation on Wednesday evenings.

Tuesday, October 2

Feast of the Guardian Angels:

Here's a nice Guardian Angel prayer I found at the Catholic Doors site:

My good Angel,
Thou comest from heaven;
God has sent thee to take care of me.
Oh, shelter me under thy wings.
Lighten my path, direct my steps.
Do not leave me,
stay quite near me
and defend me against the spirit of evil.
But above all come to my help
in the last struggle of my life.
Deliver my soul so that with thee it may praise,
love and contemplate the goodness of God
forever and ever

Monday, October 1

If you've not yet seen it, allow me to recommend the Weekly Standard's new website. They're putting all of the articles from the magazine online as well as web-only content on a daily basis. Good stuff, as you would expect.
Thanks so much to Lisa and the other Catholic moms at...uh...Catholic Mom, for selecting my Loyola Kid's Book of Saints for their book club to read during the month of October. If you've not been to that site, drop by and check it out. Lots of helpful info and good columns!
Time flies.... and it's time for all good churchy types to order their Advent/Christmas stuff. May I suggest Creative Communications for the Parish? May I suggest my contribution to the cause, called Prepare for Joy, a booklet of family Advent activities? The page for it from the Creative Communications catalog is here. . Warning: it's a .pdf file, requiring Adobe Acrobat, which I don't care for, but it's not my catalog.
Another good quote from St. Therese:

Everything is a grace, everything is the direct effect of our father's love—difficulties, contradictions, humiliations, all the soul's miseries, her burdens, her needs—everything, because through them, she learns humility, realizes her weakness. Everything is a grace because—everything is God's gift. Whatever be the character of life or its unexpected events—to the heart—that loves, all is well.

A good website for St. Therese : The Society of the Little Flower

Amazon page for The Story of a Soul.

The Feast of St. Therese of Lisieux

Prayer is, for me, an outburst from the heart; it is a simple glance darted upwards to Heaven; it is a cry of gratitude and of love in the midst of trial as in the midst of joy! In a word, it is something exalted, supernatural, which dilates the soul and unites it to God. Sometimes when I find myself, spiritually, in dryness so great that I cannot produce a single good thought, I recite very slowly a Pater or an Ave Maria; these prayers alone console me, they suffice, they nourish my soul.
Story of A Soul, Chapter X

St. Therese, one of the most popular saints of modern times, has much to teach us.

When we are tempted to think of spirituality as a complex thing, as one more skill to master, she reminds us of its essential, necessary simplicity.

When we dedicate ourselves to the goal of being something great: rich, famous, powerful or influential, she humbles us. As an adult, St. Therese never left her convent, but her life and words have helped bring millions closer to God.

When we give into the deception that the only things worth doing are the things that bring us attention or make us a profit, she calls us to the "little way" of infusing every single action of every minute of our days with love. That is enough.

My life is an instant,
a fleeting hour.
My life is a moment,
which swiftly escapes me.
O my God, you know that
on earth I have only today
to love you.


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