Friday, November 30
Thursday, November 29
My God, how stupid can a supposedly smart woman be? I mean, I've been having babies off and on for twenty years now, but even when I started, about a decade younger than Wolf was when she had her first, and in the early 80's, I knew from the get-go to be suspicious of established obstetrical choices.
I suppose I should backtrack, in case you don't know what the book is about. Naomi Wolf is a social critic who gets her ideas for her books from her personal life and concerns. So when she was a young babe, seeking to make her name, and concerned about her appearance, she brought out The Beauty Myth, a critique of our society's obssession with women's appearances. Now, since she's been through childbirth twice, she's decided to expose the underside of the American childbirth scene. You know - uncaring medical professionals who try to wrest control of the birth experience from the birth mother so their golf dates won't be disrupted. Duh. Does anyone not know about this?
Wolf, for all of her chat about her pregnant friends, seems to get her cues on how she "should" feel about pregnancy and motherhood from television. She keeps offering dire recollections of how she couldn't be the buoyant, blissful mom-to-be that "everyone" told her she should be. Who? Who tells her that? No one's ever told me that. I and every other woman I've ever spoken to realizes that there are a variety of experiences of pregnancy, and furthermore, during those last two months, everyone is pretty much uniformly miserable, hoping somehow that the calculations were wrong and the baby is really due a month earlier than we thought.
There's more. A lot more. But right now, I've got to try to get some of my own writing in, and believe me, I'll do an extra-close scouring of it for whiny self-indulgence after enduring a dose of Naomi Wolf's.
Right now, I'm on my way to the library to pick up the copy of Naomi Wolf's Misconceptions I had on hold. I saw her blathering about it on C-Span the other day, and fully expect to spend some time reveling in deep hatred of the book later today, and perhaps trying to write about it for someone..somewhere...anywhere...outside the Catholic press. Got to break out of this ghetto, somehow.
Tuesday, November 27
Here's why I like Ebay: Because of Ebay, I was finally, after years of frustrated agony, able to get my parents decent gifts. The first was a couple of years ago when I found a biography of Hugh Bensen, the early 20th century Catholic writer, for my mother. She loved it. Last Christmas, I got a lot of old Latin and French missals, which she liked very much. The Christmas before, I spent a couple of months monitering auctions and picked up three postcards of landmarks for each of their youths and young adulthood - Paris, Texas, and the University of Texas for my dad, and Maine and the University of Arizona for my mother. Sure, I could have snagged any of these through online stores dealing in books or postcards, but you know - it's all on Ebay, eventually, it's simple to search and monitor, even without any effort. You tell the site what you're looking for and it tells you when something matching your needs comes up. It's ingenious.
When I was in Lakeland in my 1920's bungalow, I had a black, white and red kitchen. It was very easy to find vintage stuff to match: vintage red and black cannisters, a red and black tea kettle, and so on.Now it's clothes I'm after. Joseph's toes recently started peeking through the feet of his sleepers, and I really didn't feel like spending much on stuff he'd only outgrow in another two months. Nor do I have time for yard sales. So it's on to Ebay, and within a couple of hours, I've got 8 good quality, very gently used sleepers (Carter's and such) for about fifteen dollars, total, including shipping. Can't beat it if you tried.
We have a new baby corrall. You know - the kind they have on Rugrats - a fence you can set up on the floor. It's more spacious than a playpen and gives the impression, to the dumb babies at least, that they're not imprisoned. So far, Joseph isn't fooled.
Monday, November 26
Another one: The new Lexus ad with the Europeans waxing enthusiastically about the new Lexus...a flamenco dancer. A little Dutch boy. Are people rich enough to buy a Lexus really influenced in their decisions by the dreamy hopes of little Dutch children to be as lucky as they are?
AFLAC. Af-LAAC! Duck for Christmas dinner, anyone?
You know, I used to like the ESPN commercials. Thought they were clever. Now, however, we get the Dish Network Colege Gameday Plan. Or something. Anyway, during the games, since it's coming through the satellite on this special Pay-Per-View deal, we don't get regular commercials, just ESPN commercials. The same four commercials. Over and over again. Even with my nose buried in a book and Joseph hollering in my ear, I can't escape Kenny Mayne in stockings and the guy being "sent down" to the minor leagues of doing sports on a high school news show. Thank goodness the season is almost over.
Sunday, November 25
Painted Shadow is often assisted to lurid hypotheses by ignorance. One of the reasons given for thinking Eliot was gay is that he often quoted from Saint John of the Cross, whom Seymour-Jones mistakes, despite the 1,500 years between them, for Saint John "the disciple whom Jesus loved" (and of course we all know what that means).
Boy. Forget the whole St. John-was-gay thing. The fact that the author could get past the secretary at the publishing house with a book that confused St. John of the Cross with St. John the Apostle is simply astounding. Aspiring writers take hope! Or despair - I'm not sure which.
Saturday, November 24
Much work coming up in the next week: a big article for Catholic Parent magazine which I'm doing as a last-minute replacement for another writer, various columns, and a piece on Tolkein for OSV, for which I'm interviewing Joseph Pearce, the author of two books on Tolkein - Tolkein: Celebration, an anthology centered on the specificialy theological character of Tolkein's work and a biographical work, Tolkein: Man and Myth, as well as several other books, included the highly recommended Literary Converts: Spiritual Inspiration in an Age of Unbelief.
Christmas is coming. If you have a child or young person in your life who wouldn't cringe too much at the sight of a religiously-themed book as a gift, don't forget my Loyola Kids' Book of Saints or either of the Prove It books. If you'd like an autographed bookplate for any of the books, let me know, and I'll send you one.
Tuesday, November 20
Monday, November 19
It is an interesting puzzle, that I hope Catholic thinkers will take seriously instead of repeating the same, tired bleats they've been spewing since Vietnam. It's a task that must be done - to go beyond platitudes and try to articulate, in a way consistent with the Gospel and Catholic tradition, the implications of this situation: expansionist, totalitarian fascist ideologies can only be stopped by force. If the present situation holds, this truth will have been demonstrated in a rather stunning fashion, especially since it would have taken such a relatively short time. What do we make of it? Continue to twitter about root causes and paint our "violence begets violence" posters, all the while enjoying the fruit of the force we condemn?
Sunday, November 18
Seeing the film only deepened my puzzlement at the Harry-haters among some religious folk. The magic here is so absolutely not the point. The point in the Harry Potter books are human and humane values of honesty, loyalty, courage, friendship and sacrifice. Harry, Ron and Hermione aren't rewarded because they perform "occult" acts. They're rewarded because they want to stop evil and use their wits and other natural talents to do it. Good lessons, if you ask me.
I didn't think as badly of this movie as John Podhoretz of the National Review did, but nor can I rave as did Roger Ebert. It was a good adaptation - faithful. Didn't violate the author's vision. But it didn't expand on it either.
It's interesting that my little Potter-phile Katie, while living in happy anticipation of the film, didn't get nearly as excited about the release of the movie as she did about the release of the fourth book in the series a year and a half ago. The written word obviously still has a story-telling power that film can't always match. (The difference might be simply that while she was interested to see how the images in the book might "really" look on film, in the end, there would be no real surprises for her in the movie, as there would be in the book. And there weren't, as it turned out. She liked it, but she wasn't entranced, preferring, at times, to be entertained by Joseph to the movie.)
Friday, November 16
Thursday, November 15
Katie doesn't have school tomorrow, so she's having a friend over to spend the night, which means less sleep than usual for me...
But I think its facile to ignore the almost instantaneous perversions of whatever small moral core that justified the Crusades, turning the ventures into bloodthirsty, greed-soaked looting sprees. If you want to read more positive assessments, go here and here.
Here's the NYTimes report on the awards, including an account of Franzen's inability to avoid self-pity even in an acceptance speech, and Steve Martin's (the host of the ceremony) kind offer to put the Oprah's Book Club stickers that so offended Franzen on his books instead.
I'm trying to read a couple of books on the English Reformation. One's an historical novel, out of print and in storage in the library, but widely praised in its time (the 1950's) called Man on a Donkey by H.F.M Prescott, and the other a new book by historian Eamon Duffy called The Voices of Morebath: Reformation and Rebellion in an English Village, which is an account of the Reformation and post-Reformation years through the eyes of a parish priest who kept a detailed and meticulous journal of the doings of his village.
Today is also the feastday of Albertus Magnus, teacher of Thomas Aquinas, and great scientist and scholar in his own right.
Wednesday, November 14
Some good reading out there today:
Michael Kelly with a spot-on satire of the negativity crowd at NPR, the BBC and the like.
Christopher Hitchens with a subtlely titled piece: Ha, ha, ha to the Pacifists.
Non-war related: A piece from the Los Angeles Times about the 5 million dollar home purchased by Paul and Jan Crouch, those bizarre people who run the Trinity Broadcast Network - her with the big, fluffly pink hair and him with the suave-o moustache, and both of them with the penchant for cheap-looking furniture painted gold.
Finally (at least for now), here's the lastest contribution to the newest Model of the Church (with apologies to Cardinal Dulles): Church as Extended Monty Python Sketch: Monks get mobile phone habits. Add that to the items from the past about the monastery with the firestation pole instead of stairs and the Shenandoah Valley Catholics aching for a monarchy, and you've definitely got something.
Tuesday, November 13
First we watched the PBS Nova program on bioterrorism which made me much less worried about smallpox, more worried about the plague, and even more worried about the Russian research facilities with all kinds of diseases stored in vials stuffed in coffee cans in unlocked refrigerators.
Then, on the History Channel, there was a program from last winter about the World Trade Center. How it was built, and so on. Included in the program was an eerie, sad portion of an interview (recorded in January) with Frank DiMartini, construction manager of the WTC, who spoke quite confidently of the ability of the Towers to withstand the force of an airplane crashing into it - and even more than one. DiMartini was in his office in the WTC on September 11, and was not one of the survivors.
Moving on to CBS, there was protracted, painful weirdness in the person of Michael Jackson who has got to be one disturbed fellow. He can't sing at all anymore and looks like an alien, especially when placed alongside his perfectly normal looking brothers. And who were all those people cheering hysterically? Do you know anyone who even cares about Michael Jackson? I don't.
Finally, there was a NBC Dateline "special" on exorcism. Not the Catholic kind, but the evangelical kind. The program centered on a South Carolina gent who thought he had demons inside him (didn't see the beginning of the program, so I don't know how he reached this conclusion). We saw excerpts from the exorcism session, in which he was prayed over for five hours by a team of exorcists from his Baptist church. It was pretty strange, and although I'm sorry the man had been depressed and glad (he reports) that he feels delivered from whatever was binding him, I can't commit to defining the situation as demon possession with the consequences of real evil piled up lower Manhattan.
Saint Frances Xavier CabriniIf you want to feel like a real slob of a Christian, read the story of Mother Cabrini, whose feast we celebrate today. Born in Italy, and sickly as a child, Frances grew up to be one of the most energetic, creative missionaries of the modern Church. She crossed the ocean twenty-five times, and worked in New York, Chicago, Colorado,Seattle, Los Angeles, New Orleans, and Latin America. From the bio I cited above:
The personality of Frances Xavier Cabrini represented the integration of the paradoxes which characterize spiritual maturity. By temperament humble or even reserved, she resolutely moved forward with an amazing vitality and perseverance in the performance of the service of God. By nature and education docile and obedient, she knew how to be stubbornly autonomous and independent when it concerned her God and God's mission. She was introverted in the manner of contemplatives and given over to prayer. Yet during her missionary activity, she devoted much attention and energy to organizing, founding, financing the foundations, serving and evangelizing all people. Always frail and sickly, she traveled continually, often under the worse conditions, seemingly not allowing herself any rest.
Some of the other saints whose feasts we celebrate today are nothing but expressive of the richness of the Catholic experience: complicated, controversial, quite human and a little wacky:
St. Abbo of Fleury was a scholar and reformer who was murdered by a group of monks resistant to his attempts to reform them.
St. Brice was an orphan adopted by Martin of Tours, who became quite the reckless cad when he grew up, even though he was a priest. Martin, undeterred by Brice's loose behavior was said to have predicted that if Jesus could deal with Judas, he could deal with Brice. Brice was elected a bishop, but was so rotten that the people rejected him and he left town. He eventually changed his ways, and after several decades, was accepted as bishop.
St. Stanislaus is well-known as a patron of the Polish people and of young people. Once, while staying at the home of a Lutheran, he fell ill, and was not allowed to call for a priest. In response, St. Barbara appeared in a vision to him and gave him communion.
Monday, November 12
They're still there. At least some of them are. The Way Back Internet Archive has a huge cache of webpages they're preserving for posterity, including yours. You have to know the URL, but if you do, you can have lots of fun. Or not.
Like I said, scary.
255 souls on board...
The cause doesn't matter, really. Terrorist or "just" mechanical failure: still ....255 souls...
. All was serene until he was asked why Muslims were not allowed to change their religion in Jordan. Muslims could convert to Christianity, he said smoothly, but they must expect to suffer, if not die for their new faith. After all, he added, Christ died for them.
One could almost hear jaws drop around the room. He was quite cold about it.
And Jordan is considered one of the more friendly countries toward its Christian minority; in fact, only Lebanon is said to be freer.
Sunday, November 11
Here's a very interesting article from the Los Angeles Times about a case there involving a very prominent, widely admired go-getting type priest. One theme that emerges through the story is something that should always be a red flag to parents, but isn't, for some strange reason. A couple of quotes:
Mike Carpenter, who played on the Santa Margarita basketball team, took a houseboat vacation on Lake Shasta with Harris, along with four other boys, four girls and two parents.
Harris treated the students as if he were a best friend, even water-skiing with them on the lake.
Carpenter, who now works in commercial real estate in Orange County, said he was struck by how eager the priest was to bond with the teens.
.But the publicity brought forth a third accuser, Mark Curran of Santa Ana. Curran said that when he was 13, he and Harris were watching a Gene Kelly movie at Harris' diocese-provided home in Orange when the priest leaned over and fondled him.
In 1991, when DiMaria was a sophomore at Santa Margarita and despondent over a friend's suicide, his parents had asked Harris to counsel the boy and help him cope with his grief.
Ryan said that Harris took him out for dinner and a performance of "The Phantom of the Opera" in Los Angeles before returning to the priest's house, where the boy spent the night...
Note to parents: Do not, ever, see the prospect of a non-related adult wanting to socialize with your child alone as a good thing. It's not a sign of compassion or care. It's a sign of arrested development and possibly something worse. Do you want to take teen-age kids out to dinner or have them over to watch movies at your house alone? I didn't think so. If you did, there would definitely be something wrong with you, right? It's no different for a priest, minister, scout leader, coach or teacher. Normal adults (and yes, I'll use the forbidden word) don't socialize with teens and preteens.
Friday, November 9
Well, that woman, Mary Ramerman, will be ordained a "Catholic" priest this weekend. The bishop will be of the Old Catholic sect, of course.
I don't talk about my views on the ordination of women because it just gets people too ornery. I'll share this story, though: A few years ago, I taught school with a perfectly wonderful woman who was very Catholic (Roman, not Old), thoroughly committed to giving the kids under her care a traditional Catholic education, and was, as is fitting, quite committed to issues of justice. (Some people don't see this connection, preferring to lazily put people in boxes - "conservatives" don't do justice, etc...Well, it's not true. Odds are, the old people you see at Perpetual Adoration or the rosary will follow their prayer time with more work for the poor in a week than you've done all year). She was a feminist, replacing the "Him" pronoun with "God" in her Mass responses, and so on. But she was also very pro-Church authority. I asked her once how she worked it all out - here's what she said.
The Chuch is two thousand years old. Who am I, one little person with one little set of views, within that context, to set my opinions up as normative against the wisdom of the Church? It may not make a certain kind of sense to me to bar women from ordination, but so what? The Church knows better than I do, so I have to trust.
At the risk of bringing more wrath from a different set of people, I'll share what I read once, years ago, on the subject - I think it was from a piece by Michael Garvey, who was writing an imaginary letter to the Pope. Among his suggestions for change was, "Please ordain women. But please reject the first ten thousand applicants."
Thursday, November 8
Yes, that's a year's worth of tuition, room and board for an undergraduate at Georgetown, the first Catholic college in the nation, the Catholic college that fought a student movement to restore crucifixes to the classroom, the Catholic college that gave a sounding board to its most famous alumnus, Bill Clinton, on Wednesday night.
According to the Washington Times account, Clinton blamed our history of slavery and mistreatment of Native Americans, as well as the Crusades for the terrorist attacks. A truly classic case of deflecting blame, if you ask me. The guy is rather desperate for us to ignore the criminal lapses of his own administration in regard to bin Laden, et al, isn't he?
Clinton also had some wisdom to share about the issue of truth:
At the end of his speech, Mr. Clinton — who was impeached for lying under oath about a sexual relationship with a 21-year-old White House intern — said the entire issue revolves around "the nature of truth."
"This battle fundamentally is about what you think about the nature of truth," he said...
Clinton was 45 minutes late for the speech. One thousand students attended, some of whom had camped out overnight to obtain tickets. There wasn't a detractor in the bunch, not a boo, not a dissension from Clinton's rather sociopathic gospel on the Jesuit campus.
Wednesday, November 7
Tuesday, November 6
Is it an idea for us fragmented Catholics to put to use? Even on a diocesan level? Doesn't "One Book, One Church" have a nice ring to it? Of course, the use of the term "One Book" leads one to assume it's the Bible we're talking about, and I suppose a book of the Bible would serve the purpose at hand well, but might there other choices?
I'm trying to think of a book or to that might work, but it's not as easy as it sounds: to pick a book that would please almost everyone and be accessible, as well. I'm looking at my bookshelf here. Let's see: The Power and the Glory, maybe. Perhaps something by Jon Hassler. O'Connor's too complex, David Lodge and Walker Percy would offend many with their language and content, Waugh's too British (for the average American Catholic). Maybe Mariette in Ecstasy?
Something to think about. But, guaranteed, if a diocese actually did do something like this, they'd end up picking some pap like Joshua, or maybe the bishop's master's thesis, self-published especially for the event.
Monday, November 5
Saturday, November 3
Friday, November 2
(Ritual reminder: Web links for news stories change frequently, so check out the stories before they disappear!)
“People are coming in, they’re asking, ‘Give me a canary, I don’t care if it’s male or female. But I want one,’” Mr. Brooks said. That seemed to make him even madder. “The female doesn’t sing. So that’s an indication to us that they’re buying them for you-know-what.”
It was...okay. As I mentioned earlier, the sections that concentrate on character are far superior to those that seek to offer jazzy, satiric social commentary. In particular, each and every time that Franzen comes back to Alfred, the family patriarch, who is deteriorating physically and mentally because of Parkinson's, he comes up with gold, painfully mined. Franzen's father died of Alzheimer's, and his sympathy and intimate knowledge of the pain of such a degenerative disease is evident.
There's some nice writing throughout, and one extended passage is especially good: it describes an evening in the family's early history in which Enid, the mother, prepares a horrendous meal of liver, rutabegas, and beet greens in revenge for her husband's mistreatment - specifically is behavior before and after an extended business trip. Neglect, in a word, is what she feels.
But the focus of the passage is Chip, the younger son, who hates to eat anyway, and, confronted with this meal, is faced with nothing less than a plate of disaster:
Some days were ghastly from the outset; the breakfast oatmeal was studded with chunks of date like chopped-up cockroach; bluish swirls of inhomogeniety in his milk; a doctor’s appointment after breakfast. Other days, like this one, did not reveal their full ghastliness till they were nearly over.
...and later, after eaten a bite or two of what he could bear, the rest of the meal still awaited:
His eyes went around and around his plate, but he had not been provident and there was nothing on the plate but woe
It's an excellent scene, expressing in concrete terms what collateral damage children bear as their parents battle.
The book is full of lines that convey a reality in just the right words - not too much, not too little. The daughter, as a teen, bears a great humiliation to work with her every day:
By the end of a day, her face and neck hurt from holding back tears…
And finally, there's this passage that describes what's going on in the head of Alfred, the patriarch, as he tumbles into the sea (to find out why, I guess you'll just have to read the book.):
He was remembering the nights he’d sat upstairs with one or both of his boys or with the girl in the crook of his arm, their damp bath-smelling heads hard against his ribs as he read aloud to them from Black Beauty or The Chronicles of Narnia. How his voice alone, its palpable resonance, had made them drowsy. These were evenings, and there were hundreds of them, maybe thousands, when nothing traumatic enough to leave a scar had befallen the nuclear unit. Evenings of plain vanilla closeness in his black leather chair; sweet evenings of doubt between the nights of bleak certainty. They came to him now, these forgotten counterexamples, because in the end, when you were falling into water, there was no solid thing to reach for but your children.
There are lots of things I like about this book - the precise descriptive language, Franzen's varied arguments (through the characters' experiences) against the medicalization of human emotion and personality (see my Percy comment below - one of the main differences between the two is that Franzen doesn't seem to have a clear alternative to the human-as-merely-a-fixable-machine paradigm. Percy was combatting the obliteration of the soul. Franzen doesn't have anything so solid to hang onto in his critique), and some of the truths about the strains of family.
But there's just way too much of that gabby, precious cultural critique stuff going on, and it's distracting. It's hard for me to describe these things, but in the end, even with pages and pages devoted to each character, they still, in the end, seem rather flat - authentic, rich humanity doesn't come through here, as it does, say, with Richard Russo. Now that would be an interesting article - comparing two big fat novels that say important stuff that both came out in 2001 - The Corrections and Empire Falls by Russo. Very interesting......
THOMAS MORE, counselor of law and patron of statesmen, merry martyr and most human of saints:
PRAY that, for the glory of GOD and in the pursuit of His justice, I may
be able in argument, accurate in analysis, keen in study, correct in
conclusion, loyal to clients, honest with all, courteous to adversaries,
trustworthy with confidences, courageous in court. Sit with me at my
desk and listen with me to my clients' tales. Read with me in my library
and stand always beside me so that today I shall not, to win a point,lose my soul.
PRAY that my family may find in me what yours found in you: friendship
and courage, cheerfulness and charity, diligence in duties, counsel in
adversity, patience in pain -- their good servant, and God's first.
I once worked at a Catholic high school of which the principal had his strengths and weaknesses. His major strength was that he was fully aware of his weaknesses, and perfectly willing to hire colleagues and support staff who compensated for those weaknesses. Ever since, that's been and important critereon for my judgment of leadership, and one which led me to be far more comfortable with the prospect of W., who has that same self-understanding, as our president rather than the arrogant know-it-all named Al.
This principal's weakness was that he was not too swift. Intellectually, that is - whatever that means. He just didn't know a lot. Once, at the school's Mass for All Saints' Day, he stood up before Mass and offered some thoughts on the day's feast: that it was good to gather here to pray for the dead, and that he hoped we would all pray for his own mother, who had passed away earlier in the year.
Well, that's nice, and true as far is goes, too....but it was All Saints' Day, which he clearly had confused with All Souls' Day. Even a lot of the kids caught it, and that sure doesn't help the cause of education when your educational leader doesn't have his facts straight.
But today is All Souls' Day, and so we pray.
We pray for all those who have died. This year, our prayers will be particularly mindful of:
The 6,000. Or 3,000 - or whatever the final number will turn out to be, any one of them as tragic as the other.
My own mother who passed away seven months ago. It's still hard for me to believe that she's gone, and I'm especially sorry that she's missing Joseph and all of his baby adventures. We'll go to Mass tonight and pray for her.
Thursday, November 1
Just a couple of weeks ago, the best he could do was lie on his stomach and kick those little legs like mad - instinct telling him that it would do something beneficial for him, but never specifying exactly what it might be.
Then, gradually, it started to happen, and now, as is the case with all baby deeds, we can't remember a time when he wasn't crawling. He's not up on his hands and knees - he's doing that whole commando-stomach-scooting maneuver, but he does it very well, and can move very quickly, mostly towards one of two things:
a) the tiniest, most infinitesimal piece of paper, crumb or piece of leaf that no one else can see because no one else is looking from a viewpoint of three inches off the ground
b)a power socket. Do those things actually put out some electromagnet attraction?
I've taken some pictures that I hope to get developed tomorrow and scanned and put up on the website on Saturday, including one of Joseph in his "Halloween costume," a sight which puts Katie and me into hysterics, but, strangely enough, leaves Michael and David unamused. We'll see what you think.
One thing at a time. It's one of the many fascinating things about babies. They develop their skills one step at a time, concentrating on one before they go to the next, and then, in just a matter of time, bringing it all together in a single act of crawling or pronouncing a word.
Not a bad thing to remember past infancy, either. Most of us are so busy, so inundated with tasks and options that sometimes we end up paralyzed, unable to work at all, unable to choose a path to follow for the next hour, much less the rest of our lives.
One step at a time.
Saints play an essential function in Catholicism: they support us through their prayers, they embody the Gospel, and, of course, they do a whole lot of fabulous things, working towards the Kingdom, bringing healing and peace to very real people.
Saints are an answer to the temptation to abstraction.And that's why saints are valuable - necessary, in fact - to my own faith.
I am, by nature, a doubter. I don't like that about myself, I don't know where it comes from, but it's just a plain fact. I'm a natural skeptic, unwilling to believe much of anything that's presented to me as true at first glance. Perhaps there's a bit of pride working in there, too. Probably.
Anyway, this tendency to doubt is not fun to live with. It makes lots of things, including what should be simple relationships, unendingly complex and angst-ridden, when they don't need to be. And that goes for faith, as well.
Which is why saints are such an anchor to my faith. Here's the way I think about it:
I may practically be driven mad by intellectual questions about my faith sometimes. I know, I know - mystery. Faith seeking understanding, not the reverse. All true, but sometimes the gift (or curse) of being able to see all sides of the question, coupled with an intense imagination, works against an easy faith. But over the past year or so, I have come to a slightly different place, and it comes down to saints.
Quite simply, I force myself to think: If it was good enough for Theresa of Avila, it's got to be good enough for me. In other words, who the heck am I, faced with the witness of the likes of Theresa, Francis of Assisi, Augustine, Ignatius Loyola, Catherine of Siena, Therese of Lisieux, Vincent de Paul, and the un-canonized saints like Dorothy Day and Mother Theresa - who am I to doubt what they say is true?
God is spirit, untenable, except as He reveals Himself in Christ, beyond human comprehension. Some have an easy time believing in this God, others, not so easy. They can see the atheist's viewpoint, even with its flaws. In a world of the Holocaust, terminally ill children and the mystery of simple human aging and decay, it is not totally unreasonable to doubt God's existence or at least the involvement of this caring, loving God we Judeo-Christians like to talk about. It is not totally unreasonable to drive by a church with a sign posted outside bearing the words, in the post-WTC weeks that says "Attacked by Man, Protected by God" and come up with a big, puzzled, and perhaps even cyncial, "What?"
So here's where they saints come into it. These are men and women who were on the most intimate terms with God. They were intelligent, probing, totally authentic people. And they knew that what they encountered in prayer, was, indeed, not a what, but was a Who - God. They were not lying about this in their words, and they were not lying about it in the actions that were their responses to the power of God they encountered. Pick out any one of the men or women on the list above, and you'll encounter a person who's done more to help other human beings than any one of us ever will do, who were people of peace and total joy, who became totally themselves, the people God created them to be. All of this because of their faith in God, their love for God, and their openness to letting Him work through their lives.
Saints are a way for us to see the truth of God's existence and nature in the flesh. And so, when confronted with these holy men and women, the doubters among us, if they're honest, have to consider: Who is it I would like to be like, if not in the particulars (since we're all unique), but in general? These saints, of course. They are what all people - including me - are called to be. No one else. No leader, no writer, no builder, no thinker, possesses anything that is comparable to the joy of the saints. And these saints are who they are because of their intimacy with God and their fidelity to Him. In other words, their faith.
That witness, taken seriously and honestly speaks more convincingly than anything. Even the doubts.
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