Friday, September 17, 2004 +

Dictionary of Accepted Ideas

Abortion. In Jesus' words: "good will it be for this one if it is never born" (Mark 14:21).

Bigotry. Be against racial or religious bigotry.

Catholicism. Branch of Christianity.

Evil. Another religious superstition. Ask: "When will we get beyond good and evil?"

Evolution. Proved by science.

The Future.
Like it or not, it's irresistable.

God. In sermons, acts "in a very special way".

vt. To make human. In the McVeigh trial the prosecution humanized the victims to obtain a conviction. After the conviction the defense humanized McVeigh in hopes of leniency.

Worse than atheists.

Interface. The best are intuitive. Praise user-friendly interfaces.

Knowledge. It's exploding. If people in the past only knew what we know now.

Language. Native speakers can't make mistakes in their own language.

Less Fortunate. We must help those less fortunate than ourselves.

Life. Regrettably unfair.

Minds. Impregnable.

Nonsense. "Religious nonsense."

Paul. The founder of Christianity. Paul totally misunderstood Jesus.

Politicians. They deny everything.

Prayer. Good for a person's health.

Progress. It can't be stopped.

Reading. Easier than writing.

Reality. Always harsh.

Religion. A matter of belief. Better kept private. Defend the separation of Church and State.

Science. Describes reality. Always advancing. More true than philosophy, more good than religion, more beautiful than art.

Shots. They ring out.

Talking. Harder than listening.

Time. It's moving faster than ever. Anything you can buy is already out-of-date.

Jacob Burckhardt on the Greeks

From The Greeks and Greek Civilization

Each age has a new and different way of looking at the more remote periods of the past; for instance there might be a fact of the greatest significance reported by Thucydides which will only be recognized as such a hundred years from now.

The notion of the rights of man did not exist anywhere in antiquity, not even in Aristotle. The polis, for him, is a community only of the free; the metics and the numerous slaves were not citizens, and whether, apart from that, they are human beings is not discussed (Politics 3.4).

The ancient writers are unanimous in the view that slavery is worse than death.... Servants and slaves are often accused of "loving life," a low trait which distinguishes them from free men.

In times of highly developed civilization, when gifts and energies are widely distributed, changes will occur if public circumstances do not hinder them, and all the more certainly if they do everything to further them. An effective medium comes into being which develops a power of its own and becomes a weapon in the hands of the mediocre and of those whose talents and situation allow them to exploit it. Even the highly gifted and highly privileged are then obliged to make use of this medium to obtain a hearing of any kind; the strongest testimony in favor of Epicurus at a later time is that he gave up any recourse to eloquence. The transitional period, though, can be astonishing, when the new medium [rhetoric] and the older power of the intellect, still intact, are working together, as in Thucydides and Euripides.

Phocion returned Alexander's gifts of a hundred talents, though the delegates told him he was the only man the King regarded as of noble character; Phocion replied: "He will have to allow me to remain so." ...Many Athenians could not stand him, precisely because he really was, as he was called in spite of his sharp tongue, "the good man" chrestos).

See also See also Burckhardt on Greatness and Contemplating History.

Notes 26

But let at least two or three of them try. Even unsuccessfully.
-- Witold Gombrowicz

Lord, who are the other one or two?

Thursday, September 16, 2004 +

Anne Goodwin Winslow: Letters from Hawaii

Anne Goodwin Winslow and her husband Major E. Eveleth Winslow were stationed in Hawaii in 1908-11. These three letters to her mother are from "When Halley's Comet Came: Letters of Anne Goodwin Winslow, 1908-1911," by M. Winslow Chapman, The Hawaiian Journal of History, Volume 19 (1985).

October 25, 1909, Volcano House, Hawaii

Dear Mama, ...We have just arrived and had our lunch and are now booted and spurred for our trip to the volcano proper. We are right by the big crater, and here in the yard of the hotel there is smoke coming up through all the cracks in the ground. It is a fearsome place. No use trying to describe it to anybody. To get to the red hot central crater we have to ride on donkeys over the lava field of the big crater - about ten square miles. The middle, boiling crater is about a quarter of a mile across.

The thing that impresses me more than anything else is to see the ferns growing and the cattle peacefully grazing with the smoke coming up all round them. It seems as if every living thing would simply quake in terror to find itself at a place like this. But this hotel is considered quite a resort for people from Honolulu - who come for the high altitude and not at all for the volcano.

I was called off from my beginning of the afternoon, by the arrival of the horses and the call to mount. It is about three miles to the cauldron, down, down, into the big crater, and then across the lava fields full of cracks and fissures, hot and steaming. Then we spent an hour drying our soaking garments and scorching postals and roasting apples over one of the red hot cracks beneath our feet. The rain just simply poured most of the time. There was one spell when it looked like a fight between the rival elements. Then we went back to the brink and looked again by night. This was a marvelous thing. To see the walls of that great pit lighted up, and the sky above as bright as sunset while the lake of fire danced and surged below! They say there has not been such a display as we had tonight for many years. The lava has risen so high in the great well that has confined it of late that when the big geysers shoot up they overflow the edge. It isn't red as the colored pictures show, but the color of the golden coals - the almost white ones. When the waves break against the walls, it looks as if they were plastered with gold leaf, and sometimes the lava flies up in a regular shower of gold. All the time, of course, there is a tremendous roaring, just as the ocean makes.

Our guide heated coffee for us over the cracks and fed sandwiches while we waited for the darkness to fall at the volcano and then we had dinner and nice open fires when we returned to the hotel. So, altogether our long absence from the sight of fire has been largely atoned for. I will also say that I didn't think the volcano a bit like hell, in spite of the sulphurous smell. The wetness and the chill around us seemed more like it. The volcano was bright and beautiful, and the nice hot cracks felt like the hearth at home. I have been slowly meandering through hell with Dante this summer and when we got down to the fourth circle where he had the pleasure of seeing his enemies stuck in the mud and incessantly rained upon I said to myself "now this is it".

We have looked over some of the interesting old registers this hotel has kept up for many years. Some of the inscriptions are by famous people. I was particularly impressed by that of the Reverend Joseph Smith beginning "Wonderful are thy works, O Lord!" Most of them are rather frivolous. They are written in every language under heaven - even Turkish and Arabian. The man who keeps the hotel is Greek - Mr. Demosthenes Lycurgis, if you please. I tackled him at once on the subject of Robert Louis Stevenson. He knew him well, he said, had shaken hands with him, and waited on him at the table. "Nice man, but a shadow, a perfect shadow." And speaking of Stevenson, takes me back to our cruising in the South Seas. I don't think there ever was such waters or such a boat [the lighthouse tender Kukui]. The Steward gloomily remarked as he helped me hold the poor little Chickies [son William and daughter Mary] over the rail "she's a bad boat m'am. Can't hold her down anyway." That was just it. She simply went up in the the air and there she writhed and twisted and got her nose down somehow preparatory to taking a header into the yawning abyss below. Oh she was something to go home and forget about and all the while the scenery was so exquisite. Eveleth heroically tired to take some pictures - with four men helping him hold the camera down.

...We were all of Saturday and half of Sunday getting to Hilo, Island of Hawaii. Here we loitered about trying find our legs again and early Monday morning - today - got in the automobile and started for the thirty mile trip from Hilo to the hotel. It was a wonderful trip through such tropical scenery as you can scarcely imagine - great forests of fern and guava and trumpet lilies and more brilliant flowering trees and plants than I have ever found names for. There were miles of sugar cane and whole little Japanese villages belonging to these great plantations, and once when the automobile broke down,...the children and I walked on ahead and came to something so much like a story book that we could hardly believe it - a real New England home, with old-fashioned roses growing amid the rampant exotics in the garden and two dear old white-headed ladies in the house. One of them had Winslow relatives in Massachusetts and I hope we are on the same tree.

It seemed so strange to find her there out in that lonely stretch of tropic country; but these islands are such a strange mixture. There are lots of New England people here, in spots, and they have stayed just as they were, back in the old missionary days. The precious belongings they managed to get out here then are just as desirable in their eyes as ever. Is like the country New England, I imagine.

Devotedly, Anne

December 27, 1909, Fort De Russey

Dear Mama, ...We have been having the most joyful Christmas and the most remarkable weather. Yesterday and today the rain has come down in bucketfuls. Tonight the wind is sweeping from the sea roaring its own anthem in so loud a tone that we can hardly hear the roaring of the waves. But the moon is shining gloriously, and it seems as if I cannot stand to not have you see the way the "fronded palms" are glistening and swaying overhead. It really isn't safe to go out, because the leaves are falling and when they hit you they are guaranteed to lay you low. We have never seen anything like this in Honolulu. The night before Christmas was the whitest night I have ever imagined. Venus was shining out over the sea, as large almost as the moon. You wouldn't believe how big and soft she can be making a wide bright path of her own across the waves.

On the other side of the house the moon was flooding the palm trees, and it really seemed a shame for a thinking soul to sleep a wink. We didn't sleep much, for what with our Santa Claus work inside and our frequent suspensions of it, while we went out to see what the "heavens were telling" it was a late hour before we wore and tore!, and then, last and most enchanting, about two in the morning a band of Hawaiian musicians, with their stringed instruments and songs took up their station just beneath my window. I shall never forget the sensation of being drawn up out of a bottomless depth of sleep - slowly, by this music, and finding myself almost blinded by the moonlight that was everywhere in the room and over the land and sea outside. This and the book have been all the Christmas I could stand.

Devotedly, Anne

August 10, 1910, Fort De Russey

Dear Mama, Our trip to Leilehua was a big success. I do so wish you could see the place - it is like all the stories you have ever read or imagined of army life. A great wide plain surrounded by mountains. The shacks where the officers live and the larger shacks where the soldiers live all dropped down together in the center of the plain and everywhere on every hand troops, troops of horses, oh they do look picturesque! I never realized before the added effect that comes from having everything on horseback. You should hear the band and the bugles reverberating from the mountains.

The great event of our visit was at trip up one of the high peaks. We rode as far as we could on horseback and then got out and walked up a trail the Colonel had had cut the day before. This particular view is his own discovery and of course his pride in showing it is fully as great as if he had made it. And my pride would be unbounded if I could give you by any skillful use of words even a faint idea of its grandeur. I think when we "got there" we were about 26 hundred feet above the ocean spread out in all its blue immensity before us; and the sides of the mountain dropped straight down, cut in great vertical lines like the pipes of a colossal organ. These mountains are not like those we have at home. They don't have the outlines shaded and softened by so many curtains of trees.

In many places they are bare rock and they never seem more than lightly sheathed in grass. It is the difference between plumes and velvet. And they stand up in separate and distinct peaks, fall down suddenly to sea level almost like a wall. It was an indescribable experience and when everything was still execpt the wind, it seemed as if the organ was playing some tremendous prelude.

There wasn't so much wind on this particular morning and the fact that there was so little visible motion in the trees made the murmur all the more wonderful. You could hear it in the place you were standing and then in another key from another towering peak, of course where we climbed out on the sharp points over this dizzy height we seemed almost as much cut off from the earth as the birds were.

Devotedly, Anne

Talking with MaryH

in St Blog's Parish Hall.

Because we see darkly, because the issues are many and difficult, because voters vote (or don't vote) for many reasons, most of which are not reasoned, the current presidential election will not be decided unanimously. A minority among the likely voters are Catholics, who also will not vote unanimously. The Church will not tell Catholics whom to vote for in the election, though it has spoken out on some of the issues in ways that will lead some Catholics to decide for one candidate, some for another, and some to be (so far) undecided. None of this is a reason to stop trying to know the truth or to accept it when we hear it.

The question is whether God wants the Catholic vote to be unanimous. I reply that since God knows Catholics, and what's more, knows them individually, the answer is no. I acknowledge that I may be mistaken.

You quoted the psalm we heard and responded to yesterday, and ask, Who are the people the Lord has called his own? The psalm tells us: The nation whose God is the LORD. By this I understand that that nation is not the United States of America. A better choice is your suggestion: the Church; or: the communion of saints; or: all Christians, possibly including Christians who don't know or say they are Christians. What song are they singing? If you hear it, tell what the song says about the current election.

Can you believe that this election is not a test set by God for Catholics? It is indeed a bad test for anybody who has not already decided. Here we are faced with abortion, war, poverty, secular laws and culture, economic and political injustice, terrorism, the invasion of privacy, a failed educational system, the uglification of life, the debasement of language, and a host of other questions, and the answer is Kerry or Bush? It may be so, or not. Perhaps one or the other is part of the answer. Neither the Lord nor the Church has spoken, though many others try to speak for them.

So pray, and seek the truth, and accept it when you hear it. I know you will not judge another who does the same and votes differently from you, and I argue that God will not either. For it is a hard saying but true: even if the truth is one, true responses to the truth may vary. This does not deny that there are also false responses, or that some will vote in a way contrary to God's will for them.

I want to leave you with a thought not relevant to our discussion. It is that what you do today and every day for the rest of your life is much more important to God than your vote on November 2.

May we stop now, after you've had your say?

MaryH replied:

Thank you, Leo. I'll leave it at that because I think, for the most part, we agree. Sometimes I also think that political/cultural problems are given to us not as a test to solve the problem but as a test to love. The story of St. Maximillian Kolbe comes to mind.

He worked in practical ways to address the problems of his time. He fed/housed the poor, he published a newspaper, he spoke the truth. When he was captured he continued being a priest to those who needed him. He was kind to those who imprisoned him and he forgave them. His love was uncompromising for both his friends and his enemies. His was the logic of love.

I enjoyed our talk. I hope we can do it again sometime.

John Jay Chapman

Mayor Otis saw nothing important in the episode which has given him a Dantesque immortality.

That old Jewish society was probably the most moral society that ever existed. If we consider its thousand years of prophets, its literature of ethics and of devotion, its popular passion for theology, its passion for those discussions which went on constantly in temple and marketplace, and which show a deeper clutch upon truth than Athens at her best could show—if we consider what sort of men those scribes and Pharisees probably were, we shall have to confess that Christ’s rebuke fell on men whose faults were mild compared to the atrocities visible in the modern world.

[Denunciation] is not an accidental characteristic of Christ’s. It is an organic product, a concomitant of the hottest, most personal love of men that has ever been known upon the earth. . . . You would speak thus yourself, could you see as clearly, feel as keenly, as Christ. Your calmness is only possible because your heart is cold, or your eyes dim.

Time, Talent, and Treasure

(draft of a talk)

I was reluctant to talk or even think about this topic of “time, talent, and treasure.” I once wrote cynically in a notebook: “Time, talent, and treasure—and the greatest of these is treasure.” I meant, of course, that almost always when we hear about this trio of T’s, the underlying text is: Give more money.

There is a good reason for this, besides the fact that money is always lacking. Time and talent are demanding; they require management. Give me money, and all I need say is: Thanks, I really am very grateful.

But then I reflected that for many of us time is our treasure, or talent is our treasure. Take my wife (please). Mary has a talent for writing and telling stories, and she spends a lot of time doing both. That talent and time is a treasure that she gives to the world and today to you in this church. So, for many of us, time, talent, and treasure are not three separate things but three related things—three things that may support each other, like a triangle, which is a symbol of the Trinity. Treasure is not just silver and gold—or in our day paper and plastic. Treasure is what you have brought here today for us to enjoy.

Then I reflected on something Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount: “Where your treasure is there will your heart be also.” Commonly, the interpretation is: Take care what you work for: you might get it, or even become it. If you accumulate earthly things, don't expect to fly up to heaven with them: there is a weight limit—no suitcases, no carry-ons—just come as you are. Don’t count on entering the kingdom of heaven with a camel. But if you accumulate heavenly things—that is to say, acts of love—you can expect them to be waiting for you when you arrive.

This is a true interpretation, but I want to turn what Jesus said around and say: Where your heart is, there your treasure may also be.

That is to say: what you love doing may be the very thing that is your treasure. This treasure you can give to God, by doing it well, and by doing it for others. If you love to cook, that is one of your treasures. If you love to sing, that is one of your treasures. If you love children, that is one of your treasures.

The love—the treasure—may require discovery—or even hunting. When children watch commercials, they often say: “I need that!” What they mean is: “I want that!” What they don't mean is: “I love that!”

It may be that your treasure is missing. For example, if you are lonely, it may be that you will find your treasure in helping others.

Some will tell you that treasure comes from God, and in sharing it, you are merely returning what you have received. That is true. But I find it upsetting, since God has given so much, and I have returned so little. So let’s not talk about that.

This is the only radical thing I have to say: When asked for time, talent, and treasure, try to determine what your real treasure is, and go from there.

A few of you might feel cheated if I don’t talk about money and the Church. I don’t know if what I have to say will lead you to give more or less money to the Church.

First, I have a word for those of you whose treasure is the time and talent to make a lot of money. The word is not Jesus’ word to the rich young man (though fortunate is the person who follows Jesus’ word), but this: you will be happier if you give more of it away.

What about the rest of us, who don’t have a lot of money, or even don’t have enough money? I look at giving money to the Church as a discipline, or a prayer, like fasting. You don’t have to like it, but you have to do it. You are not giving your treasure (I am not talking to the well-off) but an offering, an oblation, that is to say, a sacrifice. And like all disciplines, it should be done regularly, and you should feel it a little.

With this I have given my widow’s mite of thought about the three T’s. To sum up:

1. Look on time, talent, and treasure as possibly related and not separate gifts.

2. Regard giving money to the Church as a prayer—do it regularly and attentively.

Hear it.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004 +

Bernard Van Dieren

Must one confess that the old problems remain lifelong companions? That as time has gone on they have only increased one's uncertainties?

An appalling swarm of nonentitous celebrities reminds us of fleeting time and of our own ignorance.... Who are those "unique talents" and "immortals" who kept the world enthralled?

Is there anything more overwhelming than the sudden sight of a perfect landscape seen in some small towns at the turn of an unpromising street?

Notes 25

Angels on the head of a pin. What I gather from this is: angels don't take up much room.

Until now, Catholicism has been very good at producing - Catholics.

The apple in history ... Eve, Isaac Newton.

Tuesday, September 14, 2004 +

Etty Hillesum

I can't help feeling that every hotly championed philosophy hides a little lie.

Aeroplanes, streaking down in flames, still have a wierd fascination for us - even aesthetically - though we know, deep down, that human beings are being burned alive. As long as this happens, while everything within us does not yet scream out in protest, so long will we find ways of adapting ourselves, and horrors will continue.

And as I stood, small and lost, in the centre of the big stage, the gaping, empty chasm of the auditorium stretching out threateningly before me, I was suddenly hit by the realisation that some people base their entire lives on applause from that gaping chasm.

...silence too must have contours and form.

I know that as long as one small street is left to us, the whole sky still stretches above it.

It sounds paradoxical: by excluding death from our life we cannot live a full life, and by admitting death into our life we enlarge and enrich it.

We have embraced a new reality and everything has taken on new colours and new emphases. And between our eyes and hands and mouths there now flows a constant stream of tenderness, a stream in which all petty desires seem to have been extinguished. All that matters now is to be kind to each other with all the goodness that is in us. And every encounter is also a farewell.

You must learn to forgo all personal desires and to surrender completely. And surrender does not mean giving up the ghost, fading away with grief, but offering what little assistance I can wherever it has pleased God to place me.

...later, when I have survived it all, I shall write stories about these times that will be like faint brush strokes against the great wordless background....

There is only one way of preparing the new age, by living it even now in our hearts.

I have no right to lay down conditions.

This morning I said to Jopie, "It still all comes down to the same thing: life is beautiful. And I believe in God. And I want to be there right in the thick of what people call 'horror' and still be able to say: life is beautiful."

And when the turmoil becomes too great and I am completely at my wits' end, then I still have my folded hands and bended knee. A posture that is not handed down from generation to generation with us Jews. I have had to learn it the hard way. It is my most precious inheritence from the man whose name I have almost forgotten but whose best part has become a constituent of my own life. What a strange story it really is, my story: the girl who could not kneel. Or its variation: the girl who learned to pray. That is my most intimate gesture, more intimate even than being with a man. After all one can't pour the whole of one's love out over a single man, can one?

Most books are really no good at all, we shall have to rewrite them all one day.

Notes 24

Those who are certain they are sheep and not goats are most likely Pharisees.

If America is God's country, then we must expect to be chastised like the Jews.

Monday, September 13, 2004 +

Caryll Houselander

There are heroes of the last two wars who are crawling on all fours, playing with toys, learning to eat with a spoon, trying, less successfuly than real babies, to learn to talk.

. . . remorse — which, by the by, is always selfish.

We read a lot of stuff about the saints “rejoicing in suffering,” and stupidly (though naturally) imagine from this that they actually enjoyed suffering! There are, of course, people who in a queer perverted way do enjoy suffering, but they are not saints!

I think it is very helpful to reflect that God loves those whom we love, far more than we do — infinitely more.

Ignore your own soul: keep your mind on God, on His love. . . . Do not wait until you feel not uneasy; do not wait to be doing a more prayerful act; do not wait to feel more unity and completeness: offer yourself, your will to do right, your anxiety about not doing it, your being interrupted just now, the act of taking So-and-so's temperature — all, just as it is, to God. Leave it to God to transform all this into Himself. It’s all you've got, and He gave it to you. . . . Don't trust your thoughts of Him: trust Him. . . .

Remember . . . that it is at the sore place, and only there, that our healing begins. . . .

. . . contemplatives of Christ in ourselves and in one another. . . .

There are only two weapons against the worldly spirit which has possessed many Catholics for so long, a worldly spirit that is not only unrecognized, but in some families regarded as a fine tradition! These two weapons are Contemplation and visible, voluntary Poverty. . . .


Notes 23

While the politicians and journalists and the innumerable organizations with social and economic programs fought over war and peace, women's rights, Imperialsim and nationalism, Socialism and Anarchism, two groups of intelligent people stayed aloof from the turmoil and attended to their own predestined occupations. These people were the artists and the scientists and their devotees. What they achieved during [1905-15] laid the foundations for all later achievments down to the present.
-- Jacques Barzun, Sidelights on Opera at Glimmerglass, 2001, 95.

Will it be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrha in the day of judgment, than for us?

Given that abortions are evil, will You have us say that 10,000,000 abortions are more evil than 1?

Sufficient unto my heart is the evil thereof.

If I am evil, should I stop doing good? But if I become evil in fighting evil, shouldn't I stop fighting evil?

If a man say, I hate abortion, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love babies whom he hath not seen?

Why say, "Catholics are obliged"? We do not say, "Saints are obliged."

Are not aborted babies also in Abraham's bosom?

Sunday, September 12, 2004 +

Notes 22

The war is vital, not important
-- James Agate

I know I don't deserve Your love, but when did I ever?

Ours is an audio rather than a visual age. Our dominant artists are musicians.

From Brecht I learned to put mistakes in Gospel Scenes.

"God's very nature is love (see Jn 4:8)." Why the reference? Don't we know? And why "very nature"? Like "in a very special way," these words preen themselves.

Abortion or unjust war - which is worse? Don't ask! Ask rather: What would You have me do now?

If religion were susceptible of proof, the whole world would be Catholic - or not.