Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam

Essential thinking for reading Catholics.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Those were the days.

These things happen. If you stick around long enough--and not everyone does--eventually your 25th Anniversary Class Reunion sneaks up on you and whaps you upside the head. Twenty-five years contain too much opportunity for people to drift away and slowly lose touch, and reestablishing and reconnecting last night was a very welcome thing.

As you might have remembered from my previous musings, I went to one of those kinds of all-boys Jesuit schools. It was the sort of place that took (and takes) careful note of the zeitgeist and proceeded to run in the opposite direction, full-tilt. The environment was a cross between Tales of St. Austin's and Lord of the Flies. This school had been founded in 1780something in Spain, kicked out in 1850something, packed up and went to Cuba in 1854 and got kicked out of there in 1961. In a great measure, this school is/was equivalent to Andover or Exeter. A lot of the guys who attended had names you'd associate (correctly, BTW) with the brand names of famous cigars or rums.

Academically rigorous, with a huge streak of the old to-whom-much-is-given-much-is-expected mindset with a dash of sink-or-swim for piquancy. My graduating class was made up of 56 guys. Of those, 20 went to Ivy League schools, another 20something went to pretty uppity sort of schools (Georgetown, in particular, with lots of Duke, Emory and Stanford, etc.), while some of us went to, um, party schools.

Part of the allure this place holds in my mind's eye is similar to that which basic training holds for veterans; where the bonds you forge in this sort of crucible last--even through protracted and multiple dormancies--for life. Henry V's famous speech at Agincourt would not have been out of place among us. For a number of reasons, not everyone goes to the 5th, 10th, etc. reunions so there is always a better than even chance that, at the 25th, you might see someone for the first time since you were at school together that quarter century ago.

Therefore, it would have been really swell if those who shaved their heads had warned the rest of us, especially if they had a topiary of a 'fro a quarter century ago and now sport a shaved melon. I spent half the night going "Whoa! DUDE! Didn't recognize you without the foliage." That's an even bigger shock than seeing those who evolved into something more closely resembling a member of the human species.

And don't think I've recovered from the fact our class has more dentists than my grandmother had teeth. I still think its funny a lot of the wives spent the night saying to each other things like "I didn't know they called him THAT." or "I wonder if my husband had anything to do with the ExamScam?" or "What is '[insert obscure school slang here]?" Explaining the whole nickname system* thing took the better part of the drive home.

The event was at a country club close to my house (which was nice) and decorated, as only an all-guy committee ever could: Sparsely. Mostly ancient photos, blown up to 3' x 5' size decked the hall. The highlight of the evening was a video dripping with nostalgia, interposing a lot of the "that was then, this is now." It gave me an amazing memory whiplash. There, on the screen, looking down at me and at us, were these...faces. Seventeen and eighteen year old faces, full of mischief and goodness and loyalty and adventure and friendship and promise. Faces which silently spoke of shared adventures and trial...of all-nighters trying to eke out a passing grade in Latin or Chemistry; of rescuing one of our own from being turned into a damp redness by some girl's narrow-minded boyfriend; of getting into--and less frequently, out of--trouble with Fr. Disciplinarian, SJ; of impromptu road trips; of SATs and admissions. These were faces who lived for the moment, because it would never be tomorrow.

These young faces, unclouded by the stresses of fatherhood, marriage, work, family looked down and smiled at the men who had once begotten those youthful smiles. Men whose faces were lined, hairlines greyed or receded or both. Men who as boys had passed bottles of rum between them on Saturday nights, and now passed PDAs with pictures of their families. The men on whom these faces looked down are men who now live not for the moment, but for tomorrow, because tomorrow always lurks. The guy who almost got expelled for spiking the sacramental wine with vodka now is a bank president. The twins who went four years pretending to be each other so as to only have to study for half the tests are now hugely respected neurosurgeons. Guys went off to school, many met girls there and stayed gone and carved out whole lives in Washington DC, or St. Louis or Boston. Gradually most of us lost touch with each other. Twenty-five years affords many opportunities to do so.

But last Saturday night--and maybe this is only a phenomenon that happens for a night or a weekend every 5 or 10 years--we didn't see the receded hairlines and expanded waistlines. We saw the ghosts of the strenuously, if benevolently, trying boyhood we had shared. Circuits, long dormant, crackled with life and joy and shared pains and sorrow** and for a glittering, shimmering instant in time, we who have wives and children and houses and insurance payments, were boys again.

-J.

* Basically, you never called anyone by their first name unless you were an extremely close friend, and even then it was "Dave" and not "David." First names were reserved for family alone. Either the guy next to you was "Smith" or he was "Buzzy." There are guys--and I'm far from being alone in this--whom I only know by their nicknames.

** Seeing the video reminded us of the three guys from our class who have died, leaving friend-shaped gaps among our number. They were good guys to a man, and I miss them dearly.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

The Karen, she hath tagged me.

I, myself, am not a meme-hunter. But in the spirit of comity and politesse and true fraternity, I accept the taggage of the lovely and gracious Karen.

1. A book that changed your life.
The Road To Serfdom by Friedrich von Hayek. One of those eye-opening sorts of things that makes you see stuff you've seen all along in a very different (and not altogether pleasing) light. Those who like their bitter truths less bitter (but no less truthful) and rather funny ought look up anything by Frédéric Bastiat. Yes, JESUITS made me read these in high school.

2. A book you've read more than once.
ANY of PG Wodehouse's Bertie & Jeeves novels. Oh, and also Don Quijote. Books I reread are "comfort books," things to which I return to cleanse my palate when I have been reading too much of one type of book and need to start afresh. Whenever reading begins to look like drudgery, I return to them.

3. A book you'd want on a deserted island.
With apologies to Holy Writ, a boatmaking manual and Rand McNally's World Atlas.

4. A book that made you laugh.
Night Of The Avenging Blowfish by John Welter is the clear winner. EVERYONE must run out and read this book. (How can you NOT love a book with the subtitle of "A novel about covert operations, love and luncheon meat"? ) ALTHOUGH IT CONTAINS a bit of a, um, "love scene." (So don't come back yelling.)

5. A book that you wish had been written.
The Stuff I Said The Four--Only Four, Mind You--Evangelists Didn't Write Down But Still Counts Anyway Because I Said It And What I Say Goes by Jesus Christ. And its sequel The WHAT Code?

6. A book you wish had never been written.
3-way tie. Das Kapital, The Communist Manifesto & Mein Kampf. That little red Chairman Mao thing is right up there, too. (Notice the dearth of links; damned if I enable you to shower ducats at these bastards.)

So there!

I tag Ryan Duns, SJ if he can find the time between flights. (Dude, rename your blog the Wounded Traveler)

AMDG,

-J.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

And now, something useful.

I had a neat little experience I was going to blog about, involving a lost kid in the mall finding his dad (more later) but as I was about to type it out, I ran across this and I thought it a good thing to postpone the former for the latter. Here's the latter:

Universal Prayer (composed by Pope Clement XI, A.D. 1721.)

Lord, I believe in you: increase my faith.
I trust in you: strengthen my trust.
I love you: let me love you more and more.
I am sorry for my sins: deepen my sorrow.

I worship you as my first beginning,
I long for you as my last end,
I praise you as my constant helper,
And call on you as my loving protector.

Guide me by your wisdom,
Correct me with your justice,
Comfort me with your mercy,
Protect me with your power.

I offer you, Lord, my thoughts: to be fixed on you;
My words: to have you for their theme;
My actions: to reflect my love for you;
My sufferings: to be endured for your greater glory.

I want to do what you ask of me:
In the way you ask,
For as long as you ask,
Because you ask it.

Lord, enlighten my understanding,
Strengthen my will,
Purify my heart,
and make me holy.

Help me to repent of my past sins
And to resist temptation in the future.
Help me to rise above my human weaknesses
And to grow stronger as a Christian.

Let me love you, my Lord and my God,
And see myself as I really am:
A pilgrim in this world,
A Christian called to respect and love
All whose lives I touch,
Those under my authority,
My friends and my enemies.

Help me to conquer anger with gentleness,
Greed by generosity,
Apathy by fervor.
Help me to forget myself
And reach out toward others.

Make me prudent in planning,
Courageous in taking risks.
Make me patient in suffering, unassuming in prosperity.

Keep me, Lord, attentive at prayer,
Temperate in food and drink,
Diligent in my work,
Firm in my good intentions.

Let my conscience be clear,
My conduct without fault,
My speech blameless,
My life well-ordered.
Put me on guard against my human weaknesses.
Let me cherish your love for me,
Keep your law,
And come at last to your salvation.

Teach me to realize that this world is passing,
That my true future is the happiness of heaven,
That life on earth is short,
And the life to come eternal.

Help me to prepare for death
With a proper fear of judgment,
But a greater trust in your goodness.
Lead me safely through death
To the endless joy of heaven.

Grant this through Christ our Lord.


Amen.

In each little segment of this beautiful prayer we find corresponding pieces of ourselves. Usually not reflected in a flattering light. This is important, because it gives our soul a checklist of things that need improvement if we're to draw ever closer to God. Of course, being the hidebound, reactionary Old School sort, I prefer this archaic translation, with the sort of language nobody uses any more:

O my God, I believe in Thee; do Thou strengthen my faith. All my hopes are in Thee; do Thou secure them. I love Thee, teach me to love Thee daily more and more. I am sorry I have offended Thee, do Thou increase my sorrow.

I adore Thee as my first beginning; I aspire after Thee as my last end. I give Thee thanks as my constant benefactor; I call upon Thee as my sovereign protector.

Vouchsafe, O my God, to conduct me by Thy wisdom, to restrain me by Thy justice, to comfort me by Thy mercy, to defend me by Thy power. To Thee I desire to consecrate all my thoughts, words, actions, and sufferings; that henceforward I may think of Thee, speak of Thee, refer all my actions to Thy greater glory, and suffer willingly whatever Thou shalt appoint.


Lord, I desire that in all things Thy will may be done because it is Thy will, and in the manner that Thou willest. I beg of Thee to enlighten my understanding, to inflame my will, to purify my body, and to sanctify my soul.


Give me strength, O my God! To expiate my offenses, to overcome my temptations, to subdue my passions, and to acquire the virtues proper for my state of life.
Fill my heart with tender affection for Thy goodness, hatred of my faults, love of my neighbor, and contempt of the world.

May Thy grace help me to be submissive to my superiors, condescending* to my inferiors, faithful to my friends, and charitable to my enemies. Assist me to overcome sensuality by mortification, avarice by almsdeeds, anger by meekness, and tepidity by devotion.

O my God! Make me prudent in my undertakings, courageous in dangers, patient in affliction, and humble in prosperity. Grant that I may be ever attentive at my prayers, temperate at my meals, diligent in my employments, and constant in my resolutions. Let my conscience be ever upright and pure, my exterior modest, my conversation edifying, and my comportment regular.

Assist me, that I may continually labor to overcome nature, to correspond with Thy grace, to keep Thy commandments, and to work out my salvation. Make me realize, O my God! the nothingness of this world, the greatness of heaven; the shortness of time, and the length of eternity. Grant that I may prepare for death; that I may fear thy judgments, and in the end obtain heaven; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

AMDG,

-J.

* This means to treat those "beneath" you as full equals, not to be patronizing.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

While you're at it.

Keep Ryan G. Duns, nSJ Ryan G. Duns, SJ in your prayers...he has had the "n" surgically removed from his "nSJ" :-)

Congratulations, Ryan!

-J.

P.S. Post some recipes, will ya?

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Ferragosto.

Today is the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

From St. Luke's Gospel (1:46-55)

And Mary said: My soul doth magnify the Lord. And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour. Because He hath regarded the humility of his handmaid; for behold from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed. Because He that is mighty, hath done great things to me; and holy is His name. And His mercy is from generation unto generations, to them that fear him. He hath shewed might in his arm: He hath scattered the proud in the conceit of their heart. He hath put down the mighty from their seat, and hath exalted the humble. He hath filled the hungry with good things; and the miserly He hath sent empty away. He hath received Israel his servant, being mindful of His mercy: As He spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his seed for ever.

Sancta Maria, ora pro nobis.

AMDG,

-J.

Friday, August 04, 2006

In even, measured tones...

OK.

I have sat on this for what I believe to be a sufficient amount of time. But something has been bothering me for some time, and which I have addressed peripherally in previous occasions.

To those of you who've gotten the complete dose via email, etc., my apologies. Those on the opposite side of my views, I am trying to write in a calm and charitable manner, even though my natural impulses would have me proceeding in a, um, sharper way. I apologize if I inadvertently express myself in an untoward way. My intention is not to conquer but to convince.

There seems to be, in some quarters, the general sort of mindset that seeks to find in one's religious beliefs a validation for one's political, social and economic beliefs. That is to say, many people who are pro-widget and anti-gizmo will gravitate to religious worldviews which couple themselves neatly to pro-widgetry and anti-gizmotivity. Which is exactly bass-ackwards.

One's religious convictions ought be held on the basis of what one holds to be true about God and His relationship to human beings, and let everything else fall where it may. By this I mean we must have a theocentric view of God's ordained will. "Thus saith the Lord" (the religion equivalent of "Because I'm the Dad and I say so.") ought suffice for us, even though it doesn't. To proceed otherwise is, simply, egolatry.

Why do I believe gluttony is wrong? Because it is my understanding that's God's ordained will. If God was silent on the matter, I assure you my views would be otherwise. But based on what I understand about God and His revelation, I have no choice but to nod assent. What I am careful about is not interjecting my political views into my religious views so as to massage God's will to mine. I have a feeling He might not care for that.

So we come to the Peace 'n' Justice type of Christian.

It is here I have great difficulty "maintaining an even strain." First, because among these brethren is the not-so-unspoken assumption that to disagree with the solutions is to be in militant opposition with the stated goals of securing peace and affording justice to all. Sadly, these solutions often have little basis in reality and even less basis in doctrine. I remember reading, a lo-o-o-o-o-ong time ago, someone reply to a blog entry about how he had left a certain parish because, although this parish was wonderful in its adherence to Catholic identity, its zeal in opposing abortion, etc., it still "was blind to the root causes of poverty."

[Editorial] The root causes of poverty are the artificial "barriers to entry" placed by governments to eliminate or minimize classical--not "laissez faire"--capitalism*. Poor countries are rife with them, affluent countries have almost none. Next question.[/Editorial]

The problem with this mindset is how easily it segues into arrogance. We have seen recently how some have decided that those who oppose abortion as well as solutions which rely on the police power of the state for their implementation are not "pro-life" but merely "pro-birth." Color me cynical, but I believe the God who instilled a soul on every human body wants more for His children than the hay and barns a Federal Plantation promises. To be truly pro-life is not to embrace all manner of collectivism, but to engage INDIVIDUALLY into bringing peace and justice to those who have been deprived of them.

Christ commands us--individually--to feed, clothe, quench, etc. not to demand the government do it and compel all to subsidize it. This is why we have been given Free Will. We may freely choose to visit (or not) peace and justice to our fellows. To have structures in place which involuntarily extract from people the means to attempt (invariably with little success) this removes our free will from the equation. Besides being almost certainly ineffectual and inefficient**, it also gives those who provide the resources being distributed a false sense of fulfilled responsibility. "Why, yes Lord, I have fed/clothed/quenched...it's right here on my 1040 long form. Please let me know if You would like receipts." There's a reason why it's called the Seat of Judgment and not the Seat of Audit.

To make matters worse, those of us with different solutions often feel compelled to issue our bona fides. In fact, I almost started off that way...but I don't have to give an accounting to anyone save Our Lord. Whatever I do I don't do for the benefit of onlookers, but to glorify Him by using the blessings which He has bestowed upon me--quite undeservedly--to help others find Him, help the workers in His vineyard reach more souls and, I pray, save as many souls as possible. While I will never be 100% comfortable with having done all I could (I'm relying on His mercy on this) I am comfortable that whatever I have done is for actual good and not merely to assuage my ego.

What I find upsetting is the outlook which reads more into doctrine than is really there. Just because capital punishment is almost always wrong doesn't mean it's invariably immoral. Just because war is almost always wrong doesn't mean it's never justifiable. To point this out is tantamount to heresy in the eyes of many. What is curious, however, is how silent the adherents of these views are on THE grave evil of our age: abortion.

All the people executed throughout the world combined with all the deaths in war-torn places cannot even approach the number of unborn children killed by the abortion industry under the uncomfortable gaze of a passive and morally discombobulated population in the USA alone. You'd figure the largest, most unambiguously immoral evil would get tackled first, and we could discuss the specifics of the more ambiguous other matters later.

Also, it seems that doctrine is often touted whenever it's convenient for the adherents of a certain view, but quietly put back behind glass in other matters, replaced by a heterodoxy (benign or otherwise) which has more to do with the approval of the world and, I fear, its ruler. You may be certain you're about to get a screenful of this when you see the argument "I don't see why someone can't be both orthodox and traditional as well as 'progressive'." Which is perfectly true in theory, I'm sure...but I'd be a whole lot more convinced if I were to see such a thing.

Lastly, what really gets me having to take deep and calming breaths is that I feel (and have felt) compelled to say "I'm all in favor of peace and of justice" as if that were necessary of anyone who deeply believes in the Gospel, but having a different outlook on how to bring about the message of Christ and cary out His commandments requires a sheepish apology therefor.

AMDG,

-J.

* Do not even ponder possibly entertaining the merest suspicion of confusing these two. I'm trying to remain calm ovah heah, and provocation is both uncharitable and counterproductive.

** I am adamantly of the opinion that a population that tithes is a population that needn't be taxed between 50%-55%.