Sunday, September 28, 2008

Many People Believe...

"That's fine for you because you believe that."

That sentence is a thought-killing conversation-ender. The assumption behind it is that my religious creed can be quarantined as one's individual belief, of importance as a matter of personal interest -- not unlike a hobby -- but of no objective significance.

For my part, I'm opposed to that assumption for the same reason I'm opposed to the assassination of the intellect.

Much of what Catholicism has to say is simply history. That Christ walked the earth, directed men to pray, ordered them to keep the Commandments, and required they be baptized is submitted to our consideration not as a matter of opinion, but as a historical event -- something that occurred at a specific time and in a certain place. It makes as much sense to say "Most Christians believe Christ dwelled in Galilee 2,000 years ago" as it does to say "Many Americans believe that George Washington was the first president." Yes, of course; more importantly, such an assertion attempts to recast what is objective historical reality into a matter of mere opinion. Sophists who haven't slit their wrists yet would cheer about it if they could muster the enthusiasm.


Faith is an act of the will by which one gives intellectual assent to a Divinely revealed truth. It can be attended by emotions, but it is not essentially emotional; rather, it is a conviction about something objectively true that has been revealed by God and that no one could have arrived at by his own unaided reason.

Suppose I say not to open the door to the next room because a burglar is waiting on the other side to ambush you and take your wallet. If you believe me you will escape courtesy of the back door and call the police. That is an example (on a mundane, natural level) of an act of faith.

In a religious context, when the Almighty tells us that He is a Trinity -- that he is one God in three Persons, about Whom one must not divide the parts nor confound the substance -- He has revealed an objective fact that we could never have figured out on our own and that we will accept as true if we believe Him and that we will reject if we don't. The reason why religious Faith is pleasing to God, and why the Church classifies it as one of the chief virtues, is that we're taking God who is Truth itself at His word -- not because it seems reasonable or agreeable to us, but solely because it is God who has spoken. There is nothing more reasonable than unreservedly -- like a little child -- believing what a good and honest God tells us.

Which is good for me not because I happen to like that sort of thing, or because I find it helpful or meaningful or useful, but simply because it squares with objective reality, quite apart from any personal preference.

Fortis est veritas.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Modesty Prevails

About 10 years back Robin called me to say that she wouldn't be joining the rest of us that evening because her apartment had been burglarized.

"I'm so upset, Sean," she said. "They totally demolished my place -- they went through my apartment and threw everything I own all over the place. It looks like a tornado hit it! I can't think straight, I can't calm down -- all I can do is shake and cry!"

"Do you have anyone with you right now?"

"My mother is supposed to come over later tonight."

"I'll be there in less than an hour" I said.

En route I stopped at a Chick-fil-A to pick up dinner, then drove to Robin's apartment, chicken nuggets and barbeque sauce in hand.

When Robin opened the door I saw that she hadn't exaggerated: the burglars had been very thorough and left next to nothing upright.

"My situation has already gotten better," Robin said with a brave little grin.

"How so?" I asked.

"Because my underclothes were all over the place, and when you said you were coming over I thought, 'There's no way I'm going to let Sean see that'. So I picked them all up and put them away. It's not much, but it's a start."

We ate dinner, then got to work getting her place put in order.

Modesty is a virtue: you have to possess backbone to practice it, and if you're faithful to it then it will let you find you backbone you never knew you had.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Bullfight

A converted Spanish monastery in the town of Guadalupe, Spain served as one of my bed-and-breakfast locations during my August, 2005 excursion.

Preparing for Mass at the Monastery Chapel

One evening when I had some time on my hands I went for a walk about the little town. As I rounded the corner of a side street I saw a crowd up ahead, shouting and cheering. I approached with great curiosity, then climbed onto the bed of a pickup to get a better view.

The locals had had cordoned off a plaza in the middle of the town with portable gates and various odds and ends. In the center of the plaza was a tall fountain and an unhappy bull.

The bull was unhappy because townsmen would run into the makeshift arena to get the bull to charge, then run away and diving back into the crowd (once a crowd of men escaped into the fountain and climbed up the statue). One fellow performed an original stunt: he took a chair into the arena and stood on top of it; when the bull charged, the chap leaped over the bull as it ran beneath him and claimed the chair.

A friend on the scene explained to me that all this was done to tire the bull; afterwards, the locals would take the animal away, break its neck, and carve it up for a town feast.

I'm not aware of any Spanish heritage among my ancestors; that could be why the childhood admonition to not play with one's food came to mind.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

At the Sea of Galilee

Here's a mug shot of yours truly on board a boat on the Sea of Galilee:

Sean in Galilee, February 2008

When my little group of 80 pilgrims reached the end of the boat ride we stopped for lunch at a local diner. The main meal was fish from the sea, which locally are called St. Peter's Fish* after the chief of the Apostles who used to fish this same body of water before Christ called him to become a "fisher of men."

* Back home we call them tilapia.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Roscoe the Destroyer

This is a story of my dog Roscoe.


Roscoe

Roscoe had been a prior pet of some friends who'd gotten him from someone else. The home I'd brought him home from was a family with several children and many other pets, including a very dominant Alpha dog.
Poor Roscoe was a seriously brow-beaten pooch.

Being good-natured folks, my friends reasoned that if Roscoe had a place all to himself, he might come out of his little doggy shell and enjoy life a bit more.

So I took Roscoe in, got him a dog house, and put him in my fenced back yard.


Roscoe and His Dog House

Try as I might, though, I could never get Roscoe to relax. He cringed whenever I entered the room -- I came to fear he'd been treated badly by one of his previous owners, and as a result had become skittish around all humans. He also wouldn't eat his food with anyone around.

Poor Roscoe also had his mind set on ESCAPE. He was an expert digger, and wreaked havoc with my yard and fence.


Boards Missing in My Fence



Close-Up of the Scene

My neighbors twice caught him and brought him home to me.

So poor Roscoe was put on a chain in the fenced back yard. He wasn't happy about this at all; he pouted about it and hid in his doghouse.

A Pouting Roscoe

I tried alternatives. Taking him out on walks was difficult because -- even though he was on a leash -- he ran from everything. I put him in the basement, but he just crawled into the corner and sat motionless.

One day I had the idea of letting him have the run of the house while I was out and about. Perhaps he would learn to be comfortable on his own in a homey environment.

Big mistake.

When I arrived back in the house, I discovered that Roscoe had made some home improvements by chewing my Venetian blinds to pieces. Judging by the liberal amounts of blood and saliva on everything, I'd say he'd chewed them in quite a frenzy.

Venetian Blinds by Roscoe


Blinds in the Living Room

So I threw in the towel. Roscoe went to a neighbor whose mother owned 40 acres of wooded land in the country. I figured Roscoe could run and dig and chew all he wanted out there without having to ever deal with humans. I've since moved from that house and lost contact with the man who took Roscoe, but I still have the memories and photos of my encounters with Roscoe the Destroyer.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Zaragoza

You'd think I was in Ireland here:

but no, Padre and I were quenching our powerful thirst at an Irish pub in Zaragoza, Spain (August, 2005). It turns out that Irish pubs travel well all over the world.

Zaragoza is an ancient place, once the capital of the former kingdom of Aragon. It was fortified by the Romans under Caesar Augustus (Imperator Caesar Divi Filius Augustus) after whom the city was named. Augustus was Emperor when Christ was born, and it was he who called for the census across the entire Roman world that obliged the Holy Family to travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem for the first Christmas.

Within the city is a basilica built on the spot where the Apostle James originally established a church during his missionary activities on the Iberian peninsula. One of the trophies in the basilica is a pair of diffused mortar shells that were fired into the church by the godless communists during the Spanish civil war: the two rounds of ordnance went through the roof and landed inside without detonating. As a testimony of the church's Providential deliverance from the assault, the Spanish never patched the holes in the roof, which you can still see today.

Zaragoza Basilica

The more famous pilgrimage spot in the basilica is a miraculous pillar. At one point during his difficult missionary work among the Spanish the Apostle James was tempted to despond. He prayed for fortitude, and was rewarded for his zeal with a pillar to indicate that he would be the source of much strength among the Christians in that still-pagan land. The pillar has been preserved, and today is much embellished by the devout Catholic Spanish. The pillar exudes a delicious aroma (I speak from experience), which is sited as a miraculous attribute of the relic. In honor of this gift from Heaven, many Spanish girls are baptized with the name Pilar, which refers to this pillar.

The Miraculous Pillar in the Church of
Nuestra SeƱor del Pilar

Sunday, September 14, 2008

What's the Story?

On Ash Wednesday of 2004 I took the day off work, as I do every year at the start of Lent, only that year I hooked up with some friends from Rex and Tucker to see the opening-day screening of The Passion of the Christ.

Afterwards when my friends and I were leaving the theater we noticed a small crowd of people gathered around a news truck. The south-Atlanta bureau chief for a local T.V. station was interviewing people as they exited the theater, getting their take on the film.

Or rather, he had a story he was trying to make news with, and he wasn't going to let mere veracity get in his way.

I waited my turn in line, then took his question.

"Many ministers are saying that parents should take the entire family to see this movie, including small children. Do you think The Passion is suitable for small children?"

This baiting question needed the right kind of answer.

"You know," I said, "I've followed the news pretty closely on this one, and I haven't come across a single minister telling parents to take small children to see the movie. Who are some of these 'many' ministers you're referring to?"

"Well...some ministers," the reporter clarified

"Ah," I said. "I see."

The reporter and the cameraman also asked me if I knew the name of the device the Romans used in the movie to scourge Jesus.

"It's called a scourge," I explained.

Clearly, routine fact-checking was also not a top priority here.

Anyway, those particular tidbits didn't air; what did air was my critique that the film was a gripping and accurate portrayal of the suffering, death, and resurrection of Christ.

I didn't see the broadcast, but my friend Dave did -- he'd seen the movie with me and had also been interviewed.

"You and I look like two guys who need to get some more sun," Dave my fellow pale-white-guy told me. This was particularly funny because the news crew had gotten Dave's name wrong and credited him in the sub-text on the broadcast with being the pastor of one of Atlanta's black churches.

For the record, some film critics objected to the graphic violence in the film. Curiously, film critics, as a rule, had no qualms about the graphic violence in Saving Private Ryan and Schindler's List. Go figure.

Factoid: Luca Lionello, the Italian actor who played Judas in the movie, credits his experience making the film with his conversion from atheism to Catholicism.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Carcassonne

Oustide the Walls of Carcassonne, France
August, 2005

Carcassonne is a walled city in the south of France. With its double walls and 53 towers, in medieval times it was a military fortress-city between France and Spain.

There's a lovely landscape photo of the city here.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

A Real Soprano

Hayley Westenra is a New Zealander of Irish descent. She was part of the ensemble group Celtic Woman, who was able to follow the lead of Irish singers like Enya and Clannad. They all perform the sort of music I enjoy.

Hayley sang beautifully this marvelous recording of Ave Maria.

Until I heard this song by Hayley, I never thought I'd ever hear anyone sing like Kate Bush. It's uncanny. Anyway, I prefer her Pie Jesu.

You can skip the first 90 seconds of this one: the intro to the lovely Santa Lucia.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Another Reason to Fear the Dentist

A while back I went to the dentist's office for a routine checkup.

I like to have my appointments first thing in the morning so that I can get to work only a little bit late. On one particular visit the dental assistant was about 15 minutes tardy arriving. I was civil to her, but I wasn't terribly happy about her running behind. That changed, however, when she told me why.

"I had to drop my son off at daycare -- my little boy's father and I are going through a divorce, so my life is on the crazy side right now."

I just sighed and nodded my head. I certainly didn't want to make her life more unpleasant, so I cheered up and did my best to act happy.

We got along well enough after that -- not that I was saying much while she poked around in my mouth with a miniature ice pick; about all I could manage was an occasional "ah" and "uh-huh."

Then she laid it on me.

"Wow -- a man who flosses. I'll have to marry you next."

Over the next several minutes of listening to her chatter, a rather uncomfortable fact became gradually clearer: she wasn't joking. Further, my cessation of guttural responses wasn't enough to dissuade her. I've never been able to make myself spontaneously pass out, so I was stuck there, hoping she didn't take my silence as sympathy, fearful lest I offend her and she momentarily lose proficiency with the ice pick.

Happily, I managed to escape harm that day. Not that I think the virtues of flossing are over-stated per se, but I do wonder if instructions to floss should come with a Surgeon General-type warning that consistent flossing can have the effect of drawing the unexpected attention of the dentist's office staff.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Orthodoxy

The moderns go dully on about the intrinsic evil of organized religion, pointing to the Catholic Church's wars with heretics and infidels as proof.

Their preference is that heretics no longer be censured. Instead, the moderns would marginalize, ostracize, ignore, quarantine, kill, and otherwise remove from the equation only the orthodox.

Rather inconsistent of them, I think. Gosh, it's perhaps even hypocritical.