Sunday, August 28, 2011

My Second Ignatian Retreat

I was poking around some old computer files and discovered the old note below. It was a brief reverie after my second Ignatian retreat, which Helmut and I made in 2001.

For the record, I'm making my next retreat in October.


Today was my second day back to work after my retreat last week in Connecticut. Within 15 minutes of turning on my computer on Monday, three people (including my boss) had pulled me aside to have a word about "what happened" in my absence.

It’s not uncommon in the frantic life of start-up Internet companies for business decisions to be made in light of...shall we say aggressive?...project time-lines that no sane business person would ever contemplate, to say nothing of implement. An example of such is running a million dollar project whose most up-to-date documentation is an email trail.

So it came to pass that while I was serenely enjoying the New England Autumn change of colors, the folks back in my office were trying to find out who did and said what when, knowing that something important had been written down by yours truly somewhere at some time but not knowing where to find it.

Such is life in an Internet shop: it is a tale, told by a digitized idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing so much as the struggle toward the next paycheck.

The retreat was a welcome respite.

Fifteen fellows gathered at the retreat house in Ridgefield, CT for five days of quiet contemplation. The days were structured: we rose early, went to Mass, attended conferences throughout the mornings and afternoons that were punctuated by meals and free periods during which we read, prayed, napped, and wandered the 14 acres of turning hardwoods before retiring by 10:00 p.m.

Don’t be fooled, praying and meditating for a whole day is hard work: imagine trying to stay focused on a meditation for even a quarter of an hour without letting your mind wander. How long can most of us spend working out the details of the Nativity without an intruding thought nosing its way into our contemplation? And what a contemplation: Was the temperature cold enough for breath to turn frosty? Was the donkey in the stable on the left, or was the ox? How long before the shepherds arrived? What did the choir of singing angels sound like? With all the amazing things happening, did anyone even notice the prickly straw in the manger or the smell of the stable? What joy is this being born into my life? Such thoughts are not the normal stuff of the computerized office: pulling your mind out of that routine to think for a spell on something holy and quiet and wonderful takes real effort. After a day of that, I slept well at night; a sleeping peace for men of goodwill indeed. And after a week, not even the airport security guards armed with M-16s alarmed me. And tackling a first-thing-Monday-morning workplace surprises was a walk in the park.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

But that's Pakistan, Not our Neighborhood...


A young Pakistani Catholic woman from Quetta, Pakistan is refusing to renounce Christ even after being forced to convert and marry a Muslim man who regularly drugged her and subjected her to mental and physical torture for two years.

Agenzia Fides is reporting that Alfred Arifa, 27, who was kidnapped by a Muslim man named Amjad in May 2009, was finally able to escape after two years of unimaginable suffering. Her story, which was told to Fides by the Pakistani Christians Association in Italy, is not unlike hundreds that routinely take place in this predominantly Muslim country where Christians are barely tolerated and treated as second-class citizens.

Arifa’s ordeal began two years ago when she went to the home of two trusted friends who had secretly aligned themselves to Amjad in the plot to kidnap her. She was given a cup of tea laced with drugs that caused her to fall unconscious.

When she awoke, she found herself in Amjad’s house. He told her she had converted to Islam and married him. Amjad even produced a phony marriage certificate. Arifa said it was impossible for her to have converted to Islam or married him because she was unconscious.

Amjad decided to overcome her resistance and began to mentally and physically torture her. She was constantly drugged, suffered severe beatings, and was locked in the man’s house for two years. She attempted to escape several times but was not successful.

On July 31, after another severe beating, she was shocked to find the front door of the house unlocked. Although seriously injured, she made her escape and took a rickshaw to the nearby Civil Hospital where she was treated for her wounds. She then went to her brother Adnan.

Arifa filed a complaint against Amjad but the police have so far done nothing to bring him to justice. Instead, the police inspector told Arifa how happy he was that she had converted to Islam.

Amjad has begun to send Arifa and her family death threats which has resulted in them being forced to flee for their lives. Because Amjad considers Arifa to be a Muslim and his wife, she and her entire family can be put to death if caught.

But Arifa is standing firm: “I am a Christian and have always remained steadfast in my Christian faith and continued to pray to Jesus Christ and the Blessed Virgin Mary in my heart for liberation during these two years of imprisonment”.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Rome Approves Transfer of Dominican Sister to SSPX Dominicans

Dominican Sister of New Zealand transfers to SSPX Dominicans - with permission of Rome


On 28 May 2011 Father Couture, the SSPX District Superior of Asia, received the vows of Mother Mary Micaela as she transferred from the Congregation of the Dominican Sisters of New Zealand to the Dominican Sisters of Wanganui. She had special permission from the Congregation for Religious and Secular Institutes in Rome. The whole procedure implies a recognition of the Congregation, and of the religious of Tradition, by Rome.

Monday, August 22, 2011

SSPX Leaders Summoned to Rome

The web site of the SSPX’s German district posted news from Fr. Schmidberger that Bp. Fellay and his advisory council – Frs. Pfluger and Nély – have been ordered to Rome.

German source

A rough translation from the online translation tool Babel Fish can be found here.

Fr. Schmidberger indicates that the meeting is to be the conclusion of the doctrinal discussions. He added that it could also touch on the matter of the canonical status of the SSPX. Father asks for our prayers for this matter.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Of Talking Animals

The other day I was perusing YouTube videos of debates between Christians and atheists about whose position was more in accord with sound reasoning.

In the debates I saw, the Christians relied on logic and reason (naturally, as atheists would accept no argument from authority) and formulated correct and reasonable syllogisms in support of their positions.

The atheists, meanwhile worked in their normal claim of appealing to logic. But then they generally turned -- without any warning or explanation -- to moral arguments for why Christianity is wrong. Interestingly, they used a Christian moral code to fault the position of their opponents. It's certainly reasonable to appeal to moral considerations when evaluating a belief system, but one needs to first lay the groundwork for the moral code in a rational, logical way. This they failed to do; instead, they simply accepted certain things as given and went from there. Christian philosophers of the moderate realist school who know their stuff don't, as a rule, make this fatally flawed mistake.

One atheist chap said that he simply would not even attempt to have a discussion with someone who believes in a talking snake (c.f. the Garden of Eden). It was a flippant remark, which deserved a dismissive answer -- perhaps one like this: if you believe humans are kin to apes and other primates, and humans can talk, why will you allow the world to be inhabited by nearly seven billion talking apes, but not allow a single talking snake?

Or this: yes, not only a snake, but a talking donkey too (c.f. Balaam's tale).

For the record, nobody was suggesting a normal snake began to spontaneously talk. Rather, the Devil in the form of a serpent deceived Eve. It was a miraculous event, without precedent, and as far as I know without repetition.

Consider 14th entry in the Fragments from the Lost Writings of Irenæus, a saint of the second century AD:

How is it possible to say that the serpent, created by God dumb and irrational, was endowed with reason and speech? For if it had the power of itself to speak, to discern, to understand, and to reply to what was spoken by the woman, there would have been nothing to prevent every serpent from doing this also. If, however, they say again that it was according to the divine will and dispensation that this [serpent] spoke with a human voice to Eve, they render God the author of sin. Neither was it possible for the evil demon to impart speech to a speechless nature, and thus from that which is not to produce that which is; for if that were the case, he never would have ceased (with the view of leading men astray) from conferring with and deceiving them by means of serpents, and beasts, and birds. From what quarter, too, did it, being a beast, obtain information regarding the injunction of God to the man given to him alone, and in secret, not even the woman herself being aware of it?

The point being that many factors converge in support of the fact that the encounter between Eve and the serpent was an exceptional one, an event that cannot be explained by materialist notions.

To insist on materialist limitations and then fault non-materialists for not being slaves to materialists assumptions is contrary to reason and logic. In discussions about miracles, one must first determine if miracles are possible. If no, then any miraculous event is going to have to be explained away. If yes, then events which claim to be miraculous can be examined on the merits of the case. The religious man is simply open to the possibility of supernatural events -- he is not obliged to uncritically accept every claim of amazing events. The person who is constrained by unreasonable limitations is the atheist, who argues a priori that such things cannot happen (he never explains why), and therefore a given miraculous event in history did not happen. He does not logically and reasonably consider the evidence; he merely, in unscientific fashion, adheres to the dogmatic notions of his ideology.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Feeling Superior

Liberalism is not a system for solving problems, it is a system for feeling superior.

Friday, August 19, 2011

National Aviation Day

Today, August 19, is National Aviation Day in the U.S.

In 1939, FDR established this holiday – the birthday of Orville Wright – to promote interest in aviation.

The web site of the Engineers’ Club of Dayton, OH has a 6.5 minute video of snippets from some of the early flights by the Wright Brothers -- see

Keeping it Human

From Time Magazine's 50 Best Websites of 2011:

Some of the biggest companies in the U.S. are in hiding - or at least, you might think so when you want to talk to a real person at one of them. Phone numbers are often tough to find, and if you do uncover one, it could lead to a voice-menu system that tries to placate you with recorded messages. That's why GetHuman is so essential. It provides numbers for thousands of companies, from AT&T to Zynga, plus information on which buttons to press to reach a human and how long you're likely to wait on hold. Users can also vent by writing customer-service reviews; they're pockmarked with phrases like "What a nightmare!"

Among the very worst companies out there? FaceBook.
* Average wait time: 61.9 minutes
* User rating: Horrible


Thursday, August 18, 2011

Or Else

I did not put up this sign in front of the coffee pot at the office.

But I approve.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

No Thanks on the Turkey

Dinner tonight was almost a Mexican dish.

I walked into the restaurant, surveyed the menu, and then approached the counter. The ground beef burrito struck my fancy.

"We don't have ground beef any more," the lad behind the register told me.

"Oh?" I said in surprise.

"No, we switched to turkey. But then the turkey got salmonella, so now we don't have that either."

"OK, thanks, I'm good to go," I said, and promptly turned and left.

I dined at the BBQ chicken place instead.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

42 for Matthew, 72 for Luke

In the first chapter of the Gospel of St. Matthew, the first 17 verses are given over to providing the genealogy of Christ. The sequence ends with this summation:

1:17: So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations. And from David to the transmigration of Babylon are fourteen generations. And from the transmigration of Babylon to Christ are fourteen generations.

That makes for 42 generations from Abraham to Christ.

Meanwhile, the Gospel of St. Luke begins its genealogy in the third chapter at the twenty-third verse. And St. Luke lists 72 generations from Adam to Christ.

A contradiction? Only a seeming one.

St. Matthew's primary audience was the Jewish Christians; St. Luke, the gentile Christians (beginning with the "most excellent Theopilus"). The latter was the missionary companion of St. Paul, the apostle to the gentiles.

In his genealogy St. Matthew demonstrated that Christ was the Messiah, the son of David. In the Hebrew language, David's name has three consonants, D-V-D; like Arabic, written Hebrew does not record vowels. In the Jewish tradition, the letters D-V-D were given the numerical significance of 4-6-4, which added together equals 14. Adhering to the Jewish custom, St. Matthew lists three sets of 14 generations -- or 42 generations -- of the Davidic line.

St. Luke arrived at his number based on the Jewish tradition that the whole world was occupied by 72 races of men; thus, by naming 72 generations, St. Luke demonstrated that Christ had come to bring salvation to all men.

Or again, St. Matthew gave the juridical succession through which Davidic rights descended to Joseph, and then to his legal son -- i.e. Jesus. St. Luke, meanwhile, abstracted from this legal or juridical succession, and followed the real genealogy according to consanguinity.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Slow Learners

"The budget should be balanced, the Treasury should be refilled, public debt should be reduced, the arrogance of officialdom should be tempered and controlled, and the assistance to foreign lands should be curtailed lest Rome become bankrupt. People must again learn to work, instead of living on public assistance."

- Marcus Tullius Cicero, 55 BC

Updated 8/10/2011: The chap from Delphi wrote me that Cicero was not the author of the remark above. I did a bit of research and confirmed the fact; it appears the quotation was from a fictionalized history of the Roman statesman. Looks like the authority of Cicero can't be invoked for this one; we're just obliged to take the wisdom and good sense of the statement on its own merits.