June 2009


I’ll begin by admitting this post is a bit of a cop-out– I emailed the below quote to some of my family today.  It stuck with me more than I expected, though, and I realized it’s something that everyone should read and ruminate over.  I think there’s a tendency in many of us to become depressed or dejected when our lives aren’t going how we envisioned or when we think we’re stuck in a monotonous rut of daily activity.  There’s a temptation to believe we’re not doing anything for the world. 

And maybe we’re not.  Maybe we’re living selfish existences and squelching the gifts God gave us. 

Or maybe we are doing something for the world– it’s just those somethings are small and hidden.  Maybe we think we’re living a montonous existence because we’re hitting the grindstone every day at a thankless job.  But if that grindstone is being hit because we’re working to put food on the table or put our kids through school, if we’re working to make others’ lives better, if we get out of bed every day because there are other little lives dependent on ours… well, I think we are doing something for the world.

But how are we living?  Have we stopped to really examine our lives, our priorities, our attitudes?

Okay, I’ll step off my soapbox and give you the quote.  I came across this article: The Gospel According to Frank Capra by Rod Bennett, and this part really moved me:

 Some people say (they’ve been saying it since 1946) “It’s A Wonderful Life shows that every person’s life turns out okay in the end.” It doesn’t. It’s A Wonderful Life shows that George Bailey’s turns out okay in the end; and George Bailey is really not such a common “common man.” After all, if Mr. Potter (or even the man who pushes Mr. Potter’s wheelchair) had been shown Bedford Falls as it would have been if he’d never been born, he’d have seen a far different picture than George sees (which, by the way, is the plot of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol). I saw clearly that George Bailey’s life was wonderful because he was wonderful—wonderfully and exceptionally good. It’s not circumstance or fate that keeps George chained to his “shabby little office.” He has had one grand opportunity after another to leave town: a ticket to college. $2000 for a honeymoon. Sam Wainwright’s “ground floor in plastics.” Mr. Potter’s $20,000 a year. George stays stuck in his hick town for one reason only—he cannot bring himself to sell his soul to get out of it. Though he doesn’t know it (indeed, he can only see himself as a sucker for having done it) George has sold his dreams to keep Bedford Falls from becoming Pottersville. It’s A Wonderful Lifeis a passion play; George Bailey’s sufferings have saved all those he loves best; he loses his dream so that Martini and Mary and Violet Bick and Uncle Billy may have theirs. George Bailey’s love has been his defeat and his defeat has been his victory. When the tests came “Slacker George… the miserable failure” was able to do the Greatest Thing in the World; Greater love hath no man than this—that he lay down his life for his friends.    

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It’s not an exaggeration to say that socialized medicine is one of my greatest fears.   (For a long time, I used to say that an appendicitis was my greatest fear.  This is an exaggeration.  But I suppose the two go hand-in-hand, no?  And birds.  I have a fear of birds.  But I’m not sure how that fits this equation.)

As socialized medicine is being debated in America and being cloaked with nice phrases (like: “We have a long-standing critical problem in our healthcare system that is pulling down our economy. It’s burdening families. It’s burdening businesses. And it is the primary driver of our federal deficits.”), it’s time for people to wake up and see what lies under that superhero cape with the big H.  (“H” for healthcare?  Try H for hell.)

There are many things that can be said about socialized medicine, but since I have to start my real job in eight minutes, I leave you with this eye-opening website.

Healthcare for Gunner

Healthcare for all?  Or healthcare for only those whom the government decides have the rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness?  

A fantastic article about education– not just Catholic education, but true education.

Found here at InsideCatholic.com.  (emphases mine!)

Not to Notre Madame

by Anthony Esolen
6/15/09

In the last several years I’ve been invited to a few dozen colleges and churches around the country, usually to speak about Dante. It’s no surprise, I guess, that a translator of the Divine Comedy should receive such invitations. What is surprising, though, and what confounds the secularist who derives his news from Mother Times and similarly reliable sources, is the happy variety of such schools, and their deep and unfashionable commitment to teaching the classics of western learning.

I’d like, besides, to declare up front that most of them have one need in common, a need that I encourage all Catholics and Christians who love our heritage to help to meet. They need money; and it is a cruel irony that in a recession largely fueled by government mismanagement of the money market, such small private and faithfully Christian schools as Thomas More College in New Hampshire, or Patrick Henry College near the nation’s capital, or Christendom College in the Shenandoah Mountains, will be first to feel the tightening noose. So now — I’ll not wait to the end of the essay — I call upon all Catholics disgusted by Notre Madame’s flirtations with the culture of death, or by Georgetown’s apostatic concealment of the name of Jesus, to scatter their seed in better soil. Those well-established Catholic schools need no more money from us, but others do, and desperately.

To lend my plea some additional force, behold here a few things I’ve found that my small Dante-loving schools have in common.

First, and most important: They are colleges. I don’t mean that they are merely institutions of higher larnin’. I mean that they enjoy an enviable collegiality among the students, and between the students and the faculty. Many of the schools, like Christendom or Thomas Aquinas College, are small enough that everyone knows everyone else — and their families, too. It is hard to imagine how dynamic and attractive and downright comical a community of smart and generally clean-living young people can be. I got no sleep at all the first night I stayed at Thomas Aquinas, because the boys in the nearby dorm were out on the patio, singing, fencing with wooden swords, and — one of them — taking a partly clothed bath in a metal basin in the open air. They weren’t rowdy; they were only young, and having innocent fun.

When I had lunch at Christendom College, I was amazed to see everyone, faculty and staff and students, in one big room, eating the same food from the cafeteria, and listening to the same school announcements [woo hoo!!  “May I please have your attention for announcements?”]— as if (and I know I am going out on a limb here) they really were members of the same Church engaged in a common intellectual and personal exercise, and not members of separate species going each his own way to a white-collar job and the grave. I had thought, visiting Christendom, that I’d see what a genuinely faithful Catholic college looked like. I did see that; and also saw, for the first time in my life, what a college of any sort looked like.

It’s no exaggeration; I could multiply instances of this sort of warm and intellectually stimulating collegiality. At Biola University — an evangelical college, literally the Bible Institute of Los Angeles — the Torrey Honors Institute’s students plumb the depths of classical Latin and Greek, patristics, and the theology and poetry of the Middle Ages. So I was invited to speak about Dante, and to lead a class; but my invitation came not from the director of the Honors program. It came from the students themselves. The students arranged for a flight for me and my son. The students put us up in a home on campus. The students booked a rental car for us. The students printed out our itineraries. The students found for us the directions to points of interest nearby, and to the local Catholic church. The students took us from and to the airport, and saw that my expenses were reimbursed. And why not? It’s their program, after all.

The second thing I’ve noticed is the intellectual fire among the young people. How could it be otherwise, when talented minds are confronted with Dante, Shakespeare, Aquinas, Dostoyevsky? The first time I spoke at Patrick Henry College — on a medieval Catholic Corpus Christi play — half the student body turned out (the other half were rehearsing for a play). Those young men and women kept me and my wife in the lecture room until near midnight, politely but eagerly asking questions of a caliber that one would not expect from the faculties at Soak-your-equity U. “Dr. Esolen, what you say about the role of popular celebration in reestablishing a Christian culture — can you connect it with the theology of Aleksandr Schmemann?” “Dr. Esolen, have you read De Caussade’s Abandonment to Divine Providence? Isn’t Josef Pieper coming out of that same tradition?” Those questions — about an Eastern Orthodox theologian, and a French Catholic priest of the 18th century — were typical for the evening, and came from Protestants all, and all of them more truly daring than any cramped secularist can ever be.

It’s no isolated occurrence, that. At Thomas Aquinas, one young man — well known to every student in the school as the most passionate lover of the Divine Comedy among them — sat in the front row, waiting to ask the question about Beatrice, a question that brought the house down, because everyone knew it was coming. That fellow went on to write a publishable thesis on the relationship between eros and “the Love that moves the sun and the other stars,” and I became one of the readers of the thesis, 3,000 miles away. At Faulkner University — another Protestant college whose students are reading more of ancient and medieval Catholic literature than will those at nominally Catholic schools like Georgetown — students are graded daily by the quality of the questions they submit for discussion in their free-wheeling seminars.

In the heavily philo-Catholic honors program at nominally Baptist Baylor, students take part in what I can only call a storm of charity and soldiership: charity toward all true Christians fighting with them the good fight against the default nihilism of our time. You may doubt whether students at Villanova or Gonzaga could tell you exactly why such village atheists as Richard Dawkins should read their Summa Contra Gentiles, but the young men and women who took me and my son to breakfast at Baylor would give you an earful. Indeed, the provost of Baylor’s honors college, Catholic philosopher Thomas Hibbs, said to me that during his tenure there he had hired 167 committedly Christian professors. I doubt you could find that many at the five oldest Catholic colleges in the country put together.

One last thing I’ll mention, common to such schools and programs. The students understand that they are not like other students. They are the new counterculture, or rather I’d say they are the vanguard of the restoration of a lost culture, among the ruins. Grove City College, a Protestant school, will take no money from the federal government (nor will Christendom College). So Grove City has a great measure of — what did people use to call it? Ah yes, freedom. [don’t mention this to a liberal, or their head might explode at the thought.] The school sets aside exactly the same number of places for young men as for young women, filling their dormitories to capacity (and earning for themselves the accusation that they therefore discriminate). Chapel attendance, at least some of the time, is required, and perhaps not coincidentally, the school enjoys many — what is it, then, when young men and women flirt innocently and then fall in love? — ah yes, marriages. The same is true of Christendom College, and more: One in ten of their graduates discerns a vocation to the priesthood. At Patrick Henry, I asked one of the students — for students there do the groundskeeping and the cooking (as at Thomas Aquinas) and serve as the security officers — what would happen if someone brought a keg of beer onto campus. They looked at one another quizzically. “We don’t know!” they said. “Nobody has ever tried it!”

At Princeton, of all places, students inspired by Rev. C. J. McCloskey and the redoubtable Catholic philosopher Robert George established the Anscombe Society, with membership 200 strong, for the promotion of traditional sexual morality. When I visited the University of Dallas, I was among a packed house to watch, not the latest dreary body-part monologues, but a roaring comedy by Chesterton. In a space of two days I spoke, along with several other professors, on Chestertonian challenges to the modern view of the family; but what I most clearly remember was a bright young lady, knitting, rebuking me for going along with the consensus that Dora in David Copperfield was simply a foolish woman. That young lady understood Dickens’s intents better than I did, because she had firmly set herself against the asexual clichés of our time. She understood forthright femininity better than I did, too.

What I want to say, to sum up the matter of an article that could be much longer, is this. The cracks in the blacktop are showing, and green shoots are poking up through them — but not where we found them perhaps a hundred years ago. The tree that seemed dead is sprouting buds — but not on the old limbs. It is time, alumni of the old limbs, to consider pruning. To whom do we owe our allegiance at last? Is it to our almae matres, or to Holy Mother, the Church? If to the latter, then I think we know what we should do. The small and doggedly faithful Catholic schools need our support. Notre Madame will be with us a century from now. Let us make sure that Christendom College, Thomas More College, Thomas Aquinas College, and all the other faithful shoots of the true vine will be with us, too.

Anthony Esolen is a professor of English at Providence College and a senior editor for Touchstone magazine. His latest book is The Politically Incorrect Guide to Western Civilization (Regnery).

As the Year of the Priest kicks off in the Church, let us not forget all those men currently in seminaries studying and discerning the call.  I am joyful to report that I know four young men formally beginning seminary studies this fall. During this time, may they be strengthened and nourished by the prayers of the Church.  Corragio!

Vodpod videos no longer available.

There’s something about this short video that I just love!  Hat tip: Salt+Light blog

Because I’m nuts, I actually just looked up the proper location of the apostrophe for the phrase “Fathers’ Day” and found that the above is not the way it is written in the Congress’ bills and addresses on the holiday, and thus is not the official spelling of the holiday.   It is, however, the proper English punctuation to designate a day belonging to more than one father, so I’m sticking to my grammar book instead of US Congress.

The deacon who preached this morning pointed out that this day may not be a joyful one for everyone.  So many people in our culture have been hurt, abandoned, let down, or ignored by their fathers.  He reminded us that no matter what our biological father has done–or has not done– we always have our Father in heaven, Love Himself, Who is ever-faithful.

Amidst this crisis of fatherhood, Fathers’ Day is an occasion for me to acknowledge what an amazing man God gave to me to be my father.  As cliche as it may sound, I would not be the young woman I am today if I did not have that man in my life.  His quiet strength, his leadership of our family, his witness of faith — he has molded my siblings and I, whether overtly by his advice and support, or quietly by his example.

I think Sunday mornings are perfect compendium of my father, and I missed going to Mass today with him on this Fathers’ Day.   Dad unselfishly serves the Church as lector and extraordinary minister of the Eucharist, and rarely a Sunday goes by that he’s not serving in some capacity.  If he’s on call, as he was this morning, he still takes the time to come worship his King, knowing that his morning rounds at the hospital are only successful because of the Divine Physician.   And, as shallow as this may seem, I will always admire my dad’s Sunday suits.  It’s hard to complain about the lack of air conditioning in church in the middle of July when you’re standing next to Dad in his suitcoat.  He knows the way you dress in church is not indicative of the way God thinks of you– but of the way you think of God.  If he dresses up every day to see his patients, why wouldn’t he dress up to receive His Savior?

It would be impossible to say everything I admire about my dad in this post.  Every moment he’s living his vocation as husband and father– whether he’s seeing patients, mowing the grass, helping his scattered children with advice and support over the phone, or going to daily Mass.

One of my friends recently commented that she knew why I was still single– I was waiting to meet my father.  Perhaps Dad has set the bar too high.  But that’s a risk I’m willing to take.

Happy Fathers’ Day, Dad!

Some years ago, shortly before returning to Rome, I stumbled upon H.V. Morton’s work, A Traveller in Rome. Even though it was penned in  the mid-twentieth century, so little has changed in the Caput Mundi, the work takes on the timelessness of the city.  It’s not the Eternal City for nothing, after all.

Before returning the book to the library, I took copious notes of Morton’s stories — personal and historical — to incorporate into my own tours of Rome’s landmarks.  He marvelously weaves explanations and history into his vignettes, making the city come alive on each of the numerous levels it possesses– religious, historical, artistic, culinary, modern…  When I found the book for sale recently, I didn’t think twice before purchasing a copy for my personal collection.

Here is an excerpt from the first chapter.

After a few days I would not have exchanged my balcony for the finest view in Rome.  The little slice of street life below was a perpetual entertainment.  The little slice of Martial’s Rome.  That great journalist anticipated the camera by many centuries: he was the photographer of imperial Rome.  It came to me one day that his room on the Quirnal must have been similar to mine; and he had just as many steps to climb!  He was horrified and dismayed by the noise of Rome; and so was I.  He found it difficult to sleep in Rome; and so did I.  I smiled to think what a fuss Martial made of the human noises of first century Rome: the hammering of the coppersmiths; the schoolmaster rebuking his class; the stray trumpet call; the masons chipping a new statue of Caesar; the money-changers chinking their gold; a delightful man-made symphony I should have thought.  Yet Martial in ancient Rome, and also Hogarth in eighteenth century London, found such sounds intolerable.  What would they have said to the mechanical pandemonium of modern Rome, a city where men judge a motor-car by its noise and the splendour of its backfires?  What would Martial have thought of that absurd vehicle, the motor-scooter?  The desire of every Italian to be mechanically propelled, and in the loudest possible way, has created a population of neatly dressed men sitting primly on these machines as if their office chairs had suddenly flown out into the streets with them. …  It is extraordinary that a modern capital should allow itself to be turned into bedlam.  London and Paris would not tolerate the noise of Rome for twenty-four hours.  I have come to the conclusion, however, that the Italians do not hear the noise, or, if they do, they enjoy it.  Like the Spaniard, I think the Italian is stimulated by tumult; it helps him to achieve that cerebral excitement in which he prefers to dwell.

Emphasis mine… because it’s just so darn true.

I realize that my header photo could have been taken from Morton’s flat to illustrate this Italian tumult.  But alas, it was taken from the Spanish Steps.

As Morton closes this first chapter, his words bring peace and longing to this Rome-sick soul, who shares his preference:

Sometimes I would leave the pensione at six o’clock in the morning, which is the best time of all in the Roman summer.  The air has been freshened during the night and seems to hold a faint scent of flowers.  At such times–wonderful moment–the sound of Rome is the whisper and fall of her fountains.

Tonight I had the privilege of picking up Father Thomas Rosica, CSB from the airport.   For many reasons, Father Rosica is one of my personal heroes.  Here is a man who truly is a John Paul II priest– someone who loves the youth and calls them to something higher– because he knows their capacity for greatness.  Here is a man who transformed a university’s Newman Center and was then appointed to head the entire 2002 World Youth Day and Papal Visit to Canada.  Here is a man who, through the grace of God and a stubborn Italian man, agreed to become CEO of a Canadian Catholic Television Network, Salt+Light, a network that has brought the Church, the Pope, and the saints into average homes and made the Church accessible to everyone.  Here is a man who has been appointed by the Holy Father to work at the 2008 Synod of Bishops– and as a result of his work, set the American Church alive with excitement of the Synod.  Here is a man appointed by the Holy Father as consultor to the Pontifical Council of Social Communications.

Here is a man who has eaten breakfast with John Paul II.  Who shares inside jokes with Pope Benedict.  Who just had an exclusive interview with Bishop Fellay (a man who has only granted one other interivew in his entire life) and who just emailed the Vatican this afternoon about said interview.

Who has helped water the seeds, planted by John Paul II, that are blooming into the new Springtime of the Church.

This was the man I picked up at the airport.

While I stood with my mom and waited for him to arrive, there was a slight commotion about three feet to my left.  I watched as people surrounded a short African-American man, putting their arms around him to take pictures with him and impeding his walk to the exit.  Clearly annoyed with being held up, he stood still for “just one more” picture, then went on his way with his entourage.

After years of saying, “I just want to see someone famous.  Randomly.  Like in an airport” … after months of living in Nashville and complaining that I still haven’t seen that famous person, despite living a few miles away from Al Gore and Nicole Kidman, here was my chance.  I saw a famous person.

I just didn’t know who he was.

I finally asked the airport workers who were standing there next to me, who had witnessed the event as well.  Why, that was Randy Jackson.  The American Idol judge.

Hm.  Here was a man being fawned over by random people in the airport.  Here was a man who is known by the average American for his work [sic] sitting behind a table and critiquing people’s vocal skills.  Here was a man who seemed to care less about the strangers who rushed to get close to him.  Here was fame.

When my mom thanked Father Rosica for coming, he said, “I wouldn’t let her down.”

Me.  Little me.  And you know what?  He proceeded to talk to me this evening and actually cared about me.

Here may not have been “fame,” but I’ll tell you what– the man with whom I walked out of the airport is making a difference in the world.  Far more than any American Idol judge.

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