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Saturday, June 28, 2008

A Legend Of St. John

- John in a detail of Fra Angelico's Entombment

Tomorrow is the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul, Apostles, but to be honest, I don't really like either of them much and if I had to choose an apostle, it would probably be John. So here below is a strange poem I found on him and the legend of his continued existence all these years as he waits for Jesus' return .......

A Legend Of St. John - Thomas Chard

Then Jesus answered unto Peter, "If I will
That he shall tarry till I come again,
What is it unto thee?" He spake of John.

In Russia there still lives a legend sweet,
Repeated by the grandsire to the child,--
A dear old legend, which has lived so long,
And held an honored place so many years
By ancient firesides long since turned to dust--
A legend which doth mind us so of eve,
Of lengthened shadows, wonder-opened eyes,
And groups which listened ere they went their way,
We well might wish the story may be true,--
Of him who once had lain on Jesus' breast.
This is the tale, as I remember it.

When John to Patmos' isle was banished,
He saw and heard unutterable things.
The "Revelation" is a shadow poor,
Of his most marvelous experience.
But human language never can convey,
And human intellect can never span,
Things not of earth. When from his beauteous dream
Unwillingly the loved disciple woke,
His heart was burning with new zeal for God
And therefore with more tender love for man.
Down the steep mountain side, with ready feet,
To preach the gospel to the Greeks, he ran,
To tell of that fair city with its gates
Of gleaming pearl, and streets of shining gold,
Built for the people of the gracious Lord.
But to the Greeks his words were foolishness.
The Stoics cried, "What doth this babbler say?
He seems a setter forth of unknown gods!"
And thus they closed their ears against his words
Of beauty, and went on their careless way.

'Twere long to tell how patiently he toiled;
How some believed, and some refused to hear;
Of all the cities that he visited;
And how his words were always, "God is love;"
How he was saved by miracle from death,
When cast into a pot of boiling oil;
How in a weary dungeon he was thrown,
Yet counted it but gain, for in the dark
The angels dwelt with him and made it light.
At last he was released. Perhaps his face--
So full of holy love, so angel-sweet,
He seemed Christ's brother--moved his cruel foes
To pity; and they bade him go in peace.
So from the rusty iron gates he passed,
With a bowed form, and hair as white as snow.

John traversed Europe for the Lord. At last
His pilgrim feet pressed Russia. Through its coast
He preached with holy fervor, as was meet,
The message of the Lord to erring men.
But everywhere with cold indifference,
Or anger, or contempt, his words were met:
Until, at last, with bleeding feet, he came
To bleak Siberia. A churlish crowd
Received his message with a stupid stare;
Which, as he gently told them of their need
Of Him who came to save them from their sins,
Changed to a glare of rage. So curst were they,
They would have slain him; but on his calm face
There fell a light supernal, and he passed
In safety through their midst, and came at last
To where the Arctic laves with icy wave
The chill Siberian coast, and there a boat
Filled with strong men received him, and they plied
Their oars, and like a swift-winged bird, sped north.

Within the iceberg barricade which girds
Impregnably the Northern Pole, 'tis said
There is a Beulah Land surpassing fair,
With beaming sky and soft delicious air,
Rich with the perfume sweet of blossoms rare.
Its trees have never turned to russet tinge;
The girdling waves, warm as the summer, fringe
Its golden sands with lace of foam, and die
In soft accord with bird-song melody.
No cruel heats nor chilling blasts invade,
But the sweet quietude of twilight shade
Brings ever to the mind a holy calm.
And there, 'tis said, the Great Apostle waits
Until the end of all things shall draw near,
When he will come again, and preach to men
With the old words of love, and move their hearts
To penitence, and they will captive yield
To the sweet words of truth, and give their lives
With heartiness to deeds of charity.

Come, blest Apostle! from the icy North
Haste thy departure, for the world is faint
And weary for the music of thy feet.
The earth is growing old. Two thousand years
Have fled since thou and Jesus walked with men.
Two thousand years of bitterness of creeds;
Two thousand years of selfishness and crime.

Come thou! our clouded hearts to gently win
From chilling unbelief, from fear and sin.
Come, as to evening comes the silver moon;
As comes the south-wind on the wings of June:
From the far south the waves of summer roll,
Come from the North, thou summer of the soul!
O, how our eyes are lifted to behold
The rising of the star whose beams of gold
Will usher in, with Bethlehem songs above,
The day of Love--sweet universal Love.
Thou art its priest, O son of Zebedee,
And we are waiting--waiting still for thee.
Why tarry yet thy footsteps from afar
Thou gentler John the Baptist? May thy star
The herald of _The Christ_ uprising shine,
The harbinger of love--of Love Divine.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

The Mission, again

Since I've been watching movies on my computer, I've been re-renting old films I'd never seen on DVD before ..... this week it was The Mission..

The Mission is a 1986 British film about the experiences of a Jesuit missionary in eighteenth century South America. The film was written by Robert Bolt and directed by Roland Joffé. It stars Robert De Niro, Jeremy Irons, Ray McAnally, Aidan Quinn, Cherie Lunghi and Liam Neeson. It won the Palme d'Or and the Academy Award for Best Cinematography. In April 2007, it was elected number one on the Church Times Top 50 Religious Films list. The music, scored by Italian composer Ennio Morricone, was listed at #23 on AFI's 100 Years of Film Scores.

Doubtless you all know the story, but here are some pics ....

- the Jesuits bury their brother killed by the Guaraní Indians

- one of the Guaraní hands Gabriel back his broken oboe

- Gabriel comforts the slave trader Rodrigo when he comes to terms with what he's done

- the representative for Portugal (and his pet sloth! :) ..... Portugal and Spain haggled over territory in South America while working to suppress the Society of Jesus in Europe

- sadly, things don't end well

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Leonard Cohen's Joan and Bernadette

I'm still thinking of Joan of Arc and I remembered a song about her, and then also one about another French woman very different from Joan in her person and her visions - Bernadette Soubirous. Here below are the lyrics of the songs by Leonard Cohen .....

-Joan of Arc by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Joan of Arc

Now the flames they followed joan of arc
As she came riding through the dark;
No moon to keep her armour bright,
No man to get her through this very smoky night.
She said, I’m tired of the war,
I want the kind of work I had before,
A wedding dress or something white
To wear upon my swollen appetite.

Well, I’m glad to hear you talk this way,
You know I’ve watched you riding every day
And something in me yearns to win
Such a cold and lonesome heroine.
And who are you? she sternly spoke
To the one beneath the smoke.
Why, I’m fire, he replied,
And I love your solitude, I love your pride.

Then fire, make your body cold,
I’m going to give you mine to hold,
Saying this she climbed inside
To be his one, to be his only bride.
And deep into his fiery heart
He took the dust of joan of arc,
And high above the wedding guests
He hung the ashes of her wedding dress.

It was deep into his fiery heart
He took the dust of joan of arc,
And then she clearly understood
If he was fire, oh then she must be wood.
I saw her wince, I saw her cry,
I saw the glory in her eye.
Myself I long for love and light,
But must it come so cruel, and oh so bright?

- The Ghost of Bernadette Soubirous by an unknown artist, albumen silver print

Song of Bernadette

There was a child named Bernadette
I heard the story long ago
She saw the Queen of Heaven once
And kept the vision in her soul
No one believed what she had seen
No one believed what she heard
That there were sorrows to be healed
And mercy, mercy in this world

So many hearts I find
Broke like yours and mine
Torn by what we've done and can't undo
I just want to hold you
Won't you let me hold you
Like Bernadette would do

We've been around, we fall, we fly
We mostly fall, we mostly run
And every now and then we try
To mend the damage that we've done
Tonight, tonight I cannot rest
I've got this joy inside my breast
To think that I did not forget
That child, that song of Bernadette

So many hearts I find ...

Monday, June 23, 2008

Rilke poem

Ignorant Before The Heavens Of My Life

Ignorant before the heavens of my life,
I stand and gaze in wonder. Oh the vastness
of the stars. Their rising and descent. How still.
As if I didn't exist. Do I have any
share in this? Have I somehow dispensed with
their pure effect? Does my blood's ebb and flow
change with their changes? Let me put aside
every desire, every relationship
except this one, so that my heart grows used to
its farthest spaces. Better that it live
fully aware, in the terror of its stars, than
as if protected, soothed by what is near.


Friday, June 20, 2008

Father Adolfo Nicolás on obedience

I saw an interview at Thinking Faith - The New Jesuit General, Part One: What do you ask of the Jesuits? - conducted with the new Superior General of the Jesuits, Father Adolfo Nicolás, by Tomasz Kot SJ and Jan Koenot SJ in Rome on 7 March 2008, two days after the end of the General Congregation. The whole thing is worth a read but I really liked his take on the concept of obedience, and thought I'd post that bit here ........


The Pope himself referred to Jesuits at the utmost of their creativity – De Nobili, Ricci and the reductions in South America.

That’s right. Note: it is the Pope who is asking for creativity. While he is asking for obedience he is asking for an obedience that is open to creativity. This is not the kind of obedience saying ‘I act because of the decisions of somebody else,’ which in fact is not real obedience (we should give it a different name!). Obedience means: we together are searching for what is the best for the kingdom of God, what is the will of God, what is good for people.

Don’t you think that the creativity of the Jesuits in the Church is not very well perceived by some people?

Many people have a wrong idea of obedience. They think obedience is giving up the talents you have received, giving up thinking and being creative, giving things up for the sake of becoming some kind of slave or robot carrying out somebody else’s thinking. This is not an authentic way to be human; this could never be obedience. Another thing is that people think safety lies in not creating, but that is simply an expression of lack of imagination. I think an apostle, a pastor, a parish priest, a teacher, an educator without imagination and creativity would be a disaster. He would just try to impose on everybody one, limited, constricted, rigid approach, and that would be very bad for everyone.


Garret Keizer's Harper's essay

I came across mention of an article at The Pew Forum - an essay in the June issue of Harper's magazine by Garret Keizer called “Turning Away From Jesus: Gay rights and the war for the Episcopal Church.”

I hesitate to even post this .... it seems to me that I've been posting a lot on this subject lately and I'm not sure if it's because it's been in the news or because I tend to be like a dog with a bone when I'm interested in an issue As to why I'm interested, I'm not sure - it certainly isn't popular and I don't have a stake it it, aside from the stake we all should have when we see people getting pushed around .... no man is an island :). Maybe I should stick to science fiction posts in the future - heh.

Anyway, here's a bit on the essay from Reuters .....

Provocative Harper’s essay on Anglican split over gays

The June issue of “Harper’s Magazine” has a provocative essay by Garret Keizer called “Turning Away From Jesus: Gay rights and the war for the Episcopal Church.”

The split in the global Anglican Communion over the consecration of the openly gay U.S. Episcopal bishop Gene Robinson and the broader issue of the church’s take on sexual orientation and other social issues in general has been extensively reported on.

These fault lines are partly but far from exclusively geographical, dividing more traditional churches in the developing world — especially Africa — from those in the developed world. It threatens to undermine Anglican provinces like the Episcopal Church in the United States by creating competing authorities within them, one for a more liberal majority and another for a conservative minority ....

And here's an excerpt from the essay from the Episcopal Cafe, The Lead ....


For me it is the methods more than the motives [of realignment leaders] that invite scrutiny, and the similarity of these methods to those of corporate culture that has the most to say to readers outside the church. What is “provincial realignment” at bottom, if not the ecclesiastical version of a corporate merger? What is “alternative oversight” if not church talk for a hostile takeover? For that matter, how far is “hostile takeover” from the sort of church talk that makes frequent reference to the mission statement, the growth chart, and evangelism’s “market share”? Martyn Minns, Peter Akinola’s irregularly consecrated missionary bishop to the breakaway churches of the conservative Convocation of Anglicans in North America, told me that he had learned more during his years at Mobil Oil Corporation than he’d ever learned in the seminary. I suspect that is a much less exceptional statement than either Bishop Minns or the rest of us would care to admit.

I was more surprised when I asked Minns what writers in the Anglican tradition had most influenced him, to have him cite Philip Jenkins’ The Next Christianity and Thomas Friedman’s The World is Flat. Friedman’s status as an Anglican aside, this is a ways from Richard Hooker. This is sola scriptura with a weird appendix, Matthew Mark and Mega-trends—and it is this aspect of the “global crisis” in Anglicanism and of the cant attending it that one would expect to be of greatest concern to any person marching under the flag of orthodoxy: this reverential awe for the “global forces” that we ourselves animate, the idols that speak with your voice. The global dynamics of Anglican realignment work in a manner not unlike the global dynamics of outsourcing and extraordinary rendition: the Galilean carpenter (or the Kabul cab driver) has his part to play and his cross to bear, but it’s the little Caesars calling the shots.”


and another excerpt from the essay from Father Jake Stops the World ...


..I am among those disappointed with Rowan Williams for not inviting Gene Robinson to Lambeth, especially after speaking so often and so well about the rights of gay and lesbian people. But, after visiting with certain persons in England, including Colin Coward, the director and founder of the Anglican gay and lesbian advocacy group Changing Attitude, I feel I understand a little better what's at stake "if Rowan loses the Communion," which would mean losing any leverage for protecting the rights of sexual minorities in countries whose leadership both ecclesiastical and political is, as one American observer put it, "viciously, lethally homophobic." Who am I to say what the Archbishop of Canterbury ought to do? I can only say what I wish he'd do, which is slip out of Lambeth Palace well before the dogs are up and go fishing with Gene, a typically dotty Anglican solution to a "global crisis," I admit, but one not without precedent in the earliest strata of the tradition...


Wednesday, June 18, 2008


Here's a little bit more from Timothy Radcliffe's book, What is the Point of Being a Christian? ........


A few years ago when I was visiting the Dominicans in the Czech Republic, I spent the night in a small town called Snojmo near the Austrian border. There was the usual meeting with the Dominican Family. There were lots of young families with their noisy offspring, and we feasted on delicious sausages and drank slivovitz. Then we had an open discussion, and the first question was from a young woman who asked how she could transmit the Church's moral teaching to her children, who seemed to be just as resistant as children in Western Europe. I did not know how to answer the question and so I passed it to my companion for that trip, a moral theologian called Wojciech Giertych, professor at the Angelicum University in Rome.

He went to the blackboard and drew a small square in the corner. 'In that square are the commandments. Is that what morality is about?' And everyone cried, 'Of course.' 'No,' he said, 'God is not much interested in commandments.' Then he drew a square which covered all the rest of the board and he said, 'That is freedom. That is what interests God. Your task is to teach your children to be free. That is the teaching of the Gospels, and of St. Thomas Aquinas.' I was so moved by this that I decided immediately that if I ever had a sabbatical I would study Thomas's moral theology, which had somehow got skipped in my patchy theological studies in the chaotic late 1960s ........

Kant maintained that freedom cannot be explained, only defended. We cannot offer an explanation of Christian freedom, but we can look at it in action, at the Last Supper. This sign of hope is the freest of all acts. The Last Supper was a Passover meal. It was the feast of Israel's liberation from slavery in Egypt. Jesus reclines with his disciples at the table, with the beloved disciple resting on his breast. This was a sign of their freedom. The Jewish tradition maintained that 'whereas the slaves eat standing, here [at the Passover] people should recline when they eat, to signify that they have gone out of bondage to liberty'. That night Jesus began a new Passover into the unimaginable freedom of God.

That final meal offers us successive steps into an ever deeper freedom. First of all we shall look at the betrayal of Jesus, his loss of freedom. Then we shall reflect briefly on how Jesus transcends victimhood. Then there is his freedom of choice, which is the ordinary and basic freedom of human beings. But the Last Supper invites us to deeper freedoms, the freedom of spontaneity, and ultimately the freedom of giving away our lives.



- Jack O'Neill and John Sheppard fly to the Atlantis base in Antarctica

I was happy to see that the 4th season of the science fiction series Stargate Atlantis will soon be rentable at Netflix ..... watching that show is what I've missed most about no tv. I though I'd write a little about the show's two hour pilot episode (Rising, part 1 and 2) in case anyone has never watched the series and might be interested in doing so.

The show, a spin-off of Stargate SG-1, begins in Antarctica, where a base left by "the Ancients" (an ancient technologically superior race that built the stargate system and who have mostly disappeared due to their ascension to a higher plane of existence) has been discovered by the SG-1team.

A new team is assembled, led by Dr. Elizabeth Weir and composed of scientists and Air Force military and marines, to travel through Stargate Command's stargate device under Cheyenne mountain to the Ancients' lost city of Atlantis in the Pegasus galaxy .... likely a one-way trip due to the amount of energy required.

- John Sheppard

One of the newly chosen members of the team is Air Force pilot Major John Sheppard, who is always in trouble for failing to follow the chain of command, but is chosen despite this because he has a great asset - his DNA contains the gene derived from Ancient ancestors needed to operate Ancient technology - and good thing too, because he's the main reason I watch the show :)

Once in Atlantis, which appears to be a deserted city under the sea, they discover that the shield which protects the city will soon degrade from a lack of power. Major Sheppard, his CO, Col. Marshall Sumner, and some marines, are sent through the stargate to find another planet in the Pegasus galaxy to which the team can retreat safely while they hunt down some ZPMs to repower the shield.

- Teyla shows Sheppard ancient depictions of her planet's culling by the Wraith

The planet they choose to visit is inhabited by a peaceful people, the Athosians, who's leader is Teyla Emmagan. She warns them of a species of predators known as the Wraith and later that smae species attacks them in ships through the stargate, killing many and capturing a number of people, including Col. Sumner and Teyla.

- Sheppard searches for survivors after the Wraith attack

Major Sheppard, now in command, returns with the Athosian refuges to Atlantis, where the city, once the shield collapses, surprisingly rises safely to the ocean's surface. Part 1 ends with Sheppard demanding Dr. Weir allow him to lead a rescue mission to save those captured by the Wraith, which she reluctantly agrees to allow, once space shuttles are discovered in Atlantis.

- the orbitting stargate

Part 2 is all about the rescue mission. Sheppard leads a force, flying one of the shuttles through Atlantis' stargate to the stargate in orbit around the Wraith planet, the gate address having been memorized by one of his men, Ford, during the attack on Athosia. Using Ancient technology on the shuttle, they locate the Wraith base (actually a huge grounded ship) and sneak within to find the captives.

- the Wraith queen succks the life force from Col. Sumner

Meanwhile Col. Sumner is taken to see the Wraith hive's queen, who interrogates him, and when she has learned of Earth's existence, begins to feed upon his life energy, sucking it out of his chest with her bare hand. Sheppard comes upon the scene, shoots the Wraith with no great ill effect to them, then realizing he cannot save Sumner, kills him to spare him suffering. With Ford's help he finally eliminates the queen and the other Wraith, only to discover that they have unwittingly awakened the hive, and all the Wraith, everywhere, who had been hibernating for so many years. They and the captives barely escape back to Atlantis with their lives, sobered by the knowledge that they have unleashed the newly awakened Wraith on the people of the Pegasus galaxy, as well as endangered Earth.

- Ford and Sheppard on a balcony of Atlantis

It's a fun show, well worth a watch :)

Sunday, June 15, 2008


- my trumpet vine

There are lots of great flower photos at Susan's blog and I thought I'd post a flower picture of my own. This is a trumpet vine I bought about 10 years ago from a catalog from Winterthur, the former 1,000-acre country estate of horticulturist Henry Francis du Pont. They have a neat garden blog too.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Does anyone really want to go to hell?

I've been thinking more about a good God and hell and remembered something written by philosophy professor Thomas Talbot - The Inescapable Love of God. He has a website with some free downloadable chapters from the book.

Free will is often the reason given for why a good God allows people to end up in the eternal torment of hell .... you know, the idea that people are not sent to hell by God, but that they freely choose it, like Milton's Satan. In part I of Talbot's chapter 11, God, Freedom, and Human Destiny, he writes of why he thinks a rejection of God cannot really be freely made, and in part II he writes of why a loving God would not allow that choice to be made by his loved ones, even if they could freely do so, but it's part III that I've posted bits from below, because for some reason I'm feeling that the idea of blaming the existence hell on the free choice of "bad" people is just a little too easy of a way to get God off the hook ...... I think God is better than that. In fact, I also think God is better than Talbot does, because he seems to believe (if I understand correctly) that God uses hell as a kind of purgatory - a temporary yet still terrible place of punishment. I like better the idea that there is no hell at all.


- from God, Freedom, and Human Destiny, Chapter 11 of Thomas Talbot's book, The Inescapable Love of God

In Part II of this essay, I tried to set forth the positive case for a universalist reading of the New Testament. Let us now examine, more specifically, the Arminian understanding of hell in light of the New Testament teaching ..... According to C. S. Lewis and a host of others, God does not reject the damned; the damned, being successful rebels to the end, reject him. Hence, the gates of hell are closed from the inside; that is, though the inhabitants of hell are indeed free to repent and to vacate this place at any time they choose, at least some of them will never choose to do so. But here we must ask once again: How could anyone who is rational enough to be morally responsible for his or her actions prefer the misery of hell over the joys of reconciliation? What motive, what greater good from the perspective of the damned, would make the miseries
of hell seem like the lesser of two evils?

A popular strategy among Arminians at this point is to suggest that, from the perspective of the damned, hell really isn’t that bad a place to be; at the very least, it is apt to seem far superior to heaven. The first step is to challenge the traditional image of a fiery furnace and torture chamber as overly barbaric and superstitious; the second is to suggest a motive for preferring hell over heaven. According to Jerry Walls, for example, “hell may afford its inhabitants a kind of gratification which motivates the choice to go there.” More than that, the damned may even experience a kind of illusory happiness.

Those in hell may be almost happy, and this may explain why they insist on staying there. They do not, of course, experience even a shred of genuine happiness. But perhaps they experience a certain perverse sense of satisfaction, a distorted sort of pleasure.

Though Walls denies that the damned are genuinely happy, he does not deny that they believe themselves to be happy; to the contrary, he insists that, for some lost souls, the illusion of happiness may endure forever and with sufficient conviction to explain why they never leave their preferred abode in hell.

Those who prefer hell to heaven have convinced themselves that it is better. In their desire to justify their choice of evil, they have persuaded themselves that whatever satisfaction they experience from evil is superior to the joy which God offers.

This line of thought leads naturally to a conclusion that Eleanore Stump has explicitly defended:13 Because God knows that he can do nothing, short of removing their freedom, to induce the damned to repent, he simply employs his omnipotent power to make them as comfortable as possible and to prevent them from harming others. But this entire line of thought also seems far removed from the images and language of the New Testament, which are far more suggestive of a chamber of horrors than many would like to believe. Is it not precisely the New Testament that pictures hell as a “furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 13:42) and where people will pray for the mountains to fall upon them (Revelation 6:16)? In the parable of the sheep and the goats (Matthew 25:31-46), Jesus alludes not to a freely embraced condition, but to a form of punishment, as we have seen; and in some cases at least, the punishment will come as a complete surprise. And in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:16-31), the rich man wants to warn his five brothers “so that they will not also come into this place of torment” (16:28). As depicted in the New Testament, in other words, hell is not the kind of place that even the wicked would freely choose to inhabit forever. For it really is a place of unbearable suffering and torment.

We can appreciate, of course, why the Arminians might want to water down the New Testament picture of hell as a place of unbearable suffering; an eternity of such suffering would be, after all, utterly pointless, and a god who would actually inflict such suffering forever would be unspeakably barbaric. But here, I would suggest, the universalists are in a far better position to accept the images and the language of the New Testament than the Arminians are. For the universalists can regard hell as a genuine form of punishment or correction, rather than a freely embraced condition; hence, they have no need to water down the New Testament image of unbearable suffering. Perhaps a period of such suffering is just what a Hitler or a Goebbels needs; and for that matter, perhaps it is just what they began to experience during the final days of their earthly life. So if, as John Hick has suggested,14 hell is but the continuation of the purgatorial sufferings of this life, then we have no reason to reject the language of unbearable suffering. Nor even to reject the image of a fiery furnace, which is as good a representation of God’s purifying love as there is. When people deceive themselves and beat their heads against the hard rock of reality, they suffer and sometimes suffer unbearably. They may not choose to suffer any more than Hitler chose to be defeated in battle, but their suffering is an inevitable consequence of their misguided actions. And in the end, the unbearable nature of their suffering will shatter their illusions and reveal to them the error of their ways.

One reason that some Arminians reject the New Testament language of unbearable suffering and the image of a fiery furnace is this: If the consequences of living a sinful life include unbearable suffering, at least over the long run, and if unbearable suffering will, in the end, successfully shatter those illusions that make a sinful life possible in the first place, then no one is truly free to live in sin forever. As Jerry Walls puts it, “no finite being can continue endlessly to choose greater and greater misery for himself. So in the end, the knowledge which makes impossible the choice of damnation is not acquired through free choice, but is itself impossible to avoid.”15 That is correct. But consider the alternative. The only alternative would be for God to protect people forever from the consequences of living a sinful life and to do so for the purpose of sustaining the illusions that make such a life possible. That, it seems to me, would be incompatible with God’s moral character. Suppose that I should act upon the illusion that I can benefit myself at the expense of others. If God should protect me forever from the bitter consequences of such actions, then in a very real sense I would not be acting upon an illusion at all. I would be right on the most important matter. For I could indeed act selfishly with a degree of impunity. It is as if I should bring my hand near to a flame and God should protect me from the excruciating pain of the flame. In that event, my belief that I could so act with impunity would not be an illusion.

The fact is, moreover, people have their illusions shattered against their will all the time. A man who, upon entering into an adulterous affair, makes a total mess of his life may in time learn a hard lesson, one that he in no way chose to learn; and having learned his lesson, he may be utterly unwilling to repeat the experiment. And similarly for Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus: As I read the account in Acts, Paul in no way chose to have his illusions shattered; and neither did he choose to receive a revelation that would in a very brief time transform this “chief of sinners” into a Christian missionary. Indeed, his own experience on the road to Damascus probably explains why Paul consistently regarded redemption as no less a work of God than creation itself. But Pauline theology in no way excludes human freedom and moral responsibility altogether. For even if redemption is a work of God, free choice and the correction of wrong choices could still be, as I believe it is, an essential part of the process whereby God reveals his true nature to us and teaches us the (occasionally hard) lessons we need to learn as we travel the road to redemption.


Tuesday, June 10, 2008

The Jackal

- A G man (Sidney Poitier) asks a jailed IRA sniper (Richard Gere) to help him catch the Jackal

Today, when we think of terrorism, we often link it uniquely to Islamic countries and nationals, but this is, of course, wrong. Terrorism and terrorists are and have been from everywhere. One of the most infamous past terrorists was Carlos the Jackal, (Ilich Ramírez Sánchez), a Venezuelan, noted for a 1975 raid on the OPEC headquarters in Vienna. He has been fictionalized in novels like The Bourne Identity.

- The Jackal was filmed here in Helsinki, as well as Richmond, Virginia, Chicago, Washington, D.C., Moscow, London, Porvoo, Toronto, and Montreal

This week's movie is a loaner from my sister - The Jackal - and it's loosely based on the 1973 movie The Day of the Jackal. The film stars Bruce Willis, Richard Gere, Sidney Poitier, Diane Venora, and Jack Black. Here's a bit about it from Wikipedia ....

- Black and Willis

A joint mission of the American FBI and the Russian MVD leads to the death of the younger brother of a Russian mobster. In retaliation, the mobster hires an enigmatic assassin known only by the pseudonym, "The Jackal" (Bruce Willis) to carry out the killing of an unknown target ..... As the Jackal begins his preparations for the assassination the FBI learns of one person who can identify the Jackal, FBI Deputy Director Carter Preston (Sidney Poitier) and Russian Police Major Valentina Koslova (Diane Venora) turn to a former Irish Republican Army sniper named Declan Joseph Mulqueen (Richard Gere) who had a relationship with a Basque woman named Isabella Zanconia (Mathilda May), whom they believe can identify The Jackal ......

- Venora and Poitier

I'm guessing this would be thought of as a B movie at best :) but I liked it, despite the violence and the improbable storyline. I thought the actors all did a good job considering what they had to work with - Sidney Poitier was great as always, Gere somehow managed to make even a former IRA sniper likeable, I identified with Venora as the Russian Major who had a scarred face, and Bruce Willis was somewhere between chilling and odd, doing what he could with his sociopathic role. Roger Ebert was not as sanguine about the movie as I (he gave it only one and a half stars!) so take what I've said with a grain of salt. Here below is some of Ebert's review of it ....

- the Jackal sneaks into the US in the Mackinaw to Chicago regatta


``The Jackal'' is a glum, curiously flat thriller about a man who goes to a great deal of trouble in order to create a crime that anyone in the audience could commit more quickly and efficiently. An example: Can you think, faithful reader, of an easier way to sneak from Canada into the United States than buying a sailboat and entering it in the Mackinaw to Chicago race? Surely there must be an entry point somewhere along the famous 3,000-mile border that would attract less attention than the finish line of a regatta .....

``The Jackal'' is based on the screenplay of Fred Zinnemann's 1973 classic ``The Day of the Jackal.'' That was a film that impressed us with the depth of its expertise: We felt it knew exactly what it was talking about. ``The Jackal,'' on the other hand, impressed me with its absurdity. There was scarcely a second I could take seriously.

Examples: In the Washington, D.C., subway system, the Jackal jumps across the tracks in front of a train, to elude his pursuers. The train stops, exchanges passengers and pulls out of the station. Is it just possible, do you suppose, that in real life after a man jumps across the tracks, the train halts until the situation is sorted out? Or, how about the scene where the Jackal parks his van in a garage and paints the hatch handle with a deadly poison? One of his enemies touches the handle, convulses and dies an agonizing death. Is that a good way to avoid attention? By being sure there's a corpse on the ground next to your van? Or, how about the scene early in the film where a fight breaks out on cue, and then stops immediately after a gunshot is fired? Bad handling of the extras here: Everybody in a bar doesn't start or stop fighting at once. Even in the movies, there are always a few guys who delay before joining in, or want to land one last punch at the end. These barflies are as choreographed as dancing Cossacks. The Jackal is played by Bruce Willis, as a skilled professional killer who hires a man to build him a remote-controlled precision gun mount. The man unwisely asks the kinds of questions that, in his business, are guaranteed to get you killed. Hint: If you should find yourself doing business with a man who wants to pay cash for a device to hold, move and aim a rifle capable of firing 100 explosive rounds before the first one hits its target--hey, don't go into a lot of speculation about what he may be planning to do with it.

On the Jackal's trail is the deputy head of the FBI (Sidney Poitier), who enlists the help of an IRA terrorist (Richard Gere). The IRA man is a federal prisoner, released into Poitier's custody to lead them to his lover, a Basque terrorist (Mathilda May), who knows what the Jackal looks like. The other major character is a Russian-born agent named Valentina (Diane Venora), whose character trait (singular) is that she lights a cigarette every time she is not already smoking one. I kept waiting for her to be killed, so that a last puff of smoke could drift from her dying lips as her fingers relaxed their grip on her lighter.

There was never a moment in ``The Jackal'' where I had the slightest confidence in the expertise of the characters. The Jackal strikes me as the kind of overachiever who, assigned to kill a mosquito, would purchase contraband insecticides from Iraq and bring them into the United States by hot air balloon, distilling his drinking water from clouds and shooting birds for food .....


Heh :) So, renter beware - you may agree with Ebert rather than me on the film.

- the good guys fly to the rescue

Monday, June 09, 2008


An excerpt from the Frasier episode Death And The Dog ....


Frasier: How loosely woven is the fabric of our unhappiness... a tug or two and it unravels to reveal how empty our everyday lives really are.

Niles: And then there are the empty nights... accompanied by thoughts of loneliness and death.

Martin: You think about that too? I thought it was just me.

Frasier: Everybody thinks about it.

Martin: Do you lie real still and hold your breath and pretend you're in the ground?

Frasier: No, that's just you.

Roz: When I die, I want it to be on my 100th birthday, in my beach house on Maui and I want my husband to be so upset that he has to drop out of college.

Daphne: You know, I once had a psychic tell me the strangest thing. That one day I'd go off my rocker, take up a kitchen knife, kill the entire household and then kill myself. Silly old bag! She was right about my moving to Seattle, though.

Martin: Well, I don't know how I wanna go, but all those years around the police morgue taught me a few things. First off, you don't want to swallow Drano or rat poison. And if you're going to kill yourself with an axe, get it right the first time!

Frasier: Well, you know, we can talk about it, we can think about it, but nobody really knows how or when.

Roz: One second we're alive as anyone else, and then what?

Frasier: Darkness, nothingness, afterlife?

Niles: I've always liked the notion of meeting the great figures of history. But then I think, what if it's like high school and all the really cool dead people don't want to hang out with me. Mozart'll tell me he's busy but then later I'll see him out with Shakespeare and Lincoln!

Martin: Well, I don't know about you but this is depressing the hell out of me. Remember, my bell's coming up sooner than you guys!

They all agree and Martin is a little unnerved.

Niles: No, no, none of us really knows when our time is up.

Roz: And it's never long enough. My great grandmother was 92 years old when she died and the last words to me from her deathbed were, "it's so short." Of course, it was the seventies, she could have been talking about my skirt.

Frasier: "I have seen the eternal footman hold my coat and snicker."

Niles: T.S Eliot.

Frasier: Dead.

Niles: "Must not all things at the last be swallowed up in death."

Frasier: Plato.

Niles: Even deader ......


Actually, Martin isn't the only one who holds his breath and lies really still and imagines he's in the ground - I do too :) Since I've become a Christian, I also imagine what it may be like to step into that express elevator to hell, going dooooooown! So it was with interest that I saw The Heythrop Journal's issue for last January devoted to the subject of death. The first article in the issue is The Art of Dying: In Luther's Sermon on Preparing to Die by Dennis Ngien. The article is very long, so here is just a bit of it ..........


The impetus behind [Martin] Luther's sermon, written two years after the ninety-five theses at Wittenberg, was Spalatin's repeated requests on behalf of Mark Schart, a wealthy landowner and counselor to Frederick the Wise, who struggled with troubling thoughts about death ......

In the face of despairing images – death, sin, and hell, Jesus Christ is the saving image which the believer must contemplate and hold before them. Luther's advice is this: contemplate Christ, the ‘glowing picture’, as the solution to the trilogy of evil. First he counseled those suffering with the fear of impending death to contemplate death not in themselves, or in their nature, nor in those who died by divine wrath and were overcome by death, in which cases they would be lost. Instead they are to turn their gaze upon Christ, who ‘overcame death with life’. They are to contemplate death ‘only’ in those who died in God's grace and who have overcome death, particularly in Christ and in all his beloved saints. The more you fix your gaze on these pictures, the more the image of death would pale and diminish in its power without battle. Death would appear ‘contemptible and dead, slain and overcome in life. For Christ is nothing other than sheer life, as his saints are likewise’. Christ's death is the chief object of meditation, for he is the ‘dead bronze serpent’ in whose sight the agents and might of death die. Thus we must concern ourselves solely with Christ's death and find life there. Luther rephrased Christ's words: ‘In the world – that is, in yourselves – you have unrest, but in me you will find peace’ (John 16:33). So to look at death in any other way will annihilate us with great terror and anguish.

Second Luther exhorted us to look at sin, not in sinners, or in our own conscience, or in those who live in sin till the end and are damned, but only in the context of grace. ‘The picture of grace is nothing else but that of Christ on the cross’, where he removes our sin, bears it and destroys it, if only we believe this firmly. Christ is the image of life and grace who conquers for us (pro nobis) the image of death and sin (I. Cor. 15:57).

Here (in the picture of Christ) sins are never sins, for here they are overcome and swallowed up in Christ. He takes your death upon himself and strangles it so that it may not harm you, if you believe that he does it for you and see your death in him and not in yourself. Likewise, he also takes your sins upon himself and overcomes them with his righteousness out of sheer mercy, and if you believe that, your sins will never work you harm. In that way Christ, the picture of life and of grace over against the picture of death and sin, is our consolation.

Third, we must not regard hell and eternal pain in relation to predestination, not in ourselves or in itelf, or in those who are damned, but solely in relation to Christ. We are to gaze at the ‘heavenly picture’ of Christ, who descended into hell (I Pet. 3:19) as one eternally forsaken by God when he spoke the words of dereliction on the cross, ‘Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani!’ – ‘My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?’ (Matt. 27:46). In that picture our hell is conquered, and our uncertain election is made sure. ‘Never, therefore, let this (picture) be erased from your vision. Seek yourself only in Christ and not in yourself and you will find yourself in him eternally’. The image of Christ is the mirror of the love of God ......

The entire writing illumines his experience as a pastor and confessor, totally removed from any polemical language or theological jargon. Yet his sermon is not fluffy, totally vacuous of theological content. The pulpit becomes for him the occasion to teach with theological precision, and to inculcate in his congregation a piety that is well-informed by the theological truths of Scripture ..... Christ is a true God, before whom all these images – death, sin and hell – pale in their assailing power against us (contra nobis). And that is indeed our consolation, one that makes the dark passage of death more bearable .....


Sunday, June 08, 2008

I desire mercy, not sacrifice

When I saw the gospel reading for today - Jesus telling the Pharisees Go and learn the meaning of the words, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.' (Mt 9:9-13) - I was reminded of an article by James Alison. Here's just a bit of it (I left out the middle so you should read the whole thing, of course, to get the benefit of the article) in which he gives context to Jesus' words noted above ......


“But the Bible says...”? A Catholic reading of Romans 1

A talk for Mount Saint Agnes Theological Center for Women, Baltimore, 12 January 2004.

This evening's talk has a very odd title. One of the reasons it is odd is that few Catholics are likely to interrupt a theological discussion with the phrase: “But the Bible says...” And this is not so much the result of the famed stereotype concerning Catholic ignorance of the Scriptures but because in a Catholic discussion, it is unlikely that an appeal to authority would take the form of an appeal to the Bible. It is more probable that an appeal to authority would take the form “But the Holy Father says...” or “But it's in the Catechism”. So why bother people by attempting a Catholic reading of Romans 1?

What has pushed me in the direction of offering this reading is really two things: in the first place, I was brought up Evangelical Protestant, and this text, Romans 1, was really a text of terror for me, a text in some way associated with a deep emotional and spiritual annihilation, something inflicting paralysis. So, finding myself ever freer of that terror, it seems proper to try and offer a road map to others who, whatever their ecclesial belonging, may suffer from the same binding of conscience that a certain received reading of this text has seemed to impose. But there is a second reason, no less important to my mind: owing to arguments surrounding Episcopal appointments in the Anglican Church on both sides of the Atlantic, a huge amount of press has been generated in which it has been repeated ad nauseam that “The Bible is quite clear...” about this or that. Furthermore we are told time and again that those who think either that gay people should be allowed to marry, or that being gay should be no bar to Episcopal consecration, are in some way repudiating an obvious written sacred injunction. The impression that “the Bible is quite clear” has passed largely unchallenged in the media, which has found it easiest to present the argument as being between conservative people who take the Bible seriously (and are thus against gay people) and liberal people who don't (and thus aren't against gay people).

Well, what is being treated to public travesty here is the Bible. Indeed it seems to me that if anything, the truth is closer to being exactly the other way round: you need a very modern liberal reading of the Bible in order to make it a weapon against gay people, and those who refuse to do this are, by and large, much more traditional in their Biblical reading habits ......

.... (very big snip).....

It is my view that Romans 1 has quite simply nothing at all to do with what we call homosexuality. I hope I have shown that it is perfectly possible to read it in such a way as to respect the integrity of the text, to show appreciation for, and agreement with, St Paul, and to show how Paul's argument is an important step towards formulating a major doctrine of the Church, without saying or implying anything at all for or against so-called “homosexuality”. It is not my claim that this reading which I have given you is the real reading of St Paul, that exactly this and no more and no less, is precisely what he meant. I don't think there is such a thing as the real reading of this text. I think that there are better and worse readings of the text, and more importantly, that there are more Catholic and less Catholic ways of reading the text, because reading the text within the Church is an infinitely creative exercise in giving glory to God and creating merciful meaning for our sisters and brothers as we come to be possessed by the Spirit breathed into us by the Crucified and Risen Lord.

And this leads into my last point this evening, which is really why I think it worthwhile to attempt this exercise of an attempt at a Catholic reading in your midst at this time. We have for too long been beguiled by what I would like to call a Koranic reading of scripture. It is at least coherent for a Muslim to claim that the Koran was dictated by God to Mohammed, and therefore that the Koran itself must be read as so dictated by an authority from above. The text becomes a sort of intermediary body between God and reader, such that the faithful are imprisoned under the fixed words of the text, which are imagined to be “just there”, inspired by God, and which thus absolve the reader from taking responsibility for the reading which he or she supplies. But it is not coherent for a Catholic to read Scripture in this way. The Catholic Church, heir to an extraordinarily rich tradition of creative Jewish textual reading, reads scripture Eucharistically, because for us the prime source of authority is not the text itself, but the crucified and living victim, alive in our midst, who is the living interpretative presence teaching us how to undo our violent and evil ways of relating to each other, and how together to enter into the way of penitence and peace. For us “The Word of God” refers in the first place to a living person, and only by analogy to the texts which bear witness to him. The living hermeneutical presence is more important than that which it is hermeneuting. This is what is meant by Jesus telling the Pharisees in Matthew's Gospel (Mt 9:13; 12:7):

Go and learn what this means, “I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.”


... If you had known what this means, “I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,” you would not have condemned the guiltless.

Now there is an instruction regarding the Catholic reading of Scripture from an authority even more important than the Pontifical Biblical Commission. And I'm glad to say that the Commission's passage which I read to you at the beginning of my talk is in complete accord with it.

It is time we learnt to read the words of our brother Paul, someone who wrote to us not from above, but on the same, fraternal, level as us, in a Eucharistic manner. Let us imagine him as with us at the Eucharistic gathering, bearing witness to the effect of the Crucified and Risen one on all our lives. And let us learn to have his words interpreted to us through the eyes of the Lord in the centre of our gathering, the eyes of One who so much liked us and wanted to be with us that he gave himself up for us so that we might became able to create, with him, and in great freedom, a world full of mercy where there are no “they”; A world where we can look at each other with hearts unchecked by niggles of the sort “But the Bible says...”, and with eyes undimmed by sacralised fatality.


Saturday, June 07, 2008

Pizza and The Way to Paradise

- my dinner tonight, pesto/pepper pizza. I was going to put Gauguin's painting, D'où venons nous? Que sommes-nous? Où allons-nous?, here, but I thought the pizza prettier.

I'm still reading Timothy Radcliffe's book, What is the Point of Being a Christian?, and here's a bit more from it ......


The question is, of course, do these journeys [pilgrimages] lead anywhere? Do we find that for which we are looking? Or are we just wandering around in circles, like the Israelites, in the wilderness? The Way to Paradise by the Peruvian author, Mario Vargas Llosa, is about two people who are looking for Paradise: Paul Gauguin and his improbable grandmother, Flora Tristán. Gauguin looked for it in a tropical paradise not yet ruined by Western industrial society; the grandmother looked for it in a transformation of that society, a future just world in which all human beings would be equal, especially men and women. He looked for Paradise in a survival of the past, and she looked for it in an anticipation of the future. Both of them were disappointed.

Gauguin's most famous painting was called D'où venons nous? Que sommes-nous? Où allons-nous? 'From where do we come? What are we? Where are we going?' It was painted in 1897, and it was Gauguin's last testament before he tried to commit suicide the next year. He had fled from the West in search of a paradise in Tahiti, but found it already ruined. He moved in 1891 to the even more remote Marquesas, but the colonial administration and the missionaries had got there first. Paradise was no more, and he despaired.


Rupert and Joyce

Today when I picked up a book, the bookmark dropped out and I saw it was a page with a poem on it - In Memory of Rupert Brooke by Joyce Kilmer. I looked it up on Google and instead came to a poem with almost the same name - A Memory (by Rupert Brooke).

Here are both poems ....

- Rupert Brooke

A Memory

Somewhile before the dawn I rose, and stept
Softly along the dim way to your room,
And found you sleeping in the quiet gloom,
And holiness about you as you slept.
I knelt there; till your waking fingers crept
About my head, and held it. I had rest
Unhoped this side of Heaven, beneath your breast.
I knelt a long time, still; nor even wept.

It was great wrong you did me; and for gain
Of that poor moment's kindliness, and ease,
And sleepy mother-comfort!
Child, you know
How easily love leaps out to dreams like these,
Who has seen them true. And love that's wakened so
Takes all too long to lay asleep again.

- Rupert Brooke, Waikiki, October 1913

- Joyce Kilmer

In Memory of Rupert Brooke

In alien earth, across a troubled sea,
His body lies that was so fair and young.
His mouth is stopped, with half his songs unsung;
His arm is still, that struck to make men free.
But let no cloud of lamentation be
Where, on a warrior's grave, a lyre is hung.
We keep the echoes of his golden tongue,
We keep the vision of his chivalry.
So Israel's joy, the loveliest of kings,
Smote now his harp, and now the hostile horde.
To-day the starry roof of Heaven rings
With psalms a soldier made to praise his Lord;
And David rests beneath Eternal wings,
Song on his lips, and in his hand a sword.

- Joyce Kilmer

braless bubble-heads

I know you guys are Obama supporters, and I congratulate you - his being the nominee is a great thing for the country. I hope though, that you'll understand that I think it would also have been a great thing if a woman could have been the nominee, and I'm very disappointed. I don't really expect anyone to read this op-ed piece from the New York Times, but it will make me feel better to post it .....


What Hillary Won
Published: June 7, 2008

As the sun was sinking on Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, the nation’s wounded feminists were burning up the Internet.

They vowed to write in Hillary’s name on their ballots in November; to wear “NObama” T-shirts all summer; to “de-register” as Democrats. One much-circulated e-mail proposed turning June 3, the day Barack Obama claimed the nomination, as a permanent day of mournful remembrance “like the people in Ireland remember the Famine.”

“The passion is very intense,” said Muriel Fox, a retired public relations executive in New York who was one of the founding members of the National Organization for Women. “It’s very much a feeling that Hillary has not been respected.”

Feel free to make fun of them. The women of Fox’s generation ought to be used to it by now. The movement they started was the first fight for equality in which the opposition deployed ridicule as its most lethal weapon. They won the ban on sex discrimination in employment by letting a conservative congressman propose it as a joke. When they staged their historic march in New York in 1970, they heard themselves described as “braless bubble-heads” by a U.S. senator and were laughed at on the evening news.

They had always seen a woman in the White House as the holy grail. Now their disappointment is compounded by the feeling that Clinton’s candidacy was not even appreciated as a noble try.

“She stayed in and showed she could take it. I feel she’s taken this beating for us — the abuse and the battering and the insults,” said Fox.

I get asked all the time whether I think Hillary lost because sexism is worse than racism in this country. The answer is no. She lost because Obama ran a smarter, better-organized campaign. It’s possible that she would have won if the Democratic Party had more rational primary rules. But Obama didn’t make up the rules, and Clinton had no problem with them until she began to lose.

Here’s where the sexism does come in. If Barack had failed in his attempt to make history by becoming the first African-American presidential nominee, you can bet we’d have treated his defeat with the dignity it deserved. Even if he went over the deep end at the finale and found it hard to get around to a graceful concession.

For a long time, Obama supporters have seen party unity as something that Hillary could provide by capitulating. It also requires the Democrats to acknowledge what she’s achieved. If that makes them feel like wimps, let them take it out on John McCain.

Clinton is very much a product of the generation that accepted a certain amount of humiliation as the price of progress. She wrote in her autobiography that when she ran for president of her high-school class against several boys, one of them told her she was “really stupid” if she thought a girl could be elected president. She lost, and later, the winner asked her to head a committee “which as far as I could tell was expected to do most of the work.” She swallowed hard, accepted and, she admitted, really liked organizing all the school parades and dances and pep rallies.

This is one of the things you have to admire about Hillary Clinton. She still enjoys the work.

Over the past months, Clinton has seemed haunted by the image of the “nice girl” who gives up the fight because she’s afraid the boys will be angry if they don’t get their way. She told people she would never, ever say: “I’m the girl, I give up.” She would never let her daughter, or anybody else’s daughter, think that she quit because things got too tough.

And she never did. Nobody is ever again going to question whether it’s possible for a woman to go toe-to-toe with the toughest male candidate in a race for president of the United States. Or whether a woman could be strong enough to serve as commander in chief.

Her campaign didn’t resolve whether a woman who seems tough enough to run the military can also seem likable enough to get elected. But she helped pave the way. So many battles against prejudice are won when people get used to seeing women and minorities in roles that only white men had held before. By the end of those 54 primaries and caucuses, Hillary had made a woman running for president seem normal.

Her campaign was messy, and it made some fatal tactical errors. But nobody who sent her a donation could accuse her of not giving them their money’s worth.

For all her vaunting ambition, she was never a candidate who ran for president just because it’s the presidency. She thought about winning in terms of the things she could accomplish, and she never forgot the women’s issues she had championed all her life — repair of the social safety net, children’s rights, support for working mothers.

It’s not the same as winning the White House. But it’s a lot.


Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Follow your bliss

I noticed in a post at America magazine's blog that Jesuit James Martin is guest blogging this week and answering questions posed. Today he is at A Nun's Life, and I asked a question about Ignatian prayer, which he answered. What was even more interesting to me, though, was his answer to an earlier question about how to discern a non-religious vocation. I really liked the answer he gave, which incorporated a quotation from Pedro Arrupe ......


Father Martin: Well, that’s a good question. Really, though, the process is the same for any vocation and any state of life. One’s primary call comes from one’s deepest desires, which are God’s desires planted within us. Then one “tests them out,” to see how things work out. For example, you may have a great desire to be a lawyer and then find out that practicing law is not what you really desire. So “confirmation” of your choice is also important. In general, though, I would say pay attention to what you find attractive, appealing and exciting.

One of my favorite meditations for this is the one by Pedro Arrupe, SJ, the former superior general of the Jesuits (also included in my book!) Here’s his meditation, called “Falling in Love.” It can be applied not only to individuals, or religious communities, but also to anyone’s vocation in life.

Father Arrupe wrote: “Nothing is more practical than finding God, that is, than falling in a love in a quite absolute, final way. What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination will affect everything. It will decide what will get you out of bed in the mornings, what you will do with your evenings, how you spend your weekends, what you read, who you know, what breaks your heart, and what amazes you with joy and gratitude. Fall in love, stay in love, and it will decide everything.”


I Need You

From the movie Help! .......

* I Need You

You don't realize how much I need you,
Love you all the time and never leave you.
Please come on back to me. I'm lonely as can be. I need you.
Said you had a thing or two to tell me.
How was I to know you would upset me?
I didn't realize as I looked in your eyes...
You told me, oh yes, you told me, you don't want my lovin' anymore.
That's when it hurt me and feeling like this I just can't go on anymore.
Please remember how I feel about you, I could never really live without you,
So, come on back and see just what you mean to me. I need you.

Monday, June 02, 2008


- Luther posts his 5 Theses on the castle church doors

I don't know a lot about the reformation, and I can tell you more about Lex Luther than Martin Luther :) so when the Netflix recommendation-bot suggested I watch Luther, I agreed.

Luther is a 2003 movie, starring Joseph Fiennes as the title character, Alfred Molina (Doc Octopus :) as Johann Tetzel, Jonathan Firth as Girolamo Aleander, and Sir Peter Ustinov as Frederick the Wise.

The movie was partially paid for by the Thrivent Financial for Lutherans and does tend, perhaps because of that, to show mostly the positive aspects of Luther (for instance, there's no mention of his acceptance of polygamy, or his his negative writings against the Jews), and I should mention that Roger Ebert didn't like the movie much (see his review), but having said all that, I did find the film interesting, especially the part about indulgences .... there's a funny part in the movie where Luther, speaking of relics, notes that 18 of the 12 apostles are buried in Spain :)

- Luther married an ex-nun and they had six children

I've written about indulgences before, so if you remember that post you'll not be surprised that I find the idea of them just weird and creepy. The idea that we are punished in purgatory for sins already forgiven, that we can spring someone else out of purgatory with certain actions, prayers of cash, just seems hinky. Here is a bit from a 2006 article from The Tablet - He who holds the keys to the kingdom ......

Many Catholics today, at least those on the progressive wing of the Church, probably never give indulgences a second thought. The notion that by securing an indulgence - quite simply the removal of the temporal punishment of sins that have already been forgiven by the Church - one can secure a fast track to heaven seems curiously outmoded to many. It is an aspect of Catholic life that belongs, if not to the Middle Ages, to the pre-Vatican II era.

But now there is clear evidence that indulgences are very much back at the heart of Catholic life as seen from the Vatican. In his first 10 months of office, Pope Benedict XVI has explicitly - and surprisingly - granted a plenary indulgence in connection with three major ecclesial events: last year's World Youth Day, the fortieth anniversary of the conclusion of Vatican II, and the recent World Day of the Sick ......

The practice of indulgences was never really addressed at Vatican II. And yet, some four decades later, a good number of Catholics - and many Protestants, too - continue to hold rather firmly but equally erroneously to the notion that the Council did away with indulgences - or, at least, severely altered them. It was actually Pope Paul who oversaw the "revision" of the practice. But the formula that Paul devised was only a partial reform that satisfied neither the Neo-Tridentines (such as the schismatic Lefebvrists) nor the so-called "progressives" more sympathetic to Luther's position .....

When the bishops arrived in Rome later in the autumn of 1965 for the fourth and final session of the Second Vatican Council the conference presidents were asked to state their views on the Positio, but when they did there was outrage among some. The feisty Antiochan Patriarch of the Melchites, Maximos IV, urged that indulgences be suppressed outright, saying they were "not only without theological foundation but the cause of innumerable grave abuses which (had) inflicted irreparable evils on the Church".

Then the German bishops added fuel to the fire. The Archbishop of Munich - Cardinal Dopfner - stated unabashedly: "The idea of a 'treasury' that the Church 'possesses' leads all too easily to a materialistic or quasi-commercial conception of what is obtained by indulgences." He recommended that the Positio be scrapped and that a group of international theologians (Karl Rahner was one such he had in mind) be selected to re-write it.

The Pope formed his new commission and in early 1967 issued the Apostolic Constitution, Indulgentiarum Doctrina, which looked similar to the original Positio. The new document said that a believer could gain the indulgence only by fulfilling three obligations: by doing the prescribed work, by having the proper disposition (attitude of the heart) while doing the work, and by acknowledging the authority of the Pope in the process.

Indulgentiarum Doctrina was in effect a restatement of the medieval Catholic doctrine of indulgences, with more personalistic language common in the theology of the initial post-Conciliar period. (This remains a criticism of the neo-Tridentines today.) And yet the anathema of Trent is still there. Partial indulgences were no longer calculated by days and years and the number of plenary indulgences was reduced. Yet critics from the other end of the spectrum are perhaps still most disturbed that indulgence theology likens divine justice to human justice and its need for reparation ......

Anyway, even after watching the movie, I'm still not sure I know much about Martin Luther, but there's a homily his character gives near the beginning of the film - I don't know if it's based on an actual homily by Luther or made up by the screenwriter - which did really touch me ......

Terrible. Unforgiving. That's how I saw God. Punishing us in this life, committing us to Purgatory after death, sentencing sinners to burn in hell for all eternity. But I was wrong. Those who see God as angry do not see Him rightly but look upon a curtain as if a dark storm cloud has been drawn across His face. If we truly believe that Christ is our Savior then we have a God of love, and to see God in faith is to look upon His friendly heart. So when the devil throws your sins in your face and declares that you deserve death and hell, tell him this..."I admit that I deserve death and hell. What of it? For I know One who suffered and made satisfaction in my behalf. His name is Jesus Christ, Son of God. Where He is, there I shall be also."

- Luther's trial at the Diet of Worms