Gaudium et Tremendum*

“I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought, and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.”—G. K. Chesterton

We ended yesterday with a boat and a bonfire. The last of the sun turned the clouds baby blue and perfect pink, touched with fire, a cosmic nursery for the birth of stars; the moon a nursemaid all in white, smiling down. The firepit crackled and popped in greeting on our return to the dock; the sky turned purple, then navy and black; breath of spent oak mingled with pipe smoke and marshmallow; laughter and explosions of sound and color in the skies: blues and greens and purples and whites, red rosettes high above the trees to mark love of freedom and the birth of a nation.

At last the mosquitoes drive us indoors, brave descendants of saints and patriots that we are, fleeing from pinpricks and the whine of tiny wings! Homespun strawberry ice cream, jokes and laughter until at last sleep calls too loudly to ignore despite the din. Continue reading

Book Break: Lord of the World

This past spring I ran across an Aleteia blog post relaying that both our current pontiff, Pope Francis, and our Pope Emeritus, Benedict XVI, have recommended the same novel to the Catholic reading public. The book–Robert Hugh Benson’s Lord of the World–is a dystopian novel about the coming of the Antichrist and the end of the world. So I bought a cheap copy for Kindle and have since devoured it. I could not put it down.

Monsignor Benson was the son of the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury who converted to Catholicism and was ordained a priest. Though he and his work are not as well known today, he was praised in his time by great Catholic writers like Hilaire Belloc, and today by the likes of Joseph Pearce. Pearce has this to say about Lord of the World:

The world depicted in Lord of the World is one where creeping secularism and Godless humanism have triumphed over religion and traditional morality. It is a world where philosophical relativism has triumphed over objectivity; a world where, in the name of tolerance, religious doctrine is not tolerated. It is a world where euthanasia is practiced widely and religion hardly practiced at all. The lord of this nightmare world is a benign-looking politician intent on power in the name of “peace,” and intent on the destruction of religion in the name of “truth.” In such a world, only a small and shrinking Church stands resolutely against the demonic “Lord of the World.”

The novel was written in 1907, but from the world it creates, I would have guessed it had been published after one or both of the World Wars. It does feel prophetic, though I’ve ceased to be surprised by this, given the number of literary classics I’ve read in recent years that seem as though they fit our times. But Benson’s book is short, gripping, dark, terrifying at times–and beautifully represents the challenges of living a Catholic faith in a world with little use for it.

That said, it is a very Catholic book and may not be enjoyed as much by non-Catholics (unless, God willing, they have a heart very much open to learning about the faith). The cheap download for Kindle have numerous typos, but Ave Maria Press has a new edition out for those who prefer print anyway. I recommend it wholeheartedly.

Your Eternity Begins Now


For the past few years, our family has joined numerous others from our parish and surrounding churches for Life Chain, an hour of silent public prayer for an end to the evil of abortion in our country. We spread out along Highway 19 between the parish school and Middle School West and stand facing the road, holding signs and praying.

On the back of the signs are suggested hymns, prayers, and petitions to guide our personal reflection during that hour. Every year, I am taken aback by the petition that asks me to pray for God’s mercy for all I have failed to do to protect life and work for an end to abortion—because every year, I am convinced I could have done more.

Now we are two weeks out from electing a new president. Most of us have likely made up our minds how we will vote—guided, I hope, by reason and a well-formed conscience.  God willing, no Catholic will cast a vote in support of abortion or its proponents. Beyond that, faithful Catholics can and do disagree on how best to combat the evils in our society by our actions at the ballot box. With that in mind, I would like to share three thoughts about the aftermath of Election Day.

First, remember the words of St. Therese of Lisieux: “The world is thy ship and not thy home.” We are a pilgrim people, and although our country is great and worth fighting for, the kingdom to which we truly belong is not here. We are called to evangelize and make disciples; to deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Jesus. The outcome of this election will not change our mission.

Second, we are all called by God—and not one of us is worth less in His eyes because of the votes we’ve cast, the mistakes we’ve made, or the sins we’ve committed. Whatever happens on November 8th, we will continue to suffer for our faith, as Christ foretold, and our nation and world will continue to need our light, our service, our faithful example. Cast your vote on Tuesday and move on, because we must pull together as one body, one spirit, in Christ.

Finally, we have no time to waste. Too often our efforts on behalf of the unborn, marriage, freedom of conscience, or religious liberty hinge on the headlines and reach a fever pitch every four years with the election of a new president. We support particular candidates or policies; we act as though everything is riding on the results of the next election, then shake our heads when nothing changes and go back to minding our own business.

What about the roughly 1,460 days between presidential elections?

As Catholics, our opposition to abortion and the other great evils of our time is not primarily about saving lives, but about saving souls—including our own. Obedience to Christ and His Church is a daily choice. Disobedience is also a choice. So is complacency and non-action.

Every moment, God calls; every moment we respond. Our eternity begins now.
Lord, have mercy on me for all have failed to do here in my own community to draw people to you and build your kingdom. Amen.

Dante, or Three Things to Love About the Divine Comedy

Blogger’s Note: Several years ago, I agreed to my friend Jacqui’s challenge to read 15 Classics in 15 Weeks. I continue to press forward, this being number 13 of 15, and at this point 15 Classics in 15 Years seems quite doable…

Late last week I finished reading Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy in its entirety for the first time. I had read excerpts for different classes over the years, and have read a little about the great work. The book itself was something of a pilgrimage through hell, purgatory, and heaven. This is my least favorite of the thirteen classics I’ve read so far as part of this challenge, and was tough sledding at times. Nevertheless, I do agree that this is a great literary work and worth the effort to complete at least once.

Without further ado, Three Things to Love about Dante’s Divine Comedy:

  • The Ambition. Dante the poet takes us on a journey through the Inferno (Hell), Purgatorio (Purgatory), and Paradisio (Heaven) with Dante the Pilgrim in order that the fictional Dante may change his ways and be saved. Each of these three journeys are told in verse, thirty-three cantos each, with each canto approximately 140 to 150 lines long. Along the way he meets ancient and more recent historical figures, who comment and prophesy on the political and religious turmoil of Dante’s time and place, along with sharing their own experience in the world and in the afterlife. The running commentary on the political machinations and rivalries in Dante’s home was the least interesting aspect of the book for me, but it is nonetheless impressive how much he weaves into this ambitious work.
  • The Creativity. The denizens of Hell and Purgatory, in particular, suffer in hundreds of ways peculiar to their specific sins and attachments. Dante’s Hell is hellish, disgusting and terrifying at times, culminating in an immense figure of Satan, not surrounded by flame, but eternally frozen in ice, suffering for his own sins. The journey through Purgatory is hopeful, but not easy, as imperfect souls labor to let go of those earthly things that weigh them down. Heaven, to me, was actually the least interesting of the three, in part due to the poet’s continued insistence that the beauty of the place was beyond his words and ability — but persevering to the end, to full union with God in the beatific vision, has its rewards. The last few cantos are lovely.
  • The Deep Belief. This, to me, is the greatest aspect of Dante’s masterpiece: the depth of theology, of faith, of true belief. Dante believes in the reality of Hell, and he puts people he loved in this world in that place of torment because of their sins. He peoples his poems with friends, contemporaries, nobles, and popes, explaining how and why each fell or rose, and when Dante the Pilgrim is asked to testify to his own faith, the lines resonate as the poet’s own sincere profession. Who knows how accurate a portrayal of the afterlife these poems are, but Dante gives us much to contemplate as we navigate this world.

I have begun number fourteen of fifteen classics, Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, with that great opening line: “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” It is a long book, but engaging— I hope to be done within the month!

Love Does Not Divide

How long, Lord? Will you utterly forget me? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I carry sorrow in my soul, grief in my heart day after day?  – Psalm 13:2-3

I ended last night with coverage of the shooting of Philando Castile by a police officer in Falcon Heights, Minnesota. I woke to 12 police officers shot by a sniper in Dallas, Texas.

Can you feel it? The tension in the air? A spark has been struck, I fear, that cannot be contained.

And it’s an election year. Everything is spun, hyper-analyzed, re-calculated, and spun again. Everything is us-versus-them.

Can you hear it? The rattle between my lungs of the small stony lump that passes, these days, for a human heart? I can. It has shrunken and solidified more while I slept.

I can feel my heart hardening, each time my “enemies” advance. I can feel the love draining away and the anger rising. I am tempted to turn away from those I once cared about because we don’t agree. I have no time to spend on the lost sheep with my little flock to attend.

How cavalierly we treat the salvation of souls—including our own.

Here’s what I know for certain about these shootings: Someone took a life. Someone lost a life. Both are terrible and permanent things with serious implications in this world and the next. And the proper response for most of us, who are removed from the situation, is earnest prayer for the souls of those involved and for peace.

The Evil One relishes these divisions in humanity, and fans the flames that rage around us. Instantaneous media coverage and commentary stifles reflection and discernment, prudence and justice. Politispeak and emotionalism obscure the truth, without which there can be no love. We paint our enemies with one brush and hue, and lose sight of them as unique images of God—each one a masterpiece.

Yesterday I ran across a quote from C.S. Lewis’s book Mere Christianity:

[The devil] always sends errors into the world in pairs—pairs of opposites. And he always encourages us to spend a lot of time thinking which is the worse. You see why, of course? He relies on your extra dislike of the one error to draw you gradually into the opposite one. But do not let us be fooled. We have to keep our eyes on the goal and go straight between both errors. We have no other concern than that with either of them.

Our way, as Christians, is narrow, between the errors. Our Way is Christ.

Here’s the truth, as simply as I can express it this gray morning. We have good cops and bad cops; racist, noble, and scared cops…and this morning, living and dead cops. We also have young black men who are good men and bad men; racist, noble, and scared men; and yet again, living and dead men. We have well-intentioned activists on both sides who want justice, and rabble-rousers who just want to fight.

The same applies to Muslims and Christians, to immigrants and natural-born citizens, to men and women. How do I know this? Because all of them are human, and so am I. All of these tendencies live in me, and I must choose which to follow.

It is also true that significant differences exist between the wealthy and the poor, Christianity and Islam, rural and urban America, liberals and conservatives—differences that we must acknowledge plainly and address if we hope to find peace in our communities—but none of these differences are discernible in our DNA or our soul. None are who we are.

I am Catholic, so I am at odds with the culture, with many of my friends, and with much of my family. And it’s complicated. I am a Christian, but I am at odds other Christian creeds, not to mention the non-Christian religions of the world. I’m at odds with scientism, but not science. I am at odds with supporters of abortion, same-sex marriage, and many other ideas. Faith and reason set me at odds with all of these things, but none of these persons—at least, not if I’m practicing my faith well.

So we disagree. Big deal; it happens all the time at my house.  And we each think we’re right? Well of course. If we thought we were wrong and persisted, we have more serious problems.

But one of us must be wrong? True enough—and likely both of us. But truth and love go hand-in-hand, so what are we worried about? Being proven wrong? That’s pride talking, the root of sin.

Is it possible to disagree and get along? We do it all the time with people we love. And Jesus said to love our neighbor and our enemies as we love our own selves. We have our work cut out for us.

I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. … You will live in the land I gave to your ancestors; you will be my people, and I will be your God. – Ezekiel 36-26, 28

We can bring God’s good work to fruition, but we must keep foremost in our minds our common humanity and the dignity of each person as made in the image of God. We must focus our attention on the infinite value of each soul to the Creator, and the boundless desire God has for each of us. Salvation of souls is our goal; repentance and love is our means. We cannot allow ourselves to be distracted by the concerns of this world—goods, comforts, guns, money—and lose sight of the only things worth loving: God and neighbor.  These other things are not bad in themselves, but can they get us to Heaven? Not likely, but they could drag us to Hell.

Love ought to be our first and last response. And God willing, as we learn to love as He has loved us and align our love completely with His eternal Truth, it can become our only response.