Apr 242017

Actor Benedict Cumberbatch has played quite a few roles as a gifted person who is also very arrogant. His Sherlock Holmes portrayal in the excellent BBC series, playing Kahn in Star Trek Into Darkness, and more recently Doctor Strange in the movie of the same title. Add to that as the voice of Smaug in the Hobbit “Trilogy”. He pulls of these roles quite well portraying someone deeply intelligent, but flawed with a arrogance that mocks those who can’t keep up.

In most of these roles there has not been a character arc where the character comes to grips with this flaw, much less acknowledge it. Well at least until Doctor Strange.

Doctor Strange is a brilliant surgeon, and he knows it. Until an accident renders his hands incapable at the surgery he was so adept at. His desperate search leads him to the Ancient One hidden in the Himalayas. Where after much struggle eventually he learns to overcome his pride and to learn to serve others.

There has been much discussion regarding Rod Dreher’s series of posts regarding The Benedict Option, and his recent book “The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation”. I am waiting to actually read the book, which I have on hold to comment on what he has to say.

I titled this post “The Benedict Cumberbatch Option” partly as a joke on Rod Dreher’s title. Well actually the title came to me as a joke first, and then I started to think about it as it regards to Doctor Strange. Last year I read through some of the major story arcs of the original Doctor Strange comics and some of the later ones. I especially enjoyed the original as done by Stan Lee and illustrated by Steve Ditko. Often I just enjoyed the whole tension of his being a “Sorcerer Supreme” using dark magic and invoking all sorts of creatures while being good and doing good. I feel this was all done as a gag as this tension is never explained or explained away.

Still I think there is a “Benedict Cumberbatch Option”, that is you admit and then repent of your flaws and work to overcome them as in the story arc of Doctor Strange. How we do this might take us to Nursia or for that matter the Himalayas. It might also just take us to deeper prayer in our homes, serving others, or all of the above.

G.K. Chesterton is famous for having replied:

“Dear Sir: Regarding your article ‘What’s Wrong with the World?’ I am. Yours truly,”

Although he did go on to write a book of essays with that title that wasn’t about “I am”. Still we live in an age of reformers who never think about reforming themselves first. Although that is really not new. It is so much easier to opine than to actually take up the harder work of repentance. Really writing this blog post suggesting what you should do is pretty easy. Still my “preaching” in writing is mainly towards myself. We do live in a toxic culture where living the faith is not easy. It is almost as if Jesus telling us that we would have to pick up our crosses was not just rhetorical.

So I am putting the “The Benedict Cumberbatch Option” out there as my hopeful character arc of acknowledging my sins and repenting of them.

May 182016

While news always trends towards the depressing, it seems like it is just one damned thing after another this year. A presidential election gone insane, a President issuing PC diktats, people trying to get on the right side of history instead of the right side of truth. There is just so much that is unnerving and the pace of the insanity seems unmatched.

Yet as an optimistic-pessimist I can see the bad and the good. The political craziness dissuades me from any utopian vision of politics. If only such-and-such is elected, if only some party has the majority, all the empty lies that sustain the status quo of government bloat and inefficiency. Put no trust in princes.

So much to grip about, and yet to realize that there is no environment where we can not grow in holiness. So these thoughts have been churning away in me and Fr. Dwight Longenecker crystalized these feelings for me.

Why blame the world for being corrupt and venal when I also am too concerned about money and material possessions? Let me simplify my life and seek detachment. Let me live more by faith, be more generous with my money and be happier. Why blame the world for immorality and lust? God grant me the grace to live chastely, to seek purity of heart and innocence of mind, and let Sodom and Gomorrah go where it will. Why blame the world for being duplicitous, manipulative, power hungry and cruel? Instead let me look to my own life and seek always to be transparent in all my doings, concerned only for others and not myself and to never stoop to being manipulative or cruel.

In other words, I want to live local and love local. Let the politicians do their worst. I have a job to do, a life to lead, a Lord to worship and a people to serve. I do not ask of the courage to stand up to the evil in Washington or the world. I simply ask for the courage to stand against the evil in my own life, in my family, my parish and my community. As a citizen I will be involved and vote where I can for local politicians who share my values and principles. As a priest I will seek to serve those who God has given me as my flock and family.

If we seek perfection in the world, first imitate Jesus and grow in perfection via grace – sheer grace. I find it easy to complain about the corruption of government, but want to find another topic to discuss when it comes to my own corruption and moral laziness.

“These things have I spoken unto you, that in me ye may have peace. In the world ye have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.” Jn 16:33

So if such tribulations make me ponder my own cross and my own need for Jesus – then Lord help me pick up that cross.

May 082016

An entry from Paul Thigpen’s A Year With the Saints: Daily Meditations with the Holy Ones of God.

We must understand that even though God does not always give us what we want, he gives us what we need for our salvation. Suppose you ask your physician for something that would be harmful, and he knows it would be harmful. What should he do?

Let’s say that you ask for a cup of cold water. If it would do you good, and he gives it to you right away, then surely you can’t say that he hasn’t heard you. On the other hand, if it would do you harm, and so he doesn’t give it to you, you still can’t say that he hasn’t heard you, just because he contradicted your will. Instead, he’s heard you according to what your health requires.

So learn to pray to God in such a way that you’re trusting him as your Physician to do what he knows is best. Confess to him the disease, and let him choose the remedy. Then hold tight to love, for what he does will cut and sting you.

You may cry out, and your cries may not stop the cutting, the burning, and the pain. Yet he knows how deep the festering flesh lies. While you want him to take his hands off you, in his treatment he must consider not your cries, but the extent of the infection. He knows how far he must go. He’s not listening to you according to what you want, but according to what will heal you.

— St. Augustine, Sixth Homily on 1 John, 8

Reading this I realized how much I am like that person who goes to WebMD before going to the Doctor’s office. Ready to tell the doctor what the problem is and what to proscribe to me. Not a lot of listening to the Divine Physician is involved.

Mar 212016

Once again my plans for a Holy Lent have been dashed by reality.

Sure I had a framework planned out involving more prayer and fasting. Most of that lasted the whole first week of Lent and then I started to find excuses to lighten up. Not that my initial plan was over the top or beyond my reach. Just that once again I tried to brute-force holiness by doing stuff and forgetting to invite God into this. A stoic at prayer.

Not that it was a total failure. I did manage to be very consistent in the course of spiritual reading I set out for each day. With the help of the Strides app I have also managed to pray the Rosary each day when before I was rather less consistent on weekends.

Still I notice the same awful tendencies I have and self-centeredness. Still Lent does help me to be more aware of this and even failing I see myself failing and resorting to prayer. I try to put the Jesus Prayer on continuous loop at these times. Lent can often be a good cure for spiritual pride as you find any spiritual pride to be rather ridiculous in face of the truth. I provide myself comic relief by laughing at myself.

Last night while thinking about my Lenten misadventure I remembered Lent wasn’t over yet.

So I am going to cram for Holy Week. Pick up that dropped framework and carry it out for the rest of Lent and the Triduum before Easter.

Like most crammers I have the expectation that I can make up my lack of progress the night before Easter. I will just pull a Lenten all-nighter figuratively. Yeah that’s the ticket. Besides Jesus paid those late workers in The Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard. So I’m holding him to that.

Feb 092016

This my be my most audacious post on my blog. One in which I offer prayer advice. When it comes to praying badly I am quite an expert at it. Really though this post is how to help to develop the habit of prayer for some personality types. Plus with Lent starting, just possibly what I offer might be useful to someone.

I really put the pro in procrastinating and so even things I prioritize gets put off for later and then don’t get done at all for that day. Why put off something today you can put off tomorrow? Really I have been thinking about doing this post for a couple of weeks.

Last year I got an Apple Watch and I soon found that the activity tracker was very helpful for me. For one the three-ring activity indicator was a constant reminder I was failing in one of those areas. So I started to prioritize exercising each day and looking for opportunities to walk. I soon found I was doing this every single day, even on days when I could have found tons of reasons not to do it that day. I have maintained this for over six months now and went down some pant sizes and have made this a habit every day of the week.

During this I was observing myself and wondering why this visual indicator was so important to me? Part of it was maintaining a streak and continuously hitting the goals. A visual indicator of an accomplishment. But I also found that even when I was unable to exercise because of sickness or travel, that when able to do so again – did so. So it got me into the habit to the point where it was a habit.

Still as much as physical health is important, I wanted to prioritize my prayer life even more. So I figured that if the activity rings provided me the motivation I needed, then maybe something could help me likewise in my prayer life. Around the same time I had been thinking about this I had seen various app reviews about goal oriented apps where you could set daily goals to check off each day with various options.

One of the prayers I have continued in since even before I officially entered the Church was the Liturgy of the Hours. Really I had been pretty good starting my day with the Office of Readings and Morning Prayer, but Evening and Night Prayer would often fall away – especially on weekends. The same for the Rosary – I normally would pray it towards the end of the day during the first part of the week, but weekends rarely.

So I wanted to set two goals. One to pray those hours in the Liturgy of the Hours that I sometimes didn’t get to and to be much more consistent in praying the Rosary.

So around the beginning of the year I bought an an iOS app called Strides: Goals & Habits Tracker + SMART Goal Setting and set these two daily goals. I was also able to set the time where it would show an indicator that one of my goals needed attention. So now for over a month I have not failed to meet these two goals daily.

So for whatever reason my personality quirks found this method useful in meeting goals and actually planning a head of time to make sure I provide the time for this. When it comes to exercise and prayer it certainly does take a significant block of time each day – but what I would fill that block with otherwise would be less helpful for me. I also found that more consistency in praying the Rosary was actually helpful in praying the Rosary for me. There was another prayer hack that I added in praying the Rosary, but I will discuss that on another day.

No doubt this technique will not work for everybody. You have to care about some indicator badge on an app and it has to annoy you enough to meet the goal.

The app I used – Strides has been getting the job done for me. It is fairly easy to setup and to interact with daily. Although based on this review I would probably have bought Streaks instead as it seems to be the better designed app. Momentum Habit Tracker is another possible consideration for much more tracking. I admit the main reason I haven’t switched over to Streaks is that I already have a months worth of data in Strides and while losing it would really mean nothing, there is psychological momentum connected with it.

No doubt there are equivalent apps on Android, although the one they have called Streaks is a habit reminder, but is is not from the same creators as the iOS app of that name.

Mar 042015

Via Tom at Disputations:

I’m having a raggedy Lent so far this year, which on the upside means I’m not at risk of vainglory in how well I’m keeping Lent.

But I have managed to actually complete a novena – to Our Lady, Undoer of Knots – in the nine days since Ash Wednesday. (I probably complete on time about 10% of the novenas I start.) And just a couple of hours after I finished the ninth day’s prayer, I received some fantastic news related to my prayer intention.

Correlation? Empirically so. Causation? Impossible to say, as impossible as when something good happened related to my prayer intention the other time I completed a novena to Our Lady, Undoer of Knots.

Now, there’s nothing at all miraculous about the good things that happened. I’m inclined to think – even, in a way, hope – they were purely coincidental. If it turns out to be the case that God wants to answer my prayers, then my lousy prayer life is responsible for a whole lot of grace missing in this world.

Frankly, though, it doesn’t matter. The act of prayer is in itself a grace, which if maintained becomes the habit of prayer, and that’s a good in itself. Whether or not we get what we pray for in some discernible way, we are sure to get what praying does for us, which we can then give to those we’ve been given to love.

Offer yourself to Jesus. Invoke Mary’s aid. Trust.

Well said with something to chew on.

Thomas L. McDonald’s “How I Pray” series had contemplative lay hermit Margaret Rose Realy, Obl. OSB for this week’s entry.

Another delightful entry in this ongoing series and I especially enjoyed:

I think my favorite rosary is the plastic glow-in-the-dark that hangs on the shade of a small lamp beside my bed. I love praying it as my last motion of the day. I don’t worry if I fall asleep while praying it, assured that my Guardian Angel or a saint will carry on. I look at it this way—I don’t imagine we are ever fully matured spiritually until after death. So we are always children, and if a child is resting in your arms and falls asleep mid sentence, would you mind it so terribly much? I thought not…

I just love this image of my Guardian Angel or a saint carrying on a Rosary I started but fell asleep praying. Still considering the number of times this has happened, Heaven must have a duty roster to carry on my Rosary whenever I start one. Annoys me the number of times this has happened and when awakening and going to bed not being able to sleep. Guess I should have brought my Rosary to bed with me.

As a consequence my habit now has been to pray the Rosary standing up to prevent this from happening.

Dec 162014

My Advent hymn listening is about to wind down as I start listening to Christmas carols on the 4th Sunday of Advent. Since traditional Christmas carols played a part in my conversion I am really looking forward to this. Listening to Advent music only for most of Advent is only a couple year tradition for me, but partly I find for myself the delay in listening to my favorite carols lets me appreciate them even more. Plus I have found that Advent hymns are also pretty awesome especially as performed on Advent at Ephesus.

I have a fairly good collection of these carols once on a CD and now living in the cloud. Unfortunately the production values on too many of them are not very good. Especially ones involving choirs. I remember being disappointed after buying the “John Rutter Christmas Album” for the Cambridge Singers. While the hymn selection was excellent, the sound is low and just not that sharp.

So I am always on the lookout for a higher quality collection of Christmas carols that mixes the familiar with the lesser known. I received Christmas in Harvard Square for review and was happy to find it perfectly fulfilled my requirements.

The album is performed by [The Boys of St. Paul Choir School][http://stpaulchoirschool.com]. This is the only boys’ choir school in the United States of America and students attend full time between the forth and eighth grade. I just looked at the information regarding this album on Amazon and found that they used John Rutter & Sir David Willcocks arrangements and that the schools is based in Cambridge. So after I just complained about a specific album I found this a bit ironic.

Now I only gave this album one listen or else my personal Christmas carol embargo would have fallen and I would be playing them 24/7. One listen was certainly enough to make me love it as the boys voices come shining through with high production values. The majority of hymns on this album are the lesser known, or at least the lesser played. Still all of these selections should be better known. All I know if that I am going to give this specific album a listen daily just before and during Chrismastide.

Another polished well-produced piece of sacred music is O Day Of Resurrection! – Liturgy of the Hours for Sunday by the [New Camaldoli Hermitage][hermitge] a group of Benedictines located at Big Sur. These recordings of the Liturgy of the Hours in plainchant is captivating. I found it to be perfect background music while doing spiritual reading.

On another note (pun always intended) I sometimes hear complaints about Christmas carols being played early in stores and shopping centers. Now normally this is a complaint I could appreciate, but I have been thinking that perhaps we shouldn’t really grumble about it. At least Christmas carols are still being played in public and political correctness has not yet wiped it out for fear of offending the ear of the non-Christian. Sure the mix of these songs in public lean more towards the Christmassy secular songs, but actual carols slip through repetitions of “Grandma got run over by a reindeer.” So I have decided to enjoy this while it lasts.

Nov 242014

Thomas L. McDonald at God and the Machine started a series called “How I Pray”. As Tom said this is a “shameless rip off” of the Lifehacker series “How I work”.

Every Monday in How I Pray, I ask various Catholics about their prayer routines, their prayer lives, and their experience of prayer.

In the first week of the new series he subjected himself to the questions to be answered, in the second week it was my turn to answer How I Pray and this week it is Jimmy Akin’s turn.

Tom’s and Jimmy’s answers are a nice read and I look forward to further entries in this series. It is really excellent to see concrete examples of how other work out their prayer life and what helps them.

Sep 232013

One of the figures of Greek mythology that always intrigued me from childhood on is Cassandra. The daughter of King Priam and Queen Hecuba of Troy. Apollo granted her the gift of prophecy and later when she refused his attempted seduction was cursed so that no one would believe her.

The tensions of this combination gift and curse is one that intrigues the imagination and draws sympathy for this tragic character.

In modern times there seems to be an almost Cassandra-like quality to the Catholic Church. The Church teaches the truth and yet so few believe her. When Cassandra prophesied she was called crazy. A common charge of believing Catholics who are also called crazy for believing what the Church teaches. For Cassandra the people seemed to have a selected amnesia for when her prophecies were fulfilled they still thought her crazy. That type of selected amnesia is quite evident in critics of the Church. In Humanae Vitae Pope Paul VI predicted various outcomes if contraception became widespread. Yet as all of these have unfortunately come true there is no rethinking about what a contraceptive culture leads to or any acknowledgment that he was right.

We have itching ears always looking for the latest fad whether it is fashion or theology. The cult of the new (and improved!) conditions us to a worshipping of progress where something is good just because it is happening now. A look for easy answers to complicated questions. A sort of Occam’s razor prevails where the path that contains the fewest crosses must be correct. Or really if the path contains any crosses it must be rejected.

If we can’t fully understand something we assume it must be false. Yet when St. Peter heard Jesus’ words on the Eucharist:

“And Simon Peter answered him: Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life.” (John 6:68)

One thing are culture is good at is creating rocky soil. Defertilizing the soil by evoking self-esteem for self-esteem sake, pride, and a disconnected individualism. License over self-control. A denial of free-will with the increasing “born-this-way” propaganda.

Yet the Church has always to some extent had a Cassandra-like quality that extends back to the prophets. The messages of the prophets were more likely to be met with a stone than appreciation. Still it is easy to whine about the culture which is just another aspect of the cult of the now. Evangelization has never been easy in any age and while there are some different difficulties now than in the past, the same basic problems exist. We are sinners that just don’t want to admit that fact. If we do admit to being a sinner we do it in the same way Uriah Heep did in saying he was humble. I find it surprising to see just how resistant to grace other people seem to be, that is until I look to see just how resistant to grace I am.

Jesus told us we would be persecuted and somehow we act astonished when we are. Or maybe like myself you see a lack of persecution because of a laxness in preaching the good news. Perhaps we experience persecution because of a politically incorrect message, but not specifically for preaching Jesus Christ. I think Pope Francis has a point regarding the primary proclamation of salvation and our redemption from our Lord Jesus Christ. We can get bogged down in serious issues and forget some of the good news to proclaim. Although this is another both/and where one thing is not to the exclusion of the other.

While I might comment on the frustration of the Cassandra-like quality to the Catholic Church, the difficulties in a post-Christian culture are not immune to grace and on our side prayer and fasting. We don’t like the new evangelization because we were never crazy about the old evangelization as both of them require work on our part.

Sep 032013

From the Angelus on 2 September:

… All men and women of good will are bound by the task of pursuing peace. I make a forceful and urgent call to the entire Catholic Church, and also to every Christian of other confessions, as well as to followers of every religion and to those brothers and sisters who do not believe: peace is a good which overcomes every barrier, because it belongs all of humanity!

I repeat forcefully: it is neither a culture of confrontation nor a culture of conflict which builds harmony within and between peoples, but rather a culture of encounter and a culture of dialogue; this is the only way to peace.

May the plea for peace rise up and touch the heart of everyone so that they may lay down their weapons and be let themselves be led by the desire for peace.

To this end, brothers and sisters, I have decided to proclaim for the whole Church on 7 September next, the vigil of the birth of Mary, Queen of Peace, a day of fasting and prayer for peace in Syria, the Middle East, and throughout the world, and I also invite each person, including our fellow Christians, followers of other religions and all men of good will, to participate, in whatever way they can, in this initiative.

On 7 September, in Saint Peter’s Square, here, from 19:00 until 24:00, we will gather in prayer and in a spirit of penance, invoking God’s great gift of peace upon the beloved nation of Syria and upon each situation of conflict and violence around the world. Humanity needs to see these gestures of peace and to hear words of hope and peace! I ask all the local churches, in addition to fasting, that they gather to pray for this intention.

Let us ask Mary to help us to respond to violence, to conflict and to war, with the power of dialogue, reconciliation and love. She is our mother: may she help us to find peace; all of us are her children! Help us, Mary, to overcome this most difficult moment and to dedicate ourselves each day to building in every situation an authentic culture of encounter and peace. Mat, Queen of Peace, pray for us!

Considering the short lead time between the Pope’s announcement and the 7th of September I wonder how many Catholics will even hear about it? Father Z brings up this topic and wonders about possible remedies.

Certainly the media isn’t going to get the word out for the most part since there are three times as many stories about the Pope’s alleged “selfie” compared to his call for a day of fasting and prayer for peace in Syria.

As far as I can tell most diocese and parishes really have no way to quickly get the word out in a situation like this where the parishes bulletin or an announcement ahead of time is not really possible.

Although there is an excellent solution that should be much better known. The service flocknote started by Matthew Warner is really the perfect solution for both regular communication and special cases like this. I wish my diocese had this.

During the last papal election the service popealarm.com provided a white smoke alert and supposedly they are continuing with sending information to those who signed up regarding something “particularly noteworthy.” I would say the Pope’s call for this day of prayer an fasting should be something they notified people about.

Really we need a kind of amber alert for prayer, or should I say Ember alert.

Canonist Ed Peters posts on “A fast on Sept 7 is not canonically required, but…

Granting that popes are not held to the same canonical standards as are diocesan bishops in regard to their manner of establishing obligatory days of penance (1983 CIC 331, 1244), I do not think that Pope Francis “proclamation” of September 7 as a day of fast and prayer for peace in Syria is canonically binding on the faithful. The manner of the proclamation used (an Angelus talk) and not used (e.g., publication in the AAS), and of the vocabulary used (e.g., invitation) and not used (e.g., decree, direct) suggests the urgent-but-still-exhortative character of the pope’s plea, not its binding character. Besides, in cases of “doubt of law”, potential obligations are not binding (1983 CIC 14, 18).

In short, a Catholic who does not observe a fast on Sept 7 does not violate canon law. What such disregard for the pope’s unusual request might indicate about one’s desire to act with the Successor of Peter is another question. + + +

Be there or be square.