Thursday, October 1, 2009

Casanova on Free Will

"Man is a free agent; but he is not free if he does not believe it, for the more power he attributes to Destiny, the more he deprives himself of the power which God granted him when he gave him reason."

—Giacomo Girolamo Casanova de Seingalt

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Why it is so hard to talk about Social Justice.

"People try to influence one another constantly... People influence one another to support some values and to oppose others. In the past, they promoted such overt values as chastity, obedience, thrift. Today they advocate such covert values as the common good, mental health, welfare — blanks that may be filled in with any meaning the speaker or listener desires. Herein lies the great value of these vague terms of the demagogue, whether political or professional. Just as a presidential candidate may talk about restoring the nation's economy to a 'healthy' condition, without specifying whether he is promoting a balanced budged or deficit financing, so a psychiatrist may talk about 'mental health,' without revealing whether he is promoting individualism or collectivism, autonomy or heteronomy."
— Dr. Thomas Szasz

Get two Catholics together and they will probably agree about justice as it applies to the individual, but they will probably diverge on the meaning of "social justice." This does not excuse us from working for social justice, nor from being charitable to each other when we disagree about what it means.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Ten Points About Single-Payer Health-Care

1] Abortion. Yes, I am opposed to including abortion funding in any health-care plan, but the issue is not as simple as that. Right now many people who cannot afford to deliver a baby go for the much cheaper option of aborting the baby. I think that if the cost of these options were identical, many babies who would otherwise be aborted might be carried to term, thus saving lives.

2] Rationing.
One of the biggest objections to any form of government health-care is that “the government will impose rationing,” as if the market doesn’t do that already. Until we have unlimited health-care, decisions will have to be made about who gets how much care. If you are going to address the health-care issue, then please state, not that you are against rationing, but how you think health-care should be rationed.

3] Expense.
The United States spends the most on health-care of any country in the world [14% of GDP], almost half-again as much as second place Germany [10.5%] and nearly twice as much as Sweden [7.3%]. Without a huge superstructure of bureaucrats administering billing, making collections, and pouring profits into insurance companies, the cost of health will come down even as more people receive care.

4] Life Expectancy.
People who live with a single-payer system live longer. The United States ranks 27th in life expectancy. Japan is in first place while Canada is in second, both with completely socialized systems. So we pay more and die younger anyway.

5] Taxes.
Yeah, your taxes will go up, but your health-care premiums and expenses will drop to near zero. [You’ll probably still have to buy your own Dr. Scholl’s bunion pads and toothpaste under any plan, however.] Right now, my insurance premiums are larger than my income tax, so even if my tax doubles, I will still come out ahead.

6] “I heard about someone in Canada who...”.
Anecdotal. For every horror story about bad care in Canada, I’ve heard a dozen on Air America about denial of care in the U.S,. Everyone has anecdotes on their side, but statistics show that socialized medicine is better.

7] Post Office. No one is calling for the government to run our health-care system (like it runs the post office), the proposal is that the government pay for our health-care. And government is very good at disbursing funds. The Social Security system, for instance, has a much lower overhead than any insurance company or investment firm.

8] Medical Savings Accounts. Basically, this scheme would allow people to sock away pre-tax dollars into a savings account that can be used for health-care expenses and, after some time, if not used for health expenses, may be used for any purpose, again, tax-free. I believe that it is immoral to give people an incentive to neglect their health, and that is all this financial jiggering with the system will accomplish.

9] Fairness. Right now we have a system that subsidizes health-care for the better off (through tax write-offs), pays for health-care for the indigent, while leaving the vast bulk of the working classes to struggle with inadequate care or simply to do without. Any system that pays for unproductive elements of society to receive free heal-care, while neglecting the working classes that keep this country running, is grotesquely unfair and screams for reform.

10] Obamacare. Yeah, I’m against what the critics are calling “Obamacare” because it is one more reactionary, right-wing scam being foisted upon the working-man. What we need is an out-and-out single-payer system and the sooner we get it the better!

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Obvious, once you think of it that way.

There are two good reasons many people don’t want sex:

1) they don’t expect to enjoy it,


2) they’re not getting along with their partner.

When one or both of these are true, low desire is healthy, not something to fix.
— Dr. Marty Klein

Monday, August 10, 2009

Crush the Fascist Serpent?

Saw this banner at the Pride Parade back in June and naturally it interested me. (Just in case you can't read the "tagger style" writing, it says "Life Begins When You Stand Up to Christian Fascists.") Many people I admire (Spengler, Junger, Pius XII, and just about every self-identified National Bolshevik) has been attacked as "fascist" and now my faith was fascist too. Unfortunately, it was just a banner, no flyer explaining who they were or what they were up to, and they passed by too quickly for me to ask any of them what it was about.

Imagine my delight when I ran into a fellow with a smaller banner with the same wording at the Bughouse Square Debates a few weeks later. Having no shame, and a 'satiable curiosity, I went right over and asked the fellow about it. He asserted without hesitation that the government of this country was a virtual hostage to "Christian elements." He cited as proof of this the continued opposition to "marriage equality," the "assault on the sovereignty of women's bodies," and the fact that Obama had recently appointed Joshua DuBois, associate pastor of a Massachusetts Pentecostal church, to head the President’s Council for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. Well, a Christian heading the office of Faith-Based something-or-other — surely that's inappropriate!

Almost certain that the din in the back-ground was not the traffic on Clark Street, but the approach of jack-booted legions of clean-living Pat Boone types coming to take away my sacred right to free love and sedition, I asked the fellow, "How do you figure that Christians are imposing their morality on us; seems like you secular fellows have been getting your own way on the abortion issue since 1973."

"Well — abortion is a right!"

"Even late-term abortion? Even if a majority of Americans oppose it?"

"You can't tell a woman what to do with her body!"

"So then, you don't trust the democratic process to sort this out?"

'When you're taking away people's rights; that's just mob rule!"

"Okay — what about that guy in Wisconsin that had his pharmacist license suspended because he wouldn't dispense birth-control. Do you think the state has a right to coerce people to do things that violate their religious beliefs?

"He wasn't doing his job. Dispensing contraception is part of being a pharmacist!"

"So, you're anti-democratic on abortion, and you favor coercing people to violate their conscience ..."

"Yeah ..."

"But the threat to this country is Christian fascism?"

"That's right!"

Saturday, August 8, 2009

What did she expect?

"It'll spice things up."
"It will add a new dimension to our marriage."
"Aren't you big enough to love more than one person?"
"If it doesn't work out, then we can go back to the sway things were."

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

From "Social Justice & Stations of the Cross"

"To be anti-communist is no good at all, unless we are against the evil system of which communism is the necessary and inevitable consequence. How many of us Christians take any trouble to discover why millions of workers are in revolt against capitalism and money rule?"
— Eric Gill

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

No Comment

“I do not believe there is an atheist in the world who would bulldoze Mecca — or Chartres, York, Minster, or Notre Dame.”
— Richard Dawkins, "The God Delusion," p. 249

On 5 December 1931, by order of Stalin's minister Lazar Kaganovich, the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour,the largest Orthodox church ever built, was dynamited and reduced to rubble. It took more than one blast to destroy the church and more than a year to clear the debris from the site.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Better Catholicism through Bolshevism!

I have three kids and I’m pretty proud of them. They are all honest, hard-working, polite, have never been in trouble, have always done well in school. The only thing that disappoints me about them is that my oldest, Pumpkin, is totally secular.

This came up last night when I was having a smoke on the front porch with my son. “Why do you think Pumpkin is so secular?” I asked.

The answer came immediately, “Because she’s bourgeois.”

I understood his meaning immediately. Pumpkin was the very model of bourgeois success. She had excelled in school, won a prestigious scholarship, and is poised to go to graduate school after she finishes college next year. She dresses well, yet is never flashy nor does she stand out in a crowd. She would never say anything that might be called “politically incorrect.” She believes in dealing with things reasonably,” by which she means in a way that is both practical and secular.

I had never thought about it in these terms before, but the logic of it became immediately self-evident to me, and I replied (only half-teasingly), “And I suppose you’re a good Catholic because you’re such a good communist?”

“Being a good communist is nine-tenths of being a good Catholic, and those are the nine-tenths I’m good at.”

[A bit of back-ground here. I had spent the years of my youth and young adulthood as a godless communist and, even after finding God, I never bought in to a bourgeois world view. Let me be clear about what sort of communism I’m talking about here. I was an Old Left, Soviet style, puritanical, party discipline and heavy industry, working class communist, not a New Left, pacifistic, counter-cultural, hippie who simply dressed up his anti-social bourgeois liberalism in Marxist jargon. When I came to God this involved adding to my beliefs more than changing them. I had always renounced those aspects of the Soviet System that the Church had objected to (e.g. political and religious oppression, gulags, torture), so this was mostly a matter of adding a spiritual aspect to my life.]

This sparked a long discussion and, at the end of it, I agreed with him completely. The upbringing he had received inculcated a strongly communist world-view that had not only fitted hand-in-glove with his Catholicism, but had given him the discipline and habits to live a good Catholic life. I think it might be worthwhile now to present our findings.

Being Comradely!

Xeno said that one of the worst reproaches he could get as a child was: “That’s not the comradely thing to do.” Leaving dirty dishes at the table, taking seconds before making sure everyone had firsts, using up something without replacing it, cutting in line, not sharing with your playmates, even crabbyness would garner this reproach. Xeno was taught to pitch-in when there’s work to do, not to slack off until the work is done, never to brag, always to treat people politely. People often comment on Xeno’s respect for his elders and consideration for workers, and this too is because of my insistence upon being comradely.

“I feel dirty about money.”

Money matters were something about which I always demanded extra scrupulosity. Sharp dealing (as opposed to fair dealing) was regarded as a sin which cried to Heaven for vengeance. Whenever Xeno is paid for a bit of work, he is always on time, works until the job is finished, and keeps a better-than-average pace. Around the neighborhood, Xeno is in demand as a dog-walker, baby sitter, and snow shoveler because of his good communist work ethic. Unearned wealth was regarded as the root of all evil, and Xeno takes real pride in always giving full value for his wages.

“You took the glamor off evil.”

We go to a rather conservative parish. You know the type: Latin mass, big families, girls modestly dressed, boys in white shirts and slax. And these are good people, but many of them slip into materialism now and then. They live in the suburbs, drive big cars, have a few possessions of which they are overly proud of. By and large, they are very moral people (chaste, generous, pious) but they have trouble seeing consumerism as being un-Christian.

In our house, consumerism was bad, not only because of a Christian rejection of materialism, but because it makes you the hod-man of the bourgeois. If you never bought into the bourgeois notion that every year you needed a new car, the latest fashions, a larger house, an ever bigger screen TV, exotic vacations, whatever it was that they were advertising now, then you could be truly free. As soon as you want these things, you are capitalism’s slave, and we positively gloried in not having cable TV, not owning an automobile, living in a cramped house, eating home-cooked meals, buying most of our clothes at the thrift store. The things we really wanted were modest: books, really first-rate work boots, a night out bowling.

The communist principle of “production for use” is a further inoculation against consumerism. Xeno has a cell phone (He needs it so that we can keep track of him when he’s at his various after-school jobs.) and it’s old, battered, and has none of the “functions” that people are so enamored of nowadays. When his friends show off their new phones that play games, stream video, and connect to Twitter, he is supremely indifferent. “A cell phone is for communication, not amusement.”

“Consumerism degrades culture”

Even at my own parish I see this. Altar boys exchanging “ghetto handshakes” in the vestry. Admiring talk of violent movies. Familiarity with the lyrics of rap songs. These things are seen as harmless by many parents yet I would not tolerate them in my children.

Bourgeois popular entertainment is aimed at the lowest common denominator to ensure the highest return on investment so it naturally degrades into crap. While Xeno’s friends were going to the newest, most popular movies, I showed him classic films. While other parents listened to soft-rock or “oldies,” I had the radio tuned to the classical station. While I didn’t shun or forbid all popular entertainment, I always made it clear that it was high culture that had real worth.

“A Good Communist Rejects Sexual Consumerism”

Strangely, this is best expressed by someone trying to justify sexual consumerism:

But if the sexual market-place is impersonal, non-judgemental, and pluralistic, it still has its own built-in biases. These biases are covert — invisible in snap-shot impression — and they have more to do with the nature of markets than the nature of sex. The market for consumer goods of any kind is ever-changing, quick to absorb each new novelty and abandon the old … Without novelty and variety, short-term “necessities” and quick-turnover “classics,” our consumer culture would go into decline and, so too, no doubt, would our particular variety of capitalism.

…It is not a sign of moral breakdown or “excessive” permissiveness that the sexuality visible in the consumer culture seems always to be out-reaching old limits: this is the dynamic of the market, and in sex as well as fashion or entertainment, it pushes always and inexorably toward new frontiers.

Thus the sexual market-place both democratizes and INSTITUTIONALIZES (authors’ italics) the sexual revolution. Practices that were once pioneered by a few brave souls become, through the market-place, the potential property of anyone … The perverse becomes the commonplace.

— Barbara Ehrenreich, Elizabeth Hess, and Gloria Jacobs
Re-making Love — The Feminization Of Sex,
Anchor Press / Doubleday, Garden City /
New York, 1986, p. 110-111.
My son finds sexual excesses revolting, not so much from his Christian morality, as from his rejection of consumerism. The fact that many of these have become matters of commerce (e.g. pornography, prostitution, strippers) actually sickens him, however this is not a prudish rejection of sex, but a communist revulsion at consumerism.

“Proletarian Morality”

A good communist doesn’t waste his time on sexual adventuring, but rather, settles down in a stable relationship and sets about making cadres for the revolution. My son often teases me about this, asking, “How does Proletarian Morality differ from Bourgeois Propriety?” Simple, just as the same revolver has a different meaning when it is in the hands of a cossack or of a class conscious worker.

And this is just one more example, of which there are many, of how my communism has inculcated good Catholic habits into my son.

Friday, July 3, 2009

The Baby-sitting Attitude

Some years ago, I was sitting on my front steps watching my two youngest as they drew in chalk on the sidewalk. This was a pretty usual thing. Wife-mate and I would come home from work, she would need time to make dinner, and so I would take the kids out front, or maybe to the park about a block away, and watch them for a hour or so to give Wife-mate a chance to make dinner without interruption. Sometimes I would take something to read with me, sometimes I would take the football to throw with my son, sometimes I would just watch them. It was a nice, relaxing part of my day and, now that my kids hang-out with their school chums until dinner time, I miss it.

Anyway, I was sitting there one day when a fellow came by, looked at my kids, and asked me, “Baby-sitting?”

Now, to my mind, “baby-sitting” means taking responsibility for someone else’s kids. I am responsible for my kids all the time, night and day. The word “baby-sitting” only makes sense when there is some time when you are not responsible, ergo parents are never “baby-sitting.” This being self-evident to me, I answered the man, “No, they’re my own kids.”

Again he asked, “Baby-sitting?”

Baffled by his meaning, I just shrugged and answered, “I guess.” He walked away and I thought it over. Probably to him, watching kids was women’s work, and represented an imposition when he had to do it. Or maybe he conceded that watching his own kids was his responsibility, but found the task onerous or inconvenient. Either way, this was diametrically opposed to my own attitude. I loved watching my kids. I miss it now that they’re old enough to do things on their own.

After that run-in I began to notice that the “baby-sitting attitude" was common. And not just among men. I began to notice how many parents were constantly looking for chances to get away from their kids. How they were always hiring baby-sitters, dropping their kids off for play-dates, scheduling sports, lessons, a myriad of activities that would keep their kids busy for a few hours.

I guess the ultimate example of this was when my son was about five and needed some serious dental work. I stayed right with him throughout the procedure, even though he was out with gas for most of it. While the dentist worked from one side, I sat on the other, holding his hand just in case he came to. When it was over, he wanted me to pick him up, and I was right there to do it. Just before we left, the dentist thanked me for sticking around. He said that most parents went out for coffee when he was working on their kids, and that it made it a whole lot easier when the parent was there to comfort the child.

Naturally, I was appalled. What kind of parent would go out for coffee when their child was facing something so potentially traumatic as dental work? Hearing about this probably made me even more conscientious than before.

Another aspect of this is the “do as I say, not as I do” problem. The best way is to lead by example, and I would never think of asking my kids to do something that I, myself would not do.

My parents used to send me to Sunday School when I was a kid. I hated it, balked at it, and, eventually, they gave up. Years later, when I was in high school, my dad asked me why I hated Sunday School so much, and I answered, “You never went to church; why would I like Sunday School?”

He didn’t get it, and evidently, most people don’t. For when I had kids of my own, and my first daughter was up for first confession, I asked her catechism teacher if it wouldn’t be a good idea for the parents to go to confession at the same time so as to give the kids a good example. She thought this was a bad idea, “since it would take too much time.” When I suggested that at least I could set an example by confessing right before my daughter, she agreed to that. After the event, however, I was approached by some very angry parents who resented what I had done because it caused their kids to ask why they didn’t make confession. (Wow! That’s when I decided to find a more traditional parish.)

I don’t mean to brag here, but once in a while someone will ask me how I got such great kids. My answer is always the same, “I’ve dedicated my life to it.” Really — it’s not hard to know what your kids need, it’s just hard to keep at it and do those things all the time.

The reason I bring this up is because of something good I heard about the other day. My best friend and her husband just had their first baby two months ago. They were taking baby Liam out for his first trip in the stroller. After the dad carried the stroller down the front steps, he began to push it. His wife offered, “I’ll push it if you want.”

“I can do it.”

“Well — I wouldn’t want you to feel emasculated, you know, pushing a baby carriage.”

He stopped dead. “This is my son, I’m proud of him! Why would I feel emasculated showing him off to the world?”

I think baby Liam is in good hands, don’t you?

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The Downside of Paganism

“You can’t believe the extra work I had when I was a god.”
— Shōwa tennō (Hirohito)

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Where's the Outrage?

Three Sundays ago, Dr. George Tiller was shot dead by an anti-abortion fanatic while attending Holy Service in Wichita Kansas. I found out about it when I saw this posting on Facebook: “Eric Scheidler is utterly dismayed at the Tiller shooting. Reprehensible. A dark day.” Later that day, I got an e-mail of the press release from the Pro-Life Action League stating that “any act of violence in the name of protecting the lives of unborn children is a betrayal of the pro-life movement, which proclaims the sanctity of all human life." The next day, my buddy John Jansen despaired of the killing on his blog. Almost immediately, American Life League’s Executive Director, Shaun Kenney denounced the killing, and later that week, his associate Judy Brown abhored the killing and offered her condolences to the Tiller family.

I read a lot of Catholic/Pro-Life stuff. I’m on the e-mail list for several Pro-Life organizations, read most of the blogs of the members of the “Catholic Dad’s Blogspot,” have a number of friends who work full-time in the Pro-Life movement, and no one that I read regularly or know personally condoned the Tiller murder. So I looked further afield and found that the overwhelming majority of Pro-Life organizations, organizers, spokesmen, bloggers came out against this crime.

[Don’t bother citing contrary examples, because I already know they're out there. My point is that they are a statistically insignificant minority.]

Let me try to reduce all of those statements that I read into one sentence:

“I oppose abortion, but I can’t condone murder.”

And, was there a corresponding outpouring from the other side? Did anyone say:

“I approve of abortion, but I can’t condone murder.”

Because murder was what Dr. Tiller was up to. Say what you will about first (or even second) trimester fetuses merely being a “blob of tissue,” you are either a liar or a sociopath if you say that a third-trimester fetus is anything less than a baby waiting to be born. I’m not going to argue with you right now about when life begins, but by the third trimester, by any morally honest standard, we are talking about a real baby. I will concede that a morally honest individual might not think that a fetus is really a person before quickening, or before viability, but these landmarks are long past by the twenty-first week, and killing these late-term babies was what Tiller was up to.

[Don’t give me the “medical necessity” argument. By Tiller’s own admission only 8% of his cases were for “fetal indications.” And, think about it, if an abortion were really medically necessary, then it would be done in a hospital, by the woman’s own doctor, not by some hired-gun in a hick town.]

Where is the outrage?

If the “Pro-Choice” camp were really morally honest, when Tiller was shot, they would have qualified their grief over this instead of lionizing him. Instead, I read on Sister Anne’s blog that days after the murder, protestors were waling down Michigan Avenue with signs reading "abortion on demand without apology."

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Spiritual but not Mystical

I often work at night, alone, and I usually listen to a book on tape when I do this. Since picking up a book to listen to involves almost no effort, I routinely listen to books that I would never actually read. Sometimes this allows me an insight into what people who differ from me think (e.g. “Suicide of the West,” by James Burnham), sometimes I find hidden gems that I never knew existed (e.g. “Down and Out in Paris and London,” by George Orwell), sometimes this allows me to read classics that I never seemed to have the time for (e.g. “House of Mirth” by Edith Wharton), and sometimes it simply allows me to say “Yes, I read that, and it’s a piece of crap!” (e.g. [and especially] “Atlas Shrugged,” by Ayn Rand, and “Left Behind” by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins, possibly the two most incompetent works of fiction and wrong-headed philosophical outlooks ever to get into print). Other times, is just gets me thinking.

“Tuesdays With Morrie” is a book by Mitch Albom describing his visits with Morrie Schwartz, his favorite professor in college, as he is dying of ALS. It was hugely popular and is held to be a work of great insight and wisdom. The dying Morrie lays stress on “human” values, like love, family, compassion, he bears up cheerfully in the face of death, which indicates his inner peace, and he counsels his student not to spend so much time pursuing transient successes like money, career, or fame. The trick here, is that fairly obvious insights are lent weight by the gravity of their coming from a dying man. If it were merely thin broth, then it would have bothered me no more than the uninspired sort of homily one gets at Old Saint Pat’s, that poster of the cat saying “hang in there,” or a mirror painted with the words of the “footsteps prayer.” But this book bugged me, and I thought about it for days.

The obvious short-coming was that it was “spiritual without being religious,” by which I suppose I mean it dealt with matters of the spirit outside of any fixed system of spiritual duties. So I asked my son, Xeno, (who had to read the book for class) if the “spiritual without being religious” thing bothered him as well. He told me that he didn’t like the book either but that I didn’t really have the problem by the tail. “After all,” he said, “Your friend Karl is as spiritual a guy as there is, and he’s not religious.”

This was an excellent point. My buddy Karl the Anarchist left the Church years ago, isn’t really sure if there is a God or what sort of nature a god might have, yet he was profoundly spiritual. Every fiber of Karl’s being is devoted to working out his vocation in life, to social justice, to sanctifying mankind. He is a mystic.

By mystic, I mean he has a personal knowledge of God. I know this by how he walks the earth without fear or violence. By his refusal to value earthly things as much as by his complete practically in dealing with the world. I know this as much by his compassion as by his sense of humor. He spoke to my son once about the first time he was in prison (he has been imprisoned many times for civil disobedience). He was eighteen when he met Dorothy Day on a park bench and she talked him into joining her in refusing to participate in an air raid drill. They were both arrested and he was sent to Ryker’s Island to await trial. Immediately he was set upon by toughs who said, “I’m going to have your shit on my dick or your blood on my knife.” He thought for a moment, realized that no knife could ever touch his spirit, and told them to go ahead and do what they would. He was left alone, just as he has been in the dozens of times he has been jailed since, and the months he spent in federal prison for refusing to pay war taxes. You cannot intimidate a mystic because the world does not matter to them.

Reflecting on this, I realized that the problem with Morrie Schwartz’s “wisdom” was not that it was “spiritual without being religious,” but that it was “spiritual without being mystical.” In fact, this is almost always the problem with what we might call “secular spirituality.” Karl is just about the only person I’ve ever met who is mystical without being religious. And Schwartz is not a mystic.

[How do I know? Because I am a mystic. You will forgive me for this arrogant boast, but it is the only valid claim to knowing anything about mysticism. I have long resisted writing about mysticism, as it would involve divulging my own mysticism, and I don’t want to set myself up as some kind of
bodhisattva or something. I’m just a regular guy, who’s had the mystical experience. I’m not nearly the better person I ought to be for this either, so it probably counts against me in the scheme of things.]

It doesn’t take long to tell when you are talking to a mystic and not just a dying man with equanimity. Mystical detachment is simple (think of Descarte’s melting wax, or B
ridget of Sweden looking into Christ’s palm) yet its impact is beyond profound (think of Saint Teresa of Ávila saying how the love of God pierced her heart “like a flaming arrow.”). A real mystic never dwells on why the world doesn’t matter, he takes that as his starting point. A real mystic never tells you to work less, he tells you to find your vocation. A real mystic never tells you to “simplify your life,” he tells you to embrace mortification. A mystic never speaks of family as a “support system,” of marriage as a “partnership,” nor does he dwell upon “being a good person.” For just as faith without works are dead, so too is charity without love, for it will not do your soul a bit of good to give a hungry man a bowl of soup unless you love him. The mystic cares not for the accidents of this world.

So must a genuine spirituality always be mystical? No, and this is where religion comes in. Religion is there to allow the ordinary, un-mystical person, to live like a mystic. It demands that you do things out of duty that a mystic would do out of communion with God. Genuine religion demands that you forego the consolations of the world and focus on the spirit. Genuine religion demands that you spend time in prayer, time that a mystic might spend in direct communion with God. Genuine religion demands that you cherish your spouse as your own flesh, that you receive the Holy Spirit, that you act always out love, that you look for God’s hand in everything — and no mystic needs to be told any of those things!

“Tuesdays With Morrie,” however well-meaning it might be, is yet another attempt to give spiritual succor to those without either religion or mysticism. As such, it is a fraud.

Friday, June 5, 2009

A Shocking Admission

To each group we explained what contraception was; that abortion was the wrong way—no matter how early it was performed it was taking life; that contraception was the better way, the safer way—it took a little time, a little trouble, but was well worth while in the long run, because life had not yet begun.

— Margaret Sanger

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Wanderer and the Void

The 21 May 2009 issue of the Wanderer had two articles, side by side, that both addressed the same problem. The first was by Alice von Hildebrand and it posed the question right in the headline: "Should Abortion or Other Social Concerns Have Priority?"

She began by saying that, putting aside "pro-choice" Catholics (who are not really Catholic at all), there is a divide in the Church between those who see abortion as being the paramount issue of our time, and those who see it only as one among many issues of concern to Catholics. She then points out that whereas the other issues are fairly complex (e.g. peace and war, the death penalty), and some are almost incomprehensibly complex (e.g. social justice), abortion was always wrong. She stated that only by over-looking the "quality" of the issues, can we think that these other concerns possibly outweigh the enormity of abortion. She states:

Among moral obligations there is a clear hierarchy: Desirable as it is to fulfill them all, in case of conflict, we should give precedence to the one that has more weight, and ask ourselves whether or not an action is irreparable or not. Death is an end point. An abortionist cannot bring back to life a dismembered little baby deprived of the very possibility to ask for mercy.

Just to the left of this was a piece by Scott P. Richert, "A Bridge to Nowhere," in which he asks just how effective have pro-life efforts been since 1973. His conclusion is that the pro-life effort reached a high-tide in 1989 when the court handed down "Webster v. Reproductive Health Services" which allowed certain limitations on access to abortion. At the time, one of the architects of Roe v. Wade, William J. Brennan, Jr., was in poor health and expected to retire, which he did the next year. Bush then replaced Brennan with David Souter, who not only turned out to be pro-choice, but then influenced Anthony Kennedy to uphold Roe v. Wade in subsequent decisions. So — Bush was not pro-life after all.

Then followed the Clinton years and the appointments of Ginsburg and Breyer, both of whom were expected to be, and were, pro-choice. But then hearts lifted when George W. Bush was elected, because he was an Evangelical and thus, presumably, more committed to the pro-life cause than his father, an Episcopalian. No such luck. Richert details how Bush's moves against abortion were all on the margins, that he failed to sign on to a Republican pro-life initiative in 2003 (ostensibly so that abortion would remain an issue in 2004), and appointed two justices (Roberts and Alito) who have pretty much come out and said that Roe v. Wade is settled law. He concludes:

Why aren't we winning? Why isn't abortion under steady attack, and Roe v. Wade on its last legs?

Because pro-life candidates know that we have nowhere else to go. We cannot, will not, should not vote for candidates who support abortion. Yet we are convinced that it is our civic duty always to case a vote, and some Catholics even argue (with sum justification, based on a passage in the Catechism of the Catholic Church) that it is our moral duty as well.

Which means that, in a race between a putatively pro-life Republican and a pro-abortion Democrat, we cannot vote for the Democrat, so we must vote for the Republican.

And the Republican knows it. And he knows that we'll vote for him again when he comes up for re-election, whether he follows through on his pro-life promises or not. So the temptation is there to take the easy way out — to campaign as a pro-lifer every two or four or six years, but to govern as someone for whom abortion is a non-issue.

Thus pro-life voters have become for the Republican Party what black voters are for the Democratic Party — a block of "sure votes" that can be appeased by words and ignored in action.

And if you think that has worked out well for blacks, I have a bridge to nowhere to sell you.

Scott P. Richert is executive editor of Chronicles, the magazine of the highly conservative Rockford Institute. He is a traditional Catholic who writes frequently for the Wanderer. His pro-life credentials are impeccable. If you don't believe me when I tell you that an "anti-abortion" vote for the Republicans is a vote wasted, then maybe you'll believe him.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

My Godson

My Godson, Liam Francis Willingham, was born today at 11:55. It is, perhaps, the greatest honor of my life that I have been asked to be this child's spiritual father and it is my fervent wish to prove worthy of this trust.

I love him.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Monday, April 6, 2009

His Most Serene Imperial and Royal Highness, the Archduke Crown Prince Rudolf of Hapsburg

From time to time I like to re-read the following passage about the funeral of Crown Prince Rudolf from “A Nervous Splendor: Vienna 1888/1889” by Frederic Morton.

Vienna, Tuesday afternoon, 5 February 1889

At four o’clock sharp, the bells of the Court Chapel began to toll, slowly. Slowly, proceeded by slow -riding Hussars, the ancient black mourning carriage of the Hapsburgs drove out of the inner Palace courtyard, drawn by a pair of black steeds. The Emperor sat inside. For once the sight of him drew no cheers. Thousands of hands removed thousands of hats. Numberless heads bowed in silence, solders presented arms. Bells tolled, not only those of the Court Chapel now, but that of the cathedral and of all other churches in the metropolis, all beating together slowly, all in one tremendous, melancholy pulse.

Archducal carriages rode out next, coachmen sitting, footmen standing, in black tricornered hats, black livery, black stockings and black-buckled shoes. Then came a single Lipizzaner with a rider in formal Spanish mourning dress. Then a six-horse carriage occupied by Rudolf’s Lord Chamberlains and the principal officers of his personal Court. And then came the hearse itself, a black baroque sculpture, pulled by six Lipizzaner grays. Under a black canopy held up by fretted black columns, surmounted by Rudolf’s arms in gold, the coffin floated through the ringing of the bells. Bells, bells, they rang slowly from the ten thousand and one steeples thought the realm, from Lake Constance on the Swiss border to the wilds of Transylvania. You were never out of earshot of metal, moaning.

On both side of the hearse moved burning torches. Pages in feudal dress held them aloft, marching in single file. Riding in single file to their right were six Arciere Honor Guards with white plumes on silver helmets, their crimson coats studded with gold; to the left, six Hungarian Honor Guards on white steeds, in silver-laced red tunics, tiger-striped capes fluttering off one shoulder. Then came, also on horseback, medieval bodyguards with halberds and black panaches. Then came, marching stiffly, a battalion that was a mosaic of the Monarchy’s armed prowess — one company of the Imperial and Royal Army, one of the Austrian Militia, one of the Hungarian National Guard, one of fezzed Bosnian Sharp-shooters, and one company of Marines in the uniform of the Austro-Hungarian Navy. Then came the lesser figures of Rudolf’s entourage on foot, and finally a rear-guard squadron of Hussars.

And now, as had happened in so many generations, the pageant of a high death was punctuated once more by the halt of the august procession before the small, plain Church of the Capuchins.

Karl Count Bombelles, Rudolf’s First Lord Chamberlain, disembarked from his carriage. With a golden staff he knocked against the simple portal. The dialog began, ancient and brief.

“Who is it?” a friar demanded from the inside.

“His Most Serene Imperial and Royal Highness, the Archduke Crown Prince Rudolf of Hapsburg.”

“We know him not.”

The door remained closed. Again the golden staff knocked.

“Who is there?”

“The Crown Prince Rudolf.”

“We know him not.”

The door remained closed. Once again the golden staff must knock.

“Who is there?”

“Your brother Rudolf. A poor sinner.”

Only then did the door open.

This is, perhaps, one of the most charming of funereal customs as it serves to remind us that, whatever our status in this world, that we shall be judged very differently in the next.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Sex Offender

NJ girl, 14, arrested after posting nude pics

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — A 14-year-old New Jersey girl has been accused of child pornography after posting nearly 30 explicit nude pictures of herself on — charges that could force her to register as a sex offender if convicted.

The case comes as prosecutors nationwide pursue child pornography cases resulting from kids sending nude photos to one another over cell phones and e-mail. Legal experts, though, could not recall another case of a child porn charge resulting from a teen's posting to a social networking site.

The office investigated and discovered the Clifton resident had posted the "very explicit" photos of herself, sheriff's spokesman Bill Maer said Thursday. "We consider this case a wake-up call to parents," Maer said. The girl posted the photos because "she wanted her boyfriend to see them," he said.

The teen, whose name has not been released because of her age, was arrested and charged with possession of child pornography and distribution of child pornography. She was released to her mother's custody.

If convicted of the distribution charge, she would be forced to register with the state as a sex offender under Megan's Law, said state Attorney General Anne Milgram. She also could face up to 17 years in jail, though such a stiff sentence is unlikely.

This story is shocking for several reasons.

The first, and most obvious, we ought to be shocked at the state our society when a fourteen year old girl wants her boyfriend to see "very explicit" pictures of herself and so posts them on a forum that is on view to the public at large. When I was young, such photos were considered blackmail material, now they are, evidently, something to be proud of.

Secondly, I have to wonder what the N.J. officials were thinking when they arrested her. Aren't laws against child pornography there to protect children? Plainly, this girl is profoundly disturbed (or simply well adjusted to a profoundly disturbed society) and she cannot be held culpable for this kind of self-destructive behavior. Certainly such photos must be suppressed, possibly the state needs to intervene in this poor girl's life, but the last thing she needs is to be forever stigmatized as a "sex offender" when her only crime is to be such a child of her times.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Marriage Without Duty is Loveless

I often read Dan Savage’s sex advice column in the Chicago Reader. He is an homosexual, while most of his correspondents are heterosexual, and so his answers to them are sometimes quite hilariously wrong. This week, however, he was tragically wrong.

“Sexless and Desperate” wrote in saying that she had been married for about four years and had one child with her husband. S+D’s problem was that, while she had a perfectly normal desire for frequent coition, her husband almost never wished to have marital relations. She added that he would rather masturbate to pornography, which he does about three times a week.

Mr. Savage responded that, while he would normally simply advise the woman to end the relationship and find a more eager partner, since the couple has a child he thinks it would be better that they stay together. He then advised S+D to seek and open relationship with her husband. “So long as you’re a good and loving partner and co-parent, and so long as your family is your first priority, you should be free to seek safe, sane, and non-disruptive sex elsewhere.”

Of course, from an atheist/secular/queer perspective, this must seem like perfectly serviceable advice, but the real answer is staring us right in the face. The wife should simply insist that her husband stop masturbating.

• First off, masturbating counts as cheating. Despite what our secular society says, masturbating is a fundamental violation of chastity and a betrayal of the marital bond. S+D’s husband has no more of a “right” to masturbate than he has to keep a mistress or patronize prostitutes.

• Secondly, any fool should be able to figure out that the husband is simply dissipating his sexual energies on self-abuse and, if he were to cut that out, he would soon enough seek satisfaction from his wife.

• Thirdly, pornography has obviously given the fellow a distorted idea of what sex ought to be like. Real, human, intimacy is difficult, messy, and demanding. Moods, emotions, and the desires of another person come into play. It requires effort. One of the evils of pornography is that it turns sex into a consumer item, an easily available self-indulgence. Pornography is absolute poison to human intimacy.

• Finally — no mention of duty? S+D has a right to sexual intimacy with her husband. The fault here is entirely his and he should be made aware of it.

Am I the only one who finds it hugely ironic that secular humanists call Catholic expectations of chastity “unrealistic” when they fail to see how totally unworkable their own sexual mores are?

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

An Unacceptable Truth?

I am baffled.

I understand why fundamentalists reject Darwin: their literalist Bible fetish is all they have and Darwin stands foursquare against the version of creation (actually two different versions) in the Book of Genesis. As a Catholic, and not chained to biblical literalism, so evolution isn’t a theological issue to me, but at least I understand why it is to fundamentalists.

But Global Warming — why do an over-whelming number of Traditionalist Catholics reject the possibility of greenhouse gasses causing climate change?

I can see no theology behind this, nor have I ever heard any such reasons cited. The facts would seem to be pretty straightforward:

• An overwhelming preponderance of scientists believe that carbon emissions from industrial activity are causing potentially catastrophic climate change.

• The only scientists who don’t are bought-and-paid-for by energy companies.

Facts are facts and why the facts themselves should be subject to a Liberal/Conservative divide is beyond me. Liberals and Conservatives both agree that teen-age pregnancy, STD’s, poverty, terrorism, war, and economic collapse are all problems, even if they disagree profoundly over what to do about them. Why Conservatives should discount the very existence of this problem is beyond me.

Could it be — wishful thinking?

Most Traditional Catholics live a suburban life-style that is highly dependent upon automobile transport and high-energy consumption. Such a life-style would be morally unjustifiable were they to accept the scientific consensus on global warming. It would be, as Al Gore has said (to much derision) —An Inconvenient Truth. One that requires radical changes in the kind of life they lead.

Is it uncharitable of me to think this? Perhaps, but just the other day I was talking to a friend from church. He’s pious, a conscientious grandfather, good sense of humor, intelligent, a fine fellow all around. But he said to me, in all seriousness, that he felt it was pointless to conserve oil because he thought oil was a natural product, continuously being produced beneath the earth’s surface. Wow — is that wishful thinking or what?!?!

I would really like to see comments on this, because it just baffles me.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

An Insight Worthy of Spengler

If we could take Christ off the cross and put him over to one side, and then put the cross without Christ on the other side, we would have the picture of the world. Who picks up Christ without the cross? Our Western, affluent, Christian civilization. No discipline, nor mortification, no cross, no self-denial. Who picks up the cross without Christ? Russia, China. The ascetic principle of Christianity has moved to the totalitarian states: discipline, order, law, commitment to a common end. But neither side has the answer. The cross-less Christ is weak, effeminate, and can never save us, because there is no mention of sin. The Christ-less cross allows Dachau, Auschwitz, the squeezing of the lives of individuals like so many grapes to make the totalitarian wine of the state. The world problem and our own person problem is this: Will Christ find the cross before the cross finds Christ?
-Servant of God Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen

Small Mortifications

Back when I was a godless communist, we all drank our coffee black because “lathering” your coffee (i.e. putting in cream and/or sugar) was bourgeois consumerism. The communist analysis of this has actually proven correct, as the rise of Starbucks illustrates. Our urban bourgeois (the so called “Yuppies”) have become ever more extravagant consumers of coffee, having long since abandoned simple “lathered Java” for espressos, cappuchinos, and “coffee drinks” that are confected with steamed milk and gooey syrups, topped with cascades of whipped cream and garnished with slivers of chocolate. Why, I feel positively echt proletarisch every time I drink black Joe straight from the pot.

Imagine then, how pleased I was to read the other day that Opus Dei numeraries drink their coffee black as a mortification. I had never really thought of this lingering trace of communist discipline in my life as a mortification, but that’s exactly what it had been right from the start, and it got me to thinking about the place of small mortifications in my life.

Of course, anyone with kids can name a dozen small mortifications they endure each day for their kids. Wife-mate used to like to soak in the tub for hours with a good mystery novel; it’s been years since she’s been able to do that. Frequently I would scarf down a whole pint of Haggen-Datz at one sitting, but now, not only can’t we afford the good stuff, but I pretty much just let the kids have ice cream for dessert while I content myself with another apple. If something for dinner is good, then my kids eat it right up; but if it is bad, then I’m the one that will have to finish the leftovers. Who gets to use the bathroom last? Who has to clean up the vomit? Who gives up his sweater when the afternoon turns cold and someone has forgotten hers? Do I even need to answer these questions?

The mortifications involved with having kids are perfectly natural, and that’s part of what makes them good for you. But they’re also things we do without thinking, they cease to be mortifications because we do them automatically. Similarly, many good habits cease to be mortifications: by now I don’t know if I would even want to put cream and sugar in my coffee.

Contrariwise, mortifications lose their value when they are done for show. Saint Benedict had it right when he corrected a monk who always took the worst piece of fruit in the bowl, for that was false modesty; he should take the first piece his hand fell upon, neither picking the best nor the worst.

I think that in our lives we need to look for mortifications, may of which are right there if you would only see them. The stairs we could take instead of the elevator, the trips that could be made by walking or bicycling instead of driving, the time that could be better spent in prayer than in listening to the radio — there are probably a thousand little things that we could take up as little crosses throughout the day.

This lent, I want to find them.

What mortifications do you find in everyday life?

Monday, February 23, 2009

Assume That Your Kids Know Nothing

My parents just expected me to know things.

Like my father, who was always spouting off something like: “That Mac Churchill is a regular Sammy Glick!”

“Who?” I would ask.

“Mac Churchill!” he would rail, naming a business associate that I had met many times.

“No, who’s Sammy Glick?”

“You know!” he would say, as if to an idiot, “Sammy Glick!”

Years later, I found out that Sammy Glick was the ambitious, grasping, unscrupulous protagonist of the 1941 novel “What Makes Sammy Run?” Why my father should have expected me to know anything about a novel published nineteen years before I was born, I’ll never know. And why he would have expected a ten-year-old to know the metaphorical significance of Craig’s Wife, Shylock, or Nevil Chamberlain without explanation, I’ll never know either. Similarly, at one time or another, he berated me for not knowing where Lithuania, Abyssinia, or Siam were on a map, when none of those names had appeared in an atlas since the 1930’s. (Lithuania has since re-appeared among the nations of the world, while Abyssinia and Siam are now known as Ethiopia and Thailand respectively.)

He could really make me feel stupid.

When I was about eight or ten, however, an incident made me realize that perhaps this was not my fault. We were staying at my Grandma’ Ruby’s house, and I was watching Victor Mature in “Samson and Delilah,” when my mom told me it was time for bed. I protested, “This is a cool movie! I want know how it ends.”

“It just the story from the Bible,” Ruby said, “You know how it ends.”

“No, I don’t.”

Ruby then insisted that I be allowed to watch the rest of the movie. Later, after I had been sent upstairs to bed, I could over-hear her telling my mother in no uncertain terms that I should be taught something about the Bible. “Even if you are agnostic, your children ought to know something about Christianity. Our culture is basically Christian, and he ought to be able to understand it!”

(I never was taught anything about Christianity by my parents, however, and was often caught short when anyone else talked about it. I didn’t, for instance, know the basic Gospel story of Jesus until I saw Jesus Christ Superstar in junior high school. I grew up assuming that everyone accepted Darwin, and was shocked to find out that some people believed in a literal seven days of creation. After that, I assumed that all Christians were Biblical literalists, and was just as embarrassed later when I was told otherwise in the most sneering of terms by a very offended woman Episcopal priest. And the Biblical references in Shakespeare and poetry — take 10% off my English Literature grades for that!)

When I had kids I resolved never to assume that they already knew something, or would just pick it up as they went along.

Perhaps I was pedantic about it, perhaps I was lecturing, but they were never stung by their ignorance as I had been so many times. I trained them to speak-up when they didn’t know something, to look it up themselves if they couldn’t ask, and never to be ashamed when they didn’t know something. I would interrupt myself to explain a word ("… he had a certain adiposity. Adiposity: do you know what that means?"), quizzed them to make sure they knew what I was talking about ("Croats are Catholic and Serbs are Orthodox — what do we mean by 'Orthodox'?"), asked them what words in movies and lectures meant ("What does she mean by 'Evangelical'?") They joke about it (“Dad’s in lecture mode now!”) but they don’t hesitate to pester me with questions night and day (“Dad — what does ‘rueful’ mean?”).

Recently, I came to realized that I might have succeeded at this. My favorite professor from college came to Chicago for a lecture recently and I took the opportunity to see her for the first time in twenty-five years by having her over for dinner. The whole family was at the table, and she was talking about her husband (“… that was just after he had gotten his terminal degree …”), when I interrupted her.

“Pardon me,” I said holding up a finger to motion for her to hold that thought. Then, turning to my kids, I asked, “Do you know what a terminal degree is?” When they all shook their heads, I explained, “It’s the highest degree that one can get in one’s field. Usually, it’s a Ph.D.” Then I turned back to my professor, “Sorry to interrupt, but I didn’t think they knew that.”

“Oh, I don’t mind at all!” she smiled at me brightly, “Now I know why you have such bright kids!”

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Prayer to Charlemagne by Dom Prosper Gueranger O.S.B.

The original French edition of The Liturgical Year by Don Geranger listed January 28 as the feast day for Saint Charlemagne, which the Church permitted to be celebrated in some German villages. Later editions of the same work left out that feast day.

We present here for the benefit of our readers the prayer composed by the renowned liturgist in honor of Charlemagne:

Hail, o Charles, beloved of God, Apostle of Christ, defender of His Church, protector of justice, guardian of good customs, terror of the enemies of the Christian name!

The tainted diadem of the Caesars, purified by the hands of Leo, sits on your august forehead; the globe of the Empire rests in your vigorous hand; the ever-victorious sword in your combats for Our Lord is sheathed at your waist, and on your forehead the imperial anointing was added to the royal unction by the hand of the Pontiff who consecrated you and confirmed your authority. As the representative of the figure of Christ in His temporal Royalty, you desired that He would reign in you and through you.

Now God rewards you for the love you had for Him, for the zeal you displayed for His glory, for the respect and confidence you showed toward His Spouse. In exchange for an earthly kingship, transitory and uncertain, you enjoy now an immortal kingdom where so many million of souls, who by your hands escaped idolatry, today honor you as the instrument of their salvation.

During the days of celebration of the birth of Our Lord by Our Lady, you offered to them the gracious temple you built in their honor (the Basilica of Aix-la-Chapelle), and which is still today the object of our admiration. It was in this place that your pious hands placed the newborn garment worn by her Divine Son. As retribution, the Son of God desired that your bones should gloriously rest in the same place to receive the testimony of the veneration of the peoples.

O glorious heir to the three Magi Kings of the East, present our souls before the One who wore such a humble garment. Ask Him to give us a part of the profound humility you had as you knelt before the Manger, a part of that great joy that filled your heart at Christmas, a part of that fiery zeal that made you realize so many works for the glory of the Infant Christ, and a part of that great strength that never abandoned you in your conquests for His Kingdom.

O mighty Emperor, you who of old was the arbiter of the whole European family assembled under your scepter, have mercy on this society that today is being destroyed in all its parts. After more than a thousand years, the Empire that the Church placed in your hands has collapsed as a chastisement for its infidelity to the Church that founded it. The nations still remain, troubled and afflicted. Only the Church can return life to them through the Faith; only she continues to be the depositary of public law; only she can govern the powerful and bless the obedient.

O Charles the Great, we beseech you to make that day arrive soon when society, re-established at its foundations, will cease asking liberty and order from the revolutions. Protect with a special love France, the most splendid flower of your magnificent crown. Show that you are always her king and father. Put an end to the false progress of the faithless empires of the North that have fallen into schism and heresy, and do not permit the peoples of the Holy Empire to fall prisoner to them.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Prayer and Distraction

I had a couple of random thoughts this morning:

• A few months back, my friend Kat asked me to pray for her brother, whose has chronic leg problems had gotten worse of late. He never gets out of the house, I never see him, and it occurred to me that I should probably call up Kat and ask how he is doing.

• When my daughter was only a-year-and-a-half-old, she was bitten by a dog. She promptly bit the dog right back, leading us to conclude that if anyone had Saint Hubert’s special protection against dog bites, it was our little Bean-Girl. Since then, I have taken it for granted that Hubert was her patron. But since she is going to be confirmed in the Spring, it occurred to me that Bean-Girl should probably begin studying the lives of the saints so that she can pick out her own patron.

Now, these are both two perfectly legitimate, useful thoughts, but there was a time when they would have bothered me. You see, they both came to me while I was praying for these people and, when I was younger, and new to prayer, I would have regarded these thoughts as interruptions. But I have come to understand that, if prayer really is conversation with God, then God is going to respond to you.

Think about it; far from being an interruption in my prayer for Kat’s brother, the thought that I should ask after him turned my prayer from a mere repetition into a living, breathing concern about her brother. This is the kind of reflection that ought to come with prayer.

A few months back I received the welcome news that my best friend, Moira, was going to have a child. That evening, when I was saying the Rosary, and I got to the Second Joyful Mystery, the Visitation, it occurred to me that I had just had a visitation from Moira. Immediately I was flooded with happiness, seized with a joy deeper even than when I had first heard the news. And I turned this right back to the Rosary, realizing the profound bliss that Elizabeth must have felt upon greeting the pregnant Mary. I then contemplated how Jesus had known these same human joys and sorrows that we all experience, since he had become man. How, when we come to him for forgiveness, because he lived a human life, he knows why we fail. Sure I stopped my Rosary and contemplated this for five or six minutes, but all of these thoughts made my Rosary a deeper, more personal, better devotion.

Of course, we must guard against distraction while at prayer. The banal concerns of everyday life must be put aside when we approach God. But we also need to be able to respond in a conversation with God. If we close ourselves off to all other thoughts, then our prayer lives will become a pointless repetition of half-felt phrases.