March 2006 Archives

I saw a sign. . . .


I have a day off today and this morning I was out running a few errands. While I was out I saw two signs, one on a gas pump at Sam’s, the other on a church marquee sign.

The sign at Sam’s said, “We will be closed on Easter Sunday.” To be honest, when I first noticed the sign, I was surprised. After all, in the list of commercial holidays Easters hardly ranks with Thanksgiving or Christmas anymore. It’s not typically thought of as a time to be home with family enjoying a turkey dinner and exchanging presents. Yet someone in that huge organization that is Sam’s Club caught the importance of the day and made the decision to honor it appropriately. The decision likely means foregoing millions in sales across the country to competitors who might not be so reverent, but the right decision was taken.

The other sign, the one on the church marquee said:

Yabba Dabba Dooooo
God Loves You

This sign, even though it appeared in front of a church, seemed to me to show a lack of reverence. I remember the phrase, “Yabba Dabba Doooo” being uttered by a rather oafish cartoon character named Yogi Bear. I also remember the story about some famous theologian, a man known for his deep thought and weighty scholarship, it might have been Karl Barth, who was being interviewed and was asked what the most profound theological statement he had ever heard was. He began singing the children’s song, “Jesus loves me this I know. . .” Yabba Dabba Dooo, was a joke, a cartoon tag line. I think it’s a measure of how secularized society has become, that Christians think they must trivialize one of the most important truths of our faith, one of the truths that society most needs to hear right now. It’s as if what a person might hear in church would be more acceptable if its not taken, or expressed, too seriously. It seems someone at that church is afraid adults won’t listen unless these ideas are expressed in a trivial manner, if they are expressed at all. Why would someone searching for truth be lured to a Christian church by a cartoonish tag ling. Why would someone make a commitment of his entire self to Jesus Christ based on the wit and wisdom of Yogi Bear?

Maybe I’m being an old fuddy-duddy, it wouldn’t be the first time anyone ever accused me of that. But, I think there might be a lot of people today who would welcome hearing the clear, unvarnished truth of the Christian faith. But, for that to happen, Christians have to start taking themselves seriously and believe that the message they bring is serious, even a matter of life and death.

So, today I saw two signs and I can’t help but think that the sign on the gas pump at Sam’s was the one that showed true reverence.

Wouldn't It Be Nice?


This was posted on the Commonweal blog, under the title of The Risk of Encounter:

March 29, 2006, 4:57 am Karl Rahner and Hans Urs von Balthasar are rightly considered the two giants of twentieth century Catholic theology, indeed, as contemporary "doctors of the church."

Though their approach to theology is often dramatically different, they converge upon the heart of the matter: the person of Jesus Christ as God's very presence in our midst and our call to loving relationship with God in Christ.

Two-thirds of the way through Rahner's daunting Foundations of Christian Faith, one finds this lyrical outpouring: spiritual food to satisfy Lenten fast.

Christian life is not merely satisfying universal norms which are proclaimed by the official church. Rather in these norms and beyond them it is the always unique call of God which is mediated in a concrete and loving encounter with Jesus in a mysticism of love. This is always quite unique and cannot be deduced from anything. Nevertheless, it is practiced within the community of those who believe and love which we call church. For in the church, in its gospel, in the kerygma which is directed beyond all teaching to the unique heart of each individual, in sacrament, in the celebration of the Lord's death, but also in private prayer and in the ultimate decision of one's conscience, Jesus offers himself immediately as the Christ, and in him God offers himself.

I really liked the quote, and thought, up to a point, that it was quite good. But then warning bells went off in my head, especially thinking about the phrase "but also in private prayer." What is Rahner trying to say here, that private prayer is equal to prayer within the Church? Clearly, private prayer is best when done in communion with the Church. Is he saying that private prayer can take the place of prayer within the Church? Surly not. What happens when private prayer goes "beyond universal norms, can it any longer be said to be prayer in communion with the Church? I don't think so. The problem is that those who wish to undermine the Magisteium tend to express themselves in ways that are less than clear so that they do not seem to be in open opposition to it.

However, I know that for most of his career Rahner was a perfectly orthodox theologian. I also understand that at some point, he may have wandered off the path. I'm not familiar enough with Rahner's work, nor with the subtlety of the issue to know if this is a quote I should approach with caution or not.

Wouldn't It Be Nice?

Given the above I was thinking, wouldn't it be nice if there were some sort of directory or reference source for Catholics, preferably web based, that listed books by Catholic theologians and gave some guidance as to the Orthodoxy of their works. This thing might be set up by author and list their books and then give a brief description of where the writer stood in relation to the Magisterium. For instance, those familiar with Rahner could put together info a brief discussion on his work and, if there were problems with specific books or teachings, what were they and where and when did they develop? This might be a Wikipedia type resource so that no one was overly burdened with the effort. I know there are any number of folks in St. Blogs parish who could contribute.

I was thinking this kind of resource might be especially valuable to those seeking to make the journey into the Church and would like to be really clear that they understand the Church's teachings properly. I wish I had had this kind of thing when I was making the journey, it would have saved me a few wrong turns.

Anyway, just a thought.

Christian Convert Has Left Afghanistan

Wednesday, March 29, 2006 KABUL, Afghanistan - The man who faced the death penalty after converting from Islam to Christianity left Afghanistan on Wednesday, and Italy said it granted him asylum and expected him to arrive "soon."

Abdul Rahman, 41, left Afghanistan early in the day, an official closely connected to the case said on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the case.

The official did not know where Rahman was flying, but Italy's government said it expected him to arrive there perhaps within the day.

I guess!

+ + +

PS -- I think this goes back to my post yesterday on Christian dialogue with Islam. The gentleman's difficulties: facing a death sentence, being forced into exile for the rest of his life, perhaps facing a lifetime of fearing thugs who might be seeking to murder him, all these things amply illustrate one thing. The point is that Islam cannot tolerate any kind of dissent or disagreement. Islam cannot tolerate freedom of conscience. Rather than life and freedom, it seems amply clear that Islam only knows death. I think we in the West need to keep that clearly in mind when we think about dialogue.

A Rose Bud


Well, it's not yet spring in the Rockies, but it is somewhere.

A Rose-Bud By My Early Walk
Robert Burns

A Rose-bud by my early walk,
Adown a corn-enclosed bawk,
Sae gently bent its thorny stalk,
All on a dewy morning.
Ere twice the shades o' dawn are fled,
In a' its crimson glory spread,
And drooping rich the dewy head,
It scents the early morning.

Within the bush her covert nest
A little linnet fondly prest;
The dew sat chilly on her breast,
Sae early in the morning.
She soon shall see her tender brood,
The pride, the pleasure o' the wood,
Amang the fresh green leaves bedew'd,
Awake the early morning.

So thou, dear bird, young Jeany fair,
On trembling string or vocal air,
Shall sweetly pay the tender care
That tents thy early morning.
So thou, sweet Rose-bud, young and gay,
Shalt beauteous blaze upon the day,
And bless the parent's evening ray
That watch'd thy early morning.

Would that it were so . . .


This is from an interview published by Zenit with Britain's Cardinal Murphy O'Conner:

Q: Can you tell us more about another topic discussed, the question of Islam, of great concern to so many church leaders in so many parts of the world today?

Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor: The situation is very complex. In mostly Muslim countries there's very little space for Christianity; in other countries, in parts of Africa, there's a conflict of cultures, between the culture of Islam and the culture of Christianity.

In Europe again, it's complex. We need to meet with Muslims and speak the truth honestly, not hold back on the truth we believe.

We must be careful to avoid the position whereby they are blaming war on religion -- terrorism, this is the scourge of religion -- whereas the cardinals would see that we have to meet Muslim leaders and concentrate on the things we hold together: many moral values, matters of family, even if we disagree on the essentials of our religion.

But you know, the only answer to what I would call aggressive Islam is very deep Christianity, deep Catholicism, a faith that is strong; I am sure the Holy Father is very preoccupied by Islam, and certainly its militant tendencies.

So I think particularly we in the West have to impose a kind of reciprocity: We are tolerant of having mosques or of people wearing particular clothing; we expect the same for minority Christians in Islamic countries, that there would be tolerance of us having crucifixes, freedom to worship in church and so on.

So I think there's a feeling to speak the truth in love and honesty with each other.

There is one thing about dialogue that many people seem unwilling to face. For dialogue to be effective, both parties to the dispute must be willing to engage the process in a meaningful way. I don't think that condition exists today among radical Muslims in their dealings with the West. It seems evident that the prevailing attitude among these folks is that they are, in the end, going to destroy the West and all it stands for, therefore, there is no need for dialogue. The more we sit around and talk about entering into dialogue with these radicals, the more likely they are to be correct.

Signs of Spring


Springtime in the Rockies isn’t signaled by many of the signs familiar in other parts of the country. Flowers are not yet blooming, and while it is getting a bit warmer, it is still cold at night and there can be a cool breeze blowing even on warmer days. Yet, there are signs of spring beginning to fight its way to life here in the mountains.

I see those signs in the animals; more of them are out and they are becoming more active. Earlier this week, a fox ran in front of me on the road to my office, and on Friday night, a coyote ran in front of me across the road leading up to my house. It was heading for some hiding place among the scrub oak trees on the side of the hill behind by house. I understand there was a bobcat in the neighborhood one afternoon late last week. A better sign is the condition the deer in the neighborhood. They are losing their winter coats and most of them are looking like scraggly refugees from some horrible prison camp. Appearances can be deceiving, though. I think most of them look actually look fairly healthy – I’ve seen no stragglers struggling to hang on to life, and there are none that seem injured in any way. We may have a good crop of fawns this spring, both a curse and a blessing, but the first appearance of those fawns will be the final sign that confirms spring has finally arrived, probably in late May or early June.

In the mean time, there will be nothing but conflicting signs of spring struggling to overtake another winter. Looking out to Pikes Peak this morning, I see a storm brewing on the ridge line and it looks like it’s snowing in the high elevations. I think we may see some of that snow later on today, although the forecast is calling for it to be warm and windy here. I’d rather have a good heavy snow.

In any case, although it seems hard to believe, it’s time to begin to think of Lent winding down and the arrival of Easter morning. It’s a good time to re-focus on the meaning of this time of penance and re-energize the preparations for Holy Week and Easter, but I’m still keeping an eye on the deer.

New and (Maybe not) Improved


Pope Benedict's liturgies to change, says papal master of ceremonies. This story appeared in Zenit this past week:

Liturgies celebrated by Pope Benedict XVI are undergoing changes, said the papal master of liturgical ceremonies.

Catholic News Service reports that Archbishop Piero Marini, who also served as master of ceremonies for Pope John Paul II, said that with Pope Benedict "I have to be a little more attentive because he is an expert in liturgy."

"But it gives me satisfaction because he always recognises the work that has been done, and we talk about it together," said the 64-year-old Italian, who has worked at the Vatican since 1965.

In a 20 March interview with the Milan-based online news site, Affari Italiani, the archbishop said he and the pope "are re-elaborating the papal ceremonies."

"I send him my notes and he returns them with his signature as a sign of approval, or else he suggests, completes or corrects," he said.

The archbishop did not provide details about what changes people may see in the papal liturgies or when they would be unveiled.

Archbishop Marini said each pope is different in his approach to the liturgy, particularly the large international celebrations he is called to lead.

"With John Paul II, I was a bit freer; we had an implicit agreement because he was a man of prayer and not of liturgy," the archbishop said.

+ + +
Archbishop Marini said he understood why Pope John Paul gave permission for bishops to authorise the celebration of the pre-Vatican II Mass in some churches for "older faithful" who were attached to the old rite.

"But to go beyond this is to go beyond the church," he said. "If the liturgy is the sign of the unity of the church, you cannot create groups of faithful who pray in a certain way on this day at this hour, then an hour later another group prays in another way.

"First of all we must understand that the liturgy is a sign of unity," he said. "It is not a matter of liberalising the missal or anything else. It is only a question of accepting the church today, just that."

According to the story, there are few details except that there will be a “re-elaboration” of these liturgies.

My first reaction was that this would be a good thing; I equated “change” with improvement and assumed that would imply “improvement.” It likely will, but not necessarily. The reason for my doubt is that, what is done well at the Vatican may not be done well in my local parish.

Some background is in order. I am a convert, having come into the Church in 1995. Although I grew up in a neighborhood with a lot of Catholic friends, and even had a Catholic relative or two, I never knew the Latin Mass as a Catholic. The Mass I have come to know, and to some extent appreciate, is the post-Vatican II version. For all its faults, it was far better than the mess that the Presbyterian worship service had become by 1995.

After Benedict’s election, the pastor at our parish, following what seemed to be the direction that Benedict would take, Father began to introduce Latin Mass parts to the Mass. This was done by setting aside one Mass per month at which we would have a small choir, stationed in the loft at the back of the church, doing chant and the Latin portions for this Mass. I loved the idea then found it discomforting.

The problem arose when the choir, probably correctly, decided to do the chant acapella. The acoustics in the building are not the greatest and the choir itself is good, but also not great, and my musical abilities as far as singing are, at best, limited. In fact, some would say they are non-existent. I can surely make a joyful noise, but little else, and I need to be able to hear the music clearly to follow along. So, between the unfamiliar language and my inability to follow the chant, the experience has been little more than a distraction, and, at first, upsetting. I guess by Presbyterian background is too strong, but I like to be able to fully participate at worship, not just sit and be a passive observer. It was only at this month’s Mass that I decided to give up and not try to follow along, that I was able to catch a glimpse of the beauty of the Latin in the Mass and the potential for it to provide a way to worshipfully “assist” as Mass. I realized that I was putting too much effort into trying to participate rather than pray and that was the source of the distraction.

So, I have to confess to a certain reticence concerning the Latin Mass, and trepidation concerning “change” in the liturgy. I think if I were a recent convert I might not have the problem, but I’m not, I’ve been doing the post-Vatican II Mass for over ten years and I’ve gotten used to it. I hate to say it, but I think changing back to Latin might be as disruptive for me as the change from Latin to English was for Catholics back in the sixties.

You can teach an old dog new tricks, but it ain’t easy.

Christian Convert Set Free


This just reported by the Oberlin Times:

Afghan Court Drops Case Against Christian Staff and agencies 26 March, 2006

KABUL, Afghanistan - An Afghan court on Sunday dismissed a case against a man who converted from Islam to Christianity because of a lack of evidence, and he will be released soon, an official said.

He said the case has been returned to the prosecutors for more investigation, but that in the meantime Rahman would be released.

The court, and Afghan President Hamid Karzai, had been under intense international pressure to drop the case against Abdul Rahman, who faced a possible death sentence for his conversion.

I just wonder what happens to this man, now that he will be out on the streets. I think he will need our prayers.

The Communion of Saints, Indeed


This comes from a story published yesterday in Zenit.

Pope Sends Greetings to Monks of Monte Cassino Cardinal Poupard Presides Over Mass in Abbey

MONTE CASSINO, Italy, MARCH 21, 2006 ( A Vatican official conveyed the Pope's greetings to the Benedictine monks of Monte Cassino as they celebrated a day for their founder, St. Benedict, the Holy Father's namesake.

Cardinal Paul Poupard, president of the Pontifical Councils for Culture and for Interreligious Dialogue, conveyed Benedict XVI's greetings today to the monks of the historic monastery 90 kilometers (55 miles) south of Rome.

The Pope "has asked me to express to you his closeness in prayer, his spiritual participation in this celebration and his profound and continuous interest in the destiny of Europe and of the peoples who comprise it," the cardinal said during a Mass.

St. Benedict (c. 480-543) was proclaimed patron of Europe in 1964 by Pope Paul VI.

Although the Church celebrates the feast of St. Benedict on July 11, the Benedictine order celebrates his "birth" in heaven on the first day of spring.

The father of Western monasticism, St. Benedict wrote his monastic Rule, still in use today, in the Abbey of Monte Cassino, which he founded. The Rule has been one of the fundamental instruments for the evangelization and making of Christian civilization in Europe.

Every once in a while, a story like this catches me by surprise and makes me realize just how long the Church has been around. These monks celebrated yesterday in a monastery founded nearly sixteen hundred years ago. They've likely been doing this same celebration for most of those years, interrupted only by war. To put it in perspective, this monastery was in place nearly a thousand years before Martin Luther appeared on the scene.

I find it humbling, and gratifying. The gates of hell shall surely not prevail against the Church.

Priest's Union


The following is from an article in Sunday’s Calgary Sun newspaper. To say it boggles the mind is an understatement.

A Canadian Roman Catholic body representing 22,000 priests, nuns and religious brothers has labelled the Vatican and the Canadian church outmoded on issues such as homosexuality, contraception and divorce, reports said yesterday.

In a letter sent to every bishop in the country, the Canadian Religious Conference also says the church is locked more into defending church dogma rather than listening to people's search for meaning, and faults the Canadian church for its "unconditional alignment ... with directives issued from Rome."
The letter talks about the Vatican's and the Canadian church's intransigent stands on sexual morals, their unwelcome attitude toward homosexuals, their lack of compassion for those who divorce, their fear of dialogue with other churches and their censorship of dissenting views.

The letter goes on to say:

"This is an uncommon step for us to take," a Toronto newspaper reports the letter as saying. "We take it with the firm conviction that it is absolutely essential, particularly at this time in the great history of the church. Our church has seen great suffering and is being called upon, now more than ever, to carefully discern the signs of the times."

I'll have to say, when I first saw this story, I thought it was a joke, or a parody of a protest by your stereotypical, sixties' dissident. After all, the thing contains every cliche ever used by those of that ilk. I mean, "discern the signs of the times", "search for meaning", "outmoded". C'mon, how tired are those expressions?

The letter also contains every error, or misrepresentation of "dogma" ever propounded by such groups. To take one example, the letter refers to the Church's teaching on divorce as being among her outmoded ideas. But, those teachings were not just dreamed up by the Church, they come from Jesus himself. We read this in Matthew 19:

And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, "Is it lawful to divorce one's wife for any cause?" He answered, "Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, 'Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh'? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate." They said to him, "Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?" He said to them, "Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery."

These words of Jesus are at the heart of the Church's teaching on divorce. If you want to say they are "outmoded", then everything that Jesus ever said or did is subject to being considered outmoded. Where do you stop? Which of Jesus' teachings do you decide to accept or reject? Are these people suggesting that Jesus was unable to "discern the signs of the times"?

One of the things that finally drove me from being a Presbyterian to becoming Catholic is the tendency among liberal Protestants to do this same thing. They will take a passage from the Bible, one that is very clear in its meaning, one that is clearly not politically correct, say Paul's discussion of homosexuality in Romans 1, and say "oh, it doesn't really mean that, you know. He's talking about something else entirely." You can expect, and almost accept this kind of thing coming from a Protestant, but from someone who represents themselves as Catholic? It's a lie, from the prince of lies and Catholics are supposed to know better.

I am waiting to find out if this letter was indeed some sort of joke perpetrated by someone with, at best, a weak sense of humor. If not, I have to admit to mixed feelings on my hoped for reaction from the Canadian bishops. Part of me wishes they would react strongly against this impertinence, for the sake of the Church and their flock, if not for themselves. It seems that failure to react to so bold a challenge is to give the impression that the teachings of the Church are not really important and need not be followed. Worse, some could interpret weakness here as a sign that the bishop's themselves are not all that convinced of the truth of the Church's position on these issues.

On the other hand, there might be some reason to look for a pastoral reaction. I think this kind of letter from a group supposedly representing priests and religious is much more dangerous to the faithful today than in the past because of the abysmal state of catechesis today. There are a good many people out there today who likely do not see anything wrong with this kind of thing, who think that maybe the Church should get in tune with the "signs of the times." The pastoral thing to do would be to make a real effort to promote solid, orthodox, catechesis for the (adult) faithful, and make it much more widely available than it is today.

Finally, I think if I were one of those Canadian bishops, I would certainly call an assembly of all the priests in my diocese. The purpose would be to have a real heart to heart talk. In the military, we used to call it a "come to Jesus meeting."

Awaiting Further Instructions


This appeared in the latest issue of National Review:

"Liberals were outraged by the news that Justice Samuel Alito had written Focus on the Family's James Dobson a letter thanking him for his support and prayers. They will be even less happy to see the postscript to the letter, which NR has obtained. "P.S. Roe? Gone. P.P.S. Awaiting further instructions..."

Apropos of Nothing in Particular


Yesterday was the first day of spring, and one can expect some strange weather at this time of year in the Rockies. But, I'll have to say, Colorado Springs experienced some very strange weather beginning late Sunday afternoon.

A major storm moved into the area Sunday afternoon, which is not too unusual occurrence for early spring in the mountains. The storm brought snow with it, also a common occurrence in this part of the country. What was unusual is that, when the storm first hit, it was a thunderstorm, complete with some fairly significant lightening and even hail. Now, I was a weather guy in the Air Force when I was young, and I spent about eighteen months in north Texas, in the middle of tornado alley. I've seen some wild weather, but I've never seen a thunderstorm produce both hail and snow. I'm thinking March is going out like a lion this year; we may even have snow for Easter.

Anyway, just wanted to get this on the record, for what it's worth.



Anthony Esolen had an interesting post this past week on the Mere Comments blog about Dickens and his characters. One of the points Dr. Esolen makes is that Dickens is often accused of excess sentimentality, especially in creating characters that are models of feminine virtue. The argument is that there are no such people and it is unrealistic to create them, and perhaps further, amusing to reading them because they are so unbelievable.

Dr. Esolen rightly points out that, just because we who are living in the West today know no virtue, that doesn’t mean that there have never been virtuous people living in the world. He rightly points out that virtue is an all too rare quality among people today. I think, however, that the problem is deeper. There are no characters today because there is precious little authenticity in anything people do; there are no Dickensian characters today because, well, no one thinks he can be a character.

I was just reading in a book on fiction that the emphasis in fiction today is on character and action, rather than scene. This writer thinks that one reason for this is that no one walks much any more. Great writers, such as Dostoyevsky, Balzac, and, yes, Dickens, spent hours walking the streets of the cities they wrote about. The saw the scenes, the people, drank them in, so to speak, and then could write authentically about them. But, because of this, these writers could write about great characters. The scene, and being immersed in it, was a key reason, I think.

Today, few people would even think of taking the time to spend an hour walking around some city closely observing people going about their business. It would be a waste of time, nothing would get done. What could you possibly see down there? They wouldn't have any idea how to profit from such an exercise. We are too shut in on ourselves, in our Blue Tooth enabled cars, cell phones permanently affixed to our ears, waiting for life to come to us. Therefore, we don’t create even mediocre characters of ourselves.

Go back to my post from the other day and read Fr. Boylan’s story about the two men who walked home from work together and said prayers on the way. What two men today would walk home from work together, praying no less? They’d in their cars, windows rolled up, AC on, hitting the Interstate, cursing the inane drivers tying up traffic ahead of them, radio tuned to some talk show or the traffic report. Most wouldn’t even think of praying, much less think of a question like, is it okay to pray while I’m smoking? Fr. Boylan’s story seems silly because you would never see anything like that today; no one would even think of suggesting it. Yet, I bet those two men were truly characters, because they were out in their world, a part of it, in touch with who they were and their position in creation. They were authentic, and authentically human.

Dr. Esolen writes,

This evaluation rings true to me. We could, for experiment, take the words and habits and extraordinary deeds of any number of historical figures, write them up into a narrative, change the names and places, and see if the result would strike the modern reader as utterly implausible or sentimental. For we judge by what we are. With regard to some virtues (chastity, for instance; also modesty, manliness, womanliness, loyalty, obedience) we may be able somehow or other to distinguish the virtue from its parodical vice (prudishness, timorousness, machismo, cattiness, jingoism, and capitulation), but for the most part it's all a drab gray. Some people are color blind; we are virtue-blind. So we think that because we have never seen the bright green of a field in spring, nobody has; or because we have never known a woman whose chastity could overcome more than any "empowered" harlotry can, such women do not exist. Shakespeare puts it nicely: "He that is giddy thinks the world goes round."

We can’t distinguish the authentic from the parody because we’ve never seen the real thing, not only in virtue, but in simple human nature. We are all becoming carbon copies, one of the other, because we don’t know how to be ourselves.

We just don’t know how to be characters.

Have a Smoke


One of the things that was most surprising to me when I entered the Church is the nature of advice given by Catholic spiritual masters. Presbyterians are absolutely convinced that Catholics are completely immersed in a "works" mentality and that they spend every waking moment in a feverish attempt to earn their way to heaven. Yet, the truth is that the best spiritual advice given by Catholic spiritual fathers is usually the simplest and most practical. For instance, there’s this from Fr. Boylan’s book, This Tremendous Lover.

There is really no occupation except sin, which is incompatible with such spontaneous prayer. Obviously there must be some prayers in the day to which we give our whole mind and lay everything else aside, but God forbid that any one should feel bound to limit his prayers to those said on one's knees. Perhaps the point can be illustrated by reference to the story of the two men who were in the habit of saying some prayers on their way home from work. The question whether they could smoke while doing so arose, and they decided to seek advice from their directors. One man was severely reprimanded for thinking of smoking while praying; the other man found a different type of director, who said that although smoking while praying was open to objection, still, one could hardly object to a man praying while he was smoking! The story is only a story, but it may draw attention to the fact that there is a difference between formal prayer and informal prayer, and that while the former demands suitable circumstances, the latter may be used anywhere. The point about smoking is, that if it is not a sin, it can certainly be shared with God, and if so, there is no reason why we should not talk to Him while enjoying one of the creatures He has made for our recreation and refreshment.

I guess it’s obvious that this book was written nearly sixty years ago, when smoking was much more common, but the point is still valid. It takes a great director to understand the difference between smoking while praying, and praying while smoking. The former would be an intentional distraction, the latter, sharing a quiet moment with our Lord. The advice points out that, while we have certain formal duties that we owe to God in terms of worship, there is no moment that cannot be turned over to Him. Remaining in His presence doesn’t involve horrible spiritual contortions and strenuous spiritual exercises, we can simply sit down and have a cup of Starbucks (to update the analogy) and offer that time to the Lord.

What could be simpler? Why, it's almost Presbyterian!

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"I hate women because they always know where things are."

James Thurber

The More Things Change . . .


From Stella’s Birthday, by Jonathan Swift

. . . Stella, be not troubled,
Although thy size and years are doubled
Since I first saw thee at sixteen,
The brightest virgin on the green;
So little is thy form declined,
Made up so largely in thy mind.
O would it please the gods to split
Thy beauty, size, and years, and wit,
No age could furnish out a pair
Of nymphs so graceful, wise, and fair;
With half the luster of your eyes,
With half you wit, your years and size.
And then, before it grew too late,
How should I beg of gentle Fate,
(The either nymph might have her swain)
To split my worship two in twain.

A Spirituality of the Church


This was just announced by AsiaNews.

15 March, 2006 VATICAN “Profound, inseparable and mysterious continuity” links Jesus and “his Church”

Benedict XVI announced that he will dedicate the forthcoming Wednesday catechesis to this relationship. Christ aimed to establish and to save the People of God, so an “individualistic” vision of his message, and claims of conflict between Jesus and the Church, are unacceptable.

Vatican City (AsiaNews) – The message of Jesus cannot be separated “from the context of faith and hope of the chosen people” because “even if his preaching is always an appeal to personal conversion, in reality it is continually aimed at the constitution of the People of God, who he came to gather together and save”. The affirmation of the “profound, inseparable, and mysterious continuity” between Jesus and “his Church”, which renders invalid the statement, “Jesus yes, Church no”, will be the theme to which Pope Benedict XVI will dedicate the reflections of the upcoming general audiences. This was announced by the pope himself as he addressed 30,000 worshippers present in St Peter’s Square for today’s audience. He said that once the cycle of reflections dedicated to the Psalms and Canticles of the Lauds and Vespers is over, he will dedicate himself to illustrating the “relationship between Christ and the Church, starting from the experience of the Apostles, in the light of the task entrusted to them”.

This should be a fascinating series of teachings from our Holy Father. It is really interesting to me because it ties with one of the central ideas of Fr. Boylan in the book I am reading for Lent, This Tremendous Lover, that is, the indispensible role of the Church in our salvation. This would be in direct contrast to the "Jesus and me" train of thought.

Better Bibles

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Wayne Leman, of The English Bibles Blog, has posted an extensive comment to my post, below, on Bible translations.

First, I must confess to a bit of ignorance. In Steven's orginal post he referenced something called "The Better Bible" movement. What the heck is that?

Other than professing ignorance, I'd like to make a couple of clairifcations. First, I wasn't being critical of the English Standard Version translation. The ESV is one of two translations I use on a daily basis and I think it is one of the best English Bibles available today. If I were to be critical of any English translation, it would be the banal stew cooked up for everyday use by Catholics, the NAB. No wonder Catholics don't read the Bible.

I also understand, as Mr. Leman says, that a translator must make choices. And it's not that I question the choice made in the ESV in rendering the story of the Annunciation into English. Its just that, in this case, we are reading the story of what is arguably the most important event in Salvation History, Mary's agreement to become the Mother of God. The language in the KJV is a bit out of place; I think that slightly unfamiliar language conveys a sense of the mystery of the event. We are not reading about your typical, everyday occurance.

As to beauty; I think its fair to say that, since Scripture is God's revelation of Himself to us, that is, since it is inspired by Him, that there is a certain beauty inherent in the original text itself. I wouldn't say the translator should try to add beauty to his translation, but he should do nothing to detract from what is already there, as was often done in the NAB. I think this would be what Dr. Esolen described as having a certain "reticence" in doing a translation. I was not saying beauty should be the first goal of Bible translation but that it would be the natural, perhaps unavoidable, consequence of an accurate one.

I am not a translator and I am not trying to start an argument over the proper method of doing an English translation. I am simply trying to say what I, as a reader, would sometimes like to see in an English Bible. I greatly enjoy the ESV, am very happy to have it available, and strongly recommend it.

Now, if they would just come out with the Deuter-Canonical books in the ESV, life would be good.

A Hard Thing to Remember


Cast your burden on the LORD,
and he will sustain you;
he will never permit
the righteous to be moved.

Psalm 55:22

The Great Question


“For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matthew 16:26, NAB)

These are the words of Jesus to the disciples after Peter has protested Jesus prophecy of the cross. Fr. Patrick Henry Reardon, in The St. James Devotional Guide for Spring of this year, states that this is the question facing all of us, especially during the season of Lent.

As Fr. Reardon points out, we do not live in a soul-friendly time. With modern technology providing us all sorts of avenues for distraction, finding necessary the interior space and exterior quite is no small challenge. There are a good many people today who don’t even realize what it means to have an interior life, much less how to live one. On top of that, the traditional avenues available for soul stretching are becoming increasingly neglected. We no longer have the means to provide us the grist for our internal mills, so to speak, for what is being taught in schools these days hardly qualifies as truly enlightening. As Fr. Reardon says,

There was a time – nor was it so very long ago – when music, art, and literature served as normal paths in the discovery of the soul. In former days our teachers taught us the nature and structure of our souls by introducing us to the likes of Mozart, Raphael, and Jane Austen. It sounds old-fashioned to say such things, but there really is a reliable canon of standard texts that have served the test of time in the discovery of the soul, and only at great peril do we abandon that canon.

When I was a Presbyterian thinking of coming into the Church, one of the things I gave some real thought to was having to "give up" something for Lent, i.e., enduring a time of penance. Presbyterians really don't believe in that kind of thing. Now, it is one of the things that I am most grateful to the Church for since I find I need this time to regroup and rediscover exactly what my priorities should be. If it doesn't help me answer that question, it at least reminds me that I have to try.

The Joy of Journals

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I confess, I am something of a journal freak; I really enjoy reading journals, and I don’t care whose journal it is. I have anthologies of journals, I own a complete set of Merton’s published journals, and I have read them all. One reason I enjoy these so much is that it becomes evident, especially from journals written centuries ago, that the more things change, the more they stay the same. It is one reason to be confident in the promises of our Lord that the Church is under His protection, and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it. The problems that seem so terrible today are really nothing new.

Here’s an example of a journal entry by one Thomas Keame, written in 1706.

1706 - Memorandum that tho' Dr Tyndal of All-Souls be a noted Debauchee and a man of very pernicious Principles, yet he is so sly and cunning, and has that command over his Passions, that he always appears calm and sedate in company, and is very abstemious in his Drink, by which means he has no small advantage over those he discourses with, and is the more able to instill his ill Notions. Thomas Keame

Watery Science

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There was an interesting article in the Wall Street Journal yesterday about water. Actually, I think the story said more about science and its methods than about water, but that’s just my opinion.

It seems that, for the last hundred years or so, scientists have been convinced that the molecular structure of water took the form of a mass of tetrahedrons, formed when each water molecule connects with four other molecules. Scientists have never known this for certain but the idea sounded good, so no one ever really questioned it. Until, that is, scientists at Stanford ran a pot of water through a machine called the Synchrotron. The results were amazing; they found that water is not structured as a bunch of tetrahedrons, but rather appears to be a mass of rings and chains formed when the molecules strongly connect to only two others. Who woulda thunk it?

There is an interesting quote from the story.

As often happens when the conventional wisdom starts to collapse, on closer inspection there wasn't much holding it up in the first place. The notion that water molecules form pyramids actually had little empirical support, Dr. Nilsson says: Experimental findings have been so sparse that theoretical work has dominated the field," and the theory is so inexact "that you can get almost any result you want just by tweaking" a few numbers.

“Experimental findings have been so sparse that theoretical work has dominated the field . . .” It seems scientists didn’t really do much in the way of experimentation to determine if their theory of the structure of water was true or not. And in the absence of such proof, they made up a story and stuck to it. If a story sounds good, just tweak the numbers to make them fit. Hell, no reason to get confused by the facts.

Makes you wonder what else that we take as scientific “gospel truth” is nothing more than a good story, doesn’t it? There are a great many Christians today, the Jesuit Vatican astronomer among them, who say that Intelligent Design should not be taught in schools because it is “not science.” Well, seems to me, neither is science.


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Sir, I admit your general rule,
That every poet is a fool,
But you yourself may serve to show it,
That every fool is not a poet.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge

I Obey, therefore I am.


Father Eugene Boylen writes extensively about the Church in his book, This Tremendous Lover. He compares the Church to a human body, with Christ as its head. We all, as members of the Mystical Body share in the life of Christ, just as each organ, each cell, in a human body shares in the life of the person. He says that there are three things necessary for the individual cell to remain a living member of the body: it must be present in the body, it must participate in the vivifying principle that animates the body, and it must work for the good of the body. For example, a bullet can be part of the body, but it does not share in the life of that body. A cancerous cell shares in the life of the body, but it works for its own ends, rather than for the over all good of the body and thus destroys the body.

An essential element in the life of the Church is obedience, a term not many of us are comfortable with today. He writes:

Obedience is obviously the law of its [The Mystical Body of Christ's] life. Every single act, even the slightest, done contrary to the will of God, cannot be shared by Christ, it is not part of the life of His Body, and therefore it has no real value. To partake in the life of the Body fully, the members must be subject to the Head - the ruling principle. The peculiar circumstances of the human soul in its membership of Christ, must always be kept in mind. Incorporation into Christ does not take away one's own personality; one has free will and retains full domain over one's own actions - one can determine what one's actions are to be. Deliberate refusal to conform to the will of God in a grave matter means mortal sin, and a consequent severing of the vital circulation that makes the soul a living member of Christ. Such disobedience is fatal. Even if the matter is not grave, the action, though not its agent, is severed from that vital circulation and the way is paved for complete severance of the agent by more serious falls in the future.

This is the classical answer to politicians who say things like they are personally opposed to abortion (grave matter) but must “follow their conscience” when it comes to matters of government. When that happens, they are not really being obedient to Christ. Some of these politicians will say that they still believe themselves “good” Catholics, but their disobedience puts them outside the Church. The same is true of priests or other dissenters who insist that the Church is wrong when it comes to her teaching of human sexuality or abortion; they, by definition, have cut themselves off from the life of the body. We cannot share in the life of Christ, we cannot participate fully in the life of the Body, and withhold something of ourselves from Christ. When that happens, we become like a cancer on the body working for its destruction rather than its good.

The difficult thing about this is that we think obedience takes away our freedom, but its just the opposite – obedience leaves us free to live fully in Christ. It is the only path to true freedom. Disobedience means that radical surgery must be performed or else there will be no life left to the body.

The other difficult thing is that the choice is up to us. Our Lord leaves us free to decide, and then leaves us to the consequences of our own decisions.

Amateur Catholic


It's Official! I'm an amateur!


Franciscan Spirituality

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Steven had a post today about wanting to get closer to the proper (is that the right word?) practice of his Carmelite Spirituality and it got me thinking about Franciscan spirituality and how that might best be understood. Actually, his post caused me to experience a pang of jealousy because my first reaction to it was, gee, I wish I could do that.

When most people think of Franciscan spirituality, they picture the statues of St. Francis with the bird on his shoulder and the bunny at his feet. While it’s true that love of creation and all God’s creatures is an element of the Franciscan ideal, it is certainly not the key idea. Nor, strictly speaking is poverty, probably the next most common idea of Franciscan spirituality.

I’ve often said, and I’ve read this in some Franciscan resources, that there is no distinctive Franciscan spirituality as such. My favorite way to say it is that to be Franciscan is simply to be Catholic, really Catholic, nothing more, nothing less.

I’ll explain. You see, Francis wanted, above all else, to live the Gospel life as Christ lived it; he wanted to be the perfect follower of Christ. In order to do that, poverty was necessary, but he believed that it was even more necessary to follow Christ within the Church. Francis loved the Church and everything he did was done in obedience to the Church. To be Franciscan is, essentially, to live as a Catholic, and that idea should not be distinctive to any one of us.

But there’s more: Francis also loved the Scripture because it is through reading and meditating on Scripture that he came to know what it meant to follow Christ. He read Scripture assiduously, but it was always as a Catholic. This is part of Franciscan spirituality to this day. The Rule of the Secular Franciscan Order, in Chapter 2, reads:

The rule and life of the Secular Franciscans is this: to observe the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ by following the example of Saint Francis of Assisi, who made Christ the inspiration and the center of his life with God and people.

Christ, the gift of the Father's love, is the way to him, the truth into which the Holy Spirit leads us, and the life which he has come to give abundantly.

Secular Franciscans should devote themselves especially to careful reading of the gospel, going from gospel to life and life to the gospel.

I read this over again today, and then it hit me – this ties in pretty closely with something I have written about several times over the last week or so, i.e., that in order to have a living faith, you must have some clear idea of what that faith means. In order to go “from the gospel to life and life to the gospel” you have to engage in “a careful reading of the gospel.” That’s where all of this has been coming from. I have been drawing on my Franciscan spirituality all this time and wasn’t even really aware of it.

I feel better.

What did she know, and when did she know it?

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Another marvelous post by Anthony Esolen at Mere Comments highlights a theme I’ve been thinking about off and on for the last month or so, Bible translation.

It started when I saw a reference on Steven’s website to a blog devoted to the topic of translating the Bible. I browsed this site a few times, but it seems the main concern for modern translators is inclusive language – the blog featured what appears to be a frustrated attempt by one it’s authors to interview J. I. Packer and obtain his agreement that this is, indeed, the most important topic facing translators today.

I later saw a reference, over a First Things, to the Authorized Version (the King James), that said that, even as dated as it is, the translation is still a good one. I mean good here as one that is not so dated that it shouldn’t still be read and relied on.

I have always thought, and in one sense I think this a point Esolen makes indirectly, a Bible translation should be beautiful; the language should convey something of the majesty of God. The Bible is God’s revelation of Himself, and the heart of that revelation must be His perfect beauty; God’s word is not mundane, or worse, inane.

For example, in 2 Samuel, chapter 11, we have the story of David’s adultery with Bathsheeba. 2 Samuel 11:2 describes the moment David first laid eyes on Uriah’s beautiful wife. The New American Bible reads thus:

2 One evening David rose from his siesta and strolled about on the roof of the palace. From the roof he saw a woman bathing, who was very beautiful.

By comparison, the English Standard Version reads:

2 It happened, late one afternoon, when David arose from his couch and was walking on the roof of the king’s house, that he saw from the roof a woman bathing; and the woman was very beautiful.

Better, but the King James reads:

2 And it came to pass in an eveningtide, that David arose from off his bed, and walked upon the roof of the king’s house: and from the roof he saw a woman washing herself; and the woman was very beautiful to look upon.

It has always puzzled me how anyone in his right mind would use the word “siesta” to describe King David taking a nap, as if he were some village chieftain in some remote Mexican village. It boggles the mind. It’s not beautiful it’s just silly.

Another example is the one Dr. Esolen used, Mary’s question of the angel in Luke 1:

Here is how the NAB renders the original:

But Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?”

The ESV reads:

And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?”

The KJV has:

Then said Mary unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?

The NAB conveys the idea, but in a very matter of fact, down to earth sort of way. In this case, I don’t think the ESV is much better. The King James’ “seeing I know not man” has a certain beauty about it. We know what is meant, but more than just the act is implied, I think there is in Mary’s question the implication of the fact of her sinless state. The expression itself implies chastity.

Finally, there is the question of inclusive language. I think when it is used; it also detracts from the beauty and deepest meaning of the text. For example, 1 Timothy 2:3-4 is translated this way in the NAB.

This is good and pleasing to God our savior, who wills everyone to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth.

Gosh, boys and girls, we all get to enjoy the fun, isn’t that wonderful?

In contrast, the KJV has:

For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.

The Greek word for “men” here is anthropos and generally refers to “a human being, whether male or female” according to Strongs. However, it also refers to the human race, as opposed to angels or plants or some other species. Again, when we say all “people” it is a lesser translation because it deprives the reader of seeing a potentially deeper theological meaning, that man holds a special place in God’s plan for salvation history.

In every case I have cited I think there is good reason to prefer the antiquated King James translation over the more modern and possibly more politically correct versions. I guess that’s the reason it has endured for nearly five hundred years.

Love is God


To paraphrase a famous quote from that famous work of philosophy, Pogo, We have seen God, and he is us.

I have looked back over the last few days of my experiment in blogging, and over all I think it rates a B-. I wasn’t selective enough is determining which items could be considered of “real interest” and, therefore, had too much opportunity to indulge in my great blogging weakness, the rant. I’ll try to keep that under control. However, I do discern a pattern.

I’d like to refer to a facinating post done by Mr. Anthony Esolen, over at Mere Comments. I think I may be studying this brief note for the next few days, at least. The post concerns an article about an Italian philosopher, Romano Amerio that was sent to Mr. Esolen by a Touchstone reader.

Amerio held that the misery we experienced though so much of the twentieth century stems from a “misconception of the essences of the divine nature.” Esolen goes on to write:

But modern man, instead of identifying God with love, has rather identified love as his god: he has, in art and literature, in economic life, in statecraft, and in the banal wranglings that pass for politics, assumed as an irrefragable fact that his desires are centrally important for no other reason than that they are his. No one may summon those desires to the bar of rational judgment; at best we can adjudicate between one person’s desires and another’s, and come to a mutually agreeable compromise; at worst, we lapse into war. In such a world even religion devolves into self-help, or saccharine consolation, a superstition rigged up to satisfy a bruised ego. We do not long for God, but reduce God to what we long for. We revise the words of the writer to the Hebrews, and say that it is a lovely and delightful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. “For God is love,” we say, for our own purposes misconstruing that word “love”.

If we do not have a clear idea of who God is, we do not understand what the truly good is, and thus we go off in all directions searching for whatever seems to satisfy us at the moment. This is not a prescription for peace and prosperity.

I think we see an example of what Mr. Esolen is describing, that is religion devolving into a program of “self-help or saccharine consolation” in Cardinal Mahoney’s efforts to allow illegal immigrants free rein to enter this country and find the support of the Church. I think that the idea implicit in programs like this is that breaking the law should have no consequences, in fact be rewarded. Programs of this type also deny that those who wish to immigrate to a country have a duty and a readiness to become good citizens of the country they are entering. In Los Angeles, they can come and are immediately made objects of charity. They can make no contribution to their new country, in fact, must become wards of that country. It is not only uncharitable, it is degrading.

All of this ties in with a paragraph written by Fr. Boylen in his book, This Tremendous Lover that I quoted earlier in the week.

To foster the development of that union with God in the lives of the faithful is the purpose of this book. Our aim is devotional rather than didactic. We believe that the proper foundation of devotion is dogma, and that the best way to lead Catholics to live their Catholic life in its fullness is to try to make clear to them what a Catholic really is, and what the plans and the principles underlying Christianity are. Believing that most of the evils of the day arise from the neglect of metaphysics in the world of thought and from the neglect of the interior life in the practice of religion, we try to show how the interior life is the logical sequence of the nature of the Christian, who, as someone has said, is composed of "a body, a soul, and the Holy Ghost."
“Believing that most of the evils of the day arise from the neglect of metaphysics in the world of thought and from the neglect of the interior life in the practice of religion, we try to show how the interior life is the logical sequence of the nature of the Christian, who, as someone has said, is composed of ‘a body, a soul, and the Holy Ghost.’” True devotion arises out of a clear understanding of “what the plans and principles underlying Christianity” are. To quote a Presbyterian pastor I once knew, “If you don’t know what you believe, how do you know you believe it?”

In all of this, as Esolen says, we say “God is love” but have no idea of what that really means. We don't come close to understanding the true meaning of love, it is perverted into a degrading form of lust, nor do we have more than the slightest idea of who God is. In the jumble, we become gods, the focus is on ourselves and our immediate desires, rather than on the eternal, the one true Good. It is a horrible confusion.

The Angry Left


Joseph Bottum, writes over at First Things, about a meeting he had with a Liberal friend of his. The friend details exactly what will happen if the Democrats win Congress this year and the Presidency in 2008. I think there is a real possibility that what he is describing may well occur.

Bottum's conclusion is:

Well, the political situation is wildly exaggerated, of course, but some of these facts are not exaggerated at all: The Left in this country is more furious than it’s been since 1974, and they do believe there is blood in the water.

What’s more, if they should gain massive political power, their anger would probably spill over into criminalization of as much of the pro-life movement as they could reach. At the very least, they would end any hope of overturning Roe v. Wade, and the more they can tar the pro-life movement with what they believe is a criminal Republican administration, the more abortion is guaranteed as a permanent part of the American landscape.

I still believe that the Iraq situation is winnable, and I still hold that what I called the new fusionism between neoconservatives and social conservatives has deep and perduring roots, and I still think the initial invasion of Iraq was a moral thing to do. But suppose that my friend is right about the political future of America. What ought the pro-life movement to do—now—about it?

Prepare, vote and pray.

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I heard a brief story on the news while listening to the radio on the way home last night. This version of it comes from something called "The Peoples World Daily" or some such thing.

LOS ANGELES — A leading member of the Catholic Church has condemned a congressional resolution that, he says, further victimizes immigrants. In response he has initiated a campaign for immigrant rights.

Cardinal Roger Mahoney, who heads the Los Angeles archdiocese, attacked House Resolution 4437 as “a new attack on immigrants [and] a very malicious bill that imposes restrictions and penalties on immigrants [and also] those who offer them any kind of assistance.” The resolution was authored by Reps. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) and Peter King (R-Calif.) who chair, respectively, the House committees on the judiciary and homeland security. The House passed the resolution on Dec. 17.

Its key provisions include changing undocumented presence in the U.S. from a civil to a felony offense, broadly expanding the definition of smuggling immigrants to include the provision of services to the undocumented, eliminating many due process rights for documented and undocumented, involving state and local police in enforcement of immigration laws, erecting 700 miles of a wall along the border with Mexico and adding many new military surveillance systems for border patrol.

For the CRS summary of this legislation, go here.

In a quick reading of this summary, I don't see any mention of charging those who provided services with felonies, nor do I see any mention of building walls on the border. Regardless, this bill is not an attack on "immigrants." It is an attack on criminals of both the illegal alien and the terrorist variety. Anyone who has spent any time on the border with Mexico knows full well that our borders are wide open. Anyone, from a Mexican peasant who wants to come to this country to work to terrorists hoping to make a major attack, can head from this border and have a decent chance of getting across. Clearly something needs to be done about that, and obfuscating the issue by trying to make it a question "social justice" is ridiculous.

Suck it Up!!


One news service had this item of vital interest to report. It seems the Chinese Government has turned its attention to the vitally important topic of public spitting, the city's "most serious bad habit."

Wednesday, March 1, 2006 BEIJING - Beijing is launching a campaign to stamp out widespread public spitting in an effort to clean up its image for the 2008 Olympics.

The government has concluded that spitting is the city's "most serious bad habit," Zhang Huiguang, director of Beijing's Capital Ethics Development Office, said Wednesday.

"This year we will intensify our law enforcement efforts in this field," Zhang told a news conference. "We will require law enforcement officials to step up the frequency of fines."

The fine for public spitting is 50 yuan (US$5; euro4).

Tourists visiting Beijing often are startled at how many people spit or blow their noses onto sidewalks.

The crackdown is part of efforts to raise "ethical and cultural" standards in advance of the 2008 Summer Games, a major prestige project for the communist government.

Zhang said officials will launch an advertising campaign on radio, television, the Internet and mobile phones to "teach people the right way to spit."

"For example, you have to spit into a tissue or a bag, then place it in a dustbin to complete the process," she said.

Those without a bag handy needn't worry. Zhang said her office has organized a small army of volunteers who are already hitting Beijing's streets, handing out small "spitting bags" and wearing bright orange uniforms with the Chinese character "tan" - "mucus" - printed in yellow on the back.

She said enforcement will also be ramped up against littering - the second-worst habit her office faces - and pets fouling the streets, the No. 3 scourge.

If this is the worst they can do, it almost makes one want to move to China. Even here in "the Springs" there are people running around the streets with a lot worse habits than public spitting, that's for sure.

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Something really interesting in a post by Anthony Esolen at Mere Comments -- it is about a 20th century Italian scholar named Amerio.

The first paragraph reads:

What interests me most is that in that charnel house of a century, crammed with the hundreds of millions of people who died fighting for, or at the hands of, das Volk, or the Soviet, or the Cultural Revolution, or the malign imam of Teheran, or that whole clownish pageant of villains, charlatans, pomposities, and brutes -- people dying for a bizarre amalgam of the demonic and the banally material, a Master Race here and a gangrenous British Empire there -- Professor Amerio could yet claim, calmly, that at the heart of the misery was modern man’s misconception of the essences of the divine nature.

This ties in closely with what Fr. Boylan writes in his book, This Tremendous Lover, my Lenten reading project.

To foster the development of that union with God in the lives of the faithful is the purpose of this book. Our aim is devotional rather than didactic. We believe that the proper foundation of devotion is dogma, and that the best way to lead Catholics to live their Catholic life in its fullness is to try to make clear to them what a Catholic really is, and what the plans and the principles underying Christianity are. Believing that most of the evils of the day arise from the neglect of metaphysics in the world of thought and from the neglect of the interior life in the practice of religion, we try to show how the interior life is the logical sequence of the nature of the Christian, who, as someone has said, is composed of "a body, a soul, and the Holy Ghost."

Our liberal friends would have us believe that religion should play no part in the national life. Yet, there is good reason to disagree. True, religion can be a divisive issue. But for the better part of two centuries, this nation thrived because we shared a common understanding of the nature of the human being and the nature of government, and that understanding was based upon a shared Christian heritage. It was only when we began to turn away from that heritage that we began to see the disintegration of society that is all around us today.

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Finally, I would like to wish everyone a very blessed Ash Wednesday and Lenten season.

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