Ron Moffat: April 2006 Archives

What do you mean . . .?


"A poem is a way of meaning more than one thing at a time." John Ciardi

Do your toenails twinkle?


“Poetry is what in a poem makes you laugh, cry, prickle, be silent, makes your toenails twinkle, makes you want to do this or that or nothing, makes you know that you are alone in the unknown world, that your bliss and suffering is forever shared, and forever all your own.”

Dylan Thomas



Stephen, and, earlier, Tom at Disputations, both posted about different aspects of vocation as it pertains to being a member of one of the so-called “secular” orders. Stephen writes about being a Third Order Carmelite and Tom, a Dominican. It seems fitting to post a few notes about the Secular Franciscan.

I’ve written here that the distinctive spirituality of being a Franciscan is that there is little distinctive about it; being Franciscan means being Catholic. Being Franciscan means being loyal to the Holy Father and the Magisterium, and trying to live the Gospel. Even the Tau we wear is not unique to the order, but was designated, I think at the Council of Trent, as the universal sign of the Christian in the Church. However, there is a distinctive way in which that vocation is lived out and it comes from Francis himself.

Francis founded the first of the great “mendicant” orders. Prior to Francis, religious were exclusively cloistered. This means that they lived out their lives within a particular monastic setting and had little to do with “the world.” It was Francis’ dream to live the Gospel in the world and to carry the Gospel message to the four corners. Franciscans were meant to have no home and to have to beg even for bread. There are few Franciscan monasteries and even today it is possible to find a “friary”, that is, a house where Franciscan priests live, in a neighborhood near you. Franciscans continue to live that vocation preaching the Gospel in the world. For example, the Capuchins from Kansas came to Colorado Springs a few years back and opened shop in one of the two major malls here. The Catholic Center offers the Sacrament of Reconciliation six days a week during regular mall hours, and a priest is always on hand to chat even with those who are not Catholic. That’s taking the Gospel to the heart of secular society.

This vocation is especially significant and more difficult for the Secular Franciscan. I have known SFOs who come close to rejecting the “Secular” label, wishing they could be more like religious, even to the point of wanting to wear the habit of a friar. They forget that the Franciscan vocation, whether religious or secular, is to be in the world, not in the cloister or the friary. Like the other two third orders, the Carmelites and Dominicans, our vocation is to take the Gospel into the world, to be leaven to the world. We are to do it by showing that the Gospel life can be lived by ordinary human beings who simply desire to follow in the footsteps of St. Francis. The vocation is more difficult for the SFO because there is nothing, at least on the surface, that sets us apart. Everyone knows a friar by his brown (or grey) habit, the SFO is known only by the way he or she lives the Gospel life. Francis said we should use words, if necessary, but first we try to preach by example; the words come later.

Being a member of a secular order is not a mark of distinction or a sign of special spiritual achievement. It is, I think, a vocation, or one aspect of the vocation of being a lay person in the Church. It helps us go deeper in the faith, it supports us when finding that faith is difficult, but mostly, it calls us to a greater sense of how we might take our faith into the world. It gives us, a greater sense of the true meaning of the vocation of the layman, and that is something sorely needed in the world today.



I haven’t posted since Holy Saturday and I’m having a bit of difficulty in getting back into the swing of things. Since last week I have been very busy at work and end up tired out by the time I get home; the pace should slacken soon.

I have been really stuck on the book project, getting nowhere and just totally unable to face it. Then, yesterday, the solution came to me. I thought all along the problem was in my development of the main character, but it hit me that the problem is, I have the wrong main character. I switched viewpoint to the guy I thought would be the sidekick, and all the obstacles seemed to disappear. At lunch today I roughed out in my head what I think could be the first 3,000 words and will write it up on the weekend. After that, I think I might have half a chance to keep going. I’ll keep you posted.

In the meantime, a poem from Dorothy Parker that should remind all us bloggers of the virtue of humility:


Authors and actors and artists and such
Never know nothing, and never know much.
Sculptors and singers and those of their kidney
Tell their affairs from Seattle to Sydney.
Playwrights and poets and such horses’ necks
Start off from anywhere, end up at sex.
Diarists, critics, and similar roe
Never say nothing, and never say no.
People Who Do Things exceed my endurance’
God, for a man that solicits insurance!

Grand Chorus


By John Dryden

As from the power of sacred lays
The spheres began to move,
And sung the great Creator's praise
To all the blest above;
So when the last dreadful hour
This crumbling pageant shall devour,
The trumpet shall be heard on high,
The dead shall live, the living die,
And Music shall untune the sky.

John Donne, Divine Poetry


Posting will be light through the Triduum; I will let others speak for me what I cannot put into words.

John Donne


By miracles exceeding power of man,
He faith in some, envy in some begat,
For, what weak spirits admire, ambitious hate :
In both affections many to Him ran.
But O ! the worst are most, they will and can,
Alas ! and do, unto th' Immaculate,
Whose creature Fate is, now prescribe a fate,
Measuring self-life's infinity to span,
Nay to an inch. Lo ! where condemned He
Bears His own cross, with pain, yet by and by
When it bears him, He must bear more and die.
Now Thou art lifted up, draw me to Thee,
And at Thy death giving such liberal dole,
Moist with one drop of Thy blood my dry soul.

Holy Sonnet


John Donne



At the round earth's imagined corners blow
Your trumpets, angels, and arise, arise
From death, you numberless infinities
Of souls, and to your scattered bodies go ;
All whom the flood did, and fire shall o'erthrow,
All whom war, dea[r]th, age, agues, tyrannies,
Despair, law, chance hath slain, and you, whose eyes
Shall behold God, and never taste death's woe.
But let them sleep, Lord, and me mourn a space ;
For, if above all these my sins abound,
'Tis late to ask abundance of Thy grace,
When we are there. Here on this lowly ground,
Teach me how to repent, for that's as good
As if Thou hadst seal'd my pardon with Thy blood.

This Bread and Wine


This Bread I Break
Dylan Thomas

This bread I break was once the oat,
This wine upon a foreign tree
Plunged in its fruit;
Man in the day or wind in the night
Laid the crops low, broke the grape’s joy.

Once in this wine the summer blood
Knocked in the flesh that decked the vine,
Once in this bread
The oat was merry in the wind;
Man broke the sun, pulled the wind down.

This flesh you break, this blood you let
Make desolation in the vein,
Were oat and grape
Born of the sensual root and sap;
My wine you drink, my bread you snap.

"Free" Speech?


This story appeared on the Catholic News Agency web site today:

Catholics shocked by Notre Dame president’s turnaround on ‘Vagina Monologues’
South Bend, Apr. 07, 2006 (CNA) - Following his own strong words denouncing the play in January, many Catholics have responded with dismay to the decision of Notre Dame University president, Rev. John Jenkins to allow the controversial ‘Vagina Monologues’ to be performed at the school.

In a January 23rd address to university faculty, Fr. Jenkins said that the play contains “no hint of central elements of Catholic sexual morality,” but instead, “contains graphic descriptions of homosexual, extra-marital heterosexual, and auto-erotic experiences. There is even a depiction of the seduction of a sixteen year-old girl by an adult woman.”

He had stressed that the “portrayals stand apart from, and indeed in opposition to, the view that human sexuality finds its proper expression in the committed relationship of marriage between a man and a woman that is open to the gift of procreation.”

He even said that “the repeated performance of the play and the publicity surrounding it suggest that the university endorses certain themes in the play, or at least finds them compatible with its values.”

Despite this, on Wednesday, Fr. Jenkins surprised many by saying that he will now place “no restrictions” on the performance.

After hearing from hundreds of students, faculty and alumni over the last 10 weeks, Notre Dame’s president has now expressed his determination “that we not suppress speech on this campus.” “I am also determined”, he said, “that we never suppress or neglect the Gospel that inspired this university."

So many Catholics seem to confuse constitutional issues with questions of the faith. Presenting a play that is completely contradictory to Catholic moral teaching, on the campus of a supposedly Catholic university, is not a question involving U.S. constitutional issues. The question is one of faith and morals and in that area there is no guarantee of free speech; each of us is responsible to act in a way that conforms to God's law. The Bill of Rights in the Constitution is meant to provide Americans with a certain equality before the law, not to provide instruction as to how to act before God.

We all would do well to remember the distinction.

New to the Parish


It has been called to my attention that two young men have started a new blog, Sirach 40:20. It looks promising, and I hope you'll stop by and welcome them to the Parish.

My Heart is Too Small


I ran across this remarkable and beautiful story from the Nigerian Daily Independent. It starts out thus:

Benedict XVI: One Year On The Papacy

By Michael Uchebuaku

“Nobody is so poor that he has nothing to give, and nobody is so rich that he has nothing to receive.”
-John Paul II

A man of God asked a small boy, “My child, do you love God?”

“Oh yes, sir!”

“Do you love him with all your heart?”

“No, my heart is too small for that. I love Him with all His heart.”

For men like Pope Benedict XVI who love God with all their hearts, April 2, 2006 was the day to remember the life of one of the world’s greatest moral and spiritual leaders. The grand moral icon was Pope John Paul II who died on April 2, 2005.

It was Kant, the German philosopher, who said that the only bad thing in the world is a bad will. Thus, the first anniversary of the death of the departed supreme Pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church, Pope John Paul II was celebrated with great joy both within the Catholic Church and in the international community as a time to remember a man of towering hope and courage, who, through a life of immense faith and love, tried to impress good will and compassion on a world disfigured by bad will and conflict.

“John Paul died as he lived, moved by an indomitable courage of faith,” Pope Benedict told tens of thousands of people from around the world who flocked to the Vatican last Sunday to mark the first anniversary of the death of Pope John Paul II and pray that he be made a saint soon. Pope Benedict said his predecessor had “left a deep mark on the history of the Church and of humanity,” and added that John Paul suffered without complaint, like Christ.

It seems inconceivable to imagine such a story being printed in, say, the New York Times, doesn't it? It is a wonderful tribute to our late Holy Father.

My Little Black Book


I read the other day, I think at the First Things blog, that Ralph McInerny taught himself to write fiction, and it took him several years to do it. He started writing short stories, then progressed to longer fiction. The thing that really caught my attention is the time it took him to learn to write. It’s not surprising, though. Oh, it’s relatively easy to write short scenes, to sketch a character or two, or to describe a setting for a scene, but putting it all together into a longer work is no easy task, especially if you’re trying to develop an interesting plot at the same time. I know, I’m trying.

But I feel more like Hemingway must have felt after he showed his first attempt at a novel to Gertrude Stein – she shredded it. Hemingway didn’t give up, though. He decided he, like McInerny, would teach himself to write. He began writing sentences, only sentences, and kept that up for a few months, then, when he felt ready, he started writing paragraphs, then he tried putting a few paragraphs together. This process must have taken a good deal of time, but when he was done he had both a truly distinctive style, and the makings of a real novel.

I feel like I’m at the same point as Hemingway when he started writing sentences. I’m learning, but still have a long way to go. The process will take patience, something I’m not real strong on, but it must be faced.

Something I realized while thinking all this over – I have already learned a lot. I’ve had two or three rather extended periods of regular blogging here at the 7 Habitus and, looking back on it, I was surprised that I learned something valuable each time. The first lesson was the power of words; I voiced some very strong opinions here when I started, some not entirely appropriate, and those opinions drew strong responses. It was a very humbling experience, and a valuable lesson.

I started again here just a couple of days before Lent began this year. At that time, I wrote that I had picked up a package of three small, soft cover, Moleskine notebooks and that I planned to use one of them as a place to make daily notes of whatever caught my interest. I wasn’t really sure that I would be faithful to the practice but I have been. The result has been amazing. I learned that, most days, I notice very little of what is going on around me. It’s as if I was going about in a sort of fog, only seeing that which was right in front of me and, therefore, unavoidable. Being mindful of my little black book and my Lenten commitment to make use of it has opened my eyes, both literally and figuratively. A fiction writer needs to be attuned to his surroundings, and be able to provide fresh, vivid descriptions of the people and things he is writing about. The only way you can do that is to see, truly see, those things. You have to notice them, and notice the little insignificant details that make them special. The discipline of using the notebook has been a real wake up call and I think I am becoming much more observant of my surroundings. It’s also instilled me with a bit more gratitude for those little things. This is a Lenten discipline that I hope will continue for a long time to come.

So, I am going to keep writing, here and on the book, but now there is no time table. If I have to go back to writing sentences, one at a time, I will, but I think it may be worth the effort. I’ll likely enjoy it a great deal more, and I might just learn something about writing in the process. And who knows what else.

Bright star! would I were steadfast as thou art


John Keats

Written on a Blank Page in Shakespeare's Poems, facing "A Lover's Complaint"

BRIGHT star! would I were steadfast as thou art -
Not in lone splendour hung aloft the night,
And watching, with eternal lids apart,
Like Nature’s patient sleepless Eremite,
The moving waters at their priestlike task
Of pure ablution round earth’s human shores,
Or gazing on the new soft fallen mask
Of snow upon the mountains and the moors -
No - yet still steadfast, still unchangeable,
Pillow’d upon my fair love’s ripening breast,
To feel for ever its soft fall and swell,
Awake for ever in a sweet unrest,
Still, still to hear her tender-taken breath,
And so live ever - or else swoon to death.

Time and Tide


This weekend marks another of the great annual rites of spring: it’s time to “spring” ahead to Daylight Savings Time.

There was an article in the Wall Street Journal yesterday about this annual event written by Michael Downing, author of the book Spring Forward: The Annual Madness of Daylight Saving Time. In my mind, madness is too kind a description.

According to Downing, we have a Brit to thank for coming up with this less than wonderful idea. In 1907 William Willett, an avid outdoorsman and, evidently, an eccentric, got the notion while riding through London at dawn on a spring morning. It seems he noticed that, remember this was at dawn, most windows were shuttered against the early summer sun. While I think this is an eminently sensible thing for most people to do at dawn, Willett thought it a crying shame. It entered his head that if clocks were set an hour ahead people would have extra time to use “for rifle practice.” Were I around when Willett came up with this hare brained idea I might have suggested him for a target for my rifle practice, but, in any case, his idea was quickly shouted down in Parliament.

Then came WW I and, in the spirit of all-out warfare, the Germans got wind of the idea and adopted it in 1916. Seems they were under the mistaken idea that later sunsets would reduce the demand for electric lighting. Of course, the Brits fell into the trap and adopted in soon after. The U.S. entered the war in 1918, war fever took hold, and the first Daylight Savings law passed in March of that year.

The law was repealed in 1919, after the end of the war, and it wasn’t until 1942, with the onslaught of WW II that Congress passed another DST law which was repealed in September, 1945.

Various U.S. cities adopted their own versions of Daylight Savings time after the war, mostly the large cities with major league baseball teams. Downing writes that “By 1965, of the 130 cities with populations over 100,000, 71 did and 59 did not [have a DST law in place.].” Obviously, at least to a Congressman, Federal action was needed, and in 1966 the first Uniform Time Act was passed. The law, which as Downing notes, displayed a certain wisdom lost on future Congresses, mandated that each state either adopt a state-wide six-month period of DST or stay on Standard Time. In 1986, believing a Department of Commerce estimate that extending DST into the winter months could save up to 100,000 barrels of oil a day to be God’s truth, Congress extended the measure to seven months a year. This Congress also promised that this idyllic seven month annual foray into never-never land would also see reduced traffic accidents and crime, must have been an election year. Finally, last year Congress again fiddled with the clocks so that in 2007 we will see DST started in early March and continue until sometime in November.

As Downing points out, Daylight Savings will mean that in November, 2007 in large parts of the country, the sun will not rise until 8:30 in the morning and will set by 5:45 PM. He also points out that this fiddling with the clock has for too long substituted for coming up with an intelligent national energy policy. DST seems to be Congress’ way to demonstrate action while really doing nothing. He quotes Representative Charles Rose who is reminded of a Native American’s definition of DST, “The white man cutting an inch off the bottom of his blanket and sewing it to the top to make it longer.”

I think it might be wise to remember the great prayer of Psalm 74

Yours is the day, Yours also is the night;
You have prepared the light and the sun.
You have established all the boundaries of the earth;
You have made summer and winter. (NASB)

Maybe, the Good Lord knows what He’s doing.

About this Archive

This page is a archive of recent entries written by Ron Moffat in April 2006.

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