Monday, December 23, 2013

The Bottom Line on Pope Francis

Throughout history, to varying degrees, people have supported or resisted Papal authority.  Pope Francis has been the epitome of Christian charity. His simple actions and gestures, along with the consistency of his words, convey far more authority and influence than any Papal encyclical ever could.  But hey, come to think of it, wasn't that the way Jesus did it?

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Against Moralism

"It will teach you that in fact you can’t be 'good' (not for twenty-four hours) on your own moral efforts. And then it will teach you that even if you were, you still wouldn’t have achieved the purpose for which you were created. Mere morality is not the end of life. You were made for something quite different from that. J. S. Mill and Confucius (Socrates was much nearer the reality) simply didn’t know what life is about. The people who keep on asking if they can’t lead a decent life without Christ, don’t know what life is about; if they did they would know that 'a decent life' is mere machinery compared with the thing we men are really made for. Morality is indispensable: but the Divine Life, which gives itself to us and which calls us to be gods, intends for us something in which morality will be swallowed up. We are to be re-made. All the rabbit in us is to disappear—the worried, conscientious, ethical rabbit as well as the cowardly and sensual rabbit. We shall bleed and squeal as the handfuls of fur come out; and then, surprisingly, we shall find underneath it all a thing we have never yet imagined: a real Man, an ageless god, a son of God, strong, radiant, wise, beautiful, and drenched in joy.”
— C.S Lewis

Friday, November 29, 2013

Demian, Ch 7 -- Eva


So Emil Sinclair, in his first year of university, becomes an equal of the independent and humanist, Max Demian.  Emil finally meets Max's mother, Frau Eva Demian. He becomes a mother figure to him and becomes infatuated with her. With Max, Emil becomes part of a network of seekers, idealists, non-conformists, and followers of obscure or esoteric religions. They consider themselves humanists and await the emergence of a new world order of humanity. They all bear the mark of Cain but as a sign of distinction rather than stigma. It signifies that they do not think or act according to the common mentality. They do not conform to tradition or custom. Hesse's citation of Nature is an element pagan, German mysticism. (The Nazis had that too.) In the scene where Max is catatonic, he must have just manufactured and taken some form of hallucinogenic drug. I appreciate how the novel ended, with Emil and Max both going off to fight for Germany in WWI.  Max is a Christ figure and his mother, the Virgin Mary. Emil is an apostle figure, set to live and teach what he learned from Max.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Demian, Chapter 6--Jacob Wrestling (Herman Hesse Novel)

I can see Emil Sinclair as Harry Haller at ages 10-19. And Siddhartha is the same story set in India.

In Steppenwolf, near the end of when he is in the magic theater, he said that he understood everything now. Much of the episode with Knauer seemed parallel to the magic theatre sequence in Steppenwolf.   He encounters someone in the street and experiences things that are dream like or hallucinogenic. At the end of the episode with Knauer, Emil says, "But suddenly I knew everything."
(p.104)

Knauer mentions suicide (Was that some symbolic Freudian/Jungian thing which was actually about Emil wanting to kill that aspect of himself? Or am I reading too much in?) 

One of the resolutions/epiphany of Emil's relationship with Pistorius was that Emil felt that the Mark of Cain was upon his own forehead now.  But its still not clear to me what Emil means by that (I'm probably trying to read too much into it).   But I think that part of it was that previously Emil had been a sort of disciple or protegee or under the influence of Demian, but now Emil has gone through a full cycle of growth and self knowledge and became his own man. Emil became another Demian.

The wisdom learned:

"An enlightened man had but one duty--to seek the way to himself, to reach inner certainty, to grope his way forward, no matter where it led. The realization shook me profoundly, it was the fruit of this experience. I had often speculated with images of the future, dreamed of roles that I might be assigned, perhaps as poet or prophet or painter, or something similar.

"All that was futile. I did not exist to write poems, to preach or to paint, neither I nor anyone else. All of that was incidental. Each man had only one genuine vocation--to find the way to himself. He might end up as poet or madman, as prophet or criminal--that was not his affair, ultimately it was of no concern. His task was to discover his own destiny--not an arbitrary one--and live it out wholly and resolutely within himself. Everything else was only a would-be existence, an attempt at evasion, a flight back to the ideals of the masses, conformity and fear of one's own inwardness. The new vision rose up before me, glimpsed a hundred times, possibly even expressed before but now experienced for the first time by me. I was an experiment on the part of Nature, a gamble within the unknown, perhaps for a new purpose, perhaps for nothing, and my only task was to allow this game on the part of primeval depths to take its course, to feel its will within me and make it wholly mine. That or nothing!"  (p.111)

The language and concepts are taken from Christianity, but Hesse stops short of mentioning God. He does mention Nature, as if it were God or Grace.  Is this the mystical influence they talk about in German culture?

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

J.F. Powers and Radical Catholicism of the 1940s/1950s

I am an echo of the radical Catholicism of the 1940s/1950s.  The influence was through my mother. My mother knew these intellectual currents and spoke of them admirably to me as a child. In particular, she always had great praise for The Catholic Worker Movement and their leader, Dorothy Day.  I had never heard of The Detachers before, but that way of thinking was present in my upbringing and had a hold on me.

See the three book reviews below of the book, Accommodations: An Autobiographical Story of Family Life: Letters of J.F. Powers, (1942-1963) by J.F. Powers (author) and Katherine Anne Powers (editor). 


Two quotes from the first review:

"the radical-liberal Catholic of the forties and fifties, whose allegiance to the rules of the Church (all those children!) was part and parcel of his allegiance to what would now seem an extravagant, not to say extremist, egalitarian politics."

"The collection of letters reveals that he spent the war years as a conscientious objector, and as a sympathizer with the Detachers—a Catholic movement, never officially approved, but apparently tolerated, that insisted that American materialism and militarism were both evils to be avoided at all costs by good Catholics. The idea of an American Catholicism whose central purpose was to stop the national-security state and the supermarket—in those days, supermarkets were seen as Wal-Mart is now—is alien to us, and Powers’s immersion in the often self-defeating politics of left-Catholic activism, with its glamorized poverty, is fascinating to follow from letter to letter."

The neo-Medievalism is not far-fetched at all nor the ruralism.  My grandfather was a ruralist.



Thoughts on Gay Marriage--a Point of View

There is no absolute right, no natural right to marry, not even for heterosexuals. Marriage contracts are issued by the state. It exercises power to control or withhold the right to marry. The reason is that the state has a vested interest in the well-being of its children. The state's overriding interest is that children are the state's future citizens, soldiers, tax payers, farmers, and economic protagonists. In ensuring the future prosperity of the state, the first step is to make sure that there is a father and a mother are legally bound--are forced by the state--to provide for and raise them. That's all there is to it.  Marriage is about children.  The state has no interest in gay marriage because gays cannot beget children.

The purpose of a government is to ensure the common good. In controlling marriage, the state is acting for the common good. The state's control of marriage is a limitation on individual freedom, but individual rights must be balanced against the rights of the community, the state.   

The issue of gay marriage has arisen from what is wrong with contemporary heterosexual marriage. Of marriage, people's heads have become saturated with sentimental ideas about love and romance. to the exclusion of all else. Heterosexuals have been getting married for decades almost solely due to sentimental ideas of love and romance.  It is one of the reasons for the high divorce rate today--because romantic feelings of love and romance only last so long, and then what do you do? The primary driver behind the demand for homosexual marriage is that the almost exclusive emphasis on romantic notions of love and romance in the heterosexual community has spilled over and completely infected the homosexual community with the same illusions.  

These are all principles. The problem is that the devil is in the details. There are many inefficiencies, exceptions, and issues with these principles. 

Having said all of the above, it may shock you, but I am fully in favor of gay civil marriage. The reason is that in America, the way the laws are constructed, hundreds, even thousands of legal entitlements and rights flow from a marriage contract. In the current legal environment, the only way for get people to get them is to have legal gay marriage. If two gay people want to get married, who cares?  If two gay people want to enter into a relationship with all of the legal rights of marriage, I think they should be entitled to. They are not harming anyone else.

If marriage is supposed to be about the welfare of children, given the high rate of divorce and the high rate of births from unmarried people, then what we really need is to re-think heterosexual marriage.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Cain and Abel

Elizabeth D. and I recently read the novel Demian, by Herman Hesse. The main character, Emil Sinclair said that he perceived Max Demian as bearing the mark of Cain. Elizabeth said to me that she has felt that she has born the mark of Cain for her entire life. This led me to explore the meaning of the mark of Cain.  The story of Cain and Abel rather pithy yet seems to contain several of the major themes of the Bible.

Historically, some interpreters have treated the mark of Cain as a stigma, a curse, or sign of eternal damnation. Augustine used it as a rationalization to justify the persecution of Jews. In the American South, white Southern Baptist congregations considered black people to bear the mark of Cain and used it as a justification for slavery. For the same reason, until the 1960's, many white Protestant congregations refused to ordain black men to the ministry.

In the text, we are told that while Abel's sacrifice to God was judged acceptable, Cain's was not. This was Cain's first sin. Note that God did not mete out any punishment towards Cain. Nevertheless Cain was upset, angry, and downcast over the fact that God was not pleased. Seeing this, God questioned Cain over the fact that he was upset and told him that as long as he did the right thing going forward, that all would be right between them. God even cautioned him that if he did rectify himself, then his risk of falling into sin would be even greater. Note that a personal relationship existed between God and Cain. It was God who desired a loving relationship with Cain, and it was God who tried to repair the broken relationship. Yet Cain did not repent.

Cain's first sin was a minor one compared to the next. For killing Abel, God punished Cain by causing his fields to have an insufficient yield. Note that God did not kill, or harm or threaten to kill or harm Cain. Rather, God's intent was to get Cain to repent--to reform--to get him to realize that what he did was wrong and to motivate him to return to a loving and obedient relationship (and friendship) with God. Yet Cain still chose not to repent. Instead, became a vagabond and a fugitive, as if he thought he could hide from God.

In primitive societies people take the law into their own hands, and revenge is considered a just punishment for crimes. This was the most primitive of times--no government, laws, judges, police, jails, etc. After Cain killed Abel, others would have felt justified in killing Cain for his crime.

Despite the murder, God still wanted Cain to repent. And Cain, still not repenting, nevertheless expressed his fear to God that anyone who came upon him will want to kill him. To avoid that and probably to assure Cain himself of that, God put a mark on Cain as a sign to others that if they killed Cain, they would receive a punishment seven times worse than the punishment God meted out to Cain (his crops failing).  A common, traditional understanding of the mark was that it signified a threat of punishment, which it clearly is. But even with the traditional interpretation, it still does not preclude an understanding on the part of other people that God is patient, forgiving and wants people to repent, to not be killed, harmed or consigned to eternal damnation.

This pithy little story has many messages. God still loves us, even after we commit serious sin. 
Even after serious sin, our relationship to God is not completely severed. He still listens to us and protects us, in his own way, even if we do not understand how. God wants evil-doers to repent. God is patient. 

God wants mankind to practice a law of love and forgiveness, not one of revenge. Punishment of evil by causing the evil-doer to suffer should be designed to reform the individual. It should not kill or permanently harm the person. This passage is a teaching for humane treatment of evil-doers and against the death penalty. 

Before the murder, we do not know why God was satisfied with Abel's sacrifice but dissatisfied with Cain's.  But if I were Cain I would be similarly upset.  Note that we do not know exactly what Cain was upset about. He may have felt that God was being unfair to him. He may have been upset by is own guilt. He may have angry and jealous at Abel.  Or any other number of other possibilities.   

God communicated to Cain that if he made thing right and repented then all would be right again. He even warned Cain that if he did not repent, he was at risk of sinning gain, which he did with the murder.  

We don't know exactly why Cain killed Abel. I suspect it was related to his prior sin. Traditionally, we are taught that he killed Abel out of jealousy.  God confronted Cain over the murder, first diplomatically, again permitting Cain to repent but then forcefully and angrily. 

I can relate to Cain.  When I sin, afterwards, I am so upset and ashamed with myself that I cannot repent, at least not immediately. I either want to hide from the one I sinned against, or I want to apologize but am unable or do not know how. 

St. John Chrysosotom is quoted as saying, "Be ashamed when when you sin, not when you repent." This is really an exhortation to repent. But when I know I should repent, the thought of confessing my sin in the Sacrament fills me with so much shame that it makes confession difficult. I suspect that this was the problem that Cain had.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Where I was When Kennedy was Shot

Though I was five years old at the time, I was very aware of the 1960 presidential election campaign from T.V. and listening to the conversations of my elders. I was very aware of the importance of John F. Kennedy to Catholics and especially Irish Catholics. On November 22, 1963, I sitting in my third grade  classroom at Sacred Heart Grammar School in Suffern, N.Y.

Our teacher received a message from the principal over the intercom. I had never seen the intercom used before. She said something as if to herself. I may have heard the word shot. She looked at us as if she didn't know what to do. She decided to consult with the teacher across the hall.  When the door opened, we could see that other teachers were consulting with each other. When she returned, a student who sat closer to the door and able to hear what was going on in the hall asked her, "Was President Kennedy shot?"

She said to the class, "No, President Kennedy has not been shot." She said that we were to wait for instructions from the principal. Soon, a signal was given, and the class was formed into a double line and marched to the church next door. The other classes in the school were doing the same.

While on line outside the church, a student near me turned to another and said, "President Kennedy was shot."  Then I knew.

More Succinctly:
I was sitting in my third grade classroom. The principle, a nun, had sent a message over the intercom, to all the teachers, all nuns also, and told them to wait for instructions from her. The teachers did not know what to do and consulted with each other in the hallway. We overheard the words president and shot being used. Soon, each class was marched, in a double line, to the church. While waiting on line outside the church doors, a boy on line next to me asked the boy in front of him why we were going to church, and he replied, "President Kennedy was shot."


Saturday, November 9, 2013

Meditation, OCD, Bad Habits, and Me

Centering prayer is one of the forms of meditation that Christian monks practice. Until the Reformation, monks routinely taught centering prayer to interested lay people. But apparently, Martin Luther did not like centering prayer and dropped it once he separated from Catholicism.  Unfortunately, in the fallout of the (Catholic) Counter Reformation, Catholic monks were discouraged from teaching centering prayer to lay people.  However, in the past several decades, the practice has had a revival.

I've tried centering prayer a few times in years past, but it never lasted for more than a few days. I have a very busy brain, and I concluded that my brain was just not wired for meditation. But part of my brain told me that while that was true, it was also an excuse. Meditation is exactly what I needed. I lacked the motivation and self-discipline.

For the past two months, I have been alone in the house. It is a relatively monastic existence, yet I am very stressed out by the demands of life. I think too much. I do too much. I am a slave to distractions, worry, bad habits, compulsions, and procrastination. I do not take proper care of my health. Often life seems like an episode of nonstop demands. As an escape, I fall for every imaginable distraction, which reduces the time available to do the important things, which makes the important things all the more stressful. The procrastination, lack of self-discipline, and not feeling more in control in my life are all interrelated. Meditation and prayer are the way to take control and begin to free myself.

I have an OCD (Obsessive  Compulsive Disorder) type problem--compulsive skin picking--which gets worse with stress and not feeling in control. I habitually pick at my scalp which irritates the skin on my face (I do not have obsessive thoughts.) According to the book Brainlock, the non-drug treatment for OCD is to go to a therapist that specializes in Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT), but they are hard to find.  Some forms of meditation--ones they have done studies on--have been helpful. Recent news reports say that studies have shown that one of the purposes of sleep is to purge the brain of toxins that accumulate as a result of thinking and feeling during the day. This suggests that meditation should have a hygienic affect as well. And then there are those studies that show the differences in the brains of people who don't meditate and monks who do. Buddhists who meditate seriously are said to have strong powers of focus and concentration. Meditation is simply good for your mind. I'm hoping that meditation can help my OCD, also help me gain more control over my life. If you can control your mind, you can control yourself.

In the book Brainlock, it says that when an OCD symptom occurs, one part of the brain is erroneously signaling to another part of the brain that something is wrong. Paradoxically, therein lies an insight for me. I wonder if my OCD was my brain's way of saying to me that something is wrong with my life and by extension, with the mind that controls it. And once the symptom became ingrained in me, I was stuck with it.  Having read Brainlock, I know that a psychiatrist would have a field day with that one. In my case, I suspect that my OCD was like the Biblical handwriting on the wall, something which appeared after things had gone too far, and which, like King Belshazzar, I refused to heed. My OCD was like a road sign that read, "You just missed the last exit before dysfunction."  By the time I developed this behavioral OCD, I had already passed the point in my life when I should have made necessary changes. My OCD was like the Idiot Light on the dashboard of your car which lights up to tell you that you are too low on oil, and if you continue driving, you risk doing serious damage to your engine. In my case, the idiot, me, kept driving, and the damage has been done.

It is too much to hope that meditation can change all this completely though I would love to be proven wrong.

I started doing centering prayer again two days ago. With my initial attempt, I found it annoying to meditate for more than thirty seconds--my brain was insisting that I find a distraction. But I applied a little self-discipline, and after a minute or two, I my brain settled down. I've meditated for the two previous days in the morning and evening, for at least twenty minutes. Proud of myself! Each time, it seems to take less time and effort to get in the groove. I have been using the word mercy as my sacred word. The religious (Christian) purpose of centering prayer is to focus on God's interior presence, to rest in God, and be open to the prompting of the Divine within us. Meditation is not an end in itself, just part of how I am undertaking the spiritual journey of life.

This morning, I had intended to meditate for twenty minutes again. I procrastinated for long time, but once I started and my brain settled down, it became effortless, even physically relaxing.  When I finally opened my eyes, I saw that an hour had passed. I felt good about myself, and the whole interior of the house seemed bright and beautiful.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

A Quote from Herman Heese

"A man cannot live intensely except at the cost of the self. Now the bourgeois treasure nothing more highly than the self  (rudimentary as his may be). And so at the cost of intensity, he achieves his own preservation and security. His harvest is a quiet mind which he prefers to being possessed by God, as he does comfort to pleasure, convenience to liberty, and a pleasant temperature to that deathly inner consuming fire. The bourgeois is consequently by nature a creature of weak impulses, anxious, fearful of giving himself away and easy to rule. Therefore, he has substituted majority for power, law for force, and the polling booth for responsibility."

Steppenwolf, p.52

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Wittgenstein on Doctrine vs Lifestyle

“I believe that one of the things Christianity says is that sound doctrines are all useless. That you have to change your life. (Or the direction of your life.) It says that wisdom is all cold; and that you can no more use it for setting your life to rights than you can forge iron when it is cold.”
— Ludwig Wittgenstein

Saturday, October 26, 2013

John F. Kanavaugh S.J., a Liberation Philosopher

If I could live my life over again, I would become a philosopher--not an academic but one who taught and wrote for everyone. I would want to be like John F. Kavanaugh S.J.

From America magazine, November 4, 2013:
Love of the Person. John F. Kavanaugh's Liberation Philosophy

A Brief Obituary which lists some of his columns:
John Kavanaugh, S.J. (1941-2012)

More:
Remembering John Kavanaugh

 The articles he wrote, which were published regularly in Catholic newspapers and magazines, always stood out for their intelligence and reasonableness.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Fr. Giussani Proctors an Exam

This is why we love Fr. Giussani. Below is a passage from, The Religious Sense, from the chapter titled, Unreasonable Positions Before the Ultimate Question: Emptying the Question, from the section heading, The Theoretical Denial of the Questions.

"I was giving a test in religion for my third-year students at the high school where I was teaching and, while the students were writing, I was walking up and down between the aisles. Having returned to the front row of desks, I picked up from one of the students the first book that caught my eye. It was one of his textbooks, Chronicles of Contemporary Philosophy by Natalino Sapegna. I began thumbing through it to pass the time, and my eye simply happened to fall upon a page where  the author  described the life of Leopardi. At this point. I began to read with interest, but after about half a minute I exclaimed: "'Class! Stop the exam! Now you, with all of your presumptions, with all of your desire for autonomy, you read these things and accept them without question, as if you were just drinking a glass of water?' Indeed, here is the text:
The questions into which one condenses the confused, indiscriminate, and reflective callow capriciousness of adolescents, their primitive and undeveloped philosophy (that is, what is life? what is the use of it? what is the purpose of the universe? and why is there pain?), those questions from which the true adult philosopher distances himself, seeing them as absurd and lacking in any speculative value and of such a nature that they bring no answer or any possibility of development, precisely these become Leopardi's obsession, the exclusive content of his philosophy.
"Ah I understand," I said to my students, "Homer, Sophocles, Virgil, Dante, Dostoyevsky, Beethoven would  also be adolescents, because all of their art is driven by these questions, cries out to these needs which--as Thomas Mann used to say--give 'burning immediacy to all we say, and significance to to all our striving.' I am happy to stand in the company of these men, because a man who tosses out these questions is not human!"


References:
Giacomo Leopardi


Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Steppenwolf

I speak here from memory, but let me caution you that over the course of my life, I have discovered that many of the things that I once held clearly and preciously in memory did not happen the way I recalled them.  Memory can be a trickster.

Note the similarity of the word Steppen to Stephen. I've read Steppenwolf at least once, in my late teens, perhaps again another time. When I was a sophomore in college, I saw the German film of the same name, the year it was released (1974). It adheres precisely to the novel.  The film is a work of art in its own right, and it had the same impact on me as the book.

I had a desire to re-read the novel, and yesterday I borrowed a copy from my local library. The beginning has a note from the author, Herman Hesse, stating that the overwhelming majority of people who read the book grossly misunderstood it. Hesse says that he wrote the book at age fifty, with all of the experiences and anxieties that a man of fifty is capable. Hesse says that the young people who loved the book did so for reasons he hadn't foreseen. He says that the older generation of readers had correctly understood the angst of Harry Haller but missed the overall meaning of the book, which Hesse says is about faith and healing. 

Near the beginning of the story, Harry Haller expresses an inner conflict between his loner, aggressive, wolf-like nature and his humanity. I recall that when I read the book forty years ago, I found this conflict disturbing and not something I wanted to contemplate. I recall that that is how Harry Haller reacted to his conflict as well.

At one point, Harry was invited to a dinner party. There had been talk in the newspapers about the possibility of going to war. In response, Harry had just published an article in a newspaper that was anti-war. At the dinner party, the friend who had invited Harry brought up the article in conversation, but he had not realized that Harry wrote it. The friend sharply criticized the article and the author (Harry). This caused Harry a great deal of emotional pain. I identify strongly with the fact that Harry had taken a principled stand on something that was against the common mentality and that he had to suffer personal criticism as a result.

Harry's initial encounter with the nightclub known as, The Magic Theater was enchanting. But just as with Harry, the activities in the theater soon caused me fear and anxiety. That is how I recall it anyway. I am not sure that I fully understood what went on in the theater, I am not sure that Harry did either. 

Steppenwolf is set Switzerland but in an area that bordered Germany and which was completely Weimar in culture. Historians describe the nightlife culture of Weimar as morally depraved. In the novel,the prostitutes, drug use, and theater are Hesse's artistic representations of the popular nightlife culture of Weimar. From the viewpoint of having last read the novel as much as forty years ago, I suspect that the effect of The Magic Theater was to force Harry to confront many of the issues within himself that he needed to confront. Perhaps my subconscious motivation in re-reading the book now is the same.

Perhaps with this reading I will understand the novel the way Hesse intended it.  Would anyone else like to visit The Magic Theater with me?


Thursday, October 3, 2013

Mihai on Postmodernism

“The postmodern individual is the most conditioned and the most chained human type that ever existed in our recorded history. Not only a complete slave to any whim or impulse that presents itself as ‘the next best thing’, but also the perfect puppet to even the most gross and evident manipulation. Since he can mold himself into anything he ‘wants’, the postmodernist can, thus, also be molded, from the outside, into anything that the technocratic ‘elites’ of our days desire. He can be subjected to all manners of social engineering, without even the least possibility of resistance, for he can never discern between his desire and the desire of another — in the absence of any absolute, stable point of reference, external circumstances become the only considerations, and circumstances can always be easily manipulated. However, what is most striking to this postmodern ‘philosophy’ is its resemblance of many traditional spiritual disciplines. Let’s take deconstructionism: in virtually any authentic religion or spiritual path, the goal is to purify the human person of passions and artificial desires in order to truly be one’s self, understood as the inner vocation and essence, which is the direct manifestation of the will of God. In postmodernism we see a caricature of this ideal. Here the individual is called upon to ‘release’ himself from the bondage of external ‘conventions’ and ‘constructs’ and be whoever he wants to be. However, without God, without the vertical dimension it all becomes a contradiction. Since no essence is recognized, the only solution that postmodernism sees is to become ‘free’ by a horizontal and meaningless change of artificial identities. In reality, as said above, the postmodernist doesn’t actually free himself from external ‘constructs’, but merely trades one for another ad nauseam.”

— Mihai, On Postmodernism

Goethe on the Religous Sense

“It is not given to us to grasp the truth, which is identical with the divine, directly. We perceive it only in reflection, in example and symbol, in singular and related appearances. It meets us as a kind of life which is incomprehensible to us, and yet we cannot free ourselves from the desire to comprehend it.”

― Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

The Death Penalty

Lord have mercy on a society which embraces killing to show that killing is wrong.

America should be the shining city on a hill that the rest of the world looks up to.

We have to love justice more than we love revenge.

Anything less is un-American.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Pax Americana

Deep-down in my soul lurks a cynical peacenik. When it became obvious that morning, that 9-11 was an act of terrorism, I felt angry because I believed that 9-11 resulted partly from hypocritical American foreign policy. With 9-11, Now Americans knew what it was like to be on the receiving end of being bombed--of what it was like being a civilian in Hanoi during the Vietnam War, for example. Middle-aged men wearing suits, disturbed and shaking, some with concrete dust in them, were running away from Ground Zero, towards the nearest public transportation. These were the same people whose response to any conflict of the U.S. with another country was to say that we should bomb them. How do you like it, now that you are on the receiving end? 

How many innocent people will die if we bomb Syria?

One friend who worked on the 105th floor of the WTC was out of the office that day due to a planned fishing trip. Most of the people at his office were killed that day--658 people (This was Cantor Fitzgerald). This guy was no pacifist. He is a beer-drinking, macho football fan, and his youthful, passionate, pipe-dream had been to fly fighter jets and do air-air-combat with Soviet MIGs. After 9-11, he said to me with tearful emotion, that he doesn't want the U.S. to bomb anybody, that it is too terrible, that he doesn't want anyone else to ever have to go through something like this ever again. Similarly, shortly after 9-11,the widow of my friend who had worked at Fiduciary Trust was quoted in our local newspaper as saying that she didn't want the U.S. to retaliate against anybody. These two people learned the hard way, through experience, that revenge, and especially the killing of innocent people, is not the solution. 

Today (9/11) should largely be a day of commemoration of the dead.  While self-defense and vigilance are necessary, the resolve of "never again" should not stop at being a declaration of vigilant self-defense. It needs to be a resolve of war "never again"--that is, a resolve to work for peace.  Sadly, most don't think that way. On 9-11, I find the waving of flags and other patriotic gestures to be rather shallow. The flag-wavers have not engaged with the real issues. When will we ever learn?

Historically, most of the dictators in the world, including Latin America and the Middle-East were put and kept in place by the U.S. Sadam Hussein was our guy until he went rogue. Egypt's Mubarek was kept in power for 30 years with over a billion dollars of U.S. military aid every year. The old Shah of Iran was put in place by the Brits, but supported by the U.S. The secret police of these dictators are trained in surveillance, torture and interrogation by the CIA, in order to be able to maintain political control of their populations. Yet, the U.S. preaches democracy and freedom to the whole world. The people that lived under these dictatorial regimes see American hypocrisy for what it is. And that is why they hate us.  

But apparently most Americans are more interested in Miley Cyrus dancing naked than anything else.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Doubt II

I was just reading an online article on Discovery about some newly discovered cave paintings by Native Americans, in Tennessee. They are the oldest cave paintings in North America. The author says that many of the paintings express a belief in a higher power. When my wife took World History at Brookdale Community College, her book talked about the cave paintings in France and Spain and how they also seemed to indicate that primitive man's belief in a higher power.

Socio-biological evolutionary theory is fascinating. My understanding is that a great deal of it has to do not with the adaptive survival of individuals but foremost, of communities/groups.  Note that religious faiths are as much or more about the community as they are about individuals. 

My older son has studied the theory of evolution extensively and confirms that the basic life force is the survival and propagation of the species.  In the Book of Genesis, when God says to Adam & Eve, "Be fruitful and multiply," I interpret that to be the Biblical author's observation and affirmation of what evolution tells us. 

Is it possible that, from the time of the earliest homo sapiens, that manifestations of belief in a higher power are part of the brains evolutionary adaptation to life, to help ensure the survival and propagation of the species?

If that is true, then surely, much of the attempts at adaptation seem ineffective or failures, neurotic.  But what if some of the attempts at adaptation are effective?  In comparison with more traditional evolutionary science, recall that most if not all species die out someday. Neanderthal Man died out, but my son's physical anthropology textbook says that he actually had a good run--lasting longer actually than we have been around so far.  So the fact that a hypothesized religious faith as an adaptive mechanism on the part of the brain may fail often does not necessarily prove that it is not part of an evolutionary mechanism. 

If faith/religion is a manifestation of socio-biological evolutionary adaption, then what does that mean?  It suggests that it is a good thing and in fact is related to our survival as a species. It should be dismissed or condemned. Certainly it should be studied but perhaps in a way I know not.

Extending the thought:

But this has to do with the soft programming of the brain's neuro-circuits not the hard programming of our physical bodies.

It is a well observed fact that the various major religions of the world seem appropriate to the cultures within which they originated and developed.  Hinduism seems far more suited to traditional India. The same with Islam and the traditional Arab culture. These differences also account for when the major religions fight with each other.  The issue is that we now live in the modern world, and to me it would seem that in order to survive, the traditional religions have to do some radical evolving.

Doubt

Like any other believer, I have doubts about faith.  One of my frequently recurring thoughts has been that theology is nothing more than poetry. 

In listening to several video interviews of the poet and Catholic convert Mary Karr, I was struck by the fact that when she talks about faith, she sounds exactly the same as when she is reading poetry. It occurred to me that it is not the case that theology is poetry, but rather that poetry is theology. 

Poetry is religion. But note that there is good poetry and bad poetry. The thing that makes poetry religion is that the poet is true to her own experience. 

Recall the ancient Greek's attributes of the divine: the one, the true, the good, the beautiful.
 
I was listening to the below video, and my ears perked up when she said, "Theology is poetry."  Btw, I have never been wild about Karen Armstrong, but she has some excellent viewpoints. You won't be converted by her video, but you may find some spiritually enlightening things.  

The Case for God: Karen Armstrong at St Paul's Cathedral.


And here is sampler of Mary Karr reading poetry (and listen to the first poem):

Mary Karr talking

The Sacrament of the Present Moment, by Jean-Pierre De Caussade

During Holy Week, I found a thin book called ,The Sacrament of the Present Moment, in the back of a church.  Haphazardly, I  picked a section to read and it resonated with me. The text had been compiled in the 18th century from spiritual conferences and letters that a French Jesuit, Jean-Pierre De Caussade had conducted for a convent of nuns.  The book is considered a spiritual classic, and I am surprised that I had never heard of it before.

I finally ordered a copy through my local library, and now find the book tedious and suffocating. The book is about living in the present moment and completely surrendering to the will of God in each moment.  As the translator, Katherine Muggeridge says, the aim is to annihilate the ego, the self.

The author talks extensively of the importance of listening to one's heart, of affection for one's heart, and how God talks to each of us in our hearts. Only recently have I learned that the word heart in the romance languages means something different than how it is most commonly used in English.  In English, the word heart is used as a synonym for feeling.  In the romance languages, the word heart means the innermost part of our being.  From the European definition, it seems  that the heart is a hidden and true self.  For me personally, to do something from the heart means to do it with all of our faculties acting in full concert--intellect, emotions, intuition, experience, and whatever other human components.

As an American of my generation (age 58) raised in an Irish-Catholic religious culture, feelings were scorned, were not to be trusted.  The intellect was all. When I was a child, displays of emotion were ridiculed.   Ironically, I grew up in a parish called Sacred Heart. While I knew that our pastor and many others had a devotion to the sacred heart of Jesus, I had no understanding of what the sacred heart meant.  It was something abstract . This is an example of a religious practice that has been reduced to formalism.

The emphasis on doing God's will is biblically and theologically correct of course. The problem is the approach--that teachers, writers, and clergymen like De Caussade present it in such as way that it comes across as repressive.  They seek to impose it upon us externally.  Rarely has it been taught as an interior movement, as something desired by the heart, as something sought by the self. Where is my "I" in all of this?  On the other, perhaps I should consider De Caussade's original audience, of women who have already chose to give their life to God and are presumably well along the spiritual journey.

On one level, De Caussade is contradictory. He puts the highest value on the desires of the heart; yet, he seeks to destroy the self. De Caussade's discussion of the heart  is wonderful and beautiful and should be a part of everyone's education.  He in fact writes very preciously and affectionately of the desires and movements of the heart. There is nothing harsh, authoritarian, or repressive about that part.

In my childhood Catholic education, the desires of the "I" counted for nothing. The "I" could be abused, neglected, sacrificed.  Sanctity meant denial of the "I."  Coming from my background, anything about the heart is always about something different and far away, that I can relate to only in the abstract.


So, despite De Cassade's beautiful counsel on discernment of the heart, talk of God's will being imposed from without is enough to frighten me off. Although I think I have a better than superficial understandings of concepts like heart and God's will, and can work through the historical and cultural differences, the book's apparent contradictions are too complex for me to be able to be able translate, reconcile, and integrate. Doubtless. the book contains many spiritual riches, but perhaps  readers from a less authoritarian upbringing than I will appreciate it more.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

A Truth Experienced

"In sorrow and suffering, go straight to God with confidence, and you will be strengthened, enlightened, and instructed."

~St. John of the Cross

On Being Human - Hauerwas

"To be a human being is not a natural condition, but requires training. The kind of training required, moreover, has everything to do with death. To follow Jesus is to go with him to Jerusalem where he will be crucified. To follow Jesus, therefore, is to undergo a training that refuses to let death, even death at the hands of enemies, determine the shape of our living.”

- Stanley Hauerwas, Working With Words: On Learning to Speak Christian

To Learn from Life

"Life is not literature. Before we can assimilate anything, we have to turn it over in our minds again and again. To take in and to assimilate is a slow process. The mind has to concentrate on its object a long time, if it is to take on its form and live it."

- Dom Augustin Guillerand, Carthusian

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Richard Rohr on Freedom

“Jesus’ notion of the Kingdom is a different understanding of personal freedom than that of most religious and secular leaders today. We think of freedom as not having to do what we don’t want to do, but divine freedom is the capacity to be fully who we already are, to develop our inherent and true nature in God, as much as possible—really wanting to do what we know we have to do. Only God can create that freedom inside of us. A mustard seed, yeast, and light, that grow from within, are some of Jesus’ central metaphors for the Reign of God. Secular freedom only creates individualists, and private freedom, but not a society. It never gets around to the common good, which is a central principle of Catholic social teaching and the Gospel, which demands from you and demands for others. Then you become who you most deeply and truly are, a member of a family, a neighborhood, a society, and a planet. If you are trying to ‘go to heaven’ alone or on your own merits, you are preparing for a place other than heaven”

 — Richard Rohr

Thursday, May 23, 2013

The Same Key

“To every man is given the key to the gates of heaven; the same key opens the gates of hell.” - A Buddhist proverb quoted by Richard Feynman.

The key is called human freedom.

Ground of Being

Jesus said unto them: "Who do you say that I am?" And they replied: "You are the eschatological manifestation of the ground of our being, the kerygma in which we find the ultimate meaning of our interpersonal relationships ". And Jesus said, "What?"

- Written on a wall at St. Joseph's University in Philadelphia
I'd expect nothing less from the Jesuits.

Monday, May 13, 2013

The Baby in the Well. The Case Against Empathy.

Below are my ruminations in reference to the article, The Baby in the Well. The Case Against Empathy, by Paul Bloom, which was published in The New Yorker, May 20, 2013.

The point of the article is that empathy is not very helpful unless it is coupled with values and reason. Empathy is something that I was ignorant about until I was in my early 30's. I thought it was something that women did! Of course in hindsight, I had experienced empathy before then, especially from my mother when I was a child, but I was not able to put a name on it. Until my early 30's, I had chosen an approach to life that was rigid and overly intellectual. Of course, I always had the same human need for empathy as everyone else, but I was lost in the wilderness. As I grew up, I chose a rather stoic, 1950's male approach to life, coupled with a wildly overdeveloped superego. As per what I have learned from Fr. Luigi Giussani, the purpose of feelings in humans is to draw our attention to what is important.  That makes perfect sense to me. And using a metaphor from Giussani, feelings are the like the lens of the eye or a camera. To see clearly, the lens must be focused. Feelings inform our reason, and for our reason to function at its best, the lens of feelings must be properly focused.  The last sentence of The New Yorker article reads, "But empathy will have to yield to reason if humanity is to have a future."

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Rescuing the Book of Genesis from the Fundamentalists

Watch the video, Misreading Genesis, where Father Barron talks about the problem of treating Genesis as a science text. People need to be aware of the genre of what they read. The author of Genesis did not intend to write a science textbook. In fact, modern science as we know it did not even exist until the late 16th or early 17th  century.  Rather, Genesis is a great humanistic text.

In almost all of the ancient cosmologies and creation myths, order results from a conquest or act of great violence. In contrast, in Genesis, the world is created through a non-violent act of speech. Further, [my assertion] the creation of Adam and Eve as the pinnacle of creation and in the image of God show the exalted value of humanity.
"God has imbued all things with intelligibility. Adam, noticing the intelligibility, names them, gives them their proper title. Who is he? The church fathers read him as the first scientist. He is the first philosopher. He is the human being in his proper role as the steward of creation and the one who names and orders all things according to God's creative intention." 
"Adam and Eve who are kind of, 'at play in the fields of the Lord:' That stands for science, for art, for politics for conversation, for friendships--all these forms of human flourishing, under the Lordship of God."
  No, Genesis is not an attempt at science but an exquisite theological reflection on the origin of all things.


Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Listening to the Bible on CD--the Pentateuch

I friend loaned me a copy of the Bible on CD, and I've been listening to it in my car whenever I drive, starting at the beginning. The voices are done by major Hollywood actors, and the dramatization makes it more palatable. There is background music and sounds effects as well, like the sound of rain and of sheep going , "Bahhhh..."

Listening to the Bible is an entirely different experience than reading it. I've just finished the Pentateuch, also known as the Torah, the first five books. In the past when reading the Pentateuch, I tended to get lost; reading each countless verse in succession was like looking through a microscope at each molecule in succession that makes up an entire body.

In the car, I just put the CD on. My mind wanders just as when I'm listening to music or just driving. I don't have the microscopic focus on each individual verse. The characters keep talking, whether you got the last line or not.  But what I discovered was that listening results in a better overall sense of the narrative, without getting hung-up on the thorny details.

What I didn't realize until now is that the journey out of Egypt didn't end with the Book of Exodus, but the journey, and the transmission of the Law by God continues through the entire Pentateuch. Moses doesn't die until the last chapter of Deuteronomy.

With the event of the original Passover--with the angel of God killing the first born of every Egyptian family, Pharaoh finally agreed to free the Jews and let them return to the promised land. Each Jewish family had to sacrifice a lamb and spread its blood on their door post in order for the angel to "pass over" them. And afterwards, God commanded the Jews the commemorate the event every year, in what is known as the feast of Passover, which includes the eating of symbolic foods at a commemorative dinner known as the Passover Seder.

In the Christian New Testament, the Last Supper was a Seder. In the ritual, participants eat at four different times, and each part is concluded by drinking a cup of wine.  At the Last Supper, Jesus leaves the Seder after concluding the third part--without completing the ritual. The third part consists of eating the pascal lamb and unleavened bread--called the Bread of Affliction, and the concluding cup of wine is known as the Cup of Blessing. On the next day, Jesus was crucified--He had become sacrificial lamb, and his blood  was the fourth and concluding cup.

Whereas in Egypt, the Passover freed the Jews from slavery and allowed them to journey to the promised land, the crucifixion of Jesus freed us from bondage to sin and enabled our salvation.  Whereas the Jews in Egypt were freed physically, Jesus freed all of humankind spiritually. Moreover, whereas Jews commemorate Passover every year with the Seder meal, Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox and some Protestant Churches commemorate the Last Supper with each Mass/Liturgy ("Do this in memory of me.").

While listening to the Bible on CD, I realized that the parallel continues. From the time Moses led the Jews out of Egypt, until they settled in the promised land, it was a long, contentious relationship between the Jews and God, with most of the people seemingly failing (sinning) most of the time.

The parallel that I see here is that once a person chooses to follow Christ, they nevertheless have a long journey ahead of them--a lifelong, sometimes contentious relationship between themselves and God, with much failure (sin) along the way.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Victor Frankl on Freedom

“We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms; to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Joy


I know that I have experienced every human emotion in life, but when I was younger, I was bewildered or overwhelmed by emotions. I didn't know what I was experiencing. Often they were alien or threatening. I didn't know their names or what to do with them.  

Intellectually, I know that Christians are supposed to be joyful, and I have often wondered, where is the joy in my life? But recently, a female friend in the Communion and Liberation movement was talking about joy, and I said,"I don't know what joy is." 

She responded, "I don't know about that." In the week or two afterwards, I found myself wondering about joy, and I realized that she was right. I have experienced joy numerous times. It happens whenever I am touched by something or someone. It happens in the smallest things in life, and it often brings me to tears, much to my embarrassment. It happens when I see grace and meaning in people's lives. Sometimes it renders me speechless, because I know I wouldn't be able to talk without bursting into tears. I have learned that one does not seek joy itself, but rather, joy comes as the fruit of experiencing truth, beauty, goodness. 

Have a joyful day.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

How to be Moral

From School of Community:

"Don't daydream and aim for perfection, but look Christ in the face."

To be moral is to look Christ in the face.

"If one looks someone in the face, everything is straightened out,
everything falls into place..."

"The source of being moral is loving someone, not following laws."

"This can be extremely uncomfortable because you can't follow yourself anymore."

Friday, February 15, 2013

The Most Profound Thing That Etty Hillesum Ever Wrote

This is the most profound thing that Etty Hillesum ever wrote:

"I see no alternative, each of us must turn inward and destroy in himself all that he thinks he ought to destroy in others. And remember that every atom of hate we add to this world makes it still more inhospitable."

(The above was embedded in a long entry dated September 23, 1942.)

Jesus' once asked why we look at the splinter in our brother's eye when we don't notice the log in our own eye. That saying of Jesus hasn't gotten enough emphasis.

I know too many people that express slander and hatred freely and without conscience. It springs from original sin and ignorance of course, and some people are simply delusional. And sadly, quite a number of people like this are devoutly religious. Just as numerous are people who blindly believe and then repeat every slanderous allegation they hear. People like this are too numerous to deal with. 

The only thing that we have any hope of having real control over in our lives is ourselves. The only hope we can ever have of changing others, is that our own lives be a witness to the truth. 

I am not comfortable with Etty's choice of the word destroy. (though critics say that the translation is horrendous.) God does not want us to be self-destructive. Reform would have been a better choice of a word. We have to reform our own lives--our own hearts, minds, and souls, before we can ever have any chance of changing others. If we don't, then we are hypocrites, and simple observation of people shows that there is nothing like hypocrisy to dissuade people from something. If you want change, as Ghandi said, "Be the change you wish to see in the world." Otherwise, we are nothing more than a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.

---

Etty Hillesum was a secular, assimilated Jew living in Amsterdam who died in Auswitch in 1943. The diary was written after the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands, while the Nazis were persecuting the Jews and shipping them off to concentration camps. Etty had a degree in law and then studied Russian language and literature. On her own, she read philosophy, psychology, especially, Carl Jung, and poetry, especially Rilke. She was a patient,  personal secretary, and physical intimate of the psychoanalyst Julius Spier, also a Jew. He introduced her to the gospels and the writings of St. Augustine. Etty had several opportunities to escape the Nazi persecution, Instead she insisted on serving her fellow Jews to the very end and chose to suffer the same fate as they. Her last letter was a postcard tossed from the window of the train as it left for the Aushwitz concentration camp.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The Resurrection of the Body, a Messy Idea Indeed...

The following is the first paragraph of an essay by Michael Novak. I found it worth pondering.
I've noticed among undergraduate students a difficulty accepting that Christians actually hold to the old Jewish belief of resurrection of the body and not to the Greek's, "immortality of the soul." Whether this issue arises while discussing Jesus' resurrection or the afterlife, I find myself explaining that Christians believe it is intrinsic to human beings to be physical in some way. Even if our current bodies are not prepared for permanence, Jesus' resurrection still indicates some sort of continuity, which Paul contemplates in the First Letter to the Corinthians. In our imaginations, the immortality of the soul is a less messy idea, if comfortably vague. When talking with my students, however, I argue that the idea of resurrection has more satisfying complex claims to make, wrapping together fundamental beliefs about being human, about the cosmos and the doctrine of Creation and our relation to our environment.  
- Michael Novak, The Man in the Mirror. America Magazine. Nov 12, 2012

The rest of the essay is a description of Novak's experience of having his facial appearance radically altered as a result of skin cancer.

Pope Benedict XVI Cites Etty Hillesum


On Ash Wednesday, in his general audience, the Pope mentioned Etty Hillesum.  If you read the context of his talk, Etty is in good company!   The Pope and I think alike! 
I also think the figure of Etty Hillesum, a young Dutch woman of Jewish origin who died in Auschwitz. Initially far from God, she found Him looking deep inside herself and wrote: "There is a well very deep inside of me. And God is in that well. Sometimes I can reach Him, more often He is covered by stone and sand: then God is buried. We must dig Him up again "(Diary, 97). In her scattered and restless life, she finds God in the middle of the great tragedy of the twentieth century, the Shoah. This young fragile and dissatisfied woman, transfigured by faith, becomes a woman full of love and inner peace, able to say: "I live in constant intimacy with God."
http://en.radiovaticana.va/en1/articolo.asp?c=664501

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Through Peace to Light -- a Prayer

Today, while visiting my parents, I discovered that in the book my mother is currently reading, for a bookmark, she was using a transparent, plastic protector containing a small scrap of paper that had turned brown with age. The front of it read:

I do not ask my cross to understand,
   My way to see;
But that in darkness just to feel Thy hand
  And Follow Thee.

On the back was written in my mother's hand,  "Saint Joan of Arc / May 30, 1941." My mother said that it is the one prayer that always works. She explained that the prayer never fails to bring to awareness the presence of Jesus--making everything all right again (restoring faith and hope).

My mother is 81 years old, and she recalls that when she was about 10, she and some other girls visited a church, Saint Joan of Arc, in Jackson Heights (in Queens, New York City), and it was there that she found the prayer, tore it off from whatever paper it was on, and saved it. Since she not only saved it but wrote the date and location, it must have made a very strong imprint on my 10 year-old mother. Her own parish was Saint Bartholomew in Elmhurst (Queens also), and my mother recalls that the reason for the visit was that three of the churches in the area had organized a prayer pilgrimage that involved praying at all three churches. But my mother said that due to their age, she and the other girls only visited the one other church.

With a quick Google search, I discovered that the prayer is part of a poem that was written by an Englishwoman, Adelaide Anne Procter, (1825-1864).  I am not sure if the title of the poem is a reference to a particular line of scripture, but the body of the poem is based on Isaiah 40:28-31.

Per Pacem Ad Lucem

 I do not ask, O Lord, that life be
    A pleasant road;
 I do not ask that Thou wouldst take from me
    Aught of its load;

I do not ask that flowers should always spring
    Beneath my feet;
I know too well the poison and the sting
    Of things too sweet.

For one thing only, Lord, Dear Lord I plead,
    Lead me aright--
Though strength should falter, and though heart should bleed--
    Through Peace to Light.

I do not ask, O lord, that Thou shouldst shed
    Full Radiance here;
Give but a ray of peace, that I may tread
    Without a fear.

I do not ask my cross to understand,
    My way to see;
Better in darkness just to feel thy hand
    And follow Thee.

Joy is like restless day; but peace divine
    Like quiet night:
Lead me, O Lord,--till perfect Day shall shine
    Through Peace to Light.

Adelaide Anne Procter was the favorite poet of Queen Victoria.  She was the second most popular poet in England, after Alfred Lord Tennyson. She was a friend of Charles Dickens, who published many of her poems in the publications that he controlled, and he also wrote the introductions in some of the books that contained her poetry. She was very active in charitable works. According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, "Miss Procter was of a charitable disposition: she visited the sick, befriended the destitute and home- less, taught the ignorant, and endeavored to raise up the fallen ones of her own sex. She was generous yet practical with the income derived from her works. In 1859 she served on a committee to consider fresh ways and means of providing employment for women; in 1861 she edited a miscellany, entitled "Victoria Regia", which had some of the leading litterateurs of the time as contributors and which was set up in type by women compositors; and in 1862 she published a slender volume of her own poems, "A Chaplet of Verses", mostly of a religious turn, for the benefit of the Providence Row night refuge for homeless women and children, which, as the first Catholic Refuge in the United Kingdom, had been opened on 7 October, 1860, and placed under the care of the Sisters of Mercy."

Incidentally, the book my mother was reading was Rediscovering Catholicism, by Matthew Kelly. At my brother Matthew's parish, they were giving the book out for free. He did not have time to read it, so he gave it to my mother.