Monday, August 28, 2006

Al Franken's "Supply Side Jesus": Irreverent, or Sharp-witted Satire?

I live in a swank town. How swank, do you ask? Swank enough that there is no trash pickup at the curb. We wouldn’t have those barrels on our sidewalks. You take all of your trash and garbage to what we used to call “the dump” years ago, but is now the “Recycling Center”. It is so nice, in fact, that there is a large section where people leave off their used books, often in mint condition. After dropping off my trash on Saturday, I was looking some of them over, when a woman arrived with several bags full of books. She explained that she needed to clean house to make room for all of her daughter’s textbooks. Before the professional vultures were able to grab up all of the books in those bags, I picked out a copy of a book I had seen for years, but had never opened up, Al Frankens’ Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right.

As you all probably know, there is quite a cottage industry out there for the chattering skull class of apologists from the extreme left and the extreme right who are making a fine living out of telling us how the other side is screwing up the country and leading western civilization into total destruction. On the right, there are books like Laura Ingraham’s Shut Up and Sing: How Elites from Hollywood, Politics, and the UN are Subverting America, as well as books by people like Ann Coulter, Bill O’Reilly, Michael Savage, and Sean Hannity. On the left there are books by Michael Moore, John Stewart, Bill Maher, and Al Franken.

Flipping through Franken’s book yesterday, I do have to admit that there was a lot to chuckle about. There was one chapter in particular, with a comic book spoof called “Supply Side Jesus”. Here Franken takes the religious right to task for hitching their wagon to country club “neo-con” economic libertarians. I thought the strip was quite funny and hard-hitting at the same time. Beliefnet has most of the cartoon panels here, with some interesting commentary from various readers thrown in. What do people think?

Friday, August 25, 2006

With the Trappists at St. Joseph’s Abbey

A co-worker told me yesterday that I looked less tired than I did before I went on vacation. It was the first time I’d had a chance to relax in a while. I got a little more sleep than usual (maybe because I was blogging less!) It put me in mind of the last time I’d had a chance to unwind…

As an anniversary gift back October of 2004, Anne booked me a weekend retreat with the Trappist monks at St. Joseph’s Abbey in Spencer, MA. I spent it with them the long weekend after Thanksgiving. She figured I needed a break and some time away from the stress of work and from our “active” household of children, etc..

How to plan a visit.

(BTW, these are the guys who make the Trappist jams and jellies.. the best you can find anywhere)

It was a wonderful weekend, alternately relaxing and invigorating. The monks were kind, humorful, and patient, putting up with laymen like us who had a real hard time learning how to be truly quiet. They come from all corners of the globe and all walks of life. We accompanied them in their daily office, from Vigils at 3:30 AM to Compline at 7:40 PM. There are about 40 monks in residence. The chant was wonderful, although like Tony Hendra in the book Father Joe, I was wishing the chant was in Latin rather than English. They did chant a Salve Regina in Latin on Saturday evening, with the stained-glass window of Mary in the nave lit up from outside. It was wonderful.

A monk’s routine:

3:10 am - Rise

3:30 am - Vigils, a communal praying of the Psalms

4:15 am - Personal prayer and sacred reading, a light breakfast and attention to personal needs

6:00 am - Lauds, morning prayer, followed by Eucharist and time for prayer and reading

8:00 am - Angelus; the Great Silence ends

9:00 am - Morning work until noon

10:00 am - Tierce, midmorning prayer, in the workplace

12:15 pm - Sext, midday prayer, followed by the communal meal

1:00 pm - Dishes, rest or a walk

2:00 pm - None, midafternoon prayer, followed by afternoon work

4:30 pm - Time for prayer, reading, exercise

5:40 pm - Vespers, evening prayer, followed by a light supper and time for prayer and reading

7:40 pm - Compline, night prayer, concluded with the chanting of the Salve Regina

8:00 pm - Retire; the Great Silence begins

We stayed in very spare but comfortable cells, where we could spend time in contemplation, prayer, and spiritual reading. The guest house also had a chapel with the Blessed Sacrament where you were allowed to visit at any hour, for any length of time.

There was a brief conference on Saturday morning, which presented the only awkward moments. The priest giving the conference may have been a tad too metaphysical for most of us in attendance. Most of the guys who attend these retreats are quite conservative, and the monks are somewhat beyond all liberal/conservative divides and issues. The spirituality of these guys is truly on another plane. When I went to him for confession, however, I found him empathic and quite wise in practicality for someone who had been cloistered for over 50 years.

We ate our meals in silence (well, almost.. they played an audiotape of Desmond Tutu reading his newest book while we ate). Afterwards, we were all responsible for cleaning up, washing the dishes, and setting the tables for the next meal. It is amazing how everyone learns to find their own niche in the work, even in total silence.

All in all, it was a deeply spiritual experience, and made we aware of my own personal need to concentrate more deeply on my prayer life and to take account of my own disposition and tendencies towards controversialism. The next time I go on retreat, however, I think I would like something more directed.

There was one other thing I found out about myself. Although I do need to have my time spent alone in solitude now and then, and although I do get a lot out of contemplative prayer, I wouldn’t have been cut out to be a monk. After a few days spent in there with all of those old gents, I couldn’t wait to see Anne again. ;-)

Thursday, August 24, 2006

The Book Meme

As noted previously, I was tagged for the book meme by Liam. Here’s my shot at it, slightly changed from what I had posted in a combox once at Crystal’s. My list is likely to be far more plebeian than Liam’s fine list, which was certainly more intellectual. :-)

1. One book that changed my life

The Mythmaker, by Hyam Maccoby. It rocked my world and my perception of what I thought I knew. If my faith hadn’t been so strong, it really might have shaken it, but as I’ve since read other more talented authors in a similar vein, it has actually turned out to be faith-affirming in the long run. Maccoby’s approach is now a little dated, and some of his conclusions well-refuted, but it opened me up to a new avenue of scholarship that I find fascinating.

2. One book that you’ve read more than once

All Quiet on the Western Front, by Erich Maria Remarque. A short but wide-ranging novel telling the story of World War I from a German perspective. Infantryman Paul Baumer tells the story of life in the trenches with his beloved comrades. None of them make it... I first read it in the Classics Illustrated comic book series when I was a kid, and it prompted me to read the book. It was the first serious, adult novel I had ever read. Remarque was a brilliant writer and storyteller, and the flow was riveting.

3. One Book you’d want on a desert island

The Bible. I think I’d really need it. Plus, it has everything in it that you could possibly want to read about. In addition to being the divinely inspired Word, it is fabulous literature.

4. One book that made you laugh

Without Feathers, by Woody Allen, and the shorter companion volume, Getting Even. It’s sad how art imitated life, and Allen’s life suffered a meltdown. I thought he was very funny at one time. I miss going to see his movies with a clear conscience.

A close runner-up would be The Best of Bad Hemingway competition, edited by George Plympton. I love Hemingway's short stories, and these parodies were hilarious.

5. One book that made you cry

I can’t thing of a book that has actually brought me to tears. Not the way some movies have, for instance. The closest was Johnny Got His Gun, by Dalton Trumbo. Another story of the First World War... The novel contains the thoughts of a wounded American soldier who gradually comes to the realization that he’s lost his arms, legs, sight, hearing, and ability to smell or speak. Eventually he learns to communicate with the outside world, but the outside world doesn’t want to hear him. They silence him.

Close runner-up: The Catcher In The Rye, by J. D. Salinger

6. One book you wish had been written

Java Made Easy for the Procedural Code Programmer. I’m an old COBOL programmer. Java and other object-oriented languages have been tough for me to master.

7. One Book that you wish had never been written

Hard to narrow it down, but there are a lot that come to mind… More than in some of the other categories.

It would be easy to say Mein Kampf, but I really don’t know how influential it was. I had to read it once, and it was so illogical, incoherent, and scatterbrained, it’s hard to imagine how even the staunchest Nazi could have made any sense of it.

Liam makes a great point about the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. This tract written by the Czarist secret police is still making the rounds.

Atlas Shrugged, The Fountainhead, or anything by Ayn Rand. I loathe Rand’s Objectivism, which was gussied-up selfishness given the veneer of a “philosophy”

Calvin’s Institutes, although I’m not looking for trouble with anyone. I’m not a big fan of Augustine to begin with, and it seems to me that Calvinism is like Augustinianism on steroids.

While I admire things that Tom Friedman has written about the Midlde East, I detest the globalization happy-talk he sells in books like The Lexus and the Olive Tree and The World is Flat.

8. One book you are currently reading

I have a list of three books I’m working my way through over on the right, above my links. One book that I recently finished was Mayflower. A Story of Community, Courage, and War, by Nathaniel Philbrick. The Mayflower story covered only about the first third of the book. The rest was about the fragile, intense, and complicated relationship between the English settlers and the Native Americans, which culminated in the calamitous King Philip’s War, which almost wiped the settlers out, and was devastating to the Indians of New England A fascinating read. I recommend it highly.

9. One book you’ve been meaning to read

There are quite a few important books that I’ve started in the past but have not quite been able to finish. Two of them that I need to get back to are A Peace to End All Peace. The Fall of the Ottoman Empire and the Creation of the Modern Middle East by David Fromkin. The other is Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared diamond.

10. Now tag five people

You know what? I can’t tag five, I don’t have enough correspondents here to do it. I’ll name Paula, Steve, Don, and the Minor Friar.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Back From Ontario

Well, by the Grace of God, we have arrived safely back home from our trip to Ontario. Georgian Bay is a beautiful area. It reminded us very much of the coast of Maine, except with fresh water. A fun time was had by all.

The kids had a great time in particular, especially in being reunited with their Canadian friends. We had a wonderful time swimming, canoeing, kayaking (something I've always wanted to do. I loved it, although I looked a little comical trying to get out of it), tubing, cooking hot dogs and marshmallows over open fires, exploring our host's private island, and exploring "crown" (public) islands.

A few thoughts..

We stopped at Niagara Falls on the Way. If you ever get a chance to visit the Falls, do take a ride on the Maid of the Mist. The Falls are a wonder to behold, and the boat-ride is the best way to see them.

My advice on driving through Toronto: Don't, if you can possibly help it. It's white-knuckle driving most of the way, about the worst I've ever seen, and that includes NYC, the Garden State Parkway, Boston's Southeast Expressway, and the Capital Beltway.

Our hosts got a big kick out of me falling out of the canoe on my first attempt at climbing in. They claimed they had never seen anyone do that before. The truth is, I'm about 15-20 pounds over my fighting weight around the middle these days. I really feel like I can't do things quite like I used to. Then again, maybe I'm just getting old. Embarassing moment number 1.

The cry of a loon on a lake in the middle of the night is one of the most beautiful sounds there is.

There are rattlesnakes indigenous to that part of Canada. Who knew?

Embarassing moment number 2... At the end of our stay, our hosts had dropped us off by motorboat at the marina. We had driven about halfway through the Ojibway Reservation at Parry Sound before we realized that Anne's purse was missing. It turned out that we had left it back at the cottage on the island. We had to ask our hosts to make the trip all the way back to the marina again with the purse. Good provocation for a donnybrook of a fight between Anne and I. It was probably the closest to divorce we've ever come. :-)

Embarassing moment number 3... On the way home, we stopped in Syracuse to visit some friends and to have a meal. We said our goodbyes and started driving away, only to have our 10-year old daughter Tess come rushing out of the house shouting at us not to leave without her. It's a good thing Anne and I each have a self-deprecating sense of humor. We need it.

With the kids at Niagara Falls

I'm getting around to catching up with you all. I see that Liam has tagged me for the book meme. I'll have to get busy with that.


Wednesday, August 16, 2006

On Vacation For A Week

This is a note to say that I’ll be heading out on vacation for a week, just in case I haven’t completely alienated all of my online friends and readers. :-) Will anyone notice if I’m gone? :-)

I’ve rented a huge van and the whole family will be going up to visit some friends from Toronto on an island off of Parry Sound, on Lake Huron. The amenities will be very basic. It’ll be interesting to see how we and our hosts will bear it under the strain of the eight of us visitors.

The Georgia Bay area of Lake Huron was the site of several Jesuit missions among the Huron Indians during the 17th century... Many of the “Black Robes” were martyred in this effort.

Martyrs Shrine

Brief Sketches of the Jesuit Martyr-Saints

John de
Brébeuf - the first Jesuit Missionary in Huronia (1626);

Lalemant - a Jesuit assistant to Brebeuf, he died March 17, 1649 at
Ste. Ignace;

Daniel - a missionary near Bias-d'or Lakes (1632), founded the first
boys' College in North America (Quebec 1635);

Garnier- was a Jesuit Missionary in Huronia

Chabanel - a Jesuit priest, suffered martyrdom, in 1649, on the

Jogues - came to Huronia in 1636, helped to build Ste. Marie (1639)

Goupil - studied medicine and offered his services to the Jesuit missions in Canada

John de
Lalande - accompanied Jogues to the Mohawk Mission (1646), a martyr,
at Auriesville, N.Y.

Parry Sound is also the birthplace of the greatest hockey player of all time, Bobby Orr. I know that some are partial to Wayne Gretzky or Mario Lemieux, or certain others such as Bobby Hull or Gordie Howe… Having seen them all play, I’d have to say that for my money, Orr was far and way the best. Hands down.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Wearing Our Faith Well in the Light of the Spirit

A thunderstorm approaching the city of Assisi

Walking the spiritual path in a balanced way can be a challenge. A healthy path seems narrow and hard to navigate. I posted here some notes from a book by Fr. Ron Rolheiser not too long ago. The book deals with stories of balance and imbalance in the spiritual life. I try to keep two of his quotes in the front of my mind (the second one may actually be from Fr. Gustavo Gutierrez):
”The wrong God of the left and right is the God who is wired, bitter, anxious, workaholic, and unhappy.”

“Only one kind of person transforms the world spiritually – Someone with a grateful heart.”

In the second reading today we heard:
And do not grieve the holy Spirit of God, with which you were sealed for the day of redemption. All bitterness, fury, anger, shouting, and reviling must be removed from you, along with all malice. (And) be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving one another as God has forgiven you in Christ.
Ephesians 4:30-32

I’m quick tempered and passionate. There are a lot of things going on in the world that seem unjust to me; that anger me. I’m tempted at times to vent here, and to pour some frustrations out, but I try to hold myself in check. Anger is an easy sell. There’s a ready market out there for it, but there is too much of it out there already. Selling anger is not what I want to do. I’m asking you guys to keep me honest on it. If you see me doing it, I’m asking you to call me on it and to bring me up short.

Still, on the other hand, we must speak up about injustice. We are called to be prophetic in our witness. Sometimes that calls for hard words, wit, and even some sarcasm. You see this in all of the prophets. How do we do this in a balanced fashion? How do we thread the needle?

Back in the 1980’s in the midst of my bachelor days, I started to get more serious about my faith. I became much more active in parish life. Over time I became great friends with the priests, and at their urging, volunteered my time to help out with the High School Youth Ministry Program. These were some great days. I enjoyed it thoroughly, and I got some great feedback from the priests, the students, and the parents. I was feeling pretty good about what we were accomplishing and feeling pretty good about myself.

At about the same time, there was an attractive young woman I was friends with at work. I suppose I probably had kind of a crush on her, although I felt like she was a little bit out of my league. You know the way people sort of flirt when they feel safe to flirt, because they both know it isn’t going to go anywhere? We got along well, and had lunch together almost every Friday.

One day, in front of a bunch of our co-workers, she hit me hard with a very cutting remark, and I was taken aback. I had absolutely no idea what I had done to provoke it. Had I said something inappropriate? Had I stepped over some sort of line? I couldn’t figure it out. In a pique, my response was to stop speaking to her altogether. This became very awkward, because the tension between us was obvious and unusual. Everyone else was starting to notice. We both realized we need to sit down and talk this matter through.

It turned out to be something that took me totally by surprise. It was over an incident I barely remembered or took any notice of. Once, during a group luncheon at the office, I had put out one of those money collection boxes for Oxfam, or Catholic Charities, or some such group. A lot of the food at the luncheon was left uneaten, and I made one of those classic snotty remarks about the waste and the starvation in other parts of the world, and how appreciated that food would have been elsewhere, etc.. etc.. Almost a throwaway of a line. A cliché. Apparently, this is what set my friend off. My sanctimoniousness. My self-righteousness. Who the hell did I think I was, anyway? I was treating them like a bunch of Middle School kids.

Most Catholics are familiar with the convert and singer/songwriter John Michael Talbot. I’m actually not much of a fan of his music. I prefer him as a spiritual writer. In his wonderful little book The Lessons of St. Francis, he writes this about his personal journey

In 1968, a period of social turmoil and heightened spiritual searching was under way. I was a fifteen-year old country rock star, traveling across America with my brother Terry in our band, Mason Proffit, which performed at packed concerts with artists like the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, and Janis Joplin. In six popular albums, our band preached a message of idealism and social concern centered around a few key issues, such as pacifism, racial tolerance, and environmentalism.

I was thrilled to be a part of a burgeoning youth movement that demanded answers to hard questions and sought to reinvent society from the bottom up. But certain inconsistencies in the movement startled and troubled me. Protesters arguing for peace were not opposed to using violence if it suited their needs. People searching for mystical revelation experimented with mind-transforming drugs, but then became so clouded and myopic that they lost all passion for spiritual pursuits, or any concerns beyond their own chemically souped-up egos.

My own hunger for spiritual answers became ravenous. Convinced that Christianity was part of the problem rather than part of the solution, I dug deeply into other spiritual paths, studying Buddhism, Hinduism, and especially Native American religions. Then the tables were turned on me as the truth I was so desperately searching for sought me out.

I was alone in a room in a Holiday Inn during the band's 1971 tour. I'm not sure what city I was in, but I vividly remember what happened there. My room filled with a brilliant light, and in the midst of the light was Jesus, dressed in white robes and with his arms stretched out toward me in a gesture of both gentleness and at strength.

At the time, America was experiencing a religious revival called the Jesus movement, as millions of longhaired ex-hippies came to Christ. I began studying with some of these exuberant new converts and, before I knew it, I became a fuming fundamentalist, a walking, talking Jesus freak who would quote the Bible or dispense judgment at the drop of a hat. If you had a problem, I had a Bible verse for you. I was angry, I was arrogant, and I was horrible to be around, all in the name of Jesus.

I knew something was wrong and wrestled with soul-searching questions. Hadn't I done everything my Christian friends had asked me to do? Hadn't I become everything they had told me to become? But I knew the Christianity I was living out and the Christianity I saw around me were nothing like what I read about in the Gospels.

Then an evangelical friend gave me a copy of a book about Francis by Franciscan priest Murray Bodo. I read the book and I wept. I realized how far from genuine Christianity I had fallen, even though the desire of my heart was to follow Christ. As I read, I realized that Francis had done it: He had lived a balanced and beautiful Christian life.

As I continued reading about this amazing saint, I realized he was the genuine article. He had lived a life of poverty when all I was seeing were typical, upper middle-class American Christians trying to balance their love for God with their love for money. He lived a life of mystical connection to God when all I saw was a cold and rationalistic form of Christianity that was all head and no heart. He lived a life of gentleness when all I saw was an arrogant, aggressive, my-way-or-the-highway Christianity. He lived a life of joy and radical commitment, when all I saw was an antiseptic, pedantic, down-the-middle-of-the-road meat-and-potatoes kind of Christianity that killed the spirit and squashed the joy.

In 1978, after a painful divorce, I began a sincere effort to follow in the footsteps of Francis, retreating to a hand-built hermitage in the Indiana woods where I focused all of my being on knowing and following the will of God. In 1983, I helped found an exciting, new Franciscan community in the Ozark Mountains. Today, I and millions of others remain committed to the ideal that Francis's life is a pattern for our lives.

When someone asks me what it is about Francis that attracts me, I want to respond by painting a picture. There's a distinct look and feel to Francis. His life conjures up images of the tattered hem of Jesus' garment on a dusty Galilean road. His rugged and radical life feels like the rough wood of a cross. His life smells like the earth of a medieval Italian roadway, or the fragrance of a forest full of beautiful pines, tall poplars, rugged olive trees, and fruit-laden grapevines.

At a time when millions of people are hungering for spirituality but are turned off by many traditional Churches, the life of Francis demonstrates that there is something to fill the God-shaped vacuum in our lives. That there is an answer to our soul's every longing. That the dream of inner and outer peace isn't an illusion. And that the potential person that God created us to be needn't remain lost and unrealized.

I also believe this: Even though some religious institutions may often look more like secular corporations than godly communities, Francis shows us that there's always room in churches for people guided by a radical spiritual commitment.

In this article, he also speaks well of another issue that is important to me and near to my heart:

Factions Within the Church

Don, on Nonviolence

A statue of Mahatma Gandhi at the Peace Abbey, Sherborn, Massachusetts

The subject of nonviolence is one that I've addressed here a couple of times before. I've wrestled and grappled with the whole idea, turning over the various moral dilemmas and practicalities in my mind in light of what I read in the clear words of Christ in the Gospels. Perhaps that is my whole problem... Look at the terms I use... Wrestling. Grappling.

Don, over at Reflections Of A Secular Franciscan, is a guy who seems to "get" nonviolence. Don can correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe he served in the U.S. Navy.

I urge everyone to read two superb posts he put up recently on the subject of nonviolence:

Romans 12

The Other


Today is our oldest child's birthday. Margaret is thirteen today. How did that happen so fast?? We have a teenaged daughter! Pray for us! :-)
Can't ask her where she's going...
She tells me where she's been...
She starts a conversation
That don't have no end...
-- Muddy Waters

Friday, August 11, 2006

Of Planes, Plots, and 9/11 films

Planes again?

I give a hat tip to Britain’s MI5 for tracking this plot. Those guys are pretty good at what they do. As for Pakistan’s ISI, the cooperate with one hand and foment with the other…

As we approach to the fifth anniverary of 09/11/01, it’s noteworthy that Oliver Stone’s new movie World Trade Center opened up this week. I haven’t seen it, and I don’t know if I even want to. For one thing, I’m not a big fan of Stone’s films. It has gotten mixed reviews, plus I really don’t know if I want to sit through the experience anyway. The whole genre of 9/11 films is somewhat questionable to begin with. Rather than seeing 9/11 as a one-off tragedy, it should be seen as something that has a high likelihood of being repeated in some fashion, as this week’s events show.

A few months ago I did see director Paul Greengrass’ film United 93 as soon as it opened. It thought it was was a pretty good movie. I appreciated how Greengrass was careful to avoid undue sentimentality and sensationalism.

The film opens up in darkness, and all you can hear is a voice speaking softly in arabic. As the light comes up, you see one of the hijackers reading from his Koran in his hotel room just before departing. I have to say, even somehat shamefully, that the arabic was annoying to me. It bothered me… got under my skin… especially to see it put in the service of violence through prayer. Greengrass did, however, try to portray the hijackers with some complexity, and not as typical Hollywood villains. Near the end of the film there is a sort of reprise of the prayer scene, when the control of the plane is being battled over between passengers and hijackers. The passengers in back are praying the Lord’s Prayer in english and the hijackers are praying in arabic…

United 93 uses unknown actors, which was another good idea from Greengrass. Some of the “actors” who were playing the part of air traffic controllers, supervisors and military personnel, were actual participants in the events of that day, playing themselves. The only problem with that was, they tended to be very strong personalities, and their performances overpowered those of the actors who were playing the characters on the plane. The plane scenes were a bit awkward. It’s hard to know what really happened on that plane. It is all speculation. Overall, it was pretty well directed, but I found that for most of it, my mind was wandering back to my own recollections of the events of that day. I’m sure that for most people watching, it was the same reaction.

One of the things I remember most about that spectacular September morning was how beautiful it was. As it sticks in my memory, I have to recall that it may have been one of the most perfect weather days I’d ever seen. A woman who worked on my floor, whom I didn’t know very well, was on the United 175 plane out of Boston that hit the south tower. There is another man on my floor who was supposed to go with her to an IT conference in Los Angeles. He decided at the last minute not to go. He still has the ticket manifest. He even had considered taking a couple of kids out of the first week of school for a few days to go to LA with him. Can you imagine?

It was a very strange day where I worked. My deparment was getting over the effects of data problems caused by the recent merger of the systems of two companies. We were still working in sort of a crisis mode. Despite all of the events going on around the country, and the loss of the woman I mentioned, everyone kept working. We all checked the news websites of course, but we kept on going…Strange. Maybe it was nervous energy. Maybe it was shame and fear and revulsion that a plane had been hijacked out of our own city. We all had the grim realization, of course, that a terrible war would result from the events, but in a lot of ways it would have been hard to see where we are today.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Do we need a Fulton J. Sheen for today?

The post I made below on Billy Graham put me in mind of one of the men Graham professed admiration for and considered a friend - Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen.

Graham called Sheen’s death in 1979, "a great loss to the nation and both the Catholic and Protestant churches. He broke down the walls of prejudice between Catholics and Protestants . . . I mourn his death and look forward to our reunion in heaven." As Sheen would have put it himself, “If we can’t pray to God together in the pews, at least we can pray together on our knees.” Graham has taken much criticism from some Protestant fundamentalist circles for this stance. Graham himself is on record as saying “I have never received a piece of hate mail from a Roman Catholic.”

A number of years ago I was helping a friend clean out an attic. In doing so I came across an old edition of the Boston Globe from around 1953 or so. I just love finding time-capsule artifacts like these. In short time I had stopped lifting boxes and had sat down to start reading. I flipped through the paper, browsing the top stories, and getting a kick out of seeing what movies were playing at the time and in which theaters, many of which I knew no longer existed. One article in particular that caught my eye was one about how Bishop Fulton Sheen had spoken in front of a packed house of nearly 16,000 people at the Boston Garden… I wondered to myself, who within the Catholic Church could pull 16,000 people into a stadium to hear him or her speak today? There are many evangelicals who could do it, but within the Catholic Church I can think of no one besides the Pope who could pull in such numbers. Do we need a Fulton J. Sheen for today? We need someone like him. I wonder how Sheen himself and his style would go over today?

Bishop Sheen was one of the most important Catholic churchmen of the twentieth century. Doctor and teacher of philosophy, National Director for the Society For the Propagation of the Faith, author of over 90 books, anti-communist cold-warrior, auxiliary bishop for the archdiocese of New York, maker of high-profile Catholic converts, friend of Hollywood actors and actresses, host of the Catholic Hour radio program in the 1930’s, Bishop of Rochester, and sometimes bitter rival to Cardinal Spellman of New York, Sheen is probably remembered best for being a television pioneer with his Life Is Worth Living program in the 1950’s. Anyone who’s tuned into EWTN on a Friday night has probably caught some of the re-runs of this program, where Bishop Sheen (with his angel assistant) does a “chalk talk” up at the blackboard in a simple studio format for about a half an hour. I must say, that when I do catch one of these, I’m usually hooked to stay in for the whole program. With his piercing blue-eyed gaze, strong stage-voice delivery, charisma, sense of drama, rock-solid faith, and Irish wit and humor, his style went over very well in it’s time. I’m not so sure it would go over quite as well today.. It might seem a bit hokey today, and Bishop Sheen was the first to admit that his greatest weakness was vanity, but I think the programs hold up remarkably well over the years regardless.

Sheen had a certain way of phrasing things in couplets so that they had a certain punch and stuck in the memory, such as "If you don't behave as you believe, you will end by believing as you behave."
The manger and the Cross stand at two extemities of the Savior’s life! He accepted the manger because there was no room at the inn; He accepted the Cross because men said, “We will not have this Man for our king.” Disowned upon entering, rejected upon leaving. He was laid in a stranger’s stable at the beginning, and a stranger’s grave at the end. An ox and an ass surrounded His crib at Bethlehem; two thieves were to flank His Cross on Calvary. He was wrapped in swaddling bands in His birthplace, He was again laid in swaddling clothes in His tomb - clothes symbolic of the limitations imposed on His Divinity when He took on a human form…. He was already bearing His Cross - the only cross a babe could bear, a cross of poverty, exile and limitation. His sacrificial intent already shone forth in the message the angels sang to the hills of Bethlehem: Today in the city of David a deliverer has been born to you-the Messiah, the Lord.

On a lighter note (not to mean any disrespect), I’d have to say that one thing my post-Vat II sensibilities finds a little jarring is the cape that he wore. We’re just not used to seeing it on bishops nowadays. I can just imagine how millions of Protestants must have reacted to it too. There must have been a little bit of a “Count Dracula” effect… I find myself wondering if there were some anti-Catholic wags who felt tempted to draw mischievous comparisons between Sheen and the 1950’s R & B artist Screamin’ Jay Hawkins.

A book by Bishop Sheen that I would highly recommend – Life of Christ

Cause for his Canonization

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

A Class Act

Billy Graham in his twilight years... There’s an interesting cover article about him in Newsweek magazine. I admire Billy Graham. As he’s grown older, I believe he’s grown in wisdom and humility.

Monday, August 07, 2006

My Spanish is a little bit rusty...

Joe (the good-looking guy on the left), Jeff (posing),
and a diminutive Spanish gentleman of great dignity.
Puerta Del Sol, Madrid. November, 1991

As a result of some Google searches, I've come to the embarrassing realization that I had misnamed my blog when I created it.

A few people have asked me why I've titled my blog Aun Estamos Vivo. It is supposed to mean We Are Still Alive, as in those of us Catholics who have not yet given up on the Second Vatican Council.

Like I said, it has come to my attention (I think) that the correct way to say this is Aun Estamos Vivos, with "vivo" pluralized. Duh. My High School Spanish teacher would have been horrified... and to think that I was proud of myself for not calling it Ya Estamos Vivo... Yeeesh... At any rate, anyone who has been generous enough to link me can leave it the way it is. I still haven't decided if I liked it better with my mistake or not. The mistaken way sounds better to me somehow.

My wife Anne doesn't really like the fact that I blog. I suspect that this is typical for bloggers with spouses. No woman likes to talk to the back of man's head while he's looking at a computer screen. Anyone have any advice on that?

Anyway, one of the things that she teases me about is the title. "Why did you give it a Spanish title?" she asked. "People will think you're in Opus Dei." I replied, "No, I really don't think that they will."