Saturday, October 28, 2006

An Infinity of Little Hours

Nothing is impossible for God.

A book by Nancy Klein Maguire about "the trial of faith of five young men in the Western world's most austere monastic order." It deals with five young men who entered the Carthusian Charterhouse at Parkminster in Britain in the 1960's. I found it on our reject shelves! Books decided against for the catalog are placed there. It was the galley copy as well - which means we got it early in the year. It's one of the hottest books of the year as regards monasticism - and we are not carrying it.

I'm reading it now and I will be ordering it for the Store.

Reading short snippets of the book left me nostalgic - if only I could have died at the Chartehouse in Vermont when I was there, since I could not enter. Just looking at the photo of the Carthusian in his cell breaks my heart.

The one account I began reading caused me to reflect on the proper candidate for Carthusian eremetic life, as well as for other forms of contemplative life. It is a high standard to meet if one wishes to be enclosed for the rest of one's life. The person generally needs a stable family background, to be free of psychological disorders of any kind, and able to live chastely. Of course, a person needs to be deeply in love with Our Lord Jesus Christ and longing for an intimate relationship with him through prayer - even to the point of complete detachment from one's personal devotions and manner of prayer. Then comes obedience.

The candidate must be willing and able to take direction and live in obedience, allowing himself to be taught, as well as guided in the spiritual life.

Good vocations come from good homes. The thought kept going through my mind. One may have every quality and every virtue necessary for Carthusian life, yet if there is any lack of stability that has affected the candidate's life, from early childhood onwards, the fellow will have a rough time of it and most likely will not persevere.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Hanging with your Mom...

and your Mom is your girlfriend.

A week or so ago, on 'Good Morning America' there was a spot about mothers and daughters hanging out together, going to clubs, drinking, all the things a young woman would do with girlfriends her own age.

Many mothers may have always wanted their daughters to be their best friends, and they raised them to be. When that happens, it is easy for boundaries to become blurred; inappropriate behavior gets overlooked. The mother abdicates her role for the sake of having a friend.

I have relatives who are mother and daughter and go on trips together, hang out together, shop together, do everything together - they are best friends; night-clubbing buddies.

Often, but not always, the mother is divorced and the daughter is single. They shop together, dress similarly, and party together. It's creepy. Imagine being with your mom when two guys hit on you both. Or just out night clubbing, and you both drink too much, and you are both loud mouthed, and obnoxious. It's weird.

What has happened to some mothers that they relinquish their position as role model, guide, mentor, and safe refuge and counsel? It's not always a divorced mother who acts thus. What is the root of it? Is the mother living vicariously through her daughter? Or does she want to retain her youth by becoming her daughter's girlfriend?

Maybe it is another indication of the breakdown of the family and the corruption of morals, so prevalent in our culture. Call me old fashioned, but it seems to me, good mother and daughter friendships should retain a semblance of propriety and hierarchy. A daughter isn't a sister after all.

It's a curious phenomenon, happening with greater frequency. Of course, maybe it's just me, my parents were the last people on earth I wanted to hang out with.

Every night is Halloween

- At a gay bar.

Driving home from work tonight I noticed a car ahead of me with rather entertaining bumper stickers - a profusion of them. (Why would you wreck your car with any type of bumper sticker?)

The woman had a rainbow "Z" or Harry Potter mark. A "jesus fish" with the word "pagan" enclosed. Another one that said, "My other vehicle is a broom". With an assortment of other GLBT stickers. I always see these cars in St. Paul it seems, it's really a dyke town over there. (The dykes seem to get into wearing their politics on their cars. Oh well, it is provocative.)

So I wondered - are lesbians so much into paganism and witchcraft? It must be the illusion of power they are after. Or maybe all witches have been dykes? Whatever, I realized Halloween, the dark side of Halloween, is really a gay holiday as well. (I wonder if psychological disorders, such as 'gender identity' confusion and 'arrested development' have anything to do with it?)

Nevertheless this is the season for Drag Balls; drag kings and queens delight in this holiday - it's the hi-light of the year for some. However, as I said, depending upon the gay bar, every night is sort of a Halloween. The leather bars have men in costume all of the time, leather chaps, vests over bare chests with numerous piercings, wierd quasi motorcyle/Nazi type costumes, etc. There are other bars with nightly drag shows and male strippers. Most people in a gay bar are in some sort of drag - even if they look like a regular guy or gal. It's a sexually charged, superficial milieu.

What is it however, about paganism, or nature worship, that attracts the gay community? Is "New Age" spirituality gay, or is it just inclusive? If Wicca is nature-religion based, how do unnatural sexual acts fit in? It seems contradictory in essence. At the same time, it may demonstrate the "diabolical delusion" inherent in such a spirituality.

Years ago, nearly our entire Presentation Department, along with Marketing (at Dayton's-Marshall Fields) would attend the drag ball. (Mainly because co-workers were attending in drag - and you had to see them!) I was very young. It was fun, no one has hotter music than gay people, the drinks were loaded, you could 'smoke' if you wanted to, with other drugs available in the men's room. It was like Carnival. You don't have to be gay to attend - did you ever see the film, "The Bird Cage"? It's like that.

Obviously, GLBT people have their cult. I imagine that is one reason why they hate the Catholic Church. The Church could never recognize such a cult, much less such a spirituality. (Although some gay-friendly, so-called Catholic Churches and communities do so.)


More on "The Bridge"

My post on the documentery by Eric Steele dealing with suicides from the Golden Gate Bridge elicited some very interesting comments from those who read it.

In my conversation with some readers I discovered, at least amongst the few people who spoke to me about it, that they have been tempted to suicide themselves. The consensus seemed to be that if they could be assured of not going to hell, they would have killed themselves at one time or another. I understood that all too well.

Depression can be a killer. In a sense, it seems to me, that it may be the disease of depression that is the cause of death, not so much the 'choice' a person makes to kill themselves. A 'choice' that cannot be made without some element of compulsion, thus limiting the person's freedom to some degree.

On the other hand, there are people who are proponents of so-called assisted suicide, who, not wanting to suffer some debilitating condition due to health or old age, join groups such as the Hemlock Society and make provisions for their own death. In such a case, it would appear obvious there had been a clear and conscious decision for end of life plans.

A woman posted a very sensitive and provocative response to my post. I found it so interesting I want to post it once again here:

"I nearly committed suicide when I was 15. I had a plan, I told no one, and since I had learned in school about the "signs", I made sure to avoid every single one. I was an A student, I was involved in my classes and extracurricular activities, and my parish in music ministry and the youth group. But my family life was a mess (divorce, bipolar mother, etc.), and I honestly believed my life had no value. I had prayed, read psalms, begged God, but to no apparent answer...And I really thought that no one would miss me and the world would be a better place without me. As though I had that much influence! Through God's grace I am here (I think it might be time to blog about this), but I can assure you, people who think this way are not in their right minds. In order for a sin (such as suicide/ self-murder) to be mortal, one must be fully aware. Very few suicidal persons are really aware of anything outside of themselves...It is the nature of their desease, or demonic oppression, or what have you. The Lord will be merciful with these souls for they are not really willfully turning away from Him, and He in his mercy always recognizes the afflicted. " Blogger comment on "The Bridge".

This woman's experience relates well to subjects I often post about, except she does not include childhood abuse in her experience, although many others do. I appreciate her comment so much because she mentions the fact that her Mother was bipolar, divorce was an issue, etc. It's very difficult for a child to sort out 'normal' in such a situation, and of course, the child's perception of reality can be just as distorted as their identity or self-image.

I may be mistaken, but I think the suicidal person frequently internalizes the negative experiences in their lives, and if they are children, I think a sort of self-blame often accompanies their situation. In the breakdown of depression, sometimes I think there is an element of self-abuse or self-punishment the person is fulfilling in the act - not simply a release from suffering, or an escape from life.

In my family my own Mother would probably have been diagnosed as bipolar had she not self-medicated with alcohol. She attempted suicide at least twice that I know of. Another relative also attempted suicide on two occasions, while another, more or less drank himself to death. Therefore, I'm a little too familiar with the experience of suicide. Friends I have had also have committed suicide. It's a devastating experience to deal with.

One thinks about these things in order to try and comprehend why people kill themselves.

Can suicide be prevented?

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

The Devil made me do it.

Sympathy for the Devil.

"But what's puzzling you
Is the nature of my game
I stuck around St. Petersburg
When I saw it was a time for a change
Killed the czar and his ministers
Anastasia screamed in vain
I rode a tank
Held a generals rank
When the blitzkrieg raged
And the bodies stank
Pleased to meet you - Hope you guess my name..." Rolling Stones

There is an article about Fr. Amorth, as well as Pope Benedict (as Cardinal Ratzinger), saying Hitler and Stalin may have been possessed. I may have written about this before, but since it is Halloween, I'll focus upon it a little more.

If the "Rolling Stones" saw the diabolical presence in history and sang about it in their song, "Sympathy for the Devil" it should be pretty obvious to any thoughtful person who is the mover and shaker behind the murderous influences in the world. I believe it very safe to say the devil is involved in the abortion industry, as well as the genocide in Darfur. Are the abortionists possessed or is it more accurate to say people are deluded and influenced to such a degree that they succumb to "the diabolical influence that has swept the world" as Sr. Lucia of Fatima once wrote? Fr. Amorth and Cardinal Ratzinger would know better, I'm sure.

[snip] Before he became Pope Benedict XVI, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger also spoke about the influence of the demonic in the life of Hitler — but explained that it absolved nothing.

In the book "God and the World" (Ignatius, 2002), Ratzinger is quoted treating the subject at some length.

“There are reliable reports by eyewitnesses that suggest he had some kind of demonic encounters,” the future Pope said of Hitler. “He would say, trembling: ‘He was there again,’ and other such things. We cannot get to the bottom of it. I believe one can see that he was taken into the demonic realm in some profound way, by the way in which he was able to wield power and by the terror, the harm, that his power inflicted.” [snip] NCR

Many writers have documented Hitler's fascination with the occult, which clearly illustrates his openness to demonic influence, there is no question about that. Others feel he was simply a maniac, an insane ego-maniac. Another exorcist states that mental illness is not incompatible with possession.

[snip] However, dictators such as Stalin and Hitler turned away from God and refused such cooperation, he said. He also believes that mental illness and possession can often exist at once in the same person, and that psychological illnesses are frequently caused by persistent sinful behavior. [snip] NCR

Departing from whether or not Hitler was either insane or possessed, the concept that groups of people can be influenced by evil forces intrigues me. In your daily experience, have you ever noticed an apparent disruptive atmosphere in your situation, or another person's actions, if only on occasion? For instance, in a family or a workplace, wherein a negative, combative attitude may prevail. It has a way of growing and spreading, affecting people's relationships and causing a negative culture. In some families, people do not speak to one another - for years. When it arises in the the workplace it usually generates back biting and gossip, as well as factions. (By these statements I am in no way implying possession, rather the influence of the Evil One who delights in dissension and conflict, thus destroying relationships and disturbing good order.)

What can overcome it? It seems to take on a life of it's own. We dismiss it as 'people stuff' but I think there is a behind-the-scenes influence at work fostering the division. It may sound far-a-fetched, but I don't think it is. At any rate, with these experiences within our own everyday life, it is not such a leap when Fr. Amorth says that entire populations can be influenced by the demonic - if not possessed.

[snip]Regarded as the Church’s most experienced and prominent exorcist, Father Amorth warned Vatican Radio listeners Aug. 27 that the devil can possess not only individuals but also entire groups and populations.

“I am convinced that the Nazis were possessed by the devil,” he said. “If one thinks of what was committed by people like Stalin or Hitler, certainly they were possessed by the devil. This is seen in their actions, in their behavior and in the horrors they committed.”[snip] NCR

Although it would be a leap to say that our pro-choice, pro-death culture is possessed, it isn't unreasonable to see that we are indeed influenced by the demonic. That is one reason why the apparitions reported around the world make sense. In many instances, such as at Medjugorje, Our Lady repeatedly asks that we be converted, reform our lives, pray, and work towards reconciliation, always stressing the greatest commandment, that we love one another. It is the antidote to the enmity that exists between men and cultures. While she often makes her plea to us to make these concessions to peace in our daily lives and interactions with the people we live and work with.

Whenever I find myself in some sort of conflict in a relationship or in the workplace, I always - although not at first - but in the end, come back to myself. There was something about my behavior that contributed to it. Maybe pride and 'defending my turf' or 'fighting for my rights' - there is usually something amiss in my anger. Maybe I am not totally responsible for the situation since there are other players involved, but my approach or reaction, especially if it is anger-based, is oftentimes at fault. When I act on it- or better put, react, I create more division and unrest, fomenting a continuance of the negative. If people are gossiping or backbiting about me, maybe I deserve it, or called it down upon myself. In authentic prayer, I can see how I had been influenced by the 'evil of the day'. When I repent, and pray and strive for peace, letting go of any animosity, then the situation begins to heal itself - or so it seems to me.

It's kind of frightening to think entire populations can be so influenced and deluded by the diabolical - to the point of becoming afflicted with a sort of collective possession or obsession. The miscreants are not absolved from responsibility, especially since they invited the devil in. The invitation may have been extended by buying into, and accepting the 'evil of the day'. Whatever that may be. It's something to think about as election time draws near, when many people consider the lesser of two evils - or ignore evil entirely.

We must pray, and pray with the heart - unceasingly, and strive to make peace with everyone around us, even it if means losing.

[snip]At his general audience address Oct. 18, Benedict XVI gave some salutary advice on how to overcome the devil’s temptations.

“Truly, there are many ways in which the human heart can be perverted,” he said. “The only way to avoid them is to be in full communion with Jesus.”[snip] NCR

Let's listen to His Mother on how best to do this.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

So I'm wrong...

I can admit that.

I blog about my impressions, my understanding of things - my take on things. I was wrong about Medjugorje, and Our Lady set me straight. I was wrong about the cassock - and readers, as well as the inquisitors, set me straight. (Nevertheless, I will still never tell a priest what to wear! Unless to tell him: Do not wear those awful too-short sleeved summer shirts - and wear more linen for heaven's sake on your long-sleeved shirts - at least an inch sticking out of your suit coat! And have your clothes cleaned regularly and pressed. While I'm on it, don't forget the dandruff, maybe use 'Head and Shoulders' - works for me.)

Anyway. The earlier post on the cassock educated me about priestly garb.

First of all, no Council of Baltimore ever banned the cassock on the street or anywhere else. The Bishops granted an 'indult' for the priest to wear a suit with a clerical shirt because of the anti-Catholic sentiment in the mainly protestant American culture.

Canon Law - I forgot my documentation at work - says a priest should wear clerical attire. John Paul II reiterated that many times, encouraging priests to be a perennial sign of Christ in public, by identifying themselves as priests by their attire. The reasons seem to me too obvious to state.

There was an entire 'movement' or 'influence', as it were, that the Vatican once condemned, called "Americanism" in the Catholic Church in the United States, that seems to have permeated the Church not only in the U.S. but extended to Europe as well as Australia and New Zealand. A fear of Roman-ism extant to this day. However, nowadays, it is more aptly identified as 'secularism'. People and priests my age are deeply influenced by it, hence, the repulsion for clerical clothing on some level. In addition, if a priest is vain like I am, they just want to look like a regular guy. Bad news - it's not a 9-5 job. They are a priest. If they died and went to hell they would surely be identified as such - just as when they go to heaven. The sacrament of Holy Orders leaves an indelible mark, a special character. It's a charism we are barely able to comprehend - only in heaven will we understand what a magnificent gift the holy priesthood is. (That, by the way, is a key reason we ought to be very careful when, if ever, we criticize any priest.)

Commentator's on this blog stated very good reasons why a priest should dress as a priest - cassock-ed or suited. It gave me pause to reflect. They are correct. I apologize for this lame post, but I just want to state that I agree with those priests who are humbly proud to declare to the world that they are priests, men who by ordination exist 'persona Christi' - not just in the rectory or confessional or at the altar - but in every aspect of their lives - it is the very definition of their existence - it is their identity.

So, the next time you see a priest in clericals, or the cassock, ask for his blessing, and tell him how grateful you are for his priesthood and witness. It's a good thing.

(A tip of the biretta to Mr. Hastrieter who sets me straight on a lot of things - as well as his spy in the back hall. :)

(Oh. By the way, my dislike of habits and clericals - FOR MYSELF - obviously proves I never had a vocation! I never liked wearing that stuff. Of course I hate wearing a suit and tie as well.)

Sunday, October 22, 2006

The Bridge

A documentary depicting suicides off the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, by Eric Steele.

It opened in London this weekend, and not to rave reviews. I saw an interview with Eric Steele, actually a couple of them. He strikes me as very sympathetic and sincere, yet not at all voyeuristic or exploitative, but rather serious about revealing the desperation of persons seeking the final solution in their lives. In the process of filming, he and his crew did everything they could to prevent the suicides he filmed, and were indeed successful a few times.

I wonder what it is about the bridge that attracts people from around the world to end their lives there? It is beautiful, but kind of cold, yet it remains the most popular place in the world to end one's life.

I've known people who have ended their lives. I never thought they were particularly neurotic or mentally ill. They just seemed to have no other alternative. One fellow struggled with alcoholism and a dead end career. Coming from a wealthy family, I know he felt as if he had failed in life. Of course he must have suffered from depression in order to kill himself, but he isolated himself, and no one could have helped him - he wouldn't let anyone in. Evidently, life simply lost its purpose, its meaning for him.

Does anyone remember the famous French couture-model/actress, Capucine? She played opposite Peter Sellers in "Pink Panther" portraying the wife of Inspector Clousseau. Several years ago she threw herself out of a Parisian hotel window, killing herself. Audrey Hepburn said in an interview about her friend that it was because she couldn't face growing old. - that sounds depressing.

For years we have hidden the idea of suicide, never is it mentioned in the obituaries, although you can usually tell who killed themselves when it reads, "died unexpectedly" - obit-code for suicide. We've heard more about it in the last few years due to the increase of teenage suicides, yet it still is rarely discussed except to say things like "what a waste" or, "what a stupid thing to do - why didn't they ask for help?"

To answer that I would be willing to guess that the suicide thought their life was a waste as well, while they probably did try to reach out for help at various times in their life. I also think that they would agree, if we could hear them speak, that it was definitely a stupid thing to do, adding, that they would have preferred not being filmed in the act - it's never graceful - and that is meant to be a double entendre.

Nevertheless, I believe the film is an important work in the study of suicide - although I have not viewed it, only clips. I think we need to care about the subject - more precisely, the people.

Why I appreciate Halloween so much!

Actually, it is "All Hallows Eve"!

Pictured; "Vision of Hell" - Bosch

Many people think it's the night the devils prowl and witches have their covens. Well it is - more so now in our 'new age' than ever before in the history of witchcraft. But that is not why I appreciate it - although they are good reminders for everyone that evil exists, as does hell. Nevertheless, devils and witches are out and about all of the time. Especially those devils. Just go Downtown Minneapolis when the bars close - or before - you will see evidence of the diabolical. Or read the newspapers about the murders the night before in any given area of the country - reads like the devil to me.

Driving home from Mass this morning, I admired the trees holding onto their last remaining foliage, the barren dry grasses with some greenery surviving amongst it, all along the freeway. Freeway landscape is sometimes very beautiful here in Minnesota.

When I got home, I posted a piece on the "work blog" - after which, I laid down to take my Sunday nap. The sky was overcast, allowing the leaves still clinging to the trees to show their color cloaked in somber, muted tones by the grey mist, rather than the fiery excitement of autumn leaves on a clear, crisp day. I watched them fall more quickly today, in just the slightest breeze. It was a steady stream, sometimes a few at one time, followed by a torrent, then calming to a trickle, the again repeating itself. I thought of Fatima.

Ever since I was little, the nuns told us that either Our Lady or one of the children reported, that "souls fall into hell like autumn leaves falling from their trees'. What a wonderful, yet sobering metaphor, I thought. The tree, representing life, or more accurately Christ and the Church, or just the world if you prefer - while the leaves imaging the souls living in in it. At death, detachment from this life occurs instantly, as the leaf breaks its tender tether to the branch. Thus, I imagined more easily the concept of souls falling into hell.

All Hallows invites us to reflect upon the last things and that is why I appreciate Halloween. The following day is the feast of All Saints, while the day after that is the feast of All Souls. Interchangeably we remember the dead in glory, as well as the dead in purgatory - albeit all are alive for God, as Jesus in the Gospel states, "He is the God of the living not the dead." Hence the souls in hell are the living dead and quite an unhappy lot they are.

In his letter, St Peter says that "The devil prowls about like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour." He wasn't talking about Halloween. Sometimes I wonder if Christian parents could be making it more scary for the kids by focusing upon the dark side of Halloween, missing the fun and innocent side of it. Certainly guard the children from the occult, you have to do what you have to do.

Remember Teresa of Avila's remark about exaggerated concerns over the devil, she said, "I don't understand these fears. 'The devil! The devil!' when we can say 'God! God!', and make the devil tremble...I fear those who have such great fear of the devil more than I do the devil himself, for he can't do anything to me. Whereas these others, especially if they are confessors, cause severe disturbance," Life 25; 22 And yes, I know, St. Teresa was talking about confessors who were worried she was being deceived in prayer, but it can just as well apply to anyone else with a morbid curiosity and suspicious and fearful mind, even some modern priests who think so many are possessed.

Catholics have Christ, the Blessed Mother and the angels and the saints, the Church and the sacraments. We just have to make sure we are Catholic. Celebrate Halloween as a Catholic and pay no attention to the devil - fix your eyes on Jesus, as St. Paul writes, and appreciate Halloween for what it is - All Hallows Eve.

But do beware, the devil does prowl around - but he's sneakier than Harry and the other witches and goblins - he's prowling through cartoon shows, television ads, the Internet - almost everywhere - but it's just not only on Halloween. Actually, the scary costumes were the primitive answer to scaring away the devil - not inviting him in.

The Chamber of Secrets

Pictured, "Allegory of Injustice" Giotto, Capella Scrovegni

Off the books...

I ran into a friend of mine with whom I had lost touch a few years ago after his wife's death from breast cancer. He is a successful businessman, having owned his small but prosperous business for years. His wife had her own successful business up until her death. They owned a house in Minneapolis, another in Florida, with one in Northern Minnesota as well as a house on the Cape. He had several vehicles, a boat and a small plane.

As I said, I lost touch with him after his wife's death, I assumed he had rented his house here in Minneapolis and perhaps was living at the Cape. I had heard he had a new girl friend.

I always liked him, though rather wealthy, he was very down to earth and friendly. I often got the impression that his wife had been a bit snobby, impressed with status and their success, although I eventually realized that he was very proud of their accomplishments as well, nevertheless, he maintained a more humble demeanor. They had everything. Then his wife died and I never saw him much after that.

When I ran into him, after nearly four years, I barely recognized him. He resembled his old self, but he had changed. He is very thin now, rather gaunt and has lost much of his hair. In the course of our conversation I learned he is under house arrest and had been in prison for three years. I was totally shocked. He is one of the most upstanding citizens I have known, honest as the day is long. Though not religious, he has been the typical peace and justice advocate that marks so many of my generation. He always treated his employees fairly and well, often lavishly entertaining his entire company at his home several times a year.

He was so forthcoming about being in prison that in my natural candor I said, "Whatever for? What could you have done? You are not a criminal."

He explained that the IRS and the Social Security Administration went after him for fraud. he had been paying an employee off the books - for over five years. Knowing my friend, it was probably an act of charity on his part. Then maybe not. Those questions I didn't feel were my place to ask. He did tell me the amount of money involved was relatively small, $50,000. That's only $10,000 a year, his bonuses were bigger than that. With fines and penalties, he lost all his luxury vehicles, the plane, and two of his houses, and the business. The business he worked all of his life to build. He said he was grateful his wife hadn't lived to see this. One thing for certain, he is still not poor by any one's standards, but he is a broken man.

I realized there must have been other factors involved; sleight of hand bookkeeping perhaps, maybe not reporting profits or inventory, and with the loss of property, probably some sort of tax shell-game was going on, since his one son who ran the business with him, was also convicted. I imagine that it was a series of little things that led up to the disaster. I feel really bad for him. I thought, why would someone like him have to go to prison for this? Couldn't he have just paid the fines, having lost his business and estate, wasn't that punishment enough? I've been baffled since I spoke with him nearly two weeks ago.

I'm sure he somehow justified himself in his schemes. Of course, there are some religious people who do it all of the time as well. There is a line in one of the psalms, "From my secret sins, acquit me O Lord." My friend was a 'wily' manager - he kept a close eye on his employees, never trusting anyone. I wonder if his distrust of others was born of his own injustice?