Sunday, September 23, 2012

Fr. George Rutler on NYT Hypocrisy

I receive Fr. George Rutler's weekly column via email. Here's this week's to share:

Pope Benedict XVI was in Lebanon last week where the principal Catholic rite, the Maronite, traces its roots to Saint Maroun, who in the fourth century was a friend of Saint John Chrysostom. The Holy Father spoke to people who “know all too well the tragedy of conflict and . . . the cry of the widow and the orphan.” Like Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, the Pope linked violence to contempt for the right to life: “The effectiveness of our commitment to peace depends on our understanding of human life.” The defense of life “leads us to reject not only war and terrorism, but every assault on innocent human life, on men and women as creatures willed by God. Wherever the truth of human nature is ignored or denied, it becomes impossible to respect that grammar which is the natural law inscribed in the human heart.”

   This contradicts those in our own country who plead for peace while violating the innocent unborn. Our current President has defended “partial-birth abortion” when (in arguing against the Born-Alive Infants Protection Act of 2002), as he infelicitously put it, “. . . that fetus, or child, however you want to describe it, is now outside of the mother’s womb . . .” It is not surprising that The New York Times should be so opposed to the Catholic Church whose teaching on the sanctity of life exposes the hypocrisy of that publication. If, according to the adage, “hypocrisy is the tribute which vice pays to virtue,” there is much vice promoted by The New York Times, but one is hard pressed to detect the remnant virtue.

   Pope Benedict's final Mass in Lebanon attracted 350,000, yet the largest gathering of faithful in the long history of that ancient land was mentioned only on the bottom of page eight of The New York Times with a tiny photograph. The same issue's “Quotation of the Day” was by an “Egyptian religious scholar” Ismail Mohamed: “We don't think that depictions of the prophets are freedom of expression; we think it is an offense against our rights.” This is where hypocrisy burst into a veritable tap dance, for in March of this year, the Times ran a full-page advertisement mocking the Catholic Church, and a few days later refused to run a similar one mocking Islam.

   The “Grey Lady” is only a few shades removed from what our Lord called “whitewashed tombs.” The mainstream media have defended vulgar and even pornographic anti-Christian films, stage plays, sculptures and painting as “art” entitled by free expression. When it comes to Islam, there is a different standard. Perhaps it is because newspaper editors know that Pope Benedict XVI will not demand that they be decapitated.

   The Pope risked his life to go to the Middle East. At 85, he still is on active duty. And so will his successors be, long after the last subscriber to The New York Times has cancelled his subscription.     

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Down Today

Had to miss work today as I'm laid up by an infliction as inelegant as a spider bite. Our open-door policy in country living has caught up to me.

Nasssty, nasssty ssspidersess.

Who do I sound like?

Never saw the sneaky, mean little creature. Three days have passed and the wound has not morphed to resemble the dreadful job by a black widow or brown recluse. There lies my peace of mind,

A beautiful, sunny but coolish morning here. I'm sitting in my PJs, catching up on world news online, smelling the bacon cooking on the stove, listening to the wash machine humming, and the faint sounds of radio wafting out from KDM's workshop. The man is busying himself with building a large outdoor scale for weighing cattle. So far he has been taking cattle to a friend's farm for weighing before shipping them out for sale.

Funny I can feel this much peace even when my body is swollen and covered with rash. Is it the trick of medications?

Still, the nasssty, nasssty, ssspideress.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Old Indulgence

KDM and I have been watching some movies. Last night we revisited one of our favorites, O Brother, Where Art Thou? by the Coen Brothers, about whose newer movie, True Grit, I wrote a post some time back.

A small chain reaction ensues: in addition to listening to the soundtrack of the movie, which the Coen Brothers alternately call a "hayseed Lawrence of Arabia," and a "three stooges movie," I'm itching to re-read the Odyssey.

I'm a sucker for vagabondage stories.

How not to be fully-alive

During a somewhat distracted meditation prior to Mass yesterday, the quote of St. Irenaeus popped into my mind:

The glory of God is man fully alive.

But what does it mean, man fully alive?

Too all-encompassing a notion to grasp. But I instinctively knew what the opposite of a "man fully alive" was:


a spiritual sickness perfectly explained by Catholic Encyclopedia (emphasis mine):

One of the seven capital sins. In general it means disinclination to labour or exertion. As a capital or deadly vice St. Thomas (II-II:35) calls it sadness in the face of some spiritual good which one has to achieve (Tristitia de bono spirituali). Father Rickaby aptly translates its Latin equivalent acedia (Gr. akedia) by saying that it means the don't-care feeling. A man apprehends the practice of virtue to be beset with difficulties and chafes under the restraints imposed by the service of God. The narrow way stretches wearily before him and his soul grows sluggish and torpid at the thought of the painful life journey. The idea of right living inspires not joy but disgust, because of its laboriousness. This is the notion commonly obtaining, and in this sense sloth is not a specific vice according to the teaching of St. Thomas, but rather a circumstance of all vices. Ordinarily it will not have the malice of mortal sinfulness, of course, we conceive it to be so utter that because of it one is willing to bid defiance to some serious obligationSt. Thomas completes his definition of sloth by saying that it is torpor in the presence of spiritual good which is Divine good. In other words, a man is then formally distressed at the prospect of what he must do for God to bring about or keep intact his friendship with God. In this sense sloth is directly opposed to charity. It is then a mortal sin unless the act be lacking in entire advertence or full consent of the will. The trouble attached to maintenance of the inhabiting of God by charity arouses tedium in such a person. He violates, therefore, expressly the first and the greatest of the commandments: "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul, and with thy whole mind, and with thy whole strength." (Mark 12:30).

Monday, September 10, 2012

Art and Doubt

Another day struggling to sort things out on canvas and in sketchbook. It may be hard to explain an artist's struggle because people who aren't in the "trade" sometimes think we're over-strung and given to melancholia. Although there's truth enough in that assessment, there's also real reason for our occasional despair.

As we grow in our chosen "trade," (I still dare not to call mine "vocation"),  our ideal for where we want our work to go keeps getting re-difined as we become more critical and demanding of ourselves. When that ideal eludes us in the physical battle with our material, it can be brutally demoralizing. The doom of defeat, even a sense of futility, pervades our air.

In order that people understand our seemingly esoteric trouble, it is important they recognize that the ideals we chase are more than technical excellence.

I recently read an essay regarding artist's doubts, the concept famously associated with early twentieth-century artists such as Paul Cezanne and Alberto Giacometti. Cezanne wrestled with optical uncertainty and his desire to make Impressionism "something solid and durable." Giacometti was so anxious about his work that he declared that painting is "impossible," while his sculpture of tenuous human figures ever threatens to disappear all together. If someone has difficulty understanding Existentialism, all he needs is look at Giacometti's art and get it. Yet these two "doubters" each left us a body of soul-stirring works and enduring legacy of art of high seriousness.

sculpture by Alberto Giacometti

Painting by Alberto Giacometti 

Giacometti's work is often linked to the ethos of Existentialism, expressing the immobility and raising the question of human freedom. Yet looking back at these works as a post-Modernist, I'm profoundly touched by their relentless quest for meaning. I suspect Cezanne ever considered himself a pagan. A crucifix hangs on the wall in his studio to this day. I do not know Giacometti had any sort of spiritual conversion towards the end of his life, but that ignorance doesn't prevent me from sympathizing with his search. The very fact that these works got made at all negates any belief that he is a believer of nothing.

When art is nothing but a trade, it's possible to separate the work from the artist; when it DOES become a vocation, however, the artist's battle is never simply technical. His work is the stage where he grapples with who he is. Where he is awarded clarity in his search, he makes an interpretation; but even when that sense is vague or downright lost he still doesn't stop. If he is Christian he sees potential in his crisis, or, poverty. If he loves his work he goes on despite the absence of consolation. He becomes a willing traveller in desolation.

I had to write all that down in persuasion to myself. I'm the first one to admit how weak I am sometimes.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Today's Thoughts

Taking a breather from painting, which, by the way, hasn't been smooth. I'm struggling a lot, but I can't give up. I'm a realist who knows no other way to get better in painting than to keep on painting. I can't sit around thinking of a solution. Solutions elude me outside the physical engagement inside the studio. Even then, some days I just can't see I'm making any headways, still I have to keep trudging along. Sometimes no choice is the best choice.

For what it's worth, I've decided to stay away from FaceBook for a while. Never a place for serenity, FB is getting even sillier now the presidential election heats up in white flames. I've gone from having a very low opinion of the social medium to tolerating and gradually enjoying it in the span of about two years. It has been especially rewarding for me to have connected with a circle of good painters whom I would not have had the opportunity to meet in person. To be able to see their work and dialogue with them professionally has been stimulating. But I can not say the same of its social benefits. Without being too pedantic, I would say that FB is a place to trade personas rather than authenticity. I've considered why texts and social media have taken place of voice calls and even emails these days. One quick answer is that it's easier to socialize mutely than to bump sound waves, so to speak, with one another, not to say being face to face and making eye contact for an extended period. Human interaction is going minimalism trending trouble-free.

And we all know (or not), how much we want relationships trouble-free, until, when we want to be wanted. Even more so, to be loved.

So for that and other reasons which I won't get into here, I'm taking a break from FB. I'll come back when the elections are over. If the full-throttled anger vent and the half-baked moral pontificating persist and linger in the aftermath of the dogfights,  I'll wait still longer. After all, man do not live by FB alone.

Thursday, September 6, 2012


The Christian religion likes to talk about forgiveness. Tons of words have been poured out to address how to forgive to let the hurt go. I used to wonder just who those people were, the ones who won't, or find it hard to forgive. I had no such problem nor difficulty. I was above the fray. I tried to think if I'd ever felt bitterness towards anyone for a sufficiently long period. And I always answered that question with "No."

As far as I could recall, I had only treated two people I've known to utter distain and disregard. I refused to acknowledge their existence in social occasions, I would not give them the time of the day. Then again, I never saw that as un-forgiveness. After all I did not hate them in my heart. I was not serious about my attitude toward them. I might as well be indifferent to the wrong they had done me.

I didn't know what hate was like. I hated no one. What was there to forgive? Forgiveness was an issue of others, not mine.

Until now. That is to say, until I began to give it another look. You see, six-years being Catholic has given me enough opportunities to be humble and put me on edge. I've learned, often through humiliation, that no assumption except God's mercy is safe. Just when you think you've gotten it all figured out along the straight and the narrow, something comes along to reveal the truth you don't want to see and shake you out of complacency (Flannery O'Connor more than anyone, has helped me to be on guard against complacency. Think Green Leaf, A Goodman is Hard to Find,  A Circle of Fire, The Comfort of Home).

And those revelations don't have to be big. Rather, they infiltrate like gnats or fleas or bedbugs. You either don't see them or don't take them serious. Yet they move in steadily, sucking your blood. The damages they do can hardly be called hurt; but the irritations they cause distract and erode your soul.

And I am constantly irritated and distracted. Anyone who's ever sat in the pew in a Sunday service or Mass knows just how hard it is to overlook the ridiculous outfit or a lame hairdo someone has on; or why that parent has to rub the back of her teenage boy throughout consecration; doesn't the father know that he shouldn't let his son wear the hat in Church? Why are my students such block-heads? And you already know how I feel about New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman.

I can go on with many, many such examples. But to put it short, I've begun to be conscious of my preoccupations with these small irritations and grudges. I see their danger. I'm re-accessing my presumed magnanimity and I'm seeing laughable pride I had in myself.

If I truly want to be free, I need to be free of my own assumptions.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012


It is fitting that today's Gospel reading (Luke 4:38-44) speaks of God's power of healing, and the Church's prayer is to intercede for the sick:

"Since the moments of our life unfold, O God,
according to your good pleasure,
receive the prayers and sacrificial offerings
by which we implore your mercy
for our brothers and sisters who are ill,
that, having been anxious for them in their danger,
we may rejoice at their recovery of health.
Through Christ our Lord."

In the Gospel reading, Christ heals Simon Peter's mother-in-law by "rebuking" the fever. Elsewhere we read that Christ "rebuked" the wind, or the demons. "Rebuking" demons seems easier to understand, as we tend to think demons as creatures, like Satan, with a mind to destroy. But fever and winds are natural forces, within the fabrics of creation. Like most modern people I tend to see everything through lenses of science (wisely or not), and I believe that chemistry and physics are immediate causes of illnesses and weather phenomenon. Following the logic my question becomes "May God 'rebuke' chemistry and physics when they wreak havocs at His good pleasure?"

As a Catholic who accepts that God is sovereign over all of creation, it is not difficult for me to accept the answer "Yes." After all chemistry and physics obey the Creator's law and His command.

With the Church I pray, as often as I am reminded, to intercede for those who suffer illnesses and natural disasters. But I try my best to put the coda "Thy will be done" to each of my prayers. In other words, I accept God's timing and "His good pleasure."

This is not to say that it's always easy for me to submit my own will to His. Not that long ago I felt, for the first time, bitterness toward God, for being silent. Similar trials have not (and will not, I pray) turned me away from the Faith. The reason for staying is very simple, best said through the mouth of the straight-shooting Peter: "Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life."

It's that simple: I have nowhere to go. You could even say that I came to the Faith in an act of desperation. Only many days and nights later did I recognize that what once seemed an act desperation was in fact an act of hope. Hope isn't issued from human will, but Grace.

But I digress. Now back to healing of the sick.

As I write -

  • a relative is recovering from surgery he underwent yesterday, for colon cancer;
  • the mother of my best friend is dying of colon cancer;
  • my Dad is lying in bed in an nursing home, completely dependent on care provided by others;
  • my mother lives with disability as a result of several past strokes and diabetes;
  • the mother of my sister-in-law lost her husband eight months ago and is suffering from diabetes and a past stroke;
  • a friend is living in anxiety of possibly losing her husband to Leukemia;
  • an art critic and fellow artist is still absent from her intellectually stimulating blog due to the grave illness of her husband;
  • a co-worker (who seems not to like me much) is mourning her mother who recently took her own life;
  • ... ...

These and others, are in my mind whenever I kneel down to meditate and to pray. I've ceased to use words in these moments, just intentions.

Because words feel very thin where intentions are grave.