Welcome Pope Francis, the Man Who Walks the Walk

The Pope, himself!

I am very excited for Pope Francis’s visit to the U.S. that includes Washington D.C. (hi!), New York, and Philadelphia for the World Meeting of Families.

Pope Francis is the second pope since I’ve been a Catholic. I loved Benedict XVI, see my post on his Jesus of Nazareth series, but I love Pope Francis too! In his way of life, he captures a lot of the shock but also sincerity of Christ’s teachings, and people are drawn to him. The pope recently called for all parishes and monasteries to open their doors to refugees from the Middle East. Few people realize that Pope Pius XII also did this for Jews during World War II. This is using the office well, and it’s inspiring to see.

The pope will arrive in Washington next week on Wednesday, September 23. I doubt I will be able to manage the logistics of lining up to see his parade on the mall, but I wish I could! Pope Francis will meet with the President, pray at St. Matthews and canonize Junipero Serra later at the National Basilica.

More information about his Washington visit is available here from the Archdiocese of Washington.

http://adw.org/2015/09/10/archdiocese-of-washington-announces-parade-route-for-pope-francis-in-washington/Then he’s off to New York and Philly. The pope’s full schedule is online at the USCCB’s office.


Welcome Pope Francis! from Stephanie, at this little blog.


14 of 100 Books to Read in a Lifetime

Amazon recently released a list of 100 books to read in a lifetime, and it’s a pretty good list, I think. Here are the ones I have read:

  1. 1984 – George Orwell
  2. Dune – Frank Herbert
  3. Fahrenheit 451 – Ray Bradbury
  4. Goodnight Moon – Margaret Wise Brown
  5. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone – J.K. Rowling
  6. Invisible Man – Ralph Ellison
  7. Man’s Search for Meaning – Viktor Frankl (read this recently)
  8. Lord of the Rings – J.R.R. Tolkien (personal favorite)
  9. The Shining – Stephen King
  10. The Stranger – Albert Camus
  11. The Sun Also Rises – Ernest Hemingway
  12. The Very Hungry Caterpillar – Eric Carle
  13. Where the Sidewalk Ends – Shel Silverstien
  14. Where the Wild Things Are – Maurice Sendak

Many of these I have heard of, read parts of, or have read other works by the author, but for this list, I am only including books I have honest-to-goodness actually read.

So I score 14, and I got many good ideas to add to my list, especially a Wrinkle in Time and How to Kill a Mockingbird.

How about you? Was your favorite book on this list?

How to Write a Book Review in 5 Easy Steps

A friend recently asked me about this, and I remembered that it was once like pulling teeth for me too, “What on earth do I say?” I would ponder.

So here it is, how I think about writing book reviews. (Step pre-1: unless you are being paid a boatload, only bother to review books you actually care about)

  1. Think – What stood out to you the most? What issues are most central in your mind? How did the book impact you?
  2. Find quotes – find the most representative and interesting quotations, especially ones that revolve around the themes you thought of in step one. Less is more here. Choose the best and don’t overwhelm the reader with tons of block quotations.
  3. Connect the dots – use words to tie your thoughts together. Don’t stress out here; it’s just a first draft and you don’t have to show it to anyone if you don’t want to. Just let it flow. No rules; just write.
  4. Edit and Rearrange – now put it in a more logical order and check for typos and sentence grammar. Don’t be afraid to add or remove large chunks.
  5. Flourishes:
    1. Summary: do not spend much time on summary unless you are writing a summary specifically. For a review, boil it down to one concise sentence and include this in the first paragraph.
    2. Can you place the work’s significance for the genre? If so, great. Include it. If not, don’t worry about it. Just explain what the work meant to you.
    3. Balance: I usually include one area I was less-than-pleased with, even if I loved it as a whole. This isn’t necessary, but it helps to remember that your reviews need not be all hot or cold. They can have nuance. Conversely, even if you hated the book, try to find something positive about it, even if it’s only in the idea.
    4. Real world meaning: for personal reviews or works, say what the work meant to you and how it has/will affect your life. For more formal reviews and works, mention the “real world” significance to be found in the work. Such as “So and So’s Treatise on the Philosophical Dynamics of Wind Movements may seem abstract, but it will forever change how you perceive your walk through the park on a breezy day.” Or “The love/hate relationship between the two central characters illuminated this area of my own life…” etc etc. These are the parts that really impact us as readers.

And there you have it! Now you can review books too and maybe even get free review copies from publishers. Or use this to write any paper on anything! Enjoy!

Questions: Was this actually helpful? Would you like to see any other how-tos or other questions answered on this blog?

Two Reasons Christ’s Two Wills Matter, According to Benedict XVI

Jesus of Nazareth, from Ignatius Press

I have been slowly slogging through the Jesus of Nazareth series by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, but published during his pontificate as Pope Benedict XVI. I say “slow,” not because it is bad, but because it is so dense and thoughtful that each sentence must be read, contemplated and integrated with one’s existing understanding of the subject in order to make any headway at all.

That being said, it is most rewarding to do so because Ratzinger goes through the entire Gospel narrative of Christ’s life, piece by piece, and explains connections with the Old Testament, related doctrines and explicates a great deal of theology along the way. If the Catechism is an introduction to the Church’s core teachings, moral philosophy and sacraments, the Jesus of Nazareth series is an introduction to the same but from the starting point of the Gospels, and therefore serves to connect it all in an intrinsically Christ-centered way. His work is truly a gift to the Church and any seekers.

Reading through the Holy Week volume, I encountered this passage regarding Christ’s Agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, where He aligns His will with the Father’s in order to face the cross and His death. Ratzingers takes up the doctrine of the hypostatic union (that Jesus Christ is one Person (divine) with two natures (divine and human)) and shows its essential relevance for the Christian faith. In Jesus:

…there is only one “personal will”, which draws the “natural will” into itself. And this is possible without annihilating the specifically human element, because the human will, as created by God, is ordered to the divine will. In becoming attuned to the divine will, its experiences its fulfillment, not its annihilation. Maximus [the Confessor] says in this regard that the human will, by virtue of creation, tends towards synergy (working together) with the divine will, but that through sin, opposition takes the place of synergy: man, whose will attains fulfillment through becoming attuned to God’s will, now has the sense that his freedom is compromised by God’s will. He regards consenting to God’s will, not as his opportunity to become fully himself, but as a threat to his freedom against which he rebels.

The drama of the Mount of Olives lies in the fact that Jesus draws man’s natural will away from opposition and back toward synergy, and in doing so, he restores man’s greatness. In Jesus’s natural human will, the sum total of human nature’s resistance to God is, as it were, present within Jesus himself. The obstinacy of us all, the whole of our opposition to God is present, and in his struggle, Jesus elevates our recalcitrant nature to become its real self.

1) Here, plainly, is the importance of Jesus and the doctrine about his two natures. Only by being fully human, can he share in our fallenness and so help us. Only by being divine, can he offer it all to God the Father in a satisfactory way that atones for Original Sin. Thus the doctrine of the hypostatic union becomes meaningful and not a mere abstract formulation.

2) And more concretely, for the Christian life, our human wills work the same way as Christ’s. We think that by follow God, we lose freedom, but the opposite is true. By following God, we are most truly ourselves and truly free. It’s like a person walking down a road; he may think the signs and road indicators inhibit his freedom, but really he is thwarted if he ignores them and wanders into the desert. By following the signs and indicators, he arrives at his destination more quickly and safely with more time to do what he came for there.

Does theology sometimes seem overly abstract? Have you read any of this? If not, does it sound appealing? It’s hard to approach sharing the whole of the Christian Faith; does this help?

Way Better Idea of Success than Money and Status

A friend of mine posted this article from On Being, called “Scrapping Outdated Definitions of Success” by Courtney Martin.

This really resonated with me as my husband and I have been navigating career moves recently trying to produce a happier household.

The cultural narrative overshadows us all, to the extent that we buy into it: you will be successful if you can go beyond your parents’ earnings and their collar.

The rub is that it’s simply not true.

Bigger earnings don’t always translate into a better life, as evidenced by the preponderance of miserable lawyers, doctors, sales managers, and investment bankers. The trusty old collar metaphor turns out to be dangerously reductive, as was so beautifully discussed in Krista Tippett’s recent interview with Mike Rose.

As the tectonic plates of work shift under our feet, there’s a palpable sense of professional insecurity. On the flip side, there’s a real opportunity to tell the truth in a moment when we don’t have as much to lose. If we successfully scrap outdated definitions of success — salaries and collars, foremost among them — what’s left?

Here’s my attempt at synthesizing what I see among my friends, family, colleagues, and co-housing community. We want to be paid enough to live without the specter of an empty bank account or an empty cupboard hanging over our heads. We want to have access to childcare for our children and doctors for our aging parents. We want work that demands something of our minds and our bodies; we want to think and move. We want to feel like our gifts, whatever weird and wonderful things those might be, are put to good use (which first requires knowing what they hell they are). We want to work alongside other people who see and celebrate those gifts, people who teach us things, people who want to make cool stuff with us, people who are kind and mostly good and don’t create a lot of unnecessary drama. We want to be treated fairly. We want to be trusted, to know how and when and where we do our best work. We want to wake up in the morning and feel like there is a place to direct our energy and that place, while it may not define us, dignifies us.

Then, there was this:

In any case, women tend to walk around with an itchy, un-lived version of their own lives.

Carl Jung wrote:

“Nothing has a stronger influence psychologically on their environment and especially on their children than the unlived life of the parent.”

Martin sites this quotation both in relation to moms with careers and stay at home moms, that either way, in the past there has been a sense that something must be lost: that working women may have unfulfilled lives with their children and also that stay-at-home women may wonder about their creative potential or gifts. This is certainly a pressing question that feminism has wrestled with again and again with no good outcome.

I myself addressed it earlier this year and concluded that somehow, it must be possible to use and develop our gifts and to nurture our children well–both for women and men, though both make a great many sacrifices. I penned a similar thought to Martin:

Unfortunately, our standard of “success” is usually public recognition or the number of zeros in a paycheck. The standard should be though a happy, purposeful life.

This Jung quote struck me though as a powerful reminder that wherever we struggle for fulfillment, it really does matter, both to us and to our families, whether it’s wanting to be with children more or develop our gifts more. We are actually better parents when we find balance and take care of ourselves, which looks different for different people and even for husbands and wives. But the shared truth is that by attempting to suppress any good and real part of our beings, something is lost and our children feel that too.

It is worth adding that may people live through difficult circumstances and do not always the chance to strive in both or either of these areas. Compassion and aid to these people is a must, for our happiness and success as individuals is not unrelated to the success and happiness of our neighbors. And it’s simple decency. But it is not selfish to seek sustainable, healthy development in all areas of life. As I’ve cited before. this quote from Pope John Paul II sums it up:

“It is not wrong to want to live better; what is wrong is a style of life which is presumed to be better when it is directed towards ‘having’ rather than ‘being,’ and which wants to have more, not in order to be more but in order to spend life in enjoyment as an end in itself.”
— Pope John Paul II, Centesimus Annus
Question then: what does success mean to you?

Faith Objections 3: How I Came to Trust the Bible

Why should I trust the Bible given all its translations, its ancient age, and its occasional difficulties in harsh figures or unintelligible cultural differences?

You should trust the Bible if you make a sincere effort to understand its contents and it finds a meaningful place in your conception of truth and goodness; God does not force anyone to believe. Here is the account of how I came to trust the Bible.

I was raised in a Christmas and Easter Protestant family. We had a Bible; I didn’t think it was weird, but I never read it. My mom read us a children’s translation at night when I was young but it didn’t constitute serious reading through my teenage years. Yet when the Gideons were out distributing tiny orange-covered copies of the New Testament on my way home from school, I took one. I even read some of it, mostly from Matthew’s Gospel, which was the first book in this edition as it contained only the New Testament.

bibleThe writing style of the biblical writers is different from emotionally expressive and highly explanatory modern writing, and I found the person of Jesus to be a harsh and intimidating one. I read such passages as, “And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell” (Matt. 5:30) and was bewildered and a bit nervous.

In school, I also learned a few scraps about the Middles Ages and the copying of manuscripts, including of the scriptural texts. I learned about the printing press and the various translations the Bible went through and how Martin Luther translated it into German so that the common people could read for themselves instead of being told the great book’s contents. Somehow or other, I drew the conclusion that the text must be so muddled so as to be unreliable. Who could know what words the original authors actually wrote or what they intended the reader to take from them?

Well, when I started trying to take the Bible seriously and not simply write it off, I learned that I had some misunderstandings about the text.

Read the whole article where it appeared originally on the Truth and Charity Forum. http://www.truthandcharityforum.org/why-should-i-trust-the-bible-objection-series-3/

Objection 2: Does God Exist?

The second in a series on common objections to the Faith, originally published on The Truth and Charity Forum.

Here, of course, is the most fundamental question of Faith. As I said in the introduction, I am a convert to Catholicism rather than to theism in general, but I would still like to address this most basic point.

I was raised in a Protestant family, but in late high school and early college, I became enamored with the what seemed like the humanitarian strength of liberalism and considered myself an agnostic. But I never reached full-fledged atheism. Why? In my personal musings, there were three factors that I could not get around: 1) free will and 2) a strong resistance to nihilism and 3) an unquenchable longing for something more.

Free Will

There are some philosophers who deny that humans have free will, but they are not the good ones. Each of us in our daily life experience free will; every morning when we awake there are options before us: some big, some small, almost all influenced by others, environmental factors, etc. Yet the choices remain; we can take one or the other or a third way or forth and those choices will bring consequences, which is precisely why we worry over the bigger choices (and sometimes the smaller ones) so very much. The reality of these choices and the freedom of the will to decide between them are fundamental parts of our human experience.

Early on, I concluded that if materialism—the idea that only matter, atoms, chemicals, or physical things are real—is true that there would be no room for free will. Our actions would be illusions, decided not by us but by the random firings, actions and interactions of chemical agents in our brain. This view is known as Determinism.

This does not fit my experience of reality, which I believe with Aristotle is ultimately the standard of philosophy. There may be no purely logical refutation of determinism or solipicism, the stifling idea that only our singular consciousness exists and the world is an illusion, for that matter—but a square punch in the face will end its logical rule over our functioning; reality is real, after all. That is to say there may be no way to “prove” without experience that other creatures exist outside our own isolated consciousness, but that is no way to function as a human person. Likewise with determinism, to live meaning fully, we must take seriously the standard of our own lived experience, which includes free will.

So I embraced the idea of free will, and to affirm the existence of the will, there must be something—some spiritual, non-measurable, non-physical—component to reality, to human life. Only a spiritual or non-physical realm could provide the existential space necessary for free will without falling into strict material determinism. At the very least, then, I always remained open to the affirmation of a spiritual reality. Atheism is not per se ruled out by this, but the most dogmatic forms of materialism and empiricism are.

Second: An aversion to nihilism

I also believed firmly in morality even while I professed relativism. I believed ultimately that life was meaningful even if I did not know why. I followed that up with a consideration of stark atheism, which, granted may not be how all atheists understand themselves or the universe. Nonetheless, I imagined a universe with nothing eternal where human death resulted in total annihilation of the self. On a broader scale, the earth itself would one day be annihilated as well. So any meaning placed in humans or the planet would ultimately evaporate, disappear, and destruct with no meaningful trace beyond perhaps atoms.

Then, my thought process continued, if all meaning was ultimately to come to naught, why would it matter how soon the meaning ended in naught? If a man’s life ended and meant nothing after 80 years, the same end result—obliteration—was achieved if he died after 20 years on this rock instead. So why not kill one another or oneself if the end result was always death and destruction anyway?

To avoid this ultimate devolution of meaning, I reasoned that there must be something eternal.

Many atheists today do not act like nihilists; they earnestly see good in human life and value in the transient present, which is a very good thing! I’m glad they think that way; it is why we can agree on so many important things, despite our differences. Yet as good as it is to find meaning despite human transience, the question of ultimate or final meaning remains. In my mind, without an ultimate destiny or truth or measure of some kind, there is no objective reason not to arrive at nihilism.

Third: A longing for something beyond

The last factor that held me back from full atheism was a deep-seated, strong desire I had felt my whole life, especially as a child, for a world beyond this one. I adored fantasy books and movies, magic and science fiction. All those worlds seemed so promising, so full, so rich and so much better than the hum drum of my daily life and routine. Now some of that, I realize now, was just a youthful boredom with the mundane. But some of it was real, a longing for a higher, nobler, purer reality in which humans could do more and be more, even if that consisted of super powers or jetpacks to my younger self.

About this desire, C.S. Lewis said, “If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.” This thought sums it up. I found myself, even as I grew older, longing for a goodness, for a truth that seemed impossible, unknowable, a truth that would bring order to this discordant world. How could I have such a longing? To what was it directed?

Now I consider that answer to be rather obvious: God. But back before my conversion, this longing alone, kept me always open to the possibility or hope for God to really exist and to really be everything that the best spiritual people said he could be.

So an affinity for free will, meaning and a higher longing kept me open to the idea of God. And when I stumbled across the idea of the Uncaused Cause, the picture appeared complete: physically speaking, every event has a cause; it is a reaction to something else. The chain of events must lead ever back then, and it could not be infinite for it would have nothing to set it in motion to begin with. So something (or someone) out there accounts for the action in the universe. This, classically speaking as St. Thomas Aquinas put it in the opening of his Summa Theologica, is what we call God.

I know that some philosophers object to this, but to me it seems remarkably sound and I find it convincing. Starting here in theism with, as I mentioned, a conviction that morality mattered, my conversion began. And when I found this idea in a Catholic saint and theologian, I had all the more reason to take Catholicism seriously.

Today, when I go through rough spots, I still reflect on these basics. But mostly, I am more floored by God’s simultaneous immanence and transcendence—the Thomistic idea that God is both deeply present in all parts of the world, holding it in being and also radically separate from all physical reality.

As I look around now at nature, at my children, at human love and fortitude, I see a world shot through with God’s presence; it is like Fr. Zosima’s estastic realization in the Brothers Karamozov: “there was such a glory of God all about me: birds, trees, meadows, sky; only I lived in shame and dishonoured it all and did not notice the beauty and glory.

‘You take too many sins on yourself,’ mother used to say, weeping.

‘Mother, darling, it’s for joy, not for grief I am crying. Though I can’t explain it to you, I like to humble myself before them, for I don’t know how to love them enough.’ “

God’s glory is all around us and His redemption is as well.

Read original article here: http://www.truthandcharityforum.org/does-god-exist-objection-series-2/

This is my personal journey. How has your journey been going?