Thursday, January 30, 2014


John Monczunski was my editor for many years at Notre Dame Magazine. On a cross-country trip in 2007, I stopped by South Bend, and he gave me a tour of the campus, treated me to a classy dinner, and told me of the own lovely way he'd developed of praying the Rosary. I've kept it all these years.

With his permission, here it is:


The way I look at it the whole thing I think is a kind of meditation on the Mystical Body, starting from God Who is Love and going full circle (eternity) around the beads back to God Who is Love.

So the first thing I do is rub the cross with my fingers, caressing it and as I do that I think/say to myself, "This is Love incarnate. This is what it means sometimes to be Love. This is what created and sustains the universe." And then I pause (a nanosecond or more) and think about that a little.

Then I move to the first single bead (and for me all the single beads signify me) and then I finger/caress this bead and think/say to myself "Help me to be this Love incarnate today. Help me to be Love."

Then I move to the three beads. And these for me are for the three people closest to me now. In my case they are my two daughters and my mother. And one by one I caress the bead which symbolizes the person, and in my mind as I caress the bead I caress the person. I think about the person, what they may be doing as I hold the bead and I hold them in my heart and I wish God's love for them, God's help in whatever challenge they may be confronted with, and I thank God for them in my life, and I sort of just hold them symbolically for a second, and I pray that whomever they may come in contact with that day, whomever they love, will be touched by God's love as well.

Then I move to the next single bead—and although I said earlier that all the single beads are me, I was wrong. This one I guess is the "exes bead." As I hold this bead I think about my ex-wife, Diane, and her friend, Brien, and I pray (I guess I don't caress them exactly) that they are happy and safe and well. At this bead I also think about the other women I have been close too since my divorce. My dear, sweet friend Lori, who is completing treatment for breast cancer, and a woman I care about deeply with whom I will probably never have a relationship.

At the little medal that joins the circle of beads, I think about and caress my father and other relatives and friends who have died. I hold them close to my heart and thank God for them in my lives.

Then I move to the decades. Each bead is another person. I hold/caress each bead think about someone (I usually start with my closest family members and then work my way out through all the decades to friends, casual acquaintances, people I may have glanced at on the street in an ever widening circle). In each case, I sort of think about the person, hold him or her to my heart, wish them well, pray for their welfare and the welfare of those with whom they may come in contact).

Each decade is interrupted with the single bead, which brings me back to myself. And I think about myself, thank God for everything/everyone in my life. Remind myself that I am to be, like Jesus, love incarnate in the world today. (That is the whole point of Christianity in my opinion, the whole point of the Eucharist. What we eat is to become us!)

So I go through the whole circle of beads and whatever person happens to come to my mind at that instant gets assigned to that particular bead and I symbolically hold them to my heart and thank God for them in my life. And I go full circle, back to the little medal thingy where I think one last time about my Dad. And then the "ex loves" bead, then the three, my daughters and mom, and then one last time the Me bead, thinking about what I'm all about, up against, needy for etc. and my need to be like Jesus, love incarnate today.

And then, finally, fingering/caressing the Cross, "This is Love. This, giving yourself freely, is what it means to love sometimes (always?). This is what created and sustains the universe."

Amen. (Phewww.)

The whole thing is pretty flexible. I change it a little here and there. Whatever works I keep. What doesn't, toss out.

It's sort of funny how I started doing this. It was actually when I took my bus trip pilgrimage around the country when I met you the first time. Any how, I was on the road for 30 days and during that time I got homesick. And somehow or other I stumbled on this notion that even if I couldn't hold my daughters physically I could call them to mind and caress them symbolically while I caressed the bead. And that really helped.

And I got to thinking about the relationship between God, Jesus, Me and Love and it sort of just evolved. Later this notion was of some comfort to me after my Dad died a couple of years ago. In a sense I could still touch him. It was a way to continue to be close to all the people I loved even though they were distant.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014


Have you ever felt that everyone around you can be calculating, cold, selfish, mean, gossipy, seductive, manipulative, grasping, and prideful, but that the minute you're even in a bad mood people will call you on it?

That while the whole world is trying to rip you off, you burn with a guilty conscience if you say so much as a single bad word, or harbor the slightest degree of ill-will, against the rippers-off?

That if only some generous soul who can well afford it would leave you a couple of hundred grand in his/her will, "the way" would open with ease?

If so, this little pamphlet is for you. It's called "Others May, You Cannot." It is put out by an outfit called The Tract League and you can read it in full and buy a hundred to pass out to your friends, or while standing on the streetcorner with a bullhorn, for a mere six bucks.

The tract begins like this:

"If God has called you to be really like Jesus He will draw you into a life of crucifixion and humility. God’s call will put such demands of obedience on you that you will not be able to follow other people, or measure yourself by other Christians. At times, He will let other people do things which He will not let you do.

Other Christians who seem very religious will push themselves, pull wires, and work schemes to carry out their plans. You cannot, and if you attempt it, you will meet with failure and rebuke from the Lord.

Others may boast of themselves, of their work, of their successes, but the Holy Spirit will not allow you to do any such thing, and if you begin it, He will lead you to despise yourself and all your good works.

Others may be allowed to succeed in making money, or may have a legacy left to them, but it is likely God will keep you poor. God wants you to have something far better than gold, namely, a helpless dependence upon Him, that He may demonstrate His faithful love for you in supplying your needs day by day.

God may let others be honored and put forward, and keep you hidden in obscurity in order to produce some fragrant fruit for His coming glory which can only be produced in the shade. He may let others be great, but keep you small. He may let others do a work for Him and get the credit for it now. The reward for your work is held in the hands of Jesus and you will not see it until He comes"...

DYING to read this tract.
Check it out here.

Thanks, peace and grace to David B. of Houston for passing "Others May, You Cannot" on...

Sunday, January 26, 2014


camellias with peeling wallpaper

"Credible Witnesses" is my monthly column at Magnificat about great, interesting Catholics who have not yet been, and may never be, canonized.

I have completed my essays for this year and am now working up the list for 2015. Which it appears Pope Francis has designated "The Year for Consecrated Life."

Therefore, all the credible witnesses for 2015 need to be consecrated people. They also need to be dead.

They're looking for a "good mixture of monks, nuns, priests, brothers, sisters, consecrated virgins, consecrated lay people." 

So far we've come up with these:

1. Sr. Ida Perfety of the Society Devoted to the Sacred Heart (1922-2000).

2. Fr. Alfred Delp, S.J. (1907-1945) (executed by Nazis).

3. Sofia Cavaletti, co-foundress of the Cathechesis of the Good Shepherd (1917-2011).

4. Venerable Mother Angeline Teresa McCrory (worked with elderly and infirm in the Bronx) (1893-1984).

5. Mother Marie des Douleurs, founder of the Congregation of Benedictines of Christ Crucified, special charism for guilty priests (1902-1983)

I'm thinking to call on you all to throw out any suggestions/ideas. 

Thank you in advance!  

camellias still on their bush

Thursday, January 23, 2014


Here's something I've been wondering vis-a-vis our recent discussion about the current dearth of Catholic writers. We might start by asking why some of our best "Catholic" writers aren't Catholic.

Japanese novelist Kenzaburō Ōe’s A Personal Matter says more about being for life—all of life—than all the anti-abortion screeds ever written. Along with his wife, Ōe raised a brain-damaged child (and two others) into adulthood, and the theme of the wounded child, the imperfection that shatters our lives, runs through much of his work.

In spite of frail health and chronic illness, American journalist Katherine Boo journeyed to India, for four years immersed herself in the lives of urban slum dwellers, and wrote the sublime non-fiction work Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity.

In Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt, journalist Chris Hedges (along with graphic artist Joe Sacco) writes of America’s “sacrifice zones”: the Pine Ridge Lakota reservation in South Dakota; the indentured-slave tomato pickers in Florida.

These are works about humans, written by humans, that treat of the human condition. To be Catholic is to be curious about and affectionate toward other human beings, no matter how disturbing, wayward, and annoying we find them. Because that is how Christ finds us.

Any recovering drunk off the street will tell stories of his day-to-day life that are gripping, stimulating, thought-provoking, poignant, and grounded in the deepest morality of all; namely, that the problem is not other people; the problem is us. In his way, he tells Gospel stories: about demons being driven out, the blind being made to see, the deaf to hear, the lame to walk. Still bearing the wounds, but nonetheless, walking. Holding out a shaky hand to the next person.

And he is funny.

That is Catholic.

Film-maker Robert Bresson (Diary of a Country Priest, A Man Escaped) wrote that he wanted to help men and women “discover the matter they are made of.” "Where have all the great ones gone?" asked Andrei Tarkovsky. another Catholic-in-spirit film-maker. "Where are Rossellini, Cocteau, Renoir, Vigo? The great—who are poor in spirit?"

The great who are poor in spirit—that is really Catholic. Or as Thérèse of Lisieux prayed on her deathbed, “May I become little, more and more.”

descanso gardens, la cañada, ca

Wednesday, January 22, 2014


my dashing friend Christine, of Palm Springs CA and
Zermatt, Switzerland.

Wow, that was fun, the pledge drive!

You all contributed the TRULY princely sum of $2, 275.07. Thank you.

The sainted Fr. Pat "Jesus Spoils Us" Dooling of Monterey, CA gave me a book for Christmas called Streams of Grace: A Selection of Letters of the Abbe of Tourville (1842-1903).

A few excerpts:

"Live 'without fuss,' as St. Francois de Sales used to say; by which he meant, do quite simply the best you can as you feel you can. I have heard good Mother N---- say that there was nothing she liked more than nuns who had the common sense not to want to be perfect in those aspects which they felt incapable of, and willingly recognized that they were nothing special. Humility and simplicity help us better than anyone else to acquire the right frame of mind to grow toward perfection."

"We are truly on the way of perfection when we recognize and, I must add, accept ourselves as being full of imperfections; not that, no doubt, we shall not tell ourselves that we can do better, but in this sense that we know that we shall always be a very long way from being perfect...Let us be quite willing to say, "After careful consideration I realize that I am no more than, and I am not better than, anyone else." [I starred that line]. It really is very strange how much, once it has been fully accepted, this feeling relieves us of all tension and brings us into the calm spirit of the Gospels. A spirit which seems so sublime, as indeed it is, but which in fact is none other than the spirit of unshakeable humility."

"We are troubled much less by the present bad state of affairs than by the idea we have that things could be better, ought to be better, and that we ought to be able to make them better. So we are worn out by our efforts, aspirations and hopes. We behave like people who feel they ought to be able to prevent the seasonal variations in the weather, spending their time blowing the clouds away from the sun and making great bonfires in order to warm the countryside in Autumn.

So, my dear child, you will eventually learn that the miseries of human life are infinite, which is all very sad, but it ought not to disturb you any more than do the changing seasons...So our soul gives up the vain hope of doing away with all its little defects and follows its own modest way. Taking its own modest safeguards and using its own modest means to carry on, it is not shocked by the number of times it falls, nor by its many failures, nor by the continuous run of misfortunes which befall it. But it holds on cheerfully to what little, in one way or another, it has been able to achieve in overcoming evil...This is the path that is open to us all, weak and human as we are. In one form or another it is the path that all the saints have trod. Don't let us expect wonders from ourselves, but let us be content with small victories. Let us live happily as the servants of the best of masters, who has said to us, "Because you have been faithful in small things I will entrust you with greater.' "


home Thursday...

Sunday, January 19, 2014


“It would be a terrible calamity for the world if we eliminated the beggar. The beggar is just as important in the scheme of things as the giver. If begging were ever eliminated God help us if there should no longer be a need to appeal to some other human being, to make him give of his riches.”
--Henry Miller

 Every morning for years I have prayed for God to direct my thinking for the day, in particular to divorce it from the motives of self-pity, dishonesty and selfishness. I always hear "selfishness" and I think that means I have to work harder. I'm beginning to see selfishness is thinking I have to earn love and thereby putting my faith in my own what inevitably become frantic and in the end resentful efforts.

A few weeks ago a lovely reader from a small town in Ireland sent me the biggest donation I've received in the three and a half years since I started this blog--$300. And when I wrote to thank her, she replied, "That's the biggest donation you've ever received?! I'm embarrassed. You should have an annual or semi-annual pledge drive to keep your blog afloat."

Now this is so not my way. But just as a little reminder, I am unsupported by a religious order, steady, employer, organization, institution, patron, benefactor, family, or spouse. 

This is a one-woman operation--albeit one that would make no sense without you.  

So if you read and enjoy my blog--the essays, the photos, the reading tips, the shared meals!--think about coughing up some dough! 
someone will identity this for me,
i'm sure...

Saturday, January 18, 2014


Brother Rex, from the Little Portion Hermitage in southern Maine, sent me this post last week.

You can learn more about Br. Rex--who signs his emails, "Live to be forgotten that Christ might be remembered"--and/or submit a prayer intention, at Friends of Little Portion Hermitage.

"Dear Brothers and Sisters,

May the Lord give you peace.

I had a wonderful experience at mass recently I’d like to tell you about. It involves a wonderful man with Down Syndrome. I’ll call him Jimmy.

Being a creature of habit I was seated last Sunday where I usually sit for mass–first pew, center-right as you face the altar. More often than not a family of mom, dad and two young boys sit beside me. Last Sunday the family was missing. This left the pew wide open except for a woman who sat to my right.

About 15 minutes into the liturgy, just as the priest was beginning the homily there was some comotion to my left as two men enter the pew in which I was sitting. The man closest to me was a middle-aged man whom it was evident had Down Syndrome. The man to his left was younger, a 20-something year old man, an aid to Jimmy, the man beside me. Jimmy nodded ‘hello’ to me as he removed his coat. He glanced up at priest standing at the ambo and gave Father a thumbs up. Father smiled, returned Jimmy’s gesture and continued with the homily.

Jimmy was having trouble finding his way through the missal provided by an usher. He turned to me and indicated with a series of hand gestures and hard-for-me-to-understand words that he would like some help. I did the best I could to keep Jimmy on the correct page as the mass proceeded.

Mass was filled with several liturgical anomalies instituted by Jimmy, such as Jimmy elevating the Precious Body (in imitation of the priest at the altar several moments earlier) before consuming it and insisting on a fist bump with the chalice bearer after he received the Precious Blood. None of these liturgical maneuvers is approved by the Church of course. But it is I who am bound by the liturgical norms of the Church, God is not, and I have a suspicion that Jimmy and people like him are in some mysterious way more in touch with the Trinity than I am. In other words, God likely makes exceptions to the rubrics for guys like Jimmy.

Long after the Catholics who fulfill their “Sunday obligation” and leave the building as quickly as possible after receiving Eucharist–why spend one more minute in church than absolutely necessary?–and after the crucifer, acolytes, altar severs and priest processed out of the sanctuary and toward the back of the church, those of us remaining began chatting to one another while putting our coats on in preparation to leave.

Jimmy, however, had other plans. He left the pew and moved into the center aisle. He approached the altar, stopping several feet in front of it where there is positioned a large oriental rug. Jimmy proceeded to lay prostrate on the rug in front of the altar and the tabernacle located directly behind it. He laid there for a minute or so, then stood up, returned to the pew, donned his hat and coat and he and his aid walked down the center aisle and out the door.

I was gob-smacked, as my friends in the U.K. say. Here was a man who seemed to take more seriously than any of the rest of us what had just occurred on that altar. Here was a man who seemed to be very conscious of what or rather Who it was in the tabernacle located directly behind the altar. Oh ye…oh me…, oh we of little faith.

The scene of Jimmy laying facedown before the altar and tabernacle last Sunday has stuck with me. It came to mind this morning while I was reading the transcript of a talk given by Pope Francis on September 22, 2013:

“For the Good Shepherd what is far, what is on the margins, what is lost and unappreciated is the object of greater care, and the Church cannot but make her own this special love and attention. The first in the Church are those who are the most in need, humanly, spirituality, materially.”

Brothers and sisters, let us pray for Jimmy and those like him. And when we have the opportunity let us welcome people like Jimmy into the very heart of our parishes. I can only speak for myself, but I need people like Jimmy in my life to teach me the ways of the Kingdom.

Pax et Bonum!"

Thursday, January 16, 2014


oh heaven, heaven...the silence and solitude
of joshua tree...
"Children are heavenly because they are always in a kind of heaven. When they grow older and grow up, their heaven vanishes and then they fall out of their childishness into the dry calculating manner and tedious perceptions of adults. For the children of poor folk the country road in summer is like a playroom. Where else can they go, seeing that the gardens are selfishly closed to them? Woe to the automobiles blustering by, as they ride coldly and maliciously into the children's games, into the child's heaven, so that small innocent human beings are in danger of being crushed to a pulp. The terrible thought that a child actually can be run over by such a clumsy triumphal car, I dare not think it, otherwise my wrath will seduce me to coarse expressions, with which it is well known nothing much ever gets done.

To people sitting in a blustering dust-churning automobile I always present my austere and angry face, and they do not deserve a better one. Then they believe that I am a spy, a plainclothes policeman, delegated by high officials and authorities to spy on the traffic, to note down the numbers of vehicles, and later to report them. I always then look darkly at the wheels, at the car as a whole, but never at its occupants, whom I despise, and this in no way personally, but purely on principle; for I do not understand, and I never shall understand, how it can be a pleasure to hurtle past all the images and objects which our beautiful earth displays, as if one had gone mad and had to accelerate for fear of misery and despair.

In fact, I love repose and all that reposes. I love thrift and moderation and am in my inmost self, in God's name, unfriendly toward any agitation and haste. More than what is true I need not say. And because of these words the driving of automobiles will certainly not be discontinued, nor its evil air-polluting smell, which nobody for sure particularly loves or esteems. It would be unnatural if someone's nostrils were to love and inhale with relish that which for all correct nostrils, at times, depending perhaps on the mood one is in, outrages and evokes revulsion. Enough, and no harm meant. And now walk on. Oh, it is heavenly and good and in simplicity most ancient to walk on foot, provided of course one's shoes or boots are in order."

--Robert Walser, The Walk (1917) [translated from the German by John Calder]

Walser loved long, lonely walks. On the 25th of December 1956 he was found, dead of a heart attack, in a field of snow near the Swiss mental asylum where he had lived for many years.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014


"At no other time during my slice of history was I was aware of people’s hunger for prayer as in the 60’s. And even though in that hunger many came altogether dependent on artificially induced states that ended in a kind of spiritual obesity, nevertheless the hunger was there. In a single decade, people from every religious scene and every facet of faith were able to pray together and seriously look into each other’s eyes with some hope of unity and peace. It was a time of profound spiritual and emotional sincerity and a time of even more profound spiritual danger and peril.

Those of us who took the Christian tradition seriously eventually came back to a discipline of prayer which is rooted in the Judaeo-Christian scriptures and from which our own Catholic sacramental relationship with God flows. Firmly planted on that ground of Faith again we quite naturally found ourselves taking a new look at those old devotions that have flowered in our endearing Catholic garden of faith. Suddenly novenas and beads, vigil lights and statues and icons made all the sense in the world because now we could see it was about more than “little ole ladies” and private devotions. This childlike side of our Catholic tradition opens up a dimension of prayer that few of us remembered though it is at the very center of all Christian prayer, namely that “…prayer is born when the mystery of God and the mystery of man meet.” [quoting Catherine Doherty, Soul of my Soul]."

--Fr. Pat McNulty, I Live Now, Not I

"Whichever he adopts, your main task will be the same. Let him begin by treating the Patriotism or the Pacifism as part of his religion. Then let him, under the influence of partisan spirit, come to regard it as the mot important part. Then quietly and gradually nurse him on to the stage at which the religion becomes merely part of the 'cause' in which Christianity is valued chiefly because of the excellent arguments it can produce in favour of the British war-effort or of Pacifism. The attitude which you want to guard against is that in which temporal affairs are treated primarily as material for obedience. Once you have made the World an end, and faith a means, you have almost won your man, and it makes very little difference what kind of worldly end he is pursuing. Provided that meetings pamphlets, policies, movements, causes, and crusades, matter more to him than prayers and sacraments and charity, he is ours--the more 'religious' (on those terms) the more securely ours. I could show you a pretty cageful down here."

Your affectionate uncle

--C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters
[Screwtape is a minion of Satan, instructing his nephew Wormwood in the ways of converting humans over to the dark side].

I am FLEEING to the desert today and plan to be in Joshua Tree
for a week. Lord God, the beauty!

Saturday, January 11, 2014


On the last Sunday of the Advent season...


The archer with time
as his arrow--has he broken
his strings that the rainbow
is so quiet over the village?

Let us stand, then, in the interval
of our wounding, till the silence,
turn golden and love is
a moment eternally overflowing.

--R. S. Thomas

Thursday, January 9, 2014


Parish Mission, Fr. Michael Fish, January 11, 2012 from Holy Family Church on Vimeo.

In his  Parish Mission talk of January 11, 2012, Fr. Michael Fish gives an analysis of the parable of the woman at the well [John 1:4-26].

As Fr. Fish says We ALL have had five "husbands." We all have our idols that we put before God. So bring them to Jesus wh is dying to do something for us.

We think we're supposed to do something for him, but he is dying to do something for us....

Tuesday, January 7, 2014



I don’t like to see myself, feel myself, or experience myself as a victim. Which is why I have never called myself a feminist. I don't want to wait around until someone else treats me a certain way to feel good about myself. I want to be happy, joyous, and free no matter how people are thinking about or treating me.

Between 1982 and mid-2013, there, were 67 mass shootings (defined by Mother Jones as the killing of four or more people, not including the killer) in the United States. 66 of the murderers were men.

From an article by Jeffrey Nall entitled “The Perils of Patriarchy for Men as well as Women: Another Mass Shooting, another Reason to Begin Discussing Violence and Gender” in Truthout:

“Men are responsible for the majority of violence in this nation. According to the FBI's 2010 statistics on crime, men made up 90 percent of the 11,000 murder offenderswhose gender was known.[9] Men also were responsible for 77 percent of aggravated assaults, 84 percent of burglaries, 82 percent of arsons, 74 percent of offenses against the family and children, and 99 percent of rapes.[10] According to Futures without Violence, while three-quarters of those who commit family violence are men, women make up 84 percent of spousal-abuse victims and 86 percent of those abused by a romantic partner.[11] Considering that men make up just 49.2 percent of the U.S. population, these statistics should be alarming.”

From the same article:

“Violence has long been the weapon of choice to assert one's self-worth within patriarchal culture and is often motivated to overcome perceived "dignity-denial" or dehumanization - denying one's moral status. Drawing on his research and direct experience with perpetrators of violence, psychiatrist James Gilligan notes that "the basic psychological motive, or cause, of violent behavior is the wish to ward off or eliminate the feeling of shame and humiliation ... and replace it with its opposite, the feeling of pride. In addition to feelings of profound shame, triggers for violence include a variety of factors including the feeling that nonviolent alternatives to restoring one's dignity are unavailable and the failure to feel "empathy, love and concern for others"...These violence-abating feelings are linked to femininity, and men who embrace them are often chastised for weakness. And the devaluation of "feminine feelings" such as empathy increasingly marks broader social and governmental practices. As Henry Giroux has pointed out, Americans are increasingly encouraged to limit their compassion and to adopt such "masculine" hardness...This phenomenon is growing not only in terms of interpersonal relations, but also in social policy."

I don’t want to be more like a man.

I want to be more like myself.


Monday, January 6, 2014


A recent email from a young seminarian in Missouri:

"Every writer is a writer in part because of the influence of other writers. For my own edification could you share the five most influential writers that you have read, and maybe a book/story/essay of theirs that has been particularly enriching. I am winding through my personal library and I am looking to spruce it up. Thank you for your prophetic witness. It deepens me in my ability to commit to real discipleship."

As a kid, The Diary of Anne Frank was a major influence. Even now I can hardly believe they killed her. 

The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame (who had a beloved, tormented son nicknamed Mouse who killed himself by throwing himself on a set of railroad tracks) I responded to deeply. The cozy underground burrow of The Badger, the resurrectional springtime, the lovable blowhard of an out-of-control drunk Toad. I always got a book for my birthday and Christmas, and the version we had featured a shiny gold-edged cover that I held to my pre-pubescent breast many a cold winter night.  

Whistle Down the Wind by Mary Hayley Bell. Jesus comes to the English countryside in the form of an escaped, chain-smoking convict. The children rescue and shelter; the adults hunt him down..

When I was in the process of converting, Msgr. Romano Guardini's The Lord was an influence. The PERSON of Christ. The humanity of Christ. The strangeness of Christ. Diary of a Country Priest by Georges Bernanons and don't miss the Bresson movie). 

I have always loved Catherine de Hueck Doherty's Strannik, and keep a dog-eared copy by my bed, . Therese of Lisieux's The Story of a Soul.  

Books I read, and was bowled over by, last year: Domenica Ruta's With our Without You, a memoir about growing up with a junkie mother in working-class Danvers, Massachusetts. Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity, by Katherine Boo who richly deserves her Pulitzer. 

Japanese writer Kenzaburo OeA Personal Matter. Here's his interview with The Paris Review. If I ever get around to writing an essay on all the writers who are more Catholic than many Catholics. Oe will lead the list. 

Iconic short stories: "Good Country People," by Flannery O'Connor. "The Death of Ivan Ilyich" by Tolstoy (that may be a novella). "Roman Fever" by Edith Wharton. "The End of FIRPO In the World," by George Saunders.

Essays: E.B. White's "Once More to the Lake." "Late Victorians," by Richard Rodriguez. "A Good Appetite" by A.J. Liebling. I keep M.F.K. Fisher by my bed, too. I disagree with many of her food preferences and often dislike her personality, yet she's endlessly compelling. 

On my bedside table right now: Alain de Botton's The Art of Travel, Nicholson Baker's Human Smoke, Nazareth Family Spirituality, by Catherine Doherty, Pity the Beautiful by Dana Gioia, Sculpting in Time by Andrey Tarkovsky, I Live Now Not I, by Fr. Pat McNulty, The Awakened Heart by Gerald G. May, Lost Souls by Allan Gurganus, Robert Walser's The Walk, A Guidebook to the Camino de Santiago, by John Brierley, and Streams of Grace by the Abbe de Tourville. 

Finally, this passage from The Habit of Being: The Collected Letters of Flannery O'Connor literally changed the course of my life: "We are not judged by what we are are basically," she wrote to a friend. "We are judged by how hard we use what we have been given. Success means nothing to the Lord, nor gracefulness." 

Those two lines gave me permission to write. 

Saturday, January 4, 2014


Excerpts from the chapter entitled "The Lamp of Sacrifice":

"To fill the thirst of the human heart for the beauty of God's working--to startle its lethargy with the deep and pure agitation of astonishment, are their higher missions."

"Some years ago, in conversation with an artist whose works, perhaps, alone, in the present day, unite perfection of drawing with resplendence of colour, the writer made some inquiry respecting the general means by which this latter quality was most easily to be attained. the reply was as concise as it was comprehensive--'Know what you have to do, and do it' "...

"We treat God with irreverence by banishing Him from our thoughts, not be referring to His will on slight occasions. His is not the finite authority or intelligence which cannot be troubled by small things. There is nothing so small but that we may honour God by asking His guidance of it, or insult Him by taking it into our own hands"...

"I have said for every town: I do not want a marble church for every village; nay, I do not want marble churches at all for their own sake, but for the sake of the spirit that would build them. The church has no need of any visible splendours; her power is independent of them, her purity is in some degree opposed to them. The simplicity of a pastoral sanctuary is lovelier than the majesty of an urban temple; and it may be more than questioned whether, to the people, such majesty has ever been the source of any increase of effective piety; but to the builders it has been, and must ever be. It is not the church we want, but the sacrifice; not the emotion of admiration, but the act of adoration; not the gift, but the giving. And see how much more charity the full understanding of this might admit, among classes of men of naturally opposite feelings; and how much more nobleness in the work. There is no need to offend by importunate, self proclaiming splendour. Your gift may be given in an unpresuming way.  Cut one or two shafts out of a porphyry whose preciousness those only would know who would desire it to be so used; add another month's labour to the undercutting of a few capitals, whose delicacy will not be seen nor loved by one beholder of ten thousand;  see that the simplest masonry of the edifice be perfect and substantial; and to those who regard such things, their witness will be clear and impressive; to those who regard them not, all will at least be inoffensive. But do not think the feeling itself a folly, or the act itself useless. Of what use was that dearly bought water of the well of Bethlehem with which the King of Israel slaked the dust of Adullam? — yet was not thus better than if he had drunk it? Of what use was that passionate act of Christian sacrifice, against which, first uttered by the false tongue, the very objection we would now conquer took a sullen tone for ever? So also let us not ask of what use our offering is to the church: it is at least better for us than if it had been retained for ourselves. It may be better for others also: there is, at any rate, a chance of this; though we must always fearfully and widely shun the thought that the magnificence of the temple can materially add to the efficiency of the worship or to the power of the ministry."

--John Ruskin, The Seven Lamps of Architecture


Thursday, January 2, 2014



Over the last couple of years I've corresponded a bit with Morgan Meis and Stefany Anne Golberg, who are writers both and married. 

We met in the flesh last Saturday eve. I learned they had an arts collective, the Flux Factory, in NY for years. 

They spent time in Antwerp and Sri Lanka and now live in a "bunker" in Schwenksville, PA

Morgan won the Whiting Award for his book, Ruins, which according to him his father basically xeroxed in the basement.

Here's a recent essay of his: "Visits from Christmas Past," about the "monstrosity of Christ" (he's a convert). 

Tuesday I received this e-mail from Stefany.  

"Below is today's word and photo entry to the Huckleberry Explorer's Club, which is my ongoing life's project. Gives you a sense of what we're dealing with here in the Northeast.

Schwenksville, Pennsylvania
December 31, 2013

"The last day’s ground is hard and cold all the way to its soul. It has stilled itself and silenced its heart and said goodbye to the year. There is no more rustle of leaf transformation, no spacious crunch of snow. The squeak from a chickadee disappears just as it hits the air. Beneath my feet the frozen ground squeezed itself so tight that it shot up in ice castles across the field. Tiny time capsules of the imponderable season, a billion accidental palaces of dirt ascending, and this one I took in my hand to celebrate the day."

Further info:

"The Huckleberry Explorer's Club is just me -- though I did make Morgan the head librarian, so he could be included. I have written many entries and have many photos and I also collect and make things. This is the mission statement:

The Huckleberry Explorer’s Club houses the recollections and stuff from Huckleberry Club explorations.

The Huckleberry Explorer’s Club produces the series The Wonderful World of Stefany Anne Golberg.

The Huckleberry Explorer’s Club is never complete. The mission of The Huckleberry Club is to grow.

'The Wonderful World of Stefany Anne Golberg' is my short film series. You can see the films here (working on a Sri Lanka one but it is taking forever...). Only Poland has the opening credits attached so far.

Carnival in Antwerp:
Las Vegas (my first ever film):

I have had a number of moves toward making the Huckleberry Club public over the last few years (including making a website) but so far it is a private venture. Maybe in 2014! In any case, you will be making it public today I guess, so thank you for that."