Monday, December 26, 2016


"War will exist until that distant day when the conscientious objector employs the same reputation and prestige that the warrior does today."

--John F. Kennedy, Letter to  Navy friend, quoted in Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., A Thousand Days: John F. Kennedy in the White House (Houghton Mifflin, 1965), 88.


"I promised him I would bear it," she said. "And I will. You have to bear things. Think what soldiers bear! Papa is a soldier. If there was a war he would have to bear marching and thirstiness and, perhaps, deep wounds. And he would never say a word--not one word."

--Frances Hodgson Burnett, A Little Princess


Friday, December 23, 2016


"And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn."
--Luke 2:7

Carlo Carretto, on poverty:

Judgments on the question of poverty are difficult to make. The garb of a pauper, a small house, a wooden table, a chipped cup, the plaited haversack—these are external signs. Then there is the reality, the true poverty, which is altogether interior and invisible.

Today, I prefer the reality. And I actually see it is better, see it in its real essence, because now it has become something more vast, and universal.

The one who cannot meet the rent is not the only poor person. He or she is poor as well who is suffering from cancer.

Those who live in burned-out slums are not the only poor. He or she is poor as well who is on drugs, who is unloved, who is marginalized, who is alone…

So it is difficult to judge.

And I do not wish to judge.

So I only say, place yourselves directly before God and be judged by him.

And keep one thing in mind.

At the vespers of your life you will be judged by your love, not by your poverty.

I say this because out on the frontiers of the Church poverty has become a battlefield, where the poor hate the rich, and the laborer hates his or her employer.

This is no longer blessedness. It is not even the Gospel. This is Marxism…

Never forget, God is love. Poverty is but his garment.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016


This week's arts and culture column is on one of my favorite spiritual writers.

It begins like this:

Caryll Houselander (1901-1954) was a British mystic, poet and spiritual teacher who wore a pair of big round tortoiseshell glasses, lived in London during the Blitz and, until she died at 53 from breast cancer, apparently barely slept or ate. A friend observed: “She used to cover her face with some abominable chalky-white substance which gave it quite often the tragic look one associates with clowns and great comedians.”

“That Divine Eccentric,” Maisie Ward’s fine biography, charts Houselander’s difficult childhood, her reversion to the Church in 1925 and her unrequited love for a British spy who would be the model for Ian Fleming’s “James Bond.” She had an eclectic coterie of friends. She never married. And she was utterly devoted to Christ.

Ward writes, “The sure cure for bitterness, Caryll comments, is to pray and do penance for the person: love will grow in proportion. ‘It is not according to how much penance I do or how many prayers I say, but how much love I put into it.’”

She became a prolific and popular author. Her works include “The Reed of God,” “A Rocking-Horse Catholic” and “The Risen Christ.”

“Guilt” (1951) contains passages on the mental suffering, among others, of serial killer Peter Kürten (“The Monster of Düsseldorf”), Hans Christian Andersen, Arthur Rimbaud and St. Thérèse of Lisieux.


Friday, December 16, 2016


Whoops, I forgot to post last week's arts and culture column which was about an exhibit at the Bowers Museum. 

This entailed a very gnarly drive to Santa Ana. If you live in LA, "no-one" goes, except under extreme duress, to Orange County (and I'm quite sure vice versa). Don't ask me why. Possibly because the drive is on the 5 freeway, which is not exactly scenic. Also, I suppose, there's a difference in sensibility, which I won't get into.

Anyway, I bravely made my way down and back. Here's how the piece that resulted begins:

Years ago, I attended a retreat led by a priest named Father Bill.

Father Bill combined high intelligence, a black sense of humor and a tender heart. He’d been educated, among other places, in Rome. He’d studied with the pope. He’d come back to Southern California and landed at a parish where he’d thought to impart some of his deep theological insights. Instead, the people kept stringing up tinsel, lights and tissue paper cutouts. Every time he turned around they were loading up the sanctuary with Sacred Heart prayer cards and plastic statues of Mary.

One day at the beach, pondering his dilemma, he set up his chair near a young father and his little girl. The father was trying to nap and the little girl would bring her pail down to the water, fill it with shells and, staggering under its weight, bring it back. “Daddy, Daddy! Look!” The father would open one eye, say “That’s nice, honey” and roll over on his other side. The little girl would totter back to the shoreline, fill her empty pail with shells, and drag it back: “Daddy! Daddy!”

Suddenly Father Bill realized this little girl was like the Latinos at his church. They wanted to throw a party for the Father they loved! They wanted to shower Him with trinkets and gifts!

He heard a “voice” saying, “If I want to change the Church, Bill, I’ll do it.”


Wednesday, December 14, 2016


An interesting reflection as we move toward the Story of the Stable: the stupendous birth from which all else flowed and continues to flow.

"If every newborn baby has an appetite for forward motion, the next step is to find out why it hates lying still.

Penetrating further into the causes of anxiety and anger in the very young, Dr Bowlby concluded that the complex instinctual bond between a mother and her child – the child’s screams of alarm (quite different to the whimperings of cold or hunger or sickness); the mother’s ‘uncanny’ ability to hear those screams; the child’s fear of the dark, and of strangers; its terror of rapidly approaching objects; its invention of nightmarish monsters where none exist; in short, all those ‘puzzling phobias’ which Freud sought to explain and failed, could, in fact, be explained by the constant presence of predators in the primaeval home of man.

Bowlby quotes from William James' Principles of Psychology, ‘The greatest source of terror in childhood is solitude.’ A solitary child, kicking and yelling in its cot, is not, therefore, necessarily showing the first signs of the Death Wish, or of the Will to Power, or of an ‘aggressive drive’ to bash its brother’s teeth in. These may or may not develop later. No. The child is yelling – if you transpose the cot on to the African thornscrub – because, unless the mother comes back in a couple of minutes, a hyena will have got it.

Every child appears to have an innate mental picture of the ‘thing’ that might attack: so much so that any threatening ‘thing’, even if it is not the real ‘thing’, will trigger off a predictable sequence of defensive behaviour. The screams and kicks are the first line of defence. The mother must then be prepared to fight for the child; and the father to fight for them both. The danger doubles at night, because man has no night vision and the big cats hunt at night. And surely this most Manichean drama – of light, darkness and the Beast – lies at the heart of the human predicament.

Visitors to a baby ward in hospital are often surprised by the silence. Yet if the mother really has abandoned her child, its only chance of survival is to shut its mouth."

--Bruce Chatwin, The Songlines, Penguin Classics, 1987, pp. 232-233.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016


This week's arts and culture column is about one of the prison camps to which, to our everlasting sorrow and shame, the U.S government consigned those of Japanese descent during WWII.

Here's how it begins:

In 1942, the U.S. government ordered more than 120,000 men, women and children from their homes and detained them indefinitely in 10 isolated, military-style camps they called “War Relocation Centers.”

Manzanar — a four-hour drive from Los Angeles, through the Angeles Forest, the Mojave Desert and the foothills of the Eastern Sierra Nevadas — was one of them.

In 1992, the former camp was designated the Manzanar National Historic Site. Driving in, you still pass the sentry tower where armed guards stood watch. I spent three days there in September, perusing the superbly curated exhibits, wandering the extensive trails through abandoned blocks of barracks, praying in the derelict gardens. The contrast between the breathtaking beauty of the mountains and the misery that had been borne beneath their shadow was stark.

In the wake of the Dec. 7, 1941, bombing of Pearl Harbor, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, authorizing the military to remove “any and all persons” of Japanese ancestry from the West Coast.

Notices went up giving Japanese citizens mere weeks or even days to pack up their belongings and report to be transported by armed train to internment camps.

Commercial fishermen who had been out to sea were detained as they stepped off their boats in San Pedro. U.S. citizens with no idea whether they would ever return sold their furniture and appliances for a pittance. Restaurants were closed. Pets were left behind. Prisoners were not allowed to ship personal items or household goods — they could bring only what they were able to carry.



Saturday, December 3, 2016


Yesterday I was able to steal away in the afternoon to the world-class Huntington Library and Gardens which is located a mere few miles from my home.

The place has to be experienced to be believed and bowls me over anew every time I visit. For years I've been meaning to set aside a visit exclusively for the library. And for years, every time I go, I'm sidetracked by the acres of gardens--roses, herbs, a Japanese tea garden, the Chinese garden, the California garden, the children's garden.

But most of all, and forever, the desert garden.

Much is in bloom and the coolish-for-Southern-Cal weather makes for perfect ambling. I spent close to a couple of hours peering, oohing, aahing, sighing, gasping in wonder, and giving praise.

I walked much of the rest of the grounds afterward. But a person can take in only so much at a time, and I came to rest on a bench beneath a tree near the Virginia Steele Scott Galleries.

What is it about this time of year that fills us with so much joy and makes us so sad at the same time?