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Archive for April, 2013

The story of Joshua Casteel is one marked by courage, inspiration, and perhaps, sanctity. From young evangelical Republican to soldier, to Abu Ghraib interrogator to Catholic conscientious objector to crossbearing cancer victim, his tale cannot fail to move any but the hardest heart. This is from the website of The Alliance Catholic Worker, in Alliance, Ohio, who named their house of hospitality for him:

Joshua Casteel,the man for whom our house of hospitality is named, was a veteran and shining light in the Catholic Peace movement. He was born in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, in 1979. Raised in an evangelical household, Joshua was President of the Young Republicans and carried a copy of the Constitution around with him as a teenager. At seventeen years of age, he enlisted in the U.S Army reserves and a year later, received an appointed to West Point Military Academy. Joshua reflected, after his time in boot camp, that there was something about the drills which they learned, such as “Kill, Kill, Kill without mercy,” that did not quite sit right with someone who had learned about the gentle and humble Jesus at Sunday school. Joshua was trained as an Arabic translator and in 2004 was sent to Abu Ghraib prison as an interrogator.

One event in particular during his time in Abu Ghraib proved transforming for Joshua. After five months of interrogating innocent people such as schoolboys and Imams,  Joshua finally got the opportunity to interrogate a Mujahideen Jihadist. The self- proclaimed Jihadist challenged Joshua’s beliefs as a Christian, stating that Joshua did not really believe in the words of Jesus “to love one’s enemy” and to not seek revenge. Realizing that he had lost all objectivity as an interrogator and was instead relating to the jihadist as a person, Joshua ceased the interrogation. This encounter with the enemy  was also taking place alongside a deepening in Joshua’s spiritual life. During his time in Iraq, he had begun reading Dorothy Day, Blessed John Paul II and Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI).Joshua was especially influenced by the thoughts of John Paul II. The encounter with the Jihadist lead Joshua to apply for conscientious objector status. In 2005, he was honorably discharged as a conscientious objector and converted to Catholicism.

Joshua went on to publish a book, Letters from Abu Ghraib and authored two plays: Returns and The Interrogation Room. He joined the board of Iraq Veterans Against the War and became a prolific speaker and advocate for peace while also pursuing postgraduate studies and receiving his MFA.

In late 2011, Joshua fell seriously ill. He was diagnosed with a rare cancer that he most likely got from working at the burn pits in Abu Ghraib. He spoke with gratitude – and a sense of relief – that in his own suffering he was, in some small way, able to share in the suffering of the Iraqi people. During this time he was awarded the 2012 Bishop Dingman Peace Award. Joshua passed onto his eternal reward in August 2012 at the age of 32.  In October 2012, he was posthumously awarded the Saint Marcellus Award by The Catholic Peace Fellowship along with his mother Kirsti Casteel.

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I have often spoken about my love for cardinals, whose beauty is not diminished by how common they are here in Ohio: I literally hear them all day long from late winter to early summer as I walk my mail route.

Talking to a friend, I was surprised to learn that he did not recognize the cardinal’s song, and it occurs to me that many people may not know what they sound like, as they, unlike many birds, do not have one, but many songs. They have a repertoire of several sounds, chirps and tweets and whistles, that they improvise with, much like a jazz musician. This is a good primer:

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Brother Francis in the brewery.

The Benedictine monks of Nursia are a young community living the traditional Benedictine monastic life in Nursia, Italy, birthplace of St Benedict. They recently began brewing beer, and supplied beer for the recent conclave, which inaccurately produced jokes that the cardinals would take their time. I have a young friend, the son of friends, Brother Evagrius, who is a  monk in the community and involved with the brewery. Here is part of an interview with his friend, the master brewer, Brother Francis:

BREWVANA: What’s been the reception to your beers?

BR. FRANCIS: Given that there is only one other monastery in Italy that brews beer (Cascinazza), we are certainly facing a challenge. But so far Italians have been very receptive to our beer. Thankfully they have a very artisanal and local mentality here.

BREWVANA: What does mealtime look like at the monastery? And what about Lent, specifically?

BR. FRANCIS: We try to follow the monastic fast described by Saint Benedict in his rule. So, depending on the time of the year, we have different meal schedules.”

Normally we have the following:

From Easter to Pentecost we have a normal meal schedule: breakfast in the morning, lunch around 1 p.m., and dinner around 6:30 p.m.

From Pentecost to Sept. 14, we have the above schedule on all days but Wednesday and Friday. On those days we have breakfast in the morning, lunch around 3 p.m., and no dinner.

From Sept. 14 until Lent, we have the same fasting schedule as above: breakfast in the morning, and lunch around 3 p.m., no dinner. Of course we do go back to the Easter schedule for the time from Christmas to Epiphany.

Then from Lent until Easter, we have breakfast in the morning, then our only meal is at 5:30 p.m.

On any 1st or 2nd class feast, we follow the Easter to Pentecost schedule for the day no matter what time of the year it is.

Sundays are always the same too: breakfast in the morning, lunch around 1:30 p.m., and dinner around 6:30 p.m.

Also, breakfast is optional on all days. We also only eat meat on Christmas, Holy Thursday, Easter and Thanksgiving.

Typically monasteries take on a more penitential spirit during Lent, but given the nature of Benedictine monasticism, each house will have its own customs. Trappists and Cistercians have a bit more uniform organization, whereas Benedictines are grouped by different “confederations” usually based along the lines of motherhouses and daughterhouses, or geographical regions or language.

Nursia BeerBREWVANA: Aside from the scaled back diet, are there other Lenten practices that you keep?

BR. FRANCIS: As for our other Lenten practices, each monk selects one penance under each of the categories of prayer, fasting and almsgiving, and submits that to superior for approval just like in the Rule of Saint Benedict. So, for example, a monk could choose to say a rosary a day, not add sugar to his coffee during Lent, and clean the common bathrooms once a week on his own. We also have to a Lenten book to read, a choice we make and submit to the superior for approval.

BREWVANA: What about beer in your everyday life?

BR. FRANCIS: Regarding beer in our monastery, we typically only have it at dinner on 1st or 2nd class feasts. At lunch and dinner any time we have table wine, since we’re in Italy. I personally don’t find it that high quality, so we might get wine at meals, but it is more of a penance for me to drink it. LOL. We do get a nicer wine on feast days though.

Read the whole interview here, And you can visit the monks’ website here.

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“History is the sum total of the things that could have been avoided.”-Konrad Adenauer

“The whole history of the world can be summed up in two sentences:  ”What harm could it do?’ followed by, ‘Ooops! Who knew?’ ” -John Medaille

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AI Is Your Friend

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“They actually fell for it!”

Yesterday I ate lunch, as I often do, at the College of Wooster. They have a little eatery called Mom’s, which has pretty good food at an affordable price. Plus high speed internet for free if I still have time after my lunch break.

As I ate I became aware of the TV in the corner. It was broadcasting live coverage of the opening ceremonies for the George W Bush Presidential Library. There were all five living presidents and a host of bigshots of both parties, and lots of patriotic speechifying and musical numbers.

I felt like puking.

This man left a trail of carnage and chaos. If there were any justice he and his cronies – or should I say “handlers”- would be in jail. Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rowe, Wolfowitz, Pearle, and the rest of them set out to establish a Pax Americana and left two broken countries and a nation in economic collapse. The pundits who foresaw Iraqis greeting American troops with flowers, who told us the war would be a “cakewalk” still rake in the big bucks for their opinions. Mr Bush paints crappy canvases of his feet and rejoices at the birth of his first grandchild. I wonder if it ever occurs to him that he is responsible for the deaths of God knows how many grandchildren of Afghans and Iraqis.

And where was Mr Obama, the herald of a new day? Right there, grinning. If there were any doubt at this late hour that he represents continuity, not change, that should have dispelled it once and for all.

It called for the little kid in the story of The Emperor’s New Clothes crying “But he is naked!”

Lord, have mercy.

Meditate, if you will, on the “art” of our former president:

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Well, not completely; he is fifteen, and has his moments. But dang, that boy can play, as this video shows….

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