Archive for April, 2014


Kirk Kramer sent me this. You know Kirk, right? No? I thought everyone did. But, it occurs to me,  younger people may not know him as he, a sort of Catholic quasi-luddite, abstains from social media and rarely visits blogs. What he does is post things to a Yahoo Group. By this quaint means of communication his friends are treated to choice readings on a variety of topics. I had not read Rerum Novarum in a really long time, and was struck by how relevant it is to our day. Once, when economic inequality was not so great and unions were more powerful, this encyclical appeared a little dated. No more. Here are excerpts, as ordered and subtitled by Fr Vincent McNabb, OP, and printed by Douglas Peplar at Ditchling, Sussex, in 1919:

Pope Leo XIII on the condition of the working classes: from RERUM NOVARUM:

The condition of the working people is the pressing question of the
hour; and nothing can be of higher interest to all classes of the
State than that it should be rightly and reasonably adjusted.
All agree, and there can be no question whatever, that some remedy
must be found, and found quickly, for the misery and wretchedness
pressing so heavily and so unjustly on the vast majority of the
working classes.

The result of civil change and revolution has been to divide society
into two widely differing castes.
On the one hand is the party which holds power because it holds
wealth; which has in its grasp the whole of labor and trade; which
manipulates for its own benefit and its own purposes all the sources
of supply, and which is even represented in the councils of the State
On the other side are the needy and powerless multitude, broken down
and suffering.

It has come to pass that working men have been surrendered, all
isolated and helpless, to the hard-heartedness of employers and the
greed of unchecked competition.
The mischief has been increased by rapacious usury, which, although
more than once condemned by the Church, is nevertheless under a
different guise, but with the like injustice, still practiced by
covetous and grasping men. To this must be added the custom of
working by contract and the concentration of so many branches of trade
in the hands of a few individuals; so that a small number of very rich
men have been able to lay upon the teeming masses of the laboring poor
a yoke little better than that of slavery itself.

Neither must it be supposed that the solicitude of the Church is so
preoccupied with the spiritual concerns of her children as to neglect
their temporal and earthly interests.
Her desire is that the poor shall rise above poverty and wretchedness
in life; and for this she makes a strong endeavor.

All human existence is derived either from labor on one’s own land, or
from some toil.
It may be truly said that it is only by the labor of working men that
states grow rich.

Rights must be religiously respected wherever they exist. It is the
duty of the public authority to prevent and to punish injury and to
protect everyone in the possession of his own.

Religion teaches the wealthy owner and the employer that their
workpeople are not be accounted their bondsmen; . . . that it is
shameful and inhuman to treat men like chattels to make money by, or
to look upon them merely as so much muscle or physical labor.
The rich must religiously refrain from cutting down the workmen’s
earnings, whether by force or fraud or by usurious dealings; and with
all the greater reason because the laboring man is, as a rule, weak
and unprotected, and because his slender means should, in proportion
to their slenderness, be accounted sacred.

The preservation of life is the bounden duty of all.
It follows that each one has a right to procure what is required in
order to live; and the poor can procure it in no other way than
through work and wages.

A workman’s wages should be sufficient to enable him to maintain
himself, his wife, and his children in reasonable comfort.

It is just and right that the results of labor should belong to those
who have bestowed their labor.

The State is bound to protect natural rights, not to destroy them.
And if it forbid its citizens to form associations, it contradicts the
very principle of its own existence, for both they and it exist in
virtue of the like principle, namely the natural tendency of man to
dwell in society.

When there is a question of defending the rights of individuals, the
poor and helpless have a claim to special consideration.
The richer class have many ways of shielding themselves, and stand
less in need of help from the State; whereas those who are badly off
have no resources of their own to fall back upon, and must chiefly
depend upon the assistance of the State. And it is for this reason
that wage-earners, who are undoubtedly among the weak and necessitous,
should be especially cared for and protected by government.

Human law is law only by virtue of its accordance with right reason.
Thus it is manifest that it flows from eternal law.
Insofar as it deviates from right reason it is called an unjust law.
In such a case it is no law at all; but rather a species of violence.

Man should not consider his outward possessions as his own, but as
common to all; so as to share them without hesitation when others are
in need.
Whoever has received from the Divine Bounty a large share of temporal
blessings, whether they be external and corporeal or gifts of the
mind, has received them for the purpose of using them for the
perfecting of his own nature and, at the same time, that he may employ
them as the steward of God’s Providence for the benefit of others.

The right to possess private property is derived from nature, not from
man; and the State has the right to control its use in the interests
of the public good alone, but by no means to absorb it altogether.

God has granted the earth to mankind in general, not in the sense that
all without distinction can deal with it as they like, but rather that
no part of it has been assigned to anyone in particular, and that the
limits of private possession have been left to be fixed by man’s own
industry, and by the laws of individual races.

The law therefore should favor ownership; and its policy should be to
induce as many as possible of the humbler classes to become owners.

Every minister of holy religion must bring to the struggle the full
energy of his mind and all his power of endurance. . . . They should
never cease to urge upon men of every class, upon the high-placed as
well as the lowly, the Gospel doctrines of Christian life; by every
means in their power they must strive to secure the good of the
people; and above all must earnestly cherish in themselves, and try to
arouse in others, charity, the mistress and queen of virtues.

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Justice, Spring, Hell


* We live in a time of vast wealth on a planet of surpassing beauty and abundance. There is more than enough for everyone on the earth to live a decent life, in comfort. The problem is that a tiny percentage of humans have taken almost everything for themselves, even though they owe their riches to the labor of the many. This is not complicated: ‘the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof”, as the Scriptures say. Everything is destined for everyone, in God’s will. This is called the ‘universal destination of goods’ in Catholic social teaching, and property rights are subservient to this common good. In regard to corporate wealth paying workers low wages: it is a sin and a crime for a corporation which makes a huge profit, whose CEO makes millions a year, to pay its workers less than a living wage. A sin and a crime! Little children must learn to share, even if they are unwilling. Same thing for the ruling class.

* And for those who object that paying a living wage is just too hard for small businesses: 85% of small businesses pay more than minimum wage. 66% of minimum wage workers work for a large corporation. For the 15%  of small businesses who say they cannot afford to pay minimum wage, perhaps a wage subsidy? Or mandatory profit sharing to offset the low wage? We can work this out. Here is the very impressive Senator Elizabeth Warren:

* Yesterday was my first day back to work after a two week vacation. This vacation was to consist of attendance at all the Holy Week services, with a lot of day hikes in the Mohican State Forest and the Cuyahoga National Park. But on the last day of work, with only a few deliveries left, I was walking along, enjoying the spring day, when my right knee suddenly popped. An intense pain hit me as my knee buckled, and I grew dizzy. I got my bearing and  limped badly as I delivered the five remaining houses, every step excruciating. I got to the doctor a couple of days later. She told me to change my hiking plans, as I had a torn ligament. The vacation was anticlimactic, though I did finish an icon I had been working on for ages, and started another painting (the first non-icon I have done in years). I did not make it to any Holy Week liturgies, and ended up just going to the Easter Mass at one of the local Roman parishes. I was more than a little concerned that I would not be able to carry the route by the time my so-called vacation ended, as my knee is still tender. But while it hurts, I did fine. Which is better than ‘light duty’, the alternative, which consists in staying indoors all day and answering the phone. Might have been fine in February, but it is Spring and I want to be out with the birds and the bees and the flowers and the trees.

* Speaking of Spring: never ever have I been so gratified by the sight of every new thing that shoots up from the earth or blossoms or buzzes by my ear. When I was a young pantheist my instinct was to worship such beauty. Now, I just cross myself whenever I am struck by the glory that is manifest in creation, and thank the great and mysterious Being we call ‘God” for sharing this Being with us.

* Emmylou Harris’ (and Daniel Lanois’)  Wrecking Ball has replaced Nick Drake’s Five Leaves Left as my all time favorite album. Mr Lanois’ densely textured aural landscape and evocative rhythms are the perfect accompaniment to Emmylou’s voice, which has only improved as she has grown older. She can express so much in a breathy sigh or a pining wail that it is almost terrifying.

* We have been talking about hell and mercy and holiness here lately. The one thing to remember when pondering these things:

In the End, God will give everyone exactly what they want.

(Painting by Cassandra Tondro)

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I usually do not like cover songs. They rarely are as good as the original, but there are a handful of covers that transform a song, that find hidden within the original potentialities that the songwriter probably never intuited at all.

The all time classic example of this is what Jimi Hendrix did with Bob Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower”. Here is Dylan’s original, a simple and straightforward (and powerful) tune:

And here it is, transfigured by Hendrix:

But did you know that Daniel Lanois did something comparable with a Hendrix song? The tune was “May This Be Love”, from Are You Experienced?, Hendrix’s first album. It was a sweet song, though not one of the best or best known. Here is Hendrix’ version:

And here is what Lanois did with it:


There is also a very fine version of this on Emmylou Harris’ album Wrecking Ball, but I could only find a not very clear live version of it (and Emmylou is someone who consistently offers great versions of songs she did not write).

And yes, we are on a first name basis.

Personally, I think if you cannot do something like this, like what Hendrix did with Dylan, or Lanois did with Hendrix, or what Emmylou does with just about everything she touches,  you should not even bother recording other people’s songs….




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fabio nonesI really cannot say anything better about the canonizations, on the Feast of Divine Mercy, than what John Allen says here:


Icon by Fabio Nones.

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Meet the Relic


That would be me.

In 1988 I kissed Pope John Paul II’s ring while in Rome with my Franciscan community. Sunday he will be canonized. That makes me a second class relic, right?

No, you can’t kiss me, put me in your pocket, or stuff me in a reliquary.

The canonization of John Paul and “Good Pope John” is driving the Super Catholics crazy. It has become a new “development of doctrine” among the Catholic Remnant that canonizations are not infallible. Not quite sure how one figures that, if the successor of St Peter has the keys of heaven. Not that canonization is an endorsement of everything the saint ever did. As Fr Benedict once said “You can go to hell imitating the vices of the saints.” As for me, flawed saints are proof that God sets a pretty low standard, and salvation is near-universal. Asshole saints (not that John or John Paul are remotely assholes) are a sign of hope.

But what the hyper-traditionalists really object to is the “canonization” of Vatican II. The Council is now definitively a part of Catholic tradition, and there is no turning back. The crazy days of liturgical and doctrinal chaos are over -and were themselves signs of how badly renewal was needed- and with the pontificate of Francis we can now be about the work of returning to the heart of the gospel and of challenging the structures of injustice.

Photo, left to right: St John Paul, Fr Benedict Groeschel, now-Fr Stanley Fortuna, moi, my fellow postulant George, Fr Glen Sudano.

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Iliohoos Yoga Meditation Pilion Greece Drop Of Water 3

I ran across this story the other day; it is not new, except to me. Robert Krulwich, a science writer at NPR, was discussing the book Spectrums: Our Mind-boggling Universe from Infinitesimal to Infinity, by David Blatner, and he related a question the author had posed: is the sum total of grains of sand on the planet Earth greater or smaller than the number of stars in the sky? Not, of course, just the stars we can see, which even on a clear night in a dark place ‘only’ number in the thousands. No, he was talking about all the stars that can be perceived with the tools of astronomy.

Either way, the answer seemed obvious to me: there certainly must be more grains of sand on the earth than stars in the universe, right?


A group of researchers at the University of Hawaii very roughly ‘guesstimated’ that  ‘if you assume a grain of sand has an average size and you calculate how many grains are in a teaspoon and then multiply by all the beaches and deserts in the world, the Earth has roughly (and we’re speaking very roughly here)  ….seven quintillion, five hundred quadrillion grains.’

That is certainly a lot of sandbut astronomers estimate that there are 70 thousand million, million, million stars in the observable universe (a 2003 estimate).

That means that there are very many stars for every grain of sand on the planet.

Allow that to sink in for a moment.

And then brace yourself: Dr Blatner then mentions that just ten drops of water contain as many molecules as there are stars in the universe.

This is the sort of thing that first spurred the awe that led to my search for God, this infinity stretching outward and inward, this sense of the incomprehensibility of even the visible universe.

Humans, of course, have always been in awe looking up at the stars, have always felt small in the face of vastness. But one of the wonders of living at this time in history is that infinity is a whole lot bigger than it appeared to the ancients.

Modern cosmology sounds a death knell to rationalism and the pride of man, and I have never understood religious believers who feel threatened by scientific knowledge.

The only thing threatened by modern science, which reveals a complexity and vastness and mystery beyond all human comprehension, is idolatry, the making of comprehensible gods by humans intent on grasping the Infinite.

You can read the article here:http://www.npr.org/blogs/krulwich/2012/09/17/161096233/which-is-greater-the-number-of-sand-grains-on-earth-or-stars-in-the-sky

And this is a link to David Blatner’s website:http://www.spectrums.com/author/

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As the heirs of Holy Rus are again killing one another, take this little test to see if you can tell the difference between Russia and Ukraine:

Churches: Russian or Ukrainian?






Iconostases: Russian or Ukrainian?




Icons: Russian or Ukrainian?




Pysanky (Easter eggs): Russian or Ukrainian?





Embroidery: Russian or Ukrainian?




Food: Russian or Ukrainian?





Babushkas: Russian or Ukrainian?






Monks: Russian or Ukrainian?




Alphabets: Russian or Ukrainian?






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Icon of All Saints of Holy Rus

It is heartbreaking; Slavic Christianity has created among the most beautiful expressions of Christian faith in history: musically, iconographically, architecturally, and not least, in the lives of its saints. Yet two Slavic Christian peoples, heirs of Rus one and all, indistinguishable to any but themselves, speaking mutually intelligible ‘languages’ (in truth dialects), worshipping in the same rite, eating the same foods, more or less, drinking the same vodka, are again killing one another. A thousand years of Christianity, and this is what we get?

We may grant intrigue from the West, the conniving of Putin and the marks of history, but this is just sad.

And meanwhile, belligerent  Americans of a familiar type are chomping at the bit.

By my calculations, if John McCain had been elected in 2008, we would be on World War V by now.

No fan of Obama’s, but let us thank God that John McCain is not our president:


And, dear God, that Sarah Palin is not a heartbeat away from being president:

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A Blessed Pascha




Why do you seek the Living among the dead?

A tree that has been uprooted, even cut down to its base, and then replanted – a willow, for example – grows and blossoms again; and can it be that a human being who has been uprooted from the earth should not live again? Seeds that have been harvested rest, sleep in the granary and come back to life in the spring; and can it be that a human being who has been harvested and thrown into the granary of death should not live again? A bud on the vine, a branch that has been cut and transplanted, these come back to life and bear fruit; and can it be that a human being, for whom everything was created, should not rise again when he has fallen?
And look at what is going on around you. Meditate on what you see in this vast universe. I sow wheat or some other seed; it falls, it rots, and can no longer serve as our food. But from its rotten state it is born again, it rises, it multiplies. I sowed only a single seed and I gather twenty or thirty more. But who was it created for? Wasn’t it made for our use? All those seeds did not come out of nothing for their own sake. So what was created for us dies and is born again, and should we, for whom this marvel is worked every day, be excluded from this benefit? How is it possible to believe that we have no resurrection?

– Saint Cyril of Jerusalem (313-350)
Bishop of Jerusalem

painting by Maurice Denis

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William Blake: Dante’s Hell

I don’t think it is possible to have an original thought, aside from the fields of physics, cosmology, and advanced mathematics. I’m sure this has all been said before, and better. But it is what I have been pondering this Holy Week…

We have been talking about Hell.

No, not gleefully, like our Calvinist and neo-Jansenist friends do.

What we have been pondering, in the combox reaction to my last post, is the conflict between the notion that if humans have  free will some will end up in ‘the outer darkness’, that state of utterly rejecting the Being that gives us all being, which seems to contradict the promise of the eventual healing of the cosmos in Christ. Especially if, as I have always intuited and the 20th century Polish visionary St. Faustina confirmed, the soul at death is shown the Reality of that mystery we call ‘God’, whose nature is pure love. But if humans are indeed free I don’t see how we can hold that rejecting even an Absolute revealed as eternal love, offered freely, is not a possibility.

It is certainly obvious that the god of the Calvinists and the True Catholic Remnant is a false one. No god worthy of the name creates the vast majority of human souls for a predestined eternity of torment. And a god who created humans for eternal life but lost  a majority of them would seem a failure.

But, as one commenter asked, isn’t the loss of any soul a defeat for a good God?

And it has always seemed to me that the existence, in any corner of the omniverse, of a black hole containing tormented persons seems to undo the promise that the messianic religions make of an eventual divine and universal conquest of evil and pain. It is like an open wound on the cosmos, after it had been declared healed. Doesn’t even an almost-universalism, which seems the consensus of Catholic theologians these days, have this problem? And isn’t the promise of all things being reconciled in Christ betrayed by the torment of even one single person? Isn’t it a defeat for God, for goodness?

But what if the souls in torment do not know they are in torment? What if they are having the time of their  (eternal) lives?

When I was young, in the 70s or so, I probably heard the cliche a thousand times when talking with friends. These were 70s metal kids, hard drinkers and smokers and sometimes worse. But I think one can substitute any genre of a certain type of hard-living human and you would hear the same. They would say that they did not want to go to heaven, but to hell, where all their friends would be partying.


Party down!

So maybe their hell is exactly what they want: ugly music and shouted drunken conversations, groping in the dark. Or whatever is the correspondent reality in that state of being.

And maybe it is like that for other kinds of  the quieter types, ones counting up their useless assets, or the ones that prefer angry solitude to communion, or the rest.

Like Dante, except they don’t even know that they are miserable, or what they are missing, aside from a sense of  relief at escaping a Presence that is perceived as painful. Maybe to them, everything is great, as they have been given exactly what they wanted. Maybe, subjectively, they are not, if exactly happy, content in their way, ‘like pigs in shit’, as the saying goes.

I think it hard to conceive that human freedom does not imply that certain souls will always choose to be assholes, no matter how many chances they are given to change, even if given a revelation of God as he is, beyond human concepts and constructs, offering them Love. Maybe to them, the divine light is annoying, painful, even.

Maybe at that point all God can do is say “All right; be an asshole.”

Maybe ‘hell’ is just the Asshole Corner of the cosmos.

To me, the concept of hell is a lot easier to take if it just means leaving the assholes alone.


Wouldn’t a Redeemer who only succeeded in redeeming half of humanity be seen as a pretty ineffectual redeemer? Surely, redeeming the world is not baseball; a .500 average does not seem impressive.





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