27 June 2010


The little boy in front of me in the pew - probably 8 years old as he has been presented to the congregation today with 20 or so others as being prepared for Confirmation and First Communion when the bishop comes down next month - is spinning a Rosary around in self-amusement, whilst Deacon Hans gives the homily.

For the most part the congregation are paying attention - at least, they are not engaged in clearly unrelated activities.  A woman is smiling at her child on the right side; there is a man in a wheelchair who suffers from some sort of palsy and is unable to suppress, at times, a kind of moaning that rises and falls, then stops.  Very small children occasionally cry out, even run about.  Most of us are fairly attentive most of the time - or so we seem.  I myself am paying only partial heed to the Deacon's words, and amuse myself by listening to my tinnitus - and then feel guilty and listen again - or ponder what I will write on my blog this week-end.

So much, I am afraid, of my life is like this congregation of quite serious Catholics - serious because they are, indeed, all here on a Sunday, when they could be asleep, or watching sport, or doing any of a hundred other things more amusing.  Many of them - those whose working schedules does not prevent it - are at weekday Mass as well.

Yet, being here, none of us, perhaps, is as fully attentive as we might be.  And - when one thinks of it - this is odd.  We believe - we believe in our deepest most absolute being, with utter conviction - that almighty God - the Uncreate, the Origin and Source of all being, the Sun in Whose light we see light - that He, with unspeakable majesty and humilty, is about to change bread and wine into His own Body and Blood, and offer Himself to us as food and drink - as the Medicine of Immortality.  Ought we not to be trembling in abject and adoring holy fear?

My own life - my inner being - is so much like this ordinary - but is anything in the world really ordinary?! - congregation at Sunday Mass.  An attempt is being made to focus on God Who, His Word says, has adopted me as one of His Sons, on Him Who is the source of all truth and light and joy.  An attempt, but not much of an attempt.  My life ought to be a life of prayer.  My every action ought to be an intercourse with the Divine Master.  Like this congregation, with children misbehaving, adults sometimes bored, perhaps hiding secret acts that amount to putrid sores on the Body of which they are part, my own life is a mixture, a medley of genuine seeking after the Holy One together with the trivial - and at times, of that which I would be ashamed to be brought to light.

This is prayer.  This is my life.  And it is only - God grant it! - by the presence of the Holy Spirit that the specks of gold amidst the dross and base metal exist and can be offered to Him.  May He purify me, even although through suffering, so that the dross may be burned away, the base metal poured off, and the gold that is His product be finally offered to the Master Craftsman Who may deign to place it in some not unworthy place in the great Work He is making!

19 June 2010

The white horse and the victory of baptismal grace

Today I went to the baptism of a tiny wee baby - a little crumpled up boy not long acquainted with the sun. On the surface of things, he briefly left the security of his mother's or father's arms to have some invading water hit his head - while in fact he was being embraced in the arms of a new Father and a new mother - the Father who is ultimately at the source of everything, not just this boy's being, but all created being.... and a mother who is espoused to God for ever as a Bride washed spotless in the blood of the Lamb.

Unbeknown to him, the whole dispensation of the cross was given to him - he was washed in the water that flowed from the right side of the temple, from the pierced side of the Crucified Christ... "and all those whom that water touched were saved...."

He was visited by the rider of the white horse in the first seal of the book of the Apocalypse. And that rider has conquered and will go on to conquer. The rider will conquer in the struggles of this wee boy as they unfold throughout his life.

He has been given the grace for the victory of love over the struggle with the tendency to pride (the second seal), to vanity (the third seal), to self-indulgence (the fourth seal). He has been given the grace for the victory of love over the tendency to self-righteousness (the fifth seal). He has been given the grace for the victory of love no matter what state the world is in by the time he reaches manhood (the sixth seal). He has been given all he needs to answer the call to contemplation (the seventh seal) because the very Trinity is now dwelling in his soul and prompting him in every impulse of prayer.

This boy's life is about to unfold - he is about to embark on the battlefield of the world - called to the victory of love and assailed from every direction by what would stop love from being itself. But he is not alone - not left only to natural defences. He has now all the supernatural means that he needs to belong to the Victor, to participate in and live the same victory. He is in Christ, a new creation, open to the full redemption of the cross - where mercy triumphs over every darkness. Mercy is his only hope. May mercy always be his joy and homeland.

The wrath of God

On Saturday Mass in Pukekohe, it is my turn to read the first reading.  Some days I rather feel I were not so privileged:
After the death of Jehoiada, the princes of Judah came and paid homage to King Joash, and the king then listened to them. They forsook the temple of the LORD, the God of their fathers, and began to serve the sacred poles and the idols; and because of this crime of theirs, wrath came upon Judah and Jerusalem. Although prophets were sent to them to convert them to the LORD, the people would not listen to their warnings. Then the Spirit of God possessed Zechariah, son of Jehoiada the priest. He took his stand above the people and said to them: “God says, ‘Why are you transgressing the LORD’s commands, so that you cannot prosper? Because you have abandoned the LORD, he has abandoned you.’” But they conspired against him, and at the king’s order they stoned him to death in the court of the LORD’s temple. Thus King Joash was unmindful of the devotion shown him by Jehoiada, Zechariah’s father, and slew his son. And as Zechariah was dying, he said, “May the LORD see and avenge.”

At the turn of the year a force of Arameans came up against Joash. They invaded Judah and Jerusalem, did away with all the princes of the people, and sent all their spoil to the king of Damascus. Though the Aramean force came with few men, the Lord surrendered a very large force into their power, because Judah had abandoned the LORD, the God of their fathers. So punishment was meted out to Joash. After the Arameans had departed from him, leaving him in grievous suffering, his servants conspired against him because of the murder of the son of Jehoiada the priest. He was buried in the City of David, but not in the tombs of the kings. (2nd Chronicles 24:17-25)
I mean, you feel a bit awful saying all that to the congregation :-)  I haven't personally killed any prophets' sons, or worshipped and sacred poles or idols (at least not literal ones).  Still ...

I intended to go to Confession today, and had already intended opening my soul to God about my rather pathetic prayer life.  I intend to spend at least half an hour a day in what Catholics call 'mental prayer' - what Protestants just refer to as personal prayer, prayer of the heart - in addition to certain Scripture reading, and reading of other spiritual literature.

Such are my intentions.

What is the anger of God?  It is not the anger of someone for whom you promised to do something, and then you didn't do it - "You said the car you sold me had no faults but I have discovered a huge ding in the side of it!!"  Nor is it the anger of someone to whom you have done something damaging - "You (*&*^% !! - you are going to pay for the damage to my lawn!!"

It is the anger of a lover.

I go to God so routinely when I want something, when only He can help me, when something is lacking that I am helpless before.  And He hears me.  He provides, even when I do not ask, my very being, my life's breath, my environment, my regular paycheque, my health.  And then there is the special needs and I ask - and never in vain.

He wants me.  Only He knows why.  I am not, it seems to me, lovable in my self.  I cannot understand why God loves me - but He does.  I know it.  He loves me and wants me to be there for Him - only for Him.

I express myself poorly, I know.  But I know this is the heart of it.  He is a jealous God.  He loves me so much that He will not settle for less than my whole heart.

His love for you is not less.

13 June 2010


I met my first Australian in my first year at UCLA.  He was the lecturer for my freshman physics course.  The class comprised only perhaps 40 or so students, so teaching it was not just lecturing.  He interacted with us, got us to try different exercises.

And discovered, somehow, that I was, originally, from Bakersfield.  He seemed to have thought that an amusing place to be from.  Well, I suppose it is.  It is the home of the Bakersfield Sound - and to some people, country and western music is funny.  He used to make references to Bakersfield as 'the outback' - and perhaps from the point of view of Los Angeles, it was.

So my lecturer - I cannot remember his name - peppered his sample calculations with references to Bakersfield - as, for example, the target of a ballistic missile whose trajectory we were to calculate.  I don't recall being annoyed or anything - probably I enjoyed the attention.  But it struck me then that Australian humour might have its own twang.  My experience has confirmed that :-)

I was an adorer of Science - not just science, the quest for understanding, but the great enterprise called Science.  My first year at University - and my only year at UCLA - was coloured by this.  I felt a kind of awe at being at University - at studying physics and calculus - my major subject was Astronomy.  I purchased a very nice slide rule (the link is there for the younger generation :-)) - a beautiful 12" Post, which I still have, though I have not used in for ... a while :-)

And I had my first experience with a computer.  UCLA had just bought a new computer - I suspect, from dates of manufacture, an IBM 7090 - and the old one was made available for senior students to use.  The old one might have been a 704 or a 709, I suppose.

I was not a senior student.  However, I somehow became friends with a senior, Lowell Wood - and Lowell had access to the retired machine.  I don't recall the details, but I do remember my first adventure at programming something was through his assistance.  I had to write something in Assembly Language, then hand-assemble it to octal, write the resultant numbers into a coding sheet, which was run by the operator - presumably to fail.  But it excited me, and by the time I was a linguistic student in 1964, I was doing small programming jobs for pay.

Although I was a science student, my studies were not limited to scientific subjects.  There were also linguistics and music.

07 June 2010


Carl Olson of the Ignatius Press blog posted on the Solemnity of Corpus Christi, beginning with the following paragraph:

Shortly after my wife and I entered the Catholic Church in 1997, I had a conversation with an Evangelical friend that was as disconcerting as it was friendly. A.J., who I met in Bible college several years earlier, was curious about the Catholic doctrine that the Eucharist is the true Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. I say “curious” because A.J., unlike some of my other Protestant friends, was not really bothered or offended by this belief, merely puzzled. After much discussion, he said, “I don’t see what the big deal is. I believe that Communion is symbolic, and you believe it is more than a symbol. But, either way, we’re both Christians.”

Carl went on to speak, appropriately about the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist.  I was, however, moved to put a comment on the post which, after referring to the above statement, continued:
I think this is interesting, and a real reflexion on the gradual erosion of any sort of unified worldview. In a Kantian, post-Cartesian, world, what we believe religiously is a separate noumenal level of reality from the real world of material.
Had you told your friend that Catholics believe there are tigers waiting to devour any non-Catholic who entered a Catholic church, your friend would not have reacted by saying, "well, you Catholics believe that, and we non-Catholics don't, but we're both Christians after all." He would rather have started edging away from such a nut :-)

Our greatest battle today may be just at this level - that reality is one; that the Eucharist is Jesus; and that if that is not so, then we Catholics are either as mad as the man who believes in spies hiding under his bed, or else as wicked as the person who says he has twenty million dollars waiting for you in Nigeria.
I think this is, indeed, the greatest battle we have today.  The great hostility of much of the world to religious believers seems to me aimed almost exclusively at the sort of believer who clearly believes in unity of reality.  He is not satisfied simply with his own spirituality - his own "personal truth"; he insists on claiming that others need to believe this, as well, not merely because it will make them happier, but because it is really true - and, indeed, that there might be personal consequences for them based on their reaction to this.

Ironically, this view is often referred to as 'fudamentalism' - ironically, because, although fundamentalism in its origins is, indeed, a good term to describe what Christians, both Catholics and Protestants believe, it had come to refer to a kind of Biblical literalism - a literalism that was almost purely materialistic ("Gog and Magog are really the Russians", for instance) - and therefore had, indeed, a unified world view, but one achieved by nearly excluding the supernatural entirely, bringing it down to the material.  In so far as I understand Mormonism and the beliefs of Jehovah's Witnesses, their outlook seems similar to me.

This two-level metaphysic, with the phaenomenal level being the real, and the noumenal being almost exclusively the affective, infects us all - believer and unbeliever, Protestant and Catholic.  It is so easy to consider that which we cannot see as being less real than that which we see.  Yet the reverse is true - and it is of great urgency that we begin to live in that reality.  We must walk by faith, not by sight, for:
While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal (2 Cor 4:18)
For we walk by faith, not by sight (2 Cor 5:7)