Monday, December 15, 2014

The Diary of a Country Priest

"Dear God, I give you all, willingly. But I don't know how to give, I just let them take. The best is to remain quiet. Because though I may not know how to give, You know how to take... Yet I would have wished to be, just once, magnificently generous to you."
"The Diary of a Country Priest" by Georges Bernanos.

I do not know how to give. The humility of this prayer is heartbreakingly beautiful. After all, it is not that I may give to Him, but that He might have me. That His will might be done, not that I might do it. That He may rejoice in making me what He wishes, not that I might become that.

Of course in actual fact the two are inseparable. He cannot make me what He wills unless I become that, and one of the things that He wills that I become is joyful, full of life. Nor is it wrong to desire fulfillment, to desire to be united with Him and to taste the joys at His right hand for ever more. As C. S. Lewis puts it, "A man is not mercenary for wanting to marry his beloved." Marriage is what the beloved is for (in a limited, human sense.) In a much deeper and more fundamental sense, Heaven is what I am for. It is not mercenary greed but deepest humility and gratitude to desire to receive all that God desires to give.

But it is very wise, and touching, and childlike, that this priest could see only his inability to give, and see the solution in God's utter ability to take. It is like the man who sees his lack of humility, and has finally come to realize not simply his lack, but his inability to supply that lack. He might be tempted to despair, but if he does then he has not learned the still deepest truth, that God's grace is sufficient unto us. God created us to receive everything that we are incapable of doing for ourselves. In other words He created us to receive Him. The proper response to that glimpse of our own powerlessness is joy, gratitude that we could provide God an opportunity to do what He delights to do, to give us what we lack.

"Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me." 2 Corinthians 12:9b.

Anyway, read "The Diary of a Country Priest," prayerfully and with gratitude, and pray not to be made like the humble Cure', but made into whatever God wishes to make you.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Tempted to Hatred

"Pray for me to be made more charitable: we're in the middle of a Faculty crisis wh. tempts me to hatred many times a day."
C. S. Lewis, in a Letter to Sheldom Vanauken,
Quoted in "A Severe Mercy," by Sheldon Vanauken

They provoked him at the waters of Meribah.
Through their fault it went ill with Moses;
for they made his heart grow bitter
and he uttered words that were rash.
Psalm 106:32-33

My wife and I are hosting a bi-weekly book club, in which we read and discuss Sheldon Vanauken's "A Severe Mercy." The C. S. Lewis quote with which I opened this blog is from last night's chapter. The two verses from psalm 106 were in the Office of Readings this morning. I have probably read Psalm 106 many dozens of times, maybe as many as a hundred, given its recurrence in the Liturgy of the Hours, which I have been praying daily for a couple of years. However, that particular passage stuck in my head this morning, as I prayed. It attached itself to that C. S. Lewis quote and refused to be separated.

It is easy to see how the two are related, but I didn't get the significance at first. Of course it is nice to know that C. S. Lewis was human and subject to the same petty temptations as the rest of us, but he made no secret of that. Indeed, for a careful reader, there is no doubt that he was not only tempted, but far more aware of the temptations than most of us are. 

He probably would demur my comparing him to Moses, but to me he has been a sort of Moses. He has been a prophet and a law-bearer. I thought about this for a bit, still not getting the significance. I felt that Moses should not have allowed the people to break his focus on God. He should not have allowed them to "get to him." Just like C. S. Lewis shouldn't let other people's uncharity tempt him to uncharity himself. 

But then a paradigm shift happened and I realized that what the Holy Spirit was getting at was not addressed either to C. S. Lewis or to Moses. It is addressed to me. I am not the one being tempted and tried by those under me, because I am not over anyone. I am not a spiritual leader or authority. I am not the tempted. I am the tempter.

For a brief second I saw myself, not as Moses being embittered, but as one of the children of Israel embittering him. I saw my grumbling, sarcasm, flippancy and nonchalance in a new light. How many times have I, by my behavior and words and attitude, or even just by my ignorance, tempted someone else to hatred? How often have my wise-crack comments, instead of enlightening or assisting someone, irritated them to the point where they thought unkind things about me? Probably far more often than I realize.

Doesn't that make me, in some way, partially responsible for their sin? How many times have I set out to share the great gift of Jesus; and gone from there to simply sharing "the Faith" which is facts about Jesus; to sharing "my faith" which is how I feel about those facts; to finally trying to force my views on others, or at the minimum looking down on them or judging them because they refuse to see things my way?

This is another example of psalm 90:8 "You have set our iniquities before you, our secret sins in the light of your presence." Or Psalm 19:12a "But who can discern all his errors?"

To which our response must be, "Deliver me, O Lord, from my hidden faults!" Psalm 19:12b.

His grace is sufficient.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

In the Beginning

Words have lost their music, or so I hear.
Perhaps they never had any, or so they say.
I will never forget a soldier to whom I said,
“What is the most beautiful song you have ever heard?”
He stopped his talk, and looked at me in quiet,
For a precious half-a-second, before he replied,
“It never occurred to me that music could
Be beautiful.” Perhaps that is the point.
Words retain the music, but we’ve lost the ear
Because we’ve lost (or chased away) our silence.

Our silence? As if it were ever ours.
The Word draws power from the Silence Before The World,
The only power that is, the power of Music
The Music which is the Lord and Giver of Life.
When we become quiet, we begin to do the same,
But neither the words, nor the quiet, are ours;
And certainly not the Music which Is between.
Rather, we are Theirs, or else we simply are not.
Our words are lego miniatures of the Word
And even in them we play with Holy Fire.

If there be not music, then let silence reign
Or at least the rehearsal, barely attended to
By children playing bagpipes, violins,
Trumpets, drums and flutes, in eager cacophony
Always sharp, or flat. Some are merely young.
Others are always trying to play the wrong tune,
Or play their favorite tune at the wrong time.
Some expect they will likely do well enough
When the time comes, so they distract themselves
With sidebar talk; And some just like the noise.

Dead men fill the air with the burden of talk
Zombie conversations about nothing
And I, being dead myself, am fully complicit
In filling and killing the silence with empty talk
Struggling to empty words of all their silence
Lest we find ourselves confronted by
The aweful reality of nothing to say.
So conversations deaden, bore and stultify,
Wilt the critical function and reconfirm
Me in my headlong flight from bright reality.

This is not the courage of the bulwark picnic
In the cancer ward; nor yet the Socratic libation
Poured out for the gods; nor even of shaking the hand
Of a pretty girl. This is only fear
Conspiring to (just-so-happen-to) look
Out the other window at that precise time
As we pass the camo jacket with the cardboard sign,
As if we fear that poverty might be contagious.
Of course it is, but what we do not see
Is that we are already infected, and quite terminal.

Against all this we raise our timeless chats
Over tea and toast around the kitchen table;
Amid beer and pipes of aromatic smoke
In the cool of the evening, when the ancient garden echoes
Softly in the mind, tingeing words with music
Older than fig leaves. Conversations reach
Backwards and forwards into the now and always.
Silence dives still deeper in the single point
Where darkness dwells in unapproachable light.
Humility alone can bring us to this place.

Humility requires, demands, the incarnation
Of ineffable word in flesh of mortal deed.
The scandal of the particular is never more
Strongly felt than when at last we turn
From words to music, in this specific act
Of encountering the Word in scribbled sharpie ink
On a cardboard sign; or in the aching void
Between the lines of empty zombie talk;
And offering bread, not bread alone but Word
Eternally uttered forth from the Mouth of God.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Chemistry, Wisdom, and Pope Francis

Yesterday was the mid-term for my first ever college chemistry course. After the mid-term, during the lecture which was on conversions of mass to moles (which I learned how to do in high school) I was amusing myself by following various forms of nuclear decay down the wikipedia rabbit hole. Before I knew it I was up to my neck in electron neutrinos, positrons, muons, tauons, and leptons and anti-leptons of all varieties. Sheesh! I remember when the only subatomic particles were protons, neutrons and electrons, and the only ones you really worried about were electrons, because they are the only ones that interact with other atoms. As far as chemistry was concerned, the rest may as well not exist.

That, of course, was high school chemistry 14 or 15 years ago.

Ah, but they do exist. And apparently they do matter (if you'll excuse the pun). These particles do interact with other particles through fundamental forces such as gravity and electromagnetism, and exert a small but measurable influence on the universe. Or perhaps even a huge influence. Who really knows?

It seems that every time scientists think they've gotten to the bottom of this whole reality thing, another layer of complexity reveals itself. In light of that minor indulgence in a little casual reading, I was particularly struck by this passage from the book of Wisdom which was the scripture for the Office of Readings this morning.

Now God grant I speak suitably
and value these endowments at their worth:
For he is the guide of Wisdom
and the director of the wise.
For both we and our words are in his hand,
as well as all prudence and knowledge of crafts.
For he gave me sound knowledge of existing things,
that I might know the organization of the universe and the force of its elements,
The beginning and the end and the midpoint of times,
the changes in the sun’s course and the variations of the seasons.
Cycles of years, positions of the stars,
natures of animals, tempers of beasts,
Powers of the winds and thoughts of men,
uses of plants and virtues of roots-
Such things as are hidden I learned and such as are plain;
for Wisdom, the artificer of all, taught me. 

 This just blows my mind, and reminds me of the kerfuffle in the news over Pope Francis' statements that evolution and the big bang theories are not incompatible with belief in a creator. Apparently this has some atheists and fundamentalists who understand neither evolution nor Catholic theology up in arms. The literal seven-day creation interpretation is really more of a protestant thing than a Catholic thing, and always has been. In fact, literalism itself is not Catholic. There is something striking that this passage from the book of Wisdom is to be found in the Catholic Bible, but not in the Protestant Bible.

Did the writer of wisdom know everything, or even a percent, of what we know about astronomy, physics, chemistry, medicine, biology, etc? No. Not even a percent of a percent. And we make a grave mistake if we think we have done more than merely scratch the surface.

The writer of Wisdom, however, did know the one thing that is proper to the true scientist. He knew enough to stand in humble awe before the majesty and complexity of creation. He kneel enough to kneel and listen and not to assume that he knew all things by his own cleverness. He knew that the Mystery continues forever. 

He knew more than we do.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Ebola and Divine Punishment

Ebola has been much in the news, lately, so much so that even someone as relatively uncurrent as I choose to be cannot help but hear about it. Currently two nurses in Dallas, Texas who were treating a Liberian Ebola victim are diagnosed with the disease, and some nervousness ensued in Ohio after it was found that one of the nurses flew to Ohio while on quarantine and with a mild fever. She was diagnosed after returning to Dallas.

Of course she immediately became everyone's new favorite person to hate, but as it later turns out, she checked with the CDC's epidemiology office that was handling her case before flying out to Ohio and was given the green light because her overall risk category was "uncertain."

A number of American Ebola patients have recovered using an experimental new drug which I have not taken the time to consult the literature about (because at the moment I am not worried about it). Seattle's Harborview hospital, practically in my back yard, has agreed to take on ebola patients, should it become necessary. The hospital my wife works at has also begun conducting ebola training, since there is a remote possibility they could be tapped to take on overflow patients.

All in all, if you are looking for something to worry about, ebola is as good as anything.  It is scary, foreign and outside your control so if you are looking for a reason to panic, you could do worse. In fact, the fact that it is completely outside your control is a major selling point. You don't actually have to do anything about it, other than what you already wanted to do anyway.
media covers it extensively (I am not going to bother posting links because if you are reading this I am going to assume you have google capability) and both political spectrums have picked their approaches to it with incredible alacrity. In fact, his rather long, but entertaining blog examines it as a case study in politicization. 

Homelessness, or poverty, or labor trafficking, or what-they-teach-in-school-these-days, are not nearly so convenient as they seem to require some measure of engagement with the real world, and might lead to, (Oh Horrors!) responsibilities!

That being said, there is one aspect of the ebola panic that strikes me as useful and enlightening. On a hunch I googled "Ebola" and "divine punishment" and sure enough I found a few articles from Africa, a Slate Article decrying the "God's punishment" narrative, and even a couple of extreme righter's claiming that it is either God's handiwork, or an opportunity to purify America, as long as Obama doesn't use it to declare martial law.

Okay, so there are crazies in the world.

The question I want to raise is, does God, in fact, use diseases to punish people and nations for their sins?

I immediately associate the question with my Grandpa. About three years ago, as he was dying of lung, breast and metastatic skin cancer, in fact one of the very last times I saw him, I asked him how he was holding up. He gave me an answer I will never forget. He said, "Ryan, I'll tell you, most of the time I hold up just fine, but sometimes I just get angry. I told my doctor yesterday that I was angry and I just keep asking, 'Why is this happening to me?'

"But I know why this is happening to me. It's because I smoked for 30 years, and because I went out in the Pacific sun for years without a hat on, and because I worked on RADAR towers with no shielding for so many years. That's why all this is happening to me."
November 2011, Shortly after my graduation from the Q course, I got the opportunity to have one last visit with a truly great man.

There was some anger there as he said it, but on a deeper level there was courage. He was being a man, and I think, showing me how to be a man, by taking responsibility for his actions. He was dying of cancer as a result of his own choices, no more and no less.

Were they morally terrible choices? Absolutely not. When he started smoking in the 50's no one knew that it caused lung cancer. When he worked on RADAR towers in the Air Force no one knew about the harmful effects of the electromagnetic radiation. No one knew about the effects of UV rays on the germ cells in the skin. He was not bad because he made these choices. He was sick, and eventually he died.

The point that was suggested to my by the association of that memory, specifically with the news about the nurse flying to Ohio while infected with the disease, was that human actions have consequences. Ebola, AIDS, wars, pollution, poverty, etc. all of these things are, without exception, either caused, or propagated, or both, by the choices of humans. Sometimes those choices affect primarily the chooser. More often, they effect everyone else as well.

This is what we must learn from ebola (and from every other social ill). We live in a web of
causation, where our actions and inactions have real consequences that will really effect real people. Ignorance excuses the guilt, i.e. the nurse who flew to Ohio contacted the CDC and they gave her the go ahead and told her she was still clear to fly. Turns out they were wrong. She was not a malicious person, neither was the poor (probably by now unemployed) clerk who took her call and answered her question based on the risk assessment matrix on the computer screen in front of him. That matrix itself, drawn together from the best guesses of a whole bunch of really smart people, was also wrong. Turns out a whole bunch of people were wrong, no one was a "horseman of the apocalypse" trying to spread the plague. Now they know more than they did.

Ignorance excuses guilt. It does not negate the consequences. Just because I don't know I have the flu (I think it is just a cold) doesn't mean that when I give it to someone else it might turn out to be a very serious deal for them.

A hunter falls asleep in a tree stand and wakes up when he accidentally pulls the trigger. The fact that he did not deliberately aim at his partner's foot or have any intention of doing any harm will not alter the course of the bullet or its effect on the bones and tissue of the foot that it strikes.

We don't know what the consequences of that flight from Dallas to Ohio and back will be. My honest (and not particularly educated) guess is that likely nothing will come of it. If that is the case, I will praise the Mercy of God for once again minimizing the potential harm that we human beings like to do to ourselves. I would say that that is the norm of Divine Action, that He intervenes more often to prevent or mitigate the negative effects of our stupidity and malice than to enhance them.

It is in this sense that I say, yes, if ebola does spread it spreads, not as punishment for, but as a result of sins; sins and ignorance, ignorance as a result of sin. Where is ebola spreading? In Africa, among the poor, the downtrodden, the weak, and the ignorant. Why are they poor, downtrodden, weak and ignorant? Because other people (black and white, this has nothing to do with race) keep them so, in order to remain rich and powerful, and to increase their wealth and power. Why do AIDS, syphillis, gonorrhea, HPV, and all the other STD's keep spreading? Is it a punishment for sin? Or is it a result of human behavior that is naturally conducive to their spread? Why does 10% of the U.S. Population have diabetes? Is it because God is smiting us with "the sugars" for our sins of unbelief and immorality? No, it is because we eat like pigs and we don't exercise.

My response to ebola, as to nearly every other crisis we choose to get excited over, and a good number than most people never hear about, is to pray. To pray and always to try to reform my life, to continue the work of conversion. If victims of this or any other disease come our way, I believe our hospitals should open their doors (maintaining all reasonable precautions) and welcome them. If in the future I am called upon to treat them (as I have treated patients with AIDS, HEP-C, TB and other terrible and contagious disease), I hope I will do so conscientiously and with mercy.

My emphasis on personal morality will not protect me or my family from the results of other people's choices. It may actually place me at a higher statistical risk of dying in horribly unpleasant ways, but when has that ever been different? Has life ever been safe? Has anyone ever gotten out of this world alive? We have a greater chance of getting wiped out in a car accident because someone chose to drink too much and then drive than we ever will of getting ebola. No amount of worry is going to keep me from becoming the victim of other people's choices. Rant and rave about how unfair that is, but that does not change the truth. "Being good" has never been a guarantee of safety. Indeed, it often seems to function rather more like a red cape in front of a bull. The most innocent human being ever to live died of asphyxiation and blood loss, hanging from his arms by nails, and cursed or abandoned by almost everyone.

I do not choose to be on the side of Mercy to protect myself, but because that is what Jesus did, and I want to be like Him when I grow up.

Monday, October 13, 2014


Crushed my soul today
With three-fifteen times forty.
Useless without love.

Sunday, October 12, 2014


Last week I wrote about the need to have a morning prayer time, and the obstacles that always coincidentally show up just when you want to set aside some prayer time. Ironically, the very next morning I had an unusually stubborn obstacle to overcome.

I got up at 4:30 and was driving to church for a holy hour. My truck was almost out of gas, so I stopped at the gas station to fill it up. I swiped my card, and the machine asked me for my billing zip code, and I blithely typed it in. I am not sure what I typed in, but it started with "28," which is a North Carolina zip code.

I haven't lived in NC for three years.

Of course it rejected my card and locked up the machine for a minute. I used my other card, but still couldn't remember my billing zip code. Time after time I tried, but I could not remember that stupid 5 digit number. Old zip codes from previous apartments? Got it. Old buddy's house from two years ago? Got it. House I live in now?


After five or ten minutes I was getting later and later for the holy hour. I hate being late for holy hour! I was getting more and more grumpy, I was tired, and I thought about just giving up and going back home for a nap before school. After all, I didn't have enough gas to get to church and back home and then to school. It was clearly the fact that I was tired that was causing me to forget my zip-code.

But then I decided not. After all, who needs sleep? So I went into the gas station and paid for gas at the counter. I am not sure why it took me ten minutes to think about that. At any rate, I finally did think about that, I paid for the gas, and got to church, and indeed had a great holy hour, from my point of view.

So, as I said, there are always obstacles. The thing is not to get grumpy or uptight about it, but just accept it with a laugh and trust. In all likelihood it was my grumpiness that kept me from thinking about paying inside, and made me later for holy hour. But live and learn. That also is material to be accepted and surrendered.

Everything is.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Mary, Martha, and the Primacy of Contemplation

As much as I hate to admit it, there is a certain hierarchy in the spiritual life, as in the physical world. It is, perhaps, the most uncomfortable thing about the faith, that some things are true, others are not, and there is no getting around them when they are. The second most uncomfortable thing is the knowledge that I am fallible, and therefore I never truly know when I am right, and when I am wrong. So, in yesterday's discussion of Martha and Mary, I came to the conclusion that the "one thing needful" was love and the trust that must follow it. This takes different shapes, depending on the situation, but love is always the central thing.

However, this does not fully explain the fact that Jesus did say that Mary chose the "better part." In fact, throughout the history of the Church Mary and Martha have been considered archetypes of the two broad vocational categories, if you will, the contemplative and the active lives. Mary, of course, is the proto-contemplative and Martha is the proto-active. A good deal was made out of this distinction by the Church over the ages, in holding up the celibate, contemplative life as the beau-ideal of the Christian life.

Ah, but isn't that rather an old fashioned way of thinking about it? Don't we now know that everyone Apostolic Letter "Novo Millennio Ineunte", the Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity, by Pope Paul VI, and Chapter V of Lumen Gentium, the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church.) Wasn't Vatican II all about increasing the role and responsibility of the laity in the Church?
Dorothy Day and Mother Teresa 1979
is called to be a saint, and lay-people are called to the same level (although not "style" for lack of a better word) of holiness as everyone else? (For reference to recent emphasis on the "Universal call to Holiness), see Article 30 of St. John Paul II's

Heck, go back to the beginning and didn't St. Paul say, "For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose" 1 Corinthians 12:14-18.

Yes, but this does not change the fact that St. Paul was also the author of 1 Corinthians 7:32-34. And Jesus definitely did say that Mary chose the better part. Is the active life really second best?

I think the key is to be found in the two great commandments. We all know them: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your mind, all your strength and all your soul," and "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." These are clearly hierarchically arranged. Love of God comes first, love of neighbor comes second. However, they are not arranged according to worth but according to primacy. First things first, if you will. Love of God comes first, love of everyone else comes second. 

For some reason, and I suspect it is diabolical in origin, almost everyone Christian I know will read that and hear, "Love of God is more important, love of neighbor is less important." The implication is that there is a competition for limited resources (love) and God has first claim so when there is not enough love to go around, well, sorry family, but God gets His first. This understanding is widespread, pervasive, but is a straight up lie. Hence my suspicion that it is diabolical in origin.  

In reality, there is not and can never be any sort of competition between creature and Creator, except in the imagination of the creature. "In Him we live, and move, and have our being!" There is no possible way in which we could ever have something that God needs, and there is no possible way God could ever not provide for His creatures what they truly need, and in any event, Love is the one thing that only multiplies the more you give it away.  The Creator vs. creature dynamic is not a valid construct. 

Competition, when it occurs, occurs in the imagination of the creature. The creature imagines that something is good for it, which God has warned is not, in fact, good for it. Promiscuous sexual activity or gossip, to pick two fairly common examples, one respectable, one slightly less so. These give pleasure, they make the creature feel good for the moment, so the creature thinks they are good. God says they are not, the creature does them anyway and reaps the consequences later on down the line. This is what we call "sin" and "punishment."

This brings me to what Fr. Michael E. Gaitley, MIC, calls "The Primacy of Contemplation." This is a concept that reconciles the two halves of the false dichotomy, admittedly by the rather mundane process of non-reinvention of the wheel. Simply put, pray first (commune with God), then go and do what He tells you (love your neighbor.) In the order of the Church as the Body of Christ we have contemplatives who listen to and commune with God, and we have actives who put that relationship into practice. This is an important area of study, but not really my topic at the moment. Right now I am concerned with the contemplative and active element in my own life.  

The Primacy of Contemplation means that my work must flow from my prayer. My relationship with people must flow from my relationship with God. This is not because God is more important than people (He is, but He doesn't insist on His importance) but because people are so important that anything but the best is not good enough for them. Therefore our service must be the highest, noblest and most loving service, which means is must be united with Christ's service (from Bethlehem to the Cross). To do this we must be united with Christ. As Vatican II proclaimed in Perfectae Caritatis, "Apostolic activity must spring from intimate union with Him."

This means that prayer, spiritual reading and the sacraments, while not the focus of our lives (for laity in general) need to be the foundation of our lives. As busy as we may become (and I have become very busy at various times in my life) we must never be too busy for dedicated time for prayer. The world attacks prayer time. It always will by design. When you make the decision to set aside time (five or ten minutes or an hour, it doesn't much matter) every day for prayer, the devil will attack that time. He will make you unusually tired in the morning, try to get you to stay up late so you will say, "Just this once I really need those extra ten minutes of sleep, so I am going to hit the snooze button. I'll make up for it tomorrow." He will wake the kids up early and send them to interrupt. He will offer distractions, diversions and downright despair of ever praying worthily. (I don't know whether all of those interferences are directly as a result of the devil or just coincidence, but I have noticed that they tend to occur with surprising regularity. I know as a matter of history that when my alarm goes off I can count on having at least one good reason not to pray every single morning.) 

The great thing is simply to keep trying, and not to be discouraged by failure. When prayer time is interrupted by tiredness, offer that as a sacrifice. When it is interrupted by other people, offer that to God. When you are secretly very glad that so-and-so came along and interrupted and got you off the prayer hook for today, and ashamed of that feeling, offer the feeling, and the shame and the interruption to God. Try again tomorrow, or later in the afternoon. 

Set an alarm on your phone for 3 PM, and when it goes off simply say the Divine Mercy prayer or a short form of it, such as, "For the sake of His sorrowful passion, have mercy on us, and on the whole world." Pause, center your awareness on God (who has not ceased to be aware of you for all eternity) and look at Him with love. 

Talk to Him like Tevye. 

Talk to Him, listen to Him, then do what He tells you, and you will become an active contemplative, probably without even knowing it. 

You will also become a saint. Sweet deal!

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Martha and Mary: Failure and the Five Love Languages

Jesus entered a village
where a woman whose name was Martha welcomed him.
She had a sister named Mary
who sat beside the Lord at his feet listening to him speak.
Martha, burdened with much serving, came to him and said,
“Lord, do you not care
that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving?
Tell her to help me.”
The Lord said to her in reply,
“Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things.
There is need of only one thing.
Mary has chosen the better part
and it will not be taken from her.” Luke 10:38-42

The Gospel of the day: As a good friend of mine said in Bible Study last night, "I sometimes feel like this is one of those passages that has been beaten to death!" I also think, for priests and deacons, it may be the passage most likely to offend the middle-aged ladies of the parish who are probably more likely to relate to Martha than to Mary. After all, it's all well and good for Mary to choose the better part. But, as another friend commented, "Oh! That's how it is? My sister chose the better part, eh? Do you want to eat tonight, Jesus? I hear there's a kid down the street with some loaves and fishes..." Can you imagine her face after He said that to her?

(Meaning no disrespect to Martha at all. She reminds me too much of the women of my family whom I love dearly.)

One thing that a priest once pointed out in a homily, and which has stuck with me ever since, is that Jesus never rebuked Martha for serving Him, or for cooking, or for cleaning, or for any of the work she was doing. He rebuked her for being "worried and anxious." That is why I like this picture of the incident so much, because it captures something of the tenderness and playfulness of Jesus' response. He knows that she loves Him, and that she wants everything to be perfect for Him. The question is, does she know Him?

Gary Chapman in his book "The Five Love Languages" posits that human beings express and understand love in five main ways: Physical touch, quality time, words of affirmation, acts of service and gift giving. Everyone has one or maybe two main languages that they naturally gravitate towards, with the others being secondary or lesser importance. For instance, when I listed them above, I listed them more-or less in order of importance to me, with physical touch and quality time a tie for most importance, and gift-giving utterly meaningless to me.

Now it is easy to go from there and posit that Jesus (in His humanity, obviously, not His Divinity) acts of service, gifts, words of affirmation, and physical touch. Jesus was a whole and complete human being and He knew how to love as the situation needed.
Jesus knew how to love as the situation required.
was a "quality time" type and Martha was an "acts of service" type. He might have been saying something like, "Martha, a really big meal is all well and good but what I really want is just to spend some time with you." The problem with that is that it sets up a sort of false dichotomy between the two and it also misses the holistic nature of Jesus. The gospel has many examples of Jesus Himself loving with

No, it was the worry that was the problem. He says the same thing to me all the time when I complain about when am I going to have time for prayer, for spiritual reading, etc. I just have so much to do! "Peace!" He says to me. "You are worried about many things. One thing only is needful. Trust me."

Worry comes when we set goals for ourselves and measure our success or failure based on whether we achieve our goals. But, as I said last week, failure is almost the point of trying in the spiritual life. Jesus wants our goal to be loving Him, not achieving anything. Indeed, achievement of any kind, a goal of any kind, material or spiritual, or "for the Kingdom" or what have you, no matter how perfect is absolutely worthless without that one thing needful. As Saint Paul put it:

Earnestly desire the higher gifts.
And I will show you a still more excellent way.
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.  
And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.  
If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. 
1 Corinthians 12:31-13:3

Love, then is the one thing needful, and trust as a consequence of that love; implicit trust, which
refuses to become distressed when our prayers are not answered, our evangelization efforts are met with indifference, and our attempts at love go unnoticed. This trust even extends to our efforts at trust, refusing to become distressed at our inability to remain trustful. In other words, even when we fall off the trust bandwagon and start worrying up a storm, we don't get worried about our worrying. We just pick ourselves back up, calm the body, then the mind, then the heart as best we can (it's a useful technique, remind me to tell you about it sometime) and leave the rest in the hands of God. This is the way to true mastery in the spiritual life, through loving, trusting acceptance of failure. Through it all we sit humbly on the ground like a little kid at story time, and look up at Jesus and wait for Him to explain the punchline. That is all that is required of us.
Isn't He great like that? :-D

Tuesday, October 7, 2014


Why was I reluctant?
I can only say it seemed so unnecessary.
I had been there for the whole ordeal.
We had already fulfilled the demands of hate,
Filled full, over flowed, spilled
The full measure of hate; killed Him.
Beat, flailed, threshed like grain of wheat,
Fresh flayed like meat, thorn-torn crownéd brow.
How brave He stood! How so silent?
Burdened, urged and cursed,
Tripped and whipped like a donkey,
Pushed, bullied and dragged;
Robe gripped and stripped, wounds ripped anew open;
Hung now-fresh bleeding flesh from stake
Nailed, travailed...
and now to be impaled?
Stuck like a pig with my lance?
Not a chance He is alive.
No breath detected,
No life suspected,
Elected to make sure, but
Need I? He is dead. Let Him be.
Behold the corpse!
Poor parched, dried out, bled out
Pale blue livid skin under red and black
Of wound and scab and muck.
I know the look of death!
Why have I not struck?
I had never paused before, human flesh is cheap
Insubordination steep. Why weep now?

Strange reluctance, ineluctable task
Final degradation, penetrating stab of hate.
“Give it to cold, old half-blind Longinus. Let him take care of it.”
So it must be, let pity die.

Hate welled up, swelled up, fell,
Black as coal, a hole of cold nothing in my soul,
Killed my pity.
I looked,
I hated,
I thrust.
Felt thunk of iron on blood soaked trunk
Of tree behind,
Even blind I,
Know to twist with wrist and rip
It is finished.

And in the act, the very act of pulling free:
Rushing counter-thrust of grace!
Riposte’ of Mercy burst unburdened out,
Frothed forth! Rushed eagerly, joyfully gushed,
Flushed my bat-blind eyes, and thrust me to my knees.
Defeated utterly!
Mercy filled my eyes (that looked on slaughter,
And red-rimmed laughed) with blood and water,
Filled them with tears, and washed those tears away.
Washed away the dry, grimy film
Through which I viewed the world,
All my life.
Of sinners worst, most accursed, who durst
Kill and mutilate mercy itself, I was the first!
First immersed in Mercy
Bursting forth to quench my thirst.
Not according to desert, but to my need
In heaping measure what I, unknowing, took,
He blithely gave for me who made Him bleed.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Failing at Life

It is the little failures that get to you, not the spectacular ones. With a spectacular fail you can take comfort in the fact of having been, at least briefly, spectacular. You may not have achieved what you set out to achieve, but at least you tried where most others would not have.

No, what gets to you is the little failures, repeated every day, day after day after day. Sometimes it is someone else’s fault, like not getting to work on time because the idiot in front of you couldn’t drive. Sometimes it is your own fault, like when I pound the steering wheel and call the idiot in front of me an idiot for not knowing how to drive. I forget the people I have cut off, the unsignalled lefts I have taken, the green lights I have held up because I was busy changing the song on my iPhone. Little failures, like not getting all of the errands finished, or going to store for ingredients and coming home having forgotten one small but essential thing that you absolutely must have; or big failures, like forgetting about the Eucharistic fast and not being able to receive Communion because you just had to have that last cookie before you walked out the door.

There is nothing great about these. They don’t even merit an “epic fail, bro!” None is life-shattering but each one chips away a little bit at your self-confidence. If I can’t even get the kids into the car and to school on time, what makes me think I could succeed at volunteering for a charity? Or writing a novel? Or getting in shape? Or learning to play the piano? Are you serious? I can barely get my carcass out of bed some mornings.

And it doesn’t seem fair, because you know, and I know, that we really are trying. Not like Bubba from highschool who still lives in his mom’s basement at 32 years old, works the same job at the car wash, and in all that time has not attempted anything more challenging than Final Fantasy XXIV: The Return of Zombie Aerith. Bubba is doing fine. Bubba has no problems. One might think that he may actually have figured this life thing out. Just don’t try anything you aren’t already good at and you will never fail.

But in our better moments we don’t want to be like Bubba. We have made enough progress to know that we at least want to do something worthwhile with our lives. We love some good, or are committed to a family or some worthy project, and we are sacrificing to achieve it. Would a little success be too much to ask for, Lord? Some support, maybe?

But I will tell you a secret, although you may not believe me.

The most valuable coin in the spiritual life is failure.

I know you think I am crazy, but it is true (both that failure is valuable and that I am crazy). God draws us up off the couch by proposing some good to us. Perhaps you fall in love with a woman. Perhaps you have a child. Perhaps you have a mystical vision of the poem that will express the inexpressible. You want to be a good and holy husband. You want to be a wise, loving (and absolutely perfect) parent. You want to be a divine poet. The painful truth is that success was never the point.

When God proposes the dream to us, we must not imagine that He is saying, “If you are a good boy and you work really hard, you can do anything you set your mind to. You just have to believe in yourself.” Really He is just saying, “Here is a faint shadow of just the tiniest corner of a fraction of my Being. Will you pursue me in that vision?” So we pursue. The vision and desire for success in pursuing that vision are necessary first steps. Even self-confidence can be a step.

But in reality, whatever we may imagine, we do not pursue in order to succeed, we pursue in
order to fail. The harder we pursue, the more quickly and surely we will fail, and to a certain extent the sooner and harder the better. That was the point all along. I said above that these failures are not life shattering, but they chip away at our self-confidence.

That is exactly the point.

God wants to destroy our self-confidence, because as long as we trust in ourselves we can never be saved. Dom Lorenzo Scupoli, in, “The Spiritual Combat,” opens Chapter II, the initial chapter on the Way of Perfection with this stern warning:

“Distrust of self is so absolutely requisite in the spiritual combat that without this virtue we cannot expect to defeat our weakest passion, much less gain a complete victory. This important truth should be deeply imbedded in our hearts; for although in ourselves we are nothing, we are too apt to overestimate our own abilities and to conclude falsely that we are of some importance. This vice springs from the corruption of our nature. But the more natural a thing is, the more difficult it is to be discovered.”

 This is an echo of the Apostle Paul

“It was sin, producing death in me through what is good, in order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the commandment might become sinful beyond measure. For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.... Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.” Romans 7:13-15, 24-25.

These are not the words of a man who is succeeding at everything he tries. He is failing, and acutely aware of his failure. This is the same man who writes:

To keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the
revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” 2 Corinthians 12: 7-10.

Or to quote C. S. Lewis (Mere Christianity): “No man knows how bad he is until he has tried very hard to be good.” The better you try to be and the harder you try to be that way, the sooner you will have opportunity to learn how far short you fall.

That is the reason God asks us to try. Not because He wants us to "be good or else," but because He wants us to want to be good, to try to be good, and to fail so that we realize that we cannot be good. Then, and not before, we will be humbled enough to ask Him to help us, to do it for us. 
We will see that our perfection is His work, not ours, we are only called to be willing participants. 

This is not to say that our goal is to be neurotic, or to lack all ability to try. That is why destroying self-trust is the second step, and not the last. Distrust in ourselves opens the door to trust in God. Unless we take that next step and trust in Him, destroying self trust would be worse than useless.

There is more to this, much, much more, but this blog is already too long so maybe another time.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The Greatest Compliment Ever Given

Yesterday our Bible study covered the readings for September 23, 2014. The gospel was Luke 8:19-21, a very short but very dense gospel.
The mother of Jesus and his brothers came to him
but were unable to join him because of the crowd.
He was told, “Your mother and your brothers are standing outside
and they wish to see you.”
He said to them in reply, “My mother and my brothers
are those who hear the word of God and act on it.”

Of course, the first question to address was whether Jesus really meant to dis His mother like that. Leaving aside the question of Jesus' "brothers," which is a predictable and necessary issue to address for Catholics, the statement still seems like a terrible thing to say. After His mother walked who knows how many miles to see her Son, who hadn't been in town for a long time and wasn't going to be around for a long time in all likelihood. After all that trouble, He doesn't even take the time to see her or say anything to her. He just keeps on doing what He is doing. The question in Matthew 12:48 is even harsher: "Who is my mother? And who are my brothers?"

But what if you "invert the question" as my brother would say? (He talks theology like it's a slightly more complicated math problem.) Instead of Jesus saying, "Mom? What Mom?" He is inverting the question. "My mother? Do you want to be like her? Listen to the word of God and do it. You are my mother, my brothers, my sister, my family, if you hear the Word of my Father. I am the Word that was in the beginning. Listen to what I say and do as I do, and you are my own. My family."

He is not bringing His mother down, He is raising us up.

But there is more to it. In a way He is also paying Her the greatest compliment that it is possible for
God to pay a human. Take a look at it from her point of view for a second. After not seeing her son for weeks or months, walking for hours, and likely not to see Him again for months more, she is turned away at the door, so to speak. How did she take it? The same way she responded to every other action of God in her life: "Be it done unto me, according to thy will."

Imagine you have a friend or family member, who is so close with you, loves you so much, that you can go over to his house any time you want, day or night. If he isn't home you can open it up with the spare key under the loose brick, help yourself to his food and drink his beer and read his books. When he gets home he is completely thrilled to see you (unless you drink his last beer, my brother points out.)

Or say that I go running with my brother, who is much faster than I am. He isn't going to leave me behind, but he isn't going to take it easy on me either. He is going to run as fast as I can follow, and he is going to expect me to suck up the pain and suffer through it. He expects suffering, he expects courage, he expects me to push myself. 

Or say I ask my wife to keep me on track regarding a habit of sarcasm. She will take me seriously, and she will expect me to take her reminders humbly and with good grace. She will expect me to grow.

Now go back to Jesus and Mary. She wanted to see her Son. Her desire was denied, because He had a mission. Dozens, or even hundreds of people needed Him at that moment, and He desired to give Himself to them. With all the Love in the Eternity of the Godhead, He desired to share Himself with each one of those people. His mother loved Him, so much that she desired for Him what He most desired for Himself. She loved all of those people because He loved them, and willingly sacrificed her desire to see Him. 

This would continue until she stood at the foot of the cross, suffering with her Son, offering Him to the world, to you and I, as the best she has to offer. This was the compliment He offered her, the greatest compliment possible for a good person. I hold, and always will hold, that the greatest compliment you can offer to a good person is to invite them to become better, to become the best they can be.

God offered Mary the opportunity to take part in His work, to accept along with Him the sufferings and self-donation. He offered her the hard road of the cross, as the greatest gift, the greatest compliment it was in His power to give, expecting Her to accept the loss of Him, because He knew that she was given the grace to accept it, and He trusted in her love and faith. Seen like this, this short gospel passage becomes even more beautiful and amazing. 

More amazing still, she invites us to join her in suffering with her Son. 

Mary, Mother of Our Savior, Pray for Us.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Babies R Us, Or, How I Realized that my Life is a Miracle!!!

Creating a baby registry at Babies R Us, can be something of a spiritual epiphany. As my wife and I approached the priestesses at the altar of customer service, we were greeted with joy, warmth, fellowship and unlimited knowledge-of-all-of-the-baby-things, which they promised to impart to us for absolutely free (for six months with financing!)

The first thing they offered to do was to take all of the work and thought out of answering the age old question "What does a baby need?" They would do this by automatically populating our registry with a list of 50 most popular, must-have items that were absolutely essential to well being and happiness of moms and babies!


Oh, and dads too. Of course! :-)

We declined several times, with incrementally increasing firmness and decreasing politeness. We, ignorant neophytes that we were, preferred a paper copy that we could treat as suggestions, and decide what we wanted and what we didn't want. The priestesses sighed, but mercifully humored our ignorance, after reminding us that they were only trying to save us time. We could go online afterwards and remove any items we didn't want but if we wanted to waste all that time individually scanning each one, then they would allow us to have a paper copy.

Oh, the things we learned, wandering those hallowed aisles. Before embarking on that adventure if you asked me what babies need I would have answered, "Warm hugs, full bellies and clean butts." That's about what I got when I was a baby, and I had always thought that I turned out more or less okay. My wife concurred. But, Oh, how deprived I was. It turns out babies need so much more. Just think, if I had gotten all of the things that I needed, how I might have turned out. I might have become president. I might have discovered a new planet. I might have broken six foot tall! We will never know. "Of all the words of tongue and pen / The saddest are these: it might have been."

We learned that babies need a minimum of three strollers. One for the big, all day adventures, a light one for folding and putting in the car, and one for around the house. You also should probably have a jogger, so that you can jog with your young offspring and instill healthy habits early. Make sure you check the safety ratings because it must be crash-proof, side-impact tested, and not past its expiration date. And when the expiration date arrives in three years, we will cut you a sweet deal on upgrading! Or at least trade-in. Or at least we will think about offering you a deal. We will definitely smile at you very nicely as you buy the new stroller. Safety first! If your baby is riding in a four-year old stroller you are A BAD PARENT!!!

No baby's life could possibly be called complete without an $800 chest of drawers with attached changing table, hypo-allergenic, ergonomically contoured foam changing mattress with disposable mattress liners and wipe warmers. And if it is not color coordinated and themed, then you will forever skew your child's aesthetic development forever. And ever.

A diaper genie that merely holds that diapers until trash or laundry day? Unacceptable! If your diaper genie does not have reloadable rolls of shrink wrap which automatically isolates each diaper in its own vacuum sealed compartment, well, then you are clearly just not a good parent! Bathe baby in the sink? What, are we barbarians here? No, what your baby needs to be really clean and healthy is a baby tub all his or her very own for only $50.00. Still changing the baby on a towel? Well, we have a travel changing mat for you that will transform into a spaceship and magically zap all of the germs in a three yard radius!

Buy the super deluxe space-age breast pump for umpteen hundred dollars, and you too can look like our perfectly coiffed, made-up and manicured model in casual business attire, typing out an executive looking report while she pumps breast milk for her baby. You will also have a flat, six pack tummy. And a free lollipop! And gone are the days of those little rubber nipples that looked like cow udders, the ones where you had to adjust the flow rate by how tightly you tightened the ring. Nowadays the really well nourished child is a result of Science! We have a different set of nipples for each age bracket, 0-1 month, 1-3 months, 3-6 months, and 6-12 months, with a properly formulated drip rate (mimicking the human breast which, apparently, develops more jets per nipple as the baby ages... wait, what?) The best part is they are only $5.00 a piece!!!

For the hiking, marathon and triathlon running toddlers out there, we have an entire line of organic, gluten-free, free trade, paleo goo's, granolas, and trail mixes in convenient squeeze packages for use on the trail, available in a whole range of sizes to suit your child's athletic metabolic needs. Gotta carb on the go!

Carrying the baby? Snuggee or wrap getting a little too passe? We have baby carriers for you. You probably need at least three, one for around the house, one for hiking in Aussie outback colors, and one particularly nice one with a sunshade, in-case baby doesn't want to wear a hat and you can't find any shade.
How could a baby not be happy without pastel animals of every species and hue?

Forget that old pack-n-play that was just a pack-n-play. Nowadays, the discerning infants are demanding pack-n-plays that include built in changing table and self-rocking crib with a variety of synthesized classical music on ad-nauseum repeat. That little folding pen over there in the corner, that doesn't do anything except fold out into a play-pen? There is a reason it's over in the corner, hidden under shadows and metaphorical cobwebs.  Go ahead and get that for your poor, helpless infant if you want. Watch her cry her poor little eyes out when she sees what all the other infants are rocking. You'll be back!

I look at my entire life with a new gratitude, for the miracle it is. How I ever made it through my deprived childhood to adulthood is beyond me. I cannot even really be sure I did. What if the scars are so deep and lasting that I only think I did, but I cannot even really see the damage? It is a possibility, since my wife and I remained blissfully unconvinced of our need for all of these things. We placed a total of 8 items on our registry so far, and I am looking into the possibility of hand-making the furniture this winter. Another option is to go the Finnish route which seems to be working for them, as they have one of the lowest rates of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) in the developed world. The sleeping out in the snow thing didn't seem to hurt me either (long story. Remind me to tell it sometime...)

But I am grateful, and I appreciate my life more, knowing that I narrowly survived extreme deprivation of All-of-the-baby-things. My wife and I are survivors. Perhaps because of the emotional scarring, we will not be purchasing all of the things, and we will not be asking other people to buy all of them for us. We are not sure if we can bring them up like these folks in the picture to the right without all the comforts of life, but we are going to give it a shot.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Art as Prophecy

 "Words strain,
Crack and sometimes break, under the burden,
Under the tension, slip, slide, perish,
Decay with imprecision, will not stay in place,
Will not stay still..."
T. S. Eliot, "Burnt Norton."

 If art is communication of vision, then true art is prophesy. Each human person sees, or at least is called to see, some aspect of God that no other creature in existence can ever see. I believe that this is the true basis for that mysterious quality which we call individuality, but that requires a good deal more thought. What I am certain of is that God communicates a part of Himself to us that He communicates to no other person. Or to put it differently, He communicates His whole being to us in a way that He does for no other person. Whenever a human being sees a glimpse of that communication and tries to share it with another human being, art is born. This transcends the formal arts, music, writing, painting, sculpture, acting and so forth. This permeates all truly human activities down to the most mundane. Thus we can speak of an "art" to good conversation; an "art" of letter writing; an "art" to hospitality; an "art" to flipping burgers. When we say that someone does some mundane task artfully, we meant that he or she is doing it purposefully, meaningfully, in the best manner possible and this raises their activities to the level of art. 
humanly.They are not simply tying a shoe, they are tying it well, with attention to the shape of the knot, the length and balance of the loops and tails. They are seeking to do what must be done

Art is prophecy, in this sense, because the beauty that one person sees in the restrained elegance of the Japanese tea ceremony is a reflection of God. The beauty that another seas in the barely controlled chaos of the mudroom when the kids come in from a ramble through the woods in mid-March is also a reflection of God. To share either beauty with the other, to translate it so that they can see and appreciate it, is to broaden their appetite for beauty, to show them a truth they were not aware of, or had forgotten, or simply had never exercised. It shares a part of God with them that otherwise they would not have seen.

It is this that I mean when I say that art is prophecy. It is usually unconscious, I suppose, a reaching after "we know not what." That is what makes art universal when it is at its best. It is an expression of longings that remain inarticulate. The methods of art can be used as a distraction from those longings, which I would classify as entertainment rather than art. This too has its place as a rest, to help us refit until we are strong and ready to begin the pursuit once more. Art, however, should not distract from the longing, the not-enough-ness. It should point it out, set a finger on it and say, "I try to capture the 'more' but it will not be captured."

It need not be unconscious, though.
"The distraction fit, lost in a shaft of sunlight,
The wild thyme unseen, or the winter lightning
Or the waterfall, or music heard so deeply
That it is not heard at all, but you are the music
While the music lasts. These are only hints and guesses,
Hints followed by guesses; and the rest
Is prayer, observance, discipline, thought and action."
  T. S. Eliot, "The Dry Salvages."

An artist may know what he is truly striving after, put a name to Him, and by discipline, prayer and observance, the "lifetime's death in love/ ardour and selflessness and self-surrender," bring himself more and more to mirror that light, to enter into that relationship, and to gaze upon the beauty he seeks to communicate. It is necessary, in the end, or else he runs the risk of being more in love with his communication of the beauty than with Beauty Himself. In the end I suppose he will come with Thomas Aquinas to know that everything he has ever created has been only straw, valuable to God only because God loves Him. In the end, the reader, the viewer, the sharer of the art will also be drawn beyond the art. They will leave behind our best works like forgotten toys, and that which once inspired us will be no longer relevant, loved for old time's sake, as a grown up may keep a teddy bear in the box in his closet.

This is to be expected, even to be hoped for. Our glimpses are partial, shadowy, incomplete. They were never meant to satisfy. They were meant to introduce, to excite, to tease and urge onward. The reality is "further up and further in."

If there are prophecies, they will be brought to nothing;
if tongues, they will cease;
if knowledge, it will be brought to nothing.
For we know partially and we prophesy partially,
but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away.
When I was a child, I used to talk as a child,
think as a child, reason as a child;
when I became a man, I put aside childish things.
At present we see indistinctly, as in a mirror,
but then face to face.