Sunday, November 23, 2014

Visit to Monticello, August 2014

Brethren: Peace be with you on this Feast of Christ the King.

Before I launch upon this post, I have a confession to make: I am first and foremost, a monarchist. Yes, I am! Don't feel threatened, though, for neither my King nor his Kingdom are of this world. While on earth, I'm a republican and a constitutionalist, with all the attending messes these typf of government entails. Why am I a republican? Because I agree with the Founding Fathers of the USA, who denied some people were better than others by reason of birth and therefore, some were born to govern, and others were born to serve them.

Thomas Jefferson
To be sure, I don't think they understood the full import of their ideas and words. Perhaps in the back of their minds they understood, but never expressed aloud, that the idea of basic human equality translated into civil equality in terms of rights and responsibilities, that an aristocracy of money and class, be they Yankee bourgeois or Southern planters were of no higher human dignity than the free yeoman farmer or the slave hand, or men and women, or of English or Spanish (or German, Irish, etc.) descent. We will never know, to them the realization laid in the far future.

My interest to "reconnect" with the Founding Fathers took me to a wide range of summer readings - which I detailed here and here. As a consequence, I decided to visit Monticello, the home of Thomas Jefferson, who authored among many other things, the U.S. Declaration of Independence. He was also the third President of the United States, first Secretary of State, second Vice President, founder of the University of Virginia and many other things: lawyer, politician, philosopher, scientist, polyglot, dandy, wine-lover, conversationalist, republican, chum...and slaveholder.

We went to Monticello last August. Here's a slideshow consisting of 79 pictures I took during our visit. Like often happens in these locales, we were not allowed to take pictures inside the mansion itself, so these are all outside pictures:

vivificat's Visit to Monticello album on Photobucket

If you can't see the slide show on this post, then try it here.

Impressions

Of all the things you can see in Monticello and talk about, the one I want to talk about is Jefferson's bed chamber, specifically, the odd placing of his bed. Here's a picture of it, courtesy of Monticello.org:

Jefferson's Bed - Photo by Monticello.org
You can also view a panorama view of the chamber and more information, here. You may also see a floor plan of Monticello, here.

A clock hangs on the wall right in front of him, it was the first thing he saw in the morning. If he raised to his right, he would've walked right into his "cabinet" or studio room; to his left, to a fire place and a room to relax. The arrangement gave me the odd impression that I was looking at a Jungian mandala, with Jefferson placed at the center - not of the house, for the bedroom is off-center, but of the entire mountain. Jefferson created a universe with him at its center.Well, himself, and the passage of time. I found it disconcerting and a bit depressing even. The room was a display of the man's ego.

I can talk a lot also about Jefferson's cognitive dissonance. I am sure he penned some of the most eloquent condemnations of slavery ever to come out from the pen of a man while working in that office and looking through the windows, as his slaves worked. His very private - and very public! - love affair with his slave, Sally Hemmings and the children he sired from her in perhaps a very conscious effort to project himself into the future and leave others to solve the moral conundrums he left behind. However, others have addressed this subject better than I have.

I did learn a lesson and that is that a man will always be a man, riddle with contradictions and shortcomings but that his words, if they are good words, will transcend him for all eternity. The words come to be bigger than the man, even if the man was Thomas Jefferson.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

On @BarakObama's Executive Order on Immigration

Brethren, peace be with you.

Tonight, President Barack Obama will announce the steps he intends to follow in reforming the state of undocumented immigrants in this country, mostly fellow Hispanics in search of work, food, and personal dignity unavailable in their own countries.

I sympathize with the goal of immigration reform, but not with President Obama's solution.

I sympathize with a humane immigration reform respectful of the immigrants' human dignity and the integrity of their families. However, I prefer it not be done by presidential diktat, and particularly by this President who has damaged religious liberty, the right to life, and the natural family so much. I must question President Obama's motives in light of the damage he has inflicted upon our social fabric. I can't support his move at the cost of my own integrity and that of our republic.

The President must do what so far he has been unable or unwilling to do: negotiate with Congress, compromise, see the other side and get things done.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

My visit to the White House

Brethren, Peace be with you!

Despite my busy schedule during the last two weeks, my family and I were able to obtain tickets for a tour of the White House, the Executive Mansion, "the President's House" in Washington, DC. They did not allow us to take pictures inside, but they did allow us to take pictures right outside the North Portico, facing Pennsylvania Avenue. Here's a photographic memento of the occasion:

As you all probably know, the White House is the historic center of presidential power in the United States. You may find this surprising, but I didn't find it luxurious at all. Elegant, yes, but not "royal" in the sense the Czar's palace in St. Petersburg, Versailles, or Buckingham Palace are. The floors opened to visitors had an air of a museum with old pictures, furniture, and china galore, along with some candelabra but not in profusion.
 
I liked the White House: it is a symbol of republican simplicity. It's rather small, as far as executive mansions go. Yet, so much has taken place in here, so many decisions made, many good, many not so good. Let us pray in the words of our second President, John Adams:
I pray Heaven to bestow the best of Blessings on this House and all that shall hereafter inhabit it. May none but honest and wise Men ever rule under this roof.
Amen to that.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Seven Practical Discernment Techniques by St. Ignatius Loyola

(Source: St Ignatius' Spiritual Exercises, [178-187])
1. Ignatius suggests that we start the decision-making process by putting before our mind what it is we want to decide about. For example, we might be trying to decide whether or nor to enter a specific religious community. 
2. He then asks us to pray for the grace to “try to be like a balance at equilibrium, without leaning to either side” (Spiritual Exercises, [179]).  In other words, we should try to the extent possible not to prefer one option to the other but only desire to do God’s will. To help us maintain focus and perspective, he asks us to keep the ultimate end and goal of our existence clearly before us. 
3. Then we pray for God to enlighten and move us to seek only what is most conducive to God’s service and praise.  
4. One suggestion Ignatius makes is to imagine a person we never met who seeks our help in how to respond to God’s call in the same decision we are considering.  We then observe what advice we give this person and follow it ourselves. This is helpful since most of us are better at giving others advice than at figuring out what we should do.
5.  Another suggestion is that we imagine ourselves at the end of our lives either on our deathbed or after our death standing before Christ our Judge.  How would we feel about our decision then? What would we say to Christ about the decision we have just made?  We should choose now the course of action that would give us happiness and joy in looking back on it from our deathbed and in presenting it to Christ on the day of our judgment.
6. When we do not experience inner clarity about the correct decision to be made, Ignatius suggests that we use our reason to weigh the matter carefully to attempt to come to a decision in line with our living out God’s will in our lives. To do this we should, bearing in mind our ultimate goal, list and weigh the advantages and disadvantages for us of the decision at hand, for example, the reasons for and against entering religious life or a specific religious community. We are then to consider which alternatives seem more reasonable and decide according to the more weighty motives – not from our selfish inclinations. Looking over our list of “pros” and “cons” for the decision at hand, we should notice if any of the reasons listed stand out from the others and why and see which way this might point us. This technique can help us move from inner confusion to greater clarity at least as to the issues that need to be attended to and help separate out which are more significant. 
7. Having come to a decision, we turn again to God and beg for signs of God’s confirmation that the decision is leading us toward God’s service and praise.  The usual sign of this confirmation from God is an experience of peacefulness about the decision. The confirmed decision has a feeling of “rightness” about it, and we feel a sense of God’s presence, blessing, and love.  This is a very important step, since the feeling of rightness, peace, and joy about a decision is a positive indicator that we have made the right decision whereas feelings of anxiety, heaviness, sadness, and darkness often indicate the opposite.
- Hat-tip to Marquette University.

Monday, November 03, 2014

Blog Fast in Effect

Brethren: Peace be with you!

Last week ended with a bang: my youngest son and I were exemplified into the 4th Degree of the Knights of Columbus last Saturday. It was a great experience. If you're a practicing Catholic man between the ages of 18 and whatever, you should join this very powerful lay fraternity.

Then, I went to work to find out I was about to start another of those very busy weeks where I won't have time to blog. Please, be patient and feel free to explore 10 years of content. Thanks, and God bless!

Thursday, October 30, 2014

#Muslim apologists becoming more aggressive proselytizers, targeting #Christians

Brethren, Peace be with you and a'salaam aleikum!

William Kirkpatrick over at the Catholic World Report asks the following question Are We Losing the Apologetics War with Islam? in light of recent lone-wolf terrorist attacks in Canada and the United States, as well as the romance many attach to the depredations of the so-called Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. One of the Canadian terrorists had this illustration displayed in his Facebook page:



That got me thinking because that very day I stumbled upon this tweet by the Muslim Times on-line publication:


An inspection of The Muslim Times reveals a sober, careful publication not given to extremism but devoted to its point of view. If I were a Muslim, The Muslim Times would be the kind of publication I would support. Still...

It would be easy to dismiss the above two examples as weak, frivolous, even Jack-Chickesque in its tendency for oversimplifying and creating strawmen arguments. If I do that, II wouldn't be saying what's wrong with their argument and this is what's wrong: the Muslim effort does not engage the best Christian reasons for Christ. Instead, the Muslim apologist(s) who designed the above arguments seize hide behind plain language to create "contradictions" in Christology and Christian self-understanding that will make lightly formed, uninformed, and non-catechized Christian stumble and fall. Therefore, the Muslim apologetic efforts targets the shallow Christian as low-hanging fruit for conversion. Sadly, the field is wide open and advantageous to Islamic missionary inroads in our civilization due to our general ignorance about, or repudiation of the historical Christian faith.

Christians have been engaging and refuting these unitarian arguments from non-Christians since apostolic times. Contemporary refutations can be found in the catecheses of St. John Damascene in the East and later in the Middles Ages in St. Thomas Aquinas' Summa Contra Gentiles in the West. The polemic isn't knew. The Muslim critique was answered long ago.

Yet, we are prisoners of our time and age. Most Christians live blissfully unaware about the old responses to Islamic misinformation. Many Christians of all backgrounds feel they must reinvent the wheel. Others will be stumped at the stunning over-simplicity of the Muslim critique. 

Brothers and sisters, we must arm ourselves with the Armor of God, standing firm  "with the belt of truth buckled around" our waists, with "the breastplate of righteousness" in place,and with our feet "fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace." Furthermore, we must "take up the shield of faith" and "the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God" (Ephesians 6:14-17, NIV); we must be "always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks us to give the reason for the hope that we have  with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against our good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander (1 Peter 3:15-16). This is the only way we can face down the Muslim challenge and win his soul to Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
- Read also The Mind of Islam at the Christ's Faithful Witness blog.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Why is it that we refer to our Nation's sins against human life as "blessings" ?

Brethren: Peace be with you.

I've just finished reading three biographies on Abraham Lincoln, John Quincy Adams, and Thomas Jefferson. I even reread one about the elder John Adams to get "in sync" with the one on John Quincy Adams and Jefferson's. Yes, you may call me a "biography nerd" if you wish.

Reading through all of them I'm impressed by the single temptation which our country has been subjected to and the various different ways we have fallen into it: the sin against human life.

The first form this sin took shape in was in our treatment of Native Americans. It was clear in the minds of the Founding Fathers that the Native Americans were to be repressed and expelled from their lands. Only John Quincy Adams regretted this abuse, as he saw Native Americans in Georgia removed from lands they had agreed to till, reap, and sow by a corrupt state government allied with land speculators. Though Lincoln was sympathetic to Native Americans, his sympathy was quite abstract and paternalistic. Embroiled as he was managing the Civil War, Lincolnl never asked himself what role the native inhabitants of our country should play in our constitutional polity following the depredations of Manifest Destiny. Lincoln may have rejected the Manifest Destiny notion, but he did little to stop its depredations. However, I'm not going to fault him too much for he was busy otherwise.

Starting a recurrent pattern in our history, Manifest Destiny was dubbed  "a blessing" during the time the future President was reaching political maturity: 
The untransacted destiny of the American people is to subdue the continent — to rush over this vast field to the Pacific Ocean — to animate the many hundred millions of its people, and to cheer them upward — to set the principle of self-government at work — to agitate these herculean masses — to establish a new order in human affairs — to set free the enslaved — to regenerate superannuated nations — to change darkness into light — to stir up the sleep of a hundred centuries — to teach old nations a new civilization — to confirm the destiny of the human race — to carry the career of mankind to its culminating point — to cause stagnant people to be re-born — to perfect science — to emblazon history with the conquest of peace — to shed a new and resplendent glory upon mankind — to unite the world in one social family — to dissolve the spell of tyranny and exalt charity — to absolve the curse that weighs down humanity, and to shed blessings round the world! Divine task! immortal mission! Let us tread fast and joyfully the open trail before us! Let every American heart open wide for patriotism to glow undimmed, and confide with religious faith in the sublime and prodigious destiny of his well-loved country. (1)
Perhaps it was the peculiar institution of Negro slavery what really marked the most egregious violation of human life our nation had perpetrated upon other human beings up to that time. Slavery, too, was once called a "blessing":
To insist that a status of society, which has been almost universal, and which is expressly and continually justified by Holy Writ, is its natural, normal, and necessary status, under the ordinary circumstances, is on its face a plausible and probable proposition. To insist on less, is to yield our cause, and to give up our religion; for if white slavery be morally wrong, be a violation of natural rights, the Bible cannot be true. Human and divine authority do seem in the general to concur, in establishing the expediency of having masters and slaves of different races. In very many nations of antiquity, and in some of modern times, the law has permitted the native citizens to become slaves to each other. But few take advantage of such laws; and the infrequency of the practice establishes the general truth that master and slave should be of different national descent. In some respects the wider the difference the better, as the slave will feel less mortified by his position. In other respects, it may be that too wide a difference hardens the hearts and brutalizes the feeling of both master and slave. The civilized man hates the savage, and the savage returns the hatred with interest. Hence West India slavery of newly caught negroes is not a very humane, affectionate, or civilizing institution. Virginia negroes have become moral and intelligent. They love their master and his family, and the attachment is reciprocated. Still, we like the idle, but intelligent house-servants, better than the hard-used, but stupid outhands; and we like the mulatto better than the negro; yet the negro is generally more affectionate, contented, and faithful. 

The world at large looks on negro slavery as much the worst form of slavery; because it is only acquainted with West India slavery. But our Southern slavery has become a benign and protective institution, and our negroes are confessedly better off than any free laboring population in the world. How can we contend that white slavery is wrong, whilst all the great body of free laborers are starving; and slaves, white or black, throughout the world, are enjoying comfort? . . .(2)
Fast-forward a century and we find abortion recognized as a "right" by Supreme Court justices who gave us Roe v. Wade as good law, forgetting the lessons set by awful precedents such as Dred Scott: that no true justice will ever flow from bad law and anti-human presuppositions. Yet, in an abhorrent, ritual repetition of a damnable past, abortion too has been called "a blessing" by no less than a Christian clergywoman in a sermon:

...Finally, the last sign I want to identify relates to my fellow clergy. Too often even those who support us can be heard talking about abortion as a tragedy. Let's be very clear about this:

When a woman finds herself pregnant due to violence and chooses an abortion, it is the violence that is the tragedy; the abortion is a blessing.


When a woman finds that the fetus she is carrying has anomalies incompatible with life, that it will not live and that she requires an abortion – often a late-term abortion – to protect her life, her health, or her fertility, it is the shattering of her hopes and dreams for that pregnancy that is the tragedy; the abortion is a blessing.


When a woman wants a child but can't afford one because she hasn't the education necessary for a sustainable job, or access to health care, or day care, or adequate food, it is the abysmal priorities of our nation, the lack of social supports, the absence of justice that are the tragedies; the abortion is a blessing.


And when a woman becomes pregnant within a loving, supportive, respectful relationship; has every option open to her; decides she does not wish to bear a child; and has access to a safe, affordable abortion – there is not a tragedy in sight — only blessing. The ability to enjoy God's good gift of sexuality without compromising one's education, life's work, or ability to put to use God's gifts and call is simply blessing.


These are the two things I want you, please, to remember – abortion is a blessing and our work is not done. Let me hear you say it: abortion is a blessing and our work is not done. Abortion is a blessing and our work is not done. Abortion is a blessing and our work is not done. (3)

Brothers and sisters, when are we ever going to learn that blessing evil will never make that evil a good? What are we calling "blessings" nowadays, or invoking God's blessing over these evils as if they were intrinsic goods? Same-sex "marriage"? Euthanasia? Contraception? Embryonic stem research? Hmmm? Farfetched? Not in the slightest. It's history repeating itself and we don't learn from it; it is the same demon tempting us in the same manner and we keep falling into this temptation. All these "blessings" fall within the same spectrum of evil and depravity besmirching our Nation's honor since its founding.

We call these sins "blessings" because we don't want to see the depth of evil within ourselves. So we dress up this filth and call it a "blessing" from God. Or, to complicate the offense with sacrilege, we call God's blessings upon manifest evil to assuage our consciences and convince us that we are doing "good".

We have paid for the evil of slavery with a civil war that killed 600,000 Americans. What chastisement is in store for us for fostering the "blessings" of abortion over 50 million unborn children, and visiting death upon the old and the infirm to "protect their dignity"? Whatever it is, and whenever it comes, it will be highly deserved. Let us pray that the Lord holds his hands and delays the time of punishment to give us an extended opportunity to repent and heal.

===============

1.  William Gilpin, address to the U.S. Senate (2 March 1846); as quoted in Mission of the North American People, Geographical, Social, and Political (1873), by William Gilpin, p. 124

2. George Fitzhugh, The Blessings of Negro Slavery, (1857) URL: http://wps.ablongman.com/wps/media/objects/26/27123/primarysources1_13_2.html, accessed 28 October 2014.

3. Katherine Hancock Ragsdale, Speech given in defense of abortion rights in Birmingham, Alabama, following a failed push by anti-abortion protesters to shut down a clinic, (2007): URL: http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/damianthompson/9363917/Abortion_is_a_blessing_and_abortionists_are_doing_holy_work_says_Anglican_priest/, accessed 28 October 2014