Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Dulles' on the Catechism

There is an interesting background article on the Catechism at
First Things
which is also, I think, applicable to the reception of the more recent Compendium.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Ratzinger 1971

Why I am a Catholic
By Joseph Ratzinger, 1971

We can think of the Catholic Church by comparing it to the moon, not only for the relationship between moon and woman (as mother), but also because the moon does not have its own light. It receives light from the sun, without which it would be in total darkness. The moon shines, but its light is not its own. Lunar probes and astronauts have seen that the moon is nothing but a rocky and desert-like wasteland. They saw rock and sand, the reality quite different from the image we held about it from antiquity. The moon is by and of itself nothing but rock and sand, but it does reflect light.

Is this not an exact image of the Church? Whoever explores it and digs into it with a probe will discover, as in the moon, nothing but desert, sand and rock -– the weaknesses of mankind seen as dust, stones, waste. But the decisive fact is that even if she is nothing but sand and stones, she is also Light, by virtue of the Lord.

I am a Catholic because I believe that now as in the past, and independent of us, the Lord stands behind the Church, and we cannot be near Him without staying within His Church. I belong to the Catholic Church because despite everything, I believe that it is His Church, not “ours.”

It is the Church which, despite all the human weaknesses present in her, brings us to Jesus Christ. Only through the Church can I receive Him as a living and powerful reality, here and now. Without the Church, the image of Christ would evaporate, it would crumble, it would disappear. And what would become of mankind deprived of Christ?

I am in the Church for the same reasons that I am a Christian. Because one cannot believe in isolation. Faith is possible in communion with other believers. Faith by its very nature is a force that binds. And this faith must be ecclesial, or it is not faith at all. And just as one does not believe in isolation, but only in communion with others, neither can one have faith out of one’s own initiative or invention.

I remain in the Church because I believe that faith, realizable only in the Church and not against her, is a true necessity for the human being and for the world.

I remain in the Church because only the faith the Church professes can save man. The great ideal of our generation is a society free of tyranny, suffering and injustice. In this world, suffering does not come only from inequalities in material wealth and power. There are those who would have us believe that we can realize our humanity without mastery of self, without the patience of surrender and the effort to overcome difficulties; that it is not necessary to make any sacrifice to keep compromises which we accept, nor to bear with patience the constant tension between what should be and what actually is.

In reality, man can only be saved through the Cross and the acceptance of one’s own suffering as well as those of the world, which find their resolution in the Passion of the Lord. Only thus can man become free. All the other “offers at a better price” can only end in failure.

Love is not simply aesthetic and uncritical. The only possibility to change man in a positive sense is to love him truly by transforming him gradually from who he is to who he can be. That is what the Church can do.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Refusing to be self-sorted

We're inclined to self-sort into groups of like-minded folks. There's an interesting post on refusing to do that at:
Aimee Milburn's Blog

No one can sing the blues like...

“For a songwriter, Dylan is as essential as a hammer and nails and a saw are to a carpenter.” - Tom Waits

“Dylan is so brilliant. To me, he makes William Shakespeare look like Billy Joel.” - George Harrison

“When Another Side of Bob Dylan was released Pete played it endlessly, especially the track ‘All I Really Want To Do.’ Dylan and particularly this track spurred him on with his own song writing.” - Pete Townsend’s roommate Richard Barnes, 1964

“It almost makes me furious sometimes, how good his lyrics are. You know, you aspire to things. I’m trying and trying [to write a song], and I’ll get something and I’ll say, ‘That’s pretty good,’ and then I’ll listen to Blood On the Tracks and think ‘Who the hell am I kidding? What the hell am I talking about?’” - Dave Matthews

“This man can rhyme the tick of time. The edge of pain. The what of sane.” - Johnny Cash

“There’s no concession to the fact that Dylan might be a more sophisticated singer than Whitney Houston, that he’s probably the most sophisticated singer we’ve had in a generation. Nobody is identifying our popular singers like a Matisse or Picasso. Dylan’s a Picasso - that exuberance, range, and assimilation of the whole history of music.” - Leonard Cohen

“I never showed any interest outside of the blues until I heard Bob Dylan.” - Eric Clapton

“Dylan’s an extraordinary man. I don’t know if he’s going to sell, but he has something profound to say.” - John Hammond

“Bob Dylan’s one of the greatest blues singers of the western world; ancient art, on-the-spot improvisation, mind quickness, endless variation, classical formulae, prophetic vision, mighty wind-horse.” - Allen Ginsberg

“That boy’s got a voice. Maybe he won’t make it in his writing, but he can sing it.” - Woodie Guthrie

“If Woody Guthrie set the bar for American songwriters, Bob Dylan jumped right over it. No one I know will ever come close to possessing the beauty of melody and the use of language that Dylan shares with us, with ease.” - John Mellencamp

“When I heard the first album, I thought, ‘Wow, this is terrible.’ Nobody sang like that. After a while, I loved it, but it took a little time.” - Arlo Guthrie

“It began of course with Bob Dylan, and that must have been an incredible time; I think everything that’s happened since then came from that energy.” - Shawn Colvin

“The Basement Tapes was a big influence on me, because again, it was a seamless mixing of all these American musical forms. And they were doin’ it so easily. It was like, ‘Oh, we’re just goofin’ off,’ which is why I think it worked so well.” - Dave Alvin of the Blasters and X.

“The only way to explain his contribution is by playing his songs.” - Eddie Vedder

“After he wrote those images, thousands of young kids scribbling on their pads have tried to duplicate that and nobody’s been able to. He’s influenced every songwriter in rock and roll and folk. And whether or not he was involved in social action or not, he wrote this artillery for us.” - Joan Baez

“I’m an intense Dylan fan… I think Infidels is one of the most remarkably written albums I’ve ever heard.” - Rodney Crowell

“If I had an axe on the evening at Newport when [Dylan] broke out the electric guitar, I’d have cut his cable.” - Pete Seeger

“I always wanted to do in rap what Bob Dylan did for rock, when he picked up the electric guitar and everybody booed him, and yet he just played on, and he broke down that barrier.” - Darryl McDaniels of Run-DMC

“He was no longer doing this nasally folk thing. He was screaming his songs through the rafters, and it was like thunder. It was very dynamic, very violent, and very exciting.” - Robbie Robertson

“…You couldn’t help being influenced by Dylan.” - Al Kooper

“Coming from my background of rock and heavy metal and then blues and jazz, I wasn’t really hip to folk music in general. But when I heard ‘Positively 4th Street,’ it totally blew me away. I don’t know if it’s popular, but it’s an amazing song that everyone should know about.” - Kirk Hammett, guitarist for Metallica

“I don’t think [Dylan and the Beatles] influenced me a lot. I think it was inevitable; they were so powerful that you couldn’t really escape the influence.” - Paul Simon

“Overall, Dylan’s probably my favorite of everyone. The Basement Tapes are something I can’t get enough of and all the unoffical, unreleased basement tapes too. Desire is one of my favorite records of all time.” - Jeff Tweedy of Wilco

“Now 30 years, 38 albums, and almost 500 songs later, Bob Dylan is universally recognized as one of the most powerful creative artists of our time.” - Kris Kristofferson

“Great tunes like ‘A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall,’ or ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’ for that matter, or ‘Chimes of Freedom,’ taught me a whole lot of what songwriting essentially is about: a three-way marriage of melody, harmonic progression, and lyrics.” - Bob Weir of the Grateful Dead

“Dylan was a revolutionary… the way that Elvis freed your body, Dylan freed your mind.” - Bruce Springsteen

“But there’s still some people I admire and listen to who can’t be ignored. Dylan is the greatest living poet. It was interesting because I’d stopped thinking about the whole music business, making albums. I was quite fed up with it. Then I saw him recently and I thought, ‘Well, here’s somebody who’s still doing it and he’s good.’ It sort of gave me a kick in the ass.” - Van Morrison

Wednesday, October 17, 2007


Viewed from outside, a cathedral's windows seem drab and meaningless.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Maude's Tavern I.1


It's interesting how one's life can be changed forever by events that could easily have been otherwise. Not the big events: birth, death and marriage - you expect those to change your world. Rather, it's the little chance encounter, the brief conversation along the roadside that, years later, seems to have changed everything. The sort of thing that, looking back in one's old age, might cause a pleasant shiver, if one's not a fool.

So, while the main part of this book doesn't start until I left the Island with Sue and Joe to help them with the running of Maude's Tavern, there needs to be this long introduction going back to November 1972 when I was caretaking for the Convoluted Rock Point. Yes, quite a name for a beach place - probably ran off most of the few potential renters who heard of it. Belonging to a curmudgeonly maths professor I met at Cambridge, who understood and took pity on my mood at that time, it was a wonderful place to recover from the loss of Maria.

Back in those days, my favorite song was that old blues tune:

Old Joe Slow don't drive anymore
Old Joe Slow don't drive anymore
Don't plow thru the Beartooth at quarter to four
Old Joe Slow don't drive anymore

Old Joe Slow don't drive anymore
No oranges from Florida, no spruce from the North
West avacado don't come to your door
Old Joe Slow don't drive anymore

Old Joe Slow don't drive anymore
Old Joe Slow don't drive anymore
Just shufflin' around with eyes on th' floor
Old Joe Slow don't drive anymore

Of course, back then, and still now, I didn't sing the verse with "With the death of Maria at the wheel by his door." Still, singing those blues helped work out the sorrow and anger back then, not being able to pray.

The caretaker's shake at RockPoint was two rooms: a kitchen/bedroom/living room combo with a tiny bath run off the cistern on the roof and the garage that also held the few tools I used along with the Willys. And the lean-to off the garage for the goats. I call it a shack since it was pretty run down but it was very sturdy and would stand through several more hurricanes. The view was wonderful even if not as picturesque as at the beachhouse. As I'd scratch in the rocks for the tomatoes, squash and peas, I could look out over the ocean or over at the woody brambles where the goat (Mabel at that time, as I recall) foraged with her kid. When there were no folks staying at Convoluted [named for the coral rock with which it was partly built], I'd spear grouper and other fish in the rocks off the bay. The beachhouse having been built recently, and well, there was not much caretaking needed really - mostly just piddling around with landscaping here and there. All very idyllic and certain to work healing over time.

However, I'd only been there five years when Joe and Sue came there, in November, on their honeymoon. I generally stayed away, or at least out of the way, when there were folks renting the beachhouse and what with my shack being on the other side of the ridge from Convoluted, sometimes folks would stay there weeks and I'd never see them. Over the twenty years that I stayed there, almost all the renters wanted to think of themselves as being on a deserted Caribbean island, albeit a well-appointed one with a caretaker within calling distance should there be any problem.

I'd met the Turners at the airport when I gave them the keys and the car that they'd also rented. But that was all; as Professor Kerns had instructed, "Don't show folks the beachhouse. Just give them the keys, the car and a map and let them find it on their own. As they explore the house and the bay and find out where stuff is and how things work, Voila! the house stops being a rental and becomes their own. And they become regular customers." There are some who don't enjoy such adventure but we're all glad to terminate as soon as possible in that case.

It had been three weeks since the Turners arrived and I'd not even seen them drive by when they pulled up alongside the squash patch where I was scratching out some new plots.

"Hi, Tom. Not much soil there!"

"Well, good morning, Joe. No, just enough to hold some moisture so the plants can feed off the rocks themselves.
And the sunlight too, of course. So, you'll enjoying yourselves?"

"Oh, yes! It is, um, just what Joe and I had imagined. The bay is lovely and the house is so cozy. We'd not even be driving today except we're starving and all out of sodas. Can we get you anything?"

"No thanks, ma'am. Glad you like it here. A bottle of dark rum, maybe?"

"Oh, I'm sorry, we're too young, we'll only 17."

"Today's Sue's birthday!"

"Oh..well, happy birthday, Sue, have fun."

And I went back to scratching on the rocks and cutting brush to make soil. I slashed and burned through more than I'd ever done in a day that day, all the while thinking fitfully about building soil.

Build Soil! That's the founding endeavor of the farmer, building soil. And it takes time. Oh, you can compost and fertilize but it still takes time and patience. Especially on top of the jagged coral rocks of this Island. Folks often just burn it off and take the quick returns from planting in the ashes. That works, and has sustained the small population for many years; however, for the civilization on the Island to really flourish, you've got to turn plants to soil, not just ashes. The more succulent the plants, the better. Chopping up the woody shrubs, after the first time, doesn't give enough nitrogen for the carbon. Of course, you need to keep some of those scrub shrubs anyway, for windbreaks; otherwise, the wind and storms will take away what little soil you've gained.

I sorta enjoy working slowly, by hand, working on little pockets of soil nestled among the rock, plots not much bigger than my hand and growing slowly into one another, there being lots of them. Now that place I was at when you and Sue stopped by this morning, I've been working on it for five years now and the pockets have so grown together that it looks much like a regular garden. However, I know every inch of it, this for squash, that for tomatoes and beans over there. Over the years, folks would occasionally come by and they'd always say, "Tom, when you gonna plant something! Why, even the grass no more than gets to look like something and you cut it down and go back to scratching in the rock." And then newcomers like you'll see the garden and haven't a clue what's underneath it.

You can see the process along the edges, tho. See, over there, it looks like just scrub thicket but as we get closer, see, that chopped out place. Yes, that's a burn pile that I'll use to fertilize here and there. Here's some little grass pockets that i've turned over a couple of times. You can't be in any hurry to get results. For that matter, probably best not to aim on getting results at all, ever; rather, just work for the exercise, for the discipline, for the pleasure of the sea breeze cooling the sweat from the sun as you work. Lots of folks work themselves out in this world for stuff that sours even before they get it, got their eyes down so, they can't see the ditch they're headed for nor the glorious sunset above.

At first, when it's just bare rock it is easy to get discouraged or to fall to daydreaming unless you have patience and take a long view. There is also the other extreme, though not so much here on the Island, of soil so rich and deep that you get complacent and full of pride and have to fight off others for what's not really yours anyway.


Why death and destruction? I don't know; I asked that myself years ago and sorta concluded that wasn't the question I really wanted to ask. Why is often just a way of asking 'What must I do?' And that is a question which can be answered although, being personal, each one must pretty much answer it for themselves. However, in my own life Joe and Sue certainly helped to find the answer.

For some reason, I'd been anticipating their return ever since last November. And they certainly did burst back onto the scene: Joe bouncing out of the plane and into the airport with that strikingly sparse set of luggage and Sue alongside with a baby on her hip who waved back to the other travelers with one hand while his right hand pulled her halter top even lower. Her face lit up so on seeing me that I burst out with 'Mama, you sure look fine!'

"Hi Tom. Meet our son, Christopher."

"Howdy, young man. Ah, what eyebrows you have!" Whereupon I wiggled my eyebrows in his face but, at that point, all he could do was reply with a sort of giggle. I'd never seen a baby with such eyebrows: full and dark, darker that the little bit of hair on the top of his head. Very striking. Peculiar, in fact, and so I wasn't really surprised when Joe and Sue pretty much spent the entire month in Christopher's face, exercising their own muscles and teaching Christopher to speak, after a fashion. And, oh, can he talk pictures with those eyebrows; of course, he was just getting started back then. As was Sue, with her earnest 'I'm serious' devotion to her vocation as mother. Joe too, but for Sue it was pretty much all in all, back then at least. Injustice? Evil? Destruction? World Poverty? Sue's consistent answer to all the world's problems was for her and Joe to have another child.

Passion and good health don't generally predict a large family nowadays; however, if one's as interested in how people change slowly as Sue and as uninterested in modern fads as Joe, then a large and extended family is to be expected.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Joe's first truck

On Joe's 16th birthday, his dad give him a dump truck. Mabel was a 20 ton tandem Mack with 15' steel bed, a boy's fantasy. While Joe's youth took most by surprise, he got lots of work from the novelty. So many jobs that he soon quit school, which was a bore anyway, and took to driving backroads all over southwest Virginia, carrying rock and soil. And that also led to Sue. ...