It is mid-Lent and you stumble into a church, not because it is Lent or you have a habit of churchgoing but because you need a bathroom. You try to look like you belong there, bowing your head, making yourself a bit tense. They are just about to begin a service.
Something about the candles, the kid in the white gown holding the taper, the marble, the death, everywhere death and gloom and a lack of irony. This you want. Though you did not know it until now. Suddenly you can’t make yourself leave.
You will stay for the entire mass. And you will return, again and again.
One day you will sidle up to an usher in a green corduroy sport coat who frankly will be no help – who will not exactly fall all over himself to point you in the right direction to start becoming Catholic.
Which will only make you trust this place all the more.
You will go to a weekly class and they will tell you to find a “sponsor” (what is this, AA?) and every Sunday you will have to parade with your little group mid-service out of the church in front of the whole crowd, like a row of prisoners whose time in the activity yard is up.
Then one Saturday night you will put on a white “alb” which the harried woman whose smile you never believe and who is in charge of the whole thing has told you many many times “is your baptismal right to wear”.
And the embarrassing and surreal totality of water. They drench you. Water as you have never used it before. Water without utility. You are not swimming, nor drinking, nor cleaning, nor cooking nor washing. You are doing what? “Symbolizing”? Is that a thing one does?
You just know the feeling, the way it is on your skin. As if no argument can be made against this, if someone would ever want to. If a charitable friend might tell you, for instance, that your baptism is not really a thing that is happening to you – that it is a thing leveraged or constructed or something. But, no, it did happen to me. The water was really there. Damp towels to prove it. Why would I put myself through this bizarre pointless soaking if it wasn’t real?
Your logic actually doesn’t work that well, but for you it suffices.
And, truth be told, arguments are made against you, by people who know you, though they are never spoken out loud. You wish they would be! You want to hear them. Because really, you know better than this. You have no legitimate cover for taking such grievous measures with your life. There was no Catholic girlfriend, no pending wedding to become spiritually aligned for. There has been no vision, no astounding conversion story, no miracle of the internal organs. No bible passage randomly flipped to, revealing the foul depths of your nonetheless sacred heart.
And so people will just think you are not that smart anymore. Or maybe you never really were that smart. And once they realize this, that you went off the mental rails somewhere – or never were on those rails – they can then consign you to a part of their brains that understands this quaint, even touching turn to old-time religion.
As for you, while you could cite doctrines, beliefs and a bone-deep feeling, really it’s this: you are in the game. That’s all you really know. You’re on the field, and you want to stay there.
Are angels really those sweet, blonde-haired frilly-dressed young women with feathery wings that we set on our mantels or place on our Christmas trees? Uh. No. Angels are pure spirit and have no physical bodies. They are neither male nor female. They aren’t like us. Most of our ideas of angels come from religious art over the centuries. Because they’re so different from us, artists have had to use familiar ideas and themes to depict angels. How do you paint a pure spirit? The word “angel” means “messenger” and in Scripture angels deliver messages to us from God. So artists have shown them with wings. Often, angels would tell folks to not be afraid of them. This is understandable if an other- worldly being suddenly appears in front of you saying that they have a message for you from God Almighty. So artists have often “tamed” angels to be more human in size and dress. They were often depicted as glowing heavenly light and having haloes. It was the Victorian era that really sapped the power out of angels, giving us the soft, feminized angels we see in modern culture. Too bad for us, because angels are so much more than that.
Catholics believe that each one of us has a guardian angel who was given to us by God before we were born. They remain at our sides throughout our lives and accompany us at the time of our death. They’re with us for protection and for guidance, but we have to ask them to help us. Like God, the angels respect our free will and they won’t force themselves on us if we don’t invite them. Each angel is a unique individual with great intelligence and free will of their own. Angels are immortal and powerful beyond our imagining. We don’t worship the angels or see them as some kind of “junior” God. We ask them to help and protect us and our loved ones, just like we ask the saints in heaven for their prayers and protection. Every angel has a name, but most are known only to God, Who created them. We know only about four by name: Michael, Gabriel, Raphael and…wait for it…Lucifer. Yep, remember that the devil is an angel who rejected God. He took a lot of other angels with him when God expelled them from heaven. Lucifer uses his free will to do evil. And he’s out to get us, if we allow him. But God is more powerful than all the agents of darkness. Nevertheless, remember that not all angels are good.
I'm excerpting his top 4 reasons but the piece should be read in its entirety:
#4 Non-Catholic ridicule and estrangement Family and friends do not understand. Even when they try to understand, they will never appreciate the frustrations, study, and heart-searching that goes into becoming Catholic. Some Anglicans still call me “Father”, which makes me feel uncomfortable. Others have written terrible things about me. I’ve never been more greatly attacked for anything else in my life.
Tension often arises with parents and siblings. I’ve even heard of converts who were cut out of the inheritance because they became “Roman”.
#3 Catholic ridicule and estrangement This may seem odd, but some Catholics are suspicious of converts to Catholicism. These come in two forms. Type A is the cradle-Catholic who has all their ducks in a row and suspects the convert of being a crypto-Protestant unschooled in the ways of being Catholic. If the new Catholic prays extemporaneously, then it’s “We don’t do that.” If the convert quotes Scripture about something, they frown upon this, too.
Some Catholics also seem to think that it is helpful to ridicule my past as a non-Catholic, as if that would somehow validate me as now “one of them.” Some Catholics just love to hear converts bash their former faith. This places converts in a strange position.
Type B is the cradle-Catholic who is less committed to the distinctives of the Catholic faith. They see zealous converts as a threat. These converts are overly-concerned with dogma and truth. And this leads us to obstruction number two…
#2 RCIA (Rite for Christian Initiation of Adults) RCIA must have been invented so that every conversion to the Catholic Church might somehow be miraculous. It is becoming an element of Catholic lore that RCIA is commonly led or organized by someone who is a “type B” Catholic as described above. These people don’t seem to understand how zealous these converts can be. These leaders stress the “feelings” part of Catholicism and not the “orthodoxy” part of Catholicism much to the chagrin of the converts who have had it up to their ears in Protestant appeals to their feelings.
It’s amazing how many people “give up” in RCIA. It’s also amazing how many push on through. I know many who have had wonderful RCIA experiences, but I know many more who had to defend the Catholic faith while taking RCIA.
Just so I don’t step on any toes, I salute and applaud all the great RCIA teachers out there. I know that you’re out there and we are thankful for you! Keep up the great work.
#1 Pride I don’t know how to say this in a witty way, but pride holds the number one slot. At one point in life I felt that I was too good for all those people who respected the Infant of Prague. I’m ashamed to admit, but there it is. Why join a religion where adherents air brush images of Our Lady of Guadalupe on the hoods of their lowriders? (I grew up in Texas…) One Protestant gentlemen even told me that he couldn’t be Catholic because it was “the religion of the masses.” I asked him what he meant, and the term “Mexicans” was employed in his reply.
It’s snobbery against the religion of the masses and immigrants.
It’s just cooler to go to an Evangelical mega-church that has a pool, basketball gym, powerpoint presentations, podcasts, and a rocking “praise team.” I sometimes wish that our homilies had really cool cultural references in them or solidly crafted “gotcha” endings. Alas, this is not typical of the parochial homily.
Signs is a masterpiece and can be enjoyed if one simply interprets the film as described above. However, there is an alternative way of looking at the movie. For it can be argued that the creatures that come to earth are not aliens from another planet…but demons from Hell.
One clue to this other meaning is the seeming absurdity of the central plot element: The aliens, who possess such advanced technology that they are able to travel across galaxies, are yet incapable of breaking through simple doors and bring no weapons with them to combat their human enemy. Too, they are easily vanquished, humans learn quite accidentally, by water. Though the film was premiered to general critical acclaim, some critics blasted the script for these very reasons.
But the demon theory of the film solves this problem. The water left around the house by little Bo can be interpreted as holy water, famed among Roman Catholic exorcists for warding off demons and evil. And Bo herself? In a seemingly out-of-place exchange during the final confrontation with the creatures, Graham tells his daughter that when she was born, “all the ladies in the room gasped–I mean, they literally gasped–and they go, ‘Oh, she’s like an angel.’” In old Norse, Bo (Búi or Bua) means “to live”; the angel has brought the main weapon of life to be used against the forces of Satan. In a classic line from an earlier scene in the film, Bo wakes up her father to tell him, “There’s a monster outside my room. Can I have a glass of water?” This line deservedly elicits a great laugh from the audience; kids will be kids, right? But there is indeed a monster outside her window, as her father soon sees. Under the demon/angel interpretation, here Bo the messenger from Heaven is asking for the very weapon that she alone somehow senses will combat the demon/monster.
As in the case of the demonically possessed in the real world, Signs‘ “alien” is seemingly burnt by contact with the (holy) water. Note also that the “aliens” have cloven hooves, a classic depiction of demons in Western art since early medieval times. As stated above, the “aliens” also have no technological weapons; they rely on primarily on terror….as does Satan and his minions, who want nothing more than to have humans despair of their salvation and their survival.
Read the whole thing and think about watching the flick again.
One would be difficult, but the short stories of Flannery O’Connor landed hard on me. You could feel within them the unknowability of God, the intangible mysteries of life that confounded her characters, and which I find by my side every day. They contained the dark Gothicness of my childhood and yet made me feel fortunate to sit at the center of this swirling black puzzle, stars reeling overhead, the earth barely beneath us.
Russian military aircraft conducted aerial maneuvers around Europe this week on a scale seldom seen since the end of the Cold War, prompting NATO jets to scramble in another sign of how raw East-West relations have grown.
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization said that more than two dozen Russian aircraft in four groups were intercepted and tracked on Tuesday and Wednesday, an unusually high level of activity that the alliance said could have endangered passing civilian flights.
Military jets from eight nations were scrambled to meet the Russian aircraft, which a NATO spokesman said remained in international airspace and didn’t violate NATO territory.
However, NATO officials said such flights heighten the risks of military miscalculations. They also come at a time when U.S. officials have been voicing concern about Moscow’s actions in the wake of the Ukraine crisis, where thousands have been killed in months of fighting between the government and Russia-backed separatists.
“There is a troubling trend of out-of-area events being increasingly used by Russia along its periphery for political saber-rattling, with probing incursions by air and sea by the Russian military becoming more commonplace and flagrant,” a senior Obama administration official said. “The United States has repeatedly called upon Russia to respect international law and the sovereign territory of its neighbors.”
There was no immediate comment from Moscow, which has denied in the past that such flights were provocations.
NATO said it has conducted over 100 intercepts of Russian aircraft so far this year, about three times as many as were conducted in 2013.
What might be leading the Russians to think they can get away with these provocative acts? Why might they be doing this? Who might, in the end, be responsible for giving the impression that there's no price to pay for this sort of thing?
Questions I'd like to see the media ask the President of the United States directly.
A small asteroid, designated 2014 RC, will safely pass very close to Earth on Sunday, Sept. 7, 2014. At the time of closest approach, based on current calculations to be about 2:18 p.m. EDT (11:18 a.m. PDT / 18:18 UTC), the asteroid will be roughly over New Zealand. From its reflected brightness, astronomers estimate that the asteroid is about 60 feet (20 meters) in size.
Asteroid 2014 RC was initially discovered on the night of August 31 by the Catalina Sky Survey near Tucson, Arizona, and independently detected the next night by the Pan-STARRS 1 telescope, located on the summit of Haleakal? on Maui, Hawaii. Both reported their observations to the Minor Planet Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Additional follow-up observations by the Catalina Sky Survey and the University of Hawaii 88-inch (2.2-meter) telescope on Mauna Kea confirmed the orbit of 2014 RC.
At the time of closest approach, 2014 RC will be approximately one-tenth the distance from the center of Earth to the moon, or about 25,000 miles (40,000 kilometers). The asteroid's apparent magnitude at that time will be about 11.5, rendering it unobservable to the unaided eye. However, amateur astronomers with small telescopes might glimpse the fast-moving appearance of this near-Earth asteroid.
The asteroid will pass below Earth and the geosynchronous ring of communications and weather satellites orbiting about 22,000 miles (36,000 kilometers) above our planet's surface. While this celestial object does not appear to pose any threat to Earth or satellites, its close approach creates a unique opportunity for researchers to observe and learn more about asteroids.
While 2014 RC will not impact Earth, its orbit will bring it back to our planet's neighborhood in the future. The asteroid's future motion will be closely monitored, but no future threatening Earth encounters have been identified.
I'm no expert in what is undoubtedly a rather complex set of circumstances surrounding all these threatening pieces but I am intrigued that we would go after extremists in Somalia while it seems our attention is needed elsewhere.
Was the Somalia operation simply an opportunity not to be passed up? Why Somalia? Aren't the circumstances in Nigeria, Libya, Syria and Iraq more compelling as to the need for action?
Maybe someone smarter than I can help me understand why we're bombing in Somalia and pretty much ignoring what seems to be more threatening circumstances in other places.