Thoughts of a Catholic convert

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Friday, January 30, 2015

"Encountering Jesus"

Here's a November 2014 video of a talk between Jesuits James Martin and Richard Leonard. Fr. Martin is Skyped from New York to Fr. Leonard in Australia. The theme is "Encountering Jesus" and Fr. Martin talks about his book, Jesus: A Pilgrimage ....

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Keith Ward: another interview

I came upon this 2004 interview with Keith Ward in The Spectator - A free market in religion. Here's just the beginning ...

At nine in the morning, Cumnor in Oxfordshire looks like the setting for a Miss Marple mystery. Cotswold cottages run around the outside bend of a narrow high street and on the other side a grassy bank rises up to a graveyard. Nothing moves except the tops of fir trees growing among the tombstones.

Standing in front of St Michael’s church I can see the roof of the Reverend Keith Ward’s house. Cumnor isn’t quite the sort of parish you’d expect to find the former Regius Professor of Divinity at Oxford, a liberal intellectual whom the Archbishop of Canterbury calls ‘a much loved and admired thinker’. In his book The Case for Religion Keith Ward says that it is imperative that all religions accept that other faiths contain truth too. I wonder how that goes down during the Sunday sermon in St Michael’s ...

One down, so many more to go

On Monday I managed to capture on of the stray cats, Lucy, and we took her to the vet to get spayed. Since I didn't know if I could catch any of them, we couldn't have an appointment so we had to board her for that day and have them do the operation the next day. Then we left her there until the morning after the operation, since I didn't think I would be able to keep her restrained after we got back home. What I didn't realize was that the vet would keep her in her cat carrier the whole time because they considered her a feral cat. When we did let her out of the carrier yesterday morning, she ran off and hid. I didn't see her again until this morning ... at least I think it was her ... bad eyes ... and she wouldn't come anywhere near me. Before the vet visit she had started to trust me enough to let me pet her, but now she thinks I'm not her friend anymore :( What's depressing is that there are still five or six more female cats and three males that I guess I have to try to catch and take to the vet. I hate this.

Super Bowl commercials

I've never seen a Super Bowl on tv and never plan to, but I do hear about the commercials that are shown during the game. Most are purely entertainment, like this one about the upcoming Terminator movie ...

But this other commercial is special - Watch the First Anti-Domestic Violence Super Bowl Commercial ...

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Keith Ward interview

I came upon an interview with Keith Ward today. It was pretty interesting in that he spoke not only about religion, but he also mentioned the village where he lives, Cumnor, which was once part of Abingdon Abbey.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015


- The latest pic in my France calendar is of the town of Colmar where the Unterlinden Museum lives which contains the Isenheim Altarpiece (see above).

- On Holocaust Remembrance Day, I'd like to recommend a movie I posted about in 2010 - Nuremberg. As I wrote in my original post ... The movie (three hours long) starred Alec Baldwin as Robert H. Jackson, a Justice of the Supreme Court who was chosen by President Truman in 1945 to be the chief United States prosecutor at the International Military Tribunal, the Nuremberg trial of Nazi war criminals. Christopher Plummer played Sir David Maxwell Fyfe,1st Earl of Kilmuir, one of the British prosecutors at the trial, and Brian Cox played Nazi Hermann Göring, Hitler's designated successor and commander of the Luftwaffe .... One of the most disturbing parts of the movie was when a film made by allied soldiers of their liberating of concentration camps was shown at the trial.

- How Did the Homeless Survive Last Night?

- A new Gresham College lecture by Keith Ward, Experience and the Spiritual Dimension. Hopefully the video version will appear soon, but you can read the transcript now at the link. Here's just a bit of it from the beginning ...

[...] There may be many reasons why the word ‘spirituality’ has become important in our society. One of them is that the institutions of traditional religion have come under much criticism for their seemingly authoritarian attitudes which, both with regard to modern scientific knowledge and to rapidly changing moral beliefs, seem too many to be out of touch with reality. Another is that the encounter of differing claims to apparently absolute revelation in an increasingly globalised world has often led to scepticism about how one could possibly choose between them, and to a refusal to sign up to any of them. Spirituality can then be seen as a personal search for objective value and meaning, not restricted to any ancient authorities, but perhaps able to take some elements, and reject others, from many old religious traditions.

Later in these lectures I intend to address both these points, and argue that things are not as bad for religion as they might seem. At present I simply want to address the fact that although in Britain and perhaps in Europe generally participation in religious institutions is very low, there is still a widespread feeling that there is something more to human life than just making money and gaining pleasure or social status. There is a spiritual dimension which could give objective value and meaning to human existence, and which it might be possible to experience ...

Monday, January 26, 2015

Stargardt disease

In the news, mention of a woman with the same eye disease I have. It's rare, so I was interested. She is using eSight glasses to see her newborn baby ... Legally Blind Mom Sees Newborn for First Time Through Special Glasses. This is nice, of course, but also disappointing because the glasses can only help so much: they are like the personally wearable high tech (and very expensive) version of me making the computer screen background gray, making all the fonts huge, and lowering the brightness ... it helps me see what's on the screen better, but it doesn't make my vision normal and there's still stuff I cannot see.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Cathédrale Saint-Sauveur d'Aix

The latest photo on my France calendar is of Aix-en-Provence, where the Cathedral of the Holy Saviour lives ....

It is built on the site of the 1st century Roman forum of Aix. Built and re-built from the 12th until the 19th century, it includes Romanesque, Gothic and Neo-Gothic elements, as well as Roman columns and parts of the baptistery from a 6th-century Christian church. It is a national monument of France.

Here are some photos from Wikipedia Commons ...

One of the most well known works of art at the cathedral is the triptych of the Burning Bush, by Nicolas Froment ...

Here's a detail from the carving on the doors ...

if you click to enlarge this photo of the interior of the cathedral, you can see a large photo of Pope Francis on the wall ;) ...

Friday, January 23, 2015

American Sniper & Enemy at the Gates

Reading about the movie, American Sniper...

a 2014 American biographical war drama film directed by Clint Eastwood and written by Jason Hall. It is based on Chris Kyle's autobiography American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History. With 255 kills, 160 of which were officially confirmed by the Department of Defense, Kyle is the deadliest marksman in U.S. military history. His widow Taya Renae Kyle was heavily involved with the making of the film. The film stars Bradley Cooper and Sienna Miller with Luke Grimes, Kyle Gallner, Sam Jaeger, Jake McDorman, and Cory Hardrict in supporting roles.

Here's a review of the movie - What people get wrong about 'American Sniper' - and here's a trailer ...

I haven't seen the movie yet and I'm not sure if I will, but what struck me was its similarity to a 2001 film about another real life sniper. The movie was Enemy at the Gates, directed by Jean-Jacques Annaud, and starring Jude Law, Joseph Fiennes, Rachel Weisz, and Ed Harris.

The film's title is taken from William Craig's 1973 nonfiction book Enemy at the Gates: The Battle for Stalingrad, which describes the events surrounding the Battle of Stalingrad from 1942–1943. It is based on a duel mentioned in the book that developed between the legendary Soviet sniper Vasily Grigoryevich Zaitsev and his German counterpart, Major Erwin König, as they stalk each other during the battle.

I posted about Enemy at the Gates here - How to remain a pacifist . Roger Ebert gave the film 3 out of 4 stars and here's a trailer ...

There are some similarities between the two snipers - both were taught to use a gun hunting as boys, both were eventually confronted by expert snipers from the opposing forces, but their lives ended very differently: Kyle was murdered at a shooting range a few years after he left the service but Zaitsev lived a long life, dying at age 76 in 1991. Also different would be the perceived morality of the theaters they operated within as snipers .... Zaitsev defended his country against a Nazi invasion in what Wikipedia calls the single largest and bloodiest battle in the history of warfare, while Kyle's war and his service seem more ethically ambiguous.


A strange looking pine cone under the pine tree ...

A blue jay getting a drink at the bird bath ...

The sunny leafy path ....

Thursday, January 22, 2015

A new gospel and King Tut

In the news is the discovery of what might be the earliest gospel (of Mark) which was found in an Egyptian mummy mask ... Was oldest gospel really found in a mummy mask?, by Joel Baden of Yale and Candida Moss of Notre Dame.

As the article points out, most mummy masks were not made of gold and precious stones like that of Tutankhamun ...

But they were instead a kind of papier-mâché creation, often using documents as fodder, and thus they are a source of interest to historians ...

The article goes on to note that the actual manuscript has not been published, won't be for some time, and has only been viewed by a select few, so it's hard to determine if it really is what it purports to be. And the ethics of destroying mummy masks to get at possible ancient texts is also brought up ...

[U]ntil the scholarly world has been granted access to this papyrus, the public statements made about it are no more revelatory than if we announced that we had found Moses' private copy of Genesis in a hummus container, and we'll show it to you later. There is, however, one bit of information about this text and its discovery that can be discussed now, without having even seen it: the fact that it was uncovered by destroying an ancient Egyptian mummy mask .....

"The destruction of mummy masks, though legal, falls into an ethically gray area right now because of the difficult choices scientists have to make in the lab when working with them," said Douglas Boin, a professor of history at St. Louis University. "We have to ask ourselves, do we value the cultural heritage of Egypt as something worth preserving in itself, or do we see it simply as vehicle for harvesting Christian texts?"

Check out the article for more.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015


Tonight on the way back from the store with my sister, we almost ran over a little Chihuahua dog. My sister got out, and picked him up and took him around to the houses nearby, but he didn't belong to anyone. Guess who got dragooned into caring for him tonight. My sister promised she would take him to the SPCA tomorrow. Meanwhile it's just him and me ... and ten stray cats :( Actually, he's very well behaved and sweet. My sis bought some dog food and he inhaled it - all his ribs are sticking out. Here he is, curled up in one of my old cat beds ....

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Catholics breeding like rabbits

In his interview on the plane from the Philippines, Pope Francis had something to say about the size of Catholic families. Here's a bit from the interview (the whole thing can be read here) ...

Christoph Schmidt: [... snip ...] My question: you have talked about the many children in the Philippines, about your joy because there are so many children, but according to some polls the majority of Filipinos think that the huge growth of Filipino population is one of the most important reasons for the enormous poverty in the country. A Filipino woman gives birth to an average of three children in her life, and the Catholic position concerning contraception seem to be one of the few question on which a big number of people in the Philippines do not agree with the Church. What do you think about that?

Pope Francis: [... snip ...] the key word, to give you an answer, and the one the Church uses all the time, and I do too, is responsible parenthood. How do we do this? With dialogue. Each person with his pastor seeks how to do carry out a responsible parenthood. That example I mentioned shortly before about that woman who was expecting her eighth child and already had seven who were born with caesareans. That is a an irresponsibility That woman might say 'no, I trust in God.’ But, look, God gives you means to be responsible. Some think that -- excuse the language -- that in order to be good Catholics, we have to be like rabbits. No. Responsible parenthood. This is clear and that is why in the Church there are marriage groups, there are experts in this matter, there are pastors, one can search; and I know so many ways that are licit and that have helped this ...

The good news - the pope recognizes that having as many children as possible is not a reasonable or moral goal, especially given over-population, its carbon footprint, and climate change, not to mention poverty like that found in the Philippines.

The bad news - he doubled down on the contraception ban and instead implied that there were many other ways to limit pregnancies. One can only wonder what he meant by that .... NFP, non-procreative sex, abstinence? He fails to acknowledge that in many relationships women have little choice about if, when, and how they have sex. Of course, in most countries like the US, nearly all Catholic *do* use contraception, but in places like the Philippines, where the church still has a death grip on politics, contraception can be difficult to obtain..

Meanwhile, German rabbit breeders: Our bunnies are chaste :)

Monday, January 19, 2015

Église paroissiale Saint-Jean Baptiste

Reading today about the Église paroissiale Saint-Jean Baptiste. It's ... the main church of the small city of Niederhaslach in Alsace. The building is widely considered one of the finest and most ornate examples of Gothic architecture and Gothic art in the Bas-Rhin departement of France. Here are some Wikipedia Commons photos ...

- A wyvern in the church cemetery

- Choir stalls and the altar

- a gargoyle on the west facade of the church

Sunday, January 18, 2015


- Reading Juicing ‘guru’ mocked on Twitter for ridiculously healthy diet. My own "day on a plate" so far ... hot chocolate and pizza bunnies for breakfast, veggie chips and white tea for lunch. What's for dinner? Maybe a toasted cheese sandwich and Ranchero beans ... mmmmmm :)

- Pope stumped: Why does God allow children to suffer? The pope opined that there is no answer to the problem of evil but I think there *is* one, though I haven't figured out what it is yet.

- Thomas Reese SJ: The church is more than just the pope .... I wish he [Francis] knew how to talk about women in a way that would be more acceptable to educated women. I wish he would ask for the resignations of bishops who have lost credibility with their people by not following the church's rules on dealing with abusive priests. Amen to that!

- Decision to canonize Father Junipero Serra draws divided reaction ... When Father Junipero Serra and his cavalcade arrived at la bahia de San Diego in 1769, between 225,000 and 310,000 natives inhabited the territory that would become the state of California. The string of missions he and his Franciscan order established would become an origin story for the state, a folkloric tale of vineyards and benevolent friars, taught to students from Modoc to San Ysidro. Reality was much harsher. The Spanish flogged natives who disobeyed, banned their beliefs and customs, captured those who tried to escape. In the end, they converted less than a quarter of the population, while their livestock and disease destroyed native food supplies and decimated villages.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Mouse the kitten :)

Canal du Midi

Today's offering from the France calendar is the Canal du Midi ...

a 241 km (150 mi) long canal in Southern France (French: le Midi). It was originally named the Canal royal en Languedoc (Royal Canal in Languedoc) but the French revolutionaries renamed it to Canal du Midi in 1789. It was considered at the time to be one of the greatest construction works of the 17th century.

Friday, January 16, 2015


- Today's pic from my France calendar was of Les Menuires ... a ski resort in the Belleville valley of Les Trois Vallées between Saint-Martin-de-Belleville and Val Thorens. Owned and operated by Compagnie des Alpes, It is in the Savoie département of France. The resort has 48 restaurants, 39 ski lifts and 62 trails.

- Philippines' divorce ban - nearly unique in the world - shows church's power in country

- I saw mention of what looks to be an interesting book today: Galileo's Middle Finger: Heretics, Activists, and the Search for Justice in Science

- Tee hee ;) Heisenberg's Uncertainty principle

- Michael Novak now has a patheos blog: Coming down to Earth

- Pope Francis gives freedom of speech a cruel punch ... and ... On Charlie Hebdo Pope Francis is using the wife-beater’s defence

The Pope visits the Philippines

I see that while in the Philippines, the Pope has reaffirmed the church's contraception ban and has criticized the government for not helping the poor.

What he doesn't talk about is how the Church's opposition to birth control in the Philippines has contributed to the terrible poverty there. The Philippines has one of the fastest growing populations in Asia (100 million people), and an unintended pregnancy rate of 50%.

Mind-boggling that the Church chooses to make such a stand on such a questionable and contested teaching.

Some reading ... Family planning and the Philippines

Thursday, January 15, 2015

The Pope, Ignatius, and Jesus on punching people

The Pope has said that if people say something mean about your mom (or your religion) it's ok to punch them ... The Pope Got It Completely and Utterly Wrong

This reminds me of an event in the life of Ignatius of Loyola. Here's a description from Ignatius and the Donkey ....

Shortly after his conversion, the ex-soldier and courtier Ignatius was riding down a dusty road in Spain in the company of a Muslim Moor. They were discussing religion, and, not surprisingly, they disagreed on a few points. The Moor angrily ended the discussion and rode off. As a parting shot, he made some insulting remarks about the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Ignatius was outraged. He thought it might be his knightly duty to defend the honor of Mary by killing the Moor, but he wasn’t sure that would be consistent with his new faith. He left the decision up to the donkey he was riding. They were approaching a crossroads. If the donkey took the road that the Moor took, Ignatius would follow and kill him. If the beast took the other road, he would let him go. The donkey took the other road.

What impresses me about this story is that Ignatius told it. He included it in his Autobiography, which he wrote near the end of his life. At the time Ignatius was a much-honored churchman. He was regarded as a master of discernment and a font of spiritual wisdom. So Ignatius told a story about himself that made him look foolish and dangerously misguided. I like the humility of that decision. Ignatius is saying to me: beware of pride. You’re not as smart as you think you are.

And this makes me think of Jesus too, that guy who criticized religious authority and who advised always turning the other cheek and forgiving, even in the face of his own death. Are we to believe that if those who taunted and tortured him had instead insulted his mother, all hell would have broken loose?

I think the need to punch people who insult one's mother or religion has nothing to do with defending the honor of either. It has to do with protecting one's fragile self-esteem by silencing any challenges.

Further reading ... Even Americans Who Don't Favor Mocking Religion Support The Right To Do It ... How the Catholic Church made its peace with Charlie Hebdo ... What’s the point of lampooning religion? To upset the religious? ... Pope Francis gives freedom of speech a cruel punch ... On Charlie Hebdo Pope Francis is using the wife-beater’s defence ... Pope Francis Is Wrong About 'Charlie Hebdo.' We Have a Right to Make Fun of Religion.