"Love follows knowledge."
"Beauty above all beauty!"
– St. Catherine of Siena

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Personal Note: It’s Going to Be a Hard Advent - UPDATED

Tomorrow starts Advent.  As I’ve mentioned, my dog Brandi is in her last phase of life.    Let me bring you up to date since that post.  Actually let me go back a few days before that.  We brought her home from the Vet after her biopsy on Friday, November 22nd.  She ate sparingly that day and the next, but she did eat, but the on the Sunday she didn’t want anything at all.  I thought for sure it was a signal for the end.  I even sent an email out to a few friends asking for their experience. 

But then there was a minor miracle.  When we left the Vet's office with her Friday, the vet forgot to include her pain killer medication. Remember she had a biopsy and they opened up her entire belly. The medication was on the list but we didn't have any and the instructions said only if necessary. And then Sunday night it dawned on me that she was in pain. It was just the way she was walking that tipped me off. So Monday we called the vet and he looked into it and found they had left it out and didn't get into our bag. So I got on my horse and raced down to the vet hospital (it's like forty miles away) and picked it up and got back and gave her two pills and then she started moving better and interested in eating. It was like that all week.  Actually yesterday, Friday the 29th was the most promising in that she ate over a cup of leftover turkey in the morning and over a cup at night.

Today there was a turn.  She refused food all day long except just before we had our Vet visit in the afternoon.  Then she ate about a quarter cup of turkey.  And then at the Vet the doctor noticed her belly was distended.  It’s filling with fluid, which is a bad sign the liver is completely shutting down.  We were surprised that Brandi had not lost any weight when she got on the scale.  But it’s due to fluid retention.  I’m afraid she really doesn’t have much longer to go now.

I'm really looking forward to Advent. I need a change. Poor Brandi is dying and has only a few days, a week at the most, to live. I'm feeling all sorts of aches of love which is clearly a desire for Jesus. One day this week we will have to make the final decision, and it's really going to hurt. This Advent will be like no other. Except for my grandfather when I was young, I have never lost a loved one during the holidays, and his passing was rather sudden. May one day Christ come for the final time and bring all my loved ones back together in one embrace. Come Jesus, come.
Here's Brandi from earlier in the week resting comfortably at her favorite spot on the couch.  If you look carefully at her shaved belly, you'll see the stitches from the biopsy.

UPDATE, Sunday, Dec 1st, 9:45 PM

It came faster than we expected. The liver had shut down and she wasn't eating or urinating for 24 hours. When she finally urinated it was dark orange.  Then she threw up what water she drank. She was weak and having difficulty getting around.  It was time. This afternoon we put her down.  Brandi passed from this earth at around 3:45 PM.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Faith Filled Friday: George Washington’s Thanksgiving Proclamation

Umm, I know, it’s not Friday.  But I wanted this out for Thanksgiving, which is a Thursday.  I assume many of you have seen this, but I wanted to post it.  This is President George Washington’s Proclamation for a national day of Thanksgiving in the first year of our nation’s history.

Whereas it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor; and Whereas both Houses of Congress have, by their joint committee, requested me to "recommend to the people of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness:"

Now, therefore, I do recommend and assign Thursday, the 26th day of November next, to be devoted by the people of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be; that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection of the people of this country previous to their becoming a nation; for the signal and manifold mercies and the favorable interpositions of His providence in the course and conclusion of the late war; for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty which we have since enjoyed; for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enable to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national one now lately instituted for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed, and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and, in general, for all the great and various favors which He has been pleased to confer upon us.

And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech Him to pardon our national and other transgressions; to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually; to render our National Government a blessing to all the people by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed; to protect and guide all sovereigns and nations (especially such as have shown kindness to us), and to bless them with good governments, peace, and concord; to promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase of science among them and us; and, generally to grant unto all mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as He alone knows to be best.

Given under my hand, at the city of New York, the 3d day of October, A.D. 1789.

You can’t say it better than that.  I am thankful for so many things, but especially my family and friends and all those who stop here to comment.  God bless you all.  In a small way you are all part of this blessed life that God has graciously given me.


Sunday, November 24, 2013

Personal Note: Brandi’s Diagnosis

Last week I mentioned my Yellow Labrador Retriever, Brandi, underwent a biopsy on her liver because of high liver enzymes that would not get corrected with diet and treatment.  I also mentioned that while undergoing the biopsy they found nodules on her spleen and removed it.  Both the liver biopsy and the spleen were sent to the lab for testing.

The results are in and it’s not good.  “The spleen showed evidence of lymphoma.  The liver was consistent with cirrhosis (end stage liver disease)” and “due to severe chronic active hepatitis.”

This is a double whammy.  The liver disease might still be treatable since the liver is such a recoverable organ.  However, the lymphoma is a cancer that travels the entire body.  It’s highly unlikely it’s isolated in the spleen.  Brandi’s “prognosis is poor.”  The doctor thinks she has about six weeks or so. 

Among other drugs, she is getting prednisone which has stimulated her appetite.  She’s eating quite a bit, except her hepatic dog food, which she detests.  She’s also drinking quite a lot, and she needs to relieve herself every couple of hours.  She’s had a few accidents in the house, and they are large puddles.  We’ve limited her to the ground floor and Rochelle has been sleeping downstairs to try to take her out when needed. 

Brandi is so happy to be at home, sitting or lying down in her favorite spots.  She’s certainly not her energetic self, and she stays by one of us every moment.  She always had a special affection for my wife, and now she never leaves her side.  Let me leave it with an understatement, we are all pretty much broken up over this.

The veterinarian’s discharge report had the following statement: “Brandi is a sweet girl and wonderful patient.”  Yeah, that’s Brandi.  Even with the people who were probing and sticking her with needles, she was sweet and wonderful.

Here’s a picture I found of Brandi when one day my wife decided to put a cap on her head.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Faith Filled Friday: 50 Ways to Talk to God

I’ve never heard of Meg Hunter Kilmer but I was directed to her blog, Held By His Pierced Hands to read this remarkable piece on fifty ways to enhance your relationship with our Lord.  She refers to herself as a cradle Catholic and a revert and lists several theology degrees. 

She laments that almost half of Catholics in a survey responded that they “don’t believe God is a personal God.”  So she created this list of ways to enhance your personal relationship with our Lord.  Some of the ways are just stunning.  All fifty are intriguing, but here are a few of my favorites.

“1. Close your eyes and just repeat the name of Jesus.”

Wow, I know that’s incredibly simple but it just blew me right off my chair.  How easy.  One can do it in the middle of a boring meeting at work, during a commercial while watching TV, while waiting at a bus stop, sitting on an airplane waiting to take off, laying in a hammock on a summer afternoon.  Anywhere, anytime. 

“5. Pray the news. Beg mercy for sinners, healing for the infirm, justice and peace and God’s will in all things.”

I bet that creates so much less anxiety in reading the news. 

“20. When you kneel before the priest in confession, be mindful of the fact that you’re kneeling at the foot of the Cross accusing yourself before the God who hangs dying to save you. Hate your sin but let him love you just the same.”

“29. Some time when you’re not tired, lie down in the sun and try to be still with the Lord. You may drift in and out of sleep but you may also surrender your mind and actually manage silence.

“34. Pray for an image of your relationship with Christ–lovers, knight and squire, father and child, king and slave, comrades at arms–and learn through that.”

And finally for those who can’t muster more from their relationship with God:

“50. Go through the motions if it’s the best you can do. It’s better than nothing.”

Check out her blog and let me know which of the fifty are your favorites.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Notable Quote: From Dante’s Purgatorio, Canto 2

Shortly I’m going to have a series of posts on my reading of Dante’s second part of his Divine Comedy, Purgatorio.  I’m going to give you a little taste of it here, a section from the second canto, where Dante and his guide Virgil, newly arrived and standing on the shores of Purgatory see an angel coming toward them on the sea hoisting a ship of newly dead souls being transported.  The angel starts as a small speck in the distance but grows as it comes closer, getting intensely brighter.  Virgil orders Dante to drop to his knees and fold his hands.  As the angel beaches the ship, Dante hears the souls on board singing, Psalm 113, “When Israel went out of Egypt,” in Latin of course, the souls experiencing the same freedom from their earthly life as the freed slaves from pharaoh. 

We were still alongside the sea, like people
thinking about their path, who go with the heart
and with the body remain.
And behold, as when near the morning Mars
shines red through the heavy vapors, low in the
West, over the surface of the sea:
such appeared to me—so may I see it again!—a
light coming across the sea so rapidly that no flight
equals its motion.
After I had a little withdrawn my eye from it to
question my leader, I saw it again, grown brighter
and larger.
Then on each side of it appeared I knew not
what whiteness, and below it, little by little,
another whiteness came forth.
My master still did not say a word, while the
first white things showed themselves to be wings;
then, when he had recognized the oarsman,
he cried, “See, see that you bend your knees.
Behold the angel of God: fold your hands;
henceforth you will see such ministers.
See how he disdains all human means, so that he
needs no oars nor any sail but his wings, between
shores so distant.
See how he has them stretched toward the sky,
beating the air with his eternal feathers, that do not
change like mortal hairs.”
Then, as the divine bird came closer and closer
to us, it grew brighter, so that my eyes could not
sustain it up close,
but I lowered them; and he came to shore with a
vessel so swift and light that the waters engulfed
none of it.
At the stern stood the angelic pilot, who seemed
to have blessedness inscribed on him; and more
than a hundred spirits were sitting within.
In exitu Israel de Aegypto,” they were singing all
together with one voice, with as much of that
psalm as is written thereafter.
Then he made the sign of the holy
cross; at which they all threw themselves on the
beach; and he went away as quickly as he had
                                    -ll. 10-51

I’m using the Robert M. Durling translation, Oxford University Press, 2003.

I hope you enjoyed it.  Reading Dante is such a pleasure.  I’m looking forward to my upcoming posts.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Music Tuesday: Dog and Butterfly by Heart, for My Yellow Lab, Brandi

This is a very pretty song, probably unknown to most people.  It’s by the group Heart, led by the Wilson sisters, Ann and Nancy, and the song is about looking back to the simpler time of the female narrator’s childhood.

I post this song for my dog Brandi, who today was surgically opened up for a biopsy on her liver.  Brandi’s liver enzymes for the past four months have been getting higher and higher.  A year and a half ago she had a similar liver problem and after IV at a doggy hospital and antibiotics and special diet she recovered.  It was a near death experience for her back then.  I think I blogged about it, but that was at the J’s Café blog, which is no longer available for me to provide a link.  We never did identify the cause back then, but since she recovered, we moved on, though monitoring her liver through blood tests.

This time she has not recovered from the same medication, and so we decided that we needed to do a biopsy.  When they opened up her belly, the only unusual thing they noticed was that her spleen had several nodules on it, and so they removed it.  I guess one can live without a spleen.  Otherwise the biopsy went well.  She is currently recovering.  It will take a few days before we learn the results.  Yes, the past couple of years have been expensive, but Brandi is a love and joy.  All we can do right now is pray.

Here’s this wonderful song.



Here’s Brandi and yours truly, back in 2006 when Brandi was three.  She just turned ten.


St. Francis of Assisi, please pray for Brandi.


Saturday, November 16, 2013

Short Story Review: “The Fall of the House of Usher” by Edgar Allan Poe, Part 2

Please excuse the delay in completing my analysis of Edgar Allen Poe’s short story, “The Fall of the House of Usher.”  I’ve had a complicated last few weeks.  Part 1 can be found here.  As before, the quotes are taken from PoeStories.  As before, citation will be by paragraph number.

Now that we’ve looked at the opening paragraph and some of the story’s motifs, I think it behooves us to place the story in its form, which is Gothic fiction.   In its essence, Gothic fiction entails a story with excessive emotions, a complex and ancient abode, such as a castle, a mysterious, moribund character, an atmosphere and sense of gloom, and an element, either real or imaginary, of the supernatural, all of which add up for the reader to a state of horror.  What drives the narrative is a journey into a labyrinth, either literally through the castle or metaphorically through the psychology of the characters or the enigma of the situation and events.  Or, of course, a combination of all them.  Here in “The Fall of the House of Usher” we have the decayed, gothic mansion, the enfeebled aristocrat who is on the verge of emotional breakdown, and the buried-alive woman who breaks out of her tomb.

The character of Roderick Usher is at the heart of the story.  Here is how the narrator describes him upon first meeting. 

Upon my entrance, Usher arose from a sofa on which he had been lying at full length, and greeted me with a vivacious warmth which had much in it, I at first thought, of an overdone cordiality --of the constrained effort of the ennuye man of the world. A glance, however, at his countenance, convinced me of his perfect sincerity. We sat down; and for some moments, while he spoke not, I gazed upon him with a feeling half of pity, half of awe. Surely, man had never before so terribly altered, in so brief a period, as had Roderick Usher! It was with difficulty that I could bring myself to admit the identity of the wan being before me with the companion of my early boyhood. Yet the character of his face had been at all times remarkable. A cadaverousness of complexion; an eye large, liquid, and luminous beyond comparison; lips somewhat thin and very pallid, but of a surpassingly beautiful curve; a nose of a delicate Hebrew model, but with a breadth of nostril unusual in similar formations; a finely moulded chin, speaking, in its want of prominence, of a want of moral energy; hair of a more than web-like softness and tenuity; these features, with an inordinate expansion above the regions of the temple, made up altogether a countenance not easily to be forgotten. And now in the mere exaggeration of the prevailing character of these features, and of the expression they were wont to convey, lay so much of change that I doubted to whom I spoke. The now ghastly pallor of the skin, and the now miraculous lustre of the eve, above all things startled and even awed me. The silken hair, too, had been suffered to grow all unheeded, and as, in its wild gossamer texture, it floated rather than fell about the face, I could not, even with effort, connect its Arabesque expression with any idea of simple humanity.

In the manner of my friend I was at once struck with an incoherence --an inconsistency; and I soon found this to arise from a series of feeble and futile struggles to overcome an habitual trepidancy --an excessive nervous agitation. For something of this nature I had indeed been prepared, no less by his letter, than by reminiscences of certain boyish traits, and by conclusions deduced from his peculiar physical conformation and temperament. His action was alternately vivacious and sullen. His voice varied rapidly from a tremulous indecision (when the animal spirits seemed utterly in abeyance) to that species of energetic concision --that abrupt, weighty, unhurried, and hollow-sounding enunciation --that leaden, self-balanced and perfectly modulated guttural utterance, which may be observed in the lost drunkard, or the irreclaimable eater of opium, during the periods of his most intense excitement.

It was thus that he spoke of the object of my visit, of his earnest desire to see me, and of the solace he expected me to afford him. He entered, at some length, into what he conceived to be the nature of his malady. It was, he said, a constitutional and a family evil, and one for which he despaired to find a remedy --a mere nervous affection, he immediately added, which would undoubtedly soon pass off. It displayed itself in a host of unnatural sensations. Some of these, as he detailed them, interested and bewildered me; although, perhaps, the terms, and the general manner of the narration had their weight. He suffered much from a morbid acuteness of the senses; the most insipid food was alone endurable; he could wear only garments of certain texture; the odours of all flowers were oppressive; his eyes were tortured by even a faint light; and there were but peculiar sounds, and these from stringed instruments, which did not inspire him with horror.

To an anomalous species of terror I found him a bounden slave. "I shall perish," said he, "I must perish in this deplorable folly. Thus, thus, and not otherwise, shall I be lost. I dread the events of the future, not in themselves, but in their results. I shudder at the thought of any, even the most trivial, incident, which may operate upon this intolerable agitation of soul. I have, indeed, no abhorrence of danger, except in its absolute effect --in terror. In this unnerved-in this pitiable condition --I feel that the period will sooner or later arrive when I must abandon life and reason together, in some struggle with the grim phantasm, FEAR."  [par 8-11]

There are two points that stand out in that characterization.  The first is Usher’s intense sensitivity to sensation.  The nature of his malady is to be hyper sensitive, due to his “excessive nervous agitation.”  This takes us back to the opening quote of a heart being “strung tight” and “resounds” with touch.  The narrator tells “he suffered from a morbid acuteness of the senses,” and it touched all five senses: taste, touch, smell, sight, and sound (par. 10).  These sensations set the foundation for Usher’s ability to sense beyond human capacity, a capacity that transcends into the paranormal.  The other point is that this sensitivity is not a liberating ability but an enslaving one.  Usher has fallen into a condition alternating between vivaciously energy and depressed ennui, nervous agitation and leaden sullenness, akin to both a drunkard and an opium addict.  Notice too here the reflecting dualities.  The transcending sensations do not lead to an opening of a new horizon, but a debilitating and suffocating constriction.  Usher’s emotional state—one in which he feels he’s “in some struggle with the grim phantasm, FEAR”—reflects entombment state that Madeline, his sister, will find herself later in the story.

I would be remiss if at this point I didn’t mention the relationship between Poe, this story, and the American 19th century philosophic and quasi religious movement, transcendentalism.  The part of transcendentalism that’s relevant here is that the transcendentalists believed that God exists everywhere in everything all around us.  It’s a pantheistic belief, and through the senses God can be found.  To the transcendentalist,  though God is transcendent just beyond us with effort we can get in touch with Him.  It’s a rather blindly optimistic outlook that all things are there for the good.  Poe is strongly an anti-transcendentalist, rejecting that what the senses touch is not necessarily God, and is certainly not always particularly good.  Through the narrator’s impressions—which gave him an “utter depression of soul” in the first paragraph—there is certainly ambiguity to what he senses.  But through Usher’s fallen state we see that what he has sensed through his supernatural intuition is definitely not good and possibly evil.  Poe declares an anti-transcendental position when he has the narrator state how the atmosphere within the House oppressed his imagination, “an atmosphere which had no affinity with the air of heaven, but which had reeked up from the decayed trees, and the gray wall, and the silent tarn --a pestilent and mystic vapour, dull, sluggish, faintly discernible, and leaden-hued” (par. 4).

Another motif that is central is that of the family history.  In fact, the dilapidated house that the narrator rides up to is most certainly a metaphor for the family house of Usher.  What ails Usher is rooted in the family history, perhaps even biology: 

I had learned, too, the very remarkable fact, that the stem of the Usher race, all time-honoured as it was, had put forth, at no period, any enduring branch; in other words, that the entire family lay in the direct line of descent, and had always, with very trifling and very temporary variation, so lain. It was this deficiency, I considered, while running over in thought the perfect keeping of the character of the premises with the accredited character of the people, and while speculating upon the possible influence which the one, in the long lapse of centuries, might have exercised upon the other --it was this deficiency, perhaps, of collateral issue, and the consequent undeviating transmission, from sire to son, of the patrimony with the name, which had, at length, so identified the two as to merge the original title of the estate in the quaint and equivocal appellation of the "House of Usher" --an appellation which seemed to include, in the minds of the peasantry who used it, both the family and the family mansion.  [par.3]

Usher claims his malady is “constitutional” (that is, part of his nature) and a “family evil” (par. 10).  We see a “dissolution” in his sibling (par. 13), though it’s unclear if she suffers from the same malady.  Their demise would bring the end of the “ancient race of the Ushers” (par. 13).  It is his aristocratic past, as exalted in the song Usher composes, that stands in contrast to the dissolution of his current state.  The germ of his disintegration is in his “race” but the slow degeneration has now reached a climax in his generation.

So to pull the entire story together here, I think what the reader should focus on how the various narrative movements unwind and lead to the climax.  This is how I would list the movements, and remember the plot moves through the narrator’s first person experience:

1. The movement to meet Roderick Usher.
2. The movement to grasp Usher’s condition.

3. The movement to understand why Usher is in this state.
4. The decline and burial of Usher’s sister, Madeline.

5. The breaking out of Madeline from her tomb overlaid by the Ethelred story.
6. The concluding destruction of the house.

The plot is a progression into the labyrinth of Usher’s mental state, his sensations, his creativity through the song he formulates, through the reflection of his sister’s apparent death, and then through reactions to the story the narrator reads Usher during the storm as Usher’s sister breaks free of her tomb.

So what does these motifs and philosophic underpinning and plot all amount to?  What is the theme here?  With that I want to bring it back to the beginning of the story.  After that incredible first paragraph where the first person narrator comes up to Usher’s house and sees the reflection in the tarn, the character provides in three paragraphs the exposition of being called by Usher and their youthful history together.  But then he returns back to describing Usher’s house. 

Shaking off from my spirit what must have been a dream, I scanned more narrowly the real aspect of the building. Its principal feature seemed to be that of an excessive antiquity. The discoloration of ages had been great. Minute fungi overspread the whole exterior, hanging in a fine tangled web-work from the eaves. Yet all this was apart from any extraordinary dilapidation. No portion of the masonry had fallen; and there appeared to be a wild inconsistency between its still perfect adaptation of parts, and the crumbling condition of the individual stones. In this there was much that reminded me of the specious totality of old wood-work which has rotted for long years in some neglected vault, with no disturbance from the breath of the external air. Beyond this indication of extensive decay, however, the fabric gave little token of instability. Perhaps the eye of a scrutinising observer might have discovered a barely perceptible fissure, which, extending from the roof of the building in front, made its way down the wall in a zigzag direction, until it became lost in the sullen waters of the tarn.

The narrator gleans the “zigzag” crack that splits the house through from the roof down to the front.  The reflection provides another set of doubles—the actual, deteriorated house and the image.  What we repeatedly have in the story are contrasting doubles and fragmentation.  Let me list the doubles that I discern: sensation/reason, structure/image, brother/sister, gloried past/degenerated present, life/death, enslaved/freedom, story/reality, mental disorder/sanity, physical/metaphysical.  I’m sure with effort one can find identify even more. 

And this once again brings us back to the very first paragraph that I dissected in detail in the first blog.  There I pointed out how the pattern of the story was to build doubles, aesthetic reflections.  It is in building of doubles and their ultimate fragmentation that we arrive at the full meaning of the story.  in the story’s last paragraph, the narrator flees from the horrific death of Usher and his sister in one climatic embrace.  But as the narrator flees, he looks behind him. 

Suddenly there shot along the path a wild light, and I turned to see whence a gleam so unusual could have issued; for the vast house and its shadows were alone behind me. The radiance was that of the full, setting, and blood-red moon which now shone vividly through that once barely-discernible fissure of which I have before spoken as extending from the roof of the building, in a zig-zag direction, to the base. While I gazed, this fissure rapidly widened --there came a fierce breath of the whirlwind --the entire orb of the satellite burst at once upon my sight --my brain reeled as I saw the mighty walls rushing asunder --there was a long tumultuous shouting sound like the voice of a thousand waters --and the deep and dank tarn at my feet closed sullenly and silently over the fragments of the "HOUSE OF USHER."  [par. 47, counting each stanza of the song as a paragraph]

The fissure cracks open and splits the house apart.  The central theme of the story then, if it could be so consolidated into a statement, is that the degeneration of an individual is a schism between his senses and his reason, a separation from those he holds dear, and a fragmentation from his identity.  This story presents a gloomy vision of a broken world.  But it makes for one of the greatest short stories ever written.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Personal Note: My Letter Exchange with Cardinal Dolan

I do miss having a political blog to express my controversial opinions.  I feel like a voiceless fish out of water since J’s Café closed down.  Without a platform for my opinions, I’m mostly limited to commenting on other people’s blogs and articles. 

Though I could start a second blog for more controversial subjects, I really don’t have the time.  That doesn’t mean I haven’t been active.  A subject dear to my heart had me boiling over last month, the frequent and dastardly persecution of Christians around the world.  It was a weekly, if not more frequent, occurrence that Christians were being killed or raped or forced to flee their homes and churches.  I didn’t see much of a response from either our government, other western governments, religious leaders, especially Roman Catholics from the Bishops up to the Pope.  Oh you had the usual condemnation, but only rhetorically and tepid rhetoric at that.

I decided to write a letter of frustration to His Eminence, Timothy Cardinal Dolan, my bishop and most prominent American Catholic religious leader.  I’m going to share my letter to the good Cardinal and his reply back.  He replied almost immediately.

Before I get to the letters, let me just say that I was reluctant to post them on this blog, Ashes From Burnt Roses.  Part of the mission of this blog is to be controversy free, and that certainly means avoiding politics.  I insist on that first as a refuge from the grind of politics and hot button issues, but also to establish an environment for amicable discussion of literature and arts.  Upon reflection, I don’t think this subject is stridently political, and I can’t imagine it being very controversial, unless you’re one of those who takes part in or derives joy in the persecution.  Still there is a small element of the political in this, and for that you will have to excuse me.

 Here is my letter to the Cardinal, dated October 10th, 2013.  I believe I mailed it the next day.

 Your Eminence:

As a parishioner of St. Rita’s on Staten Island, I am blessed to have you as the head of our dioceses. Since your leadership goes beyond our local issues, I wanted to make an appeal to you on the international crises of Christians being persecuted and killed across the world, but especially in Islamic countries. It is heartbreaking that every week we have another incidence of some horrific attack on Christians.

I am praying for peace. I am praying for the end of this madness. I am praying for these jihadists to come to their senses. But praying doesn’t feel enough when our leaders are not speaking out. The president of our country doesn’t seem to be speaking out. Even our Holy Father doesn’t seem to be speaking out. Both have made some overtures in the sense of condemnation, but when the slaughter happens week after week these little condemnations become to feel hollow.

My appeal is for some coordinated effort to put pressure on the heads of these countries to stop the violence. Where are the international efforts to isolate these countries? We have a strategy to stop Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. Good. But shouldn’t an equally important strategy exist to isolate these countries as well? Where are the economic sanctions? Where are the appeals in the United Nations to hold these countries accountable? I don’t see anything being done about the slaughter.

And if you think I’m just being overly agitated over this, now a respected Vatican analyst, John Allen, has written a book on the issue, titled, The Global War on Christians. He was quoted in a CNA interview as saying, “I don’t think it takes any religious convictions or confessional interests at all to see that defense of persecuted Christians deserves to be the world’s number one human rights priority.”

I know this coordinated effort is beyond your power to make happen. So my practical appeal is for you to use your bully pulpit and influence to get the leaders of our country, the other Cardinals to influence the leader’s of their respective countries, and even our Holy Father to press this issue further. We need to continue our prayers, but we need action too. I humbly ask for you to do whatever you can and make this a priority.

Sincerely, in Christ


PS. I am aware of your recent visit to the mosque on Staten Island, and that was good. But we also need for Islamic leaders to aid in this coordination. Perhaps whatever Islamic contacts you have can also help in this coordination.

The good Cardinal then replied back, his letter dated October 17th, 2013.  I’ve blanked out my last name here but it was typed in.
Dear Mr. -------


Thank you most sincerely for your letter of October 10, 2013. Your thoughtfulness is deeply appreciated.


How grateful I am, Mr. -------, for your kindness in bringing your concern—one that I certainly share—to my attention. The persecution of and attacks on Christians across the world, especially in Islamic countries, is a serious matter which must be given careful attention by our government and religious leaders. You can be certain that I am as involved as possible--as is the Vatican.


With prayerful best wishes to you and your loved ones for a blessed fall, I am,

Faithfully in Christ,


Timothy Michael Cardinal Dolan

Archbishop of New York

He signed it T. M. Card. Dolan with what looks like a blue felt tipped pen, and just before his signature he hand wrote a little cross. He also hand wrote a little note on the side: "Read John Allen's new book, Global War."

His handwriting is very nice, way better than mine. Well, there you are. No specifics but I trust he's doing something.

And then on November 11th, at the fall meeting of US Bishops, Cardinal Dolan gave a speech urging prayer and action against worldwide Christian persecution.

Baltimore, Md., Nov 11, 2013 / 11:11 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, president of the U.S. bishops’ conference, urged his fellow bishops to be advocates of Christians persecuted for their faith around the world, encouraging prayers as well as action on their behalf.

“We bishops, as shepherds of one of the most richly blessed communities of faith on the planet, as pastors who have spoken with enthusiastic unity in defense of our own religious freedom, must become advocates and champions for these Christians whose lives hang in the balance, as we dare not allow our laudable battles over religious freedom at home to obscure the actual violence being inflicted on Christians elsewhere,” Cardinal Dolan told the bishops’ assembly Nov. 11.

and then further down:

In his address to the assembly, Cardinal Dolan said one million Christians have been killed for their faith in the first years of the 21st century, which he called “a new age of martyrs.” Citing the Pew Research Center, he said that over 70 percent of the world’s population lives in countries with restrictions on freedom of religion.

The cardinal invoked Pope Francis’ Sept. 25 general audience, in which the Pope asked Catholics whether they pray for persecuted Christians.

“When I hear that so many Christians in the world are suffering, am I indifferent or is it as if a member of my own family is suffering?” the Pope asked. “When I think or hear it said that many Christians are persecuted and give their lives for their faith, does this touch my heart or does it not reach me? Am I open to that brother or that sister in my family who’s giving his or her life for Christ?

Cardinal Dolan said these words must be answered both as individuals and as bishops. Supporting persecuted Christians should be “a defining element of our pastoral priorities,” he said.

And the Cardinal also advocated prayer and spreading the word through preaching:

In light of these grave global challenges, Cardinal Dolan made several suggestions for action.

The bishops should encourage “a culture of prayer for persecuted Christians,” both in private prayer and in liturgical intercessions, he said, noting that prayers after Mass for the conversion of Russia helped shape Catholics’ awareness of the victims of communism.

He encouraged the bishops to make others aware of the suffering of other Christians through their columns, blogs, speeches and pastoral letters. Bishops can ask pastors to preach on the topic and to launch study sessions and activist groups. They can also encourage Catholic media to “tell the stories of today’s new martyrs.”

The cardinal also stressed the importance of supporting organizations that have done “heroic work,” such as Aid to the Church in Need, the Catholic Near East Welfare Association, Catholic Relief Services and the Society for the Propagation of the Faith. He also praised the work of Protestant groups.

The bishops can insist that U.S. leaders listen to persecuted Christians and make their protection “a foreign policy priority,” he added, observing that this has not been a high priority for presidential administrations of either major political party.

I hope my letter had some impact, though I bet the cardinal had this speech in mind before my note.  But who knows?  One advocates and pushes and sometimes things fall into place.  I shall have to frame the letter and hang it in my study. The only other non form letter I ever received from an official was from President George H.W.Bush back in 1992, and that’s hanging in my study.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Matthew Monday: Autumn Leaves and the President

Part 1

It’s been a beautiful fall around here this year.  From September through October we’ve been in the 60 to 75 degree Fahrenheit range for the sixty days, and dry.  It’s hardly rained.  The product of such wholesome weather has been incredibly stunning fall colors on the trees.  I’ve meant to take pictures, but I’ve either forgotten my camera when I was out or too tied up with family and work to really get out to photo the scenery.  That’s a pity.  This might have been the best year in my life for autumn colors.  I only have one picture that I can display, that of Matthew in front of my deeply reddened Burning Bush. 



It’s not a full-fledged burning bush.  Those grow incredibly large, too large for my city house front.  This is listed as a Dwarf Burning Bush, but even at dwarf size, I need to constantly prune it to keep it a manageable size.  It’s rather ordinary during the summer, but it’s stunning in the fall.

Part 2

Let me tell a true story that happened during this week, and please I don’t mean to get political.  I suppose most of you know I’m fairly conservative politically.  I have never tried to put down Obama in front of my son. He's too young and needs to have respect for the presidency drilled in him. He is aware of who the president is, at least by face, though not by name.

But the other day while on the computer and Matthew looking over my shoulder a news article popped up with a picture of Obama. Matthew wanted to ask, "Is that the president?"

But with his four year old language skills, I guess he's not too used to using three syllable words.

What actually came out of his mouth was, "Is that the prisoner?"

I just had to crack up.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Matthew Monday: Halloween Costume

It’s been a crazy week.  Last Saturday my mother fell at two in the morning going to the bathroom.  She lives alone and she didn’t call me until six.  Actually she claims she called me and no one picked up the phone and left a message.  But there was no message.  I rushed over.  I only live five minutes away.  Her fingers had been cut, and so I took her to the emergency room. 

Given she had passed out (she believes it was for twenty minutes) they took catscans of her head and so had to wait to ensure it wasn’t a stroke.  It wasn’t but since this passing out seems to happen regularly—every few months—they held her for a few days to monitor her heart and blood pressure.  Now my mother’s heart is actually in excellent shape for her age.  In the past year she’s had a stress test and an echocardiogram, all of which shows a remarkably strong heart.  Her latest cholesterol level is an astounding 163.  But what seems to be her problem is an unusually low heart rate.  It’s always been in the fifties, and while she was hooked up to the monitor at the hospital I saw it drop to 49.  Six years ago she was also diagnosed with NeurocardiogenicSyncope, which makes her faint when she bends over and rises really fast. 

So at the hospital the talk seemed to lead that she would need a pacemaker.  But ultimately they decided she didn’t need it and just gave her an additional medicine for Orthostatic hypotension.  But here’s the kicker.  After spending three days in the emergency room on an ER bed, she developed back spasms which prevented her from walking.  She couldn’t put her feet down on the ground.  She was ready to be released but there was no way for her to take care of herself by herself.  They wanted her to go to a rehab facility, which is nothing more than a nursing home.  I couldn’t argue against it, and neither could she, but she was furious.  They actually went through with making arrangements. 

When I tell you she was mad, that is an understatement.  A nursing home is her worst fear.  I couldn’t go into her room without her cursing me.  Other than the curses, she refused to speak to me.  I finally had to leave.  Actually it’s my sins coming back to haunt me.  At times when my mother in her advanced years would do something that risked her well being, I threatened to have her put in a nursing home.  Now I didn’t really mean it.  It was just a means to get her to be more cautious, and for the most part she understood that.  But at the hospital she claimed I finally got my wish to have her put away.  God certainly was getting back at me.

Luckily the painkillers the next day enabled her to walk with a walker, and given I promised to stay with her, they released her to her home.  So I’ve been there for a few days, and slowly her back has been getting better.  She’ll have a nurse coming over to check on her and a physical therapist.  Finally I can get back to work.  Anyway, without getting into more details, that’s the story.

Through it all Matthew had a fun Halloween.  He went in a Captain America costume.  He looked great.  Here are some pictures.