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

Monday, August 27, 2018

Matthew Monday: My Little Pitcher

We went to our third minor league ball game of this year Saturday night, and the fourth when you include one major league game.  The minor league games were at the Brooklyn Cyclones ball park and the one major league game was down in Baltimore.

Matthew has become skilled at getting a baseball.  He watches the players warm up before the game and as they head to the dugout he asks for a ball.  How can a ball player refuse to give a ball to a kid?  Not easily.  Matthew now claims he’s gotten a ball in four straight games.  Saturday night some young prospect for the Brooklyn Cyclones, Manny Rodriguez, tossed him this ball. 

Another thing we did at the ball park was try the pitching velocity radar.  It measures how fast you can throw.  Here’s a video clip of Matthew.  The highest he registers is 41 mph.

Not bad for an eight year old.  His father was only able to do 47 mph.  

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Literature in the News: St. Augustine On Why We Read

This is not really a news item but an essay I came across on why we read and thought it would interest my readers.  The essay comes from the website, The Catholic Thing, and the essay is by Aaron Urbanczyk, who I have never heard of before.  Mr. Urbanczyk laments the demise of reading great books, even at a university level. 

Teaching the great texts has diminished at an astonishing rate for numerous reasons, but two in particular stand out.  For many professional educators, reading is increasingly oriented toward the marketplace and getting a job.  Furthermore, humanistic learning has been dismantled by postmodern critiques, which maintain that texts are unstable, non-signifying, and without reference to truth.

I haven’t kept up with what goes on in literature departments at universities, but when I was going to college, many professors were already watering down their reading lists in the name of diversity.  There are only so many books one can assign for class, and if you have to spread the coursework to include recent works that have not met the test of time, then you can see how a coursework gets watered down.  He continues:

At universities, the great texts are often deconstructed along lines of race, class, gender, or sexual orientation.  After several decades of such ideological demolition, students and parents have reasonably concluded that the humanities are badly politicized and irrelevant, and en masse have migrated to more sensible, practical majors.

Yes, that was already going on some twenty years ago when I was in graduate school.  So what are we missing out?  Urbanczyk finds the answer in At. Augustine of Hippo.

But why should we study the great texts? St. Augustine of Hippo provides a coherent rationale.  The often touted reasons these days for reading great texts – being “well rounded,” or articulate, or culturally “sensitive” – Augustine regards as either irrelevant or a deception. For Augustine, we read great texts for one purpose:  to become wise.  Reading for any reason other than the sapiential motive is trivial.  The Confessions offers his clearest articulation of this view; he argues there that wisdom should lead to personal transformation – a matter of life and death.

The answer is for wisdom.  The classics have demonstrated in a time tested way that their message provides truth.  I’m just going to provide one more quote:

Human beings don’t read simply for information, rhetorical skill, know-how – our real reasons are deeper. Near the end of Confessions, Augustine exclaims, “Let me confess to you [Lord] what I find in your book.” This prayer is an interpretive key to Augustine’s autobiography.  Reading great texts over many years cultivated in Augustine the habit of wisdom, which equipped him to read the one book – the Word of God – which, read well, is the transformation and salvation of the soul.

You can read the rest of his very insightful essay, here.  

I hope here at this blog I am distilling some of the wisdom from the great books for you.

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Comments to Dante's Purgatorio, Cantos VI to XI

One thing that should be pointed out is the thematic interconnectedness of cantos six, seven, and eight, all which contain Sordello as a supporting character.  In canto six Virgil and Dante stumble upon Sordello who is sitting solitary.  That he is solitary is odd and perhaps ironic given the theme of civic responsibility that is at the core of these three cantos but I do not think it was an accident as almost nothing in the Comedia is an accident.  Virgil approaches him for directions:

He did not speak to us
but let us approach, watching us
as would a couching lion.

Nevertheless, Virgil drew up closer,
asking him to point us to the best ascent.
To this request he gave no answer

but asked about our country and condition.
My gentle guide began: 'Mantua--'
-and the shade, who had seemed so withdrawn,

leaped toward him from his place, saying:
'O Mantuan, I am Sordello of your city.'
And the two of them embraced.  (VI. 67-75)

That he is compared to a lion suggests magnanimity, as most of the commentators note, but I think it also suggests a certain pride of place.  Notice he doesn’t answer Virgil’s question but returns with a question of his own on a completely different subject.  He asks from where they come, and not in respect to their journey as almost all ask, but from what country.  He asks about the homeland because he is fixated on people’s homelands, and, as we will see, his own.  Before Virgil is even able to finish the sentence—all he is able to get out is the name of his city, “Mantua”—and Sordello springs up and embraces him in an almost wild Italian burst of emotion, “O Mantuan, I am Sordello of your city.” 

Who is this Sordello?  He is a troubadour poet having died a just few years after the time Dante was born.  He wrote of love as most troubadour poets but he also wrote of government and leadership, and I think that is why he is noted here.  What’s interesting is that if you look at the details of his life he did not spend most of it in his home city of which he is so proud.  He lived in Provence and other Italian cities, but Dante has him here portray the role of a patriot. 

Then Dante the author goes onto his invective about Italian politics, contrasting the despicable infighting within each city-state and between the city states with Sordello’s simple love of one’s country.

Ah, Italy enslaved, abode of misery,
pilotless ship in a fierce tempest tossed,
no mistress over provinces but a harlot!

How eager was that noble soul,
only at the sweet name of his city,
to welcome there his fellow citizen!

Now your inhabitants are never free from war,
and those enclosed within a single wall and moat
are gnawing on each other.  (VI. 74-84)

Here patriotism is portrayed as love of fellow citizen, and Dante honors it.  It is not supercilious of others or exclusionary, but just as one has a special bond with one’s family members it is normal to have a special bond with one’s fellow countrymen.  I won’t get into the details of Dante’s invective; just let it suffice that wretched infighting is a result of political selfishness, zealously taking advantage of other city’s problems, the interference of the papacy into secular matters, the lack of Justice, and a lack of a centralizing authority to create a unified country.  In fact the one centralized authority that exists, the Holy Roman emperor, is situated outside Italy, has his own infighting to deal with in the German city-states, and has little interest in Italian problems.

All of this happens before Sordello even knows he is speaking with the great Latin poet Virgil.  Once he learns of it, Sordello who is a poet himself falls to the ground in reverence.  It is interesting that Dante delays this exchange between the two into the seventh Canto.  If you remember from my overview during Inferno, there are three main themes to the Commedia.  (1) The formation of Dante’s soul to be in harmony with God, achieved through the love of Beatrice.  (2) The understanding of a proper political order, which is delineated best by the exactness of God’s justice in the afterlife.  (3) The formation of a poetic work to reflect the beauty of God and His creation.  Sordello, both political figure and poet, inherently addresses themes two and three.  He takes the pilgrims into the Valley of the Princes, as it is sometimes called, and points out many of those rulers and administrators who in life were too busy with their governmental duties.  So civic responsibility is qualified here.  Yes, we have an obligation to our fellow citizens to support and govern properly, but it cannot be at the expense of shirking our duties to God.  There needs to be a balance.

And then in Canto VIII we meet specific rulers and administrators that Dante is familiar with.  The good judge, Nino Visconti.  (Side note: I always associate Judge Nino with the Supreme Court Justice, Antonin Scalia, who I believe was called Nino by friends.) Like many of the other penitents in purgatory, he asks to have his family pray for him back on earth, but we also get this description:

'The viper that leads the Milanese afield
will hardly ornament her tomb as handsomely
as the cock of Gallura would have done.'

He spoke these words, his face stamped
with a look of righteous indignation
that burns with proper measure in the heart. (VIII.79-84)

Notice his face is “stamped with righteous indignation,” a metaphor of stamping coins, which adds to the civic overtones of the character, and though indignant his heart burns with “proper measure,” the sort of balance of a good judge.  It should be noted that Judge Nino is the grandson of Count Ugolino who we met in hell eating on the brains of Bishop Ruggiere, and of course there is an implied contrast to Ugalino as a political conspirator and Nino as an honest judge.  And finally to cap off this sequence from Canto VI through VIII we come Corrado Malaspina, who their short exchange Dante exuberantly praises him and his family.

Oh,' I said to him, 'never have I been there,
in your country. But where do men dwell,
anywhere in Europe, that it is not renowned?

'The fame that crowns your house with honor
proclaims alike its lords and lands--
even those who have not been there know them,

'and, as I hope to go above, I swear to you
your honored race does not disgrace
the glory of its purse and of its sword.

'No matter how a wicked chief may warp the world,
privileged both by nature and by custom,
your race alone goes straight and scorns the evil path.'  (VIII.121-132)

High honor indeed.  So in these three cantos, Dante starts with simple patriotism, rants against the despicable Italian politics of his day, and ends with noble examples of how political figures should administer.


Here are some thoughts on Cantos IX through XI. 

The entrance into purgatory proper occurs in the tenth canto, which parallels the entrance into the City of Dis in the tenth canto of Inferno.  This again speaks to the high degree of integration within the work. 

In Canto IX, when the pilgrims approach purgatory’s gate, they climb three steps, hewn out of various stones.  I find the symbolism of these steps utterly fascinating.  First off, they are the same as the three steps that led to the altar in most pre-Vatican II church arrangements.  What do the three steps signify?  I can’t find an answer to that but the logical one would be the Trinity.  So Dante uses the same three steps to approach purgatory and as we see with the angel holding the keys, this is essentially the entrance to heaven.  So what else can these steps signify in Dante?  Hope, faith, and charity.  Hell, purgatory, heaven.  The first step is clear white, reflecting his image.  Some can consider this signifying sin but white is also innocence.  The second is dark and cracked, perhaps suggesting the man’s broken state.  The third is blood red signifying Christ’s redemption.  You can probably think of other things it can signify.  It’s a powerful image.

Each of the terraces will have a similar format in that there will be three images that are to work into the penitent’s soul as conditioning for holiness.   The one exception is the terrace of envy where the penitents are incapable of seeing, so there images are replaced with audio.  I should have been more specific in my summary.  The image from the New Testament is always from the live of the Blessed Mother.  Here in the terrace of pride is the image of the Annunciation, where she humbly accepts God’s will. 

The image from the secular world is a well-known story from the life of the emperor Trajan.  Preparing to go to fight his Dacian War, he is stopped by a widow whose son has been murder and she appeals to him to bring the murderer to justice.  He tries to put her off, but she says in her grief, what if you don’t return.  Trajan is supposed to have said, “My duty [must] be perform'd, ere I move hence: So justice wills; and pity bids me stay.”  The emperor at a moment of historical consequence, he is moved to compassion to fix an injustice of an almost insignificant person.  Dante considers Trajan the ideal ruler, so ideal that he is the only pagan that will be in heaven, as we will eventually see.

That the artist Oderisi, artist of miniature illuminations, is the penitent Dante meets in the terrace of pride is wonderfully ironic.  If an artist working in the smallest of scales can have such exuberant pride, what do artists working in large scale feel?  Or for Dante, who is writing an epic covering the full scope of Goad and man, life and after life, sin and redemption, what exuberance of pride must he overcome?   Pride is probably the sin that I personally feel is embedded in me the most.  As an engineer, one accomplishes many things, creating things from scratch.  Over time one’s ego gets inflated.  Many times I have pictured myself in this terrace.  I humbly pray that I can overcome my sin.  

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Gosnell, the Movie Trailer

I almost never bring up politics on this blog, but I don’t care if this is political or not.  Abortion isn’t political for me.  It is an evil that must be overturned.  That the unborn child in the womb is a living, innocent, human being with all the civil rights of any human being is a truth. The right to life is fundamental.  I am unabashedly pro-life.

Kermit Gosnell was one of the most prolific abortionist in history, a killer of not only those in the womb but also that had come out of the cervix and where he duly snipped their necks as if it were a toe nail.  He pushed the abortion procedures so aggressively he damaged women and many died under his hands.  He is considered the one of the infamous mass murderers to ever be put on trial.

And he was convicted and for many years tried to cobble together funds to make a movie.  Of course the movie industry hindered it in every way.  In all it took five years to film it and get it to the public.  Well, the movie is finally coming out and will be in theaters in October.  It’s called, Gosnell: The Trial of America’s Biggest Serial Killer.  First, here is an interview with Phelim McAleer, one of the producers, with Catherine Hadro at EWTN’s Pro-Life Weekly show..

You can also read an interview with the husband and wife producing team, Phelim McAleer and Ann McElhinney at the political news site, The Stream.  Josh Shepherd is the interviewer.  Here’s a couple of excerpts. 

The Stream: What surprised you most as you began to research this case?

Phelim McAleer: I was there for part of this trial. As a journalist, I’ve gone undercover to report on the troubles and wars of eastern Europe, Indonesia and Vietnam. This was by far the most shocking story I’d ever heard of or seen. For the media to decide it wasn’t worth covering, that was shocking.

We discovered the extent of the cover-up and the knowledge that existed in the community. That was eye-opening. Bureaucrats looked the other way for political reasons. Then heroic police detectives instigated this whole investigation. As a reporter, it’s everything you dream of in terms of a compelling story.


The Stream: How did you land Dean Cain as the film’s lead, among other stars?

Ann McElhinney: Our casting director was very good and did several casting calls. Dean Cain came on quite early and was enthusiastic about the story. He actually knew the story in advance, which was unlike a lot of the actors.

Finally here is the trailer.

Catherine Hardo mentions that some 30,000 donated to get the film made.  I am proud to say that I am one of those 30,000.  Seeing this come to fruition with the trailer brought tears to my eyes.  If you are pro-life, please make a statement and go see this film. Let's make it a record number of viewers. That will tell the abortion industry something.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Personal Note: St. Louis Airport

Speaking of pictures, I was on a business trip through St. Louis last week and came across this gender neutral bathroom in the airport. 

Have you ever seen anything like that?  I had to do a double take.  My first thought was, how many dogs actually pass through the airport to justify a doggy bathroom?  But then I read the sign carefully and its primary purpose is for service animals, which I imagine can be quite a bit with all the explosives and smuggling going on.  Still it’s funny and if you look at the second picture you can see one is suppose to clean up after the dog.

Since I’m at it, here are a few more pictures from that trip.  I took these two from the window seat on the plane.  That’s the great Mississippi River as we come in for a landing.  

Pictures don't do the river justice, though.

Finally I had a great view of the airport from my last night’s hotel.  Snapped a really nice sunset from my window.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Personal Note: Rosie's Fourth Birthday

It’s Rosie’s fourth birthday.  It just seems like yesterday she was our little pup.  You can check her puppy posts here and here.  Or you can check out all of Rosie’s posts by clicking the “Rosie” tag at the bottom of this post.  Here are some pictures from today.

That last one is me giving her a hug.  Before you ask, that’s sunscreen on my nose.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Dante's Purgatorio Cantos VI - XI, Summary

Canto VI
The pilgrims continue on in the region of those who repented short of violent death, Dante naming a number of them, all from his recent time in Italy.  Dante questions Virgil on the efficacy of prayer, and Virgil confesses that he was wrong when in his day he had written that prayer had no power to effect change.  He had been a pagan then and had not known the truth and he promises Dante that eventually Beatrice, who he will meet at the top of the mountain, will explain it further.  Wondering what would be the fastest route toward the top, the two stop a solitary figure.  Virgil asks, and the soul only asks of their birth place.  Virgil says Mantua, and the soul jumps up in excitement, embracing Virgil, and says he too is from Mantua, and his name is Sordello.  This embrace of two citizens of the same Italian city albeit separated some 1400 years provides Dante the author a digression on the dismal state of Italian politics, with its infighting, religious intrusion into the secular life, and interference and weakness of the Holy Roman emperor who is not even Italian but German.  Dante had a similar rant in Inferno

Canto VII
Continuing with the encounter with Sordello, the lonely soul asks Virgil who he was.  Virgil tells him he is the Roman poet who because he was born a pagan before Christ, he resides in Limbo section of Hell.  Sordello doing a double take suddenly realizes he is before the great Roman, Virgil, and bowed and grasped him again in reverence.  Sordello too is a poet and honored to be before the greatest of the Latin tongue.  Sordello offers himself as guide and explains that there can be no movement in Purgatory at night, so it best to find a spot to sleep.  Sordello takes them to a valley in the mountain where the souls are singing the Salve Regina.  This is a section where those who were too busy for God in their lifetimes reside, delayed from moving up because they did not have the time to fully worship God.  These are mostly kings and princes, who were occupied with their duties as heads of state.

Canto VIII
In one of the most beautiful scenes in all of the Divine Comedy, the threesome settle down to the darkening evening when a soul stands up and sings “Te lucis ante,” a hymn that requests protection from the evil forces let loose during the night, and he is then joined by the rest of the penitents, all looking up to heaven as they sing.  Dante notices that in the evening sky the four stars representing the cardinal virtues have been replaced by three stars now representing the Christian virtues.  Suddenly two angels with flaming swords fly down from heaven and take protective positions.  As the three start into the valley, upon them comes them Judge Nino Visconti, an old friend to Dante, and when he realizes Dante is still alive he asks to bring back word to his family to pray for him.  Suddenly a snake enters the valley but scrambles away when the sentinel angels swoop about, chasing him away.  Dante next has an exchange with Currado Malispina, from a family of rulers of a north Italian region.  Dante praises him and his family as the ideal rulers.

Canto IX
The pilgrims lay down to sleep in the valley and Dante has one of his several dreams while in purgatory.  He dreams that an eagle has swooped down and lifted him up into a sphere of fire where both he and the eagle were set aflame.  When he awakes he finds himself up the mountain overlooking the sea with only Virgil by his side and it is morning.  Virgil explains that they have arrived at purgatory proper now, and that while he was asleep Santa Lucia came and took him up to the main gate while Virgil followed.  They turn toward the gate, where stood an angel with a sword.  He questions them and is satisfied when told a saintly lady brought them up.  There are three steps to climb to get to the gate, and on reaching the third Virgil exhorts Dante to plead to be let in.  Dante falls to the angel’s feet and humbly asks where the angel traces seven “P’s” on Dante’s forehead.  The P’s stand for peccata, Italian for sin.  The angel uses a set of keys entrusted to him by St. Peter to open the door, and the large portal opens, squeaking on its linchpins.  Inside there is the sweet song of “Te Deum laudemus” accompanied by an organ.

Canto X
After climbing up a difficult path and squeezing through a crevice that was in the shape of a needle’s eye, the two pilgrims reach the first terrace, that of the prideful.  The mountainside is made of smooth marble and on it are three relief sculptures, one scene from the New Testament, one scene from the Old Testament, and one scene from classical Rome, all three accentuating the virtue of humility.  First is the scene of the Annunciation, with the words “Behold I am the handmaid of the Lord” etched beneath.  The second relief was of King David in humility bringing the sacred ark on a cart pulled by oxen.  The third from the life of the Emperor Trajan, who just setting off on campaign is stopped by a little widow requesting that justice be done to the murder of her son.  Trajan, who is Dante’s ideal secular ruler, stops his massive endeavor to satisfy this poor woman before continuing on.  After passing the artwork, Dante suddenly sees a group of souls walking hunched over with boulders on their backs and their heads down almost to the ground. 

Canto XI

As the penitent souls approach, Dante hears they are chanting a paraphrased version of the Our Father.  Virgil stops the penitents to ask for the shortest route up the mountain.  The soul who steps up to help is Omberto Aldobrandesco, a Tuscan nobleman, who took overwhelming pride in the history of his aristocratic family.  While listening to Omberto, another soul recognizes Dante and calls out to him.  Dante hunching down and getting a good look recognizes him as Odirisi, a great artist of manuscript illumination.  In what is now a newly gained humility he says that Franco of Bologna is the greater illuminator.  He then reflects on how fleeting how such pride of place lasts citing how Giotto has now overtaken Cimabue as the greatest artist.  He mentions how one Guido (Guinnizelli) has been replaced by another Guido (Cavalcanti) as the greatest Italian poet.  What’s even a thousand years of fame, he ponders, in that it takes that long to reach heaven once dead.  Dante is struck to humility—he knows these poets and thought himself better.  Odirisi points out politician, Provenzan Salvani, who would have been much further back in purgatory but he had humbled himself in an act to save a friend.