Wisdom doesn’t automatically come with age. I know that firsthand, and if you don’t believe me, just ask Mrs. C or any of our children. I’ve spent countless hours consuming knowledge, most of it entirely useless. And a lot of what I’ve read on blogs or in books, or heard on podcasts or, in days gone by, the radio, especially if it’s outré, stays with me so I can drag it out to amaze and astonish the unfortunate souls who have to put up with me. All that stuff came in handy at work in the days before Google, but since I’ve been retired, not very much. But here are a few things I’ve learned over the last 66 years. They’re about all the wisdom you’ll ever get from me.
- The flavor of ice cream you didn’t choose is always better.
- The number of interesting things you hear on an all-night radio show are inversely proportional to the length of your insomnia and directly proportional to how early you have to get up the next morning.
- As difficulty increases, interest decreases.
- Babies know when you’ve just fallen asleep. That’s when they cry.
- Books do furnish a room, but your wife won’t necessarily think so.
- The more you need it, the harder it is to find.
- Pride goeth before a fall, but so does almost everything else.
- The closer you are to a deadline, the more likely that the copier will jam.
- Matzoh-ball soup won’t cure a cold, but it sure tastes good.
- It’s always impossible to remember the brilliant idea you had at three o’clock in the morning after the office party, and all things considered, you’re lucky it is.
- Don’t blog at three o’clock in morning, whether you’ve been to a party or not.
- You will always just miss the bus or the subway.
- The early bird will annoy his/her spouse.
- Other people’s music is always too loud.
- You never have any pennies when you need them.
- You always notice the typos just as you’re clicking Publish.
- There’s nothing more embarrassing than having to take the pauper’s oath at the Delaware Memorial Bridge. Don’t ask. And a word to the wise: Don’t try this on the Jersey Turnpike.
- People who post lists usually have better things to do, and so do the people who read them.
Well, that’s enough of that. But do follow me so you won’t miss my pearls of wisdom about UFOs.
From the time back in the middle nineties when I first got internet access at work, I’ve frittered away many hours following mailing lists, message boards, and blogs. My choices have varied with my interests (I spent a deal of time one year reading about faux nobility: I’m still mourning the death of Prince William I of Alabona-Ostrogojsk). Then there were the Old Catholics, pretend Orthodox, and episcopi vagantes of various flavors and criminal records. You name it–hoaxes, UFOs, organized crime, classical compact disks, mathematics, genealogy, fake gurus, not-so-fake gurus, opera, philosophy, serial killers, Franciscans, horror movies, Islam, classical studies, theology, science cranks and crackpots, neo-Nazis, Tibetan Buddhists, poetry, mediums, Hasidim, magic, masonry, Kabbalah, Marxism–I can give you a URL for any or all of these.
Through the years, I’ve spent a good deal of my unproductive time following a message board called Mormon Discussions. The posters on the board are mostly ex-Mormons, with some modernist NOMs (New Order Mormons) and a smattering of more traditional believers. There is also a small contingent of “Never-Mos,” people like me who have never been Mormons, but have an interest in Mormon things. I’m not a very active poster on the board. There’s something (could be a conscience) that keeps me from being too snarky about a religion that isn’t mine. So I just pop in from time to time with the odd fact or observation.
Lurking on a message board is a lot like watching a reality show or listening to the conversation at the next table in a restaurant. There’s more than a hint of voyeurism about it. It’s peeking through the keyhole at the fight in the next room.
I’m not really sure how long I’ve been reading the board ; at least since the 20-oughts. I’ve followed board wars , vendettas, obsessions, and crusades; watched people grow from smart kids into capable scholars, relished gossip (mea culpa), grown to respect and like people I’ll never really know and to be glad I’ll never get to know some others. I’ve learned and laughed and fumed and even gotten queasy at some of the stuff that gets posted. If it hasn’t been productive, it sure has been interesting.
So to all the posters at Mormon Discussions and its founder, Dr. Shades, thanks. Here’s lurking at you.
The better part of week has passed since my last intemperate screed. I seem to have done nothing except to grieve Mrs. C, one of my very few readers, and the one with the most clout with me. She made a very good point: “Have you spent a tenth of the time it took you to write that post praying for the synod and the pope?” And she’s right.
And she’s right that I spend too much time mulling over ecclesiastical politics and not enough in more spiritually productive pursuits.
So instead of saying anything negative about anybody, I’ll be positive: God bless Cardinal Pell and the other synod fathers who asserted themselves this week.
And as for prayer: This is Friday, a good time to say the Litany to the Sacred Heart of Jesus for our church and those who guide her:
Lord, have mercy on us.
Christ, have mercy on us.
Lord, have mercy on us. Christ, hear us.
Christ, graciously hear us.
God the Father of Heaven, have mercy on us.
(Repeat have mercy on us. after each line)
God the Son, Redeemer of the world,
God the Holy Spirit,
Holy Trinity, one God,
Heart of Jesus, Son of the Eternal Father,
Heart of Jesus, formed by the Holy Spirit in
the Virgin Mother’s womb,
Heart of Jesus, substantially united to the
Word of God,
Heart of Jesus, of infinite majesty,
Heart of Jesus, holy temple of God,
Heart of Jesus, tabernacle of the Most High,
Heart of Jesus, house of God and gate of heaven,
Heart of Jesus, glowing furnace of charity,
Heart of Jesus, vessel of justice and love,
Heart of Jesus, full of goodness and love,
Heart of Jesus, abyss of all virtues,
Heart of Jesus, most worthy of all praise,
Heart of Jesus, King and center of all hearts,
Heart of Jesus, in whom are all the treasures
of wisdom and knowledge,
Heart of Jesus, in whom dwells all the fullness of the Godhead,
Heart of Jesus, in whom the Father was well pleased,
Heart of Jesus, of whose fullness we have all received,
Heart of Jesus, desire of the everlasting hills,
Heart of Jesus, patient and rich in mercy,
Heart of Jesus, rich to all who call upon You,
Heart of Jesus, fount of life and holiness,
Heart of Jesus, propitiation for our offenses,
Heart of Jesus, overwhelmed with reproaches,
Heart of Jesus, bruised for our iniquities,
Heart of Jesus, obedient even unto death,
Heart of Jesus, pierced with a lance,
Heart of Jesus, source of all consolation,
Heart of Jesus, our life and resurrection,
Heart of Jesus, our peace and reconciliation,
Heart of Jesus, victim for our sins,
Heart of Jesus, salvation of those who hope in You,
Heart of Jesus, hope of those who die in You,
Heart of Jesus, delight of all saints,
Lamb of God, who takest away the sins of the world,
Spare us, O Lord.
Lamb of God, who takest away the sins of the world,
Graciously hear us, O Lord.
Lamb of God, who takest away the sins of the world,
Have mercy on us.
Jesus, meek and humble of Heart,
Make our hearts like unto Thine.
Let us pray.
Almighty and eternal God, look upon the Heart of Thy most beloved Son and upon the praises and satisfaction which He offers Thee in the name of sinners; and to those who implore Thy mercy, in Thy great goodness, grant forgiveness in the name of the same Jesus Christ, Thy Son, who livest and reignest with Thee forever and ever. Amen.
You know, I’ve been trying (really) to be a good boy about Pope Francis, but this last week is more than I can take without spewing a little bile.
The Synod on the Family has been a joke. Held in secret so the boys can “engage in honest dialogue,” with the bishops’ “interventions” turned in in advance to prevent surprises and kept in pectore by Cardinal Baldisseri. Comes down to time for the interim Relatio to be written, the Holy Father decides the official Relator, Cardinal Erdo, can’t be trusted to stick to the script, so he kindly appoints six liberals, not all of them bishops, to “assist” him in the drafting. Never mind that there’s no precedent for that (or for the secrecy, either); it’s a new day, and besides, the pope can do whatever he wants. The result is a dog’s breakfast of ecclesiastical hand-waving that is subject to more interpretations than Finnegans Wake. Even Cardinal Erdo is unable to explain some of it, and must refer questions on the section about homosexuality to Archbishop Bruno Forte, who actually wrote it. Nobody seems to know exactly what it means by “gradualism,” what path to the sacraments by the second-married it would result in, what it really means to do about “unconventional” families, whether it means to say that there is value in a sexual orientation the Catechism teaches is intrinsically disordered. It seems to wink at its audience in the media and the Catholic left while quickly crossing itself from time to time to mollify the more traditionally inclined. What the right hand giveth, the left hand taketh away.
Moderately conservative Catholic commentators—see this blog, for example—are twisting themselves into more knots than there are in the Boy Scout Handbook trying to make the Relatio come out more or less orthodox, while blaming all the fuss on the wicked media. The media, of course, can be expected to botch any news story involving the Catholic Church, but there’s more truth than poetry to some of their rejoicing today. Then there’s the pious reflection that all synods, like all papal elections, are guided by the Holy Spirit. Anyone who seriously thinks this doesn’t know any church history. Or maybe the Holy Spirit just has a sarcastic sense of humor. I know, I know, we are to interpret things as charitably as we can. But that doesn’t mean we have to deny our consciences or our common sense.
Truth be told, things are going just about as the pope has planned them all along. It now remains to be seen if the Holy Spirit revs up the bishops to rip the guts out of the Relatio in Week 2. Even if they do, I’m sure the Holy Father and his six friends will find a way to save it.
Oh, right, the real action will be in next year’s Ordinary Synod. Maybe they’ll do a 180. Yes, but who gets to write the final document, the Apostolic Exhortation that sums up the synod’s work? That would be Pope Francis.
I know, he’s Mr. Popularity with everyone and his Aunt Sally. He was touted for the Nobel Peace Prize, for goodness sake (no doubt for not-being-Ratzinger, just as Obama got his for-not-being-Dubya). But to me, there’s always been something a little off-key about him. He establishes his humility with gestures that call attention to himself. He talks a lot about collegiality, but so far we haven’t seen much, certainly not in the last week. In fact, he seems to have accelerated the reduction of the church to the papacy that’s been going on for a long time. Oh, I know, that’s the media’s fault. But you don’t get on the front page and the six o’clock news unless you get in front of the cameras, and Francis is certainly adept at that. Alongside his morning homilies there are the deniable-but-never-really-denied off-the-cuff comments, interviews, and phone calls that call forth even more contortions by his conservative apologists. I don’t doubt that he loves Christ many, many times more than I do, and thinks he is doing what the Lord wants done for his church. But the same was true of the soon-to-be-beatified Paul VI, and the church suffered during his reign. Nota bene: I think he would be worthy to be called Blessed on the strength of Humanae Vitae alone. He paid for it, though, alas, he did little to see that it was taught in the churches. Perhaps the conservatives are right, and Francis will have his Montini moment. And maybe not.
The toothpaste has been out of the tube since the Council; St. JP II and Benedict XVI’s attempted to get at least some of it back in; now it seems the tube is being given another squeeze by their smiling successor. One time through the ’seventies is enough.
And he saith unto them, Why are ye fearful, O ye of little faith? Then he arose, and rebuked the winds and the sea; and there was a great calm.
As I’ve said before, I am a man of little faith. Today especially, I’m hanging on by my fingernails. Pray for me.
Well, it’s a long, long time
From May to December.
But the days grow short,
When you reach September . . .
That song has always been a favorite of mine. I’m a fan of the bittersweet, be it chocolate or songs. This May, though, the song hits closer to home. Back in October I officially become a “senior citizen.”
The thing of it is, I don’t feel like one. When I look in the mirror, I don’t feel resigned or indignant; I’m incredulous, wondering where this old man with the white beard and the neck bands (that’s what Google says they are) came from. I’m bewildered when someone offers me a seat on the subway. Can’t he see that I’m just as capable of standing as he is?
At sixty-five, I ought to be wiser than I was as a twenty- or thirty- or forty-year-old, at least a little. But somehow I find myself repeating the old mistakes and making new ones.
At sixty-five, I should have accumulated a useful stock of knowledge. After all, I’ve lived with (and in) books all my life, and I’ve always used them as both a resource and a refuge. Instead, I’m constantly reminded of how much I don’t know, of the deep waters I really can’t swim in. (The internet makes it worse; I discover my limitations there every day.)
At sixty-five,, I ought to be able to look back with some satisfaction at what I’ve done. But even my genuine accomplishments (and I do have some, starting with my five children) can be sources of regret for things not done or not done as well as they should have been.
Now, being sixty-five does have its advantages. There all those senior privileges: discounts at museums, on carfare, even at the opera; kind young folks giving you a seat on the subway even if you really don’t want one. And there are the drawbacks as well, aside from having a closer look at the guy who played chess with Max von Sydow in The Seventh Seal. It may be because I was so late coming to that road I was talking about, but I’m pretty tired of people looking at my son and me and complimenting me on my good-looking grandson. And then there are the disappointments—believe me, not retiring to Florida or Arizona isn’t one of them. In my feyer moods, I thought I’d give myself permission to be eccentric—all right, more eccentric—when I reached this milestone. I saw myself parading around the neighborhood in oriental robes, like Nicolas Roerich (that’s him on the upper left), or at least wearing a homburg and carrying a walking stick. But Mrs. C. put the kibosh on that. Maybe when, Deo volente, I turn seventy, she’ll relent.
Oh, and if you have a homburg or a walking stick you’re looking to get rid of, drop me an email.
Last night I dictated a post about Pope Francis. It was cranky, mannered, and not entirely coherent. Fortunately, when I tried to transfer it to WordPress, it disappeared. I’m not going to try to reconstruct it now. But let’s just say I’m puzzled and even a bit frightened about what’s been going on in Rome. Try as I might, I can’t warm up to Francis. The daily homilies, the omnipresence in the media, the (maybe not so) off-the-cuff remarks, the protracted tease about communion for the divorced, and now the rehabilitation of Fr. Fagan; it’s all too much for me.
No doubt a lot of this is a reflection of my own insecurities. Most of the time, and especially lately, my faith seems tenuous. I feel like I’m desperately trying to hold on to allege that juts out over an abyss. Maybe I’m looking for a kind of certitude that just isn’t in the cards. Maybe so much of my mind and heart is taken up by frustrations and anxieties that I can’t help projecting them everywhere. So I can’t credit myself with seeing particularly clearly. But I can be pretty sure that it would be very, very hard for me to become a Catholic today.
For now, I’m just trying to live with my uncertainties. The alternatives to the church of Peter, as far as I’m concerned, just don’t exist. But for me, at least, these are hard, hard times to be a Catholic.
It’s been a long time since I posted here. It’s not that I haven’t had anything to say, but that I’ve had a lot of trouble figuring out how to say it. And, of course, there has been my constant, but usually losing, battle with my demons.
Anyway, I’ll leave the explanations for later, if I make any at all. What, after all, is the use of talking?