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Which Yana?

There were a couple of points I wanted to make in my previous post about my decades-long flirtation with Buddhism, but which I totally forgot.  That’s just as well; it’s grist for a new post, and it will allow me to expand at greater length on what I was going to say there.  In order to do that, I’ll need to do some groundwork and unpacking of just what I mean.

All major religions consist of numerous sects.  Many faiths claim to be universal, the One True Faith, the only accurate portrait of reality, the great path meant for all mankind.  Mankind, however, is a contentious thing, and one of the very most characteristic traits of human beings is their tendency to disagree.  This is as much true in the realm of religion as in politics, culture, language, and any other areas of human life.  As much as religions may preach a message of unity, in actuality they all manifest, to various degrees, disunity.

In the case of the more familiar religions, the divisions are well-known.  Christianity, for example, consists of the Catholic Church, the various branches of the Eastern Orthodox Church, and the various Protestant churches, as well as a few other smaller groups (those who are into mind-numbing detail as to the various divisions of Christianity may go here for quite a bit of religious inside baseball, if they so wish).  Judaism is divided into Orthodox, Reform, and (in the US) Conservative branches, as well as some smaller groups (Reconstructionist, Karaite, and so on).  Though Islam is less familiar in the West, the politics of the Middle East have given Westerners at least a passing awareness of the Sunni and Shi’ite sects of Islam.

Buddhism is a bit of a paradox in this respect.  Though sources vary, Buddhists probably represent no more than one percent of the population of the United States.  Despite this, it has become highly visible in the U.S. since the 80’s.  This is partly because of increased recognition of the plight of Tibet along with the concurrent popularity of the present Dalai Lama.  Moreover, many high-profile celebrities, not least of them Richard Gere, have embraced and promoted Buddhism.  Also, secularized forms of Buddhist meditation, such as Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction (among others), have come to be widely practiced even by people who do not consider themselves Buddhist at all.  Despite all this, the denominations and divisions of Buddhism are not very well-known in this country.  That, then, is where I’ll start.

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Confessions of a Pseudo-Buddhist

A few years ago I was shopping in the local grocery store.  As I was walking down the aisle, I passed another guy, whom I noticed was looking at me.  He called me by name, and I recognized him–he’d been my best friend’s roommate in college some thirty years before.  It turned out that we both lived in the same small town now.  We talked for awhile, catching up.  At one point, I mentioned in passing that I was a member of the local Catholic parish.  He looked at me somewhat askance, and then said, “I always thought you were Buddhist!”  I don’t remember how I responded to that at the time.  Thinking about it later, though, I decided, upon looking back, that I probably did come off as a Buddhist in those halcyon days of yore.  Since then, I sometimes describe myself at that point as a “quasi-Buddhist” or a “functional Buddhist”.  Maybe “Buddhist fellow-traveler” would be better.  Best of all, perhaps, as with the title of this post, “pseudo-Buddhist”.

I’ve discussed here how reading the Dhammapada caused me to become interested in Buddhism.  I read voraciously about Buddhism in the sources available to me at that time–principally books on Zen, though there were some others, as well.  In particular, I read and re-read D. T. Suzuki’s An Introduction to Zen Buddhism, a book I need to write about in detail in the future.  In conversations I’d often quote the Buddha or refer to Buddhist concepts.  I can easily see why my friend thought I was, indeed, Buddhist.  On the other hand, there was no real depth to it.  Except for brief attempts on maybe one or two occasions, I never really tried meditation (much later, after I became Catholic, I’ve done Buddhist and other forms of meditation relatively extensively).  I certainly never took refuge, the official way of converting to Buddhism.  I was vaguely aware of a Buddhist study group in the city were I was living at that time; but for reasons of which I’m unsure even now, I never made contact (I did do mediation at their meditation center many years later, once more, after I came into the Church).  You might say that such Buddhism as I exhibited was all saffron and no substance.

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Arguments Against Universalism: A Personal Encounter

Back here I discussed two forms of argument against universalism, both of which I considered to be red herrings–that is, arguments that don’t actually address the issue at hand.  The first argument boiled down to saying, “Don’t worry about the fate of others–worry about yourself.  Your main goal is to keep yourself from going to hell–God will take care of everyone else.”  This altogether avoids the issue of whether eternal damnation is just, or congruent with God’s infinite goodness, so it’s certainly a red herring.  I had this further to say about it, though:

In the interest of full disclosure, I am personally very, very allergic to the “worry about yourself, never mind about others” argument–or “pseudo-argument”, I should say–for personal reasons. I’ll elaborate those in a post soon to follow, since it would take up too much of the current post if I related them here. Keep tuned for that story.

Well, I want to relate that story now.

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A Canticle for Leibowitz

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A Canticle for Leibowitz, by Walter M. Miller, Jr., is a science fiction novel published in 1960.  The novel, divided into three parts, takes place between 600, 1200, and 1800 years in the future, respectively, chronicling a new Dark Age in the aftermath of a nuclear war.  As in the Middle Ages, the Church survives and preserves learning over the centuries until a new Renaissance can occur.  However, with the rebirth of knowledge and technology come the same forces at work a millennium earlier, and once more the world stands on the brink of nuclear destruction.  Wishing to avoid spoilers, I’ll leave it at that (you can read more in the linked Wikipedia article above).  I certainly encourage everyone to read it–no summary does it justice.  In my mind it’s one of the greatest science fiction novels of all time, and probably the greatest sf novel dealing with themes of faith and religion.  Despite this, I think anyone of any religious persuasion can enjoy the novel, and more importantly find food for thought on the topic of knowledge and whether or not mankind can use it responsibly.

Walter M. Miller, Jr. is a bit of an enigma.  He is considered one of the most important writers of science fiction of the mid-20th Century, and yet his output was small.  During World War II, he was part of the crew of a bomber that participated in a series of raids against the Benedictine Monastery of Monte Cassino.  Monte Cassino is the historic monastery founded by St. Benedict of Nursia, the father of Western monasticism, and as such the mother house of the Benedictine order.  During the Italian Campaign in 1944, British intelligence erroneously thought that the monastery was being used as headquarters for German troops, and therefore ordered the bombing raids against it.  The monastery was almost completely destroyed, with the only casualties being Italian civilians who had fled there for shelter, rather than Germans.  Ironically, German troops later did camp in the ruins of the monastery, which were good cover.  Miller was deeply traumatized by the effects of this tragic error, and the effects of this–what we’d now call PTSD–lingered for years.  After the war, Miller converted to Catholicism, which was to be a major influence on  his work.

During the 1950’s, Miller published many short stories and wrote scripts for television, winning a Hugo Award for his much-lauded short story “The Darfsteller“.  From 1955 to 1957 he published a series of novellas dealing with an order of monks dedicated to preserving human knowledge in a distant, post-apocalyptic future.  The novellas were originally titled “A Canticle for Leibowitz”, “And the Light is Risen”, and “The Last Canticle”.  In 1959, Miller substantially edited and reworked the material in the novellas and published them in novel form as A Canticle for Leibowitz.  The three-part structure was preserved, with the sections being renamed as “Fiat Homo” (“Let there be man”), “Fiat Lux” (“Let there be light”), and “Fiat Voluntas Tua” (“Let Thy will be done”).  The novel won the Hugo Award for best novel in 1961, and has been in print ever since.  After this, Miller never published anything again during the rest of his lifetime.  Despite his small oeuvre, Miller is widely considered to be one of the most influential science fiction writers of his time.

Sadly, as the years progressed, Miller became increasingly reclusive, avoiding even most of his family and refusing even to meet with his literary agent in person.  He struggled with depression and the aftereffects of PTSD.  Though he published nothing, he worked for years on the manuscript of a sequel to A Canticle for Leibowitz titled Saint Leibowitz and the Wild Horse Woman.  “Sequel” is perhaps not quite the right word–the second novel takes place in the time between the events of “Fiat Lux” and “Fiat Voluntas Tua” in the original novel.  In any case, Miller completed some six hundred pages of manuscript over a period of many years.  By the 1990’s, though, he was in ill health and suffering from writers’s block, so he commissioned sf novelist Terry Bisson to complete the novel.  According to Bisson, the vast majority of the work had been completed, and he merely tidied up the text and tied up a few loose ends.  Tragically, in 1996, shortly after the death of his wife, Miller committed suicide.  Saint Leibowitz and the Wild Horse Woman was published the following year.

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On Shaving

I don’t use a straight razor, by the way.  I don’t want to slit my own throat accidentally, after all!  I do use mug soap and a brush, though.  In any case, this post is a departure from my usual topics; but then again, variety is the spice of life.

As is the case with most young men, I found the advent of facial hair an exciting time.  My parents had bought me a shaving kit, without comment, around Christmas my freshman year of high school, or maybe for my birthday that year (which would have been the summer between freshman and sophomore year); I don’t remember clearly.  I allowed it to sit for a few months.  After all, I didn’t know what the threshold was for starting to shave (how fuzzy does the peach fuzz have to be?), and this was one of many things that Dad seemed to feel no need to discuss.  I was a first child, and Mom and Dad had me relatively late (for those days); and in retrospect, I think they often assumed that kids would “just naturally” do the various developmental things at the appropriate age.  Thus, shaving did not need to be discussed.

Be that as it may, I eventually caved in some time during my sophomore year, and shaved the fuzz off.  It was rather anticlimactic, really–not much effort at all.  I did leave the “mustache”–scare quotes intentional–intact, though, and kept it there for the rest of the year.  Alas, every young man has to go through his “pencil-thin mustache” stage, I guess.

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The Bible: Updates and Current Events

Not updates to the Bible itself, of course….  Way back here, in my first post in my series on the Bible, I had this to say:

In Lent of 2009 I decided I’d start reading the Bible from beginning to end for a third time.  I’d tried that a couple of times in the past, never having got past Genesis, or once the very beginning of Exodus.  This time, I vowed, I’d do it.  I began reading it.  Two and a half years later, I’m still at it.  At least I’ve finished through the end of Joshua, and I am confident that I will indeed finish the whole Good Book again eventually.

Alas, it is now almost seven years since I wrote that post, and over nine years since I began re-reading the Bible, and I just ran out of steam.  I have, however, started back, in a bit of a roundabout way.

This past Easter (2018) my wife, after eighteen years of marriage and twenty-one years together, entered the Catholic Church.  This was a cause of celebration in our family.  During Lent, she began using a Catholic app on her phone to read the Douay-Rheims version of the Bible.  For Easter I bought her a hardcopy, as well as getting the Kindle version for her Kindle Fire.  Since we use a common Amazon account, I put the Kindle version on my Fire, too.  I have no idea why she decided to read that particular translation.  However, since I now had it on my Fire also, I decided that I’d just jump in and start reading it, too.  It wouldn’t be bad to be rereading the Bible (again); and by reading the specific version my wife was reading, I’d be better equipped to answer any questions she had.

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The Long Journey to the Trinity

The title of this post is a slight alteration of the title of this excellent book, a translation of the Ad Monachos of Evagrius Ponticus.  I am not here applying it to Evagrius or his works, but to myself.  I mentioned back here that I was an Arian–or perhaps, better, “quasi-Arian” or “little-u unitarian”–in my younger days.  I said that a detailed unpacking of my beliefs and how they developed was for another time.  That time is now.

I grew up in a small town in Appalachia, part of the Bible Belt and hotbed of Fundamentalism, and (paradoxically) one of the most unchurched regions of the country.  I was raised in a sort of generic, culturally Protestant way, without anyone in the family formally belonging to any church.  Both my parents had been baptized before I was born, though I don’t know the details.  During my life, though, neither was a formal member of any church, nor a regular attender.  I was sent to Sunday school at a Methodist church from about the age of four until about seven; and at a Baptist church between the ages of about eight or nine and thirteen.  During this latter period, I was usually sent to vacation Bible school in the summers, at the Baptist church (and once or twice, I think, at a second Methodist church).  Every once in awhile, my mother would go to church services (this was at the Methodist church–she never attended the Baptist one, as far as I remember) and drag me with her.  “Drag” was the operative word.

I was always extremely reluctant to go to church, and never did so voluntarily.  I don’t know exactly why.  I do remember I that I associated church with fear.  I don’t clearly remember any hellfire and damnation sermons, though there may have been some.  Mom and Dad certainly never used threats of hell, as some parents did.  I remember thinking that being in an actual church involved a commitment I was unwilling to make.  I recall one time Mom dragged me to church, and the hymn being sung was, “I have decided to follow Jesus/ No turning back, no turning back.”  I mouthed the second line without singing it.  I wasn’t going to sign up for that!  I remember another time in Sunday school at the Baptist church, there was a visiting preacher, a black Baptist (there were very few black people where I grew up, so for us this was exotic).  The one thing I remember about him is that at one point he said, “When you say I’m going to follow God and get my life together tomorrow, that old devil just laughs and laughs!”  Those words haunted me for years.

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Novena to St. Dymphna

St. Dymphna Novena Prayers

Day 1 – St. Dymphna Novena

For Faith

O God, Source of our salvation, in the midst of a pagan people, Thou didst enlighten St. Dymphna by the light of the true faith, which she professed under the guidance of her holy confessor, Gerebran, with such constance that she suffered martyrdom. Through the intercession of these two saints, we beg Thee to strengthen the faith which Thou hast given us, so that by wisely subjecting our souls to Thy Supreme Authority, and by faithfully conforming our lives according to our faith, we may honor Thee with our whole heart and soul until the hour of our death. Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Pray the Our Father, Hail Mary, and Glory Be five times

Day 2 – St. Dymphna Novena

For Hope

Almighty and infinitely good God, Thou hast promised eternal salvation to those who obey Thy commandments and make zealous use of Thy graces. Through the intercession of St. Dymphna, who fled from the danger of sin by leaving the palace of her father, and who, eager to gain eternal salvation, fled to Belgium to live in poverty, we beg Thee to grant that we also, who are striving for eternal happiness, may overcome all obstacles in the way of virtue and may attain eternal salvation. Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Pray the Our Father, Hail Mary, and Glory Be five times

Day 3 – St. Dymphna Novena

For Charity

God of love, Thou art the most perfect Being, and Creator of all that is good and beautiful. Through the intercession of St. Dymphna, who in her youth loved Thee above all creatures and for Thy sake loved her neighbor as herself, as the image and likeness of Thee, as the price of the Blood of Jesus and as co-heir of heaven, be pleased to help us by Thy powerful grace, that we may faithfully fulfill the two great commandments of charity not only in word, but in action and in truth. Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Pray the Our Father, Hail Mary, and Glory Be five times

Day 4 – St. Dymphna Novena

For Piety

God, Our Creator and Supreme Master, St. Dymphna served Thee with great zeal even in her childhood, by hearing Thy word with delight, by assisting at Holy Mass with fervent reverence, and by receiving Holy Communion from the hand of St. Gerebran with tender devotion. Through her intercession we beg Thee to grant us the same virtue of piety so that, having honored Thee during this life as our Creator, we may possess Thee hereafter as our final reward. Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Pray the Our Father, Hail Mary, and Glory Be five times

Day 5 – St. Dymphna Novena

For Prudence

O God, ruler of the universe, Thou didst allow St. Dymphna to discover a helpful means of avoiding the evil intentions of her father. Through the merits of Thy holy servant, be pleased to grant that we may become, according to the words of Jesus, simple as doves and wise as serpents, so that through prudent advice and sound judgment we may recognize what we must do to achieve the great work of our salvation. Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Pray the Our Father, Hail Mary, and Glory Be five times

Day 6 – St. Dymphna Novena

For Justice

O God, source of eternal justice, Thou didst inspire St. Dymphna to flee from her country and her father in order to render to Thee that which was Thine. Through her intercession we beg Thee to make us seek after justice so that we may perform our duties toward Thee as we ought. Though Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Pray the Our Father, Hail Mary, and Glory Be five times

Day 7 – St. Dymphna Novena

For Fortitude

O God, rewarder of those who remain firm in their good resolutions, Thou gavest St. Dymphna such a love of virtue that she had the courage to suffer privation, persecution, and even martyrdom. Through her prayers we beg Thee to grant us fortitude that we may courageously and perseveringly overcome ourselves and finally conquer the enemy of our salvation. Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Pray the Our Father, Hail Mary, and Glory Be five times

Day 8 – St. Dymphna Novena

For Temperance

O God, You made St. Dymphna resplendent in the virtue of temperance so that she mastered sensual inclinations and used temporal goods prudently. With temperance she combined the beautiful virtues of modesty, docility and humility. Let us not forget that humility is called the foundation of all virtue because it banishes from the soul pride, the obstacle to grace. Through the intercession of St. Dymphna, we beg Thee to guide and direct us, so that being preserved from evil and nervous disorders, we may obey till death the commandments and counsels Thou hast given us. Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Pray the Our Father, Hail Mary, and Glory Be five times

Day 9 – St. Dymphna Novena

For Chastity

O God, lover of innocent souls, Thou gavest St. Dymphna the virtue of angelic purity which made her reserved in all her actions, modest in her dress, attentive in her conversation, upright in her character, so that she even shed her blood to preserve this precious virtue. Through the intercession of St. Dymphna, we beg thee to bestow upon us the virtue of chastity that we may enjoy peace of conscience in this life and pure eternal joys of heaven hereafter. Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Pray the Our Father, Hail Mary, and Glory Be five times

I’m posting this because of family members in need of prayer–join in, if you are so moved.  Courtesy of here.

Novena to Our Lady of Lourdes

Intro Prayer (to be said each day)

Ever Immaculate Virgin, Mother of Mercy, we call upon you as Health of the Sick, Refuge of Sinners, and Comfort to the Afflicted.

You know my wants, my troubles, my sufferings. Deign to cast upon me a look of mercy. By appearing in the Grotto of Lourdes, you were pleased to make it a sanctuary whence you dispense your favors, and already many sufferers have obtained the cure of their infirmities, both spiritual and physical.

I come, therefore, with the most unbounded confidence to implore your maternal intercession. Obtain, O loving Mother, the granting of my requests (mention them here).

Through gratitude for favors, I will endeavor to imitate your virtues that I may one day share your glory.

Daily Novena Prayers

Day 1: Our Lady of Lourdes, chosen from all eternity to be the Mother of the Eternal Word and in virtue of being the Immaculate Conception, we kneel before you as did young Bernadette at Lourdes and pray with childlike trust in you that as we contemplate your glorious appearance at Lourdes, you will look with mercy on our present petition and secure for us a favorable answer to the request for which we are making this novena.

Day 2: We give you thanks, Almighty God, for sending your Blessed Mother to the Grotto of Lourdes, saying to Saint Bernadette: I am the Immaculate Conception. O Immaculate Mary, inflame our hearts with one ray of the burning love of your pure heart. Let them be consumed with love for Jesus and for you, in order that we may merit one day to enjoy your glorious eternity. O dispenser of His graces here below, take into your keeping and present to your Divine Son the petition for which we are making this novena.

Day 3: O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee. O star of sanctity, as on that day in Lourdes you spoke to Bernadette and a fountain sprung forth from the ground, bringing with it miracles from our Lord. Now I beseech you to hear our fervent prayer and grant us the petition we now so earnestly seek.

Day 4: Queen of Heaven, we your wayward children join our unworthy prayers of praise and thanksgiving to those of the angels and saints and your own. We pray the Holy Trinity may be glorified in heaven and on earth. Our Lady of Lourdes, as you looked down with love and mercy upon Bernadette as she prayed her rosary in the grotto, look down now, we beseech you, with love and mercy upon us. Obtain for us the graces from your Divine Son and dispense them to us in in our needs, in particular for the special favor we seek in this novena.

Day 5: O Mother of God and our mother, from the heights of your dignity look down mercifully upon us while we, full of confidence in your unbounded goodness and confident that your Divine Son will look favorably upon any request you make of Him in our behalf, we beseech you to come to our aid and secure for us the favor we seek in this novena.

Day 6: O Blessed Mother, so powerful under your title of Our Lady of Lourdes, to you we raise our hearts and hands to implore your powerful intercession in obtaining from the gracious Heart of Jesus all the helps and graces necessary for our spiritual and temporal welfare and for the special favor we so earnestly seek in this novena.

Day 7: Father in Heaven, who by the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary did prepare a worthy dwelling place for your Son, we humbly beseech you that as we contemplate the apparition of Our Lady of Lourdes, we may be blessed with health of mind and body. O most gracious Mother Mary, beloved Mother of Our Redeemer, look with favor upon us as you did that day on Bernadette and intercede with Him for us that the favor we now so earnestly seek may be granted to us.

Day 8: O Mary our Queen, from heaven itself you came to appear to Bernadette in the Grotto of Lourdes! And as Bernadette knelt at your feet and the miraculous spring burst forth, O Mother of God, we kneel before you today to ask that in your mercy you plead with your Divine Son to grant the special favor we seek in this novena.

Day 9: Immaculate Mother of our Lord Jesus Christ, to you we raise our hearts to implore your intercession in obtaining from the benign Heart of Jesus all the graces necessary for our spiritual and temporal welfare, particularly for the grace of a happy death. O Mother of our Divine Lord, as we conclude this novena for the special favor we seek at this time.

Concluding Prayer for each day

O star of purity, Mary Immaculate, Our Lady of Lourdes, glorious in your assumption, triumphant in your coronation, show unto us the mercy of thy Son. Virgin Mary, Queen and Mother, be our comfort, hope, strength, and consolation. Amen.

Our Lady of Lourdes, pray for us.
Saint Bernadette, pray for us.

I’m posting this because of family members in need of prayer–join in, if you are so moved.  Courtesy of here.

Your Own Personal Altar: Index

This index is not actually for religious-oriented stuff, at least not specifically.  I have an ongoing series, Your Own Personal Canon, in which I look at various books, both religious and secular, that have been a big influence in my life.  In a related vein, here I want to look at individuals–men and women–who have been influential to me, or who are personal heroes, or whom I hold in great respect.  I debated what title to give this series.  I thought about something to do with saints; but there will be non-religiously oriented individuals here, and certainly many who are not “official” saints.  I thought about “Hall of Fame”, but that sounds crass.  Finally, I thought of the shrine tables of many cultures on which the images not only of saints, bodhisattvas, deities, and such are placed, but also the images of illustrious ancestors and culture heroes.  Such tables are most accurately described as “shrines”, but they’re often referred to in contemporary discourse as “altars”.  That’s not really correct, since an altar implies a sacrifice; but I decided just to go with it.  Thus, here I will give links to articles on the various worthies about whom I will write in future posts.

Omar Khayyám

Simone Weil

Joshu

Hypatia of Alexandria