Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Pope Benedict's Anniversary

Today is Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI’s 65th anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood. He’s my pope—the one in the chair when I became Catholic. I’m constantly finding more and more of his brilliant writings. So in honor of his Sapphire Anniversary, here are some of my favorite quotes by my German shepherd.

"Art is elemental. Reason alone as it's expressed in the sciences can't be man's complete answer to reality, and it can't express everything that man can, wants to, and has to express. I think God built this into man. Art along with science is the highest gift God has given him."

"Each of us is willed. Each of us is loved. Each of us is necessary."

"If an individual is to accept himself, someone must say to him: 'It is good that you exist' - must say it, not with words, but with that act of the entire being that we call love."

"Dear friends, may no adversity paralyze you. Be afraid neither of the world, nor of the future, nor of your weakness. The Lord has allowed you to live in this moment of history so that, by your faith, His name will continue to resound throughout the world."

"I have a mustard seed, and I am not afraid to use it."

"The world promises you comfort, but you were not made for comfort. You were made for greatness."

"In the course of my intellectual life I experienced very acutely the problem of whether it isn't actually presumptuous to say that we can know the truth - in the face of all our limitations. I also asked myself to what extent it might not be better to suppress this category. In pursuing this question, however, I was able to observe and also to grasp that relinquishing truth doesn't solve anything but, on the contrary, leads to the tyranny of caprice. In that case, the only thing that can remain is really what we decide on and can replace at will. Man is degraded if he can't know truth, if everything, in the final analysis, is just the product of an individual or collective decision. In this way it became clear to me how important it is that we don't lose the concept of truth, in spite of the menaces and perils that it doubtless carries with it. It has to remain as a central category. As a demand on us that doesn't give us rights but requires, on the contrary, our humility and our obedience and can lead us to the common path."

Friday, June 24, 2016

7 Quick Takes Friday (vol. 111) Brexit edition

1. The British are leaving! The British are leaving! I've been fascinated by the Brexit vote. I honestly didn't expect leave to win (I don't think most did). Honestly, I don't think it's as terrible as people are making it. Yes, the economy will suffer, but it will with any change. I think those that voted to leave had some reasonable arguments. They don't want a foreign, un-elected body making laws for them. They want localized control. However, leaving the EU has big ramifications. In my view, the biggest would be the potential breaking up of the UK, as Northern Ireland and Scotland both want to split and join the EU (as part of the Republic of Ireland and an independent state, respectively). At this point, it's too soon to actually know how it will all play out, but it's a major event that is worth investigating, even as an American.

2. Some Americans are less informed:
3. The Remain side:
4. The Leave side:
5. The result of closing the borders:
6. Potential result across Europe:
7. With the Fourth of July coming up:

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Little Polish Baby Jesus

Although I like to think my spirituality as always been Catholic, my background is still rooted in Protestantism. I don’t always understand nuances of cultural Catholicism. One reminder of this appears in almost every church I go to—sometimes in the nave or a back corner, sometimes right night to the Mary statue in the front. A tiny, odd reminder that I’m missing out on something.

I call him Little Polish Baby Jesus.

The statue’s real name (which I always have to look up) is the Infant Jesus of Prague. I don’t know how Prague turned to Poland in my mind, but this statue is thought to originally come from Spain around 1340. Statues of Infant Jesus dressed in fancy regalia were popular all over Europe in the Middle Ages. The phrase “infant Jesus” actually refers to any depiction of him before the age of 12 (Jewish adulthood). Infant Jesus statues grew popular among European nobility in the 1300s. He was often depicted carrying a globus cruciger symbolizing dominion or a bird symbolizing the Holy Spirit. Because this style was popular with nobles, they tended to dress up their statues in fancy regalia as a way to honor Christ and show his reign over the earth (as well as the devotees’ wealth and reign over their kingdoms).

In the 1550s, a Spanish noblewoman, MarĂ­a Manriquez de Lara y Mendoza, married a Czech nobleman and brought this particular statue with her to Bohemia. Some claim that the woman’s mother, Dona Isabella, received it as a gift directly from St. Teresa of Avila. Princess Polyxena von Lobkowicz gave the statue to the Discalced Carmelite friars in 1628.
The friars placed the statue in the oratory of their monastery and began special devotions to Jesus in front of it. Carmelites novices professed their vow of poverty in front of it. The Thirty Years War disrupted daily devotions there as the novitiate transferred to Munich. In 1631, the monastery was plundered and the statue was thrown in a rubbish pile behind the altar.

In 1637, a priest found the statue with its hands broken. He placed it back in the oratory and began praying. He claimed to have heard a voice say, “Have pity on me, and I will have pity on you. Give me my hands, and I will give you peace. The more you honor me, the more I will bless you.” Since then, the Infant Jesus statue has remained in view in Prague and draws lots of devotees. Nobles have donated elaborate vestments (changing with the liturgical calendar) of ermine, lace, silk, and gold embroidery as well as jeweled rings. Pope Benedict XVI donated a gold crown with eight shells of pearls and garnets in 2009. The annual Feast of the Infant of Prague celebrates when the Swedish army lifted its siege of the city in April 1639.

In the end, I just don’t get the popularity of the Infant Jesus of Prague in 2016 America. There aren’t that many Czech descendants around here, I imagine. I’m missing some cultural component that makes it click. I’ve never prayed to the Infant Jesus (although time being as it is, I understand the orthodoxy). This particular depiction just makes me think of a child playing dress-up, one that looks far too white and far too well-dressed to be Jesus.

The Little Polish Baby Jesus, who came from Spain, went to Prague, and defeated the Swedes, reminds me that sometimes, I’m just out of my cultural realm. And that’s ok. It’s not all about me. I don’t have to understand every revelation and love every devotion. Everyone, with their own personal and cultural baggage, has to work out their own path. We’re going to need different tools. He helps someone, hopefully, to draw closer to Christ—to reflect on Jesus’ humanity and innocence and divinity and dominion and blessings.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016


When I saw the trailer for Me Before You, it looked like an obnoxiously typical romance movie. Guy and girl meet, guy and girl disagree, guy and girl get over their differences and fall in love. They either wind up together (cue big kiss, end scene), or they realize their love just before one of them tragically dies (cue Nicholas Sparks). Me Before You looked like the former; it turns out to be the latter. But in this, the main character kills himself via assisted suicide. Out of love.

I had no interest in the film to begin with, and I don’t really care about how it ends. Lots of movies laud actions I disagree with. Plus I hadn’t seen the movie or read the book, so that’s not really fair. But the online response to Me Before You fascinated me and gave me a bit of hope, which is not often found on the internet.

The movie, its critics claim, reduces the main male character down to his disability. Will has been injured. He’s angry and depressed. He wants to die. And he thinks that by dying the woman he loves will have a better life, thus making his suicide a romantic gesture. He asks his family to let him kill himself and to be there for him while he does it; and they begrudgingly agree. The movie romanticizes suicide; after all, he’s quadriplegic—who would want to be him? How noble of him to end his life; now she can go out and do other things.

The group Not Dead Yet has been protesting outside movie theaters, raising awareness to how the film treats disability. Their posters say: “Me Before You is not a romance. It’s a disability snuff movie, giving audiences the message that if you’re a disabled person, you’re better off dead.” The hashtag #MeBeforeEuthanasia popped up condemning the movie’s portrayal of disability and approach to assisted suicide.

Supporting assisted suicide is saying that it’s ok to want to kill yourself if your situation is pitiful enough. It says that quality of life is more important than life itself. If you aren’t a healthy, financially stable person of the first world with a partner and friends than it’s perfectly understandable to want to die. It says that not existing is preferable to a life not perfectly controlled. Will had lots of money and medical care and a supportive family, but that wasn’t good enough.

It reminds me of another movie, one I have actually seen (and really like). In Gattaca, society has valued being “perfect” to the point that anyone not genetically enhanced is undesired and shut out from society. Vincent is conceived naturally, not in a lab that selects preferred traits. He has a genetic disposition to certain health problems, so in Gattaca’s society, he’s “less-than”— it would be better if he didn’t exist at all. On the other hand there is Jerome, the genetically-perfected man who, through an accident, is injured and bound to a wheelchair. Despite all the planning and control, Jerome has become “less-than” too, hiding away out of shame. In this world, any deviation is a source of shame, a sign that you are “in-valid” and that your life has no value.

It is revealed that Jerome’s accident was actually self-inflicted. He was expected to be the best, so after coming in second at a swimming match, he threw himself in front of a car. In the end, Jerome kills himself in an incinerator. Jerome was haunted by the pressure to be perfect; society had taught him that an imperfect life was not worth living. Even though he was healthy and smart and willing to help others, it wasn’t enough. It wasn’t enough to convince him that his existence had any value other than maximized utilitarian purposes.

Was Jerome to blame for his injuries and suicide? Yes and no. He had control of his actions. He chose to end it all. But he was also indoctrinated by a society that said those actions were alright. His life wasn’t worth society’s effort to save it. He was suffering from shame and depression, and there was no one there to offer hope or help. Similarly, Will chose to die because society taught him that suicide was a reasonable option. Instead of learning to live with a disability and seeking help for his depression, he could just end it all, and society would find it sad but understandable, maybe even romantic.

When people are suffering or going through tragedy, the solution is not for the rest of us to indulge dangerous desires. The solution is not to cast the hurt or suicidal away from our sanitized, perfect utopia of healthy, happy people. The solution is to promote life, in all its forms, with all its struggles. The solution is to hold on, to help, to befriend. Human life is innately worthy. And so I was glad to see so many people upset about assisted suicide speaking up. It gave me hope that we don’t live in a Gattaca world just yet, that perhaps the dignity of life will trump the convenience of death.

Friday, June 3, 2016

7 Quick Takes Friday (vol. 110)

I haven't done this in a long time, but since I'm hoping to get back into some sort of blog routine, this might be a good place to start. Today's Quick Takes are just funny things I've come across lately.