Category Archives: Lewis Crusade

Interesting quote from the _Compendium_

I was drafting a comment, and possibly a blog post, on the notion of “living wage” and while searching the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church for what it says about “wages,” I found the following:

The rights of persons with disabilities need to be promoted with effective and appropriate measures: “It would be radically unworthy of man, and a denial of our common humanity, to admit to the life of the community, and thus admit to work, only those who are fully functional. To do so would be to practise a serious form of discrimination, that of the strong and healthy against the weak and sick”[292]. Great attention must be paid not only to the physical and psychological work conditions, to a just wage, to the possibility of promotion and the elimination of obstacles, but also to the affective and sexual dimensions of persons with disabilities: “They too need to love and to be loved, they need tenderness, closeness and intimacy”[293], according to their capacities and with respect for the moral order, which is the same for the non-handicapped and the handicapped alike.

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Why Kenny Rogers and John Lennon were wrong

“The best that you can hope for is to die in your sleep,” said one.
“Imagine all the people living for today,” said the other.

Our neighbors like to have bonfires on the weekends and play the radio.  Usually, they do it in fall and our relatively mild winters, but, given the bad winter we’ve had, coupled with yard debris, they’ve been having them the last several weekends.  When we were leaving for Mass, the repulsive “Imagine” started playing on the radio at the neighbors’.  I quickly started the car engine, knowing it was on Casting Crowns.  I thought about switching to Fr. Antonio Vivaldi’s _Four Seasons_, but figured I’d rather hear content to get Lennon’s book of Marx out of my head (so to speak; “Imagine” came out nearly a year after “American Pie”).  I didn’t, and it fit in with the weekend’s meditations.

“Imagine all the people living for today”??
That’s exactly why we’re in the mess we’re in.  That’s what Thomas Hobbes famously describes as the state of nature: the war of “all against all” because everyone is “living for the moment,” and “the life of man [is] solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”

"YOLO? No, bro"

Living for today is a good thing if you’re focused on the eternal “today” that is our destiny.

In his address at the 1998 Seattle C. S. Lewis Institute, Peter Kreeft quoted Voltaire saying that too many people had their minds on Heaven and Hell and not on France.  “I don’t know where Voltaire is now,” said Kreeft, “but, wherever he is, he’s not in France.”

Me with Peter Kreeft and Tom Howard

Me with Peter Kreeft and Tom Howard

Liturgically, this weekend’s theme of course was resurrection in anticipation of the upcoming Easter.  Saturday, we also celebrated the Memorial of St. Vincent Ferrer, known for his preaching on the Last Things, for promoting the following:

Prayer of St. Vincent Ferrer to be Sinless at the Hour of Death

Lord Jesus Christ, who willest that no man should perish, and to whom supplication is never made without the hope of mercy, for Thou saidst with Thine own holy and blessed lips: “All things whatsoever ye shall ask in My name, shall be done unto you”; I ask of Thee, O Lord, for Thy holy name’s sake, to grant me at the hour of my death full consciousness and the power of speech, sincere contrition for my sins, true faith, firm hope and perfect charity, that I may be able to say unto Thee with a clean heart: Into Thy hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit: Thou hast redeemed me, O God of truth, who art blessed forever and ever. Amen. 

As we usually do, ironically, when I actually make it to Mass with my family, we went to the “last chance” college Mass, with a very kindly priest of the Holy Father’s generation who tends to overemphasize, as it were, “Niceness.”  He gives pleasant, uplifting homilies but never really challenges people.   He has a lot of good qualities, but I found his homily a bit lacking in the caution that should come with these themes.

“I am one of those who believe this life isn’t all there is.”
I should hope so.
He emphasized, “But if Christ is in you,
although the body is dead because of sin,
the spirit is alive because of righteousness.” (Rom 8:10).

He kind of left out the conditions “if” and “because of righteousness” and went with, “Christ is in all of us, so we’re all going to be together.”  He phrased it in that “ambiguous” manner that typifies his era, but he definitely promoted presumption.
I don’t know if it was posted because of St. Vincent, or the Sunday liturgy, or just an act of Divine Inspiration, but a blogger who goes by Tantamergo at “Dallas Area Catholics” posted a great piece on praying for a Happy Death, particularly praying for the opportunity to be conscious, as St. Vincent recommends above, so we can invoke Our Lady in our dying days, with various examples from Saints to that effect.
Thus, it was dismaying coming into Mass with those things in mind to hear Father say how most of his family were dead, and they’d all died of cancer, and he hoped to be fortunate enough to die in his sleep or suddenly!
No, the best we can hope for is not to die in our sleep; it is to die fully aware so that we’re not further punished for putting off our repentance.

Reports claim that Yellowstone is getting closer to eruption, and the animals are fleeing.   Others say that the supervolcano theory hasn’t been proven, that the animals are just engaging in normal migration, etc.  I say that, obviously, if they knew it was going to happen, they wouldn’t want to trigger mass chaos by saying that a mass extinction event is coming.  Either way, whether it’s Yellowstone, cancer, a heart attack, a gang playing the “knock out game,” or the proverbial bus, we must all heed Our Lord’s warning to store up treasure in Heaven, not on Earth.  Whether we die tomorrow or 90 years from now, we’ll still face the same personal judgement and the same two options for Eternity.  We worry so much about preparing for “retirement,” or how to survive various disasters, but do we worry about what will happen if we die a sudden and unprovided death?

Daily examination of conscience
Daily devotion to Our Lady and to Our Lord’s Passion
Self-sacrifice and almsgiving
Frequent recourse to the Sacraments
and, most of all
Praying daily that we and our loved ones will experience a “Happy Death,” with complete Confession, the Anointing, Viaticum, and the Apostolic Blessing (collectively, “Last Rites”).

These must be everyone’s priorities.

Check this out

David Alexander, aka “The Man with the Black Hat,” has done me the honor of quoting me in his piece on the first anniversary of His Holiness Pope Francis.  When he asked me if he could quote a reply I made to one of hsi Facebook posts (basically a summary of my entire “take” on Francis), I agreed, assuming he was assembling a bunch of quotes from different people.  I was honored when he quoted me as extensively as he did and as basically the only such quotation he used.  Please return the favor by reading his piece, but basically I was saying, which David elaborates on, that people either criticize or praise Francis for supposedly not being as academic as his immediate predecessors, but the problem, to my mind, is the opposite: when I read Bl. John Paul II and Benedict XVI, I feel like I’m reading teachers–really smart teachers who use big words, but teachers nonetheless–when I read Francis, I feel like I’m reading a scholar: someone who knows his stuff and assumes you do, too.  Put another way, as people like to treat them like The Only Three  Popes Who Have Ever Existed, and find “common themes,” and using Francis’s “field hospital” metaphor, JPII was our Bachelor’s advisor; B16 was our doctoral advisor; Francis is the hospital director managing our residency.  He expects us, rightly or wrongly, to know everything the others tried to teach us and is talking about application.

What if you could go back in time and kill Hitler?

A powerful speech.  Even if you don’t usually watch videos online, you really should listen to this one.  It speaks for itself, especially regarding judging others.  It’s a talk by genetics pioneer, Down syndrome researcher and outspoken pro-life leader Dr. Jerome Lejeune, whose Cause is being initiated, telling a powerful story about the dangers of judging based upon appearances, and the problem of eugenics:

One of the best analyses of the “Disney Issue” I’ve ever read

This review of Frozen by one Brian Brown is one of the best articles on the topic of children’s movie themes in general I’ve ever read.

Brown talks about people’s obsession over superficial things like magic (even G. K. Chesterton addressed Christians who censored superficial stuff) and yet disregarded the more substantive themes of Disney movies, like the New Agey “follow your heart,” “believe in yourself” nonsense, which Frozen completely undermines.  Says Brown:

The cumulative effect is a story with moral complexity and truth that destroys anything Disney has ever done, but is very much in the Pixar tradition (if, even there, above average). There are people out there (though they don’t seem to be writing reviews) who let the film speak for itself outside of the context of an anti-Disney bias—and I suspect they saw something like what I saw: a film that made them think, for 100 glorious minutes, that maybe great fairy tales aren’t dead.

So often people get worried about the epiphenomena and not the underlying subtext. As kids go, it can of course work both ways. Sometimes, adults wrongly assume that subtext goes above kids’ heads, and sometimes wrongly expect them to see it: it all depends upon the kid and the material in question, which is why our basic rule is usually that anything new has to be watched with us or by us first. In this case, we made a huge exception to that rule. I had seen enough positive reviews of Frozen that I felt it was OK to let my kids go to it with their uncles and aunt after Christmas.

When they became addicted to “Let it Go,” I read the lyrics and began to worry. However, they all, from 6 to 12, did a fantastic job of articulating why the song was not talking about morality per se and was, in the context, about superficial rules.

Indeed, since the movie does not explain where Elsa’s powers come from–the Troll King asks and her father says she was born with them–it could be seen as an allegory for genetic disorders.  As it is, I kept thinking of “corporate synergy” not in terms of Disney-Pixar but Disney-Marvel.  Elsa could be seen as almost a cognate to Loki, a Jotun raised in Asgard or Rogue, the “X-Men” mutant who kills people (and in some cases, steals their superpowers) if she touches them.  Barring fictional superpowers, the rift between Elsa and Anna, caused by Elsa’s “genetic disorder,” if you will, being a risk to Anna, could be easily inverted.  Take, for example, someone with ostogenesis imperfecta or hemophilia being raised in a totally protected environment and cut off from others for her or his own protection.  Or consider someone with a mental or neurological disorder who can’t control his rage or who has violent seizures.

This, by the way, gets to the problem with some who have tried to see the movie as having “homosexual subtext” because of its rejection of the sheltered princess falls in love with the first guy she sees” archetype, Elsa’s enforced celibacy and the behavior of the living snowmen in the movie.  The homosexualist movement has pushed the notion that gays have a monopoly on “being oppressed” to such an extent that anyone depicted as “different” in Hollywood “must” be “gay.”  This is true on both sides.  Christians only play into their argument when they assume that a genderless snow monster named “Marshmallow” is “gay” because of a credits-shot showing it dancing in a tiara–or, in real life, when they freak out about a boy having a My Little Pony lunchbox.

Apparently, Walt Disney himself began trying to develop Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Snow Queen” in the 1940s.  One of the big issues was how to approach the title character, who is arguably either morally neutral (literally a force of nature) or evil in Andersen’s story (usually even in most adaptations I’ve seen).  What made _Frozen_ was the notion of taking out Andersen’s boy character Kai and making his story elements part of Elsa and Anna.

If, as in the works of Whedon, Rice, Carpenter, and others who use vampirism and witchcraft as symbols of homosexuality, or as in previous Disney movies like _Pocahontas_ and _The Hunchback of Notre Dame_, the “bad guys” in the movie were ostensibly Christian, I could maybe see the argument, but here, all the superficial signs are that the characters are themselves Christian:

1.  Unlike “Aurora,” “Belle,” “Ariel,” “Prince Charming,” etc., the characters  have saints’ names: Elsa (Elizabeth), Anna, Kristoff, Hans (short for “Johann”), Sven (Stephen), and even the snowman Olaf (Patron Saint of Norway, probably most commonly known today because of The Golden Girls).
2.  Early in the film, when we’re seeing the girls grow up on separate sides of the castle, Elsa refers to her only friends being the paintings, and she says, to a painting of St. Joan of Arc, “Hang in there, Joan.”
3.  Many have commented on the choral music in the film, which is based upon a Norwegian hymn:

Sweet is the earth,
glorious is God’s heaven,
Beautiful is the souls’ pilgrim song!
Through the fair
kingdoms of Earth
We go to paradise with song.

Are you being Saved?

The person or persons who write “Coffee With Jesus,” the popular webcomic, hit another one out of the ballpark (much like Casting Crowns, they’re pretty Catholic in their thought, even though they insist they’re non-denominational).

I “got saved” almost every week in sixth grade at “Chapel” at Thomas Sumter. Almost every week, some speaker or Christian rock group or something would come with often truly inspiring and sometimes superficial cheesy, “testimonies” (or performances, as the case may be) and finish by saying, “Now, I want you all to bow your heads and give your life to Jesus,” and they would always have us recite the same words in unison, and my thought was always, “And these people would take issue with liturgical prayer. . . .”

Me, circa sixth grade

Almost every week, that is, except the two times my dad, the school’s first Catholic teacher, had his turn (each week a different faculty member would plan the program for Chapel). The first time, he had Fr. Anthony Rigoli, OMI, come, and the second time, he had a panel of students, myself included, speak about treating each other with love and respect (and speaking against bullying). This was inspired by one of his students unwittingly writing a paper about me. She wrote of this thin boy in sixth grade with glasses who was always being picked on and never seemed to notice when everyone laughed at him in the halls (I did), knocked his books out of his hands (I thought I was just clumsy), etc., and yet always seemed happy.

Interestingly, our headmaster once made the same comment.  He passed me in the hall and said, “That’s what I admire about you, John: you’re always smiling.”

I was honored that Mr. Owens, known for his very strict personality, took the time to say that–though at the time I was actually squinting.   This gets to any interesting side note about body language, Asperger syndrome and Marfan syndrome, since a) I have a hard time understanding other people’s expressions, and b) people have a hard time understanding mine.  Even after 14 years, Mary can’t read most of my expressions since they rarely indicate emotion and usually indicate some sort of pain, eye strain, trying to see, etc., though I do try to make a point of smiling.

Anyway, it’s interesting to me how people constantly want to engage in “institutional reform” of things that are just human nature.  As Joe Sobran put it regarding attempts to legislate against “hate,” “some people are just jerks.”  The Reformation supposedly started about “sale of indulgences” and yet many Protestant denominations require their members to tithe.   They criticize Catholics who seem to live a superficial religion but aren’t “Christians,” and yet so many Protestants seem to live the same way.

Salvation is always a process.  The greatest Saints refused to say they had achieved spiritual perfection, even if they had.  The only times in the Bible when Jesus makes definitive statements about people’s salvation are a) to Dismas on the Cross and b) to Zacchaeus at his house, when Zacchaeus promises to give just about everything away (and even then He doesn’t say “You are saved,” just “salvation has come to this house,” which is still an indication of process).

“Work out your salvation in fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12).

Being Where Terri Was: Part 1–How I Got There

Since late May, I have debated in my mind about what or whether to write about my experiences in April. Like most such autobiographical topics, I’ve fretted about such quibbles as whether to write it here first or save for some formal publication opportunity, whether to go with a fiction or nonfiction approach, how much to share, etc. So I’ve ended up squandering the time I’ve been given to share it by hindering myself, and I decided I’d better just post it here and trust God’s will.

So, here goes: on March 27, as my few regular readers are aware, I had my aorta repaired from the middle of the arch to the middle of the abdomen. I knew going in that it was a risky procedure. I’d spent 2 years reading medical abstracts, studying statistics, talking to surgeons, emailing surgeons, etc., not to mention having spent my entire life *up* to that point studying for the inevitable. For an otherwise “healthy” person, surgery on the descending aorta carries, depending on whose stats you read, something like a 40% chance of mortality within the first two years, and I forget the exact numbers I started with, but when I added them all up, I came up with a 90% chance of some kind of “permanent complication,” be it death, paralysis and/or organ damage. The likelihood of those complications occurring, and the need for surgery ASAP, increased if one was a) A Marfan (check), b) had previous surgery on the aortic root (check), c) had already suffered dissection (check) and/or d) had an aneurysm greater than 6 cm in diameter (check).

Since my dissection in January 2011, I’d been debating whether and where to have surgery. My longtime cardiologist agreed with me that my odds weren’t good and it was better, if I did anything at all, to find someone relatively local who was competent enough rather than do it long-distance. i had already ruled out Johns Hopkins, Emory and UNC, and while I’d been seeing a local surgeon who was competent and confident enough to do it, he needed at least one more team member and told Tme that he literally asked every cardiothoracic and vascular surgeon in the Augusta area, with no one willing to “touch me.” The last time I saw him was in May 2012, when he told me that, recommended I see his mentor at UNC, and told me I wouldn’t live through the end of the summer without surgery (this was based upon CT scans done in November of 2011 and January 2012).

After ruling out UNC, I put the whole thing in God’s Hands. I happened to see a trailer on my Facebook feed about a new movie of _Les Miserables_. I thought, “Oh, not another one,” thinking it was going to be another adaptation of the novel. Then I clicked play, and heard Anne Hathaway’s amazing performance of “I Dreamed a Dream,” and I was ecstatic: THEY MADE A MOVIE OF THE MUSICAL?! I ran to my wife and kids. I called my parents and my in-laws. My wife said, “That’s it: no doctors, no surgery, no activity. Total bed rest for six months. I want you to live long enough to see that movie!” That was the “goal,” and in the mean time we got to go on a Make-a-Wish trip to Florida, and I was able to make my definitive promises as a Secular Carmelite. At my Community’s Day of Recollection, after making my Promises, last December, one of my friends not only knew what I was talking about about when I explained about the surgical options I was considering (and trying to get someone to do, since I was hoping to find someone willing to do a stent operation rather than “traditional” open surgery) but knew one of the top vascular surgeons in the country and had another friend who’d had an iliac aneurysm repaired by that surgeon–I believe he was at Shands in Florida. So he immediately got his cell phone out and called the surgeon’s registration nurse, with whom I spoke for a few minutes that Saturday morning. She gave me a few more names. I started researching.

In early January, having done all that and seen _Les Miserables_ twice, I started looking these names up. I stumbled on the _US News_ list of top surgeons and, since their database of “top vascular surgeons” was nowhere near as long as other categories, I just started scrolling through it after having specifically searched for the other names. Of course, most of the people on the list were from NYC, Boston, Philadelphia, etc. Surprising, few of the names I’d been given were on the list. The one doctor, Dr. Svensson, I believe, at Cleveland Clinic was named by _US News_ as the top cardiac surgeon in the country. I contacted his office and explained how the only reason I was going to travel that far for surgery was for stents because I knew I couldn’t physically handle the travel or financially or emotionally handle the consequences of being stuck 10 hours from home should complications arise. She said, “No way, no how would we ever do stents on a Marfan.” I thanked her for her time.

So, after knocking off everyone else from my list, I finally hit someone within my 3-hour ideal radius that wasn’t Emory: Dr. Jeb Hallett at Roper St. Francis Health Care in Charleston. Plus, he had a little star indicating that he was in the “top 10%.” I Googled his name, and I found this video:

I called his office and scheduled an appointment. When I saw him, it was the most amazing medical appointment I’d ever had. I can honestly say that in all my experience with doctors, now as a patient and a parent, and having known some very excellent physicians, I have never known a doctor quite like Dr. Hallett. He knew everyone whose names I mentioned either as previous surgeons or as surgeons I’d considered. He even agreed with my reasons for ruling out some of the others. He spent a good 2 hours with us. He pulled the CT up on the computer and went over it with us. When his colleague, whose name I can never quite spell correctly for some reason, came for the cardiothoracic consult, Dr. Hallett stayed in the room. They talked right there with us. Our two eldest daughters were with us, and rather than insisting that they leave the room, as we feared, he included them in the conversation.
Afterwards, Mary asked me to talk to the girls about how they felt about it, as Gianna seemed a bit taken aback (as Mary and I both were) by seeing my aorta on the computer screen, and how shockingly huge it was. I said, “What do you girls think?”
Allie said she wanted them to do her surgery when the time comes, and said, “I think it’s a miracle!”
I later told Dr. Hallett on the phone what Allie said, and she said, “She may be right.”

"I am eternally grateful to God for both of these men."  -- my wife

“I am eternally grateful to God for both of these men.” — my wife