Monthly Archives: November 2017

Like the Water

a poem by Wendell Berry

Like the water
of a deep stream,
love is always too much.
We did not make it.
Though we drink till we burst,
we cannot have it all,
or want it all.
In its abundance
it survives our thirst.

In the evening we come down to the shore
to drink our fill,
and sleep,
while it flows
through the regions of the dark.
It does not hold us,
except we keep returning to its rich waters

We enter,
willing to die,
into the commonwealth of its joy.



No early Saturday Mass and Holy Hour at St Dominic this morning.  I learned the fact after arriving.  It sent me to Sacred Heart, and thus the discovery the men’s group I use to be involved with was conducting a session after Mass.  The men meet monthly on the second and fourth Saturdays.  I proved to be a meaningful experience.  Starting the session with bagels, orange juice, and familiarizing fellowship, I realized how much I enjoyed the men, individuals emerging distinct.  Initial and final discussion, centered upon Roger Freedman, an electrician I knew from St Paul Shrine who passed away two years ago during the Advent season.  Roger was a regular member of the group, rarely missing a meeting.  His wife is still active at St Paul Shrine and all the men relished in reminiscing about Roger.  I commented on a comment about Roger during his funeral Mass, as a deacon made a powerful statement perfectly describing his personality.  The deacon said, ‘Roger was always happy to see you, even when he was not’.  A whimsical way of defining Roger’s amiable and outgoing nature that never expressed negativity, nor confrontation toward others.  He was truly a kind and considerate man.  The Sacred Heart men’s group starts their sessions singing three hymns, allowing a harmonizing and unifying of voices to tenderize personalities.  They advance to a communal psalm prayer, similar to a religious community exercising the Liturgy of the Hours, followed by the sabbath scriptural reading for the coming Sunday.  Today’s reading covered the final week of the liturgical year, the celebration of the Kingship of Jesus Christ.  After the reading of lectionary scripture, we will listen to a commentary on the readings by Bishop Robert Barron. Today, Bishop Barron moved me with the creation of an image of Jesus warring during His Passion and Crucifixion.  Jesus was not a passive victim being executed.  He was a King battling through the conquering of the world and death.  Once the Bishop has spoken, the meeting is opened to comments from the attending men.  I am always impressed by the maturity, humility, and seriousness of the group.  There are differences, yet everyone is listened to, and the prayerful nature of the beginning carries over into personal thoughts and opinions.  We end with a final hymn, everyone singing together.  It was a wonderful time of manly fellowship.  One man in particular draws my attention.  He is a writer, a bit of an agitator—poking at conservative Catholics and those who tend to point a finger of blame at others.  He is actively involved in prison ministry.  Prosperous, respected for his gardening skills, and advancing into his elderly years, the articulate and intelligent man served a prison sentence himself when younger.  I believe he was imprisoned for just over five years.  I may visit with him at his home this coming week.  God is good and all giving.


Adoration: Church life

Experientially, Mass at St Paul Shrine, or rather post-Mass Adoration, proved profound today.  I have returned to the Shrine after four weeks of being away, disappearing into recollection and regathering.  It soothes soulfully to realize spiritually I have a home.  My first visit back included my new roommate, a man whose company I treasure, convinced God has placed him in my life.  He has suffered through a divorce, father of three prospering adults, a graduate of St Ignatius and John Carroll University, pitching for their baseball team.  Our reception after last Sunday’s Mass was charmingly intimate.  The Cuban poet friend was lavish with conversation, as well as others, including Jason the operatic professionally trained singer.  Today four individuals shared in Adoration.  Joan, a widow and mother of sixteen adult children, a spiritual masterpiece within in her disheveled and bewildered appearance.  Her chaotic personality, the sickly impression she is barely holding on to sanity, hides a wizened prayerful individual, a soul whose presence I always feel close to.  There is no need for words exchanged, nor even a meeting of eyes.  A second was Lauren, a woman my age, in her fifties, a purposeful nurse, one who gives everything she has to the caring of patients.  She lit three votive candles; praying slowly, silently, and for a serious length of time before the Sacred Heart of Jesus statue.  Her sense of anonymity, the lack of self-consciousness, impressed.  She is a woman mature in prayer, presenting the reality she is a soul who has learned to access grace for others.  Speculating, I felt confidence her intense prayer life is dedicated to the salvation of others.  A third individual was Chris, the Man of Prayer.  We spent Thanksgiving together after not speaking for well over five or so months.  The one-on-one lunch was penetrating, introspective and properly self-analyzing.  I have never met someone so intent on basing everything about their life solely upon their prayer life.  Everything he does—organizing time, structuring days, psychological healing and exercising insight into his thoughts and feelings, socializing and professional experiences—are done strictly in regards to improving his prayer life.  To spend one-on-one time with the Man of Prayer is truly a blessing.  Providence provided a Thanksgiving lunch with him at Siam Café after Mass at St Paul Shrine.  The fourth individual is a man I hardly know, an elderly gentleman named Tom.  His smiling face exposes his joyful demeanor.  His open and welcoming greetings are respected with a friendly distance and few words.  His presence sitting behind me always brings a spiritual smile when I turn during the exchanging of peace.  A fifth individual should be mentioned.  He served during Mass, fairly new in appearance, yet substantial in impression.  He appears to be quite successful as a businessman, always well-groomed and professionally dressed.  His mild-mannered disposition renders one defenseless.  His devotion to Mass, and his obvious dedication to the Poor Clares of Perpetual Adoration, reflects a psychological soundness, a purity of intent and motivation.  That goes for the elder gentleman Tom.  I find it comforting to discover an authentic love of a deep prayer life comingled with a sensible, humble, and well-adjusted personality.  Exiting the Sacristy, the man serving during Mass walked closed.  I waved, feeling a deep sense of Christian camaraderie.  His big smile warmed my heart.  Sitting contemplatively before the Eucharist, a sense of community enhanced and enlightened.



There are two kinds of poverty, the holy and the unholy. The unholy is like damp rot, it is the poverty that men should not accept. It is forced upon them by evil and injustice. Everything that it touches rots and decays; it is verminous and dirty; it breeds bitterness, fear, and hatred; it is the misery generated into the world by the union of fear and greed.

The other, Holy Poverty, is different. It is the poverty that flowers to frugality; it teaches men the glory of working for those whom they love and lifts their minds to contemplation; they discover in it God’s Fatherhood. This poverty does not ask for rest, it possesses peace. It is content with necessity. It has the vision which enables the heart to discern between the essential and the unessential. It has the humility which makes it invulnerable, the freedom which goes with having nothing, the gratitude that goes with having everything. It is poverty made lovely because Christ has taken it to His immaculate heart.

Caryll Houselander ‘The Dry Wood’


Thanksgiving feelings: Call It Dreaming

Words from a mother,
Singing a song,
Guiding to shelter,
Drawing within,
Silently bowing,
Pointing beyond,
To her Son,
Repeating,Iron and Wine
For all the love you left behind,
You can have Mine.


Thoughts on the accumulation of debris during Thanksgiving

Arch-Bishop Charles J. Chaput from ‘Strangers in a Strange Land’

Over the course of decades, Peck (psychiatrist/author of ‘People of the Lie’) met patients who didn’t fit a standard diagnosis but had certain recurring traits. These persons showed chronic disregard for the good of others to the point of causing grave psychological harm. They were subtly but pervasively self-centered. Their symptoms were broader than narcissistic personality disorder, but they weren’t sociopaths. They knew right from wrong.

…their main shared trait was the habit of lying. They all lied constantly and effortlessly about everything—especially about themselves, to themselves. As such, they were opaque even to highly trained therapists. More important, they were opaque to themselves. For Peck, the “layer upon layer of self- deception” that “people of the lie” build up insulates them so thoroughly from truth that they no longer recognize it. Their own irreproachability is their only truth.

Peck didn’t mince words. He calls such persons evil.,,,”evil” people erect so many defenses against self-examination and repentance that these become almost impossible without a miracle of grace.

“People of the lie” embody Aristotle’s teachings on the formation of character. They don’t wake up one morning and decide to be cruel. Rather, they accumulate years of decisions to ignore the true good in favor of their own apparent good, until they fully identify their own will with what’s genuinely good.

As Peck notes, this reveals itself as a preoccupation with appearances: “While they seem to lack any motivation to be good, they intensely desire to appear good. Their ‘goodness’ is all on a level of pretense. It is, in effect, a lie”. The evasion of truth soon makes their entire lives little more than an intricate ruse.

For these morally crippled creatures, the pretense of goodness salves the scars of conscience that do exist, but that have been routinely ignored and abused. “The central defect of the evil [person] is not the sin but the refusal to acknowledge it.” We all sin, of course, but the unwillingness to take any responsibility for our sins implies a more deeply damaged spirit. And so the evil person doubles down on his or her lies by cultivating false appearances and scapegoating the innocent.

As Peck puts it, “We become evil by attempting to hide from ourselves. The wickedness of the evil is not committed directly, but indirectly as part of [the] cover-up process. Evil originates not in the absence of guilt but in the effort to escape it.

One of the most striking case studies in People of the Lie is that of a wealthy couple whose teenage son suffers from depression. As Peck probed the cause of the son’s depression with the boy and his parents, the adults avoided even a hint of responsibility for his mental state. They ignored both their son’s needs and Peck’s advice, and then shifted the burden for their own self-serving decisions back onto the boy and his doctor. After the son acted out by taking part in a petty theft at school, his parents pressed to have him diagnosed as a genetically predisposed and thus incurable criminal.

The story ends with a letter from the boy’s mother informing Peck that they had followed his kind advice and sent their son to a military boarding school. The punchline: This was exactly the opposite of Peck’s counsel. The parents had washed their hands of responsibility for their own son. Any problems would henceforward be the fault of the school or the doctor, but never them. Rather than face their self-deception and damage the illusion of their own goodness, they lied to Peck and further harmed their son.

“People of the lie” don’t reject the idea of all sin—only their own. They’re quite willing to condemn others. In fact, as Peck points out, scapegoating is one of the universal traits of “people of the lie.” They project their own guilt, which they feel but won’t accept, onto others. “Rather than blissfully lacking a sense of morality like the psychopath, they are continually engaged in sweeping the evidence of their evil under the rug of their own consciousness.

A person wrapped in deception does not blind himself to sin. He blinds himself to the possibility of forgiveness. In refusing any obligations to truth outside of himself, he closes himself off to the mercy of God. Dr. Peck puts in psychological terms what believers know by faith: “Mental health requires that the human will submit itself to something higher than itself. To function decently in the world, we must submit ourselves to some principle that takes precedence over what we might want at any given moment. For [religious persons] this principle is God, and so they will say, ‘Thy will, not mine, be done.

We typically think of this submission as an act of obedience to God’s will, as Peck mentions. But it’s actually a submission to God’s love and mercy. This requires, of course, admitting our own sinfulness. The spurning of forgiveness is the most self-poisoning symptom of the “people of the lie,” and the source of their despair.

In discussing ‘People of the Lie’, it’s easy to use the words “they” and “them.” But what’s bracing about Scott Peck’s work is that it implicates all of us and our wider culture. The pretense of goodness, the perversely moralistic scapegoating, the self-deception—these aren’t just the sins of “evil” people. They’re qualities rooted in our fallen nature and pandemic in a society based on license. We’re all, to some degree, “people of the lie.”

Dr. Peck wrote about extreme cases, but we should see them as warnings to heed, not specimens to gawk at. The feckless parents discussed above weren’t born with a resentment of the truth. Rather, they nourished it with thousands of little untruths. They developed alibis and habits of deception, especially self-deception, that over many years formed their character. Every one of us is prone to the same process. It’s up to us to see and arrest it before it begins.

That’s not so simple. We live in a culture eager to make truth a boutique experience as malleable as our personal tastes require. As the moral philosopher Harry Frankfurt writes, a vast and congenial river of baloney, humbug, and mumbo-jumbo flows through American culture that has its source in “various forms of skepticism which deny that we can have any reliable access to an objective reality, and which therefore reject the possibility of knowing how things truly are.” But we need to remember what—or rather who—comprises the culture. Things we can’t control do often impact our personal decisions. But the fact remains that “the culture” is little more than the sum of the choices, habits, and dispositions of the people who live in a particular place at a particular time. We can’t simply blame “the culture.” We are the culture.

Failing to cultivate a taste for truth, then, is an abdication of our duties not just to God, but also to one another. By contributing to a culture that seeks to invent its own truth, we make it harder for others to find the real thing. The results are deeply damaging. Subcultures of deceit emerge in places within our society where honesty is most important.


Words from a spiritual friend

Insensibility of the heart is a heavy trial, at least for the soul that has not yet arrived at perfect abandonment. The trial becomes heavier still when to the privation of devotional feelings are added disgust, repugnance and interior revolt. It is human nature recoiling before the prospect of great sacrifice or when the cup of suffering is already full. This repugnance and revolts have nothing sinful about them, provided we suffer them with patience and do not allow our wills to be drawn away. The only thing lacking then is the feeling of our submission, since our wills remain united to the will of God and faithful to all its duties. Remember the Savior’s agony in the Garden of Olives and you will understand that bitterness of heart and the violence of anguish are not incompatible with the most perfect submission. The revolts are limited to the inferior part. In the higher region of the soul submission continues to reign. –Abbot Vital Lehodey ‘The Way That Leads to God’