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Wednesday, November 30, 2011

St. Andrew Christmas Novena Prayer to Obtain Favors

Rather than rewriting this, I just copied it from previous years.  I am not sure why I included book reviews along with this prayer last year, though.

St. Andrew Christmas Novena Prayer to Obtain Favors

Hail and blessed be the hour and moment in which the Son of God was born of the most pure Virgin Mary, at midnight, in Bethlehem, in piercing cold. In that hour, vouchsafe, O my God! to hear my prayer and grant my desires, through the merits of Our Saviour Jesus Christ, and of His Blessed Mother. Amen.

(It is piously believed that whoever recites the above prayer fifteen times a day from the feast of St. Andrew (30th November) until Christmas will obtain what is asked.)

+MICHAEL AUGUSTINE, Archbishop of New York
New York, February 6, 1897

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Book review: Catholicism: A Journey to the Heart of the Faith

Catholicism: A Journey to the Heart of the Faith
Robert Barron


This review will satisfy my part of the agreement.

In his book, Catholicism: A Journey to the Heart of the Faith, Fr. Robert Barron relates how Thomas Merton - before his conversion - responded when he discovered that the book he just bought had the words Imprimatur and Imprimi potest printed in the frontispiece.  Briefly, these words indicate that the work had been examined by the Catholic Church and had received approval for publication by it.  Only a Catholic book would have such a thing in it; in this case, the book was The Spirit of Medieval Philosophy, by Etienne Gilson.

He was tempted to throw the book out the window.

It appears that Thomas Merton and I have more than just our Faith in common; we also appreciate the significance of words like Imprimatur, or Imprimi potest at the start of a book.  Therefore I was rather disappointed when I noticed that Fr. Barron’s book didn’t contain either one, or any other kind of approval from the Church other than the glowing reviews on the back of the dust jacket.  Strike One against the book.  This means that there may be some things in the book which may not pass the orthodoxy test, so I proceeded with caution as I read through the book.

I also am suspicious of writers who do not include their credentials prominently, especially if they are writing in their area of expertise.  It shows a lack of professionalism, or perhaps they don’t want to be seen as having some authority on the subject.  I can think of one reason a writer may want to do this, and it has to do with the audience they are writing to.  Still, I don’t like it.  I let my patients know I am a doctor when I am caring for them; likewise, a priest should not hide his profession while working to bring souls to Christ.  Strike Two against the book.

It wasn’t long before something jumped out of the book that seemed a bit unorthodox.  In his discussion of the Beatitudes, Fr. Barron quotes the Gospel of Matthew:

"Blessed are the clean of heart, for they will see God" (Mt 5:8)

Amen.  And then Fr. Barron explained this passage with this sentence:

"This means that you will be happy if there is no ambiguity in your heart (the deepest center of the self) about what is most important."

This was truly a ‘What The Heck?’ moment for me when I read this sentence.  There was no mention of the concept of purity, chastity, or having a soul free of sin.  Instead, the words of Christ are interpreted to mean that being true to one’s goals or desires - whatever they may be - is what is most important.  At least Fr. Barron had the intellectual honesty to avoid using the word ‘happy,’ or seeing God in his description; he must have known at the time that he was writing off the map.  Just to make sure that I was not current with any new interpretation of the Scriptures, I ran this passage of the book by a couple of priests I know, and they both separately expressed surprise and horror about such a misrepresentation. 

At this point I had to stop reading the book and try to figure out what Fr. Barron’s purpose was in writing this book.  I continued reading, and started noticing that a sizeable number of authors quoted by Fr. Barron were not Catholic.  Granted, he did quote Catholics throughout the book, but it seemed as if the number of Protestants cited  was a bit excessive for a book on the Catholic Church.  At this point I started to wonder if the audience for this book was not for Catholics; in other words, that this book was really intended to be part of the ‘New Evangelization’ George Weigel mentioned on the back of my book’s dust cover.  Perhaps this is so, but it is disappointing that it contains erroneous teachings of the Church like the example mentioned above. 

There were some good parts of this book.  Fr. Barron writes very well about the saints.  His short biographies on St. Katharine Drexel and St. Edith Stein were inspiring, as was her description of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta.  For me, this one brought back memories of how I had met Mother Teresa twenty-five years ago in Washington, DC.  In addition, the book is full of pictures of religious artwork which are related to the subject matter.  Catholic art is the best kind in the world, and Fr. Barron truly showcases this aspect of our Faith. 

But then he had to spoil it all by writing about Thomas Merton.  I know a little bit about Thomas Merton; my first letter to the editor of a major newspaper was about him.  I spent some time looking up more information online, and I even downloaded a lecture by Alice von Hildebrand called ‘The Tragedy of Thomas Merton.’ In that speech, she related how he did not follow the Benedictine Rule, how he essentially left the Trappist monastery, and how he died alone, far from the benefits of the Last Rites, after giving a speech which equated Communism with the Monastic way of life.  After listening to von Hildebrand’s lecture, and reading other information about him, I would say that Fr. Barron picked a poor example for prayer and the contemplative life when he selected Thomas Merton.

In general, this book had a few good parts; namely, the lives of the saints and the pictures included in the text.  Fr. Barron is a good story teller, and he writes well enough to touch even the heart of this skeptical reader.  But these good aspects do not outweigh the fact that he probably could not get approval from the Diocesan Censor or the Bishop after writing such poor theology as the example mentioned above.  Perhaps this book is really just intended to attract our Separated Brethren back to the Church.  It is unfortunate that such a writer could not make this book as theologically sound as it is attractive.

Postscript:  Here is a brief summary for the Latin terms I mentioned above.  The link explains these terms in greater detail: 

Religious Superior's stamp:    IMPRIMI POTEST    "it can be printed"

Censor's stamp:                       NIHIL OBSTAT    "nothing stands in the way"

Bishop's stamp:                       IMPRIMATUR    "let it be printed"

from here:  http://www.fisheaters.com/imprimatur.html

25 Years Ago This Month......

I met Blessed Teresa of Calcutta in Washington, DC. I asked to pray for me since I had just been accepted to medical school.

Her sisters in Dallas are still praying for me.

Blessed Teresa, pray for us!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Book Review: A Love That Multiplies, by Michelle and Jim Bob Duggar

A Love That Multiplies

By Michelle and Jim Bob Duggar

Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar announced last week that they are expecting their 20th child, so it seems like a good time to review their most recent book, A Love That Multiplies. In addition, Carolyn asked me to read it because she thought there were some things in it which we could find helpful in raising our medium-size family with only 12 children. No family is perfect, especially one with children at every level of development, so it is good to look around to see what other large families are doing to raise excellent children. The Duggars have a lot of good advice to give.

This book is written in the first person, and is evenly divided between Jim Bob and Michelle. Occasionally the other spouse will interject some comment, adding to the subject. The book indicates whenever the speaker changes by putting Jim Bob or Michelle's name in parentheses at the start of their part. Throughout the book, recipes from the Duggar household are featured along the margin. While I thought they were out of place in some of the more serious parts of the book, they did help to lighten up the material in the main part of the book.

One observation I have about the recipes is that the Duggar family must not have a problem with sodium or high blood pressure.

The book is divided into four main parts; each of these parts consist of several chapters. The first part describes many of the challenges surrounding the premature birth of their youngest daughter, Josie. The second part deals with sharing their faith with others - only in part through the show on The Learning Channel. They describe other ways that they evangelize; it was great to hear that they would not do the TV show unless their faith were included in it. The third section discusses the way that they are raising their children, and the last part deals with relationships, including a advice on courtship, managing teenagers, and purity.

Concerns about the Book:

Before discussing some of the salient points I took away from the book, I have to make some comments about this book which should be kept in mind. First, the Duggars have done rather well in their real estate business, with rental properties which provide income with variable effort on their part. Additionally, the TLC show pays them for each show. Both of these facts make it possible for Jim Bob to be around his family a lot more than most working fathers can be. This does not excuse other men from being involved in their children's lives, it just means that most fathers have to be sure to carve out whatever time they can to be there for their sons and daughters.

Another related item is that the Duggars go on more field trips and outings than any family I know. I suspect this is also related to the format of the TLC show. Certainly no one wants to watch a show featuring the Duggar children doing laundry, matching socks, and scrubbing the floors. In addition, any facility or project which hosts the Duggar family is getting a lot of free publicity, so they probably give a discount to the family. Frequent outings are wonderful, but not very practical for most other families.

One last concern I had with the book is that it appears that the Duggars did take their dedication to ministry a bit too far after the birth of Josie. While Josie was in the NICU, the Duggars moved temporarily to Little Rock, Arkansas in order to be together. They still had to manage their house and business in their home town, and they had some commitments to appear publicly as well. In addition, Michelle's father fell and broke his hip around that time, and Michelle was torn between being with her father and staying with her premature baby. When her father died, she was alone with Josie in Little Rock, while Jim Bob and the rest of the family were on a trip combining business and pleasure. At the point that Michelle gave birth to Josie, I think the family would have been better off to drop some of their commitments rather than be going in several directions while the youngest Duggar was in the NICU. This is just my opinion, but I think that marriage and family supersede all outside commitments; my place is with my wife first, and family second.

Things I liked about the Book:

There were many good points which were brought up in this book. One of the areas which struck me personally were the sections on anger management. Both Jim Bob and Michelle pointed out that a harsh, angry voice will only push children away from their parents. They described anger as forming a wall between parent and child. Some of their recommendations were for parents to practice voice control, and to be held accountable (to someone) when one loses his temper. None of this was new to me, but it always helps to have a good lesson reinforced from time to time.

Michelle Duggar wrote about relationships, reminding me of something I have yet to learn after more than 22 years of marriage. She described a familiar scenario, where she has had a stressful day full of challenges. At the end of the day, when her husband would come home, she would relate the troubles of the day to him. Here is where Jim Bob (and I) make the mistake: instead of listening and then consoling, reassuring, and encouraging our wives, we proceed to outline a solution for all the problems we just heard. This is the last thing a woman wants to hear. She already knows what the solution is, and doesn't need us to figure that out. What she needs is our support and encouragement. I still have trouble doing this, probably because the male brain is wired differently from the female brain; we see so many things in terms of what has to be done, while women are also concerned about the emotional aspect of things.

The Duggars have excellent advice on dating versus courtship, and the reason to save oneself - even kisses - until marriage. Their example of the bicycle intended for a birthday present which is used and abused by someone else beforehand is excellent, as is their practical, health-related argument for chastity. This chapter includes a great checklist of what a woman should - and should not - want in a future spouse. A lot of the things on the list apply to young men as well as women. The book ends with a list of references for further reading.

Other than the few objections mentioned above, I found this book to be an excellent and refreshing source of encouragement and inspiration for parents of a large family. I would recommend it to families of any size. The Duggars promote being open to life, allowing God to determine the size of your family - something I like to call Supernatural Family Planning - and in this book they have given excellent advice on how to raise up the children who have been given to you by Him.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Book Review: Band of Brothers, by Stephen E. Ambrose

Today is a good day to publish a brief review of Stephen Ambrose's book, Band of Brothers.

I thought I would just mention a few things about the book that struck me when I read it.  For a more thorough review, look somewhere else.

First of all, the title comes from Shakespeare's play Henry V, and I shall include the words and a stirring video of the lines from the 1989 movie of the same name.

Second, I read this book to make sure that the language and events were not inappropriate for one of my sons who wished to read it.  With the exception of a section where the author discusses the vulgar language of the troops, there is very little that it offensive in this book.

Third, I was struck while reading this how these young men who did such gallant deeds in the 1940's are now the old men we see in hospitals, nursing homes, and on the city streets.  It is sobering to think of their courage, the blessing of surviving the war, and yet the fact that death comes for them (and us all) eventually.  As a friend of mine who practices geriatrics at the local Veteran's Administration hospital put it, "the World War II vets are dropping like flies."  The main subject of the book, Major Dick Winters, died in January of this year.

Fourth, I finally realized a good reason for jumping out of a perfectly good airplane.  In the book, Ambrose mentions how the airborne troops were a select group of soldiers, and that they were a cut above the regular Army inductee.  As such, they were far more professional, driven, and competent, and made for a better unit when in combat.  The alternative was to be stuck with all the soldiers who were not necessarily going to be there to fight well in battle.

Fifth, the Airborne troops were used for jumping ahead, or rather, behind enemy lines, and so they would not stay on the ground and follow the conflict as it progressed on land.  In the case of the 101st Airborne, they were relieved after D-Day, sent back to England to re-group and get replacements, and then sent back to battle later.  In the case of the 101st, several times they were training for a drop, but then the ground troops advanced past their target before they could join them.

Last and most surprising, was the revelation that the Americans felt that they had the most in common with the Germans.  It made me wonder what would have happened if this fact were known before we got into the war.  Perhaps it is a moot point, since the Japanese attacked us first, followed by the rest of the Axis countries declaring war on us; at that time, public sentiment probably did not care who had attacked us as long as someone paid for it.

I recommend this book without reservation.  I know that there is some controversy surrounding the works of Stephen E. Ambrose, but this book still is a good read.

Now, a brief look at Henry V, and the St. Crispin's Day Speech which inspired the name of this book.  Henry V made this speech to his men before the battle at Agincourt:

This day is call'd the feast of Crispian.
He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
Will stand a tip-toe when this day is named,
And rouse him at the name of Crispian.
He that shall live this day, and see old age,
Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
And say, "To-morrow is Saint Crispian."
Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars,
And say, "These wounds I had on Crispin's day."
Old men forget; yet all shall be forgot,
But he'll remember with advantages
What feats he did that day. Then shall our names,
Familiar in his mouth as household words,
Harry the King, Bedford, and Exeter,
Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester,
Be in their flowing cups freshly rememb'red.
This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne'er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remembered-
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition:
And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day."
Here is Kenneth Branagh as Henry V, giving his rendition of it from the 1989 movie:

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Guess Who is Expecting!

No.  It is not us.  We are still praying for more. 

No, it's the Duggar Family who are expecting their 20th child!  We rejoice with them and pray for a safe pregnancy and safe delivery for Michelle Duggar and her baby.

Now, in honor of this wonderful announcement, I wish to present a pilot of a little TV show I would like to call, Twelve Kids and Praying - For More.

It is modeled roughly on the Duggar's show on The Learning Channel.

Announcer:  "This week, on Twelve Kids and Praying:"

Child's voice: "Daddy can't find the new Toll Tag for the new car, and he's really mad!"

Carolyn, wife of Steve-Man and mother of many:  "Steve-Man had recently bought a new car, and he had ordered a toll tag so we could drive the car on the North Texas Tollway without having to pay with coins.  We are always teaching our children to be good stewards of Creation, and using a toll tag instead of coins is one way we improve the world we live in."
Steve-Man, husband of Carolyn: "I left the toll tag and paperwork on my desk, and I noticed it was gone.  The first toll tag is free, but a replacement tag costs a lot of money, so I really wanted it back.  I recruited all the D- children to scour the house, looking for the missing toll tag."

Interviewer, off-screen, talking to two of the D- children:  "Were you worried when your father said he could not find the toll tag?"

J'Marc (10 years old): "Um, no.  He lost the toll tag?  When?"

J'Max (8 years old): "It didn't bother me a bit."

Steve-Man:  "I found the toll tag on the kitchen floor, but I noticed that the sticker was bent.  I was wondering if the tag would still work."

Carolyn:  "Steve-Man wondered if the toll tag would work, since it seemed as if it had a bend through the chip in the middle of the sticker.  He found it on the floor of our kitchen which has two ovens, two dishwashers, and several refrigerators."

Shift to the outside, where Steve-Man and all the children are surrounding the new car.  Steve-Man sits in the front seat, reading the directions on how to place the toll tag.

Carolyn:  "Steve-Man is the most patient person I have ever met.  He never loses his temper while he is onscreen.  Now he has the challenge of putting the tag on the correct part of the windshield."

Steve-Man:  "I was glad the instructions came in Spanish as well as English, so the children and I could practice a little bit of Spanish while I put the toll tag onto the windshield.  I think we should try it out on the tollway to make sure it will work."

Carolyn:  "Once again, Steve-Man came up with a way to make a good experience out of a crisis.  After finding the toll tag on the kitchen floor, and seeing that it might have been bent out of shape, Steve-Man decided that the only way to know that the toll tag would work was to take the whole family on a short trip and try it out."

Steve-Man:  "I thought it would be best to take the car, and all the children, and try it out on the tollway.  While we were in North Dallas, I thought we could all go out to III Forks Restaurant.  There the chef will teach us how to grill steaks on an open grill."

D- Children:  "Yayyyyyyy!"

Announcer:  "Next week, the D- family will turn the compost heap in the back yard!  Guess what treasure they find beneath tons of dirt and mud!  Stay tuned!"

And there you have it.  Seriously, we are very happy for the blessings given to the Duggar family, and we pray for them - and their conversion to the One True Faith.

Veteran's Day, 2011

It has been eleven years since I separated from the Air Force, and 24 years since I was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in the United States Air Force.  The years have erased a lot of the feelings which I had while on active duty, especially the chafing awareness that I had given up my freedom while serving our country.  Instead, most of the thoughts I have now are how blessed I was to serve in the military.

Here below is a picture from the Summer of 1988, when I got to take an 'incentive flight' in a jet trainer.  More on incentive flights in a moment.  Looking at this picture brings all the memories of that day back to me.  I was scared, especially after being 'briefed' on how to operate the parachute strapped to my back if it did not automatically deploy.  We also were shown how to use the heavy knife to break through the canopy in the event that became necessary.  Then there is that little thing called acraphobia which I have.   I went anyway, and had a wonderful time actually controlling this airplane under the watchful eye of a flying instructor's instructor.

On the flight out of San Antonio, I wished I still had that parachute.

Incentive flights were intended to attract physicians into Aerospace Medicine, which is a lot of primary care medicine combined with occupational medicine.  The flying sounded like fun, and I was really excited to go on this little jaunt above San Antonio, but I couldn't get enthusiastic about doing family practice.  My thoughts turned out to be fairly accurate, as I found out years later how Flight Surgeons would qualify for their flight pay if they were stationed at one of the bases in San Antonio: they would spend their required flying hours in the passenger seats of a C-5 as their pilots practiced a maneuver called a 'touch and go.'  For those of you who don't know, touch and go is where the pilot comes in for a landing, briefly allowing the wheels to 'touch' the runway before roaring back into the air.  That doesn't sound toooo bad, until you realize that the passenger seats in the C-5 are located behind the cockpit - on the top level, above the cargo bay - and they don't usually have all the creature comforts of commercial airliners.  No air conditioned vent blowing on you from above, and no windows.  Oh, and one more thing: usually the seats are all positioned so the passengers all face backward.  So just imagine how comfortable it must be, flying in the low altitude hot air above San Antonio, while facing backwards in sweltering heat and lots of turbulence.

That is why this aircraft was smiling when I took its picture - also in 1988:

I took this picture while standing on the roof of a car we rented from a place in San Antonio called Chuck's Rent-A-Clunker.  I was trying to eliminate all the barbed wire from the photograph.

I was in the Air Force for 13 years: nine years in the Inactive Reserves and four years active duty.  I spent two weeks in El Salvador, anesthetizing children and adults for eye surgery as part of a humanitarian mission.  I was never issued a weapon, although I had to qualify with a 9mm pistol as part of my training for mobilization.  During my last year on active duty, I could not be farther than 50 miles from the base in the event I was deployed at a moment's notice.

A week after I separated from the Air Force, I had a medal delivered to my home.  It was a commemoration for my service to our country.  It got me thinking at the time, that all I ever did was wake up every day and go to work, caring for active duty personnel, retirees, dependents - especially the children - and any trauma victim who landed in our emergency room.  For that, just doing my job, I got a medal.

For some veterans, just doing their job meant a lot more than selecting what uniform to wear today and then battling the early morning traffic to get to the base.  For most, just doing their job meant putting their lives on the line for the good of all of us back home.

Please pray for those who never came back, or for those who came back scarred, damaged, forgotten.  I have heard their cries in military and veteran's hospitals.

Eternal rest grant unto them, oh Lord, and may perpetual light shine upon them.  May their souls, and all the souls of the Faithful Departed, rest in peace.

Our Lady of the Mysterious Decapitation

Our Lady of the Mysterious Decapitation
Now restored with the help of some cement!

Prayer to Our Lady of the Mysterious Decapitation

Mary my mother, take my hand today, and all days.
Lead me away from all occasions of sin.
Guide me in fulfilling your last words in the Gospel,
"Do whatever He tells you."

I am An Amateur Catholic Blogger!

Amateur Catholic B-Team Member