Who Am I?

Mary 20 – Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Posted: February 17th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Mary | Tags: , | Comments Off on Mary 20 – Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Visitiation of Blessed Virgin Mary

The Visitation is a Western feast that began in the 13th century and is currently celebrated on May 31. It celebrates the visitation of Mary with her cousin Elizabeth when both were pregnant as recorded in Luke 1:39-56. This is the meeting in which Mary, with the Holy Spirit upon her, prophesies what has become known as the Magnificat.

My soul doth magnify the Lord.
And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.
Because he hath regarded the humility of his handmaid;
for behold from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.
Because he that is mighty,
hath done great things to me;
and holy is his name.
And his mercy is from generation unto generations,
to them that fear him.
He hath shewed might in his arm:
he hath scattered the proud in the conceit of their heart.
He hath put down the mighty from their seat,
and hath exalted the humble.
He hath filled the hungry with good things;
and the rich he hath sent empty away.
He hath received Israel his servant,
being mindful of his mercy:
As he spoke to our fathers,
to Abraham and to his seed for ever.

As this is primarily a Western feast, it seems appropriate to include a video of the Magnificat from Notre Dame Cathedral.

Four Hundred Texts on Love (Third Century) 15

Posted: February 16th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: St. Maximos the Confessor | Tags: , , | Comments Off on Four Hundred Texts on Love (Third Century) 15

28.  The ancient Greek philosophers say that the being of created things has coexisted with God from all eternity and that God has only given it its qualities. They say that this being itself has no opposite, and that opposition lies only in the qualities. But we maintain that only the divine essence has no opposite, since it is eternal and infinite and bestows eternity on other things. The being of created things, on the other hand, has non-being as its opposite. Whether or not it exists eternally depends on the power of Him who alone exists in a substantive sense. But since ‘the gifts of God are irrevocable’ (Rom. 11:29), the being of created things always is and always will be sustained by His almighty power, even though it has, as we said, an opposite; for it has been brought into being from non-being, and whether or not it exists depends on the will of God.

This text explicitly states some of the comments I made on earlier texts. Nothing but God has existed from all eternity. God did not form creation from anything pre-existing and the whole creation is contingent on God. But, as St. Maximos points out, the gifts of God are irrevocable, so when he gave us eternal being in his image, it’s a gift he will never take back. He will never withdraw his sustaining power.

Mary 19 – Annunciation

Posted: February 15th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Mary | Tags: , , , , , | Comments Off on Mary 19 – Annunciation


This feast, another of the twelve Great Feasts in the Orthodox liturgical year and a feast in the Western Church falls on March 25th. While the Western church will move the feast if it falls during Holy Week, the Eastern Church never moves it. This feast celebrates the events of Luke 1:26-38, when the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary to tell her she would have a child of the Holy Spirit and Mary ultimately replied, “Let it be to me according to your word!”

Mary is often called the second Eve because her willing assent to God reversed the effects of the first Eve’s rejection of God in the Genesis story. It’s an extension of the same typology Paul uses to contrast Adam and Jesus. Evangelicals tend to largely ignore the Annunciation. If pressed, they will often express the idea that Mary was little more than a “vessel” for the Incarnation. Hidden (or sometimes not particularly hidden) behind that idea is one that if Mary hadn’t worked out, God would have just found another vessel. But there’s no such indication anywhere in the story. There’s no evidence of a “plan B”; Mary’s yes to God was for the healing of creation. Indeed, all generations should call her blessed.

There are actually two Churches of the Annunciation in Nazareth. The Roman Catholic Church is located where tradition holds Mary’s home was located. Orthodox tradition is that the Annunciation occurred at the well in Nazareth and their Church is located at that site.

The Roman Catholic Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth

The Orthodox Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth

Valentine’s Day 2012

Posted: February 14th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Personal | Tags: , , , , | Comments Off on Valentine’s Day 2012

It’s that time of year once more. Love is in the air!

This is one of the days on which my wife and I have a long-standing tradition. The first Valentine’s Day after we were married, we had no money at all and couldn’t afford a babysitter (even if we had known one) and a night out. So I decided to cook a romantic dinner in. I got a frozen dinner designed for kids for my older son who was six at the time. It’s not something we did very often, so it was a treat for him.

Then after he went to bed, I started cooking while my wife took a relaxing bath. That first year I found some pretty cheap steaks, seasoned them, broiled them with butter, and topped them with swiss cheese. I pan fried new potatoes in butter and garlic. And finally I cooked fresh asparagus with homemade hollandaise sauce. (The sauce wasn’t quite perfect, but still tasted good.) French bread on the side completed the dinner. I don’t remember dessert very well. I think I may have bought a little something that year rather than making one.

I then created a candlelit place setting on the coffee table, opened an inexpensive bottle of wine, and we watched some sort of romantic movie (on VHS) as we ate.

Ever since, that’s been our tradition on Valentine’s Day. It’s actually been pretty nice. I enjoy cooking, especially when I can try new things without worrying about whether or not the kids will like it. (Of course, we only have one teenager still living full-time at home now, so those days are largely over.) And it means we’ve never had to fight the Valentine’s Day crowds at restaurants. (Neither of us are big on crowds.)

Over the years, as our budget has become less tightly constrained, I’ve also been able to try my hand at more elaborate dishes. Of course, now that I can’t eat gluten or dairy, my options are somewhat more limited, but there are still more recipes than I could attempt even if I cooked a new one every night, so it’s really not as bad as some people think.

This year I’m planning a lump crab salad, baked sea scallops, filets with madeira sauce, and asparagus with artichoke hearts. My wife found a new gluten free red velvet cupcake option she wants to try, so she may make those for Valentine’s Day, in which case I won’t make an additional dessert. (And honestly, she enjoys making desserts more than I do anyway.)

And we’ll watch something that fits the holiday as always. Perhaps we can watch Titanic again. It’s been a while since we last watched it together.

This year will mark the 24th Valentine’s Day my wife and I have celebrated and the 22nd since we were married. It’s hard to believe it’s been that many years. They’ve flown by.

If you’re reading this, I hope you have a good Valentine’s Day planned as well!

Mary 18 – Purification of the Blessed Virgin (Candlemas)

Posted: February 13th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Mary | Tags: , , , , | Comments Off on Mary 18 – Purification of the Blessed Virgin (Candlemas)

Meeting of the Lord in the Temple


Since this is a series on Mary, I selected one of the traditional Western designations for this feast. It’s also known as the Presentation of Christ at the Temple and in Orthodoxy it’s one of the twelve Great Feast of the liturgical year. Both names are technically correct. The events of the feast are described in Luke 2:22-40. After giving birth to a male child, under Mosaic the mother was considered ritually unclean for seven days and was then to “remain in the blood of her purification” for thirty-three days. Once the forty days had passed, the parents were to appear in the Temple with the child, make the required offering to redeem the child from the Temple, and the mother would receive prayers from the priest and be cleansed.

Mary followed the law and along with Joseph presented Jesus and herself at the Temple forty days after his birth. Jesus was redeemed with two turtle doves, suggesting Joseph was not wealthy, or perhaps indicating that Mary was one of the righteous poor. Simeon the Just and Anna the Prophetess encountered Christ during his presentation.

Orthodox Christians still practice a Christianized variation of the forty day period. The mother and child remain home and away from Church (and generally going out as little as possible) for forty days following the birth. After that period, the mother and child are “Churched.” These are the Greek Orthodox prayers for the Churching of a mother and child after forty days.

It’s also the Feast on which candles which will be used in worship for the rest of the year are blessed. So in the West it also became known as Candlemas.

Weekend Update 02-11-2012

Posted: February 11th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Weekend Update | Comments Off on Weekend Update 02-11-2012

Lies, Damned Lies, and Politics. Of course, there’s no evidence whatsoever that the GOP actually has to address facts with their constituency. Ever. And the naive report of salary (that federal employees earn 2% more), done by a group that lacks the expertise to analyze salaries contradicts the reports of the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the group of people who do know how to analyze labor statistics. Why the difference? The BLS take into account required experience, education, and scope of duties and responsibilities and uses those to compare federal employees in given professions to private sector employees who actually have similar jobs. And by that scale, federal pay lags pretty significantly in aggregate. (Of course, it varies by profession.) One huge difference is that the federal government actually provides its low-level employees sufficient pay and benefits to form a living wage, even if a minimal one. So in that part of the spectrum, it probably does “over-pay” if your only measure of salary is the most work for the least cost you can whip out of someone, no matter the societal cost of your action. And I’ve been a federal employee for twenty-six years now. When I started, our benefits were pretty average and they’ve largely stayed the same. (Fortunately, it requires a literal act of Congress to change our benefits.) Across the private sector, though, as unions have been decimated, benefits have plummeted and sometimes almost vanished altogether. This actually reflects GOP tactics nationwide. We’ve seen it particularly on display in Wisconsin and Ohio since the last election cycle. They attempt to pit different groups against each other so they can distract them all from the way they are actively looting our country. It reminds me of the story of the rich white man who sits down at a table with a poor white sharecropper and a black man with a huge plate of cookies. The rich white man takes all the cookies but one. He then turns to the poor white man and tells him, “You better watch out. That black man is trying to take your cookie.” That’s exactly what’s happening with the GOP. They are trying to set union against non-union, private sector against public sector, middle class against poor, working poor against indigent poor, white against black, white against hispanic, and every other division they can find to exploit. Why? To distract people from the fact that they’re getting all the cookies. Duh. And to get those groups to keep pulling each other down. Maybe when 80% of Americans are back to living in company towns, they’ll be satisfied. Something like that seems to be their goal. Maybe they want the last cookie, too, and will take it while we’re fighting amongst ourselves. I won’t even analyze the bad math. I’ve already established that basic math skills seem to be a lost art in our country. I can’t tell if they author simply can’t do math or if he just recognizes that most of his audience can’t do math so will be easily fooled by his propaganda. (And if you can’t tell what’s wrong with the math regarding federal employee pay, go get a 5th grade or so math textbook and come back when you understand percentages.)

A Prayer for Survivors. It’s at the bottom of the post. Make sure you scroll down and read it.

Obama the Moderate. It’s an interesting and, from everything I can tell, pretty accurate graph.

Things Are Not O.K. And they won’t be as long as we still have fewer people employed than we did in 2001 and more long-term unemployed than at any point since the Great Depression. So far my older three seem to be weathering this economy OK. But I still have two more kids who will need to find employment at some point in the not too distant future. And Robert Reich on the downward mobility of the middle class in America.

Why did the South flip from solidly Democratic, which they had been since the Reconstruction to Republican? The maps in this post tell the story. The Civil Rights Movement, plain and simple. LBJ knew it would happen and he still did the right thing instead of the politically expedient thing. People who believe we are somehow a post-rascist society are either naive or are lying to themselves. We may become such a society some day, but we’re nowhere near it yet.

We’ve always been at war with Eastasia. Must be inconvenient to be an economist having to fight back against your own discredited words. That’s actually the main reason I started reading Krugman. As I researched things, I kept finding stuff he had written before events that actually predicted what would happen if certain actions were taken. Then those actions or inactions were in fact taken and the result Krugman had predicted from his models occurred. In other words, I found him credible. Not so with many others.

#NOMOREDEADKIDS For the record, I don’t consider Dobson substantially better than Pearl. He just promulgates variations on the theme.

St. Isaac the Syrian on the audacity of mercy. If I have a patron saint, it’s certainly St. Isaac.

This isn’t a war on religion or Catholics. It’s just America. Really good post by Diana Butler Bass pointing out that we all pay for things we don’t agree with and with which we even have a moral objection.

And this column makes a point similar to the one I made. The First Amendment also prevents the Catholic Church from imposing its views on those who are just looking for a job in health care to support their family from a major employer in their area. Catholic hospitals and universities are largely indistinguishable from secular versions of the same in today’s world. I know that for a fact; I’m quite familiar with both in our area. In addition to other things I’ve mentioned, my older son was born at Seton (and I’m not even sure I was aware it was a Catholic hospital at the time) and I’ve known many people who worked in its system (really only one of two significant hospital systems in our city). My second wife graduated from St. Edward’s University. My wife attended it for a time. And I’ve known a ton of people who attended it. Arguing about the reason the Catholic Church started these institutions is largely irrelevant to a discussion of how they operate today. The author also makes the point I did that if the Republicants had allowed health care reform to take a more rational shape, this wouldn’t have been left in the lap of employers in the first place. But we already know they are nothing by hypocrites. I’m becoming increasingly disenchanted by the vocal Catholic Bishops as well. I’ve yet to hear of one of them threatening to bar a Catholic Republican politician from the Eucharist for supporting the death penalty, opposing health care reform, or any of a host of other Catholic pro-life dogmas. Their “outrage” seems very narrowly focused.

And another good column from the New Yorker on the contraceptive coverage issue.

And this is an intriguing chart. Everyone has probably heard that 58% of Catholics disagree with their Bishops on the contraceptive coverage issue. The rest of the results haven’t gotten as much air time. It’s white Protestants who mostly support them. And of those, white mainline protestants roughly break 50/50 while white evangelicals overwhelming disagree with the Obama administration. (And yes, I phrased it that way on purpose. My gut tells me it’s more about finding any reason to hate Obama than any deep support for Catholicism. I know too many white evangelicals.) And yeah. We’re definitely a post-racist country.

NPR does an excellent job of pointing out that the requirement for plans to cover contraceptives has been in place since 2000. And it’s been incorporated into many state laws as well. The only thing that is really new in the HHS regulation is that it must be considered preventive care and offered by insurers with no deductible or copayment.

This is an interesting post exploring “Left” and “Right” political poles. I agree with much of the central premise. If you study ancient history in particular, as well as the not so ancient sort, it quickly becomes clear that regardless of culture it’s difficult to separate the social concerns of the “Left” from Christianity. That’s their source. Historically, there is no other. I also like the use of Nietzsche. I shudder as the things he wrote increasingly become reality, but he had sharp insights into the nature of human beings and their societies. I also find the appellation “conservative” jarring when applied to the modern political “Right”. We’ve completely forgotten what “liberal” and “conservative” mean. And the association of the “Right” with Christianity in our present time is one of the most bizarre things of all. It makes no rational sense whatsoever. Of course, we’re not nearly as rational as we often like to think ourselves to be. There are a number of places where I would outright disagree with certain statements made or connections drawn. Those who know me can probably pick them out. But I don’t really want to direct focus to those aspects. Rather, read it and get a sense for the broader themes and descriptions. They are good ones.

Comic book hero and villain alignment chart. (And if you don’t get it, you clearly never played Dungeons & Dragons.)

Want to promote “family values”? Do something about income inequality, loss of employment opportunity, and poverty.

You’ve got to love Jay Smooth’s Ill Doctrine first thoughts on Gingrich and Romney.

Mary 17 – Synaxis of the Theotokos

Posted: February 10th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Mary | Tags: , , , , | Comments Off on Mary 17 – Synaxis of the Theotokos

This is an Orthodox feast held each year on December 26. A synaxis is a feast day  in honor of a saint with special services (matins, vespers, etc.) written for that day. It typically occurs following a major feast day and recognizes a saint that participated in the event of that feast. So, for instance, the Synaxis of St. John the Forerunner falls on January 7, the day after Theophany. The Synaxis of the Theotokos, fittingly, occurs the day after the Nativity of Christ. This feast is likely the oldest feast of Mary within the Church and the beginning of her formal veneration in the liturgical cycle of the Church.

The Akathist to the Holy Virgin Theotokos by St. Romanos the Melodist is normally done each Friday during Great Lent, but this post on the Synaxis seems like an appropriate time to share it.

You can read one translation of the service here and another one here.

Frederica Mathewes-Green reads her own translation of the hymn in this podcast.


Four Hundred Texts on Love (Third Century) 14

Posted: February 9th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: St. Maximos the Confessor | Tags: , , , , | Comments Off on Four Hundred Texts on Love (Third Century) 14

27.  Since God is absolute existence, absolute goodness and absolute wisdom, or rather, to put it more exactly, since God is beyond all such things, there is nothing whatsoever that is opposite to Him. Creatures, on the other hand, all exist through participation and grace, while those endowed with intelligence and intellect also have a capacity for goodness and wisdom. Hence they do have opposites. As the opposite to existence they have non-existence, and as the opposite to the capacity for goodness and wisdom they have evil and ignorance. Whether or not they are to exist eternally lies Within the power of their Maker. But whether or not intelligent creatures are to participate in His goodness and wisdom depends on their own will.

God has no opposite. I think today a lot of people think of evil or the devil as an equal and opposite force to God, the yin to God’s yang. That’s not a Christian perspective. God stands in a category of his own with no opposite and no counterpart.

Instead, it’s creatures, intelligent creatures more specifically, that inherently express that sort of duality. The opposite of existence is non-existence, but since existence is part of our essence created and sustained by God, we have no control over it. And God does not begrudge existence to any of his creation. As such, we share in God’s eternal being for God will not deny us it.

But the beauty of God’s creation lies in the fact that intelligent beings can choose to participate or not participate in his goodness and wisdom. While angelic beings seem to fall wholly on one side or the other, perhaps because they are spiritual as opposed to bodily created beings, most of us as human beings choose both daily. At times we choose to participate and at times we do not. And over time our choices shape our nature and being. Some grow to love God and become godly. Others grow to despise God and become ungodly.

We are all created in the image of God, but we do not all attain the likeness of God.

Mary 16 – Our Lady of Guadalupe

Posted: February 8th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Mary | Tags: , , | 1 Comment »

Our Lady of Guadalupe


I’m a Texan. I’m not sure that it’s possible to grow up or live in this state and not absorb some knowledge of Our Lady of Guadalupe, whose icon from the 16th century is pictured above. She appeared to St. Juan Diego,  a poor Aztec peasant, at Tepeyac, northwest of present-day Mexico city. In that appearance in 1531, a decade after the Spanish conquest of the Aztecs, she is reported to have said the following.

“Know and understand well, you the most humble of my son, that I am the ever virgin Holy Mary, Mother of the True God for whom we live, of the Creator of all things, Lord of heaven and the earth. I wish that a temple be erected here quickly, so I may therein exhibit and give all my love, compassion, help, and protection, because I am your merciful mother, to you, and to all the inhabitants on this land and all the rest who love me, invoke and confide in me; listen there to their lamentations, and remedy all their miseries, afflictions and sorrows. And to accomplish what my clemency pretends, go to the palace of the bishop of Mexico, and you will say to him that I manifest my great desire, that here on this plain a temple be built to me; you will accurately relate all you have seen and admired, and what you have heard. Be assured that I will be most grateful and will reward you, because I will make you happy and worthy of recompense for the effort and fatigue in what you will obtain of what I have entrusted. Behold, you have heard my mandate, my humble son; go and put forth all your effort.”

The Bishop, however, requested a sign. So St. Juan returned and Mary told him to gather flowers he would find on the hill in mid-December. The flowers were Castillian roses, which could not have been found at that time of year in that place. St. Juan Diego gather the roses in his tilma, a cloth made from cactus fiber. The flowers were arranged by Mary and when he had presented them to the Bishop, the image above had miraculously appeared on the tilma.

Tilma is a poor quality cloth and normally lasts no longer than 15-20 years. The icon above, however, has survived for centuries. Many other miracles are associated with it as well. The Basilica of Guadalupe is the most visited Christian shrine in the world.

Four Hundred Texts on Love (Third Century) 13

Posted: February 7th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: St. Maximos the Confessor | Tags: , , , | Comments Off on Four Hundred Texts on Love (Third Century) 13

26. All beings endowed with intelligence and intellect are either angelic or human. All angelic beings may be subdivided further into two general moral categories or classes, the holy and the accursed — that is, the holy powers and the impure demons. All human beings may also be divided into two moral categories only, the godly and the ungodly.

I want to take it slowly through these texts in particular, but this one is fairly straightforward. We know of only two categories of beings endowed with the sort of intelligence and intellect St. Maximos is describing, angels and humans. And angels and human beings both ultimately fall into two categories based on the manner in which they employ their intellect. It’s important to keep that in mind for his subsequent texts.