Month: July 2013



You may remember George Goss as the young man (30 years old) from NYC with whom I recently posted a little Q and A [Part 1 and Part 2].

Anyway, George is a photographer with a masters from the School of Visual Arts. I was so moved by this series of monk-farmers and animals that I asked if I could share them with my readers.

Here’s the backstory:

“I came to Weston Priory for a week-long retreat after breaking up with my fiancée. We were in a relationship for over two years, and after Pre-Cana counseling (marriage preparation) with my pastor it became clear to me that the wedding in September was not going to happen.

The time spent with the Benedictine monks of Weston, Vermont was the perfect antidote. It granted my mind a rest from the constant questioning of if breaking off the engagement was really the right move. Along with two other young men on the retreat I was able to enter into the rhythm of the community: waking up early (around 4:00) and throughout the day helping with chores such as baling hay, cleaning out the sheep barn, clearing brush, and stacking firewood.

Before traveling up to the Weston Priory from New York City I needed to decide what camera to bring: my cumbersome digital Nikon D700 or my lightweight Nikon FM2 film camera. Both have their merits. Since I was not required to “get the shot,” I opted for the FM2. It gave me the freedom to photograph the moments without worrying about what the results were.”

“I was also lucky to come at a time soon after a mother rabbit gave birth. It was dark inside and I was without a flash so I opened up the aperture all the way and set the shutter speed for a long exposure. I wasn’t sure if there was going to be enough light or if I would be able keep the camera steady enough. That’s pretty much been my experience with photography, I never quite know if I have the shot or not.”




“They think faith is a big electric blanket, when of course it is the cross.”
–Flannery O’Connor

“Why do you have to be so gloomy and morose all the time?” a reader recently asked. “There’s so much MORE than that. You should read my friend’s blog who is a REAL Christian and HAPPY” etc… 

This, in response to what I’d thought was a lovely piece about the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the affinity I feel for Barry, the homeless lush who staggers up and down Sunset Boulevard in my ‘hood in L.A….

Boy did that raise my hackles! Gloomy!

Here are some photos I took last week, for example, after arriving early at the Twin Towers jail in downtown L.A. to talk to the inmates with some other folks about our ‘journey” with alcoholism/drug addiction.

It was a beautiful afternoon, as you can see. These were taken on a creepily deserted street that runs along the back of the phalanx of cheesy bail bond joints located across from the jail.

Union Station-adjacent
Patsaouras Transit Plaza to the left. 
Some glittery concertina wire!
Don’t you just love combining errands? And parking, too!
Twin Towers is in the background. Note the slit windows
so the inmates are deprived of a view of the sky, people, or trees.

Pill call wasn’t SO loud that we literally couldn’t be heard, as is sometimes the case. The guys were great. As always I felt like they gave us way more than we gave them. We’re not allowed to hold hands with the inmates, lest we try to pass contraband, but at the end they held hands with each other and we held hands with each other and we all prayed the Lord’s Prayer.

As if that weren’t enough happiness, here are some pix of the drive home afterward, headed east on Cesar Chavez (which turns into Sunset Blvd.)

“Give me a person who has suffered by their own willful stupidity 

but found God in their process 
and I will listen.”
–from one of my favorite pieces of fan e-mail ever

    And if the other reader is still with us–welcome!… 




Barry Hannah‘s essay “Old Terror, New Hearts” features the residents and caretakers at the leper colony in Carville, Lousiana.

Here’s the first paragraph.

It was a massive Federalist plantation, lazy and handsome among two-century oaks and palm trees. You could imagine FDR had just visited to cut a ribbon last week. I had heard throughout my life the curious rumor of a leper “colony” down in south Louisiana. This news reached me when I was a boy in Clinton, Mississippi, and one did not know quite what to do with it. Colony evoked folks lost in an exotic fastness. Leper of course was as bad as it got, poor devils. I had a sense of these creatures execrated and driven onto some isle in a vicious swamp. In that, my young imagination was not far wrong. Louisiana was alarming and peculiar anyway. There were plenty of Catholics, many seemed touched by at least mild cases of voodoo, and adults went public with their gaudiest dreams.

Read the rest here




Gene Fowler, noticing a Bible on the shelf, once asked W.C. Fields, “What the hell are you doing with that”?
Fields replied, “Been lookin’ for loopholes”…

Thou shalt not kill. Love thine enemy. Love one another as I loved you. Say yes when you mean yes and no when you mean no; anything else comes from the evil one.

Christ couldn’t have been clearer, firmer, more concise, more unequivocal, more definite, more final. He put no restrictions whatsoever on any of those.

If he had added Thou shalt not kill unless you happen to deem it a “just” killing, his entire life, death, and ministry would have meant nothing. The Crucifixion would have added nothing. Good Friday commemorates the unspeakable suffering of yet another nobody, a dreamer, a loser. The Resurrection was a symbol, a gesture.

There is only one unforgivable sin, Christ said, and that is to blaspheme the Holy Spirit. I wonder if this willful twisting of his life, teaching, being, and the plainest, clearest possibly teaching is not exactly what he was talking about.

 As G. K. Chesterton observed, “Christianity has not been
tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried.”

Still, we should at least know what we’re aiming for.

If he left me or you in charge of who gets to be killed, I’m handing in my rosary.

The terrible thing about all divine truth, indeed, is its simplicity. Whether it be the secrets of the physical universe he has created (like Einstein’s E=mc2), or the Ten Commandments, or the Beatitudes, or the truth we learned in the catechism – all can be simply stated. And yet how curious it is that this very simplicity make them so unacceptable to the wise and the proud and the sophisticated of this world. ‘It is the simple things of this world,’ says St. Paul, ‘that God has chosen to confound the wise.’ Has God really planned it so, or is it just that we in our human wisdom are too proud to accept the utter simplicity of divine wisdom? Why must we always look for more sophisticated, more meaningful, more relevant answers, when he has set the truth before us in so stark and simple a fashion?

Man was created to praise, reverence, and serve God in this world and to be happy with him forever in the next. That is the fact of the matter; you believe it or you don’t – and that is the end of it. Philosophers may argue about it, and they have; some have managed to convince themselves and others of its truth, while others have not. But it is the first truth of the faith, and those who have faith accept it; those who do not, do not. I cannot myself convince anyone of it, but I believe it. I do not apologize for my faith, nor am I ashamed of it…That is the only secret I have come to know. It is not mine alone; Christ himself spoke of it, the saints have practiced it, others have written about it far better than I. I can only hope that what I have written will strike a responsive chord in some, will prove a help to others, however few. And I pray that you may be one of them.

–Fr. Walter Ciszek, S.J., He Leadeth Me




Here’s a piece that appeared in the November, 2012 issue of Magnificat.


When I told a lapsed friend I’d published a book about St. Thérèse of Lisieux, she rather pointedly inquired: “But you don’t have to be inside the Church to be a saint, do you?” I understood her concern; one of my abiding obsessions is the “unsung saint”: the person who is never noticed.

But here’s why saints are compelling: Saints are exceptional. Saints are extreme. As William James observed in The Varieties of Religious Experience: “There can be no doubt that as a matter of fact a religious life, exclusively pursued, does tend to make the person exceptional and eccentric…It would profit us little to study this second-hand [i.e. conventional, ordinary] religious life. We must make search rather for… individuals for whom religion exists not as a dull habit, but as an acute fever rather.”

So though in the general sense “saints” can be found in everywhere, those who love Christ tend to be the most extreme people of all. Thus we have an 11-year-old who preferred to be stabbed to death rather than yield her virginity (St. Maria Goretti). We have a nun who drank the pus from the cancerous breast of her mother superior (St. Catherine of Siena). We have a medieval scholar, regarded as one of the most magnificent philosophers the world has known, who at the end of his life regarded his oeuvre and remarked, “All straw!” (St. Thomas Aquinas).

I have my own personal pantheon: St. Dymphna, patron saint of the mentally ill. St. André Bessette, who achieved sainthood by humbly tending the door of a Montreal church for forty years. A new favorite is St. Mark Ji Tianxiang, a Chinese layman and opium addict who was prohibited from receiving the sacraments for the last thirty years of his life because of this “grave sin.” During the Boxer Rebellion, in which Christians were brutally persecuted, he was sentenced with many others to die and is reputed to have gone to his execution singing the Litany of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

How capacious a Church that holds to her bosom female saints and male saints; saints of every race, age, demographic, IQ, livelihood, and walk of life! How welcoming the arms of a Church that embraces as some of her most precious children the broken, the fragile, the weak, the still sinning, the still in bondage, the still stuck. How emblematic of a Church of mercy and humor to take us as we are. How wise the Church is to understand that perfection consists not in ridding ourselves of every fault but in our capacity to give and to receive love.

In its original form, “saint” simply meant “friend of Jesus” [Col. 1:2]. That’s what saint still means. Glory be to God that the invitation is extended to all.




I have been having way too much fun lately.

I had a truly lovely birthday. My friend Maudie (see previous post) shot the pic above of the Kokuho Rose Brown Rice Bowl: Sorrel Pesto (nut free), Preserved Meyer Lemon, Lacto Fermented Hot Sauce, Black Radish, French Sheep Feta, Poached Egg (7.25). 

At the Norton Simon Museum later, as I always do when there I visited Van Gogh’s “The Mulberry Tree,” which he painted in between time at the asylum and cutting off his ear (he committed suicide eight months later). 

I perused “Beyond Brancusi: The Space of Sculpture.” 

At the museum store, I bought two coasters painted with Dutch tulips.

And before hearing Beethoven’s Op. 131, I enjoyed a halcyon interlude wandering the grounds. Which include a large pond dotted with–thank you, God–water lilies. 



…maybe Mom hummed this song the morning after I was born…

 I am 61 years of age today. Bloody but unbowed. And very, very grateful….

My dear friend Maudie is taking me for lunch at the Squirl Cafe.

From a review when the place opened last fall: “[Proprietor Jessica] Koslow is especially pleased to offer Kukoho Rose rice from Koda Farms, a proprietary varietal bred during the mid 20th century. (Read about the history of this family farm. Really, please do. It’s fascinating.) ‘I’ve never had anything like it,’ Koslow says. She’s serving the grain as hot or cold porridge underneath a dollop of seasonal jam and a sprinkle of toasted hazelnuts, or in a savory version with sorrel pesto, poached egg, blistered San Marzano tomatoes, preserved Meyer lemon and feta.”

Quintessential ridiculous-to-the-sublime hipster L.A., in other words, and what will tip it over to the sublime is that the food will be great. And the weather will be beautiful.

After that I plan to hie over to the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena, there to survey the art and hear one of Beethoven’s Late Quartets, Op. 131. If the Late Quartets don’t get a person musing on eternity, nothing will!

Morning Mass will have tied it all together.
Thanks be to God.




We are now paying taxes so that the NSA can have access to all
our telephone calls, all our emails, all our faxes, all our financial
information, and everything that we do or say electronically.

Does that not strike us as
profoundly anti-freedom, anti-truth, anti-beauty and thus profoundly anti-Christ?

Here’s why the NSA is abhorrent. Because any reasonably
affectionate, reasonably intelligent human being with a mind, heart, soul,  and spirit has a sense of him- or herself as
essentially of value, essentially precious, essentially inviolable.

Because in
civilized societies we recognize—up to now, we have recognized it ourselves by
constitutionally protecting it—a right to privacy.

The issue isn’t whether we have anything to hide; it’s that
some essential part of our humanity is violated, is lost, when personal
letters, words we say or write in confidentiality, or pain, or anger, or joy, are subject to prying eyes.

“I know some folks that
don’t mind their own bisnis,” as Flannery O’Connor wrote on the flyleaf of
her childhood journal.

“Properly understood,” writes Fr. Ron Rolheiser,  “chastity is precisely a question of having the patience to bear the tension of the interminable slowness of things. To be chaste is to not prematurely force things so that everybody and everything, each within its own unique rhythm is properly respected.” 

The NSA is abhorrent because it’s an offense
against chastity. It is a rape and a brutalization of what should be sacrosanct in the name of “security.”

I keep thinking of the opening scene of George Orwell’s 1984. In his apartment–in what should
be his sanctuary, his home–Winston Smith is desperately trying to find a corner away from the microphones, the
bugs, the cameras.

In a culture that indoctrinates its citizens 24/7 with the lies “WAR IS PEACE,” “FREEDOM IS SLAVERY,” and “IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH,” he is about to engage in an act punishable by death.

He is
trying to record his thoughts, his conscience, his heart, in a personal diary.  

“For whom, it suddenly occurred to him to wonder, was he
writing this diary? For the future, for the unborn.”




Recently I gave a talk at the end of which I read a piece about walking around my LA neighborhood of Silver Lake and pondering the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

The piece ended like this:

“All over the world, all day, every day, people are
suffering, and here comes Barry, the homeless schizophrenic and hopeless
alcoholic who wanders up and down Sunset Boulevard, one grimy hand clutching a plastic
bag holding his worldly belongings, the other held out in a perpetual plea for
booze money. What to do in the face of such suffering? What to do with your
brokenness, your feebleness, your weakness, your own suffering and doubt and
loneliness and fear? You give Barry a couple of bucks. You make sure to shake
his hand and thank him, because this is Christ. And you keep
walking–to Mass.”

Afterwards, my contact person observed,  “You don’t fit in any category! Let’s face it, most of us aren’t going to shake hands with a homeless person! And yet you talk to the homeless and…”

“Love the Church?” I interjected.

“We are all rather blessed in our deprivations if we let ourselves be,” observed Flannery O’Connor. I’m so poor I long to shake Barry’s hand. I’m so poor I need Christ.