The “Family Chapel” Project

littleoratoryOn Mrs. Q’s nightstand at the moment is a book entitled The Little Oratory: A Beginner’s Guide to Praying in the Home, by David Clayton and Leila Marie Lawler. I haven’t cracked this one open yet, but she’s been talking about it a lot, and recently we began the process of converting our “library” or “office” into a “chapel”, which will still double as the library, because there’s really nowhere else in the house for the books to go.

The boys (very enthusiastically) helped rearrange the furniture to accommodate an “altar” — a cabinet with a rectangular piece of cement backer board on top to make the table (about 48″ tall, which is actually a nice height because the Littles can’t reach it very easily) covered in a linen and a handwoven runner from Guatemala. We have some little saint statues on there, a St. Benedict crucifix from the Hermanas in Guatemala, as well as some candles. There is also a crucifix hanging over the center of wall behind the altar, and an icon or two.

A work in progress.

But presently there is no good seating, and thus it is not a very functional space….. yet.

My wife has a bedroom set that belonged to her father when he was a boy — antique furniture. But the bed and frame is only a double, and rather rickety (not safe for our ginormous children), so it’s been gathering dust in the closet. My wife knows a couple who “re-purpose” old furniture to make something new. She learned that this couple make benches out of old headboards and footboards. The picture below is the drop-off, the “before”, because they are to be made not into benches, but into pews for our chapel. They are even going to add a kneeler to the back of at least one of the pews, for kneeling. 




New to the Divine Office? Know the tunes for all the Hymns already?

We don’t. And I’m not particularly musical either. But the kids like singing the hymns, so I did a search for a place to easily access the hymns in the breviary for our family to use at Evening Prayer, which we’ve been doing every night since I returned from Guatemala. Turns out that there is a mighty fine blog called Breviary Hymns, which features an index (alphabetical, by first line of the hymn) of every hymn. If you click on the hymn you want, you get a page with some details about the text, melody, tune, and setting, as well as (in most cases) one or two youtube videos with the hymn itself. My favorite videos are the ones without singing, and just the organ playing (i.e., religious karaoke).

The Vineyard Project: Vintage 2014 Update

“Dear brothers and sisters, after our great pope, John Paul II, the cardinals have elected me, a simple, humble worker in God’s vineyard. I am consoled by the fact that the Lord knows how to work and how to act, even with insufficient tools, and I especially trust in your prayers. In the joy of the resurrected Lord, trustful of his permanent help, we go ahead, sure that God will help, and Mary, his most beloved mother, stands on our side. Thank you.” – Pope Benedict XVI, 19 April 2005

The Central Valley, around Modesto, is the largest wine-grape producing region in the state. It produces a lot of wine, equal to all the other California appellations combined. But the vast majority of this wine comes from the Thompson seedless or some variant thereof — roughly equivalent to a table grape — and winds up in boxed wine or the big glass jugs of Chablis at the supermarket.

We live in the northern Central Valley, far north of Modesto, and traditional wisdom has always held that the climate here is a major obstacle to growing quality wine. It’s simply too hot. Grapes will produce copious amounts of sugar and get very flabby because the acid necessary for balance takes a back seat. I suppose Thompsons would do just as well, but it seems rather pointless to grow something that will perpetually be destined for a plastic bladder rather than a proper 750 ml bottle.


In the autumn of 2011, we visited the New Clairvaux Winery. The Monastery and vineyards are about an hour north of us, where the climate is even hotter than where we live. I was very impressed by the quality of wine being produced by the Monks there, so much that I joined their wine club AND began thinking about the possibility of starting my own vineyard project.

I began some research. One wise decision that the Monks made was not to attempt any of the “tried and true” Napa varietals. Napa Valley winemaking established itself with the traditional French varietals, mirroring the success of famous French appellations, because Napa has a whole bunch of little microclimate areas that closely resemble the conditions of places like Burgundy and Bordeaux.

For example, the southern part of Napa Valley has a sub-appellation called Carneros. This region receives coastal breezes from the San Francisco bay, and the average temperature is around 10-15 degrees cooler than in the northern part of the Napa Valley. It is ideal for “Burgundy”: Pinot Noir (red) and Chardonnay (white) in the style of French Bourgogne. Perhaps in Carneros you will find more wines aged in oak barrels than in Bourgogne, particularly for Chardonnay which is almost always stainless steel fermented and aged, so that it retains a crisp, fruity character. When it comes to wine, it seems that Americans like their butter even more than the French.

In contrast, as you travel northward up Napa Valley you encounter the towns of St. Helena and Calistoga. Temperatures are much higher than Carneros, the coastal breezes are less prevalent, and the afternoon heat lingers a while after sundown. It still remains a good 10-15 degrees cooler on average than the temps where my family lives, but the warmth is more like Bourdeaux, where juicy reds blended from Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Malbec, etc., have been grown for centuries with great success.

The Monks selected varietals that would be more appropriate in this climate, and therefore ventured further south, to the Mediterranean, for inspiration. Thus, the red varietals planted by the Monks included Tempranillo, Graciano, Barbera, Syrah, and Petite Syrah.

In the Spring of 2012, I went to a nursery in Napa Valley and purchased 24 Syrah rootstocks, which I planted along four homemade trellises, each approximately 50 feet long.

20140621_180750_resizedSince then, my vineyard management has been slightly lackadaisical. I’ve trained the vines, and some have grown more robustly than the others. I’ve lost a few, which will need to replaced in future years. Last year, I removed every grape cluster early on, so that the vines would concentrate energy on building up roots and plant structure. I’ve also been very stingy with watering, after reading that you can “train” vines to be more drought resistant. We are currently in a serious drought here, and I’d rather the vines grow more slowly if it means that they are sending their roots further down to look for water.

Between the beer brewing, meat curing, homeschooling, blogging, etc., etc., etc., the vineyard has really been more like an aspiration or hobby than true project.

This year, one quadrant of the vineyard consisted of vines that appeared sufficiently established to grow some grapes. I noticed that my trellis is going to need some serious work; the wires are not taut enough and the weight of the vines and fruit has caused a serious droop. But I let the vines continue to grow some grapes, in the hope that we’d get enough fruit to make a little wine this year, and see if this is worth doing.

IMG_7716I kept checking the grape clusters, and noticed recently that most of them were looking black. Tasting a few, they were delicious, but it seemed to me rather early yet for harvest. More sugar concentration was definitely possible.

Then, on Monday, I noticed that a number of blue jays were congregating around the vines, and approaching them I realized that the birds had already begun feasting on the ripe grapes.

Stupid early birds. And stupid me for not anticipating the need for some netting.

But all was not lost; I only crashed the first course of the birds’ dinner party, so the big question was whether the grapes were ready to pick or not. Grabbing a few berries and the hygrometer (a neat little device that measures sugar content in liquids) I was able to determine that the fruit was already within the range of 20-25 Brix, meaning that we could go ahead and harvest. I figured adding a little sugar (because not all the berries would fall into this range) was preferable to losing the entire lot to the birds.

IMG_7714The harvest yielded about 10 pounds of fruit (a rather small amount!), and the whole family sat at the kitchen table plucking each individual berry from the stems before crushing. Using a “potato masher”, I crushed the fruit. My final Brix was around 18-20, so I did add a bit of table sugar to bring it up to 26. I used a ground up Campden tablet to get rid of any wild yeasts or microbes sitting on the skins. I transferred the “must” to a nylon bag lining a gallon food-grade bucket, which will be the fermenter. After 24 hours, I pitched half a packet of “Pasteur Red” yeast for fermentation.

20140730_125544_resizedIn about a week, the primary fermentation will be completed, and instead of a grape press, I will simply squeeze out all the liquid from the skins and seeds like a giant teabag, and transfer the fresh wine to a glass gallon jug to age until next fall.

In the end, we’ll be lucky if we manage to get just two 750 ml bottles of wine from this vintage. But, it’s a fulfilling project because the wine came from vines that I planted, tended (poorly), producing the grapes that I harvested, processed, fermented, and bottled. It likely won’t be very good, but it will be “ours”.

And, it’s just the beginning; an established vineyard can produce wine for up to 50 years! So, as long as this wine gives hope for future vintages (i.e., someone will drink it), we’ll keep going!

Adventures in Pork: Disaster Mitigation

We have a large freezer in the garage. It has….. issues. The main issue is that the shelves are the wire type with four pegs that are supposed go into little recessed holes on the inside of the freezer. If you put anything slightly heavy on the shelves, the weight causes the shelf to bow, and you lose a quarter- or half-inch of width which causes one or two pegs to come out of their place, toppling the entire shelf and its contents.

I like to store stuff in the freezer. It’s normally full. Or at least, it was. Recently, a few weeks ago, someone (probably me) went into the freezer, removed something, causing a shelf to fall out after shutting the door. This little avalanche knocked the freezer door ajar, which no one realized until it was too late. This is the second time this has happened.

Luckily, the door has a lock and we were able to locate the key. So hopefully this exact catastrophe will not happen again, because even if something falls forward inside the freezer when it’s locked, the door will stay bolted shut….. as long as we ALWAYS keep it locked.

Everything — including about half a side of beef, and over half a pig — thawed completely. By the time I discovered it, the small items kept on the door were barely refrigerator temperature (maybe a bit warmer in fact, and I couldn’t determine how long they’d been like this) and the large items were entirely thawed but nice and cold.

I ended up filling our garbage toter with more than $500 of spoiled food.

prosciutto1I had two fresh hams, at over 20 lbs. a piece, to be cured for prosciutto, along with the jowls and sides for guinciale and pancetta. These items were vacuum sealed and seemed properly cold, so I determined that I would have to get those started curing IMMEDIATELY (or they’d be lost) (this was just a couple days before I had to leave for Guatemala).

So I quickly gathered the things I’d need to get the pork into cure before leaving on the mission. I checked the hams two days ago:


They actually look really good. They smell cured. No off aromas at all. I used a good amount of weight on top of them. They are firm and actually feel good and cured right now, however, I’m giving them another 5 days and just a bit more salt. After that, they’ll get rinsed, coated in lard and crusted with coarsely ground black pepper, wrapped in cheesecloth, and placed in the curebrewzer for at least a year. The pancetta and guinciale will go in at the same time as well, but will hang for a far shorter amount of time.

AND, I just got word that our NEXT pig was just slaughtered and so I called the butcher with cutting instructions. Apparently this pig was fed a steady diet of goat’s milk and is nice and FAT. We will cure the hams, sides, and cheeks in the same manner, and maybe this time we’ll finally get some salami.


On Grotesques: Gargoyle and Chimera

Famous gothic or neo-gothic cathedrals feature ornate decoration: in addition to animals, statues and stained glass, there are also “gargoyles” stationed atop parapets and buttresses, peering down on us and surveying the landscape.

Gargoyles of Notre-Dame de Paris; Source: Wikimedia Commons; Author: Krzysztof Mizera

Gargoyles of Notre-Dame de Paris; Source: Wikimedia Commons; Author: Krzysztof Mizera

A “gargoyle” is actually a type of a “grotesque” that has a functional purpose: a true gargoyle directs rain water away from the roof and masonry of the structure, carrying the water through a decorated downspout. The word is from the French, meaning “throat” or “gullet”.

A “grotesque” that is not truly a “gargoyle” is actually called a “chimera”, or for the gamers out there, a “boss”. But nowadays we use the term “gargoyle” whether it carries water or not. It may be impish or devilish, fantastic or fierce, animal or supernatural, tortured or torturing, humorous or menacing.

The use of grotesques in architecture is not purely an innovation of the West, or the Church. Rather, various cultures have their own examples. But as it regards the Church, grotesques, apart from any practical function, also deliver a message to the faithful: evil exists, but is unwelcome insideEvil can’t stand to be any closer to God. The church is a sanctuary. 

York Minster; Source: Wikimedia Commons; Author: Digital Designs

York Minster; Source: Wikimedia Commons; Author: Digital Designs

Catholics understand that the church building is a “sacred place” that is designated for divine worship (1983 CCL 1214). Every church houses at least one tabernacle within which is contained the Eucharist — the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ.

A church is the ordinary place for the celebration of the Mass, which in the Eucharist brings about “our union with the Church in heaven” (Lumen Gentium, 50).

Heaven is literally brought to Earth inside a church, and we are accompanied not just by statues or images, but the company of angels and saints themselves. Eucharistic Prayer IV says that in God’s presence “are countless hosts of Angels,” serving Him “day and night”, gazing upon the glory His face, glorifying “without ceasing” so that “we, too” confess God’s “…name in exultation, giving voice to every creature under heaven…..” Our celebration is not fully understood without acknowledgement that God’s angels and saints join us at every Mass.

The grotesques outside, as well as the saints and angels represented within a church are all human works, for the most part. But if eye has not seen, and ear has not heard, then the heart has at least imagined. At times the imagination glimpses upon Divine Inspiration, setting down by human expression a thing that is True.

20140729_100919_AndroidLikewise, the Catholic home is the sanctuary of the Domestic Church (N.B.: has a priest blessed your home? Invite him over, serve him a meal, and ask him to bless it).

A few years ago, my sister was an art student and took a pottery class where she sculpted a rather peculiar piece. Though not a true gargoyle, it could be called a chimera and is stationed outside our house. It scares the children. It scares me a little, too.

When I look at it, I think that it presents a good expression of Sin.

The face is beautiful, but anonymous. We cannot even be sure whether it is a man or woman. He is Adam. She is Eve. He is me. She is you.

Sin does not care who you are. You are the lowest common denominator to Sin: just another human soul. Depending on your holiness, you might be more or less a prize to Sin, but all that this means is that Sin thinks it gets to twist the lance a little deeper into the Lord’s side; for Sin, understanding is lost to its own hatred.


Sin doesn’t necessarily prickle you with its claws or even alert you to its presence. It can climb on gently, like a trained rider on a willing stead. It lulls us into complacency so that it can easily install itself and get settled before making any announcement. The expression of the face suggests beguilement, a lack of awareness.

Sin shows you its own sight, a jaundiced eye that truly deceives. Sin filters what you hear, whispering dissension and anxiety. This chimera of ours serves as a reminder to set a guard against Sin, and never forget its potential, just like the ancient ones of medieval Europe.

Saint Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle, be our protection against the malice and snares of the devil. May God rebuke him we humbly pray; and do thou, O Prince of the Heavenly host, by the power of God, thrust into hell Satan and all evil spirits who wander through the world for the ruin of souls. Amen.

Book Review: “7 Secrets of the Eucharist” by Vinny Flynn

As some of you already know, earlier this month I had the opportunity to attend a mission trip to San Lucas Toliman in Guatemala. Most of our number were from Northern California, but we were privileged to be joined by renowned Catholic author and speaker Vinny Flynn, his wife Donna, and two of their teenaged grandkids.


Donna and Vinny Flynn visiting Unbound Headquarters

Apart from these folks being the closest thing that laypeople can get to “Catholic Celebrities” (perhaps you’ve seen Vinny and his family reciting the Divine Mercy Chaplet on EWTN, or maybe even attended one of Vinny’s popular talks), what struck me most about them is their earnest devotion.

This family is the real deal, and Vinny and Donna head it as patriarch and matriarch. And it’s generational, which calls to mind that by one’s fruits we will know the work of the Holy Spirit; one only need look to their legacies for living proof of Christian discipleship. But in addition to raising an awesome family (and I use this word with great care), the Flynns have been blessed to benefit the greater Catholic community, inspiring others with their music CDs, books and audiobooks, and lectures on Catholic topics.

7eucharistShortly after my return home from Guatemala, I received a shipment from MercySong, the Flynn’s media company, containing a sampling of their books and CDs (Vinny records his own audiobooks with the assistance of his family), including the first of his “7 Secrets” series — 7 Secrets of the Eucharist.

Vinny makes clear that these are not “secrets” in the conventional sense, but rather aspects of teaching on the Eucharist that many everyday Catholics have not been taught in catechism. Each of the “secrets” are aimed at deepening the understanding of the reader, in a clear and conversational style, so that one can be guided a bit deeper into the mysteries of the Eucharist.

Vinny draws from a number of primary sources to support his points. I particularly liked his references to the writings of Pope St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI. He also quotes the diary of St. Faustina to connect the Eucharist with Divine Mercy.

Incidentally, I had the opportunity to sit next to Vinny on the plane ride returning to the U.S., and we talked a bit about Divine Mercy and our shared view that God’s mercy knows no limits. I think his connection between the Eucharist and Divine Mercy is powerful and important teaching.

Without ever delving into a lecture or finger-wagging, in “Secret 6: Every Reception is Different”, Vinny discusses the Church’s teaching on “worthy reception” of the Sacrament. He points out that “The more I am able to enter into communion, uniting myself with Jesus, the more fruitful my reception will be.” I take this as the “positive approach” to teaching on mortal sin and the things that separate us from God.

He cites St. Thomas Aquinas: “In a false person, the sacrament does not produce any effect.” Though not directly cited in Vinny’s book, there is similar teaching on plenary indulgences, for example: the soul can receive the graces it is disposed to receive; a very holy soul in close communion to God is disposed to receiving even more of what God has to pour out. This is logical, and true, but it does not affect the reality of what the sacrament actually is:

[Quoting Aquinas:] We are false when the inmost self does not correspond to what is expressed externally. The sacrament of the Eucharist is an external sign that Christ is incorporated into the one who receives him and he into Christ. One is false if in his heart he does not desire this union and does not even try to remove every obstacle to it. Christ therefore does not remain in him, neither does he in Christ.”

This secret, along with the others, encourages the reader to “draw close” to Communion in the Eucharist, and provides the underlying theological bases. 7 Secrets of the Eucharist is an excellent primer on what’s actually going on “behind the veil,” presented with citations that clearly encapsulate and help the reader to understand these teachings on deep mystery. Whether you are a trained theologian or just a “regular pew-sitter”, there is something in this book that will illuminate your approach to the Lord.

My advice is to purchase two copies, because as soon as you read it, you’ll want to give it to someone else.

Will you be around Kansas City this Week?

Lake Atitlan, Guatemala

Lake Atitlan, Guatemala

Imagine your bathroom routine. Do you put a little water from the tap on your toothbrush before brushing your teeth? Do you rinse the toothbrush after using it? Where do you get the water for your drinking cup? In the shower, do you worry about keeping your mouth clamped shut so that no water can possibly get in?

Now think about how you prepare food. If you make a salad with fresh greens, do you rinse them in cold water? Where do you get the water to do it? If you’re going to slice a tomato, or give a child an apple, do you rinse it and dry it off first? If you want a drink of water, do you have to open a bottle (or boil what comes from the tap) to avoid getting sick?

Lake Atitlan is the scenic volcanic lake whose coast is peppered with Guatemalan towns like San Lucas Toliman, San Antonio, and Santiago. If you stand off away from its shore to enjoy the vista, you might just think it is paradise itself. But it is plagued with problems secondary to pollution and contamination. There is very little regulation in Guatemala, and toxic substances wind up in the lake, rendering the fish rather questionable for consumption and the water itself unsafe to drink. Many wash their laundry directly at the shore, using heavy detergents that further contaminate it.

I tested positive for the dreaded “amoebae” during my visit, and just finished the second course of antibiotics prescribed for me. The first course was to kill the living amoebae colonizing my gut, and the second course to kill the cysts in the liver that are deposited by them, which can “resurrect” in the future to re-infect the host. Most locals have been infected by amoebae a dozen times over, because they are unavoidable (believe me, I tried to do everything I could to avoid them). Carrying them chronically will lead to serious health problems.

If you happen to be near Kansas City on July 31, consider attending a presentation sponsored by Unbound and delivered by Maria Sicay Lux entitled, “Clean Water, Healthy Lives.” Maria Sicay Lux was once a sponsored child through Unbound, and through its scholarship program has had the opportunity to attend college and study in the United States. Her dream is to earn a degree in environmental studies and to work toward making the lake clean.

Clean water is a blessing that we often take for granted. Most Americans, along with the rest of the First World, spend little time worrying about tap water making them sick, because we have the resources to provide good filtration and sanitation for our drinking water.

But elsewhere, maintaining access to clean water is nearly an impossible task. In Guatemala, it is the case that soda (made with sugar) is cheaper than agua puro. As a result, children and adults consume an excess of sugar, phosphates, and chemicals, leading to health problems like insulin resistance and severe dental caries. It is not uncommon to see very small children with missing or capped teeth.

If you cannot attend, please consider praying for the success of Maria Sicay Lux’s projects and Unbound’s efforts to get the word out about this serious concern. I note that in addition to the other worthy programs sponsored by Unbound, one can make a special donation to its Healthy Communities Fund.

The Joke is Already Too Old…..

…..But nonetheless, irresistible. Such is life with the 24-hour fast-paced news cycle, courtesy of the digital age. It’s a “net” for fishers of men, and puns. L’Osservatore Romano reveals that Pope Francis is in fact a Cafeteria Catholic! Notice that Pope Francis, modeling virtue for us, chooses his food at the Catholic Cafeteria, and not his dogma! When it comes to his dogma, he defends the Magisterium, including the less-tasty veggies. So, don’t be the wrong kind of Cafeteria Catholic.


Our Mission Group’s Visit to Unbound Headquarters

On the seventh day of our mission trip in Guatemala, our leader (Fr. A) needed to return early to the States in order to attend a diocesan program, leaving us with an important task: enroll four children who belong to a family that he has known for many years in Unbound.


Our group departs the mission and heads to Unbound Headquarters

Within this family, the two older sisters who Father knew as toddlers (nearly 20 years ago) have grown up and are now mothers. One has an 18-month-old baby boy, and the other has a 3-year-old daughter. The other two children — ages 7 and 9 — are sisters to the new mothers, and aunts to the 18-month-old and 3-year-old. Finally, the grandmother to the babies and the mother to the girls, along with her hardworking husband, are the elders of the family, and also have a 13-year-old son (already sponsored in Unbound).


Arrival at Unbound Headquarters


Touring the grounds of the headquarters, led by Unbound personnel

We all climbed into the back of a red Ford 4×4 truck that the mission uses to transport people, and we traveled up the hill to the Unbound headquarters, called Hermano Pedro. There, we were welcomed with a tour and information about the various programs offered by Unbound.

Unbound currently operates in 24 countries in Central America, South America, Asia and Africa. Its largest presence is in Guatemala, where it started. The organization recently changed its name from Christian Foundation for Children and the Aging (CFCA).

In Guatemala alone, Unbound helps nearly 80,000 children who are sponsored as well as over 4,000 aging or elderly people. But over 6,000 more people in Guatemala await sponsorship, not to mention the other countries where Unbound has a presence.

For $30 a month, a child’s family receives assistance with nutrition, medical care, education, and other needs the family may have. An aging person receives similar benefits according to their needs. There is also a scholarship program for kids who wish to go on to higher education, which in Guatemala has already graduated a physician and attorney. Finally, there are opportunities to sponsor a seminarian.

A sponsor receives letters from his or her sponsored child, and recently Unbound has begun offering low-cost trips to their locations in order to make it possible for sponsors to get to know and form relationships with their sponsored children.


The way our mission group went about enrolling these four precious children was, shall we say, unconventional. But Fr. A wanted it to happen, and our group fell in love with the whole family. Four separate families in our group (including mine), each sponsored one of the children. We first visited the Hermano Pedro headquarters and then went down to the offices of this family’s particular project for enrollment.


At the Atitlan Project to enroll the four children

I think a lot of people dismiss the “sponsor a child” organizations because it isn’t easy to visualize the reality of a situation somewhere on the other side of the world. Guatemalans are joyful people with a beautiful culture, but the way they live is definitely nothing like the First World. In many cases, all they have is Jesus and each other. True material needs are oftentimes never truly met.

When the San Lucas Toliman mission began in the 1960s, only one in two Guatemalan children here lived past five, and while that has improved there are still too many things to count that these people do not have and we take for granted every day.

It is our responsibility to find ways of helping to provide a future for a people who have been plagued by civil war, corruption, poor infrastructure, inadequate medical care and nutrition.

Every person on Unbound’s website is a real person, with basic needs that without assistance go unmet. Over 90% of the $30 you contribute to sponsor someone goes directly to the sponsored individual, delivering extreme value compared to anything else in your monthly budget.

If you subscribe to a television service, you can afford to sponsor an Unbound child. If you can buy a coffee from Starbucks once a week, you can afford to sponsor a child. If you are using a smartphone, you can afford to sponsor a child.

20140709_183539And if you come here and meet the young or aging person you sponsor, apart from changing that person’s life, it will change your life too. A visit will help you understand what your $30 means. In fact, the family will tell you what it means to them.

In Jesus of Nazareth (Doubleday, 2007), Pope Benedict XVI examines the parable of the Good Samaritan and the use of the word “misericordia” (p. 197). He writes that the word in Hebrew “had originally referred to the mother’s womb and maternal care. Seeing this man in such a state is a blow that strikes him [the Samaritan] ‘viscerally,’ touching his soul. ‘He had compassion’ — that is how we translate the text today,” but in fact a more literal translation of the word means that the “heart is wrenched open.”

On a bright sunny Guatemalan day in July, as I held the hand of a lovely little seven-year-old girl in traditional dress and we walked together toward the centuries-old church, my heart was wrenched open. And all I could do was offer a prayer of thanksgiving: Thank you, Lord Jesus, for giving me this opportunity. Thank you, Lord Jesus, for wrenching my heart open.

When she visited with her family to wish us farewell on the last night before we headed home, my heart was once again wrenched open because she recognized me and received me with affection, as though she had made a place in her heart for me, despite the fact that I must have appeared to her to be a most peculiar pale bearded giant, bringing to mind the possibility that she is my Good Samaritan as well.

Sponsoring someone in Unbound is a privilege that costs almost nothing. Do it!

[originally posted 07/07/14 while on mission, and updated 07/25/14]


As the Family Breaks Down, Government (and Its Machine) Rises Up

One of the great social engineering experiments of the 20th Century is our U.S. Government’s approach to welfare. Beginning with the New Deal and reaching its zenith in LBJ’s Great Society, the government has encouraged a dole for the poor, but its programs were designed to deliver not greater independence and family support, but dependence and apathy, fostered by personal selfishness.

Statistics indicate that over the past century, an ever-increasing number of children are born to single or unmarried households. Now, the numbers show that more than half of all children born today are born outside a stable marriage.

Statistics also indicate that while we were promised a reduction in abortion through the widespread adoption of artificial contraception, this too has not happened. Instead, the number of abortions performed annually is a number that continues to climb.

I think we are now on the tail end of this laboratory of failure, and so we can see the bad effects perhaps not precisely, but with better clarity than before. Robust families — consisting of a father and mother, a plurality of children, and a network of extended families and friends — simply do not hold the same position in our society as they once did.

In place of traditional vanguards, we have been offered an insidious message and illusory promise by “progressive” forces:

“You can and should be an entirely autonomous individual.” 

Think about it. Nearly every social ill is premised upon this same message:

  • Spend more money on yourself, because it’s yours.
  • Use birth control if the idea of a child is too much of a burden.
  • It’s okay to divorce, because if your spouse does not make you happy, you should be free to do what makes you happy.
  • Get an abortion because there is no dad and keeping a child would ruin your life.
  • Enter into any deviant sexual relationship that you want, call it whatever you want, even call it marriage if it feels good, and let anyone else (and the truth) be damned.
  • Use contraception to control the number of children that you have, limiting children to a manageable number for youYou decide.
  • After all, there’s more to your life than who is dependent on you; anything else would be unfair, to you.

I am convinced that this message, and the powers promulgating it, are not accidental. This is not mere shrapnel in the Culture War; rather, this is the primary weapon — a quiet killer of lives, and the thing hardens the soul. 

It is an effective weapon, because destabilizing the family is to remove it as cornerstone of society, leaving an opening for placement of a new cornerstone: Big Government.

Why Big Government? For those who drive the ship as it expands, Big Government means power, money, control — all things that can be grown exponentially by limiting the numbers of those on top.

Meanwhile, open hands and mouths facing the District of Columbia still need to be fed. But the real mothers of the world have been told to spend their time on themselves, engaged in their own pursuits. Fathers have been told something different but just as destructive: they are irrelevant and might as well do whatever they want, too.

Big Government fancies itself the New Jerusalem so that the New Psalmist might cry out “Oh, that you may suck fully of the milk of her comfort, that you may nurse with delight at her abundant breasts.” (Isaiah 66:10-14).

And yet we know that Big Government is not a true mother. It has no love for the people it feeds. It makes no act of the will directed toward the good of another.

Rather, Big Government is the anti-mother: it dispenses pap, it is a harpy; its breasts are withered, sagging and dry. To suck fully of the milk of her comfort is to receive a mouthful of dust and rusty nails.

Dust and rusty nails, presented in near-perfect packaging, is all that Big Government has. And it shows. After generations of undermining the family to the point that moms and dads don’t know how to raise children, and children don’t know how to be children (much less grow into functional adults), the government would turn to itself once again to replace natural human relationships with…… wait for it…… specially programmed robots.

That’s right. In an age where individual autonomy, “choice and freedom” have supplanted virtue and sacrifice, and literally obliterated the sanctity of the family, the answer is that we will rely upon automatons to raise our children, because we just don’t feel like doing it anymore.

Since the nuclear family only consists of 1.2, or 1.6, or 1.7 kids in the first place, there are no brothers, sisters, aunts or uncles either, so that socialization will occur between a person and the equivalent of an ambulatory idiot box.

Robots can also change the diapers of our parents and visit them in their nursing homes, delivering messages assuring our love and affection. They can nurse us when we are in the hospital. They can euthanize us when we are no longer useful, citing to “quality of life.”

Hell, if machines can sound, look, and even feel human, who are we to get in the way of someone so addled as to think actual relationships with them is possible? All that matters is that we can pass the burdens of every human obligation upon our own creations, so that we (so we are told) can finally be free.

[N.B., a great contrast: we pass our burdens to our creations while God takes our burdens back upon Himself. Listen to the Teacher! He knows what love is!]

As Catholics, it is time to reclaim our identity and spit out the dust and nails before it’s too late. Give your children yourself rather than the television and computer. Teach them how to behave. Give your children some brothers and sisters rather than a government-issued robot. Give your extended family and friends a welcome in your homes rather than sending them gift certificates to Outback Steakhouse.

Our Mother is the Church, and She — not Big Government — is the New Jerusalem.