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Archive for July, 2012

Look down upon me, O good and gentle Jesus, while before Thy face I humbly kneel, and with burning soul I pray and beseech Thee to fix deep in my heart lively sentiments of faith, hope and charity, true contrition for my sins, and a firm purpose of amendment; whilst I contemplate with great love and tender pity Thy five most precious wounds, pondering over them within me, calling to mind the words which David Thy prophet said of Thee, my good Jesus: “They have pierced My hands and My feet; they have numbered all My bones.”

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The bad angels brought their special brand of Hell to Earth for a few brief moments in Colorado on Friday.  St. Michael the Archangel,  protect us. There is hope still.

“Outside of space and time they come, from the unseen place,
Divine messengers, blessed First Born of the Maker.
Sing your transcendent songs of glory and praise to God.
Thus were you charged, to make ready the way of the Son.

Grace the downtrodden Second Born, who are doomed to die,
With words of hope, quiet their minds and soften their hearts.
For many ages will you endure for mankind’s souls,
As God desires of the greater for the lesser.

Prideful watchers descry from afar the happy sounds.
And they, who call themselves great among all living things,
Consecrated to the never-ending hate, tremble.
To the core of their being, do they shudder and howl.

Fallen Angels, Sorrow of God, Corruptors of Man!
Unbounded hate grows like a cancer upon cancers,
To give purpose, harden the heart, and allay the fears.
Lessen all that was created by the Almighty.

Born out of purpose no less divine are God’s Children.
Liken unto Angels high and low their secret thoughts,
Hoping and striving to walk in the image of God,
Burdened by their mortal likeness, driven by weakness.

They desire to know of salvation, and despair.
Thus it is that the spirits of good and evil spar
With each other, to proclaim victory for their Lords,
The everlasting hearts and souls of God’s Second Born.”

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A Tornado Touches Down In Sanford, NC

My wife, Ruth, has a hard time sleeping through the night. She suffers from a number of ailments which rendered her partially disabled. Sometimes the medications work and sometimes they do not. I often sleep in the room across from her, awake as much as she until I hear the lights and TV go off. Then I stare into the night thinking about the next trauma, grading papers, or listening to AM-Coast-to-Coast until I cannot keep my eyes open.

It was still dark when I woke up early on Saturday morning. Only five hours sleep! I silently opened the door to Ruth’s room and saw the up and down movement of the blanket covering her. Ah, still alive and breathing! Another day and night passed without incident, and now we were given the gift of one more day together.

I went downstairs and turned off the house alarm, let the dogs out, and started the coffee. Then I turned on the Fox weekend edition and heard the latest finger-pointing in DC. The repetition make me disgusted with of both parties and numb to the issues, except for the disdain I have in the liberality of many ill-formed Catholics, who earnestly believe that Christ can make people half-pregnant. I cannot help thinking like that. Maybe I should stop listening; it’s making me angry and I know it’s not good for my soul.  Sitting in a chair and watching the Starbucks brew did not excite me either.

I walked over to Sarah’s room on the first floor and opened the door. Sarah, our thirty year old daughter, is profoundly handicapped, resulting from an accident at birth. She kicked the window curtains open during the night with her one good leg and daylight poured in. She rolled her eyes, smiled, and stared out the window as if something caught her attention. I walked over to see. Why she smiled only the angels knew; there was nothing to see out of the ordinary, just the daylight, a few dull, dark clouds, the green grass, and Ruth’s flower gardens. Sarah was wet as usual, but the adult diaper and throwaway plastic sheets kept the mattress safe. I fed water through her feeding tube, raised the mattress at the headboard, and selected the oldies station on Direct TV. Sarah made a few happy squeals and bobbed her head to “Hit The Road Jack.” Squeals, smiles, and happy eyes, or grunts, frowns, and sad eyes were Sarah’s daily choices, as well as ours. 

I made a silent prayer, thanking God that Ruth and Sarah were both OK, at least for the time-being. God I want them to live and be happy, but it will be as you want it to be. Day and night I pray the same things and do the same things.

Saturdays, Ruth and I get a little respite from Sarah’s caretaking. Maggie comes from noon until eight to play with Sarah, feed her, and bathe her. The afternoons off allow me time to run errands, things like food shopping and buying things at Lowes, mulch and the like. It is garden season and Ruth has a standing list. But not today. I tell Maggie I have to go to Confession and take in the Saturday evening Mass, since we do not have a caregiver on Sunday. Maggie, being a devout Protestant, is surprised to learn of Church Services on Saturday and grins. “You Catholics will do anything to get a few people in the pews!” She mentions that she wants to take Sarah to the DQ in town for soft ice cream and some exercise walking back and forth from the car. She dressed Sarah and left the house before me.

Maggie’s excursions usually take hours, so I have a lot of free time. I checked on Ruth. She was sitting up of bed, chit-chatting with her garden club friends on the laptop, watching MSNBC (Yuck!), and on her second cup of coffee. I scanned the aquarium; I could not find the betta. “The betta still alive?” “Still alive,” she said. Things are as they should be.

I got out on the highway and all at once a terrible thunderstorm came up from behind. Driving rains pelted the car unceasingly so that I could barely see out the window. The few cars that were out were doing ten mph on. 421; normally it was fifty-five mph. I did not think much of it at the time; rain and thunder—so what?

I finished Confession early since I have a tendency to rush through my sins. I said the Act of Contrition slowly, using the version I learned in grade school, the one Bishop Sheen was heard to say on TV. The rain and wind cleared up. I drove down to the local country store to grab a bag of chips and a Cheerwine when an old man drove up, looking quite worried. He got out of the car and shouted, “I just came from town. A tornado came through and tore off the roof of the Lowe’s and leveled it, and a lot of cars are turned over in the parking lot. Could be a lot of dead people over there.”

Instant worry! The DQ is just a couple of blocks up from the Lowes. Are Maggie and Sarah safe? I was about five or six miles away from Lowe’s and wondering if I should drive into town and look for Maggie’s car. I turned on Rush Radio, out of Raleigh, to hear that they were tracking six tornadoes that touched ground throughout the region, and funnel clouds that were shaping up to touch ground. They were coming out of the southwest and heading northeast. Was it possible that the storm I drove through was one of these, and that it passed right by my home and then hit Sanford? Did I just miss getting blown away? Was Ruth safe? Should I go home instead of trying to find Maggie and Sarah?

I made the decision. I rushed home, worried sick about my family, and listened for more news. Another tornado touched down between Fr. Bragg (Fayetteville) and Lillington and was heading northeast. That was exactly where my daughter lived, near Linden, off-base with her three children and Mike, her husband, who happened to be down range at the moment. Oh God, please no! Don’t let it happen! Please protect my daughter and grandkids! I can’t be there! Mike can’t be there!

By this time I was shaken up pretty bad, praying a whole lot, and doing about seventy to get home. I really did not know what to do and I could not be in three places at once. I turned into the driveway, strewn with fallen branches, to see that Maggie had not yet gotten back from Sanford. Damm! Did she get caught in the middle of the tornado? There appeared to be no serious damage to the property. The roof’s still on. That’s a good sign!

 I rushed in and shouted, “Ruth, Ruth, where are you?” She shouted down from upstairs, “Up here, what’s the matter?” “Didn’t you hear about the tornado that hit Lowe’s and leveled it? Did Maggie call?” “Yeah, she’s OK. She saw the tornado coming and drove over to her friend’s house. I’m watching the TV reports right now. Funny. She didn’t even think it was a tornado, just a thunderstorm. She’s coming home with Sarah as we speak. You know what’s really funny? Our electricity didn’t go out like it usually does.” Thank God everyone is alright!

I called my daughter Nickie. There was no answer. I called two more times and still no answer. I was beginning to panic! A half-hour later I got a call and heard her voice. It was so great just to listen, but I never let on that I was worried. “Daddy, I’m OK. Mike thinks the tornado bypassed us so all we’ll get is rain. The lights are out. Little Mike doesn’t like the howling sounds and is afraid of the dark.” “How does Mike know?” “He’s tracking the tornado by satellite and calling my cell phone. That’s why I couldn’t call you back right away.” “He what? How can he do that?” “I can’t tell you, otherwise I’ll have to shoot you!”  

Whew! Everyone was safe at the moment. I felt less stressed. I hoped Church would wait for me; I did not want to leave until I knew Maggie and Sarah were safely back home. Soon enough Maggie came driving up with Sarah. Maggie said that her aunt’s house was totaled and a bunch of others where the tornado had crossed. But it skirted Chatham Country where we live; we just got the wind and rain, and plenty of downed trees. It was a close call; the real damage was not that far from my home. I always wondered how my house, built in the 1840’s, survived the years when all the plantations around us failed. It must be a huge amount of luck, a few strong backs and arms now long dead and forgotten, and stone-like virgin pine.

It was Palm Sunday Mass, with the Lord’s Passion read out loud, and a very nice but long sermon. I found it hard to think solely on the meaning of Easter week; I was too busy praying and thanking God that everyone was safe, at least the people that I knew. I prayed for the people that I didn’t know. No one knew yet if there were many deaths and injuries, or how extensive the property damage. I prayed every prayer that I could remember. I made a mental note to go back and study up on all my forgotten prayers. I never did get down quite right the exact words for Faith, Hope, and Charity as a kid, but I have the general idea. As I prayed, I felt my tension headache fade and I breathed calmly in and out. Thank you God, thank you for protecting my family, and be merciful to the ones you took home today and the ones they loved.

How fragile life can be! Everyone close to us and all the things we possess may be taken away in a moment’s notice. We spend a life time accumulating things, even persons, places, and ideas. Things which we think are valuable, then they are all taken away piece by piece, until what is left is one thing only–Judgment Day, and that was never ours to purchase. Now that I think of it, Judgment Day is every day, whether we know it or not. I better get a move on!

I came home and warmed up the chicken and dumplings for supper. Grace I certainly knew, “Bless us O Lord for these thy gifts which we are about to receive, from thy bounty through Christ Our Lord. Amen.” It sure tasted extra special good, with everyone around to eat it, Ruth, Sarah and Maggie; and to the dogs and cat, they enjoyed whatever was left over.

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There are three things which go well, yea, four which are comely in their goings:  a lion which is strongest among beasts, and turneth not away for any;  a greyhound, a hegoat also, and a king against whom there is no rising up.” Proverbs Ch. 30 v. 29-31

Experts presume that a dog lacks free will; accordingly, they say that a dog’s behavior is instinctive, automatic. Since a dog lacks the ability to think and make choices like a human, it is inappropriate to assign a virtuous or non-virtuous motive to a dog’s actions, as humans do with other humans. The trade-off of not having a free will is that there is no reason to hold a dog accountable. Yet, is it possible for humans to learn a thing or two from a dog’s behavior that will benefit their own conduct?

Humans think of themselves as superior to all living things, principally due to their ability to reason things out, to make a choice among many possibilities, and to judge the aftereffects of their actions as good or bad. I question whether these aspects of human nature enable Mankind to make “better” decisions when it comes to living with one another and stewarding everything else on the planet.

Take the simple notion of unconditional love. It may very well be that a dog’s “love” for us is only because it remembers that we provide it food and shelter. However, I think what separates a dog from your average hippopotamus is its remarkable capacity to love humans wholeheartedly. If you believe that a dog is incapable of loving another living creature, then you have not seen a dog mourn the death of its master. Does a dog’s power to love unconditionally translate into a higher moral state of being, one that we care not to acknowledge?

Consider what we see of a dog’s unqualified love.

A dog does not care if you are a rich man that drinks from a fine crystal cup and eats off gold-plated porcelain, or a poor man that eats raw corn pulled from a stalk or grubs in the ground for potatoes and carrots.

A dog does not care if you are a newborn babe with silken skin, or a wrinkled-up oldster, rocking away life on the front porch and reminiscing about better, happier times.

A dog does not care if you are a Hollywood starlet or Olympic champion, or descended directly from the last DNA- verified troglodyte scientists pulled out of a tar bog.

A dog does not care if your skin is as black as the night sky or as white as the clouds, or any shade of color in between.

A dog does not care if you are sickly and bedridden, or if you live to be a hundred in good health.

A dog does not care if you are innocent or guilty of a dastardly crime, if you are as plump as a pumpkin or as thin as a rail, if you are as mindless as a dodo bird or as cerebral as Sir Isaac Newton.

A dog will love you just the same.

The trouble with humans is that they care way too much about the differences. If humans occupy their time thinking only about the things that make them different from one another, and think poorly of others and shun them as a result, how can they say they love more than, or by extension, are morally superior to, their canine friends?

Do further proofs of a dog’s moral superiority exist? Let us examine how dogs and humans fare when contrasting their behavior with the “seven heavenly virtues,” and the “seven deadly sins.” Which sentient beings act more like saints, or more like sinners? In this regard, I am referring to life’s major dilemmas, not your run-of-the-mill daily events, like cleaning up the dog doo-doo on the rug. It is only when conditions force us to take a stand will we discover what kind of person we truly are, and the truth of what we thought we were will come to light.

Diligence versus Sloth

A dog works industriously at every task, according to its breed make-up, for example, hunting game in the desert lands, herding a flock of sheep on a ranch, or hauling a sled in the frigid northern wastes. A dog is efficient, attentive to the work at hand, and never deviates from its goals until they are accomplished. It will obey its master under the harshest working conditions. A dog may suffer a severe, painful accident as a result, but when healed do the same to please its master. A dog does not need excessive encouragement, and it does not understand defeat.

On the other hand, a human will become lazy and idle in mind and body. A slothful person, by design, will give the least amount of effort under most circumstances, and take little heed of the effect on those around them. Such a person will retreat into his or her own world, withdrawing from family, friends, and work, and care for nothing except that which pleases them at any given moment.

 Patience versus Wrath

A dog will endure in order to gain what it needs, and do so without complaining. A dog will eagerly await his master’s homecoming, and sit patiently by the window or door until he or she arrives. Even if its master treats him unkindly, a dog will forgive and forget with one generous gesture. A dog will never fight or kill its sire, dam, or puppies, or any of its own kind without reasonable cause. A dog may become ill tempered, but it is likely due to a sickness it is born with, or becomes attached to over time; or possibly due to some kind of human abuse, rather than its inherent nature.

A human is quick to anger and do violence, lacking the patience to resolve disputes peacefully. Rather than accept their status with grace, a human will harbor angry thoughts until he or she lashes out, oftentimes against those who have done them no wrong.

 Temperance versus Gluttony

A dog will gladly accept the meager scraps of food his master gives him, and lick his face in gratitude. A human will eat until he is sick to his stomach, and come back for more.

A dog never overeats or oversleeps, except if these things originate from the neglect of its master, and the dog forms bad habits. A fat, unfit dog is an abused dog.

A human lacks the self-control to fast even for a single day, and to restrain from the use of things that will lead to addiction and death. A glutton cares not for the consequences until it is too late.

 Charity versus Greed

A dog loves his master above all things, and will do whatever his master commands, if it is within its ability. A dog will even stand gallantly by his master’s side in the face of certain death, as was the case with messenger-dogs in long ago times of war.

Humans often lack generosity in deed, and decency in thought or word, unless their thoughts, words, and deeds further a selfish goal. Rarely will a human sacrifice himself for another, give away his treasures to another in need, or assume the burdens of another, without recompense. 

A human will become greedy for more and more things, without regard to the things’ utility, failing to recognize that limits exist to satisfying every desire.

A dog lives as one with Nature; a human will destroy Nature in order to gain what he or she wants.

 Kindness versus Envy

A dog will empathize and befriend humans without prejudice. For example, a dog will visit the sick and unwanted in a nursing home, or become the eyes of a blind person.

A dog does not bemoan his station in life, unless it is one of abuse, nor does it envy the station of other dogs. A dog does not concern itself with success or failure, jealousy or greed.

A human will leave his elderly parents in a nursing home, and never see them again in life. A human will malign the character of another in order to bring them down and take their place. Resentment will lead one human to harm another and take their possessions. A human will turn their head and look the other way.

 Humility versus Pride

A dog does not understand the need for gloating or glorifying oneself. Therefore, a dog is unpretentious, humbling itself before its master. A dog thoroughly enjoys competition, but cares not for victory over other dogs, unless it is in the hunt for food. A dog prefers the companionship of its master above all things.

Humans are vainglorious, unwilling to admit a wrong. They will bear a grudge against others lasting a lifetime. Humans will boast endlessly of their achievements, and take credit for the work of others.

A dog dignifies its life by nobly accepting suffering and death; a human debases his life by craving more of it than intended by God.

 Chastity versus Lust

A dog intrinsically lacks the virtue of chastity or its opposite-lust. A human, however, may act wantonly as a young person, and grow up to be even more lascivious with age.

A dog will accept its role in nature, give birth, feed its pups, and protect them until they are ready to be on their own. A human will deny nature, and wish to abort her unborn “pup” to satisfy an individual need. Humans do not see that they destroy a human life in the process, and that a greater value exists in the unborn baby’s birth rather than its death.     

Now, after due consideration of the facts, is it not readily apparent that a dog is morally superior to a human? A cynic may read this and think, “A dog is nothing more than ‘a clockwork orange[1],’ going blindly about its business, not knowing why.”  Perhaps they may think worse, that virtues and sins do not exist at all; they are merely the tendencies of a higher-order animal in a godless world. As Bertolt Brecht once wrote,”Food is the first thing, morals follow on[2].” Mankind would revert to savagery if its basic needs were not satisfied. So too would a dog if it was not provided for. Thankfully, there are more civilized humans in the world than butchers.

 The point is that a dog walks-the-walk each and every time it matters. How can this be? A dog does not know right from wrong, as the ‘experts’ say, or been given to think, “I will do this or that because it is the right thing to do, even if I gain nothing by it.” It is paradoxical that free-will will lead humans to make choices that satisfy their consummate self-interest, to the significant harm of others; whereas a dog, being without free-will, will unerringly make the right choices that benefit everyone. In that regard, I think a dog is a little like Adam and Eve before they bit into the apple.

You would think a human, with vastly superior mental capabilities, would do more to act in an upright manner. However, a higher moral state does not necessarily follow from a higher intelligence quotient. I have to admit that I am with St. Augustine on the nature of evil buried deep in the hearts of Men. There are more words in the dictionary describing Mankind’s moral shortcomings than Mankind’s virtues. We are what we think, say, and do; self-deception is a child’s excuse.

To sum it up, plain and simple, a dog is the one I wish to emulate, not another human, unless they are saintly. Sometimes I think that a dog has more of a soul than a human being, and worthier of salvation. All I can say is, “I wish I could be more like a dog (and a saint), and then I know I will go to heaven when I die.”

When the next test comes, will my free will lead me to do the right thing or the wrong thing? A virtuous nature, perfect in all respect, seems highly unrealistic. Except, perhaps, for one person that lived two thousand years ago, whose life I keep reading and wondering about, a life wholly at odds with human frailty. That life, sadly, is not mine. I can only pray and strive to the ideal.


[1] Title to Anthony Burgess 1962 novel, signifying a lack of free will made possible by certain conditioning techniques.

[2] From The Threepenny Opera, “What Keeps Mankind Alive?”

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