Commitment, Continuity, and Conversation

I keep this older posting at the head of my blog, outlining the viewpoint of all that follows. The particular spirituality of the Appalachian Riders for our Lady is based on our three foundational principles of commitment, continuity and conversation in addition to the general Catholic evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity, obedience and stability adapted to a lay context. The Riders strive to promote a conversational culture, authentically Christian and Catholic, in the midst of a world largely lacking culture of any sort.  Our vows of commitment, continuity, and conversation do not necessarily mean that we have any natural inclination or talent in these areas. My own investigations center around the apparent paradox of Christologies seeming to be close together when their related Ecclesiologies are far apart. My booklist (each Rider, during their novitiate, settles on at most 24 books) is:

  • Bible, unabridged Revised Standard Version
  • The Liturgy of the Hours, unabridged
  • The Confessions; by Saint Augustine
  • Practical Theology; St Thomas Aquinas
  • Dante’s Divine Comedy; Anthony Esolen
  • Fifteen Plays; by William Shakespeare
  • Complete English Poems; John Donne
  • Pride and Prejudice;  Jane Austen
  • Great Expectations; Charles Dickens
  • The Brothers Karamazov; Dostoevsky
  • The Age of Innocence; Edith Wharton
  • Brideshead Revisited; Evelyn Waugh
  • A Burnt Out Case; by Graham Greene
  • Oxford Book of English Verse; Ricks
  • Collected Poems & Prose; Robert Frost
  • Compassion; Nouwen, McNeil, Morrison
  • Jesus of Nazareth; Pope Benedict XVI
  • Splendor of Truth; Saint John Paul II
  • Kids Book of Saints; by Amy Welborn
  • Compendium of the Catholic Catechism

My booklist starts with Scripture, centered in the Psalms, and continues its intertwining of history, poetic literature, and philosophy broadly considered up to contemporary times. Essential to the culture of the Appalachian Riders for our Lady is participation in daily Mass at our particular parishes (7am Mass at St Ambrose in Salt Lake City  in my case) and our encouragement of increasing use of the Liturgy of the Hours. I also participate, as a matter of hospitality, in the RCIA program at St Ambrose.  Riders also try to form connections outside the Catholic Church (in my case, with St John’s Anglican, to which my wife belongs).


Thomas Gwyn and MaryAlice Dunbar

Christian Perspectives

I want to commend the Catholic perspective to you. Of course, that raises several questions:

  • Is it reasonable to speak of THE Catholic perspective?
  • Is my characterization of this perspective warranted?
  • Can one also speak of THE Protestant perspective, especially given the range of protestant ecclesial bodies?

I propose that the protestant perspective is that the Christian life is best lived and considered from the primary viewpoint of the individual or, at most, the congregation. On the other hand, I commend the Catholic perspective: the Christian life is best lived and considered from the primary viewpoint of the universal Church, extended in spacetime and militantly subsisting in the Catholic Church whose head steward is the bishop of Rome. After addressing those preliminary questions, I intend to commend the Catholic perspective in three aspects:

  • better able to cope with adversity
  • more resources for spiritual formation
  • closer alignment with the scriptural canon

All these points are controversial; however, I intend not to argue for them but rather to chew on them.  The difference between a primarily individual perspective and a primarily ecclesial perspective also has a significant political component since the State desires no competitor to its hegemony (see, for example, Alan Jacobs biography of The Book of Common Prayer which documents how this worked out in England) and hence is inclined to favor an individual perspective which it can divide and conquer.

I’m also assuming that the more alive an entity, the more applicable the principle that the whole is more than the sum of its parts. In addition, whenever possible I’d like to phrase matters sociologically rather than ecclesiologically. A major advantage of a perspective more social than individual is that one can “check one’s answers”– the boredom of, for example, discussion about end-time scenarios or sectarian doctrine being that one can not check one’s theory in one’s day to day life and interactions with others as one can, on the other hand, regarding ethics and how to live in community.

On a personal level, I think the core of the Protestant error centers on the attempt to place faith above love (see Luther’s commentary on Galatians) contra Saint Paul and the Catholic tradition.

Back to my booklist, the core is: The Bible, the Liturgy of the Hours, Augustine, Dante, Shakespeare, and the little book on Compassion and I think of the books as being in, and for me more or less defining, three categories:

  • History
    • Bible
    • Liturgy of the Hours
    • Kids Book of Saints
  • Literature
    • Divine Comedy
    • Shakespeare’s plays
    • John Donne
    • Pride and Prejudice
    • Great Expectations
    • The Brothers Karamazov
    • The Age of Innocence
    • Brideshead Revisited
    • A Burnt Out Case
    • Oxford Book of English Verse
    • Robert Frost
  • Philosophy
    • Augustine’s Confessions
    • Practical Theology
    • Compassion
    • Jesus of Nazareth
    • Splendor of Truth
    • Compendium of the Catholic Catechism

Yes, that’s not how the world looks at history or philosophy; however, the resurrection of Christ Jesus changes everything.

Global Matters

I spend a fair amount of time thinking about how to give a comprehensive and coherent account of what I consider to be true and important (and the interconnection between truth and importance).  I’m not primarily trying to persuade but rather to understand and so expect a certain amount of sympathy for what I only state indirectly.

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Palin’s endorsement speech

Here’s a link to Sarah Palin’s speech endorsing Donald Trump. It is about 20 minutes long and will no doubt be trashed by various barking betas who’ve not even listened to it.

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The Questions That Matter

In the introduction to his recent book, Life Under Compulsion, Anthony Esolen writes about:

The Questions That Matter

How to raise children who can sit with a good book and read? Who are moved by beauty? Who delight in innocence? Who can walk outdoors and enjoy the beauty of weeds and sparrows? Who still possess youth, which lends them both a frolic childlikeness and a wisdom beyond their years?  Who have no compulsions–who don’t have to attend to the constant buzzing of a smartphone, or click on the next link and the next link and the next link, or buy the latest gadget, or submit to the instant urge?

These questions pass unnoticed by technocratic utilitarians left and right, by the “progressives” who have to move, move, move, who knows where, and even by lovers of the humanities, who don’t wish to acknowledge the disease, because we are all infected.

But they are the questions that matter.  Even more to the point: What sort of child shall you raise, my readers?

To resist Life Under Compulsion, to raise children who can throw off the shackles and enjoy truly free, and full, lives, we must affirm the old meaning of the English word free, which is related to joy and greatness of heart–associations now dim in English but still clear in our German cousins: freude, joy; frieden, peace, “Freely ye have received,” says Jesus to His disciples: “freely give.”  He does not mean that the apostles should charge no fees for their teaching. He means to invite them into relationships of love.  They have received the love of God freely; it is not compelled.  He wants them to be free with themselves, to have free hearts for the love of others, bringing a peace that is full and alive, not merely the absence of war.

This older, fuller meaning points to the practical contradiction at the heart of the vision of freedom as noninterference.  Unless we are to live as beasts ranging the fields, we must have order.  But order implies hierarchy, those who must govern and those who must be governed.  These groups may overlap considerably in one respect or another: even a senator is not supposed to cheat on his taxes, and even a day laborer can (still) tell his small son when it is time to go to bed.  Obedience is inevitable.  Satan himself says, when it suits his purposes, that “Orders and Degrees / Jar not with liberty, but well consist.”

Freedom, in the end, is an intrinsic virtue, not an extrinsic condition, an accident of politics.  It is not a negative–freedom from, instead it is a positive- freedom for.  This freedom is not for oneself but for others.  Our bonds and responsibilities do not constrict our freedom but rather define our very humanity.

When the pilgrim Dante stands upon the shores of the Mountain of Purgatory, he looks to the heavens and sees the beautiful morning star in the East:

The radiant planet fostering love like rain,
made all the orient heavens laugh with light,
veiling the starry Fishes in her train.

It is Venus, the star of love. What should that have to do with Purgatory?  Everything, as it turns out, for evil clamps the heart and crushes the soul.  To free oneself from the accumulated sludge of sin is to free oneself for the freedom of heart that is love. “He seeks his freedom,” says Virgil to Cato, the guardian of Purgatory, as he begs to allow Dante to climb the mountain.  Virgil does not mean that Dante is looking for a democratic republic.  He wishes for Dante to learn about sin, but more, to learn about the wonders of love.  He wishes for Dante to grow wings, so to speak.  Without wings, you may say that you are free to fly, and say it all day long, but you will not get one foot off the ground.

On this matter the great pagans and the Christians, the poets and the philosophers, speak with one voice.  In his soaring dialogue of love, the Phaedrus, Plato says that the soul in love grows wings, and that this is actually the purpose of a truly human education.  His pupil and rival Aristotle was less given to poetic flights, as far as we can determine from the lecture notes that have survived, but for him, too, freedom was the unimpeded capacity of a creature to make real the fulfillment that is built into its very nature. For man, that meant the attainment of practical and intellectual virtue: to contemplate what is good and to act in accord with it.  The brave Stoic Epictetus boasted that no one could put fetters upon him.  What enslaves us is not the will of another but our own will when we turn to vice.  when Boethius was in prison, awaiting execution on a charge of treason trumped up by his political, religious, and cultural enemies.  Lady Philosophy came to console him and to remind him that only he had the power to wander away from the true path.

I seek in this book to echo those voices as I look at how we raise our children.  But I caution the reader. Those voices also warn us that virtue is difficult, hard-won.  If freedom is a virtue, and if Dostoevsky’s Grand Inquisitor is right in saying that most people flee in terror from freedom, then you may wish to raise up Contented Cows, placidly chewing their cuds in a field of creature comforts, or Harried Hamsters, racing on the Mill of the World.  If so, you,too, can read this book for profit.  I will show you ten ways in which we are raising up people who enjoy a certain political license (though even that is starting to rasp our wrists and ankles) but who have all the genuine spiritual liberty of an opium addict.  The chains are right here, if you like.

Yes so is the window.









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Loyola Kids Book of Saints

The Loyola Kids Book of Saints by Amy Welborn has 
biographies of the following Saints and Blessed.
I sort by the date of their going to be with God.

polycarp		  155
perpetua		  203
felicity		  203
christopher		  250
george			  303
blaise			  316
helena			  330
nicholas		  350
monica			  387
ambrose			  397
jerome			  420
augustine of hippo 	  430
simeon stylites 	  459
leo the great 	 	  461
patrick			  461
benedict		  547
gregory the great	  604
boniface 	 	  754
cyril			  869
methodius		  885
wenceslaus		  929
bernard of montjoux 	 1081
thomas becket 	 	 1170
hildegard of bingen 	 1179
dominic de guzman 	 1221
francis of assisi 	 1226
elizabeth of hungary 	 1231
anthony of padua 	 1231
thomas aquinas 	 	 1274
celestine v		 1296
catherine of siena 	 1380
joan of arc 	 	 1431
frances of rome 	 1440
fra angelico 	 	 1455
thomas more		 1535
juan diego		 1548
francis xavier		 1552
ignatius of loyola 	 1556
teresa of avila 	 1582
margaret clitherow 	 1586
john of the cross 	 1591
paul miki and companions 1597
francis solano 	 	 1610
camillus de lellis 	 1614
martin de porres 	 1639
isaaac jogues 	 	 1646
peter claver		 1654
vincent de paul 	 1660
kateri tekakwitha 	 1680
louis de monfort 	 1716
carmelites of compiegne  1794
elizabeth ann seton 	 1821
frederic ozanam 	 1853
john neumann 	 	 1860
bernadette soubirous 	 1879
john bosco 	 	 1888
joseph de veuster 	 1889
therese of lisieux 	 1897
francis xavier cabrini 	 1917
miguel pro 		 1927
maximilian kolbe 	 1941
titus brandsma 		 1942
edith stein		 1942
peter to rot	  	 1945
katherine drexel 	 1955
gianna beretta molla	 1962
maria nengapeta 	 1964
padre pio 		 1968
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On The Rich

G.K. Chesterton, in his book Orthodoxy, had this to say about the rich (of which group I, like most Americans, am a member I’m afraid):

I know that the most modern manufacture has been really occupied in trying to produce an abnormally large needle. I know that the most recent biologists have been chiefly anxious to discover a very small camel. But if we diminish the camel to his smallest, or open the eye of the needle to its largest —if, in short, we assume the words of Christ to have meant the very least that they could mean, His words must at the very least mean this—that rich men are not very likely to be morally trustworthy. Christianity even when watered down is hot enough to boil all modern society to rags. The mere minimum of the Church would be a deadly ultimatum to the world. For the whole modern world is absolutely based on the assumption, not that the rich are necessary (which is tenable), but that the rich are trustworthy, which (for a Christian) is not tenable. You will hear everlastingly, in all discussions about newspapers, companies, aristocracies, or party politics, this argument that the rich man cannot be bribed. The fact is, of course, that the rich man is bribed; he has been bribed already. That is why he is a rich man. The whole case for Christianity is that a man who is dependent upon the luxuries of this life is a corrupt man, spiritually corrupt, politically corrupt, financially corrupt. There is one thing that Christ and all the Christian saints have said with a sort of savage monotony. They have said simply that to be rich is to be in peculiar danger of moral wreck. It is not demonstrably un-Christian to kill the rich as violators of definable justice. It is not demonstrably un-Christian to crown the rich as convenient rulers of society. It is not certainly un-Christian to rebel against the rich or to submit to the rich. But it is quite certainly un-Christian to trust the rich, to regard the rich as more morally safe than the poor.

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Philosophical Reflection

It is not irrelevant that, from the standpoint of Catholic teaching, philosophical reflection and enquiry are activities of crucial importance for human beings in every culture.  This puts Catholic teaching seriously at odds with the dominant culture of secularized modernity, for which philosophy is generally understood as just one more specialized form of academic activity, important perhaps for those whose interests incline them toward that sort of thing, but something that has little relevance to practical affairs, somethning that can be safely be ignored by the huge majority of humankind, that is in no way an indispensable part of an adequate education.  Yet it is the claim of the church that these attitudes toward philosophy themselves have philosophical presuppositions, presuppositions that, if left unarticulated and uncriticized, make it impossible to think purposefully and rigorously about those existential questions to which the acknowledgement of God’s self-revelation provides the only adequate response.. The tasks that confront Catholics in the face of this cultural challenge are both theological and philosophical.  For philosophical enquiry is needed “to clarify the relationship between truth and life, between event and doctrinal truth, and above all between trancendent truth and humanly comprehensible language.” So concludes the seventh and last chapter of the encyclical [Fides et Ratio: On the relationship between Faith and Reason]  — pp120-121 in Alasdair MacIntyre’s “God, Philosophy, Universities – A Selective History of the Catholic Philosophical Tradition”

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August 1914

The first three paragraphs of Aleksandr Solzenitsyn’s novel, August 1914:

They left the village in the clear dawn light. As the sun rose the mountains were dazzling white with dark blue hollows, every indentation could be seen. amd they looked so close that a stranger might have thought them a two hours’ drive away.

The Caucasus loomed huge and elemental in a world of small manmade things. If all the people who had ever lived had opened their arms as wide as they could to carry all that they had ever made, or ever thought of making, and piled it up in swelling heaps, they could not have raised such an unbelievable mountain range.

The road from the village to the station kept the mountains continually before them as though those snowy expanses, those bare crags, those shadows hinting at invisible ravines were their destination. But from one half hour to the next, as the snow began to thaw on the lower slopes, the range seemed to part company with the earth, and its upper third hung suspended in the sky. It became shrouded in mist, so that there were no ribs or seams to show that these were mountains, and they saw instead what looked like a vast white cloud bank. This broke into fragments indistinguishable from real clouds. Then they too were washed away. The range disappeared as though it had been a celestial mirage, and wherever they looked they saw only grayish, heat-blanched sky. They drove on till noon and beyond, for more than fifty versts, without changing direction, until the grant mountains retreated as rounded foothills closed in–the Camel, the Bull, the bald Snake, and the wooded Iron Hill.

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