Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Lucky Sevens

I was privileged to attend a talk by Fr. Robert Barron earlier tonight. He spoke to an appreciative audience about "The Seven Deadly Sins and the Seven Lively Virtues." Down-to-earth scholar that he is, Fr. Barron used the seven-story mountain in Dante's Purgatorio as a touchstone throughout his talk, and even suggested that the seven deadly sins could be remembered with reference to the characters in Gilligan's Island:

  • Pride -- Mr. Howell, basking in his wealth
  • Envy -- MaryAnne, frequently jealous of the attention that Ginger got
  • Anger -- The Professor, seething at the failure of repeated attempts to leave the island
  • Sloth -- Gilligan, always resting in his hammock
  • Covetousness -- Mrs. Howell, wanting more
  • Gluttony -- The Skipper, large and nominally in charge
  • Lust -- Ginger, hanging on to her movie star glamour even as a castaway
Fr. Barron observed that in his Divine Comedy (of which Purgatorio is the middle part), Dante made Mary the Mother of Jesus a counter-example to each of the vices. He also had practical advice for cultivating the virtues that flip those vices on their heads:
  • Humility
  • Admiration
  • Forgiveness
  • Zeal for the mission (because sloth is not just laziness; it's also aimlessness, which implies that its balancing virtue needs both direction and drive)
  • Generosity
  • Asceticism, understood as proper disciplining of the appetites
  • Chastity, understood as right relationship, and holding fast to the dignity of people as ends in themselves rather than means to personal pleasure.
In what I thought was an arresting metaphor, Fr. Barron quoted John Henry Newman to the effect that what gives a river vibrancy and life is the strength of its banks. If those banks are chopped away, he explained, the river spreads out into a "lazy lake," lacking purpose and direction.

When you've found the mission that God has for you, he said, you've found the "pearl of great price" that Jesus was talking about in the famous parable.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

150 years ago today

Gerard Vanderleun remembers Abraham Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address for the truly great speech that it was.

Many of the people commenting at Vanderleun's blog think ill of Lincoln because of the executive power that he sometimes wielded cavalierly, but Lincoln was hardly the first or last American president to think in terms of ends justifying questionable means.

I believe that George Washington was a better man and a better president, but Abraham Lincoln deserves his almost-always-stratospheric place in any conversation about great Americans. One of the things that made Lincoln great was his carefully cultivated willingness to speak and write as often as practical within the ambit of first principles. Vision matters, and Lincoln had vision. He was a leader rather than a manager.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

The difference between Walden Pond and Assisi

Anthony Esolen with something I had never thought about before:

"The world tells stories of people who work hard and go from rags to riches. It also tells stories of people who through their own folly or wickedness go from riches to rags. But Christians tell stories of those who through poverty...reap untold riches. This is not because we scorn the good things of the world, but because we seek what is above. Saint Francis himself, as that poor man of God, would fall in love all the more joyously with the beauty of the earth, even preaching to the birds.

"This is hard for us to understand. A secular person might say, 'Yes, I see what you mean. You are advocating a simple life, like the one that Thoreau lived when he retreated to Walden Pond. Then he could appreciate the beauties of nature, and not be encumbered by the cares of the world.'  No, that is not it at all. Thoreau was animated less by love than by disdain. Sure, he was in a better position to love the natural world while living in a hut by the side of a lake than while living in town. But the joy of Saint Francis is missing. That is because Thoreau's self-imposed poverty was a protest against the way his fellows lived. Saint Francis, in his poverty, did not betake himself to the woods to escape the evils of Assisi. He preached in that town he loved, by way of his life."

-- from the book, Reflections on the Christian Life: How Our Story is God's Story