The Internet Killed "the Books"

All throughout my youth they were the staple. They settled every bet we ever had in our house. They answered every question. They were like a proverbial “magic 8 ball”, answering every question you ever asked of them. They were my trusty guides throughout every torturous report my 6 grade teacher put me through.

I remember once, I lost one. The set was incomplete. It was a dark day. No more could I learn about the history of Prussia, the definition of polyphonic was lost to me, no more could I muse on the paranormal. Without “P”, the world was less bright, and I felt the loss. Thank goodness that next year, my teacher mailed “P” back to me, and all was right again in the world.

I was one of those loud mouthed, know it all kids, and would often spout off to my family about how the clock worked, or that Ben Franklin was a great chess player, or that California’s constitution was the longest in the country. Whenever push came to shove, these books always held the definitive answer, the one even my parents would believe. Great was the day when they proved me right, dark was the day they showed my error.

I am a bookoholic. I just can’t throw them away. (I am the same way with blankets, but that will have to wait till another day) Throwing a book out or donating it to the thrift store almost physically hurts. I love the way they look on the shelf, I like to run my hands down their spines, I love their silent collection of such distinguished dust, they are, my precious.

So the other day, after deep prodding from my wife, I finally took a long, deep, hard look at my shelves, and realized “the books” had not been used in years. I could not blow off them, lest I give my entire family emphysema in one foul swoop, so thick was the dust. It was hard to come to grips, but even I had to realize, “the books” had to go.

I did not cry. I’m the type of guy that knows when it’s time, and I’m tough enough to take the pain. It hurt, of course, but times move on, and my daughters, very carefully took them to the back porch. They haven’t made it yet to the trash, I just can’t seem to bring myself to that final step yet, but it will come. The decision has been made.

Wikipedia, your resources are vast and you answer so quickly that I know you are superior. Internet, yes, you have pages and pages on every topic known to man, rife with opinion and interactive flash media with carefully chosen advertisements to suit my every whim.

You will never have the regal, refined beauty of my encyclopedias.

You Want to Choke Me With Candles?

Okay, so if your family had been sitting around the table for 2000 years, you would have some pretty silly traditions too.

Today is official rub candles on your throat day.

Yes, I’m serious. If you are not a daily Mass goer, you may have missed this great celebration of throat massage.

Today is the feast of St Blaise. Now, we don’t know a ton about Blaise, as he was a saint from a really really long time ago (300ish AD), but we have one legend that has really stuck with us. Now Blaise was by trade a physician, and after feeling called by God, he decided to go live in a cave. Well, back then I guess folks who lived in caves were really popular, because in no time, this alternate lifestyle led to him being called to be a bishop. Only trouble is, being a bishop back then was a rather dangerous affair.

So Blaise ended up in prison. Being a physician, he naturally went about his merry business helping people with their ailments, especially his fellow prisoners.

One day he was asked to treat a boy who got a fish bone stuck in his throat. He of course did the natural thing, and “fished” it out. (Pun most definitely intended) There you go. Blaise gets out fish bone, so we celebrate this by asking St. Blaise to bless our throats for the coming year. Heck, we blessed some candles yesterday, maybe we should use those too! So every year, we bust out the candles, and start blessing the throats.

Now I am not sure of the efficacy of this particular prayer, but I have to admit I am rather disappointed that I won’t be able to make it to Mass today. (Friday is Latin day, so I am stuck at home) I’m just sure that my throat will be all out of whack for the rest of the year. I love it when we celebrate these little fun feasts, and I’m sorry to miss it.

All levity aside, I must finish the legend of St. Blaise. When he was about to be executed, he ask God to aid those who suffered after his death by asking his intercession, that in death he may be able to help those still living. God answered his prayer, and more astoundingly, everyone there heard it. While this did not stay his execution, it did most certainly let people know who intercession they could rely on.

St. Blaise, pray for us.

Candlemas

I’m a Catholic because I love the Lord, not out of any desire for old world culture. That for me is just a really great perk of being Catholic.

I love those big feasts of the Church, where the great and ancient tradition seems to become larger than life, filling your heart with incense and candlelight, like the Easter vigil, or midnight Mass. They call you back, they remind you that your entire lifetime is but a flickering candle in the dark, and your entire age is just one more moment in an everlasting procession. It’s a deep feeling of belonging that is truly indescribable.

Then there are those small, almost cultural feasts that seem to fill out the edges. If Pentecost is the cake, Candlemas is the frosting.

Yes, I know, it’s not officially called Candlemas anymore, it’s the Feast of the Presentation, but we bless candles on that day, so dangit, it’s Candlemas. For generation upon generation we have celebrated this day. We have blessed our yearly portion of candles on this day for as long as we can remember. (Did you know groundhog day is based on the tradition of basing weather forecasts on Candlemas?)

Now to you and me, this makes a lot of sense. Candles are special things, and lighting candles generally only happen on special days. We light candles at our dinner table when we want to make the meal special, we put candles on our birthday cakes and it brings light, a dangerous fire hazard and a wish. We light a couple candles when we have guests, or just to make the house smell nice. There is one thing we do not do however.

We do not light candles so that we can see.

But just a hundred years ago, that is what candles were for. They were light bulbs. Nothing all that special, and just a bit more expensive then we would like. I bet we even complained about the rising prices of candles, and their decrease in quality. They were right up there with tissue paper, just a household item.

This is what I love about Candlemas. It is making the normal day to day things holy. Setting them aside for a more divine purpose. It is not so much about taking something rather special and making it more so. Quite the opposite. It takes the completely mundane, and makes it something so holy that it can only be used to serve God Himself.

Viewed in this light, Candlemas is an allegory to the entire Christian life. Is that not what we are all called to do, make the mundane holy? To take our seconds, minutes and hours and give them to Christ? To take our boring mundane bodies and hearts of cold wax, and to set them on fire?

Rocking Chair

I just recently watched a Mel Gibson movie called “The Patriot”. It was your basic action movie complete with death and mayhem, but it was one of those movies that is designed to make you feel proud to be an American. I’m not generally a big action movie fan, but I’l admit, I like a little manly romp with swords and guns on occasion. For me to really be into it though, the focus has to be more on heroism and courage and less on blood and guts. All told, decent movie.

There was a small theme that ran through the movie about rocking chairs that really interested me though. You see, Mel’s character is trying to build a rocking chair, and he just can’t seem to get it right. Every time he gets it put together and goes to sit in it, it falls to pieces. This frustrates him to no end. Everywhere he goes, he keeps seeing these rocking chairs and he’s testing them out, studying them, trying to figure out where he is screwing it up. There is this great scene where he is about to parlay with the enemy general, and he doesn’t even notice him come into the room because he is too busy playing around with his rocking chair.

He has put in so much effort, but just can’t seem to get it right.

I had never noticed rocking chairs before this movie, but now I find myself amazed at how elegant they really are. They have to be able to hold the weight of a person from so many different angles, constantly in motion, and yet with just a few spindles to support this. It’s really some rather impressive engineering.

Alright, I’ll get to the point already.

Yes, hard work is necessary to make anything, but to truly make something beautiful, you have to put your heart in as well. Mel’s character is obsessed with making the perfect rocking chair. There is no question that he could put together a good functional chair, but he wants more. He is focused on it.

We see this throughout history as a defining trait of genius. Thomas Edison counted 3000 failures on his way to creating the light bulb. DaVinci would only sleep a few hours, spread out throughout the day so he could focus more time as an artist, architect, sculptor and inventor. They really get obsessed. They are going to figure it out at any personal cost.

Is there anything that you are obsessed about? Is there anything in your life that you truly give your complete focus to? Of course I want you to be a well rounded person, but is there anything you put your whole heart into?

Salve Magister!

Every Friday, my entire morning is flat out booked up. There is no point scheduling anything before 1:00, because there is no chance I can make it.

Friday, is Latin day.

We have a group of homeschoolers that all converge on my house at around 9:30, and from that moment until the last one leaves, my house turns into a tornado. I have no idea who is there, my dog is so confused she can’t figure out if she should play or growl, my cats go into hiding, and my normally silent home is penetrated with the squeals and screams that only a flock of seagulls could outdo. It’s my own little, carefully scheduled dose of insanity.

Why does this flock of prepubescent monkeys invade my home? Why of course they are all excited about their weekly Latin class.

Okay, maybe I am overdoing it when I say they are excited. They love the getting together part, but when they hear my big manly voice resound through the halls with the five minute warning, I listen for the clapping and joy, but I usually just get groaning that would make Eeyore blush.

I love my Latin class. They are truly the best group of kids you could ever get into the same room. They are bright, funny, sweet, heck, I like them so much that I wouldn’t mind if they stayed till 1:15.

I love teaching Latin, because to me Latin is of extreme importance, and it was a gift that I was not given in school. Whenever I speak of the importance of Latin, I always get two replies, usually from the same mouth. “Wow, that’s awesome! I bet your girls are so smart” and “Why would you want them to study a dead language?”

So first, yes, my girls are smart, but not because they study Latin. In my opinion, every child can learn Latin, after all, they seemed to do alright with English.

The more important question though, is why. So I want to share a little secret with you. I’m gonna tell you why. I bet you think you know, but I’m guessing you don’t. You might be thinking it’s because I’m way too Catholic, and I think they should be able to pray the Latin Mass. Nope. That’s not it at all. “Well, it’s the language of the Church right? That must be why.” You couldn’t be further from the truth. “Um, then it’s because they will be able to pick up other languages so easily!” Sorry, wrong yet again. “So they can read all the great philosophers and scientists in the tongue they wrote in?” Sigh, you don’t give up do you? “Um, well, cause some of the English technical, legal, and scientific words are Latin?” What? Oh, why actually, you are very close.

I teach Latin, because most of English is made of Latin. All the reasons above are good ones, and any two or three would make me think about it, but the real reason is, that by studying Latin, you are studying English.

This comes as a shock to most people. The truth is, about 85% of the English language is actually Latin. Think way way back to grammar school. (By the way, did you know it’s called grammar school because that was when you used to learn the Latin grammar? Bet you didn’t know that!) Do you remember those early readers with those great stories like, “See Jane run! She Runs Fast. She can catch a ball!”? That’s where you learned all there is to know about English grammar. You learned that to make a word plural, you add an “s”. You learned the difference between “he runs”, and “he ran”. This was really important stuff.

That is all great for English words, but it just didn’t prepare you for bacterium, and bacteria. For the Latin student, this is obvious. Not only that, bbut nearly all our words are built out of Latin. For example, in this paragraph I used many Latin words, but I’ll point out “prepare”. “Pre” means before, “parare” means to jump, so literally it means, “before jumping”. That word suddenly makes more sense doesn’t it?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m no Latin scholar, so if you are and you decide to write me a letter in Latin, you’ll find it will take me a very long time to get back to you. In truth, I’m usually only a few lessons ahead of my students! (Just don’t let them know that, okay?)

One more reason to learn Latin, it just sounds cool! 

Dominus vobiscum!