Thursday, March 31, 2016

Discoveries Eliminating Catholic Dogmas

Discovery of South America Nixes Church Dogma.

According to Pope Emeritus Benedict, the Church dogma of extra ecclesiam nulla salus, or "no salvation outside the Church," was abolished because of the discovery in 1500 by Portuguese explorer Pedro Álvares Cabral of what would become Brazil.

"There is no doubt that at this point, we are faced with a profound evolution of dogma," said the ex-pontiff, due to "the discovery of the new world." The remarks came in an interview conducted last year, but only just published in the Italian Bishops' Conference organ Avvenire.

An unnamed cardinal  conceded the point. "We had a pretty sweet thing going until that idiot Portuguese Captain Cabral found all those people who weren't Catholic. Never since its beginning had the Church been faced with a whole world to evangelize. Everyone was like, 'How were all those natives in the New World saved, huh?' We tried to finesse it. 'They weren't,' or, 'Their conscience,' or 'What, you didn't see the end of Apocalypto?' But obviously, the choice was give up extra ecclesiam nulla salus or look like heartless idiots."

Many are speculating that other infallible dogmas may have been lost due to discoveries. The Bear's sources in the BioParc di Roma say that Watson and Crick's discovery of the DNA double-helix in 1953 eliminated the dogma of Purgatory. This year's discovery of Planet X in our solar system may have taken out the Church's rules on contraception.

Planet X: Contraception-Killer?

Sources close to Pope Francis say he will announce "sometime this year" that the discovery of Eva Peron's body in a Milan crypt in 1971 eliminated Hell from the shrinking list of dogmas. However, the papacy itself is not immune to evolution. The Vatican is scrambling to salvage Papal Infallibility. "The Higgs-Boson particle in 2012 is a challenge, frankly. We're worried," said one source close to Pope Francis who did not wish to be identified.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

The Devil at Work in Bear's Home

If you read "Bear's TLDR Easter Manifesto [Re-Updated]" your life was enriched beyond words. Unfortunately, TLDR stands for "too long, didn't read" so you probably didn't.  Sometimes the Bear gets carried away, depending on how much neurotransmitters his synapses are marinating in, in compliance with Fish, Game, and Wildlife Department of Large Talking Predators requirements.

If you did happen to read that, you know the Bear's Easter was awful. He was unable to wake up and go to Mass.

The Devil, who has a wonderful sense of humor, the Bear has discovered, had gotten the Bear and his mate arguing about which prayer book we were going to use. We have our simple four-week psalter meant to be sung; Christian Prayer, which is a pared down version of the full Liturgy of the Hours, but still has seasonal material; and the actual four-volume Liturgy of the Hours. Then we also have two choices on glass: Divine Office and Universalis.

The Bear will spare you the details, but that's right, which prayer book to use caused domestic strife to the point where we didn't do anything. You have to give Old Scratch credit.

The truth is, it doesn't matter. We should not insist on having our way. That is Marriage 101. But the ego rises up like a Bear and roars, sometimes, doesn't it? Stupid issues like this seem important and take on a life of their own, all powered by ego, then anger. It's like the arguments Orthodox have over calendars.

It's all ironed out now. We use Christian Prayer. End of story.

Apostolic Exhortation Gives Bishops Superpowers

Bishop exercises new, impossible powers.

As bishops examine the new Apostolic Exhortation on the family from Pope Francis, they are discovering unexpected new impossible powers.  While the bulk of the document deals primarily with bishops' power to cleanse sin from those who persist in it without repentance, bishops are also flying, time traveling, and defying the rules of quantum mechanics.

Floating twenty feet above reporters, a gleeful Bishop Listecki of Milwaukee called down, "Pope Francis also gave me the power to suspend the law of gravity!" Scientists have urged caution until the extent of this new power is clear.

Meanwhile Bishop Lagonegro of Poughkeepsie displayed a black cat to reporters, which he claimed was Schrödinger's Cat. "It's still in the box, neither alive nor dead," he explained delightedly, "but it's also here, clearly alive. You can't explain that. I don't know what to do with my impossible power, but anyway, it's kind of cool, don't you think? Nice kitty."

Other bishops have demonstrated their own impossible powers by super strength, the ability to move faster than the eye can see, time travel and, in the case of Bishop Kurtz, of Louisville, squaring the circle. "I have to admit I'm a little disappointed in my superpower that Pope Francis gave me," Bishop Kurtz said, "but, if you think about it, it's a pretty famous paradox. I could show you. Oh, okay. Sure, later sometime."

A Vatican spokesman issued a terse statement saying, "It is the power of Francis Mercy."

Bear's Interview With Pope Francis

At 7 a.m. yesterday, the Bear was just starting to eat his morning oatmeal when he got the biggest surprise of his life. His cell phone rang, and he answered it. On the other end a voice said this: "Please stand by for his Holiness."

You can imagine what the Bear thought as his heart started to beat faster. Was it a prank? Why the Bear? Was he about to get chewed out by the Pope? Then the same voice said in the background, "Sua Santità, il Orso."

"Parla italiano?" asked a familiar voice.

"Si," the Bear answered. What followed was an incredible opportunity for the Bear to speak freely for 30 minutes with Pope Francis.

Pope Francis: "Good morning, Mr. Bear." [The Bear could detect a trace of humor in his voice.] "I have seen your blog and it is very creative. And please, go right on ahead being hard on me. It is the voice of a segment of our Church, and it helps me. Besides," [again the humor] "your Pope has a sense of humor, too."

Pope Video 1 and Universalism

Bear: [Pope Francis said he wanted to dispense with formalities and time was limited, so the Bear spent little time on pleasantries.] "Your Holiness, the first thing that comes to mind is your monthly intention videos, or 'Pope Videos.' This Bear found the first quite disturbing. It appeared to promote Universalism. The video, not the intention. At the end it had people holding symbols of their different religions together as if they were equal. What are we to make of that? Do you believe Christianity is simply one religion among many?"

End of Pope Video 1

Pope Francis: "No. Of course not. I am a son of the Church, and believe that people are saved through Christ. But the reality is that we share our world with other religions. Does it not make sense to try to emphasize what we share, rather than our differences?"

Bear: "Actually, with all due respect, no. Those other religions are defined by their error, and their similarities to Christianity are overstated. Buddhism, one of the religions in the video, doesn't even believe in God. How can they be saved outside of the Church? Why does the Church foster error?"

Pope Francis: "I must insist that each one of these religions does share things with Christianity. Where there is a lack, God's mercy fills it. [Imagine a shrug in his voice.] A good person of any religion, or no religion, may be saved through Christ. You must remember that we, too, lack in mercy, in charity, in the care we show for the refugee, the poor, the planet. Everyone falls short. Even me, if your blog is to be believed! [Laughs.] It is not that other religions are just as true, it is that wherever they fall short, God generously makes up for it."

Bear: "So people do not have to accept Christ and be baptized to be saved?"

Pope Francis: "They must accept him in those in need they see around them. All salvation is through Christ. All saved are members of the Church. But we must get used to not focusing on human formalities. Christ is bigger than we can comprehend. The Church is not a bus, that you are either on or off. The Church is the bus stop, too. It is the sidewalk along the bus route, where people are walking, some in one direction, and some in the other. The Church accompanies them, walking with them. The Church is not just one tiny, cramped bus!"

Bear: "Were missionaries like St. Francis Xavier and, for that matter, St. Corbinian, misguided then?"

Pope Francis: "We have a different emphasis now. We accompany people in Christ. We have come to understand that to proselytize is to do violence to a person, a culture."

Pope Video 3 and Contraception

Bear: "The Bear noticed in Pope Video 3 that there are nearly no examples of families with more than two children. You have previously remarked that Catholics must be responsible and not breed like rabbits. Was the size of families in the videos a subtle message? Do you believe there is a problem with overpopulation? Do you encourage Catholics to have large families?"

Pope Francis: [laughs] "I did not even notice how big the families were in the video. That was not the focus. Of course there is a problem with overpopulation. Our planet can only support so many people, and we are at that limit now. Climate change and overpopulation together pose a serious threat today. It was not so in the past. In agricultural societies, it made sense to have large families. But today, do we need families with seven children? Four children? On the whole, no. What right does a couple have to claim so many more resources than their neighbors? This is selfish. To me? I say this as my personal opinion: two children seems responsible. But it is up to each individual family, of course."

Bear: "How are Catholics to regulate the size of their families?"

Pope Francis: "The Church's teaching is very clear on this, of course. But the role of conscience and pastoral advice also must play a part, as with any important decision. As with most things, it is not black and white. There are competing factors. The danger to our planet. Allocation of resources. Sometimes one must decide the less damaging course where no decision seems perfect."

Bear: "Will you rule out contraception?"

Pope Francis: "As I said, the Church's teaching is very clear."

Relations With Other Faiths

Bear: "Just a quick follow-up before we move on, but you have condemned violence in the name of religion, in terms of 'fundamentalists' and the like -- which you also use for elements within the Catholic Church. Why do you not simply say what everyone knows: that all the religious violence is coming from one religion, Islam?"

Pope Francis: "First of all, every religion has its extremist elements, even the Catholic Church, so that would not be true. Second, Muslims are a beautiful, peace-loving people. It is unfortunate that there are a very few that depart from their religion and act violently. They are not acting as Muslims, but as criminals. So naming 'Islam' would be erroneous and unproductive."

Bear: Who are the extremist elements in the Church?"

Pope Francis: "Those who reject today's world. Its problems. Its solutions. Who sow division. They also reject today's Church. All extremists everywhere make an idol of the past. They practice dead works. The only word they know is 'no.' That is what I mean by 'fundamentalists.'"

Bear: Is a word for these fundamentalists 'traditionalists?' Would you include the SSPX?"

Pope Francis: It is not necessary for me to identify anyone. They display their plumage like a peacock. They are the ones who say 'No! This is not possible!' 'No! We have not done it this way before!' 'No! This is modern!' They stick their fingers in their ears and close their eyes. Can they even find the Church in this manner? Jesus? Of course not. It is very sad."

Bear: "You have often promoted the cause of refugees. But what do you say to people in Europe who host these refugees and are repaid with violence and chaos. Sweden now has the second highest rape rate in the world."

Pope Francis: "This is unfortunate, but you are looking only at the negative. People from other countries, other religions and cultures, bring many good things, as well. But in any event, how can the people of a country say 'this is my country?' Did God draw borders? Maybe a big red line on the ground somewhere? No. There is one planet. We are all citizens in one world. We must not push people away, but learn to live with each other."

Bear: "If these other countries are so wonderful, why are people fleeing them?"

Pope Francis: [laughs] "See, the Bear who sets a trap for the man! It is fine. I like you, Mr. Bear. You would make a good Jesuit. But about your question. There are many reasons that are too complicated to go into now. The important thing is to welcome them, regardless of why they come. This is the Christian religion."

Pope Francis and Lutheran Bishop Antje Jackelén
Bear: "This Halloween, you will travel to Sweden to celebrate the Reformation with Lutherans. What benefits can you name that resulted from the Reformation?"

Pope Francis: "Certain abuses within the Church were eliminated. It eventually brought a new appreciation for Holy Scripture. It sparked the Counter-Reformation which clarified Church doctrine. It resulted in the birth of Protestantism, which provided an inspiration for the Church in many ways, and inspired Catholics to look at things in different ways."

Bear: "Some would say it plunged Christendom into a ruinous war, fractured the Body of Christ into tens of thousands of sects, and that 'looking at things in different ways,' has led to endless novelties starting with Vatican II. Indeed, the 'inspiration' of Protestantism can be seen in the Vatican II liturgy, can it not?"

Pope Francis: "War is always unfortunate, but you cannot blame it on the Reformation. Nations come into conflict, and there is blame enough for all. As for sects, each one reflects its own truth of the Christian faith, and the Body of Christ cannot be fractured. Never. God is present in each community of faith, and we trust him to make good on their deficiencies even as he makes good on ours. Christianity teaches humility. Do you suppose Catholics are perfect? Or have always expressed the truth? What you call 'novelties,' I would call growth. Our God is a God of surprises, but some act like children who are afraid of surprises, who cry for their beads and holy cards. Catholics must open their eyes and look around them. If they seek, then they shall find! I urge your readers to try it."

Marriage Issues

Bear: "Many Catholics are waiting for the final decision on issues discussed in the Synod on the Family with trepidation. What can you tell us?"

Pope: "Catholics should not fear their Church, or be afraid of change. We are not supposed to be a 16th century museum. If you want museums, come to Italy! There are many, many right here in Rome. But do not come to the Catholic Church looking for a museum! Each era, the Church meets the people where they are. Some people seem to forget that the purpose of the Church is not to say 'no,' but to say 'yes.' We want to bring people into the Church, or back into the Church. We want them to feel accepted, loved, not like criminals whom we barely tolerate. We want to give people the sacraments. This is love. This is mercy. I do not understand why anyone would fear these things."

Cardinal Kasper and Cardinal Marx

Cardinal Kasper: "Mr. Bear, this is Cardinal Kasper. You need to wake up. I've got your oatmeal for you."

Cardinal Marx: "Und this is Cardinal Marx. Jah. Bavarian style."

Bear: "What? Where's Pope Francis?"

And then the Bear woke up to see his mate with a cup of coffee and a steaming bowl of oatmeal with raisins, his very favorite breakfast after pancakes, and, well, waffles are good, too, and fresh-egg omelettes with bacon (not crisp), and toast and orange marmalade... where was the Bear? Oh. His interview with Pope Francis! Much to the Bear's disappointment, it had apparently been an especially vivid dream. Perhaps the "Pope's" answers represented what the Bear's subconscious fears he might truly believe.

Monday, March 28, 2016

The Bear, Houdini and Easter

Pablo Fanque, owned and
ran Bear's circus in England.
The Year of Our Lord 1900 found the Bear in England. He had already been there for decades, having achieved some degree of notoriety. In 1843, none other than the famous Pablo Fanque discovered the author in a two-bit dancing bear act. Although Pablo was a horse man, he appreciated the Bear's unique talents. Unfortunately, the Bear (whose stage name was "Samson") failed to make it into the Beatles song about Billy Kite. (As for Henry the Horse -- real name "Zanthus" -- the Bear pleads the fifth.)

Always the digressions. The Bear apologizes.

In 1900 the Bear was a regular at the famous Alhambra theater in London's West End. A young escape artist named Harry Houdini was new to England, and wanted to add some drama to his escape bit. He hit upon the idea of including the Bear in his act.

Now Harry was always looking for a way to improve his act. It wasn't enough to escape from handcuffs. There had to be chains with a lock, then two chains and two locks. The audience would see all this, and would be even more impressed when he escaped. But a failure to get out of handcuffs and chains didn't have much in the way of a downside. A Bear, however...

The setup went like this. Harry would be handcuffed, and bound with two heavy chains and two very large locks. In a cage would be moi. No, the Bear was not required to escape from his cage, although that might make a great act. With great drama, a small charge of "explosive" (carried very carefully) was attached to the lock, with a long fuse trailing all the way past Harry. The final element was a gun on a stand. 

Bear's Friend Harry Houdini
Of course, the gun was loaded with blanks, the explosives were just fireworks, and the cage door would be unlocked at the offstage tug on a line. The fuse would be lit, the Bear would rattle the bars, pretend to be ferocious, his cage door would fly open, and everyone would be terrified, except for Houdini. He would escape just in time to grab the gun and "shoot" the Bear, whereupon the Bear would act wounded and run offstage.

Great act, if rather bloodthirsty. (The Bear has seen much worse!)

An old show-Bear cannot help but be reminded of old Harry Houdini when he reads about the resurrection. You don't get any deader than being flogged, crucified and stabbed in the heart with a spear. (That's why the hoary old theory that Jesus just fainted is ridiculous.) Not only was there the huge stone, but it was elaborately sealed, and furthermore watched by a group of armed soldiers. You would think rising from the dead would be enough. But lest there be any doubt...

There's precedent. Elijah challenged the priests of Baal to see whose deity could light up some sacrifices. The priests of Baal did their thing all morning, with Elijah making helpful observations like "maybe your god is going to the bathroom." When it came to Team Yahweh's turn, Elijah ostentatiously kept pouring water over the sacrifices, the altar and all around the altar. Blam! Fire came from the sky and cooked the sacrifices anyway.

Sometimes the Bear wonders if God doesn't have a touch of show business in Him. Parting the Red Sea? Yeah. The Bear's gotta love it.

As for Houdini and the Bear? We became good friends and he taught the (talking) Bear some escape tricks which inevitably came in handy.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Bear's Official TLDR Easter Manifesto [Re-Updated]

For whatever reason, the Bear has greatly expanded his discussion of "Science Fiction Judo" with some Bear apologetics he believes some may find helpful. Real science is growing unfriendly toward materialism, and the Bear wants his readers to know about these developments. He has also cleaned things up, added headings to break this long essay up into bite-sized chunks, and proofread it. (For some reason, proofreading after publishing makes perfect sense to a Bear.)

The Bear Hates Christmas (Stay With Him, Easter is Coming)

You know how when you're feeling down at Christmas time, and everyone else has that brittle hypomanic buzz you recognize from the lady in church who keeps asking if you've approved her Facebook request yet? Anyway, these Christmas people, hopped up on frankincense shooters, decorate their houses until they're visible from space, so you have to go out at night and pull it all down, not forgetting to leave a yard reindeer hanging by its neck from the eaves as a warning.

Okay, by "you," the Bear may have meant the Bear, although he's fairly certain there are a lot of people who do that. (In fact, once Pope Francis realizes your average American suburban neighborhood has a carbon footprint the size of Guatemala's from November through January, he'll be demanding every Catholic make Christmas a season of darkness in their neighborhood.)

The Bear never sent a Christmas present until Amazon gift cards. Open a fifth of Jack Daniels at 9 p.m. Christmas Eve and start emailing those babies out to as many of your own children as you can remember. Once, that is, the Jack combines with the tranquilizer darts you have to jab yourself with just to get in the mood and navigate Amazon.

Give your kids different amounts on each of their cards every year, guaranteeing a lifetime of fun for you, and therapy for them. On your wife's card, use a different email address and name for yourself, and put, "We'll always have Paris. Love, 'Pie Man.'" Act offended when she brings it up. (Use "Bangkok" if you've actually been to Paris). It's hilarious. Well, until the tranquilizer darts wear off.

So what's the Bear babbling about Christmas here at Easter? The Bear is describing how he just never fits in with the Christmas everybody else seems to be having. The more feverish joy he encounters, the more depressed he becomes. Always out of sync, always out of sorts, sometimes suffering from his distemper.

Easter: When the Bear Believes What He Knows Isn't True

The Bear is always truthful with his loyal readers, aside from a bit of embroidery here and there to keep things rolling. You need to know the Bear has a dark side besides tranquilizer dart abuse and equine serial killing, in case you've missed it.

The utter lack of joy the Bear experiences at Christmas time, goes along with the utter lack of discipline he experiences during Lent, which -- and this is the point -- goes along with the utter lack of faith the Bear experiences at Easter. Everyone around you is saying "Christ is risen!" with their faces all aglow, and the Bear is thinking, "Yeah... about that."

Now the first two challenges, you can survive. The Church does not require you to be an over-stimulated elf for Christmas, or a stylite for Lent. But if you can't step into the center ring for the Big Event of the Christian Calendar, the Resurrection of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ; if you wake up Easter morning with a sinking feeling in your gut, and say, "There's just no way I can swallow all that stuff," you have a serious problem.

You more or less have to believe that Jesus rose from the dead, except for the "more or less" part. It's right there in the Creed (both of them, plus the third one that is the combination of the other two you say at Mass when you're distracted). Non-negotiable. And if Jesus didn't rise from the dead, then we won't either, and we might as well go wild Saturday night and sleep in Sunday morning (which is no small consideration for a Bear).

The Bear doesn't know how many share his contrary reactions to the principle Catholic seasons. Anybody? Maybe it's a Bear thing. Maybe it's the Devil. Maybe it's massive doses of psychotropic drugs, or ECT after-effects. (A lot goes into complying with Fish, Game, and Wildlife's Department of Large Talking Predators rules.) However (and you knew this was coming) this sinful and unqualified Bear, who is probably the last voice you should listen to on anything, has a few observations.

Faith First Aid

First of all, there are  reasons to believe. Like this: the testimony of women at that time was presumed to be unreliable, therefore someone inventing a fake resurrection account would have had men make the discovery.

The Bear doesn't have any particular reason not to believe Jesus rose from the dead. The Gospel accounts ring true. There would have had to have been a lot of rocket fuel to spectacularly launch Christianity, e.g. like someone rising from the dead. All the apostles, save John, were martyred, so the people in the very best position to know the truth testified to it with their blood. There were very many other martyrs. It's kind of coincidental that temple Judaism with its sacrifices ended shortly after Jesus's death, with the Roman's thorough destruction of the temple. Basic apologetics provide many reasons to believe.

The Bear remembers times he has believed. What's changed? Has any new information come to light? No, Doubting Bear is working with the same facts. So why should Bear be Doubting Bear instead of Believing Bear? C.S. Lewis got to the heart of the problem in Mere Christianity when he said this:

"Faith, in the sense in which I am here using the word, is the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods.

What niggling problems bring the Bear down? There are a few. (Now that the Bear has written them down, they seem small and silly.)

"I hope Jesus doesn't come back right now."
The Second Coming Has Been Postponed

First off, everybody expected Jesus to come back real soon. 2000 years later, the Bear -- who, ironically, is only here to complain about this because Jesus didn't come back real soon -- is still waiting. The New Testament is all over the place on this issue (see the Olivet discourse). It is confusing.

Ultimately, however, even Jesus said he didn't know, and the balance of the evidence favors simple uncertainty. Maybe God wants many generations to know the fear of wondering if Jesus is coming back the very moment they're looking at porn.

Common Sense: a Misleading and Incompetent Witness

The other problem is that people just don't rise from the dead. And you know, that's true. They aren't born from a virgin, either. They don't recover their sight when they've been born blind. All those miracles -- we don't see them anymore, if anyone ever did.

The answer to this is that's why they call them miracles, stupid Bear! The other answer is if they really happened, of course they would seem weird, but that doesn't disprove anything!

Bear sense -- common sense in humans -- is a wonderful thing that throughout our whole lives helps us navigate claims and facts and survive in the world. Common sense says, "People don't rise from the dead." And as far as common claims and facts go, that is correct: people do not rise from the dead. We don't have to make contingency plans for great-grandma Elsie showing up at the door one day.

But here's the rub. Common sense is absolutely useless when faced with un-common claims and facts. That feeling of common sense that is whispering, "this cannot be true," is what trial lawyers call "an incompetent witness." It lacks the knowledge and qualifications to say anything about miracles in general or any particular miracle! Its testimony is barred. In this matter, common sense has no place. The verdict must flow from other sources, such as evidence and inferences and faith, the last of which the Bear shall say a little about at the end.

Bonus first aid measure. Take a good look at the people who vehemently don't believe in the resurrection. Are they generally the ones who get even worldly matters right? Do you share their opinions? Do you want to be one of them? The Bear's rough and ready guide on any issue is to look at the people, not the issue. It usually works surprisingly well.

Science Fiction Judo: Refuting Materialism

The Bear has noticed that in these matters, people always assume it is only the believers who have issues. In a very one-sided fight, faith can take a beating. However, the Bear is here  to say that an atheist has his own problems, so let's drag a couple out into the light.


First, it is well-established that the universe had a beginning. Cosmologists can even tell us how old it is. It is expanding, apparently from a single point, out of nothing. Almost as if the Genesis God had created it. Its properties make it exquisitely fine-tuned for life. So much so, that those people who get nightmares from the above have made up all sorts of crazy theories. For example, they claim there must be an infinite number of universes, which (conveniently) we can never observe to prove or disprove.

Then there is our beautiful solar system, chock full of mechanisms that protect life on earth. We have an enormous gas giant -- Jupiter -- to sweep up dangerous celestial trespassers. We also have a relatively large moon that fixes the axis of the earth at a tilt, allowing for seasons.

Not essential to life, but to discovery, our solar system is situated in the perfect Happy Place in our galaxy to permit the study of the cosmos. Almost as if God wants us to learn about His work. (Perhaps daring some.)

There are great books about all this, like Guillermo Gonzalez's Privileged Planet, and Donald Brownlee's Rare Earth. Real science is our friend.

You are Not Your Brain

Then there is the aptly named "hard problem of consciousness." It's hard to say we are nothing but our brains (although that doesn't stop some people). There is too much evidence that mind is independent, and possibly even non-local.

Pam Reynolds had an aneurysm in her brain. Surgeons could not repair it as long as blood kept it swollen. So they removed every drop of Pam's blood and reduced her temperature to 60 degrees. Her heart stopped, and all brain activity ceased. By any definition, Pam was dead. When she was eventually revived, she was able to accurately describe in detail the instrument used to bore through her skull, snips of conversations in the operating room, and other things.

Things she saw and heard when she was dead and her brain was completely inactive. This is a medical impossibility, yet it undeniably happened. In fact, such occurrences are not all that uncommon.

A woman named Maria, who was clinically dead and revived after suffering cardiac arrest, described a tennis shoe on the ledge of the north side of the third floor of the hospital. She not only gave the location, but described the shoe itself in detail -- that one of its laces was stuck under the heel and it had a worn toe. She begged Kimberly Clark, her critical care social worker to investigate. Sure enough, although it was impossible, the shoe was found exactly where and in the condition that Maria described.

Materialists have come up with all sorts of different explanations for such experiences, but all of them have fizzled.

Mind Over Matter

There are established correlations between brain areas and memories or experiences. You have probably seen a neurosurgeon electrically stimulating the brain of a conscious patient and reproducing vivid memories. Here's a short, fascinating clip featuring Dr. Wilder Penfield, who discovered this technique. It is useful for brain surgeons to know how a brain is "mapped" so they're not operating blind.

You may be surprised to learn that Penfield was not a materialist. He believed that we are all made up of two different basic components. One assumes he means brain and mind, body and soul. He pointed out that when he made a patient move their hand, for instance, they invariably said, "You made me do that." Detailed memories were recognized as belonging to the patient, but the patient would always say, "You made that happen." Something else recognized a disconnect between the experience, however real, and the self. In other words, this subtle, but important, point goes like this:

  • you have a physical brain which immerses a patient in a memory upon electrical stimulation of a particular part
  • at the same time, the patient recognizes that the experience is an artifact of the procedure performed by the surgeon
  • therefore it appears that some sort of "non-brain observer" is at work discriminating what the brain is experiencing from a natural memory

Dr. Penfield said he never found the part of the brain where decisions took place.

Scientists have also discovered the "plasticity" of the brain. It can change, adapt. The brain can take orders from thoughts, which are immaterial, after all, and it can actually physically reconfigure itself. See the famous experiment with London cabbies, who developed abnormally large hippocampi, a part of the brain associated with navigation in animals, after memorizing 25,000 streets and landmarks in London.

Your Brain on God

"Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect." (Romans 12:2 RSV)

Into your spiritual life welcome... the brain. What kind of brain are you molding with your thoughts, your mind? After all, Christianity is not spiritualism. God likes our bodies so much He's going to resurrect them one of these days.

As an example, studies have shown that viewing pornography over time shrinks your brain. Specifically, it reduces the brain's gray matter of the dorsal striatum (reward circuit). [Frank discussion of studies and problem at link.] In other words, internet porn use can cause addiction-related brain changes.

In fact, everything we do is dutifully recorded by our brain. Habits (and vices) are revealed as supported by actual changes in the physical brain over time.

The Spiritual Brain, by Mario Beauregard and Denyse O'Leary, is a fascinating study of the link between religious experience and the brain. The brains of Carmelite nuns in deep prayer showed every indication of a brain interacting with another real person. A Canadian researcher had gotten a lot of press with a so-called "God Helmet" which allegedly produced a religious experience by subjecting the brain to strong magnetic fields. Unfortunately for him, no one else has been able to replicate his findings. Brain Wars, also by Mario Beauregard, is another good one.

To advance in virtue, it looks like we must do more than change our hearts and minds. We must change our brains.

Yet there are still materialist scientists who are trying to convince us that we literally do not exist. That our thoughts, feelings and loves are mere illusions without an audience, and free will is impossible. Chemical reactions in a piece of warm meat can't choose anything, you see.

The Bear bets they don't live as if that were true, though.

Poor Old Charlie D.

Darwin has gotten quite a beating the last several years, and scientists are scrambling to prop the old infidel up, although the Cult of Darwin is stronger than ever. Darwin's Doubt by Stephen Meyer is a wonderful book about the fossil record and early life that excites that little-kid feeling of discovery and wonder, while presenting a devastating critique of Darwinism. He also wrote The Signature in the Cell. Michael Behe's Darwin's Black Box is another good one.

You Are a Walking, Talking Miracle, as Much as the Bear

But just you: Your presence. Your faculties. Your marvelous brain, with up to 200 billion nerve cells, connected by 125 trillion synapses, each of which has 1000 molecular brain switches.

The fact that if you cut yourself shaving this morning, an almost unbelievably complex cascade of reactions will clot your blood precisely there, and nowhere else, which would be a catastrophe. You can perhaps even read the Bear's rambling ephemeris this far (that is a miracle). The more you know with an open heart, you can see God's fingerprints all over the world we live in.

The Fool Says In His Heart, "There is No God"

Infinite number of universes? There's no "you" in you? We're just the product of blind chance? Common sense, which is qualified in these matters, isn't buying any of it. In fact, it seems desperate. Believe the Bear, there are many brilliant scientists who would just love to be the one to put these issues to rest, but they can't. Materialism keeps its stranglehold on academia by marginalizing, punishing and even destroying the careers of those who challenge the materialist narrative.

How does all this relate to Easter faith? If the materialist paradigm is bankrupt, then the curtain of rationalism that has separated us from the spiritual realm since the "Enlightenment" is torn from top to bottom. It is not faith, but it can be an aid to faith, while we are weak.

The Bear wonders if infidels have nights when faith in their theories has turned to a cold, dark, random exchange of neurotransmitters that offer no comfort. Perhaps God seems like a terrifyingly distinct possibility at 3 a.m. on some restless night.

The fool says in his heart, "There is no God." (Psalms 14:1 RSV)


The Bear must admit to feeling a little better after his little exercise.

But what is faith, anyway? "Now faith is the substance of things to be hoped for, the evidence of things that appear not." (Hebrews 11:1 Douay Rheims) That is the most famous formulation, but the Bear has a hard time understanding it. 

It is the "substance," or reality of the things we hope for, e.g. the resurrection of Jesus. It is also called "evidence" of things we don't see. A thing may exist without being seen, of course. As a lawyer, the Bear understands evidence, so it appears that faith is a substitute way of knowing or experiencing things we otherwise cannot know, that "appear not." We can confidently mark them as exhibits, in the certainty that each one will be visible with the eyes of faith.

Of course, normally, a jury cannot decide a case on something that "appears not." The prosecutor cannot enter into evidence a murder weapon that nobody can see. Apparently, however, we must accept things we cannot detect in the most important matters pertaining to our religion and our own salvation. The only way we can do that is through faith.

Credo Ut Intelligam

That sounds a little scary to the Bear. The Bear feels he is in the center ring, and has his act well-rehearsed, when, suddenly, the Ringmaster says, "Alright, Bear, it's time to walk the high wire without a net. Blindfolded. Don't worry. I promise nothing bad will happen. Have faith."

The Bear's intellectual powers, of which he is so proud, are only so much baggage that he will have to shed on his journey. He'll never know that way, and there's no getting around it. Believe the Bear. He has tried. Maybe that's the problem. "Credo ut intelligam," said St. Anselm. I believe that I might understand. Believing is seeing.

"Hope" and faith are intertwined. Hope is the first step of faith, and not only because it directs faith to an object. It's like a good-faith deposit that allows matters to proceed in a particular direction. There is a huge difference between a Bear that hopes Jesus really did rise from the dead, and an atheist who hopes he didn't. 

But how can you believe in something that "appears not" when the evidence of it is believing in it? Isn't that the mother of all bootstrap arguments? Sure, unless you believe without seeing. Oh, there may be evidence, and you may draw certain inferences, but God puts things backwards and says "believing is seeing." Maybe God is telling us that he has gifts and mysteries that are beyond understanding, and we must not rely on it so much.

Now faith is a virtue, and virtues usually requires some cultivation, but that is beyond first aid. It is also a gift, and God gives it in various degrees to different people.  

The Bear is not certain, but suspects faith is a feeling. If strong, or weak, it may prompt feelings, but a lack of feeling should not be interpreted as a lack of faith. In fact, there may be medical conditions, antipsychotic and antidepressant drugs, tranquilizer dart abuse, personality types, and lots of other reasons that numb the feeling of what may be a very real faith.

So, perhaps the Bear isn't quite as bad off as he first thought. He can genuinely, if dryly, participate in another Easter, and wish all his readers a joyous one. Maybe next time will be better.


Quotes on Faith

Here is a wonderful gift from reader Ever Mindful that the Bear is going to move from the comment box to the center ring:

Chocolate eggs I cannot give, but please enjoy this basket of faith-related quotes...

“Faithless is he that says farewell when the road darkens.” 
― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

"Death is no more than passing from one room into another. But there's a difference for me, you know. Because in that other room I shall be able to see.” 
― Helen Keller

“Faith is the bird that feels the light and sings when the dawn is still dark.” 
― Rabindranath Tagore

"When all is said and done, the life of faith is nothing if not an unending struggle of the spirit with every available weapon against the flesh.” 
― Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship

"To one who has faith, no explanation is necessary. To one without faith, no explanation is possible.” 
― St Thomas Aquinas

"Faith, in the sense in which I am here using the word, is the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods.” 
― C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

"Sorrow looks back, Worry looks around, Faith looks up” 
― Ralph Waldo Emerson

"Faith is an oasis in the heart which will never be reached by the caravan of thinking.” 
― Kahlil Gibran

"Faith is the gaze of a soul upon a saving God.” 
― A.W. Tozer

"My idea of God is not a divine idea. It has to be shattered time after time. He shatters it Himself.” 
― C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed

"God does not require that we be successful only that we be faithful.” 
― Mother Teresa

"I can only say that I am nothing but a poor sinner, trusting in Christ alone for salvation.” 
― Robert E. Lee

"I love the recklessness of faith. First you leap, and then you grow wings.” 
― William Sloane Coffin Jr., Credo

"The greatest act of faith some days is to simply get up and face another day.” 
― Amy Gatliff

"What if we lived like Jesus really did rise from the dead?” 
― Sarah Holman, If He Lives

"It seems to me some people just go around lookin' to get their faith unsettled. That has been the fashion for the last hundred years or so.” 
― Marilynne Robinson, Gilead

"Now listen. Faith is like oxygen. It keeps you afloat at all times. Sometimes you need it. Sometimes you don’t. but when you do need it you better be practiced at having faith, otherwise it won’t work. That’s why the missionaries built all the churches. Before we got those churches we weren’t practicing enough. That’s what prayers are for—practice, children. Practice.” 
― Lloyd Jones, Mister Pip

"Just think of what would have happened to poor old Naaman if he had decided to dunk himself only once?” 
― Lawana Blackwell, The Courtship of the Vicar's Daughter

"Take faith, for example. For many people in our world, the opposite of faith is doubt. The goal, then, within this understanding, is to eliminate doubt. But faith and doubt aren't opposites. Doubt is often a sign that your faith has a pulse, that it's alive and well and exploring and searching. Faith and doubt aren't opposites, they are, it turns out, excellent dance partners.” 
― Rob Bell, What We Talk about When We Talk about God

"Little faith sees God's hand in great things. Established faith sees God's hand in little things.” 
― Ralph Bouma

"He that hath the steerage of my course,
Direct my sail.” 
― William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet

"Believe to the end, even if all men went astray and you were left the only one faithful; bring your offering even then and praise God in your loneliness.” 
― Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov

“I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die.

(John 11:25-26)”

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Two Years Ago Today: Guest Writer from FutureChurch

From time to time, the Bear makes his blog available to guests representing other perspectives. Today's guest is Portia List, who recently attended the FutureChurch pilgrimage to Rome. (One time the Bear tried to get into the Pontifical Council on Pastoral Needs of Migrant and Itinerant People to raise concerns about treatment of ursine circus workers. They shot him with a tranquilizer dart and he spent the next five years in the Bioparc di Roma bear enclosure. Not that it wasn't great.) 

(Not the author, just a picture from the pilgrimage.)

Goddess Bless! Our 2014 "Back to the FutureChurch" Pilgrimage to Rome was great! From the outset, we wanted this pilgrimage to be different. Not the same old tiresome itinerary of churches and catacombs endorsed by the patriarchy. By the way: did you know one of the Pope's titles was actually Patriarch of the West until 2006? They weren't even trying to hide it! (Could it be that somebody is finally getting the message?)

Anyway, we wanted this pilgrimage to be about us, to "speak truth to power," as they say. We met with several dicasteries in the curia to tell them what Pope Francis meant when he called for a greater role for women. Of course he can't say the o-word in public yet. But we can, and we did, until we were red in the face!*

Everywhere we went they were literally speechless as we educated them about the leadership role of women since the time of Miriam, who led the people of The Divine out of Egypt. (Of course the patriarchy gave all the credit to her dim-witted, stammering, murderer brother Moses, but it's clear from the destroyed original texts who the real boss was!) We spoke to:

  • Pontifical Council for Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerants. The staff member who deals with circus workers was in that day.
  • Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. Topic: elimination of guns, especially assault rifles with magazines and those kind of shoulder things.
  • Pontifical Council for Christian Unity. I don't think they realized other denominations ordain women. Case closed!
  • The Congregation for the Clergy (!) The monsignor apologized numerous times for not answering any of our letters, emails, or faxes, but explained it had been really hectic, and I sort of get that. (What with blogging and my para-ministries I have forgotten to pay my electricity bill before. True story!) He actually accepted our petition with 231 signatures to permit non-celibate priests! Are we shaking things up, or what? (Inside joke I'll share here. We did not specify male priests. So, in a way, the Vatican has already accepted the idea of women priests!)

There were several others, but on to the Big News! We got a favorable story on official Vatican Radio! Do you think just anyone gets that sort of treatment? HEAR ME ROAR!

I want everyone to visit the FutureChurch website so you can see for yourself the kind of bold newold directions A Very Special Someone is endorsing. Because do you think we would get a favorable writeup from the official Vatican radio station if somebody didn't agree with us? ;-)

Sad to say, all was not respectful to women and LGBTQ persons. A peaceful candlelight femenstration in favor of women's ordination in St. Peter's Basilica was suppressed, supposedly over concern about "wax dripping on the floor." We can't help but wonder if the Pope had a candle if they would stop him.

Also, the Basilica of St. Clement has a fresco of St. Catherine debating theology. Yet the guidebook only shows part of the fresco -- the part that "happens" to have men in it. Coincidence? I dont think so. Another tragic example of how women are literally erased from Church history. And the few records of the earliest Christian women are literally buried in catacombs, far from the light of day.

Women are ignored and degraded by the Church, or, on the other hand, virginalized, idealized and pie-in-the-sky-when-you-die-ized. But real women are your mothers, your sisters, your wives and your lovers. Your grandmothers, your aunts, your cousins and neighbors. [Many additional examples edited for space reasons - Bear.] So why not your priests?

Anyway, that's all the space Mr. Bear will give me. Please support the ordination of women and all of our Vatican tacitly-approved initiatives!

*by "o-word" the Bear assumes the author is speaking of ordination

You Won't Believe What the Bear Said Next...

(h/t Fr. Z) Rick Larson, a lawyer and law professor, believes he has found signs of Christ's birth and crucifixion using astronomy software. He believes he has found the exact celestial events that led the wise men from the east to Bethlehem a couple of years after Jesus' birth. He has a professionally-produced video that is compelling and inspiring. The Bear brings it up now, because he also finds significant signs when Jesus was crucified.

Would God, at the moment of creation, bake into the universe (1) the celestial mechanics and local components of our solar system; (2) the astronomical science of the correct time; and (3) the symbolism of ancient times still recognizable today, just to communicate with not only the Magi, but us? He certainly could have.

The one caveat is that the math depends on a death date of Herod the Great of 1 B.C. instead of the typically accepted 4 B.C. That pulls all events closer in time, including the birth of Christ. The weight of scholarship is against Dr. Larson. However, the story he tells through signs in the sky put a heavy thumb on the scale for the late date of Herod's death (1 B.C.).

You've really got to watch the DVD. (Bear is not providing a YouTube link because the guy deserves to get paid for his work.) The name of the DVD is Star of Bethlehem, and Larson's site is . His presentation is a bit enthusiastic in an evangelical way, but that shouldn't cause anyone problems. It is definitely worth the eight or nine bucks it will cost you at Amazon.

Now he is working on finding proof for the earthquake that is recorded at Jesus' death.

Bear gives Star of Bethlehem 5 Fish.


In local news, the cute chick-in-a-teacup would need a big cereal bowl now. Our little peepers have grown into monstrous little ungainly dinosaur creatures with huge, gross feet. And it looks like they slipped a Rhode Island Red into the package.

Blanquette, Holly and Ava are all pregnant for the Easter season. PLEASE, LORD, GIVE US GIRLS THIS TIME! We have no use for more boys. Really. Except for kebabs.

Ivy, a.k.a. "The People's Goat," suffered some sort of injury when he was butted in the head by Goatburger, our big Boer. Why the shepherdess hasn't given him the thumbs down long ago, Bear doesn't know. Bear thinks she's settled on the end of June, when's he's fattened up, though. Bear is not allowed to kill anything. He doesn't understand, unless they're still holding 1976 against him. We don't know if Ivy can't see, or there's neurological damage, or what, but he's not right. Who knew goats could hurt one another while playing?


The Bear's mate just asked him if he was doing anything on some story about Muslims trying to kill people somewhere, and he said no. "Dog bites man story." The Bear is waiting for a whole mosque to have a candlelight vigil for victims and offer a sincere condemnation of violence. Now, that would be a story. Yeah, and the Bear's going to win a Pulitzer Prize for this ephemeris.

Muslims killing people isn't news; it's a trait.

A Strange and Palpable Stillness

A Strange and Palpable Stillness

The Bear cannot write learnedly on the part of the Apostle's Creed that says: "He descended into Hell." Nonetheless he will do his best.

The Bear experiences a strange and palpable stillness. There is something going on offstage, and he strains to understand, but before him is just an empty stage. Perhaps a single spotlight enigmatically illumines the bare boards as the hours slowly pass.
Today a great silence reigns on earth, a great silence and a great stillness. A great silence because the King is asleep. The earth trembled and is still, because God has fallen asleep in the flesh... and has raised up all who have ever slept since the beginning of the world. He has gone to search for Adam, our first father, as for a lost sheep. Greatly desiring to visit those who live in darkness and the shadow of death, he has gone to free from sorrow Adam in his bonds, and Eve -- captive with him, he who is both God and the Son of Eve... "I am your God, who for your sake has become your son... I order you, O sleeper to awake. I did not create you to be a prisoner in Hell. Rise from the dead, for I am the life of the dead.
CCC 635, quoting ancient homily for Holy Saturday.

What Is Happening Off Stage?

We have accompanied Our Savior so intently this week, and just when He has wrought our salvation, He is suddenly taken from us! It seems He has other business to which He must attend, that does not directly involve us. What mystery is this?

In Shakespeare's day, although stage effects could be impressive, they obviously could not portray the Battle of Philippi in the play Julius Caesar. The mighty clash between Brutus and Cassius on one side, and Octavian on the other actually happens between two acts. A minor character, Cassius' slave, Pindarus, describes the climactic offstage moment to Cassius in a mere five lines. Pindarus reports defeat, and Cassius orders Pindarus to kill him.

However, Pindarus was wrong. Where he saw defeat was actually victory. The apparent defeat of the Cross, was actually Christ's moment of victory. "It is finished," is not surrender, but a proclamation by the victorious King.

The question of Holy Saturday is, "what is happening between the crucifixion and the resurrection?" or, in other words, "what is going on offstage?" It turns out to be another battle, or not so much a battle as a raid. Jesus indeed must go to the abode of the dead, so it might be said that he was truly dead. To go on, let us look at an Orthodox icon.

The Icon of the Resurrection and the Raid on Hell

Orthodox Icon of the Resurrection actually
depicts Christ's descent into Hell.
This is actually of the resurrection, but it really reveals the off-stage action of Holy Saturday.

First, note the absence of flames and imps. This Hell is not the Hell of the damned. This is the Limbus Patrum, or Bosom of Abraham,  where the souls of the righteous Old Testament people slept until this very moment.

The figure of Christ is central. He is surrounded by a mandorla (Italian, "almond"), a common element in sacred art. It is formed by the overlap of two circles, depicting almost a portal beyond time and space. Notice how the mandorla gets darker as it approaches Christ. The light of Christ is represented by darkness, for the closer one approaches to the truth, the less use is one's reason, or at least so the Orthodox have it in their apophatic theology.

Look at the bottom. "But no one can enter a strong man's house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man; then indeed he may plunder his house" (Mark 3:27 RSV) The devil, or "strong man," is beaten, and bound  by Christ.

Note the doors, broken and now forming a cross. The gates of Hell could not prevail against Our Lord.

Dramatically, Christ extends his hands toward Adam and Eve, who rise from their coffins. Other saints, including John the Baptist and Abraham, represent the many saints of Old Testament times, known to us, and unknown, who are awakened and freed.

In the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the grave of Adam is beneath the site of Christ's crucifixion. The "Old Adam," our father, through disobedience bequeathed us curses and death. The "New Adam," Christ, through obedience bestows freedom and salvation. The rescue of Adam means we are no longer hopeless and doomed to death. With him, we are saved from death by Jesus Christ.

The Bear has given himself more than five lines as he walks to the hilltop to see for himself the offstage action. "The battle is won! Hell is plundered! Our parents are rescued! The children of Adam are in Christ's wounded hands!"

Friday, March 25, 2016

Bear's Parish Foot Washing: Three Lines, No Waiting

Baptist, er, Catholic, um, maybe Church of God?

The priest, the president of the parish council and the pastoral assistant each had their own foot washing station, and whoever wanted to get their feet washed came up to one of the washers.

Can lay persons wash feet this way?

Not that it matters, of course. In fact, it is an absurd question to ask about a bit of mummery that no longer has any meaning.

The Bear bit the faces off of all three.

Not really. That's why he doesn't ever go to Holy Thursday services.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Advice to Pope Francis From an Old Show-Biz Bear

The Bear has not followed this year's Francis Foot Follies, and is better for it. But, as an old show-Bear, he has some words of advice for his fellow entertainer.

Dear Pope Francis:

You can't keep doing Shock Art, for the simple reason that it isn't shocking after the first time, maybe second. The Bear doesn't know how to break this to you, holy Father, but the house is half empty, and there are scattered boos. You are in danger of being remembered as "that Pope who did the foot thing." What's it going to be next year? "The Mandada?" A Dadist production where you wash a toaster, the feet of an empty chair, your own feet, and a Victorian elephant's foot umbrella stand?

At this point, what difference would it make? You broke the Mandatum, you bought it and now you own it. But washing people's feet isn't exactly the Superbowl commericals, if you know what the Bear means. Yawn. Bad photo-op, worse video. You look like a Shoe Carnival employee on Halloween.

Do you really want to be the Dexy's Midnight Runners of popes?

And the "underprivileged group of the year" gimmick looks -- not saying it is -- insincere. Remember when you were all like, "the poor people, the poor people!" Now I'm hearing the poor people asking, "what's up with Pope Francis? We were like special. He loved us the best. Gave us haircuts. Now, all you hear about are refugees." Don't you see the same problems? The Bear bets next year it will be victims of Facebook bullying.

Your schtick is just stale. Even the Remnant is running Pope Leo XIII casserole recipes instead of giving you any copy.

But you can do, this, Papa Frank! The Bear gives you Robert Downey, Jr. In the '90s he was a dope fiend who couldn't stay out of jail. Today? The highest paid actor in Hollywood. You can do the same. The Bear knows it. But you've got to listen to your ursine friend here.

You need to reboot your pontificate. What would be really shocking would be if you started talking like Pius XII. Kick the tires on the old sedia gestatoria (metaphorically speaking). Put on that beehive tiara. Reinvent yourself as Francis the Orthodox. Francis the Hammer of Heretics. Francis the Arch-Enemy of Islam. Send your Kasper claque back to Oktoberfest and read some real Catholic stuff. The Bear bets the SSPX would be happy to help you out. As would, of course, the Bear.

Come out with a couple of new releases -- the Bear means encyclicals (short!) -- and clinch the deal. Sell it!

The Bear feels that, as a miraculous 1300-year-old walking, talking second class relic, his talents are underused by the Church. As in not at all. Come On Eileen. Just sayin'.

Let's talk.

Your obedient servant,
St. Corbinian's Bear

The Conclusion of "A Bear's Lent"

For the final episode of "A Bear's Lent," a little early, it seems best to let Paul the Deacon, the great chronicler of the Lombards have the last word. This poem, printed in "Die Gedichte des Paulus Diaconus" ed. Karl Neff (1908) establishes the main facts of the Bear's account, including the Bear's baptism. (Translation by the Bear.)

Sharp March's winds didst blow,
As strange party toileth slow.
Crossing snowbound passes
T'ward Turin's Easter masses.

King and bishop and a bear,
Brake into Lombard fields so fair,
With brisk spring's first petals due
For Turin's maidens soon to strew.

Corbinian, brave Frankish saint,
To Germany goeth nor complaint,
To tame the men who liveth there,
But instead he tamed a bear.

Bear through goodly father's prayer
Horse's pack doth gently bear,
But more, from out of bears among,
The only beast that hath a tongue.

Still sharp March's wind didst blow,
Yet crown, and crook and taper's glow,
A king, a bishop and the bear,
Crowned and crooked, font didst dare.

Who hath ever seen such sight?
Bear all in white linen bright?
Bear beneath that saving flood?
Bear beneath that saving rood?

If speech it is that makes a man,
And naught puts beasts beneath the ban,
Corbinian's Bear is man indeed,
Who like a man recites his creed.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Charles Martel and Melania Trump

A Bear's Lent Season Finale; Not Yet Renewed for Second Season

Based on the Bear's traffic, he concludes that a few people seem to really like the somewhat didactic adventures of the Bear's Lent of 741 A.D. Others, not so much. The Bear gets that. Maybe not many people are that into the 8th century. And the series took on a different tone from the "cozies" once the Bear set out for Rome. Things got dark, and there was not always a neat lesson to be driven home by St. Corbinian.

That in itself is significant.

Dark and confusing. Lots of different names and places once the plot became Lombard-centric.

There will be one more episode. It has not yet been renewed for a second season. The Bear does not know exactly how the next season might be delivered. Maybe a separate fiction blog. Sadly, the Bear could easily write two separate blogs. He has no life. Maybe hand puppets on YouTube.

741: Charles Martel Died

It struck the Bear that Charles Martel, who staved off a Muslim invasion at the gates of Paris in the Battle of Tours, died in the year 741 -- the very year of these memoirs. Pity the Bear never met him. What would Charles Martel, El Cid, Jan Sobieski, Don Juan of Austria, and Charlemagne make of today's situation? "Ungrateful," and "idiotic," are a couple of words they might use.

Literally from one end of the Mediterranean to the other, and points north, an Islamic tsunami attempted to swamp Christendom. The Christian heartland in Asia Minor and North Africa were lost. The land of St. Augustine is swarming with Muslim factions in Libya. The west was never entirely submerged, but much was lost. More is being thrown away in our day.

Full disclosure: God has not given me the grace to care much for Muslims. That's neither here nor there, Bear supposes.

Shock: Professional Model Has Posed as Professional Models Do

And as for the anti-Trump ad featuring a tastefully nude Melania Trump (taste is a subjective thing, and hard for a Bear to calibrate, which is why there is no link)... first, off she was a model. The Bear is having a hard time getting worked up about this. It was GQ, not Hustler. Marilyn Monroe posed waaaay nuder, and still got to sing "Happy Birthday, Mr. President" to JFK in public.

But after eight years of this, maybe America deserves a first lady who can compete with European princesses.

Of course, this argument is just as stupid. Ted Cruz has conveniently washed his hands of the ad, and Trump threatened to expose Cruz's wife in return. The Bear loves human politics. Nothing much has changed since the 8th century. In your face, Queen Letizia!

The Controversy Over Washing the Bear's Feet

Having been released from protective custody, and Liutprand departed, the Bear learns that Prior William is to be made the new Bishop of Turin, and, even more surprising, Angest is the new King of Italy, or at least claims to be.

"I will not do it," Prior William stated flatly, crossing his arms in front of him.

"You will do it," said Victor, Bishop of Spoleto who had arrived only that morning. "If you want to be Bishop of Turin, you will do it." Bishop Victor was calm, but implacable.

"Your Excellency," Prior William pleaded, "how can you even consider doing this, this thing? It is a mockery of the mandatum. The rubric does not call for ursi, but viri!"

"St. Corbinian's testament made clear the Bear is a rational creature with an immortal soul, stamped with the image of God. This is not open to debate, Brother William."

Prior William threw his hands up in the air as if in supplication and turned his back on Bishop Victor. "And now, not only does my deceased abbot say 'a bear is a man,' and he is a man, but a rabble says 'Corbinian is a saint, and he is a saint!' Will wonders never cease!" Then he turned to face the Bishop once again.

"You are welcome to walk outside and tell the people otherwise," Bishop Victor observed with a trace of humor. "If the people acclaim Corbinian is a saint, then a saint he is. The Bear is a mighty testimony. Or do you have reason to say otherwise? Surely you knew him best."

"That damned Bear knew him best, and that's my reason!"

"See, I step aside, Prior William. There is the door to this cathedral. Go ahead. Step outside and start taking the icons of St. Corbinian from the people's hands. They have just gotten rid of one iconoclastic bishop. What do you suppose they will do to an iconoclastic monk? People have...ah, not survived this controversy. But, no matter, I am certain we can find someone else to ordain today. Perhaps Brother Gunther."

"Terrible choice," said Prior William, somewhat calmer, shaking his head. "No, I have experience. As Prior. And how many icons happen to have been painted since the arrival of that Bear?"

"Prior Willian, if you do not learn the ways of the Lombards, you will never be a real bishop, but always the puppet you are now! Do you suppose Angest happened to leave Bavaria on a lark? The Bear is an unexpected golden opportunity that he recognized and seized! More troops have been recruited in Bavaria and are even now on their way. I would see you be a strong bishop among us. Use your head and bend with the wind or you'll snap. Just like Claudius."

"But I picked Angest," Prior William said in bewilderment.

"Did you?" Bishop Victor gave the Prior a long, searching look, and shook his head.

"Now, this business of washing of the feet," the Bishop began in soothing tones. "It is hardly a sacrament. It is a local custom. In some sees, it is done at baptism. In some not at all. We do it on Holy Thursday. Twelve men, or eleven men and one very large and hairy man."

Prior William seemed about to concede, but then a new objection seemed to occur to him. "If we wash the filthy paws of a bear, what is to prevent us from washing a woman's feet, or a Mohammedan's feet?"

"Now you are just being ridiculous, Prior William. The bear is not a bear. He is sui generis. He is a man unlike any other, but a man nonetheless. It has already been settled, and your absurd arguments are wasted on me. Now I have come a long way to ordain somebody, and I will have done so before lunch. If you must decline, I shall understand. But, I warn you, do not be fooled by Duke Agilulf's civility. There are only two kinds of men in the Duke's eyes: those who are of use to him and those who are not. Bishop Claudius was not. You will find it is a Lombard characteristic, and would be well to remember that."

* * *

After lunch, the Bear, King Angest and Brother Gunther, led by Duke Agilulf, escorted by skittish. cavalry, arrived at the cathedral. The mob went wild with joy at the sight of the Bear, and started shouting 'Long live St. Corbinian's Bear!' and "St. Corbinian, our patron!'" Many hands reached out for the merest brush of the Bear's fur. "Oh, thank you," and "Pleased to meet you," the Bear said in their native tongue. Every time he spoke, a fresh enthusiasm swept backwards through the crowd.

Inside the cathedral, by himself, cheered by no one, was His Excellency William, Bishop of Turin. He was dressed like Bishop Claudius had been, but held a golden crook. Most significant of what he wore was a sour face. He held out a gloved right hand with a large ring on the fourth finger.

"Hello, Prior William!" the Bear said, his greeting echoing in the silence.

Brother Gunther whispered, "Do what I do." He then knelt and kissed Bishop William's ring, and said, "Your Excellency." Everyone followed suit, including the Bear, who felt quite embarrassed by his earlier mistake.

Bishop Victor stepped out of the shadows. "Do you know what confession* is, my son?"

"Yes," the Bear replied. Then he knelt and kissed the Bishop's ring, which brought a smile to the cleric's face. "Bear used to confess all the time to Father -- the people are calling him saint. May Bear?"

"Of course," the Bishop told him.

"Bear would confess, but Father -- Saint Corbinian would say they weren't real confessions, and he could not speak Bear's sin away."

"Bear, this is a real confession. And I shall really speak your sins away, but remission of your sins comes ultimately from God. Perhaps we could have some privacy as the Bear gets on his knees and confesses."

The Bear's confession was overlong on the subject of horses and ponies, but otherwise good. He felt like a spring shower had cleaned him. He could not eat until Easter Sunday, though, when he would be baptized.  

Thursday, however, Prior William -- Bishop William, that is -- was going to wash his paws. The Bear felt embarrassed, and supposed his paws were too dirty to be in a church. He licked them furtively.

When asked what his name would be, the Bear could not think of anything. "Bear?" he asked finally.

"Perhaps more of a real name, now. A man's name," Brother Gunther coaxed. 

"Then Bear will be St. Corbinian's Bear."

"How about just Corbinian?" Brother Gunther gently suggested. 

"No," said the Bear, "Bear is unworthy to take St. Corbinian's name. How about St. Corbinian's Bear?"

When Brother Gunther looked at Bishop Victor, the Bishop nodded. "Let the Bear have the name he wishes."

Despite all the instruction from St. Corbinian, the Bear still needed to have a few things cleared up, and Brother Gunther was assigned to instruct him. The pair left with a small escort on foot by a back way to avoid the crowds. "Your God and Savior approach, this is not the time for a clouded face, St. Corbinian's Bear."

"Please, call Bear 'Bear.' Bear only wishes St. Corbinian could see this."

"Bear, remember the Communion of the Saints. All these people could not be misled. St. Corbinian sees you, and is very proud of you. His testament has been executed. You a Christian, and I abbot, God be willing."

"Your words have blown away the clouds on Bear's face, my dear friend. You are so like St. Corbinian. He is very proud of you, too."

"But like a good abbot, I can hear him reciting from Father Benedict's rule. 'The ninth step of humility is that a monk controls his tongue and does not speak unless in answer to a question.' Bear, it seems to me that it is better to allow few to hear you speak, and only those whom you trust. But at one time the appearance of a dumb brute may serve best, and another speaking. You must learn which is better under different circumstances, but my counsel is the former.

"I tell you this, O St. Corbinian's Bear: you shall be an instrument of men. You shall be flattered, cozened, collared, chained, muzzled and caged. These things I see have already begun. You will suffer much, but try to remember that by doing so, you are bearing the Holy Cross of Our Lord. Yet other times, your humility will be tested by pride. You must be agnus, not ursus. Even worse than pride and suffering, you shall forget that you are Your Father's son beneath that hairy coat, and will revert to mere bear indeed."

"These are terrible things you say, Brother Gunther," the Bear said after awhile.

"It is a terrible and wonderful thing to be a Christian, St. Corbinian's Bear," Brother Gunther replied, then smiled, and gave him a scratch behind his ear.

"Bear has never yet gotten the honey without being stung by the bees."


People used to believe cubs were born unformed,
then they were licked into shape by their mothers.
Elsewhere a tailor looked at a diagram with measurements. "I've got the white linen, but surely there is something wrong with your figures!" he said. 

"Shall I tell the Duke I have found you to be uncooperative?" replied the nondescript figure of a young man before him.

"No! No. Don't do that," the tailor said. "Of course I shall make what is required."

"Then make this." The young man handed the tailor another pattern.

The tailor nodded. Finally the young man gave him two large gold broaches, and a short, but substantial gold chain. The design on each of the broaches was a dark brown bear against a mosaic-like green background.

"Be glad you're not the armorer," the lad said, winked and was on his way.


* Nowadays confession does not take place in the Church until after baptism. There was little uniformity in the 8th century Church.

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