Saturday, April 21, 2018

How Homeland Broke Bad

Homeland Deserves the Snark

There used to be a great site called "Television Without Pity," whose motto was "spare the snark, spoil the networks." Unfortunately, it is no longer around. Showtime's prestige drama Homeland is one of the most snark-worthy series to ever be called great. There are a couple of SPOILERS ahead if watching Homeland is on your to-do list. This is seven seasons of snark in one article.

We're in the final stretch of the penultimate season. Hints that Carrie Mathison (played by Claire Danes) is not going to survive for a spinoff are dropping as thick as tears from one of her "bipolar" crying jags. But don't worry, little Franny. Mommy will be coming back to traumatize you some more after all. Homeland will apparently end after next season (season eight).

Homeland's first season probably deserved awards. The story of a brilliant, but troubled CIA agent seemed like a plausible peek into the forbidden world of CIA operations. The moral ambiguity of the War on Terror was timely, the story was told well, and the acting was top notch.

However, the next six seasons were plagued with bad decisions and sloppy writing.

Pity Poor Dana and String Theory

Poor Morgan Saylor, a fine young actress, was a victim of one of those bad decisions. She played sullen Brody teenage daughter "Dana." The luckless girl got as much fan hate as Breaking Bad's Anna Gunn did as Walter White's wife. Apparently, the showrunners thought viewers who were hooked by the spy versus terrorist angle would welcome a hefty subplot of teenage angst.

Sloppy writing relied on tropes and left plot holes big enough to fly a squadron of Predator drones through.

Carrie solves a puzzle by covering the walls of her house with - are you ready? - pictures and text connected by yarn! Now, there's nothing wrong with a few tropes. But who doesn't roll their eyes at the String Theory trope nowadays? Especially when combined with the Room Full of Crazy trope? (Links are to the entertaining and educational TV Tropes site.)

Besides the relentless trope-a-thon, there is the sloppy writing,

In one episode, the only person with the evidence to show the Russians are subverting our democracy (!) is in a hospital. Lucky for the Russians, neither the United States government nor extra-governmental operatives (Homeland frequently leaves this unclear) could afford the overtime for anyone to guard him. ("Request denied. Not even the Russians would stoop to murdering someone in the ICU.")

The trick to suspension of disbelief is not letting your audience realize you're relying on it until the day after. You don't want them yelling at their screens.

You can also be too timely. And too twisted.

Info Wars, Ruby Ridge and Civil War II

A couple of seasons featured a conspiracy-mongering right-wing internet celebrity. At first the Bear thought "Mark Steyn" from the accent (not the dialogue), but the actor eventually dialed it in and became Alex Jones / Glenn Beck overdosed on methylphenidate.

However, nothing can be that simple on Homeland.

You see, he really has a sprawling bunker generating fake social media posts. No, wait. It's not really him, he's a catspaw of the Russians. But hang on. He's not really crazy. He risks his life to broadcast his show while on the run, but confesses he's appealing to "the lunatic fringe." However, his wacky conspiracy theories are right! But, he's still a fraud and a menace. And the Russians.

Complex or merely confusing?

Then the writers give us a docudrama mashup of Ruby Ridge and Waco as the United States teeters on the brink of Civil War II.

We're a long way from season one's plausible portrayal of the CIA.

However, even the worst seasons are just watchable enough. The Bear and other viewers were strung along like the handler for a double agent who is fed just enough real intel - "chicken feed" - to get him to swallow the disinformation. Sure, none of us ever want to see Claire Danes' face again, but there was enough sporadic excellent TV to keep us tuning in. And the weary and conflicted Saul Berenson, played by Mandy Patinkin (Princess Bride) and his awesome beard, is an understated performance that balances Claire Danes' histrionics.

(Bear knows she's largely at the mercy of writers and directors, but let's just say her career will not be remembered for her portrayal of Temple Grandin.)

From Mere Bad TV to Offensive

But there are two things that reduce Homeland from bad TV to offensive: its close-to-the-bone-ripped-from-today's-headlines "realism," and its treatment of Carrie's bipolar disorder.

It may be hard to believe over the Homeland hype, but the Fox series 24 was a much more consistent Emmy-winner. Homeland was never anything more than 24 with pretensions. Yet, unlike 24, which was a guilty pleasure because of its wretched excess, Homeland was sold as a prestige drama about real-world issues.

"Happy Birthday Dear Drone Queen"

The Bear never had a window into covert operations. He did hold a Top Secret crypto clearance, but understands that watching someone wearing headphones writing number sequences does not make compelling TV. Audiences prefer explosions and shootouts, or at least a good Power Point presentation. (A senator asks what "UI" under his picture means; the answer is "useful idiot." The writing isn't always bad.)

The problem is, Homeland does not use a fictional setting like U.N.C.L.E. or the CTU. Exploiting the CIA, the White House and current events becomes squirmy-making after a while. Real Americans are still downrange, still dying. It sometimes feels like a never-made 1944 WWII movie about the moral ambiguity of fighting Nazis. The Bear is not much of a fan of boots on the ground (disclosure: his son wore those boots) but even so, there just seems something wrong about it.

For example, when Carrie is a CIA Station Chief, she orders a drone strike on a wedding. Before the dust settles, everyone is singing Happy Birthday over a cake that says "Drone Queen." Okay, Abu Grabe was real-world bad taste, but one hopes top CIA agents have better sense and sensibility these days. But, by now, viewers have no hope that writers will not club them over their heads with "issues."

Crazy Like a Bipolar Fox

After binge-watching 125 hours of Homeland, the Bear understands there's something called "bipolar disorder." (Rim shot.) But, seriously folks, Homeland's presentation of this as-yet scientifically unexplained uneven distribution of energy is worse than its sensational CIA portrayal.

Back at the start of season one, we think Carrie is just a slut. However, we learn that being a slut is part of her mental illness, just like tens of thousands of dollars in credit card debt in a later season. (What is she spending it all on? Equipment for illegal surveillance?) And crying. A lot of crying. SNL spoof-worthy crying. 

Now, it is true that bad judgment is a hallmark of the manic pole of bipolar. Unless you are Carrie Mathison, who has an odd exception to bad judgment when it comes to figuring out threats to the homeland.

Of those 125 hours, it seems that 100 involve whether Carrie is on her meds or not. The problem for Carrie (and the security of the United States) is that bipolar people are only brilliant when they are off their meds.  (Come to think of it, maybe all that credit card debt is racked up at the knitting shop buying yarn for her String Theory walls.) When Carrie is faithful to her treatment, whether lithium or electroconvulsive therapy (shock treatment), she's a normal person not quite up to the emergency.

(Note to AstraZeneca lawyers: only your brand-name Seroquel is portrayed as something less than a miracle. In fact, in Homeland World it turns Carrie into a zombie who must pop speed just to save the country.)

However, when she is off her meds, she becomes manic Jane Bond, able to make connections no one else can. That's what makes her a "complex character," see? She must choose between normal-normal and crazy-brilliant. Bear supposes there is also some irony in the fact that the mentally ill person with delusions that only she understands the conspiracy of the season turns out not to be delusional. Which, like so much in Homeland, is a problem if you really think it through.

Forget that someone with non-managed bipolar problems of Carrie's mega-magnitude wouldn't last six months at Cinnabon, let alone the CIA. Forget that viewers only get one pole of Carrie's bipolar woes, the manic one. Watching someone lying in bed doesn't make good TV, either. ("Hi, this is Carrie. I won't be in the office for a while because, um, I have Avian Flu again, cough.") Forget that mania does not sharpen insight into the real world. And forget that drugs and shock treatments are not quick and reliable fixes.

But, since this show is about two things - espionage and bipolar disorder - viewers are unlikely to forget much of that, to the disservice of everyone to whom the bipolar label has been tacked.

Shockingly Cynical

The problem is, the writers mix enough true "chicken feed" into this parallel plot that viewers are liable to think they understand the reality of bipolar disorder. The Bear gets dramatic license. However, at some point a show works so hard selling their drama the license opens them to the accusation of cynically misleading viewers on a sensitive issue.

For example, when they take pains to add a whole lot of real-world medical detail in Carrie's second shock treatment scene, they only make things worse, because it seems so realistic.

Dropping "suxamethonium chloride" into the dialogue is not for Joe Viewer, who couldn't explain the difference between it and sodium chloride if Carrie beat him with a collapsible baton like she did Computer Ransomware Perv. (A promising plot line cut short if ever there was one.) It's a preemptive answer to critics that "We have done our research and are depicting ECT realistically, not like One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest."

Heck, give the Bear Carrie's ECT over a trip to the dentist any day. (Just one electrode though, lest he forget his cipher code to his CIA Headquarters office.)

And watching Carrie "act crazy" every episode got old long before season seven. Even assuming she could survive CIA drug screens and polygraphs ("No, I am not secretly getting crazy meds from my doctor sister or buying speed from the trunk of some guy's car") surely one does not rise in the Company by being "that woman with the crazy eyes."

Even Good TV is Bad

No better entertainment with
the exception of Ginger.
As the Bear has written before, there is no better entertainment than the best of the network prestige projects, such as Breaking Bad. In retrospect, Homeland was probably doomed by its very nature to plummet from critically-acclaimed supershow to self-parody. Part of the success of Breaking Bad was surely due to it not dealing with the country's methamphetamine issue. 

Despite the occasional Breaking Bad, it is still a bad time for insomniacs, no matter how many choices they have. 

Even the Breaking Bad spinoff Better Call Saul did not find its feet until season three. It is probably no coincidence that season three brought it closer to Breaking Bad, not only in the timeline, but in style, with homage paid to some memorable Breaking Bad visuals (e.g. gurgling up from the bottom of the swimming pool). Gus Fring and Madrigal's twitchy stevia-sipping exec Lydia Rodart-Quayle (talk about crazy eyes) among others made welcome comebacks. Season four is confirmed for later 2018, and it looks like we'll be reintroduced to DEA agent Hank Schraeder, too.

In the meantime, the Bear would be hard pressed to recommend much on television. Neither ratings nor critics are very reliable. There's always Breaking Bad. Or maybe 24 on Amazon. Which won a lot more Emmys than Homeland.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

I'm So Sorry

Sleepless Sorrow

William Story's last sculpture, this famous and evocative
memorial to his wife. He joined her in death the following year.
Last night the Bear couldn't sleep.

What he could do was hold his sleeping wife and contemplate our years together. He was moved to tears by the ways he has hurt and disappointed her.

He tried to remember the good things, but that provided little comfort. The Bear owed her those things. What was on the other side of the scale was just... wrong. Somehow, no matter how he tried to work it out, the scales would not balance.

Then, he thought something else, being a Bear, whose thoughts run surprisingly deep behind their small eyes.

The Use and Abuse of Shame

He realized the source of his unhappiness was mixed. It was not pure sorrow over wrongs, but there was shame, too. True remorse looks to the person wronged. Shame looks inward, toward ourselves. That can sometimes be a good thing. It is a good thing mainly when it orients us to briefly catalogue our sins in order to drag them into the light of grace.

However, it must not be confused with contrition.

"For the sorrow that is according to God worketh penance, steadfast unto salvation; but the sorrow of the world worketh death." 2 Corinthians 7:10.

Shame has a practical social use, but its benefits are limited, especially today. It is, after all, just a psychological reaction of the ego that may or may not be related to sin. Worse, shame has been unhooked from morality and attached to the petty taboos of our age. Its value to society is less than it used to be because the things that are considered shameful are all changed.

"Fair is foul and foul is fair," quoth the witches of MacBeth.

The Bear thinks even the best of us must take care not to become "shameless" in certain ways.

Passionate Intensity: the Sole Remaining Virtue of Our Culture

In his famous poem "The Second Coming," Yeats wrote: "The best lack all conviction while the worst are full of passionate intensity." The Bear reads tweets, FaceBook posts and blogs and must say that no longer is it just the worst who are full of passionate intensity. Everyone is. Passionate intensity is the sole remaining virtue of our culture, it seems. The Bear worries that we are rushing into an age of fanaticism.

It is as if everyone has realized that one must become a fanatic to beat fanatics, or even be heard over their shouting. Not only that, we can't afford to be seen to flinch, to have a moment of doubt. If you don't have all the answers, you're not even in the conversation.

Slouching Toward Contrition

Then the Bear had another thought. How often has he felt that same awful feeling, only about having hurt his Savior? Not often enough.

It is good to feel bad about behaving badly toward your spouse. It is probably only natural if there remains any love in our hearts. However, when we go to confession, how often is it more about the shame we feel, the disappointment that comes from not living up to the exaggerated high opinion we hold about ourselves?

How often do we think of Jesus and feel hot tears, not because of what disappointing creatures we are, but because Jesus loves us and we are supposed to love Him, and, in some way that may be hard to understand, we truly do hurt God?

Might we use the opportunity of natural regret to redirect that awful feeling toward our loving Savior in true contrition?

Opening Our Hands to Receive Grace

With grace. Always and only with grace. All bitterness, all contention and selfishness, and certainly every grudge, no matter how high-minded, is incompatible with grace. And so is shame, because shame is ultimately just a feeling: pride's ironic shadow.

It is easy to recognize the bad things we must let go of in order to receive grace. It is often the things that seem good to us that that are barriers to grace. Anything we will not release, however, keeps us from facing God with open hands.

We never know what offer of grace may be our last. We must take them seriously.

We learn to love through creatures, such as our family members. That is wonderful and even holy. We can even be led through selfish shame to true remorse, and to the other side of the coin, forgiveness. These are marvelous things.

But, we should not love any creature more than God. When we cannot sleep for love, perhaps God is inviting us to open our hearts even wider for Him.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Please Don't Eat the TULIPs

Please Don't Eat the Tulips

It's spring, and the flowers are blooming, but there is one whose blossom never fades, even in the snows of Geneva: the TULIP of Five-Point Calvinism.

  • Total Depravity
  • Unconditional Election
  • Limited Atonement
  • Irresistible Grace
  • Perserverance

Five-point Calvinism used to belong to Presbyterians and some Baptists, but today, it seems that everything outside of Catholicism (and evangelicals along with some mainstream denominations) is coming up TULIPs. The face of "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" Jonathan Edwards appears on tee shirts of young Protestants like Che's on coffeehouse Reds. Behind the praise band and uplifted hands of your local nondenominational church may lurk Calvin's idea of a Sovereign God whose will is behind everything from the flea biting your dog to 911.

Also, who goes to Heaven and who goes to Hell.

The theological issue is legitimate. If God is all-knowing and all-powerful, how can a mere creature defeat His sovereign will? Even St. Augustine wound up in this brier patch when he tangled with the Pelagians. 

The Catholic answer (the Bear has misplaced his CCC; most conversations with Red Death start with "I can't find my...") is, to the best of Bear's recollection, that God grants grace and we cooperate or not. If you wind up in Hell it is because you have decided to reject God.

On the contrary, according to TULIP, (1) there is not one atom in a person capable of either moving toward God or resisting His grace; (2) the game is rigged from the start; (3) Jesus did not die for everyone, but only those destined for salvation; (4) if you're predestined, you cannot escape God no matter what; and (5) no one can ever lose his or her salvation.

If you Watch Porn, God Will Make Your Wife Miscarry

Following that logic, God, according to Calvinist superstars like John Piper, determines everything, including every sinful act. And God punishes accordingly. Not just 911, but, well, hang on for this one:

A man asked if his wife miscarried as punishment because he watched pornography. Pastor Piper did not give an unequivocal "yes." It was more like, "You're probably onto something there, Sunshine." Why God caused the miscarriage if He also caused the guy to watch porn was not addressed. You can't have a rational discussion under the pretzel logic of Calvinism.

The Bear admits that fewer issues have been thornier and more controverted than exactly how we are saved. Pope Francis reintroduced "Pelagianism" to the vocabulary of Catholics. But, the Bear figures you didn't come for a monograph on soteriology, including the relationship between the sovereign will of God and the will of man. 

The leaders of the Reformation parted first from the Church's teaching, then from each other.

Bear Conducts Research in the Field

The Bear's curiosity led him to discover the "young, restless, and reformed" movement. It is a sort of backlash from the more vapid expressions of evangelicalism. Aside from a few outspoken Calvinists like Piper, you are not likely to hear it preached. "God loves you and wants you to prosper" goes down a lot better than, "most of you sitting out there are going to Hell and there's not a damned thing you can do about it, so why are you even here?"

The Bear asked one young minister recently about the discrepancy between what he preached and what his nondenominational church actually believed. He quoted 19th Century English preacher Charles Spurgeon that there can be no misunderstanding between friends. In other words, he, like Spurgeon, did not preach the doctrine he believed and excused it by hand-waving.

That seems a bit disingenuous to the Bear.

Protestant Wars

The Bear read Spurgeon's own "Defense of Calvinism." Its deficiencies are typical: highly selective proof-texting to justify an emotional experience of great comfort. Both Spurgeon and the young preacher with whom the Bear spoke described a sudden comfort in knowing the saved could never, ever lose their salvation. (Spurgeon said a salvation you could lose is not worth having.) Come to think of it, whenever the Bear has talked to a Calvinist, he gets this same testimony centered on "comfort."

No one has ever been presumptuous enough to tell the Bear he was certain of his predestination, but that is the tenor of the witness. One assumes if they believed the contrary - that they were among the damned and there was nothing they could do about it - they would not be so comforted.

The Bear also read Roger Olson's "Against Calvinism." Olson does a thorough and even-handed job of demolishing TULIP - especially the idea that God must be behind sin.

The controversy is instructive in this way, though. Evangelicalism was found wanting and there was a reaction. One heresy is the revenge of some other heresy, Bear supposes. No matter what Catholics think of Pope Francis, they should understand that Protestantism is not just fractured, but unhealthy.

Don't sell your soul for all-you-can-eat doughnuts and a variety of fresh coffee.

The Tower of Siloam

The Bear is surprised how Calvinists can miss how Jesus Himself addresses worldly calamities. In Luke 13 1-5, Jesus was questioned whether the people who lost their lives in the collapse of the Tower of Siloam were being punished for their sins.

Jesus, typically, uses the question to illustrate a broader point. Everybody dies. Make sure you're ready, because you never know the hour. If Jesus had wanted to launch into a discourse about how God punishes people for their sins with bridge collapses or the like, He would have.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Statement On Hope and Life Press

The Bear was sad to learn his publisher is going out of business. The first thought he had was how we brought out two books of which the Bear is very proud despite holding such radically different opinions. We worked to make our partnership successful, which is why the Bear can say he’s sorry to see Hope and Life go and wishes Marcelle the best.

The silver lining is that rights to the Bear’s two books (and Red Death’s one book) will revert much sooner than they would have under contract. As in at once. It will be nice to own JUDGING ANGELS and SAINT CORBINIANS BEAR LENTEN COMPANION for BEARISH HUMANS. They will be transitioned to independent ebooks and made available on Amazon until the Bear lands another publisher.

The sequel to JUDGING ANGELS is being worked on for a release as Christmas comes up.

The Bear is aware he still owes a few books to people. He hasn’t been feeling well lately, but will make that happen.

If anyone has any questions or comments, now’s the time.

Bear out.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Christ is Risen!

Our resurrection icon is on the right. The olive oil lampada burns 24/7.
A first class relic of St. Maurus is on the shelf, sent by a reader.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Sad Day on Good Friday

You may remember our goat Holly.

We drove down to Kentucky to pick her up. She had been bottle fed, and the Bear wondered if the man was going to be able to go through with the adoption. She rode back in his lap. Such things are not uncommon in Zoar.

We are up to 20 goats now. Many are descendants of Holly, her children and grandchildren. She was sweet, but would stand her ground against Fox. She was the leader, the queen and the favorite.

Yesterday, she got into trouble delivering a pair of kids. Red Death is not squeamish and knows how to get in and position a kid in the birth canal. She has handled several difficult deliveries. This time, however, nature had played a cruel trick. The kids were post term and big. The first one didn’t make it, but proved impossible to dislodge. There are gruesome expedients, but there was neither room nor time.

Holly exhausted herself and the necessary .40 caliber decision had to be made.

We’ve been lucky, plus Red Death knows her business. We have lost a few kids, but fought for and saved more. This was really hard on her, though. Not just losing a favorite pet, but it was a desperate fight she lost and had to end herself. Bear can only imagine.

There’s probably a lesson to be drawn. But the Bear would feel like one of Job’s insensitive and foolish friends trying to draw one.

Farm life puts you close to life and death. You pay for the joy of holding a newborn kid or gathering fresh eggs from your familiar hens. The coin is sudden death. Fox is still the ancient foe and death watches unseen not only when we leave this world, but sometimes when we enter.

Yet, we still have kids frolicking in the pasture. Bear likes to just watch them; his personal goatquarium. Goats have a surprising amount of personality. The ones we had to bottle feed because their mothers rejected them are especially fun. A couple days ago, one of our twin sons said a kid “teleported” through the fence to run up to him. Little ones stay where they belong more because they like the company.

Bottle babies, however, prefer humans.

Like Holly.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Catholic Book Reviews: The Bridge Of San Luis Rey

Poster for Possibly Better 1944 Movie
This is on your Books I'm Going to Read Someday list, unless it is is on your Books I Was Forced to Read in High School list. (Spoiler alert: the bridge collapses.)

The famous novella by Thornton Wilder is really the extended remix version of the Collapse of the Tower of Siloam in Luke 13:1-5. So whose version is better? The one by Jesus or the one produced by the dreary and overrated literary generation of Wilder?

The Bear is going to have to go with the Second Person of the Holy Trinity on this one.

One might say, "Thornie got a Pulitzer for his little book, Mister Smarty Bear, so who are you to judge?" It is true that Judging Angels (which is a whole lot thicker and has a higher body count without any "collapsing bridge" gimmick) has been snubbed. The only possible reason is ursophobia. The Bear has yet to find a big enough closet in which to hide, except that one (you know the one) in your house.

Jesus famously did not go into the merits or demerits of the victims of the Tower of Siloam collapse. It is ridiculous that a Franciscan Friar would think to perform some scientific inquiry into a similar event. The Inquisition gave Brother Juniper what he had coming for being an idiot child of the Enlightenment, rather than a Catholic. (Spoiler alert: the Spanish Inquisition was really bad.)

The Bridge of San Luis Rey. Or Rock City. One of the two, anyway.

That aside, the literary conceit works to give an almost voyeuristic look into the lives of the victims of the collapse of a bridge on which no one in his right mind would set foot. We are gulled into hoping Wilder offers some insight into the mysteries of fate. But, he really has a different salmon to fry.

A small one, but, hey, at least you can blow through it in a couple of hours if you don't try to sound out all the names.

There is a moral. Now, a moral is better than a wrong answer, which Brother Juniper’s absurd inquiry could only supply.

Jesus sensibly says there’s nothing special about the victims. We all die. Sometimes unexpectedly. Usually alone. Occasionally with others in a newsworthy event. Bears don't watch news. In fact, we shrug and say, "One death is a death, more than one death is at least two."

Think about it.

One minute you’re in a tower built to the Palestine Construction Code Of 30 A.D., or crossing a deep chasm on a swinging bridge built by primitive people a century before out of vines and sticks and the next you’re dead. Or you slip getting out of your tub. You're still dead, plus you're naked.

Be ye therefore ready.

Wilder’s extended remix of the economical tale in the Gospel is not an improvement for the banal moral. But, three stars for a tale told with cleverness and sympathy. Whatever you can say about him, Wilder at least wrote to please real people.

However, the Church already had its answer to Brother Juniper’s inquiry, and, as the old expression goes, the story is offensive to pious ears. No chance is missed to bring up the Inquisition or depict Catholics as superstitious.

These are choices Wilder made. There was no real Bridge of San Luis Rey collapse, he troubled himself to learn next to nothing about Peru, and he decided to set it in a period that was a PR low point for the Catholic Church.

To be fair, an abbess is a good person, and her goodness survives in an unexpected way. It is unclear whether her goodness has much to do with her religion.

This suggests the real point of the story. Such as it is, the Bear will not give away the moral, which is: "There is a land of the living and a land of the dead and the bridge is love, the only survival, the only meaning."

Whoops. Anyway, Bear thinks "be ye therefore ready" is better.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Why the Bear is Done with Church Controversy

The Bear has decided he will no longer write about Church scandals and controversies.

Instead, he would rather write about how to survive in the Church we have. Culture. There are important things going on and most people can't see the forest for the trees. Leave it to a Bear to see both.

And goats. Our latest (video to come) brings our flock to 20, all but two born right here in Zoar.

As you might have gathered from a pungent recent post (perhaps the very one that landed the Bear in Facebook Jail) he has come to a strong opinion about that during Lent. There is something wrong when you can't tell what season it is from reading Catholic blogs.

Fortunately, there is no lack of other places to read about scandals.

Are there problems? Of course, and serious ones. The path of sheer ubiquity and relentless tinkering chosen by Francis has created a new level of difficulty for thinking Catholics. But, the Bear thinks it will be a thousand years before we see another South American or Jesuit Pope. So we're vaccinated.

Even so, time is short. Eternity is world without end, amen. 

Does that mean the Bear has gone all Michael Voris and thinks it was horrible to criticize this pontificate? Not exactly.

Before we knew everything we needed to know about who Francis was and what he wanted to accomplish, it was legitimate to try to solve him. However, the Bear has decided there is nothing new for him to say about Pope Francis. At some point, the good he is doing must be balanced against the evil. And, he does see a downside to relentless well-deserved criticism of the Church.

Has the cottage industry of critical Catholic bloggery done some good? Perhaps. The Bear hopes so. Have we reached the point of diminishing returns? The Bear will let you answer that. Has there been more than a little ego involved? The Bear can only answer for himself: yes. If Pope Francis did not exist, the Bear would have had to invent him.

Certain realities must sometimes take a back seat to the work of getting into Heaven. We can be right, but wrong. Correct, but uncharitable. Dogmatically pure, but shipwreck the faith of a person for whom Christ died.  See the eighth chapter of the first Epistle of the Holy Apostle Paul to the Corinthians to see how this works.

Pope Francis will be dead soon.

Let Bear say that again. Pope Francis will be dead soon.

His legacy is by no means certain. At least he has made most of the vipers feel safe enough to slither out into the open where we can see them.

And, now, the Bear will let you in a big secret smart lawyers know.

Nobody ever changed the opinion of anyone by argument. The Bear knew he was not going to change anyone's mind during closing argument at the end of a trial. Most jurors had probably made up their minds before opening statements were finished. No, the Bear used his closing to give the best arguments to help anyone on his side during the most important part of the trial: the part that happens in the jury room.

Let's be honest. We are blogging for people who already agree with us. The minority of those who care have already chosen sides. The rest aren't listening anyway.

In the meantime, we cannot both stand apart from the Church as a thousand Addison DeWitts, Critics of Everything, and remain inside it as the vehicle for our salvation.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Divine Beauty - Film

Here is a project with which the Bear could not be more proud to be associated. A film from the Bear's polymath Maltese-American publisher, Marcelle Abela. The Bear is an old radio broadcaster, as is Red Death*, and we both enjoyed getting back into some voice work.

In another matter, the recent banning of this ephemeris from Facebook continues. On the other hand, the Bear's net worth did not drop by billions since. Coincidence? If you value this little (and it truly is little) blog, please consider sharing with your friends by retweets or other means to help make up for the FB strangulation.

Thank you - the Management

*as in experienced

Friday, March 16, 2018

Lentblogging Day 31- Who Do You Want to Be on Easter?

As Lent draws near its end, it is a good time to look behind us and see what our Lenten program looks like.

The Bear hopes yours is better than his. He looks behind him and thinks a frat party could hardly have made a worse shambles.

And, yet, he cannot say the exercise has been unfruitful.

Lent isn't a game where you win or lose. It's a handful of choices that mark your desire to cooperate with the grace of God in a special way for 40 days. Your discipline, your fasting, your prayers, your almsgiving and your service to others will not be perfect. Perhaps you have done better than the Bear. You could hardly have done worse. However, Lent is not a game in which we keep score against others, either.

From the beginning, the Bear has thought it best to pick just one virtue to grow and one vice to root out. What if we really did that every year? If the best you have come up with is "to be a better Catholic," or even "the best Catholic you can be," the Bear thinks you might benefit from refining your goal.

Bears, as you know, are very practical. Perhaps too practical for the tastes of some, but that's okay.

Fortunately, there's still time. Not only during Lent, but as long as you draw breath. If you're feeling a bit panicked because your counting stone pile is small, you can still enjoy the feast, then continue a little Lent after. Lent is like the "reset button." It stops the momentum of worldly life and lets us start again.

The unworthy Bear will be praying for you, as he hopes you may pray for him.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Shipping Day!

Head of Shipping and Biting looking a little disorganized.

If a few days go by and you have not received a copy of SAINT CORBINIAN'S BEAR LENTEN COMPANION for BEARISH HUMANS you believe you should have received, please let us know. Also, once you receive yours, please be so kind as to delete the electronic copy you should have been provided in the meantime.

As a favor, once you've read it, please consider leaving a review at Amazon. It already has a couple of early 5-star reviews. About forty more and Amazon might notice it! (If you have read Judging Angels, and haven't yet reviewed, it you could do the Bear a big favor by leaving a short review of that, too.)

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Lent Book Shipment Status

Buster Resting Up for the Big Push
If you orderd a copy of 

First of all, thank you.

The original shipment of books was accidentally delivered to someplace in Missouri, not to Bear's Cave. Red Death got one from Amazon (which has the paperback edition for $18.99 or the Kindle version for $9.99.) The rest should arrive soon.

You can also purchase an autographed paperback direct from the Bear using the PayPal DONATE link on the sidebar to the right. Please do include instructions regarding autograph and how you would like it inscribed.

As soon as he receives his shipment, he will autograph them and inscribe them per instructions in the PayPal orders. (If there are no instructions regarding an inscription, Bear will simply autograph them in generic fashion.)

Autographed copies will be passed to the head of our shipping department, Buster along with addresses to be wrapped and shipped.

Shipping is free in the United States for single copies. For orders placed from outside the U.S., the Bear will inform you of shipping costs. Please keep in mind that shipping costs outside the U.S. can be greater than the price of the book.

Still plenty of time to get in on the first wave. Buy from the authors and you will receive an electronic version to tide you over until you get your paperback copy.

SAINT CORBINIAN'S BEAR LENTEN COMPANION for BEARISH HUMANS  is 178 pages, including front matter and the authors' pictures and bios at the end. It is not very much like the Lentblogging the Bear does. For one thing, the Bear had the time to craft each story with care. For another, the book traces the character arc of the Bear's adventure through his first Lent. Each day presents a different story illustrating a certain lesson usually with commentary provided by St. Corbinian himself. Thus, it has a beginning, a middle, and an end.

It has a few professional illustrations to help you remember certain points and each chapter has study questions. (Bear wanted to call them"reflections," but study questions they are). The questions are designed more to make the reader think about the day's lesson, rather than test her reading comprehension.

It is written to be read one day at a time. Not only do they track the authors' experiences of Lent, day-by-day, but it is better to think about the material, rather than gulp down several chapters at once. There are SPOILERS, too.

A couple of early birds have already gotten their reviews up at Amaszon (both 5-stars.) After the 40 days and completion of the book, please do the Bear a favor of providing a nice review, if you found it worthwhile, or, if not, please let the Bear know how he might make it better.

The stories are deceptively short, but always meaningful. And often quite funny, as is the case with the Bear trying to come to spiritual grips with his eating of a barn animal, with an internal monologue describing it as "a suspicious death."


Imaginative, deep. This is a great writer that has helped to stoke the Lenten fire.

Friday, March 9, 2018

Lentblogging Day 24- WAR!!!

Once upon a time, in a country far, far away, when talking Bears were far more numerous and enjoyed cordial relations with humans, the Bear wished to spend a Lenten Friday with his fellow Catholics, perhaps meditating on how Our Savior suffered to win his Bride, the Church.

One village he passed seemed particularly animated, and the Bear thought: Here are truly men of good will who are gathered together in Christian brotherhood to observe Lent.

Indeed, there were two equal groups of people, each group holding aloft statues from the Stations of the Cross.

The Bear tried to remain unobtrusive, but was soon noticed.

"Over here, Bear," hissed a woman. "We could use us a stout fellow like you."

"Don't listen to her, Bear," called another woman, from the other side. "You don't want to associate with their kind."

The Bear did not know what to say, but at that moment, a wave of sound moved across the two groups. The Bear listened closely, for he thought perhaps they were going to begin a prayer, or perhaps sing a hymn. He loved to sing, although he sang loud, not well.

A man with sly eyes and a large grin joined him. He was rubbing his hands together in delight.

"Hold on," lifted a voice from one side. "Jesus Condemned to Death belongs to our side."

"And, so it begins," the sly-eyed man whispered to the Bear with a gentle nudge to the ribs.

"Not this year," came the answer from the other side ."You homos are lucky we let you have the Third Fall."

"But we always have Jesus Condemned to Death."

"Is that what that fake pope of yours said? So, this year it's different. Enjoy the novelty and shut your damned mouth."

"He's a wonderful, merciful man, and wise, not that you Nazi  bastards would know it. Rot in Hell."

"What's a Nazi?" the Bear asked.

"Relevant to the first half of the 20th century, that's all. Isn't this marvelous? You can't even tell it's Lent!"

"Well, they do have the Stations of the Cross," said the Bear, but just then a man struck down someone on the other side with Jesus Falls the Third Time, killing him.

"You can kiss my ass, 'cause you're not gettin' him this year," he said. "If you don't like it, go sing Kumbaya with your Piskie priestess friends."

A priest interposed himself between the two factions. "Please, my dear people. It's Lent. It's the season we should all come together in prayer and fasting because the Chair of Peter has been vacant during the last six anti-popes."

Another priest confronted him. "My dear brother, why do wish to promote error and cause conflict during this holy season of preparation for Easter? Your position is extreme. It has only been this last one who is an anti-pope," he said, and struck him in the head with a smoking thurible, sending him fleeing the town screaming, trailing fire and smoke from his head like a meteor.

"Everyone knows we got two popes!" cried a large man, who broke a jar of wine over the priest's head, knocking him to the ground. The burning incense from his thurible kindled his clothing and he burned where he lie to oohs and aahs from both sides.

Over one side, a rainbow banner that said Tolerance was unfurled. Over the other, an ornate flag embroidered with many saints and Traditio was raised. A hush fell over the two crowds as they looked at the dead men in the small space between the two factions, then, their heads turned as one as they watched a tiny trail of smoke disappear over a distant hill.

The two mobs dispersed and the Bear saw they were heading toward the church in the square. For a moment, the Bear hoped they were coming together inside, but they started prying out bricks. In no time at all, the church was a ruin. Some carried out pews to make a barricade, but several stout fellows prepared to smash through it with a marble statue of the Blessed Mother.

"Brick for brick!" shouted a youth, then threw one, striking an old woman in the head. A cheer went up from his side as she dropped dead. As if that were the signal, bricks started flying thick in both directions. The men with the statue breached the barricade, but were repelled by a volley of old missals.

"They're Latin, you inbred freaks, so you shouldn't mind getting hit in the teeth with them."

"Hope you like getting your ass kicked in Latin." A number of men around him advanced, chanting,  amo, amas amat.

"This is terrible," the Bear cried as he watched one woman strangling another with a rosary while yelling, count that, bitch! "It's Lent! I can't stay here."

"You won't do better elsewhere, my friend. This war has been going on for years, and there is never a ceasefire. You're in the People's Democratic Catholic Republic of Blog."

"Where can I go to find true believers?"

"Oh, these are the true believers, Just ask them."

"No, I mean ordinary Catholics."

"Not too many of those left, fortunately. Most of them were more... let's say unserious than ordinary. Anyway, they've all been squeezed out. Some have left the country, but a lot of them just got fed up and go to the nondenominational meeting place up the road. It's much less dangerous."

"The one with the free coffee and all-you-can-eat doughnuts and great music by Fleetwood Mac?"

"Er, why yes! Here, my friend. I'll be happy to take you there. Or, better, pick a side. You never know. A Bear might just tip the scales. They obviously need some good counsel, and you're a wise old Bear, if I ever saw one. All you have to do is pick a side."

"I can't sort of hang out in the middle?"

"Oh, sure! By all means!"

"You're only saying that because, look- there is no middle. I think I'll leave this People's Democratic Catholic Republic of Blog. I don't think the Pope is all that great, and there are a lot of problems in the Church, but Lent is Lent," the Bear stated firmly.

"So, long, my friend. Of course. You can leave whenever you want! But, you'll be back. It's bland and boring out there. All the excitement is here! You'll miss those ear-tickling sound bytes and there are some sexual peccadilloes of a Patagonian priest coming up that are just too rich. Besides. You're forgetting Holy Thursday. You can't be thinking of missing the Foot Follies this year, can you, Bear?"

"Well, maybe I'll just watch a bit. I'm not taking sides, though."

"Of course, not, my friend. You just wait there. I'll be back with hot coffee and a bag of doughnuts and we can watch together. Just watch."

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Letblogging Day 23- Ego

The Awful Truth about the Bear

"For godly grief produces repentance that leads to salvation and brings no regret, but worldly grief produces death." 2 Corinthians 7:10 (RSV-2CE) The note to the Didache Bible from Ignatius Press (with notes based on the Catechism of the Catholic Church, plus apologetic resources) warns, "worldly grief leads to despair and loss of faith and hope."

Everything the Bear does smells of pride. It is the ripe stench of pretending to do something for God, while being secretly motivated by ego.

Lentblogging is a great example of this (as might be, for all the Bear knows, Catholic blogging in general; bloggers are mostly smart people, who write well and have something to say, so that's not a condemnation, just speculation). Committing to doing something every day for 40 days is a pretty big deal for a Bear of irregular habits, for a Bear whose energy is unevenly distributed throughout the month.

Daily Lentblogging was Bear's commitment as part of his Lenten bona opera. It was supposed to be an edifying gift to his readers. He would share his own Lenten observations and maybe come at some things from a different direction than other writers. He would talk about different things or some of the same things  in a different way than he did in his Lenten Companion for Bearish Humans. It was an approved discipline in service to God.

It's All About the Bear

If that is the case, why is the Bear's first thought about himself? Why does he want to apologize to you, to explain why he failed to post something every day recently? He has some good reasons, you see. It would make him feel better to lay them out so everyone would go, "aw, poor Bear," and then we could all move forward.

The answer is easy. It is because this ephemeris, like everything the Bear does, is tainted by his ego. (Of course, part of this ego trip is imagining anyone cares whether he misses a day here and there.)

Shame versus Contrition

Another example is confession. When Bear commits a sin, he feels shame. That does motivate him to go to confession, sometimes, but what kind of confession does that make? Shame is a wound to his pride. He thought he was better than that and knows that if others learned of his sin, they might think less of him. Shame is a pretty miserable feeling. Confession can bring some psychological relief.

And, yet, what does shame have to do with anything? Contrition is something different. It is defined in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (1451) as: "a sorrow of the soul and detestation for the sin committed, together with a resolution not to sin again." (Citing Council of Trent, 1551). Also, "when it arises from a love by which God is loved above all else, contrition is 'perfect' (contrition of charity)." (CCC 1452).

Deal with your shame with your therapist and pray for the grace of contrition, but at least recognize the difference.

The Grace of Mixed Motives

However, even imperfect contrition is a gift that may get you to the sacrament of confession and absolution. (See CCC 1453).

Maybe you can give a moment today to wonder if you have mixed motives for your religious work. At the same time, however, remember that mixed motives are better than no motives at all for Bears- and Bearish Humans.

This Buddy Miller song (from Universal House of Prayer album) seems appropriate.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Lentblogging Day 21 - Halfway There, Running on Empty

On August 24, 2001, a commercial airliner ran out of fuel between Toronto, Canada, and Lisbon, Portugal. The Airbus A330 twin had developed a leak in the right engine and was losing about a gallon of jet fuel per second.

The pilots transferred fuel from the left tank to the right tank to balance the load. Unfortunately, all that accomplished was to lose more fuel. They decided to divert to Lajes, in the Azores.

The right engine quit. Commercial aviation belongs to the big twins, and they can fly just fine on one engine. Except, three minutes later, the left engine also flamed out. Without engines, an airliner loses all sorts of nice things like electricity and hydraulics and reverse thrust to help slow down once they land.

Air Transat Flight 236 was now a glider.

Can you imagine being a passenger in an airplane when an engine stops? The captain says everything's okay, the airplane is built to fly on one engine, they're just going to divert as a routine safety measure, and the flight attendants smile.

And then the other engine goes out. This time nobody says anything. The flight attendants are still smiling, but they're strapping on the parachutes you never knew until that moment they had.

The flight crew figured they had 15 to 20 minutes before they would run out of feet between them and the ocean. They were pretty good, though, because they managed to perform a dead stick landing at Lajes, and the story had a happy ending.

The Bear doesn't know about you, but he's out of fuel. He thought about turning around, but it's just as far to his destination airport as it is from his departure airport. But Lent isn't just getting from A to B. It's about leaving A as one person, and arriving at B as someone better.

The problem is, at least with Bears, is that they are quite set in their ways. For Bears, it is their irregular pattern of life. It is adaptive for them. It makes them unpredictable, which is a good thing when people are allowed to kill you with guns upon purchase of a license.

Bears are so unpredictable, there might be one looking through a window of your house at this very moment. Happens all the time. Bears are also stealthy and seldom get caught. There's probably one in your garage; maybe that noise you heard on your roof a few minutes ago. They got bored with Lent a few days ago, you see, and decided to take advantage of the situation while all humans were weak from fasting and busy with prayer and holy reading, just like you are.

What with all that sneaking around and unpredictability, however, it's more than likely that all Bears will end up as the same damn Bears they started out as on Ash Wednesday. If this Bear didn't, it would be the first time in 1300 years.

Here's the gospel. You may have seen it before. God is patient.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Lentblogging Day 17- The Rosary According to Bears

This is Your Bear on Rosaries

"Advice" is too strong a word for anything said by a Bear, except, maybe, "RAWR!" We'll call these haphazard daily observations during Lent, um, "observations."

Most of these observations have been practical. The Bear figures you are getting spiritual nourishment from some legitimate source. (Okay, Woodland Creatures, settle down; Bear heard the jokes). By "legitimate," Bear means time-tested truths of the ancient faith, whether from the original source or faithfully passed on by later witnesses.

He has spoken more than once about the Liturgy of the Hours, because that is the centerpiece of Benedictine prayer. However, today, he wants to say something about the rosary.

The Bear will let you in on a secret. He does not happen to be a fan of private revelations. The use to which even approved private revelations is put belongs to individual Catholics. As for pious tales, they make a point, but who knows if all of them are history? If you find some irony in that coming from a 1300-year-old talking Bear, congratulations.

There are many old stories and, frankly, a few extravagant claims, connected with the signature Catholic prayer of the rosary. The Bear leaves judgment of those up to each of his readers.

Even Better than Yoga!

Aside from that, however, the Bear will say this:

Done properly, the rosary is a brilliant and effective method of meditation that is superior to vaunted Eastern or other esoteric techniques in sophistication, results and safety. Five decades is the perfect length for today's attention spans. It combines a short but varied repertoire of verbal repetition and physical activity with visualizations to which generations of Catholics have contributed to the Aether, Spiritus Mundi, Astral Plane, Collective Unconscious and/or Communion of the Saints, whichever floats your barque.

It is a complete experience that combines the fingers, the voice, the memory, the imagination and prayer. It is one of the last survivors of the ars memoriae in our wiki-age.

At worst, it will make you healthier. As the Huffington Post reports, a study published in the British Medical Journal says it's as good for your heart as yoga.

So much for Jesoga. (Link to Fr. Z on Jesuit yoga.)

The Bear's "Secret of the Rosary"

With apologies to St. Simon de Montfort, here's the secret according to Bear Theology:

Lisa Frank Delicious Pony
The rosary is a state-of-the-art spiritual super-weapon designed by God to make you not only healthy, but holy, and devils hate it.

What really gets devils is the apparent old-womanish bog Irish superstition of it. Devils (and many humans) still haven't figured out how something that looks like a WWI Sopwith Camel by way of Lisa Frank zooms through their infernal air defense command like a B2 Stealth Bomber.

But, that's the brilliance of the design. It embodies genuine humility. That's right. If you look up the word "humility" in a dictionary, you find a picture of a rosary, not a celebrity. You don't have to be learned to use it. An illiterate old crab-widow in backwater Maryland can use it better than the Pope of Rome.

So, the Bear takes out a little string of beads - one of them is a very girly-looking birthstone rosary - with his massive paws and all of sudden he's spiritual Iron Bear.

Sometimes, it's like the Regina Spektor song: nobody laughs at God when the chips are down, but we can laugh with Him. Not devils, though, not real laughter. (Maybe more like evil cackling, although Bear cannot say for sure.)

"Jarvis, tell me the Third Luminous Mystery, again."

When You Pray the Rosary, You Never Pray Alone
(Although You Still Need a Family Member to Get the Plenary Indulgence)

Your prayers are assisted by the Virgin Mary, your guardian angel, and God knows who else, and are very pleasing to the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, Jesus Christ, Who loves to behold His reflection in His mother.

You want to hear something funny?

The moment Bear typed that, his cursor began speeding backwards, erasing the article before his horrified eyes. Weird, huh? That's never happened in almost one-thousand, five-hundred articles. Hey, if you really believe in devils, sometimes you gotta wonder. (Devils especially delight tempting and tormenting poor Bears; maybe it's different for humans.)

To continue, we immerse ourselves in the mysteries as we say the prayers - almost every word right out of the Bible (take note, any separated brethren who have wandered into these charmed Woodlands) with a bit of ancient creed. Time and space dissolve and we are present at the most important moments in the history of our salvation. We see, even as through a glass darkly; we hear, even as though a peal of a distant bells.

Beyond that lies more, but it would be unfit for the Bear to intrude between the soul and the gifts she receives from her God.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Lentblogging Day 16 - Are You a Bearish Human? Take the Test!


The Bear's special apostolate is to Bearish Humans. He does not wish to waste precious, er, resources by going outside this highly limited ministry for which he has been anointed.

So, please take this test to see if you should keep reading. For every YES, give yourself a point. At the end please total your score see if you are a

BEARISH HUMAN. (All questions apply to the past three months).

  1. I have been incapacitated by sleep to the degree that I was unable to fulfill my religious obligations.
  2. I have growled at 70 decibels or louder. (For comparison, that is the sound of an average vacuum cleaner).
  3. I have willfully spent an evening binge-watching a TV series to the exclusion of my reading of Holy Scripture and/or prayers. (Add 3 if it was Game of Thrones.)
  4. I have failed to avert my eyes from a delicious pony*.
  5. I have used more than two plates (total) at any buffet** OR asked, "Are you going to eat that?"
  6. I have used one of the seven dirty words in relation to any Roman Catholic Bishop.
  7. I have walked out during a homily, even if it was for the protection of others.
  8. I have performed other "church theater," e.g. removing the bowls of empty or sand-filled holy water stoups during Lent and turning them upside down with a puzzle expression on my face.
  9. I have avoided gainful employment by shameless panhandling.
  10. I have slacked off during Lentblogging by resorting to lame gimmicks when I realized I have not prepared a new article.
*or whatever

**"plate" meaning the normal quantity of food carried by one plate; precision food engineering to attain greater than rated plate-loads counts as at least two plates


0-2 = SAINT by Bear Standards. You have no further need of Bear.
3-4 = Possible Bear Tendencies that bear watching.
5-6 = If you are not yet a Bearish Human, you are in immediate danger of becoming one.
7-8 = You have an advanced case of Bearishness that must receive intensive treatment.
9-10 = You are not just a Bearish Human, YOU ARE A BEAR and should stay here among your own kind.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Lentblogging Day 15 - The Prayer of St Ephrem the Syrian

The Bear must say that the installment entitled, "That Ladies Wear Clothes, Lord Hear our Prayer," did twice as well as most of the other articles. Perhaps others have observed this phenomenon, too.

At any rate, poor old St. Ephem the Syrian probably can't hope for similar traffic without a shamelessly clickbaity title, although the Bear bets he thought modesty was important, too.

St. Ephrem is a Doctor of the Catholic Church, although he is better known among the Orthodox. Although called "the Syrian," he was born and died in Turkey in the 4th Century. His feast day is June 9th and he is the patron of spiritual directors.

The Prayer of St. Ephrem is closely associated with Orthodox Lent, during which it is frequently recited, customarily with bows. One version, in translation, goes like this:

O Lord and Master of my life, grant me not a spirit of sloth, despondency, love of power, and idle talk. 
But give to me, your servant, a spirit of sober-mindedness, humility, patience, and love. 
Yes, O Lord and King, grant me to see my own faults and not to judge my brother, since you are blessed to the ages of ages. Amen.

You can see why it is fitting for Lent. It would be a good practice to add this to your Lenten devotions and meditate on the words. The choices St. Ephrem packs into this short prayer are interesting. 
  • sloth
  • despondencey
  • love of power
  • idle talk
  • sober-mindedness
  • humility
  • patience
  • love
  • seeing our own faults
  • not judging our brothers and sisters
You might also notice that he addresses God as "Lord and Master of my life," and "Lord and King."

We should remain active and engaged with our Lenten practices, and not fall into laziness, or still less succumb to The Noonday Devil. (See Chapter 8 of Saint Corbinian's Lenten Companion of Bearish Humans.) We've still got a long way to go, friends! The Bear needs every day of Lent!

By the way, the Bear is pleased to report that despite a late release - on Ash Wednesday - his little book is selling well and people seem to enjoy it. The Bear just saw his first printed copy today and was pleased. It's pretty slender, just 172 pages including the front matter. Oh, goody, a review is up, Bear notices!

So, the Bear leaves you today to contemplate the venerable prayer of St. Ephrem the Syrian. Perhaps you will incorporate it into your daily Lenten regimen.

Monday, February 26, 2018

Lentblogging Day 14 - Turning Outward

So far, it seems that the Bear has talked a lot of about practical methods to help you develop better habits. That's important, he thinks. Lent should be a time of growing in virtue and defeating vice, and we fail when we go into it with some vague idea of "improving ourselves."

But Lent is more than a period of self-help improvement. The Bear thinks the focus has too often been "it's all about me." My virtues, my vices, my fast, what I give up, etc.

Last time, the Bear wrote about the different ways people have helped him during Lent. You may have noticed the day before he was suffering from ennui. Did you happen to catch the difference? It means something when people remember you. It truly helps them. The Bear has not been feeling ennui since Sunday (although he has been very sleepy, which is normal for Bears). Now, he wants to flip that around and discuss the ways we can help others.

Some of the ideas in the last article were good ones. We should be generous with our financial resources where they are needed. We should lift up our Christian brothers and sisters in prayer. In fact, we should think of those of our communion as real brothers and sisters, with affection and care.

The Bear sometimes has the sense that people are praying for him.

The Communion of Saints is very real to the Bear. Here's an everyday example of the way we are connected. Bear cannot count the times he has picked up his phone to call his wife, only to have it ring in his hand with her at the other end. This is commonplace among people he knows. There is little doubt in the mind of the Bear that we are connected as Christians, and that such a special connection can exist even between bloggers and readers. Certainly between members of your parish, although it easier to be brotherly to those far away.

Up close we all know people can be challenging.

Not even death disrupts that connection, we are taught. What a blessing is the doctrine of Communion of the Saints!

This Lent we should be adding "a measure of service" to our "bona opera," or good work. We should turn outward from ourselves, however meritorious the work on our Tower of Lent is. It can begin with little things: getting someone that second cup of coffee, straightening up, just being kind and loving. Sending money to a good cause. Looking a stranger in the eye and giving a hello and a smile.

The world might be a little better place if we greeted everyone. Such a small thing.

Prayer should not be underestimated. We should pray for vocations, especially for our diocese and any religious house with which we are affiliated. In our Liturgy of the Hours for Oblates, so many of the prayer intentions are for "our absent confreres." And some of them are for the oblates. We pray for the monks, and we know they pray for us. We remember our Archabbey financially during Lent.

The most important thing to realize is that all our efforts are sterile - they will not produce fruit - if we do not take into account our brothers and sisters, whom we should truly love.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Lentblogging Day 13 - "That Ladies Wear Clothes, Lord Hear Our Prayer"

"For where two or three are gathered together in my name,
there am I in the midst of them.” (Matthew 18:20 NABRE).

Bear Gets By With the Help of His Friends

Today, the Bear would like to talk about those who accompany us on our Lenten journey. (Yes, the word "accompany" and references to "journeys" and "gathering" are Catholic cliches, but the Bear will use them when they're useful.)

Some of them provide opportunities to exercise heroic Christian virtue. Others help us in more direct ways.

Lazy Bear

This morning, the Bear did not want to get out of bed. A toothache had kept poor Bear awake much of the night and he was not in a good mood. He just kept telling himself it was extra Lenten penance for the sins of the day. (Which didn't stop him from slamming the screaming nerve endings with painkillers and lidocaine.) However, his guardian angel rolled his carcass out of bed and he settled down to pray Lauds.

The Devil always tells him to snooze a bit, or "wait until you're fully awake, for, you know, the glory of God." Bear caught on to that trick a long time ago, like, last week. So he usually says a pretty sleepy Lauds, but imagines real Benedictine Monks are sometimes sleepy at prayer, too.

As a wonderful surprise, Red Death, his driver, bodyguard and factotum, and beautiful, lawfully wedded spouse, joined him. (She doesn't like anyone to know, but yesterday was her birthday.)

It made such a difference. Singing Lauds with her, instead of all by himself, was wonderful, and the Bear felt less sleepy. How lovely when a couple is equally yoked in Christ, be they even human and Bear! Then he shared the readings and reflection from his Word Among Us app. (Please don't roll your eyes; it has actually been very nice for Bear this Lent.)

A Different Mass

We attended Mass at the Newman Center since the Bear was not ready for the single 9 a.m. Mass at our regular parish. There was holy water in abundance and the Bear happily splashed in it for several minutes until he realized a long line had formed behind him.

By the way, a friendly Public Service Announcement for the ladies, especially younger ones, and especially during Lent:

A can of gray spray paint is cheaper.

Bear understands many females do not own full-length mirrors and probably have no idea what they are, um... sharing.


People are encouraged to add their own prayer intentions at the Newman Center. ("That ladies wear clothes, Lord hear our prayer."). Bear is sure it seems like a good idea in a gathery way. In practice, however, they can be rambling, impossible to hear, and the whole thing drags on in a blathery way. Likewise, the birthdays and anniversaries shouted out at the end, each demanding its very own round of applause made the Bear feel very ungathery. They dragged on so long he would have gnawed a leg off to escape if he could have.

Especially since he had skipped breakfast.

Why can't we just do the Mass right out of the can(on)? It's all written out, Bear understands. He has even seen it with his own eyes. The "Novus Ordo" Mass does not bother Bear until people start thinking up "improvements."

Lovely Readers

Then he came home and did Midday prayer and was again surprised: this time by some nice donations of salmon. (If you contributed $18.99 or more, the Bear will send you an autographed copy of his Lenten Companion for Bearish Humans, but he must have your address! Shipping is free for single copies in the U.S.)

One of the greatest things about blogging is that, over time, you become close to certain faithful readers. The Bear has received marvellous gifts. Even a first-class relic of St. Maurus, the original Benedictine Oblate, complete with its impressive bull of authenticity. He lives on a little shelf in our icon corner, where we keep an oil lamp burning 24/7.

Yesterday the Bear received a book from a dear reader that is so perfect, it must be providential, or perhaps evidence of the Communion of the Saints.

But, no matter what the gift, the Bear gives thanks. Even the private emails sharing what this ephemeris has meant to readers are precious to him. He is grateful for his friends, who are helping him to Lent, and hopes that God can use even a Bear to help them in return. He prays for all of his readers every day, for their safety and well-being, but most of all that they be edified by something he wrote, and never be caused to stumble by some stupid Bear thing.

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Judging Angels Chapter 1 Read by Author

Quick commercial for free, no-strings-attached gift of a professionally produced audio book of Judging Angels, Chapter 1: Last Things, read...