Sunday, July 30, 2006

"Patriots" by Langguth

It’s still July and I have my first “summer book” finished! This year I kicked off the “summer pool fare” with a historical selection: Patriots: The Men Who Started The American Revolution by A.J. Langguth (©1988 Touchstone).

Patriots spans the politics of the Massachusetts Bay Colony (1761-62) to General George Washington’s “farewell” before Congress at the Maryland State House in Annapolis in 1783. Langguth does not add the “pomp and dramatics” of a historian like David McCullough. Nevertheless, Patriots is a nice read that balanced the key personalities and significant events very well. It is not a biography on any particular person, although it did give sufficient detail — without the drudgery— about the lives of the key men and women in America, Britain and France. The significant events are presented in context of the day without any gloss of ideology. This is something that all good history books should do.

Patriots avoids an iconic presentation of the patriots, the British and their sympathizers (the Tories) by which the activities of the American Revolution overshadow the real men themselves. Rather, the men in Patriots appear human with both virtues and flaws. The patriots, not surprisingly, were not “one big happy family.” Their common cause was Liberty and they were willing to pay the price for this ideal.

I found most interesting the activities of Massachusetts (1761-1775) with James Otis, Samuel Adams, Massachusetts Governor Francis Bernard, Massachusetts Chief Justice and later Governor Thomas Hutchenson, John Adams and John Hancock (later Governor as well) as the lead characters. The British and Tories in Massachusetts certainly suffered injustices from the Patriots. Likewise the colonists suffered at the hands of the British. It was interesting to read how disturbances and grievances escalated into full rebellion. It was also nice to read about familiar towns such as Lynn and Salem!

General Washington’s command of the war naturally took center stage in Patriots for the period of 1776 to 1783. After reading Patriots I now have a greater appreciation of France’s aide of money, troops and navy in helping America to win independence from Britain. I also have gained a greater admiration of George Washington and his leadership in the face of numerous discouragements.

After the peace treaty with England signed in Paris on September 3, 1783, American representative John Jay wrote, “If we are not a happy people it will be our own fault.”

So, if you want to learn more about Paul Revere, Billy Dawes, King George III, British Generals Thomas Gage, Henry Clinton, William Howe, and John Burgoyne; Britain’s Lord North, William Pitt, Admiral Richard Howe and Lord Cornwallis; Alexander Hamilton, Nathan Hale, John Adams, Abigail Adams, Patrick Henry, Thomas Paine, Nathanael Greene, Ben Franklin, Dr. Benjamin Church, Dr. Joseph Warren, Richard Montgomery, Lord Stirling, John Sullivan, Charles Lee, Horatio Gates, Silas Deane, Aaron Burr, Benedict Arnold, Ethan Allen, Mary Hayes (a.k.a. “Molly Pitcher”); France’s Marquis de Lafayette and Admiral de Grasse; Thomas Jefferson, Martha Jefferson, Martha Washington and of course General George Washington, and the events of the American Revolution written in a popular and engaging style then Patriots is the book to read.

A.J. Langguth’s Union 1812: The Americans Who Fought the Second War of Independence is due in November. I’ll wait to read the reviews before considering this one.

Photo: Colonial re-enactment © Mark Grenier
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Saturday, July 29, 2006

Vocation and Freedom

“What is God calling me to do with my life?” is a question that should be on the mind of each one of us. Specifically, “To which vocation am I called by God?” should be given serious thought in addition to the general — and hopefully obvious—questions of “What good should I do and evil avoid?” and “What talents should I put to good use?”

On the July 13th edition of Catholic Answers Live Jimmy Akin responded to a question from Kevin from Portland, Oregon on this topic. Jimmy’s response was very insightful and I thought that it would be well-worth a second look.

K.: I’m trying to understand God’s call to a person and a vocation they have in their life. I searched through the Catechism so I definitely see a strong teaching of vocation of marriage and family life and people being called to that vocation. I also see obviously people being called to the vocation of the ministerial priesthood but I’m kind of curious, is there a call perhaps to anyone to the vocation of a single lay state?

J.A.: Without it being a consecrated lay state?

K.: That’s correct.

J.A.: Well, you sometimes hear folks use that language talking about a “vocation to being single.” So, they will kind of present there as being four vocations and they will say “vocations to the priesthood or the clergy, really. Vocations to the religious life. Vocations to the married life” and they add “vocations to the single life.” I’ve even heard folks pray for more vocations to all four of those things which I guess translates in to praying for there to be more people because everyone would have one of these four if those are the four.

However, the Church does not use “singleness” as a vocation. This is something that has just popped-up recently. Frankly, it’s been done as a way to try to make single folks feel included like they have a special vocation too that’s comparable to these others. As a single person myself I appreciate that, but this is not the language that the Church has traditionally used when talking about vocations.

A vocation, at least the way the term has been used historically, is a specific state of life that is recognized as specially consecrated in a way that the Church recognizes. So, obviously, if someone has Holy Orders that’s a specially-consecrated state. If someone is married and has that Sacrament, that is also a specially-consecrated state. If someone has taken religious vows of consecration, that’s also a consecrated state.

But being single and not having one of those forms of consecration is not itself consecrated. Singleness is not sacred in the way that those other things are sacred. What singleness would seem to be —at least to me— is a state of potentiality from which one can move into one of the other states and acquire a special consecration.

I don’t use “singleness” as a distinct vocation. It may be a permanent state that someone’s in. Someone may stay single but it itself is not a consecrated state and thus not a vocation in that sense.

K.: Would that mean perhaps if a person lives as a single lay person for their entire lives they have missed their vocation? Would that be a consequence of the single state?

J.A.: I don’t like to think about vocations in those terms. I know that sometimes folks do use that language about “missing your vocation” and that can make people feel awful bad. But the Church does not really use that language either in its documents.

There’s often an idea that people that people have absorbed that God has one vocation for somebody and they need to be on the lookout for it and if they miss it, they’re in trouble. And they can even view it as sinful if they “miss” their vocation. But that’s not the way the Church looks at vocations. Vocations are something that are freely offered and accepted. So, no one is under any obligation to accept a particular vocation. If you think that God may be showing you a vocation to the priesthood then that’s really great but you’re not obligated under that pain of sin to accept. It’s an offer that God makes for “Here’s how you can do some good.” But you choose whether or not you want to take up the offer. The offer is free in that you are not under that pain of sin to accept.

The same way, if you think that God is maybe leading you towards marriage. What God is doing is offering you a way to do good in the world through the married vocation but you’re not under the pain of sin to get married. And the same thing is true of the religious life.

Vocations really are opportunities that God gives us to do good through a specially-consecrated state but one must have human freedom in choosing to accept that vocation or not. No one can be compelled to accept the priesthood. Not one can be compelled to accept a marriage. No one can be compelled to accept religious life. Those are things that need to be accepted freely in order for the vocation to bear the kind of fruit that God wants it to.

So, I don’t think in terms of people “missing their vocation” because if you don’t pick up one opportunity or pick up an opportunity at the moment you may take an opportunity to embark on a vocation at a later time.

Photo: Young couple at a Vancouver beach © Nuno Silva
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Tuesday, July 25, 2006


It’s week 4 of the reality/talent television show Rock Star: Supernova (CBS). For “something different” and since music holds my interest I decided to check out this show. Last year’s Rock Star: INXS (July to September 2005) produced a new lead singer for the Australian band INXS to replace Michael Hutchense (1960-1997). Of course, the winner of that competition, J.D. Fortune, is a man who sounds and looks like Hutchense.

Supernova is a new band that is forming by Gilby Clarke (Guns N’ Roses), Tommy Lee (Motley Crue), and Jason Newsted (Metallica). I’m not a big fan of their former groups although I do like some of their songs.

The format is that the contestants —both men and women— perform a well-known song on Tuesday and is given feedback by the band members. The television audience votes and the bottom three vote-getters have to perform again on Wednesday. The band then makes the choice of which one is to leave. David Navarro (Jane's Addiction, Red Hot Chili Peppers) is also a judge. I'm sure that as the show progresses the contestants may be asked for some "original" songs or arrangements. Currently, I like hearing the familiar tunes.

This week Gilby Clarke, on lead guitar, joined Jill Gioia as she performed “Brown Sugar” by The Rolling Stones. His comments were most edifying — and I will search for a transcript of the exact quote. In his analysis he pointed out that her performance and vocals were good but when she began to “grind” it turned him off. With great passion Clarke said that "it's cheap." He explained that she did not have to use her sexuality to cheapen herself. He explained that her voice and overall “prerformance” were good enough to please. Clarke also said that she "lost him" when she started the “grinding.” These comments were quite surprising to hear from a “hard core” rock star. Signs of life and hope?

I had previously only known Gary Cherone (Extreme, Van Halen), from Malden, Massachusetts, as a rock star to make some sensible comments that did not pander to the basest of the rock and roll genre. It will be interesting to see any response to Gilby Clarke’s comments.

Update July 27,2006:
Here are some comments from the "fan site" on Jill Gioia:

"Ok folks, was it just me or did Jill go a wee bit overboard with the bump and grind on Gilby? I like her voice, but that was painful to watch. Too desperate, and too focused on getting Gilby's attention." — Luella

"jill was embarrassing, she's a bit too old (mid-30's) for such behavior." —Suedehead

"For me, jill looked like she wanted to get attention from anyone who's watching the show, but.. she did it with a wrong person.. what gilby said made total sense, and i can guarantee, back into the house, jill's gonna be p*****.. lucky her, navarro was there to help neutralize the poison heheh.. owh well, wrong action with a wrong guy.." — River_Rooney

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Thursday, July 20, 2006

The Nature of Peace

With the Hezbollah militia attacking the State of Israel and the State of Israel attacking the Hezbollah militia in Lebanon, it seems that true and lasting peace for the Middle East may be a way off. Let's hope that the "end game" has not already begun.
The Israeli air attacks on Beirut’s southern suburbs, where Hezbollah has its headquarters, continued throughout the day and evening, after heavy raids on Saturday against Hezbollah offices and apartment houses and, the Israelis said, bunkers underneath them where Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, Hezbollah’s leader, has spent much of his time.

Streets were deserted, littered by debris, broken glass and parts of shattered buildings. Heavy plumes of black smoke rose over the city in the late afternoon as Israeli jets circled over the shut Beirut airport, hitting fuel storage tanks and an oil refinery.

“We are facing a real annihilation carried out by Israel,” Lebanon’s information minister, Ghazi Aridi, said after an emergency cabinet meeting. Beirut had an eerie, empty feel, with many residents having fled to the surrounding mountains. (“Israel Strikes Lebanon After Hezbollah Missile Attack” by Jan Mouawad and Steven Erlanger, July 17, 2006, N.Y. Times)

Much thought, analysis and rhetoric has already been given as to why this military operation by The State of Israel commenced last week. President George W. Bush gave his opinion on “stopping the violence”:
“In my judgment, the best way to stop the violence is to understand why the violence occurred in the first place,” Mr. Bush said. “And that’s because Hezbollah has been launching rocket attacks out of Lebanon into Israel, and because Hezbollah captured two Israeli soldiers. That’s why we have violence.” ("Israel Widens Scope of Attacks Across Lebanon" by Greg Myre, July 16, 2006, N.Y. Times)

We all perhaps know and understand to a degree to the consequences and results of war. The “root cause” of some sort of injustice seems to be readily identifiable. Much less thought it seems —if we can judge from what is written — is given to the nature of peace. Fortunately, the Second Vatican Council’s “Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World” (Gaudium et Spes , December 7, 1965) authoritatively addressed this topic.

Peace is not merely the absence of war; nor can it be reduced solely to the maintenance of a balance of power between enemies; nor is it brought about by dictatorship. Instead, it is rightly and appropriately called an enterprise of justice. Peace results from that order structured into human society by its divine Founder, and actualized by men as they thirst after ever greater justice. The common good of humanity finds its ultimate meaning in the eternal law. But since the concrete demands of this common good are constantly changing as time goes on, peace is never attained once and for all, but must be built up ceaselessly. Moreover, since the human will is unsteady and wounded by sin, the achievement of peace requires a constant mastering of passions and the vigilance of lawful authority.

But this is not enough. This peace on earth cannot be obtained unless personal well-being is safeguarded and men freely and trustingly share with one another the riches of their inner spirits and their talents. A firm determination to respect other men and peoples and their dignity, as well as the studied practice of brotherhood are absolutely necessary for the establishment of peace. Hence peace is likewise the fruit of love, which goes beyond what justice can provide.

That earthly peace which arises from love of neighbor symbolizes and results from the peace of Christ which radiates from God the Father. For by the cross the incarnate Son, the prince of peace reconciled all men with God. By thus restoring all men to the unity of one people and one body, He slew hatred in His own flesh; and, after being lifted on high by His resurrection, He poured forth the spirit of love into the hearts of men.

For this reason, all Christians are urgently summoned to do in love what the truth requires, and to join with all true peacemakers in pleading for peace and bringing it about.

Motivated by this same spirit, we cannot fail to praise those who renounce the use of violence in the vindication of their rights and who resort to methods of defense which are otherwise available to weaker parties too, provided this can be done without injury to the rights and duties of others or of the community itself.

Insofar as men are sinful, the threat of war hangs over them, and hang over them it will until the return of Christ. But insofar as men vanquish sin by a union of love, they will vanquish violence as well and make these words come true: "They shall turn their swords into plough-shares, and their spears into sickles. Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more" (Isaias 2:4). (Gaudium et Spes, No. 78)

Gaudium et Spes recognized that some military actions may be necessary but that these should be tempered:
[I]t is one thing to undertake military action for the just defense of the people, and something else again to seek the subjugation of other nations. Nor, by the same token, does the mere fact that war has unhappily begun mean that all is fair between the warring parties. (Gaudium et Spes, No. 79)

Gaudium et Spes, readily points out that respect, dignity, and brotherhood are required for peace: “A firm determination to respect other men and peoples and their dignity, as well as the studied practice of brotherhood are absolutely necessary for the establishment of peace.”

Surely peace on earth will be obtained where “personal well-being is safeguarded.” It will be obtained when respect, dignity, and brotherhood are extended to innocent and blameless human life and the family in addition to nations, peoples, and true cultures. Let’s all pray for true peace and not for simply the avoidance of war.

Photo: Man in Lebanon (Tyler Hicks/ New York Times; July 17,2006)
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Monday, July 17, 2006

Another Lost Tradition

Boston claims to be a city of tradition. And certainly it is is some respects. As time advances these traditions are being lost. The Boston Celtics seem to be in the forefront of abandoning tradition. Crowds at the old Boston Garden were notorious for "sitting on their hands" so "piped-in crowd noise" was added. This faux noise was so distracting as to be embarassing. Next, traditional organ music was replaced with pop and rock music, supposedly to attract a younger crowd. (The "Walker Wiggle" also seemed to typify the decline of the Old Green.)

Three years ago when the "Danny Ainge as general manager" era began the traditional black sneakers were replaced with white ones. The Celtics had always worn only black sneakers. I thought that something simple and distinct as black sneakers could surely be saved. I was wrong. (I just can't picture Larry Bird or Kevin McHale playing in white sneakers.) Next, the "alternate jerseys" of green and black, and green and gold combinations were added to the traditional, sharp and distinct green and white ones. At this point I did not recognize the Celtics anymore. Now, 21 "Celtics' Dancers" are going to be added next season! The Celtics had been the only team I know of that did not have any cheerleaders or dancers. I'm sure that these girls won't be doing any Celtic/Irish steps, which would be nice to see.

I'm sure a life-sized mascot like "Wally The Green Monster" will be added next. The Boston Red Sox lost their "no mascot " tradition when Wally first made his appearance at Fenway Park. He was booed when he was first introduced and some thought that he would never return. Now he is accepted as part of the Red Sox family.

The simplicity that used to make the Boston Celtics unique is long gone. Let's hope that the pretty parquet floor wil not be taken away next. If the Celtics really want to keep tradition then they should focus on winning another World Championship —to add to their 16 World Championships— and forget about these superficial makeovers. It has been 20 years since the last championship and another one does not seem to be on the horizon.


Sunday, July 16, 2006


This past Saturday in Newport, Rhode Island, Australia’s Patrick Rafter,33, and Argentina’s Gabriela Sabatini, 36, along with 8 others were inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame. Gabriela is perhaps the world’s all-time best female athlete. As such her induction into the hall of fame is no surprise!

She won the US Open in 1990, the Wimbledon Doubles title in 1988 (with partner Steffi Graf), and a silver medal in the 1988 Olympic Games. She was also part of the 1996 Argentine Olympic team.

Overall, Gabriela won 27 WTA Tour singles championships and 14 doubles championships; was ranked in the top 10 for ten consecutive years (1986-1995). Her career winnings were $8,785,849.

"In her playing career, Sabatini was graceful, athletic and elegant, a sound baseline player who switched successfully to the serve-and-volley game. She was glamorous, and the crowds loved her. Sports Illustrated noted her “brooding good looks.” (“Off the court, Sabatini is still in her prime” by Frank Litsky, N.Y. Times, July 16,2006)

From her induction speech:

"I was a very introverted person and it wasn't easy for me to relate to others. Tennis has exposed me to so many things in such positive ways that perhaps I wouldn't have experienced it if it wasn't through tennis."

"Today I am convinced that tennis is not only a sport, it is giving you the opportunity to open your mind, to travel all over the world, to get to know people and relate to others to have a commitment and responsibility, to grow and mature at an early age, to face and overcome obstacles, all of which I can apply in my everyday life. All of these things have made me the person I am today and that is why I am so grateful to this sport."

Gabriela currently lives in Buenos Aires and sells 14 perfume titles like ”Bolero” (recommended for casual wear) and ”Tempermento” (recommended for evening wear). She also has a rose named after her. Grace Kelly, Queen Elizabeth and John F. Kennedy also have named roses.

Congratulations to Gabriela!

Photo: Gabriela Sabatini at the Australian Open in 1994 (William West/AP)
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