“One Small Step” in a Long Journey

“A journey of a thousand li starts with a single step.”
(Tao Te Ching,” Laozi)

“That’s one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind.”
(Neil Armstrong)

I figure the journey to Earth’s moon began when someone looked up and wondered what this world’s “lesser light” might be. Uncounted ages, most likely, before folks like Laozi and Thales of Miletus added their thoughts to humanity’s storehouse of knowledge.

Thales of Miletus gets credit for figuring out that Earth’s moon is roughly spherical. So does Anaximander, depending on who’s talking. Those two lived about two and a half millennia back.

A century later, Anaxagoras said Earth’s moon was earthy, made of the same sort of stuff we stand on. He was right about that. Other details in his cosmology, not so much.

Anaxagoras was born in Klazomenai, Ionia: part of the Persian Empire. He was in Athens when Socrates lived there. Maybe they knew each other, maybe not.

Anaxagoras had a long and successful academic career in Athens until he was charged with impiety and sentenced to death. I can see the Athenian court’s point. Anaxagoras had said that natural phenomena weren’t supernatural.

My guess is that his legal trouble came from associating with the wrong sort: from the court’s viewpoint. Pericles, a friend and former student of Anaxagoras, was plunging Athens into chaos and disorder — threatening the status quo, at any rate.

Being friends with Pericles may have earned Anaxagoras the death penalty. On the ‘up’ side, Pericles helped Anaxagoras get out of Dodge. Make that Athens.

I’m willing to think maybe the powers that be either couldn’t, or wouldn’t, legally exile someone for having the wrong friend: but could make an “impiety” charge stick. Sort of like Al Capone’s income tax evasion conviction, but not quite.1

Pericles, Plutarch and Politics

I gather that the Athenian establishment weren’t interested in Anxagoras, apart from his usefulness in their anti-Pericles efforts.

Athenian citizens knew that Pericles was a friend and former student of Anaxagoras.

Shaming Anxagoras should have discredited Pericles. Maybe it did, among defenders of yesteryear.

I’m not sure why guilt by association and ad hominem attacks are perennial favorites, and that’s another topic.

A few years after the Anaxagoras trial, protectors of Athenian heritage charged Pericles with misappropriation of public funds and imperiling private property.

They failed.

The Delian League became an Athenian empire. Athens became a center of wealth, influence and culture. Pericles got credit for ushering in a golden age.

That may help explain why Aristarchus of Samos didn’t get in trouble for saying that Earth might go around our sun. He also figured Anxagoras was right about the stars: that they were distant suns.

Aristotle’s cosmology put Earth in the center. At the bottom, more accurately. Maybe his ideas were more intuitive. Heliocentic cosmologies popped up occasionally, like Seleucus of Seleucia’s model: which we know about mainly because Plutarch mentioned it.2

A millennium after Plutarch’s day, Aristotle was a metaphorical rock star for many European academics. Being impressed with Aristotle’s logic and analysis was okay. Saying that Earth was the only world because Aristotle said so, not so much.

Proposition 27/219 of the Condemnation of 1277 has been rescinded, but the principle still holds. God’s God, Aristotle’s not.

Four and a half back, Copernicus delayed publication of his heliocentric hypothesis partly to avoid “babblers.” Can’t say that I blame him.

European politics boiled over a generation later. Natural philosophers started being called “scientists” after William Whewell coined the word in an 1834 book review, and I’m getting ahead of the story.3

Storytellers

Lucian wrote “A True Story” when the Five Good Emperors ruled Rome.

Lucian’s novel describes his voyage beyond the Pillars of Hercules. After visiting a wildly improbable island, a whirlwind takes him and his companions to Earth’s moon.

An interplanetary conflict is in progress: complete with gargantuan war-spiders.

Peace breaks out, Lucian does some sight-seeing, and returns to Earth. Then he’s swallowed by a 200 mile long whale. Fish-people in the whale attack Lucian’s party, and the adventure continues.

“A True Story” is a novel, space opera and/or satire. I think literary types who say it doesn’t quite fit current genres are right. In any case, it’s the earliest tale involving travel to Earth’s moon that I’ve run across.

The earliest Wu Gang stories we have come from Tang Dynasy, our ninth century. Interestingly, the moon in these stories is a place, not a deity. Wu Gang is endlessly cutting down a lunar tree or forest, which endlessly grows back.

“The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter” is another tale where the moon is a place, not a person. It’s a 10th-century Japanese story based on folklore. I can see it as myth or science fiction of the ‘alien among us’ variety.

Ludovico Ariosto’s 1516-1532 “Orlando Furioso” has Orlando riding Elijah’s flaming chariot to the Moon: which in this story is an attic of sorts, where lost things go.

Kepler’s 1608 “Somnium” and Francis Godwin’s “The Man in the Moone,” written in the 1620s, have their heroes fly to the moon via daemons in “Somnium,” a bird-powered craft in “…Moone.” Seeing them as early science fiction makes sense.4

I’m not so sure about “Olrando….” Seeing the moon as a land of lost things strikes me as mythical than legendary. And that’s yet another topic.

Cool Heads and Flying Gas Pipes

A concerned citizen’s 1920 op-ed in The New York Times warned against encouraging crackpots, or perhaps charlatans, like Robert Goddard.

The warning came too late.

Goddard had already patented a multi-stage rocket in 1914: U.S. Patent 1,102,653.

Smithsonian grants helped him develop and fly the first liquid-fueled rocket in 1926. Some officials in America’s Weather Bureau thought that launching instruments into the upper atmosphere made sense.

But for the most part, cooler heads prevailed. Apart from the Smithsonian grants and limited wartime research, few tax dollars were wasted on Goddard’s “absurd” research.

Guggenheim sponsorships in the 1930s helped Goddard set up a test range in New Mexico.

A European war was boiling over in 1940, when Goddard and others tried telling the Army and Navy what rockets could do.

They were ignored. Except for two young officers, who convinced Navy brass that developing jet-assisted take-off (JATO) was a good idea.

Germany’s V-2 warheads began arriving in Paris and London in 1944.

British leaders sprang into action, informing citizens that England was experiencing a rash of gas pipe explosions.

That story lasted until Englishmen noticed mangled rocket parts near the craters. I’m not sure when the things stopped being called “flying gas pipes.” The war ended in 1945. The Allies won.

When the dust settled, American forces grabbed enough parts to build about 80 V-2 missiles. Along with German engineers who could put them together.

The Soviet Union ended up with V-2 production facilities, which they moved farther into their territory.5

“This is a Wild Supposition”

Life goes on, even during wars. August of 1944 was no exception. National and entertainment news that month included a Philadelphia transit strike and Bing Crosby’s rendition of “Swinging on a Star.”

Amateur and professional astronomers might have noticed this item:

“There are many experts who believe … that the day may not be far distant when we shall be exploring outer space in person — possibly 500 years from now, possibly in 1,000 years. Some think it may come even sooner than that, after the war perhaps, when men’s minds will turn once more to the peacetime utility of rockets and rocket ships. Perhaps, they say, before some now alive have died, rocket-liner trips to the moon may be a common daily performance. This is wild supposition, not scientific statement. But there are those who believe it.”
(Marian Lockwood, Sky and Telescope (August 1944))

Seven and a half decades later, rocket-liner trips to the moon aren’t routine. On the other hand, today’s question isn’t whether we can reach the moon. It’s when we should return.

Folks like Tsiolkovsky, Hohmann, Oberth and Goddard had been discussing rockets and space travel since the late 19th century.6

So how come Marian Lockwood called the idea “wild supposition?”

Dreamers and Scientists

“…ninety percent of science fiction is crud. That’s because ninety percent of everything is crud….”
(attr. Theodore Sturgeon, Venture Science Fiction (March 1958))

I think folks who deplore science fiction’s intellectual wasteland have a point. So do those who praise the genre as an inspiration for tomorrow’s best minds.

For every cover featuring a Noordung space station and “The Black Cloud,” there’s a mercifully-forgotten mass of potboilers and bobble-head Martians.7

That’s probably why Collier’s carefully explained that their “conquest of space” articles were “serious fact.”

“…What you will read here is not science fiction. It is serious fact. Moreover, it is an urgent warning that the U.S. must immediately embark on a long-range development program to secure for the West ‘space superiority.’ If we do not, somebody else will. That somebody else very probably would be the Soviet Union….”
(“What are we Waiting For?” Editors, Colliers (March 22, 1952) via rmastri.it)

Two thirds of a century later, terms like “conquest of space” and “space superiority” may seem quaint. At best.

Maybe, if America and the Soviet Union hadn’t seen public relations value in reaching the moon, someone would have followed the plan outlined in Collier’s. Eventually.

I still think it would have made more sense to build a semi-permanent low Earth orbit station first. Instead, American engineers designed and built the Saturn V.

And that’s yet again another topic, for another day.

Horizons

I haven’t seen “space superiority” given as a reason to explore other worlds for some time.

These days, the Noah’s Ark scenario is more popular: giving humanity a chance for survival after a terrestrial catastrophe. Some folks say space exploration is good idea because it helps the economy. Or encourages technological innovation.

I figure they’ve got a point.

I’m also pretty sure we’ll keep exploring space because we’re human.

In a sense, the first step of our journey to Earth’s moon began when someone decided to see what’s over the next hill.

What’s changed in my lifetime is that “the next hills” are now on other worlds.

I don’t think exploring this universe will make us more — or less — likely to acknowledge God’s work and our nature.

But I don’t see a problem with looking at “the whole universe” from another angle.

“What are humans that you are mindful of them, mere mortals that you care for them?
“Yet you have made them little less than a god, crowned them with glory and honor.”
(Psalms 8:5–6)

“Terrible and awesome are you,
stronger than the ancient mountains.”
(Psalms 76:5)

“Yours are the heavens, yours the earth;
you founded the world and everything in it.”
(Psalms 89:12)

“Indeed, before you the whole universe is like a grain from a balance,
or a drop of morning dew come down upon the earth.”
(Wisdom 11:22)

More of my take on humanity’s current horizon:


1 Early steps:

2 Philosophers and politics:

3 Two millennia, briefly:

4 Folklore, myth and stories:

5 20th century, mostly:

6 1944 retrospective:

7 Science and fiction:

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Apollo 11, 50 Years Later

Apollo 11’s Lunar Module reached Mare Tranquillitatis fifty years ago this month. I remember hearing Neil A. Armstrong announce the landing site’s name: “Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.”

A few hours later, Armstrong opened the Lunar Module’s MESA — a storage locker built into the lander’s side.

A television camera in the MESA showed us Armstrong’s, and humanity’s, first step onto another world.

Back on Earth, one out of every five people were watching: at home, in pubs, at cafes, in New York’s Central Park and at shop windows. Pope St. Paul VI watched at the Castle Gandolfo observatory. Folks in Moscow watched, too: with a four-hour tape delay.1

Meanwhile, Back on Earth

Humanity’s arrival on another world wasn’t the only noteworthy event in July, 1969.

Following their agent’s instructions, Vanilla Fudge arrived in North Hampton, Ohio. The concert was in Northhampton Township, near Dayton.

India’s Prime Minister nationalized 14 private banks. The banks held about three-quarters of Indian deposits. Jayaprakash Narayan called the move a “masterstroke of political sagacity.” And that’s another topic.

Thailand’s Royal Rainmaking Project flew its first field experiment, seeding clouds over the Khao Yai National Park. Results were mixed. Rain fell from the clouds, but not over the target area.2

Science and a Flag

Armstrong and Aldrin spent about 21 hours, 30 minutes at Tranquility Base.

They were outside the Lunar Module for two and a quarter hours; setting up equipment, collecting photos and setting up equipment: and, 25 feet from the Lunar Module, an American flag.

That was a tad too close. The Lunar Module ascent stage exhaust toppled the Lunar Flag Assembly — flag, mast and all. The incident’s fraught with symbolism, and may have inspired solemn soliloquies on the futility of it all. Or maybe not.

The Tranquility Base science equipment lasted longer.

PSEP, the Passive Seismic Experiment Package, stayed active for 21 days. The Laser Ranging Retroreflector, LRRR, is still used. Occasionally.3

Viewpoints

Some folks in my country didn’t approve of all the fuss, so they hosted a protest march near the Kennedy Space Center.

They had a point.

America in the late Sixties was not a new Camelot. Our government hadn’t abolished poverty and avenged all injustices.

I might have been more impressed by anti-Apollo protests, if social activists had protested Super Bowl ads and the Academy Awards with equal enthusiasm. Maybe they did, and I didn’t notice.4

Somewhere along the line, “if we put men on the moon, why can’t we…” stopped sounding relevant — and joined “relevance” wherever cliches go as they fade away.

I don’t think designing, testing and building technology that sent a few folks to Earth’s moon and back is more important than people. But doing that is arguably easier than solving ancient social ills.

If the choice had been to either make spaceships or help people, I’d pick helping people. It’s a matter of priorities. I think people are more important than things.

I’m not convinced that dealing with social ills or developing technology really was an either-or situation.

Scenarios where Our Hero must save either The Professor’s notes or a Pauline clone can make good stories.5

Sometimes life is that simple. But not often, I think.

Paying Attention

Backing up a little, I think people are important. I also think acting like humans is a good idea.

I thought so before becoming a Catholic. What’s changed is what I know about why being human is okay.

We’re told that God creates everything, and sees it as “very good.”

We’re created in God’s image. We’re very good too, basically. (Genesis 1:27, 31; Catechism of the Catholic Church, 268, 279, 299, 301305)

Humanity isn’t God’s greatest blunder.

God writes knowable physical laws into everything we can observe. (Catechism, 268, 279, 299, 301305; “Gaudium et spes” 5, 15, Second Vatican Council, Bl. Pope Paul VI (December 7, 1965))

If we’re paying attention, everything we learn about this universe will reflect a facet of God’s truth. (Catechism, 302308)

Learning about this universe is a good idea. It gives us more reasons to admire God’s work. (Catechism, 159, 214217, 282283, 294, 341)

Having Problems

If we’re basically good, living in a very good world, how come we’ve got problems?

As Supreme Being said in Monty Python’s “Time Bandits,” “I think it has something to do with free will.” (November 6, 2016)

The Catholic Church goes into a bit more detail on the subject.

There’s a considerable gap between how we should act and what we actually do. We’re dealing with consequences of a bad choice. That makes doing what’s right is difficult. Putting it mildly. (Genesis 3:113; Catechism, 397409, 17761794, 18491869)

Thinking that logical consequences happen isn’t even close to believing that we’re “loathsome insects,” and that’s yet another topic. (January 8, 2018)

We can misuse science and technology.

But studying this universe and developing new technology with what we learn is part of being human. (Catechism, 22932296)

Options

A half-century after Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin left Tranquility base, we still have problems.

Cities “undimmed by human tears” are an unfulfilled dream. (July 4, 2019)

Folks who should know better act badly. Injustice happens. (February 17, 2019)

Ranting about the unfairness of it all is an option. So is writhing in agony over humanity’s collective angst: and trying to make you feel miserable, too. Neither seem like good ideas.

Instead, I’ll recap what I keep saying.

Individuals and societies are important. Each of us should be working for the common good. The common good includes helping individuals and society grow and flourish. (Catechism, 19051912)

We’re not all alike. We’re not supposed to be. But we each have equal dignity.
(Catechism, 361, 369370, 1929, 19341942)

I don’t see a problem with noticing non-wretched events. Or maybe even celebrating when something goes right. And paying attention to what needs fixing.

To be Continued

This is where I was going to start talking about Lucian of Samosata’s “A True Story,” other tales of trips to the moon, and a 1950s series about space travel.

Maybe I’ll have that ready by July 20: the Apollo 11 landing’s anniversary.

My reason, or excuse, for not having that bit ready is that my oldest daughter arrived last week for a visit.

As I said before, it’s a matter of priorities. While my daughter was here, I could use my time for writing, or talking with her. I figured the writing could wait. I’ve already got part of the ‘before Apollo’ post ready, so finishing it by Saturday seems reasonable.

Somewhat-related posts:


1 Visiting another world:

2 In other news:

3 Science and technology:

4 Protest:

5 On the sometimes-silly side:

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Patriot Dreams

The Fourth of July is Independence Day for the United States.

It’s also the anniversary of Alice in Wonderland’s inspiration and Pulcheria’s first day as regent. Folks could celebrate Earth’s aphelion today. We’ll be getting nearer our sun until early January.

I don’t know how many folks mark the date as Pactum Sicardi Day or remember it as the Lockheed Vega’s maiden flight day.

The Fourth of July was Independence Day for the Philippines until 1962, when it became Philippine Republic Day. The archipelago’s Independence Day is now June 12.1

I’m an American, so I’m mostly aware of July Fourth as my country’s Independence Day.

Patriotism Can be Cheesy

Nothing says America! quite like the majestic figures of Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt and Lincoln. Carved from 700 pounds of cheddar cheese. Set among snack crackers. With a cheese flag.

Maybe there’s something that says it better.

But there’s nothing like it.

“…’I didn’t say there was nothing better,’ the King replied. ‘I said there was nothing like it.’ Which Alice did not venture to deny….”
(“Through the Looking-Glass,” Lewis Carroll (1872) via gutenberg.org)

I like living in America: land of the free, home of the Uncle Sam Flag Coolers, Patriotic Malibu Sunglasses, LED Light-Up Patriotic USA Hats, and — while they last— cheese sculptures.2

I like just-for-fun kitsch. Or I could let it upset me: protesting plastic proliferation, harrumphing over taking Old Glory’s image in vain, or deploring the sinful waste of food. But I won’t.

Wasted food complaints may be non-starters. At least some of the patriotic cheese sculptures were returned to Wisconsin, cut into manageable chunks and given to food pantries. And that’s another topic.

American Patchwork

I like being an American. On the whole.

If nothing else, it’s nice to live in a country that folks are trying to enter; not escape.

Election years strain my affection for our form of government. But it’ll do.

“…it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time….”
(Parliament Bill, Mr. Churchill (Woodford) (November 11, 1947) Hansard text)

Not that America is a democracy, quite. I’ve seen it called a constitutional federal republic with democratic traditions. That’s small “d.”

I strongly suspect my country has held together for 243 years in part because we’re a patchwork of local, regional, state and territorial governments linked by a federal authority.

Getting a government’s job done isn’t easy, even when we’re all cooperating.

If the job makes sense, that’s bad news.

If it doesn’t, the system can give us time to correct whatever went wrong at the leadership levels.

We’ve only had one major internal war, and are fixing the mess it left. Most nations, if they last long enough, likely go through rough patches: like England’s Anarchy and Interregnum. I like to think we learn something each time. Some of us.

I also figure America has endured because there’s more to us than our governments.

Happily, our voluntary associations have been free to get jobs done. For the most part.3

Words and Ideals

Maybe I’d be more comfortable with words like “patriot” and “patriotism” if I hadn’t grown up in the Sixties.

McCarthyism’s heyday was over. Some Americans wondered if unwavering faith in HUAC’s wisdom was prudent.

Kids were growing up in a world with tech and prosperity their parents hadn’t known. Disconnects between slogans and action, ideals and attitudes, were becoming obvious.

“…If the mind is baffled
When the rules don’t fit the game,
Who will answer?…”
(“Who Will Answer?” Ed Ames (1967))

“…Go ahead and hate your neighbour
Go ahead and cheat a friend
Do it in the name of heaven
You can justify it in the end….”
(“One Tin Soldier” Dennis Lambert, Brian Potter (1969))

“…Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace….”
(“Imagine,” John Lennon (1971))

“The Establishment,” folks who enjoyed prestige and influence, saw what has happening. They didn’t like it.

Some, not all, apparently decided that since what they’d been doing didn’t work — they should do it more forcefully. That didn’t work either. Not the way they intended.

Maybe stalwart defenders of their status quo believed they were the last true patriots.

Calling devotion to their opinions “patriotism” helped me associate the word with nativism, hubris, and anger.

I now recognize distinctions between patriotism, nationalism and jingoism.4 I’ve also learned to appreciate the value and risks of using labels.

Time passed. The upper crust of today’s Establishment are around my age. Many probably shared my youthful conviction that we can do better. Maybe they still think so.

The trick, then and now, isn’t just thinking we can do better. It’s seeing what will work. And doing it.

Change Happens

The world keeps changing.

Some of what’s happened since the Sixties is an improvement. Some, in my view, isn’t.

That’s frustrating for folks in the Establishment, and for those of us who are affected by their actions.

Today’s Establishment wouldn’t, most likely, notice that they’re reacting pretty much as their predecessors did.

The details are different, but I see the same pattern: emphasis shifting from goals to fears, slogans used more as shibboleths than rallying cries.

Words like “tolerance” may be following “patriotism” into dead storage. And “freedom” still means “free to agree with me” in some circles.

I don’t like today’s political sound and fury. I certainly don’t think more of the same is a good idea. And I remember our past too well to want a rerun.

But I think hope makes sense.

Change is happening. This can be a good thing.

My Country

Whether or not I’m a patriot may depend on who’s talking. The Merriam-Webster dictionary says a patriot is someone “who loves and supports his or her country.”5

Assuming that love of country stops well short of idolatry, and that support is the sort that makes sense, I’m a patriot.

It’s not an option. Not if I take being a Catholic seriously.

Living as if my faith matters boils down acting as if loving God and my neighbors matters. And seeing everyone as my neighbor. (Matthew 5:4344, 7:12, 22:3640, Mark 12:2831; 10:2527, 2937; Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1789)

Acting like love matters is easier when my reason and emotions are in sync. But easy or hard, using my brain is a good idea. (Catechism, 17771782)

As a Catholic, I’m obliged to do what’s possible in public life: recognizing humanity’s solidarity, and respecting authority. Within reason. (Catechism, 1778, 1915, 18971917, 19391942, 2199, 22382243)

Seeing my country’s system as the worst one possible, except for all others, is okay. Thinking that everyone should be Americans, or run their countries like ours, not so much.

There isn’t one ‘correct’ form of government. Different cultures and eras have different needs, and that’s okay. (Catechism, 1915, 19571958)

I think my country has much to offer the world. I’d rather live here than anywhere else. If that’s loving my country, then I love America.

I’d prefer living in a world where everyone could feel that way about their homeland. Not because it’s like America, but because it’s a unique moment in the life of a land and people.

America and Hair

Again, I like living in America. I think it’s a good place to live. I also think we can do better.

Even if I could drag my country back to an earlier time, I wouldn’t. The Sixties happened in part because so many folks had gotten fed up with the status quo. We changed because what we had wasn’t working.

Yesteryear won’t come back. Today needs improvement. That leaves one direction: forward.

Maybe daydreaming of ‘good old days’ that haven’t happened yet is nothing more than an occasionally-pleasant pastime.

But I think there’s some value in having a “patriot dream.”

“…O beautiful for patriot dream
That sees beyond the years
Thine alabaster cities gleam
Undimmed by human tears!…”
(“America the Beautiful,” Katharine Lee Bates, 1911 version, via Wikipedia)

A century later, our cities ‐ alabaster and otherwise ‐ aren’t “undimmed by human tears.” But we’re moving in that direction.

We’re learning to accept non-English, non-Protestant Americans.

It’s a lesson we re-learn periodically.

Maybe it’ll get easier, as more Americans have ‘foreign’ names like O’Toole and Einstein, Ichihashi and Karmarkar, Liukin and Chandrasekhar, Di Vincenzo and Pei.

“Hair,” the Sixties musical, wasn’t patriotic. Not in the Fabulous Fifties sense.

On the other hand, I think one of its songs expressed a patriot dream of sorts.

“…Harmony and understanding
Sympathy and trust abounding
No more falsehoods or derisions….”
(“Aquarius,” “Hair” (1967))

A half-century later, sympathy and trust aren’t abounding. But wanting harmony and understanding still makes sense.

Choices

We had soreheads in my youth. We still do.

Hot-button topics and slogans have changed, a little.

One thing that has changed is how easily folks can share ideas.

I figure that’s behind some of today’s angst. It’s gotten increasingly hard to ignore what ‘the other guy’ thinks. Or ensure that the public only sees what ‘the right sort’ think we should. And that’s yet another topic.

Or maybe not so much. The Internet, printing press, or whatever tech we use, won’t make everyone live in harmony. Or act badly. They’re tools. We can use them to shout insults or share ideas. It’s a choice each of us makes.

Working Together

I don’t expect cities “undimmed by human tears” a century from now.

I’d be astounded if most of humanity’s many problems have been solved in the next millennium. Or ten millennia. We’re dealing with an enormous backlog of unresolved issues.

Healing wounds accumulated over uncounted ages is beyond me.

But I can suggest that justice and charity, and respecting humanity’s “transcendent dignity,” are good ideas. For the world, for America, and for each of us. The process starts in me, with an ongoing “inner conversion.” (Catechism, 18861889, 19281942, 24192442)

Maybe, if enough of us start acting as if love matters, we can build a better America.

And a better world.

Imagining alabaster cities abounding in harmony and understanding is easy.

Cobbling together close approximations of them won’t be.

But maybe, if enough of us work together, we can lay foundations for a “…civilization of love, founded on the universal values of peace, solidarity, justice, and liberty….”6

I think we can. I am certain that we must try.

Not-entirely-unrelated posts:


1 asdfasdfasdfasdf:

2 asdfasdfasdf:

3 asdfasdfasdf:

4 asdfasdfasdf:

5 asdfasdfasdf:

  • Merriam-Webster dictionary

6 A civilization of love:

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Remembering the Good Shepherd

Fourth Sunday of Easter 2010; May 15, 2011:


St. Isidore, the Domestic Church, and the Good Shepherd

I want to share with you three main topics: St Isidore, something concerning the Domestic Church, and the meaning of the Good Shepherd.

You will note that we have a carving of St. Isidore that I carved in 1981. At the time I wished to show respect to our central Minnesota farmers, the best farmers in all the world. Even so, Isidore being Spanish would not have been dressed in overalls. But if he was to live in our day this is the way he would have been dressed in Minnesota: overalls. I had to make special tools to make the transition from Spanish garb to overalls that looked like proper clothing. This day would have been his day except that it fell on Sunday. However I feel it necessary to respond at least briefly to his memory.

He was a day laborer working for wealthy landowners just outside of Madrid. He was noted for his charity and prayer life. When accused of not devoting enough time to his job, the landowner saw a team of white oxen guided by an angle to help him plow. Another time, as the story goes, he was to bring a sack of grain to the mill for grinding but seeing birds hungry along the way couldn’t help but to feed them some of the grain. However, when the grain was milled he was able to return with a full sack of flour. Being as how all of us here are farmers or sons and daughters of a farmer, it would be well for all us to dig deeper in the life of Isidore and his wife. Which leads me into the second topic of my concerns for today: and that is the Domestic Church, of which Isidore and his wife are a good example.

You are the Domestic Church! Every family here in this church are members of the universal Church, one, holy, catholic, and apostolic. Having said that, and understanding, that we are never the less preeminently members of a family, a Domestic Church. So much so, did you know I can not Baptize your baby without your consent! Did you know that unless the Domestic Church is active and productive in the area of parish life, you wouldn’t have a parish. Did you know that unless the Domestic Church is striving for holiness, there wouldn’t be a parish church worthy of your time!

Ideally the family is made up of father, mother and children. The father as head, mother as heart and the children the product of a Loving relationship. I say ideally, fully aware that nature can at times be very hard on the ideal: but we are called to be Domestic church, while at the same time called to be a part of the Christian community, and in our case the Catholic Church. I’m sure you can understand that in the time we have, that this is about all we can handle. But I have one more question and then we will move on to Shepherding: What is the purpose of having and raising children in the Domestic Church. Yes! you have heard me say time and again, to know God, to Love God, to serve God, that we may be happy with Him for ever in Heaven. There is second part to the same question, is this an effort to populate earth or to populate heaven? When was the last time that question was put to you? Or maybe it never was. This heavenly journey is not solo. For the most part the very way of the family is the way of it’s members, the Domestic Church, the Parish Church, then, comes together in this church to fulfill the will of God, while receiving assurance, and enlightenment from our Shepherds.

The image of the Good Shepherd is the most treasured of the all the images we of have of God. And we see in it so much of what we hope to find in God. The Good Shepherd moves His flock in search of water and grass according the seasons. Pasturing in the wilderness is a 24/7 effort to keep the sheep from death due to lack of water and grass. Also, the shepherd must protect the sheep from all danger. A lost sheep is serious matter, and one to be avoided at all costs.

In John 10, Jesus identifies Himself as the true shepherd of the sheep, who recognize His voice and follow Him. The shepherd enters the sheepfold through the gate, while thieves enter surreptitiously, because they come to steal and kill. Jesus identifies Himself as the gate of the sheep, because He represents the only proper access. In short, the shepherd provides for the sheep’s every need. The sheep of the Good Shepherd “shall not want.” Archbishop Oscar Romero, who was to die a martyr for his people, said: “I want to repeat to you what I said once before: the shepherd does not want security while they give no security to the flock.”

Some would say that the sheep never had it better, and that is true. Jesus said the reason He came into the world was to provide His sheep with all they needed. “I came,” He said, “that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” Abundance is exactly what many people think they need. Abound and abundance sound like quantitative words. And who would not want to abound in good things?

So, what are the good things Christ offers in abundance? What has been revealed to us concerning the substance and essence of life? John, in the prologue of his Gospel, says that the Word that became flesh and dwelled among us was “full of grace and truth.” “The early Church regarded that life in its entirety as the word which God had spoken when He visited and redeemed His people.” Doesn’t it follow, then, that what we have seen in Jesus is the life God wants for each of us? Abundant life is precisely what we see in Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd.


(‘Thank you’ to Deacon Kaas, for letting me post his reflection here — Brian H. Gill.)


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