The Virgin in a tree

30 11 2009

Some personal notes about apparitions

On June 17, 1992 Anita Mendoza Contreras claimed to have had a spiritual vision of the Virgin of Guadalupe. She had been feeling depressed that day when she visited the oak grove and “had been sitting at the picnic table under the tree praying. A wind came up, and Mendoza looked up and saw the image.” Contreras recalled that the vision arrived in the image of the Holy Blessed Mother, in a sea shell and carrying the image of the Sacred Heart on her chest. The image spoke to her and before leaving left her mark upon the oak tree. When asked why the form of the Virgin (as well as other images sighted later) had appeared on the oak tree Contreras replied that its purpose is “so people don’t kill, don’t hit their wives, don’t abuse their children and to help people find truth.” After the spread of the news that a miracle had occurred at Pinto Lake pilgrims started pouring in from the surrounding areas.

-taken from this website

This occured in Watsonville, CA, which is about twenty miles from where I grew up in Hollister. In 1992, my mother was active in the Legion of Mary in my hometown, and I went to see this image of the Virgin in a tree when it was very much at the height of its popularity. Mind you, I was a particularly crazy and devout thirteen year old at the time, so I think my disposition was to believe above all else. When I got there, however, the skeptical cynic took hold of me once again. As I looked up into the tree, all I saw was a blotch in the wood that to me could have been anything. Yes, like most Catholics, especially Mexican ones, Fatima and Lourdes had to believed out of piety, and Guadalupe out of ontological necessity. But that didn’t look like anything to me.

“That’s not her,’ I said quite audibly, showing once again my penchant for being rather less than diplomatic in very public situations. I seem to remember some rather hostile stares from those within earshot, but I just walked away, not prepared to try to break my neck to try to see in that bark something that I knew was simply not there.

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The barefoot diva

27 11 2009

Cesária Évora

I just thought this was pretty

26 11 2009

My latest article for Inside Catholic

25 11 2009

On Mary, her critics, and Catholic culture

A New Mexico midwife

24 11 2009

Jesusita relies on her saints for endurance, too – for strength at her elderly age to continue her work. She trusts them all…They aid her in all ways, every day. When she is attending a birth, she prays, “Santo Niño de Atocha, help her… help everything come okay, the baby okay and everything.” She says that no one knows that she is praying, but she prays fervently, trusting her heavenly helpers and putting her faith more in their powers than in her own. A nonbeliever, seeing pictures of saints in her home, told her once, “You don’t need those things. You don’t need those pictures.” Quietly, she replied, “Well, I don’t care. I believe in them.” Another curious patient asked why she had a picture of John F. Kennedy beside her saints. “Because he was a good man,” she said, “and I believe in him like I believe in my saints.”

– from Medicine Women, Curanderas, and Women Doctors

Scott Hahn: SUPERSTAR!!!!

23 11 2009

or: Slouching towards the “American Jesus” – part III

The autumn sky in New Orleans threatened rain. But rain this time of year is nothing like the downpours of hurricane season, the ones that all churches here pray that Our Lady of Prompt Succour temper with her motherly hand. AG was already in a bad mood, and I didn’t blame her. After rather naively thinking that going to see Scott Hahn and some other guy (Brian… something) was a good idea, and even buying tickets for ten dollars a pop to have the honor of doing so, we were then informed about a week ago that:

1. We should get there a half hour early due to the high turnout and,

2. Because the high school where the talk was being held was having “another function”, we were asked to park four blocks away, at another school parking lot, in not one of the best neighborhoods in New Orleans…

So yeah, we were starting off on a bad note. AG just wanted me to park in the original parking lot, and I quipped, “well why not? We’re Catholics, not Presbyterians.” But at the last moment, I chickened out, and parked in a parking space across the street from the parking lot.

“Why are we going to this again,” AG asked quite annoyed.

“Hey, don’t make me look like the bad guy here. You also said you wanted to come.”

When we got in, it was pop-con Catholicism at full throttle. Of course, both authors of that night had booths hawking their apologetic wares to eager Catholics with more disposable income than knowledge. I took out our tickets and we walked to the door where the presentation was being held. Some nice peppy Catholic girl took our tickets, and we walked into … wait for it… a high school basketball gymnasium. There were no seats, we were expected to sit in the bleachers. I looked at AG, and that was the last straw. In her mind, not only had we paid for the privilege of seeing the don of the Catholic apologetics mafia speak, but we had to spend two and a half exciting hours sitting in high school bleachers after a long day at the office. She reacted like any good Catholic girl would under such circumstances. By saying quite audibly:

“This is such bullshit.”

Yeah. It was going to be one of those nights.
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Carlos Saura’s Fados

20 11 2009

Scenes from the film:

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Slouching towards the “American Jesus” – part II

19 11 2009


Up from the rancho, straight into heresy

It can be hard to get used to how much Garay talks about money in church, one loyal parishioner, Billy Gonzales, told me one recent Sunday on the steps out front. Back in Mexico, Gonzales’s pastor talked only about “Jesus and heaven and being good.” But Garay talks about jobs and houses and making good money, which eventually came to make sense to Gonzales: money is “really important,” and besides, “we love the money in Jesus Christ’s name! Jesus loved money too!” That Sunday, Garay was preaching a variation on his usual theme, about how prosperity and abundance unerringly find true believers. “It doesn’t matter what country you’re from, what degree you have, or what money you have in the bank,” Garay said. “You don’t have to say, ‘God, bless my business. Bless my bank account.’ The blessings will come! The blessings are looking for you! God will take care of you. God will not let you be without a house!”

Pastor Garay, 48, is short and stocky, with thick black hair combed back. In his off hours, he looks like a contented tourist, in his printed Hawaiian shirts or bright guayaberas. But he preaches with a ferocity that taps into his youth as a cocaine dealer with a knife in his back pocket. “Fight the attack of the devil on my finances! Fight him! We declare financial blessings! Financial miracles this week, NOW NOW NOW!” he preached that Sunday. “More work! Better work! The best finances!” Gonzales shook and paced as the pastor spoke, eventually leaving his wife and three kids in the family section to join the single men toward the front, many of whom were jumping, raising their Bibles, and weeping. On the altar sat some anointing oils, alongside the keys to the Mercedes Benz.

-Hanna Rosin, from the December 2009 issue of the Atlantic

The narrative popular amongst those who reflect on the phenomenon of Christianity in Latin America is that while Catholicism was imposed by Spanish colonialists as the mandatory religion of the people, “Jesus” was never preached to the natives there. Thus, Latin American Catholics, especially the rural, “ignorant” type, were not really Christians, but “Christo-pagans”. Even many Catholics in this country, aghast at the prevalence of “superstitions” among the “brown peoples”, cannot but secretly breath a sigh of relief when such people finally leave Catholicism altogether to enter into the broad movement of Protestant evangelicalism. “At least they are moving past their superstitions and closer to the Jesus of the Gospels” is the thinking behind such a paternalistic attitude.
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18 11 2009


Esta mañana
Hay en el aire la increíble fragancia de las rosas del paraíso.
En la margen del Éufrates
Adán descubre la frescura del agua.
Una lluvia de oro cae del cielo;
Es el amor de Zeus.
Salta del mar un pez
Y un hombre de Agrigento recordará
Haber sido ese pez.
En la caverna cuyo nombre será Altamira
Una mano sin cara traza la curva
De un lomo de bisonte.
La lenta mano de Virgilio acaricia
la seda que trajeron
del reino del Emperador Amarillo
las caravanas y las naves.
El primer ruiseñor canta en Hungría.
Jesús ve en la moneda el perfil de Cesar.
Pitágoras revela a sus griegos
Que la forma del tiempo es la del círculo.
En una isla del Océano
Los lebreles de plata persiguen a los ciervos de oro.
En un yunque forjan la espada
Que será fiel a Sigurd.
Whitman canta en Manhattan.
Homero nace en siete ciudades.
Una doncella acaba de apresar
Al unicornio blanco
Todo el pasado vuelve como una ola
Y esas antiguas cosas recurren
Porque una mujer te ha besado.

-Jorge Luis Borges, del libro La Cifra
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Slouching towards the “American Jesus” – part I

17 11 2009


With friends like these…

Ordinarily, I don’t read Protestant blogs, especially those of the “Catholic friendly” type. So places like the Internet Monk rarely see my virtual shadow graze their screen full of pixels. One post on Josh S.’ blog did link to a post on this other blog, and since I have of late thought that I am being unfair to Protestant religious culture and the brave Catholics who venture to “dialogue” with it (mostly converts themselves), I decided to take a gander. From my understanding, the owner of this popular website is ambivalent towards Catholicism and Orthodoxy since his wife has converted to the one True, Roman Faith. So apparently, he really wants to know what we think, and people far more patient than I am have tried to explain it to him. In spite of these efforts, the Protestant blogger has to conclude the following:

I appreciate the worship, reverence, holiness, sacrifice, devotion and prayerfulness I see in Catholic Christians. In the category of Jesus shaped spirituality, there is much to affirm about the Catholic way of being Christian…

What continues to haunt me, however, is not the resolution of my own differences with Catholicism. I’m quite satisfied that, minus some devastating alteration in my own view of faith, God and the church, I’ll be a Protestant on the bus with the “Happy Enough” Protestants till the end of my ride.

We traded the errors of Rome for what we have now. I can be glad we do not believe in the assumption of Mary or in indulgences, but from there, I’m left sad that I can go weeks without hearing the Gospel, but never a day without moralism, culture war idolatry and consumer church.
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