Sunday, December 30, 2007

I'm Back, & I'm a Little Bit Smarter

It's nice to get a nudge from blog readers, wondering where I am, because that is evidence that there are blog readers for "Catholic Writers"! It's evidence of the interest in this vast and important topic.

While this field lay fallow, I've been involved in two ways with an important project worth mentioning on this site: the International Catholic University [ICU], a low-cost, no-residence distance education program set up by Dr. Ralph McInerny. The ICU has designed M.A. in Theology and Philosophy programs that are administered through the distance education department at Holy Apostle's Seminary and College in Cromwell, CT. These are real degrees. A catechetical certificate program is also in the works through ICU.

This fall, I left a certificate program and jumped into a more challenging distance ed MA in Theology, and the Holy Apostle's program won, over other quality programs such as Franciscan University and the Catholic Distance University. The compelling reasons: no residence requirement, low tuition based on course cost alone, and a generous completion time [10 years to finish!]. Meanwhile I was asked to assist in developing a course for the certificate program. I've been delinquent, and should have been posting a diary on "The One and Triune God," but I've honed my precision in thinking and have learned again to abstract, to simplify, to meditate: skills that atrophy or die a violent death in a fast-paced global society.

I recommend the coursework for all ye writers and readers... but, for those unable to do coursework, DVDs or audio course tapes are available.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! Ellen

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Yankee Poetry

I wrote this for a poetry class that I have yet to complete. The emotions of the inner self can be so intense that they must be put aside for a while. This is the last poem I wrote; not quite a love poem, more an angry dirge. It's a first draft.

The Big Easy

Anger is a cloak, a burning cigarette, a dagger, a scarlet scarf
waved by a matador to goad a bull to its death.
Violent like the storm surge lashing the beach,
Lasting as the sledge that clogged Lake Ponchatrain,
Overflowing as the levee burst killing this old Creole city--
The birthplace of anger! Home of cloaks and daggers, Spaniards and cigarellos,
Unholy black masses, graveyards, orgies, careless emotions, fate and fortune-tellers.
Town of Cain, your brother’s blood cries from the ground
And your anger brings down a curse, a deluge.

Cain grew angry, seeing that God accepted his brother’s offering.
Envy and anger, twin furies. The first maiden of Orleans--- Jean d’Arc—was a warrior,
Angry but generous, jealous for God and for her king.
You envied Orleans, and Saint Joan, for its glory
But stolen pirate booty, not spoils of war, made you rich, king of the South.
There are no slave halls in Domremy: New Orleans, notorious killing field,
Your black brother’s blood cries out from the ground!

God looked down and saw the city.
In it was sin. The poor suffered, while casinos and prostitutes ate up the fat of the land.
Let us destroy that city, God said, and the pirates and gangsters lost a foothold in God’s country.
Sadly, the saints of New Orleans died that day. God’s poor, uncared for by their evil keepers, died of thirst on the causeway. They disappeared in buses, never heard from again.

New Orleans is gone now, scarlet city of the south.
It has gone to Texas, that dusty cattle-rustling, lynching land hated by God.
Why today do the floods swallow Texas?
God snuffs out the last cigarette of the tawdry ceremony,
A beer bottle and hurricane lamp drift along the lazy creek,
its swollen mouth spitting sludge on signs reading God Bless Texas and The South Will Rise Again.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

A Timely Biography

In April 2005, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger surprised many Catholics and Church-watchers by taking the name "Benedict XVI." Yes, he meant to carry on the tradition of Benedict XV (more on that soon-- it's interesting!), but he was mainly calling to mind Benedict of Nursia, better known as St. Benedict, father of Western monasticism, father of Western Christianity.

How much do you know about St. Benedict? Chances are, let's be honest, probably about as much as you know about Sts. David of Wales, Kieran, Boniface, Scholastica, Clotilde, and other Catholic saints of the Dark Ages. Fortunately, we are not left in the dark completely. St. Gregory the Great undertook to write a short biography of St. Benedict, The Life of St. Benedict, that has been republished by TAN Books as a $3.00, 70-page booklet. This little book can be read in a day, and will provide context for the present papacy and a great deal of thematic inspiration.

After reading this biography, turn to Salt of the Earth and God and the World by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger and Peter Seewald. There are great passages on what St. Benedict meant to Cardinal Ratzinger long before he became pope.

Have a good Sunday! Ellen

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

The Canon of Catholic Writers: Discovering Eusebius, the ITI reading list, etc.

This weekend, I went on a shopping spree at the Notre Dame bookstore and our amazing local giftshop, Divine Mercy Gifts. I gave my dad an early birthday present: Eusebius's History of the Church. My choice was partially one of desperation: the collection of Patristic scholars in the college bookstore was pretty picked over. I could choose from Origen, Augustine or Eusebius, so, for novelty's sake, I gave Eusebius a try.

The gift was a big hit. I hope to read it soon. I'm on a quest to rediscover the canon of Catholic "great books," and was very pleased with this accidental find. For more information on Eusebius, see this link:

The best and most rigorous guide to salient Catholic literature is found here:
The International Theological Institute, located in Gaming, Austria, is headed up by Michael Waldstein, editor of a new and important work on what is popularly known as John Paul II's Theology of the Body [actually, the catechesis on men and women was not originally entitled "theology of the body," and this phrase can cause immanentist misunderstandings, and this must be guarded against in this materialistic, Marxist-influenced culture]. The Chancellor of the ITI is Christoph Cardinal Schonborn, who is the editor of the great Catechism of the Catholic Church. The reading list is amazing. I am pondering St. John Chrysostom's books on Marriage and Family and the Priesthood-- they are great for meditation.

The point of this post is that, in order to pursue fun, expressive writing that is rooted in the legacy of the Church founded by Jesus Christ, it is helpful to know the tradition and the canon. I have a lot to learn. I am just now finding out who Eusebius is. Eusebius scholars, chime in! How can his history of the early Church inform our understanding of reality, of our own times, of culture and humanism?

Good Tuesday to you all! Ellen

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Wisdom from Cicero

  • In so far as the mind is stronger than the body, so are the ills contracted by the mind more severe than those contracted by the body.
  • A mind without instruction can no more bear fruit than can a field, however fertile, without cultivation.


Is this why so few books are really worth reading???

Don't pick up the pen and write. Go study first!

Vacation Diary

Greetings after a long absence! I recently took a road trip to the East Coast [1 week vacation, plus one week of added work on either end. The vacation sandwich: a hazard of self-employment]. There were great times, and plenty of themes to reflect upon, plus a few literary discoveries along the way.

  • For entertainment in the car, I listened to a few of the CDs from this year's American Chesterton Society conference, which I was unable to attend. In particular, I listened to Dale Alquist's talk, "The Man Who Was Today," and Dr. Steven Safranek's outstanding lecture on Marriage and Divorce. Although the other CDs were tempting, Chesterton conversations are only suitable for the Ohio flatlands. One could, conceivably, drive off a West Virginia mountain listening to ruminations on the great abstractions. Better to save them for straight roads when wide awake!
  • I'm a big fan of channel surfing, and had the surreal experience of locating a French Canadian folk station radiating from Toronto across Lake Erie to the gray and rain-soaked highways around Cleveland. I listened to it, alone, for nearly an hour. It was as if I had escaped across the ocean to the plains of Normandy! How nearly so many of us came to living in French America; and what would have happened if the Louisiana Purchase had not taken place? Would I be writing bonjour, mes amis rather than Hi, everyone!?
  • Pittsburgh has great radio stations, esp. if you're from Indiana. Who would guess, however, that the tony suburb of Upper St. Clair would have a South Park Drive?
  • "Miss Potter" is a must-see movie for writers, artists, and singles. It details the marginalization of young Beatrix Potter before her "bunny books" became published. The movie also treats the theme of marrying for love rather than for social advantages. At a time when marriage is under attack, and men and women marry for monetary or prestige advantages, it is beautiful to see a film about two people in love who were willing to overcome the disapproval of a dying and snobbish society.
  • Caught up with many friends and relatives. In a kitchen conversation with four toddlers and infants hanging around, a few of us kicked around this idea. Young mothers who stay at home need to think like project managers. Each group of young women needs to function like a work team... dividing up the menial tasks, using flow charts and Gannt charts like they do at work until they quit and become moms [or work from home single writers like me], and really getting organized in order to save their time for more important things-- like having a life, going out on dates with their husbands, reading books, spending fun time with kids. Read "Women and the Common Life" by Christopher Lasch, and "The Way Home" by Mary Pride for more on the concept of the common life, "homeworking," and organic ways of living that were interrupted by the work-away-from-home model of the Industrial Revolution.
  • Caught up, on a different day, with a husband and wife professor team. The wife works part time-- also needing "a life of the mind." However, they are blessed to live about twenty five yards from their workplace. How can we foster communities of workers and scholars, as Dorothy Day would put it? The original Benedictine model was to work, pray and study. That's the life that most people reading this blog are seeking.

Would love to see your trip diary posted in the comments. Why not blog it?

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Pope Benedict's Jesus of Nazareth

For my recent birthday, I received as a gift, Jesus of Nazareth. This book is really Part One of Pope Benedict's book on Jesus Christ, and it covers Jesus's public ministry. I have not yet been able to delve into this book, but plan to asap. I have found some great commentary on it at

I'm terribly disappointed, though, that this book has been met with much less press coverage than John Paul II's first book as pope, Crossing the Threshold of Hope. Surely, the novelty factor of finding a Pope's book in the corner bookstand has worn off. But, if that's the only reason people bought the late pope's books, didn't they miss the point anyway?

I hope some readers of this blog have read Jesus of Nazareth and can fill us in. I hope to post on it soon.