Ash Wednesday

“The observance of Lent is the very badge of the Christian warfare. By it we prove ourselves not to be enemies of Christ. By it we avert the scourges of divine justice. By it we gain strength against the princes of darkness, for it shields us with heavenly help. Should mankind grow remiss in their observance of Lent, it would be a detriment to God’s glory, a disgrace to the Catholic religion, and a danger to Christian souls. Neither can it be doubted that such negligence would become the source of misery to the world, of public calamity, and of private woe.”   – Pope Benedict XIV

“It is sad and humiliating to note that as laxities were introduced by the hierarchy and local churches into the laws of fasting and practices of severe penance, the members of the Church have suffered immeasurable spiritual loss – a loss of at least part of the rigor of those sacred times set apart to cleanse their bodies and souls of imperfections and the corrupting spirit of the world. In our modern times, the spread of permissiveness, liberalism, deterioration of morality and the general practices of purity, have led to a spirit of relaxation and the loss of a general effort, on the part of the faithful, to strive for a life of holiness and of union with God through the practices of self-denial, mortification, piety and renouncement of the spirit of the world – a spirit which is opposed to the spirit of a true Christian life and the very possibility of eternal salvation.”   – Dom Prosper Guranger, OSB

Saint Valentine, Priest and Martyr

From The Life of Saint Valentine:

Here beginneth the Life of Saint Valentine, and first the interpretation of his name.

Valentine is as much to say as containing valour that is perseverant in great holiness. Valentine is said also as a valiant knight, for he was a right noble knight of God, and the knight is said valiant that fleeth not, and smiteth and defendeth valiantly and overcometh much puissantly. And so Saint Valentine withdrew him not from his martyrdom in fleeing, he smote in destroying the idols, he defended the faith, he overcame in suffering.

Of Saint Valentine the martyr.

Saint Valentine, friend of our Lord and priest of great authority, was at Rome. It happed that Claudius the emperor made him to come tofore him and said to him in demanding: What thing is that which I have heard of thee, Valentine? Why wilt thou not abide in our amity, and worship the idols and renounce the vain opinion of thy creance? Saint Valentine answered him: If thou hadst very knowledge of the grace of Jesu Christ thou shouldest not say this that thou sayest, but shouldest reny the idols and worship very God. Then said to Saint Valentine a prince which was of the council of the emperor: What wilt thou say of our gods and of their holy life? And Saint Valentine answered: I say none other thing of them but that they were men mortal and mechant and full of all ordure and evil. Then said Claudius the emperor: If Jesu Christ be God verily, wherefore sayst thou not the truth? And Saint Valentine said: Certainly Jesu Christ is only very God, and if thou believe in him, verily thy soul shall be saved, thy realm shall multiply, and he shall give to thee alway victory of thine enemies. Then Claudius turned him unto all them that were there, and said to them: Lords, Romans, hear ye how wisely and reasonably this man speaketh? Anon the provost of the city said: The emperor is deceived and betrayed, how may we leave that which we have holden and been accustomed to hold sith our infancy? With these words the emperor turned and changed his courage, and Saint Valentine was delivered in the keeping of the provost.

When Saint Valentine was brought in an house in prison, then he prayed to God, saying: Lord Jesu Christ very God, which art very light, enlumine this house in such wise that they that dwell therein may know thee to be very God. And the provost said: I marvel me that thou sayest that thy God is very light, and nevertheless, if he may make my daughter to hear and see, which long time hath been blind, I shall do all that thou commandest me, and shall believe in thy God. Saint Valentine anon put him in prayers, and by his prayers the daughter of the provost received again her sight, and anon all they of the the house were converted. After, the emperor did do smite off the head of Saint Valentine, the year of our Lord two hundred and eighty. Then let us pray to Saint Valentine that he get us pardon of our sins. Amen.

Culture of Fire


After several weeks of unseasonably warm temperatures, it finally feels like winter again. It’s cold. We’ve had a few more freezes, and we are in the middle of our first decent storm this winter. The woodstove is burning for six to ten hours per day, sometimes longer.

I am just now beginning to realize how important fire is to life in the country, and how totally insignificant it is to city life. There’s nothing quite like a spontaneous outdoor party gathered around a bonfire at night. When you’re standing or sitting around a fire, the pressure of being charming and sociable is off. You and your friends can be rather than do. Being together around a fire leads quite naturally to a sense of belonging, even if nothing at all is said. As it happens, being is the prerequisite of doing, and so fireside conversations tend to follow very naturally, keeping the horse in front of the cart. Fires need attention – less attention, usually, than we think – and therefore provide a ritual pretext for being together with others.

We have firewood stacked behind the garage, on the side of the garage, on the back porch, on the front porch, and inside by the stove. We fret over keeping it dry and covered with a plastic tarp. We fret over keeping it neat. Mostly, we fret over keeping it handy so that we don’t need to fetch wood outside on a cold and stormy night. I try to have two full cords of firewood going into the winter. So far, we haven’t needed any more than that. It saves us about $1,000 in heating bills.

I like to think that building a fire in a woodstove is an art, or maybe a science, either way.  The type, size, age, and placement of the wood must all be considered. Creating proper airflow, and maximizing airflow in the right places, can be quite a challenge depending on your choice of kindling. We typically use newspapers, though recently we have made good use of old cardboard boxes. But whatever one uses, building a fire takes time – from 10 to 30 minutes usually. Once the fire is going, the vents need adjusting, the wood needs stoking, and the mess I made while building the fire needs cleaning. The ashes, too, need to be cleaned out daily. Wood ashes are a good source of potassium, so we just throw them in the garden as fertilizer. Before retiring for bed at night, I put another log or two on the fire and shut the vents, so that only a tiny drift keeps the fire burning very slowly. The idea is to have some hot embers left in the morning so that we don’t need to build a new fire. Christopher, age 10, is often the first one up in the morning, and he stirs the coals and gets the morning fire going.

When I was a boy I used to chop wood in the morning. No kidding. The wood from our almond trees was too fat for the stove, so it had to be split. I chopped a lot of wood, but I’m glad I don’t have to do that anymore. It’s very hard on one’s back, and my back isn’t in good shape these days.


President Reagan chopping wood at his California ranch.

A few weeks ago I had to burn a large pile of brush out by the garden. I waited for a not-so-windy day, which is not-so-common here on the west side. Fortunately we were far enough away from trees to avoid setting them aflame. The boys helped me out with their shovels and a garden hose. For the boys, this was very impressive. I lit the fire with the help of some charcoal lighter fluid, and it took off rapidly. There is something very primal – even mystical – about fire. Almighty God appeared to Moses as a burning bush. The Easter fire is symbolic of Jesus Christ, the Light of the World. Tongues of fire rested upon the apostles at the descent of the Holy Ghost on the first Pentecost. The image of fire as spiritual cleansing is essential to the doctrine of Purgatory. And of course, the fires of Hell serve as a warning to the unrepentant and an effective reminder to all sinners. As the flames danced and the intense heat pressed upon us, we just stared in silence. When the fire was discernibly under control, I sent the boys inside to finish their schoolwork. Jonathan started back towards the house and had only one thing to say: “I like fire”.

Novena for the Holy Father begins tomorrow

A message from the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter –

Many of the faithful are aware of the opposition which the Holy Father has faced in his efforts to reconcile the Society of Pius X. The current pressure from the media and others seems to not only threaten Pope Benedict’s work with SSPX. It also seems as though some would like to see it work as a means to undermine his very teaching and governing authority for his pontificate.

Given these oppositions which the Holy Father faces; given the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter’s particular role in working as a bridge for those who have grown apart from the Church in the last forty years; finally, given that we hold St. Peter as our patron and have a particular attachment to his successor, the Fraterniy of St. Peter has asked all of its the members to offer increased prayers at this time for strength for Pope Benedict XVI.

A good number of priests and seminarians have contacted the General House to ask if the Fraternity could have particular prayers offered for this intention. All the members of the Fraternity are being asked to offer the following novena beginning on February 14 and concluding on the feast of the Chair of St. Peter. All the faithful in the Apostolates are encouraged to join in these prayers and that the Masses on that Sunday (Quinquagesima) would be offered for this intention as well.

Novena for the Pope:

Pater Noster, 3 Ave Maria, Gloria Patri Our Father, 3 Hail Marys, Glory be.
V. Orémus pro Pontífice nostro Benedícto.
R. Dóminus consérvet eum, et vivíficet eum, et beátum fáciat eum in terra, et non tradat eum in ánimam inimicórum eius.
V: Let us pray for our Pope Benedict.
R: May the Lord preserve him, and give him life, and make him blessed upon the earth, and deliver him not up to the will of his enemies.
V. Tu es Petrus.
R. Et super hanc petram ædificábo Ecclésiam meam.
V. Thou art Peter,
R. And upon this Rock, I will build My Church.
Omnípotens sempitérne Deus, miserére fámulo tuo Pontífici nostro Benedícto : et dírige eum secúndum tuam cleméntiam in viam salútis ætérnæ : ut, te donánte, tibi plácita cúpiat, et tota virtúte perfíciat. Per Christum Dóminum nostrum. R. Amen.
Let us Pray,
Almighty and everlasting God, have mercy upon your servant, Benedict, our Sovereign Pontiff, and guide him in your goodness on the way of eternal salvation; so that, with the prompting of your grace,  he may desire what pleases you and accomplish it with all his strength. Through Christ Our Lord. R. Amen.
Mater Ecclésiæ, ora pro nobis.
Sancte Petre, ora pro nobis.
V. Mother of the Church. R. Pray for us
V. St. Peter. R. Pray for us

Mennonites of Kern County, California

Lebec, Caifornia, home to a dozen large Mennonite families

Mennonite community lives quietly at county’s edge:

The two-room school is in a converted garage attached to the Mennonites’ church. It sits atop a steep hill, one turn beyond a tree in the middle of the road.

Parents drive here in pickups and minivans. They drop off their children at 8:30 a.m. for a day that begins with songs about submission to God and Bible verses recited from memory.

“As Christians, we want to raise our children in the fear of God and raise them up to have moral fiber,” said Willard Martin, on the way to his job building mini-barns.

The boys wear plain shirts and blue jeans. The girls are in homemade dresses of muted colors. One of the older girls wears a head covering. The others wear braided ponytails or pigtails that reach far down their backs.

They work on fractions and study everything from victory gardens to emperor penguins. The overriding emphasis is on morality and virtue.

“Character is like a tree and reputation like its shadow,” reads a bulletin board quote from Abraham Lincoln. “The shadow is what we think of it. The tree is the real thing.”

The youngest student is 6 and the oldest is 14. The older kids don’t go to school, instead finding jobs or helping their mothers run the household.

Hurst’s story is common. He went to a school in Pennsylvania that offered education through the 10th grade. Upon finishing at age 16, he started working full time as a truck farmer.

“Many of the people feel education is not an end in and of itself,” said Hurst, who became a teacher with little additional training at the age of 18. “While it’s nice to have an education, our main goal in life is to be servants and serve Christ.”

College isn’t taboo but is viewed as potentially dangerous. Mennonites talk of how higher education exposes people to philosophies that may contradict the Bible.

“They start to get smarter than God, if you know what I mean,” said Good, who stopped going to school after the 10th grade.

She speaks bluntly and with a hard Ohio-meets-Pennsylvania accent that has survived nine years in California. She and her husband, Bruce, came here to help outsiders understand their lifestyle and beliefs.

They had two children then. Now they have eight. And while some Mennonite couples use limited forms of birth control, Good said they allowed God to determine the size of their family.

She home-schools her children in a beautiful log home where a completed jigsaw puzzle of a Norman Rockwell painting hangs on the dining room wall. Her days are filled with reading lessons, hungry babies, Bible teachings and children’s card games.

“I’m happy being a mother,” she said after a lunch of leftovers and peaches she canned herself. “That’s what I feel is my calling.”

When the children grow up, they will choose whether to remain in a Mennonite community. Good won’t force them but is confident they’ll lead the same kind of life she does.

“That would be our goal and our teaching,” she said. “If you teach your children what’s right and it makes sense to them, they stick with it.”

Video: “Living the Faith”

Friday morning

I haven’t had much to say lately, so here’s a little update.


We lost virtually our entire flock of chickens to predators, which I believe to be a pack of coyotes. They raided the henhouse twice, the first time killing 14, the second time killing just 2. They have left us one rooster and one hen. There will be no egg business this year.


One of our goats, an Alpine, gave birth the day before yesterday – several weeks in advance of when we thought she was due. Normally we put Angel, our Great Pyrenees, on a leash at kidding time since she has proven to be fond of newborn goat meat. Needless to say, Angel had goat for breakfast, and the mother has been in a state of shock. Until this morning, her udder still hadn’t dropped and she had barely produced any milk, but Amy just informed me that she’s finally starting to fill up!


Speaking of goat meat, we processed six goats in January, and now have a freezer full of “cabrito” or “chevon”, depending upon whether your inner European is Spanish or French. We’ll let you have some for $6.00 lb.


Chico hosts a farmer’s market on Saturday morning. My wife has taken the kids three times now to play their bluegrass music for the benefit of local food pantries. For an hour and a half of fun, they have consistently raked in over $100 each time. The crowds are substantial. I think people these days are hungry for live, acoustic, wholesome, homegrown foot-tapping music.


Matt’s American Drive-about: Things I see, hear, and think about while visiting non-suburban cultures in the U.S. This looks like an interesting blog.


Zippy Catholic has provoked some lively discussions over at What’s Wrong With the World. My favorite, on a topic dear to my heart, is Against a Universal Franchise.


Thinking of moving to the country and starting a farm? Think good and hard. Nothing ties you down like a small farm, as The Yeoman Farmer explains in his latest post.


Rod Dreher explores Monks and Catholic Agrarianism with a story about the Benedictines of Clear Creek, Oklahoma.