While visiting western NY state, we took the time to make our way to Chautauqua Institute and take in a lecture by David Brooks (the NY Times columnist.) Mr. Brooks and I often look at the same data and come to wildly differing conclusions. Nevertheless, I found his talk to be interesting, enlightening, entertaining and thoughtful. Especially as he reflected on a shifting attitude of the United States with respect to wars and international policy. We lack humility. We, as a nation, are so sure that our way, our customs, our particular enactment of democracy is the THE WAY that we bull our way in to other societies and cultures without taking the time to study and understand what is already there. (If I got your meaning wrong, Mr. Brooks, my apologies. This is what I took away from this part of your talk.)

This arrogance works against the arrogant in so many ways. With “American” culture, I suspect it is just so much self-righteousness in most cases. Not being humble enough to take the time to look closely at others and understand where they are coming from. Assuming that we know best not only for ourselves but for everyone else. In other non-American cases, say Stalin and the old Soviet Union, this arrogance assumed that entire cultures could be overridden and annihilated by rearranging borders (remember Czechozlovakia – now returned to 2 distinct countries – the Czech Republic and Slovakia).

This brings me back to more local concerns. My daughter and I have had many discussions of late. She thinks that I think a different culture equates automatically with good, and by extrapolation, I suspect, that I equate our own culture as “bad.” From my side, I am fascinated by the differences between the beliefs and practices between a Latino culture and a rural Southern Baptist culture. I am delighted as well to uncover the many faces of the Roman Catholic church as one moves from Europe through the Americas and on the Asia, Africa and the Pacific Rim. We bring our own backgrounds to church, but we remain Catholic Christians. If we are humble in this faith, we can say “I am more comfortable and feel more at home in this part of the spectrum” without saying “they are so [loud |quiet | jubilant|unemotional] – that they can’t possibly understand how to be Catholic.”

Humility is a virtue. It seems that the prayer of St. Francis puts it well (my own paraphrasing): Lord, make me a channel of Your Peace…  let me seek not to much to be understood as to understand, not so much to be loved as to love.

Have a good day – learn much, love much.

17th Century Prayer – a daily reminder

A framed version of this prayer hangs in my kitchen as a daily reminder:

Lord, Thou knowest better than I know myself, that I am growing older and will someday be old. Keep me from the fatal habit of thinking I must say something on every subject and on every occasion. Release me from craving to straighten out everybody’s affairs. Make me thoughtful but not moody; helpful but not bossy. With my vast store of wisdom, it seems a pity not to use it all, but Thou knowest Lord that I want a few friends at the end.

Keep my mind free from the recital of endless details; give me wings to get to the point. Seal my lips on my aches and pains. They are increasing, and love of rehearsing them is becoming sweeter as the years go by. I dare not ask for grace enough to enjoy the tales of others’ pains, but help me to endure them with patience.

I dare not ask for improved memory, but for a growing humility and a lessing cocksureness when my memory seems to clash with the memories of others. Teach me the glorious lesson that occasionally I may be mistaken.

Keep me reasonably sweet; I do not want to be a Saint – some of them are so hard to live with – but a sour old person is one of the crowning works of the devil. Give me the ability to see good things in unexpected places, and talents in unexpected people. And, give me, O Lord, the grace to tell them so.


For the past couple of weeks I’ve been recovering from some surgery, and so I have to remember to ask the Lord to seal my lips on my aches and pains. Somehow, I seem to slip past the seal all too often.