David Ancell's Virtual Home

And Then There Was Summer . . .

  /   Saturday, May 27, 2023   /   Comments(0)

If you have kids, and they are not already on summer break, they probably will be soon.  I’m pretty grateful to have made it here.  It seems we push academics pretty hard around here, but I think it’s good to take a step back.  Academics are not the only way to learn, and for many things, they are not the best means.  They certainly should not be treated as the ultimate key to success.

This is our chance during the summer for the kids to learn what they can’t learn as well in a classroom.  The kids may go to summer camps or mission trips (not to mention vacations), and these are good.  Even just taking time to socialize with each other provides a great opportunity.  I hope to take my sons out on some bike rides during the summer just to get them out and active.  All of these are valuable opportunities that we don’t want to lose.

I think of this when I remember that there was a drive in my home town to increase the length of the school year by 20 days.  It was touted as a great opportunity to improve education in our town.  I don’t think that was really the case, and I still don’t think so.  I’m ready for my kids to experience more out of classroom growth.

Category: Uncategorized

God Has a Plan, but Is It That Simple?

  /   Saturday, May 13, 2023   /   Comments(0)

For many years of my life, I’ve heard people say “God has a plan.” Some people say that there is no such thing as a coincidence. Well, I do believe God has a plan, but it seems to me that people who throw these phrases out seem to have forgotten that we are not marionettes that God has been keeping on a string. We really do have free will, and I find it difficult to fathom that God gives us free will but didn’t really intend for us to have any agency in our lives, even in accomplishing his plan. To think so would to suggest that God has intended every aspect of our lives to be some kind of decoding scheme where we are constantly trying to decode the one exactly right thing that God wants us to do.

To me, there have to be some things that are coincidental. If I run into a friend I haven’t seen in a long time, did God arrange the meeting? He might have. However, it’s still possible that both the friend and I simply made decisions in our free will to be at a particular place. This doesn’t preclude the action of God at all. He could then work in a myriad of ways through this. In fact, nothing happens that God doesn’t at least permit, and he did permit the meeting. This is why we can “accept all things as coming from God.”

We have an interesting example of God’s providence in our free actions that is found in the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary – the Visitation (Luke 1:39-56). Mary is informed of her calling to be the Mother of Our Lord by an angel. Joseph is told in a dream not to be afraid to take Mary as his wife, and he is also told when to take the family to Egypt. However, in the Scriptures we do not find Mary having been commanded or even suggested to visit Elizabeth. She hears of Elizabeth’s pregnancy from the angel, and off she goes.

Through this, God does a work that begins with Mary’s greeting of Elizabeth. The infant John the Baptist leapt in the womb of Mary. Theologians tell us that John was redeemed in the womb of Mary. While God didn’t tell Mary to go to her relative as far as we can see, he allowed it and then worked a great work through it. We don’t know what would have happened if Mary had chosen not to go, but I would presume that she could have made that choice without having offended God.

Another thing to consider is that God can even use our sins to do the great work he wishes to do. This doesn’t mean we should sin so that God can work through it. However, if you look at the linage of Jesus, you will find that not everyone in his ancestry was amazingly holy. Even Bathsheba, with whom King David committed adultery, was in the linage (not to mention King David himself). Obviously, our sins are not willed by God. There is no way that God arranged for sin to be committed, though he may allow it with the intention to accomplish a greater good.

With all this being said, it is impossible to deny that God had definite plans for John the Baptist, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and King David. They had a definite calling that was made clear to them. All of them, especially Mary, had major roles to play in the salvation of the world. The will of God was definitely made manifest, and it will be in our own lives in the way God intends.

However, I think more could be said about our free will and the agency we have in accomplishing God’s plan. I don’t claim to have figured out how it works. I doubt we will figure this out this side of eternity. What I do know is that God created a real world and gave us a real role in it. God may even allow us our preferences in many circumstances. Our own choices may shape the way God accomplishes his will. However, we know that we can do nothing without God and his grace.

Category: Spirituality

Yes, We Can Mourn

  /   Sunday, April 30, 2023   /   Comments(0)

In the last few months, I’ve learned of a number of deaths of people who were all within 10 years (either older or younger) of my age. Some I had worked with. One was well-known in at least some Catholic circles. Another one, a wife and mother who was about 9 years younger than I am, I didn’t know at all. Her husband’s tweets just happened to appear on my Twitter feed.

Yes, I know they will rise again. Their families know this, too. All of them were of some kind of Christian faith. After all, in the Catholic Church, we are in the midst of a 50 day celebration of the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. Still, I don’t think it’s right to deny the tragedy of their deaths.

The thing is that death was not part of God’s original plan for us. The fact that it happens is not really a natural part of life as I have been told by people. It’s an outrage. It is a sad reality of our human condition wounded by sin.

Jesus himself was not unmoved by this at all. In fact, go read John 11:1-44 where Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. There is a notable verse (verse 35) that says “Jesus wept.” Jesus, who knew that he was going to bring him back from the dead in just a few minutes, wept over his death.

So, if Jesus wept at the death of someone whom he knew he was going to bring back to life in a few minutes, surely he is not unmoved by what has happened to all of these people at too young of an age. It’s true that he permitted it for the good of their souls. It’s true that they will rise again, and we know it. However, the fact is that all of their families now have to spend the rest of their time on earth without their loved ones. God is not unmoved by their sorrow, and neither should we be.

With this being said, I would encourage everyone to pray for anyone whom you hear is dying. It has been placed on my heart to pray the Divine Mercy chaplet for a number of people whom I heard were dying, only to learn of their deaths soon afterwards. After they die, pray for the repose of their souls. This is especially important if they are not Catholic as their family will not be aware that they need to do this, and probably won’t. Of course, don’t forget to pray for the comfort of their families that they will know the love of God during their time of mourning.

Category: Spirituality

Life to the Full

  /   Sunday, April 30, 2023   /   Comments(0)

I just love the ending to the Gospel reading for today’s Mass. Jesus said he came so that we might have life and have it to the full. It’s a great reminder when our culture is constantly telling us that Christianity is oppressive or hateful. It’s also a great reminder when we are tempted to sin and maybe questioning why we can’t do what we are tempted to do. If Jesus came for us to have life to the full, then anything we try to do that offends him is not part of living life to the full.

Virtue is known to lie in the middle way. That means that virtue often lies in between two vices. One of them would to be to indulge our appetites, whatever they may be. We may experience some kind of pleasure like this, but it will be empty. We will become a slave to our passions. Ultimately, we will be so soft that we won’t be able to accomplish anything worthwhile.

However, there are plenty of people in our culture who are caught in the opposite vice, and maybe we have been at some point. We are caught in this when we are constantly working and constantly busy and fail to enter into his rest. Human beings are not machines and are not made to be continually working. Time needs to be taken for us to worship Our Lord, to be with the people around us when we aren’t trying to accomplish something, and to get some wholesome recreation.

Jesus will show us, even in the most difficult times, how we can live joyfully and live life to the full. Sometimes it requires more trust than others. Of course, the real fullness of life will come only when we are with him in Heaven. There we will know perfectly the fullness of life that he came to give us.

Category: Spirituality, Uncategorized

Parents’ Rights in Education

  /   Friday, March 31, 2023   /   Comments(0)

I’ve seen on the news lately that the House of Representatives passed a parents rights bill concerning our schools.  It passed with all Democrats opposing the bill.  Some Republicans also oppose it, but I saw that at least one of them did so, not because he opposed parental rights, but because he opposed additional federal regulations in education.  For the people who did oppose parental rights, and I believe a lot of the naysayers do, one must ask why someone would oppose this?

There are many important concerns about what is being taught in public schools these days.  However, I would say there is a deeper issue that I haven’t heard much about.  If parents are not competent to know the educations needs of children, who is? How is it determined?  To answer these, or similar questions, we need to first answer this – who is education for, and what is it’s purpose?

In order to know what a child needs to know, we need to know the fundamental purpose of the knowledge.  Otherwise, we are aimlessly shoving academics at our kids with no real end in mind. This is something we really need to think about.

With this being said, I can’t think of anyone who would be better suited to direct the purpose of education than the people who love the kids the most.  They certainly will know and understand their kids better than education system bureaucrats.  Besides, if a set of parents messes it up, they mess up only their own children. The bureaucrats have the potential to cause an entire town, state, or maybe even the whole country to be poorly educated.

And besides, is there really an objective standard of what needs to be taught in a school?  How is it determined?  Are there things better taught by other means (I’ll say absolutely there are.)?

We’ve really got to think about these things.


Category: Catholic, Response

My Take on Gun Control

  /   Tuesday, March 28, 2023   /   Comments(0)

If you have seen the news lately, you will have heard that we had a school shooting in Nashville. These things are always horrible, but this one was especially awful because it took place in an elementary school. I just can’t imagine what would bring someone to the point where they wanted to do something like this.  I can’t imagine what it would be like to be one of the parents who gets the call that this happened to one of my kids at school.

Of course, here in the United States, it’s met with a “we have to do something attitude,” or, more precisely, “the government needs to do something.”  Well, of course we do.  One of those things that is often proposed is gun control. I don’t think I’ve written much about this on my blog.  To be honest, I’m not someone who really likes guns, but I have mixed feelings about gun control laws, and am probably more against them than in favor of them.

For me to favor anything, I need reason to believe it’s going to make a difference.  If any proposal isn’t accompanied by study of how the perpetrators got their hands on their guns and how their proposal will curb that, then I will write it off as an emotional reaction.  The last thing we need right now is an attempted solution based on a typical American emotional reaction. Someone may respond to this “Well, come up with a better one.”  However, I would leave open the possibility that some “solutions” may be worse than doing nothing.

However, I would not oppose reasonable laws that would help curb the problem of guns getting into the wrong hands.  While the people behind them are the ones really responsible for the killing, the guns are a rather convenient tool for them to accomplish their aims efficiently. However, the guns can also be a convenient tool for protecting oneself against such an aggressor.  For that reason, I also want law-abiding citizens who are willing to pass necessary (and I emphasize necessary) safety measures to be able to obtain them.

To put it the way a former co-worker of mine once said “We need more gun laws because the criminals are not heeding the ones we have.” There are plenty of guns already in circulation in this country.  If they were all of a sudden banned, then the only people who would turn in their guns would be the law-abiding citizens.  It may have some effect on the criminal element because people can be stopped in their tracks if a gun is found, but that effect could be negated by another problem.

That problem is best illustrated by the problem of “gun-free zones.” We see lots of establishments that have signs saying that guns are prohibited.  Does that keep us safe?  It may keep us safe from accidents.  It also allows someone who is found to have a firearm to be stopped without having to wait for him to discharge said firearm.  However, people with criminal intent are not going to obey those signs.  In fact, declaring a “gun-free zone” will even send a signal to someone with criminal intent that, if he shoots, there will likely be no one who can shoot back.

So, I don’t think the problem is solved by the simple passage of some ban of certain types of firearms.  The unintended consequences may be worse than our current situation. While I don’t want mentally ill or criminally minded people to be able to obtain guns, I also don’t want them to have easy targets to hit.

In fact, as kind of a side note, I fully support having armed security in schools. This may scare some people. Keep in mind that this should be properly trained, armed security, not just anyone with a holster.  You might say that this won’t really solve the problem.  I’d agree, but only in the sense that giving someone food to someone on the brink of starvation won’t solve his ultimate problem. It’s not that I like the atmosphere of a school with tighter security.  Rather, it’s just that we need to do something to stop the aggressors who are planning their attacks right now.

Just as we don’t want the hungry person to starve while trying to solve the underlying problem, neither can we let kids die while the underlying problems of school shootings are solved.  This is going to require taking a good, hard look at ourselves and our society to see what we have become. We need to do this even though we will never completely solve the problem in this world.  The ultimate solution is something we cannot and should not try legislate, which is to turn to Christ and his Church.

Category: Social Commentary

A Word About Giving Up Something for Lent

  /   Tuesday, February 28, 2023   /   Comments(0)

Lent is here, and with it, I’d like to help clear up a misunderstanding.  Giving up something for Lent has value in itself.  I remember reading an article years ago from someone who had a priest get on the pulpit and tell people that giving something up for Lent is useless unless you donate the money saved to the poor.

Now, it’s a great thing if you donate the money saved to the poor.  You may feel the need to do this in order to ensure you make a true sacrifice and don’t gain anything from it.  However, making an offering to God that has no tangible value is perfectly acceptable.  It can even help you avoid falling into the sin of pride for having benefited a charity, if you are inclined to this vice.

Giving up something is simply a way of offering something to God.  It’s a way of reminding yourself that this world and its pleasures are passing.  It’s also a way to detach yourself from something you enjoy.  I remember a priest talking about how they get used to being without what they gave up.  He seemed to think it made the penance useless.  I’d say it made the penance successful, but if you are no longer feeling the sacrifice you made, then you can choose to make an additional sacrifice.

Also, giving up something is a good, natural means of strengthening the will.  Think of it this way. . . someone learning to defuse bombs would not practice on a real bomb.  They will use some kind of practice model.  Likewise, if we are learning to resist sin, we can practice with something we can legitimately engage in whether than with something that would result in us having offended God if we did.

Also, if, for whatever reason, you aren’t donating money saved from your penance, you can always offer it up for someone who needs it.  Maybe you can help someone get out of purgatory.  There’s a lot of good to be done with it.  So, give something up, but do it with intention.

One final note . . . if you do choose to give something up that isn’t sinful and then break your fast, you didn’t sin.  You took on a voluntary penance, and you are free to modify it or even set it aside.  However, Lent is a penitential season, so I would suggest ensuring you do some kind of penance.

Category: Catholic, Response

A Word About Winter in the South

  /   Thursday, February 02, 2023   /   Comments(0)

I’m a little late here considering the events at the end of January, but I really wanted to write this one. If you are from some state like Minnesota or New York or New Jersey, you would likely be laughing at us when we talk about winter weather in the South. While you are probably still going while under a foot of snow, an inch of snow can completely shut us down. I used to joke that you could go throw ice cubes in front of a school building, and they’d call off school. While there can be snow days even far north of us, we sometimes have “it might snow” days. I have seen school called off only to have absolutely no snow fall.

You see, we live in a place where you can still go swimming in September or maybe even October. Most of the time, what people north of us call “snow removal,” we call “just wait for the next day.” It doesn’t snow all that much here, and today, even in February, we are expecting temperatures in the 60s. There are few snow plows down here, so even a small amount of snow will shut down a lot of the city until it melts. It usually does pretty quickly, but we’ve seen it linger on our neighborhood streets, which no one ever cleans, for a week.

It works just fine as a trade off for me. I am not a winter weather person. I’ll take the warmer climate any day. However, I do like to travel to the north when it’s summer and it’s almost 100 degrees with 120% humidity.

Category: Fun Stuff, Uncategorized

Working Out with Peloton

  /   Saturday, January 28, 2023   /   Comments(0)

I have not always been one to want to exercise, and I did it off and on for most of my life. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve really wanted to try to get in shape. I’ve been more consistent. Since this past November, my company has offered a new benefit that has become the tool that I use – the Peloton app.

To be clear, I am using the app on my iPad. I don’t own a Peloton bike, but I do have an Inspire IC 1.5 bike (that didn’t cost as much as what shows here) that I got as a Father’s Day/birthday gift a couple of years ago. It works. I also have a few dumbells for strength training, but they aren’t the ones made by Peloton. However, you can use the app with non-Peloton equipment just fine (read on for my workarounds). It’s actually cheaper than using it with the bike, but there are some things you don’t get. I don’t need the leaderboard trying to motivate me by telling me I’m in 12,684th place, though some other features would be nice.

The first thing I will say is that I have to be careful what workouts I choose. The app lets me see what songs will be playing, and this is very helpful because a number of workouts use music that is morally problematic. I have only taken classes from male instructions (mostly Ben Alldis and Bradley Rose) because the female instructors are often not dressed modestly. They are not wearing a proper shirt. It should go without saying that I also avoid the yoga and meditation classes as the spirituality involved is problematic.

I am still able to find classes that I can take. There are cycling classes that allow me to push in intervals that help me to do a better job getting exercise than I would get on my own. There are some classes I take when I really want to do an all out workout, and then there are others that are a bit less intense. Ben Alldis has a number of ten-minute stretch classes that are really helpful when I’ve been riding. After a little over a month, I added in some strength training. That helped with the weight loss.

For me, it’s helpful to have the instruction call out a specific cadence (pedal speed) on the bike and the amount of resistance to apply. It gives me something to help me figure out if I’m doing what the instructor has in mind. I don’t think I did as well when instructors in some other apps used a “rate of perceived exertion.”

Since I don’t have a Peloton bike, I can’t exactly correlate the resistance, but I’ve used a couple in hotels and have a little bit of a feel for it. I connect a Wahoo cadence meter to the app so I can see my cadence, and a Scosche heart rate monitor to display my heart rate (or I use my Apple Watch). I also use the Inspire app on my phone, which also shows my cadence but, more importantly, shows my resistance level (I didn’t really like their classes.). The Inspire bike has 40 levels, and I’m using their level 20 for a Peloton 20 and their 30 for a Peloton level 50.

The other exercise apps I have tried before are the Inspire app and Wellbeats. I didn’t get a good feel for the Inspire workouts and did very few of them when I had a year’s free subscription. They were challenging but otherwise felt kind of blah to me. Wellbeats was more corporate and professional, so I didn’t have to worry about immodestly dressed instructors or bad music. After a while I started to not like it as well. I think I was using too much resistance, which meant I wasn’t quite doing the workouts as well as I could have been. Also, Wellbeats doesn’t seem to release new classes anywhere near as often as Peloton does.

I just really like the energy and atmosphere of the Peloton class better. It can be hard sometimes, especially when I’m tired, but it’s just so much more fun. So, while I don’t appreciate the fact that I have to be careful of what I take on Peloton, I have found a number of good classes that I have really liked. It has kept me engaged in exercise better than anything else I’ve used.

Now, I’m sure at least some people reading this have a question for me – “Would I buy a Peloton bike?” I’m honestly not sure. When I have tried a Peloton bike in a hotel, it’s an amazing ride. Still, the bike is very expensive, and then I am locked into their classes as their screen won’t show anything else. I may still want the option of using another platform without a big screen that I wouldn’t have a use for in the way. I may one day consider something like a Stryde bike (with an unlocked screen) or even a bike that would be used in a gym, with the idea that it would last me a very long time. However, I do like the Peloton experience and may consider it some day if I can. Peloton gives a great workout, and I’m really enjoying using it.

Category: News on My Life

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI

  /   Saturday, December 31, 2022   /   Comments(0)

The death of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI definitely makes for a sad ending to 2022. He was one of my biggest heroes in the Catholic Church. I have the Cardinal Ratzinger Fan Club mug from before he was elected pope, which says “putting the smackdown on heresy since 1981.”  I think I have the t-shirt also.  When I was a new Catholic in the 1990s, I thought of him as some kind of theological fuddy-duddy. As I learned more of the fullness of the faith, I realized he was really one of the true defenders of the Faith.

By the early 2000s, when he was still Cardinal Ratzinger, I really thought it would be great if he became the next pope.  However, I figured he wouldn’t because of his age. Just before the conclave, I remember that he gave a speech warning about the “Dictatorship of Relativism,” and some media person remarked that he just disqualified himself from the papacy.  Then, I was waiting, and occasionally refreshing the webpage on a news site.  Finally, much to my surprise, a bar with a red background appeared at the top of my screen saying that “Cardinal Ratzinger is the new pope.”  It was a dream come true!

I very much loved his emphasis on focusing on God himself.  The Church is not a social work institution, though we do that kind of work, but the Body of Christ.  It is ultimately Jesus Christ himself whom we must seek and whom we must serve.  From what I remember, he wrote his Introduction to Christianity to help correct the errors of some theologians who were leaning towards some kind of socialist understanding of Christianity.

One great example of his focus was his book entitled The Spirit of the Liturgy. It was one of the best books on the Mass I have ever read.  Solid formation on what the Mass is and how it should be celebrated is still probably the most difficult thing to come by.  I dare say there are people with advanced degrees in liturgy who have things completely wrong. There were people spouting off stuff like how the churches needed to be that semi-circle shape so that we see each other and see Christ in one another.  This essentially de-emphasized God himself and made the focus more on “the community.”

Before I read the book, I found it strange that he advocated the priest turning around and facing the same direction of the people (often called “having his back to the people,” but this is a misunderstanding).  However, when I read what he wrote, I became completely convinced that this is how Mass should be celebrated. We, the priest and the people, are moving together towards God.

There is a lot that could be said about this holy man whom we had as pope for eight years.  Now, he has gone to be with the Lord whom he served so well.  Eternal rest, grant to him, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him.  May he rest in peace.

Category: Catholic, Response

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