April 29, 2008
This is simply to wish all readers of this blog a Happy Easter. Christ is Risen!
April 25, 2008
From the prayers of the sixth hour:
✚ O God and Lord of the Powers and Maker of all creation, Who by Thine incomparable pity and mercy didst send down Thine only-begotten Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, for the salvation of our race, and by His precious Cross didst both rend the handwriting of our sins, and also by It triumph over the rulers and powers of darkness: Do Thou, O merciful Master, receive, even from us sinners, these prayers of gratitude and supplication, and deliver us from all offences of destruction and darkness and from all visible and invisible enemies that seek to do us hurt. Nail down our flesh with the fear of Thee and let not our hearts be inclined to words or thoughts of evil, but pierce our souls through with the desire for Thee; that as we ever contemplate Thee, and led by Thy Light discover Thee the unapproachable and everlasting Light, we may to Thee the Eternal Father unceasingly ascribe thanks and gratitude, with Thine only-begotten Son and Thine all-holy and good and life-creating Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.
From the prayers of the ninth hour:
✚ O Lord and Master, Jesus Christ our God, Who hast forbearance for our transgressions and hast led us even unto this present hour, in which Thou hangedst upon the life-giving Tree and madest a way into Paradise for the penitent Thief, and by death destroyed Death: do Thou be gracious to us Thy sinful and unworthy servants; for we have sinned and acted unjustly, and we are not worthy to raise our eyes and look unto the heights of heaven: for we have forsaken the path of Thy righteousness and have gone after the desires of our own hearts. Yet we supplicate Thine ineffable goodness: spare us, O Lord, according to the multitude of Thy mercy and save us through Thy holy Name, for our days have passed in vanity. Release us from the hand of the enemy, and take from us our sins, and deaden our sensual desires so that we may put off the Old Man and be clothed with the New, and may live to Thee our Master and Protector. And so, as we follow Thy Commandments, may we come to the eternal rest which is the dwelling-place of those in bliss. For Thou art truly the joy and gladness of those that love Thee, O Christ our God, and to Thee we ascribe glory, with Thine eternal Father and Thine all-holy and good and life-creating Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.
April 18, 2008
WASHINGTON, D.C., APRIL 17, 2008 (Zenit.org).- Here is the address Benedict XVI gave today to a meeting of more than 400 Catholic educators at the Catholic University of America.
* * *
Dear Brother Bishops,
Distinguished Professors, Teachers and Educators,
“How beautiful are the footsteps of those who bring good news” (Rom 10:15-17). With these words of Isaiah quoted by Saint Paul, I warmly greet each of you — bearers of wisdom — and through you the staff, students and families of the many and varied institutions of learning that you represent. It is my great pleasure to meet you and to share with you some thoughts regarding the nature and identity of Catholic education today. I especially wish to thank Father David O’Connell, President and Rector of the Catholic University of America. Your kind words of welcome are much appreciated. Please extend my heartfelt gratitude to the entire community — faculty, staff and students — of this University.
Education is integral to the mission of the Church to proclaim the Good News. First and foremost every Catholic educational institution is a place to encounter the living God who in Jesus Christ reveals his transforming love and truth (cf. Spe Salvi, 4). This relationship elicits a desire to grow in the knowledge and understanding of Christ and his teaching. In this way those who meet him are drawn by the very power of the Gospel to lead a new life characterized by all that is beautiful, good, and true; a life of Christian witness nurtured and strengthened within the community of our Lord’s disciples, the Church.
The dynamic between personal encounter, knowledge and Christian witness is integral to the diakonia of truth which the Church exercises in the midst of humanity. God’s revelation offers every generation the opportunity to discover the ultimate truth about its own life and the goal of history. This task is never easy; it involves the entire Christian community and motivates each generation of Christian educators to ensure that the power of God’s truth permeates every dimension of the institutions they serve. In this way, Christ’s Good News is set to work, guiding both teacher and student towards the objective truth which, in transcending the particular and the subjective, points to the universal and absolute that enables us to proclaim with confidence the hope which does not disappoint (cf. Rom 5:5). Set against personal struggles, moral confusion and fragmentation of knowledge, the noble goals of scholarship and education, founded on the unity of truth and in service of the person and the community, become an especially powerful instrument of hope.
Dear friends, the history of this nation includes many examples of the Church’s commitment in this regard. The Catholic community here has in fact made education one of its highest priorities. This undertaking has not come without great sacrifice. Towering figures, like Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton and other founders and foundresses, with great tenacity and foresight, laid the foundations of what is today a remarkable network of parochial schools contributing to the spiritual well-being of the Church and the nation. Some, like Saint Katharine Drexel, devoted their lives to educating those whom others had neglected — in her case, African Americans and Native Americans. Countless dedicated Religious Sisters, Brothers, and Priests together with selfless parents have, through Catholic schools, helped generations of immigrants to rise from poverty and take their place in mainstream society.
This sacrifice continues today. It is an outstanding apostolate of hope, seeking to address the material, intellectual and spiritual needs of over three million children and students. It also provides a highly commendable opportunity for the entire Catholic community to contribute generously to the financial needs of our institutions. Their long-term sustainability must be assured. Indeed, everything possible must be done, in cooperation with the wider community, to ensure that they are accessible to people of all social and economic strata. No child should be denied his or her right to an education in faith, which in turn nurtures the soul of a nation.
Some today question the Church’s involvement in education, wondering whether her resources might be better placed elsewhere. Certainly in a nation such as this, the State provides ample opportunities for education and attracts committed and generous men and women to this honorable profession. It is timely, then, to reflect on what is particular to our Catholic institutions. How do they contribute to the good of society through the Church’s primary mission of evangelization?
All the Church’s activities stem from her awareness that she is the bearer of a message which has its origin in God himself: in his goodness and wisdom, God chose to reveal himself and to make known the hidden purpose of his will (cf. Eph 1:9; Dei Verbum, 2). God’s desire to make himself known, and the innate desire of all human beings to know the truth, provide the context for human inquiry into the meaning of life. This unique encounter is sustained within our Christian community: the one who seeks the truth becomes the one who lives by faith (cf. Fides et Ratio, 31). It can be described as a move from “I” to “we”, leading the individual to be numbered among God’s people.
This same dynamic of communal identity — to whom do I belong? — vivifies the ethos of our Catholic institutions. A university or school’s Catholic identity is not simply a question of the number of Catholic students. It is a question of conviction — do we really believe that only in the mystery of the Word made flesh does the mystery of man truly become clear (cf. Gaudium et Spes, 22)? Are we ready to commit our entire self — intellect and will, mind and heart — to God? Do we accept the truth Christ reveals? Is the faith tangible in our universities and schools? Is it given fervent expression liturgically, sacramentally, through prayer, acts of charity, a concern for justice, and respect for God’s creation? Only in this way do we really bear witness to the meaning of who we are and what we uphold.
From this perspective one can recognize that the contemporary “crisis of truth” is rooted in a “crisis of faith”. Only through faith can we freely give our assent to God’s testimony and acknowledge him as the transcendent guarantor of the truth he reveals. Again, we see why fostering personal intimacy with Jesus Christ and communal witness to his loving truth is indispensable in Catholic institutions of learning. Yet we all know, and observe with concern, the difficulty or reluctance many people have today in entrusting themselves to God. It is a complex phenomenon and one which I ponder continually. While we have sought diligently to engage the intellect of our young, perhaps we have neglected the will. Subsequently we observe, with distress, the notion of freedom being distorted. Freedom is not an opting out. It is an opting in — a participation in Being itself. Hence authentic freedom can never be attained by turning away from God. Such a choice would ultimately disregard the very truth we need in order to understand ourselves. A particular responsibility therefore for each of you, and your colleagues, is to evoke among the young the desire for the act of faith, encouraging them to commit themselves to the ecclesial life that follows from this belief. It is here that freedom reaches the certainty of truth. In choosing to live by that truth, we embrace the fullness of the life of faith which is given to us in the Church.
Clearly, then, Catholic identity is not dependent upon statistics. Neither can it be equated simply with orthodoxy of course content. It demands and inspires much more: namely that each and every aspect of your learning communities reverberates within the ecclesial life of faith. Only in faith can truth become incarnate and reason truly human, capable of directing the will along the path of freedom (cf. Spe Salvi, 23). In this way our institutions make a vital contribution to the mission of the Church and truly serve society. They become places in which God’s active presence in human affairs is recognized and in which every young person discovers the joy of entering into Christ’s “being for others” (cf. ibid., 28).
The Church’s primary mission of evangelization, in which educational institutions play a crucial role, is consonant with a nation’s fundamental aspiration to develop a society truly worthy of the human person’s dignity. At times, however, the value of the Church’s contribution to the public forum is questioned. It is important therefore to recall that the truths of faith and of reason never contradict one another (cf. First Vatican Ecumenical Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Catholic Faith Dei Filius, IV: DS 3017; St. Augustine, Contra Academicos, III, 20, 43). The Church’s mission, in fact, involves her in humanity’s struggle to arrive at truth. In articulating revealed truth she serves all members of society by purifying reason, ensuring that it remains open to the consideration of ultimate truths. Drawing upon divine wisdom, she sheds light on the foundation of human morality and ethics, and reminds all groups in society that it is not praxis that creates truth but truth that should serve as the basis of praxis. Far from undermining the tolerance of legitimate diversity, such a contribution illuminates the very truth which makes consensus attainable, and helps to keep public debate rational, honest and accountable. Similarly the Church never tires of upholding the essential moral categories of right and wrong, without which hope could only wither, giving way to cold pragmatic calculations of utility which render the person little more than a pawn on some ideological chess-board.
With regard to the educational forum, the diakonia of truth takes on a heightened significance in societies where secularist ideology drives a wedge between truth and faith. This division has led to a tendency to equate truth with knowledge and to adopt a positivistic mentality which, in rejecting metaphysics, denies the foundations of faith and rejects the need for a moral vision. Truth means more than knowledge: knowing the truth leads us to discover the good. Truth speaks to the individual in his or her the entirety, inviting us to respond with our whole being. This optimistic vision is found in our Christian faith because such faith has been granted the vision of the Logos, God’s creative Reason, which in the Incarnation, is revealed as Goodness itself. Far from being just a communication of factual data — “informative” — the loving truth of the Gospel is creative and life-changing — “performative” (cf. Spe Salvi, 2). With confidence, Christian educators can liberate the young from the limits of positivism and awaken receptivity to the truth, to God and his goodness. In this way you will also help to form their conscience which, enriched by faith, opens a sure path to inner peace and to respect for others.
It comes as no surprise, then, that not just our own ecclesial communities but society in general has high expectations of Catholic educators. This places upon you a responsibility and offers an opportunity. More and more people — parents in particular — recognize the need for excellence in the human formation of their children. As Mater et Magistra, the Church shares their concern. When nothing beyond the individual is recognized as definitive, the ultimate criterion of judgment becomes the self and the satisfaction of the individual’s immediate wishes. The objectivity and perspective, which can only come through a recognition of the essential transcendent dimension of the human person, can be lost. Within such a relativistic horizon the goals of education are inevitably curtailed. Slowly, a lowering of standards occurs. We observe today a timidity in the face of the category of the good and an aimless pursuit of novelty parading as the realization of freedom. We witness an assumption that every experience is of equal worth and a reluctance to admit imperfection and mistakes. And particularly disturbing, is the reduction of the precious and delicate area of education in sexuality to management of ‘risk’, bereft of any reference to the beauty of conjugal love.
How might Christian educators respond? These harmful developments point to the particular urgency of what we might call “intellectual charity”. This aspect of charity calls the educator to recognize that the profound responsibility to lead the young to truth is nothing less than an act of love. Indeed, the dignity of education lies in fostering the true perfection and happiness of those to be educated. In practice “intellectual charity” upholds the essential unity of knowledge against the fragmentation which ensues when reason is detached from the pursuit of truth. It guides the young towards the deep satisfaction of exercising freedom in relation to truth, and it strives to articulate the relationship between faith and all aspects of family and civic life. Once their passion for the fullness and unity of truth has been awakened, young people will surely relish the discovery that the question of what they can know opens up the vast adventure of what they ought to do. Here they will experience “in what” and “in whom” it is possible to hope, and be inspired to contribute to society in a way that engenders hope in others.
Dear friends, I wish to conclude by focusing our attention specifically on the paramount importance of your own professionalism and witness within our Catholic universities and schools. First, let me thank you for your dedication and generosity. I know from my own days as a professor, and I have heard from your Bishops and officials of the Congregation for Catholic Education, that the reputation of Catholic institutes of learning in this country is largely due to yourselves and your predecessors. Your selfless contributions — from outstanding research to the dedication of those working in inner-city schools — serve both your country and the Church. For this I express my profound gratitude.
In regard to faculty members at Catholic colleges universities, I wish to reaffirm the great value of academic freedom. In virtue of this freedom you are called to search for the truth wherever careful analysis of evidence leads you. Yet it is also the case that any appeal to the principle of academic freedom in order to justify positions that contradict the faith and the teaching of the Church would obstruct or even betray the university’s identity and mission; a mission at the heart of the Church’s munus docendi and not somehow autonomous or independent of it.
Teachers and administrators, whether in universities or schools, have the duty and privilege to ensure that students receive instruction in Catholic doctrine and practice. This requires that public witness to the way of Christ, as found in the Gospel and upheld by the Church’s Magisterium, shapes all aspects of an institution’s life, both inside and outside the classroom. Divergence from this vision weakens Catholic identity and, far from advancing freedom, inevitably leads to confusion, whether moral, intellectual or spiritual.
I wish also to express a particular word of encouragement to both lay and Religious teachers of catechesis who strive to ensure that young people become daily more appreciative of the gift of faith. Religious education is a challenging apostolate, yet there are many signs of a desire among young people to learn about the faith and practice it with vigor. If this awakening is to grow, teachers require a clear and precise understanding of the specific nature and role of Catholic education. They must also be ready to lead the commitment made by the entire school community to assist our young people, and their families, to experience the harmony between faith, life and culture.
Here I wish to make a special appeal to Religious Brothers, Sisters and Priests: do not abandon the school apostolate; indeed, renew your commitment to schools especially those in poorer areas. In places where there are many hollow promises which lure young people away from the path of truth and genuine freedom, the consecrated person’s witness to the evangelical counsels is an irreplaceable gift. I encourage the Religious present to bring renewed enthusiasm to the promotion of vocations. Know that your witness to the ideal of consecration and mission among the young is a source of great inspiration in faith for them and their families.
To all of you I say: bear witness to hope. Nourish your witness with prayer. Account for the hope that characterizes your lives (cf. 1 Pet 3:15) by living the truth which you propose to your students. Help them to know and love the One you have encountered, whose truth and goodness you have experienced with joy. With Saint Augustine, let us say: “we who speak and you who listen acknowledge ourselves as fellow disciples of a single teacher” (Sermons, 23:2). With these sentiments of communion, I gladly impart to you, your colleagues and students, and to your families, my Apostolic Blessing.
© Copyright 2008 — Libreria Editrice Vaticana
April 18, 2008
To follow up on my last posting: I did make the trip to Washington, D.C. after all, and I did see the pope, although not upon his arrival at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception as I had originally planned but earlier in the day, by waiting along the route of his motorcade. Having arrived on Tuesday too late to get a ticket from the Alumni Office of Catholic University, and having read in Wednesday morning’s Washington Post that Pope Benedict would be making a procession around noon from the White House to the Vatican Embassy at 3339 Massachusetts Ave., N.W., I took the Metro to Foggy Bottom near Washington Circle, and waited for an hour or so on the south side of Pennsylvania Avenue near the corner of 21st Street, in front of George Washington University. Crowds had gathered, and continued to gather, along both sides of the road behind police barricades, with people of all physical and economic descriptions mingling peacefully, awaiting the pope’s appearance on a warm, sunny spring morning. Across the street, a child held a sign that wished Pope Benedict a Happy Birthday. I thought I saw, across the street, a former student of mine, now a nursing student at GWU, but was prevented by the barricades from making further enquiries. A little to my right, a group of students from the local Redemptorist seminary was chanting loudly and boisterously, in English and Spanish, to the accompaniment of Mexican drums, beneath a white banner with lettering that read, among other things, “Where Peter is, there is the Church.” (They looked a little like rabbinical students at first, because of their beards.) Also towards my right stood a man whose name I didn’t know but whom I was fairly certain I’d encountered many years before, looking very Washingtonian in his grey business suit and sunglasses, like some character from the comic strip Doonesbury; the presence of the crowds, and the expectation of seeing Pope Benedict, had evidently prevailed upon this man’s nature, too, to such an extent that, momentarily forgetting his studied nonchalance and self-possession, he had descended to the sidewalk to gaze down the avenue along with the women, the children, the tourists, the zealots, and the rest of the anonymous crowd. Behind me, salesmen passed back and forth selling commemorative tee-shirts, buttons, and white and yellow Vatican flags, the tee-shirts for $5, the flags (at least, the larger ones) for $10. At certain street-corners, other peddlers passed out free sectarian literature (“America: Superpower of Prophecy”; “National Sunday Law: A Shocking Glimpse Behind the Scenes”). In the glass office-buildings that lined the boulevard, people stood staring at the scene outside their windows, temporarily ignoring their paperwork. Finally, around 12 noon, helicopters began circling overhead, some cars and motorcycles and medical vehicles passed by very quickly, it became clear that something was happening, and a few minutes later the motorcade began to appear, proceeding slowly down the avenue; first, evidently, some Secret Service men inside an SUV, then other cars with important-looking persons in them, then, finally, the pope in his yellow and white popemobile. (At least, I recall it having been yellow and white; in the New York Times yesterday, there was a picture that showed it to be simply white, which is not how it seemed to me at the time. I had completely forgotten about the existence of the popemobile, and had been wondering how the pope would be protected from possible lunatics, of which my country unfortunately has a superabundance.) Pope Benedict was seated on a raised seat inside the popemobile’s tall glass enclosure, from which he could turn and bless the crowds; two other bishops, dressed in black, sat facing him. At length, the pope, in his vehicle, passed by the area where I was standing. It would probably be presumptuous of me to suppose that, among that teeming mass of American humanity, I stood out in any way, such that the Bishop of Rome should have taken any personal notice of me. Yet it seemed to me that he did. At any rate, I took the blessing that Pope Benedict gave in our direction as directed towards me personally, as well as directed personally towards the others who had come to receive it.
One may wonder what is the point of seeing someone in person from a distance of 15 or 20 or 30 yards when one has such a better view of him from a television set or from pictures in a book or newspaper or on a computer screen. A simple answer would be that all pictures produced by art or technology are merely copies and representations of the original thing, the unique human being, and can never replace him or her or fully communicate a personal presence. Art can never replace life. And life, as the title of one book truly states, is with people. However briefly and imperfectly, I did get some sense of Pope Benedict XVI this Wednesday, a sense of his presence as a person, which I don’t think I could have gotten otherwise than by seeing him and being seen, even if as part of a crowd.
After this, as the crowds were thinning and I was walking back towards the subway, it occurred to me to call an old friend who lives in the neighborhood of Washington Circle, whom I had not seen or heard from for some time. In fact, about fourteen years ago, I had offended this friend in a serious way, not by forethought but by selfishness and stupidity, such that, although I had seen him and spoken with him occasionally over the years since then, he had never really forgiven me. He agreed to meet me, although I judged by the sound of his voice that he felt no joy at the prospect; his face, when I saw him, fully confirmed my impression that he had consented to meet me only out of a sense of lugubrious duty. We walked to a coffee shop, my attempts to engage him in conversation all failing. He insisted upon buying the coffee, then stepped outside for awhile as though unsure whether he really wanted to sit down and talk. Eventually he did sit down and talk. Suffice it to say that, during the course of an often difficult conversation, which lasted about three hours, I began gradually to perceive again the truth of the proverb, “Iron sharpeneth iron; so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend” (Prov. 27:17). At the end of those three hours, he extended to me again the right hand of friendship. I am under no illusions as to that amicable feeling being irreversible or yet firmly grounded; nevertheless, I consider that change of heart no small miracle, and I credit it to Pope Benedict’s blessing. Those of you who may be gathering evidence to support the cause of Pope Benedict’s future beatification should make a note of this testimony.
April 15, 2008
Pope Benedict is coming to America today. Yesterday I received an e-mail from the Catholic University of America alumni office, telling me that, as an alumnus (Ph.D., 1995), I am entitled to stand on the university lawn opposite the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception and “cheer on the Holy Father as he arrives to and departs from the Basilica” tomorrow evening if I get to the CUA Office of Alumni Relations before 6 p.m. today so as to obtain a ticket. I mentioned this possibility to my friend Bill Ney, the author of the blog The New Combat, who had called me on the phone yesterday evening; he was very enthusiastic about the idea, essentially because it would mean he could get a ride with me down to Annapolis and could visit people at St. John’s College. To do this, I would need to pack up my car within the next hour, drive from the end of Long Island into the city (in rush-hour traffic), pick up Bill Ney in Brooklyn, drop things off at my father’s house in New Jersey, mail my taxes, drive down to Maryland (about a 3½ hour trip), drop Bill Ney off at a tutor’s house in Annapolis, then drive into Washington, D.C. in more rush-hour traffic so as to retrieve the said ticket, which will be offered “on a first-come, first-served basis.” All this so as perhaps to catch from afar a fleeting glimpse of the pope’s white skullcap, amongst cheering crowds of my non-co-religionists (non-co-“separated-brethren”?). The mathematical possibilities of my pulling this off seem decidedly slim, and one might wonder if it is worth the trouble and expense and the wear and tear on car and nerves, but I may do it anyway, partly as a favor to Bill Ney, partly as a way of distracting my mind from recent low spirits and bad poetry, but partly from the remote possibility that I might actually receive a blessing.
April 12, 2008
Between heaven and hell
my unstable soul is poised
and the ladder of divine ascent
is slippery. It is usually
when I think I have finally
gained a certain virtue
that I fail at it miserably.
O Christ, as you saved the harlot
who washed your feet with her tears,
as you justified the publican
and accepted repentant Manasses,
accept me in repentance.
Do not forsake me, your useless servant,
nor abandon me to the malicious demons
who seek to separate me from you
and would drag me into
everlasting chains of darkness.
Have mercy upon me, your useless servant,
for I have grown old in sin
and have wasted my life in laziness.
As you are merciful, longsuffering, and compassionate,
teach me your commandments.
April 8, 2008
Yesterday afternoon I drove back from New Jersey to the house in Long Island where I had spent most of the past two and a half years. It is a summer house, built by my grandmother, Hilda M. Gilbert, around the year 1932. She and her next-door neighbor in Queens, New York, a Mrs. Robinson, had travelled out to the end of the Island to visit the North Fork at that time, had evidently fallen in love with the place, and decided, without telling their husbands, to buy two lots of land adjacent to each other on which to build houses. At least, that is the way the story is told in my family. At that time, land could be had here for next to nothing; it was during the Depression; both my grandmother and my grandfather had steady jobs, she as a history teacher in the New York public school system, he as a linesman and switchboard operator for the telephone company, with an only son (my father), so a summer house was something they could afford. A second floor was added to the house about 25 years ago, when it became clear that both my brother and my sister would be raising families of their own, who would need rooms to accommodate them. This is the house in which I deposited my books (about 70 boxes of them) when I moved back east in the summer of 2005 after teaching for seven years at St. John’s College in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
For various reasons, I decided, over the past winter, to return to New Jersey. A number of things precipitated the decision; one of them was the following. One afternoon late in December, when I was sitting in the local public library writing Christmas cards, I overheard a man talking to the librarian about my barber, Frank Fitzpatrick, in tones of regret and in the past tense. I asked the man what had happened, and was told that Frank had been hit by a car while crossing the main road. (He lived in Greenport, and I often saw him waiting at the side of the road, late in the day, to take the bus home.) Later I got a fuller story; Frank had not been killed, but was in a coma. As of a month ago, when I last asked about him at his barbershop, he had still not come out of the coma; an assistant barber is keeping the store going, just in case Frank wakes up.
This accident helped convince me to leave, in part because I realized that Frank was one of the few people among the local townsfolk who had been consistently and genuinely kind towards me, and whose attitude towards his customers transcended purely mercantile interests. Also, the accident reinforced for me an unhappy sense I had had for some time that the drivers on the North Fork of Long Island are largely possessed by demons who tell them that traffic laws apply only to other people.
When I came back to the house yesterday, however, I was quickly reminded of another reason why I decided to leave.
For most of this winter, I had been getting ants in the kitchen. By and large, these were tiny, black ants that seemed to be coming in by way of cracks around the edges of the kitchen window. I first tried spreading Ajax cleanser on the window sill, thinking that the smell of this might deter them. No such luck. I then started putting up masking tape over any cracks through which ants were seen to enter; eventually, virtually the entire perimeter of the kitchen window was masked over. For a brief while, this seemed to solve the problem. I very early lost any pretense of wishing “Peace to All Sentient Beings”; having rolled up a newspaper, I employed it as a cudgel, relying on my human ingenuity and strength against the ants’ superior numbers. I was convinced that their capacity to reproduce themselves could not be infinite, and that, if I would simply flatten enough of them with the New York Times, they would eventually understand what odds they were up against, and would make a collective decision to leave.
Around the end of February, I began to notice a significant change in the character of the ants that were entering the kitchen. Although there still were some of the tiny, black ants, these were now accompanied by large, fat, winged ants, something like fifty times the bulk of the former, and very otiose in their habits; unlike the smaller ants, they made absolutely no attempt to run for cover; even when bopped on the head with the New York Times, they showed no fear, but, if capable of movement, would simply walk lazily in another direction until bopped again by the same rolled newspaper. Also, the ants now seemed to be coming in, not so much from around the window, but from under the wall between the kitchen and the washing room; a heating duct in the washing room seemed to be a favorite way in and out.
I covered the heating duct with a phone book; when ants still found ways of entering through cracks under the metal duct, I put masking tape around it. I set out ant traps; I sprayed in the corners. I continued to wield the newspaper, and found myself using it, and cleaning up ants’ remains, for long hours of the day, and then the next day, and the day after that. The kitchen took on a distinct, and revolting, smell of formic acid. At that point, having packed my bags, and loaded up my car, I drove back to New Jersey, and stayed there for a month, hoping that, perhaps with the advent of better weather, the ants would go outside and the birds would eat them.
Yesterday I returned to the house on Long Island. The ants are still here in force. They pushed an exit through the tape on the heating grate in the wash room; the area now resembles one of the storage boxes I have seen at zoos and pet stores, where insects are kept as live feed for lizards. I called my father; he agreed that we need to hire an exterminator. This morning I arranged for one to come by here tomorrow, to give an assessment. The entomologist, named Mike, called this evening; he asked if the winged ants were few or many; I told him that there are tons of them. He said that that is not good, it means that the ants are swarming, i.e., they are trying to start another nest. The winged ants, he explained, are the female ones.
Anyway, I thought I would give this as a brief account of what I have been doing lately, in case any readers of this blog may be wondering what ever happened to the work I was doing on John Bekkos, and why I have not posted anything about him for some time. Also, the federal and state governments want me to pay them some money next week….