Letters to Peregrinus #27 - On Super Powers

Dear Peregrinus (Saturday, 1:12 PM):

The high heat in Portland has for the moment expended itself. This means – to speak only about me and my comfort! – that the temperature in my office registers today a temperature less than 80-degrees for the first time in five weeks. My later afternoons each day have been “wilted” ones. I have been thirsty, a lot.

For a second she stared here and there, wondering who had spoken. Then the voice said again, “If you are thirsty, come and drink,” and of course she remembered what Scrubb had said about animals talking in that other world, and realized that it was the lion speaking. Anyway, she had seen its lips move this time, and the voice was not like a man’s. It was deeper, wilder, and stronger; a sort of heavy, golden voice. It did not make her any less frightened than she had been before, but it made her frightened in rather a different way. “Are you not thirsty?” said the lion. “I’m dying of thirst,” said Jill. “Then drink,” said the lion.[1]

But now, on the other side of heat, Oregon awaits the Sun’s total eclipse, the hiding of that which has baked us for fifty-seven straight days now. On August 21st, at 10:18 AM in this region, the Moon will begin to cover the Sun. This process of obscuring[2] the Sun will continue for some 2 minutes and 2 seconds.

Most High, all powerful, good Lord,
Yours are the praises, the glory, the honor,
and all blessing.

To You alone, Most High, do they belong,
and no person is worthy to mention Your name.

Be praised, my Lord, through all your creatures,
especially through my lord Brother Sun,
who brings the day; and you give light through him.
And he is beautiful and radiant in all his splendor!
Of you, Most High, he bears the likeness.

Praise be You, my Lord, through Sister Moon
and the stars, in heaven you formed them
clear and precious and beautiful.
How interesting it is, isn’t it, that the Sun’s unobstructed light will not bring millions out of their homes to look up at its splendor, reflecting on the life to the world that it brings. Instead, we pay attention to “the dying of the light,”[4] thronging into clotted masses of people wearing odd glasses on upturned faces – the Sun darkened by a rogue Moon working in a smoky sky.
It seems that we humans have a taste for darkness, or perhaps more to the point, a fear of the light (note the odd glasses) ... or at least we are ambivalent about having too much of it. This reminds me of Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus.

And this is the verdict,that the light came into the world, but people preferred darkness to light, because their works were evil. 20 For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come toward the light, so that his works might not be exposed.o 21 But whoever lives the truth comes to the light, so that his works may be clearly seen as done in God.p [5]

Would you allow your old friend to exclaim with a degree of grumpiness allowable (but only sometimes) to one who is 63-years old?

I say satis superque! (an old Latin tag) – “enough, and more than enough” – of politicians or journalists or commentators speaking of the United States as a, or worse the, “super power.” How is such boasting and self-praising helpful? And when being a “super power” is linked to our country’s ability to obliterate[6] entire nations with our terrifying firepower – the unleashing of our so called “fire and fury”....[7]

God Himself, as the Book of Genesis daringly says of Him, repented of the one time that He acted in such a way:

23 The Lord wiped out every being on earth: human beings and animals, the crawling things and the birds of the air; all were wiped out from the earth. Only Noah and those with him in the ark were left. [8]

But then this:

21 When the Lord smelled the sweet odor, the Lord said to himself: Never again will I curse the ground because of human beings, since the desires of the human heart are evil from youth; nor will I ever again strike down every living being, as I have done.b[9]
But beyond my feeling of grumpiness, I think the following.

Is it not the case that any person who speaks of himself or herself in such highfalutin[10] language demonstrates, and by that proves, his or her weakness and lack of character? And so, by analogy, must it not be the case with a country whose citizens indulge boastful speech?

Those who actually are powerful just are. And those who are powerful in the genuine and good way of it mostly do not recognize that they are. Rather they feel responsible ... which feels very different from feeling powerful.

Well, old friend, it is time for me to go back to work on one of my Talks to be given in Oxford at the end of this month, doing that trip with a couple of my best friends.

I sure wish that you could get free from your many responsibilities and come on out in September and spend a week that I have scheduled for writing Talks, holed up at the vacation house of my younger brother Mark and his wife Leslie at Black Butte Ranch. I would really love the company, and the chance to share Mass each day and then dinner and conversation. Think about it!

Holding your concerns in my heart’s hands, I am he who walks the pilgrim’s road not because he chooses it, but because he must,

Rick, SJ


[1] Lewis, C. S.. The Silver Chair: The Chronicles of Narnia (p. 20). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition. This text is from chapter two, “Jill [Pole] is given a Task.” The “voice” of course is of Aslan, the Great Lion of Narnia.

[2] The verb “to obscure” has its source in the Latin verb obscuroare (1) meaning “to darken, to overshadow, to dim, to conceal, to hide; to deprive of light or of brightness.”

[3] Literal translation at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Canticle_of_the_Sun. This poem – the "Canticle of the Sun,” perhaps a song, was composed by St. Francis of Assisi (1181/2 to 1226 CE) in the Umbrian dialect of Italian. These are the opening lines.

[4] This is a line from a famous poem by Dylan Marlais Thomas (1914-1953), “Do not go Gentle into that Good Night” whose opening stanza is:

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

n 1:5, 9–11; 8:12; 9:5.

o Jb 24:13–17.

Gn 47:29 LXX; Jos 2:14 LXX; 2 Sm 2:6 LXX; 15:20 LXX; Tb 4:6 LXX; 13:6; Is 26:10 LXX; Mt 5:14–16.

[5] New American Bible, Revised Edition. (Washington, DC: The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2011), Jn 3:19–21.

[6] The Oxford English Dictionary defines the verb “to obliterate” – to wipe out; to do away with; to erase all traces, to delete; to cause permanently to disappear.”

[7] C.S. Lewis, in The Magician’s Nephew (the first of the seven volumes according to the chronological time of Narnia) portrays the terrible Queen Jadis in chapter five – “I” said the Queen. “I, Jadis, the last Queen, but the Queen of the World.” (page 69) – in frightening terms. The world of Charn she had destroyed by her willingness to utter “the deplorable word” – “That was the secret of secrets,” said the Queen Jadis. “It had long been known to the great kings of our race that there was a word which, if spoken with the proper ceremonies, would destroy all living things except the one who spoke it.” (page 70)

[8] New American Bible, Revised Edition. (Washington, DC: The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2011), Ge 7:23.

b Sir 44:18; Is 54:9; Rom 7:18.

[9] New American Bible, Revised Edition. (Washington, DC: The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2011), Ge 8:21.

[10] The Oxford English Dictionary defines this noun or adjective, first appearing in English in 1839 America – “absurdly pompous or bombastic; pretentious, affected.” The source of this word appears to be “high fluting”; that is, concerning a flute player who plays the high notes of a flute in an overly bright way, so as to draw attention to the flute – “pay attention to me!” – and away from the rest of the instruments in the orchestra, not to mention turning attention away from the whole music itself.

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