Saturday, March 15, 2014


Last week's post, the account of my experience in my Religion class, included a brief description of how I killed a centipede as a means of quelling a minor classroom disturbance. A reader of this blog commented with the question "Did you have to end the centipede's life?" If you haven't read the March 8 post you may need to jump back to it and glance through it before reading further.

Now I'm not exactly sure where that person was coming from with the question, but I've been using it to help me reflect on my approach to the world and to my fellow creatures (including bugs and human beings).

POSSIBLE ANSWERS TO THE QUESTION "Did you  have to end the centipede's life?"

1. It was effective and therefore was the right thing to do under the circumstances.Of course I had to kill it! As soon as I did, the immediate problem was solved and in ten seconds the students were back in their seats and getting back on task.

2. It was efficient and therefore the right thing to do. The bug's presence in the room was disruptive, and if I 'd tried to chase it around the room and pick it up so I could toss it out the window without killing it, that could have taken who knows how long, and the whole class session would have been disrupted as everyone yelled, jumped up on desks, and joined in the general hilarity (these are sophomores, remember).

3. It was an emotional reaction rather than a thoughful response, so I was not morally responsible. I was so furious at the time that I never considered any alternatives. (I didn't tell you that my back pain was really nasty that morning.) So I acted out of pique rather than out of planning. I was angry at the kids, and since I couldn't stamp on them I took it out on the mustache bug that was the center of the disruption.

4.It was only a bug of no importance in the grand scheme of things, so it really didn't matter anyway.


Life sends lots of centipedes my way in the course of a day. And it's good to have someone challenge now and then my way of dealing with them.

1. A student in my class shows no signs of effort: he misses homeworks, fails quizzes, and chats during class. So I take him aside and thoroughly insult him, badger him and threaten him. A voice questions my forceful reaction: "Did you have to end the centipede's life?" Well, see #1 above: If it works (if it's effective) then it's justified.

2. Passing through the monastery's reception area I see a woman with the dishevelled look of a homeless person. She also looks troubled, as if she's waiting for someone to listen to her. Afraid that she may want to talk with me I start walking faster and try to avoid eye contact with her; I have a bunch of important things to do. The voice questions my uncharitable reaction to someone in need: "Did you have to end the centipede's life?" Well, see #2 above: Talking to her would not be an efficient use of my time today. Sorry. Maybe tomorrow.

3. The traffic light has just changed from green to amber, but the driver in front of me starts slowing down for no reason, which means that I'm going to get stuck at the red light. I lean furiously on my horn and creep dangerously close to their rear bumper, making a bit of a scene. The calm voice questions my volcanic eruption: "Did I have to end the centipede's life?" Well, see #3 above.


Thursday marked the first anniversary of the election of Pope Francis. For the past year he has been a source of hope and encouragement to people both inside and outside the Church. Of course he has also upset lots of people too. Often he asks us the centipede question.

Relatively few people are threatened very much when the pope stays on the personal level, exhorting individuals to be kind, gentle, meek and generous. But when he starts applying the Sermon on the Mount to the societal level, well that's different! I heard a sound-bite the other day on the radio of Rush Limbaugh critiquing the new pope's apostolic exhortation The Joy of the Gospel as "pure Marxism coming out of the mouth of the pope."

I discovered that this comment had unleashed quite a firestorm of comments back and forth. (Try Googling Limbaugh Pope if you want to see what I'm talking about.)

Here are a couple of "centipede questions" on a societal level for you to ponder.

A. Do workers in sneaker factories around the world really have to be subjected to impossibly meager wages?(Answer - see #1 above - It's an effective way of keeping down the price of our running shoes!)

B. Do we really have to keep dumping carbon dioxide into the air even though we know what it's doing to us? (Answer - see #2 above - It's an efficient way of producing the goods on which our lifestyle and our economy depend.)

C. Do children in Newark really have to be subjected to grossly inferior schools that perpetuate the cycle of poverty? (Answer -see answer #4 above but don't say it out loud - "They're only Blacks and Hispanics and are a drain on society anyway. Half of them are probably here illegally; so we can treat them any damn way we want.)"

If the Pope starts asking the "centipede questions" about our capitalist system  then he'll certainly have to pay the price. He's in trouble not so much for answering the questions as for questioning the answers that we've grown comfortable with.

In his first anniversary Twitter message Pope Francis asked simply "Pray for me." Let us all do that. Especially if we think he's preaching pure Marxism.

Meanwhile, a good Lenten practice is to try to moderate our reactions to centipedes.


  1. Dear Fr. Albert,
    This may be my second comment. I thought I posted one but I guess it was not published. However, I just wanted to say WOW to your response to my question about the centipede!
    You have given me much food for thought! As far as why I asked the question, I have no definitive answer. My background is not in the teaching field, but I have spent over 35 years with neglected, abused and at risk children. I have also raised 7 of my own, 6 of them male! I think the job you are doing is commendable. I also am a fan of your blog site. Thank you for all you do.

  2. Dear Father Albert Holtz, O.S.B.

    Thank you for your prayers for the Panama Canal extension, a Paper was signed today according to a news story. Also, happy St. Benedict's day. CMJE