Sunday, January 29, 2006


I was at Borders a few days ago, and a book called A Calendar of Saints: Lives of the Principal Saints of the Christian Year was on the remaindered rack. Quite a nice book for eight bucks. I was paging through it tonight and found this, by Bernard of Clairvaux:

The character of God's eternal and just law is this: that those refusing to be ruled by God's gentleness will have the misfortune of being ruled by their own selves; that whoever voluntarily throws off the gentle yoke and light burden of charity will be obliged to carry the unbearable burden of their own will.

It had occurred to me before this that Christ said "My yoke is easy and my burden is light." He didn't say, "I have no yoke or burden to give you." Just that His was the lightest one you could pick up. A heck of a lot lighter than the one you'll end up making for yourself, otherwise.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

It's trivial (not)

In the Middle Ages, education preserved and developed one of the gems of understanding of the ancient Roman world: the concept of a foundation of three subjects -- Grammar, Logic, and Rhetoric. Whatever speciality each educated person might eventually take up, he would start with those things, and not go on to specialization until he had learned them.

Together, these three subjects gave a student the chief things he would need to use that unique gift to human beings: the ability to understand and articulate thoughts and emotions through words, and thus to come closer to Truth.

It seems to me that there's a close analogy in that choice of subjects to teaching how to build a beautiful building (at which the the Roman and Medieval worlds were masterful).

Grammar taught about the bricks of language and how to mortar them together.

Logic taught how to take the pieces that one could make with bricks and mortar -- walls, pillars, and so on -- and engineer a building that would stand up to wind and weather.

Rhetoric taught how to make that building beautiful. And beauty has great power to convince.

These three foundational subjects were known as the trivium, or the three paths. It's a reflection of how far the modern world has fallen in understanding that the only derived word people now know is "trivial," meaning unimportant.

I'm not saying that grammar, logic, and rhetoric should be taught to the exclusion of the other subjects we've come to expect in university curricula. I'm only saying that they're the foundation, and without the foundation, the rest of what we try to build will always be shaky, and will often be ugly.

Friday, January 27, 2006

St. Mary's School RIP

A few weeks ago, I was trying to find some pictures online of my old parish church and school, St. Mary's in Fullerton, CA. I didn't find any photos, but I did see an announcement that after 80-some years, the parish school had closed in May of 2005, supposedly due to declining enrollment. There was also a strong hint in the newspaper story, however, that the closing may also have been related to the huge payouts the Orange County diocese has had to make as a result of the clerical abuse scandal.

Whatever the reason, it's sad. Only forty years ago, the classrooms of St. Mary's were bursting with 55 children each! And each class in my years there (1956-64) was taught by a habited nun -- the only exception being the kindly Mrs. Clark in third grade. (In case you've heard today's teachers complain about the noisy chaos in their classrooms of 25, let me assure you that our classrooms were always quiet and orderly -- and I never saw a nun hit anyone, with anything, to keep it that way). I saw from the website that class sizes had dwindled to between 15 and 20 before the end. And this despite the influx of Hispanic families to Fullerton, which should have resulted in a steady supply of new Catholic children to be educated.

It's sometimes difficult to grasp the enormous changes I've seen.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Tough topic

Pope Benedict has just published his first encyclical letter, Deus Caritas Est. No beating around the bush with this guy -- he goes right to the topic of love, the utter distortion of which has been the trademark error of the modern world. If you want to know in what sense God really is Love (hint: it's not the way it has been defined by the Kumbaya generation) and what implications that holds for every expression of every type of human love, this is a great place to start.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Last weekend's West Coast Walk for Life

I had thought about going up for last Saturday's Walk for Life in San Francisco, but after listening to an organizer's warnings about the vicious reception the march would probably get in that bastion of tolerance and openness to ideas, I distrusted my ability to stay cool in the face of it. Today I found this site (h/t: The Cafeteria is Closed) with plenty of photos and even some video. In retrospect, I wish I had taken part. The march discipline appears to have been great, the opposition mostly just nasty and ridiculous, and the police out in force and determined to protect the marchers' safety and the right of the march to go forward without being blocked or interfered with.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Unnatural death

I needed some light reading a few days ago, and pulled Dorothy Sayers' Unnatural Death off the shelf. It's one of the delightful series of mysteries she wrote around the character of Lord Peter Wimsey. And it was a very good read, another great romp through the vanished England of nearly a century ago. But it also contained a sentence that carried an unsettling resonance with today's world.

At the very end, when the murderer has been identified, Wimsey's friend Inspector Parker is musing on the case, and says:

She probably really thought that anyone who inconvenienced her had no right to exist.
When Unnatural Death was published in 1927, the murderess' point of view was enough to startle even a police inspector. Eighty years later, we accept her attitude 3,000 times a day. According to Planned Parenthood's Alan Guttmacher Institute, it's the chief reason given by women in the US for having an abortion: the child in the womb would be an inconvenience if it were allowed to develop. No matter that everything we've learned about life in womb since 1973 has tended to reinforce the humanity of the unborn child. The pregnancy, let alone bringing up the child afterwards, would upset plans for school, social life, travel, career advancement, etc., etc. So terribly inconvenient to the pursuit of happiness.

And our enlightened age applauds. We are, after all, so much more sophisticated than Inspector Parker in that primitive year of 1927.