Monday, November 13, 2006

This Sunday at St. Thomas

Sung by the St. Ann Choir at yesterday's noon Mass at St. Thomas Aquinas in Palo Alto:

Tomas Luis de Victoria, O vos omnes
Pierre de la Rue, O salutaris hostia
Heinrich Isaac, Amen dico vobis

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Our Battle of Maldon

Yesterday's elections were a disaster for the prospects of the advancement of many of the social
teachings of the Church. South Dakota voters, not known for their liberal views generally, succumbed to a massive (and partly taxpayer-funded) campaign by Planned Parenthood, and rejected a ban on abortion that basically was the viewpoint of the Church. California and Oregon voters rejected even modest requirements for parental notification when a minor is about to have her child aborted. Many senators and congressmen who have been reliable supporters of the Church's position on abortion, euthanasia, and embryonic stem cell research went down to defeat.

For the next two years, the Church's influence on public policy in these areas, which tracks best with the current positions of the Republican party, will wane precipitously. There will be very strong efforts to lift the ban on Federal spending on ESCR. Abortion funding and promotion will get a very strong push. If, as I think, one or more of the pro-abortion Supreme Court justices should resign during the next two years, it will be very difficult for President Bush to get a conservative, pro-life replacement through the Senate.

None of that is news. You can read it everywhere today. But I haven't yet seen it remarked on in relation to the embodiment of the Church's positions in public policy.

So, those of us who remain convinced of the truth of pro-life positions have a choice to make. What do we do now?

We can keep on feeling as crushed and disappointed as we feel this morning, and let that paralyze us for months or years to come.

Or we can do something else.

More than a thousand years ago, at a place called Maldon, a band of English warriors found themselves in desperate circumstances. They were in a pitched battle with a shipload of Vikings, the most feared and ferocious raiders in Europe, and they were about to lose. Their leader had made a fatal tactical error that the Norsemen had quickly exploited, and he had just fallen under their axes. The remaining English fighting men had a choice to make, and fast: run and hide, or stay and fight.

As most wavered and some ran, one spoke up, and his thoughts are remembered in some of the most stirring lines in English verse. From the ninth-century fragmentary poem called The Battle of Maldon:

Byrhtwold spoke, shield raised aloft --
he was an old loyal retainer -- and brandished his spear;
he very boldly commanded the warriors:
"Our hearts must grow resolute, our courage more valiant,
our spirits must be greater, though our strength grows less."

Our strength certainly grew less yesterday. Luckily for us, the choice before us is not whether to face cold steel without hope, but only whether, despite this defeat, to pick up our weapons of speaking and writing again today, just as we've done during the days when truth's prospects seemed brighter, and fight on.

For those of us who are Catholics, the place to start is in our own parishes. The Catholic Church's teachings are clear on abortion, on euthanasia, on embryonic stem cell research. They're exquisitely well reasoned and abundantly supported by science and sound logic. Yet too often, no one at the parish level teaches the faithful why the Church's position on these topics make such good sense, even if one relies only on natural reason. The other side takes advantage of this ignorance and, with a few glib slogans dressed up as rational argument, can convince some Catholics that their Church has no real reasons for its position. Those Catholics silently fall away from the truth, and start electing politicians who reject that truth, and will codify falsehood into law.

The Catholic Church is the only institution that I can see in the present landscape that has any hope of presenting organized resistance to the tide of secular disregard for vulnerable human life that is likely to wash over our nation now. But if it's to do so, the faithful have to be educated. The Church badly needs an organization whose sole purpose is to teach the faithful why it's right to think about these things as it does.

Who's to do this? Well, for now, I'd suggest we start here, you and I. Though the battle seems to go against us now, let our spirits grow greater, though our strength grows less.

Oh -- the battle of Maldon? The English went down to defeat that day. But waiting not long in the future was King Alfred, the only English king to be universally called The Great -- and the utter triumph of the English. Take heart from that. And fight on.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Harry Potter, Catholic boy

That's the title of this fine essay by philosopher John O'Callaghan. Here's a sample:

Finally, the mythic symbol of Dumbledore is the phoenix, again a medieval symbol of Christ because of its ability to rise from the ashes on the third day after it has been consumed in a holocaust. It is the phoenix that comes to Harry in the Chamber of Secrets, when he recalls Dumbledore’s promise to remain at Hogwarts as long as someone there thinks of him. The phoenix gives to Harry the gift of the sword of Godric Gryffindor with which he will slay the Basilisk. The name Godric is a pre-Norman Conquest English name that means “the power of God.” So we have in the scene the association of two symbols of Christ, the phoenix and the griffon. And the gift the phoenix gives to Harry is the power of God, the power of Christ, to slay the basilisk, a symbol of Satan.

In short: Hogwarts is not a school of sorcery and the occult mastery of nature. It is a school of virtue, a community of inquiry in pursuit of wisdom, an academy of philosophy.

I know there's been a lot of suspicion about the Potter books, particularly among Evangelicals, and I respect the caution about popular culture that engenders that suspicion. But I think O'Callaghan makes much the better case.

Predictions about the direction of the Potter books has been a hazardous undertaking up to now, but I'll place my bet now that Dumbledore is coming back in Book 7. The symbolism of the phoenix is too strong to lead anywhere else.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

All Saints' at St. Thomas

Sung last night by the St. Ann Choir at St. Thomas Aquinas in Palo Alto:

Tomas Luis de Victoria, Missa O quam gloriosum