Tuesday, October 31, 2006

A Catholic press needs your help

A fine little Catholic publisher, Sophia Institute Press, is in some financial trouble. They're trying an unusual way to fix it; they're asking people to contribute just $1, and then tell one or more other people about the effort.

Actually, I decided to place a big book order instead of sending the $1, and I encourage you to go browse their site and see whether there aren't some good books that you need right now. I bought Priest: Portraits of Ten Good Men Serving the Church Today by Michael S. Rose; Ten Dates Every Catholic Should Know by Diane Moczar; The Decline and Fall of the Catholic Church in America by David Carlin; and What Went Wrong with Vatican II? by Ralph McInerny.

Oh, yeah, and then I remembered I wanted another title, Memorize the Faith! by Kevin Vost. Things just seem to roll right off my middle-aged brain these days, so I'm looking forward to learning St. Thomas Aquinas' little tricks.

Without Sophia, I would never have found one of the most enjoyable Christian works I've ever read: Creed or Chaos? by the wonderfully eloquent Dorothy Sayers (better known for her Lord Peter Wimsey mystery novels than for her extensive Christian scholarship). Sadly, this one seems to have gone out of print, at least at Sophia.

These folks deserve to survive. Please consider helping them.

Last Sunday at St. Thomas

Sung last Sunday by the St. Ann Choir at the noon Mass at St. Thomas Aquinas:

Thomas Tallis, Eugi Coeli Porta
Thomas Mudd (c. 1560), Let Thy Merciful Ears, O Lord, be Open

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Michael J. Fox

I used to pity Michael J. Fox for his Parkinson's disease. Now I pity him even more because through his advertisements to the voters of Missouri in favor of embryonic stem cell research, he's now publicly saying, "Clone and kill as many human beings as you need to in order to maybe someday develop a cure for my disease, because my health is more important than their lives".

A real man would never descend to this craven attitude -- or if he did, he would recoil in shame from it before he could give it voice. A real man gives his life for others; he doesn't demand that others give up theirs to save his. Michael J. Fox needs everyone's prayers.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Do no harm, or don't get elected

I have a little more to explain about my position on George Allen's attacks on Jim Webb's "literary" output.

It's part of Christian belief that we are all responsible to God not only to work toward our own salvation, but also toward the salvation of the people around us. C. S. Lewis gave a wonderful speech about that belief, called The Weight of Glory -- and he wasn't talking about some narcissistic, self-righteous concern for your own salvation, but about feeling the weight of responsibility for your neighbor's. You may not believe in all that, but we do. And one implication of it is that you don't do things that are going to make it harder for other people to live good lives.

In Webb's case, like so many modern authors, he seems to have thrown the lurid sex into his novels because he could, because he thought it would help sell books, and because he thought people expected it in so-called "adult" literature. Funny how Dickens and Austen, to name just two, manage to move adult audiences today without it. But then, they were real writers, not hacks.

So Jim Webb didn't feel the weight of his neighbor's potential to live a noble life. He saw his neighbor (and inevitably, the neighbor's children -- kids are endlessly combing their parents' bookshelves when not observed) merely as customers, to be enticed to buy by any means necessary -- and if he could snag a few extra bucks by pandering to his neighbor's petty lusts, he's been happy to do it. For years.

Webb shouldn't have done it, but it's a free country, so he can. And those of us who want people in Congress who understand their duty not to harm their neighbors can vote for the other candidate.

George Allen, Jim Webb, and "Smutgate"

It seems that the Democratic candidate for the open Senate seat in Virginia, Jim Webb, has been writing some pretty lurid fiction, and his opponent, George Allen is using it against him. Michelle Malkin, a conservative with no desire to see Webb elected, calls this a low blow and says that we should all grow up, remember that fiction is fiction, and discuss the real issues.

I don't agree. What goes into our culture is a real issue. When you write one novel after another laced generously with deviant sex, you pollute the literary environment. That, in turn, does your neighbors real harm. Some people are inevitably going to read that stuff, think it's just great, and maybe act on it; at the very least, everyone who encounters it has it stuck to their consciousnesses like so much carelessly discarded chewing gum.

It seems to me that if you're seeking public office, you're answerable to the electorate for all your public actions (and some of your private ones). They're a set of signs, assembled over a lifetime, of how thoughtfully you treat the society you live in, and how much you deserve to be trusted to do the right thing. If you dumped all your used motor oil into the river, you'd be taken severely to task by your opponent, and rightly so. Same goes for moral pollution. To make a buck, Jim Webb did the moral equivalent of dumping his motor oil in the river, and he should answer for it.

You can be part of the solution to the colossal moral problems our society faces, or you can be part of the problem. Only people in the first category should get to go to Congress.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

We shape our buildings, and afterwards our buildings shape us...

Some people can't stand it if their thoughts don't seem original (as if, on most subjects of any importance, that was possible). Me, I'm glad when I find anyone else who thinks even a little like I do, and might have expressed it before I did. When I find it's also one of the men of the recent past whom I most admire, I'm on cloud nine.

I've commented before on how important it is that churches be designed to look like churches, inside and out. I've been especially hard on the 'wreckovators' who take beautiful old Catholic churches and 'modernize' them -- that is, strip them of most of the traditional Christian art that has characterized them. They thereby cut off generations of Catholics from the physical environments in which their faith was nurtured, and they cut off future generations from the inspiration that can only come from being in the actual presence of the places and things that were meaningful to those who came before us, and have now gone on ahead of us.

Practically everything about the physical environment of a past event works to keep the memory of it alive. That's just the way we human beings are hard-wired. Who hasn't felt the otherwise inexplicably vivid rush of memory when we once again encounter a certain scent or sound, or wander into a certain place, that was part of the moment when that memory was born?

Destroy the physical space associated with memory, and you go some distance toward eradicating that memory and all the connections with it.

It seems that Winston Churchill insisted on something of the same connection between a place and what people do there. After the old House of Commons in which he had built his career was demolished in one of the last raids of the London blitz, he said this about the importance of restoring the old place to the way it had previously looked:
... we have now to consider whether we should build it up again, and how, and when. We shape our buildings, and afterwards our buildings shape us. Having dwelt and served for more than forty years in the late Chamber, and having derived very great pleasure and advantage therefrom, I, naturally, should like to see it restored in all essentials to its old form, convenience and dignity.
Wow. Note the sequence. We, or rather our ancestors, get the first move: they shape the buildings. But after that, the buildings take over. They are the places where our lives then happen, where we have our thoughts and emotions. They're the physical connection with our memories. Destroy them -- and fail to rebuild them -- and the priceless legacy that took its place in time within them blurs and fades, like a watercolor that's been dropped in a puddle.

Ah, but you might say, shouldn't we rebuild in a more convenient, modern fashion? Churchill didn't think so. He knew just what a pain the old building had been, yet he wanted its old "form, convenience, and dignity" back the way it had been. From the notes at the link above:

The old House of Commons was rebuilt in 1950 in its old form, remaining insufficient to seat all its members. Churchill was against "giving each member a desk to sit at and a lid to bang" because, he explained, the House would be mostly empty most of the time; whereas, at critical votes and moments, it would fill beyond capacity, with members spilling out into the aisles, in his view a suitable "sense of crowd and urgency."

For all his faults -- and he had many -- Churchill understood that an essential part of the greatness of the House was the drama that could take place there at watershed moments, and he wanted the House back the way it had been, so that future generations could experience what he had.

There are some who would say that the pre-V2 Church was like the old House of Commons -- too small, too drafty, too somber, and no "lids to bang". To them, I say: too bad.

I'm a cradle Catholic, brought up before Vatican II. And as I reflect on how the hijackers of Vatican II did much the same sort of damage to the Church as that German bomb did to the House of Commons, I'm happy to borrow some of Winston's words as I recall the Catholic world I grew up in, and the prospects of its restoration, both physical and spiritual: having derived very great pleasure and advantage therefrom, I, naturally, should like to see it restored in all essentials to its old form, convenience and dignity.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

The Mass in Latin? Zut alors!

Catholic World News reports that some French bishops and priests are in a tizzy about the rumors that Pope Benedict will soon grant much wider permission for the celebration of the pre-Vatican-II Tridentine mass in Latin.

A group of 35 French bishops and priests have issued a statement urging Pope Benedict XVI not to issue the motu proprio that has been widely discussed in recent weeks. The clerics predict that by allowing broader use of the Tridentine rite, the papal document would "plunge us back into the liturgical life of another age."

Let's see now. That would be the age in which Catholic churches were full to bursting, Catholic schools were taught by nuns, priests were abundant, vocations were rising, and the Church's reputation and influence were strong and growing. Good heavens, who would want to risk occasionally sampling the liturgical life that accompanied such an age?

Note that the rumored permission is just that -- a permission. It's not a command that everyone begin using the Tridentine rite. No, such sweeping declarations are made mostly by those who hijacked Vatican II to virtually forbid the use of Latin around the world.

I read that in France, Catholic churches are mostly empty anyway. Is this the successful liturgical life that the French bishops treasure so fondly that they can't abide even a permission to do things differently?

Monday, October 23, 2006

Border wall nonsense

Something called the council of the (Catholic) Synod of the Americas has delivered itself of this priceless wisdom about the border wall we naughty Americans have decided to build (someday, maybe) on our own soil, as reported by Catholic World News):

Speaking out on one highly controversial issue, the Synod council's statement criticized proposals for a border wall blocking illegal immigration from Mexico into the United States. Such a barrier, the statement argued, would not resolve the problem of illegal migration, which can only be addressed effectively by a coordinated approach to the underlying issues that prompt people to leave their native countries.

The argument that these 11 clerics advance against the building of the border wall in the U.S. is the same claptrap the American left has been spouting for years (and I do get so tired of Catholic prelates aping the secular left): because the wall won't stop all illegal immigration by itself, it must not be built, and the people of the U.S. must tolerate unlimited illegal immigration until conditions in Latin American countries are made so wonderful that no one wants to leave his native land.

Of course, it's a straw man the synod council is knocking down. No one has claimed that 700 miles of border fence (if it ever gets fully funded and built, which is by no means a sure thing) will stop illegal immigration.

If the bishops are so convinced that illegal immigration to the U.S. could be ended by getting at the "underlying issues", I challenge them to adopt that principle where they live. You know, bishops, it's pointless for you to lock up your churches, residences, and vehicles, because locks won't put an end to theft. You're just going to have to tolerate being robbed blind until you've gotten at the "underlying issues".

The great advantage to this approach, from my viewpoint, is that you soon won't have the means to recycle leftist slogans on the Church's time.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Last Sunday at St. Thomas

A little late on this one -- too many irons in the fire lately.

Performed by the St. Ann Choir at St. Thomas Aquinas in Palo Alto:

Anon. 14c. English, Paradisi Porta
Heinrich Isaac, Tollite Hostias
Anon. 14c. Italian, Ave Verum Corpus

Occasionally, I just have to marvel how Prof. Mahrt has kept this effort going for more than forty years. What an accomplishment! To keep the great tradition of Catholic music in liturgical performance alive through such a period, in which it has been so widely disdained and abandoned in favor of the vapid modernity of "composers" like Marty Haugen.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

The Honor of God

From Jean Anouilh's play Becket, when Becket is explaining to Henry II why he's going to oppose him:

I felt for the first time that I was being entrusted with something, that's all -- there in that empty cathedral, somewhere in France, that day when you ordered me to take up this burden [Henry had made him Archbishop of Canterbury]. I was a man without honor. And suddenly I found it -- one I never imagined would ever become mine -- the honor of God.

The full title of the play is Becket: The Honor of God. St. Thomas Becket is a figure who deserves better attention today. Unfortunately, most people get their history from TV and movies, and the very fine 1964 movie with Peter O'Toole and Richard Burton is inexplicably out of print on VHS, not yet released on DVD, and never seems to make it onto the small screen, at least around here. But the play appears to be still in print.

In the play, Becket is a worldly, successful, sophisticated man, but he's utterly hollow inside, bereft of personal honor. To his credit, he knows this and doesn't try to pretend otherwise. But then his friend the king makes him Archbishop of Canterbury, and Becket suddenly discovers the honor and integrity of God in the vocation that's thrust upon him. And when the king tries to call in a favor to make the Church subordinate itself to him, Becket defends God's honor to the death -- not, as certain religious zealots do today, by taking up the sword, but by simply standing fast and refusing to compromise.

And that's why he deserves our study today, when the Church faces challenges and pressure from so many directions to compromise its truth -- from the secular state, from Islam, from its own internal enemies. All we have to do is stand fast, like St. Thomas.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Britons, strike home!

This is pretty outrageous. From the Evening Standard (UK):

Schoolgirls forced to strip to underwear in front of boys for PE

Dawn Bedford and daughter Sam

Parents staged an angry protest after their young daughters were forced to strip to their underwear in front of boys at school.

The girls, aged ten and 11, were left in tears after being ordered to change for PE in a mixed classroom under a school policy blamed on health and safety regulations.

The headmistress of Hillside School in Baddeley Green, Stoke-on-Trent, said the children had to get changed together as there were not enough teachers to supervise them separately.

So of course the solution that immediately occurs to the headmistress is to force the kids to jettison the last pitiful shreds of natural modesty they might still possess.

But furious mother Dawn Bedford said her ten-year-old daughter Sam was reduced to tears by the rules.

"The regulations are ridiculous,' she said. "The girls have always changed separately. No one has ever been hurt."

Sam, who had a perfect school record, was excluded for two days because she refused to get changed for after-school football practice with boys watching.

She pulled her PE bag out of a teacher's hand and ran off to the girls' toilets to change. The school says the teacher was assaulted verbally and physically.

Yeah, I'd hate to run into that ferocious-looking Sam in a dark alley, wouldn't you?

Mrs Bedford said: "Sam was embarrassed and distressed because the boys kept looking at her and making comments. She is now wearing her first bra and taking sex education lessons.

"This is a very sensitive time for girls. Don't the teachers realise how difficult it is? Girls were trying to hide under a table so boys could not see them. It is disgusting."

Sam added: "The boys kept looking at me. I was embarrassed so I went to the toilets. But the teacher tried to take me back to the classroom with the boys."

Note that the girl wasn't defiant about class -- she was trying to get ready for PE in an area where she could still keep her modesty, and where, one assumes, she is allowed to go by herself when she needs a bathroom break. But the teacher leaves the other kids (what about their oh-so-important supervision during that expedition?) and tries to drag her back!

Headmistress Suzanne Foster has now relented following a petition from 50 parents. She refused to comment on her safety concerns but said: "The situation has now been resolved and the children are changing in separate areas."

Astonishing how those "separate areas" became available so quickly.

In a statement to parents, she said: "The arrangements started this term purely for health and safety reasons. I cannot have unsupervised children at school."

The Department for Education said: "It is up to the head to decide what happens when children are changing for PE. It is a matter of personal discretion."

Truly incredible. Are you spinning in your grave yet, Winston?

It's time for ordinary Brits to take back their country and their Faith -- if it isn't already too late, which, sadly, it probably is.

This Sunday at St. Thomas

Sung by the St. Ann Choir at St. Thomas Aquinas church this noon:

Josquin des Prez, Christe, fili Dei and Ave Christe.

Fr. Harris was back this week, so we were spared the previous week's spontaneous liturgical innovations.

There were quite a few families with young children in the pews, which is a very very good thing indeed. But babies will be babies, and their very noisy presence today -- you often actually couldn't hear anything else but the howling -- brought up that age-old question: when should a crying child be taken gently out of church?

I'd say: if a child can't be quieted in a paternoster -- the time it takes to say the Our Father -- then, out of charity toward other parishioners, one or the other parent should take him outside until he's calm again. I know it's a burden to parents, usually the mother, but if the wailing is allowed to go on for five or ten minutes at a stretch, dozens of other people are going to be seriously distracted from a significant chunk of what is often the only sacred time in their entire week.

I've been a parent, and I've spent plenty of time outside on cold days, jollying my infant daughter into quietude (or not) instead of being inside where it's warm, adult, and spiritual. But that's a responsibility you take up when you become a parent, and I don't think you should force others to share it.