Friday, December 28, 2007

Creche vandalism, close to home

From today's San Jose Mercury:

Laura Spoelstra's trying to find Jesus. Baby Jesus, that is. Not once, but twice in one month, thieves have absconded with a Baby Jesus figurine from the front yard of her San Jose home.

The first time it happened the night of Dec. 10.

When Spoelstra woke up the next morning, she noticed the cherished figurine from her nativity scene was gone. She had owned the set for 15 years.

She quickly put out a sign in bold marking, "Who stole Baby Jesus?" - a notice that, ironically, attracted more attention in the neighborhood on Vistamont Drive then the nativity scene itself.

Luckily, the Spoelstras were able to find an identical one, which they bought Sunday. Again they displayed it. But this time, they took it inside before they went to bed and displayed it only during the day. By Wednesday afternoon, however, it, too, was gone. She added an addendum to her sign that read, "Again."

So just who's stealing Baby Jesus, anyway? And, really, is that what Jesus would do?

Spoelstra said her dog began barking loudly around 1:30 p.m. When she went outside, her mail carrier was there, standing and staring in disbelief. He told her that he saw a young man, laughing, jump out of a car, grab the figurine and speed away as another man, laughing, waited in the car.

Whether it's someone truly in need of Jesus or just a childish prank, Spoelstra's not feeling particularly forgiving. She just wants it returned. No questions asked.

"I don't know if they think they're just being funny. But they should at least bring one of them back. They apparently really do need Jesus in their lives, but if they have to steal for it that's not really a good way of going about it."

All right, now I'm imagining whether this story would have been written quite so flippantly if the object stolen had been a menorah or -- horrors! -- some Muslim symbol.

Seriously, vandalism of a crèche should be a hate crime. If we're going to have the latter category at all, I want Christianity protected by it.

Christmas Day at St. Thomas

Sung by the St. Ann Choir at St. Thomas at noon on Christmas Day:

Chant for the day, Puer natus est
William Byrd, Mass for Three Voices

Of course, the real treat was at the midnight Mass (which for family reasons I was unable to attend) with the Dominus dixit ad me chant and Orlando di Lasso's Missa Sesquialtera.

Once more, many many thanks are due to Prof. William Mahrt for his long sustained effort to keep the tradition of Gregorian chant and Renaissance polyphony alive here for the past forty years.

A good sign, though inconvenient: they're occasionally running out of chant leaflets these days, because attendance at this "Gregorian" Mass is steadily climbing. A nice problem to have!

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Well said

EWTN's Mother Angelica's way of putting things is not always to my taste, but she sure hit the nail on the head this time:

If you give God a pint jar, you can’t expect him to put the ocean in it.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

A Christmas scene of perfect plausibility

I was out shopping for a few more Christmas cards when I found a box with this painting by Marianne Stokes, a painter of the pre-Raphaelite school. I have to admit that for the first few seconds, I just thought, "Pretty. Conventional stable scene, childlike cherubim, very nice."

Then I looked more closely. And I nearly burst out laughing, right there on the card aisle at Village Stationers. Then and there, I knew I had to have that box of cards. For here was a scene, heretofore unexpressed by any artist I was familiar with, that really must have happened.

There are the cherubim, gamely strumming a lullaby on their harps, but looking a bit concerned. Because their tunes are not having their expected effect. Mary, apparently completely exhausted by the long trek, her labor, and the spectacular events that followed the birth of her Son, has fallen deeply asleep on the hay. But the Christ Child is bright-eyed and wide awake!

That's the part that will ring true with absolutely every parent who has ever lived through the desperate fatigue of those first weeks with their first newborn. Your baby is supposed to want to nap. You certainly want to nap. But all those guaranteed sure-fire lullabies and other infant sleep inducers you stocked up on, preparing so carefully for this -- naught availeth. Except that they put you to sleep.

Unattested by Scripture? Sure. But I'd bet plenty that it really happened this way.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Starting out as she means to go on

I'm finally getting around to this book, and I'm loving it. Especially for the way she begins the first chapter:

The modern age has witnessed the construction of the most banal and uninspiring churches in history. The attempt to create a church architecture that would meet the needs of the age has resulted in churches that are unfit for any age. Contemporary church buildings, as well as being the ugliest ever built, are also the emptiest.

I suppose I'm particularly sensitive on this issue because when the charming old California-mission style parish church where I spent my childhood -- St. Mary's, in Fullerton, CA -- burned down about 1970, it was replaced with the kind of church that Doorly refers to: white walls, bare concrete, cold and comfortless. And empty.

Doorly ties contemporary church design to the Modernist revolt in aesthetics, typified architecturally by the Bauhaus movement, and ties it to philosophical and quasi-religious trends (such as Theosophy). She notes that the Church is once again behind the times: the secular world has already torn down or blown up some of its first failed experiments in we-know-what's-best-for-you Modernist architecture, e.g., the Pruitt-Igoe Towers in St. Louis. Heck, we're still building the darned things.

For Catholics who are stuck with an ugly Modernist church: take heart in this inspiring photo, of St. Louis' visionary action on Pruitt-Igoe:

Well, OK, it wasn't visionary; when St. Louis finally got around to asking PI's tenants what they wanted to have done to improve the buildings, they said "demolish them". The city just took a great idea and ran with it.

I wonder how many Catholics might give a similar answer if asked about the plain concrete boxes they now are forced to worship in. Now, please don't think I'm advocating blowing up churches; in most cases, a conventional wrecking ball is a much more affordable prelude to the construction of something beautiful, reverent -- and yes, traditional.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

"For the sins of others"

As you have probably read, Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles has said he was assaulted on the street back in July or August by "one or more people" irate over the L.A. Archdiocese's payout of $660 million.

A priest in his diocese said that Mahony did not report the attack to police "because he felt he could offer it up in reparation for the sins of others."

"For the sins of others"??

No matter what the Cardinal originally meant or said, this rendition reeks of sanctimony and is another disaster in public relations. The guy who could have stopped the pederasty in L.A., but didn't, is looking around for the sins of others to work on? Puh-leaze!

As Catholics, yes, we're urged to offer up our present sufferings to God, in union with the sufferings of Our Savior. But most of us were taught that we've got plenty of sins of our own to apply our sufferings to, and we needn't be paying any attention to "the sins of others." We don't regard ourselves as such wonderful people that we've worked off our own transgressions just fine, thank you, and have extra sufferings to spread around. God will take care of that bit of spiritual economy, not us.

The Cardinal's reported statement just smacks too much of the Gospel story of the Pharisee who marched to the front of the synagogue to give thanks that he was a just and righteous man, and not like that nasty sinful publican hanging around at the back.

This Sunday at St. Thomas

Sung by the St. Ann Choir at today's noon mass at St. Thomas Aquinas:

Thomas Tallis, Euge caeli porta
Heinrich Isaac, Jerusalem surge
Anon. 15c. French (Meaux Abbey), Veni, veni Emanuel

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

A new sidebar link

It'll be pretty obvious that I've added a new element to my sidebar, a running count of acts of terror by Islamic jihadists, courtesy of (click on the sidebar graphic to go there -- it'll be well worth your time).

It's there because I think it's important to keep in mind the truly horrible things that the enemy is doing while our media are assiduously making sure we know of every misdeed of our troops, no matter how minor, isolated, and contrary to instructions they are. And also because the progress of the struggle between Islam and Christianity will make a very great difference to the return of that Sea of Faith that is the metaphor of this journal's title.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Sounds familiar

From Dinesh D'Souza's What's So Great About Christianity:

Here in the West, there are lots of liberal Christians. Some of them have assumed a kind of reverse mission: instead of being the church's missionaries to the world, they have become the world's missionaries to the church. ...Liberal Christians are distinguished by how much intellectual and moral high ground they concede to the adversaries of Christianity.

Sounds like many (though not all) of the "Spirit of Vatican II" folks to me.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Not too long ago at St. Thomas

I've been... away from the keyboard, so to speak, hence this late post.

Sung by the St. Ann Choir on Sunday, November 18:

Lassus, Domine, convertere
Isaac, Amen, dico vobis

Later that afternoon, Prof. Mahrt gave a talk outlining the recent history of the liturgy, emphasizing the differences between the Tridentine mass and the Novus Ordo mass in Latin as it's done on Sunday noon at St. Thomas, which the parish refers to as a "Gregorian" mass. He also reminded us of something I'd forgotten: from about 1963 through 1970 in the United States, the Tridentine mass was celebrated in English. Though I lived through the period, I had forgotten that.

My only defense is that I was a teenager at the time, and liturgy was not my chief worry.

Laid out on a table behind Prof. Mahrt were a dozen or so missals, one dating back to the 14th century. Quite a tangible tribute to the faithful who have gone before us, and who struggled with many of the same problems we face today.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The third monastery's a charm

Jean-Louis Pagès, the architect for the new monastery building (are you listening, all of you who have monasteries and seminaries closing in your areas?) at St. Michael's Abbey in Silverado, California, speaking at L.A.'s Pacific Club last spring:
After the construction of the two monasteries [that he designed] in Le Barroux [France], I received an invitation to an exhibition in Rome, entitled: 'Twenty years of Christian buildings in the world.' On my invitation card were some words from Pope John Paul II, 'The one who builds the house of God gets a room in heaven.'

Unimpressed by this, my father, 99 years old at that time and knowing me better than the Pope, looked at the invitation and said: 'Maybe for you, even two monasteries are not enough.' Since then the fathers of St. Michael have reassured me and told me 'With a third monastery we think it's OK.'

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Off the deep end

At an appearance at Carnegie Hall on Friday, J. K. Rowling revealed that she intended the character of Albus Dumbledore in the Harry Potter series to be homosexual. His love interest, she says, was not Harry (we can be grateful that approval of man-boy love is still a few years off for the elites) but wizard Gellert Grindelwald, the book's shadowy magical rival to Dumbledore.

I can't decide what to think of her. Now that she'd absurdly rich, is she pandering to her trendy new friends in the elites? Is she just a modernist PC woman with the usual modernist PC assumptions about morals? Perhaps a little of both.

And besides that, I wonder if there isn't a huge, characteristically PC blind spot operating in her as well. The contemporary worldview has completely lost sight of the possibility of men forming deep friendships without those friendships being, or becoming, erotic. If you find a kindred spirit in another person of the same sex, modern people think, of course you're going to want to go to bed with them. If you think differently, they say, you're just fooling yourself. Find two male friends together? Must be secretly gay. No other explanation need apply.

It's an arid, simplistic view of human nature.

I've defended the Potter novels against accusations of promoting real witchcraft more than once in this space. I still stand by that assessment. But it's clear to me that by choosing to twist the endearing character of Dumbledore this way, Rowling now joins the legions of other modernists hoping to foster a complete acceptance of homosexuality in her many young readers.


Won't be seeing any of the upcoming Potter movies. That's about all I can do in the way of protest, since the books are already bought and on my shelves. I'll be curious about the movies, but not curious enough to put another penny into Rowling's already-bulging pockets.

Too bad, really. She was never a very good writer, but she could conceive a good story, and could certainly capture a place in the contemporary imagination. Her hope for lasting literary fame was to remain true to the Christian foundations of her imaginary world. Now that that's gone, she will be, too.

I'll make a prediction: in a hundred years, people will be still be reading Tolkien avidly. But when Rowling's name is mentioned, they'll say: "Who?"

This Sunday at St. Thomas

Sung by the St. Ann Choir today:

Josquin des Prez, Tu solus qui facis mirabilia
William Byrd, Ave verum corpus

This was not a good Sunday to visit St. Thomas, so if you came this noon on the basis of my usually glowing reports, I'm sorry.

I arrived a bit late today to find that Fr. Nahoe, our young Franciscan who is so good at collaborating with Prof. Mahrt in introducing more and more Latin into our Latin Novus Ordo Mass, was absent. In his place was a priest I've seen once before at St. Thomas. On that occasion, too, he reverted to the English Novus Ordo, and interlarded that already-ugly rite with spontaneous, quasi-heretical inspirations of his own. I hate it when priests make up their own stuff. What is so !&%^%$#ing hard about just reading from the Missal? Aarrgh.

Even the choir seemed off today. They wandered so badly in the Offertory chant they had to restart it, which is practically unheard of.

I also had the additional pleasure of reading a lengthy excerpt/summary of the US bishops' statement on the Iraq war in the parish bulletin, assembled by our parish's "Human Concerns" committee (a wholly-owned subsidiary of VOTF and the Democratic Party) in which those mitred paragons of foreign policy expertise declare that we need to get out of Iraq as soon as possible while paying for all the damage caused by the insurgency while asking for nothing in return. Meanwhile, of the insurgents, of the Iranians and the Syrians who have been blowing up Iraqis regularly through their surrogates, they ask nothing at all. Idiots.

Finally, the bulletin also carried the welcome news that the spending of $100,000 to equip St. Albert the Great's sanctuary with an immersion-style baptismal pool is going forward nicely. Wow, we so need that!

I thought of those Peanuts comic strips in which Charlie Brown looks up in anguish to Heaven and cries, "I just can't stand it!"

Monday, October 22, 2007

This Sunday at St. Thomas

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

Josquin d'Ascanio, In Te, Domine, speravi
Henry Purcell, Thou knowest, Lord, the secrets of our hearts

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Dear Abby to faithful Catholic parents: shame on you

So now, Jeanne Phillips, the current "Dear Abby" and daughter of the original, has come out in favor of same-sex marriage. That should come as no surprise; she's been hinting at it for years. But then there's also this:
What Jeanne Phillips, aka Abigail Van Buren, finds offensive and misguided are homophobic jokes, phrases like "That's so gay," and parents who reject or try to reform their children when they come out of the closet. [emphasis added]

Catholic parents, that last bit is about you -- if, as the Church teaches you, you encourage your children to live chastely within the bounds of Catholic morality, regardless of their sexual orientation. Oh, I suppose you'll be OK for a little longer, in Ms. Phillips' eyes, if you counsel your "straight" child to avoid sex before marriage -- though I'm sure it's only a matter of time before she lets you have it on that score, too. But if you tell your homosexual child not to give in to his feelings because it can never be pleasing to God to do so, well then, you are offensive and misguided. And by extension, so is the Church that dares to teach as it does now and always has.

The gap between popular culture and the Church on these and other sexual matters was narrow only fifty years ago; today it is wide and getting wider. Watch out. When it grows wide enough, following the Church's teachings will become a crime, and you'll either have to go along with "enlightened" people like Abby, or lose your child. Alarmist? Just you wait.

Or... or we get out there and engage the culture on this issue, and start it back on the road to truth. Which is it to be?

Kindred thoughts

Spoken by one of the characters in Alexander McCall Smith's Espresso Tales, the second novel in his wonderfully evocative series 44 Scotland Street:

I have the feeling that we've seen the dismantling of civilisation, brick by brick, and now we're looking into the void. We thought that we were liberating people from oppressive cultural circumstances, but we were, in fact, taking something away from them. We were killing off civility and concern. We were undermining all those little ties of loyalty and consideration and affection that are necessary for human flourishing. We thought that tradition was bad, that it created hidebound societies, that it held people down. But, in fact, what tradition was doing all along was affirming community and the sense that we are members one of another. Do we really love and respect one another more in the absence of tradition and manners and all the rest? Or have we merely converted one another into moral strangers -- making our countries nothing more than hotels for the convenience of guests who are required only to avoid stepping on the toes of other guests?

Monday, October 08, 2007

They're coming home

The Bovina Bloviator has decided to cross the Tiber!

I wish every Roman Catholic would fully appreciate what a wonderful blessing it is to have so many fine Episcopalians making that choice these days. And what a miracle it is -- a quiet one, but a miracle nonetheless! Remember, fellow Catholics, one of the biggest hurdles they face is the doctrinal and aesthetic mess we have made of the Church here in the United States. Yet they come over anyway. Can anyone doubt that only the Holy Spirit could work such a wonder?

BB, and the many others like him, will become a major force in bringing beauty in language and the arts back into Catholicism here. You just watch. And pray. For us, and for him.

SAY not the struggle naught availeth,
The labor and the wounds are vain,
The enemy faints not, nor faileth,
And as things have been they remain.

If hopes were dupes, fears may be liars;
It may be, in yon smoke concealed,
Your comrades chase e'en now the fliers,
And, but for you, possess the field.

For while the tired waves, vainly breaking,
Seem here, no painful inch to gain,
Far back, through creeks and inlets making,
Comes silent, flooding in, the main.

And not by eastern windows only,
When daylight comes, comes in the light,
In front, the sun climbs slow, how slowly,
But westward, look, the land is bright.

-- Arthur Hugh Clough

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Window: the burning bush

from Menlo Park Presbyterian Church, Menlo Park, California

A symbol this time: the burning bush, with which Moses had that memorable encounter in Exodus 3:2. This is a tiny detail from a much larger window. Traditional stained glass art was full of these little, almost-offhand surprises.

This Sunday at St. Thomas

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

Jean Mouton, Domine Jesu Christe
Heinrich Isaac, Mandasti mandata tua
Pierre de la Rue, O salutaris hostia

To anyone with a choir that's just starting out with polyphony and looking for simple pieces that are also exquisitely beautiful, I'd suggest checking out the last composition.

Chaput on "The Children of Men"

Catholic Culture has published some very interesting remarks by the always-worth-reading Archbishop Chaput of Denver. His takeoff point is the 2001 movie The Children of Men, but really the novel by P. D. James on which the movie was only very loosely based.

As usual, as it turns out, the novel is a whole lot more Christian and pro-life than its Hollywood cinema treatment. I wonder: why do established novelists like James -- and for that matter, Tom Clancy, sell their titles and their names to Hollywood without insisting that at least the main thrust of their work be retained?

Friday, October 05, 2007

Window: St. Perpetua

From All Saints' Episcopal church, Pasadena, California.

St. Perpetua, the young mother from Carthage, martyred in 203. She holds a palm branch, a Roman symbol of victory. You can read her story here.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

The new barbarians

CNS reports that the crazies on the atheist Left are picking up steam (or at the very least, it's coming out of their ears more visibly now).
Science must ultimately destroy organized religion, according to some of the leading atheist writers and intellectuals who spoke at a recent atheist conference in Northern Virginia. God is a myth, and children must not be schooled in any faith, they said, at the "Crystal Clear Atheism" event, sponsored by the Atheist Alliance International.

Heed that bit about "children must not be schooled in any faith", parents.

Some of the luminaries who spoke at the conference, held at the Crown Royal Hotel in Crystal City, Va., over the weekend, included Oxford professor Richard Dawkins, author Sam Harris and journalist Christopher Hitchens.

These people mean it, they have media clout, and they are gaining ground.

Many of the attendees seemed to have developed an aversion to religion from conservative, Protestant Christians. Several of the atheists Cybercast News Service spoke to complained of living under fundamentalist parents who frowned upon any questioning of the Bible or any activity condemned in Scripture.

This doesn't surprise me at all. The well-meaning but ignorant Biblical literalism that drove away intelligent but misguided people like these rank-and-file atheists is one of the saddest consequences of the foundational heresies of the Protestant Revolt.

How to combat Dawkins and Co.?

  • Protestants, come back to Rome. There you'll find the balance between Faith and Reason, and the heritage of scholarship, that your forebears abandoned five centuries ago.
  • Catholics, start studying your Faith. Hard. And pick a science, go down to your local library, and start studying that, so that there'll be a reason why anyone should listen to what you say. And start organizing. You'll need every intellectual and spiritual weapon you can master, and all the companions you can gather together, before this fight's over.

These new barbarians are at the gates. Now. They are few, so far, but they come with their advanced degrees, their publicists, and their willing accomplices in the media. If they win, "then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new Dark Age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science."

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Two cheers for colonialism?

The reports out of Myanmar are not good. Hundreds, and perhaps thousands, of Burmese killed -- by other Burmese -- for opposing their government.

The title of this post reflects a question that I first encountered in the pages of Look magazine when I was 12, and that comes back to me now and then: is it always better for a people to rule themselves, to be independent? Or may it not sometimes be objectively better for a people to be ruled by outsiders who are better, or at least less bad, at it than they are themselves? And how does one tell the difference?

In its relatively short run, the current military dictatorship ruling Myanmar has already racked up a list of atrocities against its unhappy people that appears to me to eclipse the record of occasional cruelties that it took the British over a century to compile during their domination of India and Burma. The incident usually considered the most extreme example of the latter, the 1930 Qissa Khwani Bazaar massacre in Peshawar, is still strongly resented in India because as many as 400 civilians were killed.

But the Myanmar generals have exceeded that British tally many times over. I can't help but ask myself: if the British were still in charge in Burma, would we be hearing of British troops mowing down hundreds of Burmese demonstrators and Buddhist monks, with the British government trying to lock down communications to conceal it? And would Myanmar have endured the years of oppression and misery their own generals have inflicted on them?

And is Zimbabwe better off under its bloated tyrant Mugabe, just because he's African?

I don't think so. Maybe being ruled by your own countrymen isn't a panacea for the world's ills, after all.

Window: the baptism of Jesus

The baptism of Our Lord by St. John the Baptist in the river Jordan. Artist unknown (so far). From Our Lady of the Rosary, in Palo Alto, California.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Last Sunday at St. Thomas

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

Thomas Mudd (c. 1560-1632), Let Thy merciful ears, O Lord, be open
Heinrich Isaac, Tollite hostias from choralis constantinus

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Window: Our Lady of Perpetual Help

I don't normally care much for the dalle-de-verre style of stained glass window construction that gained prominence in the 1950's, and is employed in the window shown above. Instead of being composed of pieces of fairly thin flat glass that had the details painted onto them, as was common for centuries, dalle-de-verre used blocks of glass three and four inches thick that were heavily faceted with hammer blows, and eschewed most painted details. I usually find the resulting images rather forbidding and clumsy-looking compared with the long tradition that went before. But in order to see what the style could sometimes achieve in spite of its limitations in the hands of a master, you need to go to St. Stephen's in the Sunset district of San Francisco.

St. Stephen's was the parish church of Karl Huneke, a German immigrant stained-glass artist whose Century Studios equipped more than 80 churches, large and small, throughout California. Most of his work is in the traditional style, at which he was completely adept, but he was clearly fascinated with trying to develop and improve the then-new dalle-de-verre style when he tackled the windows for his own parish. You can imagine that he put out his utmost artistic effort.

I wanted to use this window in particular because it shows how he was careful to take into account the light that would strike the windows. In this case, if you visit the church on a sunshiny morning, you'll see the most amazing effect which, I admit, you can't get with traditional flat glass. Huneke carefully faceted the glass blocks forming the infant Christ's halo in such a way that the full light of the sun is caught and refracted toward the viewer. It is literally dazzling -- you can't look at it directly for more than a few seconds.

The photo above is intentionally underexposed to reveal the faceted surfaces of the glass; the shot below conveys a bit more of the brilliant visual impression.

Though the dalle-de-verre style isn't my cup of tea, I have to admit that if the purpose of religious art is to give us a foretaste of Heaven, this blinding halo does the trick.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

No more silence, and why

I love the quotation from St. Catherine of Siena that Karen Hall has recently placed so prominently on her delightful blog:
"We've had enough of exhortations to be silent! Cry out with a hundred thousand tongues. I see that the world is rotten because of silence."

It seems that whenever there's a discussion about some wrong that needs righting, inside or outside the Church, you can count on someone chiming in with the advice that the best thing we can do about it is to pray. Their unspoken subtext is often, though not always, that we should do nothing else. That we should, indeed, maintain the kind of silence that St. Catherine found so deadening.

Such an attitude sounds pious, but it ignores something important. God has given us the gift of causing things to happen in two great ways, and we need to use both, all the time. C. S. Lewis succinctly described them in his little essay Work and Prayer (collected in God in the Dock).

First, there's the arena of natural action, by which we can make things happen in the material world according to laws that we've gradually come to understand better and better as knowledge has increased. This is the everyday world in which we can, for example, get the dishes clean if we assemble a container, soap, and water and use them in the right way. If we meet all the conditions, the dishes get clean every time.

And then there's the arena of supernatural action, which we enter through prayer. There, the rules we're familiar with in natural action -- do action X, always get result Y -- don't apply, because God judges with His infinite wisdom our requests (which may be good or not so good) in light of the best possible path for events to take to accomplish His will (which is the only will that matters). As Lewis wrote:

Prayers are not always -- in the crude, factual sense of the word -- 'granted'. This is not because prayer is a weaker kind of causality, but because it is a stronger kind. When it 'works' at all, it works unbounded by space and time. That is why God has retained a discretionary power of granting or refusing it; except on that condition, prayer would destroy us. ... Had He not done so, prayer would be an activity too dangerous for us and we should have the horrible state of things envisioned by Juvenal: 'Enormous prayers which Heaven in anger grants.'

People sometimes become discouraged when they rely solely on prayer for some outcome that seems good to them, like the removal of a priest, bishop or cardinal who has behaved exceedingly badly. They pray and pray, claim to be relying solely on God, and wait patiently -- and then finally erupt in frustration when God doesn't make it happen.

I'm sure that as Lewis writes, sometimes God doesn't 'grant' our prayers because they are simply not virtuous -- that what we're asking for is just plain bad. But at other times, I think He chooses not to grant them because He wants to teach us to use the other form of action, the other gift of causation, instead. He wants to be asked for his supernatural help, always; but He also wants us to become wise and effective in doing His work with the tools of natural world, which include our skills in speaking and writing, our persistence in the face of indifference and disappointment, our endurance in the face of persecution.

Cry out with a hundred thousand tongues, indeed.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Window: the prodigal son

The prodigal son returns.

From Immanuel Presbyterian on Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles. Almost entirely a Korean-American congregation of recent immigrants, or so it appeared when I visited. We can thank those unsung missionaries who toiled in Korea fifty or a hundred years ago for the Christians who now populate and preserve this beautiful building which, if left to the lethargy of the descendants of its original European-American congregation (or, if it had been a Catholic church, to the whims of a certain renegade Cardinal in need of settlement cash), would probably have been torn down and replaced long ago by just another office building on some of the priciest business real estate in California.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

May I have another helping of whitewash, please?

I was thumbing through the PBS video catalog today and noticed a certain... well, attitude toward Islam in this description of the DVD Islam: Empire of Faith:

The riveting story of Islam's first 1,000 years. Watch as Islam sustains the intellectual legacies of Greece, Egypt, and China, and brings Europe immeasurable advances in science, medicine, and the arts during the Middle Ages.

Ah, I see. Islam was merely a movement to preserve the intellectual legacies of other civilizations and selflessly share them out with benighted regions like Europe.

Got it. Thanks, PBS. Good thing we can count on you to spend our tax dollars wisely, as you fearlessly expose the chief impact Islam has had on the non-Islamic world. Which wouldn't be 1,500 years of war, rapine, and religious bigotry, of course. Those were only the regrettable, minor aberrations of a few zealots. Who can blame them, really, if they became understandably frustrated when their humanitarian efforts to broaden the reach of Aristotle's Poetics were so ungratefully misunderstood?

St. Peter receives the keys of Heaven

From the chapel of Sacred Heart School in nearby Menlo Park.

Today at St. Thomas

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

Cipriano de Rore, Sicut cervus
Jacobus Clemens non Papa, Ego sum panis vivus

Saturday, September 22, 2007

A Magdalene window

I'm going to start posting more of the many images of stained glass I've been taking over the past few years. This window is from the Church of the Recessional in Los Angeles, and depicts Mary Magdalene with the Beatitude "Blessed are they which are persecuted."

Friday, September 21, 2007

Decision time

Another example of a bishop's defiance over Summorum Pontificum, this time in Italy:

Naples, Sep. 17, 2007 ( - Bishop Raffaele Nogaro of Caserta, Italy forbade the celebrate of the celebration of the traditional Latin Mass on Sunday, September 15, despite the permission granted by Pope Benedict XVI for all priests to use the older liturgical form.

The Italian daily Il Messagero reports that Bishop Nogaro ordered Msgr. Giovanni Battista Gionta to cancel plans for a Mass using the 1962 Roman Missal at the Shrine of St. Anne. Msgr. Gionta, who had scheduled the Mass at the request of local Catholics, posted a note at the shrine to announce that he was changing plans. "I obey the bishop," he explained.

Il Messagero said that Bishop Nogaro ordered the cancellation of the Mass "so as not to set a precedent." The bishop said that he was taking action to help his people pray properly, since "to mumble in Latin serves no purpose."

All right, this is not only defiance of the motu proprio, but the bit about "muttering" displays an ignorance and arrogance about the Latin Mass that is breathtaking in a bishop. But perhaps not so surprising: ordained a priest in 1958, as the rot was taking hold, and made a bishop in 1982, in Pope John Paul II's early years, before he became more careful about the bishops he was appointing.

This is a watershed for the papacy -- and not just the papacy of Benedict XVI. If Nogaro is disciplined publicly, we can look forward to much better obedience to Rome among the other bishops. If, on the other hand, Rome ignores him, or for any reason fails to call him to account, it'll be downhill fast from here on out. The temptation to do nothing will be strong, since Nogaro is only a year or so from the mandatory retirement age of 75.

Back in 1968, Pope Paul VI backed down when confronted by the defiance by some Catholics of his encyclical Humanae Vitae, in which he had reaffirmed the Church's well-grounded and longstanding opposition to abortion, among other things. His decision not to discipline the rebels within the Church cost his papacy much of the impact it might have had in its later years.

But at least one could say that the issue in Humanae Vitae was a big, external one -- asking the faithful to buck some very powerful cultural trends, largely involving their interaction with the outside world and their private behavior. The motu proprio is about a matter of liturgy, exclusively about how things are to be done within the Church. Yet it is intrinsically vitally important to the Eucharistic core of Catholic practice and belief.

If Rome can't or won't enforce its decision on this subject, and bring itself to correct this errant bishop, it will be sad day indeed, and Pope Benedict may see his ability to move the Church out the "spirit of Vatican II" morass much weakened.

Monday, September 17, 2007

A Death Eater at Borders

I've never been one of those people who believe that J. K. Rowling wrote the Harry Potter books as subtle propaganda for real witchcraft. They have way too strong -- and too correct -- a sense of right and wrong and good and evil to have been intended that way. And the kind of witchcraft that inhabits Harry's world is not the occult reality that sadly inhabits our own.

But I have to admit that it never occurred to me that someone might actually want to have the Potter books misunderstood that way. It looks like some enterprising minion of the Dark Lord, in need of muggle cash after the demise of his leader in Book 7, may have found himself a job at the Borders bookstore here in Palo Alto. Because sitting right there on the big display table full of Harry Potter merchandise, in its prime location just inside the door, is the wretched little pile of Witches' Datebook 2008 pictured above.

Whoever you are, over there at Borders, stop it. Stop trying to deceive some young reader into thinking that the world of Hogwarts, where virtue and love triumph over sin and hate, has anything at all to do with the pathetic but dangerous banality of wicca -- or worse.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

This I don't get

The European cultural death-wish just keeps rolling along:

Genoa, Sep. 13, 2007 ( - The president of the Italian Catholic bishops' conference has objected to plans by two right-wing political parties to organize a prayer service in opposition to Islamic influence in the country. Archbishop Angelo Bagnasco of Genoa said the "exploitation" of prayer by Forza Italia and Forza Nuova was "inappropriate." The two groups had staged a demonstration against the construction of a mosque in Genoa.

I know there could be more to this story than these few words from Catholic World News. But I'm having a hard time imagining any reason why a Catholic bishop would be so unhappy at the prospect of a little prayer to reduce the influence of a false religion. Especially a religion with such a nasty reputation, earned from the year of its founding to the present day, of crushing every other religion once it achieves power in an area.

I've got an idea for the Archbishop: if he doesn't care for this prayer movement, why not organize one of his own, specifically for the conversion of Muslims in Italy? Unless that's too non-inclusive for him, too.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

There's something about Poland

The Poles often show something we usually don't: the courage to tell the truth about Islam.
Warsaw, Sep. 11, 2007 ( - During a Mass celebrated on September 11 to mark the anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the US, the head of the Polish military chaplaincy appealed for a defense of Christian culture, particularly in Europe.

Bishop Tadeusz Ploski, the head of the military ordinariate, said that the Christian heritage of the European continent should be preserved and warned against the development of "Euroarabia."

With representatives of the Polish military leadership in attendance along with Orthodox and Lutheran chaplains, Bishop Ploski issued a reminder that September 11 is also the anniversary of the Battle of Vienna, which he described as “Islam’s greatest defeat.”

Can you imagine an American bishop, even the best of them, putting things so bluntly? I certainly can't.

But we'd better start soon.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Last Sunday at St. Thomas

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

Tomas Luis de Victoria, Ave Maria
Pierre de la Rue, O Salutaris Hostia

Not moving on

That's one of my countrymen, bereft of hope, killing himself by jumping out of one of the upper floors of the World Trade Center on 9/11 rather than waiting for death in the flames. It is unlikely that he was guilty of any crime against Islam greater than getting up and going to work that day. But that was enough for the gallant soldiers of the Religion of Peace to justify ending his life. Just another American kaffir to them, anyway.

Mayor Bloomberg may want everyone to move beyond our grieving remembrances of that terrible day and the terrible crime committed against us all. But I'm not buying it.

I'm not forgetting. And I'm not forgiving. Not for a long time.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

If any more evidence was needed...

The Spirit of Vatican II folks have been telling us nonstop since Summorum Pontificum that having the Mass in vernacular languages is better for everyone, so any effort to have the Mass more often in Latin -- let alone in that horrid Tridentine form! -- will be a step back into the Dark Ages.

Many others have remarked that Latin has the advantage of being the same everywhere, which is a great thing for travelers -- and travel is a lot more common today than it was in the years just before Vatican II. We dumped Latin just at the historical moment when the world was being newly knit together by cheap travel, and having a universal language of the liturgy would have been a tremendously unifying thing.

But I hadn't experienced this much myself, mainly because I don't travel nearly as much as most people seem to.

Well, I recently returned from a photographic seminar in San Diego, where the all-day sessions included Saturday and Sunday. The only opportunity I had to attend Mass without cutting class was on Sunday afternoon at 5:00, at a little church a couple of blocks away from the studio, that I could get to quickly.

As soon as I walked in I knew I was in trouble: the Mass was in Spanish. "Active participation"? Sorry, not by me. Yes, there was an English-Spanish missalette. But how is it better for the non-Spanish speaker to be reading the Spanish-to-English translations on the fly, than to be reading Latin-to-English translations with which one might already be familiar? Now, if that Mass had been in Latin all along, and the Church hadn't been nearly stripped of its Latin traditions, we all could have concentrated on the liturgy that afternoon -- one liturgy, not one for every language under Babel.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

A good letter

Talking to your pastor about having a Tridentine Mass in your parish is always better than sending a letter -- it's a lot friendlier and less threatening, and most of us have far better control of the tone of our conversation than the tone of our writing -- but if you need to write, there's a fine example here.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Galileo's Mistake, pt. 1

From the introduction to Wade Rowland's Galileo's Mistake: A New Look at the Epic Confrontation between Galileo and the Church:

I came to share a conviction that the roots of what is most disturbing in the modern world find their nourishment deeper in history [than 18th-century rationalism and 19th-century romanticism], in what is often called the Scientific Revolution. ... On the one hand, the Scientific Revolution endowed Western civilization with the ability to manipulate nature to an almost magical degree. On the other, it prompted a shift in the prevailing view of the acquisition of knowledge and of moral thought that deprived civilization of any effective means to manage the career of science and to ameliorate its unwanted impacts. It bequeathed unprecedented power and wealth while at the same time undermining the foundations of the wisdom necessary to their judicious and benevolent use. It expanded the creative horizons of humanity while reducing the mass of individual humans to the status of commodities and consumers. It improved health and longevity while promoting unprecedented spiritual and existential dis-ease.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Your PBS tax dollars at work

I was channel-surfing the other night, arrived at the local PBS affiliate, and came upon Jonathan Miller's Brief History of Disbelief. This BBC Four series gives the popular Mr. Miller three hours to deliver, with his trademark charm and urbanity, his personal testimony as a militant atheist. He makes no attempt to be objective; Miller thinks the case against religion (against the existence of God, really) is closed, and his side won. He sees no need to keep an open mind on the subject, present a decent summary of any opposing position, or admit any significant weaknesses in his own. Those tens of millions killed by militantly atheistic regimes in the 20th century? Not atheism's fault, according to Miller. Atheists have always been kind, wonderful people like him.

My point is this: when was the last time you saw PBS give hours of airtime to a committed Christian who tried to get listeners to give up atheism, with no opposing viewpoint?

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

No moral democracy

From Thomas Howard's essay "The Touchstone of Orthodoxy":

A hundred years ago, or a thousand or ten thousand for that matter, mountebanks and wizards and false prophets had to whip up what following they could on the strength of their own voice and their own tricks. Now every jester has an instant, vast, and utterly credulous audience via the talk shows [had this been written today instead of in 1979 I'm sure Howard would have substituted "the internet"]. The audience is credulous, I say, because they have been schooled in the tradition of moral and intellectual democracy, in which every idea is worth exactly as much as every other idea, and in which we are committed to giving equal time, not just on the air or in the columns of newsprint, but also in our minds -- equal time, I say, to Isaiah and Beelzebub, for example, or to Saint Thomas Aquinas and Mick Jagger, or the Blessed Virgin and Bella Abzug.

... But this will not do. It is not good enough to receive all data as though it is arriving from some cosmic grist mill, all of it to be ground in to your loaf. There is wheat and there is chaff. Distinctions have to be made. There is good stuff and bad stuff. And the only way to sort out the good from the bad is to discriminate. There is no question of a moral democracy, any more than there is of a gastronomic democracy. If you eat vegetables, they will do you good; if you eat toadstools, they will kill you.

To those who might drag out the old canard about minds being like parachutes, working best when kept perpetually open, I'd say: but in our present day when relativism is rampant, the better use of that simile is to note that a parachute is useless unless you actually do pull the ripcord -- and it better be at the right altitude. Too high, and you die of anoxia; too low or not at all, and you splatter most unpleasantly.

Monday, July 30, 2007

This Sunday at St. Thomas

Sung by the St. Ann Choir at St. Thomas Aquinas yesterday:

Josquin des Prez, Ave Maria / Virgo Serena
Heinrich Isaac, Qui manducat carnem meam

There's good news. We're now chanting the Lord's Prayer in Latin -- there was a special insert card today. And the noon "Gregorian" Mass is now being celebrated by a young priest, Fr. Nahoe. Not only does he sing well and seem completely at home with Latin, but he gave the best homily yesterday that I've heard from a Catholic priest in twenty years. Clear, concise, focused on the day's Gospel reading, and delivered without a single "uhh" or silly personal story.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

St. Ann's Day at St. Thomas

Last Thursday was St. Ann's Day, and so the St. Ann Choir pulled out a few stops for Mass at St. Thomas Aquinas that evening:

Josquin Des Prez, Missa canonica (Sine nomine)
Jean Mouton, Celeste beneficium (the St. Ann motet)
Chants for the feast day

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Musical treasure for the taking

Amazingly, you can now download the entire Liber Usualis -- the church's encyclopedic guide to Gregorian chant -- here. All 2,340 pages, 117 megabytes worth. (I'm giving the mirror site link at Musica Sacra due to concerns about bandwidth at the original post site, The New Liturgical Movement.)

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Good news, I think, from Monterey

California Catholic Daily reports that Bishop Richard Garcia has announced that regular Tridentine Masses will be celebrated at two locations in the diocese of Monterey, California, starting in September, as soon as the motu proprio takes effect.

I'm chronically suspicious of any official sponsorship of the Tridentine that offers it only at a few specified locations. There have been too many decades of episcopal opposition to the rite to get over that attitude quickly. It can be a way of keeping the rite marginalized in out-of-the-way places, instead of putting it before the faithful in larger numbers in their normal parishes.

On the other hand, supposing that a bishop is sincerely trying to comply with the Pope's wishes, he might very well choose to get things rolling by arranging for the rite to be available as soon as possible in one or more places. And since it can't start again everywhere at once, if only because most priests don't seem to know enough Latin to properly perform even the Latin Novus Ordo mass let alone the Tridentine, it has to begin in those few places where circumstances permit.

There are some pitfalls. For instance, the priest who has been identified to re-learn the Tridentine and offer it near Paso Robles is 80 years old. What does it say about the rite if it is only offered by the old and perhaps crotchety (as I encountered recently in Santa Clara)?

On the other hand, if the Tridentine is to be truly reintegrated into the normal life of the Church, the laity have to be educated in it again. In order to actually participate in a Latin mass, you have to know how to follow what is being said. If the Tridentine is reintroduced too early, before people have a chance to learn what's going on, there could be a backlash -- an understandable one, too.

But it's a start. Thank you, Bishop Garcia. And Deo gratias.

Depart from us

So many others are marshaling and reviewing news and opinion articles after the announcement of the astonishing $660 million settlement for clergy sex abuse in the Diocese of Los Angeles that it's pointless for me to collect links to them here. But here's my take on Cardinal Mahony's future.

The most charitable attitude I think it's possible to adopt toward his reassignment of known molesters is that the Cardinal made an honest mistake in taking the advice of therapists who claimed to be able to cure such priests, permitting them to be sent back safely into situations of proximity to potential new victims.

Now, honest mistakes are likely to be overlooked at the lower echelons of most organizations. The stakes aren't high, and the staff are presumed to be still learning. But we are dealing here with someone near the pinnacle of leadership in a worldwide organization: an archbishop assigned to a large, very prestigious diocese, and a cardinal as well, one of the select group of bishops who, among other things, elect popes.

At such a level in any organization, you don't get and shouldn't expect the leniency extended to lower ranks. You've been given an enormous privilege; the position is not yours by right. You are expected to justify the trust you've been given with actions that are consistently worthy of it. If you want to be judged by your intentions, stay at the worker-bee level. If you want to rise to upper management, expect to be judged by results.

Maybe the Cardinal did make a series of honest mistakes. Maybe he did take bad advice. Maybe he intended no harm and merely did what he thought was best.

But those mistakes, as honest as they may have been, have cost the flock entrusted to his care over half a billion dollars, a humiliating public scandal, and worst of all a terrible blot on the reputation of the Church that will cripple its attempts to spread the Gospel for decades to come.

And that should get him removed from the leadership of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. Period.

I leave it to others to analyze whether he should be held criminally liable, or disciplined within the Church in some other way than being removed from office. Those issues will hinge on evaluation of what he knew, and when he knew it. We'll have to wait for the opening of those files the Cardinal's been sitting on for years to know the truth of that.

But nothing more than the patent fact of his terrible errors in judgment is needed to justify an end to his term in Los Angeles, and his exclusion from any future job of high responsibility within the Church.

It needs more than good intentions to govern in the Catholic Church today. It needs wisdom and judgment that Cardinal Mahony has demonstrated he does not have.

Let the housecleaning begin.

Louder is not wiser

Just because your voice reaches halfway around the world doesn't mean you are wiser than when it reached only to the end of the bar.

A useful reflection for journalists from one of the best, Edward R. Murrow (1908-1965). And for bloggers too, now that the web has given the rest of us a wider audience than anyone could have dreamed of having in Murrow's day.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

New wave

Darn, it's so easy to forget our founding metaphors.

Dover Beach, that is. That long, melancholy, withdrawing roar. But with the motu proprio, we've been blessed to be alive to hear the good loud slap of a small wave of the turning tide.

Like most waves, it has receded again. Now it's up to you and me.

Let's make waves.

Everyone relax

Some people already seem to be getting discouraged at various signs of heavy opposition from bishops to the free celebration of the 1962 Missal as called for in Summorum Pontificum, and the lack of mobs of the faithful beating down various diocesan doors to demand it.

We should all take a deep breath and consider the magnitude of the task Benedict is calling us to: nothing less than the restoration of an entire culture, one which has been intentionally repressed for more than a generation. And this, while the reins of local power are still often firmly in the hands of those who did the repressing.

Those of us who are interested in advancing the work of SP need to be studying how other repressed or disfavored cultures have preserved their heritages, taught them to the next generation, and brought them back into vibrant current usage. Let's find out what has worked for others, and adopt the techniques that apply to our present challenge.

And let's hope for quick victories, but settle in for the long haul.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Faith and reason? We were there first.

From G. K. Chesterton's The Everlasting Man:

... in reality the rivers of mythology and philosophy run parallel and do not merge until they meet in the sea of Christendom. Simple secularists still talk as if the Church had introduced a sort of schism between reason and religion. The truth is that the Church was actually the first thing that ever tried to combine reason and religion. There had never before been any such union of the priests and the philosophers.

Once again, our ancestors in the Faith were no dummies, nor were they the cowled obscurantists they are often depicted to have been on the History Channel. Instead, they broke good new intellectual ground for the whole human race. We can be proud of them.

This has to be worth a plenary indulgence

Lumen Gentleman has established a database for those interested in helping celebrate the Latin Mass of the 1962 Missal, with a new feature that lets you find and request contact with other local like-minded people. What a great idea, and what a great service to God and His Church! And after only a few days of existence and no publicity other than web word-of-mouth, there are already hundreds signed up.

The revival of the Tridentine Mass won't happen overnight, and it won't happen without a lot of hard work, faithfulness, and in some places sheer dogged determination. And some smart organizing ideas, like this one.

(H/T Leticia)

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Motu proprio

Well, as you all know already, the motu proprio restoring real access to the 1962 Missal is finally out. CWN has a fine and extensive comment, as does Gerald. Barbara Nicolosi has delicious in-your-face remarks here and here for those who rightly fear that their silly "Barney" and "Halloween" Masses are threatened by the big old Latin boogeyman.

I'll only add two things to what many others, far better equipped than I, have already written.

First, I'm delighted that we the laity, ignored and misled for forty years, can finally again have a Mass with an organic connection to the liturgical tradition of our Church, as the documents of Vatican II always intended (but were hijacked to subvert).

Second, I was a little disappointed that the MP tells us that the 1962 Missal is to be known as the "extraordinary" form of the liturgy, until I thought about it a bit, and then it hit me: we all know from the example of the "Spirit of Vatican II" folks' innovation of "extraordinary" Eucharistic ministers that "extraordinary" really means "mandatory, universal, and permanent."

Now I feel really good!

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

There and back again

From "On Fictions and Gospel" in Thomas Howard's The Night is Far Spent:

This is the paradox about stories: they seem to lead us away into imaginary regions, but they have an unsettling way of discovering for us the immediate place where we are.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Sudden resurrections

From Hilaire Belloc's Survivals and New Arrivals:

The good fortunes of stupidity are incalculable. One can never tell what sudden resurrections ignorance and fatuity may not have.

Belloc's book is about heresy, and the "survivals" in the title are the heresies that seem to come back again and again, despite having been roundly refuted in the past. That phenomenon is one that our Church ought to take more note of, and plan to fight a whole lot better than we have been lately.

For instance, the apparently sudden popularity of a new Gnosticism (given a big glossy expression in The DaVinci Code) took the Church by surprise. It shouldn't have. Gnosticism comes back periodically throughout history. So why are we constantly behind the curve? Why are we always reacting at molasses-in-January speed? Why are our scholars not anticipating the likely errors that contemporary thought might fall into, and bringing the truth to bear quickly to head off the return of yet another "survival"?

I've often come back to the theme of the crucial importance of time. We don't have forever to stand up against evil and error, and failing to strike at it when it's new and weak means that later you have to stand against it -- if at all -- when it's established and powerful, and has already destroyed many souls.

So to the Vatican, and to our Catholic scholars everywhere, and to all us lay folks on whom so much now depends, I'd say: work carefully, by all means -- but work quickly. And let's not let ourselves be surprised, ever again.

Monday, July 02, 2007

This Sunday at St. Thomas

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

Orlando di Lasso, Tibi laus, Tibi gloria
Pierre de la Rue, O salutaris Hostia

One Lord left

For most of the world's history, people have had lords. That is, they lived under an authority they could not gainsay, whether he was called king, duke, count, emir, tuan, sheikh, or shogun. The lord's rights to direct and govern came directly from who he was. You didn't choose him; he was just there.

But we live today without lords. We live in democracies in which those in authority over us serve, to some degree, at our pleasure -- or those who control them do. Our Declaration of Independence asserts that governments derive "their just powers from the consent of the governed." If we don't like a congressman or senator or president, we organize ourselves to boot him out at the next election and replace him with someone whose actions might be more to our liking. We might stand when the President enters the room, but we bow the knee, literally, to no man.

Now, Christianity is a religion whose God is constantly referred to as "Lord". So, what happens when the very concept of an authority you can't change vanishes from a culture's ordinary life? C. S. Lewis sensed it: as he put it in the essay which gave the title to a very influential book, God ends up "in the dock", or in American English, "on trial". No longer does man stand guiltily before God; man demands an accounting from God for His actions.

This is a poisonous situation for Faith. God can't really be placed in the dock, of course; but man can deceive himself into thinking He's there instead of on His throne. The restoration of Christian presence in society is going to have to include a renewal of the concept of lordship.

I'm glad the "spirit of Vatican II" folks haven't wholly managed to stamp out the Catholic practice of kneeling during parts of the Mass, because bending the knee is going to help lead everyone back to sanity here, to an acknowledgment of God's Lordship. We don't kneel to anyone else anymore -- no king, no nobleman, and certainly no elected official, no matter how powerful. We kneel only to God.

Kneeling. A good, powerful symbol, rooted in physical action like the rest of Catholic practice, all the stronger now that its use has receded everywhere else in modern life. Time to use it to remind ourselves, and afterwards everyone else, that only God is Lord.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Dominus vobiscum. Please.

The problem with having the Mass in the vernacular is that priests are all too ready to change it to suit themselves.

At last Sunday's noon Mass at St. Thomas, Fr. Harris was ill, so we had a substitute priest. And like another substitute on another day, he too said "The Lord IS with you" instead of "The Lord BE with you."

So what's up with this new translation? Did the missal change and no one told us? Or was it just that the priest thought it didn't matter, or it sounded better?

I know some people would say, what's the big deal? So here's my take. The Latin is "Dominus vobiscum", and the English translation that everyone's been happy with for many years is "The Lord BE with you." It's a wish, a prayer. The word "may" is implied: "MAY the Lord be with you." God might be with you, He might not. Let's pray that He is.

So the important thing that the old version does for us is to remind us implicitly that it's possible for us to cut ourselves off from God through serious sin that we're not sorry for. And we can surely show up for Mass in that state. The priest prays for us that God will be with us, but since he has no spiritual X-ray vision, he doesn't know whether God is with each one of us at that moment. As far as I know, that's still Catholic teaching: in short, if you tell God to get lost, He'll respect your decision. He gave you free will, it's part of your human make-up. If you say to Him: Give me my inheritance, I'm off to squander it all in riotous living, He'll give it to you and sadly wave good-bye. He won't tag along. He'll let you go your own way. He hopes you'll come back, repentant and wiser, since He's got a feast waiting for you if you do; but He's not following you with the lunchmobile.

The important -- and wrong -- thing that the new version does is imply that no matter what state your soul is in, no matter how much you've told God to get lost, He's still happily right there, ignoring your free choice, ignoring the state of your soul, ignoring whether you're in the least sorry for the last eight zillion unconfessed sins you've committed. Like a house-elf in the Harry Potter stories, He's right there to serve you, no matter how many times you kick Him in the face.

We might prefer that God be like that. But as far as we know, He isn't. And it's wrong to change the words of the Mass to pretend that He is.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Letters from a great Catholic

When I can't sleep, I pick up my copy of The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien. I don't know why I do it, because it's exactly the wrong thing for drifting off to dreamland. I go from one letter to the next, hour after hour, fascinated. I re-read letters I've seen a dozen times already and still find new things. It's a disaster.

But a good one. Surely it must be one of those whispering hints of the turn of the tide, of the return of the Sea of Faith, that the man who wrote what the reading public has stubbornly insisted on voting the greatest book of the twentieth century (against outraged protests from the literary and academic establishments) could also write this:

The Lord of the Rings is of course a fundamentally religious and Catholic work; unconsciously so at first, but consciously in the revision. ... For as a matter of fact, I have consciously planned very little, and should chiefly be grateful for having been brought up (since I was eight) in a Faith that has nourished me and taught me all the little that I know...

As if to give us some consolation for the many things in the past fifty years that we Catholics have to be ashamed of, this humble, irascible Catholic professor gave us something to be very, very proud of indeed.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

This Sunday at St. Thomas

Sung by the St. Ann Choir at St. Thomas Aquinas today:

Thomas Mudd, Let thy merciful ears, O Lord
Heinrich Isaac, Dico vobis
Pierre de la Rue, O salutaris Hostia

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

The other thing Reagan said

On this twentieth anniversary of the momentous speech in Berlin in which Ronald Reagan famously said, "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall", Terence Jeffrey at recalls something else that Ronald Reagan said that day.

Pondering what sustained Berliners, surrounded as they were by the Soviet menace, Reagan concluded: "Perhaps this gets to the root of the matter, to the most fundamental distinction of all between East and West. The totalitarian world produces backwardness because it does such violence to the spirit, thwarting the human impulse to create, to enjoy, to worship. The totalitarian world finds even symbols of love and of worship an affront."

Reagan was referring to the demolition of churches and removal of crosses and Christian statuary that was longstanding policy of the old East German communist government.

His point is interesting because he's linking human creativity to public acknowledgment of God.

When I recall life during the Cold War, it seems to me that the Soviet bloc did very well at inventing and building weapons, and planning for war. But the creativity of their societies seemed stifled in every other way, except when a brave soul like Solzhenitsyn could smuggle something through the censorship. And this was true not only in art, but in more mundane pursuits. Consumer goods were shoddy, scarce, and derivative of Western styles. Soviet cars were a joke.


I think it's because everything true and beautiful comes from God. Cut yourself off from Him, study to forget Him, and after a while, all you can make are things that are temporarily useful. While the memory, the thought-habit, of God's primary creation is still present, as it is the West now, things of lesser good can still be made; but soon, all effort turns to things that can be used for domination. And not just domination of the State over individuals, but also the domination of the weak over the weaker (e.g., abortion on demand, and the killing of human embryos for potential disease therapies). This, after all, was what Lucifer chose when he rebelled: better to reign in Hell, as Milton so colorfully gave him to say -- where I can dominate everyone and everything around me with my own demi-god inventions, according to my own lights and rules -- than serve in Heaven. Than acknowledge that God is God, and I am not.

Lucifer's choice was the Soviet choice. They were great (though ultimately not great enough) at the tools of domination and control, but they gave up all else to get that. And still they failed.

Which is why there's a very practical side to preserving and even expanding the acknowledgment of God -- and specifically, God as Christian faith understands Him -- in public life here in our own country. If we too study to forget God, to drive all mention of Him out of public life, we too will have made that same choice. And we'll go down that same road that took Lucifer to Hell, and the Soviets to the ash heap of history.

We'll give up God, who is everything, to get something -- and we'll end up with nothing.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Corpus Christi at St. Thomas

What a musical delight at St. Thomas Aquinas for Corpus Christi today (oops, sorry, the Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ):

Josquin des Prez, Missa Pange lingua
Gregorian sequence Lauda Sion Salvatorem
William Byrd, Ave verum Corpus (motet)
O salutaris Hostia at the exposition of the Blessed Sacrament
Pange lingua (eight verses!) during the procession of the Blessed Sacrament
Holy God, we praise Thy Name (in four part harmony!) at the dismissal

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Poor St. Athanasius

We went to a local Episcopalian church this morning to hear a friend play her flute at the service. It's actually kind of educational, because it points out to me, every time we go there, why Episcopalianism is doomed.

The priest really seemed to be trying to preach a good, encouraging sermon about the importance of the Trinity. He clearly seemed to think that the Trinity was A Good Thing, sort of. Unfortunately, he seemed very hazy about why it was, or why it would make any difference to anyone.

I knew we were in trouble when he got the congregation to turn to the Athanasian Creed in the back of the Book of Common Prayer (and Catholics take note: why don't our missals have the Athanasian Creed in them?), and provoked a laugh -- a laugh -- with his reading of this sentence:

As also there are not Three Uncreated, nor Three Incomprehensibles, but One Uncreated, and One Uncomprehensible.

It was as if there were two people at war in the guy's mind: one who revered the mystery, and one who felt it was his modernist duty to say, Who can understand this stuff?

Ah, but he did get in a dig at Dick Cheney in the same sermon. Don't ask me how.

So, poor St. Athanasius. He fought hard for what we now take for granted as the orthodox view of the Holy Trinity, at, as they say, considerable personal inconvenience. His championing of our Catholic understanding of the Trinity saved Western Europe from Arianism, which, as Hilaire Belloc proposed, would have left us with more or less the same worldview as Islam. But for all that, he sure didn't get much respect this morning.

This Episcopal priest just seemed to be unable to make up his mind. Which pretty much sums up my impression of the Episcopal Church at large. Which is why it's doomed.

Friday, June 01, 2007

What a surprise

Charles Rust-Tierney, president of the Virginia ACLU until 2005 and a member of its Board until the day of his arrest, has been sentenced to eight years in prison for possession of some particularly nasty child pornography which, bright fellow that he is, he had purchased using his own credit card and using his real name.

He had been in jail since his arrest earlier this year, because two separate judges in pretrial hearings had rejected his request for freedom, describing the pornography as some of the most sickening they ever had encountered.

Mr. Rust-Tierney wasn't content to enjoy his interests himself. He worked hard to make them available to everyone:

It was Rust-Tierney who, nearly 10 years ago, had argued before the Loudoun County Library Board against any Internet filters on the computers at the public facility.

The library, which had been using filters on its computers, was ordered to change its policy by a federal court.

Coverage of this story by the New York Times and NBC: zero. The WorldNet story cited reports that even when the story is mentioned, the guy's connection with the ACLU is, well, overlooked.

Due to space and time constraints, I'm sure.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

St. Joan

Advertising e-mails -- even ones I sign up for -- usually provoke a resigned (or irritated) sigh when they show up in my inbox. Now and then, however, they remind me of something valuable. Like Ignatius Press' sale on books about St. Joan of Arc, whose feast day was yesterday.

Growing up very fond of English history, I used to be pretty ambivalent about St. Joan. She was clearly very brave, and inspired by God, but she turned back the English just at the moment they appeared to be completing the building of a grand Anglo-French empire. How beautiful that would have been, I used to think.

But with the passing of the years I've seen God's wisdom working through Joan in ways I hadn't appreciated. That Anglo-French empire, had it been allowed to happen, wouldn't have been so beautiful after all.

When Joan's heroism was flashing so briefly in France, Henry VIII's "Reformation" in England was barely a century away. If France had been under English control when Henry decided that getting a male heir was more important than the unity of Christendom, she would have been torn away from the Catholic faith and her people subjected to the same depredations and persecutions that Henry inflicted on his own unhappy realm. Examples could be multiplied, but just imagine this: Chartres and Notre Dame without their stained glass, smashed out by Protestant zealots, who did their work so thoroughly in so many English parishes.

God certainly has worked in mysterious ways, but none more mysterious than placing the sword of France in the hands of that simple peasant girl from Domremy.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Not a whim, not a fancy

Michelle Malkin reports that Lina Joy, that Malaysian woman who was trying to convert from Islam to Christianity in order to marry a Christian man, has lost her bid to have her conversion officially recognized. "You can't at whim and fancy convert from one religion to another", she was told by Federal Court Chief Justice Ahmad Fairuz Sheikh Abdul Halim. Gee, with a name like that, I wonder on which side his sympathies lay.

"Whim and fancy"?? Knowing that the goons will be lining up to behead you for apostasy, most Muslims would probably not convert for mere "whim and fancy". They might, however, convert because they were convinced that Christianity is true and Islam is false, and brave the consequences for the sake of their Savior.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Constantinople Day

May 29 again; one more anniversary of the capture and sack of the Christian city of Constantinople, capital of the thousand-year-old Byzantine Empire, by the forces of The Religion of Peace(tm) on this night in 1453. Five hundred and fifty-four years ago. Five hundred and fifty-four years of oppression and genocide in the name of Allah.

May 29 ought to be marked in black on every Christian's calendar. Just so we remember.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Memorial Day

Mother, with unbowed head
Hear thou across the sea
The farewell of the dead,
The dead who died for thee.
Greet them again with tender words and grave,
For, saving thee, themselves they could not save.

To keep the house unharmed
Their fathers built so fair,
Deeming endurance armed
Better than brute despair,
They found the secret of the word that saith,
"Service is sweet, for all true life is death."

So greet thou well thy dead
Across the homeless sea,
And be thou comforted
Because they died for thee.
Far off they served, but now their deed is done.
Forevermore, their life and thine are one.

From Songs of the Fleet, by Sir Henry Newbolt (c. 1910), hauntingly set to music by Sir Charles Villiers Stanford. Very popular during World War I, before the cancerous cynicism of the exhausted, postwar 1920's took hold. You may disagree with the sentiment and the style, but at least the people of those days took unmistakable, unalloyed pride in the young men who went off to war and did not come back.

Pentecost at St. Thomas, and elsewhere

Sung by the St. Ann Choir yesterday on Pentecost at St. Thomas Aquinas:

Orlando di Lasso, Missa osculetur me
Gregorian sequence, Veni, Sancte Spiritus
Jacobus Gallus, Factus est repente

So, another big treat this week: another complete Renaissance Mass setting, right after last week's observance of Ascension with those mass propers by Byrd.

To those who may ask "Don't those old settings make the Mass last too long?" I'd say, yes, they do make it last longer... but not too long. For one thing, most of the settings from the sixteenth century are really pretty compact. And the somewhat more leisurely pace gives you time to really think about what's being said in the Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, and Agnus Dei, but not enough time to get restive. As I've said many times here, our ancestors in the Faith weren't dummies.

As for the "elsewhere" in this post's title, that would be a popular Protestant church in this area, Los Altos United Methodist. Earlier in the day, I sang with their regular choir as a "ringer" -- that's someone who comes in to reinforce the usual choir on a special occasion (there were a lot of us). They were doing the Wilhousky arrangement of Battle Hymn of the Republic, quite a dynamite setting which benefits from a sizable choir, and rarely performed in this liberal bastion.

They plan their services carefully at LAUMC, and are favorably representative of Protestant congregations around here, but after attending Mass at St. Thomas, with its real-deal liturgy, its solid Pentecost message (LAUMC had picked other scripture that day so that the pastor could deliver an anti-Iraq-war sermon) and its glorious Renaissance music, my reaction to the LAUMC morning service was simply: how pallid. And despite the evident effort and planning -- how cobbled-together it seemed by comparison. Yes, I grant that it might be attractive in the short term with its superficial contemporaneity, and the Battle Hymn setting was a fine jolt of musical caffeine, but after you've had enough of that... there's not much else there.

I've seldom felt more blessed to be Catholic.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Ascension at St. Thomas

Sung by the St. Ann Choir last Sunday (Ascension Day as celebrated here):

William Byrd, propers for the Feast of the Ascension
Jacobus Gallus, Ascendens Christum in altum

Wonderful singing, including some darned loud and confident Gregorian chant by the congregation.

And just UP the street...

There's been quite a little flap in San Mateo, about ten miles north of here, concerning a Catholic layman named Ross Foti and St. Matthew's Catholic Church. Specifically, it's about the large photos of aborted children he has mounted on his van, which he parks on the stretch of busy El Camino Real near the parish school. The parents of the elementary-age students at St. Matthew's school are furious because they say their kids are traumatized. Foti says he'll park somewhere else if St. Matthew's will agree to at least mention abortion once a month from the pulpit. The pastor of St. Matthew's says that that would be tantamount to giving in to "blackmail."

How do so many people contrive to be so wrong and so right all at the same time?

Mr. Foti is right that people need to be shaken out of their comfortable ignorance of the horrific reality of abortion, but he's wrong to push those images into the sight of children who are too young to understand them (and he's been trying this tactic for twenty years in the area; you'd think he'd wise up by now). The parents are right to object to this tactic, but wrong to object to the display of the pictures per se. The pastor is right that the Church should never bow to pressure, but since when should it take "blackmail" to get a mention of our Church's chief contemporary moral concern once a month?

I sympathize with Mr. Foti's frustration, but he's doing the cause little good with this scattershot tactic. Showing the reality of abortion has a place, presented thoughtfully to adults and teenagers -- especially the latter, who will probably be tempted most strongly to take abortion's deceptively easy way out, someday soon.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Meanwhile, just down the street...

Diogenes takes apart some prevailing attitudes at the once-Catholic University of Santa Clara, just a few miles down El Camino Real from where I live. It's still run by Jesuits, but as his quotes from the student newspaper's recent editorial on the school's friendliness to the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer community make clear, they're now that wonderful breed of gray-ponytailed tie-dyed progressive Jesuit. Read: heretic.

What makes Santa Clara's embrace of all that's trendily perverted especially ironic to me personally is that my late uncle was thrown out of Santa Clara a few weeks short of graduation -- for refusing to apologize for breaking the 10 o'clock curfew one time too many. It seems he was sneaking out to meet his girlfriend for a little smooching in a back booth at the local malt shop. That was in 1937.

Poor uncle John! If he'd only been born a few decades later, the men in charge of his Catholic formation would have been handing him condoms and leering sympathetically as he and his girlfriend headed off for the Drag Show.

Uncharitable of me? I don't think so. This kind of officially sanctioned sin, in institutions that claim the name "Catholic", just has to stop.

What do I want? Orthodoxy! When do I want it? NOW!

Hardly an original chant, but hey, its opposite seems to have worked for the gray-ponytailed, progressive Jesuits. Big time.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Scary pictures

Imagine you're a college professor, and you're putting together a lecture on the Holocaust. You decide to add some visuals, so you gather some video of the crematoria, the emaciated corpses, the human-skin lampshades. Then you get a call. "Those pictures are excessively violent and gruesome. Showing those atrocities will just turn people off. You're not helping to heal the souls of those who did the killing."

What would you say to that? After you picked your jaw up off the floor, that is?

Well, LifeSite News reports on something pretty darned similar today. It says the Bishop of Calgary, Fred Henry, has withdrawn his support from the Canadian Centre for Bioethical Reform, which makes no apology for showing the gruesome, bloody truth about abortion to Canadian college students, in particular through their new Genocide Awareness Project. Here's what Bishop Henry says:

In no way may these pictures be construed as healing, nor can the project be described as ‘tough love’ and I am not in favour of this kind of pedagogy. It is not good news and in my opinion does more harm than good to the pro-life cause.

"In no way may these pictures be construed as healing...". Perhaps not, if by healing you mean pretending that your abortion was no big deal. Those pictures are going to make women who have chosen abortion, and men who encouraged and pressured them in that direction, very uncomfortable. It might even make them horrified enough to repent. And aren't we always being told that the bottom line is always the salvation of souls?

No, I'd say those CCBR pictures are very healing indeed, in a way that Catholics used to be encouraged to understand.

Our church once understood that we are way too eager to downplay the gravity of our sins, and to forget what they cost. So the Church used to tell us to meditate on the terrible things our Savior had to endure to secure our salvation, the things Mel Gibson got into trouble for depicting so honestly in The Passion of the Christ. The death of Jesus wasn't to be glossed over by the brief credal declaration "was crucified, died, and was buried." We were encouraged to think hard about the crown of thorns, the scourging, the nails, all the hideous details of first-century crucifixion -- not out of any relish for those details, but because it was a way to break through our defenses of self-justification, and because no sane person could think about them for five minutes without falling prostrate before the God who would subject Himself to them for our sake. Which is exactly what the Church is about: bringing people to that painful, saving moment when they come face to face with the price of sin, and with the incomprehensible Love that paid that price for us.

"It is not good news..."

Then neither was the crucifixion, Your Excellency. Shall we just take those sad chapters right out of the Gospels, then, so we can go straight from the Last Supper to Easter without those unfortunate incidents in between?

Seriously, from the Calgary diocese website, it looks like Bishop Henry often has his priorities pretty straight, and at least his diocese has a good track record of supporting pro-life groups. This time, though, he's made the wrong decision. I hope CCBR is back in his good graces very soon.