Wednesday, January 31, 2007

A piper

A twelfth-century piper from the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena, California, which I photographed on a visit last year. Unlike most museums, this one cheerfully allows photos unless you make a pest of yourself.

700 years and counting

These three panels started out in France in the late 1200's, but are now making up part of the ceiling of the late William Randolph Hearst's bedroom at Hearst Castle in central California.

Amazingly, other than a professional cleaning according to current conservation practices, the panels have not been restored at all. The colors are clear and vibrant; when you see them "in person" the characters look like they're ready to step right out into the room.

Chalk up another accomplishment for those poor benighted medieval folks. Their knowledge of the chemistry of their paints was rudimentary, but they knew what lasted and what didn't. When an ordinary medieval artist painted something, it stayed painted. (Interesting that Leonardo, by modern acclaim an incomparable genius, botched the technical side of his Last Supper fresco so badly it started to fall apart within a few decades).

I wonder how much of the "art" that hangs in today's galleries will still be around in 100 years, let alone 700. Or how much of that anyone would think of hanging in their bedroom.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Join up!

Over across the pond, Fr. John Boyle (Ashford, Kent, GB) has added a resolution to the LiveSimply website, but not the PC sort that they appear to be used to.

I will promise to pray every day for an end to abortion so that all who have begun to live may have the chance to "follow after us" and "enjoy the fruits of (God's) creation" but I want 10 other people to join me.

Lest you think the last bit is strange, the request for others to join in is common to the LiveSimply site, which emphasizes group action and cooperation.

It took only a few hours for the required ten (I think I was #9) to sign up.

Wouldn't it say a lot to the world if this was one of the most heavily-subscribed projects ever offered at LiveSimply? Can you spend a few minutes a day joining Fr. Boyle in praying that the daily slaughter of thousands of children will cease? No? What were you planning to do with that little smidgin of time, instead? OK, I knew you'd come round. Go here and sign up, and let the man know he's not alone.


From the 1955 encyclical Musicae Sacrae:

It is the duty of all those to whom Christ the Lord has entrusted the task of guarding and dispensing the Church's riches to preserve this precious treasure of Gregorian chant diligently and to impart it generously to the Christian people…. And if in Catholic churches throughout the entire world Gregorian chant sounds forth without corruption or diminution, the chant itself, like the sacred Roman liturgy, will have a characteristic of universality, so that the faithful, wherever they may be, will hear music that is familiar to them and a part of their own home. In this way they may experience, with much spiritual consolation, the wonderful unity of the Church. This is one of the most important reasons why the Church so greatly desires that the Gregorian chant traditionally associated with the Latin words of the sacred liturgy be used.

Quoted, appropriately enough, at the Church Music Association of America's site Musica Sacra. They have a link to the text of the entire encyclical.

Monday, January 29, 2007

A new lion

Fr. Erik Richtsteig over at Orthometer has posted his homily for the recent anniversary of Roe v. Wade.

One of my favorite things about being a Catholic is that we have saints. Not only do they pray for us, but their lives give us examples of how to follow Our Lord in very concrete situations. There are saints for every situation and every state of life.

Roger that. By comparison, the lack of attention to saints always struck me as a huge hole in Protestantism during the years I wandered there. The big Presbyterian church I worked at for several years hardly ever said a thing even about John Knox, their founder.

Each year as this weekend approaches, I turn in prayer and thought to one of my favorite of the new saints, actually a blessed, Clemens August Graf von Galen. (Isn’t that a wonderful, German name?) Blessed Clemens was the Bishop of Munster in Germany during the time of Hitler. He had the nickname of “The Lion of Munster”. What do lions do? They roar. Blessed Clemens roared against the injustices perpetrated by the government of his own, beloved country. He was a patriot, but this did not stop him from denouncing the evils of the Nazi regime; against the Jews, against the handicapped, and against the sick. He did not shrink from doing so even though by doing so he took his own life in his hands. I pray that I will have the courage to be like Blessed Clemens.

So should we all, if only to get things changed before we have to face what Clemens faced. We don't have to fear being hauled off to a concentration camp -- yet. I don't know about you, but I'd prefer that things never get that way here. But the only way to see to that is to turn things around now, not years or decades from now.

What then are we to do? First, we need to pray and do penance both in reparation for the sins of our country regarding innocent human life and also for the conversion of those who are pro-abortion. Conversions are possible. Conversions have been remarkable. Norma McCorvey, Jane Roe, worked many years in abortion clinics. Yet, through the prayerful witness of Christians and other people of good will, she is now a pro-life, believing Catholic. Second, every Catholic need to learn what the Church teaches about the sanctity of innocent human life and why She teaches it. We need to learn this so we can speak intelligently on this issue at home, work, school, or even socially. We need to learn this so we are not silent in the face of so much pro-abortion propaganda. Lastly, we need to work politically to change our country’s policy. It has been through politics that we have been stuck with this abomination and it is partially through politics that it will be changed. Like it or not, it is through political means that things happen in our country; by elections; by voting for candidates and politically parties who support our position on the sanctity of innocent human life. Unfortunately, there are some candidate and some parties that are directly opposed to the Church’s infallible and certain teaching on this issue. We cannot vote for these people regardless of their stand on other issues. Nothing is more important than the right to life, not the economy, not national defense, nothing! If you are dead, nothing else matters.

Habemus leonem!

Our pride and joy has a website

I didn't know until recently that the St. Ann Choir, which provides us with Gregorian chant and Renaissance motets every Sunday and major feast day here at St. Thomas Aquinas, has a website. If you're ever curious about the words of the motets I report about more or less weekly, go there and click on Motet Texts and Translations.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Keys of the Kingdom

A detail from St. Peter's window at my home parish of St. Thomas Aquinas.

This Sunday at St. Thomas

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

Martin de Rivaflecha (d. 1528), Anima mea liquefacta est
Antoine Brumel (d. 1515), Ecce panis angelorum

Today was the feast day of our parish's patron, St. Thomas Aquinas. The motets were nicely chosen: the first is a text from the Song of Songs, which Aquinas reportedly asked to have read to him on his deathbed (instead of being badgered by his students, who wanted him to dictate the conclusions to various unfinished passages in the Summa Theologica); the second is a text of one of Thomas' own hymns.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Anyone for taking back Catholic schools?

The California Catholic Daily is turning into a wonderful resource -- sort of a localized Catholic World News.

In their story today about Alexandra Pelosi, daughter of Nancy Pelosi and maker of a new (and reportedly rather hostile) documentary about Evangelicals, she talks about the wonderful way the teachers at her Catholic schools faithfully passed on the Catholic moral tradition to her back in the 80's. Not.

Pelosi, a graduate of San Francisco’s upscale Convent of the Sacred Heart High School and Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, said what she was taught in these Catholic schools differed dramatically from what she learned from the Evangelicals. “We were taught just to accept people, that was just a given,” she told the Jan. 17 San Francisco Chronicle. “I don't ever remember being told at Convent of the Sacred Heart that gay was wrong. They never even told us there was anything wrong with abortion. They were just choices.

This just really annoys me. Add these institutions to the list of Catholic schools and colleges that solicit donations from the Catholic faithful, and then turn right around and deliver a moral education that differs in no significant way from secular schools. Ms. Pelosi has just given us a couple of additional examples of how the aggiornamento called for by John XXIII so quickly got translated to "throw out every teaching that doesn't conform to the editorial positions of The New York Times."

Perhaps her teachers might respond that if they had tried to convince their students of the rightness of the Church's teachings on abortion and homosexuality, the students would simply have tuned out. If so, it's very interesting what Ms. Pelosi then says about the impact of spending even the few weeks of research she did for her film with some really dedicated Evangelical Protestants who weren't afraid of what she would think.

Talking of her experiences to the New York Times of Jan. 11, Pelosi said, “I believe in the culture war. And you know what? If I have to take a side in the culture war, I’ll take their [Christian conservative] side. Because if you give me the choice of Paris Hilton or Jesus, I’ll take Jesus.”

So maybe if her teachers back at Sacred Heart, and her professors at Loyola Marymount, had simply laid out the case for the teachings of the Church that employed them...

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Couldn't stand it

Well, I decided that the redone "Scribe" layout on New Blogger was just too ugly, so I'm trying this look instead. Not as elegant, but at least not actively offensive.

It seems to have worked, but...

Updating to one of New Blogger's rewritten templates seems to have worked fine, I guess, but I can't say I'm entranced by some of the typographical changes -- the underlined post title, the lack of space between the title and the post body, the variable line spacings in older posts. Ah, well.

Updating template

I'm going to try updating to one of the New Blogger templates. Pray for success.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Explain this one

As you've probably read (here, for instance), California Assemblywoman Sally Lieber, a Democrat from Mountain View (which is the next town down the Peninsula from us), wants to ban the spanking of children under the age of four.

OK, so she's getting a lot of derision and it looks like the measure is going nowhere for now. But isn't there something just a little bizarre about this?

This woman is an ardent proponent of abortion rights. So basically, she's saying simultaneously:

  1. Spank your kid after she's born, and you go to jail.
  2. Kill your kid before she's born, and you're just exercising your rights.

Explain it if you can. I can't.

Counting heads is not that hard

California Catholic Daily reports that there are wildly differing opinions about the size of the crowd at the West Coast Walk for Life this past Saturday:
Sponsors said between 20,000 and 25,000 people turned out, but a spokesman for the San Francisco Police Department told California Catholic Daily just hours after the event that officers at the scene estimated only about 2,500 marchers. The spokesman was asked to repeat the number to ensure there was no confusion, and confirmed the 2,500 estimate. In a followup phone call to the police operations center shortly before 10 p.m., a dispatcher said, "It could even have been less."

"Whoever told you that was not there," said Stan Devereux, a spokesman for LifeWalk. He said the march stretched more than a mile along the San Francisco waterfront. "You can say 20,000 to 25,000. That's what we were told."

I'm inclined to believe the larger numbers, since some of wider-angle photos posted here seem to take in only a part of the march, yet show a number that must be close to the lower estimate. But it's so darned simple to establish this these days that I'm at a loss to think why some very simple steps weren't taken by the organizers to avoid the inevitable bickering about crowd size. After all, they must know that officialdom in San Francisco is going to do everything they can to downplay the magnitude of participation.

All that's needed is to post someone with an ordinary camcorder at any point along the march that allows the camera to take in perhaps thirty or forty yards of the column as it passes bay. Then you just let the thing run until the march ends. You bring the footage home, cue up to the first batch of marchers as they pass, pause the playback at that frame, then count the heads in that scene. You then fast-forward to the frame in which the last marchers you counted in the first frame are just leaving the field of view, you pause again, and you count heads. And so on to the end of the march. Might be a good idea to capture each "counting" frame as a still, so you could post them as proof of the process' validity.

A small group or even a single person could do the count this way in no more than a few hours, and produce documented results that would be beyond dispute.

So why are we still playing these stupid games with hostile secular authorities and media?

Friday, January 19, 2007

Things are seldom what they seem...

I'm a Gilbert & Sullivan fan, as as any such fan can tell you, there's a G&S quotation suitable for expressing almost every worthwhile sentiment under the sun. And once again, it's so. Take this little couplet from H.M.S. Pinafore:

Things are seldom what they seem,
Skim milk masquerades as cream...

Remember how, a few days ago, a New York Times story revealed the shocking news that fewer than 50% of American women were living with a husband? Remember how everyone rushed to draw dire conclusions from this "fact"?

Now go read Michael Medved's blistering piece that debunks the story and reveals the agenda of the writer. Excerpts below:

On Tuesday, January 16th, 2007, the American people awoke to startling and disturbing news: for the first time ever, the majority of women in the country were living without a husband.


With all the debate and pontification about the new minority status of married women, it’s just too bad that no significant media outlet (beyond this writer, on my nationally syndicated radio show) made the single most important and salient observation about the big news--

That is, it’s not true.

The entire story (based on the work of one ax-grinding, irresponsible, agenda-driven journalist for the New York Times) has been cooked up from willful, blatant and shameful distortions. Amazingly enough, none of the most respected and purportedly responsible media authorities have taken the trouble to call him on it.

First, the truth—a truth that is easily accessible from the United States Census Bureau.

According to the most recent available figures (from 2005), a clear majority (56%) of all women over the age of 20 are currently married.

Moreover, nearly all women in this country will get married at one time or another. Among those above the age of 50 (a group that includes the celebrated Baby Boomers of the famously revolutionary ‘60’s generation), an astonishing 94% have been married at one time or another and some 79% are either currently married or widowed.

Even including the younger, supposedly “post-marriage” generation, and considering all women above the age of 30, some 61% are currently married and another 12% are widowed. In other words, nearly three-fourths (73%, a crushing majority) of all women who have reached the tender age of 30 now occupy a traditional female role as either current wives or widows – avoiding the supposedly trendy status of divorced, separated, co-habiting or single.

So how did the writer get the numbers to support his conclusions?

It’s all based on a fundamentally dishonest decision that Roberts never acknowledges in the entire course of his lengthy article. It turns out that in his analysis he chose to count some 10,154,000 girls between the ages of 15 and 19 as “women.” It should come as no surprise that this vast group of teenagers (yes, teenagers, most of whom live at home) are officially classified as “single.” In fact, 97% of the 15 to 19 year olds identify themselves as “never married.” The Census Bureau, by the way, doesn’t call these youngsters “women” – it labels them “females” (a far more appropriate designation).

Yet even the ridiculous inclusion of his ten million unmarried teenagers couldn’t give Sam Roberts the story he wanted to report – that most American “women” are now unmarried. As a matter of fact, the Census Bureau shows that among all females above 15 the majority (51%!) are still classified as “married.”

So the New York Times required yet another sneaky distortion to shave off that last 2% from the married majority, though this bit of statistical sleight-of-hand Sam Roberts had the decency to acknowledge. “In a relatively small number of cases, the living arrangement is temporary, because the husbands are working out of town, are in the military, or are institutionalized,” he writes. In other words, in his brave new majority of “women” without spouses, he includes all those thousands upon thousands of wives and mothers who are waiting and praying at home for the return of their husbands from Iraq or Afghanistan. By arbitrarily removing this 2% of all females (2,400,000 individuals) who are classified as “married/spouse absent” from the ranks of the married, and then designating as “unmarried” his millions of middle school and high school girls who are living with their parents, together with some 9 million elderly widows who have devoted much of their lives to marriage and husbands (42% of all women over 65 are widows), Roberts can finally arrive at his desired but meaningless conclusion that “most women” now “are living without a husband.” Eureka!

But hey, it's just a newspaper story, right? No big deal, right? Think again.
The endlessly repeated lies – that married people are now a minority, that most women don’t have husbands, that half of all first marriages end in divorce – exert a real world influence on young people trying to make decisions about their own intimate arrangements. The relentless media portrayal of matrimony as a wounded, collapsing, outmoded, dysfunctional institution discourages prospective husbands and wives from making the lifelong commitments on which societal health and effective childrearing depend.
It's the same sort of thing I posted on a few weeks ago: when a petty official's hamhanded insistence that the singing of Christmas carols be stopped, the act was repudiated soon afterward by her superiors, yet the deed was done; the music was stopped, and a moment that might have been, but was not, graced by a tiny sliver of the Christmas message will never come again.

And in journalism, even when apologies are made and stories are retracted (always on an obscure inside page, of course), the lie is out there, ready to deceive and demoralize for decades to come.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Visit Italy (while there are still Italians)

Catholic World News reports:

Rome, Jan. 17, 2007 ( - The latest demographic statistics for 2005 show only 1.33 children being born to the average woman in Italy over the course of her childbearing years (15-49).

That figure remains one of the lowest in Europe, and well below the “replacement level” needed to maintain a constant population, but somewhat higher than the all-time low of 1.19 recorded in Italy in 1995.

In recent decades Italy has consistently ranked among Europe’s least fertile countries in terms of population, with the number of children born to the average woman falling regularly below the replacement level, except for a brief “baby-boom” in the early 1960s that brought the average childbearing figure up to 2.7.

I'm reminded of the oft-quoted Proverbs 14:12 : "There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death." And not just the death of one man, but of an entire nation, it now appears.

Clearly, part of this Italian "way" -- one being followed in most other Western countries, too -- is the devaluation of having and raising children, and the widespread use of contraception and abortion. Maybe Italy is nominally still a Catholic country, but obviously the teachings of the Church on these subjects long ago ceased to guide the way Italians behave. They're now far too sophisticated to obey their Church.

The reward of their sophistication will very likely be the disappearance of the Italian people as an ethnic group. Or, more accurately, the disappearance of all those Italians who follow their own, very sophisticated way.

The sad history of the human race tells many a tale of the extermination of ethnic groups by others. But the suicide of ethnic groups -- now that's an innovation that will surely rank as one of the distinctives of our own very, very sophisticated age.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Give me that old-time religion!

Gerald has posted on the non-response of D.C's Archbishop Wuerl to Nancy Pelosi's ardent and public opposition to the church's teachings on matters of abortion, euthanasia, embryonic stem cell research, and so on. The comments are well worth reading, too, particularly those that urge us to respect the Archbishop's decision to forego any public criticism of Ms. Pelosi in favor of a more "pastoral" approach.

Me, I think that the "pastoral" approach -- that is, doing nothing publicly (and probably nothing privately, either) -- has been given far too much time already. About twenty years' too much. It's time for Ms. Pelosi to be confronted publicly, given a short deadline for public repentance and admission of error, and then publicly excommunicated and denied the sacraments. Some people will think me heartless for suggesting this, but I ask them: what about the 4,000 children killed in the U.S. every day through the abortion rights on which Ms. Pelosi has built her career? Do they count for nothing? What about the 4,000 who will be killed tomorrow? and the day after that? and the day after that? If Ms. Pelosi were to have a change of heart because her church finally spoke honestly to her about the spiritual consequences she has already brought upon herself, might some future day's 4,000 live, not die? Isn't such a goal worth a little strong language?

And what about Ms. Pelosi's immortal soul? If twenty years of pastoral (in)action has made no change in her public behavior, which by canon law has already separated her from the Church by latae sententiae, turning every reception of Holy Communion by her into sacrilege, isn't it kinder to point out her peril to her in a way that she can no longer ignore?

A while ago I posted on the chilling scene in the 1964 movie Becket in which the title character, Archbishop Thomas Becket of Canterbury, excommunicates a baron who has publicly stepped over the line (by standing by approvingly while his men murdered a priest). Here are the words he uses:

In that Lord Gilbert has rendered no act of contrition or repentance ... we do here and now separate him from the precious Body and Blood of Christ, and from the society of all Christians. We exclude him from Holy Mother Church and from all her sacraments, in heaven or on earth. We declare him excommunicate and anathema. We cast him into the outer darkness. We judge him damned with the Devil and his fallen angels and all the reprobate to eternal fire and everlasting pain.

Does this old-time religion seem outdated? Does this strong warning seem too strong? It doesn't to me. Archbishop Wuerl and all the other bishops with pro-abortion Catholic politicians in their dioceses should take a page from Becket's book. It may be the only way to save Ms. Pelosi, not to mention tomorrow's 4,000. And tomorrow's. And tomorrow's.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Epiphany at St. Thomas

Sung by the St. Ann Choir at St. Thomas Aquinas on Epiphany Sunday (yesterday):
  • Ludwig Senfl, Missa Nisi Dominus
  • Tomas Luis de Victoria, Magi viderunt stellam

Friday, January 05, 2007

Not intended, but very apt

I was listening to a CD I'd never paid much attention to after the first quick listening, and came upon a song set to these lines by the English poet Edmund Blunden (1896-1974):

Is not this enough for moan
To see this babe all motherless --
A babe beloved -- thrust out alone
Upon death's wilderness?
Out tears, fall, fall, fall -- I would weep
My blood away to make her warm,
Who never went on earth one step,
Nor heard the breath of the storm.
How shall you go, my little child,
Alone on that most wintry wild?

It's called To Joy, which sounds like sheer bitterness until you know that "Joy" was the name of one of Blunden's daughters, who died when only forty days old. It's his lament for a child who was very beloved indeed, and motherless only in the sense that death had made her so.

But I also read it a different way: as Christ's lament for the millions of unborn children who have died in America by the abortionist's arts.

Read it again, with that perspective in mind. How much more true even than its original meaning is it to call those children "motherless": rejected and abandoned by the one person on whom they should be able to rely, when all others reject and abandon them? How true it rings to note the deathly winter chill of a world where so many mothers cast their babies out upon "that most wintry wild."

And how true it rings that Christ would weep His blood away to keep the warm breath of life in them -- if the Father had left that task to him.

But he didn't. He left it to us.

Hope in the waiting room

I took my daughter's car in to the dealership today to get a couple of recall things taken care of while she's on vacation.

The bad news is that the TV in the waiting room was tuned to CNN's coverage of opening day of the new Congress, and I had to take pains not to have to listen to all the fawning over Nancy Pelosi's ascent to the Speaker's role.

The good news is that among the waiting room's cross-section of citizenry in this hyper-liberal part of California, no one else was listening to it, either.

There's hope for the country yet.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Get the candles ready...

I'm sure we all have certain scenes from certain movies that have stuck with us throughout our lives. One of mine is from the 1964 movie version of Jean Anouilh's play Becket.

In it, the clergy of Canterbury have gathered to perform the ceremony by which the excommunication of King Henry II, ordered by Archbishop Thomas Becket, will be proclaimed. Each man carries a heavy candlestick with a lighted candle. As Becket (formidably played by Richard Burton) declaims the final terrible words, casting Henry out of communion with all Christians, each man turns his candlestick over so that the flame is lowermost, jams the candle into the floor to snuff it out, then thrusts it away from him in an echoing clatter.

It gives me shivers, even now, to describe it.

I don't know if such a ceremony ever existed, but whether as a revival or an innovation, I want to see it done for incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi when she stops at Catholic churches in Baltimore and Washington, D.C. on her "celebration tour."

For ages, this... person has blithely claimed to be Catholic and received communion, all the while using her political office to push an extreme anti-Catholic position on abortion, and abetting the hideous destruction of more than forty million American children over the past decades. And during all her many terms in Congress, no bishop of San Francisco has ever said a public word against it.

I can't travel to the East coast to take part, but I sure would like to see a few pro-life Catholic lay people get together to give her the Becket treatment on the steps of the churches she's visiting. If anyone's brave enough to take me seriously, I'll just offer some practical advice. I wouldn't spend a lot on the candlesticks; make 'em out of 2x2 lumber, maybe three feet tall; drill a hole for the candle and make sure it won't fall out when you turn it over, spoiling the effect. Make sure you've checked local ordinances to find out if you need a demonstration or parade permit. Let the local TV stations know you're up to something unusually interesting, and show up in time to get in front of the cameras. Get someone with a Richard-Burton-size voice to read out the pertinent section of canon law that demonstrates that Ms. Pelosi has already excommunicated herself a zillion times over. Then over go the candles.

And if the bishops of those dioceses are silent or prevaricating? Then sorry, gentlemen. We'd far prefer it if you would lead, but if you won't, laymen will step forward. Vexilla regis prodeunt.