Monday, April 30, 2007

Pretty much sums it up

Former terrorist Walid Shoebat speaking at Stanford University (mirabile dictu) on April 16:

“Christians proselytize too much,” he said, “But while a Christian fundamentalist will only give you a headache, a Muslim fundamentalist will chop the whole head off.”

A standing ovation followed the presentation. At Stanford.

There is still hope for the West.

Saturday, April 28, 2007


Here's a little more from Pope Benedict's Christianity and the Crisis of Cultures (p. 107):

Faith is anchored in what Jesus and the saints see

Jesus, he who knows God directly, sees him. This is why he is the true mediator between God and man. His human act of seeing the divine reality is the source of light for all men.

I can't quote the extensive sections of which this is the final restatement, in which Benedict develops the key idea of truly looking at the other whom we purport to love, and the disastrous consequences of looking away. I'll just say that after reading this small volume, I thought I understood things better than I ever had before. Who -- what human, that is -- has fully seen God? Jesus only. The Second Person, in perfect communion with the First, forever.

And then he turned around and offered the Father, whom he sees so perfectly, to us. He poured out his whole life so that could happen, and he pours it out in the great mystery of the Eucharist at every Mass.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Send us more like this guy

I'm becoming more and more aware of just how lucky -- well, OK, that's not quite the word -- we are to have Benedict as our Pope in these days. The times cry out for a devout man with enormous learning, a very logical mind, and an ability to write so convincingly and winningly that the world must grudgingly admit that, after all, the Catholic faith has never lost its fundamental connection with reason. So, that's who God has sent us. For example, take this bit from Christianity and the Crisis of Cultures (Ignatius, 2005):

In the age of the Enlightenment, the attempt was made to understand and define the essential norms of morality by saying that these would be valid etsi Deus non daretur, even if God did not exist. ... At that time, this seemed possible, since the great fundamental convictions created by Christianity were largely resistant to attack, and seemed undeniable. But this is no longer the case. ... [T]he attempt, carried to extremes, to shape human affairs to the total exclusion of God, leads us more and more to the brink of the abyss, toward the utter annihilation of man. We must therefore reverse the axiom of the Enlightenment and say: Even the one who does not succeed in finding the path to accepting the existence of God ought nevertheless to try to live and to direct his life veluti si Deus daretur, as if God did indeed exist. (pp. 50-51)

Very apt, especially in an era when powerful forces are moving to make the United States and the UK into utterly secular states.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

The Devil drives a Ferrari

CWN noted that the Pope recently called attention to driving safety in his recent weekly audience. At first I thought, c'mon, wasn't there anything more important to comment on?

And then I remembered. Pope Benedict lives in Italy, where, according to humorist Dave Barry, it appears to be against the law for any driver to ever be behind another.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Ammunition for a different battle

CWN's Diogenes provided a link today to this splendid bibliography of articles relating to the question the press loves to dwell on: did Pope Pius XII do enough to help the Jews before and during World War II?

Answer: yes, he did.

Finally, a victory

This morning I was astounded to hear that the Supreme Court has upheld the 2003 Partial Birth Abortion Ban.

For the first time I can recall, a significant limitation has been placed on what has been a nearly unfettered right to abort by any means the mother and doctor agree upon. In this long war against abortion on demand, I've become very accustomed to the expectation that despite victories everywhere else, SCOTUS was the battlefield where final defeat was assured. The other side has known that even as public opinion turns against them, they could still get their bottom-line result from the Nine, and the business of getting American moms to destroy their children could go on.

Granted, this was a very limited victory. The Act in question only prohibited the grisliest, most inhumane method of late-term abortion. But listen to how the methods are described in the AP story, from which most news outlets will draw their reportage:

The procedure at issue involves partially removing the fetus intact from a woman's uterus, then crushing or cutting its skull to complete the abortion.

Abortion opponents say the law will not reduce the number of abortions performed because an alternate method - dismembering the fetus in the uterus - is available and, indeed, much more common.

The inclusion of these phrases -- crushing or cutting its skull... dismembering the fetus in the uterus -- will bring the reality of abortion into the lives of otherwise complacent Americans, if only for a day. Most people get around the abortion issue by insulating themselves from that reality. They want to think that something clean and modern and surgical happens to an invisible clump of unrecognizable cells, that it's all somehow OK, and besides, who are they to judge...

But crushing skulls and dismembering fetuses are things that most Americans will still recoil from in horror. Thank God.

Now, as for the future. First, I never, ever, want to hear another pro-life voter tell me, "I'm staying home this election because the Republican candidate isn't pro-life enough for me". The only way Justices Alito and Roberts got there, and could finally tip the SCOTUS balance toward sanity, was through Republican victories at the polls in the past several elections. True, many Republican candidates are squishy on the life issues, and the Republican party as a whole is no paragon of truth and virtue. But if you think you're going to get pro-life nominees to replace Ginsberg and other pro-abortion Justices out of a Democrat in the White House, or through a Senate with a Democrat majority, you're just being ... well, very unrealistic.

So always vote. Vote for the pro-life candidate, especially in the primaries, but if your favorite is defeated, be smart. Vote for the person who is most likely to vote pro-life, at least sometimes. Given political realities today, in most cases that'll be the Republican. If you're a Democrat and that sticks in your craw, please ask yourself: what issue is more important than this?

Second, don't just vote every two years and go back to business as usual the rest of the time. Argue. Bring up the subject. Help turn American public opinion against abortion on demand, one person at a time.

Third, in real war, when you've dealt your enemy an unexpected reverse on the battlefield, and they're reeling and off-balance, you don't tell your victorious troops to stand down and party hearty. You throw your reserves in, and you attack. You try to turn their orderly retreat into a panicked, uncontrollable rout. You fight a little more today, when you're weary and inclined to relax and celebrate, because in this brief, hard-won time, you can do in days what will otherwise take months or years to accomplish.

Uncork the champagne if you must. But then saddle up again.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Dunkin' Catholics

I've commented before on the fad for full-immersion Baptisms in some Catholic parishes and dioceses, so I won't run on too long about it again.

But I've just got to unload once more, since thousands of people in Silicon Valley are now aware of this folly via a page 1 article that appeared yesterday in the local rag, the San Jose Mercury. It's written completely from the standpoint of supporters of this radical change, which means, I suspect, that it relied plenty on information from the diocesan offices in San Jose, where Bishop McGrath supports it wholeheartedly.

It's full of inaccuracies. Here's one:

But by the fourth century, most adults had been baptized, so the [baptismal] fonts shrank to fit infants.

The fourth century began in the year 300. Christianity was still a small minority of the Roman Empire's population, and bloody persecutions were a matter of recent and vivid memory. Despite legalization of the religion under Constantine and Licinius in 313 and a trend toward acceptance during the century, it's laughable to say that adult-scale baptisteries vanished because there were no more adults to baptize.

Then comes another howler:

By the Middle Ages, experts said [and what experts would those be?], baptisms were treated as a quickie formality rather than one of the most important sacraments of a faithful life.

You can always get some mileage out of associating something with those nasty Middle Ages! But anyone who actually reads medieval history, even casually, will be struck by the immense importance the Church placed on early baptism, and how this emphasis was mirrored in society's tendency toward making each child's Christening an increasingly elaborate and celebratory social event. They may have been done "quickly" in the sense that the Church began to stress the need to baptize children as soon as possible after birth, but this was only common sense, given the high infant mortality rate of the times.

Did I say I wouldn't run on about this again? I did, didn't I? OK, just one more:

The Rev. Jose Rubio also prefers immersion, and he requires it for babies he baptizes. He works at the Newman Center at San Jose State University where baptisms are less frequent, and when Rubio needs to supply his own font, he might use a decorated horse trough for adults or a large clay pot from Pottery World for babies.

"When I first started immersing infants by baptism," he said, "I got a cooler - you know, a beer cooler - and put some fabric around it."

That's terrific, Father. The horse trough, the Pottery World pot, and the beer cooler are so much more in keeping with our times -- especially with our times' love of jettisoning every shred of past beauty and wisdom in favor of trendy vulgarity.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Double meaning

What greater tragedy can there be than is presented by the spectacle of a child whose life prospects and hopes are smashed at the very outset of its existence?

Those words are attributed to Winston Churchill in a little book of quotes I was given. When Churchill uttered them, three-quarters of a century ago, he was referring to children being... orphaned. The plight of the children thus left behind touched that great man deeply, although it was only the prosperity of their future lives that was in jeopardy.

Fast forward to our better-medicated, more enlightened times. We have gotten quite a bit better at smashing the life prospects of children, haven't we? We don't even wait for them to be born now, Winston. I can't imagine what you'd say to that.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007


A local columnist at the San Jose Mercury, Mike Cassidy, lamented recently the lack of civility that often characterizes the blogosphere. Surprisingly for a leftist columnist at a leftist newspaper in a leftist city, he gave as an example the ugly events surrounding the life and death of conservative blogger Cathy Seipp:

Recent news reports have told of the circus surrounding the death of Cathy Seipp, a blogger sympathetic to George W. Bush and conservative causes. She'd long been the victim of nasty online attacks. Her imminent death from cancer didn't stop them. The week Seipp died, a man posted a farewell essay that he passed off as Seipp's work. The post, published on a site made to look like Seipp's, repudiated Seipp's core political positions. The piece attacked her own 17-year-old daughter - a daughter who was watching her mother die - referring to her as "arrogant," "obnoxious," a wannabe "skank," according to a story on Can you imagine that kind of evil?

Well, yes I can. It's the natural outcome of the sea-change about behavior that our culture decided to have a generation ago -- a change championed by the left. Manners and self-restraint were out; unfettered self-expression was in, and not just in, but exalted as a good, and a right, that trumped all other interests. Let it all hang out, baby!

It's also the natural outcome of a phenomenon that's been brewing for a lot longer than a generation. In the early decades of the last century, writers including G. K. Chesterton, Hilaire Belloc, and C. S. Lewis noted and lamented the loss of the ability of the common man to base his opinions on reason. Somewhere along the line, the rules of rational argument lost their place in mainstream education. After a generation or two of that, the abandonment of manners and civility in public disagreements started.

And to me, the connection's clear. When you don't know how to reason, and those around you don't know either, there is no longer common ground on which all can stand while looking for the truth. All that's left then is bald assertion, with barely a nod to proof or logic. And the key to victory is then no longer a stronger case, but a louder, nastier, more intimidating voice -- and if that doesn't work, trickery and finally violence.

We long ago entered the world in which the public square would be full of little but shouting. All that Mike Cassidy is noticing is that, in blogging, the same kind of people who screamed obscenities and stormed podiums and stole conservative newspapers back in the 60's to deny their opponents a chance to make their case have now found another public forum to pollute and ruin.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Oh, good. New Stations of the Cross.

I was watching the Pope make the stations of the cross at the Colosseum on EWTN today, and I started noticing that the Stations seemed to be, well, different. And so they were.

And I guess this is the way they're going to be from now on, though I can't find any news tonight that tells me whether this change is going to be normative. Will it really be time for those venerable Stations to come down from the walls of tens of thousands of parish churches all over the world? I don't know.

Yes, I suppose it's good to align this little devotion more closely with the Gospels. But was there nothing else that needed attention in Rome? No cardinals who needed disciplining? No "Catholic" politicians who have built their careers on ignoring Church teaching while receiving their photo-op Eucharist every Easter?

I'm just bitterly tired of seeing every Catholic tradition I was taught as a child tinkered with.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

When you don't obey, no one obeys you

Surprises still do happen these days. I was astounded to see this story from the AP headlined "L.A. Cardinal condemns bill on assisted suicide". Of course, the L.A. cardinal is Cardinal Roger Mahony. In a noon sermon on Palm Sunday (noted as "lightly attended") he said he was "saddened and confused" by the refusal of Fabian Núñez, the California Assembly Speaker and nominal Catholic, to oppose California's new assisted suicide bill, as Mahony urged him to do in a private meeting.

Now, for the Cardinal to stand up publicly and denounce an action of one of the Catholic-in-name-only politicians with whom he likes to associate is surprising in itself, a pleasant surprise. I feel sorry for the Cardinal if those were his true feelings, because he has little reason to expect anything else. He has built a career, and ruined the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, on a pattern of ignoring anything Rome was suggesting, or even ordering, that he didn't like. When you yourself don't obey, you simply haven't the moral standing to claim obedience from anyone under you.

I'll be interested to see what the Cardinal does when, inevitably, Mr. Núñez stiffs him and supports the bill (his spokesman has already effectively told the Cardinal to take a hike). Will he refuse Mr. N communion, as he should? I don't know. I would like to think that that miracle might occur.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

While I'm at it

After describing that big musical effort on Palm Sunday in my last post, with all its beautiful sounds from our rich Catholic traditions, I guess I should also mention another, not so agreeable, sound nearly continuously filling St. Thomas's at the same time: that of screaming, fussing infants.

First, let me say that I think it's wonderful that parents want to bring their children to Mass at all. Even though the kids are too small to understand what's going on, we know that they're receiving God's grace just by being there.


When the parents of these very small children doggedly stay in church while the children wail, fuss, shout, bang toys, etc., they're interfering with the ability of everyone around them to participate in the Mass -- or often, even just to hear what is being spoken or sung. For many of the latter people, it's the only hour of the week that they get away from every other demand of life, and give their full attention to God. And I'm sorry, but those parents are taking that hour away from them.

I can imagine the parents protesting, "But it's our only hour, too! And if we take our kids out far enough so they can't be heard, then we can't hear the Mass, either."

I'm sorry for you. We have a daughter, and she was a fussy infant and toddler, too, many years ago. But we always figured that our child was our problem, not everyone else's, too. If she was too noisy -- and we had a pretty low threshold for that -- we went out with her. Completely. Until the storm passed, or it was time to go home. We didn't (effectively) say to everyone else gathered for worship, "You won't mind having to strain to hear what's being said, will you? Or not getting to hear any of the music without trying to mentally filter out all my kid's noise? Of course you wouldn't!"

Parents: what goes around, comes around. If you succeed in making rudeness the norm, then when you're older and your children are grown, you'll come to Mass one Sunday just longing for an hour of peace, beauty and grace amidst some ruinous period of your life, and instead, you'll have your mind flayed with the screams of the next generation's infants. And you'll go home thinking seriously about going somewhere else for Mass next Sunday -- if you overcome the temptation to give up and just not go at all.

If you don't want that future experience for yourself, don't inflict it in the present on others.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Palm Sunday at St. Thomas

Sung by the St. Ann Choir on Palm Sunday at St. Thomas Aquinas church:

Morales, Vigilate et orate
Tallis, Sancte Deus
Victoria, O vos omnes

That was in addition to enormous extra quantities of Gregorian chant, including the tract Deus, Deus meus, respice in me before the chanting of the entire St. Matthew passion (in English)!