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.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Ms. Pelosi, are you listening?

CWN reports that the Pope told reporters in Brazil that in recently threatening excommunication to Catholic politicians who vote for abortion, Mexican bishops did nothing except to reiterate settled Church law. A spokesman later pointed out that the excommunication doesn't have to be pronounced -- it's a matter of latae sententiae.

Like others, I would have preferred that the Pope had added, "And therefore no such excommunicated politician may present himself to receive Holy Eucharist until he has publicly altered his views and confessed his sin."

But it's a good thing. A very good thing.

Can't wait to hear how Nancy Pelosi responds. "I'm only following my conscience"? Sorry, dear, your conscience doesn't get to form itself in a vacuum if you're Catholic. You have a responsibility to form it in accord with Church teaching. And if you won't do that, then please have the decency to acknowledge you've separated yourself from the Church until you accept God's grace and come back.

All the way back.

Update: Phil Lawler at CWN has written about the flurry of "clarifications" of the Pope's remarks. It's worth reading, although I was surprised and a little disappointed to read this:

The Code of Canon Law clearly stipulates that anyone directly involved in an abortion incurs the penalty of excommunication. Some canonists argue that this penalty could also apply to politicians who vote in favor of legalizing abortion, but that is at best a controversial interpretation of the canon, and the weight of informed opinion leans against it.

I'm not a Canon lawyer, but this contradicts what I thought I understood about the consequences of facilitating another's sin. If a woman has an abortion, the Church hold that she has committed a mortal sin (if she intends the act, knows it is wrong, etc.). If I drive her, willingly and knowingly, to the abortion clinic, I too have shared in her mortal sin. From there, it seems clear to me that if I am her Congressman and I vote to keep it legal for her to go get that abortion, I once again share in her mortal sin. I'm not seeing why that is "at best a controversial interpretation of the canon."

Speaking of Canon lawyers, Lawler references a post on this subject at Ed Peters' excellent In the Light of the Law.

Wish I'd thought of that

From the combox over at Dyspeptic Mutterings:

My eight-child family creates far less environmental impact per person then their ideal... Think for a second: under the OPT scheme, raising the same eight children would require four couples, four households, four sets of baby "stuff," four cars, four... you get the picture.

Large families are natural recyclers-- the crib we bought for #1 is still working perfectly well for #8. Most of the original baby clothes have been worn out at this point, but not quite all, and we certainly got more use out of them than the typical 2-child family.

Hating kids to save them

How come the same kind of people who constantly tell us we should do things "for the children" always seem to want there to be fewer and fewer children?

When I was in college, it was Paul Ehrlich and his fraudulent bestseller The Population Bomb.

Now some bunch of Brits called the Optimum Population Trust says couples in "rich" nations shouldn't be having more than two children each because -- horrors! -- a child puts as much carbon dioxide into the air each year as 620 transatlantic flights, and that's really really bad for the left's new fixation du jour, global warming.

Earth to OPT: you want less carbon dioxide? Cancel your next 620 flights to the US. Stay home and watch your own once-noble nation vanish, if that's what you want. We sure don't need you here.

And just in case you OPT folks don't recognize the effect of a fertility rate of 2 children per couple or less, here it is, from later in the article:

The population of developed nations is expected to remain unchanged and would have declined but for migration. [emphasis added]

An average fertility rate of 2.1 children per couple is generally acknowledged to be "replacement rate", below which a population will begin to shrink. For the mathematically-challenged at OPT, an average of 2.1 means that some couples have to have more than two kids, since some couples have zero.

The whole thing reminds me of an incident from the Vietnam war which yielded a phrase that was frequently used as a bludgeon by the left back then. When questioned by the press about the tactics used to defeat the Viet Cong in a particular battle, a general said "We had to destroy the village to save it."

Now the left has adopted the tactics it once said it abhorred. It's destroying kids (or better yet from their point of view, causing them not to exist in the first place) in order to save them from global warming.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

This Sunday at St. Thomas

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

Waclaw z Szamotul, Ego sum pastor bonus
Jacobus Gallus, Stetit Jesus

Every time I read about some wretched parody of a Mass -- or just an ordinary Mass in an ordinary parish church, when both have been stripped of all reverence and beauty -- I get really grateful for what we have here in Palo Alto. For as long as it lasts.