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.