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