Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Exactly right!

It's so refreshing to have a high official of our Church actually defend its teachings!

To reach young, church must explain core beliefs, official says

By John Thavis
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- If the church wants to reach young people today, it must avoid the temptation to "fudge" on core Catholic beliefs in an effort to make them more agreeable to contemporary tastes, a Vatican official said.

Instead, it should confront with courage the major barriers in modern evangelization, including cultural resistance to the proclamation of Christ as the unique savior, said Dominican Father Augustine DiNoia, undersecretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

"No one in his or her right mind will be interested in a faith about which its exponents seem too embarrassed to communicate forthrightly," Father DiNoia said.

Friday, December 19, 2008

No exam needed

Bishop Kieran Conry of Arundel and Brighton (UK) makes some revealing statements to the press. Surprise, surprise: he's a dissident. Humanae Vitae? Just someone's opinion. Regular confession? Bad idea. The extraordinary form of the Mass? "Over the top." Talking to young people about salvation? Hopeless — they'd rather hear about saving the planet.

And a revealing turn of phrase: "it comes down to your view of Church." There's usually trouble afoot when you hear someone omit the definite article between those last two words. And this statement, he seems to expect, will disarm any opponents: "Do you accept the reforms of the Vatican Council or not?"

Which, translated from the British, means: "Do you accept the distorted, self-serving version of the reforms of the Vatican Council that I and a generation of bishops have foisted on the faithful?"

Question for the Vatican: Do you guys ever ask the men put forward as candidates for the episcopacy whether they actually believe and will teach and will enforce what the Church teaches???

Friday, December 05, 2008

Some things don't change

The fat Russian agent was cornering all the foreign refugees in turn and explaining plausibly that this whole affair was an Anarchist plot. I watched him with some interest, for it was the first time that I had seen a person whose profession was telling lies — unless one counts journalists.

George Orwell, Homage to Catalonia

Friday, November 21, 2008

A Brother responds to a pacifist

In his Band of Brothers, Stephen Ambrose relates the aftermath of World War II for many of the men of Easy Company. One was Cpl. Walter Gordon, who, after parachuting into Holland near the town of Eindhoven in the infamous "bridge too far" Operation Market Garden, had been shot and paralyzed in Bastogne during the Battle of the Bulge (he eventually made a full recovery). A incident the book describes, from long after the war's end, made me chuckle:

In December, 1991, Gordon saw a story in the Gulfport Sun Herald. It related that mayor Jan Ritsema of Eindhoven, Holland, had refused to meet General H. Norman Schwarzkopf, because the commander of the UN forces in the Gulf War had "too much blood on his hands." Ritsema said of Schwarzkopf, "He is the person who devised the most efficient way to kill as many people as possible."

Gordon wrote to Mayor Ritsema: "On September 17, 1944, I participated in the large airborne operation which was conducted to liberate your country. As a member of company E, 506th PIR, I landed near the small town of Son. The following day we moved south and liberated Eindhoven. While carrying out our assignment, we suffered casualties. That is war talk for bleeding. ... In spite of the adverse conditions, we held the ground we had fought so hard to capture.

"The citizens of Holland at that time did not share your aversion to bloodshed when the blood being shed was that of the German occupiers of your city. How soon we forget. History has proven more than once that Holland could again be conquered if your neighbors, the Germans, are having a dull weekend and the golf links are crowded.

"Please don't allow your country to be swallowed up by Liechtenstein or the Vatican, as I don't plan to return. As of now, you are on your own."

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Armistice Day

From Glenn Gray's The Warriors:

How does danger break down the barriers of the self and give man an experience of community? [It is] the power of union with our fellows. In moments [of danger] many have a vague awareness of how isolated and separate their lives have hitherto been and how much they have missed... . With the boundaries of the self expanded, they sense a kinship never known before.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

This Sunday at St. Thomas

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

Jean Mouton, Ave Maria
Josquin des Prez, Tu solus qui facis mirabilia

Monday, November 03, 2008

I'm back... and mad

My blogging had taken what they call in music a "grand pause", a fermata of undetermined duration. I wasn't sure if I'd ever start up again. It's darned time-consuming, and I don't have the gift of just banging out acres of lovely and fiery English prose like, say, Karen Hall.

But I've experienced something so infuriating here in the diocese of San Jose that I'm back at this blog now, and I don't think I'm going away again.

Stay tuned.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

'Catholic' education teaches yet another student what's really important

The Palo Alto Weekly runs a little feature, appropriately called Streetwise, in which they pose a question of current interest to people on the street. The issue in today's paper was: "What was particularly memorable about your high school graduation?"

Among the five people interviewed was Caitlin McCarthy, a classmate of my daughter at Woodside Priory School through middle school and high school, whose mission statement says it is "an independent, Catholic, preparatory school in the Benedictine tradition. [The school was founded by Hungarian Benedictines who fled to the west after the anti-Soviet rising of 1956, but few if any monks remain on the faculty.] Our mission is to assist students of promise in becoming lifelong learners who will productively serve a world in need of their gifts."

Sounds nice, right? Well, get a load of what Ms. McCarthy told the Weekly's reporter:

The survivor from the plane crash in the Andes was going to speak at our graduation, but instead we got a monk who basically talked about how abortion was bad. I was pissed that we were supposed to have this cool guy and got a crappy one.

Good job, Priory! In seven years, you really imbued that young woman with a profound understanding of what matters, didn't you? After all, focusing on something that has killed an average of a million American children a year is so boring compared with a rollicking good story of escape from an airline crash. I mean, after all, what would St. Benedict choose?

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Christ the Hero

Recently, President Bush awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor posthumously to Navy SEAL Michael Monsoor. Monsoor, 25, died in in a firefight in Ramadi, Iraq when he threw himself on a grenade to save the other men in his unit. He was a practicing Catholic.

One of the most telling bits to be published in the reporting of the very emotional medal presentation was from his chaplain, Fr. Paul Halladay:

"So when it came to laying down his life for his friends, his faith life allowed him to do that without a moment's hesitation."

There's nothing more Christlike than this sacrifice of one's own life to save the lives of others. Our Lord is not the "gentle Jesus", passive and effeminate, that he has often been portrayed to be in recent centuries. He was a warrior -- a spiritual warrior, that is -- the greatest that has ever lived, or will ever live. He threw himself on the grenade of our race's guilt and well-earned punishment, and took the blast Himself. That's a hero, the kind any man -- and I say "man" advisedly -- could follow proudly.

The Church desperately needs to draw real men back to itself. Men follow heroes. Christ is and will always be the Hero who never disappoints, who looked a horrifying death in the eye and walked right into it to save us all. That's the Christ whose face we should recognize more often, whose desperate but calm expression we might also have seen in Michael Monsoor as he made his decision in that moment in Ramadi.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The Earth Day guilt merchants

At a local middle school here in Palo Alto today, in observance of Earth Day, students who arrived at school on foot or on bicycles were shunted over to a table where they were given a treat. But those students who had been driven to school were "greeted" by a parent volunteer holding a large black balloon, who harangued each disembarking kid with the news that this balloon represented the volume of carbon they had just shamefully dumped into the air during their drive, and why didn't they walk or bicycle like they had been encouraged to do?

What a nice way to start a kid's day.

It's another example of environmentalism gone nuts. Obviously, if a kid's parents say they're going to drive the kid to school, does Balloon Lady really expect the kid to stamp his feet and scream until mom agrees to let him walk? And she has probably also not considered that a lot of students at this particular school were coming from Los Alto Hills, and walking or biking just isn't safe from the distance they'd have to come, and across the crowded, fast-moving expressways they'd have to cross. Nope, the only thing on Balloon Lady's mind is the these kids' heinous offense against the fashionable Earth-worship that has displaced ordinary religion for a lot of the good citizens of this burgh.

Freakishly good news from South Bend

Diogenes published this photo today which should be very very encouraging to anyone who has despaired of the Catholic future in this country. Not only are those two young men spontaneously kneeling as a Eucharistic Procession went by -- they're doing it at Notre Dame!

What I'd like to know is: where did these guys get so well catechized that they knew to kneel as the monstrance passed them?

Uncle Di also makes this observation:

Devotion acquired in counter-cultural circumstances is more likely to thrive than devotion acquired as an act of conformity, and it is less likely to weaken in the face of hostility or contempt.

Wise words indeed. And if devotion has weakened in the last forty years, is it not because our Church has been taken in a direction of cultural conformity? We dropped almost everything externally distinctive about ourselves -- from chant, to fish on Fridays, to priests in cassocks -- and tried to look and sound as much like the culture around us as we could. And then we reinterpreted ourselves to de-emphasize Catholic truth, in the name of ecumenism. And we highlighted every social teaching of the Church that could seem to conform to the leftist political culture -- often in the universities we were attending or teaching at -- that so many of us wanted to fit in with. And with JFK, we declared that if Catholic doctrine clashed with the growing insistence to a secular public square, we would be good secularists first, and then see if there were any irrelevant nooks and crannies where our Catholicism could still be accommodated.

Truth is, Catholicism rightly understood will always be countercultural. The better we remember that and play it up, the more often we'll see young men kneeling in public as Our Lord passes by.

Last Sunday at St. Thomas

Sung by the St. Ann Choir at St. Thomas Aquinas last Sunday (4/20):

Byrd, O quam suavis est
Victoria, Quam pulchri sunt gressus tui

Thursday, April 17, 2008

The Nationals Stadium Mass

Just finished watching EWTN's coverage of the papal Mass at Nationals Stadium. I have to say I agree with Fr. Neuhaus about the mishmash of musical selections, which I recall him describing as "preening" and "self-indulgent." Pretty clearly, the extreme variety of music was meant to mirror the multiculturalism of the United States, which in influential circles is seen as something extraordinarily virtuous.

In practice, multiculturalism means that every event has to be culturally pot-luck, because we wouldn't want to say we actually prefer one over the other. Whatever the benefits may be of having everyone contribute something of their own, we've all been to pot-lucks that were gastronomic disasters. Musically, this Mass was like sitting down to a dinner of dimsum, pemmican, doughnuts and creamed corn. At such a dinner, it's true that each diner might find something to his liking, but if you have to eat it all -- well, pass the Alka-Seltzer.

Given Benedict's well-known preference for Gregorian Chant, Renaissance polyphony and classical settings of sacred texts, it would have been more polite to let him offer a Mass with music that made him feel comfortable. That's what we do with guests, isn't it? Make them feel comfortable? Instead, the powers that be made him preside over a Mass that made them feel comfortable.

On the other hand, it shouldn't have come as a surprise, I suppose. Those same powers have been shoving their style at us for forty years now, and insisting that we better like it.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Last Sunday at St. Thomas

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

Josquin des Prez, Tu pauperum refugium
Heinrich Isaac, Ego sum pastor bonus
Pierre de la Rue, O salutaris hostia

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Good news from Minneapolis

I was surprised and happy to see the following in a newspaper article quoted over at The Cafeteria is Closed:
But similar changes are taking place across the [Minneapolis] archdiocese, which is getting new, conservative leadership from Co-adjutor Archbishop John Nienstedt, who will shortly succeed Archbishop Harry Flynn.

I'm hoping this will be good news for Fr. Robert Altier. Flynn removed Altier, a popular young orthodox priest, from St. Agnes' parish a couple of years ago, silenced him, and stuck him away as the assistant chaplain at a retirement home. Altier had been too effective, and too pointed, at exposing the flaws of the new sex-education program which Flynn was implementing at diocesan Catholic schools. (More details here). Flynn even demanded that the parishioners who had painstakingly recorded and transcribed Altier's homilies remove the transcripts from an independent website, no matter the subject; obediently, they did so, not without protest.

Flynn tolerated, meanwhile, some really interesting liturgical abuses at several parishes, appearing to take action against them only after Nienstedt was appointed.

Maybe priorities are finally getting straightened out in Minneapolis.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

In California, your kids are the state's

An appellate court in Los Angeles has ordered a California couple to stop homeschooling two of their children and send them to public school. While I don't yet know much about the particulars of the case, some of the language in the court's decision should alarm anyone:

We agree [with the California legislature]… 'the educational program of the State of California was designed to promote the general welfare of all the people and was not designed to accommodate the personal ideas of any individual in the field of education.'

So, if you have ideas about how your child should be educated that don't agree with the current views of the state, shut up. Just send your kid and your tax money, and shut up.

Then there is this:

The appeals ruling said California law requires "persons between the ages of six and 18" to be in school, "the public full-time day school," with exemptions being allowed for those in a "private full-time day school" or those "instructed by a tutor who holds a valid state teaching credential for the grade being taught."

The credential requirement sounds great, doesn't it? Sounds like it ensures that the child's teacher will really know the subject, and be able to confer that knowledge to the child.

Until you understand that much of the California credential program isn't about ensuring subject-matter proficiency; it's about ensuring that teachers toe the Department of Education line (well to the left of even California's average) about sexual values. My wife recently waded through this morass to get her single-subject credential, so I've heard about it from someone who has seen it firsthand, and recently. The propositions you must buy into -- and I know she only told me about a fraction of the things she heard -- showed me that I could never be a credentialed teacher here. I simply couldn't keep my mouth shut for the length of time it takes to get through the program. If you have any sort of traditional value system -- like, say, the values of the Roman Catholic Church (are you listening, bishops?) -- you simply have to stay quiet. Your work concerning these topics must parrot the official line. Dissent is simply not tolerated.

Catholics in California will doubtless greet this news, if they even hear it at all, with a yawn. After all, it's homeschooling that's being targeted, not private schooling. It'll never come to any sort of censorship on the teaching of Catholic morality in Catholic schools.

Just you wait, folks.

In a few brief years, California's radical education establishment has gone from allowing public schools to take independent action to teach the homosexual agenda, to requiring it. Now it's homeschooling that they're angling to influence, if not eradicate. How long do you think it'll be before they find a judge who's willing to say that Catholic schools must teach nothing that casts doubt on the views that that establishment wants firmly planted in every California child?

Friday, February 29, 2008

Warm up the baptismal pool again

CWN tells us that the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has weighed in on that radical-feminist-inspired variation in the baptismal rite that's so popular in some dioceses: "In the name of the Creator, and of the Redeemer, and of the Sanctifier." (Instead of that horribly patriarchal, male-chauvinist "Father, Son, and Holy Spirit").

Not valid, says the CDF.

Were you "baptized" with that renegade formula, which Fr. Cool and Bishop Trendy insisted on? Then get baptized "again" -- because you weren't actually baptized the first time.

This is an amazing display of backbone on Rome's part. And it's all the more delicious because they've checkmated the opposition by going right back to the words of the Gospel of St. Matthew: Jesus himself, they point out, is the one who told us to baptize in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

The dissidents are always telling us how we ought to return to the practices of the early Church. Well, dissidents, it seems that a straightforward reading of Matthew tells us that "Father, Son, and Holy Spirit" was the practice of the early Church, at least if you assume that the disciples did what Jesus told them. And since that formula was OK for two thousand years, it looks like they did. It was fine with every generation of Catholics until you and Gloria Steinem came along.

So warm up the jacuzzi again.

And this time use the right words.

It's the history, stupid

It was probably 20 years ago that I first encountered this statement by Pope Pius XI, on the masthead of The Wanderer:
No one can be at the same time a sincere Catholic and a true Socialist. (Quad. Anno, 1931)

It wasn't until I'd gotten a couple of chapters into the new book above that I really understood why Pius was so adamant about it. Every Catholic needs to know about the ugly depths where Progressivism -- the current fashionable name for American socialism -- came from, and why its claims are ultimately so hostile to Christianity. Because the confusion that Pius was trying to dispel 75 years ago is very much with us Catholics again in this election season.

That "seamless garment" line we've been fed by Catholic libs for decades? Made of the same material as a certain emperor's new clothes.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Today at St. Thomas

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

Palestrina, Commissa mea pavesco
Victoria, Domine, non sum dignus
Lassus, Aude benigne conditor

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Window: Jesus with Martha and Mary

From the chapel at Sacred Heart School, Menlo Park, CA

Even better Sundays at St. Thomas

Sung on the past two Sundays at the noon Mass at St. Thomas Aquinas:

Lassus, Miserere mei
Hassler, Christe, qui lux es et dies
Morales, Inter vestibulum et altare
Lassus, Ne reminiscaris
Lassus, Audi benigne conditor
des Prez, Tu solus qui facis mirabilia
Palestrina, Domine quando veneris
Lassus, Domine, convertere

I'm also delighted to note that our noon Mass is now a full Latin Novus Ordo, with the vernacular only where it is supposed to occur in that rite. I can hardly believe, sometimes, that this is happening in my otherwise felt-banner, immersion-baptism, gather-us-in Palo Alto. When I ask myself how this could have come to be, at last, I'm inclined to think that it must be God's reward to us who are blessed to be here now for the faithful way in which a dedicated few maintained the beauty of Gregorian chant and Renaissance polyphony here for the past four decades.

I came very late to this vineyard, but I'm really grateful to take my denarius with the rest.

Quid pro quo

The Catholic faithful are basically still willing to be the sheep of the fold, but they think it's reasonable to expect that their shepherds won't fleece them and then turn them over to the wolves.

Homily holiday?

The always-worthwhile Diogenes has once again delighted, this time by demolishing some recent homiletic nonsense by the (let's face it: apostate ) Fr. Andrew Greeley. According to Greeley, the Transfiguration didn't really happen the way the Gospel says, but was instead a "narrative" (a word ripe for the proscription list) developed later by early Christians to dress up an otherwise mundane moment of self-realization in Jesus' life. Judging from some of the comments, homilies like Greeley's are not uncommon.

So I have a proposal: ban homilies in American churches for ten years. Instead, the priest may, if he wishes, read an excerpt from a papal encyclical, speech, article, or book, without comment.

Then, during those ten years, priests and bishops would have their record of homilies vetted by Rome, and permission to preach would be re-granted by license only after proof of orthodoxy had been established.

I'd miss the fine sermons of the Franciscan who celebrates the noon Mass at St. Thomas (though under my program, he'd be one of the first to come back "on the air"), but I'm willing to make the sacrifice so that in other churches, our Faith will stop being trashed by dissidents like Greeley.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Last Sunday at St. Thomas

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

Pablo Guerrero, Domine meus
Victoria, Senex puerum portabat

Monday, January 28, 2008

This bloog bene welll proofred

I wish every orthodox Catholic blogger would take one tiny step that would vastly increase our credibility in the 'sphere:

After you've poured out your soul to the world in that burst of rapid and inspired typing, re-read your post before you hit the button to publish. Please!

I've seen many, many worthwhile posts sabotaged by authors' careless errors -- mistakes in usage, grammar, even spelling (inexcusable in this era), and utter verbal chaos due to the partial abandonment of previous versions of sentences that later were edited -- that would certainly have been noticed had the blogger done the very thing he/she hopes the visitor will do: read the finished post.

The hostiles out there already think we are poorly educated nitwits. If we're careless about the basics of the way we write, we're just giving them an excuse to keep on thinking that.

This Sunday at St. Thomas

Sung by the St. Ann Choir at St. Thomas Aquinas yesterday:

Orlando di Lasso, Adoramus Te, Christe
Pierre de la Rue, O salutaris hostia

Choir leaders who are looking to introduce polyphony in their parishes could do a lot worse than to start with de la Rue's gentle, solemn setting of Aquinas' O salutaris. Very chordal and easy to sing, but a gorgeous accompaniment to a reverent Communion.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Window: Jesus in the temple

The young Jesus teaching in the temple, before Mary and Joseph caught up with him. From Menlo Park Presbyterian Church, Menlo Park, CA.

I'm sure Notre Dame feels better, but...

From the Catholic League:
According to some news and sports websites, ESPN anchorwoman Dana Jacobson graphically attacked Jesus Christ at a recent roast of her colleagues; she was reportedly intoxicated. At the January 11 event, Jacobson roared from the podium, “F*** Notre Dame,” “F*** Touchdown Jesus,” and finally “F*** Jesus.”

Commenting on this is Catholic League president Bill Donohue:

“When pressed on this issue, ESPN’s response is to e-mail a statement by Jacobson, which includes the following: ‘My remarks about Notre Dame were foolish and insensitive. I respect all religions and did not mean anything derogatory by my poorly chosen words.’

So let's see. Having insulted Jesus and Notre Dame, she chooses to apologize specifically about... Notre Dame? For cryin' out loud, how tone-deaf can you be and still keep your job at ESPN?

I like that bit about "poorly chosen" words, too. Presumably, if she had just put her insults a bit more elegantly, all would have been well.

Just don't try using the same language about Mohammed, Ms. Jacobson. Talk about real trouble!

A new blog from Karen Hall & Co.

I doubt that I have the requisite dozen readers that Karen Hall suggests for helping spread the word about her new Jesuit blog, Some Wear Clerics. But what the heck, I'm going to plug it anyway.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

How much do you know about Roe v. Wade?

My new sidebar element, "Test your Roe IQ", will take you to a website where you can find out just that.

Just as in many tests we've all taken in school, once you catch on to the point of view of the test writers, it gets easier to guess the answers you don't know. Mind you, I like the test writers, for the most part -- the Alliance Defense Fund, for example.

I missed one. Best I've done on any test in a good long while.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

USF students get quoted about the Walk

From the San Francisco Chronicle's coverage of the West Coast Walk for Life today:
In front of Pier 3, Katy Young, a second-year law student at the University of San Francisco, watched the throngs of disciplined abortion opponents filing by. "This is what we are up against. We live in a bubble here. All these people are going to vote Republican," she said. "I kind of feel sorry for them."

Krista Henneman, her schoolmate at the Jesuit school, said she was shocked by all the children marching against abortion with their parents. "Give them five years, and see how many of them are still out there," she said.

Fine Jesuit institution, that. Turning out the same sort of cynical, lock-step politically-correct students you could find at, say, UC Santa Cruz.

The same story gave no estimate of numbers for the marchers, other than "thousands", but noted that counter-protesters were "300 strong". Don't know if they were reaching for a hint of the Spartans at Thermopylae, but I was there, Chronicle guys, and there were 300 pro-choicers there only in your dreams.

West Coast Walk for Life

A year ago I complained about the enormous disagreement between organizers' and officials' estimates of the crowd at the 2007 West Coast Walk for Life. I suggested a simple method for ending the bickering. This year, I did it. In fact, I've just gotten home from doing it.

I found a location where I could get a little elevation above street level -- the cable car turnaround at Hyde and Beach -- and set up my camcorder on a tripod. I aimed it down at a segment of Hyde which the entire march would pass, and when the head of the march was about to appear, I turned it on. I then did not move it for the entire length of the march, over forty minutes worth.

As soon as I've dumped the footage to my Mac, I'm going to begin isolating still frames of each successive "chunk" of the passing march, with a little overlap from still to still in order to establish that I haven't left anything out.

Then I'm going to count heads. It's gonna take some time, because this march was big. I tried counting people as they passed, but during much of that forty minutes, they were transiting my counting mark (a streetlight pole) faster than I could say the number. Try that. Count 21, 22, 23, 24, and so on, as fast as you can. They were coming faster than that.

Anyone who's pro-life -- heck, let's just say it: anti-abortion -- can take a good deal of heart from this event. Not only was the Walk attended by thousands in this bastion of left-wing orthodoxy, the pro-choice counter-demonstration amounted to not more than a hundred persons. I can say that with some certainty, since they unfortunately collected themselves right at the turn of Beach and Hyde, not a hundred feet from my position. So I had to listen to their chants and taunts and screams while the entire Walk passed by, but I also had plenty of time to count them, too.

I'll post my results here as I analyze the footage.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

This Sunday at St. Thomas

Sung by the St. Ann Choir at the noon Mass for the feast of the Baptism of Christ:

Tomas Luis de Victoria, Missa O magnum mysterium

and a lovely motet by des Prez whose title I've forgotten, sadly.

Friday, January 11, 2008

An expert speaks

From Matthew Archbold's Creative Minority Report:

Bill Maher appeared on Conan O' Brien last night and said this of religious people:

“You can’t be a rational person six days of the week and put on a suit and make rational decisions and go to work and, on one day of the week, go to a building and think you’re drinking the blood of a 2,000-year-old space god. That doesn’t make you a person of faith…That makes you a schizophrenic.”

O’Brien, looking a bit uneasy, then asked Maher whether anyone who is religious is schizophrenic. To which Maher replied, “Well, yes, sort of, because they have walled off a part of their mind.”

I knew Bill Maher was a nasty piece of work when I watched the first episode of his show Politically Incorrect, years ago, and discovered that he was actually being completely politically correct, and that the show's title was a big fat lie.

One thing to note, though: the example Maher used with O'Brien. Islam? Judaism? Protestantism? Nope. The way he stated his case, he was specifically attacking Catholicism, since we're the only ones who believe that the Eucharist is really the body and blood of Christ. (Yes, I know the Orthodox also believe as we do about that, but we're by far the better-known target).

And from the bishops, who should be defending our Faith in the court of public opinion? So far, not a peep.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

The God of shapes

From Chesterton's The Everlasting Man:
The Creed was like a key in three respects... . First, a key is above all things a thing with a shape. It is a thing that depends entirely upon keeping its shape. The Christian creed is above all things the philosophy of shapes and the enemy of shapelessness.

That is where it differs from all that formless infinity, Manichean or Buddhist, which makes a sort of pool of night in the dark heart of Asia: the ideal of uncreating all the creatures. That is where it differs also from the analogous vagueness of mere evolutionism, the idea of creatures constantly losing their shape.

Our creed is about the God Whose spirit, at Creation, moved over the waters, which were without form, and void. God gives shape, and distinction, to things in every act of the Creation story.

Maybe I'm reaching, but I think there's a slim connection here with why I (and lots of others) instinctively dislike the blank, empty interiors of so many contemporary Catholic churches. They'd be fine spaces for the formless goal of Buddhism, or the meaningless non-goal of evolutionism.

They just aren't very good spaces in which to worship the God of shapes -- the God Who Really Is.

As seen on PBS... except in California, that is

Like many Catholics, I suppose, I was genuinely excited to learn from EWTN that the new Christmas cantata The Birth of Christ was being picked up by PBS. What a coup!

Or so it seemed, until I tried to find out when it was going to be broadcast here on one of our two big PBS affiliates in the San Francisco Bay area. Which turned out to be: never.

Oh, it apparently aired on tiny KRCB, which serves the Santa Rosa / Napa Valley area north of the main urban centers of San Francisco, Oakland, and San Jose. And you were in luck if you lived in the Fresno / Visalia region, out in the hinterlands of the largely agricultural Central Valley.

In other words, if you lived where 75% of the population lives out here, you could just forget it.

Which I might have guessed. The folks who are directing the operations of KQED in San Francisco and KCET in Los Angeles really don't want either the theological message of the cantata, or its social message (Catholic and Protestant choirs in Ireland putting aside their differences and joining forces for the performance). After all, a program like this, produced with very high aesthetic, musical and technical production values, doesn't reinforce the impression of Christianity that the PBS stations here want to convey to their viewers. No dark-robed Inquisitors, crazed albino monks, or slimy televangelists in it, for starters.

So I took the money I was going to send to KQED to reward them for picking up the program, and bought several copies of the DVD to give out instead.

Hey, PBS! Interested in getting me back as a subscriber (which I haven't been for 20 years)? Don't call me; I'll call you.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Epiphany at St. Thomas

Sung by the St. Ann Choir today at the noon Mass:

Orlando di Lasso, Missa sesquialtera

I want to mention something I really noticed only a month or two ago: the Renaissance polyphonic Mass settings that are done here move through the prayers of the Ordinary very quickly, hardly taking more time to sing than it would to speak the texts slowly and with understanding and reverence.

Some of us are aware of "serious" Mass settings mainly through the wonderfully grand works of the Baroque and classical periods, like Bach's B minor Mass, Mozart's Requiem, and Beethoven's Missa Solemnis. But because of their length and elaborateness, these compositions are only suitable for celebrating along with a real Mass on the most splendid of special occasions. The great thing about Renaissance settings is that they really were intended to accompany everyday Masses, and their brevity and directness of expression show that.

They do take a bit more time than just rattling through their English-language equivalents. But perhaps if our Renaissance brothers and sisters in the Faith could slow down enough to savor the Ordinary at this more thoughtful pace, we can too.

Thursday, January 03, 2008


A few encounters I've had recently with Catholics my own age and younger have impressed on me, again, that we were intentionally robbed of the linguistic, aesthetic, and liturgical traditions that every generation of Catholics before us received, carefully passed down to them. The revolutionaries of the 1960's and 1970's, most of whom are still with us, have much to answer for.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Inviting the wanderer in

The wanderer of this post's title is me. I'm thinking back to the time when I was tentatively making my way back to the Catholic Church after being away for so long (almost thirty years).

When I first walked into St. Thomas Aquinas church in Palo Alto back around 2000, the interior said to me, "You're home."

Now, the interior of this 1901 gothic revival building was superficially not much like the interior of the 1920's-era California mission-style parish church where I had grown up. But the visual continuity of representational stained glass, the statues of Mary and Joseph, the dignity and grace of the altar and detail work, the centrality of the gilded tabernacle, all said: "This is a Catholic church, and could be nothing else."

And I was vaguely aware that the noon Mass featured Gregorian chant and Renaissance polyphony, and though I had grown up without those things, I knew they were unmistakably part of the Catholic tradition that I once again wanted to be a part of. So, when I heard the first strains of that music on that first Sunday, I once again heard, "This is where you meant to come. You're home."

The point here is that I, like most people, respond to visual and aural clues to tell where we are. That response is almost instinctive. I don't know all of what's at work in this, but it's true.

So my theme here is: if you want people to come into the Catholic Church, make parish churches look like what they expect a Catholic church to look like, so they don't spend the first twenty minutes wondering if they've blundered into a Buddhist temple or a Self-Realization Fellowship meeting hall.

Here's one of the few times we can take a lesson from Hollywood. The cost of making TV and movies requires that the viewer "get" the environment quickly and clearly. So, when you see a Catholic church in a movie, the filmmaker chooses imagery that "says" Catholic to most people. So what do you see? Do you see one of those stripped-bare tributes to Modernism (capital M) that we're always being told we must build? No. You see traditional architecture -- gothic or romanesque. You see representational stained glass, not some abstract smear of color you could as likely see in any airport. You see statues. You see a decorated altar. You see the crucifix. You see the tabernacle. You see the racks of devotional candles.

Hollywood knows how to communicate. And so should we Catholics.

The sight and sounds of St. Thomas Aquinas told me I was home, although it wasn't exactly like the church I'd grown up in. Those visual and aural clues were indescribably important in getting me to keep on coming back, so that I could start re-aligning my life to the teachings of the Church.

So I say: three cheers for Catholic churches that look like Catholic churches -- and for the people who were wise enough to keep them that way, or put them back that way, despite the foolish times we are now just emerging from.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Into the ice... and back

We had a quieter Christmas than many in the past, and intentionally, one with fewer presents. One of the gifts that did make it under the tree for me this year was South with Endurance, a magnificent collection of photographs by the pioneer antarctic photographer Frank Hurley. Besides the dramatic black-and-white pictures one might expect from his era, there are also some exquisite color photos made under incredibly difficult circumstances with the then-revolutionary Paget Colour process. We photographers have it awfully easy these days!

Hurley was a member of the crew of Endurance, the ship in which Sir Ernest Shackleton mounted his 1914 attempt to cross the entire continent of Antarctica. Shackleton didn't achieve his ambitious goal, but the way he saved his men -- every one of them -- when disaster struck makes for an astounding story of determination, resourcefulness, and finally raw daring and courage. This tale, told so well in Alfred Lansing's 1959 book Endurance, deserves to be far better known than that of the grim failure of Robert Scott's ill-planned 1912 polar expedition.

If I've piqued your interest in Shackleton, one good place to start is the James Caird Society. Why "James Caird?" Go find out. You will not be disappointed.

Quintessentially Shackleton: "Never for me the lowered banner, never the last endeavour."