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."