Friday, December 14, 2012

A note for the watchman: Sandy Hook and Dallas

Sandy Hook has once again exposed the awful, unavoidable vulnerability each day of our human life brings with it. No matter how hard and honestly we may try to make our systems work, they'll always be inadequate to protect us from all that we'd wish to be protected from. We'll never identify every cause, detect every threat, understand every contingency, remove every danger. All the more important to remind ourselves, every day, of the wisdom of Psalm 127:

...except the LORD keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain.

It has always unsettled me that that bit of Scripture was the last sentence of the speech President Kennedy was on his way to give on November 22, 1963.

For scientists of a certain aggressively materialist bent, it's common to remark on how God's influence is increasingly relegated to the ever-shrinking "gaps" in our scientific knowledge, which those scientists confidently expect to disappear someday. But in the infinitely more complex region of human affairs, we don't have a temporary "God of the gaps;" we have a permanent "God of the abyss," a God whose constant love for us is all that can ever stand between us and the black gulf of chaotic chance that's so densely populated with hungry catastrophes.

Sleeping or waking, we hear not the airy footsteps of the strange things that almost happen.

Prayer, then, isn't something to keep us from doing our best to guard against evil with the tools we have at hand. Rather, it's the most practical thing to do precisely when we've done all that we can think of to do, because for all our efforts, all our cleverness, all our technical brilliance, the abyss is still there, full of unknowables, still just a step or two off the little ledge of knowledge we've carved out. It makes perfect sense, then, to cry out for help to the One who alone comprehends all the perils we walk beside each day.

Because crouching in a window above a Texas street in 1963, and outside a Massachusetts schoolhouse in 2012, and in a thousand other places down the ages to come, the vultures will always be waiting -- until the last trumpet sounds, and the world is healed.

Friday, November 09, 2012

What to do now

There's a long road ahead of us. Time to remember Eliot's East Coker again, I guess:

There is only the fight to recover what has been lost 
And found and lost again and again: and now, under conditions 
That seem unpropitious. But perhaps neither gain nor loss. 
For us, there is only the trying. The rest is not our business.

Thursday, November 08, 2012

Why not a Catholic Party?

Shortly before the election, a friend sent me a copy of a message her parish received from its pastor.

In the introductory paragraphs, the pastor wrote something to the effect that it's unreasonable to expect the platform of any political party to match up exactly to the teachings of the Catholic Church. And as long we think in terms of the Democratic, Republican, Green, Peace & Freedom, American Independent, etc., etc, parties, that's bound to be true.

But what if there were a political party whose entire purpose was to match up with the central Magisterial teachings of the Church?

It wouldn't even have to be a party in the sense of fielding candidates of its own. It could exist primarily to provide a single organization to which Catholics and others could attach themselves, knowing that this party would never compromise when examining the claims of other parties' candidates.

The original "Catholic Center Party" arose in Germany in 1871, to counter growing anti-Catholicism pressure, and soon persecution, by the triumphant secular state brought into being largely through the work of Otto von Bismarck.

As we face a similar situation today, which will only intensify in the near future, I think we need to give some serious consideration to following the example of 1871 -- and then act.

More on this, anon.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Words for the day after:

Mene, mene, tekel upharsin.

For those who may not recognize those words, they were the original "handwriting on the wall," traced by a ghostly hand on a palace wall in Babylon. For Belshazzar, their unfortunate addressee, they meant:

Mene: God has numbered the days of your reign, and brought them to an end.
Tekel: You have been weighed in the balance, and have been found wanting.
Upharsin: Your kingdom will be divided among [your enemies] the Medes and Persians.

I don't know where, but on some wall in America this morning, that same hand is scrawling a modern take on the old verdict...

Mene: America, God will soon bring the days of your world dominance to an end. Your people are now too foolish, too carelessly evil, to be trusted with such power as their nation now wields.
Tekel: You've been given two hundred years of freedom without precedent, and you've just used it to re-elect a mendacious tyrant to rule over you.
Upharsin: Your power will be divided up among your enemies -- China, Russia, the rising Islamic Caliphate. Your lands? We'll see.

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Two thoughts for the day

Two things came to mind as I woke up this Election Day 2012.

First, the prayer of King Asa:
Lord, there is no one like You to help the powerless against the mighty. Help us, O Lord our God, for we rely on you, and in Your name we have come against this vast army. O Lord, You are our God; do not let man prevail against You.  -- 2 Chronicles 14:11
And this, from Shakespeare's Henry V, Henry's final line before the battle of Agincourt:
... Now, soldiers, march away: And how Thou pleasest, God, dispose the day!
UPDATE: Now we know -- in that Shakespearean scenario, we are the French.

Monday, October 08, 2012

Biblical literalism strikes again

The left, especially its atheist component, has eagerly picked up a story about a statement made last month by Rep. Paul Broun of Georgia, in which he very colorfully dismissed some scientific theories on the grounds that they are inconsistent with a literal reading of the Bible:

“All that stuff I was taught about evolution, embryology, the Big Bang theory, all that is lies straight from the pit of Hell,” Broun said in videotaped remarks to the Liberty Baptist Church Sportsman’s Banquet in Hartwell, Ga. “And it’s lies to try to keep me and all the folks who were taught that from understanding that they need a savior.”
Broun, a medical doctor who sits on the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, said there are “a lot of scientific data that I’ve found out as a scientist that actually show that this is really a young Earth.”
My observations:

  1. Dr. Broun (he's an M.D., so he's got a good mind) may be proven right on all counts someday. I don't think it's likely, but it's possible. Science is like that. I've always been charmed by the story told about Richard Feynman's physics students at Cal Tech explaining their post-lecture euphoria to a visitor: "It's great! Everything we knew last week is wrong!" 
  2. In the face of assertions like these, a genuinely scientific attitude should always lead us to patiently say, "All right, show me your evidence, and then show me how you reasoned from it soundly to the conclusion you drew." Often, when politely challenged like that, people with poor evidence or faulty reasoning will fold their cards immediately.
  3. Despite the chance of eventual scientific vindication, Rep. Broun needs to be more realistic about the effect such remarks will have right now. Most people who regard themselves as educated and scientifically-minded will not only dismiss these views out of hand, but from that moment on, will dismiss everything else he says. If you're a politician, that's a stupid thing to do to yourself.
  4. As a Catholic, I'm proud that my Church built the university system from which modern science sprang, and has consistently taken the view that all Truth is one; that is, genuine truths understood by Faith will always be consistent with genuine truths understood by science. (Yes, yes, there's the Galileo case. That's a dispute for another post).
  5. Biblical literalism like that propounded by Rep. Broun and his Liberty Baptist Church congregation is always going to lead to defeats for the Faith, and to increased hostility to Christianity in the general population.

Sunday, October 07, 2012

Nothing to see here. Move along.

News item:

Mexico finds 50 skulls in sacred temple

Ah, those peaceful and charming Native Americans, the Aztecs. So cruelly mistreated by their Spanish conquerors.

Turns out that after decapitating their sacrificial victims, the Aztecs drove a wooden stake through the skulls so they could be displayed on a rack.

And what was one scholar's reaction to this news?
“It provides rather novel information on the use and reuse of skulls for ritual events at the Templo Mayor,” [University of Florida archaeologist Susan] Gillespie said in an email. ... “It ultimately gives us a better understanding of how the Aztecs used the human body in various ways in their ritual practices."
Remarkably similar, I'd say, to the way that those human-skin lampshades give us a better understanding of how National Socialism used the human body between 1933 and 1945:


Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Way down in Egypt land...

Now that the maker of the "Innocence of Muslims" film has been identified as a Coptic Christian, I'd say the Copts remaining in Egypt are in for a very rough time at the hands of faithful adherents of the Religion of Peace.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Aborted This Way

Over the years, gay-rights groups have successfully convinced quite a few people that they are "born this way." That is, their same-sex attraction is genetically determined, and therefore morally unassailable. But they've also routinely allied themselves with the pro-abortion groups that regard an unborn child as its mother's absolute property, to be disposed of at will.

Now, with the imminent prospect of prenatal testing to reveal whether children in the womb have the "gay gene," the table is set for a really delicious example of the way that evil always ends up contradicting itself.

Consider this situation, which can only be a few years away:

Through such testing, an expectant mother finds out that the child she is bearing will be genetically inclined to same-sex attraction. But she doesn't want to bring such a child into the world, for reasons that seem good to her. Does her "right to choose," which the Sexual Left insists is absolute, allow her to abort that probably-gay child?

"Wait!" her gay-rights friend will cry. "There's nothing wrong with same-sex attraction. You can't do that! It's immoral."

"And who are you to say?" replies the mother. "Besides, it doesn't matter. If I want to abort my child for any reason, I have the right to do it. Anyway, that's what you said last year, when I was carrying that Down-syndrome child that I ended up aborting."

"Okay, then!" says the gay-rights friend. "Morality aside, it ought to be illegal to abort for that reason. You're discriminating against a gay person. It makes no difference that they're not born yet."

"Just try to make it illegal, buster," says the mother. "I don't want to carry a gay kid to term. You can't make me."

And at this point, both shout "I'll see you in court!"

In the long, vile multi-course dinner that the muddle of modern evils has been, this is one dish I'm really looking forward to.

I'll have mine with mustard, please.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Another grimly teachable moment

A relative of one of the victims in last week's "Black Knight" mass killing was quoted this way in a New York Times story that ran in my local paper, the San Jose Mercury News: "I hope this evil act ... doesn't shake people's faith in God." Me, too — and there's no reason why it should.

People whose faith can't withstand an encounter with serious evil are forgetting one very important thing that Catholic kids used to know by heart: that God did not create evil.

We did.

Here's the story in a nutshell.
  1. God made a good universe.
  2. He then plopped our First Parents down in it, in a very special part of the Earth that he had prepared to be perfect for our race: Eden. 
  3. He needed to know if He could trust us.
  4. To find out, He gave us a simple test.
  5. We flunked.
  6. But He didn't just wipe us out; He gave humanity the rest of the world to live in, to order and arrange according to our own rebellious lights, which we've proceeded to do with great gusto.
  7. Friday morning's horror was just the latest prominent installment of our age-long story of failure, of our propensity for evil.
  8. Naturally, we turn on God and blame Him for our mess.

I don't care if someone thinks that the Eden thing didn't happen in a literal sense. Something like it happened.

The Dark Knight shooter is our guy. We made him, through the culture that we've allowed to stray far, far from its Christian roots. He's the newest model of Modern Man to roll off the assembly line, in which we're again trying to work the bugs out of the modern maxim, "It doesn't matter what you believe, as long as you're sincere."

Did it matter what James Holmes believed about taking out his frustrations with work and life on a crowd of people who never did him any harm?

It certainly mattered to all those poor folks in the theater.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Served us right

This program is from

Michael Voris' special report on Thursday's Supreme Court decision mentions a very telling and true sentiment from Chief Justice John Roberts' concurring opinion, which I hadn't heard elsewhere so far:

It is not our job to protect the people from the consequences of their political choices.

As Voris and many others have pointed out, approximately 54% of Catholics voted in 2008 to put Barack Obama into the White House, despite his dedication to the legalized murder that is abortion on demand. That's got to change this November, or when our generation of Catholics gets to our own Particular Judgements, we're gonna have a lotta splainin' to do.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Live Large, Spend Small

That's a slogan I found in a recent newspaper ad (yes, I still read newspapers, on paper). It was for a retirement community, but it seems to me that it also describes what should be a major attraction of the Christian life.

We know that our real home is Heaven, and that the point of life here is to lay up treasures there, not on Earth. So we can stay calm if the earthly treasure-hunt isn't going all that well. And if it is going well, we know to keep the modest amount we need for ourselves and our families, and give the rest to those who have less.

To the World, that doesn't make sense. Kick, bite, scratch, win at all costs, it says. Here's something new and shiny! Don't you want it? You can have it now! New low price! (one soul).

Live large. Spend small. Be a Christian.

Monday, June 18, 2012

"The so-called Defense of Marriage Act"

That's how President Obama is reported to have referred to the Defense of Marriage Act while greeting gay-rights groups at the White House reception to celebrate LGBT Pride Month.

I don't know how the battle lines could be more definitively drawn. The President has made it very clear that he wants "marriage" to take on a new meaning that is radically opposed to the Catholic Church's teachings -- and to the common understanding of marriage that prevailed until quite recently. We in the Catholic Church, here and now, are the last line of defense of one of the pillars of civilization. As usual.

This must be our hour.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

One of the Charterhouse monks

Blessed Thomas Johnson (d. 1537), English Carthusian martyr. A priest and member of the London Charterhouse, he was imprisoned with several fellow Carthusians for opposing the claim of Henry VIII to be supreme head of the Church in England. He and his companions were chained up in Newgate prison and left to die of thirst and starvation.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

With leadership like theirs...

The Leadership Council of Women Religious has been much in the news lately, being engaged in bitter resistance against even the hint of significant oversight of their sandbox. Apparently, the Vatican finally noticed that the "leaders" who populate the LCWR have undone two centuries of progress in building up women's religious orders in this country. The LCWR simply cannot understand how anyone could be so rude as to require an accounting of their stewardship.

Now, in my experience, leaders in other areas of life -- business, for example -- who fail so utterly in their duties; who trash the company "brand;" who abandon the company's main purpose (in this case, the saving of souls) in favor of their own pet projects; and who preside over the desertion of thousands of their employees and are unable to attract replacements; such "leaders" would find themselves abruptly frog-marched to the door by burly and unsmiling security guards. Only in the Church -- and in academia -- is failure so long condoned, it seems.

And yet this league of nincompoops (unfortunately, the more euphonious phrase "confederation of dunces" was already taken) dares to whine as it is finally called to account, after fifty years of mayhem.

Lots of Catholics of my age have stories to tell about what once was. When I graduated from my parish grammar school in 1964, almost every class was taught by a nun, every classroom had at least 45 students, and the convent across the street was overflowing with teaching nuns. Then the "Spirit of Vatican II" folks started having their way. The nuns' new leaders told them, in effect, that all that old emphasis on passing on the faith, on piety and morality, was obsolete. What mattered now was working for social justice and their own personal fulfillment.

Slowly at first, but with gathering speed, the convent went from overcrowded, to empty, to demolished.

A Catholic hero from Vietnam

St. John Hoan (d. 1861): Vietnamese priest beheaded during the anti-Catholic persecutions in that country (some things never change, do they?). Canonized in 1988 by Pope John Paul II.

I confess to feeling a little resentful on his behalf. After all, there was never any doubt that Hoan was killed for his Faith, yet the Church still took more than a century to canonize him. For that matter, consider poor Thomas More: four hundred years elapsed before he was finally declared a saint. But I know that neither of these men feel any part of my resentment. They are both beyond such pettiness, and even four hundred years seems nothing more than a passing moment. All, they would say, in good time. God's time.

Friday, June 15, 2012

So many Mores

Robert Bolt was right when he inserted the character of The Common Man into his play A Man for All Seasons -- the steadfastness of a Thomas More is too seldom repeated among ordinary people, so men of his caliber are left to face the music alone, or in the company of just a few brave men like themselves (e.g., St. John Fisher). Plenty of ordinary people are not just dodging personal danger by passively going along, they're often even helping to play the music. In the drama, The Common Man plays many small roles that point this up: More's slightly dishonest steward, a boatman who refuses to row More home, a juryman who delivers the "guilty" verdict when told to,  the headsman who kills him.

And yet... and yet... I've been leafing through The Encyclopedia of Saints, published by OSV. It's astounding, really, the steady parade of martyrs that appear there among the canonized and the beatified; just as astounding as the sheer number of them is that most of them were not famous, or greatly talented, or noted scholars. They were very ordinary men and women and children in one way; but in the way that counts, they chose to be very unCommon indeed.

Here's one at random:

John Kinsako, Blessed (d. 1626) Japanese martyr who was a silk weaver and a Franciscan tertiary. He was baptized just before being crucified at Nagasaki with companions. Feast day: February 6.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

A Tale of Two Democrats

From comes this zinger called "How to be a Catholic Democrat," which concisely contrasts two very different ways to do just that -- exemplified by Nancy Pelosi and our present Ambassador to the Vatican, former Boston mayor Ray Flynn. Who got it right? One guess.

Thomas More, and all of us

Robert Bolt's A Man for All Seasons is one of the 20th century's great dramas, but if you've only seen the movie -- splendid as it was -- you really owe it to yourself to read the original play (or see it, of course, if you're lucky enough to have a production nearby). That's because the play included a very important character who was left out of the movie screenplay: us. The Common Man. The Little Guy who never sticks his neck out. 

I'll write at tiresome length about this at some later time, but for now, here's a snippet of dialog. The Jailer character is one of The Common Man's personae in the play, and he has just genially declined to undertake even a small personal risk to give the imprisoned Sir Thomas More five more minutes with his family.

JAILER (Reasonably)  You understand my position, sir, there's nothing I can do; I'm a plain, simple man and just want to keep out of trouble.

MORE  (Cries out passionately)  Oh, Sweet Jesus! These plain, simple men!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Fair warning

Islamic Scholar: We Hope to ‘Raise the Banner of the Caliphate Over the Vatican’

As Mr. Al-Yaziji explains so clearly, this lust for conquering the West has nothing to do with resentment over the Crusades. It comes straight from the mouth of the Prophet, from the very founding of Islam.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Religious freedom? Oh, never mind.

The State Department's Country Reports on Human Rights doesn't include the usual sections on religious freedom this year. Just refer to last year's report, says State.

So glad to know there's nothing new to be concerned about. For example, that summons for all 1,000 remaining Christians to leave the Syrian city of al-Qusayr within a few days, delivered from the minarets of the city the other day -- you see, that's not really a problem, because most of the Christians had already left al-Qusayr in early spring, when they were attacked by multiple Islamist factions. So, it's old hat, water under the bridge, old news.

Besides, they're only Christians.

H/t Catholic Culture.

You can read the State Department's report here.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

St. Ann's Army

Long ago, I complained that the Catholic Church doesn't educate its congregations at the parish level about the reasons for its positions on abortion, euthanasia, and embryonic stem cell research. The author of Causa Nostrae Laetitiae was kind enough to comment, and what she said has made me think about a solution.

... pro-life speech is as prohibited in many a Catholic Church as it is in public schools. I had to sneak around the parking lot during election 2004 to inform Catholics on the presidential candidates' widely divergent positions on abortion. My pastor has banned pro-life groups and has a collection of JFK autographed photos on his office wall. He appears to be a loyal Democrat.

... This is NOT to suggest that the battle is lost, or not worth waging, for our love for Christ impels us to speak His truth, regardless of the cost. However, Satan has a large percentage of the Church and the government in his control, and it's a punishing battle, to be sure.

This is stunning, isn't it? That a man educated in the Church's doctrine at its great expense, and then given charge of a parish, would decide for himself that he doesn't like one of its doctrines, and take it on himself not only to stop teaching that doctrine himself, but also forbid anyone else to teach it? And, as the second paragraph implies, his bishop is at best unaware, and at worst complicit?

A Catholic moment from Jane Austen

One of the genuine advances the Web has brought us is the availability of lots of good writing that we'd otherwise find it difficult to gain access to, or even to know about.
Jane Austen's hardly an obscure writer, but I had never heard of her satirical History of England. I downloaded the text from Memoware to my old Palm smartphone and read it at lunch recently. I haven't studied her religious views, but I found this snippet about Henry VIII charming just on its own, regardless of its original tone.
The Crimes and Cruelties of this Prince were too numerous to be mentioned ... and nothing can be said in his vindication, but that his abolishing Religious Houses and leaving them to the ruinous depredations of time has been of infinite use to the landscape of England in general, which probably was a principle motive for his doing it, since otherwise, why should a Man who was of no Religion himself be at so much trouble to abolish one which had for ages been established in the Kingdom.

Corpus Christi at St. Thomas

Today, once again, I was struck by how fortunate I am to be part of St. Thomas Aquinas parish and the exquisite "Gregorian" Masses celebrated there every Sunday. The St. Ann Choir sang the Missa Pange Lingua by Josquin des Prez and the motet Ave Verum Corpus by William Byrd. The congregation joined in with gusto for the responses of the Ordinary (no lack of "full and active participation" here!). The Mass finished with a procession of the Blessed Sacrament that took us through St. Thomas' memorial garden, out onto Homer Avenue (singing the plainchant Pange Lingua), and back in the Waverley Street entrance of the church.

Saturday, June 09, 2012

Step up and get your identity barcode!

The creepy idea of implanting some kind of ID device on every human being just keeps coming back, this time touted by a science fiction writer doing some "global thinking."

Sure, why not? What could possibly go wrong?

And I'll bet it won't hurt a bit. At least not at first.

h/t Bioedge.

Friday, June 08, 2012

Pelosi: Bishops don't speak for Church

The increasingly indescribable Nancy Pelosi has now informed us that in suing the Federal Government over the HHS/ObamaCare insurance mandate, the Catholic bishops of our country are not speaking for the Catholic Church.

As usual, words are important, because they are the framework for thought. Consider how that phrase "speaking for..." is used by sane people. When President Obama says something, he speaks for the executive branch of government. No one would say, "Yeah, but I talked to a guy in the EPA, and he disagrees, so Obama's not really speaking for the administration." We'd retort, "What you really mean is that not everyone in his administration agrees with him." That's because by virtue of the office that he holds, we all know that Mr. Obama can indeed speak for his administration, regardless of internal disagreements.

In a similar way, the bishops speak for the Catholic Church within their dioceses, and when gathered together under the constitution of the USCCB, they speak for the Catholic Church in the United States.

Nancy, please go home and spend what time you have left on this Earth enjoying your grandkids. And repenting for your longtime rebellion against the Church. And for your decades of complicity in the murder of millions of unborn children.

Thursday, June 07, 2012

Midway, D-Day, Churchill -- and us

The past several days' posts on this blog may have seemed out of character for a place that usually concentrates on Catholic subjects. But here's the tie-in.

Those of us who now seek cultural and spiritual change in our society and country, and who want to defend our Faith against the powerful forces now arrayed against it, need to imitate the airmen of Torpedo 8 at Midway and the soldiers at Omaha Beach. It's no use complaining that we're not ready, we need more training or better equipment, or that we'll be better prepared next year or the year after that. The battle is now; and we have to march out and engage the Enemy with the weapons in our hands now. Forget the years of bad catachesis, the lukewarm support from your local priest or bishop, the outright opposition of people in positions of power in your parish or diocese. Arm yourselves with Truth and charity, and be ye men (and women) of valor.

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Murder holes

As I was writing my June 4 post about the Battle of Midway, Torpedo 8, and the Douglas TBD, another similar failure to give our fighting men the best equipment came to mind. That was the famous (or infamous) Higgins boat, the main American landing craft of World War II. Basically a slab-sided, shallow-draft box, it was cheap to build and did the initial stages of its job -- moving troops from transports to the landing beach -- well enough. It was what happened once the Higgins boats actually scraped ashore that was brutal.

For the troops' only exit from the boat was a drop-down ramp at the bow. Theoretically, the soldiers then quickly ran onto the beach, formed up, and moved inland to engage the enemy.

Theory did not hold up on D-Day. The Higgins boats came ashore at Omaha Beach into the concentrated and very accurate fire of hundreds of German troops in prepared positions. As the bow ramps dropped, machine-gun fire poured directly in on the men, often killing whole platoons where they stood in the boats, before the ramps had even fully deployed. For a devastating re-enactment of that phenomenon, see the first 15 minutes of Saving Private Ryan. It's not for nothing that in that movie, Captain Miller tells his men to "clear those murder holes." That is, get out of the boat and down the ramp as fast as possible. Like the airmen at Midway who knew they were flying their TBD's to certain destruction, but climbed into their planes anyway, the Omaha Beach men knew they were going to be terribly vulnerable the moment that ramp began to drop, yet they went anyway.

Now, I'm sure that the Higgins boat's designers didn't set out to build a deathtrap. But what a colossal failure of imagination! What did they think was going to happen while that ramp was being lowered?

The fighting men of 1944 deserved better. And the fighting men of 2012 deserve the best we can give them now. What is the Higgins Boat of today? Let's hope our troops, sailors, and airmen don't have to find out the hard way.

D-Day + 68

War is always a dirty mess. It kills and maims. It scars the minds and hearts of many who never take even a scratch. From this fact of war's sheer dreadfulness, some people draw the pacifist's conclusion that war is never moral or necessary.

I draw a different conclusion. Violence -- and its supreme expression, warfare -- will always be the single most powerful tool of those inspired by evil. In this fallen world, evil will always be with us, and so war will always be with us. And it doesn't take two to pick a fight. If evil is not to control this world through war, it must be defeated at war. And that, to my mind, says we've got to pick up arms and defend each other when evil reaches for its favorite weapon.

We should loathe the prospect of fighting. And as far as I can tell, most people who have actually been in combat never, ever want to do it again. Yet they'll go back into it over and over, to help their friends who are still on the battle line.

Perhaps, if it were just our individual selves that were threatened with violence aimed at our individual death or enslavement, we could honorably decline to resist by arms, and give ourselves up to evil's designs. But in war, it isn't just our individual selves. It's our neighbor who is threatened, too. We may sacrifice ourselves, but we have no right to thereby sacrifice others. And when push comes to shove, our neighbor is even worth dying for.

Who is our neighbor? You'll find that question very wisely discussed in the tenth chapter of the Gospel of Luke. Something about a Samaritan.

Paper, please

A news report I saw today asserts that the Labor Department recently ordered reporters to start using government-provided software and equipment to access data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Now, I can understand an agency in, say, the Defense Department or the State Department needing to be very careful about who sees what information, and actually needing to control the methods of access. But the Bureau of Labor Statistics? Are they afraid that WikiLeaks will get hold of scandalous facts about unemployment in Poughkeepsie?

Why would this be happening now? Oh, yeah. It's an election year, and job numbers will be important to political victory.

Personally, I sometimes yearn for the days when such information arrived on paper. Once the publication was in your hands, you only needed standard human software and equipment -- a brain and eyesight -- to have access to it permanently, and nobody could sneak around electronically and expunge potentially politically inconvenient information in it.

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Everything not forbidden is compulsory

A New Mexico court has ruled that a photography business owned by Christians may not legally refuse to photograph a gay couple's "wedding."

The title of this post is drawn from T. H. White's The Once and Future King, in which it figures as the motto over the door of the local... ant hill.

Not again, please

These days, there's quite a lot of talk about our national budget deficits. Usually, when that talk turns to finding places to cut expenditures, national defense is the category that seems to get the most attention. The automatic sequestration that may kick in this fall would result in cuts so dangerous that even Leon Panetta, President Obama's Secretary of Defense, is alarmed.

We've been down this road before, and it's worthwhile looking at what happened to thirty young men, seventy years ago at the Battle of Midway, as a result.

The Great Depression dominated our nation's attention during the decade of the 1930's, while the world was sliding toward war. Everyone wanted relief from the Depression's effects, and most people were willing to believe that the United States could and should stay out of "foreign wars," and concentrate on its own welfare first. Defense budgets were slashed, then slashed again. Only in 1940 and 1941, when war in Europe was already well under way, was this trend reversed -- and by then it was too late to make up all the ground lost in the '30's before our young men were called upon to fight.

Consequently, our Navy went to war in December 1941 with the plane pictured above, the Douglas TBD "Devastator", as its only torpedo bomber -- an essential weapon in the new way of war brought on by the rise of the aircraft carrier. It was slow, poorly armed, and already obsolete. But it was all that the American people thought it should afford.

The TBD was armed with the infamous Type XIII torpedo, which often didn't run straight or at the proper depth, and didn't explode even on the rare occasions on which it hit its target. The prewar defense budget didn't allow for a rigorous testing program, so its designers just guessed at the best way to drop it. They thought its guidance system too fragile to endure much of an impact when the torpedo hit the water, so they told the pilots to fly low (80 feet above the waves, or lower) and slow (around 100 mph). This meant that while they were on their run in to the target, the planes would be ridiculously vulnerable to antiaircraft fire and fighter interceptors.

At the Battle of Midway, the thirty airmen of the USS Hornet's Torpedo Squadron 8 climbed into their TBDs knowing all this. And because the Navy was not yet adept at coordinating carrier operations, they arrived over the Japanese fleet alone, without fighter protection, and without even the cover of other aircraft attacking simultaneously.

Yet they all made their low, slow attacks, with their obsolete planes and their faulty torpedoes. And all but one of them died that day. Not a single plane survived. Not a single torpedo hit its mark.

But as every student of the battle knows, Torpedo 8's sacrifice distracted the Japanese defenders just long enough so that when, by pure luck, American dive-bombers arrived overhead a few minutes later, they had an unhindered run to the Japanese carriers.

And about a year later, when the Mark XIII torpedo was finally thoroughly tested, it was found that it worked much better when it was dropped from a much higher altitude at a much higher speed.

But the thirty young men of Torpedo 8 had gone into their doomed runs with inferior planes, ill-tested weapons, and wrong-headed training because, for too many years, the American people had wanted social programs instead of a strong defense.

Let's not make that mistake again.

Sunday, June 03, 2012

Words for that Sunday -- and this one

Seventy-two years ago, at the same milestone in the liturgical year at which we currently find ourselves, Winston Churchill made his first radio address to the British people as Prime Minister. The situation was terrible: German armies were pouring into France, and the overmatched British Expeditionary Force was reeling back toward a little Channel port called Dunkirk.

But Churchill knew how to marshall the English language to serve his nation's need. I urge you to read the entire address here, but for the moment, here is his stirring conclusion:
Today is Trinity Sunday. Centuries ago words were written to be a call and a spur to the faithful servants of Truth and Justice: "Arm yourselves, and be ye men of valour, and be in readiness for the conflict; for it is better for us to perish in battle than to look upon the outrage of our nation and our altar. As the Will of God is in Heaven, even so let it be." 
Catholics, in particular, should ponder those words on this Trinity Sunday. Especially so since the grand sentences he quotes are from the First Book of Maccabees, a book still proudly contained in Catholic Bibles, but consigned to the "Apocrypha" in Protestant ones. They'll be good to recall, when the storms on our own horizon break -- soon.

Saturday, June 02, 2012

Sour Milk

Did you know that Harvey Milk ran interference for Jim Jones (of Jonestown infamy) and helped stymie investigations into his cult? Neither did I. Our betters have done a great job of portraying Milk as just a smiling public servant. This article at California Catholic Daily exposes the hushed-up connection, and has links to a useful historical website.

The article points out that the recent hagiographic biopic Milk somehow forgot to mention this connection. Worth remembering, as you read about secular film critics complaining about -- gasp! -- historical "inaccuracies" in the new movie For Greater Glory.

Something to do this weekend

See it.

Friday, June 01, 2012

"If you're not getting flak...

... you're not over the target."

Probably old hat to everyone but me, but I saw that turn of phrase for the first time today, and love it.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Another anniversary

Five hundred and fifty-nine years ago on this date, the sun rose for the first time on Islamic banners dotting the walls of Constantinople, today's Istanbul. For the previous thousand years, since its founding, none but Christian flags had ever flown there.

Since the battle of Manzikert almost 400 years before, Turkish armies had steadily chewed away at the Byzantine Empire's lands, first to the east, and then, crossing the Aegean, west to the Greek mainland. In 1453. Sultan Mehmet assembled his forces outside the city and demanded its submission. Defending the city was hopeless from the start. After a short but grim seige, Sultan Mehmet's army finally broke through the outermost walls and overwhelmed the city's few remaining defenders.

The latter included the last Emperor of the Eastern Roman Empire, Constantine XI Palaeologos. When all was lost, he could have escaped to the Christian ships in the harbor, or surrendered confidently to Mehmet's troops, who had strict orders not to harm him. Instead, he tore the royal insignia from his clothing so he couldn't be identified, and according to horrified eyewitnesses in his retinue, charged into a nearby crowd of exultant Turkish warriors. He was never seen again.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

What a surprise!

The House's most prominent Democrat continues to pretend she's an "ardent practicing Catholic" -- and gets away with it:
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Thursday she supports same-sex marriage because her Catholic faith “compels” her to “be against discrimination of any kind.”
“My religion has, compels me–and I love it for it–to be against discrimination of any kind in our country, and I consider this a form of discrimination. I think it’s unconstitutional on top of that,” Pelosi said during her weekly Capitol press briefing.
Would it be so un-pastoral to issue a statement explaining how Ms. Pelosi has already excommunicated herself latae sententiae quite some time ago?

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Bishop Jenky hits the mark

I had never heard of Bishop Daniel Jenky before, but listen to this snippet of the stirring words he recently spoke to a group of Catholic laymen:
The Church survived and even flourished during centuries of terrible persecution, during the days of the Roman Empire. The Church survived barbarian invasions. The Church survived wave after wave of Jihads. The Church survived the age of revolution. The Church survived Nazism and Communism. And in the power of the resurrection, the Church will survive the hatred of Hollywood, the malice of the media, and the mendacious wickedness of the abortion industry. The Church will survive the entrenched corruption and sheer incompetence of our Illinois state government, and even the calculated disdain of the President of the United States, his appointed bureaucrats in HHS, and of the current majority of the federal Senate.  
May God have mercy on the souls of those politicians who pretend to be Catholic in church, but in their public lives, rather like Judas Iscariot, betray Jesus Christ by how they vote and how they willingly cooperate with intrinsic evil.

You really should read the entire text, because he doesn't forget to counsel a charitable approach and attitude. But start with this article at Catholic Culture (which is a darned good outfit to support, by the way).

This is the kind of appeal that can galvanize Catholic men to action. The namby-pamby stuff we're usually offered is useless to bringing men back into the service of the Church. All of us, but we men in particular, long to give our lives to something worthwhile in God's eyes, and to feel that we're in the company of our Catholic heroes of the past. 

Saturday, April 14, 2012

The kids are OK

From page 2 of this morning's San Jose Mercury News, an unexpected confirmation that marriage still makes a difference to children:

We can all sleep better at night. Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt are engaged to be married. [Pitt and Jolie have been "together", as they say, since 2005. - my note] ... The couple previously said they wouldn't marry until gay marriage was legalized nationwide, but have admitted to changing their minds in a recent interview. "And it seems to mean more and more to our kids," Pitt said in January.

Now, I don't know why it "means more and more" to their kids. Maybe the kids have finally realized that there's usually a big party when fabulously wealthy people get married, and they're starved for excitement. OK, not likely. Maybe it's because the kids are angling for a destination wedding in Bali. OK, not likely either.

Or maybe -- maybe it's because when all the shouting's over, there's something inside every kid that wants their parents to join themselves together in "the only institution that unites a man and a woman and any children who may result from their union."

Hey, could this be another example of what Al Gore meant when he told a roomful of students that they know things that their parents don't?

Friday, April 13, 2012

NOW can we please have our schism?

Back in the late sixties, right after Humanae Vitae was panned by many soi-disant sophisticated American Catholics, and Catholic colleges and universities had declared that they would no longer consider themselves bound to teach Catholic doctrine or even a Catholic viewpoint, a curious thing happened.

Well, actually, what was curious was what didn't happen. Discipline didn't happen.

Instead of applying a little firm pastoral correction to those rebellious Catholics, most bishops and the Vatican said, and did, almost nothing. The thought was, as I recall: "Don't risk a schism by making a big deal of this. Unity is everything. This will pass. You'll see."

Yes, we've seen. Not quite what was predicted, though. This didn't pass; instead, it got steadily worse.

The news today has given us yet another example: contrary to the wishes of their archbishop, several parishes in Seattle are refusing to allow parish property to be used in gathering signatures for Referendum 74, whose purpose is to overturn the Washington legislature's recent redefinition of marriage to include same-sex couples. In other words, to bring the law back into line with Catholic teaching, where it had been since the founding of Washington state.

Why the parish refusals? Because even the meek action of allowing others to collect such signatures would be "divisive" in these parishes' congregations, which are proudly said to be "open to all." Which, translated, means: "We've got lots of gay couples in our parish, and we don't try to help them with their particular temptations because we don't agree with the Church's teachings about homosexual acts anyway, so why should we make waves? Get lost, archbishop."

Of course, Archbishop Sartain didn't make matters easier for himself when he gave his own permission for the signature-gathering, by leaving it up to individual parishes. Maybe he misread his people, expected compliance, and was surprised at the opposition. Or maybe he was looking for a way to support the Referendum while not actually requiring any of his flock to do so, as perhaps he knew they would not. I don't know.

One thing's clear, however. As it did 40+ years ago, the familiar choice presents itself: will Catholic leaders finally insist on unity and obedience, and start getting the Church back on track? or will they close their eyes to error and evil again, and kick the can down the road?

The smart money would be on the cowardly second option; it's what most bishops have chosen in recent decades, after all. But that'll just make things worse, when the you-know-what finally hits the fan.

And it will. As dissent within the Church becomes ever more serious and more deeply embedded in Catholic parishes, schism is inevitable. Whenever the bishops finally decide to draw the line someday, the dissenters won't give up and obey. Instead, they'll double down, go public, try to wrest formal control of their parishes away from their bishops (with "Occupy" tactics, perhaps), and finally break away, perhaps in league with other schismatic parishes, to form a "New American Catholic Church."

The longer the day of reckoning is postponed, the stronger the dissenters will grow, and the worse the schism will be. Archbishop Sartain, to spare your flock even nastier things later, confront the schismatics now.

Friday, March 23, 2012

One to watch

There's a very interesting election to watch in the news: the initlal results are in, and New York voters have sent a shock wave through the Empire State's political and cultural landscape. And they may also have elected pro-marriage political newcomer David Storobin to their state's Senate.

The race in this heavily Democratic-registered district was supposed to be an easy one for Lew Fidler, a longtime progressive Democrat officeholder. But the National Organization for Marriage collaborated with the district's large Orthodox population to upset that supposition, focusing on the issue of redefining marriage to include same-sex unions. Fidler was for it; Storobin was against it.

According to NOM, as of yesterday, Storobin had scored a tremendous upset, but was ahead by fewer than 200 votes, with absentee ballots yet to be counted. And therein lies something else to watch.

If this election goes like so many others, the post-election numbers will slowly diminish Storobin's lead, and finally replace it with a slim lead for Fidler, and that result will quickly be ratified by state officials. Remember progressive Christine Grigoire's first run for governor of Washington? Her conservative challenger, Dino Rossi, held a slim lead, as I recall; but boxes and boxes of "forgotten" and "mislaid" ballots were suddenly found, heavily supporting Grigoire. That included some 500 provisional ballots showing City Hall as the resident's mailing address. Despite these -- what shall we call them? -- anomalies, Grigoire was declared the winner. Washington courts turned Rossi's challenges aside.

If something similar happens this time in New York, it will simply mark one more stage on our very own Road to Serfdom. If it doesn't -- well, then I guess we might be hearing the whisper of a turn in the tide.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Doonesbury goes mad

Seems that Gary Trudeau's using his Doonesbury comic strip this week to pillory the new Texas law that requires that women see an ultrasound of their unborn child before having him or her aborted. Apparently because this ultrasound is done with a vaginal probe, Trudeau is trumpeting the pro-abortion view that condemns the requirement as "state rape."

Isn't it a little weird that he's so outraged about this, when the abortion he so ardently hopes will follow the ultrasound will also involve inserting something? That that something will certainly be fatal for one person in the room, and quite possibly for the woman as well? And that he, while posing as a defender of women, would cheapen the very serious crime of rape by using the word in so twisted a sense?

Weird, yes. But unexpected from that side of the argument? Not in the least.

Friday, January 20, 2012


I don't know much yet about the group that made this video, but it looks promising. However, the video gets one thing wrong, and although it isn't as important as the moral issues it raises, it's still important.

We're told that we need a President who will "create jobs." No, no, no! We need a President who will rein in the Federal government and make it easier for the people to create jobs.

For too long, what I might call "official" Catholic opinion has favored trying to form a more perfect society through giving more and more power to the Federal government. That is, through a soft form of socialism.

That's a terrible mistake, not least because it undermines the way the Church works, which is by preaching the Gospel in order to save immortal souls. Turns out that when you do that, individual moral decisions (such as those of employers and investors) get better. That leads to a better society, because it's based on the freely-chosen actions of those who take Christ as their model -- the best foundation a person, a neighborhood, a town, a state, or a country can ever have, this side of Heaven.