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.