December 31, 2002

an Andy Rooney Moment
I see the self-esteem movement has reached college football bowls. Give me a break - 28 bowls? It is easy to be a curmugeon on this topic but I remember a day when you didn't have bowls leaking out of New Year's Day. Now the two bowls I really want to watch are on Jan. 2nd and Jan. 3rd, workdays both. And remember when bowls were euphoniously named "Peach", "Cotton" and "Rose"? Now they have the discordantly-named "Motor City Bowl" and bowls named after potato chip brands.
G. Will-ikers*
Found this snippet on a hero of mine and yon Dylan's here. Mr. Will always struck me as a plu-perfect Anglophillic Anglican.

Will is an Episcopalian who...has taken on religious institutions, including his own. In a 1979 column, Will lamented his denomination’s revision of its 16th-century Book of Common Prayer, and prophetically suggested: “Perhaps Christianity’s many revisers are, as a matter of fact, bringing Christianity into conformity with the spirit of the age. But I thought it was supposed to work the other way.”

Will, whose theology is orthodox, is an avid reader and quoter of C.S. Lewis, also an Anglican.

* -shamelessly stolen, though attributed at least, from sir Dylan!
Armchair Travel
"With vacations," he continued, "there are two strands of desire. On the one hand, there is the desire for relaxation, which is almost a Zen type of emptying your mind, a freedom from anxiety and stress, etc. And then there's the idea of stimulation. Most of the time, people run those two things together, and they're completely incompatible." For him everything seems better in anticipation and in memory.

At one point, the author suggests that the hunger for travel might be better served by staying home and reading about foreign places or by looking at paintings or photographs. In passing, he says that he began to appreciate Provence only after he had studied paintings by van Gogh.

--Mel Gussow on Alain de Botton's recent book in the NY Times
Chesterton on Aquinas
He had from the first that full and final test of truly orthodox Catholicity; the impetuous, impatient, intolerant passion for the poor; and even that readiness to be rather a nuisance to the rich, out of a hunger to feed the hungry....a man's love of himself is Sincere and Constant and Indulgent; and this should be transferred intact (if possible) to his love of his neighbour. At this early age he did not understand all of this. He only did it.

He was very far from being a Puritan, in the true sense; he made a provision for a holiday and banquet for his young friends, which has quite a convival sound. The trend of his writing, especially for his time, is reasonable in its recognition of physical life; and he goes out of his way to say that men must vary their lives with jokes and even with pranks. But for all that, we cannot somehow see his personality as a sort of magnent for mobs..I think he rather disliked noise; there is a legend that he disliked thunderstorms; but it is contradicted by the fact that in an actual shipwreck he was supremely calm. However that may be, and it probably concerned his health, in some ways sensitive, he certainly was very calm.

Being himself resolved to argue, to argue honestly, to answer everybody, to deal with everything, he produced books enough to sink a ship or stock a library; though he died in comparatively early middle age. Probably he could not have done it at all, if he had not been thinking even when he was not writing; but above all thinking combatively. This, in his case, certainly did not mean bitterly or spitefully or uncharitably; but it did mean combatively. As a matter of fact, it is generally the man who is not read to argue, who is ready to sneer. That is why, in recent literature, there has been so little argument and so much sneering....He was interested in the souls of all his fellow creatures, but not in classifying the minds of any of them; in a sense it was too personal and in another sense too arrogant for his particular mind and temper.

--GK Chesterton's St. Thomas Aquinas

December 30, 2002

From the "There's nothing new under the sun" dep't:
Google tells me that twelve other bloggers have referred to Abe Vigoda. Including this eyebrow-raising bon mot:

Kissinger, Abe Vigoda, Jennifer Connelly....who needs their eyebrows tweezed more?
--via Hairy Toes & Lemonade Rhino
Verweile Doch
Last night's long Sunday read was a scattershot affair. Fiction....long live fiction! I've a surfeit of journalism and longed to lose myself in glorious prose.

John Updike's Seek My Face ...due back at the library this week and hence I had to make a stab. I read maybe the first 40 pages and I'm not sure it's his best.
Liam O'Flaherty's Famine: A Novel
Charles Dicken's Bleak favorite novel of his is Great Expectations and I wonder if I shouldn't just re-read that one.
Also picked up some non-fiction - Jay Winik's April 1865: The Month That Saved America . It looks pretty interesting.

Saturday I spent some time with Chesterton's Saint Thomas Aquinas and Richard Drake's A History of Appalachia

Also spent some of Sunday researching the disappearance of my great-grandfather James Smith. Did he die in the 1913 flood or leave and start a family in St. Louis? I would post my speculations, but even I recognize the utter minutiae and self-indulgence that would represent to you small band of readers.
Beating this horse dead...
As a sort of postscript to the whole St. Thomas controversy, I should mention that the two writers of recent vintage I admire most were both great devotees of the Summa: Flannery O'Connor and Walker Percy. Flannery read St. Thomas every night before retiring. Walker read the complete Summa twice. (Certainly Walker cannot be accused of not having a scientific cast of mind since he studied medicine in school.)

This is not to say that they were saints or that they shouldn't/weren't reading more contemplative stuff, but it is intriguing that two modern Catholic artists would find such sustenance in Aquinas.

Minute Particulae has a good post on the subject with links to those discussing/recussing it.

Archbishop Sheen was an agnostic on the subject, recognizing that some are "Augustine" types and others "Aquinas" folk but that both are good. This complements Steven Riddle's comment about how Augustine is more "love, then know" while Aquinas, "know, then love". (I do admire Mr. Riddle's courage in making those comments in the first place; while he was careful to say that he was not denigrating Aquinas, it is not easy in the blogosphere to communicate that notion effectively.)

December 29, 2002

tight-lipped, bloodless arguments
circle; encircle
the mind (while)
Abe Vigoda visages wander
skies of unmade beds

December 28, 2002

The Old Debate
I post this only that you smart folks might have some advice for a situation that I probably should avoid engaging in...

We slipped, almost by accident, onto those grounds where we profoundly disagree. My mother said that Catholicism should get back to the bible, the way it was in the beginning. Her salient point was questioning the notion that not eating meat on Friday could put you in hell. Or that a 2nd-grader who had drank water could not receive Communion if said water was drank within three hours of receiving. She says that I'm an orthodox Catholic because I did not live through "those days." (i.e. pre Vatican II). Perhaps, perhaps not. I replied that the fruits of the Church in the 50s were such that those rules did not do any harm and perhaps much good. She said she didn't buy that - Protestants were just as holy in the 50s without the "crazy rules". I said that some Protestants had crazy rules - like no dancing, no alcohol, no gambling...the argument held no sway, and I was left afterward remembering Bishop Sheen's words that to "win the argument is to lose the soul" or words to that effect.

I guess my pet peeve is the argument that the Church is not biblical, although it shouldn't because in my ignorance I once thought similarly. I should understand that sentiment instead of reacting to it in less than composed manner. How would you sound-byte such a question? Since she and many Protestants are simply allergic or otherwise resistant to Matt 16 I am avoiding Peter directly by thinking thusly:

The New Testament would seem to be a grand poem in a foreign language that has been translated, very broadly, in two different ways - one more Catholic and another more Fundamentalist. We cannot be sure in this world which is the more accurate translation, but it is unfair to call one more "biblical" than the other. They are both heartfelt interpretations of Scripture. (I obviously feel the Catholic interpretation is more accurate.)

First, I think it's important to notice who Jesus speaks to when he says things, rather than just to assume He is always speaking to everyone. Why would he speak in parables before the crowds while offering more to his apostles? And why would he tell things to Peter individually that he would not tell the rest of the apostles? Isn't this implicitly hierarchical?

Secondly, I have never understood salvation as being assured or that "faith alone" is necessary when reading the whole of the gospels or the whole of the bible. I get a sense that Christ is constantly telling us to, if not worry, then to be watchful concerning our salvation. The parables of the sower and the seed and the ten virgins and numerous others simply don't support the "once saved, always saved" interpretation in my view.
Can't help but take a deep breath at the end of the holidays (ours just ended today). Only around Christmastime is it possible to be blessed with tons of vacation time while at the same time coming to the almost metaphysically impossible conclusion that work would be preferable. I kept up as well as I could but to be honest I felt very empty going into the 25th. I gave what I could at Mass but was surprised at how ordinary it seemed - a sparse, sleepy crowd and weak musically. (I didn't go to midnight service at the Byzantine parish because of icy roads). I reminded myself that God is present at all Masses regardless of the pageantry or the other’s enthusiasm and that the manger itself was a very humble place. It's nice to have "smells & bells" on the birthday of birthdays though.
Good Point
"Most people would not even cross the street to witness an unobtrusive act of patience being put into practice, but they will cross an ocean to visit the locale of an alleged apparaition." An authentic vision counts for less than a simple act of charity, says Thomas Dubay, S.M., Fire Within: St. Teresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross, and the Gospel -- on Prayer (Ignatius Press, 1989), p. 247. Both Teresa and John said so, and so did St. Paul (I Corintihans 12:30-13:3).
-- the reader
The old talk of school as a preparation for life-what a bad joke. There was no relation at all. School made matters worse. The elegance and order of school had disarmed him for what came later.
--Walker Percy, "The Last Gentleman"

December 27, 2002

One longs for the drawn arterial blood of life, the scarlet blood of richness; the deep oxygenated marrow of life that Thoreau wrote of...What is super about the superficial anyway? The trick is to impregnate the ordinary with meaning - or to realize that it's already so.

December 26, 2002

Watched Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory over the holiday. I remember that scaring the bleep out of me when I was a kid. The little girl inflating into blueberry fastness was an image I could scarce let go. Watching it now is more interesting because of its obvious Judeo-Christian parallels.

I also found this to be interesting:

The only catch: to be one of the five children you have to find a golden ticket inside the wrapper of a Wonka Bar. Eventually five children get their hands on these golden tickets – including Charlie. That storyline… that idea of having a golden ticket and a spirit of entitlement somehow has a familiar ring to it, doesn’t it? Don’t we tend to think that way about our faith and our religion? Haven’t you heard the language of entitlement in our midst at times? Its as if we think we’ve got some kind of golden ticket – and we’ve got a binding contract with God that states we get certain things, we’ve earned certain rights…

This isn’t a new problem among the religious; it’s a pretty old one. Old enough that Jesus addressed it himself. He does so in Luke 18:9-14...
One feels a stab of pain at the notion that winter hath officially begun just 4 days ago. It is as if you were half-way thru a college course and the instructor says, "okay, that was all preliminary. Everything from here forward counts." I remind myself of what Jesse Ventura says about the Minnesotan winters: it keeps the riff-raff out.
A Vomitory
Our dog is not a reader of Aquinas, and especially eschews the virtue of moderation. We found a couple stray pieces of paper that had once made up the cover of four (4) sticks of butter, one pound in all. Said doggie ate said butter. The proof came a few hours later, in an epic vomitalia that in sheer volume was something I had never witnessed by man or beast or the Minotaurus college student. A few hours and one steam-cleaning later, the carpet still stank. Carpet was summarily dismissed from service.

One pound of butter = lingering offensive smell to our guests = a new rug needed. The price of gluttony is steep indeed. Said dog was proffered butter a few hours later. He just said no.
Uh...gosh...I feel a little sheepish after reading Disputations' convincing post on the timelessness of Aquinas. I feel like a juror nodding my head 'yes, yes' after the last slick attorney has spoken - whether it be for the defense or the prosecution. Guess I should just shut up and read the posts and not comment, lest I prove to be a fool instead of just thought one.

As far as the Summa goes, I'm both wildly attracted to it and somewhat repelled by it. I echo Mr. Riddle's, "Myself, I cannot separate one intellectual error from another and I toss literary works aside for much less than is wrong in the cosmology of St. Thomas and I expect far, far less of them."

A sort of "time prejudice" can even be extended to the Old Testament, which can be seen as necessarily less precise vision of God given that divine revelation was still being in the process of being revealed and developed. My mother has tried to read it with much trouble, finding the myths ("there was not a worldwide flood!", she cries) side-by-side with truths an unpalatable mix. Tangentially related, I'll never forget Malcolm Muggeridge's rather amazing ability to separate historical fact from "truth", saying that it is necessary to the story that Jesus be born to a virgin, though it probably not be fact. He said the highest truths are artistic ones, though I suspect the Resurrection, and its implication for us, is one that interested him in more than just the artistic sense.
Blogging Conditions
Bloggodocia will continue to be light and sporadic. A scattering of posts is expected, maybe 1-3 before weekend. A front is expected to move in this weekend, providing additional fodder for posts, but blog weathermen are wrong more often than right. The Old Blogger's Almanac says to expect posts in drifts this time of year.
Steven Riddle of flos carmeli wrote an interesting piece on the Summa. I commented that he hit the nail on the head - I thought I was the only one to think that about the great St. Thomas. I am often put off and somewhat disappointed that he was so of his time with respect to nature & the sciences, although asking otherwise is to seek infallibility & omniscence. (A small example - not really an example because it could still be true though I think it somehow less than satisfying - is his belief in a literal hellfire). John Updike made a comment that Christianity has been amazingly shrewd w/r to human nature, while having a faulty cosmology. In that sense, a spiritual guide who answers questions that depend on the natural world would seem to lock himself or herself into her time. I concur with Aquinas' greatness w/r to commentaries and hymns. There is rarely a time I don't pray after Communion his prayer: 'Soul of Christ, sanctify me, Body of Christ, be my salvation...'.

And of the Summa, I recognize the lack is in me since there are so many who see it differently. I also take some comfort in the mere fact that the questions I have asked have been asked before, and been addressed by so great an intellectual as St. Thomas.

December 23, 2002

You've probably seen this but...
...whether true or not I liked this 12 days of Christmas story.
Hilaire Belloc, You're No JFK
When running for office, Belloc had a slightly different view than JFK on the effect of his religion on his politics:

HB: My religion is of course of greater moment to me by far than my politics, or than any other interest could be, and if I had to choose between two policies, one of which would certainly injure my religion and the other as certainly advance it, I would not for a moment hesitate between the two.

JFK: Whatever issue may come before me as President--on birth control, divorce, censorship, gambling or any other subject--I will make my decision in accordance with these views, in accordance with what my conscience tells me to be the national interest, and without regard to outside religious pressures or dictates. And no power or threat of punishment could cause me to decide otherwise.

Ahhhhhh...Mister we could use a man like Herbert Hoover Hilaire Belloc again...

December 22, 2002

Interesting NY Times article titled The Boy Who Saw the Virgin
"We expected a judge, and it was a Savior who was born. We expected an executioner, and it was a Child who was born. We were preparing for a rendering of accounts, we were going to "put ourselves right with God", and a Baby was stretching out His arms to us, asking for our love, protection and tenderness. All the confidence we never dared to have in God, He had in us!"

-- from church bulliten of St. John Chrysostom
In Mary’s day, to have a child outside wedlock was nearly a capital offense. At the very least she would be greatly shamed. I wonder if I would I have judged Mary. I’m sure I would’ve thought, “Hmm…I thought she was holy…and here she is pregnant.” How perfectly economical is it that God should brings us his Son this way? In one fell swoop he illustrates the folly of judging others while also displaying Mary’s lack of spiritual pride in becoming a scandal in the eyes of the world. How like the Cross! St. Francis said that we share in this Annuciation every day in determining, to the extent of our freedom, if we will care, comfort and love Him.

The grand theory of Everything is humility. Humility is the solution to all spiritual problems – both the “supernaturalists” who demand a sign and clarity (or else!) and the moralists, who think through grim determination they can do it all themselves. These extremes lurch from overreliance on self to an arrogant “come down off that Cross, let me see first”. Humility is the solvent for both.

December 21, 2002

Maybe it’s a lesson for all of us. Churchy types of all stripes spend their hours and spill their ink and waste their bytes arguing over semantics, the niceties of ritual and the precise interpretation of papal bulls, encyclicals and footnotes.

Meanwhile, the Hollywood Guy, who probably feels as strongly about those intricacies as any other who shares his ideology, has decided, instead of going inward, to bring the story of Jesus to a world that needs it, badly, instead.

Maybe Hollywood Guy has a lesson for the rest of us.
--Amy Welborn, concerning Mel Gibson & his Jesus project
Fr. Murphy
At Boolavogue, as the sun was setting
O'er the bright May meadows of Shelmalier,
A rebel hand set the heather blazing
And brought the neighbours from far and near.
Then Father Murphy, from old Kilcormack,
Spurred up the rocks with a warning cry;
"Arm! Arm!" he cried, "for I've come to lead you,
For Ireland's freedom we fight or die."

At Vinegar Hill, o'er the pleasant Slaney,
Our heroes vainly stood back to back,
And the Yeos at Tullow took Father Murphy
And burned his body upon the rack.
God grant you glory, brave Father Murphy
And open heaven to all your men;
The cause that called you may call tomorrow
In another fight for the Green again.
--PJ McCall, 1861-1919

Father John Murphy of Bollavogue (in Wexford) led his parishioners in routing the Camolin Cavalry on May 26, 1798. The Wexford insurgents were eventually defeated at Vinegar Hill on June 21. Father Murphy and the other rebel leaders were hanged.
Wearin' of the Green
Elegiac songs of Eire
lay ‘neath sprigs of green
where the Fenians sleep
and sallow-hued descendents
sing of fair-haired boys,
lives to resolution swift-brought,
brigades of indiscretions
burnt on pyres of bravery!

Escape of the fire
of musket and fraught-peril
waxen faces waiting to be formed
far flung-souls of wildest repute
sing they the harpist’s bravest:
“with a pike upon your shoulder
by the risin’ of the moon!”

Weep to Kevin Barry while
full-throated they wonder if
war be invented for whiskey
or whiskey for war?
Sing-burn they with the energy of youth:
- “another martyr for ol’ Ireland
another murther for the Crown”

December 20, 2002

Provocative and interesting post on Steven Ray's billboard:
"Christianity has always proclaimed itself superior to the state. When Christ said "render unto Ceasar that which is Ceasar's, and to God that which is God's" He proclaimed an authority superior to government. (If He had not, then what right did the early Christians have to refuse sacrifices to pagan gods in violation of Roman law?). By creating a Church, he gave that authority visible form.

As civilization developed, men took their Christianity with them into the halls of state. If Christ and faith in Him is the highest reality, which penetrates into every action of men, would a state be foolish to proclaim itself independent of Him? No. Quite the contrary. So the Emperor Theodosius thought when he made Christianity the official religion of the Empire.

Throughout that time and in the millenia to follow, it was inconceivable to men that the state would have any basis of its authority that was not religious, and therefore Christian, and therefore linked with the Church. Charlemagne had himself crowned by the Pope for the same reason the French kings to follow were told by the bishops performing the coronation "By this crown you become a sharer in our ministry." This consciousness was called Christendom.

As a natural extension of these ideas, it was also natural to conclude that departure from the Christian faith was contrary to the common good of society. Fundamentalist preachers say as much, and maintain as much, whenever they hand out voter guides and 'demand' (since we're into pejorative terms) that good Christians should exercise their authority in government by voting for candidates who accept Christian teaching. As it is now, so it was then -- departure from Christianity was a blow struck at the health of the entire society, and therefore punishable. The Albigensians were seen, in this light, as being as great a threat to civil society as Shays rebellion or the Confederacy was seen to the United States. No one blames the United States for 'exterminating' confederates, or 'persecuting' farmers, or making the country 'explicitly' what Abraham Lincoln said it was. So do we, I wonder, consider religion and Christianity less important to our well being than our forebears in the first thousand years of Christian history?

I am about to greatly condense things. But with the Reformation, and the devastating wars between Catholics and Protestants that followed, it became clear that doctrinally-specific Christianity could no longer serve as the basis for a stable civil or international order. Men began to look for new theologies on which to found their states, culminating in the present Enlightenment and post-Enlightenment ideas of democratic consent and religious tolerance. But this was originally a grudging accomodation made in stages and over time by Catholics and Protestants. You may have heard, for example, of the "divine right of kings." This was not a Catholic idea, but a post-Reformation attempt to found the civil order on a direct grant of authority from God to whoever held power, trying to rest civil authority again on a stable footing. Kings being what they are, and the rising middle and merchant classes being what they were, the theory was bound to perish, as it did under Cromwell and again in the Glorious Revolution.

To a great extent, the ideas of Vatican II (and earlier Church teaching, reaching back more than a century) are an understanding of the position of Christ's Church in a world devoid of Christendom, learning as well from the instructive errors of the past which proved that heresy and division may not always be eradicated by force, but in a way that is startlingly consistent with the Church's understanding of the origin and role of the civil power from medieval days."
Interesting Snippet on traditional naming patterns
Irish Naming Patterns for Children:
The 1st son was usually named after the father's father
The 2nd son was usually named after the mother's father
The 3rd son was usually named after the father
The 4th son was usually named after the father's eldest brother
The 5th son was usually named after the mother's eldest brother
The 1st daughter was usually named after the mother's mother
The 2nd daughter was usually named after the father's mother
The 3rd daughter was usually named after the mother
The 4th daughter was usually named after the mother's eldest sister The 5th daughter
was usually named after the father's eldest sister

The 11th son was named after the father's mother's uncle's cousin, twice-removed.
Oh, man! admire and model thyself after the whale! Do thou, too, remain warm among ice. Do thou, too, live in this world without being of it. Be cool at the equator; keep thy blood fluid at the Pole. Like the great dome of St. Peter's, and like the great whale, retain, O man! in all seasons a temperature of thine own. --Herman Melville Moby-Dick
More journal entries from long ago....aka Stories from the Land of Broken Toys...
Fictional Friday
   It was early '63 and I was traveling the 'government approved' road about 20 miles outside Moscow. Party officials stressed ad nauseum that I was not to stop, that I was to average 50 miles per hour, and under no circumstances was I to talk to anybody. My knowledge of Russian was only passing anyway; I was much more fluent in Moldovian. I felt for the huge pack of rubles in my pocket, and examined the pale and wan visages of the evil empire, the red sycthe against a blood-red field which signified the determination of the Russian empire to harvest her own people. The long road to Siberia was not paved with many good intentions - the struggling peasants looked bovine and desperate, a combination I'd scarce imagined. Every cow I'd ever seen looked satisfied and not in the least desperate.

   My assignment was simple, albeit fraught with complications. I was to marry a young Russian woman, an 18-year old with hairy armpits and vodka-spiked breath. She was a vocal critic of Kruschev, even to the point of organizing rallys at the local grocery mart complaining about the fact that they only had one choice of peanut butter. She said she would die to choose Jif, but officials chose a third option - Siberia. However, before her re-education could begin at the gulag, a defense minister was passed a note in between saunas that explained he had a illegitimate daughter from an indiscretion many years ago...just over eighteen to be exact..
Thoughts on hearing the Columbus Holiday Strings*
It seems somehow odd to see grown men and women in suits playing instruments, working so hard towards the questionable utility of pleasing us - we twenty or thirty in the small auditorium. But what a treat - an audio massage! I felt similarly when I received a "therapeutic" massage, via a gift certificate. Here was someone whose job it was to provide something of no greater utility than pleasure. Ditto about baseball players - all that time, effort and energy rolled into doing something no more important than hitting a round object with a 30-odd ounce stick. Amazing. And yet these are good things. The constant temptation is to imagine that everything must be for utility - even books! Some will not read fiction or poetry unless there be something self-improving in it; some fact or knowledge imparted. Jansenism be dead!
* - a free concert provided yearly; an audio Christmas card for us.
I was an impressionable youngster, a mere child of 13 or so when I first saw Natalie Wood in "West Side Story". The story held me in thrall all the way to its "Somewhere" climax - no surprise given that the 'Romeo & Juliet' formula does that to nearly everyone. But the scene in "West Side Story" that first stung my heart was when Maria fell to her knees to pray to Mary before a lit blue candle after she heard Tony had killed her cousin. There was nothing more appealing to my early teenishness than a holy girl, for they seemed so rare. The girls I knew were unctious and supercillious. (Not that we boys were any prize).
Unbidden, my stepson expressed the sentiment that a strong marital relationship is "impossible without religion". He has also started going to church with my wife to the evangelical service (the Vineyard). Thanks to those who've said a prayer for him.

December 18, 2002

I never liked O Come, O Come Emmanuel as a kid; I didn't understand the discordance between the lyrics, "Rejoice, rejoice!" and the somber, plaintive music. Now I can't imagine Advent without it.
Saw this interesting flick. Here's the USCCB review.

"I had no intention of making love to her: I had no particular intention of even looking her up again. She was too beautiful to excite me with the idea of accessibility."
   --Graham Greene's End of the Affair
Minute Particulae has a nice essay here. The following short excerpt can't do it justice, so read the whole thing.

"The shortcuts require writers to take long strides to get to their point quickly, strides that lurch over subtleties and shades of meaning, oversimplifying or even obscuring the argument. The result is that issues get watered down and you end up with lukewarm, left-handed swashbuckling.

Or perhaps, more interestingly, these same smart, passionate, informed people simply won't bring out their finest points or most compelling arguments. It's a rather strange thing to claim, but I think it's true and I'm not sure why this happens. I don't mean some subsurface bias or prejudice that will undermine a person's credibility if it surfaces (e.g. Lott?). I mean hesitating to bring to bear the aspects of an issue that touch you most deeply and compel you privately."

Two things come to mind: first, many Catlicker bloggers are writing, basically, to other Catlicker bloggers. Thus they can take shortcuts, because they are "preaching to the converted"; they don't have to fully flesh out arguments because a serious Catholic is imbued with Catholic sensibilities. If I am in favor of something unusual in the Catholic blogging community, I realize I must defend it much more vigorously and completely. That said, in a multicultural land we live in, one can fully understand the splintering into groups and the increasing "huh?" that folks greet each other with. The dropping of the classics in college and the growth of the elective system, for example, has given everyone educations that vary wildly. So how can anyone really write to a large audience about anything other than base subjects? Even history is written no longer not by the victor, but by the aggrieved. If I believed everything in the black history curriculum, I might long for reparations too, despite their blatant unfairness. (This is not to suggest that history is unknowable, but that one should scrupulously attempt to remove slant from the writing of it - that we cannot achieve perfection in this area is no reason to give up. Fatalism seems rampant - biographers give in to their bias because they believe the subject and biographer to be wearers of masks, and thus the two-fold error means nothing can be known. So they add fictional characters, ala Edmund Morris's weak Dutch. But perhaps I digress...)

How interesting that Particulae's author detects a hesitancy in "bringing to bear the aspects of an issue that touch you most deeply and compel you privately."

Very true. We all like that ace up the sleeve. Break in case of emergency. I think that hesitancy might have two fathers. One is the fear that that part of the issue that touches you most deeply and with which you identify so deeply that it is you in some way, will be opened up to criticism or abuse that is tantamount to abuse of, well, you. A second father might be the fear that what you feel passionately about could be refuted, which begs a lack of faith.

Finally, as Particulae points out, there is that enigmatic scriptural warning about the casting of pearls before swine, which I assume can only be discerned under the guidance of the Spirit since there is also a call to "go out into the world and tell all nations" of the gospel. Perhaps it is mostly a warning in the tradition of St. Paul, in not giving those meat who still are drinking the breast milk.
On a Collision Course
The third rail, in subway-ese, is the rail that is electrified; you touch it, you die. In the political sphere it is often considered to be the social security. Cut benefits and senior citizens, nearly all practicing voters, will swiftly effect your transition to the private sector. But the real third rail seems to be children. The desire of parents to ferociously attack anybody who causes them pain is inbred, like a mother bear protecting their cubs.

On the other side, we have a childless hierarchy, composed of bishops who consider their priests to be their charges, their children as it were.

So what do you get when an irresistable force meets an immoveable object? The "Situation". The right outcome occurred - i.e. the new sexual abuse policy. Now we can say:

Mercy on both their houses!
Quote Wednesday
    ...a miscellaneous hodge-podge of saved quotes

"In the essay Christian Reunion C.S. Lewis states that the real disagreement between Catholics and Protestants is not about any particular belief, but about the source and nature of doctrine and authority:
"The real reason I cannot be in communion with you is ... that to accept your Church means not to accept a given body of doctrine but to accept in advance any doctrine that your Church hereafter produces."

I've heard this interpreted as Lewis saying that he could assent to all Catholic doctrine, but not sign on to the belief that all future doctrine would be free from error. And yet - to have survived 2,000 years of heresies with intact doctrine would seem to suggest a pattern. Past performance might not guarantee future results, but it would surprise me that Lewis would not think the protection of that doctrine for that many years not to be in some way miraculous.
"He said 'One of the Fathers has told us that joy always depends on pain. Pain is part of joy. We are hungry and then think how we enjoy our food at last. We are thirsty ... ' He stopped suddenly, with his eyes glancing away into the shadows, expecting the cruel laugh that did not come. He said, 'We deny ourselves so that we can enjoy. You have heard of rich men in the north who eat salted foods, so that they can be thirsty -- for what they call the cocktail. Before the marriage, too, there is the long betrothal ...' Again he stopped. He felt his own unworthiness like a weight at the back of the tongue. There was a smell of hot wax from where a candle drooped in the nocturnal heat; people shifted on the hard floor in the shadows....That is all part of heaven -- the preparation. Perhaps without them, who can tell, you wouldn't enjoy heaven so much. Heaven would not be complete."
--Graham Greene, The Power and the Glory
Melville excerpt:
"Very often do the captains of ships take absent-minded young philosophers to task, upbraiding them with not feeling sufficient 'interest' in the voyage; half-hinting that they are so hopelessly lost to all honorable ambition.

Lulled in such an opium-like listlessness of vacate, unconscious reverie is the absent-minded youth by the blending cadence of waves with thoughts, that at last he loses his identity; takes the mystic ocean at his feet for the visible image of that deep, blue, bottomless soul, pervading mankind and nature...In this enchanted mood, thy spirit ebbs away to whence it came, like Wickliff's sprinkled Pantheistic ashes.

There is no life in thee, now, except that rocking life imparted by a gently rolling ship; by her, borrowed from the sea; by the sea, from the inscrutable tides of God. But while this sleep, this dream is on ye, move your foot or hand an inch, slip your hold at all; and your identity comes back in horror. Over Descartian vortices you hover. Heed it well, ye Pantheists!"
--H. Melville, Moby Dick
Likewise the Eucharist
"In our world, a star is huge ball of flaming gas," said Eustace. "Even in your world," said Ramandu, "that is not what a star is, but only what it is made of."
-- The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
"True spirituality MUST have some organizing principal. It's like any other language -- this one being the language we use to communicate with God (two way, we hope). Language needs organization. It is essential to its use. Good poetry, for example, comes from a clear understanding of the function of language, including grammar and rhetoric. Good poetry 'violates' the rule with intent - not by accident or ignorance."
--quote saw on billboard

December 17, 2002

He could always try blogging
Daniel Patrick Moynihan once mentioned how grateful he was for the Congressional Record, calling it the "publisher of last resort".
Oy vey...he married her for her BCS bowl game ticket. Another sign of the Apocalpyse.
Ye Olde Medicine Shoppe
Marvelous link via flos carmeli's medicine shop. Aquinas has told me constantly about the will but it sinks in with difficulty.

First, let me say, as I said about frequent confession, it is a law of nature that use and wont should make us feel things less keenly. We need not be surprised at this, nor distressed at it. We must not measure the value of our Communions, any more than the value of our Confessions and Absolutions, by the feelings that we have. We may be making our Communions just as fervently and as profitably without the feeling of sensible devotion as with it. Fervour does not reside in the feelings, but in the will--· in the will moved and strengthened by grace. Sensible devotion may be a gift of God, and when it is we ought to be very thankful for it. If it comes from God and is His gift, it is a very great help on our way. And so, no doubt, God gives it from time to time to those who are earnestly trying to give themselves to Him. But the times of dryness, are as needful for our spiritual growth. It is then that there is room for a truer exercise of faith, and a more generous devotion of ourselves to God.
Our Ultimate Feebleness
Our spectacular physical denouement - the collapse of death with its rank dissolution of blood, tissue and eventually bone - should remind us of our utter dependence on God. From belief that he will be active then, it is an infintesimally small jump to imagine Him active now, just as He was active at our ensoulment. Similarly, if Jesus rose, what small matter are the other miracle stories? To admit one is to admit all.
Been pondering the infinitesimal increment in effectiveness between apology number five and apology number four for Lott. One senses the law of diminishing returns at work. The senator must too, because now he's a full convert to reverse racism. Actions do speak louder than words, but...

A rough SWAG:
Apology 1 = +20%*, apology 2 = +5%, apology 3 = +1%, apology 4 = .0035%, apology 5 = -3% (just as the Clinton apology tour eventually began to weary, so might there be a backlash from too many Lottian apologies).

*-percent of people positively influenced (i.e. in favor of the perpetrator) by the apology.

December 16, 2002

Belloc on Academics
All of this began, recall, when Belloc met the lady with the clear gaze in the Great Bear Inn. Suddenly, we are confronted in this unlikely spot with intellectual pride, surely the sin of the fallen angels. Who are these prideful ones? They are the ones who do not notice all the wonder to be found about them. A human being is more than a mind. Unless he is more, his mind is quite a dangerous thing. The angels are pure spirits; we are the rational animals, body and soul.

Belloc describes the situation of the mind-only-gentleman in this fashion:

What! here are we with the jolly world of God all round us, able to sing, to draw, to paint, to hammer and build, to sail, to ride horses, to run, to leap; having for our splendid inheritance love in youth and memory in old age, and we are to take one miserable little faculty, our one-legged, knock-kneed, gimcrack, grumpy intellect, or analytical curiosity rather (a diseased appetite), and let it swell till it eats up every other function?

What does the sane man do when this happens? He yells, "Away with such foolery."

Who is it, we might ask, that thinks the world of God to be jolly, who sings, draws, paints, hammers, sails, rides horses, runs, leaps? Who has love in youth and memory in old age? Who tells us it is a "splendid inheritance"? Why, it is Belloc himself, of course, perhaps still a bit annoyed that he did not himself end up as a very pedant, though this is hard to imagine. He knew the dangers of his own "grumpy intellect," for it could lead him to this very pride from which he was perhaps saved when he could not stay at Oxford.

The "Lector" wants to get on with the walk and quit these dreary philosophical musings. But the "Auctor" has a few more things to say. He repeats, "Away with such foolery." He decides to explain the problems we have with the pedants. They "lose all proportion." Worse, "they can never keep sane in a discussion." Belloc gives us an amusing example. The pedants "go wild on matters they are wholly unable to judge, such as Armenian Religion or the Politics of Paris or what not."

A man with a steady and balanced mind, with a clear gaze, on the other hand, has three questions to ask that keep him sane. These are 1) "After all it is not my business." 2) "Tut! tut! You don't say so!". And 3) "Credo in Unum Deum Patrem Omnipotentem Factorem omnium visibilium et invisibilium." In these last lines from the Creed, Belloc thinks, all the analytical powers of the pedants, the professors, are jammed "into dustheaps," by comparison.

-James V. Schall, S.J.
Difference btwn NYC & D.C.
ED Crandall, the former president of American Airlines, once told me the difference between New York and Washington. He said that New York was "tough but not mean" and that Washington was "mean but not tough."
   "In New York," he elaborated, "they'll fight you for every last dime and then, afterwards, you'll go to dinner together and become friends." But in Washington, "They'll give you everything you want to your face - and then, as you walk away, they'll shoot you in the back because it's fun to watch you die."

- Dick Morris in the New York Post
Inspired by a post on Obhouse, Dylan asks is it coming to this?

I received the following work email:
Young Asian American Professional Network Winter Celebration
The Young Asian American Professional Network is hosting a Winter Celebration - a family gathering to celebrate Asian culture with food, fun and entertainment on Sunday, December 15.

I'm looking forward to, but not holding my breath for, the complementary:
Young Irish American Drunkard Network Unabashedly Christmas Celebration
The Young Irish American Drunkard Network is hosting a Christmas (with a nod to our Druidic past) celebration that will celebrate Irish culture with Guinness, Jameson, and Harp. On Friday, Dec. 13 extending to Saturday Dec. 14.
Thursdays with Belloc. Nice ring to it. Like Breakfast at Tiffany's or Tuesdays with Morrie. I'll keep an eye on this one.
My Blouzelinda is the blithest lass,
Than primrose sweeter, or the clover-grass.
Fair is the king-cup that in meadow blows,
Fair is the daisy that beside her grows,
Fair is the gillyflow'r, of gardens sweet,
Fair is the marigold, for pottage meet.
But Blouzelind's than gillyflow'r more fair,
Than daisy, marigold, or king-cup rare.   -John Gay, The Shepherd's Week
Thinking about the TSCs
I asked Bill White in what sense the traditional spiritual classics (TSC for brevity's sake) are opaque for him. He says that the TSCs, "talk past me; we seem to speak different languages....Some writing allows me to enter into it, carries me with it and teaches me to understand everything in it; then there is other language that keeps me outside...think it's as much a matter of God-given taste and aptitude. Some are Carmelites, some are Dominicans, and some (God help their souls) are Jesuits."

As an aside, his conversion shows a sobering side of Protestantism I was not familiar with - neglect of the gospels:
Sermons, such as they were, were mere exercises in concordance-jumping, and usually focused on some obscure passage in one of Saint Paul's letters, with lots of concordance-based jumping from one word in an isolated verse to another throughout the bible. A "word study". I don't remember *ever* hearing extended passages read from the gospels, nor a single sermon on the gospels. (The obligatory disclaimer applies - I realize Protestant churches vary greatly.)

It seems the TSCs are good as eating spinach is; rather than subsist on the sugary diet of works that allow my eyes to be widened in a way such as Belloc or Chesterton wrote, books that build faith - rather one should also read books that provoke the desire to, say, start fasting. We see these differences in the bible - the thrill of historical connection when reading Isaiah, for instance, compared to reading the self-improvement of the Book of Proverbs. Bill mentioned Isaiah, pointing out some of his favorite books in the bible:

For me it's the stories of the gospels. Peter's letters are favorites, too; perhaps for me it's the historical connection again. And Isaiah! A passage from him can be like a mystery of the Rosary - I stop and wander up and down through all of salvation history making connections, seeing prophecies fulfilled, the Passion foreshadowed, Christ and the Church all through it.

Started reading St. John of the Cross (who knew his feast day was Saturday!?):
Often [beginners] will beseech God, with great yearnings, that He will take from them their imperfections and faults, but they do this that they may find themselves at peace, and may not be troubled by them, rather than for God's sake; not realizing that, if He should take their imperfections from them, they would probably become prouder still.
Selections from Verweile Doch:

Bartender says: 'I don't like to judge people from what I see of them from back here. They're either better or worse than normal when they have a drink.'
- R. McInerny, "Lack of the Irish"

So if they're better than normal does that mean they should drink up?

December 14, 2002

He agreed with C.S. Lewis that Christians got along best when each expressed undiluted what he or she believed. The search for a least common denominator to bind the Christian sects together led to blandness at best.

  'Is baptism a least common denominator?' Roger asked.

  A Baptist was unlikely to think of baptism as optional so far as Christianity was concerned. The difficulty was to think of it as a sacrament.

  'Do that you will soon be on the path of Lumen Gentium.'

  Todd of course understood that the reference was to the dogmatic constitution on the Church that had come out of Vatican II. Reading it had played a major role in Roger's conversion. Admit one sacrament and the other six would soon follow and with them the priesthood, bishops and the apostolic succession...

-Ralph McInerny, Lack of the Irish
Ha! Our Argentinian friend takes us to task for our vulgar tastes (although the Babel translator definitely requires one to "look thru the glass darkly").

I'm actually not a whiskey fan at all, having a once-a-year shot of Jameson's on St. Patrick's Day to properly jump start the day.

Favorite Adult Beverages* no particular order
St. Pauli Girl Dark
Guinness Stout

* - please blog responsibly. Only one drink per post.
Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled. - Luke 1:45
     -Blessed are you who believed: Luke portrays Mary as a believer whose faith stands in contrast to the disbelief of Zechariah (Luke 1:20). Mary's role as believer in the infancy narrative should be seen in connection with the explicit mention of her presence among "those who believed" after the resurrection at the beginning of the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 1:14). - NAB notes
Christmas Walk
dye light
in the nodding hours
dank wind Merlot chill’d,
brave lights curl pines
and whispering oaks--
a neighborhood aurora borealis.

Ranch houses wear the jewelry
of the ebulliently bulbous,
gems of blue and red raiments
recreating the plaintiveness
of youth’s last call.

Standing athwart the land of cold & dark
defiantly bright, incandescent strivers
strike the heart like carolers
of Whoville cheer.

December 13, 2002

Olde Travelogue, circa '99
I am passing thru the metropolis of Shade, Ohio, which thoughtfully erected a sign announcing themselves but I look in vain for a semblance of a town. I surmise that the other side of the sign said "Leaving Shade". I'll have to check on that on the way back. I kid the small towns. Country folk still have the capacity to surprise; at the local McDonald's there is an old guy dressed…for what I'm not sure, but he sure is dressed for a Monday morning. He is wearing a western suit, light beige in color, with matching piped pants and an expensive looking white cowboy hat. Does boredom lead people to these things? I pass Darwin, Ohio and then enter Minersville & spy a yard with fake deer. I go by houses with the Ohio River literally in their backyard, and on the other side of the bank a big nuclear power plant. These folks must be compartmentalizers on the scale of Clinton. I guess they can say, "I just look at the river, don't pay no mind to the Chernobyl towers". I enjoy the signs of small towns - saw one outside a restaurant that said, "Welcome. God food." Probably good too. In Racine, Ohio one said, "Free!!! Heart transplants from Jesus." Saw another small town announce "We now have soft-serve ice cream." Hey, congratulations! I also saw the occasional drive-by oxymoron, like, "West Virginia University". (Only kidding WVU!)
"He'll never be a lawyer 'cuz he can't pass a bar." - a country song lyric

"Blogging with a glass of whisky on hand is neither unheard of in these parts" - Disputations

Hey, I resemble that remark!
Interesting Comment:
"Having lived through the fifties, and having read the other thoughtful comments, allow me a personal postscript. The Church was changing in the fifties, because the position of Catholics in society was changing rapidly. Until then, Catholics were a mental minority. A remark by FDR - as reported in Michael Beschloss's "The Conquerors' is revealing:

Just after Pearl Harbor, Roosevelt lunched with Margenthau and Leo Crowley, a Catholic who was Custodian of Alien Property. As Morgenthau later recorded, the President told them, "You know this is a Protestant country, and the Catholics and Jews are here under sufferance." Roosevelt went on to say that it was therefore "up to you" to "go along with anything I want".

This was the attitude and atmosphere of the times. Perhaps it's the reason that the Church WAS close-knit and defensive. A sea-change occured in the fifties: the JFK phenomenon was just a result of this change in American attitudes.

In any event, the Church - and its members - were effectively given first class citizenship. And so loyalties began to shift from religion to society. And the shift continues today."

-Charles on Amy's blog
On the Soul
No longer need we say, with Tertullian, credo quia absurdum est. For the science of quantum mechanics has undone nineteenth-century concepts of matter, and it becomes conceiveable that whatever power has assembled the negative and positive charges composing us may reassemble those electrical particles, if it chooses. What survives (if stained) this present existence is the anima, the animating soul transcending mind and body. -Russell Kirk

December 12, 2002

I may have to start a permanent corrections column. (We joke about our small home newspaper that runs a correction page. It was funny until they misspelled my wife's name in the marriage announcement.)

Reader James informs that it was Evelyn Waugh who suggested he would be worse if not a Christian. Mr. Greene could probably make a similar statement though, given his reputation.
Mark Shea applies a hand to Mr. Hand's Backside
Right here

Sure, I've grown weary of the constant focus on the scandal on her blog and I was particularly upset by the comments made about my hero Cardinal Ratzinger, but Mr. Hand's comments were over the top and uncharitable, as is well-stated in the post above. I greatly value Amy's honesty and intellectual abilities. She unflinchingly asks the hard questions and addresses issues on a very practical level, which seems a valuable service.
Looking thru the Glass Darkly
P.S. As a post-script to the vast post on the "Spiritual Classics" can surely say the greater danger lies in too little scrupulosity than too much, especially in today's world. (Aquinas didn't agree, saying that one should error on the side of presumption rather than acedia. Of course tis better not to error at all.)
Concerning Pat Buchanan's article blaming everything on Vatican II...
We will never know, but it is possible the Church would now be in serious schism had it not had a Vat II. We might've split into Reform, Conservative and Orthodox wings like Judiasm did. If the Vatican had hard-lined it throughout the 60s & 70s it would've been completely irrelevant to the modern world, much as the Amish.

As it is the Church has bent, but did not break. That is a sign of strength. To have survived the 60s & 70s with all her doctrine intact, including Humane Vitae and the seamless moral dogmas is a good thing, one we can celebrate.

Can one even imagine, in this day of militant Islam, how ugly it would be for the Church if she had maintained her "error has no rights" pre-Vatican II stance on religious freedom? Is there any doubt how the Catholic Church would be compared to Islam, in their intolerance and desire to force their views on people? The Church moved sharply away from favoring theocracies during Vat II, a move that turned out to be prescient.

In short, the numbers might look even worse without Vatican II. When the writer Evelyn Waugh was asked why his being a Christian seemed not to make him one bit nicer, he said something like "you can't imagine how much worse I would be without Christianity".
Our Cafeteria Recognizing Today's Feast?
Should I read anything into the fact that the main entree today is "Mexican Sizzlin' Salad"? *grin*
Charismatically challenged
Not being especially demonstrative (except after imbibing), I find the prostrations of the Byzantine rite and the hand raising aspects of charismatic services off-putting. (I occasionally go to the latter for my wife's, and ecumenicism's, sake). But the discomfort is salutary: if I can't be embarrassed for Christ's sake, what good am I? Everything indeed is grace.
Disputations makes the interesting point that, "this is true, of course, yet though in a sense St. Francis of Assisi rebuilt the Church, the gilt of Thirteenth Century Christendom comes off pretty quickly once you start examining it. It's not the personal holiness of one or even several saints that revives the Church -- nor, for that matter is a revived Church free of crisis."

Amy recently questioned the strength of 50s Catholicism, given its swift collapse in the 60s, but if St. Francis couldn't hold the 13th century one can scarcely expect the leading lights of Catholicism in the 50s to hold the fort for long. Holiness is personal, and appears in some ways non-transferable. I think it was Chesterton who said that a new barbarian invasion occurs every generation - in the form of children.
Regarding the Spiritual Classics
It perhaps wouldn't surprise y'all to say that Bill White's words resonate with me: the traditional spiritual works opaque to me; these "lower" works often help me to place building blocks on which to build a better spiritual life. Boy, he said that well didn't he?

By "traditional spiritual classics" I'm thinking along the lines of Francis de Sales' Introduction to the Devout Life, Dom Chautard's Soul of the Apostolate, Teresa of Avila's Way of Perfection. I've not read enough of St. John of the Cross to say, but I suspect he would be in the same group. The lack is within me I'm sure. I'm not speaking, by way of example, of Thérèse of Lisieux's marvelous The Story of a Soul. Although classics are by definition timeless, the relative popularity of St. Thérèse compared to, say, a St. John of the Cross, suggests that God providentially provides saints that speak to our times. St. Thérèse speaks to us moderns.

A Baptist pastor continually preaches the following thing on the radio (I don't have a specifically Catholic radio station in tuning distance so I listen to the local Christian one):

"Christians have to spend more time remembering their position in Christ, not their condition."

In other words, focus on who you are - God's - and not your condition, which is often disconcertingly poor. It is interesting to this cradle Catholic that even Protestants have problems with legalism and "position vs. condition". This is stereotyped as a Catholic "works" problem. I've sometimes wondered if the best way to go about becoming a Christian is to start out as an evangelical and really nail the "grace uber alles" into your heart and then become Catholic and experience the fullness of it. For the gratuitousness of grace is the bedrock upon which everything draws. It was enlightening to me that even a Protestant minister must remind people to remember their position and not condition. Most of the Christian music I hear actually defines the word "schlock", but the thing that the evangelicals do well is to pound the simple message home that one is given a gift and that one should be grateful for that. All sense of duty must flow out of gratefulness, it seems to me. Or as is found in Cantalamessa's Reflections for Advent:
The gift comes before the commandment. It is the gift that gives rise to duty and not vice versa. The law does not generate grace, but grace generates the law. This is such a simple and clear truth that we tend to forget it. - Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa, O.F.M. Cap.

I'm quite allergic to sentiment in religion. The idea of creating our own religion is an anathemna as is using religion as a crutch, or as a way of dealing with death. I trust not my feelings and I recoil at the thought of presuming on God. And must internalize the great gift. And one must error on the side of presumption, rather than discouragement.

By the way, that ol' hard-ass'd curmugeon Derbyshire discussed sentiment relative to animals in NRO yesterday:
I myself am more philosophical, with a quiet faith that the large natural order of things is reasonable at some level inaccessible to mere human minds. I am also temperamentally opposed to sentimentality about animals, and in fact to sentimentality in general. It was Dostoyevsky, I think, who described one of his characters as "evil and sentimental." Just so.

This is all a long-winded way of saying that I find most of the classic spiritual works tend to make me focus on my condition, rather than position, although that is an unfair generalization. (This is not to infer that this in any way is Bill White's issue with the spiritual works, I am speaking only for myself.) But after reading parts of some of them, I'm not sure they have the benefit of improving my behavior... Try constantly not thinking about a pink elephant and my guess is that it'll be something you think about.

December 11, 2002

The Ever-Interesting Barzun...
By way of preface, Barzun describes the myth of the American Indian as the "noble savage" and then relates it to how Roman historian Tactitus portrayed the Germanic tribes of the first century in such a way to shame the people of Rome...

The fine barbarians in Tacitus were used as models in Luther's Germany to stimulate resentment against the foreign authority of Rome, and these two attitudes, favoring the Indian and the German, combined to change the western peoples' notion of their origins. For a thousand years they had been the sons and daughters of the ancient Romans. Now the idea of different "races" replaced that of a single, common lineage. The bearing of this shift is clear: it parallels the end of empire and the rise of nations. Race unites and separates; We and They. Thus the English in the 16th century began to nurse the fetish of Anglo-Saxonism, which unites them with the Germanic and separates them from the Roman past. We shall see how a similar notion influenced politics in France up to and beyond the 1789 Revolution...

The conviction moreover grew that the character of a people is inborn and unchangeable. If their traits appear odd or hateful, the theory of race justifies perpetual enmity. We thus arrive at some of the familiar prejudices and hostilities of our time. "Race" added the secular idea of inborn difference to the theological one of infidel and Christian.
-Barzun, From Dawn to Decadence
Poetry Wednesday
Farewell, green fields and happy groves,
Where flocks have took delight;
Where lambs have nibbled, silent moves
The feet of angels bright;
   - William Blake
Sound sleep by night; study and ease
Together mix'd; sweet recreation,
And innocence, which most does please,
      With meditation.

Thus let me live, unheard, unknown;
Thus unlamented let me dye;
Steal from the world, and not a stone
     Tell where I lye.
   - Alexander Pope
He ate and drank the precious Words --
His Spirit grew robust --
He knew no more that he was poor,
Nor that his frame was Dust --

He danced along the dingy Days
And this Bequest of Wings
Was but a Book -- What Liberty
A loosened spirit brings --
    --Emily Dickinson via Tenebrae

December 10, 2002

Been pondering the unseemly CIA killing, the one in Yemen where a vehicle containing six suspected terrorists was blown up. Our Dominican priest was upset by it, and said so in a sermon, intimating that this was no different from assassination. The problem is that it is police work, but what if the country in question does not welcome you with open arms and doesn't provide the opportunity of arresting them?

Terrorists play by a different set of rules and we are left either playing by their or...or what? WWII saw the targeting of civilian populations - certainly something way outside the "gentleman" rules of war. And now again with respect to armies doing "police work". I have no answers, but I say this by way of a preface to another transition, as told in Barzun's Dawn to Decadence. In 1525, Charles V defeated Francis I in a great battle at Pavia, in Italy, and by accident Francis was taken prisoner. The fuedal notion was war as a tournament, a contest between two knights. It was expected that a ransom be paid for Francis, so that his honor lay intact:

But Francis, as his behavior soon showed, seems to have had inklings of a more modern, more national conception of war...

Francis, although he had given his word to stay put, decided to escape... He was caught, Charles was shocked, unbelieving. How could a Christian gentleman who had given his word act like a varlet? The transition from princely conduct to raison d'eetat, from knight to head of state, from medieval to modern was painful.
- Barzun
The worst thing about some men is that when they are not drunk they are sober.--William Butler Yeats
Perhaps it is a ratings week and I missed the news, but Flos Carmeli has a post on one of my favorite subjects. Sex. In lieu of having it, I'll read about it.

Seriously, he was reacting to an article by a Jesuit and his essay is well-written and convincing. My initial reaction was to take issue with a comment such as, "Victorian society for all its renowned repression, was in fact every bit as sexually charged as modern day society". One difference is that we have the birth control pill and an accompanying lack of shame, both of which contribute to a new sort of sexual license. But then I read on and Mr. Riddle brought up the valid point that Islamic societies have gone to ridiculous measures to stem the impulse. Besides which, Jesus said to lust in your heart is to commit adultery, which, of course, is not affected by a pill.
Here is Shawn McInerny's review of Paul VI's biography. Am looking forward to Amy's take on the John XXIII books she's reading.

I'm currently reading Barzun's wonderful Dawn to Decadence. He has a wonderfully idiosyncratic style. Also want to continue with Flannery O'Connor's letters - Habit of Being. Preversely, I tend to hoard my best books in the sense of not wanting to read them because a) they may not be as good as I anticipate and b) the very act of consuming them diminishes them in the sense that they'll be over that much sooner!

December 09, 2002

Still excavating remains from the journal. 500+ pages - remember what you paid...

   Twas 1844 and I was a simple Irishman with children taught the landowner's language at the "hedge school", so-named because education was forbidden and they had to hie thee to the hedges. I learned some too, and with my youngest Bridget’s help, with whose help I do write this now. My wife Bridget has been gone most of a decade, lost giving birth to the one who took her name.
   I was born two miles from the Irish Sea, where oft I would go to catch perch and clams. We’d smoke aged seawood in leeward winds and run-sail in our grand papa's crude dingys. I’d stare at the agate sea until my mind was blank and the waves became as music. We would go to Mass at the church built in stones ten centuries old and dream of the Hill of Tara and hero Patrick’s burning the Druid altars. Sometimes the Sheridan girl would come with us, named like every other Eirean girl for the Blessed Mother. So fair she was that the Blessed Mother herself might be jealous, such be the beauty of this blackhaired Iberian.
   In the daily toil we found the work man was meant to do – we free’d our mind from mental hardships and strife by dint of sheer effort. Work all day with your body and your mind is oddly satisfied, like a child’s by a mother’s lullaby.
Et macula non est in te -Cant. 4:7 via Old Oligarch
I was with eight thousand Christian music fans at the Michael W. Smith concert, singing in Latin.

Well, okay, a line from Angels We Have Heard on High:

Gloria, in excelsis Deo!
...a moment of nostalgia
Jennifer Juniper vit sur la colline
Jennifer Juniper assise tres tranquile
Dort-elle? Je ne crois pas
Respire t'elle? Oui mais tout bas
Qu'est ce que tu fais, Jenny mon amour

My seventh grade science (!?) teacher played this many times for us in lieu of examining slides under a microscope.
skeins of snow litter the dark field
ruts and mounds of muldering leaves
a moonscape landscape
the sky a cryptic shade
imprinted with doubt.

scourged trees sway in penitential bows
silverbacks coated with silver
croak, groan in the bending wind.

cold that demands Normandy invasion planning
gloves, ski-masks
smooth-soled shoes a mistake;
errant lurches from a pent-up dog
close-calls on ice
unpleasantness squared.

windy & nineteen degrees
thirty-seven in Galway.

December 08, 2002

On taking the dog for a walk
Obi trips the land fantastic
knows not fear of dark or cold
skitters from post to post
bladder at the ready
firing urine at the usual suspects:
small trees, wayward leaves, and urban landmarks.
To Journal or Not To Journal* - John Adams on Keeping a Diary
"Have you kept a regular journal?" John wrote John Quincy in 1783. "...We think, and improve our judgments, by committing our thoughts to paper." "Without a minute diary, " John wrote his grandsons in 1815, "your travels will be no better than the flight of birds through the air; they will have no time behind them."

The family project [of keeping journals] continued into the fourth generation, although by then the family grew sick of it. Charles Francis, Jr., thought introspection had been 'morbidly developed by the journalizing habit.' When he reread his own youthful diary, he was embarrassed by "its conceit, its weakness and its cant". He burned it all...

-Richard Brookhiser's America's First Dynasty

* - gag. I succumbed to making a noun a verb.
All is Relative...except for things that aren't
Enjoyed flos carmeli's take on the weather:
It amazes me that anyone likes cold weather. I get slow, stupid, relucant to do anything, and terribly anxious. Oh wait. . . I'm describing my base state of being. I have long considered that I would like to move back to Virginia in (as they say) the fullness of time. On his trip, I have decided otherwise.

Sounds like my base state of being. What is ironic is that I've often felt like a good move would be from Ohio to Virginia, and to thus shorten and de-sting the winter and also to enjoy the surreal beauty that covers much of that state. Steven Riddle wants none of the cold of Virginia. But if you are used to Florida I can see how Virginia looks chilly, just as the Minnesotans must grin at my Ohio complaints. It does wear off eventually - my Maine friend, after eight Ohio winters, is no longer laughing at the mild winters. He's now as convinced as the rest of us that the weather sucks.
Progressively Abled
Caveman, thru circumstances of time and geography, lived short, brutish lives in chronic hunger, cold, etc. And the poverty of their lives was matched by the poverty of their spiritual existence - by a dearth of Revelation, knowing not the consolations of grace, the Spirit, Jesus and not even having been given the Law, which, imperfect as it was, was an improvement over the pagan notion of religions which imagined the deities cruel and heartless. The idea of "God is love" was still foreign. The progressive nature of revelation is comparable to the evolution of a seed developing into a young plant developing into an oak. The tiny plant has the worst time of it – it is subject to degrees of cold and is vulnerable to an extent the mature oak is not. That is nature. So why should God not show us, through the physical laws, his plan for the spiritual? Is it because we think we are better than the oak, that human life is more precious and that humans should be coddled? The problem therein is that we are told that we were coddled and that we, via Adam, spoiled it. We were born to a greater dignity. But we chose the harder way - the progressive revelation path.

December 07, 2002

The Minstrel-Boy   

The Minstrel-boy to the war is gone
In the ranks of death you will find him
His father's sword he has girded on
And his wild harp slung behind him.
"Land of Song!", said the warrior bard,
“Though all the world betray thee,
One sword, at least, thy rights shall guard
One faithful harp shall praise thee."

The Minstrel fell! But the foeman's steel
Could not bring that proud soul under;
The harp he lov'd ne'er spoke again,
For he tore its chords asunder;
And said "No chains shall sully thee,
Thou soul of love and brav'ry!
Thy songs were made for the pure and free
They shall never sound in slavery! "

An emotionally stirring and inspirational song, "The Minstrel Boy" was written by Thomas Moore (1779-1852) who set it to the melody of "The Moreen", and old Irish aire. It is believed by many that Moore composed the song as a memorial to several of his friends he had met while a student at Trinity College and who had participated in the 1798 rebellion of the United Irishmen. Due to its popularity, the song was a favorite of the many Irishmen who fought during the U.S. Civil War, primarily on the Union side.
  - Lesley Nelson's Folk Music Site

December 06, 2002

The Big Question
CNN's Evans and Novak used to preface the last question for their guest with: "Next, we will ask the Big Question", said with proper ominousness. Amy asked that today:

Columnist David Carlin has a good column concerning Nancy Pelosi, a piece that also gathers in former Judiciary Committee chair Patrick Leahy, and could have, but didn't throw in Tom Daschle as well, all Catholics of A Certain Age, given their Catholic educations in the supposedly Golden Age of the 1950's, when all was well, and solid and everyone knew what Catholic meant - and it certainly didn't mean supporting abortion. Carlin quite reasonably asks - was this Golden Age really so Golden, if it could produce a generation thick with Catholic pro-abortion politicos? He writes:

"It certainly looked healthy on the outside, but inside a cancer was eating away. What was this cancer? If we could identify it, we would go a long way toward understanding how to restore American Catholicism to real health."

I'd be interested to hear your thoughts on this, because it really is an intriguing question.

I know when and why my mother left the Church...Whether she is representative, I don't know. And I'm also unsure of the extent of her knowledge of theology & the catechism. I suspect weak. As one Prot put it, "you Catholics have 20 minute answers for every question". That is both our blessing and curse. It's a blessing given that there is an ocean to play in, for those who have the intellectual stamina to play in it. It's a curse to those who, like my mother, want soundbyte answers to our knotty issues - the sexual issues. Should it be surprise that the Church's difficulty in coming up with convincing answers in the sexual arena, combined with a sexual revolution of the '60s would damage the Church? Look at Nancy Nall - isn't most of her anger directed at Church policy on gays, birth control, -i.e. sex? The pope understands this and in Love and Responsibility tries to take a more "personalist" approach rather than just relying on natural law arguments.

Perhaps the weakness is that American Catholics find an undemocratic Church a scandal in of and itself. Democracy is in our blood; dissent as natural as breathing. Tocqueville wrote about us in 'Democracy in America': "Two things must here be accurately distinguished: equality makes men want to form their own opinions; but, on the other hand, it imbues them with the taste and the idea of unity, simplicity, and impartiality in the power that governs society. Men living in democratic times are therefore very prone to shake off all religious authority; but if they consent to subject themselves to any authority of this kind, they choose at least that it should be single and uniform."

My mother dates her break with the Church to 1968, and the confusion born mostly because authority became fractured and no longer uniform. She went to a priest after Humane Vitae about the use of birth control and the priest told her, "it's okay, that's not really a sin". Tocqueville continues, "Religious powers not radiating from a common center are naturally repugnant to their minds."

The tendency in a democracy is to hold one's opinion as gospel, unless there is a single, uniform authority. Once the strong unity of doctrine of belief and dogma broke in the mid '60s, the centre could not hold. Once that authority was fractured in '68, by dissenting priests and even bishops, we began down a path Alexis de Tocqueville presciently predicted.
Is this a good message to send?


Too funny...from via Amy. Not sure a beer label is the best place to put the words "sin boldly".
Peggy Noonan's latest
"Yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling on every part of the dark central plane, on the treeless hills, falling softly upon the Bog of Allen and, farther westward, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves." So wrote James Joyce at the end of his great short story "The Dead." They are famous words; it's a famous passage. Joyce's snow didn't fall over the house, or the city, or over his sensitive characters in a neighborhood in Dublin. Snow was falling all over Ireland, and touching everyone, as if they were together.

Bad weather, bad news makes you part of something: a community of catastrophe. You see your neighbor, and this time you don't just nod or keep walking. You call over, "Wow--you believe this?" And you laugh. You make phone calls. Weather makes you outward.

And then when the storm passes or the earthquake is old news, people retreat back into their aloneness with their own thoughts. They get quiet again. It will take another snowstorm or a hurricane before the ad hoc community of catastrophe springs up, and makes them a member of something.

On a totally unrelated matter, it looks like ol' Emerson is firmly in Shelby Foote's camp of art uber alles as far as one's priorities.

Artists must be sacrificed to their art. Like bees, they must put their lives into the sting they give.
--Ralph Waldo Emerson, via Mirari
Although silence is golden, in lieu of polishing that medal I'll post this thing, written back in '99 (as was the Brenner piece). It is proof positive that ye olde journal is nearly completely mined:

Remembering imaginary Uncle Coot
We were sitting in a duck blind, drinking sour mash and cheap wine. As a kid I pondered the rope-like sags in his neck; it looked like some sort of corrugated cardboard. He had hands with skin soft and pink on one side and brown, reptilian on the other. I stared as his hands wondering how they got the way.

There was something in Uncle Coot I longed to emulate although I wasn’t quite sure what it was. It wasn’t the drinking, although I’d done that in quantities and eventually found that I’d get too far behind in my reading if it continued. It wasn’t the perennial bachleorhood - Coot hadn’t had sex since the Ford Administration. It wasn’t the duck hunting, because the inertia it took to get up at 6 am and stand in the middle of a Tennessee bog was hard to overcome. I couldn’t quite put a finger on it, try as I may. It might’ve been that care free attitude or that rebel streak. He smoked Camel cigarettes and never once worried about lung cancer or lip cancer or cancer of the esophagus or cancer of the lining of the throat. He didn’t much care for the Surgeon General, saying that “that sum-bitch prolly's afraid to go outside.” Ol' Uncle Coot was an earthy sort and I miss ‘im.

December 05, 2002

Been pondering Amy's claim that the teaching on religious freedom changed and on the debate going on over at Catholic Convert questioning the continuity on "no salvation outside the church". Perhaps the continuity or non-continuity is not ultimately important. Certainly to non-Christians, the bible has many contradictions. They see the God of the OT as wrathful and stern, while the NT as merciful and loving. And even if we limit ourselves to Jesus' words alone, there are paradoxical messages concerning the issue of salvation. It certainly isn't surprising that the Church would reflect that over the ages. Jesus's purpose was surely to "afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted" by forcing us not to either be too comfortable with our own salvation nor with losing heart. This is the delicate balance that every Christian faces.

Jesus appealed to us with both a carrot and a stick. The Church, thinking with the heart of Christ, attempts everything she can to help us reach salvation and will emphasize one or the other to the extent that she feels it will be effective. To that end, she tailors her message, much as the Gospel writers did with their respective audiences.

See this interesting article on the subject:
During World War II a certain nun had a reputation for being very honest. Her convent in occupied German territory had secretly offered asylum to a number of Jews. If found out, it would mean death for both the Jews and all the sisters. When asked by a German officer, outside the convent, whether there were any Jews inside, she answered that there were not, and the officer left. I have not met anyone willing to say that she erred in her action, though what she said was not literally true. Some have argued it was true in the sense that she had no certain knowledge of all the ancestry of each person, or their inmost beliefs, but she did know that, to the government that the officer represented, a Jew was a person who deserved to be torn from his home and family, worked as a slave, and then killed, so she could honestly say there were no persons like that there. So she made an inerrant statement that was not true in the common literal sense.

It should not be thought that the sister in question sinned venially or acted against the moral teaching of the Church in making such a judgment. Paragraph 2488 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church says:

“The right to the communication of the truth is not unconditional. Everyone must conform his life to the Gospel precept of fraternal love. This requires us in concrete situations to judge whether or not it is appropriate to reveal the truth to someone who asks for it.”

And is followed by:

“Charity and respect for the truth should dictate the response to every request for information or communication. The good and safety of others, respect for privacy, and the common good are sufficient reasons for being silent about what ought not be known or for making use of a discreet language. The duty to avoid scandal often commands strict discretion. No one is bound to reveal the truth to someone who does not have the right to know it.”

The truth is eternal, but error may be time and circumstance dependent. So to say that someone was protected from error when they said something, does not necessarily guarantee that it was true in the sense that most people might interpret it at that time.
A two-fer
It is a sign of my natural preversity that a handicapped lot prohibited by red traffic cones seemed an irresistable parking target. (I didn't.)
Reminder to self
Respect and love ought to be extended also to those who think or act differently than we do in social, political and even religious matters. In fact, the more deeply we come to understand their ways of thinking through such courtesy and love, the more easily will we be able to enter into dialogue with them.

This love and good will, to be sure, must in no way render us indifferent to truth and goodness. Indeed love itself impels the disciples of Christ to speak the saving truth to all men. But it is necessary to distinguish between error, which always merits repudiation, and the person in error, who never loses the dignity of being a person even when he is flawed by false or inadequate religious notions. God alone is the judge and searcher of hearts; for that reason He forbids us to make judgments about the internal guilt of anyone.

Since all men possess a rational soul and are created in God's likeness, since they have the same nature and origin, have been redeemed by Christ and enjoy the same divine calling and destiny, the basic equality of all must receive increasingly greater recognition. - from The Documents of Vatican II
Luminous people chanced our lives, people who seemed to live richer, and not just materially. Two that come to mind are as different as the sun from the moon - the Brenner's & Aunt Mary. The Brenner's were ethnic and I loved ethnic because we were as plain and ordinary Americans as there ever could be. I hungered for myth, for family histories and old graves, for stories of the old country or Civil War veterans. We had none, zero, our family tree evaporated inside three generations like a slither of ice in the sun. Grandpa’s dad died in the flood of 1913. Our ancestors came over from Ireland due to the famine. One line stories, no faces, no names. The great myth of Irish storytelling seemed lost on my relatives. We were now utterly Americans, invisibly middle-class, everyman’s man. We ate hamburgers and hotdogs, belonged to the majority religion, spoke without accent, went bowling, read the local newspaper, watched the local news.

The Flood of 1913 was the only history anyone cared about, and it riveted me. Every time I passed the river into Hamilton I would imagine the waters turned surly, nasty, angry. These boringly benign waters were once Killing waters! I noted the high watermark and then tried to conjure it higher, nearly wishing another flood.

The Brenner's may’ve been as American as we were but they pretended otherwise, & I lived it too. Their parents were German immigrants, they had been to Germany, had living relatives there. They sent mail to the Communist East, and the thought of officials censoring it thrilled. They told of “Checkpoint Charlie” and the horrible Wall where people tried tunneling, ballooning, anything to get over it and usually failed, shot in cold blood. I imagined ways I would try to escape. I dreamt of going there, visting West Berlin and trying to escape into East Berlin, and wandering into the East German countryside, hiding there because I was good at hiding. I was small and thin and thought myself clever.

The Brenner's lived like Europeans - they went to the opera, to plays, to the symphony. They traveled, made and drank wine out of dusty ancient bottles, and rattled off words in German. Mary Ann taught me the song Give My Regards to Broadway with a Brooklyn accent. I thought it was the coolest thing and never forgot it.

Aunt Mary was the opposite. She never traveled, never drank, and though she read I couldn’t remember a thing except a spiritual book or two. She lived in an old part of town. Everything about her life was different from ours. Her house was old and deathly quiet, with quaint furniture and books behind class cages as if they were too dangerous to let out. She had a basement - something we never had - and the creepy downstairs fed the imagination. She served different foods from us - like hot cereal. That was exotic to us. She served strange dishes on old plates. Mary made even spinach taste good. But nothing, at no time before or since, tasted like city chicken. Served on a kabob it woke me up to food as something more than just something to do before going back out to play. Food as the main entertainment. Poor aunt Mary was always hobbled and one would think would have little to offer a child. She lived a simple lifestyle, and it going to her house was like going on a retreat. Like a monastery, her house was spare of words, spare of ornament, and the morning chants were sang by whipporwills which I listened to in rapt atttention. Aunt Mary and the Brenner's showed two sides of life. Life lived restrained, disciplined and bereft of ornament or one rich, baroque, full of travel and wine and art. Simple vs complex, nature vs city, active vs contemplative.
Last Rites
Charles Baudelaire inhaled the scent of fleurs de mal
   ignoring, it seems, divine decrees,
and yet he lay beneath his funeral pall
   muni des sacrements d'eglise.

Belief must baffle minds which think
   assent should show itself in deeds,
that logic of the lucid sort must link
   the mind and will of thinking reeds.

Not so, God's mercy disobeys our laws
and we, thank God, are shriven without cause.

  - Ralph McInerny in Crisis

December 04, 2002

Vater unser im Himmel,
Geheiligt werde Dein Name.
Dein Reich komme.
Dein Wille geschehe, wie im Himmel
so auf Erden.
Unser tägliches Brot gib uns heute.
Und vergib uns unsere Schuld,
wie auch wir vergeben unseren Schuldigern.
Und führe uns nicht in Versuchung,
sondern erlöse uns von dem Bösen.
- in German
  - the Lord's Prayer in 1221 languages
In fairness...
I do think that the penalty "driving while black" exists while "driving while Irish" does not exist. I think that black drivers are more likely to be pulled over and harrassed by police officers. But I think that the criminal justice system is on the whole fair to minorities, with the possible exception of death penalty cases. The criminal justice system is more unfair to the poor than to be blacks- to be rich is to afford good legal help. But then to be rich is also to afford better medical care. Utopia does not exist, otherwise we'd all move there. Liberals should cogitate awhile on why it is that so many want to move here.
On EWTN (Franciscan University Round Table), heard a screenwriter describe art as the closest thing we have to God since it expresses mystery. God is not the catechism, she points out, to which I heard Scott Hahn say to her, "that's in the Catechism!" - i.e. that God cannot be contained in a book.

That darn Richter show has me mentally substituting "Irish" for "black" now whenever I read something about bias. For example, saw this on another blog:
I am dismayed at the dearth of black characters in many of the current TV shows and movies.
Come to think of it, I am dismayed at the dearth of Irish characters in many of the current TV shows. And I don't get to watch "Ballykissangel" anymore. It's no longer on BBC America.
Flos Carmeli maintains radio silence. Is this a pentential act? At Mass today, the priest's purple robes reminded me this is a pentential season. That I needed to be reminded is not good.

Found this compelling:
From 1946 until her death, Mother Teresa resolutely refused to give any details about the inspiration to begin the Missionaries of Charity or about the process of discernment that led to the official establishment of the new institute on 7 October 1950. Mother Teresa's silence reflected her reverence for the sacredness of the gift she received in the depths of her soul. As she wrote to her Sisters in 1993, "For me Jesus' thirst is something so intimate so I have felt shy until now to speak to you of September 10th. I wanted to do as Our Lady who 'kept all these things in her heart.'" - via Rosa Mystica