December 31, 2007

Tolkien's Response to Scandals in the Church here, pg. 192 of Joseph Pearce's Tolkien: Man and Myth.

Update: 193 continues:
[If Christ is a fraud then the spectacle exhibited by the Church is a]...gigantic fraud. If not, however, then this spectacle is alas! only what was to be expected: it began before the first Easter, and it does not affect faith at all - except that we may and should be deeply grieved. But we should grieve on our Lord's behalf and for Him, associating with ourselves with the scandalizers not with the saints, not crying out that we cannot 'take' Judas Iscariot, or even the absurd and cowardly Simon Peter, or the silly women like James' mother, trying to push her sons.

It takes a fantastic will to unbelief to suppose that Jesus never really 'happened', and more to suppose that he did not say the things recorded of him - so incapable of being 'invented' by anyone in the world at that time: such as 'before Abraham came to be I am' (john viii). 'He that hath seen me hath seen the Father' (John ix); or the promulgation of the Blessed Sacrament in John v: 'He that eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood hath eternal life'. We must therefore either believe in Him and in what he said and take the consequences; or reject him and take the consequences. I find it for myself difficult to believe that anyone who has ever been to Communion, even once, with the right intention, can ever again reject Him without grave blame. (However, He alone knows each unique soul and its circumstances.)

The only cure for sagging or fainting faith is Communion. Though always Itself, perfect and complete and inviolate, the Blessed Sacrament does not operate completely and once for all in any of us. Like the act of Faith it must be continuous and grow by exercise. Frequency is of the highest effect. Seven times a week is more nourishing than seven times at intervals...

I myself am convinced of the Petrine claims, nor looking around the world does there seem much doubt which (if Christianity is true) is the True Church, the temple of the Spirit dying but living, corrupt but holy, self-reforming and rearising. But for me that Church of which the Pope is the acknowledged head on earth has a chief claim that it is the one that has (and still does) ever defended the Blessed Sacrament, and given it most honour, and put it (as Christ plainly intended) in the prime place. 'Feed my sheep' was His last charge to St. Peter; and since his words are always first to be understood literally, I suppose them to refer primarily to the Bread of Life. It was against this that the W. European revolt (or Reformation) was really launched - 'the blasphemous fable of the Mass' - and faith/works a mere red herring. I suppose the greatest reform of our time was that carried out by St. Pius X: surpassing anything, however needed, that the [Second Vatican] Council will achieve."

December 30, 2007

The Underappreciated Fr. William Most

I'm not that well-read on matters theological but I've always liked Fr. Most and thought him not as well known as he should be. As much as I like Scott Hahn, he (Hahn) tends to dodge grace/free will/God's sovereignty issues, while Most got his hands dirty, tackling the toughest issues known to man (boy I liked saying that monosyllabic word "man"... I get so tired of reading "human being" every fifth sentence in the politically correct New Jerusalem bible.)

Anyway, I just found a webpost (ht: Reginald) in which one of the pioneer web apolgists, Dave Armstrong, touts Fr. Most, calling him a "brilliant, underappreciated theological genius":
I think Fr. Most's remarkable "why didn't I notice that before?"-type solution is entirely satisfactory, since it accepts and incorporates paradox, human free will, divine sovereignty, universal divine salvific will, the profound mercy and love of our heavenly Father, and biblical analogy and parable alike. I believe that it (almost miraculously) resolves the continuing difficulties of both competing schools. It maintains the Thomist unconditional election before any consideration of merits, but also at the same time human free will, by making reprobation dependent on human rejection of God, without the instinctive discomfort which I feel about both traditional proposed explanations.
Makes me glad God kept Molinism and its variants an option - see Oligarch post at bottom of this link concerning Pope Clement VIII.

December 28, 2007

Another Contributer to the Police Endowment Fund

I see our friend and blogging colleague Jim (or "Ji", email me Jim if you don't know why) got pulled over for a speeding ticket. He fought the law, and the law won.

They put a sign up 17 feet from the roadway if'n you can believe that, and then a police cruiser sneakily parked just beyond it.

I liked what he told the judge:
If the purpose of the 35 mph zone was to 'reduce accidents, injuries and death' then the sign should be moved to the same spot as all the other traffic signs-but that if it was a source of revenue then they best leave it where it was.
My prediction is the sign'll stay just where it is. Revenue doesn't grow on trees. The last time I got a ticky-tack ticket (for a right turn on a green light!) I tried to look at it this way: I'm helping some cop's child through college (say five times fast). Indirectly of course.

At Sunday brunch my stepson brought along a friend of his who reported that he got pulled over for his Jetta producing "gaseous emissions"! He said there was nothing wrong with his car whatsoever. Now there's a powerful tool for cops to pull people over, 'eh? Reminds me of the book "Burning to Read" as quoted a couple posts ago and how words are fragile and provide a pretext for power grabs (as Henry the VIII did) when stripped from context.

Rather than bring down the tone of this blog, I will omit making any 'gaseous emissions' jokes here. (Though please feel free to insert your own.)
Bloom's Beginning to Pray

A meditation from Anthony Bloom (Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh), from Beginning to Pray via Dylan of More Last Than First, which begins: "I would like to remind you of the parable of the Pharisee and the Publican..."
A Defense of St. Thomas More

It's always surprising to find a modern, secular scholar defending anything or anyone Catholic. Catholicism is seen as archaic, hierarchical, inimical to free thought or expression. So's you can imagine my surprise at finding Burning to Read, a book written by James Simpson, a professor at that Catholic hotbed of Harvard. His main point is that the Reformation was a regression, not a progression, and was triggered by ill-use of a new technology (mass production of books):
I'll look at the ways in which an exceptionally prescient Thomas More foresaw the outcome I have been describing...More's positions, usually dismissed by historians as the manic reflex of a persecutory temper, turn out to be deeply meditated, brilliantly argued, and, up to a very precise point, extremely plausible. The essence of his argument is that texts are trustingly made and re-made in human history and by human institutions. The literal sense is only ever a fragile thread whose sense can be constructed within trustworthy communal understandings and traditions, some of them necessarily unwritten. The society of pure contract, along with the clarity and fullness of the literal sense, is always only a fiction...Evangelical readers insisted on the explicit, written covenants in Scripture as the sure rock of their faith. Contracts are the product of a lack of faith, of a need to have everything written.


As Richard Hooker was to say about the scriptura sola position in his Of The Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity (1586-c. 1593): "Admit this [scriputra sola] and what shall the scripture be but a snare and torment to weak consciences, filling them with infinite perplexities, scrupulosities, doubts insoluble, and extreme despairs?"


The debates and struggles between 1520 and 1547 [between More and Tyndale] are about differing definitions of self and communities that derive from different reading practices. They are not primarily debates about vernacular translation; and neither are they, therefore, primarily debates about depriving lay readers of the Bible in English. It's also a confrontation that has the dimensions of a tragedy, since each of the two reading cultures becomes more rigid in the face of the other, and the Catholic side in particular contracts a kind of virus of literalism from the evangelical side, while the evangelicals contract an idolatry of the book and the written. This is the kind of confrontation in which both sides are inevitably and permanently transformed from within by contact with each other.


The relatively new textuality of print was at the same time commanding and thoroughly impersonal. It was commanding not the least because its power of reproduction was so immeasurably greater than that of manuscript reproduction; it was impersonal because it was so much more uniform than the system of manuscript transmission.

At their broadest reach, however, More's arguments offer an alternative to a variety of textual impositions and receptions characteristic of early modernity. That said, it's also true that he was unlikely to win this debate: for More's profound position demands that we take verbal, pre-textual circumstance into account. But in the new environment of polemics, conducted in print, with print's new and demanding impersonality, debate had itself become a written phenomenon. As More fought in print, and as he fought by extensive, precise quotation of the printed works of his enemies, he was fighting in a mode that ran counter to his persuasion that intuitive and/or oral pre-texts are the real determiners of meaning. More's polemical works were fighting, that is, under a debilitating handicap: the formal manner of encounter into which he was drawn ran directly counter to the content of the position to which he was most deeply committed. Although he fought in printed texts, he believed that only oral or unwritten communication made sense of written texts.

December 27, 2007

Movie Reviews in the Form of Haikus (hey that rhymed!)

Are you too time-crunched to read lengthy movie reviews? Do you agree that the problem with instant gratification is that it's not quick enough? Do you like the idea of poetry but need some utilitarian function added in order to legitimize it? Then look no further! To paraphrase the Reese's Cups commercial: "'Hey, you got poetry in my movie review!' 'You got movie review in my poetry!'"

Dog-lovers beware:
avoid film I am Legend--
too canine-tragic.


Sweet is Enchanted,
stars the next Julie Andrews
smiles for miles.


Watch Burt Lancaster
age decades in The Leopard;
it feels like real-time.


Don't look, Hannah's nude!
Made you look but fine message;
it made quite a Splash.


The Lives of Others
shows love where you least expect:
East German Commie.


Charlie Wilson's War:
historically dubious
yet cinematic.


Men without huts in
The Flowers of St. Francis
oddly compelling.

Fred for Rudy

An orthodox Catholic blogger for Rudy Giuliani is about as rare as a McDonald's cinnamon melt with extra frosting and, while not as welcome, is definitely more interesting.

Perhaps it's the natural contrarian in me and my allergy to group-think, or more likely it's simply due to the fact that I like and respect Frederick of Deep Furrows fame, but I found it oddly refreshing that he's apparently supporting Rudy for Prez. I hope the mayor doesn't win and I'm for either McCain or Romney, but I liked this part of Fred's defense of Rudy: "He's working class, was mafia connected, but prosecuted the mafia aggressively."

He also mentions Rudy's pragmatism, of which I am conflicted. I like the lack of utopianism inherent in that while hating pragmatism as a philosophy.

Giuliani does seem to act like an adult in his political life, if not in his personal. (Btw, thanks go out to Dylan, without whom I'd still be typing "Guiliani".)

Update: FYI, Frederick writes:
My big issues are the freedom of parents and the Church to educate, respect for human life at all stages, and realism: an openness to experience in all its factors and allowing this experience to change one's mind. Let me add here a compassionate approach to immigration that embraces all the factors involved.
I really like that "freedom of parents and the Church to educate" after reading Steven Kellmeyer's provocative book Designed to Fail. As far as "an openness to experience in all its factors and allowing this experience to change one's mind" I think of this as one of George Bush's tragic flaws (example: how long it took to change strategies in Iraq) and one of Mitt Romney's particular strengths.

December 26, 2007


It is not a matter of revving ourselves up to experience again the wonder of the Christ Mass. There is no point in trying to recapitulate Christmas as you knew it when you were, say, seven years old. That way lies sentimentalities unbounded. The alternative is the way of contemplation, of demanding of oneself the disciplined quiet to explore, and be explored by, the astonishment of God become one of us that we may become one with God. He embraced the whole of our experience, beginning as an embryo, as we began as an embryo. In his abject helplessness is our only help. - Fr. Neuhaus of "First Things"

Grace is perhaps the most confusing thing ever. Prevenient grace, sanctifying grace, actual grace, habitual grace, justifying grace. It has spawned heresies from Pelagianism to Quietism. No one knows exactly how it works and why. It's elusive, frustrating, at times despair-invoking. I don't pretend to know much about grace, but over the years I've grown to understand that it works well when it works with another. Indeed, the Church has always taught that one major effect of Confession is that it reconciles us to each other and revitalizes our relationships, making them right. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1469) When one grace-filled person meets another, goodness sparks from the contact. - Eric Scheske of "The Daily Eudemon"

I won't vote for a Democrat unless the Republican candidate is Ron Paul (for a multitude of reasons, not just his foreign policy ignorance). - Bill of Summa Minutiae

I stated earlier that I will be voting for Ron Paul. - Jeff of SCD; that's what makes a horse race

Watching Fox News, I heard an authoritative anchor-type fellow announce that, with the Iowa carcasses a mere two weeks out... - Bill of Apologia

Like Mr. Bush, [Huckabee's] approach to politics seems, at bottom, highly emotional, marked by great spurts of feeling and mighty declarations as to what the Lord wants. The problem with this, and with Bushian compassionate conservatism, which seems to have an echo in Mr. Huckabee's Christianism, is that to the extent it is a philosophy, it is not a philosophy that allows debate. Because it comes down to "This is what God wants." This is not an opener of discussion but a squelcher of it. It doesn't expand the process, it frustrates it. - Peggy Noonan

[Alan] Keyes is the invisible man, too white for black people and too black for whites. A tragedy. - Bill Luse

In the absence of missalettes we are totally at the mercy of the lector and her dropping of the masculine nouns, pronouns and adjectives. Complain to the bishop and you ended up in Monty Python's Argument Sketch, with the lector denying she ever said what you accuse her of saying. - commenter on "Ten Reasons"

Zip, I'd know your opinion better if I could read Latin. - Bill Luse after a cryptic Zippy Catholic comment

I remember saying to some LDS honcho not long after that, "I'd like to apply for whatever dispensation Marie Osmond has." - then-Mormon Karen Hall of "Some Have Hats" regarding Mormon childbearing policies

One of the things that I think I've learned most about life-- particularly from my experience of having been a pastor, is that the people that you think are the best people on earth? Well, they've got some secrets sitting in there, about some pretty dark spots. And the people you think are the dregs of the earth-- there's some qualities there. May not be on the surface, but they're there. - Gov. Mike Huckabee
From latest National Review...
Oprah Winfrey stumped for Barack Obama in Iowa and South Carolina. Miss Winfrey is, without question, the most important woman in America; overall, she is a force for good, a black female Benjamin Franklin, offering uplift and useful advice. Straying into politics for patently racial reasons is a risk for her, but she has negotiated other speed bumps in her career with ease, and will surely be at her post after the next president leaves office. What she said in Obama’s favor was nonsense. “You can’t be fooled by this experience question because you know it’s not the amount of time you spend with your child, it’s the quality of that time.” America as a nursery: just the message for a time of war, overspending, and global competition. But the audience ate it up, since the Democrats are the party of children, desperate to be suckled. And Hillary Clinton must be sweating bullets.
Splash Redux

Caught the 20+ year old movie Splash on Saturday. Haven't seen it in at least fifteen years. My reaction to it changed a bit. Single then, married now, I'm more cynical of the instantaneous love between them, perhaps in part because of the celebrity culture in which someone is always divorcing months after professing their undying love.

I now see God instead of just sex appeal in Madison, Daryl Hannah's character. She's guileless, tenderhearted, unspoiled and simple. Love wasn't as complicated for her as it was the Hanks character, who stewed mightily over how and when to say "I love you" and whether to ask her to marry him.

Sentiment looms larger when young; it is, after all, the engine oil of youth. And emotion and action, like it or not, are linked with the latter typically flowing from the former. It does no good to be contemptuous of feelings just because they can be seen as merely a means to an end. Since only actions matter, there's a tendency to see feelings as undependable props, as means to a God-ordained end. But whenever something becomes merely a means to an end it’s hard not to see that something lose all its value, which is why it’s so pernicious in the human sphere and part of the reason embryonic stem cell research is so chilling: humans become a parts warehouse for other humans. But feelings, for all their irrationality and flightiness, are a part of what makes us human and thus it is part of the necessity we become as little children in humbly accepting them.

On this, the feast of St. Stephen, his heroic martrydom was amazing not merely for the fact of it, but the way of it. He went willingly, smilingly as it were, with positive feelings. It's easy to mistake grace for feelings and feelings for grace, but that is false since that would mean we could blame God for our sins: "I was not given the grace (i.e. feeling) to do good."

But I digress. Back to the plot at hand. Would she give up the sea for a life on land with him? Yes. But when that became impossible, would he give up land for a life in the sea with her?

It was more disconcerting than I'd remembered it, that is how freely Daryl Hannah would accept his decision. She understood how difficult for him to give up all he knew for she had just faced the same decision. She proved resistable for some period of time on the pier until, finally, he took the plunge. Literally and figuratively.
A primer on trends in psychology from a Catholic perspective.

December 23, 2007

Eight is Enough

It seems the usual practice these days is to sign your pets' names to Christmas cards. Yesterday we received one in the mail which certainly got my attention. After the three humans (here crossed out to protect the guilty), there's a slew of animals:

December 21, 2007

Fictional Friday
Grey weather marred the photographer’s plans. He’d imagined a sunnier day in which to show off the patchwork settees and levees that surfed the Irish landscape. Through the viewfinder it all seemed an acquired taste, and though he knew no one bought a poster except on impulse he took the picture anyway and it was eventually reproduced with seven letters spaced far apart at the bottom as if to magnify a great ominousness:  I R E L A N D.

“I”, “R”, “E” in their order signified. The upright “I”, the righteous one guarding the nation's left flank against the outside world, the one wronged by oppression but not yet humbled. “R”, regal with its outward sashay, the very panache of it, the rounded Celtic upper half with the rooted lower half, rooted as the potato crop, leading to…“E”, the balanced letter, the one of symmetry, of poetry, of ethereal beauty. Three letters – a trinity – such as Patrick explained of the Divine to the converted pagans. Three letters did precede the common Saxon “land”.

He hoped to spark, in the poster, the wonder of it. Then they would explore it for real, a few of them, maybe one percent of the college-age poster-buyers. They would want to see what then was a totem on their dorm wall and no more real than a Tibetan temple or Marilyn Monroe’s naked legs. But if it got under the skin enough, if they could almost smell the peat burning and see the sheep locking horns with the clouds and ranging like king salmon up the green-stream hills… Then they’d go to the ancient sod, the site of their myth, and they’d put their hands in the soil like Thomas would in the side of Christ. And then?

* * *

Patrick McIntyre was a freelance photographer who credited his full stomach to his ancestor’s empty one: in 1847 his great-grandfather Thomas McIntyre traded the misery of the once-sainted isle for the misery of a ‘coffin ship’ and then again for the misery of life in the tenements of the Five Corners in Manhattan. The 'land of milk and honey' came true for his children, and Patrick's parents lived comfortably when he was born. Years later he sampled the products of the old sod, Guinness and Harp, as if his ancestors left something that could be found there.

In the Guinness-mist of an October 2003 day, Patrick read the label that would change his life. A freshly opened can depicted a little thatch hut with the accompanying text "win an Irish pub!".

Fifty words on why he wanted to run an Irish pub. He could do that. Nine months later he found himself in front of Gus, a beefy, squat man whose ancestors had been coming to the pub since 'the battle of the Boyne' and would not allow anything in the pub to be changed or moved. (to be continued)
Remarkable story of identical twins separated by the Berlin Wall.
Fear God, Trust Self vs Fear Self, Trust God

Blessed Mother Teresa wrote, "I fear all things from my weakness - but I trust blindly in His Greatness." Which got me thinking how often we fall into the opposite notion: we fear God and His judgment while having not fearing ourselves much. Our work life generally teaches us that the harder and longer we work, the more we'll succeed. So we are trained to think that success is within our control. In response to difficulties we can amp up our production. But we fear God because we know he is outside our control. We cannot make him save us or cause him to "amp up his production of grace". And the grace often doesn't look much like grace - He often brings sufferings in order to heal us, like the doctor who would cut into us in order to get at the source of infection.

I generally fear doctors and dentists more than myself because I'm easy on myself and they are (superficially) hard on me. But when I am in the doctor's or dentist's chair, a very different thing occurs: I fear myself more. I fear that I'll move my eye just as that laser is doing its thing. Or, when I got my forehead stitched up after colliding with an errant elbow during a basketball game I was conscious of needing to lie perfectly still lest I have a permanent scar. So maybe Mother Teresa saw herself as always in God's operating table, never really outside of it.

Fr. Cessario in the Magnificat publication, writes that the Blessed Virgin Mary is praised for her obedience to God, for her response to God. But he says, "These sentiments are true and praiseworthy. Even so, we must remember the distinctive rhythm that the Annunciation introduces into the world of Christian faith and practice. 'The angel Gabriel was sent from God.' In every good and meritorious thing that happens in our lives, God acts first. This means that the Christian who wants to live a holy life must receive the personal energies to accomplish his or her holy purpose from the same divine Source that Mary did."

In other words, he who would operate on himself has a fool for a surgeon!
Report from the Peanut Gallery

Went to my wife's work-holiday party at a dinner-theatre on the east side of Columbus.

The food was delicious. And free. And the alcohol was free - as much as you could drink. I got a rare whiskey on the rocks - a double shot of Maker's Mark. And also an Amber Bock (they had no Guinness or dark beers) because: "I'm a double-fisted drinker when the drinks are free." (Which is a corollary to the famous saying "if it's free, it's for me!")

I must say the hug thing has *really* caught on. I'm always taken aback when some new cultural practice comes about without my knowing anything about it. I expect new things with kids and 20-somethings, but it's disconcerting when the middle-aged have glommed on to a new practice and I had missed the memo. It makes me wonder what else have I missed the memo on.

So back to the hug - two really tight bear hugs from the secretary of my wife's bosses' boss. I don't know her from Adam (or should I say 'from Eve') having met her not two or three times over Steph's career and having said all of three sentences to her. But it seems it seems the new social lubricant is the extravagant hug, making any awkwardness go away. Seems to work reasonably well.
Recta Ratio - Time Traveller?

The blogger at Recta Ratio has escaped the bind of time and is already experiencing December 24th!

There is plenty of fine art there and since most of us won't be posting to our blogs on the 24th or 25th it's not a bad idea. To paraphrase the phrase "paying forward", he's "posting forward".

December 20, 2007

Church Fathers Timeline

Via Lofted Nest...
Found on Drudge Report

Interesting Katie Couric interviews on how much the voters should weigh marital fidelity in judging presidential candidates.

Joe Biden: I remember asking-- one-- one of the people who's-- a-- a smart guy, is this guy Frank Luntz, who does these groups. And I remember hearing him speak and saying that the polling data shows that the characteristic-- he asked the question generically.

What characteristic do you think the American people most look for in their-- in-- in-- in their president? And I immediately said-- honesty, integrity. In my mind. And he said, no, no. Then he asked the audience. And they said-- the simple most important thing they're looking for is resilience. Someone who can take a 'hit' and get back up and move on. That's an interesting phen-- phenomena.

I've been in public life most of my adult life, and I wouldn't have said that. But ya think about it. It's probably one of those characteristics that-- gives people confidence that you can lead the country through what they know are gonna be ups and downs.
Voter Stats

This WSJ piece has a nifty little break-down chart on candidate preferences among different groups.

Among Democratic primary voters, it's interesting to see that John Edwards, who talks about the poor a lot, is least favored by the poor. (The poorer, the least likely they are to support him.) Hispanics are especially favorable to Hillary Clinton, and least inclined towards Obama. Blacks really dislike Edwards, (or are simply more pro-Hillary & pro-Obama) giving him just 2%.

On the Republican side, Huckabee isn't getting as much of a gender gap as I'd thought, only 1% difference. The big gender gap is women liking Giuliani much more than men. That is a bit surprising to me.

I also looked at how predictable my own potential choices (McCain and Romney, although I have deep misgivings about both) are by various statistical measures. They finished 1st & 5th in my region and my gender. 3rd and 4th with respect to age group & occupation. 1st & 6th with respect to area type (suburban, urban, rural). 2nd and 5th with respect to news source (internet, blogs).

December 19, 2007

Parody is Therapy updated...

....with the story of a new technology that makes things much easier for those who relish identify politics.
Link Lightning Round

Ave Maria radio host Al Kresta with his book recommendations.

On reconciling the infancy narratives.

Ignatius Press is asking $14.95 for the Pope's encylical? That's highway robbery! (Though in fairness I think they're putting it out in hardcover.) I think the USCCB is publishing it for $6.50 (softcover).

No XYZ Necessary: One good thing about cold weather is when you go outside you know immediately if you forgot to zip your pants.

Jim of Bethune Catholic means how he likes Great Expectations. I read it in high school and for a long time it was my favorite novel. Should read it again. He also posts this: "It just occurred to me that maybe the classical form would make parents take the sacrament of Baptism more seriously." (The classical form being in which the parents ask for Faith, rather than Baptism.) To which I say "eggsactly". That was an unfortunate Vatican II change. Tis Faith that modern man is hungry for, and the current insouciance that surrounds the sacrament is odd, like a starving man treating a steak dinner lightly.

I'm shocked that she's shocked:
"It was a shock for both of us, so unexpected," Jamie Lynn Spears told OK magazine in its new edition, which hits New York newsstands today. "I was in complete and total shock, and so was he."
The "shock" was that Britney Spears' 16-year old sister is pregnant. So let's review, shall we?
  • Sex is by far the leading cause of pregnancy.
  • Birth control is not 100% effective.
  • That's assuming they were even using birth control. But if not, how do you put those two facts together and come up with "shock"? That is, unless they were having sex during their sleep and weren't conscious during it.

    The '08 election is interesting in that one might think, based on Ron Paul's Iraq war position, that Steven Riddle would like him. One might also think, based on Ron Paul's view that the fault, dear Brutus, for Islamic extremism is us would be unpalatable to some of the St. Blog's traditionalists who see the phrase "Islamic extremism" as redundant and yet are supporting Paul. Strange bedfellows this time around?

    Al Kimel of Pontifications is back with a post on the wickedness of double predestination. The bright side about growing up a semi-Pelagian is that I had no clue that such a doctrine existed and had no doubt God loved me. Perhaps I shouldn't be so hard on my '70s-era catechesis; I hadn't considered the alternative.

    Hee Haw With the Stars

    ...including a cameo by Hall of Famer Johnny Bench:

    From the Local Paper

    Another for my "barbarians with a badge" file. Cop hassles another innocent man (click to enlarge:

    December 18, 2007

    Photos, We've Got Photos, We've Got Lots & Lots of...

    Last week I found myself outside a delightful local bookstore with lots of festive lights. I took a pic with my cell phone but it came out blurry:
    I also happened by an apartment with some books in the window:

    And I was looking through's passport photos and didn't find any ancestors but here is a sampling, taken during before 1920, that give a flavor:



    A major step in my conversion was because secular radio stations stopped playing traditional Christmas carols and I was chased into the realm of Protestant radio to find the songs I loved since I was an atheist child. - Jeff Miller, who grew up atheist but liked Christmas songs and then searched for the songs but stayed for the message

    Sam [our son] had done something, what exactly slips my mind. I said to him, "Child, have you no restraint." His response: "Of course I do, I just don't choose to exercise it." Linda and I were practically rolling on the floor.
    - Steven of "Flos Carmeli"

    [During Advent] I used to think there shouldn’t be any bustle or parties, and the gross displays of consumerism disgusted me. . . .But it later dawned on me: There can be no Christmas celebration without preparation...You can’t honor the entire 12 days of Christmas — visiting distant relatives, spending time with friends, ringing in the New Year — unless you’ve prepared. And the preparation requires activity, which in turn spills excited joy into the soul. And where there’s joy, there’s an urge to share it. The bustle of preparation spills over into parties and celebrations, people jumping the gun before the 25th. It’s unfortunate, but understandable...Christmas celebrates great paradoxes — the God made man, the Almighty baby, the coming of great joy to undertake the greatest sadness. Fittingly, it’s marked by contradictory traits: hustle and contemplation, bustle and prayer . . .- Eric Scheske, who just might be overestimating the joy in preparation, at least the shopping part of it

    Nudity is not bad so long as the individual is wearing enough clothing.
    - helpful commenter on forum concerning the morality of nudist colonies

    what ever happened to the abc project? ok, c is for chance. childbearing changes my relationship to chance. what once was a wondrous and fascinating element that leads me to metaphysical questions is no longer an idea but a force that at every turn may reckon with the body of my tenderest love, my child. life, predicated on chance, is also threatened by it.,,,so forms and writing processes that celebrate the accident, the mistake, the flaw, the multiple, are less enchanting, more threatening, scary. whimsy bears a sickle.
    - professional poet and new mother Heidi Lynn Staples

    what are the odds???
    - Robert of "Tribal Pundit" remark concerning Mark Shea's declaration that George W. Bush was the "Worst President Ever" and Dick Cheney the "Worst Vice President Ever"

    Verily, while I have never found a historian who has run with it, I have noticed that every major reform of the Protestant Reformation moved Christianity in the direction of Islam, including scriptural literalism, legalism and the deconsecration of clergy. - David Warren, scribe at "Western Standard" newspaper, via Bill White; Ham, if you're reading this: we still have far more in common than not

    Contraception Is So Gay - title of Zippy Catholic post

    So what have I gained from my study? The index of the CCC only lists two references [to Purgatory] and both take place in the context of the section about Liturgy. We contribute most to the Economy by going to mass... The abundant blessings that flow from Eucharistic Adoration attest to this. We do more to serve the common good by adoring God than we do by works of social justice. This turns everything I learned growing up on its head. The above statement would be roundly disputed by my religion teachers, parish life coordinators, and parents. In fact, I used to dispute this point vigorously just a few years ago...I say this more in response to what I was taught growing up- namely...that kneeling to wash the feet of the poor is of far greater value than incensing a gold monstrance. Yet, every saint who has ever served the poor has spent time before the Blessed Sacrament and accorded it its rightful honor. The one HAS to flow from the other. But I was brought up to believe that social justice is our mission and purpose and all those trappings from olden days are passe. My family honors Romero and hopes for his canonization. But even Romero prayed before the Blessed Sacrament. So did Mother Theresa and St. Francis- they were not merely about social justice. They were impelled by their devotion. So we have JPII and Papa Benny to thank. They have brought about a re-conversion of Catholics to the Eucharist. It's not what we do that matters most. It's how much we adore and worship and revere God, and any doing that flows from that is praiseworthy. Any doing that ignores adoration will bear its own fruit, which may or may not be God's. - "Catholic Land", after no less than thirteen posts examining the subject of Purgatory, via Frederick of Deep Furrows

    This I Believe
    - title of Terrence Berres post concerning a dotCommonweal commenter who said, "I’m guessing that a fair number of Commonwealers have enjoyed the NPR series...". The series was also titled "This I believe"

    How can something be sad and glad at the same time? ... "All unhappiness," says Mrs. Quin, "as you live with it, becomes shot through with happiness; it cannot help it; and all happiness, I suppose, is shot through with unhappiness." - from a Rumer Godden novel via via Julie of, appropriately, "Happy Catholic"

    Mary’s heart is so loving toward us that the hearts of all other mothers taken together are but a piece of ice in comparison. - St. John Vianney

    'I'm in debt to many of your readers for comments they've left on your site and for their own blog writing as well, and I'd be glad of an opportunity to extend my regards to them. And to solicit their prayers, almost always our most beneficial gift to each other..' I said a long time ago he was the most self-effacing blogger I knew, and when reading his stuff I always felt touched by that 'grace and peace' he never failed to extend to others. I think we can spare a prayer for his brother. - Bill Luse quoting and then commenting on Francis Mooney, whose brother is fighting leukemia

    I pray for you - because I have a feeling (more a near certainty) that God, for some ineffable reason which to us may seem almost like humour, is so curiously ready to answer the prayers of the LEAST worthy of his suppliants - if they pray for others. I do not of course mean to say that he only answers the prayers of the unworthy (who ought not to expect to be heard at all), or I should not now be benefitting by the prayers of others. - from J.R. Tolkien letter
    Adeste, fideles

    ...via here

    December 17, 2007

    Stuck in '68

    It's interesting how political parties, like individuals, become locked into their positions sometimes due simply to the vagaries of unconscious timing. Kevin Jones posts about how Dems became the pro-abortion party simply by the timing of changing their nominating process. They made the process more democratic in 1968 (insert laugh track here), a year of insanity, which is sort of like choosing your career while on acid:
    In Stricherz's telling, the old party bosses who dominated the party from the New Deal through the 1960s selected candidates with an eye towards practical success...These bosses were overwhelmingly Catholic and patrons of blue-collar workers.

    Though often democratic in outcome, the boss system was undemocratic in process. Realizing the need to create a more responsive party leadership, the ethnic bosses and other party leaders agreed to reform the party delegate system. In 1968.

    That was a bad time to rewrite the rules for selecting delegates. Young anti-war activists, fearing for their lives, made sure their partisans were on the selection committee.

    Enter the McGovern Commission. Though only racial discrimination was a problem in Democratic caucuses, the commission instituted quotas based on race, youth, and sex.(This explains the Democrats' continuing affinity for quotas.)
    To paraphrase John Lenin: "Imagine the Dems without the sacrament of's easy if you try."

    Meanwhile, on the Democratic primary front, I'm amused by all the "sky is falling" going on in the Hillary camp and/or on the Drudge Report. As Dick Morris says, she and Rudy will still likely win their party's nomination. I could be wrong, but it's likely all much ado about nothing. Dems like to go risky until they pull back for something safer, i.e. like they did with Howard Dean before settling for John Kerry.
    It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas

    Every December I appreciate the thoughtfulness of our neighbors in being behind the times. The Christmas lights are almost uniformly tacky, but ‘70s-tacky rather than ‘90s-tacky (the latter best represented by inflatables). ‘70s lights lend themselves to nostalgia for someone my age and I soak in the ambience on a walk around the block as if I’m in a James Lilek book.

    The song “It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas” comes to mind, so redolent of family associations. Dad would sing it whenever he spied the season’s first lights and how exciting for children to know that Christmas was coming! How I loved to hear that song. The lights then and in our neighborhood now are bulbous reds and greens and blues, not the lean, mean whites that don many latter day too-tasteful displays. The big bulbs, which could possibly cause a fire and thus fell out of favor due to our safety mania, have a mesmerizing quality that lingers long in the mind such that the next day you look at traffic lights differently, seeing in them the Christmas colors of red and green.

    Ever the lazy moderate, I put out a string of lights on the tree out front, enough to add a bit of seasonal color but nothing like the four or five hard workers down the road with houses positively drenched in color and paegentry. Most people seem to be all-or-nothing on Christmas lights: marathoners or couch potatoes, Fundamentalists or agnostics. I’m grateful for the lights the Fundamentalists put out. I walk the dog and have something to look at, and the lights blur slightly with the watery eyes produced by the cold and wind.
    Not Your Father's TV Shows?

    I have low expectations of television dramas, especially regarding matters spiritual. But I'm take aback by how a couple of shows are so different from any show from the '70s, so anti-Pelagian if you will. I'm speaking of My Name is Earl and Journeyman. In both cases the protagonist helps people, but what is so different from the '70s shows is they are not in control.

    Dan, the main character of Journeyman, travels back in time to help people but there are typically two problems: one, he can't turn on and off his power: "God" transports him back and forth in time at His will. And two, it's not always exactly clear who it is Dan is supposed to help. Dan still has a free will in the sense that he struggles with who to listen to while on a journey: God's quiet voice, often in the form of his fellow time-traveler's wisdom, or his own desires, including the desire to change his own history.

    Compare this to, say, The Incredible Hulk. The Hulk was a creature of material processes in the form of an overdose of gamma radiation, not divine intervention (although we certainly don't know for a fact that Journeyman's journeys are divinely-inspired so I'm probably jumping the gun here - but it's obvious that an intelligence of some sort is actively controlling Dan's journeys). Dr. Banner of the Incredible Hulk could trigger his superpowers by getting very angry, and the Hulk knew who to pulverize with his green "ID" sense of justice.

    Earl in My Name is Earl has found that free will is free but has consequences. Years of criminal behavior has led him to make a list atoning for every crime by making something right for each victim. 'Karma' is television's non-threatening label for God, or at least Earl's, and karma intervenes enough (although generally with great subtley) that Earl will often speak to it, asking what it wants. Earl knows he is not in control: when he works to strike someone from his list he'll sometimes find out in the course of it that he was actually supposed to help someone else on his list. Or he'll find, as in a recent episode, that karma can work through him even when he thought he'd made a mistake.

    Please pray for Steven Riddle, who is going thru a bit of a slog right now.


    Our pastor gave a marvelous sermon on why John the Baptist asked whether Jesus was the “one to come” when John knew from the womb He was and witnessed the supernatural events at Jesus’ baptism. It was that John, the indominitable one, the one who I took as iron such that I didn’t really conceive of him as fully human, was in prison. And knew the end of his life neared and naturally had doubts considering his understanding that the Messiah would come in power and it wouldn’t end this way, not in the pagan power Herod killing him. Jesus had John’s disciples remind him of all the things Jesus had done, all the Isaiah prophecies that had been fulfilled. When Jesus said John was the greatest born of women “yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he”. What does that mean? Does Mary qualify as the latter? Is the kingdom meant in the sense of the New Covenant? Or Heaven? Or in terms of mercy rather than justice?


    Winter causes a great cessation in unobligatory exertions. No working in the garden or spreading mulch or long bike rides in the country or even, lately, hikes in the woods. Excema, the dirty bastard, has climbed down from my neck to my stomach and chest, in spots. He’s a loser but he still keeps on trying. Got the tube of Elidel and still the stilleto itch on my solar plexus. Dry skin the cause. Whoda thunk it? I'm turning metrosexual by necessity, having to buy moisturizer. I mean who cares about dry skin but middle-aged women trying to look 20 again? Now I do. And I have to buy moisturizers, which before last year I thought was the biggest scam since bottled water.

    Spent a pleasant day reading, though reading admittedly provocative and not restful or escapist materials. Lots of the Pope’s Spe Salvi on hope, much of Joseph Pearce’s biography of JR Tolkien, an essay about Poe from Allen Tate, some of Tolkien’s collected letters, a taste of Updike’s “Due Considerations”, more of the warm, almost scriptural Mother Teresa book. No fiction other than a bit of “Europe Central”. Saturday was rent by the 10:30am-5:pm work on drywalling C's house. C made some jab about my lack of prowess with the drywall driver and truth-be-told I was surprised at how inept I was. For all my supposed athletic ability, perhaps mostly in my mind, I had the damnest of time hitting that sucker square. I thought later of a good response to Chris: “a man has to know his limitations,” which is his favorite quote and certainly applies to my handyman abilities.

    With Tolkien, I was secretly relieved when he said in one of his letters that all of his characters in LOTR had more of what he lacked: courage. He’s obviously exaggerating his deficiency but I can’t say I didn’t like the company and it would explain how we always tend to concentrate on our weaknesses (i.e. the preacher who preaches against sexual sin precisely because he is so tempted by it). I was also relieved when C.S. Lewis, while praising LOTR said it was far from escapist literature: “If it errs, it errs in precisely the opposite direction: all victories of hope deferred and the merciless piling up of odds against the hero are near to being too painful.” Indeed.

    What’s so horrible about escapism? Lord knows I could use more of it. I come back after a period of escapism refreshed and in a better mood and more able to give what paltry service to God I reguarly give to Him.. Isn’t escapism part of his plan, as sleep is? No wonder St. Basil praises God for sleep in his morning prayers.

    The great thing about the Sunday read is that while I tend to perceive it as being self-indulgent, in truth it’s often helpful in focusing on others since in reading we sometimes lose ourselves in other people’s concerns. Especially narrative histories or in fiction. Flannery O’Connor once said something about how her writing was the time she thought about others, her characters, and John Updike wrote that it’s no fun to write fictional characters based on himself because it takes all the enjoyment of writing in the sense of getting to live a life not your own for awhile.
    Why Does God Test Us?

    The whole ground of the Christian life fascinates me because it seems there are two opposing threads to it even if they are not actually oppositional: love and testing. Family and employment contract. At the very kernel of it is the mystery of the Garden, of Adam and Eve and the temptation they would have to overcome in order to get from earthly paradise to heavenly paradise, just as the angels either passed or failed a test in order to become angels or demons. But emphasis on test leads to a contract-type relation, a worker-employee relationship between God and man. Do we test our lovers? Do we test our newborns? No, we love at first sight. We ascribe to them qualities they do not have at first meeting. We accept them unconditionally until proven wrong. There is no apriori testing. We may disown a son or daughter, but that is very hard for a son or daughter to accomplish. A test implies challenge, a bell curve in results. But there is no bell curve in parents disowning children. The curve would be ridiculously weighted with a bias towards passing. The mystic Anne Catherine Emmerich, whose visions some of “The Passion of the Christ” were based on and who is a standard-bearer of many a traditionalist, was not so traditional in her views of Hell. She couldn’t accept that anyone was in Hell but was told point-blank to drop-ski the Universalism-ski. She was presumably conflicted about how love and test could be married.

    St. Faustina writes that Jesus told her, “If you don’t believe my words, believe my wounds.” She wrote that love demands reciprocity. If Jesus tasted bitterness for her, she must taste bitterness to prove her love for Him. How could man reciprocate to God if man had not test? God created us, and we would’ve had no way to even re-pay Him in the smallest way for that without the test of the forbidden fruit. Things spiralled down from there such that Jesus would go and die for us, but if we have it tougher than Adam did in Paradise, so does God! He had it far tougher in redeeming us than in creating us!

    I get nuggets that GPS me a bit closer to Him, to understanding things better and I’m grateful though I regret how they slip through this sieve of my mind so quickly. “Given for you”, the words of the Consecration hit as if for the first time – given to you, that is me too. “This is my body which is given for you…” It seems a disassociation with His Body, to make a gift of it…the idea of being outside one’s body such to the extent one can offer it, as if hoovering above it already and giving it away while still in use of it. What more could He possibly do to establish his oneness with us and still nourish faith? To be present and still invisible?

    Merely avoiding wrongdoing is not enough. Instinctively we know it’s not enough, because we think: “what’s the point?”. Love is not the avoiding of wrongdoing! It is some thing, some One, it’s not the negation of anything. So how can the testing and love be married? And yet how can they not be? For it is precisely in the testing that we experience need and thus dependence. Statis, the opposite of testing, is self-reliance. How can creatures love God and be self-reliant?

    Don’t old soldiers relive their twenty months on the front for the rest of their lives? Why? Because it was the defining experience of their lives. One can’t help be lead to the thought that the test of war was a gift. And in that test there was love. They experienced love and self-sacrifice in the very midst of agony. And, as in war, God is our foxhole mate in the struggles. The tests may be from God, it’s true, but, oddly, but they are also experienced with God. He is both tester and testee, as he became tested like one of us, and then stuck around in the Eucharist to become one with us.

    All this about testing seemed disloyal after reading some of Mother Teresa’s book and the Pope’s encyclical. The Pope’s encyclical implicitly emphasizes the truth of Peter’s words: “Lord, to whom shall we go?” When Don Imus was on MSNBC I watched too much of him and his favorite response to some egregious Bernard off-color, politically-incorrect and/or downright hateful statement was: “that’s just not helpful.” So naturally I liked the Holy Father’s straightforward IMUS-y line: “To protest against God in the name of justice is not helpful. A world without God is a world without hope (cf. Eph 2:12). Only God can create justice.” If we “steal a base”, in Jonah Goldberg’s phrase, and substitute testing with suffering and love with God, then we see Benedict saying later: “In the end, even the “yes” to [God] is a source of [testing], because [God] always requires expropriations of my “I”, in which I allow myself to be pruned and wounded.”

    I also see that Benedict mentions the origins of the concept of Purgatory as from before Christ, in the Jewish thirst for justice, in an intermediate state between death and resurrection (which is the state of Abraham and Lazarus in Jesus’s parable). That’s a different impression I got from Leon Podles’ book, which basically said that Purgatory was doctrinally developed as a result of medieval woman mystics’ desire for mercy. Whatever my unease with testing, I would rather God test than man NOT test, for we know what man is capable of even in the "best" of "untested" families!

    Steven Riddle mentioned helpfully that it's not so much testing as the idea of purification. The natural response to our unfinishedness is to ask why we weren't created finished but that's to abrogate to ourselves God's privilege, hence the crucial necessity of humility. Pope Benedict quotes St. Augustine in his letter about how deferral (or testing) is God's way of enlarging our hearts: "Man was created for greatness—for God himself; he was created to be filled by God. But his heart is too small for the greatness to which it is destined. It must be stretched. 'By delaying [his gift], God strengthens our desire; through desire he enlarges our soul and by expanding it he increases its capacity [for receiving him]'."

    December 15, 2007

    Christmas & Advent

    Resistance is futile – you will celebrate Christmas beginning Dec. 1st…or at least by the 2nd Sunday of Advent. Not because of commerce. Not because of premature carol-ulation (I was hearing Christmas carols on the local Christian radio station BEFORE Thanksgiving, causing me to switch channels quicker than a mo’ fo.) Nor because of the Christmas lights or Christmas trees.

    No, Christmas early is caused by the incandescent Advent readings from Isaiah. How can one possibly hear these readings, the best of the Church year in my opinion, and not celebrate? The Mass readings just before Advent are apocalyptic, speaking of the end times, and then we feel pentitential but now is the time of the exuberant readings of Advent in which Christ is promised and tasted. The Advent readings – including the daily Lit of the Hour refrain: “your light will come Jerusalem…” - begin to wend their way along your epidermis and into your bloodstream and suddenly the Christmas carols are so very timely and.the inspiration of all those Christmas carols seems apparent. “God and sinners reconciled…Born to give them second birth.” Advent and Christmas are infused with hope in a way that no other liturgical season seems and hope is the greatest modern need. Easter (the Resurrection) is God acting with power, and we’ve grown weary and distrustful of power because of man’s example. But the Incarnation is God acting with tenderness and love, becoming a baby. Now, that is truly shocking.

    December 14, 2007

    Possible Lenten Read

    It's never too early to think about Lent, especially given how fast time goes these days and Julie of Happy Catholic just recommended what looks to be a good Lenten read called "They Come Back Singing".
    And the Angels Cried...

    ...well, angels are non-coporeal beings but you get my jist concerning the following statement from Karen Hall about her Mormon days (part 1, part 2, part 3):
    ...someone in charge of the "program" (we took turns) would lead about an hour of discussion before we broke out the pizzas and non-alcoholic, non-caffeinated beverages.
    Well, the pizza part sounds good anyhow.

    But the real story is of course that Karen Hall used to be a Mormon. She was an "Osmond convert" (and now I can't get that song out of my head, you know the one that goes "and they called it...puppy love..."). This was the second Osmond convert story I've come across in my extremely limited reading concerning the LDS.

    Karen really didn't like Romney's religion speech, calling it dishonest and manipulative because she says he's "spinning it as if it's no different than him being a Presbyterian." I don't know that I can hold that against him since everyone pretty much tries to make their religion non-threatening to outsiders (even Scientologists I guess). I concede that Karen has forgotten more about Mormonism than I know but I wonder if hers is an overreaction, the same overreaction one finds in ex-Catholics.

    Her main objection seems to be that Romney doesn't talk about "Mormon particulars", but let's assume for the sake of argument two things ...: one, his faith is precious to him and two, he doesn't feel qualified to defend it in the context of a political speech. He might've made the decision that it's better for the Mormon faith that he not get into the weeds lest he be a bad apologist for it and do more harm than good. Or he might feel that discussing religion with cynical unbelieving "gotcha" reporters would be throwing "pearls before swine". (Even given that some of what Mormons see as pearls we obviously see as stones.)

    She had some great lines in her post (hey, she oughta be a writer! -Oh, that's right, she is!) on the candidates:
    Hillary: No one ever said the anti-Christ had to be a male.

    Obama: My biggest problem with him, other than all the extremely important issues wherein we disagree, is the fact that if he were a blue-eyed blonde, there's no way in the world anyone would be considering someone with his limited resume as a serious candidate for the presidency. And that strikes me as ... I don't know... racist?

    Fred Thompson: Every time I watch him speak, I get visions of him falling asleep in a cabinet meeting.

    December 13, 2007

    Least Popular Bowl Games

    Although the proliferation of college football bowl games has primarily been caused by a thirst for revenue, there are some that actually lose money, such as the famous American Standard Toilet Bowl. Here are a few other very unpopular bowl games:

  • The Hairy Bowl

  • The Rapture Bowl - (less than eleven players on a side permitted in case of Rapture)

  • The Bowl Haircut Bowl - (free scissors and bowl to first three hundred visitors)

  • The 99 Cents Wendy's Side Salad Bowl - (with halftime show starring the Croutonette's)

  • The Leftover Soup Bowl

  • The 9-11 Truthers Nutcase Bowl - (free pack of nuts to all ticketholders)

  • The Cafeteria Catholic Bowl (where the fans make up the rules as the game goes along)

  • The Wardrobe Malfunction Bowl

  • The Open Borders Bowl (fans allowed anywhere on the field during the game)

  • The Beat the Whammy Bowl (that's for Kim)

  • The Kosher Pigskin-Free Bowl (now hotdog free!)

  • The I-Bitch-Slapped-My-Ho Bo' (free admission to gangbangers)

  • The Obscure Literary Reference Bowl

  • The Bilbo Baggins Alliteration Bowl

  • The Dyslexic Blow

  • The Old Order Amish Bowl (manual scoreboard, day game, no beer but broasted chicken served family style)

  • "Drank Another Glass of Skim Last Night..."

    Cracks me up how Jim Curley goes from the profound (JPII) to the quotidian (milk) and back (Our Lady on the Tilma) so easily. This is stream-of-consciousness par excellence:
    There is so much good stuff at The Bride and the Dragon I never have time to read it all. For example, look at today's lead article on living simply and living wages. And then go down and read John Paul II - the man I loved from last week-if you get that far. There is a lot in between you can get stuck on. Drank another glass of skim milk last night-and still didn't notice a difference. One of our parishioners brought a beautiful picture of our Lady on the Tilma back...
    What I do in a blog he does in a blog post! I can relate to his milk situation as I too love milk and drink it by the gallon (though not necessarily at one sitting). I went from whole milk to 2% milk to 1% milk...haven't made it to skim milk yet.
    Excerpts from Vollmann's Europe Central

    On the composer "Mitya" Shostakovich during the Stalin era:

    ...he still didn't swallow the notion that music must be fettered to any "content," but since his well-wishers kept reminding him that he didn't eat the people's bread merely in order to exist for himself, he sincerely aspired to be ideological, to invest his talent with feeling, and to the very end, or at least until he composed Opus 110, he would remember with haunting vividness the purity of this project: create beauty and be useful. Beethoven for the Baltic Fleet, who was anyone to say that that hadn't helped win the Civil War?

    Music gushed out of his fingertips in orgasms of joy; what a young artist lacks in craftsmanship he often makes up for in sincerity; even when principle demands that he withhold, he can't avoid giving of himself.

    And who hasn't felt the same way? The punished child, the one whose lover has just kindly, gravely announced that she's leaving him forever, the Arctic explorer perishing for want of food, how can they not keep faith with the proposition that undeviatingly following a given method will save them?

    Nourished by the melodies he composed, he kept up his fighting strength, such as it was (to look at him, you'd think him far from formidable), his expectations guarded and comforted by the knowledge that should the pressure ever become more than he could bear, the world within the black keys would shelter him....his music conceals extremely deep lyric feelings which are carefully protected from the outside world. In other words, is Shostakovich emotional or not? Feelings conceal -- feelings!

    Although it might be irritating to him to do as others told him to do, as long as he could build secret trapdoors and escape hatches into every score, so that the world beneath the piano keys hadn't been forgotten, he was still living on his own terms. Ancient masons used to wall up a live victim in each temple or bridge they built; when he was much older Mitya would immure himself in just this way in the cornerstone of his Opus 110; but for now there was no need to be as drastic as that. ..If I bow to Lenin's memory and then create what I please, have I been any more constrained than a poet would be by the arbitrariness of rhyme?...Didn't Mitya himself believe that content was irrelevant? Hadn't everything already been said? Our task was to say it in a new way, that's all.

    December 12, 2007

    Romney's Got the Big Mo

    National Review just endorsed Romney, as has Michael Novak.

    I think Huckabee's "electability quotient" has been falling rapidly due to a faux paus on Mormonism and another on AIDS. I love candor, but you have to be ready to apologize quick-like if you're candid and wrong. Huckabee has been sluggish to apologize which is not surprising since he is George Bush redux and like George is a bit stubborn.

    As for Romney's flip-flopping on abortion, the Left embraces flip-floppers (i.e. from Jesse Jackson to Ted Kennedy to Al Gore on abortion), should the Right do less? Some of the strongest proponents of the right-to-an-abortion were originally pro-life, so maybe Romney will be their foil.
    Things Biblical

    For what it's worth, of the top ten most popular bible verses three were Christ's direct words. The favorite verse, John 3:16, is a reflection on God's action.

    I happened across Matthew 18:7-8 the other day. A more piquant one-sentence summary of the earthly condition from Jesus could scarcely be found:
    Alas for the world that there should be such obstacles!
    Continuing in the Jerusalem Bible translation: "Obstacles indeed there must be, but alas for anyone who provides them!"

    I like the back and forth from the early Christian giants weighing in on Scripture in the Catena Aurea:
    Gloss, non occ.: The Lord had said, that it is better for him who gives offence, that a mill-stone be hanged about his neck, which He now subjoins the reason, "Woe unto the world from offences!" i. e. because of offences.

    Origen: This we may understand not of the material elements of the world; but here the men who are in the world, are called the world. But Christ's disciples are not of this world, whence there cannot be woe to them from offences; for though there be many offences, they do not touch him who is not of this world. But if he be yet of this world in loving the world, and the things in it, as many offences will seize him as those by which he was encompassed in the world. It follows, "For it must needs be that offences come."

    Chrys., Hom., lix: This does not subvert the liberty of the will, or impose a necessity of any act, but foreshews what must come to pass. Offences are hindrances in the right way. But Christ's prophecy does not bring in the offences, for it is not done because He foretold it, but He foretold it because it was certainly to come to pass. But some one will say, If all men are recovered, and if there be none to bring the offences, will not His speech be convicted of falsehood? By no means; for seeing that men were incurable, He therefore said, "It must needs be that offences come;" that is, they surely will come; which He never would have said, if all men might be amended.

    Gloss. interlin.: Or they must needs come because they are necessary, that is, useful, that by this mean "they that are approved may be made manifest." [1 Cor 11:19]

    Chrys.: For offences rouse men, and make them more attentive; and he who falls by them speedily rises again, and is more careful.

    Hilary: Or; The lowliness of His passion is the scandal of the world, which refused to receive the Lord of eternal glory under the disgrace of the Cross. And what more dangerous for the world than to have rejected Christ? And He says that offences must needs come, forasmuch as in the sacrament of restoring to us eternal life, all lowliness of suffering was to be fulfilled in Him.

    Origen: Or; The scandals that are to come are the Angels of Satan. But do not look that these offences should shew themselves in a substantial or natural shape, for in some the freedom of the will has been the origin of offence, not liking to undergo toil for virtue's sake. But there cannot be real good, without the opposition of evil. It must needs be then that offences [p. 627] come, as it must needs be that we encounter the evil assaults of spiritual powers; whose hatred is the more stirred up, as Christ's word invading men drives out the evil influences from them. And they seek instruments by whom the offences may the rather work; and to such instruments is more woe; for him who gives, it shall be worse than for him who takes, the offence, as it follows, "But woe unto that man by whom the offence cometh."

    Jerome: As much as to say, Woe to that man through whose fault it comes to pass, that offences must needs be in the world. And under this general declaration, Judas is particularly condemned, who had made ready his soul for the act of betrayal.

    Hilary: Or; By the man is denoted the Jewish people, as the introducers of all this offence that is about Christ's passion; for they brought upon the world all the danger of denying Christ in His passion, of whom the Law and the Prophets had preached that He should suffer.

    Chrys.: But that you may learn that there is no absolute necessity for offences, hear what follows, "If thy hand or thy foot offend thee, &c." This is not said of the limbs of the body, but of friends whom we esteem as limbs necessary to us; for nothing is so hurtful as evil communications.

    Jerome: So all affection, our whole kindred, are severed from us; lest under cover of duty any believer should be exposed to offence. If, He says, he be united to thee as close as is thy hand, or foot, or eye, and is useful to thee, anxious and quick to discern, and yet causes thee offence, and is by the unmeetness of his behaviour drawling thee into hell; it is better for thee that thou lack his kindred, and his profitableness to thee, than that whilst thou seekest to gain thy kindred or friends, thou shouldest have cause of failings. For every believer knows what is doing him harm, what troubles and tempts him, for it is better to lead a solitary life, than to lose eternal life, in order to have the things necessary for this present life.

    Origen: Or, The priests may with good reason be called the eyes of the Church, since they are considered her watchmen; but the deacons and the rest her hands, for by them spiritual deeds are wrought; the people are the feet of the body, the Church; and all these it behoves not to spare, if they become an offence to the Church. Or, by the offending hand is understood an act of the mind; a motion of the mind is the offending foot, and a vision of the mind is the sinning eye, which we ought to cut off if they give offence, for thus the acts of the limbs are often put in Scripture for the limbs themselves.

    December 11, 2007

    Mitt Romney's Notes on Religion Speech

    This is high-larious (via Terrence Berres) - click to enlarge:

    Bad Photographer, Bad!

    Via The Daily Eudemon, there's the Strictly No Photography website. My wife has a lot of pictures of me just beyond "No Trespassing" signs, so I can relate to this site.

    Czestochowa at St. Pat's Church

    On the cusp of Our Lady of Guadalupe, I was inadvertently introduced to the Black Madonna (more here), of whom Hilaire Belloc wrote.

    (Click to enlarge)
    A couple days ago I'd read this Dec. 9th entry from St. Faustina's diary (Revelations of Divine Mercy):
    I had permission to visit Czestochowa while on my journey. I saw the Mother of God [image] for the first time, when I went to attend the unveiling of the Image at five in the morning. I prayed without interruption until eleven, and it seemed that I had just come.
    At first I thought the actual painting was on tour, but the replica was hand-painted and I was still able to share in seeing up close that which had moved two of the greatest lights of the past half-century or so, Pope John Paul II and St. Faustina.

    The grim visages of Jesus and Mary in the painting remind me of the Byzantine iconography. I thought the jagged tears down the Madonna's face gave mute testimony of the sword that would pierce her and that the gold bands surrounding them emanate from the Christ child and envelope Our Lady's head.

    I learned here that some of the tears are wounds or scratches:
    The face of the Virgin stands out in that whoever looks at the painting is found immersed in Mary’s gaze: the pilgrim looks at Mary who looks back. The Child also faces the pilgrim but with a fixed look. Both faces have serious and pensive expressions, giving the painting an emotional tone. Two parallel scratches crossed by a third mark the Virgin’s right cheek. Her neck shows six other scratches, two of which are visible, whereas the other four can barely be seen. In the image, Jesus wears a scarlet tunic and rests on His Mother’s right arm as a makeshift throne in order to be seated. The Child’s left arm holds a book, and the right arm is raised as if he was giving his blessing. The Virgin’s hand rests on his chest, points to the Child, and appears to tell us: “Pay attention to my Child Jesus.” The Virgin’s dress and mantle are adorned with the flower of lis, a symbol of the royal family of Hungary. The brightness of their apparel contrasts with the dark colors of their faces. A star with six vertices is depicted on Mary’s forehead. Both the Virgin and Jesus have golden halos. Given the dark color of the face and hands of Our Lady, the image has been fondly called “the Black Virgin,” a phrase which reminds us of the Song of Songs, “I am dark-skinned but beautiful.” Her darkness can be attributed to many reasons, one being the poor conditions of the places where she has been hidden to safeguard her. In addition, numerous candles have been lit before her, causing her to be constantly amidst smoke. As well, she most likely has been touched by a multitude of people. In the image, the wounds on her face were caused by some bandits who tried to steal the image in 1430. The wound on her throat was caused by the Tartars who besieged the castle of Belz; one of the enemy’s arrows went through the Chapel’s window and hit the icon. The two cuts on the cheek of the Virgin, along with the harm previously caused by the spear through her throat, always reappear despite the repeated attempts to restore the image.

    Once again, Planned Parenthood suggests that contraception not abstinence is the answer. I have seen lots of contracepting ladies get pregnant. I have never seen a pregnancy in a woman who is not having sexual relations (i.e. is abstinent). -- (except for Our Lady)...Alicia of "Fructus Ventris"

    A rowdy bunch on the whole, they were most of them so violently individualistic as to be practically interchangeable. - line from book "Dud Avocado" via Amy Welborn

    I know that indulgences remit the temporal punishment for sins whose eternal penalty has been remitted. I want to get a better handle on what temporal punishment is: is it the resistance that I experience when confronted with Christ's beauty? In Spes Salvi, Pope Benedict XVI writes about the flames of purgatory: "Some recent theologians are of the opinion that the fire which both burns and saves is Christ himself, the Judge and Saviour. The encounter with him is the decisive act of judgement. Before his gaze all falsehood melts away... In this way the inter-relation between justice and grace also becomes clear: the way we live our lives is not immaterial, but our defilement does not stain us for ever if we have at least continued to reach out towards Christ, towards truth and towards love."...If this is so, then an indulgence is an ecclesial act of begging Christ to look upon us and burn away all resistance to Him. And as this resistance is burned away, we draw not only nearer to Christ but also nearer to those to whom we are sent as emissaries of His mercy and hope. As I'm fond of saying: Christ is the one mediator between God and man - and, the one mediator between man and man. - Frederick of Deep Furrows

    Of course, as was the case with the Da Vinci Code, sneering is widespread and appropriately accompanied by disdainful sniffing. Hysterical Catholic Apologists bumbling into the Culture Wars. How typically retrograde and frankly, embarrassing. It’s Art. So what you’re saying…is that this Philip Pullman is the Magisterium? The Authority we Must Not Question? Oh, I get it. Well, actually, I don’t. The irony of trying to shut down debate about a work that sees shutting down debate as a crime against humanity is almost too much. News flash: Being critical and discerning about entertainment choices is not a sin. Last I heard, it was a positive quality. If a person says, “Hmm. I read those books. They may have their good points, but they’re not high, irreplacable literature and they are built around a false, misleading, bigoted portrait of religion and God. Nah, don’t think I’ll take the kids to see the movie. Oh, and when people ask me questions about the content, I’ll answer them.”…..Or, maybe, “Hmm. This Passion of Christ movie..I don’t like the way Jews are portrayed. I don’t like the violence. Doesn’t strike me as true to the Gospels or what I understand the Passion was all about. Don’t think I’ll see it. Won’t take my kids.” Yeah. Like that. It is okay. Embrace the discernment. Philip Pullman and New Line Cinema are not The Authority. You don’t have to see their movie. You can even…criticize it. The other response I’m seeing - especially from critics who claim a spiritual bent - is that GC is so, so valuable because it will give parents and young people a great opportunity to discuss the important issues raised by Pullman about religious authority, human freedom, and so on. Of course, anything can be used as a starting point for discussions on spirituality... After we finish with The Golden Compass, shall we break out The Protocols of the Elders of Zion to open up discussion on Judaism?...The starting point for a good - really good, fruitful discussion - is not the bigoted, agenda-driven misrepresentation of others. - Amy Welborn; the perfect response to the latest controversy

    My basic position on the whole matter: Bring back Gregorian Chant and the baroque, or give me AC/DC and Elvis. This conflicted tripe is junk. - Eric Scheske of "The Daily Eudemon" on modern church songs

    I've been pulled over several times for small things but have always had the good fortune of having very nice police officers. It always makes me nervous though. My brothers, on the other hand, have some whoppers to tell. Like one time my brother was given a DUI after he just got out of the river white water rafting, went to his truck wet, discovered he didn't have his keys, got in, let out the parking brake, rolled the truck down the hill backwards about a block to where the other guys were coming up from the bank. (He is an auto body man so he really can do this smoothly.) A policeman sees him, and gives him a DUI. He tried to explain that he wasn't drinking - he was cold and wet - and he wasn't driving - he didn't even have his keys! - reader email regarding my recent brush with a cop

    Why would [Antonio] Rosmini pull ahead of [John Henry] Newman? The Rosminians. Have you ever heard of Newmanians? - commenter Frederick on "Pertinacious Papist" in the canonization sweepstakes

    If I wanted people to stay away from my movie in droves, I'd be sure to tell them it was entirely in harmony with Catholic teaching. --Tom Kreitzberg commenting on Curt Jester's site concerning New Line cinema's claim that "The Golden Compass" is "entirely in harmony with Catholic teaching"

    December 10, 2007

    Let's Play....'Why's My Book Bag So Heavy?'

    Bad weather is the avid reader's dream, and so Sunday I hunkered down for a good gollop of (& gallop through) multiple books which is a very good thing indeed since it turns out I was in the latter stages of a syndrome called FRB - "Fatal Reading Backup".

    Read a Ohio History article on the conflicted nature of Ohioan William Dean Howells, who called himself a "theoretical socialist" and "practical aristocrat". He was a literary baron during the robber baron age who felt this enormous guilt all his life over his wealth and repented of it by becoming a socialist. He and Mark Twain were the John Edwards's of their day - but without the Edwards's apparently guiltlessness. I suppose that in our mania for good mental health we no longer allow ourselves to be conflicted as Twain and Howells did, or, alternatively, perhaps politicians can't allow themselves the luxury of conscience that others can.

    I finished Leon Podles' The Church Impotent. It's a well-researched and thought-proving book. I can't do justice to it in this short a space but I've been instinctively drawn to the image of Jesus as brother, but rarely (only once that I can recall, in Confession) heard that image in the Church. Podles says that males are more individualistic and less communal by nature, and I agree but I don't see how you can easily square that tendency with the gospel. The gospel is extremely communal so it's not as though one can make the Church more individualistic in order to appeal to more men. (Not that Podles is saying that; he admits that the only answer is that God raise up a modern saint who shows us how to combine holiness with masculinity since, he claims, that you can't currently be both holy and masculine.) Universalism and Purgatory are seen by Podles as feminine doctrines, presumably because women are said to have more sympathy for the Hell-bound out of their more communal feelings.

    One quibble is that I was surprised that he mentioned Luther but didn't mention the root cause of his leaving the Church was not, as was somewhat implied, of the Church's femininity, but because of Luther's scrupulousness and fear of hell. I doubt he would leave the Church today simply because he wouldn't feel scrupulous nor a feel of Hell simply because the Church has so de-emphasized those teachings.

    Podles points to Luther's emphasis on struggle, of the cosmic battle between Satan and God, a thing Podles sees as attractive to the masculine - but since Luther didn't believe in free will, how is there a struggle on a personal level? I suppose it's like watching pro-football. We guys like to watch the contest while not wanting to go out there and play (at least not against those guys, given their unimaginable combination of size and quickness). On the other hand there's no question of Luther's bravery and/or willingness to struggle given his break with the Pope.

    In the book Podles defends those like Job or Jacob who would struggle with God, even get angry at Him, rather than be be meek (despite the Beatitude?). It reminded me of what Scott Hahn said on a recent episode of Franciscan University Presents, how complaining to God is okay and that the problem with those complainers in the desert (Exodus 16) was that they were "backstabbers who didn't confront God directly". Podles says that brothers fight and many a good male friendship starts with a fight.

    I suppose in this context it would be good to quote ol' Tom of Disputations wrote in Mark Shea's comboxes a while back:
    Personally, though, I don't think excessive feminization is a problem. I think it's a symptom. Men aren't staying home because church is girly; church is girly because men are staying home. And they're staying home, says I, not because they're manly, but because they're adolescent.
    Read great globs of Europe Central, William Vollmann's novel (though blended with faction in the form of actual historical figures) , which has been growing on me. It's interesting to see Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich's attempt to keep his art amid Stalin's artistic purges; in fact it's amazing he didn't get killed. I wanted to read more about Shostakovich's music from an E. Michael Jones' Dionysos Rising. I believe Jones blames Shostakovich for some of the cultural ills of modernity but leider (pronounced 'lye-der', the German word for "unfortunately", which is leider one of the few words from my high school German class that still resonate) I'd given the book to Hambone to read, who has it at the bottom of his reading list. I read a bit of Allan Bloom's The Closing of the American Mind because I thought he'd also had things to say, specifically against rock music but perhaps about atonal music too but I didn't readily find anything.

    Then read some of the just-arrived January issue of First Things, including Jason Byassee's article on porn titled "Why it's not your father's pornography". Then on to the 1975 Vatican document on sexuality titled Persona Humana.

    Later read much of the Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar which is a surprisingly enjoyable read given the grim subject matter. It's not in my bookbag, but watched the Polish film Faustina, rented from the library. It was nicely done, and helped painlessly fill in some of the details about her life.