Archive for August, 2021

Okay, so we did.

Fall Creek Falls State Park, Tennessee. Spectacular waterfall, very light crowds – it being a late Sunday afternoon when school is in session for most folks now.

A late start because someone is employed as a church organist. Then up to Tennessee, then dinner in the only kind of place that’s open in mid-sized Tennessee towns on a Sunday night: Mexican. And the night in the cutest, cleanest non-chain, family-owned motel in the state, I’m thinking. Although the kid persists in muttering things about a guy wearing a dress carrying a knife.

More on that when we move on.

Look for posts tomorrow on St. Rose of Lima and a decent digest – including what I thought of PIG, starring Nicholas Cage….

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Fruits of our Redemption


Well, look at that.

Even Thomas Merton believed the stuff, eh?

(From The Living Bread, published in 1956)

It’s fitting to think about this, considering that for most of the past few Sundays, our Gospel readings have drawn from John 6 – the multiplication of the loaves and fishes and then the subsequent Bread of Life discourse. Culminating today in the great challenge – this is such a hard teaching, some of us will just bail, others will stay.

Also appropriate considering the general anxiety about Catholics and the Eucharist. Are they coming back? Will they come back?

Do they believe the stuff?

Studies about that very issue are pursued on occasion, notably in 2019, by Pew Research. This study indicated that barely a quarter of Catholics believed in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist.

In addition to asking Catholics what they believe about the Eucharist, the new survey also included a question that tested whether Catholics know what the church teaches on the subject. Most Catholics who believe that the bread and wine are symbolic do not know that the church holds that transubstantiation occurs. Overall, 43% of Catholics believe that the bread and wine are symbolic and also that this reflects the position of the church. Still, one-in-five Catholics (22%) reject the idea of transubstantiation, even though they know about the church’s teaching.

The vast majority of those who believe that the bread and wine actually become the body and blood of Christ – 28% of all Catholics – do know that this is what the church teaches. A small share of Catholics (3%) profess to believe in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist despite not knowing the church’s teaching on transubstantiation.

About six-in-ten (63%) of the most observant Catholics — those who attend Mass at least once a week — accept the church’s teaching about transubstantiation. Still, even among this most observant group of Catholics, roughly one-third (37%) don’t believe that the Communion bread and wine actually become the body and blood of Christ (including 23% who don’t know the church’s teaching and 14% who know the church’s teaching but don’t believe it). And among Catholics who do not attend Mass weekly, large majorities say they believe the bread and wine are symbolic and do not actually become the body and blood of Jesus.

Now. Some points:

  • To talk about what Catholics believe about the Church’s teaching on anything requires us to look honestly, at how many Catholics are taught at all  – in any formal sense. I am not going to run and do research on this but we all know that most baptized Catholics receive no formal religious instruction. Period. Those who have received formal religious instruction probably had a couple of dozen parish religious ed classes a year up until First Communion or Confirmation.
  • Most Catholic adults don’t study faith. A tiny, tiny number of people who attend Mass every week participate in formal religious education, and Catholicism just does not have the culture of laity-taking-responsibility-for-their-spiritual-formation that evangelical and historical mainline Protestantism has.
  • Now, of course, there are many ways of teaching and communicating the faith. When it comes to the Eucharist, one of the most important is through the shape and experience of the act itself. So yes, as many are saying, informality in worship teaches something. Lex orandi and whatever the rest of it is.

So: Most Catholics don’t go to Mass, most Catholics have received maybe a few dozen sessions of religious education in their life and most of the liturgies that Catholics do attend de-emphasize, via ritual and underlying assumptions, the unique presence of Christ in the Eucharist. 

And we’re surprised that most Catholics don’t believe in transubstantiation? 


As a side note: one of the ironic aspects of this discussion is – as people who have been paying attention to theological discussions of the past decades, both academic and as they’ve filtered down to popular catechetical trends – is that for a very long time “transubstantiation” has been critiqued as an inadequate and outdated way of describing the Eucharist, anyway.

They say: it’s reflective of a specific moment in time, a specific philosophical worldview and language, it’s a medieval innovation, it’s not the way the Fathers thought about it, and so on. This was very much a part of how Church leaders and teachers were taught from the 60’s on through probably the early 90’s – and may be still, for all I know. It’s what was drilled into my head.

What I do know is that “transubstantiation is a limiting and unnecessary concept for speaking of Eucharist” was assumed  by those in Catholic formation for decades.

So, yeah. Add that reason to my side-eye at people being shocked at these survey results. About transubstantiation.

But I want to get beyond that and approach the matter from a slightly different angle. Perhaps in reading this, some of you will detect my usual hobbyhorses. Well, that’s the way it goes. Most people have one message they’re trying to get out there to the world, and that’s it.

On hearing it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?”

It’s right there. This is a hard teaching.

And our challenges in accepting it and bringing it to life in our own lives indicates deeper problems – as they are wont to do – and there are other other ways to look at all of this, ways that explore  what is actually taught and communicated in both whatever content ordinary Catholics do encounter in their (minimal) catechesis and in the whole weight of American Catholic life

For, honestly – and let’s be honest, shall we – the general shape of what most Catholics “hear” and witness is as follows:

  • God made you and loves you.
  • God is with you all the time, loving you as you are.
  • God is present with you all the time.
  • You can pray any time, all the time, for God is always there, and he will help you be the person he created you to be.
  • The most important element a healthy spiritual life is accepting yourself.
  • The Scriptures tell us a little bit about God, but more about the people and cultures who produced them, and what they thought about God.
  • The Gospels tell us a little bit about Jesus, but mostly tell us about the early Christian’s experiences, perspectives and interpretations.
  • Jesus is present in his Church, the Body of Christ.
  • He’s present in that Body in many ways:  in its service, its gathering, its prayer.
  • During the Mass, Jesus is present in different ways: in the gathered community, in the Word of God, and in the Eucharist.
  • Now, all of the above is true and wonderful, but …you know…of course there are other ways to experience God, as well. As many paths as there are human beings on the earth.

All (most) of those are not untrue statements. But when it comes to faith, there is, of course, much more to consider. My point is not to get lost in that particular forest.

Oh, and let’s throw this in:

Does the behavior of Catholic clergy, in general over the past decades, now frantically hectoring us to come back! We miss you!  – indicate that they actually believe it’s Jesus they’re holding in their hands and sharing with us? Beyond how worship is conducted…way beyond that – when you consider the weight of scandal and – more importantly, really, for this discussion, the excuses made for it all –  the person in the pew can’t be blamed for concluding that since so many clerics don’t seem to believe that this is the One, Really Present with them right now, to whom they are answerable for eternity – shrug. 

It’s really just this:

Catholics barely participate in the life of the Church, period. When they do experience it through catechesis and worship, they have been taught for the past few decades that there is no need for a unique, particular Presence: God is always with you anyway. You can pray all the time anywhere, anyway. The official Church’s account of the divine is no more authoritative or revelatory than your own experience, anyway. And everyone is going to heaven, anyway. 

I’ve long been entertained by self-proclaimed progressive Catholics critiquing movements that seek stronger Catholic identity as being all about “cultural” Catholicism.

Doesn’t it seem, at this point, that the fruit of the past decades has been nothing but real “cultural Catholicism” – but, ironically, without much culture? Being Catholic is not at all about believing anything. It’s about being a part of a particular group via a ritual or two. The ironic victory of cultural Catholicism, enabled by those who’ve spent their lives and careers sneering at the same. Thanks.

This is, it seems to me, about so much more than getting a better program going. It always is, isn’t it?

It’s about facing so much, and doing so honestly and without rancor or feeling threatened.

And perhaps it begins by simply returning to the beginning of this post and read the words from Thomas Merton, who welcomed the “spirit” of the Second Vatican Council (if not all of its particulars in terms of liturgy – he was conflicted), but who wrote this on the cusp of the Council, in the mid-50’s.

Would any of what he wrote make sense to many people sitting in the pews today?

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Let’s have another St. Bernard post – here’s the first. This will center on one of his writings – De Consideratione . It is really a set of letters written to Pope Eugenius III by the saint. The link takes you to a digital copy at archive.org. No “borrowing” required for this one. You can just read it online.

Here’s some background before we get to the quotes.

St. Bernard was the great Cistercian preacher, reformer and theologian.

Bernard’s spiritual writing as well as his extraordinary personal magnetism began to attract many to Clairvaux and the other Cistercian monasteries, leading to many new foundations…Although he suffered from constant physical debility and had to govern a monastery that soon housed several hundred monks and was sending forth groups regularly to begin new monasteries (he personally saw to the establishment of sixty-five of the three hundred Cistercian monasteries founded during his thirty-eight years as abbot), he yet found time to compose many and varied spiritual works that still speak to us today. He laid out a solid foundation for the spiritual life in his works on grace and free will, humility and love. …

In 1145, one of Bernard’s students and a fellow Cistercian was elected Pope, taking the name Eugenius III. These were quite tumultuous times for the papacy. A very, very short version:


Eugenius was elected on the same day Lucius II,  his predecessor, died – killed, a contemporary historian tells us, in the midst of a battle against opponents of the pope’s temporal power. Elements of Roman society – primarily merchants and craftspeople – had been attempting to resuscitate the Roman Senate and diminish papal temporal powers. This was an intense, years-long struggle which came to involve other European rulers. After Lucius’ death, the conclave gathered and elected a Cistercian monk who had Bernard of Clairvaux behind him, an indication, I suppose, of what they thought it was going to take to fix the mess.

(Image source)

And so Bernard wrote this treatise for his student over several years, advising him on how to conduct himself as Pope. It reflects all of these controversies and tensions, but at the core of it is a very simple call: remember you are dust.

So why care about these almost 1000-year old words of advice to a pope? A few reasons, I think.

First, Bernard was a spiritual writer giving spiritual advice to a man seeking to maintain his focus on Christ and the essence of his vocation in a landscape in which his office had been corrupted and temptation to give in to that corruption was strong. I think that’s a tension many of us experience: how do I keep my eyes fixed on Christ in the midst of distractions and temptations? How do I know when to act, when to listen, when to withdraw, when to engage? How many times have you thought, You know, I could be a much better Christian if I were in different circumstances…..

Well, then.

Secondly, it’s just interesting and always valuable to see the mess the Church  – and the papacy – has been in the past.  While it can certainly be scandalous and challenging to understand, it also..helps us understand. It can help us distinguish between rock and sand in the present moment.

Third, it gives us a look at some papal criticism. Yes, Bernard was a saint, spiritual master and Eugenius’ spiritual father, in a way, so he had standing. But even if none of us stand in that position to this or any other pope or even bishop, it’s helpful to read and study what Bernard says to Eugenius – what he deems fair game for challenge and examination, how he goes about it, and what he thinks it’s important to warn Eugenius about.

You can find the text here.

One more thing: sometimes when people allude to historical problems with the Church and papacy, it becomes a silencing weapon: Calm down! See! The Spirit always brings us through!  Well, here’s the thing: The life of the Church is not a performance with the Holy Spirit pulling strings and waving wands, and the rest of us watching from the audience.  The Holy Spirit works to preserve the Church through reformers, annoying critics, weird historical events and who knows what else.

Learning a bit of history does not offer any prescriptions for the present, nor does it define the present moment in either positive or negative ways. What I hope learning a bit of history does is disrupt, challenge and point us toward reform.


These first two quotations certainly specifically apply to the distractions of the papal office, but also can apply to any of us. Have peace from distractions, but don’t make peace with them. Meme-worthy, Bernard!

The second quote intrigues me as he advises Eugenius to not get complacent – you might feel all right now, but don’t take that for granted.

I desire indeed that though shouldst have peace from distractions, but I do not want thee to make peace with them, that is, by learning to love them: there is nothing I fear more for thee than this.   1:1

Rely not too much on thy present disposition for there is nothing in the soul so firmly established as that it cannot be removed by time and neglect. A wound grows callous when not attended to in time and becomes incapable of cure in proportion as it lose sensibility. Furthermore, pain that is sharp and continuous cannot long endure : if not otherwise got rid of, it must speedily succumb to its own violence. mean to say : either a remedy will soon be found to assuage it, or from its continuance a state of apathywill result. What disposition cannot be induced, or destroyed, or changed to its contrary by the force of habit and usage ? How many have come by use to find pleasure in the evil which before inspired only horror and disgust ? 

After a while, when thou hast become a little accustomed to it, it will not appear so very dreadful. Later on it will shock thee less; later still it will have ceased to shock thee at all. Finally thou wilt begin to take delight in it. Thus, little by little, mayest though proceed to hardness of heart and from that to a loathing for virtue. And in this way, as I have said, a continuous pain will soon find relief either in a complete cure or in utter insensibility.  1:2

Some firm reminders of what humility means – and remember the political and social context, which involved the question of the pope’s role:

That thou has been raised to the pinnacle of honour and power is a fact undeniable. But for what purpose hast thou been thus elevated? Here is a question that calls for the most serious consideration. It was not, as I suppose merely that thou mightiest enjoy the glory of lordship…..Consequently let us likewise, that we may not think too highly of ourselves, always bear this in mind ,that a duty of service has been imposed on us, and not a dominion.  2:6

Go forth into the field of thy Lord, and consider diligently with what a wild luxuriance of thorns and thistles it is covered even today from the ancient malediction. Go forth, I say, into the world, because the world is the field that is committed to thy care. Go forth, then, into this field, not however as the owner, but as the steward, in order to supervise and look after the things wherof thou shalt one day have to render an account. Go forth, I repeat, with the two feet, as it were, of attentive solicitude and solicitous attention…. 2:6

For where is the man to whom something is not always wanting? Indeed he who considers that he is wanting in nothing proves himself thereby to be wanting in everything. What if thou art the Sovereign Pontiff? Dost thou think that, because thou art supreme in authority, thou art likewise supreme in every respect? 2.7

Can there be any doubt that thou art more a man than a bishop? ….Thinkest thou that thou didst enter the world wearing the tiara? Or glittering with jewels? Or clothed in silk? Or adorned with plumes? Or bespangled with gold? No. If, then, from before the face of thy consideration thou wilt with a breath, so to speak, blow away these things as morning mists that quickly pass and disappear: thou shalt behold a man, naked and poor, and wretched and miserable; a man grieving that he is a man, blushing for his nakedness, lamenting that he is born, complaining of his existence..and hence living in alarm. 2:9

Whenever thou rememberest thy dignity as Sovereign Pontiff, reflect also that not only wert thou once, but that thou art still nothing better than the vilest slime of the earth.  2:9


He offers various pointers for the Pope as an leader of an organization and of his own household, observations which are startling in their continued applicability. First – the problem of leaders believing too easily what they are told by those who surround them.

The fault to which I refer is excessive credulity, a most crafty little fox, against whose cunning wiles I have never known any of those in authority to be sufficiently on their guard. Hence the indignation which they so often exhibit without any reasonable cause; hence the frequent verdicts given against the innocent; hence also the condemnations pronounced against the absent. 2:14

Then…how to speak.

Thy lips have been consecrated to the Gospel of Christ. Therefore it is unlawful for thee now to use them for jesting, and a sacrilege to have them thus habitually employed…Observe that it is not jests or fables but the law of God that is to be sought from the mouth of a priest. 2:13

An interesting complaint about how supplicants use the Pope to their own advantage, bypassing the local authorities, going straight to the Pope, telling their side, and then waving the flag of papal approval:

“…has recourse to thee, and returns in triumph ,boasting of thy protection, whose avenging justice he ought rather to have experienced.” 3.2

How the Pope should relate to his household. Before this, Bernard tells Eugenius to trust the details of the household to others, but…

But keep informed of ….the character and conduct of each member of thy household. Thou shouldst not be the last to know the faults of thy domestics, which, as I have reason to believe, is commonly enough the case with bishops…charge thyself personally with the discipline of thy house…

….I would not have thee to be austere in thy manner, but only grave. Austerity is wont to repel the timid, whereas the effect of gravity is to sober the frivolous.Be the Pope in the palace, but at home show thyself more as a father. Make thyself loved, if possible, by thy domestics; otherwise let them fear thee. It is always good to keep a guard over thy lips, yet not so as to exclude the grace of affability.  4:6

I do love the distinction between austerity and gravity and his observation on the effect of both. So wise and still true.

Now here is a great quote. Fascinating. First, Bernard lets loose on “the Roman people” who have been giving popes such fits. Hmm. He might want to work on his accompanying skills.

But then..the second part of the quote is applicable to all of us..well, me at least. These are very wise words about how we should view our own efforts in relation to God’s will and power. Stick that in your Ministry Fruits Evaluation Pipe and smoke it.

But what shall I say of thy people? They are the Roman people! I cannot express what I think of them more briefly and forcibly than by giving them this title. What fact has been so well known to every age as the arrogance and pride of the Romans? They are a people who are strangers to peace and accustomed to tumult; a people ferocious and intractable even until now; a people that know not how to submit whilst resistance is possible. Behold thy cross…..nevertheless do not lose heart. What is required of thee is not the cure of the patient but the solicitous care of him. “Take care of him,” said the Good Samaritan to the innkeeper, not “cure him” or “heal him”.[what follows are several Pauline references to the point that ‘success’ is not the goal, for we don’t know what ‘success’ means in God’s eyes, but rather our dedication and labor] .   I beseech thee, therefore, to do what is thy part. As for the rest, God will be able to accomplish what appertains to Him without any need of thy care and solicitude. Plant, water, spare no pains, and thou has discharged thy duty. It belongs not to thee, but God to give the increase whenever it pleaseth him. 

Finally, this, which is just beautiful:

We must still go on seeking Him Who has not yet been sufficiently found and Who can never be too much sought. But perhaps it will be more becoming to seek Him, yea, and more easy to find Him, by fervent prayer than by argumentation. Therefore let me now put an end to the book, although not to the seeking. 



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‘Quid faceret eruditio absque dilectione? Inflaret. Quid absque eruditione dilectio? Erraret.’

Today is the feast of St. Bernard of Clairvaux, via Benedict XVI, Pius XII, and Thomas Merton.

And no, “Doctor Mellifluus” is not the title of a film starring Vincent Price.  It means, “the honey-sweet doctor.”

Starting most recently and moving backwards – from a 2009 General Audience, part of the lengthy series Benedict offered as a catechesis to the whole world on great men and women of the Church.

I would now like to reflect on only two of the main aspects of Bernard’s rich doctrine: they concern Jesus Christ and Mary Most Holy, his Mother. His concern for the Christian’s intimate and vital participation in God’s love in Jesus Christ brings no new guidelines to the scientific status of theology. However, in a more decisive manner than ever, the Abbot of Clairvaux embodies the theologian, the contemplative and the mystic.  Bernard insists in the face of the complex dialectical reasoning of his time Jesus alone is “honey in the mouth, song to the ear, jubilation in the heart (mel in ore, in aure melos, in corde iubilum)”. The title Doctor Mellifluus, attributed to Bernard by tradition, stems precisely from this; indeed, his praise of Jesus Christ “flowed like honey”. In the extenuating battles between Nominalists and Realists two philosophical currents of the time the Abbot of Clairvaux never tired of repeating that only one name counts, that of Jesus of Nazareth. “All food of the soul is dry”, he professed, “unless it is moistened with this oil; insipid, unless it is seasoned with this salt. What you write has no savour for me unless I have read Jesus in it” (In Canticum Sermones XV, 6: PL 183, 847). For Bernard, in fact, true knowledge of God consisted in a personal, profound experience of Jesus Christ and of his love. And, dear brothers and sisters, this is true for every Christian: faith is first and foremost a personal, intimate encounter with Jesus, it is having an experience of his closeness, his friendship and his love. It is in this way that we learn to know him ever better, to love him and to follow him more and more. May this happen to each one of us!


Then Pius XII, who wrote an encyclical on St. Bernard on Pentecost, 1953:

6. From these words it is clear that in his study and his contemplation, under the influence of love rather than through the subtlety of human reasoning, Bernard’s sole aim was to focus on the supreme Truth all the ways of truth which he had gathered from many different sources. From them he drew light for the mind, the fire of charity for the soul, and right standards of conduct. This is indeed true wisdom, which rides over all things human, and brings everything back to its source, that is, to God, in order to lead men to Him. The “Doctor Mellifluus” makes his way with care deliberately through the uncertain and unsafe winding paths of reasoning, not trusting in the keenness of his own mind nor depending upon the tedious and artful syllogisms which many of the dialecticians of his time often abused. No! Like an eagle, longing to fix his eyes on the sun, he presses on in swift flight to the summit of truth.

7. The charity which moves him, knows no barriers and, so to speak, gives wings to the mind. For him, learning is not the final goal, but rather a path leading to God; it is not something cold upon which the mind dwells aimlessly, as though amusing itself under the spell of shifting, brilliant light. Rather, it is moved, impelled, and governed by love. Wherefore, carried upwards by this wisdom and in meditation, contemplation, and love, Bernard climbs the peak of the mystical life and is joined to God Himself, so that at times he enjoyed almost infinite happiness even in this mortal life.

After this encyclical was released, Thomas Merton was enjoined by his superiors to write a brief book introducing the saint and the encyclical to American readers. It’s called The Last of the Fathers: Saint Bernard of Clairvaux and the Encyclical Letter Doctor Mellifluus. 

The link takes you a digital copy on archive.org, which you can borrow for an hour or….14 days. It’s a good, brief introduction to Bernard’s life and writings, and Merton’s treatment of the preaching of the Second Crusade is particularly helpful.  Here is Merton’s summary of Pius’ summary of one aspect of Bernard’s approach.  First, the encyclical:

In the following words, he describes most appropriately the doctrine, or rather the wisdom, which he follows and ardently loves: “It is the spirit of wisdom and understanding which, like a bee bearing both wax and honey, is able to kindle the light of knowledge and to pour in the savor of grace. Hence, let nobody think he has received a kiss, neither he who understands the truth but does not love it, nor he who loves the truth but does not understand it.”[7] “What would be the good of learning without love? It would puff up. And love without learning? It would go astray.'[8] “Merely to shine is futile; merely to burn is not enough; to burn and to shine is perfect.”[9] Then he explains the source of true and genuine doctrine, and how it must be united with charity: “God is Wisdom, and wants to be loved not only affectionately, but also wisely. . . Otherwise, if you neglect knowledge, the spirit of error will most easily lay snares for your zeal; nor has the wily enemy a more efficacious means of driving love from the heart, than if he can make a man walk carelessly and imprudently in the path of love.”[10]

And then, as Merton puts it:

The Holy Father then proceeds to distinguish the wisdom of Saint Bernard from true and false philosophy, reminding us that the only philosophy Saint Bernard despised was the false ‘curiosity’ which could not lead to the true knowledge of God because it blinded us to our need for His merciful love.

Opposed to this curiosity, the science that ‘puffeth up’ because it is without charity, is the true theology which Bernard loved with the most ardent devotion. This theology, as the Holy Father points out in three succinct quotations from Saint Bernard is a wisdom rather than a science. It is not only a perception of the divine truth by understanding but an embrace of that truth by love. Both these elements of knowledge and love are absolutely essential for true wisdom, for ‘What would be the good of learning without love? It would puff us up And love without learning? It would go astray.’ This is one of those many instances in which Saint Bernard’s Latin loses all its character in translation. The original must be seen to be fully appreciated: ‘Quid faceret eruditio absque dilectione? Inflaret. Quid absque eruditione dilectio? Erraret.’

Saint Bernard, the Doctor of Mystical Love, must necessarily be a defender of truth and of learning. God Himself is wisdom. Therefore He can only be loved fittingly if He is loved wisely. Neglect of knowledge leads love into error, and the enemy of souls has no more efficacious way of drawing God’s love out of our hearts, Saint Bernard says, than by inducing us to seek Him without the light of intelligence. 

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The Emerging Laity

I’m going to engage a bit with Lary Chapp’s recent post on Vatican II, the liturgy and the laity.

His point is that the Second Vatican Council, intended to have a missionary focus, failed.

The Council’s vision was sweeping and broad. Its goal was to re-evangelize the world through a missionary effort that would take the Church’s vast spiritual riches and place them in the modern public square as genuine interlocutors with a world made weary by the genocidal wars of recent memory and the emerging threat of nuclear apocalypse.  But in order to do this the Council fathers knew that a purely clerical effort would not do and that the time was now for a lay revolution in the Church.  Very often in the history of the Church great spiritual leaders arose to reform their religious orders which often ended in them breaking away from the main body in order to found a more rigorous, “discalced” movement of radical Catholicism.  Therefore, I like to say that in its universal call to holiness the Council was calling for a discalced laity shorn of the purely contractual Catholicism so prevalent in the pre-conciliar Church.  They sought a more evangelical laity who would rise to the challenge of modernity and bring the Gospel into the world in a radical way, but also in a way appropriate to the laity who must after all, live in the world and provide for their families. 

This effort failed.  It failed because the Council did not follow up on this call to holiness with concrete directives and pastoral proposals.  It all remained vague and open-ended which allowed the progressive faction of the Church, making free use of the media, to pitch the Council as a “modernization” that sought to conform the Church to the world rather than the world to the Church.

I don’t disagree at all, but I want to approach it from a slightly different angle – surprised? – one I’ve taken before. So nothing new, in a way – but that’s the way it is, isn’t it? We keep having these same conversations over and over and over again. It’s exhausting.

If you read the Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity that emerged from the Council, you’ll see this. It’s a very optimistic and strong call to the laity to be formed in faith and take the light of that faith out into the world.

But what happened, within minutes, it seems of the Council’s close, is that the focus of this call – go out into the world, where you live and work– was forgotten or abandoned, and what rose instead was the conviction that what “Vatican II did” for the laity was to open up the doors of the Church to them in ways not possible before.

So, what was did a “Vatican II Church” look like?

One in which the laity were “involved” at all levels of decision-making an action.

A liturgy pulsing with that Spirit of Vatican II was not, of course, only in the vernacular and possibly ad-libbed by the celebrant accompanied by 3-chord guitar hymns  – it was a liturgy in which the laity were all over the place, doing as much as possible.

As I’ve mentioned before, I was not an adult right after Vatican II – I was born in 1960, so that means my teen years and young adulthood were happening from 10-15 years after the Council’s end. I was also in the South, which is always going to be a little more conservative church-wise than other parts of the country.

(A few years ago, a friend of mine working in a California parish had noted a job opening at a parish around here. She asked me about the ideological bent of the place. I said it was the most liberal parish in town. “But,” I continued, “that means it’s probably well to the right in California terms.”)

But nonetheless, I can tell you – as a person who, when asked as a 14-year old what she wanted to do when she grew up, answered, “theologian,” much to the puzzlement of her southern Methodist grandparents – yes, I can tell you from my own religious education in Catholic high school and my college campus ministry experience in which I was very involved, the emphasis and excitement was all on being “involved in Church,” and of course I was all in.

On the ground in those years, that was understood to be the great change, the great advance, the great leap forward, the tremendous gift of Vatican II – that the sanctuary was no longer for the clerics, that lay people could work in the Church in roles previously not open to them, new ministries in the Church abounded, new groups in the Church were springing up, and those barriers were coming down.

So why did Vatican II “fail” as a missionary effort? Lots of reasons, but this is one.

For some reason (and I have my theories), the popular definition of the fruits and spirits of Vatican II came to be centered on what the Church looked like, rather than what it was called to do in the world, and what that Church was supposed to look like was one reflective of a contemporary vision of what it means to say that the Church is the Body of Christ. And so that’s where the energy went.

Which then means: that’s where the arguments started happening. So that what defines the post-Vatican II Catholic Church is not, indeed, a renewed missionary spirit, but infighting. Decades and decades of infighting.

Slightly off-topic: I – and others – have often reflected on the question of What Happened to Catholic Writing after Vatican II. Not to say there’s been nothing of quality produced – not at all – but there is definitely not a “flourishing” as we saw in Europe and the United States before Vatican II. What’s up with that? I’ve often thought that a huge reason was that very concentration of post-Conciliar Catholic cultural energy on intra-Catholic conflicts and issues.

When you know that the Mass or Church teaching isn’t up for grabs, that, well, no your opinion on this or that doesn’t really matter in the big picture, you shrug, and maybe you write some essays or bring your doubts or questions into your art in some fashion, but since you have no power to really change anything, it frees you to concentrate on the art – and I don’t mean this even just for individuals, but as I said, for Catholic culture in general.

More to come in another post, but that’s the beginning of it:

Conclusion: The Second Vatican Council’s vision of a more deeply engaged missionary Church in the modern world has fallen short so far because Catholic laity settled, fairly quickly, on visibility within the life of the church as the choice definition of living out the baptismal promise.

So in a blink of an eye, your “engaged laity” was all about having an impact on the life of the Church rather than the world – whether that be through liturgy committees, diocesan commissions, getting to wear an alb when you’re lectoring or, in the present day, apparently, being a jerk on Twitter.

Oh, wait. Twitter. That’s “the world,” I guess. So, okay. Good job, everyone!

Priesthood of all believers, amiright?

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How convenient…

That we are beginning our study of English lit right as the already-Tolkien-engaged student is in even more deeply engaged than usual.

So….I can find a book like this, hand it over and say, go for it.


Kid #5 is the last one at home. He has homeschooled since 2nd grade with two interruptions: 6th and 8th grade in a local Dominican-run school. It is his choice to homeschool high school, a choice I support and did not manipulate him into at all.

He is doing government/econ, physics and Catholic apologetics through a local Catholic homeschool group, in class settings. He is doing AP Statistics with a tutor who teaches the same in a local high school. He is doing Latin translation tutored, again, by a local high school teacher. Music continues. Which leaves Spanish and history on his own shoulders, as he sees fit and according to his own interests, and literature with me.

Writing this fall will be centered on college application essay(s).

This is our primary literature textbook, not chosen out of any great wisdom or experience but simply because it looked decent.

He’s also reading this right now, which is lighter and helpful.

So far, about a week into this, we’ve covered basic introduction – which is not only historical background to the early period, but development of the English language.

He’s read some of Venerable Bede (with whom he was familiar from history and religion studies); The Exeter Elegies, The Dream of the Rood, Caedmon’s Hymn.

For the next week it will be Beowulf (Tolkien’s translation) and then Gawain and the Green Knight. That will take us through August.

What I mainly wanted to stop by and share are a few of the videos we’ve watched.

I’m telling you, the availability of videos make teaching this stuff amazingly effortless – if you have basic knowledge yourself, of course, and a capable, non-combative student. That helps. So I’m grateful for all the effort that folks put into making these videos – even if sometimes they’ve had to because of remote learning situations.

Also – and this is not news if you’ve ever searched for videos on English language or literature – I do wonder sometimes what proportion of the videos on those topics available online are produced by and for Indians? I’m thinking maybe 75%?

Oh, and we will pull from Great Courses, I’m sure. But I don’t have the monthly subscription at the moment – probably need to restart that.

Anyway, here’s what we’ve watched.

That one (above)  on the Ruthwell Cross – the “Rood” Cross, and the video below – a really good, rather moving video about The Wanderer and Tolkien’s use of it – and an apt reflection on grief and alienation in human experience. 

And I can’t say enough about this video. The presenter is relaxed, clear and very focused in her purpose. It’s a model for a helpful educational videos, in many ways, even if it’s not as snazzy as say a Crash Course video:

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St. Helena – August 18

Also read about St. Alberto Hurtado Cruchaga

Today is also the memorial of St. Helena (Helen), mother of Emperor Constantine and according to tradition, discoverer of the True Cross.

True Christian zeal motivated St. Helena. Eusebius described her as follows: “Especially abundant were the gifts she bestowed on the naked and unprotected poor. To some she gave money, to others an ample supply of clothing; she liberated some from imprisonment, or from the bitter servitude of the mines; others she delivered from unjust oppression, and others again, she restored from exile. While, however, her character derived luster from such deeds … , she was far from neglecting personal piety toward God. She might be seen continually frequenting His Church, while at the same time she adorned the houses of prayer with splendid offerings, not overlooking the churches of the smallest cities. In short, this admirable woman was to be seen, in simple and modest attire, mingling with the crowd of worshipers, and testifying her devotion to God by a uniform course of pious conduct” (The Life of Constantine, XLIV, XLV).

helena waugh amy welborn

For a decidedly novel and novelistic take on Helena, check out Evelyn Waugh’s novel Helena.  It was his favorite of all of his novels. Some people hate it, but I love it. When I was working as editor of the Loyola Classics series, the book was amazingly out of copyright in the US, so we were able to publish it with an introduction by George Weigel.  I see that the copyright issue has gone another way, it seems, so the book is now published as part of a series of Waugh novels by Back Bay Books .  You can get copies of the Loyola edition here, and a current edition from another publisher here. 

Some, as I said, hate it because, they say, it’s basically the type of characters you find in Vile Bodies and Handful of Dust  –  1920’s British upperclass twits – plopped down in the 4th century.  Well, that’s part of the reason I like it. It’s entertaining in that way.

But also – when you read deeper, you see that this novel is about the search for truth – the True Cross is a real thing, but it’s also a metaphor.  Helena’s life is a search for faith, and what she is seeking is something that is true and real. She is offered all sorts of different options that are interesting, intricate, sophisticated or satisfy her wants and desires, but none of them are real.  Except one. From Weigel’s introduction:

Waugh was not a proselytizer, and Helena is no more an exercise in conventional piety than Graham Greene’s The Power and the Glory, whose hero is an alcoholic priest. But Waugh was a committed Christian apologist, and his apologetic skills are amply displayed in Helena. Thus Helena was not only addressed to those Christians who were trying to figure out the meaning of their own discipleship; it was also intended as a full-bore confrontation with the false humanism that, for Waugh, was embodied by well-meaning but profoundly wrong-headed naturalistic-humanistic critics of the modern world like Aldous Huxley and George Orwell.


More specifically, Waugh wanted to suggest that an ancient pathogen was lurking inside the hollowness of modern humanisms: gnosticism, the ancient heresy that denies the importance or meaningfulness of the world. So, to adopt a neologism from contemporary critics, Helena is, “metafictionally,” an argument on behalf of Waugh’s contention that modern humanistic fallacies are variants on the old, gnostic temptations exemplified by the Emperor Constantine and his world-historical hubris. And at the core of the gnostic temptation was, and is, the denial of the Christian doctrine of original sin – which is, in effect, a denial of some essential facts of life, including the facts of suffering and death. In Helena, the arrogantly ignorant Constantine puts it in precisely these terms to old Pope Sylvester, as the headstrong young conqueror heads off to his new capital on the Bosporus: “You can have your old Rome, Holy Father, with its Peter and Paul and its tunnels full of martyrs. We start with no unpleasant associations; in innocence, with Divine Wisdom and Peace.”

And what was the answer to the gnostic fallacy, which produced in Constantine’s time, as in ours, a kind of plastic, humanistic utopianism? For Helena, and for Waugh, it was what the aged Empress went to find: the “remorseless fact of the lump of wood to which Christ was nailed in agony,” as Waugh biographer Martin Stannard put it. This “remorseless lump of wood” reminds us of two very important things: it reminds us that we have been created, and it reminds us that we have been redeemed. Helena believed, and Waugh agreed, that without that lump of wood, without the historical reality it represented, Christianity was just another Mediterranean mystery religion, a variant on the Mithras cult or some other gnostic confection. With it – with this tangible expression of the incarnation and what theologians call the hypostatic union (the Son of God become man in Jesus of Nazareth) – a window was open to the supernatural, and the “real world” and its sufferings were put into proper perspective. For God had saved the world, not by fetching us out of our humanity (as the gnostics would have it), but by embracing our humanity in order to transform it through the mystery of the cross – the mystery of redemptive suffering, vindicated in the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.


Although set more than a millennium and a half ago, Helena is a bracing antidote to this contemporary gnosticism: this “bosh” and “rubbish,” as Waugh’s Helena would put it. From her childhood, Helena is determined to know whether things are real or unreal, true or false — including the claims of Christianity. For her, Christianity is not one idea in a world supermarket of religious ideas. Christianity is either the truth — the Son of God really became man, really died, and really was raised from the dead for the salvation of the world — or it’s more “bosh” and “rubbish.” The true cross of Helena’s search is not a magical talisman; it is the unavoidable physical fact that demonstrates the reality of what Christians propose, and about which others must decide.

One Waugh biographer suggests that the novelist’s later years were marked by an agonizing spiritual quest for compassion and contrition. As for many of us, the contrition likely came easier than the compassion. But it is difficult to read Helena without discerning in its author the capacity for a great compassion indeed – a compassion for the human struggle with the great questions that are raised in every life, in every age. Evelyn Waugh’s comic energy was once sprung from his pronounced power to hurt others, as a novel like Vile Bodies demonstrates. But in the mature Waugh, the Waugh who wrote Helena and thought it his finest achievement, the farce has been transformed into comedy, and the comedy has become, for all the chiaroscuro shadings, a divine comedy indeed.

St. Helena is in the Loyola Kids’Book of Saints.first page here…her section is “Saints are people who are strong leaders.”

"amy welborn"
"amy welborn"

Also – check out this 2018 thread on St. Helena from one of the few useful and interesting Twitter accounts – Eleanor Parker/the Clerk of Oxford. 

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Ego: a two-way street

This is a brief follow-up to a post that’s received some attention: this one, diving into the damaging impact of ego on liturgy, and how liturgical…expansiveness… feeds it.

Well, that goes both ways, doesn’t it?

For to tell the truth, the contemporary Catholic liturgical minister – celebrant, preacher, musician, planner – finds himself or herself in a bit of a pressure cooker these days, and has for decades.

Mass at that parish is boring….

The priest is so cold when he says Mass. He never smiles or makes jokes!

I just don’t feel that anyone even notices me when I go to Mass there.

It’s the same music every week!

All they do is new music that I’ve never heard before!

Do you see?

What is Mass, anyway?

Is it an act of worship?

Or is it a community-affirming prayer service?

There’s a difference, you know, and there’s room for both. Catholic tradition is filled with all sorts of paraliturgies and spiritual practices that meet all sorts of human needs: practices that do, indeed reflect the shape and identity of a local community, that incorporate popular and timely musical forms, the vernacular language and are directed at specific needs or situations.

The Mass, as an act of worship, as a re-presentation of Christ’s sacrifice, is not those things.

But in the messy and collapsed categories of the 20th century, along with the pressure of popular cultural and social expectations, those differences have been erased, and most of us have been formed to understand the Mass as a prayer service – a special one, yes – the most special one – but a prayer service, nonetheless, at which we are invited to bring and express ourselves and we expect to have those selves and all of their needs and differences acknowledged and affirmed.

And then, of course, there’s the whole entertainment factor.

Which, we must admit, has always been an element of Catholic liturgical practice. No question. But 20th and 21st entertainment is, in general, what popular entertainment always has been, and it comes with expectations – liveliness, humor, emotionalism, a particular kind of stimulation.

Add to that, it should go without saying, the post-Conciliar shape of the Mass, with its emphasis on options and inculturation and being the work of the specific community of people gathered there that should, ideally reflect that community……

So here we go. The table’s set for the banquet we call the Mass:

We’ve been formed to expect that this moment on Sunday morning is a time in which we are met as we are, so we can be in a moment in which God engages with us, in joy and love, where we are, affirming us as we are.

We are formed to believe that this engagement is dependent on the human factors involved: how open we are, yes, but also how powerfully the actions and words of the moment express those spiritual expectations. We’ve been led to expect that we can judge the authenticity of the spiritual moment by, essentially, how emotionally moved we are: how excited, how peaceful, how amused, how content, how welcome we feel.

It’s a valid Mass, in other words, if I feel what happens in that space affirms and satisfies my expectations.

Expectations being the equivalent now of spiritual hunger.

The trouble being that each individual’s conscious expectations that she brings to the moment are a mess cooked up from her own background, psychological, emotional and spiritual experiences and cultural and social framework.

The very, very short version:

The ego’s at work in the congregation as well and it emerges in that enormous, endless, exhausting pressure:

Meet my expectations.

Affirm my presence.

Entertain me.

And then I’ll know God’s been here.

Okay, here you go!

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Digesting for the beginning of the week.

Writing:  Unfortunately, not much, except in this space. Which is great! But…not what I should be doing, not really.


I’m hoping (I seem to say that a lot) that with College Guy settled and some sense of order to what Kid #5 is up to now, my brain will start focusing again. Although current events aren’t helping.

Oh, I will say that Mary and the Christian Life is free on Amazon until midnight tonight, in honor of the Feast of the Assumption.

Reading: A bit. The usual mix.

First, in casting about for something easy and, er, free, I found a Dorothy B. Hughes novel I hadn’t read on Hoopla – which is not a feat, since I’d only read three of her books before, but still. It was decently-enough reviewed by a high enough proportion of readers that I went ahead with it.

It’s….not that good. In fact, it’s not good at all. Not nearly the quality of the three I’ve read and enjoyed so much – and would recommend in a heartbeat.

The Expendable Man

In a Lonely Place

Ride the Pink Horse

No, this was a strange book, and not in a good way. It’s called Dread Journey because it centers on Kitten, a Hollywood starlet who is convinced the producer/director who’s accompanying her on a cross-country train trip from Los Angeles has it out for her. As in – really has it out for her. So she’s on a journey and she’s in dread. She’s seeing that she’s served her purpose and that he already has a replacement – the sweet, innocent Gratia.  

I think there’s a quite interesting and bracing notion at the heart of this novel: Everyone around, every person engaged in some way in the events at hand, knows that Kitten is done for – in some sense, even short of being killed. They sense her fear, they sense Viv’s heart of ice, they understand, deeply and even subconsciously, that they’re part of or witnessing the end game of exploitation.

And no one does anything, really, to help her.

But then, after the events that do happen, they’re all ready to take up proverbial arms and bring down some justice.

There is actually something great and true in that: how human beings sense harm and evil right next door or even under their noses, and sit on their hands because they’re afraid or unsure or proud – but then, oh, we talk a big game don’t we – make sure he gets what he deserves!

Fascinating idea. But just, sorry to say, not strongly executed. It’s very starkly written, and not in a Hemingway fashion which tantalizes with the rest of the iceberg you know is there – but more in a simplistic way that’s ironically hard to follow, mostly because of the way that Hughes utilizes pronouns – there are just too many of them, in close proximity, in every paragraph, with ambiguous antecedents. Sometimes you feel as if you need a flowchart.

Some great lines, though.

About writers returning to the East Coast from Hollywood failure:

It was in their contract: first class transportation back to despair.

On the passengers:

The usual people of the Chief, good and bad, mixed up, none of them quite the same as they’d be if they were at home, not isolated in rushing space.

On the fear that paralyzes them, the obstacle to doing the right thing:

“No one has ever known me,” Augustin said pleasantly. “I’ve never let anyone know me. Because I was afraid.” He turned to Pringle and he shuddered delicately. “He says he’s afraid. The rest of us wouldn’t say so. We’re too civilized. But we’re afraid all the time.”

And then finally this, a passage over which I’ve puzzled. I think it’s obvious, but it’s so out of the blue, I think – well, it can’t mean what it seems. It’s the inner monologue of the car porter. Pringle is the failed writer. Mary is Cobbett’s wife, waiting back home in Chicago.

To James Cobbett, Pringle was a man and a man he wouldn’t care to invite to his home. Cobbett had pride in himself, he didn’t consider a man equal to him unless he were equal in dignity and pride. Mary called him a snob. Well, he’d admit it. He was a snob. It hadn’t anything to do with what a man did or what a man possessed; it was what he was. Cobbett was a snob about the I am, He is. The way I see it, Mary…Explaining in the night where the dark made words easy. There wouldn’t be any problems of race or religion if you could make men see the I am, He is. You’d take a man on what he was.

And where would the Pringles be in James Cobbett’s scheme of things? Well, maybe Pringle wouldn’t be such a miserable specimen if he didn’t have to compete in worldly ways for his place among men. If you could ease him up, he might turn out to be a nice little fellow. A nice little fellow in a world where a little fellow was just as wanted as a big fellow. The Pringles of the world could all be happy together. They wouldn’t have to try to squeeze in where they weren’t wanted if they were just as important being small as big.

You are probably smarter than I am and can make sense of that. My interpretation, naturally offered through my Christian-tinted glasses, is that this is about humility. The grounds for mutual respect lie in acknowledging that God (“I am, He is”) is God – and we aren’t – and being content to be the best we can be where we are, even in our smallness.

I’m not sure, though.

One more note: Hughes names her director character Vivian (called Viv) and his female secretary is called Mike. Of course Vivian was a not-uncommon name for men back in the day, but I’m entertained by the flipping – although as far as I can see, there really isn’t any relationship to the character’s actions in terms of gendered, stereotypical behavior. Maybe she was just being cute.

Anyway, next read was a fabulous short story by 2-time Pulitzer Prize winner Colson Whitehead in the New Yorker, “The Theresa Job,” which it turns out is an excerpt from his forthcoming novel Harlem Shuffle, which I am, on the basis of this story, excited to read. The writing is just something else. Economical, sharp and true.

Freddie looked healthy, Carney was relieved to see. He wore an orange camp shirt with blue stripes and the black slacks from his short-lived waiter gig a few years back. He’d always been lean, and when he didn’t take care of himself quickly got a bad kind of thin. “Look at my two skinny boys,” Aunt Millie used to say when they came in from playing in the street.

They were mistaken for brothers by most of the world, but distinguished by many features of personality. Like common sense. Carney had it. Freddie’s tended to fall out of a hole in his pocket—he never carried it long. Common sense, for example, told you not to take a numbers job with Peewee Gibson. It also told you that, if you took such a job, it was in your interest not to fuck it up. But Freddie had done both of these things and somehow retained his fingers. Luck stepped in for what he lacked otherwise.

Freddie was vague about where he’d been lately. “A little work, a little shacking up.” Work for him was something crooked; shacking up was a woman with a decent job and a trusting nature, who was not too much of a detective. He asked after business in Carney’s furniture store.

“It’ll pick up.”

Here’s an interview with Whitehead about what inspired him.

Your story “The Theresa Job” is set in Harlem in 1959, and it revolves around a holdup at a ritzy hotel. How did the idea for the heist come to you?

I was staring off into space and thinking about how much I like heist films and how much fun it would be to write a heist. I always hate the moment when our crook-heroes have gone to all the trouble of pulling off the job and then it comes time to unload the goods on a fence, who looks at the $2 million in gems and says, “I’ll give you ten cents on the dollar.” It’s infuriating! I hate the fence, so it seemed obvious that I should make the Reluctant Fence my protagonist.

You recount the job in minute-by-minute detail. Did you research similar crimes from that era or is this pure invention?

The “tick-tock” element is inspired by Stanley Kubrick’s classic “The Killing,” which features a dispassionate, omniscient narrator who counts down the heist and the robbers’ doomed fates. Pop culture provides familiar structural elements for a bank robbery (deactivate the alarm, subdue the patrons and the staff, attack the vault), but I couldn’t think of any hotel ripoffs. The New York Times archive led me to the 1972 Hotel Pierre robbery, which suited my purposes. Newspaper articles and Daniel Simone’s nonfiction account “The Pierre Hotel Affair”—written with Nick (the Cat) Sacco, one of the crooks—provided the logistics of that twenty-eight-million-dollar heist. How do you know which boxes to hit and how do you spring them open?

The story is adapted from your novel, “Harlem Shuffle,” which comes out in September. Is it strange for you to see this piece of the larger plot standing on its own?

No. It’s a strange world, generally.

Hahaha. Excellent. Can’t argue with that.

Oh, and The Killing? Great movie, and I wrote about it here.

Then last night, trying to convince sleep to come, I ended up reading a recent Library of America story of the week – this one, which the introduction promised was a female response to Harte’s Luck of Roaring Campbut…wasn’t. I mean, it is a similar plot – community of rugged men in the wilderness being gifted with a civilizing presence – in this case, not a baby, but a female missionary. I found it obviously and flatly written, with none of the humor of Harte’s story. Which, of course, does end tragically, but on the way is at least a bit endearing.

Also am (finally) well into Carl Trueman’s The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self which I can tell is going to finally give me much of the philosophical equipment I need to articulate much of what’s been churning in my head for years.


Last night (Saturday) – we watched Kurosawa’s Ran – and no, it wasn’t my idea for once. It was the 16-year old’s, who’s wanted to watch it for a while, but you know, it’s almost three hours long, so it’s not one of those films you can just decide to flip on at 9. You have to plan for it and you have to be in the mood.

And so we were and so we did – and his determination to watch it was also deepened by the fact that the idiot and pretentious film professor in The Freshman has a huge poster of the film in his office. See! It’s a sign!

With Ran, legendary director Akira Kurosawa reimagines Shakespeare’s King Lear as a singular historical epic set in sixteenth-century Japan. Majestic in scope, the film is Kurosawa’s late-life masterpiece, a profound examination of the folly of war and the crumbling of one family under the weight of betrayal, greed, and the insatiable thirst for power.

The set-pieces, tableaus and painting-like moments were astonishing and the crucial battle was exceptionally bloody and balletic, and the impact of the whole piece was existentially stark. So, a good time at the movies!


It’s just the two of us now, and one of us is often out and about in the late afternoon/early evenings, so there will be a lot of “there’s a pot of __________ in the refrigerator. Heat some up if you want to eat” right now. So this afternoon, I made this pork, which will serve many purposes.


Starting slowly, here, as I’ve mentioned before. We’re going all in on the literature, his AP Statistics tutoring has begun, his music continues, his college application essay prompts have been printed out and will be the focus of his writing, but then everything else doesn’t start until September 8, I believe. First piano recital on 9/19.

So today? A typical homeschool high schooler day before the rush? Up and out the door by 8:30 to go feed a friend’s cat. Back, and then off to a local parish that has a good Steinway which they allow him to practice on a couple of times a week (we have a piano of course, but it ain’t a Steinway grand), then he’ll be back here to go over some literature stuff, and then later boxing boot camp.


I’d thought about a couple of days off somewhere in the middle of the week, but Fred is prompting a re-think. We’ll see.

And that’s a wrap on that.

It should go without saying that this kind of post is…this kind of post. Its purpose is not to summarize my thoughts on all of the great happenings of the world or even in life. It is what it is, as everything is.

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Progress for Women!

Two items of note the past few days. Oh, there are more, and they just keep coming, but these are most pertinent to the American situation.

First, Hobby Lobby lost a transgender bathroom case in Illinois. An appellate court ruled:

Hobby Lobby Stores Inc. violated Illinois anti-bias law by denying a transgender woman employee access to the women’s bathroom, a state appellate court ruled in a case of first impression.

Meggan Sommerville’s sex is “unquestionably female” and Hobby Lobby unlawfully discriminated against her based on her gender identity, the Illinois Second District Appellate Court said in its Friday ruling.

“Sommerville is female, just like the women who are permitted to use the women’s bathroom,” the court said. “The only reason that Sommerville is barred from using the women’s bathroom is that she is a transgender woman, unlike the other women (at least, as far as Hobby Lobby knows.)”

The ruling marks a significant development in an element of LGBT employment rights that the U.S. Supreme Court didn’t address in its landmark 2020 decision in Bostock v. Clayton County, which said federal workplace law prohibits discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation.

“This decision will have national implications and start the process of courts around the country addressing the issue of bathroom access,” said attorney Jacob Meister, who represents Sommerville.

From the decision:

Hobby Lobby contends that an individual’s “sex”—the status of being male or female—is an immutable condition. However, the plain language of the Act does not support this conception. There is simply no basis in the Act for treating the “status” of being male or female as eternally fixed…….”

“Given the interrelationship between “sex” and gender identity in Illinois law, the record establishes that Sommerville’s sex is unquestionably female. She has undergone years of effort and expense to transition, and she appears to be and comports herself as a woman. Of even greater significance, her status of being female has been recognized not only by the governments of this state and the nation but also by Hobby Lobby itself, all of which have changed their records to acknowledge her female sex. Given this recognition, Hobby Lobby cannot plausibly assert that it is denying Sommerville access to the women’s bathroom on the ground that she is not female”

Next, an thorough and frankly depressing Substack post from a writer about last week’s Loudon County (VA) school board meeting and decision about access. Here we go.

On Wednesday, August 11, the Loudoun County School Board passed a gender identity policy by a vote of 7-2, despite ongoing opposition from parents and community members. The policy, referred to as Policy 8040: Rights of Transgender and Gender-Expansive Students, removes sex-based protections for girls in sports, prioritizing instead a subjective ‘gender identity’.


The meeting in question was one you might have heard about – in which a teacher resigned on the spot, as she revealed that system educators were being encouraged to report their colleagues’ WrongThink.

Activist Kara Dansky was at the meeting and reports here. Of course there was the usual attempts to silence and shut out dissent.

It is hard to know exactly what to make of all of this, but it certainly seems to be the case that the board knew that policy 8040 is extremely unpopular and was actively stifling public discussion about it by adopting unprecedented security measures designed to frighten concerned residents and parents into not speaking out. At a school board meeting.

As I have written time and time again, this approach is problematic, not only because it is grounded in fantasies about identity, but because it opens the door wide open to exploitation, abuse and worse.

With policies and procedures that give rights and access based on self-declared gender identity – gender-expansive!! – an institution has no grounds to put up any barriers. Any male can access a female space and say, “I’m in girl mode today” – and no one can do a thing about it. That’s the point. We have moved way beyond the point of any necessary relationship between medical procedures (hormones, surgery) and “gender” – it is all about self-identity. When you can change your gender marker on your passport without any supporting documentation, no matter what it says on your birth certificate – that shows you where we are.


And just a reminder, related to the most important news of the day:

If a guy can be treated as a woman just because he says he wants us to….surely Afghan women can just identify as male and save themselves some pain….right?


That’s not how it works?


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