Archive for January, 2022


Well, hey there. Let’s get going.

Writing: Just nonsense in this space. Today – TODAY – is my day to get moving on something else. Anything.

I‘ll be in Living Faith on Wednesday. Go here for that.


Reading: I read this novel: A Calling for Charlie Barnes. I’d read one of Ferris’ earlier novels, Then We Came to the End and thought it was interesting enough. The conceit of this one – maybe (?) dying man’s story told…sort of – interested me. I was thinking it would make a fitting companion to The Death of Ivan Ilyich. In a way it is, but for me, it ended up being too meta for its own good – or for my good.

It is, like Ivan Ilyich, about a man forced by the spectre of death to take stock, wondering if had just done it all wrong, wondering if he had done it right if he would be better prepared to die.

The recliner, with its brown piping, pillowy arms gone flat as shelves, and a small cowlick of crust on the seat that would not come out, could have belonged to no one but Charlie Barnes who might have loved himself. Who did not love himself. Who thought himself an ass whose fate was worse than death: it was to live forever in the permanent fear of always dying.


Trouble is – at least for me – the meta aspect of the novel – who is telling the story and why, and what he does with the story – overwhelm my interest in the story itself, and make an artifice of the whole thing. Which is perhaps the point – you know, who knows what’s true and what’s not – but in the end, diminishes my interest.

Now going back to Eliot.


Here’s a Candlemas playlist I made.

Also, today, we made a brief stop and the gorgeous, neighborhood (sort of) Independent Presbyterian Church for a bit of their “Bach-a-Thon” – to hear the playing of the Cathedral’s music director.

You can watch it here.

It’s a gorgeous church.

Historical/literary note: IPC is the church founded by a pastor who broke away from another Presbyterian church in town, and Walker Percy’s parents were among the founding members who followed him to form IPC.


I watched most of the first episode of Julian Fallowe’s new series The Gilded Age, airing on HBO. I never watched a second of Downton Abbey, being resistant, as I am, to trends (sometimes), and just being an old fogey about it all – surely it can’t be as good as Upstairs, Downstairs….

Nonetheless, I was interested simply because I’m always willing to try an historical drama, I find the Gilded Age fascinating, and the cast is good – Carrie Coons, Cynthia Nixon, etc. I was willing to give it a try.


I didn’t like it at all. It felt very inorganic and very much a loud, awkward statement of “Here’s a prestige HBO Show about the Gilded Age.” The sets – especially outdoors – seem to be predominantly CGI-generated, and are way too pristine for the period. That’s distracting. And the whole thing just seems rather labored and obvious. For example, here’s some dialogue from the character played by Christine Baranski – she’s portraying the ruler of the Old New York (don’t forget it!) family who, I suppose, will be contrasted with the new money of Carrie Coons’ family across the street. She says to her orphaned niece, just come to live with her:

We must look out for some people with sons and daughters your age. … Now, you need to know we only receive the old people in this house, not the new. Never the new. ….. The old have been in charge since before the revolution. They ruled justly until the new people invaded.

Marian, never mind that the Brooks have been in Pennsylvania for a century and a half. My mother, your grandmother, was a Livingston of Livingston Manor, and they came to this city in 1674. You belong to old New York, my dear, and don’t let anyone tell you different. You are my niece, and you belong to old New York.

Got it? This is going to be about NEW New York butting heads with OLD New York. Understand? Should we say it again?

Edith Wharton, it ain’t.

On a better note, we ran over to Atlanta on Thursday to take in the first live theater we’ve seen in almost two years. The Atlanta Shakespeare Tavern’s production of A Comedy of Errors. Yes, it’s probably Shakespeare’s lightest play, but it was well done, fast and very funny. It’s a wonderful setup because it really is a tavern – well, dinner theater, I suppose, and the food is excellent and the service by employees and volunteers alike warm and efficient.

Everyone was very glad to be back.


Let’s see. Did this Chicken Parm and made pizza dough. There’s also plenty of food still in the freezer, and the one other person still living here is spending a lot of time with friends, so it will have to keep.

I did go out with a friend to this lovely, even gorgeous new neighborhood spot – within walking distance of my house, so I’m pretty lucky. Unique ambiance and wonderful food. I mean, it’s basically a gin bar (hence the name), but they do have a small menu, and what we had was delicioso.



Well, just know that whatever happens, I’m definitely bucking the trend and not taking any of you lot along with me….

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Music for Candlemas

Candlemas, or the Feast of the Presentation, is coming on Wednesday.

So yes, this is early, but remember our Catholic Way – we’re always preparing, then celebrating, then continuing to celebrate until it’s time to start preparing for the next thing.

Mostly neglected among North American Catholics now, this feast has been – and in some parts of the world still is – a big deal.

When we try to establish the parameters of the Christmas season, we go from the beginnings on Christmas Eve to, first the Octave of Christmas (January 1 – once the Circumcision of the Lord, now Mary, the Mother of God), Epiphany, the Baptism of the Lord, and then the Feast of the Presentation, or Candlemas.


Celebration of this feast – called Candelaria in Spanish-speaking countries – persists, marked by feasting (of course) and fires (of course). Here’s a brief survey – note how in some cultures the person who’d found the Baby Jesus in the Three Kings cake would be responsible for the Candelaria feast!

The Virgin of Candelaria is the patron of Tenerife, her statue venerated, appropriately, in the town of Candelaria.

Go explore all of that and come back on Wednesday for more.

Will your parish be blessing candles on the feast? Our Cathedral will be.

I pulled together a Spotify playlist for Candlemas – there could be much more, but here you go on short notice.

Two pieces to note:

First, a charming song based on a poem by Robert Herrick, “Down with the Rosemary and the Bays.” Down with meaning not a thumbs-down, but rather – time to bring down the evergreens that have been decorating the church since Christmas. This version is called “Candlemas Eve Carol.”

Then this piece, Templum Cordis, new to me (which is not saying much) – I thought was a beautiful chant and quite lovely lyrics – it’s a sequence based on a poem by Adam of Saint Victor.

Templum cordis adornemus,
novo corde renovemus
novum senis gaudium;
quod, dum ulnis amplexatur,
sic longevi recreatur
longum desiderium.

Let us adorn the temple of our hearts,
let us renew with young hearts
the new joy of the old man;
for, as he holds him in his arms,
the long-awaited desire of the old man
is restored.

The lyrics in both Latin and English are below.

If you want to go to the pages themselves – the lyric sheets from the Theatre of Voices recording linked here – go here for Latin and here for English.

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But do you gird your loins

The greatest irony about this irony-stuffed Synod on Synodality is fundamental and glaring. Once you see it, you can’t unsee it.

It’s this:

Anxiously desiring to show that it’s a listening Church, institutional church leaders perfectly demonstrate that they aren’t listening.

In short:

Take a look at the world around you. If your first response to the seeking, pain, suffering and questions that’s glaring evident at every level of society, in almost every home and even every heart is: let’s have a meeting on Church process and structure….you’re not listening.

Villanova’s Massimo Faggioli has a piece in Commonweal bewailing the lack of planned and actual involvement by universities in the synodal process. He asks: “If Synodality Can’t Get Young People Interested in the Church, Then What Can?”

I couldn’t make my point more clearly.

Yes, young adults who have seen their lives and plans totally upended over the past two years, who have been ill themselves, have had family members sick and perhaps die, who have been buffeted this way and that by authorities claiming to have their best interest at heart, whose parish churches have shut them out in times of greatest need, who face economic and professional futures that seem to grow more uncertain every day, who are immersed in a cylcone of fierce, competing forces seeking to commodify every corner of their existence for profit…..

of course they’re going to leap into church meetings about church process as an answer!

So…why aren’t they?

Such a mystery!

Here are today’s Mass readings.

Jeremiah receives his call. Paul calls us to the heart of the Gospel. Jesus announces that in his presence, God is at work.

There are a lot of ways we can say that the Second Vatican Council “failed,” but it’s always seemed to me that the greatest failure was that, unintentionally, the move to reform, which was offered as a way of equipping the Church to go into the world with more power and credibility, ended up severely handicapping that effort as “reform” became, unsurprisingly, decades of internal, inward-looking conversations and infighting.

Instead of the go out that’s packed into every word of the Gospel, every breath of even just this Sunday’s readings, we end up with: talk and fight about territory, role, organization and process.

And so, here we go again. Not that the Church isn’t always in need of reform. Always. And those reforms can be necessary, indeed, to enable evangelization and service to a broken world to flourish.

But is this the case, right now, with this particular synod, with its particular focus? In this moment?

We’ve had a global crisis which has impacted the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health of billions…..

Countless human beings are living in fear of illness and death, perhaps never having ever seriously confronted these realities before –

Human beings have lost income, jobs and businesses.

Great numbers of human beings struggle with questions and tensions related to the role of government and business entities in their lives.

Globally, human beings and societies are wrestling with questions of the questions of balancing autonomy, social responsibility and risk.

Human beings are flooded with information and assertions and communications, at sea regarding whose voice to trust.

Responses to this crisis have left human beings vulnerable, lonely, abandoned, anxious, fearful and broken and, let’s not forget angry.

If your answer to all of that bruised and beaten crisis-soaked world is to spend lots of time and money telling the members of Christ’s body – his hands, feet and voice on earth – that the most important thing they can do right now in this moment is to just keep talking endlessly amongst themselves about themselves….

….you’re not listening.


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Hey, Colonizer

Hey, Colonizer is the catch phrase of a Native American Tik-Tocker one of my kids told me about. Seems to fit.

The hits just keep coming, don’t they? Just a day after posting what I thought would by TransPost of the Week, up pops this Vanity Fair essay by Lucy – formerly Luc – Sante. About how at 67, he’s finally hatched and is now a gal.

F*** right off, Lucy.

You all aren’t used to such language from me, I know. Even with astericks. But if you were an adult in my presence, you wouldn’t be shocked, so we’ll leave that at that for the moment. You obviously understand by now that this issue is one that drives me to point of profanity like none other. So let’s move on.

It’s a little difficult to tell exactly what this all about. I’ll refrain from making judgments about motives and causes and such. Because who the hell knows. But I will say.

Lucy: You’re not a woman.

As an almost-70-year old-dude, if you want to start wearing your hair lady-style, wearing dresses and being called “Lucy,” I actually don’t care. But don’t you dare call yourself a woman.

I’m a woman.

I’m a 61-year old woman.

Don’t you dare try to colonize my experience.

And I haven’t even had a very rough life, at all. I wasn’t a girl child who underwent a clitoridectomy. I wasn’t a young girl forced into an arranged marriage with a man thirty years my senior. I can vote. I can hold property.

But nonetheless. Colonizer.

You. are. a. man.

When I was in single digits I used to imagine being transformed into a girl overnight. Some nights I would yearn for it; on the others I shook with fear at the prospect. It was too desirable but too unobtainable. I could never really be a woman, so I had to resign myself and keep the thoughts from overwhelming me. Not until the internet came along, bringing with it a range of transgender sites, did I know much of anything about hormones.

Related: Almost 60-year old British comic/actor Eddie Izzard last year declaring himself non-binary and determining that at times, sure he can live in “girl mode.”

In the past, she has identified as a trans person and has been a leader when it comes to LGTBQ+ advocacy. “I’m gender fluid,” she said. “I just want to be based in girl mode from now on.”

I am just trying to imagine my five kids’ reactions if their 61-year old mother gathered them and announced that I want to be based in girl mode from now on.

And I’m a female, in case you forgot.

Point being: Trying to work out those childhood and adolescent issues in a public space in very late middle age is not a good look, no matter what your sex.


When you read Sante’s piece, you see complexities and issues and yearnings, yes. And perhaps for him, these issues would be addressed by presenting as a female. Who knows, but who cares, really. Claim your identity as a man who has issues with maleness and likes presenting in a stereotypically western female aspect. Fine. But maybe stop colonizing women’s lives to figure out your own problems.

I can think of aspects of my life that are vaguely dissatisfying, but in no way does the path to fixing it begin with deciding that I’m male or Italian or a 14th century Breton or 34 years old again.

And if I can’t be any of those things, no …you can’t be a woman.

I wrote about this here. About Girl World. Let’s keep going.

I’m all for personal freedom, but I’m going to say that here’s what you don’t get to do.

You don’t get to live a lifetime as a male with all the privileges that go with that, and then pop on a wig, toss on some Eileen Fisher, tilt your head, and claim that you are my sister.

Because you missed a lot, dude. You missed those years of bleeding, pain and discomfort. You missed those budding breasts, so weird, and then those drooping breasts, kind of weird, but really not anything you think much about, much less discuss on the internet. You missed years of unwelcome visibility and then sudden invisibility.

You missed the experience of being twelve years old, dressed in jeans and a t-shirt, walking with your head down, minding your own business, and still being catcalled. The experience of not being able to sit in a coffee shop alone without males being convinced that you’re aching for their company. The experience of workplace discrimination and exclusion. The pressures of sexualized expectations and then, of course, judgment for not living up to sexualized expectations.

Of nurturing a person inside your body, birthing that person, nursing that person, being connected to that person in a way that no other human being every will be.

Of being a woman who has never been pregnant and birthed, who isn’t a mother. Which might be an experience of loss for some, but not for others, but no matter which it is, it is an experience of being in and living in a female body, which is not male, and cannot and should not be appropriated, and is not about dresses and hair and makeup, but about just…female.

I have long said this:

You could get a crew of the most diverse females you could imagine in a room: an 8-year old girl, a 90-year old woman, a middle-aged mother of 3 kids, a middle-aged woman of no kids, a butch lesbian, a teen-aged female gymnast, a goth girl, a bohemian chick, a female firefighter, a female fashion model. a burqa-wearer, a stripper, a nun – and then throw in Lucy Sante or poor Jazz Jennings, and somehow, you know it – you would know.

What does it mean?

I don’t know. It’s not about maternity or “femininity” – whatever the latter means. It’s simply about the mystery of being an embodied adult human female – a woman. With all the pain and joy involved in that, with all the lifetime of who we are.

And what does it mean for you to want to be this? What are you trying to find? What is to be gained by pretending you don’t have a penis?

No matter what, be assured of this: womanhood is not performative. It’s not an act. It’s not appearance. It’s not even a feeling. And it’s especially not a feeling of being disassociated from your own body.

That’s your problem, not ours.

Womanhood is not a tilted head, pursed lips and a mincing walk.

Womanhood is watching, waiting, listening, and when it’s time – striding purposefully, racing towards what lies ahead, unfiltered, watchful, alert, and strong.

Reminder: This is not primarily about a privileged white male getting to switch his identity and garner praise and profit for it. This is about the question of why Sante gets to be Lucy now, why his desires oblige the rest of us to co-operate and most importantly: if Sante can declare and switch, why can’t a male prisoner or a male hospital patient do the same, thereby gaining access to vulnerable women?

Where is that line, exactly?

And does anyone care?

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Well, not thank goodness, but yes, because apparently every freaking day is Transday.

If you have been reading me on this for a while, you know that one of the primary lenses through which I see this issue, aside from the basic one of…uh, no, you can’t change sex, idiots, is in terms of the impact on and reflection of the experiences of women and girls.

I‘ve written on it quite a bit.

The three cases I have for you today – all of which I’ve written about before – are excellent examples of this, as well as of the insanity and incoherence of “gender identity.”

Because in all three, you’ll see either the recognition, rights or safety of women and girls being sacrificed for the needs and desires of males.

And as you read them – especially the first two – keep asking….why should one guy’s desires prevail over the rights and safety of women and girls?

A Los Angeles County judge on Thursday ordered Hannah Tubbs, a transgender California woman, to serve two years in a juvenile facility after she pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting a 10-year-old girl in 2014. 

Before doing so, the judge criticized far-left District Attorney George Gascon, whose office declined to prosecute the repeat offender as an adult.

Tubbs, 26, recently pleaded guilty to molesting the girl in a women’s bathroom eight years ago when Tubbs was two weeks away from turning 18. At the time of the crime, she identified as male and went by James Tubbs. She did not identify as female until after she was taken into custody, according to prosecutors.

“Tubbs is 26 years old. Unlike George Gascon’s false narrative, she is not a ‘kid,'” L.A. Deputy District Attorney Jon Hatami, assigned to the Complex Child Abuse Unit, told Fox News Digital.

 “There was evidence presented at the juvenile proceedings which showed that Tubbs sexually assaulted two young girls in different incidents in the past. The child victims will suffer lifelong trauma. Tubbs also has prior violent convictions and conduct as an adult.”

Because Tubbs began identifying as female after she was taken into custody, and Gascon refused to try her as an adult, Tubbs was sentenced to two years in a juvenile facility.  In L.A. County, juvenile facilities can house both females and males, but in separate areas. Tubbs will be housed with the females. 

Tubbs sexually assaulted a female child as a juvenile male. Now well into adulthood, he is to be housed in a juvenile facility with girls.

Literally insane. I mean…literally insane.

And a deep violation of the rights of these girls. But you know – if a dude claims he’s a girl, that’s the most important factor in a situation, isn’t it?

You will be shocked to hear this:

A member of the University of Pennsylvania women’s swim team said some team members are uncomfortable changing in the locker room with transgender swimmer Lia Thomas, according to a teammate.

Thomas, 22, who spent the previous three years swimming with the men’s team before she began transitioning to a woman, has created an uneasy environment in the locker room, as she still retains her biologically male genitalia – which are sometimes exposed – and is attracted to women, one teammate told the Daily Mail in an interview.

“It’s definitely awkward because Lia still has male body parts and is still attracted to women,” the swimmer said. Thomas has reportedly told her teammates that she dates women.

The swimmer told the outlet that other team members have spoken to the team’s coaches about possibly getting Thomas to change elsewhere from the rest of the team, but those discussions haven’t gone anywhere

“Multiple swimmers have raised it, multiple different times,” she said. “But we were basically told that we could not ostracize Lia by not having her in the locker room and that there’s nothing we can do about it, that we basically have to roll over and accept it, or we cannot use our own locker room.”

“…her male genitalia.”

Again. Literally insane.

A quick note – I must correct something I said in a previous post. I said that Thomas had been taking female hormones. No, he hasn’t. He’s been taking testosterone suppressing drugs.

So get this. I mean, just settle down and get this:

A guy who has been, you know, a guy since conception, started taking some testosterone-suppressing agents a couple of years ago, grew his hair out, still has his penis and testicles…

and we all have to bow to him and call him a woman? And women have to just scoot over and give him room to swing himself around in their presence?


****And remember, that I cite these examples, not just as discrete headline-grabbers, but to continually encourage you to be brutally logical, follow the path of reason where it leads, and allow yourself to ask questions about the trans issue in general.

If you are not on board with Lia Thomas calling himself a woman and taking up a woman’s space, if you’re looking at Hannah Tubbs and thinking, opportunistic sociopath, you must ask yourself why and you must understand that contemporary trans activists are all about breaking down any biological criterion for sex determination and will accept nothing less than gender self-identification. Which means….I declare myself whatever gender, no medical, psychological or legal gatekeeping allowed and you must affirm me.

  • Finally, yeah.

Or rather, no.


(Note that Schneider was previously married to a woman and is presently in a relationship with a woman.)

When Caitlyn Jenner announced his inevitably doomed campaign for California governor, I wondered if he won (which I new he wouldn’t, but you know, thought experiment), if he’d be heralded as California’s first woman governor. I mean…given the times, how could he not?

Again, this is not headline-picking for a slow Friday.

This issue is presented to us overwhelmingly, in terms of emotion, using the vaguest of definitions, along with hand-waving, gaslighting and manipulation.

Resist. Keep asking the hard, but simple question: What makes Tubbs, Thomas and Schneider “women?”

And then perhaps, Why should society, and especially women’s spaces, restructure themselves to accommodate these men’s desires?

(Reminder why I don’t use “preferred” pronouns.)

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More Angela

Just something I did for the Gram. Multitasking here.

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The Righteous Gemstones

They’re from Asheville, Daddy, they hate God! – Judi Gemstone

That line right there is why I keep watching The Righteous Gemstones, despite my long list of problems with it.

Amidst all the crassness, broadness, misfires and missed opportunities, you get enough precise, absolutely on-target smart writing like that to keep going…one more time.

(Translation: Asheville, North Carolina has the reputation of one of the most liberal, hippy-dippy cities in the South.)

I dipped into Danny McBride’s broad satire of a southern evangelical family when the first season aired and wrote a bit about it here.  One of my older kids mentioned that they were watching it a couple of weeks ago, and I thought, Wait..did I finish watching the first season? And should I bother with the second?

I skimmed the episode summaries and remembered that yes, I had watched the entire first season, searched my blog archives and was surprised that I’d never mentioned my favorite line from that season, spoken in the last episode by Jesse (McBride), one of Eli Gemstone’s horrible three adult children, to his son, who has escaped the glitter and corruption by going on a mission trip to Haiti. Jesse has shown up and is trying to get his son to return to the family way up in South Carolina.

He says, ‘Let these Catholics and liberals help these folks get their clean water.”


Anyway, here we are midway into the second season. Quick recap:

The Righteous Gemstones is a Danny McBride production about the Gemstone family, builders and hangers-on of an evangelical empire. It can be very funny at times, spot-on sometimes, but most of the time is just…too much. It just doesn’t strike a balance – in watching this second season, I think part of the problem is that John Goodman’s portrayal of patriarch Eli is actually very grounded, but everyone else around him is an antic cartoon. It doesn’t cohere. His kids could be off-the-wall crazy entitled idiots without being quite so brazenly crass, and the whole thing would actually be sharper, I think.

Anyway, this is what I said back in 2019 and it still holds:

I remembered The Righteous Gemstones, which had interested me when I first heard about it for the dual attractions of being a satire of an aspect of contemporary religion (American evangelicalism) and filmed in Charleston. I watched three episodes last night, and am not sure what I think. I’m leaning negative – I was leaning very negative until almost the end of the first episode, when it took an interesting turn. I don’t know.

The episodes are only 30 minutes or so long, so I will probably watch a couple more. Of course it’s gross HBO-typical language, beginning to end, but that’s not as off-putting to me as, at this point, it’s so broadly drawn that the two reasonable conclusions about characters like this – they have some authentic belief that’s been perverted and forgotten – or they are total, grifting frauds who believe nothing – are nowhere in evidence. They’re just foul-mouthed cartoons who cuss up a storm while they walk the halls of the megachurch empire, and no one blinks. It makes no sense. Okay, yeah, it’s a comedy, but still – it’s playing on something real, and it’s just not reflective enough of that reality.

Here’s the thing: Gemstones finds absolutely real aspects of this world to pick on like the general megachurch worship style, fads like God-Squad-Bodybuilding-for-Jesus, frantic, awkward youth ministry and so on. But not enough, and the treatment inevitably crosses over from “broad satire” to “just stupid.”

I mean – I’m for over the top. I really appreciated at least the first season of The Young Pope.

It just seems there’s a level at which satire, even broad satire has to be grounded in some sort of human reality in order for me to stay interested. Most of the time, The Righteous Gemstones doesn’t. But that, we can probably say, is Danny McBride’s M.O.

And I will say that I think some of the strongest episodes and scenes are those that involve flashbacks to the 80’s and early 90’s. Those are absolutely flawless, evoking the Bakker/TBN era with flair. We’ve got one of those coming next week, and I’m looking forward to it.

But there’s just a ton of missed opportunity here, because the 2/3 of the characters onscreen are cartoons, running around in a fairly realistic world, interacting with non-cartoons, and then because of the subjects for the satire. McBride’s still operating like it’s the 90’s. His targets barely exist as he depicts them anymore. The world still exists of course. It’s still anxiously imitating the broader culture in an attempt to be relevant, still regularly and predictably self-destructing in cycles of pride and greed, now in artfully ripped jeans and designer sneakers.

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This is a repost, but it came to mind as I contemplated the latest angle in the liturgical battles: against ad orientem, brought to the fore today by the Bishop of Venice, Florida, banning it in his diocese.

How far we’ve come from just a few years ago, when some bishops were encouraging ad orientem worship.

More from me on the issue from 2016 – it’s a fairly comprehensive post, pointing out, among other things, how ecumenical the ad orientem position is.

But for now, what I want to say again – is that the insistence on versus populum positioning is getting on my nerves, more and more. Several reasons, not least of which, of course, is that outright banning ad orientem ignores what the rubrics – contemporary, not ancient – say about its permissibility.

No the main reason edicts like Bishop Dewane’s irritate me is what comes across as the insulting insistence that as a lay person, my full and active participation is dependent on seeing the priest’s face during Mass. That my full and active participation requires some sort of personality-rooted engagement between the priest, as an individual, and those of us in the congregation.

That without the priest smiling at us, looking at us in the eye, and generally embracing us with his welcoming, friendly presence, we can’t fully and active participate.

That’s infantilization of the laity.

It’s – wait for it – clericalism.

In short: No, I don’t need to keep the ordained person’s face in view at all times for an hour to worship the Lord, thanks very much.

That’s just so….stupid. And creepy.

As I said a few months ago – it’s not the “reverence” – it’s the ego.

Now for the rerun, which begins with my experiences in Spain in 2019.


Steadily they walked, well-dressed, serious, each carrying a staff or a lit candle about a meter long, even the children.

Over the two hours or so that we watched, there were hundreds of them – men and women, teens and children, members of confraternities and sodalities, walking in the Corpus Christi procession in Seville.

And not, I realized about midway through – a cleric in sight.

Oh, they were there at the end, of course, escorting the Blessed Sacrament. But up until that point, it had been a sea of lay people.

Images: St. Anthony procession in Seville. Men who’d carried the image of St. Anthony after the procession. Another from the Corpus Christi procession.

I considered the chapel around the corner from our apartment. Busy all day, bustling with women and men and even some teens once in a while, stepping through the open door from the street outside, taking a moment in the midst of ordinary life in office, home and classroom, to pray.


I thought about the scores of roadside shrines of all sorts I’d seen in various parts of Europe through the years, from Sicily up to France, and over here on this side of the pond in Mexico and Central America and yes, even sometimes in these United States. Perhaps at one time blessed by an ordained person, yes, but mostly erected by and cared for now by the laity.

I remembered the Holy Week activities we saw in Mexico in 2018: Processions on Good Friday, and, most memorably for me, the visitation of churches on Holy Thursday night. There were priests around, yes. There were a few in every procession and of course they’d celebrated Mass and through their hands Jesus under the form of bread rested on the altars in those open churches in Puebla, but those throngs in the processions and celebratory waves moving in and out of the open church doors, stopping to kneel, leading prayers and music – lay people.

Back in Spain, I considered the art. Art everywhere – in galleries, but mostly in churches. All sorts of art from stained glass to ceramics to sculpture to painting to the architecture and adornment of the tiny chapels and massive cathedrals. Oh, religious were involved, yes. Bishops directed and planned, religious played their roles and did their work, painting, lettering, carving.

But most of it? Most of the stone-laying and laying down vivid colors and shaping wondrous images that it was hoped, in some small way, evoked the glories of heaven? Lay people, who, after the labor was done, walk by these beautiful structures every day with their children, sit surrounded by beauty inside during the Mass or simply in prayer, could look up and around and see the work of their hands. Their hands.

The Liturgical Movement, as envisioned by its early and mid-century movers and shakers, was all about helping the laity engage more intimately with the Mass and the other prayers of the Church. The pastoral concern (as distinct from the historical concerns) was that the laity saw what happened on the altar as a drama involving the ordained to which they were spectators. All of it – from introducing the vernacular, to moving away from ad orientem postures, to encouraging the use of missals and more frequent Communion – was, ideally, directed at that goal. I’m not judging the accuracy of this assessment. I’m just telling you what’s there in the history of the movement.

And so, after decades, we get, in a way, the climax of the Liturgical Movement in the Second Vatican Council. The Council which proclaimed, in the quote from Sacrosanctum Concilium that anyone who’s ever taken The Mass 101 knows by heart – that the Eucharist is “the source and summit of the Christian life.” Which meant, in practical terms, that everything became about the Mass.

Which of course, requires a priest to happen.

Unlike processions. Unlike visiting open churches. Unlike roadside shrines. Unlike saying the rosary alone in your car or with your neighbors or family. Unlike putting the final touches on a garment for your parish’s image of Mary.

There is no logical, necessary connection here. Encouraging the laity to be more consciously engaged with the specific prayers and actions of the Mass doesn’t, of course, require a diminishment of devotional, paraliturgical life outside the Mass. But in the iconoclastic, “purifying” mood of the period, that’s what happened, isn’t it? Add to that aesthetic iconoclasm, and you have little left for the laity to do except slap a guitar and write checks.

And so, on the one hand, we’re told over and over that We Are the Church and “clericalism” is a sin of sorts – but then some of the primary means that we – the laity- have – of expressing devotion in vivid, interesting, engaging and yes, lay-controlled ways – are taken away.

Leaving us with the Mass, the priest in charge, commanding our gaze as we look at his face for an hour, listening to him talk, talk, talk.

One can argue – and probably correctly – that these religious cultures that developed these devotions were actually heavily clerical – that is, cultures in which the word of the ordained was law, wielded often with an authoritarian hand. Well, yes – and devotional life was the space in which the laity could operate, relatively free of that. My point: it’s no different now. And in fact, the focus on the Mass (legitimately, yes) and the loss of popular devotional life intensifies that clerical focus. It may not be with such a heavy hand these days, but it’s still there.

So yeah, fight clericalism: Throw yourself into those Works of Mercy,  celebrate the feasts, make things for God’s glory and then build a shrine, process to it with your friends, and keep the candles burning.


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Medical Nemesis

...when suffering, mourning, and healing outside the patient role are labeled a form of deviance. Ivan Illich, Medical Nemesis

I want to start some Covid talk. There’s plenty of that all over the place, so I want to invite readers to engage from a slightly different perspective that’s the norm out there at the moment – the norm being a lot of narrative-building and defending, strawmen-building and fighting, name-calling, categorization and miscategorization.

It’s most unfortunate that even in Catholic online circles, the conversation about this situation can’t seem to occur without the immediate response to an assertion or suggestion is almost always, Well, you’re just…..

So I thought I’d start with Ivan Illich. Maybe it will give you some relief. Maybe it will frustrate you more. Who knows.

Not Tolstoy’s Ivan Ilych. You might confuse them. Both dead, but one fictional and one actually existed.

Who was Ivan Illich, the real thinker and activist who died in 2002? For an introduction you might go to the article in the most recent First Things on “The Genius of Ivan Illich.”

Ivan Illich’s star once burned brightly. From the late sixties through the mid-seventies—when his influence was greatest—this learned Roman Catholic became a countercultural guru, notorious for facing a 1968 Vatican inquisition that led him to cease exercising his priesthood, though he never renounced it. During this period, he published in rapid sequence incendiary books on the “counterproductivity” of modern institutions that won him admiring readers, including ­California’s young governor, Jerry Brown. His essays appeared in the New York Review of Books and other leading intellectual publications. He jetted across the globe, speaking to rapt audiences. Yet, by the time of his death at seventy-six in 2002, Illich was no longer fashionable. A New York Times obituary was typical in treating him largely as a hippie-generation relic who once preached “counterintuitive sociology to a disquieted baby-boom ­generation.”

From another good summary, more directly related to the subject of this blog post:

After his death in 2002, the psychiatrist and writer Anthony Daniels (who also writes as Theodore Dalrymple) wrote:

And yet Illich was deeply conservative, or at least he would have been had he been born in the Middle Ages. The word reactionary fitted him quite well, insofar as he regarded pre-modern forms of existence as being in many ways superior to our own. He was an anti-Enlightenment figure: while he believed in the value of rational argument and of empirical evidence …he certainly did not believe in a heaven on earth brought about by rational action on the part of benevolent governments and bureaucracies. He was completely unimpressed by supposed evidence of progress such as declining infant mortality rates, rising life expectancies, or increased levels of consumption. Indeed, he thought modern man was living in a hell of his own creation: the revolution of rising expectations was really the institutionalization of permanent disappointment and therefore of existential bitterness.

I first encountered Illich early, as we like to say, in my homeschool journey. Reading Deschooling Society was an exhilarating confirmation of all of my intuitions about the mess that is modern education.

I later encountered more via the technology-contemplating newsletter of L.M. Sacasas, The Convivial Society – also deeply inspired by Illich.

Last week, I read Medical Nemesis – available in pdf form here. It had a similar effect.

If I could summarize both works, I’d say Illich’s theme is: Institutional forces take over these needs – education and health care – in the name of justice, efficiency and the common good of society. What ends up happening, not surprisingly, is that the institutional definitions and processes become determinative and definitive with an ultimate net loss to human freedom and, paradoxically, the needs they claimed to address.

Conviviality is his great theme, and what does that mean? From the Latin – to live – with. To live together, as human beings, developing tools to enrich our living, but always wary of the point at which the tools take over.

So with education and schools, at the core is the insight that these institutional forces develop in a way that makes their definitions and processes dogmatic, makes human beings dependent on them for meeting these needs, and diminishes the individual ability and communal space for meeting those needs outside of the institution.

Pithy, dramatic illustration: In Germany, educating your child outside of the government school system is illegal.

And on a less pithy and dramatic level, but more fundamental: Our American definition of an “educated person” is overwhelmingly a person who has successfully navigated formal school systems.

You can read more about Deschooling Society here.

But let’s turn to Medical Nemesis.

You can pick up the theme from the book’s full title: Medical Nemesis – the Expropriation of Health.

In the next post, I’m going to pull more from the work of contemporary Illich interpreter David Cayley (whose book was the subject of the First Things essay I cited at the beginning.) and others. In an essay from April 2020, Cayley explains the themes of Medical Nemesis before he goes on to use them to examine the response to the pandemic.

(I have broken up the text into more easily-read paragraphs.)

…the main point of his book was to identify and describe the counterproductive effects that he felt were becoming evident as medicine crossed its second watershed.  He spoke of these fall-outs from too much medicine as iatrogenesis, and addressed them under three headings: clinical, social and cultural.  The first everyone, by now, understands – you get the wrong diagnosis, the wrong drug, the wrong operation, you get sick in hospital etc.  This collateral damage is not trivial. …

….but this accidental harm was not, by any means, Illich’s focus.  What really concerned him was the way in which excessive medical treatment weakens basic social and cultural aptitudes. 

An instance of what he called social iatrogenesis is the way in which the art of medicine, in which the physician acts as healer, witness, and counsellor, tends to give way to the science of medicine, in which the doctor, as a scientist, must, by definition, treat his or her patient as an experimental subject and not as a unique case. 

And, finally, there was the ultimate injury that medicine inflicts: cultural iatrogenesis

This occurs, Illich said, when cultural abilities, built up and passed on over many generations, are first undermined and then, gradually, replaced altogether. 

These abilities include, above all, the willingness to suffer and bear one’s own reality, and the capacity to die one’s own death.  The art of suffering was being overshadowed, he argued, by the expectation that all suffering can and should be immediately relieved – an attitude which doesn’t, in fact, end suffering but rather renders it meaningless, making it merely an anomaly or technical miscarriage.  

And death, finally, was being transformed from an intimate, personal act – something each one can do – into a meaningless defeat – a mere cessation of treatment or “pulling the plug,” as is sometimes heartlessly said. 

Behind Illich’s arguments lay a traditional Christian attitude.  He affirmed that suffering and  death are inherent in the human condition – they are part of what defines this condition.  And he argued that the loss of this condition would involve a catastrophic rupture both with our past and with our own creatureliness.  To mitigate and ameliorate the human condition was good, he said.  To lose it altogether was a catastrophe because we can only know God as creatures – i.e. created or given beings – not as gods who have taken charge of our own destiny.  

Medical Nemesis is a book about professional power – a point on which it’s worth dwelling for a moment in view of the extraordinary powers that are currently being asserted in the name of public health.  According to Illich, contemporary medicine, at all times, exercises political power, though this character may be hidden by the claim that all that is being asserted is care.

I would add to this quick summary that essential in Illich’s critique is not just the disappearing of suffering and death as Cayley highlights here, but, as I said at the beginning, the impact of institutionalization and professionalization that insists that the individual not only need not but probably cannot and maybe even should not see herself as ultimately responsible for her own development and care – and the elimination of the means for individuals to meet these needs on their own and the branding of those who refuse to relinquish their autonomy as heretics.

As every reader of Illich will tell you, like any thinker, Illich’s analysis and prescriptions are not infallible. But in any circumstance, especially those in which we find ourselves, they are certainly worth contemplating.

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You go, girl

Lia Thomas is in the news again, as the male member of the Penn swim team racked up more victories over the weekend:

University of Pennsylvania transgender swimmer Lia Thomas continued to dominate the competition Saturday, winning two races in a meet against Ivy League rival Harvard University.

Penn transgender swimmer Lia Thomas, center, competes against Harvard's Erin Cavanagh, left, and Harvard's Felici Passadyn at the start of the women's 200 meter freestyle race during the an NCAA college swimming meet

Thomas, 22, won the women’s 100-yard and 200-yard freestyle races at the meet, held just days after USA Swimming announced it will release a new policy for “elite” transgender athletes.

Thomas finished first in her 100-yard race in 50.55 seconds with her [sic] closest competitor coming in at 51.51. In the 200-yard race, she [sic] won in 1:47.08 with the second place swimmer finishing behind at 1:48.44, according to listed results.

Thomas, who previously swam for UPenn’s men’s team for three years before transitioning, made a name for herself [sic] breaking school and national records this year, prompting the NCAA to review its guidelines for transgender athletes.

(Reminder why I don’t use “preferred” pronouns.)

Just throwing this up there to add to the list of Great Moments in Women’s Rights that I’m sure will become longer as 2022 progresses.

Also: times and placement doesn’t matter, although it certainly does get our attention. Lia Thomas could not have placed at all, and the fact remains: there’s a woman out there who is not on the UPenn women’s swim team because a man got that spot.

Also as a brief post to remind you that as the state legislature season begins, you’ll be seeing more discussions of this – keep your eyes out for all those “anti-trans” bills – most will be related to athletics and medical exploitation of children and youth.

As you read the emotional and manipulative rhetoric, remember Lia Thomas and just think.

Why is Lia Thomas on the women’s swim team?

Because he says he’s a woman now.

In what sense can Lia Thomas claim to be a woman?

He’s taken some female hormones for a year. And his hair is longer.

Why does he say he’s a woman?

Because he says he feels like he’s a woman.

So…is that all you have to do to enter women’s and girls spaces now?

If you say you are…then you are.

Is that it?

GIF peli filme pelicula - animated GIF on GIFER - by Shaktilar

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