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More Lent from smart people here. 

I wasn’t planning to do another post on this theme, but then I ran across these two homilies of Basil the Great, which are not widely available in English. So I thought I’d toss them out there.

This translation is one made by one Kent Berghuis for his doctoral dissertation Christian Fasting: A Theological Approach. The entire dissertation is available online here. The sermons themselves are in an appendix here.  Berghuis uses some colloquial speech in the translation, as well as contractions – which you usually don’t find in writings of this sort. But as I read it, it did give me a better sense of the homily as a spoken piece, rather than simply ancient writing.

While getting filled up does a favor for the stomach, fasting returns  benefits to the soul. Be encouraged, because the doctor has given you a powerful remedy for sin. Strong, powerful medicines can get rid of annoying worms that are living in the bowels of children. Fasting is like that, as it cuts down to the depths, venturing into the soul to kill sin. It is truly fitting to call it by this honorable name of medicine.

2. “Anoint your head, and wash your face.”The word calls to you in a mystery. What is anointed is christened; what is washed is cleansed. Transfer this divine law to your inner life. Thoroughly wash the soul of sins. Anoint your head with a holy oil, so that you may be a partaker of Christ, and then go forth to the fast.

“Don’t darken your face like the hypocrites.”A face is darkened when the inner disposition is feigned, arranged to obscure it to the outside, like a curtain conceals what is false.

An actor in the theater puts on the face of another. Often one who is a slave puts on the face of a master, and a subject puts on royalty.  This also happens in life. Just as in the production cast of one’s own life many act on the stage. Some things are borne in the heart, but others are shown to men for the sake of appearances. Therefore don’t darken your face. Whatever kind it is, let it show.

Don’t disfigure yourself toward gloominess, or be chasing after the glory of appearing temperate. Not even almsgiving  is of any profit when it is trumpeted, and neither is fasting that is done for publicity of any value. Ostentatious things don’t bear fruit that lasts through the coming ages, but return back in the praises of men.

So run to greet the cheerful gift of the fast. Fasting is an ancient gift, but it is not worn out and antiquated. Rather, it is continually made new, and still is coming into bloom.

I’ll bet you’ve never thought of this as one of the benefits of fasting: it gives everyone a break! Actually – there’s some, er, food for thought. Because for …some of us, planning Lenten meals can be an occasion of stress, can’t it? So why not listen to Basil here? While his rationale might be different than yours, since you probably don’t have servants and are not personally slaughtering animals, perhaps there’s still a point of wisdom to take away – and that wisdom has to do with simplicity.

Who makes his own house decline by fasting?  Count the domestic benefits by considering the following things. No one has been deserted by those in the house on account of fasting.There’s no crying over the death of an animal, certainly no blood. Certainly nothing is missed by not bringing an unmerciful stomach out against the creatures.

The knives of the cooks have stopped; the table is full enough with things growing naturally. The Sabbath was given to the Jews, so that “you will rest,” it says, “your animal and your child.” Fasting should become a rest for the household servants who slave away continually, all year long.

Give rest to your cook, give freedom to the table keeper, stay the hand of the cupbearer. For once put an end to all those manufactured meals! Let the house be still for once from the myriad disturbances, and from the smoke, and from the odor of burning fat, and from the running around up and down, and from serving the stomach as if it were an unmerciful mistress!

Even those who exact tribute sometimes give a little liberty to their subjects. The stomach should also give a vacation to the mouth! It should make a truce, a peace offering with us for five days. That stomach never stops demanding, and what it takes in today is forgotten tomorrow. Whenever it is filled, it philosophizes about abstinence; whenever it is emptied, it forgets those opinions.

 8. Fasting doesn’t know the nature of usury. The one who fasts doesn’t smell of interest tables The interest rates of fasting don’t choke an orphan child’s inheritance, like snakes curled around a neck. Quite otherwise, fasting is an occasion for gladness.

As thirst makes the water sweet, and coming to the table hungry makes what’s on it seem pleasant, so also fasting heightens the enjoyment of foods. For once fasting has entered deep into your being, and the continuous delight of it has broken through, it will give you a desire that makes you feel like a traveler who wants to come home for fellowship again. Therefore, if you would like to find yourself prepared to enjoy the pleasures of the table, receive renewal from fasting.

 

 

Who has received anything of the fellowship of the spiritual gifts by abundant food and continual luxury? Moses, when receiving the law a second time, needed to fast a second time, too.If the animals hadn’t fasted together with the Ninevites, they wouldn’t have escaped the threatened destruction.

Whose bodies fell in the desert? Wasn’t it those who desired to eat flesh? While those same people were satisfied with manna and water from the rock, they were defeating Egyptians, they were traveling through the sea, and “sickness could not be found in their tribes.” But when they remembered the pots of meat, they also turned back in their lusts to Egypt, and they did not see the Promised Land. Don’t you fear this example? Don’t you shudder at gluttony, lest you be shut out from the good things you are hoping for?

 

He speaks a lot about drinking…in colorful terms. Also note that the Lenten fast at this time in this place was apparently five days – perhaps the week or so before Holy Thursday?

 

The athlete practices before the contest. The one who fasts is practicing self-control ahead of time. Don’t approach these five days like you are coming to rescue them as if they need you, or like somebody who is trying to get around the intent of the law, by just laying aside intoxication.  If you do that, you are suffering in vain. You are mistreating the body, but not relieving its need.

This safe where you keep your valuables isn’t secure; there are holes in the bottom of your wine-bottles. The wine at least leaks out, and runs down its own path; but sin remains inside.

A servant runs away from a master who beats him. So you keep staying with wine, even though it beats your head every day? The best measure of the use of wine is whether the body needs it. But if you happen to go outside of the bounds, tomorrow you will feel overloaded, gaping, dizzy, smelling rotten from the wine. To you, everything will be spinning around; everything will seem to be shaking. Drunkenness brings a sleep that’s a brother of death, but even being awake seems like being in a dream.

Basil’s Second Homily on Fasting is at the same site, but I’ll also link to this site – which gives a version that’s a little easier to read. 

Basil begins this homily by likening his task to that of a general rousing his troops for battle. He cites all the benefits of fasting, particular in contrast to greed and licentiousness. Over and over, in different ways he points out that those who indulge themselves are weighed down, slowed down and weakened. He also addresses that desire we have to feast before the fast, working mightily to discourage overindulgence, particularly drunkenness.

 If you were to come to fasting drunk, what benefit is it for you?  Indeed if drunkenness excludes you from the kingdom, how can fasting still be useful for you?  Don’t you realize that experts in horse training, when the day of the race is near, use hunger to prime their racehorses?  In contrast you intentionally stuff yourself through self-indulgence, to such an extent that in your gluttony you eclipse even irrational animals.  A heavy stomach is unconducive not only to running but also to sleeping.  Oppressed by an abundance of food, it refuses to keep still and is obliged to toss and turn endlessly.

And finally, he describes various groups and categories of people and points out how each of them can approach fasting in the most fruitful way. It’s a stem-winder of a sermon! No one’s off the hook!

Are you rich?  Do not mock fasting, deeming it unworthy to welcome as your table companion.  Do not expel it from your house as a dishonorable thing eclipsed by pleasure.  Never denounce yourself to the one who has legislated fasting and thereby merit condemnation to bitter penury caused either by bodily sickness or by some other gloomy condition.  Let not the pauper think of fasting as a joke, seeing that for a long time now he has had it as the companion of his home and table.  But as for women, just as breathing is proper and natural for them, so too is fasting.  And children, like flourishing plants, are irrigated with the water of fasting.  As for seniors, their long familiarity with fasting makes a difficult task easy.  For those in training know that difficult tasks done for a long time out of habit become quite painless. As for travelers, fasting is an expedient companion.  For just as self-indulgence necessarily weighs them down because they carry around what they have gorged themselves with, so too fasting renders them swift and unencumbered.  Furthermore, when an army is summoned abroad, the provisions the soldiers take are for necessities, not for self-indulgence.  Seeing that we are marching out for war against invisible enemies, pursuing victory over them so as to hasten to the homeland above, will it not be much more appropriate for us to be content with necessities as if we were among those living the regimented life of a military camp?

 

Take fasting, O you paupers, as the companion of your home and table; O you servants, as rest from the continual labors of your servitude; O you rich, as the remedy that heals the damage caused by your indulgence and in turn makes what you usually despise more delightful; O you infirm, as the mother of health; O you healthy, as the guardian of your health.  Ask the physicians, and they will tell you that the most perilous state of all is perfect health.  Accordingly experts prescribe going without food to eliminate excessive eating lest the burden of corpulence destroy the body’s strength.  For by prescribing not eating food to eliminate intemperance, they foster a kind of receptivity, re-education, and fresh start for the redevelopment of the nutritive faculty.  Hence one finds the benefit of fasting in every pursuit and in every bodily state, and it is equally suitable for everything: homes, fora, nights, days, cities, deserts.  Therefore, since in so many situations fasting graces us with something that is good in itself, let us undertake it cheerfully, as the Lord said, not looking gloomy like the hypocrites but exhibiting cheerfulness of soul without pretense.

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Ah, let’s do a bit digesting shall we?

ThursdayWriting: I am currently doing revisions on a book that will be available late this summer, early fall. Should finish those by Monday.

I was in Living Faith yesterday – completely forgot about it. I have one more devotional in this quarter’s , which will be in one day next week.

I’m also trying to finish up another short story. I have to get these people and their situation out of my head, for another one has popped up and is knocking.

The one-day FREE sale on three of my ebooks is over, but hey…you know, their regular price is only .99…so what do you say?

Lent-ing:  I really, really encourage you to take a look at my post on Quinquagesima. There are some really nice quotes there from older writings about Lent prep. A taste:

The season of Lent is at hand; in three days Ash Wednesday will be here; our Mother the Church calls upon us to fast, and pray, and to do penance for our sins. Each one who cannot fast should ask for some practical and methodical work of piety to do instead ; and perhaps few better could be found than ten minutes’ serious meditation, every day, upon the Passion of our Lord. This practice can be varied in many ways, some of them being so simple that a child might learn them ; and God alone knows of what immense value to us this practice, faith- fully continued through one Lent, would be. Let us consider, then, by His assisting grace, that most helpful spiritual devotion called meditation.

In our day the necessity is really extreme of keeping the minds of Christians filled and permeated with an abiding sense of the love and care of Almighty God for each individual soul. The ceaseless hurry and worry prevalent amongst us, to become rich, to be counted intellectual, to know or to have as much as our neighbor, tends to destroy that overruling sense of spiritual things which would give ballast and leisure to our souls. Then, when earthly props fail us, and loneliness, sickness, or great trouble of any kind confronts us, the utter shallowness of our ordinary pursuits opens out in its desert waste before us, and our aching eyes see nothing to fill the void.

From 1904! Still so pertinent!

From 1882:

If you cannot fast, at least abstain. If you cannot abstain, use your dispensation as sparingly as can be, and only as your need requires. If in fasting and abstinence you cannot keep Lent, keep it by prayer, and Sacraments, and alms, and spiritual mortifications. Chastise the faults of temper, resentment, animosity, vanity, self-love, and pride, which, in some degree and in divers ways, beset and bias if they do not reign in all our hearts. In these forty days let the world, its works and ways, be shut out as far as can be from your homes and hearts. Go out of the world into the desert with our Divine Redeemer. Fast with Him, at least from doing your own will ; from the care and indulgence of self which naturally besets us.

Reading:  Aside from way too much on this gender identity stuff, watching that blow up (hopefully), A Burnt-Out Case by Graham Greene.

Alas, no lovely old library edition this time. There’s not a copy in a single public library in my area, so I obtained a “copy” via archive.org. 

amy_welbornFor those of you who don’t know it, archive.org is a good source for copies of some older books that are not in print but are also not in the public domain. I am not sure of the source of their digital copies, but I think they might be libraries, since you “borrow” them for a limited time. 

I am about halfway through, and will write an extended post once I finish – don’t know if that will be tonight or not, since we have a Confirmation happening – but for the moment.

The novel is set in a leprosorium run by a Catholic order in Africa. A fellow shows up – I won’t spoil the slow reveal of who he is – but just say that he is the usual Greene protagonist – wandering, perhaps even running from something, trying to find a place that is no-place. I’m interested, as I tend to be, in the portrayals of religious life and faith matters. The priests and brothers are eminently practical and straightforward, puzzling some and frustrating others. The primary leper character so far is a man named Deo Gratias by the fathers, so every time one calls for him, one is thanking God.

Just know that “a burnt-out case” refers to a patient who can be cured, but only because leprosy has consumed all it wants to of him. He has already suffered, and now he can be healed of the disease.

A couple of choice quotes:

When a man has nothing else to be proud of…he is proud of his spiritual problems. After two whiskies he began to talk to me about grace. 

*****

‘Oh yes, make no mistake, one does. One comes to an end.’
‘What are you here for then? To make love to a black woman?’
‘No. One comes to an end of that too. Possibly sex and a vocation are born and die together. Let me roll bandages or carry buckets. All I want is to pass the time.’
‘I thought you wanted to be of use.’
‘Listen,’ Querry said and then fell silent.
‘I am listening.’

***

More later.

Cooking: This has been a busy week, so not much cooking beyond leftovers. Probably no more until Saturday, either….

Listening: The usual piano and organ things. Oh, and this morning, this greeted me in the living room as someone was finishing up his toast and slipping on his shoes:

Not sure how that became the Obsession of the Week….

 

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First, Sts. Cyril and Methodius.

B16, from 2009:

Wishing now to sum up concisely the profile of the two Brothers, we should first recall the enthusiasm with which Cyril approached the writings of St Gregory of Nazianzus, learning from him the value of language in the transmission of the Revelation. St Gregory had expressed the wish that Christ would speak through him: “I am a servant of the Word, so I put myself at the service of the Word”. Desirous of imitating Gregory in this service, Cyril asked Christ to deign to speak in Slavonic through him. He introduced his work of translation with the solemn invocation: “Listen, O all of you Slav Peoples, listen to the word that comes from God, the word that nourishes souls, the word that leads to the knowledge of God”. In fact, a few years before the Prince of Moravia had asked the Emperor Michael III to send missionaries to his country, it seems that Cyril and his brother Methodius, surrounded by a group of disciples, were already working on the project of collecting the Christian dogmas in books written in Slavonic. The need for new graphic characters closer to the language spoken was therefore clearly apparent: so it was that the Glagolitic alphabet came into being. Subsequently modified, it was later designated by the name “Cyrillic”, in honour of the man who inspired it. It was a crucial event for the development of the Slav civilization in general. Cyril and Methodius were convinced that the individual peoples could not claim to have received the Revelation fully unless they had heard it in their own language and read it in the characters proper to their own alphabet.

….Cyril and Methodius are in fact a classic example of what today is meant by the term “inculturation”: every people must integrate the message revealed into its own culture and express its saving truth in its own language. This implies a very demanding effort of “translation” because it requires the identification of the appropriate words to present anew, without distortion, the riches of the revealed word. The two holy Brothers have left us a most important testimony of this, to which the Church also looks today in order to draw from it inspiration and guidelines.

They are  in the Loyola Kids’ Book of Saints: 

Now, to St. Valentine.

Chad C. Pecknold is a theology professor at the Catholic University of America – some of you might have heard about the Twitter seminar he’s ran on St. Augustine’s City of God a couple of years ago.  Also a couple of years ago, he wrote a very good (public) Facebook post on St. Valentine, in which he takes on the modern assumptions that, oh of course the guy didn’t exist….mythology, legends….let’s take him off the calendar and make funny memes! Worth a read:

 Recently I read a skeptic claiming that medieval monks invented St. Valentine’s Day, which is a pretty common alternative to the fact that Pope Gelasius set his feast day on February 14th in Anno Domini 496. So little is known about him that even the Church, following the dubious claim of a book published in 1966 that the saint never existed, removed him from the liturgical calendar in 1969. It is an odd fact that his feast is celebrated (in a deracinated way) by the world but not the Church. Since a basilica was built over his tomb just 75 years after his death by Pope Julius, and relics from his body spread throughout the Roman empire, the evidence of his existence seems manifest to me.

MORE

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Welcome new readers. Check out my books (some linked on the right) and pages with permanent links to themed posts (above.)

Well, that was quite the weekend on the Internets, wasn’t it?

When the Covington Catholic photo flashed across one of my feeds, I freely admit that my first reaction was, “Expel him!” accompanied by several tweets/posts that mercifully existed only in my head.

And then…as it does…a fuller picture started emerging. As it does.

I won’t rehash the whole thing. I wasn’t really intending to add to the verbiage, either, but here I am. If you want to know where I stand on the sequence of events, check out Robby Soave’s piece at Reason. He captures most of my sense of it. I’ve watched other videos out there of the moment, which make one thing very clear to me: that initial narrative of “Boys in MAGA hats surround and taunt Native American protester” is false.

And you might want to stop and pause there. For despite all the other “lessons” and penumbras of meaning being spun, that is where this thing took off: from an image of a kid looking at a protester, which, we were told captured a moment in which these students surrounded a protester, mocked him and one boy, in particular, stood and stared him down, smirking.

But is that what happened? I don’t think so – and this is from watching several videos a couple of times.

What seems to have happened is that group was assembled on the steps, waiting for their bus. There had been this Black Hebrew Israelite group nearby for a while, demonstrating, taunting and filming, and then Nathan Phillips approaches with his group, drumming, chanting and filming, and he heads right into this group of boys who were, it seems doing school chants to both pass the time and distract from the first other group. Phillips walks right into the group – for whatever reason. There’s a video out there of the moments right before the encounter captured in the photos, as well as the encounter itself, and it is nothing like those initial headlines indicated. The student at the center of the controversy is just sort of standing around with the dozens of others, laughing and waiting – and then Phillips stands in front of him, drumming. The student clearly doesn’t really know what to do.  In the most widely-disseminated images, his resting face seems to some like a smirk – but when you look at videos from the other side – there’s one in which he turns and tells one of his classmates arguing with an activist to cool it – he just looks sort of uncomfortable.

So the bottom line is: the initial narrative was inaccurate.

No matter what you make of the students wearing MAGA hats at any time, but particularly representing a Catholic school at the March for Life, their whooping, a few of them tomahawk-chopping – some might have been mocking, some might have been mindless, some might have been unrelated to anything specific, the nature of private education, particularly single-sex private education, masculinity, Smirks Through History, Georgetown Prep, whatever  – none of that matters. It could be that the culture at this school is problematic – the culture at most secondary schools is problematic for one reason or another, and wealthy private schools are usually the worst.

But does that matter in this really very specific moment? Sorry, it just doesn’t. Because the reason these students were condemned, threatened and doxxed was because, it was said – they swarmed and victimized Nathan Phillips. At that moment. And that didn’t happen. Watch the videos. You may not like their behavior.  I get it. I personally still get triggered being around more than, say, three high schoolers at any one time.

You know, we live in times in which we’re not supposed to be all binary and stuff, so, sure,  let’s not be binary. It is just not the case that the only two possible scenarios here are: 1) Privileged White Boys Re-Victimized the Marginalized or 2) Precious Angels are Rowdy but, you know, Angelic. 

It could be just a weird situation that happened one day in one small corner of the world.

You start there. You try to get that right. 

Here’s another video that picks up after Philips picked this particular MAGA-hatted teen to drum in front of. I actually think this is one of the more illustrative videos out there (we’ll see if it’s still there by the time you read this – it might well have been memory-holed by YouTube). And it reinforces my position of “weird situation that happened for a few minutes, people drifted away, so why are we all talking about it?” 

Basically, Philips is in the kid’s face for several minutes, drumming and chanting – who knows why – and everyone around them is either watching, slightly confused, or filming, except for one activist with Philips (his grandson, I think) who is loudly and profanely arguing with a student. At some point the bulk of the kids start chanting something, but it’s clearly their school chant, and they’re not even looking at the drummer. And then, most of them drift away, to the bus, I’m assuming.

We could say a lot about this – about the impact of the crazy fast news cycle, ideology and perception and the sewer that is social media, but I’ll let others carry that load.

I want to highlight two reactions.

First, Fr. James Martin. Who, very early on, went to Instagram, Twitter and Facebook with his hot take:

I am as disgusted by the contemptuous laughter of the mass of students as I am moved by the quiet dignity of the solitary man who continues to chant. Those students could learn much from this elder, if they had chosen to. Or if they choose to.

 

24 hours later, Fr. Martin published some more thoughts, beginning:

Regarding the controversy over Covington High School: I will be happy to apologize for condemning the actions of the students if it turns out that they were acting as good and moral Christians. The last thing I want is to see Catholic schools and Catholic students held in disrepute.

And I’ve certainly been wrong before.

..and ending with a call to attend to this teachable moment:

 

Another essential lesson, which transcends whatever happened in Washington this weekend: an understanding of the appalling treatment that Native Americans have endured in our country. That lesson needs to be learned regardless of what you think of Covington High School.

This Teachable Moment can offer us, if we are open, lessons about dialogue, encounter and reconciliation during this coming week, which is, believe it or not, Catholic Schools Week.

Of course, Catholic Schools week is not this coming week. But I digress.

There’s no sense in any of this that Fr. Martin has watched the videos of this encounter. One is under no obligation to engage with this issue at all, much less spend time with the videos or the testimonies, unless, of course, one has decided to issue opinions. Then you should probably try to be informed. And when you’re trying to be informed, you don’t have to depend on, as Fr. Martin, does, musing about different “narratives” that have “emerged.” You just sort of go to the tape, watch it, and take a stand. And maybe watching all of that still leads you to think that the kids behaved disrespectfully. Sure. But base it what’s actually out there, rather than sighing about the Mysteries of All Those Darn Narratives.

Gosh!

Image result for gif shrug

 

My point is that Fr. Martin entered the fray right away, characterized the encounter in a way that is now widely disputed and says, well, he’ll apologize if  the boys were acting as “good and moral Christians.”  – not – if my characterization of the incident was incorrect. 

Ah.

And of course, one might wonder if part of the dialoguing Teachable Moment he wants to facilitate might touch on journalistic ethics, social media ethics and critical thinking skills.

Anyway, let’s move to Catholic apologist Mark Shea, who began his Facebook post (now deleted) on the matter with:

The MAGA goons were threatening confrontation with a small clutch of black protestors. (sic) As is done in his tradition, Phillips intervened with a drum and a chant to draw fire to himself. It was an act of peacemaking. The goons then mobbed and mocked him and he did not respond in kind. This was classic non-violence. The attempt to paint this as “elderly man with drum terrorizes 70 innocent athletic douchebags” is a narrative only the Right Wing Lie Machine would have the gall to promote

So, to repeat, Catholic apologist Mark Shea characterized the students from Covington Catholic High School as “MAGA goons” and “athletic douchebags.”

Image result for what gif mad men

 

Sunday evening, Mark has published a piece at Patheos apologizing a bit – although his Facebook and Twitter posts calling these teenagers “MAGA goons” are still up.  He has now embraced the narrative that Phillips was a peacemaker, so there’s that. (I repeat – look at this video and see if it would strike you, if you were there as “Oh, this fellow is trying to bring peace into this situation as he drums in my face and his grandson yells at my classmate.”   He also says,

I disliked the “Crucify Them!” response because I think punishment should be ordered toward redemption, not destruction.

But….MAGA goons…athletic douchebags.

New Evangelization, I guess. *Shrugs.*

Shea also talks alot about the incident without being terribly specific about his takeaway from what he saw on the matter on which he’s opining, using another writer’s sequence of events.

Which, of course, is a defining characteristic of contemporary online rhetoric: to vaguely describe a situation, group people into categories, declare their motivations – but without many specific citations because 1) you don’t have time because you know something else is going to come down the pike for commentary in the next hour or so and 2) you know that your readers are going to be satisfied with the non-specific narrative you offer because they don’t have time to source it either, and are also busy waiting for the next thing.

****

Bottom line takeaways:

  • If you are going to comment on this moment, comment on the moment. Watch the evidence that’s out there closely, then link the words and ideas in your commentary to pieces of evidence.
  • Don’t bother with commenters who can’t be bothered to do that and who prefer to build narratives out of ideology, straw men and caricature.
  • Maybe think about the impact instant communication and social media has on our perception of events and their importance. Consider this:

What happened in your neighborhood over the weekend? Do you even know your neighbors? Your community?

It’s like that joke you see during election year:

Me yesterday: Has no idea who my city council representative is

Me today: Tweets three times on the shifts from red to blue in California’s 33rd electoral district.

Or, in church terms – being an expert on the scandals in the Archdiocese of Whatever, while never engaging with one’s own local church.

Social Media and the internet puts us in touch with the world and tempts us to believe that we can impact the world with just a click – and that if we can know about it and if we can influence it, we must. 

And yes, yes, good comes out of it.

But is it really that much good? Is it worth it? Is it really better?

Remember that the foundation of all sin is pride. Right there. Pride. So, maybe before I post a Hot Take, I should think – why am I doing this? If the reasons come down to nothing more than virtue signalling or a sense that *I* have “followers” who are super interested in my life or my opinion and I owe them a hot take – or I have to keep my profile nice and high by entering into this fray – pride. 

It might be worth it to consider, in moments like this, the “power” of all this as a temptation. A temptation to put our energies into conflicts and issues that are none of our concern and that we really can’t do anything about – so we’ll ignore the people right around us whom we might actually be able to be in deeper communion with and help. 

The time one spends on a screen evaluating the look on the face of a kid I don’t even know, will never meet, doing something I’d never have heard about if not for people following other people with cameras – what could I have been doing with that time that involved people on my street, in my neighborhood, or in my own community? Heck – my family? 

Could it be that there’s a force that is seeking to discourage us from deep communion with others by deluding us with a promise of false power and false connection  – and mostly false power – so that we’ll spend all of our time and energy chasing that with nothing left for real-life encounters – the kind that really change the world?

 

 

 

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Pope Francis wrote a letter to the American bishops, on retreat at Mundelein Seminary this week.

Here’s the text.

It is, honestly, the usual strange/not-strange message from Pope Francis. Strange in that he goes all over the place except to the specific place where the problem resides, and not-strange in that, well, this is what he usually does, and there’s always a reason for that.

Your experience of reading the letter might be like mine (or it might not – who knows!) – I read it and nodded and thought, Well, not bad, that’s true, sure, it’s good for these things to be said, nice point there and then I finished, thought about it for a minute, and realized that none of the specific problematic issues had actually been addressed and further, the spiritual context which Pope Francis recommends for going forward, it could be argued, actually enables the original problematic actions. Many problematic actions.

To begin with:

“At times of great confusion and uncertainty, we need to be attentive and discerning, to free our hearts of compromises and false certainties, in order to hear what the Lord asks of us in the mission he has given us. Many actions can be helpful, good and necessary, and may even seem correct, but not all of them have the “flavour” of the Gospel. To put it colloquially, we have to be careful that “the cure does not become worse than the disease”. And this requires of us wisdom, prayer, much listening and fraternal communion.”

Quite true, of course.

The first consequence that Pope Francis raises, the first issue that seems to require addressing is that of credibility:

“The Church’s credibility has been seriously undercut and diminished by these sins and crimes, but even more by the efforts made to deny or conceal them. This has led to a growing sense of uncertainty, distrust and vulnerability among the faithful. As we know, the mentality that would cover things up, far from helping to resolve conflicts, enabled them to fester and cause even greater harm to the network of relationships that today we are called to heal and restore.

We know that the sins and crimes that were committed, and their repercussions on the ecclesial, social and cultural levels, have deeply affected the faithful. They have caused great perplexity, upset and confusion…”

This is institutional thinking, isn’t it? It is, in fact, one of the core attitudes that led to the level of this scandal over the past decades (and probably always): This makes us look bad.

One could say that this is really nothing more than the traditional Catholic understanding of scandal  – a true and valid way of entering into this situation and its consequences. But it’s actually a little different. For traditionally, scandal is seen as a negative because it works to obfuscate the power and truth of the Gospel – people can’t see Jesus because you, the one supposedly representing it, have gotten completely in the way. There’s a hint of this here, but the entire passage is really more about the problem of people seeing the institution in a negative light being a problem simply because it’s better that they see it in a positive light.

“The loss of credibility also raises painful questions about the way we relate to one another. Clearly, a living fabric has come undone, and we, like weavers, are called to repair it. This involves our ability, or inability, as a community to forge bonds and create spaces that are healthy, mature and respectful of the integrity and privacy of each person. It involves our ability to bring people together and to get them enthused and confident about a broad, shared project that is at once unassuming, solid, sober and transparent.”

And so on. The rest of the letter expresses Francis’ usual themes – listen, dialogue, make space for the new, prioritize unity, don’t impose abstractions:

“This approach demands of us the decision to abandon a modus operandi of disparaging, discrediting, playing the victim or the scold in our relationships, and instead to make room for the gentle breeze that the Gospel alone can offer. Let us not forget that “the collegial lack of a heartfelt and prayerful acknowledgment of our limitations prevents grace from working more effectively within us, for no room is left for bringing about the potential good that is part of a sincere and genuine journey of growth”. [6] Let us try to break the vicious circle of recrimination, undercutting and discrediting, by avoiding gossip and slander in the pursuit of a path of prayerful and contrite acceptance of our limitations and sins, and the promotion of dialogue, discussion and discernment. This will dispose us to finding evangelical paths that can awaken and encourage the reconciliation and credibility that our people and our mission require of us.”

 

And so I wonder:

Is this situation a problem because it diminished the institution’s credibility and threatens bonds of communion or…because people committed all sorts of sins of commission and omission, used other human beings, did great harm to God’s children and offended and disobeyed the Lord who created us for good, not evil?

The framework and assumption that what’s most at stake here is institutional credibility is exactly what led to cover-ups and protection of clerical perpetrators. Exactly. That, of course, is nothing the Holy Father would defend and is what his letter is presented in opposition to, but until you shake that framework that privileges the horizontal over the vertical, you’re stuck in the same rut. It’s subtle, but is at the core of so many problems in the contemporary Church, including this one:

Understanding human actions and choices as fundamentally, basically a response to God’s call and yes, law, keeps everything else in context, since, of course, God’s fundamental call is to love.

Understanding human actions as fundamentally, basically oriented towards keeping some sort of peace with others or creating a certain environment without our obligation to God at the center – absolute, unmoving center, no matter how uncomfortable it makes us – makes it really easy for us to create our own reality, including our own definitions for sin and forgiveness.

It’s the difference between living inside the Garden – or outside. That’s really the whole point of Genesis 1-3.

In short, it just seems to me that a week of reflection on this needs to not start with metaphors of jars and pebbles or concerns about credibility, but rather something more along the lines of Psalm 32.

Which it probably did, outside the official public communications.

Anyway, I haven’t even remarked on what struck me as the most problematic aspect of this letter: the deep, repeated call to work together, be unified, be in communion and so on.

Wait, what? Why is that a problem? I mean…isn’t dialogue and communion the point?

No. Truth is.

And the reason the harping on unity and scolding about “recrimination” is problematic in this context is that one of the crucial issues leading to this crisis was precisely that:  prioritizing of the external bonds between clerics above telling the truth and the privileging of protecting image over allowing consequences to be borne.

Who’s against dialogue and a mature search for answers and new ways forward? Hey, not me! But nothing at all will change if that dialogue is conducted in a context in which we are focused on how we think we should make each other feel and how the world sees us rather than on how all of this looks to God, –  or if we’re more invested in saying things that make us seem open-minded and unified rather than saying true things, no matter how harsh they may be.

Is the culture of church leadership in desperate need of encouragement to be more gently tolerant of all points of view and less critical of each other? Seems to me it’s pretty much the opposite.

We don’t create the bonds of Christian unity. God does this. Jesus Christ does, through Baptism. Our call is to recognize those bonds, strengthen them and then do the harder thing:  be willing to recognize when those bonds have been broken by sin  – and courageously say it out loud, no matter what the price.

Shorter, cynical version: When you’re told to get along and play nice, you’re probably being played. 

 

 

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Well! Happy Birthday, Jesus!

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I’m in Living Faith today. 

Remember: if you would like more of the same – every day of 2019! –  check out:

—3–

Thanks to Steve McEvoy for including my short story “The Absence of War” and two of my son’s short story collections in his best reads of the last quarter of 2018. 

–4–

Everyone has their favorite Christmas music, and in These Times, even their curated Christmas lists on Spotify and such – hey, I do! – and here are three of my favorites.

It’s still Christmas, people!

Celebremos el Nino – Christmas Delights from the Mexican BaroqueI love the music of the Latin American Baroque, and this is a wonderful introduction.

A Renaissance Christmas from the Boston Camereta. This gets the heaviest rotation, hands down.

Carols from the Old and New Worlds. 

And of course, the best Christmas song of all time: Merry Christmas from the Family by the master, Robert Earl Keen. 

Little sister brought her new boyfriend/He was a Mexican/We didn’t know what to think about him til he sang Feliz Navidad..Feliz Navidad

Of course he brought his new wife Kay/who talks all about AA/chain smoking while the stereo plays Noel, Noel….the First Noel.

–5 —

The only John Waters I knew of was the filmmaker, so I was confused to run across this article about the current state of Irish society and culture by one John Waters – who, I discovered is quite a different person. Judging from this article, I’ll be searching out more by him: Ireland, keep your opinions to yourself. 

What he says here is not just about Ireland, though:

Most people out there nowadays tend to speak in code, to avoid pursuit by the guardians of the new orthodoxies. Others just play along, reserving their energy for battles about immediate things.

There is this odd situation whereby a majority, or at least a sizeable minority, of the population is appalled and scundered at the way things seem to be going, but dare not give any indication that they are dismayed. This generalised sense of confusion and disgust is a great secret, even between people who hold to the same view. At the level of the central conversation, the facts are denied or distorted to uphold the official line that only a tiny minority of recalcitrant throwbacks have any difficulty with anything that is happening.

Most people daren’t even enumerate these current absurdities, but are dimly aware of the patterns: in the obsession with personal freedom expressed sexually, and the unrelenting emphasis on the ‘rights’ of nominated categories of person in the matter of doing whatever they please.

They observe these agendas being driven in the media by what are termed ‘human stories’ – carefully selected sociological narratives, chosen and tweaked to indict the past and the way things used to be seen and done. There are the women who have been denied abortions and the women who have had abortions and seem to be proud of this. Both are deemed heroines, or is that heroes?

There are the men who are really women and the women who are really men, and the men or women who are men one day and women the next. What was a short time ago unheard of is now, it seems, ubiquitous.

At the core of all this is what appears to be an attempt to insinuate sex and sexuality as the centre of human existence, human happiness, human being. It is not possible to dissent from it, even to ask that you be spared the details. In the alleged new era of truth-letting, no one is entitled to claim an amnesty or immunity.

Because the lie has been sold that everyone was involved in suppressing and oppressing those who have now ‘bravely risen up’, everyone must show up to salute their bravery and applaud their freedom. ‘No thanks’ is not an acceptable response, being likely to qualify as hostility, which invariably qualifies for a designation with an ‘ism’ or an ‘obia’ at the end of it.

This new culture has crept up on us, so that for a long time many people thought it was just a few isolated groups of soreheads demanding this and that entitlement they say had been denied them. Now, people are beginning to twig that there is a pattern here and that it is growing more insistent and pronounced.

The escalation of this new culture has taken on an exponential character, to the extent that it often seems to be dictating the nature and significance of everything the media suggests as important. Chat shows are dominated with the stories of people who would once have been considered to have a bit of a want on them.

These individual stories seem, moreover, to be connected, and plugged into the central grid of agenda-setting, which in turn appears to emanate from a lobby sector that commands the ear of government and instant access to the media. One story is crazier than the last, and tame compared to the next. But the weird thing is that nobody ever says – or at least not publicly – that the stories are crazy; instead, the subjects of them are congratulated for their ‘courage’ in speaking so personally about things that most people think should remain private.

Anyone who dissents from this analysis is likely to be eviscerated – first on social media, and then in the mainstream, which is essentially the same people acting in, respectively, their anonymous and bylined manifestations.

Most people are simply perplexed by all this and confounded as to where it is coming from and going to. The idea that it is simply a series of isolated stories is starting to wear thin, and people are becoming more open to the idea that something fundamental has shifted in our culture, though they cannot even begin to say what.

–6–

Two more links, related – really. Can you catch the connection?

A thread in Waters’ piece is trans-authoritarianism, which Twitter watchers saw on display this past week as tennis great Martina Navratliova committed wrongthink and heresy by opining that maybe it’s not right for men to compete in women’s sports. Geez.

Many of us have been waiting a very long time for ‘peak trans’ to be reached, and for liberals, faint-hearted feminists, journalists and politicians to break out of their cowardly complacency and face the reality – that extreme trans activism is misogyny. Perhaps peak trans may well have arrived, thanks to the latest valiant efforts of the transbullies.

The latest target in the vicious and often violent war being raged by extreme trans activists is one of my all-time heroes – the world tennis champion and LGBT rights campaigner, Martina Navratilova.

Navratilova has been accused of being ‘transphobic’ as a result of a tweet responding to a question from a follower about transgender women in sport.

From another angle, Julian Vigo in Forbes on an issue centered in a particular British context with British organizations, but her point is applicable in a wider context:

The reality is that there is a burgeoning medical industry and social apparatus which seek to label gender non-conforming children as “transgender” and which then undertakes to medicalize these children. And this trend is hardly limited to the United Kingdom. In the US,  Diane Ehrensaft, Director of Mental Health at San Francisco’s Child and Adolescent Gender Center, gives the some rather unscientific examples of transgender identification in small children—from a toddler ripping out her barrettes, a one-year-old girl enunciating “I boy,” and a one-year-old unsnapping his onesies. One need not read beyond these examples to see some very dangerous reductions made between what is a child’s natural behavior in experimenting with the world around and adults ready to fixate on every action to lend a reading of gender. Rather than focus on “gender” as the “problem,” it is far more likely that toddlers find barrettes and onesies uncomfortable, just for starters.

With organizations like Mermaids attempting to “educate” those within the public health services, teachers, and parents, we must be wary of the hokum being pawned off as “science.” It’s no more scientific than talking clownfish. And the downside of this story is that such balderdash is affecting our culture and ability to speak frankly with each other about the reality of sex and social expectations placed upon each sex. The true revolution around gender will come when we stop attempting to match or alter sexed bodies to a presumed “correct gender.”

–7–

All right, let’s get back to good news:

Our parish has been all in for Christmas, celebrating and praising through liturgy and sacred music and seeking to bring grace into ordinary life through the means that the Church has developed over time – no need for a committee to dream up a paraliturgy and make slides.

The music for Christmastide at the Cathedral of St. Paul.

The blessing of wine on the feast of St. John. (I missed it because I was on the road, doing the Birmingham-Gainesville-Birmingham journey.)

The blessing and distribution of Epiphany chalk.

(Add that to the Rorate Mass earlier in Advent.)

And nearby, the Fraternity Poor of Jesus Christ, invited to take up residence in the city by the Cathedral and diocese, were present:

For more Quick Takes, visit This Ain’t the Lyceum!

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If you only come here on Fridays, scroll back a bit for reports on last weekend, which included a wonderful Rorate Mass at the Cathedral of St. Paul in Birmingham as well as Bambinelli Sunday.

If you’re interested, here are the music programs for the Cathedral’s upcoming liturgies, which will include the praying of the Office of Readings before Midnight Mass.

Here’s the general list of the music at all liturgies (links)

Here’s the Order of Worship (pdf) for Midnight Mass. 

  • We welcome you to our solemn Midnight Mass. This sung Mass is sung by Cathedral Choir; this year’s Mass ordinary is Tomas Luis de Victoria’s famous Missa “O Magnum Mysterium”, one of the most famous Masses of the high Renaissance. Also presented is the motet “O magnum mysterium” by the same composer, along with the various Gregorian chant propers of the day.

  • This year, the 11:15PM prelude is replaced by the celebration of sung Office of Readings from the Liturgy of the Hours. This office (for Christmas Day) recalls the offices of Vigils and Matins, from which the Office of Readings is derived. Consisting of a number of psalms, readings, and responsories, this is a beautiful way to prepare for the celebration of the Christmas season. It concludes with a sung, solemn Te Deum.

  • Between the Office of Readings and Midnight Mass, Cathedral Choir will present Ihr lieben Christen, freut euch nun/Good Christians, rejoice, BuxWV 51, by Dietrich Buxtehude. This important sacred work, composed for the Sunday evening “Abendlied” Vespers services that Buxtehude began for the Marienkirche in Hamburg, alternates between instrumental, choral, and solo movements, and is an the ancestor of J.S. Bach’s transcendent cantatas.

 

— 2 —

These quick takes will function as a digest of sorts as well.

(Again, for those of you who only come on Fridays, a few days of each week, I attempt a “digest” of what I’m watching/reading/listening to.

Related image

Watching: Tonight (Thursday) we watched The Killing – Kubrick’s first Hollywood movie. Great stuff – short and not-sweet at all. A marvelous array of character actors, including Tim Carey’s bizarre turn as the puppy-stroking sharpshooter Nikki, whose interactions with a parking attendant also flesh out the era’s racial politics in quick strokes, and Elisha Cook Jr., weak link in the plan from start to finish, but who comes out with the most arresting and iconic final shots.

Image result for the killing kubrick

(That was after they went and saw the Spiderman cartoon in the afternoon, which they said was really good.)

I’m hoping to watch Roma over the next week some time.

—3–

Reading: I read a really terrible novel this week. It’s a new novel by a living writer (well, duh) and it’s not like I know this person or anything, but I still don’t feel quite right about trashing it by title. It struck me as weak after the first twenty pages and probably almost worthless after the next, but I kept on reading. Partly because it was short, and a short genre novel – it’s like sitting and watching television for an hour or so. Which is probably not the best use of my time, but there I was.

It had a Catholic – not theme, but hook – and the author obviously had some knowledge of Catholic things – the lingo was correct (sort of like the Mystery Catholic who writes for The Onion) and, okay I take that back – I guess there was  sort of redemption thread happening, but wow. The writing was stilted and repetitive, plotting was coarse and characterization wasn’t even an option, it seems.

Why did I keep reading it?

To encourage myself to keep writing. 

Mostly.

Also reading a lot about Seville. Spain.

–4–

Writing: Speaking of which. Got an invitation to work on a small project that will be due at the end of January.

My guys will be gone for a few days over Christmas, and in the time I’m not in Charleston, I’ll be here, hopefully finishing up story #2 and maybe thinking more about longer fiction. I have something started – I just don’t know if what I envision is doable. By me, at least.

We’ll see.

–5 —

All right, we’ll finish up with links.

Perhaps you’ve heard about the Der Spiegel writer who is in big, big trouble. Deservedly. 

Seriously, if you haven’t, read this Medium takedown of his “report” on Smalltown, USA and be amazed and perhaps even enraged. 

Yes, this guy is a piece of work and an extreme example of journalistic malpractice, but after a zillion years on the planet, I’ve learned to view any piece of reportage that claims  to paint a picture of a place or movement with skepticism from the ground up.

Where does that leave us? I’m not sure. Probably where we’ve always been all along, just trying to figure out the truth.

–6–

This is an entertaining Twitter feed: Terrible Maps.

–7–

I’m usually allergic to year-end roundup things, but you might find useful bits here: 18 Pieces of Goodness in Pop Culture in 2018. 

It’s the memorial of St. Peter Canisius. Read about him here. 

 

 

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