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Over the weekend, I read Trans by Helen Joyce. I wasn’t planning to read it because I thought – well, I’ve been immersed in these issues for a while and there’s probably little new in it to me. But then all the mess with the American Bookseller’s Association came down last week – in which including a sample of Abigail Shrier’s Irreversible Damage was met with weeping and gnashing of teeth by bookseller recipients and followed by an abject apology for the “violence” by the ABA, I decided to go ahead and spend some money to support these purveyors of violence.

And no, there’s not a ton new to me in the book, but it’s good to run through it presented in a cohesive manner, so here’s the thing – if this is an issue you’re in the least interested in or – especially – if you are involved in an organization or institution that is confronting these issues – including the Church – it’s an excellent book to read and pass on to others. Joyce – a writer for the Economist– goes through the history of this movement from the early 20th century to the present, and most importantly explains how the thinking about this matter has changed, accelerated greatly in recent years, from an idealistic conviction that by doing surgeries a man could “become” a woman to the current iteration – that “gender identity” is an almost spiritual reality unrelated to material reality of the body, and that if a person with male genitalia wants to be called and treated as a woman, society and the legal system must treat him as such.

Pretty crazy.

And as I keep saying – if you’re going to deal with these issues, you must understand this – that gender self-identity is the goal of this movement.

She touches on it all – the history, the wealth pushing this, the focus on children – all of it. It’s a good primer.

A few quotes then some comments:

Take, for example, an article for Therapy Route, an American website, by Mx Van Levy, a non-binary therapist, entitled ‘Why the term transition is transphobic’. The reason presented is that the word ‘transition’ is ‘based on the idea that gender looks a certain way and that people need to change from looking/sounding/acting/and more, a certain way for their identity to be respected . . . The reality is, we are who we are, and our outside appearance does not change who we are on the inside . . . The term transition implies that we were one gender and are now another. But that is not the case. We are and always have been our gender . . . changing how we look on the outside is not a transition.’

In this, as in much else, the activists do not by any means speak for all trans people. But it is the activists’ version of the ideology that is in the ascendant, and that is being codified into laws.

And that’s what I keep telling you. This is not a niche issue. When local, state and federal jurisdictions declare, under pressure and lobbying, that one’s self-declared gender identity trumps biological sex in access to accommodations, and your daughter’s school, in an effort to just avoid lawsuits, declares all restrooms and changing rooms unisex …..you’ll see.

Democrat-controlled states and cities, however, continued to write self-ID into laws and regulations, both in schools and elsewhere. To give a typical example, an anti-discrimination law passed in New York City in 2019 defines sex as ‘a combination of chromosomes, hormones, internal and external reproductive organs, facial hair, vocal pitch, development of breasts, gender identity, and other characteristics’. When these do not align, it says, ‘gender identity is the primary determinant of a person’s sex.’

Such goals are worthy ones, but they are not what mainstream transactivism is about. What campaigners mean by ‘trans rights’ is gender self-identification: that trans people be treated in every circumstance as members of the sex they identify with, rather than the sex they actually are……

This is not a human right at all. It is a demand that everyone else lose their rights to single-sex spaces, services and activities. And in its requirement that everyone else accept trans people’s subjective beliefs as objective reality, it is akin to a new state religion….

But mainstream transactivism does none of this. It works largely towards two ends: ensuring that male people can access female spaces; and removing barriers to cross-sex hormones and surgeries, even in childhood. These are not the needs of people on low incomes at risk of poor health. They are the desires of rich, powerful males who want to be classed as women. Everything I have written about – the harm to children’s bodies; the loss of women’s privacy; the destruction of women’s sports; and the perversion of language – is collateral damage.

One business sector, in particular, has benefited from transactivism: health care. Helping gender-dysphoric people feel comfortable in their bodies makes no one much money; turning them into lifelong patients is highly profitable.

Now a couple of comments:

First, Joyce makes the decision to use preferred-gender pronouns in this book, which I suppose I understand. The book will be controversial and cancel-able enough without Joyce being accused of murdering trans people by using their dead pronouns or whatever.

Secondly, on matters of more substance.

Joyce’s understanding of the foundation and motivation behind the trans movement reflects, of course, her own worldview. How can it be any different? But as such, it’s lacking a certain philosophical weight. That is, an honest confrontation with the changes in sexuality in general over the past century – most specifically the development and universal use of artificial contraception – the stripping of function from the reproductive system, which leaves us – human beings – in a performative space and not much more.

She inches close at times, but still is pretty far away:

Someone who rarely engages with nature or exerts themselves physically will be predisposed towards body-denialism. And if you spend a lot of time playing computer games, you will have become accustomed to identifying with avatars who can be altered on a whim…

Absolutely. But there’s more, isn’t there?

As I wrote – gee, two years ago tomorrow (odd) in a post:

Right before I wrote all those posts in February, I read this obscure sociological study of an early 20th century Quebec community called St. Denis. I wrote about it here, and had intended to bounce some gender stuff off what I read there, but it slipped on by, and here we are.

So as I read about this community, which, like most traditional communities, there were some sex-related roles and functions – most related to childbearing, child-care and general strength –  and many duties shared across both sexes – running farms, homes and businesses – I contemplated how the question of figuring out if you were male or female would fly in that culture.

Hahahaha.

Just, maybe, look down? Bien sur?

Oh, sure, there are always edges and odd places where people who don’t feel quite right, who can’t feel as if they fit – live and breathe and struggle. Sure. Always and everywhere. But in general, the question is not fraught. Why? Because you can’t strip your body of its natural reproductive functions, and while people certainly were normal and did what they could and what they believed was licit to engage their sexuality without conceiving (or confessed when they tripped up) – you can see that in a community where people have to work dawn to dusk in order to survive, where much of that work is physical, where people are always having babies and those babies need care, including nourishment from female breasts, where physical strength and endurance is needed for all sorts of work that sustains the community –

there’s no time or space for someone to stare at the moon and think….wow…I feel so girlish this evening. I do think I might have a Lady-Brain in this boy body I was assigned at birth.

So – part one. Affluence, privilege and procreation-free sexuality.

Finally:

What Joyce – and other feminist thinkers opposing the trans movement – are unable to confront is the relationship of this nonsense, on a deep level, to abortion.

Because of course, opposing transactivism is about continually bringing out the facts of material, biological reality and emphasizing the point that no matter what you think or desire – you are who you are. A castrated man with breast implants and an electrolysized face is still a man. Our opinions and desires don’t determine reality.

And nor do our opinions change the reality of a person’s race or ethnicity. Nor do our opinions change the reality of a person’s age. Nor do our opinions change the reality of the rights due to a human being, no matter what age, and no matter where they reside – outside the womb – or deep inside.

So there’s a certain amount of frantic flailing that runs, as an undercurrent, in the work of anti-transactivists. It’s almost as if they can’t understand how this is happening – when from another perspective, it’s very clear: in culture in which sexuality has become performative and preborn human beings are treated as diseased organs, well yes – it becomes quite possible to enshrine, in law, the notion that whatever you think you are – you just are.

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Fr. Steve Grunow:

We should not look back wistfully on the twentieth century, nor should we be uncritical about the so-called achievement of the modern world. 

One of the lessons we might learn from all this is that what we call civilization is a rather thin veneer, and what lies beneath this surface is a terrifying heart of darkness. Christians, who are called to live in the truth, must be realists about this and cannot afford to be naive. 

It was in the heart of civlized Europe, among the fading remains of Christian culture, that the death camps were built and millions of innocent men, women and children were put to death for no other reason than that their very existence challenged the ideological conceits of their oppressors. 

In the midst of the world’s darkness, we are called by our Baptism to be a light in the shadows of this fallen world. Saint Maximilian is one such light, his life and death stands as a testimony to Christ, the eternal light, whom the darkness cannot overcome. 

For too many Christians, the faith is a safe routine, a kind of philosophy of self-improvement, something meant to be comfortable and comforting. 

The witness of St. Maximilian stands against this illusion. Christian faith is not so much about safety as it is about risk. It is meant to take us out into the world, into the shadows, to be a light to show the way home to those who live in darkness. 

May St. Maximilian intercede for us. May we imitate his selfless courage. May the fire of his holy light enkindle the embers of faith that may have grown cold in our own hearts.

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI:

In fact, how many examples we could cite of situations in which it was precisely prayer that sustained the journey of Saints and of the Christian people! Among the testimonies of our epoch I would like to mention the examples of two Saints whom we are commemorating in these days: Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, Edith Stein, whose feast we celebrated on 9 August, and Maximilian Mary Kolbe, whom we will commemorate tomorrow, on 14 August, the eve of the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Both ended their earthly life with martyrdom in the concentration camp of Auschwitz. Their lives might seem to have been a defeat, but it is precisely in their martyrdom that the brightness of Love which dispels the gloom of selfishness and hatred shines forth. The following words are attributed to St Maximilian Kolbe, who is said to have spoken them when the Nazi persecution was raging: “Hatred is not a creative force: only love is creative”. And heroic proof of his love was the generous offering he made of himself in exchange for a fellow prisoner, an offer that culminated in his death in the starvation bunker on 14 August 1941.

On 6 August the following year, three days before her tragic end, Edith Stein approaching some Sisters in the monastery of Echt, in the Netherlands, said to them: “I am ready for anything. Jesus is also here in our midst. Thus far I have been able to pray very well and I have said with all my heart: “Ave, Crux, spes unica'”. Witnesses who managed to escape the terrible massacre recounted that while Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, dressed in the Carmelite habit, was making her way, consciously, toward death, she distinguished herself by her conduct full of peace, her serene attitude and her calm behaviour, attentive to the needs of all. Prayer was the secret of this Saint, Co-Patroness of Europe, who, “Even after she found the truth in the peace of the contemplative life, she was to live to the full the mystery of the Cross” (Apostolic Letter Spes Aedificandi).

“Hail Mary!” was the last prayer on the lips of St Maximilian Mary Kolbe, as he offered his arm to the person who was about to kill him with an injection of phenolic acid. It is moving to note how humble and trusting recourse to Our Lady is always a source of courage and serenity. While we prepare to celebrate the Solemnity of the Assumption, which is one of the best-loved Marian feasts in the Christian tradition, let us renew our entrustment to her who from Heaven watches over us with motherly love at every moment. In fact, we say this in the familiar prayer of the Hail Mary, asking her to pray for us “now and at the hour of our death”.

St. Maximilian Kolbe is included in my Loyola Kids Book of Saints, pp. 244-247 in the section “Saints are people who are brave.

"amy welborn"

 

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I read two novels this week – in print! Thank you, libraries!

The first, Blackwood , by Michael Farris Smith, is a Southern Gothic type novel that didn’t quite work for me.  The central, driving tension did: how we cope with what we have done and what we have failed to do – and what has been done to us. Basically (and I’ll say it outright, since it’s the opening scene of the book) – a man, who, as a boy, witnessed his father’s last moments of life, a suicide. (But I’ll hold something back here, since its reveal is a good, jolting shock) – He spends his life wondering about his own role and bearing wounds of childhood trauma that even precedes his father’s death.

And I’ll say, that the way in which all of this circles around at the end is, indeed, grace-filled and redemptive, and even surprisingly so.

But the other part of the story is gothic, haunted, creepy, with kudzu as the metaphor and strange, damaged, damaging people doing strange deeds under the vines. Life is being choked out, the doings are hidden, and, it seems, nothing short of burning it all down will rid the world of the evil.

I mean, okay. And it was pretty readable, albeit sad, but the Gothic-ness was a little labored for me.

So let’s move on to Followers, which was more interesting, but flawed as well.

amy_welbornHere, we jump between time zones, so to speak: the recent past (2015/6) and the future (2051). In the recent past, we focus on Orla and Floss – one aspiring writer, stuck on a celebrity blog who believes she can and will do better and more, and the other an aspiring celebrity with all of the self-regard and conniving that aspiring celebrities generally have. And so, they join forces in order to reach those planets of fame and fortune.

In the future, we have Marlow, who has been raised in a place called Constellation, which is essentially a 24-hour Land of Social Media, where everyone’s lives are lived online, so to speak, in front of millions of followers.

Somewhere in between the two eras was a mysterious (for most of the book) disaster referred to as “The Spill” – which seemed to have wiped out the internet and the means of communication and information sharing that we know today, and the reaction to which scared everyone off the Internet,  which then allowed the government to step in and take control of it all. The Spill and the aftermath also made devices as we know them today, obsolete – replacing them with “Devices” that are implanted in the wrist and feed everything – thoughts, information, images – directly to the brain, confusing the individual as to what he or she is generating and what’s coming from outside.

Pretty complicated, but it mostly works, although I felt it was a bit long. Author Megan Angelo casts a healthy critical eye over the power of social media and the Internet, and what it does to us as individuals and the kind of culture it builds and supports.

Ellis thought so, too. “Hold on!” he said, waving his hands. “Save it, Mar. This is your authentic reaction to becoming a mother. You’ve gotta share it with your followers.” He opened the bathroom door and prodded her out, to where she could be seen. 

It’s about the hunger to influence, to matter in a big way, to feel important, and to do so by getting people interested in you or your narrative. I think the novel does a good job of exploring this in an imaginative way, skewering what highly merits being skewered, but there’s a missing piece. The focus is on characters who hunger for the influence –  but just as interesting to me is what makes that possible: the hunger to be influenced. What drives, not just those who want followers, but the followers themselves. That’s the other part of the dynamic and it could use some skewering, too.

But for the most part, Followers is a pretty entertaining, sharp look at the power of the Internet and social media, and how stupid it all is, and how, in the end, it distances us from the Real – as in this really quite beautiful and true passage:

Where could Marlow possibly be, besides, where she’d been told to go?

Here. Here, cutting through choppy, silt-filled water, away from all of them and closer to the truth. Marlow had been taught that being watched put food on the table, that there wasn’t a better way to live. But she had seen, on the sidewalks of New York, all the happy nobodies — people whose days weren’t built around lengthening the trail of attention spans floating behind them. They were paunchy and muttering and somehow more alive, and they made Marlow feel sorry for Floss and Ellis, with their endless performing, and Honey, with her army of dark-hearted disciples. They might have had all the followers, but they were never finished chasing.

Marlow was done being looked at. Now she was doing the looking, and finally seeing things differently. She found, in the sunrise, all the colors the pills had kept from her for years: a shade of orange she loved. A yellow that reminded her of when it was her favorite. A pink that might have been fine after all. She was hearing something, too, in the space her device used to fill: a brand-new voice inside her head, telling her to keep going. 

She leaned over the boat’s railing, into the spray, and listened to the voice. She was almost positive it sounded like herself. 

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—1 —

An interesting few days.

The two fellows who still live here are gone for a bit to visit family elsewhere. They’ll be back early next week, but for the moment, I’m alone for the first time since Christmas.

I was talking to my son who lives in NYC, where they’re opening things up, slowly but surely. The past week, he’s finally had some consistent social, face-to-face interaction with friends again – for the first time in months.

Each of experiencing welcome change, for opposite, but related reasons.

I add – quickly – that it will also be a welcome change when the guys return!

But everyone needs a break now and then, yes?

— 2 —

So what am I doing? Working. I have a project due on June 20, and I’m trying to get it halfway finished by Monday. Then I can coast, working on it for probably an hour or so a day until it’s due.

For me, the part of a project like this that requires the most focus is the framing and thinking through the shape and emphasis of it. And that kind of focus is hard for me to grab in small chunks. I need to have a large expanse of time in which I know I’m not going to be interrupted by anything. It didn’t used to be that way, but you know, guys, I’ll be sixty in a few weeks, and so something like concentration is harder to come by.

Today (Thursday) was a framing/get in the groove day. That done, I can work on it for a couple of hours a day till Monday, and then put my mind to the next fiction project.

Still getting chapters of Nothing Else Occurs to Me up on Wattpad. Slowly but surely. (Backstory: here)

— 3 —

So….we have a new bishop here in Birmingham. Bishop Steven Raica, formerly of the Diocese of Gaylord, Michigan.

I’ve not met him yet, don’t know a thing about him.

If you’re interested, you can watch the Vespers and Installation Mass that were broadcast on EWTN. If you do, you’ll get to hear the voices of our Cathedral’s core schola, which has been singing Cathedral Masses even through much of the lockdown, when Masses were streaming-only, not public.

 

 

 

As I’ve said before, it’s an approach that makes sense. If you’re not going to have congregational singing, consider the liturgical history of the Church, consider what developed during the centuries when congregational singing in the West was not the norm – and use that. 

It’s far preferable than having to listen to someone gamely warbling Praise and Worship music up there all by themselves.

— 4 —

Okay, I’ve not only been working the past couple of days. I’ve tried to walk a couple of hours a day – which means listening to my BBC radio podcasts – and I’ve read quite a bit as well as (gasp) watched a few movies – films that wouldn’t interest my housemates. So let’s do a quick survey.

First, reading – I finally finished Trevor’s The Boarding-House. That was a tough slog. I was most interested in the structure of it, which switched between points of view very quickly without transitions, as well as the historical detail revealed about London in the early ’60’s. The switching was confusing at first (I read it on Kindle and thought there was something wrong with the formatting), but once I got accustomed to it, I didn’t mind. My problem with the book is that I didn’t care about any of the characters and couldn’t figure out why I should spend time with them.

Anyway, I have a couple more short novels that I checked out via Hoopla that I will try to knock off over the next couple of days, then I think I’m going to plunge back into some Wilkie Collins. I need an absorbing, crazy read like No Name (reviewed here) in my life. I’d started Poor Miss Finch a couple of weeks ago, and will probably return to that. 

— 5 –

Now, movies.

I started watching Rocketman. I did like a few Elton John songs as a teen, but am definitely not a fan, but I was curious about the structure of the film and wanted to see the sections about his early life. Ended up watching the whole thing, not because it was great, but simply because of inertia, I suppose.

I did like the structure – I mean, why not tell a sketchy biographical tale of a living musician by making it a musical of sorts? I actually liked most of the musical set-pieces quite a lot. I think they worked. But the psychological trajectory and personal motivation offered was superficial – to be expected when the piece is produced by intimates and is about a living figure – and formulaic.

Bernie Taupin emerges as the one person you wouldn’t mind spending time with, to be sure.

— 6 —

Il Posto via the Kanopy platform. I gather you’re not supposed to say this is Italian Neorealism, since it’s not immediately postwar, but, well, you could have fooled me. It’s slow and observant, and I liked it quite a bit.

It’s the story of a young man from a village outside Milan who travels to the great city to test for a job, gets the job and begins working at the job. That’s it. It offers us a fascinating look at Italian life in the period and a rather trenchant, mostly wordless critique of white-collar work in large companies.

Except he won’t, and that’s what is so crushing about Il Posto. Antonietta comes to represent the youthful dreams that stagnate in an office building and the drudgery a job enforces. Once Domenico accepts his position as a messenger, Olmi breaks away from his lead for the first time. He takes us on an evening tour of the off-the-clock activities of the accounting staff that Domenico will eventually join. Some have very common, uninspired existences, others harbor their youthful folly as if it were rare treasure. There is the older man who goes to the pub and sings a song that is intended for someone not so advanced in years, and the would-be novelist who scribbles out his book in secret, hiding his light under a towel. Domenico tells his new boss that he may still go to night school to pursue the vocation he wants, but Olmi is showing us the true likelihood of that happening. Domenico’s father told his son that a job like this one is for life, and as the boy will learn, these positions tend to only open up when somebody dies.

Much of Olmi’s framing is intentionally expressionistic. The corporate world alternates between imposing, with the workers appearing small next to the business structure, and claustrophobic, cramped into their own little spaces. On the other hand, though Ermanno Olmi and cameraman Lamberto Caimi shot Il Posto in such a way to show life as it was, hoping to render the dreary gray of an average day, the black-and-white photography has taken on a nostalgic beauty over the years. Domenico and his peers just look more stylish, with their clean haircuts and their suits and ties, than we expect our youths to look today. Looking at Il Posto is like looking at photographs in a vintage magazine back issue: by being frozen in time, the images seem simpler, more desirable, than the busy world we’re used to today. Maybe that was by design. Maybe Olmi wanted it all to look hopeful and modern if only to add to the impact of the crushing blows to come.

The subverted ending of Il Posto sneaks up on the audience. We’ve been trained to expect something more, just like Domenico. We realize that there is nothing else mere moments before he does, and we can only brace ourselves for the heartbreak that is coming.

— 7 —

The Virgin Spring (1960) | The Criterion Collection

Finally, in a move that will please Son #2, I finally watched The Virgin Spring – his pick for his #1 Bergman. Here’s his review, and here’s his list. 

(He’s currently working his way through Hitchcock)

Okay, okay. I agree. It’s a great film, and I’m glad I finally watched it. I’m not an afficiando of Bergman’s films, but I have come to understand a bit about his spiritual-wrestling throughreading my son’s reviews. 

The standouts of that violence made the contemporary New York Times critic say that the movie was a thin morality tale below Bergman’s talents, but there’s actually so much more. What is there just isn’t spoken about, but it lingers in the background of everything. The conflict between the paganism of Odin and the monotheism of the new Christianity isn’t a stand-in for a simplistic good vs. evil battle. Instead, there are interesting shades within each character that drive the ideas even further. The father, Tore, obviously clings to his old pagan ways and has been dragged into the new Christianity by his wife Mareta. Their daughter, Karin, is beautiful and eager to look her best for her mission to deliver candles to the church, but she is also haughty, entitled, and manipulates her parents with ease. Ingeri, the pregnant Odin worshiper the family has taken in as a ward, prays for Karin’s defilement but confesses to Tore after the crime and begs for the punishment Tore will mete out to the perpetrators.

Where this movie stands out in Bergman’s filmography most for me is the thematic thrust of the film. The Virgin Spring came out in 1960, just a few years after the existential The Seventh Seal and right before the Silence Trilogy, and yet the thematic point isn’t a form of rejection of religion. In fact, the titular spring is an embrace of the idea that man’s concept of God, as manifested by the Church, is correct. It’s a natural extension of the story he was trying to tell, but also an artifact of the fact that he didn’t actually write the movie. God is still silent in the face of the violence placed upon the innocent Karin, but the existence of the spring that shoots from where her lifeless head had laid for a day, opening up immediately after Tore had promised to build a church of mortar and stone on the spot, is God’s communication. He speaks more in that than in anything else Bergman made.

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

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Had a very strange, unusual experience yesterday. Encapsulated in this Instagram story:

wp-1592917356898.png

No, I’m not going anywhere, except to Atlanta to take people to the airport. But it does mean a few days of (I hope) great productivity. What it doesn’t mean is a trip to Ikea on that Atlanta journey, since the hints I’ve read online indicate that there’s a considerable wait just to get into the store, which just reopened about ten days ago. Forget that. Let’s digest:

Writing: I have something due on July 20. Haven’t started writing it yet. Hopefully over the next week I’ll get it about half done as well as get myself in a sort of groove, so that once people return, the hard part of framing and envisioning will be done and I can just write a few hundred words in between music practices and food prep and other shenanigans.

I am putting up a chapter a day to the novel I wrote about here. Two up so far, one more coming later today.

I’ll be in Living Faith on Sunday. You’ll be able to see it here. 

A lot of my book sales are seasonal, specifically– Christmas and then Easter/First Communion/Confirmation related. I don’t have access to book sales from the various publishers that publish my books, but I do have some metric that Amazon provides authors. I don’t think it’s just Amazon sales, but I’m not sure. Anyway, not surprisingly, compared to previous years, this spring’s sales have been laughably miniscule. Totally expected. Shrug. The interesting thing, though, is that over the past two weeks, there’s been a rather dramatic uptick. Not at the typical height of April/May, but about four times as high as a normal June.

First Communions are back, baby!

Listening:  As reported, we have moved on from Brahms, Haydn and Prokofiev(you can listen here to the entire playlist – it’s public now – and he got “Excellents” from all three judges in the competition) to Gershwin (the big three Preludes plus Novelette in Fourths and Debussy’s First Arabesque. That’s the summer playlist, with him beginning to tackle the entire Moonlight Sonata as his big project for next year. Plus, I think the teacher is wanting him to do some Chopin Etude.

Watching: A bit of a blip in movie watching, as work schedules, hanging out with friends The Man in the White Suit (1951) - IMDband a new video game have interfered. After Hobson’s Choice, we stayed in England and took in the Ealing comedy The Man in the White Suit

A low-key satire about human beings’ response to innovation and change. Alec Guinness portrays an unassuming yet committed young scientist who is trying to invent an indestructible fabric. He seems to succeed, but the initially-welcomed development is soon understood to have repercussions for almost everyone – from the big business tycoons to labor. It’s a movie about persistence, creativity, resistance to change and yes, my favorite theme, unintended consequences. Not as hilarious as The Lavender Hill Mob or quite as dark as Kind Hearts and Coronets,  but a gem of a film.

A Nanoscale Perspective on The Man in the White Suit - 2020 Science

We watched in on the Kanopy platform via the library, and followed it withthis Buster Keaton short,also on Kanopy.

Reading:  Wandering about the internet, searching through book blogging and reading sites, I happened upon this entry focusing on a mid-century novelist who apparently penned relatively short, sharp and dark books. I’m sold. I picked up The Girl on the Via Flaminia  – reviewed here, and read it in an evening.

(My main go-to for books like this, the Internet Archive, has been hit with legal action restricting what books it can make available for borrowing – books that you could borrow for a week or more are now only available for an hour. Hopefully they can get that straightened out soon. I discovered that this was available via Hoopla from my local library. It seems to me that Hoopla’s holdings have greatly expanded since the last time I checked, before Covid.)

I enjoyed it very much, although, you know, it wasn’t a laugh riot or anything. Set in Rome during the last stages of the Second World War, it’s about an American soldier who attempts an arrangement with a young Italian woman. A step above prostitution, in his mind, but is it really? Aside from the interesting landscape of wartime Rome, it confronts us with important questions about victory, defeat and occupation – and the impact of these Important Events on ordinary people, who simply want to live their lives.

I’ll be reading more of him.

Now I’m reading The Boarding House by William Trevor, which I also borrowed digitally from Hoopla. It’s quite a strange book. I started it last week and gave up after twenty pages, but then returned to last night. I’ll stick with it this time.

Cooking: Three major recent successes:

Madeleines. They were Son #4’s favorite bakery good from France years ago, and it just wp-1592919871186.jpgoccurred to me a couple of weeks ago that I should try to make them. Ordered a pan for the purpose, and followed this recipe – success! The recipe is correct though – these are not items that keep. They really are only good the first day.

These ribs. I ended up marinating them for almost three days (kept meaning to cook them, but life interfered). Delicious. Excellent. And yes, the Chinese cooking wine does make a difference. (Obtained, along with the ribs, from our local mega-Asian grocery store. $2.99 a bottle.)

A bone-in ribeye cooked via this method – the reverse sear.This is the second time I’ve done this, and I’m sold. Yes, I splurged on a higher cut of steak (when you’re only buying one, and you do it once a month….go ahead), so that makes a difference, but this method really does produce a wonderfully juicy steak, no resting required.

Now…no cooking for a week!

 

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—1 —

Time certainly does fly, doesn’t it?

Not too long ago, our Honduras trip was in the future, and we were ready and excited to go …and then we were in the midst of it….and now…we’ve been back over a week.

 

How did that happen??

If you’re interested in all the posts I’ve written on the trip, go here. 

Advent is just about here – still time to order resources, especially if you go the digital route. Here’s a post on that. 

If you’re interested in ordering signed (or unsigned!) books as gifts from me…go here. 

Advent Resources

— 2 —

Thanksgiving was quiet here. College Kid is back and in and out. Daughter and son-in-law will be dropping by on Friday. College Kid returns for the final sprint on Sunday, then M and I head out to see new Grandson/Nephew for a couple of days (a longer return trip will be happening after Christmas, when College Kid can come, too).

Dinner was fine, but neither it nor the prep were Instagram-worthy. No turkey this year – I wanted to give College Kid food that he’s not getting and that he’s missing at school, so we did flank steak (this recipe – my standby).

 

— 3 —

Lots of Christmas shopping lists out there highlighting small businesses – here’s a good one focused on Catholic shops

— 4 —

Latin is not useless – and there are reasons to study that go beyond vocab boosting:

The frail argument offered by the usefuls has, for decades, helped to prop up shaky pedagogical and rhetorical methods, only adding fuel to the fire of the uselesses. The structure won’t hold anymore. No, the study of Latin—demanding, challenging, exhausting, and, like a good hike through the mountains, restorative in and of itself—must not be treated like a cognitive boot camp. Next we’ll be going to the Louvre and the Metropolitan Museum to sharpen our vision and to La Scala to improve our hearing. Divers and ballerinas have beautiful physiques, no doubt, but they’ve built those muscles so they can dive and dance, not to look at themselves in the mirror. When we study Latin, we must study it for one fundamental reason: because it is the language of a civilization; because the Western world was created on its back. Because inscribed in Latin are the secrets of our deepest cultural memory, secrets that demand to be read.

One other minor contention against the usefuls and the uselesses: Latin is beautiful. This fact undergirds all that I will be saying in these pages. Beauty is the face of freedom. What all totalitarian regimes have most strikingly in common is their ugliness, which spreads to every aspect and form of life, even to nature. And by the adjective “beautiful” I mean to say that Latin is various, malleable, versatile, easy and difficult, simple and complicated, regular and irregular, clear and obscure, with multiple registers and jargons, with thousands of rhetorical styles, with a voluble history. Why give ourselves practical reasons for encountering beauty? Why impede ourselves with false arguments about comprehension? Why submit ourselves to the cult of instant access, of destination over journey, of answers at the click of a button, of the shrinking attention span? Why surrender to the will-less, the superficial, the defeatists, the utilitarians? Why not see that behind the question “What’s the point of Latin?”—perhaps posed unassumingly—rests a violence and an arrogance, an assault on the world’s richness and the greatness of the human intellect?

I would like to put the reader on guard against one more noxious cliché. Even among specialists one hears the term “dead language” thrown around. This characterization arises from a misconception of how languages live and die, and a hazy distinction between the written and the oral. Oral language is linked immediately with the idea of being alive. But this is a bias. Latin, even if it’s no longer spoken, is present in an astounding number of manuscripts—and writing, particularly literary writing, is a far more durable means of communication than any oral practice. If, therefore, Latin lives on in the most complex form of writing we’ve yet imagined, namely literature, is it not absurd to proclaim it dead?

Latin is alive, and it’s more alive than what we tell our friend at the café or our sweetheart on the phone, in exchanges that leave no trace. Think of it on an even larger scale. In this very moment the entire planet is jabbering, amassing an immeasurable heap of words. And yet those words are already gone. Another heap has already formed, also destined to vanish in an instant.

It’s not enough that the speaker is living to say that the language he or she speaks is alive. A living language is one that endures and produces other languages, which is precisely the case with Latin. I’m not referring to the Romance languages, which were born from spoken Latin, or to the massive contribution of Latin vocabulary to the English lexicon. What I mean to say is that Latin qua literature has inspired the creation of other literature, of other written works, and, as such, distinguishes itself from other ancient languages: those that, even with a written record, are truly dead on the page, since they served in no way as a model for other languages.

 

— 5 –

 

I thought this was good:

This also means, though, that if we are going to become missional parishes, and make forming disciples our main emphasis, the Sunday liturgy cannot be our sole focus. It can’t be our “main event.” It can be the place where disciples come to grow in holiness and be sent on mission, (Ite Missa est), but it can’t be the main way we attempt to accomplish our mission to evangelize. It is a way, in the Church’s theology, that we disciple and catechize those who have already made that intentional decision to follow Jesus, since the sacramental economy is not accidental to the Christian life, and, mainly through the homily, it can be a way that we do missional formation and evangelization, but it isn’t primarily how we as a Church have ever primarily, initially made disciples through the work of pre-evangelization and evangelization.

The Mass isn’t ever going to be very good at pre-evangelization, which is what most people in the earlier discipleship thresholds need. The Sunday service at your local evangelical church is always, always going to be able to put the “cookies on the bottom shelf” more effectively than the Mass is. While we both have Sunday worship experiences, the target audience of ours is very different and, I guess what I am wondering is…maybe that is okay?

To me, this is good news because, frankly, in refining the focus of the Mass, we still do not lose our missionary mandate as parishes, so we have to figure out how to do that elsewhere. Outside of some small tweaks with how we approach hospitality and welcoming, or the homily, etc., nothing about the way the liturgy is crafted is ordered with non-believers in mind. It is inherently for disciples, to move them deeper into the mysterium tremendum. It serves the mission in the sense that it sanctifies disciples to prepare them for mission but it’s purpose is not to speak to non-disciples in a way that impacts them and moves them through the thresholds. Even the best tweaks we can make to the Sunday experience will still not allow for the Mass to actually comprise the sum total of our evangelistic efforts, if we want to be missionally impactful in our communities.

If parishes DO want to be more missionally effective, they then have to get really serious about Thinking Outside of Sunday.

 

— 6 —

 

If you haven’t read Madeleine Kearns’ NRO cover piece on “The Tragedy of the Trans Child” – here it is. An excellent summary of much of the current situation. 

 

— 7 —

 

Good saints coming up next week – including St. Nicholas, so be sure you check out the Saint Nicholas Center in time!

I’ll be in Living Faith on Tuesday – so go here to check that out. 

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

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Coming to you from this morning’s office:

Sorry, not a coffee drinker, and a helpful young man in the convenience store dug behind all the regular bottles to find me a couple of Sabor Ligero – Coca-Cola Light, which is what you find outside the US instead of Diet Coke. You can also find Coke Zero, but I prefer the non-sweetness of this – which is not as perversely satisfying as the metallic mouth feel of Diet Coke, but hey. #GratitudeNovember or whatever.

Today’s the second day of Spanish school. I stayed at the school all morning yesterday, but there’s no need – so here I am back at our B & B, watching French tourists come and go.

All right – let’s do Monday:

Refresher: Kid #5, about to turn 15 next week has a long-standing interest in MesoAmerican civilizations, especially the Maya. It inspired past trips to the Yucatan and Guatemala. He is homeschooled, studied Spanish in 8th grade in school, has been doing his best on his own at home (mostly via this Great Courses and other random videos and reading, at the moment, El Hobbit.) But of course he needs more, and it seemed to be a good idea to combine the two interests – see a set of ruins he’s long wanted to visit and take a week of intensive Spanish study.

I had originally looked into Antigua, Guatemala, simply because I wanted to go there, but after thinking about it and considering options, it seemed as if the setting of Copan would give us more opportunities for after-school activities in the afternoons. There is a IMG_20191111_084415.jpglot to do around Antigua (not so much archaeological sites, but natural and cultural), but most of them seem to call for more than an afternoon. So, I was thinking, “We can do a week in Antigua, and then go to Copan”…I thought…why not just go to Copan for the week? As it turns out, there are a couple of well-regarded and reviewed Spanish language schools here, and so far – on day 2 – it seems to be working out well.

Monday morning, we rose, ate the typically well-prepared breakfast here at the B & B, then walked the six blocks or so to the school, located off the central square. It’s on the rooftop of a building housing a restaurant, a dental practice and some other businesses. He was introduced to a teacher, took a placement test, and then spent the next few hours learning how much he had to learn!

Humbling…

We then dropped our stuff off at the B & B, and ate lunch at a place recommended to us by our Copan guide – Cafe San Rafael – a lovely space centered on locally-made cheeses, as well as coffees (of course). It was more expensive than the typical local fare (full meal, for example, the previous night, for  both of us for 135 Lempira – about $5.50 USD), but worth it.

Then we took a mototaxi – what you’d know, more generally, as a “tuk-tuk” – they don’t Screenshot 2019-11-12 at 10.36.09 AMcall them that here – the prevalent mode of transportation in these parts – up  about 2 km to Macaw Mountain, a nature reserve originally started for birds that had served their usefulness to their owners as pets. You can read about it here. It was a good break from the hustle and bustle of town – we’d seen the flock of Macaws that fly freely at the ruins (and will see them again today) – and these guys are mostly in cages because they are being bred and trained to fly (those hatched in captivity), but still, it was a pleasant afternoon.

Back to town in a mototaxi, a rest, then out to get tickets for a Saturday excursion (we were originally going to leave Saturday, but decided this day-long excursion would be worth it), then dinner here – it was good – I had chicken, son had beef, with typical accompaniments. Monday Night Football en espanol on television, a cat wandering about. I prefer the more street-food stuff – the dishes cooked under tents in nooks and crannies  throughout town – and we have and will have plenty of that – but it’s nice to have a break from that to eat an actual enclosed space, as well!

Then a stroll into the center where we saw the pernicious influence of the USA in…Christmas decorations! On November 11! Ah, well…then to this small archaeological museum to fill out our Copan knowledge. Across the way, the church doors were open, so we went over to peek in and saw a man speaking to a fairly large group of folks – some sort of educational or mission activity I suppose. Children were racing around outside and since we obviously do not look native to these parts, were shouting, “Hello!” to us – one little boy (and I mean little – he was probably no more than 6 or 7) – was especially determined, so we took a few minutes for him to practice his English  – of which he was very proud – with us –  he could count to twelve, he knew all the greetings, and could tell me, when I asked him – gato? CAT! perro? DOG!

Back to the room…homework time for one of us, and me, reading John Lloyd Stephens on Copan. I have at home, for some reason, just the second volume of his great work – I think I got it when we first started on this path, and it’s the second volume that deals with the Yucatan. What I hadn’t realized was that Copan was actually the first ruins he encountered, the first place that revealed to him that maybe everything we thought we knew about this part of the world is wrong….It’s absolutely fascinating reading. 

Off-topic – Older Son is working his way through Billy Wilder’s oeuvre. Check it out here. 

Later!

(Don’t forget Instagram!) 

 

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— 1 —

Well, hey. If you only come here on Fridays, please stay a while and check out my previous posts. You might be interested in my account of the various Triduum liturgies I attended here in Birmingham or the page I’ve started collating much of the more substantive writing I’ve done on books.

The collage below (click on each image for a larger version) features images from my books related to recent and near future liturgical commemorations and highlights – saints, Scripture readings, seasons:

 

Divine Mercy (this coming Sunday), St. Mark (4/25), Mary Magdalene (Gospel accounts), Easter, last page of entry on St. Thomas’ encounter with Jesus (this coming Sunday), the Road to Emmaus, St. Catherine of Siena (Monday).

For more on these books, go here. 

I also have copies of all of them except Heroes here, as well as The Catholic Woman’s Book of Days (great Mother’s Day gift!) Go here to order if you’d like a personalized copy! 

 — 2 —

From the Catholic Herald: “What Happens when Celebrities Walk to Rome:”

 

They have their joking and bantering moments, but they grasp the deeper meaning of pilgrimage: a journey of discovery into the soul, as well as a physical challenge surrounded by inspiring scenery.

Each of the characters has a back story: most touching was Les Dennis’s feeling for the Ave Maria, because his mother had sung it as a young girl in Liverpool Cathedral (but she left the faith when a priest refused to baptise her child born out of wedlock – a very wrong clerical decision, surely). Dana didn’t say a lot, but when she spoke to illuminate a wayside shrine to Our Lady, she was so patently sincere in her faith that the whole group seemed moved.

The pilgrims have a sense of awe that they are following in the footsteps of so many who went before, on the same route, from Canterbury to Rome (although in this instance, they started off in Switzerland). They are also in the tradition of Chaucer, where adventure was part of the journey too.

And The Road to Rome has another striking dimension: in these Brexity days of adversarial debate and shouty political arguments, here’s a genuinely European experience which is about crossing frontiers in peace, discovery, spirituality and merry companionship.

— 3 —

Sohrab Ahmari on the Sri Lankan martyrs:

“He who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me,” but “he who loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 10:38-9).

By that stark measure of discipleship, Sri Lanka’s slaughtered Christians have amply proved themselves. On Sunday, they filled their churches in Colombo to greet the Risen Jesus only to fall victim to Islamist savagery. The Christians of Sri Lanka lost their lives for the sake of the Lord – simply, beautifully, radically – and even now their wounds are glorified like his.

The question the Sri Lanka massacre, and others like it in places such as Egypt, Nigeria and Iraq, pose to Christians in the West is: what have we sacrificed for the faith lately? What have we suffered for the suffering God?

A friend of mine likes to say that “there are no Styrofoam crosses”. If you’re handed a real cross, you will recognise it by the heavy weight, by the pieces of wood that splinter off and prick your hands as you try to carry it.

–4–

From First Things, a fascinating exchange between French writers Michel Houellebecq and Geoffroy Lejeune. 

Geoffroy Lejeune: I have been going to Mass every Sunday for the last thirty years and have experienced almost all the liturgical styles. I frequented some charismatic meetings, notably with the Communauté de l’Emmanuel, and like you I saw people dancing, singing, speaking in tongues—in short, giving themselves over to all the effusions that we thought were reserved to Americans alone. I have to admit that a form of joy reigns over these assemblies that is sometimes a bit worrisome, because certain members seem possessed (their behavior during so-called “evenings of healing” leads one to believe that this mystery can only be experienced if one is in bad shape). And I have never felt farther from God than on these occasions: I was eighteen years old, I was neither sickly nor depressed, and I ended up believing that, because I was unable to sob uncontrollably or pour out my feelings into a microphone in front of people I didn’t know, I was simply not made for the faith.

There is a wound that ought to be treated by the Church: the wound of not knowing God, or of not knowing how to find him. In the 1960s, when the Beatles were making the world dance, the Church asked itself how to continue to announce the gospel. In 1962, it called the Second Vatican Council. Wags remarked that the cardinals arrived there by boat and left by plane: The institution had just entered modernity. In drawing closer to common mores, in speaking the language of its time, the Church believed it could maintain its tie with the faithful who were thrown off balance by the liberal and sexual revolutions.

The changes, notably, concerned liturgy: Latin was abandoned, ornamentation was simplified, and the priest turned toward the congregation. Parishes invested in synthesizers, and girls began to keep the beat in the choir. But the drama of style is that it goes out of style. Sixty years later, the synthesizers are still there, and the girls too, but they have grown old, and their voices quaver—even the priests can no longer put up with them. Only the dynamic parishes of the city centers escape this liturgical impoverishment, but even there on a Sunday one can hear a guitarist trying his hand at arpeggios, and recall this cruel reality: He’s no Mark Knopfler.

This race toward modernity is an obvious failure, and the churches are considerably emptied as a result. Before Vatican II, one-third of French people stated that they went to Mass every Sunday. In 2012, this number had fallen to six percent, the sign of a major cultural upheaval.

The phenomena are probably linked: The Church tried to conform itself to the world at a moment when the world was becoming uglier.

Well, that doesn’t actually represent an “exchange” – but you can click back and read it for yourself. I read Houellebecq’s Submission a couple of years ago and wrote briefly about it here. I’m looking forward to reading his new novel, which will be published in English in the fall.

–5 —

If you have followed the story of the Notre Dame fire, you have probably picked up on the fact that what we see of Notre Dame includes a great deal of restoration. Here’s an article detailing centuries of work, destruction, and rebuilding:

What many don’t realize is that the majority of what one sees when one looks at Notre-Dame’s west façade is a modern restoration. The French Revolution badly damaged the symbol of the hated monarchy, robbed the treasury, and threw many of the art and artifacts contained therein into the River Seine. The 28 statues of biblical kings on the west portal were beheaded, even as the flesh-and-blood Louis XVI had been; the majority of the other statues destroyed; and the building itself used as a warehouse.

While Napoleon Bonaparte restored the building to the church in 1802, Notre-Dame was still half-ruined. Victor Hugo’s bestselling 1831 novel Notre-Dame de Paris (better known in English as The Hunchback of Notre Dame) drew attention to the cathedral’s plight.

 

— 6 —

Alabama prisons are terrible. Our governor wants to “fix” the problem by building more. A Republican state senator argues for a different approach – from a Christian point of view.

State Sen. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, chairman of a key prison oversight committee, and a longtime advocate for justice-system reforms, describes himself as appalled by the report’s findings. And, from his bully pulpit at the Statehouse, he’s been doing some preaching about it.

In comments to AL.com and to NPR, Ward has wondered aloud how a proud Bible-believing state can countenance such shameful prisons in its midst.

“No one in this state should read this report and just roll their eyes,” Ward said to AL.com. “It’s a disgrace to our state. I know everyone says, ‘They are criminals’ and ‘Who cares?’ We profess to be the most Christian state in the country, but no Christian would allow their fellow man to be treated the way that they are said to be treated. That may not be the popular view, but it’s the truth.”

 

 

— 7 —

Son who writes on film (and writes fiction) has a bunch of recent posts:

Jean de Florette

The Lord of the Rings

Silent comedies. 

Harold Lloyd, I think, was closer in style to Buster Keaton than Charlie Chaplin. All three’s movies were primarily made up a series of gags, but Lloyd was more interested in stunts and laughs (like Keaton) than narrative cohesion (like Chaplin).

Still, his comedy remains distinct. Where Keaton was The Great Stone Face, Lloyd was extremely expressive. He also had very boyish looks as opposed to Keaton who kind of looks like he could have just been a stuntman. Lloyd was also probably as daring as Keaton was. It’s the combination of boyish innocence in his face along with the outlandishness of his stunts that makes Lloyd my personal favorite of these three.

 

 

 

 

 

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

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— 1 —

How about some good news? One of the very few good reasons to pay any attention to Instagram is the Humans of New York account. It never, ever fails to put life into perspective, sharing stories of strength and hope, as well as reminding us of the weight and burdens every soul we meet is carrying.

The past couple of weeks, the account has been posting stories from the Special Olympic World Games, being held in Abu Dhabi. Really, go check it out. 

 — 2 —

More good news:

What happens when you give a Franciscan $1 million?

He gives it away.

At least that’s what Brother Peter Tabichi, OFM, plans to do with the $1 million prize he won March 23, which came alongside the 2019 Global Teacher Prize, which he received at a conference Saturday in Dubai.

“This prize does not recognize me but recognizes this great continent’s young people. I am only here because of what my students have achieved. This prize gives them a chance. It tells the world that they can do anything,”  Tabichi said.

The brother is a science teacher at a school in rural Kenya.

— 3 —

On building a “thinking Church:”

Aquinas has extremely pertinent thoughts on how to understand the unity of learning, he then adds, offering an answer to young people trying to join the dots of what they know.

“We’ve gone into places like Harvard and MIT, and what we’ve seen is that people who are absolutely expert at, say, natural sciences or law, are deeply tantalised by the idea of having a deeper understanding of reality,” he says, describing how students and academics take part in annual conferences on cam puses and in nearby monasteries, where they learn about the Catholic intellectual tradition and begin to engage with it, changing spiritually as they do.

All told, he says, the institute reaches about 15,000 people in person, with a further million people around the world listening to the conferences online.

“I think Aquinas is a resource that we can tap into today, that allows us to speak directly to our contemporaries and to our contemporary questions,” he says, noting that “questions that we have in our own sceptical era about whether there’s any fixed knowledge or truth than can be obtained universally are issues he deals with in a direct way that are extremely compelling and very profound”.

Fr Thomas was in Dublin last month to speak at St Saviour’s Priory on the need for Catholic intellectuals and in UCD on the theme of when religious belief is irrational, and it’s striking that he believes the Scriptures are themselves very clear on religious irrationality.

“On the harmony of faith and reason and the question of irrational belief, the most severe critiques of religious irrationality are in the Bible itself, in that you’ll find them in the Old Testament prophets, who were the most severe critics of superstitious or irrational religion or morally disoriented religious practice,” he says. Noting how excoriating the prophets could be of superstition, idolatry, human sacrifice, hypocrites and those who fabricate God on their own terms, he says “they’re very severe on almost every front and they’re equal opportunity offenders – they go after everyone”.

–4–

A pastor reflects on new life in his parish:

The other day a priest who had served 10 years ago at Star of the Sea remarked on the parish’s “amazing revival”. Mass attendance has been growing annually at 12 per cent, and income has more than doubled. We’ve planted flowers and shrubs, installed new lighting, restored the marble sanctuary and flung the doors wide open to the city. The parish school begins an Integrated Classical Curriculum (consisting of grammar, logic and rhetoric) this autumn, and parishioners are caring for the homeless and advocating for the elderly and unborn.

Mother Teresa famously said, however, that “we are called not to success but to fidelity”. Success and fidelity are essentially different categories, motivated as they are by different ends. While not demanding success, the Lord does expect the fruit of fidelity. His first command, to “be fruitful”, has never been abrogated, and “every branch that does not bear fruit will be cut off” (John 15:2). Christ promises 30, 60 and a hundredfold fruit to those who faithfully sow his Word. There is a way of measuring the revival of a parish, but it is not “success”. It is fruitfulness.

–5 —

Eve Tushnet on some reading on medieval Eucharistic piety:

Alongside the Crucifixion, the Eucharist–and specifically the Real Presence, the literal transformation of the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ–was one of the aspects of Catholicism which first drew me to the faith. I could tell you that it was because the Catholic doctrine seemed most responsive to the Gospels; I wrote a paper, back when I was the only atheist in my History of Christian Doctrine section, arguing that Jesus’ words at the Last Supper, when you consider His insistence in the face of horrified disbelief in John 6:52 – 57, wasn’t simply a metaphor like “I am the vine.” But I have to admit that I loved (and love!) the doctrine of the Real Presence largely because it’s visceral, bizarre, bloody-minded. It seems like the kind of overturning, catastrophic, violent thing the God of Exodus and Good Friday would do–the kind of awful thing our world and our actions would require of Love. It is hardcore.

When I was sick with stress and unsure if I’d really go through with baptism and confirmation, Eucharistic Adoration steadied me and got me through it. I’ve found Adoration deeply consoling, especially because you don’t have to worry about whether you’re able to receive Communion. Nothing’s required of you except your presence. There’s nothing you have to pray or do–just be there. The Mass is the corporate prayer of the Church but there are times when you want an intimacy, a bridal chamber for yourself and Christ, without dealing with your neighbor or your place in the community. Venturing into extreme anecdata, I’ve written a bit about the atttraction the Eucharist holds for those on the margins of the Church due to poverty or stigmatized sexuality.

So I picked up Miri Rubin’s study Corpus Christi: The Eucharist in Late Medieval Culture with great interest this Lent. I’ve gnawed through this tome 20pp at a time and found a great deal to love in it, despite some disagreements with her framing of the issues. Rubin delves deep into all kinds of records and evidence–not only theology and hagiography but wills, church financial records, the annotations and marginal illustrations in prayerbooks; parody, superstition, miracle tales, and more. I loved her willingness to seek out everybody’s responses to the Eucharist, not just the “official” ones. I loved her attention to the ways that people use even our most meaningful cultural touchstones–no, actually, especially our most meaningful cultural touchstones–for a variety of all-too-human purposes, economic and political and emotional. One of Rubin’s theses is that the Eucharist grew steadily in cultural presence, and Eucharistic piety rose to a fever pitch, throughout the second half of the Middle Ages–but that this piety called forth responses, criticisms, heresies. Every doctrine gives people a vocabulary with which to articulate their resistance to it, or to the people who promote it.

— 6 —

Writing thing:

“Christ-Haunted George Saunders” from First Things:

Unwittingly, Saunders offers up a crucial question that Catholic art—in implicit imitation of the practice of penance—would do well to evoke: “This hurts, yes . . . but what is hurt?” In the gospel story, the cross darkens the disciples with these same grotesque questions; through the bloody wounds of Christ, the queries continue to pierce, pulsing past even the divine comedy of the resurrection.

Despite his pluralistic syncretism, then, Saunders’s life and works remain Christ-haunted. Which other living writer of such stature speaks reverently of the Latin Mass and the traditional Catholic practice of “offering it up”? As Saunders demonstrates, it is worth watching out for writers of repute who, even if they might not be able to recite the Nicene Creed in good conscience, are marked by their inherited, cultural Catholicity.

And Movie/Writer Son on:

Au Revoir des Enfants 

The priests and teachers of the school have taken in three Jewish boys in an effort to hide them from the authorities. Julien has trouble connecting with people easily partially because he’s so terrified that an errant word on his part, or on the part of another boy, could give away not only himself but the two others.

There’s a great moment in the latter half of the movie that highlights the difference in how Julien and Jean approach the world. All of the boys in the school have been sent out as two separate team to find a treasure. Julien gets separated from his team but finds the treasure on his own. Alone with night approaching, he looks around and finds Jean nearby.

Julien Quentin: I found the treasure. All by myself.
Jean Bonnett: Are there wolves in these woods?

Julien’s mind is on play. Jean’s is on the danger that surrounds him at all times.

— 7 —

Laetare Sunday is coming:

From Pope Benedict XVI in 2007:

Only a few more remarks: the Gospel helps us understand who God truly is. He is the Merciful Father who in Jesus loves us beyond all measure.

The errors we commit, even if they are serious, do not corrode the fidelity of his love. In the Sacrament of Confession we can always start out afresh in life. He welcomes us, he restores to us our dignity as his children.

Let us therefore rediscover this sacrament of forgiveness that makes joy well up in a heart reborn to true life.

Furthermore, this parable helps us to understand who the human being is: he is not a “monad”, an isolated being who lives only for himself and must have life for himself alone.

On the contrary, we live with others, we were created together with others and only in being with others, in giving ourselves to others, do we find life.

The human being is a creature in whom God has impressed his own image, a creature who is attracted to the horizon of his Grace, but he is also a frail creature exposed to evil but also capable of good. And lastly, the human being is a free person.

We must understand what freedom is and what is only the appearance of freedom.

Freedom, we can say, is a springboard from which to dive into the infinite sea of divine goodness, but it can also become a tilted plane on which to slide towards the abyss of sin and evil and thus also to lose freedom and our dignity.

Dear friends, we are in the Season of Lent, the 40 days before Easter. In this Season of Lent, the Church helps us to make this interior journey and invites us to conversion, which always, even before being an important effort to change our behaviour, is an opportunity to decide to get up and set out again, to abandon sin and to choose to return to God.

Let us – this is the imperative of Lent – make this journey of inner liberation together.

Every time, such as today, that we participate in the Eucharist, the source and school of love, we become capable of living this love, of proclaiming it and witnessing to it with our life.

Nevertheless, we need to decide to walk towards Jesus as the Prodigal Son did, returning inwardly and outwardly to his father.

At the same time, we must abandon the selfish attitude of the older son who was sure of himself, quick to condemn others and closed in his heart to understanding, acceptance and forgiveness of his brother, and who forgot that he too was in need of forgiveness.

And you know this:

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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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