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Posts Tagged ‘religious life’

Clickbait. Sorry.

No, not me – this Amy:

Image result for veep the pledge abortion

Probably hardly any of you watch the HBO program Veep , but this plot point from this week’s episode has been nagging at me, so before I share thoughts on the Notre Dame fire, I’ll dash this one off.

Veep is the often funny  – although less so in the last two seasons – show featuring Julia Luis-Dreyfus as  power-desperate politician Selina Meyer and her mostly idiotic and equally craven entourage and sycophants. It’s very profane, and yes – everyone is terrible. 

It’s a show abouterrible, awful, despicable people exploiting us so they can run the country.

And it never pretends that they’re anything but that. I don’t think we’re even supposed to be conflicted about hating these people, as sometimes happens with television and film. They’re hilarious in their awfulness, but they’re still awful. I held back watching it for a while because I assumed it would be nothing but liberal/progressive entertainment types taking easy shots at Deplorables, but – I imagine because of its British roots and original showrunner – it hasn’t played that way at all.

However, I did think the show took a fairly precipitous dive in quality after the fourth season, when the original showrunner and creator of the British series (The Thick of It)  on which it was based  – Armando Iannucci –  departed. The insults and repartee got far more forced and it became almost unwatchable at times.

But here I was, along for the ride for this, the seventh and final season. Let’s check it out. Eh. Okay, with some welcome sharp satire of a Kamala Harris-type candidate and wealthy liberal donors calling the shots and making candidates dance (literally). That was good to see. But…

I’ll just cut to the chase.

In this week’s episode, one of the main characters – Amy Brookheimer, who has functioned in various capacities in Selina Meyer’s administrations and campaigns, has an abortion, and yes, it is played for satire and laughs.

She’s pregnant because of a one-night stand with a former lover and completely despicable human being Dan Egan, who’s also slept with Amy’s sister (and countless others). She waffled a bit about having the baby, but then, at the end of episode 2, she announced that she’d be having an abortion.

This week’s episode had, of course, several plot lines weaving in and out. This one was played as many abortion-related storylines are – that is, centered on suspense whether or not she’ll actually go through with it. I felt, in a way, that the way this one worked was a reflection of  and maybe even commentary on a similar plotline in Sex in the City in which one character sets out determined to have an abortion, the episode leads us to think she did – and we find out at the very end that she changed her mind and would be having the baby.

But not here. We have Amy entering the abortion clinic – clashing with (of course) caricatures of pro-life protesters in deeply profane ways, claiming yes, she’d even prayed about this, then she’s in the room with Dan who makes crass jokes about the vacuum aspiration machine on display (here’s a piece that lays out the dialogue, if you can stand it) – and then the other storylines take over and, of course, someone like me is sitting there hoping that she’d have changed her mind, but then – well, here’s our last scene of Amy in a hotel room, recovering, Dan with her, the two of them still making snappy jokes, naturally.

Yes, disappointing (I know…fiction) …and here are my takeaways.

  • What’s disappointing to me is not so much that this character had an abortion – she’s a fictional character, after all, and given who she is and who’s she’s been, an abortion fits, unfortunately.

No, what disappoints me – although not, I hasten to say, surprises me – are the explanations and justifications offered by those involved with the show. Not that they would treat abortion in this darkly “humorous” matter – I should remind you that in a previous episode, mass shootings were treated in a similar way – as welcome distractions from problems on the campaign trail and thoughts and prayers nothing but words. But  – no, it’s disappointing that, in their words, I pick up the typical attitude to abortion and “women’s choice” and so on – disappointing from human beings who have borne and raised children (actress Anna Chlumsky, who plays Amy, was actually pregnant during the shooting of a previous season). What am I saying? Is abortion exempt from dark, satirical humor? I don’t think so. Maybe. But it’s so very dark and so very horrible – you know, killing kids – that…maybe? For sure, be aware of the darkness as you go. And just maybe, despite their ideological rhetoric – they are?

  • For the fact, however, that those involved with the show discuss the matter the way they do indicate that deep within, they do understand that there is something at stake. In other words – removing an appendix or fixing a pinched nerve or knee replacement surgery aren’t subjects for dark, edgy humor – why? Because there’s not much at stake. It’s not just about social taboos. It’s dark and edgy because people know, whether they admit it or frame it so or not, what’s happening in an abortion – and that a human fetus is different than an appendix. Having an abortion impacts life – Life  – in a way that other “medical procedures” don’t. It wouldn’t be a subject for drama, “dark humor” or controversy if it weren’t. What does that tell us? Anything?

Finally, and despite the right-to-choose triumphalism of Veep personnel, considering the broader context of the abortion in the show’s plotlines and character development, I can’t help but wonder what the final impact on viewers will be. For consider this:

In that final scene, Amy gets a call from a character played by Patton Oswald, one involved in the presidential campaign of Jonah Ryan – it’s an offer to be Jonah’s campaign manager, which she accepts with ecstatic glee.

Image result for jonah ryan

But, let’s remember: Jonah Ryan is, like almost everyone else on Veep, terrible. Terrible and fairly stupid. Amy knows Jonah well and has spent years hating him. HatingBut now she’s leaping at the chance of managing the presidential campaign of a person who, if put in power, would be even more of a disaster for the country than almost any other candidate – and she knows it. But so what? She can put “campaign manager” on her resume. Because, as she chortles my schedule has been scraped clean! 

Having an abortion so you can personally profit from helping someone you know to be terrible gain even more power?

Why yes, I can’t disagree…that’s….

Dark. 

 

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john baptist de la salle

Today is the feastday of St. Jean-Baptiste de la Salle, the 17th-18th century French priest, founder of the Christian Brothers, who revolutionized education.

In brief:

Jean-Baptiste de la Salle (1651-1719) is one of the most important figures in the history of education. As the founder of the Institute for the Brothers of the Christian Schools – not to be confused with the Irish Christian Brothers – he showed a revolutionary fervour for the education of the poor.

In teaching techniques, too, he was an innovator, insisting on grouping pupils together by ability rather than by age. Against the traditional emphasis on Latin, he stressed that reading and writing in the vernacular should be the basis of all learning.

Equally, Catholic dogma should lie at the root of all ethics. Yet de la Salle also introduced modern languages, arts, science and technology into the curriculum. Of his writings on education, Matthew Arnold remarked: “Later works on the same subject have little improved the precepts, while they entirely lack the unction.”

From a LaSallian page:

John Baptist"john baptist de la salle" de La Salle was a pioneer in founding training colleges for teachers, reform schools for delinquents, technical schools, and secondary schools for modern languages, arts, and sciences. His work quickly spread through France and, after his death, continued to spread across the globe. In 1900 John Baptist de La Salle was declared a Saint. In 1950, because of his life and inspirational writings, he was made Patron Saint of all those who work in the field of education. John Baptist de La Salle inspired others how to teach and care for young people, how to meet failure and frailty with compassion, how to affirm, strengthen and heal. At the present time there are De La Salle schools in 80 different countries around the globe.

An excellent summary of the life of the saint can be found at a webpage dedicated to a set of beautiful stained-glass windows portraying the main events.

Not surprisingly, de la Salle left many writings behind. Many, if not all, are available for download at no cost here. 

All are of great interest. De la Salle wrote on education, of course, but since his vision of education was holistic, he is concerned with far more than the transmission of abstract knowledge or skills.

You might be interested in reading his Rules of Christian Decorum and Civility.

It is incredibly detailed. Some might find the detail off-putting or amusing. I see it as a fascinating window into the past and a reminder, really, of the incarnational element of everyday life. The introduction to the modern edition notes:

De La Salle sought, instead, to limit the impact of rationalism on the Christian School, and he believed that a code of decorum and civility could be an excellent aid to the Christian educator involved in the work of preserving and fostering faith and morals in youth. He believed that although good manners were not always the expression of good morals, they could contribute strongly to building them. While he envisioned acts of decorum and civility as observing the established customs and thereby protecting the established social order, he envisioned them more profoundly as expressions of sincere charity. In this way the refinement of the gentleman would become a restraint on and an antidote to self-centeredness, the root of individual moral transgressions as well as the collective evil in human society.

Perhaps we can see a key difference here – the difference between educating with a goal of prioritizing self-expression and self-acceptance and that of prioritizing love of others and self-forgetfulness.

Huh.

 

A sample:

Decorum requires you to refrain from yawning when with others, especially when with people to whom you owe respect. Yawning is a sign that you are bored either with the compabruegel-yawning-man.jpg!Largeny or with the talk of your companions or that you have very little esteem for them. If, however, you find that you cannot help yawning, stop talking entirely, hold your hand or your handkerchief in front of your mouth, and turn slightly aside, so that those present cannot notice what you are doing. Above all, take care when yawning not to do anything unbecoming and not to yawn too much. It is very unseemly to make noise while yawning and much worse to yawn while stretching or sprawling out.

You need not refrain entirely from spitting. It is a very disgusting thing to swallow what you ought to spit out; it can make you nauseated. Do not, however, make a habit of spitting often and without necessity. This is not only uncouth but also disgusting and disagreeable to everyone. Take care that you rarely need to do this in company, especially with people to whom special respect is due

Also of interest might be two books on religious formation, gathered here into a single volume. The first centers on the Mass, and the second on the prayer life of a school.  The first was intended, not just for students, but for parents and the general public as well, and once again, offers a helpful and important piece of counter evidence against the ahistorical claim that the laity were not encouraged to “participate” in the Mass before the Second Vatican Council.

Of all our daily actions, the principal and most excellent one is attending Mass, the most important activity for a Christian who wishes to draw down God’s graces and blessings on himself and on all the actions he must perform during the day. jeanbaptistedelasalleNevertheless, few people attend Mass with piety, and fewer still have been taught how to do so well. This is what led to the composing of these Instructions and Prayers to instruct the faithful in everything relating to the holy Sacrifice and to give them a means of occupying themselves in a useful and holy manner when they attend Mass.

To begin with, we explain the excellence of holy Mass, as well as the benefits derived from attending it. Next, we point out the interior dispositions that should animate our external behavior at Mass. Finally, readers learn the means of focusing their attention fully during the time of Mass.

Following this presentation, we explain all the ceremonies of holy Mass. Finally, this book suggests two sets of prayers, one based on the Ordinary of the Mass, the other on the sacred actions performed by the celebrant during Mass. Thus the faithful can alternate between both sets of prayers without growing overly accustomed to either one. Those who prefer can select the one set they like best or that inspires them with greater devotion

 

 

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In case you missed it – and I hope you didn’t – one of the big events in our life in these parts was Tuesday’s St. Joseph Altar at my youngest’s school. Here’s one photo – go here for more and a Catholic school-related rant –  and to Instagram for video. 

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 — 2 —

And then two days later, what happens? Emergency lockdown, that’s what!

He said some kind of dispute erupted between one of his co-workers and their boss. The employee pulled out a gun and fired multiple times. Harris said he did not know the nature of the argument.

“I just tried to get out of the way because a bullet ain’t got no names,’’ he said. “The dude shot three or four times.”

He said his boss was struck in the back. Birmingham Fire and Rescue Service radio traffic indicated he was shot in the mouth as well, but that has not been confirmed. The victim was alert and conscious when he was transported to the hospital. Harris took his boss his cell phone and his boss told him he was going to be OK.

“It didn’t have to escalate to this,” Harris said.

A businessman was on the top of the parking deck when the shooting happened. He said he heard multiple shots, and then called 911.

The Birmingham Police Departments K9 Unit was brought to the scene to try to track down the suspect. The cleared the area, but South Precinct Capt. Ron Sellers said they have good identity on the suspect. “The suspect knows who he is. He knows he shot someone. It’s best you come froward and tell your story,” Sellers said.

A nearby school – Saint Rose Academy – was briefly put on lockdown while police searched for the suspect.

A bullet ain’t got no names. 

How true is that!!

— 3 —

It was scary for a couple of minutes here – I got a text from the school saying URGENT LOOK AT YOUR EMAIL SCHOOL IN EMERGENCY LOCKDOWN…

email? Email? Email?

Well, itdidn’t come and it didn’t come and I was starting to worry a little and was almost ready to call the school when the email finally came through.

My son said it was, indeed, a little scary. They were all outside, then were hustled inside to an area behind the stage. The maintenance man was formerly in law enforcement and an officer came on the property as well, but the staff handled everything very well, as far as I can tell, and all was back to normal by dismissal.

–4–

In other local Catholic news – check out our Cathedral’s Facebook page for images of lovely refurbished floors and new pews. 

Also yesterday – on the traditional feast of St. Benedict – the transitus of St. Benedict, the local Benedictine Abbey – St. Bernard’s up in Cullman (if you’ve driven on I-65, you’ve seen the billboards for Ave Maria Grotto – and perhaps you’ve visited. If you haven’t, do – it’s well worth the stop) – oh, sorry – anyway, the abbey welcomed three postulants!

–5 —

Speaking of St. Benedict, here are some pages from The Loyola Kids Book of Saints on him:Benedict4

He’s in under “Saints are people who teach us new ways to pray.” Here are some excerpts – click on images to get a fuller view.

BenedictI

 

Finally – I’ve posted this before, but in case you have missed it, this is a fantastic video from the Benedictines at St. Bernard’s Abbey, located about 45 minutes north of Birmingham. It’s wonderful, not just because of the way in which the monastic vocation is explained, but because those words really apply to all of us as we discern God’s will – every moment of every day.

 

— 6 —

Yesterday (Thursday) was also World Downs Syndrome Day. Here are a couple of related videos:

 

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

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Bunch of links this week. First – check out my posts on gender issues from earlier this week. To be continued either today or over the weekend. (Just click backwards on the post links above.)

Also – I have a bunch of mostly book-centered posts over at Medium. 

I was in Living Faith on Wednesday. Read that devotional here. 

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Preparing dinner at a local shelter Monday night.

— 2 —

My hilarious and brilliant friend Dorian is blogging again – it’s a trend! Blogging is back!

—3–

Another friend, Villanova prof Chris Barnett has refashioned his blog – Theology + Culture. 

–4–

Good piece on the “Unfulwilled Promise of the Synod on Young People.”  I’d be more cynical than the author, but all that means is that he’s more charitable, and therefore a better person.

–5 —

Did you know that there’s been a spate of serious church vandalism incidents in France? Yup. 

–6–

Our Cathedral rector with an excellent post on “morbid introspection” as a spiritual danger. Spot.  On. 

A classic paradigm for prayer is ACTS — adoration, contrition, thanksgiving, supplication. Where does morbid introspection fit into this? It doesn’t. Adoration centers mostly around praise. Contrition involves introspection, but turned back to God for his mercy and healing. Thanksgiving perhaps also involves introspection, as we thank God for the ills from which he has already delivered us and for all the other blessings he has given. Indeed, thanksgiving often involves praise. And supplication may involve some introspection as we ask for what we need — but praying for ourselves should usually be secondary to praying for others and the world, lest we end up becoming too self-involved.

If you struggle with a tendency to grow sad by focusing on your problems/difficulties, the advice that Fr. Kirby gives is right on, and I’ll paraphrase: cut it out, and praise God instead.

I’m reminded of some passages from St. Jane de Chantal that I’ve highlighted in the past:

Pray what does it matter whether you are dense and stolid or over-sensitive ? Any one can see that all this is simply self-love seeking its satisfaction. For the love of God let me hear no more of it: love your own insignificance and the most holy will of God which has allotted it to you, then whether you are liked or disliked, reserved or ready-tongued, it should be one and the same thing to you. Do not pose as an ignorant person, but try to speak to each one as being in the presence of God and in the way He inspires you. If you are content with what you have said your self-love will be satisfied, if not content, then you have an opportunity of practising holy humility. In a word aim at indifference and cut short absolutely this introspection and all these reflections you make on yourself. This I have told you over and over again.

–7–

Septuagesima Sunday! Check out this post!

"amy welborn"

I’ve created a Lent page here.

And don’t forget – .99 for my short story The Absence of War  – here. 

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

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Want to know more? The old Catholic Encyclopedia entry is a good place to start.  Another good intro at the EWTN site.

I wrote about him in The Loyola Kids Book of Saints.

 

 

(You can click on individual images to get a clearer view.)

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In case you only visit here on Fridays, or this is your first time, do click back through the past few days. I’ve been posting almost every day (well…except yesterday…)

IMG_20190105_111123We are at the tail end of a marathon of piano lessons. Over the past eight days, he’ll have had his two regularly scheduled jazz lessons and four regular piano lessons. The reason is that his regular teacher is in grad school now, out of state, and has been back home for the break – so we’re trying to get as much in-person lesson time in as we can before we have to return to the adequate, but not optimal video lessons.

Phew. And at some point we need to get back to the pipe organ – hopefully in the next couple of weeks.

Other than that we are all about basketball, bagging groceries, one of us prepping to go to DC for the March for Life and two last semesters commencing: one last semester of high school, and one last semester of eighth grade – possibly, probably and hopefully the last semester of traditional school in these parts, period.

Please, God.

— 2 —

Last week, I noted the flood of new works entering the public domain in 2019. Well, here’s a list of a few medieval-related books in the group. Maybe you’ll find something interesting? 

—3–

Also medieval-related, and from the same site: A Medieval Man’s New Year’s Resolutions:

In the diary of Gregorio Dati, an Italian merchant born in the fourteenth century, we can see resolutions tied to this urge to face a new year as a better man in an entry dated January 1, 1404.

While modern people’s resolutions – at least those we voice aloud – tend to target our shortcomings around food and exercise, Dati’s resolutions aim at how he wishes to be a better Christian. He writes, “since my birth forty years ago, I have given little heed to God’s commandments,” and his three resolutions are aimed at rectifying this. First, Dati says,

I resolve from this day forward to refrain from going to the shop or conducting business on solemn Church holidays, or from permitting others to work for me or seek temporal gain on such days.

Next,

I resolve from this very day and in perpetuity to keep Friday as a day of total chastity – with Friday I include the following night – when I must abstain from the enjoyment of all carnal pleasures.

And finally,

I resolve this day to do a third thing while I am in health and able to, remembering that each day we need Almighty God to provide for us. Each day I wish to honour God by some giving of alms or by the recitation of prayers or some other pious act.

These are all things that Dati knows should already be a regular part of his life, but that he hasn’t had much success with. His everyday struggle to do what he should is a familiar one in a world in which we continue to make and break our own New Year’s resolutions.

 

–4–

Peter Hitchens has an excellent, balanced look at Francisco Franco in the pages of First Things. 

This was a promise he fulfilled: Death alone could remove him. A man who had been the contemporary of Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini, Churchill, and Roosevelt held doggedly on to power into the age of Gerald R. Ford and Leonid Brezhnev. When he went, everything he stood for turned to dust, like a mummy exposed to fresh air after thousands of years sealed beneath a pyramid. The Spanish Christian civilization that Solzhenitsyn admired had been preserved but not saved. It crumbled into a heap of dust and spiders’ webs immediately after the caudillo made his final journey from his stuffy palace to his gigantic, hubristic tomb at the Valley of the Fallen. If Franco had been the preserver of Christian Spain, it is interesting to go there now and see how completely it has disappeared. Every element of the 1960s, from sexual liberation to ­marijuana, swept across Spain and, above all, Madrid, not long after ­Franco’s last breath. If he had truly been the preserver of faith and restraint, would they not have survived him in better condition?

What should Christians do about politics? How do we defend what we love without making false alliances with cynical powers? Civil wars are generally disastrous for law, legitimacy, and religion. Elaborate formulas must be devised to forget or bury the recent past. In England, the restored King Charles II passed the marvelously named Act of Indemnity and Oblivion in 1660, in which the whole lawless period of Oliver Cromwell’s republic was legally forgotten. The U.S. must often wish it could come up with a similar formula to spread soft oblivion over the unending resentments of the defeated Confederacy. In Spain, they turned to the monarchy.

But that restoration, Christian in form if not in outcome, only underlined the origins of Franco’s “monarchy without royalty.” The caudillo had been careful to keep Spanish monarchists at a distance, or under his thumb. His rule was not Christian or lawful and could not possibly draw its authority from God, however much Franco might have liked it to. Its origins lay in violent rebellion against the legitimate government, always hard to square with scriptural views of authority. Franco’s state rested on a foundation of bayonets. The caudillo himself may have been inseparable from the relic of the incorruptible hand of Santa Teresa de Jesús, which accompanied him everywhere. But his government, in his own words to his tame parliament in 1961, was built on what he called “an armed plebiscite.” He explained that “a nation on a war footing is a final referendum, a vote that cannot be bought, a membership that is sealed with the offering of one’s life. So I believe that never in the history of Spain was a state more legitimate, more popular and most representative than that we began to forge almost a quarter of a century ago.” Surely, this strange formula, in which the shedding of blood is deemed superior to the casting of a peaceful ballot, shows how much Franco the Catholic was troubled by his lack of real legitimacy, and the impossibility of his obtaining it as long as he ruled.

–5 —

Yes, I am going to write about St. Denis. I just need a bit of mental space. It’s a topic that will quickly spin in all kinds of directions, and I want to keep it simple.

Well, here’s a link to some scholarly writing on a different topic: “What the People Want: Popular Support for Catholic Reform in the Veneto”

The abstract:

Through examination of the unusually rich sources produced by a late seventeenth-century bishop of Padua, the author argues that investigating voluntary devotional practices can demonstrate the spiritual priorities of early-modern laypeople. Seventeenth-century rural Paduan parishes experienced both an increase in interest in various devotions and a shift in their focus that reflect the priorities of Catholic
Reform. Parishioners eagerly participated in the catechism schools promoted by the Council of Trent (1545–63) and enthusiastically adopted
saints promoted by the post-Tridentine Church, demonstrated by their
pious bequests, dedication of altars, and membership in confraternities.
At the same time, traditional devotions also flourished. Although gauging lay interest in reforms in general is difficult and contentious, the author demonstrates that at least when it came to their voluntary practices, rural Paduans were engaged in Catholic Reform and supported a vibrant Catholic culture.

Obscure? Perhaps. Irrelevant? Not at all.

If you are even a bit of a regular reader, you know that I frequently nag you to read some history when you can. It’s an invaluable tonic for despair in the present situation, and it helps inoculate us against unrealistic senses of the past.

So you know how we’re always hearing about “reform” and how important it is, as a church to be open to reform and change? Well, duh. The church’s history is one of reform and response to changing conditions, so in order to understanding how to properly engage in a reform in the present day in a way that’s faithful and effective – it helps to look at the past. This look at a rather narrow slice of history – how reports of episcopal visitations reflect Paduan’s acceptance of post-Tridentine reforms – tells us a great deal about that. I admit that I skimmed through most of the quantitative data, but it’s aptly summarized in the text.

This activity and enthusiasm for participating in parish life is seen
across rural Padua, and both the prevalence and specifics of lay participation demonstrate the areas within the parochial sphere that captured the
hearts of rural laypeople. Rural laity evinced enthusiasm for devotions to
the Holy Sacrament, the rosary, and a variety of other devotions connected
to reform—particularly those of a Marian or Christocentric nature. They
were also eager to support the spread of catechism and the Catholic education of village children. At the same time, they maintained their interest
in time-honored traditions, continuing to support local devotions and their
parish church itself. Lay spirituality in rural parishes, the same kind of
places often bemoaned by reformers as “our Indies,” was vibrant, active,
and orthodox rather than repressed, lackluster, or tinged with heterodoxy.
Some of this was simply continuity from the pre-Reformation era, but as
the comparison between Ormaneto’s and Barbarigo’s records demonstrates, the seventeenth century saw not only a shift in devotions but also a
general flourishing of both reformed and traditional spiritual practices.

So maybe reform can happen?

Oh, and maybe it was possible for the laity to have an informed, vibrant faith before the Second Vatican Council? Perhaps?

–6–

I was very gratified to read Emily Nussbaum’s dissenting view on The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel I’m right there with her. 

So I tried to open my heart to Season 2. People grow, people change—even critics, even shows. But the season begins with a tooth-rottingly twee trip to Paris, followed by a cloying trip to the Catskills, a setting far better served by “Dirty Dancing.” It veers from one inconsistent family plot to another, with a baffling focus on Joel, who screws around but finds no one who lives up to his ex. (Despite its feminist theme, “Mrs. Maisel” has more one-line bimbos than “Entourage.”) There’s loads of ethnic shtick, from chain-smoking Frenchies to an Italian family singing “Funiculì, Funiculà.” Things perk up whenever the focus shifts to the salty, bruised Susie, a scrapper from the Rockaways—but even her plots are marred by dese-and-dose mobsters.

 

–7–

All right. As I noted the other day, I’ve put up Michael’s How to Get the Most Out of the amy-welbornEucharist on Kindle. 

I’ve created a Lent page here.

The page of the articles I’ve published on Medium here. 

And don’t forget my story!

Oh, and look for me in Living Faith on Sunday. You’ll be able to find it here. 

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

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Sorry for the initial mis-dating. I started this yesterday…

Good morning. Of course lots has happened since we last met, all of which I spent much time following and thinking about, but for today I’ll stick mostly to my formula in this digest. Maybe another post in a bit on something else.

Watching: As I do every two years, I watched some cable news on election night. You Thursdayknow, when you only see a group of people once every 700 days or so, you can really track the aging process and note how everyone just gets….older and fatter. Except Wolf Blitzer, who hasn’t changed in decades. And Laura Ingraham? What is the deal there? If I had the sound turned off, I would have thought, Huh, another cable news blonde. I didn’t  recognized her at all until she started speaking. What has she had done with her face? I spent the whole time she was on camera, every time, trying to figure it out  – lips? Eyes? General facelift? We’re almost the same age…uh…amazing.

Listening: The Edith Wharton episode of In Our Time. An interesting discussion in which the fraught and shifting views on Wharton as a female writer – feminist or no? – were fairly covered.

The thread that was introduced but not really tied up, though, involved an aspect of her background I’d not known about. She was tutor and self-educated (coming from a wealthy family) and when asked about her reading, one of the panelists emphasized the importance of the works of evolutionists from Spencer to Darwin and others. A few minutes later, as they discussed her predominant themes, they sketched a picture of a changing world, yes, but also a deeply hierarchical world in which the “lower” classes and non-Europeans were given scant attention and that, mostly dismissive. That is to say – a world very reflective of social Darwinism, although no one ever explicitly made that link.

Someone dropped a comment during the discussion about Catholicism, though, that sent me on a rabbit trail, which transitions us to….

Reading:  Aside from the very hot stream of  Super Hot Takes on the election, a close read of the great J. F. Powers story, “The Lord’s Day” – this was about all I managed:

So, as I mentioned, one of the In Our Time scholars mentioned that the Church had condemned or at least criticized Wharton’s work. The impression I got from the discussion was that any Church criticism must have had to do with sexually-scandalous material.

Well, the rabbit trails indicated that was only partly so.

The main critique is related to a poem Wharton wrote on Margaret of Cortona. You can read it here, along with an accompanying Howard Pyle illustration.

Reminder: Margaret of Cortona lived with a man outside of wedlock for nine years and bore him a child. The man was murdered, and upon discovering his body, she converted to a life of penance and charity, eventually becoming a Franciscan tertiary.

In Wharton’s poem, published in Harper’s Monthly in 1901, we meet Margaret on her deathbed, confessing to a friar – is it her son? I don’t know.

The gist of the poem, and what got Catholic readers up in arms,  is that Margaret is torn between her love of Christ and her love of her dead lover – and perhaps even not so torn, since she makes it clear that what she had found with the earthly lover seemed pretty close to heaven. Here on her deathbed, she has prayed and prayed, but has been met with silence, while she knows that if her lover were alive, at least he would respond to her.

I have lain here, these many empty days
I thought to pack with Credos and Hail Marys
So close that not a fear should force the door –
But still, between the blessed syllables
That taper up like blazing angel heads,
Praise over praise, to the Unutterable,
Strange questions clutch me, thrusting fiery arms,
As though, athwart the close-meshed litanies,
My dead should pluck at me from hell, with eyes
Alive in their obliterated faces!…
I have tried the saints’ names and our blessed Mother’s
Fra Paolo, I have tried them o’er and o’er,
And like a blade bent backward at first thrust
They yield and fail me—and the questions stay.
And so I thought, into some human heart,
Pure, and yet foot-worn with the tread of sin,
If only I might creep for sanctuary,
It might be that those eyes would let me rest…

You can see how this would make people unhappy. From an article on “The Catholic in Fiction” from a secular journal called The Reader:

It is incredible that a writer of Mrs. Wharton’s refinement and ability should have taken a canonized saint as the subject on which to exercise such an unseemly flight of fancy….Mrs. Wharton makes this holy woman, after years of repentance, avow on her death-bed a preference for her lover’s caresses and the comfort his impassioned ardor, to the divine love of the crucified Lord whom she had so diligently served for years. Mrs. Wharton is entitled to no consideration for this affront, unless on the ignoble ground of ignorance.

Of course, I understand this objection, but I did read the poem from a slightly different angle as well.  The contrast between Christ and the earthly lover is certainly the major theme – in which Christ comes out less favorably – but there’s also, it seems, some grappling with an irony of the spiritual life which must strike any thinking person: you might even call it the irony of conversion. She’s asking: if I hadn’t been living a sinful life, would I have met Christ?

As well as, in a general way, the questions all of us have about the direction our life has taken as we look back on it:

 

Ah, that black night he left me, that dead dawn 
I found him lying in the woods, alive 
To gasp my name out and his life-blood with it, 
As though the murderer’s knife had probed for me 
In his hacked breast and found me in each wound… 
Well, it was there Christ came to me, you know, 
And led me home—just as that other led me. 
(Just as that other? Father, bear with me!) 
My lover’s death, they tell me, saved my soul, 
And I have lived to be a light to men. 
And gather sinners to the knees of grace. 
All this, you say, the Bishop’s signet covers. 
But stay! Suppose my lover had not died? 
(At last my question! Father, help me face it.) 
I say: Suppose my lover had not died – 
Think you I ever would have left him living, 
Even to be Christ’s blessed Margaret? 
– We lived in sin? Why, to the sin I died to 
That other was as Paradise, when God 
Walks there at eventide, the air pure gold, 
And angels treading all the grass to flowers! 
He was my Christ—he led me out of hell – 
He died to save me (so your casuists say!) – 
Could Christ do more? Your Christ out-pity mine? 

No, the poem is not anything great, and I certainly understand the reaction against it, but still. There’s a glimmer of truth in there.

I just spent a lot of time on that, but, of course, it wasn’t my intention when I began writing this to go as much into the poem as into the reaction to her novel The Valley of Decision. This was Wharton’s first published novel: a historical novel of 18th century Italy that, it seems from plot summaries, positions free-thinkers against Church and tradition, etc. I have zero interest in reading it, but when I searched for “Edith Wharton” and Catholic Church condemned – this was, besides from the poem, what popped up.

So initially I thought, “Oh the early 20th century American church criticized this content for sexual-related content it deemed immoral, obviously.” But..maybe not?

What I found was, of course, no “official” condemnation, but a strong critique published in Catholic World, which, in turn, reprints a critique from the Chicago Chronicle.

And what’s the basis of the critique?

The answer will surprise you!

The focus is the treatment of the primary female character, Fulvia, and specifically the role of education in her life. The critique takes on Wharton for, the author claims, indicating that higher education corrupts a woman’s character.  I’m going to reproduce this section at length, because I want you to participate in one of my favorite activities: Dispel myths about the past.

In this case, the myths are: No one believed that women should be educated before 1970 or so. In particular, the Catholic Church was opposed to women’s intellectual development.

Not to mention that this contemporary critique adds to the discussion about Wharton. It may or may not be an accurate read of her character, but the fact is that in this case, her narrative was received as anti-woman’s education and moralistic. Interesting.

The severest blow dealt against the higher education of women has been delivered by one of themselves, the author of The Valley of Decision, a somewhat tedious two-volume novel of the spurious “historical” variety.

It has been claimed by the opponents of equal education for men and women that whatever the intellectual results of the attempt, the moral result would be injurious to the family and society. It has been specifically urged that the tendency of the higher education would be to draw women more and more toward the laxer social standards of men, and to make women impatient of those restraints which until now have constituted the bulwarks of the home.

The Valley of Decision supports this theory. The heroine around whom the sympathy of the story is concentrated enjoys from early youth the advantages which other women, at least in the United States, must acquire, if at all, by long years of labor through primary and secondary schools into colleges and universities. A name of evil omen, whether in Roman history or in Ben Jonson’s “Catiline,” Fulvia starts the heroine out on a path of aspiration, independence, erudition, and ruin.

Her learning fails to develop moral or spiritual growth. In full womanhood, having had abundant experience enabling her to see the evils of society in the fullest glare of their malignity, Fulvia voluntarily accepts an unlawful and immoral social status from which all right-minded women instinctively recoil. She becomes the willing victim of a profligate weakling on a petty ducal throne, and feels neither shame nor remorse in her degradation.

The malign influence of such a novel upon the aspirations of American women for university privileges is made by the author the more certain and the more emphatic because the scene of the sinister fiction is laid in the country which was the first to open university doors to women. The poet Alfieri is dragged into the story to heighten the proportions of its all-pervading moral squalor. Sneering at the idea of a woman taking the degree of doctor of philosophy, the poet is made to say: “Oh, she’s one of your prodigies of female learning, such as our topsy-turvy land produces; an incipient Laura Bassi or Gaetana Agnesi, to name the most distinguished of their tribe; though I believe that hitherto her father’s good sense or her own has kept her from aspiring to academic honors. The beautiful Fulvia is a good daughter and devotes herself, I am told, to helping Vivaldi in his work, a far more becoming employment for one of her age and sex than defending Latin theses before a crew of ribald students.”

But Fulvia’s father was a sympathizer with his daughter’s tastes, which he habitually promoted. To make the lesson of the moral failure of the higher education of women still more convincing, the author of The Valley of Decision reserves the bestowal of her final degree upon Fulvia until after the university and the whole town are familiar with her adoption of a shameless life and her open rejection of religious or conventional standards.

In Italy the universities were open to women soon after their foundation in the Middle Ages. At Bologna, which for centuries was one of the greatest universities in Europe, a number of women justly attained distinction as professors of the sciences, languages, and law. Laura Bassi was of a comparatively late time. So great was her reputation for learning, but also for virtue, that her doctorate was conferred under circumstances of civic and academic pomp. She married happily and became the mother of fourteen children.

Two sisters Agnesi were distinguished in Italian higher education. One, Maria Gaetana Agnesi, was an eminent professor and author in the exact sciences during the eighteenth century, and lived to be upward of eighty years of age. A younger sister was distinguished as a pianist and composer. Upon the entire array of the learned women of Italy whose careers have been historically noted there was never a breath of moral reproach.

The injury which The Valley of Decision inflicts upon the contemporary higher education of women is shrewdly designed in the contrast which this repulsive novel makes in its alienation of the higher education from religious and moral control.

The atmosphere which is created for the reader of The Valley of Decision is the most repulsive ever introduced into an American literary production. In the large company constituting the chief participants in a story projected along hackneyed guide-book information there is not from the first cover of the first volume to the last of the second one honest man or virtuous woman.

The moral squalor of J he Valley of Decision is the more surprising because the scene is laid in the land which has given to literature and life the paramount group of ideal womanhood, Dante’s Beatrice, Petrarch’s Laura, Michael Angelo’s Vittoria Colonna; and to Shakspere his two most engaging characters, blending in their mutual devotion of a noble womanhood erudition and chastity, Portia and Nerissa.

The womanhood of the United States may justly deplore that such a volume as The Valley of Decision should have its origin in the United States, in which the experiment of the higher education of women has thus far been courageously carried to an advancement which few of the universities have been able to withstand.

 

And if you’re interested, go to p. 596 in the same volume of the 1902 Catholic World and read an article about Bologna called “A City of Learned Women.”

The universal spread of knowledge and literary culture among women is no doubt one of the boasts of modern civilization. We point to it with pride as emphasizing the superiority of this age over its predecessors; exemplified by the thorough training of mind and body considered equally necessary nowadays for girls as well as boys. Nevertheless, if we go a little more deeply into the matter, we shall find once more at the bottom of all our researches the most discouraging but true old adage embodying the world-weariness of the wisest king of old: “There is nothing new under the sun.”

It is a shock at first to realize that our progress is not so wonderful as we imagined; and that, instead of inventors, we are only “revivalists”; perfecting perhaps what has gone before, with the help of added centuries of experience and science; but still only reviving things dormant, or at best forgotten. In an atmosphere of self-congratulation upon Women’s Colleges and Universities and the Higher Education of Women, can it come as anything but a revelation to find one’s self face to face with a city of learned women of long centuries past, who spread the light of their knowledge through a land which bowed before their intellect while reverencing their true womanhood?

Such was the revelation which disturbed my new-world complacency one bright morning in the ancient city of Bologna, in this year of the twentieth century; wandering through stately halls of learning where for centuries women had held intellectual sway. No fair girl-graduates were these, drinking their first draught at the fountain of mighty knowledge; but women whose powers of intellect had placed them in the professorial chair, instructing on equal terms with the men-professors the students who flocked around them.

I keep saying it, in one way or another: My Hot Take on 20th century feminism is that it happened because the Protestant Reformation, secular intellectual currents and the industrial revolution pushed Western women into the confined, defining space of a domestic sphere that didn’t exist in a holistic Catholic context.

There. 

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