Wednesday, July 08, 2015

Publicans and the Price of Fame

Every good Catholic boy and girl remembers the parable of the two men praying in the temple, the Pharisee and the "Publican" (a title given to a tax collector in the ancient Roman Empire, and an object of scorn among the Jewish people).

He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and despised others: "Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, 'God, I thank thee that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week, I give tithes of all that I get.' But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, 'God, be merciful to me a sinner!' I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for every one who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted." (Luke 18:9-14)

There was a Sunday at the Latin Mass, when Father Paul Scalia reflected on that Gospel reading for the day, as he began his sermon thus ...

"I know what all of you are thinking right now: 'I'm glad I'm not like that Pharisee.' And that's the trap that we fall into …"

It was greeted with mild laughter, not to mention consensus. All of us who hold to any sort of ideal or set of convictions are going to fall short, and the higher we set the bar for ourselves, the more likely it is to happen. That is why conservatives get derided more for their bad behavior than do liberals, which conservatives would know, if only they stopped whining long enough about a "double standard" of their own wise choosing. That is also why, when all is said and done, only the Grace and Mercy of the Almighty can truly save us. Our works here on earth, while a component of the living out of that Grace, are merely its effect, not its cause.

Many of us don't learn our lesson the first time. If that isn't bad enough, it's worse when there's an audience.

Earlier this year, on March 15, Bristol Palin, the daughter of former Alaska governor and vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin, announced her engagement to a former Marine and Medal of Honor winner. On May 18, with the happy occasion only days away, her mother announced that the wedding had been called off. On June 25, Bristol announced that she was pregnant with her second child, the first having been sired by her previous and less-accomplished fiancé. In an interview with People magazine, she said that abortion was not an option, that the pregnancy itself was planned (if not its timing), and that it would not conflict with her work as a paid speaker for the Candie Foundation, which "educates America's youth about the consequences of teen pregnancy … work[ing] to shape the way youth in America think about teen pregnancy and parenthood."

Bristol also insists that she doesn't want any lectures or sympathy. She's getting plenty of the former, from the usual bottom-feeders of televised punditry who are unlikely to set the bar quite as high as she might. But she's also getting praise.

"The Five" co-host Greg Gutfeld blasted Bristol Palin’s haters Tuesday after her pregnancy announcement, saying they "would have been more supportive" if she simply had an abortion … "Her pregnancy points out the sins on both sides," the host continued. "On the right, if you cite the illegitimacy of black inner cities, then do so here. Sex happens where the young and bored congregate, without supervision or goals. On the left, your mockery reminds us of how you secretly value abortion and its thinning of the troubled herd. You know you love it."

I have no sympathy for Bristol, but I do have a suggestion. I'm not famous enough to gain her attention. Then again, the only reason she is, is because her mother once ran for public office.

There. I said it.

And it's true. She knows it's true. Her mother knows it's true. Hell, YOU know it's true. Having said all that, there's nothing wrong with being famous. There's also nothing wrong with being famous for who one's mother is. There's even nothing wrong with being famous for who one's mother is as a stepping stone for opportunity, so long as it's ultimately gained on one's own merits. And having said all that as well, there remains the possibility that the good will provided by the high profile of one's family can eventually be exhausted.

To put it another way, young lady, having a famous mom may not be working out as you'd planned, and it's time to try another option -- like, don't be famous.

I'll repeat that for you, dear: DON'T. BE. FAMOUS.

Don't accept speaking engagements or spots on reality television, even if you think you need the money. (After taking in more than a quarter of a million dollars from the Carrie Foundation in 2009, please tell me you've saved up for a rainy day by now.) Aspire to be the woman that nobody recognizes when shopping for produce at the supermarket. After all, there are ways to disguise your appearance as noted by the public. Just ask those other famous people you met in the last seven years. When all that's over with, and the kids are old enough, you can go back to getting a business degree at community college, just like the riff-raff whose calls or text messages you haven't returned in, say, the last seven years. Rejoice in giving new life, whatever the circumstances, keeping the blessed event off the magazine covers, with the attention normally reserved for the Duchess of Cambridge. Maybe along the way you'll meet an ordinary man with extraordinary virtue, one who loves children, even if they're not his own, and with whom you'll actually go through with closing the deal. If you're lucky (and I hope you are), he won't want the glare of public notoriety any more than you can (apparently) handle.

Face it, girl, you had your day in the spotlight. It was fun while it lasted. You had opportunity handed to you on a silver platter, through virtually no merit of your own, and you blew it. But take heart in knowing you only got your wings clipped, as opposed to crashing and burning. For this, you can thank two people who (apparently) CAN handle public notoriety. That would be your parents, who probably should have told you, if they didn't already while you weren't paying attention, that fame and fortune aren't always what they're cracked up to be, don't you think?

Or don't you?

(POSTSCRIPT: Gutfeld made an excellent point, but he may have missed another one, if unaware: “Sex happens where the young and bored congregate, without supervision or goals.” Hold that thought, and if you have to ask why, I can't explain it to you.)

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Wednesday, July 01, 2015

My Canadian Moment

Today is Canada Day for some reason having to do with the British Crown deciding to throw them a bone that resembled self-determination, which they accepted without much of a fuss. I'm actually not sure, which is to be expected, since Americans know so little about their neighbors to the north, while they in turn are so completely on to their southern neighbors (that is, "neighbours").

Personally, I never met a Canadian I couldn't get along with (but for two exceptions, both from British Columbia, one of them an old Scout leader who spends too much time in the woods to develop a sense of social grace on the internet, the other a Catholic writer who spends too much time lecturing others about civility on the internet to practice it herself, but those are each another story ...). This video is a completely false but not necessarily misleading account of the story of this great and generally-more-polite-than-American nation, as told by Will O'Neill.

Tonight I'll raise a glass to them all, probably Moosehead. It's the least I could do … eh?


Friday, June 12, 2015

In Corde Jesu

Today, Catholics of the Western tradition celebrate the Feast of the Sacred Heart.

Outside of devotions to the Blessed Virgin Mary, there is none more popular or more identified with the traditional piety of Catholic life than this feast, occurring on Friday of the week following the Feast of Corpus Christi. It was on that earlier feast when a Novena to the Sacred Heart would begin, culminating in the Mass and Office of today.

“Christ’s open side and the mystery of blood and water were meditated upon, and the Church was beheld issuing from the side of Jesus, as Eve came forth from the side of Adam. It is in the eleventh and twelfth centuries that we find the first unmistakable indications of devotion to the Sacred Heart. Through the wound in the side, the wound Heart was gradually reached, and the wound in the Heart symbolized the wound of love.” (1917 Catholic Encyclopedia)

There were various monastic communities who took up the devotion, but the real tip of the biretta has always gone to St Margaret Mary Alacoque (1647-90), a Visitation nun who had a vision. While praying before the Blessed Sacrament, she saw Our Lord with his heart beating openly, and the sight of it all sent her into a spell of ecstasy. “He disclosed to me the marvels of his Love and the inexplicable secrets of his Sacred Heart.” To say the least.

But perhaps the finest explanation of this vision can be found in an episode of The X-Files, a detective series that ran on The Fox Network for nine years, and to this day has a formidable cult following. It is from the series' sixth season, and is entitled "Milagro" (6X18), originally airing on April 18, 1999. It seems there were people being murdered by their hearts being removed by hand. FBI Special Agent Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) visited a Catholic church, and coming across the image of the Sacred Heart, she runs into this unsavory fellow who explains the story behind the image to her. A piece of the dialogue, from the mysterious writer named Philip Padgett (John Hawkes), describes a vision:

I often come here to look at this painting. It’s called “My Divine Heart” after the miracle of Saint Margaret Mary. Do you know the story ... The revelation of the Sacred Heart? Christ came to Margaret Mary, his heart so inflamed with love that it was no longer able to contain its burning flames of charity. Margaret Mary ... so filled with divine love herself, asked the Lord to take her heart ... and so he did, placing it alongside his until it burned with the flames of his passion. Then he restored it to Margaret Mary, sealing her wound with the touch of his blessed hand.

His account portrays an almost sensuous quality to the Saint's reaction to this vision, in a way that one might rarely hear or read anywhere else. It is a sign that perhaps the influence of Christendom has not entirely faded from the popular culture, not to mention images created in tattoo parlors.

A common practice in many Catholic homes until the mid-20th century (including mine), was the "Enthronement of the Sacred Heart," in which the family placed the appropriate image of Christ on the wall, and together recited the necessary prayers, pledging the consecration of the family and the home to Him, in return for special graces. Fisheaters has a good explanation of the whole she-bang, just in case it makes a comeback.

It could happen.

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Tuesday, June 02, 2015


One hundred and fifty years ago today, the War Between the States finally ended -- I mean, really ended, at least in the eastern theater. Most of us associate that event with the surrender of General Robert E Lee of the Confederacy to General Ulysses S Grant of the Union at Appomattex Courthouse, Virginia, on the 9th of April in 1865. But news traveled much slower back in those days. Thompson's Brigade surrendered on the 11th of May, Confederate forces of North Georgia surrendered on the 12th, and Kirby Smith surrendered on the 26th, an action that was made official and in writing on this date in 1865.

This writer would have hoped to have shared two stories from that conflict that are of particular and personal import, both of which occurred in 1863. Hopefully this can happen before the end of the year. For now, we present a bittersweet love song that was popular among both the Blue and the Gray.

We loved each other then, Lorena,
Far more than we ever dared to tell;
And what we might have been, Lorena,
Had but our loving prospered well --
But then, 'tis past, the years are gone,
I'll not call up their shadowy forms;
I'll say to them, "Lost years, sleep on!
Sleep on! nor heed life's pelting storms."

Lorena was penned by Rev Henry D L Webster in 1856, in the wake of a broken engagement. It was put to music by his friend Joseph Philbrick Webster. It reminded soldiers on both sides of the conflict about their wives and sweethearts back home, and the heartbreak of never seeing them again. It is performed here by the late banjoist/fiddler John Hartford.

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Sunday, May 31, 2015


Today the Western church celebrates the Feast of the Holy Trinity, that whom is the perfect community of love, and from whom all creation originates. Its true nature, defined and redefined by sacred Councils in the first millennium of Church history, is nonetheless beyond human understanding.

But not for want of trying. (H/T to Ryan Ellis.)

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Love is a light burden that gladdeneth young and old;
Love is that blood-red winter's rose which blossometh in the cold;
He that giveth all to Love hath all that heart can hold.

Fond desire shall fade and fail as doth the flower in May;
Lust is but a fire of straw that smouldereth for a day;
Love that liveth in thy heart shall live and love for aye.

Thou that, on the Cross of Love, wast crowned of lovers King,
Melt this iron Winter, Lord, to Love's eternal Spring;
Hold and fold us all beneath the shadow of Thy wing.

Richard Rolle (1292-1349), version by Alfred Noyes)

Sunday, May 10, 2015


Lovely Lady
    dressed in blue,
Teach me
    how to pray!
God was just
    your little Boy,
Tell me
    what to say!

Did you lift Him
    up, sometimes,
    on your knee?
Did you sing
    to Him the way
Mother does to me?

Did you hold
    His hand at night?
Did you ever try
Telling stories
    of the world:
O! And did he cry?

Do you really think He cares
If I tell Him things --
Little things that happen? And
Do the Angels' wings

Make a noise? And can He hear
Me if I speak low?
Does He understand me now?
Tell me for you know!

Lovely Lady dressed in blue
Teach me how to pray!
God was just your little Boy,
And you know the way!

(Mary Dixon Thayer wrote many poems in honor of Our Lady. This particular one was popularized in the 1950s by Archbishop Fulton Sheen.)

Friday, May 08, 2015

V-E Plus 70

To honor the seventieth anniversary of V-E Day, celebrating the Allied victory against the forces of tyranny in Europe in 1945, veteran pilots of “The Greatest Generation” take their flying machines over the Nation's Capital. More at

(Video courtesy of iPhone 6. Best I could do on short notice.)

Friday, May 01, 2015

The First of May

"When I was small, and Christmas trees were tall / We used to love while others used to play // Don't ask me why, but time has passed us by / Someone else moved in from far away …"

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Monday, April 27, 2015

Let’s Get Rid of Management

don't want
to be managed.
They want
to be led.

Whoever heard
of a world
World leader,
Educational leader.
Political leader.
Religious leader.
Scout leader.
Community leader.
Labor leader.
Business leader.
They lead.
They don't manage.

The carrot
always wins
over the stick.
Ask your horse.
You can lead
your horse
to water,
but you can't
manage him
to drink.

If you want to
manage somebody,
manage yourself.
Do that well
and you'll
be ready
to stop managing.

And start

(A message as published in the Wall Street Journal by United Technologies Corporation, Hartford, Connecticut. – Warren Bennis & Burt Nanas. Harper & Row, New York, 1985.)

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Sunday, April 05, 2015

Christus resurrexit! Sicut dixit, Alleluia!

It was on an Easter Sunday,
    and all in the morning,
Our Savior arose,
    and our heavenly King.
The sun and the moon,
    they both did rise with him,
And sweet Jesus
    we’ll call him by name.

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An Easter Homily of Saint John Chrysostom

Is there anyone who is a devout lover of God? Let them enjoy this beautiful bright festival! Is there anyone who is a grateful servant? Let them rejoice and enter into the joy of their Lord!

Are there any weary with fasting? Let them now receive their wages! If any have toiled from the first hour, let them receive their due reward; If any have come after the third hour, let him with gratitude join in the Feast! And he that arrived after the sixth hour, let him not doubt; for he too shall sustain no loss. And if any delayed until the ninth hour, let him not hesitate; but let him come too. And he who arrived only at the eleventh hour, let him not be afraid by reason of his delay.

For the Lord is gracious and receives the last even as the first. He gives rest to him that comes at the eleventh hour, as well as to him that toiled from the first. To this one He gives, and upon another He bestows. He accepts the works as He greets the endeavor. The deed He honors and the intention He commends.

Let us all enter into the joy of the Lord! First and last alike receive your reward; rich and poor, rejoice together! Sober and slothful, celebrate the day!

You that have kept the fast, and you that have not, rejoice today for the Table is richly laden! Feast royally on it, the calf is a fatted one. Let no one go away hungry. Partake, all, of the cup of faith. Enjoy all the riches of His goodness!

Let no one grieve at his poverty, for the universal kingdom has been revealed. Let no one mourn that he has fallen again and again; for forgiveness has risen from the grave. Let no one fear death, for the Death of our Savior has set us free. He has destroyed it by enduring it.

He destroyed Hades when He descended into it. He put it into an uproar even as it tasted of His flesh. Isaias foretold this when he said, "You, O Hell, have been troubled by encountering Him below."

Hell was in an uproar because it was done away with.
It was in an uproar because it is mocked.
It was in an uproar, for it is destroyed.
It is in an uproar, for it is annihilated.
It is in an uproar, for it is now made captive.
Hell took a body, and discovered God.
It took earth, and encountered Heaven.
It took what it saw, and was overcome by what it did not see.
O death, where is thy sting?
O Hades, where is thy victory?

Christ is Risen, and you, O death, are annihilated!
Christ is Risen, and the evil ones are cast down!
Christ is Risen, and the angels rejoice!
Christ is Risen, and life is liberated!
Christ is Risen, and the tomb is emptied of its dead; for Christ having risen from the dead, is become the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep.

To Him be Glory and Power forever and ever. Amen!

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