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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Saturday, April 04, 2015

“Awake, O sleeper ...”

Something strange is happening -- there is a silence on earth today, a great silence and stillness. The whole earth keeps silence because the King is asleep. The earth trembled and is still because God has fallen asleep in the flesh and he has raised up all who have slept ever since the world began. God has died in the flesh and Hell trembles with fear. He has gone to search for our first parent, as for a lost sheep. Greatly desiring to visit those who live in darkness and in the shadow of death, he has gone to free from sorrow the captives Adam and Eve, He who is both God and the Son of Eve. The Lord approached them bearing the Cross, the weapon that had won him the victory. At the sight of him Adam, the first man he had created, struck his breast in terror and cried out to everyone, “My Lord be with you all.” Christ answered him: “And with your spirit.” He took him by the hand and raised him up, saying: “Awake, O sleeper, and rise from the dead, and Christ will give you light.

“I am your God, who for your sake have become your son. Out of love for you and your descendants I now by my own authority command all who are held in bondage to come forth, all who are in darkness to be enlightened, all who are sleeping to arise. I order you, O sleeper, to awake. I did not create you to be held a prisoner in Hell. Rise from the dead, for I am the life of the dead. Rise up, work of my hands, you who were created in my image. Rise, let us leave this place, for you are in Me and I in you; together we form one person and cannot be separated.

“For your sake I, your God, became your son; I, the Lord, took the form of a slave; I, Whose home is above the heavens, descended to the earth and beneath the earth. For your sake, for the sake of man, I became like a man without help, free among the dead. For the sake of you, who left a garden, I was betrayed to the Jews in a garden, and I was crucified in a garden.

“See on My Face the spittle I received in order to restore to you the life I once breathed into you. See there the marks of the blows I received in order to refashion your warped nature in my image. On My back see the marks of the scourging I endured to remove the burden of sin that weighs upon your back. See My hands, nailed firmly to a tree, for you who once wickedly stretched out your hand to a tree.

“I slept on the Cross and a sword pierced My side for you who slept in Paradise and brought forth Eve from your side. My side has healed the pain in yours. My sleep will rouse you from your sleep in Hell. The sword that pierced Me has sheathed the sword that was turned against you.

“Rise, let us leave this place. The enemy led you out of the earthly Paradise. I will not restore you to that Paradise, but will enthrone you in heaven. I forbade you the tree that was only a symbol of life, but see, I who am life itself am now one with you. I appointed cherubim to guard you as slaves are guarded, but now I make them worship you as God. The throne formed by cherubim awaits you, its bearers swift and eager. The Bridal Chamber is adorned, the banquet is ready, the eternal dwelling places are prepared, the treasure houses of all good things lie open. The Kingdom of Heaven has been prepared for you from all eternity.”

From a homily of St Epiphanius of Cyprus
 

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Friday, April 03, 2015

For the sixth hour ...

… the lyrics to the above are inspired by an account of the Crucifixion in the apocryphal Gospel of Thomas.
 

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Good Friday

It was on a good Friday,
    and all in the morning,
They crucified our Savior,
    and our heavenly King.
And was not this
    a woeful thing
And sweet Jesus,
    we’ll call him by name.


From "the third hour" until "the sixth hour." From sext to none. From noon until three in the afternoon. Scripture tells us that our Lord was dying on the cross at this time, culminating in the words “Consummatum Est” (“It is finished”).

When we were kids, growing up in Ohio, we would either go to church for Stations of the Cross or some related devotion, or if we were at home, Mom would turn the radio off, and we were told to be quieter than usual. Thus did we mark the consummation of the ultimate act of sacrificial Love, that of the Bridegroom with His bride.

Elsewhere in Cincinnati, a venerable custom dating a century and a half still takes place on this day.

In December 1860, a Catholic church was completed on a bluff atop Mount Adams, and dedicated to the Virgin Mary. Since the hill was too steep for a horse-and-buggy, there were a series of wooden steps built as well, leading from St Gregory Street near the river, all the way to the church entrance. The following spring saw the start of the War Between The States, and Immaculata Church became the site of devout Catholics praying the rosary for peace, while climbing the steps to its entrance. The tradition continues, as every year on Good Friday (a day when it invariably rains), an estimated ten thousand pilgrims climb the 85 steps -- the wooden ones having since been replaced by concrete -- leading to the entrance. The procession begins at midnight, with the parish priest's blessing of the steps, and continues for twenty-four hours.

The Passionist Historical Archives elaborates on the legacy of “St Mary’s of the Steps”, as does the parish website.
 

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Thursday, April 02, 2015

Maundy Thursday

It was on a
    maundy Thursday,
        and all in the morning,
They planted
    a crown of thorns
        on our heavenly King.
And was not this
    a woeful thing,
And sweet Jesus
    we'll call him by name.


Today begins the Sacred Triduum. It is quiet here at Chez Alexandre, with preparations to be made, errands to be run, and ... more writing.

For a Catholic, as much as some try to deny it, the next three days are not business as usual. The whole of human history -- before, during, after -- turns on the events we remember this week.

Our meditation is from a poem by Jalaludin Rumi. It is translated by Coleman Barks and John Moyne, with music by David Wilcox and Nance Pettit, and is produced by Bob Carlton.
 

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Wednesday, April 01, 2015

Spy Wednesday

It was on a Holy Wednesday,
    and all in the morning
When Judas betrayed
    our dear heavenly King.
And was not this
    a woeful thing,
And sweet Jesus,
    we'll call him by name.


This day in Holy Week is known among Western Christians by the above title (or among Christians in the East, Μεγάλη Τετάρτη, in case you were wondering), as tradition commemorates this day for when Judas Iscariot conspired with the Sanhedrin to betray Our Lord, in exchange for thirty pieces of silver (Matthew 26:15).

Was that a lot of money in those days?

The term in the original language, "arguria," simply means "silver coins." Historians disagree as to what form of currency is described. They could have been either staters from Antioch, tetradrachms from Ptolemy, or shekels from Tyre. (Nothing about Greek drachmas, which were either bronze, copper, or iron. Just so we're clear on that.)

Closer to the present, it is also when we here at man with black hat (more or less) interrupt our usual blogcasting in order to focus on the Main Event for the several days that follow. Stay tuned ...
 

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Holy Week: Waiting in the Wings

Ah, holy Jesus, how hast Thou offended, * That man to judge Thee hath in hate pretended? * By foes derided, by Thine own rejected, * O most afflicted.

Holy Week at the parish of Saint John the Beloved in McLean, Virginia, is an awesome thing. To those Catholics of traditional sensibilities who rail and rant about the death of the “reform of the reform” in the official worship of the Roman church, I say, let them spend the rest of the week here. Even if the "ordinary form" is used, the altar is versus orientem ("facing East"), as the priest, his attendants, and the faithful, all turn toward the Lord in the same direction, with the traditional Latin and the vernacular English co-existing peacefully.

Who was the guilty? Who brought this upon Thee? * Alas, my treason, Jesus, hath undone Thee. * ’Twas I, Lord, Jesus, I it was denied Thee! * I crucified Thee.

The Sacred Triduum is preceded by the service of Tenebrae on Wednesday evening. Two hundred people join the clergy, seminarians, and altar servers in witnessing the dimming of the lights, to await the Light of the World in the three days that follow. Imagine the sight of dozens of altar servers processing in, two by two. It begins with the crucifer and candle-bearers, followed by the very young, appearing quite cherubic in their surplices and black cassocks.

Lo, the Good Shepherd for the sheep is offered; * The slave hath sinned, and the Son hath suffered; * For man’s atonement, while he nothing heedeth, * God intercedeth.

The older servers follow in their maroon cassocks and pleated surplices. Then come the seminarians and deacons of the parish. Finally, the master of ceremonies leads the parish priests, as the procession of nearly one hundred clerics and laics converge upon the Holy of Holies. It is from there that the time of darkness and lamentation begins, followed by the hearing of confessions.

For me, kind Jesus, was Thy incarnation, * Thy mortal sorrow, and Thy life’s oblation; * Thy death of anguish and Thy bitter passion, * For my salvation.

Tomorrow night is the “Cena Domini” -- the Mass of the Lord's Supper. The original meal shared by the disciples, the sacrificial offering that took place in the twenty-four hours that followed, all will be re-presented in the sight of Christ's faithful. The pastor will remove his outer priestly vestments, put on an apron, and wash the feet of twelve young altar servers. “The Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve.” For one night of the year, the priest will serve the least of those young lads who serve him at the altar of God.

Therefore, kind Jesus, since I cannot pay Thee, * I do adore Thee, and will ever pray Thee, * Think on Thy pity and Thy love unswerving, * Not my deserving.
 

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Sunday, March 29, 2015

Hosanna Filio David!

Let us go together to meet Christ on the Mount of Olives. Today he returns from Bethany and proceeds of his own free will toward his holy and blessed passion, to consummate the mystery of our salvation. He who came down from heaven to raise us from the depths of sin, to raise us with himself, we are told in Scripture, above every sovereignty, authority and power, and every other name that can be named, now comes of his own free will to make his journey to Jerusalem. He comes without pomp or ostentation. As the psalmist says: He will not dispute or raise his voice to make it heard in the streets. He will be meek and humble, and he will make his entry in simplicity.

Let us run to accompany him as he hastens toward his passion, and imitate those who met him then, not by covering his path with garments, olive branches or palms, but by doing all we can to prostrate ourselves before him by being humble and by trying to live as he would wish. Then we shall be able to receive the Word at his coming, and God, whom no limits can contain, will be within us.

In his humility Christ entered the dark regions of our fallen world and he is glad that he became so humble for our sake, glad that he came and lived among us and shared in our nature in order to raise us up again to himself. And even though we are told that he has now ascended above the highest heavens – the proof, surely, of his power and godhead – his love for man will never rest until he has raised our earthbound nature from glory to glory, and made it one with his own in heaven.

So let us spread before his feet, not garments or soulless olive branches, which delight the eye for a few hours and then wither, but ourselves, clothed in his grace, or rather, clothed completely in him. We who have been baptized into Christ must ourselves be the garments that we spread before him. Now that the crimson stains of our sins have been washed away in the saving waters of baptism and we have become white as pure wool, let us present the conqueror of death, not with mere branches of palms but with the real rewards of his victory. Let our souls take the place of the welcoming branches as we join today in the children’s holy song: Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Blessed is the king of Israel.

-- From a sermon by Saint Andrew of Crete, bishop. Images from Palm Sunday in 2009, at St John the Beloved Church, McLean, Virginia, courtesy of Miss Sarah Campbell.
 

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Sunday, March 22, 2015

Judica me, Deus ...

VIDEO: Kampen Boys Choir, The Netherlands.

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“JUDICA ME, DEUS, et discerne causam meam de gente non sancta: ab homine iniquo et doloso eripe me: quia tu es Deus meus et fortitudo mea.”

“Judge me, O God, and distinguish my cause against an ungodly nation: O deliver me from the unjust and deceitful man: for Thou art my God and my strength.”


Today the Roman church celebrates the beginning of a season within the Lenten fast known as “Passiontide.” The Introit (Entrance Antiphon) in both forms of the Roman Rite begins with the prayer, that is traditionally prayed by the priests and his ministers at the foot of the altar. It is taken from Psalm 42(43), which was composed to inspire during a time of tribulation for the Chosen People. Not only does the Psalmist plead with God for justice upon himself, but against his enemies.

Amidst the cry for help, there is more. There is a longing.

“Emitte lucem tuam et veritatem tuam: ipsa me deduxerunt et adduxerunt in montem sanctum tuum et in tabernacula tua.”

“Send out Thy light and Thy truth: they have led me and brought me unto Thy holy hill, even unto Thy tabernacles.”


Just as Elijah would climb the heights to await the still small voice, just as Christ led the Three to the height of Mount Tabor for a glimpse of His majesty, just as the priest would begin at the first step of his pilgrimage to sacrifice -- so too the Psalmist prayed to be led up to the mountain of God, that he might dwell with Him in His holy place.

Such is the prayer of the Church today, as Her faithful children are beleaguered by persecution in the public square.

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Nearly seven years ago, Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver (now of Philadelphia) rendered a sad appraisal of our state of affairs:

November [of 2008] showed us that 40 years of American Catholic complacency and poor formation are bearing exactly the fruit we should have expected. Or to put it more discreetly, the November elections confirmed a trend, rather than created a new moment, in American culture ...

Some Catholics in both political parties are deeply troubled by these issues. But too many Catholics just don’t really care. That’s the truth of it. If they cared, our political environment would be different. If 65 million Catholics really cared about their faith and cared about what it teaches, neither political party could ignore what we believe about justice for the poor, or the homeless, or immigrants, or the unborn child. If 65 million American Catholics really understood their faith, we wouldn’t need to waste each other’s time arguing about whether the legalized killing of an unborn child is somehow ‘balanced out’ or excused by three other good social policies ...

We need to stop over-counting our numbers, our influence, our institutions and our resources, because they’re not real. We can’t talk about following Saint Paul and converting our culture until we sober up and get honest about what we’ve allowed ourselves to become. We need to stop lying to each other, to ourselves and to God by claiming to “personally oppose” some homicidal evil — but then allowing it to be legal at the same time.

We went in the space of one week from “Laetare Sunday” as a respite of rejoicing during the Great Fast, to “Judica Sunday” a call for the verdict of a Just Judge. Have the sins of a nation come to visit her inhabitants? Other than quibbling on Facebook as to which issues are more important than others (with nary a thought as to how one reaches those conclusions), how would her children respond?

“Judge me, O God ...”
 

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Tuesday, March 17, 2015

My Annual Über-Celtic Moment

Today the Church celebrates the feast of Saint Patrick (387-493), the patron saint of Ireland. It is on the Emerald Isle that today is both a national and religious holiday. At one time, the bars would close and the churches would be full out of obligation. Only in recent years has the feast seen a more rebellious spirit, complete with parades and green beer. Naturally (if ironically), they have the Americans to thank for that.

Growing up in a postwar Catholic environment, we were taught that there were two kinds of people; those who were Irish, and those who wish they were. My own family fell into neither category. There were the Irish nuns who favored the Irish kids, including the unforgettable Sister Mary Mel (yes, her real name), who wasn't above calling some miscreant a "jackass." But at least she was colorful. The rest of all things that were allegedly Irish were just so much blarney. I came to dismiss the whole notion of St Paddy's Day -- indeed, the whole notion of being Irish -- as a license for certain people to be more arrogant and obnoxious than they already were.

"Hail glorious Saint Patrick dear saint of our isle
On us thy poor children look down with a smile —"
But I'm not singing hymns and I'm not saying prayers
No, I'm gritting my teeth as I walk down the stairs
And into the street with these louts fiercely drinking
And screeching and lurching, and here's what I'm thinking —
They're using a stereotype, a narrow example,
A fraction, not even a marketing sample
To imitate Ireland, from which they don't come!
So unless that's just stupid, unless it's plain dumb,
All these kids from New Jersey and the five boroughs
And hundreds of cities, all drowning their sorrows,
With bottles and glasses and heads getting broken
(Believe me, just ask the mayor of Hoboken)
All that mindlessness, shouting and getting plain stocious —
That isn't Irish, that's simply atrocious.
I've another word too for it, this one's more stinging
I call it "racism." See, just 'cause you're singing
Some drunken old ballad on Saint Patrick's Day
Does that make you Irish? Oh, no — no way.
Nor does a tee-shirt that asks you to kiss them —
If they never come back I surely won't miss them
Or their beer cans and badges and wild maudlin bawling
And hammered and out of it, bodies all sprawling.

They're not of Joyce or of Yeats, Wilde, or Shaw.
How many Nobel Laureates does Dublin have? Four!
Think of this as you wince through Saint Patrick's guano —
Not every Italian is Tony Soprano.

Eventually I went to college, where I discovered Irish music. I mean the real thing, not the over-romanticized "Christmas-in-Killarney-on-St-Patrick's-in-June" that passed itself off as genuine the whole time. I simply couldn't get enough of it. I used to watch the Saint Patrick's Day parade in Cincinnati, which included the carrying of the statue of the Saint, which the local chapter of the Ancient Order of Hibernians would "steal" in the middle of night, from what was once the German parish in Mount Adams. (Long story.) There was also the local Irish dance school, with boys and girls who never imagined that, three decades later, they could do it for fame and fortune in shows like "Riverdance."

Who knew?

By the end of the 1970s I spent Sunday evenings working at a coffeehouse, and I helped broker a deal that brought Clannad to Cincinnati on their first American tour. I even gave harpist/vocalist Máire Brennan (pronounced MOY-uh) a ride back to where she was staying. Otherwise shy and aloof, I got her to laugh at my jokes. That seemed to matter at the time.

I saw Máire again in 1987, in a music video on VH1, for a song entitled "Something to Believe In." She was also the haunting voice in the Volkswagen commercials. Naturally she's world-famous now, and probably wouldn't return my calls, although she did write me a long and possibly heartfelt note when she autographed my copy of their album. I say "possibly" because it was in Gaelic, so I'll never know for sure, especially since it was among my collection that was stolen from my apartment in Georgetown back in 1994. (Bob, if you're reading this, tell your rich white trash buddies that I'd really like to have it back. And before you get defensive, the neighbors all thought YOU did it!) Máire also came out with a book in 2001 entitled "The Other Side of the Rainbow." She continues to tour and so on, but I knew her when.

(Sigh ...) Anyway, back to the '70s. While the whole world (including "Sal" on the other side of it) was going bananas over disco, the feast became an annual ritual, of spending most of the accompanying weekend hanging out at Hap's Irish Pub in the Hyde Park section of Cincinnati, or at Arnold's Bar and Grill downtown. Even when I moved to Washington in 1980, I learned Irish dancing (if not quite what appears in the above video), Irish folk tales, and the like. But the upscale bars in the Nation's capital weren't as quaint as the neighborhood pubs in my old hometown. I was under no illusions that this heritage was one that I could claim for my own.

In 1982, that claim became even more elusive. I married a girl whose grandparents came over from Slovakia, and who grew up hearing Slovak around the house. This pretty much killed any enthusiasm for all things Irish around our house.

You see, I learned a piece of American Catholic history that the mostly Irish-American church historians didn't exactly wear on their sleeves. By the time eastern Europeans came to America in the late 19th and early 20th century, the Irish were already the big fish in the little blue-collar pond, and didn't mind letting the "hunkies" in the coal towns and factory neighborhoods know it. Going up the food chain, it got worse. Catholics of Eastern Rites -- with customs and liturgy similar to the Orthodox, but in communion with Rome -- had married priests. The mostly-Irish bishops assumed they were either schismatics, or worse. Their wives couldn't be treated in Catholic hospitals, and their children were barred from Catholic schools. Confused as these bishops were, they concluded that the faithful would be even more confused by the presence of married Catholic priests. Thus, by the 1920s, The (Irish-)American bishops pressured Rome to bar the (legitimately) married priests from coming to America, let alone ministering.

It has been shown that most of the growth of Eastern Orthodoxy in North America can be attributed to the stubbornness and downright ignorance of the (Irish-)American bishops of the time. (Hey, guys, nice work!)

This latency towards all things Irish got a reprieve when the marriage tanked in 1990. Then one night -- it was about 1998, as I remember -- I was interviewed for a writing job by a priest who edited a major Catholic periodical. A native of Dublin, he reminded me of what really mattered:

“Patrick was not Irish, and on his Feast Day, we do not celebrate being Irish; we celebrate being Catholic.”

VIDEO: When a film crew arrives at an inner city Dublin National School to record the children, the result is a warm, funny and spontaneous animated documentary, featuring young children telling the story of John the Baptist, The birth of Jesus, the Crucifixion, Saint Patrick and others. Give Up Yer Aul Sins combines simple humour with clever animation to create films with a timeless quality and appeal to a family audience.

I always knew that the Alexanders came from a small town near Verdun, in the Lorraine province of France. But in recent years, we learned that before the 18th century, the Alexandre line was expatriated from Scotland, a result of the Rebellion when England overtook them. I was later to find out, that the man known by the Roman name of Maganus Sucatus (Maewyn Succat in Gaelic) was of a Roman family, born in Kilpatrick, near Dumbarton, in that part of Great Britain that is now Scotland. Sooooo ... if not being Irish were not enough, Patricius (in modern English, Patrick) -- as he was known in later years, being of the Roman "patrician" class, and a "patriarch" to his spiritual charges -- might well be claimed by the Scots as one of their own.

For years, one highlight of the day would be the Annual Irish Poetry Reading. This was when I'd call my folks in Ohio on this day every year, and with their speakerphone on, recite the following piece by Benjamin Hapgood Burt in a very bad Irish brogue:

One evening in October, when I was one-third sober,
    An' taking home a "load" with manly pride;
My poor feet began to stutter, so I lay down in the gutter,
    And a pig came up an' lay down by my side;
Then we sang "It's all fair weather when good fellows get together,"
    Till a lady passing by was heard to say:
"You can tell a man who 'boozes' by the company he chooses"
    And the pig got up and slowly walked away.


Alas, it won't be the same now that the Old Man has passed on.

THIS JUST IN: “Pardon us, Eminence, but are they with the Irish mafia, or the lavender mafia?”

What will also not be the same, is the annual Saint Patrick's Day parade in major cities of America, thanks to the likes of His Immenseness Timothy Cardinal Dolan, Archbishop of New York, who cannot fathom that being the grand marshal of a parade that allows Irish gay and lesbian groups, but not an Irish pro-life group, would trouble the Saint of Ireland in the least. Quite to the contrary, no less than Father George Rutler has said:

If Patrick, whom the archdiocese of New York is privileged to invoke as its patron, could witness what has become of his feast in the streets of our city, he might think that the Druids were having their revenge.

But at least some Catholics have taken the high road, like the ones who pulled out of the parade in Boston. But then the Knights of Columbus Council in Norfolk, Virginia, is going to march with our ostensibly Catholic governor who is pro-abortion and pro-gay "marriage." They will do it, even though the parish that sponsors them is disassociating themselves from the parade, and the Knights council, and even though the Knights as an organization has condemned it at the state level (which will keep the two parties occupied for some time in the future, as this third-degree Knight can assure you).

Today, those who are Irish, who wish they were, or who don't give a rat's @$$ either way, will dine on Irish lamb stew. When I can ever find it amidst my stuff, I use this occasion to wear a button with the words of William Butler Yeats: “I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree.” Usually, I listen to Celtic music the entire day, and at an opportune time and place, I dine on corned beef and cabbage. This is admittedly an American innovation for the Irish, as poor immigrants from the "auld sod" found corned beef (a substitute used by their Jewish neighbors in place of bacon) to be much cheaper than lamb.

Beginning this year, I got lucky, because right down the street from me, they opened an Irish pub. It seems that three Thai restaurant within a half mile of each other was one too many, and the one closest to me was replaced with the watering hole of my dreams. The Celtic House is situated on the corner of Columbia Pike and South Barton Street, right at the end of the latter street, which would be my street, a mere ten-minute walk away. Tonight I'm making a point of being there, and they'll be likely to make room for me, since I went to the damn trouble of being both the first customer to walk through the door when they opened, and a regular ever since. It is as if my fond memories of discovering real Irish culture has come full circle. True, it's not as small and crowded as Hap's, not quite as weather-beaten, and they won't be selling raffle tickets for NORAID under the table, but I can ignore that long enough to enjoy a lamb stew, or whatever their board of fare.

I'll also probably watch Mel Gibson in Braveheart later that night. Who cares if William Wallace was Scottish? No one cares if Patrick isn't Irish, do they? After all, "The Apostle of Ireland" is properly claimed by Catholics everywhere, whether those crazy-@$$ "micks" like it or not.

“Agus fagaimid siud mar ata se.”
 

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Thursday, March 12, 2015

“Lord, who throughout these forty days ...”

Without warning, we here at man with black hat went on hiatus, for reasons to be explained herein. So much has happened in the Church and in the world during this time, much of which in the former realm of a most contentious nature, to the extent that this writer was at a loss to know where or how to begin. And yet, this period of reflection (not to mention several spirited discussions in social media) has allowed for some conclusions.

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Brethren:
We are ambassadors for Christ,
God making his appeal through us.
We beseech you on behalf of Christ,
be reconciled to God.
For our sake he made him to be sin
who knew no sin,
so that in him we might become
the righteousness of God.

Working together with him, then,
we entreat you not to accept
the grace of God in vain.
For he says,

“At the acceptable time I have listened to you,
and helped you on the day of salvation.”


Behold, now is the acceptable time;
behold, now is the day of salvation.

(IICor 5:20-6:2)


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This passage of Scripture, heard twenty-two days ago, marked the beginning of the great penitential season of the western Church known as “Quadragesima” (Latin for “Forty Days”), or in English as “Lent.” While not a holyday of obligation, the faithful need little encouragement to sanctify this day that is Ash Wednesday, an occasion highlighted at Holy Mass by the imposition of ashes on the forehead by the priest, with the words:

“Memento homo,
    “Remember man,
quia pulvis es,
    that thou art dust
et in pulverem
    and unto dust
reverteris.”
    thou shalt return.”


Even those late for Mass are known to come to the sacristy afterwords and prevail upon the good Father for ashes. If nothing else, it is their mark, their witness to the world. With the explosion of the internet and social media, especially in the last five years, it is also the occasion for a "selfie," a self-taken photo using a cellphone and posted online. Some would call this an extension of that witness, while others would decry yet another exercise in self-aggrandizement.

This year's penitential season marks a change for your truly. Under the current discipline in the western Church, in addition to those fourteen years of age and older abstaining from meat on Fridays, those between the ages of fourteen and fifty-nine must observe a fast on both Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, eating only one main meal each day, with the other two meals adding up to less than the main one, and with not in-between meal snacking. Well, I'M SIXTY! That means I don't have to. But truth be told, not only do I observe the Friday abstinence for nearly all Fridays of the year, but I only eat one meal of any size in a day. On weekends I only eat two, brunch and dinner. So, I probably won't know the difference, even thought there's supposed to be a difference.

And so it goes.

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This writer would concede to his readership of falling under a dry spell of late; for the past several months, in fact. At the end of every year, this venue is the occasion for looking back at the year gone by, for anything that might have been overlooked, or would give inspiration to a broader view of the time passed. Not only that, but the opportunity was missed to feature the best of the Super Bowl commercials, and this past year had some real doozies. (Heh, maybe later.)

The prospects for inspiration have been less than encouraging. There has been a considerable drop in readership here, consistently less than half of what it would have been just three years ago. One can labor for hours with research, fine tuning a written work as if to craft a timeless sculpture or a great symphony, only to be outweighed by a blistering-if-warmed-over attack on some errant prelate by a lone (and usually anonymous) crusader out to save the Church from everyone but himself, or the latest comings-and-goings of a long and tedious line of celebrity converts. One of them even has a reality television show on cable. Personally, I just can't imagine the appeal. One can avoid any question of the sincerity of the object of this adulation, safely assured that the angels and saints rejoice at the homecoming of the least among these, and still wonder ...

Is it about the conversion, or the converted?

I'm a cradle Catholic. I was baptized at five weeks of age, and while I may have wandered a bit some years ago, I never really left. What could I offer this easily distracted audience looking for the fresh and zealous voice that is the newly saved?

Then there is the lightning rod that has become the papacy. Most people think it began with the election of Pope Francis, but for those with any semblance of an attention span it actually began up to a year earlier, as reports of tension within the halls of the Vatican, and the challenges faced by Pope Benedict from within, were beginning to come to the fore. His resignation two years ago, and the election of the Argentine archbishop Jorge Bergoglio, a successor to Peter from the other side of the world (aside from all else that has been said, and just about all of it has been said) brought a paradigm shift to the nature of the papacy. As I wrote last May on the anniversary of his election:

All told, it should come as no surprise to anyone, that the first Pope from the other side of the world, is going to have a different view of it. The same could be said of anyone coming from the other side of most anything.

But there's more to it than that, obviously. And through the daily dish of what Pope Francis said and when, and what he meant and didn't mean, and what is out of context and what translation was mistranslated -- Whew! We beg the question.

What is it about Catholic new media lately that everybody feels obliged to go completely off the rails?

This writer was once described by a leading aggregator of Catholic online news as “bringing sanity to contentious issues.” Such is very high praise given the source, obviously. And yet, who the hell wants to read anything with "sanity," when they can peruse the inflammatory jibes of this very popular and much-published blogger, or that highly successful video-based apostolate who is frequently depicted at odds with him, or the other combined news periodical and video outlet for the Latin-Mass-or-die crowd, and get their daily dose of dirty laundry and d**k measuring to last the whole day?

And now, even the high-class ladies at Gloria.TV News are getting in on the act. This has been a source of great heartbreak for this Black-Hatted Buckaroo, for you see, I have long had a very platonic yet secret crush on commentator Doina Buzut. (There. I said it.) Every day I would wait for her latest edition, wondering how she would braid her long and lovely dark hair. Would it be one single braid hanging to the left? Or maybe to the right? Or maybe she would play it safe, going for the classic pair of matching braids, one on each side? Then her sister Lucia shows up, often for days, even weeks at a time. The newscasts have lately included for most editions, a most strident editorial position (and they're usually right), but Doina will do so with such finesse, that you cannot help but wonder if the voice of an angel carries the message from on High. Her sister? Well, I cannot be unkind, for I must assume she means well. And one can only imagine the pressure to compete with … well, you know.

For the record, this writer has corresponded with Gloria.TV on more than one occasion, and have carried their daily news in the sidebar of this venue for the past several years. They have also featured this little corner of the Catholic blogosphere on more than one occasion. They also appear to laugh at my jokes, which renders this hopelessly hopeless romantic particularly vulnerable. For this we give a Tip of the Black Hat to the Buzut sisters (yes, both of them), and while their vast collection of video material is the occasional setting for various pseudo-Catholic, schismatic, or otherwise rogue sects or movements, warranting caution for the discerning viewer, their vast majority of excellent material, both of their own production and that of others, still warrants our recommendation, and Gloria.TV remains an item on our blogroll. (See "The Usual Suspects" to the right on the web edition.)

But the rest of you don't get off so easily.

The majority of anonymous crusaders, who hide behind their pseudonyms as they castigate the reputations of others, perhaps deserving, perhaps not, are nothing more than lily-livered cowards. Theirs in most cases is not a fear of reprisal from their local bishop (which occasionally does happen, admittedly), but the smug satisfaction that they are getting away with something, like the obnoxious little boy down the street who eggs your house in the middle of the night, and if found will hide behind mommy's skirts like a little girl. There is no heroism, no virtue, no self-sacrifice in defense of the True Faith, only the exalted view of one's place in the world, generating more heat than light. They could never be the harbinger for the reform of the Church, as they can barely see the need to reform themselves.

But alas, fools that we are, we will flock to their revelations like flies to a road kill.

This writer said all he needed to say about Pope Francis at the end of his first year. There will be more to say at the end of the second year. But at the end of the day, most of us have to admit the awful truth. We don't want to be informed about our Faith. We don't care about the spread of the Gospel. We hold little stock in the promise that Christ made, that He would be with His Bride, our Holy Mother Church, until the end of time. Oh no, we find no solace in that. We would just as soon put two pit bulls in a cage and let them fight it out until the last one is standing.

(WARNING: We are about to name names. We would tell no lies, we would harm no reputations, we would say nothing that the subjects in question could not honestly say about themselves. And with that, we continue ...)

We want to see Mark Shea castigate the Republican Party for their inconsistent claim to the pro-life cause (and the worst part is, he may be right), or Michael Voris of ChurchMilitant.TV give us the latest on the antics of the "Church of Nice" while not hesitating to name names (and let's give him credit for standing behind it), or Michael Matt and The Remnant or John Vennari of Catholic Family News, together or separately, go on an even longer rant than the other Michael, about how this Pope is one step away from spouting heresy because he seems to be friendly with those prelates who do (which isn't encouraging, but isn't quite the same thing either). We want to see the breakaway traditionalists of the Society of Saint Pius the Tenth come within inches of reconciliation with the Apostolic See in Rome, only to back out of the deal at the last moment, saying they'll never give in, even as their own fifth column decries them for selling out, even before they get up the nerve to go all the way with it. We want to hear more about the rampant spread of clown Masses, which haven't been nearly as rampant as they were twenty or thirty years ago. We want to hear about the decreasing number of priests, even as those numbers in some parts of the world, including our own, are on the INcrease.

We want this. We want more of this. GIVE US DIRTY LAUNDRY!

And in the darkness of the abyss, beyond the physical limitations of time and space, a war is waged between Heaven and Hell. Amidst the forces of evil, the great Prince of Lies employs every trick in his arsenal here on Earth below, using even the piety of the elect against them, and against each other.

He laughs, he taunts the Father in Heaven to which he once pledged his loyalty before his betrayal. He laughs for he knows that he is winning.

Or is he?

Oh, we of little faith. We who believe that God Himself has lost control of earthly events. We will deluge the world with our pious platitudes and our demonstrative rosary-wrangling, while secretly wishing the divine wrath upon those who disagree with us ever so slightly in the denizens of Facebook. Our "discussions" of all various and sundry topics -- they're never "debates," mind you, for we are much to sophisticated and hoity-toity to admit to stooping to such scrapping, even while we, uh, scrap -- will eventually metastasize into the same diatribe as we coughed up two or three days ago. It is the endless polemic, feeding on itself until exhausted, only to start anew with the next topic, whatever it may be.

We will make quick work of our enemy. Indeed, we have met the enemy, and he is … us.

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There would be none of that favorite pastime of the punctually pious, that of "giving up blogging for Lent." Maybe one day this lone and (possibly) original voice will be heard, not just one time, but another time, and another after that. Until then, it is discouraging, it is disheartening, to be the lone tree in the forest that no one hears falling, but this is a voice which cries out:

For Zion's sake I will not keep silent,
and for Jerusalem's sake I will not rest,
until her vindication goes forth as brightness,
and her salvation as a burning torch.
(Isaiah 62:1)


We are on a mission from God. It is admittedly of late, a mission at rest; beaten, broken, beleaguered by the obligations of work and home and service to others in real life. And yet it is not just our own. We are ALL on a mission from God. We are marching toward Heaven, eyes straight ahead, following the Cross that leads the way.

Until we build Jerusalem, we press on.

Here endeth the rant.
 

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Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Calvin and Hobbes: The “Lost” Comic

Today, the reformed Roman calendar celebrates the feast of St Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274), Father and Doctor of the Western Church. Known in particular as “Doctor Angelicus” (“the Angelic Doctor”), and as the father of the philosophical-theological methodology known as "Thomism," is the pre-eminent architect of Western theology, whose work was for centuries (and should be today, for that matter) required study for seminarians. Traditionally, the good Doctor was commemorated on March 7, the day of his death, as is the norm. However, in the calendar reforms of 1969, his feast was moved to the date of the transfer of his relics to Toulouse, to avoid its being overshadowed by the Lenten season. (In the traditional Roman calendar, he is still remembered on March 7.)

Growing up in Ohio, and unbeknownst to us at the time, we essentially learned Thomism at the dinner table. “Man is a reasoning animal.” “Everything you do in life is either a plus or a minus.” ... and so on. This writer only discovered later, while studying the Doctor's works in a Sunday night class at the Dominican House of Studies in the late 1980s, that he was a Thomist all along. For reasons betrayed in this classic Calvin and Hobbes comic, the life and work of this Saint is worthy of attention, now more than ever, don't you think?

Or don't you?