Friday, December 31, 2004

"Should auld acquaintance be forgot..."

I suppose I should close out the year somehow.

First, ABC News has named "bloggers" as the "People of the Year." To all you out there in the blogosphere, thanks for all the hard work, guys. (Hey, this must have been my proverbial "fifteen minutes of fame," eh?)

Now, for all you who are just getting back from vacation, and who have already heard of the tsunami disaster in Asia, here's where the ability to help is only a credit card away:

American Red Cross: International Response Fund

Oxfam: Asia Earthquake Fund

Sarvodaya (based in Sri Lanka)

And if anyone is out there with expertise in water/sanitation or shelter/reconstruction, and has some time on their hands, Catholic Relief Services (CRS) is looking for you. Of course, if you can only be there in spirit, you can donate here.

(to be continued...)

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

"And so this is Christmas, and what have you done..." Three

What do Denzel Washington and I have in common?

We both turned fifty years old today.

Dad began his long career at Procter and Gamble in the early 1950s, and was hoping to get a position in or near the headquarters in Cincinnati, near his and Mom's families. But the nearest opening was in Cleveland, and upstate they went. When an opening in the "Queen City of the West" appeared in '56, Dad jumped at it. But not before I came along...

Sal and I spent the day at Goodwill stores. After all, the girl loves to shop, and the Birthday Boy gets half-price on the same day every year. We also swung by Mom and Dad's, in the town of Milford, on the eastern outskirts of Cincinnati. The big news there was of how an historic building had caught fire the day before. We drove by on the way through the town. A couple dozen guys were milling about -- probably the same guys who hung out at the Corner Barber Shop. Small towns; you know how it is?

That evening, we had dinner at The Dubliner, an Irish pub in the Pleasant Ridge section of Cincinnati. Irish pubs in my hometown are not like the ones in DC; in Cincinnati, they're for real. I love a genuine neighborhood public house. This night was "trivia night." With a generous gift certificate from my other sister Mary, we toasted the old, rung in the new, and blew the whole wad very nicely. (Thanks, Mary.) Mom and Dad got me a card: "The first 50 years are the hardest." I suppose they'd know.

It's going to be just a little harder to leave here than usual the next morning. I'm not sure why...

Monday, December 27, 2004

"And so this is Christmas, and what have you done..." Two

Our trip to Ohio was without incident. We didn't hit any snow at all until crossing through the northern panhandle of West Virginia into Ohio. Then, as I escorted Sal on her first foray into the Great Midwest, there were light flurries until we hit Columbus. From there to Cincinnati, it was obvious we were in for a white one.

I trust everybody had a good Christmas. On the Eve, we went over to the eastern outskirts of the city, to Milford where I grew up and where my folks still live. There, the Alexander clan assembled for the opening of presents. Mom and Dad are in failing health, but in good spirits nonetheless. We had the house renovated to allow for wheelchair access for Dad, and we have nurses and aides come in, so we don't have to send our folks off to one of what my Uncle Gene used to call "those old smelly places."

That night, Sal and I drove into the city, and attended Midnight Latin Mass at the beautiful "Old Saint Mary's" in Cincinnati's Over-The-Rhine district. It was a most beautiful Mass, if a bit on the chilly side. There were the usual large families, and a few older folks. Everybody cleared out afterwards to escape the cold. But it was just as well; I didn't recognize anybody. I've been away too long, I reckon. Still, the pictures of the recently restored church are quite beautiful. Check the link above.

Christmas Day itself was a quiet one. We went to the movies that afternoon, and saw two of them. Just light romantic comedies, nothing too cerebral. We fell asleep watching TV that evening.

The next day, "Boxing Day" in Canada and the UK, we went to a parish east of the city, Immaculate Heart of Mary, for Mass, hoping to see the pastor, who is an old friend of mine. Sure enough, he was there. The Mass was a contemporary setting, but true to my friend's way of doing things, it was carried out with all due reverence. Afterwards, Sal and I took the good Father out to lunch. Father and I caught up on old times, and what life was like for him and the Church in that neck of the woods. He shared with us how God was always calling him to the priesthood, even though he answered late.

The sun is setting on Monday as this is written. The time here in Ohio has been restful, mostly with family. Having experienced both the East and West Coasts, this was Sal's first trip to middle America. She expected something backward, but what this native Filipina found was a place as civilized as any place in America she had known, if one with a slower pace of life.

As we toured what Winston Churchill once called "one of America's most beautiful inland cities," we wondered what it would be like to live here...

Friday, December 24, 2004

"And so this is Christmas, and what have you done..." One

I'm writing this from Cincinnati. The northern outskirts, actually. Turns out the "Queen City of the West" got the white Christmas we all dream about. Or at least until we realize there's 20 inches of it and it's accompanied by a level three snow emergency so nobody can go anywhere without a Humvee and/or snow chains.

But Sal and I made it in anyway, in ten hours. That's record time when you consider the conditions south of Columbus.

I was hoping we could talk about the many saints remembered in December. In fact, I was hoping we could talk about a lot of things. But I got caught up in my glorious victory over adversity that was my web design class. I did well on my final presentation, and a perfect score on the test. I've gotten tension headaches every damn day for the last four to six weeks of the term. I'm not as young as I used to be. But I've still got game. We completed a "portfolio page" that leads to our website project. Mine was about the French impressionist painter Georges Seurat. It was entitled "J'essai de faire un point." ("I'm trying to make a point.") If you were an art history buff, you'd get it. Probably.

I think I got a B. Here's the results:

Now, back to "all the saints, from whom their labors rest..."

You remember I mentioned Juan Diego. On the 12th, which fell on a Sunday this year, we would normally commemorate the Feast of Our Lady of Guadelupe. In parishes across the USA, a publisher of liturgical aids will feature a tribute to this vision, starting out with some drivel about the Spaniards and their cruel suppression of the venerable Aztec culture. Well, Father Saunders gives a fuller account of the real deal in a recent issue of the Arlington Catholic Herald, in striking another blow against attempts by pseudo-intellectual twits at re-writing history:

"The Aztec religious practices, which included human sacrifice, play an interesting and integral role in this story. Every major Aztec city had a temple pyramid, about 100 feet high, on top of which was erected an altar. Upon this altar, the Aztec priests offered human sacrifice to their god Huitzilopochtli, called the 'Lover of Hearts and Drinker of Blood,' by cutting out the beating hearts of their victims, usually adult men but often children. The priests held the beating hearts high for all to see, drank the blood, kicked the lifeless bodies down the pyramid stairs, and later severed the limbs and ate the flesh. Considering that the Aztecs controlled 371 towns and the law required 1,000 human sacrifices for each town with a temple pyramid, over 50,000 human beings were sacrificed each year. Moreover, the early Mexican historian Ixtlilxochitl estimated that one out of every five children fell victim to this bloodthirsty religion.

"In 1487, when Juan Diego was just 13 years old, he would have witnessed the most horrible event: Tlacaellel, the 89-year-old Aztec ruler, dedicated the new temple pyramid of the sun, dedicated to the two chief gods of the Aztec pantheon — Huitzilopochtli and Tezcatlipoca, (the god of hell and darkness) — in the center of Tenochtitlan (later Mexico City). The temple pyramid was 100 feet high with 114 steps to reach the top. More than 80,000 men were sacrificed over a period of four days and four nights. One can only imagine the flow of blood and the piles of bodies from this dedication...

"Nevertheless, in 1520, Hernan Cortes outlawed human sacrifice...

The nerve of that guy. The process only took fifteen seconds for each victim -- less time than your average abortion. So it was an efficient civilization if nothing else, eh?

And then there are those feminist-theology types who try to see a "goddess" image in the Virgin Mary. They're outa luck there too:

"These are also symbols of divine victory over the pagan religion. Sun rays were symbolic of the Aztec god Huitzilopochtle. Therefore, our Blessed Mother, standing before the rays, shows that she proclaims the true God who is greater than Huitzilopochtle and who eclipses his power.

"She stands also on the moon. The moon represented night and darkness, and was associated with the god Tezcatlipoca. Her again, the Blessed Mother’s standing on the moon indicates divine triumph over evil."

There you have it; the straight skinny. More information on the Saints of December can be found at a calendar here.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

They only canonized this guy two years ago... 'bout damn time!!!

Today is the Feast of St Juan Diego -- you know, the Guadelupe guy! The basic story goes like this, courtesy of "Women for Faith and Family":

"On December 9, 1531, when Juan Diego was on his way to morning Mass, the Blessed Mother appeared to him on Tepeyac Hill, the outskirts of what is now Mexico City. She asked him to go to the Bishop and to request in her name that a shrine be built at Tepeyac, where she promised to pour out her grace upon those who invoked her. The Bishop, who did not believe Juan Diego, asked for a sign to prove that the apparition was true. On 12 December, Juan Diego returned to Tepeyac. Here, the Blessed Mother told him to climb the hill and to pick the flowers that he would find in bloom. He obeyed, and although it was winter time, he found roses flowering. He gathered the flowers and took them to Our Lady who carefully placed them in his mantle and told him to take them to the Bishop as "proof". When he opened his mantle, the flowers fell on the ground and there remained impressed, in place of the flowers, an image of the Blessed Mother, the apparition at Tepeyac."

That's not all that was impressed.

The roses in question were of a particular variety, that grew only in the bishop's native region of Castile, in Spain. His Lordship recognized them on the spot, and knew that Juan couldn't have picked them locally.

Now, anybody can quote from a website. But where else do you learn fun facts like THAT one???

Uh-huh. Thought so.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

If November has "All Saints Day," then December has...

...what I would call the distinction of being "All Saints Month." Some of our most colorful and celebrated saints are remembered in the few weeks before, and the one week after, the Birth of Christ.

So far, we've had St Francis Xavier (Dec 3), St John of Damascus (Dec 4), and St Nicholas (yesterday, you remember?).

Today, we remember Saint Ambrose, the fourth century bishop of Milan, Italy, one of the Fathers of the Western Church, and most of all, the guy who converted and baptized St Augustine, later Bishop of Hippo in northern Africa and author of his Confessions.

Today, Anglican blogger Taylor Marshall of Ecclesia Anglicana tells us of one Saint Simeon of Emesa (courtesy of "Don Jim" Tucker of Dappled Things):

"On the one hand he runs around naked, relieves himself in public, lives in the streets, washes in a women's bathhouse, and keeps the company of prostitutes. On the other hand, he performs miracles, acts as an exorcist, and exhibits the gifts of clairvoyance and prophecy. He continues to be an ascetic but is unwilling to let others know about his vocation."

Wow. And to think we've got at least three weeks to go. Stay tuned...

Monday, December 06, 2004

Memo To Eric: Father Knows... Best???

Eric Johnson of Catholic Light had a commentary the other day about people who "dump" on priests.

"If you have a problem or a question about something a priest said, you ought to take it up with him privately, either in person or in a letter. When you challenge him on a point of Christian teaching, you ought to make sure that you are supported by the ancient teaching of the Church, not by the secular anything-goes materialism that appeared on the world-historical scene the day before yesterday... Can you not see that by acknowledging apostolic succession with one side of your mouth, and insulting the successors of the apostles out of the other, you give scandal to non-Catholics and gladden the hearts of the Church's enemies?"

Not necessarily, my good man.

Now, I've got a number of friends who are priests. Some I've known since childhood. One or two may have saved my soul -- or my life.

And yet, in my going-on fifty years, I've met my share of them who could have well-afforded a good chewing out. Most of the time, I refrain.

The occasion usually doesn't call for it. Like when I visited a parish once with a friend of mine, and she asked why the church doesn't have kneelers, making people stand during the consecration. So while I'm listening to the Padre give some completely bogus explanation, I don't say a word. I give him what I call "the look." The one that says, "I am SOOOO on to you, buster!"

Occasionally I am less reserved. But what surprises me is that, with whatever chapter and verse I have to back me up, and however nicely I put it, the guy behind the Roman collar is aghast at being challenged for any reason at all.

We ask a lot of our priests. They don't always get a lot in return. And so we're inclined to cut them a little slack. A few take undue advantage of that, and think they can get away with anything.

Including pederasty -- apparently.

Now, maybe you'd like to dump on Catherine of Siena, who referred to the clerics surrounding the pope exiled in Avignon as "wolves and sellers of the divine Grace." Did she hate all priests? The priesthood itself?? Did she think the Pope was in any less than between a rock and a hard place???

Don't think so.

I know one priest who deserved a good punch in the nose. And he got one too.

The priest was a bishop from Alexandria, in Egypt (not Virginia), and his name was Arius. Arius lived early in the fourth century, and he taught that Jesus was not God, but more like a fulfilled sort of human being. By the time of the first Ecumenical Council in Nicea, he had most of the bishops convinced.

But not the bishop who gave him one right in the kisser. You think the old slugger got away with a stunt like that? Oh no, mister. The emperor who convened the Council was incensed, and had that other bishop locked up in the dungeon.

But that night, the Emperor had a dream. He saw a vision of the errant bishop, shining in his brilliant gold priestly vestments, and carrying the Book of the Gospels. The emperor awoke with such a frieght, and called his guards. He ordered them to accompany him to the dungeon, and open the door where the bishop was imprisoned.

Wanna guess what they found??

Who said dreams never come true, Eric? Mine is for more good men to answer the call to the priesthood. Men like many of those I meet in our common diocese of Arlington.

Oh, and about that bishop. There are a ton of good stories about him. This would be a good day to check them out, too, because today is his feast day.

That's right, Eric. Jolly old Saint Nick decked a heretic! Arius had it coming. So do a few others like him. Especially lately. Fortunately, not the one in your example. He's one of the good guys.

We should love our priests. We should help them. Send them a card on Father's Day. Have them over for dinner. But make no mistake about it; a few of them (if only a very few) could use a good "dumping." Especially if the Church is going to insist that they not have wives.

It's all about timing, though. But we'll save that for another day. Stay tuned...