Friday, May 30, 2008

Is this the first time Hillary Clinton has refused to drop out of a race? Never before seen footage of a young Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.

Created by and starring Jerry O'Connell and Brandon Johnson. Also starring Laci Kay as Young Hillary Clinton.

So it goes for this week's Friday Afternoon Moment of Whimsy. "Young Hilary Clinton" is a 60Frames original series. For more information, visit

In corde Jesu

Image courtesy Fisheaters.comToday, 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 that occurs on the Friday of the week following the Feast of Corpus Christi. It was on that earlier solemnity that a Novena to the Sacred Heart began, 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). It originally aired 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 this Catholic church, and coming across the image of the Sacred Heart, she runs into this creepy guy 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 I have read or heard no where else. And just when we thought the influence of Christendom had faded from the popular culture. Hope breeds eternal...

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.

(The preceding was posted for the same occasion last year. Image is provided courtesy of, and is used without permission or shame.)

Thursday, May 29, 2008

RAQs (Rarely Asked Questions)

Paul the Regular Guy got "tagged" recently, in what was termed a "procrastination meme." No one has tagged me yet, and I'm too lazy this week to tag anyone else, so...

What time is your alarm clock set to? 6:15 am. I keep hitting the snooze button until 6:45.

What is the first thing you notice about the opposite sex? That they ARE the opposite sex.

Do you think people talk about you behind your back? I try not to think about it.

What movie do you know every line to? The one they eventually make about me.

What is your favorite movie? The Shoes of the Fisherman. Anthony Quinn stars as the Pope.

Is anyone in love with you? That's what they tell me.

Do you sleep on your side, stomach or back? First one side, then the other, then...

Who was the last person to make you mad? Certain people running the Art Institute, who consistently pass the blame for their mistakes onto the students. One can only assume this is to teach some sort of lesson. (Anyone wanna venture a guess?)

Are you a lover or a fighter? Depends on who's asking.

Are you a morning or evening person? Depends on the time of day.

Are you a cuddler? Not when I'm alone.

Are you a perfectionist? Some times more than others.

Have you ever written a poem? Yes. She dumped me anyway.

Do you have more guy or girl friends? Gals, until recently. Guys are catching up. Most of my real friends are back in Ohio.

How many tickets have you gotten? Since learning to drive, I've lost count. Some years none at all, others one or two. The general trend is downward, the last issued nearly two years ago.

Piercings? No.

Do you have a tattoo? Hell, no!

Are you patient? What, are you crazy???

Do you miss anyone right now? Yes.

Tea or coffee? Either.

Regularly burn incense? Only when serving at Mass.

Ever been in love? Yes.

Best room for a fireplace? The living room.

What do you do when you’re sad or upset? Sink into a deep melancholy, then watch old movies.

Afraid of heights? Only when I attain them.

Can you change the oil in your car? Why else did God create mechanics?

Favorite flower? A rose, by any other name.

Favorite hangout? A tie. Arnold's Bar and Grille, and Hap's Old Irish Pub, both in Cincinnati.

Middle name? Lawrence, after a maternal uncle who died before I was born.

Most romantic sounding language? Latin.

Ever been overseas? Once, to Canada. (Does that count?) And only because Windsor was right across from Detroit, and we could go to dinner and be home before bedtime.


Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Utah Phillips

...died last Friday, at his home in Nevada City, California, after battling chronic heart disease for the past few years. He had just turned 73.

Phillips was a labor organizer, the son of labor organizers from Cleveland. He ran away from home as a teenager and hitched on to the railroads, joining other "hobos" in search of day work, and the next fortune down the road. He was a teller of tall tales, and a singer of old songs, not to mention a few of his own. He was part of a dying generation of artists who could be called "the real deal." His song "Green Rolling Hills" was made into a popular hit by Emmylou Harris ("Oh, the green rolling hills of West Virginia..." Yeah, that one.) He never cared much for the commercial side of the musicians' trade. While this may have cost him commercial acclaim, he won the respect and admiration of the artists who knew him.

I met Phillips thirty years ago at Cincinnati's "Leo Coffeehouse," when it was located just south of the UC campus on Calhoun Street. At a time when the club's idea of "folk music" was the latest Top 40 turnout by The Eagles, I was one of the guys who arranged for them to see the real thing. Eventually they got tired of listening to me, and I sorta got tossed out (which is another story for another day). But time proved me right, and Phillips was one of the reasons.

He will be buried tomorrow, outside his hometown, in a plain wooden box, with only family and close friends in attendance. A public memorial service will be held at the local baseball field the following Sunday.

There is more about him at his website:

Autism Revisited

There have been some good comments on our post of eight days ago, "Autism: Not The Musical." Especially noteworthy are those experiences of parents or caregivers of children with autism. A special "Howdy" is in order for readers of Happy Catholic who are here for the first time. (Thanks, Julie D.) We'd also like to welcome slavishly loyal fans of Mark Shea's Catholic And Enjoying It, who couldn't help but notice that the conversation is over here and not over there. (Yeah, I know the drill: "But, Mister Black Hat Guy, all the really cool kids like Mark's combox better..." Gee, Mark, are you sure you can spare them?)

Monday, May 26, 2008

Memorial Day

Today is Memorial Day in the United States. People can argue about the politics of any particular conflict all they want. The debate stops at the foot of Virtue. A man who is willing to lay down his life for anybody or anything that is the least bit worthy of it, is a man who bears notice. There are, after all, things in the world that are worth dying for. To know that there is a God in heaven, is to believe in nothing less.

Let this nation forever be among the ones to be counted. God bless America. HOO-rah.

(Song by Toby Keith.)

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Corpus Christi

Lauda Sion Salvatórem
Lauda ducem et pastórem
In hymnis et cánticis.

Sion, lift up thy voice and sing:
Praise thy Savior and thy King,
Praise with hymns thy shepherd true.

Quantum potes, tantum aude:
Quia major omni laude,
Nec laudáre súfficis.

All thou canst, do thou endeavour:
Yet thy praise can equal never
Such as merits thy great King.

Laudis thema speciális,
Panis vivus et vitális,
Hódie propónitur.

See today before us laid
The living and life-giving Bread,
Theme for praise and joy profound.

Quem in sacræ mensa cœnæ,
Turbæ fratrum duodénæ
Datum non ambígitur.

The same which at the sacred board
Was, by our incarnate Lord,
Giv'n to His Apostles round.

Sit laus plena, sit sonóra,
Sit jucúnda, sit decóra
Mentis jubilátio.

Let the praise be loud and high:
Sweet and tranquil be the joy
Felt today in every breast.

Dies enim solémnis ágitur,
In qua mensæ prima recólitur
Hujus institútio.

On this festival divine
Which records the origin
Of the glorious Eucharist.

In hac mensa novi Regis,
Novum Pascha novæ legis,
Phase vetus términat.

On this table of the King,
Our new Paschal offering
Brings to end the olden rite.

Vetustátem nóvitas,
Umbram fugat véritas,
Noctem lux elíminat.

Here, for empty shadows fled,
Is reality instead,
Here, instead of darkness, light.

Quod in cœna Christus gessit,
Faciéndum hoc expréssit
In sui memóriam.

His own act, at supper seated
Christ ordain'd to be repeated
In His memory divine;

Docti sacris institútis,
Panem, vinum, in salútis
Consecrámus hóstiam.

Wherefore now, with adoration,
We, the host of our salvation,
Consecrate from bread and wine.

Dogma datur Christiánis,
Quod in carnem transit panis,
Et vinum in sánguinem.

Hear, what holy Church maintaineth,
That the bread its substance changeth
Into Flesh, the wine to Blood.

Quod non capis, quod non vides,
Animósa firmat fides,
Præter rerum ordinem.

Doth it pass thy comprehending?
Faith, the law of sight transcending
Leaps to things not understood.

Sub divérsis speciébus,
Signis tantum, et non rebus,
Latent res exímiæ.

Here beneath these signs are hidden
Priceless things, to sense forbidden,
Signs, not things, are all we see.

Caro cibus, sanguis potus:
Manet tamen Christus totus,
Sub utráque spécie.

Flesh from bread, and Blood from wine,
Yet is Christ in either sign,
All entire, confessed to be.

A suménte non concísus,
Non confráctus, non divísus:
Integer accípitur.

They, who of Him here partake,
Sever not, nor rend, nor break:
But, entire, their Lord receive.

Sumit unus, sumunt mille:
Quantum isti, tantum ille:
Nec sumptus consúmitur.

Whether one or thousands eat:
All receive the self-same meat:
Nor the less for others leave.

Sumunt boni, sumunt mali:
Sorte tamen inæquáli,
Vitæ vel intéritus.

Both the wicked and the good
Eat of this celestial Food:
But with ends how opposite!

Mors est malis, vita bonis:
Vide paris sumptiónis
Quam sit dispar éxitus.

Here 'tis life: and there 'tis death:
The same, yet issuing to each
In a difference infinite.

Fracto demum Sacraménto,
Ne vacílles, sed memento,
Tantum esse sub fragménto,
Quantum toto tégitur.

Nor a single doubt retain,
When they break the Host in twain,
But that in each part remains
What was in the whole before.

Nulla rei fit scissúra:
Signi tantum fit fractúra:
Qua nec status nec statúra
Signáti minúitur.

Since the simple sign alone
Suffers change in state or form:
The signified remaining one
And the same for evermore.

Ecce panis Angelórum,
Factus cibus viatórum:
Vere panis fíliórum,
Non mittendus cánibus.

Lo! bread of the Angels broken,
For us pilgrims food, and token
Of the promise by Christ spoken,
Children’s meat, to dogs denied.

In figúris præsignátur,
Cum Isaac immolátur:
Agnus paschæ deputátur
Datur manna pátribus.

Shewn in Isaac's dedication,
In the manna's preparation:
In the Paschal immolation,
In old types pre-signified.

Bone pastor, panis vere,
Jesu, nostri miserére:
Tu nos pasce, nos tuére:
Tu nos bona fac vidére
In terra vivéntium.

Jesu, shepherd of the sheep:
Thou thy flock in safety keep,
Living bread, thy life supply:
Strengthen us, or else we die,
Fill us with celestial grace.

Tu, qui cuncta scis et vales:
Qui nos pascis hic mortales:
Tuos ibi commensáles,
Cohærédes et sodales,
Fac sanctórum cívium.

Thou, who feedest us below:
Source of all we have or know:
Grant that with Thy Saints above,
Sitting at the feast of love,
We may see Thee face to face.

Amen. Allelúia.

PHOTOS: Celebrations of the Feast in Greenville, South Carolina, USA (First Annual Southeastern Eucharistic Congress), in Antigua, Guatemala (Infrogmation), in Poznań, Poland (Radomil), and in Vaduz, Liechtenstein (Joyce Chan).



Saturday, May 24, 2008

Beneath Unstill Waters

In the spring of 1946, the USA was in the grips of an unprecedented work stoppage of its railroad system. This was before air travel was the most common means of long-distance travel, so nearly all passenger and freight delivery was brought to a halt for more than a month. President Harry Truman, disgusted with the inability of railway workers to reach a settlement, announced that he intended for the government to take control of -- to "nationalize," if you will -- the railroad system, and to draft striking workers into the military. They soon after reached an agreement on Truman's terms, just as he was making the case for assuming this authority before the Congress. While his actions were politically damaging at the time, history has generally vindicated this President.

At a congressional hearing earlier this week, Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D-CA) proposed to do the same with the nation's petroleum industry, in the face of rising prices at the pump -- which include a $0.46 per gallon federal tax, by the way. One cannot help but notice her difficulty in coming up with big words like "nationalize." Can one assume her proposal has been nearly as well thought out as that of Truman?

Nah, didn't think so.

Friday, May 23, 2008

I stole this from Mark Shea when he wasn’t looking, to use for this week's Friday Afternoon Moment of Whimsy.™ (I don't care what all the rad-trad boys say about you, Mark, you're really swell!)

With this video, we take you back to those thrilling days of yesteryear, whatever year that was for you. For yours truly, it was the mid-1960s, when sci-fi kid shows like "Supercar" and "Fireball XL-5" were all the rage. The latter was my fave. I even got the authentic model rocket for Christmas one year. ("Ready, Venus?" "Okay, Steve." sigh!) "Superthunderstingcar" is a new one on me, though. But it sure brings back memories.

I ask you, doesn't it make you wanna get on board?

Thursday, May 22, 2008

I have been rather pensive of late... I get caught up in all that needs to be done, wondering what to do next. Every now and then, life sends a message.

The pastor whom I serve as master of ceremonies, Father Franklyn McAfee of the Diocese of Arlington, was taken to the hospital last Tuesday night, after losing sensation on his left side, particularly in his arm. I can say this with confidence, that as this is written, reports elsewhere on the internet about his suffering a stroke are premature. While this is not ruled out, they are still conducting tests, and we are optimistic. [UPDATE: It has been confirmed as of 4pm local time, that Father suffered a minor stroke. He is expected to return to the rectory before month's end, but will still require rest and therapy.] In the meantime, he has been getting some much needed rest, but remains in his usual good spirits.

The External Celebration of Corpus Christi at St John the Beloved this Sunday at noon, with a Missa Cantata and Procession of the Blessed Sacrament, will proceed as scheduled. Of course, we ask that all remember him in their prayers.

Nearly thirty years after leaving the Midwest, to begin my exile on the East Coast, the good Father is one of the few real spiritual fathers I have. It is a great honor to serve for him every Sunday, and a great privilege to work with the young men who assist him alongside me. I look forward to his triumphant return.

“It is said an Eastern monarch once charged his wise men to invent him a sentence, to be ever in view, and which should be true and appropriate in all times and situations. They presented him the words: ‘And this, too, shall pass away.’ How much it expresses! How chastening in the hour of pride! How consoling in the depths of affliction!” — Abraham Lincoln

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Autism: Not The Musical

From ABC News and the Associated Press comes this report, that a Catholic priest in Minnesota has filed a court order against the parents of a severely autistic thirteen-year-old boy, to bar him from attending Sunday Mass. According to the report, Father Daniel Walz "alleges that Adam Race's unruly behavior endangers others who attend the Church."

(The Minneapolis-St Paul Star-Tribune has more.)

The parents at one point defied the order, citing discrimination. The mother was cited by police, and is expected to appear in court on June 2. In the meantime, if there are any parents of autistic children out there, or anyone who has experience in dealing with autism, mwbh would welcome your comments here.

After all, "such as these are the kingdom of heaven," right?

Friday, May 16, 2008

The finalists in the “IKEA Kitchen Rhythms Contest” are the feature of this week’s Friday Afternoon Moment of Whimsy. If it’s not too late, and as long as it’s not “JSandler48,” cast your ultimate vote here. (NOTE: IKEA is not a proud sponsor of this weblog. We just think this is a way cool idea.)

Critical Mass: The Future of Our Past

It is an oft-repeated claim here at mwbh, and it bears repeating again.

But it is presented here in the context of a recent interview with His Eminence Virgilio Cardinal Noè (pronounced "NO-eh"), former papal master of ceremonies to Paul VI, John Paul I, and (early in his pontificate) John Paul II. Now 86 and living quietly in retirement, Noè spoke with Bruno Volpe for the Italian periodical Petrus. A translation of that interview was rendered by Father Zuhlsdorf, and can be found at his weblog What Does the Prayer Really Say?

In the interview, Noè recalls what Paul VI shared with him regarding the qualities of a good liturgical master of ceremonies, which was of particular interest to the ongoing apostolate of yours truly. "The MC must foresee everything and taken everything on himself, he has the task of making the Pope’s road smoother... An MC, he stressed, must remain also the master of himself and be the [celebrant's] shield, so that Holy Mass can be celebrated in a dignified way, for the glory of God and His people."

Noè also spoke of what was meant by Paul VI as he warned that "the smoke of Satan" had entered the Church: "Papa Montini, for Satan, meant to include all those priests or bishops and cardinals who didn’t render worship to the Lord by celebrating badly (mal celebrando) Holy Mass because of an errant interpretation of the implementation of the Second Vatican Council. He spoke of the smoke of Satan because he maintained that those priests who turned Holy Mass into dry straw in the name of creativity, in reality were possessed of the vainglory and the pride of the Evil One."

Over the years, many Catholics have witnessed all manner of novelties introduced to the Mass, which neither the Holy See nor the Second Vatican Council ever intended. We read of other Catholics, particularly those who author blogs, presenting their dilemma of whether to leave their home parish for an island of sanity elsewhere. Many drive for nearly an hour simply to attend a Mass celebrated according to the mind of the Church. I know that feeling, as to this day, I am loathe to attend Mass at the parish of my hometown where I was raised. While there is still some semblance of reverence there, it is punctuated by the "creativity" of the few, which is foisted on the many, who are lulled into a stupor to believe whatever they are told. It is as if the naked Emperor himself were to process down the aisle, adorned such that only the truly enlightened may have eyes to see.

But this will change, and right soon, and it brings us to the aforementioned claim. The introduction of the Traditional form of the Roman Mass will be an influence upon the Church as a whole. But even if it were not, the English-speaking world will be introduced, in the next few years, to a revised translation of the Roman Missal, one that will eschew pedestrian language, in favor of a more formal and sacral form, better suited to the occasion. Over time, the way in which the Mass is celebrated will be forced to shift its paradigm. There is simply no getting around this. The earliest we can expect this to happen is the end of 2009, although yours truly would submit that it will be more likely around 2010 or 2012. It would take well over a year simply for the publishing industry to make a complete and proper adjustment.

Faithful Catholics who have been discouraged would pray the words of the psalmist: "How long, O Lord?" For the first time in nearly half a century, there is now a timetable.

Thursday, May 15, 2008


We all loved it when Humphrey Bogart called some dame "sweetheart." If I eat at a diner in Baltimore, some waitress is invariably going to call me "hon" in passing, and I will get over it. In fact, every year, they have a "Honfest." Besides, I've been called much worse things than "hon." It's too bad the rest of the mainstream news media has already decided for us who the next President will be, sweetie. You'll have to learn to get over it as well.

[UPDATE: RedLasso provides a sequel, with the usual rapier commentary at Hot Air.]

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Biting the Bullet Revisited

I got several responses to my recent piece entitled "They Labor In Vain Who Build It: Biting the Bullet on the Catholic Celebrity Racket." Mark Forrest, author of The Discalced Yooper, only publishes rarely now. Such is our loss, as he is one of the sharpest minds in the Catholic blogosphere. Naturally, his response to the musings of yours truly deserves a place of its own. Right here:

"Perhaps if we stopped acting like these people were celebrities, we would solve half of these issues. I could ask my mother or grandmother their opinions of the usual suspects, and they would just shrug their shoulders. Only a handful of 'popular' blogs have enough readership to be considered a decent sized parish. A lot of people seem to care about GA, and I'm sure he enjoys to a degree his little following. My goodness though. Should people really be getting worked up about a guy with a blog in California? I don't know about you, but I don't have to look very far to find sympathy for those with homosexual tendencies. And yes, his opinion is wrong, but so what? A person on the Internet is wrong. Who would have thunk it? Perhaps if these folks weren't so utterly devoid of actual communion at a parish, they might stop making idols of bloggers."

I think he's trying to tell some of us to GET A LIFE! He's probably right. He's also suggesting that many of us cannot achieve "actual communion at a parish." I'm reminded of that when I go back to my home parish in Ohio, and they cross the aisles to hold hands during the Lord's Prayer. Oy vey!

Monday, May 12, 2008


"Bishop William F Murphy of Rockville Centre, NY, has ordered an end to weekday Communion services outside the context of Mass by July 1."

For what it's worth, I am told that this has also been the standing policy of my home archdiocese of Cincinnati for years, but that it is blissfully ignored, presumably by a generation of pastors who never grew up.

As far as I'm concerned, "communion services" are less a matter of the faithful's right of access to the sacraments, than they are an ideological tool for rebellious and misinformed laity. To that end, it must invariably be a woman who "presides." Otherwise, what would be the point? Having never endeared myself to the status quo in a parish so inclined, I have never officiated at such an event myself, and I'm not sure I would accept if asked.

Here in the DC area, it is difficult to appreciate that only one resident priest per parish is the norm, and in some cases, a luxury. So what happens when a pastor takes a reasonable break of one day per workweek? (It's a lot more than forty hours, by the way.)

Bishop Murphy recommends the Liturgy of the Hours, no less a part of the official prayer of the Church than the Divine Liturgy. But as with many things, there is a right way and a wrong way to do it. Last night, we had Vespers of Pentecost at St John the Beloved. It was according to the traditional form, in which case one must be a priest to officiate, at least within the confines of a parish church. There is no such restriction in the reformed liturgy.

In the absence of a priest, I would think that the officiant should be a deacon. In the absence of a deacon, it should be a seminarian doing his pastoral internship, or a male or female Religious, or as a last resort, a catechist. The reason for this is to reinforce the presence of the whole Church at official prayer, which takes into account its hierarchical nature.

Were I a bishop, I might be inclined to publish an annual daily office, authorized for use in all parishes of the diocese, regardless of the time of day -- whether morning, midday, or evening. It would include an introduction ("God come to my assistance..."), an opening hymn tuned to whatever time of day it is being celebrated, a psalm of the liturgical season or day of the week, a reading from scripture or reflection from the Office of Readings, a morning or evening canticle (Benedictus or Magnificat), a designated sequence of intercessions or versicle/responses, the Lord's Prayer, and ending with the Collect of the Day, and final blessing or benediction. Provision would be made for a chanted or spoken setting, as well as the option for certain fixed prayers (the canticle or the Lord's Prayer) in Latin. If not ordained, the officiant would not be allowed to act from the sedilia (the priest's chair), but would use a bench and/or prie dieu off to the side.

As I said, I might be inclined... then again, I might not. Even as a bishop, in replacing the official text with one of my own, I must ask myself if I am leaving the situation better than I found it? Can I trust those responsible for compiling such a magnum opus to be on "the same page" as I? Will those who are lay officiants be competent to perform this task with optimum devotion and a minimum of improvisation? But most important, am I denying the faithful the opportunity to learn to pray as the Church prays, in favor of my own designs?

But hey, that's just me.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Veni Creator Spiritus

Come, Holy Ghost, our souls inspire,
Ignite them with celestial fire;
Spirit of God, you have the art
Your gifts, the sev'nfold to impart.

Your blest outpouring from above
Is comfort, life, and fire of love.
Illumine with perpetual light
The dullness of our blinded sight.

Anoint and cheer our much-soiled face
With the abundance of your grace.
Keep far our foes; give peace at home;
Where you guide us, no ill can come.

Teach us to know the Father, Son,
And you, of both, to be but one
That, as the ceaseless ages throng,
Your praise may be our endless song. Amen.

When the princes of Rome assemble to elect a new Pope, when bishops are consecrated, when priests are ordained, when churches are dedicated, when kings are crowned with the blessing of Mother Church -- at all such solemn occasions, there is the chanting of this "most famous of hymns," Written by Rabanus Maurus in the ninth century, "Veni Creator Spiritus" implores the Holy Spirit to dwell among those who raise their voices in its melody and phrase.

(Featured lyrics from a translation by John Cosin, 1594-1672.)

Saturday, May 10, 2008

They Labor In Vain Who Build It

Biting the Bullet on the Catholic Celebrity Racket

[One of the past week's stories in the Catholic blogosphere is found in Creative Minority Report, about the curious direction of the popular blog The Cafeteria Is Closed. Its author, Gerald Augustinus, has recently expressed certain opinions about homosexual relationships and gender identity disorders, which could be interpreted as a challenge to Catholic teaching. Since its debut three years ago, TCIC has shown remarkable success, with over two million visitors, and mention in the print media on the subject of Catholic blogging. It is the opinion of yours truly, that a much larger issue can be found behind the controversy. It is that larger issue which is explained in the essay that follows. -- DLA]

In an ideal world (and those who are believing Catholics know that this one never will be), anyone who would profess the Faith, even if they stumbled most of the time, would also be forced to eschew public notoriety as a benchmark for the path to heaven. We might think that this priest or that sister or some other writer is a very devout and holy person, worthy of our admiration. But if the objects of such devotion are really who they pretend to be, they know that even Saint Paul found little reason to boast, and that when Augustine wrote his Confessions, there was obvious shame in that which he was forced to admit.

Then again, consider three examples that come to the mind of this writer:

1) Once I attended a Mass at a suburban parish where Father Benedict Groeschel was the main celebrant. The entrance hymn concluded, and the celebrant was about to begin. Just then, a concelebrating priest in residence interrupted the Rite of Greeting to introduce the friar. Now, I've been an admirer of Groeschel's work for years, and used to attend his lectures whenever he was in town. But as the priest-host went on for several minutes while standing at the altar of God, about what a privilege it was to have such a holy man in our midsts, I was genuinely embarrassed for the good friar. I was also reminded of what I hate most about Mass "facing the people." If only for a few minutes, we were not there to worship God, but Father Groeschel. Maybe if there were a crucifix in the middle of the altar, as we are seeing more often these days, something might have occurred to someone. But I doubt it.

2) A few years ago, I was in the lobby of the Federal building where I work, and who should appear, but a mother superior in full habit, of one of the new and fast-growing religious orders. We had met at Catholic convocations before, so I went up and introduced myself. After about two minutes of pleasantries, a couple of staffers from the legal counsel's office, for whom she had been waiting, came up and started to engage her, completely ignoring me. In fact, they got HER ignoring me, without so much as a would-you-excuse-me-please. It was as though I wasn't even there. I could live with having to excuse myself. But one would first have to acknowledge that I existed at all. (That's lawyers for you.)

3) Earlier this year, I was invited to an event at a Catholic facility, which featured a popular author and recent convert to the Faith. I had written about the person's work in the past, and while not a personal attack, it wasn't exactly a puff piece. There I was, minding my own business, when I was eventually taken aside by a staff member. He made reference to some sort of feud between myself and the author, about which he (and, until that moment, I) knew nothing, and which compelled the author to prevail upon him to ask me to leave. Well, I don't like hanging around where I am not wanted, so I left. But it surprised me that this author assumed the prerogative to do this. It also surprised the director of the facility, who believed that they, not the author, were sponsoring the event.

I read somewhere once that in the early Church, a convert was considered a neophyte for the first three years after their conversion, a sort of "novitiate" for the newly-baptised. (Commenters are free to clear this up for me, but I can tell you already it makes a lot of sense.) For some high-profile converts who get a little ahead of themselves, I'm wondering if this isn't such a bad idea for the present. Should recent converts be allowed to even publish about the Faith, while they're still learning about it? Or is their "need" for attention, and our "need" to give it to them, that important to us?

To put it another way, is my message to anyone reading this, worth any danger to my own soul?

In a town like Washington, where it seems nothing is spared the preoccupation with status, there are a few other stories I could tell. They occur to me in the wake of the Holy Father's visit, and the usual pundits still coming out of the woodwork trying to explain it all. There is a certain paradox to being Catholic, I think. On one hand, you are not in it alone. You are part of a communion of souls on their way to heaven. And while you obviously cannot be personally acquainted with all of them, you're in "the same boat" with them. You speak a common language. You would almost expect to know each other on sight. Maybe we need a secret handshake. On the other hand, each of us meets our Maker alone, answers for our sins alone, and is judged alone. At that moment (which I was always taught was the one that mattered the most), will our celebrity status help us, or hurt us? Does the answer to that eventual question dictate our present actions?

Every now and then, I run into practicing Catholics who act as though they are more a part of "the club" than others. Never mind that you go to Mass on Sunday and try to raise your children in the Faith, in the midst of a world that would persuade you to do otherwise. No, that's not good enough, because "the Missus and I have had famous Jesuits over to the house for dinner, and one of them told me I could sit on the board of Planned Parenthood with a clear conscience." Oh, well, that makes it all better, doesn't it??? Not to be outdone are those who wrap themselves in the mantle of orthodoxy, then act like complete jerks when push comes to shove. Besides, they might say, the President comes to speak at our event every year. How much more credibility do we need?

The answer depends on where you look for it. If someone uses their status as a public figure to witness to the Faith, that's fine. You can give them credit for putting it all on the line, at the risk of losing it. But is it their Faith to which they bear witness, or the title they wear in so doing? With a few of the more prominent Catholics in Washington, it is through the use of the same criteria as in political life, as their Catholicism is simply a shell of righteousness grafted onto their message. This incongruity is not confined to political conservatives. A year doesn't go by when a book isn't published about the Catholic experience as seen through the eyes of some political figure, whose public position has little or nothing to do with being Catholic. Invariably this list of intellectual giants includes a member of the Kennedy family.

Faithful Catholics were outraged when men and women in public office who profess to be Catholic, but who openly support legalized abortion, were able to receive communion at the Papal Mass celebrations in Washington and New York. Recently, Edward Cardinal Egan, Archbishop of New York, issued a stunning rebuke of former NYC mayor Rudy Giuliani's reception of the sacrament: "The Catholic Church clearly teaches that abortion is a grave offense against the will of God. Throughout my years as Archbishop of New York, I have repeated this teaching in sermons, articles, addresses, and interviews without hesitation or compromise of any kind. Thus it was that I had an understanding with Mr Rudolph Giuliani, when I became Archbishop of New York and he was serving as Mayor of New York, that he was not to receive the Eucharist because of his well-known support of abortion. I deeply regret that Mr Giuliani received the Eucharist during the Papal visit here in New York, and I will be seeking a meeting with him to insist that he abide by our understanding."

The truth is, none of this should have come as a surprise, least of all to the prelates themselves. While you and I watched the events on television, or took our chances with parish lotteries in the DC and NYC areas for the few tickets available, these political luminaries were all treated to special VIP seating. What other message could possibly have been sent, other than that their public conduct was being given a pass? What compromises with Mammon are made to lead to moments like this? Were they worth it?

It was not so with Saint Ambrose in the fourth century. Back in his day, the Emperor Theodosius quelled an insurrection by ordering the deaths of everyone in the rebellious town, sparing no one, including women and children. Not only did Ambrose deny him Communion, but as the Emperor and his entourage were arriving for Mass, they were met at the door by the saintly bishop himself, who refused entry to the lot of them. Under penalty of excommunication issued on the spot, the Emperor withdrew. After doing penance, Theodosius was returned to the Sacraments.

All of the above becomes a big deal in an election year, as some politicians court the twnety-one percent of the population known as "the Catholic vote." This is not the same thing as "the conservative vote," although it may appear similar. Pro-life Catholics could be (once again) led down the garden path by a Presidential candidate who can talk a good game, only to let them down (once again) through Supreme Court appointments, taxpayer-funded "family planning" programs, and continued approval of embryonic stem-cell research. Those who champion the cause of the unborn will wonder in amazement how this could happen -- as they have repeatedly for more than a quarter of a century.

Maybe the answer will come to us, once we learn to get over ourselves.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Jenna's Moment

Jenna Bush, the President's daughter, is getting married tomorrow at the family's private ranch near Crawford, Texas. She and her groom, Henry Hager, will declare their vows in a private ceremony closed to the press.

A story from the Associated Press appears in the Columbus Dispatch, which tells of the history of presidential family weddings: "Historically speaking, the occasion will blend into a lively and varied mix of first-family nuptials stretching back to Dolley Madison's sister Lucy in 1812."

Jenna and her twin sister got quite a reputation when they were younger, for being typical girls of college age, and the spirited beneficiaries of privilege in a town like Washington.

This writer bears no ill will toward the Bush twins. On the other hand, one is not inclined to believe the press was rough on them. They knew if they were going to hit the bar scene in DC, and be bad little girls with little in the way of consequences, someone was going to consider that "news." And Daddy knew that while they were living the high life, other parents were sending their kids off to Iraq. That would have cost him one hell of a lot more "political capital" during WWII, when even FDR's son signed up just like other boys. (And no, girls, the Peace Corps is not the same thing.)

All the same, yours truly would wish only the best for the future Mr and Mrs Hager on their special day tomorrow. I just hope neither of them (or any of us, for that matter), forgets those who made the ultimate sacrifice, to make such a day possible.

Memorial Day is just around the corner...

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Clichés on Cable News

I realize most of you have better things to do in the evenings, than flip through the entourage of 24/7 news channels, and the talking heads that fill them. Fortunately, Mark Halperin of TIME magazine has saved us the trouble, at least for the next two news cycles. In a column entitled "Halperin's Take," he gives you the list of twenty "things you will hear most often on cable TV through Wednesday (depending on what happens...)":

1. "She did what she had to do."
2. "She didn’t do what she had to do."
3. "John McCain is the big winner tonight."
4. "No matter what, Clinton can’t overtake Obama’s lead in elected delegates."
5. "There is no way the Democratic Party is going to take the nomination away from an African-American who is the winner of the elected delegate race."
6. "It was the fight over the gas tax that did it."
7. "This leaves us right where we were."
8. "Look at how he did with white, working-class voters in the exit poll."
9. "People are going to start telling her she needs to get out of this race."
10. "Once again, he missed a chance to put her away."
11. "Evan Bayh – he really worked it."
12. "She’s a fighter."
13. "He looks tired."
14. "No doubt about it, the Democratic Party is in chaos."
15. "Could there be a dream ticket?"
16. "This thing goes on and on."
17. "Unbelievable!"
18. "Reverend Wright really hurt him."
19. "Reverend Wright really had no effect."
20. "This is really about 2012."

Sometimes I put the TV on mute and just watch the "ticker tape" at the bottom. I know that was the thing in the aftermath of 9/11, when we couldn't get enough information, but now it's just something to glance at occasionally when I'm sipping a glass of Merlot and listening to Mozart on public radio.

We all have our ways to unwind, right?

(Image: istockphoto/various networks. Used without permission or shame.)

Friday, May 02, 2008

Watch the all-hands meeting. It’s time to cut the budget, and something’s gotta go. For this week’s Friday Afternoon Moment of Whimsy, we feature this “SNL Digital Short,” one of the few that is suitable for this venue.

I also love the happy ending.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Viri Galilaei

Men of Galilee, why are you standing there looking at the sky? This Jesus who is to be taken up from you into heaven had to re-schedule his departure to the following Sunday in order to accomodate the busy schedules of the faithful. Now, get back to work.

(Acts 1:11, dynamic equivalent translation)

Today the Church celebrates the Feast of the Ascension, when Christ ascended into Heaven forty days after He rose from the dead.

Then again...

In most provinces of the USA, and in entire countries throughout the world, the Feast has been moved to the following Sunday. We could just leave well enough alone, and transfer the obligation itself to the Sunday within the octave of the Feast, but the Western church got rid of many of its octaves in the mid-1950s, and a few more since then. You'd have to explain to people what an octave is, and that is such a pain. So unless you attend the Traditional Mass or an Eastern Rite Divine Liturgy today, in which case the aforementioned silliness does not apply, today will be remembered as just another Easter weekday.

But it doesn't matter, really. After all, most biblical scholars agree that Jesus ascended into Heaven forty-three days after He rose from the dead, not forty days as previously believed. The number of forty was arrived at by the end of the third century, to make it easier for Christians to count the days after Easter on their fingers and toes and double the total. But we're so much more sophisticated now, and we can use calculators to count that high, or have our Blackberries remind us.

Whether or not you believe all that, moving a Feast Day to a Sunday because we're all too damned lazy to go to Mass on a weekday (or a weeknight) makes about as much sense.

Break's over. Get back to work.

[Video clip and sheet music of Introit for the Feast of the Ascension provided courtesy of The New Liturgical Movement. Used without permission or shame.]