Friday, October 31, 2003

Going "Bump" in the Night

My son Paul has had a thing for scary stories ever since he was a wee lad.

One year, at a parish retreat, he was seen reading the novel Jurassic Park with great interest. This was no small task for the average nine-year old boy (which is why it helps that Paul is above average). Upon being alerted to this by an astonished adult, I replied, matter-of-factly: "So? He's already seen the movie."

Maybe it was his mother's influence, because it certainly wasn't mine. Her affiliation with the Byzantine Rite has been passed on to Paul, where the emphasis on mystery rules out the Thomistic rationalism common to Western spirituality. In addition, her grandparents came to this country from Slovakia, one of a number of places in the world where there exists a fine line between Catholic devotionalism and occultic superstition. When we were married, our observance of Halloween was highlighted by the Annual Reading of the Tarot. (She had an aunt who did it for a living. Go figure.)

She has passed on this hallowed (???) tradition to Paul -- over my objections, obviously.

Not because I do not take the use of such powers seriously, but precisely because I do. As a Catholic, one accepts a belief in the forces beyond those of this world, both for good and for evil. Those tools which call upon the powers beyond nature, which do not make their true intentions known, shall be usurped by those entities who will respond as they will, usually to our peril. After all, nature abhors a vacuum -- as does supernature. And as Thomas Aquinas teaches us, evil -- malum -- is nihil. It is nothing. God is existence itself, for as he told Moses, "I am who am." Thus evil is nothingness, confronting which is to come face-to-face with the ultimate horror. Hence the identity of such forces with darkness, to be conquered by the impending dawn.

On the bright side, Paul's fascination with the otherworldly has made him a devoted follower of the TV series The X-Files, which followed two FBI agents in their investigation of cases unexplained by natural causes. This has led him to the study of the Church's history of her battle with the Evil One, including cases of demonic possession and exorcism.

He could probably use a really good scare, which is why I hope someday to introduce him to an exorcist. Such an illuminating discussion could enhance his awareness of the reality of evil in the world, and how Mother Church equips us to do battle with it.

But for tonight, somewhere in Front Royal, Virginia, at a farmhouse which has since lost its acreage, a family of Catholic homeschoolers will have a special Halloween party, where guests will come dressed as saints, their identity to be guessed by the others. (One year I went as the anonymous fourteenth century mystic who authored The Cloud of Unknowing. They never guessed who I was. Imagine that.)

Closer to home, I will partake of that phenomenon of Catholic culture known as (yes, Mr Shea, you guessed it) zydeco dancing. Maybe I'll wear the ninja costume, maybe not. Only my eyes will show. When I last wore it, the eyes were enough to give me away, to those who knew me for only a few months.

Or maybe I'll go as myself -- again.

In the meantime, Helen Hull Hitchcock provides us with a beautiful analysis of the feast in question.

And with that, a Blessed All Hallows Eve to all, and to all... let's be careful out there, eh?

(My acknowledgements to the Rev Franklin McAfee, a priest of the Diocese of Arlington, whose writings contributed to this entry.)

Tuesday, October 28, 2003

Attention Ladies: This year's "Men Are Pigs" Award goes to...

...this guy. But don't take my word for it. Both Dom Bettinelli and Victor Lams (in a piece appropriately named "White Trash," a classic display of foot-in-mouth disease on live television) explain it all for you.

Monday, October 27, 2003

"Rainy days and Mondays..."

The weather in DC is lousy this afternoon. From outside the window of my office, everything is gray. Even the many images of Old Glory waving atop the official buildings lose their luster. It that isn't bad enough, I forgot my umbrella.

I only went dancing on Friday night. An old friend was in town from Cleveland for a convention, and I showed her around. She's been swing dancing since she was about three (according to her), so she felt right at home. Saturday was spent at a kids' birthday party (long story on that one), and Sunday was a quiet evening with friends.

Tomorrow I have a medical appointment, and Wednesday morning I head out to Front Royal for a meeting. I'm looking forward to Halloween, which I expect to celebrate appropriately.

Friday, October 24, 2003


My pastor died earlier this week. He will be buried today.

He entered the hospital a few weeks ago, to be treated for colon cancer. Sadly, his kidney and liver failed, and there was no turning back. The vigil was last night at the church. I went for the viewing, quietly praying the Responsory for the Dead in Latin as I walked up the aisle. ("Remember not my sins, O Lord, when you come to judge the world by fire...") I left before the vigil began.

I wish I could tell you of him as my spiritual father. But many of us in my parish, in the year or so he was there, found it hard to get close to him. He was an Irish "brick and mortar" priest of the old school, adept at administration and property management. Much of the growth of our diocese will be attributed to his business acumen. In public, he was quick with his Irish wit. But on a more personal level, he could be cold, even downright insensitive. Many in the chancery office wept openly upon hearing of his passing. Obviously he was loved by some. But many of us never had the chance to love him -- as a priest, as a father, as a man.

That is the saddest thing about his parting from this life. There was not enough time.

And I wonder what will happen next. For now, his young curate is administrator pro tem, until a pastor is chosen. We have had two pastors in a row, who were not known for their interpersonal skills. Our departed priest wrote in the bulletin, of how many were alienated from the parish before he came, and he wanted to bring them back.

Given half a chance, I would have told him. But now, I will pray for him. For if we believe in a life after this one, and in the reality of divine judgement, there can be no doubt of his awareness of his human failings, as will be the case with all of us. From there, a new chapter will be written, and life will begin anew. A grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies. From the ground a new harvest springs. And with the seasons, hope springs eternal.

So says Christ Himself in the gospel. So says the falling leaves.

Thursday, October 23, 2003

This legend should be easy to... swallow!

Today, the Roman Church commemorates the feast of St John of Capistran. Born in the Abruzzi region of Italy in 1386, he went on to law school in Perugia, where he later served as governor. After becoming a Franciscan priest, he preached throughout Europe against the heresies of the day, including Islam. He died in Villach, Austria, in 1456.

But wait, this gets better.

In California, the Spaniards named a mission after him. San Juan Capistrano is the site where thousands of swallows return from vacationing in Argentina on the feast of Saint Joseph, March 19. Their arrival is still met with a grand local celebration. After leaving their mark (ahem!) on cars all over town, they leave on the same day every year, which is today.

(Personally, I find this story to be quite charming, don't you?)

Monday, October 20, 2003

While I was out...

(Sure, I've got lots of other news. But it can wait...)

Twenty-five years ago this month, the honorary clergy of the church of Rome (otherwise known as the College of Cardinals), in a tradition dating back two thousand years, elected one of their members as Bishop of Rome (otherwise known as "Pontifex Maximus," the Supreme Pontiff, or the Pope). In this case, it was a young man from Poland named Karol Wojtyla, who took the name John Paul II. He took the position first held by Saint Peter, the fisherman.

But to many of his friends, he is still known as "Lolek." That is to say, "Charlie," or "Chuck."

He is an outdoorsman, a philosopher, a playwright, an actor. Most of all, he is a pastor, unlike most of his predecessors in modern times, who rose through the ranks of the Vatican diplomatic service or other parts of the Roman bureaucracy. He barely escaped from the war with his life, where he worked underground to preserve the culture of his homeland, help Jews to escape, and to prepare for the priesthood.

He is a relentless traveler, who draws huge crowds everywhere in the world. They come, they listen, they don't always obey. But they listen, and they love him.

Personally, I never did care for the additions to the rosary, the so-called "Luminous Mysteries." The rosary has fifteen decades for a reason, to coincide with the 150 psalms, hence the traditional title of "Our Lady's Psalter." Yes, they were "proposed" as options. But the Catholic publishing world jumped on it. And while there have always been variations to the traditional rosary (the Francisan crown with seven decades for the seven joys of Mary, for example), the "new mysteries" will be passed off as a regular part of the Rosary, which it is not. Hopefully, it is a fad that will pass, like the proposal a few years back to change the Stations of the Cross. (Don't remember them, do ya? My point exactly.)

Then there's that part about kissing the Koran. If there was a reason within the bounds of Catholic fidelity for this sign of respect, it would have been lost too easily on damn near anybody seeing the picture. His writings are highly philosophical, and prone to some ambiguity. But that's to be expected, and can provide for further discussion. A picture tends to say what it says and that's it. While there is some element of truth in all major religions, to be a Catholic is to claim to have the Truth. Have these gestures been returned by others? Are there other ways to reach out to those of other faiths (if only to prevent us all from killing each other in the name of God), without compromising our own? Is that what has happened?

But other than that, I love this man. He is the right man in the right place at the right time. He is far from perfect, but who of us is? He has at times lost control of the bureaucracy around him, but when has it ever really been under control? I'll join the crowds in wishing him "sto lot" -- one hundred years.

John Paul Two, we love you!

Wednesday, October 15, 2003

"Vengeance is mine, I will repay, saith the LORD."

The doctors say this woman is in a vegatative state. Those who know Terri, know that she is alert, and is aware of what is going to happen to her. There, but for the grace of God, goes all of the generation that wrought this upon humanity. To starve someone to death, simply for the "crime" of being an inconvenience, is a sin that cries to heaven.

This generation shall live to see justice paid in full. Be afraid...

Tuesday, October 14, 2003

Columbus Day Plus One

Here is a poetic tribute to Cristoforo Colon, penned by James Kilgore. Thanks to Mark Sullivan, the Irish Elk, for the tipoff:

"Patron saint of everyone who misses the turnoff and winds up in Cleveland."

Friday, October 10, 2003

Dateline Chicago: Andrew Greeley Hits Nail On Biretta!!!

Recently, many of the priests in the Arlington Diocese signed a statement affirming priestly celibacy, in response to those pinheads in Milwaukee who did the opposite. Anyway, back in Arlington, the guys showed the letter to Bishop Loverde, who said, hey, I wanna sign this too. Greeley, in one of his enlightened moments (and traditional Catholics should know that he has quite a few of them) defends priestly celibacy in a recent piece in the Chicago Sun-Times.

But more than that, he asks priests some hard questions about themselves.

You know, the kinds of questions they would be asked... if they had wives!

Thursday, October 09, 2003

Show me the money!
The Real Deal: Why Modern Church Music Stinks

Those young whipper-snappers over at Catholic Light think they know it all, when it comes to explaining why so much of contemporary Catholic hymnody really bites the Big Biretta. It about time they heard from someone who actually does know.

No... not me, THIS guy:

"[S]ome of the merits of this [contemporary] music have been thoroughly discussed in various publications, but such discussion always focuses on the words. A much more central issue, especially in regard to the long-term utility and value of the music, is the musical style itself...

"Lively syncopations, such as are found in 'Blest Be the Lord' and 'Though the Mountains May Fall,' both by Dan Schutte, are exactly the sort of subtle rythmic device a singer would like to have ornamenting a basic melodic shape. Both of these songs can be very exciting pieces when performed with a well-trained group and perhaps a small group of singers. Whenever I have heard them sung by a congregation, however, the syncopations, so crucial to the character of these songs, simply disappear. The congregation cannot execute them. The offbeats are moved back to the strong beats of the measures, and the rhythm of the phrase is squared off like a nursery rhyme...

"But why aren't traditional hymns such as 'Now Thank We All Our God' or 'The Church's One Foundation' also dull in the same way? Surely the rythyms of those melodies could hardly be plainer; every note is one beat, except at the ends of phrases. But the traditional style has two stylistic weapons missing from the popular arsenal. One is a much faster rate of chord changes. Yes, every note is one beat, but each of those notes is accompanied by a new chord. Furthermore, the chords are composed so that they not only make a directed, active harmonic progression, but make three additional melodies (the alto, tenor and bass) that work in counterpoint to the melody sung by the congregation. This complex texture and fast-moving harmony give a marvelous vitality and force that offests the static rhythm of the tune. Yet the whole business is easy to sing!"

The above is excerpted from an article entitled "An Apology for the Hymn," which appeared in the May 23, 1987 issue of America magazine. Its author is Joseph P Swain, listed as assistant professor of music at Colgate University and choir director at St Mary's Church in Hamilton NY.

Any questions?
It's National "Pick On Mother Teresa" Week!

Some twit passing herself off as a journalist is questioning the motives of Mother Teresa's charitable works:

"By urging paupers to accept Jesus in exchange for food, Mother Teresa misled thousands of Kolkata residents into believing that their lives would improve through conversion to Christianity."

For the record, The Missionary Sisters of Charity have never tried to convert those in need, by any means other than their example. The dying on the streets of Calcutta (indeed, the world over) are taken in for care, so that they may pass from this life knowing that they are loved. It matters not if they are Christian or Hindu or Buddhist or whatever. They are made in God's image. That was good enough for Mother. That's good enough for me.

Wednesday, October 08, 2003

All's Fair In Love And War: A Betty and Veronica Update

Readers of MWBH may remember an entry of May 30, "Bullies and Empty Hands" concerning my near-altercation with some guy in a bar. I was convinced that my old "friend" Betty had put him up to it.

Shortly after that, I just had to stick my neck out, and I asked Veronica what she remembered of the incident. She responded with an impassioned defense of her friend: "[Betty] is a bright, rational woman and I have the utmost confidence that she will make the right choice for her in the end so I have absolutely no reason to be concerned."

Lately, Betty has been warming up to "Claude," who was for a long time Veronica's boyfriend -- until now, anyway. It has been confided to me that Veronica is deeply hurt by her friend Betty's intrusion on her territory, that Claude's reputation as a drunken lout preceeds him, and that Betty's conduct is starting to catch up with her. I'll believe it when Betty is too ashamed to show her face in public. For now, that honor has fallen upon Veronica.

As for Claude, he wouldn't know the difference. Then again, neither does anyone else, from what I can tell.

There must have been a time when a certain code of civility prevailed, even among fair-weather friends. Our comfort level would forbid an abdication of the rules of fair play among our peers. Such decorum would allow one to feel at ease when letting one's guard down. After all, it is just such moments when the unscrupulous can take undue advantage, at our expense. But that was before the days of "doing your own thing," and being "non-judgemental."

But refusing to make a judgement is, in fact, a judgement in and of itself. It is saying that whatever is not being judged is not worthy of a judgement. It must therefore be acceptable.

This works for a lot of people, until it happens to them. Then it stops working. (Ooops!) Sounds like a judgement to me!

It was nearly a quarter-century ago, that a mother whose little girl was injured by a drunk driver decided, that all the jokes in the world about getting wasted weren't so funny anymore, and Mothers Against Drunk Driving was established. Eventually, we learn that there are more important things in life than keeping the party going.

But most important of all, I simply must find a better class of people to hang with!
While I was away...

Sunday was spent in the Fells Point section of Baltimore, at an outdoor street festival, dancing zydeco in the afternoon, and the merangue in the early evening. Variety is the spice of life, I always say.

Monday was the day my son Paul turned eighteen. I'm not sure the reality of the changes have hit home with him yet, despite my attempts at preparing him. It's been hard enough getting it through to his mother. But I had my own issues that day, because on that day and...

Tuesday, I was in a training class to learn Dreamweaver, the leading application for web design. I understood the basics well enough. It was the details that got to me. Maybe it was the instructor. All I know is, if I blanked out or was otherwise was concentrating on something else for just a second, I'd miss something important, and would have to call the assistant over to get caught up. This happened throughout the first day. I thought it was just a lack of sleep the night before, and so was determined to gut it out. But when it kept happening on Tuesday, the instructor threw up his hands, I was referred to a supervisor, and was invited to re-schedule the following month. Thanks for making me look stupid, guys.

My medications are all on schedule. Maybe I've got some attention-deficit thing going on. My doctor couldn't explain it either: "Maybe you and the teacher weren't a good match." Uh-huh. I'm going to a specialist on Friday. It's just a hunch, but I think something else is going on.

Post-traumatic stress? Nah. Stay tuned...
A Dying Cub Fan's Last Request
by Steve Goodman (1983)

(Dom, this one's for you.)

By the shore's of old Lake Michigan
Where the "hawk wind" blows so cold
An old Cub fan lay dying
In his midnight hour that tolled
Round his bed, his friends had all gathered
They knew his time was short
And on his head they put this bright blue cap
From his all-time favorite sport
He told them, "its late and its getting dark in here"
And I know its time to go
But before I leave the line-up
Boys, there's just one thing I'd like to know

Do they still play the blues in Chicago
When baseball season rolls around
When the snow melts away,
Do the Cubbies still play
In their ivy covered burial ground
When I was a boy they were my pride and joy
But now they only bring fatigue
To the home of the brave
The land of the free
And the doormat of the National League

Told his friends "You know the law of averages says:
Anything will happen that can."
That's what it says.
"But the last time the Cubs won a National League pennant
Was the year we dropped the bomb on Japan"
The Cubs made me a criminal
Sent me down a wayward path
They stole my youth from me
(that's the truth)
I'd forsake my teacher's
To go sit in the bleachers
In flagrant truancy
and then one thing led to another
and soon I'd discovered alcohol, gambling, dope
football, hockey, lacrosse, tennis
But what do you expect,
When you raise up a young boys hopes
And then just crush 'em like so many paper beer cups.

Year after year after year
after year, after year, after year, after year, after year
'Til those hopes are just so much popcorn
for the pigeons beneath the 'EL' tracks to eat
He said "You know I'll never see Wrigley Field, anymore
before my eternal rest
So if you have your pencils and your score cards ready,
and I'll read you my last request

He said, "Give me a double header funeral in Wrigley Field
On some sunny weekend day (no lights)
Have the organ play the National Anthem
and then a little "na, na, na, na, hey hey, hey, Goodbye"
Make six bullpen pitchers, carry my coffin
and six ground keepers clear my path
Have the umpires bark me out at every base
In all their holy wrath
Its a beautiful day for a funeral, Hey Ernie lets play two!
Somebody go get Jack Brickhouse to come back,
and conduct just one more interview
Have the Cubbies run right out into the middle of the field,
Have Keith Moreland drop a routine fly
Give everybody two bags of peanuts and a frosty malt
And I'll be ready to die

Build a big fire on home plate out of your Louisville Sluggers baseball bats,
And toss my coffin in
Let my ashes blow in a beautiful snow
From the prevailing 30 mile an hour south west wind
When my last remains go flying over the left field wall
Will bid the bleacher bums adieu
And I will come to my final resting place, out on Waveland Avenue

The dying man's friends told him to cut it out
They said stop it that's an awful shame
He whispered, "Don't Cry, we'll meet by and by near the Heavenly Hall of Fame
He said, "I've got season's tickets to watch the Angels now,
So its just what I'm going to do
He said, "but you the living, you're stuck here with the Cubs,
So its me that feels sorry for you!
And he said, "Ahh Play, play that lonesome losers tune,
That's the one I like the best
And he closed his eyes, and slipped away
What we got is the Dying Cub Fan's Last Request
And here it is

Do they still play the blues in Chicago
When baseball season rolls around
When the snow melts away,
Do the Cubbies still play
In their ivy covered burial ground
When I was a boy they were my pride and joy
But now they only bring fatigue
To the home of the brave
The land of the free
And the doormat of the National League.

Thursday, October 02, 2003

Memo to Mark Shea: It's one thing to connect the dots...

...but can you promise to stay inside the lines???

The rest of you, stay tuned.

Wednesday, October 01, 2003

"Every time it rains, it rains petals from heaven..."

(-- with apologies to Arthur Johnson and Johnny Burke)

Today is the Feast of Saint Therese of Lisieux.

Also known as "Teresa the Little Flower," she was a novice at a Carmelite house in France over a century ago.

Her mother died when she was four. Her stepmother walked out on her a few years later. Little Therese Martin broke down. Then at 14 she underwent a conversion experience, and thus began her love affair with God. Shortly thereafter, she persuaded her father Louis to take her to Rome, where in a general audience with the Pope, she walks right up to him and asks to be admitted early as a Carmelite nun. That got her in -- sort of. There was a delay while those responsible mulled it over. But you gotta admit, that was a pretty gutsy thing to do.

She entered the Carmel of Lisieux, where her sister Celine was already a member. Despite a rather sheltered and comfortable childhood, Therese embraced the hardships and austerity of convent life, to the amazement (and not a little jealousy) of her fellow sisters.

Yet she suffered from a variety of emotional and physical ailments for much of her life. She eventually died of tuberculosis at the tender age of 24. She told of her last wish: "My mission - to make God loved - will begin after my death, I will spend my heaven doing good on earth...I will send a shower of roses."

She wrote only one little book, "The Story of a Soul." She also wrote letters to several priests for whom she regularly offered prayers. Yet it seems for every word she penned, someone has written a whole book about her life, her work, her "little way" of life, and the inspiration she has been to millions of Catholics -- and a few non-Catholics as well.

Therese changed our whole notion of what a saint is -- and is not. They are not plaster-cast dolls with charmed lives, but real flesh and blood creatures with the same trials and tribulations and faults as the rest of us. No wonder she quickly became the inspiration of Catholic schoolchildren around the world. They, too, could be like her.

This spring, a movie directed by Leonardo Defilippis entitled Therese will be released. Click on the name to see the official website, a preview, and three excerpts from the film.
From our bulging "as if we didn't know" file...

"If your child is always buried in homework, she doesn't have much company. Most U.S. students in elementary through high school spend less than an hour studying most nights, a report released today says."