Wednesday, December 31, 2003

"On the seventh day of Christmas..."

" true love gave to me -- seven swans a-swimming."

The seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, the seven sacraments; and, lest we forget...

"What are they which are but seven?
Seven liberal arts hath God sent down
With divine skill man's soul to crown."

Tuesday, December 30, 2003

"On the sixth day of Christmas..."

" true love gave to me -- six geese a-laying."

The six days of creation

"What are they which are but six?
Six days to labor is not wrong,
For God himself did work so long."

Monday, December 29, 2003

Two cows walk into a bar...

First Cow: "I'm really freaked out about this whole mad cow disease."
Second Cow: "I'm not worried in the slightest."
First Cow: "But it's breaking out all over and they're slaughtering hundreds and thousands in Europe. How can you not be worried?"
Second Cow: "Well, it's not going to affect me. I'm a duck."
"On the fifth day of Christmas..."

" true love gave to me -- five gold rings."

The first Five Books of the Old Testament, the "Pentateuch", which gives the history of man's fall from grace; as well as...

"What are they which are but five?
Five senses, like five kings, maintain
In every man a several reign."
"Holy Innocents, Batman!!!"

Today, Denzel Washington and I both turned 49 years old. The tributes from devoted fans have been pouring in -- for me, at least. Not sure about Denzel.

No, seriously, I got a lot of attention today. When you're birthday is right in the middle of Christmas and New Year's, people are too busy returning Xmas gifts and buying party hats to remember little things like that. I must have been living right during 2003, however, because (following a night of some great Latin dancing) I got treated to brunch, several phone calls, and e-mails, and a lovely candlelit dinner in my honor. Oh, and I went to see the movie Cold Mountain. The soundtrack was produced by T-Bone Burnett, who also did the same for Oh Brother Where Art Thou? This latest work also promises to be a sleeper hit among Americana music fans.

Thanks to all of you (and you know who you are, ladies) who remembered me today. And thank YOU, Mark Shea, for that witty, albeit semi-original, introductory title.

Sunday, December 28, 2003

"On the fourth day of Christmas..."

" true love gave to me -- four calling birds."

The Four Gospels and/or the Four Evangelists

"What are they which are but four
Four sweet Evangelists there are,
Christ's birth, life, death which do declare."

Saturday, December 27, 2003

"On the third day of Christmas..."

" true love gave to me -- three French hens."

Faith, Hope and Charity, the Theological Virtues; not to mention...

"What are they which are but three?
Three persons in the Trinity
Which make one God in unity."

Friday, December 26, 2003

"On the second day of Christmas..."

" true love gave to me -- two turtle doves."

The Old and New Testaments

"What are they which are by two?
Two testaments, the old and new,
We do acknowledge to be true."

Thursday, December 25, 2003

"On the first day of Christmas..."

" true love gave to me -- a partridge in a pear tree."

There are several theories as to the origins of "The Twelve Days of Christmas." The conventional wisdom identifies it as a "catechism song," or a memory aid for children. It was said to be created in England during the time of persecution from 1558 to 1829, during which time Catholics in England were prohibited by law from any practice of their faith.

The "true love" mentioned in the song refers to God Himself. The "me" who receives the presents refers to every baptized person. The partridge in a pear tree is Jesus Christ, the Son of God, symbolically presented as a mother partridge which feigns injury to decoy predators from her helpless nestlings, much in memory of the expression of Christ's sadness over the fate of Jerusalem: "Jerusalem! Jerusalem! How often would I have sheltered thee under my wings, as a hen does her chicks, but thou wouldst not have it so..."

The other symbols have meanings of their own, and will be presented in the days to come. Be that as it may, this account has been in common circulation on the internet, but has been amended and otherwise challenged in recent years.

Others have pointed out that the words from this song first appeared in a book titled Mirth without Mischief, which came out in 1780 (or 1783) in England. The tune apparently dates back much further and came from France. That 1780 book describes "The Twelve Days of Christmas" as a "memory and forfeits game" played by children at that time. The leader recited the first verse, the next child recited the second verse, and this continued until someone missed his or her verse and had to pay some kind of penalty in the game. "The Twelve Days of Christmas" became popular at the "12th-night parties" that took place in the Christmas season.

Yet another possibility is that the song has been confused with, or is a variation of, another song entitled "A New Dial" (aka "In Those Twelve Days"), dating back to 1625 and assigning religious meanings to each of the twelve days of Christmas. In a manner somewhat similar to the memory-and-forfeits performance of "The Twelve Days of Christmas," the song "A New Dial" was recited in a question-and-answer format. This version is in turn, similar to a tune called out by night watchmen on their appointed rounds, giving a similar assigned meaning to the numbered hours.

Each verse of "A New Dial" will also be presented with the entry of its respective day.

In the meantime, a blessed Yule to all, and to all, a good night!

"What are they that are but one?
We have one God alone
In heaven above sits on His throne."

Wednesday, December 24, 2003

The Tablecloth

The following is a true story, and is presented here by yours truly to honor the Great Feast. This evening I will visit my son at the Italian restaurant where he works, to give him his presents. Tonight I will kneel before the altar of God at Old St Mary's Church in Washington, to assist at the Solemn High Latin Mass (Old Missal) at Midnight. The day itself will be a relatively quiet one, visiting friends in the area. And so, blessings to all who read this site, until we meet again. -- DLA

The brand new pastor and his wife, newly assigned to their first ministry, to reopen a church in suburban Brooklyn, arrived in early October excited about their opportunities. When they saw their church, it was very run down and needed much work. They set a goal to have everything done in time to have their first service on Christmas Eve.

They worked hard, repairing pews, plastering walls, painting, etc. And on Dec 18 were ahead of schedule and just about finished. On Dec 19 a terrible tempest - a driving rainstorm - hit the area and lasted for two days. On the 21st, the pastor went over to the church. His heart sank when he saw that the roof had leaked, causing a large area of plaster about 20 feet by 8 feet to fall off the front wall of the sanctuary just behind the pulpit, beginning about head high.

The pastor cleaned up the mess on the floor, and not knowing what else to do but postpone the Christmas Eve service, headed home. On the way he noticed that a local business was having a flea market type sale for charity so he stopped in. One of the items was a beautiful, handmade, ivory colored, crocheted tablecloth with exquisite work, fine colors and a Cross embroidered right in the center. It was just the right size to cover up the hole in the front wall. He bought it and headed back to the church.

By this time it had started to snow. An older woman running from the opposite direction was trying to catch the bus. She missed it. The pastor invited her to wait in the warm church for the next bus 45 minutes later. She sat in a pew and paid no attention to the pastor while he got a ladder, hangers, etc., to put up the tablecloth as a wall tapestry. The pastor could hardly believe how beautiful it looked and it covered up the entire problem area. Then he noticed the woman walking down the center aisle. Her face was like a sheet.

"Pastor," she asked, "where did you get that tablecloth?" The pastor explained. The woman asked him to check the lower right corner to see if the initials, EBEBG were crocheted into it there. They were. These were the initials of the woman, and she had made this tablecloth 35 years before, in Austria. The woman could hardly believe it as the pastor told how he had just gotten the tablecloth.

The woman explained that before the war she and her husband Were well-to-do people in Austria. When the Nazis came, she was forced to leave. Her husband was going to follow her the next week. She was captured, sent to prison and never saw her husband or her home again. The pastor wanted to give her the tablecloth; but she made the Pastor keep it for the church. The pastor insisted on driving her home, that was the least he could do. She lived on the other side of Staten Island and was only in Brooklyn for the day for a housecleaning job.

What a wonderful service they had on Christmas Eve. The church was almost full. The music and the spirit were great. At the end of the service, the pastor and his wife greeted everyone at the door and many said that they would return. One older man, whom the pastor recognized from the neighborhood, continued to sit in one of the pews and stare, and the pastor wondered why he wasn't leaving.

The man asked him where he got the tablecloth on the front wall because it was identical to one that his wife had made years ago when they lived in Austria before the war and how could there be two tablecloths so much alike? He told the pastor how the Nazis came, how he forced his wife to flee for her safety, and he was supposed to follow her, but he was arrested and put in a prison. He never saw his wife or his home again all the 35 years in between. The pastor asked him if he would allow him to take him for a little ride.

They drove to Staten Island and to the same house where the pastor had taken the woman three days earlier. He helped the man climb the three flights of stairs to the woman's apartment, knocked on the door and he saw the greatest Christmas reunion he could ever imagine.

Hodie Christus natus est...

Tuesday, December 23, 2003

Christmas Novena: Day Seven

O EMMANUEL, God with us, our King and Lawgiver, the expected of the nations and their Savior: come to save us, O Lord our God.

Isaiah 7:14; 33:22. Symbols: tablets of stone, Chalice and Host.

Monday, December 22, 2003

Christmas Novena: Day Six

O REX GENTIUM (O KING OF THE GENTILES) and their desired One, the Cornerstone that makes both one: come, and deliver man, whom You formed out of the dust of the earth.

Psalm 2:7-8, Ephesians 2:14-20. Symbols, Crown, scepter.
Warning to Brother (and Sister) Catholics:

If they implement THIS in my diocese, I'm leaving for the Orthodox Church.

Then again, it could never really happen.

Or could it?
Christmas Novena: Day Five

(Editor's Note: for those who missed it yesterday...)

O ORIENS (O RADIENT DAWN), brightness of the light eternal, and Sun of Justice: come, and enlighten them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death.

Psalm 19:6-7. Symbol: rising sun.

Saturday, December 20, 2003

Christmas Novena: Day Four

O CLAVIS DAVID (O KEY OF DAVID), and Scepter of the House of Israel, who opens and no man shuts, who shuts and no man opens: come, and bring forth the captive from his prison, he who sits in darkness and in the shadow of death.

Isaiah 22:22. Symbols: key; broken chains.

Friday, December 19, 2003

Christmas Novena: Day Three

O RADIX JESSE (O ROOT OF JESSE), who stands for an ensign of the people, before whom kings shall keep silence and unto whom the Gentiles shall make supplication: come to deliver us, and tarry not.

Isaiah 11:1-3. Symbol: vine or plant with flower (especially a rose).

Thursday, December 18, 2003

A Christmas Carol

NEIGHBOR:   "Hello, is this the FBI?"
FBI:       "Yes. What do you want?"
NEIGHBOR:   "I'm calling to report about my neighbor Billy Bob Smith! He is hiding marijuana inside his firewood."
FBI:       "Thank you very much for the call, sir."

The next day, the FBI agents descend on Billy Bob's house. They search the shed where the firewood is kept. Using axes, they bust open every piece of wood, but find no marijuana. They swore at Billy Bob and left.

The phone rings at Billy Bob's house.

NEIGHBOR:   "Hey, Billy Bob! Did the FBI come?"
BILLY BOB:     "Yeah!"
NEIGHBOR:   "Did they chop your firewood?"
BILLY BOB:     "Yep."
NEIGHBOR:   "Merry Christmas Buddy!"

"And God bless us, everyone."
Christmas Novena: Day Two

O ADONAI (O LORD AND RULER) of the House of Israel, who appeared to Moses in the flame of the burning bush and gave him the law on Sinai: come, and redeem us with outstretched arm.

Exodus 3:2, 20:1. Symbols: burning bush, stone tablets.

Wednesday, December 17, 2003

Christmas Novena: Day One

O SAPIENTIA (O WISDOM), who came from the mouth of the Most High, reaching from end to end and ordering all things mightily and sweetly: come, and teach us the way of prudence.

Sirach 24:2; Wisdom 8:1. Symbols: oil lamp, open book.
The Wright Stuff

One hundred years ago today, on an oceanside dune at the shore of North Carolina, there occured the first flight in a heavier-than-air contraption. The Wright Brothers, William and Orville, were witnessed by three Coast Guardsmen from a nearby station, a young boy who scratched a living as a muskrat trapper, and a lumber salesman visiting from out of town.

The coin was tossed, and Orville won. At 10:30 in the morning, he took the controls of the Flyer, and lifted off the ground for twelve seconds and 120 feet. The event was photographed for posterity, if only by accident. One of the Coast Guardsmen had his hand on the trigger, and clenched his fist in his excitement at witnessing history. There were three more flights that day, the longest being piloted by Wilbur, and running for 59 seconds and 852 feet. But before the day was over, a sudden gust of wind flipped the parked machine over, damaging it beyond repair.

Today, an attempt was made to re-enact the event. Exact time, exact place, exact replica, not so exact results.

What was truly remarkable about these two men is that, while the best minds in the world were attempting time and again, on both sides of the Atlantic, to be the first to fly a heavier-than-air machine, the claim rightly goes to two small-time bicycle shop owners from Dayton, Ohio. Indeed, the Buckeye State has gone on to provide two other native sons as pioneers in the skies: John Glenn, the first American to orbit the earth (not to mention the oldest, in all likelihood), and Neil Armstrong, the first man on the moon.

Wilbur died in 1912, but Orville lived to see a demonstration of Chuck Yeager break the sound barrier in the X-1: "Wilbur would never have believed it, and neither would I."

Now, if we can just get to Mars in this century. Where's "the wright stuff" when you really need it?

Monday, December 15, 2003

And now, for some really exciting news!

Somebody told me yesterday that they finally caught Saddam Hussein. That should give the news hacks something to hang onto crisis mode for the next two weeks. Go from CNN to MSNBC to Fox News, and it's like a talking-heads marathon.

Me? I'd rather watch reruns of The West Wing and Queer Eye for the Straight Guy on Bravo.

Ohmigosh, what am I saying???

Meanwhile, in (thankfully) other news...

Twenty-three years ago today -- Monday, December 15, 1980 -- I began my career of public service, here in what is politely referred to as "the Nation's capital."

But today, I continue to enter a new chapter. I'm in training to (we can only hope) be eventually certified as a web/multimedia designer. I was trained in Dreamweaver a few weeks ago. That's the leading web-page design application. Today and tomorrow I'm being trained in Flash. That's the software that runs those little motion sequences on those fancy-pants websites.

Every year, I see more of the work that I previously did in print, being converted to the web. I'm also seeing a variety of personnel matters being handled online, where once I would have to go to the Personnel Office and get some clown to explain the forms to me.

I've already begun my Christmas shopping. That isn't saying much, of course. I get a few things for Paul, plus some tokens of appreciation for a select few friends who have been extra good this year -- to me, that is.

But I gotta tell ya, I'm draggin.' After a weekend of dancing and running around, even with sleeping till two in the afternoon yesterday, I'm still runnin' out of gas here. So I'll have to skip my Theology of the Body class tonight, and chill big-time at home. I'm behind in my video watching anyway. Plus there's phone calls to make, presents to wrap, and... I still have to read the Sunday edition of the Washington Post.

I don't know how I get it all done. Clean living? Fancy footwork? Beats the hell outa me.

Monday, December 08, 2003

MWBH on Hiatus...

...until about midweek. We got road trips, we got dancin,' not to mention some pre-festive preliminaries. Stay tuned.

Thursday, December 04, 2003

"Just lookin' for a home..."

"Let me tell ya a story about a boll weevil
Now, some of you may not know,
But a boll weevil is an insect.
And he's found mostly where cotton grows.

"The farmer said to the boll weevil
I see you're on the square
Boll weevil said to the farmer
Say yep! My whole darn family's here
We gotta have a home, gotta have a home..."

(from The Boll Weevil Song, traditional)

Every morning, I walk the half-mile from my studio apartment in the basement of an Arlington home, toward the Metrorail station. Where once was a Seven-Eleven and a few run down commercial buildings, a luxury high-rise condominium complex is being built, joining a host of other new buildings in Arlington's up-and-coming "Orange Line" corridor. A one-bedroom unit will cost about $200,000 -- equal to the current value of the three-bedroom townhouse I once owned a few miles west of the Beltway. I console myself with the knowledge, that the same small unit would cost roughly three times as much in midtown Manhattan.

In a recent issue of Newsweek, columnist Anna Quindlen reports from that same locality, where we hear from one Julia Erickson, executive director of City Harvest, which delivers food to the needy: "Look at the Rescue Mission on Lafayette Street. They used to feed single men, often substance abusers, homeless. Now you go in and there are bike messengers, clerks, deli workers, dishwashers, people who work on cleaning crews. Soup kitchens have been buying booster seats and highchairs. You never used to see young kids at soup kitchens."

This is the relatively new phenomenon, those who are out on the street for want of one paycheck. Despite the growing population of Northern Virginia in need of low- to moderate-income housing, much of it is being torn down in favor of the high-priced variety.

Quindlen goes on: "Even if you’ve never been to the Rescue Mission, all the evidence for this is in a damning new book called The Betrayal of Work by Beth Shulman, a book that should be required reading for every presidential candidate and member of Congress. According to Shulman, even in the go-go '90s one out of every four American workers made less than $8.70 an hour, an income equal to the government's poverty level for a family of four. Many, if not most, of these workers have no health care, sick pay or retirement provisions."

I recently confronted a candidate for the County Board of Supervisors on this very subject, asking him: "Where are our maids going to live?" We cannot blame it entirely on "market forces" and all that. From 1950 to 2000, the average American home doubled in square footage, and had half as many occupants. It is the fruit of consumerist excess. The flower-power generation that was going to "give peace a chance" wants as big a piece of the chance as they can get.

How many of us need both a living room and a family room? Can any parent bear the thought of their children sharing a bedroom, at the risk of learning to get along? Does anyone remember how families would gather in the kitchen, once the place of the hearth, the center of the home? Why not choose to eat there as well? Speaking for myself, if I had an eat-in kitchen and a formal dining room, I would convert the latter to a library for all my books. I'd have the best overhead lighting already available, and I'd gain an extra bedroom. I'd have a wooden floor in the living room, where I would pull back the furniture for house concerts and dances. That's what a living room is for -- you know, LIVING!

In his 1891 encyclical Rerum Novarum (On Capital and Labor), Pope Leo XIII reminded us that work was created for man, not man for work. Those few at the helm of industry and commerce (to say nothing of the political arena) need to be reminded at every turn, that theirs is a temporary fortune, one that they cannot take with them.

Until then, where will their maids live?
Out of the Mouths of Babes: Nudity

(Note: This is the first of an occasional series, consisting of related anecdotes passed along the information highway.)

I was driving with my three young children one warm summer evening when a woman in the convertible ahead of us stood up and waved. She was stark naked! As I was reeling from the shock, I heard my 5-year-old shout from the back seat, "Mom! That lady isn't wearing a seat belt!"

Wednesday, December 03, 2003

Tuesday, December 02, 2003

From our bulging "Grahmann Does Dallas" file...
"I read the news today, oh boy..."

From the wires of the Associated Press, Reuters, and other unmentionable sources:

• A man from New York state, recognized as the oldest man in America, celebrated his 113th birthday on Monday. Fred Hale Sr greeted the day in quiet fashion with four generations of descendants at his side.

• US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has won this year's "Foot in Mouth" award for the most baffling statement by a public figure. Britain's Plain English Campaign announced the honors Tuesday, giving runner-up to California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. The top prize went to Rumsfeld for the following at a press briefing on Iraq: "Reports that say that something hasn't happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns, there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns — the ones we don't know we don't know."

"How do you keep 'em down on the farm, after they've seen..." Paris Hilton, the young, blond, nubile hotel heiress who has been getting almost as much press attention as Michael Jackson, if for reasons far less apparent, will accompany the equally spoiled brat Nicole Richie, in living with an Arkansas farm family on the latest (desparate) attempt by Fox to cash in on the "reality show" craze. It's a show called, ironically, "The Simple Life."

Finally, and with the farthest reaching implications:

• After over a quarter-century of enthusiasts of modern square dancing (the systematically homogenized variety where they belong to clubs and wear obnoxious western outfits, not to be confused with the traditional genre with regional variations intact) getting one state after another to make square dancing their state folk dance, they've finally hit a snag -- where else, but in Pennsylvania, where as everybody knows, polka reigns supreme. The vote in the state legislature has been put on hold these last two weeks, due to fears that such an effort would seem trivial. (Trivial? HAH!! Accordion players, TO THE RAMPARTS!!!)