Friday, December 31, 2004

"Should auld acquaintance be forgot..."

I suppose I should close out the year somehow.

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

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

American Red Cross: International Response Fund

Oxfam: Asia Earthquake Fund

Sarvodaya (based in Sri Lanka)

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

(to be continued...)

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

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

What do Denzel Washington and I have in common?

We both turned fifty years old today.

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 27, 2004

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 24, 2004

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 09, 2004

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

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

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

That's not all that was impressed.

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

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

Uh-huh. Thought so.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 06, 2004

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

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

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

Not necessarily, my good man.

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

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

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

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

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

Including pederasty -- apparently.

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

Don't think so.

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

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

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

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

Wanna guess what they found??

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

We can't close out November...

...without talking about one of my favorite saints. Saint Andrew.

It was my great-great-grandfather, Andre (Andrew) Alexandre, who came to America from France. My father's middle name was Andrew, and St Andrew is the name of the parish in Ohio where I grew up -- a parish that, on this year's feast day, ended its sesquicentennial celebration with a solemn liturgy where my old friend Archbishop Daniel Pilarczyk was the main celebrant.

In the Eastern Church, Andrew is known as "The FIrst-Called," because Jesus called him (Andrew) to follow Him (Jesus) before He (Jesus again) called anybody else. And it was Andrew who fetched his brother, Simon Peter, to join up. The rest, as they say, is history.

Andrew was martyred by being tied to an X-shaped cross. Not all crucifixions were alike, you know. This one was designed to prolong his suffering.

Andrew is the patron of Greece and of Scotland. There are many customs of food and what-not associated with this saint. They can be found here:

Now, back to work on my OWN website. Almost done (whew!).

(Stay tuned...)
That Was The Week(end) That Was

(We had some problems with Blogger yesterday, or this report would have been posted sooner. I just know you're all in suspense by now...)

Did I mention our Thanksgiving dinner would be in Leesburg? What I meant was Leesburg Pike! That's also known in northern Virginia as Route 7, the road to Leesburg. But not before it runs through Falls Church, which is in town, and where we were. Good thing I asked Sal before we left. That would have been quite a scenic route.

Sal's friend was married to a Muslim, and lived in an apartment building down the street from the local Islamic temple. In fact, most of the occupants of the building seemed to be Muslim. Anyway, the husband's friend showed up, and he wasn't able to eat until five o'clock, since he was participating in some post-Ramadan fast. This got us on a lively discussion of various fasting practices among the "children of Abraham."

The table was set for a feast befitting a king, and we all sat back and watch a pro basketball game from the Phillipines. Some team called "The TJ Hotdogs" barely squeezed a victory passed another team called "The Realtors." Don't ask me why. But at least it's still a team sport in that country, a welcome sight for a guy who used to be a fan of pro basketball.

The next day, Sal and I started up Old Rag Mountain with a group of Scouts from my parish. We got about two miles up, when one of us realized that her first hiking experience was going to have to end then and there. So the two of us turned back. I showed her some of the things to look for on the trail. From there it was on to a little town in Rappahannock County called "Little" Washington, where we stopped for tea. Closer to the big town, we saw Ray: The Movie, which I thoroughly recommend. The website is pretty good too.

Speaking of websites, all my pages are up, but the ones with text need to be fixed. See for yourself:

Sal and I were in the office late Saturday night, as I frantically acted out on a working hypothesis on what had to be done to stay on track. I can't remember when I was quite so wired! It happens that I have an anxiety condition, for which I am being treated. Still, I have to be careful sometimes.

Didn't do ANY Christmas shopping, I am proud to report. And the office is pretty quiet today. I'm catching up on the news, and hope to have a report this week.

In addition, I got quite a few e-mails after that piece on Gerard, including some questions that call for an answer. Stay tuned...

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Giving Thanks

It's evening in the Nation's capital. The streets are quiet.

For of all nights of the year, this is the worst for trying to leave town. Add to that the drizzling rain and the road conditions that result.

And five weeks before I turn fifty, I just got my long-anticipated invitation to embark on a major rite of passage -- I get to join the AARP. Can't wait for all those discounts. Oh boy!

Back at school, I'm ahead on at least one thing. The design for my portfolio page is finished, and online:

The picture is only a few years old, actually. A little more gray since then, but other than that...

Some of you have wondered what would become of the website of the late Gerard Bugge. For the time being, A Catholic Page for Lovers will continue to occupy the same server as the website of his parish, St Benedict's in Baltimore. Discussions are pending with his family. We'll keep you up to date.

"Sal" and I will have Thanksgiving dinner at a friend's house in Leesburg. Paul will be joining us. So while everybody's in the other room chattering away in Tagalog (the Phillipine national language), us boys will try to catch a movie. To a guy like me, who's used to having Thanksgiving dinner at IHOP when no one else was around, a "normal" experience would be quite refreshing.

Next morning, we'll join the gang of Troop 111 and their families for the annual After Turkey Day Climb up Old Rag Mountain in the Shennandoahs.

Saturday and Sunday will be spent mostly on school work. This boy's got a website to build. You kids will get to see it as it happens, by giving the above a little click.

Some day I'll have a grandchild to bounce on my knee and read stories to. Then we'll watch football, or an old movie, and we'd both fall asleep on the rocking chair. On that day, Deo volente, the years of doing without will finally be realized for what they are.

A reminder to be thankful... for doing with.

Monday, November 22, 2004

"Farewell, my friends, I'm bound for Canaan."

For those of you who read this weblog, particularly if you are more devout a Catholic than I am (it could happen), you must wonder why I bother remaining in the Church. After all, I find enough wrong with what's going on, with the scandals in the news, the priests who act like clowns when celebrating Mass, and like total jerks when they're not, the "conservative" bishops who cover for them, and then...

And then...

Were I not convinced that being a Catholic was the only sure way of getting to heaven, it wouldn't be worth the trouble it takes to get up early on Sunday morning.

I think of that sometimes, when I attend an Orthodox Liturgy at the Russian cathedral downtown. I could kneel there in a corner for hours, close my eyes, and listen to the voices of heaven wash down on me.

I also think of it when I encounter those folks who wear their faith on their sleeve, to the point where you wonder if they wear it anywhere else. Go to the Old Latin Mass on a Sunday morning, and there are a few of them in the crowd. You can tell who they are, by the way they treat strangers.

And yet, there are stories where Christ appears as a stranger. You wonder if He was trying to make a point.

And there are still others who, astonished at the beauty to be found in Truth, that this discovery overshadows the devastation around them, and their devotion to that Truth is overshadowed only by their humility, not to mention the certainty of Christ's promise, that the Holy Spirit would be with His Church until the end of time.

This morning, I learned that one such man was called home last Thursday, after a long illness.

Gerard Serafin (aka Gerard Bugge) lived in suburban Baltimore, and was the author of a website, A Catholic Page for Lovers, and an adjoining weblog, A Catholic Blog for Lovers. Within the text of his online writings, the word "heart" was always highlighted in red.

Few readers knew that Gerard was a laicized priest, who was separated from the clerical state after certain improprieties were alleged. While they were never completely proven, Gerard bore his cross in admirable fashion, and never stopped preaching the Faith within the limits of his new-found situation. Yet those who knew him realized he was wounded by his experience, particularly when those in positions of authority continued to make trouble for him, in ways that do not bear repeating here.

None of this deterred Gerard, who kept his humble place in the procession of the Church, a pilgrim going forward, his eyes on the Cross, facing ahead.

Gerard was in love with the Liturgy, properly and reverently celebrated with the unity and mind of the Church. His pages spoke of the beauty of the Eastern Christian traditions, as well as the ancient heritage of the Roman Rite. With respect to the latter, he called for, and foretold of, a renaissance of tradition in worship. He was also active in promoting inter-faith relations, being a founding member of the Saint Maximus Society, where Anglican, Catholic, Orthodox, and other Christians would meet for fraternal and spiritual fellowship. They used to meet at his home in Catonsville, outside Baltimore, but in recent years, at Gerard's spiritual home, St Benedict's in Baltimore. He also authored the parish website, where the viewer would be shown an oasis of beauty and truth in worship, with arms that reached out to the poor and desolate - a place ever ancient and ever new, amidst the desert of modernity.

It is from that parish, that Gerard will be buried today. I wish I had known sooner; I would have dropped everything to be there.

And I didn't even know him that well.

We met several years ago, when I moderated a listserv devoted to the traditional Latin Mass. Gerard posted some sort of statement -- I can't remember what -- that was amazingly enough to get him removed from the list. That decision was made by the administrators without consulting me as moderator. They owned a number of other Catholic lists attached to their website, and presumed their ownership as a license to do as they wished with people. My online defense of Gerard caused my list to be closed down, and my removal as moderator. The administrators (who shall remain nameless, which is more dignity than the bums deserve) where unmoved, as were other moderators associated with them. Not to mention my assistant, who couldn't wait to take over my position.

Gerard was shocked by it all, that those who claimed to preach the Truth so ardently, could be so oblivious to living it. I saw all my work going down the drain, but I never regretted defending Gerard; it was the right thing to do, and that was enough.

Gerard got over it. I took a bit longer. It soured my experience with e-mail lists, until the weblog phenomenon came about, and I found my place on the bandwidth again. Thankfully, he had found a place in the new medium as well, and was a rallying point for those of us in the Catholic blogosphere, setting up the directory which I highlight on my site to this day as "St Blog's Parish." Where many around him saw devastation in the sanctuary, Gerard found a springtime in the house of his Mother Church, and his love affair with Her was to be seen with every entry.

But what is most telling about the man, in the depth of his heart, is the final entry on his weblog.

"[F]or those concerned about my physical condition lately... I will be seeing my main doctor this Thursday, God willing. Let's hope for the best."

Gerard managed to keep his appointment that day, if not the one most of us expected.

As this is written, one can imagine the chant that might echo within the sacred walls of the Church, as he is carried to rest.

"In paradisum deducant te angeli:
in tuo adventu suscipiant te martyres,
et perducant te in civitatem sanctam Jerusalem.
Chorus angelorum te suscipiat,
et cum Lazaro quondam paupere aeternam habeas requiem."

"May the Angels lead you into paradise;
Upon your arrival may the Martyrs welcome you,
and lead you into the holy city of Jerusalem.
May a choir of angels welcome you,
and, with poor Lazarus of old, may you have eternal rest."

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Dappling With A Song In My Heart

I was reading Father "Don Jim" Tucker's Dappled Things early in the morning -- as I am wont to do nearly every work day -- and I came across his reference to the website of the schola cantorum (the choir school) of St Michael's Church in Auburn, Alabama. The good father writes: "It still amazes me to meet older people who can still sing the Gloria from the Missa de Angelis or Credo III from memory after having learned them in the choirs of their parochial schools, lo, so many years ago."

In times of antiquity (that is, in ancient Rome and Greece and the Holy Land and thereabouts), there was little distinction between public oratory and what we know as "chant." Even today, if you listen to the street hawkers in major cities, and the hot dog vendors in the ball park, you will hear a two-or-three-note melodic line, not unlike the town criers in days of old. There's a reason for that, folks. Chant is the most natural way to sing in the world, as it is an extension of the natural rising and falling of human speech.

Tell that to your weenie pastor who says "I can't sing," but still kids himself and everybody else, into thinking that he's "totally supportive" of his parish music program.

I still remember daily Mass at my parochial school, in the town in Ohio where I grew up, and how the older children would chant the Mass settings together in unison. There was something called the "Archdiocesan Young People's Hymnal," I believe. And I can still remember hearing them singing "O Esca Viatorum" to this day. I remember learning the chants in class along with other children's songs, using the then-popular "Ward Method." Those were a series of books designed to teach sacred music to children. I understand they are making a slow but steady comeback.

Having been in parish choirs for much of my life, and having directed small ensembles of children, as well as adults, I've become somewhat cynical toward the Catholic music industry over the years -- not just because of weenie pastors, but the weenies they hire. Everybody touts "Vatican Two" as the excuse for every damned gimmick that comes down the pike, but it was that very Council that proclaimed Gregorian chant to have "pride of place" in sacred music, "all other things being equal." (Go ahead, look it up, I'll wait right here... Okay, you're back. Now then...) There is a segment of the industry that has gotten wise to this, albeit a long time coming, but at the parish level, the latest rendering of Haugen or Haas (those guys have gotta be stinkin' rich by now) rules the day. As I endure the typical "contemporary liturgy," people stand there like tree stumps watching a few people with too much sugar in their diets up near the altar, shaking up and down with tambourines and guitars, as if that'll get anyone to join in.

Ninety-nine percent of the time, it ain't gonna happen. But have a cantor lead a simple Kyrie or Gloria. Guess what? They sing! I know; I've done it. I couldn't believe it either.

To this day, I can walk into a little country church for Sunday Mass, and as often as not, I'll cringe as somebody who can't play an organ to save their lives tries to anyway, goading the assembled beyond their collective reach, and settling into new heights of mediocrity. I'd love to throttle the pastor some day, and just step in front of the lot of them. With a simple Gregorian setting, and a few traditional hymns (generally easier for crowds to sing than the contemporary drivel better suited to a recording studio), we could raise the roof.

Not to mention the collection for that week.

So, if you belong to that "little church by the side of the road," and you guys can't afford a music director, go to the website from down Ala-Good-Time-Bama way, and download a copy of Jubilate Deo. And while you're at it, read what authors Arlene Oost-Zinner and Jeffrey Tucker have to say about damn near anything else on the subject. They've got a great collection of articles and resources, including some of the great musical treasure of the Church.

That means... if you're Catholic, it's already yours.

Monday, November 15, 2004

Thanks to "Doug" for the following:

When someone tells you to ask yourself,
"What would Jesus do?,"
remember that at least one valid answer is,
"Freak out and knock over tables."

Friday, November 12, 2004

Encounter with Absolom

"0 my son Absolom, my son, my son Absolom! Would that I had died instead of you, 0 Absolom, my son, my son!" (2nd Samuel 18)

Last Sunday night, I got a call. It was one of my son's AA friends. Paul had been more depressed than usual lately, and had swallowed a bottle of Tylenol. He then panicked, and called his buddies, one of them an EMT. They rushed him to the hospital....

Paul is nineteen now, and after graduating from high school five months ago, was faced with his mother's remarrying and leaving the city, effectively throwing him out onto the street. He has a good job, waiting tables at an Italian restaurant, and is staying with friends. But the living arrangement is temporary, and this is his third since graduation. He is trying to "find himself," as the saying goes. It's been a hard search.

I've been renting a studio apartment for the last ten years, having spent the last fourteen trying to support two households. I would have loved to be able to just go out and buy a place big enough for both of us. But nothing like that happens right away. Try telling that to his mother. And even if he lived with me, the fact is that he is no longer a child, and must still face the challenges that accompany the coming of age.

Sometimes, when you find yourself retreating into "the dark place," it only takes one more thing, and....

I threw on my clothes and rushed to the hospital. He was still in the ER when I got there. Since he was no longer a minor, I needed permission from him to consult with his caregivers. I convinced him that his interests would best be served if I was totally in the loop. They believed they caught him just in time, and while preparing to give the antidote by IV, were hopeful that the damage to his liver would be minimal, if any.

After staying with him a couple of hours and getting him settled down, he drifted off to sleep. I went to my car in the parking lot, and kept my vigil there, in the hopes of being available at dawn the next morning.

I awoke before eight, and rejoined my son in the ER, just in time for them to take him to a private room. We were joined by a nurse, a "watcher," to ensure that Paul would do no further harm to himself. My conversation with him was enough to convince me that such was no longer an issue.

I was there on Monday and Tuesday evenings. I could hardly concentrate at the office. Conferring with his mother was important, given her knowledge of his medical history and experience with hospital work. But it seemed as though she still had to be calling the shots from four hundred miles away. Not anymore, I assured her; she lost that prerogative when she left town. Paul said he would consider coming to live with me. I told him it would take awhile to find a place, and that he would have to move away from the suburbs outside the Beltway, and into town.

He got out of the hospital on Wednesday, and I was there to take him to the county social services center. I haven't been able to get him on my health plan up until now, but for the moment, his immediate needs are taken care of.

Paul is a brilliant and talented young man, whose innocence was shattered by growing up in what we used to call a "broken home." Being a "good Catholic" and attending church every Sunday does not spare one the pitfalls of the human condition. Paul has not been to church in over a year. But AA has provided him with a spirituality of sorts, and he prays -- down on his knees, literally -- twice a day. He used to draw a comic strip about life with Father -- "The Daily Dad," he called it.

He also reads about Thomas Aquinas, in a quest for meaning to his life. He's also earning a reputation as a local hip-hop artist. That conjures up images of decadence, but I've learned that the genre is more than that. He has even worked the Angelic Doctor into one of his works, telling his listeners how "curiosity didn't kill the Catholic."

Paul grew up in a Byzantine Rite parish along with his mother. With a spirituality similar to that of the Eastern Orthodox Christians, I found the perfect book for him; Steps of Transformation: An Orthodox Priest Explores the Twelve Steps, by Father Meletios Webber. With insights into the Twelve Steps of AA, combined with the writings of the Eastern Church Fathers, Paul seemed to appreciate it.

But the road to daylight is a long and winding one. After visiting the clinc, he went to join his friends who rallied around him. I went home, alone.

Meanwhile, I have spent the remainder of the week getting caught up. And wondering what might happen next, and how it is I managed not to fall apart. I wish I could tell you it was my faith. I am not without it, but its presence appears as the wind in the willows, what Isaiah remembered as "a still small voice."

But never mind me. Pray for my son. Please.
"I read the news today, oh boy..."

• The special issue of Newsweek, which gives the reader an inside account of the presidential campaign this year (entitled "How Bush Did It"), just came out on Monday. I highly recommend it. There are some very telling insights found in its pages. Some readers have already commented on them, and there will be more with my own two-cents worth, at a later date.

• Yasser Arafat, the leader of the Palestine Liberation Organization, passed away the night before last in Paris, and the wire services show the French soldiers carrying his casket in procession. Personally, I've never been all that impressed with the guy. I question whether Arafat ever left the situation better than he found it, and wonder if he preferred to play both sides in an attempt to maintain the illusion of authority. Well, he won't be doing that anymore, will he? I still hear stories about how Israeli military and police treat Palestinian civilians like they're all criminals, at airport check-ins, on the street, you name it. We can stick our noses in their business all we want, but the fact remains; as long as the sons of Isaac and the sons of Ishmael cannot get along, there will be no peace in the Middle East.

• The American bishops are meeting in DC next week. I used to get press credentials to get into the event every year. Starting last year, I didn't. I won't this year either. They'll no doubt spend most of the week stumbling all over one another with the whole priest-sex-scandal thing, and various pressure groups will be standing around outside hamming it up for the cameras, trying to make everybody think somebody inside should give a rat's behind. (Trust me, they don't.)

• I admit, I haven't commented as much lately. There's a reason. Stay tuned...

Friday, November 05, 2004

Kerry: "I can't believe I'm losing to this idiot."
mwbh: "And this would make you a..."

This piece in the London Times was so priceless I actually called my folks in Ohio, made them put on the speakerphone, and read the whole thing to them, much to their amusement. But why should they have all the fun? Read for yourself:

"John Kerry constantly squabbled with his difficult and hypochondriac wife, ran a campaign team riven by internal feuding, and repeatedly begged the Republican senator John McCain to become his running-mate... [Kerry] was so obsessed with getting advice from a multitude of rival advisers that one aide confiscated his mobile telephone. His wife, Teresa Heinz Kerry, became such a moody distraction that in the closing weeks of the campaign another aide instructed her to stop whispering advice in his ear and back off... [Teresa] drove her Secret Service detail mad with her chronic lateness, constantly demanded attention, including her husband’s [and] even sent him off on errands, such as fetching bottles of water..."

My favorite is the family hiking trip. Thanks to the crack research team at Cruxnews for digging up this gem.

CNN reports that Kerry supporters and campaign workers are becoming despondent and going in for therapy, in shock over what might happen to this country.

According to most of us, nothing we can't handle. God bless America.

Thursday, November 04, 2004

Ad Random, Post-Election

Most people have seen maps of the USA with the electors' choice by state, as seen at the USA Today website's "Election 2004" page. They also supply a more detailed analysis with a county-by-county comparison. The latter includes a contrast of this year's election, with that of 2000, which is facilitated by an animation at (You can barely see it, but most of Alaska's votes went Republican, and are confined to its southern coast, the rest of the state being largely uninhabited.)

This model casts into serious doubt any notion that the Democrats are the "party of the people." The bulk of their support is confined to the West and upper East coasts, and in the more cosmopolitan, more expensive, urban regions.

One of them, Hollywood, is the scene of great despair, as the great thespians, having long taken for granted their role at center stage of the public square, wonder out loud what that world is coming to:

"For a rich and powerful demographic used to getting its way, Hollywood was downbeat yesterday as President Bush — more heinous than a mid-February release date to so many celebrities and other bold-faced names — made his gracious victory speech... Not only entertainers were said to be dispirited. The literary crowd in New York was crying into its Evian... 'Sure, I feel terrible,' said New Yorker editor David Remnick, whose published endorsement of Mr. Kerry was a first for the magazine. 'There are a lot of long faces today.'... And 'Fahrenheit 9/11' propagandist Michael Moore's Web site actually went silent... That's the same Mr. Moore who only a couple of weeks ago had paused in his anti-Bush road trip to opine: 'I have a feeling that slackers are going to rise up in this election. The slacker motto is: Sleep till noon, drink beer, vote Kerry.'..."

They can make jokes about why the land between the coasts is known as "flyover" states if they will. But it will only encourage the alienation, and the observation made today by Robert Novak:

"Democrats confront a grim future. Bush's 3.5-million-vote edge in the popular vote reflects a party out of touch with the country on social issues, the role of government and the war against terrorism. Democrats face the bitter reality of minority party status and what to do about it."

From where sitteth yours truly, they may already have. Senator Hilary Rodham Clinton (D-NY), wife of a former president who needs no introduction, is already getting a good look-over. A defeat of Kerry may have made such a possibility all the more likely.

(We've mentioned that before, haven't we?)

Such a choice only reinforces the current malaise descending on the Democrats. Will choosing a former first lady, with a history of questionable legal, political, and professional conduct (to say nothing of enabling her husband in the same), who appeared to have relocated to a new state mainly to run for public office there and come off looking like a native, only encourage the delusion of elitists in Hollywood and elsewhere?

Be that as it may, the Republicans have no reason to rest on their laurels. There is some question as to whether Bush was able enough to court young voters among his slim majority (and yes, 51 percent against 48 percent can safely be called "slim"), and the pressure on him to resolve the situation in Iraq will not go away.

The Republicans didn't win big time, so much as they bought time. Somewhere in the distance, a big can of 2008 model year Whoop-@$$ is waiting for them.

They'd better start lining up the heir apparents now; their adversaries aren't wasting any time. Stay tuned...

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Today is the first day of the rest of American life.

"To be a faithful Catholic necessarily means that one is pro-life and not pro-choice... To be pro-choice essentially means supporting the right of a woman to terminate the life of her baby, either pre-born or partially born. No Catholic can claim to be a faithful member of the Church while advocating for, or actively supporting, direct attacks on innocent human life... Some have wondered whether one may vote for a candidate whose stand on abortion and other life issues is contrary to the teaching of the Church if one believes that that candidate has a better position on other issues of importance to Catholics and indeed to our nation (e.g., national security, taxation, job growth, economic policy, etc.).... Proportionate reason does not mean that each issue carries the same moral weight; intrinsically evil acts such as abortion or research on stem cells taken from human embryos cannot be placed on the same level as debates over war or capital punishment, for example. It is simply not possible to serve and promote the common good of our nation by voting for a candidate who, once in office, will do nothing to limit or restrict the deliberate destruction of innocent human life." -- Most Rev Paul S Loverde, Bishop of Arlington, Oct 31 2004

The issue of abortion is, in reality, the perfect "litmus test" of a candidate. It betrays his or her definition of what constitutes a "right."

The murder of innocent human life, whatever one's personal sentiments at the time, whomever one is trying to placate for the sake of political gain, cannot possibly be enshrined as something "inalienable" or "self-evident," as our Founding Fathers would have intended. For a lawmaker to reduce such notions to whatever one feels like doing, regardless of the cost to others, is to confuse "freedom" with "license." Such does not lend itself to the creation of just law, but rather to institutionalized chaos.

An election this close is a sign of a seriously divided and polarized nation. Even the Roman Empire could not stand against such loss of equilibrium.

When you go to the polls today, you will stand alone. Your friends will not stop inviting you to their cocktail parties if you vote for a candidate other than the one whom they want. No Hollywood starlet or nouveau riche recording artist will be there to remind you of the "kewl" thing to do. Only your conscience will be there. Use it to tell you what the right thing to do.

As a wise man once said, "There's no right way to do the wrong thing, so do the right thing."

Monday, November 01, 2004

Oh, and another thing!!!

"John Kerry throws a football like a girl."
Saints and Sinners Going Bump in the Night

Yesterday we attended Mass at my home parish as usual. The young curate was the celebrant and gave his homily. He noted the coincidence of this weekend being both that of the Marine Corps Marathon, and the final one before the presidential election.

He continued with a reference to a letter from our bishop on the moral responsibilities of Catholics with respect to the exercise of voting rights. The tone of the young priest became more tentative than usual, as he was careful not to say anything that could be construed as endorsing a particular candidate. He went so far as to hold up an IRS publication which outlined the limitations of religious bodies in political life with relation to their non-profit status.

Across this land, Catholic priests are biting their tongues to the point of drawing blood, while in other parts of town, Protestant ministers of predominantly African-American congregations openly endorse a political agenda, to the point of inviting the candidate himself to the pulpit -- invariably a Democrat.

This cannot possibly make any sense. In fact, it stinks. It is simply one more example of the latent anti-Catholicism in American life. (Then again, maybe it's not so latent.) What is the point of a candidate bragging about his faith playing a role in his life and his character, if he then turns around and eschews bearing witness to it in his public life?

It is already reported that President Bush has used questionable methods in fighting the war in Iraq, as a recent edition of The Wanderer reports on the use of chemical weapons, and the long-term effect on civilian populations, even American soldiers themselves. Meanwhile, Senator Kerry has said outright (when he's not on television telling us about how he was once an altar boy) that he will support legalized abortion from the first day he enters office.

I am downright sick and tired of having to choose between the lesser of two evils every four years. That is why, when C-SPAN did a re-broadcast of the alternate presidential debate among the four "third-party" candidates, I was more than impressed by the civility in tone among the men themselves. I voted for Pat Buchanan in the 2000 election. My family told me I was wasting my vote. But I'm supposed to vote the one whom I believe to be the best candidate. Since when is that a waste? Alas, he is not running this year, and so the most likely choice for me will be Michael Peroutka, of the Constitution Party. His chances of winning are admittedly not good. But that is not the point. His candidacy is not the problem; the fact that we must presume a two-party system to be carved in stone -- THAT is the problem.

For Halloween, "Sal" and I attended a party in Takoma Park, the local enclave for aging hippies living off Mummy and Daddy's trust funds. The event was touted as an "anti-Bush" affair, and the "donation" for admission was to go to some sort of cause. What cause? "Well, we're considering an AIDS education program for kids, but we haven't decided yet." So, I'm just supposed to hand over a twenty to these nimrods so they can go out and (for all I know) buy condoms for little kids? And they think they can tell us how to run the country?

We politely declined, in favor of something later on to honor our hostess.

In addition to such luminaries as the above, I wish to hell Hollywood would stay out of the business of politics, as if they had any more to add than organized religion. That goes ditto for the rock stars. Where were these geniuses when Clinton was barging into Bosnia, or bombing the Chinese embassy using outdated intel? That it's not on the front page now doesn't mean that various ethnic groups of what was once Jugoslavia won't keep killing one another for several more centuries. I didn't hear squat back then. I don't wanna hear it now.

I am damn sick and tired of all the rhetoric about Bush and Cheney being the "candidates of the rich." It is both overly simplistic, and terribly misleading. Whatever their family origins, both Bush and Cheney worked to make their own fortunes, the latter through manual labor during his early years. Kerry married an heiress to the Heinz fortune, and is descended in part from Boston's "Brahmin" establishment -- which is about as "old money" as you can get in this country.

We hear enough of what Bush may or may not have done to fulfill his military obligations, while serving stateside in the National Guard -- which most guys of his generation would have done if they had the chance. I should know; I was old enough to register during the last year of the Vietnam draft. What we do NOT hear enough of, is how Kerry's picture appears in a museum in Hanoi, visiting a North Vietnamese delegation in Paris in the early 1970s. If we are to assume the accuracy of any reports of Kerry's heroic acts while serving in Vietnam, it is nonetheless wise to remember, that the Vichy regime in Nazi-occupied France was led by a puppet French general, who was a hero from the previous Great War.

That's what some "political analyst" for Rolling Stone magazine would have us believe is the man for the job? Give me a break.

This will be another close election, one that even the major media outlets (in a rare display of public restraint) are giving up trying to call. After all, there's plenty to do with picking on Catholics. Like me, columnist and papal biographer George Weigel has had enough of it, and takes on The New York Times, among others:

"About the time the Times? story appeared, the National Catholic Reporter editorially accused Archbishop John Myers, Professor Robert George, Father Richard John Neuhaus, and me of 'a deliberate... attempt to delegitimize the Democratic Party in the eyes of American Catholic voters...' It?s not the Reporter?s Gang of Four who have misrepresented the Catholic position on the inalienable right to life as a sectarian quirk that cannot be 'imposed' on others; it?s the Democratic Party and its presidential candidate. Myers, George, Neuhaus, and I did not devise an approach to embryonic stem-cell research that plays on the fears of the sick and the elderly through misleading promises of medical silver bullets, and that dismisses the considered moral judgment of the pope and the bishops of the United States as 'extreme right-wing ideology'; the Democratic Party and its presidential candidate did that all by themselves... All we have done is to point out the obvious..."

Somebody had to.

This election has also been characterized by an abysmal lack of civility, of vicious personal attacks in the public square, of neighbor against neighbor, as a guest writer for the Washington Post observed yesterday:

"I used to know my neighbors. Now I only know how they are going to vote... One day I was talking with the man across the street, and he told me that when he and his wife moved in they had envisioned potluck dinners with the neighbors... 'Oh, this isn't that kind of neighborhood," I said. "I think they do that in Alexandria...'"

I know what I'd be thinking: why didn't the agent tell me that before I went to settlement?

If Bush wins, the ongoing attempts to outsource various Government operations will continue in ernest. I'm beginning to wonder if, rather than saving money, the result will be the evolution of Government operations as another form of profiteering, at the expense of the basic premise of civil service. Unlike yours truly twenty-four years ago, a contractor does not take an oath to uphold the public interest. They are not accountable to the American taxpayer; I am.

If Kerry wins, the aforementioned initiative will not be stopped, but will probably change course and buy time for more reasoned voices, irrespective of partisan affiliation or public service status. What's more (and I can only speak from general experience here, allowing for exceptions) a political leadership that is less aloof, more accessible, and gives the average civil servant credit for their consultative value, will be more likely. On the other hand, there will be the occasional weirdness in the name of "political correctness." The mandatory AIDS/HIV education program under Clinton was a case in point. In my agency, we didn't get some gay guy offering details of his sex life; others weren't so lucky.

Of the two, Bush is the lesser of two evils. Then again, if Kerry is elected, at least there's less of a chance that Hilary will run in '08.

That should give us enough time to talk Condi Rice into running. (You go, grrrl!)

The rest of you, until the dust settles at dawn on Wednesday, stay tuned...

Thursday, October 28, 2004

Baseball, Faith, and Other National Pasttimes

There is much joy in Beantown today, as Sports Illustrated reports:

"For the first time since 1918, the Red Sox are World Series champions after Derek Lowe shut down the Cardinals 3-0 in Game 4 to complete an improbable sweep."

Today's Bostonians will finally have the ultimate story to share with their grandchildren. Dom Bettinelli's account will probably sound much like this:

"This is bigger even than the Patriots winning the Super Bowl and that was big. The Red Sox are so much more in New England, a part of the culture itself, deep in the soil and in the air we breathe. We are Patriots and Bruins fans. We?re even just Celtics fans. But we are Red Sox Nation."

In other news, Father "Don Jim" Tucker also speaks of the power of hope, in a piece entitled Living in Imperfect Communion. It has particular meaning to a divorced Catholic like yours truly, who has been heard to say that he is "practicing until I get it right." Don Jim writes:

"The acts of piety and witness of prayerfulness and Christian sacrifice that have impressed me most have not been those of the walking saints (because, in a way, I expect it of them), but rather of the obviously flawed people whose relationship with God and the Church is visibly messed up. When I learn that one of them is in the perpetual adoration chapel everyday, or that they have practiced heroic acts of charity toward a neighbor, or they faithfully say the rosary even though it's been years since they could go to Communion: this fills me with great hope -- for them, for me, and for all sorts of people who might be tempted to think that God and the Church have written them off."

One can meet those who, upon learning of your situation, have it all figured out what you should and shouldn't be up to, even as the marriages of other "good Catholic families" may be imploding behind closed doors.

Short of transforming oneself into a "pious Joe," limiting one's spare-time activity to Church-related matters (daily Mass, weekly confession, regular volunteering at parish bingo games), there is a fine line to walk. That one is bound by the obligations of marriage does nothing in and of itself to cultivate a married life, when one party does not cooperate, or perhaps never has. To reconcile the situation with one's Faith, and move on, is more than a legal exercise. It is the ability to live a life -- any life -- at all.

Those on the edge are "written off" entirely too often, Padre. Thanks.

And speaking of hope, my studies in multimedia and web design continue in earnest. My project is a website devoted to selected works of the French impressionist Georges Seurat. The home page is now up on the server for the first time:

"J'essaie de faire un point."

It is optimized for a 600 x 800 screen, so most viewers with high-end equipment will find it rather small. We'll see how it goes, while the project is fine-tuned as the term continues. Stay tuned...

Monday, October 25, 2004

You know you're living a pretty full life...

...when you're too busy to write about it. I got through my first test in college since I last went to college. It was a short test; I didn't get the answer right, but I'll get a partial for trying. But it had me up late, either studying, or just fretting. In fact, I was so relieved the test was over that I plumb forgot all about something to be turned in over the weekend. There's one point toward the total grade I missed. Think I'll turn it in anyway.

In fact, I've been so busy, I haven't even expressed my delight that somebody finally humbled the New York Yankees, and that that somebody was finally the Boston Red Sox. The infamous "Curse of the Bambino" is finally lifted. and the Irish Elk offer commentary. And then some. Babe Ruth, rest in peace, amen.

I went to my first Boy Scout campout as an adult this weekend. I was only there for Friday night and Saturday morning, but it was great to see the kids doing the stuff I used to do. I got fed, slept in my car with the passenger seat all the way back, which makes for decent accomodations. One thing has changed since I was a kid though. They corrected one of the boys for walking through the field at night alone. They're on a mandatory buddy system at outings. One of them might trip and fall in a hole and wouldn't be found unti the next day.

This is what happens when lawyers take over.

On Sunday, I attended my first Eagle Court of Honor as an adult. Didn't know the kid from Adam, but he was part of my jurisdiction as a Commissioner, so I paid my respects.

The night before, "Sal" and I stayed home and watched a video -- the film "Little Women" starring Winona Ryder. I wanted to introduce this daughter of the Philippines to a classic of American literature. It reminded her of her three girls back home. Good choice, Dave.

I learned that Cardinal Hickey died yesterday. He was Archbishop of Washington from 1980 to 2000. I only met him once, in 1990, when I ran into my old friend, Archbishop Pilarczyk of Cincinnati, whom I hadn't seen since I was a kid. Hickey was with him, and was patient as I reminisced with his guest.

Today was mostly spent preparing for class on Wednesday. I did my "splash page" for my website assignment. It's pretty nifty, if I do say so myself. I'll be sure and post it when it goes online, so all my fans (both of you, ideally) get a chance to cast your vote.

And speaking of casting votes, Archbishop Chaput of Denver recently did an essay on the subject of voting with one's faith. It's one of the most sensible pieces on the subject I've read so far this year:

"That saying comes to mind as the election approaches and I hear more lectures about how Roman Catholics must not 'impose their beliefs on society' or warnings about the need for 'the separation of church and state.' These are two of the emptiest slogans in current American politics...

"Lawmaking inevitably involves some group imposing its beliefs on the rest of us. That's the nature of the democratic process. If we say that we 'ought' to do something, we are making a moral judgment. When our legislators turn that judgment into law, somebody's ought becomes a 'must' for the whole of society. This is not inherently dangerous; it's how pluralism works..."

Somebody call Phil Donahue.

Meanwhle, I'm awaiting inspiration. Stay tuned...

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Straight Up, No Chaser... Please???

"In my job I work with people who lie to me all the time, and some of them are bishops."

Thus a priest confided in me a few years back, one who deals with bishops from all over the country. So a twist in a recent story came as no surprise to me. This is the short version:

Marc Balestrieri is a canon lawyer from the USA. He is preparing to file a formal suit against Senator John Kerry, on charges of heresy, for publicly supporting legalized abortion while claiming to be a practicing Catholic. While Kerry's pubic actions may have already incurred an automatic excommunication, the seriousness of the matter, combined with his public position, have provoked calls for a formal declaration from his bishop.

So Balestrieri went to Rome, to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, seeking clarification for his position. His appointment was with Father Augustine Di Nola, OP, the undersecretary. Di Nola referred him to a Father Basil Cole, OP, who said he was "delegated" by Di Nola to be consulted. An extended exchange between Balestrieri and Cole ensued.

After carefully checking his facts and clearing what was said by whom with everyone involved, Balestrieri went public.

Now we're off to the races!

No sooner is the cat out of the bag, than officials at the department in Rome quickly move to disassociate themselves from any statement, however unofficial it may have been. According to Di Nola, Balestrieri's "claim that the private letter he received from Dominican Father Basil Cole is a Vatican response is completely without merit."

Is that what he claimed? Did he have to for the statement to have merit?

Like I said, this is the short version. Mr Balestrieri's defense of his actions, including who said what to whom and when and how, is on the website. Say what you will, it's a more complete and forthcoming explanation than anything coming out of Rome lately. Various press accounts, including two that appear to go back and forth within 24 hours (one from the Catholic News Service), are available on the Cruxnews website.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Ad Random

When I was in college, there was a bar near the campus. Actually, there were a ton of bars near the campus. But this one was called the "Crazy Horse Saloon." You could get in if you were eighteen, even if only to drink 3.2 percent beer (a popular watered-down substitute in Ohio back in the day). As a senior in high school, I'd overhear the girls talking about meeting college boys during "Drink and Drown Night" over the weekend at this establishment.

It changed names at least once while I was in college, when it became a disco club -- like damn near everything else in the mid-70s. It's probably gone through several more name changes since then.

But they lost the Native American tag in the nick of time, as shown in this dateline from Paris:

"The headdresses worn, with little else, by dancers at the Crazy Horse club in Paris have provoked a complaint from descendants of the Sioux warrior after whom the cabaret was named without their permission... As admirers of the nude cabaret muttered about 'politically correct killjoys,' the Crazy Horse management met last night to consider its response. After 53 years, a name change for the nightclub off the Champs-Elysees seemed unlikely..."


Monday, October 18, 2004

The Ultimate "Chick Film"

We saw a movie last Sunday that I recommend highly.

"A workaholic lawyer's life and marriage take an unexpected twirl when he follows a beautiful woman to a Chicago dance studio and becomes a clandestine ballroom dance competitor in SHALL WE DANCE. What begins as a romantic comedy soon turns into an exhilarating tale about the unexpected places one finds passion..."

Richard Gere is brilliant as John Clark, an attorney confronting the usual "fork in the road" that is midlife, in the face of apparent material success and domestic bliss. The latter is only on the outside, however, and he looks for more. His charming wife, played by Susan Sarandon, has no idea of how he spends his Wednesday evenings "working late." How she discovers her husband's secret, and how they both respond to this revelation, is at the heart of the story.

Jennifer Lopez is captivating as Paulina, the dance instructor who initially catches the eye of John. To the credit of both screenplay writer Audrey Wells and director Peter Chelsom, the film bypasses more than one opportunity to devolve into a cheap affair between the two of them. John is able to keep temptation at bay, while his attraction for Paulina is, in reality, a catalyst for his love of the dance. Having lost at love and life herself, their friendship is a chance for Paulina to find herself again as well.

The supporting players are thoughtfully conceived and brilliantly cast. The film does contain some sexual references and mature language, but never at the expense of the story, thus making SHALL WE DANCE suitable fare for adults and adolescents as well.

I recommend this film or married couples seeking to rekindle the romance in their lives, as well as for their older children as a teaching moment.

We give SHALL WE DANCE a tip of the Black Hat, and two thumbs up.

Friday, October 15, 2004

Two guys in black "duke it out" on abortion.

Amy Welborn posts the transcript from last Wednesday night's broadcast of "The O'Reilly Factor."

"In the 'Unresolved Problem' Segment tonight, the archbishop of Denver Charles Chaput says Roman Catholics should not support politicians who support abortion rights.

"Says the archbishop, 'If you vote this way, are you cooperating in evil? And if you know you are cooperating in evil, should you go to confession? The answer is yes.'

"Joining us now from South Bend, Indiana, is Father Richard McBrien who teaches theology at Notre Dame, and, here in the studio, Father Frank Pavone, the national director for Priests for Life..."

There's the usual cheap dodge by McBrien about abortion being one of a host of "life issues," yada yada yada. Anything to impress his friends at the clubhouse. That guy's starting to get on my nerves. I guess it's time I set everybody straight on this.

Alright, kids, let's all stop listening to the cheap-@$$ soundbites on CNN and Oprah for a moment and use our OWN heads for a change.

Okay, here we go.

The Church has consistently taught that the state has the right to administer the death penalty for heinous crimes such as murder, as a means of self-defense, and protecting the innocent, given that there are no other more effective means of doing so. The Holy Father has never revoked this. That's because he can't. What he can do, and has done, is make a prudential judgement, that capital punishment may be unnecessary, given other less severe means in the present day, for the state to accomplish the same end.

That's not the same thing as saying that capital punishment is immoral.

The Church has also consistently upheld the "just war theory," again, as a means of self-defense, and protecting the innocent. The Holy Father can't touch this either. What he can do, and has done (as did his predecessor Paul VI at considerable length), is make the formidable case for the grave risk of a disproportionate collateral damage, brought on by the use of nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons, and the danger to humanity as a whole, given the recourse to such methods as a means of settling conflicts between nations.

That's not the same thing as saying that war is immoral.

Now, everybody with me so far?

Abortion -- that is to say, of a viable human fetus -- in and of itself, is ALWAYS objectively immoral. It ALWAYS takes an innocent human life. It is ALWAYS an act of murder. ALWAYS.

Notice how I didn't say "ALWAYS" about the other two things. Neither does the Holy Father. Neither does the Catechism. Neither does any bishop with the sense that God gave to a duck once the cameras start rolling. (And as we all know, God didn't give a duck a whole lot of sense.)

So, let's review. Capital punishment and war: potentially immoral. Abortion: always immoral.

Any questions?

(Footnote: For all you fans of Thomas Aquinas out there, the January 2004 issue of the journal The Thomist has a piece entitled "Capital Punishment." As to the "just war theory," type it in a search engine and look it up, or do a search in any online edition of the Catechism. All this deep thinking without any notes in front of me is giving me a headache.)

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Ad Random, Ad Nauseum

My class at the Art Institute has kept me busy over the past week, taking more time than I originally expected. And yet it is manageable, if I budget my time well enough. That's what it's all been about, really. For our class project, we must assemble a website of a particular artist. I have been given Georges Seurat, one of the great French Impressionists. From my lectures in art history, I remember that as one of my favorite periods, so I should enjoy this.

What I don't enjoy quite as much (as much as would rise to the occasion), is the confusion over the code that is written to compose a page, such as that which the viewer sees here. Most webloggers who use a service such as Blogger, choose from a variety of pre-coded templates. Such was the case with me, although I did alter the color scheme slightly to enhance readability. Still, I wish I could do more. The state of electronic print design is such, that one can work on the computer screen as if it were a drawing board back in the day. The interactive media of the Web, on the other hand, has yet to be so "idiot-proof." Layout programs such as FrontPage or Dreamweaver are either too clumsy (as in the case of the former) or very very complex (as with the latter). Why can't the interactive media be as easy to assemble as the print media, as it is with Quark Xpress (the industry standard) or Adobe InDesign (the up-and-coming upstart)?

I suppose I'll find out in the next few years. In the meantime, there is a certain thrill that comes with the prospect of regenerating one's professional calling in midlife. I am one of a class of twenty-five, and old enough to be the father of most if not all of them.

In other news...

Over the weekend, we learned of the death of Christopher Reeve, the actor who portrayed Superman on the silver screen in recent years, and who spent the last decade or so, paralyzed from the neck down after a horse-riding accident. One can give him great credit for his determination to live a full life, but not for advocating the wholesale murder of the unborn, merely to harvest their stem cells for various cures. This is especially so, when there are alternatives.

Witness this recent piece in the National Review, where Senator Kerry's evasion of the issue gives himself away:

"Every reporter covering the election should, after the second presidential debate in St. Louis, be demanding of Kerry an answer to the following question: Who are the scientists who told you that 'we have the option' of curing Parkinson's, diabetes, spinal-cord injuries, or any other disease using embryonic stem cells? If they won't ask him, the Bush campaign should defy him to name the names. He won't be able to do it. No scientists — even those most pro-Kerry and aggressively in favor of the federal funding of embryo-destructive research — ever told Kerry any such thing...

What Elizabeth Long (the woman who asked Kerry the stem-cell question) said is true: 'Thousands of people have already been cured or treated by the use of adult stem cells or umbilical-cord stem cells. However, no one has been cured by using embryonic stem cells. Wouldn't it be wise to use stem cells obtained without the destruction of an embryo?'

Indeed. But there is the potential cash-crop of dead babies waiting to be stripped of spare parts. If such a scenario seems so indelicate, consider the state of mind of those who would profit from it.

Speaking of those who have passed on...

The Holy Father recently beatified Emperor Charles of Austria-Hungary, who was forced to abdicate his throne after the end of the First World War, and died in exile and near-poverty, surrounded by his family. This included his devoted wife Empress Zita, who passed away only a few years ago. His family, the Hapsburg, remain as pretenders to the dynasty of what was once a great empire of Christendom, and who are loved and admired by Catholic Monarchists the world over.

Also beatified was Anne Catherine Emmerich, the 18th-century German nun and mystic, whose visions of the life of Christ inspired Mel Gibson's rendering of The Passion of the Christ. She didn't stop there: "I saw many pastors cherishing dangerous ideas against the Church... They built a large, singular, extravagant church which was to embrace all creeds with equal rights: Evangelicals, Catholics, and all denominations, a true communion of the unholy with one shepherd and one flock. There was to be a Pope, a salaried Pope, without possessions. All was made ready, many things finished; but, in place of an altar, were only abomination and desolation. Such was the new church to be, and it was for it that he had set fire to the old one; but God designed otherwise." (from Life and Revelations of Anne Catherine Emmerich, Vol 2, pp 352-353)

Meanwhile, the Spectator gives the broad view of the current state of revision of official books of Catholic worship:

"Three years ago [the Holy Father] issued a document entitled Liturgiam Authenticam, calling for accurate translations from the Latin. For the new translations were not merely ugly, they also tended strongly towards a merely secular vision of life, and away from a perception of human existence understood sub specie aeternitatis. These texts, as one authority puts it, ‘repeatedly overestimate the value of human effort and undervalue the role of divine grace in human life, that is, they tend towards the Pelagian heresy’..."

For one to believe that revising a set of books will magically restore a sense of the sacred to Catholic worship, is to assume that "liturgy" -- from the Greek work for "work of the people" -- is merely a series of words and texts to be gotten through, rather than an action performed. It is as if, on the night He was betrayed, Christ did not say "Do this," but rather merely "Say these words." Most of the ceremonial detail of the classical form of the Roman Rite could be properly employed in the reformed ritual, if the majority of pastors weren't so damned lazy about it, or so easily cowed by their rectory staffs. Still, the trend toward restorationism (the "reform of the reform," as it is known in some circles) is a step in the right direction. Perhaps elevating the spoken word has the power to elevate hearts and minds as well. Someday, I shall write more of this.

But first, can somebody tell me what the hell is going on here???

Friday, October 08, 2004

And now, before we shut down for the weekend, MWBH presents...

...our official "Rock the Vote" message. (Parental guidance suggested.)
We save their derrierès in two world wars, and now THIS!!!

French President Jacques Chirac warns his countrymen of the risks of American cultural dominance in the world:

"This, he said, would lead to a 'general world subculture' based around the English language. This, he maintained, would be 'a real ecological catastrophe.'

"Citing Hollywood's overwhelming leadership in the movie industry as an example, Chirac asserted that only with government assistance could countries maintain their cultural heritage."
(from the International Herald Tribune)

To add insult to injury, Chirac made these remarks at an opening of a French cultural exhibit in Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam -- the country that thinks they whooped us just because we left before the job was done.

If you ask me, the French are trying to get even with us for EuroDisney.

Can you blame them?

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

It's Somebody's Birthday Today

My son turns nineteen years old today. Oh boy. Have a happy birthday. I love you, you little weasel. You're a big boy now, but your dad can still whoop ya!

Meanwhile, I start school today at the Art Institute of Washington. I'll be in transit most of today. Wouldn't you know it, this would be the day I forget my cell phone.

So then... who ya gonna call??? (Courtesy of Victor Lams).

Monday, October 04, 2004

"CAEI: For all Your Modern Major General Needs"

(Obviously the events of the past week at St Blog's have driven this poor man completely over the edge.)
That Was The Week That... Whoa!!!

Geez, Louise! I leave my desk for a few days, and all of Saint Blog's goes to hell in a handbasket.

One of our members, Mark Windsor, recently shut down his weblog, citing the negative attitudes of his fellows:

"The harshness I’ve seen, that Sherry Weddell notes above and that Mark Shea has argued against for ages, has become so dominant that I no longer see a valid reason to continue this blog. The rational people may eventually leave out of boredom with the tiresome rage-aholics.... I can serve my fellow man far more effectively in my own parish, or in my own home, than I can here; arguing in endless circles with those for whom rage is a staple of life...."

I'm not saying he's wrong. He could be right. But for my own part, I'm not sure it's as serious as all that. True, there has been a lot of complaining about people in the Church, especially those who are supposed to be running the show. And between Mr Hudson and that whole Ave Maria thing in Florida, there has been a lot of hootin' and hollerin' among those who would otherwise be of like mind.

Dom Bettinelli's observation is a case in point:

"It’s hysterical. Carol McKinley labels me the Dan Rather of bloggers (whatever that means) for failing to stand up and defend Deal Hudson to the last drop of my blood, but now Bill Cork is attacking me because he says I was defending Deal Hudson. So which is it, was I defending him or not?"

Personally, my biggest complaint is the lack of imagination. It seems that most of us in the Catholic blogosphere all report on either the same thing, or each other. A few manage to have something original to say. Most of us don't. And each of us can do what they will, of course. If you only follow a select few, it's hard to notice.

Of course, I could also be jealous of the better-known bloggers. Yeah, that's it. I could be one of those luminaries on the Catholic lecture circuit, talkin' a good game about orthodoxy, having people line up for me to sign copies of my latest book, a few rich and well-preserved devout Catholic widows slipping me their phone numbers...

Wait, let's re-focus a minute.

Imagine someone receiving an award at some fancy-pants Catholic dinner here in the big-@$$ town of Washington, DC. The moment comes to give a speech:

"I'd just like to thank
all the little people
I had to step on,
to help me get
to where I am today.
I look forward to seeing
each and every one of them
on my way back down."

Now, you gotta imagine somebody saying that right about now. I know I do.

We can look back on certain saints now, and tell each other how wonderful and saintly they were and all that. But we have the benefit of hindsight. Back when they were alive, most people thought they were nuts. Probably because they were.

On October 1, we celebrated the Feast of Saint Therésè of Lisieux. She was only 23 when she died, still a novice in the Carmelite order. (You read it right, a novice. Ever notice the white veil with the brown habit? Big clue!) But the sum total of her writings is miniscule (an autobiography, letters to priests and family members and the like), compared to that which is written about her.

And now, we're got another movie about her -- this time in English. It's called... Therésè.

Today, on October 4, we remember Francis of Assisi. It's easy to remember him as the founder of a great religious order. (You know, the Franciscans.) It's not so easy to remember that his idea of a "little band of brothers," living day-to-day off the charity of others, without being either self-supporting or living off endowments, was unthinkable for its time. Harder still, is the knowledge that he was actually kicked out of his own order by his successor, and died in relative obscurity, in the company of a few loyal followers.

By the standards of today's Suburban Parish Busybody Committee, Francis was a complete loser who failed at building a consensus. That doesn't stop us from blessing animals in his name, or putting statues of him in our backyards.

Right next to the statue of Saint Therésè.

I know this priest who became famous at an early age; as a writer, a speaker, a publisher, you name it. He was on CNN and EWTN. He told me of how, whenever he travels to a public appearance, he prays the rosary, for the grace of humility. I was surprised by this revelation. He tells the Truth, even when it hurts, especially when it grinds against the Status Quo. But bishops around the country turn to him for advice and counsel (for what little evidence there is that they follow his advice and counsel), and every time he gets knocked down, he gets right back up again, and starts over. What a trooper!

If we accomplish great things in the sight of others, is it really self-aggrandizing to offer it all to Someone greater than ourselves? Do we offer our failures to Him as well?

This week, less than three months before my fiftieth (!!!) birthday, I'll be going back to college. If you had told me five years ago that these buncha suits I work for would have had to foresight to invest in me for the long haul, I would never have believed you.

It could be a new lease on life, a chance to jump-start my career, and get through the proverbial mid-life crisis relatively unscathed.

Whatever it is, I hope I never forget Who to thank. (Not to mention the point I was making.)

Monday, September 27, 2004


There's a lot to report after this past week. It's getting near the end of the fiscal year in the USA government, as everybody scrambles to commit previously uncommitted funds before the end of September 30. Lest anyone think that wasteful, bear in mind that if it's not spent, it's gone on October 1, and offices are penalized the following fiscal year for unused funds from before.

Besides, every bureau in the Feds has a "wish list." I got mine. On October 6, this old man is going back to college.

I will begin my part-time studies at the Art Institute of Washington, toward an Associate of Arts degree in Multimedia and Web Design (or Interactive Media Design, or whatever it's being changed into...). My transcript from Cincinnati (University of) will cover about one-third of the requirements. No sense taking "Color and Design" again, never mind "English 101." I also assured them I could probably teach the class in "Typography."

More on this next week. Stay tuned...

Friday night we watched "Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow." Not much on plot, but brilliantly executed. Saturday we went zydeco dancing. My first time in Baltimore in awhile. Seems like I've been away forever.

My parish had its annual picnic on Sunday. "Sal" and I sat with some other Filipinos, so she felt right at home, while we got a free meal. They even had pancit.

One of the big issues lately has been looking for a new home. After fourteen years of living in basement apartments (the last ten in one place), it's time to go above ground and own something. I'm looking at two-bedroom townhouses, hoping to stay in Arlington, preferably north of US 50. But crossing over to South Arlington saves about $50-100K, depending on the size of the home. We'll see.

Don Jim has found a piece from the eXile, Moscow's biweekly alt-rag in English, on what various European countries think of one another -- including a comprehensive listing of charts by region, country, and particular stereotype.

Obviously they wouldn't be much help in Iraq. This explains a lot.

Thursday, September 23, 2004

"I only want to be a poor friar who prays."

Today, the Church commemorates Saint Pius of Pietrelcina, known to most Catholics as "Padre Pio" -- so well by this name of endearment, in fact, that he is usually listed in English as "Saint Pio." After all, we've had twelve popes named Pius, and we're all so easily confused, aren't we?

Pio (let's humor ourselves and just call him that for now, okay?) was born in 1887 in the little Italian village of Pietrelcina. At 16, he joined the Capuchin Friars. At 23, he was ordained a priest.

At some point, he was discovered to bear the stigmata -- that is, the wounds on Christ on his hands and feet. Those few so called to this outward sign pay a price for it, and Pio suffered physical discomfort from the wounds throughout his life, and his bandages needed to be changed frequently. Between that, and his subsequent fame as a confessor and spiritual guide, the Holy See became concerned over all the fuss. As a result, he was virtually under house arrest for most of his fifty years at the monastery of San Giovanni Rotundo.

That did not stop the many thousands of pilgrims who sought him out to hear their confession. (As it was with the Curé of Ars, Pio would hear confessions from dawn until dusk, pausing only to celebrate Mass or for meals.) Nor did it stop him from bilocating (appearing to be in two places at once), according to some accounts.

He was known for being short on temperment and long on personal humility, attributed mostly to an awareness of his own sinfullness, combined with a priestly zeal for souls. At one point, a transfer was arranged for him. Pio refused to leave, citing the many souls who had come to depend on him. Pio stayed where he was.

He celebrated his last Mass on the 22nd of September, 1968. Seeing that his end was near, he called for a confrere to hear his last confession. As the doctor was called, he was heard to say softly to himself: "Jesus... Mary..."

He passed into eternity before dawn on the 23rd.

"In the months preceding his death, the wounds of the stigmata had begun to close, and had slowly stopped bleeding. As his body was being prepared for the wake, the friars and Dr. Sala observed that the lesions on his hands, feet and chest were now completely healed. The skin over the spots where the stigmata had been open and bleeding for fifty years, was now as smooth as a baby's, without even a trace of a scar. Deep, open wounds that had been bleeding for fifty years, had perfectly healed! Dr Sala concluded that this was a miracle in itself, and even greater than the stigmata, because it meant that dead tissue had been regenerated..."
Hey, Cat, guess who's being followed by a moon shadow!

"After the singer formerly known as Cat Stevens (TSFKACS) was detained by federal agents in Bangor, Maine, as he attempted to enter the United States, other 1970s pop stars lobbied to get their names included on the Department of Homeland Security's terrorist watch list.

"'Cat Stevens shouldn't be grabbing all the glory and the royalties,' said Terry Jacks, whose hit 'Seasons in the Sun' captivated the nation in 1974. 'There are others out there you know -- T. Rex, Helen Reddy, Rick Derringer -- many of them are still alive...'"

(Courtesy of ScrappleFace -- so it's a joke, okay?)