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.)