Thursday, December 28, 2006

"Holy Innocents, Batman!"

Just before seven this morning, I turned 52. Before the end of the day, actor Denzel Washington will have done the same. Elizabeth Jordan Carr, the first American test-tube baby, turns 25 today. For what it's worth, former President Woodrow Wilson would be 150. Many other important people were born on this day, and are listed here.

Triumph of the Innocents, by William Holman Hunt, 1883-4
Triumph of the Innocents, by William Holman Hunt, 1883-4

Today is also when the Church remembers the infants of Bethlehem who were ordered assassinated by King Herod, in his vain attempt to eliminate a newborn "king of the Jews" (Mt 2:16-17). The Feast of the Holy Innocents, also known as "Childermas Day," is one where the youngest child has a place of honor. Children are traditionally served oatmeal, pureed fruits, or other kinds of baby food, particularly the youngest. Alternatives include a light-colored pudding with a red strawberry or raspberry sauce as a reminder of the blood of the martyrs. In some Spanish-speaking countries, it is also a day for children's games along the lines of our own "April Fools Day," or of hiding in closets until the grownups pay a "ransom." (Information courtesy of Women for Faith & Family and Fisteaters.)

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

"I'm a Ford, not a Lincoln."

Leslie Lynch King Jr died yesterday at the age of 93.

His passing would have gone unnoticed to most of the world, but for the new name he received as a toddler when his mother remarried, and which he assumed legally as he came of age.

Campaign poster for Gerald Ford's 1948 run for Congress, from Ford library archives.
1948 photo courtesy of The Gerald R Ford Library

Gerald Rudolph Ford was the only President of the USA to have attained his office under the terms, if only indirectly, of the 25th Amendment. Ford was minority leader of the House of Representatives when Spiro Agnew resigned as Vice President in 1973. Upon the resignation of President Richard Nixon in August of 1974, Ford automatically succeeded to the Presidency.

Although he would be dismissed as a "moderate Republican" today, Ford was an old-school balance-the-budget conservative in the days before the "Reagan revolution," vetoing many spending bills of a Democratic-controlled Congress, but at the same time voicing approval of abortion on demand. His wife, Betty, changed the role of the First Lady forever, from that of silent partner and official hostess, to a woman with a mind of her own.

I remember President Ford's attempts to push humanitarian aid through Congress for the Republic of (South) Vietnam, which was in danger of being overrun by the North, at a time when those bozos on the Hill were too obsessed with kicking Nixon while he was down, to give a hoot in hell about anything or anyone else. Such indifference extended to an ally alongside whom we fought for a cause that, whatever you may think of it, we left in their hands with hopeless odds. Fortunately, many thousands of Vietnamese citizens were let into this country, where they have contributed significantly to American life, while maintaining their close-knit communities and unique heritage.

Ford was the first president for whom I ever voted. It was the 1976 election, when he lost to the more fashionable Democratic candidate Jimmy Carter. (In those days, you still had to be 21 to vote. By the way, how's Jimmy's legacy holding up?) He may have been unglamorous and unassuming, but Ford was solid and dependable, in the mold of a true Midwesterner, and he had no illusions about his place in history. There were jokes about his apparent awkwardness, despite his being an avid sportsman all his life. He was criticized for his full pardon of Richard Nixon, although history may look favorably upon his initiative at moving the nation forward. He was not known as a gifted speaker, let alone quick on his feet with a soundbite, which belied his being a high-ranking graduate of Yale School of Law. These apparent liabilities may have ultimately tarnished his image in the 1976 campaign. Even as President, he would say that one of his proudest achievements was achieving the rank of Eagle Scout.

My father once told me that "some men are born great, others achieve greatness, still others have it thrust upon them." Ford was an example of how the reluctant can stand tall in the spotlight. This was reflected well in his statement upon appointment to the Presidency:

"I have not sought this enormous responsibility, but I will not shirk it. Those who nominated and confirmed me as Vice President were my friends and are my friends. They were of both parties, elected by all the people and acting under the Constitution in their name. It is only fitting then that I should pledge to them and to you that I will be the President of all the people."

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

On Yoolis Night: A Look at the Day

Today, in the UK, Canada, and other countries of the British Commonwealth, today's remembrance of Saint Stephen is otherwise known as Boxing Day. Traditionally, it is a day when gifts are given to service workers. "The holiday's roots can be traced to Britain... its origins are found in a long-ago practice of giving cash or durable goods to those of the lower classes. Gifts among equals were exchanged on or before Christmas Day, but beneficences to those less fortunate were bestowed the day after." It certainly explains why "Good King Wenceslas looked out on the feast of Stephen..."

It would appear that the holiday is finally being brought to this former British colony -- as a commercial promotion for a chain of furniture warehouses. They hired some guy with a really bad imitation of a British accent to call it a "Boxing Day" sale. Don't ask me why.

The above makes it a good idea to reflect on the day before...

On the night before Christmas, there were six of us who met at a "New Orleans" style restaurant in Arlington, to exchange gifts and enjoy the ambience. (What do you get her girlfriend's husband if you've never met the guy before? You can never go wrong with a Swiss Army knife with a few useful tools. The "swisscard" model is shaped like a credit card, and fits in a wallet, for about $25. But hey, that's just me...)

In the past decade, I have usually attended "Christ Mass" at Midnight. I suppose it's the wonder of the holyday itself that can only be captured at the stroke of the clock, and the advent of the new day. That, and all those years in grade school envying the cool kids who got to go with their families to Midnight Mass, and our family was a little too plain-vanilla to break their routine for something you could just as easily do after a decent night's sleep. Anyway, I usually attend Epiphany Byzantine Catholic Church in nearby Annandale, my perennial "other parish." (Sentimental reasons.) But this year, I volunteered to assist as a narrator for the prelude choral service at St Thomas More Cathedral. I recovered from a fever the night before, in time to look fit as a fiddle, if a bit worn out.

The following morning, "Sal" and I went to the Filipino restaurant where she used to work weekends. It was closed for business, so the proprietress "Ate Helena"* could throw an informal banquet for her employees and friends -- not to mention their kids, who played a variation on the piñata, where inflated balloons filled with dollar bills would be popped with a stick and showered on those below. After all, penny candy would be too heavy for the helium to lift, right?

That evening, we went to the movies. We were supposed to see the limited area premiere of "Children of Men," but it was sold out. So we bought tickets to see "We Are Marshall," a true story set in a place where I used to live (which is also another story), but accidentally walked into "Dreamgirls," a mistake we learned only too late. Turned out to be the right choice, though. It's good that they made it into a musical, as it originally appeared on Broadway. The predominently-African-American crowd cheered their adopted heroine, Effie (Jennifer Hudson), which is more tribute than went to the ambitious manager (Jamie Foxx) or the diva Deena (Beyoncé Knowles). Ironically, the latter two got higher billing in the promotions, but neither character was all that likeable. It appeared a fitting way for many to honor another Motown artist, James Brown, who died at 1:45 that morning at the age of 73 (and whose first recording contract was with King Records in Cincinnati in 1956).

I took Sal back to her assignment, and made it back to Georgetown in time for a later showing of "Children of Men." It was a stroke of good fortune to get into a near-sellout showing, since I have a review to write.

As the clock neared midnight, I headed alone to my favorite spot by the Potomac, near the "seagulls" memorial along George Washington Parkway. As the radio played Chloe Agnew singing "Panis Angelicus," I watched the fog roll in, covering the upper half of the Washington Monument, and lend a soft glow to the illumination of the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials. It was a moment to reminisce, about all the Christmases before, especially those of recent years. No, it wasn't spectacular this year, just a day of thanksgiving, albeit better than most. I didn't do everything I wanted to do. I didn't have to.

It was also a moment for a reminder. As my fifty-second birthday draws near, I realized that about a month ago, I had passed the point where I had lived in my native Ohio for longer than in Washington and its vicinity.

I may finally be getting the hang of the place.

+ + +

* In the Philippines, every family member is addressed by title based on their place, in the manner of aunts and uncles. "Ate" (pronounced "AHH-tay") is for the oldest sister. It is also a term of endearment, as in when one woman is like a "big sister" to another. Sal is addressed as "Bunso" (pronounced "BOON-so"), the youngest sister. Here endeth the lesson.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Welcome Yule!

This story is brought to us by the minor premise, by way of DarwinCatholic. To all of you who read this page from time to time, who have shared your thoughts with the world in the comments box, and to all of you who have sent greetings, a most blessed Christmas to you and yours, and a sincere wish for a prosperous New Year. -- DLA

+ + +

It was a silent night. We were in our favorite bar, poker was the game, and the hand was down to we three. Kings was peering over his cards, contemplating the deck. The Halls, both of them, had folded from the first. Noel tried to keep his poker face, but he eyed the pot like one who hadn't eaten in twelve days. Of Christmas, everyone in the room thought, since it was no more than a week away. In a Maine jury room I had met most of the players, and we had remained friends. With some people, I could be cold, but frosty these? No, man! I looked at my cards again, lacking one card for an unbeatable hand. I thought of how my fortunes could change just this once. In David's, royal city would win the day. "Ah, good king, when she's lost, look out!" I thought to myself.

I asked, "was the last time we played in the day or evening?" Kings responded, "oh, wholly night." The big Hawaiian rolled his eyes. "The masters in this hall were the houli, and the I.V. was necessary to get the rest of the sleepers awake."

I recalled the brawl which had followed the card game. "I heard the bells!" On Christmas day I was allowed to leave the hospital. The girl I was dating at the time, brought me home. I commanded, "Pronto, little town of Bethly!

"Hehm!" she pretended to clear her throat in disgust. Turning to her girlfriend, she said, "I should smack the boor's head, Carol!"

My girlfriend was originally from Coventry, Carol would often recall, and I met the two of them at a regatta. I saw three ships assailing the the difficult course, and on the trailing ship I saw an off-balance girl fall in the drink.

"Here we come! Ah, Waa!" Sailing, it seemed, was not in her blood.

We were later mutually introduced while she tried not to hork. "The Harold Angels sing tonight, and I can get you backstage. I know Harold." We met some other friends at the concert. Joy, to the world known as a famous actress, but to us, just one of the guys, also joined. Joy loved Harold and his group. "Most CD's I play at moderate volume, but the Angels we have heard on high!" I liked Harold, but I thought his group unevenly talented. "What child is this? She does nothing but jingle bells!"

Annoyed, Harold would stutter, "Pat, uh, Pat, uh, pandemonium would break out if I let her go! She's the piano player's wife! And the little drummer boy would quit, too! I think he's got a thing for her..."

"I call, show your cards!" Kings shouted! I wondered, as I wandered through my thoughts, if I would finally be winning the hand. Reluctant, I held back.

"Oh come! Oh come E! Man, you L-O-S-E-R!"

I threw down my Ace-high hand, which was easily beaten.

Merry Christmas!

A Christmas Carol

The Christ-child lay on Mary's lap,
His hair was like a light.
(O weary, weary were the world,
But here is all aright.)

The Christ-child lay on Mary's breast,
His hair was like a star.
(O stern and cunning are the kings,
But here the true hearts are.)

The Christ-child lay on Mary's heart,
His hair was like a fire.
(O weary, weary is the world,
But here the world's desire.)

The Christ-child stood on Mary's knee,
His hair was like a crown,
And all the flowers looked up at Him,
And all the stars looked down.

G K Chesterton (1874–1936)

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Matthew 2:18 Revisited
(or, A Contingency Plan for Christmas)

So, you've just spent the last week making holiday preparations, on top of finishing up the homeschool lessons for your ten kids, and you're about to head to the supermarket. Oh, and you're stressed out. Well, here's one Rachel who won't be "wailing in bitter lamentation for her children." For all you Keepers of the Hearth, our own Ms Ray comes to the rescue with how to whip up a class act in a hurry, in this Five Minute Party Starter.

Your in-laws won't be the wiser.

O Emmanuel

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

Friday, December 22, 2006

"I want to believe." Hey, don't we all want to believe in something?

We are reminded once a year, that the whole of human history turns on a little child, born in a cave in the midst of winter. That reminder is once again drawing upon us, giving us a reason to believe.

mwbh will not be shutting down completely for the holidays, but will be in "low-maintenance" mode for the weekend. Tomorrow the family back in Ohio will be coverging for the celebration. I'll be there in spirit. Christmas Eve will find me and Sal getting with friends for dinner, then it's on to the Cathedral for Midnight Mass. We'll exchange gifts the next day, then maybe see a movie. The coming week will be devoted to household duties, as well as some writing.

Till then, stay tuned, and stay in touch.

O Rex Gentium

O King of the Gentiles and their desired One, the cornerstone that makes both one: come, and deliver man, whom you formed out of the dust of the earth.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

The Reason for the Season

What are you wishing people this year?

You gotta be careful. Somebody at a department store the other day wished me a "Merry Christmas." It's a good thing their boss wasn't watching. I might have been Jewish and celebrating Chanukah, or African-American and celebrating that made-up holiday Kwaanza, or Muslim and celebrating Waqf al Arafa, or a Druid and celebrating the Winter Solstice (which is today, for all you Druids out there), or... have I left anyone out?

As a Catholic, I'm under no illusions that there has ever been any other resaon for all the fa-la-la-la-lah than Christmas, a term that originated with "Christ's Mass," which is what originally happened to celebrate that day. (By the way, kids, did you know that the Roman feast of Saturnalia was started in response to the early Christians celebration of Christmas, not the other way around? Check out what Mark Shea discovered. Hmmm...) But that's not going to stop the more "enlightened" among us from making the occasion as innocuous and non-offensive as humanly possible, even though one glance at the television specials will prove that no one is fooling anyone, except maybe themselves. The truth (which most people can't handle anyway) is, the use of generic holiday greetings at year end is nothing new. I remember "Seasons Greetings" on the streets of Milford, Ohio, when I was a kid. Plus there was some ridiculous song back then that went "Happy Holida-a-a-a-ays" or whatever. In recent years, I've taken to wishing people a "blessed holiday." For me, it's not just about Christmas, but it's about the whole twelve days that are supposed to comprise the actual holiday. That's why sometimes I send stuff to my family after the big day, just to keep the party going. It's a dirty job, but somebody's gotta do it.

Back home in Ohio, my family's celebration of Christmas tends to be low-key, just my siblings and their spouses with the grandkids coming over to exchange gifts and have dinner. Steve will make a late breakfast, or Pat and Mary will handle the dinner, depending on who shows up and when. Grandma and Grandpa both wear Santa Claus hats, and it's great to see them loosen up and get crazy like that once a year. I can't be there, of course, but a gift basket is on its way. Mom will complain that I'm wasting my money, and I'll remind her that it's being wasted on her. Wish I could be there.

Paul is going to be out of town to see his Ma for Christmas, so I told him he's getting his present on January 1, which Orthodox Christians and Eastern Catholics remember as St Basil's Day. The Greeks give presents on that day. Paul didn't want anything, probably because he forgot to get something for his dear old Dad. That same dear old Dad who remembers when his son was about eight or nine, and got the Old Man a bottle of mouthwash for Christmas. I acted grateful enough that he wouldn't notice how I knew, that his mother put him up to it. Bottom line is, it's payback time, and he's getting a really nice present whether he likes it or not, the little weasel!

The word "holiday" is a corruption of the term "holyday." In the end, there is no escape for the PC crowd from the spectre of history. Soooo... if you're working at a department store this year and some geek assistant manager with a bad tie and an equally bad hairpiece orders you to wish customers with a generic greeting, try saying "Happy Holydays." Maybe the ones who won't notice won't feel discriminated against (which won't bring their party down anyway, you can be sure of that), and maybe the ones who will notice will know that you know what they know, if you know what I mean.

At least that's what I mean.

O Oriens

O Dawn of the East, brightness of light eternal, and sun of justice: come, and enlighten those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

O Clavis David

O Key of David, and scepter of the house of Israel, who opens and no man shuts, who shuts and no man opens: come, and bring forth the captive from his prison, he who sits in darkness and in the shadow of death.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Danny Boy

I never met Danny Bonaduce. But I knew a lot of guys who did -- the hard way.

For two summers after college, I worked at Kings Island Amusement Park. I was one of the animal characters. That's right. I was one of those guys who dressed up in an animal costume and got my picture taken with the kiddies. We were escorted by the most charming and gorgeous young ladies you could imagine, and who all considered me their pal since I didn't spend most of the summer hitting on them. I was featured in a marketing preview film for the sister park in Virginia, Kings Dominion. My image -- or more precisely, the one I was wearing -- appeared in a national children's fashion magazine. It was the first time in my life I ever felt part of "the gang." All in all, it was the most wonderful time in my life. Other than the present moment.

But anyway...

That would have been the summers of '73 and '74. The year before that was when KI opened. And it was when the cast of television's The Partridge Family filmed a segment at the park. Such was how the veteran characters I worked with ended up working with Danny Bonaduce. To hear them tell it, the guy was a brat. I mean, he was totally out of control. He'd run through a ride that had flying objects while it was operating, and was lucky he didn't get killed. This was in the days before Ritalin, obviously. There was much more to his antics and their place in the theme park's mythology, but I don't remember. I was too busy rolling on the floor laughing at the time.

Closer to the present, and after watching enough segments of VH1's "Behind the Music," I realize the poor guy managed to pick himself up from the bottom, as so many child actors have had to do when they get older. (Anyone know what happened to Jay North of Dennis the Menace? Nope, didn't think so.) The result is a certain amount of respect for Bonaduce. He's still a little out of control. But he makes a decent living, and doesn't spend much time trying to parlay his former television role into an endless stream of pathetic auto shows and shopping mall openings.

His most recent accomplishment to date is his response to a confrontation by some bozo named John Conner, who interrupted Bonaduce's privacy at a sidewalk café for some "man-on-the-street" interview about 9-11. Bonaduce's response earns this week's tip of the Black Hat; less for his opinion about the war in Iraq, than for his refusal to play into the Hollywood mentality of political correctness.

This is mature content, as the expletives used by Bonaduce were all bleeped out, but are nonetheless indicated. If you can handle that, the result is mildly amusing. (Note: Our Lord once referred to a few of his followers as an "evil brood of vipers," which is about as much as you could have insulted anyone back in the day, short of questioning their parentage. I thought I should mention that to a few of my devoted readers. Besides, if "Don Jim" can use the BS word in his blog -- yes, kiddies, the good Padre has succumbed on one occasion -- I should muddle through somehow with my imprimatur intact.)

O Radix Jesse

O Root of Jesse, that stands for an ensign of the people, before whom the kings keep silence and unto whom the Gentiles shall make supplication: come, to deliver us, and tarry not.

Shawn Tribe has found more information about the history of Antiphons for Advent.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Couldn't happen to a nicer guy!


It is with great humility that I announce that TIME magazine has just appointed yours truly as "Person of the Year." In their public statement, the periodical cited me for "seizing the reins of the global media, for founding and framing the new digital democracy, [and] for working for nothing and beating the pros at their own game."

I should also takes pains to mention, that I am consigned to sharing this award with everyone else on the planet who has a computer with internet access. But at least, just this once, I can see my face on the cover of TIME. So can my esteemed fellow-awardees. Just pick it up at your friendly neighborhood newsstand to see how they pull it off.

(And to think that if I had been in the audience on Oprah one particular day, I would have won a car along with everyone else. Ah, but a man can dream...)

O Adonai

O Lord and Ruler of the house of Israel, who appeared to Moses in the flame of the burning bush and gave him the law on Sinai: come, and redeem us with outstretched arms.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Advent: The Next Level (O Sapientia)

Beginning this day in the Roman Calendar, the Church counts the final days before the Lord's coming with the "O Antiphons." This seven days of observance is known collectively as the "Greater Ferias" (feria in the ancient tradition, referring to a regular weekday). They are the short hymns sung before and after the Magnificat during Vespers. Many of us have sung their paraphrases in the verses of the great Advent hymn "O Come O Come Emmanuel."

Father Zuhlsdorf has prepared a series of commentaries on each of the antiphons upon which each of the verses of this hymn are based:

"There is a little-known fact about the order of these ancient O Antiphons. This is not apparent in English, but it can be seen clearly in the official language of the Roman Catholic Church: Latin. The Latin versions of each of the titles of the Messiah: Sapientia (Wisdom), Adonai (Lord), Radix (Root), Clavis (Key), Oriens (Dawn), Rex (King), and Emmanuel (Emmanuel). Take the first letters of each of the titles and write them backwards, thus counting down the days of the feast: EROCRAS or 'ero cras.' This means in Latin 'I will be (here) tomorrow'."

For this year, today's commemoration is replaced by the Sunday observance, in this case of "Gaudete Sunday," where the Introit intones "Rejoice in the Lord always..." But here is a video clip of the antiphon anyway, brought by way of Shawn Tribe. It is the first in a series of seven:

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

Like they used to say, follow the bouncing ball.

Friday, December 15, 2006

I was taking a hard look at the living room recently, and it could use a bigger sofa. Not this color, though.

Critical Mass: Cantate Domino canticum novum!

I was cruising the internet today, when I came across the interview from L'espresso last July with maestro Domenico Bartolucci. The former choir director of the Sistine Chapel was unceremoniously dismissed by curial operatives of the late Pope John Paul II. Happily, he is making a comeback, with gratitude to the one prelate who came to his defense, the man once known as Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger.

The interview is most enlightening for those with a great love of the musical heritage of the Church, particularly Gregorian chant, and polyphony in the tradition of Palestrina (with whose works I fell in love during my years with the choir of Holy Trinity Church in Georgetown). There was one quotation in particular, that very much caught my eye:

"Gregorian chant has been distorted by the rhythmic and aesthetic theories of the Benedictines of Solesmes. Gregorian chant was born in violent times, and it should be manly and strong, and not like the sweet and comforting adaptations of our own day."

As far as I'm concerned, you could start by laying off the organ to lead the schola, or for that matter, the people themselves. The chant was not meant to be accompanied, let alone overladen, even by such a noble instrument. In any case, as one who cannot imagine not giving some credit to Solesmes for the revival of Gregorian chant in the mid-19th to mid-20th centuries (which in the eyes of many heralds the true beginning of the liturgical movement), this is a curious remark.

Inasmuch as I could use some light reading for the weekend, I printed this one out for further study.

Critical Mass: Deja Vu Revisited

From Father Zuhlsdorf, who has been following this story more than I have, comes the latest from the wires of Aci Prensa. Translation is provided from one of the commenters:

"The Motu Proprio after Christmas, the Apostolic Exhortation on the Liturgy in January. Redaccion Central, December 14th, 2006, (ACI).

"Sources close to the Vatican informed the ACI press that the Motu proprio in which Pope Benedict XVI will grant universal permission for the Missal of Pius V may be published after Christmas; while the Post-Synodal Exhortation on the Eucharistwill appear in the middle of January.

"The sources confirmed what Cardinal Estevez stated to the press, who recently participated in the meeting of the Ecclesia Dei Commission, charged with dialog with the SSPX, in which the final version of the Motu Proprio was elaborated.

"The Indult which should permit the Mass of St Pius V to be celebrated freely, without the actual requirement which demands the explicit permission of the local bishop. The Motu Proprio, nevertheless, does not touch on the canonical terms of the SSPX, the schismatic organization created by Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre.

"The Apostolic Exhortation on the Eucharist, according to the same sources, has already been finalized by Pope Benedict XVI and is being translated into the various languages into which it will be presented.

"The text, which will be published after January 15th, according to the sources, reaffirms the 'no' to the married priesthood, promotes the use of Latin in liturgical celebrations, and includes a request that seminarians learn the use of this language.

"The text also supports the restoration of gregorian chant and sacred polyphony in order to replace modern music, it implies that there will be a gradual withdrawal of 'inadequate' musical instruments in order to promote solemnity and reverence of the eucharistic celebration."


There has been some question as to whether the "universal indult" would be part of the exhortation, or be released separately as a "motu proprio" decree. The report mentions eliminating the requirement of the local bishop's approval, but leaves open whether a bishop can object, or how he can otherwise regulate implementation of the old missal. This implementation has been mentioned elsewhere, and this writer finds it hard to believe that such provisions would be omitted. What is clear is that the documents for whatever is going to happen have been completed, and are going through their normative process of concurrence. What is not clear is exactly when they will be promulgated, or in what form.

What is also clear, from anyone who has ever helped to organize such a program of events, is that nothing will happen overnight, except in those places where the terms of the present 1988 Indult are already implemented.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Competent, Educated People

"December 12, 2006 Newton, MA - Voice of the Faithful is deeply disturbed at the action of both Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz of Lincoln NE and Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, head of the Congregation for Bishops. In our goal to be a 'voice' for faithful Catholics we call for an explanation of the process by which this decision was made. We are competent, educated people who understand the long history of this serious action and we see no justification for denying any person access to the life of the Church simply by virtue of her or his membership in a select group. Voice of the Faithful condemns the process by which a class of people was summarily excommunicated by a single bishop in the US. Instead, VOTF follows the long tradition of the Church where excommunication should be practiced rarely and individually with careful discernment."

Okay, kids, let me get this straight. You are calling for an explanation of the reasoning behind this decision, yet you are already prepared to condemn said reasoning out of hand.

Is that right?

Occasionally, I get a speeding ticket (although I'm proud to say it hasn't been for well over a year). When it happens, it is on a road where others are driving just as carelessly, if not more so. I watch truly aggressive drivers in high-performance cars, or truckers who practically run over a subcompact while coming down a hill, and I wonder why they never seem to get caught.

But sometimes they do. And sometimes when I do, it's while I'm driving next to a guy who's driving just as fast as I am. But if I'm pulled over and I use that excuse, the response that I'm going to get is: "I didn't catch the other guy; I caught you." As the Romans used to say, and as every first-year law student is likely to hear: "Nemo judex in sua causa." ("No man is a judge at his own trial.")

An organization that claims to operate under Catholic auspices, but which openly challenges major tenets of the Faith -- thus disqualifying them, by their own admission, from determining what does and does not fall in that category -- is in no position to cry foul. They knew the rules, they made a conscious choice, they got caught, and now for all that, they are accountable. If they had an ounce of fortitude for their convictions, they would accept that. But to demand license to do as one would wish without consequence is the trademark of a moral coward.

In the meantime, Mother Church wishes them to repent and return to the fold. Sometimes Mother prescribes some pretty harsh medicine. And sometimes the errant do return. As with the prodigal son in the parable, there is joy in heaven for those occasions.

Does this excuse the malfeasance of bishops who enabled pedastry among their priests? Of course not. In Luke's gospel, Our Lord says: "From those to whom much is given, much will be expected." (Brace yourselves, kids, here comes the bottom line.) Our prelates will be judged far more harshly in the next life than any of us can imagine in this one. An excommunication can be reconciled in this life. Those who face the Final Judge, and who are asked, "Why did you deny me?" will not have that option.

Under the circumstances, I'd say those CTA people in Nebraska are getting off easy.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006



I am generally not partial to images of the Blessed Mother without her carrying the Christ Child. The absence of Her Son has long struck me as a potential micro-step toward a sort of Catholic goddess-worship -- Mariolatry, if you will -- which I realize may sound silly, so I don't make much of those who believe otherwise.

But I make one exception, and that's the image used to commemorate today's Feast. Don't ask me why. You can read all about it at, so I don't have to write about it.

But not before I mention two things.

Contrary to what some dime-store theologian disguised as a pastoral associate is telling your children in Catholic school right about now, the native peoples' customs were not suppressed by their Catholic conquerors. In fact, the Aztecs were all too happy to have been relieved of being victims of human sacrifices where their hearts were cut out while they were still alive, so much so as to have participated in what may have been the largest single mass conversion in Christendom.

Furthermore, and on a lighter note, when Juan Diego opened his cloak for the bishop, and the venerable image appeared, the roses hidden in the cloak came falling out. But that wasn't the end of the miracle. The bishop recognized the roses as being of a variety only found in his native Spanish province of Castile. This was in the days before overnight delivery, by the way.

Now you know the rest of the story.

His Way

"Sure, I knew some of those guys. I spent a lot of time in saloons. And saloons are not run by the Christian Brothers. There were a lot of guys around, and they came out of Prohibition, and they ran pretty good saloons. I was a kid. I worked in the places that were open. They paid you, and the checks didn't bounce. I didn't meet any Nobel Prize winners in saloons. But if Francis of Assisi was a singer and worked in saloons, he would've met the same guys."

Frank Sinatra, the man who was Elvis before there was an Elvis, and who was called by one author "the most investigated American performer since John Wilkes Booth," was born on this day in 1915. He died on 18 May 1998.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Something like this was bound to happen eventually, what with all the recent media attention to penguins...

Critical Mass: The Eighth of December

There have been continued reports of an impending "motu proprio" (that is, on his own initiative) to be issued by the Holy Father, allowing for the more generous, if not unlimited, use of the 1962 Missale Romanum, also known as "the Tridentine Mass." Others report that such a decree will be couched into a larger post-synodal document on the Eucharist. The latest big buzz of which this writer is aware came two days ago from a little cell phone.

Fama fert Litteras motu proprio dandas scriptas iam esse et mox promulgandas. Sed mox quid sit nescio. Spes autem non confundit.

According to its recipient, Father John Zuhlsdorf of Minneapolis, it says: "Rumor has it that the Motu Proprio is already written and is to be promulgated soon. What 'soon' means, however, I don’t know. Still, our hope is not leaving us deluded."

The good Father provides some in-depth analysis of what we might anticipate from such a document, which is generally known to have already been prepared, and awaiting the final signature and release. Today, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, has been considered by some Vatican-watchers as a potential target date for that release.

Part of the discussion that has ensued of late, is the provision for having "private" Masses using the old Missal, and just what would constitute "private."* Until now, it has meant precisely that; without a congregation. Anything else, such as allowing a minimum group of, say, thirty or one hundred, smacks of a certain gnostic attitude, which when you think about it, offends the Cathoilc sensibility.

Personally, I believe (and I could be wrong about this) that the allowance of broader use of the "Trid Mass" will be one of several objectives, using more forceful language than has been employed previously, with the approval of the local bishop still being called for, or at least (and more likely) the absence of any objection. This would be a component of the aforementioned post-synodal exhortation, accompanied by the Holy Father's intention to restore the reform of the sacred liturgy to what the Council fathers actually intended. This would be a multi-faceted process, probably a longer and more deliberate one than some would favor. The faithful translation of liturgical texts in the reformed liturgy, a tighter criterion for orthodoxy in parish hymnody, an insistence on Gregorian chant as the normative music of the Roman liturgy, whether classical or reformed -- all this would be part of a holistic package.

There are some practical reasons for this, including a realistic expectation of what can happen at the parish level. The desire for the "Old Mass" is only shared by a small, if steadily growing, constituency. To integrate such a program into the routine of Sunday worship requires a bit more than simply switching from one set of books to another. Even pastors who prefer the older form would express reluctance at suddenly replacing one of their regular Sunday Masses, let alone to accommodate a group mostly from outside the parish (which is exactly what would happen in many cases).

Whether most people want it or not, Catholics have a right to their traditions, and as St Paul reminded the Thessolonians, have a duty to "hold fast" to them. This is less about "wants" at all, as opposed to "needs." Nevertheless, much of this can be accomplished within the confines of a Mass using the reformed texts, said in Latin (with readings in the vernacular) with Gregorian Chant in all the right places, with the priest celebrating at the altar "ad orientem" (that is, "facing East," or in the same direction as the people), and if possible, with Communion received kneeling at the altar rail. (I don't care what some people will say; depending on where you are and who's in charge, it can be difficult for the average pewsitter to tell the difference.)

Where do I get the crazy idea for the multi-faceted approach? From no less than the multi-faceted writings on the liturgy from the man once known as Cardinal Ratzinger. Many writers, especially bloggers, easily forget that His Holiness has shared a variety of opinions on the subject of the liturgy, and they fail to take the broader view into account. As a result, they keep getting disappointed as one "deadline" after another comes and goes.

Meanwhile, the above scenario that I have just depicted is not the counter-reformation that is hoped for in the long run. But it is within reach, with or without another decree.

* This is not a private observation, but is based upon a little-known canonical interpretation from the early 1990s, one that some advocates of the "Trid Mass" are loathe to concede in the midst of their zeal.

[THIS JUST IN: It's bedtime in Rome, and except for rolling up the sidewalks, nothing has happened. The plot thickens...]

"Once more unto the breach, dear friends..."

(Shakespeare, Henry V)

Now that most of the heat has died down (and the worst of my school work is over), we find columnist Tony Blankley reflecting on Pope Benedict's visit to Turkey. He quotes from writer Michael D O'Brien:

"Benedict is a man of charity and of truth, and rarer still, he is a man who has integrated both within his life and teaching. In a sense he is like St Francis of Assisi, who in 1219, during the Crusades, walked into the midst of the Saracen camp and preached for days, and eventually spoke with the Sultan of Egypt in the hope of converting him... He was a sign of contradiction to all parties in the wars. He was unarmed. He was a presence of Christ to the major adversary of Christian civilization in those times.

"So, too, Pope Benedict continues to be a sign of contradiction..."

Benedict would make a better chess player than a poker player. Some radtrad Catholics don't get this. They want dramatic statements like the popes of the nineteenth century, none of whom had to look an imam in the face with the threat of assassination in the air.

Our tip of the Black Hat this week is for Ms Shaidle, who brings this insight to our attention, and who also wishes she had written this other one: "The real message is, exactly how brave do you have to be before you shut people up? This Pope is brave enough to die. There is no Islamic equivalent. Muslim fascists are brave enough to form a mob and make silly signs. If they all want to die as martyrs, wouldn't it be easier for all of them to march off a cliff, rather than blow up drunks like me in bars?"

Good question, eh?

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Days of Infamy

Image courtesy

Today we commemorate the morning, sixty-five years ago, when Japanese planes attacked Pearl Harbor in the Hawaiian Islands, destroying much of our Pacific fleet. Hawaii was not yet a state, merely a territory, but the attack was on our soil, and it was unprovoked, thus President Franklin Delano Roosevelt referred to it as "a date that will live in infamy." He asked for Congress to declare a state of war. For all the military actions in which the USA has been involved since the Big War ended in 1945, this is the last time that we have actually been at war in the formal sense of the word.

Dad was in high school at the seminary at the time. But he remembered the older boys from the minor seminary having to wear cassocks when they took the bus into town. People would think nothing of stopping to ask a man out of uniform why he wasn't in one. After all, that passerby would have a husband or a son overseas. We were all in this together. Who did this person think they were? Even after the war, after Dad left the seminary, he joined the Air Force Reserves. It wasn't that he longed for adventure or a military career. It was simply what was done. Eventually his unit was activated, and he was stationed in Germany for about a year shortly after he married Mom.

Closer to the present, the "Iraq Study Group" is recommending we set a timetable for pulling out of Iraq. Now, those who serve there are proud of the work they do, which involves more than shooting back at people who shoot them. They are working at providing humanitarian aid, rebuilding public works, and providing emergency medical care. I personally have met the man who is working to revive Boy Scouting in Iraq, a situation where Sunnis and Shiites are willing to work together rather than separately. You don't hear much about that. There is a danger that we would look like the good guys.

The problem, is seems to me, is not so much whether we went into a country which never did anything to us (other than lend support to those who did). Nor is it whether we are in the middle of a civil war (which only happens when one of the disputing parties is not part of the government, and they are in this case). No, the problem is that we as a nation never had the belly for a fight, which is the very lesson that Vietnam should have taught us. (I don't see ration cards for gasoline or groceries, do you?) We are not willing to sacrifice our prosperity at home as "the greatest generation" once did, and the privileged among us are not willing to send their own sons and daughters into the fray. Back then, even FDR's son was in uniform.

When Senator Jim Webb-elect was at the White House recently for a reception, he was asked by President Bush how his son was doing in Iraq. Webb replied that he wished the President would bring him home soon. According to the report, the President said that was not what he asked, and pressed Webb again. Webb walked away rather than do what most gentlemen would do in the face of such indignity. If the report is correct, neither showed a great deal of class. Webb could have walked away the better man, though, had he asked the President why his two younger daughters were not in uniform.

At one time, it would have been the only question worth asking, because it would have demanded an answer.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus!

Byzantine Catholic Mission of Montgomery County (MD), 2000

At least that's the Catholic answer. But he doesn't go by that name.

Nicholas was bishop of Myra, a city in Asia Minor, in the fourth century. The Catholic Encyclopedia has an entry on him, as well as the online edition of St Anthony Messenger, and, of course, Stories of his good works and miracles abound. One apocryphal account related to me by a Russian Orthodox priest is my favorite.

At the Council of Nicea, Nicholas was among the few who defended the orthodox teaching of the divinity of Christ against the Arians. At one point, he became so enraged with Arius that he smacked him right across the face. (That's right, boys and girls; jolly old Saint Nick decked a heretic.) The emperor was sympathetic toward the Arians, and had Nicholas imprisoned and held in chains. That night, the emperor had a dream. He saw Nicholas resplendent in his episcopal robes, seated on his throne, holding the book of the Gospels in one hand. Awakened with a freight, the emperor called for his guards to accompany him to the dungeon where Nicholas was being held. There he found Nicholas... you know the rest.

Pretty good story, really. But today, in many Catholic parishes, including schools, there will appear the same impostor as in our department stores. The idea of a jolly old man dressed as a bishop seems to be more than some Catholics can handle.

Is it because they have a hard time seeing St Nicholas that way, or a hard time seeing a bishop that way?


Monday, December 04, 2006

Skanks No More

Ever since I wrote about "Skanks" last week, I've been getting requests from women looking for resources for modest clothing. It's not a role to which I'm accustomed. Right, Sal?

The one Catholic women who comes to mind is Colleen Hammond, author of the book "Dressing with Dignity," as well as the weblog of the same name. Browse through her archives, but don't expect much lately; I understand she's on the mend after being hospitalized for a heart ailment. Remember her in your prayers.

The Latter-Day Saints (aka Mormons) are a significant niche market for modest wear, both for women and for men. Yes, men. Due to the wearing of sacred undergarments, even shorts have to come down to the knees. Many of their links can be found at Move4Modesty. Expect a number of references to "temple wear." Not bad if you like dressing entirely in white. Meanwhile, one Utahn has decided to venture outside the LDS market, and has founded Shade Clothing.

Finally, a site known simply as Modest Clothes (formerly Dara Marie Modest Clothing) appeals to a number of niche markets based on either culture or creed. In other words, are you going for "Plain Simple Christian," "Trendy Modest Christian," or "Catholic"? What do they mean by the latter? Mostly providers of mantillas and nuns' clothing. But one site stands out -- JMJ Modest Dress. It's more "Plain Simple" than "Trendy Modest" (and I'm sounding like an expert on haute couture already, yeah, right!) but still some attractive possibilities.

Anybody else? Oh, here we go. Ambrose recommends, a New Hampshire-based retailer which shares a parent company with Talbot's. They've got a mail-order catalog, for all you gals who don't get enough of those.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord...

Cincinnatian Rich Leonardi tells of a "typical" Sunday at St Rose Church. It is located on Eastern Ave, along the Ohio River just east of downtown. The neighborhood has seen better days, but St Rose is seeing them lately. The parish does not have a website, but you can see for yourself one of the Queen City's best kept secrets, through the panoramic photography of Ron Rack.

I didn't mention this in my earlier piece entitled "Andrew," but whenever I go home anymore, I don't usually attend the parish where I grew up. It's not that I don't want to, but it's nothing like the place I knew "back in the day." Oh, I know things change, and twenty-six years is long enough. For years after I left, they kept a place in the tenor section of the choir for me. Wasn't that nice? Still, I can do without holding hands (across the aisles, for pity's sake) during the Lord's Prayer -- as apparently the Church could do without it as well, but try telling these yokels. I could also live without the current pastor's grandstanding. They can have their love fest turned inward. As one too conscious of his own sins, and his humble place in the universe, I like my worship turned upwards, thank you very much.

Today is the First Sunday of Advent, a day that begins the liturgical year in the Western church. We are warned of the last days, and to watch for the Lord's coming. But if recent developments eminating from the Chair of Peter are any indication, there is another warning as well. In the next five to ten years, the way in which the average Catholic worships is going to change dramatically. Despite the efforts of bishops and bureaucrats to delay the inevitable, it is only a matter of time.

In the comings and goings of our daily lives, we are tempted to put off that which cannot be for long.

Prepare ye the way.

Friday, December 01, 2006

So now the first Muslim gets elected to Congress and he won't take the oath of office on a Bible? Let's say he uses the Qu'ran. Next thing you know, a Scientologist will want to use "Dianetics" and someone else will want to use his mama's cookbook. With stuff like this, you have to determine how it will end before you begin. As we close out the year, and while we still wait for those bozos on The Hill to pass the Federal budget over the course of a grueling three-day workweek, let us never forget the things for which this Republic truly stands.


Lately, Britney Spears has taken to running the party circuit with hotel-heiress-with-no-discernable-job-skills Paris Hilton, no doubt letting off some presumedly obligatory steam following a divorce from her brief and pre-nupped-out-the-wazoo marriage to some guy whose name is not worth remembering at the moment. Judging from the photos of Britney getting out of the car, she has apparently decided not to wear undergarments beneath her skirt. A colleague of mine (who probably spent too many months at sea during his misspent youth in the Navy) has obtained these photos, which are spreading across the Internet like a rash. That they leave little to the imagination does not necessarily make them a near occasion of sin, since most people look better with their clothing on than off, especially when they are not posed in a very artistic manner (to say the least). That does not excuse a prolonged examination, which they did not get from this writer. (I'll have to hold out for the real thing, preferably when married, Deo volente.)

We should not be surprised by any of this. As today's video commentary by Michelle Malkin demonstrates, these Hollywood types are not above being vulgar in public, and we are not above glorifying them with our attention. One more reason to cease watching music award shows on television, inasmuch as it is no longer about the music. And the bad example that is set, like the dung heaped along with it, runs downhill from there. Our public schools allow young girls to dress like tramps, and more than a few weenie pastors allow young female lectors to wear their skirts halfway to... well, kingdom come. The desparate-to-be-hip major retailers give little choice for modesty in casual wear, as any set of jeans worthy of fashion must have a waistline that delves ever farther below the navel. This makes it difficult to keep a shirt tucked in, assuming the shirt is long enough to be tucked in at all, thus giving us all the occasional little peek. As if we cannot generate enough excitement in our lives.

Now I know there are alternatives out there, and if enough of you take time out from reading nothing but the usual A-list blogs, I would be eternally grateful if you would submit your links to these possibilities in the comments box. They will get the attention they deserve.

And yes, Mrs Malkin has some timely woman-to-woman advice for Britney, as only a "classy dame" like Malkin can do (as she did for women everywhere in a July 2004 speech entitled "Standing up to the 'Girls Gone Wild' culture"). And yes, it does involve Britney giving consideration (albeit for once in her life) to her two small children.

This week's tip of the Black Hat definitely goes to Michelle. Mabuhay!