Friday, June 29, 2007

I was saving up for a really nice coffee table (while the rest of you are saving up for an iPhone). Now I know which one I want, and for less money than a new car! Featured here, as part of our Friday Afternoon Moment of Whimsy...

Peter and Paul

Today, the Christian world celebrates the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul. In the reformed Roman calendar, it is recognized as a solemnity, and is a holyday of obligation in many countries (if not the USA). The traditional Roman calendar notes it as a double octave of the first class.

The Church of Rome generally reserves this day for ecumenical celebrations with the Eastern Orthodox, as a sign of hope for unity between East and West. I proposed a unique approach to commemorating this feast last year, in a post entitled "Sometimes you feel like a nut..."

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Fox News was tired of talking about Paris Hilton... they attempted to engage this guy in an enlightened conversation on immigration. All it proved is what years of substance abuse can do to a man's brain.

Roll that clip!

Critical Mass: Style and Substance

This week, the Arlington Catholic Herald has come out with a staff-written piece on the role of music in various parishes of the diocese. Other blogs have already commented on it, among them The New Liturgical Movement.

The article attempts to put a nice face on the attitudes that have permeated music in Catholic worship in recent decades. While quoting from an early-1980s document of the bishops' conference that is of dubious value at this point (hence the current process of revision), the article makes absolutely no mention of the role of Gregorian chant, as spelled out in the Second Vatican Council, as having "pride of place." A token reference to our "heritage" just doesn't cut it. If, in the words of one music director, “[m]usic should unite, not divide," well, what is it about music that unites anything? If one is to believe this article, it's all about style, never mind substance.

I personally got a big kick out of this quotation:

Monica Perz-Waddington, director of music at the 11:15 a.m. Sunday Mass at Our Lady, Queen of Peace Church and the 6 p.m. Sunday liturgy at St. Charles Church, both in Arlington, said that she tries to foster participation and prayer within the gathered body of Christ by “making the music beautiful and the prayer irresistible.”

To do this, she incorporates all different styles of music, whether it’s a song from a 1970s musical, a traditional Creole tune or a re-working of “Amazing Grace.”

Oh, come on, she didn't really say "a 1970s musical," did she?

I know Monica personally, having performed with her at benefits and other events in the past. She's a real sweetheart, not an old grouch like yours truly. What she lacks in technical ability with the guitar, she more than makes up for in leadership qualities and stage presence.

Stage presence. Maybe that's the problem. It's not that she's a showoff. And I don't say this to be mean. It's just that, being up front leading the music, and being carefully crafted as a dominant personality in any worship setting, eventually it's all about the personality -- in other words, it's all about whomever that personality would be, sorry! -- as opposed to the object of our worship. (That would be God, by the way.) I'm a musician; I know these things. And having played with "folk mass" groups when I was younger, one can always tell where one is on the food chain. It's not just that some lead and others follow. It's that some are there to be seen, and others could get up and walk away and no one would notice.

Where is God on that food chain, I wonder?

The article does NOT mention some local trends that really DO matter, like the increased use of Latin, of singing the Ordinary of the Mass in plainchant, of the increased role of chant in the celebrant's prayer, and in the people's responses. (Funny how those examples didn't quite make the final draft. Hmmm...) They just got a few nice quotes from various music directors, to make it look like there's something for everybody, as if personal taste were some sort of acceptable criterion. I missed that in my reading of Sacrosanctum Concilium. Probably because it isn't there.

I'm afraid this sort of attitude is prevalent even in the Garden of Orthodoxy that is alleged to be the Diocese of Arlington. The Herald missed a great opportunity. I was very disappointed.

But not surprised. I live here, remember?

POSTSCRIPT: I suppose I should say this out of fairness. I would consider the Herald to be an outstanding example of what a Catholic diocesan periodical should be. I would say that even if the current editor, who is a fine gentleman and a true professional, had not given me the opportunity to write for him on more than one occasion during his tenure. The piece mentioned here is simply an affront to the otherwise high caliber of material to which readers of the Herald have become accustomed. The paper is capable of far better than this, and I am outraged that such nonsense is dignified in its pages, much less considered worthy of the sacred liturgy. (Broadway show tunes? ARE YOU SERIOUS???)

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Fair. Balanced. Until...

MSNBC's Mika Brzezinski makes a heroic effort to be a serious journalist, when forces beyond her control -- not to mention the view of the camera -- foil her with their evil designs, much to the amusement of Joe "Work the Pole" Scarborough.

(H/T to Allahpundit of Hot Air.)

Critical Mass: Does "Seven" Feel Lucky?

This just came across the desk of mwbh within the last hour. It could be no more significant than numerous other reports in the past year. Then again, ITV is not known to jump on every bandwagon in the blogosphere...

+ + +

June 27, 2007 -- VATICAN CITY -- Inside the Vatican has learned that Pope Benedict XVI intends to publish his motu proprio on the old Mass on July 7, 2007.

The report comes from the Vatican correspondent for the German newspaper
Die Welt, Paul Badde. He reports today that the motu proprio liberating the Tridentine Mass for the entire Catholic Church has been given to about 30 bishops from all over the world in the Sala Bologna of the Apostolic Palace by Vatican Secretary of State Tarcisio Cardinal Bertone.

The bishops had come to Rome precisely for this meeting.

At the end of the meeting, in which the motu proprio was introduced together with a letter of explanation by Pope Benedict XVI, Pope Benedict met with the bishops.

The document is about three pages long, the accompanying letter about four.

From Germany, Cardinal Lehmann had been invited.

The circumstances of the procedure make clear that the Pope was very interested to personally inform the bishops, in collegial manner, of the content rather than from the media. The publication of both documents will take place on July 7th.

It emphasizes the unity of the Roman Rite which will consist of an ordinary and an extraordinary form which are supposed to inspire each other. The ordinary/regular form will continue to be the new rite of 1969. The extraordinary form will be the Missal of Blessed John XXIII of 1962.

The German news service has picked up this story, and you can find it at this link:

+ + +

Father Zuhlsdorf observes: "It is clear from the way this was done that the Holy Father wanted to make sure that bishops got this document in this way, rather than having to read about it in the paper. I assume that what will happen now is that these bishops, if they are heads of conferences, will return home and distribute the document to the bishop members of the conference."

Meanwhile, to tide us over, Rorate Caeli has a partial translation. And Shawn Tribe provides further analysis, as well as the official English translation of the Vatican Information Service release.

We have been given reports of an imminent release numerous times in the past year. This is the most reliable report to date, given the distribution of the decree itself, however limited. Stay tuned...

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

All I Want For Christmas

We've all heard of "Christmas in April" fundraisers and "Christmas in July" department store sales. There may be more to it than a sales pitch.

Michael E Lawrence of The New Liturgical Movement reflects on the recent celebration of the Nativity of St John the Baptist on the 24th of June. Essentially, his Feast was once a sort of "Summer Christmas." This might explain the rise of a "Midsummer's Eve" in days of yore: "[O]n this day--not December 25--the Christmas plays were held. This is because these plays would have been performed outside, and never inside the church. December was, of course, too cold a month in which to hold these plays outdoors, so they were transferred to the nearest relevant feast in agreeable weather." From that date forward until the winter solstice and the birth of Christ, the days grow shorter and the nights longer, just as John said of His Lord: "He must increase and I must decrease."

At the risk of putting a hex on the matter, it is possible that a Christmas wish of mine was granted last Saturday night. You see, I didn't want to be famous for anything, whether for writing this stuff or for playing music. I always said I would settle for a mild local or regional cult following, which is about as much noteriety as I can personally handle, without making a jackass of myself, or having to hire guys with double-breasted suits and no necks who could... you get the idea. Now then, my son has told his friends (mostly in their early twenties) quite a bit about his old man. How he managed to embellish these accounts is beyond me, but they have piqued a certain curiosity. Some of them read my weblog. One of them reads it every day. She's reading it right now. (Gotcha!)

Anyway, I was at the Jammin' Java in Vienna, Virginia last weekend, where Paul hangs out and, when he stands in one place long enough, they get him to tend bar. The headliner that night was Tom Morello, aka "The Nightwatchman," also the guitarist/singer for Rage Against The Machine. I decided without warning to make an appearance. Paul has a lot of really great friends, and it was just awesome to meet all of them and talk to them. I thought it would be hard to blend in, being over fifty and all. But I was never the conventional "dad" anyway. I've gotten comfortable with being my own age and being my damn self at the same time. So I don't have to be "down" with the young people, or remind them too much of their own parents. At least it seems that way.

One of them asked me why I didn't update my picture on this page. I told him the first thought that came to my head -- that my beard had turned grey and I was still in denial. And so, with a Tip of the Black Hat to "the gang" at the JJ, the man behind mwbh has a more recent profile shot, replacing the legendary 2000 mug with a more recent one from 2004. I'm shown sitting in with a zydeco dance band outside of Baltimore, back when I could still get away with that sort of thing.

By the way, you guys, Paul used to hang with me at some of those dances. He even played the blues harp with such legends as Roy Carrier. Here he is now, puttin' on the moves.

Yeah, you right!

March 2003, Catonsville MD, by Alex Poliakoff. Used without permission or shame.
March 2003, Catonsville MD, by Alex Poliakoff. Used without permission or shame.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Surf's Up!

Now that summer is here, most of us can't wait to hit the beach, even if it means being tempted by the many near occasions of sin that will be prancing up and down the sands, just begging the male of the species to trip all over himself.

I may be exaggerating a bit.

As an art student thirty years ago, I had my share of drawing classes with live models. Yes, Virgina, they were naked. I remember my first. (Every boy does.) It was my sophomore year, when "Drawing I" was required through the Fine Arts Department. Once the robe was off, the room was silent, and nothing was left to the imagination. During the break on that first occasion, the gals all kept to themselves. Hmmm...

Someone once said that most people look better with their clothes on than off. I have had occasion in my travels, to participate in folk dance weekends, which are the realm of the more footloose-and-fancy-free among us. Invariably, a dip in the lake becomes "clothing optional" for those so inclined. Those who indulge are generally aging hippie males with big guts and little... else to show for it.

But that won't be a problem with the women of Islam, no sir! Not since the arrival of the "burkini." The London Daily Mail reports on the latest fashion trend: "Schools have been told they should allow Muslim girls taking swimming lessons to cover themselves from head to toe in special outfits dubbed burkinis... An increasing number of pupils are insisting that conventional swimming costumes are 'immodest' and, citing religious grounds, have been refusing to wear them." Perhaps the apparel will gain a following among Catholic and Christian homeschool families. You have to admit, this is a fair sight better than wearing something that somebody's grandma would have worn in the early sixties.

The suit as shown here is made of Lycra, and the cost is listed at 29 pounds sterling, or about 60 to 65 dollars US.


Friday, June 22, 2007

Note to Paul: If you're going to begin studying game art and design at the Art Institute next month, you're going to have to work on your drawing skills. This exercise should get you started.

Anything I can do to help, son.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Some people have something to say...

...while others have to say something.

Thus began the weblog known as man with black hat, five years ago today.

Moses went up to the mountain
To see what he could see
Well he come down talking 'bout a burning bush
Says 'This is how it's gonna be'
He's scared to death
You know the rest.

I started wearing an "outback" style hat about twenty years ago; similar to a fedora, but with a wider brim. The colors varied, but a black one never failed to elicit favorable comments from complete strangers. I wish I could give you some Johnny-Cash-man-in-black mystique about it all, but it really comes down to what got the right kind of attention. When I obtained a Yahoo! e-mail address in 2001, I chose the moniker "manwithblackhat." (People ask me why I didn't make it "man IN black hat." At the time, I wanted something with the same ring to it as "Dances With Wolves." How's that?)

By the start of this decade -- or this century, or this millennium, whatever -- I had already written for the Arlington Catholic Herald, Catholic World Report, The Saint Catherine Review, and TCR News. My name started being recognized by other Catholic writers. But then it just stopped. I reached an impasse of sorts, one that I really cannot explain.

Columbus went down to the ocean
In 1492
He said 'Boys, I'm looking for India
But America will do'
Sailed to the west
You know the rest.

Five years ago, the Catholic blogs which got the most attention were written by those whose reputations had already been established in the print or broadcast media. This should not have been unexpected. The first stars of television, to give an example, were those who had already been successful in radio and Hollywood. If the winners of the last Catholic Blog Awards are any indication, however, the trend is slowly starting to change. Not as much as it should, if you ask me. But one thing that is happening is the emergence of "niche blogs," like "The New Liturgical Movement" and "Musings of a Pertinacious Papist" and most recently, collective efforts like "Catholic Restorationists." These sites don't pretend to be for everybody. They don't have to. But aficionados of liturgical studies, of philosophy, or of "the culture wars," find a home in these places. They have built up quite a following in their own right.

Davey Crockett went out to Texas
To fight at the Alamo
Old Will Travis never told him
Texas is in Mexico
It's a bloody mess
You know the rest.

That year of Our Lord 2002 also saw the outbreak of scandals from amidst the clergy of the Boston Archdiocese. While the scandals themselves were not new, Boston provided a catalyst for new voices, whether for good or ill. Many of them discovered the internet, and a mechanism known as the "weblog," or simply, the "blog." I started out as a guest writer for a couple of them. Then I was being urged to start my own. I saw that there were a few successful writers to whom others turned for all things Catholic, and since I was planning on keeping my day job, I knew I couldn't be one of them. So I had to be someone else. I also knew that once I started, I had to be someone upon whom people could depend for a certain level of insight. It was not enough to parrot what the next guy was saying (an unfortunate tendency among political blogs, for example). It was also not enough to find an audience; I had to keep them. Back then, I knew of prominent bloggers who are now no longer so prominent, or have disappeared altogether. So I considered the prospect that I might eventually run out of things to say. Those who know me have assured me otherwise. Hmmm...

Robert Johnson went down to the crossroads
A guitar in his hands
Well, the devil had him a guitar, too
He says 'This is what you need man,
You can be the best'
You know the rest.

I have no wish to be "famous" for this. I don't have the time, and after five years, I've run out of patience waiting for EWTN to call for an interview. They'd probably make me lose the hat and put on a tie and cardigan or something, so who needs 'em? I'm not exactly the RC-poster-boy type anyway. And yet, to believe in anything worth living for -- or dying for, in the most extreme cases -- has always been about more than appearances. I believe my readers have sense enough to know that, and that such awareness compels them to take time out from reading the two or three "Catholic blogs" that everyone else reads, and that books on internet evangelizing can't stop mentioning, just to read what is being said here. They realize, as my colleague Thomas Storck has said, that being Catholic is more than simply avoiding sin and attaining virtue. It is a way of viewing the world, and one's place in it.

In the last year, my readership has gone up markedly. Now, a hundred viewers a day is not much by the standards of the Catholic blogosphere. But it's a steady readership, and I'm often pleasantly surprised to learn who reads this page on a regular basis. I am always pleasantly surprised by the private e-mails I receive, often by those who have been affected in some positive way by what I've written, or who have a question or need a referral in a particular subject matter. Even some of my son's friends read this page. A few of them read it every day. (Hi, guys.) From the offset, I knew I could never be a major "player," a complete source of news in any particular field of interest. My day job keeps me very busy, and my life in real time does the same. I've even gone back to college part-time.

Well this song ain't got no reason
Hell this song barely rhymes
Well it come to me when I was asleep
And it wakes me up sometimes
I can't get no rest...

Which brings us to the future. In the coming week, there will be two additional entries to give thanks to my Maker, for getting me this far in cyberspace. "The First Five Years" will be a listing of fifty entries (or one hundred, if I'm on a roll), which in my humble estimation, best exemplify the mission I have undertaken. "The Next Five Years" will be a review of how this site might change in the near future, in an effort to continue in that mission, as "the daily musings..." know the rest. -- Steve Earle

Washington DC, 2000

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Overheard... The Boar's Head Tavern:

"Well ya see, Norm, it's like this... A herd of buffalo can only move as fast as the slowest buffalo. And when the herd is hunted, it is the slowest and weakest ones at the back that are killed first. This natural selection is good for the herd as a whole, because the general speed and health of the whole group keeps improving by the regular killing of the weakest members. In much the same way, the human brain can only operate as fast as the slowest brain cells. Excessive intake of alcohol, as we know, kills brain cells. But naturally, it attacks the slowest and weakest brain cells first. In this way, regular consumption of beer eliminates the weaker brain cells, making the brain a faster and more efficient machine. That's why you always feel smarter after a few beers." -- Cliff Clavin, Cheers

A Kennedy Scorned

Joe Kennedy and Sheila Rauch Kennedy in 1985. Richard Sobol/Time Life Pictures/Getty. Used without permission or shame.
Joe Kennedy and Sheila Rauch Kennedy in 1985. Richard Sobol/Time Life Pictures/Getty. Used without permission or shame.

The big story for the week came across the desk of mwbh last night: a member of the Kennedy family didn't get their way:

The most controversial "marriage that never was" in recent U.S. political history is back. Sources tell TIME that the Vatican has reversed the annulment of Joseph P Kennedy II's marriage to Sheila Rauch. The annulment had been granted in secrecy by the Catholic Church after the couple's 1991 no-fault civil divorce. Rauch found out about the de-sanctification of their marriage only in 1996, after Kennedy had been wedded to his former Congressional aide, Beth Kelly, for three years....

Shiela Rauch Kennedy, an Episcopalian, is the author of the 1997 book Shattered Faith, "which lambasted her ex-husband and was severely critical of the Catholic Church's proceedings, which made the marriage (which had produced twin boys) null and void in the eyes of the church. Rauch argued that Kennedy was able to unilaterally 'cancel' nearly 12 years of marriage because of his clan's influence in the church." She was able to appeal the decision of the Boston tribunal to the Sacred Roman Rota, which is the high court of appeals in the Church (second only to the Apostolic Signatura, the decisions of which can only be overturned by the Holy Father himself).

Those Catholics who have been going on for years about the "automatic annulment" process in the USA, will see this as a victory of sorts. Never mind the inability to explain how a process that takes from six to twenty-four months can ever be considered "automatic." Never mind that they reach this conclusion based on a very incomplete scenario. The latter was the subject of a November 2005 piece entitled "The X Factor," as well as a more recent piece in June 2006 entitled "Meow!.")

The formerly-former-now-not-so-former Mrs Kennedy is pleased with the results. "There was a real marriage. It was a marriage that failed, but as grown-ups we need to take responsibility for that. The [annulment] process was dishonest, and it was important to stand up and say that."

I believe it was G K Chesterton who once said, that having a right to do something does not always mean you are right when you do it. Even as a non-Catholic, Sheila Rauch Kennedy was entitled to the justice of the Church, particularly in the defense of the bond. But one cannot help but wonder why anyone who remains outside the Church would even care, particularly if there is no intention of living out the conditions of the bond, which by definition includes... well, living together as husband and wife, for example.

Does this leave us with a woman grounded in principle, or a woman scorned? Hell hath no fury, after all, don't you think?

Or don't you?

[UPDATE: Ed Peters is an eminent canonist, who tells us "what we don't know about the Kennedy-Rausch case." Read it before making this the subject of YOUR next book-signing-and-lecture tour.]

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Life With Father

Today I assisted Father (for Father's Day, no less) at the Old Latin Mass. For the first time since I can remember in a public venue, I did so alone.

The ideal for a regular traditional Mass is two altar servers -- the first acolyte, who takes "the bell," and the second acolyte, who takes "the book" -- but it is possible for only one to do a Low Mass. The server takes his position opposite wherever the missal is on the altar. In other words, when the missal is on the Epistle side (the south, or to the right while viewing the altar), the server takes his station at the foot of the steps on the Gospel side (the north, or to the viewer's left). And vice versa.

But the real trick happens after communion. "Retired" altar boys know exactly what I mean...

After assisting the priest in purifying the sacred vessels with the water and wine, the server must ascend the steps on the Epistle side and retrieve the chalice veil, walk down the steps at the middle, genuflect, walk back up and fold the veil within reach of the priest on the Gospel side. As the priest begins to redress the chalice, the server takes the missal and its stand, descends the steps at the middle, genuflects, goes up the middle toward the Epistle side and places the missal to the priest's right. The server must then walk down the side steps, taking the long way around the altar, genuflecting in the center (a third time), then taking the long way back up the side steps on the Gospel side, arriving in time to assist the priest in folding the corporal (the white cloth upon which the Sacred Host is rested in the middle of the altar), and placing it in the burse (an ornate cloth-covered folding card that functions as a purse). Only after all that does the server return to his station at the foot of the altar on the Gospel side -- after genuflecting in the middle, for a fourth time.

On top of that, you can't look as if you're in a hurry. (Whew!)

The rest of the day got easier. I visited my son the bartender out in the suburbs, who treated me to a light lunch while I got to watch him at his craft. After that I joined "Sal" and members of her family for a baptism celebration for her niece's son. Then on the way home, we visited an old buddy of mine from way back. After over an hour of talking trash and solving the problems of the world, I returned home.

And started writing.

Sermon for Shut-Ins: Ordinary Time XI

He said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”
The others at table said to themselves,
“Who is this who even forgives sins?”
But he said to the woman,
“Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
-- Luke 7:36—8:3

His Eminence Justin Cardinal Rigali, Archbishop of Philadelphia, reflects on this Sunday's gospel story of Jesus' mercy and forgiveness.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Who's your daddy?

Whoever he is, be sure to remember him this Sunday.

Critical Mass: Imminent Developments

Here we go again.

Reports have been circulating for months now, that the "motu proprio" (a declaration made by the Holy Father on his own initiative, rather than through one of his curial departments) allowing more generous use of the 1962 Missale Romanum -- the Roman Missal as it appeared prior to Vatican II, or the "Tridentine Mass" -- was approved, signed, sealed, and about to be delivered in the various languages. Rorate Caeli, which takes great pride in only reporting on the most reliable and authoritative sources in these matters, jumped right on a report from "the famous and credible Italian website of Papal news Petrus," that Pope Benedict would release the decree before leaving for his summer holiday at Castel Gandalfo on July 9. With confirmations from other outlets of the European press, they treat it as a dramatic new development -- as they have with all the others before it in the past year.

People have already been personally told by Pope Benedict in private audience, that the decree would be released on such-and-such a day or month, and that day or month has come and gone. Everybody knows this, including those who can barely contain their excitement every time an interview with someone "famous and credible" hits the Italian press.

Sorry, kids, but the only real news here, is that there is no news. Just another potential announcement date. "Potential" means just that, and nothing else, until the "famous and credible" document is actually released. Until that happens, a little background...

Vatican watchers have confided that this Pope is not known for his administrative prowess. He is a scholar by temperament and training, who would just as soon be back home in Regensberg writing and teaching, as opposed to overseeing the lethargic three-ring circus that is the Roman Curia. But unlike his predecessor, who was said to have the same limitations, this one knows it well enough to put people in key positions who are able to compensate. (Cardinal Bertone's recent appointment as Secretary of State is a case in point.) In addition, there has been a problem with the proper translation of Latin texts, which are the official versions of any decrees originating from the Holy See. Certain key phrases that have a certain forcefulness, are often diluted in translation. (An example is the post-synodal exhortation on the Eucharist, Sacramentum Caritatis, the English version of which has already been cited for a number of significant errors. That translation, and possibly others, is in the process of revision.) As a result -- not to mention some good old-fashioned Vatican intrigue and inter-departmental haggling -- the translation process may be taking longer than usual.

Now, there's one more thing...

A major bone of contention with the motu proprio, is the provision that a priest can use the classical missal without requiring the approval of the local bishop. This is not a problem for people who have deluded themselves into believing that parish priests are like cowboys who can ride into town and shoot 'em up any which way they want. Anyone who ever spent a day studying ecclesiology, if they're really honest with themselves, doesn't buy it. But how does a Pope allow for more generosity in worship, without defying the legitimate role of a bishop as chief liturgical officer of his diocese and successor to the apostles?

This brings me to my theory...

The Pope has been contacting bishops in various parts of the world, in an attempt to reason with them for the proper spirit of cooperation. At least that's what's reported. I think it's going more like this:

"Look, guys, we can this the easy way or the hard way. The easy way is that you facilitate the training of celebrating the Old Mass, for any priest under your obedience who desires it, and that you minimize any impediments to the regular and convenient celebration of the same. The hard way is that I release any priest of the Latin Rite throughout the world from any accountability to their bishops, as to which form of the Roman Missal they decide to use, publicly or privately. So, what's it gonna be, fellas?"

Now, that's my theory and I'm stickin' to it! It doesn't seem too far fetched either. As this is written, arrangements for a priest of the Fraternity of Saint Peter to come to the Arlington Diocese and conduct workshops for priests, are already being made by our bishop, who from what we know -- bless his heart -- was likely to have required some persuasion for this degree of solicitude.

In the event of this action's fulfillment, a Tip of the Black Hat is being reserved for him. Just in case.

[UPDATE: On Sunday the 17th, Rorate Caeli reported on yet another confirmation of the inevitable, one which managed to disclose some early history of the upcoming decree, thus actually adding to the conversation. I never said it couldn't happen. As always, stay tuned...]

In corde Jesu

Image courtesy Fisheaters.comToday, Catholics of the Western tradition celebrate the Feast of the Sacred Heart.

Outside of devotions to the Blessed Virgin Mary, there is none more popular or more identified with the traditional piety of Catholic life, than this feast that occurs on the Friday of the week following the Feast of Corpus Christi. It was on that earlier solemnity that a Novena to the Sacred Heart began, culminating in the Mass and Office of today.

"Christ's open side and the mystery of blood and water were meditated upon, and the Church was beheld issuing from the side of Jesus, as Eve came forth from the side of Adam. It is in the eleventh and twelfth centuries that we find the first unmistakable indications of devotion to the Sacred Heart. Through the wound in the side, the wound Heart was gradually reached, and the wound in the Heart symbolized the wound of love." (1917 Catholic Encyclopedia)

There were various monastic communities who took up the devotion, but the real tip of the biretta has always gone to St Margaret Mary Alacoque (1647-90), a Visitation nun who had a vision. While praying before the Blessed Sacrament, she saw Our Lord with his heart beating openly, and the sight of it all sent her into a spell of ecstasy. "He disclosed to me the marvels of his Love and the inexplicable secrets of his Sacred Heart." To say the least.

But perhaps the finest explanation of this vision can be found in an episode of The X-Files, a detective series that ran on The Fox Network for nine years, and to this day has a formidable cult following. It is from the series' sixth season, and is entitled "Milagro" (6X18). It originally aired on April 18, 1999. It seems there were people being murdered by their hearts being removed by hand. FBI Special Agent Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) visited this Catholic church, and coming across the image of the Sacred Heart, she runs into this creepy guy who explains the story behind the image to her. A piece of the dialogue, from the mysterious writer named Philip Padgett (John Hawkes), describes a vision:

"I often come here to look at this painting. It's called 'My Divine Heart' after the miracle of Saint Margaret Mary. Do you know the story... The revelation of the Sacred Heart? Christ came to Margaret Mary, his heart so inflamed with love that it was no longer able to contain its burning flames of charity. Margaret Mary... so filled with divine love herself, asked the Lord to take her heart... and so he did, placing it alongside his until it burned with the flames of his passion. Then he restored it to Margaret Mary, sealing her wound with the touch of his blessed hand."

His account portrays an almost sensuous quality to the Saint's reaction to this vision, in a way I have read or heard no where else. And just when we thought the influence of Christendom had faded from the popular culture. Hope breeds eternal...

A common practice in many Catholic homes until the mid-20th century (including mine), was the "Enthronement of the Sacred Heart," in which the family placed the appropriate image of Christ on the wall, and together recited the necessary prayers, pledging the consecration of the family and the home to Him, in return for special graces. Fisheaters has a good explanation of the whole she-bang, just in case it makes a comeback.

It could happen.

(The preceding is an expansion of an essay that was posted at this time last year. Image is provided courtesy of, and is used without permission or shame.)

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Today, my parents in Ohio commemorated their fifty-fifth wedding anniversary. The event passed without incident. They did not appear to mind.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Congratulations, it's a...

A dog has become a local celebrity in a Chinese village after she reportedly gave birth to a kitten. (Ananova)

This just in from Ananova:

Hua Chengpeng, of Huayang village, Jiangyan city, told People's Daily that the unlikely animal was the third "puppy" in his pet's litter.

"The first two puppies the dog produced were both normal, but when the third baby came, the whole family was very surprised to see a cat-like creature. It is a cat, not a dog at all," he said.

Local residents have been flocking to his house to see the "kitten" which local vets say is really a puppy which looks like a cat because of a gene mutation. It apparently yaps like a puppy.

Hua says his son brought the dog home from Liaoning city, where he had been working, a year ago.


Jesus is just all, right?

Then the sad drunk at the end of the bar roused from his slumber and spoke to them in parables, saying thus:

The kingdom of heaven is like a drunken man walking down the railroad tracks at night. His foot caught on a spike that had pulled up out of one of the ties, and he fell across the tracks. As he landed, he dragged his hand across the tie, and got a splinter in one of his fingers.

Then a train came along, and ran over him, cutting off his legs. The engineer saw him too late to stop, but he radioed for help. A Paramedic was nearby, heard the call on his scanner, and drove over to help.

When the Paramedic arrived, he rushed over to the drunken man to lash a tourniquet around the stumps of his legs. But before he could begin, the drunken man grabbed him by the arm, and said, "Thank God you’re here! Look at this splinter! I hope you’ve got tweezers; this thing is killing me."

Those who have ears, let them hear.

-- from the Gospel according to Jim Nicholson of The Boar's Head Tavern

Monday, June 11, 2007


A selection of images from Baltimore's "Little Italy." Courtesy of Used without permission or shame.)

I have a dream of one day moving to Baltimore, and buying a townhouse in the heart of Little Italy. I could probably afford it, but if it's anything like Georgetown, I'd probably have to buddy up to the right people. Not that anyone discriminates outright, mind you, but somehow it still comes down to who you know. Still, a man can dream. I'd probably be active at Saint Leo's on Exeter Street, help the good Father train the altar servers, maybe call bingo at the annual festival that takes over the streets about this time of year.

Did I mention I'm not the least bit Italian?

Some friends of mine are, though. And two of them grew up in New Jersey. So I know the deal, to some extent. I know that not everybody belongs to "the mob." But something like it is a reality in some old neighborhoods. It's not as if they're all killers. But in some ethnic enclaves (and I'm not just talking about Italians here), there's a guy who's always the "go-to guy" for getting things taken care of, one who is the primary benefactor of the local... er, uh, Benevolent Association, yeah, that's it. Like when if a man dies and leaves behind a widow, this pillar of the community takes it upon himself to ensure that "voluntary" contributions are taken up for the widow and her family. Of course, eventually you might have need of the same assistance, in which case one hand washes the other.

It is the excesses of this arrangement that become romanticized, to the point of a series on HBO known as "The Sopranos." Now, as much of a devotee of high-option cable as I am, I draw the line at the "premium channels." Who has time to watch movies all day? But the season finale of this coveted saga was last night, and the world watched to see who would "get whacked," and how.

I understand it wasn't pretty. The old salt who holds court at The Captain's Quarters is the "go-to guy" to learn more.

(At times like this, I really miss Jack.)

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Sermon for Shut-Ins: Corpus Christi

[T]aking the five loaves and the two fish,
and looking up to heaven,
he said the blessing over them, broke them,
and gave them to the disciples
to set before the crowd.
They all ate and were satisfied.
-- Luke 9:11b-17

His Eminence Justin Cardinal Rigali, Archbishop of Philadelphia, reflects on the Eucharist and the needs of others on Corpus Christi (the celebration of which in most places is transferred from the previous Thursday). Includes footage from a Corpus Christi procession in Philadelphia.

Friday, June 08, 2007

With the end of another academic term, and a break for the summer, I've been taking stock of my remaining course work. When I earned my Bachelor of Science in Design at the University of Cincinnati in 1978, I had completed a variety of liberal arts classes. But mathematics wasn't one of them. So the folks at the Art Institute have informed me that I must take a math class to earn my degree. My choices appear to be either "Ideas of Mathematics" or "College Geometry." (Hey, can someone tell me why geometry is often taught as part of a philosophy curriculum?)

Meanwhile, as part of our Friday Afternoon Moment of Whimsy, Ma and Pa Kettle take a few minutes out of their busy schedule... to do the math.

Why Should We Care?

We shouldn't, really. In fact, I'm embarrassed just writing this.

But what matters here is that, amidst all that is going on in the world, with the serious issues facing this country both now and in the coming election year, and with all the unsung heroes of our time who make their part of the world a better place, the cable news channels today are focused almost exclusively on a public figure, whose only claims to fame are that she is heiress to a huge fortune, and that she has no discernible career skills. (Please, don't tell me she's a singer.)

Now, living in a town like Washington, one learns that there are two kinds of heirs to fortunes; those who continue the legacy that brought their families such wealth, and those who squander it until there is little or nothing left. It is a sad thing to watch, as the young prodigals awake to find their friends gone, their money spent, and creditors at the door. A dynasty created by the sweat of others' brows, is brought down by those who never break one in their lives.

We were told by the celebrity in question, that imprisonment would be some sort of transforming, life-changing experience. We may never know. Meanwhile, a little-known aspect of this saga has emerged at a website called "gossiplist dot com." It seems that our subject has adopted a posture for the cameras that remains relatively stable, whatever the time of day or circumstance. This may be the only stabilizing force in her life that is truly of her own making.

Which may have been the "transforming, life-changing experience" she had sought all along, don't you think?

Or don't you?

Thursday, June 07, 2007

School Days

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

I'm wrapping up things at the Art Institute this week. I expect my performance this quarter will be rated average. It'll drag down my GPA a bit (currently at 3.7), but it's been a disappointment all around anyway. Things in web design/development have changed so much in the last three years (a subject covered in "Got Style?") that I've spent more effort getting caught up than on JavaScript itself. Someday I'll actually get the hang of the latter. I could choose to continue my studies into the summer quarter, but I always take that time off. I use it to do the things I can't do when I'm in school -- things like, oh, buy a house, fix up the house, maybe take a vacation from the house.

Of course, my being away for that time will work out fabulously for one student who's starting out that quarter. Paul has also been accepted into the Art Institute, and will major in Game Art and Design.

Now, a lot of people have a mistaken impression of the field, assuming it is devoted entirely to mind-numbing entertainment for aging adolescent males. In the current state of affairs, that is more true than false. But it is changing, as other possibilities for interactive media emerge in the mainstream.

One example crossed my desk recently. An architect wanted consultation on hiring a web design firm. He wanted to create an interactive site that would help a client use available options to outfit an interior office space as an efficient workplace, using principles developed as part of "sustainable design." That's the buzz word these days, and both a Flash-based and CAD-based environment would facilitate that. Problem is, most web design firms are not equipped to create such a three-dimensional environment with CAD, and would probably subcontract a segment of the project to a game design or architectural firm. That's probably why the initial bids went through the roof.

We'll have to stay tuned on that one.

Pange Lingua Gloriosi

Pange, lingua, gloriosi
Corporis mysterium,
Sanguinisque pretiosi,
quem in mundi pretium
fructus ventris generosi
Rex effudit Gentium.

Sing, my tongue, the Savior's glory,
of His flesh the mystery sing;
of the Blood, all price exceeding,
shed by our immortal King,
destined, for the world's redemption,
from a noble womb to spring.

Today, the Church commemorates the Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ, also known as "Corpus Christ." (In the old calendar, the devotion was limited to the Real Presence in the Sacred Host. The Feast of the Precious Blood was reserved for the first of July.) Last year, mwbh devoted a piece to this celebration, one entitled "Sing my tongue, the Savior's glory!" More information can be found at Fisheaters.

In many parts of the world, including North America, the Feast is transferred to the following Sunday, a practice also indulged in the classical observance, but increasingly common in that of the reformed.

This year, mwbh is pleased to provide two clips showing the celebration around the globe. The first is from Sydney, Australia; the second, from Valencia, Spain. As you can see, the custom has become quite a festive occasion over the centuries.

Which should only prove that real Catholics know how to party!

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

If D-Day Were Today...

...this is probably how the mainstream media would report it.

Stay tuned for the reality check at the end.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Carrie Tomko the author of a little-known Catholic blog Still Running Off at the Keyboard. Very much a traditionalist at heart, there was a bit of original thinking to her writings, much of which I found in my inbox. You see, she was better known to some of us in the Catholic blogosphere as a commenter and correspondent. Her wit has an edge to it, her cynicism a ray of hope.

Yesterday, our Pertinacious Papist brought to our attention that she is suffering from cancer. He also observes a deep melancholy that appears to have crept into her life, as manifest in her writings on the state of the Church today.

I can still remember my father's discovery that he had multiple sclerosis. I was a sophomore in high school at the time. In the several years that followed, he went from struggling to accept his limitations, to anger and despair, to quiet resignation. There was occasional discord in the household, and the discontent of a man previously accustomed to being master of his surroundings, only having to surrender to the inevitable. It also took its toll on my mother, who over the course of several years, had to face the prospect of a twilight in their years together, that would be quite different than that for which she had hoped. But through grace and perseverance, they have prevailed. They are cared for, in their own home, by devoted children. They have their lawn mowed and flower gardens tended by equally devoted grandsons. Last month, they held their first great-grandchild. On the fourteenth of this month, they will quietly celebrate their fifty-fifth wedding anniversary.

Lately, I have been reading Shadowlands, namely the script to the stage play by William Nicholson, about the lives together of writer C S Lewis and Helen Joy Davidman. The play opens with Lewis delivering a lecture to his audience:

"God creates us free, free to be selfish, but He adds a mechanism that will penetrate our selfishness and wake us up to the presence of others in the world, and that mechanism is called suffering. To put it in another way, pain is God's megaphone to rouse a deaf world. Why must it be pain? Why can't He wake us more gently, with violins or laughter? Because the dream from which we must be awakened is the dream that all is well.

"Now that is the most dangerous illusion of them all. Self-sufficiency is the enemy of salvation. If you are self-sufficient, you have no need of God. If you have no need of God, you do not seek Him. If you do not seek Him, you will not find Him.

"God loves us, so He makes us the gift of suffering. Through suffering, we release our hold on the toys of this world, and know our true good lies in another world.

"We're like blocks of stone, out of which the sculptor carves the forms of men. The blows of His chisel, which hurt us so much, are what make us perfect. The suffering of this world is not the failure of God's love for us; it is that love in action.

"For believe me, this world that seems to us so substantial is no more than the shadowlands. Real life has not begun yet."

(Excerpt from Shadowlands, by William Nicholson, 1990, Penguin Books USA, New York City.)

We must become the good we expect in the world, and in the Church as well. As a communion of souls on our way to Heaven, we occasionally pause to lift up the fallen, and their spirits as well, that they may press on. We might wish the same for ourselves. To that end, our sister Carrie gets this week's highly-esteemed Tip of the Black Hat, as will be remembered in the prayers of her fellow-parishioners of "Saint Blog's Parish" in the days to come.

Viva Cristo Rey.

Approaching Five

Later this month, man with black hat will celebrate its fifth anniversary. It will be preceded (if I can ever get my act together) by several reflective posts.

There will be a look at the clerical sex abuse scandals, five years after the story broke in Boston. It will reflect on what went wrong, and will offer a SIMPLE explanation of why it happened, as opposed to the complicated ones you pay good money for at book-signings and lectures. It will also explain why the laity are partially to blame.

Also included will be a retrospective of the twenty-five (or fifty, if we're on a roll) posts which are considered the best that mwbh has had to offer since the beginning.

This celebration would not be complete without a self-indulgent piece devoted to that fascinating human being who is "the man in the black hat." Sort of a "then and now" thing.

And as if that were not enough, there will be a series entitled "The Summer of Love." Upon discovering a number of video clips from folk and popular recording artists of the mid- and late-1960s, it was decided to feature one each week for the remainder of the summer. Particular attention will be given to those clips which were first seen live by yours truly, and the reaction to them at the time. Some will be shown in living color, even though the Alexander household was too cheap to indulge in any more than black-and-white at the time.

The above requires some preparation, so blogging over the next week will be light.

Friday, June 01, 2007

For this week's Friday Afternoon Moment of Whimsy, can you guess the identity of the Jesuit showing his less serious side in this video? If you can, you don't get a prize; you just get to watch.

(He's not too bad, actually.)


So, let's review...

If you want secure borders, as did the founding Fathers, as does any sovereign nation throughout recorded history, you "don't want to do what's right for America."

Peggy Noonan begs to differ. So do I.

It was thirty forty years ago today...

...that the Beatles introduced this recording, and with it, the idea of the "concept album." The premise was not that it be a mere collection of songs, but one where each was part of the greater whole. They had given up on touring two years earlier, and the idea of seeing them on the screen only lent to an emerging image of elusiveness. I still don't get most of the lyrics. (Probably the drug thing. No wonder I never became a songwriter.) But it doesn't matter now; they made history.