April 29, 2005

Links

Fr. McCloskey offers recommendations for 2005 reading and suggests what can be done for Charlotte Simmons ...
My Two Cents Adjusted For Inflation

Tom of Disputations has an interesting post on St. Catherine of Sienna and how it was her zeal for God that set her apart, not her asceticism.

Many of the saints seem to have a fondness for asceticism and suffering, but that fondness is only that those things provided a means to God, rather than as ends in themselves. And those means were God-appointed rather than self-appointed, meaning "your results may vary".

One thinks of the cruel nun in the '40s film "Song of Bernadette" as an example of someone who was ascetic with disastrous consequences. Better she'd been a lush. Perhaps she wanted to be holy for her own sake, not for Christ's, and that is unfortunately one of the many tedious traps in which we fall. I'm getting this secondhand but word on the street is that the during the '40s and '50s that cruel nun would not be unfamiliar figure in the Church.
B-I-N-G-O

Your cubby reporter had the pleasure of working undercover last night as a volunteer at bingo. And I was fascinated by this little subculture of America. Somebody should do a documentary.

I learned that these folks are addicted to bingo, which is on par with being addicted to oh, say, dental visits. Well that's a stretch but certainly I had no idea that bingo is to gamblers what karaoke is to wannabe singers. They don't go to bingo once a week, they go every night to a different bingo hall.

And they bring stuff with them. They bring little totems. Good luck charms presumably, for they are by and large a superstitious lot. Some set up pictures of children and grandchildren. Many line up outside the doors at 5pm even though bingo doesn't start till 7. They want their lucky seat and to enjoy the ambience that is bingo.

Not all are so addicted. Some play one bingo card and never buy any of the "instant winner" lottery tickets. They simply want a night out of the house and it's better than sitting in front of the glass teat. I'm always impressed, perhaps misguidedly, by hobbyists such as these folk. Play is garlic to our vampiristic, utilitarian society. And I tend to think we readers put too much stock in the value of reading and edumacation in general. I imagine a kind of humility in coming here, a sort of public admission that their dance card isn't full (blogging can represent the same thing of course) and one can hardly deny that what they are doing isn't cool by any standards. But that is my tendency to over-romanticize "the other", and there's nothing more other to me than bingo players.

Running bingo is sort of like owning a bar. A certain percentage of the population in either case is going to abuse what you're serving. I got a little worried about the guy who wanted instant winnner tickets and came to me with $5 worth of coins gathered from his car's ashtray. At the end of the night a youngish woman threw bills at me like I was a stripper, only she was throwing twenties and not singles.

It was kind of embarrassing to have to go around selling a variety of lottery ticket known as "Redneck". Walking around shouting "redneck" seemed a bit like randomly hurling the word "kike" at a bar mitzvah. Was it my imagination that two black ladies seemed amused by my evident discomfort?

Many played five or six bingo sheets while at the same time successfully lighting cigarettes and playing the instants. Truly impressive. I couldn't play four sheets sans distractions. The atmosphere in the room as numbers were being called was similar to that of an S.A.T. test. Despite the tension, the players were polite and never, to my knowledge, took advantage of this newbie. One co-worker said they often bring money or tickets back to him if he miscounts.

And the co-workers were really super. A good reason to volunteer for anything is to meet other volunteers.

There was a farmer had a dog,

And Bingo was his name-o.
B-I-N-G-O!
B-I-N-G-O!
B-I-N-G-O!
And Bingo was his name-o!
There was a farmer had a dog,
And Bingo was his name-o.
(Clap)-I-N-G-O!
(Clap)-I-N-G-O!
(Clap)-I-N-G-O!
And Bingo was his name-o!

April 28, 2005

Survey Says: TMI!

A reader I'll call "Steven"* said he was amused by the post below but that it was TMI.

I confess to TMI-ness of the post and beg the reader's indulgence. I just love testing those boundaries even though it be juvenile. Worse, when others test boundaries just for the sake of testing boundaries I j'accuse them of juvenility. Alas. Perhaps too there's some shark jumping going on here. But I am grateful to Bill Luse for posting mouse poems and therefore giving aid and comfort to blog-silliness.

The other day the lively m'Lynn of "Scattershot Direct" wrote that reading blogs makes her grumpy and that hit home. Reading blogs make me grumpy and in need of a beer. One of the reasons I hit Flos Carmeli early and often is I love the tone and I never leave grumpy. And so I'm determined to try to make this blog a similar experience, if in a lower brow'd way.

This just in...: Bill White has a fine contest entry to replace proletariat: I think Jesse Jackson would have chosen "people" with its two p's in a pod and its vague echo of "power to the people".

Precisely. That's perfect Bill.

* - new form of blogger comedy. Patent pending.
Towards a Snicker-Free Workplace Environment

So yesterday we're at the yearly shindig the CEO throws and the theme was finding your "noble purpose". A noble theme indeed. But it sounded so similar to Navin's search for his "special purpose" in the movie The Jerk that all I could think of was: you mean no one responsible for setting up this production has seen The Jerk? Though maybe the similarity was intentional. One never knows with those marketing geniuses.

~

Blogger's note: Hey gang! I think I'm finding my blogging voice at last! These last few posts have been fun, have been free of preachiness, and are probably far more entertaining than posts that begin, "The cat makes a nautilus of his paw..". And come on, you know you don't read tedious long-winded treatises like this, right?
Allergies & Sinus Problems - A Gross Industry

At work I just moved next to a poor fellow who sneezes and hacks up mucus more faithfully than Old Faithful. I'm just glad I didn't set a precedent of saying "bless you" after that first sneeze else I'd be hoarse and he'd be more self-conscious than he already is.

But what really bothers me is the constant drawn-out throat-clearing, a sort of elaborate Phlegm Relocation Program. And so yesterday I'm in the stall reading Dominus Iesus when lo and behold who enters the stall next door? Mr. Phlegmology. The lack of bathroom privacy makes me wonder if the call to nature for men is as synchronicitous as menstrual flows in women. I begin to think I can't escape this guy.

But then I'm thinking where is the milk of human kindness in me? Where is my compassion for this sufferer? Would antihistamines placed on his desk be too obvious?

Such is fallen man living in a fallen world in the 21st century.
Novak Is A Better Man Than Me

"Cooler heads prevailed" goes the saying, but it's easier to be cooler in victory. Thus the liberal Angstmeisters are apoplectic, allowing the perception of having lost the papacy to give them license to scream.

And while I wouldn't have got bent out of shape over a Pope Martini, I would've gotten bent out of shape over a President Kerry. So I can understand the '04 ventilation. But not the papal election. After all the whining and crying and gnashing of teeth over the '00 & '04 Presidential elections and now the papal election, I'm suffering from PTWOS (post-traumatic whining-overload syndrome). Here's hoping the liberals win something soon if only for our national mental health.

But the difference between popes and presidents should be palpable to the proletariat (okay I needed one more 'p' word for proper alliteration. Please send entries to replace proletariat to tdsorama at hotmail.com where you will possibly win pulchritudinous prizes). Anyway, the point is, one is family, the other politics. One promises the action of the Holy Spirit, the other promises the action of good political ads. I just don't understand the froth.

So just as I was ready to take poison pen to the liberal Catholic bloggers* (purely for fraternal correction purposes of course - don't try it at home) I came across this from Michael Novak, a very gracious piece that returns Andrew Sullivan's disrepect with respect, his unreason with reason. I guess that's the way it's done. Not bad for a neocon**, 'eh?

* - all three of them
** - not a smear. I love neocons. I may even be one.
Remedial Theology
Whenever heresies arise, the Church must treat dogma in a way that does not give due proportion to the whole truth. Instead, theologians must emphasize precisely the points that heretics deny. For example, because the Protestant reformers emphasized faith sometimes at the expense of works, post-Reformation Catholic theology has tended to emphasize works more than faith. Because Protestants have preached "Scripture alone" apart from tradition, Catholics have had to emphasize sacred tradition to a greater degree than before.

All of this was necessary in a remedial way. Yet its lingering effect has been to produce a theology that majors in relatively minor points. After all, tradition itself teaches the primacy of Scripture, and Catholic authorities from St. Paul onward have taught the priority of faith over works. In classical theology, faith and works, Scripture and tradition, all receive their due, because all belong to one essential reality...

-Scott Hahn, in foreward to Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger's Many Religions - One Covenant

April 27, 2005

That Mysterious Non-Catholic Interest

Mystery has been in a long, slow decline. If it were a stock, you might short it except for the fact that it might've already gone as low as it can go.

Some of it is the lack of uncharted realms on the map. In the 1500s you had huge swaths of lands marked "unknown". There's something neat about a map with uncharted territory.

Back when I was a kid the Soviet Union was an unknown. They were a closed society capable of inflicting a nuclear holocaust on our ass. This concentrated the mind and made you curious about them. The odd architecture of the Kremlin added to their mystique. Red Square was different.

But then the U.S.S.R. fell and became more like us. Fewer secrets. More materialist. More sexual license. A maybe a bit more democratic.

In the '90s Islam seemed interesting. Another mysterious, closed society. I wanted to trespass in their mosques. I wanted to see how they kept faith despite the lack of truth in their religion. But it eventually became impossible to ignore their reactionary and hate-filled Wahhabism. A culture capable of producing a 9/11 becomes much less interesting. They lost some of their mystery because there is a banality in evil. Hatred is the broad highway, not the narrow, interesting byway.

All of this is prelude to suggesting why there might have been non-Catholic interest in the papal election. I think it's because there's still mystery in the Catholic Church. In a time where everything is televised and secrets are rare, the conclave was a black hole. Something going on in the Sistine Chapel that was off-limits to reporters. In a global world where diversity astronomically decreases, the papacy still has the whiff of something different and something counter-cultural.
    Spanning the Globe To Bring You The Constant Variety Of Posts

Is it possible that the Church will become smaller and holier? Sure. I wouldn't even guess as to whether it's unlikely. Is it something we want? No. We want the Church to become holier. Getting rid of the dissidents will just leave the non-dissidents looking at each other, waiting to see who's going to become holier first. - Tom of Disputations

Shortly after the election, a wave of trepidation came over me - joy mixed with fear. If God does indeed give us a Pope who expects his flock to be Catholic, and if this Pope deals the final deadly blow to the Modernists, then I am myself in trouble. My own Catholicism looks pretty good compared to the liberals and Modernists and heretics around me: it looks pretty dismal compared to the faith and life of real Catholics. - Jeff of "Hallowed Ground"

The tune of "Onward Christian Soldiers" popped into my mind after reading your post. Growing up in the Presbyterian Church, we sang this song regularly always accompanied by a thunderous organ. As a child, I visualized Christians going forth, en masse, with swords in hands, gleaming against the sun, led by Jesus' cross. Can't you just visualize Jesus' delight and glee with all these Christians going forth, as one body, swords in hand, striking down Satan and his minions as we all marched onward as one? Sadly, in this secular world, it seems to be an individual battle to garner up enough courage and faith to take a headfirst leap into that cold water. -commenter on Steven Riddle's blog

I was amazed to see the following: before standing to read the Gospel, the priest lifted a cell phone, and dialed a number. He was unsuccessful in making a connection, and proceeded with the Mass, apologizing for the delay and indicating that he was trying to learn who was the new pope. I asked myself: Do we really need to stop the Mass, just to find out who is the new Pope? The only answer I can determine is: No, we don't. - Jack of Cantànima

One of the most disturbing things about the papal election is not Ratzinger, but people who support him. I came home to find my roommate in tears because of exclusionist, fundamentalist, near-hate speech she had found on the internet written by his supporters. - commenter on jCecil3's blog

The ways of the Lord are not comfortable, but we were not created for comfort, but for greatness, for good. - a note from a fellow Cardinal passed to Cardinal Ratzinger at the conclave, via MamaT

Too often, men and women spend all too much time not moving forward because, "I don't know if this is God's will." Discerning a vocation from that angle implies that a vocation to the priesthood or the religious life is not an invitation but a command. It also can be a way of avoiding taking the next step, a way of putting off my response. One need only to look at Mary at the Annunciation as the model for responding to God's invitation. Gabriel was anxious for Mary's response and St. Bernard in one of his sermons tells Mary to make haste: the whole world is waiting for it's Saviour! Christ, too says to you, Make haste! I am waiting for your love. I am waiting to give you Myself. I am waiting to give you souls so that together we can lead them to the Father. Nothing gives the Good Shepherd greater joy than when we hear his voice and follow him! - Sr. Mary Catharine of moniales Op

Before [the Church] speaks, the most saintly may mistake; and after it has spoken, the most gifted must obey. - John Henry Newman

As it happens, I do think a kind of solipsism is inseparable from what is called progressive Catholicism, which to a large extent defines itself by dissent. Such progressive Catholics regard their own judgments, applied according to their own methods, as the final arbiter of what they will believe; a common trope is self-praise that one is free of "blind obedience," meaning one obeys only what one has satisfied oneself is seen clearly enough. - Tom of Disputations

There is a concern that I find reasonable about Benedict. He is a very smart man; he understands the world better than you or I. But I worry that he will not be able to make to world understand him, considering the labels he has been given before doing anything in his pontificate. I hear that he writes brilliantly, as I know John Paul II did; but how few Catholics indeed read anything that JPII had written! The respect of the world for our previous pope was gained not through any words, but through images and stories: forgiving his assassin, placing a prayer in the Wailing Wall, embracing a child, lifting the chalice with hands weary and trembling. Benedict is now known to the world for two things: the incredible homily he gave at the funeral for John Paul II, and the refrains of "reactionary, medieval, repressive" that are everywhere. He has only words to combat words, and few enough of those. The previous Pope had time to win the world's trust; Benedict has no such honeymoon. We Catholics must pick up the slack, must be honest and loving in our defense of the Church. That is why I pray. - Patrick of Orthonormal Basis

Laura Ingraham: "If only the pope was for birth control, if only the pope was more modern, if only the pope wanted women to be priests. Tells us about your thoughts in hearing that." Fr. Rutler: If only the Pope had done all those things nobody would be covering his funeral now. - Ultramontane of Roman Catholic blog

...for icons focus faith when it is weak
and faith is at its weakest when you're strong:
the victors find it hard to sue for peace.

- excerpt of a poem by Rock Wren of "Lofted Nest"

Tis it true that E. E. Cummings's "poems spend nearly all of their time in the darkness of closed books, not in the light of the window or the reading lamp" or that "Whatever the claims for his influence, he is not widely enjoyed these days"?! My injoymoments of Cummings work doth wide eyed day-lily wild daily daisy-side I daly these days. - heidi of mildred's umbrella
Vignettes

The cat makes a nautilus of his paw as he sleeps on the crest of the couch. His limbs heedlessly arranged, Lazarus lives the life of Reilly. I look at him and recall why Ham o’ Bone gave away the dog he had for a couple months: the refusal to reverse the chain of command in the animal world by cleaning up his dog’s poop. Laz has much in common with his ancestors in Egypt, sans the worship part.

My wife is sleeping below him on the couch, her hair a winsome gold-brown hue that goes well with the deep brown of the sofa. She’s wrapped in the “holy of holies”, a blanket so named because we treasure it. “Can I have the holy of holies?” she’ll ask as I slowly list to the left in my recliner (listing to the left because I always sit on that side).

Our dog is never far from us. Those intelligent Shepherd eyes never miss a thing we do, especially if it involves the acquisition of food. He’s laying on his side and his back paws are so large they look like a fallen deer’s hind legs tied together after the hunt. He avoids the throw rug and lays on the wood floor as if his body continually stores up heat and requires the cool floor to drowse.
Varied Thoughts

It seems almost a given in retrospect that the pope who was an actor, who used his face and words to communicate, would in the end be struck with Parkinson's, unable to use the natural gifts he was given in order to show us that natural gifts aren't ultimately what we're about. And that happiness in this world isn't the point. He who was charismatic showed that charisma matters not, he who spoke of suffering ended up living it. And living it is always more difficult than speaking it.

*

Saturday eve we went to a dinner theatre in Dayton, which seemed a longer drive than it was. "The Music Man" was entertaining in stretches if sometimes hard-core corny. Professor Hill encourages large, aging matronly women to dance and everyone laughed but perhaps it's my egalitarian impulse but I thought that matronly women should get to dance without people laughing at them. Or it could be that I'm a stick-in-the-mud.

I think plays or musicals like this are enjoyable just to see the actors radiating such pure joy and energy. Seeing them keep smile on their face so long is worth the admission price. Over time it wins you over despite yourself. It recalls that if Christians were joyous the world would be far more Christian.

*

Saw a personalized plate that said "MY ANGLE". Typo? I report, you decide...!

April 26, 2005

The More Things Change...

Popes have always had their critics. In 1887 the Bishop of Mantua (later a pope himself (Pius X) and later declared a saint) had this to say concerning Pope Leo XIII:
Those who wish [the Church] ill assault the papacy in every possible way; they cut themselves adrift from the Church, and try their best to make the pope an object of hatred and contempt. The more they endeavour to weaken our faith and our attachment to the head of the Church, the more closely let us draw to him through the public testimony of our faith, our obedience and our veneration.
Serving Reader Needs

I noticed a sudden spike in emails in response to my post about the drive into work and experiences in the cafeteria line. Accountants are going over the numbers now but the three appear to be a tripling of the daily average. An email from a reader I'll call "Roz" noticed the food focus of that post and said that Lent must be difficult for me. She's right, it's certainly no picnic. It's no chocolate-fudge covered with whipped cream dessert.

Given the customer focus here at Video Meliora, expect more posts I'll call "Adventures in Cafeteriadom" (with the necessary caveat that inspiration cannot be summoned, it can only be answered).

Today I went to the Grill line for a sandwich. The lady in front of me asked for a lot of spicy food and then added, "and an Alka Seltzer on the side". Rimshot! Another gal after my own heart. It must be a universal, this need to entertain cafeteria workers. We think of their job: "how boring it must be!". They think of our job: "how boring that must be!". And so we strive to help each other out.

One of the grill workers is white, the other black. The black guy takes the orders and when he asks whether you'll have "dark meat" or "white meat" in your turkey sandwich you necessarily cringe in a culture that is ridiculously race conscious. But they josh about it. The white guy who makes the sandwiches hands one and says "white one first" with a wink and a laugh. And the black guy rolls his eyes and grimaces in mock pain.

The sandwich I wanted was called a "Monte Cristo" so I asked for a "Monte Carlo" for them to riff off. And riff they did. One said he wanted an "SS". The other was evidentally a Ford man by the way he made the word "Chevy" sound like a word that means excrement.

Perhaps not the most edifying conversation but that's the way it was, April 26th, 2005 at the cafeteria...
Various & Sundry

Went to Clipper’s minor league baseball game the other day and it was like a deep tissue massage. A deep bone relaxation overtook me and I could feel my lids drop anchor. The contest against the Durham Bulls had a timeless quality. The sun shown on the field in the way it does in the Wrigley Field of memory, like it did during the old Saturday Game of the Week back in the late Lou Brock Era. The stadium was built in 1927 and so has a baseball-y feel about it; sadly it's due to be torn down.

I went to the Triple A game in lieu of a Red’s game I'd planned to see. And I found not knowing who the players were was less an impediment than I thought. The sheer beauty and poetry of the diamond still works after all these years. The umpire waits until the catcher is in his squat and then lightly puts his left hand on his left shoulder to steady himself that he might call the pitch in a timeless ritualistic gesture. And so it goes, pitch after pitch, as the Bulls spray the ball all over the field. The good thing about not being emotionally invested is that you don't much care who wins...

*

Read some of the delicious "Bleak House" over the weekend. I have a favorite character who makes frightening sense – a layabout who asks little of life and others. He never works but is full of the good cheer of a clear conscience. He owns nothing because there are always friends to mooch off, friends who are partially won over by his exuberance (a byproduct of his never having to work). I find myself sometimes wanting to subsidize layabouts if only because I figure somebody should get to do it, if only so the rest of us can live through them vicariously. Dickens has a hilarious paragraph about how this character asks little of life but then lists a large laundry list. For me it would go something like this:

"I ask little of the world. I am a humble sort of modest means, asking only for a patch of brilliant sky, a landscape in which to wander, a few thousand books to get lost among, a steak dinner every once in awhile, frequent vacations, a healthy supply of Guinness and Beck’s Dark, a few cigars of the Dominican variety, daily Starbucks...". Simple needs indeed.
Pope Benedict's Homily

Read Pope Benedict XVI's homily from Sunday, and I'm just amazed at how he can seemingly teach and pray at the same time. One was never sure where one left off and the other began. In speaking of the intercession of the saints, you could feel them listening and it was as if we were asking for their intercession. In speaking of the love of Christ, you could feel praise for the Lord spontaneously issue forth. The sermon could be read as catechism, poetry or prayer, or all at the same time. It never became cloying or pietistic or, on the other hand, didactic. And the overall subtext was one of holy encouragement which is Peter's role: to "strengthen his brothers".
The Decline & Fall of Bad Catholics

Amy Welborn occasionally mentions how a big change in the past few decades is the disappearance of "bad Catholics".

Not to say there are fewer bad Catholics of course but fewer Catholics willing to admit it. I think part of it is because the great sin of our age is hypocrisy, defined in our time as standing for a standard but failing to meet it. You can see how potent the hypocrite tag is by its revered place in national politics where both the left and the right see it as the great de-legitimizer. They wouldn't use the tag if it wasn't effective since politicians are supremely efficient at finding what works and ruthlessly exploiting it.

What this means is that people will either completely reject the Faith because they don't want to feel like a hypocrite, or they will redefine it so that they can feel comfortable with it.

But what does it say that when police came out to a youngster's home during the '40s or '50s there would be hell to pay for that young man or woman. And what does it say that now, according to my brother-in-law, police have lots of 'splaining to do to parents for accusing their perfect child of wrong-doing? That doesn't go to hypocrisy, it goes more to a loss of a sense of sin.

April 25, 2005

Recipe By Request

A dear reader asked me to republish one of my old posts, which I am happy to oblige:

I've noticed that some blogs feature cooking recipes, often with obscure ingredients that sound like poetry. I thought I should share one of my all-time favorite collegiate recipes:

O'Garlic Poor BoysTM
Ingredients (serves two):

--New York style Garlic bread, I buy the sub-shaped kind at Krogers
--American Processed Cheese - a pack or two, comes in those individually-wrapped wrappers
--Bologna - two packages should be enough


1) Open the garlic bread and layer with bologna and cheese. Be generous with both. Sauté. (Not really, I just wanted a French word in here somewhere).

2) Heat that bad boy at 350 degrees for 15-20 minutes depending on oven strength.


Use light bologna to reduce calories
VOILA! It's that easy. Bon Appetit!

Surviving the Work Place - Tips You Can Use

On the drive into work today I was cut off by a co-worker. I'm sure she didn't realize it was me she had cut off. She waved her hand as is the tradition of those who cut others off in traffic, a gesture of gratitude though the driver had no choice and didn't intend to slam on the brakes. When I cut people off in traffic I hang my head, hoping this small sign of repentance will lessen their pique. Ironically, my co-worker forgot to "take the hypotenuse" and I beat her into work.

~
At the cafeteria today is "Make Your Own Chicken Salad Day". This is where the ability to see and react quickly help. You can put three chicken tenders on your salad but the chicken tenders vary greatly in size. Your mission, should you decide to accept it, is to quickly find the three biggest without being obvious about it. Most people are obvious about it and spend an enormous amount of time flipping through the tenders as if hoping a winning lottery ticket lay buried. But those behind in line are sympathetic; we know the object of the game is to find the largest. (I'm very Jesuitical.) But still I feel like I owe it to those behind me not to rub it in. It's just the kind of sweet, sensitive guy I am. So I scan the pan of tenders quckly and deftly make selections with what I hope looks to be a kind of randomness, as if the whopping size of the tenders I was putting on the salad were mere accident.

~
Last week I've made friends with the cafeteria workers who ladle out the main entries. They have a kind of warmth about them. You can tell they are Christian. By their love. Anyway, the drill is most people go up and say "I'll have the chicken" or "I'll have the turkey". The day's selections on a large, upright menu by the food and the entry names are dressed up with all sorts of fancy/schmancy adjectives as if we're on the Left Bank instead of mid-Ohio. For example, it's not fish, it's "Beer-battered Norwegian cod". And it's not "meat loaf", it's "Portobello Classic Meat Loaf with Herbs & Spices You Haven't Heard Of". The other day they had something prefaced by "Mayo Clinic" and so I throw them off by asking for the full name of the dish. "I'll have the Mayo Clinic Chicken and Dumplings on a bed of Romaine Lettuce with Worchester Sauce" or whatever it was. And she made a joke about how there wasn't any Mayo in it. My kind of gal. We all bonded. I'm getting teary-eyed just thinking about it.

~
When it's time to cash out, I've always tended towards one cashier because she's the fastest and most efficient and knows about combos ("combos" save you money). But recently the lines for her have been inexplicably longer and I can't very well pass up another cashier with an open line if only because that cashier might think, "what, do I have B.O. or somethin'?". So it so happened I went a week without going to my usual cashier and when I went there again she was a bit cold, as if I were cheating on her with other cashiers (which in fact was the case). "Where have you been?" she asked. And I say, "your line has been longer lately..."

I's lead an exciting life don't I's?
Twist My Arm Why Don't You

TAN Books, a publishing house for which I have affection (I especially like the prison outreach program) is financially struggling.

They have sent a letter asking me to buy books which is like telling an alcoholic to buy Guinness (after reminding the drinker that 25% of Dublin brewer's profits go to charity).

They declared Chapter 11, but it sounds like they'll be able to weather the storm.
The Ever Humorous Florence King
  • An IQ in the 120s is as convenient as wearing a B-cup bra: anything larger or smaller spells trouble.

  • I have been in an irritable mood ever since Vatican II. A Protestant expects the Catholic Church to act like the Catholic Church the way a woman expects a man to act like a man.

    -Florence King in "Stet, Damnit!"
  • Quote
    This was more like George: he advanced his intellect negatively, by extending his contempt. All movies were lousy, all politicians were crooked, public education in America was the world's worst, most novels were a waste of time, everybody on television was out for your money.

    -John Updike, "His Finest Hour"

    April 24, 2005

    Fictional Sunday  (because it's been far too long since I've written any fiction)

    I was lounging in the airport watching the passersby and trying to guess their destinations by their appearance when row numbers were announced and a young man got up from his chair near me, leaving an adventure travel magazine in his wake. I picked it up and began reading about how to cross borders surreptiously. I felt that familiar travel-induced tingle travel the length of my bones, which is usually accompanied by a need to go to the bathroom.

    I got back in time to board and brought the magazine with me. Fortunately I’d built in a cushion of three or four days on this South American trip and was now determined to use it to cross a few more borders than my passport allowed.

    Adventure it surely was. I scarcely knew what I’d bargained for as my rental car drew near the unmarked territorial limits of Acedia and its similarly unmarked neighbor, Depression. Depression was known to be a sad land without fault since it was without natural resources and its poverty was honest. But Acedia was universally scorned because it was rich in natural resources and shouldn't be so poor. Psychologists, sworn enemies of guilt, said that there was no Acedia because it was absorbed by the state of Depression in a coup around the time of the Enlightenment.

    I wondered how Depression managed to summon the energy.

    Meanwhile some Christian sects scoffed at Depression, saying it was the land of the No Faiths, the non-believers.

    To be honest, I couldn’t tell where Acedia began and where Depression ended or where Depression began and Acedia ended, and yet it seemed important to know since I wasn’t sure which folks were honest poor and which were dishonest poor. The only thing I knew for sure was I had to head back Norte in a hurry. Work was calling.
    What He Said

    It appears I've rediscovered the wheel with my previous post. Richard John Neuhaus said it much earlier and better with respect to progressive Catholics:
    Here disagreement is an intolerable personal affront. It is construed as a denial of others, of their experience of who they are. It is a blasphemous assault on that most high god, "My Identity." Truth-as-identity is not appealable beyond the assertion of identity. In this game, identity is trumps. An appeal to what St. Paul or Aquinas or Catherine of Sienna or a church council said cannot withstand the undeniable retort, "Yes, but they are not me!" People pack their truths into what Peter Berger has called group identity kits. The chief item in the kit, of course, is the claim to being oppressed.

    This helps explain why questions such as quota-ized representation, women's ordination, and homosexuality are so intractable. There is no common ground outside the experiential circles of identity by which truth is circularly defined. Conservatives huff and puff about the authority of Scripture and tradition, while moderates appeal to the way differences used to be accommodated in the early church (before ca. 1968), but all to no avail. Whatever the issue, the new orthodoxy will not give an inch, demanding acceptance and inclusiveness, which means rejection and exclusion of whatever or whomever questions their identity, meaning their right to believe, speak, and act as they will, for what they will do is what they must do if they are to be who they most truly are. "So you want me to agree with you in denying who I am?"
    His saying that the argument is intractable has certainly been my experience and makes me more sanguine about my lack of success. As the Italians say, "the situation is hopeless but not serious". As a blonde philospher once sang, "que sera, sera".

    April 23, 2005

    Power Uber Alles

    It's ironic, I think, that this is such an age of contrasts in the U.S. & Europe. It's an age of anxiety amid affluence. And it's an age of rage against the use of power when power in the secular realm has never been more fully shared (i.e. so many democracies) or in the religious realm more legitimate (see popes John XXIII thru John Paul II and then see the pre-Reformation popes). The more we taste of power the more insatiably we desire it. For many, hatred of George Bush concerning the Iraq war was less about the merits or demerits of the war but simply that he had the hubris to want to exercise power over their personal objections and perhaps the objections of a plurality of the world. Right or wrong is less interesting than whether my influence is being registered back to me in a palpable way.

    I think this rage against the use of power comes in part because in this culture we are constantly encouraged to identify ourselves as aggrieved and discriminated against. This has the great positive of helping make society more just, but seeing ourselves as victims has emotional and financial rewards which assure that the sense of victimhood will continue long after justice is served.

    So it seems at least some of the angst over the appointment of Cardinal Ratzinger is that he won't allow us to continue seeing ourselves as victims. He asks we carry our crosses knowing that we have already won, rather than turning them in for immediate recompense. He nailed it in the quote excerpted below but it seems modernity will not be shaken from its desire to see all power, including God's power over us (heaven's a democracy, right?), as something that should emanate from my group, where my group infinitely approaches me:
    There is an ideology that fundamentally traces all existing institutions back to power politics. And this ideology corrupts humanity and also destroys the Church. Here is a concrete example: If I see the Church only under the aspect of power, then it follows that everyone who doesn't hold an office is oppressed. And then the question of, for example, women's ordination, as an issue of power, becomes imperative. I think this ideology produces a totally false point of view, as if power were the only category for explaining the world and the communion present in it. If belonging to the Church has any meaning at all, then the meaning can only be that it gives us eternal life. We are not in the Church in order to exercise power as if in some kind of association.
    The Church's Struggle With Modernity

    Looking over the popes of the past one hundred years, one sees a beauty in all the different approaches that Christ, through the heads of His Church, has tried in attempting to getting modernity's attention.

    Just look at the sheer variety of popes, who in every way short of preaching untruth have attempted to solve the problem from a fresh angle. Except for their common holiness, Pope St. Pius X was as different from Blessed Pope John XXIII as can be imagined. Some popes were more pastoral, some learned intellectuals, some both. Some "liberal", some "conservative". Most were very holy men. We have been gifted with more than our fair share of excellent supreme pontiffs lately, especially given the history of the papacy, and yet all of their different approaches have failed with respect to changing the direction of modernity.

    Joseph Bottum makes the compelling point that we cannot write anybody off:
    ...to abandon Europe may be merely to put off the problem of evangelizing democracies. When Latin American and African democracies become stable and more prosperous, perhaps they will undergo the same slide that Europe has experienced. The Catholic Church spent most of the Middle Ages learning how to rein in the characteristic abuses of monarchies, and when the European monarchies suddenly collapsed between the 1840s and the 1940s, Catholic thinkers were caught flat-footed. But in the years since, the Vatican has used much of its time trying to figure out how to rein in the characteristic abuses of the democracies--beginning with the drift down into a boring and deadening relativism.

    Now the job has fallen to Benedict XVI, who must find a way to reason, with those who no longer believe much in reason, that intellectual seriousness and moral rationality--"the postulate and the condition of Christianity"--can still guide Europe away from the new Dark Ages.
    Concerning the Papal Election

    Our local paper, the Columbus Dispatch, recently had an excellent article which included comments by my pastor and Scott Hahn:
    Scott Hahn said he met Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger three times in Rome, and he was nothing like his portrayal in the media.

    "When you meet Ratzinger, what blows you away is how completely mischaracterized he is as the 'panzer cardinal' or the 'grand inquisitor,' '' said Hahn, a professor of biblical theology at Franciscan University in Steubenville.

    "He is so kind. There's a humility and a warmth about him that just draws you out. And you can tell that he is much more interested in listening to other people than in just kind of spouting off himself.''

    Hahn, a former teacher at the Pontifical College Josephinum on the Far North Side, yesterday praised the new pope as a top-notch theologian.

    "He theologizes on his knees. You can tell that there's a mystical element as well as a real precise intellect,'' said Hahn, who wrote the introductions for two English translations of books by Ratzinger.

    Ratzinger's hard-line reputation is not surprising because he directed the church's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which enforces church teaching.

    "Nobody can be in charge of the CDF and not get that label,'' Hahn said...

    ~
    The relatively quick decision by the cardinals shows that Ratzinger is a consensus choice at the Vatican, said Monsignor Frank Lane, pastor of the St. Margaret of Cortona Parish.

    "John Paul II has been checking out for a long time,' Lane said, moments before giving a guest lecture at Ohio State University last night. "They had a lot of time to think about it.''

    Ratzinger's conservatism and "impatient sense of urgency'' will "incur the wrath of the Western world,'' Lane told 50 people at the lecture, hosted by the Catholic Student Society of the Holy Name.

    "He is a very controversial person. There are those who will despise him, and he will be savaged because of how he expresses himself and where he stands,'' he predicted.

    Asked several weeks ago to speak on the history of the papacy, Lane revised his speech after yesterday's announcement.

    Lane thinks Ratzinger is an "excellent choice'' who will be most popular with the younger generation of Catholics.

    "Late baby-boomer, 1960s cultural-revolution Catholics will be highly critical of him,'' he said. "But young people are thrilled.''

    Lane predicts Pope Benedict XVI will mobilize the legions of youth around the world who were "galvanized and energized'' by his predecessor, pointing to the tens of thousands of young people on hand for his first blessing yesterday.
    Excerpts...

    ...from text of first message of Pope Benedict XVI, delivered at Apr. 20 Mass of the College of Cardinals:
    You are Christ! You are Peter! It seems I am reliving this very Gospel scene; I, the Successor of Peter, repeat with trepidation the anxious words of the fisherman from Galilee and I listen again with intimate emotion to the reassuring promise of the divine Master. If the weight of the responsibility that now lies on my poor shoulders is enormous, the divine power on which I can count is surely immeasurable: 'You are Peter and on this rock I will build my Church.' Electing me as the Bishop of Rome, the Lord wanted me as his Vicar, he wished me to be the 'rock' upon which everyone may rest with confidence. I ask him to make up fro the poverty of my strength, that I may be a courageous and faithful pastor of His flock, always docile to the inspirations of His Spirit.
    ~
    Pope John Paul II justly indicated the [Second Vatican] Council as a 'compass' with which to orient ourselves in the vast ocean of the third millennium. Also in his spiritual testament he noted: 'I am convinced that for a very long time the new generations will draw upon the riches that this council of the 20th century gave us.'...With the passing of time, the documents have not lost their timeliness; their teachings have shown themselves to be especially pertinent to the new exigencies of the Church and the present globalized society.
    ~
    I invoke the maternal intercession of Mary Most Holy, in whose hands I place the present and future of my person and of the Church.

    April 22, 2005

    To tune "I Am Stuck On Band-Aid Brand 'Cuz Band-Aid's Stuck on Me"
    I am stuck on God, 'cuz God is stuck on me
    I am stuck on God, 'cuz God is stuck on me!
    And he really sticks to your soul when you're down on bended knee,
    I am stuck on God, 'cuz God is stuck on me.
    Dazed & Confused

    I'm stunned by the anti-Benedict reaction in some quarters. He's being compared to Italian dictators and national socialists. (Maybe he just needs a PR firm.) You really can't make it up. I'm hoping that this is just the blogosphere being the blogosphere, where hysteria generates hits.

    I think a good test for the Catholic is to have just sucked up no matter who was elected. Call me corny and a sap, but I felt discombobulated in not having an earthly spiritual father in the form of the vicar of Christ for a couple weeks. I am grateful mostly for the office and secondarily for the occupant.

    Pope Benedict XVI is by all accounts a brilliant and a holy man but even if he wasn't that's not the point. The Lord said that in Matt 23 that "the teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat. So you must obey them and do everything they tell you." And Moses & those in his seat weren't even given the power to hold bound or loosen either. So what's the problem?
    Big Tent, Small Tent & the Role of Culture

    Sr. Lorraine homers to center on Amy's blog:
    A vital part of this whole discussion is the role of culture. We no longer have a Catholic culture or even a Christian culture. Without the support of culture, religious practice erodes. It just does. It's very hard to maintain and practice one's faith while going against the culture. Many people still do it but they are heroic, so they're a minority. But without the support of culture the Church can only become a small flock. That doesn't mean everyone outside it will be damned but it will be harder for them to attain salvation without the support of the faith and the sacraments.
    Rod Dreher responds:
    I'm not as concerned about the loss of meaningful Catholic culture in this society. I'm really concerned about the loss of meaningful Catholic culture in the Church.
    Rod's position sounds a tad unrealistic. Before the suburbs, back in the '40s & '50s, Catholic culture could establish itself in Church and the neighborhood. It's no coincidence that when Catholics became economically successful and moved out to the suburbs we also lost our moorings. I'm not sure you can establish a Catholic culture in an hour Mass each Sunday. As Jeff Culbreath wrote, "At times like this [papal election] I want to stagger over to the neighbors' house, beer in hand, and celebrate with them on the front porch until two in the morning. But alas, we have no Catholic neighbors!."

    And that goes beyond just the desire to celebrate. It's harder to remain faithful in a pluralistic society than most people think.

    April 21, 2005

    Joie de Vivre

    Just came across ye Olde Oligarch's giddy post-Benedict XVI post. His joy is contagious, as is Jeff Culbreath's. To paraphrase what Dr. Johnson said of London, if you've tired of papal elections then you've tired of life. How nice to experience again the pure unadulterated joy of childhood which the simultaneous cries of joy across St. Blog's reflect!
    On Hatred of Jews (and perhaps Christians)

    I'm reading Dennis Prager's ambitiously titled "Why the Jews? The Reason for Antisemitism" and (to oversimplify) he argues that when a people maintain higher standards without completely separating themselves from society (as the Amish did) it tends to provoke hatred/jealousy in neighbors living with lower standards.
    Book Reviews

    It's (mostly) cut 'n paste day here at the ol' blog. Here are some micro reviews I've written of books I've read over the past few years.

    The Correspondence of Shelby Foote & Walker Percy by Shelby Foote Hellaciously great read. Answers the query 'what happens if two great writers correspond in total honesty'?

    Of Irish Ways by Mary Murray Delaney
    A great smorgasboard of all things Irish, including a history of the isle. I read it before going there in '96 and it was a great primer, giving me a taste of everything from Irish mythology to Irish recipes.

    Wobegon Boy by Garrison Keillor
    I liked this book even better than "The Book of Guys" and "Lake Wobegon Days", the two other books from him I've read and enjoyed. The lyrical writing includes images like old Norwegian bachelors gathered at the Sidetrack bar looking like "rock bass on a dock". A great combination of pathos and comedy!

    The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel
    Basically this is the book I was looking for to clearly and methodically express the case for the divinity of Christ and to effectively demolish the arguments of the Jesus Seminar. Should be required reading for anyone who has read Time and Newsweek's annual parade of Holy Week articles attempting to distort the historical Jesus.

    The Medjugorje Deception: Queen of Peace, Ethnic Cleansing, Ruined Lives by E. Michael Jones
    The Medjugorje story is one that is fascinating because searching for the truth always is. This book tells the other side of the story, one I haven't seen anywhere else. The only disappointment was that there wasn't more focus on the seers themselves, like why Jakov left two seminaries. The hunger for signs - visible manifestations of the divine - is one that is old as history and won't go away but might be approached more cautiously after reading this book.

    Eureka Street : A Novel of Ireland Like No Other by ROBERT MCLIAM WILSON
    Even when the plot gets ragged or preachy, which it sometimes does, the lyricism and word choice makes this a delicious read.

    Nearer, My God: An Autobiography of Faith by William F. Buckley Jr.
    I was a bit disappointed that Mr. Buckley failed to come down on one side or the other on the tough issues. I assume that either he has, and did not want to share it, or that he has not yet. If the latter, it is disheartening to think that accepting or rejecting the authority of the Church in matters of faith and morals has not been definitively reached yet by such a learned figure. If that point has been reached, then contraception and priestly celibacy are non-issues.

    Lost in the Cosmos : The Last Self-Help Book by Walker Percy
    Walker Percy asks all the right questions in a unique way. He describes transcendence be it through art, science or God, and gives a brief rundown on his theory of sign and language or "semiotics".

    Stonewall Jackson : The Man, the Soldier, the Legend by James Robertson
    This was one of my favorite books of the 1990s. The book was almost healing, after theClinton years and all the cheap scandal and trivialities. It was truly inspiring to read about a figure for whom religion was not a photo-op, and to be saturated in the story of a dense, mysterious hero.

    Salt of the Earth: Christianity and the Catholic Church at the End of the Millennium : An Interview With Peter Seewald by Joseph Ratzinger
    There are so many fabulous insights in this book, and such honesty that it should be required reading for high school religion classes. Cardinal Ratzinger has really hit the nail on the head, giving all of us an inside view of the issues that are important to the Church. "In today's whirl of instant bliss, religion, too, is socially respectable only as a dream of happiness without tears, as a mystical enchantment of the soul. Perhaps the Church comes under heavier fire because she talks about sin and suffering and rectitude of life....Just one curious example - when it comes to the state, as soon as crimes begin to multiply and society feels its safety threatened, there is an immediate demand for tougher laws. In relation to the Church, whose laws are moral in nature, the exact opposite happens - there is a demand for further relaxation."

    C. S. Lewis Through the Shadowlands: The Story of His Life With Joy Davidman by Brian Sibley
    A very readable and well-done book which highlights the fascinating relationship between two people who would seem to have little in common. Even better than the movie!

    Handbook of Christian Apologetics: Hundreds of Answers to Crucial Questions by Peter Kreeft, Ronald K. Tacelli
    This is a tremendously important "one-stop" shop for most of the crucial Christian questions. It bears re-reading since at different times of life there are different obstacles to faith. There is also an essential honesty to the work. One of my favorite quotes is: "The tension is between appealing to free choice and appealing to divine providence and grace to solve the problem of evil. Sin is explained, on the one hand, by our free will. On the other hand, God's providential plan foresaw and used even sin. God brings good out of evil, and makes all things work together for good for those who love him. The argument between those who emphasize free will and those who emphasize providence is largely one of emphasis, for both are parts of our scriptural data. The difference in emphasis is between those who see human history as a novel, written by God, and those who see it as a play, enacted by man. The two images are not exclusive. The novel, though completely the author's creation, is about free people, not trees or robots; and though the play has a script, the actors are free to obey the script or not. If the emphasis is on God's predestination, our attitude to life will emphasize trust and faith and acceptance and hope; while if the emphasis is on human free will, our attitude to life will emphasize morality and spiritual warfare and the will to make the right choices. The first emphasizes wisdom, the second morality; the first contemplation, the second action; the first seeing, the second doing; the first faith, the second works. They are two sides of the same Christian coin."

    The Miracle Detective: An Investigation of Holy Visions by Randall Sullivan
    This book fills a much-needed niche. So often with apparations, you have get either a complete debunker or a credulous believer. The author is an agnostic on the question but someone open enough to painstakingly research what has been a mystery to many of us. The author's spiritual journey is an added bonus and is fascinating in its own right.

    Drop City by T. C. Boyle
    Really loved this book, loved his word choice and cared about the characters. Kind of reminded me of why I like Tom Wolfe novels in its journalistic approach. I ate up the details on what it's like to be a hippie. I liked that Boyle suggests there is no free lunch since "dropping out" is portrayed either as a self-indulgent loveless enterprise or nightmarish hard work, and that the extremes of either communal living or complete solitude aren't answers. Makes me appreciate the 'burbs more.

    What's interesting too is how Boyle suggests we are products of our environment. The stress of Alaska broke the hippies, exacerbated Ronnie/Pan's evil and eventually caused the leader to bolt, a breach of everything he stood for. Pre-Alaska, their brotherliness and camarderie was fostered by the comfort and drugs, but how many of us our bolstered in brotherliness and camarderie by our comfort and our beer? Sess's hatred of the contemptible Joe Bosky is understandable, but he's as much a product of the environment as any wolf, heartless as the climate.

    Witness to Hope: The Biography of Pope John Paul II by George Weigel
    I'd already read a couple biographies of this pope and was initially reluctant to get this one. The other biographers seemed to miss the point by seeing JPII in strictly political terms. Weigel masterfully adds color and dimension so that a much more vivid portrait emerges. It is the definitive biography for me because it is jam-packed with inside information on the spiritual issues of our time and for that reason will also serve as a reference book.

    Degenerate Moderns: Modernity As Rationalized Sexual Misbehavior by E. Michael Jones
    An eye-opening look at the hidden motivations of many of the leading figures of modernity. Most of those profiled were/are revered for their seeming objectivity, but Mr. Jones shows the faulty moral framework that caused them to have huge ulterior motives in bending truth to their own particular problem. Powerful stuff - you'll never read anything like this for a course at a secular college or see it reviewed in a weekly news magazine!

    Father/Land: A Personal Search for the New Germany by Frederick Kempe
    Very enjoyable read that examines some of the amazing contrasts in the German pysche. The author's own ancestors included a "good German", composer R. Schumann and a "bad German", a Nazi, and it is interesting to see him grapple with it.

    Gladstone by ROY JENKINS
    If you share any of Gladstone's passions - his bibliophilism, his religious ardor, his breaktaking political energy - then you'll like this. The writing itself is also a plus, for Jenkins writes beautifully.

    Round Ireland With A Fridge by Tony Hawks
    I got a kick out of this book. In the "Decline of Pleasure", Water Kerr warns that people are losing their sense of play and that play means doing something that is completely without utility. Well I know of no greater definition of an activity sans utility that hitchiking around Ireland with a refrigerator!
    What To Say

    Tom of Disputations writes: "...it will become increasingly necessary for Catholics to say to the opinion-makers, 'If you hate my Church, should I accept what you say?,' and for some Catholics, to say to themselves, 'I hate my Church? Now what do I do?'And those Catholics, non-dissenters and Ratzinger fans and boot-licking toadies, had better be prepared to help them answer their questions. If not, we will be the ones having much to answer for."

    How to answer the question "I hate my Church? Now what do I do?" is the million dollar question.

    What do we say? I've had many "discussions" with family members, the fruit of which appears invisible. I'm beginning to wonder if silence is golden. The impulse is to donate copies of Hahn's "Rome Sweet Home", which carries about it the scent of beauty, and go about our daily prayer.

    I find that most of my interlocuters see the Church as simply a human institution. A majority of Catholics don't believe the Eucharist as the Body of Christ. Given this, it seems almost impossible to discuss things doesn't it? If you don't have the apriori assumptions? Catholics who see the Church as purely a human institution are by definition going to be mad if "their" Pope isn't elected because they reject the possibility that this is who the Spirit wanted.

    You can't implant faith. Example might change hearts, not words (although Pope John Paul II set a marvelous example and was only partially successful). Chris Matthews asked a priest on MSNBC yesterday, "are people who go to church every week any better than anybody else? Really?" A fair, if troubling, question. Matthews and other Cafeteria Catholics will take notice only when they see the people who go to church every week as better people. Care, concern and listening, especially when someone is spitting on the Church is difficult to the extreme but it's what Christ did. He was spit at but reacted with patience and forgiveness "for they know not what they do". Most of the lukewarm Catholics do not know what they do, imho. And if the sensus fidelium is completely at odds with the Magisterium on an issue like artificial birth control, who wins the tie? Given that most people haven't really studied the issue or even prayed about it before coming to their conclusion, it has to be the Magisterium.

    Still, the root of the scandal in the Catholic Church is the same root scandal in God coming to earth to become man. 99% of the problems with God or the Church come down to simply this: "I would not have done it this way if I were God". It takes humility.

    And faith. I once received an email from a lapsed Catholic that went, "I think I'm too much of an American to be a Catholic. I don't think the Pope is the Vicar of Christ -- I think he's a politician. Not as odious as our homegrown variety, maybe, but you can't convince me the Holy Spirit guides the career of an ambitious prelate any more than Bill Clinton can convince me the devil made him do it; it's just us human beings down here, muddling things up as best we know how."

    I've heard of those who have written off this Pope because they say it was rigged by Pope John Paul II who appointed so many conservative cardinals. I know that grace builds on nature and that politics is part of "nature", but doesn't this give progressives an out indefinitely? Because if this pope appoints conservative bishops then progressives will point to him, etc...

    What can one do? Pray.
    Favorite Pope Benedict XVI (then Cdl Ratzinger) Quotes

    Via the miracle of cut & paste, here are a few quotes from his writings that I copied a few years ago:
    "In today's whirl of instant bliss, religion, too, is socially respectable only as a dream of happiness without tears, as a mystical enchantment of the soul. Perhaps the Church comes under heavier fire because she talks about sin and suffering and rectitude of life....Just one curious example - when it comes to the state, as soon as crimes begin to multiply and society feels its safety threatened, there is an immediate demand for tougher laws. In relation to the Church, whose laws are moral in nature, the exact opposite happens - there is a demand for further relaxation."

    "The current era of relativism grows out of various roots. For one thing, it seems to modern man undemocratic, intolerant and also incompatible with the scientist's necessary skepticism to say that we have the truth and something else is not the truth, or only fragmentary truth. God must be unnameable. Accordingly, everything religious is just a matter of reflections, copies, refractions. Accordingly, there can't be one true religion either. In this context, Christ is, to be sure, a great, towering figure, but we have, as it were, to bring him back down to size, in the awareness of him has appeared in others too."

    "The modern worldview takes a very dogmatic posture and excludes interventions of God in the world, such as miracles and revelation. Man can indeed have religion, but it must lie in the subjective sphere and can therefore have no objective dogmatic contents that are binding on all; in this view, dogma in general seems to contradict man's reason. The Church finds herself in this headwind of history. Nevertheless, the one-sidedness of this position naturally emerges, for a religion that is reduced to the purely subjective no longer has any power to form; it is then only the subject affirming himself. A naked rationality reduced to the natural sciences cannot answer the real questions like where do we come from, what am I, what must I do to live properly."

    "Hobbes said that a state must have religion, and there are especially two kinds of citizens that a state can't afford to have: first, atheists and second, papists who are subjects of a foreign potentate."

    "There is an ideology that fundamentally traces all existing institutions back to power politics. And this ideology corrupts humanity and also destroys the Church. Here is a concrete example: If I see the Church only under the aspect of power, then it follows that everyone who doesn't hold an office is oppressed. And then the question of, for example, women's ordination, as an issue of power, becomes imperative. I think this ideology produces a totally false point of view, as if power were the only category for explaining the world and the communion present in it. If belonging to the Church has any meaning at all, then the meaning can only be that it gives us eternal life. We are not in the Church in order to exercise power as if in some kind of association."

    "We now crusade with an understandable and legitimate passion against the pollution of the environment, whereas man's self-pollution of his soul continues to be treated as one of the rights of his freedom...As long as we retain this caricature of freedom, namely, of the freedom of inner spiritual self-destruction, its outward effects will continue unchanged. Man too is essentially a creature and has a creaturely order. He can't arbitrarily make anything he wants out of himself. He must recognize there is a spiritual ecology too."

    April 20, 2005

    Shea & Shaidle on the Other Screen

    Saw Kathy Shaidle and Mark Shea on television. They come off a bit softer over the airwaves than in their blogs, proving perhaps the truth of how words in print tend to seem harsher than we intend them. They also quoted other St. Bloggers which is a cautionary tale because it means that anything we write could be picked up by a much larger audience. And the word on the street yesterday was triumphalism. Lots of that on the conservative side. Ouch. But Tom nails it on the head here. If Pope Benedict XVI sees a smaller Church in the future it's because he's a realist and not because he wishes it.

    Update:-> What Amy Welborn said too. Excellent. The notion of being an "irreplaceable blogger" is almost an oxymoron but Amy comes closest to fitting that bill within St. Blog's.


    Wolfgang Boehm displays a socalled 'Papstbier' (Pope beer) in front of the birth place of new Pope Benedict XVI. in Marktl, southern Bavaria, Germany, Wednesday, April 20, 2005. (AP Photo/Michael Probst)
        Special Habemus Papam Edition of Spanning the Globe

    Man, he wasn't even done with the Urbi et orbi and I was wanting his first encyclical already. - Jimmy Akin

    habemus papam! and there is no recount! praise be to God! - Smockmama of "Summa Mamas"

    To celebrate...1 oz. Benedictine, in shot glass, 12 oz. Bavarian lager, in beer mug. Drop shot glass into beer mug. Drain mug. - Tom of Disputations

    The German pew of St. Blog's Parish is mostly happy - contrary to much of the rest of the country. May St. Boniface, St. Korbinian, St. Benedict, St. Matthias - the only apostle buried north of the Alps, in Trier -, may all German saints be with him and help him with his work! - scipio of Intelligam

    I guess that we all want to know who the Holy Spirit will select for our next Pope - and hoping and praying that the electors are listening to the Holy Spirit! And I keep on hearing Marie [Bellet] singing "On a need to know basis, it all will unfold, but my darlings, you don't need to know." - Alicia of "Fructus Ventris"

    That sound you hear is Hans Küng, Matthew Fox, Leonardo Boff, and others wailing and gnashing their teeth. Ain’t it beautiful? - Thomas of ER, who because he isn't Catholic is allowed to be triumphalistic

    It is nice that the conclave doesn't have any resemblance to a presidential election. No Cardinal exit polls. No world maps divided up into red and blue countries. No dirty tricksters slashing the Cardinals tires on the way to vote. No reports that Cardinal Arinze and other African cardinals were disenfranchised from being able to vote. I am just thankful thought that the conclave isn't in the U.S. You just know the EPA would force them to put scrubbers in the chimneys to prevent any black smoke from going into the atmosphere. - Jeff Miller of "Curt Jester"

    Today what people have in view is eliminating suffering from the world. For the individual, that means avoiding pain and suffering in whatever way. Yet we must also see that it is in this very way that the world becomes very hard and very cold. Pain is part of being human. Anyone who really wanted to get rid of suffering would have to get rid of love before anything else, because there can be no love without suffering, because it always demands an element of self-sacrifice, because, given temperamental differences and the drama of situations, it will always bring with it renunciation and pain.- Pope Benedict XVI

    My Jesuit confessor in college once said, "Most converts are won through the heart, but Christianity is essentially an intellectual religion." I go back and forth on that, but it's certainly true that the intellectual aspect of the faith has been an anchor for me. I place a high value on obedience - what we owe to our Creator and our Redeemer. But even if obedience without understanding has its own perfection - casting ourselves upon the Lord - I am grateful for the Church's interest in engaging the intellect as well as the will. There's a human perfection in understanding, and experience has led me to believe that the Church in on the side of what is truly human. - Matthew Lickona, author of "Swimming with Scapulars", on Amy's blog
    Factor Notes: a VMPDS Exclusive

    Dumpster diving can pay off. Found Bill O'Reilly's memo to himself concerning yesterday's program*.
    Talking Points: What the New Pope Must Do to Help America Fight Terrorism

    Top Story: Interview priest with my opinions about what the new pope must do. Tell him the media's going to go after him starting tomorrow unless I do first *grin*.

    Impact Segment: Interview Minuteman with my opinions about the border

    Unresolved Problems Segment: Interview priest from "America" magazine with my suggestions. Abortion - no. But gotta lighten up on gays, lots of folks in the industry, etc...Not helping your cause here Padre.

    Factor Poll Question: Will Pope Benedict XVI be a stand-up guy in the war on terror?
    * - this is a joke. I tease the Factor. Remember, don't drink & dumpster dive.

    April 19, 2005

    Pope Benedict XVI's Twenty-Three Minute Honeymoon

    NPR is like death and taxes in terms of predictability (though perhaps slightly preferable to the aforementioned; I leave that to you). So the fact that I listened, knowing the predictability, puts the shame on me. Some never learn.

    We started with "random" interviews in Cambridge, MA and Los Angeles, CA. (Cue laugh track.) Not surprisingly, we had three folks who were quite disappointed by Ratzinger's appointment and one self-described orthodox Catholic who was enthused.

    Worse, this was followed by a five-minute segment with a professor at Boston College (prone to catch phrase theft) who twice reminded us to "keep hope alive". He also reminded us that this was not the end of the story, that Pope Benedict is the 265th Pope but there will be a "266th, a 267th, a 268th, a 269th and so on" who will, presumably, rescue the Church from Catholicism. Not three hours from Habemus Papam and an "expert" from Boston College is already looking past him. It almost ruined my fine mood.

    I'm also disappointed by the tone of those who feel the need to do a touchdown dance in the endzone of vanquished progressive opponents. That'll win converts. Anyway it's less the man than the office. We have another Peter!
    Journal Excerpts

    What a long, strange trip it's been. Cardinal Ratzinger is Pope. What an April to remember. Heard the totemic "Habemus Papam", a phrase I haven't heard in over twenty-five years, a third of a the average life.

    The tendency for me as an American is to regard what is foreign as neutral at best and against our interests at worst. So to hear the foreign-sounding words Habemus Papam provides a counterbalance. Because this European who is now pope has some measure of control over me, has some responsibility for me, and protects my interests. "Brothers and sisters" he began. We are family. Hearing the grand words "Habemus Papam" recalls the universality of the Church in a vivid way. Germans, Poles, Africans, Italians, Mexicans, Americans, bonded beyond blood to something higher and infinitely greater.

    *

    Oh to retreat to the womb of the library where the air is colored with sun-motes and thick with the scent of bindings and paper and where reassurances live in their seeming permanence on shelves that support like Atlas. The spring sun enters through the west window casting a transforming glow over the rosewood cases, turning their trunks into auburn jewels.

    Like a sea maiden calling from the near shore the leather sofa sings as if to trap me in her feathery caress, into which I could slump in sublime comfort and never escape. I mean to retrieve the Ratzinger volumes and consume them in a long text-fest while not missing anything of the hundred television programs that, like Cinderella, will expire at midnight.
    Wir Haben Einen Papst!

    Well it's goosebump city isn't it? Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI! The Italian gossip merchants calling him a favorite were correct - whoda thunk it? Marvelous!

    Thought we'd get to learn all about someone new. I was all prepared to greed-read everything I could lay my hands on Scola or Arinze or Hummes assuming their election. But I'm already feel so familiar with Cdl Ratzinger that there is a wonderful sense of continuity. And he certainly looked pontifical at the funeral Mass of John Paul II.

    He's a wonderful diagnostician. He understands the problem: relativism. Whether he has the remedy is unclear but then popes have been fighting modernism for at least a century. But it is a hopeful sign in that at least he gets it. As someone susceptible to relativism, he's certainly helped me.

    His selection was surprising because most of the time the pope that follows a previous one is his opposite. (We see it in presidential elections too - Reagan following Carter, Bush following Clinton.) And yet Cdl Ratzinger was very close to JPII and in many ways very similar.

    Stylistically, the former Cardinal seems most different from Pope John Paul II in the area of ecumenism. That might simply be the reflection of his former job, which goes with the territory. And it's obviously hard to be ecumenical when the tenor of the times is relativistic. When the truth is less sought there's less ability to reach out. Regardless, it will be interesting to see the encyclicals. We have yet another intellectually brilliant pope.

    UPDATE: from here:
    [The new pope] said his "primary task" would be to work to reunify all Christians and that sentiment alone was not enough. "Concrete acts that enter souls and move consciences are needed," he said.

    The new pope said he wanted to continue "an open and sincere dialogue" with other religions and would do everything in his power to improve the ecumenical cause.
    Single Word Email from My Wife Said it All:

    RATZINGER!
    Speaking of Changing Times...

    Address of a trustee at opening of Miami University in 1823:
    Here the ancient wisdom of Greece and Rome, the modern improvements of the arts and sciences, the morals and religion of the sacred scripture, will invite, amuse, improve, and reform the youthful mind.
    Well, we still teach arts and sciences.

    April 18, 2005

    Excerptable
    The literature on the contemplative life does in fact hold out the promise of some substantial breakthrough after one has been banged around long enough. It suggests that one will enter into a wonderful interior freedom where God is within reach at every moment. The experiences of some mystics do in fact lead one to believe that this has really happened to them. But we have to understand in what sense this is so. Otherwise we may conclude naively that, if only we stick it out, we will turn into a kind of superman or woman towards the last five or ten years of our lives, at which point, nothing will be able to hurt us anymore.

    But the longer we live, the more we realize that these wonderful experiences of the mystics only lasted a short time and that in between they were very much like ourselves. Perhaps the first time we read St. Teresa of Avila we do not pay much attention to the fact that her ecstasies lasted only half an hour...There is a great difference between one half hour and the other twenty-three and a half that have to be lived as an ordinary day...If for a few moments, even a half hour, some great graces come our way, they will make the other twenty-three and a half more burdensome. The great monastic fathers never held out a panacea for our spiritual ills in this life. The Christian life, they said, is perfect only in heaven. Anybody who seeks his or her reward in this life is not only going to be disappointed but is on the wrong road.

    --Thomas Keating, Trappist monk and author of Crisis of Faith, Crisis of Love
    Filibuster

    Cokie Roberts on "This Week" mentioned that the reason Republicans shouldn't end the filibuster is because sometime they won't be in power and might need to use it.

    I find this unpersuasive. I think the argument should be on the merits and not whether it'll be good or bad for Republicans when they're out of power. Because guess what? The so-called nuclear option will be exercised if not now then in the near future because power in politics never goes unexercised, just as money in politics can never be stopped. The reason filibusters are being challenged is the same reason money in politics has exploded: the tremendous power of a branch of the federal government. And because great power (including life and death decision-making) has coalesced in the judiciary, this results (as summer follows spring) in tremendous battles over judges. The actions of usurpatious judges over the past decades have consequences. Giving tremendous power to the federal government has consequences.

    End of filibuster.
    Imponderables

    Watching Cdl Ratzinger in his role as Dean of Cardinals this week I ask myself the unanswerable question: how much is grace and how much is nature? How much of his poise and self-control is the fruit of his own nature or the famed German love for order, and how much is from the Holy Spirit? Perhaps in the self-forgetfulness of love both give and neither keeps score.


    photo by Pier Paolo Cito of the Associated Press
    Genographic

    This National Geographic project looks interesting. For $99 you can receive a "DNA analysis includes a depiction of your ancient ancestors and an interactive map tracing your genetic lineage around the world and through the ages."
    Author Questions Depression/Creativity Link

    Times story on depression:
    To be depressed is to occupy the role of rebel and social critic. Depression, in our culture, is what tuberculosis was 100 years ago: illness that signifies refinement.

    We idealize depression, associating it with perceptiveness, interpersonal sensitivity and other virtues. Like tuberculosis in its day, depression is a form of vulnerability that even contains a measure of erotic appeal. But the aspect of the romanticization of depression that seems to me to call for special attention is the notion that depression spawns creativity.

    Objective evidence for that effect is weak.

    ~

    The great flowering of melancholy occurred during the Renaissance, as humanists rediscovered the ''Problems.'' In the late 15th century, a cult of melancholy flourished in Florence and then was taken back to England by foppish aristocratic travelers who styled themselves artists and scholars and affected the melancholic attitude and dress. Most fashionable of all were ''melancholic malcontents,'' irritable depressives given to political intrigue. One historian, Lawrence Babb, describes them as ''black-suited and disheveled . . . morosely meditative, taciturn yet prone to occasional railing.''
    Journal Fragments...

    A saint, one of the Borgias amazingly (just two generations from the corrupt Borgia popes) once converted from a dissolute lifestyle in an unusual way. He was in a funeral procession for a beautiful woman who'd died, the most beautiful woman in his town, and it happened that an accident dislodged the casket and the body, now partially corrupted, came forth. He was so stunned by this graphic display of how temporary is our beauty is that he gave his life to spiritual pursuits.

    I also find it spiritually profitable (if not as profitable as our saint whose name escaped me did) to think on the corruptibility of our flesh. Age is a cruel thing but it really reminded me how meaningless looks are. We're all scarcely separated from being bones.

    *

    The tendency to whine is not something limited to moderns, nor obviously to secular types. In the last book of the Old Testament there's the desperation of a people offering sacrifices of decreasing utility and there's the questioning even of God's love: "I have loved you," says the LORD. But you say, "How have You loved us?" (Malachi 1:2). They feel the fatigue of the journey's end: "You also say, 'My, how tiresome it is!' And you disdainfully sniff at it," says the LORD of hosts, "and you bring what was taken by robbery and what is lame or sick; so you bring the offering! Should I receive that from your hand?" says the LORD.

    It was to be answered sweetly and resoundingly with Christ and the perfect sacrfice of His Body & Blood in the Eucharist. God will provide, but in His time. The reward comes after the endurance. Malachi 1:11:
    For from the rising of the sun, even to its setting, my name is great among the nations; And everywhere they bring sacrifice to my name, and a pure offering; For great is my name among the nations, says the LORD of hosts.
    *

    My dad's side of the family always seemed infused with mystery while my mom's side seemed to have much less mystery.

    Mom's side came to Ohio because a famine in Ireland in 1846 caused our ancestors to choose between death and America. No contest. No mystery why they came.

    But with my dad's side it's shadier. We don't know why they left Germany, or even where James Smith came from. He is like Melchizedek - we don't know where he came from or why or when he left. His story is mystery personified.

    When I was a kid the film "Roots" got me interested in genealogy. I started, naturally, with my four grandparents and realized if not for the first time how odd it was to have only three living grandparents. As I got older the loss only felt greater because you can know yourself better if you know your parents, and you can know your parents better if you know their parents. And I never knew her. Even her name was foreign to me. While "Margaret" tripped easily off the tongue, I had to remember to pray for "Ruth".

    If I respect the dead too much it's because they experience what we only long for - the presence of God. And the dead have the advantage of growing greater in hindsight. But how much greater can someone grow whom I never knew! Hence I imagine Ruth as a bright spot in the heavenly firmament.

    April 16, 2005

    Book Travel

    It's interesting sometimes to explore the heritage of old books. I have a 1950s "Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture" with a stamp on the overleaf that says "Convent of Angels / Mt. Angel, Oregon". Via the internet I found its original (or at least earlier) home.
    Now playing...

    ...my friend's uncle's CD. The earthly pleasure derived from their singing "ja, ja, so blau, blau, blau..." can scarcely be underestimated. Their German is pleasant the more so for my not knowing what they're saying, though I can tell by the beat and mood it's a drinkin' song and I can handle the drinkin' if they can handle the song.

    They sing like a dream and it strikes a chord, the deep gutturals finding sympathy either with my high school German or my embedded ancestral marrow:
    Blau blüht der Enzian

    Ja, ja, so blau, blau blau blüht der Enzian
    Wenn beim Alpenglühn, wir uns wiederseh'n
    Mit ihren o ro ro roten Lippen fing es an
    Die ich nie vergessen kann

    Wenn des Sonntags früh um viere die Sonne aufgeht
    Und das Schweizer Madel auf die Alm 'naufgeht
    Bleib ich ja so gern am Wegrand steh'n, ja, steh'n
    Denn das Schweizer Madel sang so schön
    Holla hia hia holla di holla di ho
    Holla hia hia holla di holla di ho
    Blaue Blumen dann am Wegrand steh'n, ja, steh'n
    Und das Schweizer Madel sang so schön

    Ja, ja, so blau, blau blau blüht der Enzian
    Wenn beim Alpenglüh'n wir uns wiederseh'n
    Mit ihren ro ro ro roten Lippen fing es an
    Die ich nie vergessen kann...

    April 15, 2005

    From Richard Neuhaus:
    People who are put off by the inevitable maneuverings and counter-maneuverings are lacking a Catholic and incarnational sensibility that is not offended by God's use of very human means to achieve His purposes. This does not mean that a bad pope cannot be elected. There have been more than a few bad popes in the past. The promise is that nobody will be elected who will be able to destroy the Church or betray what Catholics call the deposit of faith. And maybe, please God, he will be another saint.

    It is a cliché to say that the Church is not a democracy, but it is a cliché because so many recognize that it is true. There is always the danger of the arrogance and abuse of power, and patterns of consultation and collaboration can always be improved. But those who claimed after the Second Vatican Council that the Church's affirmation of democracy in the secular realm required, for the sake of consistency, the extension of democracy in the governance of the Church were wrong--and they are still wrong. The political sovereign in the temporal and temporary realm is "we the people." Christ is the sovereign of the Church. Of course, if Christ is Lord, he is Lord of all, but only in the Church is his sovereignty institutionalized, so to speak. In everything, and certainly in the choosing of a successor to Peter, the goal is to discern the will of Christ. And that I have no doubt is what is happening--not despite everything, but through everything--during these days in Rome.
    Romantic Love vs Charity

    Good Touchstone post on romantic love:
    Liebst du um Schönheit, o nicht mich liebe!
    Liebe die Sonne, sie trägt ein goldnes Haar!
    Liebst du um Jugend, o nicht mich liebe!
    Liebe der Frühling, der jung ist jedes Jahr!
    Liebst du um Schätze, o nicht mich liebe!
    Liebe die Meerfrau, sie hat viel Perlen klar!
    Liebst du um Liebe, o ja, mich liebe!
    Liebe mich immer, dich lieb' ich immerdar.
    Here the poet tells her lover not to love her for the sake of beauty (love the golden-haired sun instead), for youth (if he would, love the springtime, young every year), worldly goods (love the mermaid, with her many shining pearls). But if, she says, you would love me for love’s sake, then love me forever, as I will love you. The one who would be loved, recognizing that common reasons for attraction are insubstantial or fleeting, wishes to be loved through love’s apotheosis, through love itself.

    At this place we touch the very heart of the difference between romantic love and Charity as Christians know it.
    Martina

    Steven Riddle mentioned on his blog about his recent explorations into country music and how edifying some of the music is, especially Martina McBride's. Here's a sample of lyrics from one of her songs:
    I was standing in the grocery store line
    The one they marked express
    When this woman came though with about 25 things
    And I said don't you know that more is less
    She said this world is moving so fast
    I just get more behind everyday
    And every mornin' when I make my coffee
    I can't believe my life's turned out this way
    All I could say was

    Chorus:
    Love's the only house big enough for all the pain in the world
    Love's the only house big enough for all the pain
    Jonah Goldberg Column

    It's surely a case of my juvenile-itis, but I can't help enjoying crass Goldberg variations like this:
    Sen. Robert Byrd — that actual former Klansman and towering titan of southern gothic asininity...
    Oh yeah, and the arguments he makes are persuasive and worth reading lest you accuse me of posting this only for phrases like "southern gothic asininity".
    Poem found at National Review...

    WITH MY GOD, THE SMITH

    Like chapters of prophecy my days burn, in all the revelations,
    And my body between them’s a block of metal for smelting,
    And over me stands my God, the Smith, who hits hard:
    The wounds that Time has opened in me open their mouths to Him
    And release in a shower of sparks the intrinsic fire.

    This is my just lot — until dusk on the road.
    And when I return to throw my beaten block on a bed,
    My mouth is an open wound
    And naked I speak with my God:
    You worked hard.
    Now it is night; come, let us both rest.
    — ROBERT MEZEY
    Island of the Blue Mermaids

    He burned his notes
    for which Matthews praised him
    a humble act for a pope
    he said.

    For different reasons
    I'd best burn my notes
    and the lines that arch ache
    into bosom blossoms,
    each nuance chiseled
    by the light of lanterns
    held to the holy curves of
    pistillate flowers.

    They haunt the inner drawers
    of a former life and gather still
    in the ebb-circuits of this machine.
    If Cardinal Ratzinger Became Pope...

    ...then Christopher's website would have to change and my Cardinal Ratzinger Fan Club mug would become a collectible. Lots riding here.

    But seriously, I've read where the Cardinal had asked JPII many times for the gift of retirement so that he, a fine theologian, could study the anthropology of original sin. Ironic that he may never get to retire.

    I've lately been interested in the prospects of Angelo Scola of Venice, who Richard Neuhaus says was one of three Cardinals our late pontiff said would make a fine pope. (I also heard someone say the Pope predicted Cardinal Arinze would someday have his job.) Concerning Scola Michael Novak writes "[he is] truly brilliant and [a] creative student of the much-beloved theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar".

    The suspense builds.