Stray Thoughts on an Incident in College

For no clear reasons I can see, a little snippet from my freshman year in college springs unbidden to mind:

In my first few weeks of school, went to visit somebody in another dorm. When we stepped in the door, there we saw, in bed together, a freshman girl and an older (not freshman) student  guy.  This was the first time in my 18 years of life up to that point where it became undeniably and viscerally clear to me that unmarried people did in fact have sex with each other.

The entire scene lasted a couple seconds before we retreated. The only other things I noticed was the expressions on the couple’s faces – she looked so happy, glowing, one might say. He looked not unpleased, but not joyful they way she looked.

A couple of things, observed over time: The guy was a good-looking, charming fellow. This particular young woman had a delightfully curvy body but was not noticeably pretty otherwise. This was a brief fling – the young lady eventually transferred out, the guy was gone after that year (might have graduated, I never got to know him).

But I remember the smile, the look on her face. The guy’s look was appropriate, given his understanding – he was slightly, maybe, embarrassed but mostly proud of his conquest. She, on the other hand, seemed far more enraptured than merely getting some sex could explain.

So, what was her understanding? What had just happened, from her perspective? She’s 18 years old, she’s away at college, a handsome man has said things to and about her that resulted in an intimate encounter – did she see this, in her heart as well as in her mind, as the meaningless fling it almost certainly was to the guy? How did her life go from there? His life?

This two people passed from my life 35 years ago.  But I still think of them, from time to time.

Getting Back to the Cathedral in LA…

Post Modern architectural criticism reads like arguments with toddlers, except one does not seem to be able to read post modern critics a story or tickle them to get them off their gain-saying. Examples from the ‘architecture’ tab on the Cathedral website:

By its design, the nave encourages the full and active participation of all people in the Liturgy. No pillars block vision because nine steel trusses and the chapel structures on each side support the soaring, cedar wood ceiling. The dynamic effect results from Moneo’s design that avoids right angles and symmetry.

Here, we have a couple assertions presented as if they are so obvious only a ignorant dolt could fail to see their truth: that a nave without pillars “encourages full and active participation of all the people in the Liturgy”, and that avoiding symmetry and right angles creates a dynamic effect.

Let’s stand that on its head: pillars in a nave discourage full and active participation of all the people in the Liturgy. Is this true? I suppose in a very limited sense, if the church is so packed that some people are stuck behind a pillar, those people might not be able to see everything that’s going on – if ‘seeing everything that’s going on’ is a critical part of full and active participation, then we have a real, if not all that common, point (huge churches like the LA Cathedral are typically packed to the gills only a few times a year – Christmas, Easter). Balance that against the beauty achieved in the thousands of pillared naves around the world – this is a serious issue? Serious enough to make a point of it on the website?

The question is always: full and active participation in what, exactly? St. Patrick’s in New York (the writers on the LA web site invite comparison of their Cathedral to it, with a charming unconscious  lack of irony), pillars and all, invites all present to full and active participation in a transcendent, eternal, humbling Reality greater than anything we can create or do. The architecture of St Patrick’s, building on centuries of tradition, points to something beyond and greater than itself – THAT’s what any Catholic should want to participate fully and actively in.

Anyway, I dispute the claim that not having pillars contributes to full and active participation in any real way outside the minds of the Cathedral Design Team. That argument is grasping at straws.

Next, we have the claim that a dynamic effect results from the avoidance of symmetry and right angles.  Suuuure – avoid them enough, and the building stands a good chance of dynamically falling down. Again, as above – this is a ‘beautiful plumage, the Norwegian Blue’ moment – pointing out the lack of symmetry and right angles as if this is a big positive just means you’ve run out of relevant things to say.

Here’s the irony of ironies: the people, especially the new bishop (who, I imagine, will be putting in kneelers and looking into replacing the tabernacle as soon as possible – probably take a few years, as he needs to get his team in place) will find a way to make this place holy. The presence of the Holy Spirit, if given half a chance, will triumph over the architecture. Slowly, the people will add a little this, take out a little that, until the building, within its 500 year life expectancy, will become more and more holy. Then, once the fix it or replace it decision point is reached, where the fix it cost is a significant percentage of the replacement cost, the good people of Los Angeles, if it hasn’t fallen into the sea by then, will get a new cathedral – maybe, this time, with some meaningful attention paid to the feelings and taste of the actual church going Catholics.

One can always hope.

A Bad Corporate Neighbor

True confession time: I am a bad corporate neighbor. No, I don’t dump toxic waste in a baby-duck-infested pond or manipulate markets so that working stiffs loose their jobs and houses while I get rich – I mean, not *usually*. No, I’m far worse.

I pick the good stuff out of the corporate-supplied Gucci trail mix in the break room.

It’s corporate heaven where I work, in many ways: hands-off bosses, great bennies, lots of vacation time – and a fully-stocked break room. I never eat breakfast at home, since we keep everything from instant oatmeal to fresh fruit on hand.

So, am I grateful and humbled by all this largess? No. Instead, I crack into these large bags of high-end trail mix and – I am shamed! – pick out the good stuff.

What evil marketing droid decided that raisins and peanuts belonged in the same trail mix with dried pineapple, walnut halves, almonds and other yummy dried fruit? I mean, really. So, I just pick out the good stuff, leaving my co-workers to deal with bags of mostly peanuts and raisins by the time I’m through.

No one has caught me at it yet. No one has complained.

I suspect I should feel way worse about this that I do.

St. Matthew’s Cathedral, DC

No posts lately. Went to Mexico for a week, came back, got sick, had tons of work to try to catch up on, then left for DC, where I am now and will be for the week. Lots to catch up on.

Let’s start with a pretty church:

Was blessed to attend the 5:30 Mass there this afternoon – it’s about a mile from where I’m staying. Lovely short (as appropriate for a weekday afternoon) liturgy. About 50 people were there, and it looked like the U.N., only with more age differentiation – everything from college kids to people ‘cramming for the final exam’ as they say. Plus, they are praying a novena for increased devotion to the Eucharist. Nice.

It’s probably just me, but I find having St. Matthew as the patron of ‘civil servants’ hilarious – he was a tax collector for the Romans, pretty much a Quisling, until he gave it up for Jesus. Soooo – what’s the message we’re trying to get across here? That civil servants should be able to identify with St. Matthew because they are basically traitors to the people they ‘serve’? Or what? That they should give it all up and follow Jesus?

I mean, St Thomas More, sure – honorable man doing honorable service for his country. But Matthew? Wouldn’t you think you’d want a patron who had a little success as the Church counts success at your profession rather than a patron whose only virtuous act was leaving it?  Is this like making Mary Magdalene patroness of hookers, as a way of saying ‘Stop!”?