A Tale of Two Churches

Posted earlier about St. John Cantius’ in Chicago, how a devotion to the liturgy and religious arts helped save a beautiful church. This weekend, was in Baltimore with my boys, the older of whom was in a fencing tournament there, and so got to visit St. Alphonsus’, “Where Saints have Prayed”, a few blocks from the convention center. These two buildings have set me to speculating on what we can do to save and use all the beautiful churches in depopulated (and de-monied) older urban centers.

Like St. John Cantius’, this lovely church was built by immigrants in the 1800’s – Poles in Chicago, Germans here in Baltimore.  St. Alphonsus’ is considerably older, having been begun in 1845 – St. John’s was begun in 1893. Also, both are homes to the Extraordinary Form liturgy. Both have suffered from urban flight.

Both churches offer Mass in both Latin and English, in the Ordinary and Extraordinary Forms. Attended 2 Ordinary and one Extraordinary Masses at St. Alphonsus’ this past week.

St. Alphonsus’ boasts one saint – St. John Neumann – and one beata – Blessed Francis Xavier Seelos – among its pastors.  Pretty darn cool, and does add to the prayerful vibe of the place. Also, there’s a shrine chapel with various devotional statues, including one of the Infant of Prague, which was nice to see. (I told my boys that the prayer we add to our table blessing – “Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit; Divine Infant Jesus bless us” – came to them from me through their grandmother who got it from her mother, who, like St. John Neumann, was Czech – Czechs have a great devotion to the Infant of Prague.)

The sad difference is that while St. John Cantius’ has been renewed as a regional center of art and liturgy and Catholic education (they have classes in Latin, Greek and Hebrew!), St. Alphonsus’ has not gone that route, and instead is seeing regular mass attendance slowly dry up, until only 300 people attend mass there in a given week.*

While I didn’t get to attend Mass at St. John Cantius’, and so didn’t get to see first hand, they have numerous choirs and an dedicated religious order (the Cannons Regular of St. John Cantius) to make sure the liturgy is executed beautifully and fully, no matter which rite they use. St Alphonsus’ is very well staffed considering the situation, with two elderly priests, a deacon and a sacristan. Music on Sunday was a cantor and organist. Nothing wrong with that, but hardly a magnet.

Got to speak with the pastor for a couple moments, a kind elderly Monsignor, and he said that saving the church building is not possible – for men. God must save it. Let us pray He does so.

So, could St. Alphonsus’ be saved as St. John Cantius’ has been saved? Could it become a regional liturgical and sacred art center, drawing people (and funds) from the larger surrounding area? Not that the people involved are asking, it’s just that that’s a model that has worked at least once – at St. John Cantius’. Here’s the problem, from a human point of view: you can only have so many regional liturgy centers. Such centers would, it seems to me, by nature cluster around Cathedrals, or, at the very least, around particularly suitable and historic buildings.

St. Alphonsus’ is literally 2 blocks from the very beautiful Baltimore Basilica, truly an architectural masterpiece and an historically important building. Now, I loved St. Alphonsus’, it’s much prettier and more suitable for Sacred Liturgy than 95% of Catholic churches in America, and I’d love for it to be my parish church, but – it’s not an architectural masterpiece, nor is it historically important in itself. Unfortunately, older cities all across the East were full of beautiful churches built by Poles, Germans, Irish and so forth that are all but abandoned as Catholics fled the inner cities. We hear again and again tragic stories of diocese having to make difficult choices and closing and even demolishing such churches.

What makes St. Alphonsus special enough to be spared such a fate? I think we can eliminate the ‘regional liturgical and sacred art center’ idea, unless somehow the building could be preserved to serve as an adjunct venue to the Basilica, the logical choice for such a center. And it is special in having had a saint and a blessed among its pastors – that’s the point being emphasized by the people trying to save it now.

The architecture is said to inspired by St. Stephen’s in Vienna. If that is so, the inspiration didn’t go too far. The vaulting, to my eye the building’s best feature artistically, can be said to be like that in St. Stephen’s, but that’s about it.  Maybe with a couple of million dollars of restoration, and maybe a rethinking of some of the dark color choices on the columns and walls, St. Alphonsus’ could be considerably more lovely – but it’s not in the Basilica’s league, and never will be.

The one real hope, the miracle the Lord could work with us as His tools: Evangelization. While the population has declined precipitously, that doesn’t mean there aren’t people there. And they are just the sort of rag-tag despised people Jesus would have hung out with – the poor, the homeless, the yuppies.

* That’s what the website says. We attended a couple 12:10 Masses during the week – one of 2 daily masses – with about 30 – 40 people each, which would suggest more than 300 over a week including Sunday, but yes, small attendance.

The Appeal of Childlessness

From Tacitus:

It was next proposed to relax the Papia Poppaea law, which Augustus in his old age had passed subsequently to the Julian statutes, for yet further enforcing the penalties on celibacy and for enriching the exchequer. And yet, marriages and the rearing of children did not become more frequent, so powerful were the attractions of a childless state.

What was going on: around the time of the Empire, it had become apparent in Rome that Roman citizens were not having the large families that had characterized the earlier Republic. For example, when Hannibal fought and won the Battle of Cannae in 216 BC, he killed about 70,000 Roman soldiers, wiping out an entire army. Yet Rome was promptly able to raise a new army of citizens of similar size to continue the war – something possible only if you have plenty of young men handy. This contrasts with the situation under the Empire, where getting an army together increasingly meant recruiting from among the barbarian allies.

So, starting in 18 BC and continuing through the above Papia Poppaea law of 9 AD, the Empire tried to encourage families by heavily penalizing people who remained celibate.

It didn’t work, “so powerful were the attractions of a childless state”.

A couple things have long struck me as obvious that evidently are not, at least to most people. First, that, in the modern world,  population growth has long been curtailed by the powerful attractions of the childless state, not through the ‘selfless’ work of population control organizations. The mythology under which people – usually meaning ‘people other than my friends and neighbors’ – were ignorantly breeding up children by the dozens everywhere one turned and needed outside help such as provided by Zero Population Growth in order to control the otherwise uncontrollable results of their urges seemed nonsensical on the face of it when one looked around at the friends and neighbors people generally had.

By 1960 – before the Pill – it was already true in America that one was much more likely to live among zero, one, or two child households than among families with 3+ kids.  In the Southern California neighborhood of my childhood – the 1960’s, a suburban, child-friendly place with lovely parks – there was our big Catholic family of 9, one other big Catholic family of 8 and one other family with 3. Every other household had zero, 1 or 2 children.  The total number of children in the 3 block-area I considered home turf had far fewer than replacement children.

So, if I were to conclude that the human population was growing out of control, I’d have to base that conclusion on people I didn’t see. This becomes an important feature in population talks – it’s always about people we don’t see, not about my friends and my self.

Next, as illustrated by the lines from Tacitus above, the Romans were grimly delightful in the simple clarity of their thinking, uncluttered as it was by uniquely Christian moral baggage. They did not ask: ‘is it morally OK to invade some country, slaughter as many people as needed, take what we want, subject them to Roman rule, install a military presence whose day-to-day  survival is based on extortion and theft?’ Nope – Gaul, or Germany, or Macedonia or Egypt was there, they had stuff we wanted, so – we take ’em. Tacitus cuts to the chase: Romans are not refraining from raising children because of some higher concern, but because it’s less trouble and more fun in 1st century A.D. Rome not to have them.

We, on the other hand, need Reasons. I suspect this springs from our being a nation founded on a creed, as Chesterton pointed out. Everything we do has to be referred back to some ideal or principle, even and especially when the real reasons are staring us in the face. Manifest Destiny? The Indians had land, we wanted it, we had the army; Inferiority of Blacks? There’s a lot of money in slavery; The threat of Overpopulation? The attractions of a childless state are indeed powerful.

It would seem, based on the records of population growth, that concern for overpopulation is an effect, not a cause, of falling fertility rates. Because people are a relatively long-lived species, it takes generations for the effects of decreased numbers of offspring to show up in population totals – eighty years or so after people in a population  start having below replacement rate numbers of offspring, you’d expect the total population to start falling. Until then, the population total keeps rising as long as the number of kids is more than the number of ‘premature’ deaths.

By 1960 at the latest, it would have been clear that the population of Americans – and Europeans, Russians, Japanese – were starting to peak, net of immigration. For example, say the population average birthrate per woman was 3. But that average of three could be made up of 40 year olds with an average of 4 children, and 20 year olds with an average of 2 children. And those 20 year olds may not have any more, and their children may also only average 2 offspring. In this situation, the population will continue to grow for at least another 40 years, as the children of the 40 year olds and 20 year olds reach child-bearing age – and add their 2 children on average. But the big picture is that the population will fall – that, eventually, there will be more than 2 people dying (old age + premature deaths) for every 2 people added.

So, in the 1960s, an analysis of the trends (this is all trends, after all – it’s possible, if unlikely, that the Duggars will inspire millions to have as many children as possible) would match my analysis of the families in my neighborhood – that, on the whole, there were not enough kids to even replace the people already in the neighborhood, let alone cause an explosion.

But all I recall from the time is the constant bleatings of that anti-Cassandra, Ehrlich, and his minions. As the 7th of 9 kids, this was rather painful – it seemed that the world thought I shouldn’t be here (yea, I was a weird kid who paid attention to such things).

And now, I wonder: the days of population growth are numbered. Every single time over the years that I have compared actual population to projections – you know, like how we were supposed to have 100 billion people by now, unless war, famine and plague took us out – the actual results were at or below (usually below) the low-end estimates. Almost didn’t matter who was doing the projecting. So, now, we have the UN projecting a peak of somewhere between 7.4 and 10.5 billion, to be reached in the 50-60 years, then a gradual decline – maybe. The UN, by international charter, I suppose, is incapable of issuing population numbers without a note of panic*. Current forecasts often go to some lengths to make sure we know that people could change their minds, that people could start (implied: recklessly) having more than 2.1 children again, and we could return to growth – contrary to all experience over the last 70 years, and to Tacitus, and to other historical evidence.

We seem to feel a great need for an overriding moral concern to justify our submission to the attractive power of the childless and near childless state.

* Exceptions are some of the stuff that came out in 2002 – reading this, you might think population growth wasn’t a real problem at all. And that simply won’t do. The UN reverted to form in 2010 and after. And the usual suspects take that and run with it.

Hypatia Again, Aristotle, “Dead Ends” & Science

Been away from academia since my 1981 graduation from St. John’s College. (I’m not counting the MBA as an ‘academic’ experience – high-end VoTech.) But now, I’m taking Attic Greek at Cal, one of the great institutions of higher learning in this galactic sector. (OK, it’s the extension program, but still.)

File:Aspasie Pio-Clementino Inv272.jpg
File:Bust Sappho Musei Capitolini MC1164.jpg

So, it was only a matter of time before somebody said something that was going to set me off.

Week 1 passed without incident. In week 2, the professor, a charming Bulgarian lady, mentioned Pericles’ consort, Aspasia, and went to some lengths to describe the semi-scandal it was in 5th century Athens for a woman to talk with men. And I had heard somewhere that, at that point in time, it was often better to be a man’s horse than his wife, and that Rome, for all its funkiness, was a better place to be a noble woman by far than Ancient Greek.  But this is a topic about which I know little.

However, the little I do know is that, according to semi-classic work A History Of Education In Antiquity by H. I. Marrou, Sappho’s day gig was running a school for women very much on the lines of the various schools in Athens, with the intent of forming cultured women who could hang with the boys, and that hers was not the only such school. True, this would have been a couple centuries before Pericles, and Marrou does mention that “… for a long time afterwards, however, to judge by the available evidence, women’s education was eclipsed by the dominance of the masculine element in Greek civilization, and it did not reemerge into the full light of day until much later, only shortly before the Hellenistic Age.” Yet the women portrayed by Aristophanes in Lysistrata, written a couple decades after Pericles’ time, don’t seem unduly shy about talking to men on a fairly equal footing.

And so, in my ignorance, if I had bothered to think about it, I’d have said that, while educated women were not the norm in ancient Greece, (heck, educated *men* were not the norm, either. Slaves and peons were the norm), I would have supposed that they were not so rare as to be freakish. Continue reading “Hypatia Again, Aristotle, “Dead Ends” & Science”

US, State Prosecutors Throw Us a Bone – No Meat On It

So, since I’ve been railing here about how this administration would not prosecute any Wall Street firms over the various frauds committed during the recent (and continuing) financial meltdown, thought it only fair to point out an exception, a first. I’ve long held that there’s no chance of prosecution because, in a truly fascinating and amazing coincidence, the financial enforcement arms of the government are staffed and lead by people who used to work for Wall Street firms and generally intend to work for Wall Street firms once they’ve put in their 2-3 years of public service making sure nothing untoward happens to their once and future employers.

Well, here’s some news: the financial instrument rating arm of S&P is reportedly getting sued. Let me offer one well contained huzzah. This could be a step in the right direction. I kind of doubt it.

Now, maybe this is the first small step in a bigger plan – maybe the prosecutors have explained to some mid-level lackey at S&P that he could be rooming with Bubba and Vinnie the Neck for the next 10 years, unless he cared to share with them the names  of the people involved in making sure that S&P didn’t look too hard at those mortgage-backed securities, but instead gave them the AAA-rating Goldman and others needed them to have in order to sell them to unsuspecting retirement funds. Because there were dozens of people in those rating agencies that knew MBS were some seriously bad stuff well before they started to stink – math & logic insist this is so.

Then, the prosecutors could have a remarkably similar discussion with the people that lackey fingered. Lather, rinse, repeat, until you’re having a little talk with senior execs at Goldman – and at Treasury and the SEC, and maybe (let’s dream a little here) with a few Congressmen.  Then – when Wall Street Presidents and CEO are doing time and having their assets seized, Treasury and SEC heads are rolling, and (dreaming again) Barney Frank has his retirement plans changed to live off our tax dollars in an entirely different and more confined way – THEN I’ll admit I was too cynical.

Until then, the more likely scenario is: The government prosecutors are under enormous political pressure to DO SOMETHING about all these Wall Street fat cats having worked the system in order to not just stay out of jail, but to make off with enough tax-payer funded plunder to make Black Beard blush. So, who can they go after, that calms the little people without really bothering the big boys? How about the rating agencies? Yea, because OF COURSE S&P wasn’t under ANY PRESSURE AT ALL to give Goldman and others the ratings on MBS that Goldman and others needed to pull off their scam – it’s not like Goldman pays them for the ratings, after all.

Oh, wait – they do.

So, prosecutors can bag S&P, hit them with a billion-dollar fine, nobody does any time, and everybody else – the real perps from Wall Street to DC – skate, to fund another reelection campaign another day.

Doing the Math – Approximating the Boring Truth

(Last little update: it may not be clear to the casual reader that I do know that the math isn’t even part of the argument, that, in fact, any reasonable moral argument won’t be based on a show of hands of the living and the dead. I’m just spelling out how preposterous the claims are even on their own utterly illogical terms. It’s kind of like the persistent claim that the Inquisition did in several times the population of Europe at the time. Not to mention the irony of appealing to ancient practice to justify something all but universally condemned by ancient practice. This is ridiculous on so many levels I just picked one – math – and had at it.)

Here’s another bit of flotsam that drifted my way via the anti-social media of the interwebs:

The claim, attributed to no one in particular but spoken in the voice of an aboriginal American, is: millions of gay marriages were performed by aboriginal Americans over hundreds of years in the US (“this soil”). Happily,this claim is subject to a little objective analysis.

It would seem that this claim is not true.

We will not here dispute the most disputable aspects of this claim, which is the equating of all of a presumed 130 different tribal ‘same sex marriage’ ceremonies with ‘marriage’ under American custom and law, nor call for some sort of back-up on the claim that 130 tribes had effectively the same aboriginal practices, and some account of how those practices are known to us. I merely note that most of what we know of most of the tribes comes from times long after their lives had been thoroughly disrupted by Europeans and European diseases, and that naming 130 different tribes suggests that the tribes were, you know, different, not so homogenous that we could make blanket claims that they were in fact all the same – which is what the poster is claiming. Making state of nature claims about their customs based on what was told to questioners at least a century or two after that presumed unspoilt state had been destroyed, and assuming those customs are essentially the same over time and space, is at least questionable.

(And who, exactly, does not consider people with same sex attraction sacred? I know I and my family and friends and church do. It’s almost like the reader is supposed to feel browbeaten and ashamed instead of looking at the actual claims. But enough – )

Instead, let’s do some math. Let’s start by stating a few assumptions:

– 1% – 2% of the population of the US identify as lesbians or homosexuals; we will assume for purposes of this analysis that those percentages represent some sort of natural level, and use 1.5%;

– only a tiny fraction of Americans who identify as gay want to personally get married. We’ll use 10%, a very high number in based on what actually happens in states where this practice is legal;

– The most common estimate of pre-European American Indian population in the US is about 7 million. (High estimate for all the New World is about 100M, but about 50M seems a more popular number among professional aboriginal population-guessers, with the bulk of those living in Central and South America.);

– the population was largely stable – pretty much 7M from century to century. We do this to grossly simplify the math, and it’s as good a guess as any since we don’t know otherwise;

– 50 year life expectancy – probably a bit optimistic, but it makes the math easy and shouldn’t affect the results too much;

So: at any one time, there would be 1.5% of 7M “gay” Indians in pre-Columbian America: or about 100,000 gay Indians.  With a 50 year life expectancy, the population would completely swap out, on average, twice a century.

But it take (at least) 2 to make a gay marriage. So, if 100% of gay Indians married other gay Indians one to one,  then, at any one time, there would be about 50,000 gay Indian married couples, or about 100,000 per century.

But using current behavior as a guide, it seems only a small percentage of gays in America – or anywhere else – actually want to get married. Using 10%, over any one century, our remarkably forward-thinking aboriginal Americans performed maybe 10,000 same-sex marriages per century.

Therefore, to support the claim that aboriginal Americans performed “millions of same-sex marriages for hundred of years” on “this soil”, we’d need to be talking about tens of thousands of years. The earliest Americans seem to have shown up around 15,000 years ago; so, if they had immediately reached a stable population of 7M (unlikely) and immediately begun stamping out gay marriages at the rate described above (no evidence), then about 1.5M aboriginal American gay marriages would have been performed in total up to today on “this soil”.

Which is less than “millions”.


Now, of course my assumptions may be wrong. But the beauty here is that I’ve spelled them out, and anyone can see what I did, and challenge or accept or modify any of the assumptions and come up with another answer. And then we could have an actual informed discussion! Not, you know, a knew-jerk tribal smirk-fest. How cool would that be?

Finally, it is curious that aboriginal American customs are held up as the epitome of enlightenment – some times. So far, we haven’t heard about how we should reconsider our taboos against splitting people’s heads with sharpened stones or ritually beating and flaying alive little girls, even though those practices were customary among certain tribes. At least, we have not yet begun those discussions out loud.

(Minor correction: the poster does in fact refer to all of North America – so, if they intended that to include Mexico and Central America , then the numbers might work IF – huge IF – there’s any reason to believe that the Aztecs and Mayans took time off from human sacrifice and wars of conquest to perform lots of gay marriages. Which I kinda  doubt. )

Greek Update & Academic Stupidity

In week 2, we’ve reached the point where I fell out of the boat as an 18 year old: memorizing declensions over  several dozen vocabulary words while getting the not at all intuitively obvious accent rules right. I’m looking at a good 10 hours of homework before next Saturday just to not fall behind.

I seem to be the only one in the class that doesn’t already have at least one additional language; seems at least half the class has taken Greek before and are looking for a rematch.

On a less hopeful note, was continually distracted by the text’s use of the CE/BCE convention – bloody hell! Like anyone who reads anything, I’d run across it before, of course, but had always managed to roll my eyes, shake my head and move on without too much discomfort. Now, these two Yalie academics who wrote the text only use it a couple times a page.

I envisions this scene (note: just fantasy here – the people in my class are just people. It’s the damn Yalies I’d want to go after. The professor is not named ‘Thomas’):

“Professor Thom? Just want to let you know that your first name – Thomas, is it? – offends me deeply. Not only are you not a twin in direct contradiction to the root meaning of the word, but ‘Thomas’ has gained its place as a common name used by millions over a couple of millennia due, inescapably, to its being a part of the evil patriarchy imposed with blood and power. It is inextricably bound up in the power dynamic by which European tyrannies and the evil  Catholic Church have oppressed millions for ages now, I cannot put up with it. To cavalierly use the name Thomas is to stomp on the newly-enlightened oppressed like so many baby ducks.

Therefore, I am unilaterally going to have to change your name, and you will have no say in it – how could you? Any complaints will out you as a tool of da Man, right?  Since you like going by your first name, you will now be called Professor Butthead from here on out.

Any questions, Butthead?

“I’m not happy, Bob. Not happy.”

LA’s Bishops, Hubris, and Expectations


LA Times

Mahony Strikes Back

A few thoughts:

– Let us all pray for the victims, first of course the children, but also the many good priests who now live under a shadow, and for the bishops who tried to do the right thing, and for the bishops who have to clean up the mess. Also, we must pray for the perpetrators, for their conversion and repentance and for God’s mercy on them and us.

– Some wag once mentioned that even Christ only got 11 good bishops out his 12 picks, and even that 11 had some pretty rough moments. We are saddened, but we can hardly be surprised that some bishops turn out not to be good. We should be thrilled, I should think, if the Church got anywhere close to 11 out of 12 good ones, Popes included. These are hard, hard jobs which put one in Satan’s cross-hairs.

– I grew up in LA. There always seemed to be a bit of princely lording from the Cardinal going on, a bit of ‘we know best and don’t answer to you’ attitude about the faithful. A little of something like this can be a good thing in doctrinal matters, if done with humility; as discussed here and here in a completely different context, it didn’t seem to happen. In fact, doctrine and dogma were pretty much dirty words back in the 70’s and 80’s when I was there, while projects that were more properly subjects of debate (like what kind of Cathedral would best serve Angelinos) were not debated.

– So, sadly, it seems that the hubris I thought I was sensing was real, and wasn’t limited to comparatively minor things such as ugly buildings, but also to the law, the truth and, most important, the safety of children. So now, people suffer and the Church is dragged through the mud, faith is damaged, and enemies exalt.

– This throws the relationship between Mother Angelica and Cardinal Mahony into a different light.

– Once spoke with a Catholic leader doing good work of a more theologically conservative strain, who had to work under Mahony’s jurisdiction. I asked him how that worked out. He said one had to be prudent about how one spoke to the Cardinal, but that’s all he’d say. He is very prudent, after all.

Speaking of Map Lust & a Movie Concept

How about this baby:

Reviewed here. Gotta love a map that a) represents tons of loving manual labor; and b) wins a ‘best of show’ award versus the big boys of cartography.

There’s a screenplay in there somewhere. “In the low stakes world of high end cartography, one man alone takes on the somewhat larger companies who stop just short of doing anything truly awful  in “Prime Meridian: Crossing the Line”.

From the trailer:

Psychiatrist: “Ze problem, Mr. Harrison, is zat you are projecting.”

John Harrison: “Of course I’m projecting – I’m a cartographer, dammit!”

Mercator: “I get the picture: stretch the truth a little here, don’t go too far north, and it all fits in a nice frame job.”

John Harrison: “We don’t have to do it this way.”

M: “Loxodromes, he don’t take kindly to any deviations off the straight and narrow.”

JH: “We have to stand up for the truth! No more lies and distortions!.”

M: “Truth? You’re a round ball in flat world, Harrison.”

Windrose Rhumb: “You’d leave me? I’ve always played straight with you!”

John Harrison: “Have you? I can’t live a lie anymore. You’ve grown distant…”

WR; “John! Don’t say it!”

FH: …especially when you get too far north or south. You’re in bed with Mercator”

WR: “No!”