Yesterday’s Homily

The soul of humility is obedience. Without the willingness to set aside our own wishes in obedience to proper authority, claims of humility are empty. That’s why St. Thomas, in his prayer after communion, includes “Let this Holy Communion strengthen us in love and patience, humility and obedience, and all the virtues.” Love is first – without love, no other virtue lives. Love endures in patience. But the very next virtues listed are humility and obedience – humility, the virtue corresponding to the fear of the Lord, and obedience, by which this humility is made real.

Yesterday’s homily was not about any of this. Instead, we were treated to the spectacle of a man inexplicably proud of his intellect – of which, in the years I’ve known him, has been on display with enlightening infrequency – telling us that love of self, neighbor, and God demands we do exactly what the latest COVID panic mongers demand, that failing to get vaccinated and wear masks means – he was specific – that we, the guilty, love not God, our neighbor, nor ourselves. He didn’t explicitly add: and are going straight to hell, but the implication was strong.

Further, he used the example of poor Cardinal Burke as the sort of “moron” who doesn’t mask or get vaccinated and thus, by ending up in the hospital (he has since recovered, thank God) with COVID, proves the truth of his position. The blessed cardinal is a man who is a) elderly, b) extremely busy and probably exhausted, c) probably interacts with thousands of people in a typical week, and d) is under insane levels of pressure and spiritual attack. And he recovered, like 99.9%+ of people who aren’t actively dying.

So imagine me and mine, who along with dozens of other people, are sitting OUTDOORS IN THE SUNLIGHT at mass, unmasked, hearing this dim bulb call a saintly man, who incidentally is vastly and demonstrably his intellectual superior, a “moron” for failing to do as he is told by such genius humanitarians as Fauci, Brix, and Ferguson. My wife tried to talk with him after mass, with the predictable dismissive results. (I was loading up the car w/ grandma at the time, and hadn’t even noticed she’d gone until she was almost through. I’m also a coward with a temper – bad combination for rational discourse when I’m pissed off.)

The totalitarianism of postmodernism has found ready adherents in the well-schooled. This Dominican (!) teaches at the local ‘catholic’ boy’s high school – ‘catholic’ in quotes, as they are of course too inclusive as to take a stand on anything as icky as Catholic dogmas. (Their sister school, the girl’s school next door, prays “In the name of the Creator, the Redeemer, and the Sanctifier” because that Father-Son stuff can offend some poor snowflakes, and they want to be inclusive. While this girls school did allow for a Pro-Life club, they likewise allowed – on campus – an organized protest *against* the Pro-Life club. Very Catholic and inclusive.) I’ve had occasion to get to know the products of these schools – fine young cannibals, all. Any attempt at discussion of the faith is met with utter ignorance and indifference. Very well schooled rabbits.

Yet this priest’s high self opinion, expressed in meandering stories of his adventures in lieu of homilies with any reference to the feast or readings, compel him to attempt to shame and anathema a group of fine people who have had it with the lies he, himself, cannot acknowledge, lest his world crumble and he dies!

And that’s what we’re up against now: the panic rabbits have built their entire identities on obedience, on doing as they are told, on getting the pat on the head, the gold star, the participation trophy. This priest, as a high school teacher, is even more integrated into this system and has his identity and sense of self-worth even more tied to conforming and getting others to conform. Doing as he is told is the highest virtue, while defying the authorities warrants heavy anathemas. That’s been his life for 40 years.

Getting back to humility and obedience: Thomas notes that true authority, the authority we must always obey, comes from doing the will of God. A king is legitimate insofar – and only insofar – as he is doing God’s will. Yet I think Thomas, while perhaps having something to say about the idea that legitimate government rests upon consent of the governed, would agree with the sentiments of the signers of the Declaration of Independence: “Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient Causes; and accordingly all Experience hath shewn, that Mankind are more disposed to suffer, while Evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the Forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long Train of Abuses and Usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object, evinces a Design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their Right, it is their Duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future Security.”

The philosophical errors here are certainly overshadowed by the glorious vigor of people yearning to be free.

Thomas would of course be very, very circumspect regarding when a long train of abuses becomes intolerable, because he had knowledge of what it’s like when there is no king or other legitimate authority. Better to endure, and be obedient, whenever possible. Our sterling example in this was another St. Thomas, St. Thomas More. He harbored few illusions about Henry, yet loved and obeyed him to the very end – except when such obedience would contradict the law of God.

And we should be just a circumspect, and be humble in our judgements. In my case, I have made the judgement – and may God have mercy on my soul! – that obedience to these authorities causes more harm than good, and that the authorities have long since abandoned any defensible claim of legitimacy other than mere inertia. Therefore, I will not comply, except insofar as my noncompliance would get an innocent person – a store clerk, for example -in trouble. And that’s on a case-by-case basis.

Christmas: Feast of the True Presence

This post may be of interest to my Christian brothers and sisters who are not Catholic, as it may give some insight into what we crazy Papists are up to.

Sandro Botticelli, The Mystical Nativity (1500-1501). Go here to enlarge this to see the details.

This nativity has it all: Angel choirs dancing above the stable; Faith, Hope, and Charity perched on the roof. To the left, an angel directs the Wise Men to the Babe; an overwhelmed and elderly Joseph (the typical medieval way he was imagined) sits bowing near the Infant. Mary, on her knees with folded hands, worships her newborn Son while the ox and ass look on. To the right, another angel directs two shepherds.

Below, three people are being embraced or perhaps lifted up by angels, cheek to cheek. Seven little demons flee, several impaled on the instruments of torture they carry.

Except for Mary, Joseph, and Jesus, all the people are crowned or are being crowned with laurel – the crown of victory. The fat little Baby is reaching for his mother and sucking his fingers.

Subtler details: the stable is a cave, a part of the earth. Through the back of the cave one sees a beautiful forest – Eden-like, even. The scale of the forest seen through the cave doesn’t match the forest to the left, as if it’s not part of the same scene.

Although Botticelli was a Renaissance master, he still uses the medieval vocabulary of symbols. Christ was born not merely on the earth, but in the earth. He is not something added to the surface, but rather of the matter of our order of Creation. The ox and the ass in the same way are representatives of Creation itself worshipping the Son. Eden, which is the proper, intended order of Creation for Man, is visible through the cave, where Heaven and Earth meet in the Person of Christ. The veil is drawn back, so that angels rejoice and demons flee.

Ave fit ex Eva, as the medievals were known to say: the ‘Ave’ with which the angel greeted Mary is made from Eva, the pure and innocent Mary saying ‘yes’ replaces the pure and innocent Eve saying ‘no’. Through Mary, God restores, and then some, the proper order of Creation as remembered from Eden. The whole scene captures the wedding of Heaven and Earth, of angels and men, of earthly and heavenly creation.

There is a combination of general representatives and specific individuals. Mary, Joseph, Gabriel, the Wise Men, and Shepherds are particular individuals we know from the story; the angels and the three men at the bottom of the picture are representatives of Heaven and Earth; the men in particular invite us to read ourselves into the scene.

The people for whom this picture was painted would understand that intended part of their reading of themselves into the story is the acceptance of a God-given role – Thy Will be done. Mary is glorious because she perfectly accepted God’s Will for her – the glory is all God’s, but she is its perfect mirror. In the same way, Joseph’s humble, silent acceptance of God’s Will makes him glorious by reflected light. Even the ox and ass are glorious in a similar way, although they act only as extensions of the human beings who raised them and put them in the stable. But that’s what we do – glorify God by how we use the gifts He entrusts to us.

Or how about this one:

Adoration of the Shepherds, Georges de La Tour c. 1644.

Here, the artist uses a conceit – an unseen candle held by Joseph but shielded by his hand from us – so that he can show Mary, Joseph, and the Shepherds lit by the reflected light of the Christ Child, the actual source of light in this picture.

A thousand years later, these ideas, of a cave, of light, of God-with-us Emmanuel, of our place in God’s scheme, of the meeting of Heaven and Earth and the redemption of all Creation, found expression in a thousand church interiors all across Christendom.

We’re used to well-lit interiors, thanks to Edison, but, as designed and used, the interiors of churches necessarily share much with the cave of the stable. In Gothic churches, during the day, at least, light enters filtered by stained glass; at night, only candles and lamps provided light, which would seem very dark to us.

But it is through that cave that we see the new Eden, lit by the Light of Christ.

The cave is also the Tabernacle of the New Covenant, the Holy of Holies, containing Jesus. Yet it is the only the second tabernacle. Mary, greeted by Elizabeth as ‘the mother of my Lord’ – the queen, in the usage of the time – is the first and primary tabernacle, the Holy of Holies as a person. Her humility is perfect, meaning she accepts the role God has given to her with complete abandonment of herself – full of grace.

Yet, because she holds nothing back and gives all to God, she is more perfectly herself than any other purely human person. But doing God’s Will is not passive. We are made in the image and likeness of the Creator and the Savior. Thus, Mary’s surrender – be it done unto me according to Thy Will – results in *activity*, creative, redemptive activity. Always, Mary’s actions in accord with God’s Will are reflections of that Will and activated by it. Yet God choose her and filled her with grace so that she could eternally serve Him, as the Mother of His Son.

The most common name given to Catholic Churches is some form of Notre Dame – Our Lady. You’ll find parish churches and cathedrals named Queen of the Angels, Mother of God, Queen of All Saints, Star of the Sea, Our Lady of Solitude, Our Lady of Victory, Visitation, Mother of Sorrows, and a hundred other names and references to Mary.

Catholics do this because each church is a tabernacle of the New Covenant, a place where the Incarnation continues through the priest when he, acting as Jesus commanded the Apostles, incarnates Him in the bread and wine. By the Divine Will, Mary’s perfect yes brought that Will into this world, uniting Heaven and Earth, making each of us members of a Royal Priesthood, made worthy to enter the Holy of Holies where Christ is present on His altar, the Lamb of God. We then become, each of us, that Tabernacle when we receive the Body and Blood of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament.

Christmas means all these things. We honor God by honoring Mary, Queen and Holy of Holies by His Will. The Child in her womb, the Babe in the manger, the Lamb of God on the Cross, the risen Lord, the Pantocrator – Mary was there for all of that. Her work of bringing Jesus into the world, in the image of God and reflecting and embodying His Will, continues eternally.

She always reflects His glory, always points to the Son, always does His Will. We, honoring her, always follow her lead and give worship and glory only to Father through the Son in the Holy Spirit.

Have a Happy, Holy, and Blessed Christmas Season! (which runs from sundown today through the Feast of the Epiphany on January 6. Party hard till then!)

Monday Update

A: Lots of important things to discuss, so lets skip that (and the *140* draft posts now in my folder here) and talk about something else!

B: Teaching 8th-grade and 9th grade level history classes is pretty much a full-time job. To prep for 6-8 hours of class a week takes me around 20 – 25 hours. Partly this is due to the amount of research I need to do into areas of which I’m ignorant (that would be most areas); partly because I’m reviewing, selecting, and producing handouts from source materials – the kids have been subjected to excerpts from Herodotus, Thucydides, St. Jerome, Chesterton, Belloc, Tacitus – with plenty more to come. Tack on the organizational and planning aspects and – there’s my week.

It’s fun, and the kids are great.

C. You’re dying to hear about progress on the Endless Front Yard Brick Project and Backache Jamboree, aren’t you? I know you are!

Short answer: nothing. Back in the summer, when the evenings were still light, I just couldn’t make myself do it. Started a couple times, but the next step – putting in frames and pouring concrete footings for the final 30′ stretch of wall and planter – just no. Started several times, have a nice pile of 2X4s slowly warping into uselessness out front, but – nope. So now I need a long weekend of nice weather and inspiration, or wait till Spring.

My money is on Spring.

D. This is not to say nothing has happened. Consider:

The sacred shrine to the Oracle of the Water Meter

Back in May, I think, when I finished this oddity up, you can see I transplanted some moss – that’s the little tufts of green. It seemed to have died, and weeds started taking over, so I pulled the weeds except for a few I decided to call ‘dichondra’, which they might actually be, who knows.

Threw some water on them when watering the trees and plants. Now:

Please ignore the former flowers in the planting boxes. It’s October. They died.
The moss came back! And is now in a struggle for its very life with the dichondra.

Kind of cute, huh? Give it a rainy winter, and it’ll take over the world.

E. Speaking of Nature in all its glory and horror: my beloved wife suggested, and I enthusiastically agreed, to plant some morning glories.

Well. I stuck some seeds in the ground in a small patch between the fig and citrus trees, behind the brick bench I put in during phase 3.2(b) of the above mentioned Endless Project. Poor things! Took a long time to come up, only 5 did, and the bugs got right after them. So I started a few inside, just in case. Transplanted them outside in June. We had 7 little plants that made it.

But they didn’t seem to be going anywhere. I stuck a light redwood trellis in the ground for them, by way of encouragements.

It evidently worked:

What may not be apparent from this picture: the sheer massiveness of the plants – the only reason I think the trellis hasn’t snapped is because the vines are now strong enough to hold themselves up. The whole mass is leaning dangerously forward. I have a pole propping it up on the far side, as it looked like it was going to fall that way originally. Word is they die with the first frosts, which here in NoCal tend to happen in December. So it’s going to get bigger.

For the last month, I’ve been waging daily war, snipping morning glory vines trying to strangle the fig and citrus. The next day, there are more vines. I think with a little patience, I could watch them grow. I’ve stopped watering it, which seems to have kicked it into flower-making mode.

So I did a little belated research on morning glories. One consistent warning: once you’ve gotten a batch established, it’s all but impossible to get ride of them – they shed millions of seeds that can last for several years, meaning that, even if you pull up a thousand plants one year, you will probably see more the next anyway.

The seeds, which are about the size, shape and color of rat droppings, are already everywhere.

At least morning glories are very pretty.

F. Speaking of unspeakable horrors, my beloved also planted a bunch of sweet potatoes in three planter in the back and side yards that I wasn’t using this year. The plants have done very well, although in my attempts to locate any sweet potatoes I have found only smallish, skinny ones.

But the leaves are edible! Kind of like spinach, but even milder. Since we have tons of leaves, I googled some recipes.

If you are interested, check out some sweet potato leaf recipes from Africa, specifically, Sierra Leone. YouTube has any number of cheerful Africans whipping up dishes that look, if you skip ahead and only see the end products, delicious.

It’s the steps in between that might cause a little squeamishness. I’m absolutely an omnivorous, and would gird up my culinary loins, as it were, and try this stuff if I came face to face with it. And it would probably be good! But –

A recipe that includes chicken feet, fish heads, leftover chicken parts, stray meat, and other probably best left unidentified ingredients, immersed in *cups* of red palm oil and then boiled until not quite unrecognizable – best just eat and not ask questions.

The funny part: they all refer to this as a potato leaf recipe, when the chopped leaves are added at the end and cook down to a mere background. Meanwhile, that catfish head in there is doing the backstroke….

They cook sweet potato leaves all around the world. Wilted in butter and garlic is quite good, although now I feel like a coward going that route.

G. Yesterday, we drove for hours to do some visiting, and so attended mass far from home – at a parish that’s decided enough’s enough. I will be as vague as possible, since the world is infested with Karens and narcs (but I repeat myself).

What I saw: a few nods in the direction of social distancing – people sat every other pew, sort of, which reduced the number that fit into the church proper down to the technically allowable 100. But the choir loft was also full-ish…

The overflow went into the adjoining hall. There, the folding chairs were maybe a little farther apart than usual.

The priest, citing the teaching of the USCCB, stated that it was simply morally impossible for a Catholic to vote for Biden due to his support for abortion. Whoa.

The most telling part: we got there a half hour early; the people from the proceeding mass were still milling around in the courtyard, chatting and visiting. I saw a total of 4 masks. After our mass, people likewise were visiting.

People are starved for basic human contact. Finally given a chance, they embrace it desperately, like drowning men finding a lifeboat. When we were walking in from the parking lot, never having been there before and knowing no one, a man struck up a conversation with us – just because. While waiting for mass, I was standing in the courtyard while a priest was talking with a small crowd nearby. When finished, he approached me to see if I was waiting to speak to him. I think he gets it.

They have evidently been doing this for a while now, so of course we had to step over the dead bodies in the parking lot and stop out ears to the death rattles of the dying.

Not.

Seriously, if anything, this congregation has acquired the herd immunity we all would have long ago acquired if the lock down had not been implemented to extend the outbreak. They have refused to trade social sanity for the illusion of safety.

H. Oldest daughter just passed 4 months of married life. She and her husband still seem to get along fine. 😉 She just turned 27, got a new job, and broke her finger. Sigh. Poor kid. She and hubby are looking to buy a house.

Kids these days. I’m itching to build them furniture and maybe a pizza oven for their new house! That’s the ticket!!!

Middle son got himself a serious squeeze, the kind he’s flying across the country so that she can meet the family over Thanksgiving. So far, via Face Time, she seems very sweet.

Younger daughter spends her days not dating her coworkers at Costco, who regularly ask her out, and not letting her bosses put her on a career track. A cheerful, hardworking, responsible smart kid – gee, they want to keep her? She’s planning to study languages at some grad school in the Holy Land, where Greek and Hebrew are taught conversationally, and the base language of instruction is French. Because why not? She’s barely conversational in French, so might go back to France for more polishing. She wants to study Scripture in the original languages, and will end up with 5 languages: English, French, Latin, Greek, and Hebrew. Hebrew is the only one she hasn’t at least got a start on.

Kids these days.

Youngest son was just confirmed in a weird (and holy and wonderful, don’t get me wrong!) outdoor ceremony with the bishop.

Wife is co-running the local 40 Days for Life, the last round of which was ended by the lockup. Now? Masked up and ‘distancing’, we pray.

Explaining the Eucharist: Adventures in RCIA

I was assigned to give 15 minutes (!) on the theology and history of the Eucharist to our RCIA class last night. Of course, the first thing one has to say: impossible task, all I can give it the briefest outline of an introduction to the topic. I wish I would have thought to say…

Well, that is the topic of this post: what can one say about the Eucharist in about 15 minutes? I’m taking what I did say, cleaning it up and adding a few points I wish I’d thought to say.

Image result for monstrance

We try to understand the Eucharist, the True Presence of Our Lord Jesus Christ under the appearance of bread and wine, with our minds of course, but even more with our hearts. The Church does and always has encouraged questions and thought, but at the same time reminds us that the things of God are beyond the intellectual grasp of us mere humans and can only be known imperfectly in this life. The Eucharist is first among these mysteries, as it is the continued presence of the Incarnate Lord among us, the working out and fulfillment of our salvation as members of the Body of Christ.

When Peter preached on Pentecost, 3,000 people were converted and baptised. Why? What did those hearing Peter understand that made them ready to accept Jesus? Two stories central to Judaism help explain this, and how these early Christians understood the Eucharist.

The first is the story of Abraham sacrificing Isaac. When God tells Abraham to make a burnt offering of his son Isaac, he obeys without question. In the last chapter, he had driven his concubine Hagar and their son Ishmael out, giving them only a waterskin and a little bread. Even though God had assured him that He would care for them and make a nation out of Ishmael, Abraham had treated them poorly: driving a woman and her small son into the wilderness would normally be a death sentence. So Abraham has no standing to object to God asking for his other son.

When Isaac says “Father! Here are the fire and the wood, but where is the sheep for the burnt offering?” Abraham answers that God will provide the sheep for the burnt offering. When God stops Abraham and supplies a ram, He is sparing and ransoming not just Isaac but all of Israel, all the children that would come through Isaac. He was providing the sacrifice that allowed Israel to exist.

Thew second story, the greatest story in Israel, is God saving His people from Egypt. The last plague sent by God to force Pharaoh to set the Israelites free is striking down the first born of every household in Egypt. He gives instructions to Moses: have the people get ready to leave. Have them take a yearling lamb, unblemished, and kill and eat it. Have them take some of its blood and splash it on the lintels of their door as a sign to my angel to pass over that household.

Thus, God strengthened His people for their journey out of slavery and into freedom with the flesh of a lamb, and by its blood marked them out and spared them from death.

In these two stories, God supplies the victim which is sacrificed in the place of Isaac for the sins of Abraham, thus purchasing the lives of all his descendents. In Egypt, the land of slavery, He tells them to eat an unblemished lamb and to mark themselves as His with its blood. The flesh of the lamb strengthens them for their journey to freedom, its blood saves them from death.

When John the Baptist sees Jesus down by the Jordan River, he proclaims: “Behold the Lamb of God! Behold him Who takes away the sins of the world!” The Jews hearing this would have thought: the Lamb of God? The sacrifice supplied by God to save us? The lamb whose blood spares us from death? Whose flesh strengthens us for our journey to freedom?

Then, in John 6, Jesus expounds further: unless you eat My Flesh and drink My Blood, you shall have no life within you. For my Flesh is real food, and My Blood is real drink. These are outrageous claims, and the people who heard it were outraged, and many left. Jesus then asks his disciples if they, too, wish to leave, Peter answers not with any understanding of what he’s just heard, and not with questions or requests for clarification. He’d just heard Jesus emphatically double down in the face of outrage. Instead, he says simply: Lord, where would we go? You have the words of eternal life.

At the Last Supper, after the traditional Passover meal where Jesus and the Apostles remembered how God rescued His people from Egypt, at which they had prepared and eaten the lamb just as Moses had instructed Israel in the land of slavery, Jesus breaks the bread and says: this is My Body. He takes the wine and says: this is the cup of My Blood in a new and everlasting covenant. Do this in memory of Me.

Remember, as John says at the beginning of his Gospel, Jesus is the Word through Whom all things were made. When He says ‘let there be light,’ light appears; when he commands the earth to be full of plants and animals and the sea to be full of fish, they are. His Word causes things to be what they are. When He says: this is My Body, that is what it is.

After this, Jesus leaves the Passover meal and heads out to be sacrificed for us, handing over His Body to death and spilling His Blood that we might live. God has indeed provided the Sacrifice. He has indeed supplied the food for our journey into his life and freedom.

From the moment Peter first preached at Pentecost, this has been the Church’s understanding of the Eucharist. Those 3,000 Jews who converted on the spot would have understood this, as I’m sure Peter and the Apostles would have pointed it out to any who did not immediately grasp it. But as important as the intellectual understanding is, much more is the touching of hearts: all the pieces of all the stories those people had heard all their lives, all the yearnings and prayers for a savior, all their longing for Emmanuel, God With Us – all the pieces fell into place, and they all knew that Jesus is Lord, that He is with us always, and gave us Himself most intimately for our nourishment and salvation.

Thus, we find in Acts and the letters of Paul already expressed a devotion to the Eucharist. The True Presence is attested to by all the Church fathers. John’s and Paul’s descipe Ignatius of Antioch wrote about it in his letters around 100 A.D. Irenaeus of Lyon testified to it in the 2nd century. The Church has maintained from the beginning that God so loves the world that he continues to send His Son to us, His Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity, in the Eucharist under the appearances of bread and wine.

I blathered on a little more, but this is the gist of what I wished I had said, built on what I did say, which was not this clear or tidy, and left out a few things.

Update: Catholic Education, etc.

Writing posts to this blog, usually between 8 and 20 a month, hs been perhaps my major hobby and creative outlet for almost a decade now. Recently, the need to find some gainful employment has commandeered a large amount of my time and energy; prayers would be appreciated. (And leads – anybody need an expert in corporate return measures, equipment finance deal structuring, or – my real strength – dabbling like a boss? I’m available.) I’ve been scarce around here.

But, in an attempt to manage my sanity, such as it is, I’ve decided to dedicate 3 hours a day to ‘projects,’ chief of which is the on-going Education History Research and Book Writin’ Jamboree.

My lack of scholarly planning is going to require me to reread, or at least skim, many of the books I’ve already read, as I’ve taken few notes outside the references embedded in these blog posts. Some will be fun; many are tedium embodied. To keep my sanity, I’m going to start with a good one, Walch’s Parish School, especially since about a year ago Dr. Walch kindly sent me his most recently revised edition. It’s both a pretty quick read and very well sourced, which has pointed me to so much of the earlier work in the field.

The curse of the internet: Began to research the John Ireland/Catholic Bishops controversy of 1890, and discovered Archbishop Ireland wrote a book The Church and Modern Society. Since I’m painfully aware of the inadequacy of my knowledge of the history of American Church/State relations and the attitudes of Catholics toward the rabidly anti-Catholic Protestant establishment of 19th century America, I found a free online copy of this book and downloaded it. Another +/-500 pages to read.

It never ends. I have to remind myself of the main premise, and view potential source materials through that lens: that the largely unexamined adoption by 19th century American Catholic schools of Pestalozzi’s fragmentation and control theory of teaching, as reshaped by Fichte, conceded the war without a fight, no matter how many battles were won since.

Ireland’s thoughts seem very relevant to this main thesis. He seems, based on the little I know so far and to put it positively, to be very focused on baptising as much of American secular society and conforming the Church’s practices to it as possible. The underlying idea, as expressed most amazingly by Orestes Brownson in his The American Republic, is that the Church Herself is destined, if not already realized, to be most perfectly expressed in America. Inescapably, this requires taking a dim view of how the Church has been realized in Europe, and sows the seeds of condescension and conflict.

Here’s the witch’s brew I think I’ve sniffed: you take a few intellectual leaders like Brownson and Ireland, mix with the eagerness to fit in of the typical immigrant, add a heavy dose of the psychological as well as cultural and physical damage done to the Irish by 500 years of murderous English tyranny, and you end up with a desperation to, on the one hand, accept America as the apex of civilization and (most dangerous and least Catholic) as ‘the Future,’ and, on the other, to ignore or overlook the patent anti-Catholicism of that American vision.

This deal, whereby real Americans agree to pretend Catholics are members of the club so long as they burn just a pinch of incense to their gods, results in many bad things, from Bath House Jim Coughlin running Chicago with the tacit support of the Church while his brothels sell their daughters and his protection rackets corrupt their sons, through loyalty to the Democratic Party while that party shared leadership with the Klan over most of its range, right on down to the USCCB choosing to overlook the party’s rabid support of abortion (and, fundamentally, rabid hatred of Catholicism) in exchange for a few programs and policies that, if you squint just right, can be seen as tools of social justice instead of the naked power grabs they most clearly are.

This scene, whereby a mobster rejects Satan and all of his works while simultaneously ordering a hit on all his opponents, somehow seems appropriate to this discussion.

Floating in this morass is the ready acceptance, back in the 2nd half of the 19th century, of the compulsory age-segregated graded classroom model developed and adopted specifically to destroy family and Church. That this system has since fallen under the control of Marxists and their useful idiots only makes a terrible, evil situation worse.

There are certainly a number of good scholars who have done the general work on the history of education in America and of Catholic education specifically. I can’t hope, in the decade or two of life that may be left to me, to match their lifetimes of work, but I can, I hope, lay out and document this one central thing, and, much more important, provide some guidance for Catholic educational thinking – guidance away from a model meant to turn us and our children into mindless anti-Catholics with no home other than the State.

Also, I’m working on an bibliography of my education resources, to be posted as a permanent page here. It’s a lot of tedious work, but I need to get it done.

Thinking About Free Will

The formal class part of RCIA has begun for this year. I’m the go-to guy for history & theology (how profoundly frightening this is has so far escaped our beloved DRE). All this means is that if anyone wants, or, more likely, I decide on my own that anyone needs, a more formal definition or some historical context, I’m the guy who provides it. Such as I might. This leads to me thinking about how to talk about various dogmas in a way that isn’t too hoity-toity yet gets the essential nature and purpose across.

With that in mind, here are some thoughts on Free Will. Where angels fear to tread, and all that.

While we were created in the image of God, God is still very different from us. God’s freedom is part of his eternal Being – it is not so much something He does, bit rather is a fundamental part of Who He is. Nothing outside constrains God; He freely acts in accordance with His infinite goodness and love. Every action of God is utterly free, and completely an expression of divine goodness and love.

While God is not compelled or constrained by external thing, it might be said that He just can’t contain Himself – His loving kindness boils over in His creations. All of creation is a free expression of God’s nature as a loving Father and Creator.

Creation is thus an expression of God’s life and profound joy. It is not like a clock, built once, wound up, and then left to play itself out. Rather, God loves the world into existence at every moment. In Him we live, and move, and have our being. Each of us is a unique expression of His boundless joy.

Out of this joy, God gave man and the angels freedom. This created freedom is a reflection of God’s nature, perhaps the key aspect of our being made in His image. It is a gift from God, loved into being by God, and as an aspect of God, as sacred as God Himself. As an essential aspect of this gift, God will not overrule us.

But to be free in our own little way, our acts must participate in God’s freedom. God’s freedom is always expressed through overflowing love and goodness. Thus, we can only be free when we, too, act in harmony with that divine love and goodness. Acting against God is choosing slavery; once enslaved, we have lost our freedom. Yet God, in His mercy, will always, as long as we live in this changeable world, hold out to us the opportunity to repent, to turn from the slavery of our sins back to the freedom of His will.

An example: A man on the edge of a giant cliff is free to step off the cliff. If he does so, he has lost all freedom: he is subject to the laws of physics, and will fall to his death, shattered on the rocks below. God did not give the man freedom so that he could jump off a cliff. Rather, He gave us freedom so that we, too, could share in His joy as joyful, loving creators in our own little way. Yet that freedom means that we just might choose to step off the cliff.

The moral law, another creation of God, is, in effect, a warning: don’t step off the cliff! As long as we work to avoid sin and repent of the sins we have committed, we have the freedom to act in accordance with God’s loving Will. We stay away from the cliff. Reject the law of God, and we at best court disaster. Without God’s loving guidance as expressed in His law, we will, sooner or later, fall off the cliff of our own free will!

That we are free is a gift and a miracle. The saints, who have surrendered their wills to God’s Will, who have willingly died to themselves, paradoxically enjoy complete freedom. It is when we humbly recognize that we don’t really know what’s good for us and don’t always want what’s best for us that God can show us the Way to complete, joyful freedom.

So, do you think this would be helpful to someone investigating the Catholic Faith?

Music at Masses Review: TAC Baccalaureate & St. Therese Alhambra

Was blessed this weekend to be present at two very beautiful masses, the baccalaureate mass for our son’s graduation at TAC, and a 7:30 a.m. Sunday morning mass at St. Therese’s in Alhambra, California. These masses were both very different and yet very much the same, one a huge celebration in a gorgeous church presided over by a bishop and half-dozen priests, with a amazing choir and organist, and all the pomp and ceremony one could want. The other was a low mass in a pretty parish church, with the only music being the typical Latin commons for the Kyrie (yes, it’s Greek, I know) Sanctus and Agnus. The priest also sang a bit of an old Marian hymn as an illustration of some point in his homily.

Arcade View
Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity Chapel, Thomas Aquinas College, Ojai, CA

They were the same in their reverence, and in being directed to the glory of God and not the glory of men.

The choir at TAC is amazing. A school of 350 or so students can somehow produce a choir more than worthy of their beautiful church and school. There has long been a frankly shocking amount of musical talent at that school, given that there’s no music program as such (the students study music a little as part of their Great Books program). Yet in the now decade that I’ve been going down to campus, seems there’s always something musically excellent going on. At the family of the graduates dinner Friday night, for example, two different acapella groups founded or peopled by students, or both, performed, and both were excellent.

Interior of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity Chapel
Interior.

Saturday morning, the baccalaureate mass began at 8:30 in a packed church. Here’s my one and only complaint about that beautiful building: site lines from anywhere other than the nave are terrible. When it’s a full church, half the people are in the transept or side aisles, and might as well be outside for as well as they can see anything. This obscured vision is a result of the sanctuary being recessed enough to be mostly invisible from the transept, but mostly from a nave and side aisle design in a building that’s not that big. In gigantic cathedrals, it’s often possible to see fairly well from much of the side aisles, as the columns are farther apart and the nave wider. In Our Lady of the Holy Trinity Chapel, all you can see from 90% of the aisle spaces is the columns and the nave – the altar and sanctuary are totally blocked. Of course, for 95% of the masses celebrated there, everybody sits in the nave and it’s no problem, so this is a minor complaint, really.

The Mass began with Come Holy Ghost while the faculty and graduates filed in, followed by the chant Introit while the clergy and Bishop Barron processed in and the altar was incensed. The mass commons were some lovely polyphony I didn’t immediately recognize, most likely Palestrina, perhaps – one of that crowd. They also did motets for offertory and communion including Mozart’s Ave Verum Corpus, and more chant propers.

For the recession, the choir sang the hymn tune from Jupiter from Holst’s the Planets – an extreme case of redeeming some beautiful secular music, in this case, from the hands of a goodball gnostic astrologer. Lovely.

Or it seems you can just listen to it – here. Audio is a bit spotty, but you will get the gist. Bonus Bishop Barron homily.

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St. Therese of Lisieux, Alhambra, CA, interior.

The next morning, Mother’s Day, we – my wife, mother-in-law, our 15 year old son David, freshly-minted graduate Thomas, elder daughter Teresa, who lives in Alhambra, and our younger daughter Anna Kate who flew in from New Hampshire to surprise her big brother, gathered for the 7:30 a.m. mass at St. Therese’s and brunch afterwards. Younger daughter also is graduating, in one week! She had handed in her senior thesis Monday, defended it Thursday, then flew out Friday, flew back Sunday in order to take her finals! Insane, but typical – those two are only 20 months apart in age, and were often thought to be twins growing up (and fought like cats and dogs). Despite needing special permission to defend her thesis early so that she could leave Friday, and despite having to try to study for finals on the plane, she was not going to miss this.

Our older daughter Teresa helped arrange all this, picking up Anna Kate at the airport and putting her up, and driving her to the graduation. I love our kids! There are far better than I deserve, that’s for sure.

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Modern-ish, but lovingly executed and not unlovely. It’s heart, and the hearts of all those involved, are in the right place.

Mass was what you’d expect early on a Sunday morning – very low key. The people, which included a passel of Sisters of Charity (they always look so happy!), knew the chant propers and sang them well. Quiet, reverent and of course efficacious.

We may not often get to have the 90+ minute high sung mass celebrated in a great church by competent, devote people, but I’ll take a revenant low mass celebrated by people who care any day of the week. I’m grateful to all the people who helped bring about both masses, even and perhaps especially those whose devotion helped to transmit a culture in which such things can take place.

Music at Mass Nano-Review 5/5/19

Due to scheduling requirements, we went to a Children’s Mass this morning that we almost never attend.

There’s nothing that elevates the spiritual experience of the Holy Eucharist quite like having a gaggle of pitchy tween girls sing praise tunes in a reverby box of a church building with rock band level amplification.

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The girls were darling, of course, which I suppose is the point. Have a nice Sunday!

Odd Lenten Hymns

In the comments to the last post, J. J. Griffing asked for examples of the sort of traditional Lenten hymns that are out of vogue in my little corner of the world, tunes which I find a little odd, but also miss. The oddness consists of two factors: dirge-like hymn tunes, and graphic descriptions of suffering and penance often described in archaic language. Some hymns have one, some the other, some both. Here goes:

Forty Days and Forty Nights

Forty days and forty nights
Thou wast fasting in the wild;
Forty days and forty nights
Tempted, and yet undefiled.

Sunbeams scorching all the day;
Chilly dew-drops nightly shed;
Prowling beasts about Thy way;
Stones Thy pillow; earth Thy bed.

Should not we Thy sorrow share
And from worldly joys abstain,
Fasting with unceasing prayer,
Strong with Thee to suffer pain?

Then if Satan on us press,
Jesus, Savior, hear our call!
Victor in the wilderness,
Grant we may not faint nor fall!

So shall we have peace divine:
Holier gladness ours shall be;
Round us, too, shall angels shine,
Such as ministered to Thee.

Keep, O keep us, Savior dear,
Ever constant by Thy side;
That with Thee we may appear
At the eternal Eastertide.

The tune here is very much a dirge, and the lyrics speak for themselves. I like it! Hymnody.org has this to say to say about the composer: George Hunt Smyttan. The tune is attributed to Martin Herbst, who died in 1681. Other verses have been added by other poets over the years, generally with the same flavor.

Here’s a cheerier tune:

The Glory of These Forty Days

  1. The glory of these forty days
    we celebrate with songs of praise,
    for Christ, through whom all things were made,
    himself has fasted and has prayed.
  2. Alone and fasting Moses saw
    the loving God who gave the law,
    and to Elijah, fasting, came
    the steeds and chariots of flame.
  3. So Daniel trained his mystic sight,
    delivered from the lions’ might,
    and John, the Bridegroom’s friend, became
    the herald of Messiah’s name.
  4. Then grant us, Lord, like them to be
    full oft in fast and prayer with thee;
    our spirits strengthen with thy grace,
    and give us joy to see thy face.
  5. O Father, Son and Spirit blest,
    to thee be every prayer addressed,
    who art in threefold name adored,
    from age to age, the only Lord.

This is great song, good tune, nice lyrics. Tune can go down the dirge road, although a musician with any sensibility would sing it at a decent tempo with a slight lilt, saving it from being a wade through molasses.

Honorable mentions include Lord, Who Throughout These Forty Days, which always cracks me up – the Lord doing a little clean up, tossing an extra 40 days that were cluttering up the place, and the classic and wonderful O Sacred Head Surrounded, which does get sung, but usually just on Good Friday. Now those are some graphic lyrics.

Stuff just came up. This will have to do for now.

3/31/19 Music as Mass Review: Improvements

It has been years since I’d attended a Sunday evening mass at our parish, because the last time I did, the amatuer rock band composed of aging ex-hippies sort of failed to provide the kind of liturgical experience with which I am most comfortable. To put it gently.

Yesterday, because I forgot that I was up for leading the Candidates and Catechumens out after the Scrutinies, I needed to catch a later mass – I usually catch an earlier one. So, off to the evening mass I headed.

And – the rock band was gone. The congregation skewed a bit younger, maybe, with more college-age and young adults. Otherwise, looked like the usual UN subcommittee meeting we get at our parish – here comes everybody. Pretty sure all the inhabitable continents were well represented, although I’m a bit unsure about Australia.

But I knew something really different was in store when a woman went up to read the first reading – in a mantilla. Whoa. I think the elderly boomers in the band heads would have exploded, had they been there. Then, we sang the common Latin Sanctus and Agnus. It was good and peaceful. I was and am grateful.

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Not like this Although if you’ve got it, work it, ladies.

Unfortunately, we sang modern, marginally appropriate songs for the other musical spots in the Mass. Many of the traditional Lenten songs are frankly a little weird, as in Volga Boat Song style dirge-like melodies and perhaps uncomfortably direct language to the modern ear. I’m cool with them, myself, but can see how they might not appeal to people with more conventional sensibilities, especially as many people younger than 50? 60? have probably never heard them.

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More like this, just a wee bit more understated.

Nonetheless, a lovely, respectful mass with at least a little appropriate and good music. Seems things can change to the better, thank God.