Saturday, December 31, 2005

Happy New Year!

  • Gelukkig Nieuwjaar! (Dutch)
  • Ein Gleuckliches neues Jahr! (German)
  • Onnellista uutta vuotta! (Finnish)
  • Zalig Nieuw Jaar! (Flemish)
  • Bonne Annee! (French)
  • Blian nua faoi mhaise duit! (Gaelic)
  • Felice Anno Nuovo! (Italian)
  • Bonum annum ingrediaris! (Latin)
  • Linksmu Nauju Metu! (Lithuanian)
  • Szczesliwego Nowego Roku! (Polish)
  • Feliz Ano Novo! (Portuguese)
  • La Multi Ani! (Romanian)
  • S Novym Godom! (Russian)
  • Srechno Novo Leto! (Slovenian)
  • Feliz Ano Nuevo! (Spanish)
  • Blwyddyn Newydd Dda! (Welsh)
  • Shinnen omedeto goziamasu! (Japanese)
  • Selamat Tahun baru! (Malayan)
  • San nin faailok! (Cantonese)
  • Sal-e no mubarak! (Farsi)
  • Shana tova! (Hebrew)
  • Kong He Xin Xi! (Mandarin)
  • Manigong bagong taon! (Tagalog)
  • Yeni Yiliniz Kutlu Olsun! (Turkish)
  • Chuc Mung nam moi! (Vietnamese)

The Pope Fiction of "Pope Joan"

On Thursday, December 29th, CBS aired a program entitled "Uncovering the Story of Pope Joan." In the show, host Diane Sawyer presented the legend of Pope Joan (a mythical female imposter pope) in such a way that many, if not most, of the millions of viewers who saw the presentation could easily have been left with the impression that Joan may well have been a real person.

If you want the facts about the legend of Pope Joan, or if you know someone who may have been confused by the misinformation commonly associated with the "Pope Joan" myth, you may be interested in the easily accessible article, "Debunking the Persistent Myth of Pope Joan," by Catholic apologist, Patrick Madrid, or his treatment of this and other related questions in his book, Pope Fiction: Answers to Thirty Myths and Misconceptions About the Papacy (see also "Pope Fiction" 16-part EWTN television series, available on VHS video).

Friday, December 23, 2005

Christmas Reflections

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God, and saying,

Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace, good will toward men.
And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another,

Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pas, which the Lord hath made known unto us.
And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph and the babe lying in a manger. And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child. And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them. (The Gospel According to Luke, Chapter Two, Verses 13-20)

Here we are again, at Christmas. Last year, I wrote the following:

Every Christmas, it seems, NEWSWEEK or TIME magazine will come out with an article featuring the "latest scholarship" concerning the "authenticity" of the Christmas story. The scholarly authorities cited are consistently and incorrigibly one-sided, usually including scholars like John Dominic Crossan who dissent from Church teaching, or more ostensibly mainline scholars like Raymond E. Brown (now deceased) who have been quite thoroughly corrupted by the Humean philosophical presuppositions of the historical-criticism of the biblical narrative. The upshot is always the conclusion, or at least the suggestion, that the Gospel writers are unreliable and not to be trusted, and certainly not to be taken at face value. Just how ludicrous this all is can be seen by almost anyone with a bit of intelligence and familiarity with literature, mythology, and history. One of the best examples of a powerful antedote to this kind of foolishness is a little essay by C.S. Lewis entitled "Modern Theology and Biblical Criticism," which is available in a collection of essays by Lewis entitled Christian Reflections [Amazon link] (1967; reprinted by Eerdmans, 1994). The following are some excerpts from Lewis' essay, which begins on p. 152 and contains four objections (or "bleats") about modern New Testament scholarship:

1. [If a scholar] tells me that something in a Gospel is legend or romance, I want to know how many legends and romances he has read, how well his palate is trained in detecting them by the flavour...

I have been reading poems, romances, vision-literature, legends, myths all my life. I know what they are like. I know that not one [of the stories in the Gospel of John, for example] is like this... Either this is reportage - though it may no doubt contain errors - pretty close up to the facts; nearly as close as Boswell. Or else, some unknown writer in the second century, without known predecessors or successors, suddenly anticipated the whole technique of modern, novelistic, realistic narrative...

2. All theology of the liberal type involves at some point - and often involves throughout - the claim that the real behaviour and purpose and teaching of Christ came very rapidly to be misunderstood and misrepresented by his followers, and has been recovered or exhumed only by modern scholars... The idea that any... writer should be opaque to those who lived in the same culture, spoke the same language, shared the same habitual imagery and unconscious assumptions, and yet be transparent to those who have none of these advantages, is in my opinion preposterous. There is an a priori improbability in it which almost no argument and no evidence could counterbalance.

3. Thirdly, I find in these theologians a constant use of the principle that the miraculous does not occur... This is a purely philosophical question. Scholars, as scholars, speak on it with no more authority than anyone else. The canon 'if miraculous, unhistorical' is one they bring to their study of the texts, not one they have learned from it. If one is speaking of authority, the united authority of all the Biblical critics in the world counts here for nothing.

4. My fourth bleat is my loudest and longest. Reviewers [of my own books, and of books by friends whose real history I knew] both friendly and hostile... will tell you what public events had directed the author's min to this or that, what other authors influenced him, what his over-all intention was, what sort of audience he principally addressed, why - and when - he did everything... My impression is that in the whole of my experience not one of these guesses has on any one point been right; the method shows a record of 100 per cent failure.

The 'assured results of modern scholarship', as to the way in which an old book was written, are 'assured', we may conclude, only because those who knew the facts are dead and can't blow the gaff... The Biblical critics, whatever reconstructions they devise, can never be crudely proved wrong. St. Mark is dead. When they meet St. Peter there will be more pressing matters to discuss.

However... we are not fundamentalists... Of course we agree that passages almost verbally identical cannot be independent. It is as we glide away from this into reconstructions of a subtler and more ambitious kind that our faith in the method wavers... The sort of statement that arouses our deepest scepticism is the statement that something in a Gospel cannot be historical because it shows a theology or an ecclesiology too developed for so early a date...

Such are the reactions of one bleating layman... Once the layman was anxious to hide the fact that he believed so much less than the Vicar; he now tends to hide the fact that he believes so much more...
For further reading:Merry Christmas everyone!

Advent to Christmas

Well, it's time to sign off for a while, my friends. I may be in tomorrow, yet for a few last things. But this Christmas Eve I have four of my five children home for the holidays -- yes, the HOLY DAYS -- and look forward to a gratifying time indeed. Only one son, himself married with children and working on completing a doctorate in patristics at Catholic University in Washington, DC, is expected not to show, and for good reason: he will be spending Christmas with his in-laws in Virginia, on leave from their work in Jordan. As for the rest, Chris will be flying down from Manhattan to meet up with his brother, Jon, in Knoxville today, then driving up together tomorrow. Nathan and his wife will be driving from Portsmouth, VA, tomorrow. And, of course, Hannah Cabrini is still very much at home with us, so that makes a family indeed! With Hannah still too young for midnight Mass, I expect we'll carry on our Swiss tradition of a Christmas Eve cheese fondue and take in the Christmas morning Mass. Amy, of course, is cooking up a storm while Hannah contents herself munching on bits of the Christmas tree.

Pope Benedict's epoch-making speech on Vatican II

"The End of the 'Post-Conciliar Church' - Day Two - THE EPOCH-MAKING SPEECH" declares Rorate Caeli (Dec. 23, 2005), giving some idea of the importance some Catholics are attaching to the Pope's recent speech. Elaborating, he comments:
The "mainstream Catholic press" in America ("conservative" as well as "liberal") does not seem to have realized the importance of the explosive speech that Pope Benedict gave yesterday (see here). With the exception of Sandro Magister's blog (in Italian), no Catholic news outlet or papal blog has highlighted the real focus of the speech."
An English translation is available online at Magister's blog where one reads the following: Pope Ratzinger Certifies the Council -- The Real One," at www.chiesa (December 23, 2005):

In his pre-Christmas address to the Roman curia, Benedict XVI demolishes the myth of Vatican II as a rupture and new beginning. He gives another name "reform," to the proper interpretation of the Council. And he explains why."
Benedict XVI has voiced his opinions on Vatican II formally on two occasions, says Magister: the first was on Thursday, December 8, the feast of the Immaculate Conception; the second was Thursday, December 22, during the traditional meeting between the pope and the Vatican curia for the exchange of Christmas greetings. The first, according to Magister, was the "overture." The address to the curia was "the main act."

In his homily on December 8, pope Joseph Ratzinger focused his attention on "the inner structure" of Vatican Council II, and the Marian aspect in understanding that stucture.
But in his address to the curia on December 22, Benedict XVI went to the heart of the most controversial question. He asked:

"Why has the reception of the Council been so difficult for such a great portion of the Church up until now?"

And he replied:

"The problems have arisen from a struggle between two conflicting forms of interpretation. One of these has caused confusion; the other, in a silent but increasingly visible way, has brought results, and continues to bring them."

He called the first form of interpretation "the hermeneutics of discontinuity and rupture." The second he called "the hermeneutics of reform."
He criticized the first of these at its very roots, while illustrating the reasons for and validity of the second, says Magister.

Pope Benedict's speech, "Two forms of interpretation have struggled with each other..." is carried in it's entirety by www.chiesa (scroll down for Benedict's speech).

Liturgical discontents have long known that the former Cardinal Ratzinger has on occasion described the Novus Ordo Missae as a "rupture" in liturgical tradition. What a genuine "reform" of the Traditional Latin Mass would mean remains to be seen. If the Eucharist is the source and summit of a Catholic's life, that would be, of course, only the beginning. The "reform" would need to embrace everything from catechesis to the priesthood to a renewed understanding of secular vocation in the life of the laity.

[Tip of the hat to James P. Caputo: Gratias tibi ago!]

Noonan: a Church that CAN, HAS, and SHOULD Change!

Here it is, from the Judge! Catholic moral teaching has changed, thus it can change, and therefore it will change. And it should be changed, so we can change it. Got it?
Thus begins Jim Taylor's brief skewering review of A Church That Can and Cannot Change, a new, trendy-lefty and predictably muddle-headed contribution to Catholic dissent by John T. Noonan, Jr.

In attempting to revive a case Taylor calls "as worn as an old lawyer's brief bag," Judge Noonan raises three issues whose recrudescence we've grown accustomed to seeing in the dissenter's customary bag of tricks: slavery, usury, and marriage. He tries to show (as others we're familiar with have tried to show in our comment boxes) that what was once acceptable or embraced by the Church is now held as intrinsically evil -- indeed, that some changes in moral teachings have occurred shows that any changes in these areas can occur. Like others drifting with the tide, Noonan has visited these topics before and continues to be, says Taylor, unpersuasive.

On the question of slavery, we find that Noonan misinterprets papal encyclicals and other Vatican documents; on the question of usery, we find that he conflates the meaning and nature of lending accepted by the Church today with that practiced in the Middle Ages; on the question of marriage, we find that he confuses the Church's sacramental teaching on marriage with the moral teaching on adultery. Like others we know, Noonan suggests that the Ordinary Magisterium might not be infallible: he suggests that the very practices of some popes (e.g., slave holding) constitute the teaching of doctrine. But making such a claim, he conflates the category of infallibility with impeccability, which he should know that no pope has ever claimed for himself. Not even the worst of the Borgia popes ever suggested that his notorious sins were Christian virtues promoted by the Church; and even the best popes frequented the confessional. Noonan wants to argue that the licitness of moral acts progresses "from practice to approval," so that we may conclude that if the faithful embrace an illicit act (say homosexual sodomy) with sufficient tenacity, the Church will eventually accept it.

"Noonan's real intent is to craft an argument. It is, roughly, this: Change is healthy, and the Church should abandon what is untenable; each age helps forge deeper understanding; though a revised doctrine may itself be wrong, we needent worry because people of the future will fix such problems...." Sound familiar?

Read Taylor's review in its entirety online HERE (scroll down to his review).

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

"Neocons" -- a definition

In the latest issue of New Oxford Review (December 2005), Dale Vree offers an extended definition of "neoconservative," or "neocon," in his editorial that may surprise many. It's not a theological definition. It's not even an ecclesiological definition. How he begins may throw you for a loop. He writes:
Authentic neocons descend from the Communist and socialist movements, with the most prominent leaders being Trotskyites (that is, ultra-Left Communists). When Stalin took over the Soviet Union, the Trotskyites were severely persecuted, and ultimately Trotsky himself was assassinated in Mexico. Stalin was a gentile (indeed, an ex-seminarian) and Trotsky was a Jew, and the divide between the Stalinists and Trotskyites pretty much followed the same divide (with significant exceptions, especially in the early years of the Soviet satellite states in Eastern Europe, before many of the Jews in those satellite states were purged from the Party, even executed).
You may be thinking: What's this bit of Soviet history got to do with anything? But in a very few dense paragraphs, Vree takes you to this:
As we said in our September Editorial: "Before Crisis and First Things were even founded, the NOR was contacted by a neocon foundation -- right out of the blue. The foundation wanted to give us money -- 'free' money. A fellow flew out from the East Coast and asked me (the Editor) to meet him for drinks in a San Francisco restaurant -- on him. Sure! (We were desperate for money.) He told me he would fund us regularly -- if we would support corporate capitalism and if we would support a militaristic U.S. foreign policy." What I didn't say was that the fellow was a Jewish neocon with no interest in Christianity or Catholicism, and I suspected he was interested in getting us to promote Jewish neocon interests (which he had every right to do). As we said in the September Editorial, I said "no," and that was the end of that. But the neocon foundations didn't give up. Michael Novak (very pro-Israel) founded Crisis -- then called Catholicism in Crisis -- and Fr. Neuhaus (also very pro-Israel) founded First Things, both with huge financial support from neocon foundations. So the neocons found a way to get Catholic and Christian magazines to front for their largely Jewish neocon interests (which, again, is their right). Do we exaggerate? No we don't. When the Catholic Church denounced the war on Iraq -- calling it an unjust war, a war of aggression -- both Crisis and First Things supported it.

Connecting the dots between early twentieth century Trotskyism and twenty-first century neoconservatism is a serious undertaking. But essentially, according to Vree, it was a process launched by Jewish Trotskyites reacting against the increasingly anti-Semitic policies of Stalin and the post WWII Soviet Union, which sided with Arabs against Israel and prevented Jews from emigrating to Israel. Many Jewish Trotskyites and other Jewish Leftists (though hardly all of them) became vehemently anti-Communist and increasingly conservative; and thus you had the advent of neocons like Irving Kristol, the Jewish ex-Trotskyite godfather of neoconservatism as we now know it. For Vree's historical synopsis that connects the dots from Trotsky to the coalition of dominated by National Review conservatives, Bush Administration operatives and politically conservative Catholics, read Vree's editorial in its entirety online: "What Is a Neoconservative? -- and Does It Matter?" New Oxford Review (December 2005), pp. 2-6. See what you make of it.

Additional references (courtesy of Christopher):

Introducing Rorate Caeli: New Catholic's new blog

Taking his blog name from the opening words of the Vulgate text of Isaiah 45:8 -- "Rorate coeli desuper et nubes pluant justum: aperiatur terra, et germinet Salvatorem" (Drop down dew, ye heavens, from above, and let the clouds rain the Just: let the earth be opened and bud forth a Savior.) -- New Catholic's new blog, Rorate Caeli, is based on a text -- according to the Catholic Encyclopedia -- that is used frequently both at Mass and in the traditional Divine Office during Advent, giving exquisite poetic expression to the longings of Patriarchs and Prophets, and symbolically of the Church, for the coming of the Messiah. As New Catholic describes in the opening post on his new blog, the words quoted above come from the "first words of the Mass (Introit) of the day in which [the weblog] was established, the Fourth Sunday of Advent. It truly is one of the most beautiful of all Introits in the Liturgical Year."

Of special interest to readers of this blog will be the recent posts on two very special papal documents, (1) Pope St. Pius X's Sacra Tridentina Synodus, which made it clear that Catholics could and should receive frequent Holy Communion, changing what was the ordinary habit of most Catholics to rarely Communion only rarely, which New Catholic discusses in his post entitled "A Glorious Centennial" (Tuesday, December 20, 2005); and (2) Pope Pius XII's Musicae Sacrae Disciplina, on Sacred Music, which is addressed in his post entitled "The Discipline of Sacred Music - 50 years later - I" (also on Tuesday, December 20, 2005).

Also of interest are the posts: (1) "Vatican II at 40 - The Pope who will correct Vatican II?" and (2) "Vatican II at 40 - Continuity - II."

For those unfamiliar with "New Catholic," he is a relatively new convert to the Catholic Faith (one year), credits his conversion in signifiant measure to the influence of the Traditional Latin Mass, of which he is a stalwart proponent, and has a profound devotion to the Blessed Mother.

Welcome to the wonderful world of blogging and endless cut-throat competition for no pay, no respect, and the mixed blessing of dissident Irish commentators!

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

"Re-Enchanting the Mass: How Beauty Affects Belief"

This just in a propos the discussions of the last couple of posts: The online edition of Adoremus has just published an excellent article by Al Kimel (of Pontifications renown), entitled "Re-Enchanting the Mass:
How beauty affects belief
" Adoremus Online Edition (December 2005 - January 2006), Vol. XI, No. 9. Al Kimel is currently the Catholic chaplain at Kean University in Union, New Jersey. He served twenty-five years as an Episcopal priest and was received into the Catholic Church in June 2005.

Why a weak liturgy requires a strong perfomance artist to carry it

Some three months ago we reprinted (with permission of the publisher) an article by Tom Bethell entitled "Refugees From the Vernacular Mass" (October 3, 2005), which originally appeared in New Oxford Review (September 2005), pp. 40-42. Bethell began his article with a reference to a new book by David Murrow, Why Men Hate Going to Church, and proceeded to discuss his contrasting experience at a Tridentine Mass celebrated at 9 AM every Sunday at St. Mary Mother of God Church, on 5th Street NW in downtown Washington, DC, near Chinatown, close to the MCI Center.

In the latest (December 2005) issue of New Oxford Review, appears a most engaging letter to the editor from J. Allen of Torquay, United Kingdom. Allen writes:
I thought it very revealing that in Tom Bethell's column "Last Things" (Sept.), he said the priest in charge of his Tridentine Latin parish in Washington, D.C., was of "curmudgeonly demeanor," from which I gather that he made no attempt to charm his congregation and was of modest pastoral talent. No "welcomers," pop hymns, jokes, or rushing from the altar immediately after Mass to socialize at the church door. And yet this parish is a success, and attracts lots of male Catholics of intelligence, while modernist parishes tend to terminal decline. Why?
His conclusion? "The inescapable conclusion to all this is that before Vatican II, I received a better ministry from a priest of very moderate ability (may he R.I.P.) than afterwards from a very gifted one!" Back then, even a quite ordinary priest preaching homiletic commonplaces had the massive power of the Traditional Latin Mass supporting the congregation. "Now a weak vernacular liturgy requires a celebrant with a strong personality to support it."

Read Mr. Allen's superlative letter in its entirety online HERE.

Monday, December 19, 2005

The "Performance Mass" and the question of "participation"

This weekend I returned late from visiting one of my sons in Knoxville and went to the Sunday evening 5:15pm Life Teen Mass at my parish. Of all the Masses at my parish, this would seem to be my least favorite, since it sports a full "praise team" band with electric guitars, full drum set, bongos, keyboard, and contemporary "praise" songs. Yet in an odd way I find it the least objectionable of all the Masses -- except for the foreign language Masses (Spanish, Hmong, and Lahu) -- because, even if it is not my taste in music (at all!), the teens "perform it" well and sincerely. I might think they're sincerely misguided in certain respects (such as thinking of Mass as a performance), but there isn't any sense of bad faith or sublimated ressentiment that I find in some of the other Masses.

In the other Masses, things may seem a bit more "traditional" in some superficial ways (no electric guitars, no drums, no bongos), but the music is done poorly. Last Lent, our new priest asked the choir director for Mozart's "Ave Verum Corpus," which the choir director did. The choir, I suppose made a valiant attempt, though it was rather like watching a donkey try to walk on his hind feet as if he were a man. What was worse, "Ave Verum Corpus" (one of the most inspired pieces of sacred music ever written) was placed alongside the aesthetically banal "On Eagle's Wings" in the same Mass. Hot headed "Spirit of Vatican II" parishioners ran to the priest with cries of outrage over ... yes, the Mozart piece ... objecting that the priest was trying to move the church back into pre-Vatican II patterns of ossification. The priest immediately dropped the Mozart. So we're back to Marty Haugen, David Haas, and "Gather Us In" ... (someone catch me, I'm collapsing from a wave of nausea)!

Not only is one faced, at these other Masses, with banal ignorance and bad taste. One is also faced with a spirit of rebellion against Catholic tradition. Until our current priest came on board in our parish, feminist lectors were in the habit of neutering pronouns (even for God -- e.g., John 3.16: "For God so loved the world that God gave God's only child that Godsoever should Godspell and Inagaddadavida baby ..."). The previous priest used to entertain the hopes of dissenters that the Church would change its mind on the ordination of women someday soon, and alter servers sometimes included middle-aged women, vested in white albs, looking like wannabe priestesses.

By contrast, the Life Teen Mass, even if a primiere "perfomance mass," is a relief in these other respects. There is no sense of politically correct anti-Roman rebellion here. The vestiges of the earlier goofy abuses associated with Life Teen Masses -- standing around the Altar in the sanctuary holding hands during the consecration, etc. -- have disappeared. The youth who lead the service -- serving as lectors, leading the singing, leading in the prayers of general intercession, etc., seem utterly sincere and, from what Father tells me, are actively involved in the Bible studies and classes that follow Mass, each Sunday evening. All of this is good, as far as I can see.

Now to the question of "participation" in the "Performance Mass," here are some admittedly subjective, personal observations. At this particular Mass, the choir is always very good at what it does (contemporary "praise music"). Admittedly, I find this genre theologically shallow and aesthetically banal, but it is no less certain to me that those involved in the band and choir are quite definitely "participating," in the sense of being involved in what they are doing -- playing and singing. As far as that goes, that seems to me to be good. What do I notice in myself and those around me? I find that no more people are involved in singing along with the choir than in the other Masses; perhaps even less. This is -- even much more than those other Masses -- a "Performance Mass" -- and it is hard not to feel like one is at a concert, a performance. At the conclusion of the Mass, there is invariably applause. I know this is condemned. I think it is out of place in Mass myself. But it is perfectly fitting to the occasion if the occasion is a "Performance Mass." The youth have performed well, and they deserve a hearty hand from the audience. Thus it is clearly thought.

It strikes me as amusing that one of the criticisms of the Traditional Latin Mass is that those in the congregation were reduced to "spectators." I have never felt like a spectator at a Traditional Latin Mass. I have looked. I have listened. I was given ample time and solitude to withdraw into myself and pray. But all of that has involved my full participation in the Sacrifice of the Mass. A "Performance Mass" brings out the most extroverting features of the Novus Ordo Mass, which, by nature, is much "chattier" than the Traditional Latin Mass. Not only are there the typical antiphonal responses that one must constantly be repeating back to the priest. Not only are there the antiphons one must be constantly repeating (or singing) back in the Psalmnody to the cantor on queue. Not only are there the responses to the General Intercessions ("Lord, hear our prayer") that one must bleat back like a flock of sheep. There are the incessant movements of Extraordinary Eucharistic Ministers (six to eight in a typical Mass at our parish -- just how "extraordinary" can circumstances be?!). There are the constant hymns being sung, during and after communion, and after them the unaccompanied organ (our previour priest even allowed -- requested? -- soft organ accompaniment during his Eucharistic Prayers). Not a moment of silence to collect one's thoughts before the Lord Whom one is here to worship!

Where is the real "participation"? Amidst the din? Amidst the silence? As I knelt and awaited Holy Communion, I watched and listened as the "praise team" played. Off to my left, I could see the undulating movements of the shoulders of the bongo player, an older guy, perhaps in his thirties, softly tapping out the bongo rhythms for the occasion. The sentiments were holy: "Holy is His name," they sang. The sentiments are almost never wrong-headed in praise music. They are always about praising God, "magnifying" Him, "glorifying" Him, etc. It's a question of fittingness. Is this the venue for that? There is a certain kind of "participation" that Ronald Knox would condemn as "enthusiasm" -- an old fashioned word for emotionalism of the type that you get in most Pentecostal services. There is something that begins an approach to that in the hypnotic quality of most "praise music," when done well. Is that what the Council Fathers of Vatican II had in mind by "participation" in the Mass? Is that what Pope Pius X had in mind when he called for greater "participation"? Is that what Pope Benedict XVI has in mind? I doubt it.

The Church is going to have to think long and hard about what it means by "participation" before it comes clear on this issue, I'm afraid. As things stand, the message the faithful are hearing is a confused one. As for myself, I know where I most easily find Christ without external distractions: sad to say, these days it is usually in an empty church, early in the morning or late at night alone before the Tabernacle under the sacristy light. Sunday mornings are a battle to stay focused, there is so much pulling at my attention, obtruding itself, and clashing aesthetically, symbolically, and theologically. Where do I find my most effective participation in the Mass? Usually the weekday Masses, where there is a maximum of simplicity and minimum of fuss -- no music (blessed relief!), no flock of Extraordinary Eucharistic Ministers, and some time to pray. Otherwise, it is on those rare occasions when I'm privileged to assist at a Traditional Latin Mass. Sunday mornings are a penance and endurance. I understand why many previously regular Catholics dropped off attending at Mass after Vatican II. I cannot sanction the refusal. It is wrong. But I do understand.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

The virtue of Waugh's "snobbery"

One of the most frequent charges encountered against Evelyn Waugh is the accusation of rank snobbery, not least because of his vigorous defense of the traditional Latin Mass and criticisms of the reforms of the Second Vatican Council, whose proceedings he regarded with great and often prescient gloom. In a recent post, "Waugh on Liturgical 'Participa-tion'" (December 6, 2005), I revisited an article by Adam A.J. DeVille, "In Defense of Christian 'Snobbery': The Case of Evelyn Waugh Recon-sidered," Latin Mass (Spring, 2004), pp. 72-77, which I called a "brilliant article." Indeed it is. I've been reading it again, and it's truly a masterfully written piece -- one that represents the best of the kind of writing that keeps me coming back to Latin Mass magazine for what it claims to be in its subtitle: A Journal of Catholic Culture.

As to Waugh, DeVille basically argues that his example shows us how to be properly contrarian, going against the tide safe in the knowledge, as Chesterton put it, that only a dead fish swims with it. He begins with Northwestern University professor of English Joseph Epstein's "working definition" of a "snob" in his book, Snobbery: The American Version , as "someone out to impress his betters or depress those he takes to be his inferiors ... with an exaggerated respect for social position, wealth, and all the accoutrements of status ... whose pride and accomplishment ... always await the approving judgment of others."

DeVille initially admits that under this definition there are certain aspects in Waugh's life and works -- some real, but many more badly misinterpreted or even apocryphal -- that do lend some credence to the standard indictment against him. Not touching upon his fictional characters, one can find material in his letters, diaries and essays that could be taken as supporting this charge of snobbery, certainly. DeVille quotes two of the funnier examples from the generally sympathetic portrait offered some ten years ago by George Weigel:
Despite his undisputed personal bravery, Waugh's anarchic personality made him an impossible military officer. At one intelligence briefing during his early days in the Royal Marines, Waugh inquired whether it was true that "in the Romanian army no one beneath the rank of Major is permitted to use lipstick." In 1940, Waugh was charged with neglecting his duties during a training exercise; part of the charge filed against him was that he had been seen smoking a cigar and drinking claret. When pressed on this during a Court of Inquiry in 1945, he admitted to having been smoking a cheroot and drinking Burgandy, but demanded of the Court why he should be "run in by an officer so ill-bred that he could not distinguish between these totally different things."
Here DeVille proceeds to a discussion of Waugh's highly unfashionable views of resisting what he saw as the creeping socialism of postwar Britain and of resisting the increasing secularism and democratization of his times by converting to Catholicism and writing about the Catholic faith of an aristocratic family in Brideshead Revisited . This brought down upon Waugh the unleashed fury of the critic, Edmund Wilson, in a review of Brideshead in The New Yorker in the mid-1940s, whose charge of "snobbery" and "cult of high nobility" stuck.

In undertaking to exonerate Waugh of the charge of snobbery according to Epstein's working definition, DeVille asks us to bear in mind five things: (1) Many of the comments made by, or attributed to, Waugh are "nothing more than occasional rudeness and do not rise to the level of snobbery as Epstein defines it." He points out that Waugh was constantly apologizing and sending flowers to hostesses for saying beastly things at their dinner parties. He himself once admitted, "I always think to myself: 'I know I am awful. But how much more awful I should be without the Faith.'"

(2) The vast majority of stories in circulation "were told by Waugh himself against himself, thus violating, in one stroke, a central tenet of snobberty as Epstein defines it." DeVille offers as an example his novel, The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold , which Waugh himself confessed to be autobiographical, a novel that invites numerous laughs against Waugh himself -- such as his becoming clinically paranoid through a combination of pharmacologically primitive sleeping potions liberally taken with large splashes of creme de menthe -- hardly the sort of admission a social sycophant seeking to impress his betters would make.

(3) One may also make the case that Waugh, far from being a snobbish reactionary crank, is actually an ally of many who have otherwise heaped scorn on his political and social views, as they would soon discover if they were better versed in his criticism of urban planning, modern architecture, the decline of the arts under the onslaught of Hollywood mass media, the triumph of homogenized bourgeois "good taste," and globalization of what Waugh called "drab uniformity."

(4) Waugh' rejoinder to Wilson's critical review was to shrug off the charge of snobbery: "Class-consciousness, particularly in England," he declared, "has been so much inflamed nowadays that to mention a nobleman is like mentioning a prostitute 60 years ago." Soon after, he responded to an Irish review, which made a similar accusation of snobbery, by saying, "I think perhaps your reviewer is right in calling me a snob ... but I do not think the preference is necessarily an offence against Charity, still less against the Faith."

(5) Most important, the "snobbery" of which Waugh was accused, says DeVille, was "nothing more than an elaborate put on, largely to annoy the ascendant political left in postwar Britain." As Randolph Churchill and others in the 1950s first realized, he says, Waugh was fond of "corrective snobbery" over and against the "proletarian snobbery" -- an unctuous romanticization of the lower classes that was then engulfing the Labor government that Waugh called the "Atlee terror." DeVille quotes Waugh's son, Auberon, as saying, shortly after his father's death, that Evelyn "nurtured a romantic attachment to the aristocratic ideal [especially] when he discovered how much it annoyed people."

I pause over this last point briefly only because I find the illustrations of this point that DeVille offers are so amusing for their blatant and self-conscious political incorrectness. The first is from Arthur Lunn:
Once, when we crossed the Atlantic together, Waugh, who was of course traveling first class, accepted an invitation to dine with me. I was traveling second class and, as he entered the dining room, he sniffed and said, "Curious how one can smell the poor." This amused me but some of those to whom I have told this story were not amused. And ti was that kind of person whom Waugh delighted to shock by particularly outrageous performances in his favorite comic role, the supersnob.
A contemporary such as Ann Coulter comes to mind, although I suppose she hardly deserves to be placed in the company of a literary Catholic master such as Waugh. Nevertheless, they have something in common in the shock department. This deliberate role-playing on Waugh's part was well known to others as well, such as his friend Ann Fleming, who tells this story:
Some may have been permitted to telephone Evelyn, to me it was forbidden, though I once broke the rule. Some hours after he left our house in Kent for a hotel nearby, a telegram arrived for him; it seemed to me urgent.... I telephoned and was crushed. "Your manservant should have delivered it," he said reproachfully and rang off. He knew perfectly well that I had no manservant, though these obsolete and useful persons were part of his act.
Thus, as DeVille argues, when we attend to the contexts of his remarks, remembering the satirist Waugh was and recalling above all that his "snobbery" was largely purposeful and melodramatic, the charge virtually vanishes. While this is hardly a "general absolution" of everything Waugh did and wrote, one cannot ignore Waugh's extraordinary generosity, his unadvertised charity (which DeVille details), and his unabashed Catholic orthodoxy.

DeVille then turns to a careful secondary distinction that Epstein goes on to make beyond his "working definition" of snobbery. Epstein writes:
Not wanting to run with the general herd, not wanting to run with that higher herd -- the herd of independent minds -- does not quality one as a snob. It makes one ... a person struggling to be an individual. Being discriminating isn't necessarily being snobbish either.... Nor does having high standards make one a snob.... High standards generally ... far from being snobbish, are required to mintain decency in life.... Delight in excellence is easily confused with snobbery by the ignorant.
Here are two key tests, says DeVille -- (a) an independent mind, and (b) a holding fast to, and delight in, high standards of excellence. By these standards, Waugh is certainly "guilty" -- but then there is really no real "guilt" at all, because there is no real vice. Hence, what we see exemplified in Waugh is what I call the virtue of his "snobbery."

DeVille first examines the first test of Waugh's being an independent contrarian and finds in Waugh's corpus a rich body of material. Here are some samples of what DeVille offers: from (1) politics, which Waugh loathed: "I have never voted in a parliamentary election.... I do not aspire to advise my Sovereing in her choice of servants"; (2) modern art: "Perhaps in the Providence of God the unqualified hideosity of Modern Art has been sent us to scourge us"; (3) psychology: "Voodoo, bog-magic, the wise woman's cabin -- there isn't such a thing as psychology ... the whole thing's a fraud"; (4) socialism: "[Marxism is] the new opium of the people [and] the ideal of a classless society is so unnatural to man that his reason, in practice, cannot bear the strain"; (5) the sexual revolution: "Responsible people -- doctors, psychologists, novelists -- write in the papers and say, 'You cannot be happy unless your sex life is happy.' That seems to me just about as sensible as saying, 'You cannot lead a happy life unless your golf life is happy.' It is not only nonsense, it is mischievous nonsense"; (6) the health and dieting craze: "Food can and should be a source of delight. As for 'nutrition,' that is all balls"; (7) liturgical reform: "'Participation' in the Mass does not mean hearing our own voices. It means God hearing our voices."

On the liturgical question, Waugh was adimant. When the liturgical changes were pressed upon the faithful, he began speaking of "traitors from within" and "cranks in authority" who wanted a vernacular liturgy now celebrated "in dingy churches decorated with plaster and tinsel." The liturgical authorities failed to realize that it is "highly doubtful whether the average churchgoer either needs or desires to have complete intellectual, verbal comprehension of all that is said.... Awe is the natural predisposition to prayer."

It goes without saying that Waugh's view has not prevailed, and when these changes were implemented he began experiencing a certain despondency that sometimes exhibited itself in dark humor: "They are destroying all that was superficially attractive about my Church.... I have not yet soaked myself in petrol and gone up in flames, but ... now ... church going is pure duty parade." His worries about the proceedings of the Second Vatican Council, as he himself admitted, aged him considerably, and he confessed to a hope not to live to see all the damage wrought. Providentially -- so his family all claimed, according to DeVille -- he died on Easter Sunday 1966 after attending a Latin Mass.

DeVille next examines Epsetein's second test of high standards. Here again, he finds ample material from Waugh's corpus of writings. In a section of The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold entitled "Portrait of the Artist in Middle Age," we read the following, clearly autobiographical, statement: "His strongest tastes were negative. He abhorred plastics, Picasso, sunbathing, and jazz -- everything in fact that had happened in his own lifetime." His disdain for change in the contemporary world is nowhere more evident than in his views on what happened to the traditional Roman Mass [Note: DeVille here appends an endnote, which says: "For more on Waugh's view of liturgical change, see the exchange of letters in A Bitter Trial: Evelyn Waugh and John Carmel Cardinal Heenan on Liturgical Changes, ed. Scott M.P. Reid (St. Augustine's Press, 2000).]

Waugh had learned to appreciate and delight in the standards of a well-executed liturgy after converting to Catholicism in 1930:
Of the extraneous attractions of the Church which most drew me was the spectacle of the priest and his server at a low Mass, stumping up to the altar without a glance to discover how many or how few he had in his congregation; a craftsman and his apprentice; a man with a job which he alone was qualified to do.
As DeVille points ought, Waugh loathed all that came to replace such standards of liturgical craftsmanship -- the dumbing down of the liturgy and a false bonhomie that characterized even the revisions of the 1960s that preceded the new Mass (which, DeVille reminds us, Waugh did not live to see). Said Waugh: "The Mass is no longer the Holy Sacrifice but the Meal at which the priest is the waiter. The bishop, I suppose, is the head waiter."

All of this added fuel to the fire, of course, giving his critics fresh ammunition for their charge that Waugh was a reactionary crank and snob, whereas -- as Waugh himself put it -- he in fact wanted nothing more than simply to assist at "the Mass for whose restoration the Elizabethan martyrs had gone to the scaffold" (including St. Edmund Campion, about whom Waugh wrote a biography, Edmund Campion, that won him the coveted Hawthornden Prize in 1936).

What is Waugh's virtuous Christian "snobbery," then, in the final analysis? DeVille says that, properly understood, it consists in
the willingness, no matter how out of step with the Zeitgeist, to utter a firm and unyielding no to every instance of doctrinal diminution, oral malingering, and liturgical slovenliness, a refusal of every faddish temptation to let the world set the agenda for the Church ....It insists on certan standards of excellence, of decency, and, yes, of taste.... It is unyielding in its refusal of everything but the best for God.

In the end, Christian "snobbery" is not merely a negation. It is not simply a refusal of the vulgar and the slovenly. It is, in fact, not snobbery at all in the common definition, but rather, a certain contrarianism and an intolerance of the slipshod and shopworn. It is not only an insistence on certain standards ... but is, finally, born out of joy and love, and only when lived joyfully and charitably can it be justified.

Christian contrarianism like Waugh's exists only as a corrective device; it is teleological and pedagogical. It insists on certain things and looks intolerantly on others for the simple reason that God is not mocked, and we who tryuly love Him will not offer Him anything but our utmost for His highest.
With the Three Wise Men, we shall insist on the finest gifts; and, as DeVille points out by way of conclusion, in what Waugh regarded as the finest passage of his best book, he wrote thus about the Wise Men, and mutatis mutandis, about any and all of us defending the high, transcendental values of the good, the true, and the beautiful:
"Like me," she said to [the Magi], "you were late in coming.... You are my especial patrons," said Helena, "and patrons of all late-comers, of all who have a tedious journey to make to the truth, of all who are confused with knowledge and speculation, of all who through politeness make themselves partners in guilt, of all who stand in danger by reason of their talents.... For His sake who did not reject your curious gifts, pray always for the learned, the oblique, the delicate. Let them not be quite forgotten at the Throne of God when the simple come into their kingdom."
For further reading: [Adam A.J. DeVille's original article, the author of "In Defense o "Christian Snobbery": The Case of Evelyn Waugh Reconsidered," Latin Mass (Spring 2004), pp. 72-77, carries the following bio: "Adam A.J. DeVille, a subdeacon of Eparchy of Toronto and Eastern Candada of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, is a Ph.D. student at the Metropolitan Andriy Sheptytsky Institute for Eastern Christian Studies at St. Paul University, Ottawa, Canada, where he was writing a thesis on the Roman papacy and Orthodoxy in response to Ut Unum Sint. He is also the text editor for Logos: A Journal of Eastern Christian Studies and was married in August 2003. He and his wife Annemarie are expecting their first baby in June 2004."]

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Dennett temporarily pinned to a card

Stephen Barr writes in "On the Square: Observations and Contentions" (the December 13, 2005, post of the First Things blog):
The philosopher Daniel Dennett visited us at the University of Delaware a few weeks ago and gave a public lecture entitled "Darwin, Meaning, Truth, and Morality." I missed the talk -- I was visiting my sons at Notre Dame and taking in the Notre Dame -- Navy football game. Friends told me what I missed, however. Dennett claimed that Darwin had shredded the credibility of religion and was, indeed, the very "destroyer" of God. In the question session, philosophy professor Jeff Jordan made the following observation to Dennett, "If Darwinism is inherently atheistic, as you say, then obviously it can’t be taught in public schools." "And why is that?" inquired Dennett, incredulous. "Because," said Jordan, "the Supreme Court has held that the Constitution guarantees government neutrality between religion and irreligion." Dennett, looking as if he’d been sucker-punched, leaned back against the wall, and said, after a few moments of silence, "clever." After another silence, he came up with a reply: He had not meant to say that evolution logically entails atheism, merely that it undercuts religion.
Mark Shea, commenting on Barr's observation, remarks:
You see, this is the sort of thing that just fills me with skepticism when I'm assured that Darwinism is a philosophically and religiously neutral project that just wants to do pure science and has no interest in attacking the Christian revelation. I find it... hard to credit when I am constantly assured that people like Dennett... and Dawkins, and Sagan... oh, and virtually every other public spokesperson for Darwin are just crude "popularizers" and don't really reflect a larger philosophical agenda. One does get the rather distinct impression that the philosophy they routinely (and triumphantly) espouse is, well, what the project is in large part about.
[Gratias tibi ago, Kirk Kanzelberger]

Advent, collagen, and the human condition

I personally knew the late Francis A. Schaeffer -- the Protestant cultural critic and Christian apologist who lived in the L'Abri community in the village of Huemoz sur Ollon in the Canton of Vaud, Switzerland. In the seventies, he and his wife, Edith, moved up to Chesieres, just beneath Villars, about a kilometer up the mountain from Huemoz, and set up their home in their chalet overlooking the Rhone valley and the Les Dents du Midi range across the valley. Once when I visited Francis there, he took me to his new office, which replaced his old one in Huemoz that had doubled as their bedroom. We talked there over tea, and part way through our visit he opened the pine-paneled door of a closet adjacent to us to show me that he had covered the reverse side of the door with hideous photographs and magazine pictures of starving and crippled children, war wounded, lepers, amputees, bloated bodies of flood casualties and massacre victims ... I felt a wave of nausea. He explained that sometimes amidst the natural beauty of these Swiss alpine surroundings, it was easy to forget the reason Christ had come, and he needed to be reminded of the reality of the human condition, the reason Christ had come.

Well, folks. It's Advent, and the world around us has already rushed headlong into commercialized Santa Time, and before the first of the twelve traditional days of Christmas is over, Christmas tree carcasses will likely litter the sidewalks outside your homes alongside trashbags full of wrapping paper and discarded boxes. So, amidst the saccharine surrealism of it all, here's a bit of rude reality to remind you of the human condition ... if you have the stomach for it.

Hold on to your stomachs and read no farther if you're amidst breakfast. You've been warned! The following comes to you from a lengthy special report in London's Guardian back in September entitled "The beauty products from the skin of executed Chinese prisoners" (Sept. 13, 2005), about a Chinese cosmetics company using skin harvested from the corpses of executed convicts to develop beauty products for sale in Europe and the U.S. Representatives of the firm told would-be customers that it is working on developing collagen for lip and wrinkle treatments. Who knows, maybe there's a market in the new blue state metrosexual male audiences packing the theaters for Brokeback Mountain. Using the skin from condemned convicts, they assured, is "traditional" and nothing to "make such a big fuss over."

Christ has died. Christ has risen. Christ will come again.

[A tip of the hat to Michael S. Rose, "The News You May Have Missed," New Oxford Review (November, 2005), p. 35.]

Friday, December 09, 2005

Sartre contra Sullivan on the Vatican Instruction

In his latest paparatziphobic salvo against the Vatican Instruction banning admission of homosexuals to the priesthood, Andrew Sullivan declares why, in his opinion, its new rules "turn Jesus' teachings on its head." In an article entitled "The Vatican's New Stereotype," Time (December 12, 2005), he writes: "The one consolation that gay Catholics have long had is that the church hates only sin, not sinners." The substance of his argument is that the Church has turned this principle on its head, or, at least, now hates the sinner as well. His conclusion spills over in bitter bile:

The new Pope has now turned that teaching on its head. He has identified a group of people and said, regardless of how they behave or what they do, they are beneath serving God. It isn't what they do that he is concerned with. It's who they are. They are the new Samaritans. And all of them are bad."
This is as pathetic as it is wrong-headed and misleading. One hardly knows where to start. The Pope has not turned Church teaching on its head. He has not identified a group of people and said that they are beneath serving God (at least in other ways than the priesthood), or that he's unconcerned with what they do. He has not said that homosexuality constitutes who they are, or that they all are bad. These are Sullivan's words, not the Pope's.

There are countless impediments that can disqualify an individual from seeking priestly ordination, including being female, being under age, being too old, being married, being a medical risk, being financially in debt, etc. In addition, there are also impendiments of psychological unfitness involving various pathologies, phobias, neuroses, syndromes, obsessive-compulsive disorders, etc. It is simply not true that these accidental properties of a person's life, no matter how preoccupying they may be, define the substance of his nature. The Church has never taught this. It never will. In fact, Catholic teaching has often explicitly rejected precisely such a view. Hence, it has denied that homosexuality can be a person's defining identity. For this reason, too, there is good reason to eschew use of such words as "gay" and "lesbian," which in common parlance today are used as nominal identifiers, as though they referred to a given nature.

Not even the atheistic existentialist, Jean-Paul Sartre, accepted such nonsense. He writes, in "Patterns of Bad Faith" in his magnum opus, Being and Nothingness:

A homosexual frequently has an intolerable feeling of guilt, and his whole existence is determined in relation to this feeling. . . . In fact it frequently happens that this man, while recognizing his homosexual inclination, while avowing each and every particular misdeed which he has committed, refuses with all his strength to consider himself "a paederast." His case is always "different," peculiar; there enters into it something of a game, of chance, of bad luck, the mistakes are all in the past; they are explained by a certain conception of the beautiful which women cannot satisfy; we should see in them the results of a restless search, rather than the manifestations of a deeply rooted tendency, etc., etc.

... Thus he plays on the word being. He would be right actually if he understood the phrase "I am not a paederast" in the sense of "I am not what I am." That is, if he declared to himself, "To the extent that a pattern of conduct is defined as the conduct of a paederast and to the extent that I have adopted this conduct, I am a paederast. But to the extent that human reality cannot be finally defined by patterns of conduct, I am not one." But instead he slides surreptitiously toward a different connotation of the word "being." He understands "not being" in the sense of "not-being-in-itself." He lays claim to "not being a paederast" in the sense in which this table is not an inkwell. He is in bad faith.

By "bad faith," Sartre intends the view that denies one's innermost free moral agency, the view that one is ultimately responsible for making of his life what it is and not a hapless victim of his environment or circumstances or "nature." If Sullivan doesn't understand his Catechism, he could do worse than study a little Sartre.

Benedict to Reinterpret Vatican II

"Forty years after the event, the president of the Pontifical Committee for Historic Sciences, Walter Brandmeuller, clears up some historical issues. On December 8th, the Pope will give his assessment."

This from Sandro Magister in Rome, December 9, 2005. Among the conflicting interpretations of Vatican II is the wide-spread idea that it maked a "new beginning" in Church history (one thinks of the French Revolution), and that thanks to it -- its "spirit" more than the words of its actual documents -- the Church and its dogmas, laws, structures and traditions have entered into a phase of permanent reform, or, shall we say, permanent experimentation. Magister notes:
However, Joseph Ratzinger has shown on a number of occasions that he does not share this reading of the facts. And so has -- amongst others -- his cardinal vicar for the diocese of Rome, Camillo Ruini.

Only last June Ruini declared: "It is time for history to produce a new reconstruction of Vatican II -- one that finally tells a true story."
Read more of this excellent article, along with Walter Brandmeuller's illuminating survey of the issue in Sandro Magister's "Benedict XVI Is to Reinterpret the Second Vatican Council. This Is the Preface," www.chiesa (December 9, 2005). (Gratia tibi, James P. Caputo)

Charles Colson finds solace in Carmelite tradition

Chuck Colson knows the strength of evangelicalism in bringing people to an intimate relationship with Jesus. That's what brought him to conversion 32 years ago after the Watergate affair during the Nixon administration. But after three decades of first-hand acquaintance with the strong suit of evangelicalism, Colson apparently ran into a brick wall. His son was diagnosed with bone cancer. His daughter was diagnosed with melanoma. His wife underwent surgery. Amidst the crucible of his own soul's dark night, Chuck Coleson asked "what happens when you have relied on this [evangelical] intimacy and the day comes when God seems distant? What happens in the dark night of the soul?" He found out, he says, this past year:
I'm not sure how well the contemporary evangelical world prepares us for this struggle, which I suspect many evangelicals experience but fear to admit because of the expectations we create. At such times, we can turn for strength to older and richer theological traditions probably unfamiliar to many—writings by saints who endured agonies both physical and spiritual.

Teresa of Avila was a 16th-century Spanish mystic and author of The Interior Castle. Teresa, who suffered from paralyzing illnesses, wrote, "For his Majesty can do nothing greater for us than grant us a life which is an imitation of that lived by his beloved Son. I feel certain, therefore, that these favors [sufferings] are given us to strengthen our weakness."

John of the Cross, persecuted and thrown into prison, wrote the classic The Dark Night of the Soul. "O you souls who wish to go on with so much safety and consolation," John wrote. "If you knew how pleasing to God is suffering and how much it helps in acquiring other good things, you would never seek consolation in anything, but you would rather look upon it as a great happiness to bear the Cross of the Lord."
Colson saw in these older traditions the truth that faith becomes strongest when we are without consolation and must walk into the darkness, as he learned, with complete abandon:
Faith isn't really faith if we can always rely on the still, small voice of God cheering us on. A prominent pastor once told me he experienced the Holy Spirit's presence every oment. Contemporary evangelicals regard this as maturity. Perhaps it is -- or maybe it is a form of presumption. True faith trusts even when every outward reality tells us there is no reason to....

Evangelicals must rely on more than cheerful tunes, easy answers, and happy smiles. We must dig deeply into the church's treasures to find what it is like to worship God, not because of our circumstances, but in spite of them.
[Source: Chuck Coleson with Anne Morse, "My Soul's Dark Night," Christianity Today.Com, December, 2005 (Hat tip to Fagan)]

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

"White Flight" from intellectual rigor

I knew something was up when a pattern began to emerge in the non-honors sections of some of my large introductory core classes. The top students were not the rich white Anglo kids, but the immigrants -- in our neck of the woods, these were primariliy Romanians, Koreans, Vietnamese and Hmong. Why would the top 5% of students in these classes include immigrants struggling in a foreign language, while the majority of privileged upper-middle class American kids -- who had no language obstacle to contend with -- trolled the bottom of the mindless slough with the rest of the country's antediluvian knuckle-dragging mouth breathers? A momentous shift has occurred in our society over the last fourty years, and the chickens are coming home to roost.

Miami Herald columnist, Leonard Pitts, recently addressed this issue from the point of view of "White Flight" -- namely, of parents taking children out of demanding, mostly Asian schools. In an article entitled "White flight is an old term with a new twist" (Miami Herald, Nov. 28, 2005), he writes:
Perhaps you remember white flight.

That is, of course, the term for what happened in the 1960s when blacks, newly liberated from legal segregation, began fanning out from the neighborhoods to which they'd once been restricted. Traumatized at the thought of living in proximity to their perceived inferiors, white people put their houses on the market at fire sale prices and took flight.

Well, something similar is happening now in Northern California. Similar in the sense of being completely different.

Where whites once ran because they felt they were superior to their new neighbors, they are apparently running now because they feel they are not quite as good.

I refer you to a Nov. 19 story in The Wall Street Journal. Reporter Suein Hwang interviewed white parents who are pulling their kids out of elite public high schools, schools known for sending graduates to the nation's top colleges. They are doing this, writes Hwang, because the schools are too academically rigorous, too narrowly focused on such subjects as math and science. Too Asian.


Yes, you read right. Hwang reports that since 1995, the number of white students at Lynbrook High in San Jose has fallen by almost half. At Monta Vista High in Cupertino, white students now make up less than a third of the population.


White parents are putting their kids into private schools or moving to areas where the public schools are whiter, less Asian and less demanding. Where sports and music also are emphasized, and educators value, as one parent put it, ``the whole child.''

One white woman told Hwang how she dissuaded a young white couple from moving to town, telling them their child might be ''the only Caucasian kid in the class.'' Another said, ``It does help to have a lower Asian population.''

Which plays, of course, into the old stereotype of the hyper-competitive Asian. But the new white flight also has given rise to a new stereotype one educator calls ''the white boy syndrome.'' It says that white kids just don't have it between the ears.

The irony speaks for itself.
Academic Prostitution

Earlier this Spring, Newsweek (April 11, 2005) featured a "My Turn" column by Nicole Kristal entitled: "'Tutoring' Rich Kids Cost Me My Dreams." The subtitle tells the whole story: "It took me a while to figure out what my boss already knew: I had been hired to do their work." Over a period of three years, Kristals says she was "an academic prostitute":
I ruined the curve for the honest and ensured that the wealthiest, and often stupidest, students earned the highest marks. I was a professional paper-writer.
It all started when she saw a TUTORS WANTED flier on the UCLA campus and took on a job with what she thought was a small tutoring agency that serviced affluent familites in the area. "Just sit at her computer and type for her," her boss told her. The students didn't care. The parents knew it. And so did her boss. Kristal writes:
Welcome to the world of professional paper-writing, the dirty secret of the tutoring business. It's facilitated by avaricious agencies, perpetuated by accountability-free parents and made possible by self-loathing nerds like me. For three-hour workdays, the ability to sleep in and the opportunity to get paid to learn, I tackled subjects like Dostoevsky while spoiled jerks smoked pot, took naps, surfed the Internet and had sex. Though some offered me chateaubriand and the occasional illicit drug, most treated me like the help. I put up with it because I feared working in an office for $12 an hour again.

Six months into the job, my boss sent me on a problem-solving mission for $10 more per hour than I was already making. He had earned C's and D's on papers for Evan (not his real name), a USC freshman my boss described as a "typical surfer retard." Evan's parents had hired "tutors" to compose their son's papers since he was 12 because he "wasn't going to be a writer anyway." They were furious.

... during the session Evan purchased an ounce of weed and a bag of Xanax. His WASPy girlfriend washed down a pill with some Smart Water and offered me some. I declined. Evan sent me home with his $3000 PowerBook to write his paper because he was "too busy" to work. Before I left, his girlfriend hired me to write her paper on "Do the Right Thing"....

That summer break, my boss refereed me to a junior at a private Christian university who couldn't spell "college." Come fall, the kid leased my brain three hours a day, five days a week. Depressed, I lounged around ... until he finished class, then wadedthrough rush-hour traffic to demoralize myself....

Last spring, two months shy of my client's graduation date, I snapped while staring at a term-paper assignment on Margaret Thatcher. "I can't do this anymore," I mumbled. I had completed nearly two years of college for him. He replaced me with a teacher about to earn his Ph.D. who charged $15 less per hour than I did.

Despite my intellect, I handed over my self-respect to rich losers. I allowed myself to be blinded by privilege and the hope that some of it would rub off on me ....
Back to Leonard Pitts. Near the end of his column, Pitts observes that in recent years, he's been appalled how often he's encountered students, in the elite public high school where he teaches writing, who could not even put a sentence together and had no concept of basic grammar and punctuation. "They tell me I'm a touch grader," he muses, but "the funny thing is, I think of myself as a soft touch." "I've always gotten A's before," sniffed one girl to whom he thought he was being generous in awarding a C plus, he writes. He concludes:
It occurs to me that this is the fruit of our dumbing down education in the name of "self-esteem." This is what we get for making the work easier instead of demanding the students work harder -- and the parents be more involved.

So this new white flight is less a surprise than a fresh disappointment. And I've got news for those white parents:

They should be running in the opposite direction.

"A cheap shot from First Things"

In his e-letter of December 6, 2006, Karl Keating takes First Things to task for a "cheap shot" against Steve Ray, a personal friend. The offending article, entitled "God on the Internet" by Jonathan V. Last, the online editor of the Weekly Standard, mentions many websites -- some Catholic, some Protestant, some indeterminate -- and also writes about religious bloggers, among them Steve Ray (pictured right). Some of his comments are "snide," says Keating, and, in at least the case of his friend, Steve Ray, "downright malicious." Here's what Last says about Ray:
A more personal strain of consumerism leads people such as Stephen Ray to hawk their wares on the web. Ray, the author of several religious books, runs a web site called Defenders of the Catholic Faith. On it he features a photo album of his family and his travels, conversion testimonials from readers, and even his own blog. But the primary mission of Defenders of the Catholic Faith is to move product. Books, audio tapes, videos, DVDs--it's all there, mingled with explanations of 'Why I'm Catholic' and lessons about St. Mark. There's also a press kit describing Ray, showing his upcoming speaking schedule, and telling you how to book him at your event for a mere $600, plus expenses. (That's for local talks; overnight events are $1,800, plus expenses and, as his site explains, 'Steve rarely travels without his wife Janet.')
Last claims that "the primary mission of Defenders of the Catholic Faith is to move product." But Keating counters: "The man must not have spent much time at Steve's site. By clicking through the drop-down menus one finds that the site's primary mission is to share the Catholic faith."

Keating is understandably upset. There is not only misinformation here but disingenuousnes, as he goes on to point out:
Yes, Steve's books and videos are marketed, but, as he says at the blog at his site, the income from those sales does not end up in his pocket: "The money earned from speaking engagements and product sales go into preparing materials, investing in the ministry and video series, maintaining this web site, donations to the needy, and other causes to promote the Catholic faith." Steve derives his living expenses from running a maintenance (janitorial) business.

Take his videos. Most Catholic videos are "talking head" affairs, taped in a studio. Steve's videos are taped on location in the Holy Land and around the Mediterranean. When you watch a Steve Ray video about the apostle Paul, you see Steve speaking where Paul once spoke. It isn't cheap to produce an on-location video, and Steve uses profits from his product sales to underwrite the expenses.

Steve is on the road much of the year. He happens to like his wife, Janet, and they think--properly, I'd say--that it is not good for a husband and wife to be separated for great lengths of time. That is why Janet often accompanies him on his speaking trips.

As noted, Jonathan Last is the online editor of the "Weekly Standard." Both the "Weekly Standard" and "First Things" have web sites that include (in the case of the latter) or are about to include (in the case of the former) online stores hawking books and other articles. The "Weekly Standard" sends out a weekly e-mail newsletter that includes advertising. Both sites, of course, sell subscriptions to their print publications.

It strikes me as ungenerous of Last, who runs a web site that sells things, to complain about sales at Steve Ray's web site, and it strikes me as ungenerous of "First Things" to have published Last's hit piece in the first place.

Steve has written to "First Things," asking for an apology. He deserves a very public one.
For Further Reading:

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Waugh on Liturgical "Participation"

Everlyn Waugh might well have described his disposition toward the liturgical reforms in terms of fiercely resisting the urge to join the herd of Gardarene swine running down into the Rhine after the Second Vatican Council. Noting that it was "natural to the Germans to make a row," Waugh argued that it was "essentially un-English" to do so. He wanted only to pray "in silence":
'Participation' in the Mass does not mean hearing our own voices. It means God hearing our voices.... I believe ... that I 'participate' in a work of art when I study it and love it silently. No need to shout.
["Adam A.J. DeVille, "In Defense of Christian 'Snobbery': The Case of Evelyn Waugh Reconsidered," Latin Mass magazine, (Spring 2004), p. 75 - a brilliant article.]

First they banned Piglet. Now this!

Back in October we noted that the UK was on its way "Banning Porky Pig, Pooh, & Piglet to mollify Muslim sensibilities" (October 7, 2005). Now, it seems, a girl has been sent home from school for wearing a crucifix at a UK school where Sikhs are permitted to carry ceremonial kirpan daggers and wear them as religious symbols. (See Sky News, "Anger Over Crucifix Ban," December 6, 2005)

Adoremus Bulletin -- the good, the bad, and the ugly

There is a lot of good in Adoremus Bulletin, to which I contribute annually. In the October issue, however, my views were misrepresented, and since Mrs. Helen Hull Hitchcock (the editor) apparently decided not to publish my letter about this in the latest (November 2005) issue, here it is:
November 7, 2005

Mary R. Schneider's otherwise fine letter ("Hope for Real Reform?" Oct. 2005) misrepresents me by classifying me among "disgruntled traditionalists ... who believe that the Missal of Paul VI is illegitimate and who, therefore, want to return to the older Missal of Pius V." I have never maintained anything of the sort. I am a convert to Catholicism and have no memory of the pre-Vatican II Mass, nor have I ever impugned the legitimacy of the New Mass. Rather, my study of liturgical history and first hand experience of Catholic parish life have led me to the conclusion that the current antipathy of Catholics for Catholic tradition is an unbecoming reactionary fad, and that the Old Mass should be actively cultivated because (1) it was the liturgical standard for many centuries, (2) it provides a stable spiritual oasis amidst our currently unsettled liturgical culture, (3) it provides a "free market" incentive for the Novus Ordo to be celebrated with greater reverence, and (4) it provides the only living standard the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council ever had in mind when they envisioned the reform of the Mass - something so far from the living memory of rank-and-file Catholics today as to be practically forgotten. I think I may safely say that my sentiments here speak for the experience of many Lutheran and Anglican converts to Catholicism in recent years.

There was in this same issue a marvelous article, from which I will offer extracts in a moment, but first I wish to draw attention to what I consider an unfortunate misreading in one of the editorial responses to an inflammatory letter from a certain Graham Moorhouse in Dartford, Kent, England. Mr. Graham says that he has no interest in Adoremus because he believes the Novus Ordo is "a doctrinally dumbed down Protestantized rite fabricated by a committee under the direction of a man, who many came to believe (including Paul VI) was a closet Freemason," and that this was done, moreover, "with the pro-active input of six Protestant ministers." He says that it is "always ridiculous to expect good fruit from a rite specifically manufactured to appease heretics," and that what Adoremus is trying to do "is the equivalent of putting lipstick on a pig."

I wonder why the editor published this inflammatory letter rather than mine. Whatever the reason, her response is curious. She writes:
We hesitate to print a letter that ridicules and blasphemes the Holy Eucharist by comparing it to a pig. The writer's animus against the Church and her authority is profound -- and painful to read.
Wait a minute. Where does Mr. Moorhouse ridicule or blaspheme the Holy Eudcharist by comparing it to a pig? What he's comparing to a pig is the Novus Ordo, not the Eucharist. And where is the writer's profound animus against the Church? I discern a painfully profound animus against Archbishop Bugnini, who many (apparently including Paul VI) in fact may have believed was a Freemason, and -- regardless of the bugbear -- in fact did preside over a liberal hijacking of reform of the Mass mandated by Sacrosanctum Concilium's to the effect that numerous faithful liturgists involved in the process, such as Fr. Louis Bouyer, became utterly disillusioned and bailed out. How can outrage against desacralization of the Holy Liturgy be construed as blasphemy against the Eucharist and animus against the Church and her authority?

The editor continues:
The letter reveals the almost insurmountable difficulties involved in overcoming such radical (and factually mistaken) opinions. Clearly, dialog has its limits. We hope that only a very few hold such views, and we pray they will realize their errors and return to Holy Mother Church.

(Mr. Moorhouse operates Catholics Unattached Directory, a matchmaking website, and is editor of St. Bede's Traditionalist Community Newsletter, accessible from the UK Latin Mass Society web site,
Wait another minute. The editor mentions the "almost insurmountable difficulties involved in overcoming such radical (and factually mistaken) opinions." Which difficulties? What opinions? Moorhouse is clearly a traditionalist fed up with the Novus Ordo and abuses associated with it. He apparently believes that it was cobbled together under Bugnini's direction to appease heretics. Perhaps it is offensive that he believes this, and we may well disagree. But even if it were true, let us imagine, that Pope Paul VI, say, against his better judgment and the counsel of his best advisors, caved in to the liberals and dissidents and gave them what they wanted in their Novus Ordo, in return for the hard line he took in Humanae Vitae, and even if every one of the compromises and innovations incrementally sanctioned by the Holy See (such as the removal of the Tabernacle and communion rail, the removal of the altar and re-orientation of the priest facing the people, having communicants stand to receive communion and receive communion in the hand, the use of female altar servers and extravagant use of extraordinary eucharistic ministers, etc.) were all made in response to pressure from theological liberals and even heretics intent on desacralizing the Eucharist and Real Presence, this would still not invalidate the Novus Ordo or mean that Christ isn't truly Present its liturgy. It would just mean, if it were true, that it was a radically compromised or crippled liturgy. Would there be anything terribly wrong in being upset about that fact, if it were true?

Where are the "insurmountable difficulties" and "limits" to dialog posed by this? Do they lie with Moorehouse, as the editor suggests? If there are obvious errors here, let them be refuted. If not, then, face up! The editor hopes that "only a very few hold such views" and prays that "they will realize their errors and return to Holy Mother Church." What makes her think that Moorhouse is not in communion with Holy Mother Church? The Latin Mass Society is no dissident society, either here in the United States or in the UK. It promotes the Traditional Latin Mass with the full approval of the Holy See. In fact, the late Pope John Paul II in his Apostolic Letter, Ecclesia Dei (July 2, 1988) calling for a "wide and generous application" of the provisions for the Traditional Latin Mass. Should we indeed hope that "only a very few hold such views" as Mr. Moorhouse? Or should we be grateful that there are still souls to be found who are capable of becoming inflamed with outrage against what they perceive as the desacralization of the liturgy since Vatican II?

On that note, let me turn to what is unequivocally good and wonderful in the latest issue of the Adoremus Bulletin, and that is a Viewpoint piece by Fr. W. Roy Floch, entitled: "Where Have We Put Him? And what if we acted as if we blieve what we blieve?" It is a personal account of the changes since Vatican II and how they have affected our perception of the Eucharist. Here are some exerpts:
Where Did We Go Wrong?
Of all the changes in the celebration of Mass that took place after Vatican II, I believe placing the celebrant and the congregation face to face was the most wide-ranging in its effect. No longer focussed in one direction -- toward God -- clergy and laity have turned inward toward themselves, and experience a crisis in both lay and religious identity and vocation, not to mention the poverty of self-centered music. Seeing each other has not always been a pretty sight, and this has contributed to the lobbing of tomatoes in both directions as power struggles now seem to take up much of our ecclesial energy. We are looking at one another, at the many ministers and musicians, but we are not seeing Him. (I no longer look communicants in the eye but keep my eyes on Him, hoping they will too.) Regarding the priest as "entertainer" may account for the "vocation crisis".

Changes meant to foster "active participation" are not working. The participation that counts must be internal and spiritual. External action cannot achieve it. "You can lead a horse to water..." I remember the Latin liturgy as highly involving. In order to follow it, you had to pay attention.

The usual explanation given for the increase in Eucharistic devotional practices from the 9th century on is that the Mass became remote from people, causing them to generate these extra-liturgical means for more satisfying religious experience. But what if the "remote" liturgy actually created internal spiritual growth that obtained expression in those devotions, and their sharp decline after the liturgical renewal following Vatican II is the consequence of a desiccated internal spiritual life?

I sense that congregations are now completely attentive to external actions and are personally passive, as if they are in a theater or watching TV hoping the program will be entertaining. When it isn't entertaining, they walk. In the words of a Lutheran bishop called in to mediate where a pastor's liturgical practices aggravated some of her congregation, we have forgotten that, "The Liturgy is not for us, it's for God."

The Absence of the Presence
The problem, it seems to me, is consistency in choreographing the Presence. My sudden distracting thought that, with great emotional and rational fittingness, I could celebrate the Tridentine rite derives from the disturbing practice of our pretending that He is not in the room while celebrating the "Novus Ordo". Much of Catholic ritual development of the past seems clear to me if you ask: "How should one act when God is in the room?" If the Blessed Sacrament can be ignored, what is the message we are conveying about the importance of the Presence, a message the children (now adults and parents) have been learning (and teaching) these past decades? We have rendered the Real Presence ritually incredible. We know how hard credibility is to regain.

I am not urging a rapid return to Trent or Latin, but I imagine that in another 500 years we may be celebrating the Eucharist in a form very much like the liturgy I remember from 1957. The latest changes in the GIRM are not for the purpose of sacerdotilization (as some say) but for sacralization.

The liturgy often seems to be at war with itself. After Vatican II came a liturgy that belongs in a hall, not in a sanctuary before the Presence of Christ; though the liturgy of the sanctuary is still there.... (Read the whole article here.)
Not a bad start toward Moorehouse's concerns, that.