Monday, July 28, 2008

Off to North Carolina ... Eeeee Haw!!

Hush puppies, barbecue, grits, collard greens, fat back, mountain momma ... Well, I don't guess I've ever really tried fat back, I'm not quite sure what a mountain momma is, and sushi's actually my forté; but I do like that Carolina pork barbecue. Um-hmm. You heard me. Unlike Samuel Jackson, I do dig on swine ... in obedience, of course, to the rooftop vision of St. Peter.

We'll be gone until early next week. Also, my computer appears to have a particularly virulent virus or worm or Trojan or something that isn't being exterminated by my antivirus program, so I'm going to be off-line for a while until a good friend of mine who knows computers conducts the obligatory exorcism. So, until we meet again, enjoy yourselves and be good.

Pray for our country, and pray for us. That's mutual, you know. God bless.

Your Papist

Processional Crucifixes, "Straw" Subdeacons & other joys

The use of a Crucifix in entrance and exit processions, and the use of gloves with which to handle the Crucifix are ... examples of matters of custom. It might surprise you to know that a Crucifix is only required in Pontifical Masses.

... Virtually everyone applauded the P.C.E.D.'s [Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei's] decision to allow laymen who had been Instituted as an Acolyte to serve as Subdeacon in a Solemn High Mass. Such a "straw" Subdeacon may not wear a maniple, because he is not admitted to the clerical state. By making this allowance, the P.C.E.D. has made available Solemn High Masses in ore places than would host them if the Subdeacon had to be only a Deacon or a Priest. No one is forced to take advantage of this ruling, yet it does benefit many groups.

On the other hand, virtually no one nowadays thinks that the 1958 papal decision to permit (but not require) the congregation to join in singing the Pater Noster with the priest was a good idea. It is not the norm, and indeed in one local Tridentine Community, actually caused a significant amount of controversy when a celebrant wanted to impose it.

It is always safest to stick with the norm. Our Mass should and does follow the 1962 Missal, just as our Holy Father wishes.
The Tridentine Community News, July 27, 2008 (St. Josaphat Catholic Church, Detroit), from which these excerpts are quoted, is always full of delightful and edifying detail concerning liturgical tradition. This issue was the second of three installments devoted to Liturgical Law, Canon Law, and Custom.

[Hat tip to A.B.]

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Rise of the "feel-good liturgy": a critique

Philosopher Laurence Paul Hemming's critique of the changes to the Mass after the Second Vatican Council will shake the liturgical establishment, says Alcuin Reid.

A priest celebrates Mass in the extraordinary form in New Orleans, Louisiana

In an article entitled "Divine worship and the rise of 'feel-good liturgy'" (The Catholic Herald, UK, July 11, 2008), the astute liturgical historian Alcuin Reid reviews Worship As a Revelation: The Past Present and Future of Catholic Liturgy (London: Burns & Oates, and New York: Continuum International Publishing Group, 2008), a new book by Laurence Paul Hemming, an English scholar whose professed main interest is the relation between philosophy and theology. Hemming is no slouch. A graduate of Oxford (MA and M.Phil) and Cambridge (PhD), he is the author of two former monographs, Heidegger's Atheism: The Refusal of a Theological Voice (Notre Dame University Press, Notre Dame, 2002) and Postmodernity's Transcending: Devaluing God (Notre Dame University Press, Notre Dame and SCM Press, London, 2005).

"We talk too much ..."

In his article, Alcuid Reid doesn't waste any time getting down to business. He writes:
We talk too much. We read too much. We hear too much. So much so, that we have lost the art of doing, of acting either as individuals or as a people. We no longer understand what it is to belong to a people who acts, who has "public action" of its own. We are no longer liturgical. For in our vernacularism and modernisation and reform, the very nature of the leiturgia - the nature of what is truly the work of the people - has been lost.

Today we seek to comprehend and explain and decide what we do in our churches but it is utterly questionable as to whether our people experience the liturgical revelation of Almighty God.

In fact, let's drop the adjective "liturgical" and use Hemming's words which assert that the liturgy is nothing less than "the ordinary and continual revealing of [God's] truth". If this is so, it cannot be a forum for our own self-expression. It cannot necessarily be within our immediate comprehension or subject to our didactic commentary. It must be experienced, indeed lived, as worship of Almighty God - as opposed to being "enjoyed" as a form of Christian activism - in order to begin to grasp something of what is being communicated in it: the very life of God Himself.

This raises the question not only of what liturgical practices are appropriate but, more fundamentally, of the place of the liturgy in Catholic theology.
Hemming's work, says Reid, arises out of his own experience of Catholic worship and also testament to his experience that most attempts to facilitate what contemporaries refer to as meaningful worship experiences in recent decades - from guitars to garrulous clergy - "while they may have resulted in our happily holding hands with each other, have in part (at least) led us to forget about the worship of Almighty God."

Hemming's philosophical and theological sophistication, says Reid, "will challenge theologians and liturgists to re-examine their assumptions about how they perceive the relationship between theology and liturgy." For if worship is in fact the revelation of Almighty God, then Sacred Liturgy can no longer be considered just another component in theology, but must be foundational.

A couple of Hemming's other observations are also provocative. His analysis of the liturgical reforms over the past century go much farther than many analyses. As Reid observes: "Very few will have located the genesis of the late 20th-century liturgical crisis in the reign of the good and sainted Pope Pius X, but Hemming's argument for precisely this is compelling." Again, when he turns to the subject of Sacred Scripture, he insists that "the liturgy is the proper ground of Scripture (and not the other way round, i.e., the false view that the liturgy derives from Scripture)," or, put more simply, in the modern understanding of the relationship between the liturgy and scripture, "scripture has lost its ground." Surely this should provoke some healthy debate.

[Hat tip to A.S.]

The indifference of diabolical distraction

"The fact that there exist men who are indifferent to the loss of their being and the peril of an eternity of wretchedness is against nature. With everything else they are quite different: they fear the most trifling things, foresee and feel them.... He knows he is going to lose everything through death but feels neither anxiety nor emotion. It is a monstrous thing to see one and the same heart at once so sensitive to minor things and so strangely insensitive to the greatest. It is an incomprehensible spell, a supernatural torpor that points to a supernatural power as its cause."

-- Blaise Pascal

Catholic systematic theology

Please visit the new "Systematic Theology" link in the sidebar under "Academy Library & Bookstore." The pages on Catholic Systematic Theology linked here have been compiled with your help, for which I thank you. If you note any errors or have any suggestions, please do not hesitate to email me and let me know. My email link is in the section immediately above.

You will note that in the pages devoted to multi-volume works in Catholic systematic theology, only a single volume from an entire set may be listed. This is simply because it would have required a whole separate page or more to list all of the volumes contained in some sets. By clicking on the single listed volume of a set, you can very quickly find your way to the other volumes on the linked Amazon pages.

Nicolas Sarkozy for US President!

Well, maybe not quite. He's the very postmodern President of France, after all. But many things he said in his speech before the joint houses of the US Congress make me wonder why we can't have leaders who so eloquently sound these notes celebrating tradition, honor, self-reliance, and fidelity. Some of the things Sarkozy says here militate against the culture of learned helplessness and state-dependence, which is the legacy of Democratic administrations like those of Lyndon Baines Johnson's "Great Society." As a left-wing Democratic Senator who makes Hillary and Bill look "centrist" on some issues, Senator Obama would not be caught dead saying some of the things Sarkosy says in this speech. And McCain, despite his uncontested record of sacrificial service to this country, simply doesn't have the rhetorical presence.

Friday, July 25, 2008

The audacity of hype

The anointed one's pilgrimage to the Holy Land is a miracle in action - and a blessing to all his faithful followers.
And it came to pass, in the eighth year of the reign of the evil Bush the Younger (The Ignorant), when the whole land from the Arabian desert to the shores of the Great Lakes had been laid barren, that a Child appeared in the wilderness.

Scion of a simple family, offspring of a miraculous union, grandson of a typical white person and an African peasant. And yea, as he grew, the Child walked in the path of righteousness, with only the occasional detour into the odd weed and a little blow.

When he was twelve years old, they found him in the temple in the City of Chicago, arguing the finer points of community organisation with the Prophet Jeremiah and the Elders. And the Elders were astonished at what they heard and said among themselves: “Verily, who is this Child that he opens our hearts and minds to the audacity of hope?”

In the great Battles of Caucus and Primary he smote the conniving Hillary, wife of the deposed King Bill the Priapic and their barbarian hordes of Working Class Whites.

And so it was, in the fullness of time, before the harvest month of the appointed year, the Child ventured forth - for the first time - to bring the light unto all the world.
Read the rest of this revelation in the report by Gerard Baker, "He ventured forth to bring light to the world" (TimesOnline, July 25, 2008).

[Hat tip to T.P.]

What is American identity?

Going back a bit to July 4th, there was a thoughful reflection by national columnist David Broder, "Is this nation losing its identity?" (, July 4, 2008). It's a matter, he says, of education and loss of values. Like the European Union and its amnesiac constitution, we might add. Concludes Broder:
I have not worried about the fundamental commitment of the American people since 1974. In that year, they were confronted with the stunning evidence that their president had conducted a criminal conspiracy out of the Oval Office. In response, the American people reminded Richard Nixon, the man they had just recently overwhelmingly re-elected to a second term, that in this country, no one, not even the president, is above the law. And they required him to yield his office.

That is not the sign of a nation that has lost its sense of values or forgotten the principles on which this system rests.
Watching the Kwame Kilpatrick sharade unfold here in Detroit, along with this year's presidential election, I wonder.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

What's in a name?

I remember thinking it funny when I read that someone in the American South had named her daughter "Second Corinthians." But this takes the cake: "NZ judge orders 'odd' name change" (BBC News, July 24, 2008):
A judge in New Zealand made a young girl a ward of court so that she could change the name she hated - Talula Does The Hula From Hawaii.

Judge Rob Murfitt said that the name embarrassed the nine-year-old and could expose her to teasing.

He attacked a trend of giving children bizarre names, citing several examples.

Officials had blocked Sex Fruit, Keenan Got Lucy and Yeah Detroit, he said, but Number 16 Bus Shelter, Violence and Midnight Chardonnay had been allowed.

One mother wanted to name her child O.crnia using text language, but was later persuaded to use Oceania, he said. (emphasis added)
[Hat tip to S.F.]

A political postmortem on mainline American Protestantism

Joseph Bottum is one of those writers in whom one comes to repose a trust, a confidence that he will have something important and intelligent to say and say it well with literate flair. In the latest issue of First Things, he has another great article, "The Death of Protestant America: A Political Theory of the Protestant Mainline" (FT, August/September 2008, pp. 23-33). As luck would have it, it's available online as a bonus this month, so you can read it for free (lucky you)!

Anyone who would like to know a little more about American Protestantism and its history would benefit from reading this article, in which Bottom provides a thumbnail sketch of its highlights in the United States. Think: Cliff Notes for Catholics.

Bottom charms and amuses. "America was Methodist, once upon a time," he writes, "Methodist, or Baptist, or Presbyterian, or Congregationalist, or Episcopalian. A little light Unitarianism on one side, a lot of stern Calvinism on the other, and the Easter Parade running right down the middle: our annual Spring epiphany, crowned in bright new bonnets." He continues:
The average American these days would have ­trouble recalling the dogmas that once defined all the jarring sects, but their names remain at least half alive: a kind of verbal remembrance of the nation’s religious history, a taste on the tongue of native speakers. Think, for instance, of the old Anabaptist congregations—how a residual memory of America’s social geography still lingers in the words: the Hutterites, Mennonites, and Amish, set here and there on the checkerboard of the nation’s farmland. The Quakers in their quiet meeting­houses, the Shakers in their tiny communes, and the Pentecostals, born in the Azusa Street revivals, like blooms forced in the hothouse of the inner city.

And yet, even while we may remember the names of the old denominations, we tend to forget that it all made a kind of sense, back in the day, and it came with a kind of order. The genteel Episcopalians, high on the hill, and the all-over Baptists, down by the river. Oh, and the innumerable independent Bible churches, tangled out across the prairie like brambles: Through most of the nation’s history, these endless divisions and ­revisions of Protestantism renounced one another and sermonized against one another. They squabbled, sneered, and fought. But they had something in common, for all that. Together they formed a vague but vast unity. Together they formed America.

In truth, all the talk, from the eighteenth century on, of the United States as a religious nation was really just a make-nice way of saying it was a Christian nation—and even to call it a Christian nation was usually just a soft and ecumenical attempt to gloss over the obvious fact that the United States was, at its root, a Protestant nation. Catholics and Jews were tolerated, off and on, but “the destiny of America,” as Alexis de Tocqueville observed in 1835, was “embodied in the first Puritan who landed on those shores, just as the whole human race was represented by the first man.”
Bottum cites Gordon Wood who points out that by 1800 "There were not just Presbyterians, but Old and New School Presbyterians, Cumberland Presbyterians, Springfield Presbyterians, Reformed Presbyterians, and Associated Presby­terians; not just Baptists, but General Baptists, Regular Baptists, Free Will Baptists, Separate Baptists, Dutch River Baptists, Permanent Baptists, and Two-Seed-in-the-Spirit Baptists.” I remember a missionary in Japan who used to joke about the number of varieties of Presbyterians ("... the PCA's, PCUSA's, OP's, UP's, ARP's, CP's," he would say, "... and the Split P's"). How apt.

Anyway, after going through this wonderfully detailed and concise history of American Protestantism, Bottum abruptly comes to the point:
Which makes it all the stranger that, somewhere around 1975, the main stream of Protestantism ran dry. In truth, there are still plenty of Methodists around. Baptists and Presbyterians, too — Lutherans, Episcopalians, and all the rest; millions of believing Christians who remain serious and devout. For that matter, you can still find, ­soldiering on, some of the institutions they established in their Mainline glory days: the National Council of Churches, for instance, in its God Box up on New York City’s Riverside Drive, with the cornerstone laid, in a grand ceremony, by President Eisenhower in 1958. But those institutions are corpses, even if they don’t quite realize that they’re dead. The great confluence of Protestantism has dwindled to a trickle over the past thirty years, and the Great Church of America has come to an end.

And that leaves us in an odd situation, unlike any before. The death of the Mainline is the central historical fact of our time: the event that distinguishes the past several decades from every other ­period in American history. Almost every one of our current political and cultural oddities, our contradictions and obscurities, derives from this fact: The Mainline has lost the capacity to set, or even significantly influence, the national vocabulary or the national self-understanding.
If mainline Protestantism is dead, it makes one want to raise the question about the state of the Catholic union. There are, of course, a number of stalwart bishops with spines of steel, well-formed Catholic minds, hearts of deep charity and authentic leadership qualities who inspire hope. Whether one could say this of the USCCB as a whole, or whether it may more readily evoke imagery of a "flock of shepherds," I think, would be a hotly debated question. I remember walking through the parking lot of the USCCB Conference once on my way to visit one of my sons who worked there while pursuing his graduate studies at CUA. It was during the last presidential election, and I noticed that nearly all of the bumpers sporting political stickers that I saw were Kerry-Edwards stickers. What was this, the Democratic party at prayer? How odd. Who's influencing whom here? The title of the Dustin Hoffman film, "Wag the Dog," comes to mind.

Katharine Jefferts Schori, the current presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, applauded her parents' decision to leave the Catholic Church and become Episcopalians when she was nine, says Bottom in his article. She added: "I think my parents were looking for a place where wrestling with questions was encouraged rather than discouraged." The irony is that I can imagine many AmChurch Catholics expressing similar sentiments about having left the pre-Conciliar Church in the dustbin of history in order to find this clean, well-lighted post-Vatican II place where "wrestling with questions is encouraged rather than discouraged" ... only to fall into lock-step with the current media spin on every socially and politically relevant issue.

Which brings me to something I have been thinking about concerning this year's presidential campaign, which strikes me as being rather unlike any other in our nation's history. I do think that there are a multiplicity of important issues involved here between this poor choice on the right and this abysmal choice on the left before us in the public square: Oil. Energy. Taxes. Education. Mortgages. Fannie Mae. The Fed. The national debt. Social Security. Inflation. Terrorism. Iraq. Afghanistan. Iran. China. Abortion. Marriage. Stem cell research. Immigration.

Yet I'm inclined to think that the single most important factor behind the emergence of a candidate like Barack Hussein Obama, as well as the dearth of truly inviting and substantial alternatives, is the final death of the Christian Faith in the public square. This isn't to say that there are not Christians. It is simply to say that the Faith, as a decisively culture-formative force in society, has been eclipsed by other forces: the secular media, the Internet, commercialism, reality TV, and what Herbert Marcuse long ago called "telenewsmagspeak." When candidates refer to religion or to God, it's only by way of token gestures, such as closing a speech with "God bless you"; or to reference one of many other interest groups to be manipulated or "managed"; to tap into the connotative value of a deep-seated American tradition of language rooted in civil religion. Mr. Obama is particularly a master of this art of image spin, and he's preparing to fleece us for all we're worth. As G.K. Chesterton once said, "When people stop believing in God, they don't believe in nothing — they believe in anything." Whether Mr. Obama is epistemologically self-conscious about this, I do not know; but I believe he instinctually knows that secularized Americans yearn for a God-substitute, a Messiah, and that he has tapped into this yearning. He wears his mantle with studied audaciously. The irony of the yearning is that it recoils from traditional religion because of its putative anti-intellectualism and repressiveness, only to run headlong into a blind fundamentalist believism of its own: blind belief in "The One," presumably sent to save us from right-wing reactionary conservatism. Obama Fundamentalists. Lemming-like hoards of them.

Plato, in his Republic, describes the process by which good forms of government are displaced by progresively worse ones. He starts with a government of the wise, which is followed by a government of military virtues (Timocracy), one of self-aggrandizement (Oligarchy). Famously, the last form of government before hitting rock bottom with Tyrrany, for Plato, is Democracy. What Plato fears about Democracy is that it verges toward anarchy and easily permits a man to rise to power on the wings of great promises, who, when elected, turns into a tyrant. The wost result, however, is that when the souls of individual citizens have lost their normative order and orientation, they lose the capacity to understand what has happened to them, because they themselves have become viciously tyrannical, leading them to call evil "good" and good "evil."

I think it was when Ben Franklin was leaving the Constitutional Convention when a woman asked him, "What kind of government have you given us, Mr. Franklin?" He said, "A republic, ma'am... if you can keep it." Tell me: How many of you think we still effectively have a republic?

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The Palestrina Institute

As friends of great liturgical music, most of you will appreciate this bit of history of sacred music at my own venerable institution of Sacred Heart Major Seminary. As one of the new kids on the block, so to speak, I was thrilled to discover through an online memorial to the late Thomas Martin Kuras that Sacred Heart was once the home of the highly esteemed Palestrina Institute, founded in 1940 by Rene Becker and his son Francis, and funded by the Archdiocese of Detroit. The Institute was founded, says the webpage, to teach sacred music (organ, piano, chant, music theory, solfège, harmony, composition, counterpoint, as well as liturgy, music history and choral conducting) to future ecclesiastical musicians and promote religious music in accordance with the motu proprio of Pope Pius X. Kuras himself studied at Sacred Heart Seminary, where he completed his studies as the Palestrina Institute in 1968, shortly before the Institute was closed in the aftermath of Vatican II. According to the online memorial, the level of music education offered at the Palestrina Institute was “well above” university-level (remember: this was when Sacred Heart was a minor seminary)!

Fraternal? Identical?

Damian Thompson, "Separated at birth?" (Holy Smoke, July 23, 2008), writes: "The mischievous Fr Z has posted these two pics on his blog. One of them is a muppet. The other appears to be some sort of scary, orange-haired toy."

[Hat tip to A.S.]

Monday, July 21, 2008

Australian liturgical wonders

Under the heading of "Reform of the Reform of the Reform," Rorate Caeli has posted a number of photos of the bizarre performers at the "Eucharistic Celebration on the Occasion of the 23rd World Youth Day" (Royal Randwick Racecourse, Randwick, NSW, Australia - July 20, 2008). Don't know if any of you had the chance to follow these events. I was wrapped up in family matters in Philly. Apparently, as in the Pontiff's visit to the States, there were instances of the Good and the Bad and the Ugly. Any thoughts?

I'm sorry to be focusing here on just this negative aspect of the Australian visit. I know there was much worthy of great gratitude. Nevertheless, the abuse here, limited though it may have been, was egregious. Here is an ABC News link to a video of the Fijian Island dancers and music during the Papal Mass in Australia: "Pope celebrates mass in 'great south land'" [scroll down to the "Fijian music accompanies papal mass gospel acclimation (ABC News)" link]. The dancing and music are lovely, but appallingly inserted into the Mass and grotesquely juxtaposed with a chanted proclamation of the Gospel. Pope Benedict does not look amused. Why was this done? I can tell you. Some liturgical idiot with chicken spit for brains and a wild hair of rebellion up his nether regions insisted on gratifying himself by sticking this symbolic middle finger to the face of the Holy Father. The bishops and presbyterate stood by and watched as His Holiness, stuck between a rock and a hard place, was too much of a gentleman to do anything but go along.

UK Telegraph op-ed on global economic collapse

A lawyer friend of mine sent this to me: Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, "The global economy is at the point of maximum danger" (Telegraph, July 21, 2008). Like him, I believe that the major thesis needs to be taken with a grain of salt, although there is plenty to worry about in the details of the sub-prime mortgage crisis, as well as the fact that perhaps the major U.S. industry has become the financing of debt. Still, what I find a bit amusing is that it's not the Jehovah's Witnesses standing on the mountain top announcing the end of the world this time, but secular economic analysts. Perhaps someone will say I shouldn't find this amusing, after all. Yet when there is so little in life over which one has any control outside of a few fundamental options, he has to find amusement somewhere in order to avoid going stark raving batty.

Home safe, good trip.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Gone to Philadelphia

I'll be gone to Philadelphia for a few days. My niece, the daughter of my sister in Philly, was recently married in Portugal, and they're having a reception in Philly for those who didn't make it to the wedding. Keep us in your thoughts and prayers as we travel.

God bless.


The damning silence of a hypocritical NAACP

William McGurn, "The NAACP and Black Abortions" (The Wall Street Journal, July 15, 2008):
At the Good Counsel shelters for homeless pregnant women in New York, yesterday was business as usual: pregnant moms getting ready to deliver, other mothers feeding their children, still others going off to school or training for new jobs.

There is a striking fact about these women: most are African-American. "These moms are attracted to Good Counsel because they know they will be in an environment where their baby is considered as beautiful and as worthy of life as any other," says Executive Director Chris Bell.

Yesterday was not business as usual at the 99th annual conference for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. For one thing, the first African-American to head the presidential ticket of a major party was on hand. Yet there was another interesting appearance that went mostly unmentioned. This was a protest by African-American pro-lifers – many NAACP members – who can't understand why America's most venerated civil rights organization turns a blind eye to what they say is the abortion industry's practice of targeting poor minority neighborhoods.

These folks include the Rev. Clenard Childress, a New Jersey pastor who runs a Web site called – the same language the Rev. Jesse Jackson used before he threw in his lot with the Democratic Party. These folks include Day Gardner of the National Black Pro-Life Union, and Levon Yuille of the National Black Pro-Life Caucus. And these folks include Dr. Alveda King, a niece of the Rev. Martin Luther King who says she knows what abortion does to a woman – because she had two of them before her change of heart.

"I remember when I was pregnant and considering a third abortion," she says. "I went to Daddy King [her grandfather and Martin Luther King's father]. He told me, 'that's a baby, not a blob of tissue.' Unfortunately, 14 million African-Americans are not here today because of legalized abortion. It's as if a plague swept through America's cities and towns and took one of every four of us."

What Dr. King is alluding to is that abortion disproportionately affects African-Americans....

The debate can get uncomfortable. Pro-lifers point to Planned Parenthood's origins in the eugenics movement. Indeed, these unpleasant associations recently resurfaced after pro-life students at UCLA hired actors to call up Planned Parenthood clinics posing as donors. In one call, the actor expressed his dislike of affirmative action, and said that he just felt that "the less black kids out there, the better." The woman responded, "understandable, understandable" and went on to say she was "excited" about the donation. Other calls yielded similar embarrassing results.
[Hat tip to E.E.]

Thursday, July 17, 2008

"Free the Cognitive Dissidents"

This article, posted by John Zmirak (Taki's Magazine, July16, 2008) is good for a hearty chuckle. It starts like this:
I’ve never been one for ruthless consistency. I learned young the fine art of emotional doublethink, from the experience of being at one and the same time:
  • An orthodox Catholic who mentally assented to official Church teaching on sexuality, according to its 1917 formulation in the old Catholic Encyclopedia.
  • A teenage boy.
With that, he's off and running ...

[Hat tip to Sun and Wine]

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

US Airways: the problem of oil futures

I received the following email from US Airways, which I patronized for most of my previous air travel since they had a hub in Charlotte, NC. The relevant part of the email is an open letter to airline customers about the current oil crisis. Here's the portion of the letter that I found of interest:
Since high oil prices are partly a response to normal market forces, the nation needs to focus on increased energy supplies and conservation. However, there is another side to this story because normal market forces are being dangerously amplified by poorly regulated market speculation.

Twenty years ago, 21 percent of oil contracts were purchased by speculators who trade oil on paper with no intention of ever taking delivery. Today, oil speculators purchase 66 percent of all oil futures contracts, and that reflects just the transactions that are known. Speculators buy up large amounts of oil and then sell it to each other again and again. A barrel of oil may trade 20-plus times before it is delivered and used; the price goes up with each trade and consumers pick up the final tab. Some market experts estimate that current prices reflect as much as $30 to $60 per barrel in unnecessary speculative costs.

Over seventy years ago, Congress established regulations to control excessive, largely unchecked market speculation and manipulation. However, over the past two decades, these regulatory limits have been weakened or removed. We believe that restoring and enforcing these limits, along with several other modest measures, will provide more disclosure, transparency and sound market oversight. Together, these reforms will help cool the over-heated oil market and permit the economy to prosper.

The nation needs to pull together to reform the oil markets and solve this growing problem.

Some useful liturgical discussion points

The following is from the Tridentine Community News insert of the July 13, 2008, church bulletin of St. Josaphat Catholic Church in Detroit, Michigan. The author, with whose permission I reproduce the article, acknowledged to me that one reader took issue with at least one of his interpretations in the article, as we shall see. I present the article not only for its helpful distinctions between validity and licitness, etc., but for the excellent discussion points it raises.
Recent Moves Toward Unification With Rome

The past several weeks have been encouraging for those of us who have been praying for various groups to be reconciled with the Holy See. The Catholic press has been detailing correspondence between Society of St. Pius X Superior Bishop Bernard Fellay and Cardinal Castrillón Hoyos of the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei, in which steps are being made toward regularization.

On June 26, the Transalpine Redemptorists, an independent traditionalist group of priests affiliated with the SSPX, announced its formal reconciliation with Rome.

This past week, British Anglican Bishop Andrew Burnham has asked Pope Benedict XVI for assistance in helping Anglican congregations become Catholic. He is likely seeking a method similar to the "Pastoral Provision" that Anglicans in the U.S. have employed for the same purpose (see our column of two weeks ago, available on-line at the address at the bottom of this page). [Note: subsequent developments have been reported in "That remains a problem for me..." (Rorate Caeli, July 10, 2008) and "Anglo-Catholic leader: "There's quite a strong chance that we will join the Catholic Church"" (Rorate Caeli, July 12, 2008) -- Musings ed.]

In the midst of these developments, some terminology is being thrown around that must be properly understood. In order for a priest to celebrate Mass and the sacraments in full communion with the Holy See, he must celebrate them validly and licitly.


In order for a priest to celebrate the sacraments validly:

1) He must have the proper intention. For example, he must intend to consecrate the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of our Lord.

2) There must be proper matter and form. For example, the matter of the Holy Mass according to the Latin Rite is unleavened bread and wine. The proper form is contained in the words of consecration specified in the Roman Missal, either in the original Latin or, in the case of the Ordinary Form, in the vernacular translations approved by national Bishops' Councils and ratified by the Holy See.

3) The priest must have been validly ordained by a bishop in apostolic succession. This means that the bishop, and all his predecessor bishops, must be able to trace their ordinations back to the original twelve Apostles, using valid rites of the Church.

4) In the case of the Sacraments of Penance and Matrimony, validity also requires the priest to have the approval of the local diocesan bishop to perform the ceremonies.***

It is generally agreed that the priests of the SSPX do meet criteria 1-3, but fail criterion 4. For this reason, Confessions heard by an SSPX priest are invalid. Marriages witnessed by an SSPX priest are also invalid, but may be regularized by the competent local diocesan authority.


Apart from validity, to be in full communion with Holy Mother Church, a priest must celebrate the sacraments licitly. This means they must be done in accord with the structure and rules of the Church. Because SSPX priests establish chapels and offer the sacraments without the permission of the local diocesan bishop, their sacraments are illicit.

The situation is akin to a doctor who is practicing without a medical license. He or she might be exceptionally talented, and may even maintain contact with other "independent" physicians, but ultimately, he and his peers cannot work within the hospital and insurance networks that create order for our medical system.

Irregularity vs. Excommunication

It is sometimes said that the SSPX and its members are excommunicated. In fact, this is not the case. Only the four bishops of the SSPX are clearly excommunicated because of the gravity of their acceptance of illicit -- though valid -- Episcopal consecration. The priests and congregations of the SSPX are not automatically excommunicated. Rather, as Cardinal Castrillón has clarified on more than one occasion, they are in an irregular status. Therefore, it is appropriate to speak of the reconciliation of the SSPX with Rome as a regularization process.

At the same time, the Ecclesia Dei Commission has made it clear that attendance at an SSPX chapel is not acceptable when an Extraordinary Form Mass in full communion with Rome is available. One must not actively or passively support schism.

In contrast, Anglicans did not claim to be in communion with Rome to begin with, thus they have not been excommunicated per se. They would be entering into communion with the Church from a starting position clearly outside.

Grey Areas

Some discussions of the topics of validity and licitness can become rather contentious. Rather than foster argument, let's consider a more practical, real-world situation that can and does arise in Tridentine Mass communities.

A certain Extraordinary Form Community has a friendly relationship with its diocesan administration. The diocese has explained that all visiting priests must apply to the chancery for temporary faculties in the diocese, and the community's leaders faithfully obey this directive.

Late one Friday, the regular celebrant for the Sunday Mass cancels. The community scrambles to find a replacement, cannot find one from its own diocese, but does find one willing to travel from another diocese. The community asks the chancery for faculties for the visiting priest, but the chancery does not respond. The community invites the priest regardless out of necessity.

The visiting priest would offer Mass validly (and arguably licitly, presuming that the chancery trusted the community's judgment in seeking celebrants). But he would not be able to hear Confessions.*** The question is, would a chancery's "Oh sure, no problem" response to a request for faculties for Confession suffice? Or must the community insist on receiving a letter? If a letter is required, does the community risk becoming annoying to the chancery simply because it is trying to follow Church law? In addition to validity and licitness, we must also value prudence.

Comments? Ideas for a future column? Please em-mail tridnews[at]stjosaphatchurch[dot]org. Previous columns are available at
*** The author states that a reader in whom he reposes considerable confidence cited a canon law supporting the claim that an occasional cross-diocese visiting priest (non-SSPX, of course) does not need diocesan permission to hear valid confessions.

[Hat tip to A.B.]

Monday, July 14, 2008

The domestication of Canadian abortion

Father Raymond J. De Souza, "Father Raymond J. de Souza on what Morgentaler's 'victory' teaches us: Abortion isn't the settled issue it was supposed to be" (National Post, July 7, 2008):
Awarding the Order of Canada to Henry Morgentaler was intended to confer just that, a sense of settled legitimacy to the publicly funded unlimited abortion license. After all, if the old abortionist could be thrown in the mix with french fry magnates and heraldic experts and promoters of amateur sports and a smattering of superannuated politicians, well then it would seem that abortion is just another one of those soothing things that Canadian officialdom smiles upon, like producing documentary films or preserving indigenous languages.
"Statement from His Grace, Thomas Collins, Archbishop of Toronto re: Appointment of Henry Morgentaler to the Order of Canada" [PDF] (Archdiocese of Toronto, Catholic Pastoral Care, Office of Public Relations & Communications, July 1, 2008):
Canada's highest honour has been debased. Henry Morgentaler has been awarded the Order of Canada. We are all diminished.

A community's worth is measured by the way it treats the most vulnerable, and no one is more vulnerable than in the first nine months of life's journey. No person may presume to judge the soul of Henry Morgentaler, but it cannot be denied that the effect of his life's work has been a deadly assault upon the most helpless amongst

Canada glories in the names of Banting and Best, and the other medical heroes who selflessly brought healing where there was disease and suffering. Now it honours with the Order of Canada a medical man who has brought not healing, but the destruction of the defenseless and immeasurable grief. This award must not stand.
[Hat tip to E.E.]

What a depressing election year!

Hadley Arkes, "Political Distraction Among the Catholics" (The Catholic thing, July 8, 2008): "Is it a certain madness, a certain distraction of mind, induced by the sudden onset of summer heat? The polls in early June find Barack Obama notably behind among Evangelicals and whites, but--wonder of wonders--actually holding a slight edge, of a point or two, among Catholics...."

[Hat tip to E.E.]

When reality becomes cinema

One of the weirdest and coolest "happenings" I've seen in a while: "Frozen Grand Central (YouTube): Over 200 people freeze in place ( This is one of over 70 different missions Improv Everywhere has executed over the past six years in New York City.

[Hat tip to R.B.]

When teachers lose their cool

I recently received an email that has been making its rounds for some time and is based on an incident that occurred in the Palisades Charter School group in California in 2002. As vetted by, which investigates urban legends, here's what happened:
"In 1998 the sole high school in the Palisades Charter School group, the 2,400-student Palisades Charter High School, instituted an attendance policy mandating that any student absent without a valid excuse ten or more days per semester be failed, regardless of academic achievements. One of the results of this policy was that in February 2002 forty Palisades High teachers assigned a total of 130 failing grades to students whose classwork would otherwise have merited passing grades, because those students recorded absences and tardiness in excess of the school's stated attendance policy."
Needless to say, all hell broke loose. Parents were irate, and, in turn, teachers were provoked tp rage.

The email claims that the school and teachers were being sued by parents who wanted their children's failing grades changed to passing grades even though those children were absent 15-30 times during the semester and did not complete enough school work to pass their classes.

Furthermore, it claims that the following message was "voted unanimously by the office staff as the actual answering machine message for the school":
"Hello! You have reached the automated answering service of your school. In order to assist you in connecting with the right staff member, please listen to all your options before making a selection:

To lie about why your child is absent - Press 1

To make excuses for why your child did not do his/her work - Press 2

To complain about what we do - Press 3

To swear at staff members - Press 4

To ask why you didn't get information that was already enclosed in your newsletter and several flyers mailed to you - Press 5

If you want us to raise your child - Press 6

If you want to reach out and touch, slap or hit someone - Press 7

To request another teacher for the third time this year - Press 8

To complain about bus transportation - Press 9

To complain about school lunches - Press 0

If you realize this is the real world and your child must be accountable/responsible for his/her own behavior, class work, homework, and that it's not the teachers' fault for your child(ren)'s lack of effort, hang up and have a nice day!"
Snopes reports, however:
"The putative answering machine message for Palisades Charter High quoted above was concocted in part as a reaction to the brouhaha over the school's attendance policy, and in part as a sardonic expression of all the usual frustrations teachers experience in dealing with students and parents ... [The message] was not ever actually placed on the phone answering system at Palisades Charter High."
It should have been.

[Hat tip to Donegan Smith and "High School Confidential" (, April 13, 2007)]

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Re-assessing the effect of abortion on crime

John R. Lott, Jr., "The Myth About Abortion and Crime" (Fox News, Opinion, July 7, 2008), begins with this observation:
Violent crime in the United States soared after 1960. From 1960 to 1991, reported violent crime increased by an incredible 372 percent. This disturbing trend was seen across the country, with robbery peaking in 1991 and rape and aggravated assault following in 1992. But then something unexpected happened: Between 1991 and 2000, rates of violent crime and property crime fell sharply, dropping by 33 percent and 30 percent, respectively. Murder rates were stable up to 1991, but then plunged by a steep 44 percent.
Next, he says that there have been many explanations have been advanced for the drop during the 1990s -- including law-enforcement measures, such as higher arrest and conviction rates, longer prison sentences, the death penalty, right-to-carry laws for concealed handguns, a strong economy, and the waning of the crack-cocaine epidemic.

But the most controversial argument, he says, is the one that attributes lower crime rates in the ’90s to Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court’s 1973 decision to mandate legalized abortion. In other words, the babies aborted since Roe v. Wade were "unwanted" babies of marginal unwed mothers, who would in all likelihood have grown up as criminals. So, the theory goes, abortion is good for healthy society growing healthy, well-adjusted children.

The whole point of Lott's article, however, is to show that "a thorough analysis of abortion and crime statistics leads to the opposite conclusion: that abortion increases crime" (emphasis added). He writes:
Most people who challenge the “abortion reduces crime” argument do so on ethical grounds, rather than trying to rebut the empirical evidence. But it is worth looking at the data, too — because they do not prove what they are supposed to.

To understand why abortion might not cut crime, one should first consider how dramatically it changed sexual relationships. Once abortion became widely available, people engaged in much more premarital sex, and also took less care in using contraceptives. Abortion, after all, offered a backup if a woman got pregnant, making premarital sex, and the nonuse of contraception, less risky. In practice, however, many women found that they couldn’t go through with an abortion, and out-of-wedlock births soared. Few of these children born out of wedlock were put up for adoption; most women who were unwilling to have abortions were also unwilling to give up their children. Abortion also eliminated the social pressure on men to marry women who got pregnant. All of these outcomes — more out-of-wedlock births, fewer adoptions than expected, and less pressure on men “to do the right thing” — led to a sharp increase in single-parent families.

Multiple studies document this change. From the early 1970s through the late 1980s, as abortion became more and more frequent, there was a tremendous increase in the rate of out-of-wedlock births, from an average of 5 percent (1965–69) to over 16 percent 20 years later (1985–1989). Among blacks, the number jumped from 35 percent to 62 percent. While not all of this rise can be attributed to liberalized abortion laws, they were certainly a key contributor.

What happened to all these children raised by single women? No matter how much they want their children, single parents tend to devote less attention to them than married couples do. Single parents are less likely than married parents to read to their children or take them on excursions, and more likely to feel angry at their children or to feel that they are burdensome. Children raised out of wedlock have more social and developmental problems than children of married couples by almost any measure — from grades to school expulsion to disease. Unsurprisingly, children from unmarried families are also more likely to become criminals.

So the opposing lines of argument in the “abortion reduces crime” debate are clear: One side stresses that abortion eliminates “unwanted” children, the other that it increases out-of-wedlock births. The question is: Which consequence of abortion has the bigger impact on crime?

Unfortunately for those who argue that abortion reduces crime, Donahue and Levitt’s research suffered from methodological flaws. As The Economist noted, “Donohue and Levitt did not run the test that they thought they had.” Work by two economists at the Boston Federal Reserve, Christopher Foote and Christopher Goetz, found that, when the test was run correctly, it indicated that abortion actually increases violent crime. John Whitley and I had written an earlier study that found a similar connection between abortion and murder — namely, that legalizing abortion raised the murder rate, on average, by about 7 percent.

The “abortion decreases crime” theory runs into even more problems when the population is analyzed by age group. Suppose that liberalizing abortion in the early 1970s can indeed explain up to 80 percent of the drop in murder during the 1990s, as Donohue and Levitt claim. Deregulating abortion would then reduce criminality first among age groups born after the abortion laws changed, when the “unwanted,” crime-prone elements began to be weeded out. Yet when we look at the declining murder rate during the 1990s, we find that this is not the case at all. Instead, murder rates began falling first among an older generation — those over 26 — born before Roe. It was only later that criminality among those born after Roe began to decline.

Legalizing abortion increased crime. Those born in the four years after Roe were much more likely to commit murder than those born in the four years prior. This was especially true when they were in their “criminal prime,” as shown in the nearby chart.

The “abortion decreases crime” argument gets even weaker when one looks at data from Canada. While crime rates in both the United States and Canada began declining at the same time, Canada liberalized its abortion laws much later than the U.S. did. Although Quebec effectively legalized abortion in late 1976, it wasn’t until 1988, in a case originating in Ontario, that the Canadian supreme court struck down limits on abortion nationwide. If the legalization of abortion in the U.S. caused crime to begin dropping 18 years later, why did the crime rate begin falling just three years after the comparable legal change in Canada?

Even if abortion did lower crime by culling out “unwanted” children (a conclusion derived from flawed statistics), this effect would be greatly outweighed by the rise in crime associated with the greater incidence of single-parent families that also follows from abortion liberalization. In short, more abortions have brought more crime.
[Hat tip to C.G.-Z.]

"Joel Osteen Oxposed" (YouTube)

Joel Osteen is a successful young maverick evangelist, preacher, writer, and self-promoter. He preaches in a mega-church with a congregation of 20,000 people. He's fabulously wealthy. He preaches positive sermons that "encourage" people and avoid the negativism of judging. And, as the YouTube clip shows, he's been on Dave Letterman.

Catholics might find this amusing, but they shouldn't laugh too hard. After all, the difference between Joel Osteen and many who presume to speak for the Catholic Church probably boils down to a difference of style more than anything. Vacuous banalities and imbecilic logic are, as much as we may be chagrined to admit it, the stock in trade of both.

"Him that pisseth against the wall ..." (YouTube)

Here's one good example of why we need the Magisterium. Look what passes for a sermon in this guy's independent fundamentalist strip-mall church. He observes that the phrase "him that pisseth against the wall" is used six times in the King James translation of the Bible. He asks what God means when he says that He will destroy all those who "pisseth against the wall." From that observation, he moves to the fact that it is now widely prohibited for a man to urinate standing up in toilets in Germany, both in public restrooms and private homes. He then concludes by observing that what is wrong with America today is that men -- from the President of the United States on down to the average Joe in the pew -- no longer knows how to stand up and piss like a man. The essence of the Gospel. Why didn't I notice before?

[Hat tip to S.F.]

Friday, July 11, 2008


FIRST: "That remains a problem for me..." (Rorate Caeli, July 10, 2008):
Are our hopes for a mass conversion of the Anglo-Catholic wing of the Church of England, to be dashed once again?

... John Broadhurst, Anglican Bishop of Fulham and Chairman of Forward in Faith (representing some 800 parishes and a considerable number of Anglo-Catholic priests in UK, North America and Australia), has released a statement that, while deploring the decision of the Church of England to consecrate women bishops, also downplays news reports of imminent mass conversions to Catholicism.
My problem then was that, although there was great generosity, there was no offer of an ecclesial reconciliation. In other words, our common Eucharistic and spiritual life was not recognised. That remains a problem for me.
Indeed. As Rorate Caeli comments: "Reconciliation with Rome depends on Rome's recognition that it shares a 'common Eucharistic and spiritual life' with the Anglo-Catholics; (This can scarcely be interpreted in any other way than as a demand that Rome first recognize the validity of Anglican Orders -- which will never happen)." Prayer. The only way forward.

SECOND: Brian Mershon, "PCED confirms officially: Society of St. Pius X within the Church, not in formal schism; Catholics commit no sin nor incur any canonical penalty for Mass attendance" (Renew America, July 11, 2008). Mr. Mershon discusses a letter dated May 23, 2008, from Msgr. Camille Perl, Vice President of the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei (PCED) responding to questions he invoked regarding the official canonical status of the Society of St. Pius X and those Catholics who attend their chapels to fulfill their Sunday obligation. [On the question of fidelity to Rome, see my "For the Record," Musings, December 1, 2007)]

Joseph Pearce's race with the Devil

Joseph Pearce, author of Literary Converts: Spiritual Inspiration in an Age of Unbelief (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2000), and many fine biographies of English Catholics (like G.K. Chesterton, Hilaire Belloc, and J.R.R. Tolkien), as well as others whose relationship to Catholicism were more ambiguous (such as Oscar Wilde and C.S. Lewis), has, as he would be the first to tell us, a ... shall we say ... checkered past. In "Race With the Devil: A Journey from the Hell of Hate to the Well of Mercy" (in Journeys Home column of the The Coming Home Network International's July 2008 Newsletter), Pearce relates his early relationships with anti-Catholic terrorist cells, the Ulster Volunteer Force and Ulster Defense Association, and petrol bomb attacks in which Catholic-owned shops were looted and destroyed in Derry.

I used to read many more of these Journeys Home stories than I have in recent years, perhaps because of the tyranny of the seemingly more urgent, but I've grown to respect Pearce after making his acquaintance through his writing over the past decade, and I was curious about his background. I had read in one of his books that he had been involved on the anti-Catholic side of the Ulster troubles before his conversion, but I hadn't realized how deeply he was involved.

A few excerpts:
"A sound atheist can not be too careful of the books that he reads." So said C.S. Lewis in his autobiographical apologia, Surprised by Joy. These words continue to resonate across the abyss of years that separates me from the abysmal bitterness of my past. What is true of the atheist is as true of the racist. Looking back into the piteous pits of the hell of hatred that consumed my youth, I can see the role that great Christian writers played in lighting my path out of the darkened depths. Eventually, with their light to guide me, I stumbled out into the dazzling brilliance of Christian day.
I think it may have been in the Introduction to Literary Converts (I cannot lay my hands on our copy at the moment and can't be sure), that Pearce offers a lucidly succinct apologia for the direction he chose to go in his research and writing. As I recall, he didn't think straightforward theological apologetics would be his strongest suit, but that the most effective means of engaging the contemporary culture and its hiatus of meaning and purpose would be through the medium of the great artifacts of Catholic literary culture.

But I'm jumping ahead of myself. Pearce writes:
I grew up in a relatively poor neighborhood in London's East End at a time when large-scale immigration was causing major demographic changes.... racial tensions were high .... It was in this highly charged atmosphere that I emerged into angry adolescence.

At the age of fifteen I joined the National Front, a new force in British politics that demanded the compulsory repatriation of all non-white immigrants....

... At the age of sixteen I became editor of Bulldog, the newspaper of the Young National Front, and, three years later, became editor of Nationalism Today, a 'higher brow' ideological journal....

It was, however, in the context of 'the Troubles' in Northern Ireland that my anti-Catholicism would reveal itself in its full ugliness.... I joined the Orange Order, a pseudo-masonic secret society whose sole purpose of existence is to oppose 'popery', i.e. Catholicism.... As a 'Protestant' agnostic I was allowed to join and a friend of mine, an avowed atheist, was also accepted without qualms....

In October 1978, still only seventeen, I flew to Derry in Northern Ireland to assist in the organization of a National Front march. Tensions were high in the city and, towards the end of the day, riots broke out ... I had experienced political violence on the streets in England but nothing on the sheer scale of the anger and violence that I experience in Northern Ireland.

My appetite whetted, I became further embroiled in the politics of Ulster ... During a secret meeting with the army council of the UVF [Ulster Volunteer Force] it was suggested that I use my connections with extremist groups in other parts of the world to open channels for arms smuggling. On another occasion an 'active service unit' of the UVF, i.e. a terrorist cell, offered their 'services' to me, assuring me of their willingness to assassinate any 'targets' that I would like 'taken out' and expressing their eagerness to show me their arsenal of weaponry as a mark of their 'good faith'.
Pearce served two prison sentences, the last a twelve-month sentence, and both his twenty-first and twenty-fifth birthdays behind bars.
During the first of my prison sentences, Auberon Waugh, a well-known writer and son of the great Catholic novelist, Evelyn Waugh, had referred to me as a 'wretched youth'. How right he was! Wretched and wrecked upon the rock of my own hardness of heart.... Even today, when forced to look candidly into the blackness of my past, I am utterly astonished at the truly amazing grace that somehow managed to take root in the desert of my heart.
What was the catalyst for Pearce? With the wisdom of hindsight, he says he perceive that the seeds of his future conversion were planted at the height of his political fanaticism and anti-Catholic prejudices. The seeds were planted, he says, in "the genuine desire to seek a political and economic alternative to the sins of communism and the cynicism of consumerism." He says that during his confrontations on the streets with his Marxist opponents, he was incensed by their suggestion that, as an anti-communist, he was, ipso facto, a "storm-trooper of capitalism." It was this tension and dilemma that forced his intellectual search.

A friend who suggested that he study the distributist ideas of Chesterton informed him that he should buy Chesterton's The Outline of Sanity, but also that he should read the invaluable essay on the subject, entitled "Reflections on a Rotten Apple," which was to be found in a collection of his essays entitled The Well and the Shallows (rpt., Ignatius, 2006). Pearce purchased the two books and read them. "Imagine my surprise, and my consternation, to discover that the book was, for the most part, a defense of the Catholic faith against various modern attacks upon it," says Pearce. "And imagine my confusion when I discovered that I could not fault Chesterton's logic. The wit and wisdom of Chesterton had pulled the rug out from under my smug prejudices against the Catholic Church." It was, however, destined to be a long journey; and Pearce's essay is far too long for me to relate in any real depth. But it's an amazing journey, to be sure. Pearce was received into the Church on the Feast of St. Joseph in 1989.

Pearce is an excellent writer and historical researcher. All of his biographies provide a literary feast in the exploration of that circle of English, mostly Catholic, writers who have had a remarkable influence upon the Anglo-American Catholic intellectual culture of the last century. The retrieval of that Catholic culture is an invaluable resource for us today. Reappropriating that Catholic culture may help prevent us from being so defenseless amidst the value vertigo of our own times, and help to prepare us for the daunting task of rebuilding a comparable Catholic counter-culture in the future.


Most of Pearce's books are well-worth reading, and many are outstanding. His treatment of Wilde and, more recently, Shakespeare, come to mind. Of all of Pearce's books, however, one that I most frequently recommend is Literary Converts: Spiritual Inspiration in an Age of Unbelief (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2000). Here is what the Publisher's description says about it:
Literary Converts is a biographical exploration into the spiritual lives of some of the greatest writers in the English language: Oscar Wilde, Evelyn Waugh, C.S. Lewis, Malcolm Muggeridge, Graham Greene, Edith Sitwell, Siegfried Sassoon, Hilaire Belloc, G.K. Chesterton, Dorothy Sayers, T.S. Eliot and J.R.R. Tolkien. The role of George Bernard Shaw and H.G. Wells in intensifying the religious debate despite not being converts themselves is also considered. Many will be intrigued to know more about what inspired their literary heroes; others will find the association of such names with Christian belief surprising or even controversial. Whatever viewpoint we may have, Literary Converts touches on some of the most important questions of the twentieth century, making it a fascinating read.
A reviewer for Publisher's Weekly writes:
This erudite book vividly contrasts the faith that marked the lives of many of Great Britain's more prominent writers of the 20th century with the unbelief that, the author believes, largely marked their times. Many of the book's "converts" began life as Anglicans and then converted to Roman Catholicism, though some, such as C.S. Lewis and T.S. Eliot, remained with the Church of England. Pearce is at his best when he situates writers within the frameworks of a changing Church and a changing world. For example, he claims that the Catholic Church's move away from the Latin mass hastened the emotional deterioration that directly preceded Evelyn Waugh's death....
Now there's an interesting suggestion: Death by Novus Ordo! Well, technically he died three years and several months before the Novus Ordo was actually promulgated by Paul VI in 1970, but the liturgical innovations were by that time already well under way. Read and enjoy!

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Jeff Allen, a Knight from the Heart

Any of you brother Knights of Columbus may be interested to know that the back cover of the July 2008 issue of Columbia magazine, the national publication of the fraternal organization, features Jeff Allen.

Who is Jeff Allen? Well first of all, the article about him is featured on the back page of the magazine, which is regularly devoted to stories of those who have responded to vocations to the priesthood or religious life. So that tells you something about Mr. Allen: he's a seminarian. More particularly, he's a seminarian who has just completed his second year of philosophy at Sacred Heart Major Seminary, the Archdiocesan Seminary of Detroit, Michigan. This means I can tell you something about him: he was in my metaphysics class and is a very good student.

Moreover, the photographs on the page include one of him standing in a group of his fellow seminarians. It has been my privilege to make the acquaintance of most of these young men. Indeed, I count many of them as good friends. I see many of them at Benediction before the 7:15am Mass every weekday morning, and I've had many of them in my classes. I cannot have been more impressed than I am with these seminarians from Sacred Heart. If these men represent the future of the Church, we have reason for great hope.

I could tell you delightful anecdotes about nearly everyone of these seminarians -- from the connoisseur of fine sushi to the meistro spaghetti chef; but I would probably be inculpated in some breach of trust or other. The seminarian who used to be a lawyer could probably inform me of the details: hypothetically, Mr. Ambrow, could I be sued by anyone for publishing online the hypothetical detail that Mr. Allen earned the hypothetical grade of "A" in metaphysics?

God bless you guys!

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

The politics of oil and the truth about ANWR drilling

In case you missed this e-mail slide show making the rounds, it has been vetted by Snopes, which, as of July 2, 2008, simply acknowledges that there are those who will continue to debate both sides of the issue, offering examples of arguments on both sides. Yet, however angry it may make the Green party, there is no disputing the impact of these photos and accompanying script:

First, do you know what ANWR is?

ANWR = Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Now, a comparison:

And some perspective:

Note where the proposed development area is (in the ‘ANWR Coastal Plain’):

This is what the Democrats, liberals and ‘greens’ show you when they talk about ANWR. And they are right, these are photographs of ANWR:

Isn’t ANWR beautiful? Why should we drill here (and destroy) this beautiful place?

Well, that’s not exactly the truth.

Do you remember the map?

The map showed that the proposed drilling area is in the ANWR Coastal Plain.

Do those photographs look like a coastal plain to you?

What’s going on here?

The answer is simple.

That is NOT where they are wanting to drill!

This is what the proposed exploration area ACTUALLY looks like in the winter:

And this is what it ACTUALLY looks like in the summer:

Here are a couple screen shots from Google Earth:

As you can see, the area where they are talking about drilling is a barren wasteland.

Oh, and they say that they are concerned about the effect on the local wildlife.

Here is a photo (shot during the summer) of the ‘depleted wildlife’ situation created by drilling around Prudhoe Bay. Don’t you think that the Caribou really hate that drilling?

Here’s that same spot during the winter:

Hey, this bear seems to really hate the pipeline near Prudhoe Bay, which accounts for 17% of U.S. domestic oil production.

[Although I live in Motown and drive to work, I personally despise having to drive and much prefer the public transportation I grew up with in Tokyo, which permitted me to spend my travel time reading instead of staring at the rear ends of other automobiles. I have no doubt that we need long-term alternatives to oil. I also have no doubt that the current oil shortage is a politically manufactured crisis that could have been easily avoided. There is simply no shortage of oil in continental North America. I also have little faith in the logic of Al Gore's link between automobile emissions and global warning, especially when the carbon dioxide ice cap near the south pole of Mars has been shrinking over the past few years ("An Inconvenient Detail," Musings, March 3, 2007).]

Here comes everybody!

Rorate Caeli has a picture of Our Lady of Walsingham at the head of his article, "Mass Anglican conversion?" (RC, July 8, 2008). The juxtaposition of the picture with the article is not lost on anyone who knows the significance of Our Lady of Walsingham. But first, the article. Rorate Caeli reports:

"Good news after the expected debacle: an episcopal-level minister of the "Church of England", is to "lead his fellow Anglo-Catholics from the Church of England into the Roman Catholic Church", as Damian Thompson reveals today."
The Bishop of Ebbsfleet, the Rt Rev Andrew Burnham, is to lead his fellow Anglo-Catholics from the Church of England into the Roman Catholic Church, the Catholic Herald will reveal this week.

Bishop Burnham, one of two "flying bishops" in the province of Canterbury, has made a statement asking Pope Benedict XVI and the English Catholic bishops for "magnanimous gestures" that will allow traditionalists to become Catholics en masse.

He is confident that this will happen, following talks in Rome with Cardinal Levada, head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and Cardinal Kasper, the Vatican's head of ecumenism. He was accompanied on his visit by the Rt Rev Keith Newton, Bishop of Richborough, the other Canterbury "flying bishop", who is expected to follow his example....
Our Lady of Walsingham! How perfect! How long have English Catholics sought her intercession in the cause of the repatriation of their Faith in their fair land. I have been to East Anglia and seen her shrine -- both the site under Anglican management, as well as the Slipper Chapel a mile away, now the relegated preserve of Catholics, where pilgrims once shed their slippers, or shoes, to walk the last mile unshod. Our Lady of Walsingham, pray for us! To this prospect of an Anglican mass conversion, Rorate Caeli responds: "Welcome home, dear friends! England will forever remain Our Lady's Dowry: may the Queen of Martyrs guide you as you reach out for the firmness of the Rock established by the Lord." He then concludes with the following words from the accompanying letter to Summorum Pontificum:
Looking back over the past, to the divisions which in the course of the centuries have rent the Body of Christ, one continually has the impression that, at critical moments when divisions were coming about, not enough was done by the Church’s leaders to maintain or regain reconciliation and unity. One has the impression that omissions on the part of the Church have had their share of blame for the fact that these divisions were able to harden. This glance at the past imposes an obligation on us today: to make every effort to unable for all those who truly desire unity to remain in that unity or to attain it anew. I think of a sentence in the Second Letter to the Corinthians, where Paul writes: "Our mouth is open to you, Corinthians; our heart is wide. You are not restricted by us, but you are restricted in your own affections. In return ... widen your hearts also!" (2 Cor 6:11-13). Paul was certainly speaking in another context, but his exhortation can and must touch us too, precisely on this subject. Let us generously open our hearts and make room for everything that the faith itself allows.

Monday, July 07, 2008

More fodder for the Resurrection debaters

Ethan Bronner, "Ancient Tablet Ignites Debate on Messiah and Resurrection" (New York Times, July 6, 2008):
JERUSALEM — A three-foot-tall tablet with 87 lines of Hebrew that scholars believe dates from the decades just before the birth of Jesus is causing a quiet stir in biblical and archaeological circles, especially because it may speak of a messiah who will rise from the dead after three days.

If such a messianic description really is there, it will contribute to a developing re-evaluation of both popular and scholarly views of Jesus, since it suggests that the story of his death and resurrection was not unique but part of a recognized Jewish tradition at the time.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

The Motu Proprio -- One Year in Retrospect

The following is from the Trindentine Community News insert in today's parish bulletin of St. Josaphat Catholic Church, Detroit, MI:
Monday, July 7 is the one year anniversary of the issuance of our Holy Father's Motu Proprio, Summorum Pontificum. Let's reflect on what has happened locally and globally over teh past year. Locally, one year ago, there was one Tridentine Mass site in Detroit and one in Windsor. Now there are nine sites in the Archdiocese of Detroit, but still only one in Windsor. Significantly, during at least one week per month, it is now possible to attend an Extraordinary Form Mass at eight different churches, eight days in a row. On some Sundays, one can attend three Tridentine Masses in a row at churches within close proximity....

Worldwide, there has been a significant increase -- we'll stop short of calling it an explosion -- in the number of Traditional Masses being celebrated. At least two schismatic orders have reconciled with Rome. Numerous chant and church music conventions have been held, to accommodate the growing interest in the traditional music repertoire of the Church. Not all of these conventions have been focused on the Extraordinary Form; our Holy Father's plan for the Motu Proprio to inspire a greater sense of the sacred in the Ordinary Form of the Mass has been working out. EWTN has telecast four live Extraordinary Form Masses, the last of which, of July 1, barely attracted attention, demonstrating how the unusual has become virtually mainstream.

As more priests and parishes undertake Tridentine Masses, the second year of the Motu Proprio promises to bring still more graces to the Church.
Of related interest[Hat tip to A.B. for the St. Josaphat newsletter, and to T.P. for the Thomas Woods essay.]

Latin/English Tridentine Propers available, fruit of 3 yrs labor

The following from the Trindentine Community News insert in today's parish bulletin of St. Josaphat Catholic Church, Detroit, MI, may be of more than local interest:
Do you know that our weekly Latin/English Propers Handouts are now in use at a number of additional churches? Originally created as a joint project for the St. Josaphat and Assumption-Windsor Tridentine Communities, the handouts were based upon an attractive design created by The Saint Gregory Society at Sacred heart Church in New Haven Connecticut, and used with their permission.

It became apparent that neither the original St. Gregory Society handouts, nor any Propers downloadable from any Internet source, had sufficiently accurate Latin or English. Too many typographical errors, inaccurate identifications of scripture passages, and absence of accent marks and joint vowels in the Latin, made it apparent that we had to create our own Propers text from scratch. Cross-referencing several Latin and English sources for the text took many hours (even altar missals and hand missals were not devoid of errors), but resulted in an accurate a set of handouts as could reasonably be produced. Three years of creation and proofreading were invested in creating the set that we now publish. Please e-mail [the address at the bottom of this post] if you discover any still-lurking mistakes -- let's make these perfect.

No one should have to go through this exercise again. Now that the work has been done, we have made our handouts available to other Tridentine Mass communities. Besides St. Josaphat and Assumption, today our handouts, or derivations thereof, are used by St. Joseph; St. Albertus; Ss. Cyril & Methodius in Sterling Heights [all in the greater Detroit area]; Our Lady of Mat. Carmel in Bronx, New York; St. Joseph in Jackson, Michigan; St. Mary in Kalamazoo, Michigan; and Holy Rosary in Cedar, Michigan. New Haven's Sacred Heart has incorporated the corrected text into their own handouts. Even Orchard Lake's Ss. Cyril & Methodius Seminary has a set, though no Extraordinary Form Masses are yet offered there.

Parishes interested in a complete set of Word files of these handouts should e-mail the below address. PDFs and all of these documents are available at our web site.
[Hat tip to A.B.]

Cardinal Cañizares Llovera new head of CDW?

The Spanish press has been anticipating for months the appointment of Cardinal Cañizares Llovera of Toledo, Primate of Spain, as the new Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments. In fact, it is no longer considered a rumor, but as a certainty ("Cardinal Cañizares," Rorate Caeli, July 6, 2007). Notably, as one commentator at Rorate Caeli observes, Cardinal Cañizares is known to be a devoted supported of the Tridentine Mass, to have celebrated it himself, fostered it, promoted it among religious orders, and visited the Institute of Christ the King in Gricigliano, Italy. He has been compared to Archbishop Raymond Burke.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Christianity and Freedom (for Independence Day)

Our 4th of July message comes this year from the Acton Institute and Kevin E. Schmiesing, Ph.D., "Christianity and the History of Freedom" (Acton Commentary, July 2, 2008):
For Americans the Fourth of July marks national independence, but the holiday has become symbolic of a more universal cause: human liberty. The development of human freedom, in theory and in practice, is in large measure the story of Christianity.

How we understand the past influences how we live in the present, which is why debates about history can be so rancorous. Whether Christianity is a vehicle of oppression or a force for liberation is a question whose answer has remained contentious for two millennia.

For many, Christianity is oppressive. For them, the Christian religion is associated with the Crusades, the Inquisition, and Puritanical moralism. It conjures images of witch hunts, the scarlet letter, and "Hitler's pope."

Contemporary Christians cannot ignore these associations. What truth they contain must be acknowledged. But the critics of Christianity cannot have it both ways. If evil done in the name of Christ is to be highlighted, then so must the good. Antislavery crusades, orphanages and hospitals, protection of the weak and innocent—these too have marked the historical record of Christianity.

Christianity's impact on civilization has occupied some of history's greatest minds, who have both reflected and influenced their respective zeitgeists. Augustine defended the followers of Christ against the accusation that they were to blame for the decline of the Roman Empire; fourteen centuries later British historian Edward Gibbon revived the charge, giving voice to his age's skepticism toward revealed religion.

Another and better informed English historian, Lord Acton, addressed the problem in the late nineteenth century. The result, The History of Freedom in Christianity, was a masterpiece of historical summary, distilling almost two thousand years into a single story of the gradual unfolding of human liberty. Acton reversed the Enlightenment narrative that he had inherited. The rise of Christianity did not smother the flame of liberty burning brightly in Greece and Rome only to be rekindled as medieval superstition gave way to the benevolent reason of Voltaire, Hume, and Kant. Instead, Christianity took the embers of freedom, flickering dimly in an ancient world characterized by the domination of the weak by the strong, and—slowly and haltingly—fanned it into a blaze that emancipated humanity from its bonds, internal and external.

Christianity's confrontation with culture was not a matter of the truth about God and man transported whole into civilization via religion. Beginning in sources prior to Christianity—Judaism and classical Greece—and continuing in secular political, economic, and social movements, Christianity interacted with the world and honed its own understanding of human nature and God's will for mankind on this earth.

Christianity's signal achievement, as Acton recognized, was the creation of space for human freedom vis-à-vis the institution that has, in fact, been the gravest threat to liberty throughout history: the state. The story is admittedly complicated by Church officials' sometime collaboration with state oppression. Yet a fair reading of history must credit the ideas as well as the institutions of the Christian faith with the leading role in curtailing the totalitarian tendency—government's inclination to usurp ever greater power over an ever larger swath of human existence.

In our own day, we find the Church again serving in this capacity. It is the foremost voice defending those whose rights are threatened by neglect or direct attack: religious minorities, vulnerable women and children trapped in slavery, the infirm and the unborn. In education, health care, and family life, religious individuals and organizations resist the tyranny of state aggrandizement.

The twenty-first century's version of Enlightenment distortion has manifested itself in the tendentious arguments of the New Atheist movement, whose avatars Harris, Hitchens, and Dawkins have declared Christianity to be, among other things, the enemy of human liberty. As is too often the case, these purported champions of freedom are the opposite of what they claim. Harris, for one, says religious beliefs of certain kinds should be capital crimes: "Some propositions are so dangerous that it may be ethical to kill people for believing them" (The End of Faith). Harris's focus is on belief that promotes violence, but his concept of justice is itself dangerous, neglecting the conventional distinction between thought and act (the latter being punishable). It is not altogether clear, moreover, that in Harris's reading of history and theology, orthodox Christianity does not qualify as "dangerous."

New challenges to an accurate understanding of faith and freedom require new rejoinders. The Acton Institute's striking film, The Birth of Freedom, is such a response. Like Lord Acton, it sweeps through history, revealing the contours of humanity's struggle for freedom. "Christian Europe got rid of slavery," says one of the documentary's featured commentators, sociologist Rodney Stark. "That's a story that's seldom told, and it's a shame."

Christ came to set captives free, the scriptures say. The work is not yet complete, but the record of accomplishment is impressive.
Of related interest:[Hat tip to E.E. for the Schmiesing article; to G.N. for "Laus Deo," and Carolyn Binder-Scapone for the Rooney article]

Religious civil rights case comes to Hickory, NC

I suppose one historical claim to fame of Hickory, NC, like that of Grand Rapids, MI, is the furniture industry. Only, that's been decimated by the Chinese furniture imports over the last decade. Another claim to fame may be Lenoir-Rhyne College (soon to be "University"), of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Hickory represents the top end of a crescent of German Lutherans that cuts down through Salisbury, NC, to Columbia, SC, where the ELCA has a seminary. These German Lutherans, living as they do near the buckle of the Bible Belt, rub shoulders with fundamentalists and evangelicals of mostly Scottish and English descent -- as well as, today, an increasing number of Irish, German, Mexican, Hmong and Lahu Catholics, as well as various typical contemporary stripe of postmodern New Agers and professed areligious agnostics.

Recently a couple of Bible Fundamentalists were arrested while passing out literature at a town festival (Hickory Daily Record, July 2, 2008). I know how annoying it can sometimes be to encounter anyone passing out pamphlets of any kind. It's about as annoying as the pan-handling bums can sometimes be here in Detroit. Still ... arrested?

The words of Voltaire suddenly come to mind: "I disagree entirely with everything you say, but I will defend unto death your right to say it." Whatever one may think of Fundamentalists -- and we Catholics have had our share of unpleasant encounters with Jack Chick tracts and their bilious bigotry -- and whatever one may think of Voltaire, I think most of the readers of this blog would echo the sentiments of Voltaire against Big Brother on this one.

[Hat tip to Amy Stickler]