Tuesday, August 3, 2021

Escape hatch

Pardon a repeat of Feb. 2019, won't you?

Warning! I've recently found out Blogger might be about to go the way of the dinosaurs. Spring cleaning means shutting down features, the tech geeks were smirking a whole year ago. So I've decamped back to WordPress, which is a sight too good for me.

It's still Pluot and I'm still too cheap to buy a domain name. Come and see.

Saturday, July 17, 2021

Regarding the Holy Father's suppression of the Latin Mass

 Wasn't it Edmund Burke who said, the problem with an intellectually driven revolution is that when the common people reject the revolution, its leadership will impose it through terror? 

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

Okay, it looks like I won't be going to France anytime soon

I wasn't planning to visit anyway, since I don't care for travel. Years ago, after my divorce, I told people loftily "Maybe I'll go to Paris for my 50th birthday," and I am sure they all rolled their eyes while they waited for me to get over my fit. I did. 

Now the President of France with his tiny firm blue eyes is announcing "You're all either getting the Jab or you can't live or do anything," probably with much the same firmness as Robespierre announced "You're all going for a shave at the National Razor." Any and all events, places, and activities in France involving human beings, including tourists I suppose, will require either proof of Vaccination or a negative Covid test every 48 hours. Unless M. le President is obliged finally with a Gallic shrug to order the needle ....

As a minor point, a curiosity, note that the address of the President of the French Republic is 55 rue du Faubourg St-Honore, the same address as the demolished Hotel Sebastiani where the Duc de Praslin murdered his wife, the Duchesse, on a hot, silent August dawn in 1847. (If you are wondering what the hell, I refer you to the great old movie All This and Heaven Too, 1940.) Do bad forces cling to places where bad things have been done? That seems a little superstitious. Or is the problem more ordinary? -- namely that mankind is deformed by original sin, and that we resemble no one so much as our first elder brother, Cain the murderer? The first wrong Cain thought to do, when he felt outraged by Abel, was not to remonstrate with him or even set his hut on fire but to kill him. There must be no power more satisfying than the power to give death. Even in our imaginations we sometimes "string up politicians by their thumbs," don't we. At least my grandmother used to talk so. 

I'm reminded also of a short passage in Walker Percy's book Lost in the Cosmos: the Last Self-Help Book (Farrar, Strauss, & Giroux, 1983). Percy, who deserves the attention Flannery O'Connor gets, writes of the devolution of language during the same 20th century that saw man's wars speed from technological strength to strength while his personal involvement in war, whether its causes or combats, grew less. Twentieth century people were already far removed from the medieval knights who galloped into the field for a kingdom or for Christ. And battle is gruesome. But modern man tends to drive a train to a camp or push a button somewhere; the dead are numbered in tens of millions. In the new millennium, Percy guessed, when the overused fuck had turned the same as any other word, fish or fowl, emptied of meaning, there would also come "War without passion: one billion dead."      

Of course I am thinking of the people who think this is happening. Dr. Vladimir Zelenko: "this is a war against God." Dr. Peter McCullough: "this is bio-terrorism." Dr. Robert Malone, inventor of mRNA technology himself, Dr. Michael Yeadon, former head of vaccine development at Pfizer, Dr. Luc Montagnier, discoverer of HIV and Nobel Prize winner -- all have impeccable credentials and all are not happy with this. The question pops up more regularly now: who is behind it? The depravity of the vaccine campaign seems to find proof in the fact that this experimental gene-therapy, whose prototypes have failed in all previous animal trials, could not have got underway at all unless the human race were persuaded, lectured, screamed at, terrified that, "there is no treatment for this virus! There is no treatment! It is death, it is death!" But what about Ivermectin or hydroxychlor -- . "There is no treatment!" Dr. Fauci says so himself, baldly and boldly to the camera and to a world and a God he does not fear.   

Is it really just money? Dr. Fauci is over eighty. How many more years can he expect to live and spend money? And he may be a wealthy, aging little mosquito compared to the much younger, billionaire stallions, most of them in this list Chinese, who "got rich fighting Covid 19."  Do money and power give that much satisfaction, so that a man does not dream of facing judgment in a few more decades, or tonight? Or are these men true pagans, like Caesar or Cleopatra, who simply could not know of any choices except jungle success or jungle failure? Jungle revenge?

One more small thing. When I first learned of the SARS vaccine animal trials which failed in previous years, because the ferrets who did well after their two shots died upon the "challenge" of the virus itself -- I stupidly wondered at what point, at what number of animal deaths the trials ceased. As if the ferrets were Disney cartoons, personalities named and heroic. After the tenth or eleventh loss, say, that was too much. Failure. Then it dawned on me. Surely it wasn't a certain number of lab animals that proved it was all too sad to go on with. It was that they died at all. That was the pertinent information. 

Only now human beings die, and the information is not pertinent. Who is behind this? and --

is there anyone they should fear? 

The Immaculate Conception (Tiepolo) - Wikipedia

Notre Dame, priez pour nous.

Tuesday, June 29, 2021

Random thoughts

I keep vowing to work on my novel really, but then I have random thoughts. 

Just beginning to thumb through a remarkable book, Liberty: The God That Failed (by Christopher Ferrara, Angelico Press, 2012) is enough to give anybody random thoughts. The author's argument seems to be, that since the United States was founded, by cravat-ed and gentlemanly Deists, as the world's first utterly secular state, inevitably its adoration of its own founding will lead to a situation that looks familiar today. Maybe it looked familiar in the days of the Whiskey Rebellion, and lots of other times. Pick your bit of American malfeasance from history. Namely, it is the situation in which "freedom" is god, but paradoxically the government decides what freedom is. Avenues of dissent do not exist. Most especially do they not exist, as it were, running up the nave of the Catholic Church; which is eternal, as nations are not. 

This business of the nations being beloved by God, chastised like Israel, nevertheless not eternal like Israel, seems to me a lesson repeated in those sometimes very repetitive Old Testament prophets. "The burden of Moab, oracles against Ammon," etc. etc. "He has not done thus to other nations -- he has not taught them his decrees" (Psalm 147:20). Ancient Israel's supernatural purpose, as the bearer of God to the world, found fulfillment through Christ's being born to the world through Mary, and then by his one sacrifice for the sins of all. Re-presented every day of history everywhere since, the Mass is therefore the point of life and the foundation of reality. Insofar as modern nations have deliberately founded themselves, absent the Mass, so much do they thrash and suffer. Insofar as the West founded itself from the ruins of Rome and barbarism, upon the Mass, the saints, and the Church, so much did it prosper. 

And it is obviously not a question only of prosperity, of wealth and comfort. I'm grateful for the prosperity of a Protestant/Deist-origin nation. I can look at the world and see impoverished, ostensibly mostly Catholic countries. However I can also see a nation like the United States, which I seem to see with new eyes ferociously, officially devoted to wealth and comfort, clearly disintegrating under a top-down revolution that "liberty" cannot combat much, and that is also creating poverty. If nothing else it's creating a new poverty in paying already morally impoverished people more money to stay unemployed than to go to work. My mother in her nineties remembers the Depression, when the nobility and dignity of work was understood, desperately wanted along with the paycheck. Perhaps she and everyone then remembered the burden of St. Paul: "he that does not work, neither shall he eat" (2 Thess. 3:10). In a troubled moment she said, "I've lived too long." She has outlived all her age group. She can remember when it was safe for young girls to ride their bikes home from one part of Chicago to another at night. "People say it wasn't any different. Yes, it was different. People were different." Reflecting a bit sideways now, I wonder if it's too bad after all we didn't have a monarchy from the beginning. The execution or exile of a royal family, by this stage, would at least have made things gruesomely clear.  

Going on with my random thoughts, I have a question about the creed now recited by any professional in media who values his career. "The idea that the 2020 election was stolen is chickenshit," said a radio host yesterday evening. Not in so many words, the vulgarity I mean, but he made himself plain. All right. Leaving aside all longstanding questions, about vital states changing their election laws for this election, or bizarre turnouts of over 100 percent in the most vital Democrat cities, leaving aside the scope for fraud in mail-in voting to begin with, or the fact of states simply ceasing to count their ballots in the wee hours of the vital night -- leaving aside all that, let's agree a man in dementia got 82 million votes when no one seemed to attend his rallies. While his incumbent opponent drew throngs that caravanned for miles. All right. I can posit that Donald Trump lost fair and square, which is more than the professional media types can posit about my doubts or my view. You begin to see how, in a free democracy, there is no dissent. You are only free to admit the truth. 

Anyway my question is, well and good. If Biden and the Democrat party won fair and square, where is the investigation into the coup attempt on Trump? Shouldn't they be concerned about such an attempt being grievously launched against themselves? 

What coup? I think the last and greatest service Rush Limbaugh rendered to the country and his audience before he died was to explain how the Russia collusion/Ukrainian quid pro quo/impeachment train got rolling. It was early in January 2017, a few days before Trump's inauguration. Hillary Clinton and her team may have "conjured up and disseminated" the fake stories for freight, but Barack Obama and the FBI started the train. Absurd fabrications, which the flacks mouthing them denied were true under oath on any gray Washington morning, could be injected into the news narrative on any glittering New York night because the new President Trump had been briefed on them. Anything the President is briefed on is news. Even "pee dossiers." Therefore the narrative was pumped into the nation's bloodstream. Poor little classical WFMT began each newscast at 6 am and 7 am, for three years, dutifully reading the script. Russia. Ukraine. Impeachment. In year four it became Coronavirus. 

It's not nice to try and eject an elected president by a coup; it is hard to see what else this was. The present victors' lack of interest in the story seems jarring. We can say it's all over and done with and no good to dwell upon. But the fact that the election itself is the firewall protecting victors with no interest in the past, seems to hint at some kind of fragility. So does the look of the capitol encased in razor wire and patrolled by soldiers; it would be laughable how frankly illegitimate this has always made usurpation look, but again our victors have no interest in the past or in being laughed at. I seem to remember, in the months and weeks before the election, happy Trump bloggers would still worry that Democrats would contest a Trump victory in the courts for years. "If they win they win, and if they lose they win." May I daresay, one never dreamed that they simply would not tolerate the word "if." And would move heaven and earth to see that it did not apply. 

Well, perhaps they won after all. I can be open-minded too. Perhaps the country really is too sprawling for electoral fraud to work. When the election was fresher, radio hosts sensing where their careers lie (I think) would pull up angry callers short by barking, "All right, if you're going to talk fraud, fine, what allegation and what precinct?" And the poor caller would be at a loss because he's just an ordinary person. As Chesterton remarked in St. Thomas Aquinas, "Popular errors are nearly always right." 

But to go back to that remarkable book, Liberty: The God That Failed. We now have an administration just about as divorced from heaven and from the Catholic Church, from what is eternal, as could be, what with its love of abortion and sexual depravity for a start. But then how piquant! that the current President is a Catholic whose obvious non-belief is of no more interest to most of the Catholic bishops who are our shepherds, than a long-running coup against #45 is of interest to #46! Most odd. They know something else, or have pressing matters. Or some other treasure to guard. Perhaps it's liberty.        

Sources: "Obama Caught Collaborating with FBI to Create the Russia Collusion Narrative," The Rush Limbaugh Show, transcript, May 11, 2020. 

"Tucker Carlson 'Confirms' Stunning Claim: Biden Intelligence Agencies Spying to Take Him 'Off the Air.'" Victoria Taft, PJ Media, June 28, 2021. 


Friday, June 25, 2021

"this idolization of race and governmental power"

 Is not this idolization of race and governmental power that is being pounded into the public consciousness by the radio open heresy? 

Edith Stein, April 12, 1933

The future Sister and now Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross wrote this to the Pope at the beginning of the Third Reich, just before she entered her Carmel. Nine years later she was sent to Auschwitz and gassed along with her sister, Rosa; flight from a German convent to a Dutch one didn't help because the Nazis invaded Holland in 1940. 

It seems a little quaint that she spoke of only one mass media, the radio. Her feast day is August 9th.  


Saint Edith Stein. A Spiritual Portrait. Dianne Marie Traflet. Boston: Pauline Books and Media, 2008. 


Thursday, June 24, 2021

The "late vocation"

It's amusing to research "late vocations." A late vocation is what occurs to you when you are in your forties or well beyond, and you think gosh, the idea of life consecrated to God, maybe even in a contemplative cloistered setting, seems wonderful. Women especially can peek, through the internet, at monasteries near and far, and observe much the same pictures. Lovely young women in leafy settings revel in medieval garb and charming farm work; and there is prayer, prayer, prayer, candles and quiet, singing and flowers. Their faces are radiant. They wear a crown of roses on their day of solemn profession. 

Yet the helpful websites softly emphasize. Young women who are interested ... for women between 18 and 35 ... 40, tops ... young women who think the Lord may be calling them ... young women. A good article at Aletia from some years ago tactfully explains the issue to a reader who questioned why a man may become a priest at any time in life, but a woman is usually barred from a convent essentially at menopause. Of course there are exceptions. Many seminaries set age limits for men too. For men or women the logic is similar.  

There are many practical and economic reasons for the age limits that many communities put into practice. Yes, health reasons can be one of them. Some communities will not take a woman with children at all, no matter how old her children are.

A large reason for the age factor is that the older we are the more set in our ways we become, making the transition to communal life more difficult, especially when we may find ourselves taking orders from superiors who are 20 years our junior. We’re so used to living on our own terms and having things the way we want them that obedience and conformity become issues… like obedience and acceptance of community-set age limits. *ahem* 

I love that "*ahem*" at the end. Wanting to walk into a community exempt from one of its first rules at the outset does not perhaps bode well. 

Of course it's precisely the rural cloisters filled with sweet holy girls that look as if they would be a veritable rocket ship to God. Which leads me to reflect, there must be something very profound in the fact of young women entering these places. The vocation is a marriage, to Christ. The young women look radiant because they are living with their beloved spouse, forsaking all others. A woman in her fifties who didn't think about a vocation at twenty now tends to think, like the reader questioning Aletia, "I have so much left to give and now I have time." She is thinking of a rational decision, of personal enrichment, of a kind of career move. And of God, too. Well and good. The writer at Aletia assures her, "First off, don't let your eligibility to enter a religious community determine your usefulness to the Church." But it's not the same as the young girl trembling with mystified joy, sitting before an image of Jesus and her voice-over to the YouTube film saying, "Jesus, if you're asking me to marry you, the answer is yes."   

The woman in her fifties, far from being crazy to get engaged to Jesus, might only just be realizing for how many years she has thought only of herself. Now that sounds like a neurotic little truism, worthy of Bette Davis at her most tear-streaked and penitent. But it's true. How many minutes of each hour even, never mind one's own affairs that legitimately require attention, how many minutes of each hour do we spend gnashing our teeth at annoying people? Or, in our imagination, righteously launching thunderbolts of painful justice at the world and politicians? And now you want to think differently? -- now you mope after the cloister? Well and good. The young girl with the glossy thick brown hair who is contemplating marrying God, is not necessarily a better person than you, but her mind has already been filled with different matters most of her short life. Ahem, it's called a vocation. 

That's another thing. When she enters a monastery her head will go on being filled with different matters most of the time, because she will pray five or six hours a day or more. She is still not a better person than you, and you are no less loved and desired by God. But in her fifties she will be, by her experience, as different from you, as you are from her now. Or think of this small point. If you were to walk in and still only encounter her in her twenties, because the traditional convents are attracting her age group, -- you would for example have to deal with her cooking, right? Ahem.  

Perhaps the wistful musing about late vocations, among men or women, is a sort of fruitfulness in itself. Who would dream that there are more important things in life than what we dwell upon -- our eternal work, leisure, entertainment, sports, the state of the world, travel? In their lives as religious, men and women dwell on daily prayer, the Mass and the Divine Office.  I believe it's true that if one goes so far as to seek a spiritual director's advice about it, assuming one has gone so wildly far as to get a spiritual director, one is told, test the vocation by going to daily Mass for a start. It's as abrupt a commitment as the potential commitment to someone else's cooking, which would eventually follow.   

And God bless the Internet. The wistful musing about a late vocation can fructify simply through the learning available at dozens of monasteries which keep an online presence, even as the cloistered souls within may have nothing to do with it. You may understand in five minutes, No, I need to be in the world with my children and grandchildren. The writer at Aletia said, the world needs grandmas and grandpas. But at least through fruitful, cloistered portals, one may still learn. Here is a beautiful expression of what prayer is, from a Poor Clare community near me: 

For many persons the day ends when they retire at midnight. As Poor Clares, our day begins when we rise at midnight. The first of the canonical hours of the Divine Office is chanted at midnight while the world around is sleeping or perhaps sinning. Sin loves the cover of night. Prayer goes out into the backstreets of the night to seek out sinners and reclaim them. The night Office is a torch held in the hands of the Poor Clare as her love goes looking down the lanes of the world for the lost, the straying, the despairing, the suffering, the dying. From this first hour of the morning, this stream of love and prayer flows out and consecrates all the hours of the day, beginning on earth the work of eternity.

Sometimes I do go to bed near midnight, especially when I have worked the closing shift and don't get home to settle in and relax a bit until around 10 pm. So when I turn on WFMT's Through the Night program to go to sleep to, I think of the Poor Clares, daughters of 13th-century Italy, scarcely fifteen minutes away in the suburban woods. They are just picking up the torch of the Office, to go looking with love down the lanes of the world for the lost, the straying, the sinning. 

This is a glorious thing for the world to be aware of. This, you know, is reality, beyond panics and politics and vaccines and Great Resets. The newest order that I have come across is the splendidly named Sisters Adorers of the Royal Heart of Jesus Christ Sovereign Priest. These are serenely blue-cloaked sisters attached to the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest. They don't seem to keep, quite yet, the very rigorous schedule of the Poor Clares, only starting to pray Lauds at 6:45 am. Still. The theme is similar. 

Lauds is chanted recto-tono. It is the quintessential office of praise; all creatures unite with man to praise the Creator, as in the canticle sung by the three children in the furnace. At the end of Lauds, the sisters stay in the chapel for an hour of silent meditation. According to the words of Dom Guéranger, prayer is for every man the first of goods, his light, his food, his very life.

Yes, yes, they are all young. As is fitting. But now you see, even though you may be middle aged -- you know

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Their faces move

It pleases me to imagine that, in a very small way, I understand the experience of St. Paul in the agora -- that is, in the public square, busy with commerce and sharp elbows and shouting. From his place in heaven I am sure he laughs kindly as I stock shelves at retail on a quiet Tuesday. I think he must say in beautiful Greek something like "Yeah, wow. No."

But what I mean is only that I too live and work every day in the pagan marketplace. It is a mini-Corinth, a micro-Philippi, where Jesus Christ! seems to be practically unknown except as a sputtered, wide-eyed oath. (Nevertheless not forgetting, who knows? Maybe half the people I meet start the day with a Rosary. Be charitable.) Since we are asked to glorify God by our lives, I ask myself how to make him known, in my small way, without committing two preening mistakes. One is to equate "making him known" with walking around feeling smug among heathens. This is tempting to do because smugness comes naturally to me. And if you doubt you are among heathens, look around. The dogma alone is everywhere. It's Pride Month for example, so rainbows are everywhere. Incidentally we owe a debt of thanks to good Father Simon of Relevant Radio, who told us some time ago the secret that the Pride rainbow is actually the wrong one. It only has six colors, while the natural one has seven. It seems the enthusiasts forgot indigo.

Another mistake is to equate "making him known," outside the agora too, somehow with some sort of personal fame. This is harder to put aside since envy and ambition come naturally too. And every writer and blogger out there seems to be reaching more people than me, which is ipso facto to do God's work. Query, how do you get invited to join Feodvs

At any rate, regarding "making him known," I wonder if pagan coworkers and neighbors, who seem to slip on a face of careful, pleasant unconcern when it comes to anything like church talk, would appreciate a sort of laying-of-groundwork approach. In other conversations they are more free. Their faces move. They acknowledge origins or reasonable assumptions, pertaining to any topic. "I have my filters that I interpret through, like everybody," a man said, as we discussed something serious. If I were to begin to make Jesus Christ! known by saying mildly, "It doesn't have to sound nuts -- there is an interior logic to it," I might try this. 

  • We're presupposing the supernatural is real
  • also that God did really choose ancient Israel to reveal himself and his moral laws to; 
  • that the Resurrection of Christ had to have happened because nothing else explains the might of the first Christian martyrs' witness to it; 
  • that one of the prime, life-changing demands of the Faith is sexual morality
  • and that it is St. Paul who bridged the gap between Gentile and Jew by clarifying that the God of the Jews, I AM, is the Lord of all in Christ. 

This last bit of foundation is startling. Without Paul, as Bishop Robert Barron noted a long time ago, our spiritual choices would have been Apollo or Mithras or whatever, or, becoming Jewish. No getting around it. One might be able to get around modern frozen-face pagans by offering this, that perhaps the only vestige of St. Paul's work still looming pretty large in our pagan world is the idea of heaven. Ask them. How many of us go through life vaguely believing in God, and certainly presuming we and all our loved ones and all good people will go there? But only Christ could make heaven, as we say today, "a thing." Heaven must stem from the facts of the crucifixion and the resurrection. If it weren't for St. Paul clarifying this, Christ the Son of God is God the bridge between Gentile and Jew, then this last thing we cling to from Christendom -- eternal happiness after death (after repentance and forgiveness, which we tend to ignore) -- this last thing would logically have to go. Antiquity did not know any "heaven" for certain, not even the Jews. They still imagined the prophet Samuel only among the shades. Today if we are sophisticated we have the new choice of peacefully dissolving atoms maybe.    

But here is part two. Even if we try to lay a groundwork and we make sure to credit Paul fully, it would be helpful to know exactly what he did and said. He had to have walked into the agora one day, as anonymous as we are. 

In fear and trepidation wanting to know exactly what he did, I begin to read two of his shortest letters. I begin with the First and Second Letters to the Thessalonians; they are named for the city of Thessalonica, which appears on a map tucked high up into the Thermaic Gulf of the Aegean Sea, in northeastern Greece. If you travel you know that Thessaloniki is today Greece's second most populous city and its "cultural capital," boasting a million souls

Taking up most of these letters is Paul's rhythmic chant, in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, grace to you and peace ... remembering before our God and Father ... to serve a living and true God and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus ... the gospel of God ... the churches of God in Christ Jesus ... our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus direct our way to you ... this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father comfort your hearts ....  

This is a man who, as a faithful and scholarly Jew, would never have dreamed that God the creator could be spoken of as having a Son. Something happened to him. In its aftermath he didn't necessarily exactly lay out attractive groundwork. He had a bomb. They could tell, which is why they beat him up and drove him out of town a lot.  

Another thing that strikes me is Paul the exile's anxious waiting for news of the church he had founded, in that shouting, sharp-elbowed port on the Thermaic Gulf. We were willing to be left behind at Athens ... but now Timothy has come to us from you, and has brought us the good news of your faith and love (1 Thess. 3:1, 6). Can you imagine this man, waiting at the agora, Athens circa 50 A.D., to find out whether his converts still cared? Or whether maybe he and Timothy, and Silvanus, were nearly alone in the world? He had met God, the risen Christ himself. 

It turns out they still cared. And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers (1 Thess. 2:13). Okay, but still, how? How did a face of careful, pleasant unconcern become a face that moved? We know the saints better than their congregations. We know of St. Paul but not the why of Evodia; we know St. Patrick but not so much his fur-clad fourth-century Irish tribesmen, and the individual decisions they made to come in. If we knew what struck them, that might help us witness better in our modern agoras. Okay, it was the word of God. But how? What actually slips through pagans' gracefully acknowledged filters? 

We might as well ask ourselves. Grace and truth, I suppose. The truth part is actually a piece of groundwork we could add to our bullet-pointed list above. Along with "the supernatural is real" and so forth. But it is as difficult to understand as the others. For how long have we assumed, and been taught to assume, religion is a private taste or a human cultural tendency? Instead, St. Paul taught that the risen Jesus Christ! is truth, the foundation of every other truth we live with. Life. Day and night. Gravity. You name it. Love. This is why the Church went forth to teach and still does teach that no one has the right to stand outside it. What a thought.

What a moment. I would have liked to see when Evodia and Syntyche, Stephanas, and all the others, -- when their faces moved. "Mark" and "Luke" also. The smaller fry we can imagine as ourselves, the faithful. Evodia and Syntyche had some sort of female quarrel, as we might do. Mark and Luke, now! What brings them in? 

Tuesday, June 1, 2021

Looking at Peter --- and history -- upside down

Having spent a lifetime as an amateur Tudor enthusiast, I must say I never understood what was going on until recently. I always simply liked the very female accents of the story. "Obstetrics ruled the English court," as I put it in an essay which I thought was scholarly, at the age of maybe twenty. I liked the family drama, the sumptuous brocades and pearls, the crackling-with-emotion romances. When I wanted to get serious it used to please me to understand the differences between the Act of Supremacy and the Act of Succession. One gave King Henry VIII his place as supreme head of the Church in England; one gave his second marriage, and any children from it, full legitimacy while voiding the first even though the first wife and child were right there.   

However I have learned that you have to be a Catholic to look at history, at the world, upside down -- as Chesterton said St. Francis of Assisi did -- and see it as it is, hanging on the thread of God's grace. ("We hear of the Dissolution of the Monasteries," Chesterton writes, "but never of why the monasteries were created in the first place.")

Take for example this picture. 

Or this one. 


We are to look on these, even now -- and imagine if we had been his Majesty's subjects in 1533 or thereabouts -- and we are to say, ah yes. Here are our new and particular Peter(s), the Rock on which I build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. The first portrait has the added interest of showing a young lady who came from a marriage which occurred while one party was already married. This in the days when Christendom better grasped that divorce was not just tragic but was impossible to do, because Christ said it was impossible.    

It's these small things you begin to understand. History is not necessarily being a nice, thankfully linear progress to better, more rational times. Whoever said it was? you may ask. Well, maybe no one, but isn't the shock of realizing these portraits represent something baleful, a fairly good indication that we have assumed a sort of linear gratitude in our mindsets for a long time? 

It happens today is June 1, the anniversary of Anne Boleyn's coronation in the year 1533. I also learned that the legal technique by which the coronation could be held and the second marriage legitimated, while the baleful hurry of her pregnancy was underway, was the Act of Restraint of Appeals. This cut "constitutional ties" between England and the Papacy so as to cancel Catherine of Aragon's right to "appeal her case to Rome," as movie scripts always have her -- somewhat mysteriously -- declaim.   

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Wow, this is just plain crazy! I think WordPress canceled me

Are they actually waiting for my crummy $96 a year, to upgrade my site that no one visits? No offense to the ten people a month who do visit, mostly looking for French Spring Soup when I'm trying to be a serious returned prodigal Catholic; but I did have my "cart" all ready for checkout -- maybe a year ago -- when I read some professional blogger's advice that if you get fewer than 10,000 visitors to your blog annually, it's not worth paying a dime for anything. 

So I never checked out. All along WordPress has warned me in a sidebar, Your cart is awaiting payment. Now I go to attend to a draft, which wasn't much good anyway, and I find that although the blog is still up, I can do nothing with it. No editing, no new draft, I can't even "add a new site." (It was going to be Pluot 2.) Every attempt sends me to a blank page, which just seems to say, "Yeah, wow, no. We need your money." 

I understand the concept of paying for a service, especially one as complicated as a website hosting platform. However, my little free hobby blog is exactly the same as any other little free hobby blog, whose hosting WordPress claims will be free forever, and which has earned precisely zero dollars in "ads" for anyone, ever. All I did was set up a "cart" and then change my mind. Even hitting the trash button for the cart, now, seems to have helped not at all. You can either follow through and pay your money, or you can ignore it -- and perhaps run out of your allotted 3 GB of memory as well. Who knew? 

So does that mean Blogger has memory limitations too? And, what does it mean to "self-host" WordPress? Why does there seem no mercy for those of us who grew up green with envy over Jane Austen or George Eliot, who simply handed an ink-spattered manuscript to a father or a husband, who carried it to the publisher who looked and smiled at the first page and said "Yes, this will do"?  

Astonishing. So I suppose I and my ten readers and my "Potage Printanier" will have to return to the host from whence we all decamped because we thought Blogger was going the way of the dinosaurs. But how will the ten from the WordPress site know to come here, when I can't even tell them that?  


Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Black Lamb, Grey Falcon, doorstop

Once in a while you pick up a classic and find you cannot get more than fifty pages into it.

I was just barely beginning to hack into the two-inch-thickness' worth (paperback, 1994) of Rebecca West's Black Lamb and Grey Falcon: A Journey Through Yugoslavia (1941). Already in the Prologue she says most encouraging things.
I knew that in the next war we women would have scarcely any need to fear bereavement, since air raids unpreceded by declaration of war would send us and our loved ones to the next world in the breachless unity of scrambled eggs. 
...the word 'idiot' comes from a Greek root meaning private person. Idiocy is the female defect: intent on their private lives, women follow their fate through a darkness deep as that cast by malformed cells in the brain. It is not worse than the male defect, which is lunacy: they are so obsessed by public affairs that they see the world as by moonlight, which shows the outlines of every object but not the details indicative of their nature.
And, she writes on Fascism, when it was still dutifully understood as some bizarre but horridly recognizable new weed of a political construct totally outside the human experience, and not as what it is, frightfully confident liberalism on frightfully strong steroids:
All forms of compulsion are practised on any element within the state that is resistant or is even suspected of retaining consciousness of its difference from the dominating party.... [Christian wedding cake bakers -- or fill-in-the-blank dissenters -- anyone?] 

The Prologue to Black Lamb and Grey Falcon bedazzled me further, because it reinforced a notion I have had since reading Gone With the Wind at the age of 12, and gawping at its easy references to the Borgias and Thermopylae and the First Triumvirate of Rome. Withal Scarlett O'Hara was presented as a charming ignoramus, because she did not know these things! It was astonishing, what the author and her editors expected the reading public of 1936 to absorb. My notion was that when everyone was better educated, writers wrote better books. That rising tide did lift all boats.

And here was Rebecca West, same era as Margaret Mitchell, real name -- West's, not Mitchell's -- Cicily Isabel Fairfield (why cloak that?) getting ready to plunge into the Balkans, remembering the three royal assassinations that shaped the wars of her youth and therefore her fate -- hence the talk of being blown to eternity amid the morning's scrambled eggs, it did happen to some -- and French poetry is a part of her life, too! On page one. Before drifting off under an injection preparatory to surgery, West is reading "that sonnet by Joachim du Bellay which begins, 'Heureux qui, comme Ulysse, a fait un beau voyage [Happy he who, like Ulysses, makes a good journey]." She is civilized. This, along with most of the books of her era and before, so easily showed it.

Now I did quickly begin to suspect that the du Bellay wheeze (as Bertie Wooster might say) might be schoolgirl memorization. I took French too, and I could quote, par exemple, Francois Villon in a pinch, just like anybody. "Mais ou sont les neiges d'antan [Where are the snows of yesteryear]?" This Villon is the poet whom Bette Davis' character in the movie Petrified Forest keeps calling "Francis Vill-yun," while erudite wanderer Leslie Howard looks on with pity and adoration (same era).

After West's Prologue begins the Journey. I was still bedazzled, for where should she begin this but in the city of Salzburg, Austria, in Mozart's house. What a thing to think of. I have actually been there. Rebecca West and I have stood in the same room and looked at Mozart's spinet, perhaps fifty years apart. She visited in about 1936, I in 1983. In fact she died, at the age of 90, just a few days I think before the Icelandair plane took off for my first and no doubt last trip to Europe. Hear me Lord. All I could think of, as the wheels inexorably rolled, was that I wanted to be home for an ordinary evening with my gray cat.

Upon reaching the Journey after the Prologue, I began to be less bedazzled and more annoyed with BLGF, as the great thick majestic book is called among the citizen-reviewers, whether pitying or adoring, on Amazon. (I love this service, by the way. The negative reviews of any book always contain the most wonderful nuggets of truth and crankiness and wildly unfounded but probably just supposition.) My disappointment seemed the severer because Rebecca West's word-painting is very lovely. Not quite as gleaming and many-prismed as Dorothy Carrrington's Granite Island, but very good. One hates to give up on an 1100-page book, closely printed, after only fifty pages. One stands stupefied at a 500,000 word memoir, and at a lady who can judge in passing that the embroidery for sale in a Yugoslavian village market is inauthentic Slav, only imitation "Victorian Berlin woolwork." Still, when her writing began to drift into the dotty territory of madmen and dreamers and princes lost in the woods, I balked. I met and disliked this style, I am sorry to say, most thoroughly in the work of Elie Wiesel. Oddly, he of all people came to me right away. Central Europe, again. No word painting. But the same era.

Rebecca West begins the Journey chapter on the train with German tourists, on vacation from Nazi Germany, which is a thing you don't think about. They complain that Nazi party-loyalist tenants in an apartment building can't be scolded or evicted, whatever constant ruckus they make ... " 'the private citizen hasn't any liberty, but the state hasn't any real authority either.' " If you want to vacation you may only go to certain approved places, because when you holiday of course you are taking your money out of noble and needful Germany ....

But for West the main thing is, these people are tourists. At long last I think I understand what a tourist is, for I have read my share of travel writing by people who sniff at the sub-species. The tourist is concerned that unexpected and disagreeable things may happen before he reaches his destination. Perhaps in that way he is the ghost of a true pilgrim, only with nowhere really significant to go. A real traveler, on the other hand, looks forward or claims to do, to the unexpected. All the hotels in Zagreb are so comfortable and all the food good. If the tourists can't after all get into one or find the other, they will find substitutes just as good. In fact West considers the tourist's worry, paradoxically, to be dithering and "inefficient." 

When the train arrives at Zagreb the real holiday, true foreignness, begins. She looks out the train window to see an elderly man running alongside the tracks carrying an umbrella, in the pouring rain, holding the umbrella well out from himself and getting no shelter from it while he calls repeatedly " 'Anna! Anna!' " Three times he makes this performance, running up and down alongside the train, calling for Anna. Rebecca West, refreshed, now purrs, "I was among people I could understand."

This is what makes me abandon a thousand-page, twentieth-century classic at page 38. Am I wrong to do so? Remember what Ernest Hemingway said about the mental transformation of the downtrodden husband in The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber? "Fear gone like an operation." In my case, it was curiosity to read more, gone like an operation. Rebecca West's very next anecdote, about her bizarre tour guide at Zagreb, who once wrote a flamingly angry political article, and submitted it to "the censor," but then had to delete all of it because he was the censor himself -- that tale, so to speak, even erased the scar from the operation. " 'In what capacity, as author or as censor, must I be untrue to my ideals?' " she claims he asked proudly. Again our Rebecca swoons at magical foreignness, and purrs, "I am among people I understand" (p. 46). Later she explains this Gregorivitch or whoever in well-sculpted prose. He was heir to a different time, when an office and its responsibilities outranked the man, the man did not do the job to his own satisfaction or convenience, depending on what sense it made to him.
"He must have been conscious, all his life, of the social value of patriotic poets and, for the last unhappy twenty years, of censors. Therefore it seemed to him that he must do his best in both capacities, not that he should modify his performances to uphold the consistence of his personality. That, I could perfectly understand ...." 

And this is where I began thinking of the books of Elie Wiesel. He was not a travel writer but he would write a story like that, and about the umbrella-man too, men who were heroes of some other code, madmen or dreamers who then disappear in the woods. The key is that he understands them. After his first book of terrible witness, Night, he tended to venture into literary realms where no one can follow because he uses storytelling to paint himself as a perceiving subject, rather than to make clear on the canvas what he wants anyone to see. Is that what it means to be a Gnostic? -- to be privy to secret meaning? When he begins about beggars and princes lost in the woods, fine, but I don't know what he is talking about, nor whether he is hiding, or revealing, anything true.

It's the same for Rebecca West. Having established that of course she is not a mere tourist, looking at things as they are: when she says an old man ran up and down alongside the train doing something that makes no sense, or when some other man wrote and censored his own essay because each act was upright in itself, fine, but I have no interest in reading further because I don't know what Rebecca West is using language for. One hates to be the cynic saying these things don't happen, except perhaps among Slavs, who are madI don't like that dismissal when it comes to the Bible, say. "So religious people are mad, so what." Since Rebecca West is not actually divine revelation corroborated by witness, we are left only with her, fascinated by herself as the perceiving subject, restful among people she can understand. Which seems like a bald lie. At any rate it wasn't enough to carry five hundred thousand words.

I said that I love the reviews on Amazon. Black Lamb and Grey Falcon gets a lot of five stars, and only a few one-stars. Probably the best assessment is from a five-star reader who thinks that the people who hate this book are hung up on West's sympathy for the Serbs, a nation much admired in her era but not in ours. He assumes the detractors even wade in that deep. I nod at the one-star snorts. " Much too long." "Drivel." "The Britisher abroad in that era." I close Black Lamb and Grey Falcon at page fifty, wondering at the taste of another era, and deciding, No, I'm not being idiotic.

Monday, January 14, 2019

It's probably significant that I like bitters

At the same time that I was purring over my Four Complaints about Christmas Eve midnight Mass, and thinking that someday historians and God would see that here was the summation of It All, the wonderful -- I may almost say, the great -- Sister Wendy Beckett died. December 26, 2018, at the age of 88. How fitting that this cheery lady should die the day after cheerful Christmas!

I own quite a few of her books and I have watched and loved all her television shows. I saw to it that my now-grown children also knew about her. They can quote her on the muscular heroine, in a painting of Judith and Holofernes, "swinging the man's head like an apple," and about Henry VIII's being a "horrible man with little piggy eyes." At the age of six or seven my son made a Lego scene of Sister Wendy visiting an art museum, complete with an entrance arch, green plants, a cameraman and a kiosk with a map of the "museum." He used the black hood and cape from a Darth Vader Lego figure to represent a nun in traditional garb. Yesterday when I told my daughter that Sister Wendy died she exclaimed, "No! That sucks." She remembered.

Even though the good sister's art writing is wonderful, there are tiny hints from her heyday in the world in the 1990s, interviews and so on (though not this one), that gatekeepers and purists chafed at her. I wonder if their complaint was, that she does tend to treat painting all a bit alike. She treats it as a coded story -- a kind of play performed, an arrangement of symbols which she elucidates. Almost no talk of brushwork or line, as I suppose the gatekeepers wanted. Still, she decoded art with more profundity than most of us do, who scarcely walk into a museum at all and absolutely don't use the most necessary tool of all in appreciating art. That would be "a chair," as she once quoted someone else saying. In other words we don't stop, look, and think.

She did. She noticed that the iron scrollwork of an apartment balcony in a Matisse spelled the word Non, and that that had something to do with the angry couple in the painting. She noticed that a young squire's droopy socks in a Gainsborough portrait marked him as a "yobbo." She noticed the seven different flowers lightly incised on the seven lobes of a sea-green Korean ceramic jar, and told what joy it was to commune silently with a great work of porcelain art. If you do go into an art museum you can do that too, in privacy, because almost nobody visits Halls of Oriental Ceramics.

The gatekeepers who may have found this amateurish also did not approve of a nun looking at pictures of naked people -- a salacious criticism on their own part, she shot back. For my part, gradually after absorbing her art books I came to find her writing on prayer.

This struck me afresh. She always slipped in a few spiritual comments here and there in her introductions to be sure, or with the voice-overs to her shows. One of the best, from Sister Wendy's American Collection, was "Poverty, whether spiritual or economic, leaves us enslaved to work, either having it or wanting it ... museums, like theaters and libraries, are a means to freedom; they take us out of our daily anxieties into the vast and stable world of human creativity." When she discussed religious art, naturally she could let herself go. Unhappy customers on Amazon to this day who give her books only one star snipe at this. Why is all the art Christian? Not everybody's Christian. Ah well, dear soul, get a chair and let us look at Western civilization ....

To really settle into her writing on prayer, a much more important matter for her than art she said ("I would die for it") is to settle into much more deep, difficult, and practiced writing and thinking. Here, you might say, she is a professional, interested in brushwork and line. Here you are learning from a "content woman" who has done one thing for fifty, sixty, seventy years. There are gems to be found with her, fingered, turned, set down and looked at again and again in an effort to understand. Over the years I have created a small handwritten prayer book of my own by copying down quotes that seem to me prayerful, or at least very wise, and Sister Wendy has pride of place at the beginning of my jottings.

"The life of prayer depends completely on believing in the value of prayer. It is a total act of faith, because there is no concrete result to show the world.

"Art is essentially beauty that draws us into the truth of our own being, and whenever we have truth and beauty we have God. ... Art can expose parts of the self I was not aware of, so there is more of me laid bare for God to possess. Art is a way of making me human, and you cannot pray unless you are rooted in the truth of your own humanity. 

"Prayer is never an escape but the opposite, an exposure. The real self is held out to the real God, and any pretense or lack of reality makes the whole exercise futile." 

All the above are from her art books mostly. From The Gaze of Love (1993) comes "The real difficulty about prayer is that it has no difficulty. Prayer is God's taking possession of us. We expose to him what we are, and he gazes on us with the creative eye of Holy Love ...our concern here and now is the actual time we set aside to grow in truth, to receive love, in other words, to pray." You can spend your work day thinking from time to time of these two tasks, "to grow in truth and to receive love," and consider that this is perhaps, as the Scriptures exhort, to pray constantly.

According to a fond obituary in Catholic Herald, Sister Wendy was, before the reforms of the Second Vatican Council, "Sister Michael of St. Peter." One of the many formalities given up at that time was evidently the formality of religiously vowed men and women taking an entirely new name in religion. Remember in the novel In This House of Brede when one of the pre-Vatican II novices becomes "Sister Polycarp"? Just so, our own Sister Wendy bore not one but two masculine names. When in the spirit of the Council she reverted to her own plain Wendy, she assessed it as an act of penance because she did not deserve the strength of the names of the Archangel and the first pope.

Go back to the beginning. Remember my sneering over my Four Complaints about Midnight Mass? What I mean to say now, in remembering our delightful art- and yobbo-critic nun, is here is someone who has carried on and done the work of God in obedience and joy regardless of, shall we say, small penances, or her own small observations of things outside her control. (I can't say "sneering" because it's impossible to imagine her sneering at anything. She might laugh at a person in a painting who is sneering.) She would have gone on doing her real job, prayer, whether the BBC ever discovered her or not, or whether a lot of artists made bad modern art or not. "I shake my head over much of it." Just as, after her television programs were famed but she declined to make any more, she still arose every morning at one a.m. to begin her true work day.

There are so many like her. You can sit and snort in derision at shortcomings at this year's Midnight Mass, or you can open the journal Dominicana or Word on Fire to see real work done. You can learn of the startling growth of the Latin Mass in United States parishes. You can read about the canonization causes of people you've never heard of, whose lives are beyond belief. John Bradburne, lay minister to lepers in Rhodesia (Zimbabwe), martyr, 1979. Much like Sister Wendy, these men and women are pulling treasures from an inexhaustible store, riches that are so wonderfully the opposite of ego that you cannot imagine you will ever reach that fount, because the trick is by the time you know of these exemplars they are already famous, and so you think the path to get to the treasures is to go on being as cute as possible and waving at the world from the back of the room. You also want, by the by, to spend time congratulating God on his good taste in you. After all there are so many other things you could be doing. " 'You ought to be thanking God on bended knee you get any vocations at all,' " fumes one angry mother in In This House of Brede. " 'We do,' " the Abbess begins calmly.

So I have thought a lot about what drives these people away from ego and into the treasure house from which they they end up drawing personal accomplishment yes, but more importantly obedience, contentment, and even the much-vaunted "joy." What drives them in is truth, of course. Either he rose from the dead or he did not. Deciding he did not turns out to be the more ridiculous decision.

What keeps them there, or at least an added benefit of their staying, is a way of looking at people untwisted by the ferocious loyalties and purities of politics. By politics I don't even mean civic involvement or voting or following the news, all of which matter. I mean the looking at people only through the lens of human judgment and for the sake of (what somebody will airily call) human needs. I will shape you in truth. I know best what is right for this world, and your getting on board matters. The idea of our both turning to worship God as sinners and as loved -- ridiculous! And when you displease me I will unfriend you on Facebook, which is not a minor act. Nor is my neighbor's son taking her to see the latest propaganda film, Vice, and then asking her cannily what she thought, a minor act. The son was politically indoctrinating the mother. She told me she was shaking with rage after, and spoke of the main character burning in hell. She got on board. Non-political ideas -- of original sin, of mercy, of common humanity, of redemption -- are ridiculous there.

And when I snort, really politically, at what I fancy are outrages of my expectations at Mass, and then I see the joyous, anonymous labor of a Sister Wendy or a John Bradburne, I think -- here are people who have moved into a different mindset. They would pray for the choir warbling bad music and for the son and the neighbor and me and Dick Cheney and the moviemaker -- "he's a comedian but he's really intelligent and he did a lot of research" -- and themselves; and then they would open another art book and take more notes, or go help the next leper in line. They are really alive.   

Sister Wendy in another of her prefaces to an art book says, most people want to become important by doing something different, new, how else but in other people's judgment, and that it takes a long time to unlearn this natural if sterile human trait. She also, being a nun, writes very plainly of the things that work to make a human being; the things that still embarrass the political personality. In tribute to a great lady who is an antidote to the desire to snort and judge, to wave ridiculously to the world from the back of the room, we learn: Sister Wendy on the Art of Saints, 2011:

We are all born and each of us will die: Those are the two certainties of life. In between these certainties God has given us the gift of time so that we may grow into the fullness of what we are meant to be. This fullness is different for each of us, but the ways n which it is achieved are the same. 
Since God made us in his own image and we know what that image is through the historical actuality of Jesus, each person's fullness is an attainment of a likeness to our Blessed Lord. When we are as God wants us to be, we will have within us what St. Paul calls 'the mind of Christ.' We learn it through reading the Scriptures where God reveals himself in his son, and, complementary to that, we come close to Our Blessed Lord in the books written by those who have understood the Scriptures. 
Yet prayer, worship, and reading are only a part of our day (though, literally speaking, everything is or should be prayer). One of the most neglected truths is that we learn to become like Jesus through the actual process of living. God is giving himself to us all  the time; but all too often we do not see it. He gives himself in human relations, in nature, in literature, in music, in art.  

Escape hatch

Pardon a repeat of Feb. 2019, won't you? Warning! I've recently found out Blogger might be about to go the way of the dinosaurs. Sp...