Thursday, December 27, 2018

Four complaints about Christmas Eve Midnight Mass

You cannot call yourself truly crabby unless you complain about Christmas Eve Midnight Mass. So here are some things.

Of course the good people of the choir, who have been practicing since October, would not dream of singing traditional carols for the half hour "choral prelude" before midnight. There were ten songs, many of which began with a few bars of a familiar melody, and then veered off into the narrow shallow well trod ruts of the "contemporary." Not a single one of these little tunes will live beyond the minutes it took to sing them. Because why on earth would it make any sense to sing ancient carols whose whole point is their association with the season, once a year, for the enjoyment and edification of a church packed full of people who only attend once a year? I know right?

Then there was the matter of the chant, that I have only heard twice in my lifetime, once in high school and once last year at this very parish. I used to think of it as a sort of litany of creation, but it has a name: it is the Proclamation of the Nativity, and was regularly chanted before Midnight Mass until Vatican II dispensed with it. Pope St. John Paul II revived it, and because the world saw it on t.v. once a year at his Christmas Eve masses, parishes around the world have sometimes revived it too. In an authentic literal translation of the Latin, it recites the stupendous events of spiritual history preceding the birth of Christ according to Biblical time, that is, yes, as if creation happened six thousand years ago and as if we know the precise date of the Exodus from Egypt, and so forth, thereby. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops provides a kinda-sorta version, with timid and jarringly faux-scientific "untold ages" or "several thousand years" standing in for the robust proud dates of the original. A musing, faculty-lounge worthy "around the thousandth year since David was anointed king" replaces "the one thousand and thirty-second year from David's being anointed king," for instance. The point of this polite avoiding of dates seems to be to not appear fundamentalist, which is quite hilarious when you think about it. The sophisticate whose judgment we fear, on that score, already thinks we're fundamentalist because we're at Midnight Mass worshiping a doll anyway. Why not enjoy the poetry of the robust dates?

Anyway my complaint is that this year my parish didn't provide the proclamation at all. Disappointing. Maybe next year.

Then there was the matter of the Prologue to the Gospel of John. We changed that too, because of course we're more advanced than the saint and Beloved Disciple who also wrote Revelation. Just a tad: where the great line reads, through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race [really originally, men] (John 1:4), the lector -- a woman, a lectress? -- carefully and pointedly intoned, "this life was the light of the human races." Ho ho, I chortled bitterly in my pew, but wasn't the joy of it all, once, that all men are one in Christ Jesus? What races are we talking about? Isn't "what divides us" usually bad? Or, have we circled back in our lofty and open-minded wisdom to 1930, or perhaps 1830? And shall we start measuring skulls again, and deciding who is better?

Then came the great moment. Mind you, all along I am from time to time asking God to forgive me for sneering even in the middle of Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. The good deacon read the Gospel, and he got confused -- I thought -- and read the wrong one. The ruffling of pages from the pews, where people were trying to find his place in the worship booklets, must have alerted him, for after fumbling through something about Joseph deciding to take Mary into his home anyway, the deacon paged through his own lectionary at the pulpit and then finished with Matthew 1:25. He had no relations with her until she bore a son.   

This was something of a minor tragedy. An actual knot of tension seemed to collect and then fray out in the air. The church was full of people who will never come again to Mass until next year if that, and they heard one of the most problematic texts there must be in the Gospels, heard it flatly proclaimed in what, to the English ear, can only be language that said "of course St. Joseph, foster father of the Son of God, and the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God, had sex after, like normal people."

I looked up this line in both my two Bibles, the Douai translation made by Englishmen in France in Tudor times, who knew they faced hanging, drawing and quartering if they snuck back into Good Queen Bess' realm to say a Mass in a private home, in a nation that had been Catholic until the day before yesterday; and I looked it up in the New American Bible, translated by scholars who I think are careful above all of the opinions of sophisticates. The Douai translation for Matthew 1: 25 lays out the line in almost exactly the same English. And he knew her not till she brought forth her first born son. But the fathers of Douai added notes about the truth of faith, which the fathers of the New American Bible do not. There are "divers examples," the former say, that this word until represents a manner of speaking in Scripture, to denote what is done regardless of the future. God says I Am till you grow old (Isaiah 46:4). Does this mean He then ceases to exist? King David's wife Michal had no children till the day of her death (2 Samuel 6). Did she have some after?

The New American Bible fathers simply say "the Greek word for until does not imply normal marital conduct after Jesus' birth -- or exclude it."

Those are my four complaints for Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. Purblind music, no proclamation, giving St. John what for, and dropping on unsuspecting people what seemed like the bomb of news about Joseph and Mary's postpartum sex life. One more thing I was puzzled to know, and so I looked up this too, is where the good deacon flipped ahead to, to find that Gospel reading from Matthew. I thought he may have found some random Sunday. It turns out he was in the right place all along, he just omitted a lot, or perhaps our Mass booklets were printed wrong. His reading really ended exactly where it should have done.

In my grandmother's old Missal from the early 1960s, the Gospel readings for the three Masses of Christmas Day, midnight, dawn, and daytime, are only from St. Luke or St. John. Could the fathers of the Church have once understood that problematic texts from St. Matthew, while never hidden, are also not to be hurled at once-a-year visitors on Christmas Eve? -- especially in this modern era when the faithful, researching notes in a modern Catholic Bible, will find no help there? Who decided to impose the difficulties of Matthew on Christmas, and why? My first impression of it, bitter and crabby and ho-ho-ing in my pew as I had been and then alone by lamplight, ignorant as I am, -- was, this was malicious. And I should know, right?       

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Incredible that I forgot lemon bars

My daughter wants the recipe for lemon bars. There is only one recipe, of course, my own. I thought it would be the work of a moment to rummage among the 600+ posts I had to upload overnight, into Pluot, when poor old At First Glass went kaphut at the loss of the domain name. And yet lo! Search though I might, it seems I forgot to import "At First Glass turns four -- and bakes those classic lemon bars," which first swam into our ken on New Year's Day, 2012.  

Now we might think lemon bars are too ordinary to be worthy of discussion. Who has not learned to make them in a long-ago junior high school home ec. class? Who has not enjoyed them at dozens of Fourth of July picnics and PTA bake sales ever afterward? Here we are, on At First Glass's fourth anniversary, mucking about with (appropriately enough, to be sure) preschool-level treats while grander blogs are fishing ("crabbing") for their own Dungeness crabs, making green lentil soup with curried brown butter, or serving up orange-clove chocolate chip pancakes with coffee-clove syrup.

Yet I submit them, for a variety of reasons. They are simplicity itself. They are a delight to prepare, requiring the use of only one mixing bowl, which can do double duty for the preparation of both crust and filling. There is no need to fuss with softening or creaming butter, nor with greasing a baking pan. Made with fresh squeezed lemon juice, they are the most scrumptious morsels imaginable -- as with so many delicious things, it is their great buttery richness which satisfies you and prevents you from devouring the entire plateful.

And why else? Once upon a time, I made these for some evening PTA function. They lay, all anonymous and humble and ready for any hand to choose among them. People milled about in the blaringly lit, crowded gymnasium, mothers, fathers, grandparents, children. Preschoolers. I happened to be standing chatting with someone, when I saw a woman pick a lemon bar, take a bite of it, pause, and then throw it in the closest garbage can.

Witnessing that, I could only guess that this poor soul had never tasted good, properly made lemon bars before. Are they available in a box mix? Probably. Was that all she knew? Perhaps. It must have been the intense, unaccustomed flavor that put her off -- or perhaps she didn't like lemon and didn't realize until too late what these were. But how could anyone not know? Had she missed that day in Mrs. Pemberton's home ec. class? Is her name legion? All the more reason for me to do my small part today in getting the word out, to dear poor souls everywhere, about this great, commonplace, origins-lost-in-the-mists-of-culinary-prehistory cookie bar.

Lemon bars

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Have ready two 8 x 8 x 2 baking pans, ungreased.

Mix together in a large bowl:
2 and 2/3 cups flour 
1/2 cup sugar

Work in with your fingers until the mixture is moist and crumbly:
1 cup (2 sticks) butter

Divide the dough in half simply by taking it up in fistfuls and putting it alternately in the two pans. Pat the dough down and bake each pan 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from oven.

While the dough is baking, mix in the same mixing bowl
4 eggs
1 and 1/2 cups sugar
4 Tablespoons flour
6 Tablespoons fresh squeezed lemon juice 

Pour the filling over the partially baked crusts. Return to the oven and finish baking for 18 to 20 minutes, until the bars shrink away from the sides of the pan and the edges toast just a little. Let them cool before sprinkling with powdered sugar.

Postscript: do we dare mess with such beauty? Years ago, as Chicago Baking Examiner, I shoehorned this recipe into's random "Vodka month" theme by suggesting a vodka icing to replace the dusting of powdered sugar the bars usually receive. A plain sweet icing starts with 3 Tablespoons of hot water in a bowl, to which about 2 and 1/2 cups powdered sugar is added; you beat the mixture until it reaches a good consistency for spreading or drizzling. Any liquid may be substituted for the hot water, depending on the flavors in the baked treat you plan to glaze. And so, -- vodka with lemon? Or gin .... 

Monday, November 12, 2018

First time at a Latin Mass

I attended a Latin Mass for the first time, at St. Joseph Church in Rockdale, about half an hour east of me, a tiny old village caught up on some very steep hills between the I-80 expressway and the Des Plaines River, south of Joliet. A small, old church, in the old, spangled-ceiling and Corinthian (golden) capital style; about 150 people, of the same wide variety of ages as in any parish, including quite a few obviously growing young families. Many women and girls wore chapel veils, even little toddler girls in pink. Each (somewhat rickety) pew had large missals full of golden-bordered photographs, not only of priests at various parts of the Mass, but also of ancient illuminated manuscripts; at the beginning of this Saint Edward Campion Missal was an exhortation from the publishers hoping that many more houses would take care to reprint these ancient and beautiful testimonies.

We were celebrating today, bizarrely but for a sound procedural or calendrical reason, the Fifth Sunday after Epiphany ... there was an altar rail. Everyone knelt by fives and sixes. No one says "Amen." There is no question of a chalice and communion in both kinds. Ten people indifferently dressed do not pump hand sanitizer beforehand, and do not then drink down the last of the "Precious Blood" in a hallway after. No cell phones rang, although I imagine they must do sometimes.

Above all else I was impressed, not so much by the Latin, which after all does cloak meaning, and not even by the invisible and modestly talented choir (though that was a relief). I found myself impressed by the altar servers. They were four young men, plus a boy and an even smaller boy, and what I think is a "subdeacon," a man around fifty who stood and simply faced the congregation a lot. So much for the Novus Ordo caterwaul about girls "stepping up to serve" because the boys won't. The boys will serve, I daresay, if the job is serious and they are treated seriously about it. They were dressed in the old style, black cassock and white surplice, not the vague sort of baptismal shift a la Jesus Christ Superstar in 1972, that looks all right for boys and for girls with their hair hanging down their backs, and they had full jobs to do: much kneeling, incensing, bowing, and holding out of thick beribboned book. One young man corrected a boy's mistake with just one flaming eye, it seemed to me. Here is continuity, it seemed to me: at least a chance that these are tomorrow's priests, whereas the altar girls can only be the mothers of tomorrow's altar girls -- which is exactly what they brag about on FaceBook.

And I don't for a moment hold that the Novus Ordo Mass is not the same as the "TLM," the Traditional Latin Mass. Clearly, behind the Latin, they are essentially the same, especially since more traditional translations have been put into use in the last ten years or so. What must be done away with next, I hope, is the excessive lay participation. The six altar servers today were like a liaison between the priest's work at the altar, and us. They left us free to be the faithful. Incessant lay participation is oppressive and the seedbed of irreverence. They gum up the work because where they want to serve, the work must be altered for them. If nothing else, they alter it by their appearance, their attitude, and their numbers.

All that aside, I can begin to appreciate why so much of the Mass used to take place behind a "rood screen" in English churches for example, for it may as well do so. The men at the altar -- climbing the mountain, facing east with us and for us -- need scarcely turn around at all. And I can understand why Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn and other woolgathering types would have exchanged love notes scribbled in their very Psalters during, or why young Italian dandies in particolored hose might have wandered in whenever they liked, to see who was there. Yes, the vernacular was a good thing, for it had to have refocused comprehension. 

This experience also makes my grandmother's old Missal all the more useful, for it is the English-language "TLM," for the full year, forever. I wonder if "our Lord" -- as today's Father only ever called him during his homily, and as my own father only ever called him -- he was never the casually familiar "Jesus" -- would permit me to read those Masses whenever I like, and if he would count them as such. 

Friday, October 19, 2018

I think I made someone angry (but first, let's try to rescue an orchid)

I am quite stupid -- you should know this about me right away. In fact I tell the good Lord this all the time, and I am only occasionally guilty of false modesty. For example, regarding the corporal works of mercy -- feeding the hungry, visiting the sick, and so on -- I tell the Lord, "I have not done a single corporal work of mercy in my life, but I am very stupid, so you must now show me exactly how I may do them. One can't simply walk into godforsaken neighborhoods with fruit, or into prisons and say, here I am to help. Although saints do (see Mother Antonia Brenner, here)."

And God has been kind and has shown me, plainly. Recently when I was at the church, on my way out of the narthex, a man who helps run the St. Vincent de Paul society happened to be busy in the St. Vincent de Paul kitchen, arranging foodstuffs. So I knocked on the half-open door and talked to him for a few minutes. It was exactly as if God were saying, This is the St. Vincent de Paul kitchen, d-----t. I learned, "We could use more canned fruit." So I bought some.

It's the same with orchids. A few years ago I bought this Maxillaria sanguinea, above. It flowered precisely once. One time, one flower. When well kept, the plant should display a knot of little green bulbs sprouting fine, lush grassy foliage, with soon an abundance of full-lipped, maroon lady's-slipper-like blooms. After its first and only show, I put mine outside on the porch of my apartment for the summer. Rain, fresh air, and humidity are said to be good for orchids. In the dark wee hours of one summer night, I heard in my sleep a strange, juicy, loud sort of crunch-croil-crunch. The next morning, all but two of M. sanguinea's plump little green bulbs were gone. Eaten.

I thought I might nurse it back to life, and so after some dithering I eventually planted it in a large safe pot with some other specimens, in fact the usual supermarket Phalaenopsis. The poor remnant stayed barely alive, but that was all. I never dreamed that M. sanguinea, trim fine boatmight have different watering needs than three huge Phalaenopsis floating like ocean liners in that sea of processed bark chips (which I might douse at the kitchen sink once in ten days) that inexperienced growers like to use for all orchid re-potting needs.

Today was the day the light broke. Of course. They're different. Pot it in some tiny pot and water it much more often. Who knows what might happen? D-------t?

Who knows what might happen, also, with the angry lady who snapped, via email, "Please take me off your subscription list. Thank you."

This has nothing to do with orchids.

Regarding this I thought, mercy, good woman, I have no control over anyone's mailing list. I got on it myself months ago, I think by saying "Oh! Sure," to some person I actually knew and was speaking to, in another room just off the narthex. It happened that when I had a question for the people on that list this week, about how one does that peculiarly modern corporal work of mercy which may encapsulate and promote all others -- I'm talking about praying to end abortion -- I reasoned, Why not ask them all in general? And I plainly wrote,

Does anyone have any experience just going by yourself to pray outside a PP* site? I went to the Flossmoor location one Saturday recently because the 40 Days for Life site showed someone else had signed on for that hour. When I got there, a man was there praying but he said he had just stopped by to pray because he had the time. Whoever was scheduled didn't show. 

A little later, some parishioners from St. Laurence O Toole arrived and said it was better not to go to PP clinics alone for personal security reasons.  

 The PP clinic on LaGrange is 5 minutes from my house and I could easily spend an hour there on my days off (which are random because of my work schedule). Does anyone do this or is it not safe? I found the experience of praying at the Flossmoor site rewarding and I am just looking for other thoughts.

And I received a few helpful answers and then, today, the cold command. Take me off your mailing list.

Who knows, it might not be my short letter to forty or so acquaintances and strangers which prompted that command. Perhaps somewhere in the addressee list is someone else whose name my lady suddenly caught sight of, and remembered she loathes. Or maybe my lady is just busy cleaning up her spam folder, and is still polite enough to say "Please" and "Thank you" about it.

Or else she is outraged at the idea of anyone's standing athwart, even in prayer, a woman's "right to choose." For myself, I would not even argue that point anymore, nor any of the usual points regarding abortion really. The legal and political ships have long since sailed. The commercial ship too. You cannot live in the modern world and not support companies who support Planned Parenthood. Not to mention your taxes. It's almost comical. I go to the grocery store after an hour of vigil and find even my eggs have a "Susan G. Komen for the Cure" stamp on them. So I am there outside PP* for me. I'm not completely stupid. All I can do is eventually stand before God and, when he asks me, "What did you do about the worst evil of your time and place?" say, Well Lord, I stood and prayed outdoors.

There were about fifteen of us. Quite a few people driving by on a chilly, blowy Friday honked their horns and flashed a thumbs-up. Later I got an update through my email telling me that this morning was less busy than the usual Fridays, but that Tuesdays seem to be picking up. Perhaps the women are being forewarned.

Shall I cheerfully report all that to the email list, and accidentally forget to expunge my lady's name beforehand? That seems rather mean and self-regarding, perhaps prayer is better for her and me too.

*Planned Parenthood 

Friday, October 12, 2018

Laughing in five hundred years

It's always a good day, don't you think, when you learn one interesting thing and one annoying thing, and both from the same source (Msgr Swetland at Relevant Radio)?

The interesting thing was that "my yoke is easy and my burden light" means that what you are inclined to do or have a vocation for, is the easy yoke and light burden. Now I don't think the church marks out every old predilection we enjoy as a vocation, certainly not, say, bank robbery. Blogging, maybe. I'm pretty sure there are only two major ones, either marriage or the religious life; but still the yoke as the hand-carved harness fitted to the individual oxen, and therefore very right to wear, is an enlightening image. We wear that yoke in order to better follow Christ, yes?

The annoying thing was the claim that one must accept all the gospel, even the aspects one doesn't like. All right, but it seems to me the instant political slant fails here. "The leftist Catholic social justice warrior must accept that abortion is wrong." "The conservative Latin Mass wannabe must accept social justice, a living wage and so on." I notice that our good radio host did not mention leftists also accepting the death penalty, which the Church tries to avoid but admits is sometimes correct. I hope he would not simply say "Pope Francis changed that," because I don't think the dear Holy Father can.

But that is a digression. What annoys me about the argument that You Conservatives Must Accept Social Justice because it's Gospel is that it's not. There is no way the monstrous egg of "social justice" can be disentangled from the modern, deeply anti-religious and yes Marxist nest where it was laid. Sell what thou hast and give to the poor and come and follow me is Gospel and is a command given to the individual. It tends to his conversion. Social justice looks at people as things, and cannot help but say instead "this thing, x, has too much and has no right to it; it must be confiscated for the good of the poor -- more things -- so we get justice." Running through it all is original sin itself. The claiming of the divine prerogative, to judge right from wrong regardless of following Christ ourselves.

Even so holy a person as Mother Teresa includes the great modernist social justice mistake in her Constitution for her Missionaries.* Here is someone who lived a life of total love given out to the poorest of the poor, to the dying and the sick in Calcutta and now, all over the world. But her charter says, "no one has a right to a superfluity of wealth while others are dying of starvation."

And there is the social justice rub. Who ever said anyone had a right to their wealth? In order to make this judgment, and condemn the money, the money had to be earned first, by people whom Mother Teresa did not know and would not have condemned had she merely met them on the street. And the background for her ire has to be the universal human conviction (my economics book bluntly said "peasant," not human,) that the rich man is rich at my expense: he has not created, but has robbed me. If, say, Bill Gates' wealth is therefore a wrong, then there are two options, to confiscate it, or to see that a world is built such that no one else is able to amass wealth. Neither reaction is Gospel or useful for filling the stomachs of the poor. A third option, to preach the Gospel to Bill Gates such that he and his wife convert, and give less of their money to promote abortion, has apparently not been tried with much success. 

No, I don't have to accept that social justice, modernly defined, is in the Gospel. That kind of justice never involves love but always rather committees deciding who is to be hunted and how to divide up their things. If the Lord ever said "From each according to his ability and to each according to his need," I would be glad to know chapter and verse. Far from it, I think he told a story in which the owner of the vineyard asked, "Am I not allowed to do as I wish with my own money?" You see that's the odd truth: the Bible is perhaps "conservative" all the way through, which is why the modern world, having crowned man lord of all, hates it. And yet, as someone once said of the U.S. Constitution, it may be that the principles it conserves are very radical indeed.

I learned one more thing but it's so unsavory that all you can do is shut the laptop and go to bed, saying to yourself "it's too much information and I'm sure randy stuff went on during the Renaissance too." Some aged and horridly elfin-looking cardinal was presiding over a (homosexual) sex and drugs party in the Vatican when a guest overdosed and the cops were called. They saw to it that the cardinal 'skedaddled' before arrests were made. If only these men also patronized great art, people could laugh in five hundred years.     

*See Something Beautiful For God, Malcolm Muggeridge, 1971 (1986).   

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Still sitting at the counter at Schwab's

Oh God. I have this thing where I just balk at shelling out $27 a month to "join" wonderful Bishop Barron's Word on Fire Institute. Granted, that's a cheap fee for all the scholarship and the on-line video wizardry he and his team do, but still. I think at bottom we nobodies are just waiting for our blogs to be discovered, so we can become "Fellows," never mind forming real communities and actually meeting each other, like, in our houses and stuff. (What a bore. "No American feels really free unless he is alone." I read that somewhere recently.) And all the Fellow positions have been filled, by Ph.Ds who are already famous anyway.

Isn't that a terrible attitude? What about the joy of hidden-ness and humility, a la the Virgin Mary and all the saints? Then again, what about other paths and streams of scholarship, besides those laid out by the Word on Fire team? Not that the team aren't very, very good and noble.

But one has to weigh it all. Thirty bucks a month, for there must be taxes, is thirty bucks a month.  What do you really want, and how can you really serve? Is your "community" not exactly where you are now? -- and not trapped in the dream of influencing and catching the eye of someone else, who cannot say to you, he that finds his life shall lose it, and he that loses his life for me will find it?

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

"... the sheep moreover are insolent"

"So you wish to stray and be lost? How much better that I do not also wish this. Certainly, I dare say, I am unwelcome. But I listen to the Apostle who says: Preach the word; insist upon it, welcome and unwelcome. ... However unwelcome, I dare to say: 'You wish to stray, you wish to be lost; but I do not want this.' For the one whom I fear does not wish this. And should I wish it, consider his words of reproach: The straying sheep you have not recalled; the lost sheep you have not sought. Shall I fear you rather than him? Remember, we must all present ourselves before the judgment seat of Christ."
From the Second Reading for Sept. 24, Office of readings of the Liturgy of the Hours (Monday of the 25th week in ordinary time) -- St. Augustine's Sermon on Pastors: "Insist upon the Message, whether it be welcome or not"

Driving home from work to see the full moon reflected in a glimmering slash of silver-gray in the dark gray waters of the local slough, itself a shadowy depthless presence in the surrounding forest night; you know how the mood of a lake changes, especially if you have vacation memories of marveling at water that was a sunny sparkling blue playground in the daytime, become a strange flat dark disc ringed with mysterious impenetrable vegetation, and possessed by sounding crickets at night; with the nice medieval music playing in the car (the library was literally giving unwanted CDs away, so I got a trove of Gregorian chant, some medieval Christmas, the odd Schubert and Debussy), -- doing this, I felt the Jeep was a more sacred space even than the church had been the Sunday morning before. Very wrong of course, but music will have effects, and the music for Mass had been more jamboree-like than usual. A small crowd of sympathizers, I won't say Commie-pinko plants, turned and clapped and whooped appreciation at the end, as usual.

The nice young seminarian, thank God there are still some, gave a talk. He said he would be with us on weekends for the next five years of his discernment. He welcomed calls and emails from any of us, looked forward to getting to know us, and said his email address would be in the bulletin. I won't be crabby and uncharitable, and say how tempting it is to take him up on his offer and write, Dear good young man, I do hope when you get your own parish you can make some sort of inroads into the ghastly music we all must hear and have heard for fifty years. Why does Marty Haugen, Protestant wunderkind, still govern the liturgy? (I have an ancient, slightly saccharine book called St. Michael and the Angels, Compiled From Approved Sources, which tells me for example, "St. Michael offers to God the prayers of the faithful symbolized by incense whose smoke rises towards heaven ... his name is mentioned in the confession of faults made by the priest at the foot of the altar, and by the faithful in turn ... St. John Chrysostom, among others, states that 'When Mass is being celebrated, the Sanctuary is filled with countless angels who adore the Divine Victim immolated on the altar.' " Who knew? What incense? What Divine Victim? To think that this was the sort of thing got rid of for the sake of contemporary relevancy, and bongo drums.) ...The whoopers at the end are not the majority. I judge this by the grim, clamped-mouth silence of most of the congregation. Most of them are, at best, offering up their suffering to God. They don't want to clap in unison with the happy blonde at the podium, either.

But I won't be crabby and uncharitable, for what do I know? Can't sing, can't read music, can't play an instrument. It's very wrong to suspect that musical people are oddly authoritarian. "Better to light a candle than curse the darkness," and so on. Why not ask to join the choir and make changes from within? Can you imagine the new person, unable to carry a tune in a bucket, suggesting to the seasoned performers and the professional choir director fresh from his role in the off-Broadway show in the next suburb over, that we start singing Hildegard of Bingen? Perhaps I should write a novel in which a crabby -- but musically able -- old woman does this, or at any rate writes that letter to the visiting seminarian. She could be formidable but elegant, and perhaps solve parish mysteries (who killed the blonde?), and have two cats named Sassicaia and Egypt.

The CD in the Jeep, which made the moonlight on the water seem like something eternal and sacred that God himself and all the communion of saints were looking at right that moment, also has the word ancient in it. It was Ancient Music for a Modern Age, by an ensemble called Sequentia. They have been doing God's work for forty years. They have even recorded everything by Hildegard of Bingen, nine discs. Who knew?

We began with St. Augustine telling his parishioners in Hippo around the year 400, that -- yes -- he and they were obliged to bring in straying sheep, even if the sheep were insolent and did not want to be retrieved. What an amazing thing. I'm just adding, at the risk of beating my own bongo drum that I may go on beating for a good long time, good music would help.


Friday, September 21, 2018

Prayer before rapier wit

I have an uncharitable habit of imagining how I may reach people through lofty and rapier-like intellectual scolding. The young things at work were outraged, yesterday, by whatever videos they had seen on some correct and outraged political site. "She interviewed this Trump supporter, and the guy didn't even know what a refugee was! He just kept saying, 'I don't believe that.' "

"Oh my God," the other young person said. She may have said oh my Jesus fucking God. "Oh my God. Kids are dying because of this asshole." And she stormed off, speaking in the asshole's voice. "Yeah, just fuck the kids, who cares."

These (mostly polite and good) young people have a raging passion for justice but would of course not dream of marrying their significant others, settling down, and having any children of their own, for a start. Never mind the college 101 indoctrinations, defining justice in very narrow terms, and still as fresh as yesterday. Naked but sterile evangelical outrage simmers beneath every dewy-complexioned surface.

And I fancy pondering how to correct them through gently startling rhetoric. Then I heard a caller on Relevant Radio, a lady marking the feast of the Korean martyrs, say that she brings a prayer journal to work and writes down in it the names of people whom her co-workers have asked prayers for. And I realized, that is the much better way. As with the Gospel reading of that very day, in which the Pharisee Simon loftily notes within himself that Christ cannot be a prophet, or he would know the truth about the sinner touching him, in other words he would see interior lack, and Christ responds to his thoughts -- she loves much because she is forgiven much -- so it would be more to the point for the outraged young people to know the offer of prayer rather than an offer of what I consider probing intellectual correction. Love first, in short.

The downside is that one must consent to be the sweet (I suppose) religious middle-aged lady at work, who says she will pray for you. Then again, if it's totally crazy but you do kind of start noticing good things happening to you, it's so weird -- maybe they would also think a thought, and crack open a book.         

Thursday, August 30, 2018


For those of us who care, events are falling thick and fast. I wondered if perhaps we who care are living in a tiny self-referencing bubble. It seems to me all the people around me would simply blink at this, looking on the Church herself and Christianity in general as irrelevant, and so finding scandal within her, especially about homosexuals, a smirkingly comical irrelevancy within an irrelevancy.

But I may be wrong. There the headlines are, not shrieking but present, out in the world at Drudge and Yahoo. "Pope refuses comment." "Cardinals named deny," etc.

The events as they came to my attention, in order over the weekend (and now we are approaching another weekend), were:

Illinois attorney general Lisa Madigan will investigate Chicago diocese: Cardinal Blase Cupich welcomes. The hen investigating the henhouse, I thought; these two liberals will come to a very satisfactory understanding.

Then that story vanished. Vigano says Benedict tried to discipline McCarrick, Francis rehabilitated him, and then for whatever reasons, McCarrick essentially appointed Cupich and Tobin (of Newark). Ho ho, Cupich in the hot seat. Maybe. Tobin, who in some pictures looks unfortunately a bit like Wolsey brought straight back and infuriated from Tudor England, now off to a synod on young people, the faith, and vocational discernment. I hope that will be the last tone-deaf thing the American Catholic church does for a while. 

Then Father Robert Altier's magnificent homily at St. Raphael's in Minnesota from a few days ago, run twice in two days on Relevant Radio. I listened spellbound in the car before going grocery shopping and then listened again the next day (today). "Do you understand why all you hear is fluff 'n' stuff instead of good homilies?" he asked. Men who don't live Catholic morality will not teach Catholic morality.

But "the Virgin Mary's work has begun," he thinks. "Jesus is sending his Mom to clean the room."

And we must join her army, Bishop Barron agreed. He must be thanking God, if Cupich shooed him, conservative Thomist evangelizer, out to wacky California to make the best of it, that the best of it has been good. His Word on Fire ministry grows from strength to strength as far as I can see, and he in obedience has Chicago in his rear-view mirror.

And what do we do? "Join her army," "become the greatest of saints, to tower, because of these times, over the greatest saints of the past"? That was Father Altier's message. How to become so? By staying put, of course, or joining, by prayer and fasting and raising voices. But always be measured and charitable, as Bishop Barron's example shows. The Lady cannot make use, I don't think so anyway, of meanness and griping and interior wrath that does nothing. Like mine.

Amid all the stew of news and reports and ideas about launching committees and streams of comments on the Catholic websites' comment boards, I had a thought which is probably sterile and wrathful so I didn't put it out there. I'll put it here, where no one will see. I thought, a purge of the Church could start, and could make extraordinary progress in two weeks, in one: only let the Holy Father order that all priests in all parishes all over the world preach a homily, next Sunday, averring that homosexual activity is sinful. Not the people, not the inclination, the activity. We live in a secular culture for which homosexuality is the helmet of faith and the breastplate of salvation. Let the Holy Father command such preaching, and in two weeks you would see weeded out the men who can't choke out the words, and the faithful, soldiers (maybe unknowingly) in a different army, who can't choke down the message.

But here I'm being wrathful and proud. How do I know? Maybe lay-led committees investigating McCarrick -- even though he has already been truly found out and set aside -- are better. Maybe Cardinal Tobin is a very fine man whose prayers I am not worthy of. 

And I was thinking at Mass this morning (the feast of St. Augustine -- our good Father skipped any homily at all, maybe he is planning a bombshell of some sort of his own for Sunday and desired to save his energy) -- I was thinking, you really cannot decide how you will act to become a greater saint, to "tower like a cedar of Lebanon over a shrub," as Father Altier quoted Louis de Montfort. That alone is ego. You must still yourself, somehow, to a core of obedience to a Master, and to right action and right words. The Divine Office, for the hour of None, has this Psalm,

My soul is weary with longing, day and night, for your decrees (Ps. 118 (119): 17-24

Another thought. Years ago I remember hearing of veterans of World War II, that they tended to look back and say, of course in those days everyone either joined or knew they would be drafted. But whatever your anxiety, you didn't want to sit out this fight. "Everybody was going -- you didn't want to be the one who missed out." I think this may be like that.    

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

The majesty of the package

Don't be put off by the way this starts. It has its origin, you will see, in the comments board below somebody else's writing; so I had in my mind the same material everyone else was addressing, and I could plunge right in, having come to some of the same conclusions and naturally taking up the same aggravated tone they did. This is what we moderns call an "online community." I began to type ...

I notice the drumbeat of prayers for migrants at Mass has stopped, at least in my parish for the last few weeks. Coincidence? The effect of a new pastor? The hierarchy somewhere in a Chicago high-rise, deciding for a while not to rub the wounds of a conquered people, just while the newest homosexual abuse scandal now reaching up to the cardinals' level unfolds? But if migrants needed prayers last month, don't they still? Do you turn off God's attention and power based on a sort of Lenin-style assessment of who is more useful when?

"Conquered people" is a strong term, perhaps unfair. It occurred to me because of an unrelated issue, namely music. Once again on Sunday we were permitted only the "traditional Caribbean folk melody" for the Alleluia, which is all we ever get, and which sounds just like the preschooler's foot-stompin' beach dance tune you would expect. Holl-lay, holl-lay, holl-lay, Looo-oooo-yah! The recessional was a "traditional South African" song which no one knew, neither the good (Ugandan) priest nor the deacon nor the people nor, I think, even the man playing the piano in the choir loft. Interestingly, he had played Panis Angelicus during communion, when it could be safely hidden as background noise. The recessional therefore proved a mostly silent fumble. This is what conquered people are made to do: sing songs not their own. It's a natural and an age-old political move. Whereas at the close of a blessedly silent weekday Mass the celebrating priest, or even a member of the congregation, has only to begin the Lourdes hymn ("Immaculate Mary") and everyone joins, with no guidance from the piano at all. We react naturally to our own music. I might almost dare say ... we are ready to be led home, by and with our own music.

I chronicle and I express crabbiness about all this because [here we go] I am still thinking about Elizabeth Scalia's article a few days ago at the Word on Fire blog. I don't think it's worthwhile my being the fortieth commenter on a piece that is, very naturally, already being bumped down the roster of the blog's main page as new things are published there. But it got me to thinking in terms of natural and unnatural.

It was natural for almost all the thirty-odd commenters there to come up with simple, strong responses to it. The man in the street tends to do that. Never mind, they scoffed, Ms. Scalia's advice to the laity to form "investigatory panels" and "become the Church you want to be by being a conduit of love." Being a conduit of love (I scoff) won't stop the propagation of cheap music for example, which affects us in our official, public worship life, as whatever went on at a cardinal's beach house decades ago does not. Not that it does not, however: we do feel this week's dark news personally. Is there a Latin way to say "hard to be a Catholic," and capture the rueful endurance of schwer zu sein ein yid?

But to stop that, I mean bad music, takes power, and after fifty years of other people's folk tunes, it looks like no one has that much power. "I'm not giving the Church any more of my money" was a natural response too. So was the great call, the frightening call, the repeated call throughout the comments board, which perhaps cannot be answered in the man in the street's lifetime, or yours or mine -- because it means really facing Satan, all tolerant, loving, funny, and with great taste in the finer things -- "The bishops need to say homosexuality is sin." For it is not natural that a man should lie with a man as with a woman.

It's not very natural that Catholics, buffeted now by witnessing a resurgence of '90s style immorality among their priests and bishops plus the Pope choosing this moment to change the catechism, -- it's not natural that they should be comforted or strengthened when they walk into a Mass of bad off-Broadway music, of a dozen "extraordinary ministers of communion" including young girls in miniskirts and hairy-legged middle aged men in shorts and t-shirts, and of the whole congregation reflexively adopting the hands-upheld "orans position" when the priest does, because no one has ever told them not to. That was new to me when I walked into my parish church last summer for the first time in thirty years. I thought it made everyone look like ecstatic, village idiot snake-handlers. Then I did some of my usual crabby research and found out you're not supposed to do this "orans posture" wheeze at all. All I can figure is that our good bishops, who don't dare call out a fellow who preys on boys, are certainly not going to speak out on something so minor in the face of people and offertory-makers far too culturally Protestantized to accept rebuke. And who can always now rejoin, "Really? You're upset about this?"

Ah, to rejoin. The rejoinder -- the come-back. The coming back. The answer to all this mess is not investigatory panels, or being a conduit of churchly love, or even fasting as such. The answer is to make the Church and its Mass seem like something that is above and outside and truer than time or the world or men or sex or anything. We cannot do that, our leadership must. They do that by returning somehow to the majesty of what it was, to the package it used to show to anyone who walked in the door; the package unchanging no matter where it was found or no matter what poor sinner or downright creep briefly kept the door. The package used to say: "we have to do this, and say this, because it is true and our 'colossal Master' (G.K. Chesterton's phrase, about Whom Joan of Arc obeyed) -- because He commanded it. Yes even of us sinners." Returning somehow to the majesty of the package ... what, shall the College of Cardinals (minus McCarrick) admit it is all really dreadfully traceable to Vatican II? Shall they say, sorry, we lowered some bars there and it was a mistake? That really cannot be. If the Holy Spirit presides over other Councils it  He must have presided over that one.

Perhaps what will prove to save everything will be that great Council's rumored exaltation of the laity and our responsibilities and rights. I don't know, I'm the man in the street, I never read the documents. Anyhow what previous Council ever insisted that the faithful, busy at loom and plow, should bestir themselves to "read the documents"? But suppose the laity now do take that responsibility, given from the Holy Spirit, seriously, and do read and do find their power, and start asking for old things? Unless of course they just demand validation for the new things they have been doing anyway, like getting divorced and taking the Pill. A hierarchy which can't condemn homosexuality may have a hard time pressing "Church teaching" on any other matter.

It may be that with my thirty years' absence I am insufferably behind the times. It may be that in fact the new and the young, starved of Catholic meat, have been asking for old true things and getting them, long since. It may be they are now middle-aged and making waves themselves. There are jokes on crabby online forums about Ugandan and Nigerian priests, doing missionary work among the suburban soccer moms of the U.S.A., pronouncing words like magisterium. Our own dear Father G. makes the sign of the cross after his homily, which is just what you can hear being done at traditional Masses on YouTube, Masses celebrated even sometimes by priests of those mysterious stern "Societies of St. Peter" (or Pius). They sign themselves before and after. Perhaps it had a meaning once. Wonderful Bishop Robert Barron comes to mind of course, talking of younger clerics feeding the starved.

But he's got these bloggers working for him who still seem to bar the gates, even emotionally, against the fuming man in the street, and the man knows it and that's why he responds with comments not remotely assessing her ideas, but simply brushing them aside. As if he is a force of nature, and knows that too.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Updated, August 17, 2018. I have been unjust in doling out the word anodyne. Elizabeth Scalia's latest set of prayers and meditations is very good indeed, much better than I could do.  

What an amazing set of responses to Ms. Scalia's article at Word on Fire. They mostly utterly ignore her points, every one of them, and speak instead with almost one voice in what amounts to the writing of another article: whose theme is, "dear bishops, can you gather up your courage in both hands and say something less-than-glowingly-'accompanying' about homosexuality?" For if it's not to be said, because that's hateful, then what did ex-Cardinal McCarrick actually do -- besides predation maybe -- that was wrong?

I read the article partly because I do believe Ms. Scalia has developed a following of readers who read her to ignore her, and to play among themselves in the quiet sandbox of the comments board below all her pieces, and I wanted to judge -- after a hiatus of a few months -- whether that is still true. I think it is. They see through her, and find themselves more interesting than she is. She is a talented word painter, but after a strong start at Bishop Barron's website about six months ago, turned rather anodyne

Saturday, July 21, 2018

If I were texting my (adult) kids about organic wine

My adult children and I do group texting. Today, if I were to give them my news of the day, it might go like this. 

"SO I'm at a seminar and the nice man is talking about his organic winery and how they used to farm 75 acres with evil Monsanto pesticides and the vines all got crappy roots because pesticides wreck the soil and now they farm 35 acres with egg-laying wasps to kill the leaf-hoppers (bad insects -- and I'm thinking, how long does THAT take) and now the soil is all lush and they have sheep and cows to eat the grass, and poop for fertilizer. And I'm thinking ooohhh-kay, who collects all the bull shit (literally) and how long does THAT take. 

"And the winery now has gardens inside the rows of vines, taking up a lot of space that used to be for grapes but that now provides habitats for the good wasps that eat the bad insects. And I'm thinking, ooohh-kay, what if some of the bad insects still survive and cause a problem? And how are you staying in business when you have cut your productive land by more than half, plus use payroll to maintain the gardens? Plus they spray pulverized amethyst crystals on the vines every spring, because that's what the peasants of old used to do. It helps focus the light on the grape leaves and leads to desired nuances of flavor.    

"So I was going to ask what the hell BUT then somebody else asked 'oh don't you make Wine X, also?' And the nice man said Yes. 'And is that organic?' Um, no, but they hope soon it will be. 

"Ooooh-kay. So you have a Plan B winery that makes wine (and money) in the usual way, so you don't go bankrupt while you are slowing production to pre-modern levels, adding gardens and experimenting with cool, Pleistocene epoch-looking bull species and amethyst spray.

"THEN I get back to work and my co worker who has been in the business for decades asks about the seminar and then says, 'Oh, I wish I had gone! I know them. Such a nice family. They sold the winery for sixty million dollars a few years ago.' 

"And I'm like 'OOOHHHHH-KAY so this is how you afford your Marie Antoinette Hameau farm with the egg-laying wasps and the cows and the sheep and the gardens taking up space in the middle of the vineyards. I totally get it. And I'm really glad you totally don't control actual farming of food products, because if you were in charge we would all starve. You wouldn't, but we would. And it turns out old Strom Thurmond got the sulfites warning label attached to wine, as tit-for-tat because the crusading lefties got the death label attached to cigarettes! (He was a Senator from tobacco-land, North Carolina.) I say good for him." 

 And then I thought, all along at this seminar I had been gazing at a multimillionaire. In the flesh. I don't think I have ever really seen one. God bless him, may he and his family live and be happy for a thousand years. But let us be honest, too, I was in the presence of a multimillionaire, -- and a delightedly confident missionary priest. A totally untruthful one, but from his perspective, why not?

Earlier in the day the nice host on Relevant Radio played an old tape of (atheist) Penn Jillette talking about a fan who had given him a Bible, and of how he, Jillette, was touched and impressed by the man's sheer goodness, his exemplary concern for someone else's eternal welfare. He said believers, if they are serious, should do more of this. Even though their doing it means nothing because there is still no God.

Now the host of the show, the graceful and excellent Patrick Madrid, offered the old tape as something for all of us to think about. At first I was impressed, but as the day went on, I found myself less so. The main "pull quote" from it was Jillette complaining, 'How much hatred must you [the Christian] have for someone, to not tell them of eternal truth, of the fate of their souls, if you really believe what you say you do and you really believe the atheist is in danger?'

Mercy, you silly man, quite hateful yourself, I don't hate you. Not approaching the Penn Jillettes in daily life is not hate. It's still wrong, but it's weakness, not hate. It's our tacitly agreeing with the modern world's dictate that faith is personal and not something you bother other people with. And it is the fruit of a long faithful experience in history, that example counts more than anything.

But maybe we should send him Bibles. His fame now seems to be all about his dramatic weight loss; he tweets about not having consumed a single calorie in the last 81 hours. As for others, like the nice millionaire who believes in organic wine as Marie Antoinette believed in her lovely Hameau and admits equally as little of its absurdity, I said he was essentially a missionary priest. Did I walk up to him afterward and counter-offer a Bible, or a little fake-leatherbound copy of Day by Day with Augustine? I did not. I did ask about the insect population at the winery, and about whether he uses the "natural" copper spray called the Bordeaux mixture, which is pre-modern, non-synthetic, non-evil Monsanto, and toxic to everything. "That's illegal," he answered. I wish I were faster on my feet.

Friday, July 6, 2018

Are you just visiting or are you a regular adorer?

Heaven knows what calls a person to the Adoration chapel at a parish. For the last year I have gotten into the slight habit of going there at around noon or one in the afternoon, on my day off. It is just then that a little window of time seems to open, between morning chores and afternoon errands. I stop in for Adoration, for perhaps fifteen minutes. Sometimes I almost spend the full hour, if I take down a book from the shelves, and get lost in that. You can read St. Therese of Lisieux marveling at the "poor savages" who don't know Christ -- and people think her sugary? You can read St. Thomas Aquinas on how fast the angels move (instantly, from one end of the universe to the other at the speed of thought). Some books sneak their way into the chapel, as it were,without an imprimatur. You will find collections of "saints' lives" which include Gandhi or Martin Luther King. It only means somebody was cleaning out Aunt June's condo and tossed into the donation box any and all of her old vaguely religious-lefty books.

My dear atheist daughter, who doesn't know I go to Adoration but who is aware of what the blessed Sacrament is, opens wide her scientific eyes and says, "it's a cracker. You're kneeling to a cracker." Mind you, she is also the one who is moving into her new apartment at medical school, on the very feast day of the saint I more or less joshingly chose for her a year ago, when I first (not at all joshingly but somewhat abashedly) returned to church after decades away. And after a full fourteen years -- like Jacob laboring for Rachel -- in the middle of those decades, among lovely people in a Reform Jewish temple. As I sum up to anyone who cares to listen about that spiritual adventure, the Jewish cycle and the sighed gentle hopes came to seem not enough. The sighed, gentle prayers, "It would be more than we could bear, except that our little day finds its permanence in Your eternity," came to seem not nearly good enough. I want immortality. I want not to ignore the most important person who has ever lived or ever could live. I want moral heft -- life begins at conception -- and I want the intellectual and the artistic treasury of the Middle Ages alone, to say nothing of all the other ages.

So you see sometimes I feel called to go to Adoration. Having also learned to my puzzlement that "ninety percent of prayer should be listening," not talking, I sometimes try to "listen." To a cracker? No. Heaven knows I talk enough, so I try to at least stop doing that, stop with the Lord, please do x routine. My friend already knew about listening, just on his own. He goes to meet Jesus at a beauty spot, overlooking the ocean in Mexico. He describes what happens. "I got something to say to You, You got something to say to me." I was staggered at his real religious awareness. 

I listen. It is quiet and dim in the chapel, and one woman left while I was there and another woman arrived. I'm looking at the plants and vases of flowers, wondering who takes care of them and who decides when one or two of them get too bedraggled to stay. Then I remind myself that I should be listening, and so I say: the blessed Sacrament is, dear atheist daughter, the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Christ; it is the same body the Apostles saw on earth two thousand years ago, miraculously really present here thanks to his very words at the Last Supper. Imagine being in the Upper Room. Could there have been a servant who helped lay the table and then went away? Could there have been a minute when a servant, outside the great event about to unfold, put down a bowl and Jesus walked in and they were alone -- and then the men followed in, and it began?  But about the plants, does someone take them home and nurse them back to health? I could do that. I tried offering a huge houseplant to someone who seems to be in charge of many things up to and including the Art and Environment Committee, but I got no response. Still I'm "listening," or trying to, deliberately refraining from mentally reminding God what I would like him to do. Lord, do we have to have so many lay ministers of communion? Must they wear shorts and t-shirts? And please look after ... and so on, x and x and x.

Lord, really. I'm listening. What on earth are you going to say to me, that isn't just going to sound like me talking in my head? "Go work in a soup kitchen"? Go be like Dorothy Day, everybody's favorite safe, flaming liberal Catholic "saint," who pompously (and probably shrewdly) rejected the idea that she might one day be one, not because she was a political self promoter and swooner over the best leftist violence* but because -- she fretted -- sainthood would distance her too much from the cowardly worshiper? I am not making either up.

"...the point of Dorothy Day's repudiation of the label 'saint' when people applied it to her, [was] that she would not be dismissed so lightly. It meant that others, less generous and self-giving, were letting themselves off the hook -- the call to sanctity -- by placing her on a convenient pedestal; by inferring that saints are different in kind from us, rather than simply in degree."**
The next minute, the woman who had come in to Adoration after me leaned over and whispered, "Are you just visiting or are you a regular adorer? -- for noon to one?"

I was startled because no one has ever breathed a word in here for the year that I have had experience of it. People shuttle in to water the plants, or they snore, or they rattle the ice in their huge plastic cups of water or latte or whatever they bring in, and then they burp, or they recite prayers in the tiniest, the most sotto of voces. Never speech.

I whispered back, "Oh no, I'm visiting." I had the presence of mind not to say "just" visiting, because that word just, in that usage, so much suggests tentativeness or inferiority or what you might call half-ness. I didn't entirely dismiss myself, even though startled.

And then I turned back and I thought, well Lord. Really? I'm listening for some understanding that is not me talking to me about what I usually talk about. I'm assuming I will know it because it will likely have to do with a soup kitchen. Or it will be "go promote the cause of my servant, Dorothy Day." And yet I get this plain sensible question. Are you just visiting, or are you a regular adorer?

*"Is Dorothy Day Suitable for Canonization?"Fr. Brandon O'Brien, Crisis Magazine, April 19, 2016.
**"The woman who knew what it took to be a saint," Francis Phillips, Catholic Herald online, July 2, 2018. (The article is about St. Teresa of Avila, not Day.)    

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Road trip! Northbound in June, in southeastern Illinois. Don't mind the dirty windshield. 

Sunday, May 6, 2018

The geometry of spring, and so on

You can't hear the frogs peeping, but they were. 

The march of the trees? 

"Spring beauty," I think. 

This is what they call a "controlled burn." Look closely. 

As evening falls ... did you know Saturn and Mars were keeping company with the gibbous moon at 3:30 in the morning, all this past week? Also Antares. I think. 

The geometry of spring in the neighborhood

Dwarf papyrus ...

... can you recreate the mud of the Nile in a watering can in the suburbs?

Thursday, May 3, 2018

I've decided to go for a Mediterranean look

One of the television networks that have sprouted so abundantly in recent years, which show reruns of everything that ever was, has been regularly broadcasting To Catch a Thief. Whoever owns the network must have bought the rights to a lot of Cary Grant films, because it seems you can also tune in to Houseboat a lot. Not as good a movie, but noteworthy for the honest scene in which the young boy listens to the bell attached to a rowboat, where his father (Grant) and Sophia Loren are spending some tender moments. The bell doesn't ring quite rhythmically, but almost. And he is in love with Sophia Loren, too.

Anyway To Catch a Thief, having no such remotely dark moments, is all fun, charm, safe suspense, jewelry, sunshine and the French Riviera before anyone heard of Muslim no-go zones -- let's be honest -- and of course it's all the divinely beautiful Grace Kelly. By the way there is only one false note in Edith Head's costuming of her. That is the silly, unimaginative gold ball gown for the costume party near the movie's climax. It diminishes her looks, which would seem impossible to do. The gown is said to be "covered in gold mesh and fabric birds," which I suppose counts as imaginative, but who can see that on the screen? A long time ago I read a slight barb directed at Edith Head, attesting that, as satisfactorily pretty as her clothes were, she was essentially a pedestrian ("conservative" was the word, but that won't do) designer; further that Givenchy showed her how it's done in the black dress Audrey Hepburn wore as Sabrina. Credit for that little frock, either to Head or to Givenchy, has been a matter of controversy ever since Miss Head accepted the Oscar for Best Costume Design for Sabrina in 1955.

But we weren't going to talk about clothes, but rather about patio decor. I have decided to try for a Mediterranean look on my balcony this summer. Being myself not a gardener exactly but a grower of houseplants (hurrah for no weeding chores), I watch To Catch a Thief now to study the vegetation. Looking in on Netflix's Luxury Travel also helps.

The Mediterranean boasts four types of plants that seem unlikely climatic neighbors, but evidently are so, for there they wave and nod  -- or just bask -- in Grace Kelly's Monte Carlo as in today's millionaires' village retreat, Eze. They are palms, cacti, succulents, and conifers. Except for the palms they create an image of hard, random, sunbaked scrubbiness. Add clay pots, stonework, perhaps iron railings, and you have the beginnings of your Mediterranean look. I cannot add an immense blue sky and sea but I do have a plaster bust of the Emperor Augustus, quite large and handsome. Some trailing bright flowers will of course be appropriate. But one can't just fill a window box with fuschias either, and call it "Mediterranean," as I have seen done on some "how to" websites. It might be anybody's front porch in Illinois. On the other hand, more zealous websites offer more interesting suggestions, which are so authentic and full of stone walls, pools, open-air rooms, and views of, um, the Mediterranean, that their "Step 1" might as well be -- 1.) Go live in the Mediterranean.

My determining on palms, cacti, succulents, and conifers for the summer, not forgetting I own a fig tree also, surely right, means I must face a summer decision about the mostly tropical, lush-leaved philodendrons in my living room which have been waiting to go back outside all this long winter -- it snowed as recently as two weeks ago. And have been getting huger and huger. I cannot fit 1) them, 2) my lounge chair, 3) a small bistro table and chairs, 4) the green bench my dad made, which I rescued from being a ragstand in the basement of the house where I used to live, and which will now be a (Mediterranean?) plant stand, 5) Mediterranean plantings, 6), the fig tree, and 7) Augustus, all on one balcony. The whole feel of To Catch a Thief, of views of Eze, is expansive light and space, dotted with rock and dark green. Big flapping jungle houseplants under a lowering Midwestern sky are not that, plus, when the sky is not lowering but blazing hot, they get sunburned. So do orchids. It's true about them, you know -- when they put up a flower spike, be sure not to hit the buds with your fertilizer mist during the weekly watering. The buds, no matter how near to bloom, will turn pink, shrivel, and fall off. 

Dwarf papyrus in a watering can (shades of ancient Egypt!), some succulents (the Mediterranean!), a brown-red brick wall (suburban Midwest condominium construction, circa 1978! -- well at least in those days it was all brick). Can a masked ball with Cary Grant be very unlikely? 

Saturday, April 28, 2018

"Sono la Vergine della Rivelazione"

Yesterday I came across the pleasant little story of another apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary. I say "another," because of course there have been many, and you may know much more about them all than I do. I have only learned about Lourdes by watching the movie The Song of Bernadette (look for Vincent Price's great supporting role as a skeptical small town official battling a constant cold), and about Guadalupe by watching Bishop Barron's Catholicism series.

Now we have the story of the Virgin of Revelation. She is said to have appeared to an angry man in Rome on a sunny spring day in 1947, just when he had been studying his Bible in preparation for a speech he wanted to give debunking her. He was an ex-Catholic who had become a Seventh Day Adventist (I know! In Italy?); his talk to his new co-religionists was planned for that afternoon.

On that sunny spring day the man, who had brought his three children with him to enjoy the park, looked up from his absorptions to notice they had gone. In a few minutes he heard their voices in a nearby grotto (I know! Rome is very old and is built on hills near the sea. Who knows what caves and arches and ruins and stonework must lie everywhere to hand? I guess there are also grottoes). The two boys and girl were all kneeling, gazing at something in the little cave, and repeating happily "Beautiful lady, beautiful lady."

At first the man saw nothing unusual but then came a light and everything seemed to recede. He saw a beautiful woman, black-haired, barefoot, dressed in a white robe with a pink sash and a green mantle, that is a long head-veil reaching to the ground. She clasped a gray Bible to her breast and stood on a black cloth, upon which lay broken fragments of a crucifix.

She said "I am the Virgin of Revelation," which flows more musically in Italian -- Sono la Vergine della Rivelazione is carved in the stone archway at the entrance to the grotto. Or at least it is in the old photo of the man, Bruno Cornacchiola, circa 1947, evidently re-converted and testifying to the small crowd there before him. He had been studying that last book of the Bible, Revelation, in order to debunk her in the park that day.

She continued, in what can only seem like a matter-of-fact, Italian mother, eat-your-vegetables tone, "You have been persecuting me. Enough of it now." She instructed him to return to the faith, and to go to the Pope with her own confirmation of the correctness of the dogma of her Assumption, which he, Pius XII, wanted to pronounce, and did pronounce in 1950. "My body could not and did not decay. My Son and the angels took me to heaven." Lastly she requested to have a chapel built at the grotto. 

The tale goes on, to give us the informal papal approval of the apparition, then the building of a chapel and the two "Miracles of the Sun" that occurred there before thousands-strong groups of witnesses, one in 1980(!). We learn of the order of nuns, the Sisters of Divine Revelation, who take their charism from it all and wear green habits in imitation of the Lady's mantle as they pursue their mission of outreach to "this confused generation". The place was named, by St. John Paul II, "St. Mary of the Third Millennium at Tre Fontane [the Three Fountains]." The Tre Fontane refers to a Trappist abbey of that name already present nearby. It is all closeby, in turn, to the site of the beheading of St. Paul two thousand years ago. (Did we mention Rome is old? I know!)

I must admit what first attracted me about this story was the Lady's fashion sense. She is so often shown or imagined in regal lapis blue and blood red. I like the idea of white, green, and pink. It seems so fresh. Do you suppose the day will ever come when the Lady appears to someone in jeans and a top? It seems too irreverent to bear. But on the tilma of Guadalupe does she not wear the garb of a 16th century Aztec woman, complete with the red sash of pregnancy?

As with Guadalupe, and Lourdes, so at Tre Fontane: the Virgin appears in the most desolate places of poverty and even actual filth. The hill of Tepeyac in 1531 -- well, we won't call it essentially the middle of nowhere, but it was a rugged tropical colonial outpost at best, surely. We know from The Song of Bernadette that the grotto of Massabielle was a dump in which to burn hospital waste. Tre Fontane in 1947 served, weirdly, as both a trysting place and a dumping ground for the remains of aborted children. The Lady is no hothouse flower.

It will seem a little twee (wonderful word) but I like to imagine, say if I were writing a story in which the Lady appeared in jeans and a top to a modern person, what that modern person would ask. The only correct question of course is 'what do you wish me to do?' but I think the modern person would think of himself and his dopey private curiosity first. That may be why the Lady confines herself to humble or even distractedly angry people -- unprepared people, who at the crisis at least have the brains to thrust themselves away and ask fearfully about service. The rest of us, the common half-educated types, clean, safe, proud, twee, might ask: what was it like to give birth, really? What did you eat? Did you ever wear jewelry? Did you like the house in Ephesus, -- after? So you were taken up bodily into heaven. Do you miss the dust of Judea on your feet? Are your hands calloused?

Even if you know you are, thankfully, too twee for apparitions, it would be amusing to think you might get a pleasant and undemanding dream on the topic. Last night I dreamed I had to have a tooth pulled, and it required something like a construction crane outside the building, and a suction mechanism. There was no sense of horror, it all simply was. Perhaps the Lady has a tart wit.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Beware translations

Who knew that you have to be aware of what translation of the Bible you use, not only so as to avoid flaccid modern language, but to avoid resurgent paganism in the twisted and disguised text itself? For example --

In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form and void --

is not the same as

When God set about to create heaven and earth, the world being then a formless waste --  .

Why? Not only in lack of majesty and flow in the second translation. Also because the second translation presents the world already there, for God to develop. He is not the Creator: he is part of a pagan dualism, himself plus matter.

Not my idea at all, but so striking. It's amazing what you find drilling down in the internet, even before breakfast. See R.J. Rushdoony's "Translation and Subversion," Chalcedon online, Jan. 1 2005.  

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Daily prompt?

I had been working (dear things), on a long turgid piece about "committing the enormity" of reading a papal document, Pope Francis' recent Gaudate et Exsultate; and about having joined the Word on Fire 'Community's' Facebook page, where the Papal Exhortation turned out to be their first topic of discussion. It drew -- the Exhortation on the Community's page, not my unfinished turgid writing -- its first share of trolls.

Then again maybe I was one of them. I didn't like the Papal Exhortation much, either. Francis seems to say that people who like Catholic doctrine are "gnostics," unsympathetic mere scholars of rules, cold and judgmental. Now that can't be. I just met a gnostic, and he fits the real definition: one who mulls and purrs over all knowledge as a sort of private mental toy, amusing in the bits of it which have amused the common herd across all time and civilizations. The gnostic is not a mid-1950s angry fossil Catholic yearning for the Baltimore Catechism. 

But time flew. Word on Fire 'Community' moved on to other matters. And after all one must get out of the rut of thinking one's own marvelous reactions to everything are so important. So someday-collectible, even. I hit delete.

It seemed better to clean house, repot a struggling philodendron, and take a pair of binoculars to the slough, and spot some blue-winged teals. "A mallard," my friend said that night, when I showed him a picture in a bird book. I said it was not, it was really a blue-winged teal. I had gotten a good look. "They're all mallards to me," he snorted.

We watched St. Vincent. He enjoyed it so much that in laughing and commenting on every third scene, he invariably missed the dialogue of the fourth. I've learned to laugh along, and then quickly fill him in on what just happened. We had a good time. 

Monday, March 26, 2018

Go to the cast-off book sales

I'm reading a biography of Jacqueline du Pre (Elizabeth Wilson, Jacqueline du Pre: Her Life, Her Music, Her Legend, Arcade, 1999). It stood out, dark, sleek, serious, from the other castoffs on the library's used book sale shelves. The name stirred a vague memory of something tragic, something a long time ago.

I like reading about musicians and music even though I can't play or sing. In truth I can't understand whole paragraphs, nay pages, of this biography. The author, a musician herself, delves enthusiastically into artistic and emotional assessments of technical work. She goes on about fingering, slides, portamenti and coda, but also discusses concerts as if they were painting or cooking. We have the "brushstrokes" of "that tragic, noble resignation on the glissando" or the "warm, nutty tone" of a Stradivarius cello made in 1680. " placing the thumb on the harmonic D and disguising the shift with a bow change, she could articulate the top note with immense clarity and power." One accepts it all kneeling, mystified.

What intrigues also in a biography of a musician is to meet artists who have an intellectual and a creative vocation, who can't pursue it in solitude like a painter, a writer, or I suppose a scientist doing research. Like an actor or a ballerina, the musician can rehearse alone -- but he cannot begin to bring both intellectual and physical work together without the company of other musicians. And yet unlike the actor or dancer, he doesn't require an audience as such. One fellow will do. Jacqueline du Pre, "Jackie," is described often playing happily late into the night with one friend or teacher, or perhaps in a hostess' home for a beloved audience of two. These intimates went away savoring "a never-to-be-forgotten evening listening to the D major Cello Sonatas by Bach and Beethoven." Perfect art, in perfect privacy, with perfect professionalism and perfect companionship -- it is all beautiful and solid and perfect. I like the photo of New Year's Eve in an apartment in New York, 1970. Itzhak Perlman, Artur Rubinstein, and Jacqueline du Pre play trios. Daniel Barenboim turns over [the pages of music as needed]. Champagne coupes sit on nearby little tables.

Another intriguing, and a related thing, that emerges from the biography of a musician is this: musicians deal with great art, but they re-make it as no other artist does. It's like a priesthood, maintaining a supernatural truth. Actors act lines and dancers dance steps, but no painter is permitted to work on a Raphael, or playwright to change a line of Shakespeare. (If those great men had left "scores"" to be re-painted, or rewritten, again and again for centuries, that might be something like music.) Even you or I could badly declaim or clumsily dance. But when musicians bring alive what was in the mind of Bach or Beethoven, they are themselves the necessary partner, operating from another language. We observe. Like the photographer in the New York apartment, we stand outside the priestly circle.

I like this biography in particular because it is so well written and because Jacqueline du Pre herself seems to have been such a joyous and delightful person. Occasionally the author mentions a bit of depression or frustration in her life, and I have not yet reached the tragedy, which was multiple sclerosis at the age of 28. The joy in the book seems to come from three factors which are a pleasure to immerse in. These are, "Jackie" herself, the artist fully happy in her work; the circumstances of her early success, which allowed her to fly busily about, from London to Paris to Berlin to London to Sermoneta -- where are the famed gardens of Ninfa -- and back to London again, making music, studying with masters, playing in the plazas of little Italian towns during summer teaching festivals; and last there is the early 1960s classical music scene in London. Naturally l know absolutely nothing about this, but it enchants. One has an impression of talented, eager young things rushing to and fro in the great city at all hours carrying their cellos, staying for months with friends who live near recording studios, and going into great concert halls to play and be starchily but sympathetically critiqued by very knowledgeable men and women in great newspapers the next day.

One wonders what comes first, talent, a joyous personality, or music? If I buy an inexpensive electronic keyboard and sheet scores simple enough for children, will I too eventually be able to get inside the mind of Mozart? Will I then know what musicians know? (Because I must say I don't care for the sound of the cello. It seems harsh and ugly.) For Jackie the love and knowledge was immediate. She heard a cello on the radio at the age of four and exclaimed "Mommy I want to make that sound." Luckily her mother was a professional pianist, and in time could even pull strings with a fairy godmother able to afford a Stradivarius. Again the almost supernatural, the priestly, shades to music.

Because I came across the name "Shuttleworth" early in the book -- that is Anna Shuttleworth, another cellist, now in her 90s -- I mistakenly thought here was a name from Jaqueline du Pre's parents' generation, maybe a name from the 1920s which my great favorite E.F. Benson, London gadabout, might have picked up and given to his character Olga Bracely. She is the prima donna of the Mapp and Lucia novels, who marries Mr. Shuttleworth and then sighs that she really should start using his name.

It turned out to be coincidence only. One grasps at straws. But Jacqueline du Pre's life and music- making in the 1960s jibe somewhat with the fictional lives and music-making in Benson's books of the 1930s. In both worlds people still entertain themselves. Everybody owns a piano. He too summons his characters for musical evenings, where the hosts play or, on grand occasions, hire famed string quartets down from London. The running joke of the series is that Lucia can always be persuaded to favor her friends with the Moonlight Sonata. Later, when she inherits a townhouse and becomes avant garde, it's "a morsel of Stravinski." She is at once a great snob and an ignoramus; if Benson had been writing in the '60s he would have had her angling to meet the exciting young cellist, only to cluck kindly at the tiny, tiny flaws in her playing.

Finally we consider the miracle of the internet, even as it touches this discarded biography of a great and lovely artist. Elizabeth Wilson is careful to catalogue where she listened to  recordings of Jacqueline du Pre's music, or watched old films of her happy in London (she was famous enough to have documentaries made about her when she was only twenty-two). In 1999 this research amounted to a pilgrimage route that the average reader would not be able to follow. Already "some of her performances were being re-issued on CDs," yes, but for the bulk of it Wilson went to the sources. She visited studios in London or at Danish Radio, or at the New York Philharmonic. A reader at that time would have had to do what we used to do: carefully jot down which album of which concert he hoped to look for in a local music store, then grab his wallet, walk out of his house, and hope for the best. Today we go to YouTube and type in "Jacqueline du Pre" and see a riot of information. We can watch films of her performing the Elgar concerto, conducted by Barenboim. We can watch bits of the very BBC television program broadcast for the first time in 1967. "We did not know what lay ahead," the narrator now says, "but we knew one thing -- Jacqueline du Pre would never be twenty-two again."

If it all sounds a bit sad, well yes it can't help being. But memorial funds, music buildings, and  concerts exist in her name. And as the biographer says, none of it can ever replace the voice which lives on in her audio and video recordings.

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, b...