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.   

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 revolut...