Thursday, November 27, 2014

What Is Man That Thou Art Mindful Of Him? (Thanksgiving Throwback)

Today is Thanksgiving Day here in the United States; it is also Throwback Thursday. It seems a fine time to bring back this post from June 24th of this year (which I composed at the beach, when I wasn't snapping selfies of my feet), a reflection on God's Providential Love for us.  Of all the things for which we can be thankful, God's gift of His very Self is by far the greatest.

            When I look at the Heavens, the work of thy fingers,
            The work moon and the stars which thou hast established;
            What is man that thou art mindful of him,
            And the son of man that thou dost care for him?
            Yet thou hast made him little less than God,
            And dost crown him with glory and honor.  (Psalm 8:3-5)

The author's feet, Pine Point Beach, Maine, June 2014

Yesterday morning at the beach with my family, enjoying some beautiful early summer weather, I was reminded of a hymn we sing at Mass sometimes: “There is a wideness in God’s mercy, like the wideness of the sea.”  Standing on the edge of the ocean we can find its vastness overwhelming: we can feel very, very small in comparison.  Sometimes when we look up at the heavens and think about the immensity of the universe , we can almost feel physically overwhelmed by it, as Edna St. Vincent Millay describes it in her poem “Renaissance”:

            So here upon my back I’ll lie
            And look my fill into the sky.
            And so I looked, and, after all,
            The sky was not so very tall.
            The sky, I said, must somewhere stop,
            And – sure enough! – I see the top!
            The sky I thought, is not so grand;
            I ‘most could touch it with my hand!
            And reaching up my hand to try,
            I screamed to feel it touch the sky.
            I screamed and – lo! – Infinity
            Came down and settled over me;
            Forced back my scream into my chest,
            Bent back my arm upon my breast . . .

     How much more humbling than the vastness of creation is the infinite God who created it?  How can we not feel absolutely insignificant by comparison?  As I’ve said before, it’s not so much the existence of a creator-God that is so difficult for us to believe, it is that such a God could possibly even notice something as small as ourselves, much less love us.
The view out my back door, Thanksgiving morning 2014.
     That’s part of the wonder of the Incarnation, which we just celebrated this past Sunday in the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ.  “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son” (John 3:16): God put himself on our level (to the degree that he can), he gave us a human face to gaze on, and in taking on human form sanctified humanity.  “If God is for us,” Saint Paul asks, “who is against us?” (Romans 8:31)  It is Christ Incarnate that allows us to feel the boundless immensity of creation not as an infinite indifference swallowing us up without a second thought, but the embrace of infinite Love, because by lowering himself to become man, and by suffering and dying for us, Jesus showed us in the flesh that, truly, “God is Love”(1John 4:8). Let us thank The Lord.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014


A Happy Thanksgiving and God's Blessing to all.  This is the scene at Principium et Finis World Headquarters today, the Eve of Thanksgiving, November 26th 2014:

I guess I should have taken in the Tiki Torches:

Abortion Myth # 10

MYTH: “Abortion doesn’t kill a child, it just terminates a pregnancy; after all, the unborn isn’t a human being, it’s just a clump of cells.”

TRUTH: The unborn is, by any objective measure, a human being from the moment of fertilization.

First, a “being”, that is, a living entity:

- Jerome LeJeune, the professor of genetics who discovered the chromosome pattern of Down Syndrome, was simply expressing the nearly unanimous scientific consensus when he said “After fertilization has taken place a new human being has come into being.”

-When the U.S. Senate judiciary committee invited pro-abortionists to present experts to testify about when life begins, they were unable to produce even one expert witness to specifically state that life begins at any point other than conception or implantation (from Pro-life Answers to Pro-Choice Arguments).

Not only is the unborn indisputably alive, he or she is incontestably a human:

-The living entity in the womb has human DNA; were a lab to test a DNA sample, it would be indistinguishable from that of a newborn, a twelve year old or a sixty year old.

-From the first moment of fertilization, the entire genetic blueprint for a unique individual is already present; the child’s sex, hair and eye color, height  and skin tone are already determined.

-Before the earliest surgical abortions the unborn child already has every body part and organ he or she will ever have (females already have all their own eggs in their ovaries).

The unborn child is not a part of the mother’s body: no part of the mother’s body has different DNA or blood type, or its own heart lungs or liver.

The unborn child is simply a human being at a particular stage of development, as is toddler, an adolescent, or an adult.  The only objective, verifiable scientific conclusion is that human beings begin their lives at conception.


Watch an amazing 3D ultrasound video of an unborn child at 14 weeks after conception posted by Dr. Rafael Ortega Munoz:

Essential Pro-Life Resources:

Pro-Life Answers to Pro-Choice Arguments (link)  

The Elliot Institute (link)  

National Right To Life Committee (link)  

Care-Net (link)

The Nurturing Network (link)

Links to entire Abortion Myths Series:

Abortion Myth # 1 [link

Abortion Myth # 2 [link] 

Abortion Myth # 3 [link]

Abortion Myth # 4 [link

Abortion Myth # 5 [link

Abortion Myth # 6 [link

Abortion Myth # 7 [link

Abortion Myth # 8 [link

Abortion Myth # 9 [link

Abortion Myth # 10 [link

Abortion Myth # 11 [link

Abortion Myth # 12[link

Abortion Myth # 13 [link

Abortion Myth # 14 [link

Abortion Myth # 15 [link

Abortion Myth # 16 [link]

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

St.Catherine of Alexandria, Patroness of Modern Women

St. Catherine of Alexandria
      Today is the Optional Memorial for a very intriguing Saint, Saint Catherine of Alexandria.  There was a time when she was considered one of the Great Saints, but we hear of her much less today . . .  about which, more below, but first let’s take a look at her story.
     For a full account, see here.  I’ll provide a brief sketch. Saint Catherine, we are told, was a beautiful princess born of pagan parents.  She was possessed of a superior intellect, and applied her talents in the study of the sciences and philosophy.  When she became a Christian, she betrothed herself to Christ in a Mystical Marriage, and used her formidable intellectual prowess in defense of His Church.  In this way she came to the attention of the Emperor Maxentius, who enlisted a small army of philosophers to refute Catherine’s arguments.  Not only did they fail, but some of them were converted by her.  The enraged emperor ordered the young woman to be imprisoned and tortured, in the midst of which she gained even more converts, including the emperor’s own wife.  After executing his wife (along with all the other converts) Maxentius tried to win over Catherine with an offer of marriage.  After she refused (already being married to the King of Kings), she was condemned to be tortured to death on a spiked wheel.  When this implement of torment was destroyed by the mere touch of the Saint, the emperor finally ordered Catherine beheaded.  He body was brought by angels to the monastery on Mt. Sinai that now bears her name.
     For a long time St. Catherine was one of the most well-known and honored Saints.  The story of her martyrdom was widely told, and she was popular as the patroness of single women; she was also one of the Saints who spoke to St. Joan of Arc.  Today, however, many Catholics have never heard of her.  Her feast day was removed from the Liturgical Calendar in 1969, although it has returned more recently as an Optional Memorial.
     There are no doubt a number of reasons for St. Catherine of Alexandria’s loss of prominence, but one of the more important (possibly the most important) is the fact that there is no historical record of her life until several centuries after the fact.  While we can’t deny, of course,  that some pious traditions and stories are clearly fantastic, to conclude that we must therefore reject anything handed down by our predecessors in the Faith that falls short of the sort of documentary evidence required by modern historiography is to concede too much to a materialistic worldview.  There is certainly no evidence that that St. Catherine is a fabrication, and in doubtful matters I’ll throw my support to Christian tradition.
     St. Catherine’s lower profile is also unfortunate because she has so much to say to women in our world today.  She is the embodiment of the sort of “Christian Feminism” that St. John Paul II described in his Apostolic letter Mulieris Dignatem [here] and in other places: while she is able to equal accomplished men, she does not seek to supplant them, and she does not lose sight of her essential femininity.  Notice that she finds her fulfillment in her spousal relationship with Christ, and her miraculous deeds are a result of her absolute trust in Him.  Her later namesake Catherine of Siena [here], who was a diplomat and advisor to Popes, was also known for her Mystical Marriage to Christ, and was like her in that even when she went toe-to-toe with men on their turf, she didn’t try to be one of them.   
St. Joan of Arc
     I find the connection to St. Joan of Arc [here] instructive here as well.  I don’t see St. Joan as a precursor of modern feminism, as she is sometimes depicted.  She is really much more like the Old Testament Judge Deborah.  In Chapter 4 of the Book of Judges Deborah takes the reins of the army unwillingly, only after her general Barak tells her that he won’t lead their troops against their enemy Sisera without her.  “I will surely go with you”, she replies, “nevertheless, the road on which you are going will not lead to your glory, for the Lord will sell Sisera into the hand of a woman” (Judges 4:9).  As a result, not only does Deborah receive credit for the victory that should have been Barak’s, but Sisera himself dies at the hand of another woman, Jael, who drives a tent peg through his head as he sleeps.  Likewise, when Joan of Arc takes up the sword, it is not to assert that women should behave just like men; it is a rebuke to the men who have been failing to do that which they have been called to do.
     There’s a lesson here.  Today’s radical feminism is to a large degree an overreaction to a genuine failure to show due respect women and their appropriate role, but feminism has taken a cure that is worse than the original ailment: it denies the essential nature of women by attacking their maternal and nurturing mission.  At the same time, a major result of so-called sexual revolution has been to reduce woman to a mere object of desire.   As a consequence, women are, in important ways, less respected than ever.  St. Catherine of Alexandria has a lot to say to such a world.  She puts her trust completely in Jesus Christ, and so she trusts in the gifts he has given her, including her femininity. Therefore, she can be as strong as any man, without surrendering her womanhood.  She is not deterred by threats, seduced by bribes, and can’t be broken by the worst this world has to offer, because the Lord is her spouse.  She commands the respect of men, and invites the emulation of women.  What more could we ask of a Great Saint?


Monday, November 24, 2014

Salieri: Requiem in C minor - Sanctus & Benedictus

     While we're on the topic of neglected composers, how about poor Antonio Salieri?  Had he not been cruelly libeled by Peter Shaffer in the play & film Amadeus,  it is quite possible that his music would not be performed at all (incidentally, Shaffer did no favors to the memory of Mozart either, who was the purported protagonist of his story).  The truth is that although Mozart had some suspicions about Salieri when he first arrived in Vienna, the two eventually developed a friendly and respectful professional relationship.  Salieri, in fact, responded very favorably to Mozart's opera The Magic Flute, and in his final letter Mozart mentions taking Salieri to a musical performance in his own carriage.  Needless to say, Salieri did not murder Mozart (nor anyone else that we know of).
     The lovely piece below is the "Sanctus & Benedictus" from Salieri's Requiem Mass, one of his four Masses.  It is, I think, a good example of why he was considered one of the finest composers of his day.

Antonio Salieri

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Sunday Snippets - A Catholic Carnival (Feast of Christ The King 2014)

    Happy Feast of Christ the King!  Welcome one and all to “Sunday Snippets (A Catholic Carnival)”, a bubbling brew of bloggers in the Catholic tradition . . .no, better yet, Catholic Bloggers who gather (in the virtual sense of the word) on the Lord’s Day to share their posts from the week and enjoy the air of bonhomie to be found at This That and the Other Thing under the indulgent eye of our gracious hostess RAnn (main site right here). 
     Today is the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, a feast which, interestingly, has only been on the Liturgical Calendar since 1925 (and in its current place only since 1970).  Pope Pius XI added the feast in order to counter growing nationalist movements in Europe and elsewhere, and to remind Catholics that their Lord and Savior is Jesus Christ, not the Volk, and certainly not whatever Duce happened to have grabbed the reins of power at a given time. 
     While the totalitarian states of the twentieth century have almost all gone through the entire cycle of rise, decline, and fall, and now reside in what one of their authors so eloquently termed “the dustbin of history”, the totalitarian impulse and the idolatry of the state continues, albeit in a rather less homicidal form.  All of us, however, even those who have consciously sworn off looking for messiahs in politics or government, fall into idolatry from time to time: how often have I pinned my dearest hopes on some passing thing, such as a new job, the next tax return, or even some ridiculous new gadget to add to my collection of equally ridiculous gadgets? If I’m not careful (and, honestly, sometimes I’m not), I can find these seemingly innocuous little idols setting themselves up on the Throne reserved for Jesus alone.  Only Christ is the King of the Universe, only Christ is the Lord of men, only Christ is master of our hearts: Inquietum est cor meum, donec in te requiescat, “my heart is restless until it rests in you”.  Today’s Feast is a timely and needed reminder.

This Week's Snippets:

I’ve been woefully remiss - I’ve only once in the past year posted anything by Palestrina . . . until now: “Kyrie: Missa Papae Marcelli – Palestrina / Tallis Scholars 1980 [link

This is one of those things where a few random thoughts wandering through my brain surprise me by combining in a way that sort of makes sense.  A Throwback from Easter of this year: “Steyn, Spong, Kempton and The Passion of the Christ” [link

In this one I become the 3,987, 654, 033rd person to abuse the term “perfect storm”, while bemoaning the state of the culture, the Church, and whatever else is bugging me.  I also toss a little Latin around, just to be pedantic.  What, you don’t like it? Hey, “Don’t Be So Judgmental!” [link

Friday, November 21, 2014

Don't Be So Judgmental!

Athanasius Against the World 

St. Athansius of Alexandria
     I hate to use the now overworked term “perfect storm”, but the past few weeks I have felt like all the weather in the world was pouring down on me.  I’ll share just a couple of the highlights, or lowlights.  There was the recent Sunday when I found myself (not me personally, but me and people like me) berated from the pulpit for having the temerity to expect Catholic clergy to speak out in support of the Church’s moral teaching on issues such as abortion, marriage, serial adultery, etc.  We were told we should be more like the Pope, and welcome everyone with a wink and nod and just stick to talking about Jesus (too bad Pope Francis didn’t get the memo: see here).  Then there was a recent Friday afternoon, when I found myself trying to explain the Church’s teaching on human sexuality to a classroom full of fourteen-year-olds, to whom the idea that one need not indulge any and every sexual desire seemed novel and inexplicably bizarre.  I began to feel a little bit like Athanasius contra mundum.  Shouldn’t these kids have heard this somewhere before, or from someone, anyone, beyond their 9th grade religion teacher?  Even students from church-going families seemed unfamiliar with any perspective other than the self-righteous libertinism of the popular culture, and not just in this particular group: I’ve been seeing it more and more over the years.

The Good Professor Says His Piece

     Interestingly, when I arrived home that same day my lovely bride had an article by Anthony Esolen (“Who Will Rescue the Lost Sheep of the Lonely Revolution?” here) that she had just read, and that she was eager to share with me.  Apparently, Professor Esolen is also getting rather frustrated with trying to reach students who have grown up immersed in the grim propaganda of the sexual revolution, often without even knowing that there was another (more excellent) way, or those who have heard the Truth, but see no examples of anyone celebrating it or living it out.  He makes an impassioned plea to all the adults out here, including, emphatically, those with teaching authority in the Church, to “man up”, as it were (my term, not his), and speak boldly for the sake our young people who are being left to wither on the vine:

Let me speak up for the young people who see the beauty of the moral law and the teachings of the Church, and who are blessed with noble aspirations, but who are given no help, none, from their listless parents, their listless churches, their crude and cynical classmates, their corrupted schools. These youths and maidens in a healthier time would be youths and maidens indeed, and when they married they would become the heart of any parish. Do we expect heroic sanctity from them? Their very friendliness will work against them. They will fall. Do you care? Many of these will eventually “shack up,” and some will leave dead children in the wake of their friendliness. Where are you? You say that they should not kill the children they have begotten, and you are right about that. So why are you shrugging and turning aside from the very habits that bring children into the world outside of the haven of marriage?

The Self-Help Guy Agrees

Esolen makes a number of important points, particularly that our culture is toxic, that its moral corruption has very real material consequences, and, most damning, that we have largely abandoned our young people to it.  Some years ago the late self-help author Stephen Covey pointed out (in only somewhat less emotional language) that raising morally sound and emotionally healthy children has become much more difficult in our current environment: 

In the past, it was easier to successfully raise a family ‘out-side-in’ because society was an ally, a resource.  People were surrounded by role models, examples, media reinforcement, and family-friendly laws and support systems that sustained marriage and helped create strong families. Even when there were problems within the family, there was still this powerful reinforcement of the whole idea of successful marriage and family life . . .  
(Stephen Covey, The7 Habits of Highly Effective Families, p. 15)

That is no longer the case. In fact, society now actively subverts parents’ efforts to raise their children: it is, as Covey puts it, “family-fatal”. He marshalls an impressive array of statistics (he cites sources for all of these in his book) to support his assertion:  

-          Illegitimate birth rates have increased more than 400 percent.

-          The percentage of families headed by a single parent has more than tripled.

-          The divorce rate has more than doubled. Many project that about half of all new marriages will end in divorce.

-          Teenage suicide has increased almost 300 percent.

-          Scholastic Aptitude Test scores among all students have dropped 73 points.

-          The number one health problem for American women today is domestic violence,  Four million women are beaten each year by their partners.

-          One fourth of all adolescents contract a sexually transmitted disease before they graduate from high school.

Since 1940 the top disciplinary problems in public schools have changed from chewing gum and running in the halls to teen pregnancy, rape, and assault.
(Stephen Covey, The7 Habits of Highly Effective Families, p. 16)

     Covey’s book was published in 1997; I guarantee that these statistics have not changed for the better in the intervening 17 years.  And these are only some of the more obvious bad consequences of what Esolen calls the “Lonely Revolution”. 

Who Needs Those Goofy Rules Anyway?

     If you’d like something more recent, here’s an item from last week, an article [here] from the Catholic News Agency called “Agree to Disagree: Why Young Catholics Pose a Unique Challenge For the Church.”  It seems that a recent study commissioned by the U.S. bishops has found that young Catholics, even those who consider themselves devout, feel free to ignore “’goofy’ rules” that they don’t like:

If any Church teachings conflict with their own perceptions, young people simply “tune out” the teachings. 
“They agree to disagree with the Church,” [Archbishop Thomas 
Wenski] said. 
Furthermore, young Catholics are sensitive to language that could imply judgment. “For them, language like ‘hate the sin love the sinner’ means ‘hate the sinner’,” Archbishop Wenski said.

     The last sentence gives the game away, even if the article does not explicitly say which particular “goofy” rules are at issue: the conflation of the sin with the sinner, in conjunction with the damning charge of “judgmentalism”, is the preferred tactic of the storm troopers of the Sexual Revolution, and thus they often lead good Christians into error (see here, for instance).  The Church, on the other hand, has always been guided by “hate the sin, love the sinner” and the old legal maxim Qui bene distinguit, bene docet, “he who distinguishes well, teaches well.”  Notice that docet comes from the same root as doctrine: doctrine is the sacred teaching of the Church.  If those responsible for teaching doctrine don’t teach, then those under their tutelage will be left to the teaching of the World, which, as we have seen, non distinguit. Is it any wonder, then, that our young people also non distinguunt? The Church is supposed to be a Sign of Contradiction (Luke 2:34), but if all she offers is a Nod and a Wink, then how is any distinction possible between her teaching and what the Conventional Wisdom has on offer?  Do we not then give tacit assent?

     Where's That in The Bible?
The Prophet Ezekial

     The underlying problem is not a new one.  Let’s go back a little into the past, to the Book of the Prophet Ezekial:

If I say to the wicked, 'You shall surely die,' and you give him no warning, nor speak to warn the wicked from his wicked way, in order to save his life, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood I will require at your hand. But if you warn the wicked, and he does not turn from his wickedness, or from his wicked way, he shall die in his iniquity; but you will have saved your life.  (Ezekial 3:18-19)

All of us baptized Christians have a prophetic office, and the warning addressed to Ezekial above applies to all of us, as the Letter of James tells us:

My brethren, if any one among you wanders from the truth and some one brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins. (James 5:19-20)

When it comes to guiding the young, our Lord himself puts the matter even more starkly:

Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better to have a great millstone fastened round his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea. (Matthew 18:6)

Avoiding unpleasant Truths, it seems, is not an option. 

Go And Sin No More

     To return to the homilist with whom I became this little excursus, he’s correct that we need to model the love of Jesus, but we do that when speak the Truth in love (Ephesians 4:15).  When we distinguish between the sin and the sinner, we can show that we hate the sin because of our concern for the sinner.  I recently tuned in to a Catholic radio station just in time to hear a host ending his show by saying: “The worst thing you can do for somebody is to allow him to wallow in sin.”  That’s exactly right: it is more loving to warn a person about sin, with all its painful consequences, than to leave them ignorant of something that’s destroying them.  And if we’re going to talk about Jesus, should we not mention that he suffered and died for the express purpose of saving us from sin?
     I’m not saying we should be mean, or accusatory, or call people names.  We do, however,  need to recognize, as Anthony Esolen points out, that the currently popular sexual sins are not simply harmless “peccadilloes”: they destroy families and ruin people’s lives, and put people in danger of being lost forever.  Jesus saved the woman caught in adultery from stoning, but he also told her: “Go and sin no more” (John 8:11).  We all, and particularly those of us appointed as teachers, should be prepared to say the same.


Thursday, November 20, 2014

Steyn, Spong, Kempton and The Passion of the Christ

This Throwback exploring the theme of personal integrity was first published on April 22nd of this year.

Sometimes there is a certain event that perfectly crystalizes important social trends: such was Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ. We may forget ten years later the magnitude of the film’s impact.  Last week Mark Steyn marked its ten year anniversary with an updated review [here].  While I disagree with some of his points (more on this below), Steyn does a good job of capturing the movie’s significance, while at the same time recognizing some of its artistic weaknesses.  His most incisive observation is that the controversy sparked by the movie was “not between Christians and Jews, but between believing Christians and the broader post-Christian culture, a term that covers a large swathe of the media to your average Anglican vicar.”  There’s a lot packed in to that brief quote, including a recognition of the sad reality that a very large part of that “post-Christian culture” is made up of people who claim to be (and very often think that they are) “believing Christians”.  Among protestants the two groups break down to some degree along denominational lines, although even the most “progressive” churches have some members who adhere to a more traditional Christian belief and practice; in the Catholic church we’re all thrown in together, which keeps things lively.
     One of those devout, traditional Christians in a denomination that was much less so was the late left-wing journalist and commentator Murray Kempton, who was an Episcopalian.  I remember reading one of his columns at least a decade before The Passion came out in which he was comparing Catholic Cardinal O’Connor, then Archbishop of New York, to Episcopalian bishop John Shelby Spong of Newark, New Jersey.  As I recall, Kempton had less than kind words for co-religionist Spong, who had made himself a darling of the cultural elite by publicly doubting the Resurrection and dismissing orthodox Christian morality, and lavished high praise on the Catholic Cardinal, with whom he doubtless disagreed on many points, but whose determination to teach without apology the faith as received from the Apostles was undeniable.  I don’t recall the columnist’s exact words from a distance of more than twenty years, but I have retained a very clear recollection of his assertion that a man who could not affirm the most essential Christian doctrine had no business being a bishop.  To Kempton, it was a matter of integrity: you should be what you are.
     Murray Kempton and Cardinal O’Connor are no longer with us, but John Shelby Spong, it seems, lives on.  The now-retired Episcopal bishop was a major focus in an article published in the Washington Post on Holy Saturday which assures us that “The Gospel Story Of Jesus’ Resurrection Is A Source Of Deep Rifts In The Christian Religion”.  You may wonder exactly what “Christian Religion” they’re talking about.  After all, belief in the Resurrection is, and always has been, the absolute minimum requirement for being a Christian. St. Paul says that if Christ didn’t rise from the dead we are the most pitiful of men (1 Cor. 15:19) – and he never even met Bishop Spong. The Resurrection marks the rift between Christians and everyone else: on one side you are a Christian, on the other you’re not. In any case, Easter has become an annual occasion for the secular press to celebrate self-proclaimed Christians who deny the divinity of Christ, or the latest hyped-up claim that such-and-such archaeological discovery “proves” that Jesus had brothers, children, wives, etc. Why should they care?  Because the Church and believing Christians are all that stand between them and the “progressive” program of re-making the world in the image of whatever appeals to them at the time.
Mel Gibson's Satan: he, she, who knows?
     Which brings me back to Steyn’s review of The Passion of the Christ. One of his criticisms  with which I disagree is his take on Gibson’s Satan.  Steyn dismisses him (Her? It?) as “a cross between Nosferatu and Jessica Lange in All That Jazz”.  I don’t actually disagree with that description, but where Steyn sees it as a misstep, I found the creepy androgyny of Evil One to be a particularly astute touch, especially for a 21st century audience.  Non Serviam! “I will not serve!” is the essence of Satan; Lucifer’s refusal to be what God made him to be lies at the heart of his fall.  His refusal to be either male or female is a brilliant counterpoint to the creation story in Genesis: “Male and female he created them (Genesis 5:2)”, and of course an apt reflection of the refusal by so many in our world today to accept this basic truth about human nature, not just in our sexual relationships but even in our very bodies [see here]. Which, in turn, brings us back to  Integrity, which is, after all, is about much more than telling the truth: it is about being a fully integrated whole, about truly being who you are.
     This is where Steyn, Spong, Kempton and The Passion of the Christ all come together.  While The Passion was a big hit among the believing crowd, there are nevertheless any number of reasons why a devout Christian might not like the film.  Its effect, however, has been to cast a bright light on the growing divide between enduring Christian belief and the Spirit of an Age that more and more is succumbing to what Cardinal Ratzinger, just before he became Pope Benedict XVI, called “the dictatorship of relativism”, an age in which integrity has been conquered by ideology. The late, great Richard John Neuhaus used to say that “When orthodoxy becomes optional, sooner or later it will be proscribed.”  In the decade since the release of The Passion of the Christ, the wisdom of those words has become ever clearer.  I have previously cited St. Ignatius [here] to the effect that there are two armies facing each other, Christ’s and Satan’s, and there’s no middle ground. Eventually, we all have to be who we truly are, and choose our Master, our Commander: which one will it be, Christ or Satan?


Monday, November 17, 2014

'Kyrie': Missa Papae Marcelli - Palestrina / Tallis Scholars 1980

It occurs to me that I have only once posted any music by Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina, one of the great masters of sacred polyphony.  Tonight I'm making a start toward rectifying that omission with the "Kyrie" from his Missa Papae Marcelli.
     Music has developed and grown in the more than four centuries since Palestrina's time in wonderful ways, and there have been composers of outstanding genius, but nothing, if I may offer my personal opinion, has surpassed the sheer beauty of the best sacred polyphony. The video of this rendition by the Tallis Scholars complements Palestrina's beautiful music with beautiful views of religious sites in Southern France.  Enjoy.

Friday, November 14, 2014

A "Cool" Homeschooling Project

Our backyard in winter - not the ideal gardening environment
     Our faith calls us to live our lives by standards different than those of the secular world: “’My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways,’ declares the Lord” (Isaiah 55:8).  God’s ways and the World’s ways seem further apart than ever.  As society at large becomes ever less Christian, it becomes correspondingly more hostile to the practice and the values of the faith, a hostility which is intensified in the public school system, which tends to be dominated by leftist and materialist ideologies.  To put young children there, at an age when character, values, and worldview are still being formed, seems too much like exposing tender plants to rigors of cold weather too soon.  State schools are simply too firmly committed to forming their students in the Ways of the World.

Marigolds protected in the unheated greenhouse
     Catholic schools are a much better option, of course, and a Godsend to countless Catholic families and others looking for a saner, healthier educational environment for their children.  Even here, however, the influence of the secular world can often have a more powerful effect than we would like, despite the best intentions and efforts of those who run the schools (and as one who has taught in Catholic schools for almost three decades, I know about both the good and the, um,  less good) .  And so a small but growing number of us are choosing (along with many of our separated brethren in other Christian traditions) is to teach our children at home.
     For us, then, the choice to homeschool  has been based mostly on a desire to have more influence over the character development of our children, in the hope that when they do go out on their own they’ll better understand what it means to be “in the world but not of it.”  As it happens, there are also some practical advantages as well.  For one thing, our children have been able to work on long-term projects that would have been impractical or even impossible if they had to schedule them in or around school attendance:
Marigolds from the same bed as those above left outside
several of them have written books and made feature-length movies, one has composed a piano sonata, and they all have participated a couple of times in productions of Shakespearean plays  (organized by a local Baptist Pastor with extensive training in theatre) that were intensely  involved, demanding, and rewarding.
     Their most recent project has been to convert our little front porch into a cold weather greenhouse. This is a whole-family project, but the main movers are my son John and my lovely bride, Linda.  John and Linda have just started a blog , “Little Greenhouse in the Woods” [here], chronicling the progress of the project.  Feel free to stop by to encourage a worthy homeschooling project, and to see how things are growing (God willing) through the Maine winter.