Friday, January 31, 2014

The Marriage of Figaro - Overture

One of the most joyous pieces of music ever created - the Overture to The Marriage of Figaro.  Just felt I needed a lift today . . .

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Relativists & Communists

A couple of interesting items at National Review Online: Victor Davis Hansen on the secular side of what Pope Benedict XVI referred to as the “Dictatorship of Relativism” [link]  As I have argued elsewhere  on this site [link], the mind-set is the same, whether in the Church or out in the World. Also, in a similar vein, John Fund on the passing of  noted  “activist” (i.e., communist) and folk singer Pete Seeger [link].

Mark Steyn also marks Seeger’s passing with his usual elan [link].

Abortion Myth # 2


MYTH: "Abortion is safer than childbirth."

­ - A government funded study in Finland in 1997 found that women were
four times more likely to die in the year following an abortion than in the
year following childbirth.  More recent studies in Canada and California
reached similar conclusions.

­ - Since the 1950’s dozens of studies around the world have shown a significantly greater risk of
breast cancer for women who have had abortions.

- Women who have had abortions are also at greater risk of cervical, ovarian,
and liver cancer.

­ Women who have had abortions are at higher risk of complications in
subsequent pregnancies, including: complications of labor, placenta previa,
ectopic pregnancy and handicapped newborns.

­10% of women undergoing elective abortion will suffer immediate
complications, of which approximately one fifth (2%) are considered life

(figures courtesy of the Elliot Institute,


Next week: Have you heard this one before? "There are few psychological consequences of abortion; most women simply feel relief."

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

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Unusual Weather in Richmond

Following a unanimous vote of my family I'm posting this . . .unusual . . .weather forecast.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

The View From The Left

     I’m working on a post right now about Pope Francis’ much discussed comments on economics from Gaudium Evangelii (I know I’m a little late to the game, but I can’t help but jump in).  It will be ready in a few days, God willing.  In the meanwhile, I ran across a couple of things in James Taranto’s column in Friday's Wall Street Journal Online that dovetail nicely with the some of the themes in the Pope Francis post, so this can serve as a sort of introduction to the upcoming piece.
     Let me start with a caveat: I’m not much interested in writing about Politics per se, but there is an inevitable overflow of secular politics into the cultural and religious issues that I am concerned with.  So also with the terms “liberal” and “conservative”, which refer to secular political categories, and do not properly apply within the Church; unfortunately, I have no better terms handy right now.  Also, there is a real relationship between those who are political liberals and those who take a “liberal” stance in the Church.  In any case, I will be using the terms to refer to broad outlooks, or worldviews, rather than specific policy preferences.
   All right, first item.  We start with Bill de Blasio, newly sworn in mayor of New York and a hard leftist, perhaps even an actual Marxist (he and his wife spent their honeymoon in the paradise known as Castro’s Cuba).  It seems that after a heavy snow earlier in the week the municipal snow plows somehow missed the Upper East Side, one of the wealthier sections of NYC.  There was a suspicion in many quarters that the mayor was playing hardball with “the 1%”.  At first, the mayor and his aides denied that there was anything wrong; after a couple of days, however, the mayor said “I determined more could have been done to serve the Upper East Side,” and he ordered the Department of Sanitation to “double-down on cleanup efforts.”  As Taranto comments, “he can’t afford to alienate the people who make up a large proportion of the city’s tax base and a significant share of its Democratic political base.” Most of the affluent denizens of the Upper East Side, in other words, were fellow liberals who had been his backers.
     Second quote.  Todd Zywicki, in a post on the Volokh Conspiracy, is explaining an experiment conducted by social psychologist Jonathan Haidt.  As part of the experiment, liberals have to answer a series of questions from what they believe to be the conservative position, conservatives must answer the same questions from what they believe to be the liberal position.  The result, as summed up by Zywicki: “moderates and conservatives can understand the liberal worldview and liberals are unable to understand the conservative worldview.”  He quotes a friend to the effect that “Conservatives think liberals are good people with bad ideas, whereas liberals think conservatives are bad people.”
     I considered myself a liberal for many years, and these characterizations ring true with my experience; like many other people I know, after I returned to the Church I found it impossible to maintain my liberal loyalties.  At first, I could no longer justify supporting candidates who favored legal abortion; after that, the spell was broken and I found that so much of the liberal agenda simply did not stand up to the test of faith and reason.  I found that much of the liberal worldview is a myth, and to question any part of the myth threatens the whole structure.  I still remembered what I believed as a liberal, but I could also see where it went wrong.
     In any case, that explains what happened to Bill de Blasio: he really believed that wealthy New Yorkers were the Republican Plutocrats of liberal legend, when in fact they had supported him with their money and their votes.  Obamacare is another prime example: the President and his supporters really seemed to believe that all they had to do was to pass a law saying that everyone would be covered, exclusions for pre-existing conditions eliminated, premiums lowered for everyone and somehow, in spite of the laws of economics and human nature, it would work, simply because their intentions were good.  That’s also why, in order to maintain their myth, liberals need to shut down any voices that might expose it to the light of reality, even trying to make disagreement with their views illegal, as they are doing in the case of “gay marriage” (see also my post on Religious Freedom in Maine).
     As I said at the outset, my purpose is not to discuss secular politics.  I mention all this because a similar mindset prevails among those who style themselves “liberals” in the Church, and comparisons to secular liberalism can cast some light.  There are some important differences however, chief among them being this: secular politics, while ultimately tested against reality (see Obamacare, above), is composed in very large part of differences in opinion, of different interests and perspectives.  And that’s completely legitimate.  Magisterial Church teaching, on the other hand, is not a matter of opinion: it is the Deposit of Faith as handed down by the Apostles, and to reject it is to break communion and no longer be Catholic.  “Liberals” opposed to Church teaching, therefore, don’t simply need to silence their antagonists (although they certainly try to do so when they can), they need to invoke genuine authority to support their position (even when it really doesn't support them), often theologians (including even St. Thomas Aquinas, link) . . .  sometimes even the Pope.  Which is where we’ll pick up the story when I return to this topic. 

Religious Freedom in Maine

   We have just received word that the judiciary committee of our state legislature has recommended defeat for LD 1428  An Act to Protect Religious Freedom.  This is a straightforward measure (text here) that constrains the state government to observe rights enjoyed by all Americans until an adverse Supreme Court decision in 1990.  Since 1993, most of those rights have been restored at the federal level by a statute passed by Congress and signed by President Clinton; this law would apply the same corrective to the state government. Similar measures have already passed in 18 other states.
     We are asking any of you who are Maine residents to contact your state senator (look up here) and urge them to vote in favor of LD 1428  An Act to Protect Religious Freedom.  Those of you who live elsewhere, please pray for us and our state. 
     Here is the text of a message we sent to our state senator, Dick Woodbury: 
Dear Senator Woodbury, 
We are very concerned that the judiciary committee has recommended defeat for LD 1428  An Act to Protect Religious Freedom.  The free exercise of religion is the first of the freedoms guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution, and our strongest bulwark against tyranny (e.g., as in the Declaration of Independence: “We are endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights’).  Protecting the freedoms of those who put you in office is one of the primary duties of legislators, and so we are confident that you will vote in favor of LD 1428  An Act to Protect Religious Freedom.   
Thank you, 
Your constituents, 
James & Linda Milliken


Twenty-two years ago today (also a Saturday, as I recall), in the deepest crisis of my adult life, I had a profound experience of Jesus Christ that turned me around completely: a true Conversion Experience. It transformed my life and, whatever difficulties I've had since, I've never looked back. It was not until weeks later, piecing things together, that I realized it had been the Feast of Conversion of St. Paul.  Thanks be to God, Alleluia, Alleluia!

Friday, January 24, 2014

Hobbit Reflection

A number of you have contacted me about my series of posts on The Hobbit.  You might enjoy reading a series of bi-weekly reflections on the book that Stuart Dunn has begun at Stuart’s Study.  His first installment, on Chapter 1, “An Unexpected Party”, is here; his next is due this coming Wednesday, the 29th.  

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Abortion Myth # 1

     A few years ago (that is, at least twelve) my lovely bride and I put together a list of “Abortion Myths”, that is, arguments used by pro-abortion…er, I mean pro-choice . . . folks to justify their position, along with factual and logical refutations of those arguments.  Most of them were inspired by Randy Alcott’s Pro-Life Answers to Pro-Choice Arguments (link – the most indispensable pro-life book I’ve ever encountered: you need it!), supplemented  with material from the Elliot Institute (link), National Right to Life (link), and other pro-life sources. I made posters of the myths and put them up in my classroom; my wife sent them to the rector of the Cathedral in Portland who had them published, one myth at a time, in the parish bulletin.  A friend who worked in the parish office told us that they received significantly more feedback (overwhelmingly positive) about those than they had for anything else they had ever published.
     I think it’s time to bring back the Abortion Myths, appropriately updated and now with live links!  My plan is to post one every Friday.  So, without further ado:


 MYTH: "Before Roe vs. Wade, 5,000­ - 10,000 women died every year from illegal abortions."

FACTS: Documented maternal deaths were, at the highest, less than a tenth of those figures, in most years far less.

1) "I confess that I knew the figures [5,000­10,000 maternal deaths] were totally false, and I suppose the others did too if they stopped to think of it."
 - Bernard Nathanson, M.D.,co­ founder of pro­abortion group NARAL, in Aborting America, p. 193 (1979)

2) Research shows that the most maternal deaths in a year was 388, in 1948.

­ 3)Antibiotics greatly reduced the death rate before the full legalization of abortion.  In 1972, the year before  Roe vs. Wade, there were 39 maternal deaths.

­ 4)There have been at least at least 400 maternal deaths in the U.S. from legal abortion since Roe vs. Wade.

 ­5) Every year, more than half a million unborn women die from legal abortions in the U.S.

See also:
Pro-Life Answers to Pro-Choice Arguments  


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

Next Week: that hoary old chestnut "Abortion is safer than childbirth"

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

"Hands Around the Capitol" - Mainers for Life

    Today was the 41st anniversary of the notorious Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton decisions.  Here in Maine we mark the Supreme Court fiats (“an exercise of raw judicial power”, as Justice Byron White said) the weekend before with a rally organized by Maine Right to Life called “Hands Around the Capitol.”
     We started the day in prayer, appropriately, at St. Mary’s church in Augusta (as a sad reminder of the
Gov. Paul Lepage
divisions in the body of Christ, our separated brethren attended a different service in a nearby Protestant church).  We then met in the gym next door for a series of speakers and presentations (all 325 chairs were filled, with dozens standing; “almost 200 attended”, according to the local news outlets).  The crowd included old veterans of the pro-life movement, but many high school and college aged participants as well.  A highlight this year was an impassioned address by Governor Paul LePage (see my account here), Maine’s first and only pro-life governor in the post-Roe era.

     Next, the event from which the rally takes its name.  All the assembled marched down Sewall Street carrying red “Stop Abortion” signs, toward the State Capitol.  Two banners led the way, one carried by Knights of Columbus, another by a group of college students.  This year a couple came out of a sandwich shop along the way and applauded.  It was appreciated: not all members of the public we encounter en route are so encouraging.  At the State Capitol, as we formed a ring around the entire building and silently held hands, Fr. Joseph Daniels of the Diocese of Portland rang a replica of the Liberty Bell on the grounds 41 times, once for each year since Roe; pro-life state senator Stacey Guerin place a red rose under the bell each time it tolled.  It was a solemn and moving conclusion, a fitting commemoration to one of the darkest chapters in our nation’s history.
Marchers on their way to the Capitol

Pro-life students at the State House

State Senator Stacey Guerin and Fr. Joseph Daniels

Consider this... Gov. Cuomo: No Room for Pro-Life

Just caught this video (posted on Fr. Z's blog) of our recently departed bishop here in the Diocese of Portland, now bishop of Buffalo, NY, smiting hip and thigh Gov. Andrew "Sonny-boy" Cuomo over his latest "tolerant" (i.e., totalitarian) rant.  Good stuff.  We were sorry to see Bishop Malone leave, but we have high hopes for his successor (please God!), who is to be consecrated in a few weeks.

Where have all the fathers gone . . .

     In our world today one of the largest elephants in the room, if I may further abuse an already overworked metaphor, is the decline of fatherhood.  It is just one of the factors in the implosion of the traditional family, but it’s a - make that the - key one. If you google “the importance of the father” you’ll find 98,600,000 results. That’s 98 plus million. These are not mostly religious or conservative sources: most are related to various universities or government agencies, some are mainstream magazines not known for their cultural conservatism, such as Parenting and Psychology Today. Whatever their perspective they all have the same general message: growing up without a father is bad. Real bad.
     In order to get a sense of the immensity of the problem you can to go to site of one of the organizations set up specifically to address this problem, such as The National Fatherhood Initiative, or They have lists of problem areas, including: poverty, emotional/behavioral problems, maternal & child health, crime & incarceration, sexual activity & teen pregnancy, child abuse, drug & alcohol abuse, childhood obesity, education. Not only do they cite studies and statistics, they have links to collections of studies and statistics for each category, a veritable mountain of information that is researched, published and . . . ignored. The information is there, its import is crystal clear, but nobody who is able to have an impact on public opinion is willing to say or do anything, largely, I suspect, from fear of the wrath of the guardians of the regnant gender ideology. That’s why I was so pleased to hear Maine Governor Paul Lepage address the issue (here) in such a forthright way at a recent public appearance.
It's not easy being the Dad . . .
     Of course, while there are political dimensions to it, this is not primarily a political problem; its sources are social and cultural and therefore, on a deeper level, spiritual and religious. Which means we can’t expect governors, or senators or presidents, to fix it for us: the answers lie in our own attitudes, choices and behaviors.
     The Australian Catholic publication AD2000 (which I cited here also, in a recent post about church architecture) produced a fascinating article (here) a few years ago about a very important aspect of the fatherhood  crisis, especially for us as Catholics, called “Church Attendance: the family, feminism, and the declining role of fatherhood.”   The article focused on a survey done in Switzerland that examined  the relationship between the parents’church attendance and that of their children, and examined the different effects of the father’s religious practice (or lack thereof) and that of the mother. There are a variety of angles and permutations, but the big picture is this:

     .[I]f a father does not go to church, no matter how regular the mother is in her religious  
     practice, only one child in 50 becomes a regular church attender. But if a father attends
     regularly then regardless of the practice of the mother at least one child in three will become a
     regular church attender.

Wow. Notice that this is for all children, by the way, not just boys. AD2000 goes on to quote an
Anglican clergyman named Robbie Low, who says: 

     . . . when a child begins to move into that period of differentiation from home and
     engagement with the world 'out there', he (and she) looks increasingly to the father for
     that role model. Where the father is indifferent, inadequate or just plain absent, that task
     is much harder and the consequences more profound.

This has been shown to be true over and over again, of course, although one must have courage to
say so in "polite" company these days. Vicar Low points out an important way that the decline of
fatherhood has affected his church, one which we Catholics would be wise to consider:

     Emasculated liturgy, gender-free Bibles and a fatherless flock are increasingly on offer.
     In response to this, decline has, unsurprisingly, accelerated. To minister to a fatherless
     society the Church of England, in its unwisdom, has produced its own single-parent
     family parish model in the woman priest.

Wow again. That’s a bulls eye.  We won’t be seeing women priests in the Catholic Church (see John Paul the Great’s Ordinatio Sacerdotalis [here], and the CDF document [here] affirming that the teaching on an the all-male priesthood is infallible). We are already seeing the emasculation of the liturgy, however, in many other ways.  At all but one of the Masses in my parish the majority of lectors and extraordinary ministers are women, in some cases all of them; in all but one Mass, most or all of the altar servers are girls (and if three of my sons didn’t serve, it might be all the Masses). Among the various other things that a priest does, he is an iconic representation of the fatherhood of God. When he is surrounded by women in the sanctuary, that image is diluted. As a more practical matter, the more something is dominated by girls, the less attractive it is to boys. That may be a regrettable reality, but a reality it remains. Over the last dozen years we have seen the male/female ratio among altar servers tip ever further in the female direction. Altar serving has historically been a first step for many men in discerning a vocation to the priesthood, so as fewer boys become servers we can expect fewer “father figures” to preside at Mass and consecrate the body and blood of Christ; also, more generally, the more the Mass is seen as a “girl thing”, the more religious belief and practice themselves will seem to be “unmanly” (lex orandi, lex credendi – “the law of praying is the law of believing”), and the fewer men will bother to show up at all.
     I’m not trying to pick a fight with those of you whose daughters are altar servers, or who serve as lectors at Mass.  I think that it’s a good thing that we’re trying to do more than pay lip service to the truth that women enjoy a dignity equal to that of men, and I appreciate the huge number of single mothers who are struggling, sometimes heroically, to do the best they can for their children.  I’m only asking that you please look at the resources I have linked above and consider that, in a society that is destroying itself because it refuses to acknowledge the difference between women and men, we as Catholics can be a prophetic voice proclaiming and celebrating the separate but complementary roles proper to each sex.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Just one of those things . . .

Okay, this isn't my usual thing, but I can't help but like these guys.  They sound pretty good, aside from some iffy English pronunciations (which are a heck of a lot better than anything I could do in Japanese), and they obviously love what they're doing.  And you can blame Paul Simon for "I'm older than I once was, younger than I'll be - that's not unusual" . . .

Christ is the Center

     Some may wonder at the picture at the top of my page: Where is it from, and what does it represent? 

     Like the name of the blog itself it came about accidently, or maybe I should say fortuitously. Since the name of the blog, Principium et Finis, refers to Christ I thought a picture of Jesus would be appropriate; better yet, a crucifix, since “I decided to know nothing among you but Jesus Christ, and Him crucified” (1 Cor 2:2). As it turns out, I have a nice little wayside crucifix next to my driveway, and my yard looks good  in a Maine-woodsy sort of way, and since it was January there was snow and . . . well, it all came together, and somehow fit.

      How? My sub-heading is: “A Catholic husband and father trying to live the faith in a post-Christian world.” So what does a post-Christian world look like? It’s a world where Christ used to be accepted by everyone as the center of all things (even if not everyone acted like it), but is now pushed to the side, as the crucifix is at the side of the picture. The culture around him has grown cold to his message (snow), and the statue of his First Disciple, the Blessed Mother, knee deep in snow and far from the foot of his cross, is like his followers who feel isolated in an increasingly hostile environment. This is the post-Christian world.

      The unhappy fact that we are truly living in such a world is the theme of many of my posts here, whether I’m looking at poetry that depicts reality as random and pointless (here), or a movie director who seems incapable of understanding the world-view of Catholic author J.R.R. Tolkien (here), or moral relativists who try to draft St. Thomas Aquinas into their crusade to abolish the moral law (here).  My purpose is not to wallow in negativity, but understand the dimensions of the battle that confronts us, which after all is “not against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Eph 6:12). Most of us in the U.S. or Western Europe have never lived in a society run by people whose vision of the universe has been nurtured in a Godless culture. In an essay I wrote for Catholic Exchange a few years ago (here) I pointed out that even militant atheists like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens were raised and formed in a society that was still largely Christian, and use Christian moral arguments against Christianity itself; they still operate within mostly Christian moral boundaries. What will we see from a generation that has known nothing but a world that is random and meaningless? We’ll find out soon enough.
      Of course, even if that’s where we are right now, we know as Christians that better lies ahead, because we have the consolation of Hope (in the theological, not the colloquial sense), and we know that we don’t fight alone: after warning us of the “Powers and Principalities", St. Paul goes on to say: "Therefore take the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand” (Eph 6:13). One way to put on the “armor of God” is to put Christ back at the center, at least in our own lives and families, support others trying to do the same, and spread the Good News where and how we can. I offer Christ-centered alternatives in many of the posts I mention above, and I try to focus on Christ in many of my other posts, such as scripture reflections (here, here), and music clips (here, here) – although sometimes the music is there just because it makes me smile (here).

      So, for now, I start with a picture of the post-Christian world, and we know that individual people, and entire Christian societies, can fall (as have many historic churches in the middle east and North Africa). On the other hand, we are assured by Christian Hope that  Christ will prevail in the end and that we shall see him where he truly is, at the center of all things.