Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Liturgy of the Hours: Daytime Prayer Sanctifies Our Labors

     It is fitting, in a way, that this post on Daytime prayer comes so long after my other pieces on the Liturgy of the Hours, because Daytime Prayer (actually the three separate hours of Midmorning Prayer, Terce, Midday Prayer, Sext, and Midafternoon Prayer, None) is the most overlooked part of the Divine Office.  Without it, however, we do not enjoy the fullest experience of the daily Liturgy.
     As I mentioned above, Daytime prayer has traditionally contained three separate prayer hours, whose names come from the old Roman mode of designating time by counting the hours after dawn: Terce at the third hour (tertius is “third” in Latin), approximately 9:00 A.M., Sext at Noon, the sixth hour (in Latin sextus), and None from the Latin nonus, ninth, at that hour of the day (around 3:00 p.m.).   These hours are less prominent than the others in the overall scheme of the Liturgy, and so are considerably shorter: just three relatively short psalmodies (with their antiphons), a brief scripture reading (no more than one or two verses) and a closing prayer.
     Their brevity is appropriate because they fall inside the period of the day when most of us are the busiest with our worldly occupations, and longer prayers are more likely to be omitted altogether.  Not only that, we can pray only one hour on a given day and still not miss any of the psalms in the cycle, because we follow the usual four-week cycle for only one of the three hours; most days we can choose at which of the three hours to pray the cyclical psalmody, and if we also pray one or both of the other two there are designated psalms (called the Complementary Psalmody) that are the same every day.  Even the busiest layperson can normally find time to pray one of these brief hours during the day, and even many of those under obligation to pray the Liturgy of the Hours are not required to pray all three. We should take the ease and flexibility of Daytime Prayer as an indication, not of its insignificance, but of how important it is, since the Church is so concerned that we observe at least part of the Divine Office in the midst of our working day.

     And that is a great part of the value of these prayer hours.  It is possible to pray all the other hours before work in the morning and after were finished in the morning, leaving the greater part of our day, the part that most occupies us mentally and physically, untouched by our sacred project of “sanctifying time”.  The very fact of interrupting the normal flow of things, even briefly, to turn our thoughts to God, and to pray with the sacred scriptures, draws together our fuller prayers in the morning and the evening to cover the whole day.
     We also find an emphasis in the psalms and prayers of Daytime Prayer that helps us to put whatever we do throughout the day into an “eternal” perspective.  We see many images of work, harvest, and, at None, the home life to which we are about to return.  Many of the psalms also emphasize God’s grace, mercy, and involvement in our lives.  For instance, the Complementary Psalmody for Midday Prayer includes Psalm 125, which begins:

            Those who put their trust in the Lord
            Are like Mount Zion, that cannot be shaken,
            That stands forever. . .   

The concluding prayer often directs our attention to the divine perspective on that particular part of our working day.  At the end of Terce on Monday of Week I, for instance, we pray:

            God our Father,
            work is your gift to us,
            a call to reach new heights
            by using our talents for the good of all.
            Guide us as we work and teach us to live
            in the spirit that has made us your sons and daughters,
            in the love that has made us brothers and sisters.

Then at Sext:

            Yours in the harvest
            and Yours is the vineyard:
            You assign the task
            and pay a wage that is just.
            help us to meet this day’s responsibilities,
            and let nothing separate us from your love.

Finally, None’s  prayer begins:

            You call us to worship You
            At the hour when the apostles went to pray in the temple . . .

As the last prayer on Monday connects the hour of the day with that hour in Salvation History, so the prayers for Friday of Week I give us an almost hourly recapitulation of the events of Good Friday.  The pray for Midmorning begins:

            Lord Jesus Christ,
            at this hour you led out
            to die on the cross
            for the salvation of the world . . .  

Then at Midday Prayer:

            Lord Jesus Christ,
            At noon, when darkness covered all the earth,
            You mounted the wood of the cross . . .

And finally, the prater at Midafternoon begins:

            Lord Jesus Christ,
            You brought the repentant thief
            From the suffering of the cross
            To the joy of your kingdom . . .

     No discussion of Daytime prayer would be complete for me if I didn’t mention two of my favorite psalms, 127 and 128, which we find in Midafternoon Complementary Psalmody.  Both help us look at the work day that is nearing completion in the context of God’s abundance and mercy, and remind us that He rewards those who rely upon Him.  Psalm 127  begins with an image of a house under construction to represent our need for God’s help: “If the Lord does not build the house/In vain do its builders labor” ; the last half of the psalm depicts God’s abundant blessings, as represented by our children:

            Truly sons are a gift from the Lord,
            A blessing, the fruit of the womb.
            Indeed the sons of youth
            Are like arrows in the hand of a warrior.

Psalm 128, the final Psalm of Daytime Prayer, beautifully encapsulates the whole day of work by pointing to its end, in which we see the whole chain of love and abundance, in which our “yes” to God’s love for us finds fruitfulness in our work under His care, which is reflected in the fruitfulness of our wife, who is compared to a flourishing vine, and that abundance is in turn passed on to our children and our children’s children.  I can think of no better closing for this essay than to reproduce Psalm 128 in full:

O blessed are those who fear the Lord
and walk in his ways!

By the labor of your hands you shall eat.
You will be happy and prosper;
the wife like a fruitful vine
in the heart of your house;
Your children like shoots of the olive,
around the your table.
Indeed thus shall be blessed
the man who fears the Lord.
May the Lord bless you from Zion
all the days of your life!
May you see your children's children
in a happy Jerusalem!

On Israel, peace!     

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Some Personal Thoughts On Being A Christian Witness In Public Life

Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI
     The proper role for a believing Christian to play in public and political life has always been a complicated question, even more so now with political structures that are both democratic and pluralistic.  We need to apply our personal judgment in determining how to act in specific situations, but those judgments must be informed and guided by the moral law and the teaching of the Church.   One teaching document that has been enormously helpful to me in choosing my course is the Doctrinal Note On Some Questions Regarding The Participation Of Catholics In Political Life [text here], published November 2002 with the authorization of Pope (now Saint) John Paul II, an under the name of Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger , then Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (now Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI).
     The Doctrinal Note, despite its narrow focus (it’s only about eight pages long) is a wonderfully rich yet concise discussion, as one would expect from Joseph Ratzinger.  It’s worth a much fuller treatment than I can give it today (I may address that in the future), but right now I want to look at just a couple of points as a sort of follow-up to my post last week about the Maine State Republican Convention [link].
     First of all, participating in public and political life is a good thing:

It is commendable that in today’s democratic societies, in a climate of true freedom, everyone is made a participant in directing the body politic. Such societies call for new and fuller forms of participation in public life by Christian and non-Christian citizens alike . . . The life of a democracy could not be productive without the active, responsible and generous involvement of everyone, “albeit in a diversity and complementarity of forms, levels, tasks, and responsibilities”. (sec. 1, citations omitted)

As Catholic Christians, however, we have a particular mission to fulfill, a “proper task”:

By fulfilling their civic duties, “guided by a Christian conscience”, in conformity with its values, the lay faithful exercise their proper task of infusing the temporal order with Christian values, all the while respecting the nature and rightful autonomy of that order, and cooperating with other citizens according to their particular competence and responsibility. (sec. 1, citations omitted)

In other words, we need to recognize our mission to be Salt and Light to a world in desperate need of the Truth (see Matthew 5:13), while at the same time respecting the freedom of those who might disagree. 
     The Doctrinal Note goes on to say that such involvement on our part in not only good, but is in fact essential if democratic governance is to survive:

At the same time, the Church teaches that authentic freedom does not exist without the truth. “Truth and freedom either go together hand in hand or together they perish in misery.” In a society in which truth is neither mentioned nor sought, every form of authentic exercise of freedom will be weakened, opening the way to libertine and individualistic distortions and undermining the protection of the good of the human person and of the entire society. (sec. 7, citations omitted)

This last point also indicates the limits of politics and political systems, and actually reminds me of something John Adams once said.  As it happens, my son and I were listening to a recorded version of David McCullough’s excellent biography of Adams while travelling to and from the convention last week.  Adams lived a fascinating life: he was a leader in the movement for American independence, a well-travelled diplomat in 18th century Europe, the first Vice President of the United States under George Washington, and Washington’s successor as President.  He was also a deeply religious man (although not, of course, Catholic) with solid moral convictions who thought seriously and incisively about the nature of government and the proper relationship between the government and the governed (all of which he put into practice as the chief architect of the constitution for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, the world’s oldest written constitution that is still in use).

The eminently quotable John Adams
     He was, in addition to all that, an outspoken man of considerable wit.  One of my favorite Adams quotes comes from his legal defense of the British soldiers on trial for shooting Bostonians in the Boston Massacre.  Said Adams: “Facts are stubborn things.”  More to the point of this essay, in reference to the Constitution of the United States he said: “Our constitution was made only for the government of a moral and religious people.  It is wholly inadequate for the government of any other.”  While Adams believed that a republic is the form of government most suited to the dignity of men, and that the republic established by the U.S. Constitution was the best the world had yet seen, such a system could not succeed if those who were participating in it were more interested in feeding their appetites than in pursuit of the good, the true and the beautiful.  True freedom, both the Church and Adams agree, is only possible for people who know, and who have been formed in, the Truth.
     And that leads us to the limits of politics and government.  Our actions as citizens in a republic are guided by, and in that sense subordinate to, our properly formed consciences; likewise, the policies of the government are subject to a higher moral law.  If our consciences are not properly formed, no law can make us good (I approach this idea from a slightly different angle in my post “Hidden Law: Society And The Church” [link]).  At best, we can hope to encourage good behavior by providing incentives for it, and discourage bad behavior by providing disincentives.  And when you have a large number of people with improperly formed consciences combined with government incentives to bad behavior, you face societal and political break-down. 

      What that means for us is that our first and most important task is to be the best Catholic Christians we can be, before we cast a vote or sign a petition.  To the degree that we create a more Christian society, we make possible a more just government. We should approach direct political action with the understanding that whatever we do politically (and not, certainly, to subordinate our consciences to majority opinion or the party platform), it is guided by, and in service to, the Higher Truth. Government can do many good and essential things: provide for a common defense, nurture a secure environment for civil society to flourish, build and maintain infrastructure, help alleviate the temporary effects of poverty and abuse. As Christians we have to know, however, that only Jesus Christ can bring about the kingdom of God.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Kiri Te Kanawa "Exultate, jubilate" Mozart KV165

Exultate, Jubilate!  Exult, Rejoice!  The Lord risen!  The incomparable Kiri Te Kanawa sings Mozart's magnificent song of joy.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Sunday Snippets - A Catholic Carnival (27 April 2014)

     Alleluia!  Happy Divine Mercy Sunday, eighth day of the Octave of Easter!
     And welcome to Sunday Snippets - A Catholic Carnival wherein various bloggers gather at This That and the Other Thing under the benevolent eye of RAnn to share their posts for the week.  I invite you to visit the main site (here) and see what my fellow Romish bloggers have on offer.
    This Sunday will be an exciting day: the canonization of Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II, two extraordinary pontiffs, and two of the most consequential men of the Twentieth Century.  It will also have an extra significance in our home, because two of our sons will be celebrating their 15th birthday. Their names . . . ?  John and Paul. Is that cool, or what?
     Ah, the week past.  One might say it went from the sublime to the ridiculous: I started Sunday morning at Easter Mass, I ended the week at a political convention.  Appropriately, we had a little bit of everything at Principium et Finis this past week:

Sunday - Easter Sunday! and what could be more joyous than the opening to J.S. Bach's curiously neglected Easter Oratorio [here]

Tuesday - A Mark Steyn retrospective on Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ triggered a sort of free-association essay on integrity, faith, etc.  I do think it all made sense in the end, but judge for yourself: "Steyn, Spong, Kempton and the Passion of the Christ" [here]

Wednesday - I can't tell you how many times I've heard abortion apologists proclaim that pro-lifers just care about "fetuses", and don't care about women, don't do anything to help when babies are born, blah,blah,blah . . . Do they offer any proof? Aw, come on, don't let the facts get in the way of a good abortion myth! "Abortion Myth #11" [here]

Thursday - Ever wonder why St.Paul keeps talking about his handwriting?  Well, I did, and I came up with "St. Paul's Autographs (Throwback Thursday Edition)" [here]

Friday - Here we are at the convention!  This is not meant as an endorsement of a particular political party, but as one installment of an ongoing rumination on the proper role of political action in a Christian life (I'm planning a couple more posts involving the convention, approaching it from different angles) [here]

Is politics beneath us?  Maine State Republican Convention 2014

Friday, April 25, 2014

Politics? Did Someone Mention Politics?

     This morning I’ve driving up to Bangor to attend the Maine State Republican Convention,
which I will be attending with the eldest son, who just turned 18.  We will both be delegates.  You may be thinking, perhaps, that this sounds rather political for someone who claims not to be very interested in politics.  Allow me to explain.

     Some other day I’ll have to write out the full story of my reversion to Faith, and to the Catholic Church; today I’ll limit myself to that part of it that was a conversion from a sort of secular religion that we can call the Church of Progressive Politics.  Now, we Catholics understand that conversion is a life-long process, but there are numerous dramatic fits and starts along the way.  The most dramatic moment for me came on January 25th, 1992 (The Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul), when an experience of the Risen Christ permanently banished my agnosticism and set me on a trajectory that continues to this day.
      It took a rather long time, however, before I fully extricated myself from all my emotional attachments to the Progressivist Faith .  I did know right away that I would have to take a stand against abortion; I even wrote a fan letter to pro-life Democratic governor of Pennsylvania Robert Casey.  Yet, somehow, I still managed to vote for pro-abortion Bill Clinton . . . twice. Later,  I dabbled in Democrats for Life for a while before concluding that it was going nowhere.  The final break came when I realized that even if all the progressive social welfare programs worked as intended, they would still fall far short of the damage caused by other progressive causes that were undermining the traditional family; and of course, once the emotional bond was broken, it became obvious that those social programs fell far short of their promises in any case, and sometimes made things worse.  I changed my voter registration to Independent, twelve years after my return to the faith, and after twenty-four years as a registered Democrat.
     That’s where I expected to stay.  After spending almost a quarter century in thrall to one political party, I wasn’t about to sell my soul to another.  Only three years later, however, I was convinced to join another party.  First of all, there was a strong pro-life candidate running in a Republican primary whom I wanted to support.  Also, some pro-life friends were looking for like-minded people to attend the state Republican convention as delegates to work against the latest attempt to remove the pro-life plank from the party’s platform.  Despite its official pro-life position, many Maine Republicans, including some of its most prominent (do the names Snowe and Collins ring a bell?) are pro-abortion.  I decided that it was important that at least one of the two major parties be publicly committed to the defense of innocent human life, and so I abandoned my unaffiliated status, and a couple months later I was a delegate at the Republican convention (I should point out that the American political parties don’t correlate exactly with political philosophies; while there are today virtually no conservatives in the Democratic party, there are plenty of progressives in the Republican party).  I have attended every convention since, often bringing one or more of my children with me.
     So, have I simply switched my allegiance from one false political god to another?  Not at all.  The god of the Left is a greedy god indeed, who uses politics to swallow up everything he sees.  That’s why leftists try to make everything political, even things like marriage and religion that are properly outside the scope of politics.  Because they subordinate everything to politics, they look to politics and political leaders for “salvation” (hence the messianic nonsense surrounding certain progressive politicians).  To the Left politics is an offensive game, as they try to use it to impose their vision on the rest of world.
     Politics is a largely defensive game for those on the political right, at least in the United States (I can’t speak for other countries).  It’s primary goal is to keep the other side from taking over absolutely everything.  If you think I’m exaggerating, take a look at some current controversies: who is trying to overturn understandings of basic social institutions that have been settled for millennia?  Who is trying to shut up, shout down, intimidate and impoverish anyone who simply disagrees with them? Let me point out again that there are plenty of people on the right who make an idol of their political party or program, but it's not an essential part of the package as it is on the left. And at its best, the American Right follows our Founding Fathers in looking to provide ordinary people with the greatest practicable freedom to order their own lives and the life of their community.
     That’s why I’m still involved in politics.  It’s not that I expect any party, political program, or politician to save the world as I did in my progressive days (I now know that there is only one Savior, and his name isn’t Barack Obama).  I don’t engage in politics to transform the world, but to oppose those who seek to impose an essentially idolatrous and totalitarian vision on everyone and everything.  I believe in rendering unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, but Caesar has no claim on my Church, my marriage, or my soul.


Thursday, April 24, 2014

St.Paul's Autographs (Throwback Thursday Edition)

     If you’re familiar with St. Paul’s letters, you’ve seen a number of them end with some variation of: “I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand” (1 Cor 16:21).  Many people don’t pay much attention to these little passages, as they don’t seem to add to the theological content of the letters; they appear to have served a purpose similar to that of a signature on a modern day letter, a form of authentication.   Most likely, a clerk or scribe wrote out most of the letter from Paul’s dictation, while the Apostle himself put down the closing in his own hand, a sort of “autograph” which would be familiar, we may presume, to the recipients.   Paul makes explicit reference to this authenticating purpose in 2nd Thessalonians: “I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand. This is the mark in every letter of mine; it is the way I write” (2 Thess 3:17).
     As I said, many people just pass over these “signatures”.  I suppose they’re included in the Bible, in large part, simply because they were contained in the letters when the letters were formally added to the Canon of Sacred Scripture.  And yet I’ve always had a special fondness for them.
     As I mentioned in a previous post (here), I had a powerful, life-changing conversion of my own on the feast of the conversion of St. Paul, although I didn’t realize the significance of the date until some time after the fact.  One of the first things I did in the first flush of revert fervor is resolve to read the whole Bible, starting with the New Testament (a good place to start, as it turns out).  I found all sorts of surprises.  I had been raised in a Catholic family (not devout, really, but more or less observant) and sent to Catholic schools, so some of the surprises were things I had seen many times, but now truly understood for the first time.  Those were exciting.  But there were also things I never expected, and at the top of that list is meeting Paul of Tarsus. 

     There were things in Paul’s story with which I could identify: we were both heading in the wrong direction, until an unlooked-for meeting with Christ turned us 180 degrees in the other direction.  But there was something more: there are other letters in the New Testament, and we can certainly get a sense of the personalities of Peter, John and James, but none of them seemed so real to me as Paul.  His are the only books in the Bible where the author’s voice is so strong and distinct that I felt, after reading them, that I really knew him.  Sometimes he seems just a little irascible, as in the ironic, almost sarcastic, remarks addressed to the Corinthians (my italics):

I hear that there are divisions among you; and I partly believe it, for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized.  When you meet together, it is not the Lord's supper that you eat.  For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal, and one is hungry and another is drunk.  What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I commend you in this? No, I will not.   (1 Cor 11:18-22)

Or the entire letter to the Galatians, St. Paul’s most emotional epistle, where the Apostle has scarcely finished his greeting when he expresses his amazement that they were “so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and turning to a different gospel” (Gal 1:6), and later calls them “foolish”, (anoetoi, literally “mindless”) for listening to the Judaizers who insisted that ritual circumcision was necessary for salvation (Gal 3:1).  Finally, in his frustration, his expresses the wish that the Judaizers would, as the RSV translation puts it, “mutilate themselves” (Gal 5:12).  Paul uses the Greek word apokopsontai, from the verb apokopto, which means “lop off”. In other words, if they’re so fond of circumcision, why don’t they just take everything off?
     We can see in these outbursts, which form a relatively small proportion of St. Paul’s writing, that his very human frustration springs from his great love for his spiritual children.  They are also more than offset by expressions of great joy, such as:

Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?
Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I of myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin. There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set me free from the law of sin and death. (Rom 7:24-8:2)

Or by passages of radiant beauty, such as his great and much-quoted hymn to Love (agape) in 1 Corinthians 13.
     My attachment to St. Paul springs in large part from the Catholic Sacramental Imagination, the sense that God is always trying to reach us through his creation: Jesus Christ himself is the prime example, of course, but sacraments, sacramentals, the mission of the Apostles, the lives of the Saints . . . “The Heavens proclaim the Glory of God!” (Psalm 19.1).  And St. Paul’s autographs do, too (you didn’t think I forgot about those, did you?), because they are a tangible reminder  that his Letters, in addition to being the Inspired Word of God, were once also ordinary letters composed by a flesh and blood man, and written down in ink with a stylus.  Consider this from the Letter to Philemon:

If he has wronged you at all, or owes you anything, charge that to my account - I, Paul, write this with my own hand -  I will repay it, to say nothing of your owing me even your own self. (Phil 18-19)

In his eagerness to assure Philemon that he, Paul, is really offering to pay Onesimus’ debts, he doesn’t wait for the closing, but takes over from his scribe in the middle of a sentence to insert his signature.  That’s the messiness of real life.
     My favorite of St. Paul’s autographs, however, is this one: “See with what large letters I am writing to you with my own hand!” (Gal 6:11).  Here, at the end of the Letter to the Galatians, after he has mounted an impassioned defense of his authority as Apostle, told his correspondents they were fools and expressed the wish that the Judaizers geld themselves, we see St. Paul pause to take delight in the sight of his handwritten letters looping across the page.  How can you not love this guy?

Wednesday, April 23, 2014


MYTH: “Pro-lifers don’t care about women, and do nothing to help babies after they are born.”

TRUTH: The reality is just the opposite – the abortion industry offers women little beyond destroying their children and taking their money, while pro-lifers actually do quite a lot for women before during, and after their pregnancies.  Consider the following:

A Care-Net Mobile Pregnancy Help Center

-Abortion clinics (even “non-profits” such as Planned Parenthood, see here) charge women a fee to abort their babies, and make millions of dollars from abortion every year.  Pro-life pregnancy resource centers, in contrast, offer their services for free and are staffed by volunteers who donate their time and money.  There are thousands of pregnancy resource centers, both independent and affiliated with larger networks such as Care-Net [link], and they outnumber abortion clinics by a wide margin.

-From the Life Site summary of Planned Parenthood’s 2013-2013 annual report: “In 2012, abortions made up 93.8% of Planned Parenthood’s pregnancy services, while prenatal care and adoption referrals accounted for only 5.6% (19, 506 [as opposed to 327,166 abortions]) and 0.6% (2,197), respectively.  For every adoption referral, Planned Parenthood performed 149 abortions.”   

-Contrary to misleading statements from pro-abortion sources (including President Obama), Planned Parenthood performs NO mammograms.

-Pro-life volunteers provide numerous services both before AND after the baby is born, including free maternity and baby clothes, supplies, free or low cost medical and legal assistance, adoption referrals, parenting support and assistance, and child care.  An increasing number of pregnancy centers offer free ultrasounds. Some pro-life organizations, such as The Nurturing Network [link], even provide help finding employment, housing, and education opportunities to women.

-Pro-life volunteers have helped numerous women seeking peace after the trauma of abortion through programs such as Project Rachel and Rachel’s Vineyard.  Abortion providers offer nothing comparable


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, April 22, 2014

Steyn, Spong, Kempton, and The Passion of the Christ

     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, and 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 willingness 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.
     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.  There are 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 the soon-to-be 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: which one will it be?

Sunday, April 20, 2014

J.S. Bach - Sinfonia, Oster-Oratorium BWV 249 / Philippe Herreweghe

The opening Sinfonia from J.S. Bach's Easter Oratorio.  He is Risen! Alleluia!

Sunday Snippets - a Catholic Carnival - Easter Sunday 2014

The Lord Is Risen Alleluia. Alleluia!  Christ has conquered death!
This is the greatest day to be a Christian – a brilliant reminder of the Hope that is in us.
     Rather lower on the scale of importance (what isn’t?), this is also the day for “Sunday Snippets – A Catholic Carnival”, a festive sort of gathering at This That and the Other Thing [link] where Catholic bloggers share their post from the previous week.
     For a variety of reasons it was a less productive a week at Principium et Finis than usual, but it did have its moments:

Wednesday -  Ran in to an old friend, Ma Jones.  We’ve gone our separate ways over the years, but, amidst the expected blather, she really did have an something interesting to say about poverty:   “In Mother Jones, Of All Places” [link]

Thursday – The answer to another venerable lie from the Abortion Industry (and, of course, childbirth is always safer for the baby):  “Abortion Myth #2” [link]

also – What more perfect image of human imperfection than Peter, James, and John dozing off at the most crucial moment? “Asleep In The Garden” [link]

Saturday – Something strnge is happening, strange and wonderful, and you are there: “Something strange is happening . . .” [link]

Gaudete! Christus Resurrectus est!

Saturday, April 19, 2014

"Something strange is happening . . ."

On Good Friday and Holy Saturday every year the Cathedral here offers the Office of Readings and Morning Prayer from the Liturgy of the Hours, presided over by the bishop (we are fortunate that we now have a bishop again after an interregnum of a year and a half).  It has become a tradition for me to attend on Holy Saturday with my four sons, while my wife and daughter stay home and enjoy some Female Bonding.  I have been writing a series of posts recently about the Liturgy of the Hours as a private devotion for laypeople, [starting  here] with an emphasis on how we can structure our daily routine around prayer and so make Christ the center of our day.  Praying the Divine Office as a congregational prayer is an even more powerful experience.  This morning upwards of fifty people, mostly lay, gathered with our bishop, two of his priests and two cantors in the sanctuary of the Cathedral; the cantors sang the antiphons in Latin, and we all chanted the Psalms together.  It was a beautiful and moving experience.
     The Liturgy of the Hours is just one of many means that Christ has given, through his Church, to  conform ourselves to Him, as he has called us to do (see Rom 12:2, Eph 5:1-2. 1Peter 2:21, and many other places in scripture).  In fact, if we fail in this, all else is worthless (See 1 Cor 13).  Not only are there many means, there are also any number of ways in which to conform ourselves to Christ.  Many people see this as  a largely spiritual, and therefore an internal matter; to some degree this is true, but it's only part of the story. The moral quality of our life and conduct, for instance, is also important.  As Catholics we further understand that we often come to realize spiritual realities through God’s creation, an understanding often referred to as the “Sacramental Imagination” or the “Sacramental Principle.”  That’s why we place so much importance on the Sacraments and sacramentals; that’s why at the end of every Mass the priest used to read the beginning of John’s Gospel, the Beloved Disciple’s great hymn to the Eternal Word who Became Flesh and dwelt among us”(John 1:14). That is also why the Liturgical Calendar is so important, so that we might live out the story of Salvation in our lives over the course of each year, rather than just read or hear about it.  Through the Liturgical Calendar we sanctify time over the course of an entire year, just as the Liturgy of the Hours consecrates each day.
     We have an especially rich experience of this Sacramental Reality during the Triduum and Easter, when the Liturgical Year reaches its peak.  Just as the Sacrifice and Resurrection of Jesus is not simply reenacted at every Mass but is actually present outside the confines of time, so it is during the Holy Week and Easter liturgies: we are present as Christ washes the Apostles feet at the last supper; we are in the crowd calling for Jesus’ crucifixion on Good Friday; we stand in front of the Empty Tomb on Easter Sunday.
     Which brings us back to today's Office of Readings. The non-Scriptural reading from today’s office was, as the prayer book says, “From an ancient homily for Holy Saturday.”  It begins:

Something strange is happening – there is a great silence on earth today, a great silence and stillness. The whole earth keeps silence because the King is asleep. The earth trembled and is still because God has fallen asleep in the flesh and he has raised up all who have slept ever since the world began. God has died in the flesh and hell trembles with fear. . . 

But now night is falling, and the whole world is awaiting a new dawn . . . 

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Asleep In The Garden

And they went to a place which was called Gethsem'ane; and he said to his disciples, "Sit here, while I pray." And he took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be greatly distressed and troubled.  And he said to them, "My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch." And going a little farther, he fell on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him.  And he said, "Abba, Father, all things are possible to thee; remove this cup from me; yet not what I will, but what thou wilt." And he came and found them sleeping, and he said to Peter, "Simon, are you asleep? Could you not watch one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak."  And again he went away and prayed, saying the same words.  And again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were very heavy; and they did not know what to answer him. And he came the third time, and said to them, "Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? It is enough; the hour has come; the Son of man is betrayed into the hands of sinners.  Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand." And immediately, while he was still speaking, Judas came, one of the twelve, and with him a  crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests and the scribes and the elders.       -Mark 14:32-43

     It’s been a tough week.  Like Martha, I’ve been worried about many things (Luke 10:41), and find myself physically and mentally exhausted (one result of which is that I have posted very little on this blog this week). I had wanted to post something for the upcoming Triduum . . .but . . . nothing.  Nothing insightful, interesting, or even clever came to mind.  As I fruitlessly racked my brain (now there’s an interesting image!) up came an image of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, in agony (according to Steve Ray, to whom I was listening on my car radio on the way in to work,  many scholars believe that Christ’s greatest suffering was in the garden, where he felt the full weight of humanity’s sins).  Peter, John, and James doze off (three times!), too wrapped up in themselves to attend to the Master who has asked for their support in his time of supreme trial.  That’s me, I realized: at the holiest time of the year, as I should be focusing on The Lord suffering for my sins, all I can think of is myself.  It’s sort of sad, isn’t it? 

     That being the case, I’ve resolved to turn my focus to Jesus Christ as I take part in the observance of the Easter Triduum.  I’ll set aside my concerns and worries (please, Lord, give me the Grace!); if the Holy Spirit gives me something worthwhile to say I’ll say it, if not I’ll content myself to keep My Lord company from the Cenacle to Calvary, and wait in Joyful Hope for his return on Easter Sunday.

ABORTION MYTH #2 (Throwback Thursday Edition)

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 theyear 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 threatening.

-Women still die every year from legal abortions (see Gosnell, Kermit [link]).

(figures courtesy of the Elliot Institute,


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]

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

In Mother Jones, Of All Places

Radical activist, the original Mother Jones
     Back in my secular, radical college days I used to enjoy a leftish publication called Mother Jones, your proverbial Left-Wing Rag.  I had not so much as gazed upon said publication since somewhere around the transition between President Reagan’s first and second terms, when the other day  I happened across a recent copy, and decided to look inside, for old times’ sake.  There among the expected articles about the balefulness of the sinister plastic companies, and a hit job aiming to show that Louisiana’s Republication Governor Bobby Jindal is a wacko because he’s a believing Catholic, and so on, I found a most unexpected piece called “What If Everything You Knew About Poverty Was Wrong? [link]”  I say unexpected not because everything I know about poverty is wrong, necessarily, but because the factual content of the article actually validates much of what is being said about poverty on what its author, and the magazine, would consider “the right”.  I take this as a hopeful sign that maybe, maybe, we can start having a conversation about poverty that rises above the usual political divisions.
     The article, written by Stephanie Mencimer, is a profile of poverty researcher Kathryn Edin, a Johns-Hopkins University sociologist who decided she could better understand the poor if she moved into the most poverty-blasted area of East Camden, New Jersey (although herself a Methodist, one of Edin’s long-time heroes is St. Francis of Assisi).  The article would have us believe that in doing so Edin discovered things previously unknown:

. . . Unlike academics who draw conclusions about poverty from the ivy tower, Edin has gotten up close and personal with the people she studies – and in the process has shattered many myths about the poor, rocking sociology and public-policy circles.

 What are some of these explosive findings? Here’s a sampling:

-. . .most moms on welfare were already working under the table . . . they didn’t get legal jobs because  of a straight-forward economic calculus: Low wages drained by child care, transportation, and other expenses would have left them poorer than they were on welfare.

-In a society that increasingly saw marriage as a choice, not a requirement, low-income women were embracing the same preconditions as middle-class women.  They wanted to be “set” before marrying . . .

-The low-income women in Edin’s study reported that decent, trustworthy, available men were in short supply in their communities, where there were often major sex imbalances thanks to high incarceration rates.

-They believed that if they waited until everything was perfect, they might never have children.  And children, says Edin, “are the thing in life you can’t live without . . .

And what did Edin learn about the fathers of the children?

-“Rather  than viewing fatherhood as a burden, the men almost uniformly saw it as a blessing . . . ‘these guys thought that by bringing children into the world they were doing something good in the world.’”

-“When the babies were born, most of the men reported a desire to be a big part of their lives.  Among black men, 9 in ten reported being deeply involved with their children under the age of two, meaning they had routine, in-person contact with their  kids several times a month.  But that involvement faded with time.  Only a third of black fathers and a quarter of white fathers were still involved with kids older than 10.”

Why do these initially well-intentioned fathers lose interest in their children over time?

“Among the reasons, Edin identifies unstable relationships with the mothers . . . the men also frequently struggled with substance abuse and stints in prison

A factor not referenced in the article itself, but which comes up in the comments is that a father of children with a series of mothers is naturally going to pay more attention to the children of the woman with whom he is currently involved.
     Of course, there’s also a third party involved in these relationships, the government:

Government rules also stood in the way of meaningful fatherhood.  The welfare system tends to view an unwed father solely as a paycheck, not a co-parent . . .

“At every turn an unmarried man who seeks to be a father, not just a daddy, is rebuffed by a system that pushes him aside with one hand while reaching into his pocket with another,” Edin and [her husband, sociologist Tim] Nelson write.

     What I find most interesting about this article is that, when you take out the leftish rhetorical flourishes (e.g., swipes at Ronald Reagan and the Clinton era welfare reform), what the author is describing is not that different from what someone like conservative economist Walter Williams is saying, as I discussed in an earlier post [here].  Even when the article tries to rebut the very argument Williams is making it doesn’t quite work.  For instance:

“You hear people say there’s not material poverty in the Us,” says Nelson;  census data, the argument  goes, shows that most of America’s poor have TVs and air conditioning.  But the people their finding in Cleveland and other study sites, says Edin, “aren’t in the census.”

Aside from the fact that by simply discounting the census data you’ve thrown out the only quantifiable evidence you have, this misconstrues the actual argument.  Walter Williams and others aren’t saying that there’s not real material poverty, rather that the causes of poverty in the United States are not primarily material.  Williams say:

What we have in our nation are dependency and poverty of the spirit, with people making unwise choices and leading pathological lives aided and abetted by the welfare state.

Now compare that with what Kathryn Edin has discovered: people working “under the table” because the welfare system penalizes employment, government incentives and social pressure simultaneously discouraging marriage (“One of the women had even been chewed out by her grandmother for marrying the father of one of her children”) and encouraging the bearing and rearing of children out of wedlock; fatherhood denigrated both by the system and society; men and women who really do want to be good mothers and fathers, but repeatedly making choices that have the opposite effect. For instance:

The low-income women in Edin’s study reported that decent, trustworthy, available men were in short supply in their communities, where there were often major sex imbalances thanks to high incarceration rates.

The social science research tells us that children raised in single-parent families are more likely to be unemployed, drug-addicted and imprisoned, and because of the consequences of that mothers are making choices that perpetuate and multiply the problem.  Could Williams have come up with better examples of “unwise choices” and “pathological lives aided and abetted by the welfare state”?
     The question now is “where does this leave us?”  That’s a huge question.  Today I’ll just point out that seeing this particular article in Mother Jones gives me some hope that we can start to treat poverty less like just another arena for political combat, and really look at it for what it is.  It seems to me that it is beyond the power of any government or political program to solve the problems of persistent poverty.  The culture of poverty in the inner city is really just one manifestation of a spiritual problem, or collection of problems, that is affecting our entire society.  Lord Acton famously said that “the vices that addle the rich devastate the poor”.  Outside the inner city there’s a whole lot of addling going on, and it’s doing real damage up and down the social scale, even if it doesn’t look as dramatic in the suburbs as it does in East Camden.  While both government and private charity have an important part in alleviating the short term consequences of social disintegration,  the long term the solution is up to us.  A good place to start is to lead lives grounded in prayer, strengthened by the Sacraments, tempered by virtue, and exemplified by our love for our neighbors, and most particularly the least fortunate.  The means making choices we may not want to make. As we enter upon the Paschal Triduum this year I’m making a special effort to offer my own prayers and sacrifices for my brothers and sisters caught in the cycle of poverty.