Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Archangels, St. Jerome, Morality, and God's Law

Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
but his delight is in the law of the LORD,
and on his law he meditates day and night.
He is like a tree planted by streams of water,
that yields its fruit in its season,
and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.
The wicked are not so,
but are like chaff which the wind drives away.
Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
 for the LORD knows the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked will perish. (Psalm 1)

   The first Psalm gives us an interesting account of God’s law.  It is explained primarily in descriptive terms: if you follow God’s Law, and take it to heart, you will be happy, but if you choose wickedness, well, then your wages will be death.  Here is one of many indications in Scripture that while God allows us to conduct our own affairs, both on an individual and societal level, he wants to be involved, and he has created us in such a way that we in turn desire his presence in our lives (allow me to quote St. Augustine once again: “Our heart is restless until it rests in you”).  And so he has created a variety of means for communicating with us without controlling us.
     We have seen God’s desire to communicate reflected in different ways in our celebrations of the last two days.  Yesterday was the feast of the Archangels: our word “angel” comes from the Greek ἄγγελοςwhich simply means “messenger”.  The function of angels, at least as far as they concern us, is as carriers of God’s messages to us.  In addition to that, today is the feast of St. Jerome, who is known primarily for creating the first complete and reliable Latin translation of the Holy Scriptures, making the Bible available to all those inhabitants of the Roman Empire who did not know Greek. We honor St. Jerome because he made the word of God available to so many people.
      I couldn’t help thinking about the Archangels and St. Jerome the other day when I was reading this column [here] by Star Parker.  Parker is reporting on a recent survey by the Pew Center showing that: 

Over the last 12 years, the percentage of Americans that think religion is losing influence in American life has increased dramatically.  In 2002, 52 percent of those surveyed said religion is losing influence.  In 2014, 72 percent of Americans said religion is losing influence. 

Star Parker

     At the same time, Parker says, “fifty-six percent say that the waning of religion is a bad thing compared to 12 percent that say it is a good thing”, and she points to a Pew poll from 2012 that found that 58 percent thought religion was “very important” against only 12 percent who believed the opposite.
     What are we to make of these figures?  One would think that the large majority decrying the decline of religion must nonetheless play some part in that decline.  I suspect that we are seeing, at least in part, the struggle between our willing spirits and weak flesh within our restless hearts: “Lord give me chastity . . . but not yet.”  There are also more concrete considerations.  Parker, who was at one time a single mother on welfare, and who credits the welfare reforms of the 1990’s with rescuing her from a life of dependency on government largesse, sees the baleful moral consequences of such dependence as an important proximate cause.  Most Americans, largely out of a sense of Christian Charity, supported the enormous expansion of government assistance programs starting in the 1960’s.  

Who appreciated that the program would undermine the very religious, traditional values that keep families intact, essential for the work ethic that leads people out of poverty?  Massive increases of government in the lives of low-income black families were accompanied by a tripling of single parent households and out-of-wedlock births, laying the groundwork for intergenerational poverty. 

Now it’s happening in the whole country.  As we’ve gotten more government telling Americans how to save for retirement, how to deal with their health care, how to educate their children – American families have been damaged and out-of-wedlock births have increased six-fold from 1960 to 42 percent today.  Government has displaced family.

But it’s not simply about government.  In fact, Parker finds fault with both the Statists on the left and the Libertarians on the right who see the government per se as the issue, as if adding more government or radically cutting it will alone solve our social problems.  No, “you can’t have a free society that is not also a virtuous society”, and “we can’t separate our fiscal and economic problems from our moral problems.”  And where does morality come from?  Of course . . . God’s Law.
     I want to be clear that I’m not pushing some kind of “Gospel of Prosperity”, but the discussion above does offer an example of how God knows the truth about us, and that living by that truth leads to happiness, while denying it brings on ruin.  We know it from the messages carried by his Angels, the Scriptures he inspired, and the Church he established.  As the Lord Himself tells Moses:   

For this commandment which I command you this day is not too hard for you, neither is it far off.  It is not in heaven, that you should say, 'Who will go up for us to heaven, and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?' Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, 'Who will go over the sea for us, and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?' But the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it.  "See, I have set before you this day life and good, death and evil.  If you obey the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you this day, by loving the LORD your God, by walking in his ways, and by keeping his commandments and his statutes and his ordinances, then you shall live and multiply, and the LORD your God will bless you in the land which you are entering to take possession of it.   (Deuteronomy 30:11-16)

Monday, September 29, 2014

Renee Fleming sings "Laudamus Te" by Mozart

Yes, yes, I know about the dress - but as far as I'm concerned that's the only sour note in Rene Fleming's joyous and exuberant performance of the "Laudamus Te" from Mozart's Mass in C.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Sunday Snippets - A Catholic Carnival (28 September 2014)

The Holy Family
   Welcome to Sunday Snippets, a veritable extravaganza of Catholic Bloggery . . . well, maybe not an extravaganza, necessarily, but there are a good dozen of us, all with a unique faith experience, sharing our posts for the week; look here, if you don't believe me, at This That and the Other Thing, where RAnn is our Ringleader; there's no telling what you might find. My own posts here at Principium et Finis are linked below, but first . . . 
    Today is the Day of Prayer for the III Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, where our shepherds of souls will be discussing  Pastoral Challenges of the Family in the Context of Evangelization.  The bishops have called upon us to help out with our prayers.  Let’s do that, and pray abundantly.  Let’s storm Heaven, because the Crisis of the Family in modern society is among the greatest problems both for the transmission of the Gospel (as I discuss  here) and our ability to maintain natural freedom (see here).  There are those who, through a misguided (if sincere) understanding of what Christian Mercy entails, hope the upcoming Synod will recommend measures that weaken the Church’s vital witness on the Sanctity of Marriage and the Family (see here).  We should pray, rather, that the Synod works to strengthen that witness, and to show that the teachings of the Church in this area are an expression of the God’s love.  Saint Benedict’s motto was Ora et Labora. “Pray and Work”.  That should be our strategy here: work tirelessly to protect the Family in the public sphere, and at the same time pray for the Family like St. Monica praying for the redemption of her wayward son , (the not-yet-saintly) Augustine; let us pray not just today but throughout the Synod (October 5th-21st ) and beyond.
(In furtherance of the former effort, the bishops have recommended a couple of prayers, the first composed by Pope Francis, which I have included after my Snippets below)

And now, on to my posts for the week:

Monday – Words can't do justice to just how beautiful this is: listen! “Miserere Mei Deus” [here]

Tuesday –What started out as a brief comment on two recent news articles turned into a two-day rant: in part the first, we look at Obamacare svengali Ezekiel Emmanuel, who hopes he dies before he gets old: "Dispatches From The Culture Of Death Part One: Should We Give Up At 75?" [here]

Wednesday - You don't think abortion is funny?  Well then, you must be an Anti-Choice Nut: "Dispatches From The Culture Of Death Part Two: The Joke Factory Known As Abortion" [here]

Friday - The final installment of my series on the Divine Office for laypeople: "Liturgy of the Hours: Daytime Prayer Sanctifies Our Labors (Throwback Thursday Edition)" [here]

Prayers For The Family:
I - Prayer to the Holy Family for the Synod
Jesus, Mary and Joseph,
in you we contemplate
the splendor of true love,
to you we turn with trust.
Holy Family of Nazareth,
grant that our families too
may be places of communion and prayer,
authentic schools of the Gospel
and small domestic Churches.
Holy Family of Nazareth,
may families never again
experience violence, rejection and division:
may all who have been hurt or scandalized
find ready comfort and healing.
Holy Family of Nazareth,
may the approaching Synod of Bishopsmake us once more mindful
of the sacredness and inviolability of the family,
and its beauty in God’s plan.
Jesus, Mary and Joseph,
graciously hear our prayer.

II - Prayer of the Faithful
Brothers and Sisters,gathered together as God’s family and inspired by our faith, we raise our minds and hearts to the Father, that our families, sustained by the grace of Christ, might become true domestic churches where all live and bear witness to God’slove.
Together we pray:
Lord, bless and sanctify our families.

For Pope Francis: the Lord has called him to preside over the Church in charity; sustain him in his ministry of service to the communion of the episcopal collegeand the entire People of God, we pray:
Lord, bless and sanctify our families.

For the synod fathers and the other participants at the III Extraordinary GeneralAssembly of the Synod of Bishops: may the Spirit of the Lord enlighten their minds so that the Church might respond, in faithfulness to God’s plan, to the challenges facing the family, we pray:
Lord, bless and sanctify our families.

For those who have the responsibility of governing nations: that the Holy Spirit might inspire programs which acknowledge the value of the family as the basic unit of society in God’s plan and which offer support to families in difficulty, we pray:
Lord, bless and sanctify our families.

For Christian families: may the Lord who has sealed the union of husband and wife with his presence, make our families cenacles of prayer and ardent communities of life and love, after the example of the Holy Family of Nazareth, we pray:
 Lord, bless and sanctify our families.

For couples undergoing difficulties: may the Lord, rich in mercy, be present to them through the Church’s motherly care and concern in showing understanding and patience in their journey towards pardon and reconciliation, we pray:
Lord, bless and sanctify our families.

For families who, for the sake of the Gospel, are forced leave their fatherland: may the Lord who endured exile with Mary and Joseph, comfort them with his grace and open for them paths of fraternal charity and human solidarity, we pray:
Lord, bless and sanctify our families.

For grandparents: may the Lord who was received in the Temple by the elders Simeon and Anna, make them wise collaborators with parents in transmitting the faith and the raising their children, we pray:
Lord, bless and sanctify our families.

For children: may the Lord of life, who in his ministry welcomed them and made them a model for entering the Kingdom of heaven, inspire a respect for life in the womb and programs in raising children which conform to theChristian outlook towards life, we pray:
Lord, bless and sanctify our families.

For young people: may the Lord, who made holy the Wedding at Cana, lead them to discover the beauty of the sacredness and inviolability of the family in God’s plan and sustain engaged couples as they prepare for marriage, we pray:
Lord, bless and sanctify our families.

O God, you never forsake the work of your hands, hear our prayer; send the Spirit of your Son to enlighten the Church as the synodal journey begins, so that contemplating the splendor of true love which shines forth in the Holy Family of Nazareth, she might learn the freedom and obedience to respond with boldness and mercy to the challenges of today’s world. Through Christ Our


Thursday, September 25, 2014

Liturgy of the Hours: Daytime Prayer Sanctifies our Labors (Throwback Thursday Edition)

 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!     

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Dispatches From The Culture Of Death Part 2: The Joke Factory Known As Abortion

“Be Sober, be watchful.  Your adversary the Devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.  Resist him, firm in your faith.”  (1 Peter 8-9)

     Yesterday in my discussion of an essay by Ezekiel Emmanuel supporting the idea that we should not try to keep people alive beyond 75 years old, I said:

The more often such opinions come from such sources, the less unthinkable such opinions become in the wider world until they eventually become commonplace.  We have seen this strategy employed to perfection in recent years in regard to the redefinition of marriage. 

The Successful Game Plan

The Gay Rights movement, in fact, which eventually brought forth the current Gay Marriage campaign, has been a picture-perfect example of how to bring about a massive change in public perceptions and sentiment.  The strategy was explicitly laid out almost three decades ago in 1987, in an article by Marshall Kirk and Erastes Pill (later expanded into a book) called “The Overhauling Of Straight America” (entire article here). Kirk and Pill call for a graduated media campaign to change public opinion, starting with making homosexuality seem commonplace by talking about it constantly; then by portraying homosexuals as victims, at which point they can enlist supporters outside their own circles by appealing to a sense of justice, and only then seeking to destroy the credibility of any critics by using their media reach to portray opponents  as ignorant haters, bigots, etc.  Anyone who has been paying attention for the last three decades has seen this strategy play out precisely as scripted (we are now in the final “destroy the opposition” phase).
     This idea didn’t start with Kirk and Pill, of course, nor with the Gay Rights movement.  Some might recognize the ideas of master “community organizer” Saul Alinsky, who in turn was simply putting a groovy spin on long-standing communist agitprop doctrine - that’s why the communists were so interested in Hollywood in the thirties and the forties.  Kirk and Pill also saw the potential of the entertainment industry, but they had a resource that was not available to Stalin-era agitators: television.  Therefore:

Where we talk is important. The visual media, film and television, are plainly the most powerful image-makers in Western civilization. The average American household watches over seven hours of TV daily. Those hours open up a gateway into the private world of straights, through which a Trojan horse might be passed. As far as desensitization is concerned, the medium is the message--of normalcy.

“Desensitization” was necessary before the public would accept the rest of the gay rights program, and television did in fact prove to be the perfect medium (feel free explore the links here if you don’t believe that this strategy was employed to the fullest).

If it worked for Gay Marriage, why not abortion?

Mindy Kaling
     This brings us to the curious case of Mindy Kaling, as recounted by Brent Bozell [article here]. Mindy, Bozell tells us, “not only stars in her own sitcom on Fox called “The Mindy Project,” she’s in charge of it.”  Her character on the show is an OB/GYN.  Professional feminist and pro-abortion activist Amanda Marcotte sees Kaling’s show as a ready-made vehicle for the same sort of desensitization that the Gay Rights people carried out so successfully:

Abortion is actually a perfect topic for a half-hour comedy because it touches on so many themes that comedy writers love to mine for the laughs . . . How easy it is, if you let go of the fear of getting letters from anti-choice nuts, to make some really funny jokes about abortion.

     The problem for Marcotte is that most people, even those who are generally in favor of legal abortion, don’t see the humorous potential in the intentional slaughter of innocent life in the womb.  Kaling herself, who doesn’t appear to be pro-life but does seem to know her craft, at first politely rejected the idea of using her show “to make some really funny jokes about abortion”, telling an interviewer: “It would be demeaning to the topic to talk about it in a half-hour sitcom”.  Unfortunately for Mindy, nobody is allowed to sit on the sidelines for this battle, and the abortion industry and its cheerleaders turned up the heat.  Soon she was apologizing for her failure to humorously promote abortion on her program, and has now reached the point where she says she “has faith” that she will find a “hilarious take on abortion that’s saying something new.”  Don’t worry, folks, “The Mindy Project” will be rolling out its abortion laugh-riot any day now.
     This is not the first recent attempt by the abortionists to follow the gay marriage media  playbook: there was the Abortion Comedy “Obvious Child”, and creepy “comedienne” Sarah Silverman has been trying to mine the laugh-potential of abortion for some time.  “Obvious Child”, however, was much more popular with pro-abortion movie critics than it was with the public, so maybe Anthony Esolen is right [see here] that the average person’s innate common sense won’t allow too many of them to be taken in too deeply by the Culture of Death for too long.  Maybe . . . but I’m not sure that he isn’t underestimating the power of people in our fallen state to convince themselves of just about anything, especially if it means the orgy can continue.  Be that as it may, brace yourself: I suspect we’ll be seeing more and more of the “lighter side” of abortion from the entertainment media in the future. Be sober and be watchful . . .

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Dispatches From The Culture Of Death Part One: Should We Give Up At 75?

The Culture of Death     

There are those who say that St. John Paul II was exaggerating, or at least being unduly harsh, when he coined the term “Culture of Death” in his encyclical Evangelium Vitae.  If only that were the case. The secular world simply insists on offering death as the “compassionate” response to all sorts of things: suffering at the end of life, difficulties at life’s beginning and, increasingly, trouble in between.  Today I’d like to explore one recent example of the Culture of Death at work, and a second tomorrow.

The Architect of Obamacare

     Let us consider  Ezekiel Emmanuel, brother of President Obama’s former Chief of Staff Rahm Emmanuel.  Ezekiel, one of the prime architects of the monstrous Affordable Care Act (a.k.a. Obamacare), published a piece in The Atlantic last week called “Why I Hope To Die At 75” [here].  The wide-ranging essay explores at great length the disadvantages of old age: reduced productivity, lessened vitality, the host of physical ailments that proliferate as we age, but, interestingly, doesn’t focus on the effect of these things upon ourselves:

Doubtless, death is a loss . . . But here is a simple truth that many of us seem to resist: living too long is also a loss. It renders many of us, if not disabled, then faltering and declining, a state that may not be worse than death but is nonetheless deprived. It robs us of our creativity and ability to contribute to work, society, the world. It transforms how people experience us, relate to us, and, most important, remember us. We are no longer remembered as vibrant and engaged but as feeble, ineffectual, even pathetic.[my italics]

It is selfish of us, you see, to force others to experience our decline: the compassionate thing is to quit while we are ahead.  Emmanuel is most emphatic that he is not advocating euthanasia or physician-assisted suicide, quite correctly pointing out that “the answer” to the desire to actively bring about one’s own death “is not ending a life but getting help. I have long argued that we should focus on giving all terminally ill people a good, compassionate death—not euthanasia or assisted suicide for a tiny minority.”

Just One Man's Opinion?

     So what is he advocating? He claims that he will refuse any “life-prolonging” treatment of any sort: “I will stop getting any regular preventive tests, screenings or interventions.  I will accept only palliative – not curative – treatments if I am suffering pain or other disability.”   After a lengthy recitation of the routine treatment he intends to forgo, Emmanuel says “I will die when whatever comes first takes me.”
     We could just dismiss this as no more than one opinionated man’s personal view, and Emmanuel encourages us to do just that:

I am not saying that those who want to live as long as possible are unethical or wrong. I am certainly not scorning or dismissing people who want to live on despite their physical and mental limitations. I’m not even trying to convince anyone I’m right. . . And I am not advocating 75 as the official statistic of a complete, good life in order to save resources, ration health care, or address public-policy issues arising from the increases in life expectancy.

But he gives the game away when he adds:

What I am trying to do is delineate my views for a good life and make my friends and others think about how they want to live as they grow older. I want them to think of an alternative to succumbing to that slow constriction of activities and aspirations imperceptibly imposed by aging. Are we to embrace the “American immortal” or my “75 and no more” view? [my italics]

There Are Opinions, And Then There Are Opinions

And what is the point of thinking of alternative ways to live if not to bring about change?  In truth, underneath the welter of medical facts and figures and the personal focus, we see two very familiar arguments: the “quality of life” argument (i.e., a “diminished” life isn’t worth living) and the “appeal to compassion” (we should spare our family and society the “burden” - including the financial burden - of our  infirmity). 
Ezekiel Emmanuel

     Nonetheless, isn’t that just his opinion?  No, because when a prominent man, one with a “Dr.” in front of his name expresses his opinion, buttressed with all sorts of impressive medical sounding data, and in very engaging and (truth be told) well-crafted prose, it has an impact.  The more often such opinions come from such sources the less unthinkable such opinions become in the wider world, until they eventually become commonplace.  We have seen this strategy employed to perfection in recent years in the campaign to redefine marriage. 
     There is also the fact that, despite his disclaimers, Ezekiel Emmanuel is still has a great deal of influence on public policy: in addition to his well-known public connection with Obamacare he is the director of the Clinical Bioethics Department at the National Institutes for Health.  Add it all together and, as Ben Shapiro points out in a piece on the Breitbart site [here],

                 . . . his opinion carries weight.

Enough weight that the same day Emanuel’s piece published, a 21-member Institute of Medicine panel announced that we need to revamp our end-of-life care. “The current system is geared towards doing more, more, more, and that system by definition is not necessarily consistent with what patients want, and is also more costly,” said David M. Walker, former US comptroller general and chairman of the panel. The panel also encouraged end-of-life conversations with as many elderly folks as possible, and that costs could be slashed by thinking about aging differently.

Does that sound like anyone we know?  Perhaps its no coincidence, as Shapiro points out, that "Ezekiel Emmanuel was elected in 2004 to the Institute of Medicine". 
     Finally, while Emmanuel explicitly opposes euthanasia and suicide (and I don’t doubt his sincerity), the attitude towards aging that he is validating and encouraging will inevitably make those “options” more and more acceptable; and if the public thinks there’s nothing wrong with it, why shouldn’t the government facilitate it . . . or require it?  The slope is getting more slippery all the time.

Next: What could be funnier than abortion?

Monday, September 22, 2014

Miserere Mei Deus

I've posted a version of this before, but this video is so amazing I had to do it again - besides, the first time had only six page views.  On that earlier occasion I commented thusly:

Allegri's Miserere had been jealously guarded by the Vatican, which did not allow the score to be published for a century and a half, until the fourteen year old Mozart heard it once, and promptly went back to his room to write down the musical notation from memory (http://www.classicfm.com/composers/mozart/guides/mozart-allegri-miserere/).  Vertitas alienior quam Fictio est.


Sunday, September 21, 2014

Sunday Snippets - A Catholic Carnival (21 September 2014)

     Happy Sunday, and welcome to Sunday Snippets, a papist post exchange wherein various bloggers of a Romish disposition swap links to their postings for the week past.  You can find the main convocation here at This That and the Other Thing, home of Chief Snippeteer RAnn.
September beach-wear in Maine
It was one of those weeks here at Principium et Finis wherein bloggery took a back seat to other concerns, although there were a few posts (more on that below).  But first, I wanted to talk about a little jaunt we made last weekend, a late-summer (nearly fall) visit to the beach.  The high temperatures for the day didn’t get above the mid 60’s, so we wore jackets and kept our shoes on, and just walked and enjoyed the views (no selfies of my feet in the surf this time).  Most other beach-goers were dressed for the weather as we were, but a few defiant souls were there in swimsuits, either stretched out on the beach or even, in the case of the most intrepid souls, wading a little into the water.  One of my sons remarked that there were two factions at the beach that day: those who were in denial and those who were not.
     Among the deniers there was one young girl dressed in a swimsuit, maybe twelve years old, who was venturing into the surf . . . holding a smart phone in her hand.  It was a most incongruous image.  Twenty minutes later I saw her again, a little further down the beach, still clutching her little electronic gadget.  I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised: I’ve seen the videos of people walking into walls, fountains, etc., in public places with their eyes glued to little screens, I’ve seen with my own eyes my fellow motorists going down the highway at 70 miles per hour with their eyes down and their thumbs bouncing off their devices, and I’ve heard about the often fatal accidents caused by such people. 
     I couldn't help but think of that poor techno-crazed girl when I read this article [here] in Catholic World Report about "Casualities of the Device Age".  The author, Thomas Doran, explains that, while the little gadgets have many useful aspects, the widespread addiction to them contributes "to a decline in the ability to reason, contemplation, and self-discipline."  Having taught high school students for twenty-eight years, I can testify to the truth of Doran's observations.  I would also add that enslavement to these little electronic tyrants, because they try to fill the void in our heart that only God can fill (as do all addictions), draws us away from the Lord.  A few months ago I posted a meditation [here] in which I discussed the vastness of the sea as an image of God's infinite love. How very sad that the girl at the beach  couldn't leave behind the instrument of her spiritual servitude even for the infinite embrace of the ocean; what a sobering image of our modern predicament.

     Hmmm, perhaps you are saying, did he do anything last week but visit the seashore?  Well, a few things.  For instance:

Monday - The curious relationship between joy and suffering: "Our Lady of Sorrows & the Mystery of Suffering" [here]

Tuesday - Another mystery, the Mystery of Beauty, as experienced through "Palestrina's 'Stabat Mater' and Michelangelo's Florentine Pieta" [here]

Thursday - In a Throwback from March I muse upon the pitfalls and dangers one finds in trying to apply an ancient Christian maxim, as seen in the Curious Case of Michael Coren: "Easier Said Than Done: Hating The Sin, LovingThe Sinner" [here]

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Easier Said Than Done: Hating The Sin, Loving The Sinner

(This Throwback first appeared on March 7th of this year under the title "Here we go again . . . ")

     Michael Coren, the conservative Canadian Catholic commentator has taken on a noble, but extremely treacherous, task: he is trying to follow the age-old Christian wisdom, “Hate the Sin, Love the Sinner” [link]. This is never easy to do well, but in choosing to apply the maxim in the currently controverted area of homosexuality and law, he is treading on dangerously unstable ground.  While I admire his moral courage (he is receiving some intense and, often, rather un-Christian backlash from the Christian side of the question), and while I admit that his heart is in the right place, I’m not sure that he isn’t doing more harm than good.
     First, where Coren is right.  Catholic Christians have an undeniable obligation to treat homosexual persons with love and dignity [here].  That rules out name-calling, not to mention more severe forms of persecution.  So yes, we should publicly denounce “gay bashing”, both literal and figurative, and laws such as those in Uganda that mete out harsh punishments to homosexuals. That’s the “Love the Sinner” side of the equation.

     On the other side . . . well . . .  here’s where things get complicated.  It’s always very hard for us to separate the sinner from the sin, and it’s even harder in this case because the “sinners” have made the sin their primary locus of self-identification: “If you hate my sexual preferences, you hate me.”  But it’s even worse than that, because, when it comes to the public controversy over these issues, homosexuals themselves are not really the problem: after all, they make up no more than 3% of the population, far too small a proportion to cause all the ruckus we’ve been experiencing in recent years.  No, the problem is that professional “activists” have seized upon homosexuality as a battering ram to topple the various institutions (most notably, Church and Family) that stand in the way of their project of remaking society according to their designs.  For this reason homosexuals’ rights, whether real (the right to be treated decently) or imagined (the right to have public approbation of their sexual relationships), are only of interest to them insofar as they can be used as a weapon against their targets of choice.  The Leftists who are running the gay rights juggernaut are not interested in coming to a mutually agreeable solution, they want only to steamroll their opposition.
     I spoke in another recent post how the forces of “social change” have set a trap for those of us looking for an honest discussion about gay marriage [here].  So it is in this case, as well: they are perfectly willing to use any conciliatory gestures we make out of compassion for the humanity and the suffering (which can be very real) of people with same sex attraction to undermine our moral position on the acts themselves.  Notice how even the Pope’s statements, which are fairly innocuous on their face, are wrenched out of context and used against Catholic moral teaching.
     I am most emphatically not saying that we should refrain from defending the dignity  and legitimate rights of homosexuals, even when they are public advocates of the gay lifestyle, gay marriage and the rest.  We do need to be very clear, however, that we’re doing so from the perspective of the Gospel, according to Catholic teaching, and in such a way that we do not appear to endorse, even indirectly, the political and social agenda of the gay rights movement.  This is where Coren gets himself into real trouble.   In a recent tweet, for instance, he says: “This is a group resisting the new wave of anti-gay laws in Uganda, Russia, etc. Vital that we all support it”.  With all due respect, no, it’s not vital that we support it.  The group to whom he links is an activist group pushing the entire gay rights agenda.  I’m all for opposing the laws he mentions, which are cruel and abhorrent (or should be) to any Christian’s conscience, but supporting this particular group, or others like it, is the wrong way.  Laws can be repealed, but once you’ve taken apart the institution of the family and denigrated the moral authority of the Gospel, how do you fix that?  How do you restore the damaged lives and wounded souls?

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Palestrina's "Stabat Mater" and Michelangelo's Florentine Pieta

     “At one time it was understood that liturgical music should lift us up from this world and direct our hearts and minds toward The Lord.  Is that asking too much?”  I made the following comment last week in reference to a beautiful and, yes, uplifting “Sanctus” by the English composer William Byrd.  Beautiful music and beautiful art has a power to move us emotionally, and beauty has a way of moving us toward God that the unbeautiful, alas, cannot match.  I am fortunate to attend a church that has a good chorus, led over the fifteen years I’ve been here by a series of talented and faithful music directors.  Several times a year, at least, I have the opportunity to hear Sacred Polyphony as part of the Mass: what a blessed experience!  Most of the other music is very good, and appropriate for the Liturgy as well (with a few clunkers thrown in, but why dwell on the negative?).
      It was with all this in mind that I recently found myself, as I was listening to one of these beautiful pieces, thinking to myself “How did they ever abandon this for all that Happy Time nonsense?”  Well, it seems to go with the mundane language of  “dynamic equivalence” translations (see here), ugly, chaotic church buildings (see here for more on that), and the rejection of traditional devotions for innovations that tend to direct our attention to the here and now (and US), rather to the above, beyond and HIM.
     This is all a lead-in to the clip below, an overflow from yesterday’s feast of Our Lady of Sorrows.  The video’s creator beautifully combined the incomparable Giovanni Pierluigi Palestrina’s setting for the Marian Hymn “Stabat Mater” with visuals of Michelangelo’s Florentine Pieta (also known as the Deposition).  This sculpture has a interesting history (see here), which along with its atypical (for Michelangelo) style and composition make it a fruitful object for a meditation on the suffering of Mary, and suffering in general. So here we have beautiful visual art working with beautiful sacred music to lift up our prayer. What could be better?

Monday, September 15, 2014

Our Lady of Sorrows & the Mystery of Suffering

     Today is the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows.  How fitting that today some of my ninth grade religion students want to talk about suffering, as in “If God is good, why does he allow suffering?”
     This is a tough question, but not because it is intellectually difficult.  It is easy to demonstrate that suffering often leads to a greater good: why else would so many people willingly undergo the sometimes severe discomfort of chemotherapy in order to treat their cancer?  It is also pretty clear that we may not know the good that comes of it, such as a small child who doesn’t understand why he’s being punished for running out into the road, or a sick pet that couldn’t possibly comprehend why she’s being stuck with a hypodermic needle.   It’s simply hard to accept, emotionally, that a loving God would allow such horrific suffering as some people experience, particularly suffering at the hands of evil and sadistic fellow men (I suspect that some of my students have been disturbed by events in the news lately).
     Herein lies the Mystery of Suffering: even when it makes sense, it feels so wrong. The key lies in that word “mystery”, from the Greek μυστήριον, which is not something unknowable, but rather something known only through experience. So it is with suffering: it makes sense when we experience it, and experience it in the light of faith.  As it happens, I heard Gary Zimak talking about this same topic on the radio this morning, and picked up this great quote: “God doesn’t give us the Grace to handle imaginary problems.” He does offer us the Grace to handle problems we are actually experiencing, as St. Paul tells us (1 Corinthian 10:13), as long as we turn to him in faith.  
     The Christian answer, then is that God is not indifferent to suffering, but his concern is not expressed by giving us a world without suffering, which could well be a world without the possibility of real love, but by suffering with us: that’s why our preeminent image is Christ on the Cross.  And not only does he suffer for and with us, but we can join our suffering to his: “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ, on behalf of his body, which is the Church” (Colossians 1:24).  So, not only does Christ console us in our suffering, but we can use our own suffering to help others.
     Which brings us to Our Lady of Sorrows.  It struck me just today how some of the joyful mysteries of the Rosary are tied in to Mary’s Seven Sorrows: the Presentation, the Fourth Joyful Mystery, is also the occasion of the First of Mary’s Seven Sorrows, when Simeon prophecies that a sword shall pierce Mary’s heart; the Loss of the Child Jesus in the Temple (the Third Sorrow) leads to the Finding of Jesus (the Fifth Joyful Mystery).  How interesting that we have devotions centered on the suffering of the Woman whom all generations will call Blessed.  She is, after all, the First Disciple and our Model in the Faith.  Certainly, if her sorrows and suffering can help bring about the eternal Joy of the Resurrection, ours will not be in vain.

The Seven Sorrows of Mary
1.      The Prophecy of Simeon
2.      The Flight into Egypt
3.      The loss of the Child Jesus in the Temple
4.      Mary meets Jesus on the way to Calvary
5.      Jesus dies on the Cross
6.      Mary receives the Body of Jesus

7.      The burial of Jesus

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Sunday Snippets (Exaltation of the Holy Cross 2014)

Christ and the Cross, from Santa Maria Sopra Minerva
     Welcome to “Sunday Snippets – A Catholic Carnival”, a weekly swapfest for faithful Catholic bloggers of every sort, shape, and size (metaphorically speaking).  This is only my little corner of the party: the main gathering place is here at This That and the Other Thing, home of our Grand Marshall RAnn.
     I can’t fail to mention that today is the Feast of The Exaltation of the Holy Cross, a celebration centered on what is perhaps the most puzzling (apparent) contradiction in Christianity, and something that lies at the very heart of the Faith: our Salvation is only through the suffering and death of Christ on the Cross (and, by extension, through our embrace of the suffering in our own lives). This, St. Paul assures us, is “a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Corinthians 1:23).
     One of the most striking artistic representations of this Mystery is Michelangelo’s Christ from the church of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva (depicted above), in which Jesus is literally embracing the Cross.  A beautiful statue modeled on this one surmounts the baptismal font in the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception here in Portland where, as it happens, we attended the vigil Mass for today’s feast last evening.  The Mass was celebrated by our Bishop, and attended by members of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jersalem [more info here], in full regalia, which consisted of long capes (white for the knights, black for the ladies) decorated with the Jersalem cross, along with black lace veils for the women. The Order is the only lay institution of the Vatican State charged with the task of providing for the needs of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem and for all the activities and initiatives which are necessary to support the Christian presence in the Holy Land.

     The presence of the Equestrians was quite appropriate for the occasion, as Bishop Deeley pointed out in his homily. He started by observing that “we see the Cross in the whole life and mission of Christ”; we see a precursor in bronze serpent in the first reading, where what had at first brought sickness now brings healing, but Jesus on the cross not only “returns us to health, but to life, eternal life.”  We also hear “the very heart of Jesus’ message” in the hymn St. Paul quotes to the Phillipians: that “Jesus emptied himself” for our sake.  The Cross leads us to Humility and Service.  That’s where the Equestrians come in: the Bishop pointed out the Jerusalem Cross over their hearts, a large blood-red cross in the center surrounded by four smaller crosses which represents the wounds of Christ.  Through their support of the Patriarch of Jerusalem they are both a sign and a tangible means of our support, our service, on behalf of the Christians of the Middle East who are sharing so deeply in the suffering of Christ right now.  This is a mission in which we all have a part, and, as Bishop Deeley said in closing: “Jesus never leaves us alone: if he gives us a mission, he also gives us the Grace to do it.”

     There.  Now on to the snippets themselves:

Monday – At one time it was understood that liturgical music should lift us up from this world and direct our hearts and minds toward The Lord.  Is that asking too much? “William Byrd – Sanctus (Mass for 4 Voices) [here]

Wednesday – Even minor Saints can teach us Major Lessons: “Resist Him, Steadfast In Faith” [here]

Thursday – If we worked harder at building good character, we wouldn’t have to worry as much about the law: “Hidden Law, Society, And The Church (Throwback)” [here]

Friday – A reflection on John Sobieski’s rescue of Vienna in 1683, and the fate of Christian civilization today: “We came, we saw, God conquered” [here]

Saturday – Shutting out Christian groups on campus may not be mass murder, but does it really have to be in order to provoke a response? “It Doesn’t Need To Be As Bad As Iran To Be Bad Enough” [here]


Saturday, September 13, 2014

It Doesn't Need To Be As Bad As Iran To Be Bad Enough

Submit or be derecognized

      For a long time now elite opinion on college campuses has been trying to shut down speech that doesn’t stick to their script, especially religious speech.  Specifically, Christian speech.  The clampdown has now become a little more overt: the California State University system has “derecognized” the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship (IVCF), an Evangelical group, on all 23 of its campuses, as explained in this article [here] by Ed Stetzer in Christianity Today.  The reason for the derecognition (if such a word exists) is that the ICVF refuses to change its rules requiring leaders in the group to be believing Christians.  The state of California has said, in other words, that Christian groups will not be recognized as official groups on campus unless they open up their leadership to people who don’t share, and may even be hostile to, their very reason for existing in the first place.

InterVarsity Students spreading . . . bigotry and intolerance?

Consequences of derecognition

     You may be wondering what the consequences of derecognition are.  According to Greg Jao, National Field Director & Campus Access Coordinator, there are three main things that IVCF chapters will lose:

1)      Free access to rooms (they will now have to pay, and will be shut out if a “recognized" group wants the room).
2)      Access to student activities programs “including”, he says, “new student fairs where we meet most students.”
3)      “We also lose standing when we engage faculty, students and admimnistrators.”

He doesn’t explain in detail what that last point entails. Tish Warren led a similar IVCF group at the private Vanderbilt University a few years ago that experienced a similar fate.  In a separate Christianity Today article that Stetzer quotes at length she explains:

Because we were no longer allowed to use Vanderbilt's name, we struggled to convey that we were a community of Vanderbilt students who met near campus.

In other words, as close to invisible as they can be short of being banned altogether.

Is Christianity "Hate Speech"?

     What’s behind it all?  Stetzer says that “The university system has decided that speech with beliefs that undergird it—and shape how it is organized—has to be derecognized.”  I suppose you could put it that way, but not all “speech with beliefs” is really being targeted.  He allows Warren to be somewhat more specific.  She explains that the banned groups had “crossed a line”, one that

was drawn by two issues: creedal belief and sexual expression. If religious groups required set truths or limited sexual autonomy, they were bad—not just wrong but evil, narrow-minded, and too dangerous to be tolerated on campus.

This states the case more plainly.  Notice that it is the same in the wider world: support (not simply tolerance) of what used to be considered sexual heterodoxy is the standard by which elite opinion decides who enjoys basic rights and who does not.  Warren and Jao are both being rather too generous when they posit a desire for “democracy” as one of the motives for the anti-Christian people.  No, democracy is not a priority; these same people have no problem with federal judges overturning state laws and constitutional amendments voted in by 60-70% of the electorate, and at the university level you will not see them applying to the vegetarians, Muslims, and certainly not the LGBTQ groups the same unreasonable demands they have imposed upon the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship.
Don't read that, kids - it might be hate speech
    And that connection to the wider world is what most concerns me. Stetzer starts out his article saying “Now, it’s not persecution”, an admonition he repeats at the end, adding: “I hope they won’t call themselves persecuted, since that lessens the persecution in, for example, Iran.”  If only we could lessen the persecution in Iran so easily!  What he means, of course, is that equating the inconveniences experienced by college students in California to the very real suffering, up to and including torture and death, suffered by Christians in the Middle East tends to diminish our proper sense of horror and outrage at the latter. Fair enough, but on the other hand injustices don’t need to rise to ISIS level, or anywhere near it, to merit condemnation.  And I don’t think he should be in such a hurry to downplay the significance of what has happened in California.

We don't need no stinkin' constitution

     First of all, what the State of California is doing is a direct assault on the constitutional rights of  Christian students.  The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution starts out as follows:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof . . .

Telling members of a religious group whom they must choose as their leaders is an exceptionally unsubtle trespass on the free exercise of religion – and I know that courts have found all sorts of ingenious ways to make laws and constitutional provisions mean the exact opposite of their clear meaning, but if we’re not willing to fight something this blatant, we might as well run the white flag up the pole and get it over with.  Since the courts have also found that the restrictions the Bill of Rights places upon Congress also apply to all other government organs, including state run schools, this is clearly a constitutional issue (as it is not at a private school like Vanderbilt).
     This potential damage here also extends beyond the walls of the university.  The half-spoken message that California State is sending its students is that Christian belief is bad: “not just wrong but evil, narrow-minded, and too dangerous to be tolerated on campus”, as Tish Warren said of the attitude of the authorities at Vanderbilt.  If such a thing is simply a given in the environment where they are formed for four years, how many students are going to be prepared to be open to and tolerant of Christian belief when they get out . . . especially if the outside environment agrees with what they experienced at the university?

Bad is bad

     And, as I have noted in these pages many times, there is a conscious and coordinated campaign underway in the United States and the rest of the Western world to “derecognize” Christianity as a whole.  The mainstreaming of anti-Christian bigotry lays the foundation; simply holding traditional beliefs about morality and marriage makes a person fair game for the foulest and most hateful verbal abuse (see here and here).  Somehow the targets of this vileness, and not the spewers of it, are scorned by elite opinion-makers as “haters” and “bigots”.  And who is going to argue when haters and bigots are defamed, or even threatened with loss of their livelihood (here, here, here) if they oppose the dismantling of traditional morality -  or simply decline to participate actively in its destruction?  This harassment, I submit, is in fact persecution, if not on the level of Iran or Iraq, and sets the stage for worse: once Christians have been completely driven beyond the pale, what's to prevent harsher forms of persecution?  And in fact serious persecutions almost always start with little thing, and with the delegitimizing, the "derecognition", if you will, of the targeted group, 
     Finally, I haven’t discussed the fact that our colleges and universities have, in a very short time (and practically unremarked), undergone a radical change: where formerly they acted in loco parentis, a role in which they protected their students and enforced moral standards, now they actively promote promiscuity and licentiousness . . . and actually punish students for upholding morality.  How can this possibly turn out well?  
     So, to all you Ed Stetzers out there, hold your head up – we have nothing to apologize for. Nobody is confusing California State University with the Islamic Republic of Iran, but what’s happening there is bad enough, and if we allow harassment and injustice to continue, more serious persecution is sure to follow.