Sunday, December 30, 2007

Charlie Wilson's War

Great comic movie with tight scripting and creative soundtrack (but then, that sort of goes without saying for the genre, in my opinion).

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

On Slavoj Zizek

At First Things, R.R. Reno writes:

The false note of uncertainty does not disguise the imperative: “Only through a ‘sectarian split’ from the standard European legacy, by cutting ourselves off from the decaying corpse of Old Europe, can we keep the renewed European legacy alive.” The real conflict is not between the West and the Rest. By Zizek’s reckoning, the real war concerns the cultural battle for control of the West. And Zizek is clear about the present imperative for the future of Europe. It’s time to get rid of recalcitrant Christians and make the world safe for the triumph of postmodern, er, tolerance.

Did I mention that Zizek has become very “hot” among the outré American scholars who tend to dominant the humanities at elite universities? But maybe that’s obvious. After all, hasn’t the same academic commissariat been quite clear about the need to exclude any whom they deem “Christian populist fundamentalists”?

Happy Christmas

Here is a Vatican translation of Benedict XVI's Christmas message, which he delivered from the main balcony of St. Peter's Basilica today at noon.

* * *

"A holy day has dawned upon us.

Come you nations and adore the Lord.

Today a great light has come upon the earth."

(Day Mass of Christmas, Gospel Acclamation)

Dear Brothers and Sisters! "A holy day has dawned upon us." A day of great hope: today the Saviour of mankind is born. The birth of a child normally brings a light of hope to those who are waiting anxiously. When Jesus was born in the stable at Bethlehem, a "great light" appeared on earth; a great hope entered the hearts of those who awaited him: in the words of today's Christmas liturgy, "lux magna". Admittedly it was not "great" in the manner of this world, because the first to see it were only Mary, Joseph and some shepherds, then the Magi, the old man Simeon, the prophetess Anna: those whom God had chosen. Yet, in the shadows and silence of that holy night, a great and inextinguishable light shone forth for every man; the great hope that brings happiness entered into the world: "the Word was made flesh and we saw his glory" (Jn 1:14).

"God is light", says Saint John, "and in him is no darkness at all" (1 Jn 1:5). In the Book of Genesis we read that when the universe was created, "the earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep." "God said, ‘Let there be light'; and there was light." (Gen 1:2-3). The creative Word of God is Light, the source of life. All things were made through the Logos, not one thing had its being but through him (cf. Jn 1:3). That is why all creatures are fundamentally good and bear within themselves the stamp of God, a spark of his light. Nevertheless, when Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary, the Light himself came into the world: in the words of the Creed, "God from God, Light from Light". In Jesus, God assumed what he was not, while remaining what he was: "omnipotence entered an infant's body and did not cease to govern the universe" (cf. Saint Augustine, Sermo 184, No. 1 on Christmas). The Creator of man became man in order to bring peace to the world. For this reason, during Christmas night, the hosts of angels sing: "Glory to God in the highest, and peace on earth to those whom he loves" (Lk 2:14).

"Today a great light has come upon the earth". The Light of Christ is the bearer of peace. At Midnight Mass, the Eucharistic liturgy begins with this very chant: "Today true peace has come down to us from heaven" (Entrance Antiphon). Indeed, it is only the "great" light manifested in Christ that can give "true" peace to men: that is why every generation is called to welcome it, to welcome the God who in Bethlehem became one of us.

This is Christmas - the historical event and the mystery of love, which for more than two thousand years has spoken to men and women of every era and every place. It is the holy day on which the "great light" of Christ shines forth, bearing peace! Certainly, if we are to recognize it, if we are to receive it, faith is needed and humility is needed. The humility of Mary, who believed in the word of the Lord and, bending low over the manger, was the first to adore the fruit of her womb; the humility of Joseph, the just man, who had the courage of faith and preferred to obey God rather than to protect his own reputation; the humility of the shepherds, the poor and anonymous shepherds, who received the proclamation of the heavenly messenger and hastened towards the stable, where they found the new-born child and worshipped him, full of astonishment, praising God (cf. Lk 2:15-20). The little ones, the poor in spirit: they are the key figures of Christmas, in the past and in the present; they have always been the key figures of God's history, the indefatigable builders of his Kingdom of justice, love and peace.

In the silence of that night in Bethlehem, Jesus was born and lovingly welcomed. And now, on this Christmas Day, when the joyful news of his saving birth continues to resound, who is ready to open the doors of his heart to the holy child? Men and women of this modern age, Christ comes also to us bringing his light, he comes also to us granting peace! But who is watching, in the night of doubt and uncertainty, with a vigilant, praying heart? Who is waiting for the dawn of the new day, keeping alight the flame of faith? Who has time to listen to his word and to become enfolded and entranced by his love? Yes! His message of peace is for everyone; he comes to offer himself to all people as sure hope for salvation.

Finally, may the light of Christ, which comes to enlighten every human being, shine forth and bring consolation to those who live in the darkness of poverty, injustice and war; to those who are still denied their legitimate aspirations for a more secure existence, for health, education, stable employment, for fuller participation in civil and political responsibilities, free from oppression and protected from conditions that offend against human dignity. It is the most vulnerable members of society - women, children, the elderly - who are so often the victims of brutal armed conflicts, terrorism and violence of every kind, which inflict such terrible sufferings on entire populations. At the same time, ethnic, religious and political tensions, instability, rivalry, disagreements, and all forms of injustice and discrimination are destroying the internal fabric of many countries and embittering international relations. Throughout the world the number of migrants, refugees and evacuees is also increasing because of frequent natural disasters, often caused by alarming environmental upheavals.

On this day of peace, my thoughts turn especially to those places where the grim sound of arms continues to reverberate; to the tortured regions of Darfur, Somalia, the north of the Democratic Republic of Congo, the border between Eritrea and Ethiopia; to the whole of the Middle East - especially Iraq, Lebanon and the Holy Land; to Afghanistan, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, to the Balkans and to many other crisis situations that unfortunately are frequently forgotten. May the Child Jesus bring relief to those who are suffering and may he bestow upon political leaders the wisdom and courage to seek and find humane, just and lasting solutions. To the thirst for meaning and value so characteristic of today's world, to the search for prosperity and peace that marks the lives of all mankind, to the hopes of the poor: Christ - true God and true Man - responds with his Nativity. Neither individuals nor nations should be afraid to recognize and welcome him: with Him "a shining light" brightens the horizon of humanity; in him "a holy day" dawns that knows no sunset. May this Christmas truly be for all people a day of joy, hope and peace!

"Come you nations and adore the Lord." With Mary, Joseph and the shepherds, with the Magi and the countless host of humble worshippers of the new-born Child, who down the centuries have welcomed the mystery of Christmas, let us too, brothers and sisters from every continent, allow the light of this day to spread everywhere: may it enter our hearts, may it brighten and warm our homes, may it bring serenity and hope to our cities, and may it give peace to the world. This is my earnest wish for you who are listening. A wish that grows into a humble and trustful prayer to the Child Jesus, that his light will dispel all darkness from your lives and fill you with love and peace. May the Lord, who has made his merciful face to shine in Christ, fill you with his happiness and make you messengers of his goodness. Happy Christmas!

Monday, December 24, 2007

The Conversion Law

Browsing the various blogs and comments regarding Tony Blair's entrance into the Catholic Church, I'd like to counter by proposing:

The Conversion Law

Any adult convert to the Catholic faith will be more serious about their faith than the average cradle Catholic, where "cradle Catholic" is taken to mean anyone baptized as an infant in the Catholic Church.

Therefore, armchair political quarterbacks should lighten up on the criticism.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Godhead Here in Hiding

Richard Neuhaus has a nice meditation on Christmas. In closing he references Adoro Te Devote; however, what he quotes is Gerard Manley Hopkins well known translation (which also is in the English version of the Catechism):

Godhead here in hiding, whom I do adore
Masked by these bare shadows, shape and nothing more,
See, Lord, at thy service low lies here a heart
Lost, all lost in wonder at the God thou art.

Seeing, touching, tasting are in thee deceived;
How says trusty hearing? That shall be believed;
What God’s Son has told me, take for truth I do;
Truth himself speaks truly or there’s nothing true.

A whole philosophy in those two strophs, I think.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Sacrifice, Sacrament and Priesthood

As many have remarked, most of the disagreement between the Catholic Church and the various Protestant groups comes down to disagreement about the nature of the Church. And, in this disagreement, the nature of holy orders is central and I very much appreciate the explanation in "Sacrifice, Sacrament and Priesthood in the Development of the Church" which is section 2B in part two of Joseph Ratzinger's "Principles of Catholic Theology - Building Stones for a Fundamental Theology."

Seems to me that a good bit of current confusion in the Anglican community is related to misunderstanding about holy orders. Perhaps misunderstanding is the wrong word. Rather, in many places there seems to be a sort of double-mindedness in which "orders" are in practice taken to have a sort of sacramentality but only when convenient for the necessarily reduced ecclesiology that has to be adopted.

Leadership and Proclamation

There's a thread at the Anglican blog, Stand Firm in Faith, which addresses interesting ecclesiological issues.

I think some of the most interesting questions to ask of someone are: "Whom do you listen to?" and "What do you read?" Furthermore, both of those questions deal with matters of trust, at least implicitly.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Prince Caspian

The second movie adaptation of Lewis's Narnia series, Prince Caspian, is scheduled to come out next summer. Here's a still from it:

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

American Cuisine

A real cuisine is developed over hundreds of years and is founded upon the most basic of foodstuffs. Whereas wheat is basic in Europe and rice in Asia, corn is the fundamental food plant in America. This is supplimented with beans and squash, and peppers and may be complimented by a variety of meats and fruits.

Over time, if our Lord tarries, a truly American cuisine will arise that can stand along those described by, for example, Julia Child and Marcella Hazan. While that cuisine does not yet really exist, there are corn based cookbooks, e.g. Corn: Roasted, Creamed, Simmered and More by Olwen Woodier.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Fr Kimel

Fr. Alvin Kimel's blog, Pontifications is active again. Cool

Friday, December 14, 2007

Answering a growing confusion

From the note on evangelization (see earlier entry today):

There is today, however, a growing confusion which leads many to leave the missionary command of the Lord unheard and ineffective (cf Mt 28:19). Often it is maintained that any attempt to convince others on religious matters is a limitation of their freedom. From this perspective, it would only be legitimate to present one's own ideas and to invite people to act according to their consciences, without aiming at their conversion to Christ and the the Catholic faith. It is enough, so they say, to help people to become more human or more faithful to their own religion; it is enough to build communities which strive for justice, freedom, peace and solidarity. Furthermore, some maintain that Christ should not be proclaimed to those who do not know him, nor should joining the Church be promoted since it would also be possible to be saved without explicit knowledge of Christ and without formal incorporation into the Church.

Voices of Ascension

A beautiful CD of Renaissance music: 'Beyond Chant - Mysteries of the Renaissance' sung by Voices of Ascension, directed by Dennis Keene. Excellent for bridging between Gregorian Chant and Bach, it covers a wide range of Renaissance composers: Palestrina, Desprez, Byrd, Tallis and others.

Poorest of the Poor

Rachel Balducci has a lovely post about The Poorest of the Poor that reminds me of hearing Heidi Baker.

'Being Jesus to others means going the extra mile – not necessarily by doing more or providing more, but by loving more. It’s choosing patience with a family member. It’s choosing to assume the best when you can’t figure out why in the world someone would say such a thing. It’s smiling when you want to clench your jaw....'

Read it all.

On Evangelization

Here's summary of today's note from the Vatican on evangelization (the full text is available at the Vatican):



I. Introduction

1. The Doctrinal Note is devoted principally to an exposition of the Catholic Church’s understanding of the Christian mission of evangelization, which is to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ; the word "Gospel" translates "evangelion" in the Greek New Testament. "Jesus Christ was sent by the Father to proclaim the Gospel, calling all people to conversion and faith. ‘Go out into the whole world and preach the Gospel to every creature’ (Mk 16,15)." [n. 1]

2. The Doctrinal Note cites Pope John Paul II’s Encyclical Letter "The Mission of the Redeemer" in recalling that "‘Every person has the right to hear the Good News [Gospel] of the God who reveals and gives himself in Christ, so that each one can live out in its fullness his or her proper calling.’ This right implies the corresponding duty to evangelize." [n. 2]

3. Today there is "a growing confusion" about the Church’s missionary mandate. Some think "that any attempt to convince others on religious matters is a limitation of their freedom," suggesting that it is enough to invite people "to act according to their consciences", or to "become more human or more faithful to their own religion", or "to build communities which strive for justice, freedom, peace and solidarity", without aiming at their conversion to Christ and to the Catholic faith.

Others have argued that conversion to Christ should not be promoted because it is possible for people to be saved without explicit faith in Christ or formal incorporation in the Church. Because "of these problems, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has judged it necessary to public the present Note." [n. 3]

II. Some Anthropological Implications

4. While some forms of agnosticism and relativism deny the human capacity for truth, in fact human freedom cannot be separated from its reference to truth. Human beings are given intellect and will by God that they might come to know and love what is true and good. The ultimate fulfillment of the vocation of the human person is found in accepting the revelation of God in Christ as proclaimed by the Church.

5. This search for truth cannot be accomplished entirely on one’s own, but inevitably involves help from others and trust in knowledge that one receives from others. Thus, teaching and entering into dialogue to lead someone in freedom to know and to love Christ is not inappropriate encroachment on human freedom, "but rather a legitimate endeavor and a service capable of making human relationships more fruitful." [n. 5]

6. The communication of truths so that they might be accepted by others is also in harmony with the natural human desire to have others share in one’s own goods, which for Catholics includes the gift of faith in Jesus Christ. Members of the Church naturally desire to share with others the faith that has been freely given to them.

7. Through evangelization, cultures are positively affected by the truth of the Gospel. Likewise, through evangelization, members of the Catholic Church open themselves to receiving the gifts of other traditions and cultures, for "Every encounter with another person or culture is capable of revealing potentialities of the Gospel which hitherto may not have been fully explicit and which will enrich the life of Christians and the Church." [n. 6]

8. Any approach to dialogue such as coercion or improper enticement that fails to respect the dignity and religious freedom of the partners in that dialogue has no place in Christian evangelization.

III. Some Ecclesiological Implications

9. "Since the day of Pentecost … the Gospel, in the power of the Holy Spirit, is proclaimed to all people so that they might believe and become disciples of Christ and members of his Church." "Conversion" is a "change in thinking and of acting," expressing our new life in Christ; it is an ongoing dimension of Christian life.

10. For Christian evangelization, "the incorporation of new members into the Church is not the expansion of a power-group, but rather entrance into the network of friendship with Christ which connects heaven and earth, different continents and ages." In this sense, then, "the Church is the bearer of the presence of God and thus the instrument of the true humanization of man and the world." (n. 9)

11. The Doctrinal Note cites the Second Vatican Council’s "Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World" (Gaudium et Spes) to say that respect for religious freedom and its promotion "must not in any way make us indifferent towards truth and goodness. Indeed, love impels the followers of Christ to proclaim to all the truth which saves." [n.10] This mission of love must be accomplished by both proclamation of the word and witness of life. "Above all, the witness of holiness is necessary, if the light of truth is to reach all human beings. If the word is contradicted by behavior, its acceptance will be difficult." On the other hand, citing Pope Paul VI’s Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii nuntiandi, the Note says that "even the finest witness will prove ineffective in the long run, if it is not explained, justified… and made explicit by a clear und unequivocal proclamation of the Lord Jesus." [n. 11]

IV. Some Ecumenical Implications

12. The CDF document points out the important role of ecumenism in the Church’s mission of evangelization. Christian divisions can seriously compromise the credibility of the Church’s evangelizing mission. The more ecumenism brings about greater unity among Christians, the more effective evangelization will be.

13. When Catholic evangelization takes place in a country where other Christians live, Catholics must take care to carry out their mission with "both true respect for the tradition and spiritual riches of such countries as well as a sincere spirit of cooperation." Evangelization proceeds by dialogue, not proselytism. With non-Catholic Christians, Catholics must enter into a respectful dialogue of charity and truth, a dialogue which is not only an exchange of ideals, but also of gifts, in order that the fullness of the means of salvation can be offered to one’s partners in dialogue. In this way, they are led to an ever deeper conversion to Christ.

"In this connection, it needs also to be recalled that if a non-Catholic Christian, for reasons of conscience and having been convinced of Catholic truth, asks to enter into the full communion of the Catholic Church, this is to be respected as the work of the Holy Spirit and as an expression of freedom of conscience and of religion. In such a case, it would not be question of proselytism in the negative sense that has been attributed to this term." [n. 12]

V. Conclusion

14. The Doctrinal Note recalls that the missionary mandate belongs to the very nature of the Church. In this regard it cites Pope Benedict XVI: "The proclamation of and witness to the Gospel are the first service that Christians can render to every person and the entire human race, called as they are to communicate to all God’s love, which was fully manifested in Jesus Christ, the one Redeemer of the world." Its concluding sentence contains a quotation from Pope Benedict’s first Encyclical Letter "Deus caritas est": "The love which comes from God unites us to him and ‘makes us a we which transcends our divisions and makes us one, until in the end God is all in all (1 Cor 15:28)’."

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

On Waugh Novels

Most folks who've read any Waugh novel have read Brideshead Revisited. Although that's a great novel, it should also be read in the context of Waugh's shorter comic novels. There's a nice little Everyman Library volume with the four:
  • Black Mischief
  • Scoop
  • The Loved One
  • The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold

upon which I'll be commenting later.

Waugh's clearly focused, precise novels strike me as a totally different genre than the sprawling epics that are commonly taken to epitomize the novel genre.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Bread and Tulips

Regarding the movie Bread & Tulips, I found a review that said:

'For a movie that essentially swept the 2000 Donatello Awards (the Italian equivalent of the Academy Awards), Bread and Tulips is a remarkably light piece of work. One expects more from a film that won nine awards, including best film, director, actor, actress, supporting actor, supporting actress, screenplay, and cinematography. Bread and Tulips is merely a fluffy comedy about a woman regaining her sense of adventure and independence'

To disagree, all good romantic comedies are 'merely' fluff and light and have little shock or surprise. The genre's values are elsewhere and more subtle. A really good work in the genre will become more enjoyable on rewatching and, like good music, does not decrease in value with familiarity. Much like old friends or lovers and thereby showing comedy's victory over tragedy, at the last trump so to speak.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Gregorian discussion forums

CMAA's web site,, now has discussion forums. For example, in a forum on Ordinaries for Advent, William Mahrt writes:

The more familiar Kyrie is C under Mass XVII (in the Gregorian Missal and the Graduale Romanum 1974; ad libitum in the Liber Usualis). A small group of us sang for a weekly Latin Mass with a somewhat inexperienced congregation. They knew the Missa de Angelis well and sang it year round. Then we introduced Mass XVII (with Kyrie C) on the Sundays of Advent and Lent—that gave ten Sundays of the year to absorb the new ordinary. By Lent, they were singing it moderately well, and by the end of Lent, almost as well as the de Angelis. The next year we introduced Mass I for the Sundays after Easter; that took a bit more time, but eventually it was sung well also.

I would not use Mass XVIII for the very reason that it does belong to weekday Masses and Requiems—the occasion for the most sparse music of the year. The Sundays of Advent and Lent, while penitential, are still Sundays and bear some solemnity. Mass XVII really does convey that, while being quite distinct from those of the rest of the year.

An alternative is Mass XI (Orbis Factor). The Kyrie is a real classic (see my article in Sacred Music, 133:1). If you are using de Angelis on the Sundays of the year, Mass XI would provide the contrast and the solemnity for Advent and Lent. Still, even better would be to alternate de Angelis and Orbis Factor during the Sundays of the year and use XVII for Advent and Lent. It all depends upon the reception by the congregation. But that reception might be judged on a fairly long-term basis, over several years.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Vox Clara

Fr Zuhlsdorf has posted about the beautiful 6th century hymn Vox Clara, saying:

Light and reason and clarity and beauty are all associated with the VOICE, the VOX. The Latin word vox means not just "voice" but also "That which is uttered by the voice, i. e. a word, saying, speech, sentence, proverb, maxim." VOX = VERBUM and thus the glorious voice which makes everthing clear and understood, thundering from heaven, is the Risen Christ Coming at the world’s end to lay all things bare and resolve them.

The hymn Vox Clara is about the beginning of the day, the beginning of an examination of conscience, the beginning of repentance and conversion, all in light of the ending of the world.

Most of the time when people translate Vox clara they pick up rightly that the "Vox" refers to St. John the Baptist, "the voice shouting in the desert" to make straight the path of the Lord who is coming. This is a constant theme of Advent: make straight the path, prepare well for Christ. In fact, Christ, when He comes will undoubtedly come by the straight path whether you have taken time to straighten them or not. His Coming (to you) as Lord and Judge at the end can thus be smooth or, alternatively, pretty violent if HE is doing all the straightening… in the twinkling of an eye.

So, there is the hymn an interplay between the Vox and the Verbum, the Precursor and the Messiah. The one who announces is in fact a pre-echo of the one who is the Word.

This hymn is on page 6 of Liber Hymnarius.

The Anonymous 4 sing a version of this chant on, for example, their album: On Yoolis Night: Medieval Carols and Motets and a somewhat different version on A Star from the East: Christmas Music from Medieval Hungary. I prefer the On Yoolis Night version which starts with less ornamentation, as in Liber Hymnarius.

Speaking of Anonymous 4, their American Angels - Songs of Hope, Redemption and Glory is a lovely bridge from or to more familiar American shape note music and the older chant & polyphonic tradition.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Music in the Whole Church

There's a wide range of music in the whole Church, the Catholic Church, and the local parish tries as best it can to embody that range. This weekend at St Thomas Aquinas parish, on the edge of the University of Virginia campus in Charlottesville, I enjoyed participating in a major part of that range.

Saturday at the conclusion of the Life in the Spirit seminar which the guest speaker Fr. Tom DiLorenzo led, there was a wonderful hour of singing in the Spirit. Shortly after that, there was the evening Vigil service where the music was traditional, metrical hymn based. That night I got to thinking about the seven forms of music in the Church.

Most parishes' music in my region is either hymn based or folk based. Early Sunday, I got to the parish as the doors opened so I could spend some time before the tabernacle in eucharistic adoration, the 'music' of silence.

I'd come up to Charlottesville in the first place to sit in with the gregorian schola there at St. Thomas Aquinas. Although I'm a total novice regarding gregorian chant or even singing in any sort of choir, they were all very welcoming. Leslie, the choir's director, is very encouraging and it was helpful to stand between Tom and Edward and try to blend in with those with some experience in singing this beautiful music. I'll have more about the fellowship there in a later post; however, having already participated in four of the forms of liturgical music, I want to conclude that theme.

I left before the 11:30am Mass which has a folk ensemble. Jim, the organist, characterized the music for the 5:15 'Teen' Mass as rock and roll. So, all that's needed is a Bach, Haydn or Bruckner high Mass for all seven liturgical musics to be present in this one parish, which I think is fantastic. Having those widely differing musical forms really work together and encourage one another is certainly very challenging and I look forward to finding out more about the parish (I'm going to try to travelling the 2.5 hours some so I can sing in the 7:30am Mass with the schola).

There are not many parishes that use more than one or two of the seven musical forms in their liturgies, namely:
  • Adoration
  • Chant
  • Orchestra
  • Hymns
  • Folk
  • Rock
  • Jubilation
More on these various forms in future postings. All have a part in the whole Church, the Catholic Church.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Hammersten Hierarchy of Human Behavior

The various Anglican ecclesial bodies are very interesting laboratory for sociology and ecclesiology. In connection with that, Mary Ailes has a great post on the Hammersten Hierarchy of Human Behavior. I follow the Anglican goings on, especially in Virginia; however, the posting is understandable even if one's unfamiliar with Anglicanism.

Plus, the post ends with a great Dylan clip. I think 'coverdown' is meant to be one word, coined to contrast with cover up, a confessional breakthrough.

On Virginia and Charlottesville

For me, Virginia is the center of the United States. Virginia, where eastern government and western freedom come together, which once stretched to the Mississippi. Virginia, where norther intellectual industry and southern spiritual artistry come together, which staged the Civil War battles between centripetal and centrifugal forces as our nation endeavored to purge its original sin.

Virginia has many interesting towns: Bristol, Staunton, Front Royal, McLean, Williamsburg and Charlottesville, to name my favorites. Of these, Jefferson's Charlottesville is a center of sorts. I've never lived in Charlottesville and perhaps have a somewhat mythological view of the town.

Friday, November 30, 2007

In Hope We Were Saved

The encyclical letter
of Pope Benedict XVI addresses one of my favorite topics. Of course, since faith is the hypostasis of things hoped for, it is about faith just as much as hope. As with Saint Paul's letters, it starts theologically and then moves to practice, engaging with contemporary philosophical and political thought.

Here there is vibrant Faith which engages the modern world and proclaims eternal Truth with authority as nowhere else in Christendom. To be sure, one can find this person with vibrant faith, that person who engages modern though and then yet another who speaks with authority; however, to have all three witnesses united in one person is crucial for the ongoing health of the Church. As Zadok says in his blog entry: I think this encyclical deserves particular attention for the manner in which it manages to incorporate some pretty serious biblical exegesis and modern philosophy in a fairly accessible manner.

This encyclical is related to the previous Deus Caritas Est.

The encyclical Spe Salvi was initially released in English, French, German, Italian, Latin, Polish, Portuguese and Spanish. There's a page at the Vatican which lists some of the latest documents, with various translations.

Getting back to Spe Salvi, in the more academic early section there is this paragraph:

7. We must return once more to the New Testament. In the eleventh chapter of the Letter to the Hebrews (v. 1) we find a kind of definition of faith which closely links this virtue with hope. Ever since the Reformation there has been a dispute among exegetes over the central word of this phrase, but today a way towards a common interpretation seems to be opening up once more. For the time being I shall leave this central word untranslated. The sentence therefore reads as follows: “Faith is the hypostasis of things hoped for; the proof of things not seen”. For the Fathers and for the theologians of the Middle Ages, it was clear that the Greek word hypostasis was to be rendered in Latin with the term substantia. The Latin translation of the text produced at the time of the early Church therefore reads: Est autem fides sperandarum substantia rerum, argumentum non apparentium—faith is the “substance” of things hoped for; the proof of things not seen. Saint Thomas Aquinas,4 using the terminology of the philosophical tradition to which he belonged, explains it as follows: faith is a habitus, that is, a stable disposition of the spirit, through which eternal life takes root in us and reason is led to consent to what it does not see. The concept of “substance” is therefore modified in the sense that through faith, in a tentative way, or as we might say “in embryo”—and thus according to the “substance”—there are already present in us the things that are hoped for: the whole, true life. And precisely because the thing itself is already present, this presence of what is to come also creates certainty: this “thing” which must come is not yet visible in the external world (it does not “appear”), but because of the fact that, as an initial and dynamic reality, we carry it within us, a certain perception of it has even now come into existence. To Luther, who was not particularly fond of the Letter to the Hebrews, the concept of “substance”, in the context of his view of faith, meant nothing. For this reason he understood the term hypostasis/substance not in the objective sense (of a reality present within us), but in the subjective sense, as an expression of an interior attitude, and so, naturally, he also had to understand the term argumentum as a disposition of the subject. In the twentieth century this interpretation became prevalent—at least in Germany—in Catholic exegesis too, so that the ecumenical translation into German of the New Testament, approved by the Bishops, reads as follows: Glaube aber ist: Feststehen in dem, was man erhofft, Überzeugtsein von dem, was man nicht sieht (faith is: standing firm in what one hopes, being convinced of what one does not see). This in itself is not incorrect, but it is not the meaning of the text, because the Greek term used (elenchos) does not have the subjective sense of “conviction” but the objective sense of “proof”. Rightly, therefore, recent Prot- estant exegesis has arrived at a different interpretation: “Yet there can be no question but that this classical Protestant understanding is untenable.”5 Faith is not merely a personal reaching out towards things to come that are still totally absent: it gives us something. It gives us even now something of the reality we are waiting for, and this present reality constitutes for us a “proof” of the things that are still unseen. Faith draws the future into the present, so that it is no longer simply a “not yet”. The fact that this future exists changes the present; the present is touched by the future reality, and thus the things of the future spill over into those of the present and those of the present into those of the future.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Mercy and Justice

With Leon Podles book, Sacrilege, out recently I find various comments on a posting his at Touchstone's Mere Comments about
Huessein and Punishment very interesting. A significant percentage of the comments show, in my opinion, the same social irresponsibility. To turn a blind eye and to stop one's ears against just condemnation just compounds the problems. In fact, having browsed through the various comments on that thread, I think I'll have to put Podles book on my little library list though I'd rather ignore the whole matter.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Immaculate Conception

From First Things:

The project known as Evangelicals and Catholics Together is now in its thirteenth year—following its initial statement, “The Christian Mission in the Third Millennium,” with much-discussed statements on salvation, Scripture, and the Communion of Saints.

The group is currently engaged in studying what can be said together about the Blessed Virgin Mary, and a number of participants were asked to prepare preliminary papers. Though these are only first thoughts and not final positions, we thought our readers would find them interesting. With the permission of the authors, we will be posting five of these papers over the next five days—papers by Edward T. Oakes, J.I. Packer, T.M. Moore, Cornelius Plantinga and Matthew Levering.

It will be interesting to see how this relates to current discussion about the 'least common denominator' phenomenon.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Sin and Grace

Father John Heidt (Anglican) writes:

Whereas the Protestant Evangelical starts with sin and atonement, the Catholic builds his theology upon creation and grace. The Catholic believes that we are sinful but we are not depraved; we are sick human beings but we are still human; we have lost our likeness to God but we are still made in His image. We can never excuse our sinfulness by saying that we are only human, for, after all, what more do we want to be!

The Catholic recognizes the horror of sin because he first has some idea of what we are meant to be. It is his glimpse into the natural law of creation that also makes him want to obey the law of God. The doctrine of creation leads to repentance; without it man’s attempt to obey the moral law leads only to neuroses.

Grace restores the divine image in man. Salvation comes through growth in grace, not through some kind of substitution deal between Jesus and His Father. Because grace saves us from the effects of our sins, we are no longer slaves but friends of God. Though our sins make us unworthy to come into His presence, by divine grace we are made worthy to stand before him.
Through the re-presentation of Jesus’ death and resurrection, the sacraments rather than morality are the primary means of our salvation, “sure and certain means by which we receive grace.” That is why moral theologians such as Kenneth Kirk and Robert Mortimer insist that in the celebration of the sacraments the safest course must always be followed. And that is why Anglo-Catholics along with the rest of the Catholic world cannot accept any change in their administration that runs counter to the plain witnesss of scripture and the practice of the undivided church or casts doubt upon their reality in a period of reception – not even for the sake of establishing some sort superficial political alliance with our fellow-Christians.

Friday, November 23, 2007

soundtrack for Thanksgiving beauty

Need a soundtrack to go along with the beauty of, say, the Blue Ridge Parkway on Thanksgiving day with sunshine and clouds playing tag? Anton Bruckner's Mass in F minor is wonderful (I was listening to performance conducted by Sergiu Celibidache).

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Catholicity of the Church

There's a wonderful little book: Mary: the Church at the Source which contains essays by Joseph Ratzinger and Hans Urs von Balthasar. I particularly like the concluding essay by Balthasar, which contains this paragraph:

Jesus Christ is called the Alpha and Omega: he has not only bound us back to our lost beginning, the Father, but has also set us in motion toward his absolute future. He alone is the force that binds together the beginning and the end, the force that can reconcile in itself, as the higher third, the two divergent world views: past and future, Buddhism and Marxism. For only in him is God presence, and so he alone can be the way back to the origin and ahead toward the consummation. Buddha, in pure faith prefers the lost, bygone origin to everything present, to all apparent being. Marx, in pure hope, prefers the absolute goal to everything present, to all that actually exists. Christ alone establishes absolute love. This love, looking out from the present being of the world, which is affirmed by God, embraces at one and the same time both the beginning and the end.

This concluding essay (The Catholicity of the Church), while only twenty pages, addresses all the core issues in Balthasar's typical wide-ranging manner. If someone were to say to me, "Not that I've any interest in entering the Catholic church, but I'm really interested in what prompted you. Can you recommend a short article that gets are what's most important from your viewpoint?" then this article by Balthasar is what I'd recommend.

Monday, November 19, 2007

NT Wright interview

NT Wright was interviewed by Trevin Wax on November 15, 2007 at Asbury Seminary and the transcript and audio podcast are online. Here's a little excerpt:

The word “salvation” denotes rescue. Rescue? What from? Well, of course, ultimately death. And since it is sin that colludes with the forces of evil and decay, sin leads to death. So we are rescued from sin and death.

Now those may be the same event as the present and future justification. But the word “salvation” and the word “justification” are not interchangeable.

It’s as though, supposing we have a class that starts at 9:00 in the morning and suppose that 9:00 in the morning also happens to the be the moment when the sun rises in the middle of winter. Now you can say “sunrise” or you can say “the beginning of class.” Those denote the same moment, but they connote something quite different. One is a statement about things that are going on in the wider world. Another is a statement about something very specific that’s happening this morning in my educational experience. They may be the same moment.

In the same way, justification present and future correspond to salvation present and future, but they’re different language systems to talk about different sorts of events that happen to be taking place at the same time. That’s hugely important. And it happens when we’re reading Isaiah, as well as when we’re reading Paul actually.

People have often said, “Your idea…” (pointing to me) “…that future salvation will be based on the whole life led.” I say, Excuse me. I didn’t write Romans 2:1-16! Romans 2:1-16 is Romans 2:1-16. The evangelical tradition has screened out Romans 2 because it didn’t know what it was there for. Because the great evangelical tradition to which I’m hugely indebted tends to say, “We know a priori that Romans 1:18-3:20 basically says, ‘You’re all sinners and that’s it’ in order that then, 3:21 and following can say, ‘You’re all saved by grace through faith.’” And so they screen out the fine tuning of what 1:18-3:20 is actually about.

Why no conversion story

I came into the Catholic Church this past Easter, after 57 years in evangelical/charismatic congregations. I've not written any testimony about that as I don't have much to say on that score that others haven't said many times, for example here.

However, this entire blog and the related Little Library spring from the conversion.

Childrens' Books

In a meditation on children's literature, Tony Esolen mentions the Young Folks' Shelf of Books. This collection is also known as the Collier Junior Classics, which I read about fifty years ago and still remember the books' appearance.

Blessed Antonio Rosmini

"This afternoon at Novara there will be beatified the venerable servant of God, Antonio Rosmini, a great figure of a priest and an illustrious man of culture, animated by fervid love for God and the Church. He bore witness to the virtue of charity in all of its dimensions and at a high level, but that for which he was mostly known was his generous commitment to what he called "intellectual charity," that is to say the reconciliation of faith and reason. May his example help the Church, especially Italian ecclesial communities, to grow in the awareness that the light of reason and that of grace, when they walk together, become a source of benediction for the human person and for society." - Pope Benedict XVI

Sunday, November 18, 2007

With Regard To Americanism

Pope Leo XIII issued an encyclical in 1899: TESTEM BENEVOLENTIAE NOSTRAE
Concerning New Opinions, Virtue, Nature And Grace, With Regard To Americanism. This is still relevant today.

Friday, November 16, 2007


For many of us, the first books we remember spending time with were volumes from this or that encyclopedia. Further, it didn't matter a great deal how out of date the entries were; in fact, differences from popular opinion just added interest. Of course, one didn't get poetry there; nevertheless, only the narrow-minded would take encyclopedias as being in conflict with poetical viewpoint.

My little library only has room for a one volume encyclopedia: Aristotle's Basic Works.

And in Charlottesville

And in Charlottesville at St Thomas Aquinas parish, Fr Augustine Thompson founded (2005) a schola that regularly sings at Sunday's early Mass, see their home page.

By the way, Fr Thompson's book "Cities of God" is reviewed by Amy Welborn, who says:

it's a book bursting with fascinating details, thoroughly and carefully related.

You may wonder..huh. A book about...what? Italian Communes? Religion? Why should I care?

For the same reason any of us should care about history - there's no way to understand the present without an awareness of where we have been. A truism, of course, and a point Catholics think that we get, but the thing is...we don't. We amateurs don't at least. We think we've got the general outlines of the past, but as history marches on, it's becoming clear how much of that outline was simply wrong and, in many cases, weighted by the prejudices of previous generations of historians who could not or would not tell the truth.

Part of this, too, is rooted in our refusal (or inability) to truly think historically - that is to allow the past to be the past without our hindsight. To see people and their choices in the context of their times, in the framework of what they knew and believed and what they could do, as opposed to what we think they should have done.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Dr William Mahrt

Dr. William Mahrt is a professor of music history at Stanford who also directs a Gregorian schola (the St. Anne Choir) at St. Thomas Aquinas parish on Homer Avenue in Palo Alto, California.

There's an article on Gregorian Chant as a Paradigm by Dr Mahrt at Musica Sacra, as well as an article On Music in Catholic Worship.

The Stanford alumni magazine has an article, On Wings of Song which remarks:

Perhaps it isn’t so surprising, then, that not everyone who is devoted to plainsong in its religious setting is Roman Catholic. Susan Weisberg, a social worker at Stanford Hospital who joined the choir in 1989, is Jewish, but her attraction to the liturgy is longstanding. “When I was young, growing up in New York in the pre-Vatican II days, I would go to midnight Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral regularly on Christmas Eve,” she recalls. “I was fascinated by the mystery—the words, the music, the incense. This music has always been with me.”

For years, after moving to Stanford with her husband, Law School professor Robert Weisberg, JD ’79, she attended the feast day Masses sung by the St. Ann Choir. Weisberg finally summoned the courage to ask Mahrt if she could join.

“I didn’t know anything about the notation and the liturgy and the Latin: I was a three-time loser. Would anyone with these daunting odds want to continue? Yes,” she says emphatically. “Bill is so knowledgeable, and he’s so enthusiastic about the chant. I’m thoroughly hooked.”

Catholic Media

The Protestant Reformation leveraged the printing press and Pentecostals leveraged radio and then television (for a general history, my little library uses Alister McGrath's Christianity's Dangerous Idea: The Protestant Revolution - A History from the Sixteenth Century to the Twentieth-First).

With its inherent ability to cross-reference and interconnect, the Internet's World Wide Web gives the Catholic Church a communications media most suitable to its nature. However, I suspect it will take thirty years or so before that becomes widely understood.

Sacrament of Confirmation

There's an interesting discussion about the sacrament of confirmation at Canterbury Tales, Taylor Marshall's blog.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Adore, be silent, rejoice

There are pages about Blessed Antonio Rosmini at the English Rosmini Centre.

Hopefully, English translations of Rosmini's writings will become more widely available after his beatification on November 18th, 2007.

Dear valued customer

I got a newsletter from Toronto Airport Christian Fellowship today.

It began: "Dear valued customer,"

[long pause]

I think I'll go to early Mass tomorrow.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Gregorian Chant workshop

We went to a two day workshop on gregorian chant, led expertly by Scott Turkington, at Saint John the Beloved in Mclean. There were 100 people at the workshop, with the knowledge of chant generally far above our own; nevertheless, we had a great time and learned a good deal. It was also a good opportunity to make connections with future friends. I'll be posting more on this later and also on questions about parish liturgy and ecclesiology which arose or gained more prominence.

How to effectively broaden and deepen the liturgical practice in one's parish is a difficult matter and, I think, there are lots of ways to get off track if one loses patience and charity.

Even if one is in a parish where latin is rare or non-existant, it seems to me that gregorian chant is excellent voice training for the choir and, for that matter, for anyone wanting to improve their vocal skills. That's the track I'm probably going to take, concentrating on the Kyrie, Gloria, Sanctus, Agnus Dei and Pater Noster using versions in the Liber Cantualis. And just for variety, the beautiful hymn, Adoro Te Devote. There are some useful midi files here and some mp3 files here. More advanced material is at Musica Sacra.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

On Willow Creek

As Fr. Robert Hart says, Oops:

Everyone from plumbers, to doctors, to generals, knows that to "rethink all of our old assumptions" is to choose the path of unlearning, to un-educate and "dumb down" your own mind. It is to throw away the wealth of knowledge gathered over many years that is essential to doing the job.

The Spirit Catches You

Speaking of Kant, I'd intended to leave science & technology out of the library altogether; however, that proved unrealistic. So, having added the Critique, I also added Anne Fadiman's The Spirit Catches You, and You Fall Down in order to maintain the little library's balance. Given the restriction to a dozen books, and wanting to interact with current society without being restricted by it, a certain amount of breadth has to be given up.

The short brush strokes on this blog aim for an impressionistic oil of folks enjoying a dinner, of Fish Soup of course.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Kant's Critique

Kant's Critique of Pure Reason may seem lonely and out of place in my little library. It will be a good while before I get back to it. For now, I just want to remark that while philosophers may have particular uses, within their systems, for the virtual instruments they create, the tools can often be used in quite a different fashion than is customary in the world's traditions. In particular, the Critique of Pure Reason is useful for waving away various overconfident or even atheist nonsense, irrespective of the other critiques, once one acknowledges God's initiative.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Gospel Hymn

1 WRETCHED, helpless, and distrest,
Ah! whither shall I fly?
Ever gasping after rest,
I cannot find it nigh:
Naked, sick, and poor, and blind,
Fast bound in sin and misery,
Friend of sinners, let me find
My help, my all, in thee!

2 I am all unclean, unclean,
Thy purity I want;
My whole heart is sick of sin,
And my whole head is faint;
Full of putrefying sores,
Of bruises, and of wounds, my soul
Looks to Jesus, help implores,
And gasps to be made whole.

3 In the wilderness I stray,
My foolish heart is blind,
Nothing do I know; the way
Of peace I cannot find:
Jesu, Lord, restore my sight,
And take, O take, the veil away!
Turn my darkness into light,
My midnight into day.

4 Naked of thine image, Lord,
Forsaken, and alone,
Unrenewed, and unrestored,
I have not thee put on;
Over me thy mantle spread,
Send down thy likeness from above,
Let thy goodness be displayed,
And wrap me in thy love.

5 Poor, alas! thou know'st I am,
And would be poorer still,
See my nakedness and shame,
And all my vileness feel;
No good thing in me resides,
My soul is all an aching void
Till thy Spirit here abides,
And I am filled with God.

6 Jesus, full of truth and grace,
In thee is all I want;
Be the wanderer's resting-place,
A cordial to the faint;
Make me rich, for I am poor;
In thee may I my Eden find;
To the dying health restore.
And eye-sight to the blind.

7 Clothe me with thy holiness,
Thy meek humility;
Put on me my glorious dress,
Endue my soul with thee;
Let thine image be restored,
Thy name and nature let me prove,
With thy fulness fill me, Lord.
And perfect me in love.

(Charles Wesley)

Communion of Saints

Of course, any discussion of community also reminds me that "I believe in the communion of saints." There is both an "already" and a "not yet" aspect to this and one holds both with a bit of tension. Folks who say the Apostle's Creed have, no doubt, a range of understanding of what this communion of saints means. The Catholic Church teaches, in the compendium:

194. What is the meaning of the “communion of saints”?

This expression indicates first of all the common sharing of all the members of the Church in holy things (sancta): the faith, the sacraments, especially the Eucharist, the charisms, and the other spiritual gifts. At the root of this communion is love which “does not seek its own interests” (1 Corinthians 13:5) but leads the faithful to “hold everything in common” (Acts 4:32), even to put one’s own material goods at the service of the most poor.

195. What else does “the communion of saints” mean?

This expression also refers to the communion between holy persons (sancti); that is, between those who by grace are united to the dead and risen Christ. Some are pilgrims on the earth; others, having passed from this life, are undergoing purification and are helped also by our prayers. Others already enjoy the glory of God and intercede for us. All of these together form in Christ one family, the Church, to the praise and glory of the Trinity.

Monday, November 05, 2007


Most folks are part of multiple communities: family, friends and work communities being dominant for many with Church overlapping for some. The overlapping of various sorts of communities contributes to general well-being and institutional vitality.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

New Friends

Friday we went up to Winchester to get Timba

who is very happy in her new home with us.

Yesterday we took our new friends from Wales, Mike and Kathy, on a country drive up Big Stoney Creek Road to the buffalo farm near Paint Bank

and then we took the mountain road across to Gap Miles. We'd intended to eat at the Moxie Cafe in Union, WV but they're in the process of moving, perhaps to near Lewisburg. We got various goodies at the Mennonite stores in Gap Miles and then went to Moncove Lake to have our tea and cinnamon buns.

We went on up Route 3 and then went back across the mountains on Route 311 into New Castle and then headed back to Shawsville. It's wonderful to meet new friends and also to have beautiful little country roads to explore with them, with fall leaves still on the trees under the crisp, bright blue sky.

It turns out that Mike & Kathy are good friends of Mom & Dad's old friends Al and Kay. When we first met them yesterday, they greeted us with "and how are Nancy and Marjorie?" and it was great to find out the particular way we're connected to them in this small world. Maybe sometime we'll be able to visit them in Swansea. If so, I'd probably worship at Saint Joseph's whereas MaryAlice is more inclined toward West Cross Community Church. If an Evan Roberts were in Swansea nowadays, might he possibly visit both?

Friday, November 02, 2007

Baby Skibitsky!

pregnancy week by week

Wonderful news: Megan and Jeff are expecting!

One of the things I'm looking forward to is painting with our grandchild. Fingerpainting with vivid colors on long sheets on what will become Christmas wrapping paper. And later, perhaps, learning to do more than that, myself. We can learn together which is one of the joys of having children, and grandchildren: one can relive one's childhood, consciously. Not manipulatively or with an agenda but just participating in the whole joy of life.

I've long thought that The Oxford Book of Children's Verse should have included some of Shakespeare's sonnets: From fairest creatures we desire increase, etc. A pregnant etc.

Also, there's the wonderful ontological category change: one's own child now becomes a parent, a peer, and we can talk more equitably. And pray for all with fervent joy.

Fetus is, of course, a good Latin baby name and one hesitates perhaps for more, not yet knowing appearance or personality. Still, there is the urge for the name. I've no preference myself, except for twins - how can you say such a thing, I think to myself! Anyway, to celebrate I think I'll type a poem, not about naming but it's relative, linguistics. And not by me, but Wystan Hugh Auden (when he was 62):

Natural Linguistics

Every created thing has ways of pronouncing its ownhood:
basic and used by all, even the mineral tribes,
is the hieroglyphical koine of visual appearance
which, though it lacks the verb, is, when compared with
our own
heaviest lexicons, so much richer and subtler in shape-nouns,
color-adjectives and apt prepositions of place.
Verbs first appear with the flowers who utter imperative odors
which, with their taste for sweets, insects are bound to obey:
motive, too, in the eyes of beasts is the language of gesture
(urban life has, alas, sadly impoverished ours),
signals of interrogation, friendship, threat and appeasement,
instantly taken in, seldom, if ever, misread.
All who have managed to break through the primal
barrier of Silence
into an audible world find an indicative AM:
though some carnivores, leaving messages in urine,
use a preterite WAS, none can conceive of a Will,
nor have they ever made subjunctive or negative statements,
even cryptics whose lives hang upon telling a fib.
Rage and grief they can sing, not self-reproach or repentance,
nor have they legends to tell, though their respect for a rite
is more pious than ours, for a complex code of releasers
trains them to walk in the ways which their un-ancestors trod.
(Some of these codes remain mysteries to us: for instance,
fish who travel in huge loveless anonymous turbs,
what is it keeps them in line? Our single certainty is that
minnows deprived of the fore-brains go it gladly alone.)
Since in their circles it's not good form to say anything novel,
none ever stutter or er, guddling in vain for a word,
none are at loss for an answer: none, it seems, are bilingual,
but, if they cannot translate, that is the ransom they pay
for just doing their thing, not greedily trying to publish
all the world as we do into our picture at once.
If they have never laughed, at least they have never talked drivel,
never tortured their own kind for a point of belief,
never, marching to war, inflamed by fortissimo music,
hundreds of miles from home died for a verbal whereas.

"Dumb" we may call them but, surely, our poets are right in assuming
all would prefer that they were rhetorized at than about.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Chicken Soup

The recipe over at Meanwhile, Back at the Kitchen prompted MaryAlice to say:

This is the way "real" soup is made not poured into a saucepan from a can & whisked around with some water! This is why "gourmet" restaurants charge so much for their food - it is tedious and takes time but most of it is not really "hard".

I thought of the old song, This is the way we wash our clothes, etc, this week, and looked it up. There is an order of housewifely duties set forth in it that women have been doing for centuries, that gave focus & so-called "meaning" to their days, and eventually added up to a life well lived taking good care of their families. Part of this taking care includes the preparation of food - very time consuming but overall, important. O, yes, we eat to live & not live to eat; this I have to remind myself of constantly.

And for me to reply:

Yes, I agree. While William Blake asserted that architecture is the foundation of culture, the part that best survives barbarism, I think he is definitely wrong. Cuisine is the foundation of culture. Not the haute cuisine of restaurants and royalty but the kitchen cooking that sustains life and spices it with time consuming dishes, as you say. The cooking of simple dishes that have simmered centuries and which coordinate with community and season.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Dulles' on the Catechism

There is an interesting background article on the Catechism at
First Things
which is also, I think, applicable to the reception of the more recent Compendium.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Ratzinger 1971

Why I am a Catholic
By Joseph Ratzinger, 1971

We can think of the Catholic Church by comparing it to the moon, not only for the relationship between moon and woman (as mother), but also because the moon does not have its own light. It receives light from the sun, without which it would be in total darkness. The moon shines, but its light is not its own. Lunar probes and astronauts have seen that the moon is nothing but a rocky and desert-like wasteland. They saw rock and sand, the reality quite different from the image we held about it from antiquity. The moon is by and of itself nothing but rock and sand, but it does reflect light.

Is this not an exact image of the Church? Whoever explores it and digs into it with a probe will discover, as in the moon, nothing but desert, sand and rock -– the weaknesses of mankind seen as dust, stones, waste. But the decisive fact is that even if she is nothing but sand and stones, she is also Light, by virtue of the Lord.

I am a Catholic because I believe that now as in the past, and independent of us, the Lord stands behind the Church, and we cannot be near Him without staying within His Church. I belong to the Catholic Church because despite everything, I believe that it is His Church, not “ours.”

It is the Church which, despite all the human weaknesses present in her, brings us to Jesus Christ. Only through the Church can I receive Him as a living and powerful reality, here and now. Without the Church, the image of Christ would evaporate, it would crumble, it would disappear. And what would become of mankind deprived of Christ?

I am in the Church for the same reasons that I am a Christian. Because one cannot believe in isolation. Faith is possible in communion with other believers. Faith by its very nature is a force that binds. And this faith must be ecclesial, or it is not faith at all. And just as one does not believe in isolation, but only in communion with others, neither can one have faith out of one’s own initiative or invention.

I remain in the Church because I believe that faith, realizable only in the Church and not against her, is a true necessity for the human being and for the world.

I remain in the Church because only the faith the Church professes can save man. The great ideal of our generation is a society free of tyranny, suffering and injustice. In this world, suffering does not come only from inequalities in material wealth and power. There are those who would have us believe that we can realize our humanity without mastery of self, without the patience of surrender and the effort to overcome difficulties; that it is not necessary to make any sacrifice to keep compromises which we accept, nor to bear with patience the constant tension between what should be and what actually is.

In reality, man can only be saved through the Cross and the acceptance of one’s own suffering as well as those of the world, which find their resolution in the Passion of the Lord. Only thus can man become free. All the other “offers at a better price” can only end in failure.

Love is not simply aesthetic and uncritical. The only possibility to change man in a positive sense is to love him truly by transforming him gradually from who he is to who he can be. That is what the Church can do.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Refusing to be self-sorted

We're inclined to self-sort into groups of like-minded folks. There's an interesting post on refusing to do that at:
Aimee Milburn's Blog

No one can sing the blues like...

“For a songwriter, Dylan is as essential as a hammer and nails and a saw are to a carpenter.” - Tom Waits

“Dylan is so brilliant. To me, he makes William Shakespeare look like Billy Joel.” - George Harrison

“When Another Side of Bob Dylan was released Pete played it endlessly, especially the track ‘All I Really Want To Do.’ Dylan and particularly this track spurred him on with his own song writing.” - Pete Townsend’s roommate Richard Barnes, 1964

“It almost makes me furious sometimes, how good his lyrics are. You know, you aspire to things. I’m trying and trying [to write a song], and I’ll get something and I’ll say, ‘That’s pretty good,’ and then I’ll listen to Blood On the Tracks and think ‘Who the hell am I kidding? What the hell am I talking about?’” - Dave Matthews

“This man can rhyme the tick of time. The edge of pain. The what of sane.” - Johnny Cash

“There’s no concession to the fact that Dylan might be a more sophisticated singer than Whitney Houston, that he’s probably the most sophisticated singer we’ve had in a generation. Nobody is identifying our popular singers like a Matisse or Picasso. Dylan’s a Picasso - that exuberance, range, and assimilation of the whole history of music.” - Leonard Cohen

“I never showed any interest outside of the blues until I heard Bob Dylan.” - Eric Clapton

“Dylan’s an extraordinary man. I don’t know if he’s going to sell, but he has something profound to say.” - John Hammond

“Bob Dylan’s one of the greatest blues singers of the western world; ancient art, on-the-spot improvisation, mind quickness, endless variation, classical formulae, prophetic vision, mighty wind-horse.” - Allen Ginsberg

“That boy’s got a voice. Maybe he won’t make it in his writing, but he can sing it.” - Woodie Guthrie

“If Woody Guthrie set the bar for American songwriters, Bob Dylan jumped right over it. No one I know will ever come close to possessing the beauty of melody and the use of language that Dylan shares with us, with ease.” - John Mellencamp

“When I heard the first album, I thought, ‘Wow, this is terrible.’ Nobody sang like that. After a while, I loved it, but it took a little time.” - Arlo Guthrie

“It began of course with Bob Dylan, and that must have been an incredible time; I think everything that’s happened since then came from that energy.” - Shawn Colvin

“The Basement Tapes was a big influence on me, because again, it was a seamless mixing of all these American musical forms. And they were doin’ it so easily. It was like, ‘Oh, we’re just goofin’ off,’ which is why I think it worked so well.” - Dave Alvin of the Blasters and X.

“The only way to explain his contribution is by playing his songs.” - Eddie Vedder

“After he wrote those images, thousands of young kids scribbling on their pads have tried to duplicate that and nobody’s been able to. He’s influenced every songwriter in rock and roll and folk. And whether or not he was involved in social action or not, he wrote this artillery for us.” - Joan Baez

“I’m an intense Dylan fan… I think Infidels is one of the most remarkably written albums I’ve ever heard.” - Rodney Crowell

“If I had an axe on the evening at Newport when [Dylan] broke out the electric guitar, I’d have cut his cable.” - Pete Seeger

“I always wanted to do in rap what Bob Dylan did for rock, when he picked up the electric guitar and everybody booed him, and yet he just played on, and he broke down that barrier.” - Darryl McDaniels of Run-DMC

“He was no longer doing this nasally folk thing. He was screaming his songs through the rafters, and it was like thunder. It was very dynamic, very violent, and very exciting.” - Robbie Robertson

“…You couldn’t help being influenced by Dylan.” - Al Kooper

“Coming from my background of rock and heavy metal and then blues and jazz, I wasn’t really hip to folk music in general. But when I heard ‘Positively 4th Street,’ it totally blew me away. I don’t know if it’s popular, but it’s an amazing song that everyone should know about.” - Kirk Hammett, guitarist for Metallica

“I don’t think [Dylan and the Beatles] influenced me a lot. I think it was inevitable; they were so powerful that you couldn’t really escape the influence.” - Paul Simon

“Overall, Dylan’s probably my favorite of everyone. The Basement Tapes are something I can’t get enough of and all the unoffical, unreleased basement tapes too. Desire is one of my favorite records of all time.” - Jeff Tweedy of Wilco

“Now 30 years, 38 albums, and almost 500 songs later, Bob Dylan is universally recognized as one of the most powerful creative artists of our time.” - Kris Kristofferson

“Great tunes like ‘A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall,’ or ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’ for that matter, or ‘Chimes of Freedom,’ taught me a whole lot of what songwriting essentially is about: a three-way marriage of melody, harmonic progression, and lyrics.” - Bob Weir of the Grateful Dead

“Dylan was a revolutionary… the way that Elvis freed your body, Dylan freed your mind.” - Bruce Springsteen

“But there’s still some people I admire and listen to who can’t be ignored. Dylan is the greatest living poet. It was interesting because I’d stopped thinking about the whole music business, making albums. I was quite fed up with it. Then I saw him recently and I thought, ‘Well, here’s somebody who’s still doing it and he’s good.’ It sort of gave me a kick in the ass.” - Van Morrison

Wednesday, October 17, 2007


Viewed from outside, a cathedral's windows seem drab and meaningless.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Maude's Tavern I.1


It's interesting how one's life can be changed forever by events that could easily have been otherwise. Not the big events: birth, death and marriage - you expect those to change your world. Rather, it's the little chance encounter, the brief conversation along the roadside that, years later, seems to have changed everything. The sort of thing that, looking back in one's old age, might cause a pleasant shiver, if one's not a fool.

So, while the main part of this book doesn't start until I left the Island with Sue and Joe to help them with the running of Maude's Tavern, there needs to be this long introduction going back to November 1972 when I was caretaking for the Convoluted Rock Point. Yes, quite a name for a beach place - probably ran off most of the few potential renters who heard of it. Belonging to a curmudgeonly maths professor I met at Cambridge, who understood and took pity on my mood at that time, it was a wonderful place to recover from the loss of Maria.

Back in those days, my favorite song was that old blues tune:

Old Joe Slow don't drive anymore
Old Joe Slow don't drive anymore
Don't plow thru the Beartooth at quarter to four
Old Joe Slow don't drive anymore

Old Joe Slow don't drive anymore
No oranges from Florida, no spruce from the North
West avacado don't come to your door
Old Joe Slow don't drive anymore

Old Joe Slow don't drive anymore
Old Joe Slow don't drive anymore
Just shufflin' around with eyes on th' floor
Old Joe Slow don't drive anymore

Of course, back then, and still now, I didn't sing the verse with "With the death of Maria at the wheel by his door." Still, singing those blues helped work out the sorrow and anger back then, not being able to pray.

The caretaker's shake at RockPoint was two rooms: a kitchen/bedroom/living room combo with a tiny bath run off the cistern on the roof and the garage that also held the few tools I used along with the Willys. And the lean-to off the garage for the goats. I call it a shack since it was pretty run down but it was very sturdy and would stand through several more hurricanes. The view was wonderful even if not as picturesque as at the beachhouse. As I'd scratch in the rocks for the tomatoes, squash and peas, I could look out over the ocean or over at the woody brambles where the goat (Mabel at that time, as I recall) foraged with her kid. When there were no folks staying at Convoluted [named for the coral rock with which it was partly built], I'd spear grouper and other fish in the rocks off the bay. The beachhouse having been built recently, and well, there was not much caretaking needed really - mostly just piddling around with landscaping here and there. All very idyllic and certain to work healing over time.

However, I'd only been there five years when Joe and Sue came there, in November, on their honeymoon. I generally stayed away, or at least out of the way, when there were folks renting the beachhouse and what with my shack being on the other side of the ridge from Convoluted, sometimes folks would stay there weeks and I'd never see them. Over the twenty years that I stayed there, almost all the renters wanted to think of themselves as being on a deserted Caribbean island, albeit a well-appointed one with a caretaker within calling distance should there be any problem.

I'd met the Turners at the airport when I gave them the keys and the car that they'd also rented. But that was all; as Professor Kerns had instructed, "Don't show folks the beachhouse. Just give them the keys, the car and a map and let them find it on their own. As they explore the house and the bay and find out where stuff is and how things work, Voila! the house stops being a rental and becomes their own. And they become regular customers." There are some who don't enjoy such adventure but we're all glad to terminate as soon as possible in that case.

It had been three weeks since the Turners arrived and I'd not even seen them drive by when they pulled up alongside the squash patch where I was scratching out some new plots.

"Hi, Tom. Not much soil there!"

"Well, good morning, Joe. No, just enough to hold some moisture so the plants can feed off the rocks themselves.
And the sunlight too, of course. So, you'll enjoying yourselves?"

"Oh, yes! It is, um, just what Joe and I had imagined. The bay is lovely and the house is so cozy. We'd not even be driving today except we're starving and all out of sodas. Can we get you anything?"

"No thanks, ma'am. Glad you like it here. A bottle of dark rum, maybe?"

"Oh, I'm sorry, we're too young, we'll only 17."

"Today's Sue's birthday!"

"Oh..well, happy birthday, Sue, have fun."

And I went back to scratching on the rocks and cutting brush to make soil. I slashed and burned through more than I'd ever done in a day that day, all the while thinking fitfully about building soil.

Build Soil! That's the founding endeavor of the farmer, building soil. And it takes time. Oh, you can compost and fertilize but it still takes time and patience. Especially on top of the jagged coral rocks of this Island. Folks often just burn it off and take the quick returns from planting in the ashes. That works, and has sustained the small population for many years; however, for the civilization on the Island to really flourish, you've got to turn plants to soil, not just ashes. The more succulent the plants, the better. Chopping up the woody shrubs, after the first time, doesn't give enough nitrogen for the carbon. Of course, you need to keep some of those scrub shrubs anyway, for windbreaks; otherwise, the wind and storms will take away what little soil you've gained.

I sorta enjoy working slowly, by hand, working on little pockets of soil nestled among the rock, plots not much bigger than my hand and growing slowly into one another, there being lots of them. Now that place I was at when you and Sue stopped by this morning, I've been working on it for five years now and the pockets have so grown together that it looks much like a regular garden. However, I know every inch of it, this for squash, that for tomatoes and beans over there. Over the years, folks would occasionally come by and they'd always say, "Tom, when you gonna plant something! Why, even the grass no more than gets to look like something and you cut it down and go back to scratching in the rock." And then newcomers like you'll see the garden and haven't a clue what's underneath it.

You can see the process along the edges, tho. See, over there, it looks like just scrub thicket but as we get closer, see, that chopped out place. Yes, that's a burn pile that I'll use to fertilize here and there. Here's some little grass pockets that i've turned over a couple of times. You can't be in any hurry to get results. For that matter, probably best not to aim on getting results at all, ever; rather, just work for the exercise, for the discipline, for the pleasure of the sea breeze cooling the sweat from the sun as you work. Lots of folks work themselves out in this world for stuff that sours even before they get it, got their eyes down so, they can't see the ditch they're headed for nor the glorious sunset above.

At first, when it's just bare rock it is easy to get discouraged or to fall to daydreaming unless you have patience and take a long view. There is also the other extreme, though not so much here on the Island, of soil so rich and deep that you get complacent and full of pride and have to fight off others for what's not really yours anyway.


Why death and destruction? I don't know; I asked that myself years ago and sorta concluded that wasn't the question I really wanted to ask. Why is often just a way of asking 'What must I do?' And that is a question which can be answered although, being personal, each one must pretty much answer it for themselves. However, in my own life Joe and Sue certainly helped to find the answer.

For some reason, I'd been anticipating their return ever since last November. And they certainly did burst back onto the scene: Joe bouncing out of the plane and into the airport with that strikingly sparse set of luggage and Sue alongside with a baby on her hip who waved back to the other travelers with one hand while his right hand pulled her halter top even lower. Her face lit up so on seeing me that I burst out with 'Mama, you sure look fine!'

"Hi Tom. Meet our son, Christopher."

"Howdy, young man. Ah, what eyebrows you have!" Whereupon I wiggled my eyebrows in his face but, at that point, all he could do was reply with a sort of giggle. I'd never seen a baby with such eyebrows: full and dark, darker that the little bit of hair on the top of his head. Very striking. Peculiar, in fact, and so I wasn't really surprised when Joe and Sue pretty much spent the entire month in Christopher's face, exercising their own muscles and teaching Christopher to speak, after a fashion. And, oh, can he talk pictures with those eyebrows; of course, he was just getting started back then. As was Sue, with her earnest 'I'm serious' devotion to her vocation as mother. Joe too, but for Sue it was pretty much all in all, back then at least. Injustice? Evil? Destruction? World Poverty? Sue's consistent answer to all the world's problems was for her and Joe to have another child.

Passion and good health don't generally predict a large family nowadays; however, if one's as interested in how people change slowly as Sue and as uninterested in modern fads as Joe, then a large and extended family is to be expected.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Joe's first truck

On Joe's 16th birthday, his dad give him a dump truck. Mabel was a 20 ton tandem Mack with 15' steel bed, a boy's fantasy. While Joe's youth took most by surprise, he got lots of work from the novelty. So many jobs that he soon quit school, which was a bore anyway, and took to driving backroads all over southwest Virginia, carrying rock and soil. And that also led to Sue. ...