Tuesday, August 29, 2006

NO and Hurricane Katrina: a Year Later

I'm not one to comment on the MSM or political matters much. There are far better blogs for that information. However, I heard an interesting comment today by a local weather person who also happened to be in emergency planning for many years. He went down to Louisiana last year to help with hurricane-recovery efforts. He mentioned that national emergency plans available to the public well before this disaster indicated clearly that FEMA will respond in 72 hours and that local and state goverments, as well as individuals, are essentially on their own during this time.

Hmmmm. You mean FEMA Isn't supposed to respond beforehand or in the immediate aftermath?

Nope. That's the job of the people closest to the problem.

Siggy has more information here, and the Anchoress has a round up here.

UPDATE: Ooops! Missed the first link on the Anchoress's post: Whizbang!

Saturday, August 19, 2006

A Young Martyr at Play

I don't know if I've mentioned it before, but I had an active imagination as a child. I mentioned some of my antics here and wrote about a family friend and religious sister here. And I've been hinting at telling another story from my childhood.

My father's family lived in New England. The matriarch, my grandmother, lived in Montpelier, Vermont, while her niece, my dad's cousin, lived with her family (my second cousins) in Manchester, New Hampshire. Two of the cousins (the boys) were closer to our age (mine and my brother's), while two others (the female cousins) were in their teens. There was one other I didn't meet until much later. My grandmother had us all over one summer to stay in her rambling Georgian house on School Street in Montpelier. The public elementary school sits right across from the old house, and St. Michael's Catholic School stood on the hill just above both.

I still remember the house quite fondly. It was one of three my grandmother owned there and had a basement and three stories, including a turret on the northwest corner. My dad and his brother had grown up there, along with their two cousins (one being the mother of the Manchester clan). In addition to the various twisting and turning hallways and passages, the family had decades of belongings stored in the cellar and the garage. (My dad still likes to tell stories about some of the things he and his brother found in the garage—baling wire, goat wagons, entrenching equipment.)

I had two modes as a child: class clown and wandering dreamer. I either wanted everyone's attention (and would behave in the silliest ways to get it), or I just wanted everyone to forget I was around and go on about their business. On this particular day, I had opted for the latter. Everyone else had planned to go off to Burlington or to do some antique shopping in Middlebury. As an aside, I can't imagine WHY an 8-year-old wouldn't want to go dig around in a dusty old antique shop along some back road in Vermont. Oddly, my adventures in Grandma's house really weren't all that different. Except all the adults were away, Grandma was napping, and I had no adult supervision.

So there I was, in wandering dreamer mode, digging through my Grandma's cellar. I have to say she had some cool stuff stored away their. I imagined it belonged to my father (most like not), and I'd hoped I would run into some of those things I'd seen in those old photos: that cool Navy outfit, an old pair of his skis, Snowball, his pet rabbit. Okay, maybe I didn't really expect Snowball to come bounding out, but it was THAT KIND of delving. Any little bit of junk became potential Dad memorabilia.

Amid the boxes and piles I found some planks. As I moved them, I found they were tied together in the middle. As I moved them, they twisted into one form or another until at some point a Catholic waypoint in my mind clicked, and I saw that they formed a cross. Some new possibilities for my afternoon just came to mind.

So let me step back a moment here and confess that this was not the first time I had crucified myself. It was actually one of my favorite games. My brother and I had this bunk bed, and if you've ever owned a bunk bed, you know that they are excellent staging devices for all kinds of adventures. During my Western phase (yes, I had one, and that will shock those who now know me and my contempt for western movies—way too dusty), a bunk bed made a perfect stagecoach. Then came the privateer phase. Yes, privateer, not pirate. I had several heroes. In first grade, it was George Washington. In third and fourth, it was John Paul Jones. And let me tell you, a bunk bed makes one hell of a Bonhomme Richard.

But a bunk bed could also be used for landscape. In a purely theatrical sense, it was my Mt. Calvary. Whenever I has one of those wandering dreamer modes during the school year, I would claim to be sick (of school, but that was a minor technicality). I don't think Mom was ever fooled. However, I did well in school, and I think she figured I knew when I needed time off. So she pretty much left me to my own devices. Invariably, around 2:00 PM or so, I would don my tunic (see here for a description) and the obligatory loin cloth underneath, I would scale Mt. Calvary (my bunk bed), and I would crucify myself (or be crucified by unseen Roman centurions). I'm sure I expired at 3:00 PM sharp.

So how was this Montpelier experience different? Well, to me, it wasn't. I was in dreamer mode, Grandma was napping, and the uncles, cousins and parents were elsewhere.

And so my trip down my Via Delorosa began. I donned my loin cloth (a towel) and my tunic (probably bed sheets), took up my 5-foot-tall cross, and made my way to Golgotha, which just happened to be on at the end of the drive way, across the street from Montpelier Elementary on Loomis Street. Now, I don't know why I choose this location. Frankly, it would've been more appropriate for me to haul my thin pine cross up to the playground at St. Michael's, which was actually situated on a hill. But I was never one for verisimilitude in those days. (Arguably, some could reasonably claim I'm still not one for it.) Nonetheless, I carried my burden out to the end of the driveway, planted it into the ground, and began my self-martyrdom. I cast off my tunic to be gambled away by the imaginary centurions, and stood there in nothing but a loin cloth/towel with my hands draped over the cross beam. (Oh yeah, that thing about verisimilitude? I didn't apply to loin cloths.)

I don't know how many cars might've driven by, or how many neighbors glanced out their windows. What I do know is that Grandma never found out (not until I told her some 25 years later). 3:00 PM. The hour of mercy in more ways than one.

I finally revealed the story of my crucifixion to my grandmother when the family got together for my uncle's funeral. Grandma had always favored me (far more than I deserved). When I told her the story, the edges of her lips turned up slightly, and she just shook her head. I imagine she had the same thought in her mind when she died a year later: "What am I going to do with you, my little William?"

[Technorati tags: Christianity, Catholic, Catholicism, Church History]

Friday, August 18, 2006

Oy vei!

I have a confession to make. I like writing essays. Unfortunately, I like writing them under different conditions than which I'm currently operating. So that's my kvetch for the night.

My paper's mostly done. Which I guess means I'm slightly not done. Good thing, too, since my wife and I are leaving for a brief vacation on Sunday. My final is on Friday, and this semester will be completed.

I've been struggling with this decision, but I've decided to sit out again next semester. Both work and home life have put a lot of demands on me over the summer, and they show no signs of abaiting for the next few months. I hope to get back into it in the spring, then assume a more consistent schedule for my theology studies after that.

What that does means is that I'll be a bit more free to blog and to read something other than class texts. That's not so bad. Eliot keeps suggesting things I want to read anyway.

I noticed Julie D. was panning Waugh. When Pope Benedict released his first encyclical, she noted how she preferred John Paul II's style (which I find repetitive and verbose). I think there's a stylistic commonality between Waugh and the Holy Father, just as a very different one exists between Pope John Paul II and G.K. Chesterton. I think Julie likes the flowing language and the meandering prose of JP II. I like the directness and bluntness of Benedict and Waugh. I used to prefer less directness. I think my career path (technical communications) has beaten the joy of prosaic wandering out of me.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Welcome to Hell. Here's your accordion.

I apologize in advance to all polka, zydeco, or mariachi fans who might be offended by the title of this post. It's more of a pop-culture allusion (Gary Larson's Far Side) than anything else. And, in actuality, the allusion was triggered via free association (and the otherwise odd workings of my brain) by another Far Side cartoon in which Arthur Fiedler is guided to his room in Hell, an orchestra hall filled with banjo players.

My father works with a boys' chancel choir at my church. It's a very traditional sort of gig: men and boys only, mostly Latin Psalms and Renaissance liturgical music for Compline and Vespers, cassocks and surplices, and the whole nine yards. The director is a professor of music at the local university, a stern former high-church Anglican with a huge tenor voice who occasionally uses it to chide the boys into submission. The director was on vacation this last week, but he had arranged for the choir to participate in Mass at another parish. Since he was out of town, my dad asked if I could lead the rehearsal, with a slight possibility that I might need to lead the choir at Mass if the director missed his return flight.

Now, I'm barely fit to direct myself in music matters, so I strongly recommended that my dad find someone better suited for the task. I've led one rehearsal for him before, but I'm only fit for sectionals at best. Fortunately, he enlisted the help of the parish school's choir director.

Those of you who've followed this blog for a while probably know that I'm opinionated when it comes to liturgical music. I'm not big on "contemporary" (chinga chinga) choirs. Oddly, I love contemporary Christian music (be it Stephen Curtis Chapman, Skillet, or Gretchen), but I don't consider that appropriate for Mass. Anyway, I had seen the music selections for the Mass, and I knew they were hardly the sort of thing a chancel choir would perform, unless the St. Louis Jesuits had some unknown collection of polyphonic works in Latin for boys' choirs. I was willing to help out my dad, but I wasn't exactly enthusiastic. The news that my dad had found a more qualified director pleased me on both our accounts.

As it turned out, the regular director's flight did not arrive on time. The choir arrived today to find a "contemporary" choir all ready to join them during Mass, with a full complement of instrumentalists on guitar, upright bass, tambourine, and banjo. My dad thought it best for the regular director's health that he were not present today given that the presence of a banjo might cause some hemorrhaging.

My comment to him? "So I guess they didn't have anyone to cover the washboard part."

[Technorati tags: Christianity, Catholic, Catholicism, Church History]

Friday, August 11, 2006

That's not my 'soul' yearning for anything, that's just chemical reactions in my brain!

Jennifer F. asked for a sign from God. What did she get? Just another lousy lightning storm framed neatly between two mountain peaks in the Southern Rockies.

This new convert has some great stories to tell about her conversion.

Maybe I'll get around to writing a conversion/reversion story someday... along with that story about crucifying myself on my grandmother's lawn.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

The Counter-Reformation: Lecture VI study questions

One last set of study questions before the final and the last paper. I don't think any Christian can study the Protestant reformation and Catholic counter-reformation without feeling the need for a good shower afterward. Fortunately, we have the likes of Sts. Philip Neri, Ignatius Loyola. Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, Francis de Sales, and Vincent de Paul to remind us of the fruits of the reformative work.

How did the Catholic Church reform itself?

Even before Luther rejected the authority of the Pope, a reformative spirit had been strengthening in the Church. Many good men and women of religious orders had begun to try to regain the glory for which their orders were formerly known. While some orders reformed from within, spurred on by the efforts of heroic individuals, other religious split off from their orders to form independent orders, such as the Capuchins and the Discalced Carmelites. Still others began completely new orders, such as the Society of Jesus, founded by St. Ignatius of Loyola, or the Oratory of St. Philip, founded by St. Philip Neri (albeit formally not until after his death). This new religious movement brought renewal in spirit. The Church, though, had other work that needed to be done.

Following the publication of the 95 Theses, the Holy See responded a year later by issuing a bull clarifying the teaching on indulgences. By this time, Luther had come out with many more of his doctrinal disputes, which were eventually condemned in Exsurge Domine in 1520. The increasing debate on the continent demonstrated two indisputable points: first, even those charged with the teaching of theology did not fully understand the Church's teaching, whether it was because the Church had left many doctrinal questions unaddressed or because the teaching of theology was so unsystematic that so-called theologians had little exposure to the arguments and opinions of the early Church fathers and the history of the early Church. In any case, doctrinal matters had to be clarified.

More serious, though, was the matter of the rampant ecclesial abuses. Some abuses were age-old problems: priests, bishops, or religious living in concubinage; bishops holding multiple benefices and living remotely from their diocese. Others were perhaps more a matter of the fashion of the times: nepotism in the promotion of clergy to the episcopacy; outright sale of clerical positions to raise funds. Both Luther and Henry VIII used abuses (or alleged abuses) as a starting point to gain credibility or to win popular support: the former on the point of the sale of indulgences, the latter on the licitness of the Pope to dispense with matters of canon law. Using abuses as a platform, dissenting theologians could launch a war against the doctrine, which is what happened in both cases.

Just as those low in the Church hierarchy had begun to seek renewal, those more creditable individuals in the College of Cardinals and other auspicious positions began to seek reform. The Council of Trent was the vehicle to that reform.

The council took place over eighteen years and three sessions. While most in attendance understood the need to reform abuses and to clarify doctrine, the representatives had a difficult time deciding which to do first. They settled on a wise agenda. They would begin on one day with a point of doctrine. On the next day, they would address a point of abuse. They then alternated between the two points day by day throughout the course of the council.

The Pope insisted that all decisions upon which decrees would be formed would be decided unanimously. This created some difficulty, particularly when matters of ecclesial reform were on the agenda. The Catholic rulers in attendence sought to maintain their prerogatives while depriving those of the Holy See. The Papal legates, though, insisted that some reform must be handled internally and not as business of the council, and they did their utmost to protect the rights of the Papacy in regards to dominion over ecclesial affairs.

In addition to the council, some Popes made efforts to reform the Roman Curia from within. Many made considerable headway, and several of the popes of the period are recalled for the tenaciousness of their reform efforts.

What was gained and what was lost?

First and foremost, the Papacy regained some of its moral authority. The worldly Rennaissance mindset of many preconcilliar popes and other curial staff had created a general distrust of Rome. The counter-reformation underscored the moral duty of the pope and councils to settle matters of doctrine and to be guided by the Holy Spirit while doing so. While some of the concilliar popes may have been hypocritical or sinful, the results of their efforts in the concilliar decrees could not be dismissed are counter to the doctrine of the faith prior to Trent.

The Church also gained a waypoint for future growth, or perhaps, it established a last line of defense. By its decrees, the Church itself knew where it stood and how it would respond the the Protestant threat.

Materially, the Church also suffered. In acceding to the demands of some secular rulers, the Church gave up or simply lost through impoundment much of its property in Germany. While the wisdom of the times might render these losses to be grave, with hindsight we could see them as a blessing. The admixture of material wealth and secular power with Church authority had done much spiritual damage

The Church also lost considerable clout in dealing with sectarian disputes and with the menace of the Turks. While these concerns were also the concerns of the secular rulers, many of the Protestant rulers saw the invading Turks solely as a boon to their own efforts. The loss of Church authority and cohesive Catholic rulership left the entire empire open to exploitation by foreign interests and invaders.

On a side note, this same scenario seems to be playing out in Europe, where secular liberals see diversity as the means to rid themselves of "repressive Christianity" once and for all, while all along ignoring the threat to their own freedom.

What the Church lost in terms of human souls is inestimable. We're still living with the consequences. However, what we do see in the evangelical and pentacostal communities is a tremendous ability to spread the word. While some animosities still exist, their does seem to be a trend in these circles recommending orthodoxy, even Catholic orthodoxy. When people from these communities do "cross the Tiber," they bring with them a fervor similar to that of the early Jesuits or Oratorians. They may very well be infusing our Church with that same reforming spirit. In addition, many of the African and South American populations to whom the Jesuits ministered during those periods are also returning now to shore up the barricades.

[Technorati tags: Christianity, Catholic, Catholicism, Church History]

Friday, August 04, 2006

Jen is "Calling all Catholic hematologists"

Jennifer F, a young mom in the process of becoming Catholic, is looking for a Catholic hematologist. If you know of one, please drop Jen a line at her blog, Et tu, Jen?.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Jack Chick buys rights to Garfield?

It could happen.

Jack Chick buys popular comic strips

Sorry. I've been a lame blogger lately. I'll try to post something interesting soon. Maybe that story about crucifying myself on Grandma's front yard.

[Technorati tags: Christianity, Catholic, Catholicism, Church History]