Saturday, February 13, 2010

Idiot Drivers

I grew up in north Indiana: lake-effect snow amounts. Our school buses had strobe lights on top of them as a precaution in case they got stuck in snowbanks. Schools didn't close all the time for snowstorms.

In northern Virginia, I will grant you, this past week has reached lake-effect amounts of snow of over thirty inches as you have either read about or experienced yourself. And whoever Monica Hesse is, she, too, discovered the truth about persons without driving experience driving in ice and snow.

God is in the Pain

Cardinal Angelo Comastri stares down suffering, pain, and death. We do not fly from nothingness to nothingness. God is in the pain.

For more resources on dealing with the oft ignored realities of mortality, visit the ever-growing number of entries at Meanings of Suffering and A Holy Death.

Lady Jane Grey

As hard a pill as it may be for those who cling to shreds of truth about the so-called "reformation" (this is especially the case for Angliophiles), Leanda de Lisle writes, Debunking the Myth of Lady Jane Grey.

Friday, February 12, 2010


For the record: in honor of Black History Month, here is the site of the National Black Catholic Conference.

De-invention - Gunpowder

If you, gentle reader, could turn back the clock on any single invention and "de-invent" it, what would it be? The internal combustion engine? Nuclear energy/weapon technology? The toaster?

My vote would go to Alfred Nobel's smokeless powder, Ballistite, invented in 1887. Without it, semi- and fully automatic weapons would not have developed.

Mind you, I enjoy shooting when I visit a brother-in-law of mine who is a gun collector (that 357 packs a punch) But I am fully cognizant that without modern gunpowder, the ability to kill - to murder - at a distance would be greatly diminished.

While I affirm the Church's teachings on legitimate defense and just war, I also affirm Her teachings on Original Sin. And, as we presently live in a milieu that affirms none of these teachings except in isolated pockets of civilization - local parishes of the Catholic Church and then only if the laity are properly catechized - the means to kill our fellow human beings with whom we are at variance at a distance allows for very little room for actual legitimate defense as St. Thomas Aquinas addressed the issue.

Therefore, I will go back even further and de-invent gunpowder altogether, beginning with the Chinese who wasted little time in turning it from a medicine for skin diseases (BLAM! Disease all gone. Please hand this to receptionist.) to military purposes.

+ + +

Since we cannot de-invent, I lift up a slightly hopeful literary precedent, Marion Zimmer Bradley's science fiction, The Ages of Chaos. I have not read Zimmer Bradley, but my wife told me long ago of the plot; namely, intergalactic civilization is brought to the brink of total destruction. In a grand move (this is science fiction, remember) the use of all weapons that could kill from a distance is forbidden. Anyone wishing to kill someone else must put their own life at equal risk. Swords, spears, daggers - yes. Crossbows, longbows - no.

So ... what would you de-invent?

Waterhouse PRB

Tristan and Iseult (1916) - John William Waterhouse

Thursday, February 11, 2010

What, Me Worry Thursday

Just in case you find yourself fat, happy, and sassy, welcome to What, Me Worry Thursday!

Here are just a couple of items for you, gentle reader: (1) The Middle Eastern hot potato just got hotter.

(2) And this is what happened in 1859 when "high tech" was the telegraph system. Just imagine what will happen to air traffic navigation, the national power grid, and your bank account when -
when - it happens again.

BTW, the above illustration is an early Alfred E. Neuman prototype (Wiki Commons).

Escalation to the Extremes

As René Girard recently writes in Battling to the End, when one member of a model/rival warring relationship is settling into a defensive posture (the dominant 'model'), that partner sets the terms of the battle and "escalation to extremes." The lesser partner (the 'rival') is forced to move against its foe-partner in terms dictated by the former's defenses.

The dominant partner may enact a faux ignorance of its rival's actions and even a feigned ignorance of the rivalry altogether. Its rival is, thus, forced to enact any and all measures not only to be noticed, but, in the words of Robert Hamerton-Kelly,
It wishes not only to imitate the other, nor merely to possess itself in the other, but to destroy the other as the place where the self is alienated to itself.
In this quest, the rival will change the terms of discourse (don't forget; the Scimitar was founded on this model/rival template). But the model will act remarkably stupid and seemingly blind to the obvious. Even when the "escalation to extremes" reaches the level of sacrificial denouement.

WILL the escalation continue? Girard is convinced of it, and fears for the world of humanity. And apparently, the dominant model partner is beginning to think so, too.

But under current leadership from the Last Self-Help Administration, it is unlikely that any actions other than functional dhimmitude, academical indifference, and puer-senex tendencies will be seen for the foreseeable future.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Theology on Tap

Now, what's not to like about this hale fellow well met, the former Joseph Ratzinger?

Wood - The Flight of Sparrows

Ralph C. Wood in his paper, "Tolkien the Movie and Tolkien the Book," writes profoundly about moderns' attitude toward life and antipathy toward mortality using a "distant mirror":
In Tolkien’s estimate, we moderns have been inveigled by the lure of life as an end in itself. In this regard, we are not far removed from our pagan forebears of ancient Germany and Scandinavia.The 7th century English theologian and historian called the Venerable Bede likened their view of human existence to the flight of a sparrow into one end of a blazing mead-hall and out the other: from black emptiness, briefly into warmth and light, back into cold oblivion.

Like our Anglo-Saxon ancestors, most of us are mortalists. With the philosopher Bertrand Russell, we believe that when we die we do nothing other than rot. Our mortalism has thus caused us to deny the deepest of Christian paradoxes: the paradox that the death which was originally meant as our curse and punishment can be transformed into the supreme gift—if we can learn to die aright…

Here, I believe, lies the perennial appeal of Tolkien’s great book, the reason why readers repeatedly return to it—not to escape from but into Reality. We learn from the hobbits and their allies that the drama of everyday life is full of fantastic adventure and challenge, that it contains epic horrors and blessings, that our smallest deeds belong to a huge universe of meaning, that we are working out nothing less than eternal destinies, that we have hope of victory only through courage and trust, love and loyalty, friendship and faith.
Read more here.

Hartline - Rebellion Against God

For the record: Dave Hartline's important and timely article, The Coming Open Rebellion Against God here.

Carrying St. Thomas' Spear

Joseph Upton writes on why Ralph McInerny chose Thomism at First Things:
McInerny once remarked, “My ambitions have never gone beyond wanting to be a spear carrier in the grand Thomistic opera.” McInerny fulfilled his ambition well. Many students of theology would do well to follow McInerny’s lead and turn to Thomas, since many of the theologians they study today (Congar, de Lubac, Balthasar, Rahner, among others) built their theological projects on a critique of some form or another of Thomism..More>>

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Our Lady's Statue

ONE SPRING YEARS ago now, I stood talking with a CCD class of sixth graders. At least three of them were obviously well past the expiration of the effects of their meds for the day. "Bouncing off the walls," as they say. Having two clinically diagnosed ADHD sons myself, I knew the signs. They were seeming stunt doubles for bat boy, and just as attentive. But I glanced out of the Catholic school basement window to the small courtyard. There stood a lovely and serene statue of Our Lady of Grace.

In an instant of insight I knew why I was glad to be there with an unruly, indifferent class of sixth graders who would rather be home playing video games waiting for dinner. It was the sense of antiquity associated with statuary, heroism, sacrifice, and a culture not entirely of this world.

Tolkien knew this, too, of course. He could tell his son,
Also I can recommend this as an exercise (alas! only too easy to find opportunity for): make your communion in circumstances that affront your taste. Choose a snuffling or gabbling priest or a proud and vulgar friar; and a church full of the usual bourgeois crowd, ill-behaved children - from those who yell to those products of Catholic schools who the moment the tabernacle is opened sit back and yawn - open necked and dirty youths, women in trousers and often with hair both unkempt and uncovered. Go to communion with them (and pray for them). It will be just the same (or better than that) as a mass said beautifully by a visibly holy man, and shared by a few devout and decorous people. (It could not be worse than the mess of the feeding of the Five Thousand - after which [our] Lord propounded the feeding that was to come.)
The Catholic Church is not a transcendent Gift from Our Lord because of the people, high and low, who populate it. The Catholic Church is that grand, shimmering Vessel cutting through the storms and high seas of history promised to St. Peter, his Vicar; that she would not succumb to the Gates of Hades (Mtt 16, 18), nor be swamped (Mk 4, 37-41), but bear Our Lord's sacramental Real Presence until He comes again (Mtt 28,20).

Like Elrond's Rivendell, the statues, the monuments, the ageless Liturgy are the bedrock and foundation of faith, the stuff of legends, the absolutely needful place of repose and mission and chivalry for us poor mortals.

I did not despair teaching those sixth graders. Instead, I used clips from Peter Jackson's film version of Tolkien's master opus to illustrate catechetical points. I also recalled a very young Athos who was isolated from the other children during Sunday School class because I was rambunctious (ADHD wasn't invented yet).

And I looked out the basement classroom window up at Our Lady's statue.

St. Jerome Emiliani

The West's Downward Spiral

For the record: Robert Spencer reports on the sad, fawning, obsequious dhimmitude of the West as showcased in the Geert Wilders trial. And here.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Sex, Snow, and Scimitar-Rattling

At First Things, Mary Eberstadt ponders the stark realities and the way of all flesh in terms of mainline christianities' easing sexual restraints in Christianity Lite. The Anchoress observes similar things:
We have a very odd notion, really, of what makes us free, anymore. Sex that lives in fear of life, that must be protected from disease, that exposes the human body to degradation, the human heart to constant shielding and the human spirit to constant uncertainty, is not sex that makes us free. It is sex that entraps us, distracts us and ultimately makes us strangers to ourselves..More>>
As any who have listened to the reflections of Gil Bailie based on René Girard's mimetic theory know, sexuality and the breaking down of restraints around it are the "canary in the mineshaft" of cultural breakdown, not from a moral viewpoint but from the anthropological. As Scalia (above) points out, self-understanding of, for example, sexual freedom ('orientation', etc.) often points the train off the tracks of how we are designed into the "freedom" (sic.) of sinking into quagmires of our own doing. Some freedom.

Meanwhile, the scimitar rattling continues from Iran, with February 11th - the 31st anniversary of the so-called Islamic Revolution. When did Israel ever go lax when one of its sworn enemies makes such promises?

And finally, my area is expecting another 10-20” of more snow on top of the 30" we still have. This leads me to dreams of springtime and cherry blossoms, and a judicious use of this.

Bonnacon - Cloud of Unknowing

Daniel Mitsui relates the amusing legend of the bonnacon here. Notice that sword and shield do not avail the poor knight the least protection.

I had a student once not unlike a bonnacon who struck without warning, but usually right after devouring his lunch in our school cafeteria.

The delicate female students around him appealed to me and we arranged a procedure whereby my bonnacon signaled by pointing toward the door his felt need, and he would, to the great relief of the entire class, excuse himself to the hallway.

Faith Among the Ruins

The Miami Herald reports on Haiti, faith, and the Catholic Church:

Sacred Heart was among at least 60 Catholic churches that collapsed in the 7.0 quake that killed more than 100 nuns and priests and the top church leadership. It's estimated that seven out of every 10 Catholic churches were lost. Damage estimates run in the tens of millions of dollars.

The earthquake is believed to be the most devastating natural disaster to hit a Catholic diocese, said Bishop Joseph Lafontant. With the death of the archbishop and vicar general of Port-au-Prince, Lafontant is now one of the church's top leaders in Haiti.

``As for material things -- we can rebuild,'' he said last week during a break from a daylong meeting with surviving priests. ``In lives, the archdiocese suffered.''

In a country where the government has always struggled to provide even the most basic services, the Catholic Church has always been a lifeline -- it runs schools, hospitals, orphanages and charities.

``In Haiti, the church is like a central living womb for the community,'' said the Rev. Reginald Jean-Mary of Miami's Notre Dame d'Haiti church, who has been conducting prayers and officiating funerals at Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal Church in Port-au-Prince..More>>

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Truth, Tea Parties, and Peter's Barque

The ultimate cynicism: when all truth is relative, it is up for grabs to the highest bidder, to the I Wuns with the most political power and clout. Dr. Arnn of Hillsdale College, Michigan annihilates the relativism of our current president. Sadly, Dr. Arnn jumps the shark when he says tiny Hillsdale will "save America."

I'm afraid, being a former Prot, I've heard such provincial hokum before. Like the Tea Party movement itself, it expresses a noble concern for the Founding Fathers, the Constitution, and a fiery spirit and willingness to fight those in present power who believe such things are "obsolete". But it lacks the long view and ontological density that will keep such noteworthy sentiments from eventually falling into the usual "human funny business" (Bailie) into which we inevitably embroil ourselves.

At best, our greatest hope is in prayer, observance, discipline, thought and action. If I do become a fellow traveler with any Scott Browns, Sarah Palins, or Tea Parties, it will be with the realization that the time may come when I will have to depart in order to live the principles of Catholic truth as taught and protected by the Church's Magisterium.

As C. S. Lewis once observed, the best lie is the one closest to the truth. I have worked too hard to become a member of the last, best bastion of truth, goodness, and beauty - the Catholic Church - to settle for a mutable and merely human effort at such eternal concerns, gentle reader. If such is as out of date as, oh, say, chivalry, so be it.