Wednesday, June 29
1.Total Number of Books I Own
I'm going to take a wild guess and say around 400, although I keep finding boxes full of them when I least expect it.2.The Last Book I Bought
A vintage copy of The Year and Our Children by Mary Reed Newland. For those of you who are unfamiliar, it's a 1956 book full of POD things to do with your kids throughout the liturgical year.
3.The Last Book I Read
I tend to have more than one going at once, so I'll just list this summer's notable reads:4. Five Books That Mean a Lot to Me (in no particular order, and not counting Scripture)
The Man Who Was Thursday
In This House of Brede
The Cube and the Cathedral
The Lord of the Rings These were the first books that made me scared, that made me cry, and that showed me what a Catholic aesthetic sense was all about. I could go on, but I imagine most people here know exactly what I'm talking about without my saying it.5. Tag five people, and have them do this on their blog. Well, since this meme has pretty well made the rounds, I'll stick to people I know:
The Liturgy of the Hours This might be cheating (somewhere along the Scripture line), but my breviary has traveled alongside of me off and on for a long time now, and it always seems to offer some sanity and comfort even just by having it around. It represents the universality and timelessness of the Church to me in alot of ways, and as such, is kind of the warm blanky of my books. Also, carrying it around is a rather obvious visible sign of my Catholic Nerd credentials, which has led to one or two interesting meetings.
Fides et Ratio I read this encyclical once in high school, and have been assigned it 3 or 4 times in college so far. The idea that Faith needs to safeguard Reason as much as Reason needs to defend Faith has always stuck with me.
A Treasury of the Familiar This is a WWII-vintage book of poems, speeches, and quotes that we had in my house when I was growing up. It was one of those big, cozy, old-smelling hardcovers, and I have fond memories of curling up with it and reading Longfellow and Shakespeare.
Goodnight Moon If you don't understand immediately why I chose this one, you never will.
Theo of the Body should be in here, too, as the book that has probably most influenced my thought in my adult life, but I don't know if I can count it, since I haven't actually read most of it.
Tuesday, June 28
I assume that means "blog beg." Anyway.
We at the Shrine recieved the following email:
I will be teaching religion at our new Catholic high school this fall, despite my lack of qualifications to do so. (mild exaggeration) I am curious as to how many of you graduated from Catholic high schools, and what you considered the most valuable parts of your experiences there. And if you remember the texts you used in your Church history classes, that would be even better. :-) I get to pick what the juniors will read, and am somewhat torn between several options. I would be interested to hear your input and appreciate any responses I receive from you all. Any "things I read in high school that helped deepen my faith" ideas would also be most welcome.I did not attend Catholic school until I got to Notre Dame, and frankly I think my faith was the better for it -- only because I saw what our local Catholic high school turned out: Lots of kids who, as I've said before, "Know the color of the smoke which announces a knew pope, but seem to have infinitely more skepticism towards the Church than they have love for Christ."
So I would emphasize that any school program should somehow facilitate
1) A true reverence for Christ, so that rather than being a reliable punchline, Catholic identity really is Christocentric. This reverence should really extend to the way the history of the Church is presented, to how the Divine Person of Christ is regarded in conversation, to a palpable reverence for the currentinstitution of the Church.
2) A real opportunity to encounter Christ as a living force. This really happens sacramentally, especially through Adoration and Confession. But in the classroom, the history of these practices, and the experience and writings of the saints, could be studied and explained.
I remember the first time I saw someone take the Church seriously. That opened me up to take the Church seriously. I think that's the greatest witness that an adult can provide.
The books I read that made a difference for me in 8th grade were "Why do Catholics Do That?" and "Rome Sweet Home" by Scott Hahn: I needed basic formation in what Catholics believed and did, and I needed someone from outside to tell me that Catholicism was worth converting to. However, depending on how good the Catholic school, this may be totally unnecesary for individuals who have GONE to Catholic school.
I would recommend reading the original sources whenever possible. One of the greatest thrills I had in studying the Church on my own was the ability to look up conciliar documents written centuries ago and say "This is what they believed, and I believe it, too." These are not as hard to read as they might sound: I read a lot of the Council of Trent the summer before high school. So, if you're teaching history, try the original sources! The Councils, the Fathers, etc.
Looking for a cuddlier version of Catholicism? It's only 160 euros.
Sadly, there are no plans to extend the line to include a line of alternative garments, Vatican play-sets or spin-off collections of Curial greats.
The REAL FACTOR behind the conclave politics that led to the election of Joseph Ratzinger.
Your Plans for the Feast of Ss. Peter and Paul
An Early Morning Solemn Angelus
In the rural, people say the 6:00am Angelus while kneeling outside under their garden trees. Having finished, they bow deeply and make the Sign of the Cross, believing the blessing of the Holy Father is carried by angels throughout the world to all who sincerely await it.
Using Articles of Devotion Blessed by the Pope or Any Bishop.
The faithful, who devoutly use an article of devotion (crucifix or cross, rosary. scapular or medal) blessed by the Sovereign Pontiff or by any Bishop gain a plenary indulgence on the feast of the Holy Apostles, Peter and Paul, provided they also make a profession of faith according to any legitimate formula. (n.35)
†Praying for the Pope
You weren't really going to let the feast of St. Peter pass without praying for Papa, were you? The faithful who recite this prayer on any day receive a partial indulgence. (n.39)
V. Let us pray for our Sovereign Pontiff, Benedict XVI.
R. The Lord preserve him and give him life, and make him blessed upon the earth, and deliver him not up to the will of his enemies.
†Prayer to the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul
While you're on your knees, a partial indulgence is granted any day for the following prayer. (n.53)
Holy Apostles Peter and Paul, intercede for us.
Guard your people, who rely on the patronage of your apostles Peter and Paul, O Lord, and keep them under your continual protection. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
The Shrine is now fully armed and operational, thanks to the comment-box insights of Mary and Brian.
OK, now THIS is funny
I realize this is a tangent from our religious purpose, but this is funny. Recently, the Supreme Court decided that eminent domain extends to COMMERCIAL purposes, meaning that if the government believes that another PRIVATE ENTITY can use your property more wisely than you yourself can use your property, the government can take your property and give it the other individual/corporation/etc.
Although in practice this would be extremely rare, it is also (in my eyes) alarming. That monastery with 100's of acres on the outskirts of Springfield? Friar Tuck's Strip Mall.
Anyway, someone has decided to bring the unease which property-owners feel about this decision straight home to the Supreme Court: a private developer filed an application (fecitiously?) to use this very law to build a hotel over Justice Souter's home.
"The proposed development, called "The Lost Liberty Hotel" will feature the "Just Desserts Café" and include a museum, open to the public, featuring a permanent exhibit on the loss of freedom in America."
In case you didn't notice, our posts keep showing up BELOW the sidebar. Anyone know how we can fix this situation?
Today, Pope Benedict released the compendium of the Catholic Church. It is in question and answer format, and includes the following:
- 200 pages
- 598 Individual Questions
- 15 "works of art" (To call it "illustrated" is a stretch)
- Section on Doctrine
- Section on Liturgy
- Section on Morality
- Section on Prayer
- An appendix of "Catholic Numbers": 3 theological virtues, 7 deadly sins
- An appendix of the Latin texts of many traditional prayers, including the Sign of the Cross, the Gloria, the Hail Mary and Come, Holy Spirit, etc.
The Pope specifically requested that the faithful learn these prayers in Latin.
One cardinal mentioned that the Q&A's might "even be memorized." Here is a sample question:
Question 1: What is God's design for Man?
"God, infinitely perfect and blessed, in a design of pure goodness freely created man to have him participate in his blessed life. In the fullness of time, God the Father sent his Son as the redeemer and savior of men, who had fallen into sin, gathering them in his church and making them adopted sons by the work of the Holy Spirit and heirs of his eternal beatitude."
I am not sure how easily memorized that is. However:
Question 472: Why should society protect embryos?
"The inalienable right of every human individual, from the point of conception, is a constitutive element of civil society and its legislation."
A memorizable length, if not a memorizable vocabulary.
Biggest Dissapointment: Only the Italian edition was released. National bishops' conferences will be responsible for translating and publishing the text into other languages. Aside from not-exactly trusting the USCCB translating crew, this means that the Compendium will be held up in Bureacracy for quite some time.
Rumor has it that the Compendium's text will be released tomorrow.
In vaguely related news, when I did an GOOGLE search for a picture of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (which I love, and agree with completely), I found THIS image, which suggests that, maybe, just maybe, the SSPX does have a sense of humor, afterall:
Monday, June 27
The Supreme Court delt a blow to those secularists (like the ones who removed the cross from LA's county seal or take "God" from the pledge) who insist that anything "religious" should touch the government like matter touches anti-matter.
Instead, the Court ruled:
"Simply having religious content or promoting a message consistent with a religious doctrine does not run afoul of the Establishment clause" of the Constituion, which prohibits the Establishment of a religion by the Government.
So, hopefully, this signifies a curtailing of the stupider attempts at total divorce between all Government and all Religion that has been on the rise lately.
So: Now you know! Don't let anyone tell you differently: Religious content in governmental structures IS NOT AUTOMATICALLY UNCONSTITUTIONAL.
Thursday, June 23
Remember the "Danube Seven"?
In 2002, a group of seven women decided they would be ordained* into the Christian ministerial priesthood in a boat (?????) on the Danube river. You have to give them credit for knowing how to work PR: that nasty Catholic church, it might not be able to convince 90% of Europe to go to Mass on Sunday, but crap, apparently they forced us to perform our underground ceremony in international waters... um...
Anyway, BBC reports that they're back, present for the ordination of another woman.
Frankly, that's boring: the *interesting* part is that now the original seven women consider themselves to be BISHOPS. I wonder if they bothered to find someone in a mitre to go through the words, or if they gave themselves the promotion.
I also find it interesting that the very same group of people who usually argue in favor of women's ordination also argues that priests should only be ordained when needed, since somehow their "power" comes "from the community," so we shouldn't have priests who aren't pastors or bishops who aren't in charge of a diocese. Hmm.
*"Decided they would be ordained." This should sound ridiculous to you: "ordained" comes from "ordered" to service Christ by sharing in the responsibility and authority of His ministerial priesthood. And, YOU CAN'T ORDER YOURSELF, TAKE RESPONSIBILITY FOR SOMETHING THAT IS NOT YOURS, OR GIVE YOURSELF AUTHORITY, no matter how nicely dressed-up the guy who is legitimating your fantasy might be.
Votes for Laymen!
This is the sort of power I like to see go to the laypeople: a national association of Catholic musicians is asking which religious songs have touched your lived experience of the liturgy. The pope can appoint his own bishops, thanks, and they can do their duty without my interference (as long as they... do it). But this, this is the sort of imput I'd like to have.
Other people have no problem campaigning for their presidential candidate, so I have no problem trying to sway your vote:
Vote for Schubert's Ave Maria! It's so good! Traditional (not transient), Biblical, and it passes the 50% test.*
And of course, in gratitude for these growing civil rights for lay Catholics, be civil!
*The 50% Test: If a piece of liturgical music makes more reference to the worhsipper than God Himself, the worshipper ceases and desists singing said piece of music.
Wednesday, June 22
Bonfires on the Birth of John the Baptist (June 24)
The birth of St. John is celebrated because, while not conceived without original sin as in the case of Mary, the Mother of God, still St. John was freed from original sin when Elizabeth heard the voice of Mary and John leapt in her whom. St. Augustine mentions this belief as a widespread conviction. (Sermo 292, 1; PL, 38, 1320)
Because of the summer solstice, the days begin to grow shorter and shorter after his birthday. The days after Christ's birthday, on the other hand, begin to lengthen. Hence John's statement about Jesus, "He must increase and I must decrease" (Jn. 3.30), is echoed in the cycle of the cosmos.
Traditionally, doors in England were decorated with St. John’s Wort on this day (the flower is named after St. John because it blooms around the time of his feast).
John the Baptist was a true light that shone in the darkness. Christ Himself spoke in highest praise of His precursor: “I say to you, among those born of women there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist.”
All across Europe, Christians adapted the former pagan summer festival of niedfyr (“need fires, lit to cleanse, cure, and prevent all kinds of disease, curses, and dangers) to honor St. John.
The fire is lit with a blessed candle. As it is lit, a poem in St. John's honor is sometimes red. The fire is blessed, usually the official blessing below. During the bonfire, traditional hymns in honor of St. John are sung, particularly the Ut Queant Laxis, which is, incidentally, the origin of "Do, Re, Me, Fa, So, La, Ti" (and, therefore, of all Western musical theory).
Blessing of the Bonfire (ROMAN RITUAL)
P: Our help is in the name of the Lord.
All: Who made heaven and earth.
P: The Lord be with you.
All: May He also be with you.
Let us pray.
Lord God, almighty Father, the light that never fails and the source of all light, sanctify + this new fire, and grant that after the darkness of this life we may come unsullied to you who are light eternal; through Christ our Lord.
The fire is sprinkled with holy water; after which the clergy and the people sing the hymn Ut queant laxis.
P: There was a man sent from God.
All: Whose name was John.
Let us pray.
God, who by reason of the birth of blessed John have made this day praiseworthy, give your people the grace of spiritual joy, and keep the hearts of your faithful fixed on the way that leads to everlasting salvation; through Christ our Lord.
St. Anthony's Day
Here's a picture of St. Anthony's shrine at our house, following the blessing of lilies we mentioned before.
Zoom all the way out, and move the cursor and you can zoom really close to just about anything--downtown Istanbul or the street my old house was on. I tried to find Osama, but no luck.
And yet, to me, also very freaky.
Another Latin-Mass Order
Archbishop Burke approved another Latin Mass order while in Wisconsin a few years ago, the Canons Regular of the New Jerusalem.
Ironically, for anyone who knows the meaning of a "canon regular," the order moved with Archbishop Burke to St. Louis from LaCrosse, WI.
Has anyone encountered this community? How are they doing?
Intercession and Islam
The Catholic Monarchist has posted the alledgedly Turkish "Prayer against the Christians," supposedly captured by the King of Poland in 1683:
Eternal God and creator of all things, and thou O Mahomet his sacred and divine prophet. We beseech thee let us not dread the Christians, who are so mean and silly to rely on a crucified god. By the power of thy right hand, so strengthen ours that we may surround this foolish people, on every side, and utterly destroy them. At length fulfill our prayers and put these miscreants into our hands, that we may establish thy throne for ever in Mecca, and sacrifice all those enemies of our most holy religion at thy tomb. Blow us with thy mighty breath like swarms of flies into their quarters, and let the eyes of these infidels bedazelled with the lustre of our moon. Consume them with thy fiery darts, and blind them with the dust which they themselves have raised. Destroy them all in thine anger. Break all their bones in pieces, and consume the flesh and blood of those who defile thy sacrifice, and hang the sacred light of circumcision on their cross. Wash them with showers of many waters, who are so stupid to worship gods they know not: and make their Christ a son to that God who ne're begot him. Hasten therefore their destruction we humbly entreat thee, and blot out their name and religion, which they glory so much in, from off the face of the earth, that they may be no more, who condemn and mock at thy law.
I have a question for anyone who knows Islam well:
I was surprised by the first line of the prayer. Do Muslims actually, in fact, pray to the Prophet Mohammed? I hadn't thought so, but I really don't know.
Monday, June 20
GOOD versus EVIL
The Empire Strikes Back. Captions, anyone?
THE HEIGHT OF RIDICULOUS
Ladies and gentlemen, EMBRYONIC STEM CELLS, that great wonder that has yet to produce any actual wonders, has had a BREAKTHROUGH.
No longer will research on ADULT stem cells be the only productive stem cell research.
NOW, by killing an embryo --which, by the way, is NOTHING MORE than egg and sperm, nothing more, dammit-- we can produce...
An egg, and sperm.
That's right. By killing a baby... we can now make a baby. So, this research is intended for all the people suffering from Alzheimers'... who can't concieve?
Sunday, June 19
Helena. Evelyn Waugh.
Loyola Classics, 240 pp., $12.95
Reviewed by Matthew Alderman
From the April 2005 edition of the Advocata Nostra, an independent orthodox Catholic publication serving the students of Notre Dame, St. Mary’s and Holy Cross.
There was once a time, in illo tempore, when superstar Catholic writers like Evelyn Waugh, Graham Greene, Walker Percy and the inimitable Chesterton, were published by the great publishing houses and read by heathen and Christian alike. While works such as Brideshead Revisited still populate bookstore shelves, many others, such as Waugh’s favorite among his own novels, Helena, have been lost to the ages. Loyola Press does us all a service by excavating these gems of popular Catholic fiction in their new Loyola Classics line. Series editor Amy Welborn has selected five titles for publication this spring, including Myles Connolly’s Mr. Blue, a 1928 tale of a modern St. Francis; and Rumer Godden’s hefty 1969 In This House of Brede, a novel of modern convent life.
And Helena. I discovered this book once before, as a yellowing, out-of-print paperback tucked amid third-rate thrillers in the School of Architecture’s Rome Program library. While Waugh labored long over this, his only historical novel, it is often misunderstood. While not attempting to be an archaeological reconstruction of St. Helena’s search for the True Cross, its mixture of deliberate anachronism, historical fact and historical fantasy, succeeds in showing both the oddness of the decaying late Roman world and its uncanny similarity to our own strange age.
The book is not without its flaws, especially if one is expecting your standard Waugh romp. But every wrinkle has its purpose. For instance, while his vision of Constantine as an arrogantly spaced-out new-ager spouting luminous gibberish seems to me an unfair characterization of a great, if sometimes conflicted, emperor, it remains a dead-on portrayal of the modern attempt to free man from sin by denying sin’s existence.
Like St. Helena’s discovery of the Cross, Helena presents truths archaeological and spiritual. Unlike the dark humor of his earlier works, Helena is both more ethereal and also far grimmer. To Waugh, Helena was a saint who did not look it, a crotchety old woman rather than an ecstatic virgin fed to lions or a wild Stylite. She was a saint simply because she followed God’s distinct plan for herself to encounter the messy reality of the Cross. The Cross is a historical fact held up here to refute the airy dreams of secular humanism, here appearing under its earlier disguise as fourth-century Gnosticism. These concerns are treated by George Weigel in his new introduction, a delightful bonus.
We are indebted to Loyola for digging down, like Helena, into the strata of Catholic fiction to uncover this forgotten novel. It is my hope that it will inspire Catholic readers and Catholic writers alike. Modern fiction is extravagantly antinomian, while today’s Catholic novel preaches loudly and unsubtly to the choir. The Church deserves the best in fiction as well as in fact, and Loyola has done well to remind us of this as we continue forward into this new and uncertain century.
"Beauty has its own authority, an authority to which every human being responds, and an authority that in no way threatens." -Fr. Radcliffe
I submit to you that beauty is really the source of authority. Not in the theological or philosophical realm of licit authority, I suppose – or, at least, not immediately. The president of the United States doesn’t have authority because he’s handsome, or even because the concept of an elected executive overseeing a federal alliance of 50 states is beautiful, but instead his authority comes from the law. Nonetheless, beauty is the practical origin of authority: if I as an individual person enthusiastically embrace the president or presidency, it is because I love the concept of the presidency or a cause which the president is promoting or the person of the president. It is beautiful, and I respond to that beauty as it demands.
The Church has a lot of power over me. In some sense, I think the Church has absolute power over me: certainly, my obedience unto death; but also power over my actions and opinions and formation of my thought. I know that someone will object: no church should have such power over anyone! Or, someone else will say, “The Church does not even seek to have that much influence over its followers!” Theologians and philosophers do the important work of distilling (from what the Church is and her mission) the matters in which the Church ought to influence her faithful and the faithful ought to, or in cases absolutely must, obey. But while these powers may belong to the Church because of the inherent intent of Christ in founding a perfect society, for example, or whatever their argument might be, this argument in no way explains why the Church has any power over me. The Church, quite simply, has power over me because I choose to submit and am compelled to obey.
But it was not the lecture of a theologian, the legalizing of a dogmatist, or the proofs of a philosopher which constructed (or imposed!) this authority upon me--and for exactly that reason, it would be futile for any one to say, for example, that “the Church has no right to form your opinions!” or, as others would likely say, that the Church should have some authority over me, but that I go too far. The authority which the Church has over me, even if it is more than it asks for, it has for one reason: beauty. And, we naturally give –quite generously—of ourselves to those whose beauty (and I speak mostly of interior or inherent beauty) we love.
For example, I once owned a cassette of “The Supertones.” I admit it. There is only one rational explanation: one of my middle-school crushes liked Christian ska. Ladies and gentlemen, I would never have owned a cassette of the Supertones if it were not for that reason. Obviously, anyone would have told me that whoever this person was (I hardly remember her name now), she had no right to change my taste in music – and legalistically, maybe even morally, she didn’t. On the other hand: isn’t that sort of generosity natural? Even more so, then, with sublime love of the Church. I remember when I realized the Church was beautiful, and the Christian soul was beautiful, and that Mary was beautiful. (I confess, it was through her maternal guidance that I came to recognize, in a meaningful way, Beauty Itself in Christ Jesus. I confess this, but I am by no means ashamed of it: I think it highlights Mary’s role wonderfully.) When I realized this, the Church had me, and had me completely (very much despite my personal experience of it until that point, which has been quite banal and imminent).
I would argue that true love of the Church (and love proceeds from recognizing, and wishing to honor, true beauty) is all the authority the Church could ever need or ever want. Love of the mystery of the Church is patient, it is kind; “it does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” Imagine if the Church had that “authority”? If it proceeded from love, it would be an authority that hardly wearied, but perhaps even vivified, the believer (rather than an authority to be shrugged-off or overthrown).
So, where am I going with this reflection?
I love apologetics. I have been taught that, with 40 years of study, philosophy can definitively prove God; theology and apologetics can certainly prove the claims of the Catholic Church and the wisdom of submission to her. But while these things can laboriously prove the validity of the Church and the extent to which she should have authority, they cannot move us to accept, they cannot compel us to joyful submit, to any manner of authority.
But, struck by the beauty of the Church, love carries the soul so much further “into” the Church than she could ask or even (when it comes, perhaps, to naming your kids “John-Paul Maximilian”) want. In a parallel universe, I can’t imagine that I would have strong opinions about damask silk, old men in Rome, or Austrian folk customs; but when these things so wonderfully express the beauty of a Church I love, they themselves become so beautiful and so joyful to embrace.
So, when it comes to evangelization, while proofs of Christian teaching or (this is more for the Protestants) threats of dire consequences can be tools to help evangelization, they really cannot be the be-all and end-all of spreading the Gospel. Explaining the True will work for those who already recognize and love Truth, if they are intellectually gifted; explaining the Good will work for the morally fit. But the Beautiful, the Beautiful is compelling to all.
Basically, my point is that the crux of true conversion, the best means for speedy evangelization, seems to be beauty. Propose something beautiful, and only then might people truly “submit” – and yet, it hardly feels like submission: it has become “an authority that does not threaten.”
I think we used to do a much better job of reflecting the beauty of the Church externally than we do now. Russia became Christian, not because of deft logical argument, but because the emissaries from Kiev to Byzantine said: “When we were in Haggia Sofia, we felt like it was heaven on earth.” They glimpsed the beauty of the Church. A book I just read, “How to Win Converts,” written in the 1950’s, said that any Protestant who attended Mass three times was generally expected to convert, the ceremonies of the Mass and the piety of the people so aptly reflecting the beauty of the Church. We still see this in the schismatic movements: housewives who 40 years ago wouldn’t have cared about scholastic theology now construct elaborate arguments about the invalidity of the new Mass—not for the theological joy of it, I argue, but because they want to justify a beautiful celebration of the older Mass against generally more banal celebrations they’ve lived with so long. All of them are conversions driven by beauty.
And certainly beauty is not beyond our reach today: it comes from the mystery of the Church itself, and is simply reflected in our piety and in the dignity of our celebrations. Any form of Catholic worship or of the Mass ("new" or "old") is quite capable of doing so. But, despite the importance of reflecting this beauty, we so seldom do, and we put so little effort into it! Yet this is our greatest vehicle of evangelization, and of truly profound evangelization.
I’m not arguing for a disconnect between reason and love, by the way. Rather, to quote Ratzinger quoting Paschal, I am simply mentioning that the heart has reasons of which the mind is unaware. (Did anyone notice this was the head of the Holy Office quoting a formerly banned book?)
(Random aside: For exactly this reason, the compelling authority of beauty, I despise the tragically-common practice of “fasting from beauty,” such as using deliberately ugly things during Lent, or stripping down worship-space to be more “purified” and “spiritual,” or “penitential.” These things remind us wonderfully of the very reason we sacrifice! Incense, statues, tracery are not things that we indulge ourselves in, as if we could “fast” from them, but instead the constant offering of our best to God in worship—done, as it were, "for God's sake"--and that is not something that a false spirit of penance, which seldom results in real personal sacrifice, can excuse us from offering.)
The occasion of this reflection another encounter I had with “the hardened Church insider.”
Catholic schools are particularly well-versed at creating the Hardened Insider, it seems. These are the people who know the color of smoke which comes upon the election of the Pope or even the inner workings of Curial cardinals, but somehow remain coolly detached, maybe even slightly jaded, with regards to the mystery of the Church itself, of the Body which is grafted onto Christ in his Pasch. These are the sort of Catholics who become the 1950’s administrators or the 1970’s reformers or the 1990’s liturgists, each of them experts in their field, who are inexplicably untouched by so much that represents the beauty of the Church, or get caught up in power-struggles or rights or what have you. I was trying to figure out how people so “in” the Church can sometimes seem so untouched by it, and the best I can conclude (as I have here) is the lack of a subjective internalization of the infinite beauty of the gift this Church, this transcendent Church, is. Maybe it was easy for all those of us who didn't go to Catholic school (which would be most of the "committed" Catholics I know) for some reason. I don't know.
Saturday, June 18
Could it Really be That Easy?
So, Germany has a low birthrate -- 8.3 births per 1,000 people, less than half what it was 50 years ago (Italy is at 8.7 per 1,000; the US is at 14 per 1,000). Chalk it up to the self-centered culture of death resulting from inhuman secularization which saps the faith, hope, and love out of human existance, but it's a problem (especially with the giant need for taxes to support their welfare state).
One town in Germany, however, seems to be set apart. Laer is a town of 6000 people, and about 1,000 of them are children. The reason?
"Laer has among the highest number of births in the country, which has been attributed to its child-friendly policy. Laer's childcare system works because of the concerted efforts of parents, teachers, churches and local authorities, and because of money. Funding was assured when the town's mayor, Hans-Jurgen Schimke, took it into his own hands to lobby the local authorities and to support the scheme."
And, the movement is poised to spread:
"The mayor and the town of Laer are today making waves beyond the town's borders: he now sits on a federal commission on children in Berlin. Gerhard Schroeder's government, urged on by its economic problems, pension worries and falling birth rate, is now pledging money and action."
Now, I realize that this in some ways this more of an accomodation than an evangelization. In some respects, the childcare solution is accomodating a mentality which is very slow to give-of-self, for example, to the task of childcare as a primary family duty. On the other hand, though, the creation of a culture which is generally more family-friendly than the pervading German culture is also, in its own way, a form of evangelizing. Either way, it appears to be the most immediately effective way to keep a dying country from dying (because, that's what happens when there ain't no more kids).
Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church On It's Way
I'm excited. For two years, I've been waiting for the Vatican to issue its abridged version of the Catechism. The reason is the obvious fact that, while theological subtle, the Catechism itself isn't really meant for the instruction of neophytes.
The compendium, then, is supposed to be 1/7 the size of the Catechism itself (so, figure, a little over 100 pages). It is supposed to be in Q&A format. While it retains the theological language of the Catechism, it is also in a deliberately more legible style.
In otherwords, the post-Conciliar era finally has it's Baltimore Catechism, and it was written by the man whom I trust most to write it.
I hope that it will prove to be very advantageous in the instruction of grade schoolers--since I hope to be teaching some this September.
According to Omnia Catholica, it should be here by June 28.
Of course, that Roman time. So...
This Lion is Defective
The title sequence of Wonderfalls, the short-lived Fox dramedy-cum-cult-hit that got canned back in fall of 2004, promises a warm, whimsical and wonderful world ahead, with bright translucent colors like jagged prisms of rock candy refracting the sun and the kitschy road-side-attraction charm of its Niagara setting. It looks invitingly familiar, nostalgic even, and yet strangely shiny and new. It’s exotic and domestic at once, like the show’s heroine, played by Quebecois actress Caroline Dhavernas, with her precisely sloppy slacker garb, blue eyes and subtle lip-biting smile.
It’s also a title sequence that clearly does not belong to the TV show that follows.
What comes instead is a tangled garden railway train-wreck of just-for-laughs angst that ratchets between schmaltz, sarcasm and sunny twentysomething cynicism both naïvely comic and disturbing. In spite of that I haven’t been able to get the show’s theme song out of my head for a week and have conceived a mad passion for the touristy 3-D viewfinders that are a running leitmotif in the show’s trinket-shop locale.
We’re bobbing along in our barrel.
Some of us tip right over the edge.
But there's one thing really mystifying
Got me laughing, now it’s got me crying
All my life I will be death defying
’Til I know…
It’d help if the character Caroline plays smiled more. Or had a reason to.
The thirteen episodes recently released to DVD, five of which were aired on Fox, revolve around Jaye Tyler, 26, a slacker graduate of Brown’s philosophy program. She’s found herself stuck selling touristy knickknacks for the plasticky Wonderfalls Emporium at Niagra Falls. Apparently, in real life summer jobs at the falls are coveted ones and go to kids of well-to-do families, not quite the case here.
Jaye’s fallen about as far as she can go: her boss is a high-school mouth-breather she trained and who got promoted over her head, her estranged family are members of that psychotically normal underclass that TV would have us believe make up the whole of upper-crust suburbia (I’ve never met any myself), and she lives in a trailer that, while resembling Jeannie’s bottle on the inside, is in fact slightly smaller. Her main idea of recreation seems to involve beer, a little bit unsettling because Dhavernas looks like she could still play a high schooler without turning a hair.
Then she falls a bit farther: As she says, I think the universe is conspiring against me. She starts hearing voices. Things which don’t have vocal chords—like wind-up toy penguins, chicken hair clips and, most notoriously, a defective wax lion that came out of a Mold-O-Rama machine with a smooshed face—are starting to talk to her. Even worse, she’s starting to listen. She’s become fate’s sock puppet, as her muses tell her to do the oddest and most minute things from which strange and wonderful results blossom. Unexpectedly, and sometimes in stark contrast to what she’s trying to do.
This is where things start getting tricky, and surprisingly unsatisfying. While there is lots of cool stuff here—talking animals, viewfinders, sardonic jokes, a bar called The Barrel—the sum is much less its component parts.
Some have called it Touched by an Angel on acid, which misses the point on several levels, and also overrates both shows ever-so-slightly. The show came out shortly after Joan of Arcadia did, and the comparisons are inevitable, except for the strange void that looms over Jaye and company’s myopic (yet unchallenged) attempts to explain away what’s going on around her as her unconscious or something more tiresomely pantheistic.
Let’s consider some of the things Jaye’s asked to do during the thirteen episodes that got filmed. She’s asked to break someone’s tail light, refuse a customer’s discount, get off her ass, get someone’s words out, “bring her to him,” and several other either cryptic or faintly criminal acts. The results, however, unite a girl and her absentee father, restore a cheese-obsessed nun to the Faith, prevent a mugging, and usually earn her very little in the way of warm fuzzies. It’s more random chance than divine Providence, as if God was undercutting Himself to get the mildly bad circumstances to bring good out of, an idea which seems too theologically complex, too freighted with questions of predestination, free will, life, the universe and everything, to occur to the show’s creators.
On the other hand, even though I wouldn’t recommend it to a friend, the show has its moments. Caroline’s numerous startled looks, jaw drops and registrations of surprise—like Sandra Bullock, she manages to have a gift for physical, almost rubber-faced comedy—are spectacularly hilarious without robbing her of an ounce of her beauty.
“Who made you guess?”
“Nobody— the proverbial They.”
The show’s creators, Bryan Fuller (Dead Like Me, another pop-culture-cum-mythology reappraisal which I have not seen) and Tom Holland (Malcom in the Middle) are to be applauded for avoiding too much mushy sentimentality—an understatement, given the ubiquity of lines like You’re twenty-four— ‘troubled teen’ is no longer flattering on you—but in the process there’s very little left to love, and when they do go for the heart, it seems tacked on and perfunctory, the exact sort of stuff they seem to avoid religiously throughout the show. Jaye starts to soften a little as the show progresses, but the soufflé never rises enough for the show’s volatile smorgasborg of moods to develop the consistent—though not uniform—texture to pull it off.
The writers are also to be applauded for taking a stab at some local color, so rare at present. Northern Exposure, which the school of quirky dramedy must always look back to, remains almost heroic in that regard. It was filmed on-site—in the Pacific Northwest, sure—and had the convincing Hopperesque lived-in look one would expect in a place like Cicely, Alaska. It was clearly a someplace, even if faintly fictional. Wonderfalls’ Niagara is a clever mix of trick photography, stock footage and computer graphics that even had me fooled, though as the short-lived series progresses, the show’s innovative graphic style with its dream sequences, bright colors, talking wax lions bought for a quarter, and brilliantly-thought-out scene-shifts like clicks between viewfinder slides, seems to get bored with itself and gradually begin to give up in favor of fashionably murky set-pieces.
I wonder, wonder, why the wonder falls.
I wonder why the wonder falls on me.
I wonder, wonder, why the wonder falls
With everything I touch and hear and see.
So much of the show feels like there are vast stretches mark with yellow sticky notes entitled “do more research,” and “develop idea further” which never got followed up on. While we’re graced with bon mots like Jaye’s high school nemesis and Hebrew-by-marriage informing her that she is “a Christmas and Easter Jew,” the show falls so lazily into strangely grey stereotypes, a couple of coarse jokes, and surprisingly un-intellectual lapses of creativity. It feels like a world slapped together by bright high-schoolers still unfamiliar with things mythic and profound, with the depths of human emotion and spiritual experience. The show will come so close to something almost perfect and then choke.
ERIC: What’s the universe plotting?
JAYE: Couldn't tell you. Vanna hasn’t turned over enough letters yet.
Like the plastic figurine with the smooshed-in face that becomes Jaye’s unasked-for spirit animal, the show is a defective lion, bold, startling, a little lazy sometimes, but a lion all the same. And defective all the same. One episode, which deals with a visiting nun with a crisis of faith, manages to be, if not sympathetic, then surprisingly neutral on the subject of God. It even has Sister—who is shown as surprisingly young for a TV nun—soliloquize on how the glory of the world, and particularly her love of cheese—tells of God’s existence. The priest who pursues her to talk her back into the convent is, in the end, a pretty decent guy, though paper-thin. That’s not enough to save the episode, which ends on a rather unrewarding high note, but not after an embarassingly mis-managed and under-researched exorcism on Jaye, conducted not by the priest, who finds the idea dangerous and stupid, but by the nun in a bid to wake up her faith.
It becomes increasingly apparent that not only have the folks who cooked this thing up never met a really religious person, but on top of that, can’t even get the conventional stereotype down properly. It’s like anthropologists from Mars wrote it, and not very good ones, either.
ERIC: I’m almost dumb enough to start something on the rebound—what do you say?
JAYE: Sweet of you to offer but—I may be clinically insane. You might want to hold out for someone a little more stable.
ERIC: I don't think that would be as interesting.
There’s too many moving parts waving around, and a lot more screwed on to the plot that appears like a cargo cult object to have no purpose at all. Take Jaye’s family. You could slice them out of the show completely and actually made the show stronger. Like so many of the show’s characters what little we know about them is semaphored out and left hanging. Dad, Republican doctor—and yet nobody ever argues politics; Mom—delicately mean WASP homemaker, and nobody ever wonders why she’s mean; Sister—whiny lawyer—and no lawyer jokes or, for that matter, exciting court battles; Brother—comparative religions grad student, and yet he never talks about Buddhism or Baptists. They’re not only stereotypes, they’re stick-figure stereotypes. You can’t even dislike them because they’re so vaguely sketched in.
SHARON: You tell people we’re not related.
JAYE: It was just that one time.
SHARON: It was Grandpa’s wake.
The guest stars aren’t much better. Sometimes they have a certain arbitrary quirkiness to them, like Bianca called“Binky,” a stuttering quasi-stalker journalist for the fictive magazine Today’s America, or the angry Texan hausfrau who Jaye ends up helping in the pilot episode, but they just seem like so much filler, and take away valuable time that might have been used to see the main characters with one another and finally start developing properly.
Your home is a trailer. Don’t you see the beautiful poetry in that? It’s a thing that’s been designed to go someplace, and yet the hitch isn’t hooked up to anything. So it just sits here, never living up to its potential… but never in any danger of breaking down either.
Of course, maybe that’s the world Jaye lives in. (And who names a gal Jaye anyway?) One episode, “Karma Chameleon,” named after the stuffed puppet that keeps bugging Jaye to get a stuttering girl’s “words out,” touches, however briefly, on the emptiness of her Gen-Y world. In it, she ends up becoming the focus of an anonymous profile by Binky the Journalist who’s poking into what makes Gen Y tick and ends up writing Binky’s article herself.
You have really managed to create a stressless expectation-free zone for yourself.
It skates over it matter-of-factly, but Jaye makes it very clear she lives the way she does to cut herself off from just about everyone. She wants a comfort zone, and so that’s why she has so few friends besides a standard issue Hollywood Minority Sidekick and a Handsome Bartender, is stuck behind a cash-register at a job where she doesn’t have to use her brain too much, and lives in Jeannie’s bottle.
Uh…what was the question?
Perhaps this is why, in spite of Jaye’s peculiar calling as an instrument of the Fates, is a sense of mythic purpose, a sense of the invisible realities underlying her kitsch universe. The jarring contrast between her ordinary world and the call she seems to have been given has a marvelous potential: God, or Something anyway, is always there no matter how mindless your own personal cosmos may be. The show just seems to not be interested in it—I’m not sure it’s even a problem to the show’s writers are conscious of. Girl talks to objects, they talk back, startled looks ensue, someone gets helped, some clever witticisms, and it’s a wrap.
If only it had been written by Catholic nerds.
In part, this deficit is because Jaye has no guide of her own. There’s a certain formula, as well-defined as a classical French drama by Racine or a Greek tragedy, about how a show like this works. The supernatural of some stripe bleeds into everyday life. Often it’s just one person who can see it, whether her name is Jaye, Buffy, Joan of Arc or Arcadia. It may be a whole town named Cicely. But they need a guide—someone to explain, but not choke the life out of what’s going on around them. Sometimes, as with Northern Exposure’s Chris-in-the-Morning, he may be just as confused as the rest of us, but at least he knows there’s something odd and wonderful in the air. For a show whose characters include a philosophy major and a scholarship-winning student of comparative religion, there’s a God-shaped hole in the air over Niagara Falls and nobody is talk about it or even see it.
Don’t you ever think about this life
And how strange it all can seem?
Only way to find the answers out
Is to wake up from its golden dream.
See, I told you I was right about the wonder-wonder-wonder-wonder…
I've got to find out from where the wonder falls.
It’s a problematic show, and its mistakes are, at the very least, interesting ones, unintentionally pointing at the ghosts that haunt today’s America. Maybe it could have ironed itself out in a couple of seasons, or maybe not. Probably not.
At the close of “Karma Chameleon,” Binky’s article—actually written by Jaye and describing her life to a tee—makes the front page, and we find Jaye and her family reading around their dinner-table, a scene full of rich darks and warm wood paneling. And the mother, for once sympathetic, reads it aloud:
Like the falls of Niagara that rage at the center of her little town, some powerful force forever threatens to sweep [Jaye] into roiling chaos. It is a force against which she struggles. A power she cannot name. Whether it is the undertow of contemporary life, or something more ancient, “life as it has alway been,” [Jaye] will continue to struggle, to thrash and fight. Yet in her most personal unguarded moments she will speak of a calm pool, a place where the waters become still and the chaos abates. A place where a father’s wisdom, a mothers compassion, a brother’s protection, and a sister, 35, all combine to show [Jaye] she is not alone.Like the title sequence, I think that passage must have strayed from another, quite wonderful, and very poignant show. I hope that one lasts longer than five episodes.
Friday, June 17
JP2: The Television Miniseries
Apparently, CBS is making drama about Pope John Paul II's life -- a four-hour mini-series about his years in Poland through to his tenure as Pontiff.
I can hear you groan in trepidation, but don't worry -- the miniseries won't be awful. In fact:
The script for the new factually-based drama, which is set to begin filming in Rome over the summer, was supervised by the Vatican.
As a Wisconsinite who loves animals and all the ways we can eat them...
This is too good.
Apparently, two PETA employees have taken time off from being self-righteous just long enough to be arrested for 30+ felony counts of animal cruelty.
In related news -- "Nullify the Vegetarian Moral Crusade!"
Except on Fridays, of course.
"The Wisconsin Assembly approved a ban on the so-called morning-after pill on state college campuses, a restriction that would be the first in the nation if approved."
Of course, a Democrat has to get in the way--we can't have the people promoting a culture of life, you know. Some day, I'll found a party that is socially conscious and morally conscious:
"The vote in the lower chamber late Thursday sends the bill to the state Senate; both are controlled by Republicans. Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle said he will veto the measure if it reaches his desk."
Monday, June 13
Last year, I think it was, Italy passed the most Catholic laws with regard to embryo treatment in all Europe, pretty much (except maybe Malta). "Yay!," I said then.
Last week, Italy announced that they would be holding a referendum on repealing those same laws. "Oh," I said. I was sure the law would be scrapped.
Today, it turns out that the referendum failed. In Italy, public referendums require a turn out of 50% to be binding. For this reason, the Vatican called on Catholics to BOYCOTT the referendum, "because life is too sacred to put to a vote."
Only 19% of the country EVEN VOTED, much less voted in favor of repealing the protective laws.
In fact, the defeat was so decisive that it has made the proponent of the referendum even fear for the continued legality of abortion within Italy.
Pope Benedict is getting a lot of the credit, too. Given that Spain legalized homosexual marriages the first week of his papacy, I'd say the current standing is:
Evil European Secularism: 1
Pope Benedict XVI: 1
Tie game, folks, and that ain't bad.
Read More from BBC
Saturday, June 11
I don’t suppose any of you remember Mr. Tastee.
He’s tucked away in the peripheral vision of my mind, a guy in a white suit striped like the roof of a Kentucky Fried Chicken drive-through and a spirally plastic head that puts me in mind of Borromini or Dairy Queen. I think I saw him in a commercial on Nickelodeon, and there was something ominous about him, despite the fact he was, essentially, an ice-cream man in a stupid helmet. At least the promo suggested there was something fundamentally off about him, and it’d stuck in my head at the time. I’d forgotten about him until last week.
You might describe him, and his world, as a modern tall tale.
I’m not sure what put me in the mood, but I sent off via Netflix for a DVD of the first season of the old Nick live-action TV show The Adventures of Pete and Pete. I ordered the second DVD of the set since I have a strong dislike of pilot episodes. Life hasn’t got a pilot episode; I like to land in the middle of something and figure each fictive universe out out as I go along.
Mr. Tastee was an escapee from this particular universe, the Petes’ supposedly normal hometown of Wellsville. I’d never seen the episode where they found out his secret, or found out he had a secret, anyway; but I remembered the show in a haze of vague fondness: quirky, low-key, spiced with the occasional garden gnome, and smelling of burning leaves and the northern fall. A little too good to be a kid’s show. Not too smart, or too smarmy or clever, or even, fortunately, too sentimental, but just too good. A little, anyway.
Here’s the best way I can put it: what else can you say about the low-key and slightly warped humor of a show that has the brains to slip in a cameo by Hunter S. Thompson (no, really) in a way that neither you, or anyone else, noticed it?
The show’s premise is deceptively simple: it chronicles the faintly magical-realist adventures of two red-headed brothers, one older, one younger and both named Pete and nobody seems to be concerned why they’re sharing the name. It’s set against a backdrop of that stereotypical TV suburbia so radically different from the real thing. The show revolves around the inner world of the Petes’ family—and the Petes themselves. Not necessarily their imaginary inner world, à la Calvin and Hobbes, but an inner world that has a funnily straightforward way of bleeding into reality without anyone blinking an eye. Mr. Tastee, supervillain Paper Cut, Internationa Adult Conspiracy representative and aluminum-siding salesman John McFlemp, or the littler Pete’s private Superman: gawky Artie, the Strongest Man in the World. Of more later.
The elder Pete is in high school, and unlike most TV teens is neither geek nor dude nor jock. He’s everyone else in high school who never got a teen sitcom about themselves—the straight man to the rest of the universe, but not the butt of the jokes. He’d be The Best Friend to someone glossy and shiny in any other sitcom. He’s in the band, a little awkward, a little gawky, and the first Everyman I’ve come across who doesn’t end up looking like Forrest Gump. He’s the show’s narrator and helmsman. Or maybe helmsboy, since he’s the first television high-schooler who looks like he’s still on a learner’s permit in real life. And it’s he who forms the nexus around which the pleasantly mundane weirdness of his home life revolves.
His younger brother, one of those tubby, stumpy, frustrating little boys with just a little too much floppy hair (Danny Partridge is a classic example of the genus), is his best friend, and emphatically even less glossy and shiny. Little Pete is sort of a genius, one of those kids who’s always messing with something mysterious and possibly toxic and never quite making it work. You know the type: the immediate response is either to want to blow something up or wonder if you can stick it in your mouth, either for research purposes or to gross Mom out. But he’s not a geek: I’m not sure we’d let him into the union without rewriting the bylaws first. He’s also not particularly bright either—while he managed to devise a science project that caused widespread baldness across the Texas panhandle, a favorite hobby of his revolves around sticking bits of a cereal called Presidential Pops up his nose.
(“I mock your cheese danish and all that it stands for!” Thus Pete the Lesser).
The thing about Pete and Pete is not necessarily what it’s about, but how it shows it. First and foremost it does not resort to that truly horrid thing known as “Imagination!” Which, in the orthography of adults who do kiddie shows, is inevitably written with an exclamation mark and accompanied by a ghastly rising intonation suggesting said adult has been lobotomized by Barney.
One adult on the show has had some head trauma, though. The Petes’ Mom. There’s Mom’s Plate, a deadpanned running gaf so central to the show it merits a mention in the opening credits. Joyce (almost invariably just plain Mom) has a bit of metal in her head from a childhood accident. It can pick up radio stations and attract lightning—both of which has its pros and cons. Unlike most TV gags, there’s a certain comic consistency to the way it gets handled in the show. The Petes’ Dad met Mom on the beach while humming along with his metal detector, and Dad’s nemesis once tormented the Petes’ by broadcasting polkas for days at a time via Mom’s Plate.
There’s the mutant Artie, Little Pete’s not-so-imaginary friend and private army. Adults actually can see him, they just don’t really notice him. He looks and acts like Mork’s younger brother with a wardrobe by Where’s Waldo, and the same actor played the unbeatable Wiz on Seinfeld. Artie lives in a porta-john, likes armpit noises—they remind him of his mother—and is the Strongest Man in the World. And nobody ever quite seems to be interested why. He is, like so many of our childhood fantasies, just there in reserve until needed to move a neighbor’s house exactly one inch to the left, or to vanquish (unsuccessfully) an evil Tibetan bowling ball named Rolling Thunder.
The song Love Rollercoaster, incidentally, affects him like a giant funk magnet. Not my words.
Artie briefly disappeared once to became a world champion bowler but he left for good after the inevitable two-part episode. He got replaced in the credits by freckly next-door neighbor kid Nona Mecklenburg, who wears a cast all the time because she likes that scratching feeling and who invented the illegal “volcano” move in Rock, Paper, Scissors. (Her dad was portrayed by, of all people, Iggy Pop). And, being played by Michelle Trachenberg, she seems to have been the only one who got out of Wellsville alive to go on to moderate fame and fortune. (“Nona F. Mecklenburg’s speech patterns could cloud men’s minds.” Thus Pete the Greater).
And there’s a whole constellation of other oddballs. Love-smitten crossing-guards and school janitors. The mysterious underwear quality supervisor Inspector 34. The beautiful blind blonde millionairess who lives two doors down, sort of Jackie Kennedy Onassis channeling Blanche Dubois. Mrs. Fingerwood, beaky and Brueghelian in her frumpy plaid winter coat and bulky skirt, the delightfully homely, electric guitar-playing math teacher from Pete’s high school. Or there’s Little Pete’s school principal, played by Adam West, and Big Pete’s school mascot, played by a rather flaccid fighting squid. Or Big Pete’s bright not-quite-girlfriend Ellen Hickle, one of those close platonic girl-boy things that happen all the time on TV but never quite as smoothly in real life. They started dating after a near-accident involving the Petes’ home minefield removal business, though suddenly everyone sort of forgot about it and in the next episode they were just friends again, which is a good thing since he later went after Penelope Ghiruto, from whose name twenty-seven separate words can be formed.
The show has aged well since its heyday almost a decade ago. The pop cultural references are self-consciously topical, such as the Hoover dam leitmotif (translation: running gag), a minor reference to Wolfgang Petersen’s Das Boot I picked up the first time I saw the show, and the bizarre string of blink-and-you'll-miss-them cameo roles by everyone from Patty Hearst to the McGlaughlin Group. Either that or they’re deliberately fictive, such as the aforementioned Presidential Pops; and Krebstar, the company that, with flawless little-kid logic, seems to make everything: Kreb of the Loom, Krebbin’ Donuts, Krebstick deodorant (and Lady Krebstick, too), KrebStar Industrial Floorwax, Krolaids and Krums and the KrebScout Survival Guide. Indeed, in the few cases where chronological reality leaks in between the cracks, with cars and clothes and music, there’s something oddly endearing about its dowdy early-nineties setting, in limbo between being au courant and retro.
(“Soon you will be like cheese, boy: melty, melty, melty!” Thus Artie).
There is plenty of creativity here, but none of the Imagination-exclamation-point-wince variety. The show captures, with strange accuracy, the profound, hilarious weirdness of childhood, and yet the fact that we never quite catch onto the fact that it’s so utterly bizarre until we’re adults. Children are at home with the world; they know what’s weird (Pete accidentally digging up Jimmy Hoffa’s wallet), they know what’s gross (Yucatecan killer bees doing battle with Artie, cheese danishes), but neither seldom disturbs them in the ghostly, numinous and strangely alarming way it does adults. It’s weird. Cool.
(“Begone with you pulpy, before I fold you into some type of brochure!” Thus Artie, again. Who else?)
It has a certain texture, a certain consistency about the odd internal logic that governs its excursions into the surreal, always evident below the surface but never, quite delightfully, ever properly articulated, at least the way life is when you’re on the outside looking in like a kid. It’s quirky, but it hasn’t figured out it’s quirky yet, and so avoids the dread scourge of what might be called Too Much Personality Disorder. It’s hilarious, but it never cracks a smile. It’s sort of Chestertonian, in a weird, magical chaotic sort of way.
And then we come to Mr. Tastee.
He figures just in one episode, a mysterious ice-cream man in a mysterious ice-cream truck, who almost becomes modern folklore, suburbia’s response to the Green Man. He signals the beginning of summer with his jingling bell, and then he vanishes at the end of it. But one day in the middle of the summer, he just doesn’t show up, and the magic goes out of the moment. For a few seconds, it looks like the Petes will fail at their strange juggling act and the show will slide into the twee and sentimental but the episode redeems itself in the end when Tastee re-appears and rides off into the sunset on the last day of the summer, like a primitive agricultural myth in a funny plastic mask.
Like so many things in the show, Mr. Tastee remains mysterious, unexplained, faintly comic and faintly unsettling—why, for instance, is hot-waxing the Tasteemobile a one-man job, pray tell? He could have been asinine or he could have been creepy...creepier, but he’s neither. The show has imagined in a weird stroke of genius, a convincing modern-day Kokopeli. Like so many things in myth and in Wellsville, he’s not quite able to be explained away like angel or devil, he’s just there like Artie is there: a low-rent Tom Bombadil for a people that can’t get enough TCBY.
The show is folklore, modern folklore. If you squint and think hard enough about it. Which probably wasn’t the producers’ intention, but it’s what came out anyway. And I suppose that’s how folklore gets made, by accident. Or maybe tall tales, because, as in the best tall tales, it isn’t a dream which you wake up from. Babe the Blue Ox is really as big as Paul Bunyan says it is. And Artie really is the strongest man in the world, not a figure from Little Pete’s already very fevered imagination. He doesn’t vanish when figures from that grey-faced adult conspiracy come into the room. (“Physics makes me strong, Hathead, physics!”)
I recognize the world of Pete and Pete now as the old clapboard-sided neighborhoods of the Northeast and Midwest midway between Levittown and Georgetown, with boxy and pleasantly honest homes half-hidden behind great overhanging trees that, in my mind, are always alight with the scarlet of autumn. Living in Florida, far away from both Hollywood and the default New England which Unreal America still is, even in you live in a big brick house surrounded by a little pocket of woods, there’s always a little alienation and jealousy when you look out on the world of children’s TV. It never quite squares with your own reality, even if it is an Anytown or Pleasantville (Wellsville) so generic it can’t but help be the same. Like any good fictional reality, contradictory specifics only enforce the vagueness—from a reference to Kentucky in one, to the Canadian border in another and a map of New England in the next.
(Wellsville, incidentally, is in a place that’s nicknamed “The Sideburn State.” Like Mrs. Doyle’s first name, it is one of those televisual mysteries we will never solve.)
Pete and Pete doesn’t quite feel as self-consciously goofy as a kid’s show apparently is supposed to; you don’t feel your intelligence being insulted, but rather that you’ve gotten in on some immense inside joke of conspiratorial proportions. It’s funny, almost Pythonesque, but not too Pythonesque. It’s not being clever just to entertain the parents forced to watch as their babies drool and coo on their laps, and it isn’t just faking innocence just to slip something tiresomely subversive to the after-school special crowd. (Telling kids that riboflavin is the vitamin for time travel isn’t subversive, is it?) Some shows today go so far away from Imagination-exclamation-point to become almost smarmily smug with their dull hipness. The Petes do not. It’s the first show I’ve seen that kids and adults, I think, can watch on the same level and laugh at the same things. As the elder Pete once said of Artie, these tall tales of suburbia leave the world "a little bit stranger and a little bit better."
Glass of Kreb’s Milk, anyone?
Friday, June 10
Venite Ad Me Omnes, Winter 2004-2005.
Thursday, June 9
St. Anthony's Lilies
We at the Shrine are interested in restoring the many lost practices of Catholic popular piety -- if the Catholic home is the ecclesia domestica, these practices are truly its liturgy.
I may be currently unemployed and summer school may still be weeks away, but I've been working on something, at least: my summary of Catholic popular piety is about 144 pages long. So, here's an excerpt for the feast of St. Anthony, this June 13.
St. Anthony’s Lilies
Traditionally (and it may be news to you, like it was to me), lilies are blessed on the Feast of St. Anthony. The blessing of lilies reminds us of St. Anthony's purity; they have always been a symbol for him. This practice stems from a miracle which took place in Revolutionary France: many priests and religious had been murdered, and many churches and convents destroyed, but the faithful still showed up at a surviving church to celebrate the Feast of St. Anthony. Months later, it was discovered that the lilies which had adorned the church at that feast were still fresh. Let the lilies beautify your house, or carry them with you, or press them in a book, etc. If your priest doesn't bless lilies, you can still use them non-sacramentally to remind you of one of the greatest Saints ever.The Formula of Blessing
To the best of my knowledge, the new Book of Blessings does not have a formula for the blessing of St. Anthony's Lilies. The Vatican, however, has ruled that where the new Book of Blessings lacks a blessing, we may use the blessing found in the Tridentine Roman Ritual (cf. Directory of Popualr Piety and the Liturgy, footnote 309). This blessing is as follows:
P: Our help is in the name of the Lord.
All: Who made heaven and earth.
P: The Lord be with you.
All: May He also be with you.
Let us pray.
God, the Creator and preserver of the human race, the lover of holy purity, the giver of supernatural grace, and the dispenser of everlasting salvation; bless + these lilies which we, your humble servants, present to you today as an act of thanksgiving and in honor of St. Anthony, your confessor, and with a request for your blessing. Pour out on them, by the saving sign + of the holy cross, your dew from on high. You in your great kindness have given them to man, and endowed them with a sweet fragrance to lighten the burden of the sick. Therefore, let them be filled with such power that, whether they are used by the sick, or kept in homes or other places, or devoutly carried on one's person, they may serve to drive out evil spirits, safeguard holy chastity, and turn away illness--all this through the prayers of St. Anthony--and finally impart to your servants grace and peace; through Christ our Lord.
Then he sprinkles the lilies with holy water, saying:
Sprinkle me with hyssop, Lord, and I shall be clean of sin. Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
P: Pray for us, St. Anthony.
All: That we may be worthy of Christ's promise.
Let us pray.
We beg you, O Lord, that your people may be helped by the constant and devout intercession of Blessed Anthony, your illustrious confessor. May he assist us to be worthy of your grace in this life, and to attain everlasting joys in the life to come; through Christ our Lord.
After this the lilies are distributed to the people.What You Need:
Print off the above blessing and take it with you to church (Father will not have a copy, probably). BYOL. (Bring Your Own Lilies). After Mass, meet up with Father in the Sacristy. Not too hard, huh?
Maybe next year, Father may even be inspired to have the parish perform this devotion officially for everyone who attends daily Mass on St. Anthony's feast.
Not to be tacky, but please spread the word! If you're interested in creating a renewal of Catholic Identity, of intercession to the saints, and of all that is P.O.D., please link to this blessing -- let's see if we can get a good number of people to restore it in their parishes this year. Why not?
I can keep posting practices of similar ilk if people express interest.
Wednesday, June 8
I just read "The 30 Astounding Heresies of Pope Benedict XVI." Now, we know that -- as his critics have said themselves -- over the years Ratzinger has forgotten more theology than most theologians ever learn, so I wasn't expecting too much from a critique by some hack with a reprint of Tanquery. (I love Tanquery, by the way--I got an original copy at Loome's, check them out.)
However, "30 heresies" was really poorly done. Take this for example:
6) RATZINGER SAYS THAT WE CANNOT KNOW IF WHAT JESUS SAID IS TRUE
“Cardinal” Ratzinger, Principles of Catholic Theology (1982), p. 359: “Granted, with regard to the ultimate questions of who God is or what good is, we can never achieve the degree of certainty we can achieve in the realm of mathematics and technology. But when all knowledge that does not take the form of technical knowledge is declared to be nonknowledge, then we are cut off from the truth. We cannot, for instance, decide whether what Jesus said is true but can only dispute whether or not he said it. But that is ultimately an idle question.”Our vigilante notes:
This is one of the most astounding heresies I’ve ever seen. [Note: I read the book and these sections carefully and these quotations are not taken out of context.] Not only does Ratzinger say that we cannot decide whether what Jesus said is true, but he says that we can dispute if he even said it.
Methings the lad can't read two sentences strung together. It's pretty evident (especially if one is used to Teutonic composition) that the bolded sentence presumes the proposition of the sentence immediately prior. In other words, it's one of those "for example..." sentences. I shouldn't feel the need to defend this observation because it's so obvious, but for some reason I feel like I should.
The Cardina is saying, as you can tell, that to reduce the field of "knowledge" simply to the indesputably observable phenomena, "then we are cut off from the truth," because the truth about God is (as St. Thomas Aquinas tells us) often a science which depends on Revelation, which can not be proven apart from itself. Therefore, the Cardinal warns that our definition of knowledge must have room for theology, whose conclusions are not directly observable. If we declare the truth of theology about God to be nonknowledge (the sentence prior to the sentence in question), then under this incorrect but hypothetical senerio, "we cannot, for example, decide whether what Jesus said is true but can only dispute whether or not he said it." Because, afterall, only what Jesus did or did not say is an observable thing.
I think hatred shortens one's attention span. Honestly, Jack Chick may well read Catholic theology with more honesty and patience. The next time you hear about the heresies of the Vicar of Christ, look at the actual evidence: it will probably be as simplistic as the above.
So THAT'S why they have such good food!
"For fatness itself is a valuable quality. While it creates admiration in the onlookers, it creates modesty in the possessor. If there is anything on which I differ from the monastic institutions of the past, it is that they sometimes sought to achieve humility by means of emaciation. It may be that the thin monks were holy, but I am sure it was the fat monks who were humble. Falstaff said that to be fat is not to be hated, but it certainly is to be laughed at, and that is a more wholesome experience for the soul of man."
GK Chesterton, The Uses of Diversity
Tuesday, June 7
At the afore-mentioned booksale, I obtained some very enjoyable Catechism textbooks from... 1975. By the Paulists.
These fun books are everything you would hope they might be. The first chapter of the fourth grade book is entitled... wait for it... "The Joy of Sharing Our Experiences."
The first line from the Creed affirmed in the book occurs on page 52, when it admits that Jesus was concieved by the Holy Spirit.
No where is the Divinity of Christ, the Real Presence, or anything else even alluded to. One of the few prayers included in the back of the book is entitled, "Pebbles."
But the best part was an actual assignment which I found in the book. The student (Steve) wrote:
"This boy might be sad because something happened that destroyed his happyness. The boy might be sad for his dog, or himself. Maybe the dog is sick and might be ill for his life. Or maybe the boy is sick or crippled for his life."
I can only guess what the assigned question was. On top of the paper, in very nun-ly looking handwriting, is written: "Fine."
The family of one of us Domers just put on the largest Catholic homeschooling conference in the country. The talks were great, the people fun. The best part, of course, were the used books: I got "The Ratzinger Report" for $2.50 (among others).
In fact, the booksale was so good that one of us overheard the following conversation between a husband and his very pregnant wife (she had to use crutches!)
Husband: Honey, don't you think we should go to the hospital..?
Very Pregnant Wife: They're 5 whole minutes apart--keep shopping!!
Oh wand'ring child, your life, a life's misgivings
From house to house, and down your narrow road
Your family waits, with arms outstretched forgiving
'Tis you, 'tis you must come and share your load.
For off you ran, squand'ring half our fortune
Until there came, a famine in your land
And no one there, would give you cup or portion
You had left the clan which offerd you a hand.
And wrought with pain, at last come to your senses
Back on the 'stead, our servants fare thee well
I'll go back home, and offer to mend thine fences
Though I deserve to share a prison cell.
And home you trod, until a vision in the distance I see
And ran to you, embrace and cut short your apology
I'll hear no talk of how you feel not worthy
For you were dead, but alive you finally be.
Yes I was dead, but you've given life back to me!
The following was also submitted by Fr. Mike. It's the Magnificat set to "The Star of the County Down" which was a favorite at his seminary (and our Dorm Masses). He says this version was inspired by the Mass time--right before lunch.
THE CANTICLE OF CHURNING
My gut cries out like a sufferer of gout that the pain of my heart now burns,
And my spirit moans of the desperate groans that you bring to the stomach that turns. You fixed your sight on the servant's plight, and my hunger you did not spurn,
So from bad to worst shall your name be cursed. Could my world be about to churn?
My heart shall moan of the day I groan.
Let the fires of you acid burn.
As I run down the hall, to the nearest stall
Cause my world is about to churn.
Though I am ill, my God, I feel, that you work great things in me,
And your mercy will last, and so too this be passed to the end of the age to be.
This ivory throne has become my home, and to those who would from me learn,
You will show your might, and relieve my plight, for my world is about to churn.
From the halls of brick gather the pale and sick, not a commode will be left alone.
Let the king beware for your innards tears ev'ry tyrant from his throne.
The hungry poor shall eat no more, of the food that they pass right through;
All the rooms are rank, all the pepto is drank, take a book with you to the lew.
Though my bowels rage from age to age, we remember who holds us fast:
God's mercy must deliver us from the conqueror's crushing gas.
This saving deed so that we may feed is the promise which holds us bound,
'Til the cook and chef can be crushed to death, then the world can be turned around.
..when you sat through all those self-righteous tirades about how Bush was a stupid C-average student who got into Yale because of his rich family, whereas Kerry was truly brilliant, the Answerman whose flawless command of the entire field of human knowledge was the hidden wisdom which would save the world?
Monday, June 6
Guarini's Capella del Sindone as Building and Reliquary
Part III: The Reliquary as Building
While Guarini was undoubtedly a practical man, “committed to nuts-and-bolts solutions,” he was also a philosopher, mathematician and theologian, and, as a designer of churches, he would have certainly not done something so wonderfully bizarre as the spire without a good reason. Indeed, Varriano goes as far as to call Guarini’s forms “mystical.”  But what mystical reality is the spike of Guarini’s dome—which, as a gigantic reliquary, has clearly some sort of symbolic value, attempting to pierce? What Borrominian tower of Babel is this?
One can, unfortunately, offer only an educated guess. No prototypes have ever been found for Guarini’s extravagant spire.  With Borromini’s Sant’ Ivo, almost equally defiant of iconographic analysis, there is at least the smoking gun of the Heemskerk engraving of the tower of Babel and the contents of the sermons preached under that dome. With Guarini, it is harder to say. It is apparent something strange—and figural—is going on here; no practical man, “committed to nuts-and-bolts solutions,” would have embarked on such a design, unique even in his own personal oeuvre, merely as an architectural or scenographic caprice.
Let us return to the reliquary. Scott’s explanation of the “scrigno” is rather unsatisfactory upon re-examination. For one thing, the actual inlays (now lost) on the reliquary casket only remotely resemble the coffers of the pendatives, and Scott proposes another, easier, heraldic explanation for their origins elsewhere. . Reliquaries, architectural or not, are more often than not, figural in their design. The author has seen the reliquary of the True Cross kept at St. Peter’s solemnly shown to the faithful on the fourth Sunday of Lent amid the ringing of bells and great billows of incense, and it was shaped like a cross.  Likewise, the relics associated with the Crown of Thorns in the treasury of Notre Dame de Paris (brought there by King St. Louis) have typically been crown-shaped, or, in the case of a small reliquary in the possession of the British Museum, uses the three thorns as freestanding figural elements.  Scott himself notes a link between St. Louis’s relic-collecting and the scramble that the Savoyard dynasts that sought to use the Shroud as a lever to gain recognition for their royal Cypriot title. .
But how can a Shroud be turned into a heraldic insignia on par with the tower of Babel or a spine or crown? Guarini, no matter how inventive, could hardly build a dome shaped like the face of Christ. Perhaps to make up for this deficit, he borrows heavily from other Passion symbols in the explicit iconography of the chapel, hardly a major leap of the imagination.  The spire is to some degree a mingling of the woven-together crown of thorns—for, the dome is surely the head of the building just as the capital is the head of the column, and Guarini’s capitals are ringed with cruel-looking thorns—and perhaps the single upright spike of a passion-nail, another motif used throughout the structure.  After all, the regal pretensions of the Savoyards would have put Guarini in mind of crowns, and devotion to the five Wounds made by those three nails (and the Holy Lance, another fabled relic associated with St. Louis) was closely tied to the cult of the Shroud. 
However, there is another symbolism, more ingenious, which might be put forward.
Tomorrow: Part IV: The Temple of the Sun-Christ
. Varriano, p. 214.
. Ibid., p. 217.
. Scott, p. 186.
. Scott reproduces a woodcut of a similar ceremony held in 1511 (p. 71).
. James Robinson, “Relic Veneration and the Holy Land.” [Available online] http://www.fathom.com/feature/190140/. [March 24, 2005].
. Scott, p. 11-13.
. Especially considering the links which were established between the Passion regalia of the Arma Christi, the Savoyard dynastic arms and the Shroud. Ibid, p. 20.
. Three, in fact, with the crown of thorns, top the entire structure. Ibid., p. 170, fig. 119, and p. 173, fig. 122.
. Ibid., p. 172.
Sunday, June 5
Sunset, Notre Dame, Spring 2005
Guarini’s Capella del Sindone as Building and Reliquary
Part II: The Reliquary as Building
The question of scale arises here. When a building is miniaturized as a reliquary, the result is surpassingly odd.  This issue can also be found in the Tempietto at San Pietro in Montorio, an actual chapel sometimes viewed as a miniaturization of larger architectural forms. Speaking from personal experience, it is often a disorienting experience to first view it, expecting a far larger structure judging only from photographs. This miniature quality gives it a memorial quality: it exists solely as a monument, a marker for meaning, as Lotz has noted, citing Serlio’s curious quote that the building was “not big, but was erected solely in memory of St. Peter the Apostle.”  Most reliquaries and tabernacles, thus, are not exact models of larger structures but evocations of them.
What distinguishes most architectonic reliquaries is not their to-scale replication of existing buildings but that their whole “structure” becomes an icon deep with specific meaning rather than relying on applied fresco and iconographic schemes to make that significance manifest.  Most non-architectonic reliquaries of the Middle Ages were designed to resemble heads or arms,  a specific figural statement about the relic inside; the architecture of architectonic reliquaries and other church furnishings has an equal potential to become figural. A few examples will suffice: the font-cover of the Lateran Basilica engages in this game of figural fantasy architecture by combining an architecturally perfect broken pediment topped with a finial in the shape of a literal rendition of the papal tiara and keys impossible in a larger architectural composition, as is the extraordinary cherub-festooned tabernacle at Santa Maria in Vallicella with its remarkable “onion dome” constructed out of volutes. 
In such compositions, the whole architecture becomes figural, iconographic, as with the cherubs and the papal tiara. Such literal and specific iconography in architectural forms seems to be unprecedented in larger pre-Baroque compositions. While authors such as the medieval William Durandus sought to impute a wealth of meanings to architectural elements—columns, arches, vaults, pavement, walls, even the mixing of cement—it never becomes literal. When Durandus suggests that the columns represent the bishops, no Gothic church has its triforium supported by pontifical atlantes.  Such literalism was possible with the head and hand reliquaries of his age, but was not seen in larger structures. Indeed, whatever symbolic content seems largely restricted to sculptural and artistic additions; in the few instances where it is worked into the fabric of the building—as in the Christologically cruciform shape of the church or the perfection of a round Renaissance dome, the iconography is general rather than site-specific as with the papal tiara atop the Lateran’s baptismal font.
However, by Guarini’s time, Borromini had already done the impossible at Sant’ Ivo della Sapienza. The whole building is a symphony of fantastically figural architecture both in plan and in elevation, a Solomonic house of wisdom (ædes sapientiæ) perfectly allied to its purpose as a university chapel.  The plan is a star of David, while the spiraling spire is an academic lighthouse and a tower of Babel—here linked to Pentecost’s miraculous inversion of Babel through the gift of tongues. Never was a marble tabernacle as extravagantly figural in its structure. At the ædes Sapientiæ, architecture has become a-techntonic, exuberantly plastic, fantastic, symbolic, just as it would become at the ædes regiæ, as the royal Shroud chapel was known. While it would be difficult to characterize Guarini as a follower of Borromini though he was of the generation following him, the two of them certainly would have been kindred spirits. 
Scott’s analysis of Guarini’s peculiar design is refreshingly practical, seeing the logic behind the monolithic death-mask of eccentricity that art history has forced down on the theologian-mathematician-architect priest’s heterogeneous work. That being said, Scott seems to take his thesis to almost absurd proportions, refusing to see the whole of Guarini’s design as conditioned by iconographic logic. Certainly, the unprecedented triangular arrangement of the rotunda was conditioned by existing conditions in the site,  but save for a few passing references here and there, Scott remains entirely uninterested in the obvious Trinitarian symbolism of the complex; furthermore, he seems reluctant to impute much iconographic significance to the extraordinary figural space of the dome save to “ ‘please the senses’ of the viewer” in a miraculous way, and continue the triangular (and thus, presumably, Trinitarian) scheme of the floor plan.  Considering he goes into exhaustive detail about the mixture of unconventional and conventional iconographic treatments of the column capitals, exotic passion-flowers, Arabic boxes, reliquary chests and excursions into Jesuit geometrical experiments proving the efficacy of Christ’s passion,  he seems to contradict himself when he says that the imagery is “rather commonplace” and need not bother us excessively. As we sit and stare up into the infinity of Guarini’s black-marble heavens, it cannot strike us this is by far one of the silliest statements in the entire history of art. 
Tomorrow, Part III: The Building as Reliquary
. Schloeder’s new tabernacle at St. Thérèse in Collinsville, Oklahoma, is an example of this design issue.
. Wolfgang Lotz, Architecture in Italy, 1500-1600 Yale UP, 1974, p. 12. An earlier parallel is afforded by the miniaturized Holy Sepulchre (complete with half-size door) at the Ruccelai chapel in Florence.
. Private conversation with Michael Djordjevitch, February 2005.
. Thurston, n.p.
. Jennifer Montagu, Roman Baroque Sculpture: The Industry of Art, p. 85-89, figs. 103, 109.
. See Durandus, Rationale Divinorum Officiorum.
. John Varriano. Italian Baroque and Rococo Architecture. New York: Oxford UP, 1986.
. Anthony Blunt, Borromini, Cambridge, Mass: Harvard UP, 1979, pp. 111-128.
. Varriano, p. 214.
. Scott, p. 124.
. Ibid., p. 137; 153.
. Scott claims that these geometric proofs would have been well-known to most contemporary preachers and thus an attempt to seek anything more than obvious symbolism in the design is wrong-headed. Considering Bettini’s diagrams (p. 157-9) were intended for use by the Jesuits in China, not Turin, this seems a rather puzzling line of argument.
. Guarini is bedeviled by such statements. Argan, whose excesses are criticized by Scott, argued that Guarini’s iconography was not just superficial but utterly irrelevant! Argan was influenced here by his allegiance to modernist internationalism, infamous for its particular hatred of anything symbolic and obsession with the mechanical (Scott, p. 195).