Tuesday, September 29
Reason to Love Catholicism #344
--attributed to Pius IX (and too good to fact-check)
The Prophet Haggai Should be Patron Saint of Parish Fundraising
On the first day of the sixth month in the second year of King Darius,
The word of the LORD came through the prophet Haggai
to the governor of Judah, Zerubbabel, son of Shealtiel,
and to the high priest Joshua, son of Jehozadak:
Thus says the LORD of hosts:
This people says:
“The time has not yet come to rebuild the house of the LORD.”
(Then this word of the LORD came through Haggai, the prophet:)
Is it time for you to dwell in your own paneled houses,
while this house lies in ruins?
Now thus says the LORD of hosts:
Consider your ways!
You have sown much, but have brought in little;
you have eaten, but have not been satisfied;
You have drunk, but have not been exhilarated;
have clothed yourselves, but not been warmed;
And whoever earned wages
earned them for a bag with holes in it.
Thus says the LORD of hosts:
Consider your ways!
Go up into the hill country;
bring timber, and build the house
That I may take pleasure in it
and receive my glory, says the LORD.
Sunday, September 27
[Humor] More Rejected Titles for Our Lady and One Very Obscure Joke about Boxing and Medieval Feastdays
Our Lady, Mediatrix of all Gravies
Our Mother of Good Vibrations (patroness of windsurfing, and the only known iconographic type shown with sunglasses)
Our Lady of Perpetual Discernment (we all know at least one of her votaries)
Our Lady of Blessed Acceleration (as featured in The Blues Brothers)
Our Mother of Hockey (like Our Mother of Soccer, but scarier)
Our Lady of Good Composure
Our Lady, Queen of Dairies (Patroness of the Fond-Du-Lac Rural Deanery of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee)
This also brought to mind a list of obscure or forgotten feast-day names. As we all know, Christmas is not the only holy day with a -mas or -mass suffix. Annunciation is Ladymass, Holy Innocents is Childermass, Holy Cross Day is Crutchmass, and, by the same logic, if Roberto Duran is ever canonized, his saint's day will be No Más. (Though, in all fairness, supposedly all he said was his stomach was hurting, which means he can replace St. Elmo.)
Tuesday, September 15
John Duncan. Saint Bride, 1913. National Gallery of Scotland.
I have yet to ascertain if this image represents an actual event from the life of St. Bridget or a literary work like the Tennyson poem about St. Cecilia that seemed more popular to the Pre-Raphaelites and their academic followers than the saint's true story. The Scottish National Gallery comments, "According to the legend of the Irish Saint Bride [St. Bridget] she was transported miraculously to Bethlehem to attend the nativity of Christ. Here two angels carry the white robed saint across the sea," which explains some of it, though not the saint's almost childlike figure--lovely and sweet and girlish, but hardly the abbess we'd expect. Indeed, she looks more like an Agnes or even a Philomena with a very good dye-job.
But it is a stunning work, combining nearly everything I find attractive in good art, and even much good liturgical art, though this particular work is not really liturgical: clever realistic detail within a hieratic, iconographic framework; bold, but not garish, color; idealised, delicate figures that nonetheless convey a sense of individual personality; and a careful and fairly detailed use of symbolism in unusual but traditional ways, specifically the elaborate biblical scenes embroidered all over the angel's garments. In a liturgical context, many of these could be further developed within the same hybrid stylistic context. My only complaint, besides the puzzling subject-matter, are that the halos don't quite sit properly around the noble heads of the angels; the center-point ought to be somewhere around the ear, or higher, to look right, and more consistent from figure to figure. Still, this is one to turn and return to.
Thursday, September 10
Tuscany on the Big Mysterioso Hulking Lake Michigan, And a Few Words on Organic Development
In any case, you came for architecture, and you ought to have some, rather than bizarre riffs on The Scapular, the Snuggie without Sleeves.
My parents were recently in town, and every time they visit I am cheered by the opportunity to play tourist. Milwaukee, possibly the United State’s most overlooked but nonetheless not under-appreciated large city, holds numerous surprises and delights in plain sight. You can spend hours circling through dull acres of ranch housing and stray one street over to discover a mammoth art deco Gothic church with incongruous lacy wooden window-frames. And then there is Villa Terrace, an unassuming but well-proportioned whitewashed brick wall, a bit of loggia and red tile peeping up above, that sits with surprising discretion along a North Shore street lined with miniature chateaux and brownstone Tudors. It was done in 1926 for a rather forgettable clan of rich Italianophiles called the Lloyd Smiths by David Adler, a pitch-perfect mansion architect of the era. While lacking the panache of, say, a Philipe Schutze--the Italianate Georgian designer who once proposed a synagogue based on Santa Maria della Salute in Venice—his work has the sort of elegant understatement that most architects pursue elusively before the settle for tastefully dull. It's quietly stunning.
At the height of a blue-water Milwaukee lakeside summer (the big mysterioso hulking Lake Michigan, my father dubs it, riffing on something from Tom Wolfe), the house makes eminent good sense. The white walls, appealingly nicked and scarred with a bit of red brick showing through, gleam under the indigo skies, and the cascading rear slope of gardens are green and buzzing with insects that are quietly seen and not heard (or that bite, for that matter). You could well be in Tuscany, and I know Tuscany well. The front courtyard is intimate but not claustrophobic, and cooled by some geometric hedges, an admirable touch. The rooms are mostly low-slung but spacious, with beamed ceilings picked out with little dog-tooth lines of polychromy—simple and even a little plain, but never uninteresting. When we were there, a wedding had taken over one of the terraces, while the house museum still kept on admitting visitors, a rather strange experience, the men roasting in their suits.
The design is by no means pretentious—it is not a Disneyesque evocation of Italy, even if it is an impressively rather exacting one. However, something doesn’t quite work: it’s called winter. The whole problem of transplanted architecture—whether it was the charming dress-up of the gilded-age eclectics, or the hardier, less self-conscious Georgian of our own ancestors—is a constant for a classical architect. The problem is where to draw the line between the dry moralizing of a Pugin or a Ruskin (who, for all their contributions to western civilization, could be puritanical monomaniacs about this sort of thing) and the stage-set quality of an Epcot or World’s Fair. Certainly not all authentic local architecture started out as really “local,” Georgian being adapted Palladian. Nor does inventing something new to fill the gap work either: whatever possessed Frank Lloyd Wright to assume virtually flat roofs would work in a snow-heavy climate, however evocative they were of the prairie, I will never know. Yet, it is hard to think of anything more English (or American) than a Georgian manor-house, and Wright, for all his absurdities, did evoke something of the spare beauty of the Midwest in his work. It helps to not be too prissy about such things, if it works aesthetically in the end. Some architectural theorists have conniption fits about wonderfully witty stunts like the building at Yale by the brilliant James Gamble Rogers which has one side Georgian and the other Gothic, yet it is so perfectly integrated into its surroundings, such an audacious and successful stunt, that it is hard not to applaud its cunning. (Though it helps that it doesn't leak like Frank Lloyd Wright's own audacities.)
Mostly it comes down to cultivating common-sense and at least the bare outlines of mental association. One cannot become a slave to assocationism—it is important, for instance, to realize that not all pointed arches are holy, especially bad pseudo-Victorian pseudo-Gothic ones, but some can be beautiful—but one ought not to ignore it either. People pick these things up for a reason. And sometimes the logic behind it may verge on the cheesy, but it sometimes works: there's a lot of Swedes in the Midwest, and it's cold, so, bingo, Stave Churches. Why not? In this dull age, I'll take what I can get. On the other hand, a white stucco Mission church in damp Minnesota suggests the add-water instant-mud-pies of adobe architecture, which is just disconcerting. A yellow-stucco one suggests northern Italy, which at least has some familiarity with the cold, or even the gemutlichkeit of Bavaria’s alpine chapels. A Spanish Baroque church in Massachusetts seems more outré than traditional, but do it up in brick and white limestone and one has a whole new style, a sort of parallel-universe Christopher Wren in a world where Mary Tudor and Philip had their heir, however improbably. Transplantation is not impossible, but mediation is required, and from that necessity springs the beauty of particularity. King’s College Chapel in Arizona might be a fine place to fry bacon, but modifying it with the narrow-windowed, deep-shadowed feel of Spanish Gothic would render it real again and give birth to something wholly unique and yet traditional.
Climate, though, effectively becomes the test for pretense. Our English ancestors may have complained of drafty Palladian windows, but in time they adapted the master of Vincenza’s lines to their damper, darker weather, and the same with us in America. French classicism dealt with rain and sleet with steeper roofs. Villa Terrace’s shallow tile roofs and courtyard are the problem here, potential miseries in a bitter Midwestern winter. A house is more than its function, but people do have to live there, and surely a solution which is beautiful, historic, and functional is the most elegant of all.
Tuesday, September 8
The next time someone asks you why we need a new translation...
As I close, I just want to say, I love my brother bishop here, Bishop D'Arcy very much. I love the Holy Cross fathers and community very very much; I go back with them, and with some of you, a long way. I love the students so much in a special way; that's why I came here. And I have one last thing to say: as you take up your mission to be the ephphatha with Christ and like Christ, please don't let anyone or any ideology quell your determination to stand always, unambiguously pro-life. That's the foundation of all else that the ephphatha is about, and if you stand unambiguously pro-life, only then can you be filled with the life and the joy that Jesus Christ wishes for every blessed one of you, and every one of you are indeed blessed. Praised be Jesus Christ!
Thursday, September 3
O Magnum Mysterium
Loome's, The Happiest Place on Earth
I wanted to put in a kind word for the wondrous Loome Theological Booksellers in the remarkable little riverside town of Stillwater, Minnesota, otherwise known to me as the Happiest Place on Earth The nineteenth-century town of Stillwater clings to the steep bluffs along a wide stretch of the St. Croix River, the border between Minnesota and Wisconsin. It is known as one of the world's premier "booktowns," and the first officially established outside of Europe. The "booktown" concept was dreamed up many years ago by an eccentric Welshman, "King" Richard Booth, whose hometown, Hay-on-Wye in Wales, became the first--its entire economy effectively revolves around bookselling. Hay-on-Wye has over 20 bookstores with reportedly 2 million books for sale, and only 1,300 inhabitants. Booth helped establish other booktowns across Europe. Stillwater is a bit larger, but with 35 bookstores of its own, it certainly qualified, and officially received its status by a proclamation of Hay-on-Wye's self-proclaimed king in 1994. There are now booktowns all over the world, including Malaysia and Japan, and at least two others in the United States.
One of the crown jewels of this remarkable little place is, as I have said, Loome Theological Booksellers, the world's largest second-hand dealer of religious books, and undoubtedly at least in the top ten of the world's largest used and antiquarian book dealers. It sits halfway up the slope, overlooking the river. As someone who spent a good deal of his free time haunting the eclectic but oddly-organized architecture section at the Strand in New York, I can say that Loome's is a very special place. It's the sort of setting you'd expect to find a trap-door or revolving panel that leads into the secret branch headquarters of an underground group of Templars, or perhaps a cover for a safehouse for Vatican demon-hunters. I'd only spent about an hour there (and about $125) before a few weeks ago, when I dropped into town for an overnight visit. A friend who first I'd met years ago in Rome is now half-owner of the place, after Dr. Loome's retirement. For someone like me, this is like discovering a pal from high school been elected President. Or at least Grand-Master of the Knights of Malta.
In any case, he and his business partner have kept the place running smoothly, and it has all the same magic it did under Dr. Loome, the same perilously warped floors and looming bookshelves, the same extravagant and fascinating holy clutter. It is housed in an old church building, too, which once belonged to a denomination called the Swedish Covenant Church, which adds to the charming sense of through-the-looking-glass disorientation. I walked into one of the bathrooms and found myself confronted with a gigantic claw-foot bathtub below a brightly-colored landscape print showing shrine churches and a lot of incomprehensible Polish. Whole shelves are bent under ranks of old missals, breviaries, and hymnals. It's the happiest place on earth for a Catholic nerd like me. When I visited, Mr. P-- asked me if I wanted to stay in his family's guest-room, or in the bookstore. He said people have actually asked that before. I decided to opt to stay with the family, though I did wonder what that might be like. (This is also just about the first time I have been introduced to someone, in this case his three kids, as "Mr. Alderman." It's nice to be an adult.)
What is especially pleasing about Loome's is it is not a chain. The place has a personality all its own. But it also has an unparalleled selection, and is quite well-organized and well-staffed, unlike some more idiosyncratic mom-and-pop establishments. Mr. P-- is a member of the rising generation of young, tradition-minded Catholics now starting to make their mark on the world and has a lovely wife and, as I said just now, three kids--two rambunctious boys and a tall, solemn, quiet young girl--and is by no means a mogul. He runs his business sensibly and intelligently, but he also loves his work, and the Faith, and is active in his home parish, the lively St. Charles, down the river, which has an extremely active and friendly little congregation and a great liturgical program for its size. In an age where the choice is often between smooth, institutional mediocrity and awkward, home-grown mediocrity, Loome's is a treasure and a rarity, an example of a well-run family business with a real family behind it. You will find everything from honest-to-goodness illuminated manuscripts from the depths of the Middle Ages to 1950s church-design manuals. There is plenty to interest not only the Catholic, but the Lutheran, Anglican, Presbyterian or Orthodox Christian, provided he is an antiquarian and bibliomane like me. Stop in the next time you're in the area--it's well worth at least a detour, or possibly even a whole trip. Make sure there's space in the trunk for your purchases. You'll need it.
Tuesday, September 1
I believe there are only three people in the world who will appreciate this, and I know all of them
A questionnaire regarding the phenomenon of the Snuggie, The Blanket with Sleeves, for testing your understanding of American home economics and your own personal desires, written in the style of Walker Percy's Lost in the Cosmos.It's worth a read, as usually this sort of bizarre humorous cross-polination only happens here at The Shrine. (Next week: "Possible Consequences that Would Result if Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange Guest-Starred on Family Matters.") A sample:
Thomas Merton received public acclaim for his unbridled desire to become a Trappist monk. His autobiography, The Seven Storey Mountain, swept the country because, though we won't admit it, all Americans have a deeply repressed desire to be a monk or a nun. Buying a Snuggie is easier than dealing with these feelings. Also, it doesn't involve moving. Or obeying an abbot.Which just reinforces my own point, why not just wear a nice hooded robe? As anyone can see from this tenuously-related clip from 30 Rock, they don't even have backs. Wrapping a sheet round you, toga-style, would have better coverage.
And then there's this:
We don't want monastic life; we want small, portable cults, connected to a parent cult through televised messages. If picking one of the three available colors (burgundy, royal blue, and sage green) for your domestic group is not individualized enough, Snuggies can be bleached and tie-dyed.This brings up the frightening possibility someone might found an order of friars who wear tie-dye, or worse, leopard-print capuces (the Congregation of the Pre-Penitent Magdalene?). Yes, there are now animal-print snuggies. I'm pretty sure that's what happens when the third trumpet blows in the apocryphal Apocalypse of Esdras. (Or was it Peter? The Shepherd of Hermas? I forget.) Best to start watching out for three-headed eagles.
I firmly believe that the board of trustees must take up its responsibility afresh, with appropriate study and prayer. They also must understand the seriousness of the present moment. This requires spiritual and intellectual formation on the part of the men and women of industry, business and technology who make up the majority of the board. Financial generosity is no longer sufficient for membership on the boards of great universities, if indeed it ever was. The responsibility of university boards is great, and decisions must not be made by a few. Like bishops, they are asked to leave politics and ambition at the door, and make serious decisions before God. ... Let us pray that they will take this responsibility with greater seriousness and in a truly Catholic spirit.
Taking the trustees to task shows a familiarity with the problem, the roots of which run broad and deep. While the buck may stop at Fr. Jenkins' desk, solving the deeper issues, especially pressure from members of the board and faculty (who, as Stephan Pastis humorously reminds us, are virtually untouchable once tenured), is going to be the key to a long-term resolution.
I thought America did a commendable job in publishing the piece. They didn't shy away from printing an article that takes a couple of stabs at their articles on the events, even noting their journalistic shortcomings: "This journal and others in the media, Catholic and secular, reporting from afar, failed to make a distinction between the extremists on the one hand, and students and those who joined them in the last 48 hours before graduation. This latter group responded with prayer and substantive disagreement." (For the record, the print version of this article features a full-page picture of the latter group at Mass.) Conversely, the bishop's choice to publish in America is, aside from being a chance to connect with their particular readership, a nod to the fact that, while no one is questioning their particular editorial slant, they tend to be fair-minded and open to good-willed debate, something we could always use a bit more of.