Thursday, August 28


Kitsch, Not Just for Catholics Anymore!

The (London) Times online offers their list of the top 20 items of religious kitsch. And while the He'brew (long known and loved by Whapster Dan, incidentally) and Hindu God finger puppets (by the makers of the Pope Innocent III action figure) certainly have their own unique, um, charm, I'm going to have to go with the home team on this one and vote for the BVM USB drive as my personal favorite. I mean, come on, Her heart glows when you're saving data!

Of course, the Whapsters' perennial favorite pieces of kitsch would have to be the Popener and apparition ties.

So, click on over to the Times and have a look, just don't come back here claiming I said any of it was in good taste. On the other hand, do come back to share your own favorite pieces of kitsch!

Tuesday, August 26


This is What Happens When I'm Among My Own Kind

The other weekend, I was at a wedding reception chock-a-block with Catholic Nerdry, sitting between a seminarian in biretta and cassock and an engaged girl whose fiancé was elsewhere at the time. The seminarian then picked up from a conversation that had started that morning at brunch among the groomsmen and servers (consisting of theo majors, liturgists, seminarians, and me) about what happened if All Souls fell on a Saturday, and you also had your wedding scheduled then. It's always comforting to know there are folks even farther gone than you are. Nota bene, in that vein, that I did not initiate this conversation:

Seminarian: You'd have to have the readings for All Souls, since they're not optional. (with relish) I recommend black vestments.
Me: (makes more-or-less approving, if slightly dumbfounded, noises)
Engaged Girl: Awesome! I've already got black bridesmaid dresses.
Seminarian: And the Dies Irae.
Engaged Girl: I could so go for the Dies Irae at my wedding! And black candles.
Me: No, unbleached wax, of course!
Engaged Girl: Of course.
Seminarian: And if it was Extraordinary Form, we could wheel out the catafaque!
Me: But where would the bride and groom stand?
Seminarian: Oh, there's still room in front of the altar.

The idea is, hypothetically, er, interesting, if perhaps crossing the line into what we might term Dwight Shrute territory.

But, to any frightened females in the audience (all three of you who aren't huddled, terrified, in the bathroom, frantically talking about shoes or eyeshadow, or homeschooling textbooks, or how to gut a deer carcass or something girly like that), let me reassure you I would never schedule my own wedding, if I am so lucky it should occur someday, for November 2nd. For one thing, the catafaque would get in the way of the four prelates in rochets holding up the Sarum-style canopy.*

*Okay, it's negotiable, since the groom never gets much of a say in such things, and the whole idea is hypothetical to begin with, but I can dream, can't I?

Monday, August 25


Modernity: Pleasure without Joy

"Only a joyous people can sustain pointless activity, festivity and rest. Only a people who can sustain pointless activity, festivity and rest can be joyous. And only a joyous people can finally resist the culture of death, because only through the embrace of pointless activity and the repose in finite forms can we resist this culture's evacuation of substance and its identification of the Real with transcendental violence. In other words, joy, with its delight in the intrinsic, its commitment to the transcendent, and its repose in the transcendent through its embrace of finite form, is absolutely essential to the good order and to the genuine letting be of any properly human activity, and indeed proper human being. It is difficult to image that a culture that does not how to feast or how to pray, which makes no distinction between the hours of the day or the days of the week, and has forgotten how to mark the passage of time with seasons of celebration and solemnity, will be capable of great art, music or craftsmanship, or that it will be able to sustain marriage, rear children, or fulfil the natural obligation between generations in caring for the sick and dying."

~Michael Hanby, "The Culture of Death, the Ontology of Boredom, and the Resistance of Joy." More here.

Cooking with Vincent Price

No, really.

Holy Whapping Goes to the Movies

Few of you know this yet, but HWTN recently purchased the multiplex next door to our headquarters, adding it to our growing commercial empire, which currently consists of the Donutist chain of fast-food breakfast cafes (which has recently been closed down by a joint order of the CDF and the local health inspectors) and the Chaldean-themed Mar Emmanuel Deli in Mosul, which unfortunately is currently surrounded by a minefield. So we're hoping this one turns out better. We'd like to note it is the only multiplex IMAX theatre done in the Naryshkin Baroque style in the entire upper midwest.

Today's showings include:

The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants Pars II: A road-trip of vocation-discerning traddy girls (all of whom look about 25 despite being 14) checking out convents discovers an order with what might be the Worst...Habit...Ever. 2:30 running time. Showings: Matins. Sext. Compline.

The Day the Sun Stood Still: The only way we can explain the reason Keanu Reeves got picked to play Joshua in this lumbering sci-fi take on the battle of the Hebrews versus the Amalekites is that HWTN studios casting director was recently burnt at the stake for Artotyritic Montanism and Milosh the janitor is currently filling in for him. 1:45. Showings: Matins.

The Dark Night: Who would have thought the Hombre Murciélago defending Renaissance-era Toledo from countless heretical enemies would actually be a five-foot-tall Carmelite mystic named John? With Maggie Gyllenhaal as Teresa of Avila. 3:00 running time. Showings: Lauds. Vespers. First and Second Nocturnes.

Brideshead Regurgitated: If you synchronize the new Brideshead movie with the tracks from Dark Side of the Moon, it's much more edifying. 1:20 running time. Showings: Third Nocturne, Nones.

Harald Hardrada and Kumar Go to the White Castle: In Norman England's first stoner comedy, invading Viking Harald and his Moorish slave Kumar get the munchies and have to find their way, via oxcart, to the keep at Windsor Castle without Harold Godwinson or William the Conqueror attacking them en route. 1:45 running time. Showings: Terce, Vespers.

Saturday, August 23


"Silk burse from a sow's ear"

The gals at the Pious Sodality of Church Ladies have a new post on the impressive liturgical restoration of a burse.

The original burse was violently jungle green and studded with rhinestones. It was so hideous that my computer has eaten all documentation of its original state.


Happily, the end result is rhinestone-free:

Friday, August 22

On the subject of monarchies in unusual places, I hope the poor misguided soul who came here looking for "Leka Zogu seven feet tall" found what he was looking for. I'm amazed but it appears the Shrine has inadvertently become the internet's only clearing-house on the (virtually non-existent) Albanian royal house in exile. Well, maybe not that surprised.

The Hail Mary Pass Comes Later

A shot of the seldom-seen Tridentine preparatory ritual known as the "pre-game huddle."*

*Note to the humor-impaired: I actually really love the Prayers at the Foot of the Altar, with all its responses and intricate bows. (Indeed, while I'm not strictly speaking a Trad, the older I get, the traddier I become in certain areas.) It's the best way to kick off a mass I know; but you have to admit at times it can look a little comical out of context. Unlike football, however, color commentators are better left out of mass.

Cusack Discovers the World's Best-Dressed Monarch*

Okay, that settles it, I will just have to move to Tonga.

*In terms of boring elected governments, though, Yuliya Tymoshenko, the current prime minister of Ukraine, is quite chic, especially when you consider all the frightening pastel pants-suits worn by congressladies and senatrixes elsewhere. But if you ain't got a corno, why bother?

Wednesday, August 20


Trippy, Thought-Provoking Suspense with Zmirak's Grand Inquisitor

John Zmirak (text) and Carla Miller (illustrations). The Grand Inquisitor. Graphic novel. Crossroad, 2008.

At first glance, it seems designed specifically to freak out everyone in its numerous potential overlapping markets--an intricately Gothic comic book, its dialogue written in elaborate blank verse, its plot inspired by and title borrowed from Dosdoyevsky's heavy-going Grand Inquisitor, and filled with all manner of strange hellfire, Marian visions, doctrinal arguments, and one deeply creepy Infant of Prague statue. But the author knows all that, already, and it is to his credit he forged ahead to produce this suspensful theological roller-coaster ride of a graphic novel.

The brilliance of John Zmirak's first graphic novel, The Grand Inquisitor, is precisely that its genre-bending, everything-but-the-sacristy-sink extravagance works so well. Uptight crypto-Jansenists will probably initially dismiss it as frivolous, beige Catholics as a Traddy screed, but those who actually read the text, and consider the elaborately-drawn illustrations for more than five seconds, will be rewarded.

(Plus, the illustrations have all sorts of wonderful little surprises embedded within them--conclaves, Tridentine liturgies, Cardinal Mahony playing golf, and my favorite, the Infant of Prague in full armor.)

The tale is simple, but all its permutations are profound. Sometime in the near future, a papal conclave drags on as the College of Cardinals finds itself at a deadlock. Tension mounts outside the Vatican walls. The liberals stage a walkout and hurl their scarlet robes to the crowd below in protest. The few remaining electors choose a complete unknown as the next pontiff, an African monk from a forgotten Traditionalist order. (Think Hadrian the Seventh, but with real saints and real sinners facing off rather than an empty conflict of aesthete poseurs and vulgar bureacrats). Unfortunately, one prince of the Church, possessing his own strange and alarming agenda, arranges a mix-up at the new pontiff's airport pickup. The vast bulk of the story deals with the confrontation between the cardinal--incidentally, a dead ringer for Teilhard de Chardin--and the simple priest, now imprisoned in the mental ward of a Roman hospital along with a dozen or so deranged papal claimants of a less legitimate nature. What happens next will decide the fate of the Church, and with it, the world.

In the hands of nearly anyone else it might have turned into a clunkily-plotted Dan Brown novel, but instead it takes a wholly unexpected and thought-provoking turn. Indeed, it amazes me how quickly the reader is drawn into the story, even though it contains no car-chases or fantastical BOOMs! and ZAPs! but focuses instead on the claustrophobic struggle--sometimes spiritual, sometimes quite physical--between the African Carthusian and rightful pontiff-elect, his captor, and a mystical Eastern-Rite cardinal the villain has also imprisoned. All three are remarkably well-imagined and believable characters, wrestling with equally believable, though terrifying, existential problems. Even the traitorous, wire-pulling cardinal does his dark deeds out of the twisted sort of logic you or I could succumb to in the face of despair.

While deliberately lacking the (reverent) snarkiness of his Bad Catholics Guides series, it still operates in much the same way--a Christianizing search-and-rescue operation of a whole genre that simultaneously functions as counter-cultural polemic and intra-ecclesial critique while at the same time still holds together as a coherent and gripping narrative. The luminous blank verse doesn't hurt either, and its stylized solemnity is the single fixed point in a swirlingly tumultuous tale.

The plot--with its scheming clerics and wild visions--is, of course, a fantasy, a theological thought-experiment, and nobody would claim otherwise, but reading it can't help make you wonder if perhaps you too might be guilty of the same self-rationalizing waterings-down of Catholicism that lie at the heart of the book's conflict. Zmirak is articulating something very complex here--a return to Tradition with real, serious mercy, rather than the amnesiac indifference that has unconsciously colored much of our cultural and religious life for the last forty years. It is not about any one pet issue, left or right. It is about the Faith. The Grand Inquisitor is not about any one agenda within the Church today, but for a call for the Church to simply be the Church, just and merciful, reasonable and mystical, ever-ancient and ever-new.

Tuesday, August 19


New Dappled Things out!

Shrine friend Bernardo, president of Dappled Things magazine, writes to remind us that there another issue out of this fine new literary journal out for your amusement and edification:
It is a pleasure to inform you that the SS. Peter and Paul 2008 edition of Dappled Things has just been published online.

[Okay, me posting this announcement is about a month too late, but it's been a long summer. And there's the possibility of free stuff, see below. --Matt]


The final installment of Eleanor Donlon's Magdalen Montague is here at last! In Part V: "The Triumph of Magdalen Montague," you will read the conclusion of this complex story of redemption, spanning forty years of correspondence. Learn the fates of the loquacious letter-writer "J", his virulently anti-religious recipient "R", the silently holy Domokos Juhász, and the long-absent Magdalen. As fitting a collection of letters, a belated Prologue and corresponding Epilogue now appear—but only the former can be found online. Fear not! Instructions for obtaining a copy of the printed issue are included below.


Other important features include a chilling monologue and poignant expression of human suffering, a vivid and unflinching poetic exploration of modern dreams of progress, the adventures of a half-pint cowboy hero, a thought-provoking essay on love, sex, and our "second selves", two meditations upon the Providential benevolence and beauty of the sacrament of marriage, and a striking array of black and white photography, principal amongst them Patrick Anderson's image of the concrete Angel, terrible in its beauty (now gracing the cover of the print issue), as well as many, many more excellent fiction pieces, essays, poems, book reviews, and works of art. I hope you will enjoy this powerful new issue!

As noted above, the final chapter of "Magdalen Montague" will not be available online while the author seeks a publisher for the series in book format (discerning publishers, take note!), so if you are aching to finish the series, and have, in the blind innocence of prosaic distractions, allowed your subscription to lapse—fear not! Today you can purchase a retroactive subscription or a single copy of this issue (at the astonishing rate of $8!). You will find our mailing address in our subscriptions website. Make sure you mention the vital necessity of finishing the Montague series, and let us know that you want to begin your subscription with the SS. Peter & Paul 2008 edition. And send your cheque today (payable to Dappled Things Magazine)—supplies are limited and demand is high!
Also, from the good news department of Dappled Things, free magazines!
We have a limited supply of copies of the new printed edition of the magazinethat we would be willing to send (at no cost) to any of your readers who are interested. [...] Send an e-mail to dappledthings [dot] cybulski [at] gmail [dot] com, with "SAMPLE ISSUE" written in the subject line and their name and mailing address in the body. We will not spam people who send us their information, nor will we sell their precious data to spammers or any other nasty thing of that sort.

Copies will be allotted on a first come, first serve basis, while supplies last.
What are you waiting for?
Today is the anniversary of the British victory at the Augus 19, 1782 Battle of Blue Licks in Kentucky. I say this because I like the name, no other reason. All facts are inherently beautiful, as Charles Williams once said.

Someday I think I will have to write a book entitled Everything is Going to Kill You.

Granite tabletops pose a cancer risk.

A Prayer from the Divine Liturgy

I believe, O Lord, and I confess that You are truly the Christ, the Son of the living God, Who came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am first. I believe also that This is truly Your own most pure Body, and that This is truly Your own precious Blood. Therefore, I implore You: have mercy upon me and forgive my transgressions, both voluntary and involuntary, of word and of deed, committed in knowledge or in ignorance. And count me worthy to partake without condemnation of Your most pure Mysteries, for the remission of my sins, and unto eternal life. Amen.

Of Your mystical supper, O Son of God, accept me today as a communicant; for I will not speak of Your mystery to Your enemies, neither like Judas will I give You a kiss; but like the thief will I confess You: remember me, O Lord, in Your kingdom.

May the communion of Your holy Mysteries be neither to my judgment, nor to my condemnation, O Lord, but to the healing of soul and body.

Great Catholic Moms Throughout History: St. Sylvia of Rome

The image above is one of the comparatively few ancient depictions we have of St. Gregory with his parents SS. Gordian and Silvia, presumably taken from an original dating from the pope's own time by the square halo. I did another one some years ago, before seeing this, for my own parents--my mother's name is Silvia, and images of her patron are rarer than archaeopteryx teeth*--and I got a fair number of details wrong. Still, it's gratifying to discover I'm not the only one to hit on the idea. Here's another one I found, perhaps based on the older image above.

Before there were Louis and Zélie Martin (currently up for beatification, incidentally) and after the Holy Kinship, you had Silvia and Gordianus, who had not only St. Gregory, but an astonishing number of saintly relatives. Her sisters-in-law Trasilla and Emiliana, are also considered saints, as well as another sister-in-law Gordiana, and, of course, her abovementioned husband Gordianus. It must have been something in the water. Wikipedia has the following:
Silvia was noted for her great piety, and she gave her sons an excellent education. After the death of her husband she devoted herself entirely to religion in the "new cell by the gate of blessed Paul" (cella nova juxta portam beati Pauli). Gregory the Great had a mosaic portrait of his parents executed at the monastery of St. Andrew; it is minutely described by Johannes Diaconus (P.L., LXXV, 229-30). Silvia was portrayed sitting with the face, in which the wrinkles of age could not hide the beauty, in full view; the eyes were large and blue, and the expression was gracious and animated. [...]

Silvia had built a chapel in her house. In 645, the monks from the monastery of Mar Saba (Palestine) settled in this house, and devoted it to the celebration of St. Sabas. In the ninth century an oratory was erected over her former dwelling, near the Basilica of San Saba.

Pope Clement VIII (1592-1605) inserted her name under 3 November in the Roman Martyrology. She is invoked by pregnant women for a safe delivery.
There is also another St. Silvia (better known as the traveller Egeria, and whose cultus as a saint seems to be quite obscure), whose sanctity appears to rest on her fondness for cold showers and pilgrimages, and a St. Silvia of Constantinople, who seems to have been a learned enemy of heresy, but other particulars are not forthcoming.

*i.e., they do exist, as strange as that may seem, somewhere, but it takes a lot of digging to get to them. Some particularly corroded frescoes of them flank the chancel at my favorite liturgical broom-closet, San Gregorio dei Muratori.

Wednesday, August 13


Classy Chris

The Abbey of Maria Laach has an online gift shop with perhaps the classiest St. Christopher key chain in Christendom:

Bronze, for 8.25 euros. That used to be eight dollars, once upon a time.

I dream because I'm broke. Oh well.

Tuesday, August 12


Pio Nono Baptist Church

Fr. Phillips, of Our Lady of the Atonment, notes in the combox at Fr. Longnecker's Standing on My Head:
I've heard of a Pio Nono Baptist Church, which I think is someplace in Georgia -- it's on Pio Nono Avenue. Also, I believe there is a Vatican Baptist Church in Vatican, Louisiana.
Consider my mind blown.

Incidentally, where I'm from in Florida, storefront churches with more words in their name than members are not unknown. Lamb's Holiness Temple Something Something Something. (I suppose it's no worse than the Archbasilica of Our Saviour and SS. John the Baptist and Evangelist at the Lateran.) Another curiosity was a place known, in those dark days before automatic spell-check, as the "Apolastic" Church. Also, Primitive Baptist churches with "saint" names are not uncommon there, though I'm a little baffled as to one dedicated to a "St. Rosa." Perhaps, among them, popular canonization has returned?

Monday, August 11


Thou Unpronounceable, I know you are with me

I suspect Dan of the Holy Whapping will be pleased with this admittedly-unexpected CDW ruling:

"Avoiding pronouncing the tetragrammaton of the name of God on the part of the Church has therefore its own grounds. Apart from a motive of purely philological order [NB: No one actually knows how to pronounce YHWH], there is also that of remaining faithful to the Church's tradition, from the beginning, that the sacred tetragrammaton was never pronounced in the Christian context nor translated into any of the languages into which the Bible was translated.

II - Directives

"In liturgical celebrations, in songs and prayers the name of God in the form of the tetragrammaton YHWH is neither to be used or pronounced."

Link to the scans of the original documents.

Chesterton: In Defense of Heraldry

"Thus in the old aristocratic days there existed this vast pictorial symbolism of all the colours and degrees of aristocracy. When the great trumpet of equality was blown, almost immediately afterwards was made one of the greatest blunders in the history of mankind. For all this pride and vivacity, all these towering symbols and flamboyant colours, should have been extended to mankind. The tobacconist should have had a crest, and the cheesemonger a war-cry. The grocer who sold margarine as butter should have felt that there was a stain on the escutcheon of the Higginses. Instead of doing this, the democrats made the appalling mistake--a mistake at the root of the whole modern malady--of decreasing the human magnificence of the past instead of increasing it. They did not say, as they should have done, to the common citizen, 'You are as good as the Duke of Norfolk,' but used that meaner democratic formula, 'The Duke of Norfolk is no better than you are.'"

More here.

Feast of Saint Clare

See Chiara's blog for some beautiful reflections on today's feast of this friend of Saint Francis, Foundress of the Poor Clares, and patroness of, among other things, television.

Saturday, August 9


Our Lady of Guadalupe (La Crosse, Wis.) Dedication

Most of you probably heard about the dedication of the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in La Crosse, Wisconsin. However, here is some of the local news coverage:

Click here.

The "Introduction" video is worth watching for the impressive procession to the church.

Liturgical Fire!

... because we've gone too long without mentioning the famous botafumeiro:

According to an obscure Mozarabic rubric, clapping in church is acceptable when in the presence of a 5 foot censor.*

*I made that up.


It's Superpope!

"It's a's a's Paul VI!"

The always excellent John Allen at NCR gives us a great piece this week about "Paul VI, the superhuman pope." Some highlights:

Reflecting on the anniversary of Paul VI's death, which fell on Wednesday, Benedict wielded a striking adjective indeed in characterizing his predecessor, who led the church through the storms of the Second Vatican Council (1962-65) and its aftermath: "Superhuman."
The past two weeks have provided fresh confirmation of the point. Last week's 40th anniversary of Humanae Vitae, Paul's encyclical reiterating the church's ban on contraception, triggered a predictable flood of commentary (in which I participated, penning an Aug. 3 op/ed for the Times at the editors' request); the 30th anniversary of Paul's death this week has been met with a fairly deafening silence. In the popular mind, Paul's pontificate has essentially been reduced to its most controversial moment.

Such summary dismissals are terribly unfair to a pope who was among the most consequential, and, in many ways, most admirable Catholic personalities of the 20th century.


If the key word of the papacy of John XXIII was aggiornamento, bringing the church up to date, and that of John Paul II evangelization, boldly urging Catholicism to "set out into the deep," Paul VI's leitmotif was very much dialogue -- gentle, respectful conversation, never vacillating about the truth of the Christian message, but always open to what he called "the elements of truth in the opinions of others."


Among Catholics, Paul VI looms as the great exception to the normal tendency to put a positive spin on anything a pope says or does. In Paul's case, everybody seems to lead with their favorite beef. Liberals can't forgive Paul for not being John XXIII, forever lamenting his rulings on birth control and women's ordination. Conservatives won't forgive Paul for not being John Paul II, deriding his handling of liturgical reform and his Ostpolitik, a policy of dialogue with Socialist states. Self-styled experts often characterize Paul as a tragic or sad figure, which usually functions as an indirect way of minimizing his accomplishments.


In an era in which ideological tribalism has become the dominant mode of social organization, even within the church, it seems to me that Paul VI suffered the fate of anyone not clearly identified with a particular tribe. Because he tried to see the wisdom in all points of view, he had no natural constituency, no "base," to use today's political jargon, and thus no lobby to ride to his rescue when times got tough.

Paul's willingness to resist quick judgment earned him the moniker of the "Hamlet pope," but those who knew Paul insist it wasn't spinelessness or angst, but rather a keen sense of the insufficiency of simple answers.

Paul VI, in other words, was animated by the deeply Catholic instinct to seek both/and solutions to what others saw as either/or problems. The price he paid is that he was never a hero, either in his own time or now, to those who think in either/or terms; he was, instead, a prophet of that "not too numerous center" famously described by the late Jesuit theologian Bernard Lonergan.


All in all, Allen's piece is one of the most beautiful tributes to Pope Paul that I've seen, and certainly a heartening piece for those, myself included, who are tired of entrenched ideological battling within the Church and seek to appreciate and negotiate the goods that are available on all sides. Let us all, with Benedict XVI, strive to imitate Paul VI's " obvious gifts of intelligence and his passionate love for the church and for humanity" and recognize that superhuman courage and love can often appear as very little in the sight of the world.

Thursday, August 7


Bonus HV Article

While I stand by my previous statement about Cardinal Stafford's article on Humanae Vitae, I do have one more to pass along. This one, "Grave Motives to Use a Good Translation," from Homiletic and Pastoral Review, relates information about various translations of the document that is crucial to understanding the documents directives on spacing births.
The NC News Service made the Pauline edition translation for quick publication in the Vatican’s L’Osservatore Romano newspaper when HV was promulgated. This very first version in English is still the most widely published and used in the United States, despite the later emergence of better translations which are based on the Latin, including one published by the Vatican. The Pauline edition relies heavily on Italian to English cognates and it copies the Italian sentence arrangement without proper regard for English structures. While it adequately presents the Church’s teaching against contraceptive use, it inaccurately communicates the Church’s teaching on periodic abstinence.

In one example, paragraph 14 states (italics added):

If, then, there are serious motives to space out births ... (Pauline edition)
If therefore there are well-grounded reasons for spacing births ... (Vatican translation)

The first difference occurs because the Pauline edition renders the Italian
words “
seri motivi” as “serious motives,” while the Vatican translation renders
the Latin words “
iustae…causae” as “well-grounded reasons.”

Language nerds will particularly find some of the various permutations interesting, but the author explains each step of the way clearly enough for anyone to grasp. The implications of this are far-reaching, especially given the social pressure in some Catholic social circles (actual and virtual) to have as many children as possible when 'grave reasons' aren't manifest.

Wednesday, August 6



As we approach the beginnning of the school year, I am very excited to be able to put my sister's blog under "Current Domers" on our sidebar. She was at Notre Dame for most of the summer, and has some interesting pictures of (good) chapel renovations, as well as the Basilica covered in scaffolding, as the University is doing an unprecedented amount of construction work this summer.

I've also recently discovered the blogs of two young Holy Cross priests. Fr. Michael Wurtz, who will be beginning further studies in Rome this year, and Fr. Stephen Koeth, who gave an excellent homily on Pope Benedict and tradition the other week, and also was the narrator of a video in honor of Basil Moreau's beatification.

Monday, August 4


If you read only one article for Humanae Vitae's fortieth...

This should be it.

In it, Cardinal Stafford offers his personal reflections on the events surrounding the release of the encyclical. He writes of dark times for the Church, and yet his message is essentially one of hope that speaks to us even today:

But that night was not a total loss. The test was unexpected and unwelcome. Its unhinging consequences continue. Abusive, coercive dissent has become a reality in the Church and subjects her to violent, debilitating, unproductive, chronic controversies. But I did discover something new. Others also did. When the moment of Christian witness came, no Christian could be coerced who refused to be. Despite the novelty of being treated as an object of shame and ridicule, I did not become “ashamed of the Gospel” that night and found “sweet delight in what is right.” It was not a bad lesson. Ecclesial obedience ran the distance.

My discovery that Christ was the first to despise shame was gut-rending in its existential and providential reality. “Let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame.” Paradoxically, in the hot, August night a new sign shown unexpectedly on the path to future life. It read, “Jesus learned obedience through what he suffered.”

It would be cliché to write that one encounters much bitterness and complaint regarding this moment in Church history. While the Cardinal's article certainly does not fail to mourn what was lost, there is, ultimately, a refusal to give in to despair or malice. Rather, even in that darkest hour, he finds hope in the knowledge that the Church will continue to endure, and joy in sharing in the sufferings of Christ. It is a moving story, and an example we can learn much from.

Friday, August 1


We Gotta Stay Positive

In a pleasant coincidence, one of my favorite bands, The Hold Steady, has been getting some play in the Catholic press lately, with a very good piece in America discussing their "hipster orthodoxy," and an interesting recent counterpoint of sorts on the Commonweal blog. Also, the band was recently featured in an NPR segment that focused especially on the lead singer, Craig Finn, and his "religious but not spiritual" outlook.

The Hold Steady's sound is a great blend of two interesting styles: the classic rock style of Bruce Springsteen and the punk/pop Minneapolis sound of the 1980's exemplified by The Replacements (Finn hails from the Twin Cities area, went to Boston College, and now lives in Brooklyn). Despite clear acknowledgment of influences, the sound manages to be fresh and original, especially in Finn's tales of lives gone awry and the possibility of redemption. All of this has run through their first three albums, especially Separation Sunday and the breakthrough Boys and Girls in America, and it continues in their latest, Stay Positive.

Stay Positive kicks off with "Constructive Summer," a really fun tune that talks about the possibilities latent in the summer season even in a town where the grim reality is that you "work at the mill until you die." It's a classic Born to Run kind of rock-as-escape song, with Finn delivering his "annual reminder, that we can all be something bigger." Yet there is some ambiguity here, and one has to wonder whether the claim in this song that "we are our only saviors" holds up with what is in store for Finn's characters on this album.

The second song, "Sequestered in Memphis" is the first single off of this album, and it does this serviceably, though at nowhere near the level of Boys and Girls in America's transcendent "Stuck Between Stations." The album picks up with "One for the Cutters," a compelling, zither-accompanied tale of a girl whose college adventures go terribly wrong. I found what follows, "Navy Sheets" to be something of a throwaway and also in somewhat bad taste - not a highlight. It in turn is followed by "Lord, I'm Discouraged," a dark story about a woman who refuse to admit she's being badly abused. This has been a big hit among reviewers of the album, but I've been a bit slower to get into it. I also find the next song, "Yeah Sapphire" to be less than compelling.

A real highlight comes with "Both Crosses," a song heavily centered around a woman who has visions about two men being crucified, including classic lines like "Hey Judas, I know you made a big mistake/Hey Peter, you've been pretty good since Easter break," and also manages in the same sentence to make a poking reference at Billy Joel and use the word "transverberate" in a rock song. This was probably my favorite song on the first listen a few weeks ago, and it's definitely a keeper. "Stay Positive," the title track of the album, brings back the fun of the first track in a short but sweet rocker that I found also to be a highlight. "Magazines" I found to be alright, and perhaps I'd find "Joke About Jamaica" better if I was a bigger fan of "D'Yermaker," the Led Zeppelin song it spends a good deal of time referencing.

The final track, "Slapped Actress" is definitely a highlight. The title refers to this song's breaching of the fourth wall to show that "some nights it's just entertainment, but some other nights it's work." This is meta-rock, rock about rock, at its finest, and provides a great ending to a very solid album. The beginning of the song also brings back the mystical theme from "Both Crosses," as the protagonist instructs his girlfriend not to tell others about her visions.

Not every song on Stay Positive is a classic, but overall I found it to be a very good album, and definitely worth your listen, especially some of the songs I've pointed out as highlights. I also find The Hold Steady encouraging in the sense of providing intelligent rock music that has a religious imagination. The articles I highlighted above debate this topic in greater depth, but I would opine that The Hold Steady demonstrate for us the great breadth of the Catholic imagination, as the idea has been developed by David Tracy and Andrew Greeley, among others. This is rock music soaked in Catholic themes of sin, redemption, and mysticism, and it develops them in mature ways that are worthy paying attention to. It also demonstrates that the Catholic imagination is not only expressed by talk explicitly about religion and faith, but rather encompasses the whole world in which they operate, and seeks to redeem it. The Catholic imagination does not narrow us in any way - rather it broadens us by enabling to find and to express the realities to which our faith bears witness in unexpected places and ways.

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