Saturday, October 30, 2010

Trick or Treat Indeed! (or, Empiricism and Fear)

Jon Stewart, a man whose ambitions I support with a tinge of conscience, has announced that he is going to march on Washington the day before Halloween to remind our elected officials that: everything is okay. Not to be outdone, Steve Colbert has announced that he will march opposite Stewart, protesting that everything is absolutely terrible.

Yes, funny stuff. But there is a point behind their punch line. Americans are afraid. The enlightenment optimism that is one of the most dynamic parts of our country’s heritage has been transformed as-of-late by another hangover of the enlightenment period: blind faith in empiricism. For, as any expert will tell you, the world is about to end and it’s mostly your fault.

One that note, I have a confession to make. I believe Al Gore. And, do you know what else, I believe Sarah Palin. Gore’s math seems quite sound to me: the booming world population HAS dumped thousands of tons of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Despite climate-gate and other conservative groups’ attempts to conspiraize the green movement, it seems self evident, given the number of humans and the nature of our energy expenditure, that the sheer amount of air pollution we’ve created must have some drastic adverse effect on the environment. (NOTE: I’m am NOT supporting the Green Movement’s conclusions, just agreeing with one true premise out of their many false ones).

Ms. Palin’s math is just as convincing. The United States has a ridiculous deficit. There is no way that increased spending will solve the problem. Yes, taxing the rich might put us out of the red by the end of the decade, but what then? If we try to maintain all the federally run programs that the current administration supports, it’s only a matter of time before it will slip out of the black again. (NOTE AGAIN: I am NOT a Tea Party enthusiast. I simply agree with their logical assertion that spending past your resources usually results in debt).

With both the environment and the economy, the math is infallible. Epiricism, after all, doesn’t lie. Put it on a pie chart, a bar graph, research it and record it and the facts are before you in black and white. (Or in multi-color 3-D graphics, if you happen to be reading a news-magazine. [Oh American periodical editors: no one makes catastrophe look as pretty as you do!]) We are doomed.

Yet, what is the real problem. Gore says greenhouse gases and Palin says pompous politicians, but our consciences ultimately implicate ourselves. We are the ones who drive gas guzzlers. We are the ones who demanded a high-price military, education system and social security program. We cannot deny our own greed. And that is the problem with empiricism: that, for all its facts and figures, it can’t silence conscience. The Green Movement and the Tea Party are driven by guilt ridden Americans who’ve been told that political activism can expiate their many sins. Carbon dollars are sold like indulgences. Tea Party members attend quasi-religious rallies where preachers expound like Glenn Beck and Glenn Beck like the preachers. This is escapism at its worst. Responsibility, after all, means beginning the change in your own heart.

So to the Green of heart, I say stop using your iPhone! To the Tea Partier, sell your McMansion! Change your own life, remove the splinter from your own eye, and then tell the rest of us what to do. I believe sincerely in your sincerity. I ridicule not the true principles you stand for. I ridicule your behavior. O, Scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You drain out the hydrocarbon but swallow the toxic waste. You preach tax cuts for the rich and then become rich yourself. You traverse the world to gain one convert and make him twice as silly as yourself! Trick or Treat indeed!

Ending on a bad note annoys me. Therefore, on Monday, I encourage each of you to celebrate the Holiday of All Saints. If you are looking for the people to change the world, the legion of Christ’s chosen should be more than sufficient.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Litany of the Passion by Blessed John Henry Newman

LORD, have mercy.                                                               Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.                                                              
Christ, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.                                                                 
Lord, have mercy.
Christ, hear us.                                                          Christ, graciously hear us.
Son of Mary, hear us.                                    
Son of Mary, graciously hear us.

Heavenly Father, who hast Mary for Thy daughter,         Have mercy on us.
Eternal Son, who hast Mary for Thy mother,
Holy Spirit, who hast Mary for Thy spouse,
Glorious Trinity, who hast Mary for Thy handmaid,

Mary, Mother of the Living God,                                         Pray for us.
Mary, Daughter of the Light Unapproachable,
Mary, our light,
Mary, our sister,
Mary, stem of Jesse,
Mary, offspring of kings,
Mary, best work of God,
Mary, immaculate,
Mary, all fair,
Mary, Virgin Mother,
Mary, suffering with Jesus,
Mary, pierced with a sword,
Mary, bereft of consolation,
Mary, standing by the Cross,
Mary, ocean of bitterness,
Mary, rejoicing in God’s will,
Mary, our Lady,
Mary, our Queen,
Mary, bright as the sun,
Mary, fair as the moon,
Mary, crowned with twelve stars,
Mary, seated on the right hand of Jesus,
Mary, our sweetness,
Mary, our hope,
Mary, glory of Jerusalem,
Mary, joy of Israel,
Mary, honour of our people,

Lamb of God, who takest away the sins of the world,          Spare us, O Lord.
Lamb of God, who takest away the sins of the world,     
Graciously hear us, 
                                                                                                              O Lord.                                
Lamb of God, who takest away the sins of the world,        Have mercy on us

V. Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee.
R. Blessed art Thou among women.
Let us Pray
O Almighty God, who seest how earnestly we desire to place ourselves under the shadow of the name of Mary, vouchsafe, we beseech Thee, that as often as we invoke her in our need, we may receive grace and pardon from Thy holy heaven, through Christ our Lord.—Amen.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

The Triumphant Return of the Melisma

Since returning to New Orleans, I’ve had the opportunity to tune into my favorite Christian radio station again: Lifesongs 89.1 FM (God is good, all the time…) and am thoroughly surprised by the return of that medieval eccentricity so prevalent in Gregorian chant: the Melisma.
What is a melisma? According to, a melisma is “an ornamental phrase of several notes sung to one syllable of text, as in plainsong or blues singing.” If you’re having trouble picturing (or, rather hearing) that, think Aaron Nevilles’ style minus the falsetto. In western culture, it was originally employed by Christian hymnographers to accent the significant theological word or liturgical phrase of the song. Since the enlightenment, it had gone out of vogue with mainstream music, being erroneously associated with the more affected operatic style of singing. As with all such corrupted simplicities, the melisma has since only been used by the lower class folksong-writers, singing “with full and naïve conviction that the whole meaning of a song lies in the words and that the tune comes of itself, and that apart from the words there is no tune…”(I quote Tolstoy, War and Peace, 7vii) After all, the blue collar bard’s pedigree is of that noble breed of artists who believe that style is at the service of substance and not the other way round.
Yet in our day, when art-for-art’s-sake seemed to have reached its triumph, the melisma is making a return! Matt Maher, Chris Sligh, Sufjan Stevens, and Regina Spektor are just a few of the Lord’s singers who’ve resurrected this device in their worship. This reappearance of the melisma is a consoling sign. In the very least, it demonstrates that there are songwriters that have more concern for communicating their message than emphasizing their vocal ability. After all, the melisma is a silly device and would never make a diva out of anyone. My fellow schola members can attest that something of your ego dies when, instead of singing a simple Ave Maria, the chant notation forces you to sing AveeEEEEeeeEEEEeee MaaaAAAaaarIIIIiiiiIIIIAAaaa. In addition, it’s much easier to picture the Blessed Mother smiling benevolently at something melismatic in comparison to, say, the belting of Shubert’s AAAAAAAAAAve Mariiiiiiiiii----iiiiiiiaaa (which, I am convinced, usually leaves her rolling her eyes.). In short, the Melisma strikes down any attempt by the cantor to shift focus from the meaning of the song to the sound of his/her voice.
The other advantage to the melisma is that it leaves little room for variation outside of its own leaping and bounding. A group using melismatic chant is forced to listen to the words and listen to each other if the singing is to be successful. This focus plugs the individual into the community’s attempt at worship and translates into an encounter with the transcendent.
With the falling and rising of the notes, one must let go of the internal ups and downs that plagues one in the moment and, as a result, is connected to the rhythm of the rest of the room. Physically, this effect results in the uniting of breathing, pitch and even bodily movement. Spiritually, there is that amazing realization that occupancies all profound worship; namely, that the whole body (both one’s own and the Body of Christ) now stands before God in harmony.
Then there is this third attribute of the melisma, namely, that it is unnecessary. The very sight of its notation makes this evident. Over an ‘a’ or an ‘e’ there is this besplattering of ink that looks like a doodle from high school algebra class. Only this doodle represents, not daydreaming, but its close kin: contemplation. For nothing so confronts and defeats the utilitarianism of our day quite like prayer. And when substantial prayer is made long and frilly, our hearts, purified of our stresses and schedules, are left to bask in that most unnecessary action of God: His overflowing love for us.

An Anti-climatic and Procrastinated Ending to Leisure

There have been many post since the last one about Pieper's Leisure.  I wish now to finish by just quoting the last three paragraphs of the essay.  The speak for themselves.
Worship is either something 'given,' divine worship is fore-ordained - or its does not exist at all.  There can be no question of founding a religion or instituting a religious cultus.  And for the Christian there is, of course, no doubt in the matter: post Christum there is only one, true and final form of celebrating divine worship, the sacramental sacrifice of the Christian Church.  And moreover I think that anyone inquiring into the facts of the case from a historical point of view (whether he is a Christian or not) would be unable to find any other worship whatsoever in the Europeanized world. 
The Christian cultus, unlike any other, is at once a sacrifice and a sacrament.  In so far as the Christian cultus is a sacrifice held in the midst of the creation which is affirmed by this sacrifice of the God-man - everyday is a feast day; and in face the liturgy knows only feast days, even working days being feria.  In so far as the cultus is a sacrament it is celebrated in visible signs.  And the full power of worship will only be felts if its sacramental character is realized in undiminished form, that is, if the sign is fully visible.  In leisure, as was said, man oversteps the frontiers of the everyday workaday world, not in external effort and strain, but as though lifted about it in ecstasy.  that is the sense of the visibility of the sacrament: that man is 'carried away' by it, thrown into 'ecstasy.'  Let no one imagine for a moment that that is private and romantic interpretation.  The Church has pointed to the meaning of the incarnation of the Logos in the self-same words: ut dum visibiliter Deum cognosciums, per hunc in invisibilum amorem rapiamor, that we may be rapt into love of the invisible reality through the visibility of that first and ultimate sacrament: the Incarnation.
We therefore hope that this true sense of sacramental visibility may become so manifest in the celebration of the Christian cultus itself that in the performance of it man, 'who is born to work.' may truly be 'transported' out of the weariness of daily labor into an unending holiday, carried way out of the straitness of the workaday world into the heart of the universe.
A reflection on Chapter V of Leisure: The Basis of Culture

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Benevolent Christian Witness, Cardinal Bertone, and the Knights of Columbus

Back in 2004 as a move that would help in my poor seminarian status, I joined the Knights of Columbus in hope of being support.  I admit, it was not the most pure of motives.  Since then, I have come to love the Knights.  They are on the battlegrounds of contemporary society.  They support men discerning priesthood, which believe me is not just a monetary thing.  As seminarians, we are surrounded with prayer from men all around the world, who pray for us and priests at every meeting.  They are big supporters of things Catholic within our American society.  They helped in giving a standard of beauty for churches in America by funding all of the art in the National Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Washington D.C.  It is indeed a shrine to our blessed mother.  Another of their ministries is to uphold their members in things Catholic by printing a monthly magazine called Columbia, of which I read faithfully every month.  This month's issue began with a letter to the Supreme Convention of the Knights of Columbus from Tarcisio Cardinal Bertone, the Secretary of State for the Vatican.  Part of his letter really struck me.
"In the face of often unfair and unfounded attack on the Church and her leaders, His Holiness is convinced that the most effective response is a great fidelity to  God's word, a more resolute pursuit of holiness, and an increased commitment to charity in truth on the part of all the faithful.  He asks the Knights to persevere in their witness of faith and charity, in the serene trust that, as the Church embraces this period of purification, her light will come to shine all the more brightly (cf. Mt 5:15-16) before men and women of fair mind and good will."
He speaks in a way that hearkens back to old persecutions of great scope.  Society sees malevolency where it does not exist.  To show them the error of their thinking, we most live benevolently.  The holiness of the Christian faithful must shine forth to the world.  Bushel baskets need me cast aside, burned, even, never to be used again.  This Christian witness will not only reveal error but shine forth truth that will gather into the fold those thought to be totally lost.

This is indeed a period of purification for the members of Holy Mother Church.  Do not shrink or flee from the fire.  It is a gift to help us rid ourselves of our impurities, moral, spiritual, intellectual, or otherwise.  Let the fire fall.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

References for the Saints

I wanted to provide some references for the lives of the saints and other such sundry things

Butler's Lives of the Saints is one of the definitive collections of the lives of the Saints.  You can find it here.

This is a lives of the saints for the visually oriented.  Pictures are cool and moving and can really assist in meditation and prayer.  
You can find it here

There are some great films about saints as well.  Film is great medium to allow someone to be moved by the life of a saint.  Some of my favorite are:
The Passion of Bernadette follows the life of St. Bernadette after her apparitions of Our Lady of Lourdes.  It shows the value and beauty of obedience, and how, for her, it assisted in her heroic virtue.

Therese shows in drama some of the highlights of St. Therese of Liseiux's life.

Another one is a classic movie that won an Academy Award, Becket.  Peter O'Toole plays St. Thomas á Becket.  Becket was martyred in his own cathedral.  To me, it's a bit overacted but is still a good film.

The last movie is an adaptation of Leonardo Defilipis' (he directed Therese and played her father) one-man play about St. Maximilian Kolbe, called Maximilian: Saint of Auschwitz.  I had the opportunity to see Defilipis perform the one-man play.  It was very moving, the film captures the emotion and the beauty of Kolbe's life.  

Sunday, October 10, 2010


Sorry for the lag in posts.  All of us are adjusting to new situations, which hopefully will provide new insights to publish here.  Soon we will be adding another contributor who will probably eclipse all of us with his writing style alone.  As for books and the such here's a few books to check out

Dr. Michael Barber suggests a new book for the biblical scholar in you.  It is a very important look at the role of the Temple in the Gospel of Mark.  It is called The Temple in the Gospel of Mark written by Tim Gray, who is a scripture professor at St. John Vianney Seminary in Denver.

For the one desiring fiction, Ignatius Press put out a novel featuring the famous Inklings, J.R.R. Tolkein, C.S. Lewis, and Charles Williams.  It centers on a look for the spear of destiny through the lens of research on the Authorian legend.  It seems like a good read.  Written by David Downing, it's called Looking for the King: An Inklings Novel.