Wednesday, June 23, 2010

A Blogger's Aphorism

I was listening to a segment of Uncommon Knowledge this morning when I heard something remarkable (and hence, I am going to remark upon it). Guests Mark Steyn and Rob Long were discussing Ronald Reagan with host Peter Robinson. As President, Reagan made substantial hand-written revisions to the speeches that were prepared for him. Before becoming President, Reagan wrote his own speeches, and it is evident in his collection of letters that he devoted considerable thought to developing a coherent philosophical world view.

Rob Long, at one point, utters an aphorism: "How do I know what I think until I see what I write?" This aphorism, more than anything, sums up very handily why I bother with this blog.

Monday, June 21, 2010

An Island of Western Civilization

It’s always nice to see one of your own views expressed by somebody that lots of other people actually pay attention to. I have, in the past, expressed (even if only to my dear wife) some of the rough similarities between the modern state of Israel and the Crusader Kingdoms of the 12th and 13th centuries. Israel is, as the Crusader Kingdoms were, a relatively small island of western civilization surrounded by a sea of Middle Eastern Islam. The Crusader Kingdoms lasted a few generations before falling to the armies of Saladin. The state of Israel hasn’t been around that long yet.

Ross Douthat pointed to some of those same similarities recently in a column (“Israel and Outremer”) for the New York Times, although he prefers to use the French term Outremer. It was nice to be able to read his words and think to myself, “Yeah, I already though of that.” Now if only I could think of a way to communicate it as clearly as he does. Please note that, by most accounts, the eventual demise of the Crusader Kingdoms was not entirely unprovoked. The only provocation required of Israel, it would seem, is its existence.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Gnip-Gnop Snap

One of my most vivid childhood memories of my father is, sad to say, not a happy one. Nevertheless, I find in it a measure of my dad's love and the pressure that he must have felt in providing for us.

I was the baby of the family, with three older sisters, the closest of whom was nearly six years older than I was (and am - she will always be nearly six years older than I). For Christmas one year when I was a child somewhere under ten (I might have been five, or I might have been eight - the memory's not clear on the age), we received a Gnip-Gnop game. Gnip-Gnop is, of course, ping-pong spelled backwards. The game was basically a plastic box with a transparent top. A divider with three holes separated the box into two sides, each of which had three paddles for launching the ping-pong balls within the box toward the divider. The point of the game was, I think, to get all of the balls onto the other player's side of the box. As you can probably predict, the game pretty much amounted to two players pounding furiously on their paddles, and it must have made a terrible racket.

My dad, a carpenter by trade, worked hard, especially in the summer. Construction opportunities often dried up in the winter, leaving him under-employed. He would try to make up for it by working longer hours and additional independent jobs during the summer. His only relaxation would come in the evening after dinner, when he could read the newspaper and watch the news or listen to his beloved Reds on the radio.

In the evening of my memory, Dad was trying to relax on the couch. It must have been in the latter half of the 1970s, when the U.S. economy and the whole world seemed to be going to hell. And it must have been shortly after Christmas, when Dad wasn't making much money and he and Mom were pinching every penny to pay their bills and support their family. My sister and I were on the floor, pounding away on the Gnip-Gnop when Dad just snapped. He got up from the couch, walked over to where we were, and kicked the Gnip-Gnop against the wall, leaving me and my sister stunned.

I don't remember what happened next - whether Dad returned to the couch or left the room - but I don't think that any words were spoken.

Why, you might be wondering, would I bring up a memory like this on Fathers Day, and even claim that it is evidence of the depth of a father's love? First, because this is the only memory of this kind that I have. Second, Dad's anger and frustration was directed at the game, not at us kids. Third, the timing and circumstances of the event, in retrospect, make what happened understandable, if not excusable.

In today's gospel reading, Jesus tells his disciples that they must take up their crosses daily. As I drove to mass with my daughters this morning, I reflected that I good homily point for today would be the way in which fathers are called daily to take up their crosses and deny themselves for the sake of their families. I saw my parents do that, and Jesus never said that the cross would be easy. It's not. As a salaried engineer, I've never faced the kind of shortages that confronted Dad nearly every winter, and yet I still find myself pressured by feelings of inadequacy when the bills come due. I don't do it as well as my own dad did. I've snapped at my kids many times, and I can only hope that those aren't the times that form lasting memories for my children. It is in fatherhood that I've truly come to appreciate my own father.

Happy Fathers Day!

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Elisha's Oxen

For some strange reason, I used to hear or read 1 Kings 19:19-21 and picture poor Elisha in a field by himself behind a plow pulled by a team of twelve oxen. Every time I heard the passage, I would think to myself, "That's a lot of oxen to be pulling a plow!" Now it seems clear to me that Elisha was out there with at least eleven other guys, each pushing a plow that was being pulled by a pair of oxen yoked together. Elisha, as the son of the owner of the field, was not only supervising the others, he was working alongside them.

The thought that Elisha would slaughter a whole team of twelve oxen always seemed exorbitant and, yes, a little wasteful, especially with property that probably was not his, but his father's. However, in my new understanding, when he slaughtered his yoke of oxen, it was one twelfth of the total that his father had commited to the working of the field, and the people that ate from the sacrifice were the servants that he was supervising.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Swagger Wagon

Toyota has a creative advertising series for their Siena minivan. I even saw one that featured Victoria Stillwell (the dog trainer) that aired on Animal Planet. I have mixed feelings about the Siena family. The mom and dad seem very obnoxious and self-centered, but I still thought that the video below was hilarious.

With the backing of Toyota, the productin values in this parody video are excellent. I wonder whether there's anything like it for the Chevy Express 3500 (15-passenger) van club.

Swagger Wagon

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

The Unbearable Cross

Please let me apologize now, for I'm about to get curmudgeonly for the second straight post.

I must have unreasonable expectations because, like Rich Leonardi, I tend to have preconceived notions regarding how priests ought to dress, and I prefer that my priest look like a priest. Unfortunately, I've grown accustomed to picking up our diocesan newspaper to see pictures of priests and religious who are indistinguishable from any common lay person (or even a mild-mannered atheist). A few years ago, I underwent a personality profile for the Archdiocese. I had to drive down to Cincinnati to meet with a Franciscan priest to discuss the results. I went to an office in a commercial park, where I met a man with short cropped hair who was dressing in loafers, khaki pants, and a polo shirt. I never would have guessed he was a priest if I hadn't been told before hand.

Is there a persecution going on, about which I am totally unaware? This isn't Elizabethan England or Soviet Russia. I've never worn a Roman collar - is it really so uncomfortable that men who are eager to take up their cross and earn the privilege to wear it now can't take it off fast enough?

Fr. Charles Conner records many programs on Church history for EWTN. I clearly remember one program on St. Charles Borromeo. When he became a bishop and was placed in his diocese, he found that the formation and conduct of his clergy was badly in need of reform. Among the faults listed was a fondness for secular clothing.

It doesn't seem like that long ago when vocations offices were including the simplicity of the wardrobe among the benefits of choosing the priesthood as a career (maybe that career option focus was part of the problem). As a priest, you'll never have to think about what you're going to wear! Unless, that is, you're off-duty. In that case, you'll need one closet for your clericals and another for your "normal" clothes. Fortunately, you won't have to share your closet with anybody else!

There is a T-Mobile commercial that asks what it's customers want. It shows a priest standing in front of a sausage stand. "Unlimited texting," he says. "Why, you think we don't text? We do." The commercial works because you can see that he's a priest, even though he's not engaged in any kind of priestly duty. Remove the collar, and the scene falls apart.

In the film Saint Ralph, there is a young Salesian priest who, before becoming a priest, was an olympic runner. When Ralph wants to know why he gave up running, he says it is because Salesians don't run - they'd look silly doing it in cassocks. The young man loved running, but he saw his vocation to the priesthood as being far greater in value. (Note: it's been years since I've seen this movie, and it's possible that I'm misremembering the scene.)

As I said, I'm probably being completely unreasonable in suggesting that priests ought to dress in a way that identifies them as priests. But what do the bishops of the United States say?

Complementary Norm: The National Conference of Catholic Bishops, in accord with the prescriptions of canon 284, hereby decrees that without prejudice to the provisions of canon 288, clerics are to dress in conformity with their sacred calling.

In liturgical rites, clerics shall wear the vesture prescribed in the proper liturgical books. Outside liturgical functions, a black suit and Roman collar are the usual attire for priests. The use of the cassock is at the discretion of the cleric.

In the case of religious clerics, the determinations of their proper institutes or societies are to be observed with regard to wearing the religious habit.

Canon 288 exempts permanent deacons from the clerical dress requirements of canon 284. The national norm cited above was promulgated on November 1, 1999, with an effective date one month later. The norm was signed by the President of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops as well as the General Secretary, who at the time was Reverend Monsignor Dennis M. Schnurr. Schnurr is now the Archbishop of Cincinnati. That's him, in the photo below, on the right with Archbishop Daniel Pilarczyk.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Corpus Christi 2010

So how was your Corpus Christi celebration? Mine was, sadly, about what I’ve come to expect.

The celebration of Corpus Christi was established by Pope Urban IV via papal bull on September 8, 1264. It was to be celebrated annually on the Thursday after Trinity Sunday. The feast was further ratified by Urban’s successor, Pope Clement V and at the General Council of Vienne in 1311. Corpus Christi was explicitly established to extol the love of Our Savior as expressed in the Holy Eucharist. In many places, the celebration was transferred from the Thursday after Trinity Sunday to the second Sunday after Pentecost, and in modern times, the name was changed to The Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ to emphasize that both the body and the blood are present in the Eucharist.

Clearly, the emphasis is Eucharistic – the mystery of Christ’s presence in the Blessed Sacrament and the love with which Our Lord gave us that enduring presence for our food.

Good liturgy not only makes present to us and allows us to participate in the sacred mysteries, it also, through the many signs incorporated into the rite, edifies us. Immersion in good liturgy is a form of catechesis.

I have to preface my statements of disappointment by noting that I attended mass on Saturday evening because I wanted to run in a 10K on Sunday morning. It is possible, though I have my doubts, that the Sunday masses were different.

In lieu of Psalm 110, which is intimately tied to the first reading story of Melchizedek’s offering of bread and wine, our “sung Psalm response” was based on Psalm 40 (“Here I am, Lord, I come to do your will”). Not that there’s anything wrong with Psalm 40, but it doesn’t have the same clear connection to the readings.

The wonderful sequence before the Gospel was completely omitted. The missal even allows for a shorter form of the sequence, but even that was apparently too much for our celebrant. I raved about the sequence last year (when I attended at a different parish) and used it as an opportunity for catechizing my own children.

The closest we came to hearing a homiletic word about the Eucharist was a blessing of the (Extraordinary) Ministers of Communion. There was next to no emphasis on the transformation of the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ. Rather, the emphasis was placed on our generosity and sharing (yes, there was even a suggestion that the multiplication of the loaves might have been a “miracle” of getting people to share what they had brought, rather than a foreshadowing of the generous outpouring of God’s grace in the Eucharist) and relaxing (because Jesus had the people sit down) with one another.

No processions. No hint of Thomistic theology regarding the Eucharist. Was it valid? Sure. Did it satisfy my Sunday commitment? Of course. Was I edified or inspired? Eh, not so much.