Words to remember

"Never doubt in the darkness what you believed in the light."

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Some musings after Pentecost

So I lied, this will be my last post before the semester ends. And before I turn 21.

I was looking at some photos from the Pilgrimage to Chartres, which is a yearly event in France that attracts all kinds of interesting people. The site Notre-Dame de Chrétienté provides some great images from this, including:

Beautiful, aren't they? And when you look at the images, it's clear that this isn't just the local Altar Rosary Society around Chartres, this is something attended by a lot of people, for all of whom this holds a very special meaning.

Pilgrimages like this used to be commonplace, and to some degree, they still are, when they're distinct from pure tourism. But at any rate, it's something that's been dying off, and has been for a while now. When taken with something I read earlier, this struck me.

What I was reading was an English almanac, full of all sorts of good info about what the weather will be like on a given day, what special baked goods are prepared on another, what interesting little regional or local custom begins when and what it means, all of that great stuff. And I saw the older English name for Pentecost, that is Whistun, with Whitsuntide referring to Pentecost and the Octave which used to follow it. (Or just the week, depending on who you ask)

There used to be all kinds of stuff like that; Whitsuntide and Martinmas and Candlemas (the shocking thing with that one is that the only people who are probably familiar with any use of the word are the neopagans.... grumble....) and hot cross buns (other than the boring practice piece on the piano) and much, much more. But we've mostly lost that now. We've got our massive commercialized Christmas, our mushy chubby-naked-Cupid Valentine's Day, we've got Halloween for people to dress up like Spiderman or watch disturbingly gory movies, but with the exception of maybe Independence Day (in some parts), there really isn't a day that's set aside for some purpose other than taking off from work. Or at least, that's all most people care about. It wasn't always that way; something has changed. And in the wake of that change, one has to ask: What have we gained?

Has losing Whitsuntide improved us at all? Has getting rid of Martlemas beef and plum pudding at Christmas
really done anything for us? But oh, some will protest, we'll have simplified- isn't that good? To have things more simple? After all, all those feasts, saints, customs, and what-have-you were so confusing, and it takes so much time, and it doesn't matter because some dead white guys in funny hats in Rome made it up anyway. This, I think, is not an unfair summation of most of the arguments used in favor of simplicity. I address these in turn.
1. It can't be all that confusing- people got by for a good few centuries with that confusion, and didn't run around screaming about it. And most people who can remember such things would like to see them come back, or at the very least wouldn't mind if they came back. And as to confusing, look at most people's schedules: work, then doctor's appointment, then pick up the kids, then soccer practice for one, piano lessons for another, horseback riding for this one, take that one home because they're starting to look sick, pay bills, plan for the weekend, feed neighbor's cat and call your mother. We can keep this kind of stuff straight. (Well, I can't, but everyone else seems to be able to) I don't think people are too stupid to get this sort of thing, or that their eyes will just roll back in their heads while they tune out anyone who's talking about this kind of thing. I give people more credit than that.

2. It takes too much time- I say: Good. There's a reason for that. Setting aside days for saints and important events ought to be done. This whole Catholicism shtick can't just be a weekend thing. It requires a commitment, because it's about our relationship with God. It's a darn good thing God isn't like a spouse, because if most people spent as little time with a spouse as they did with Him, divorce papers would be served faster than you can say Jack Robinson. And as for keeping, oh, I don't know, the eating of crêpes on Chandeleur for French people, what's the harm? I mean, families do things like pizza night, or Mexican night; it's a great way to get people to do something together in the kitchen, and then have a meal sitting down together. Don't tell me we don't need much more of that these days.

3. Dead white guys in funny hats in Rome made these all up anyway. All right, I admit I made this too easy for myself; my objections to the objections that something is bad because dead white men thought it up are already quite clear. The important point here is that that statement, when applied to this sort of custom, is blatantly false. The Curia didn't think these things up; everyday people did. These customs arose organically, were developed by John Englishman and Jacques Français and Giovanni Italiano and passed down through their families. For a society that's always trying to make itself look populist and pluralist, this seems a no-brainer.

This whole age loves to take things and rip them apart. Iconoclasm has been iconoclasted; iconoclasm was too passé. Everything gets torn down, deconstructed, demystified. Is this truly healthy? What are we cutting out of ourselves that we might miss? This whole attitude has to stop before we throw everything out, and have only a lingering emptiness to remind us that there was ever anything worth celebrating at all.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Pentecost Sunday in Vatican City

His Holiness broke out some older vestments for Mass this Sunday. NLM was more than kind enough to post a few images, including:

A very handsome chasuble, and an interesting cut. It's a hybrid between the mediaeval Gothic and semi-Gothic chasubles and the later Roman style, which tended to be squarer and less cloak-like than the Gothic. Interesting blend between the two. The specific cut is a taglio filipino, named for St. Philip Neri and also favored by St. Ignatius of Loyola. Also, the new ferula looks like it's here to stay. Evidently, it's lighter than the bent-cross crosier favored by John Paul the Great. I was somewhat fond of the old one, but it has now become so strongly identifiable with JPII that setting it aside is in many ways a nice gesture. And the new one is plenty nice besides.

On the note of the commission to the Apostles, so apt on Pentecost, I'm glad to have finally knocked off that paper on globalization and the Church. 16 pages of text and 37 sources later, anyway. I'm exhausted. And quite tired of writing. So this may very well be my last post before the semester ends.

Family history

I just learned today that it was on Mothers' Day Weekend almost 21 years ago that my parents brought their adopted little Papist home from Long Island. Needless to say, poor Mum's had a hassle with me ever since. Happy Mothers' Day!

Monday, May 5, 2008

An Epiphany

I have discovered my purpose in life. It is not perhaps as lofty as I would've liked, and probably doesn't come with any cool hats to wear, or even a catchy title, but it is nevertheless of singular importance in this day and age. I shall be:


It does have a certain ring to it?

This has always been a phrase which has grated on me. Perhaps one of the foremost reasons for this is that the person saying it is frequently the son or daughter of someone who shall one day be a dead, white guy. Which tends to make the category, well, a little dissonant. Furthermore, however, as a category- it sucks. Completely, totally, utterly. It is, in fact, one of the most intellectually stupid ideas that modernism has excreted, and it's laid some pretty rank stuff.

For one thing, it is typically a signal phrase trumpeted by proponents of "diversity". It is somewhat shocking, then, that they are so utterly quick to generalize. Take any two of those generally called "dead white guys", and generally you will find two wildly different perspectives on just about everything, unless you've already assumed room temperature. Plato's a dead white guy; so too, is Aristotle, and yet you have a great difference of opinion between them. Augustine and Aquinas- same thing. Take a look at Alexis de Tocqueville and Thomas Jefferson. Hell, about the only thing any of these have in common is that they're dead, and were white. But no, because they're white, they must have all thought pretty much the same thing. They must've wanted to keep Black Guy down, or keep White Woman barefoot and pregnant, or keep Dumb-as-Mud Prole miserable and poor. What a terrible crock! What injustice. What shocking intellectual dishonesty. Say what you will about the validity of their conclusions, but do not give voice to the lie that they're all the same.

The second part is that the very attitude contributes to the notion that one's contribution matters not so much as the position from which it is made. That is to say, diversity of thought and ideas is subordinated to the diversity of the authors. Plato is thrown aside in so much of contemporary education not because there's no value to the theory of forms, or because he's an intellectual elitist, or anything like that, but because he's not black, or Asian, or a woman, or trans-gender, or what-not. Evidently, these men have nothing to say to us because they don't "look like" what some canny political strategist decided we do, or should "look like". Oh, and putting Plato in blackface won't cut it, either.

Dear Lord, I'm terrible.

What I say next would probably get me in a lot of trouble. So naturally, it's that much more fun. But when I look at the books I have read by the politically correct authors, what I have noticed is a marked paucity of thematic originality. Almost uniformly, these books focus their attacks upon racism, colonialism/imperialism, sexism, or some kind of sexual normative ethic, usually cast as oppression of homosexuals/bisexuals or excessive puritanism (which is a funny term, in a way, because in looking at the primary records of the Puritans, they were an incredibly horny lot. No, I'm serious, they were very close about their escapades, but what they lacked in unconventionality, they made up for in frequency). Perhaps the fault lies in the selection of works: it is not so much that these authors only talk about those themes, but that the ones selecting them as legenda have chosen them because they speak about those themes. This is a rather interesting line of thought. It's also possible that larger thematic discussions in these books are ignored in favor of emphasizing those particular themes. This is also an interesting thing to look at. But what remains is the fact that in the study of literature and history, those few issues are dominating the scene.

Are we the better for this? Is the process of humanization harmed? I think it's clear that this is the case. So much of those thematic discussions rely upon a presumption of permanence. So to the authors, racism will be as much a problem 1000 years from now as it is now. This works out well for them; by only publishing about racism, they are doing well to ensure that it's what people will be talking about. That's the advantage to holding the microphone, of course. But let's look at how this has played out over history: Plato has had a huge impact in the last few thousand years. Aristotle perhaps even more so. While it's true that not all of their ideas are sound (Plato's eugenics and Aristotle's view of slavery are two things which we rightly find abhorrent), the fact remains that theirs are still works which raise a lot of questions and propose a lot of fascinating and compelling ideas, which no amount of discussion has yet yielded a permanent solution.

What'll be left, then, in a millennium? We shall have effectively removed any notion of a canon, dismissed any discussion of universal themes or shared truths of human existence as being the product of a colonial attempt to control and manipulate Black Guy/Little Guy/White Woman/Black Woman, and we'll have literature which will talk about how races used to hate and fear other races long after it has ceased to be a problem. Oh well. By that time, the only form of culture will likely be promulgated through a screen which provides instant entertainment and mindless sense experience, and people will be too stupid to see why that's so horrid. Blah.

There be readers!

So I found out today for the first time that there have been people who actually read this traditionalist monstrosity that is my blog. :D This makes me inordinately happy, and, par consequence, even more drunk with my own power and dazzling literary talent.

OK, delusions of grandeur aside, what's been up lately, cyberspace might ask? Not too terribly much the frazzled student would respond. Papers, studying, (by which I mean not writing papers, but thinking about it, and putting off studying, while acknowledging that I probably should), making a few preparations for the summer. Finding work will be a pain.

I also read around the news lately that the Holy See has released an instruction to bishops not to release parish or diocesan records to Mormons, as evidently there's a practice among them of re-baptizing the dead, so that thereby they presumably become Mormons. I don't think there's any sacramental concerns with it; baptism, after all, is a one-shot deal. Once validly baptized, the character which is imprinted on the individual is indelible. Certainly it wouldn't be altered in any way by something done post mortem. I suppose the primary concern is scandal; I can imagine that some families would be really annoyed to find out that this is being done without their knowledge or consent. So it's good to have that out of the way. This segways, however, into a discussion about the proper direction of ecumenism.

Most more traditionally-minded folks, it seems to me, hear "ecumenism" and react in ways running the gamut from blanching slightly and changing the subject to quaking, volcanic rage. What is the place of ecumenism in today's Church? As an end in and of itself, it doesn't seem to offer too terribly much. A great ecumenical movement will result in everyone deciding everyone else is okay, but where does that leave us? If the result is a little more knowledgeable than before, well and good. What needs to be asked, though, is where we go from there. Should our desire be that Protestants stay Protestant, that Jewish people stay Jewish, that Anglicans put off swimming the Tiber for another century? I don't think so.

One of the biggest problems up to this time in inter-religious or inter-denominational discussions is that the parties are talking at each other and leveling accusations which leaves the other side scratching their heads. For example, there's the old canard that Catholics worship Mary. By the same token, there's the misconception that the Protestant soteriology and notion of salvation implies a one-shot deal which permits license to all kinds of terrible, titillating things. So clearing up that kind of propaganda is a useful function. Where to from there?

It seems arguable that ecumenism should be subordinate to the principle lex suprema salus animarum est. This is not to argue against the passive approach of conversion; that is to say, providing a moral and spiritual witness without proselytizing is still commendable. But there must be some definable goal that is to be reached, or what we have in the ecumenical movement is a very pleasant sounding, very toothless philosophy which is quite nice but is the theological equivalent of a boondoggle.

This case with the Mormons is perhaps a bad example. The "ecumenical" case, which would probably be summed up in a more laissez-faire attitude towards the re-baptisms, is pretty thin. By contrast, arguing that parish records ought to be kept close is almost academic. What about in other things, though? The fracas over the Good Friday prayer seems like a good test case.

In the Extraordinary Form, the prayer "Pro Iudaeis" already discussed on this august and learned blog originally called for the blindness of the Jewish people to be removed. The references to shadows and darkness (not pertaining to the Jews themselves, but rather in terms of their knowledge of Jesus Christ) were considered insensitive and provocative. That's highly debatable, naturally. But the proper approach was clear in the rewrite- the specific objections were answered. The offending references to darkness and blindness were removed. Then the complaint turned to the very issue of asking for Jewish conversion. Well, on this Roma locuta est, et causa finita est. The rhetoric employed in asking for conversion is variable, but conversion is not. That is something that will always be part of what we believe.

What is interesting is why this causes a problem. We are told continually that we must let our light shine; we are called to go out and preach the Gospel to all nations, we are reminded that no one puts a lantern under a basket. We must be convinced of the truth of Christianity, and must take Him at His word when He says "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life." Straying from that, however, and simply letting people "be", of course, would have meant a few important things: 1. Europe would still be pagan, 2. no Middle Ages, no Renaissance, no Enlightenment, and consequence, no modern world, 3. Christianity would've died off in a generation. All things considered, we probably wouldn't like this situation much. We can certainly be respectful of other religions, and should endeavor to become knowledgeable about them. We must still remain firmly convinced that God loves all men and women, and reaches out to them. But at the same time, we should not expect to remain a viable religion if we do not underscore the huge importance of responding to that grace which God gives us.

This is always a touchy topic, and usually I just make everyone grumpy when discussing it. And the direct approach is probably the most honest, even if it's the one most likely to result in the opposing party shaking their head in disgust and leaving. Still, I do not think that I would be true to what I believe if, when asked "Do you really want to live in a world in which everyone is a Christian?", I answered anything but "You bet." On issues of practicality, however, I am a bit more realistic.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

How is that a protest?

So the peaceniks on campus decided that a great way to protest the war would be to form a naked peace sign on the College Green. Fortunately, I had forewarning about this event, and so stayed away from the main part of campus, as that's a rather obnoxious and inconsiderate occasio peccati. Even more tactless, however, considering that this was done on the same day just across the Green from the people protesting against sexual assault. Well planned, don't you think?

What I can't comprehend is how this could be cast as a protest for peace, unless they're trying some bizarre reverse-Lysistrata. One of the comments in the Lamron, our school's paper, was praising the protesters as this showed their true commitment to peace, that they'd be willing to move out of their "comfort zone" in order to show their support of peace.

Are you kidding me? Were their credentials as peaceniks ever in doubt? If they were to go up to anyone on campus and say they were against the war, did they honestly think we'd respond "Bullshite!"? This is patently absurd. It seems that a far more likely motivation was that typical college rebelliousness and desire to cause trouble, likely joined in many cases with the rather indecent impetus to get naked and cause a fuss without getting in trouble. (Evidently the school's administration considered this a matter of "free speech", and preferred not to intervene. Well and good, I suppose, but I can guarantee that if I walked about campus sans vêtements to show my support for the war, I wouldn't get the same consideration)

What is more revealing about this is the curious need to protest. I believe it's quite fair to say that the vast majority of the students on this campus oppose the war, and even the ones who don't aren't likely to be completely pleased with how things have turned out. What's the reason for the protest, then? To raise awareness about the injustices of the war (a goal presumably well-served by disrobing)? Must be, it isn't like it's in the papers every day. To make the government aware of their discontent? Well, depending upon which politicians you're talking about, this might actually be quite wise. I imagine that if Slick Willie were faced with a swarm of naked college girls, he'd go to war with England if they asked nicely. Probably not the guys so much, though.

More than anything else, I think this expresses the busy work so necessary to living as a liberal in our day and age. This allows them both the opportunity to feel rebellious, (some might say revolting), unconventional, and edgy. At the same time, it also makes them feel like they've done something real. They've gotten out there, they've protested- what've you done today? In a way, they're almost providing the panem et circenses for themselves.

Still, I'll forever be struck by the contrast between those protesting the objectification of other human beings as sex objects and the ones next to them parading about bare-assed, placing their bodies at the service of a political ideology. Fascinating.