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March 2013

Rejoice and sing now, all the round earth,
bright with a glorious splendor, 
for darkness has been vanquished by our eternal King.

See You On Sunday

Despite my intense desire to make caustic remarks about various current events, I won't be posting anything until at the earliest sometime late in the day Sunday. I'll look in here occasionally to get rid of any spam that makes it through (TypePad recently switched spam-fighting software and the new system seems to miss more), and reply to comments if any. I hope everyone has a blessed Triduum.

The King's Cough

The king was hale and vigorous and greatly feared by his enemies. He had a little cough, not much to notice or to inconvenience him. But his old physician recognized in it the distant rattle of death.

The physician offered him the remedy, but the king would not accept it. "It has a bitter taste," he said. "And besides, I have no need of it." He would not be persuaded, and angrily dismissed the physician.

The physician, leaving the royal apartments, passed by the guards. "Sir," said one of them, "it is remarkable that you seem of late to be growing younger."

"Yes, it is" said the physician, looking down at his hands, upon which the skin was more smooth and clear than it had been the day before.


Assistant Professor Conly Speaks Again

You remember her, right? The author of Against Autonomy: Justifiying Coercive Paternalism? Here she is again, making her case in the New York Times apropos the almost-universally-scoffed-at ban on 64-ounce "sodas" (sorry, the term is still a little foreign to me). I continue to be astounded by her serene confidence that social science and government--armed social scientists, in short--will lead us to a much better world, in which our capacity to harm ourselves is extremely limited.

But has it not occurred to her and those of similar mind that the same logic could be used to proscribe a great deal of sexual behavior which is clearly harmful not only to the individuals involved but to society at large? That's hard to imagine, but perhaps she has an answer to that in her book, which I certainly don't propose to read. "What a staggering copout," says James Taranto in the Wall Street Journal, and I agree.

By the way, just for the record I find the idea of a 64-ounce cup of some extremely sweet drink both absurd and a bit sickening. I remember when the 16-ounce RC was introduced and people thought it was excessive. Which it was.

In the Objective Room

Remember the Objective Room from C.S. Lewis's That Hideous Strength, an environment designed to undermine or destroy a person's natural responses to disorienting or repellent things? This story made me think of it: as part of a university (!) classroom exercise students were told to write the name of Jesus on a piece of paper and step on it.They weren't forced to do the actual stomping, but were expected to participate in a bit of brainwashing:

“Have the students write the name JESUS in big letters on a piece of paper,” the lesson reads. “Ask the students to stand up and put the paper on the floor in front of them with the name facing up. Ask the students to think about it for a moment. After a brief period of silence instruct them to step on the paper. Most will hesitate. Ask why they can’t step on the paper. Discuss the importance of symbols in culture.” (see this story)

The obvious result of this, and probably the conscious purpose, is to encourage students to remove themselves from active belief in such a thing as Christianity, or at least a strong residual respect for it, to that olympian plane of objectivity where they recognize that such beliefs are simply cultural symbols, all essentially alike.

The specifics of this case and its disposition are less important than what they reveal about the education establishment. The university trotted out the usual academic boilerplate: "open discourse...sensitive topics...dialogue and debate." But we all know this kind of desensitization is almost always directed at Christianity and other enemies of progressivism. As the old song says, there's something happening here; contrary to the song, though, what it is is exactly clear.

First and Last

Again, whatever science my mind is cultivating, on whatever object it fixes its thoughts, whether I reflect upon others or upon myself, all lifts me up to God, all leads me back to him; he is the first link in the chain to which all truths hold; he is the last, in which they all end. I know nothing thoroughly, either in philosophy or in morals, if I do not know God, and I cannot reason as I should on anything if I ignore God as the first cause, and the last end of all things.

--Fr. Jean-Nicolas Grou, S.J. (1731-1803)

More Reaction to Pope Francis

Maybe I just wasn't paying as much attention, or maybe I've forgotten, but I don't remember there being quite so much fuss at Benedict's election. I do remember all the leftists who smeared him as an unrepentant Nazi, and of course the progressive Catholics who had always disliked him (to put it mildly), and the more conservative ones who loved him. But the range of complaints and hopes (some very much misplaced) for Francis seems much greater. 

There's a great deal of frenzy, positive and negative, about his economic and political ideas, and the usual jockeying to appropriate him as a weapon against one's enemies in that arena, a business which I find pretty dreary and to which I am not paying much attention. And there's an attempt to condemn him for having cooperated with the murderous military regime of Argentina in the late 1970s. 

Many are worried that he will undo, or at least not support, the renewal of the liturgy which was a great concern of Benedict. Fr. Dwight Longenecker has some good things to say about that.

Amy Welborn also thinks the reaction has been greater than usual, makes some reasonable-sounding guesses about why, and expresses irritation at the tendency to draw an unfavorable contrast between Francis and Benedict. That's annoyed me, too, and so I think this is probably my favorite single sentence written, not about Francis, but about the reaction to Francis:

I’m startled by the number of people who are under the impression that Pope Benedict neglected to mention Jesus Christ, mercy or the poor during his pontificate. 

Or maybe this one:

But what has been so bizarre and even saddening over the past few days is a tone and implication that Benedict was somehow about something else besides Jesus Christ.

And Janet Cupo has a fine admonition for everybody to quit fretting and listen.

Correlation (Signs of the Times)

On Interstate 65, southbound, coming into Prattville, Alabama, there are two billboards on opposite sides of the highway: one on the right from some shyster advertising


and one on the left side advertising


(In case anyone reading this isn't familiar with the euphemism, "adult" in a context like this means "pornography.")

Ok, That Was Enough Lent

Every Lent, when I get to about the 4th Sunday, I think it really should be over, and the remaining weeks seem impossibly long. It's ridiculous, because I'm not making any great sacrifices. I'm not very good at all at self-denial. 

But now we're at the 5th Sunday, and Holy Week never seems like exactly a part of Lent to me, so really there's only one more week to go.

A Bit of Uneasiness About the Pope

So far almost everything I've read about Pope Francis has been very encouraging, and there seems to be very good reason to expect very good things from him. However, there is one small storm cloud on my personal horizon, and that of everyone involved in the Anglican Ordinariate.

The Anglican bishop of Argentina claims that then-cardinal Bergoglio "called me to have breakfast with him one morning and told me very clearly that the Ordinariate was quite unnecessary and that the Church needs us as Anglicans." That news is naturally being very well-received among Anglicans who resent the Ordinariate.

My pastor tells us that too much is being made of this, that Venables is an evangelical who is ordinarily disliked by, for instance, the Episcopal Church in the U.S., that it's only hearsay from a phone call, and that the Catholic-Anglican situation in Argentina is very different. And that the pope is certainly well-disposed to the idea of an ordinariate with non-Roman liturgy and practices, as he himself is (or was) the ordinary for Eastern Rites in Argentina.

I'm not going to panic, but I'm uneasy. Not that I think the pope would do anything as dramatic as suppressing the ordinariate--his reported closeness to Benedict XVI, who instituted the ordinariate, would certainly argue against that, and against him being hostile to it. But if the Venables report really reflects his feelings, he could neglect it or thwart its growth. That would be tragic, because from what I've seen you won't find a more committed group of Catholics than those of us in the ordinariate.

I'm not sure exactly what the status of Venables' group is with respect to Canterbury and the other more-or-less official branches of Anglicanism.

Update: response from the ordinary, Msgr. Steenson

Initial reactions?

A Jesuit who takes the name Francis? "thought to be close to Comunione e Liberazione"? "known for personal humility, doctrinal conservatism and a commitment to social justice"? "lives in a small apartment, rather than in the palatial bishop's residence?" (Wikipedia)

I don't think I even knew his name before today, but sounds very good.

Giving Up on Freedom

I have been trying to write something about this for more than a week now, but there's so much I could say about it that I haven't been able to get started in the brief snatches of time I've had available. So I'm going to give up and just point you elsewhere.

The topic is a new book called Against Autonomy: Justifiying Coercive Paternalism by a Bowdoin College philosophy (I really want to write "philosophy") professor named Sarah Conly. You can get the general idea from the title, but you really have to read a few excerpts, and some comments from sympathizers, to appreciate the mad quality of her reasoning. 

It's been apparent for some time that there's a growing impatience with freedom among progressives. They know what's best for us, they  know how things should be run, and yet somewhere near half of the American public rejects their prescriptions, and many others simply ignore them. It's pretty frustrating to know you're right, and that in a rightly ordered world people like you would be running things, and yet be ignored. A certain number of such people are getting tired of waiting for the masses to see the light, and are beginning to consider the benefits of coercion. 

Like a lot of scary people, Conly is not all wrong by any means. She begins, in fact, with the sound insight, understood by any Christian and indeed explicitly stated by St. Paul, that we often do not know what is really in our own best interests, and do not always do it when we know it. And pretty much everyone accepts that sometimes people have to be, at a minimum, forcibly restrained from doing certain things that they may want to do, otherwise known as crimes. But she seems to be talking about something much much more specific, and not about restraint, but positive coercion, and in areas which have generally been considered mostly private, such as personal health.

Most strikingly, what does she point us to as our means of knowing what we should do? Social science research. And what is the means she suggests by which we should be directed to do it? Government regulation.

This, you see, is where I have come to a mental stop every time I started to write about this: the idea that social science research, notoriously adept at proving anything and nothing, should be our authority is so deeply wrong from so many perspectives that I don't even know what to say. 

So allow me to direct you to several posts by Neo-neocon, best read in the order they were written: firstsecondthird, and fourth. And I will leave to your imagination the kind of world Dr. Conly's ideas, widely adopted, would give us. We seem to be seeing progressivism in flight from liberalism, both classical and contemporary--perhaps an inevitable reaction against liberalism's excessive emphasis on personal autonomy

I'm obliged to note that since I haven't read the book I could be mistaken about it, but the quoted excerpts, and her own words, indicate that I am not.

Advice from a spambot: "Continue to maintain up the extremely fantastic operate."

Ok, I'll do my best.

Little Blue Truck

This was the view from my office window on a rainy day some weeks ago. The truck belongs to a co-worker. It's not really little, compared to traditional pick-ups, of course (Little Blue Truck is the name of a children's book). It really stands out among the generally dull-colored cars in the parking lot. I'm not sure when eye-catching colors fell out of favor in the automobile world--sometime in the 1980s? 1970s? (I confess, this photo has been digitally messed with, but the truck did stand out.)

TraceysTruck 12-10-2012 2-30-043

James V. Schall, S.J., on Benedict

[History] will remember him as the greatest and most learned intellect ever to occupy the Chair of Peter. No public official in our time has been anywhere near his intellectual equal. This disparity is itself the cause of much disorder, if we grant, as we must, that truth is the essence of intellect and indeed order.

This comes early in an interview at National Review Online that's very much worth reading in its entirety. Given on the occasion of Fr. Schall's s own retirement, it's concerned with the life of the mind and the state of contemporary culture, and is full of wisdom.

About Benedict, though: I've had similar thoughts about him. He is an intellectual giant, and that has been clear to me for many years. I never know whether to laugh or cry when I hear the agitated little minds and tinny voices of the secular media trying to take his measure. The contrast is ludicrous: the breadth and precision of his thought is in a realm that they don't even seem to know exists. They're like tone-deaf people grappling with a symphony, not only not comprehending but not comprehending that they're not comprehending.

I've heard several people express, on Benedict's retirement, variations of the thought that they feel that they've lost a father. I don't really feel that way. The much more powerful image for me is that we are without a shepherd. May the next one be a good one.

Wishful thinking?

Probably. Quin Hillyer thinks the tide may be turning against Obama in a big way. I sorta doubt it. But there's one item in that piece that really caught my eye: the quote from an unidentified "Democratic insider" saying that "It’ll take the American people five years to realize what Obama’s really about and what he’s really like.” At a minimum, it does seem that the magic is gone for any but his most dedicated supporters, so that's progress. 

(This really should/could have been an update to the previous post, but I always doubt whether people will see those.)

That'll fix him

Heh. No White House tours for us, no golf for you, Mr. President.  I don't suppose the congressman's amendment would actually have any effect, but it's an appropriate response to a strikingly petty gesture.

The sequestration-wolf-crying doesn't seem to have worked for Obama, with even some media liberals saying he overdid it and could have avoided the whole situation. I'm a little puzzled by that: why balk at this, when they've been leading cheers for him since early 2008? Neo-neocon has a theory that sounds plausible: that there has been some discontent among liberals for a while, but they kept it to themselves until Obama was safely elected to a second term. I keep hoping his admirers will eventually see him for what he really is:

The president had a truly disturbing habit of funnelling major foreign policy decisions through a small cabal of relatively inexperienced White House advisers whose turf was strictly politics. Their primary concern was how any action in Afghanistan or the Middle East would play on the nightly news, or which talking point it would give the Republicans.

And this little summary of his "evolution" (snicker snicker) on homosexual marriage makes me wonder why anyone would ever believe anything he says.

Giving Up Prayer for Lent

That's meant to be provocative, and I haven't done exactly that, or done it altogether. What I have done, though, is to stop the particular set of prayers that form almost the entirety of my formal prayer life outside of the Liturgy and an hour of adoration every week. I say these prayers on the way to work and on the way home, and they occupy about half the time--twenty minutes or so--of the commute. They're almost all petitions, and include a rosary. And they're pretty much rote. Some of the petitions have been constant for many years, such as prayers for my children's salvation--and some shift slowly over time, as particular situations come and go. 

 I will admit straight out that I find them a bit of a chore. No one who reads this blog will be surprised to learn that I'd rather be listening to music while I'm driving, and after twenty years this lengthy commute has finally become a bit tiresome. I do allow myself to listen to music after my prayers are finished, which, you will immediately see, creates an incentive for me to rush through them. I try not to do that, but am not entirely successful.

Even apart from the desire to get the praying out of the way so I can do what I want to do, the self-imposed requirement that I say this specific set of prayers every day (or at least every work day) unavoidably becomes in my mind another in the long list of things I'm obliged to do. I think I'm a fairly typical man of the contemporary industrialized world in that respect. Perhaps it's not so much the number of things that need our attention as their heterogeneity. T.S. Eliot noted, nearly a hundred years ago, that our civilization contains great variety and complexity; he was using that as a justification for the complexity of his poetry. Little did he know that we would habitually refer to his as "a simpler time." We all have a great number of disconnected things competing for attention, and many of them are in themselves pretty complex. Perhaps I'm more sensitive to this than some people, since I work in information technology where the variety and complexity are literally beyond comprehension by any one person. Then I come home to confront, for instance, the utterly unrelated, but also complex, problem of why most of the the grass in my lawn died last summer, and what do do about it, both of which require knowledge and time. But most of us have complicated jobs, and raising families and keeping our houses and cars and finances in order are also complicated. 

 Anyway: by nature I have great difficulty concentrating, and generally go about in a very distracted condition. And every Lent I feel that my greatest need is recollection, in the Catholic sense. To that end I generally give up listening to music in the car, and sometimes altogether, which I've done this year. And I've removed a couple of other occasions of distraction from my life.

Yet I noticed, after the first day or two of Lent this year, that nothing seemed to change in my state of mind on the drive to work. And I realized that the requirement to say a specific set of prayers during that time, while certainly a good thing, is in itself a distraction of sorts, in that it focuses my mind on what I am asking of God and not what God asks of me: it's all talking and no listening. So I decided to end those petitionary prayers for at least the first half of Lent,  and simply to be silent (no talk radio as methadone for the heroin addict) for the most part, to speak to God and then listen. 

One of the first questions that came to mind was "Who are you? Who am I praying to?" It occurred to me that after thirty years as a Catholic, and many years before that as a Protestant who was taught the doctrine of the Trinity, I did not really know most of the time whether I was praying to the Father or the Son or the Holy Spirit or to the three in one.

This led me pretty quickly to a very specific focus on Christ, which I'll discuss in another post, perhaps not until next weekend. Right now I have a bunch of other stuff to do.

Blue Blue Blue Blue Blue

Yes, that's a piece of sky, and even though you probably aren't going to see in it what I saw when I took the picture, I'm posting it anyway. This was taken after a heavy rain, when the wind had swept all the clouds away and brought in cool dry air, leaving us with a deeper, cleaner, bluer sky than we usually have. It's very humid here, and even on a clear day the sky is usually somehow a bit...not exactly washed out, but slightly filmed, compared to a day like this one.

Blueblueblueblueblue 12-22-2012 2-56-53 PM 2592x1944
I don't think of "sky blue" as one of my favorite colors, except when I'm actually looking at the sky.