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April 2013

Bypassing Politics

(This is a post I've been wanting to write for a week or two. But as I may have mentioned, I've been working a lot of nights and weekends and haven't had much time for writing. So I'm going to go ahead and just say it briefly, which probably covers it just as well anyway.)

For the poor you have always with you: and whensoever you will, you may do them good...

(Mark 14:7)

One often, if not usually, hears that verse quoted as an expression of fatalism about the possibility of ever ending poverty. And I think there will always be at least relative poverty, although the point is often made that even most poor people in industrial societies are better off than, say, the poor of, say, most of Africa. But I think there's another implication that's more pressing for us here and now. In these same affluent societies, there is a tendency to look to government and politics as the most fitting and possibly the only way of addressing problems such as poverty. So talk about helping the poor tends to turn into an argument about what the political approach should be. And the argument tends to occupy everyone's attention.

But there is nothing whatsoever to stop you and me from helping the poor personally, directly, right now. And whatever one's stand on the political questions may be, engagement with them can't be a substitute for action. Depending on one's circumstances, the action may involve giving time or money or both, and the amount given obviously will also depend on circumstances. But no political advocacy can take the place of personal action. That seems pretty plain from Scripture. And if all Christians did what we're supposed to do, most of the political argument would be irrelevant.

I can't point to any place where he has specifically said so, but I have the general impression that Pope Francis is urging us to something like this. It's very clear that he considers service to the poor a very important duty, yet in Argentina he seems to have gone about preaching that duty and acting on it in a way that mostly bypasses the political questions. As Janet Cupo said in a recent post, Now is the acceptable time. Not "when we expand these social programs," or "when we get rid of these social programs,"  and certainly not "when distributism is finally established." Now.


The Thin Red Line

After having it strongly recommended to me several times by several different people, I finally devoted an evening to watching this movie. And I mean an evening: it's just under three hours long.

I think a person of decent taste and intelligence could find it either sublime and profound, or pompous and pretentious. I'm in the former category. It's a Terrence Malick film, and on the basis of the two works of his that I've seen, the other being Tree of Life, I think you either give yourself over to his vision, in which case you'll be of the sublime-and-profound persuasion, or you don't, in which case you might be tempted to mock.


Update: Re-reading this, I think it sounds less enthusiastic than I intended for it to. I only meant to add that I can imagine some fair criticisms of the movie--I myself did like it, quite a lot, and recommend it, with the warning that there are some pretty intense and somewhat gory battle scenes.

Fox On the Run

Weekend Music

I don't know why, but almost every morning this week I've discovered that this song is running through my head as I'm getting ready for work. Something is triggering it--maybe something to do with walking the dogs to the bay--but I don't notice what, I just suddenly realize that it's there. It was on the radio back in the '70s, and I thought it was great, though maybe that was because it was so much better than most of the other stuff. But still, that one verse is magnificent:

She walked through the corn leading down to the river
Her hair shone like gold in the hot morning sun
She took all the love that a poor boy could give her
And left me to die like a fox on the run


I had always assumed Tom T. Hall wrote it, since he was known as a writer as much as a performer, and was astonished--the word is justified--to learn that it was written by an Englishman and originally recorded by...Manfred Mann? Yes, Manfred Mann.


I like Tom T. Hall's version much better; it even tweaks the tune and the lyric a bit, and to my taste improves them--the fall is not The Fall, but the speaker's own recapitulation of it. And the tune somehow has a bit more urgency. It was a stroke of genius on someone's part to rework it as a bluegrass tune.

Call the Midwife

I expect most people who read this blog and would be interested in this BBC TV show have already seen it. But in case you haven't: it's really good. I had seen a few very favorable references to it here and there, but it really didn't sound like my cup of tea. Then a few weeks ago I noticed that it was on right before something else my wife and I were going to watch, and I thought my wife might like it, so I generously suggested that we give it a try. 

That one episode, which is part of whatever season is currently running on PBS, was enough to make us look and see whether the earlier ones were on Netflix. They are, so if you have Netflix you can start from the beginning, which I think I'd recommend: the one current episode we saw included an incident which I now see is a pretty big spoiler.

It's set in 1950s London, and the midwives of the title are a group of Anglican nuns and several young nurses in their employ. I half-expected it to be full of political/feminist propaganda, but it really isn't, at all. The Christian vocation of the nuns is taken seriously, and they are portrayed as very human but not bizarre, cruel, etc. (Well, one of them is sort of batty, but in a nice way.) But the young nurses and the clients are the center of attention.

I suppose you could say it's a bit soap-0pera-ish in that one-thing-after-another way, and maybe could be accused of sentimentality: at any rate, as you might expect of the subject, it's very emotional, and very feminine. The stories tend to vary from the heart-warming to the heart-wrenching, and some of the latter are very much so. There is, also as you might expect of the subject, at least one screaming childbirth in every episode, and there have been a number of moments that made me squirm. So consider yourself warned. But you also get to hear a bit of very beautiful chanting from the nuns in almost every episode (I think we've seen five in all now).

It's much better than Downton Abbey

But Who Are You, Really?

I have a silly tendency to expect that actors and actresses who play characters I like will be people I would like as well. I know it makes no sense, but it happens all the time--all right, I admit it's worse when the person is a beautiful woman--and it was the case with Reese Witherspoon and her performance as June Carter Cash in Walk the Line

More than once I've had this illusion dispelled by a news story. I was a bit disappointed to read earlier today that Reese Witherspoon had behaved most obnoxiously to a policeman who stopped her husband on suspicion of drunk driving, a suspicion which proved to be perfectly well-founded, not only the driver--her husband--but the passenger--herself--being pretty well plastered. You can read an account here, but the basic story is that she pulled the Do You Know Who I Am!?! gambit that is probably about the most irritating thing a well-known person, politician or entertainer or athlete, can do. 

 She apologized decently, with seeming sincerity, and no complaining. So she has that to her credit in my opinion, which would no doubt be a comfort to her.

But here is what I wanted to talk about: in the apology she said "This is not who I am." One hears that frequently from people who are embarrassed or ashamed. And I always want to say, "Are you sure?"

 In vino veritas may not be a law of nature, but it's a real phenomenon. That spoiled celebrity may not be who Reese Witherspoon wants to be, but she's in there somewhere, and last Thursday night she had a chance to step out and say a few words.

Perhaps I'm just out of touch, but I don't hear as much as I used to of the idea that each of us is fundamentally a wonderful person whose occasionally unpleasant thoughts and behavior are simply the effects of society or circumstances having warped our essential nature. But This is not who I am may be a sort of residue of it, and of the idea that there is a single "true self" buried somewhere within us. Better to accept that we all have a spoiled celebrity, or someone equally obnoxious, if not downright evil, inside us, and keep him under very close supervision, since we cannot by our own power get rid of him. As Baudelaire said of the devil, his most effective tactic is to make us think he doesn't exist.

Phosphorescent: Song For Zula

Weekend Music

After a long hiatus, I've been listening to the forty or fifty eMusic freebies I'd accumulated over a period of months, and flagging the ones I think are especially good and will want to hear again. I found this one sort of haunting. It's not especially appropriate for Easter, but the video makes it a bit more so. 


Should I go to confession for having laughed at this?

Update: this is not the hijacked car, which was an SUV, which this clearly is not. This photo did appear in connection with the bombings. I haven't taken the time, and probably won't, to try to track down what was actually going on here.


It was  a brief laugh, but it was a laugh.

This is a picture of the car hijacked by the Boston bombers. The yellow ellipse draws your attention to what certainly appears to be one of those "COEXIST" bumper stickers.


But who knows?--maybe the sticker is part of the reason they didn't kill the driver.

Coexist sticker

Pope Francis and the Reform of the Laity

An interesting piece at the National Catholic Register. No, make that fascinating, not just interesting.

I guess it intrigues me because it's somewhat similar to some things I've been thinking. I said something the other day about the Church having been vandalized, and about the reversal of that damage that's been taking place over the past twenty-to-thirty years.

"When the Church does not come out of itself to evangelize,” [Pope Francis] said, “it becomes self-referential and then gets sick."

In recent years, I think it was at least equally a matter of the Church becoming self-referential in part because it was sick. Internal problems require an inward focus--if the house needs major repairs, or if you have a major health problem, those things get a lot more attention than they normally would or should. But if those are put in order, you're free to turn your attention outward again. Maybe that's what's about to happen in the Church. I certainly hope so.

The article uses the term "ecclesiastical narcissism," but in the comments a  Fr. Geoff Rose, OSFS asserts that a more accurate translation is "theological narcissism." That seems to me a better description.

I Expect They Do

In Boston Bombings, Muslims Hold Their Breath.

It's not unreasonable to consider it a strong possibility that the bomber is a radical Muslim. It's not only unreasonable, or rather abysmally stupid, but just plain wicked to start howling for Muslim blood. Things like this make you realize what a nightmare a pure and instantaneous democracy would be: about like the gladiator watchers at the Colosseum. 

Conservatives are a bit on edge, too. If this bomber turns out to be a right-wing nut, all conservatives will be tarred in the same way Muslims would be. Even if it's someone who's simply crazy, with no clear political agenda, the attempt will be made, as with the deranged young man who shot Gabby Gifford. 

These are uneasy times in the USA.

Amy Welborn On the Papal Transition

I think this is pretty funny, even though I probably don't get all the visual jokes--I don't recognize most of those people.

While I'm at it, I've been meaning to clarify or explain the mild misgiving I've had about our new pope. It's really not about him in the sense of thinking that he won't be a good pope, because I think he will be, and I'm really very impressed with him. It's pretty much the same thing Amy says: a concern that he might be inattentive to or uninterested in certain things in which the Church has made great progress in recent years.

The Church in the twenty or so years following Vatican II was in tremendous confusion, and there were even vandals at work inside it. Much of the confusion has been cleared, and the vandalism has mostly been stopped. My concern has been that Francis might be less attentive to these things, or that he would make mistakes in his appointments, and leave an opening for the trouble to start up again.

But so far I've been pretty reassured on that score. And anyway, as I think I said early on, we are in a different time. I think there aren't as many of the truly heterodox as there were, and they aren't in as many positions of power.

Monsignor Robert H. Benson: Lord of the World


I believe it must be somewhere close to thirty years since I first heard of this book, and thought I’d read it someday. But I didn't get around to it, and might still be not getting around to it, except that Janet Cupo recently recommended it to me, and my wife happened to have loaded a free version (it’s out of copyright) onto her Kindle.

It’s an odd book: an Edwardian sci-fi/religious novel about the coming of the Anti-Christ. Robert Hugh Benson was the son of an Archbishop of Canterbury who followed what sounds like a Newman-esque path to Rome. Ordained an Anglican priest in 1895 at the age of 24, and received into the Catholic Church in 1904, he published Lord of the World in 1907, and died at 43 in October of 1914. That last date seems significant, coming only two months after Britain’s entry into the Great War which marked the real beginning of the crisis of the 20th century which the novel anticipates—fairly accurately at the spiritual level, rather less so at the historical.

Taken simply as science or speculative fiction, the work is interesting, though perhaps not enough to make it so for people interested in that element alone. Its imagined future is roughly our own time—I don’t remember the year being specified, but an event of 1998 seems, in context, to have occurred no more than ten or twenty years earlier. Not surprisingly, it has a sort of steampunk quality for the contemporary reader (see here if the term “steampunk” is unfamiliar to you). It’s always interesting to me to see the ways a science-fiction writer’s imagination does or doesn’t guess right about the future which is now our past. Benson does imagine air travel, by machines called “volors,” which have wings that flap and are said to be quite beautiful, making a “startlingly beautiful and piercing” musical cry (for reasons not explained as far as I recall). But these vessels are unable to communicate with each other: Benson gets no further in the direction of electronic communications than the telephone and wireless telegraphy, extant at the time he wrote. So there are no radio or television, but a great deal of paper, with newspapers still the great medium of mass communication, and a great deal of important business that requires transporting letters and documents to and fro. Buildings and roadways make great use of rubber for the purpose of dampening sound, and cities are very quiet places; I believe rubber had only fairly recently come into widespread use in Benson’s time.

He does not imagine the modern personality, with its cynicism, hedonism, and frivolity; his characters are distinctly Edwardian. And, interestingly to me, he shares with a writer who came along fifty years later and also wrote about an imagined future Church—Warren Miller, in A Canticle for Liebowitz—the assumption that the language, rituals, and general style of the pre-Vatican II Church would never change. But he does see quite clearly the spiritual movement which was already under way in his time: the displacement of Christianity (and all similar religion) by the quasi-religion of materialistic humanism with which we are all too well acquainted.

You must remember that Humanitarianism, contrary to all persons’ expectations, is becoming an actual religion itself, though anti-supernatural. It is Pantheism; it is developing a ritual under Freemasonry; it has a creed, ‘God is Man,’ and the rest. It has therefore a real food of a sort to offer to religious cravings; it idealises, and yet it makes no demand upon the spiritual faculties.

“Spiritual but not religious”! Apart from the bit about Masonry, this is pretty much the way things have gone.

Then there is the enormous progress of psychology.... First, you see, there was Materialism, pure and simple, that failed more or less—it was too crude—until psychology came to the rescue. Now psychology claims all the rest of the ground; and the supernatural sense seems accounted for.

The only thing missing from this summary is the introduction of vaguely Eastern ideas and terminology into secular Western consciousness.

There is a prologue which outlines the history of the 20th century, and of course it is all wrong historically—Benson did not foresee that tremendously destructive wars would begin less than a decade after he wrote, or envision the brutal totalitarianism which would soon darken much of the globe. Politically, the world is divided into three parts: America, Europe, and The East. A potentially cataclysmic war is brewing, and it is to intervene in this conflict that the character whom we immediately recognize as the Anti-Christ makes his first appearance.

The Catholic reader can readily imagine the broad course of events that will follow, and I don’t want to give the plot away. I will mention that Benson’s conception of the Anti-Christ involves an explicit and specific correspondence of important characteristics with Christ himself: the Christian vocabulary still has a hold on society, and the Anti-Christ is described and honored as Creator, Redeemer, etc. Whether this has any authority in traditional teaching on this subject or is simply Benson’s speculation, I don’t know. But it’s not what I’ve imagined, which is something and someone with less explicit resemblance to religion, the better to establish itself as being entirely different from religion rather than a mere replacement for it, in the manner of Unitarians meeting on Sunday morning for non-worship.

From the literary point of view, the novel is a mixed bag. It’s very well-written in a Victorian-Edwardian way, but the narrative seems a little clumsy to me, and to lack tension; much of it seems a series of set-pieces and speeches rather than a flow, especially when Felsenburgh, the Anti-Christ figure, appears—there are long, florid, and to my taste unconvincing depictions of his effect on people. And the characters do not, for me, come fully alive. I can’t point to any specific reason for this; it’s something that either happens or does not happen when one reads a novel. Partly because we have a general idea of where things are going, there is a lack of dramatic tension, especially in the first half or so. It was only toward the end, when the fate of specific people is in doubt, that I really felt caught up in the story.

I have my doubts as to whether a non-Catholic would care much for this novel. Its ideas are of greater interest than its literary quality, and those ideas might be inaccessible to a non-Catholic, and indeed obscure to many Protestants, who might not grasp its very specifically Catholic view of the Apocalypse. But many Catholic readers would find it interesting at minimum. Especially if they have a taste for steampunk fiction.


Monsignor Robert Hugh Benson (Wikipedia biography)

The cover image at the beginning of this piece was located via Google and copied from an interesting-looking site called A Catholic Reader, where you can read another view of Lord of the World as well as a description of another Benson novel, Dawn of All, written in response to Christians who found the former too disheartening (!). I take the image to be an early, if not original, cover.

Embarrassed Update: I had forgotten that Janet had written a full and very good review of this book at her blog. You should definitely read it. Among other things, she tells you a lot more about what actually happens in the book than I do (without giving away anything that would spoil the story).

Gouldberg Variations

Weekend Music

I'm sure everyone who's been reading this blog for a while recalls this exciting post in which I compared two recordings of Bach's Goldberg Variations, Murray Perahia's and Glenn Gould's 1955 version. When speaking of Gould and the Goldbergs, one always has to specify which recording, the 1955 or 1981, because they're very different.

At the time I wrote that post, I had not yet heard the 1981. Almost four years later, I still had not, although I owned it, which just goes to show you how much more music I have than I can make time to listen to. Having given up music for Lent this year, I decided that I would break my fast with the 1981 Gould recording.

Someone had told me in some other discussion of these recordings that connoisseurs generally prefer the 1981. And, coincidentally, Neoneocon wrote about the two versions just a few days later (it's in the latter part of that post, not the Petula Clark part), and she also preferred it (though not claiming connoisseurship). So I felt a bit on the spot: was I going to prove myself a clod by liking the wrong one? Or perhaps not even be able to tell the difference?

Well, on the second point, no problem: the difference is immediately obvious. And on the first: so be it. I much prefer the 1955 recording. It's filled with a youthful spring-like joy that imparts the same to me. It's nimble and light, both precise and exciting in the quick parts, yet still having depth in the more reflective variations, e.g. #25, which is one of my favorites.

The 1981 version, in contrast, put me off from the beginning. The opening aria is taken at a crawl, and very quietly, as if we'd caught it stumbling into bed after a long night out. And then in the first variation Gould slams the opening chord with such force and suddenness that you briefly wonder if the whole piano-forte thing was a bad idea.

It gets better. And the recorded sound of course is superior, 1955 technology vs. 1981, though it struck me as a little too bright. A lot of people do apparently hear greater depths in it, and in time maybe I will, too. But I'm quite sure I'll never put aside the 1955 recording. I was gratified to find this piece in Slate by an actual critic whose first reaction was similar to mine: the aria is "so maddeningly slow it almost sounds like a stunt." Overall I agree with the comment on that Slate article, which describes the 1981 version as "disconnected" (the commenter goes on to explain why he likes it anyway).

Here's a comparison of the aria from the two versions, followed by some commentary to which I have not yet listened:


If you don't listen to much classical music, but are interested, this would certainly be a piece worth hearing. I'm sure there is some pretty amazing technical stuff going on, but you don't have to know anything much about music to realize that Bach is doing something wonderful in getting those thirty very various variations out of the same basic material. More importantly, it has plenty of direct emotional appeal that requires no knowledge at all to understand.

Over-zealous Spam Filter

As you may have noticed if you've been reading the Thatcher discussion, several comments have been erroneously held by the TypePad spam catcher. So far it's only picked on Daniel Nichols, and I don't have any idea why. However, I just logged in to TypePad and noticed a helpful hint that I should check the spam list if comments go missing, so apparently it's a problem they know about. I'll try to make it a habit to check a few times a day and release any real comments. If you think one of yours has been mistakenly detained, let me know.

Progressive Catechesis

It's almost irrelevant whether we call progressivism a religion or a substitute for religion. Either way, in the really committed progressive, it functions as a religion, providing a coherent world-view and a guide to right thought and right conduct. Here's a young mother on MSNBC gently guiding her daughter in the way she should go:

The name of the segment, "Political Playground," says everything about the place of politics in one's (progressive) life.

Krystal Ball? If that's not a married name, I bet her schoolmates had fun with it.

My Thatcher Memory

I can't pretend that I'm qualified to judge Margaret Thatcher's political career. I've never paid extremely close attention to politics, and almost none to British politics (though I've gotten more interested in recent years). I was aware in the 1980s that she was considered more or less the British Reagan, which I thought was probably not a bad thing. 

I don't know why this sticks in my mind, but during one of her runs for office I saw a picture in a magazine, probably Time or Newsweek, of two very sweet-looking, very English-looking old ladies at a campaign rally, smiling and holding up a sign that said 


I loved that. Like I said, I don't really know, but I have the feeling that she represented something good about England that is now passing away, or perhaps already passed. Here is an interesting view of her religion, a classically decent Anglo-Protestantism. At any rate she seems to have been hated by many of those whose hatred is a compliment


There seems to be something wrong with comments. When you post one, you get an error message: 'Can't locate object method "log_user_activity" via package "PhenoType::View"'. So it looks like the comment didn't post, but it did. At least that's what appears to be happening.

Update: seems to be working ok now.

Gregory Wolfe: Beauty Will Save the World

One of Chesterton's more well-known aphorisms holds that if a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly. It is in that spirit that I generally approach a book review. I really don't enjoy doing them, because I feel obliged to do it in such a way as to give the prospective a reader a broad and fair picture of what I'm recommending, or not recommending. And this I often find tiresome, as I want to focus on the specific aspects of the book that engage me. I'm now asking myself why I feel obliged to follow such rules on a blog which is entirely my own domain and where the only rules are the ones I impose on myself. Nevertheless, I do feel the obligation, and the result in this case is that I've been putting off writing about this book, although there's a great deal in it I'd like to discuss. It is very much worth reading and discussing, so although this may be an inadequate review it is at least a notice and a recommendation.

Greg Wolfe, as readers of this blog probably know, is the founder and editor of Image, a name which denotes not only a well-known journal of religion and the arts, but also a wide range of programs--workshops, seminars, etc.--all exploring the place where art and faith meet (see link in sidebar). It's a deservedly successful and respected enterprise. I was expecting this book to be a more or less systematic exposition of the contemporary intersection of Christianity, the arts, and the culture at large, pointing toward the conclusion in the title. It isn't that, exactly, but is rather a collection of distinct but related essays in which Wolfe approaches those matters, with roughly half the book doing so through the work of specific artists and men of letters: six writers, three visual artists, four men of letters.

These comprise the latter part of the book, and were of varying interest to me depending partly on the artist. Of course I'm always interested in Waugh. The section on Andrew Lytle helped me to make sense of the one Lytle novel I've read. And the one on Shusaku Endo, whom I haven't read, reinforced my intention to do so. Somewhat to my surprise, since I'm not primarly interested in or knowledgeable about the visual arts, I found the essay on the painter Fred Folsom particularly interesting. The essay on Geoffrey Hill is maybe the third appeal on behalf of this poet that I've read, and I'm afraid it did no more than the other two to persuade me to investigate his work, which seems pretty obscure without a compensatory musical or imagistic appeal. And the essay on Marion Montgomery's critical trilogy, The Prophetic Poet and the Spirit of the Age, which I read but did not much understand, gave me some valuable insight into it.

These are all worth reading, as are the four essays in Part Two: Christianity, Literature, and Modernity, which are reflections on the situation of the Christian writer in the modern world. But to my mind the most interesting parts of the book are the autobiographical and personal essays which make up the Prologue and Part One: From Ideology to Humanism. Wolfe's intellectual and spiritual journey began in the subculture of political and cultural conservatism; if you're familiar with that world the fact that he graduated from Hillsdale College will tell you a great deal.

 To some extent he has distanced himself from the conservative movement, in part by giving pride of place to Catholic faith over political orthodoxy, but this is not one of those stories in which the young intellectual turns his back on his roots. It is, rather, an account of a continuing argument: a recognition that diagnosing and denouncing the modern crisis is not, alone, an adequate response to it, and that to turn one's back on the culture in which we actually live is to cede it to the forces one opposes:

A corollary of the conservative alienation from modernity is the tacit assumption that Western culture is already dead. The stark truth is that despair haunts many on the Right. When conservatives turn to art and literature they generally look to the classics, safely tucked away in museums or behind marbleized covers. Ironically, many conservatives don't seem to have noticed that they no longer have anything to conserve--they have lost the thread of cultural continuity. They have forgotten that the Judeo-Christian concept of stewardship applies not only to the environment and to institutions but also to culture. To abdicate this responsibility is somewhat like a farmer refusing to till a field because it has stones and heavy clay in it. 

He's pretty tough on the damage done by the "relentless negativism of the culture wars" and cautions conservatives and Christians against allowing themselves to be boxed into its categories and, worse, to be dominated by its anger and suspicion. I'm very sympathetic to this position--see this post from 2007--but it is increasingly clear that, as with any war, the wish to stand apart from it does not mean that it will leave you alone.  

To say that Wolfe recommends an active engagement with modernity on the part of Christian artists and lovers of the arts, which he does, is an inadequate summary of his argument. The broad intention, yes, has been stated by others, including no less than our recent popes. But his articulation of that principle, and his defense of the arts as a place where that engagement can happen, are distinctive and, so to speak, hands-on, in that he is very much a part of the work that he recommends.

I myself grow ever more doubtful that such efforts will have much impact on a culture for which the word "decadent" no longer seems really applicable: we are seeing rather the rising toward dominance of a new culture which is animated in part by a positive hatred of the Christian past and a desire to eliminate it as a living force. But even if that's the case, the effort is not wasted. It never is.

(The book is published by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute; I will send you there instead of someplace like Amazon for purchasing information.)

No, this is the best comment on the Mandatum issue

Contrary to what I said a few days ago, although it's not fair to compare a blog comment to an essay--but Jeffery Mirus really covers it very fairly and thoroughly:

Critical responses have ranged from a mild concern about the larger impact on rubrical observance of the Pope’s decision to outright condemnation of the Pope, as if he has somehow revealed “his true colors”. The former reaction is reasonable; the latter is not. There are simply too many aspects of this issue to consider for anyone to be jumping to conclusions.

Read the whole  (somewhat long) thing.

Could It Finally Happen?!?

Might the British government at long last create a Ministry of Silly Walks? Thought it's still a very long way off, this story certainly raises the hope that the, um, first step has been taken:

Speaking earlier this week, the acting deputy general secretary of the [Association of Teachers and Lecturers], Martin Johnson, said: "There's a lot to learn about how to walk. If you were going out for a Sunday afternoon stroll you might walk one way. If you're trying to catch a train you might walk in another way and if you are doing a cliff walk you might walk in another way.

"If you are carrying a pack, there's a technique in that. We need a nation of people who understand their bodies and can use their bodies effectively."

And all these walks would eventually require a ministry to administer them, right?


Considerably less amusing, from the same source:

Mr Johnson branded the national curriculum "totalitarian" because it prioritised academic education over other types of knowledge.

Mr Johnson said: "For the state to suggest that some knowledge should be privileged over other knowledge is a bit totalitarian in a 21st century environment."

Actually, no, there won't always be an England, not in the sense that the word was formerly understood.

About That Foot-Washing Business

As most everybody knows (well, most everybody who would be reading this blog, anyway), Pope Francis stirred up some controversy in the Maundy Thursday service by including women, including a Muslim, in the group of people whose feet he washed. Some think it a liturgical outrage, some think that outrage is an outrage.

For my part, I'm somewhere in between. It was a beautiful gesture in itself, but I have some misgivings as to whether it was wise to do it in this context. And by "this context" I don't mean only the liturgy itself, but the whole history of liturgical travail and controversy that has so troubled the Church since Vatican II. It's not so much the thing itself as the possible encouragement it may give to those who think the liturgy can be tinkered with to any extent they choose.

Over at Caelum et Terra, Daniel Nichols is firmly among those who decry the objections as "rubrical fundamentalism". I sympathize, and yet, although no one who knows me could rationally accuse me of being a stickler for perfect adherence to liturgical rules, I also have some sympathy for the objectors. There are some comments by Teena Blackburn on that CetT post which strikes me as the wisest thing I've read on the subject. Here is one that pretty well sums up her view, though there are others, and if you click on the "rubrical fundamentalism" link above you can read both the post and all the comments (some of which are on the recondite side). Here's her conclusion:

What the Pope did would probably not matter much except a huge number of Catholics are shell shocked and exhausted from the liturgy wars of the past decades-and everyone, both clown Mass fan and Latin Mass attendee, are looking to Rome to see what happens next. The Pope did no favors to those who are the most likely to obey him in other matters.

In fact, I don't really expect a great resurgence of banalization in the liturgy, because I think that the energy of that movement and the enthusiasm for it among Catholics at large have waned considerably. At least I hope it has.

Florence is one of those girls who look on modern enlightened thought as a sort of personal buddy, and receive with an ill grace cracks at its expense.

--Wodehouse, Joy in the Morning

The Impossible Beautiful Truth

The four gospels give us different pictures of the readiness with which the followers of Jesus accepted the resurrection. Yesterday, hearing John's version, I was struck by how difficult it must have been for at least some of them to grasp what had occcurred. "They have taken away the Lord out of the sepulchre, and we know not where they have laid him," says Mary Magdalene.

Of course that's what they would have thought. And although I don't recall any mention of it in scripture, it seems safe to assume that at least some of them made inquiries, trying to find out who might have taken the body, and why, and where.

In John's gospel Mary Magdalene does so, on the spot, saying to the figure whome she takes for a gardener, "Sir, if thou have borne him hence, tell me where thou hast laid him, and I will take him away." John himself (on the usual assumption that he's referring to himself in the third person as "the disciple Jesus loved"), having outraced Peter to the tomb after Mary's first alarm, believes at once, perhaps having already understood what the others did not, "that he must rise from the dead." It isn't clear at that point what Peter thinks. 

For some of them it may have been like it would have been like for me: first wanting to know if the body was really not there (Are you sure you looked everywhere?). Then, having a definite answer to that question, perhaps having seen for myself, I would have started trying to figure out who had stolen it, and why, and what they had done with it. Only when those possibilities seemed to be eliminated would I have begun to entertain seriously the idea of resurrection. 

And then: wild hope, too wild to be credited at first, but emerging as the only explanation, finally embraced with overpowering elation, beyond doubt when the Lord himself appeared to them. Everyone knows the instruction from Sherlock Holmes:

When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.

But the resurrection spins that sensible pragmatic principle around: the impossible pushes its way in, elbows aside both the probable and the improbable, and stands there unique among all events in human history: impossible, true, and beautiful; promising everything, because since it is true anything might be, anything each of us has ever longed for and given up for lost.