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Vatican II; Sherwood; Trump the Jerk

Continuing the discussion of the success or failure of Vatican II, from this post: Ross Douthat (as quoted by Rod Dreher, because I can't view Douthat's entire New York Times column) asserts that the council was and is a failure on its own terms. The measures intended to invite and draw "modern man" to the Church have been accompanied not by growth but by decline, as measured by membership and activity, at least in Euro-American civilization. That's a plain fact. Whether the decline would have been greater or lesser without the council can only be speculative. I'm sure that question has been studied and answers attempted, but it's the sort of thing where sociologists can probably make either case, depending on what questions they ask and how, and on their own predilections. (Is sociology a science? Not really. Statistical methods are no doubt mathematically sound, but they don't choose or interpret their own data.)

In that post I linked to this one by Larry Chapp which goes ferociously after the follies that came and have continued, following and often in the name of the council. Let's call that Chapp 1, because there is also Chapp 2, which says that the council was "a success, in spite of the many deviations from orthodoxy and sanity that followed in its wake."

Success or failure, then? It's largely a matter of the time frame in which one makes the judgment. Douthat is looking at the time from the end of the council till now, and in that frame it is certainly true that the council has not succeeded in making the Church any more of a factor in modern life than it had previously been. One could argue about whether it is less so--I think it is--but it is clearly not more so. "Modern man" in the mass has only drifted, or in many cases run, away from Christianity at large and the Catholic Church in particular. In fact it is not at all fantastic to foresee, a century or two from now, the reduction of the Church to a few tiny bands of holdouts, as in Robert Hugh Benson's Lord of the World, at least within that part of the world which was once known as Christendom.

The argument of Chapp 2 is really twofold. The first part, that the council has been a great success, is really not based on a measurement of success in the terms Douthat examines (in fact Chapp agrees with Douthat's assessment in that respect) but on the assertion that many or most of the council's changes (the actual changes, not those speciously done in its name) were for the better--the vernacular liturgy, for instance--and are now taken for granted. Some of those, the liturgy in particular, are, as we all know, still very much debated, but I agree with Chapp that they were good. It's only an accident of history that I appear to be a "conservative" Catholic; I've always said that if I had been an adult Catholic at the time of the council I would almost certainly have sympathized, at least, with its aims and the documents produced by it.

The second part of Chapp 2's argument is that the council will in time be truly successful, contributing powerfully to the long-term health of the Church and the effectiveness of its mission. Chapp 2 accepts that these things can take quite a long time--centuries--to work themselves out. I certainly hope so and am willing to believe it, but none of us will be here to see it. (I personally, as I lamented in that other post, cannot look forward to anything but continued intramural strife.) Chapp presents a picture of a renewal which he believes the council intended, and which he believes may yet come, and I very much share that view and that hope.

As for the present, though, Chapp 1 presents a grim and discouraging picture, not nearly as positive as Chapp 2. For me the grimmest single item in that piece is the mention of the progressive party, encouraged by Pope Francis, as viewing the papacies of John Paul II and Benedict XVI as an "interruption" of the council's work. This view represents nothing less than the abandonment of authentic renewal and the re-energizing of the destructive forces which would turn the Church into something like liberal Protestantism, a voice of solicitous approval for whatever is demanded by and for the therapeutic mentality.

Philip Rieff saw this very clearly at the time the council was actually in progress:

What, then, should churchmen do? The answer returns clearly: become, avowedly, therapists, administrating a therapeutic institution--under the justificatory mandate that Jesus himself was the first therapeutic.

Some of the psychobabble I've seen attributed to the "synod on synodality" supports--no, expresses--that view.

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The emergence of the very well produced cinematic work for which the term "television series" is inadequate is, like craft beer, one of the compensations for living in a culture which seems to be falling apart, both in an organizational sense and in the sense of mental breakdown. I've just finished watching a new one from the Brits, Sherwood. It falls into the pretty conventional category of "crime drama," but a very very good one. It's set in a place referred to bitterly as a "former mining town" in Nottinghamshire; both Sherwood Forest and an archer are involved. 

The story takes place in the present day but has deep roots in the mining strikes of the 1980s. I don't know very much at all about those, but I know the British left hated and still hates Margaret Thatcher as much as the American left hated Ronald Reagan, so I don't necessarily take the show's view of those conflicts as the last word. But I don't doubt that they were as bitter as portrayed. 

It's a very complex story, very well done, on a level with Broadchurch, among the best in this genre. Maybe no single character is quite as memorable or as memorably performed as those portrayed by David Tennant and Olivia Colman in Broadchurch, but anyone who watches a lot of British TV will recognize many faces, if not the names that go with them. It's available on Britbox via Amazon. 

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Donald Trump is a jerk. That's been pretty obvious all along. His presidency had some very good results (and some very bad ones), but his basic and base nature didn't improve. He did not, as some hoped, rise to the office. What his supporters liked to dismiss as "mean tweets" were often expressions of a really deep ugliness. He's now vilifying Ron DeSantis, a popular conservative  who actually cares about and is skilled at governing, because, as Rich Lowry says, DeSantis is in his way:

Trump will have no compunction about crushing the future of the party to maintain his grip for another two years and possibly beyond.  

It's grimly appropriate, I guess, that a nation in such decline as ours, committed to narcissism as a way of life, would have two presidents in succession who are men of such plainly bad character, each in his own very special way.


"Only the dead...

...have seen the end of war."

A quick search finds that sunny observation attributed to Plato and to Santayana, which is an awfully wide chronological range. I did not learn it from any such noble source, but rather as the name of an album by an Iraqi heavy metal group, Acrassicauda ("a black desert scorpion"). A metal band trying to get started in Iraq in 2001 probably had better reason than most of us to judge the truth of that saying.

It came to mind the other day as I was reading a couple of articles about the 60th anniversary of the opening of Vatican II (October 11, 1962). I jumped in to the Catholic mess in 1981, just past the worst post-Council days, and from the beginning hated the intramural Catholic war. Why did we have to be either "Vatican II Catholics" or reactionaries? Wasn't it obvious that both sides had good and bad points? What were Catholic theologians doing dividing history into before and after segments on any basis other than the one that gave us A.D. and B.C? 

Well, of course that was extremely naive of me. But I had seen enough of liberal Protestantism to recognize that many of the passionate advocates of a "conciliar Church" seen as a rupture with the past were in all but name liberal Protestants who would, if they had their way, take the Church down the same path as the Episcopal Church. I wanted nothing to do with that, but on the other hand I didn't see myself as a capital-T Traditionalist, either. Why did we have to have this division, which, mirroring secular ideologies--an obvious bad sign--were often labeled "liberal" and "conservative," terms which, as Henri de Lubac said in a remark that I cherish, have no place in the Church except as descriptions of temperament? 

The pontificates of JPII and BXVI tried to rescue the Council from its modernist advocates and insisted upon its continuity with everything that had come before. And it seemed, or maybe I just hoped, that the war was gradually waning. Then Pope Francis chose to fire it up again, and I realized that it will certainly outlive me. If I count myself among the dead who alone will see the end of this war, it doesn't sound so very gloomy, as I'm in my seventies. It's gloomy to me, yes--but perhaps those who are only fifty will see the end of it? I doubt it. Or at least those who are twenty? Maybe, but I wouldn't bet on it. Is another fifty years long enough? You would think that the first fifty years would have been long enough. 

Ross Douthat apparently says in a New York Times article that I can't get to, quoted by Rod Dreher, that the council was necessary, but

...we now have decades of data to justify a second encapsulating statement: The council was a failure.

This isn’t a truculent or reactionary analysis. The Second Vatican Council failed on the terms its own supporters set. It was supposed to make the church more dynamic, more attractive to modern people, more evangelistic, less closed off and stale and self-referential. It did none of these things. The church declined everywhere in the developed world after Vatican II, under conservative and liberal popes alike — but the decline was swiftest where the council’s influence was strongest.

You can argue that the decline would have been worse without the council, but that's mere speculation, and in any case the effort to be "more attractive to modern people" is hardly the most important guide for the Church.

It would appear that Pope Francis is one of those who hasn't really faced this failure. But then I don't really care to speculate about his beliefs and intentions. Whatever they are, it seems clear to me now that he is a bad pope, in a fundamental sense: not in the sense of being a bad man disgracing his office by personal sin, but in the simple functional sense that he is bad at the job of being a shepherd to the Church, just as we would say someone is a bad builder if he builds houses that start falling apart after a few years. 

And when that train of thought arrives at that point, I get off: I decide not to spend much time thinking about the Pope, and the Church as a whole, and simply try to be that thing I wanted to be, a just-plain Catholic.

And I really don't want to think much about the "Synod on Synodality" which seems to be the big enthusiasm of Vatican progressives now. From what I can see its main function is to provide material for cynical jokes. Or just cynicism. "The Synod on Synodality is a two-year process of listening and dialogue...." After decades of this kind of thing in both the secular and religious contexts can anyone hear language like that and not react with cynicism? Well, yes, apparently some can, but it's puzzling.

Proponents of what they see as "the spirit of the Council" can say that we just haven't reached the end of the story yet, that one day it will be seen as the thing that saved the Church, or something along those lines. That's a respectable argument, I guess, though it doesn't convince me. I think Douthat is right that it "failed on the terms its own supporters set." But who knows, maybe a lot of abstract talk about synodality will finally do the trick.

I mentioned that I had read a couple of articles about the anniversary. This was one, by Amy Welborn, a testimonial from someone who was a Catholic school student in the '70s. If you're of a certain age and I tell you that it's titled "Jesus Livingston Seagull," you'll have an idea of what that was like.

Amy linked to this one by Larry Chapp, which is not so much about the council itself as all the horrors--and I don't think that's too strong a word--that have followed on it. They are horrors when considered in light of what the Church is supposed to be.

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Here's a language complaint, from an article about Rod McKuen. It's an interesting article, if you remember Rod McKuen. But it contains this sentence:

As McKuen did, Kaur writes poems that are instantly accessible to readers who might not have previously consumed much poetry.

I hate that use of "consumed." I can only think of it as physical consumption, so the image is bizarre. And it's just wrong. In most usages that I can come up with, something which is consumed more or less ceases to exist except as a part of whatever consumed it. "Fire consumed the house." "I consumed the whole pizza." "I was consumed by envy" doesn't mean physical consumption, obviously, but it does suggest that at least for a moment the speaker had more or less ceased to exist and become envy.

I see usages such as "consuming news" and "consuming music." Even "consuming art," meaning to go to a museum or gallery. Perhaps with news it's a result of the fact that "reading" or "viewing" are inadequate because most people do both, and the writer can't think of a word that readily includes both. (How about just "getting"?) But music? Poetry? Why?!? You listen to the one, and you read the other (as a rule). This just strikes me as barbarous.

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This is Khaki. He belongs to a neighbor of mine. She was having difficulty taking him out for daily walks, so I've been doing it. Most every morning I put him in my car and take him to the bayside park that's a short drive away. We both enjoy it. One afternoon a week or so ago I was getting into my car, about to run some errands. when Khaki showed up at my house, which he sometimes does. You see him here unable to believe that I'm not going to take him with me.

KhakiWantsToRide

He followed me for several blocks, easily keeping up with my twenty miles an hour or so, even up the steep hill near my house. I finally had to stop, put him in the car, and take him home.


The Most Beautiful Phrase In the English Language?

One of the most, anyway:

    Poor Clare of Perpetual Adoration

I remember the first time I encountered it, many years ago, and being struck by its beauty. Like anything that gets pulled into everyday use, it ends up being taken for granted; losing its luster, and even, maybe, depending on where and how you encounter it, having unpleasant associations. But if you can clear all that away, it shines. 

The phrase Perpetual Adoration alone is rather wonderful. I am happy that once a week, at least, sometimes more, I am able to participate in something that is called by that rich name.

Today is St. Clare's memorial, and here is a good post by Amy Welborn about her. I was struck by the advice she (Clare) gave to St. Agnes: appealing to her vanity, in a backwards, poverty is wealth, sort of way. 


Abigail Rine Favale: Into the Deep

I do not know how to pronounce the author's last name,  and for that matter am not entirely certain about her middle name. This bothered me a bit every time I picked up the book, and is, obviously, bothering me a little right now. But it didn't prevent me from reading, enjoying, and admiring the book.

Subtitled "An Unlikely Catholic Conversion," this is the memoir of a young woman (now middle-aged, I guess) who grew up in a conservative evangelical family and subculture, partly rejected and partly drifted away from it in favor of academic feminism, and in time found her way to the Catholic Church.

That is an unusual but in its broad outline not exactly unheard-of story. Conversion stories in general are hardly rare, even conversion of many initially quite hostile to the faith; the propagation of the gospel begins with them. But they are all by nature somewhat similar, and are not necessarily of great interest to anyone except the convert and those who know him, including especially God. 

I had a personal reason for reading this one. I have my own unpublished, probably never-to-be-published, memoir, and a few years ago I queried a certain Catholic publisher about it. The editor replied courteously that although they have published conversion memoirs, they did not sell very well and he doesn't expect to publish any more such. Since then I've read a few that have managed to get into print in recent years and to get at least some attention from at least the Catholic press. I wanted to see what made them worthy of note.

Into the Deep is the most recent of these (most recently read, I mean, not published), and the best. That's not because it's necessarily the most intrinsically interesting story, but because it's told so well. It's quite well-written in the micro sense that the prose is well-crafted, and in the macro sense that the narrative is vivid and brings home a real sense of the author's experience. And also because her specific struggle involves matters that are very much part of our current cultural malaise: the nature and meaning of the sexes, the role of women in the world and in the Church, especially the confrontation of feminism and the Church. 

Back in the 1970s, when feminism--what I have since learned is known as second-wave feminism--was at its height, I was mildly intrigued by it and sympathetic to it. I thought then, and still think, that women in general are pretty wonderful, and that in many ways they get a bad deal. But I don't think I have many illusions about them, and I couldn't help being skeptical of what seemed to be one of feminism's assumptions: that apart from the obvious physical things there is no significant difference between the sexes. That this was false, I thought, should be obvious to anyone who looked at actual men and women. And I thought it would be a good thing if a feminist thinker would explore those differences deeply rather than try to dismiss or erase them. 

I didn't continue paying much attention for very long. The basic feminist doctrine seemed to be twofold: (1) men and women are exactly the same, except for those ways in which women are superior; (2) men and women should be treated in exactly the same way, expect for situations where it is to the advantage of women to be treated differently. This only caused me to be amused by the way feminism confirmed the stereotype of women as illogical. It certainly didn't help my perception that feminism was (and still is) zealous in political causes, most notably advocacy of abortion, that were at the time beginning to strike me as destructive. (I long ago moved past any ambivalence about their destructiveness.)

Well, here is a feminist, or at least former feminist, who has done the exploration which I had hoped to see. And it has led her precisely into the deep, into the profundity of sexual significance. Here was an important turning point:

Most of the time life moves at such a crawl that we remain blind to its constant change, but there are some experiences, like becoming a parent, that strike like lightning and, in just a flash, we are utterly altered.

This is what happened to me. When I first became pregnant, I was comfortable settled into my own unique brand of postmodern, feminist Christianity. I remember lounging on the couch amidst waves of nausea, watching news coverage of the controversial contraception mandate, rolling my eyes in anger and disgust at those regressive Catholic priests in their prim white collars, telling women what to do with their bodies.

Yet almost exactly two years later, I would be standing before such a priest at the Easter Vigil Mass, publicly confessing my desire to be received into the largest, oldest male-helmed institution in the world, the Roman Catholic Church.

Motherhood broke me open.

That breaking-open is of course among other things quite literally physical: a sensation and an experience that men can never know. The moment occurs less than one-third of the way through the book, so there is a great deal of road left to travel from here, and a great deal of reflection. There's a nice balance of the narrative and the abstract--of, to adapt the famous feminist catch-phrase, the personal and the theological. I recommend it both as a conversion memoir, and for that matter a memoir, period--I enjoyed the recounting of her early life--and as a venture into the rich topic of Catholicism and gender. 

IntoTheDeep3

I'm not keen on this cover. Apart from the fact that it's not especially appealing as a graphic, it suggests to me not conversion but a woman falling in love with a priest.

The venture continues with her new book, The Genesis of Gender, "a crash course of sorts, an insider’s look at the implicit worldview of gender theory, so people are better able to recognize the underlying claims that are being made." Here is an interview at Catholic World Report in which she discusses it.  Also at Catholic World Report, she demonstrates that she has by no means compromised her objections to some notions of feminine submission to male authoritarianism: she excoriates a book called Ask Your Husband, which seems to be an unwitting confirmation of secular feminism's view of Catholic thinking on this subject.

It seems to me that the current crisis in which enlightened opinion is no longer willing to say that a woman is an adult female human being is a fairly natural development from certain aspects of feminist thought. To their credit some feminists are willing to oppose it, which is hardly the first time that ideological revolutionaries have been horrified by some of the conclusions, theoretical and practical, drawn from their premises. It's going to be a long time before we settle down, culturally, but in the meantime Abigail Favale and others are doing very valuable work toward clearing up the very clouded waters.


Seán Ó'Faoláin: Newman's Way

My first impulse was to begin this post with "If you only read one book about Newman...." Then I realized that I'm not in a position to say that, as it is the only book about Newman that I've read. But I will say at least that I don't feel any need to read another.

I'm not fond of biography as a genre: it tends to be dully written, and to include more mundane detail than I really care to bother with. I'm looking across the room right now at a biography of Auden that I picked up off the discard shelf at the library, and asking myself whether I really want to read it, or perhaps should return it to the library to be re-discarded. This one, however, like the Knox brothers biography that I wrote about a while back, is the work of a very good writer and is enjoyable on its own merits. (I base "very good writer" on this book alone--I recognized Ó'Faoláin's name as a writer of fiction, but had never read anything by him.)

It's not a full biography. It's primarily the story of Newman's departure from the Church of England and entry into the Catholic Church at the age of forty-four, with the almost forty-five post-conversion years seen only in a brief and poignant epilogue. One doesn't even need to have read the Apologia to know that basic story, and even if one has, there is (of course) a great depth which is not sounded there. Ó'Faoláin shows us Newman in the midst of a family to which he has deep emotional ties and a continuing direct involvement with his siblings and other relatives up until his conversion, when a deep and permanent estrangement took hold.

The Apologia is mainly a religious and intellectual autobiography--not exactly a spiritual autobiography, either, as it does not emphasize Newman's interior spirituality. I'm tempted to say that Newman's Way complements the Apologia as an emotional biography, but that's not exactly right. Though it does emphasize the emotional currents that helped to propel Newman on his way, the portrayal of those is closely integrated with the man's pursuit of the great question, and the great decision that was the end of it. The Little Flower's title fits: this is the story of a soul. The influence of personal matters is not trivial in itself and not insignificant in a consideration of Newman's thinking. I think I know enough of that to say that his own life was in a sense an instance, or an example, of the concept of development as revealed in the Essay On the Development of Doctrine. His abstract thought was not really, or not only, abstract, but rather a manifestation of his very life in its fullness, comprehending not only reason in the narrow sense, but the entire web of perception and the mind's working thereon. He only seems abstract because he happened to be a man to whom thought was as real as walking. 

It was a little surprising to me to learn that Newman's family was not especially well-off. It had come up considerably in the world over several generations preceding his own, and his father had risen as far as becoming a banker. But the bank failed in an economic panic, and the family fell back to a sort of lower middle-class level--I mean that not in the sense in which we use it now, but relative to early 19th century England, when "the middle class" was considerably more affluent than most, only not part of the aristocracy--the sort of families portrayed by Jane Austen. This relatively less-well-off position seems to have been something of an embarrassment to Newman, especially when among his fellow fellows at Oxford; Ó'Faoláin recounts a cruel moment when a don embarrasses Newman by correcting his choice of serving utensils in front of the whole table, an ugly example of formal etiquette serving bad manners. 

It was also surprising to learn that Charles Newman, one of J.H. Newman's two brothers, was eccentric to the point of near-madness, and spent his whole life bouncing from one difficulty to another, frequently bailed out financially by John and the other brother, Francis (Frank). It was less surprising that Frank was a low-church Anglican clergyman, and that past a certain point in John's evolution the brothers could hardly speak to each other, and then only by sticking strictly to everyday matters and avoiding the big questions--a situation familiar to many of us, now probably more often due to politics than religion (but then part of the problem is that politics is religion for many). His relationship with his sister Jemima, seven years younger, seems to have been, at least in adulthood, the closest and most durable of his sibling relationships (there were three sisters, one of whom, Mary, also the youngest of the children, died at nineteen). But even Jemima ceased to invite him to her home after he became a Catholic.

I had read somewhere, perhaps in the Apologia, Newman's lament that he had given up almost everything dear to him when he left Oxford and Anglicanism. But I had not grasped the full pathos of it. Ó'Faoláin vividly communicates the deep attachments which Newman knew himself to be severing when he took the big step. And, just as vividly, he communicates the theological issues, which, abstract though they may seem to one who doesn't understand the stakes, were for Newman as dangerous and painful and as powerful to alter his life as would have been the decision facing a Virginian in 1860; only the physical violence is missing. That late-in-life epilogue begins with this:

There can have been few more lonely men in the world than the aging Newman.

Actually, on reflection, and leafing through the book again, I think I will, after all, say that if you only read one book about Newman, this is, if not the only reasonable choice, a leading candidate. There can't be many that are at once so pleasurable and illuminating. It appears to be out of print now, but used copies are available at Abebooks and Alibris. 

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This book came into my hands more or less accidentally, as part of a deceased clergyman's library intercepted on its way to Goodwill. It was published in 1952. Stuck between the pages I found this seventy-year-old postcard supplied by the publisher, perhaps used by the original owner as a bookmark, as it now is by me:

Devin-Adair-Postcard1 Devin-Adair-Postcard2
It's oddly poignant to me--as a relic of the book's original purchaser, and a relic of a time for which I'm not ashamed to say I feel some nostalgia. "New York 10, N. Y." The ZIP (for Zone Improvement Plan) code was not introduced until 1963. 


My Heart's One Desire?

There's a worship song (sorry, I don't know its name) used frequently at my parish which has a refrain that concludes:

My heart's one desire
Is to be holy

I cannot honestly sing those words (and I find it difficult to believe that very many people can, but that's none of my business). "one desire"? Hardly.  Usually not even the strongest. For me the truth is closer to "Among many other things, I would like to be holy."

The problem with being holy is that it's very difficult. It requires steady effort and sacrifice, and I do not like either of those things. I like things that are easy and pleasant. I would like to be a really excellent guitarist, too. But here I am, going on sixty years since I first picked up the instrument, and I'm not all that much better than I was when I was twenty. 

About the best I can say for myself with regard to the guitar is that I have never totally or permanently given up on it. Some thirty-five or forty years ago I decided to get a bit more serious about it, and started taking classical guitar lessons at a music shop not too far from where I lived. I made some progress--I could even stumble through an arrangement of Erik Satie's famous Gymnopédie #3 so that it was at least recognizable. I made progress in part because I made myself practice consistently for at least fifteen minutes a day. That's not much, but it was enough to make a difference, and every week or so I could tell that I was a little bit better than I had been the week before.

But then, as usual with me, my resolve collapsed. I started skipping my practice sessions, blaming work and family life, though laziness and inconsistency were at least equally to blame. Eventually I had gone several weeks without practicing and dreaded going to my lesson. The teacher had been a little impatient with my lack of ability to begin with, and I was embarrassed to show up not having practiced, and therefore not having improved, at all. And clearly the lessons were a waste of money if I wasn't going to work consistently, at least, if not all that hard. So I quit them. But I didn't quit playing altogether, and I still do play (not classical music), and I still don't practice regularly, and I'm still not very good.

I'm not doing very well at all with my Lenten observances this year. I set the bar pretty low and still have fallen short of it. About the best I can say for myself, both with regard to Lent and to the pursuit of holiness in general, is that I have never totally or permanently given up.

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Apart from the words, I'm not very fond of the kind of music which that song represents. But our choir is really quite talented, they work hard, and they do that sort of thing very well. And sometimes they venture into older and better music. This Lent, for instance, they have been ending Mass with an arrangement of this chant:

They harmonized it for their six or eight voices, and in addition to the basic Latin chant, they added a sort of descant in English, by two (I think) sweet, yearning female voices. It's the last thing we hear at Mass, and is for a moment or two almost unbearably moving.

I'm a little puzzled by their translation, though. The Latin is:

Attende domine
et miserere
quia peccavimus tibi

which is something like "Hear us, Lord, and have mercy, for we have sinned against you." But the choir sings "Burdened with sin, we implore you" (or was it "thee"?) which doesn't seem a close translation of anything in the text. So I'm wondering if this is some traditional English version, possibly something from the Book of Common Prayer or some other Anglican source. But I haven't been able to find it. I like it better than the more literal translation, actually. It's more desperate.

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Here's the Gymnopédie, by the way, played by Christopher Parkening. As you can hear, it's not that difficult, and of course very pretty, so a nice thing for a not-very-advanced player to work on.

 


Laudamus anyway

The "Laudamus" from Mozart's Great Mass in C minor, K 427. (The "anyway" is because I've been in pretty low spirits, and listening to this Mass, especially this section, was beneficial.)

This is not the performance I listened to last night, which was a 1982 performance conducted by von Karajan with Barbara Hendricks. But I just found this one on YouTube and really like it. I think I'll try to find the whole recording.


A Maronite Mass

(As you probably know, but just in case you don't, the Maronite Church is one of the eastern Christian bodies that are in communion with Rome--see this Wikipedia article for more information.)

Last weekend I had the opportunity to attend a Maronite Rite Mass. (I suppose "Mass" is not the right term, since it's a specifically Latin one, and in my opinion a somewhat unfortunate one, having less to do with what it names than it might.)  I've long wanted to do that, but as far as I know the only Maronite parish anywhere near me is in Birmingham, four hours at least away from me, and though I drive through Birmingham fairly often it's never at a time when the liturgy is being celebrated. 

There really should be a Maronite parish, or perhaps several, in Mobile, as it's the rite of many (most, I guess) Lebanese Christians and there is a sizable Lebanese community in Mobile, arising from immigration in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. (I still haven't quite gotten used to the fact that "the last century" now refers to the 20th, not the 19th as it did for two-thirds of my life.) I've been told that there were some not-very-nice machinations on the part of the local bishop and clergy (Latin of course) to prevent the establishment of a Maronite presence back then, which is a shame, not just because it was not very nice but because it deprived the whole Catholic community, not only the Lebanese, of an important tradition.

If I were more of a liturgy nerd (such a rude term, but it has its use), I would have managed to get to it. As it was, I had to wait until it came to me, at a parish in Mobile, with a visiting celebrant in the person of Fr. Mitch Pacwa, S.J., whose name you may recognize from his work with EWTN and Ignatius Press. It was impressive, and I think any Latin Rite Catholic who is a little, or maybe more than a little, dissatisfied with the Novus Ordo would find it so, and perhaps be a bit envious. If you search for "Maronite Mass" on YouTube you'll find a number of videos which are the next best thing to attending it. In fact, here is one celebrated by Fr. Pacwa. A certain amount of it is in English but the core is in the ancient language, or languages--some was referred to as Aramaic and some as Syriac. (Personally I find it rather weird and bordering on irreverent to watch a liturgy on video, and so did not watch all of this one.) 

But it was not any particular features of the liturgy that struck me so much as the sense of its antiquity. Parts of it are in Aramaic, and it gave me a bit of a shiver to think that I was hearing the liturgy in the very language that is, if not identical the one that Jesus spoke, then close to it, and certainly far, far closer to it than any modern European language. And afterwards it led me down a line of ecumenically incorrect thought. I mean "ecumenical" in its typical current sense, the "mere Christianity" sort of sense, referring to the attempt to find comity and common ground among Christian communities, including the Protestant ones.

If I were a Protestant, especially if I were an Evangelical, low-church, more or less congregational Protestant, the fact that all the Christian churches that can with any plausibility trace their lineage back to the origin of the faith celebrate a liturgy which is recognizably the same basic thing would give me pause. Anglicanism and its descendants, and I think also Lutheranism, preserve it in greater or lesser degree--I realized, in retrospect, that its faint outline was visible in the Methodism of my youth. But the more radically Protestant churches don't. There is nothing in any of these forms of worship that bears much resemblance to that of, for instance, a Southern Baptist church, still less the newer free-lance non-denominational churches that are more or less of the evangelical stripe and have gone in very much for rock music and stagecraft and such (or so I hear). 

I would think that any Christian who looks into the history of the Church, the one that can actually be seen to have existed, as opposed to the one that is inferred from brief mentions in the New Testament seen through a very Protestant lens, would almost (almost!) necessarily move toward one of the ancient Churches. I don't mean that he would inevitably become a Catholic, as it's entirely possible to believe that Catholicism went fatally astray at some point even though it preserved the basic elements of worship. Maybe he would become a Copt, or join the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church. But he would recognize the radically non-liturgical Protestant churches as distinctly modern phenomena (as is Protestantism in general, but that's a whole 'nother matter), severed from Christian history.

I don't say this with any triumphalist intention. It's a tragedy, because there are so many serious committed Christians in those groups. It's a great loss on both sides. 


Katy Carl: As Earth Without Water

This novel, by the editor of the Catholic literary magazine Dappled Things and published by the Catholic press Wiseblood Books, has gotten a good deal of favorable attention that's very much deserved. For several reasons, including the scripture reference in the title and the fact that it comes from an explicitly Catholic author and publisher, I was more or less expecting it to be a conversion story. And in some respects it is--let's say that conversion is an important element--but it is far from formulaic, which--let's face it--conversion stories can be. I'd say rather that it's more fundamentally a love story, beginning with the human and rising into the divine.

It's set in a milieu that I know nothing of, that of the contemporary visual arts world. I know little of the visual arts in general, and much of what I hear about its contemporary practitioners and patrons can be summed up in the word "bonkers": part hustle, part snobbery, part cold finance. But when I read an account of some nutty piece of putative art I remind myself that without a doubt there are many very serious and gifted artists at work in that milieu. This is a story of two of them.

One is the narrator, Angele Solomon. (I know, because we're told in the second paragraph, that "Angele" has three syllables and the accent is on the first, but I don't know whether it's pronounced as we normally would pronounce "Angela," or in some other way. I settled on "Angela" as I read.) The other is her sometime lover, friend, and, it's fair to say, obsession at some points, Dylan Fielding. Dylan is the more gifted artist (or at any rate is generally seen so, which is another matter). And when the story opens in July 2010 he is having a great deal of success, while Angele has more or less given up her artistic ambitions and taken a job at a commercial graphic design company. At this point they have been apart for some time, and Angele is not especially pleased, though she can't help being excited, by an out-of-the-blue phone call from him. He is in town (Chicago) for a show and wants to see her. 

From that point the story moves back and forth in time, as far back as 2001, when Angele and Dylan have just met as college students, and forward to 2017, when...well, when many things have been resolved, and some things are beginning.

After only fourteen pages we jump to November of 2015, where, I would guess, half or more of the story occurs, but not consecutively. And even when we are in that time there are flashbacks (perhaps some flashforwards, too--I don't remember for sure). In November of 2015 Angele is visiting Dylan at the monastery (which seems to be in all but name Gethsemani in Kentucky) where he is now the novice Thomas Augustine. His conversion has taken place offstage, and it is not the specific event of the conversion as much as something that took place after it that is the central crisis of the story.

I don't hesitate to say that this is a very good book, but am a bit undecided as to just how good. Leafing through it now, I think I would need to read it again to come a more definitive conclusion on that score. No doubt as a result partly of the time-jumping and partly of my own fragmented reading habits (I can't seem to stick with a single book from beginning to end), I don't have a very clear view of the narrative line, and I think that reduces for me its dramatic effect. And there is a surprising development at the end which I didn't find entirely convincing. 

The prose is excellent, especially its precise and detailed visual descriptions. As a rule I tend to be impatient with elaborate description--as I said, I'm not oriented to the visual arts or to the visual in general. But Carl's descriptions have a great deal of life in them and keep my attention. I can't help wondering if perhaps painting was (is?) her first love; she certainly convinces me that her protagonists are painters.

And that evident love is, I think, the key to the novel. Dylan loves what he paints--that is, he paints things that he loves. One of these is Angele, in a portrait which becomes a point of distress for her in part (I think) because their relationship does not fulfil the promise of the painting, and in fact becomes a mere commercial object. Angele loves Dylan as well as his work, and, like him, paints what she loves. Since the act of seeing is pretty much a prerequisite for painting, and is also an act of knowing, seeing, knowing, and loving become inextricable for these artists, in relation both to their subjects and to each other. This nexus of vision, love, and knowledge pulls in, and is pulled into, the divine, and is itself the picture with which the novel leaves me. And maybe--this thought occurs to me on the fly, as I'm revising this note after a first draft--the narrative technique gives us the story more as picture than sequence, and is a strength, not a weakness. I really will have to read it again, which is not something I do very often with fiction. 

AsEarthWithoutWater

One relatively unimportant thing which I am not the only reader to have singled out as especially strong: the all-too-convincing depiction of Dylan's parents, who are rich, godless people, the mother a bit of a monster. In general I found vivid and believable the portrayal of the monied and fashionable upper reaches of the art world--not the highest, I suppose, but high: the combination of aesthetic refinement and venality. 

Angele tells us that she's from Sepal, Mississippi, a little town not far from the Gulf Coast. As far as I can tell there is no such town, but there is a little town called Petal, which is more or less a suburb of Hattiesburg. (I live in that general area, so these are familiar names to me; I've wondered how Petal got its name.) Not much is said of Angele's earlier life except that she was unhappy and desperate to escape. I would have liked to have heard more of that. Perhaps it belongs in another book. 

The new Catholic literary revival hasn't yet given us a Percy or an O'Connor, but it is very much alive and in good hands. If you're interested in it, you'll want to read this novel. (Is it really new? Haven't there been good Catholic writers all along, since, for instance, Walker Percy's last novel in 1987? Well, that's another topic. But either way a surge of capable activity is in progress, for which we can be grateful. And supportive.)


Peter Hitchens Muses on the Wind

His latest post at The Lamp's blog is a jewel:

What is it about the wind? When I am watching some piece of ancient black-and-white archive film, imprisoned in the time when it was made, a gust of wind will lift a person’s hair or shake the trees in the background, and the whole thing will spring to fierce life. For the moment when the wind blows, it is freed from the past and is happening now. I do not know why. It just is so.

Something similar happens when the wind comes into poetry or prose....

It's not very long, but read it when you're not distracted and are at liberty to take it slowly. As those who have read this blog for a while know, I live on the hurricane coast and am all too well acquainted with truly terrible and dangerous winds. Yet even at times when I've lain in the dark wondering if a tree was going to fall on the house, or the roof come off, I couldn't help feeling, in addition to the fear, a degree of awe bordering on admiration. And I've been close enough to a tornado to hear it, and have seen the damage. Hitchens notes

I was once on a train between Denver, Colorado and Omaha, Nebraska, halted for hours by tornadoes. The small towns through which we crept, when we at last moved, looked as if they had been visited by war.

That's no exaggeration. After one tornado in Huntsville, Alabama, in 1989, I went to help with the cleanup. I saw, among other things, cars that had been picked up and dropped upside down, completely flattening the top, or right-side up, warping the wheels. Not the tires, the solid steel wheels. A wind that can pick up a car and throw it around. 

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A couple of other things worth looking at on the web:

Slant Books is doing some great things. Among their recent offerings is a collection of three plays by the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams. The title play is about a family of Elizabethan recusant Catholics who...well, here's the description:

Shakeshafte imagines an encounter between a young sixteenth century Englishman with a faintly familiar surname and an undercover Jesuit missionary. Two visions of how words change the world collide and converge and slip away again.

You can read an excerpt here. Also, at this link, you can register for a December 28 online book launch for Shakeshafte which will include performance of a scene from the title play and a Q&A with Williams. 

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The Friday Links at the Dappled Things blog usually include some interesting stuff. In this case it's all of them. I haven't watched that video about the hermit yet but I intend to. I wonder where Liechtenstein is. 

Not so sure I want to read the entire piece by the young women who says "Over time, though, I outgrew the conversion narrative as a genre." Yeah, I hear you. I'm pretty sick of the one I wrote.