Friday, March 21, 2014

@CardinalDolan: You CAN have a "used to be" Lent!

TO: Most Rev. Timothy J. Dolan
FROM: Anthony S. Layne
SUBJ: A "Used-to-be" Lent
DATE: March 21, 2014

Your Eminence:

Every now and again I get a chance to read your blog posts. Ordinarily, I come away from reading them refreshed, challenged and encouraged. In the main, you strike me as a successor to the apostles who is positive and embracing but not afraid to be a "sign of contradiction", a bishop who embraces the role of shepherd over that of administrator.

However, yesterday's offering, "A 'Used-to-be' Lent", left me dissatisfied; it struck me as almost a whine. And I don't take you for the whining type.

Let me give you an example of what I mean:

So, for instance, I’m at a great parish in the archdiocese and notice that they’re having a big dance on ... the first Friday of Lent!
So, I’m at a huge banquet for over a thousand men, mostly Catholics, where the liquor flows and the steaks are medium-rare on ... a Friday of Lent!
So, I’m at Mass in a parish where they sing the Gloria and have alleluias all over the place on ... a Sunday of Lent!
I admire how our Jewish neighbors take their “high holy days” in the fall so seriously, especially the days of penance, fasting, and contrition ...
Our Islamic neighbors fast all day and deepen their prayers for a month at Ramadan ...
And here, my Catholic people write me for a “dispensation” on one of the six measly Fridays we’re asked to abstain from meat (big sacrifice these days!), if they even bother with the dispensation at all.
Am I being too gloomy here?  You know me well enough to realize I’m hardly puritanical or a crab.  All I’m asking is:  have we lost Lent?  Is it all now nostalgia, a museum piece, in the attics of our souls, as we tell our kids and grandkids how Lent “used-to-be”?
Lent didn’t just used to be . . . it’s needed now more than ever!

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Catholic Stand: Why You Ought to Come Inside the Church

G. K. Chesterton remarked once that the Catholic Church is larger on the inside than it appears from the outside. Saints come from all walks of life, and pursue their sainthood in multifarious ways. They include such diverse personalities as the gentle, innocent Thérèse of Lisieux, the acid-tongued scholar Jerome, the mirthful mystic Teresa of Ávila and the hard-headed, combative Wilfrid. It includes people who were saintly their whole lives (Philip Neri), people who found sainthood after years of sin (Ignatius Loyola, Camillus de Lellis), at least one who was martyred before his hair was dry from his baptism (Genesius of Rome), and one who was promised heaven while he hung on a cross for thievery (Dismas). They come in both sexes and from all around the world in ethnicity.

They also come from “inside the walls” and “outside the walls”. That’s to say, the Church recognizes as saints not only clergy and members of religious orders but also laymen, people who lived their lives radically separated from the world (Antony the Great) and people who fully participated in the world (Thomas More), and many others in between these extremes.

Because we can encounter Jesus in so many different ways, often when we least expect it, I get suspicious when anyone seems to propound a Best Way to Encounter God. I get even more suspicious when, to sell that Best Way, the proponent seems to diss going to church. Such carelessness is hard to excuse in a time when people are making a false dichotomy between Christianity and “churchianity”, rejecting church membership altogether as if religion were a do-it-yourself project.

The “inside/outside the walls” dichotomy comes from an essay in The Huffington Post’s religion blog, “Why You Ought to Leave the Church (John 4:5-42)”, by Matthew Skinner, an associate professor of New Testament (studies?) at Luther Seminary in Saint Paul. Skinner’s piece is an exposition on the story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s Well, and has some interesting things to say.

Read more at Catholic Stand!

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Another wrong reading of the First Amendment

I will if you will.
Some wag once said, "There are two types of people: those who believe people can be separated into two types, and those who don't."

In the real world, of course, people defy neat and easy categorization. Not all atheists are progressives, and not all progressives are atheists, just as not all black people are fans of hip-hop and not all fans of hip-hop are black. This is especially relevant when it comes to discussing moral values, because atheists, agnostics, secularists and secular humanists are not all of a piece. Nor are religious people, even people from the same faith community. Among political scientists this phenomenon is known as "cross-cutting cleavages" (please refrain from breast jokes).

Allen Clifton has posted a rather intemperate diatribe against conservatives on titled "Enough! This Nation was NOT Founded on Christianity". There are groups of conservatives who do argue that position. It's truer to say that the vast majority of the Founding Fathers were Christians of some strain, and that deists like Thomas Jefferson partook of cultural Christianity even while they rejected creedal Christianity. But it's also true to say that the "establishment clause" of the First Amendment was written to stave off the establishment of a state church, and that we give it a somewhat generous interpretation to avoid appearing to favor one religion over another.

But to fight against the America-founded-on-Christianity position, Clifton makes a mistake a lot of progressives make: "... the First Amendment clearly states that we're given the freedom of religion. It also says Congress can't make any laws based on religious beliefs."

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Quacking the non-negotiables problem

If it quacks like a duck ....

You know The non-partisan PAC whose non-partisan agenda is pretty much the same as the Democrats'? The Catholic Church in America has a similar organization: Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good. 

The folks who run CAGC are very, very good in talking the talk ... until they get to the very end, where they step left when a well-formed Catholic conscience should either step right or stay in the middle. It's like putting a duck in a chicken suit: sooner or later he opens his fowl mouth and the illusion is revealed. 

For instance, take a look at their mission statement:

... We envision a society shaped by the values of justice, human dignity and the common good, where faithful American Catholics can embrace the fullness of the Church's social justice teachings when participating in democratic society.
As Catholics, we inherit a rich tradition whose inspiration reaches well beyond our own faith community. The papal encyclicals and letters that make up this tradition are based on Jesus' call to love one's neighbor and serve the least among us, and the Hebrew Scriptures' prophetic commitment to justice and righteousness.
Our Catholic tradition calls us to participate actively in public life in the service of human dignity, social justice and the common good. These teachings — to put community before self, principle before profit, and the public interest before political expediency — are central to our Catholic tradition. Catholics in Alliance is committed to creating the necessary conditions for a culture of life that reverences the life and dignity of the human person at all stages over greed, materialism and the politics of division.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Too Dumb to Go to College 2: The Return of the Stoopid

By the way, if you're thinking of razzing me for misspelling "stupid", watch the first ten minutes of that under-appreciated Bruce Willis movie The Kid and you'll see where I got it from and why I use it.

So anyway, about a year and a half ago I wrote about a kid named Garrett Herschel, who wrote, "People only join the military because there to dumb to go to college." On Facebook. And his first response was from Marine Pfc. Jon Booth, who typed back, "They're*". At the time, I suspected that the "too dumb to go to college" trope is "handed down like an heirloom from senescent hippies to their quasi-liberal grandkids. Anyway, like heirlooms and hippies, this meme is outdated. It's also unbelievably bigoted."

 As if to prove that nothing, no matter how ignorant, ever truly dies on the Internet, we have Miley Hayes ("Another stupid Miley," one person sneered ... perhaps thinking of Ms. Cyrus?), who has repeated the trope almost word for word. Except that she got "too" right. And again, we have a Marine, Austin Turner, who corrects her typo. The poster of this screencap, "Uncle Sam's Misguided Children", remarks, "Well played, Marine ... Well played."

The Internet treats intelligent, well-documented statements of fact viciously, so there was no hope for this piece of snotty ignorance. The best of them came from retired sailor Bill Woods III:

Yes and my dumb retired Navy ass got more technical electronics training, more discipline, more life lessons all while completing my college with no student loan debt. Now I really regret just doing what I want to do, not having to worry about money, don't have to worry about medical care for my family or myself, get all kinds of other perks, watch my girls go to college a little better off than most, enjoy seeing my sons follow in my footsteps knowing my grand kids will be ok as well. Yea I guess I was dumb alright. Wish you the best young lady. Just remember when you lay your head down at night at least thank all the millions that served and still serve for your right to post your ignorance for all to see.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

First Sunday of Lent

A couple of years back, I posted a video of the Tallis Scholars singing Gregorio Allegri's "Miserere mei, Deus", a polyphonic piece written for nine voices plus a tenth that chants certain verses. Here is the same work performed by a London vocal group, The Twelve; the chant verses are taken by the men of the main choir. It's very appropriate for today, as the psalm for today is, "Be merciful to me, O Lord, for I have sinned."

Allegri, like Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina before him (who founded the prima practica style of polyphony), arranged his pieces so that the choir could be split into separate positions, taking advantage of the acoustics of medieval stone-built churches. This is why the quartet is separated onto a balcony. The venue, according to one poster on YouTube, is St. Luke's in London, an old church renovated as rehearsal space for the London Symphony Orchestra.

Sunday Snippets — A Catholic Carnival (Vol. 14.10)

Once again, it's time for "Sunday Snippets — A Catholic Carnival", hosted as ever by RAnn at This, That and the Other Thing. Go to her page, and follow the links to some interesting reading by Catholic writers just waiting to be discovered.

This week brought me a status change that will free me up for writing for a while. As a result, I was a little more productive this week than I've been for some time.

Monday was particularly productive. First, a post I'd written over the weekend, "What are you prepared to suffer?", posted bright and early as I intended. This was a post arguing that Christians who advocate a right to discriminate on religious grounds must be prepared not only to suffer economic consequences but also to be discriminated against on religious grounds as the cost of exercising our conscience rights. Just as that story published, I ran across an article in the Toronto Sun's web page about a lesbian who had been denied a male haircut by a Moslem barber. That was too good to pass up, so it became the springboard for "The reductio of moral relativism", which argues that relativism would be self-defeating if the people who claim to believe it actually tried to apply it consistently.

Friday, March 7, 2014

A status change

They call it a "furlough". 

No, I don't work for the government ... although, if I did, I'd at least have the reassurance that my employer would eventually call me back to work. (Just one more reason why people want to be American civil servants — you really have to be a total screw-up to lose a government job.) 

By "furlough" my employer means a temporary layoff, which could last anywhere from a couple of weeks to six months. If they don't fold their tent. Ain't the public sector wonderful?

Of course, according to the most recent data from the Economic Research Department, Federal Bank of St. Louis, the average length of unemployment is 35.4 weeks, or just over 8 months (Link:, data set UEMPMEAN.) So it could be a while.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Much ado over something at Fisher More College—UPDATED

Chapel (oratory?) at Fisher More College, Fort Worth.
The one big problem with criticizing the mainstream media is that non-traditional media sources (read: blogs) can be just as biased and inaccurate.

I just spent a good portion of my afternoon off jumping between other Catholic bloggers' Facebook threads concerning Bishop Michael F. Olson's decision to suspend Mass in the Extraordinary Form at Fort Worth's Fisher More College. Seems there's an awful lot of wailing and gnashing of teeth by traditionalists, a lot of "Help! Help! We're being repressed!" over an action the details of which are only now and very slowly beginning to emerge. 

Why? Because the blog that broke the news, Rorate Coeli, front-loaded the story with its near-trademark "Pope Francis Hates the Latin Mass" frame. Rorate Coeli is one of those traditionalist blogs that filled the 'Net with accusations that the newly elected Jorge María Bergoglio of being a Novus Ordo-loving, Latin-hating, pinko commie librul mere hours after the white smoke went up. Since that time they've been looking for evidence of "Latin Mass-bashing" from the Pope, possibly because they've lived too long under a siege mentality; unfortunately, when the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate had their indult to celebrate according to the 1962 missal suppressed, that just fed into the trope.

The reductio of moral relativism

Left: Faith McGregor. Right: Omar Mahrouk.
We who have been writing from the Catholic-Christian perspective for some time have known the inherent self-referential incoherence of moral relativism. While many examples of the "dictatorship of relativism" have come to us from Europe, often all we Americans need to do is look across our northern border at our Canadian neighbors to see how the tolerant refuse to tolerate, the inclusive exclude, and the multiculties try to forge a single culture out of disparate, often contradictory parts.

Well, it seems that the unstoppable force of gay rights has met the immovable object of Islam. Let's let Ezra Levant of the Toronto Sun tell the story:

So a lesbian walks into a Muslim barbershop, and asks for a "businessmen’s haircut".
It sounds like the beginning of a joke, but it really happened, and now a government agency called the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario will hear her complaint.
Faith McGregor is the lesbian who doesn't like the girly cuts that they do at a salon. She wants the boy's hairdo.
Omar Mahrouk is the owner of the Terminal Barber Shop in Toronto. He follows Shariah law, so he thinks women have cooties. [You get the feeling Levant has little sympathy for either side?] As Mahrouk and the other barbers there say, they don’t believe in touching women other than their own wives. ...

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Adam Levine writes for Hallmark; or, What do you mean by "love"?

At least, that's what this little meme forces me to conclude. It's precisely the cutesy, sweet nothing Hallmark hawks as a deep, meaningful sentiment.

A sentiment it is, not an argument. Basically, Levine, singer-songwriter for Maroon 5, has admitted to everyone, "I have no clue what distinguishes one kind of love from another, and I really don't give a rat's patoot." (And if he thinks this picture has anything to do with love, he's completely farblondjet.)

Part of it is not blameable on Levine. Love is a pretty indefinite word, and is used to expressed the affection one has for a pet as well as the powerful bond that leads a soldier to sacrifice himself for the sake of his buddies ... as well as a lot of other things. Moreover, love is treated as if it were indefectible, or as if a particular variety of love could never be inordinate or inappropriate — hey, it's LOVE, right?

It's this same muddled idea of love that led director Nick Cassavetes to argue that there's nothing inherently wrong with a brother and sister having sex, as in his movie Yellow. "I’m not saying this is an absolute but in a way, if you’re not having kids — who gives a damn? Love who you want. Isn’t that what we say?

That may be what we say, but it doesn't follow that we say so with wisdom.