Sunday, December 28, 2014

Sunday Snippets — A Catholic Carnival

Hello, and welcome again to Sunday Snippets — A Catholic Carnival, to which I've been very bad about contributing this last year and will hopefully make up for it this next year.

The point of Sunday Snippets is to introduce you to obscure Catholic bloggers whose work you might not ordinarily come across as you hopscotch through the blogosphere. I link a post from each of my blogs through the main page hosted by RAnn at This, That and the Other Thing, and also write up a referring post on the blog you're reading now.

In previous installments of this post, I would usually write up and link a list of post I'd written the previous week, in both this blog and The Other Blog. But not this time; I just haven't written enough to justify it. Besides, you're perfectly capable of scrolling down from the home pages to see what I've written recently. Moreover, the point of this post is to get you over to the Sunday Snippets page, where you can get tasty writing from other Catholics!

So tolle lege: click, read, and enjoy! And have a blessed First Sunday of Christmastide!

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Surprise! Better English = better pay

Last week, I received this graphic from Memes from Grammarly come across on my Facebook status frequently; they're generally funny to those of us who are considered "grammar Nazis". (I really don't care for "Nazi" as a descriptor for anyone who's punctilious about anything; what the hell is so evil about demanding clearly-written prose and properly-spelled words that merits such a comparison?)

While the memes Grammarly puts out are funny, though, the Grammarly people are deadly serious about spreading English literacy. So am I; my only concern with ESL courses is that, unless you start early and go for complete fluency in English, you're cutting non-Anglophone students out of a lot of national and international jobs. 

So Grammarly asked me, Your Humble Blogger, to post this on my blog. They also sweetened the pot for me by offering to donate $100 in my name to Reading Is FUNdamental — a really great deal, since I don't have the money to make the donation myself.

Better English means better pay? Quoth Iago (the parrot in Aladdin, voiced by Gilbert Gottfried): "Oh, there's a big surprise! What an incredible — I think I'll have a heart attack and die from that surprise!"

Friday, December 26, 2014

Ask Tony: What did Jesus mean by "fulfilling" the Law of Moses?

Last year, I created the meme to your left to counter another meme based on a rant by John Fugelsang (isn't it indicative of how screwed-up our culture has become that people would make an actor/comedian an authority on religion?).

Fugelsang argued that Jesus wasn't anti-gay, based on the fact that the Gospels don't record anything from him on homosexual relations. However, as I've argued on The Other Blog, if Jesus had said anything supporting gay relationships or controverting Leviticus 18:22, "you can be morally certain the disciples and apostles would have made much of such a counter-cultural affirmation. Jesus' silence, in view of what was taught both before and after his mission, must be construed as consent to the Law: Qui tacet consentire videtur" [loosely, "Silence must be seen as consent"].

However, in creating the counter-meme, by reminding that Jesus "did not come to abolish the law ... but to fulfill [it]" (Matthew 5:17), I stepped into some quicksand. And a non-Christian caught me on it:

[Jesus'] "silence" on abortion and homosexuality could be seen as his "going along" with previous Jewish law, but doesn't that leave you with the problem of all the other kinda awkward Jewish laws ... like about eating pork or not touching menstruating women? (Please address this — I'd love to know why homosexuality is different in this regard.)

 I hate to admit it, but I got sloppy. The fact is, Jesus' fulfillment of the Law of Moses did free us of the Law. What Jesus' fulfillment of the Law didn't do, however, was free us of the spiritual need for moral behavior, or make the concept of sin irrelevant.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Merry Christmas

Shut your computer off. Go play with your kids; eat some food; hug your spouse; go to midnight Mass ... whatever. Do something with your Christmas that isn't staring at a monitor and is engaging with the people in your house and neighborhood.

Merry Christmas, and happy New Year.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Anti-intellectualism has already taken over the US

Prof. Patricia Williams. (© David Shankbone;
courtesy Wikimedia Commons.)
According to legal scholar Patricia Williams, anti-intellectualism is "taking over" the US. Depending on how you define it, however, one can make the case that intellectualism, as such, has been dead — or at least on life support — for more than two or three decades, and that now we're simply fighting over the ideology in which students will be indoctrinated.

What is "intellectualism", after all? What does it mean to be an intellectual? I'm afraid it's one of those words, the meaning of which we think is fairly obvious and held in common, but on closer examination really conveys different things to different people — a verbal cart made to carry different weights of psychological and social baggage.

On the surface, to be an intellectual is to enjoy the life of the mind more than the life of the body: to enjoy reading, writing, discussions, and arguments; to prefer work and entertainment that engages critical faculties and abstract reasoning abilities more than physical skills. More to the point, while such activities may have practical applications, the intellectual pursues these things more for their own sake than for any pragmatic reasons. The intellectual may be in pursuit of TRVTH or Wisdom. If so, though, it's not necessarily a high-speed chase for a quick capture; the intellectual is perfectly content to enjoy the ride, and catch up to TRVTH/Wisdom eventually.

That, at least, is what I think is a fairly basic yet accurate description of an intellectual. However, if there's anything intellectuals tend to hold in common, it's the presumption that they're part of a small, exclusive club; and they tend to feel put out when anyone is acclaimed as an "intellectual" who doesn't fit membership criteria much narrower than I've defined. Moreover, since intellectualism implies some degree of education, there's the tendency to define intellectuals solely by their degrees, their professions ... even the school from which they graduated. Behind the most egalitarian façade may hide a quiet, smug elitism.

One trait, however, that's definitely not held in common is the willingness to engage with different, opposing ideas. In fact, fewer intellectuals each year even trouble to pay lip service to it.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Ask Tony: Did Pope Francis just teach that animals go to heaven? — UPDATED

The short answer: No. The Pope didn't say anything like that; the Pope didn't say anything remotely near that.

This is possibly the most bizarre case of papal malreportage I've seen since I started writing. Somehow, Pope Francis' simple reassertion of orthodox teaching about the future renewal of creation got transmogrified into a declaration that animals go to heaven.

Let's begin with the papal general audience of November 26, as reported by Zenit. The general audience has often been an opportunity for the reigning pontiff to catechize the people directly, as well as to make remarks on current events or give a report on what he's been doing the last week.

Francis began the homily, "In presenting the Church to the men of our time, Vatican Council II was very conscious of a fundamental truth, which must never be forgotten: the Church is not a static, still reality, an end in herself, but is continually journeying in history towards the ultimate and wonderful end which is the Kingdom of Heaven, of which the Church on earth is the seed and the beginning. ... And some questions arise spontaneously in us: when will this final passage happen? What will the new dimension be like, which the Church will enter? What, then, will happen to humanity and to the creation that surrounds it?"

The end towards which the Church journeys, "Paradise", is "[m]ore than a place, it is ... a 'state' of mind in which our most profound expectations will be fulfilled overabundantly and our being, as creatures and children of God, will reach full maturity," said the Pope. "We will finally be clothed with joy, with peace and with the love of God in a complete way, no longer with any limit, and we will be face to face with Him! It is beautiful to think this, to think of Heaven. All of us find ourselves down here, all of us. It is beautiful; it gives strength to the soul."

So far, so good. Then:
At the same time, Sacred Scripture teaches us that the fulfilment of this wonderful plan cannot but be of interest also to all that surrounds us and that issued from the thought and heart of God. The Apostle Paul affirms it explicitly, when he says that "creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God" (Romans 8:21). Other texts use the image of a "new heaven" and a "new earth" (cf. 2 Peter 3:13; Revelation 21:1), in the sense that the whole universe will be renewed and will be freed once and for all from every trace of evil and from death itself. What is anticipated, as fulfilment of a transformation that in reality is already in act since the Death and Resurrection of Christ, is, therefore, a new creation; not, therefore, an annihilation of the cosmos and of all that surrounds us, but a bringing of everything to its fullness of being, of truth and of beauty. This is the plan that God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit has always willed to realize and is realizing. [Bold and italic fonts mine.—ASL]

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

A medieval Icelandic poem

Yesterday, my friend and Catholic Stand colleague Susan Anne posted on her timeline Heyr, himna smiður (Hear, O heaven's smith). The poem was written around the beginning of the thirteenth century by Kolbeinn Tumasson, an Icelandic chieftain, supposedly as he lay dying from an injury received at the battle of Viðines; over 700 years later, the late Þorkell Sigurbjörnsson gave it a musical setting.

(By the way, in case you're wondering what those strange letters are and how they're pronounced, ð is called eth and Þþ is called thorn; both are pronounced close to the English th. Eth does have a capital; however, it isn't used in Icelandic.)

You can follow the link above to find the hymn sung by Ellen Kristánsdottir. It's an absolutely haunting melody that intentionally recalls medieval music. The video gives a literal English translation; I decided to recast the translation into a more poetic form.

Heaven’s Smith, give ear
To the poet’s prayer.
May come soft to me
Thy loving mercy.
So I call on Thee;
Thou didst create me.
Servant am I Thine;
And Lord art Thou mine.

God, I call on Thee,
That Thou wouldst heal me.
O Mild One, take heed,
For Thee we most need.
Rid, O Suns’ great King,
From Thy kind loving,
All care and distress
From the heart’s fastness.

O Mild One, guide me;
For we most need Thee
Ev’ry hour we spend
In this world of men.
Grant, O Virgin’s Son,
That Thy will be done,
All Thine aid divine
To this heart of mine.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Now the fundamentalist paranoia begins

Yes, buildimg one world religion, because we're commanded
to do so by Christ (Mt 28:19-20).
The image to your left is from a site titled Now The End Begins, a fundamentalist site pretty much dedicated to hating the Catholic Church as the "whore of Babylon".

It's no particular secret that Evangelical megapastor Rick Warren is a fan of Pope Francis. Warren recently met Pope Francis at the 2014 Vatican Conference on Marriage and Family, and spoke along with Southern Baptist ethicist Russell Moore at a colloquium led by the pontiff.

This wasn't bad enough. Although he's given no indication that he's about to "cross the Tiber", Warren is advocating closer ties between Catholics and Protestants.

"We have far more in common than what divides us," Warren said in a two-minute video. "When you talk about Pentecostals, charismatics, evangelicals, fundamentalists, Catholics, Methodists, Baptists, Presbyterians, on and on and on and on. Well they would all say we believe in the trinity, we believe in the Bible, we believe in the resurrection, we believe salvation is through Jesus Christ. These are the big issues."

Saturday, December 6, 2014

A tour of the new St. Mark Catholic Church in Denton, Texas

Old parish location, 2800 Pennsylvania Dr., Denton. (Photo: St. Mark Catholic Church.)
The way I've heard it told, almost as soon as the doors of the church at the intersection of Pennsylvania and Teasley were opened, the parish formed a committee to build someplace else. And that was over fifteen years ago. Two-thirds of that time was spent finding suitable land — or, rather, not finding suitable land, because not available or too expensive. Another few years were spent fighting a parish priest whose tastes ran more towards Southern Baptist "big box" churches; strange to say, the parish building committee wanted something more Catholic.

Then came Fr. Baby George. (No kidding; that's his name.) And things started moving.

Father George does the smiling, happy, nice-guy bit very well; but make no mistake: if you stand still within ten feet of him and look like you've got nowhere to be just now, he's likely to give you something to do, and give it to you very abruptly. Many's the time I've seen people pass out flyers with a slightly befuddled, how-the-hell-did-I-get-here look in their eyes. Obviously, the flyers were in Fr. George's hands just three or four minutes before. That's how you get churches built.

That, and incessant fundraising. A native of India, Fr. George's accent almost thick enough to require subtitles. And like many immigrants with noticeable accents, he jokes about it. Recently, he told of a woman who approached him and said, "Father, people tell me two things about you. They say they can't understand you, and that you're always asking for money. What I want to know is, if they can't understand you, how do they know you're asking for money?"

When Fr. George arrived, just shortly before my brother Bob's death in September 2011, the effort was pretty much at a standstill. On December 7, the Second Sunday in Advent — 3½ years later, and only about six months after groundbreaking — Bp. Michael Olson will formally dedicate the new parish plant.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Nobody's dreaming of a Caucasian Christmas

I keep telling myself that I'm swearing off outrage porn forever, that I have no further desire to read about minor gaffes and goofs that the political commentariat has decided to inflate into major issues. Then comes an example of something Fr. Erik Richtsteig is pleased to call "STOOPID VISIBLE FROM SPACE"; and not only do I read, I begin foaming at the mouth.

What can I say? I'm human, and therefore prone to sin. Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.

Besides, sometimes it's fun. Because postmodern society occasionally hands you polished, hand-cut gems of 99.9% pure dumbth, and it's almost criminal to let them pass by unremarked. Moreover, social media gives people ample time and opportunity to let their least-considered thoughts come out of their heads; I should know, having set a few free myself. The down side is that Twitter, Facebook, and so forth allow stupid to find stupid and become mutually reinforcing.

For instance, you would think a major C/W star singing a somewhat mawkish but otherwise harmless Irving Berlin tearjerker about holiday snow would be nothing to get fussed about. But somehow, some people managed to find Darius Rucker singing "White Christmas" at the Rockefeller Square tree-lighting ceremony to be ironic, if not a calculated insult to black Americans everywhere:

"Darius Rucker/Hootie just sang 'I'm Dreaming Of A White Christmas' at the tree-lighting ceremony. Because America is f**king with us all[.]" [Yes, sentimental ditties are part of a giant conspiracy to torment us and deprive us of our freedoms.]
"Darius Rucker singing White Christmas unironically[.]" [It might be ironic, if Rucker hates snow.]
"Of course they have Darius Rucker singing 'Dreaming of a white Christmas', f**king white people." [And what would you expect him to sing at a tree-lighting ceremony — "F**k da Police"?]
"Somehow, I just watched Darius Rucker sing 'I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas' on national television mere feet away from the protest[.]" [I might be wrong, but the protesters didn't seem to find it especially provocative. Stupid protesters.]

It seems there aren't enough examples of obvious racism to get cheesed off about; some people have to "decode" ostensibly innocent books, movies, and songs so they can fulminate against their "racist" subtexts. It's like trying to uncover government secrets from the ingredient list on a box of Rice Krispies; at the extremes, it almost goes beyond the fatuous to verge on the clinically paranoid.