29 December 2007

Defender of the Church

This morning's Mass commemorating St. Thomas Becket was quiet but beautiful, and special in that his relics are contained in our parish's high altar. As the picture above shows, he also keeps watch at the tabernacle in the form of a lovely old English statue, which is a companion to the statue of St. Stephen Protomartyr on the opposite side. The icon in the tabernacle door shows St. Michael and St. Gabriel.

O God, our strength and our salvation, who didst call thy servant
Thomas Becket to be a shepherd of thy people and a defender of
thy Church: Keep thy household from all evil and raise up among
us faithful pastors and leaders who are wise in the ways of the
Gospel; through Jesus Christ the shepherd of our souls, who
liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for
ever and ever. Amen.

27 December 2007

Those ill-tempered monks...

I wish someone would tell these monks to cut it out. Once again, the Greek Orthodox monks and the Armenian monks tried to beat the living daylights out of one another in the Basilica of the Holy Nativity. I don't know what the excuse was this time -- I guess it had something to do with who was cleaning what, and someone's ladder got onto someone else's section -- but a similar set-to happened the last time I was there.

We had arrived in the Basilica on the Solemnity of the Epiphany some years ago, and one of the Orthodox bishops had his chair off to the side of the main altar. Apparently, one of the legs was over an invisible line, and some rival monks came over and tried to push it to another location while the bishop was still in it! Needless to say, fisticuffs ensued and the Israeli police had to be called in. What a scandal and embarrassment!

With all that the Christians have to endure at the hands of the authorities, it's just pathetic that these monks can't remember they're caretakers of the birthplace of the Saviour of us all. It's not just a piece of real estate. When I remember the real suffering and discrimination our brothers and sisters in Christ are undergoing, the placement of a ladder or a chair seems less than inconsequential.

Please pray for the Christians who are left in the Holy Land. And pray for these monks. Perhaps someday they'll decide to serve the Lord Jesus, rather than their own interests.

26 December 2007

Our best gift...

Away in a manger, no crib for his bed,
the little Lord Jesus laid down his sweet head.
The stars in the bright sky looked down where he lay,
the little Lord Jesus asleep on the hay.

Dear Mary, his Mother, sang sweet lullabies,
as Jesus, awaking, gazed into her eyes.
The most holy Virgin, with loving caress
embraced the world’s Saviour with Love’s tenderness.

Good Joseph stood guarding the Mother and Child,
his soul filled with awe and his heart undefiled.
The birth of young Jesus made angels to sing,
but Joseph in silence kept watch o’er his King.

What once was a stable may our hearts become;
may God’s holy fam’ly in us find a home.
With Mary and Joseph and angels above
we worship the Infant, the gift of God’s Love.

Text: V.1, Traditional
Vv. 2-4, Fr. Christopher G. Phillips, 1995
Music: Cradle Song, William James Kirkpatrick, (1838-1921)

25 December 2007

What the heck is this?

I just finished the fourth Christmas Mass, and I'm ready to get back to the rectory for lunch, but I just had to make mention of this rather different "nativity" scene in St. Peter's Square.

What the heck is that all about? And who are these nameless "Vatican officials" who are telling us that St. Matthew's Gospel says that Jesus was born in Joseph's house in Nazareth? I mean, just because he "took Mary into his own home" doesn't mean they didn't have to leave for that pesky census. And what's with the pub next door to the carpenter's shop? I don't remember that in Matthew's Gospel.

It may be my lack of intellectual depth, but the explanation by yet another nameless "Vatican official" that this scene reminds us that "Jesus was born in many places..." seems to me to be so much piffle.

Bottom line... I don't like it. But then again, they didn't ask for my opinion.
UPDATE: According to an art expert, Elizabeth Lev, this is supposed to be a depiction of Joseph's dream when the angel spoke to him about not being afraid to take Mary as his wife, and not a statement about where Christ was actually born. I'm not sure I get it, and it seems like the whole thing is little more than confusing.

22 December 2007

An interesting discussion thread...

If you'd like to get in on an interesting discussion, pop over to Gerald Augustinus' blog, "The Cafeteria is Closed." He posted his thoughts about the abuse scandal, and kind of slid into a discussion of married priests. Mind you, when Gerald gets going, he can be rather "earthy," so it's not the sort of reading you'll want to do if you're looking for a sweet, spiritual uplift. But you might like to read through the comments, and have a look at the discussion about married Catholic clergy.

Although my situation is pretty well known, I've never pushed for a generally married priesthood in the Catholic Church. Anyway, those kinds of decisions are made by men in authority far above me. But I do find the discussion interesting, because it so often devolves to practical issues ("a married man couldn't give enough time," or "it would cost the parish too much money.") Or it exposes the residual of a certain brand of gnosticism ("a married man isn't as pure as a celibate man.") I think those are pathetic non-arguments, and have little to do with the crux of the question.

At any rate, it's an interesting discussion, which you can join in Gerald's comment box.

18 December 2007

Singing their hearts out...

Hands down, our academy has one of the best music programs around. Every student learns to sing, and to sing well. They have the experience of daily Mass, which for them is always a Sung Mass, so they're accustomed to traditional chant, hymns, and real anthems. From third grade on, they take turns singing in the choir for Mass, so they understand the place of music as the "handmaid of the liturgy." We have an excellent music faculty, with Edmund Murray, Chalon Murray and Alfred Thigpen. Real professionals all, they not only teach music, but they instill a love for music in our children -- and I mean real music, not the warmed-over 60's and 70's stuff.

Anyway, here's a picture of our first and second graders at their Service of Nine Lessons and Carols which they presented today in the St. Anthony Hall. It's astonishing to me, to hear them singing descants and other two-part music, all beautifully and on pitch. If they're this good now, then I can't wait to hear them when they get into our Middle and Upper School choirs.

17 December 2007

It's rose, not pink!

After nearly twenty-five years, our parish finally has a full set of rose vestments (cope, chasuble, two dalmatics, stoles and maniples, chalice veil and burse), which we used for the first time yesterday on Gaudete Sunday. They're so striking that I almost wish we had "Rose Week" rather than "Rose Sunday." But we'll be using them again on Laetare Sunday in Lent -- which will be coming very soon, since Ash Wednesday is on February 6th this year.

15 December 2007

Read this...

Mark Steyn has long been my favorite columnist, and his article today had me nodding my head in agreement, and constantly muttering "yes" under my breath as I read it:

This is the time of year, as Hillary Rodham Clinton once put it, when Christians celebrate "the birth of a homeless child" – or, in Al Gore's words, "a homeless woman gave birth to a homeless child."

Just for the record, Jesus wasn't "homeless." He had a perfectly nice home back in Nazareth. But he happened to be born in Bethlehem. It was census time, and Joseph was obliged to schlep halfway across the country to register in the town of his birth. Which is such an absurdly bureaucratic overregulatory cockamamie Big Government nightmare that it's surely only a matter of time before Massachusetts or California reintroduce it.

But the point is: The Christmas story isn't about affordable housing. Joseph and Mary couldn't get a hotel room – that's the only accommodation aspect of the event. Sen. Clinton and Vice President Gore are overcomplicating things: Dec. 25 is not the celebration of "a homeless child," but a child, period.

Just for a moment, let us accept, as Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins and the other bestselling atheists insist, that what happened in Bethlehem two millennia is a lot of mumbo-jumbo. As I wrote a year ago, consider it not as an event but as a narrative: You want to launch a big new global movement from scratch. So what do you use?

The birth of a child. On the one hand, what could be more powerless than a newborn babe? On the other, without a newborn babe, man is ultimately powerless. For, without new life, there can be no civilization, no society, no nothing. Even if it's superstitious mumbo-jumbo, the decision to root Christ's divinity in the miracle of His birth expresses a profound – and rational – truth about "eternal life" here on Earth.

Last year I wrote a book on demographic decline and became a big demography bore, and it's tempting just to do an annual December audit on the demographic weakness of what we used to call Christendom. Today, in the corporate headquarters of the Christian faith, Pope Benedict looks out of his window at a city where children's voices are rarer and rarer. Italy has one of the lowest birth rates in Europe. Go to a big rural family wedding: lots of aunts, uncles, grandmas, grandpas but ever fewer bambinos. The International Herald Tribune last week carried the latest update on the remorseless geriatrification: On the Miss Italia beauty pageant, the median age of the co-hosts was 70; the country is second only to Sweden in the proportion of its population over 85, and has the fewest citizens under 15. Etc.

So in post-Catholic Italy there is no miracle of a child this Christmas – unless you count the 70 percent of Italians between the ages of 20 and 30 who still live at home, the world's oldest teenagers still trudging up the stairs to the room they slept in as a child even as they approach their fourth decade. That's worth bearing in mind if you're an American gal heading to Rome on vacation: When that cool 29-year-old with the Mediterranean charm in the singles bar asks you back to his pad for a nightcap, it'll be his mom and dad's place.

I'm often told that my demographics-is-destiny argument is anachronistic: Countries needed manpower in the Industrial Age, when we worked in mills and factories. But now advanced societies are "knowledge economies," and they require fewer working stiffs. Oddly enough, the Lisbon Council's European Human Capital Index, released in October, thinks precisely the opposite – that the calamitous decline in population will prevent Eastern and Central Europe from being able to function as "innovation economies." A "knowledge economy" will be as smart as the brains it can call on.

Meanwhile, a few Europeans are still having children: The British government just announced that Muhammad is now the most popular boy's name in the United Kingdom.

As I say, the above demographic audit has become something of an annual tradition in this space. But here's something new that took hold in the year 2007: A radical antihumanism, long present just below the surface, bobbed up and became explicit and respectable. In Britain, the Optimum Population Trust said that "the biggest cause of climate change is climate changers – in other words, human beings," and professor John Guillebaud called on Britons to voluntarily reduce the number of children they have.

Last week, in the Medical Journal of Australia, Barry Walters went further: To hell with this wimp-o pantywaist "voluntary" child-reduction. Professor Walters wants a "carbon tax" on babies, with, conversely, "carbon credits" for those who undergo sterilization procedures. So that'd be great news for the female eco-activists recently profiled in London's Daily Mail who boast about how they'd had their tubes tied and babies aborted in order to save the planet. "Every person who is born," says Toni Vernelli, "produces more rubbish, more pollution, more greenhouse gases and adds to the problem of overpopulation." We are the pollution, and sterilization is the solution. The best way to bequeath a more sustainable environment to our children is not to have any.

What's the "pro-choice" line? "Every child should be wanted"? Not anymore. The progressive position has subtly evolved: Every child should be unwanted.

By the way, if you're looking for some last-minute stocking stuffers, Oxford University Press has published a book by professor David Benatar of the University of Cape Town called "Better Never to Have Been: The Harm of Coming into Existence." The author "argues for the 'anti-natal' view – that it is always wrong to have children … . Anti-natalism also implies that it would be better if humanity became extinct." As does Alan Weisman's "The World Without Us" – which Publishers Weekly hails as "an enthralling tour of the world … anticipating, often poetically, what a planet without us would be like." It's a good thing it "anticipates" it poetically, because, once it happens, there will be no more poetry.

Lest you think the above are "extremists," consider how deeply invested the "mainstream" is in a total fiction. At the recent climate jamboree in Bali, the Rev. Al Gore told the assembled faithful: "My own country, the United States, is principally responsible for obstructing progress here." Really? The American Thinker's Web site ran the numbers. In the seven years between the signing of Kyoto in 1997 and 2004, here's what happened:

•Emissions worldwide increased 18.0 percent;

•Emissions from countries that signed the treaty increased 21.1 percent;

•Emissions from nonsigners increased 10.0 percent; and

•Emissions from the United States increased 6.6 percent.

It's hard not to conclude a form of mental illness has gripped the world's elites. If you're one of that dwindling band of Westerners who'll be celebrating the birth of a child, "homeless" or otherwise, next week, make the most of it. A year or two on, and the eco-professors will propose banning Nativity scenes because they set a bad example.

You can read more from Mark Steyn here.

13 December 2007

Praising God with song...

This past Tuesday evening our Academy students, from 3rd grade through high school, presented a concert of sacred music. What a magnificent program it was!

12 December 2007

An excellent Scripture resource...

One of the things I enjoy doing is teaching the Wednesday evening Scripture study here at the parish. I’ve loved reading and studying the scriptures from the time I was a child, and that led me to complete my undergraduate degree in Biblical Studies. In fact, the more deeply I studied the Bible, the more of the Catholic faith I discovered – no surprise there!

Anyway, I’m very excited about this new site from the Congregation for Clergy. It’s called “Biblia Clerus,” and it links every passage in the Bible, both Old and New Testaments, with commentaries which are taken from a tremendous variety of sources, all written in complete conformity with Sacred Tradition and magisterial teaching.

Whether you’re a busy parish priest or deacon who’d like to teach a Scripture study for your people, or if you’re a layman who’d like to know more about God’s sacred word, this is an extremely helpful site. I highly recommend that you have a look.

08 December 2007

Episcopal diocese secedes

The following story is being posted by various news services:

FRESNO, California (Reuters) - An entire California diocese of the U.S. Episcopal Church voted to secede on Saturday in a historic split following years of disagreement over the church's expanding support for gay and women's rights. The Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin, based in Fresno in central California, voted to leave the church, which has been in significant upheaval since 2003 when U.S. Episcopals consecrated the first openly gay bishop in the church's more than four centuries of history. The vote was 173 lay and clergy convention delegates in favor, with 22 against. Amid the dissent of recent years, the Episcopal Church said 32 of its 7,600 congregations had left, with another 23 voting to leave but not taking the final step. San Joaquin is the first of the church's 110 dioceses to complete the split. Last year, clergy and lay representatives of the 8,800- member Diocese of San Joaquin -- with 47 churches in 14 counties -- overwhelmingly voted at their annual convention to split with the U.S. church, but held off on a final decision until Saturday's meeting.

I am earnestly praying that these good people will come to understand that their true destination is communion with the Holy See. It will be within the Catholic Church, under the leadership of the Successor of St. Peter, that they will finally find the spiritual home they are seeking. For now, they are aligning themselves with another part of the Anglican Communion. That can be only a temporary home. The difficulties they have experienced in the Episcopal Church will surface eventually even in those "safe" parts of Anglicanism. The crisis is not the ordination of women or the ordination of active homosexuals. Rather, it's a crisis of leadership. Christ has given us the leader He wants us to have, and that leader is Peter.

05 December 2007

Yes, it's a Holy Day of Obligation.

Honestly, I wish the bishops hadn't started to fiddle around with the obligation attached to various solemnities. As every minimalist Catholic knows, if a Holy Day of Obligation falls on a Saturday or a Monday, "you don't have to go to Mass." I never quite got the reasons for that. Either a solemnity has an obligation or it doesn't. What the day of the week has to do with it, I can't imagine.

To add to the confusion, if the Immaculate Conception falls on a Saturday or a Monday the obligation remains. Therefore, this year (because the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception is on Saturday) the obligation to attend Mass either on the vigil or the day stands.

Of course, the minimalists still have opportunity to do as little as possible. The question has been asked, "If I go to a Mass on Saturday evening, can it count for the Solemnity and for Sunday, too?" I don't even want to answer the question. Besides, it's a non-question in this parish. We have no Saturday evening Mass.

To me, all of this is just a reminder of how some Catholics think. "What's the least I have to do?" And without being unkind or disloyal, I think the bishops have assisted in cultivating that kind of thinking.

From the Holy See...


VATICAN CITY, DEC 5, 2007 (VIS) - According to a decree made public today and signed by Cardinal James Francis Stafford and Bishop Gianfranco Girotti, O.F.M. Conv., respectively penitentiary major and regent of the Apostolic Penitentiary, Benedict XVI will grant the faithful Plenary Indulgence for the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary at Lourdes.

"The forthcoming 150th anniversary of the day in which Mary Most Holy, revealing herself as the Immaculate Conception to Bernadette Soubirous, wished a shrine to be erected and venerated in the place known as 'Massabielle' in the town of Lourdes," the decree reads, "calls to mind the innumerable series of prodigies through which the supernatural life of souls and the health of bodies has drawn great advantage from the omnipotent goodness of God."

"Indeed, by venerating the Blessed Virgin Mary in the place 'upon which her feet trod,' the faithful draw nourishment from the Holy Sacraments, expressing the firm intention to lead in the future Christian lives of increasing faithfulness" and they "achieve a vivid vivid perception of the significance of the Church. ... Indeed the succession, over time, of marvelous events ... enables us to glimpse the joint operation of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Church: in the year 1854 the dogma of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary was defined," and "in the year 1858 Mary Most Holy showed herself to ... Bernadette Soubirous using the words of the dogmatic definition: 'I am the Immaculate Conception.'

"In order to draw increased fruits of renewed sanctity from this holy anniversary," the decree adds, "the Supreme Pontiff Benedict XVI has decided to concede the gift of Plenary Indulgence" to the faithful under the usual conditions (sacramental Confession, Eucharistic communion and prayer in keeping with the intentions of the Holy Father), in the following way:

A) "If between December 8, 2007 and December 8, 2008 they visit, preferably in the order suggested: (1) the parish baptistery used for the Baptism of Bernadette, (2) the Soubirous family home, known as the 'cachot,' (3) the Grotto of Massabielle, (4) the chapel of the hospice where Bernadette received First Communion, and on each occasion they pause for an appropriate length of time in prayer and with pious meditations, concluding with the recital of the Our Father, the Profession of Faith, ... and the jubilee prayer or other Marian invocation."

B) "If between February 2, 2008 ... and February 11, 2008, Feast of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Lourdes and 150th anniversary of the apparition, they visit, in any church, grotto or decorous place, the blessed image of that same Virgin of Lourdes, solemnly exposed for public veneration, and before the image participate in a pious exercise of Marian devotion, or at least pause for an appropriate space of time in prayer and with pious meditations, concluding with the recital of the Our Father, the Profession of Faith, ... and the invocation of the Blessed Virgin Mary."

The decree concludes by recalling that faithful who "through sickness, old age or other legitimate reason are unable to leave their homes, may still obtain the Plenary Indulgence ... if, with the soul completely removed from attachment to any form of sin and with the intention of observing, as soon as they can, the usual three conditions, on the days February 2 to 11, 2008, in their hearts they spiritually visit the above-mentioned places and recite those prayers, trustingly offering to God, through Mary, the sickness and discomforts of their lives."

03 December 2007

The Chanting Seminarians...

We were pleased to welcome several seminarians from Assumption Seminary, who belong to the schola which has been assembled there. They provided some of the music at our Latin Mass, and also presented a program of sacred music afterwards. We concluded by chanting Compline, and it was a nice experience for everyone.

The seminary schola is still young, and there's lots of work to be done. But it was great to see these men pouring their hearts into learning and singing the traditional music of the Church. With the all-too-long history of what I call the "Pickin' 'n' Grinnin' School of Church Music" having held sway there for so long, this is a real step forward. Next summer they plan to attend a Gregorian Chant Study Tour in the Alps, led by Fr. Robert Skeris, and we were able make a contribution toward the cost of that trip. It should be a great experience for them, and I'm delighted that so many of our seminarians are dedicating themselves to elevating their appreciation of the Sacred Liturgy and its music.