Wednesday, February 28, 2007
I just remembered that I will not be at Evensong tonight since I serve the traditional Latin Mass on Wednesdays. So I won't be able to intone the Ave Regina Coelorum with you. Can we do it at Annunciation as well? You will have to go solo this time.
(Sorry to use my blog as a private message board.)
Monday, February 26, 2007
And Vanishing Tradition
I have found yet another kindred spirit. A blogger who I have recently come into contact with has a beautiful blog that I commend to you all called Go Sit in The Corner. There is much food for thought there.
I was particularily impressed with a recent post the blogger made about growing up in New Orleans. It is a great Lenten post because it is quite out of the ordinary, and isn't that what Lent is all about anyway? I was particularily touched by this section of the post:
And then there are the churches. New Orleans is a Catholic city, and has historically fancied herself a European city. Thus, the churches (and there were so many of them in my childhood) are ornate in French or Italian baroque style, statues and paintings larger than life and in Technicolor with gilding everywhere. My sister used to fear a large statue of St. Lucy, holding her huge green eyes on a platter in front of her. There was St. Anne’s Church, where my mom often went to daily Mass and as she’d kneel and pray, I would play with an extra rosary she had that had a strange blue iridescence. Then, my favorite part: the Stations of the Cross, meditated on while crawling up steps on one’s knees. I didn’t do that bit, so eager to reach the Resurrection (at the top of the steps one walked out onto the roof, in the full blaze of that New Orleans’ sun) and then walk back into the darkness of an alcove where Mother Mary was, with votive candles surrounded by blue glass at her feet.
I had to laugh since I too feared many statues of saints growing up in the church. I used to fear in particular a large plastic set of the Holy Family that my grandmother had , to the point that I had nightmares about them. Hispanic Catholicism may not have a monopoly on bad taste in religious art that borders on the grotesque, but we certainly give everyone else a run for their money.
As you know, on the books I am Byzantine Catholic. Changing rites was a life decision I got stuck with for reasons that now no longer matter. Byzantine iconography was one of the reasons that I decided to make the Eastern Church home. But now, I no longer feel as compelled to bash the Western tradition of religious art. I suppose it is part of my realization that life is incredibly sloppy, and to portray that in art is something that will happen on its own. The Byzantine icon at times is too perfect, too theological, and too immaculate. I love them, but when it comes down to it, sometimes I just want to pray in front of a bloody Spanish crucifix, a statue of the Immaculate Conception, or of St. Joseph. It is our humanity shining through , for better or worse, that at times can seem sentimental, decadent, and even frightening. But there is something there that speaks to the soul of the Western Christian that an icon wil never be able to articulate. Indeed, can we say that the icon is prefered by many chique Christians to the exclusion of all else precisely because they can keep their distance?
There is a greater point I would like to make, however, and it has to do with the rest of our blogger's superb post, and it concerns what I call the rationalization of Roman Catholicism. That is to say, the creating of another parallel religious praxis of Roman Catholicism after the Second Vatican Council to replace the old one. In an earlier post on this featured blog, it was put very well in this manner:
“Well, at least we have the real sacraments!” is an oft-heard cry, but with it carries a smidgen of triumphalism and something more pernicious – that it doesn’t matter what they or we believe, as long as our sacraments are valid. We then give a point in argument to our critics: that all that holds us together is what the Catholic Church teaches about itself legally – that as long as one is tied to the pope, one is doing just fine in the spiritual sojourn.
I have been condemned for using the term, "neo-Catholic" on this blog, and I realize that categorizing people often does not help. If, however, we are to understand what is going on in our own church, we must apply some labels, if ever so delicately. My main fear about Catholic conservatives who unquestionably accept the order that has emerged out of the Second Vatican Council is that they are creating a religion out of the book, and not using the book to guide the religion. That is, what is occuring now is no longer an organic development of what has been done in the past but rather a formation of something new loosely based on what some experts think the past should have been like.
Many of the more prominent neo-Catholic voices are either converts or Catholics who grew up in a very secularized Anglo-Saxon culture. Those of us who had the benefit of growing up in a Catholic culture that was merely the normal way of life often cannot understand their very polemical and all-too-Anglo concerns about having to justify the Catholic triumphalist position at every turn. I cannot speak for the blogger I have cited, but growing up in the Mexican barrio in this country and having been exposed to folk Catholicism in Mexico as a boy, I cannot help but feel that these intellectuals are creating a safe, paper religion that does not know how to keep vigil all night in a cemetery, do the Stations of the Cross on one's knees, or pray in front of a rosy-cheeked statue of the Child Jesus. Is the heart of this new conservative Catholicism, Novus Ordo, faithful to the Pope, able to cite Newman at the drop of a hat, just cultural Protestantism on which a Catholic ideological structure is supposedly built?
I suppose I am not being fair. Not everyone can be raised in an atmosphere where Roman Catholicism was the unchallenged atmosphere that governed one's life growing up. The incredible hubris of many of these voices, however, cannot help but make me react rather dismissively towards them. This does not mean breaking communion with them or saying that they are "heretical". After all, they are my fellow Catholics, and who am I to judge them? But they have no idea what was lost; they have no idea how powerful all of those "decadent" things that have been consigned to church basements in the wake of the aggiornamento really were. It can be argued that even the mumbled pre-conciliar Mass of a distracted priest in an old Baroque church carries much more weight than even the sung Novus Ordo Mass as done by Solesmes. The former was unconsciously traditional, the latter is not. Tradition is truly tradition because we are beholden to it, not because we can re-make it according to our fancy.
My featured blogger and I are both about the same age, and that is quite an interesting fact in terms of what is being discussed here. For we were born precisely ten years after the Pauline Missal broke the liturgical back of the Western Church. Again, I cannot speak for the other blogger, but I certainly knew at a very early age that what took place before me at Mass had not been taking place for very long. I was exposed in other ways to the soul of what the Roman Catholic Church had always been, and this taught me that Papal encyclicals, catechisms, and manuals of theology are not schemata for making a religion from scratch (changing the Mass, the rosary, the idea of religious life, etc.) but rather aides in helping to guide the organic life of the heaving beast known as the Body of Christ here on earth, the Church militant. If this beast has no life of its own other than what is in books, and if it must constantly be re-made to conform to the latest theological fad, then it is either sick or dying. In spite of the fact that many aspects of pre-Conciliar Catholicism now seem unappetizing, would it not be advisable to return ad fontes to what we should have been taught, rather than trying to imagine what the early Church was like via the lens of a Von Balthasar or Congar?
Thursday, February 22, 2007
Del aire al aire, como una red vacía,
iba yo entre las calles y la atmósfera, llegando y despidiendo,
en el advenimiento del otoño la moneda extendida
de las hojas, y entre la primavera y las espigas,
lo que el más grande amor, como dentro de un guante
que cae, nos entrega como una larga luna.....
-Pablo Neruda, Las Alturas de Machu Picchu
Now a revelation was given to me, my brethren, while I slept, by a young man of comely appearance, who said to me, "Who do you think that old woman is from whom you received the book?" And I said, "The Sibyl." "You are in a mistake," says he; " it is not the Sibyl." " Who is it then?" say I. And he said, "It is the Church." And I said to him, "Why then is she an old woman? " Because," said he, "she was created first of all. On this account is she old. And for her sake was the world made."
-The Sheperd of Hermas
The dimmest light protruding through the darkness, the folly of ages, the life of the dead. What wonders can be born here, what souls torn asunder on the lost cadences of heartless phrases, divine and putrid, coming up from hollow echoes, floors, windows, the very entrails of betrayal, distraction, a life decayed like a saint's hand.... discolored, covered in wax.....
Twelve pillars, twelve tribes, twelve apostles.... It took six hours to anoint them, to spread ash on the floor, to light the altar on fire.... plumes, plumes of smoke. Perhaps they reached God. It is hard to know what can reach heaven and what actually does. Prayer performed in distraction: mumbled pride. That is folly. I spent many an hour burying my faith through routine.
From air to air, continent to continent, church to church. The desert, yellow and gray like the unwatched morning. I used to stand in vigil over lamps that burned meekly in spoilt clouds of incense. I used to watch and move my fingers over those notches. Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God.... I used to move my fingers and watch, watch the eyes of the Pantocrator, seated and listening. Here we were, the New Jerusalem, Zion, covered in blood, vicious, uncaring, plotting sacrilege in our hearts.....
The doors of the church came two days before the church's consecration. They were sturdy and heavy, capable of withstanding the ugly weather of the pampa. It took dozens of men to move them, having come by truck straight from Paraguay. Paraguayan cedars, towering over the jungles of South America. Now here, to be anointed, to seal the Body of Christ.... Set a watch, O LORD, before my mouth; keep the door of my lips.
Our minds should wander through secret tunnels, cathedrals, catacombs. There the eternal Word was first heard by so many, echoing, secret, booming, sung and lamented... sins and redemption, the swelling of pain and the hope of redemption. There life ended and began anew. There man remembered, as Origen said. He remembered who he was, his dignity and his heart. There he learned to love again, not with a love that perishes, but with the love that made the world and carved a new world out of sin and shame. We remembered even as children. We remembered our true being, and to come home.
Towering, they sway above the canopy. There we are all Zaccheus, we are all hoping the Master calls us down. And He always does. I used to like to kneel in the choir loft of the seminary church and look down at the high altar. "I will sup with you tonight...."
Creaking of wood, the old forest of salvation in the late afternoon breeze. The Church, triumphant, grandiose, cosmic, here in this small vessel of concrete and wood. It spills into our hearts in the guise of wooden saints, old women with head coverings and rosaries, children kneeling at the side of their mothers, men walking home from work. Beads. Clouds of incense and vestments that glimmer in the light of morning. Again, reminding us, bidding us, welcoming us home. Towering over the heads of angels, serene light, hallowed stone, she emerges, Mater Gloriosa, Mater Immaculata, Mater Assumpta in coelo....
She heaves, cries, sobs, sings, dances, fills up the universe with the sweet odor of grace. And she is us, and we are her. In the mumblings of priests, she is us and we are her. In the prayers of selfishness and desparation, she is us and we are her. In the first moment of being washed clean and the last moment of being led out of her prostrate in death, she is us and we are her. Emerging and shrinking back, in cowardice and courage, in sorrow and in joy.... turris fortitudinis a facie inimici...
Mighty like the cedars of Lebabon, taken from among the nations, flowing from the side of the Savior.....
Si ociosa no, asistió naturaleza
Incapaz a la tuya, oh gran Señora,
Concepción limpia, donde ciega ignora
Lo que muda admiró de tu pureza.
Díganlo, oh Virgen, la mayor belleza
Del día, cuya luz tu manto dora,
La que calzas nocturna brilladora,
Los que ciñen carbunclos tu cabeza.
Pura la Iglesia ya, pura te llama
La Escuela, y todo pío afecto sabio
Cultas en tu favor da plumas bellas
¿Qué mucho, pues, si aun hoy sellado el labio,
Si la naturaleza aun hoy te aclama
Virgen pura, si el sol, luna y estrellas?
-Luis de Góngora y Argote
Tuesday, February 20, 2007
As in all over Christian blogdom, the pace of posts will slow down significantly during Lent. Expect about two or three posts a week (max) and a more serious tone for them throughout. There are still some ideas going about in my head, so I don't feel I need to stop blogging completely during Lent, though I think a slower pace would be better for me for less religious reasons as well.
One piece of advice to the Western Christians who read this blog: try fasting seriously. That is, try to follow the fasting rules of the Eastern Church as much as possible during Lent (no animal products, maybe except for shell fish). This used to be the fast of the Western Church as well, and our fasting rules as they stand now are incredibly lame. Try it, it will do wonders. But it is not a competition, so do the best you can.
(I am sorry that my agnostic, atheist, and Protestant readers will not find this blog as entertaining in the next 40 days, but come back after Easter. Or better yet, convert to the True Faith.)
Monday, February 19, 2007
Clean Monday / Ash Wednesday Post
Saturday, February 17, 2007
Philip Glass, Again, Whether You Like It or Not
Readers of this blog will know that I have three religions: Christianity, my family, and Philip Glass, usually in that order. So here are three things that have come to my attention as of late that will convince you heathens that Philip Glass is totally awesome and everyone who thinks the contrary is a total loser.
1st. Somebody finally posted on YouTube Philip Glass' 1986 appearance on Saturday Night Live. Here he is with his ensemble performing "Rubric".
2nd. Philip Glass is also nominated this year for an Oscar for his soundtrack for the film, Notes on a Scandal. Here is video of him talking about the score, with music of course.
(This is not the first time he has been nominated, but I hope he wins this time. If not, I am going to have to do some hard-core cholo action on some fools trying to player-hate.)
3rd. An article from the Arizona Republic newspaper, that is a good overview of Glass' music. Here is the source, for official purposes.
I reproduce the article in its entirety here:
The sound of striking Glass
By Richard Nilsen
Who's there? Philip.
Phil Phil Philip who?
Philip Glass.Philip who?
There is no composer subject to more jokes than Philip Glass. His Web site even includes a page of jokes.
Most make fun of the repetition that is his signature style: "I bought a Philip Glass LP, and it played for more than an hour before I realized it was skipping."
But no contemporary composer has a larger or wider audience than Glass, whose works fill our ears from TV commercials to movies to the opera stage to the pop charts. If there is a contemporary sound in classical music, it is the sound of Glass's furious arpeggios and benthic bass lines.
It's a style that has been called Minimalism, although, truth be told, there is nothing minimal about it: The Philip Glass style is crammed with notes - they race around the electronic keyboard like a dog chasing its tail."
Minimalism was a convenient title for the press," said Kurt Munkacsi, who's the sound designer for the Philip Glass Ensemble, which plays Glass' music exclusively.
The ensemble will be in Scottsdale on Wednesday to present a retrospective of Glass's music over a four-decade span.
"The music never was really minimal," Munkacsi said. "It was always complicated and dense, but when they say Minimalist, everyone knows what you're talking about. It's a catchy phrase."
'Music moved on'
Borrowed from the visual arts in the 1970s, the term Minimalist has always been an uncomfortable fit for the music of Glass and the other composers who shared its style. Most prominent among those at the time were Glass, Steve Reich and John Adams - the Minimalist secular trinity.
Each has developed out of strict Minimalist esthetic, but the label has stuck. Glass used to rail against the term, but has since come to accept it, albeit without enthusiasm.
"The music has moved on," Glass said. "By 1975, what was first called Minimalism was over, but the name was catchy, and it stuck. For 30 years, people have used it without noticing it no longer described anything."
Yet, there is something in the style that has remained consistent over the years. Listen to Glass's 'Music in 12 Parts' from 1973 and to his Oscar-nominated score to this year's film, 'Notes on a Scandal', and you recognize the sound of the composer.
Yes, the music has become more lyrical, less obsessively ostinato, but Glass' fingerprints are all over it.
"It is based on repetitive figures," Munkacsi said. "I've always had my own nickname for it. I call it 'hive music,' as in a beehive. There isn't a single melody and accompaniment, like in more-familiar music, but everyone has an equal part and fits into the entire structure of the music."
The typical Glass piece begins with a figure in the middle range, either a two-note figure or an arpeggiated chord, repeated until it becomes a kind of background noise. Then he drops a single bass note at the bottom of the keyboard - boooom - underneath the arpeggio, a rock in the well. The two elements repeat, with the bass note becoming an ostinato, and finally, he drops a slow melody on top of all of it, diatonic and step-wise, usually in a soprano sax or a singer. The patterns of each part are of unequal lengths, and as they move out of phase, the arpeggio rides over a different set of bass notes and under a different descant.
This slow change of phase, with its concomitant change in harmony, are the substance of Glass's style.In the early days, the pattern became the most important element of the style.
More recently, the melody has become more lyrical, more important.
"The music is much less defined by the music's limited elements," ensemble conductor Michael Riesman said. "Now, he writes something you could call a melody."
When it was new, Minimalism was a breath of fresh air in contemporary classical music. Through the 1960s and '70s, the anointed avant-garde was serialism, that 12-tone style that made for unlistenable music that pervaded the universities.
"I rejected serialism in my 20s," Glass said.
Instead, he found a new way to organize sound: Repetition.
"Music has always been based on repetition," he said. "Schubert repeats whole sections of his music intact. But the repetition in my music is different; it is the repetition and change in rhythm and pulse.
"The music is surprisingly old-fashioned in terms of harmony. Things like E-minor chords and C-major melodies show up over and over. The dissonance of serialism has been replaced by an almost "white-key" simplicity.
That repetition makes the music difficult to play."As a musician, you look at a Philip Glass score and it looks like absolutely nothing," said Mark Dix, violist with the Phoenix Symphony, who has played Glass music, including his Third String Quartet. "It looks like it requires no technical practice, nothing demanding. However, in rehearsal, we immediately discovered the difficulty of playing something so repetitive over so long a time. There is a lot of room for error, just in counting. It's very easy to get lost, so your concentration level has to be very high to perform his music."
Even the Philip Glass Ensemble can have trouble keeping track.
"The fun part of playing is counting and keeping track of where you are," Munkacsi said, using the word "fun" with a certain irony. "The way the music is written is with repetitive figures, with a multiplier, like 4X or 6X after it. Our rule of thumb is to always go with Michael."
Michael Riesman, who has been with the ensemble since 1974, plays lead keyboard and cues the other musicians when their turns come."Michael is always right, even if he makes a mistake," Munkacsi said. "You just jump back in and follow Michael."
"When I first saw a concert, before joining," Riesman recalled, "I went to a performance of Music in 12 Parts at Town Hall (in New York) and wondered, 'How do they do that and not get lost?' It takes concentration and you have to stay focused.
"It's like a ritual. Like a primitive ritual and you get into the groove and get lost in its mood and sound - but you have to stay aware of the numbers."
A moving ritual
To many, this ritual element in the music is the reason to listen: Unlike standard repertoire, which begins in one place and goes to another, resolving with a final cadence, Glass' music is more like a place you enter and soak up a sound universe. It becomes like a meditative state.
"When we're 'on' and everyone is listening, it gets to be a kind of ritual," Riesman said. "And it's pleasurable and you're transported to this place. Phil wouldn't be as popular as he is today if it weren't pleasurable. "
Dix likens the slow, hypnotic appeal of Glass' music to the desert landscape.
"It's the same kind of experience you'd have in the natural realm, of watching a storm move in across the desert. It's slow, but beautiful and incredibly profound in how it impacts you."
So y' all need to bow down.
Friday, February 16, 2007
On Serving at Altar
Love bade me welcome: yet my soul drew back,
Guiltie of dust and sinne.
But quick-ey’d Love, observing me grow slack
From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning,
If I lack’d any thing.
A guest, I answer’d, worthy to be here:
Love said, You shall be he.
I the unkinde, ungratefull? Ah my deare,
I cannot look on thee.
Love took my hand, and smiling did reply,
Who made the eyes but I?
Truth Lord, but I have marr’d them: let my shame
Go where it doth deserve.
And know you not, sayes Love, who bore the blame?
My deare, then I will serve.
You must sit down, sayes Love, and taste my meat:
So I did sit and eat.
The greatest thing a layman can do in the Roman Catholic Church is to serve at altar. Aside from actually saying the Mass, representing the people at it is the greatest honor a man can have. Which writer was it who said that the beautiful thing about the traditional low Mass was that the priest went to the altar to do a job only he can do? That is the essence of masculinity: to get what has to get done done. And the altar server is his sidekick. The priest can do it, but he can’t do it alone. In the traditional rite and even in the new one, the priest cannot say Mass by himself. He needs the presence of at least one more man, even if it is a snot-nosed little kid (the most common and appropriate person for the job) or an eighty year old kid at heart.
As in all things in Catholicism, men’s faiths are made and broken at the foot of the altar. For many men who served at altar as boys, it remained a powerful reminder of childhood innocence and faith. Having to recite words you don’t understand for a sometimes nasty and unholy priest gives a great lesson about life and perseverance. It can mean that real religion is often born in the midst of boredom, but that boredom can become enchantment in the memory. To others, like the liturgist Dom Botte and my Anti-Staretz, serving at altar was agony distilled and concentrated into twenty minutes of liturgical butchery. Getting rid of this institution, however, has only made things worse and not better.
Nevertheless, it is at the foot of that altar that our present civilization was formed. Political ceremonial, choreography, the solemnity of military drilling and modern drama all owe their origins to the Western liturgy in general, and to its smallest nucleus, the Low Mass, in particular. Who can dispute this? Even in the most humble chapel in the countryside, with the laziest priest and the most spaced-out altar boys, that element of the sacredness of motion and gesture were still preserved. Let us note that such things are not passed on most assuredly in their best manifestations, but are often made to persevere through their worst. It is only when things are not perfect that they are made “idiot-proof”. Then we know the system really works. For then it no longer a matter of this priest “saying a good Mass” (as in the Novus Ordo theatrics of all stripes) but rather of the priest merely saying the Mass, as the parish priest before him said it, and as the one before him said it, all the way down to the Apostles.
I would contest that it was this attention to detail that constituted the now absent heart of our civilization. For at one time, from the rising of the sun to its setting, a priest got up, picked some reluctant boy from the congregation, and went to the altar to talk to God in a language that most did not understand. In spite of all the things that changed in two millennia, this priest and his sidekick would continue to do what the priest before him did, and the priest before him did, etc. That was a powerful spiritual and cultural motor: to know that a saint from two centuries back could walk into the same church after being gone for generations and things would be EXACTLY the same. Can we say this about the modern Church in this day and age? Why is this no longer the case?
Is it any wonder that all the other churches only began to really go berserk when we decided to change our liturgy? With the exception of the Eastern Churches, we were the first to jettison our traditional liturgy, and others followed our lead. Need we point out all of the revisions to the Anglican Book of Common Prayer that came out after the Novus Ordo Missae of Paul VI? Many Lutherans in this country still held their services in German before the Second Vatican Council. And even if the Eastern Churches did not follow along (thanks be to God!), some of the more liberal Orthodox jurisdictions were toying with the idea of pulling a Novus Ordo of their own. Monkey see, monkey do.
But I digress. Having served hundreds and hundreds of low Masses, sung Masses, Solemn High Masses, etc., I can say that they have changed me as a human being. And I only learned to serve when I was twenty-one. When you serve in the old rite, you have to take on another persona. It is the most self-emptying and transformative experience you can go through, at least if you take it seriously. The way I was taught, you always have your hands folded, you always look down, each step is subtle and measured, and all movements are supposed to be slow and elegant. When you are before the throne of God, you should act like it. This act grafts you into the continuous worship of God that has gone on since before time began, as it goes on in heaven continuously, and as our ancestors prayed before us. This is the ultimate democracy of the dead (to quote Chesterton): that we should continue to worship as they did, emptying ourselves of our own modern ideas of how worship and religion should be.
Liturgy is gravely serious business, but the paradox is that this is what makes it so fun. Children will often behave like angels for their parents because they know that their parents like it that way. They may be little devils most of the time, but when they know they should behave, they can do it on cue and earn even more appreciation from their parents for their efforts. This is how I feel when I serve Mass. Yes, I am a dissipated, foul-mouthed, hypocritical, uncouth runaway ex-monk. But at least I can be angelic in front of God for twenty five minutes on a Wednesday evening. It is my way of trying to show God that I might not be such a terrible scoundrel after all. It is my poor attempt at the widow’s mite.
And when it is done right, when it is true rational service mixed with humility and bodily motion, a low Mass can be even more beautiful than a starry sky, a craggy sea shore, or a snow covered mountain that shoots up into the clouds. This is what we are here for, it is our eternal vocation: to serve, to dance, and to be joyful before the throne of the Lamb. Ecce Agnus Dei…..
Thursday, February 15, 2007
A Quick Reminder
Wednesday, February 14, 2007
Roman Catholicism: An Even Shorter Apologia
I am a Roman Catholic because all those who seem to want to defend our Church are either extremely ignorant of history or just plain bald-faced polemicists who will do anything to win an argument. All of our doctrines are cute and kitschy. Why do people want to screw them up by taking the explanations we come up with for them seriously? Don't you know that the word, "Purgatorio" doesn't appear ANYWHERE in the traditional liturgy, or even in the new one? Don't you know that the entire traditional soteriology of the Roman Church is based on medieval models of law and recompense that many of us now find laughable? And the Papacy.... please, don't get me started.....
It's historical accident, people. That's where Faith comes in. I am not saying that these things are outright false. Rather, I am saying that we live in a day and age when we must be more conscious of where these doctrines come from and how they have been changed, forgotten, and distorted over time. Maybe this is how things really are. Our human minds are so small and finite that maybe this is the best we can do with what we are given. But to want to beat everyone over the head about them? To pretend that our arguments are air-tight, and that we have some sort of monopoly on objectivity while we place all of the rest of the Christian confessions on the side of subjectivist, liberal thought with Kant and Derrida? Please!
Vatican II changed much more than anyone wants to admit, for better or worse.
Ranting mode off. For reference, see this post.
(For a more constructive conversation about this, see this post.)
Tuesday, February 13, 2007
Quiero escribir, pero me sale espuma,
Quiero escribir, pero me siento puma;
Vámonos, pues, por eso, a comer yerba,
Vámonos! Vámonos! Estoy herido;
Monday, February 12, 2007
Mr. Mitsui Hits Another Home Run
At the risk of alienating some of my readers, I cannot help but direct your attention to the most recent posts on the Lion and the Cardinal blog. Here are two gems from them:
From the first post:
Theirs was a patently dishonest invocation of a pre-Constantinian Church. Selectively reading what little history was available, they projected their own desires back in time, reestablishing only those practices coincident with them. Most offensively, they adopted external similarities in practice with the early Christians for motivations that the early Christians would have found utterly blasphemous. Thus the simplicity of the catacomb church - the result of professing an impoverished and brutally persecuted religion that needed to avoid detection - was adopted as an expression of the indolence and stinginess of affluent modern society. Insofar as the modernists and iconoclasts imitated the early Christians at all, they adopted their products, and rejected their principles.
-i.e. (for me at least) Having table instead of an altar and facing the people instead of facing east (Christus - Sol Invictus) is the result of Calvinist liturgical thought infecting the Church and has nothing to do with what they did in the early Church. It's inexcusable. Period. Just go to any other apostolic church and you will find that out very quickly.
From the second post:
This is also different from what is proposed by many contemporary apologists. To read the discourse in Catholic websites and periodicals, the hermeneutic of continuity means pretending that ruptures did not occur, even though they are plainly observable. This is not defending the faith; all it does is make the Church look ridiculous, like something that requires a willful obliviousness and doublethink to believe. The solution advanced by these apologists is essentially that all Catholics think like dialectical philosophers. But a continuity attained by employing an intellectual approach contrary to apostolic principles is no continuity at all; it is just another rupture.
A true recovery of the greatness of Roman Catholicism cannot rely on apologies that hide the ruptures under triumphalist bluster, or under a new ultramontanism that reduces the Catholic religion to a mere expression of magisterial power. For the recovery to succeed, Catholics must be allowed to believe in its necessity.
No comment necessary.
Go ahead. Fire at will.
Saturday, February 10, 2007
Three Disjointed Posts
Don't you hate those blogs on which people reflect on insignificant personal details as if the whole world cared about what they do in their dull, monotonous lives? I mean, isn't there enough useless information we have to sort through every day in our technocratic society? Do we really have the time to be voyeurs into each other's lives, to be titillated by humiliating moments, pet-peeves, and minor work-place dramas? I must register a serious protest against this cheapening of societal discourse, and affirm that my aim is to uplift and challenge my readers, not to entertain with insignificant details of my monotonous life.....
Just kidding. That's a lot of pompous crap, isn't it?
A few days ago, I was peacefully shelving in the Main Stacks of the library here in Berkeley, contently listening to my serene music on my MP3 player:
"Things just ain't the same for gangstas,
But I'm a little too famous to shoot these prankstas...."
Suddenly an old gentleman came up to me in a huff asking why a particular computer terminal wasn't working. Now, I should have known better. After all, I am a Christian, and I need to exercise patience at every opportunity. But his manners were so condescending that I really wanted to give it to him. I mean, if I knew something about computers, I wouldn't be doing this job that a trained monkey could do, would I? Also, being Mexican-American, my "race-paranoia" kicked in, with an internal dialogue that went something like this:
Look, viejo gabacho, do I look like your Mexican? Did you pick me up in front of a Home Depot and promise me $20, a taco, and a bottle of Corona to fix your patio? No. (Although that would have greased the wheels a bit...) So... un poco de respeto, por favor....
In spite of all of this, I responded politely like a civilized human being:
"I'm sorry, sir. There are more terminals available over there."
He huffed again and walked off. I went back to shelving those books on Haitian history and put my earphones back on:
Say he wanna be
Shorty's gonna be a Thug
Said he wanna be
One day he's gonna be
Said he's wanna be
Shorty's gonna be's a Thug.....
The next day, I was pulling long unread French books to make space for volumes that people will read. (I swear, if I see one more copy of Baudelaire's Les Fleurs du Mal, I am going to start a book burning club here on campus.) I was on the bottom shelf on my knees when the shelf in front of me began moving toward me as if I were in an Indiana Jones movie. For those of you unfamiliar with our library, we have so many books that we have special moveable shelves that squeeze into each other so we can fit them all. This saves space, but it can also be a real hassle if you need to get a book quickly but someone is looking for book a couple of shelves over. If you wanted a book, for example, about the toiletry habits of Ludwig Wittgenstein (and I assure you that such a book probably exists), but there is another patron contemplating all of the books on Baruch Spinoza a couple of shelves over, you are going to have to wait for this wannabe pantheist to be finished before you can search for your book. And of course, before you start cranking a shelf in order to get to your book, you should make sure coast is clear or else you might crush someone to death between two shelves.
This is what was happening to me. I saw my life flash before my eyes, but I decided to play it off cool. Instead of shouting like a scared little girl, I started to push back on the shelf. I figured if my would-be executioner felt some pressure pushing against the crank, she would stop immediately and see if something was in the way of her getting her book on the pet preferences of Emile Zola.
This did not happen. To my rather firm pushing she responded with even harder cranking. She was not going to give up without a fight. She cranked even harder because, darnit', she really needed to know if Zola had a cat, a dog, or a goldfish. So I pushed back harder, but to no avail. She would not be defeated by this rusty, broken crank. She would press on in her endeavor to get that book that will enable her to write her doctoral thesis that will make her the next Jacques Derrida, the next Michel Foucault, the next.....
I decided to give up. My brute strength was not strong enough to stop a thirty foot wall of books from squeezing me into a human tortilla.
"Hello!", I meekly cried.
The wall kept squeezing in on me.
"Hello," I said a little more loudly.
The cranking stopped. A woman turned the corner.
"Oh, I'm sorry! I didn't see you there."
A little later, I let her get her precious book. I put my earphones back on and continued listening to Selena:
Pero hoy por fin me he decidido de veras
todo mi amor a confesarle
Toco su puerta y se me enchina la piel
Y me contesta una guera
y mi corazon se quiebra
Yes, I listen to Selena. I am confident enough about my masculinity to admit it. Besides, every Mexican-American male of my generation still has a huge crush on her even if she was taken from us twelve years ago now. (She was the type of girl you could take home to Mama.)
Well, many of you missed it, but the fundraiser last night for the St. Anthony of Padua Institute went off quite well. The conversation was fascinating, the company pleasant, and the wine abundant. I really enjoyed the "deconstructed haggis" (I think it had pieces of Derrida's Of Grammatology in it) and the evening was quite enjoyable in spite of the dreary weather.
Dr. Chalberg's performance as G.K. Chesterton was both flawless and captivating. The endless series of quips, poems, and anecdotes kept my undivided attention for an hour and a half, and filled the small church basement with an air of enchantment . This performance is truly one that must be seen for oneself, so check out Dr. Chalberg's website again here.
The performance ended with a paen by the faux Chesterton to the stark contrast between travel and home. In a truly poetic discourse that I will not defile here by imitation, our Chesterton reflected on how no matter how much we travel, it is home and hearth that is truly the most exotic and fascinating place we will ever visit. Far off sites may be interesting, but when we come home, we realize how much was really there all along that we simply did not see.
I could not help but think on my beloved Hollister, and this post I wrote some months back. Everytime I go home now, I realize how much smaller it is compared to when I was a child. But every corner, every tree, and every crack in the sidewalk have a story to tell. It is only at home that we realize that it is our own heart that is the most unexplored place, that when we stop looking at the mountains of far away lands, ambitions, and fame, we see a vast plain at our feet that is memory, solitude, and love......
Anyway, you can still donate to the St. Anthony Institute by going to its website. It is for a good cause, namely, the education and formation of the Catholic community in the Bay Area. A dream of creating a Catholic liberal arts college here is also flying about, so pray for its success. (I know all of the readers of this blog have lots of money, otherwise why would you spend your time reading such frivolous stuff instead of doing something productive?)
I don't like the idea of making money off of blogs. Others do it, and I don't judge them, but I don't feel that my thoughts are worth money. Like cold hard cash? No way! But you can always donate to good causes that I like.
Traditional Anglican churches are very safe places. Everytime I go into one, I always feel welcome and I am assured that no one is going to bite my head off for doing the wrong thing. They are comfortable, and the people there are good and decent.
Orthodox churches feel like heaven. When I walk into one I am just floored by it all. It's like being absorbed into a marvellous book of fairy-tales. Every picture tells a story, every corner is a universe unto itself, and the world makes so much sense when you there
Roman Catholic Churches, the real traditional ones, are scary places. The most ingrained images that I have of them are always dark, dank, and almost haunted. I remember when I was very young, my mother used to sit us down in the cry room in the church in Gilroy, and we watched the Mass through what seemed to be a barrier of lace. I also remember when my mother took me to confession for the first time when I was seven. The whole church was so dark, and the old wood creaked and cried out in the cold spring night. Even the stained glass windows filled with light were engraved with such odd things, and to this day I cannot decipher all of those symbols that I gazed at every Sunday Mass as a child.
Terribilis est locus iste. It is our own humanity, both consoling and frightening.
I like going to all three types of churches, but only one is home.
Thursday, February 08, 2007
More Ear Candy
Wednesday, February 07, 2007
Oh, by the way.....
For those of you in the Bay Area, there will be a fundraiser for the St. Anthony of Padua Institute at St. Margaret Mary's Church in Oakland this Friday evening. It will feature Dr. John "Chuck" Chalberg as G.K. Chesterton, and promises to be an intriguing evening. Most of the Catholics in the Bay Area reading this blog probably know about this, but all non-Catholic readers are also cordially invited to attend. (We don't bite, really.) See this link for details.
The Dangers of "Theology"
From Henri Cardinal de Lubac's Corpus Mysticum, pg. 220:
Speaking roughly, and looking less at the letter than at the spirit, it is therefore true to say that the ancient texts are no longer understood because the spirit in which they were composed has partly been lost. The fact is that Eucharistic theology became more and more a form of apologetic and organized itself increasingly round a defence of the "real presence". Apology for dogma succeeded the understanding of faith. This evolution, this contrast, the misunderstandings and the awkward problems of interpretation that resulted from them, the incomprehension that is the price paid for new insights, all that is summed up symbolically in the two successive meanings of truth.
Sometimes I feel like a broken record on this blog, but I feel at times that I don't express the main point of what I am doing here clearly enough. This is mostly my fault. Instead, I like to put up quotes from people who think more clearly than I do. That is why I have posted the quote found above.
It reminded me of a comment someone made on this post about St. Gregory of Nyssa that I wrote over a year ago now. In that post, a commenter posted the following quote from the Cappadocian Father:
"concepts create idols, only wonder knows."
The problem lies in modern man's inability to think symbolically, to think that something can both fully be and not be something at the same time. In de Lubac's book, the Eucharistic species in the early Church were and were not the Body of Christ. They were not because the real Body of Christ is the Church: caput et corpus, Christus totus. And they were because they were powereful, efficacious icons/mysteria/sacramenta of the Body of Christ by which the Body of Christ (the Church) is constituted. The glue of reverence, of wonder, and of holy silence before such a mystery held this seemingly contradictory attitude together.
When we begin to reduce the things of God to apologetic, that is when we begin to get "theology" as we now know it, with all of its summae, catechisms, questiones disputatae, etc., etc. These things are necessary and very necessary, But they are necessary evils. If human beings did not have the blight of mortality, darkened intellect, and malice of the will, such things would not be necessary. To dwell upon them, to obsess over them, and to deify them misses the mark in so many ways.
Eucharistic theology itself within the Roman Catholic Church is in a bit of a mess. Most Catholics can be divided between two sides of a spectrum:
1. From the Patristic resourcement to felt banners: "One Bread, One Body, One Lord of All...." Catholics who take de Lubac's original vision to heart but turn the decadent society we are in into an idol. That is, they believe that the Body of Christ is anyone who happens to be standing in the Church regardless of how they live their life or if they are truly looking to repent and prepare for the Kingdom of God. People, according to them, should feel comfortable in church, so we should get rid of the smells and bells, the Latin, and all of the other evil medieval things that alientate a generation whose aesthetic taste is determined by Oprah and South Park. And of course, the Eucharist is just a symbol, because WE (emphasis on WE) are the Body of Christ.
2. Mad traditionalists who don't know that the war's over: Everything that came out of Vatican II is bad, and it just didn't start there. Too bad St. Pius X's Sodalitium Pianum didn't have police powers to break into "heretical" priests' houses in the middle of the night and "make them disappear". Every theologian in the 20th century was bad except for Garrigou-Lagrange, and even he was suspicious on some days. Reading any Father of the Church is dangerous except if he appears in a pre-1958 papal encyclical or in the Summa Theologiae. And of course, the Church is the MYSTICAL Body of Christ, but that really just means that the Church is symbolically the Body of Christ...
Two extremes, neither of them right, and both formed in the polemical agruments of last century. True, you will find few who will outwardly admit one extreme or the other totally, but that is the pull of Eucharistic theology within the Church. Thankfully, many voices, including our current Pope, are pulling things back in the right direction as the dust of liturgical reform begins to settle little by little. (If you haven't done so yet, you should read Pope Benedict's The Spirit of the Liturgy. I can't recommend it highly enough.) But we still have a long way to go, and the spirit of the time in which we live does not help matters.
We need to defend doctrines when they come under attack. The Eucharist is not just a symbol. To quote the Baltimore Catechism, in the Eucharistic species are found the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the same One who was born, died, and rose again and is seated at the right hand of the Father. But that is where it all begins, not where it all ends.....
Tuesday, February 06, 2007
Hay en le aire la increíble fragancia de las rosas del paraíso.
En la margen del Éufrates
Adán descubre la frescura del agua.
Una lluvia de oro cae del cielo;
Es el amor de Zeus.
Salta del mar un pez
Y un hombre de Agrigento recordará
Haber sido ese paz.
En la caverna cuyo nombre será Altamira
Una mano sin cara traza la curva
De un lomo de bisonte.
La lenta mano de Virgilio acaricia
la seda que trajeron
del reino del Emperador Amarillo
las caravanas y las naves.
El primer ruiseñor canta en Hungría.
Jesús ve en la moneda el perfil de Cesar.
Pitágoras revela a sus griegos
Que la forma del tiempo es la del círculo.
En una isla del Océano
Los lebreles de plata persiguen a los ciervos de oro.
En un yunque forjan la espada
Que será fiel a Sigurd.
Whitman canta en Manhattan.
Homero nace en siete ciudades.
Una doncella acaba de apresar
Al unicornio blanco
Todo el pasado vuelve como una ola
Y esas antiguas cosas recurren
Porque una mujer te ha besado.
-Jorge Luis Borges, del libro La Cifra
The incredible fragrance is in the air
Of the roses of Paradise.
On the banks of the Euphrates
Adam discovers the freshness of water.
A golden rain falls from the sky;
It is the love of Zeus.
Up from the sea jumps a fish
And an Agrigentian man will remember
That he was once that fish.
In the cave whose name will be Altamira,
A faceless hand traces the curve
Of a buffalo's loin.
The hand of Virgil slowly caresses
The silk that caravans and ships brought
From the kingdom of the Yellow Emperor.
The first nightingale sings in Hungary.
Jesus sees the profile of Ceasar on a coin.
Pithagoras reveals to the Greeks
That time is in the form of a circle.
On an island in the Ocean,
Silver harriers pursue hinds of gold.
On an anvil they forge a sword
That will be faithful to Sigurd.
Whitman sings in Manhattan.
Homer is born in seven cities.
A maiden has just caught
A white unicorn.
Like a wave the entire past returns
And those ancient things occur again
Because a woman has just kissed you.
Monday, February 05, 2007
On the All Too Common Blog, I found these lectures of His Holiness, Pope Shenouda III, Pope of Alexandria, on homosexuality and women's "ordination". They deserve a reading.
Too bad I like Chalcedon so much.
The photo is pretty gangsta though. You don't wanna try n' get up in his bizness, know what I'm sayin'?
Sunday, February 04, 2007
Roman Catholicism - An Apologia
Maria Castro de Vásquez
Fr. Ramón Sarmiento and other priests
Anything I will say after this is just embellishment. Roman Catholicism, being the true form of Christianity, is all about life, and I have shown you examples of this life. In the end, however, it would help me to try and synthesize all that I learned from these people, along with many who are still living and continue on this pilgrimage through this valley of tears.
First of all, I believe the Catholic Church is the true Church primarily because of what’s wrong with it. The Roman Catholic Church for me is the most human institution ever conceived. It is so human because it aims to be divine, and it fails miserably in so many ways. But those of us in it continue to push on, trying to save our souls from hell and not lose our faith in humanity at the same time. The Catholic Church is a church with a 95% failure rate. It belongs to the greedy, the ambitious, the cowards, the hypocrites, the lukewarm, and the lechers. But it is that five percent who are saints, or that five percent of the time when we actually behave decently, like Christ wants us to behave, that makes it all worth it. When it works, when it all comes together, when you can actually see the Holy Ghost working through others and through yourself…. that is what keeps us going. And often it is enough to storm Heaven and the very heart of God.
I cannot defend all of the controversial doctrines that inflate comment boxes all over the Internet. Needless to say, I believe in purgatory, in vicarious satisfaction, indulgences, and papal primacy (very “iuxta modum”) because that is what I was taught. At worst, many of these doctrines can be received and believed in a very childish and pompous manner. At best, they can be accepted in a very child-like and thankful manner. I am striving for the latter. For example, the priests who taught my grandparents in rhymes to pray for the souls in purgatory taught them the highest form of compassion imaginable: helping those (the holy souls) who are unable to help themselves. Every time someone dies, the entire family gets together to say a rosary novena. What takes place is a get-together lasting nine nights when relatives meet to pray, eat, talk, remember and cry. In the face of death, we realize that we still have each other, and that family is the highest thing a human being can be a part of since God Himself is a family. All of this because of the doctrine of purgatory that some old priest taught some illiterate peasants so many years ago. Who am I to question it, to dwell on nuances, and to show off my knowledge of the “purer doctrine” that the early Christians supposedly believed? All that I know about God has been handed down to me from these people.
If I have settled again in the Roman Catholic Church, it is because I have decisively concluded that when you don’t find your ecclesiastical Shangri-la, the best thing to do is return home. And then you find that home is not such a bad place after all. I am not optimistic about the future of the Roman Catholic Church. I really don’t think that a “good Pope” can even begin to fix all of the problems that the Church is going through. Nor do I think that the Roman Catholic Church will be saved from the crises that such bodies as the Anglican Communion are now facing. My belief in the indefectibility of the Church does not go that far because God is always eager to yank us away from our attachments to visible things. The Church does not necessarily mean the Vatican, the hierarchy, or even the Papal office as we know it now. We are too ignorant to know what it means for the gates of Hell not to prevail. Prevailing is one thing, but losing many bloody battles is another.
I remain a traditionalist only because I cannot conceive of Catholicism any other way. I know many good neo-Catholics who love Vatican II, the Novus Ordo Mass, and all of the other silly things our hierarchy has developed in the past two generations, and many are much better Christians than I am. Nevertheless, I cannot help but think that they are forming another religion, one that parodies the traditional Faith in many ways but misses the mark in many others. I said in one post that love speaks the language of details, and many precious details were jettisoned at the Second Vatican Council. I can only protest that these things were far more important than most can imagine. In the end, however, it has been my sojourn with the Anglicans that has taught me to accept all kinds of “churchmanship” within the same church.
Marie-Dominique Chenu, in his book, Man, Nature and Society in the Twelfth Century, describes how many more traditional voices decried the emergence of a new religious (small “o”) order that challenged the more traditional feudal models. Many had some rather harsh things to say about it all, coming very close to calling the revolution in religious thought the work of the Anti-Christ. Nevertheless, the Church continued on with the classical monastic feudal order living alongside the emerging orders of friars, scholasticism, and the first signs of what would be know as Devotio Moderna. Perhaps comparing this with the post- Vatican II church is like comparing apples and oranges, but like those reactionary Augustinians shaking in fear at the new Aristotelian threat, I too hope that there will be some way that God can reconcile that which seems so diametrically opposed. The main task for now, in my opinion, is to make sure that the old way does not die off.
For me, Catholicism continues to be the religion of dreamers. In spite of our weaknesses, we continue to believe that the Kingdom of God is very close to us. What the true Church of Christ has accomplished and will accomplish is absolutely mind-boggling, and can only be deemed a miracle of the order of the destruction and re-creation of the physical universe. At least in its traditional form, ours is not a Faith of mediocrity, cowardice or half-measures. What I have found most appealing about the Faith of my fathers is its conviction, warmth, and near-folly when it comes to the most important things. To be a real Catholic is to live life in the most human way possible, from going to church hung-over, to doing things that you know will scar you for life and then confessing them; from praying in front of the most kitschy statues imaginable of the Baby Jesus to having the most anti-clerical thoughts while kissing a priest's hand when greeting him. It is all a wonderful mess that only God can sort out. And we will have lots of fun while He is doing it.
Saturday, February 03, 2007
Overture to the Next Post
Muere lentamente quien se transforma en esclavo del hábito,
Thursday, February 01, 2007
ROSA TÚ, MELANCÓLICA
El alma vuela y vuela
buscándote a lo lejos,
rosa tú, melancólica
rosa de mi recuerdo.
Cuando la madrugada
va el campo humedeciendo,
y el día es como un niño
que despierta en el cielo,
Rosa, tú, melancólica
ojos de sombra llenos,
desde mi estrecha sábana
toco tu firme cuerpo.
Cuando ya el alto sol
ardió con su alto fuego,
cuando la tarde cae
del ocaso deshecho,
ya en mi lejana mesa
tu oscuro pan contemplo.
Y en la noche cargada
de ardoroso silencio,
Rosa, tú, melancólica
rosa de mi recuerdo,
dorada, viva, y húmeda,
bajando vas del techo,
tomas mi mano fría
y te me quedas viendo.
Cierro entonces los ojos,
pero siempre te veo
clavada allí, clavando
tu mirada en mi pecho,
larga mirada fija,
como un puñal de sueño.